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What started as a relaxing camping trip quickly took Dakota Pyne’s world for a spin, leaving her with heavy doubts of who she was. She finds herself being hunted as she’s thrust into the journey of discover, unraveling the mysteries of her past, learning of her destiny, realizing that nothing was ever as it seemed and yet exactly as it should be.

After that night, Dakota knew life wouldn’t be the same, that her path would forever be altered. But no amount of preparing could have readied her for what was coming.

Other worlds, dimensions, portals, vampires, and other creatures of the night… they were never folklore, never simple bedtime stories. They were the tales of the past, of the real world, told to her so that if she was ever discovered, she would be ready to accept the truth.

She’s a Half-Breed.

Want to help me create some buzz???

Follow me on Instagram at “MJTACKLESLIFE” and subscribe here. Once you have done both, send me a message on Instagram and I will send you the first 10 chapters of my Novel “The Half-Breed” to preview.

All previewers will be entered for a chance to win a free, signed hardback copy of my book!

The Half-Breed : The Beginning Of The End

I turned to walk away. “He is your son, you know.” I stopped just as the darkness of the corridor blanketed my face. “The child she bears? He is yours. And he will be afflicted.”
I felt my stomach curl into a ball. “What do you mean” I spat out between gritted teeth.
“The little boy is special. He will inherit from you both… if he lives.”
“He’s gonna be a jaguar and a wolf?” I’ve never heard of such a thing happening.
I turned and watched as she sashayed towards me. “And his body will be too weak to make it through childbirth. His heart will not be strong enough.”
“So he’s gonna die.”
She nodded slowly as she came chest to chest with me. “But he doesn’t have to. I could save him.”
“Perfect. And what do I have to do?”

 

November 30th– A Sunday

Hawthorne

 

 

If I get a chance, I’m gonna kill her. Maybe run a stake through her heart. Or drown her. If I watched more horror movies, I could figure out something more creative. I heard a man sigh and my eyes dragged themselves to the culprit.

I’m not sure which one I want to kill first. Her, or her boyfriend, the sun-tanned vampire. Didn’t she get that his ability to walk in the sun made him that much worse?

And what kind of name was Stone, anyway? Sounded like a nickname.

We sat around my fireplace and sipped coffee. At least Stone was good at faking enjoyment of the aromatic drink. He closed his intensely large eyes. “I love coffee.”

“Can you even taste it?” I asked, sipping mine thoughtfully.

Tammy turned to me and scowled. Her long black hair was so loose in that bun that strands toppled over her face with the movement. “Do you mind not being an ass?”

I ignored her. Mainly because I was pissed off, also because I know it drives her nuts. Stone smiled. “Yes, I can taste it. Not everything tastes like it used to, although I don’t really remember what much of anything tasted like anymore. Still, coffee is one of the few things that tastes the same dead or alive, from what I hear.”

“You don’t know from personal experience?”

He smiled. “I wasn’t alive when coffee, as it is known today, was initially discovered. I had my first taste of it from a traveler when I was young, but then it wasn’t called coffee, and the man didn’t roast them. But I do know vampires that were around when it became this,” he lifted his cup, “and many of them are addicted to it. They claim that it feels like a bridge to their former life.”

Tammy gave me a droll stare. “Satisfied?” Her dark eyes sparkled with amusement.

I turned back to Stone. “So why are you two here?”

He glanced at Tammy before turning back to me. He adjusted his posture and sighed. “That’s for Tammy to tell you. Not me.”

“Okay, so let me ask, why are you here, Stone? Why my sister?”

“Hawthorne, I swear to the gods—”

“I’m sorry, am I not allowed to ask my sister’s boyfriend questions? That’s against the rules now?”

“What’s your problem? I thought you’d at least appreciate me coming out to the middle of fucking nowhere to come see you.”

“Normally I would be, but not like this.”

“Like what?” My gaze roamed to Stone. “Oh, you racist asshole!” Tammy stood up and stormed out of my cabin, slamming the door so hard that it flew back open.

Stone grinned. “And I thought I was good at pissing her off.”

I stood up and looked towards the door. I should go after her. I should at least try to have a conversation with her. But I had a right to be angry with her. She has no idea how dangerous it is for Dakota to be around Vampires. She should have known how I would react. I’m Dakota’s bloodline guardian. Of course I’m gonna react badly.

But I’m Tammy’s brother, too. Should I have been more supportive? Maybe. I would have been if she were dating a Zeotheon, but no. She was dating a fucking vampire. I looked back to Stone. “Don’t touch anything. And if you so much as step foot off my property, I won’t hesitate to run a stake straight through your fucking heart.”

He seemed amused by this whole ordeal, which just irritated the hell out of me. “Wouldn’t dream of it, Thorn.”

“Don’t call me that. The only ones that can get away with that are my siblings.” Not that I liked it even then.

When I stepped out, I knew exactly what she had done. She shifted into her Hawk. She always did when she was angry.

Damnit. I really didn’t want to shift. I suck at conjuring clothes. I rubbed my face and growled before changing and taking flight.

It didn’t take long for me to find her, either. She was sitting in her human form, fully clothed, about a mile from my cabin. She looked like our little sister far more than I did. I still held the same features that showed my family came from the indigenous people of this land, but those two looked like they were full-blooded Haida.

I changed several yards away from her and attempted to conjure some semblance of clothing. They looked like they had been sewn by a toddler. I don’t think I’ll ever get a handle on clothes. I walked towards her loudly to allow her time to steel herself.

Instead, she got up and started walking away. “Tammy, will you please stop?”

“Screw you, Thorn.” She stopped and turned towards me. “How dare you tell me who I should and shouldn’t love!”

My mouth dropped. I stopped several feet from her and just stared. “You love him?”

She looked startled for a moment then rolled her eyes. “That’s not what I meant. You know what I’m saying. You of all people should understand that.” I took a deep breath and looked around nervously. Was there anyone out here? Anyone that might have heard that? “Oh, give it a rest. I didn’t say anything to expose your secret. And no one’s out here. No one’s gonna find out you’re gay.”

She said the last couple of words with the exaggeration of any irritated sibling. “You know, I love you, Tammy, but sometimes you can be a real ass.”

“Yeah, well, you started it.”

“You brought a vampire to my home, Tamara!” I pointed angrily behind me. My anger increased at the fact that he was there alone because Tammy had to react like a child.

She gasped. “Don’t you dare use that name!“

“What, your real name?”

“Fuck you, Hawthorne. And he’s not just any vampire. He’s helping me with Dakota.”

