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Tales told - a.k.a free reads > The Ravens Crossing 1 - Wildwood Knights

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message 1: by Kaje (last edited Feb 04, 2014 10:43AM) (new)

Kaje Harper | 16515 comments This is a gift to us from the folks at The Ravens Crossing - beginning Mon Feb 3rd, they will put up a posting of their Season Four Stories. Season Four brings in a new generation of characters-- there are three main couples (two m/m and one male/MTF trans). Each of the three stories stand alone, but still share a world.

Andi from TRC will be posting the stories here. Enjoy.


message 2: by Andi (last edited Feb 03, 2014 11:33AM) (new)

Andi Lea (andilea) I thought it might be helpful to give a little background for those who are unfamiliar with The Ravens Crossing (TRC). The first three seasons of TRC revolved around thirteen high school students who discovered they had unusual abilities. They also discovered that their families, friends, and the neighborhood they lived in kept all of it secret.

Season Four ushered in the next generation of high school students, many of them are the siblings of the original thirteen. Wildwood Knights is the story of Rowan Stallings and Wayde Knight. They already have a history, they met over a year ago. Now, they are trying to figure out how to deal with choices they made in the past.

Their prequel story will be available this month. And I will happily answer almost all questions about them,about the thirteen, and about TRC except ones that might be spoilers.

I also wanted to give a warning that there is some strong language sprinkled throughout the story.

So, without further ado... enjoy!


message 3: by Andi (new)

Andi Lea (andilea) Prologue

Rowan could not believe he was repeating history. Last summer, he’d been sitting at a table, sharing a meal, and dealing with Luc and Riley. And here he was again. Luc and Riley sat across the dining room table, looking like the poster couple for young, gay, committed relationships everywhere. So, not cute.

Okay, it was cute. And Rowan didn’t mind. Not anymore. He was over his crush on Luc, though looking at him was still fun. And fun was high on Rowan’s list of priorities. He’d been so naïve last year. Pining for some fairytale love story of his own. Rowan snorted as he stabbed at his breakfast.

“Don’t like your eggs?” Riley asked.

“Yummy,” Rowan scooped a mouthful onto his fork and forced himself to eat.
Riley raised a brow, but didn’t say anything else. Rowan glanced at his mom, hoping she didn’t think he was dissing breakfast. His mom wasn’t paying any attention to his mood, she was totally caught up in the Luc and Riley effect. Rowan continued to eat, actively ignoring the love fest.

He was going to miss his older brother and Luc. He was going to miss all of the Thirteen. Rowan made a face at his plate of food. Returning to his thoughts, he’d been so annoyed with the older sibs last summer. And he was still sort of annoyed with them. And he was really, really going to miss them.

All of their lives had changed so much and it all started a year ago for Rowan, when he’d met Wayde Knight. Rowan’s stomach fluttered thinking about it. His pulse raced and his fork slipped on the plate making an uncomfortable scraping sound. Gods, if Rowan had ever made a mistake it was named Wayde-effing-Knight.

I don’t want to complicate your life. Wayde’s words from last summer ran around Rowan’s head on a loop. Complicated didn’t even scratch the surface. But, the words that haunted Rowan the most, had been his own. He shut his brain off and forced himself to eat.

“Sorry I’m late,” Rory entered the dining room, big as life, and dangerous, like a big cat.

Rowan smiled at his uncle, then did a double take. Rory was dressed in khaki cargo shorts and a plain white t-shirt, with Vans. Vans? Rowan had become so used to seeing his uncle in all his leather and weapons that his casual version almost made Rowan laugh. But, he didn’t.

Rory was all muscle, not an ounce of fat on him. Rowan knew this from first-hand experience of having his ass handed to him more than once while sparring and training. Rowan hoped he was going to fill out like his uncle. They were built alike, Riley was too, and he’d filled out a lot over the past year. Rowan flicked his gaze at his brother again, who was wrapped in a Rory bear hug.

Rowan’s mom, Rose, stood up and grabbed her brother. “I didn’t think you’d make it.”
Rowan always loved the way his petite mom manhandled all the men around her. No one refused Rose Stallings. Anything. And Rory was the little brother, even if he did tower a foot over Rose.

“And miss my nephew’s last breakfast.” Rory sat down, a sly smile played on his face.

“How is the house hunting?” said Patrick, Rowan’s dad.

“Absolutely nuts. There are so many people moving in to Wildwood that the real estate agents can’t keep up.” Rory shook his head as he filled a plate with food.

“We haven’t seen this much excitement in eighteen years.” Patrick leaned back in his chair. “Remember all the people moving in, refugees looking for sanctuary, hiding their kids…” Patrick kept talking, but the room pulsed with a prickling energy.

Rowan felt it slap at his skin like angry needles. Even Reese was sitting up and rubbing her arms. Rowan noticed his uncle tense up as well. Their parents and Ryder didn't seem to be affected at all. Then Rowan cut his gaze across the table. Luc was leaning close to Riley, obviously they were having one of their unspoken conversations.

Riley looked as angry as the energy he was giving off. “Excuse me.” He stood up quickly and left the room. The energy spike ebbed and the marked Gaeas relaxed.

Cradling his coffee cup, Luc looked distant. Rowan wondered if Riley was still t-pathing with Luc. Then Rowan wondered what it would be like to be Bonded and always have someone else in your head. He was glad that his own telepathy was limited, unfortunately it was also limited to one person. And Rowan worked hard to keep that shut down, most of the time.

Now, Luc was staring at Rowan, he could feel it. He looked up and Luc smiled, his gaze focused. Gods, he was unbelievably hot, but never seemed to use it to manipulate. Rowan had met and experienced plenty of guys in Europe who were players. Luc could have taken them all down in one fell swoop, but that wasn’t Luc’s style. Although, Luc might press his advantage in certain situations. Rowan had always admired Luc’s alpha side. Then Rowan was grinning like an idiot.

“Hey,” Luc leaned across the table.

Rowan felt like he’d been caught, his neck felt warm. He averted his gaze nervously to the other end of the table. The adults continued their conversation and it had become background noise. Rowan had lost interest a while ago. He was tired of hearing about the past, and Demetrius, and prophecies. Feeling his pulse readjust to normal, he turned his attention back to Luc.

“What’s up?” Rowan put his fork down.

“I think you should go talk to your brother.” Luc took a sip of his coffee. He looked worried.

“Don’t you think he’d rather talk to you?” Rowan wasn’t being pissy, just realistic.
“He will. And he has. But, this…” Luc’s gaze drifted to the adults, then back to Rowan. “This is about family. About being lied to by people he trusted. Riley’s still trying to deal with how your parents were involved.”

“You really think I can help?” Rowan felt a bit of pride. He’d always looked up to his older brother. The idea that Riley needed his little brother was… really freaking cool.

Luc was nodding and smiling. Then he turned and started talking to Reese. She had just about jumped out of her chair when Riley left the room. Then she had looked sad as she listened to their parents talk about the past. Rowan wanted to hug her, and reassure her, that he and Riley would always be there. But, Luc had stepped right in, playing concerned older brother, distracting her. No wonder he was such a good match for Riley.

Rowan stood up and excused himself. He glanced at his baby sister again, she was laughing at something Luc said. Rowan knew that Luc adored her and how fiercely protective Luc could be. Yeah, Riley, Rowan, and Luc would always watch over her. It made Rowan’s heart swell and he had to leave the room before he got all emotional.
Knowing exactly where his brother had gone, Rowan took the stairs two at a time. He knocked on Riley’s bedroom door and it slowly swung open. Riley was sitting on the edge of his bed, holding a lacrosse trophy he’d won for MVP. Rowan knew it was one of Riley’s favorites.

“Remembering your glory days?” Rowan leaned against the door jamb.

Riley laughed, it was a harsh, sarcastic sound. “You know Dad won MVP when he was in college. I was trying so hard to impress him and be like him.” Riley turned the statue in his hands. “And then…”

“It turns out our parents have flaws like the rest of humanity.” Rowan interjected. “Sucks.”

“I’m trying to understand what they did.”

“I’m not going to make excuses for them, but they love us.” Rowan shrugged. He knew himself well enough to know that there wasn’t much his parents could do that would turn him away from them. His mom was someone he trusted implicitly. Even if he was mad at them for all the secrets, he loved them. He was much more of a family person than he’d ever realized. “I’m not sure there is anything else to say about it.”

“Huh? When’d you get so smart?” Riley smiled and stood up. He placed the statue back on the shelf. Riley had a lot of trophies. He was running his hand over each of them, probably remembering how he’d earned them.

Rowan had never been a team sports kind of guy. He skateboarded, he made music, and he tended do things that left him in charge. Not that Riley wasn’t independent, it was just one of the things that they’d been very different about. Riley was more focused on specifics and a team player, Rowan was broader in his approach, more free spirited. Rowan had always envied that hyper-focus his brother had.

“I’m a work in progress.” Rowan didn’t think it was far from the truth.

“Life is a work in progress.” Riley turned around and stuffed his hands in his pockets.

Rowan crossed the room and sat down. He had spent many hours talking to Riley in this room. He’d also made discoveries about his brother in this room. They had shared so much together and kept secrets too. For one another and from one another. Time to be honest.

“Last year, well last summer specifically, I was really frustrated. I didn’t know what was going on with you and your friends. My Gaea mark was trying to make an appearance.” Rowan rubbed at his wrist and stared at the small sun symbol. “I was really struggling. I hated feeling like a little kid. I hated the feeling of being trapped in Iowa.”

“I don’t think that’s going to be a problem.” Riley sat down. “You’ve got an entertainment career that is taking off, Mr. Celebrity.”

Rowan stared at the floor. Occasionally, even he had a hard time believing that he was sort of famous. “It’s not what I expected.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah.” Rowan bumped Riley’s shoulder. “I thought I’d feel older.”

“Ahh.” Riley was scrubbing at his face. “You wanted to grow up. Sorry, little brother that shit just happens, when it happens.”

“I felt so awkward last year. And I didn’t know how to talk to you. Plus, you and Luc were so busy making…” Rowan glanced up. “You were busy.”

“I’m sorry.” Riley shook his head. “We were really caught up.”

“I was so jealous that you were having sex.” Rowan groaned. “Did I say that out loud?” He smacked his forehead.

“What makes you think Luc and I were having sex?”
“I found your condoms.”

“Dumbass, what teenage guy doesn’t have condoms?” Riley was laughing.
“It’s not funny.” Rowan stood up and started pacing.

“Luc and I were not having sex, we’re still not.” Riley cleared his throat. “Well, we’re doing everything else. Just not the full menu.”

“Are you serious?” Rowan felt the shock all the way to his toes. “I thought you were Mr. Experienced.”

“I’ve had sex. Just not like that, with Luc.” Riley smiled. “It’s different with Luc.”

Rowan whispered, “How do you know when it’s different?”


message 4: by Andi (last edited Feb 03, 2014 11:31AM) (new)

Andi Lea (andilea) Prologue continued...

“Rowan did you run away to Europe to lose your virginity?” Riley was staring at Rowan, concern radiated through the room.

“Sort of. No. It wasn’t the only motivating factor.” Rowan was blushing and wanted to run from the room.

“Did you and Wayde…”

“No!” Rowan cut Riley off. “No, I… I told him no. Fuck! I told him no.” Rowan was choking on the words. He had pushed Wayde away, far away. And he didn’t know how to fix it. “I messed up…”

Riley was off the bed and across the room. Rowan felt his brother’s arms tighten around him. “Did Wayde do something against your will?” Riley sounded scary angry.

“Gods, no. He would never.” Rowan wiped at his eyes. “He walked away when I told him to.” And he was still walking away. Rowan felt his chest tighten.

“Good, good. I knew he was a good guy. And suddenly, I thought I was going to go have to deck him before I left Wildwood.”

“Wow, I was supposed to come up here and help you work out your parental issues.” Rowan tried to change the subject.

“That’s going to take some time.” Riley clapped a hand on Rowan’s shoulder. “Did someone hurt you in Europe?”

Rowan knew what Riley was asking. Rowan shook his head. “The only person that broke my heart was me. And I hurt someone else in the process. I ended it before it began.”

“Rowan, real love doesn’t end.” Riley smiled. “And if it didn’t have a beginning, then it’s still waiting to happen.”

“When did you get so smart?” Rowan laughed, echoing Riley’s words.

“I’m still working on it.” Riley led them out the door and down the stairs. “We better get back before mom decides to intervene and have one of her ‘talks’ with us.”

Rowan really, really loved his mom, but her ‘talks’ were the stuff of legend in the Stallings household.

“There you are!” Their mom smiled as they returned to the dining room.

She looked like she was pleased that her two oldest sons had taken a few minutes to talk. Rowan kissed his mom on the cheek and sat back down. He watched Riley sit down and rest an arm across the back of Luc’s chair. Luc tilted his head slightly in Riley’s direction while keeping up a continuous conversation with Reese. Luc and Riley had some kind of magnetic draw to one another that Rowan still envied.

Ryder announced he was going to the Avery’s house to play video games with Tommy and Adam. He gave Riley, then Luc, unexpected hugs. “I’ll see you on Annodox.” Ryder waved and left.

“Mom, I’ve got to meet Easton over at Greene Beans.” Reese was standing up.

“You’ve been spending a lot of time with Wayde’s brother.” Rowan picked up his juice and took a drink.

He was curious about Easton and Reese. Rowan had gotten the vibe that Easton might like boys and Rowan really didn’t want Reese getting her hopes up. He also wondered what she knew about Wayde. Did Wayde ever ask her about her brother?

“Easton is just a friend.” Reese leaned across the table, wagging a finger in the air. “Not that it’s any of your business.”

“Buttercup,” Riley called her over and stood up. “I’m going to miss you most of all.”

“I am sitting right here you know?” Rowan made a face of mock hurt.

“Shh, we’re having a moment.” Reese stuck her tongue out at Rowan.

After Reese left, the conversation turned to more political topics and the Conclave. Rowan noticed that Riley and Luc kept their opinions to themselves. Then finally announced that they needed to get going.

Rose was tearing up as she hugged Luc and Riley goodbye, extracting promises of phone calls, emails, and regular visits. Patrick did the dad thing, but held onto Riley a bit longer than Rowan had expected. Rory gave them quick hugs and said something quietly that Rowan couldn’t hear.

Luc pulled Rowan into a hug and kissed his cheek. “Time has a wicked sense of humor,” Luc whispered. Pulling back, Rowan stared into those grey eyes. Luc smiled and said, “Trust me, timing is everything.”

Rowan wondered if Luc knew something. Probably, but it wasn’t like the local Time Lord would explain it. Rowan walked over to the driver’s side of the Jag and looked at his brother. “Hey, call me occasionally okay?”

Riley grabbed the back of Rowan’s neck and pulled him into a hug. “As often as possible. And Rowan, don’t give up on Wayde.” Riley lowered his voice, “Elliot’s in love with Darci.”

“Yeah,” Rowan nodded. He wasn’t sure what he thought about Wayde and Elliot.

He trudged back inside and went to his room. Flopping on his bed, he stared at the ceiling. He wondered if Wayde and Elliot didn’t bother him because everyone was convinced that Elliot was in love with Darci. That Elliot’s interest in Wayde was just a temporary thing.

Which actually sucked for Wayde, when Rowan thought about it. What if Wayde had feelings for Elliot that weren’t being returned?

WTF? I don’t want Wayde to have feelings for Elliot. Rowan rolled over and hugged his pillow. His memories drifted to the autumn weekend he had spent in Paris with Wayde. The freaking city of romance had turned out to be big flop.

Yes, Wayde had done all the right things. Took Rowan to all the most romantic sights. They had dinner on the Seine, by candlelight. But, it had felt like Wayde was going through the motions, following a script. Rowan had been so confused. Every so often Wayde would look thoughtful, his eyes glassy, but then he’d pull it all back in.

At some point, while in Europe, Rowan had come to the conclusion he didn’t want to give himself completely to Wayde if it didn’t involve a deeper connection. Rowan felt like an idiot now. Not only did he not have sex, he still hadn’t had sex. And having sex had been high on his list of to do. He flopped onto his back and kicked his feet on the bed.

Riley had admitted that he and Luc still hadn’t gone all the way. Geez, the Stallings boys really had a reputation that was so wrong. Well, maybe Riley’s had been well earned at one point. He did have several passing flings with boys from other schools. But, Rowan only gave off the impression that he had. And that was part of the problem. He’d allowed and even encouraged the reputation.

Rowan and Carson dated, and had fun. But, they weren’t really right for each other. And they both knew it. So, they just messed around and always had a date for every occasion. On the other hand, Rowan knew that Wayde was doing a lot more with Elliot. A whole lot more. Wayde was vastly experienced. It made Rowan a little nervous now that he knew Wayde better. And had seen him in action in London and around Europe.

That was why Rowan had backed peddled in Paris. Even though, in the beginning, he’d agreed to Wayde’s uncomplicated, no strings attached policy. Scratch that, Rowan had set up the rules—assuming that he’d be okay with casual. And trying to force Wayde to change didn’t seem like the right approach.

When Rowan realized he wanted more from Wayde that was the end of casual fooling around. Rowan put on the brakes and told Wayde they were better as friends. Hands off. Friends only.

Rowan went sort of wild after that. Dating several of Wayde’s friends, but never going all the way. Just far enough to gain a bit of a reputation as a party boy. And Rowan was good at keeping his dates happy, so no one cared that he didn’t go all the way.

Then Wayde had called Rowan out, just before they returned to Wildwood.

“You know, none of those guys give two shits about you,” Wayde had yelled.

“Why do you care?” Rowan had shrugged even though the words stung.

“Why do I care? Oh, I don’t know Rowan… because you’re my friend. Because I don’t like seeing you treated that way. Because I feel responsible…”

“Excuse me?” Rowan had crossed the room and got in Wayde’s face. “You are not responsible for me. Got it? We’re friends, that’s it. What I do is my business. What you do is yours!”

“I’ve been such a fool.” Wayde had a strange look on his face, he looked softer, gentle. And he was reaching out to Rowan. “I’m such an utter idiot.”

“Don’t. Don’t you dare!” Rowan was terrified of what Wayde was going to say. And furious that he’d pull that card now. “You can’t just throw that out there now! Not after I’ve watched you fuck your way through London and half of Europe!”

“And what about you?” Wayde had started yelling too. “You’ve been with all of my mates, half of the guys we work with, and gods know how many random hook ups.”

“What about me? Me?” Rowan had taken a step back. He was mad, even though he’d led Wayde to believe he was a complete slut. But, if Wayde had really asked any of their friends, he’d know the truth. “Oh, Wayde you are an idiot. You see what you want to see. I’ve not had sex with anyone. I was waiting for the one person who would love me the same way I love him. But, he’s too effing blind.”

“Who?” Wayde had followed Rowan’s retreating steps. Eyes searching Rowan’s, Wayde asked, “Who Rowan?”

“We’re going back to Wildwood in the morning.” Rowan pushed Wayde away. Pulse racing, heart thundering in his chest, Rowan said, “If you really care you’ll promise me that you’ll back off.”

“Rowan you don’t understand what I’m trying to tell you.” Wayde had pleaded. His eyes wide, with what emotion Rowan wasn’t sure. He looked scared. And that had pissed Rowan off.

“I understand. You’re scared shitless. We’re moving to Wildwood, in Iowa City, in Iowa, the middle of the Midwest. You’ll be away from your friends and the bright nightlife. And if there is one thing I understand about Wayde Knight… he hates to be alone. But, you are going to have to do this without me as your convenient fuck buddy. I can’t be that for you Wayde. I just can’t.”

“Rowan, please. I…”

Absolutely not. Rowan shook his head, cutting Wayde off. “Gods! You never wanted me in the first place. Give me space! It hurts too much, Wayde. Let me get over you.”

“Get over me?” Wayde had sat down hard on the sofa. Running a hand over his mouth, he whispered, “How will I get over you?”

Rowan pretended not to hear it. But it haunted him every day.

“Promise me. We’re friends and that’s all.” It was the last thing Rowan had said that night.

“I promise.” Wayde had looked as miserable as he sounded. And Rowan’s heart was breaking.

***


message 5: by Andi (last edited Feb 03, 2014 11:45AM) (new)

Andi Lea (andilea) Prologue continued...

Sitting in the middle of his bed, Wayde flipped through a magazine. He stopped and stared at the editorial spread. Two people he knew very well were featured on the page. This was a pictorial of new talent in the entertainment industry of Europe. Wayde and Rowan were one of a dozen that had been photographed. Wayde ran a finger along Rowan’s image and smirked at his own.

Last year, he had been so self-assured when he’d talked Rowan into sending their experimental photo-shoot images to Wayde’s manager in London. Now, Natalie Faulkner was Wayde’s and Rowan’s manager.

A whirlwind of events had taken over their lives last summer. It had been a perfect storm. Natalie wanted to get more head shots, there was a casting call for a television show, Rowan’s mix-tapes were getting a lot of attention online. It all happened so fast. Not that everything had been easy, they had worked long hours. There were days when they had barely two or three hours of sleep.

Working as co-hosts for a music and fashion segment on a television show for European teens had been more fun than Wayde had expected. He and Rowan had harmony. Their personalities clashed and meshed like a well-orchestrated song, two notes that sparked a symphony. Natalie was so excited, she made it clear that Rowan and Wayde were going to be a hit. Wayde had known too.

He watched Rowan take it all in. Rowan seemed surprised by attention of fans, girls and boys, who came to see them when they were on location or doing something public. But, Rowan played the crowd and played them well. One of things that Wayde continually found himself loving about Rowan was his honesty. He hadn’t been jaded, that didn’t happen until later. And Wayde blamed himself.

They were more famous overseas than in the US, but Wayde knew it was only a matter of time. Not that they were insanely famous, but they had a following. And they were in demand in certain venues. Very popular at nightclubs, where Rowan could DJ and they could both be put on display.

It was so close to what Wayde had always wanted. And was exactly the kind of opportunity Rowan had expressed a desire for last summer. The chance to change his life in a way that would get him out of Wildwood. Rowan now had options. Wayde wanted to make sure that Rowan explored all of them. And Wayde didn’t want to miss any of it, he’d be there as best friend if he couldn’t have anything else.

Now they were back in Wildwood. Wayde’s parents were running the bed and breakfast that Wayde’s aunt Violet had owned. And Violet was dead. Wayde shook his head. So many people had been killed and injured a few short weeks ago. Sometimes it was hard to believe any of it had happened. Demetrius had ruined so many lives. Wayde was glad the Thirteen had stopped Demetrius, but Wayde knew from overhearing his parent’s talk that things were not settling down. Wildwood was safe, but there were problems elsewhere.

Wayde’s parents were Armors. The highly trained special military that kept the Gaea community safe. Last summer when he and his family visited Wildwood, Wayde had worried that they were relocating. But then, they went back to London, even taking Rowan with them. And that was a highlight.

Around the winter holidays it became clear that things in Wildwood were becoming increasingly dangerous. Armors were pulled from around the globe to move in and offer extra protection. Wayde and his family packed up and shoved out, like any good military family. Rowan returned to Wildwood with them, but he was different. Europe had changed him. Wayde had changed him.

Wayde slapped the magazine shut and tossed it across the room. He stared out the window, watching the trees bend in the wind. His gaze following the shadows and sunlight playing across his bedroom floor and walls.

His phone vibrated. Wayde stared at the text. Elliot. Wayde had been attracted to the guy and Wayde was a shameful flirt. One thing led to another and they clicked. Elliot had been questioning his sexuality and Wayde was more than happy to lead that expedition. They were great friends and they had awesome benefits. But, first and foremost, Wayde considered Elliot a friend. He texted Elliot back and put the phone down.

A few minutes later, his phone rang. “Hi ya,” Wayde answered.

“Hey.” Elliot usually talked a lot when he called, but he was oddly quiet.

After a few awkward exchanges Elliot finally said, “I think I’d like to take one of those free passes we talked about.”

Wayde nodded. He was pretty sure he knew where Elliot was. In New York City, going to see Darci. And this was something Wayde understood. They had a very honest relationship, something Wayde had never tried before. Elliot was not a player and made it clear from the beginning. No games.

“Would it make you feel better if I took one too?” Wayde’s pulse raced. Not because he didn’t want the pass, but because he did.

“Yes,” said Elliot.

After they hung up, Wayde took a deep breath. He and Elliot weren’t exactly in a relationship, it was more a matter of satisfying urges. But, they had agreed to be honest with each other. Wayde knew that Elliot was in love with Darci. And Elliot knew that Wayde still wanted things to work out with Rowan. So, they agreed to be somewhat exclusive, with a free pass option, when the fancy took hold.

Reaching for his messenger bag, Wayde pulled his portfolio out, and flipped to the pictures he and Rowan had taken last summer. They looked good together. Wayde slowly turned the pages, smiling as he remembered the tension they had and the chemistry.

“Gods,” Wayde felt his body warm up as he stared at Rowan, shirtless, his lips slightly parted. Wayde remembered he had just kissed Rowan hard. They had been so eager, learning about one another. And Wayde had been such an ass. Talking a big game about not wanting to complicate things. How he wanted no strings attached. And now, here he was completely cut off.

He and Rowan were just friends. Wayde had promised to back off. And he did, to an extent. He never initiated flirting, following Rowan’s lead. Wayde thought he’d been very good at not crossing the line. But, Wayde was not good at being alone. And he was even worse at abstaining.

Wayde turned a few more pages in the portfolio and a picture fell out. He picked it up and smiled. He’d forgotten this picture. His sister, Noella, had taken it when they were in Paris. She had it developed in black and white.

Wayde remembered it was a crisp fall day, the sun was high and bright in the sky. And it was one of those Eiffel Tower moments for Rowan, but Wayde wasn’t looking at the tower, he was focused elsewhere. Their bodies were pressed so close together and Wayde’s hand was gently cupping Rowan’s cheek. Rowan’s face was lit up with a smile as he took in the amazing latticed structure. But, Wayde was smiling at Rowan with a look of wonder. A look that Wayde understood a lot better now.

Time was ticking away, Wayde picked up his phone and made a call.

“Hi,” Rowan answered.

“Are you busy?” Wayde crossed his fingers.

“Nope.”

“I was thinking we should go over the summer itinerary Natalie sent us. And Natalie has a few modeling opportunities she wants us to consider.” Wayde hoped he could coax Rowan with a work related date.

“Yeah, sure. Um, where do you want to meet?”

“How about I come over to your house.” Wayde didn’t want to meet at Greene Beans. And Sandwich Cottage, the bed and breakfast, was already bursting with too many people. The Stallings house was busy, but usually everyone respected personal space.

“When?”

“Now.” Wayde smiled.

“Um, now?” Rowan seemed to hedge.

“Is this a bad time? I thought you weren’t busy?”

“I’m not. It’s not a bad time. Just, uh, everyone went out for the day.”

“You didn’t want to go?” Wayde asked, inside he was doing a little dance.

“No,” said Rowan. His voice clipped. “Just come over.” He sounded frustrated.

Wayde must have changed his clothes a dozen times before settling on a pair of well worn, black skinny jeans, and a buttery soft, light green, graphic t-shirt. He knew the green made his eyes stand out. Then he spent an inordinate amount of time making his hair look artfully messy.

Now he was standing at Rowan’s door, hesitating. He stared at his Converse shoes. Then glanced up and pressed the doorbell. Biting his bottom lip, he adjusted the strap of his messenger bag, and waited.

And waited.

He pressed the button again, then stepped over to the front window and peered in. Rowan was dancing around, ear buds blocking all sound. Wayde smiled and watched Rowan dance for a few minutes. He looked stunning, he was wearing red slim fit chino shorts, with a tight black tank top. No shoes, totally barefoot. Wayde groaned.

Taking a chance, Wayde tried the front door. It wasn’t locked. Quietly, he stepped inside. Rowan was still dancing. Wayde pulled his phone out of his pocket and sent an innocuous text, I’m here.

He watched Rowan stop dancing, and take his phone out of his pocket. He stood still for a moment and it looked like he was doing breathing exercises. Then he spun around smiling, he jumped when he saw Wayde in the foyer. Rowan’s smile disappeared. Wayde schooled his own expression.

Rowan was pulling the ear buds out, “You surprised me.”

“I thought maybe the text would lessen the shock.” Wayde stood there staring, his gaze roaming from Rowan’s naked toes to his golden hair. “The door was unlocked.”

Goosebumps were making a trail up Wayde’s spine as he stared. Rowan’s arms were so much bigger than they had been last year. His tank top was taut across his chest and abs, leaving very little to Wayde’s imagination. The hem had inched up Rowan’s stomach while he’d been dancing, and his shorts were riding low on his hips. Wayde could see the golden trail that dipped into the front of Rowan’s shorts. Oh gods, Wayde licked his lips unconsciously.

