Chapter 18

When Sam reached the top of the steps at home, she was relieved that Nonie’s car wasn’t there. She had been dreading finding her at the kitchen table with two cups of tea and a look of disapproval. Gratefully, she had the house to herself and got ready for her shopping date with Kerry in record time. She threw on her pink Capri pants and a crisp white T-shirt. Sam’s favorite fashion was easy and comfortable. She was about to walk out the door and the phone rang. “Hello?” She ran her fingers through her hair a few times.

Kerry’s voice came brightly across the line. “Hey, woman. Nice walk of shame this morning.”

Sam cringed visibly. “Jeez. You saw that, huh?”

“Oh, yeah.” She chuckled. “Listen, we’ve got to take your car. AJ and I are sharing a car while I’m here, and that dork currently has it. He must’ve had a date with his fish,” Kerry said with irritation.

“No problem…if you don’t mind riding in the old bug.”

“Great! Pick me up in five minutes, and by the way, I want all the racy details. Bye.”

She hung up before Sam could retort. Sam smiled, put the last finishing touches on her makeup, and headed out.

Sam pulled up in front of the Smithson’s massive contemporary home and honked the horn for her friend. It loomed largely over Nonie’s house. It was all glass and sharp angles, and to Samantha it always seemed cold. Kerry’s parents weren’t very involved with their only child’s life. They ran in the ultra-wealthy crowd, jet-setting all over the world. Kerry used to joke that her mother and father adopted her so that they could have a picture of The Smithson’s in front of the fireplace every Christmas. Kerry said she felt more like an acquisition for their business, rather than a daughter. Sam thought Kerry’s phobia about touching people came from growing up in such a cold family. It broke Sam’s heart. Her parents were missing out on an incredible woman.

Within minutes, Kerry came sweeping out the front door with supermodel flair. Sam always felt a little less put together when Kerry was around. She had on white linen pants with a black halter and adorable strappy sandals. It was an outfit Sam would’ve felt overdressed in, but for Kerry it was breezy casual. Her long black hair was swept up gracefully in a clip. Her oval face was framed by her movie star sunglasses, and a white Chanel bag draped elegantly over her arm. Sam smiled as Kerry slid easily into the front seat next to her. Sam was certain that if you looked up the word statuesque in the dictionary, Kerry’s picture would be underneath it. “You look too nice to be in this car. I feel like you’re going to wilt or something.” She pulled out of the driveway.

“Oh, please.” Kerry waved it off. “Let’s move on to more interesting topics like…oh, I don’t know…the little sleepover you had with the hot, mysterious neighbor?”

“His name is Malcolm,” Sam corrected.

“Okay. Malcolm. So…”

Sam tightened her grip on the steering wheel. She wanted to share everything with Kerry, but would she believe it? Sam decided to take it one step at a time. Malcolm was probably right about people needing to see for themselves. “So…it was…well…he made me a beautiful dinner. Salad, lobster, and champagne—you know the works. All of it by candlelight, by the way. It was quite romantic.” She continued to rattle off details of the evening as the scenery whizzed past them on their way into Watch Hill.

“Uh-huh. Sounds like this guy set quite the scene,” Kerry said quietly.

“What do you mean by that?” Sam felt a bit defensive.

“Did you do it?”

Sam laughed. “Wow. You do get right to the point, don’t you? Sheesh.”

“We’ve known each other too long to beat around the bush,” she said flatly. “Besides, it’s been way too long since I’ve had sex. I need to live vicariously through others. So humor me.” She gave her a friendly swat.

“Yes, you heathen. We did it,” she spit out.

“Woo hoo! Samantha got some nookie,” Kerry hooted loudly. Then she stuck her head out the window and hooted some more.

“Jesus. Shut up.” Sam laughed. “I don’t think all of Watch Hill needs to hear about this.” She reached over and pulled her friend back in from the window.

“So are you going to see him again?” Kerry inquired as they pulled into the parking lot.

“Yes. I’m going over tonight for dinner actually.” Sam shut off the engine.

“Good,” she said firmly. “Then he clearly wanted more than a one-night stand. One more question…does he make you happy?” Kerry asked in an unusually serious tone.

