Chapter 10

Sam got into her car and grabbed her cell phone from the charger. It blinked up at her rapidly. She had three voice mails and several missed calls from Gunther. She popped on her headset and listened to the messages as she drove home. All three were from Gunther, and each one got slightly more hysterical. All he ever said was, “Kitten. Call me back. Now!

Sam shook her head and hit the call button. What on earth was the little sprite up to?

He picked it up on the first ring.

“Holy shit! Where in the hell have you been?” he shrieked. “I’ve been calling you all damn day, woman!”

“I’ve been working, Gunther.” She laughed. “What on earth is so important that it had you blowing up my phone all morning?”

“I sold the rest of your paintings,” he squealed.

Sam winced at the high-pitched shriek and shook her head. He sold her paintings? No way. She must’ve heard that wrong.

“Hello? Did you hear me? I-sold-your-paintings.” He punctuated each word as if she were deaf.

Sam pulled her car over into the gas station at Dunn’s Corners. The house was only a mile away, but if she did finally sell her work it would be best not to get killed in a car accident upon finding out. That would be a buzz kill. Her heart beat rapidly in her chest from the rush of adrenaline. She tore out the headset and picked up the phone. She wanted to be sure she heard this correctly.

“Okay,” she breathed. “Did you say that you sold my paintings?”

“You bet your sweet ass I did,” he said rapidly. When he got excited it was speed-talking all the way.

“What? When?” She smiled with disbelief and leaned back against the worn headrest. “And Gunther, slow down. Tell me exactly what happened.”

“Yesterday.” He giggled and then took a deep breath. “Okay. I’ll slow down, but I’ve been like dying to tell you this ever since they picked up all the pieces this morning.” He took another cleansing breath. “Okay. So yesterday, I’m sitting here having my morning latte, and this guy waltzes in here, like right after we open. Which, quite frankly, was a tad annoying. But, you can tell, lots of money. Great suit. Armani. Anyway, turns out he’s a buyer, y’know, not your average bear. Well, he came in here yesterday and—get this—asked specifically for any pieces that were done by Samantha Logan.”

“Wait.” Dread crept up her belly and squashed any excitement she felt.


She swallowed hard. What if this buyer was one of Roger’s cronies? She squeezed her eyes shut and rubbed her temple with her free hand. “This guy asked for my work specifically?”

“Hey,” he whined. “Are you going to let me tell you the story or what?”

“Yes.” She closed her eyes and prayed for patience. Gunther’s stories could go on for days. “I’m sorry. Go on.”

“Thank you,” he sang. “So, he asked for any work done by you. Naturally, I was only too happy to accommodate him. Well, he didn’t even look at them. When I brought him over to the stack against the back wall, he didn’t even ask me to open them up. He just handed me his credit card and told me he’d be back first thing in the morning to pick them all up. He didn’t haggle or even ask the prices.” He shrieked. “Can you believe it?”

“No,” she said quietly. “It sounds too good to be true.”

“Yeah, well, I know what you mean.” He stopped himself and quickly added, “Don’t get me wrong. I love your work, but let’s be honest babe. Your stuff hasn’t exactly been flying off the walls.”

“I know. It’s okay Gunther.” Sam let out a loud sigh and laughed softly. “What was the name on the credit card?”

“Ummm. Hold on a sec. I have to get the slip.”

Sam held her breath as Gunther hummed tunelessly while he searched for the paper.

“Here it is. Ugh. I swear, when Milton comes in here and watches the counter for me everything gets all topsy-turvy.” He huffed and then added quickly, “It’s a good thing he’s so damn cute.” He giggled. “Barkley Jameson. Ring any bells?”

“No it doesn’t.”

“Hey! I can’t believe you’re not excited about this. Come on girl! You just sold all ten of your paintings in one fell swoop and cleared a bundle of cash.” He hooted loudly but then quickly shifted into his business voice. “Minus my commission of course.”

Sam leaned her elbow on the open window of the car and looked out the window at the passing traffic. “Did he actually come and pick them all up?”

