|Down on Main Street
Author: Bad Faery PM
AU- One night in Blackpool, a washed-up wrestler rescues a young dancer in a dark alley. Molly Holly x William RegalRated: Fiction M - English - Romance/Drama - Chapters: 8 - Words: 15,909 - Reviews: 5 - Favs: 9 - Published: 06-08-04 - Status: Complete - id: 1900762
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Darren finished yanking his shirt over his head and rubbed his jaw with a wince. That last match had been considerably tougher than it should have been. Darren had pinned the challenger in the end but the other man had put up one hell of a fight. He couldn't remember the last time he'd misjudged an opponent so badly.
'Perhaps you're getting a bit old for this,' a little voice in his head suggested, as it did every time he finished a night more battered than he'd planned. As usual, he ignored it. It might be right or it might not. Either way, there was little he could do about it. Wrestling was his life. He wasn't fit for anything else.
He pulled on his jacket and left the rundown building with a sigh, slamming the door behind him for good measure. This was what he'd always wanted to do, he reminded himself. Ever since he was a kid he'd wanted nothing more than to wrestle for Roddy Kirkpatrick. Funny how he'd never quite pictured the bruises and broken bones that would result, nor the loneliness of his chosen profession.
'Maudlin tonight, aren't we?' He bet none of the tourists he'd faced tonight would believe the brutal Lord Regal capable of this kind of introspection. The atmosphere wasn't helping his mood. The night was overcast, clouds and fog blocking out the moon completely. The occasional streetlight served only to highlight the drunks and streetwalkers that made up the portion of Blackpool society that saw fit to be out and about at three o'clock in the morning.
It was dirty. It was tawdry. It was home.
The sounds of a scuffle penetrated his funk. 'Amateurs...' he thought dismissively, intending to let the drunks sort it out for themselves. He was off the clock.
A woman's voice shouting, "Let me GO!" reached him next. He hesitated. Probably a prostitute who'd bitten off a bit more than she could chew. Hell, maybe her "client" was into playacting. No matter, it was none of his business. He resumed walking.
Or she could be in legitimate trouble. He paused again, annoyed with himself. He was not the knight in shining armor type. Fighting was his job, not his hobby. And he really didn't want to get knifed just because some girl was having a fight with her boyfriend.
Then again, he didn't want to read about her in the paper the next day and then have to look at himself in the mirror.
He sighed again and headed for the dimly lit alley the voice seemed to have come from. Hopefully all he'd have to do was look threatening and the matter would solve itself. He was good at looking threatening.
He rounded the corner and took in the situation with a glance. Two men, looking as disreputable as he'd assumed, were advancing on a blond woman in a short beige trench coat. 'Probably not a hooker then...' He watched for a moment, looking for a good opening.
As he did so the not-hooker loosed a right hook that sent one of the men flying. Darren took a moment to be impressed, rather in spite of himself, when the man stayed down. Her action seemed to have angered the man left standing and Darren stepped into the fray as he advanced on her.
"Bitch!" the thug snarled, lifting a fist to express his displeasure. Darren caught his wrist from behind, twisting the man's arm behind his back and bearing him to the ground. He settled his knee firmly on the man's kidneys before looking to the blond woman. "Are you all right?"
She stared at him, wide-eyed, for a moment, then nodded.
"Good." He addressed his next remark to the man beneath him. "I'm sure you have other places to be, don't you?"
The man struggled for a moment then gave up. He nodded as best he could in his position.
"Excellent. So if I let you go, you and your friend will run along and not bother the lady again?"
The thug hesitated, then nodded again.
"Just the answer I was looking for." Darren ground his knee into the man's back for a moment, driving his point home. He then got up, keeping himself between the two men and the blond woman. "Be off."
The man dragged himself to his feet and took off at a run, not waiting for his associate to catch up.
Satisfied that they were sufficiently scared off, Darren turned his attention to the woman. She was still staring off in the direction the two men had fled. "Are you sure you're all right?"
She made no reply, save for a slight shudder.
'Probably in shock,' he decided. 'Can't leave her here, she'll just be a target for someone else.' He touched her elbow lightly, raising his hands in the universal 'I mean you no harm' gesture when she whirled to face him. "I won't hurt you," he said quickly, reassuring her. "But we should get out of here."
The woman looked at him suspiciously for a moment, then evidently decided he was to be trusted. She relaxed visibly and lowered her head in acquiescence.
Slowly, so as not to frighten her, Darren wrapped his arm around her and led her out of the alley.
"Thank you," she said softly, once they were back out on the street.
He looked over at her in surprise. Until this moment he hadn't even been sure that she *could* talk. "You're welcome," he replied simply.
They continued to walk in silence for a moment, the woman seemingly content to go wherever he led her. "So where in America are you from?" he asked, searching for a non-threatening topic of conversation. Somehow 'so why were you being attacked?' didn't seem like an illustrious start.
She looked up at him quickly, her hair half-hiding her face. He smiled at her evident confusion, "The accent's a bit of a dead giveaway, love."
