I got away. From the nightmares I used to call my own. They tried to control me. To get me to submit to their wrath as each day passed. But I never let them. Or I attempted not to but every time I closed my eyes, I could see them. Eyes. All different colors as they stared back at me. Brown. Black. Green. Blue. Some were even so dark, they appeared purple. But they all held one thing in common; hatred. Pure. Raw. Evil.

I got away. I had to keep reminding myself of that whenever I woke up. As each day passed, you would think I would become stronger. One with myself. But I wasn’t. I was stuck. In time. In a place where I didn’t belong. I didn’t fit. Something was missing.

“Mae, table two’s up,” Cello called out, placing a dish holding steaming food on top of the counter. “Stop daydreaming, girl.” He smiled at me, whistling while he stirred the large pot of his homemade stew.

“Only thing I’m dreaming about is you, Cello,” I teased, taking a deep breath to calm my racing heart.

He laughed, shaking his bald head and danced around the kitchen of the small diner I worked in.

Every time I was left alone, my thoughts always traveled back to my past. My history. My crappy childhood. Those eyes, laughing and staring at me while they all took what they wanted from me.

“Baby, you got this. Fight them off. It’s the only way you’ll survive.” My daddy had said those words so long ago, they were almost a whisper of a dream.


I jumped, the food on the plate almost toppling over the side at my abrupt movement. The bark of my name sent shivers down my back but I fought the urge to run. “Yes?” I responded to one of the new customers. He liked to make a daily appearance in the morning, greeting me and the rest of the staff with a warm friendly smile.

Duncan Hastings had deep brown hair, hungry green eyes and a bloodthirsty smile that made my demons look like puppies. The guy was harmless but his dominating demeanor made me nervous. Apparently, being out on parole lowered his people skills.

“I’m sorry for scaring you again.”

“No,” I clutched my chest. “It’s okay. I wasn’t paying attention.”

He smiled, clearing his throat. “I was going to ask you where my order was but I see it in your hand.”

“Here you go, Duncan,” I said, breathing through the racing of my heart.

He nodded once, thanking me. “So how are you doing?”

“I’m not too bad,” I answered, enjoying the brief small talk.

“Good good.” He lowered his fork, staring up at me intently. “If you ever need anything, please don’t hesitate to ask.”

“I’m sorry.” I frowned. “I’m not quite sure what you mean.”

“Anything,” he insisted. “Promise me.”


He nodded again and slowly ate his food.

Wiping my hands down the front of my apron, I let out a heavy sigh when I headed behind the counter. Not quite sure what that was about, I couldn’t help but keep looking back at Duncan to see if he gave me a wink or a laugh. Maybe he was kidding. Maybe he wanted to get under my skin to see how I would react.

“Mae, you need to stop being so nervous.” Dominika Franko, my best friend and roommate, stood beside me.

I jumped, spinning on my heel.

Her eyes softened. “Sorry, babe.”

“No problem.” I gazed back at Duncan to find him staring in my direction. He gave me a small wave.

“Mae.” Nika nudged me gently.

I didn’t have to look at her to know she was frowning. Whenever she was upset with me or concerned, she switched into our native tongue and started going off on me in Czech. Her tone was clipped and to the point but I ignored her as always. Until she started poking me in the ribs with her perfectly manicured fingernails. Then I started paying attention to her only because I was afraid her fake nail would somehow lodge its way into my rib cage.

“Nika, honestly. I’m fine,” I reassured her, slapping her hands away.

She raised a perfectly arched black eyebrow and wrapped her arm around my shoulders. “You are not fine. You have never been fine.”

Pulling out of her grip, I grabbed the tray of drinks. “I have customers to serve.”

“Mae, seriously,” she huffed.

I waved her off and did my rounds. Most of the customers were regulars. Had been for years so to speak. People didn’t venture to Cello’s Diner for the food. Although it was delicious, they usually ended up going for the entertainment and the environment. It was karaoke night and even though half the people couldn’t sing, it was hilarious watching them try.

“Whoa, chicky.” Nika whistled. “Who’s that fine specimen of a man?”

I followed her line of view and swallowed hard. My heart skipped a beat. A cold sweat traveled down my back.

A large man was hunched over paperwork on the table before him. His hand brushed through his chin length wavy black hair every so often. His brows narrowed, his dark eyes sliding back and forth along the pages he was reading. He was deep in thought. I found myself wanting to rub the lines away in his forehead, easing the stress traveling through his body.

My fingers twitched, my palms tingling with the need to go to him.

“He’s in your section,” Nika whispered, nudging me gently in the shoulder.

I glanced between her and the man, bracing myself. For what, I wasn’t sure. A man had not stirred this feeling in me in a long time. I was surprised at how fast my body became hyper aware of the male that could no doubt rip me apart with just the touch of his hands.

“You’re in public, Mae. He can’t hurt you here.” Nika handed me a tray and a menu. “Go.” She lightly patted my butt, encouraging me to approach him.

He is just a customer, Mae. I never saw him before but having to stay late into the dinner shift, I was now graced with his presence.

I closed the distance between us and cleared my throat when he didn’t look up. “Would you like to order a drink?” I swallowed hard and licked my dry lips. “Sir?”

His head lifted slowly, his dark eyes finally meeting mine.

My breath caught in my throat.

He was magnificently beautiful. Black scruff covered his hard jawline. His rugged features were perfectly sculpted. He was an artist’s dream. Tanned and chiseled. God, what I wouldn’t give to see the rest of him.

He sat back, scratching his chin. “Are you new, Miss…” he glanced at my name tag. “Mae?”

“No,” I shook my head, trying to ignore the flutter his slightly accented voice sent through my belly. “I usually work mornings but we’re short staffed so I had to stay late.”

“Well, Mae, it’s my lucky night then.” He held out his hand.

“I guess it is,” I placed the menu in his outstretched palm. “Can I start you off with a drink?”

“Coffee please.” His eyes twinkled.

I nodded and turned on my heel, heading back behind the counter as fast as I could without looking too obvious.

“Girl,” Nika stepped up beside me. “He’s watching you.”

“Yeah well, he better keep his hands to himself,” Cello barked from the kitchen.

“Honestly, can you guys be any louder?” I loved them but I swore they were too damn protective at times. I may have had issues but I wasn’t glass. I wouldn’t break. At least…not again. And not at the hands of a man.

“Seriously, look.” Nika nodded towards the dark sinfully delicious man. A man who I should not be having these thoughts over. A man who had stirred something deep inside of me that I hadn’t felt in so long.

I didn’t know why I bothered to argue. Maybe it was to feel some sort of solace in my life. Some sort of control. Some…emotion. I braced myself and glanced in the direction of the man.

He held me captive in his stare.

I wanted to get lost in the depths, drowning myself in the ultimate seduction and power. Of him.

The corner of his lips turned up into a smug smirk.

My insides quivered, my stomach tumbling over itself to get more of a reaction from him.

Lifting his hand, he crooked his finger, indicating for me to go to him.

Oh dear God. What was I getting myself into?

“Holy shit, Mae.” Nika pushed me, placing his coffee on the tray. “Go to him.”

“And what the hell am I supposed to do, Nika? Fall at his feet and beg him to have his way with me? You can give him his coffee,” I muttered. Ignoring everyone, I quickly made my way to the staff bathroom. I didn’t need this. These thoughts. A man. I was fine by myself. I was. I had to be. It was the only way I could remain safe. It was the only way I wouldn’t get hurt again. And the only way I could stay alive.