“Yup. First thing this morning. In fact I had to open up at eight just to accommodate this guy,” he snorted. “But hey, he paid a bundle, so I wasn’t gonna complain sister. He showed up with two big hulking brutes and a large black van. They packed up all of your pieces and hauled them away.” He dropped his voice to a whisper. “I have to admit. I am pretty curious.”

“Me too, Gunther.” Sam could hear the door of the gallery being shoved open loudly and smiled. “Sounds like you’ve got a customer.”

He scoffed loudly. “Honey please. After that mamajamma sale, I closed for the day. It’s just Milton. So listen, should I send the check to you at your place in Rhode Island?”

“Yeah, that would be great.”

“Okay. And listen. Cheer up woman! You are officially a success. Bye baby.”


The line clicked off quietly, and Sam tossed the cell phone into her bag on the passenger seat. She gripped the steering wheel tightly and leaned her forehead on her fingers before blowing out a strong breath and starting up the car. Gunther was right. She should be excited. In fact, she should be bloody ecstatic, but she couldn’t stop the feeling of dread that nagged at her. What if Roger was the one who bought her paintings? She shook her head and made a small sound of defiance. So what if he did? It shouldn’t matter. Right? After all, money is money.

However, no matter how many times she told herself it shouldn’t matter—it did. It mattered a lot. The truth was that she hated the idea of her mother’s image, or any of the deeply personal images she painted, hanging in Roger’s home. Her skin crawled at the very thought of it. No amount of money was worth that. Maybe she’d call Gunther and see if he could get them back and give the guy a refund. She scoffed out loud and rolled her eyes. Right, after everything Gunther had done, she was going to deny him this sale? Not likely.

She threw the car into first gear and pulled out of the gas station. As she drove the last bit of the way back home she went through the laundry list of oddities that had become her life.

Moved back into childhood bedroom at the age of thirty. Check.

Crazy stalker ex-boyfriend. Check.

Miraculously sold all artwork in one fell swoop. Check.

Hot neighbor who can kiss like the devil and use telepathy. Check.

Sam smiled.

Butterflies in stomach when looking at hot neighbor. Double check.

When Sam finally dragged herself into the house, she didn’t have the energy to go right out to her studio. She was mentally and physically drained. Working on the portrait would probably help take her mind off everything, but she couldn’t bring herself to do it yet. Instead, she made herself a cup of coffee and took it out to the deck. Nonie was already out there, as she was most afternoons, reading the local paper and sipping her tea. They exchanged a familiar greeting with a kiss on the cheek. Sam settled into her chair and blew on her coffee.

Her thoughts immediately went to Malcolm. She replayed the unusual events that occurred over the past several hours. She had seen his eyes change into eagle eyes, and this morning her own eyes had turned into the eyes of a wolf. They were the same ones as the wolf in her dreams. How was this all possible? She felt like she was losing her mind. Maybe he slipped something into my drink. She half expected to hear Malcolm’s scoffing voice in her head.

“Ridiculous,” she said.

“I’m sorry, dear. What’s ridiculous?”

She sent Nonie a startled look and blushed for blurting that out. “Oh. Nothing. I was just…it’s nothing really.” Sam looked back out at the ocean, hoping Nonie wouldn’t see right through her. Somehow Nonie always had the uncanny ability to know exactly what was going on with Sam.

“I lost my necklace last night.” Sam was unable to look at Nonie, afraid she’d be scolded like a child. She wouldn’t blame her. That necklace was an irreplaceable heirloom. When Nonie didn’t immediately respond, Sam forced herself to look at her. She was met by a sweet, sympathetic look in her blue eyes.

“I’m sure it will turn up. I wouldn’t worry on it too much. These things have a way of working themselves out.” Nonie turned her attention back to the paper.

“Wow. You’re much calmer about it than I expected. I was up half the night, tearing apart my room and searching the driveway in my nightgown with a flashlight. In fact, I am going to go out and look again before I head out to the studio.” Sam rose from her chair. “You’re really not upset with me for losing it?”

“I’m not upset because I don’t think it’s lost,” Nonie said with a small smile. “It’s just…misplaced. Believe me. You’ll have your necklace back.”

“I hope you’re right, Nonie, and somehow you always are.”