She considered this for a moment, then smiled faintly in return. "I suppose it is," she conceded, brushing her hair back.
She was, Darren realized, actually very pretty. The alley had been too dark for him to properly see her before. He couldn't say that she was a showstopper, but she had lovely brown eyes.
"Alabama," she said after a moment, causing him to jump slightly as he realized he'd been caught staring. She didn't seem to notice. "I'm from Alabama."
"Ah," he replied intelligently. Perhaps this topic hadn't been the best choice after all. What could he say? He'd never been to Alabama.
She took pity on him. "What about you? Where in England are you from?"
"I was born right here in Blackpool," he answered. "I've never really been anywhere else."
"Oh." Now it was her turn to be stumped for conversation. 'Why were you being attacked?' was looking better all the time.
"It's nice here," she finally ventured, doing better than he had with her answer. "Sometimes, anyway."
"That it is," he agreed. "This isn't the best neighborhood though." It was, he was startled to discover, his neighborhood. Without even realizing it, he'd been leading her to his flat.
"I guess not."
"May I offer you a cup of tea?" There. Now he had a decent reason for bringing her to his home. "You look like you could use one after the night you've had."
She stiffened again at his question and he hastened to reassure her, "I swear I won't touch you. I just..." he couldn't think of anything else to say. 'I'm not a rapist, I promise,' didn't seem helpful.
To his surprise his promise seemed to appease her. "All right," she agreed. "If you wanted to hurt me, you could've done it by now. I'll trust you."
He was inordinately pleased by her statement. 'What the hell is wrong with you? You've known her five minutes.' Even so, he was frantically trying to remember what sort of state he'd left the flat in when he'd left. It wouldn't do to disgust a lady.
Fortunately, he was the neat sort and the flat proved fit for company when he opened the door and ushered her inside. She looked around curiously, and he followed her eyes, trying to see his home from her perspective. Shabby but clean, most of the furniture had seen better days but it was all in good repair. A few pictures, fewer knickknacks, plenty of books. Not stylish perhaps, but it was comfortable.
She seemed to approve. "I like it," she said. "It's clean." She seemed to consider this high praise. He took it as such.
She turned to him, subjecting him to the same scrutiny. Once again, she seemed to approve, "You're welcome."
"May I take your coat?" he asked, realizing he wasn't being a terribly good host. "I'll get the tea on in just a moment."
She hesitated, hands going to the fastenings of her trench coat. After a moment she came to a decision and began to undo the buttons. She slipped off the coat and handed it to him, leaving her standing before him in a short black skirt that looked like it was made out of rubber and a rather low-cut white top.
Sensing this was some kind of test, Darren made an effort not to look too closely at her body. He took her coat gallantly and gestured to the room, "Please, make yourself comfortable. Sit anywhere that you like."
Apparently he had passed. She smiled at him, the first real smile he'd seen on her face, and took a seat at the small dining table that stood near the kitchenette. "Kitchens are the best," she remarked. "All real conversations happen in kitchens."
"I could not agree more," he concurred, hanging up both their coats. Hopefully this meant they were going to have a real conversation. He was curious about this woman, more curious than he'd been about anything in a very long time.
He couldn't keep thinking about her as 'this woman.' "I don't know your name," he commented, putting the kettle on and taking a seat across from her.
"Molly. They call me Molly Holly."
He nodded. "That's pretty. And what's your real name?"
He seemed to have passed this test too. She smiled again. "It's Nora Greenwald. I work for Jack Boyd, about a block from where you found me in the alley." She looked at him closely, waiting for a response.
"I know the place." Boyd's was well-known around Blackpool. He employed attractive women to "entertain" the male clientele. Some danced, others... performed more specific services. He'd bet money that Nora only danced. There was just something in her eyes. "As for names, I like Nora better."
That made it three knock-outs in a row. Damn but he was on a role here. His response, or lack thereof, pleased her. "I do too."
"I'm Darren Matthews," he offered. "Although at Roddy Kirkpatrick's place I'm known as Lord Steven Regal."
"That sounds very distinguished." She extended her hand which he took. "It's nice to meet you, Darren."
"Nice to meet you too, Nora." He squeezed her hand lightly before letting go.
"So you're a fighter."
"I'm a *wrestler*" he stressed. Somehow it was very important to him that she made this distinction.
She inclined her head, taking no offense at the correction. "A wrestler then, I'm sorry."
"Don't be. It's a... fine line."
At that the tea kettle began to whistle shrilly, interrupting the moment. He got up to retrieve it, fixing a cup for each of them. "How do you take it?" He winced slightly at the unintended double entendre.
"Lemon please, if you have it." She politely ignored the slip.
Thankful that he'd done the week's shopping early, he added a twist of lemon to her mug and handed it to her, before adding a splash of milk to his own.
When he sat back down she proffered her mug for a toast. "To unexpected rescues."
"Unexpected rescues." He tapped his mug lightly against hers and held her gaze as she took a sip. She sighed in pleasure.
