Zachary had never been so fucking confused in his entire life. He’d thought that once he found his mate, life would get easier, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Being with Annabelle was a lesson in patience, self-control, and exquisite pleasure, all of which he’d experienced in full force that morning in the shower. Everything had been going along perfectly, and feasting on her gorgeous body was, quite simply, one of the hottest sexual encounters of his life—because it wasn’t merely physical. The pleasure was intensified by their intimate emotional connection, and watching her come apart the way she did was sexy as hell.
Then it all changed on a dime.
Something happened. He felt the shift in her energy signature, and even if he hadn’t, the look on her face would have been more than enough to bring their encounter to a screeching halt. Her expression was a combination of sadness and regret, and it slammed into him with gut-wrenching force. She’d come to him in the shower and made it crystal clear that she wanted to be with him, but then moments later, Annabelle had buyer’s remorse.
She clearly regretted being intimate with him, and it made Zachary feel like absolute shit.
While she got dressed, he spent his time scolding himself for being so selfish and stupid. The girl was running scared, and what did he do? He kept pushing the mating thing like an arrogant alpha Amoveo man. What the fuck was wrong with him? If Tatiana were here, she’d smack him upside the head and tell him he was being a dick.
He stole a glance at Annabelle as they walked along the road toward town. She was wearing a blue sundress that he’d conjured up for her and looked every inch the beautiful young woman she was. Her long hair was wavy and wild as it fluttered in the breeze, reminding him again of a mermaid, but the angry red spots on her shoulders gave him pause.
“You’re getting sunburned,” Zach said. He nodded toward her shoulders, and even though he wanted to run his hands over her smooth skin, he resisted. Sticking his hands in the pockets of his board shorts, Zach cleared his throat and turned his attention back to the buildings ahead. “We can grab some sunblock at the market, and some aloe would probably be a good idea too. That looks like it’s going to hurt.”
Annabelle didn’t answer but simply nodded her agreement. She’d barely said a word since emerging from the bedroom, and Zachary didn’t know how to get her to open up. He considered reaching out to Dominic and Tatiana but decided against it because Dominic would never let him live it down.
As they walked into the center of town, music drifted out of the local cantina next to the beach. He stole a glance at Annabelle. Her attention had also been captured by the lively tune and intermittent laughter from customers. “Sounds like a lot of fun in there. Actually, I thought there would be a lot more tourists here.”
“Nope. It’s the off season, and the college kids aren’t on break right now. From what I gather, spring break is the busy season, but there are still a few intrepid travelers like the two of us around.”
“I could use a little fun,” she said, turning her green-eyed gaze to his.
“The food isn’t half bad, either,” Zach said. “I grabbed lunch in there right after I arrived, and it was great—real authentic Mexican cuisine.” They stopped at the corner and he pointed to the main building across the street. “The police station is in there, along with every other official office of this one-horse town. How about after we file your report and you make your phone call, we come over here for a bite to eat and some music. If my Spanish is on point, they have a band playing here tonight starting at six.” The Jet Ski vendor on the beach captured Zachary’s attention and an idea bloomed. “That’s only a few hours from now, and if sitting at the bar isn’t your thing, we can rent a WaveRunner and hit the ocean. Are you game?”
“Well…” Annabelle shielded her eyes from the bright afternoon sun and looked from the cantina to Zachary. She dropped her hand and gave him a smile. “I suppose we do have to eat, don’t we?”
“We do,” he responded quietly. Her green eyes smiled at him, but he sensed a wariness behind them, which only made him more determined to get her to trust him. He captured her hand in his and ran his thumb over the top of her fingers softly. Her eyes widened briefly and the unmistakable shimmer of desire fluttered between them. “Do you trust me?”
“To pick out a restaurant?” she asked with a teasing lilt in her voice. “Sure.”
“It’s a start.” Zachary winked and pulled her with him toward the police station. The smile that bloomed over her face lit up her green eyes and made them glitter like emeralds in the sun, and Zachary was certain he’d never seen anyone more beautiful. “Let’s go.”
With Annabelle’s hand firmly clasped in his, Zachary led the way into the building. The inside was almost as hot as the outside; the only difference was the occasional rush of air from the giant metal fans perched in the corners. An officer at the front desk, who spoke remarkably good English, directed them to the second floor. As they climbed the wide staircase together, Zachary noticed Annabelle’s grip tighten, and her energy signature swirled with anxiety.
When they reached the top of the stairs, Zachary pulled her aside and leaned on the balcony railing that overlooked the main lobby. Gathering both of her hands in his, he pulled her close and rasped his thumbs along the inner edges of her wrists. She sucked in a shuddering breath and gave him a forced smile.
“You okay?” Zachary kept his voice low and glanced at a young mother and her toddler as they walked past. “I can tell how anxious you are.”
