Sam got to the diner just as Millie was unlocking the doors for the early morning crowd. Typically, she had one or two regulars who showed up as soon as the sun did. The Dugout was only open for breakfast and lunch. When Millie had first opened the place, Billy was just a baby, and that schedule fit her family best. She lived by the philosophy that there was more to life than work—there was baseball. Millie had been a die-hard Red Sox fan from birth. When Sam moved to New York, Millie’s biggest fear was that she’d become a Yankees fan. Live hard, work hard, and play hard—that was Millie’s motto.
“Sammy girl! I can’t believe you actually got here on time. I thought you were gonna stand me up,” Millie hollered as she held the door open.
Sam placed a quick kiss on her plump cheek and grabbed the bright red apron that dangled from her hand playfully. “Why on earth would you think that?” She tied the familiar garment on with practiced ease and made her way behind the luncheonette counter.
“Well, your grandmamma told me that you had a hot date last night with that Drew fella.” She winked and snapped Sam’s ass with a dish towel.
“Millie,” she shrieked and laughed as she dodged the next swat. “You and Nonie are horrible gossips. I knew that’s all you did at those bridge games.”
The bell above the door jingled cheerfully, and two of Millie’s sunrise regulars shuffled in. Edgar and George tipped their caps politely at Sam and flashed partially toothless grins at her.
“Why, isn’t that Nonie’s girl, Edgar?” George’s raspy voice filled the small diner.
“Yes it is,” Edgar said with a small pat on his friend’s arm. “You don’t have to shout you old coot. You’ll wake up the whole damn town.” He delivered a big wink to Sam over his shoulder.
The fishermen made their way over to their regular booth by the window, and Sam grabbed the freshly brewed pot of coffee.
Millie laughed loudly and pushed through the swinging door into the kitchen. “Billy,” she barked loudly at her son. “You gonna get your butt in gear? Edgar and George are here, and they’re gonna want the usual.”
“Yes, ma’am.” Billy poked his sweet face through the doorway. “Hi, Sam. Good to have you back,” he said before disappearing back into the clattering kitchen.
“Hi, Billy.” Sam chuckled. Smiling, she shook her head at the familiar banter between Billy and Millie that flowed steadily from the kitchen as she poured coffee.
She slipped back into her routine with surprising ease and loved every minute. She never thought she’d really enjoy waitressing again. Ever. But after the incredibly weird events over the past twenty-four hours, she could use a little normal. Yes indeed, the mundane sounded like just the ticket. The loud clanking of the dishes and chatter of the customers reassured her that she wasn’t losing her mind—at least not at the moment—and the only conversations she had that morning were audible to everyone. In fact, she started to wonder if maybe she’d dreamt all of it.
The day passed quickly and uneventfully, which was exactly the way Sam wanted it. By the time she actually looked at her watch again it was after two o’clock, and the last of the lunch crowd was leaving. Millie emerged from the kitchen wiping her well-worn hands on an equally worn dish towel. Sam cleaned off the counter as the final patrons headed out the door. She scooped up the tip they left her and added it to the rest of the cash in her pocket.
Sam leaned back against the counter and stretched tired arms over her head. “Nothing like a hard day’s work to get the blood flowing.” She yawned.
Millie looked at her sideways. “I wore you out already?”
Sam dropped her arms, rested her elbows on the counter behind her, and gave Millie a skeptical look. “Please.”
“What? These folks don’t give you a run for your money the way the city people do?” Millie made a loud humph sound as she walked over to lock the front door. “Now that I’ve got you back, maybe I should stay open for a dinner shift too.” The bell tinkled loudly as she locked it.
“Ha! That’ll be the day,” Sam scoffed. She turned her back to Millie and continued to tidy up the area behind the counter. “You and I both know that as much as you love this place, there is no way you’d stay open for all three shifts. Aren’t you the one who always told me that there was more to life than working?”
