Chapter 30

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I turn.

There stands a man I never thought I'd ever have to face again in my life. He's surrounded by three other crewmates and a female. She wears eighties-style clothing; a leather jacket, long boots, fingerless gloves. Her hair is platinum blond and chopped roughly to her shoulders. She has her hand draped across his back and looks me up and down with an appraising smirk. There is something oddly familiar about her.

And there is everything too familiar about the crew leader that she's leaning on. He's matured a lot since I last saw him, but then again, so have I. His teeth are still missing from when I kicked them into his mouth. I'm guessing he has yet to make enough cash for surgery. Or maybe it's a strong reminder that if we ever happened to cross paths, he would repay me for the damage I inflicted.

His name is Rusty, the former Southbend Bikers leader that Mercy banished and an old friend with a lifetime grudge against me.

"I'm sorry," I compose myself and try to move past them, "do we know each other?"

"Give it up Jess," he smiles and it makes me shudder. I regret kicking his teeth in; it really took away the badass attractiveness he used to hold so many years ago. "Times have changed. I just want to talk."

"Yeah, well I have places to go, people to see, so if you don't mind–"

"Who's the skank, Rusty?" asks the blond, chewing her gum loudly.

I stop, turn and glare at her. "What did you just call me?"

She chuckles and walks toward me. Her boots clack with each slow step she takes and she roams my body with her smoky eyes.

"Honey, wearing black leather doesn't make you a badass. You have to earn that," she says with a sad smile.

I really don't want to get into a fight with this girl but she gives me no choice. She doesn't know who I am or what I'm capable of, but her superior attitude and obvious arrogance is asking for a beating.

"And I suppose dressing up like fucking Madonna with a bad haircut makes you a badass?"

The girl falters for a moment, as if she didn't expect me to insult her. Then she looks glad to have an excuse to fight.

"You're asking for it, sweetie," she threatens. "Learn some respect before you insult someone with four grown men at her disposal."

"Having men at your disposal doesn't get you respect," I smirk and crack my knuckles. "You have to earn that."

The girl is fuming now. She is about to raise her fist and punch me in the face when Rusty steps in.

"Now now girls, no need to fight," he says and the girl backs away reluctantly. I am almost grateful; I really don't want to get my hands dirty fighting this girl. But then Rusty turns to me with the same look of bloodlust and I know the fight is only just beginning. "Jess and I have some old history that needs addressing. And I'm gonna be the one to sort it out."

"Are you sure you want to get into this Rusty?" I ask, backing away. Every eye is upon me. As far as I can tell, his men look a lot faster than I am. I can't outrun them and I certainly can't talk them out of it once Rusty gives the word. And if I know Rusty like I used to, he runs mostly on a thirst for a good showdown. This isn't going to end well.

For them. If I can take out a highly trained Mafia agent, I can certainly take out four street goons and their hooker.

Rusty chuckles and rolls up his sleeves. "I always told myself the day I saw you again I would finally get to pay you back for what you did to my life. I'm just glad it's today."

"Why's that?" I ask and my back hits the wall.

Rusty raises his fist and I hold my breath, calculating my odds. "Because I had a very bad morning," he says and lunges for me.

Rusty's technique hasn't changed a bit. It's always offense with him until he becomes so consumed with causing someone pain that he forgets to defend himself. After ducking a few of his hits – one sent straight into the brick wall and probably broke his wrist – I catch his calf with my foot, wrap my arm around his and twist until he falls to the concrete where I spin with his arm in mine and wrap my other around his throat. He struggles quite fiercely, but I've been training with Leon who weighs just as much as he does in muscle alone. I've picked up a few things about working with strength and finding a weakness.

Right then, with one arm around Rusty's throat and the other bending his hand painfully behind his back, Rusty is weak again. And it's obvious this outrages him.

"This doesn't change anything Jess," he spits through gritted teeth.

"You're right." I twist his hand further back and smile as he swears. "I can still kick your ass."

"Rusty!" shouts the blond, and we all turn to the alley entrance behind us where a cop car rolls in.

"Shit."

The gang begins to scatter and I throw Rusty to the pavement.

"Remain where you are," comes the mechanical voice from the cop car over the speaker. "Put your hands above your head and get down on the ground."

No matter how many times I hear that, I never listen. I sprint past Rusty but a foot comes out from behind one of the bins and I go sprawling on the concrete, grazing my elbows and chin. I turn just as the blond throws herself on top of me and starts tearing my hair out.

"What – the hell – is your – problem?!" I scream through the struggle. I can hear footsteps as we wrestle by the gutter, but Blondie isn't giving in. If I can't get her off of me in less than five seconds, I won't be able to outrun the cops.

"Nobody – insults my – hair and gets away – with it!" she hisses.

The moment my hand is free I throw a fist across her face. She rolls off me, clutching her bleeding nose, but I don't even get to my feet before a gun is thrust in my face.

"Roll over," orders the cop. I do.

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