Rowan wasn’t moving or saying anything. But, his whiskey gold eyes were burning like two flames as he gave Wayde a similar appraisal. Then Rowan called the Balance.

The hair on the back of Wayde’s neck was standing at attention as goose bumps made their way to the top of his head. There wasn’t a part of Wayde’s body that didn’t respond to Rowan. And the heat was intense as they kept their eyes locked. Wayde’s body was screaming free pass, free pass. But his head was saying hands off.

Gaea energy pulsed through the room, Wayde sucked in a breath. Rowan’s energy had a bit of heat that licked at Wayde’s air abilities. It had always been like this, heating and cooling. Occasionally, combusting. Their energies liked one another, the opposite thing really worked for their Air and Fire natures. Rowan cut off the Balance and blinked. Wayde came back down to planet earth and smiled.

“So.” Wayde rocked back on his heels trying to stop the momentum that had been building.

“You want something to drink?” Rowan turned around quickly and practically ran to the kitchen.


message 6: by Andi (new)

Andi Lea (andilea) Prologue continued...

This was awkward. Wayde wondered what was going on. Rowan hadn’t acted this strange in months. And Rowan had not raised the Balance like that in a long time. Even at their photo shoots or on the set of their show, Rowan maintained a friendly, occasionally flirty, professional distance.

Wayde made his way to the kitchen, trying to figure out what was causing this odd behavior.

“Do you want me to go?” Wayde finally asked. He had promised Rowan not to make any advances. A promise he now hated, but he honored it.

“No!” Rowan spun around, spilling iced tea on the floor. “Crap!”

Wayde looked around for a towel or something to help clean up.

“Just stay there. I’ve got it.” Rowan snapped.

Talk to me. Tell me what’s wrong. Wayde t-pathed.

Rowan’s steps faltered for just a fraction, then he grabbed a towel, and began mopping up the floor. He didn’t respond to the t-path. But, Wayde could tell that Rowan had been tuned in.

“We can work at the kitchen table.” Rowan stood up and tossed the towel in the sink.

“Sure.” Wayde took a step back and turned around.

What the hell had he been thinking? For some reason, he had a fantasy in his head that he and Rowan would magically figure it all out. But, this was real life, not a movie. And now, Wayde was sure he’d pissed Rowan off, which wasn’t going to help much in the way of mending broken hearts. Wayde wondered if they could even be fixed.

Wayde pulled the strap of his messenger bag over his head and set it on the table. He was reaching in to grab the laptop when a warm body moved behind him. Far too close to be casual.

“You smell different.” Rowan’s breath tickled the back of Wayde’s neck.

Wayde gripped the fabric of his bag. “New cologne.”

“I like it.” Rowan pressed himself against Wayde’s back. Wayde felt Rowan’s chest expand as he inhaled. Heat radiated off Rowan like a furnace, his Fire Gaea energy was so volatile that Wayde’s breath hitched. Energy pulsed between them again, cycling back and forth so fast that Wayde felt lightheaded. He gripped his messenger bag and didn’t move.

No matter how difficult it was, Wayde would respect Rowan’s boundaries. Even if Rowan blurred the lines. Wayde didn’t mean to sigh, but he did. Rowan’s breath was tickling an ear, Wayde’s knuckles were white from twisting his bag in his hands.

Rowan. Wayde t-pathed.

And as soon as it started, it was over. Rowan was across the kitchen. “I’ll go grab my iPad. Be right back.”

When Wayde turned around, Rowan was out of the room like a shot. Wayde adjusted his jeans. “This was a very bad idea.” Wayde shook his head, smiling as he set up his laptop and sat down.

Opening the email with the itinerary attached, he downloaded it to his computer. He was glancing over the travel schedule when Rowan returned. He sat down, leaving an empty seat between them, Wayde didn’t say anything.

“So, looks like we’re going to be busy.” Rowan propped his bare feet up on the empty chair between them.

“Yeah,” said Wayde, watching Rowan wiggle his toes. Then his gaze drifted up those long legs to Rowan’s stomach, then chest. Wayde shook his head and turned back to his screen.

“At least we’ll be able to visit Annodox before we go and we won’t have to cut the trip short.” Rowan was tapping his iPad screen. “You are coming to Annodox, right?”

“Yes, my parents have an apartment in the City Centre. We’ll be staying there. It will be a working vacation for them. They’ll be taking turns running the B and B.” Wayde scrolled through the list of cities he and Rowan would be visiting, realizing how little sleep they’d be getting on the junket. Gods, they were doing a lot of interviews.

“You’re not staying at the villa?” Rowan’s feet slipped off the chair as he sat forward.

“Um, no.” Wayde hid his smile. “But, I’ll be around. I have plans with some friends on the island.”

“Aren’t you going to hang out with me, uh, with everyone?” Rowan stood up and grabbed the forgotten iced tea drinks. He sat one glass next to Wayde.

“Thanks.” Wayde picked up the glass and took a sip. “The villa will be overflowing. I don’t want to impose.”

“It’s not like that. Pierre and Ben love having a house full of people.” Rowan sat back down. He turned toward the table, staring down at his iPad. “It’s not the same if you don’t stay overnight.”

Wayde cocked a brow, but didn’t turn his head. “Why?”

“Why what?”

“Why is it not the same?”

“Because we stay up late. Play Rock Band, do karaoke, play board games, watch movies, you know… hang out.”

“I can still hang out.” Wayde kept his gaze on his laptop, but he wasn’t really looking at anything.

“We all fall asleep in big piles.” Rowan sipped his tea.

“And you want me to sleep in a pile?” Wayde let his gaze cut to Rowan.

“Hey! Look, we’re going to Korea. Ohmygods!” Rowan jumped up and ran to the living room.

Wayde stood up, curious about what Rowan was doing. And still wondering why Rowan hadn’t answered the question. Although Wayde had pushed the flirt button just a little, he needed to tread carefully. Wayde went into the living room.

“Listen to this,” said Rowan as he scrolled his iPod. He handed Wayde one of the ear buds. They had to stand shoulder to shoulder in order for both of them to listen at the same time. “Some of these K-pop bands are amazing. This is T.O.P. and G-Dragon.”

“K-pop. Isn’t that the music you were telling me about last summer?” Wayde asked as he listened.
“Yeah.” Rowan nodded. “They blend rap, hip hop, and dance. It’s really cool.”

Wayde loved the expression on Rowan’s face. He was so relaxed when he was listening to, talking about, or making music. Wayde wanted to do anything he could to make sure that Rowan would always be able to pursue that passion. Not that Rowan needed much help, he was gaining quite a reputation as a young, up and coming, star in the music industry.

Thinking about their schedule, Wayde smiled. Natalie had definitely scheduled plenty of late nights DJ-ing for Rowan. And Wayde couldn’t wait to get back to the club scene. Just to see Rowan at work. Because DJ Rows at work was hella sexy.

When the song ended, Rowan turned the iPod off. “They own one of the clubs we’re going to visit.”

“Who?” Wayde had been so caught up watching Rowan he forgot what they’d been talking about.
“T.O.P. and G-Dragon.”

“Awesome, maybe you’ll get to meet them.” Wayde smiled when Rowan’s eyes went wide.

“That would be beyond awesome.” Rowan set the iPod on the coffee table. “Though, I’m not going to get my hopes up.”

“You’re a celebrity now Rowan.” Wayde sauntered back into the kitchen. “People want to meet you too.”

“That’s just… unreal.” Rowan hesitated in the doorway. “Famous people want to meet me?”

“Have you thought about the future? How you will deal with real celebrity status?” Wayde sat down.

“What do you mean?”

“Rowan, you are going to be very famous. Never doubt that. You’re talented. Truly talented.”

“It sounds like you don’t expect the same thing for yourself.” Rowan sat down.

“Not the kind of status you’ll have. I’m a model. I’ll be known, but not splashed across the gossip columns, or entertainment shows. I won’t be going to any awards shows, walking the red carpet.”

“You might.” Rowan glanced away quickly.

“Well, if you’re kind enough to invite me. Then I might.” Wayde hoped, beyond hope, that he’d be right by Rowan’s side. Wayde could play supporting boyfriend.

“Natalie says we should be seen together more.” Rowan picked up his iPad.

Wayde bit the inside of his cheek. Jesus, he didn’t want to do something because Rowan felt obligated. “Rowan, you don’t have to do everything Natalie suggests.”

“I like some of her suggestions.” Rowan nudged Wayde’s thigh with his foot. And then he kept it resting against Wayde’s leg.

Wayde wasn’t sure what to do, so he willed his body to behave and went back to the list of modeling jobs. “This is a request for us to do a five page spread in Height magazine.”

“Isn’t Height a gay magazine?” Rowan’s foot moved back and forth along Wayde’s thigh.

“Well, yes.” Wayde laughed. “Height is all about the young, fit male. Sort of the ‘height’ of youth and gay culture. They push that homoerotic vibe.”

“Do you want to take the job?”

“Do you?”

“I asked you first.” Rowan deliberately ran his foot along Wayde’s thigh, up to his hip.
Wayde looked down. “Rowan…”

“I like that shirt.” Rowan ran a toe under the hem of Wayde’s shirt. “It really brings out your eyes. But, you know that don’t you?” Rowan teased.

“I don’t think we should take the job.” Wayde picked up Rowan’s foot and placed it back on the empty chair.
He didn’t want to, but he needed to keep the line very clear. At least until Rowan said differently. Actions were dangerous. Flirting could get out of hand and Wayde didn’t want any confusion.

“You’ll do it if I want to.”

Wayde sighed. “Yes.” He couldn’t refuse Rowan.

“Good, then I want to do the spread for Height.”

“Of course.” Wayde wanted to pound his head on a hard surface, then take a very cold shower.


message 7: by Andi (new)

Andi Lea (andilea) Prologue continued...

“Dayum, have you seen the latest issue?” Rowan was turning the iPad vertical. “Wow, that’s pretty suggestive. How old are these models?”

“Age of consent in Germany is fourteen.” Wayde tried to focus on the other jobs on the list. “Ivan is seventeen.”

“Really?” Rowan was tapping the iPad again. “So, you’ve seen this issue. Do you know Ivan?”

“We’ve worked some runway shows together.” Wayde stopped on another multiple page spread offer. This one was with Liam Wansborough, Darci’s older brother, and it was for a major French fashion magazine. Wayde’s pulse raced. “Rowan!”

“What?” Rowan jumped out of his chair.

“This!” Wayde pointed at the screen.

Rowan leaned over into Wayde’s personal bubble. Wayde inhaled Rowan’s light spicy cologne and enjoyed the warmth radiating off his body.

“That’s… wow, that’s a big deal.” Rowan scooted closer, pressing his finger on the touch pad and scrolling the details. “Liam requested us specifically.”

“I can’t believe it.” Wayde ran his hands through his hair. This was the kind of break into high fashion that models dreamed of. Working with someone like Liam was career making. And being featured in this magazine was not something to pass up.

Rowan straddled Wayde’s lap. Cupping Wayde’s cheeks, he leaned in so close that Wayde couldn’t breathe. Rowan pressed a kiss to Wayde’s lips. “You’re whole life is going to change after we do this.”

His toes were still uncurling when Wayde glanced up into Rowan’s eyes. Wayde wasn’t sure what ‘this’ Rowan was referring to. The editorial, or the kiss Rowan had just given Wayde. Gods, Wayde wanted to do something, grab Rowan, and wrap arms around him. Kiss again. But, Rowan got up and danced away.

“Rowan, you can’t do that.” Wayde shook his head.

“Do what?”

“Kiss me.” Wayde closed his browser and saved the document. He snapped the lid on his laptop.

“Are you mad?” Rowan’s Gaea energy raised the temperature in the room.

“No.” Wayde put his laptop in his bag and pulled the strap over his head. “I need to go.”

“Wayde?’ Rowan followed Wayde to the living room.

“I told my mum I’d be back to help with the dinner rush.” Wayde found his sunglasses and started to put them on.

“Give me your hand.” Rowan had his hand out, palm up.

Wayde did it without thinking. He watched Rowan pull a black marker pen from his pocket. Raising his brows, Wayde watched. Rowan pulled the marker cap off with his teeth and wrote on Wayde’s palm. Folding Wayde’s fingers over the message, Rowan smiled.

Read it, later. Rowan t-pathed and pulled the front door open.

Wayde clenched his fist as he walked home. He desperately wanted to stop and look. But, the anticipation was kind of fun. As soon as he turned on Wildwood Avenue he couldn’t take it any longer. He stopped and pushed his sunglasses on top of his head.

Slowly, he uncurled his fingers. The free pass had not been wasted. He read and laughed.

U O ME 1 KISS

***


message 8: by Andi (new)

Andi Lea (andilea) Chapter One

It was the end of October. The attack on Wildwood felt like it happened in a different lifetime, rebuilding and repairing the community had been a priority for the neighborhood.

Rowan barely had time to help with the cleanup effort, he and Wayde had to go overseas for a press junket, a nightclub tour, and multiple photo shoots. Rowan felt a stab of guilt. Two years ago he’d felt trapped and wanted to leave Wildwood more than anything. Since then, he’d been away from home more than he’d ever imagined.

Now, he was on the campus of the University of Iowa, in the middle of another photo shoot. He had been there for several hours doing a live broadcast for VisionAir, the British television program that he co-hosted with Wayde, and three other rising teen stars. The focus of this particular segment was college football and their mascots. Apparently something the European producers felt was very American.

Looking up, Rowan took a deep breath. Today, the sun was high and bright, a crisp breeze rattled a few leaves off the tree branches. Lifting and swirling in the air, hanging suspended for a fraction of a second. Rust, gold, and brown made a lazy descent to the ground. The fading green grass was littered with the jewels of a new season.

“Pumpkin pie,” Rowan muttered quietly. He was craving the comfort of family, disappointed that he was missing most of the Halloween festivities in Wildwood. Not to mention he was incredibly hungry, it had been hours since he’d eaten.

“Pumpkin pie?” The question was followed by the crunching of leaves under foot.

“Hmm?” Rowan turned around, aware that the other voice wasn’t just a random bystander. It was Wayde and his green eyes sparkled as the sun caught him in just the right way. Rowan felt a flutter in his stomach and ignored it.

“Are you hungry?” Wayde’s mouth quirked into a half-smile, half-smirk. “Cause, I’m starving.”

“What?” Rowan couldn’t stop looking at the green eyes, totally focused on him.

“Pumpkin pie?” Wayde lifted his brows in question.

“Oh,” Rowan’s brain finally caught up. “I was just thinking out loud.”

“About pie?”

“Yes, about pie.” Rowan reverted to sarcasm, because allowing his feelings to show would betray what he had worked so hard to suppress.

He glanced around. A few minutes ago, there had been a small group of curious onlookers. Now, it had swelled to a much larger crowd. A six foot tall bird was the center of attention, Herky the Hawk, mascot of the university. He was running around, and through, the crowd. He did a series of figure eights, then started to dance.

Rowan watched with amusement. The crowd began chanting. At first, it was difficult to understand what they were shouting, except the mascot’s name. Then Herky the Hawk came to a stop, he bent forward slightly, and began to shake his back end. Rowan’s eyes went wide as he deciphered what the students were saying.

“Twerk it Herk!” The crowd was shouting.

“No, Herk. Don’t…” Wayde groaned and covered his eyes.

Rowan bit his bottom lip, fascinated by the ridiculous bird gyrating. Then someone in the crowd handed Herk a foam finger. Rowan shook his head, “It’s a train wreck and I can’t stop watching.”

“That,” Wayde removed his hand from his face, pointing at the scene in front of them, “Is wrong.”

Rowan stifled a laugh, unsuccessfully, because three girls from the crowd joined Herk’s bizarre dance.

“Stay on your marks guys,” Joe, the VisionAir North American director, pointed at the ground.

Startled by the command, Rowan turned around wide-eyed.

“Are you filming this?” Wayde looked suspicious.

Rowan noticed the camera operator had trained the lens on them, with Herky the Hawk, in the background.

“What do we do?” Rowan muttered to Wayde.

“Destroy the footage,” Wayde grinned as he straightened his wool jacket and put on a good show for the camera.

Fifteen minutes later, Herky had led most of the people away. Rowan had never been happier to see a crowd disperse, he loosened his tie and let out a breath he’d been holding.

“Whose idea was the old school Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson costumes?” Rowan was actually enjoying the costumes more than he’d let on.

“I would suspect, Natalie.” Wayde took his hat off and ran a hand over his head. His long fingers dragging through his black as night hair, an unconscious gesture.

Rowan stared a moment too long, his fingertips tingling, remembering the countless times he ran his own fingers through Wayde’s hair.

“All right?” Wayde’s British accent was thickest when he used London slang.

Rowan nodded, then quickly looked away. He looked around for their manager, Natalie. “Where is she anyway?” He loved Wayde’s voice, but he needed to think about something else.

One of the most difficult things to avoid was the silent communication they shared. In the year and half they had known one another, their relationship had evolved many times. Rowan knew that Wayde was working just as hard at keeping the t-path line shut down between them. It was something they both agreed to when they moved back to Wildwood from London. But, even with that barrier, Rowan was acutely aware of how much they communicated through small gestures. A brief touch, a glance, or a freakin’ half-smirk.

No sign of Natalie. Rowan pulled his phone from a pocket, checking the time. They had already missed the carnival games at the Broussard Center and they’d be lucky if they made it to the dance before it started. Thankfully, Rowan wasn’t scheduled to DJ until later in the evening. He sent a text to Darien to let him know he’d be there soon. Out of the corner of his eye, he watched Wayde wander over to the film crew. There was a quiet conversation and some laughter.

“See you next week,” Joe called out as he and the crew loaded the last of their equipment into the truck.

“He isn’t going to use the footage for VisionAir.” Wayde wandered back over, pulling his tweed Deerstalker hat back on. “But, he did say it was too bizarre not to film it.”

“Okay.” Rowan nodded absently, he was distracted by Dare’s text reply.

“Okay,” said Wayde, his voice flat. Obviously, annoyed about something.

One of their producers, Shelly, jogged over waving her cell phone in the air. “Natalie is on her way back.” Then she pressed the phone to her ear and began nodding as if the person on the other end could see it.

“Did you want to borrow any of the props? For your costumes?” A crew member asked. He was new and Rowan could not remember his name, which was too bad because he was hot.

“No, thanks.” Rowan shook his head, shoving his phone in his pocket, and giving cute new guy all of his attention. “Need a hand with that?” Rowan asked as the prop guy tried to juggle two large duffle bags.

“I’ve got it,” he said and then dropped one of the bags. His cheeks went slightly red, making Rowan smile.

“I have two free hands, let me use them.” Rowan winked and picked up one of the bags. He walked backwards to the van, watching for a reaction.

“I don’t think you’re supposed to…” The prop guy picked up the other bag, pushed his glasses up the bridge of his nose, but stopped talking when he looked at Rowan. “Are you flirting with me?”

“Really?” said Wayde. He stepped between them and grabbed the other bag. “No, he’s not supposed to help you. But, he’s nice.” Brushing past Rowan, Wayde tossed the bag into the van. “Natalie is here,” he said, then walked away.

“Thanks for waiting,” said Natalie as she crossed the expanse of lawn towards them. She was waving Rowan over. “Come on, come on, I know you’re in a hurry to get back home. And I’m in a hurry to get elsewhere.”

She was not alone. A petite woman with straight, shoulder length, blonde hair and black framed glasses struggled to keep pace with Natalie. Rowan waved goodbye to the new guy, then jogged over to Wayde, Natalie, and the blonde.

“Rowan, Wayde,” said Natalie. “I’d like you to meet, Cecily Taylor.”

“Nice to meet you.” Rowan extended his hand. Cecily had a firm grasp and beamed a hundred watt smile.

“And to what do we owe this pleasure,” Wayde glanced from Natalie to Cecily to Rowan.

“Cecily is your tutor. She’ll be travelling with you when you have to take time off from school.” Natalie tapped her cell phone screen. “This will fulfill the requirements set up by the high school to make sure you don’t miss any instructional time,” Natalie said the last part like it had invisible quote marks.

“I’m looking forward to getting to know you both better.” Cecily smiled, again.

“I’ve made brunch reservations for all of us.” Natalie was still staring at her phone. “Tomorrow at noon. I’ve emailed the details.”

“Efficient and last minute,” Wayde was teasing, but Rowan knew how much it annoyed Wayde that Natalie often thrust them into situations without warning.

“That’s what you pay me for.” Natalie had her own snarky tone. She narrowed her eyes at Wayde. “I hope you’ll appreciate the extra time I took screening the applications.”

Rowan noticed that Cecily was still smiling at them. It was beginning to bother him. Not in a creepy way, but in a that’s-really-annoying-way.

***


message 9: by Andi (new)

Andi Lea (andilea) Chapter One continued...

“What do you think of our new governess?” Wayde settled into the Jeep and clicked his seatbelt in place.
“She’s a smiler.” Rowan turned the ignition.

“A bit eager to please.” Wayde nodded.

The rest of the ride was silent, but not uncomfortable. They had spent so much time together that it was easy to be alone, too easy, as if they were playing their parts. Wayde took a surreptitious glance at Rowan.

“I’m not going to have time to change my costume.” Rowan turned onto the bridge at Ravens Road and slowed down because of the crowds of people.

Wayde was surprised that the streets were lined with cars back to back, not a parking place in sight. “Is it always like this?”

“Yep.”

They were stopped at the light and a group of Middle Earth characters crossed the street.

“I’m going to park at Luc’s house.” Rowan drove straight ahead and turned left on Pecan Avenue.

“We can run inside and you can change,” said Wayde, hoping Rowan wouldn’t.

“Don’t really have time.” Rowan had an odd expression, almost like he knew what Wayde was thinking. “I kind of like the vintage look, but I might ditch the wool suit jacket.”

Wayde shifted in his seat and leaned back against the passenger door, mentally picturing Rowan without the jacket. Wayde kept his face neutral, but the visual of white dress shirt, loose tie, and herringbone vest was extremely appealing.

“Did you want to change?” Rowan pulled into the driveway and cut the engine.

“Not at all.” Wayde grinned.

“Are you…”

Wayde waited for Rowan to finish his question, but he didn’t. He just shook his head and climbed out the Jeep. Wayde opened their t-path, hoping to catch the rest of the question, but hit a solid brick wall.

“Don’t.” Rowan started walking away.

Wayde felt slightly bad, but didn’t apologize. Maybe he should have. It was rude and he knew it, but for months Rowan had been dangling sentences and questions like carrots on a stick. Wayde switched tactics, trying for humor.

“I like to think that Holmes and Watson had a thing,” he mused.

“A thing?” Rowan laughed, but it was hollow.

“Yes, well a thing is more than a fling, but less than…”

“Commitment,” Rowan interrupted.

The air stirred with Gaea energy. A pulse of heat washed over Wayde. The word was harsh and deliberate, just like Rowan’s Gaea power. Wayde’s heart skipped a beat, not in a good way. This was the unpleasant side of their relationship. He felt the tension rise between them again.

“I’ve got to go check on my equipment.” Rowan didn’t make eye contact and took off towards the front doors of the Broussard Center.

Wayde hurried inside, catching a glimpse of Rowan slipping through the backstage door. The foyer and main hall were quickly filling up. Wayde uttered a series of excuse me’s and pardon me’s as he followed Rowan.
Taking a deep breath, Wayde stood still at the door, then turned the knob and climbed the short flight of steps to the stage. No one had ever had this effect on him. And it was doubtful that he would ever meet anyone else who could unbalance him more.

Rowan was busy checking cords, but it was clear that he knew Wayde was standing there.

“Can you turn the power on?” Rowan didn’t look up from what he was doing.

“Sure.” Wayde carefully stepped around Rowan and turned on the computer and sound equipment.

“Mix-tape three.” It was barely a whisper in Wayde’s ear as Rowan stood up and leaned close.

Wayde held his breath, not wanting to make the wrong move. He scrolled the playlist menu and clicked open the file. Then he inhaled, wanting to take in Rowan’s cologne, spice and wood.

“That should keep the crowd entertained for a while.” Rowan adjusted the sound board.

They watched people gather in clusters and begin dancing. Rowan waved to a few of their friends, pressing a headphone to one ear, making a few more adjustments to the music. The transformation of Rowan to DJ Rows was always subtle, but intense. Wayde felt some of the tension begin to ebb away.

“I’ve got an hour, before I officially have to work the crowd.” Rowan put the headphones down. He pressed a finger to the back of Wayde’s hand and tremor of Gaea energy pulsed between them. “Let’s get some dinner and avoid touchy subjects.”

Wayde turned his hand over, palm up. “Do we have to avoid touching?”

Rowan didn’t say anything, his firelight amber eyes were locked on Wayde. Then their fingers were laced together and Rowan was leading the way down the steps.

***


message 10: by Andi (new)

Andi Lea (andilea) Chapter Two

Wayde was sitting at a booth in the far corner of Greene Beans. He was staring at his computer screen, the cursor flashing on a blank document. So far he’d accumulated seven words, two of which were his name. The rest were a fairly inappropriate title for his U.S. Government mid-term paper. At least he had two weeks until it was due.

He furtively glanced to the front window of the café. Outside, Rowan was sitting at a table with Darien and Alchemy. Their heads had been bent in serious conversation for a while, then they started laughing. Rowan had lifted his phone out in front of them, held it still for a moment, and they all smiled.

Wayde’s phone made a sound a few moments later. He picked it up and saw the Instagram notification from Rowan’s DJ account. Wayde opened the app and was staring at a picture of the three childhood friends with the hashtags: #goodtobehome, #besties, #chillin. Nothing about Greene Beans and nothing to identify where they were.

Over the last few months they had learned to be cautious of giving out any personal locations on their public social media accounts. In fact, it had been decided that VisionAir would not broadcast from Wildwood, in order to allow the boys some freedom and privacy. The closest they’d come to their neighborhood had been the university campus. They weren’t as well known in the states as they were in the UK and Europe, but Natalie was constantly going on about how these things tended to go viral without any warning. Best to be safe, than sorry.

“When are you leaving for Annodox?” Elliot slid into the booth, delivering a fresh cup of coffee.

Wayde glanced at his phone. “In an hour. Are you still going to New York City for the weekend?” He closed his laptop and slipped it into his backpack.

Elliot nodded. “Having dinner with my mom, brother, Liam, and Darci tomorrow night.”

“Good. It’s good right?” Wayde zipped his backpack and set it down, then turned his full attention on Elliot.

“Yeah, it’s good.” Elliot glanced over. “Are you okay?”

“Most days.” Wayde bumped Elliot’s shoulder.

Since the attack on Wildwood, they hadn’t spent as much time together. But, they talked often, sometimes for hours over the phone. Elliot was working hard to put his life back in order. Wayde knew that the long term, for both of them, had very different paths. Their brief relationship had morphed into a more valuable friendship. Elliot was focused on Darci, and Wayde was focused on—he glanced out the window again—Rowan.

***

The trip through the Portal from Wildwood to Annodox had been thankfully uneventful. It had also been strangely quiet. Wayde had barely muttered more than two words and Rowan was struggling to make conversation.

He glanced beyond Wayde at the skyline over the ocean. The sun was setting in a blaze of orange and pink. The sound of waves hitting the shore and the smell of salt in the air should have been relaxing. The whole point of coming to Annodox was to relax, but Rowan felt as tense as a bow string.

“Pierre and Ben are at the hospital for a few days. They’re running some MRI tests or something. Riley and Luc will be here in the morning. We could watch a movie… or…” Rowan unlocked the front door of the villa, attempting to make conversation that wasn’t about him or Wayde, or him and Wayde. Mostly, he was babbling.

He was having a one sided conversation. Sighing, he tried to figure out what to say next.

“Rowan.”

“I was thinking of going over to the hospital tomorrow and having lunch with Pierre. And spending some time with Ben. You want to come with?” Rowan dropped his duffle bag on the floor and started toward the kitchen.

“Rowan,” said Wayde, again.

“Are you hungry?” Rowan kept walking and flipped the light on in the kitchen. He wasn’t getting any response. Turning around, he realized Wayde hadn’t followed. Backtracking, Rowan saw Wayde still standing outside. “Are you coming in?”

Wayde leaned against the door frame. “I’ve got the keys to my parents’ apartment in the City Centre. I just wanted to walk you to your door. And yes, I’d love to visit with Pierre and Ben.”

“Oh. But, you’re not staying?” Rowan tried to smile, but he felt his heart sink. “I guess we probably spend too much time together. I didn’t even think that you might want some time away from me. I mean…it makes sense. Alone time.”

“That’s not what I want.” Wayde tilted his head back and closed his eyes.