“Am I that transparent?”
“Not exactly.” He pressed his lips to her forehead. “Your energy signature, which is kind of like a spiritual fingerprint that only Amoveo can see, is swirling around me right now like a storm cloud. I just want to make sure you’re okay before we head in there. That’s all.”
“You’re amazing, do you know that?” Annabelle looked down at their joined hands and whispered, “I wish I could stay with you, Zachary. I really do. I haven’t felt this safe since before my mother died.”
“If my friends were here, they’d tell you that you can’t fight fate, and believe me, they tried. Especially Dominic. Hell, he’s even more stubborn than I am.” He inched closer and tangled his fingers with hers. “I want you to stay, and you’re telling me you want to stay…so why not do what we both want?”
“Sometimes what we want and what’s right are two different things.” She squeezed his hands tightly before lifting her face to his. “Believe me, I wish things could be different.”
Zachary was about to press the issue, when a voice behind them interrupted their conversation.
“Can I help you?” The man’s voice, laced with a thick accent, echoed around them in the cavernous hall. “Señorita?”
This conversation isn’t over. Zachary touched his mind to hers and couldn’t help but smile when her eyes widened from the intimate connection.
“Hello, officer.” Annabelle slipped her hands from Zachary’s and stepped around him with her hand extended. “I’m so relieved that you speak English.”
“Sí.” The friendly man laughed and shook their hands enthusiastically. He was short with a thick, stocky build, barely two inches taller than Annabelle, and his salt-and-pepper hair was cropped in a military cut. Dark eyes were set in his round face, and he had a thick mustache that reminded Zachary of a caterpillar. “Yes. Of course. We have many Americans visit our beachside town, and I find that my English is better than their español.”
“My girlfriend was mugged yesterday, and we’d like to file a report.” Zachary stayed by Annabelle’s side and didn’t miss the shift in her energy signature when he identified her as his girlfriend. He found himself feeling oddly protective of her, even in the presence of a cop, and the need to claim her as his was overwhelming. “All of her money and identification was in the bag the guy took, and even though the money is likely gone, we thought we might luck out and someone might turn in her passport.”
“Of course. I’m Detective Vargas.” He gestured to the open door behind him. “Come with me.”
They sat with Detective Vargas for over an hour while he took Annabelle’s statement and all of her information. The man was patient and highly detail-oriented, wanting to know every single bit of information Annabelle and Zachary could give him. In spite of the somewhat run-down office and antiquated computer, Zachary could tell that Vargas was an effective cop.
“I believe we have everything, Miss Johnson.” Vargas smiled and reached for some documents he had printed out. “Here’s a copy of your statement—this one is in English—and you’ve given me the address of the home you are renting, so I will notify you if your belongings turn up.” However, his smile fell when he turned back around and his gaze fell upon Annabelle. “Is something wrong?”
“No.” Annabelle smiled tightly and fiddled with her bracelet. She shifted her position in the wooden chair, which creaked with her movement. Every warning bell went off in Zachary’s head while he studied her, because she was all tweaked up again. She flicked her gaze to Zachary briefly and then to Vargas. “Do you have a phone that I could use, Detective? I need to call my friend back in the States and ask her to wire me some money. I’ll call collect, of course.”
“Of course, young lady. Give her this address. We have a Western Union location downstairs, and it will be open until seven o’clock.” He pointed to a smaller office that was adjacent to his. “My associate is not here today. Feel free to use his phone, Señorita Johnson.”
Annabelle nodded and smiled at the two men as she rose from her chair, but Zachary didn’t miss the sudden flutter in her energy signature when Vargas called her Señorita Johnson. Zach watched her disappear into the office and shut the door behind her, and tension settled in his shoulders. She was definitely lying about her name. His mouth set in a firm line and he swore under his breath.
Why would she lie about that?
“I have printed out the information for the U.S. consulate. It’s several hours’ drive from here, but if your girlfriend’s passport isn’t found, she’ll need to be issued a new one.” Vargas punched a few buttons on the keyboard of the computer, then swore in Spanish and banged the side of the monitor. “Pinche mierda!” He let out a sound of frustration. “I am sure the effort will be well worth it. Your girlfriend is quite lovely, Señor McKenna.”
“Yes,” Zachary answered absently while he continued to watch Annabelle through the office window. She kept her back to them, and he could tell she was talking to someone on the other end of the telephone line. He turned back to Vargas and nodded. “She is something else.”
“Forgive me for saying this, but it doesn’t seem like you know each other very well.” Vargas leaned back in his chair and folded his hands in his lap while eyeing Zachary intently. “How long have you been dating?”
“Why do you ask?” Zachary kept his tone even and smiled.
“Just curious.” Vargas’s eyes twinkled. “Call it a hazard of the job, I suppose.”