That made my hackles rise. “Why? What’s wrong with Dakota?” Gods, I’m gonna have to do some damage control, I can feel it.

Tammy looked up into the trees. “There’s a rumor.” She turned her head to look at me. “Okay, don’t freak out” Yeah, that phrase is gonna make me relax, “but… I think the vampires want her.”

How did she know that? How did she find out and how much information did she know? I had a sudden jump in my heart at the idea of Moiragetes hopping in right now and giving me some cryptic warning about keeping my mouth shut.

Tammy’s face scrunched up awkwardly. “You already knew that, didn’t you?” She pointed at me like a mother scolding her child. “You already know what’s going on!”

I know how this is gonna play out. She’s gonna want me to spill my guts, tell her everything I know. I put my hands up in defense. “Don’t Tammy. Please. I can’t tell you.”

She rushed me and punched me hard in the arm. “Tell me. Now!”

“Tell me what you know first.” I fought the urge to cringe and simply rubbed the soreness out.

“Why should I?” She folded her arms across her chest and scowled.

“Because I can’t tell you anything, Tammy. I just can’t.”

“Why, because Moiragetes told you not to?” She gave me a repugnant huff and rolled her eyes.

“No, because Dakota’s safety depends on it.” I half expect Moiragetes to show up by now, but he was nowhere to be seen. I can’t tell her what I know.

Especially if she’s screwing a vampire.

“Her mother is a goddess.” She paused and watched my response, which was lacking to say the least. “Which means she’s a key to the gateways. If the vampires get her, they’ll hand her over to Victoria and then she’ll have free range to go anywhere in the known galaxies. Am I right so far?”

Shit. “Yes.” I closed my eyes and tried to shake the feel of dread from my head. “That’s why I don’t want any vampires around her, Tammy.” I opened my eyes and stared at her. She just didn’t get it. She didn’t understand how dangerous it was for our little sister. “If he can be in the sunlight, that means he’s a direct descendant of Victoria, and she can control him. How do you know she’s not controlling him now just to try and get to her?”

She looked worried now, which was what I needed. I need her to understand how much danger our little sister was in. She swallowed hard. “Because he’s looking for the legend, so he can learn how to protect himself from her. Because he knows all of this and still they haven’t gotten her yet. If he was working for her, Victoria would have already taken her.”

There’s a reason why they call her the legend. He’s gonna be searching for a very long time, if he was really looking at all. He could be just telling Tammy that to throw her off. And who says they’re not waiting? They could be making sure that she is the one before they go and abduct her. Victoria has had a few mishaps lately trying to get off this planet. If I were her, I wouldn’t want to waste a bunch of energy on something that won’t pan out. And with how well Tammy’s taught Dakota to control her emotions, it would be hard to actually see any proof of what she was. “I don’t trust him, Tammy.”

She was desperate. I could see it as clear as I could see that birthmark on her neck. “Just try, Hawthorne. Try to not judge him before you get to know him.”

I took a few cleansing breaths and tried to see it from her point of view. “I will try. But if I think for a second that he’s gonna hurt her, I won’t hesitate to kill him.” And he wouldn’t be the first one I’ve killed on her behalf.

She smiled. “I know. You wouldn’t be able to stop yourself if you tried.”

That was, sadly, very true. “So, why are you here?”

She groaned and laughed. “Ah, our favorite god told me to be scarce for a couple weeks. I was obliged to listen, only because I thought he might wipe me out of existence if I didn’t.”

“Why? Does Dakota know you’re gone?”

“Nope. Told me that I needed to be gone so that she would run into someone, blah blah blah.” She sighed and twirled in the air. “Apparently her and her boyfriend are about to have a falling out and I can’t be there to comfort her when he breaks her heart.” She tried to act as if it didn’t bother her, but I knew better. Because anything that bothered me, bothered her, too.

“You want me to go check on her, don’t you?”

“Of course I do. Because I can’t go anywhere near her without little Moira getting his panties in a twist.” I swear, she has a death wish.

“Go back to the cabin, I’ll be back in a minute.”

“I don’t mean for you to go right this minute!”

I couldn’t help but chuckle. “I just need some alone time for a minute, alright?” I needed to calm down to be honest. My senses were on edge. I needed nicotine.

“Fine, you go do your loner thing, I’ll go spike my coffee.”

And she would, too. She started to walk away when I grabbed her arm. “Sis?” She looked at me and lifted a brow. “He’s pretty cute… for a vampire, at least.”

She smiled. “He is pretty adorable. He’s got the whole ‘pouty lip’ thing going for him.”

“And did I detect a slight dimple on his cheek?”

She laughed. “Yeah, you did. It’s hot isn’t it?”

“Is Stone his real name?”

She shook her head. “No. Victoria gave it to him when she met him as a little boy.” My confusion was obvious. “I don’t know the whole story, just that his family had been shunned from his home, this place that’s now part of South Korea, and his Dad used to make fake papers or something. I don’t know, but they escaped to Japan and his Dad would send him to the docks to try and sell fake family stones. The way he described them sounded kind of like family crests with the English.”

“Weird. So she changed his name to Stone?”

“She said she didn’t like his real name.”

“Why does he go by Stone? Why not his real name?”

Tammy sighed. “Because he fought her on the name so much that she put a curse on him. Now he can’t say his real name, no matter how hard her tries.”

That would make me hate her, too. Maybe he really is looking for the legend. “I’ll give him more of a chance, alright?” She kissed my cheek and thanked me before heading back towards my cabin. “And I better not walk into anything disgusting when I get back.”

She didn’t respond but I knew she heard me. I looked around, got my bearings and then headed to my hiding spot. A small shed that once used to house hunters in this area a long time ago. They didn’t come around anymore, thanks to me. I grinned at that.

Reaching inside the tiny shed, I grabbed a pack of cigarettes I hid for days that I was flying and wanted a smoke break. I grabbed the green lighter and lit the end.

“Never took you for a smoker.”

That deep, Scottish voice had me practically jumping out of my skin. “Zander, I swear to the gods, don’t sneak up on me like that!”

The man was way too adorable for his own good, and he knew it. “Sorry, love. Didn’t mean to startle you.”

He didn’t look sorry. He looked amused. I took a hit of my cigarette and blew the smoke out slowly as my mind raced with possibility. “How long have you been out here?”

He leaned against the tree behind him and smiled wide. Why wasn’t he wearing a shirt? He even had a little spattering of that strawberry blond hair right above his very low sitting pant line. Why did he have to be so hot? “Long enough to learn quite a bit about you and your sisters.”

