Mind, Body & Soul: Mind over matter

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Summary

"What are we, Rujcharm? I asked” He leaned forward, his intense purple eyes penetrating mine. He took my hand and I felt jolts of electrical current passed between us. "You are mine Na-Leigha, and I am yours likewise. We are two individuals who will become one. You are my bond-mate, my compat, my other half and nothing will change that. Leigh, this is all for you, time taken for you to realize the truth. Until then, feel free to use whatever label that is easiest for you to explain.” Na-Leigha was an ordinary girl who led an ordinary life. Until one fateful night, the very mysterious Rujcharm d' Varq stormed his way into her ordinary world. He shook the very foundation of it with his intense possession and extraordinary claims. He aroused her, stimulating her mind to wage war against her body and soul. Sure, she was drawn to him. She wanted him but should she accept his claims and conform her mind to his extraordinary world?

Genre:
Romance / Fantasy
Author:
J. A. M.
Status:
Excerpt
Chapters:
8
Rating:
4.7 90 reviews
Age Rating:
18+

Chapter 1

Click, click went the double locks when I opened the door and stepped into my home. The darkness greeted me, and I embraced it. Well, I was about to when, click clack went the lock on my bladder. Why does this always happen? I pondered, as I hurried blindly along the hall with a desperate need of getting to the bathroom before the levee broke. My shoes, jacket and bag were dropped along the way without much care, because this vessel needed to unload before landing. Pushing the bathroom door open, I locked sight with my target and I mad dashed across the small area while partially undressing and, BAM! Whew! I made it! I almost didn’t, but thankfully I did. “AAHHH!” Sweet relief.

You never learn do you Na-Leigh? YOU’VE GOT TO EMPTY YOUR BLADDER FROM TIME TO TIME. I chastened myself, but then again it was no use, because I never listened anyway. It’s funny what passing the threshold of my home could do to my bladder.

I got up, filled the tub with warm water and fragrant bath salts. A good, warm bath was just what my body needed to unwind after a long shift at work.

I worked here in Hamptham, a small suburban area; at a little but popular diner about five blocks away from home. I’d been working there for about ten years now. Well, the first five were on a part time basis, while the last five years were full time. The owner and some of the people I worked with there, apart from my mother, were like the only family I had.

My father died in a car crash when I was very young and my mother had sustained a head injury in the same accident. In fact, all three of us were involved, except I got away scot-free and miraculously so too. No one knew how I even got out of the mangled car and I was only four years old at the time, but that’s another story. Sadly, my mother’s head injury was progressive and had made it impossible for her to keep on working at the diner. Initially, I used to help out after school but as my mother’s condition deteriorated, I took on more responsibilities. Ultimately, my mother could no longer work at all and so to make ends meet, I had to stop school all together and work there full time.

But hey! I wasn’t complaining at all, we had to survive and I did what I had to. Life had surely been tough, but Mom and I stuck by each other every step of the way. Gosh! I love her so much. She’s the kind of mother that sacrificed every and anything to make sure I had the very best she could afford. This was why initially, she was opposed to me quitting school to help out at the diner. She was adamant that I got my education, but with her declining health and no other family; working was my only option. If we had reached out to the relevant authorities for help, we both would have been institutionalized separately. That’s something we both could agree upon that we didn’t want.

I knew it meant everything to my mother that I completed school, so I did. I did the early shift at the diner, to facilitate the evening classes that I had attended. So now, I am a successful high school graduate, even with honors. Later on, I had done some courses at the community center in culinary arts. Like my mother, I too shared her love for cooking.

I undressed and submerged my body beneath the warm water, soaking in the therapeutic salts and inhaling the aromatic fragrances. I released all the stresses of the day. “Ah!” I exhaled. This was the life. I wish I could stay in this tub forever and just wash away all the rigors life had thrown my way. That would be easy wouldn’t it? But I wouldn’t discard my life, no matter what. For in between all the pains, the hardships, the ups and downs, were the beautiful moments of victories. The proof of obstacles overcame and I was made stronger, molded by each event of my life.

