War of Moons, Part 1 by Becca Fanning

Sarah

Come on, it’ll be fine.”

Sarah shook her head. “I don’t want to.”

“Just for a bit,” Megan pleaded. “Your counselor said you needed to start going out again. Since you don’t want to go shopping, this will be perfect. The club will be full of people. No one’s going to try anything there. Besides, there are bouncers. All you have to do is scream, and one of them would be with you in an instant.”

Sarah just shook her head more rapidly.

“Why not?”

“I’m just not ready.”

“Sarah, sweetie, it’s been two months. This is as ready as you’ll ever be. Take off your pajamas and put on some street close. We’re going out tonight. If you hate it, we can come straight back. Okay?”

Sarah was having second thoughts but knew Megan did have her best interests at heart. Maybe her counselor was right; it was time for her to go out again, instead of sitting here moping around. Judy did say it would be scary at first… Okay, it’s time to bite the bullet and just do it.

“Fine, but only for an hour.”

“Perfect!”

All right already. If I don’t go out, then Megan will keep pestering me until I do. What on earth am I going to wear?

“Come on, we’ll be late.”

“It’s an all-night club, Megan.”

“Yes, but they have half-price drinks only from seven to eight.”

Sarah couldn’t deny the benefits of half-price drinks, so she quickly picked an outfit, grabbed her bag, and followed Megan out of the door.

“Taxi!” Megan called, hailing a car. “I figured you wouldn’t want to walk,” she added to Sarah.

“Yeah, you figured right.” Sarah peered nervously up and down the street.

She could hear the noise of the club from a block away. She hadn’t been out with Megan since the mugging at gunpoint, but she remembered enjoying fun nights out dancing and drinking with Megan. She was determined to have fun tonight, come hell or high water.

Megan grabbed her hand and made a beeline for the bar—good idea as far as Sarah was concerned. She tossed back a shot of vodka and followed Megan to the dance floor.

“We danced to this at our homecoming, remember?!”

“I remember,” Sarah shouted over the noise. Yep, the vodka’s already settling in.She loosened up and soon became lost in the boomy bass of the music, and some of her fear slowly drifted away. This was familiar and fun, and soon she and Megan were using some of their signature dance moves—the ones that had other people backing away for fear of being hit in the face.

Sarah didn’t know how long they had been dancing, but eventually, Megan went off to get more drinks, leaving her alone on the dance floor. The press of bodies wasn’t exactly comfortable, but she was dealing with it.

“Hey, wanna dance?”

She looked up to see a tall guy with red hair bobbing to the music in front of her.

“No, I’m fine, thanks,” she said, flicking her hair and continuing to sway with the music. Having guys hit on you was part of the price of going clubbing, after all.

“Aw, don’t be like that.” He moved closer.

She wondered why some guys have a little too much to drink and not understand the word no? She would usually just stomp on their feet and move along to dance somewhere else.

He roughly cupped her jaw between his index finger and thumb, forcing eye contact and placed his other hand on her shoulder.

Sarah flashbacked to the mugging. She was no longer seeing the tall red-haired guy; she was seeing a man in a hoodie, his face close to hers and a gun pressed to her neck.

“Leave me alone!” Her voice was high and panicky, and she tried to back away, but the press of people was too tight.

He moved close enough for her to feel his breath on her face.

“Just one dance, honey. There’s a good girl.”

He moved even closer; their bodies were touching.

“No, go away!” Sarah tried desperately to escape, but there was no moving quickly in this crowd. She was panicking, pushing at the wall of people who were hemming her in.

Then Mister Tall Red Hair went flying—literally flying—across the room. He hit the opposite wall, fell with a crunch and was no doubt knocked unconscious.

“Are you okay?” A huge bear of a man studied her face.

Sarah just watched him throw a man across the room, and his presence served to terrify Sarah more, and she tried yet again to back away.

He picked up on her panic. “Come on, let’s get out of here.”

He stepped aside, careful not to touch her, and cut a path through the dancers with his wide girth. With wobbly legs, Sarah followed closely behind to a deserted corner and sunk onto the floor, gasping for breath.

This mass of muscles sat down next to her; she just needed some space. He stayed over an arm’s length away, watching her.

“You’re going to pass out if you keep doing that,” he said. “You need to slow down your breathing.”

Sarah’s chest rose and fell in rapid breaths, and she hastily tried to stop, but couldn’t get enough air in her.

“You need to make your breaths longer,” Mr. Muscles said slowly and calmly. “Breathe with my hand, watch. My hand goes up, you breathe in. My hand goes down, you breathe out.”