I felt my heart race. I glanced around, seeing if Moiragetes was gonna pop out of nowhere and condemn me to a life of servitude. Either that, or some bad shit was gonna happen because of this. “Zander, please. Whatever you heard, you can’t tell anybody.”

“Which part? The part where your little sister is part goddess, or the part where you’re gay?”

My heart stopped. “Both.”

He seemed pleased by that. “I had a feeling you were in the game, ya know.” He mimicked swinging a bat.

I frowned. “You date women, I thought.”

Zander shrugged. “I date who I like, male, female… even an alien or two. Well, ’date’ is a bit of a stretch.” He pushed himself up from the tree and walked over to me. He seemed extremely… excited.

“Why are you grinning like that?”

“Because I wanna play.”

Play what? And if it’s what I think it is, why would he want to play with me? “Um… I can’t. I, I got this thing. With my sister. I need to go check on her.”

“Road trip?”

“No. Just me.”

“What if you try and do something stupid and I have to bail you out?” He was enjoying this. I could see it in his fantastic smile.

“You’re the irrational one, not me.”

“So not true. I’m wild, not irrational. You tend to let emotions control you, which is far more dangerous.”

“I do not.”

“Oh, really?” I nodded. “Then why haven’t you come out yet?” I looked away, wishing I could tell him all about my past, that he would understand. You can tell me on the road trip.

I whipped my head up, shocked.

What the fuck? Nobody could get into my mind. Not even my siblings. How could he not only speak to me telepathically, but also hear my thoughts? “Maybe if you’re a good boy on our trip, I’ll tell you.”

He turned around and headed towards my house. “Where are you going? And you’re not coming with me.”

We are going back to your cabin. And yes, I am.” I just shook my head and followed behind him. He’s gonna cause me a lot of grief.

December 2nd

SAGE

 

“You okay?”

Of course I wasn’t. “Yeah, I’ll survive.” I didn’t turn to look at her. Didn’t have the stomach for it.

“You’re not Fine, Sage.”

“No, but I will be.” I stared thoughtfully at the carving Hawthorne had started. Nothing but chipped wood at this point. A beautiful pine that smelled like Christmas. Sorrel loved Christmas, which always confused me, considering our Christmases usually consisted of whatever wild life I could catch and stories or songs I would make up to entertain my siblings.

I felt Denni moving closer to me. It made me extremely uncomfortable. “Talk to me, Sage.”

I laughed more venomously than I had intended. “Shouldn’t you be talking to Corey?”

“Sage, that’s not fair.”

“None of this is fair, Denni.” Not a damn little bit of this shit. “None of this should have happened.” I didn’t want to think of Sorrel anymore. I wanted the pain to go away. I wish I could switch off my grief. I cleared the lump in my throat as best I could. “So, how are you gonna find out who the father is without Corey knowing?”

“I can talk to Eric, see if he has some kind of potion or something that can—”

I turned to face her, cut her off before she said more than I was willing to deal with. “Don’t bother.”

“What do mean? Don’t you wanna know if you’re gonna be a father or not?”

“Not really.” That wasn’t an entire truth, but she didn’t need to know that. “Corey would be a better father than me, anyway. The kid’s gonna be better off raised by him than me. Your other kids would be better off with him, too.” Not to mention that Corey had always dreamed of a big family, had the chance at having one now, and was madly in love with Denni.

She looked like she had just bit into a lemon. “You don’t want to know if the baby is yours?”

Of course she wouldn’t understand. Hell, I didn’t even understand completely. “Denni, I just lost one brother, I’m not gonna lose another.”

“So you’d rather risk losing your child?”

“Ignorance is bliss. Isn’t that what they say? If you never tell me differently, I’ll never know, I’ll never be missing anything, will I?”

We stared each other down for a while. At least, it felt like a long time. The night had settled around us, causing the cat inside of her to peak through her eyes. Flickers of magic danced through them, and I knew then that her jaguar was pissed. “Wow. I would have never guess when I met you that you would be such a little pussy. Guess I picked the right brother, after all.”

That cut deep; deeper than I thought was possible. “Fuck this. I don’t need this on top of everything else that’s going on, Denni! My twin brother and his wife were brutally murdered only three and a half months ago, my nephew is traumatized and may never recover, and you choose Corey over me. So, what do you want from me? You want me to fucking cry about it?! I have worse shit to cry about than losing you.”

“We were never dating, remember? You had too much on your plate and didn’t want a relationship.” She looked away, steeling herself. It somehow made her petite frame larger when she did that. Maybe it was the jaguar. She looked back at me. “I didn’t choose him over you, Sage. You told me we would never be more than casual lovers. You encouraged me to go on a date with him! I can’t help that I ended up falling for him, alright? It wasn’t in the plans. Neither was me getting pregnant, but it happened.” The magic in her eyes died and I saw sadness take its place. “I want to know that you’re actually dealing with this instead of stuffing it all down like you normally do.”

I turned to head deeper into the forest. I just didn’t have it in me to deal with this shit right now. I just couldn’t.

“Sage, don’t walk away. Let’s talk about this. Please.”

“Just leave me alone, Denni.” Please. Just leave me alone. That’s all I’m asking for right now. I can deal when I’m ready.

She stopped following me, heard my thoughts clearly. Good. I had grown tired of talking. I’ve grown tired of a lot of things.

I wasn’t sure how long I stayed out there. Time seemed to be nonexistent as I sat there, forcing myself to hold back tears. I had found a place to sit and think, which was really the last thing I needed to do.

At one point, I thought I heard Hawthorne’s brother, James, screeching loudly into the night. Another time, I thought one of my fellow wolves had come out to check on me and left shortly after. Eventually, I decided to walk some more, walk deeper into the forest where I had never trekked. Somewhere that no one would find me.

That was when I came across something so magnificent, I thought maybe it had been a mirage. It was a pond, surrounded by lightning bugs and overgrown weeping willows. Deep purple and gold and blue flowers filled the bank of the pond and sparkled under the light of so many of those majestic insects. Despite the darkness around us, the pond seemed to glow, as if it had its own internal light. It was the strangest thing I had ever seen.

I waltzed through the flowers and brushed my hands against them. For a moment, thoughts of my troubles, of the overwhelming pain I felt, seemed to fall back, deep in the recesses of my mind. It was amazing to have a brief moment of peace.