Rowan felt silly just standing there. The realization that Wayde had planned this, didn’t want to spend time together, was disappointing. He wasn’t even going to come inside, not even for five minutes? What kind of response is appropriate when the only person you want to spend time with is the one person you keep trying to avoid?

Silence.

“Will you have breakfast with me?” Wayde’s hair fell over one eye as he turned to look at Rowan.

“Breakfast?” Rowan moved towards the door, but stopped and gripped the handle, maintaining some physical distance.

“The most important meal of the day.” Wayde’s lips quirked into a half smile. “I’m asking you out on a date.”

“A date?” Rowan couldn’t stop the idiotic responses. He was so confused.

“I’ll be at the Hanging Gardens at nine. I’d love to see you in the morning.”

Rowan’s chest tightened, there was something about the way Wayde said ‘love’—his voice dropping low and his eyes intense.

“Goodnight.” Wayde shrugged his duffle bag over his shoulder. Pausing for a second, he made eye contact again, then turned around, and walked toward the road.

Rowan shut the front door and went to the kitchen. He had downed half a bottle of water before he realized he never answered about breakfast. He paced the kitchen, finishing the water. Glancing at the clock on the wall he had more than twelve hours before breakfast. Should he call Wayde? Should he just show up? What the hell was he supposed to do?

“Think, think.” Rowan said. “If he wants to go on a date, why did he leave? What am I going to wear?”
He hit speed dial on his phone.

***

Wayde arrived at the Gardens early. He ordered a coffee from one of the stalls in the bazaar and found a table near the balcony edge. Rowan never gave an answer about meeting this morning, but maybe he’d show up. Hopefully, he’d come because he wanted to and not out some kind of misplaced obligation. Lately, so much of their interaction had been veiled by their work and the need to keep their audience guessing.

Fan mail and website comments were a plethora of wishful thinking, gentle encouragement, and some just blatantly demanding more details, or action. The producers and writers for VisionAir were very good at keeping the tension. And Wayde knew that he and Rowan had cultivated an on-air flirtation that fed into the machine.

Away from the cameras and the media—things were far more uncertain.

“Good Morning!” “Bonjour!” Luc and Riley startled Wayde from his thoughts as they sat down at his table.

“Hi ya!” Wayde grinned. He was happy to see them, but wondered if they were there to soften the blow that Rowan wasn’t going to show up after all.

“He’s getting coffee,” Luc whispered knowingly. He smiled and gave Wayde a long appraising look. “You look good, I approve.”

“Merci.” Wayde hoped Luc was right, he wanted to look good.

“We’re not staying,” Riley added conspiratorially as he waved to someone behind Wayde. If Riley was friendly and encouraging, then that was definitely a good sign.

Wayde realized he’d been staring out over the balcony edge and not watching for Rowan’s arrival. It wasn’t even close to nine yet. Wayde adjusted his chair to get a better view of the vendors. He caught sight of Rowan at the coffee stall. He was flanked by Rory, Arnaud, and Dr. Karl. Rowan had a complete defense team to diffuse any awkwardness.

Gods, Rowan looked amazing, at least from what could be seen. He was wearing slim fit khaki chinos, cuffed up to his ankles, a black short sleeve t-shirt, and black Chucks. No socks, a black studded belt, and one black leather cuff on his wrist.

“How’s college life?” Wayde returned his attention to the table and tried to look relaxed.

“I could use more sleep,” Riley yawned.

“How early did you arrive this morning?”

Luc and Riley glanced at each other. “We came last night,” said Luc.

Wayde wasn’t sure if that was good or bad.

“Cinnamon spice.” Rowan slid a cup across the table. Heat warmed the air behind Wayde as Rowan leaned over, without making any physical contact. “And a caramel latte.” Rowan set another drink down and Luc picked it up.

“I am not favoring my right shoulder,” said Rory. He sat down in the only open seat, next to Wayde.

Rowan had moved around to the other side of the table and sat down. He was talking quietly with Arnaud. It took a moment for Wayde to figure out who Rory was talking to.

“Just let me look at it.” Dr. Karl grabbed a chair from a nearby table and sat down.

“No.” Rory shook his head. “You want to stab me with needles. You’re sadistic.”

“I’m a doctor.” Karl shook his head.

Wayde was trying to watch Rowan, but the Rory and Karl situation had everyone’s attention.

“A sadistic doctor.” Rory sat back slowly in his chair, he did seem to be favoring his right shoulder as he picked up his coffee with his left hand.

“You know, you’re the only person who ever says that.” Karl smiled.

“With good reason. Why are you smiling?” Rory tried to pull the lid off his coffee cup. “Arnaud can look at my shoulder.”

“Give me that.” Karl took the cup from Rory and peeled the lid off. “Don’t drag Arnaud into this. It’s my fault your shoulder is injured in the first place.”


message 11: by Andi (new)

Andi Lea (andilea) Chapter Two continued...

“Yes, it is.” Rory was nodding as Karl handed him the cup.

Wayde glanced across the table at Rowan, hoping for some explanation.

“They played tennis yesterday.” Rowan was almost laughing. “Rory fell.”

“I was avoiding a dangerous situation.” Rory rubbed his shoulder.

“Dangerous situations are in the field, fighting the enemy. Not playing a friendly game of tennis.” Karl sighed.

“Obviously, you’ve never played tennis with yourself.” Rory pointed at Karl.

Wayde glanced back at Rowan again, wondering what the story was with Rory and Karl. Rowan gave a slight nod, indicating that there was definitely some history.

A small stout, elderly woman stepped up to the table and spoke in quick German. Wayde had no idea what she was saying other than ‘no.’

Karl smiled sweetly at her and stood up, tucking her arm into his. He thanked her and escorted her through the crowd.

“I believe our breakfast is ready.” Riley stood up and put out a hand for Luc.

“I just got comfortable,” Rory complained as he got back on his feet.

“We’ll see you for lunch.” Rowan leaned back and glanced at Riley.

Wayde watched the muscles of Rowan’s stomach tighten as his t-shirt rose up slightly, exposing just a glimpse of skin.

“You want the same thing. You just don’t know what it is.” Luc leaned close to Wayde and spoke quietly in French.

Wayde quirked a brow, thinking that what he wanted right now was to run his hands under Rowan’s shirt.
Everyone said goodbye, then Wayde and Rowan were alone. The table had too many chairs and they were sitting on opposite sides. The empty spaces surrounding them reminded Wayde of how much distance they’d built into their relationship.

***

Rowan was glad he’d called Riley last night, and even more pleased that he had not called Wayde. Not that he wanted to be a tease or give Wayde the wrong idea. It was just that Rowan really had no idea how to approach this new and more—possibly mature—side of Wayde’s personality.

Could he trust that Wayde wasn’t just putting on another act? Could Rowan trust himself?

They had opted to eat at a small restaurant tucked in the back of the Gardens and Rowan was glad. The table and chairs had been like some kind of obstacle course with no direction. He didn’t want all that empty space to get in the way.

Now they were tucked into a small half circle booth, surrounded by lush plants, giving the illusion of privacy. One of the waterfalls cascaded over a ledge above, Rowan was finally feeling the calming effects of the island. Or maybe he was just feeling comfortable?

Noting that Wayde had not made any flirtatious gestures, at least none that were his usual style, Rowan tried to figure out what was going on.

“You’re thinking too hard.” Wayde was signing the check for their breakfast, he spoke without looking up. “Do you mind if we do a little shopping?”

“Shopping?” Rowan had been staring at Wayde’s fingers as they gripped the pen. “Sure.” Rowan had to stop his brain from reverting to one word question-replies. “Sounds great.”

Bravo, he’d made a two word sentence.

After a few hours of wandering around, Rowan realized they were having fun. It wasn’t forced or faked. It was just them, the way Rowan remembered from the first summer they’d met. But, they were older, wiser, and different— it was actually better than the past.

“So, Rory and Karl?” Wayde was looking at a beautiful green, batik scarf. Most likely for Noella, his twin sister. The green was the same color as her eyes, the same green as Wayde’s. The scarf would look amazing on her.

“Rory, Karl, and Arnaud all went to Springwood College for their undergrad studies. The same college that Riley and Luc are attending now. Anyway, Karl and Arnaud then went to medical school and Rory was recruited to the Armors. But, somewhere in there Rory and Karl dated, I think. Or maybe it’s an on again, off again thing. All I know for sure is that it’s complicated.” Rowan nodded at the scarf, changing the subject. “If you don’t get it for her, I will.”

“I’m not letting you steal this amazing Christmas present. Go find your own.” Wayde pulled the scarf out of Rowan’s reach. “She’ll love me best.”

“I doubt she could love anyone more than you.” Rowan smiled as he peered into a jewelry case.

“Oh, I don’t know. Xander certainly gets a lot of her attention.”

“Are you jealous?”

“Worried.”

“Very brotherly of you.”

“Yes, well just wait until Reese gives up on her brothers for a boy.”

“Or a girl.” Rowan didn’t think Reese liked anyone, actually. For a while he worried that she had a crush on Wayde’s little brother, Easton. But it turned out they were just friends.

Wayde danced a step back, grinning. “Maybe she’ll have one of each.”

“Gods!” Rowan ran a hand over his face. “She would, just to make me crazy. Have you seen some of the stuff she wears?”

“I had no idea you were so modest.” Wayde handed the scarf to the clerk behind the counter.

“I’m not, but she’s my baby sister. Different rules apply. Do you have any idea what goes on in the minds of fifteen year old boys?”

“Or girls,” Wayde added with a sly grin. “You realize we see a hyper-version of that stuff, being in the entertainment industry. Reese is wicked smart.”

“I comfort myself with the knowledge that she might just set someone on fire if they do something she doesn’t like.”

“Comforting thought indeed.” Wayde took the bag from the clerk.

The girl behind the counter laughed. “I scorched a date once. Thank the Annos he was a Water Gaea.”
“Did you date him again?” Rowan asked.

“I married him.” She waved her hand in the air showing off a gorgeous ring with a fire opal set with diamonds. “It all worked out.”

“Everyone deserves a happily ever after.” Wayde had stepped away from the counter, he looked a bit sad, even though his words were clearly sincere.

Rowan felt a small pulse of familiar Gaea energy that made his heart leap. Wayde’s free hand was out, palm up. He didn’t move, or smile, or say anything else. He was just standing there, waiting.

“We should get to the hospital.” Rowan stared at Wayde’s hand and swallowed hard.

Smoothly, Wayde pulled his phone from his pocket, the hand no longer on offer. “Are we late?” He actually looked concerned.

“Who are you?” Rowan hadn’t meant to say it out loud. He felt heat rise on his neck. Gods, Wayde had the most infuriating effect on him. Rowan shook his head and quickly headed out of the shop.

He was moving so fast he hadn’t noticed that he was already through the Gardens and standing on the bridge that led to the City Centre. He was trying to catch his breath and stop his heart from pounding through his rib cage. He pressed a hand to his chest and pushed hard.

His phone chirped with a text message, without thinking he tapped the screen. When he looked down he saw a picture of something he’d totally forgotten about. It was Wayde’s palm covered in black sharpie marker. It read, U O ME 1 kiss. And Rowan had written it last summer.

Rowan’s heart was pounding so hard he could hear it. His hand trembled around the phone.

“I came to collect,” Wayde said from the other side of the bridge.

Rowan almost fell as he turned around. He grabbed the railing and steadied himself. Wayde had crossed the bridge and was only inches away. Rowan hadn’t heard anything, except the blood rushing through his ears.

“Breathe Rowan.” Wayde’s cool hands cupped Rowan’s cheeks. He leaned in and his lips were just a breath away.

Rowan inhaled. “Stawberries,” he whispered. He closed his eyes, wondering where his hands were, when he felt skin, Wayde’s skin.

“Finally,” Wayde said against Rowan’s lips.

The hands in Rowan’s hair were trembling too. And he could feel Wayde’s heart beating. Wayde was nervous? Scared?

The first brush of Wayde’s lips was light, like air. Then things weren’t so rated PG, and Rowan tasted strawberries. Something he’d missed and he hadn’t even known how much. And Gods, Wayde smelled good. He felt amazing too. His body was several degrees cooler than Rowan’s. Their Gaea abilities had recognized their connection long before either of them understood what they were getting into.

I know what I’m getting into now. Wayde opened the t-path.

Rowan let his walls down too. My pants. Rowan laughed as Wayde slipped his hand into the back of Rowan’s chinos.

Breathing was a priority as they both pulled away. Wayde didn’t really explore, he just traced a small circle on Rowan’s tailbone then slipped the hand to Rowan’s hip.

“Now, we’re going to be late for lunch.” Wayde kissed Rowan lightly.

“They can wait.” Rowan slipped his hand behind Wayde’s neck and pulled him close. “I forgot how much I miss strawberries.”

***


message 12: by Andi (new)

Andi Lea (andilea) Chapter Three


The last class of the day had ended and Rowan was still sitting at his desk. Ambient sounds of the hallway began to quiet down. His teacher, Ms. Smith, was busy grading papers. Rowan glanced at the wall clock, wondering what was taking Wayde so long. The sooner he got there, the sooner they could begin their make-up exam, and the sooner they could leave.

The classroom door opened and a smiling woman, with blonde hair entered, followed by Wayde.

“I’ve brought the governess,” announced Wayde in an affected British accent, as if he’d been attending Exeter, or some other fancy school, all his life.

Rowan laughed. Ms. Smith stood and crossed the room.

“Cecily Taylor.” Cecily extended a hand to Ms. Smith. “The governess,” said Cecily, with a smile.

“Robyn Smith.” Ms. Smith shook her head at Wayde, but she was smiling too. She turned her attention back to Cecily and said, “I’m the Honors English teacher. It’s nice to meet you.”

The two women were deep in conversation at the front of the room, but Rowan was barely paying attention. He watched Wayde walk to back of the room, lean against a desk to the left, and search an outside pocket of his backpack. Wayde’s hair was falling in his eyes and he was biting the corner of his bottom lip. He looked deep in thought and Rowan couldn’t stop staring.

They’d returned from Annodox last night and had a long list of things to do waiting for them, meetings to attend, and barely two minutes alone.

“Hi ya.” Wayde’s voice was a mere whisper as he pushed the hair off his forehead.

“Hey.” Rowan kept his voice quiet and leaned back in his seat, stretching his legs out. He looked more relaxed than he felt. His stomach went weightless, like he was going downhill on a roller coaster, but he maintained eye contact.

The room had gotten quiet. Rowan was lost in the green of Wayde’s eyes. When Ms. Smith started talking, Rowan felt his heart skip a beat. He quickly glanced away and looked at his teacher.

“Alright, let’s get started. The exam has twenty multiple choice and five short essay questions.” Ms. Smith handed them each a stack of papers. “I’m taking Ms. Taylor to the lounge to meet the rest of your teachers. I trust you both to take the test on the honor system.”

Ms. Smith and Cecily left the room. Rowan watched the door slowly close. And they were alone.

“Right.” Wayde set his backpack aside and slipped into the seat in front of Rowan. Within seconds, Wayde was bent over his test paper and working diligently.

Rowan got through the multiple choice portion without much thinking, but when he tried to focus on writing coherent essay answers he got distracted. Wayde had leaned forward and grabbed the front of his desk. The back of his t-shirt rode up over his jeans, exposing a glimpse of skin.

“Can’t you sit still?” muttered Rowan, mostly to himself.

Wayde turned in his seat and tilted his head.“Sorry.” He didn’t sound sorry.

There was something different in Wayde’s gaze. It had been this way for a while now. Rowan tried to remember when it changed, but couldn’t pinpoint it. And it was long before the kiss on Annodox. Rowan’s stomach flipped as he remembered the kiss, his focus went from Wayde’s eyes to his lips.

“Not.” Annoyed, Rowan thumped Wayde on the forehead with the end of his pencil.

Wayde made an ‘oomph’ sound and rubbed his head. He blinked a few times, a hint of a smile on his lips, then he turned around. No snarky comebacks, just an odd stillness that unnerved Rowan even more.

The room was too quiet and every sound seemed amplified – pencil lead scratching on paper, the odd voice or two from the hallway, the ticking of the wall clock. Rowan stopped writing and was staring at Wayde’s back, the way his shirt collar laid against the nape of his neck, the span of his broad shoulders, and how his muscles flexed minutely under his shirt as he worked.

Shaking his head, Rowan tried to refocus. He sighed internally, thinking that fighting Gaeas was easier than fighting his feelings for Wayde. It was becoming increasingly difficult to keep the t-path line shut down. Rowan had to work at it more since they’d returned from the island. But, they had agreed to only use it for emergencies. Besides, the last thing Rowan wanted was Wayde picking through his brain.

“Done,” said Wayde and stood up. He walked to the front of the classroom and put his test on Ms. Smith’s desk.

Rowan had only finished one out of five essay questions. He glanced up, surprised that Wayde looked pleased, rather than smug. When did Wayde start taking school seriously?

“Want me to wait for you?” Wayde had his hand on the door handle.

“I’ll meet you at the Grove as soon as I’m done.” Rowan was actually relieved that Wayde was leaving.

***

When Wayde finally got outside, he took a deep breath and glanced back at the front doors. Half-tempted to go back in, he paused, then turned away. Some days there seemed to be an easiness with Rowan, but occasionally a shadow of doubt would cross Rowan’s face. And at the worst times, Rowan looked so wounded that Wayde felt his heart crack into a million sharp pieces that stabbed his chest. Wayde was responsible for that pain and he was determined to do whatever it took to repair the damage.

Until Wayde had met Rowan, there had been no happily ever after plans for life. There had only been happy for now, as in at that moment. Wayde had been working as a model for a year before they’d met, he’d been hooking up so randomly that he’d never taken any of it very seriously. He had been focused on the right now, not the possibility of later. Wayde couldn’t say for sure if he’d been happy back then, but he knew that he was unhappy when he’d screwed it all up.

When he realized what he wanted most was Rowan, and only Rowan, it was almost too late. And maybe they would never be able to fix things, but giving up was not an option. Wayde could only hope that Rowan was feeling the same way. If that kiss on the bridge was any kind of barometer then fair weather was in the future. They just had to make it through the difficult storms first.

It was a short walk between the high school and the Broussard Community Center. Wayde hadn’t even realized where he was until he noticed the people shuffling in and out of the center’s front entrance. Many of the adults had several children with them. Children who no longer had a family or home. Wayde wheeled around and looked at Wildwood Avenue. On the surface, it looked good as new. But, under all of that rebuilding lay so much damage.

“I’m rather maudlin,” said Wayde to no one in particular.

“Wayde, can you give me a hand?” Sharon had her hands full. She smiled and winced at the same time. A little girl was clinging to her neck, practically choking her.

Another woman, following Sharon, had two infants in carriers with handles. She was trying to assist a young man with three toddlers, who were running in circles. Wayde hoped that holding the door open would be helpful enough, he wasn’t sure if he was any good with small kids. They made him nervous. Wayde pulled the door open and Sharon gave him a quick kiss on the cheek.

“Thank you,” she sighed and attempted to rearrange her small charge, but the little girl just squeezed Sharon tighter. “The clinic is much busier than I expected,” she said to Wayde, then to the little girl she said, “It’s okay.”

Sharon’s voice was soothing and the little girl seemed to relax. Even Wayde felt some of his own tension dissipate. Then he felt a pulse of Sharon’s healing power pour over him like warm water and he took a deep breath.

“You’re going to be okay too,” Sharon whispered to Wayde, then ducked inside with her entourage.

He held the door open for a few more people before heading into the Grove. Sharon’s little boost was still tingling his skin. He moved toward the Grove and called the Balance, a soft breeze circled him and shot straight up, causing a shower of leaves to fall all around. He smiled as the leaves silently touched the ground.

There was no way he could have known that someone was watching him. The energy in Wildwood was so erratic these days, it bordered on calm to frenetic, to panic, at any given time. The Gaeas were still putting their lives together and the emotional part was taking a lot longer than the rebuilding.

***


message 13: by Andi (new)

Andi Lea (andilea) Chapter Three continued...

“Rowan!” Carson called out across the quad in front the high school. He was jogging to catch up.

Rowan stopped and waited. “Hey,” he said as he wrapped an arm around Carson’s shoulder. “How was your date with…?” Rowan really needed a system for remembering names.

“Josh.” Carson was smiling. “It was great. We’re going to the movies tomorrow night.”

He described his evening in true Carson detail. They had made it all the way to the door of the renamed Thistle clothing store before Carson stopped talking.

“How was your weekend?” Carson paused in front of the shop window.

“It was good. It was great to see Riley and Luc. We had a lot of fun.”

“And?” Carson’s big blue eyes were narrowing.

“I had a good time.” Rowan wasn’t sharing more than that.

“That window isn’t going to redecorate itself,” Noella had come outside and was pointing at Carson.

“She’s a slave driver!” He laughed and kissed her cheek, then turned to Rowan, “I’ll talk to you later.”

With Carson safely away, Noella smiled brightly. “Had a good time on the island?”

“Really?” Rowan frowned dramatically, trying to cover a smile. “He told you, didn’t he?”

“I have no idea what you are talking about.” She shrugged, but it was obvious that Wayde had told her everything.

“Of course.” He kissed her forehead. “Shouldn’t you be working, or barking out orders, or something?”

“Yes, let me go lord over my minion.” Noella smiled and went back inside.

“You’re late!” Rory was staring daggers at Rowan, holding two cups of coffee.

“Nice sling.” Rowan plucked a cup out of Rory’s hand, the one attached to the injured shoulder, deducting that the one in the other hand was his uncle’s coffee. “And I told you I was staying late at school to take a make-up test.”

“Well, let’s get moving. Wayde is down at the river with Alex. And we’re losing daylight.”

“We call that daylight savings time.” Rowan took a careful sip of his coffee.

“Smartass, we can meet early in the morning before school.” Rory started walking toward the Grove.

“It’s cold in the morning.”

“You’re a Fire Gaea.”

“I’m not a morning person.”

“Excuses.” Rory shook his head, but Rowan knew he wasn’t really mad.

“Maybe we should practice when you’re not an invalid,” Rowan teased.

“Alex will be taking my place today. I’ll be observing.”

“Observing what?”

“I get to throw knives!” Alex announced as if it was Christmas and his birthday all rolled into one.

“Wait a minute.” Rowan held up a hand. “You’ve never thrown knives at me.” Rowan stared at his uncle.

“Your mother won’t let me.”

“But, it’s okay if Alex does it?”

“It’s okay with me.” Alex was flipping a rather pointy dagger around and around in his hand.

“We’ve been practicing.” Wayde was leaning casually against a nearby tree.

“Yes, well you’re an Air Gaea. You can mess with the current and change the direction of the knife. What exactly am I supposed to do? Melt the dagger in the few seconds it takes to maim me?” Rowan put his backpack down and took a deep breath.

“If you had to protect someone, you would do whatever you could to make sure no one got maimed.” Rory was pacing. “In the field, you don’t have time to think, you react, you take calculated risks, and you do everything to stay alive.”

“I’m not disagreeing. I just don’t have a clue as to what I can do to fight off flying daggers.”

“You better figure out something, because your objective today is to protect Wayde from the flying daggers.” Rory casually sipped his coffee.

“What?” “Brilliant.” “Should be fun.” Rowan, Wayde, and Alex all said at the same time.

Rowan was still staring at his uncle in disbelief. Wayde was standing to Rowan’s right side and Alex was standing further away than Rowan expected. Could Alex really throw knives that far? Oh gods, Rowan shifted his feet. He had no clue what to do.

“Ready?” Rory yelled.

As Rowan was thinking ‘no’ his head nodded ‘yes.’

In case of emergency, break glass. Rowan had opened the t-path and took a step in front of Wayde.

What? Wayde answered.

This is an emergency. No blocking the t-path. Get down! Rowan felt his heart speed up as the first knife flew from Alex’s hand.

I should have told you something a long time ago. Wayde’s voice was a whisper in Rowan’s head.

This isn’t a good time. Rowan ducked as another knife whizzed over their heads.

I’ve been trying to find a good time. There isn’t one.

Wayde, stop. This is… This was insane. Rowan drew in a breath.

I was trying to leave you alone. But, I can’t.

The energy in the Grove changed so quickly that it barely registered in Rowan’s brain before he felt the surge of power surrounding them. He glanced at Wayde, he looked lost.

Two bright lights pierced the trees and a loud popping sound hurt Rowan’s ears. He saw Wayde’s reaction. Portals had opened and the Grove was under attack. Rowan didn’t have time to think, he grabbed Wayde and forced him behind a tree. It seemed like several minutes had passed before Rowan dared to take a breath.

Rory was yelling something and Alex was answering. Rowan couldn’t make out all the words, but it sounded like they were taking cover.

What’s going on? Wayde tried to peer around the tree.

Rowan slammed his arm against Wayde’s chest, forcing him back. Don’t move. I can hear their footsteps. Their coming up on your left.

All at once there was a shout, running, fireballs exploding, an arc of water putting out a pile of leaves that had caught on fire, and then the ground began to tremble.

Rowan felt his core temperature rise as he pulled from the Balance. He’d been practicing for several months, testing his limits, some of the things he could do—no one knew about. Not even his uncle.

Listen to me, you need to be careful and not touch me while I do this. Okay? Rowan turned to Wayde.

You’re burning up. Wayde looked worried.

The last time Wayde had been around Rowan when this happened, he didn’t have any control.

I’m fine. Rowan glanced away.

He leaned around the tree to get a look at the scene. Half a dozen Gaeas were fighting and Rowan had to swallow the panic he felt. He shook his head. It couldn’t be happening again?

We’re going to do this together. Like we did… Rowan couldn’t believe this was anything like last summer. Something felt off, but he couldn’t take any chances. He could feel Wayde pulling on the Balance too. Rowan squeezed Wayde’s hand, then let go. I’ll set a line of fire and you boost it. And remember, don’t touch me.

Reluctantly, he took a step away. Now, he wished more than anything he’d let Wayde finish what he’d been saying.
Everything happened fast. Rowan knew he was glowing like an ember as he stepped into the clearing, he let the energy go and a wall of fire blazed ahead of him, inching forward as he walked. Then Wayde pushed his own Air energy at the flames and they flew up so high that the backwind caused Rowan to slow down.

“Holy shit!” Someone yelled.

Something cool and light touched Rowan’s hand. He tried to stop it, but it was too late.

More commotion, shouts, running. Then it started to rain. Hard.

“We need a medic.” Another voice called out.

“I’ve got it,” Alex answered, his voice was clipped and angry.

Rowan couldn’t figure out what was going on. All of the chaos was over. Did he pass out? What the hell had happened?

“Simulation over!” A huge man, which Rowan had never seen before, bellowed.

“Simulation?” Rowan glared at his uncle who was talking with the huge guy.

“Yeah… burned… I need… Sharon…” Alex’s words were staccato.

Rowan hadn’t registered what was going on behind him. He turned and the world stopped. Wayde was on the ground. He wasn’t moving, his eyes were shut tight, his breathing was labored, and his arm was curled up against his chest. He was cradling something red and blistered. Rowan tried to figure out what Wayde had picked up. Was it a small animal? Rowan stared and tried to make sense of what he was seeing.

“No.” Rowan couldn’t breathe, his stomach turned, and he looked at Alex. Hoping for some kind of reasonable explanation.

“It looks worse than it is.” Alex was too calm, his lips were a thin line. It was clear that he was really angry.

“I’m sorry.” Rowan felt his hands tremble. Alex was probably mad at Rowan for being so careless. “I didn’t mean to. I didn’t…”

Alex looked confused for a moment, then his face relaxed. “It was an accident. He’s going to be fine.”

“I’m fine.” Wayde said through clenched teeth.

***


message 14: by Andi (new)

Andi Lea (andilea) Chapter Three continued...

“Can you give me some room to work here?” Sharon sounded frustrated. Her Gaea energy was prickling one moment, then soothing the next.

Wayde had to close his eyes again. There were too many people talking. He wished he could shut them up. The voices were all talking over one another.

“I said get out! OUT!” Rowan’s voice was strong and clear. And commanding.

Wayde liked the sound of it and felt his lips turn up in a smile.

“Yeah, he’s going to be fine,” Alex chuckled. “No, I didn’t know it was a simulation. No one… no, Rory didn’t tell me.”

“I called Karl, he’ll be here in a few minutes.” Rory sounded like he was across the room.

“Good. You can leave, now.” Rowan’s voice didn’t waver.

It was interesting to listen without watching. Wayde was picking up on all sorts of emotions. Gaea energy was bouncing all over the place, though it seemed to be less dense now that the room had emptied out.

“Are you okay?” That was Riley.

“We got here as fast as we could,” said Luc.

“No shit, I’m still on the phone with Riley,” said Alex.