“Hell yes,” she hooted as she wiped down the rest of the tables. “Now get those coffeepots back to Billy boy so he can get ’em cleaned up for tomorrow morning. Then you can get your skinny butt back home and spend some time in that art studio. How is it by the way?”
“It’s…well, it’s a dream come true,” she said smiling. “By the way, do you have a schedule for me yet?”
“Well, funny you should ask. I’ve been wanting to do some freshening up to the place. Y’know, some new paint, new counter, and so on. Well, my handyman called me this morning and told me he had a last minute cancellation and can get to my stuff starting tomorrow. So I’m gonna be closed until Saturday.”
“Closed,” Sam said with genuine disbelief. “Millie, when was the last time you closed this place?”
Millie paused mid-table wipe and squeezed her eyes shut. “Hmmm. I think it was December 1974.”
Sam let out a big laugh. “Good lord, Millie. Why not just wait until the off season?”
“Well, my handyman is real good, and his schedule is always packed. Gotta take him when I can get him.” She shuffled some salt and pepper shakers around the counter and put them in their proper place. “Besides I think I deserve a little vacation,” she said with a devilish grin. “The Sox have a big game tomorrow, and I can watch it guilt-free.”
Sam shook her head and smiled. “So, then you won’t need me until Saturday.”
“That sounds about right missy.”
“Alrighty. I’ll get the rest of this stuff cleaned up ASAP.” Sam delivered a salute with the coffeepot and headed into the kitchen. She expected to run into Billy, but he was nowhere to be found. She looked around the small, well-used kitchen and marveled at how clean it already was. Millie ran a tight ship, and no one knew that better than her own son. The bell above the front door jingled, and Sam heard Millie talking with someone. Maybe Billy locked himself out? That’s weird. She placed the coffeepots in the sink and pushed her way back through the swinging door, ready with a smile and a teasing comment for her old friend. She expected to find Billy, maybe even Edgar or George—but not Roger.
Sam stopped dead in her tracks, and all the blood drained from her face. She swallowed hard and willed herself not to faint. Millie was holding the door open, and Roger stood there talking to Millie as if it was completely normal for him to be there, but he couldn’t have looked more out of place. His blue blazer, polo shirt, khakis, and penny loafers weren’t exactly standard issue in the little greasy spoon. He had that big phony smile plastered on his face, the same smile that morphed into a leer the moment his eyes flicked over to Sam.
“Here she is,” Millie began cheerfully. “One of your city friends has come to call on you…” She trailed off, and her face fell as soon as she saw Sam’s reaction. “Sammy girl? You okay?” She glanced back at Roger with a look of uncertainty.
Sam swallowed hard and put her quaking hands into the pockets of her black shorts. “I’m fine,” she said in a shaky voice. She cursed herself silently. Dammit. I shouldn’t be afraid of this asshole.
“Sam and I are old friends, but I probably should’ve called to let her know I was coming,” he said with a wave of his well-manicured hand. “However, I couldn’t resist surprising her.”
“Yeah…Well, she looks surprised all right,” Millie said slowly. “And not the good kind of surprised.” She turned to face Roger and crossed her plump arms over her ample breasts. “Maybe you shoulda called. Hmm?”
“It’s fine Millie.” She took a few steps to her left and settled in behind the lunch counter. If he wanted to talk to her, he would have to do it with some kind of barrier between them. There’s no way he’s laying one more hand on me. In that moment she wished that this man could read her mind. Her thoughts went to Malcolm, and her heart squeezed in her chest. If Malcolm were here he’d put you in your place. Something tells me he doesn’t abide bullies.
“Uh-huh,” Millie huffed, not quite convinced. “Well…I’ll give you some privacy. Sammy, I have to run next door to the drugstore. I’ll be right back.” She walked to the kitchen door and turned to Roger who still stood by the door. “I may look like a nice old lady, but if you get out of line…I’ll kick your ass sideways.” She gave a curt nod to Sam and disappeared into the kitchen.