“Happy? Well, yes…but it’s more than that.” She thought as various memories came flooding back. “Since I’ve known Malcolm, I feel…” She paused, searching for just the right word. “I feel awake…you know…for the first time in my life I am awake.” She looked over at her friend. “Does that make sense?”

“Not really.” Kerry chuckled, her brows knitted together. “But if it makes sense to you, then that’s good enough for me.” She got out of the car and gave Sam a wicked grin. “By the way, if he hurts you…I’m going to kick his ass.”

“I wouldn’t expect anything less.” Samantha slipped on her sunglasses.

They spent the next couple of hours weaving their way in and out of the little shops along Main Street. The town was made up of one tiny stretch of road along the harbor. The street was dotted with one boutique after another. A few restaurants, the requisite ice cream parlor, and candy shop. At one end was the small harbor with boats of varying sizes and shapes, while the other end was capped by a beautiful old carousel. Year after year children came here to ride the ponies and try to get the brass ring. Sam had many fond memories of riding that carousel herself, but she never did get the ring.

During their shopping excursion, Sam found an adorable little camisole in one place, and Kerry found a sculpture at another. After exhausting every shop on one side of the street, they finally settled in for lunch at The Olympia Tea Room. The light and lovely atmosphere was matched only by the incredible food. Over their lunch of lobster salad and white wine, she told Kerry more about her evening with Malcolm. Kerry listened intently and was eager to hear all that Sam had to tell. Samantha still felt the need to hold back. She felt guilty for only telling her partial truths, but she just couldn’t bring herself to tell the whole story. Not yet.

After lunch, they perused the remaining shops, finding various treasures along the way. Samantha was picking through a rack of dresses as Malcolm’s voice floated quietly into her mind.

Enjoying yourself, are you?

Sam felt delicious little shivers run down her back. Stop that. She inadvertently sent him a smile.

Stop what?

At that same moment, Sam actually felt his hands run along her sides. The passion flared hard and fast. With a sharp intake of breath, she steeled herself, afraid the entire store would see her body respond. She yelped when Kerry came up behind her. “Oh. Shit!”

“Sorry. Jeez, you seemed awfully deep in thought about that dress,” Kerry said with genuine concern. “Hey! You’re all flushed, are you okay?”

“Yes. Sorry.” Sam flashed an embarrassed smile. “I was just deciding if I should get this for my date with Malcolm tonight. What do you think?” She held up a hideous brown and white concoction.

Kerry made a face and shook her head. “Jesus. You’re out of Manhattan for like two seconds, and already you’ve lost all sense of fashion. No way.” She grimaced and placed the offending garment back on the rack. “Look. I didn’t have incredible sex last night, so I need ice cream. One of the benefits of being a model for real women’s clothing. No need to starve myself. C’mon.” Kerry took Sam’s hand, leading her out the door.

You told her it was incredible, he chuckled softly.

Sam rolled her eyes. Good-bye, Malcolm. She sent him the sternest impression she could muster. She heard his laugh fade into the distance.

They made a beeline straight for the ice cream shop. Kerry opted for rocky road with sprinkles, and Samantha settled on a cone of cookies and cream. They walked quietly for a while as they ate their cold, sweet goodies. Eventually they ended up watching the carousel spin. They watched the children with their jack-o’-lantern smiles reach time and again for the rings. Every now and then you’d hear the victorious shriek of, I got it, Mommy! as one of them grasped the golden circle.

Kerry broke the silence first. “You still want kids, right?” she asked, between licks of her ice cream.

“Oh, yeah.” Sam smiled. Until Malcolm, she hadn’t seriously considered it.

“You want a boy or a girl?”

Human would’ve been nice. “Oh…it doesn’t really matter.” Sam smiled. “How about you? Still want kids?”

“I’d love it. But I still haven’t found the right guy. Plus…you know that would mean I’d have to find someone I can actually stand touching. Haven’t met anyone spookie-free. I could do the whole sperm bank thing, but I still want to have a baby with a guy I’m in love with.” She threw her napkin into a nearby trash can. “At least you’re on the right track with Malcolm.”