“How did you get the phone to work in the Blind?” Elliot asked.

“I need you to sleep…” Sharon was leaning over Wayde and he could smell her shampoo, it was slightly floral. He inhaled, but fought the drowsiness.

“Rowan?” Wayde tried to sit up.

I’m here. You need to sleep. I’m so sorry.

Don’t leave me. Wayde felt heavy, the pain disappeared, and sleep stole the world away.

When he woke up he couldn’t move. That wasn’t good. And it was hot, stifling hot. He rubbed at one eye. Why was he wearing a sock on his hand? He lay still for a moment, trying to remember where he was, and who he was with. Without opening his eyes he used his other hand to investigate.

One naked chest was behind him and another was pressed against his front. Okayyyyy. Two guys. He inhaled, the one clutching him and lying on his chest was Rowan. He blinked and turned his head, Elliot was spooning from behind.

Curiouser and curiouser.

Wayde glanced at his hand, which was heavy, but wasn’t covered in a sock after all. It was wrapped in gauze, all the way to his elbow. The heaviness of sleep was beginning to lift. And then he remembered the Grove and the burning pain. Amazingly, he wasn’t feeling any pain at the moment. He lay still for a few minutes, resting his cheek on Rowan’s head. Energy vibrated between them, but Rowan didn’t stir. He was still asleep.

Carefully, Wayde lifted his head and noticed that Darien was spooned behind Rowan. On the floor, he saw several others curled up together. When his eyes focused he realized it was Sharon, Alex, Riley and Luc.

He turned to find Elliot was wrapped by a pale slender arm. Wayde sat up just a little. Darci? Really? And Noella? Huh.

Beyond the other side of the bed, were several sleeping bags. Wayde smiled when he saw Sera, then realized she was surrounded by Keenan, Alchemy, and Jute.

“Can someone explain all of this to me?” Wayde finally said, very loudly. Soothing Gaea energy was humming through the room.

“We’re gonna need some coffee.” Elliot yawned.

“Phone.” Darci’s hand appeared with a phone.

Elliot made a call. “Hey, Aren. We need a coffee delivery… um...” he glanced around. “Better send over three large to-go carafes. And pick up three dozen pastries from Hearty Boys. Can you get someone to help you deliver it all?”

Wayde stopped listening and turned his attention back to the only person in the room that mattered to him. Rowan had snuggled closer and his lips quirked just slightly, he was playing possum. But, Wayde didn’t mind. He kissed the top of Rowan’s head.

“So, obviously we’re at Luc’s and Riley’s house. But why are you all here?” Wayde used his good hand to pull Rowan closer.

“Feel the love,” Amyntas was standing in the doorway. “The best healing medicine available.”

***


message 15: by Andi (new)

Andi Lea (andilea) Chapter Four

“It would be best to go to Annodox for a few days. I’d like you to work with a physical therapist.” Dr. Karl unwrapped the bandages from Wayde’s hand. They were at the Wildwood Health Clinic that Sharon and Alex had set up. Karl looked concerned and said, “You’re doing well, but we can speed up the healing process at the island hospital.”

Rowan turned away, looking out the window of the Broussard Center. Remembering last week, he had thought that he was meeting with his uncle for their usual mentoring session to work on controlling the Balance. The whole scene quickly deteriorated into chaos as Rowan and Wayde assumed Wildwood was under attack. In reality, they had been pawns in an Armor training simulation.

And, thought Rowan, he hadn’t really warned anyone how much power he could wield. Now, Wayde was seriously injured and Rowan was seriously pissed. Pissed that Wayde hadn’t listened. And more pissed at the Armors for putting everyone in a dangerous situation.

It was reassuring to know that Rowan wasn’t alone in his frustration. Alex, Sharon, and Wayde had all made complaints to the Armory. Even Dr. Karl seemed displeased, though it was unclear what he’d said to anyone in particular.

“Bloody hell,” Wayde’s voice was strained.

Rowan closed his eyes, but didn’t turn around. He pulled on the Balance and sent a pulse of soothing energy at Wayde.

Thanks. Wayde whispered over the t-path.

Nodding acknowledgement, Rowan turned around, sat on the window sill, and faced the room. Faced Wayde. Dr. Karl was clinically watching Wayde flex his hand. The burns and blisters had all but disappeared. But, Wayde’s skin was a mottled, angry red. He flinched every time he made a fist, but didn’t complain. He just turned his head and focused on Rowan. Slowly, Wayde smiled.

Rowan kept his breath steady, even as his heart kicked like a drum. He watched that stunning, capricious smirk lift one corner of Wayde’s mouth. The desire to cross the room and kiss those lips was overwhelming. Rowan had to still his limbs. He gripped the window cornice and didn’t move. Running beneath Rowan’s thoughts was the realization that he could have caused Wayde even more damage.

I could have permanently injured you. Rowan kept his eyes on Wayde’s face. We need to figure out how to work together to avoid situations like this in the future.

Very practical, considering… Wayde shook his head. Don’t frown at me. I agree.

Rowan wondered what else Wayde would have said. Considering what? How strained their relationship had been for the past year? Considering that they both wanted something to change? At least, Rowan hoped, that Wayde wanted to take things in a more serious direction. This would require a huge amount of trust, followed by an act of faith, on Rowan’s part. Be careful what you wish for Rowan Stallings, he kept that thought hidden beneath the others.

They sat quietly for a long while as Karl continued to talk. He was making a case for at least one trip to Annodox. Rowan glanced over his shoulder to look outside. It had been an overcast day and the room had been tinted a dull grey from the cloud cover. Rowan listened as Wayde agreed to go to the island.

Pressing his forehead to the window, Rowan watched the clouds move. There was a bright flare of sunlight that brought instant warmth, he turned away from the unexpected brightness. The grey light of the room was replaced with a warm gold glow. Sunlight streaked across the floor, inching towards Wayde. Rowan’s body cast a silhouette that looked as if it were reaching out.

Wayde’s good hand was pointing at the window, but he had glanced down at the floor. Rowan didn’t miss much and he didn’t miss the smile that Wayde tried to hide. Why had the clouds parted at this moment?

I know you’re trying. Rowan lifted his chin and let his guard down.

Wayde inhaled audibly and lowered his arm. The sun caught his green eyes and for a moment every raw emotion they had ever shared flooded the room.

Dr. Karl arched his brow, cleared his throat, and then asked, “When do you have to be on camera again?”

Without missing a beat, Wayde turned to Karl. “Next week. A Thanksgiving special.”

***

Rowan held the door of Greene Beans open. Wayde paused when he noticed Rory was standing at the counter with a man that Wayde didn’t recognize. Rowan hadn’t noticed, yet.

“Maybe we should…” Wayde started to say, but was interrupted.

“It’s okay.” Rowan had placed a hand on the small of Wayde’s back, nudging him through the door. Gaea energy whispered between them, then Rowan shut it down.

“Rows…”

“I want some caffeine.” Rowan’s hand fell away as he brushed past Wayde to the counter.

Wayde felt the loss of warmth on his back, but he could breathe again. His stomach did a happy little flip before he was able to put his feet in motion. What he wanted to do was step up behind Rowan and slip an arm around him, but that’s not what happened.

Tension rolled off of Rowan. Rory was only a few feet away, waiting at the pickup counter, deep in an intense conversation with the stranger.

Wayde decided to put a physical barrier between Rowan and his uncle. Leaning a hip against the counter, he angled his body, hoping to be a distraction. Instead, Wayde was distracted.

Rowan looked so incongruous, almost ethereal. Wayde realized that over the past year Rowan had changed a lot. Gone was his skater-boy-streetwear-swagger, replaced by sleek glamour. He was exotic. His whiskey amber eyes, with their slight almond shape were framed above strong cheek bones and solid chin. The slightest five o'clock shadow was dusting his face. He looked a bit of a rogue.

Wayde listened intently as Rowan ordered his usual, triple shot caramel macchiato. His voice had a smooth cadence, rich with confidence. Wayde didn’t think it was just an affect from the work they did on television, it was something distinctly Rowan.

Wayde didn’t look at the cashier. “Gingerbread latte,” he said and pulled his wallet from his pocket.

Rowan shook his head and pushed Wayde’s hand away. “My treat.” There was an emphasis to the words.

Wayde, still staring at Rowan, tilted his head. “Ta.”

Rowan laughed. “Haven’t heard that in months.”

“Heard what?” Wayde put his wallet away.

“Ta,” said Rowan. “It’s…” he glanced up, “very you.”

Wayde didn’t know what ‘very you’ was exactly, but if it made Rowan happy, then it was something to do more often.

“You’re welcome.” Rowan closed the distance between them and kissed the corner of Wayde’s mouth. Rowan stepped back, then moved toward the pickup counter, and his uncle.

“Right,” Wayde said under his breath. Pleased about the kiss and wary about what would happen next.

***


message 16: by Andi (new)

Andi Lea (andilea) Chapter Four continued...

“Plotting another surprise attack on the already traumatized neighborhood?” Rowan stared at Rory, after briefly glancing at the other man.

“I don’t think this…” the stranger started.

Rowan put up a hand. “I don’t care what you think.”

Without expression on his face or in his voice Rory said, “Rowan, this is General Magnus Molina of the Armory Headquarters on Annodox.”

Rowan wasn’t fazed, but he could feel Gaea power emanating from Molina, it was a low thrum pulsing under Rowan’s skin. Rowan pushed his own pulse of energy and felt the General back off. Good.

“Would you like to join us?” Molina asked. Though it sounded like it was the last thing he wanted.

“Thanks,” Rowan shook his head and smiled. “But, no. I’d like to enjoy my coffee.”

As he reached out for his drink, Molina grabbed Rowan’s wrist. The grip was vise-like. Rowan glanced down as the man twisted his arm, palm up.

“When did you gain the ability to mask your mark?” He was speaking through clenched teeth.

“It’s not masked. It’s covered with Dermablend, it’s a concealer.” Rowan wrenched his hand away and took a step closer. Glaring up at the man he very quietly said, “Never lay a hand on me again.”

Molina turned to Rory and spoke quickly in Spanish. Whatever he said sounded angry, but Rowan wasn’t sure if it was the just the rapidity and tone of the language. Rory responded in the same manner.

“Charming.” Molina smiled at Rowan, showing a lot of teeth, and walked away.

More nervous than he realized, Rowan clamped down on a shiver. He took a deep breath, the familiar scent of nutmeg and sandalwood from Wayde’s cologne was comforting. Rowan gave in to the need for refuge, closed his eyes, and leaned back against Wayde for a second.

They stood quiet, sharing energy, until Rowan had calmed down. When he opened his eyes, Rory was still standing there.

“You’re being watched. Be careful.” Rory glanced from Rowan to Wayde and back again. He motioned for them to follow. He talked as they all walked to the back of the café. “I didn’t know they were going to run a simulation until a few hours before. I was under strict orders and couldn’t tell you.”

“I don’t know what to say. You were under orders? I’m family. I trusted you.” Rowan bit out the last part.

“I’m sorry. Things are complicated.” Rory spoke low, hiding his mouth with his cup.

“Is that it?” Rowan pulled the lid off his coffee and took a sip of the foamy goodness, no point in wasting a perfect macchiato. “It’s complicated? Because, honestly I hadn’t noticed with all of the other shit going on. Crazy Gaeas attacking Wildwood, my brother and his friends are some kind of prophecy, people are dead, kids are orphaned, and my hometown was practically destroyed. Thanks Rory, for your insight.”

Instantly, Rowan felt immature and petulant. He felt young, something he hadn’t felt in a while because everyone went out of their way to treat him like an adult. The people he worked with, his parents, the Gaea community. He choked on a laugh and his coffee, he was going to be seventeen in two weeks—was this really his life? He couldn’t be a teenager anymore because everyone expected more from him. Wasn’t this what he wanted?

The conversation in his head was getting him nowhere, so he focused on Wayde and Rory.

“Do you know who is watching us?” said Wayde.

“The Armory.” Rory rubbed his chin. “Demetrius’s leftovers.”

“And anyone else who is curious about the Thirteen, Wildwood, and our connection with them.” Wayde had an almost smile as he glanced around the café. “Pretty much everyone.”

“Pretty much.” Rory nodded.

***

Rowan was covering his right wrist with his thick leather cuff. His breath was making small white clouds in the cool air as they crossed the street to Hazel’s shop.

“Smooth lie.” Wayde hopped up onto the curb.

“What?” Rowan was turning the cuff on his wrist.

“Dermablend.” Wayde tilted his head back and stared at the grey sky, remembering the moment when Rowan first masked his mark. It was a memory that Wayde protected fiercely and never shared.

“It’s our…” Rowan had stopped walking.

Waiting patiently, Wayde swallowed a lump in his throat. He glanced over and knew the look on Rowan’s face meant that he was carefully choosing what to say next.

“I don’t think it’s a good idea if the Armors, or whoever, know what we can or can’t do. That’s the calculated answer.”

Wayde nodded as he blew on his hands to fight the chill breeze, although the rest of his body felt very warm. The energy around them was alive, Wayde could feel it in the air, from the nearby trees, even coming from the ground they were standing on. He had felt power when he worked with his twin sister, Noella. But, he was never as in tune with the Balance as he was with Rowan near him. It was terrifying and thrilling.

“Our life is very public.” Rowan waved a hand between them. “I’m not complaining. I understood how the entertainment industry would change things. I accepted that consequence, or maybe it’s a responsibility. Some days it just is what it is. The other part, the Gaea part, I haven’t figured out yet.”

Afraid to say anything to break the spell, Wayde took a tentative step closer to Rowan.

“This,” Rowan held up his wrist between them. “This is what little is left of us. The memory of something that…”

“Needed time.” Wayde’s chest tightened, he ran a hand along Rowan’s arm, slipping fingers under the leather cuff, and pressing on his pulse. It was fast, like he might bolt at any moment. “This is possibility.”

***


message 17: by Andi (new)

Andi Lea (andilea) Chapter Five


Thanksgiving Week, Monday
The Stallings residence, 101 Killdeer Road, Wildwood…


Energy hummed and strummed through the living room as adults settled onto the furniture and kids on the floor. Everyone in attendance was a Gaea or Perceptive. Natalie Faulkner, Wayde’s and Rowan’s manager was waiting patiently. She stood at the far end of the room, talking quietly with VisionAir’s newest crew member, Tad.

Tad the prop guy. Tad with the glasses. Tad who flirted with Rowan. Who was named Tad anymore? Tads were characters in books that played doubles tennis and squandered hours at the family country club. Wayde felt his lip curl up on one side. He probably looked like he was snarling. He ran a hand over his mouth, scrubbing away his reaction, but Noella caught him and laughed.

Leaning casually against the wall, Wayde glanced around. No sign of Rowan. Technically, neither of them needed to be at this meeting. Professionally, Natalie expected them.

“Thank you for coming tonight. As you know, VisionAir will be taping a Thanksgiving segment with Wayde and Rowan here at the Stallings’ home on Thursday. The crew and I wanted to review a few things, then we’ll answer questions.” As Natalie spoke the room went quiet. “I think I can speak for all of us,” Natalie waved a hand at the crew near her, “in thanking all of you ahead of time, for allowing us to run amok at your holiday gathering.”

Natalie’s talk was enough to occupy everyone in the room for a while. Wayde only half-listened to what she was saying. Explaining that the crew would be setting up equipment this week and testing the lighting. Technical stuff that Wayde was so familiar with, he could have explained it himself. Instead, he wondered where Rowan was, and further wondered if opening the t-path was a good idea. What exactly qualified as an emergency? Outside of the typical emergency situations.

Contemplating and looking down, Wayde made patterns out of the wood grain of the floor. Then Wayde felt him; Rowan had just entered the room. His Gaea signature intimately familiar.

“Did I miss anything?” Rowan spoke quietly from behind.

Bare feet. It was the first thing Wayde noticed, since he’d been staring at the floor. He let his eyes travel up. Well-loved, slim-fit jeans; hung low. A plain white, waffle-knit, long sleeved t-shirt; body hugging. Freshly shaved face, a hint of spice and fresh lime hit the air at the same time Rowan’s Fire energy caressed Wayde’s injured arm.

Wayde shook his head, unable to speak, because there was a lump in his throat. The energy that Rowan was sharing was irresistible, like a bright flame. It caused Wayde’s chest to tighten. Curious, he glanced around to see if anyone noticed. But, everyone was focused on Natalie. Even Wayde’s twin sister, Noella.

Rowan leaned closer and whispered, “How’s the arm? Are you going to the island for therapy tomorrow?” He said all of this as if nothing was going on at all. Like they were just sharing a friendly cup of coffee, in the middle of Greene Beans. Not having some kind of energy exchange that bordered on tingly-warm and whispered secrets in the dark.

“It’s better. Yeah, tomorrow they take the bandage off.” Wayde ran his good hand through his hair, unsure of what he’d just said. He needed to think about something else, anything else. Homework, monster trucks, cold showers.

“Good.” Rowan lightly touched the bandage, his fingers dancing up down as if he were composing a song. “And tonight I can share energy with you. That’ll help.”

“Right,” Wayde nodded absently, giving Rowan another head-to-toe appraisal. He was dead sexy, his hair was messy like he’d just got out of bed. His amber firelight eyes were half hooded, like he hadn’t really wanted to wake up. How had Wayde missed that?

“I’m already packed and ready to get out of here. I have a wicked calc test tomorrow.” Rowan leaned back against the wall, so their shoulders touched. “Need to study more.”

“Wait, packed? Where are you going?” Wayde said, a little too loud, breaking the illusion of privacy.

“And that leads me to thanking you all again. The Stallings for letting the crew stay at their home, and the Knights for taking all of the kids in at Sandwich Cottage.” Natalie announced. “Now, does anyone have questions?”

“I’m your roommate all week, mate.” Rowan smiled at Wayde and it wasn’t very sweet or innocent.

Tuesday
Sandwich Cottage Bed & Breakfast, 227 Wildwood Avenue…


When the alarm went off, Rowan reached out to smack the snooze button, but his hand batted air. It took a few seconds to remember that he was at the Knight’s house, in Wayde’s room, in Wayde’s bed. And Wayde was snuggled up against Rowan’s back, his injured arm resting over Rowan’s hip. Rowan didn’t open his eyes, he just turned his head into the pillow, biting his lip, and smiled.

Wayde mumbled something incoherent against Rowan’s shoulder blade, then rolled away. All of the blankets were tossed to the end of the bed, the blast of cold air caused Rowan to scramble for warmth.

Mumbling to the room, “Cold, cold.” He grabbed the bedding, scooting into the warm layers, and pulled the comforter over his head. “Five more minutes,” he said, begging like he used to do with his mom.

“Alright.” Wayde sounded like he was across the room. “I can’t be late. I’ve got to meet the governess at the Blind.”

For some reason it hadn’t occurred to Rowan that Wayde would be gone all day. “You’re not going to school?” Rowan peeked out of the covers and watched Wayde pick out his clothes.

Rowan was biting his lip again. Wayde’s sleep pants were loose on his hips and the band of his boxer briefs peeked out. Bjorn Borg. Recently, Wayde had developed a fascination with their new underwear model. Rowan agreed he was good looking, but found himself more attracted to the dark haired models, like Wayde, who always looked like a spread in some glossy European magazine.

A medley of memories played through Rowan’s head. Days they had spent taking photos in all of Wayde’s designer clothes. The pictures that had landed them the job with VisionAir. It seemed a lifetime ago. Rowan had been so naïve and green. Ready to take on the world and have new experiences. He had them all right. He was trying hard to figure out how to fix the things that had broken along the way.

“All day therapy.” Wayde raised his bandaged arm. “Thanks to sharing energy with you last night, it should go well today.” Wayde turned around and smiled. His green eyes were bright, like he’d… well exactly like he’d been on the receiving end of Gaea mojo.

“Glad I could help.” Rowan had depressed himself. He pulled the covers back over his head. He felt dead exhausted and wondered if Sharon felt like this after healing people. He wasn’t even a healer, which probably meant he’d overdone whatever it was he’d been doing.

“Thanks muchly,” Wayde was close to the bed. “Go back to sleep, I’ll make sure you’re not late to school.”

The bedroom door opened, then shut. Rowan was alone. With his thoughts. Irritated, he pulled his arms out of the covers and let them fall to his sides. He replayed the events of last night.

What had happened? As soon as they got settled into Wayde’s room, he’d become Mister Prim and Proper. He’d kept a safety distance, insisted on helping with calc homework, and barely spoke, unless Rowan prompted the conversation. Wayde hadn’t been cold or uninterested, just subdued. Contemplative? Maybe.

Rowan let himself make a loud noise of frustration. They were obviously having a communication breakdown. Something had to be done.

Wednesday
Greene Beans Café, 104 Wildwood Avenue…


“Welcome to Warm Up Wednesday at Greene Beans!” Aren announced to the full house.

Wayde stood behind the coffee counter with Elliot and squeezed his hand. Most days, Elliot handled life pretty well. But, tonight was hard. This would be his first Thanksgiving without his dad. Aren, one of Elliot’s most outgoing employees, had agreed to emcee the pre-turkey day event.

“Now, remember folks we’re trying to raise money for the Free Clinic tonight. All of the businesses on the Avenue are donating their proceeds. So, drink up, eat up, and do some holiday shopping!” Aren smiled at the crowd, then made a few jokes, interacting gracefully with the audience. “For your listening pleasure, local celebrity DJ Rows is here, and he’ll take requests for donations. Don’t be shy, empty your pockets!”

Rowan waved to the crowd and there was a volley of noise from one corner of the room. Wayde glanced over at Riley, Luc, Darci, Sharon, and Alex. They were cat-calling and whistling.

Wayde knew that the Clinic didn’t need any money. The Thirteen had made sure that everything was well funded. But, it was important that the community come together and help. It was awe inspiring to see how much the neighborhood worked together. And Wayde was glad there were no VisionAir cameras here. This was too special.

He squeezed Elliot’s hand again. “You okay?”

“Yeah, fine.” Elliot said, but Wayde knew he wasn’t.

Momentarily, Wayde was torn. He wanted to support Elliot, but he also, very desperately, wanted to cross the room and join Rowan. Wayde was having his own difficult time dealing with the loss of his Aunt Violet. He scanned the room and noticed several people were smiling, but many of them looked as if they were missing someone important.

“Don’t forget to leave something at the Angel Tree at the Bandstand. All of the donations will be given to families in the neighborhood for the holidays.” Aren was working the crowd, turning up his Jamaican accent. “Someone just handed me a check for five thousand dollars! I’d say we are off to a good start!”

Patrons pounded the tables and Rowan started the music. He had made a special mix of We Are Family, a Wildwood tradition. The music and Aren’s commentary were being broadcast through a blue-tooth connection in every shop and outside. People were stopping on the sidewalk to listen, they began to clap and cheer. Some of them were dancing in the street. Wayde grinned and bumped Elliot’s shoulder, pointing outside.

“Should be a good night.” For the first time, in a long time, Elliot smiled and looked like he meant it.

“How can we help?” Riley was leaning over the counter, flanked by Luc and Darci.

“Okay, we’re headed over to the bandstand to handle the Angel Tree.” Sharon gave Wayde a quick kiss on the cheek.

She turned to Elliot and held his face in her hands for a long moment. “Love you.” She kissed him and smiled.

“Are you going to be warm enough?” said Darci to Sharon, while taking Elliot’s hand.

“I’ve got my man to keep me warm!” Sharon winked as she and a grinning Alex went out the door.

“Riley, Alex, and I put the heat lamps from the bonfire pit out at the bandstand.” Luc wrapped an arm around Darci.

“So, I ask again. How can we help?” Riley moved behind the counter, trying to look like he knew what he was doing.

“You,” Elliot pressed his hand to Riley’s chest pushing him away, “can clean tables.” Then Elliot smacked a towel into the palm of Riley’s hand.

“At your service.” Riley smiled and headed out to the tables, but Luc grabbed him and they shared a quick kiss.

Wayde watched, slightly envious of the way the Thirteen were connected and at ease with one another. It was as if they all processed conversations on two levels, the one that everyone could hear and another that was on a private line.

“I’m going to check on things at Thistle, then I’ll be back to help make drinks.” Darci hugged Elliot and it looked like they were talking, but nothing was said out loud.


message 18: by Andi (new)

Andi Lea (andilea) Chapter Five continued...

Wayde glanced over at Rowan. I miss us. Wayde hadn’t realized that he’d opened the t-path until it was too late; he felt the heat of Rowan’s gaze. But, it was a warm glow, with a little tension that had nothing to do with irritation or annoyance. It was that same burning desire that Wayde had felt flicker off of Rowan on Monday night.

Arching his brows, Wayde stared at Rowan in silence.

Rowan’s attention was taken away by a donor making a request. Rowan was pointing at jar where the donations were being placed. Aren made another announcement about where to go, what to do, and how well the evening was going. “It’s the First Annual Warm Up Wednesday! Let’s crank up the music and give thanks!”

“This will never do,” Wayde said. And before he could think about what he was doing he crossed the room, grabbed Rowan’s headphones and handed them to Darien, then dragged Rowan to the backroom.

Within thirty seconds he had Rowan up against the wall and their lips were just barely touching. “I’m trying.” Wayde said between labored breaths. “I want to do the right thing. But, it’s not working.”

“So, do the wrong thing.” Rowan bit Wayde’s bottom lip.

It was like a tornado had stripped away everything that had been in the way. And for one perfect moment, it was just the two of them again. Wayde pressed the full length of his body against Rowan. And they were kissing, it wasn’t gentle, but it wasn’t rough. Wayde wasn’t even sure he had words to describe what was happening. It was so perfect. Rowan tasted like caramel, warm and familiar.

A million thoughts were passing between them, like a rushing wind. But one, stood out. Rowan still didn’t believe that Wayde could be committed or monogamous. And the perfect storm, turned against them.

“I’m sorry. I should have blocked those thoughts,” Rowan was breathing hard. His heart was thundering under Wayde’s palm. “Sorry, I ruined the moment.” Rowan whispered.

“Stop saying that. I want to know the truth.” Wayde pressed his forehead to Rowan’s. “I just need something Row. Anything, any sign, to let me know that you want to try again.” Wayde shook his head. “No, that’s not it. I need to know that you’re willing to let me try again.”

I’m willing. Rowan tilted his head and brushed his lips across Wayde’s. To let you try again. Wayde watched Rowan’s hand slide up the wall behind him and he flipped the lights off. Just you and me.


Thursday
Thanksgiving, the Stallings residence, 101 Killdeer Road, Wildwood…


Focusing on his job was becoming a monumental task. For once, Rowan wished they had a script and weren’t flying by the seat of their pants. He knew he was overthinking the whole process. But, he kept watching his family members, wincing at their quirks, and evaluating how the viewing audience would judge them. This way of thinking was highly unproductive.

He pulled his iPod and ear buds out of his pocket. A few tunes would relax him faster than anything. Or almost anything. He glanced across the room at Wayde, deep in conversation with Noella and Reese, the camera trained on them. Rowan quickly returned to his playlist and found something suitable and closed his eyes.

He was back in the storeroom of Greene Beans, screwing up a perfect kiss with Wayde. Somehow, they had managed to walk through the hot coals of Rowan’s issues and things improved greatly. That kiss still caused Rowan to heat up. He had to physically calm down or else he’d end up lighting something on fire. And he was sure that would not go over well.

One of the moments that stood out from last night, was Wayde’s injured hand and arm were working perfectly again. Rowan had been able to completely focus on the two of them when the lights were out. Without distraction, he had felt every inch of Wayde’s arm, to be sure that no mark had been left, but there was something. A scar? Rowan had wanted to ask, but guilt gnawed at him. So, he didn’t.

Rowan pushed all thoughts aside and sat in a music filled vacuum. Since he wasn’t needed at the moment, he was going to take advantage of the break. He’d learned early on that getting away from the lights and cameras was critical to keeping his head on straight.

Still, his head was all messed up. Wayde. Even when he wasn’t in the room or near Rowan, it was all he could think about, even when he tried not to. The best part of this whole week had not been the kiss last night. It had been going to sleep and waking up with Wayde. And it was the worst part. It was everything Rowan wanted, but was not willing to chance.

For the hundredth time, Rowan’s eyes moved to Wayde. This time Wayde caught on. He started to smile, then his face fell. Rowan stood up and left the room. He was screwing things up again. He ran into Luc, smacking right up against him.

Luc was saying something, but Rowan had to pull the ear buds out and ask him to repeat it.

“I was just wondering if you wanted to get out of the house for a few minutes.” Luc pointed to the front door.

“I don’t know if I can leave.”

“Joe, your director, just announced that they need to move some equipment. They said it’ll take a half hour or so.” Luc moved to the front door and turned the handle. “Want to drive the Jag?” He jangled the keys, like a carrot on a stick.

