A piercing whistle sliced through her thoughts as a bike messenger flew past her, startling her back to harsh reality. This city, that dream—none of it was real. She had failed. Sorrow punched her chest, but she gritted her teeth, fighting against the raw emotion. Anger. That was what she needed. Anger was good. Strong. It kept the humiliation—the absolute dismay—at bay. Anger was an emotion she could be into. Anger wasn’t helpless, and neither was she. She took a deep breath, adjusted her backpack, and straightened her spine.
She lifted her foot, ready to take that ever important first step forward, but suddenly there were arms around her waist, pulling her sideways. She didn’t have time to think, struggle, or even fully process what was going on before she was enveloped in the strong embrace of a stranger.
A short huff of surprise escaped her lips as he swung her around, his body hard against hers. She peeked over his shoulder and watched a gigantic steel bin overloaded with colorful magazines hit the curb right where she had been standing. The man in the gray metal newsstand threw open the side door, a move that would have hit her square in the face. The news guy waved to the delivery man as he hoisted the basket into the stand. The driver tapped his horn once in reply, then sped off in his white van.
She turned her head to thank her savior and promptly lost all ability to speak. The breath left her lungs in a single whoosh as she gaped at the man holding her. He was stunning, absolutely devastating, with his artfully messy black hair, long sideburns, sharp cheekbones, and a dark, stubbly beard. But it was his eyes that held her, captivated her, made her heartbeat take a pointed jump. They were vibrantly blue, but dark, more like indigo, deep and full of brilliant starlight. The entire city faded into the background when she looked into those eyes, the whole world far, far away.
She slowly took in the planes of his handsome face, and when she reached his mouth, a spark of pure want sizzled from the top of her head right down to the soles of her feet. Heat crept up her neck, warming her skull. His gaze flicked to her lips, and she lifted her chin ever so slightly toward him. She was hyperaware of his body against hers, the warm press of him from shoulders to knees. She dragged her gaze back up to meet his, and his eyes twinkled with mirth as he looked down at her, a small, knowing smile playing on his lips. She was suddenly all too aware that she was gaping at him like some star-struck teenager—and that he knew it. Embarrassment quickly replaced her desire, and she ducked her head to hide the furious blush spreading across her cheeks. She couldn’t have been more mortified if she had puked on his shoes.
“Sorry,” she mumbled, as she extracted herself from his embrace. She needed to put some space between them before she did something even more awkward. It felt a little too good in his arms, and she might conveniently forget they were perfect strangers if she held on any longer. She took a decisive step away from him, trying not to feel all that she was feeling.
He released her, flashing her a wide grin complete with deep dimples and bright, white teeth. “No apology necessary. Are you all right?”
Zoe chewed on the inside of her cheek as a new rush of lust swept over her. Dark hair, dimples, and a British accent. He was just too much. Her gaze meandered over the tall, lean length of him. Black leather shoes, thigh-hugging jeans, untucked navy blue shirt, the sleeves rolled up on his forearms, a heavy, titanium watch on his wrist, no rings on any of his fingers. She raised her eyes a little higher, taking in the breadth of his chest, the top button of his shirt undone, exposing the hollow of his throat, a hint of collarbone, then up to those damn, exquisite blue eyes.
“Let me buy you a drink,” she blurted out. She’d never been a shy girl, and if there was one thing she’d learned while pursuing her goals, it was that you had to seize every opportunity while you could. He was gorgeous. This was not a chance she was going to squander if she could help it. “To thank you for saving me.”
“Nonsense. I could not allow a woman I just rescued from certain dismemberment by news vendor to buy her own drink.” He placed his hand over his heart. “A hero does no such thing.”
A huge smile spread across her face. This was better than she’d dared to hope. “My hero, huh?”