The next morning, Sam woke up exhausted. Her sleep had been dreamless and fitful. She couldn’t stop thinking about everything Malcolm had revealed to her the night before. As the sun began to rise, she knew lying in bed tossing and turning was getting her nowhere. She decided the best way to clear her muddied brain was to go for a run.
She looked in the mirror and couldn’t believe how puffy her eyes were. Well, at least they’re my eyes. Sam threw her hair into a ponytail and got into her running clothes. She was shocked that none of their conversation from last night had awakened Nonie. If it had, she was kind enough not to bang on the walls. Sam’s cheeks reddened at the very thought of it.
She tiptoed downstairs to the kitchen and chugged a quick glass of orange juice before she headed out. Sam did her warm up and listened to all of the sounds around her, the gulls shrieking, the ocean, and even the gravel crunching under her Nikes. She wanted to focus on normal sounds, not the insane story he’d told her and shown her. Yet no matter how hard she tried, she couldn’t stop thinking about it.
“What a crock. Amoveo. Shapeshifters. Right.” She shook her head as she walked down to the beach.
It is not a crock and deep down you know who and what you really are. The sooner you accept that, Samantha, the better off we’ll both be.
She stopped dead in her tracks as Malcolm’s voice invaded her head. Now she was really getting pissed. Who did this guy think he was? Can’t a girl have any privacy?
Get out of my head and leave me alone. Her fists curled up tightly at her side. She wasn’t even sure if she was doing it right.
You’re being silly, Samantha. His usual smug confidence seeped through.
She could picture the smirk on his face and had the sudden urge to smack it off. The man was completely infuriating. Fine. You can call me whatever you want. Just leave me alone. I’m going for a run, and I’d like to do that without you in my head.
You should not be out alone. It’s not safe.
Oh please. I think you scared Roger off for good. Look, spare me the caveman routine, bird boy. Sam rolled her eyes and continued to make her way onto the beach.
I will go with you then.
No you won’t. Good-bye. I’m hanging up now. Or…whatever. She stood with hands set on her hips. She listened for a reply, but was met with silence. She gave a sharp nod, feeling rather pleased for getting her way. “Jeez, what an ego.” She began her jog along the shore.
Sam loved running on the beach early in the morning. Usually there weren’t too many people around, especially on a weekday morning. Today the sand along the edge of the ocean was packed nice and tight. It was perfect for running and much easier on the knees than pavement. She kept thinking about all of the things she’d experienced. She hated to admit it, but his story was getting harder and harder to deny. Her dreams were pretty solid proof.
She had several about being a wolf, running on this very beach. How would he know that? She dreamed of being with that eagle, with Malcolm. It was true that nothing was known about her father. He had no family they knew of, and her parents’ courtship had been extremely brief. They’d only known each other a few weeks before they were married. Could her mother have been psychic? Was Nonie? She did know about stuff before it actually happened. She always had an uncanny sense of what was needed. As Sam approached the halfway mark of her run, she realized that Nonie might know much more than she’d let on.
Samantha’s run seemed longer than normal, and she was beginning to feel nauseous. After what felt like forever, she reached her halfway mark at the jetty. Gratefully, she turned to head back to the house, hoping the second half would go by more quickly, and her stomach would settle down. As she jogged by the beach club, she heard someone calling her name. She looked over and saw Millie, perched in her beach chair underneath an enormous plaid umbrella.
“Hey, Sammy girl.” She waved.
Sam didn’t really want to stop and lose her momentum, but for Millie she could make an exception. Millie was surrounded by various sand toys, a cooler, and a few chairs. There was an adorable little boy playing at her feet. He couldn’t have been more than a year old. He was bald as a cue ball with big brown eyes in a spectacularly chubby face. His entire body was covered in sand. He was deeply engaged in eating a shovel.
“Come on now. Don’t eat that. You’ll be poopin’ sand castles all week long.” Millie hoisted the boy and tried in vain to free him of his sandy snack.
