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Tales told - a.k.a free reads > The Ravens Crossing 2 - Wildwood Dreams

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message 1: by Kaje (new)

Kaje Harper | 16515 comments This is a gift to us from the folks at The Ravens Crossing - this is the second 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.

Check out The Ravens Crossing for all the other free stories about LGBTQ 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. If you are new to the site, click on "First Time Here?" to get started.

West from TRC will be posting the story here. Enjoy.


message 2: by [deleted user] (new)

Wildwood Dreams is the story of Sera Cuocco and Keenan O'Halloran. They were introduced by Alchemy, and their first attempt at dating failed miserably. Now, they're cautiously moving forward, but strange dreams and weird paintings are raising questions about Kaz and Quinn.

Sera is MTF transgender.

The prequel will be available this month.


message 3: by [deleted user] (new)

Chapter One

Sera stood in front the large antique floor-to-ceiling mirror Ric had bought for her sixteenth birthday. Luckily, it had still been wrapped in acres of packing stuff when all hell had broken loose after last year’s prom when the Thirteen had taken out Demetrius and his merry band of evil-doers. OTP had taken some damage and Ric had made sure the mirror had a place of honor in Sera’s remodeled bedroom.

Now, she was biting her lip and wondering for the millionth time if the costumes she had sewn looked as amateur as she thought.

“Wow.”

Sera turned to find Nila, her uncle’s girlfriend, standing behind her smiling. She felt her cheeks heat up.

Nila moved closer. “No, really, wow. You made all of this?”

“All but the vest, gloves, and socks.” Sera sucked her lip between her teeth. Butterflies took flight in nervous abandon, reminding her of the first time she rode a roller coaster.

“Did you make all of the costumes? I know you and Alchemy were locked away for hours at a time over the summer and on weekends.” Nila sank down on the edge of Sera’s bed.

Sera wrinkled her nose. “Yes. Alchemy helped a lot. She and the guys should be here soon to get ready. We’ve got to do Jute’s hair and get the wig on Keenan.”

Nila laughed. “Keenan’s wearing a wig?”

“Alchemy wanted to try using the white hair paint we’re using on Jute, but it would take way too much to cover all that ginger.” Sera grinned. “I’m just glad Alchemy’s cousin in Japan was able to find a Soul Eater Evans wig and send it to us in time.”

The pounding of footsteps coming up the stairs to Sera’s room had both Sera and Nila turning toward the doorway. Alchemy skidded to a halt just inside the room.

“What?” Eyes wide and arms akimbo, Alchemy stared at them in confusion.

Sera shook her head. “Nothing, but it sounded like a herd of stampeding antelopes was headed in our direction.”

Alchemy relaxed, shrugged, and walked closer. “Oh, okay. I thought I was going to be late. Hemp called to remind us to send her a pic. And then Raiden got on the phone. I finally hung up on them. It wasn’t like they wanted to me to respond.”

More footsteps sounded on the stairs. Keenan and Jute walked in. Jute had his phone pressed to his ear as he glared at Alchemy.

“Okay, Hemp, I’ll make sure we do that. Yes. Okay. I’ve got to go or you’ll never get the picture. Yeah. Yes. Okay. Talk to you later. Love you too. Bye.” Jute ended the call and shoved his phone in his pocket. He walked toward Alchemy. “I cannot believe you hung up on Hemp and Raiden. What were you thinking?”

Alchemy rolled her eyes. “Oh, that I was going to be late. At least you were able to get a word in. I couldn’t even answer a question before they had moved on to another topic.”

Jute opened his mouth, but Sera held up a hand. “Would it be possible for you not to argue about your sibs tonight? Please.”

“Sorry.”

“Sorry, Sera.”

“Good. Now we need to get the three of you dressed so we can get to the dance on time.” Sera started ordering them around. She was determined to have fun and not worry about anything, at least for a few hours anyway.
* * *
Keenan sat in the chair in front of Sera’s vanity, watching as she orchestrated Alchemy’s and Jute’s transformations into Arachne and Death the Kid from Soul Eater. He fidgeted with the edge of his black Soul Eater T-shirt and glanced at his phone lying on the table. He hadn’t heard from Quinn in over a week, and the last time they’d talked Quinn had seemed…off.

Something must have happened because it was suddenly quiet. Keenan looked up and everyone was staring at him. He looked around, down at his clothes, and then back at his friends. “What?”

“You sighed.” Alchemy was giving him an odd look.

Keenan was confused. “Everyone sighs.”

Sera moved closer until she was standing in front of him. He smiled up at her. She really was beautiful and he sighed again. She grinned at him. “Yes, everyone sighs and some like you just demonstrated. But the one Alchemy is referring to was noticeably different. What’s wrong?”

“Nothing.” He shrugged. Sera tilted her head, raising a brow. “Okay, fine.” Keenan grabbed Sera’s hand and pulled her onto his lap, resting his chin on her head. “I was thinking about Quinn. I haven’t heard from him in like two weeks, and the last time we talked he didn’t sound like himself.”

Sera tangled their fingers together. “Maybe you should call him.”

Keenan shook his head, sitting back. “No. Tonight is about having fun. I’ll call him tomorrow.”

“You sure?”

“Yeah. Let’s do this.” He pulled the wig off the dummy head. “Someone want to put this crazy thing on me?” Keenan smiled. He hoped he’d diffused the situation, but a glance at Alchemy told him she was worried too.

As they finished getting ready, Jute walked over to Sera’s iPod and started playing music. The mood lightened considerably when “I’m Too Sexy” blasted from the speaker. They laughed and danced around. Well, the girls danced. Keenan and Jute laughed as Sera and Alchemy hammed it up.

Keenan was still smiling when they walked down the stairs to join Ric and Nila in the large open concept living area.

“Kane!” Sera bounced down the remaining few steps and ran across the room to where her uncle Kane was leaning against the kitchen island.

He caught her in a hug, lifting her off the ground. “Little angel.”

Keenan could hear the love in his voice. It broke the tension that filled the air. Awkward really didn’t even touch the tip of that iceberg when it came to the relationship between Ric, Nila, and Kane.

“Why didn’t you tell me you were going to be here?” Keenan watched as Sera playful punched Kane in the arm.

“Sorry. I wasn’t sure I’d be back in time and I didn’t want to disappoint you.” Kane gently touched Sera’s head. He narrowed his eyes as he looked around at all of them dressed up for the Halloween dance. “Soul Eater?”

Keenan felt his lips curl up when Sera smiled. “Yes. I’m surprised you remember.”

“Hey, why don’t the four of you stand over here so I can take your picture?” Ric had moved away from where he was standing with Nila and picked up his camera.

Sera handed her phone to Kane. “Could you take one too? We have people we need to send the pic to immediately.” She laughed as she hurried back to the group.

They stood together, trying to pose like they had seen in some of the online images. Then they took pictures as couples and individuals. Keenan felt like he was going to the prom or something. All he wanted to do was get to the Broussard Center, have fun, and not worry for a little while.


message 4: by [deleted user] (last edited Feb 05, 2014 09:22AM) (new)

Chapter One continued…

* * *
While the night air was cool, Sera felt warm. It probably had to do with the arm draped across her shoulders holding her against Keenan’s side. On the walk to the Broussard Center, they passed friends and other Wildwood residents who had dressed up for the dance. There was still a sense of being on guard surrounding most of the adults, but the intensity had seemed to diminish at least for that night.

Even though she was with her best friends and boyfriend, Sera was worried that Amy Taylor and her band of mean girls would provide Sera with her own Carrie moment. The week before the dance Amy had made sure to leave little reminders of her demand that Sera break up with Keenan in or on her locker.

Sera had been able to keep most of it from Keenan, but Alchemy and Wayde were more than aware of the situation. She had to stop herself from laughing as she remembered the text she’d gotten from Wayde. Even if he wasn’t at school or in town, he always knew when something happened. Sera wanted to handle the situation on her own, but she had a feeling she was going to need her friends to deal with Amy.

As they walked into the center, a menagerie of costumed party-goers were milling around. Sera smiled. She loved Halloween.

Music filled the air and there was a group of people dancing. Alchemy dragged Jute toward them, something she did every chance she got.

“Poor Jute.” Sera shook her head as she watched them walk away.

Keenan’s arm tightened around her shoulders. “I’m really glad you don’t do that to me.”

Laughing, Sera rolled her eyes. “As much as I enjoy dancing, I like slow dancing with you more.” Keenan’s face turned red, causing Sera to snort as she laughed. “Come on, embarrassed one. Let’s get a coffee or something.”

It didn’t take long before Sera heard the voice that always made her skin crawl. Amy Taylor was nearby. Keenan was talking to Elliot while he waited for their coffee leaving Sera on her own. She knew Amy was going to say something nasty and she really wasn’t in the mood to deal with it.

Sera had plenty to be happy about. The costumes had come out perfectly. Kane was back in town, even though things were going to be tense and awkward. And she and Keenan were in a really good place. Things had been weird over the summer, but ever since Alchemy forced them to talk about Amy it had been better.

Sera knew Keenan wasn’t interested in the other girl. It was just irritating that Amy couldn’t see it. Sighing, Sera waited for Amy to stop and make some snide comment. Alchemy had been trying for weeks to get Amy to slip up in front of Keenan and Wayde. And it had almost happened twice. Now was the perfect opportunity for it to happen. The only thing Sera worried about was later retaliation for embarrassing the girl in front of the guys. Because Amy would put the blame squarely on Sera even though it was her own fault.

“Would you look at that?” Amy’s nasally voice grated across Sera’s nerves.

“What is the waif wearing?” Amy’s bff, Chelsea, was always good for back up when Amy started.

Sera refused to glance in their direction or move. She wasn’t going to let them ruin her night. She didn’t care what happened to theirs. One thing Sera did hope was that Amy would eventually learn how to walk in heels or stop trying to wear them. The screech of the heel sliding across the floor as the girl moved was painful.

“It looks like the poor thing tried to sew her own clothes.”

Sera knew she could sew. She’d been doing it since she was five. And it helped when she did alterations to make things fit better.

“Well, she did a piss poor job if you ask me.”

“No one asked you.”

Sera eyes widened. She knew that voice and it wasn’t Keenan. Spinning around, she found Keenan and Wayde both standing behind the group of girls, and Wayde was not happy. Sera smiled. “Where’s Watson?”

Wayde’s lips quirked into his trademark smirk. “The music called.” He turned his glare back to Amy and her followers. “I suggest you stop tormenting Sera.”

Keenan pushed past the girls, handing Sera a cup. He draped an arm around her shoulders. “Amy, you really should listen to Wayde. And I’ll tell you this one last time. I’m not interested in you. Never have been. Never will be.” He leaned down and kissed Sera in front of everyone.

When he pulled back, Sera opened her eyes slowly to stare into his turquoise gaze. She felt her cheeks heat up. Ducking her head, she glanced up at Wayde who was grinning widely.

Amy was slinking away, scowling over her shoulder as she looked back Sera. She felt a cold chill run down her spine at the look in Amy’s eyes. Chelsea was furiously whispering in Amy’s ear. Sera could only imagine what school was going to be like next week.

“Don’t worry, Sera. Now that I know what she’s up to, I’ll keep an eye out when I’m around. We don’t need that kind of attitude around here.” Wayde walked over and pulled Sera into a hug.

“Thanks, Wayde.” She kissed his cheek as he moved away and headed toward the coffee counter.

“And I’ll always be around.” Keenan spoke softly.

Sera looked up at him. “I know. We just have to remember to tell Alchemy that you heard Amy.”

Keenan took a sip of his coffee. “Oh, I’ve heard it before. Wayde and I talked about it a couple of weeks ago. We wanted to be able to make it difficult for Amy to talk her way out of it.”