“We’re still in the getting-to-know-you phase.” Zach met Vargas’s stare and those alarm bells started to go off again. He smiled and sat casually in the chair, trying to act as though the questions about their relationship weren’t highly uncomfortable. “Of course, figuring each other out is half the fun. Wouldn’t you agree?”
“Sí.” Vargas laughed and wagged a finger at Zachary while giving him a knowing look. “And if you find the right girl, you can continue to try and figure her out for the rest of your life. I’ve been married to mi esposa for almost thirty years and I’m still trying to figure her out.” He let out a sigh and turned around the double frame on the desk. One photo was from their wedding day and the other looked to have been taken quite recently. “She is still as beautiful as the day I met her.”
Zachary nodded and smiled while the detective regaled him with the story of how he met his wife. While Vargas spoke, Zachary looked at the two pictures, taken thirty years apart, and a sense of longing filled him. It was true that he and Annabelle barely knew each other, and it pissed him off because if she had her way, they never would. Zach glanced over his shoulder at Annabelle, who had just hung up the phone and immediately captured his gaze. His gut tightened with need from that one look from her, and in that moment, Zach knew he would do whatever he had to in order to get Annabelle to stay with him.
The conversation over lunch was surprisingly easy. She’d panicked back at the police station when the detective used her phony last name. It dawned on her that if they did find her passport, it would have her real name—Annabelle Caedo—in black and white. At this point, she was praying they wouldn’t find it. Grace was sending some money, which Annabelle would use to buy a bus ticket to the American consulate.
She was worried that Zach would press her for more information about what she was running from, but he didn’t. He did, however, regale her with stories about the Amoveo and his friends back at the ranch in Montana, and Annabelle was riveted. These people were not the monsters her family spoke about. In fact, the more she heard about the Amoveo, the more it sounded like the Caedo were the monsters.
Annabelle took a swig of her beer and sighed contentedly as another warm ocean breeze floated over her. They sat at one of the paper-covered tables right on the edge of the beach, and even in the shade, it was hot as hell. Zachary had been right about the food; it was amazing, and the portions were enormous.
“You’re not finishing yours?” Zach asked after wiping his mouth with the napkin and tossing it onto his empty plate. “Didn’t you like it?”
“I loved it.” Annabelle rubbed her belly and leaned back in the plastic chair. She smirked and let out a short laugh at the way he was staring at her food. “Do you want the rest? I’m stuffed.”
“Are you sure?” Zach shrugged and gave her a sheepish grin. “What can I say, I love to eat.”
“By all means.” Annabelle gestured to her plate and giggled while she watched Zach switch her plate for his. “See? This is why I’m convinced God is a man. You eat like a horse and don’t have an ounce of fat on you. If I so much as look at a doughnut, I gain ten pounds.”
“You’re not one of those girls, are you?” Zach’s fork stopped in midair and he gave her a doubtful look. “If you tell me that you think you’re fat, I’m gonna throw you in the ocean.”
“No, but I’m not skinny, either.” Annabelle sipped her beer and couldn’t help but smile at Zachary. He was finishing off her food in record time and kept glancing at the glittering ocean, as though warning her. “Whatever. I’m somewhere in the middle. Kind of average, I guess.”
“You’re beautiful.” Zachary held her gaze, and her stomach fluttered at the unspoken invitation that lingered in the air. He leaned closer and dropped his voice to a gravelly whisper. “And believe me, Annabelle. There is nothing average about you. Aside from the fact that you see visions and are mated to an Amoveo stud.” He winked playfully, which only made her giggle harder. “You are also the most frustrating, fascinating woman I’ve ever met.”
Looking into his eyes, she knew how frustrated he was, because she was feeling the same way. How could the universe or fate or whatever put the two of them together? It was like some kind of twisted Romeo and Juliet situation—and it hadn’t worked out very well for those star-crossed lovers.
The jukebox came suddenly to life, breaking the spell. Silence hung between them while music filled the air, and she replayed the events of the past twenty-four hours.
“It’s funny, you know.” Annabelle sighed and tucked her windblown hair behind her ear while looking out over the ocean. “I feel more comfortable with you than I’ve ever felt with my own family. Most people make me nervous because I know that I might get a glimpse of their memories. I mean, most of the time I can block the visions, but sometimes they slip past me.”
“That must have made waitressing a little rough.” He pressed his lips together and gave her a sympathetic look. “Pick up someone’s plate or glass and see part of their past? Talk about a crappy tip.”
“It was hard at first because I really had to work at stopping the visions from slipping inside my head. I usually can keep them at bay unless I’m really tired or not focusing, then I can get blindsided.” She gave him a pointed look. “Which has been happening a lot lately.”
“Are they always about the past?”