“Hey, Millie.” Sam tried to catch her breath. “Is this your grandson? He’s adorable.”
“This is my little man. They’re all stayin’ at my place right now. Y’know, while they finish some renovations on their apartment.” She plopped him back down on the blanket and brushed him off a bit. “Well, this little bugger gets up so damn early. This morning I just had to get us all outta there. Too nice to be hanging around inside, and Lord knows we spend enough time in the diner.”
“So you really did it? You closed the diner?” Sam said in disbelief. She leaned on her knees, still trying to calm her breathing.
“Hell yes.” She winked.
“Is Billy here too?” Sam looked around.
“Yeah. He’s up at the cabana getting a bottle out of the fridge for our boy here.” She glanced to the large white building behind them.
“So your grandmamma tells me she met your new man too.” Millie smiled briefly. “I liked him lots better than that city fella. I hope you’re not seeing him anymore.”
“Well, I like that big handsome devil.” She wiggled her eyebrows. “Your grandmamma told me that y’all are going out again.”
“Oh really? Well, no secrets around here, huh?” She raised her eyebrows and thought desperately for another topic to talk about. “I guess you already knew about Nonie’s new man though.”
“You mean Davis?” She laughed. “He’s a fine fella. Good card player too. You know, she wanted to tell you about it, but I think she felt funny. Y’know, she didn’t want you to think she was replacing Jack, your pop.”
“I know. It’s just going to take some getting used to.” She squatted down and brushed some sand off the baby’s arms.
“Where in the name of Davy Crockett is Billy?” Millie looked behind her. “He’s takin’ a dog’s age up there getting that bottle.”
“Well, tell him I said hi.” Sam stood and felt another wave of nausea.
“You okay, Sammy girl? You look a little green around the gills.”
“Yeah, I haven’t gone for a run for a few weeks. I guess I pushed it too hard today.”
Millie shook her head. “I told you. You young girls are so worried about being skinny. Not good for ya.” She winked.
Sam laughed softly. “I’ll keep that in mind. Well, I’ve got to get back. I’m working on a portrait for Nonie, and I really want to get it finished today. Bye, little guy,” Sam said to the sandy little cherub. She was rewarded with a big drool-filled smile and giggles.
Malcolm had gone out to his balcony and watched Samantha as she began her run. He was very concerned about the Caedo from the other night. Guilt reared its ugly head. She thought the danger he referred to was Roger, and he did nothing to make her think otherwise. Malcolm scoffed audibly. As if that runt was any match for him. He realized that he’d made a mistake to keep the information about the Caedo from her. However, if she knew how dangerous her situation was, she’d never willingly give herself to him. It would make the world of his people even more terrifying. He wanted to respect her wishes, but her safety was more important than anything else.
He visualized his eagle form and shifted. He flew high above the ocean and followed her. He stayed far enough away to avoid being spotted, but was still able to keep her within his sight. He enjoyed watching her jog as her long blonde ponytail swayed hypnotically.
He felt very satisfied with himself for getting his way. The flight was invigorating and made him appreciate her even more. Before he’d found her, his powers were all but gone, and now they were back full force. He’d missed flights like this one very much. He kept pace with her all the way along the shore to the jetty. He moved in closer when he saw she was no longer alone on the beach. Suddenly, he was hit by the same wave of hostility that he’d felt at the restaurant the other night. It slammed into him, throwing his flight off balance.
He scanned the beach below, searching the minds of the few people in the area. There was an old man fishing who was thinking of his late wife. The young mother playing with her two children in the waves, thinking about the errands she had to do that day. He scanned the rest, but none of them were the source of this hatred. Someone down there hated Sam. He flew over and landed on the roof of the beach club adjacent to the jetty. It was a better vantage point, and he could see Sam and everything around her.
