Virtuous
Author:M.S. Force

I hit something hard and go down harder, landing on my back. You know what it’s like when you get the wind knocked out of you and for a whole minute—or even longer—you can’t breathe? That’s me, lying on the ground in the Bleecker Playground, staring up at the cloudy gray sky, unable to get air into my startled lungs.

 

I actually begin to wonder if I’m dead. Have I been hit by a bus or a cab or a bike or some other vehicle? Am I drifting between life and death? A crowd forms around me, numerous sets of eyes looking down at me. People are always so curious when bad things happen to other people. I hear angry voices. There’s pushing, shoving and jostling around me.

 

A face appears above mine. A handsome male face. He seems concerned—and familiar. Do I know him from the neighborhood? Someone screams in the background, and I think it might be me.

 

Then Fluff is there, licking my face, full of concerned obedience. That’s when I know I’m not dead—and neither is she. A flood of relief at realizing she’s okay relaxes my chest, allowing in oxygen I desperately need. The cold air hitting my lungs snaps me out of the stupor I’ve slipped into. I look up at soft brown eyes, a kind face, brows knitted with concern.

 

“Shut up, Hayden!” the kind face says. He has really nice eyes and dark hair shot through with hints of silver. I want to reach up and push it back from his brow and see if it’s as soft as it looks. His lips are perfectly formed, the kind of lips you want to kiss, and his face is arresting, captivating, lived in, if you know what I mean. “Can’t you see she’s hurt?”

 

That voice. Something about it is familiar. I want to ask if we’ve met before, but I can’t seem to speak.

 

“She fucked up my shot!”

 

“I said to shut up!”

 

“You shut up! It’s not your shot she fucked up!”

 

Looking down at me, the kind man rests his hand on my shoulder. “Do you think you could sit?”

 

I try because he asked me so nicely and because Fluff and I have obviously caused some considerable trouble for these people.

 

His strong arms come around me, helping me to sit up. He’s so close I catch a hint of his cologne. He smells expensive, a thought that nearly makes me giggle. Except my chest hurts, and Fluff is making a scene, yipping and trying to get my rescuer’s hands off me.

 

Did I mention she’s a bit territorial when it comes to me?

 

My rescuer’s eyes bug out of his head as he gasps. “Holy shit, that damned dog bit me!” He waves his arm around, trying to dislodge Fluff, whose tiny body jerks at the end of his arm. The jerking only makes her more determined to hold on. He lets out an ungodly howl.

 

The other guy, the one who’s been screaming at me, comes rushing over to assist him.

 

“Don’t hurt her!” My voice returns as they’re about to hurl poor Fluff across the park in their haste to remove her from the arm of my rescuer.

 

“Get her off me!”

 

I scramble to my feet and reach for her, my legs wobbling and my head swimming from the rush of moving too fast.

 

Thankfully, Fluff sees me on my feet and comes willingly to me, dislodging her victim.

 

“You’re fucking bleeding,” the man named Hayden says. “He’s fucking bleeding!”

 

I’m not sure who he’s talking to until a team of people descends upon the nice guy, tending to his wounds.

 

“Does he need the ER?” Hayden asks. He’s crazy handsome—tall, broad-shouldered, with dark hair and ice-blue eyes. He’s also seriously pissed. “Please tell me he’s not going to need the fucking ER. If we lose this entire fucking day—”

 

“Hayden!” The injured man waves the others away and dabs at the wound with some gauze. “Shut the fuck up! Walk away and take a deep breath.”

 

“Easy for you to say, Flynn. It’s not your ass on the line to deliver this thing on time and on budget.”

 

“Walk. Away.”

 

Hayden storms off, barking orders at people as he goes.

 

I finally take a look around and see cameras, ladders, light poles, electric cords snaking along the ground, a tented area off to one side and a lot of people milling about looking uncertain. “I’m sorry. I didn’t realize you all were here. Fluff… she got away from me, and I went after her.” I venture a glance up at him, and that’s when it hits me. My dog has bitten Flynn Godfrey. The Flynn Godfrey. Flynn freaking Godfrey.

 

“You’re… Oh my God. I’m so sorry. I don’t know what got into her. One minute we’re walking down the street, and the next… She’s biting Flynn Godfrey.”

 

His appealing eyes twinkle with mirth.

 

“It’s not funny!” I can’t believe he’s laughing.

 

“It’s kind of funny.”

 

“It’s not fucking funny!” Hayden shouts across the park.

 

“Shut up, Hayden,” Flynn says without taking his eyes off me.

 

“Are you all right? I’m so sorry. The biting is new. She’s fourteen and more of a terror now than she was as a puppy. And I’m totally babbling. And you’re Flynn Godfrey.” I take a step back, wishing for a way to simply disappear before I die of embarrassment right in front of the biggest movie star in the known universe.

 

“Wait.”

 

I halt, because what else does one do when Flynn Godfrey issues an order?

 

“Are you all right?” he asks, his own injury apparently forgotten.

 

Words fail me under the potent glow of his magnetic beauty, so I nod.