“We’ll be lucky if we actually get to have dinner before midnight.” Rowan grabbed the keys and bounced out the door. “But, who cares if I get to drive the Jag!”

When Rowan glanced over his shoulder he saw Luc and Riley with their heads bent close. Then Riley kissed Luc and waved to Rowan. It had been a set up.

“Is this an intervention or something?” Rowan asked as he pulled onto the highway. He punched the gas a little just to see how fast he could go before worrying Luc. But, he didn’t seem concerned.

“Or something.” Luc was totally relaxed in the passenger seat.

“I’m listening.” Rowan changed lanes.

“Are you?” Luc laughed.

“I think you’ve been spending too much time with Amyntas, man.”

“Actually, I’m not here to talk. I’m here to listen.” Luc smiled, and it was devastating. He was still as gorgeous as ever. But, he wasn’t Wayde and that was a good thing.

Energy radiated from Luc, but it was a strange, unfamiliar one. Luc wasn’t like other Gaeas. He had tempo, and it changed depending on his mood. Right now, it was calm and steady like a single drum beat.

“So, what are you thankful for today?” Luc stretched his legs out and put his hands behind his head.

It was such an odd pose for someone in a car that Rowan almost swerved into the other lane as he watched Luc stretch like a cat.

“Eyes on the road,” Luc said. His tone lazy.

“You offered me the keys to the Jag so you could ask me what I’m thankful for. Seriously?”

“Not really. I offered you the keys to the Jag so you could stop thinking about Wayde.”

Rowan nearly hit the brakes, but pulled himself together enough to take the next exit. He didn’t speak again until he pulled into an empty parking lot and killed the ignition.

“I can’t stop thinking about Wayde.” Rowan shook his head. “If I’m not thinking about him, I’m thinking about thinking about him. Then I overthink. Then I wonder if…” Rowan felt helpless.

“If it’s too late? If you’re both too screwed up.” Luc finished the sentence.

“I guess. I don’t know.” Rowan let his head fall onto the steering wheel. “I feel lost. It’s like I have one foot in Wildwood and the other foot is in this other world.” Rowan waved a hand without lifting his head. He stared at the console of the car, the temperature gauge, the gas gauge, the speedometer.

“You’re still you.” Luc’s voice was quiet.

“But, I don’t see my friends enough. I don’t have anyone to talk to. I feel like a jerk for being away all the time, then coming back and expecting them to drop everything for me. It’s selfish.” Rowan sighed. “And they have their own shit going on. I’m losing them.”

“You only lose them if you let them go.” Luc was getting out of the car.

Rowan sat up to see what was going on. Was Luc leaving the car a metaphor? What was he doing? Finally, curiosity won and Rowan got out of the car.

“Why you and not Riley?” Rowan kicked a pebble on the ground. When Luc didn’t say anything, Rowan felt his stomach flip. “Riley is talking to Wayde. Oh gods.”

***

Wayde was getting antsy. He was worried that Thanksgiving was being destroyed by the VisionAir invasion. But, Rowan’s mom, Rose was handling the situation like a pro. She even agreed to being interviewed on another segment. Shelly, their producer was beside herself with animated glee. She loved Rose, aka R.S. Blazes, gay romance author.

“Don’t worry about all of this.” Riley sat down on the sofa next to Wayde. “The family will tell stories for years about today. Besides, Ryder is having the best time hanging with the camera operator. And Reese is fascinated with all of the computer equipment. And Dad, well he’s just happy to get to watch some football.”

“And you?” Wayde turned to look at Riley.

“Honestly?” Riley leaned back. “I don’t know how you two do it. It seems boring to sit around most of the day waiting for the right lighting or camera adjustment. A lot of shots are taken, but your segment is what fifteen/twenty minutes tops? All this work for such a little bit of air time.”

“It’s not boring with Rowan.” Wayde wished he could keep his mouth shut, but lately he’d been saying exactly what he was thinking. Without thinking.

“Good. I’ll get to the point. I know my brother and I know what he feels about you. He’s told me.” Riley leaned across the couch. “Don’t give up. If there is one thing that Rowan respects above anything, it’s a good fight and a happy ending. He’s a lot like our mom.”

“So, this isn’t the talk where you threaten me if I hurt your brother.”

“He’s already hurting. I don’t blame you… entirely. I think you both got yourselves into this mess and you’ll both have to get yourselves out.” Riley ran his hands through his hair, his amber eyes were so similar to Rowan’s that Wayde was caught for a moment. Then Riley spoke again, “Be patient. He’s stubborn, like our dad.”

Wayde felt like Riley was saying a whole lot more than he let on. Wayde would have to play this conversation over in his head a few times to figure it all out. “Thanks,” he said, not wanting to elaborate and he was pretty sure that Riley didn’t want him to either.

“Now, I have to ask you about something else.” Riley’s face changed from hopeful to concerned. “Is Elliot doing okay?”

Wayde paused. He wasn’t sure what to say. He thought about editing his response, but didn’t. “He spends too much time alone. He’s good if he’s busy with the café and that is all he has to keep him here. The love of his life is in New York City along with his mom and brother. His best friends are in upstate New York. And he’s still dealing with losing his dad. He’s not one hundred percent.”

Feeling guilty, Wayde was sure he’d just betrayed one of his closest friends. Though he wasn’t sure if that was the right way to think about the situation… Elliot needed his other friends. Maybe more than he needed Wildwood.

“So, you’re saying that everything he needs is in New York.” Riley stared out the window and Wayde stared at Riley. Was he some kind of freaky mind reader?

“Yeah.” Wayde nodded.

***


message 19: by Andi (new)

Andi Lea (andilea) Chapter Five continued...

They were sitting down to dinner before six o’clock. Rowan was really thankful for that, mostly because he was starving. He watched the crew of VisionAir as they continued filming, then he looked at the gathering around the table, and then he allowed his gaze to stop at Wayde.

Rowan had to turn in his seat to really look, since they were sitting next to each other. Wayde was busy filling an empty space on his plate with mashed potatoes. When he looked up to pass the bowl to Rowan their eyes locked.

Let me in. Rowan gently took the bowl. Twenty-four hours, no blocking. Free pass.

Free pass, no harm, no foul.

Agreed.

Rowan had to grip the bowl with both hands. He probably should have put it down before Wayde opened the t-path fully. Energy passed between them, but it wasn’t outward like a normal exchange. It was intimate. It was months of pent up blocking that exploded, like fanning a flame into a fire, only it was private. Personal.

Hands shaking, Rowan managed to get some potatoes on his plate and some on the tablecloth. Then he passed the bowl to his right without turning away from Wayde.

All right? Wayde’s half smile was classic.

Rowan knew how to play this game. One more detail to work out.

Enlighten me. Wayde had picked up his glass of water.

Free pass on the whole package. You and me. Twenty-four hours. Starting now. Rowan glanced at his watch.

Wayde started coughing. “Wrong way.” He waved a hand at his mom, who was patting his back.

Rowan smiled, satisfied.

Four hours later
Richards, Downtown Iowa City, Turkey-Trot After Party


“You don’t have to work this gig?” Wayde pulled the door of the club open. The muffled music blared louder as he waited for Rowan to walk inside.

“Nope, I’m totally off the clock.”

“I’m going to dance your pants off.”

Rowan started to laugh.

I mean it. Get inside. Wayde leaned over and kissed Rowan hard.

***

Friday

“Forty-three seconds,” said Wayde.

Rowan had been obsessively aware of one detail since last night, the time, apparently he wasn’t the only one. He and Wayde were standing at the intersection of Wildwood Avenue and Ravens Road. It was the same place that Rowan had seen Wayde for the first time, a year and half ago.

“All right?” Wayde had pulled off one of his gloves and placed a warm palm on Rowan’s cold cheek.

“Yeah.” Rowan nodded, eventually he would realize that he wasn’t.

Exactly one hour and fifty-three minutes later, Rowan was on Annodox Island.

He sat mute, staring at Amyntas, who was dressed in a pair of khaki cargo pants and a thick black, cable-knit sweater. Even his shoes, black sneakers, matched. Rowan found this more disturbing than the usual neon colored board shorts and Hawaiian print shirts, bookended by flip-flops and any variety of printed cardigan sweaters.

Amyntas was speaking quietly, but intensely, in French. Rowan picked out a few words and phrases, but his French was seriously lacking. Thankfully, Amyntas wasn’t talking to him. Rowan glanced up at Luc, who was pacing back and forth, speaking rapid French. He always reverted to his first language when he was stressed.
Why were they here? And where was everyone else?

Rowan was too anxious to say, or ask, anything. Words kept forming in his mouth, but got stuck on the way out. His stomach churned as he imagined why he had been whisked through the Blind without any warning. His mouth went dry and he tried to swallow. The sound of his blood rushing behind his ears was drowning out everything else.

There was only one reason why he’d been summoned, and only one reason why Luc was here, and only one reason why no one else was.

***

Wayde should have been asleep. He should have been as satisfied as the cat that got the cream. He lay in bed, thinking, we tried, but the previous day had been less gratifying than he had expected. He wasn’t sure how Rowan felt. They had shut down the t-path again.

Clutching his cell phone, Wayde ignored the messages from friends in London, and sent another text to Rowan. It had been almost an hour since the last, still no reply. He debated calling. He considered opening the t-path. At some point, he fell asleep without realizing it.

He knew he was dreaming. It was one of those odd, out of body, dreams where he was watching everything in third person. He was in London, which was the good part. Even floating above the scene was enough to make him smile at the familiar sights and sounds. When he saw Rowan, Wayde frowned. He did not want to repeat this dream again. He’d played it out so many times, with the same sad results.

It was the week before they had left London to move to Wildwood. They had just finished a photo shoot with three other young male models, including one ex-boyfriend. The photo spread had been for a specialty German magazine with a particularly decadent photographer.

None of the models took the work literally. They were professionals. They played their roles for the camera. But, this photographer had a thing for Wayde and Scotty, the ex-boyfriend. Something had happened that day, something that distanced Rowan, but Wayde still couldn’t figure it out. Rowan insisted that it wasn’t the photo shoot. And a year later, it seemed a moot point.

But, here was Wayde reliving the past. Again.

***

“I need a glass of lemonade,” said Amyntas. He stood, smiled weakly at Rowan while patting Luc on the shoulder, then disappeared into the kitchen.

Luc turned to Rowan and said a whole lot in French, then stopped as suddenly as he’d started, realizing that he’d lost Rowan back at ‘je ne sais pas’. Rubbing the back of his neck with one hand, Luc took a deep breath and sat down. Rowan watched Luc’s expression change as he switched gears.

“Sorry,” said Luc, in English. “I haven’t seen Pierre and I don’t really know what is going on. I can only assume…”

“It’s Ben,” said Rowan, finishing the sentence.

“Oui.” Luc leaned back against the sofa. His grey eyes showed concern and he looked like he’d just rolled out of bed, but under that was the throb of Luc’s Gaea energy with its odd syncopation. He turned his gaze back to Rowan and said, “Pierre is back there with Dr. Karl and Arnaud.”

They sat quietly for a while. Sharing energy and listening for any indication that someone would tell them what was going on. Rowan bounced his leg nervously. Again tasting words in his mouth, words he was afraid to say aloud. Ben Larabee was Rowan’s godfather through a stranger-than-fiction-event. Rose Stallings went into labor with Rowan and couldn’t get to the hospital due to a freak winter storm. Ben helped deliver Rowan Benjamin Stallings, on the fifth of December, 1996.

Ben was the biggest influence on Rowan’s music career. He taught Rowan to play piano and guitar, and introduced him to every kind of music possible. Ben had indulged Rowan’s fascination with dance and electronic music. Then three years ago, Ben and Pierre had been in a car accident and pronounced dead. It turned out they had been kidnapped by Frederick Demetrius, held hostage and tortured. Luc and Riley had discovered where they were and rescued them a few months ago. But Ben had not come back the same. He was in a coma. It was unclear if he was ever going to wake up.

Rowan had been coming to the island villa at least once a week since Ben had been rescued, but at the moment Rowan felt like he hadn’t spent enough time with his godfather. He stood up and paced the length of the living room, needing to work out some of his nervous energy.

Patting his pockets, Rowan searched for his phone. He desperately wanted to connect with Wayde. “Crap,” said Rowan. He’d left his phone at home.

***

Wayde watched from above.

He and Rowan stood below, talking. They were standing in front of the building where they had just finished working. Several people from the photo shoot were standing outside huddled in small groups; talking, hailing cabs, and making dinner plans. The whole scene played out the same way it had a hundred times before.
Floating above, astral Wayde wished he could speed up the dream and get out. He tried to wake himself up, but his corporeal body felt heavy and disagreeable. He tried to get the attention of dream Wayde and Rowan, nothing.

Willing his feather light body down to the ground, Wayde walked around his dream. That was different. And that’s when he noticed it. Scotty had maneuvered through the press of people and was whispering in Rowan’s ear. Wayde had never seen it before because he’d been distracted by an invite to dinner with the hairdresser and wardrobe team.

As Wayde watched Rowan—something happened. Rowan furtively glanced at dream Wayde, then turned his back and faced Scotty. The two faded from Wayde’s vision, like they were swallowed in a London pea soup fog. Astral Wayde waved his hand, trying to call the Balance and clear the air. It didn’t work.
“Sing the mist away,” said a new unfamiliar voice.

When Wayde turned he was surrounded by white. The stranger was standing there, waiting, perhaps for something amazing to happen. So was Wayde, as if the whole dream wasn’t amazing enough.

“You look familiar,” said Wayde. He couldn’t quite place where he’d seen the man before, but he had seen him, multiple times. Yet, this version was slightly different, fuller, and more alive. “How do I sing the mist away?”

“You’ll figure it out.” The man smiled, his blue eyes bright, and the corners of his eyes crinkled just a bit. He looked pleased.

“What? You mean like Happy Birthday?”

“You have to mean it.” The stranger flickered like a holographic image. “I have to go, Wayde. Prove to him that the lies are not true.”

Wayde was trying to wrap his head around the last sentence and ineffectively call the Balance at the same time. He hoped he could help boost the man’s energy and keep him from fading away. “Bloody hell, lies that aren’t true?” Wayde said, but the man was gone.

Wayde wasn’t sure how much time he had, best not to waste any. Reaching out, he tried to get a feel for the mist around him. It felt like water that wasn’t wet. He couldn’t hold on to it. This wasn’t very promising, but he took a deep breath.

“Well, as long as you don’t mind a little improvisation,” said Wayde to the stark white enveloping him. “I suppose I can sing.” And he did.

The mist began to fade.

***


message 20: by Andi (new)

Andi Lea (andilea) Chapter Five continued...

Amyntas, who had gone for a glass of lemonade, was not in the kitchen. Rowan glanced over at Luc.

“He probably went to France.” Luc shrugged.

Two bags were sitting on the kitchen table, a Louis Vuitton overnight bag that had to be Luc’s, and a simple black duffle which Rowan recognized as his own. He searched the outside pocket and found his phone, but the battery was almost dead. He grabbed the charger and plugged it in.

“For lemonade?” Rowan finally asked.

“He’s eccentric.”

Rowan thought that was an understatement. He also thought time was slightly off kilter. When he checked, he had a hard time believing he’d only been at the villa for ten minutes. Several text messages came through on his phone at once. Rowan scrolled and read two from Wayde.

The first, can’t sleep. want 2 talk?

The second, meet 4 coffee in the a.m.?

had to go to the island. will explain ASAP. Rowan pressed send and waited for a response, but after a few minutes he figured Wayde had finally gone to sleep.

An hour ago, Rowan was over analyzing his twenty-four hours with Wayde. The whole day, though they had fun, had felt like the right thing for the wrong reason. Rowan didn’t like the after effect. And now, he just wanted to push all of the baggage aside and ask Wayde to come to the island. Rowan ran a fingertip over Wayde’s image on the screen.

Dr. Hottie, aka Karl Eberhardt M.D., stepped into the kitchen. “I’m glad you’re both here.”

Rowan gripped his phone, as if holding it brought Wayde closer. Luc sat down in the chair next to Rowan and put a hand on his forearm. As if Luc knew that Rowan needed physical contact. Energy flowed between them in a mash-up of drum beats.

“What’s happened?” Luc’s voice was surprisingly calm.

“Ben woke up.” Dr. Karl leaned back against the kitchen island.

***

Wayde woke up to his cell phone chirping. He read Rowan’s message and without a second thought, tossed some clothes in a bag and headed downstairs.
He found his mom and Noella in the kitchen drinking tea.

“I have to go to Annodox,” he announced. “Can I have the keys to the apartment? I don’t know if I’ll need it. I’m going to the Larabee villa first.”

“Is everything alright?” His mother put her cup down and pointed to the key rack.

In his head, Noella was just there. Is everything alright? Is it Rowan? It had always been that way and he barely thought about how much they communicated through the t-path. It was a twin thing. But right now, Wayde couldn’t focus on much of anything.

“I really don’t know. I’ll call as soon as I can.” He answered his mother, and Noella, out loud. Then he grabbed the keys and rushed out the front door. On his way down the street he called Dr. Chance Reid, the local Blindkeeper, and arranged a Portal trip.

***

Luc was up and running, tearing through the villa at light speed. Rowan followed as fast as his feet would let him, but Luc was a blur. Arnaud and Pierre were coming from the opposite direction. Rowan stalled a few feet away, watching Luc trying to push past Pierre.

“Non, Luc,” said Pierre. He continued to speak low and quiet. Luc was nodding, but he was visibly shaking.

“He woke up, but he wasn’t fully alert,” continued Pierre. He had wrapped an arm around Luc and glanced at Rowan. “I’m sorry I couldn’t get you here soon enough. He’s fine, but it was temporary.”

Rowan swallowed hard. He tried to take a breath, but his chest felt so tight it wouldn’t expand. His feet were like two concrete blocks, stuck to the floor. He felt clumsy and out of place.

“This is a good sign,” said Dr. Karl. He must have followed Rowan and Luc down the hallway. “Most coma patients wake up in small increments, a little bit over time. Ben may be lucid for a few minutes here and there. We just need to be patient.”

“He asked for you,” said Pierre, looking from Rowan to Luc. “Both of you, he said your names.” Pierre was smiling and held out his other arm for Rowan.

Unsure how he managed to make the few steps, Rowan sighed heavily when he was embraced.

“Can we see him?” Luc’s voice was muffled.

***

Wayde had lost patience after ten minutes of waiting. Over an hour later, he was pithy. Dr. Reid was nice enough, he had made tea and conversation, but Wayde couldn’t make small talk. Dr. Reid seemed to take it all in stride. Wayde felt slightly guilty, but was too distracted. He’d been checking his phone for messages and trying, quite unsuccessfully, to open the t-path with Rowan.

When the Portalkeeper finally arrived, Wayde thrust his travel papers at her. Not realizing she was nearly a foot shorter than he, they smacked her in the face.

“In a hurry, I see.” She arched a brow, taking a step back.

“Hence the urgency request.” Wayde shrugged his bag onto his shoulder.

“I believe my young friend has a family emergency,” said Dr. Reid.

“The request should have been made as an ‘E’ level,” she said. The small woman pulled what looked like an iPhone from her pocket. “This request was for a rush, not an emergency.” She held the device over Wayde’s papers and scanned the barcode on his Gaea-ident card.

“I see,” said Dr. Reid, tapping a finger on his lips. “I’m sorry Wayde. I’m still learning all of the proper procedures.” He looked slightly embarrassed.

“Everything is in order,” said the Portalkeeper. “Are you ready to go?”

“Two hours ago.” Wayde took his paperwork.

***

After Dr. Karl and Arnaud explained in medical terms what was going on with Ben, Rowan took a deep, calm breath.

“So, you’re saying that Ben is waking up slowly?” said Rowan.

“Yes,” said Dr. Karl.

“And the fact that he was aware of his surroundings when he woke up was a good thing?” continued Rowan.

“Yes.” Dr. Karl nodded.

“He could be like this for a few weeks?” Luc had finally stopped pacing and slipping into French.

“The prognosis looks good. His vitals are strong. Medically, he is showing all the signs of recovery.” Dr. Karl was putting his stethoscope into his medical bag.

“He had trouble forming words when he first tried to speak,” said Pierre. “But, after…” Pierre smiled. “Eventually, he was speaking clearly.”

Rowan smiled, imagining that Ben had been preoccupied with his husband before he could actually speak. Luc had covered a laugh with a cough.

“Gods, he’s really going to wake up,” Rowan couldn’t stop smiling. His heart jumped into his throat and he wiped at his eyes.

“Is everything okay?” Riley came into the room breathless like he’d run all the way to Annodox.

“Everything is wonderful,” said Pierre.

Luc and Riley were staring at one another, obviously doing that shared brain thing. Rowan had to look away. The energy in the room was overwhelming. He excused himself and wandered down the hallway. Without thinking he was outside, kicking his shoes off.

Letting his feet sink into the sugary sand, he wriggled his toes. Using the back of his hand he roughly wiped the tears off his cheeks, took a deep shuddering breath, and hugged himself. He watched the waves softly curl over one another and crash on the beach. His heart was happy and sad all at the same time. He wasn’t sure how that worked, but it hurt.

“All right?”

Rowan sobbed when he heard Wayde.

“I’m here.”

***


message 21: by Andi (new)

Andi Lea (andilea) Chapter Six

Sitting in the middle of his bedroom floor, Wayde stared at the mess of paper and ribbons in front of him. Why hadn’t he bought one of those convenient bag things? Or better yet, paid the shop extra to gift wrap? What had possessed him to think that wrapping this gift himself would be more meaningful?

From the hallway he could hear Noella and Sera. They were in Noella’s room working on alterations for a dress she would be wearing to the University Hospital Charity Ball. Noella had been volunteering at the hospital since they had moved to Wildwood, but Wayde suspected her philanthropy had turned personal since she’d been assigned to work with Xander Kennedy.

Expecting to overhear the girls discussing boys, or bands, or boy bands, Wayde was surprised to hear them talking about London. Specifically, how much they both missed the city during the holidays, Covent Garden most of all. He listened as they discussed several Christmases past, before Sera’s mum had passed away, and their families spent more time together. Their conversation gave Wayde an idea, but first he needed assistance with wrapping.

“Ella!” He waited. “Sera!”

“What have you done?” Noella was shaking her head as she entered his room. Sera followed and sat down next to him on the floor, fluid and graceful.

“I’ve no idea,” said Wayde. “It started out well, then it became progressively…”

“Worse,” Noella interjected.

“Difficult,” said Wayde.

“You’re on your own, brother mine.” Noella shook her head. “I hit my gift wrapping quota at the shop today.”

“Would you mind if I… help?” Sera rummaged through the mess.

“Angel, I would love you if you helped.”

“You already love me,” she said.

“I would love you more.”

“How much?” Sera cleared the mess. She was smiling as she smoothed a new piece of wrapping paper on the floor.

“Right up to the moon,” said Wayde, quoting from a favorite children’s book that they used to read together. Wayde watched her laugh. She seemed happier than she had been in a long time. On impulse, he leaned close, brushing her long hair away from her face. “What’s going on with you Angel?” Wayde kissed her cheek.

“A birthday present for Rowan, I assume, what is it?” She ignored Wayde’s question and held up the small box that he’d been trying to wrap. “It’s a bit heavy.” She weighed it in her hand.

“If I told you…” Wayde smirked, “You’d blush.”

“Do you think you can shock me, Mr. Knight?” said Sera, her eyes challenging him.

“Let’s have a look then.” Noella clapped her hands.

“Absolutely not,” said Wayde, glaring at his sister.

The contents of the box made a clinking noise. Sera laughed. “Methinks, you want us to think, that this is something that it is not.”
Wayde didn’t say anything, just smiled.

“Have your secrets.” Noella turned and walked into the hallway. “I need to get out of this dress.”

Quietly, he watched Sera carefully wrap the box. When she was done she held it out for him. He took the package, it wasn’t much bigger than a watch box.

“Something is going to happen and you need to see beyond the surface of it,” said Sera, biting her lip. She looked deep in thought, then tilted her head and spoke again, “Trust your heart.”

“You’ve seen something,” said Wayde. Suddenly, the gift felt even heavier. He knew Sera was talking about Rowan. “It’s going to happen tonight,” he said.

Sera nodded. She wrapped her arms around his neck and kissed his cheek. “Wear a lot of black. It gives you that bad boy edge.”
“I am a bad boy,” he teased.

“I know.” She laughed. “You need to remind him.”

***

“Okay, this one’s for Instagram and posterity.” Rowan’s mom held up her iPhone and made an exasperated face at Rowan and Darien. “Come on, you two can do better than your siblings!”

Darien whispered, “She looks a little too happy about this.”

“Shut up and kiss me, or she’ll never leave us alone,” said Rowan.

“So, I’m the kisser?” Dare raised his eyebrows.

“It’s my birthday. I should get what I want.” Rowan made overly dramatic kissy lips.

“And you want me to kiss you.” Darien grinned, then shrugged. “It’s your birthday man. Who am I to refuse?”

After a pause, they moved closer and kissed. It was a simple, chaste kiss, between friends. Rowan heard the camera shutter click. He took a step back then turned to his mom. She was grinning. He’d seen that look before, she was shipping Rowan and his best friend. Probably, plotting a romance novel as she stared at the screen.

“Satisfied?” he asked.

“So cute,” she said and nodded. “Happy Birthday.” She smiled at Rowan and turned the phone so they could see the picture. “I’ll send it to both of you.”

It was surprising. To see himself and Darien, like that. Darien mumbled something around a mouthful of cake. Rowan was pretty sure Dare said, “We look good.” Or maybe, “this cake is good.”

“I’m sure you’ll post it for the whole world.” Rowan laughed.

“Only privately,” she said. His mom was very aware of the dangers of a public life. “Have fun tonight. Break a leg.”

She was referring to Rowan’s appearance later that night. She never wished him luck out of superstition. He was leaving for Chicago in two hours. He and Wayde were taping a special event for VisionAir.

“Thanks, I’ll see you tomorrow night.” Rowan gave his mom a hug.

After she left, Rowan turned back and stared at Darien, checking him out from head to toe. Fortunately, he was too busy stuffing his face to notice. Dare had changed a lot over the last year. Rowan had been so busy with VisionAir he hadn’t noticed, until now. Dare looked really good. No wonder Tim Cooper and Lani Waiola were following him around like puppies.

Rowan leaned back against the opposite kitchen counter. Dare’s skinny jeans fit him like a freakin’ glove. When did that happen? And he’d been working out or something. His arms were far from the lanky teen he’d been. Rowan decided that lacrosse was really good for his best friend. Darien’s dark curls were sort of messy, in that I don’t care tousled… rolled out of bed, maybe? Where had that come from? Rowan shook his head.

“What?” Darien licked the corners of his lips, probably worried he had chocolate cake on his face.

“I don’t know.” Rowan had to fight a smile. Then something compelled him to drag his finger through the chocolate frosting.

“What are you doing?” Darien backed up.

“I don’t know.” Rowan took a step toward him.

“Rows…” Darien was trying not to laugh, but he backed up again, hitting the other counter.

Rowan raised his frosting covered finger. “It’s my birthday, remember.” He wiped a stripe of chocolate across Darien’s cheek and stopped just at the corner of his mouth. “You can’t refuse.”

“I’m not going to.” Darien turned his head and licked the frosting off Rowan’s finger. “You really want to play with me, birthday boy?”

“Not in the kitchen,” said Rowan. He licked the frosting off Darien’s cheek.

Darien flushed, but didn’t back down. He pushed off the counter and pressed up against Rowan. “Okay,” he said.

As they made their way upstairs, Rowan felt his pulse quicken, but it wasn’t like the feeling he got when he was with Wayde. He almost stopped and turned around. This was a very bad idea. Rowan didn’t know why he was pursuing this.

“Where did your mom go?” Darien asked.

“She’s meeting my dad at the university. No one’s home.” Rowan locked his bedroom door.

Darien turned around and stared. “You really want to do this?”

“Yes. No. Not sure.” Rowan shook his head. “Is it a bad idea?”

“Probably.” Darien ran a hand through his hair. “I’m so messed up.”

“I’m sorry, Dare.” Rowan moved quickly and wrapped Darien in his arms. “I’ve been so busy I haven’t been a very good friend.”

Darien placed his palms flat on Rowan’s chest and pushed him onto the bed. Rowan leaned back on his elbows, watching the storm of emotions cross Darien’s face. Finally, he said, “I don’t know what to do about Tim. I don’t know what to do about Lani.”

Rowan nodded in understanding. He didn’t know what to do about Wayde. And right now, he didn’t want to think about it. At all.