Malcolm watched Samantha as she spoke with the woman from the diner and the child. He could feel the fondness that flowed between them all. However, as reassuring as that was, he could still feel the wave of evil hatred. He sensed it was coming from somewhere nearby, and it was directed right at Samantha. It was the same energy signature from the restaurant the other night. He wanted to swoop down there, grab her by the arms, and take her back home. However, a sight like that would not go unnoticed by the few humans on the beach. He had told her about the Caedo, but had not told her she was a target. If she knew that, then she may never want to be a part of his world. Although their mating was predestined, he still wanted her to be with him willingly. He would never force her to be with him. He would rather die than cause her unhappiness.
Finally, to his relief, Samantha left Millie and began to make her way back to the house. He flew to a higher altitude so he could avoid her sights, but still keep her in his, all the while, keeping his eyes peeled for the man from the other night. Malcolm knew he was down there somewhere, and it was maddening that he couldn’t find him.
Malcolm watched Samantha as she approached a woman he’d never seen before. He could tell by Samantha’s comfort level that this was the friend that she had spoken of so fondly. In stealth flight, he soared over and landed silently on Kerry’s house. The hatred he felt continued to permeate the air around them. He grew edgier by the second because he couldn’t pinpoint the source. He scanned the mind of her friend and was surprised when he couldn’t get a solid read on her. She wasn’t blocking him, at least not consciously. He knew she wasn’t a threat to Sam, but there was something about her that he couldn’t quite put his finger on. That bothered him immensely.
She’s no threat to you or your mate, Malcolm. I will keep watch over her and make sure that’s true, said a steady voice.
It was his cousin Dante, of the Fox Clan. Malcolm heard the strength and resolve of a warrior. He felt better knowing that his Amoveo brothers had arrived. He scanned the sea grass in the dunes below. He spotted Dante hidden beneath the deck of the Smithson house. He was an unusually large red fox with a white face and auburn on the edges of his ears, brown socks on his paws, and dark rings around his bushy tail.
Thank you, Dante. Are the others here as well? Malcolm could see most of the surrounding beach from his vantage point on the roof.
I am here as promised.
William’s ice-cold voice resonated in Malcolm’s mind. He looked over to see him perched on the eaves of Samantha’s home. William was a Gyrfalcon and a formidable warrior, known for his intelligence and calculated thought. Malcolm would hate to fight him in battle and was grateful he’d been chosen to help protect Sam. He was a gigantic specimen with bright white feathers, spotted with brown. His large ebony eyes did not move from Samantha.
Me too, added Steven. We couldn’t let you have all the fun with this Caedo hunter by yourself, now could we? Besides, I’m actually more interested in watching Malcolm try to tame his woman. From what I hear, she’s kind of feisty. You know, the Wolf is known for having a bit of a temper, and they hate being told what to do.
Malcolm could hear the smile in Steven’s voice. It didn’t take long for Malcolm to find him. He was hidden further down the beach, also in the tall grasses of the dune. The beige coloring of his fur allowed him to blend easily with his surroundings. He lay unnaturally still, and his emerald green eyes were completely focused on Samantha.
Just wait until you find your mates. We’ll see who’s laughing then, Malcolm countered.
You know, boys. I think Malcolm’s gotten a bit cranky. Looks like Samantha’s really got you twisted up, doesn’t it? Steven teased.
Malcolm could swear he saw a smile on the coyote’s face.
William interjected with his usual seriousness. I don’t think this is a situation to make light of. You should complete the mating ceremony and be done with it. The hunter is nearby somewhere. I can feel it, but I cannot seem to pinpoint his location.
I have been having the same issue all morning.
Man, these women sure can yap, Steven said.
Not much different from our females, William added.
She is one of our females. You can all go inside and make yourselves at home. I will handle it from here, Malcolm said sharply.
Someone’s touchy, Dante teased.
Malcolm could hear them chuckling as they vanished into the air.
