Zachary swore under his breath and stuck the shell in his pocket before running after Annabelle. He was cocking this whole situation up in a big fat way because he had no idea what he was doing. All he knew was that he had to stop her before she ran off and got herself lost or worse. She had no money and no identification. Where the hell did she think she was gonna go?
The heat of the early morning sun fired over him the instant he stepped foot on the sand, and panic filled him when he found the beach empty. He ran past the privacy fences that lined the sides of the property, and as he approached the water’s edge, a wave of relief flooded him when he spotted her. She was about thirty feet down the beach to the left, sitting in the sand with her face buried against her knees. His sense of relief was swiftly replaced with concern when he realized she was crying.
Shit. He’d made her cry. Nice move, asshole.
He ran one hand through his hair and approached her cautiously, trying to figure out what the fuck he was supposed to say or do. The woman was obviously in some kind of trouble and on the run from someone or something, and he went and dumped all the shapeshifter and life-mate stuff on her.
Wait a minute.
Zachary’s eyes narrowed and he studied her more closely. Running over everything in his mind, it dawned on him that she hadn’t seemed terribly surprised about the revelation that he was a shapeshifter—an Amoveo. Annabelle was more upset—or shocked—about being his mate than anything else. Could she already have known about the Amoveo? No way. The only humans who knew about the Amoveo were the Caedo, and there was no chance she was Caedo. He’d encountered plenty of those jerk-offs over the past year and they were nothing like Annabelle.
All of his thoughts were swept aside when the sadness edging her energy signature rippled over him in jagged strokes. Her long hair fluttered off her back and the red highlights glinted in the sun as her shoulders shook. Her arms hugged her legs and she kept her face buried against her knees. The woman looked utterly and completely alone, and in that moment, he made himself a promise.
No matter what happened, regardless of whether or not she wanted to be with him, he would help her. That had to be his top priority. Hadn’t he just told Dominic that it wouldn’t be fair to bring a human woman into the Amoveo world? He had to help her with whatever mess she was running from. Then, after that, they could deal with the whole life-mate thing…or not.
From this point forward, Zachary’s number one concern was to help Annabelle. But to do that, he had to get her to tell him what kind of trouble she was in.
He stopped about three feet away and looked around, grateful that no one else was out on the beach this early. There were more people farther down by the town beach, but it looked like most of these houses on the strip weren’t occupied at the moment.
“Annabelle?” Zachary kept his tone gentle, worried that he’d upset her enough already. “Look, I know I just dumped a bunch of crazy stuff on you, and I’m sorry. I guess finding you here like this just caught me off guard. I never really believed I had a mate, and to be honest, I wasn’t even looking for mine. So if you don’t want to pursue it, that’s fine. But you can’t sit here all day. Come on.”
She didn’t answer and kept her face turned away from him. She sniffled and her shoulders shuddered with a deep breath, as though she was doing her best to get her tears under control. Damn it. He could take anything, absolutely anything, except hearing her cry, because it made him feel helpless and out of control.
As a Guardian and Amoveo warrior, there wasn’t anything worse.
“Listen, come back to the house and let me make you some breakfast.” Zachary stepped closer and extended his hand. “Come on. I promise I won’t say another word about the mate stuff or being an Amoveo unless you ask me about it.”
Annabelle sniffled and turned to face him. His heart squeezed in his chest when she looked up at him with a tearstained face and watery eyes. She swiped at her cheeks and glanced at his extended hand, obviously weighing her options—which weren’t many.
“I won’t ask you about it,” she murmured. Her pale green eyes latched onto his and her voice took a serious tone. “I can’t, Zachary.”
Zachary nodded. He wouldn’t push her on the subject, but he sure as hell was going to get her to tell him what kind of mess she was in. In order to do that, he had to get her to trust him.
“Understood.” Zachary waggled his fingers at her and jerked his head toward the house. “Come on. Breakfast first, and then I’ll take you into town. We’ll file a report about the robbery and you can find a phone. Maybe someone found your bag or wallet or something and turned it in. Hell, it could be down at the local police station right now.” He put one hand to his heart and made the sign of an X over it. “I promise I’ll behave myself.”
“You’re going to cook me breakfast?” Annabelle shielded her eyes from the sun. “And then we go to town? That’s it?”
“Scout’s honor.” Zachary held up one hand and waved the other at her. “Deal?”
“Deal.” Annabelle placed her hand in his and held his gaze as he pulled her to her feet. Her body brushed his briefly, and he fought the driving need to pull her against him while keeping her fingers wrapped in his. A smile played at her lips as she leaned close and murmured, “Were you ever actually a Boy Scout?”
“Nope.” Zachary smirked and started walking backward, pulling her with him as he moved toward the house.
“I should have known.” Annabelle laughed and shook her head as she withdrew her hand from his. She folded her arms over her breasts and sliced a sidelong glance at him while they walked. “You don’t strike me as the Boy Scout type, but you did a fine job of helping a wounded stranger.”
“I wonder if there’s a badge for that?” Zachary stuck his hands in his pockets and captured the shell between his fingers. She laughed softly, and the sound of it whispered through him like a warm breeze, instantly putting him at ease. Damn if that wasn’t the sexiest sound in the world.
As they rounded the corner of the privacy fence along their section of the beach and went into the house, Zachary knew nothing was ever going to be the same. When he turned around to shut the slider, he spotted a few bikini-clad women strolling along the beach past the house. Normally, he would be making a beeline out there in an effort to get one or more of them into his bed…and now the idea of it seemed ludicrous. The notion of being with any woman other than Annabelle was off the table.