I got out of the water on the first sign of chill, dried then swaddled myself in a thick fleece bathrobe and headed to the kitchen. One would think working in a diner, that I couldn’t possibly get hungry because there was always food. Sure, there was always food, but there wasn’t always enough time and that’s the thing. So, on busy nights like last night, I would often work through my break. Why? I love food and I love eating. I strongly believe that good food should be had sitting down to be savored and enjoyed. Most times that’s not possible at work.

It was about midnight, my shift was 3pm to 11pm but that’s not going to stop me from having a home cooked meal. So, I raided the fridge and pantry for my ingredients and began my preparations. My mother and I spent a lot of time in the kitchen bonding over a good, from-scratch, home cooked meal. She’d always said that it was how she caught my dad. She had invited him to share at least one proper meal each day. She’d always joked that one day, I was going to reel in a good man just the same. Who was she kidding? Between working and looking after her, I had no time for much social interactions. Well apart from my occasional me-days which were simply time taken for myself. I had to take those just to stay sane in this world. For me, that could be anything from just sitting at home for the whole day doing nothing but eating and watching TV; to a Spa day compliments my boss. Going out to wine and dine and even travelling the world were just dreams. To be totally honest, finding interest in a man came very hard for me these days. No matter how right they seemed or how much affection they showered me with, I could never move pass the initial physical appreciation. More was needed for a relationship to build but I could never offer anything more. It’s like I was doomed to be alone.

**************

“Miss! Can I have some service here?” A disgruntled customer shouted.

I was at work, and it had been a horrible Thursday evening shift. Carena, a fairly new waitress, called sick again for the fifth time so far for the month; and we were just over two weeks in.

“I will be with you as soon as I’m done here.” I returned.

Telling them that the usual waitressing staff this evening had been reduced to two would certainly get me a, ‘that’s not my problem miss’. My other much more reliable colleague Rhyone was on maternity leave. It’s just me and Gretina, a sweet, hard-working but aged lady; to cover the floor tonight. It’s Dayna’s fault actually. She’s my boss and I love her because she had been good to both me and Mom; but she could have found a better temporary replacement for Rhyone, while she was on leave.

I busied myself literally busting table after table on my section of the diner before moving over to help Gretina with her side. She was good at what she did. She taught me a lot about being a waitress, even while my mother worked here as a chef. I had hoped to take up my mother’s position when she could no longer do so, but she had insisted on me attending school. The position however, was now filled.

Gretina had taken on a motherly role towards me most times, but don’t call her ma’am she hated it. She never actually had any children of her own but she had been a foster mother a few times. She would step in and care for a child until that child could be placed with their legal guardians or adoptive parents. She had however been a full-time foster mother for about three of them whom the system failed. I don’t know much about the first two, because she spoke little about them and they were all grown with their own families. They didn’t stay in touch with her. However, the last one she often talked about because she had him the longest, for over ten years. He was a troubled child and she had to work hard and long with him.

His name was Damon, I had the non-pleasure of meeting him quite a few times right here at this diner. He was about three years older and was a bully. Gretina however, refused to see that side of him. Something about him always rubbed me the wrong way, so I avoided him as much as possible.

At one point, Gretina tried to play matchmaker with the two of us saying, that she thought he liked me because he would always be looking at me and smiling; but I knew that was more gawking and smirking. He didn’t like me, he was obsessed with me and not in a good way. He rarely spoke to me and when he did, it was almost always lewd remarks that was a testament to how he vulgarly sexualized me in his dirty mind. We were high school age then and the things he said were bordering potential rapist territory, but to tell Gretina that, she’d never believe. She loved him so much like the son she never had and she was determined to keep him from going back into the foster system.

I told my mom about him and she was the one who advised me to make myself scarce whenever he was around. My mother and Gretina always butt heads where Damon was concerned. Thankfully, he had been away serving in the military for the past few years and now had seemingly completed his last rotation but he hadn’t been back as yet. Though I was grateful for his absence, I was sure Gretina would love him to be around, especially when she was not getting any younger. She appeared at least a decade younger than she was, and tried to move that way. However, she was now losing her battle with her arthritic left leg. For this reason, Dayna often assigned her to cashier or bar duties to prevent her from agitating her leg through the ups and downs of waitressing.

“Thanks, Sugar” Gretina said to me with a wink. “You’re so good to me sometimes, which is much more than I can say for that no good Carena.”