Sam had picked up her pace significantly after chatting with Millie. She focused on her breathing, hoping it would settle her sour stomach. She thought about how great Millie was and how lucky they all were to have each other. Sam wished she’d had a bigger family. Holidays had been wonderful, but it was always just Sam, Nonie, and Pop. Growing up, she’d hoped that someday she’d find the man of her dreams, get married, and have a huge house full of children. Could she have that with Malcolm? He was literally the man of her dreams. However, the rules had changed. He wasn’t even human, and apparently neither was she.
The run helped burn off some of the wine and cheese from yesterday, but it hadn’t done much for clearing her head. Sam approached Kerry’s house and slowed to a walk to cool down a bit. She wiped away the sweat as it dripped down her forehead and lifted her face to the sun. The cool breeze was a welcome relief. Once again, she heard her name in the wind.
She shaded her eyes from the sun. She saw Kerry standing on her deck with a cup of coffee. Her long dark hair was blowing loosely in the wind. She waved and sashayed down the steps to meet her.
Sam shook her head. “No one should look this good at this hour of the morning. I know you just rolled out of bed.”
“What gave it away? Was it my fabulous ensemble?” Kerry motioned to the yoga pants and tank top. “God. How do you have energy to go running? I’d rather stick a hot poker in my eye.” She sipped her coffee.
“Clears the head…at least it’s supposed to,” she said with a wry smile. “We still on for lunch and shopping tomorrow?”
“Absolutely.” Kerry smiled. “But more importantly, are we still on for our night out this weekend to meet your new man?”
Sam felt guilty because she’d forgotten all about that. With a pained expression, she said, “I’m sorry. I haven’t had a chance to ask Malcolm yet.”
“Hey! You found your necklace!”
“Malcolm found it for me actually. He brought…gave it back to me last night.” She touched the necklace and felt her cheeks grow hot at the memory.
“You’re blushing again.” Kerry wiggled her eyebrows at Sam, and they both broke into giggles. “He must be some guy.”
“Oh, he’s something all right,” Sam said quietly.
Movement on the roof of Kerry’s house caught Samantha’s eye. Anger flared hotly through her body at the sight above her. It was a gigantic golden eagle perched on the roof, watching everything.
He was sitting up there blatantly spying on her. Sam was so angry she could scream. However, she couldn’t exactly explain to her friend that her boyfriend was a bird and that she herself was a wolf, or part wolf.
Samantha had tried to keep her cool while she said her good-byes to Kerry, but now she was going to let it all hang out. She was absolutely steamed. She gave Kerry a quick kiss and headed home.
She held it together as she climbed the steps to her own house. Sam’s entire body was tensed into one big knot, and her fists were balled up at her side. How could he think that this was okay? After everything he knew about what had happened with Roger, why would he do something like this?
Samantha saw Malcolm swoop off the rooftop. She expected him to grab her and carry her off like some caveman, just like he had in her dream. To her relief, he flew down and landed behind her studio, out of sight. Sam reached the top of the steps, rounded the corner, and ran face first into Malcolm’s chest. She stumbled backward, and he grabbed her by the arms, pulling her close.
“Let go of me.” Sam shoved at him.
He released her immediately.
Sam stumbled back and promptly landed on her butt.
She stood, brushed herself off, and delivered her most withering look. “Just who the hell do you think you are?”
“I am your mate, and I have every right to make sure you are safe.” Casually, he put his hands in the pockets of his jeans and leaned one hip against the studio doors. His white linen shirt was as rumpled as his hair, and he flashed that devastating smile.
“Your mate, huh?” She stood defiantly with her hands on her hips and flashing eyes. “Well, where I come from men don’t go around bonking women on the head like giant Neanderthals. What about free will? I have something to say about this whole mate thing, don’t I?”
“Of course you do, Samantha. I would never force myself on you.” He reached out for her hand.
“Really.” She crossed her arms, refusing his touch. “Well, if you want me to try and wrap my brain around this whole thing, you might start by respecting my wishes. I had my fill with controlling assholes when I dated Roger.”