“Well, you could have told me.” Sera playfully smacked Keenan’s arm.

He smirked. The music changed and Keenan’s eyes lit up. “Come on.” He took her cup and threw them both away before grabbing her hand and dragging her back into the other room. “Let’s dance.”

***


message 5: by [deleted user] (new)

Chapter Two

Keenan sighed as he leaned against Sera’s locker. He’d tried to call and text Quinn every day since the Halloween dance. And nothing. No response at all. Keenan’s stomach clenched and he was rubbing it absently when a soft touch gentled his movements.

He glanced down into Sera’s worried violet eyes. “Hi.”

“What’s wrong?” Sera bit her lip, looking up at him with her brows furrowed.

Keenan shook his head. “Quinn.” He’d learned not to keep things from Sera. She would show up in his dreams and get him to talk. It was almost like she was a human lie detector in dream form.

Her nose wrinkled. “Still haven’t heard from him.” Sera nudged him away from her locker door.

“No, and it’s really beginning to bother me.” Keenan shrugged. “He’s probably just busy with school and stuff.”

“Maybe you should talk to Alchemy. See if she’s talked to Kaz.” Sera finished exchanging books from her locker and backpack, shutting the door and spinning the lock. Looping her arm with his, they headed down the hall to the newspaper office.

They had been spending every afternoon in the newspaper office for the past few weeks. Keenan smiled as he remembered Sera telling everyone she wasn’t Suya and she wouldn’t be in the office before school or during lunch.

He also knew how much the newspaper staff liked Sera. They had been able to keep her office from being invaded and vandalized by Amy and her crew. From what Chase, the assistant editor, had told him, Amy had tried several different ploys to get in and cause trouble. Chase had also told Keenan how badly he wanted to bring down the mean girls.

“What do you have to work on today?” He asked as Sera unlocked the door to the office.

Keenan watched her walk toward her desk. The gentle sway of her hips always seemed to mesmerize him. And she always caught the goofy look on his face.

She grinned at him. “I just need to approve everything and then this baby is ready for Monday. Chase and Lara will be in early to get it sent out and printed.”

After Sera had taken over, she’d set up an email and text version of the school paper. Keenan had been impressed. She’d also asked him to be the photo editor when she found out he had taken over the same duties for the yearbook.

Keenan pulled out a chair from another desk, woke up the computer there, and found the file of images he and the other photographers on staff had taken. He scrolled through them. There were several from the Halloween dance that he tagged for the yearbook. Keenan grinned as he looked at everyone all dressed up. The Young Avengers, Holmes and Watson, the Borg.

“What are you looking at?”

Keenan jumped. Sera’s giggle caused him to smile even though his heart was racing. “Pics from the dance.” He eased his chair back and pulled Sera on to his lap.

“That night was fun.” Sera spoke softly.

“Yeah, it was.” Keenan agreed, and he knew they were thinking about after the dance. They might not have done more than kiss and touch each other, but it had been fun. And frustrating. He wasn’t going to mention that.

Sera kissed him on the side of his head. “You ready to go?”

He closed out of everything and put the computer back to sleep. “Yeah. Let’s get out of here.” They picked up their bags and walked out of the office, locking the door behind them. They left the school through the side entrance and headed toward the crossing.

Keenan wrapped his arm around Sera’s shoulders as they crossed the street. His mind wandered back to part of their earlier conversation. He was going to have to talk to Alchemy about their brothers because he was certain something was wrong.
* * *
Sera jerked awake, the dream still vivid in her mind. Sitting up, she flipped on her bedside lamp and picked up the journal lying on the table. Opening it to a blank page she closed her eyes, pressing the tip of the pen to the paper. Ever since she’d started dream walking, she’d been keeping track of them. It was how she’d figured out how to find and meet Alchemy. Sera had also learned how to write without seeing what she was doing.

A thick fog filled the air. Sera looked around, trying to see if she could make out anything. She could hear voices echoing around her. But she couldn’t understand what was being said. Moving forward, she stumbled but there was nothing for her to trip over. She struggled to keep going, but something was hindering her progress.

Falling to her knees, she took a deep breath and coughed. The air tasted like metal. Then she heard a muffled scream followed by laughter. There was a lingering scent of fear mixed in with the fog. Ruthenium. That’s why she felt like she was drowning in mud.

Sera dragged herself to where the fog seemed lighter. The murkiness left her head and she could think clearly again. But before she was completely out of the ruthenium laced cloud she heard a tortured cry. “Kaz!”

Her eyes flew open and her heart beat sped up. “Holy Annos. What the hell is going on?” It didn’t make sense. She hadn’t dreamt about Kaz or Quinn since before the attack at the prom. And even then nothing had made much sense.

“But why would I dream about ruthenium? The Armors cleaned up all that Demetrius and his friends had put around Wildwood.” Sera knew she should tell Keenan and Alchemy about her dream, but she didn’t want to cause any trouble if there wasn’t anything to worry about.

She slid down and pulled the covers up to her chin. Maybe she could talk to Kane about it. He could look into it without setting off any alarms. But he’d just come back to town and selfishly, she didn’t want him to leave again.

“Damn, damn, damn.” Sera sighed. Between worrying about Amy and now this dream, she didn’t know what to do. She had a meeting with Gin, her therapist, in a few hours. That’s what she’d do. Sera would talk to Gin. They could figure out how to interpret the dream and then what to do from there.

Sera felt a little better, but she knew she wouldn’t be going back to sleep.

***


message 6: by [deleted user] (new)

Chapter Three

Sera grimaced as she stared at herself in the mirror. While she knew she was a girl, her body didn’t agree. It said she was a boy. There were days when body image wasn’t an issue. Then there were the days when she freaked out just thinking about being naked in front of anyone, especially Keenan.

It didn’t matter that Keenan and everyone else knew she was male-to-female transgender. Sera didn’t really care that she had boy bits instead of girl bits. That’s not what made her a girl. And, truthfully, the thought of gender reassignment surgery scared the crap out of her. Ginevra Kelly, her therapist, had talked with Sera about it at length and in explicit detail during one of their sessions on body image.

In the Gaea community being gay or trans so wasn’t a big deal. But Sera knew that wasn’t the case everywhere. She felt really bad for kids who didn’t have the acceptance she and her friends enjoyed.

Her uncles loved her. Nila and Gin loved her. Alchemy, Jute, Wayde, and all Sera’s new friends loved her. And she was pretty sure Keenan loved her. She just knew that eventually he would get tired of getting nothing more than a kiss and a cuddle.

Sera pulled a One Direction T-shirt over her head, tugging her ponytail out from beneath it. She picked up the black skirt she’d pulled out to wear and wondered if she should go with jeans instead. Keenan and Jute were taking her and Alchemy ice skating. Even though Sera was a pretty good skater she could still fall.

Putting the skirt back in her closet, she pulled out a pair of red jeans instead. At least this way if she fell, no one would get an unwanted show.

Glancing at the clock, she rolled her eyes. She still had two hours before Alchemy and the guys were supposed to pick her up. Sera wasn’t even sure she really wanted to go ice skating. Sure it was fun. But she wasn’t in the best place mentally.

Sighing, she sank down into the chair at her desk and turned on her computer. Maybe she could get some homework or something done. Instead of opening the file containing her English paper or the new clothing sketches she’d started, she clicked on her art program and plugged in her tablet.

Sera lost herself creating manga characters of her friends.

Soft whispers interrupted Sera’s train of thought. She sat up and stretched. Her eyes widened when she saw the time on her clock. She slowly turned the chair around. Alchemy was sitting like a yogi in the middle of Sera’s bed, wearing a huge grin and waving. Jute and Keenan were sitting on a small couch in front of her television arguing over which movie was the first to introduce S.H.I.E.L.D. and the Avengers.

“Hey!” Alchemy threw one of Sera’s pillows at the boys.

They glared as they turned around. Sera watched Keenan’s eyes soften when he looked at her. He got up and walked toward her, leaning down to kiss her when he got close enough.

Sera bit her lip. “Sorry. I lost track of time.”

Keenan smiled at her. “We could have said something when we got here. But you didn’t even hear us so we thought we’d just wait until you were finished.”

“Did you still want to go skating?” Sera looked over at Alchemy.

“Nah. But I am starving. How do you sit up here and not get hungry with all those wonderful scents wafting up from OTP?” Alchemy slid off the bed.

Jute shrugged. “Yeah, I’m kind of hungry too. And I have to get home early. Tore and Sven are going out to the farm. Cotton and Agave haven’t decided if they’re going too or not. So, I might have them tonight.”

Sera felt bad. She hadn’t exactly wanted to go, but she felt bad for making them miss out. She stood and walked to her closet to find a pair of shoes.

Keenan followed her. “None of us are upset about not going skating.” He wrapped his arms around her waist. “So, don’t feel guilty or anything. Okay?” He kissed the top of her head as she nodded into his chest.

He let go with one arm while she slipped her feet into a pair of Hello Kitty Vans. They walked back out and Sera felt her lips twitch. Jute and Alchemy were both flushed and looking anywhere but at each other. Sera thought those two needed some time alone to figure out their relationship.

One minute they were arguing. The next they were all over each other. As amusing as it could be, it was also exhausting. Granted Sera could say the same thing about her relationship with Keenan. All she could do was hope he would stick around until she was ready to take theirs the next step.
* * *
Keenan flopped down in the large comfortable chair in Sera’s room. He took a deep breath and sighed as his body relaxed into the cushion. He loved being here. It was the one place he felt calm.

He hadn’t been sleeping well. He was worried about Quinn and didn’t know who, besides Alchemy, to talk to about it. Keenan would love to have one of those Yoda moments with Amyntas. Even knowing he wouldn’t get a direct answer at least he’d have something to try and figure out.

He pulled his phone out of his pocket and pulled up an image of Quinn and Kaz. Touching it, he put it to his ear and listened as it rang. “Hey, you’ve reached Quinn. Leave a message.”

“Hey, bro, it’s Kee. Just calling to say hi and maybe get some advice. Give me a call when you get the chance.” Keenan hit end and stared at the screen until it faded to black.

He thought briefly about calling Hemp or Suya or maybe Luc, but talked himself out of it as he scrolled through his contact list. No need to worry them if Kaz and Quinn were just immersed in college life. Heck, they could all be in constant contact. Keenan was just used to going to his big brother for advice. He guessed he was going to have to find someone else to talk to.

The soft padding of feet on the hardwood floor had him rolling his head in the direction of Sera’s bathroom. Keenan smiled. It might be a cliché, but every time he looked at her, she took his breath away.

He held out his hand and curled his fingers around hers when she touched him. He gently tugged her closer until she toppled into his lap. Keenan watched the soft pink flush rise from her neck up to her cheeks before he leaned forward and kissed her.

The moment their lips met, Keenan’s body lit up like he’d been plugged into an outlet. His hands slid from Sera’s hips up her back to tangle in her long blonde hair as he deepened the kiss. Sera pressed against him until her whole body stiffened.

Keenan wanted to groan or scream ‘No! Don’t stop’, but that would just make things worse. He’d done that once back when they first tried to date and Sera didn’t speak to him for two months. And yeah, he still carried a guilty secret. The only person in their group of friends who knew anything about it was Jute.

No, Keenan was not going to go down that rabbit hole again. Hooking up with an ex had not been his smartest move.

He relaxed his hold on Sera and she settled against him with her head on his chest.

“I’m sorry.” Sera’s voice was so soft he almost missed what she said.

Keenan picked up her hand, lacing their fingers together. “Nothing to apologize for.”

He felt her sigh. “Yes, there is. I have a meeting with Gin next week and I’m going to talk to her. It’s something I’ve been trying to do for awhile and I chicken out every time.” Sera’s lips grazed his chin.