Sam smirked and dried her hands with the dish towel. She loved that someone else stood up to this arrogant asshole. Her moment of joy was quickly squashed when she turned to find Roger had seated himself at the counter directly in front of her. His eyes were locked on her breasts, and he licked his lips. In that moment she wished she had on a parka instead of a white T-shirt.
Sam cleared her throat, and his gaze flicked up to hers.
“Miss me?” he hissed.
Sam crossed her arms and glared at him through narrowed eyes. “What are you doing here, Roger?”
“I told you before,” he said smugly. “I want you.”
She shook her head and looked at him as if he’d lost his mind. “But I don’t want you.”
“Don’t be ridiculous.” Roger rolled his eyes and sighed loudly. “How many men would drive all the way from New York City to pick you up in their limo? Come on now.”
“Pick me up,” she said in the most incredulous tone she could muster. “What don’t you understand? Roger, I made it crystal clear that I want nothing to do with you.” A slow smile curved at her lips, remembering the way he practically ran away from her. “And based on your speedy departure from the stoop the other day, I thought you got the message loud and clear.”
Anger clouded his features, and his nostrils flared. “I-I’d had too much to drink, and I wasn’t feeling well,” he stammered. “I couldn’t remember exactly what happened.”
Neither could she, and that was the scary part. That afternoon on the stoop, she’d done something to frighten him. At that time she didn’t know what that odd tingling sensation meant. She hadn’t thought much of it. She’d chalked it up to adrenaline and fear. But last night she’d felt it again and then again this morning. The difference was that this morning she saw the reason why her eyes felt that way. Her eyes had turned into the eyes of the wolf from her dreams. Is that what he saw that frightened him? She shuddered slightly. Whatever—she’d do it again now if it would make him go away and never come back.
“Here’s a recap,” she said tightly. “I broke up with you. I want nothing to do with you.” She leaned both hands on the counter and got right in his smug face. “Go away.” She wished like hell that she could make her eyes do that tingly thing on purpose. “How’s that? Clear enough for you? I-don’t-want-to-see-you-ever-again!” Sam tried desperately to control herself, but she couldn’t stop her voice or her body from shaking.
Quick as a snake he snatched both of her wrists. His fingers bit into her flesh, and he pulled her so that she was practically lying on the counter top. The hard edge cut into her belly, and Sam lost her breath. He held firmly in his grasp, nuzzled her cheek, and placed a kiss on her ear. “Don’t say that,” he rasped.
Sam cringed and squeezed her eyes shut. Just as she was about to scream bloody murder, a deep, familiar voice rumbled through the room.
“Take your hands off her.”
Sam’s eyes flew open, and relief flooded her heart. He towered behind Roger and glowered at him with the most menacing look Samantha had ever seen. Was he always that big? He reminded Sam of some kind of avenging angel, larger than life, and really, really pissed off.
Malcolm reached down, growled, and grabbed a visibly surprised Roger by the shoulder. He spun him around to face him. Roger’s arms flailed like a spindly rag doll, and an odd gurgling noise came out of his throat. Sam stumbled back and stared openmouthed as Malcolm hoisted him off the ground by the lapels of his jacket. Roger whimpered slightly and struggled uselessly against Malcolm. Shock was soon replaced with impotent fury.
“Put me down,” he sputtered. “I’ll have you arrested for assault.”
Malcolm cast him a doubtful look. He shoved him down onto the stool that he’d been seated on so smugly just a few minutes before. “You will do nothing of the sort,” he said in a low and deadly voice. With one hand still placed firmly on Roger’s shoulder, he looked up at Samantha. “Are you all right?” His silky voice slid inside her and instantly put her at ease. All the knots in her stomach loosened immediately. Sam finally let out the breath she’d been holding and simply nodded, unable to form any coherent response.
“Could you do me a favor? Go outside, and tell his driver that he’ll be departing in just a few minutes—alone.”