I had made a full circle around the pond when the image of a woman formed in front of me, made of a multitude of tiny crystal blue lights. She was tall, with strong, sharp cheek bones and what I could only assume was dark brown hair. She wasn’t really there, just an image of a woman made by the energy of the gods. I knew that well enough.

All gods were intimidating, but she had something else that I couldn’t place. It felt worldly, earthly. She reached out to me and touched my forehead, and I could hear her in my mind. Close your eyes, Sage. I want you to see me.

So, I did. I could stay there and wallow in self pity and grief, or I could take this moment to let go, allow this goddess to help me, however she felt was necessary. I closed my eyes and felt myself drift into a blissful, comatose state. I was fully aware of the world around me, of reality, but I suddenly found myself in another dimension. A different state of being.

It was dark and light at once, life and death. The ying and yang that held the universe together. It was the energy of all things. And it was so overwhelming that I felt as if I might throw up. The darkness became clearer to me then. Dark, shadowed caverns all around me with minimal light in the form of small torches that were spread too far to make it comfortable. Two corridors lay before me, neither one more welcoming than the other.

A shadow moved inside the corridor to my left. It was brief and indiscernible, but it left me cold and curious. I steeled myself as best I could. “Man up” as they say. I stepped into the darkness, allowed the dim light at the end to guide me. I had to use the damp, chilled walls to keep my balance from time to time since I felt as if I were tilting side to side ever time I took a step.

Thankfully the corridor wasn’t as long as it seemed. I rounded the corner rather quickly to find myself in a large expanse of a room. A woman knelt over a large plant, stroking the leaf with tenderness and whispered kindly to it before turning to another plant, even larger than the other.

I had a feeling the entire room was full of plants, although I couldn’t be quite certain, as the only light was from the torch on the wall behind me. And that left me with another question: how they could grow in this environment?

“They grow because I give them life.” The soft cadence of a voice echoed in the cavern around me. She stood slowly from her knelt position, lifting her hands to the ceiling and stretching them wide as a white orb formed above us. It brightened the room so much that i had to squint. Logic hadn’t escaped me. I was fully aware that I wasn’t in reality, but it didn’t stop my eyes from aching at the intensity of it.

Once my eyes adjusted, I was able to fully appreciate the room I was in. The ceiling was far too high to be touched by the light from her orb. Large trees and plants, bushes and even a stream flowed through the cavern so naturally, it seemed as if they had always been there. It reminded me of an oasis, but with plants from all over the world.

I thought I had heard birds, perhaps even a squirrel or two, but I wasn’t sure. I didn’t see anything moving within the miniature forest. I figured it would take several long minutes to walk through it all. “It’s far more than you see.” I didn’t even realize she had moved until she was standing next to me. She was tall and slightly curvy, with a gown so sheer that it left nothing to the imagination. I tried hard not to think of her breasts.

I forced my eyes onto her face. Her skin was golden and her hair a dark, chocolatey brown. Her eyes, they shimmered like liquid gold and amber. Her cheekbones swelled with a kind smile. I cleared my throat. “Um… nice show.” As soon as I said the words, my mind went south and I about choked on my tongue. “I mean the light. It’s neat. Not your breasts. Not that I was looking, I just didn’t want you to think I meant that.”

“Hush wolf.” Her voice was soft and dreamlike and she stepped closer to me. “I have felt your pain. You hide in the forest to release it.”

I stepped back. “I’m not hiding. And I’m not trying to release anything into the forest.”

“But you are. I feel your pain every time you go to the forest. You’re afraid of being seen as weak, but we are all weak, Sage. In one way or another, we have our weaknesses. Your weakness stems from your parents.” I watched her slowly, not agreeing or disagreeing, although I knew she was right. No. I just wanted to watch her, to follow her with my eyes and notice the subtle way her body moved and flowed.

She began walking through her miniature forest, marveling in her creations. “The world is old, Sage. Far predating your kind. The Zeotheons are old, but they are nothing compared to the age of others. The god that created you predates time itself. In a brief moment of nothingness, he could see the potential of the atoms. Of the protons and neutrons. He did not create all that you see, but he most definitely helped guide us all in creating it.”

She stopped and knelt between two bushes. She held her hand out and encouraged a large red flower to grow before her. She closed her eyes and whispered something to the plant. I believe I caught her saying something about a sacrifice before the flower and half of the stem fell softly into her open hand. She kissed the pedals and stood back up. “Do you ever take the time to think about your own sacrifices? What you have given up in order to protect those you love?”

“No. I just do it. I do what others won’t.”

She stood and walked towards me, still holding the flower in her hands. “You do what your parents failed to do, right? You play the mother, father, big brother, caretaker. Do you ever want to be happy?”

“Who says I’m not?”

She smiled and I found it wickedly seductive. “You cannot fool me, Sage. I, too, have given my happiness away for the happiness of others.”

“You’re a goddess of the earth, aren’t you?”

She nodded. “I am Pachamama,” the gold in her eyes lit up as her face grew more serious, “And you are here because I want you to help me.”

“And how could I possibly help you?”

“I cannot leave this place. I have bound myself here to protect those that I hold dear. Because of that, I cannot protect what is mine.” She handed me the flower. It looked like a mix of carnation and rose with a long, wiry stem and crooked leaves. “You protect mine, I will hold yours.”

“What do you mean by that? Protect yours? Hold mine?” I didn’t mean to sound frustrated but I certainly did. It irritated me that she was talking about my sacrifices and now she wanted me to add another one. “How about I decline? I’ve had enough shit happen.”

I turned to walk away. “He is your son, you know.” I stopped just as the darkness of the corridor blanketed my face. “The child she bears? He is yours. And he will be afflicted.”

I felt my stomach curl into a ball. “What do you mean” I spat out between gritted teeth.

“The little boy is special. He will inherit from you both… if he lives.”

“He’s gonna be a jaguar and a wolf?” I’ve never heard of such a thing happening.

I turned and watched as she sashayed towards me. “And his body will be too weak to make it through childbirth. His heart will not be strong enough.”

“So he’s gonna die.”

She nodded slowly as she came chest to chest with me. “But he doesn’t have to. I could save him.”

“Perfect. And what do I have to do?”

Her eyes sparkled once more, burned with their internal light. Her expression was severe as she reached up and graced my face. “You just promise me. Promise me that you will take care of my blood, and I will take care of yours.”

This could end bad for me. Most things do. “And who is it that I’m supposed to be protecting?”

“You will know when it’s time.”