“Wait a minute! Sometimes! Sometimes Tina?” I feigned a look of hurt as I continued. “Lady, I’m always good to you and you know it. So, retract that statement and come again.”

“You’re full of it aren’t you lil girl, but you’ll get over it, hun,” she snickered. “You are not known to hold a grudge. Now come help me with table two and I’ll do table ten for you instead.”

“Huh? Really, I’m good with my side, which is why I’m helping you with yours. Don’t worry I’ve got my table. You finish with table two.”

Looking up from the table that I was cleaning, I then realized why she offered to wait on my table. It was the group of thug-like college boys, who would always stir up trouble whenever they came to the diner. Each time, I had to bite my tongue and tried as much as possible to do what I was paid to do without letting them rile me up.

“Hey sexy lady, come on and bring that fat ass of yours over here and get us some burgers and beers.”

Be calm, be calm, be calm, became my inner mantra as the ring leader Derek tried to gain my attention. I ignored him. I refused to respond to anyone who addressed me that way.

“No burgers for me,” replied another one of his fellow thugs. “I’ll have her bring me some breasts, legs and thighs. I know she has no shortage of those. Excuse me miss, get over here.”

I’d always been on the thicker side right throughout childhood. It’s not until puberty that I shredded some of the chunk but I’ve got curves. I was a curvy girl essentially and I was quite comfortable in my own skin, but that didn’t mean I wanted to be sexualized. I’d like to think that I was more than my body type.

I was starting to regret refusing Tina’s offer, not because I was intimidated by them, but because I didn’t know what I might do. As I finished setting the last table, I took my note pad and went to their table. Their group consisted of four athletically built guys all in their early twenties, outfitted with chains, tattoos and all. I’d bet it’s all for show, for they look like the type to only prey on the weak. As I approached their table, I conditioned my mind and set my face, because my mother always told me, I was no good at hiding my emotions. I stood at their table note pad and pen in hand.

“Hello, how may I help you guys tonight?” I asked, mustering as much professionalism as I could.

“How about you on a platter”, the youngest looking of the bunch responded as snickers erupted among them.

“That’s not a menu option but if you’d like assistance with reading the menu, I can do so for you.” Low whistles echoed after my comment. That’s when I realized I didn’t reign in my thoughts as I should have. “Anyway, I’ll be back in a few when you are ready to order.” I buffered quickly.

As I turned to leave, Derek not appreciating how they were handled, reached out and roughly grabbed my hand, yanking me back. I lost my balance and fell unto the table knocking the bottles of salt, pepper and ketchup over. A hush fell over the diner as everyone was now tuned in to the happenings at this table. Anger and humiliation bubbled to the surface as I yanked my arm out his hold. Just as I was about to push myself off the table, something occurred to me. The ketchup that had toppled over, was now uncapped with the opened end towards my aggressor. I quickly placed my hand on the bottle and I pushed myself off the table, while simultaneously emptying its content all over his face and shirt. Satisfied that under the circumstances I had gotten some measure of revenge, I stood up quickly, turned to the leader who was busily and angrily wiping at his face and clothes; ketchup bottle in hand, I dumped the remaining content in his lap. Something I should not have done and could be reprimanded for.

“Don’t you ever put your hands on me again!” I shouted at him just as he jumped to his feet.

I quickly stumped off to the employee only area at the back of the diner, just as Tina rushed through the door with Johnny our chef and Dayna in tow. Call me a coward for my quick retreat but I picked my battles and that out there wasn’t one I was going to win. I wouldn’t put anything beneath those four low lifers. I didn’t anticipate much help out there either, because this evening our clientele was mostly guarded mothers with frightened children.

“What happened!?” Dayna shouted. “Are you okay, Leigh?”

“Is it those four cockroaches again?” Johnny who often moonlighted as our bouncer, asked. With his love for cooking and his larger than life appetite; Johnny mirrored a sumo wrestler. “Let me go handle them.”

“No! I’ll deal with them.” Dayna palmed Johnny’s chest in effort to restrain him. “They’re all brawn and no brain and for how riled up they are now; they’ll be looking for a fight.”

At this point they were all out of their seats, rambling all over the diner from end to end seeking out trouble.