“I don’t want to think about any of them,” said Darien, echoing Rowan’s thoughts. The bed shifted and Rowan had a lapful of his best friend. “I don’t want to think,” Darien was whispering. “I don’t want complicated.”

“This is a drama free zone.” Rowan reached up and pulled Darien down on the bed, he rolled until he had Darien pinned underneath.

Energy shimmered between them, Darien’s Air signature felt different from Wayde. Rowan bit back a sigh as he pushed Wayde out of his thoughts.

“You’re hot,” said Darien.

“You’re too kind.” Rowan laughed.

“No, I mean you’re hot, like a heater. Like a fire.” Dare shook his head. “It’s… I just didn’t expect it.”

Darien looked like he was thinking too hard. Maybe comparing energy signatures like Rowan had been. This wasn’t going to go very well if they couldn’t stop thinking about what they were trying to forget.

Rowan stared down at his friend. “I’m going to have to distract you. Kissing now.”

Dare laughed, but Rowan caught his mouth and put a stop to that. At first the kiss was awkward, like they weren’t sure how to do it, or how far to go with it. Rowan pressed his weight against Darien, and held one of his arms down on the bed, above his head. This got a positive response. Rowan pushed into the kiss more aggressively. Darien responded and slipped a hand under Rowan’s t-shirt.

No matter how good the kiss was with Darien, Rowan could not get Wayde out of his head. Then there was a flash of Lani, then Tim. Then Wayde again.

They pulled apart. Rowan closed his eyes and tried to clear his thoughts.

“Did we just experience some whacky Gaea mojo?” Darien asked.

“Unfortunately, it’s a mental orgy,” said Rowan.

“That was so weird. How did we do that?”

“Dare…” Rowan dipped his head and bit the side of Darien’s neck, just below his ear.

“Hmmm?” Darien turned his head to the side, exposing more of his neck.

“Stop talking.” Rowan nibbled his way to Darien’s ear. “Stop thinking.”

“Not thinking,” said Darien, turning his head back toward Rowan.

Their lips brushed and Rowan didn’t hold back, he pressed his hips against Darien as he pushed further with the kiss. For a moment, there was nothing except the two of them; grinding hips, hands exploring, tongues twisting. A burst of energy flowed between them.

Rowan felt skin on skin. He wasn’t sure when or where their shirts had gone. Images flashed through Rowan’s mind—Wayde, Lani, Wayde, Tim, Lani, Lani, Wayde, Wayde. It was like a slide show. Then it just alternated between Wayde and Lani. Another burst of energy, this time it jarred Rowan out of the moment. He and Darien sat up.

“What happened?” Darien looked around, as if he thought someone was in the room with them.

The feeling that they were not alone was haunting Rowan too. But they were alone, at least physically in the house. Rowan suspected that they were not alone telepathically. Even though he and Darien couldn’t communicate with one another, they could with two other people. Rowan could see Darien working it through as well. They had come to the same conclusion. The t-path was wide open. They’d just shared their thoughts with Wayde and Lani.

“Shitastic,” said Dare.

“Take a deep breath,” said Rowan. He could see Darien battling his need to run away from highly emotional situations. Rowan cupped Darien’s cheek. “Don’t panic.”

Darien’s gaze darted around as he sucked in a breath. “This is not good.”


message 22: by Andi (new)

Andi Lea (andilea) Chapter Six continued...

“It’s not the end of the world,” said Rowan. He let his hand slip to Dare’s shoulders and tried to knead away some of the tension. “We’re going to shut it down now. Just focus.”

They were both quiet. Rowan waited for Wayde to make a snarky comment, but the line was quiet. Rowan shut the path down tight, like Fort Knox. He could only assume that Dare had done the same.

“Gods, am I glad Tim can’t connect with me.” Darien closed his eyes and exhaled. They both burst out laughing.

Two hours later and Rowan was standing in the Grove, with a Portalkeeper, and his manager Natalie. Wayde was not there.

“I don’t know why he went ahead of us,” she said. She was busy dealing with their paperwork for traveling through the Blind, and only half paying attention.

Rowan felt his stomach sink. He had told Darien that their telepathic faux pas wasn’t the end of the world, but suddenly it felt like it might be. And didn’t that just suck. Rowan felt irritated. Wayde had no say in what Rowan did or didn’t do. They weren’t exclusive, they weren’t even a couple.

“Fine,” he said to no one in particular, then let his frustration overrule his doubt. It was better than worrying.

“The PR for this event is amazing. Since it’s a fundraiser we’re getting all kinds of free air time. You are bloody brilliant.” Natalie squeezed Rowan’s arm as they entered the Blind. “The big wigs at VisionAir are over the moon.”

“I’m not doing this for free publicity or VisionAir. I’m doing this for the teenagers who need help. Safehouse gives homeless LGBTQ kids safe shelter,” said Rowan.

“I wouldn’t have written them a personal check with multiple digits if I didn’t agree,” she said.

Sometimes, Natalie was surprising. This is what made her such a good manager. She was aggressive and stubborn. But, she wasn’t a bitch, unless she needed to put someone in their place.

“Thank you.” Rowan bumped her shoulder. “It means a lot to me.”

She smiled, then went right back to work. “Wardrobe will be waiting for you. I’ll go track Wayde down. We’ll meet backstage at a quarter to ten,” she said as they stepped out of the portal and into downtown Chicago.

It was a strange place for a Blind. The deceptively rundown buildings surrounding it were Gaea owned and quite nice on the inside. The Chicago Crossing was well protected, considering no one in their right mind wanted to hang out in this part of the city.

Tonight, on Rowan’s birthday, he and Wayde were hosting a fundraiser at Broussard Towers, a specialty hotel in Boystown. This was a fete for the LGTBQ community. The plan was that donations would be taken in honor of Rowan’s birthday. Broussard International would match every donation, dollar for dollar. The goal was to build a new facility for Safehouse.

“Good evening, Rowan,” Dylan, the concierge of the Towers, met Rowan at the front door. “I’ll have your bags sent to the penthouse. Can I have catering bring you anything?”

Dylan was leading the way through a hallway that took them behind the ballroom of the hotel. He was good friends with Luc and Riley, and had been close with Pierre and Ben. Dylan was like an extended family member.

“No, I’m fine. Thanks.” Rowan glanced at Dylan and almost asked if he had seen Wayde, but said, “It’s good to see you.”
“You too.” Dylan opened a door and wardrobe descended on Rowan like hungry vultures.

Thankfully, wardrobe kept Rowan busy enough that he was able to refrain from texting Wayde. Rowan was surprised though, that Wayde had never even appeared in the dressing room. Not sure what that meant, Rowan tried not to think about it.

“Five minutes!” Shelly, their producer, called out to the room.

Rowan wished his friends were here, but it was a school night, and normal teenagers did normal teenage things. Besides his friends had planned a birthday party at Greene Beans for Saturday night. That was something he could look forward to.

He stood up and pulled off the paper tucked into the collar of his shirt. Wardrobe had liked what he was wearing, so he didn’t have to change. But they did something to his hair and dusted him with camera make-up. He took a long look at himself in the mirror. He could actually see the internal change from Rowan to DJ Rows, musician and host of VisionAir. Smiling again at his reflection, he followed Shelly out of the room.

Wayde came out of a door across the hall. “Hiya, Happy Birthday!” He gave Rowan a quick one armed hug as they made their way toward the stage.

“Where have you been?” Rowan avoided eye contact, so he watched Shelly’s ponytail swing side to side as she walked ahead of them.
“I was with the governess.”

“You got here early for tutoring?”

“I was studying for the SAT’s.”

Rowan stopped in the hallway, perplexed. SAT’s? Was Wayde serious? He’d never mentioned college before, Rowan had begun to think the idea was impossible. He tried to think of something to say.

Instead, he made the mistake of looking at Wayde, and was struck dumb again. Wayde was dressed in skin tight black leather pants, with a studded belt, a grey slim fit button down shirt with the sleeves turned up to his elbows. Wayde’s hair was a screaming sexy mess, his eyes sparkling green, lips strawberry red, and Rowan couldn’t move.

“All right?” said Wayde. No smirk. No pulse of energy. Nothing. He was shut down, but not closed off. Rowan really didn’t know what to think of that and wasn’t going to have time to sort it out.

Jim, their director, yelled from further down the hallway, “Cameras in five, four, three…”

Rowan realized he needed to pull himself together. He smoothed the front of his black t-shirt and started walking again. He glanced down and checked his tapered chinos, no wonder wardrobe liked his clothes. He and Wayde were wearing the same colors, reversed.
“Boystown Birthday, take one, action!” Tad yelled and slapped the clapper board.

The cameras were on, and so were Rowan and Wayde. They joked and smiled, did a bit of hamming it up. Their chemistry was always off the charts when they worked, no one would be disappointed.

Another camera followed them up to the stage. Shelly gave them a few instructions, while hooking up their wireless microphones. She pointed to a diagram taped to Rowan’s equipment table. He nodded, understanding that she had marked where all of the cameras were located. Wayde laid a finger on a camera location, indicating that was where they were going to start. Rowan nodded again, then checked his computer, the soundboards, and the wiring of cords. Normally, he’d be onstage early to check everything multiple times, this time he had to let the crew take care of it. He gave Shelly a thumbs-up and she faded into the background.

Wayde held up his cell phone and grabbed Rowan. It was one of their traditions of live shows to open it with the two of them taking a selfie, and then they would snap a shot of the crowd. Except Wayde altered that plan and pulled Rowan into a kiss. The curtains went up and the crowd went crazy.

Rowan heard the roar, but it was a distant buzz. Shoving his personal life into a box, he kissed Wayde like a person starving for oxygen. Maybe that was more personal than public, but Rowan didn’t care. They pulled apart. Wayde took a breath and smiled that cocky half-smirk.

“All right Chicago! Now it’s your turn.” Wayde turned to the crowd. “Blow us…” Wayde paused dramatically, “A kiss!” He turned the phone on the crowd and snapped a picture.

Rowan put his headphones to one ear, tapped his computer, adjusted the sound, and a deep beat filled the air. The ballroom went black, then lit up with special effects. Rainbow lights flashed, mirrored balls spun, and the stage was washed in a soft glow of changing colors.

One hour passed into two hours, then four. The evening blurred into a series of flirtatious encounters meant to tease the audience. Several local celebrities had turned out and their impromptu performances had pumped up the crowd. Donations had been plentiful and generous. Before Rowan realized what time it was, Shelly was flashing a card at him from the side of the stage letting him know that they had thirty minutes to wrap up the event.

Rowan and Wayde took center stage, thanking the crowd. They bantered with the audience, did a bit more flirting, and took a few more checks. When the director of Safehouse, Christophe, joined them onstage Rowan had a difficult time not choking up when they told Christophe how much money had been raised. The crowd went wild. Safehouse was getting a new building. The night had been a success. Professionally.

It had taken another hour of meet and greets before they were done, but now they were back in the dressing room and it was unnervingly quiet.

Rowan was scrubbing his face clean. Wayde was leaning casually against the wall. It was hard to avoid Wayde’s reflection through the mirror. As Rowan cleaned up, he packed his stage persona away. It always took him a little while to come down off a good performance. He could tell Wayde was doing the same thing as he sipped at his water bottle.

“VisionAir’s big wigs are going to wet themselves when they see this.” Jim, Tad, and Shelly were crowded around a laptop reviewing footage.

“I don’t know about all of you, but it’s nearly three in the morning. I think we should meet for lunch tomorrow and regroup. Then we can all do a happy dance.” Natalie stood up. “Good job, boys.” She hugged Wayde, then Rowan.

Dylan was waiting in the hallway. He was all smiles. “That was unbelievable!” Dylan also volunteered at Safehouse, he’d once been a teen on the street, and they’d taken him in. This evening was extremely personal. “Thank you.”

“No thanks necessary,” said Wayde. He draped an arm over Dylan’s shoulder.

Rowan listened to Wayde and Dylan chat all the way to the top floor of the hotel. Dylan gave them their keys to the penthouse and said goodnight. Rowan unlocked the door and held it open. His stomach fluttered as Wayde went inside.

Considering his options, Rowan debated going straight to his room and falling face first into bed or changing his clothes and heading down to the pool to swim laps. Either one would do. Both options avoided Wayde and any conversation about what had happened earlier with Darien.

***

“All right?” Wayde turned around and wondered why Rowan was still standing at the door. “You coming in? Or playing doorman?”

“Can’t decide if I’m tired or wired.” Rowan shut the door and headed to his room.

“Rows?” said Wayde. He watched Rowan hesitate.

“Yeah.” Rowan turned around.

Wayde took a step closer. “I promised to stay out of your head. I’m sorry.”

“You didn’t…” Rowan sighed. “It wasn’t… it just…I don’t know what to say. You don’t owe me an apology.”

“Can I ask you something?” Wayde saw a look of concern pass over Rowan’s face. He was jumping to the wrong conclusion. Wayde continued, “Can we move past this and spend some time together? Alone.”


message 23: by Andi (new)

Andi Lea (andilea) Chapter Six continued...

“What?” Rowan stood up straighter. It was difficult to read his reaction. Was he surprised? Mad?

“Officially, your birthday is over, but I didn’t have an opportunity to …” Wayde took another step closer as he said, “Spend any time with you.”

“You’re not mad?”

“Should I be mad?” Wayde found this kind of funny. Their signals were really mixed up. “Do I have a right to be mad?”

“No.”

“I’m not sure this conversation is productive.” Wayde scratched the back of his head. “Let’s try something different.”

“Like?”

“Rowan, when we first met—within the first twenty four hours—you were very clear that you weren’t going to waste time trying to figure out if I liked you or not. You tossed all the game playing out the window. So, I’m going to follow that lead.” Wayde was close enough now that if he put his hand out he could touch Rowan. Wayde whispered, “You blew my mind and you keep doing it.”

Rowan didn’t move. Wayde took that as a positive sign. He kept talking.

“I’ve made it clear that I want to try again. I just want to do it right this time,” said Wayde.

“Is that why you’re studying for the SAT’s? Why you’re focused on school? Are you trying to impress me?”

“What? No.” Wayde shook his head. Rowan was frowning. Obviously, he still didn’t trust Wayde. “Gods, no. I want to be a better person because it’s important to me.”

“Good.” Rowan went into his room, but left the door hanging open. “Did you get me a present?”

Wayde laughed and moved to the doorway, but didn’t cross the threshold. “Yes, but you can have anything you want.” He might have crossed some boundaries there.
Rowan pulled his t-shirt off and tossed it on a chair. Wayde watched every muscle of Rowan’s back as he stretched his arms over his head. Wayde cleared his throat. He would not be able to restrain his self-control much longer.

Rowan turned around, he leaned back against the large glass window. Behind him the night sky of Chicago twinkled. He didn’t say anything, but the heat of his gaze was enough. Wayde silently thanked Sera for her wardrobe advice.

“I was wrong,” said Rowan. His voice was low, but steady.

“About what?” Wayde stepped through the door and put an arm on the wall to keep from charging across the room.

“Waiting.” Rowan flashed a pulse of fire hot energy.

Wayde felt his heart race. He wanted to be sure that Rowan meant what he was saying, that this wasn’t something that would come between them later. “I’m not sure I understand.”

Rowan slid a hand down his chest, over his stomach and started to unbutton his pants.

“Stop,” Wayde almost bit his tongue. He moved across the room and pushed Rowan’s hands away. “I want to do this.”

Rowan buried his face in Wayde’s neck and nodded. Wayde’s blood was pumping so fast, he could barely control his fingers. Rowan’s breathing was uneven against Wayde’s shoulder. He could feel Rowan’s hands slipping down his torso, across the fabric, his fingertips tracing up the buttons of the dress shirt.

All of Wayde’s experiences had not prepared him for this.

When Rowan took Wayde’s arm and turned it, Wayde bit his bottom lip. Rowan trailed fingers where there had once been burns. They were all gone now, Gaea healing had faded them away and repaired the damage, except for one spot.

Rowan pulled Wayde’s arm closer and bent his head down. Wayde kissed the top of Rowan’s head and felt Rowan let out a breath.

“You do have a scar,” said Rowan.

“It’s not a big deal.” Wayde pulled his arm away.

“Let me see it.”

Their foreheads were pressed together and Wayde lifted his arm, the inside of his right wrist turned up.

“Gods, it’s like a phantom Gaea mark.” Rowan ran a finger over the raised flesh.

Wayde closed his eyes, savoring Rowan’s touch. He could feel Rowan tracing the details; it really looked like a Gaea mark. Wayde felt Rowan raise his wrist and press a kiss over the scar.

“I think I’m sorry,” Rowan continued pressing kisses up Wayde’s arm. “But, I kind of like it.”

Wayde couldn’t help but laugh, “I like it.”

Tugging Rowan’s belt loop and walking backwards, he turned their bodies so Rowan’s back was to the bed. Wayde leaned in and kissed Rowan gently, pushing him back, until Rowan fell. Then carefully, Wayde climbed onto the bed leaning over Rowan without making much physical contact.

“All right?” Wayde asked and waited.

***

Rowan realized he was going to have to be the one to take this to the next level. Wayde was hovering, waiting. Rowan felt a flush of warmth flow over him, he wanted this, and he wanted Wayde.

Reaching up, Rowan started to unbutton Wayde’s shirt. Everything felt right, amazingly, perfectly right. Rowan sat up and Wayde moved with him. They were facing each other. Wayde’s hands were by his sides, like he was waiting for permission. Rowan pushed Wayde’s shirt off. Rowan watched his fingers trail up Wayde’s arms to his chest, tracing the muscles of his pectorals and abs. And further down.

Wayde didn’t move. Rowan let his fingers slide over the belt buckle of Wayde’s leather pants. Rowan glanced up and Wayde put his hands out to his sides, palms up. As if to say, you can have anything.

It wasn’t like they hadn’t seen every inch of one another, countless times, but this was different. This had intent, a little bit of angst, and a whole lot of wonder. They had never gone all the way and Rowan knew he was committed to this moment, all the way.

Rowan inched up on his knees, and brought his mouth down over Wayde’s. The t-path opened with a fury, it sounded like fire roaring through a room. Rowan wasn’t going to hold back and he knew the exact moment when Wayde realized it. The kiss was intense, fierce, bodies clashing. Rowan’s hands were heating up and reaching for every inch of exposed skin he could find. He was tugging at Wayde’s belt, then his pants. Rowan found the zipper and didn’t hesitate. He wanted this and he wasn’t stopping.

Energy flowed between them; cool air soothed the heat wave cascading off Rowan’s body. Rowan tangled his hands in Wayde’s hair and pulled him down for another kiss. Their bare skin slid together and Rowan was very aware that there were only boxer briefs keeping them completely apart. He hooked his fingers in the waistband of Wayde’s Diesel rainbow striped underwear and began to remove the last barrier.

There was a flash of green from Wayde’s eyes as he looked down to watch Rowan’s hands. Then he looked back at Rowan, maybe asking permission. Rowan nodded, he couldn’t figure out what to say. A little voice in his brain was asking him what he was doing and a louder one was yelling shut the truck up.

The louder voice won.

***

When the alarm woke him up, Wayde rolled on top of Rowan, and turned it off. Rowan let out a contented sigh as Wayde kissed the back of his neck. Wayde smiled and nibbled his way to Rowan’s ear, causing him to laugh.

Rowan was mumbling something into his pillow. Wayde lifted himself up and laughed.

“You didn’t understand that did you?” Rowan rolled over, he looked blissed out.

“Mmmhmm,” Wayde hummed and kissed Rowan’s neck. “Can you repeat it?”

“That’s what I was wondering.” Rowan laughed as he walked his fingers up Wayde’s arms.

Wayde wasn’t speechless very often, so he captured Rowan’s mouth in a sloppy kiss, while he tried to calm his racing heart. He had been concerned that he’d be making the walk of shame from one side of the penthouse to the other, but maybe not. He so did not want to screw this up.

Rowan must have picked up on some of Wayde’s stray thoughts, he pulled away. “You’re worried.”

“Just cautious,” said Wayde. “I’ve never been this happy.”

Rowan’s cell phone started ringing and he jumped out of bed and scrambled for the floor, searching. “It’s Pierre! Where is my phone?”

Wayde pulled the bed apart, but he finally heard Rowan answer the phone.

“Yes… really… gods, that’s great news!” Rowan climbed back onto the bed. He was smiling. “I’ll be there as soon as I can. Love you, too.”

Wayde smiled as he watched Rowan talk with his hands.

“Ben woke up again!” Rowan was grinning and waving his arms around. “He’s asleep again, but this is the third time he’s woken up now. And it’s happening more often. I’ve got to go to the island.”

“Do you want me to cancel our lunch meeting?” Wayde found his own phone and hovered over Natalie’s name on the screen.

“No, it’s fine. We can go to the meeting then the island.” Rowan jumped out of bed.

Wayde was chuckling, he put his phone down, and scratched at his face. He really needed to shave.

“Sorry, I just assumed you could go to the island.”

“I can.” Wayde slid across the bed. “But, I think we should clean up first.” He grabbed Rowan. “Shower, clothes, lunch, island.”

“Aren’t you forgetting something?” Rowan asked.

“You have a one track mind.” Wayde half-smirked.

“Actually, I was wondering when you were going to give me my birthday present.” Rowan pushed Wayde into the shower and turned it on. “You need to cool off.”

“For fucksake!” Wayde jumped out of the cold water, laughing. He adjusted it to a much more pleasant setting. “Come on then, it’s warm.”

Rowan grinned and stepped under the water. “Oh and just to be sure you were paying attention…” Rowan wrapped arms around Wayde’s neck and pulled him into the stream of water. “I do have a one track mind.”

Later, at lunch, Wayde felt the box in his pocket. He wasn’t sure when he should give Rowan the present. They had run out of time at the penthouse and they were leaving right after the meeting to go to the island. Now, Natalie was busy giving them all of the news from VisionAir.

“Your ratings have gone up since you began filming in North America. VisionAir is very pleased with last night’s footage. They expect this segment will bring the ratings up even more.” Natalie was smiling. “They called this morning. They want the whole crew in Paris for a meeting. I’ll have the itinerary and schedule sent to you as soon as they make all the arrangements.”

“Paris!” Shelly looked like she was going to swoon. She hugged Wayde. “Have I ever told you how much I loooove working for you!”

“And Rowan, that music magazine you love so much in Amsterdam, Electrolux. They want to do a feature interview and put you on the cover.” Natalie passed Rowan an envelope.

Everyone talked over one another. Wayde watched Rowan light up like a floodlight as he opened the envelope.

“Holy shit,” said Rowan as he read. Then he repeated the refrain several times.

“So, for now we’re on hiatus until New Year’s eve. So, I suggest everyone take some time to enjoy themselves. I have a feeling you’re going to be very busy next year.”

On the way to Annodox, Rowan had talked non-stop. He kept trying to figure out why VisionAir wanted to see them. He was excited that the fundraiser had gone well. He was completely insane when he talked about the music magazine. So, when they arrived at the villa Rowan looked like he’d been doing drugs.

The villa was overflowing with family and friends. Luc, Riley, Sharon, and Morgan were in the living room. Dr. Karl and Rory were on the veranda, with Arnaud, and a woman Wayde had never seen before. Several other people were in the kitchen, at least two of the women were Hyacinth Hadley and Hazel Brennan.

Rowan made his way round the house, greeting everyone; he was turned up like he was performing. Wayde watched in amusement, but opted to stick to the living room with the most familiar faces.

“What have you done to my brother?” Riley poked a finger in Wayde’s chest, then turned to watch Rowan. “He’s running around like…a manic bunny rabbit.” Riley stopped watching Rowan and turned back to Wayde, eyes narrowed. “Did you and he…”

Wayde had to control his laughter. “I’ll let him explain.”


message 24: by Andi (last edited Feb 04, 2014 09:49AM) (new)

Andi Lea (andilea) Chapter Six continued...

“Ohmygods!” Morgan slapped a hand over her face.

“Morgan!” Sharon looked dismayed.

“It’s not what you’re thinking.” Wayde shook his head, even though he was lying. Fortunately, they had a lot of good news that would deflect this whole conversation.

“Rows!” Morgan called out. “You better come reassure your brother that your virtue is intact before he…”

“What!” Rowan spun around and glared at Wayde. “The. Fuck.”

Wayde felt a pulse of sharp energy blast off of Rowan, it was like a slap. Everyone flinched, so much for hiding the elephant in the room. This was not going well at all.

“Merde.” Luc squeezed Wayde’s knee. “Je suis desole.”

“Open mouth, insert foot.” Sharon hauled Morgan off the couch. “Let’s put you somewhere safe.”

“What did she do now?” Alex came through the front door, he looked like he wasn’t sure if he should laugh or not. He must have caught the tail end of the conversation.

Wayde’s heart was hammering in his chest. He wasn’t sure if Rowan was pissed or embarrassed or both. Wayde wasn’t sure what he was feeling either. He glanced around at all of the faces. Gods, this was a mess.

Darien followed Alex through the door, then stopped dead in his tracks. He looked around the room, from Rowan to Wayde, then from Morgan to Sharon, then from Rowan to Morgan. “What happened?”

Expecting the worst and hoping for something less than awful, Wayde opened the t-path. I didn’t tell them anything. He let Rowan read all of his emotions.

Sorry. I shouldn’t have freaked out. I think my reaction might have been over the top. Rowan was running a hand over his face.

Maybe a little. Wayde laughed out loud.

What the hell. Rowan tossed his arms in the air. “I lost my virtue!” he yelled. “Did everyone get the memo?”

“My gramma got it,” said Holly as she came from the kitchen. “She wants to know if she should make you a cake?”

“Jeezus!” Alex laughed. “It’s never dull around here.”

“Ohgods,” Morgan was blushing and whispering. “Rows, I’m... sorry.”

Wayde kept his eyes on Rowan the whole time. Heart stammering, Wayde stood up and crossed the room. Everyone became insignificant at that moment. He pulled Rowan into his arms. Wayde couldn’t have been more impressed if he’d done the announcement himself. Rowan was amazing. Wayde swallowed hard. He had to tell Rowan how he felt, right now.

“I…” said Wayde.

“No. Not like this.” Rowan tried to back away.

“Exactly like this, Rowan.” Wayde pulled him tighter. “I love you.”

Wayde felt Rowan tremble and then his fingers were gripping the front of Wayde’s shirt. Wayde let his lips linger just a breath away, then slid his hand around the back of Rowan’s head. Wayde kissed Rowan with every feeling he’d been storing up since they left London. Rowan tasted like caramel and warm sunshine and belonging. Wayde felt something click inside his core, like a key unlocking a door. He finally understood commitment wasn’t about being locked in; it was about being set free.

When they came up for air the room had been cleared.

“Rowan! Luc!” Pierre had just come from the hallway. He looked around confused by the empty house. But, he turned to Rowan and Wayde, beaming. “Ben is awake! Hurry!”

Rowan’s gift rattled in Wayde’s pocket, but it was going to have to wait.

***



message 25: by Andi (new)

Andi Lea (andilea) Chapter Seven

Rowan had been caught up in a whirlwind of trips to Annodox. It had been nonstop since his birthday in Chicago. He had surprised himself by not hiding what had happened with Wayde. But Wayde had surprised Rowan more by saying three words.

Nearly a week later and they had barely spent two minutes alone. Between finals at school and Rowan going to visit Ben, there wasn’t a lot of time in between. Ben had been waking up every day. Each time he was coherent a little longer. Rowan had been given special permission to travel through the Crossing as needed for family obligations, which meant he’d gone to Annodox every day.

Glancing up from his calculus exam, Rowan stared out the window, chewing the end of his pencil. This was his last final and class of the year. Tonight he’d be leaving, spending most of winter break with Pierre and Ben. Rowan would be home for Christmas, and then he’d be off again, on assignment with VisionAir, to do a New Year’s Eve webcast from Amsterdam. After that, he had a meeting in Paris with the big wigs who owned the show.

Today he was meeting Wayde right after school. Instead of thinking about that, Rowan returned to his exam. The idea that calculus was easier to deal with than Wayde, wasn’t lost on Rowan.

Eventually the bell rang. Rowan stood up and slipped his messenger bag over one shoulder. He was hopeful as he dropped off his exam. He thought he might get a passing grade. The Governess was a great tutor.

“Hi ya.”

Rowan almost tripped over his feet as he left the classroom. He had not expected Wayde to be waiting right outside the door.

“Hey,” said Rowan.

“My last class let out early,” said Wayde. “Are you ready?”

Rowan nodded, his stomach was doing weird things that defied gravity, he was afraid to open his mouth. He wasn’t sure why he was so nervous. This was Wayde, except it wasn’t just Wayde anymore. And he wasn’t just Rowan. They had crossed a line that had been drawn last year when they left London and moved back to Wildwood.