“Would you mind if I took a shower?” Annabelle’s voice brought him out of his thoughts. “Even if I have to put this dirty dress back on, at least my body will feel clean.”
“What?” Shaking his head, he spun around, feeling embarrassed for even looking at those girls. “Oh, yes. Sure. The bathroom is off the bedroom, and there are clean towels on the shelf.”
“I’ll be on my way soon enough.” Annabelle had a knowing smile on her face as she looked past him to the women at the water’s edge. Her pale green eyes flicked back to him. “And you can get back to your vacation.”
Without another word, she went to the bathroom, leaving Zachary standing alone in the living room feeling like an awkward teenager. He swore under his breath and headed into the kitchen to make breakfast, wondering if he could manage to fuck up anything else.
While Annabelle showered, Zachary whipped up two omelets with tomato and cheese, fried up some bacon, and managed a few slices of toast too. He was plating all of the food when he heard the bedroom door click open, but he didn’t have to turn around to know she was there. Her energy signature drifted through the room and wrapped around him like a blanket with oddly familiar ease.
“Have a seat.” Without turning around, he tossed the pans in the sink and grabbed two glasses from the cabinet before pouring them both some orange juice. “I hope you’re hungry, because I made plenty.”
Glasses in hand and with a smile on his face, Zach turned to face her but was rendered speechless by the sight before him. Annabelle’s long hair was wet and wavy and spilled over her bare shoulders temptingly. Her lush, curvy body was clad only in one of the green towels from the bathroom, showing off her gorgeous legs in the most cruelly seductive way. Her creamy, ivory skin glistened with moisture, and she nibbled her lower lip in an adorably shy gesture as she clutched the top of the towel with both hands.
Zach’s entire body went rigid, and for a second he forgot how to speak. She looked like a Greek goddess. Fresh faced, beautiful, and sexy as hell.
“I—I washed my dress in the shower and hung it up to dry. I looked around for a bathrobe, but I couldn’t find one.” Her cheeks flushed and she lifted one shoulder. “Maybe I could borrow one of your shirts or something? Just until my dress is dry.”
Zach blinked and shook his head, realizing he was standing there staring at her with his mouth open like a fucking moron. “Shit. I’m such an idiot.” Laughing, he placed the glasses of juice on the breakfast bar next to their plates. “You don’t have to do that. I can get you something to wear.”
“Oh no.” She shook her head adamantly. “I don’t want you to go to any more trouble.”
“It’s no trouble.” Zach winked. A sense of excitement fired through him. He could use his visualization ability to conjure up something for her to wear and kill two birds with one stone. Annabelle would get clothing, and he would get closer to earning her trust. He stepped around the counter while looking Annabelle up and down. She clutched the towel tighter and inched away as he moved closer, until she backed into the wall. Zach leaned close enough to feel the heat wafting off her gorgeous skin and whispered, “Trust me.”
“Wh-what are you going to do?” Her eyes widened and her gaze flickered over Zach’s face.
“Well, even though you look gorgeous in that towel, I’m going to give you something else to wear.” He tilted his head and held her stare while he tucked a long strand of wet hair behind her ear. He felt her shiver beneath his touch and his grin widened. “I think a little dress in the same shade of green as your eyes would be perfect.” A smile played at Zach’s lips as he stepped back and held out his arms. “Verto,” he whispered.
A split second later, the room filled with static electricity and a pale-green sundress appeared in Zach’s right hand. Annabelle’s eyes grew as big as saucers, and for a moment he worried she was going to cry, but his fears were abated when a huge smile cracked her face.
“Oh my God,” she murmured. She reached out with a quivering hand and grasped the soft fabric between her fingers before turning her eyes to his. “How did you do that?”
“Since you asked…it’s part of being an Amoveo.” Zachary stepped closer and placed the garment in her hands. “It’s called visualization, and as you can see, it comes in very handy at times.” He stepped back and raised both hands in a sign of surrender before going back into the kitchen. “But like I said before, I’m only telling you stuff if you ask me.”
“Thank you,” she whispered. Staring at the dress in her hands, she shook her head and let out a slow breath before turning her face to his. “You are unexpected.”
“Yeah, well, so are you.” Zachary gave her a curt nod and went to the sink and started cleaning the pans. He needed to do something to get his mind off the way she looked. What he really wanted to do was strip that towel off her and spend the rest of the day making love to her. He flipped on the faucet and let the cold water run, hoping it might put out the fire brewing in his gut. “Now, go get dressed so we can eat, because if you keep hanging around me wearing only that towel, I can’t promise that I’ll continue to behave myself.”
The door of the bedroom shut, and Zachary let out the breath he didn’t even realize he’d been holding. His entire body was stretched tighter than a drum, and it took Herculean strength not to devour her right then and there. One thing was for damn sure: the next time he used his visualization skill, it was going to be to get her naked, not to get her dressed.
A few minutes later, she emerged in the dress that, quite literally, had been made just for her. The fabric clung to every curve and showed off her full breasts, narrow waist, and ample hips with torturous perfection. Zach gave her a tight smile, trying not to think about peeling the dress off her. Giving him a shy smile, Annabelle sat on the stool and dug into the omelet. They ate in silence for a few minutes before he finally broke it by acknowledging one of several elephants in the room.
“So are you going to tell me who you’re running from?”