“Whoa.” Sam made her way back to the car. “No one said anything about us having babies or anything.”

“Uh-huh.” Kerry eyed her skeptically. “Look, kiddo, I’ve known you longer than anyone, and I have never heard you talk about a man this way ever. You’ll be married to this guy by Christmas.” She casually waited for Sam to unlock the car.

I like her, Malcolm said in his matter-of-fact way.

That’s it! You are cut off, bird boy. Sam slammed her mind shut to him. Within seconds, that odd feeling of emptiness began to creep in. She had to steel herself against it. She needed Malcolm to understand and respect her privacy. If he couldn’t manage it on his own, she’d have to help him.

“Hello? Sam? Wake up. Are you ever going to unlock the car? These bags are cutting off the circulation in my arms.” Kerry waved her fingers at Sam.

Samantha blinked and shook her head with a small laugh. “Sorry. It’s just all this marriage and baby talk made me space out.”

They filled the little red Bug with their various packages and headed back home. They sang their hearts out to some old eighties tunes, Bon Jovi in particular. Sam loved that liberating feeling of singing at the top of her lungs, belting it out with the windows wide open while the wind whipped her hair in a frenzy. The two friends sang and laughed all the way back home. They got out still laughing and removed all of Kerry’s packages from the trunk. Sam pulled out the last bag and noticed movement in the tall grasses next to the driveway. Hiding there, stone still, almost completely hidden by the reeds and grass, was an enormous red fox. Its huge amber eyes were fixed on them boldly. It tracked every move they made without the smallest ounce of fear.

“What is it?” Kerry glanced over to where Sam was looking.

“It’s a fox,” Sam said in a loud whisper. “See, right over there.” But when she looked back, it was gone. There wasn’t a trace of it. The grass hadn’t even wavered.

“I don’t see it. Really?” Kerry squinted, trying to find it.

“A fox in the daylight isn’t good. Yikes, if you see it again, don’t go near it. It’s probably rabid.” Kerry made a sound of disgust. “I forgot how much I loathe nature.” Kerry placed a quick kiss on Sam’s cheek. “I’ll talk to you later.”

“Right,” Sam said absently.

“I had a ball, babe,” Kerry said, going up the steps. “By the way, we are still on for tomorrow night, right? You, me, AJ, and your…Malcolm?”

“Boy, you never give up, do you?” Sam smiled.

“Nope.” Kerry winked. “Have fun tonight, and call me in the morning.” Waving, she disappeared into the house.

Sam drove back to Nonie’s house. If she had an energy signature like Malcolm said, then it was on fire at the moment. What would it take to make this man understand the word privacy? She pulled into the driveway and gravel spit up angrily when she screeched to a halt at the top.

We need to talk, Malcolm, right now.

As the sound of her sweet, but angry voice spread through his mind, Malcolm’s body flooded with relief. The moment she’d shut her mind to him, the emptiness came over him like a shroud. The touch of her mind to his was like getting water after a drought. In an instant, he materialized in the car next to her. “As you wish,” he murmured.

Samantha jumped several inches out of her seat. “Jesus!” She slapped his arm. “Would you please stop that? You’ve got to give me some kind of warning if you’re going to just pop in and out of places.” She clutched her chest.

“I’m sorry. You wanted to speak with me now, so I came as quickly as I could.” He trailed one finger along her thigh, knowing it left a trail of pleasure in its wake.

“Stop that too.” She pushed his hand away.

He took her fingers and linked them with his. “I like your friend very much. She’s quite insightful.” He smiled and stroked the pad of his thumb along the inside of her palm, which sent little zaps of lightning over her skin.

“Most men do.” Jealousy rose involuntarily inside of her.

“That’s not what I meant, and you know it.” He turned her face so he could look into her eyes. “She is your friend and means a great deal to you. Therefore, she means a great deal to me.”

“You can’t tell me that you don’t think she’s beautiful?”

“She’s quite attractive. But you are beautiful.” He brushed his lips ever so lightly along her knuckles. Her breath hitched in her throat and her mouth went dry.

“There is no one else for me, Samantha.” His eyes shifted and locked on hers. “Ever.”