Two ideas warred in Rowan’s head. The first was to make an excuse and leave for Annodox early, avoiding the afternoon with Wayde. The second was definitely not PG13, possibly not even PG17, and involved several hours alone with Wayde. Rowan kept a tight lock on the t-path, not wanting to share either idea.

“Are we still going to your house?” asked Wayde as they stepped outside and into the busy crowd of high school students.

“Yeah,” said Rowan. “I drove the Jeep today.” He walked towards the parking lot, pulling the keys from his pocket. For some reason he couldn’t think of anything to say. Then he replayed the last few minutes, they hadn’t kissed or even touched one another. Was that bad? Did it mean anything?

“Rows? Are you going to unlock the Jeep?” Wayde was staring over the hard top.

“Sorry,” said Rowan, pressing the key fob.

When they arrived at Rowan’s house, he was not happy to see the driveway empty. He rushed inside and checked for a note on the kitchen counter. And he found it.

“Something wrong?” Wayde leaned against the kitchen alcove wall.

“No one’s home.” Rowan tapped a finger on the note.

“Is that a problem?”

“We’re alone.”

“And that’s a problem?” One corner of Wayde’s mouth quirked into a half-grin, it wasn’t flirty or suggestive, it was classic Wayde.

Rowan glanced down at his mom’s hurried scribble. She had taken Reese and Ryder gift shopping. His dad wouldn’t be home from the university for several hours. They had the entire house to themselves. Rowan had the shocking realization that he was more concerned about his own self-control, rather than Wayde’s.

“Do you want me to leave?” Wayde pushed away from the wall and started digging through his bag.

Rowan began to say ‘yes,’ then stopped and started to say ‘no,’ and finally ended up saying nothing. He watched Wayde set a beautifully wrapped box on the counter.

“I just wanted to make sure you got your birthday present.” Wayde took a few steps and placed a hand on Rowan’s cheek. “I’ve had it all this time, but more important things were going on.” He kissed Rowan quickly, a finger traced Rowan’s jawline, and then slipped away. “Happy birthday,” said Wayde, his voice barely a whisper.

Picking up the box, Rowan weighed it in his hand. It was heavy for a small box and the weight inside shifted as he tilted it from side to side. Rowan heard the front door open and close.

“Wayde?”

Rowan went to the front door and opened it. He smiled in relief when he found Wayde, running his hands through his hair, and pacing on the front porch.

“I’m sorry.” Rowan slid his hand along the wood of the door, hanging on to the top of the frame as he leaned against it.

“You didn’t do anything.” Wayde stopped pacing.

“That’s why I’m sorry.”

“And right you would be.” Wayde grinned. This was a full smile that lit up his face. “Go on then.”

“Please,” said Rowan, putting out his free hand, “Come back inside.”

Wayde twined their fingers together and tugged Rowan forward. “Mistletoe.” He pointed above them.

Rowan looked up to answer, but Wayde cut off all conversation. Rowan was very, very, happy he’d hung the mistletoe right before he left for school that morning.

***

They were sitting on the floor in front of the Stalling’s Christmas tree. Rowan had turned the tree lights on. With the shorter days, it was the only illumination in the living room. Wayde sipped his hot cocoa as he watched Rowan carefully unwrap his birthday present.

Wayde was glad he’d hesitated before leaving earlier. He wasn’t sure what was going on in Rowan’s head, but was determined to figure it out. When they kissed, Rowan didn’t hesitate or pull away. Wayde would count that as a positive, the rest he’d have to wait and see.

The two items in the box clinked together as Rowan lifted the lid. Wayde smiled when Rowan tipped the box and let them roll into his hand. They weren’t very big, about two inches in diameter.

“Marbles?” Rowan picked one up and held it up to the light of the tree. His eyes went wide and he glanced back at Wayde. “These aren’t marbles.”
“Yes and no.” Wayde set his cocoa down. “They’re Gaea marmaros. Ella and I got ours when we were kids. Most Gaea kids are given one or two that represent their family line. Then when they come into their Balance they sort of activate.”

Rowan had picked up the other one and let the light catch it. “Marmaros, what does it mean?”

“It’s Greek. It means shining stone.”

“This one is Fire, I can feel it,” said Rowan. He was holding it in his palm and it began to glow a soft orange. “But this one…” He held out the other.

“It’s Air.” Wayde took it and placed it in his palm, it glowed a soft pale blue. “They’re made by Gaeas, one from each lineage. Five artists work together to create them. Sean Malone, the jewelry maker on Annodox, worked on these. He can explain it better than I can.”

“So, the marmaros recognize Gaea signatures.” Rowan poked at the one in Wayde’s hand. The glow dimmed for a second, then flared a brighter white. “Why did it do that?”

“Watch,” said Wayde. He schooled his expression, hoping that Rowan’s marmaro would respond. Carefully, Wayde pressed his finger to the small round orb in Rowan’s palm. The light from the marmaro dimmed. Slowly, it lit back up glowing brighter and brighter, orange and red.

“That’s cool,” said Rowan, obviously mesmerized. “But, I still don’t understand how it works.”

“When you held the Fire marmaros, you marked it with your signature.” Wayde hoped a simple explanation would be enough. “So, it’s connected to you. I’m connected to the other one.”

“And?” Rowan poked the one in Wayde’s hand again and laughed.

“They recognize Gaeas that you’re familiar with. Or trust,” said Wayde. “Like friends—Dare, Al, Sera, your brothers or sister.” Wayde added.
“Does it work in reverse?” Rowan rolled the Fire marmaro around in his hand. “Would it recognize a bad Gaea?”

“No.” Wayde shook his head. “I guess it just wouldn’t respond. But, that wouldn’t mean the other Gaea was bad. Just that you didn’t know them. Or have a connection.”

“So, what kind of games did you play with them?” Rowan put his on the floor. “Did you shoot for keepsies?”

Wayde laughed. “Ella was too good. I’d have lost every time.” Wayde put the other marmaro on the floor. “Move it, without touching it.”
“Are you serious?” Rowan shook his head. “I have no idea how to do that.”

“We didn’t figure it out until we got our Gaea marks.” Wayde stared at the Air marmaro, willing it to roll. He could feel the pull from the Fire marmaro and let their connection attract one another.

“I feel like I’m trying too hard.” Rowan was making a face as he stared at the floor. Then the marmaros clinked together and lit up with a combination of colors. “Holy shit!”

They tried again, this time Wayde held back and let Rowan take control. It took longer, but eventually the two marmaros rolled together and lit up in a blaze of red, orange, blue, and white.

“If we had other Gaeas here, with their own marmaro we could get all of the colors to light up.” Wayde watched Rowan carefully. “We used to have a lot of fun watching the older kids light theirs. Ella and I used to daydream that we’d be able to do the same when we came into our Balance.”

“Thank you,” said Rowan. He scooped the marmaro into his hand and got up on his knees.

Wayde felt stupidly happy and had to look away. But, found himself with a lap full of Rowan. Pulse racing, Wayde slipped his hands around Rowan’s waist. “You’re very welcome.” Wayde pressed his ear to Rowan’s chest and listened. Rowan’s heart was racing and Wayde didn’t know what to do next. Every time he was with Rowan it was a surprise.

“I don’t know what to do,” said Rowan. “I mean, I know what to do.” They both started laughing.

Wayde slid his hands under Rowan’s shirt, making skin to skin contact. Rowan’s breath hitched, but he dipped his head, and placed a kiss behind Wayde’s ear.

Rowan whispered, “I love the marmaro. Thank you.”

Wayde felt a tingle run up his spine, his entire body felt like it was floating. He was undeniably in love with Rowan Stallings. Wayde regretted how stupid he’d been. He just hoped Rowan would forgive him for all of the past mistakes. One thing he’d figured out in the last year was how easy it was to lose what you thought you’d always have.

He reminded himself he needed to be patient and let Rowan set the pace. And hopefully, he’d make some sense out of what had happened right before they left London. And be able fix it.

“Come back to me.” Rowan pushed Wayde onto the floor. “You’ve got that faraway look.”

Wayde reorganized his thoughts, focusing on the moment, and opened the t-path. I’m here.

Rowan visibly shivered. I think I like it when you do that.

Wayde thought about what he wished they were doing. Rowan’s eyes glowed, just like the marmaro. Gaea energy pulsed between them. Wayde sucked in a breath as Rowan’s hands did the talking.

***


message 26: by Andi (new)

Andi Lea (andilea) Chapter Eight

“How did the girls like your Christmas gift?” Rowan shielded his eyes from the sun as he glanced at Wayde.

“Tears and hugs.” Wayde leaned back on the towel, putting his hands behind his head. “Ella and Sera were sufficiently surprised.” He tilted his head and grinned. “I’m a rock star.”

Rowan laughed. “Your secret is safe with me.”

“What secret?” Wayde peered over his sunglasses.

“You are a hopeless romantic.” Rowan pushed the sunglasses up the bridge of Wayde’s nose.

“It was a gift I didn’t have to wrap.”

“You didn’t wrap any of your gifts. Sera did.” Rowan laughed again.

He sat up and cracked open a bottle of water. One of the charming traits about Wayde was his ability to take care of people. He could run screaming to the hills about committing to a relationship, but he was fiercely loyal. And he had arranged to have Amyntas help take Ella and Sera through the portal to London. Just to see Covent Gardens all lit up for the holidays.

“I wrapped your gift,” said Wayde.

Rowan took a drink of water, then turned around. “We agreed no gifts.”

He watched Wayde carefully, it would be just like him to have a surprise. But they had agreed that time alone was the best gift they could give or receive. Just the two of them. No phones, no computers, no work. Uninterrupted time. Wayde’s mouth quirked up on one side in a sly half-grin.

Rowan shook his head and glanced away. He was smiling, but he didn’t want Wayde to see it. Taking another drink of water, Rowan used the moment to appreciate the white sand and blue water. It had been a wonderfully lazy day on the island and he was going to continue to enjoy it. He put the water bottle down when he felt fingers press against his spine and trail up to his neck. His pulse raced when he felt a warm body against his back. Arms snaked around his waist and Rowan leaned back.

“I was speaking metaphorically,” said Wayde.

Rowan turned his head and caught Wayde’s lips. The kiss was quick and sweet, but Rowan wanted more. He twisted in Wayde’s arms and stole another kiss. Rowan could not keep his hands off and watched his fingers trace their way down Wayde’s stomach. He heard Wayde take a breath and watched his stomach muscles contract. Rowan bit his lip. He enjoyed the reactions as much as the touching.

“I’ve never unwrapped a present on the beach before.” Rowan tugged on the string of Wayde’s board shorts.

“You have no idea how happy that makes me.” Wayde leaned back on his hands.

“I have a pretty good idea,” said Rowan.

***

Feeling completely blissed out, Wayde wanted to curl around Rowan and take a long nap. But, Rowan was tugging Wayde to his feet.
“Come on.” Rowan was grinning. “Let’s wash all this sand off and go to dinner.”

Washing the sand off sounded promising. Wayde obediently followed Rowan back to the villa. Their day so far, had been amazing and they still had a few hours before Pierre’s and Ben’s house would be packed with visitors.

“I think Darci’s here.” Rowan had stopped and was peering over the back gate of the villa.

Wayde looked over Rowan’s shoulder. Pierre, Hazel, Hyacinth, and Rory were sitting at the patio table. Darci was pacing near them. She looked different. Her hair was shoulder length, but it was shockingly blonde. And she was dressed all in black, as if she was going clubbing, or just got back from a really late night.

I don’t think we should go in this way. Rowan glanced over his shoulder.

Wayde nodded. They quietly moved around to the side of the patio wall and headed to the front door. Wait. Wayde touched Rowan’s hand.
They were only a few feet away from the conversation, but hidden behind some large, leafy, tropical flora.

“It’s the list that Luc, Riley, Elliot, Alex, and I retrieved from the car wreck.” Darci tapped her fingers on a manila folder lying on the table.

“Ben and I had been compiling it. Demetrius was trying to get his hands on the information. If the kids hadn’t gone back for it…” Pierre didn’t finish. Even Wayde could feel the Gaea energy shift between the group.

“You wouldn’t have been held hostage.” Darci’s voice was quiet, but angry.

Wayde felt a prick of energy cascade over him, then Darci glanced in their direction.

She knows we’re here. Rowan looked like he wanted to bail.

Wayde called the Balance, there was so much power on the island he had to dial it back and sip at it carefully. He grabbed Rowan’s hand and shared the energy. When he felt Rowan relax, Wayde played with the air molecules surrounding them. The air shimmered then settled.

What was that? Rowan was so close their lips nearly touched.

I hid our signature and created a shield. Wayde hoped it was working. He and Noella had done it to eavesdrop on their parents. But, he wasn’t sure it would work with Rowan.

Darci shook her head and looked back at the table.

I still think she knows we’re here. Rowan frowned. But, I’m mightily impressed.

“I’ve been tracking that one.” Darci flipped the folder open and pointed at one of the papers. “Suya and I saw him in San Francisco last week. Then I saw him in New York two days ago. He’s meeting with some of the others.”

“You need to go to Montreal. It’s time you visited with Holly and Morgan.” Hazel glanced down at the paperwork. “And, you’ll have an opportunity to check out the club scene there.”

“I’ll need a sponsor to get in.” Darci looked at Rory.

“You’ve got two, Jack and Phil.” Rory crossed his arms over his chest.

Pierre was running a hand over his face. Hyacinth had taken his other hand in hers. She looked like she was t-pathing with him. Wayde had no idea that the Elders of Wildwood could t-path. But, clearly that’s what was going on.

Darci said something in fluent French, but Wayde didn’t catch all of it. Basically, she was reassuring Pierre that she would be fine.
Let’s get inside and upstairs. Rowan tugged on Wayde’s hand and tilted his head toward the front door.

Wayde let go of some of the power he’d been holding, letting it unwind slowly. They made it to the door before Wayde felt Darci reach out. Her energy was amazingly controlled and she was confirming who had been hiding behind the wall. It was easy for Wayde to read what she was doing since they were both Air Gaeas. He noticed that Rowan had tensed, but he probably didn’t know what he was feeling.
Once they were safely locked in Rowan’s room, Wayde pressed his finger to Rowan’s lips. Don’t speak out loud. Darci is reading signatures, and if she wants to hear us, she will.

Rowan’s eyes blazed amber for a split second. Maybe we should make some noise. Create a distraction.

Wayde was being backed into the bathroom. You have a plan?

Yep. Rowan turned the shower on. “We need to get ready to go out to dinner. You can shower first.” Rowan walked out of the bathroom, pulling the door shut.

That’s not what I had in mind. Wayde shook his head.

I know. Rowan was laughing on the other side of the door.

***


message 27: by Andi (new)

Andi Lea (andilea) Chapter Eight continued...

Rowan slipped out of the room and down the stairs. He wanted to know what Darci had been talking about. Why was Rory involved? What did Pierre, Hazel, and Hyacinth have to do with anything? And who were Jack and Phil?

The questions far outweighed any answers Rowan could come up with. When he got to the bottom of the steps, he looked outside. The meeting looked like it was still in progress. Darci turned around and stared at him.

“Fine, I got it Radar Girl.” Rowan glared at her. “Just remember we used to be like this.” Rowan held up two fingers and crossed them.
Darci smiled, but turned her attention back to the group at the table.

Thankfully, Rowan had a whole list of problems. This was a relatively new one, and really it wasn’t his anyway. He headed down the hallway to Ben’s room and knocked. When he didn’t get any answer he let himself in.

“Ben?” Rowan climbed onto the bed. It was much more comfortable now that Ben was not hooked up to a million machines. “Ben?” Rowan whispered.

The medication Ben was taking made him sleep like he was still in a coma. Rowan was getting used to it, but occasionally he wanted to make a loud noise or shake Ben awake. Mostly out of fear that they would lose him again. Rowan lay down on the pillow next to his godfather.

“I’m just going to talk for a little while.” Rowan stared at the ceiling. “I hope you don’t mind. There’s a lot going on in my life and I’m feeling overwhelmed.”
Rowan told Ben about the last few weeks with Wayde. Stuff that Ben didn’t know, like the fact that Rowan had sex for the first time.

“And now, I can’t keep my hands off him.” Rowan sighed.

“You’re a teenage boy, driven by hormones.” Ben’s voice was whisper soft and scratchy. “It’s a perfectly healthy response.”

Was Ben laughing? Rowan rolled on his side. He really wasn’t that surprised that Ben was awake. Rowan had been talking for a while and noticed Ben making small movements.

“Can I get you some water?” Rowan sat up.

Ben nodded. Rowan poured a glass from the pitcher on the bedside table. Ben sat up a little and took a drink. “Thanks.”

“So, you think I’m normal?” Rowan put the glass back on the table.

“For a seventeen year old Gaea. You’re normal. For a seventeen year old male. You’re normal.” Ben smiled.

Rowan felt a heavy weight lift off his shoulders.

“Didn’t you say you and Wayde had plans for the rest of the night?” Ben asked.

Rowan had lost track of time. He climbed out of the bed. “I should go. I’ll see you later tonight.”

“Rowan.” Ben’s eyes softened. “Trust yourself.”

As Rowan headed back upstairs he mulled over Ben’s words. Sometimes, older Gaeas said things that had double, if not multiple, meanings. Rowan couldn’t help but think there was more to that last comment.

“Sorry,” Rowan said as he opened the door to his room. Wayde was sitting propped up on the bed, reading a book.

“How’s Ben?” Wayde put the book down. He didn’t look mad or annoyed. He just smiled.

Rowan felt his heart swell. Something about Wayde in bed reading a book, waiting patiently, and knowing where Rowan had been, and not being mad about it—it did funny things to Rowan’s whole body. He could feel a smile cross his face. Even though they had promised a whole day to each other, Wayde made this allowance. Rowan had to swallow hard.

“Rowan?” Wayde tilted his head to one side.

“I…” Rowan swallowed again. “I lost track of time talking to him. He’s great. I’m going to take a shower and get ready. I won’t take long. We’ll make it to dinner on time.”

Rowan practically ran to the bathroom. He shut the door and leaned against it. He had just babbled like an idiot. Who was running scared now? He really needed to get his shit together.

***

Wayde didn’t have time to catch his breath before he was attacked again. He had the wind knocked out of him as he was slammed backwards. He was glad the corridor was empty. The last thing he wanted was some innocent bystander in the way, if things got out of hand. Technically, the situation was slightly out of hand. At least, out of his.

For a brief nanosecond, Wayde considered surrendering. But, what was the fun in that? He pulled on the Balance. It was more than plentiful on Annodox. The rush was instant and he felt powerful. It was sweet and seductive. He called the Air and a cool breeze flowed between the stone walls of the Hanging Gardens. The wind traveled sinuously, waiting for Wayde to give it direction.

Hands were braced on the wall to either side of Wayde’s head. He had been pinned expertly, so that if he tried to move he’d lose any advantage he might have. Wayde could hear Rowan’s labored breaths. The temperature in the corridor had jumped up several degrees. Wayde tilted his head and let his lips quirk into a cocky, half-grin.

Wayde heard a strange noise that sounded like a roar, for a moment he thought Rowan had started a fire. But the noise was coming from Rowan, like a growl. A fevered hand grasped Wayde’s neck, thumb running over his carotid artery. Wayde felt his stomach flip. He tried to push his weight forward, but was knocked back again. Lips slammed over his and the world burst with caramel and heat. Gods, Rowan was hot. Figuratively and literally.

Before Rowan pulled away, he bit Wayde’s bottom lip, then nipped at his chin, trailing kisses across Wayde’s throat. Rowan’s thumb continued to stroke across Wayde’s now throbbing artery. He was surprised that he had any blood flowing anywhere above his waistband.

“I always say, a perfectly good wall should never go to waste.” A voice called out.

Wayde laughed when he glanced over and saw Sean Malone, local jewelry artisan, grinning appreciatively. Wayde could feel Rowan letting the Balance go, he was slowly getting control. He pressed against Wayde and turned to look at their audience of one.

“Would you like some refreshments?” Sean was fanning himself dramatically. “Iced tea? Iced water?”

Wayde was about to answer, when he was seriously distracted by Rowan’s hand slipping south. Wayde smirked, it looked like Rowan had a thing for public displays. Sean couldn’t see what Rowan was doing, but it looked like Sean knew exactly what was going on.

“Why don’t you come over to my shop when you’re done?” Sean slipped back inside his building, leaving them alone.

“Dinner was good?” Rowan’s voice was low and raspy, his breathing heavy.

“Yeah,” said Wayde. His blood was racing, his own breathing labored. He wasn’t sure what was going on with Rowan, but whatever it was Wayde wasn’t complaining.
Rowan pressed his entire weight against Wayde, their gazes locked. Rowan’s eyes glowed for just a flash. “I want to spend more time together after the New Year.”

“Exclusively?” Wayde had never wanted anything, anyone, this much and he really hoped that was what Rowan meant.

***

Unable to speak without getting emotional, Rowan nodded. Then he leaned in and kissed Wayde hard.

Rowan hadn’t allowed himself to think too much, he’d just let his emotions take over, and realized he’d gotten carried away. As they had left the restaurant he’d felt almost feral and completely possessive of Wayde. At one point, Rowan couldn’t reconcile his own feelings with the overpowering urge to mark Wayde. It had been thrilling and frightening, as if something secret had been loosed deep inside.

Rowan was certain that he wanted to spend more time together, he was less certain of why he’d made an after dinner appetizer out of Wayde.

It had taken a few minutes to calm down and let the Gaea energy wane. Their fierce kisses gentled, becoming tender. Wayde had maneuvered Rowan against the wall, one hand cupping the back of Rowan’s neck, the other on Rowan’s face. Wayde was being careful, as if he knew Rowan might get spooked and bolt.

“Alright?” Wayde whispered.

“Yes,” said Rowan. He was feeling centered again.

“Let’s go visit Sean.” Wayde tugged Rowan toward the door across the corridor.

Rowan realized he felt even calmer once he was inside Sean Malone’s shop. Sean was a Fire Gaea and being in his proximity seemed to help Rowan equalize. Now it was clear to Rowan that something had really been off a few minutes ago, but he was keeping that to himself. For now.

“I was going to call the Armory, but decided to take a look. I’m glad I did.” Sean poured the iced tea and kept talking. “I would have felt rotten about interrupting your tête-à-tête.”

Rowan took the offered glass and smiled. “Thanks,” he said. It was meant broadly and Sean grinned.

“Anyway, strange things have been happening. Last week a fight broke out in the bazaar between two vendors. They’d been friends for years, it was so odd.” Sean sat down. “And two days ago the Armors were patrolling the island looking for someone. They never said who. I suppose it was taken care of.” He waved a dismissive hand.

Sean was fascinating. Rowan had never met anyone so androgynous. He was beautiful like a girl, but dressed like a hard-core rocker. He was wearing an aged CBGB’s t-shirt with the sleeves cut off, a studded belt, and his well-loved jeans ended at combat boots. He had long, dark hair that was loose around his angular face, his wrists were hung with multiple bracelets and leather cuffs. He had tattoos covering most of his exposed skin. But, his face was so stunning that Rowan had a difficult time looking at anything else.

An image of Sera came to mind, she was all girl as far as Rowan was concerned. The bits didn’t matter in her case. But, with Sean it was a different vibe altogether. And Rowan found it oddly attractive.

“How is your brother…and Noella… really… oh, I have something for your mum… would you mind taking it with you?”

Rowan realized that he was still staring and Sean was still talking. Lifting his glass, Rowan finished his tea in one long drink.
“Would you like some more?” Sean reached out a hand, rings covered nearly every finger.

“No, thanks,” said Rowan, shaking his head. He really needed to stop staring at this man.

“We should get going. Everyone should be arriving at the villa soon,” said Wayde.

“What time is it?” Rowan stood up.

He watched Sean stand and cross the shop. He wasn’t short, but he wasn’t tall. And he was slight, lithe. He leaned over the counter, rummaging for something. This gave Rowan a moment to appreciate Sean’s backside. Gods.

Like what you see?

Wayde’s voice startled Rowan, but when he turned around Wayde had his head cocked to one side as he checked out the display in front of them.
He moves like liquid. Rowan nodded.

“You both realize it’s rude to t-path while you check out an empathic Gaea?” Sean turned around and held out a small box. He was smiling as he leaned back, languidly, against the display case.

I should have warned you. Wayde grinned, then said to Sean, “It’s not like you mind a little mental groping.”

“I like real groping too.” Sean winked. “Next time?”

“Was he serious?” Rowan asked as they crossed the bridge leading away from the Gardens.

“Yes,” said Wayde. “Want to go back?” He stopped and acted like he was going to turn around.

“Maybe later,” said Rowan without missing a beat and kept walking. What he really wanted to do was push Wayde up against the wall again. The urge was overwhelming.
Wayde laughed, and then caught up, matching Rowan’s stride.

“I was sort of hoping that later, we might pick up where we left off — earlier?” said Wayde.

Rowan grinned. “Great minds think alike.”

***


message 28: by Andi (new)

Andi Lea (andilea) Chapter Nine

On New Year’s Day Rowan woke up in Chicago. Tomorrow he would wake up in Amsterdam and in a few days it would be Paris. Last night he had hosted, and been the DJ for, a New Year’s Eve Bash, it had been presented live via online stream by VisionAir. His co-hosts had been streaming from London, Paris, and Prague. As far as Rowan knew, the whole night had been a success.

The other thing Rowan knew, he was starving. His stomach rumbled as he sent a text.

breakfast?

He had an answer before he got in the shower.

I’ll meet you in the lobby. 15 mins.

Being able to stay somewhere familiar, Luc’s and Riley’s penthouse, was a luxury. Not because it was luxurious, it was, but because it was a little bit of home. There were little reminders of the people Rowan loved and missed all over the place. Pictures of friends and family. A Wildwood High School lacrosse jersey had been left on one of the chairs. Rowan turned it over and smiled, number three, it was Riley’s.

As Rowan made his way to the lobby he felt like he’d forgotten something, but couldn’t remember what it was. He laughed it off. Sort of the point of forgetting. Pulling out his phone, he sent texts to Darien and Alchemy. He was staring at his phone, something was wrong, all of his apps were in different places. The elevator doors opened and he slipped the phone into his pocket.

“Good Morning,” Cecily Taylor, aka the Governess, chirped happily.

“It is.” Rowan smiled and put out his arm for her. In a few hours he would be on his way to Amsterdam for his photo shoot with the magazine Electrolux. He was going to have his first cover.

“I spoke with Natalie this morning. I’ll be travelling with you this week,” said Cecily. “Next week, I’ll be in New York.”

“Do you know how long you’ll be there?” Rowan didn’t have a lot of details, but he knew why she was going to New York—Wayde.

Either she didn’t answer or Rowan didn’t hear her, he was pretty sure it was the former. Cecily was avoiding the topic. They were seated at a table near the window and Rowan watched the snow.

It was peaceful outside. Large flakes drifted in the breeze, swirling and joining the blanket of white on the ground. All of it so silent. So still. And then destroyed, as a snowplow cut its way through the street. Rowan stared at the black mar that sliced through the white.

“I’ve emailed your teachers and I’ll have your assignments by the time we get to Amsterdam.” She peered over her menu, smiling.

Her voice reminded Rowan that he was not alone and that he was not with Wayde. He turned his attention back to the table, Cecily, and the menu.
“Thanks.” Rowan glanced up and then back at the menu.

When the food arrived, he was thankful that Cecily kept quiet, focusing on her breakfast. Rowan wanted, needed, to review the last twenty-four hours.

First, Natalie had called to say that there had been a change in the New Year’s webcast. Rowan would be hosting Chicago alone. Wayde would be going to London to co-host with Kimi, one of the other VisionAir stars. Second, that everyone would be meeting in Paris for the big wig meeting, but following that Wayde would be going to New York City. Third, Rowan would be hosting VisionAir from the Heartland on his own for a while. The last thing Natalie said was that it would all be explained in Paris.

Rowan wasn’t sure what was going on. He and Wayde had barely seen each other since the Christmas party at the villa. Rowan stared at his food, he turned his plate around. He wasn’t sure why he did it, but it looked wrong. Like the chef had put things in the wrong order.

***

Wayde had taken Ella and Sera to London just before Christmas, for a very quick and all too brief visit of Covent Gardens. It had been bittersweet for all three of them. So much so, that when VisionAir had made changes to the New Year’s webcast and sent Wayde to London, instead of Chicago, he was happy to go.
After sleeping in, Wayde had woken up to several messages from his London friends. Benji, Neil, and Scotty wanted to go clubbing. Wayde had a day off, so he texted back a definite yes.