I swallowed hard and closed my eyes tight. This just can’t be happening, can it? On top of all the other shit going on, now I had to make this decision. A decision I wouldn’t have thought I would ever be able to make.

Did I want the child to survive? Did I want the hassle of it all? “What if I think we will all be better off if he doesn’t survive.” I opened my eyes and looked up at a face ridden with sympathy. “What if I don’t want to deal with what might happen afterwards?”

“Do you want to be the cause of this child’s death?”

“I wouldn’t be the cause! He’s a afflicted, remember? That’s not on me, don’t try putting that on me!”

Her eyes flashed with magic. “You have a chance to save his life. If you choose not to accept, you will blame yourself forever. That’s not a threat. It’s reality, and you know I speak the truth, Sage.”

I wanted to scream. Maybe lay on the ground and throw a real tantrum just to express the emotions that were coursing through me. “And what happens if I agree, and I don’t keep my end of the bargain? Will the child die?”

“No.”

“Will I die?”

She stepped close and touched the stem of the flower. “Once an oath has been made, those matters are out of my hands. Fate decides.”

“Decides what?”

Her eyes blazed with a harsh honesty. “Fate will decide whose blood will be spilled to satisfy the oath.” Oh, this isn’t good at all. It’s so fucked up, I don’t even know what to think. I could die, my family members could die, or the baby could die. A baby that will die during birth.

A baby that Corey will be completely and madly in love with by then, who will be heartbroken at the death of the child he believes to be his.

Tears started to fall down my face, tears I hadn’t shed since the day I found Sorrel massacred on his living room floor. “Well, here’s hoping fate is kind and kills me if I fuck up.”

She smiled so wide it looked almost painful. Then I felt something sharp rake across my fingers. I looked down and released the flower that was in my hand and stared in awe while it floated in mid air and my fingers bled from a cut it had obviously given me.

Pachamama reached out and grazed her fingers along the leaf and slit the tips of her fingers. “It must be bound with blood.” Then she took her left hand and interlaced it mine so abruptly, it almost knocked me to the ground. “Now we pledge to each other, Sage.”

 

I woke up on the ground, next to the pond. The lightning bugs had settled down and the sun was just starting to find its way above the horizon. I stood and dusted myself off before looking around to try and find my way from this sacred ground.

I’d had enough gods for the night.

As I started to leave, I looked down at my fingers and saw tiny cuts that were already healing. I fingered them with my thumb thoughtfully. I had a really bad feeling about all of this. I was already regretting it.

 

Chapter 13 – THE BOOK – Dakota

DAKOTA

I think I sat there for about an hour, at least, on the ground, surrounded by a ton of flowers that had decided to come and visit me, while I absentmindedly pet Rex. The little boy inside needed me. I could feel it, and I wasn’t sure how I could feel it. The same way I could feel it with everyone else lately. Everyone I came across, I could feel pain. I could feel their need for love and affection, for healing. It was just too much, too many people. Even that James guy needed me, although he seemed to want to protect me more than anything. I hated that my powers were coming in. I felt like I was in puberty all over again. It took everything in me to not freak out. Like the other night when I wanted some candy and Sage had the audacity to tell me I needed to stay fit. Then the house shook. I knew that had been me. And I’m pretty sure it was the earth shaking, not the house.

I felt James close, still watching over me. I needed a friend right now. I needed him to not be so distant with me. I swallowed hard. “James?” Silence ensued. I closed my eyes and pulled Rex closer to me. He went willingly. “James, please. I just… I need someone to talk to.” I sat like that for a few minutes before I felt a drop on my head, then a tear fall down my cheek. That was when he came to me. Still unkempt and aloof, but far more open than he had ever been before.

Still clad in pretty basic clothing, he came to sit beside me. He was within arm’s length but wouldn’t get much closer. I turned to him and smiled. “Thanks.”

To my surprise, he smiled back. “No problem.”

We sat like that for a while, in silence while Rex slowly fell asleep. When he did, he turned into a little boy. A handsome little boy with brown hair and golden skin. “I didn’t know that Zeos changed when they sleep.”

“They only change from the shape they’re in if they feel comfortable. If we fall asleep in our animal form, when we don’t feel comfortable or safe, we’ll stay that way.”

“So he trusts me?” I turned to James and beamed at the idea. This little guy, this boy who was so terrified that he hadn’t changed since his father’s death, had finally felt comfortable enough with me that his body allowed him to change. “That’s the most amazing thing I think I’ve ever done.”

James gave a strained chuckle. “See, you can do more than just make grass grow.”

It brought me back to the reality of it all. “I haven’t told Sage this yet, but…” he sat there waiting for me, knowing I would say it when I was ready but not seeming to be in a hurry to hear it. I didn’t know if it was because he didn’t want to know or he was afraid of the outcome. “I can feel things. From the people I meet.”

“What is it you’re feeling?”

I shrugged and looked away. “It’s like a part of me is able to see what they need, or feel it. I know when someone is hurting inside and, to be honest, it scares the shit out of me. I know my powers are growing. I can feel them. But I don’t know what it means, what I’m supposed to do with it.”

“I can’t help you with that part, Dakota. What I will tell you is that, from what I have witnessed, helping people will become a compulsion for you. You’ll crave it.” James gently wiped the tear away and turned my head towards him.

“You need me, too, James. I can feel your pain.”

He smiled solemnly. “I know and I’m sorry for that.“ He took a deep breath and looked towards the path that lead to the house. “Your abilities are gonna be more than any other Guardian in history, Dakota. I know that for a fact, which is why it’s so important for you to hone them now. Those men, they want you. They’re not gonna stop until they have you, either. So, even though it’s scary, and the path seems too hard and unforgiving, you need to work towards control. You need to be stronger than they bargained for.” His lip quivered. “They won’t expect you to be strong so fast. Let those bastards underestimate you.”

“So you’re saying I should jump off that cliff?” I asked with dry sarcasm.

James laughed an almost genuine laugh. “No. I would kill Sage if something happened to you.” I don’t know why it felt so good to know he cared that much, but I felt a girlish squeal rise up that I had to fight to squash. He leaned against the the fallen tree behind us and relaxed. “But Just try, okay?”

“Can I try in a couple hours?” He nodded but didn’t look at me. I leaned against the tree with him. “James?” He hummed a recognition. “Can you just…” I didn’t know how to articulate what I needed, or why I was allowing myself to be so vulnerable around him. James felt safe, he felt like love, the kind that makes you feel protected and cared for.