“I love you, Kee.”

“I love you, too.” But he wondered if that Patty Smyth song was right and sometimes love wasn’t enough.

***


message 7: by [deleted user] (new)

Chapter Four

Keenan smiled at the messages on his phone.

Hey Kee. Been busy with classes and new people. I’ll be in touch soon. Tell everyone Kaz and I said hi.

Kee, man, sorry I’ve been unavailable. Busy. College is kinda crazy.

Stop worrying. We’re fine. I’ll call you soon.


He felt like such an idiot. He knew college in another state would be an adjustment. Keenan sighed. At least Quinn had finally gotten in touch. Maybe now Keenan could concentrate on other important things, like getting rid of Amy Taylor and her honking flock of followers. He also needed to talk to Rory about finding a mentor.

Keenan had hoped Quinn could be it, but with him being in another state and swamped with college life, that wasn’t going to happen. He tilted his as he stared down at his phone. He could always ask Kane. He knew a lot of Armors.

Glancing at the time, Keenan jumped up from his desk. He had to be at Sera’s soon. They were going to watch Geography Club and he still had to make a Greene Beans run.

He ran down the stairs, skateboard in one hand and backpack slung over his shoulders. He skidded to a halt at the bottom of the stairs. Sorcha and Bowie were dragging the new kittens across the floor on a small rug. Apparently, fun was being had by all. Keenan smiled as he looked up and met his big sister’s gaze. Tara might live on campus at the University of Iowa, but she was home every weekend. Keenan didn’t get that at all.

“Hey, did you finally hear from Quinn?” Tara raised a brow and smirked.

Keenan rolled his eyes. “Yes. And everyone was right. He and Kaz are busy adjusting to college life.”

Tara laughed. “Movie night with Sera?”

Keenan nodded. He knew his cheeks were red. Sixteen and he still got embarrassed. He really hoped one day it would stop. “Yeah, I won’t be late.”

“Well, maybe you should call when you get ready to leave. One of us will come pick you up so you won’t have to walk home in the cold.” Tara walked around the kitchen island and gave him a hug.

“Yes, Mom.”

Tara flicked the towel in her hands at him as he headed toward the door. Once outside, he dropped his board and kicked off. It was getting too cold to skate. Keenan sighed. Maybe he should think about going back to work at OTP and adding to his savings so he could talk to his parents about getting a car.

Keenan skated up Ravens Road to Hazel’s, stopping once he reached the intersection. Wildwood was still recovering from the attack in the spring, and it was evident everywhere you looked. Buildings still bore the marks and it was a little quieter without the playground.

He picked up his board and walked across the street. A voice called out hello, and he looked toward the door of The End. Tallulah Anderson, one of the proprietors of the eclectic bookstore, was smiling and waving at him.

“Hi, Mrs. Anderson.” Keenan waved back as he continued down the sidewalk, coming to an abrupt stop in front of Thistle. In the window was a sign announcing the arrival of Trillium Angel clothing. Keenan tried to remember if Sera had told him that her line would be available in Wildwood. He stared at the sign. Wayde, Rowan, and some female model Keenan had never seen before were smiling back at him. And Sera’s brand, an angel with a red trillium as wings, hovered behind them in shades of grey.

Shaking his head, Keenan continued down to Greene Beans. He chatted briefly with a few classmates while he waited for his order. He rubbed a spot on his chest. Why did he suddenly feel hollow? Like he was missing something important.

His phone vibrated in his pocket. Pulling it out he stared at the message from Alchemy.

Let’s go to Annodox next weekend.

Keenan sent back a quick reply of yes. Maybe that was what he needed a little time away with Sera and his friends to recharge and relax.

He picked up his order, said a quick goodbye, and hurried back to OTP. When he opened the door, Sera stood beside the counter, smiling and laughing at whatever Jill was saying. Keenan just stood there for a moment, taking in how ethereal his girlfriend looked.

“She looks like an angel, doesn’t she?”

Keenan jumped. He turned around to find Kane Zhu standing behind him. “Uh…yeah.”

Kane chuckled. “Didn’t mean to startle you.” He put a hand on Keenan’s shoulder. “How are things going? Sera mentioned you were worried about your brother.”

“Oh, yeah, I was. He finally texted me back. College life is apparently insane.” Keenan grinned before biting his lip. Should he? “Umm...Kane, could I ask you a question?”

A black brow rose over Kane’s dark brown eyes. “How may I assist you, Keenan?”

Mentally shaking his head, Keenan wondered if the man always spoke so formally. “Well, since Quinn is in another state, I need someone to help me with my Gaea abilities. You know, I guess, a mentor. You wouldn’t happen to know anyone who would be willing to help me out, would you?”

“Yes, I do.” Kane nodded. “Give me a few days to talk to him, and I’ll let you know.”

Keenan let out the breath he didn’t realize he’d been holding. “Thanks.”

“Kane. Keenan.” Sera bounced over to them, smiling widely and hugging Kane before wrapping an arm around Keenan’s waist and taking her espresso from his hand. “My two favorite men.”

Kane gave her a teasing glare. “You might not want to let Ric hear you say that, little angel.”

Sera shrugged as she sipped her drink. “A little competition won’t hurt him.”

Keenan knew Sera would love for Ric and Kane to get back together, but she also didn’t want Nila hurt in the process. Sera’s family was beyond complicated.

She looked up at him. “Ready?”

He nodded and said goodbye to Kane. Sera grabbed a pizza box off the counter as they walked toward the back of the restaurant. Keenan reached out and wrapped an arm around Sera pulling her back against his chest as soon as they were in the stairwell leading up to the apartment above OTP.

“Kee!”

Keenan held her tight, burying his nose in her hair and inhaling the scent of her vanilla shampoo. He pressed a kiss on her ear and whispered, “I love you,” before letting go.

Sera stepped up on the stairs and turned around, holding the pizza at an odd angle. She leaned close and brushed his lips with hers and whispering, “Love you too,” back to him.

That hollow feeling in his chest almost disappeared in that moment. Maybe the trip to Annodox Island would close it up the rest of the way.
* * *
Sera loved sitting on the chaise in her room with Keenan. Sitting with him surrounding her always made her feel safe. The credits for Geography Club were rolling. The movie had been good. But Sera had enjoyed the book better.

She sighed and relaxed against Keenan’s chest. The fingers on one of his hands were absently rubbing the skin of her arm.

“Oh, I forgot to tell you. Thistle is going to be carrying Trillium Angel. I did a video conference with Darci and Noella yesterday confirming it.” Sera kept her voice soft. These quiet moments were rare lately.

“Yeah, I saw the sign in the window when I walked past earlier.” She could feel the tension in Keenan’s body.

Sera turned until she was facing him. “What’s wrong?”

He sighed. “Nothing. Just feeling weird. I really think going to Annodox Island next weekend will help.”

“Yeah, I think we all need a break. Kane said we can use his house. It’s right on the beach and has this awesome garden.” She smiled as she remembered going there before her mom died.

Keenan shifted them until she was sitting in his lap. “Sounds like just what we need. And I think it’s great that Thistle is carrying your line. The ad is really hot.”

Sera bit her lip. “Did they use the one with Wayde, Rowan, and Karina?”

“If Karina has really short blonde hair, then yes.” Keenan’s brow wrinkled.

“Yeah, that’s Karina. She had fun that day giving the guys a hard time.” Sera smiled and shook her head. “That day was insane, but the pics that came out of it were amazing.”

“Do you think anyone will figure out you’re Trillium Angel?” She could hear the concern in Keenan’s voice.

Sera tilted her head, thinking before responding. “Doubt it. Very few people actually know I’m the designer. But that’s probably going to change in the next year or so. Ric, Kane, and Andrea are planning for my first Fashion Week appearance.”

“Well, I have a feeling you’re going to do pretty well.”

Sera kissed his cheek. “Thanks.”

Settling back against his chest, she listened to his heart beat. It wasn’t until she was almost asleep that she felt a jolt, like an electric shock. Sera didn’t move. All she did was open her eyes wide. Keenan’s thumb was rubbing against her Gaea Mark. She could feel the heat through her jeans.

And the more he did it, the more her body reacted. Sera had never felt like this before. She wondered if it was a Gaea thing or just because it was Keenan. But it wasn’t like she could just ask anyone about it.

Keenan’s phone vibrating against her other hip put a stop to everything.

“Sorry,” Keenan said as he pulled his phone out of his pocket. “That was quick.”

Sera shifted until she was a safe distance from her boyfriend, but not so far as to have him wonder what was going on. “What was quick?”

“I asked Kane if he knew anyone who would be willing be my mentor. And apparently the guy he was thinking about said yes. He’s going to meet us at Kane’s house when we go to the island.” Keenan was texting as he talked.

“What’s the guy’s name?” If it was who she thought it was, this was going to be fun.

“Loic St. Germaine.”

What started out as giggles turned into full blown laughter when Sera heard the name.

“What’s so funny?”

Sera sucked her lip between her teeth as she tried to gain some control. “Loic is probably the best person to help you. Well, other than Quinn. And he’s lots of fun. But he’s also really close to being certifiably insane.” The grin she was trying to hold back burst free. “Ric doesn’t like him.”

Keenan’s face was a mask of confusion. “Why?”

“Because he thinks Kane and Loic had an affair. Which they didn’t. Trust me. Kane is definitely not Loic’s type. He likes his partners to be smaller and prettier.” Things were already complicated in the Cuocco household, and this was just going to add to the fun. “You’ll understand when you meet him.”

This trip to Annodox Island was going to be very interesting.

***


message 8: by [deleted user] (new)

Chapter Five


Monday, Wildwood High School

Sera was happy Alchemy was good at keeping people preoccupied. The girl had a knack for both kinds of trouble. The good and the bad. How she pulled it off was something Sera was still trying to figure out. It probably helped that Al had a style all her own. Her crazy behavior was nothing compared to some of the outfits she put together.

At least today, Al was wearing one of the Trillium Angel graphic tees with her black pleated skirt and signature custom Chucks. Sera quietly laughed at the surprised looks on some faces. The shirt Al was wearing wasn’t available in the States and had only been out in Europe for a few weeks.

Catching herself bobbing her head along with the music playing in her ears, Sera stopped and glanced around. Her shoulders sagged in relief. She really should pull her phone out and stop listening to the new One Direction album.

A gentle weight landed on her shoulder. She looked up and smiled. “Hi, Wayde.”

“Good morning, Angel?” He smirked. They shared a brief moment of Gaea energy.

Sera laughed. He knew her so well. “Very good morning.” He gave her a squeeze before disappearing down the hall. Familiar energy surrounded her and she turned around. Keenan was standing behind her, leaning against the wall.

She pulled the earbuds out and moved closer. Keenan dropped a quick kiss on her forehead. “Hey.”

“Hey.” Sera’s stomach fluttered because of the teasing grin on Keenan’s lips and the knowing look in his eyes. She bit her lip. Gods, how was she going to survive three days on Annodox Island? Keenan was devastating in a pair of comfortable jeans and baggy fisherman’s sweater. Just thinking about him in nothing but a pair of board shorts and tank made Sera weak in the knees.

Then she heard the banter of Alchemy and Jute and remembered. She and Keenan weren’t going to be completely alone. Sighing, Sera slipped her hand into Keenan’s, tangling their fingers together. All she had to do was get through today and tomorrow.

Wednesday, OTP

Keenan sighed as he watched Sera flit from one station to another and table to table. She was wearing the standard OTP uniform of black pants, white OTP shirt, and red apron, but for some reason it looked different on her.

His phone buzzed, distracting Keenan. Glancing down, he grinned. Ever since he’d freaked out about Quinn, his brother had been sending regular texts. Every couple of days Quinn would text just to say hi. While Keenan would have loved to spend an hour or so actually talking to Quinn, he didn’t want to bother him.