Roger opened his mouth to protest, but one look from Malcolm silenced him. He snapped his mouth shut, and a contrite look washed over his face. Malcolm reached into the pocket of his worn jeans and handed her a business card. Sam took it and walked around the counter next to the two men.
Her gaze skimmed Malcolm’s long body. Broad shoulders, muscled arms that were barely contained by a light blue T-shirt, and his jeans hung low on his narrow hips. She couldn’t help but notice his ass. It was a great ass. Her face flushed with embarrassment. The last thing in the world she should be doing right this minute is checking out his fine backside, but quite frankly, she couldn’t help herself. She tore her gaze from his butt and forced herself to look at his face.
Not much better. Those eyes of his could melt the polar icecaps.
A small smiled curved his delicious looking lips. Jeez, it’s like the guy could read her mind.
He actually could.
His lips curved into a lopsided grin as if he knew exactly what was on her dirty little mind. “Give him that card. My cousin Dante owns a security firm. If he’s worried about losing his job, you can assure him that he’ll have one with Dante as of this afternoon. I’m sure the pay will be better.” He glared down at Roger, and his voice dropped to almost a whisper. “I can promise that the employer will be much better.”
Sam took the card from him and headed out the door. The bell jingled as she left the diner. She glanced back through the glass door. Malcolm’s massive body blocked most of Roger from view. All she could see were his skinny legs and penny loafer-clad feet hanging limply in complete submission. The bells hadn’t jingled before Malcolm came in. How the hell did he get in there without a sound?
Malcolm wanted nothing more than to shift into his eagle form and scare the shit out of this smug bastard. He’d heard Samantha’s thoughts loud and clear the moment that she’d laid eyes on Roger. He’d been combing the beach for hours in search of her necklace, but so far he’d come up empty. Amid his frustration, her voice slid into his mind and clawed at his heart. Her fear flooded him and sent his heart hammering in his chest. The second she’d made the mental link with him he was able to hone in on her location.
He’d materialized in the diner with very little effort and knew that it was because her strength was bolstering his. It had been an incredibly risky thing to do. One of the beach patrons may have seen him vanish, and that would’ve broken the cardinal rule of the Amoveo—never to reveal themselves to humans. Ever. Hell, for all he knew the diner could’ve been bustling with customers. All that mattered in that moment was getting to Sam and making sure she was safe. Seeing Roger handling his mate in such an aggressive, intimate, and uninvited way sent a sizzling rage through his body. It had taken significant restraint to not crush him like the little bug that he was.
Malcolm pinned Roger with a withering stare. His eyes were round with fear, and his lips quivered. Malcolm searched Roger’s mind and found it clouded with fear and anger that was largely fueled by his own impotence. Malcolm dropped his hand but continued to tower over him. Roger squirmed onto the seat and smoothed the lapels of his sport coat with quaking hands. He made a small whimpering noise as he struggled to maintain some kind of dignity.
Roger’s gaze flicked past Malcolm to Samantha.
“Don’t.” Malcolm’s eyes narrowed, and he poked one strong finger into Roger’s chest. “Don’t even think about it.”
Roger’s eyes flicked back up to Malcolm’s fierce gaze. “I j-j-just,” he stammered breathlessly. “I only wanted—”
“I know exactly what you wanted,” he seethed through clenched teeth. Malcolm stood up and crossed his arms over his broad chest but continued to hold Roger prisoner with his glare.
Roger sat up on the stool a little taller in an attempt to regain self-respect. Too late.
“Roger, isn’t it?” Malcolm asked tightly. Roger nodded weakly. “Yes, well, Roger, it seems quite obvious that Samantha wants absolutely nothing to do with you. Whatever relationship you had, or perceived that you had with her, is over.” He leaned in almost imperceptibly and dropped his voice low. “Let’s make something crystal clear. You are never to see, or speak, to Samantha again unless she contacts you first, which I highly doubt she will.” He straightened to his full height but kept his sharp gaze fixed on Roger. “Is that understood?”