They were interrupted by the chirp of Sam’s cell phone. She went inside and dug through her purse, which she fondly referred to as the black hole. It had the ability to swallow up her cell phone or anything else she was searching for. Finally, she found it, at the bottom of course. She smiled when she saw Kerry’s name in the caller ID.

“Hey there, Hollywood.” Sam walked back out to the deck.

“Back at ya, Picasso. So listen, want to grab a bite to eat and catch up today?”

“Oh, Kerry, I would love to,” Sam said with genuine disappointment. “But I’m not in the city. I’m at Nonie’s.”

With that acknowledgement, Nonie waved her greetings.

“Nonie says hi by the way.”

“Hi, back. Hey, are you out on the deck?” Kerry asked.

“Of course, with the afternoon coffee and paper as usual. Why?”

“Do me a favor. Look over at my parents’ house, will ya?”

“Sure. What am I looking for?” Sam asked. She looked over at the Smithson’s house and saw Kerry standing there on her cell phone and waving. Sam shrieked her delight, and jumping up and down, gave an excited wave back. “Oh my God! You have no idea how glad I am that you’re here.” The beginnings of tears stung her eyes and threatened to spill over. “How did you know I was here?”

“Well, Nonie of course. She called me a few weeks ago right after you called her. It was a conspiratorial surprise, and avoiding your calls has been killing me. Get your sweet ass in a bathing suit, and get over here stat!”

Sam had a grin that went from ear to ear. She hung up and instantly came up behind Nonie’s chair. She wrapped her up in a huge hug of gratitude. “Thank you, Nonie. Once again, you know exactly what to do.”

“It’s true,” she said with a small sigh. “Having such insight is a blessing…most of the time.” She gently patted Sam’s arms. “Now run along and have fun!”

Sam gave her a quick kiss and ran upstairs to change. She realized that they really hadn’t spoken directly in a while. Kerry had been overseas on a shoot so there had been a lot of voice mail and text messages, but it didn’t matter how much time passed between conversations. Whether it was a month, a day, or a year, they could always pick up right where they left off. It was always like no time had passed. They were still the giggling little girls from all those years ago.

Sam and Kerry were complete opposites in every way. Still they managed to be as close as sisters, which worked out nicely since they were both only children. Neither of them made friends very easily. Sam felt disconnected from most people. Kerry had a major phobia about touching people. When they were little, she called it the spookies, but now she admitted to having a germ phobia. Sam was the only person Kerry would hug or touch at all.

Sam changed quickly, donned her aviators, and grabbed a towel. It was much quicker to go down and cut across the beach to Kerry’s place. The driveways were so long out to the road it was practically necessary to drive over. She couldn’t cut across between the houses because it was just dunes and sea grass with all kinds of creepy critters who called it home. Not only would she break her neck, but she’d probably get eaten alive by a variety of insects.

Sam climbed the beach stairs to Kerry’s place and found her friend waiting with a big smile and a huge glass that likely contained a margarita.

She marveled at how strikingly beautiful Kerry was. Her long jet black hair gleamed thick and shiny. Somehow, it never frizzed, no matter what the humidity was. Sam, on the other hand, ended up looking like a Chia Pet at the smallest hint of humidity. Kerry’s large eyes were chocolate brown with flecks of gold in certain lights. She had high cheekbones and full lips that many women paid thousands to try and attain. Her creamy white skin was unmarred by the sun, and the woman didn’t have a wrinkle in sight. Kerry’s bright red swimsuit showed off her long curvy body. Bam baby. Once you met her in person, it was blindingly clear how she had become the hottest plus-size model since Emme. She and Sam couldn’t have been more different physically if they tried.

“So…am I still huggable? Or do I give you the spookies like the rest of the world?”

“Shut up and hug me,” Kerry teased.

The two friends hugged each other and giggled like schoolgirls. Sam broke the embrace first, knowing a short hug was all Kerry could take. She stepped back to get a good look at her. “You know, it should be illegal to look as good as you do. You make us regular girls look bad,” Sam said teasingly with a shake of her head.