“I’ll be back,” Dayna said as she approached them.

I really didn’t know what Dayna said to them but they seemed more enraged than before. The good thing was, that they were leaving, knocking items from each table that they passed.

“Phew! Happy riddance.” Tina breathed behind me. “Those boys are too much trouble and you are always high on their agenda. Guess they can’t handle rejection from a pretty girl.”

“Please.” I brushed Tina off as we both returned to our work.

Dayna, on her way back, gave me a wink just as she passed me clearing a table. “Of course, I’ll let that ketchup thing slide.”

“So, what did you say to them?” I asked her.

“Don’t worry about it Chica”, she returned as she disappeared through her office door.

Right. This baby chica was too young to be in on the grown people stuff. Exasperated I blew out a breath and returned to work.

The crowd in the diner thinned as the last two hours approached. It’s just Mr. Malik our eighty something year old regular, who’s always the first in and the last out. He lived across the street. Then there’s Ben his best friend and a few years younger; sitting along with him. There were three other middle age guys, occasional patrons. Tina and I were around the bar rounding up our day, she was at the register and I was on shining duty with the glass and silverware. As I had done for each glass before, I held the glass in my hand up to the lights behind the bar to inspect it. Spotless.

“Save the pieces hun! Are you okay Leigh?” Tina called to me.

“Oh, my goodness!” I gasped. It’s like I had lost time. One moment I was looking through a spotless glass and the next I was looking at its fragments on the tiled floor. I had dropped the glass.

“What the…! What!? Did I just space out or something?” I looked at Tina all puzzled and she threw me back the same look. I glanced behind me to see Ben and Mr. Malik returning to whatever conversation the shattered glass had distracted them from.

“Put it on Ben’s tab Leigh.” Mr. Malik chuckled. Silly old man.

“Sure thing, Mr. Malik,” I threw back.

I went to collect the broom and dust pan and began sweeping up my mess. I caught a glance of Tina and responded to her concerned glare. “I’m okay Tina. I probably just zoned out or something.”

“Or something, but I don’t know either, my best bet is that you are just tired, girl. You just need some rest. It’s been a long day.”

“Yes, it has been. It’s just that, it’s weird you know. I’m just not able to recollect how I dropped the damn thing. But then as you said, I’m probably just tired. To tell you the truth, I feel just a bit overwhelmed all of a sudden.”

“Well my dear, maybe tonight you should let Dayna give you a lift home and don’t be stubborn about it.”

“Naw, I’ll be fine as always.” I turned quickly to empty the broken glass into the bin. I could sense Tina’s mother-hen persona coming on and I was not in the mood for a lecture on how I should not be walking home alone at night.

Several things happened to me and within me simultaneously. The hair on the back of my neck stood on end, my knees weakened and then, there was this odd sensation. The sensation. I couldn’t quite describe it except to say it felt like a burst of energy was drawn out of me like metal to magnet. What I knew was, it’s too much for me to handle right now. Crap! I was going to fall. I braced my hands on the wall trying to prevent my descent. I closed my eyes in effort to block the assault just as a small but firm hand, braced the small of my back.

“Leigh, you need a seat girl.” Tina said close to my ear.

“It's not as bad as it looks, just give me a minute.” I removed my name tag and loosened my apron.

“Not as bad?! You are barely standing on your own Leigh. I haven’t got the muscles to keep you from dropping flat on your ass. Look, this might be more than just being tired.”

Keeping my eyes closed, I turned and braced my back against the wall facing the door. “Maybe I need to go out and get some fresh air.”

Just then the door to the diner opened with that customary jingle, and I felt him as he walked in. Wait!? Who did I feel walking into the diner? My eyes popped open locked to the most intense, gorgeous dark eyes I’d ever seen. Instantly, all was right again. No kidding. My knees found renewed strength and though the odd sensation remained, it was more tolerable.

“Oh dear!” Tina whispered next to me. “We’ve got a brand-new customer.”

I heard her, yet, I was so transfixed by the stranger, that my thoughts and tongue became his prisoners. The building just got smaller and everything else for that moment became insignificant, while this larger than life man occupied the entire length and breadth of the doorway.