She licked her lips and tried to maintain self-control. She closed her eyes and reluctantly removed her hand from Malcolm’s. “Do you even know why I shut my mind to you today?” She got out of the car, needing to put some space between them.

“Yes,” he said, his voice dropping to almost a whisper. “I invaded your space. I’m sorry, Samantha. It’s just that I am so eager to get to know everything I can about you that I suppose I get a little…overzealous.” He met her outside the car and took her bags from the trunk.

“Overbearing is more like it.” She closed the trunk. “And what’s with having that Amoveo fox watching me too? I thought your uncle called off those guys anyway.” She took one of the bags from Malcolm, his brow now wrinkled in concern.

“A fox?” A shadow passed over his face. “Are you certain it was an Amoveo and not just a regular fox?”

“Oh no, this was definitely not a normal fox.” She led him into Nonie’s house. “First of all, it was huge. Second, it was watching us. I mean, really watching us, and then when I went to point it out to Kerry, it was gone. Poof. Not even the grasses moved. It was like it just vanished…sound familiar?”

“Yes.”

The look on his face betrayed his concern. She also felt it in little waves that made her catch her breath. She wasn’t sure if she’d ever get used to having shared emotions; it definitely threw her off balance. They brought her bags into the house and set them down by the stairs.

“Samantha, I need to go speak with my cousin, Dante. I am quite sure he was who you saw today, but I’m unclear as to why he would be here. I’m sure everything is fine, but I would feel much better if I heard that from him.” He moved closer, his body just inches from hers. “Would you still like to join me this evening?”

Sam smiled because this time he asked her if she wanted to come over; he didn’t assume. “Well.” She looked around to see if Nonie was in earshot. “You do still owe me a lesson in shapeshifting, if I’m not mistaken.” She looked up at him with a suggestive smile.

“Yes, mia piccola lupa, I believe I do,” he whispered against her lips and swept her up in one of his devastating, knee-weakening kisses. Her body melded easily against his. She wrapped her arms around his neck, and desire for him warmed her entire body.

He pulled back slowly and placed one last little kiss at the corner of her mouth. “I won’t be gone long. I’ll see you at seven.”

“Oh wait. I almost forgot. Kerry wants to go out tomorrow night so she can meet you. Are you game?” She flashed a mischievous grin.

“I imagine that would be very nice. Will it just be the three of us?” He held her around her waist with one hand and stroked her cheek with the other.

“No.” Sam savored the gentle caress. “Her cousin AJ is coming too. He’s living there this summer while he works at the aquarium in Mystic,” she whispered as he trailed kisses down her neck.

“Whatever you wish,” he spoke softly.

Delicious shivers fluttered down her spine. She pulled him closer, wanting to feel his body press against hers.

“Well, don’t mind me.” Nonie’s singsong voice broke the moment like a bucket of water on a fire.

They jumped apart, and Sam wiped at her lips.

“I was just leaving.” Malcolm cleared his throat. “Nice to see you again, Nonie.”

“Mmm hmm. Good day, Mr. Drew.” Nonie brushed past them into the kitchen.

Malcolm went out the door and whispered teasingly to Sam. I think you’re in trouble. She looks pretty upset with you.

Sam narrowed her eyes and shot back, Coward. She shook her head, smiling after him. Then she took a deep breath and went into the kitchen to receive a good, old-fashioned lecture. She found Nonie rinsing out her teacup in the kitchen sink. “So, go ahead. Let me have it.” Sam pulled out the chair and sat at the table, her hands folded.

“I don’t know what you mean, dear.” Nonie put her cup in the dishwasher, loaded it up with detergent, and set it running.

“You don’t having anything to say about what you just saw or the fact that I stayed at Malcolm’s last night?”

Nonie turned slowly and leaned against the edge of the sink. She didn’t say anything at first, just looked down at her hands as though she was looking for exactly the right thing to say. “You are an adult, Samantha. Next time you plan on staying out all night, it would be nice if you let me know. That’s all.” Her eyes betrayed her sadness.

Sam could feel how upset Nonie was, it was actually making her stomach hurt. “Nonie, why are you so sad? And don’t try to tell me you’re not. I can sense how upset you are.”