Keenan had just finished sending off a text to Quinn about not coming home for Thanksgiving when his phone buzzed again. Keenan didn’t recognize the number and wondered if he should open the text or not. Giving in to curiosity, he was surprised to find it was from his new mentor.

Kane gave me UR #. Meet me Fri at the Hanging Gardens. Just a little meet and greet. Tell Angel hello. Loic

Okay, wow…those were the only two words bouncing around in Keenan’s head. He had kind of wondered how and when they would meet, but he hadn’t expected this. Before he could talk himself out of it, he sent off a quick text saying he would be there on Friday.

Keenan took a deep breath as he set his phone on the table. He was nervous about meeting Loic. Keenan knew he could probably ask Kane about the man, but after what Sera had said he figured it would be better to wait before trying to form an opinion.

He jumped when Sera slid into the booth beside him. Her hip bumping his sent tingles of electricity through his body. “What’s up?” Her eyes were bright with energy and excitement.

Keenan draped his arm across her shoulders. “Loic says hi.”

“He texted you?” Keenan nodded in response, and it felt like his heart would stop from the brilliant smile on Sera’s face. “Cool. I tried to get Kane to tell me what he and Loic talked about, but he wouldn’t say anything.”

“Yeah. I haven’t talked to Kane much since he set this up. Kind of want to keep an open mind after what you said about Loic.” Keenan rubbed his hand up and down Sera’s bare arm. “Shouldn’t you be working?”

Sera giggled. “Break time. Thought I’d come hang out with my boyfriend.”

“Well, we are in a dark corner…” He shifted until he could pull her onto his lap, her legs folded on either side of his. He cupped her cheek kissed her softly. Slowly, he opened up and shared his energy with her. They didn’t do this often, but when they did the response was always thrilling. “Fifteen minutes?”

Sera nodded and leaned forward.

Yeah, these were going to be an amazing fifteen minutes.

Friday, Annodox Island

Sera fidgeted with the hem of her shirt while she watched Keenan and Loic talk. After saying hi, she’d tried to do some looking around, but couldn’t keep her mind off of them. It wasn’t that she didn’t trust Loic. But he was kind of intense. Most people didn’t even realize the somewhat geeky archivist could turn into a cold blooded killer. Most people didn’t know he was more than an archivist.

Loic had told her once that it was a good thing to be underestimated. People would say things around him because they didn’t think he was paying attention or worth worrying about.

Sighing, Sera pulled her phone out of her pocket. They had only been talking for fifteen minutes. Why did it feel longer? “Sera, you need to stop worrying. Keenan and Loic will be fine.” She knew exactly where to go. She’d go see Sean. She had an idea for something special for Keenan. Smiling, Sera felt a little better and spending time with Sean was always good.


message 9: by [deleted user] (new)

Chapter Five continued…

* * *
Keenan had been surprised when he’d first seen Loic St. Germaine. He was definitely not what Keenan had expected.

Loic was sitting at a table wearing a pair of wire-rimmed glasses, and his dark brown hair was cut close to his head. He took a sip from the cup sitting on the table before turning a page in the book he was reading.

When Loic had seen Sera, he’d stood and smiled which did very distracting things for the man’s appearance. Keenan took in the long, loose limbed, slender man and knew that Loic could instantly turn hard and cold. Shaking his head, Keenan wondered where that had come from. It was like for a moment time had stopped and he’d been able to see past the image Loic presented to the rest of the world.

Sera had introduced them before taking off to wander around the market. But Keenan had known when she’d sat a table and watched them. He wanted to smile. Sera was worried about them.

“She really has no need to worry. I’m not going to hurt you. Today.” Loic sipped from his cup again.

Keenan bit his lip. “Okay. I won’t tell Sera you said that. If I do, she’ll never let us meet alone.”

Loic smiled and leaned his arms on the table. “You know our little Angel well.” His eyes hardened as he continued. “But if you hurt her…”

Keenan held up his hand. “Trust me I know. I’ve gotten the same warning from Kane, Ric, and Wayde. All varying ways of my demise if I hurt Sera.” Taking a deep breath, Keenan told Loic what he hadn’t said to the others. “I love her. I know her self-doubts and her fears. But I’m not going anywhere unless she tells me to leave.”

Loic’s eyebrows rose in surprise. “Good.” He sat back, relaxed in his seat. “So, are there any good rentals in Wildwood?”
* * *
Sera was humming as she walked through the market. She’d had a good brainstorming session with Sean about her idea. And felt more relaxed than she had when she and Keenan had first stepped into the large area.

She stopped to look at some fabric at one of the stalls. The colors were startling hues of red and green. Sera reached out and fingered it, surprised by how soft and delicate it felt.

“See something you like?” Sera jumped at the smooth sound of the baritone that came from behind her. Spinning around, the man was holding his hands up and smiling. “Didn’t mean to startle you.”

Sera put a hand to her chest. She could feel her heart racing. “No, it’s okay. I tend to get lost in designing when I find new fabrics.”

She watched the tall, blond man walk behind the table of fabric. She tilted her head as she looked at him. For some reason he seemed familiar.

“What do you design?” He picked up a bolt of alarming yellow fabric and set it on the table.

“Clothes. I also make some of my own stuff. It’s easier than having to buy clothes and have them tailored.” Sera shrugged.

The man smiled. His eyes, one blue and the other violet, seemed to lighten. “Ah, yes, I can see that. You are a rather slight young lady.”

Sera laughed. “That’s one of the reasons.”

He nodded. “Yes, I’m sure it’s not easy to look feminine all the time.”

Sera’s eyes widened. “What…”

“I mean no disrespect. We, Gaeas, are more open to those who embrace their true selves while living in a body differently designed.” He bowed slightly in her direction.

Sera wasn’t sure how exactly to feel, but something about the way he talked reminded her of someone. “You sound just like Amyntas.”

The man gave her a mocking look of horror. “Oh, please, not him.”

Sera laughed. But still something about this man pulled at her, like she should know him.

Later that day, sitting on the beach, watching the sunset

“How did everything go with Loic?” Sera asked. She felt warm and safe and loved. She didn’t know if it was all Keenan or a combination of him and the island’s special brand of mojo.

Keenan’s arms tightened around her. “Good. He’s going to move to Wildwood. Loic says it will be easier for the first few weeks or so if we can see each other regularly. We’re going to set up a schedule once he gets settled.”

Sera nodded before turning around and facing Keenan. “I’m glad. I like Loic, and I think he’ll be an interesting addition to Wildwood.”

“It definitely won’t be boring.” Keenan’s hand slid under Sera’s hair, massaging her neck. The thumb of his other hand was absently rubbing against her Gaea mark, sending tingles along her nerves.

She shook as the sensations rolled over her body. “Wow. I’ve never...Annos, I don’t even know how to explain that.”

Keenan’s eyes glowed in the fading light. “I wondered if you felt it too. Whenever I accidentally touched your hip, I would get little jolts like lightning. And then, when we were sitting together after the movie, I couldn’t seem to stop myself from touching you.”

“I wonder what it means.” Sera whispered as her lips touched Keenan’s. Bright light exploded behind her eyelids.

Keenan pulled back, resting his forehead against hers as they tried to catch their breath. “I don’t know, but I really hope we can explore it and figure it out.”

Sera took a deep breath, meeting Keenan’s gaze. “I’d like that. Just…”

“Don’t worry, Angel. This is your show.” Keenan pulled her close, shifting until she was lying under him on the sand. “I love you, Sera.”

“Love you too.” But for some reason when they kissed, a small nagging voice in her head told her Keenan wouldn’t be patient forever. Maybe it was because she knew what would happen if things didn’t change. There was someone, besides Amy, who was more than willing to be all Keenan wanted.

***


message 10: by [deleted user] (new)

Chapter Six

“So, how did things go on Annodox?”

Sera grinned at her therapist, Ginevra Kelly. “It was the best weekend I’ve had in a long time.”

Gin smiled back. “That’s good.”

“Yeah.” Sera shifted, tucking her legs up beside her on the couch in Gin’s office. “Oh, we got to see Loic.”

“How is the soci…um…how is Loic?” Gin coughed to cover her slip.

Sera laughed. “The sociopath is doing well. He’s moving to Wildwood, and…,” she paused, “he’s going to be Keenan’s mentor.”

“Whose bright idea was that?” Gin’s eyes widened in surprise.

“Kane.” They said at the same time.

Gin relaxed back into her chair, shaking her head. “Well, Loic does know a lot about Gaea abilities and how to work with them. He does spend a lot of time reading archaic texts. I just worry what else Keenan might learn.”

Sera nodded. “True, but I do know Loic wouldn’t do anything to hurt him. He might rough Keenan up a little and make him question Loic’s sanity or even Kane’s for pairing them up. Even though Loic isn’t exactly considered sane, he’s always been good to me.”

“Yes, he has.” Gin reached over and picked up her tablet from the table beside her chair.

Sera couldn’t decide between rolling her eyes or sighing. She settled for resignation as she watched Gin tap the screen with her stylus. But Sera wasn’t exactly prepared for the first question.

Gin looked up, her face carefully neutral, meeting Sera’s gaze. “You said you had the best weekend in a long time.” Sera nodded, biting her lip as she waited for Gin to continue. “Did you and Keenan have sex?”

Sera’s mouth dropped open and she felt her face heat up. Then she tried to answer. Her jaw moved up and down, but words would not come out.

Gin tilted her head, slight curl to one side of her lips. “Sera?”

“No!” Sera closed her eyes and dropped her head forward. “Well, not exactly. Holy Annos.”

“I’ll take that as a maybe.” Gin made a note on her tablet.

All Sera wanted to do was sink into the couch and disappear. She should have known where this session was going to go. Traumatized for life. Yep, that’s how Sera felt. It didn’t help that the rational side of her brain told her it was okay to discuss this subject with her therapist. It was the fact that Sera considered Gin family that made her cringe.
****
Keenan was standing in Alchemy’s studio, wondering why he was there. It wasn’t like he’d never been there before, but usually he knew why. This time he was clueless and confused. The tapping of Al’s foot on the floor behind him didn’t help.

“Al, I don’t…” Keenan turned around and almost screamed. Alchemy was standing directly behind him. He stepped to the side as she moved past him.

Her hands were fluttering as she started talking, gesturing to the canvases around the room. “Look. None of this makes any sense. All of these,” she pointed to the right side of the room, “I did this summer. These,” she turned to the left, “I did Sunday night when we got back from the island.”

Keenan moved closer and looked at Alchemy’s work. The ones from the summer were nothing but swirls and disjointed images. The new ones were of an island. He knew it wasn’t Annodox Island. It looked like it had once been a city and nature was reclaiming it. The swirls were still there, but this time letters filled the spirals. K and Q were repeated over and over.

When he met Al’s gaze, the worry he’d been feeling for weeks intensified. “What does this mean? Is it about Kaz and Quinn?”

Alchemy’s shoulders slumped and she sighed. “I don’t know. I think so, but I don’t know. And I don’t want to tell anyone in case my Time sensing abilities are on the fritz.”

“For now, let’s keep this between the four of us. You, me, Jute, and Sera. Until we can figure out what it means, we don’t want to alarm anyone.” Keenan wrapped his arms around Al. She shivered and nodded against his chest.

Was something going on with their brothers? And if so, how were they going to find out for sure?
* * *
Sera was sitting in Greene Beans with her head resting on her hand and a quadruple espresso steaming in a cup on the table. The session with Gin hadn’t been brutal, but it had been close. And embarrassed didn’t even touch the squirming-want-to climb-out-of-her-skin feeling Sera had experienced.