Roger opened his mouth to protest but thought better of it and snapped it shut instead. “That’s better,” Malcolm said quietly. “Now, I don’t know how you were raised, but where I come from men don’t bully women into being with them. Samantha has made it quite clear to you on several occasions that she has absolutely no interest in continuing whatever relationship you had.”
“What are you? Her big brother?’ Roger leaned forward in a moment of bravery and narrowed his eyes at Malcolm. “Here to save her virtue or something?”
Malcolm smirked and stood his ground. “I’m most definitely not her brother.”
Roger stilled, and a slow, knowing smile spread across his face. He laughed. “Well, she’s pretty much a dead fish in the sack. I hope you enjoy sloppy seconds.”
With lightning fast speed, Malcolm grabbed Roger by the throat and held him against the counter. Roger’s eyes bugged out in shock, and his face grew crimson as Malcolm’s massive hand threatened to crush his neck like a twig. His mouth opened and closed rapidly, like a fish out of water. Roger clawed at his throat and struggled in vain to free himself from Malcolm’s grip. But the more Roger struggled, the tighter his grip became.
Malcolm fought to keep the beast within him at bay. Intellectually he knew that she hadn’t been celibate. He wasn’t naïve. She was a thirty-year-old woman, and he was sure she’d had lovers—not that the idea thrilled him—but the very notion that Roger would insinuate lewd things about his mate sent his blood boiling. His body strained against the shift, and the muscles in his back bulged in protest. The image of this human touching his mate—in any way—filled him with a deep primal rage. His eyes shifted into his eagle form and glowed brightly down at Roger, who then let out an odd gurgling sound and pissed in his pants.
Malcolm’s mouth curved into a small smile. Mission accomplished. His eyes shifted back to their human state, and he shoved Roger back, releasing him from his grip.
Roger whimpered and glanced down at the mess he’d made. Gasping and clutching his throat, he slipped on the puddle of urine he’d left on the floor, scrambled frantically, and cut a wide path around Malcolm and out the door. He scurried past a stunned Samantha and dove into the back of his limo. Malcolm watched the long black car peel out of the parking lot and down the street as Samantha pushed open the door and joined him inside the now quiet diner.
Sam closed the door behind her but all the while kept her questioning gaze on Malcolm. She placed her hands on her hips and cocked her head at him curiously. “I suppose I should thank you.” She looked down at the puddle on the floor behind Malcolm and grimaced. “Is that what I think it is?”
Malcolm straightened his back and nodded. “No one should ever touch you without your permission,” he said with more bite than he’d intended. His sharp gaze held hers. “No one will ever treat you in such a way again,” he whispered. “Ever.”
Sam nodded slowly and closed the distance between them. She eyed him skeptically. “Well, I have to admit your timing was impeccable.”
Malcolm glanced down at her wrists, and anger flared through him. Faint red marks marred her beautiful flesh from where that son of a bitch had grabbed her. His entire body went rigid at the memory of it. He reached out and took her wrists gently in his hands. He brushed his thumbs lightly over the fading red streaks on her fair skin. She quivered beneath his fingers, and her heartbeat increased the moment his flesh touched hers. The rapid thrumming of her pulse fell instantly in time with his. He pulled her closer and placed a soft kiss on each wrist. Her skin, warm and silky, felt like heaven beneath his lips. A small sound of pleasure escaped her lips as her soft breasts pressed up against their now intertwined hands.
He opened his eyes slowly and found her large indigo eyes looking up at him expectantly. Long strands of her blonde hair framed her spectacular face. He allowed himself this moment to take in every curve. He kissed her temple and whispered softly into her ear. “You should be cherished.”
“Malcolm,” she breathed his name softly.