Nonie’s eyes welled up with tears, and she hurried out of the kitchen.

Her tears hit Sam like a shock wave. When she stood to follow, she got an enormous head rush. She shut her eyes and steadied herself, leaning on the back of the chair. Malcolm’s voice came like a soothing balm into her soul.

Are you all right?

She could hear the twinge of concern, and it made her smile in spite of how she felt. Yes. Nonie is upset, and it’s making me feel sick. She tried to keep panic from welling up inside of her.

Focus on your breathing, and it will pass. Your body will learn to be more accepting of other people’s emotions and will adjust. I promise, mia piccola lupa.

As his words drifted through her mind, her body instantly relaxed. Sam steadied her breathing, and the unpleasant sensation began to subside. She let out a deep breath and whispered back to him in their intimate telepathy. Thank you, Malcolm.

Sam found Nonie out on the deck, staring at the rough waters below. Her small body was bundled up in a huge blue sweater, her arms crossed tightly across her chest. She was only a few feet away, but Sam had never felt so far from her. The wind was picking up, and long strands of her silver hair were whipping around her head. “Looks like a storm is coming. You know the sea always picks up like this before a big one.” Sam walked over and stood next to Nonie at the railing.

“That’s what I’m afraid of.” Nonie turned to look at Samantha. “I already lost your mother. I can’t lose you as well.” Tears filled her eyes.

“Nonie, you’re not going to lose me.”

Nonie shook her head and turned back out to the ocean. “That’s what your mother told me too.” Nonie wiped tears away with the back of her time-worn hand. “You’re moving awfully fast, Samantha. Do you even know him? I mean, do you know what kind of man he is?”

“Actually, Nonie, I know him better than I’ve ever known anyone in my life.” Sam wrapped her arms around her grandmother.

“Did he tell you what it really means to be with him?”

She turned Nonie gently so they were face-to-face. Sam looked at her through narrowed eyes, searching for the truth. “What do you mean, Nonie?” Samantha felt Nonie’s apprehension rising in unison with her own.

“I—” Nonie was interrupted by the shrill ring of Samantha’s cell phone in the front hall.

Sam growled in frustration at being interrupted. They stood there, eyes locked in silence, as the phone continued to ring.

“You’d better get that.” Nonie turned back to look out on the sea.

Sam miraculously found her phone on the first dive into her bag. The caller ID confirmed it was Kerry. “Hey, can I call you back? I’m in the middle of something with Nonie.” Sam watched her grandmother come back in the house and brush past her to the kitchen.

“I really need to see you,” Kerry said through a strained voice. Kerry never cried.

“Hey? What’s going on? You sound like you’ve been crying.” An all too familiar wave of nausea came over Sam. Focus, Sam, and steady breathing, just like Malcolm said. She held her belly and squeezed her eyes shut. Gratefully, the sensation slowly subsided.

“I can’t talk about it on the phone,” Kerry said abruptly. “I’m so sorry, but Sam, you have to come over.”

Her voice was desperate and scared, which made Sam very nervous. Kerry never let that kind of emotion out…ever. She always used smartass humor to cover it all up. “Okay. I’ll be right there,” Sam said. The line went dead before she got all the words out. She hung up and heard Nonie going upstairs. “Nonie,” Sam called after her. “Kerry is pretty upset and needs me to come over. I’ve never heard her like this before. I’m worried.” She was feeling torn in two directions. She really wanted to find out what Nonie was insinuating, but the fear in Kerry’s voice was too alarming to ignore. “I’d really like to continue our conversation when I get back.”

“That’s fine, dear,” Nonie said in a weary voice. She gave a small wave of her hand. “I’m going to lie down for a while.” At the top of the stairs, Nonie looked down at Samantha. “You know I love you, Samantha…no matter what.” Then she disappeared around the corner to her room.

***

Malcolm worked in his office and tried many times to reach out to Dante. However, each attempt resulted in silence. His frustration at the lack of contact with Dante grew with every passing moment. Why was he watching Sam if the hunter had been caught? He struggled to concentrate on the tedious emails that glared at him from the harsh light of the computer screen. Moments later his mind was happily flooded with Samantha’s melodious voice.