This had been the first time Sera had ever felt that way talking to Gin. It was weird because she’d always been able to tell Gin anything. No matter how good or bad.

The sigh that escaped her lips was sad and tired sounding.

“Angel?” Sera turned her head. Wayde was sitting across from her. He smiled. “Everything okay?”

Sera snorted. “No. I mean yes. But also no. I don’t know. It’s been a bad afternoon.”

Wayde sat back and sipped from the cup in his hand. “Keenan or Gin?”

“Gin. And please don’t ask.” She groaned, picking up her cup and wincing as the bitter hotness touched her tongue. “I just want to forget for a while.”

“Ah.” Wayde nodded. “From watching you and Keenan since you got back from the island, I would say things have changed somewhat for the better. But you’re still holding back.”

Sera glared at him. “You know me far too well, Mr. Knight.” She waited until he stopped laughing to continue. “Yes, something happened. And no, it’s not what you’re thinking so get your mind out of that gutter.”

Wayde leaned across the table and took her hand in his. “Stop thinking so hard. I can see that you and Keenan are perfect for each other. Just trust him.”

“I’m scared.” Sera whispered.

“I know. It’s okay. But you need to decide if fear or trust is going to rule your relationship.” Wayde stood and walked around the table, giving her a hug and kiss on the head. “Just think about it, Angel. And if you need to talk, call.” He winked and was gone.

Sera sipped her espresso. Wayde was right. And obsessing over it wasn’t going to help. But she knew exactly what she needed to do. Draining her cup, she carried it back to the counter and ordered another to go. She was going to need it. Tonight was going to be a long night of designing.

It might not make sense to some people and they might say she was avoiding the issue. But drawing, creating new pieces for Trillium Angel, was sometimes more therapeutic than her sessions with Gin. At least while she was focusing on the designs, the rest of her mind was working on everything else.

***


message 11: by [deleted user] (new)

Chapter Seven

Keenan stared at the message on his phone. Ben was waking up. Alchemy and Jute had taken off to the island to support Hyacinth and Rowan. Keenan knew how close Ben and Rowan were, and he was happy that the man who had brought music into all of their lives was healing.

Smiling at a new text, a picture of Alchemy, Rowan, and Darien, Keenan wasn’t paying attention to where he was going and almost fell when he walked into a brick wall that had suddenly appeared in the middle of the sidewalk. A firm grip on his arms kept him from landing on his ass. Shaking his head, Keenan blinked and looked up.

Groaning when he saw the smirk on Loic’s face, Keenan quickly glanced at his phone before shoving it in his pocket. “Loic, when did you get here?”

Loic tilted his head. Keenan squirmed. He felt like he was some strange new animal being observed by a mad scientist.

“I arrived last night. Thankfully, Kane allowed me to stay with him. And, luckily, I was able to find a place to rent just a few short minutes ago.” He held up a key ring in front of Keenan’s face.

“Cool.” Keenan was happy his mentor had found a place to live. He was just a little worried about Loic fitting into life in Wildwood.

Loic stepped back and gestured toward Greene Beans. “Join me for a coffee.”

It wasn’t a question. Keenan nodded and walked into the warmth of the coffee shop ahead of Loic. They placed their orders and picked up steaming mugs before finding a table in one of the corners.

Sipping from his cup, Keenan jumped when his phone vibrated in his pocket. He pulled it out and looked at Loic. “Sorry. It’s Sera.” Keenan sent off a short text letting her know he was at Greene Beans with Loic. He shook his head when she sent back a smiley face with wide eyes and open mouth. At least one of them was enjoying this.

“I’m wondering if you are just avoiding asking all of the questions I can see in your eyes or if you are afraid to ask them.” Loic picked up his cup, sighing after he swallowed the dark brew. “Kane was right. The coffee here is amazing.”

Keenan glanced toward a nearby window. He loved the fact that much of the original church stained glass had been refurbished after the battle destroyed the original windows. Biting his lip, he knew he should just get it over with and ask the questions tumbling around in his head. “So, where will you be living?”

The smile should have been a clue, but Keenan wasn’t paying attention. “I’m going to be living on the corner of Ash and Ravens. Apparently, your family’s home is the one I can see from my back deck.”

Well, that kind of answered one of Keenan’s questions. He was probably going to see a lot of Loic. “Great.”

Loic chuckled. “Don’t worry, Keenan. I still have to get settled into my new job before we start working together. But, probably not long after the first of the year, I’ll have a schedule for you.”

Keenan tried to smile. At least he hoped he smiled. It wasn’t like life wasn’t already complicated enough and now he had mentoring to deal with. Why couldn’t Quinn and Kaz have gone to school here at the University of Iowa? Then it hit Keenan - job? What job?

“Job? What are you going to be doing?”

“I am going to be assisting Dr. Reid with the Recordkeeping. I will also be continuing the project I was working on while on the island. I have been transferring some of the older texts and histories of the Annos and Gaeas into an online library.” The matter of fact way Loic said all of this raised more than a few alarms in Keenan’s mind. But he stopped short of asking when he caught the very subtle gleam in Loic’s eye.

“Oh. Sounds interesting.” Keenan’s phone vibrated in his pocket again.

Will explain in more detail when we are in a more private location.

Keenan nodded. Message received. Yeah, life was about to become way more than complicated.
* * *
Sera danced around her room. Several things had given rise to her impromptu happy dancing. Alchemy was excited about Ben Larabee waking from his coma. Kane was going to be in Wildwood for Christmas and her birthday. Loic had arrived. And, from the text she’d received, Wayde and Rowan were moving in the right direction.

She had plenty to be happy about. Now, if she could get out of her own way, she would be able to add Keenan’s happiness to the table. The long night of designing had been a welcome relief to her worries. It had also gone a long way in helping her decide she wanted to be with Keenan. She wanted to take the next step in their relationship.

The only problems were how and when. Sera spun around, singing along with Patty Smyth and Scandal’s Goodbye to You, when she noticed the time on her clock.

“Crap.” She hurriedly shut down her iPod and slipped her feet into a pair of Vans while grabbing her jacket and bag. Noella had called earlier to let her know the latest shipment from Trillium Angel was due that afternoon. And Sera wanted to be there. This was the largest order from Thistle, and she felt she should be there when it was revealed.

Snorting in laughter at herself, Sera tripped down the stairs. She was home alone more these days with OTP open longer hours, and Nila winding down classes at the university and getting her office ready for a long holiday break. Nila and Gin had decided to give everyone who worked for them a longer vacation as a thank you for all their hard work. They had also set up an emergency line for all of their clients.

Sera couldn’t wait for Christmas. It had always been all about family and this year would be the first that she, Ric, and Kane would all be together since her mom’s death. She felt a slight twinge in her stomach, but a meaningful glance at the rainbow hued urn sitting on the mantle eased it. Her mom would always be with her.

Blowing a kiss towards the urn, she rushed down the back stairs, out the door, and up the alley. She had never been this excited about anything to do with the retail side of her business. But she wasn’t prepared to see Amy, Chelsea, and their gaggle hanging out in front of Thistle when she rounded the corner.

Amy hadn’t gone out of her way to be mean since Wayde and Keenan had taken her to task. But Sera knew it was only a matter of time before she retaliated in some way.

“Well, if it isn’t our own little girly boy.” Why was it the first thing that came to mind when Sera heard Amy’s voice was the evil step-sisters from Cinderella?

“Maybe it’s looking for something to wear.” Chelsea’s voice was almost as bad as Amy’s.

“I doubt Thistle has anything ‘appropriate.’”

The other girls snickered like bad cartoon evil doers.

Sera took a deep breath, but before she could say anything someone else spoke up.

“At least she looks better in the Trillium Angel skirt and sweater she’s wearing then any of you did trying on the same outfit.” A young man, not much taller than Sera and with dark blond hair, stepped out from behind Amy’s group.

She knew her eyes had widened in recognition. What the heck was he doing here? “Berke, what are you doing here?” Sera was more surprised by the hug he was giving her than his words. They had met a few times when Keenan and Berke had dated the summer Sera moved to Wildwood. Berke had always been nice, but Sera had felt like he didn’t want her around.

“Just visiting with my aunt and doing some last minute Christmas shopping.” He smiled at her as he looped their arms together, gently easing her around the mean girls and into Thistle. “It also looked like you needed a friend. Does Keenan know what Amy’s up to?”

Sera smiled. “Thanks, and yes, he does. She just never learns.”

“Girls like that never do until they’re hit upside the head with a shovel.”

Laughing, Sera hugged Berke. She might not feel totally safe knowing he was running around Wildwood because of his connection to Keenan. But Berke had never been mean to her. And she knew Keenan loved her. But a small bit of worry wiggled its way into her subconscious. Hopefully when Wayde got back to town, she’d see if he’d help her figure out how to achieve her goal of being with Keenan.

***


message 12: by [deleted user] (new)

Chapter Eight

Sera was surrounded by mounds of wrapping paper. How did she get conned into wrapping not only her presents, but also Wayde’s and Alchemy’s? She glared at the bright, happy mass. “They owe me. Big time.”

Reaching out, she found her iPod buried beneath fluffy layers of ribbon. She sighed as she put in her earbuds, scrolled through her playlists until she found exactly what she was looking for, and hit play. She could make it through this joyful insanity with Tchaikovsky and one of her favorite ballets.

Wrapping gifts was like creating designs. Sera could do it on auto pilot while her mind focused on other things. At least Wayde had agreed to help her with her plan to take her relationship with Keenan to the next level. And somehow, he’d convinced Kane to let her and Kee have his house on Annodox to themselves for New Year’s.

The sweeping melodies carried Sera back to the last time she’d seen The Nutcracker. It had been one their last outings before her mom had died. Even though Fina had been frail, she walked into the auditorium are graceful and regal as ever. Her long black dress hung on her thin frame and the turban she wore to cover her bald head had been embellished with crystals, but Delfina Cuocco had still been stunningly beautiful.

Sera smiled through the tears filling her eyes. Maybe she could convince Alchemy to go with her to see it sometime. Making new and happy memories was something Fina would have wanted. Fumbling behind her, Sera found the box of tissues hiding under her work table.

Losing herself in the music more, recent memories surfaced.

“Come on, Kane. The show’s about to begin.” Sera yelled as she settled down on a cushion in front of the television. She could hear snippets of Kane’s conversation. His latest boyfriend didn’t get it. Saturday and Sunday nights were reserved for Sera. Kane’s “date night” was Friday. How hard was this to understand?

Sera sighed and scooped up a handful of popcorn. She shook her head as she heard Kane’s footsteps coming down the hall. She wanted to laugh though when she heard the exasperation in his voice.

“Reg, I told you when we started dating that once X-Factor began, my Saturdays and Sundays were strictly to be spent with Sera. This is something we’ve been doing for years and it’s not going to change because of you.” Kane slid down onto floor beside Sera. He rolled his eyes and she had to cover her face to keep Reg from hearing her laugh.

“Look, old man, if you don’t like it, you know where the door is.” Kane hung up, turned his phone off, and pitched it onto the couch behind him. He turned to look at Sera whose eyes were wide with surprise. “What?”

“Wow.” She grinned.

Kane’s cheeks flushed red. “Shut up.”

Sera laughed. She was going to miss this when she moved to Wildwood. But at least she still had another year and a half before she would be moving. Ric had to finish remodeling the restaurant he was opening and the apartment above it before she could move. Well, she could move sooner. There was someone she could stay with.

She shook her head. The dreams had become more real over the past few months. Sera rubbed her right hip. Around the time my Gaea mark appeared. The opening for X-Factor pulled Sera away from her thoughts. All thinking about the appearance of her mark did was make her think of losing her mom.

Kane bumped his shoulder against hers. “Who do you think’s going to win?”