The desire in her voice combined with the touch of her body sent him into overdrive. He wanted to memorize every bit of her, but those full lips, parted slightly, were far too tempting to leave alone. He crushed her mouth with his and felt like a man who’d just gotten water after a drought.
All these thoughts swamped his heart and his body. He swept his tongue along hers and white, hot lust ravaged him. He couldn’t get close enough. He needed her, needed to protect her, to love her.
Her yearning matched his as she pulled her hands from his grasp and wrapped her arms around his back. He growled low in his throat as their bodies pressed tightly against one another. Malcolm grabbed her curvy bottom and pressed her up against the evidence of his desire. Her fingers dug deliciously into the muscles of his back, making him moan softly into her mouth. Her lips melded perfectly with his. He reveled in the sweet touch of her tongue and her taste. Salty and sweet. Small but strong. He’d heard the way she stood up to Roger, and it made him proud. His mate was not a woman to be trifled with. Darkness crept into his mind at the memory of it, and he scolded himself silently. After the encounter she’d just had, he was ravaging her in the middle of the diner like some kind of horny teenager. Nice. Very sensitive.
He held her close and softened their kiss. Suckling her bottom lip, he pulled away gently. He held her there, wrapped tightly in his arms. She opened those big blue eyes and looked up at him through heavy lids. Her lips were swollen and red from his kisses. He’d never seen anyone more beautiful in his life.
“So,” she said between heavy breaths, “I should probably tell you that I don’t usually make out with people as a thank you.”
Malcolm laughed softly and kissed the tip of her nose. “I should hope not.”
Pots clanked loudly in the kitchen. Sam slipped quickly out of his arms, like a child about to be caught by her parents, and wiped her mouth with the back of her hand. Cold quickly replaced the warmth.
“Sammy, you okay out there?” A short robust woman burst through the swinging kitchen door with a large frying pan in her hand. Her eyebrows shot up, she placed her meaty hands on her ample hips, and looked Malcolm up and down. “Well, I guess you are.” She let out a low cat call whistle and wiggled her eyebrows at Sam.
Malcolm raised one eyebrow and gave Samantha a sly smile.
Sam let out a slightly embarrassed giggle and tucked the loose strands of hair behind her ear. “Millie,” she said with a warning tone. “This is Malcolm Drew, and he was just leaving.” She moved in next to Malcolm and elbowed him gently in the ribs.
Millie put down the frying pan, reached over the counter, and gave him a hearty handshake. “Nice to meet you, young man.” She looked around the diner and cast a glance outside. “Where’s that other fella?” she asked with a grimace. “The city boy?”
Malcolm glanced at Sam. “Oh, he had to run.”
“Good,” she huffed. “I didn’t like the look of him.”
“Neither did I.” Malcolm glimpsed at the clock on the wall. “Speaking of which, I have to be going myself. It was very nice meeting you Millie.”
Millie winked. “You too, handsome. I hope we’ll be seeing more of you around here. I don’t think Sammy girl has looked this happy since she got that red bicycle for Christmas.”
“Millie,” Sam growled and shot her a look of warning, but Millie just laughed loudly and made herself comfortable behind the counter.
Smiling, Malcolm took Samantha’s soft hand in his, and without taking his eyes off hers, he kissed it gently. “Good day.” Her deep blue eyes widened as their flesh met, and her energy waves pumped wildly over him. “It’s always a pleasure to see you, Ms. Logan.”
Her eyes widened slightly and flicked over to Millie when he emphasized the word pleasure, but he couldn’t help himself. Sam licked her lips and took a deep breath as her hand slipped slowly from his. “Good day.”
He gave a quick nod to Millie and headed out the door as the bells jingled happily behind him. He cast one last glance at Samantha and reached out to her with his mind.
I have a necklace to find.
Her eyes widened, and her hand fluttered to her throat.
As the door clicked shut he heard Millie bark, “What the hell is that mess on the floor?”
Chuckling quietly, he went back to Paddy’s to keep his promise.