Malcolm’s eyes softened, and his voice dropped low. “I am not trying to control you, Samantha. I would never treat you the way that he did.”
Guilt tugged at her heart as she looked into his apologetic face. Comparing him to Roger was a low blow. She knew he was nothing like that, but he still didn’t have the right to spy on her.
She tilted her chin up at him and let out a sound of frustration. “Well, I asked for privacy, and you completely ignored that.”
“Well actually, you asked me to get out of your head. Which I did,” he pointed out.
“Nice. You’re a smartass as well.” Her temper began to cool. This time when he reached for her hand, she let him take it. She looked down at their fingers linked together and loved the trails of fire he left behind, even with the tiniest and most tender strokes. No, he was nothing like Roger. Roger had never been caring. He’d only wanted to possess her.
She looked into Malcolm’s eyes and squeezed his hand. “I need you to give me some space, Malcolm. You’ve laid an enormous amount of information in my lap, and it’s going to take some getting used to. The last thing I need is to think I’m being watched twenty-four hours a day.”
“Of course.” He stroked her velvety soft palm with his thumb. “I’m sorry I’ve upset you. I will try not to let that happen again.” He pulled her to him and placed a gentle kiss on top of her head.
Samantha allowed herself to melt into him, but stopped. Why was he so worried about her safety all the time? She pulled back and looked him dead in the face. She narrowed her eyes in suspicion. “And by the way, what on earth would make you think I’m not safe? Is there something else I should know that you haven’t told me?”
Malcolm wanted to tell Samantha about the hunter, but he didn’t want to upset her more than he already had. He still needed time. They had to complete the mating rite so that they could be in full possession of their abilities. If she did end up in a battle, she’d need all of her Amoveo powers. However, he hoped that they would be able to exterminate the hunter without Samantha ever knowing about it.
“Well, after your visit from Roger you can’t blame me for being concerned.” It wasn’t really a lie…just an omission of the truth. Looking into those fired up eyes of hers, he felt like a shithead for being even the least bit evasive. His gaze softened, and he stroked her cheek with his thumb. “Your safety is my primary concern, mia piccola lupa. I will do my best to respect your wishes.”
“What is that, Italian? Because I have to admit…” She smiled. “It’s pretty hot.” Again, she rested her head on his chest.
“Yes. It means my little wolf.” He played with her ponytail and relished the silky feel of the gold strands between his fingers.
She rolled her eyes, popped up on her toes, and gave him a quick kiss on the cheek. She held him at arm’s length and patted his chest. “Easy there. I still don’t buy the fact that I am going to turn into a wolf.”
“You still doubt this? Even after everything you’ve seen, everything you’ve felt?” he said with a featherlight stroke down her arm.
They stood there in silence for a moment, eyes locked, hers searching his for answers.
“Come with me.” Malcolm took her hand. Reluctantly, she followed him into her studio. He flipped on the light and walked over to the canvas in the corner. He lifted the drape and revealed the portrait of him that Sam had made. “You’ve known the truth…you put it here. You saw who I really was before I told you. Your talent is one of your Amoveo gifts. We have many gifted artisans among our people, and I am proud to say you are one of them.” He didn’t take his gaze from Samantha.
She moved slowly toward Malcolm and the image of his eagle form. It was surreal to have them there, side by side. As the sun streamed in the studio through the large picture window, it cast a golden light across Malcolm’s face. His eyes, although not shifted, still gleamed yellow. Looking at both sides of him, she knew deep down that everything he’d told her was true.
It terrified her.
“So what now?” she asked quietly, not taking her gaze off the portrait.
“You need to learn how to control your gifts, for your safety, as well as the people around you.”
“Why, am I a werewolf or something? Am I going to try and eat Nonie?” She lowered herself onto the stool. Her shoulders sagged in defeat.
He walked over and knelt down in front of her, taking her hands in his. “Of course not.” He laughed softly. “You will still be yourself. You will be your truest self.”