“Oh please. I’m an amazon who dwarfs most men on the planet. Besides, you’re one to talk with that amazing tan. I would kill for color like that! I look like a damned ghost. Not exactly a sexy look. Here.” She handed Sam the frosty beverage.

Sam glanced down and smiled. Yup. Margaritas.

They laid their towels out on the lounge chairs, with Sam maneuvering for the best angle of the morning sun, and Kerry under the umbrella to avoid it. Within seconds, Kerry began the inevitable best friend inquisition.

“Okay. So let’s go. Spill it.” She slid on her supersize sunglasses as she settled into her chair. “What’s going on, and why have you moved out of the coolest city in the world to live…here?”

“Don’t hold back, babe. What do you really think about it?” Sam smiled as she got comfortable and welcomed the warm summer sun.

“I’m not judging. I’m just perplexed. I mean really! How many times did we stay up until all hours of the night talking about the ways you wanted to get out of here? You can’t blame me for being a little bit surprised.”

“I know, I know. To be honest, I can’t believe I did it either.” Sam gave a small groan.

“Okay, so what prompted this move? Money?”

“No. I mean, I wasn’t rolling in it, but I wasn’t starving either. I…jeez, you’re going to think I’m nuts.” Frustrated, Sam sighed.

“No I won’t.” She shook her head. “I’m the one who can’t stand touching other people, remember? I promise I won’t laugh or think you’re crazy.” She held up her hand as if she was swearing in a court of law.

Sam took a deep breath and squeezed her eyes shut. After a dramatic pause, she finally spit it out. “It was a dream.”

“A dream? “Kerry emitted a stifled laughter. “Ooookay.”

“Hey, you said you wouldn’t laugh spookie girl.” Sam unleashed a giggle of her own.

“Right.” Kerry cleared her throat and regained her composure. “You’re right. I’m sorry. Go ahead.”

“If you’re going to laugh about the dream, then you’re going to get absolutely hysterical when I tell you about the other dreams…and Malcolm.”

“Malcolm? Yummy, who’s that? Now we’re getting somewhere. I was hoping a guy would be involved. You’ve been single for far too long! Now this is getting good.” She clapped her hands excitedly. “Okay, I’m all ears. I won’t interrupt, and I swear I won’t laugh. Cross my heart.” She made the sign across her heart.

Sam knew that if she could tell anyone in the entire world about what had been happening over the last couple of days, it was Kerry. She thought that if she told the story out loud it wouldn’t sound crazy, but she also knew that she wasn’t ready to tell her everything.

She took a deep breath.

“Okay. Remember those dreams I used to have when we were kids?”

“You mean the one with your mom and the wolf, or the one where some guy is calling you?” Kerry licked the salt off the edge of her glass.

“The wolf ones. Well, the night of my thirtieth birthday I dreamed about the wolf again. Except this time, I was the wolf.”

Kerry narrowed her eyes. “Huh? You mean you were actually a wolf?”

Sam nodded and swirled the ice in her glass. “Yup. A giant gray wolf.”

“What on earth were you doing?”

“I was running. Here at the beach. I ran with complete and total abandon. I was free, completely unencumbered…and it felt delicious. When I woke up the next morning, I had a longing for Nonie and the beach house. In that moment, I had total clarity. I was sick and tired of waiting.”

“Waiting? Waiting for what?” Kerry asked.

“Everything.” Sam shrugged. “Lately, it felt like my life was on hold somehow. So, I decided the only way to jumpstart things was to make a drastic change. I figured the dream was a sign.”

“That’s all very fascinating, but I want to hear about the date.” She wiggled her eyebrows. “Who’s Malcolm?”

Sam laughed and sat back in her lounge chair. “How did I know that you’d want to get right to the good stuff?”

“Because you’re my best friend, and you know I’m a dirty girl at heart.”

Sam laughed loudly at her friend’s remark and took a sip of her drink. Looking out over the familiar shoreline her thoughts wandered to Malcolm. “He’s…special.”

She told her about Malcolm and their date and of course about the mind-bending make out sessions. She also told her about the practically pornographic dreams.