I didn’t have to tell him what I needed. He reached around and pulled me to him. His thin body was surprisingly comforting and I found myself nuzzling into his embrace. I sighed and whispered a thanks.

“Dakota?” I opened my eyes and looked around. Rex was in wolf form, staring at me curiously while James was looking down, trying to get my attention. I squinted up at him. “You fell asleep. Sorry, but Rex is hungry, I think, and so am I. Are you ready to head back?” I almost protested when my stomach gurgled loudly. He laughed. “I’m taking that as a ’yes’. Come on.”

Something was different about James, I realized as we headed back. The weight he always carried with him seemed a little less, and I even caught a smile from time to time. “You gonna come in and eat with me?” I asked casually while secretly praying he would agree.

“I don’t know about that, Dakota.”

He needs to eat more than anyone here. And I really didn’t want to stop being around him. “Oh, come on. Don’t leave me to deal with Sage all alone. Please? I’ll let you bite him if he pisses me off.”

He laughed. “I’m a Hawk.”

“Okay, fine. You can peck his eyes out.” He laughed again and that time it seemed to actually reach his eyes. “Is that a yes?”

He glanced over at me as we continued our long walk back. “Okay, I’ll eat with you.”

Chapter 13 – THE BOOK – Sage

SAGE

“I’m not doing that.”

“Come on, Dakota. You can’t say that to every suggestion.” I rolled my eyes.

She laughed. “You’re seriously gonna roll your eyes right now? You literally just told me to jump off a cliff… and meant it!”

I couldn’t help but smile. “Yeah, well, either result would make me happy.”

Okay, that pushed a few too many buttons. She stood up with her lips pressed tightly together and poured her ice cold fucking water all over me. “You asshole!”

She turned and walked quickly away, towards the forest. Not surprising. “Dakota stop.” I went after her while trying to shake some of the water off of me. “It was a joke. Why are you taking it so seriously?”

“Why?!” She practically screamed back at me as she kept walking. “You’re not the one that everyone keeps staring at, the one that everyone is expecting to do some magic trick like I’m some freak!” I saw Rex running towards her. She didn’t even flinch. She knew he was there for her. That he would probably bite me if he thought she wanted him to.

Another body came from the trees, bounding down the path. His wild hair and unkempt look seemed to make his malnourished body even more intimidating, not that I’d ever admit it. He walked past her and stopped in front of me. “You’re done here.”

I ground my teeth and stopped. “We need to work.”

He stepped closer to me and that was when I realized that he had actually bathed. “You will leave my sister alone.” He said the words softly, yet with such firmness that I actually did take a step back. “She’ll be back when she’s ready.”

I looked up at the sun. It was still pretty early. I had worked her pretty hard yesterday evening and I had made her go for a jog this morning before we started going through the notes that Denni had left for us. “Fine. But I would like to try something today.”

“When she’s ready, not you.” He turned and walked away, slipping soundlessly into the trees. “I’ll take good care of her Wolf. Now leave.” The last words filtered through the dense woods and I had to stand there for a moment, fighting the urge to follow.

“Fuck.” I tapped my fingers rapidly on my leg, then turned and walked back to the deck. Denni and Corey stood there waiting for me. Their heads tilted curiously. “She needed a break.”

“From what?” Corey asked as he sat down with coffee and a handful of papers.

“From me.”

Denni and Corey both started laughing. It wasn’t that funny. “Big shocker. Are you trying to big brother her or fuck her?” Corey sat down and grinned as his question resonated in my brain.

“What?!” I asked with disgust. Denni smacked him upside the head, but not without laughing herself.

She looked at me innocently. “Oh, come on. You rarely have a middle ground. You try to control everything and everyone.”

“I do not.” I clipped the words bitterly as I sat down to go through more notes. “Just help me figure this shit out.”

“Actually,” Denni started as she sat the baby monitor on the table, “I was thinking about that. What if what Moiragetes meant was to use more than one element?”

I pursued my lips in thought for a moment. “You think that’s it?”

“Could be. Not to look too deeply into that cobra, but maybe…” she stopped and looked around before leaning in to whisper, “maybe it means exactly what we think it means.”

“A God?”

“Goddess, you mean?” Corey interjected. We both looked at him. “Well, we know Hawthorne isn’t part God, right? And that’s how they’re related, through their father, so it would have to mean that her mother was either a Goddess or part Goddess.”

I thought about that, wondering, if Corey was right, which goddess out of the hundreds it could possibly be. But Dakota did have something unique about her. Her eyes. Her amber eyes were so intense, you would think they had their own internal light. Only one time in my life have I seen eyes like that. Damn. He might just be right. “She’s gonna freak out if you tell her that.”

“Tell her what?”

We all turned around to see Jerome standing at the edge of the deck. He had his face clear of wild hair, while still leaving a slight shadow, and his clothes looked new and far more stylish than usual. “Hey there. You going on a date tonight?”

He looked at me and smiled. “Nah, I just decided to clean up a little. No sense in letting this nice package go to waste.” For a man that’s supposed to be more in tune with earth and all that crap, he sure was pretty quick to boast about his good looks.

“Careful, Bear. One day, someone’s gonna come along and deflate that little bubble.”

“It’s a pretty big bubble to burst, Sage.” He gave me a malicious stare and sat down at one of the empty tables. “So, I hear you’re trying to figure out this whole ‘unlock her powers’ thing. Any luck?”

“Yeah, not really. Every time I suggest something to her, she shoots it down.”

“Maybe you should try this little thing called ‘finesse’. Works for me.” He laughed and then leaned forward, glancing at the notes that Denni had made. “Where’d you get all this information from?”

“Moiragetes, himself. Gave it to Dakota to give to me.” He looked up at me and I knew then exactly why he had dressed up. He wanted her. I felt my jaw clench. “I was taking a nap, Moiragetes showed up and gave her the book. Interesting, huh?”

“You two were napping together? How cute.”

“They weren’t napping together,” Corey explained with a loud chuckle. “He was pissing her off again and Moiragetes came around and knocked his ass out so he could have a talk with her.”

“You’re really good at pissing her off, I hear.” I began tapping my fingers again, harder this time. Jerome laughed. “Alright, let’s just take a step back and go over what we know. How about you three fill me in on where we’re at.”

Half Breed – Chapter 23 – excerpt

I thought hard until my brain hurt. Until my throat grew more hoarse from the screams and the rain had no choice but to listen to me. Then the wind picked up, shoving the rain against the trees so hard that they stripped them of their bark, stripping them of the magic.