Sarah watched his hand as he moved it quickly up and down in time with her breathing. Then he started to slow. She watched his hand carefully, and soon, her breaths slowed until it matched the soothing rhythm of his hands.

“There you go, that’s good.”

“How did you do that?”

“I have a brother who has panic attacks. I know how to deal with them.”

“Thank you.” She looked at him properly for the first time. Despite his burly physique, he was not intimidating. In fact, with his sunglasses and tight shirt, she found him rather attractive. He could be exactly her type.

“I’m Nathan.”

He didn’t hold out his hand, so Sarah held out hers, and he shook it cautiously, evidently being careful not to frighten her. “Sarah.”

“I haven’t seen you here before, Sarah.”

“I haven’t been out in a while. I… I was mugged a few months ago. I haven’t really been out since then.”

“I hope they caught the guy who did it.”

“They did. They didn’t think they would, but a witness came forward…”

“I’m glad. No one deserves to be made to feel like that.”

Sarah wasn’t really listening, though. She was staring at Nathan intently. “Have we met before?”

“Sort of. I was there when you were mugged. You probably wouldn’t remember, but a group of my brothers and I saw someone with a gun running away. We came to see if you and your friend were alright.”

“I do remember,” Sarah breathed. “The guys who… that was you?”

Nathan nodded. “I think we just scared you even more. Your friend was right to send us away. You clearly didn’t need any more strangers just then… But I found the guy who did it and got a photo of him.”

“You were the witness?”

Nathan nodded. “That should never have happened.”

“It seems like I owe you a lot, Nathan. I don’t know what to say.”

“You don’t need to say anything. It’s what anyone would have done.”

Sarah begged to differ, perhaps some people would have, but many would have just walked past both times. She turned her eyes back to the dancing crowd. She could see just a few flashes of what looked like paramedic uniforms on the other side of the room.

“You’re not going to get into trouble, are you?” she asked anxiously. “If he’s badly hurt, I can tell the police you were defending me…”

“I won’t have trouble,” Nathan said confidently. Sarah noticed that people did seem to be giving him a wide berth. She understood—he certainly looked intimidating, but she was sincerely surprised by how sweet and gentle he seemed… after throwing a man across a room to defend her honor, of course.

She wished Nathan would move a bit closer to her, but he remained at a careful distance.

“So, now you know my story, Nathan. What’s yours?”

An odd, closed-off expression passed over his face. “I… I live out of town, but often come here with some brothers to have fun at night.”

“How many brothers do you have?”

He grinned lopsidedly. “A few. What about you? Any siblings?”

Sarah noted he avoided her question, but she could hardly begrudge him for not wanting to share personal information with a stranger. She was taken aback by her boldness. She couldn’t help opening up. She felt something with Nathan she hadn’t felt in a long time —safe.

“None technically, but my best friend, Megan, is like my sister.”

“It’s more than blood that makes up a family,” Nathan said. “Sometimes, those we aren’t related to become the closest family we have.”

Huh. So, he was a philosopher as well.

“You are full of surprises, Nathan.”

“I aim to impress.” He bowed his head and Sarah giggled. “So, if another guy tries to hit on me, are you going to throw him across the room, too?”

“Without hesitation.”

Sarah giggled again, but Nathan looked quite serious.

She watched the other clubgoers. Most had gone back to dancing, and Nathan’s jump shot was ER bound. A few guys similarly built and wearing sunglasses stood nearby. She couldn’t see their faces properly in the dim light and wondered if they were Nathan’s brothers

Watching Nathan out of the corner of her eye, Sarah tried to think of something funny or intelligent to say, but her brain had hit a bit of a roadblock.

She leaned back against the wall, eyeing the dance floor. She did love dancing, and Nathan seemed intent on making sure no one scared her again.

“Do you… Would you like to dance with me?”

He looked surprised. “Dance?”

“Yes, you know, it’s what we do here at clubs.”

He grinned. “Sure, why not?”

He stood; his palm pointed the way. Sarah moved through the crowd and dancers stepped aside when they saw Nathan. Was it out of respect or fear?

For such a huge guy, he cut a compelling figure on the dance floor, and step by step, Sarah’s feet meandered closer to him. Half the people in the club sported his same signature sunglasses. How could they see anything in the dimly lit room?

Sarah felt both safe and happy dancing in their own little bubble. She grabbed Nathan’s hand and used it to spin herself around. His arms were there to catch her when, dizzy, she came to a halt.