It was as if he’d never been away. He was with his old crowd and several other familiar faces. He was home in London. Natalie had stopped by his hotel earlier to give him a few clues about what was happening with VisionAir and if he understood her—something was happening after he finished working in New York. But, instead of thinking about the future, he focused on the now. London, the nightclub, and his friends.

“So, they’ve rented us an apartment in the city.” Neil waved his drink in the air. “It will be like old times.”

“They do expect you to work,” said Benji. He ate one of the olives in his drink, while giving Neil a withering look.

Everyone laughed, especially Neil. He worked hard, but had a tendency to play harder. It was a long running joke between them.

“Finally, we’re all doing Fashion Week. And it only took two years.” Scotty leaned back against the plush, overstuffed sofa. He looked stunning and Wayde had to force his gaze elsewhere. Scotty was a weakness, one to be avoided.

“Aren’t we going to dance?” Neil stood up, glancing at each of them.

“I am,” said Wayde, grabbing Neil’s hand, glad to get away from the table and Scotty. “Let’s go.”

“Not without me.” Scotty was up and pressed against Wayde’s back. This was going to be more difficult than Wayde imagined.

He kept a wary eye on Scotty, there wasn’t much talking. It was impossible to have a coherent conversation on the dance floor, not that this was the place. But Wayde would find out what Scotty had said to Rowan last year. Five weeks in New York, sharing the same apartment, should give Wayde plenty of opportunities to figure it all out. For now, Wayde would keep Scotty close, but not too close.

***

Rowan had told Cecily that he was tired from the New Year’s party. This gave him time to go back to his room and make a phone call.

“Allo, ça va?” Luc answered after the second ring.

“I’m fine. Where is Riley?” Rowan heard Luc chuckle. “Never mind. I’ll call back.”

“No. Wait a sec, hold on.” Luc’s voice trailed off.

“Hey, what’s up?” Riley asked.

“I shouldn’t have called. I’ll talk to you when I get back from Europe.” Rowan was about to hang up.

“Rowan, what’s going on?” Riley was good at the older brother thing. His voice calm and direct.

“Nothing.” Rowan sat on the edge of the hotel bed, next to his partially packed suitcase.

“Nothing?” Riley sounded doubtful.

“That’s the problem. Nothing is wrong, but it feels like something should be.” Rowan ran a hand over a favorite sweater that he couldn’t decide to wear or pack.

“Maybe you’re developing precognition?” Riley said it jokingly, but then he got serious. “You’re not are you?”

“What?”

“A precog?”

“Not as far as I know.” Rowan bit his lip. “I have a bit of empathic abilities, sometimes it feels like I can feel what other people feel.” He sighed, so much for sentence construction.

“So, are you feeling something? Or is it a sense that something hasn’t happened yet?” Riley asked.

Rowan took a moment to think about it. “It’s neither. I can’t explain it.” He glanced down at two pairs of shoes on the floor. The first pair were pointed toward the hotel room door, the other were pointed at Rowan and the bed. “Out of order,” said Rowan. Breakfast, his phone, his shoes, and his thoughts. They felt out of order.

“I don’t understand,” said Riley.

“Neither do I.” Rowan put the sweater in the suitcase. “I think I’m worried about this meeting with the corporate people for VisionAir. I really hope they’re not cancelling the show or getting rid of the North American portion.”

“Do you think that’s a possibility?”

“They’ve been making some changes. We’re supposed to get all the details in a few days. I probably shouldn’t worry about it, until I know something for sure.” Rowan picked up the shoes and put them in the suitcase.

“Do you want me to meet you in Paris?” Riley was whispering.

“Why are you whispering?” Rowan laughed.

“Because if Luc hears me say Paris, he’ll open a portal, and we’ll be there.” Riley must have moved to another room. Rowan heard a door open and close.

“Must be nice.” Rowan gathered his scattered clothing from the hotel room.

“To have a crazy Time Gaea boyfriend?”

“To have a boyfriend.” Rowan tossed the armful of clothes at the suitcase.

“Didn’t you talk to Wayde?” Riley sounded confused. “I thought you were going to tell him that you wanted to try working things out.”

“I did.” Rowan stepped into the bathroom, glancing at his reflection in the mirror. His image wavered like a flame for a second. Rowan blinked and his reflection was solid again. “I just didn’t take the conversation in that direction.”

“Why not? Second thoughts?”

Rowan wished he could see Riley’s face. It was hard to tell exactly what his brother was thinking.

“Ever since Wayde and I met, we’ve been doing things out of order.” Rowan wondered why he’d said that phrase again.

***


message 29: by Andi (new)

Andi Lea (andilea) Chapter Nine continued...

The last time Wayde had been in Paris, he had failed epically with Rowan. The city of romance held no charm. This was not the place he and Rowan would figure out their complicated relationship. Wayde was also worried about this meeting with the parent company of VisionAir.

Trying to get information out of Natalie had been impossible and Wayde was beginning to believe she really didn’t know anything. He trusted her, that had never been an issue. And after all, he was working Fashion Week—this was what he’d been hoping for ever since he understood the world of modeling. In fact, his schedule in New York was crammed. He was barely going to have time to sleep. Natalie had worked hard to get him in the doors of the right people. And all those doors were beginning to open.

Glancing at his phone again, Wayde laughed at himself. He had been checking the time obsessively. Rowan would arrive soon. Wayde knew when Rowan’s flight departed Amsterdam, when it arrived in Paris, and had estimated the traffic and travel time from the airport.

They hadn’t seen one another since the night of the Christmas party on Annodox. Wayde had to leave as soon as Natalie had called them with details of the webcast changes. He had been booked on a private flight off the island and taken to London. Then he and Kimi were tasked with building on camera camaraderie. The director, producers, and big wigs wanted to make sure that Wayde and Kimi had ‘chemistry’. And they did.

All of the work had left Wayde with little free time. And the time difference was not working to Wayde’s advantage. Aside from the one night he’d spent clubbing with his friends, he’d been catching up on sleep. When he was waking up, Rowan was asleep back in the states. So they’d had to rely on intermittent texts.

That day on the island, the one they had given to each other for Christmas, had been nearly perfect. Wayde had been so sure that they were moving in the right direction. He was sure he’d seen something in Rowan’s eyes, some clue about their future. Wayde tried to pull at the memory, but it unraveled. He could almost convince himself that things had been very different.

All the happiness of that day, now felt strange and distant. As if he’d lost something.

The hotel room door made a beeping sound, someone had a keycard. Wayde wondered if housekeeping thought the room needed cleaning.

“Hope you don’t mind a roommate?” Rowan pushed the door open. Behind him a bellboy waited, holding luggage.

“Did they cut our budget too?” Wayde smirked.

“You worried?” Rowan let the bellboy in.

Wayde pointed the bellboy to the en suite bedroom. When he returned Rowan gave the young man a tip.

“Merci, monsieur!” The bellboy looked pleased as he pulled the door shut and left.

“If they did cut our budget you’re probably not getting reimbursed for that ridiculous tip.” Wayde laughed.

“Did I give him too much?” Rowan was looking at the French francs he was holding.

“Now you’ll have a reputation. All of the staff will expect enormous tips.” Wayde was trying not to laugh.

“It’s been like this all day.” Rowan sighed. “I must be tired.”

“Want to take a nap?” Wayde had to fight the urge to grab Rowan and take him to bed. And not for sleep. “We have the rest of the day off.”

“Will you…” Rowan turned around. Something wasn’t right in his expression. Wayde didn’t know what it was, but it was clear that Rowan did not want to be left alone.

“I’m not going anywhere.” Wayde held out his hand. “All right?”

“Yeah,” said Rowan. He looked relieved and smiled.

***

Waking up wrapped around Wayde made Rowan smile. He buried his nose into Wayde’s hair and inhaled. So familiar and comforting. Wayde always smelled like fresh air and a hint of grapefruit, but spicy. Rowan wondered for a moment if it was a unique Gaea thing to have such distinctive scents and flavors. He tried not to laugh and nuzzled against Wayde’s neck. Inhaling again.

If they could have this all the time, Rowan could be happy. But, he’d backed out on the island. He didn’t tell Wayde that he wanted to be exclusive, and now wasn’t the right time. Not with all of the changes and Wayde going to New York. For now, Rowan would enjoy whatever time they had together.

Wayde’s hand was over Rowan’s. And Rowan’s hand was resting on Wayde’s chest, over his heart. Rowan felt Wayde’s heart beat faster. He was waking up. Rowan closed his eyes and focused on the feel of Wayde’s chest rising and falling, the smell of his hair and skin, the feel of their bodies pressed so close together. This was a memory he did not want to lose.

Gaea energy pulsed softly between them and Rowan thought of that day on the island again. Everything had been nearly perfect. The salt air, the sun on their backs, the moment on the beach when there were no barriers. They had seen Darci and the Elders. Rowan had talked to Ben. And then there had been that unguarded moment against the wall in front of Sean’s. Rowan smiled and leaned in to place a kiss between Wayde’s shoulder blades.

“Great minds think alike,” Wayde whispered. The Gaea energy between them spiked and flooded the room. It wasn’t connecting anymore, it was almost painful.

Rowan sat up, pulling away and trying to push the energy down, away. “Why did you say that?” He jumped out of the bed and started pacing. Energy pricked his skin, he shook his hands.

“Did I say something wrong?” Wayde was sitting up, looking freaked out. He was rubbing at his arms.

Great minds think alike. Rowan repeated it in his head over and over. Something was wrong, very wrong. And he didn’t know what it was. Out of order.
“Are you okay?” Wayde stood up and crossed the room. But, faltered and took a step back. He wasn’t smiling, he looked uncomfortable. “Rowan?”

“I don’t know.” And Rowan really didn’t know. He felt like he was grasping at a flame that had just been snuffed on a candle. All he had was smoke. And mirrors. Rowan glanced at his reflection, it flickered just like it had in Chicago. I think something happened to us. Rowan glanced at Wayde.

The energy swirling in the room peaked again, slamming into Rowan’s chest. He took a deep breath.

“Are you going to tell me what’s going on?” Wayde was standing there. It didn’t look like he’d heard Rowan over the t-path.

I think something happened to us. Rowan forced the t-path open and pushed.

Wayde grabbed his head. “Bloody hell. That hurts.”

“Hurts?” Rowan wasn’t sure what Wayde meant. Can’t you hear me?

Wayde made a horrible sound and fell to the floor. “Stop Rowan. Stop. It’s…” He was taking deep, gasping breaths. “You’ve got to stop.”

Panic overruled everything. Rowan shut the t-path down, let go of the Gaea energy, and ran across the room. He fell to his knees and pulled Wayde into an embrace. “I’m sorry. Sorry. I didn’t realize I was hurting you.”

“Let go of me.” Wayde was struggling to catch his breath. “Just stay… away.

***

Even as Wayde had said it, he knew he’d crossed some line. Rowan moved away and left the room. Once Wayde could breathe again and the pain subsided, he went to apologize. The room was empty, Rowan was gone.

Texts got no reply. Calls ended in voice mail. Wayde found his shoes and grabbed his coat. He didn’t think Rowan went far. After two hours of searching the nearby cafes and shops, Wayde sat in the hotel lobby.

Desperate and worried. He called Riley. No answer. He called Luc. No answer. He hit speed dial.

“Are you okay?” Ella answered. It was obvious from her tone that she had sensed something was wrong.

“No,” said Wayde.

“Is there anything I can do?” she asked.

It felt like someone was watching him, Wayde glanced around. He had hoped it was Rowan, but there was no sign of him. Still the feeling lingered and Wayde stood up, quickly heading to the elevator.

“Wayde? Hello?” Ella’s voice.

“Sorry,” he said as he watched the elevator lights. “I need you to meet me on Annodox. Tomorrow. Can you find a way to make that happen?”

“Yes.” One word and Wayde heard all of her worry.

“Love you, Ella.”

“Love you too.”

He found a note on the bed. Rowan’s luggage was gone.

I’ll see you at the meeting tomorrow. I’m sorry about earlier.

Wayde called the front desk and found out Rowan’s room number. He went down the hallway, but when he got close enough he saw Darci go into the room. Once the door shut, he inched closer. He heard several voices. All of it was muffled from the thick walls and heavy door, but Wayde made a guess that Luc and Riley were here.

Taking a chance he raised the Balance and sent a small pulse of energy, directing it to Darci. He hoped that she would recognize him. He waited, then felt it. An answering pulse. But no one came out the door.

It was going to be a long night. Wayde almost knocked on the door, but he turned around and walked away. Rowan could have answered the texts, the calls, or he could have explained more in his note. But he didn’t.

When Wayde got to his room the light on the hotel phone was flashing. Pure adrenaline sent him across the room, he followed the instructions for retrieving messages. He was so sure it was Rowan. Wayde heard the female voice, speaking in French. He wasn’t disappointed. He was angry. So angry, that he hadn’t translated the message. He listened again. She said he had a visitor in the lobby.

It was a good thing that Wayde had checked himself in the mirror before leaving, because the man waiting for him was unbelievably gorgeous. He was older, maybe in his late thirties, but he was the kind of man that caused people to catch their breath and look again.

His golden hair framed a chiseled face. He was tan, as if he was accustomed to spending time in the sun. He smiled when Wayde crossed the lobby. His suit was expensive, and Wayde recognized it as Tom Ford. The man wasn’t wearing a tie, which gave him a roguish air. Wayde smiled, but stopped at the front desk to be sure this was the visitor.

The young lady at the desk pointed to the man. Wayde turned around, things had just got more interesting.

“Hello, Mr. Knight,” the man said. No hint of an accent. He was American as far as Wayde could tell. “May I call you Wayde?”

“And what may I call you?” Wayde took the man’s outstretched hand.

“Roland.” He smiled and his blue eyes lit up like the ocean water of Annodox.

***


message 30: by Andi (last edited Feb 04, 2014 10:21AM) (new)

Andi Lea (andilea) Epilogue

The week before meeting with Rowan and Wayde in Paris…

Annodox was ever the same and ever changing. Roland had stayed away too long. Unfortunately, he wasn’t welcome in most places, but that wasn’t a concern. Not now. He only needed to see two people while he was here and this was a good time to get lost in the crowd. The island was busy with the holiday season. It was a time when many Gaeas returned for the end of the year to celebrate and rejuvenate.

Roland was certainly enjoying the healing powers that the island generated. Much later tonight he would make a trip the Temple of the Annos and pay his respects. Something the members of the Conclave would be wise to do as well. Roland was glad to be done with them. For now.

Last spring he had been barred from practicing Gaea law, lost his title as Quaesitor to the Conclave, and all but destroyed his legitimate contacts within the Gaea community. Fortunately, his new employer wasn’t bothered at all by a shady past. In fact, this new opportunity looked like it might have a few shades of grey as well. Roland smiled.

When he came around the corner of the interior section of the Hanging Gardens he took a moment to press his hands to the ancient stone wall. He could feel the water that soaked into the stone, it was soothing, a balm to his Balance. He inhaled the cool humid air and closed his eyes. The faint scent of leafy greens mingled with a night blooming flower, jasmine. And under that the salt water of the Indian Ocean. Delicious.

He needed to hurry to his first meeting and get back to his beach house. At least, he’d not lost his property in all the uproar over prosecuting the Thirteen. Later tonight, he would thank his benefactor for that favor. Roland smiled again as he opened his eyes and pushed away from the wall. He was enjoying every twist in the game they continued to play.

Fixing the hooded cloak he wore, he bowed his head from prying eyes. He was glad that he’d stolen one of the Praetor initiate cloaks, it allowed him to move about without notice. Praetors, those ridiculous fools who claimed neutrality. Refusing to take sides and vowing their lives away in service to the greater good. Roland laughed.

With the Prophecy of the Thirteen in play, those Praetors would have to pick allegiance eventually. Roland would enjoy seeing how those cards would fall. But right now he had business to attend.

The door to Sean Malone’s shop was propped open. Roland slipped inside and pulled the door shut.

“You’re late,” said Sean. He was leaning against the alcove which lead to his backroom and the entrance of his private residence. “Lock the door.” He disappeared through the beaded curtain.

Roland let the cloak fall back off his head as he locked the door. He followed Sean into the backroom. At first Roland didn’t know where the beautiful androgyne had gone, he glanced toward the spiral staircase, then to the balcony.

“I don’t particularly like that you’ve come here.” Sean appeared from behind a painted screen. He was holding two cups of steaming chai. The spicy scents tingled Roland’s nose and he relaxed, until he looked up and saw the scowl on Sean’s face.

“I’m sorry, pet.” Roland carefully took one of the cups. He let their fingers brush just slightly, and allowed Sean to read the sincerity of emotions.

Sean’s features softened, he didn’t exactly smile. But he let his guard down. “What do you want?” he asked.

“I need eyes on Annodox…”

“No.” Sean walked out to the balcony.

“It’s not what you think.” Roland followed but stayed in the shadows of a potted palm. It would not serve him, or Sean, to be seen here.

“Can I trust you?” Sean looked sad and gorgeous in the moonlight.

“In this? Yes, pet. You can trust me in this request.” Roland took a sip of his chai. He let his longing for Sean carry over the energy vibrating between them.

“One request. Only one.” Sean pushed his silky, auburn hair behind one ear. “I’ll consider it.”

“I would ask that you keep an eye on Rowan Stallings. Only to ensure his safety on the island.” Roland smiled. “If you suspect anything odd, contact me. Please.”

“The younger brother of Riley?” Sean took a step closer. “Why does he need protection?”

Roland inhaled, wanting desperately to reach out and touch Sean. Instead Roland moved away, further into the shadows. “Yes, Riley’s brother. And I suspect that someone intends to do him harm.”

“What else?” Sean was processing. Roland watched as Sean began to put the pieces in place. Then he said, “Fire Gaeas.”

Roland nodded. He took another drink of his chai and watched Sean pace the length of the balcony.

“I’ll watch over Rowan, on one condition.” Sean stopped directly in the path of moonlight. Its bright rays highlighted his alabaster complexion.

“Of course,” said Roland. He knew what Sean wanted, or more precisely what he didn’t want. Roland wasn’t sure if he could grant it.

“You will not pursue the Bond with me.” Sean looked pained even as he said it. Even though his logic was clearly opposed to his need.

It was a wise decision for Sean. Roland’s allegiance was questionable at best. At worst, his life was dangerous. He had never wanted to bring Sean into any of it. This was the best option for both of them, no matter how painful it would be to halt the Bond.

“I will do everything in my power to quell the desire.” Roland finished his chai. “Thank you…” he avoided any further endearment, “Sean.”

“Please go.” A tear was running down Sean’s cheek.

Roland had to leave quickly before he pulled Sean into an embrace that they may not be able to control, or stop. He pulled the cloak over his head and slipped into the corridor, rushing to get away from the Hanging Gardens. Suddenly everything felt too close to the surface.

Without thinking, Roland found himself at the entrance of the Temple. He had intended pay tribute when less people were around, but his visit with Sean had been unsettling. He waited a few moments for a family to finish their tribute and leave. Glancing around it looked like no one else was nearby. A small group had just started up the hill, but it would take them a while to make the trek. Roland stepped into the Temple and lowered the cloak.

Pulling a handful of shells from his jacket pocket, he carefully placed them on the altar in front of the Water Annos. Shield of water bearers, stiller of storms, I bring you tidings and thanks. I ask that you protect those who are dear.

Fearful of looking up and seeing the statue change, Roland kept his eyes closed. He remembered the many times his mother had brought him to the Temple. And then, the many times he had come on his own. He tried very hard to forget the one time he watched the statue move. Roland had many doubts, but of this he was sure, if the Annos ever returned they would be fearsome.

The walk back to his beach house was peaceful. There was a cool breeze playing off the ocean and no one around. He felt calm and centered, inhaling the salty brine of ocean air. Roland pulled the cloak off and folded it into a bundle under one arm. As he stepped onto the flagstones leading to his front door, he opened to the Balance, instantly connecting with the ocean, and channeled the island’s energy.

Inside he hung up the cloak and his jacket, then crossed to the wall of glass which fronted the ocean. On the beach below he saw a lone figure. Roland narrowed his gaze and a slow smile spread across his face. He pulled open one of the glass doors and stepped onto the balcony. He watched the barefoot, young man move into the path of the waves. The water lapped at his feet.

Roland felt a surge of energy as he took the stairs down to the beach. “Did you get lost?” he called out, suppressing a grin.

“Hardly,” Luc turned around. His grey eyes seemed to glow unnaturally in the moonlight, then dimmed, turning almost black. He didn’t smile or frown, he stood very still.

For a moment Roland felt a wave of dizziness, as if Luc had done something to cause a shift in time. Roland tested the energy flowing off the ocean, from the island, and then tentatively he tested Luc. Nothing. He wasn’t giving off any kind of signature or pulse at all. It was strangely unsettling. As though Luc were surrounded by a protective barrier. Impenetrable. Something slithered in the dark and Roland cut his gaze to the sand floor. There was nothing there.

Luc smiled and tilted his head. “Did you talk to Sean? Did he agree?”

“Yes, I spoke to Sean. He agreed,” said Roland. Sounding more confident than he felt, he asked, “Where is the golden boy?”

Luc shook his head. “I’ve ensured that the Conclave cannot remand your family property on the island. The paperwork will be delivered by messenger. Expect it early tomorrow.” Luc took a step forward.

“Merci.” Roland moved closer, out of sheer desire and a sense of recklessness.

Luc leaned close. “Nous avon fini. We are done for now. Oui?”

Roland confirmed that Luc’s eyes were solid black. Rumors had spread about Luc’s dark Imbalance, but Roland had never seen it himself. He wasn’t sure if he was terrified or impressed. Gods, what kind of power coursed through that dark beauty?

“Roland?” Luc inched closer. The aura surrounding him shimmered and burned.

Roland tried to step back, but he couldn’t move. “Yes, we’re done. For now. I will contact you if I find out anything.”

“Double cross me and you will wish for a swift end.” Luc turned around and walked away. He stopped and glanced over his shoulder, smiling. “I won’t give it to you though.”

There was no flash, no sound, nothing, and Luc disappeared.

***


message 31: by Andi (new)

Andi Lea (andilea) Epilogue continued...

The Blind opened and closed seamlessly. Luc stepped into the backroom of Sean Malone’s shop. “Is Sean okay?” Luc asked.

Riley was leaning against a pillar on the balcony. “He went upstairs. I think he needs some time alone. Are you okay?”

“I’m fine.” Luc knew his eyes were still gleaming onyx, but Riley didn’t flinch or back away as Luc moved closer. “I need you.”

Inky black tendrils unfurled from Luc’s body, creeping ahead of him like dark vines, twining up Riley’s legs, twisting around his torso, and covering his arms. Luc inhaled, cinnamon. He tilted his head and grinned. It was tempting to bite the fleshy part of Riley’s neck, but Luc pressed a kiss to the pulse throbbing beneath Riley’s glowing skin.

“Warm me up, trésor,” Luc whispered. He commanded the Imbalance to pull Riley tighter, drawing their bodies as close as possible. “Need…”
“Shh,” Riley glowed brighter.

Luc felt the sun gold warmth wrap around them, he shivered. Riley’s lips, his breath, his touch, all of it reminded Luc he wasn’t alone. He’d never been alone the whole time. Riley had wrapped Luc in a protective shield, keeping him out of Roland’s reach.

“Spread your wings, Mon ange.” Riley pressed a kiss to Luc’s lips. “I’ll light the way.”

Luc felt the tension uncoil in his back, he relaxed his shoulders. It had become easier to let the Imbalance take control. But somewhere in the back of his subconscious he wondered if this wasn’t Imbalance, but just who he was. Dark and terrifying.

“No, Luc. Don’t think like that.” Riley forced a kiss, pushing his way into Luc, invading and taking control.

Luc’s aura wings unfurled. He felt calm and powerful. He wrapped Riley in a dark embrace, but inside the cocoon of wings Riley’s aura lit up the darkness like a starry night. Luc wasn’t sure if his eyes were open or closed. He couldn’t tell if he was breathing or if Riley was breathing for both of them.
Their Gaea energy hummed, but no one would know. They were cloaked and hidden. The power they had now was only matched by the rest of the Thirteen. Luc was sure no one knew exactly how powerful they’d become since last spring. And for now, it was a closely held secret.

Luc? Riley’s voice. Riley’s hands in Luc’s hair.

Sorry. Luc forced Riley up against the pillar and forgot to think. Their kiss becoming desperate, intense, and otherworldly as their auras continued to tangle.

Sean had coughed to get their attention. “Is that what it’s like?”

Luc and Riley pulled apart. Luc wasn’t sure what Sean could see, other than the two of them making out. Riley put a hand on Luc’s cheek.

Let it go now, Luc. Riley nodded, his own aura began to fade, like a setting sun.

Luc felt the change, Riley’s protective binding came loose from Luc’s body. His aura wings folded back and tucked themselves away. He wasn’t sure where they went. He and Riley hadn’t figured it out yet. Then he mentally tugged at the tendrils of black vines, releasing their tight grip on Riley. And finally, Luc felt his sight shift. Colors began to look normal, but Riley still pulsed with a soft glow.

Riley nodded again. A signal to let Luc know his eyes were back to normal. Luc turned to Sean.

“That’s what it’s like for us,” he said.

“I can’t see it, not all of it. But the feelings. Gods.” Sean was rubbing his arms. Luc noticed Sean’s eyes were puffy. He’d been crying.

“Are you sure about all of this?” Luc asked.

“I can’t be Bonded to Roland.” Sean was shaking his head. “There has to be some way to break what has started. I’m still searching the library archives for a solution. I won’t make the Bond jewelry even though my hands try to over and over again.”

Luc wondered what that kind of compulsion must feel like. To have to force your hands, your very being to refuse. He remembered his own fear of the Bond, but now so many months later he knew he wouldn’t be able to breathe without it. Riley was his. He was Riley’s. The fact that they were in love heightened the entire experience. Luc felt bad that Sean might find himself Bonded to someone like Roland. Some Bond mates didn’t like one another, others were friends, and some tolerated the Bond. Luc and Riley had spent the past few months trying to meet as many Bonded pairs as possible. It had been quite an education.

“I wish we could be of more help.” Riley crossed the room and pulled Sean into a hug.

Luc was still too raw to be physically comforting to anyone. But he watched Riley offer it without hesitation. Luc had to swallow his predatory feelings. Something dark slithered in his soul, something that feigned jealousy, but was far more primal.

Riley glanced at Luc. I’m yours.

Mine. Luc took a deep breath, feeling calmer. He cut his gaze to Sean. “Roland did exactly as we expected. He believes that you’re doing his bidding.”

“And for now that will keep him away from you.” Riley had an arm over Sean’s shoulder.

“Thank you, both.” Sean let out a shuddering breath.

“You shouldn’t be alone.” Luc moved to the beaded curtain, parting it and glancing back at Riley. “I’ll make sure the shop is locked up.”

Are we staying, Mon ange? Riley’s thoughts were careful and controlled.

Are you willing to leave him? Luc smiled as he reached the front of the shop.

I love you, Luc. Riley’s voice was heat and desire rolling through Luc’s mind.

,i>We’re staying, trésor. Luc tumbled the locks on the shop door, but paused.

He heard something outside the in corridor. It sounded like fighting. He opened the door a crack. Not fighting. It was Rowan and Wayde. They were getting hot and heavy up against the wall.

Riley, we’ve got a problem. Luc waited.

What is it? Riley looked out the door. Is that my brother?

Sean pressed between them and whispered. “You two are sending out some serious mojo right now. I think it’s leaking to other Gaeas nearby. OH-EM-GEE, is that your brother?”

“We did this?” Riley looked shocked, then he laughed. “To them?”

“Go, hide in the backroom. I’ll deal with this.” Sean shooed them away. “Go!”

Luc pulled Riley into the backroom. And they hid behind the printed screen.

“I always say, a perfectly good wall should never go to waste.” Sean called out.

***

~finis~


message 32: by Andi (last edited Feb 04, 2014 10:34AM) (new)

Andi Lea (andilea) And that is the end of Wildwood Knights, Season Four. Thank you for letting me share it here. Season Five began yesterday and you can continue to read about Rowan and Wayde at www.theravenscrossing.org.

The Ravens Crossing Book Four (The Ravens Crossing, #4) by Andi Lea The Ravens Crossing:Book Four was just published, it's the anthology of all of Season Four in eBook. Please feel free to leave us a review. Ask questions, make comments. We love hearing from you.

If you are interested in what happened before Season Four... this is the reading order:

The Ravens Crossing: Book One
The Ravens Crossing: Book Two
The Ravens Crossing: Book Three


message 33: by Kaje (new)

Kaje Harper | 16515 comments Thank you!! I'm only part way through, but having fun reading this.


message 34: by Andi (new)

Andi Lea (andilea) It's been a pleasure! :)


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