It was a lousy trick, what he had done, setting Diane up with Rick Walker. At first it was kind of funny, but as soon as Sam heard the resounding slap that she'd given Rick, he knew that it was no longer a joke. That man tried to put his hands on Diane, and the thought made him sick to his stomach.

He knew he should apologize to Diane, but something stopped him. He hated admitting that he was wrong, especially to her, even when he clearly was. But she had handled herself, hadn't she? She hadn't put up with Rick's nonsense. So when she appeared from the office, he closely watched her to see how she would act towards him.

"Your friend is a swine, Sam. A real life breathing talking swine."

"I could have told you that."

She stared at him. "You knew what he was up to?"

He looked away.

"You knew what he had in mind taking me to that office and yet you said nothing? What kind of man are you, that gets his kicks from seeing innocent women being taken advantage of in this manner?" Diane demanded.

"I wouldn't exactly call you innocent. You had to know what you were getting yourself into."

"So it would be my fault if something worse happened to me?"

"Nothing worse would have happened to you. Why, if I thought for a second if he was capable of any real harm I'd be there before you could scream for help. I would never let anything happen to you, Sweetheart."

She looked at him with a new appreciation. She certainly could sense his sincerity, but still, that hardly made up for the rotten trick he'd pulled on her.

"I don't know. Maybe you two are in an old boys' club. Maybe you would still be getting your kicks while I….while I.."

He walked over to her and pressed his finger against her lips, their bodies in very close proximity. "Diane, rest assured, that as long as I live no man will ever hurt you. I ca…"

"You what?"

"I…can't let you go on thinking that about me." He'd obviously corrected himself. What he'd started to say was that he cared, but he couldn't let on to that, not now.

Suddenly the realization of what might have happened hit her. She found herself pressing her head against Sam's very inviting shoulders, taking solace in the fact that he was so protective of her.

She'd never seen that side of him before. She'd never known him to be so compassionate, so humane. Was it possible that she had misjudged Sam Malone all along? All she knew was that there was more to him than meets the eye, and she couldn't wait to discover more.

TBC