She avoided his gaze.
Please look at me, Samantha, he whispered in her mind.
Samantha complied, compelled by his voice. She stared at him, her gaze silently searching his. She wondered if she would ever get used to hearing him in her mind. It was the most intimate sensation she’d ever felt. Hesitantly, she touched his face. His skin was warm and smooth along his high, strong forehead. She brushed the back of her fingers down his cheek and along his jaw, which was rough with an early morning beard.
He closed his eyes and allowed her this moment to explore. It was all true. This man was most definitely an unusual man. Hell, he wasn’t even entirely a man. He was so much more. She ran her thumb along his firm lower lip. Then, tentatively she reached out to his mind with hers. The instant they connected her body was swamped with an overwhelming sense of relief. His eyes flew open, shifted, and glowed brightly back at her.
She was home.
I trust you, Malcolm.
He took her face in his hands and tenderly kissed the corners of her mouth. She knew that giving him her trust was the last step before she could give him her heart. She covered his hands with hers and leaned her forehead against his.
“Just don’t lie to me. Okay?” Her voice was weary. “Apparently, my very existence has been based on half-truths. I don’t know how many more surprises I can take.”
“Of course.” He kept his eyes closed and prayed he’d be able to keep that promise.
Sam placed a kiss on Malcolm’s forehead and stood up. His hands fell away from her with reluctance.
“Where are you going?”
She could feel his eyes on her as she moved to the doorway.
“Inside to take a shower, and then I’m going to speak with Nonie.” Sam raised a hand to silence him. “Look. I know you’re part of some secret race and everything, but…”
“We,” he corrected.
“Okay, fine,” she said, exasperated. “We’re part of some secret race, but Nonie is my family. She’s my only family. I have to find out what she knows. And if she doesn’t know, then I have to tell her.”
“I really don’t think that’s wise, Samantha.”
“Shit, you’re bossy,” she mumbled under her breath. She turned to confront him, and the small smirk on his face let her know he’d heard that remark. He cocked one eyebrow.
“Well, Malcolm,” she said defiantly. “This really isn’t up to you.” She turned and walked out the studio door without giving him a chance to respond. As she stepped outside, she was shocked to have Malcolm materialize before her out of thin air.
“What are you doing?” She quickly looked to see if anyone else was around. “What if Nonie saw you do that? Or Kerry?” She grabbed his hand and pulled him back into the studio. “You forgot to mention this little gift to me.”
“It’s our preferred method of traveling. Right now, Samantha, you are my primary concern,” he said with that same irritating calm. “And I don’t think that now is the time to be telling your grandmother anything.”
“Really, well I do.” She crossed her arms.
“Samantha. Are you going to fight me on everything?” He sighed. “Please. Just wait until you’ve gone through your first shift and learned to control it. Nonie may need some convincing, and if you can’t show her and let her see with her own eyes…”
“She’ll haul me off to the loony bin.” Frustrated, Sam went to the portrait of her parents on the windowsill. She picked it up and touched the images, their faces frozen in time behind the cool glass. “I have his eyes,” she said in an almost inaudible voice.
Malcolm wrapped his strong arms around her waist. He pulled her close, and she noted how hard his entire body felt. Her mind flashed back to that dream she’d had the night before she came home. There was no doubt that Malcolm had been the man who had been calling her all these years. She was home. She had never felt delicate before, but in his arms, she felt positively tiny.
Oddly enough, she also felt safe.
She placed her hand over his as he spoke softly in her ear.
“Yes you do, and he gave you so much more. Come to my home this evening, and I will show you how to enter our world. It is a world that you have only dreamed of.”
Sam placed the frame back on the windowsill and turned to him. She took his hands in hers and looked up into his incredibly handsome face. She knew deep down in her knotted up belly that she was falling in love with him. Staring into his shifted, glowing eyes, she knew she’d be linked to him and his foreign world forever.