“They were.” Annabelle stilled and her hand immediately went to the bracelet. “Until this morning.”
“What did you see?” Zach’s brow furrowed and he leaned both elbows on the table, his entire demeanor changed. “It was a vision of the future?”
“Yes,” she said quietly. “We were…in the water.”
“And?” He folded his hands and pressed his mouth against them, trying to hide the cheeky smirk. “What were we doing?”
“Nothing.” She giggled. Annabelle held his heated stare as memories of the vision flooded her mind, and her body tingled in all the right places. He might not have been able to read her mind, but based on the look on his face, he knew exactly what they were doing in that vision. “Just swimming.”
“Right.” Zach leaned back in his chair and picked up his beer. “You’ll tell me eventually.”
“Well, aren’t you sure of yourself.”
“Not really, but there are a few things I am sure of.”
“One: you are my mate.” Placing both elbows on the table, he leaned closer and the muscles in his stubble-covered jaw flickered. “Two: I’m more attracted to you than any other woman I’ve ever met, and all I can do is think about being inside of you and burying myself so deep that I don’t feel anything but you.” Annabelle’s heart skipped a beat and her blood hummed with awareness as she met his predatory stare. Keeping his voice low, he whispered, “And three…your last name isn’t Johnson.”
Panic raced through her and she stared at him, not quite sure she’d heard that last part correctly. All of it had her head spinning, but that final statement brought everything else to a screeching halt and she knew her time was running out. There was only one choice left. As soon as the money came through from Grace, Annabelle would get out of Loreto. However, seeing the determined look on Zachary’s face, she knew he wouldn’t let her go. She was going to have to slip out like a thief in the night while he was sleeping, and that made her feel even shittier.
Before she could respond, the waitress came over and stood between them.
“Finish?” she asked. “I take?”
“Gracias.” Zachary nodded and pointed to the empty plate in front of Annabelle, the one that had been his. “She practically licked the plate clean.”
“Hey!” Annabelle tossed her napkin at him and shot him a look, trying to be mad but failing miserably. She was doing her best to ignore what he’d said, but she knew he wasn’t going to let it go. “That’s mean.”
“Can I help it if you have a hearty appetite?” He tossed money on the table and wiggled his eyebrows at her. “You’re my kind of woman.”
“I’ll pay you back.” Annabelle looked at the money and then at him. Given everything that was going on, it was probably silly to worry about money. Hell, after all the ways Zach had helped her, the least she could do was pay him back. “I told Grace, the friend I called at the police station, where I am, and she’s wiring me some money later today, which will solve part of my problem. It will be there by seven tonight, and then I can pay you back. In the morning, I’ll get myself to the consulate so I can get a new passport. I should be able to get back to the States in a few days.”
Zachary looked away, and something that resembled disappointment flickered briefly over his face. Vanishing as quickly as it had come, he stared out at the water for a few minutes and then looked over at the little Jet Ski rental hut on the beach.
“Maybe…but you’re here now.” Zachary pushed his chair back and stood up, jutting a thumb toward the beach. “What do you say we rent a Jet Ski and take a ride out to that island?”
“Island?” Annabelle squinted and looked out at the seemingly endless ocean. Scanning the horizon, she looked to the right and finally spotted a small island that she’d never noticed before. “What’s on it?”
“Detective Vargas was telling me about it. No one lives there, but tourists and locals head over there for little day trips. He told me that he and his wife have spent some time there.” He trained those gorgeous eyes on her and a smile played at his lips. “What do you say? You up for a little adventure? He said there’s a lagoon with a waterfall. Why not make the most of our last day together?”
“Waterfall?” Annabelle swallowed hard. Just like the vision. She should say no. She should tell him she wanted to wait for the money to be wired in and then go get her own hotel room. That was what she should do—not what she was going to do. “Okay.” Sucking in a deep breath, she rose to her feet. “Let’s go.”
Smiling, Zach took her hand in his and led her onto the sandy beach. While he haggled with the shirtless guy renting the Jet Ski, Annabelle had a silent argument with herself, running over the nine million reasons why she shouldn’t be with him. And all of them were silenced the instant Zach flashed her that handsome dimpled smile.
One day, she thought. What harm could it do to share one day with him?
Annabelle tightened the life vest and waded into the water, then climbed on the back of the Jet Ski and wrapped her arms around Zachary’s waist.
“Hang on,” he shouted above the din of the engine.
“Wait a minute.” Annabelle squeezed him around the waist. “Please don’t let me fall off this thing.”
Zachary smirked at her over his shoulder, and without saying a word, he revved the engine. Annabelle yelped as the machine raced out through the waves and bounced over the water. Clinging to Zachary like her life depended on it, a smile bloomed across her face. For the first time in her life, she wasn’t fixated on the past or the future.
All either of them had was the here and now.