Finally, he broke eye contact to seek out one of the many vacant seats in the diner. He chose the most private area near the back which is partially secluded by a four feet partition. As he walked towards the small table for two, his whole demeanor, posture and gait exuded power and dominance. His physique, well simply put, he was built like a tank. Surprisingly for someone his size, even with his heavy foot falls, he moved with the ease and grace of a feline predator.

“He’s on your side,” Tina chuckled.

I had to pry my eyes from the man to give Tina some sort of a response, letting her know that I heard her. Damn! He’s a hell of a man, one that demanded my full attention and I was sure he’s used to it, because he surely had that alluring physical presence. His whole package suggested that he was someone in authority, probably special force military or something along that line. Well, I could only hope because my only other options were, maybe a mob boss or an assassin type. Surely my imagination was getting the best of me but with or without looking at him, there was an air of danger that screamed, ‘beware I’m lethal’.

“Leigh? Would you like me to cover for you? Cause he’s on your side hun and with everything that has been going on with you tonight; I wouldn’t mind.” Tina tried again.

“Ah! Ah, no, no I’m good.” I caught myself and pulling out of my daze, I shook my head. “I’ll take care of him.” Though it shouldn’t, it sounded and felt really personal when I said that.

Tina shrugged and went back to what she was doing at the cash register. At this time, we could only offer our guest items from the beverage menu as our kitchen was closed. No doubt Johnny was either cleaning up, preparing for tomorrow or just chowing down leftovers. I grabbed my pen and note pad, gripping them tighter when I noticed the slight tremor in my fingers. As I made my way to what seemed like the lion’s den, I was distinctly aware of the three sets of concerned eyes on my back. Tina’s, Ben’s and Mr. Malik’s, but I was totally unprepared for the pair that was on my face as I approached his table.

The way in which he perused me wasn’t just inquisitive, it was intense. My heart fluttered and my breath hitched. I almost felt asphyxiated. My sweaty palm began to saturate the pad and I felt my skin paled and flushed at the same time. Hundreds of butterflies paraded around my stomach and my head lightened. What was wrong with me? I wasn’t a pubescent teen with a crush, I was an adult. I wasn’t even the type of woman who got all hot and bothered because an attractive man whispered sweet nothings to me. But this man caused me to react to him, like never before. I became irrational because I wasn’t fearful in spite of my internal alarm registering danger.

I stopped just in front of his table, pen and note pad poised to take any order, but before I could open my mouth in greeting; I was silenced by his striking features. This close, I realized that his dark eyes were actually a deep, pure violet, yet the most radiant and only purple eyes I’d ever seen. His heated gaze held mine as his irises turned to molten ink around widening pupils. I shook my head ever so slightly, trying to break eye contact to dissolve whatever illusion my mind was casting. He’s got beautiful eyes hooded with long, thick, black lashes. His crooked nose bridge and flared nostrils only added to his masculinity. A strong jaw with thick, black, trimmed beard, full shapely lips and a seemingly permanent scowl made him look ruggedly handsome. On his head, was a wealth of thick, inky black hair. The untamed curls, were pulled to the back in a messy ponytail. His good looks were just the cherry on top, but my draw to him went much deeper.

“Hello Na-Leigh!” His deep, raspy, bass voice resonated through me, pulling me out of my reverie. My name had never sounded so good on anyone’s tongue. I could get used to it.

“H-hello.” I stuttered in a small voice that’s not quite mine. Get a grip girl you’re at work and you’ve met attractive men before. I had to chasten myself. “I’m sorry, but at this time we can only serve you from our beverage menu, whether hot or cold as our kitchen is now close.”

“That’s fine Na-Leigh, I’m not here for what’s on the menu.” He kept his eyes fixed on me.

Jeez! What would it take for him to not look at me so deeply? It’s like he was seeing more than he should. Well, he really shouldn’t be sitting in the diner without ordering something. Dayna’s rule not mine, but the thought of him leaving saddened me. Whoa! what was this man doing to me already? Maybe I should distance myself. As if sensing my thought, he gestured to the seat directly in front of him.

I shook my head. “I’m sorry sir, we are closing shortly and if you are not here for what’s on the menu, then why are you here?”

“I’m here for you, Na-Leigh.”