His eyes were on her face, gauging her reaction, but when she showed no hint of fear, he stayed close, his body brushing against hers as they danced. Time seemed to fade away as they moved closer to each other. Sarah debated whether to reach up and pull off his sunglasses. What color were his eyes, and how she would feel looking into them…

“Sarah! There you are, I was worried sick!”

Sarah had forgotten about Megan completely.

“Where did you disappear to? I went to get drinks and then you were gone. I’ve just been interrogating the bouncers about whether they’ve seen you.” Megan wasn’t usually that clingy, but she’d been protective of Sarah ever since the mugging. Sarah appreciated Megan’s concern, but she felt guilty for worrying her.

“I’m so sorry, Megan,” Nathan offered. “I was the one who diverted your sister’s attention. Please, she’s all yours.” He backed away, bowing his head again.

Megan gaped at him. “How did you know my name?”

“It’s easy to see bonds between others when you know what to look for.”

Megan gave him a once over before snatching Sarah’s arm. “Come on, we’re getting out of here.”

“I’m sorry, Megs. I didn’t mean to worry you.”

“As long as you’re okay… I never meant to be away from you for that long. You seemed to be enjoying yourself. Who was that?”

“Nathan.”

“And how did you come to be dancing with Mr. Nathan?” she asked, waggling her eyebrows.

“It’s kind of a long story.”

Sarah elaborated as soon as they were home, and in the end, Megan’s jaw dropped. “I didn’t know they made guys like that anymore. Looking at him, I would have thought he was a complete thug. I guess you really can’t judge a book by its cover.”

“No, you can’t.”

“What did you think of him?” Megan snickered and focused on Sarah’s expression.

“I… He was nice. Really nice.”

“Oh, my gosh, you like him! You do, don’t you?”

“Maybe…”

“What are you waiting for then? Did you get his number?”

“No…”

Megan raised her eyebrows incredulously.

“It’s just… I don’t know. I’m not sure if I want a relationship right now.”

“I understand,” Megan said at once. “You’re going to tell Judy about it, see what she thinks.”

“I will. Did you know we’ve met him before? Well, kind of… Remember the guys you sent away that day?”

Megan’s eyes widened. “That was him?”

“He said so. When you chased him away, he went after the guy who did it and got a photo of him. He’s the witness who came forward to the police.”

“You don’t think this guy could be stalking you, do you?” Megan cleared her throat. “I mean, that’s very coincidental. He happened to be there, went to so much trouble for you without even knowing you, and now you meet in a club? I don’t know…”

“I don’t think he’s stalking me. We talked for some time, and he seemed pretty honest. I don’t know… He just seems like a trustworthy guy.”

Megan considered for a minute. “Definitely worth pursuing. The private investigator will be able to tell us whether he’s a stalker.”

“Megan, you are not—”

“Oh, yes, I am! I let you get hurt once. That is not happening again.”

“For the last time, Megs, it wasn’t your fault.”

“I’ll look up someone good tomorrow. Who knows, maybe I’ll get lucky. Maybe he’ll be the man of my dreams.”

Sarah could object, but it wouldn’t change anything. Megan did what Megan wanted, and she was fiercely protective of those she loved.

“I hope he is.” Sarah laughed. “Just make sure Nathan doesn’t spot him, or I’ll be the stalker.”

“Talk to Judy, I’ll talk to Mr. Private Detective, and if everything checks out, we’ll go back for him next week,” Megan bargained. “Maybe he can introduce me to some of his friends. If they’re all as hunky as he is….”

“You’re terrible.”

“You love me.”

“I do.”

Sarah bid goodnight and looked in on her cat before bed. Felix was in a good mood and even sat on her lap for a bit. She didn’t push it, leaving before he got mad again and start scratching her. She made a mental note to ask Megan when the animal behavioral specialist was coming in before heading off to bed.

She sat at the window for a while, thinking, looking out into the rain that had started suddenly as it had been doing for the last few days. Her life had been on hold ever since that day she was mugged…

She climbed into bed and got out her journal for Judy. In the first days since she’d been attacked, she’d go through whole days and not remember what she felt for a single one of them. Judy said it was her mind’s way of protecting itself, but in order to make progress, they needed to identify the feelings and deal with them.

Scared… Sarah wrote the explanation for that, about the guy harassing her. Excited… Going out had been exciting. She was glad she had done it. She paused, trying to think how best to describe her encounter with Nathan. Five minutes later, she found herself staring at the blank page.

Giving up, she just wrote “Nathan” in big letters and planned to elaborate when she next saw Judy. She closed the notebook and lay back in bed, letting sleep take her.

Her last thoughts for the day were of Nathan.