“I know who I want to win, but I don’t think it’s going to happen.” Sera shrugged.

“Ah, the boy band.” Kane caught the popcorn Sera threw at him. “They are a cute bunch of lads, and they can sing. Maybe something good will happen for them.”

Sera smiled. She thought about the dream from the night before, and if that crazy painting was real, then yeah something good was going to happen.


Had it really been three years since she and Kane had watched five young men be voted off X-Factor only to become one of the biggest boy bands in the world? Sera chuckled at her thoughts and the fact that she’d seen One Direction in concert perhaps one too many times.

Glancing down, she realized she had almost finished Alchemy’s stack. In her hands was the last one and that was quickly wrapped. Sera stood and stretched before bending back down to pick everything up and move it off to the side. She thought briefly of sending Alchemy a quick text, but decided to wait until she was totally finished.

She ran down to the kitchen and debated going out to Greene Beans or just using the one cup coffee maker. If she left, she would not want to go back to wrapping gifts. Why did everyone wait until the last minute? She’d had hers ready the day after they’d put up the rainbow hued monstrosity of a tree sitting in front of the living room window that looked down over Wildwood Avenue.

Knowing it would be better to get this job finished as quickly as possible, she plucked one of the convenient single serving cups out of the rack on the counter and plopped it into the machine. Once it was done, she picked up the cup and took a sip. It wasn’t as good as a four shot espresso from GBs, but it wasn’t awful.

Sera grimaced when she stepped back into her room. The place was a disaster area. At least she’d made them fill out the labels for the gifts when they dropped them off. One less thing she had to do.

Folding back down to the floor, she sat her cup close, but not too close. Spilling it all over the paper strewn about was not something she wanted to clean up. She scrolled through her playlist again, stopping on Midnight Memories. If she was going to get this done quickly, she was going to enjoy herself.

She let the fun upbeat melody of Best Song Ever pull her into another world.

* * *
Keenan was attempting to wrap the present he’d gotten for Sera. Yeah, this was definitely not his forte. He wondered if he should just give in and go to The End bookstore and find a gift bag. It would make the process so much easier.

“How the hell do people do this for a living?” He ripped the paper off, balled it up, and threw it across the room. Conceding defeat, he rolled off his bed and slid his feet into his shoes.

The walk was going to be cold, but maybe seeing the neighborhood decorated for the holidays would remind him why he was doing this. At least he had his iPod. He put in the earbuds and hit play. He didn’t care what was playing. All he wanted to do was get there and back.

He stopped in his tracks when What Makes You Beautiful filled his ears. He smiled. Ducking his head down, he hoped to keep anyone from seeing the goofy look he knew was on his face as he remembered the first time he’d seen Sera.

Sitting with Alchemy was the most beautiful girl he’d ever seen. The way the sun danced around her head created a halo effect, and her smile was one of genuine happiness. Keenan shook his head and the glow around her had dimmed. It was still there, but it wasn’t as mind-bending as it had been.

The blonde girl was very pretty, but the epic poetry that had filled his head about her had diminished. Keenan was also rethinking taking that online summer English class. He’d be better off spending all his time skating. At least then he wouldn’t be tempted to pen some gods awful poetry.


By the time he’d reached The End, he was happy. Thoughts of Sera always made him that way. He knew he had it bad for her, but he didn’t care. He could easily imagine them being together forever. Another memory of that first meeting assailed him as he looked through the holiday gift bags located in the middle of the store.

Hey, Keenan, come here.”

The sound of Alchemy’s voice pulled him out of his thoughts. He turned and plastered a smile on his face. “Hey, Al. What’s up?” He moved closer to their table.

“Sit down.” She motioned to one of the other chairs and smiled at the other girl. “Boys.” They both laughed.

Keenan wanted to walk away, but knew that wasn’t an option. He pulled out a chair and sat down across from Alchemy.

“Keenan, I would like to introduce you to my friend, Sera Cuocco. She just moved here from London.”

Sera smiled and Keenan was lost. “Hello, Keenan. It’s a pleasure to meet you finally. Alchemy has told me a lot about her friends here in Wildwood.”

The soft British accent sent shivers down his spine. He so wasn’t ready for this reaction, with anyone. But here it was and there wasn’t much he could do about it.


The soft touch of a hand on his arm startled him out of his thoughts.

“I’m sorry, Keenan. Didn’t mean to surprise you.”

He blinked away the memories to focus on Ginger Anderson, co-owner of The End. “No. I’m sorry. I got lost in my thoughts.” He shrugged, hoping to hide his embarrassment.

Mrs. Anderson grinned at him and patted his arm. “I understand, dear. I remember what it was like to find that special someone.” She leaned close and whispered, “And, yes, I believe Sera is perfect for you.”

Keenan knew his face had gone red. He could feel the heat, and the chuckle from Mrs. Anderson was telling. He coughed. “Yeah, Sera is amazing. Now, if I could just find the right bag to put her gift in, I’ll be happy.”

“Don’t worry. I’ll help you. And I’m pretty sure none of these will do. Come with me.”

He had the oddest feeling as he followed the older woman to another section of the store. Maybe he had made the right decision after all.
* * *
“Done. Thank the Annos.” Sera rubbed her hands on her pants after she put the last roll of wrapping paper back in the plastic storage container.

Walking over to her desk, she picked up her phone and sent messages to Wayde and Alchemy. She moved over to her bed and flopped down. She was exhausted and a large coffee would be awesome, if she had the energy to drag herself down to Greene Beans.

She laid there and waited for her mind to kick in, but thankfully, it kept quiet. She didn’t remember falling asleep, but the alluring aroma of freshly brewed coffee pulled out of the dark. Blinking, she yawned and pushed herself up on her elbows. The dipping of the mattress caused her to glance to her right.

Wayde was sipping from the familiar GB cup, staring at her while holding out another to her. “I thought you could use this.” He grinned.

“Oh, this is heavenly.” She sighed after taking a long drink from the cup. She shot him another look before leaning over and kissing his cheek. “Thanks.”

He wrapped an arm around her shoulders, hugging her close. “You are most welcome, Angel. And thanks for the advice.”

Sera bumped against him. This was what the holidays were supposed to be about. Friends, family, and love.

***


message 13: by [deleted user] (new)

Chapter Nine

Sera packed the rest of the things she was taking to Annodox Island in her small suitcase. Shorts, T-shirts, and a couple of swimsuits was all she needed. Now, if she could just follow Wayde’s advice, everything would be fine. She hoped.

Running into Berke that day had helped cement her plan. Sera knew Keenan had sought the other boy out when she’d pushed him away last year. But Keenan didn’t know she knew what happened, and it wasn’t like she’d had a choice in how she found out. When Keenan and Berke were intimate, her dream walks dragged her to those moments.

Shaking her head, Sera couldn’t think about any of that or she’d talk herself out it. She closed her bag, zipping and lifting it off the bed. She set it near the stairs. She’d carry it down later. Sera moved back to her desk. Maybe she could work on a few things for Trillium Angel she’d been putting off.

It wasn’t until her phone almost vibrated off her desk that she realized a few hours had gone by while she was immersed in the business side of things. Picking it up, she grinned at the text message from Wayde.

Don’t forget. I want details when you get back.

No. It’s bad enough I talked to you about it in the first place.


She added a picture of herself scowling.

Wayde’s response was a photo of him with his signature smirk.

Everything will be fine, Angel. Just feel. Don’t think.

Sera sniffed. She was not going to cry just because Wayde Knight knew her so well. She put the phone down and stretched her arms over her head. Maybe a nap would be good. She, Ric, and Nila would be heading over to Keenan’s a little later, and she would need her wits about her to keep up with Sorcha, Bowie, Cotton, and Agave. Those four younger sibs were dangerous when they got together.

Putting her computer to sleep, Sera pushed away from the desk, stood, and walked to her bed. She yawned as she curled up on the mattress, tugging a blanket around her. A brief thought that she should have texted Keenan or Alchemy dissolved quickly as sleep pulled her under.

Opening her eyes, Sera looked around. Where the heck was she? She’d never been here and she knew why. Ruthenium. She could almost taste it in the air, but it wasn’t having any major affect on her. Which was weird. She’d encountered ruthenium before in the dream state, and it had not been pleasant.

As she took in her surroundings, she wondered if the lush, green and brown landscape had anything to do with it. She shivered in the cool night air and tingles danced along her arms. The movement of air around her told her she had her wings for a change. She’d been kind of surprised to learn that her wings didn’t always appear in the walks.

For them to have appeared must mean this walk was going to be difficult. Someone had called her. Someone in pain.

Sera swallowed around the lump in her throat and gingerly took a step forward before she was swept away on the air currents. Then she stopped. She was in a ruthenium lined cell and almost threw up from the strength of it.

A figure stepped out of the shadows, gripping her shoulders. “Sera, what are you doing here?”

Her eyes widened as she looked up into the haggard face of Keenan’s brother. “Quinn! Oh, my gods, what’s…”

He gave her a little shake. “What are you doing here?” He frantically glanced around. “It’s not safe for you to be here.”

“Quinn, this is your dream state. You have to invite someone in or that person must be a dreamwalker, like me.” Sera raised her hand, touching his chest. “Where’s Kaz? And what is this place?”

She could feel Quinn’s heart beating rapidly in his chest and the stuttering inhale filled her with concern. Sera watched his eyes dart around before he pulled into the dark corner he’d been hiding in.

“You have to get out of here. It’s not safe.” Quinn leaned close and whispered in her ear. “Tell Raiden and Lucas that…no…don’t tell anyone you saw me. It’s too dangerous. And don’t come back. No matter what. Do not come back here.”

Sera didn’t have chance to respond before Quinn pushed her out of his dream with a force she’d never experienced.


She gasped awake. Her whole body was shaking and she could feel tears on her cheeks. “Holy crap. Someone has Kaz and Quinn.”

Tumbling out of bed, Sera staggered to her desk, falling into the chair as she picked up her phone. It buzzed in her hand before she could do anything. Staring down at it, she had a message from Alchemy.

We need to get with the boys and talk ASAP. When are you going to Kee’s?

Soon. What happened?

I’ll show you when I see you.

Yeah, I need to tell you something too. See you in a few.


Dragging a hand through her hair, Sera had a feeling Alchemy knew about Kaz and Quinn, too. But who could they tell? And why was Quinn so adamant no one find out?

* * *
Staring at the small, silver, velvet bag, Keenan really hoped Sera liked his gift. He was nervous. The only thing keeping him from having a full blown panic attack was the fact Sera wanted to wait until they were on the island before exchanging gifts. Which was fine with him. And since they were also going to be there for her birthday on January first, he had two presents tucked away in his suitcase.

His phone rang. “Jute, what’s up?”

“Where are the kids?”

“In the basement, why?” Keenan was confused. “Jute, what’s going on?”

“Can’t explain. Alchemy and I will be up in a few minutes.”

Keenan walked over to his window and looked out. Jute and Alchemy were standing beside Jute’s truck in his driveway. “Jute…” The phone was silent as he watched them pull a large covered rectangle out of the back. “That has to be one of Al’s paintings. What are they doing?”

He could hear them coming up the stairs and was about to move toward the door when he saw Sera jump out of Ric’s car and run into the house. Keenan’s door swung open before he had a chance to gather his scattered thoughts.

Alchemy and Jute leaned the large canvas against the wall beside his bed and Sera rushed in, closing and locking the door behind her.

Stepping back, Jute sat on the edge of Keenan’s bed while Sera took his place beside Alchemy. The two girls leaned close and started whispering to each other. Jute met Keenan’s gaze and shrugged.

“Would someone, please, tell me what the hell is going on?” Keenan hadn’t spoken sharply or raised his voice, but the twin startled looks on the girls’ faces told a different story.