I am going over to Kerry’s house. She’s very upset and needs to see me.

When she established their intimate mental link, his body was immediately drenched with warmth. An easy smile replaced a look of focused concentration. Does this mean you’ll be late for our lesson this evening? He put a suggestive emphasis on the word lesson.

Well, probably, but I’m also going to cut you off, so to speak.

His instinct was to fight her on this decision. However, he knew she was looking for privacy, which was so dear to her. As you wish, he whispered back. Every fiber of his being cried out against this action, yet he relented. It pained him to be cut off from her mentally, but he needed to prove that he could respect her wishes.

Thank you, Malcolm. She let out a great sigh of relief and made her way down the beach steps. I think it’s going to be an old-fashioned girl talk with lots of tears and probably some ice cream. If I didn’t close my mind to you, then I’d feel like I was betraying her confidence. You know, letting you in on her secrets, which aren’t mine to tell. Do you understand? She nibbled on her bottom lip.

His next words fluttered across her heart like featherlight kisses.

Promise me that as soon as you’re done with your…female bonding…you’ll connect with me right away.

Sam laughed softly, and his heart felt a small, unexpected squeeze. Absolutely…I’ll see you soon, she purred.

Samantha severed their mental link, and he was left with a growing void. As the inevitable feeling of dread began to creep over him, he shook his head and shifted his focus to his work. He reminded himself that Uncle Brendan had the Caedo hunter, and any imminent danger was gone. He repeated it over and over to himself, but couldn’t escape the feeling that darkness was coming.

***

When she shut her mind to Malcolm, a black hole was left in its wake. Sam shuddered and pulled her black sweater closer around her. The winds had picked up considerably. She squinted to avoid the tiny grains of sand caught in the salty gales. She was always amazed at how quickly the weather changed on the ocean. The sky had darkened ominously, which mirrored the shadowy, roiling sea as it crashed onto the deserted shores.

Sam quickly climbed the steps to Kerry’s house and was surprised to see the sliding glass doors wide open. As she stepped onto the deck, she was hit with a shock wave of intense emotion. It slammed into her mind violently, like someone drove a spike into her brain. She clasped her head, and stars burst behind her eyes. The crushing pain dropped her to her knees. She knelt there, desperately trying to catch her breath and squelch the panic rising inside of her. Her instinct was to reach out to Malcolm, but she needed to cope with these emotional onslaughts. She refused to be weak. She had to prove that she was able to handle her Amoveo abilities without running to him all the time like a child.

Samantha drew in slow, steady breaths and focused on filtering out the emotion as Malcolm had taught her. Eventually, the crushing pain began to diminish. Shaking, she rose to her feet. She wiped the tears away and steadied her balance on the railing. Something was dreadfully wrong. She had not experienced ferocious emotion like that before. It felt evil. She took a few tentative steps toward the open door. “Kerry?” There was no answer. Sam clutched her sweater around her shaking body. She peered hesitantly into the open doorway and called for her friend again. “Kerry?” To her horror, the entire living room had been ransacked. It looked like someone had fought a war inside the house. Chairs and tables were overturned, lamps shattered on the floor, books and smashed picture frames were strewn about. She was about to run, but a low moaning from behind the couch caught her attention. She quickly climbed over the debris and found a bleeding man. She could tell right away that he was Amoveo. She didn’t know how, she just knew.

He had several swollen bruises on his face. A huge silver arrow protruded from a bloody wound in his massive chest. Based on his auburn hair, it was likely that this was the Fox she had seen earlier. Malcolm’s cousin, Dante, was a Fox…wasn’t he? The man stirred slightly. Sam looked him over quickly and saw he was injured badly. Based on the dark stain on the rug beneath him, he’d lost an enormous amount of blood.

“Dante?” she whispered as she brushed hair away from his face. “What happened? Where’s Kerry?”

He moved slightly and groaned in response.

“It’s okay. Everything’s going to be all right,” she said more for her own reassurance, trying to keep her fear under control. “I’m going to call Malcolm.”

From behind her came a sinister, but slightly familiar voice. “I don’t think so.”

Something smashed the back of her head, and her entire world went dark.