"This is excellent. Just what I needed."
"I'm glad," he said seriously.
She flushed slightly and looked down. He took a hasty sip of his own tea to cover his confusion. When he risked another look at her, she was staring at him intently. "You're probably wondering about all this."
Darren didn't bother to deny it; she wouldn't have believed him anyway.
"I'm a dancer at Boyd's. An exotic dancer as we call them in America. But *all* I do is dance," she looked at him anxiously, willing him to believe her.
He nodded; he'd already figured that much out for himself.
Reassured, she continued, "The two guys in the alley tonight come in every so often. They took a liking to me awhile ago. They gave good tips so I didn't let it bother me, but lately they've been on me to be more... hands-on in entertaining them."
"I understand." He wished he didn't.
"Tonight they drank more than they usually do. And usually they leave before closing but tonight they just stayed. When I left, they followed me. I was going to duck into one of the pubs the next block up and try to lose them, but they grabbed me first. They pulled me into that alley, and they tried... they tried to..."
Nora's voice broke, the first time her control had slipped during her narrative. Darren covered her hand with his, wishing he could do more to comfort her.
Seeming to derive strength from the touch, she soldiered on, "I held them off for awhile but they kept coming at me. If you hadn't have come when you did they would've raped me."
She lowered her head with a sob, the events of the night catching up with her at last. Darren winced at her tears, wishing he'd hurt the two thugs more when he had the chance. Nora continued to cry and he looked around desperately. Finer feelings weren't his strong point. God, he had no idea what to do for her.
Finally he left his chair and knelt beside her. Uncertainly he extended his arms, ready to be rebuffed. Instead Nora collapsed against him. His arms went around her automatically, holding her close as she buried her face in his neck. He rubbed her back soothingly, saying nothing. He couldn't begin to think of what he could say that would make her feel better.
Eventually she cried herself out. She held onto him for a minute longer before letting go and sitting up, face averted in embarrassment. Darren busied himself with bringing her a box of tissues and resumed his seat, waiting patiently for her to regain control.
"I'm sorry," she said, wiping her face.
"Don't be. You're entitled. More than entitled."
She gave him a watery smile and blew her nose furiously. When she finished, she was once again the self-contained woman he'd ushered up to his flat.
"Thank you," she said again. "For everything. Most people wouldn't even have stopped."
"I'm glad I was there," he replied simply, meaning it.
"So am I."
They stared at each other and finished their tea in silence.
"I should go," she said abruptly. "I've bothered you for too long already."
"It wasn't a bother," he protested. "Do you... have someone waiting for you?" Even as he asked the question, he realized how very much he wanted her answer to be 'no'.
"No," she replied, answering his prayers. "But this is your home and I'm intruding."
Standing up with her, he realized that telling her that she wasn't intruding, that he was enjoying having her there was probably not wise. Instead he went to retrieve their coats. "I'll walk you home."
"Oh I couldn't ask you to do that. I've been so much trouble already."
"You aren't asking, I'm offering," he corrected, slipping on his jacket.
"No buts," he held up a finger, stilling her. "Either you let me walk you home or you sleep here tonight. Trust me, I'm more stubborn than you are."
"I could argue that," she informed him.
"I'm sure you could."
"All right," she gave in, ending the impasse. "Thank you."
"You're welcome." He locked the door behind him and followed her down to the street. Wrapping a protective arm around her, he asked, "Which way?"
Without further argument she directed him through the streets of Blackpool until they reached her flat. It was in a neighborhood he was vaguely familiar with. Not the best place in town but not the worst; it was a street a woman could probably walk alone at night without being murdered. He surprised himself by how protective he felt at the idea of her walking alone.
"This is it," she announced in front of a building that looked like all the others. He made a mental note of the number. Just in case.
"Would you... Would you like to come up?" she offered a bit uncertainly.
He hesitated. "I would," he admitted honestly, "But I'd best not. You look tired."
She nodded ruefully, "I am."
They stood for a moment, looking at each other. He wanted to kiss her good night, he realized. Wanted it badly. But she was tired and still shaken, he couldn't help but feel he'd be taking advantage of her. "Good night, Nora," he said finally, settling for a quick hug.
She hugged him back immediately. "Good night, Darren." She let go and backed away from him slowly. "Will you be all right walking back?"
He smiled wryly and indicated his broad, six foot two frame. "I'll be fine," he assured her.
"I suppose you will at that." She smiled one last time and made her way up the stairs. "Night."
"Good night." He waited until she was inside with the door locked behind her before he left.
'You're falling fast and hard," his inner voice informed him. 'Way too fast. You hardly know her.'
It had a point, he admitted to himself. He knew her name and where she worked, everything else remained an enigma. How did a girl from Alabama wind up working as a dancer in England? And where did she learn to throw a punch like that?
However it wasn't those mysteries his mind dwelt on that night in his bed. Instead he remained focused on a pair of sparkling brown eyes and the feel of her slender form in his arms. He had to see her again, he decided. Tomorrow.