They looked back at each other and nodded. Alchemy pulled the cover off the painting and sat beside Jute. Sera had walked over and tangled their fingers together, pulling him closer.

Keenan stared at the painting. It was sectioned off into blocks with small vignettes in each. He moved closer until he could make out what looked like a stone wall with bars blocking a small window. One was the stark image of a metal framed bed with a thin mattress and cover laying on it. But it was the images of Kaz and Quinn that shocked him. Kaz had dark circles under his eyes and his face was gaunt. Quinn was thin and haggard. These were not the same guys who had left for Ireland at the beginning of June.

He could feel his mouth working, but nothing was coming out. Keenan sank down to the floor and looked up at Jute who was wearing a similar expression.

“I saw Quinn. I don’t know where he is, but it’s not a good place. There is ruthenium everywhere.” Sera’s voice was soft when she spoke. “He told me not to tell anyone and not to come back. But it wasn’t like going to wherever they are was my first choice. Quinn called to me. I don’t know what’s going on, but he’s scared.”

Keenan pulled Sera onto his lap, wrapping his arms around her and breathing in her soft lavender scent. He felt trapped by Alchemy’s painting.

“I painted this early this morning. I don’t even remember doing it. Heck, I don’t remember waking up and going to my studio. All I know is that I woke up on the floor in front of it.” Alchemy’s voice was shaky. It had to be just as hard for her to see her brother as it was for Keenan.

He looked up to see Jute holding Alchemy like he was holding Sera. He knew they couldn’t tell anyone. Not today. It was Christmas and they were leaving for the island after presents and dinner.

He took a deep breath. “We’re going to cover this back up and hide it in my closet. When we get back from the island, we’ll go over Sera’s dream and this again. Then we’ll decide who to talk to, and I’m thinking it won’t be the parents. We’ll have to talk to the rest of the Thirteen. They’re the only ones we can trust.”

“Yeah, that’s a good plan. We don’t want anyone to stumble across this. Are you sure it will be safe in your closet?” Keenan could hear the worry in Jute’s voice.

“Sorcha and Bowie won’t come in here while I’m gone. They like presents from the island too much.” Keenan tried to joke, but it came out flat. “We just have to get through the next few hours like nothing is wrong.”

All he could do was hope the mojo that was Annodox Island would help them deal with what they’d seen and come up with a plan for when they got back. He also wasn’t going to let it ruin Sera’s plans. This trip was for them to connect. At least, that’s what she’d told him. But he was worried. Where the hell were Kaz and Quinn? And who would do this to them?

***


message 14: by [deleted user] (new)

Chapter Ten

Feigning happiness and excitement had been more difficult than Keenan anticipated. By the time he, Sera, Jute, and Alchemy had reached the island, they were exhausted. Hyacinth was waiting for them when they stepped through the portal.

“You all look tired.” She moved back from hugging Jute.

Jute shrugged. “You know how it is with the kids. Cotton and Agave are bad enough on their own. Add in Bowie and Sorcha and it’s mayhem.” He gave her a smile.

“Well, I have plenty of gifts for you to take back for them.” Hyacinth patted Jute on the shoulder before turning to smile at Keenan and Sera. “Are you sure you two will be okay at Kane’s?”

Wrapping his arm around Sera’s shoulders, Keenan nodded. “We’ll be fine. Kane made sure the house was stocked, and it’s not like you’re that far away if there are any problems.”

A rattling sound signaled the arrival of one of the best ways to get around the island: the bike carriages. It was a good thing there were two, since Kane’s house was tucked away closer to the other side of the island while Hyacinth’s was closer to Pierre’s villa.

They loaded their things into the carriages, said their goodbyes, and headed off in opposite directions.

Keenan stared at the passing scenery. Everything was lush and alive. Bright greens, reds, yellows, and a myriad of other colors exploded from beneath the vibrant overhang of trees. Scents filling the air were a sensual olfactory delight.

He was surprised when they stopped in front of Kane’s house. It looked the same, but his stomach clenched in anticipation or some other feeling he couldn’t put a name to. When Sera’s fingers tangled with his, he relaxed.

Turning his head, he looked down into a deep purple sea. He started to speak, and thankfully, their driver called out “Have fun. Call me if you need a ride.”

Keenan grinned. “Come on. Let’s get comfortable.” Jeans and a sweater were good back home, but they were a bit too warm for the island. He grabbed their bags and followed Sera to the door.

The gentle sway of her hips always mesmerized him. No one, male or female, had ever affected him the way she did. There was something…he forced his mind to stop. If he didn’t, it would get bad.

Coming to an abrupt stop, Keenan almost tripped when he realized Sera was standing in front of the door watching him. It was the Wayde-like smirk she sported that sent shivers over his skin.

“What?”

“You were creating bad epic poetry again. Weren’t you?” The smirk morphed into a full on smile.

He shrugged. “Possibly.”

When Sera laughed, Keenan felt a peace settle over him. Yes, he was still worried about Kaz and Quinn, but until they could learn more, there wasn’t anything he could do. He was going to enjoy this time with Sera.
* * *
Changing into a pair of shorts and tank top, Sera stared at herself in the bathroom mirror. She had to remind herself of everything Wayde said to her. If Keenan loved her, it didn’t matter if she had all the correct anatomical pieces.

She jumped when an arm slid around her waist. She had been so lost in her thoughts that she hadn’t seen Keenan walk up behind her.

He kissed her cheek and then whispered, “Stop thinking so hard. You’re beautiful.” His gaze met hers in the mirror. “You are my beautiful angel.”

Melted was the only word that fit how Sera felt when he spoke. Keenan might not think he was good at stringing words together, but he knew exactly what to say and when. She turned and wrapped her arms around his neck.

She let out a little squeal when he lifted her to the counter and stepped between her legs. The kiss, when it came, curled her toes and set her nerves on fire. And for the first time, she didn’t freak out when her body responded. It might not be like she’d overheard other girls talk about, but Wayde had been right when he’s said to just let go and enjoy how it made her feel. And it made her feel incredible, almost invincible.

Keenan’s hands slid up her legs, around her hips, and up her back. She could feel the gentle strength in his touch. Shivers danced along her skin. The kiss deepened as she moved one hand to his waist, clutching the fabric of his shirt as she tried to pull him closer. When their bodies touched, they pulled out of the kiss, gasping and foreheads touching.

Slowly opening heavy eyelids, she stared into Keenan’s dark turquoise eyes. They reminded her of the ocean.

“Wrap your legs around my waist.” Keenan’s voice was raspy when he spoke.

She had done that to him she thought as she clung tight when he lifted her and carried her to the bedroom. Her inner cheerleader started dancing. Was she ready? Was anyone really ready for their first time? Did it matter? She loved Keenan. This was what she wanted. And to hell with self-doubt and the plans she’d made. Spontaneous. That’s what Wayde had said, “Just let it happen, Angel. Let it happen and enjoy.”

“Are you okay?”

Soft caresses and the catch she heard in Keenan’s voice pulled Sera out of the floating space she’d been in. She pressed a kiss to Keenan’s neck and his arm tightened around her. “I’m great. Why?” She shifted until she could look down into his face.

He brought a hand up, cupping her cheek. “Because you’re crying.”

She could see the worry in his eyes. Worry that he’d hurt her. She smiled. “I’m not crying because I’m in pain or anything. I’m crying because I’m happy. You were…amazing.” She bit her lip, suddenly feeling awkward and shy.

But then Keenan smiled back. “Good. I kind of got a little carried away there at the end.”

The blush that darkened his cheeks pushed away the creeping self-doubt that was trying to ruin this moment for her. “I think we both did.” She winked at him before shifting and resting her head on his chest, legs tangled together under the covers.

Sera closed her eyes. Here she was safe. Here she could let go of her fears and self-doubts. And for the first time since her mom’s passing, she felt complete.
* * *
Relaxed.

Satiated.

Holy Annos.

Shocked.

Amazed.

Wow. Keenan didn’t know how to react. He’d never felt all of these emotions at the same time. But he couldn’t let Sera know, even though it was best he’d ever felt in his life. All those self-doubts she’d shoved aside would rush back in because she would worry she’d done something wrong.

When she’d dropped the walls and let go, she had almost overwhelmed him. Somewhere deep in his mind, he’d hoped she would be uninhibited. He hadn’t expected practically hedonistic. The way she’d reacted to his touch had added to his excitement.

He was still trying to wrap his head around it when his stomach growled.

“I guess that’s our cue to get out of this bed.” Sera rolled away.

Keenan watched her move around, picking up their hastily discarded clothing and tossing his shorts at him. He eased up on his elbows as she dressed. He kept a close eye on her every movement. He really wanted to believe he hadn’t hurt her. He knew he’d gotten a little rough. But she pulled her pink lace boy shorts up and didn’t even wince. Maybe he was a overreacting, just a little.

She looked over her shoulder, catching him staring at her. “What?”

He shook his head. “Nothing. I just like watching you.”

This time her cheeks flushed pink, and she rolled her eyes. “Get up and get dressed or I’m not going to feed you.” She slipped his black T-shirt over her head. It barely covered her butt, but it looked…he was about to do it again. What was it about his angel that had him waxing poetic?

She disappeared through the door without a backwards glance, causing Keenan to chuckle softly. He swung his legs over the edge of the bed, reaching for his shorts. He pulled them up, standing to slide them up and letting them rest on his hip bones.

He straightened the bed covers before walking over to his backpack and taking out the silver velvet bag with Sera’s gift inside. It felt heavy in his hand like it was trying to tell him to give it to her already. Tossing it lightly in the air, he took a deep breath, nodding to himself as he caught it.

The scent of bacon filled the air as he headed toward the kitchen. He could also hear the sound of the island night creatures and crash of waves on the beach. Sera must have opened the sliding glass doors.

Kane had wasted no expense when he renovated his villa. He’d replaced the small doors that had originally opened from the family room out onto the patio with a wall of glass. The four doors slid open easily and tucked away into a pocket in the wall. When they were open, it was almost like they were living outside.

Even though the moon was waning, it illuminated the water. “We’re going to have to go for a walk after we eat,” Keenan said as he tore his gaze away from the lure of the beach.

He turned around to find Sera putting plates filled with bacon, eggs, and biscuits on the bar. A bowl of elderberry marmalade sat between the plates along with two large glasses of pomegranate juice.

“What’s that?” Sera pointed at the bag in his hand.

Moving toward the bar, he motioned to one of the stools. “Sit.” He stopped, standing in front of her. “Close your eyes.” He set the bag gently on the bar, careful not let it make any sound. Loosening the cord holding it closed, he reached in and pulled out the thin silver torc Sean had made for him on his last trip to the island.

Keenan slipped it around Sera’s neck, making sure not to give too much of its appearance away. It was perfect. Sean had done an amazing job creating the torc from Keenan’s limited description. He’d known what he’d wanted. He just hadn’t been able to draw or describe.

The torc was thin because anything too big would have distracted from the delicacy of Sera’s neck. The etched vine looked like it had been cast instead of painstakingly carved. But was the fragile looking raven and phoenix on the ends that had truly amazed Keenan.

From the moment he’d first seen it, he’d thought Sean should be a god. The man was incredibly gifted.

He took her hand and led her to the small bathroom off the family room. “Okay. Open your eyes,” he whispered in her ear. Biting his lip, he watched Sera’s reaction in the mirror.

Her hand was shaking when she lifted it, almost as if she was afraid to touch it. “Kee, it’s stunning.”

He let out the breath he hadn’t realized he’d been holding. She turned and kissed him. Then she shoved him out of the way. “Eat. I’ll be right back.”

He could hear her running down the hall and laughed. She was back before he’d gotten completely seated on the barstool, holding a small box in her hand.