“Hey, sexy. You’re looking pretty good.” Cody grinned wide and looked me up and down. “You do have some luscious hips, don’t you?”

I snarled at the sack of shit. “Where’s my pack mate?”

His eyebrows lifted, “Oh, your pack mate? You’re in a pack now?” He laughed, “How cute.”

I walked towards him, “Give him back.”

He shrugged. “Fine.” From behind him, three men walked out, Chayton’s lifeless body being dragged between two of them. I wanted to cry at the sight but I fought back the emotion with anger. Bitterness. The need for revenge. “It’s you I wanted, anyway.”

I grinned wryly, “Yeah, well, you can’t have me, either.” My lips turned to a snarl. “Now give him back to me.” Cody smiled and all I could think about was smacking that smug look off his perfect little face.

The men came up to me, equally annoying expressions. I looked to Chayton and felt anger well up inside. No. It was more than anger. Hatred, raw and deep, for the man that had done this to him.

Patches of hair had been ripped from his head, his face beaten and bloodied. A steady stream of blood dripped from his mouth. Deep purple marks welled up on his throat where they had strangled him. His shirt had been removed and signs of bruising and severe swelling marred his skin.

How had no one else noticed this? How is it that, with all the security out here, there’s no one around that heard the commotion? I looked up to Cody with the question on my lips. He laughed, “Oh, are you curious about how we got away with this? I had help.”

“What kind of help?”

He grinned wider, “The kind that helps to ensure my deeds go unnoticed until I deem for them to be otherwise.”

I sucked in a deep breath and held my hands out to take him from them. The men stepped away and let Chayton’s limp body fall to the ground. A tear rimmed my eyes and it took everything in me not to let it out.

I fell to the ground and felt for his pulse. I could still see the lifeless tendril that blinked with only the faintest hint of hope. I ran my hand along his swollen cheek and thought. What was I going to do? Chayton needed me, but I knew that Cody wasn’t about to let me help him. He wanted me.

Yeah. He wanted me. He used Chayton. I looked up to Cody with unmitigated fury. “Why him?”

“Why not? He was easy. I wasn’t looking to get my ass handed to me by that fucking cat roaming around. I just wanted your attention.”

I had been too overwhelmed with pain and anger to realize that three more men had emerged from the trees and flanked my back. I passed a side-long glance to them then turned back to Cody. “What do you want from me?”

He grinned. “I need your help to get myself and my associates to our destination.”

I sent him a wicked glance. “Foten Kullarna.”

“You’ve been studying, haven’t you?” His eyes shot up with surprise. “What else do you know?”

I heard a man’s voice in the distance, calling my name, then Chayton’s. If he was right, they wouldn’t find us. I would be taken without a second thought and Chayton would be left here to die. So what do I do?

The sky above us grumbled. I looked up curiously. How much control did I have over these elements? I looked around and searched quickly for signs of magical markers, something that I could get rid of.

“I know you’re playing with vampires,” I stated with forced coolness.

He laughed. “Nice choice of words.” He sobered and I chanced a quick glance at a tree while testing Chayton’s heartbeat and my mental hold on him. “They think they’re playing me. Can you believe that?” A few trees behind him had what looked like hieroglyphs written with a sparkling blue substance. “I didn’t have to hurt the kid, you know.”

“Yeah?” I asked sarcastically, still holding Chayton’s spirit to his body. That was what I was doing, I realized, as I clung harder to the tendril that was so uniquely him. The men moved closer to me. “So, why did you? Why did you push this kid to the brink of death?”

He sighed, shaking is head as if I were a child that had a knack for disappointing him. “First off, if you hadn’t run off, we wouldn’t be in this predicament in the first place. Second,” He came to stand beside Chayton’s body and squatted to our level. I instinctively covered his body with my own. Cody put his hands up in defeat. “Point taken.”

He rested his arms on his knees as he continued. “Second, if he had just called you out here as I suggested, I wouldn’t have had to use quite so much force.” He looked down somberly. “I had a feeling you had integrated yourself into your pack. You wouldn’t be able to resist a fallen pack member.”

Thunder rumbled again. The lightning must not be that close, but was the storm close enough for it to rain? I tried to keep the conversation going, “he’s loyal.”

I began chanting in my mind for rain. Picturing hurricane-like rainfall that rushed through the trees and cleared the trees of the markings that had to be what kept the others from finding us. “He’s stupid.” Corey spat, snarling at the defiance. “You want him to live, then come with me.”

I laughed indignantly. “Are you fucking serious right now? I’m the only thing keeping him alive right now, and you think me leaving is going to help him?!” I felt a raindrop smack my cheek. Cody looked up and cursed. “What’s the matter? Did you not realize that you’d almost killed him, or are you just pissed that I’m not that stupid?”

“Shut the fuck up, Dakota.” His baby face was red with anger as he looked back up at the sky. That’s when it dawned on me. Sage thinks he’s a guardian, too. I breathed heavily, determination fueling my resistance. The way he looked up to the sky, I knew exactly what he was doing. If he, in fact, was a guardian that could control water, that is. But then, so can I.

But my powers, whatever the hell they were, were helping me to keep Chayton alive. Did I have the power to control the water and hold onto his spirit? I ignored the men around me, who seemed to have come closer in clear defensive stances, and tried to feel the magic inside of me. I knew there was something there. There had to be. How else had I been able to find Chayton? Fuck. Why did they have to come now?

Wait… why now? I looked to Cody. “How’d you know?”

Cody didn’t take his eyes from the ground. “An earthquake and a rush of guardian magic is a pretty fucking good way to tell some shit happened, Dakota. I’m not an idiot.”

He knew I’d be weak. How long had he hidden out here? And what kind of damn magic is this that keeps anyone from finding us? Cody grinned and I realized it was because he was controlling the rain to keep it from hitting us. I snarled. He was not about to win this.

Just as Cody turned to continue his ridiculous proposal, I dug my toes into the ground, having the innate need to be as close to the earth as I could possibly get. The free hand that didn’t hold the gaping wound on Chatyon’s ribs dug into the ground as well, and I focused. I imagined myself, using the anger and the bitterness that Cody elicited and used it as a slingshot, pulling the water from the sky as I continued to keep Chayton tethered to me.

Then a drop fell. Then twenty more drops. And before Cody realized that he had lost the battle of control, rain began to fall so fast and hard, it created a near whiteout. The rain fell as Cody yelled loudly for the men to grab me. I snarled my lips and dug my feet and hand in deeper, trying to solidify my hold. A guttural scream escaped my mouth as rain drenched me. And around me, I spotted three trees that had the markings. There was definitely more. I just knew it, but I was hoping that it would act like a salt barrier. If you break the circle, you break the magic.