My eyes bugged out. I had to ask, didn’t I? Somehow, I knew that answer was coming, yet I couldn’t stop my shocked expression. Thankfully, better sense took hold of me. I needed to know what he meant because he was a stranger and a dangerous one by the looks of it. I took a step back. “Why are you here for me?”

“Please Na-Leigh, I mean you no harm and would much prefer if you’d sit with me just for a few minutes.” His deep voice calm and alluring made me want to do what he asked.

I glanced at the clock on the wall, it’s just about a half hour till closing. I began shaking my head to deny his request.

“I won’t take up too much of your time. You and I, we just need to talk...”

“About what? I don’t know you, we just met.” I interjected.

“But you will get to know me,” his deep voice muttered, promising rather than threatening. “We need to talk about…”

“Nothing!” I interrupted again fearing the unsaid word, ‘us.’ I was drawn to this man like I had never been before and it’s clouding my mind, impeding my judgements. Disregarding my feelings, the logical thing to do was to stay clear of him.

“Look, I’ve got work to do so if I can’t help you with a drink from the menu, I’ve got to go”. My eyes met his, noting that his never left mine. His intensity took on determination.

“How did I know your name is Na-Leigh?”

I looked down to where my name tag should have been, except I had removed it before he had arrived. So how did he know what my name was? Many theories crossed my mind, like a spy or as I had thought earlier, an assassin. None were comforting and I refused to let him see me cower. I shrugged.

He let his heated gaze roam the length of me as if mapping me, then he stood to his full height dwarfing me. I couldn’t remember when or if I ever had to tilt my head that far back to look someone in the face before now.

He slid the chair under the table and walked towards me until his body was mere inches from mine. The feelings I felt when I first approached him returned with a vengeance. I had to brace both hands on the chair behind me to keep my knees from buckling. It felt like my internal organs were doing somersaults and all my senses were heightened. I closed my eyes to avoid his and block the onslaught. Things only got worse as I felt it, a magnetic sensation ripping into every layered fiber of me, pulling from the core. Worst of all I felt him. Without any physical contact, I felt all of him. With my eyes still closed, I knew the moment he lowered his head next to mine before he spoke. I felt his warm breath along my left ear as he whispered in a low seductive tone.

“What are you feeling now Na-Leigh? Did you feel me before you laid eyes on me? Are you feeling me now?” He had progressively lowered his voice to an impossible depth that intensified my response to him. Heat pooled in my stomach and migrated south as my nipples tightened. He now evoked feelings of a sexual nature. No reason to deny it. He continued; satisfaction thick in his voice.

“I do have the answers for you Na-Leigh, and we do need to talk… about us. But I’ll be waiting Na-Leigh Anjolie Preston.” And with that he sauntered out of the diner leaving me a hot mess.

“Leigh? Leigh! What’s going on? Who was that guy? What the hell did he do to ya?”

I took a few more seconds squeezing my eyes tightly, willing my body to calm. After about a minute, I opened my eyes and slowly picked up my pen and pad and turned towards the five remaining persons in the diner with mixed looks of worry and curiosity spread across their faces.

“I’m fine. I’m okay now.”

“Fine, you didn’t look fine a minute ago you were shaking like a leaf, so you wanna run that by me again.” Dayna the ever persistent.

Right about now I just wanted to be left alone. Confusing and chaotic thoughts bombarded my mind and I needed just a minute or more to sort my head. But for that to happen, I’ve got to give them something to appease them. I won’t lie to them, but I couldn’t tell them much especially when I myself didn’t really know what to make of what just happened. They had all surrounded me, Dayna, Tina, Johnny and even Mr. Malik and Ben. I held up both hands in a hold-up gesture.

“Okay, so I was feeling a little out of sorts before that guy came in and I had just brushed it off. While I was with him it got worse. I told him that the kitchen’s closed and he didn’t really want anything else so he just left. That’s it, alright.”

I look at each one, trying to reassure them that I was fine. Sure enough Mr. Malik and Ben took the bait, turned bidding us goodnight as they left. So much for the others, they weren’t buying it.

“Guys come on, I’m fine or will be as soon as I finish my work and get on home.”

With a sigh, Johnny returned to the kitchen and Tina patted me on the shoulders and said, “I told you it may be more, so please take it easy.”