“Your turn. Close your eyes.”

He felt his lips twitch but did as she said. She took his right hand in her and slid something over his finger.

“Okay. Open your eyes.”

She was still holding his hand when he looked down. On his middle finger was a wide band ring carved with a phoenix and raven. Apparently, they’d had similar ideas. He looked up and met her expectant gaze.

“I love it. It’s perfect.”

***


message 15: by [deleted user] (new)

Chapter Eleven

Waking up surrounded by warmth and cradled in strong arms, Sera wondered how she was supposed to go back to sleeping alone when they went back to Wildwood. She sighed. They only had one day left on the island, and it just happened to be her birthday. She was now seventeen.

And, if they didn’t get up soon, Alchemy would be barging in. She had planned the whole day. Breakfast, an excursion around the island, and lunch on the beach.

Sera sighed again.

“What’s wrong?” Keenan’s sleep roughened voice sent little shivers along Sera’s nerves.

“Alchemy’s big birthday bonanza.” Sera snuggled back against Keenan’s chest, and he tightened his hold. This was how she wanted to wake every day. But she was pretty sure Ric would freak out.

“We should probably get moving.” Keenan rolled onto his back. “She’s only in charge until lunch, right?”

Laughing, Sera shifted until she could meet his gaze. “Yes.”

“Good.”

She tilted her head, laying a hand against his stomach. “Why? You got plans or something?”

He looked up at her and winked. “Or something.”

I love you.

Love you, too, Angel.


They stared at each other. Sera knew it was possible to open a link and speak telepathically, and ever since their first night together, she’d felt the link between them growing stronger. But she hadn’t opened it, and she was pretty sure Keenan hadn’t either from the look on his face.

She had only ever voluntarily opened her link with Alchemy and Wayde. This was different. Could it be the island?

“You know it’s kind of weird to hear your thoughts.” Keenan’s voice was low and soft. She must have looked confused because he sighed and said, “Wayde.”

Feeling the heat rise to her cheeks, she rested her forehead on his chest. “Sorry. Wayde has always been like a brother. He and Ella have been the siblings I wished I’d had.” Soft caresses along her spine helped to ease some of the tension that had sprung up. Taking a deep breath, she concentrated on the link and closed off part of it. “Better?”

“Yeah.” Keenan gently cupped her cheek and tilted her head up. “And I understand about Wayde. I really do. I’m glad he’s always been there. I’m also going to have to thank him when we get home.”

“Thank him? Why?”

Keenan gave her a chaste peck on the lips. “For the good advice.”
* * *
Walking through the market, Keenan and Jute trailed behind Sera and Alchemy. It was just easier. Keenan had tried to suggest they sit and wait for them to shop or whatever it was they were doing. Yeah, that had gone over well. The glare he’d gotten from Alchemy would have eviscerated most.

He sighed as he watched the girls head toward a stall filled with colorful fabrics. Many of the colors Keenan was pretty sure didn’t exist in nature.

“How do you think they got some of those shades?” Jute’s voice was soft when he spoke.

“Probably something to do with the island.” Keenan looked around, watching people mill around the area. When he glanced back to the girls, he noticed them talking to who he guessed was the guy who ran the stall. Something about the man seemed familiar, but Keenan couldn’t figure out what.

He shook his head. He wasn’t going to worry about it. Not today. Today was all about Sera as far as he was concerned. It was her birthday.

He jumped when his phone vibrated in his pocket. Pulling it out, he looked at the text and smiled. It was a picture of him and Jute with the caption “bumps on a log.” Keenan lifted his gaze to Sera. She had her back to him.

Sneaky.

We’re almost done. As soon as I get this guy’s name, we’ll be heading back to Kane’s for lunch. Before you ask, I want his name so I can have Kane work out a deal for me to buy this fabric in bulk. If that’s possible anyway.


Keenan shook his head. Business on vacation. It was probably something he was going to have to get used to since her clothing line was steadily becoming more popular. He turned and looked at Jute who was staring at his phone.

“What are you doing?”

Jute looked up, biting his lip. “Nothing. Why?”

Keenan held his hand out. “Let me see.” When he looked at the image on the screen, he smiled. “Bro, you have it so bad for her.”

The photo was of Alchemy smiling. The only thing was that no one would know who she was smiling at unless they’d been there when it was taken. Keenan had scrolled through the images on Jute’s phone once. It was a good thing he and Alchemy were dating. Otherwise, it would have been almost stalkerish.

“Whatever. You have it just as bad for Sera.” Jute snatched his phone out Keenan’s hand.

Keenan shrugged. He did have it bad for her, and it had become more in the past few days on the island. All he could do was hope nothing interfered when they went home.

“Has Al had any visions since we’ve been here?” He asked quietly.

“Not really. Mostly just vague impressions. She’s filled up two sketch books and has started a third.” Jute’s brow wrinkled when he glanced back at the girls, who were now walking toward them. “I haven’t said anything. I wanted her to try and relax while we’ve been here. At least she’s been able to see Pierre and Ben. That’s helped.”

Nodding, Keenan watched the girls walk closer. “I’ll contact Luc. Hopefully, he’ll be able to offer some suggestions on what to do. I might also talk to Loic. The man is veritable font of knowledge.”

Sera and Alchemy were now too close to continue the conversation about Kaz and Quinn, and Keenan felt a little better for having a plan. Might not be the best, but it was better than nothing.

“Who’s hungry?” Sera’s eyes were bright with happiness.

Draping an arm around her shoulders, he smiled. “Jute is.”

Jute punched him in the arm while they all laughed. Yeah, this was better than worrying. And he could put that off for another day.


message 16: by [deleted user] (new)

Chapter Eleven continued…

Sitting on the beach later, after the craziest meal ever, Keenan couldn’t help but stare at Sera. In the few days they’d been there, her skin had taken on a soft golden glow. All he’d done was add to the freckles he already had. She had also gone from practically wearing a muumuu to shorts and bikini top.

As far as Keenan was concerned seeing her confident and not worried about what others would think was the best present in the world. Watching her and Alchemy walk the beach looking for shells was just a nice perk.

It also led his thoughts back to how things were going to be different at home. They wouldn’t be spending every night together. He was going to miss holding her as she drifted off to sleep. But he was pretty sure Ric would kill him if he spent the night.

“Hey!” He jerked when water splashed over his head. Blinking through the drops on his lashes, he couldn’t help but laugh at the innocent expression on Sera’s face.

“Oops…I didn’t see you sitting there brooding.”

Suddenly, his lap was filled with shells as she flopped down beside him. Snickers from nearby reminded him they weren’t alone and he couldn’t exactly pounce.

He took care to remove the shells and put them on a safe corner of the blanket. Sera had a huge collection in the house. It was another one of the things she and her mom used to do together. And Keenan was more than happy to keep doing it with her.

Just as he finished small boxes were tossed at him, Jute, and Alchemy. Picking one up, he turned to Sera. “What’s this?”

“I know the three of you have kind of been in seclusion from the Gaea world and I wanted to give each of you something that you would have gotten as kids if you didn’t live in Wildwood.” She made a gesture for them to open the boxes. “These are Marmaro.”

“They look like marbles. Ouch. Alchemy…”

“Shush and let her finish talking.”

Keenan had to bite his lip and look away to keep from bursting out laughing. Those two weren’t acting like an old married couple. They were an old married couple.

“They aren’t marbles. But they do react to your energy. I’m not the best at explaining what they can and can’t do. That’s why I have these.” She held out cards to each of them. “These will do a better job of explaining. I’ve had them for a while, and thought here would be the best place to give them to you.”

“You know,” Alchemy’s voice sounded like she was million miles away, “I remember these. Grandfather gave them to us when we lived in Japan. I think they might be in the house somewhere.” She blinked like she was coming out of a trance. “Actually, I think I might know exactly where they are.”

Jute’s expression was harder to define. It was almost as if he was trying to find a memory. “Sven has one of these in his office. I saw it a while back but didn’t really think anything of it. Huh…you know I’m kind of wishing we had an instruction manual for reintroduction into normal Gaeadom.”

Keenan could help himself. The laugh exploded before he had a chance to stop it. “Gaeadom?”

“Shut up.”

They all laughed. Keenan might have been dreading Alchemy’s plans, but the day had been pretty amazing.
* * *
Standing on the patio staring out at the sea one last time, Sera felt her energy connect with that of the island. She moved closer to the where the stone seamlessly merged with the sand. Her bare feet sinking down while the breeze whipped her hair around her head and teased the hem of her skirt. She was going to miss this when they went back to the cold in Iowa.

Closing her eyes, she took a deep breath before releasing the energy. She hadn’t felt this Balanced in a long time. She smiled when she felt the tendrils of Keenan’s energy reach out to hers. When his arms wrapped around her waist, she sighed and turned, resting her cheek on his shoulder.

“I don’t want to go home.”

His hands rubbed soothing circles on her back. “I know, but we have to. Maybe we can come back for a long weekend and spring break.”

Their bodies started to sway, almost as if they were dancing to the sounds of the night. What normally sounded like a cacophony of discordant music had somehow woven into the soft strains of an orchestra.

Keenan chuckled. “Now, who’s coming up with the bad poetry?”

“Maybe we should write a book.” Sera giggled.

He kissed the top of her head. “Did you have fun today?”

She gazed up at him. “Yeah. It was nice. I was a little worried knowing how Alchemy’s plans tend to go, but she did good.”

They smiled at each other letting the sound of the waves lull them back into their silent dance. Sera let herself completely relax. She and Keenan had moved beyond the boyfriend/girlfriend and were easing into the couple realm. The place where they were stronger together. This whole trip, while it had started out strained, had been the best idea ever.

Keenan’s soft touches sent shivers along her nerves. She kissed his neck and felt him shake. She pushed up on her toes. “This is our last night alone,” she whispered in his ear before slipping out of his embrace and running into the house.

She laughed as he caught up to her, picking her up and carrying her into their room. He tossed her on the bed and landed on top of her. The feel of their bodies pressed together and the kisses they shared burst into flame when the bond between them opened.

Sera pushed her hair out of her eyes as she rolled over onto her stomach. Keenan hovered beside her and flopped face down as she moved away.

“That was…”

“Intense.” They spoke at the same time.

She shifted slightly when his arm rested on her waist and he moved closer. She knew he was lying on his side when she felt the mattress dip. Her skin prickled when his fingers traced a path on her back.

“You have wings.”

“Yeah, in the dream state.”

“No, you have wings. Now.”

Sera struggled to make her limbs work and rolled off the bed. She walked toward the large ceiling to floor mirror across the room. She turned and looked over her shoulder. Her eyes widened. “I have wings. What the hell?”

“I don’t know. But they’re beautiful.”

She met his gaze in their reflection. She could tell he was entranced by the thin silver lines that formed the shape of wings on her back. She refocused on them, trying to figure out what it meant.

His hands on her shoulders forced her to look away. “Stop. It’s not something to worry about. We’ll get answers. Okay?”

“Okay.” She nodded. “But please, don’t go there. I can already hear it.”

She smiled when Keenan laughed.

“Already thinking of other things.” He took her hand, leading her back to bed. “Come on. Let’s get some sleep. We have an early start in the morning.”

She groaned. “Don’t remind me.”

But even as she settled into bed with his arms securely wrapped around her, Sera couldn’t stop wondering what all of this meant.

***


message 17: by [deleted user] (new)

And that is the end of Wildwood Dreams Season Four. Thanks for letting me share it with you. Hope you enjoyed it. Season Five began Monday (Feb. 3)and you can continue to read about Sera and Keenan at http://www.theravenscrossing.org/.


message 18: by Kaje (new)

Kaje Harper | 16515 comments Thanks West!


message 19: by [deleted user] (new)

You're very welcome. :)


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