I yelped and jumped back, pulling my arm out of range as his teeth snapped together so close I could feel his breath on my skin.
He grunted and yanked me toward him. I screamed and pulled back.
Echo came to my rescue, hissing and growling as raked at the man’s legs.
The man cried out in pain, then kicked Echo.
Echo skittered away.
My fear melted into anger. Kick my cat and I’ll kick you back.
The movies made things look so easy. Just aim for the groin. Not so simple from this angle. I lashed out hard with my foot.
To my utter surprise, I connected with something rather soft. The man’s teeth stopped an inch from my skin and he let out a whimper.
Had I actually nailed him in the groin?
Then Wyatt grabbed the guy from behind via a head lock and cranked him away from me. The man’s nails took skin with them as Wyatt pried him off, leaving red a rakes across my arm.
“Everly!” my mom screamed. Or maybe it was Whitney. Probably both. I pushed them away and ran to Echo, who was crouched down watching the man with dilated eyes.
“Echo?” I held out my hand, staying a few feet away. Then noticed the dripping blood and switched hands. “It’s okay,” I said.
A low growl came from Echo’s throat.
I held my hands up in surrender. “Fine. I’ll leave you alone for a minute.”
His eyes shifted from me to the man. The growl got louder.
“Everly, are you okay?” My dad took me by the shoulders and turned me to face him. His wide eyes and pale face seemed out of place. Until I felt the blood on my arm again, and wiped it on my pants.
“I’m okay.” Was my voice shaking?
“Did he hurt you?” Dad’s eyes searched me starting at my head and ending at my arm, which I held out for him.
“Just a few scratches.”
“Did he bite you?” Mom shrieked.
A young woman’s high-pitched voice pierced through the air. “Wyatt!”
Just great, the one girl in school I didn’t want to see was here.
Anne Haly came running from her family’s car. She could be on movie posters. Tall. Slender. Perfect brown curls. Bright green eyes. Short skirt. Long jacket. All of those things counted against her—you had to harbor some hate for the beautiful girls in high school—but her worst sin was being Wyatt’s girlfriend.
Wyatt and his dad had my attacker face-down on the ground. Wyatt’s knee was in his back and he had the other arm pinned with his hands. He must have felt me looking at him, because he glanced up and met my gaze. Then like the oblivious jerk he was, he smiled.
“My hero,” I muttered.
Or maybe said really loud? The way my dad’s eyes widened made me think it was the latter.
Anne scowled at me.
“I think I’m in shock,” I said.
Mom threw her arms around me and started to cry on my shoulder.
Dad patted both of our backs.
I did my best to keep my eyes on Echo. Not Wyatt.
In a blur of sound, light, and my mother’s hysterics, two ambulances and several police cars arrived. The officers secured the man who had tried to bite me, while an EMT gently disentangled me from my mother and led me to an ambulance.
Echo, who’s fur was mostly laying flat, followed. The EMT, a short thick man with red hair, raised his eyebrows when Echo jumped up and sat beside me.
“Service cat,” I said.
“Is that where the lacerations on the man’s legs came from?”
Echo lifted a paw and started to clean.
“Does he usually attack people?” The EMT leaned away as he started cleaning the cuts on my arm.
“Never before this.”
“What does he do for you?”
I figured he was trying to make me comfortable with small talk. “I’m allergic to corn. He can smell it.”
Echo switched to the other foot. I watched him instead of my arm. For the first few minutes I’d been kind of numb, but now pain came from the nail grooves in my skin, and my insides started to shake.
“Here.” The EMT put a blanket around my shoulders. The weight of it helped more than anything else.
“I’m starving! I just wanted something to eat!”
The yelling brought my attention outside the bubble around me to the other ambulance. My attacker had been strapped down to a gurney. He fought against the bonds as they raised it and it got sucked into the back of the vehicle.
“What’s wrong with him?” I asked. Was he like the guy in New York?
“My guess? Drugs. But don’t quote me on that.”
Echo moved to his back paws.
A police officer cleared her throat and approached. “How is she?” the tall woman asked.
“Just some scratches. Deep, but they should heal just fine,” my EMT said.
The woman smiled at me. “My name is officer Dalton. Are you okay if I ask you some questions about what happened?”
Mom appeared. “She needs and adult with her for this.”
I rolled my eyes. She watched way too much primetime television.
Officer Dalton didn’t turn her away, but focused on me. “Can you tell me what happened?”
I did. As I told the story I could see it like I was watching a movie. Like it had happened to someone else. I think that was shock too.
“He tried to bite you?” Officer Dalton asked.
“And then I kicked him and Wyatt came.”
She made a few notes. Only then did I notice that the EMT had bandaged my arm and my mom had squeezed in next to me.
“This is your service cat?” Officer Dalton asked.
“Yes.” I told her about Echo.
“You may get a call from Animal Services.”
My stomach twisted. “Why?”
“Animals aren’t supposed to attack humans.”
I swallowed. “He did it to save me.”
She smiled. “I know.”
The rest of what she said got drown out as I looked at Echo. His golden eyes regarded me. The thought of losing him brought a lump to my throat. I sniffed.
Officer Dalton looked at my mother. “Can I speak with you for a moment?”
Mom squeezed my arm. “You’ll be okay.”
As soon as the two women walked away, Wyatt appeared. Anne had been clinging to his side since she’d arrived. I’d been doing my best to ignore them.
“Hey,” he said.
“Hey.” I took a breath and steadied my nerves.
“Whitney is still freaking out.”
I should say something witty. Funny. To my surprise, it came to me. “She’s not going to be much good to us in the zombie apocalypse.”
Wyatt laughed. “You might be right.” He reached out and scratched Echo’s head three times. The simple gesture, and the thought of my cat being taken from me, brought the tears to the surface again.
“That guy scared you?” Wyatt asked. He put his hand on my back, which almost drove the other thoughts away.
I shrugged. “Yeah.” I didn’t want to talk about Echo.
Wyatt leaned closer to me. Too close. He still smelled a little like sweat. “I hear I’m your hero.”
“That was shock talking.” Only he was my hero. He’d literally rescued me from a rabid man. Or whatever.
He could never know how much that meant to me. “Yeah. Don’t let it go to your head.”
My mom returned, and Wyatt patted me on the arm and pushed off the bumper of the ambulance. The whole vehicle rocked in his wake.
Mom spoke. “Officer Dalton told me we might have to put Echo down.”
“I’m sorry, honey.” She hugged me.
A growl came from my own throat as I watched Echo stretch, then curl up to take a nap.
Echo had come to my rescue even before Wyatt had. He was the true hero.
No one was going to take him away from me.
His growling at Jason, and then Kendra, came back to me.
Maybe there was something wrong.
If there was, I was going to find it and fix it.
Whitney finally appeared. Red rimmed her eyes, and she sniffed. “You’re okay.”
I held up my bandaged arm. “Just a few scratches.”
Tears spilled from her eyes.
If I was going to find out what was wrong with Echo, I’d need somewhere to work. My mother would be all over me for a couple of days. I needed a sanctuary. “Mom, can I go to Whitney’s tomorrow? To hang out?” I gave her my most pitiful look, complete with pouty lip.
Mom put on her stern face, but it melted away under my assault. “Fine.”
Whitney wiped her cheeks. “You want to come to my house?”
“Please?” I gave her a different look. The one that told her to play along and not ask questions.
“Sure. Breakfast is at nine.”
I breathed a sigh of relief. Whitney, for all her dumb-blond bluster, was smart. She could help me. “I’ll be there.”