However, she held back on the truly bizarre things. She left out the part about the eyes, the eagle that visited her room, the vanishing guy, and of course, about hearing his voice in her head. If she told her any of that, Kerry might put her in a psych ward. She wouldn’t blame her. She was starting to think she should check herself in.

She knew it sounded crazy, but she also knew it was real. Malcolm confirmed that this afternoon with his parting message. When his voice slid into her mind, she’d just about fainted right there on the diner floor. Thank God Millie had been there and anchored her to reality.

Kerry sat in rapt attention. By the end she was sitting up cross-legged on the lounge, her sunglasses on her head, and her mouth hanging open. “Wow. I can’t remember the last time I got that hot over a guy.” Kerry whistled and shook her head in amazement. She went over to the bar on the other side of the deck to collect the pitcher of margaritas. “He sounds a lot better than that other guy you were dating. What was his name,” she called over her shoulder. “Van Douche?”

Sam giggled and sipped the last bit of her margarita. “Van Dousen, but I think your version suits him better.” She wiped at the condensation on her glass with her thumb and avoided looking at Kerry. Her voice dropped low. “He’s become a bit of a problem.”

Kerry sashayed over with the pitcher and refilled Sam’s glass. “What does that mean,” she asked, her voice laced with concern. She put the jug down on the table and made herself comfortable on the edge of Sam’s chaise.

“Well, apparently he hadn’t gotten the memo that I broke up with him.” She took another sip and relished the sweet and salty bite that a good margarita always had. “He even showed up at the diner today.”

“Hello? Stalk much?”

“Tell me about it.” Sam scoffed and rolled her eyes. “You know, showing up uninvited at my apartment in the city was one thing. But following me all the way out here, to another state, is another level of creepy.”

“So what happened?” Kerry took a big sip of her drink and cast Sam a look of concern.

“Well, clearly he’s deluded. The man is not used to hearing the word no about anything. Told me he wants me and that’s that.” Sam squeezed her eyes shut and took another sip. Anger bubbled up at the memory of the way he grabbed her. “He got kind of rough. Grabbed me and practically dragged me over the counter.” Sam let out a shaky breath and opened her eyes. “I’m not sure what would’ve happened if Malcolm hadn’t shown up.”

Kerry leaned closer, and her voice dropped to a whisper. “No way! The hottie showed up and rescued you?” She let out a loud hoot and slapped her own leg. “I love it!” She nudged Sam’s arm with her glass. “What did he do? Please tell me he beat the shit out of that little worm.”

Sam gave a small smile and shook her head. “He didn’t have to. He’s twice Roger’s size and lifted the guy off the ground like he weighed nothing at all. And given the fact that Roger—quite literally—pissed in his pants, I don’t think I’ll see him again.”

Kerry laughed. “Ohmigod,” she squealed. “He didn’t actually pee his pants?”

“Yup.” Sam nodded and giggled. “He left a big old puddle right there on Millie’s floor.”

The two of them laughed until they were breathless and crying.

Kerry wiped away the tears with the back of her hand and moved to her own chair. “Well, this Malcolm guy sounds like a keeper. If he has any tall chivalrous friends who like a woman with meat on her bones, be sure to send ’em my way.”

“Come on, you are constantly surrounded by hot guys. You mean to tell me none of them do it for you?”

“Please.” She rolled her eyes. “The men in my industry are slimy pigs and often dumb as stumps. They either want to get into my pants and say they bedded a model, or they want to get into my wallet.” She slipped her sunglasses back on and waved away the notion. “No thanks. Besides…I’d have to be able to tolerate touching someone in order to have sex.”

That definitely surprised Sam. She wasn’t aware her friend had been as lonely as she had.

“I think it’s pretty wild that this guy lives in the creepy house from our childhood. Did he tell you anything about his family? I mean, there’s always been such a cloak of secrecy around them and that house.”

The overflowing tray of fruit, cheese, and crackers looked delicious. As kids, they’d shared secrets over Diet Coke and M&M’s, but that evolved to margaritas with a fruit and cheese platter as they’d gotten older. Sam picked at the assorted goodies Kerry had laid out on the table. She selected a small bunch of green grapes and sat back in her chair.