“And she will.” Interjected Dayna. “Cause you’re officially off the clock. So, grab you stuff I’m taking you home, no ifs or buts, Na-Leigh.”

It would be pointless for me to argue. So, I didn’t, at least not tonight because the quicker I got home, the better. To be honest, I really didn’t think I’d be able to walk tonight. What if my mystery guy was waiting for me outside? Well he said he would be. For all I knew he could be a serial or contracted killer with me as target. Though he’s no doubt a dangerous person, I couldn’t help that deep down feeling I had that I was somehow immune to any danger coming from him. Was I crazy to feel somewhat safe around a complete stranger? One who looked like he could snap someone’s neck with his bare hand. Keyword, hand not hands. Those heavily muscled arms had probably done that and more. I needed to keep at bay the irrational thoughts of me being safe with a lethal looking stranger even for self-preservation sake.

I went to the back and was gathering my things from the locker just as Dayna popped her head in the room.

“I helped Tina so we are done up front. Meet me outside I’m going to the back to get my car. Johnny will lock up and he’s driving tonight, so he’ll give Tina a ride home.”

“Okay boss.” I said dryly, teasing her. She hated it when we call her boss. Between Rhyone, Johnny and myself we’d take turns teasing her, calling her boss or boss lady.

I missed Rhyone but I was happy for her and I wanted her to enjoy her little bundle as much as possible. She had a baby girl just about two months ago and will be back out in a few weeks. We’re about the same age and she’s my best friend.

On my way out, Johnny and Tina were turning off lights and shutting off stuff. “Later you two, see ya tomorrow.”

“Alright hun, please get some rest and you are off tomorrow by the way.” Tina threw back.

“No, I’m not.”

“Yes, you are Leigh, please take the day you need it,” she pleaded.

“Besides the boss lady has spoken.” Johnny added.

I shook my head. Dayna! I waved at them and went out through the front door and sure enough, Dayna was waiting.

I threw open the passenger side door and got in. As soon as I closed it, she was off.

“I’m working tomorrow.” I folded my arms and pouted like a petulant child.

She side-glanced me and smirked. “And she complains that she’s being treated like a baby.”

I dropped the pout. “She’s sitting right here and she’s working tomorrow.”

“Okay fine, but promise me you’d only come in if you’re one hundred percent.”

“Alright bo…” I began.

“Don’t you dare boss me.”

I chuckled. She was unto me. I rolled down the window to let the cool night breeze hit me and boy was it therapeutic. I’d close my eyes for a bit until I reach home.

“So, who was the big guy?” Dayna interrupted my wind induced daze. Trust Dayna not to leave things alone.

I breathed out heavily before I began. “I don’t know him, Dayna. He came in and I told him the kitchen’s closed and he said he didn’t want anything, so he left.”

“I know there’s more to your story that you are not telling me, Leigh. You both conversed about something more than my menu. Plus, have you seen that guy? Guys like that always have an agenda and I came out on the tail-end of your interaction with him. Apart from feeling sick, I could tell that either his presence or whatever he said was affecting you.”

“It’s nothing really Dayna.”

“That was not nothing. Have you seen the way that man was looking at you? Girl, it’s like he could devour you.”

We stopped at the stop light and now she turned, giving me her full attention. I kept my eyes out the window not wanting to make eye contact and give away anything more than I was willing to. I took several slow, deep breaths before I responded and she waited.

“He’s just really interested in me and didn’t want to take no for an answer. He wanted to talk to me but I never really gave him the chance.”

The car behind us honked alerting us that the light had turned green. Dayna faced forward and drove off. We drove in silence for a while and I could see she was deep in thought. Something I was trying hard to avoid, thinking. Because my thoughts though chaotic, surrounded the one that caused the chaos in the first place.

She slowed as she approached my house. “So that’s it, he just left after you wouldn’t speak with him?”

“Yep.” She looked at me hoping for more. “He said he’d be waiting.” I finished as I opened the door and got out. “Have a goodnight Dayna. Thanks for the lift.”

“Not a problem, get some rest and Leigh, be careful.” We waved at each other and she only drove off after I closed the door behind me.

Be careful, be careful of my beautiful, dark stranger

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