“He told me some. His parents are still alive and kicking and living the good life over in Milan. He runs his family’s shipping business from the house. It’s just him and Davis, the butler.”

“Oh my God! That guy is still alive? He was like a fossil when we were kids. Christ, he must be positively ancient now.” Kerry popped a cube of cheese in her mouth.

“I guess.” She shrugged “I mean, I haven’t met him yet. Just from across the way y’know.” Sam sipped her drink. The ice cold liquid was a welcome sensation as it coated her dry throat. She closed her eyes and willed the margarita to dampen the heat that flared through her body. All she’d done was talk about him, and it got her all hot and bothered. She was in big trouble.

“So when do I get to meet your hunky hero?” Kerry wiggled her eyebrows.

“Um…I don’t know,” Sam began with some trepidation.

“I’m sorry. I don’t mean to be pushy. It’s just that you are clearly nuts for this guy, and I figure I get best friend approval rights.”

“Of course you do,” she said quickly. “It’s just that I barely know him.”

“Really, you could’ve fooled me. The way you talk about him, you’d think you were soul mates or something.”

“Please. He is not my soul mate. You know I don’t believe in that crap. He’s just a hot neighbor who kisses like the devil.” She sighed as the color rose in her cheeks.

“Holy crap, are you blushing?” Kerry grinned. “You are. You’re blushing. God, the guy isn’t even here, and you’re getting horny. Shit, does he have a brother?” She put the cool glass to her forehead.

“Stop it.” Sam smiled. “And, he’s an only child. Like us.”

“Oh well.” She sighed. “Looks like dumb models and gold diggers for me.”

And with that, they both broke into hysterical giggles.

They spent the rest of the afternoon bouncing between various conversations. They shared beautiful fits of laughter and occasionally the comfortable silences that can only happen between true friends. As the sun made its leisurely descent, Sam knew it was time to head home for dinner with Nonie. She looked over at her friend and smiled. “This has been one of the nicest afternoons I’ve had in a very long time. I needed some girl time more than anything. Thanks.”

“Well, don’t think that this is it. I’m here for two more weeks, and I fully expect to be hanging out on a regular basis. I definitely want to meet the hottie.”

“That’s perfect, but I have to get the rest of my schedule from Millie.”

“Sounds good. Is Billy still waiting tables for his Mom?”

Sam shook her head. “He’s the cook, so he’s running things more often than she is now. He’s primed to take the place over. She and Nonie would have bridge games five days a week if they could.”

“Bridge is a game for four isn’t it? Who else do they play with?”

“Well, Millie’s husband, Pete, and…come to think of it, I don’t have any idea who Nonie’s partner is.” Sam frowned. She felt terribly guilty that she didn’t know that tidbit and made a mental note to find out.

“Really, well maybe you aren’t the only one with a new love.” Kerry smiled slyly.

They started gathering up the remnants of their afternoon nosh while both giggled at the idea of Nonie and a boyfriend. They were rudely interrupted by the slamming of the front door and footsteps tromping up the wooden staircase in the front hall. The unexpected noise had Sam jump about a foot in the air with a shriek.

“Jesus Christ, what or who was that,” she said, her hand to her chest.

“Well, hello to you too,” Kerry shouted into the house. “Sorry about that. It’s my cousin, AJ. Remember him? He stayed with us that summer before we started college? His dad is my mom’s brother.”

“Oh right!” Sam grimaced. “Wasn’t he the one with the Dungeons and Dragons obsession?”

“Yeah.” She rolled her eyes. “Actually he’s gotten to be kind of cute. I was considering setting you up with him before I heard about your new obsession.” She winked.

“Very funny.” She followed Kerry into the house with their dishes. “Why is he staying here?”

“He’s a marine biologist and has a temporary gig as some kind of fish consultant over at the Mystic Aquarium this summer.” She shrugged. “My parents told him he could crash here before they knew I was coming to visit you. It’s fine really,” she said with a wave. “He works a lot, and I don’t even know he’s here most of the time.”

“Fish consultant?” Sam put the dishes into the sink.

“Actually, I’m here to gather some data on their beluga whale population,” said a voice behind them.

They turned around to see her cousin standing in the kitchen doorway. He had a big grin on his face that gave him giant dimples. Kerry was right. He was much cuter than he’d been in high school. Then again who wasn’t? He was tanned with dark brown eyes and sun-bleached hair. He definitely had a surfer dude look. Not the weenie Sam remembered.

“Hey there, Cousin.” Kerry waved and quickly gestured to Sam. “You remember my best friend, Sam Logan?”

“Of course I do,” he said with a big dimpled smile. “How could I forget the most beautiful girl at the beach? Hey, Sam.” He shook her hand and gently kissed her on the cheek.

“Yeah, yeah,” Sam said teasingly. “I remember you, AJ, but I don’t remember you being such a charmer. Sorry about the fish consultant thing. It was Kerry’s fault.” She nudged her friend with her elbow.

“Traitor.” Kerry feigned annoyance through narrowed eyes.

“Don’t worry about it.” He laughed. “A lot of people have no idea what I really do. My mother still tells people I swim with the dolphins.”

“How long are you here for?”

“Well, I should have most of my data gathered in the next week or so, and then I can take it back to our facility in Miami. I’m comparing the mating habits of belugas in captivity with those in the wild. The aquarium in Mystic has the best population of belugas on the east coast. My aunt and uncle were kind enough to take pity on me and let me stay here.”

“Well, you’re definitely a quiet guest. My grandmother thought the house has been empty all summer.”

“You know how it is.” He sighed and leaned one shoulder against the kitchen doorway. “I don’t want to get kicked out. Especially now that the diva here has moved back in,” he said, nodding toward Kerry.

“Keep it up, and you’ll be sleeping with the fishes, wise ass.” Kerry threw an olive at him.

AJ laughed good-naturedly as he dodged the mini-missile.

“Say, Sam. Would you like to get dinner with me one night this week?”

Sam suddenly became very aware that she was wearing only her one-piece black bathing suit as his gaze wandered over her body. It made her unexpectedly uncomfortable. “Dinner? Well I…”

“She’s already got a man, AJ. Sorry. You’re a day late and a dollar short,” Kerry said. “Hey, maybe we can all go out for dinner. Not a double date because you’re my cousin and that would be gross. Not to mention illegal, but still could be fun.”

“Sure.” He delivered that big dimply smile again. “That sounds like fun. I haven’t done much socializing since I’ve been here, and a night out with human beings sounds great.”

“Then it’s settled,” Kerry said before Sam could protest. “So what’s today? Tuesday? How about this Saturday night? We could all go over to Mohegan Sun and grab some dinner at that great Asian place. Do a little gambling. Sam, why don’t you and Malcolm pick up me and my cousin here at around seven?”

“Okay.” Sam smiled. “I’ll talk to Malcolm later and see if he’s up for it.”

AJ’s phone beeped loudly, and he quickly looked to see the caller. “I’ve got to take this. It’s a work call. Bye, Sam. See you Saturday.”

They heard him greeting his caller as he made his way back upstairs.

“Jeez, I forgot how pushy you can be,” Sam said in a loud whisper as she got her stuff and began to head out the back toward the beach.

Kerry responded by sticking out her tongue and giving Sam a good old-fashioned raspberry.

“Oh, and mature too. Nice.”

“I’ve got a meeting in NYC tomorrow, so I’ll be gone for the day, but do you want to go shopping on Thursday? Think Millie can live without you for a day?”

“Actually, I’ve got the next couple of days off from the diner so Thursday sounds great. What’s the meeting in the city about?”

“I’m doing a cover shoot for Vogue. Can you believe it? A plus-size model on the cover and a full spread inside.” Kerry smiled and shook her head as she wrapped up the leftover nosh. “Let’s just hope the entire interview doesn’t focus on my weight. How are we ever going to change the way people think—or the industry, for that matter—if every interview I do is about my size?”

“You’re gorgeous. That’s why you’re as successful as you are. Face it girl. You sparkle at any size.” Sam winked and blew her a kiss. “I’ll call you later.”

“Shopping and lunch in Watch Hill on Thursday!”

“Sold! I’ll see you then.”

Sam waved and made her way down the steps to the beach.