I thought hard until my brain hurt. Until my throat grew more hoarse from the screams and the rain had no choice but to listen to me. Then the wind picked up, shoving the rain against the trees so hard that they stripped them of their bark, stripping them of the magic.

I stopped my mind. I stopped the fight with the rain as a man hauled me from the ground, and in every bone in my body, I pulled all the energy I could and screamed louder than I ever have before. “Sage!”

Because I knew he was out here. He was a protector. He was a protector, not just of me, but of Chayton. Another scream left my lips and the man holding me wrapped his arm around my mouth and nose. Fuck. I can’t fucking breath! Is he trying to kill me? I closed my eyes and checked on Chayton’s life force. It was still there, only weak. But if this guy didn’t let me breath soon, I would pass out and Chayton would die. I began to kick and swing my limbs. I really should have tried harder in those damn defense lessons Sage was trying to teach me.

Sage! Please Sage, Chayton’s dying! Hurry! I had forgotten about my psychic link to him and suddenly began to frantically scream out to him. Please! I swear I’ll do better in my lessons. I swear I’ll stop giving you attitude, just help him!

Get ready to run. It was the only warning I had before a large, red wolf flew through the air.

Work in Progress – “Tri-Corac Acid”

I could feel the heat of the sun against my back as the room I couldn’t block with my pillow was cast in bright afternoon sunlight. A sudden burst of power tried pulling my pillow away from my face, but I held on for dear life. “No!” I yelled as Kylie pulled harder. The next thing I knew, she jumped on top of me, sitting there as she continued her assault on my pillow. “Kylie, I’m gonna kill you if you don’t stop!”

I woke up to the feeling of an extra body in my bed. The scent of vanilla and oranges assaulted my senses, causing me to cringe. “Seriously, Kylie? That fucking perfume is assaulting.”

“No worse than your mouth.” I growled, pulled my pillow from underneath me and swinging it. It was caught with ease but I still felt better doing it. “You need to get up. It’s almost two in the afternoon.”

I turned around and pulled my pillow from her. In the darkness of my room (thanks to my blackout curtains) her pink hair looked almost blond. The rest of her seemed to fade into the darkness. I shoved my pillow against my head in an attempt to block out her voice. “In case you were unaware, I don’t get home from work until almost four in the morning, asshole.”

I felt her leave the bed and sighed. Maybe she was leaving me alone.

Nope.

I could feel the heat of the sun against my back as the room I couldn’t block with my pillow was cast in bright afternoon sunlight. A sudden burst of power tried pulling my pillow away from my face, but I held on for dear life. “No!” I yelled as Kylie pulled harder. The next thing I knew, she jumped on top of me, sitting there as she continued her assault on my pillow. “Kylie, I’m gonna kill you if you don’t stop!”

The pillow slipped from my grasp so I attempted to use my bare arms to cover my face. “Come on, Cora. Get your ass up!” She smacked me with the pillow several times until I moved my arms to grab my extra pillow and smacked her back. I couldn’t help but laugh with her as a pillow fight erupted between us. She fell off of me as I pulled myself to my knees. With louder wails of laughter, we continued our childish assault on each other until my mood felt permanently lightened. “Feel better?” She spoke between exaggerated breaths.

“Actually, yes. I do.” I pulled her into a hug and smiled, “Thanks.”

“No problem. What are best friends for?” Apparently a lot. She was the one person in my life that knew me better than I knew myself. My Mom did too, but that’s just a given. Kylie has been in my life since my father walked away. My Mom had always worked third shift, and when my Dad walked out, it was Kylie’s parents who happened to live next door that offered to let me sleep over at their house. Spending every night in the same bed as your best friend sent you into a tighter relationship than most siblings. But that’s what she felt like. She was a sibling. She was my sister. And her Moms were my Moms. I’m definitely not lacking in maternal influences.

“So, why are you forcing me out of my bed?” I asked as I stood for a deep stretch. The sun felt good against my skin, my crop top lifting just beneath my breasts. I wanted to bath in that warmth like a cat, but I had a feeling Kylie had other plans.

“Besides wanting to find out what the hell happened at the bar last night?” I groaned at the reality check. Damn-it, why can’t I just forget and move on? Because no one would let me. “I want to go have lunch with you.”

“No work today?”

“I’m playing hookie.” She proclaimed with an heir of ease.

I turned and looked at her as she played with her hot pink hair. Her dark blue eyes stared up at me innocently, and had I not known better, I probably would have bought it. Her strange steam punk attire seemed to create a sense of innocence on her tiny frame which I’m sure was the the intended result. “What’s going on?”

“Nothing! Geesh.” She protested as she hopped up from my bed. “Get dressed. There’s this new Asian-American fusion place right outside of Atlanta I wanna try.”

“We’re driving forty-five minutes or more to eat lunch.” I stated, as if the sound of its ridiculousness would help drive home my need not to go.

“You don’t have to be to work until eight. Get ready, wear what you wanna wear to work if you’re worried about being late.”

“I’m not worried about being late, I’m worried about why you wanna drive me forty-five minutes away from home just for lunch.”

She crossed her arms, her stiff brown jacket bunching awkwardly around her chest. “We don’t have any Asian-American fusion restaurants in this pee-hole town.”

I laughed and shook my head. “Fine. I’ll go.” She hopped up and down with excitement. I sighed and went to my closet, ready to grab my typical tank top and jeggings when I stopped. The thought of seeing Tri again left me standing there, baffled. I looked like a bum last night. That strange girlie feeling took over and I found myself terrified. Why am I worried about what to wear to work on the off chance that he might actually think about trying again? There’s no way he would be willing to go back and deal with my crazies. He’s done. He has to be.

“You know, if you’re looking to spice up your wardrobe, there’s a Hot Topic not far from this restaurant.” Of course there was. I looked at her speculatively. She simply shrugged with her Faux innocence and turned around, skipping slightly as she headed to the door.

Damn-it Kylie.

By Five in the evening, we were browsing through my favorite store, our bellies full of Asian cuisine which didn’t help the butterflies that had started there. “Hey, Cora. What about this?”

I turned and looked to find a rather adorable sleeveless shirt with a warm red color that donned Tri’s favorite band. Despite knowing what Kylie was trying to do, I did like the style. And it would definitely get his attention, although I wasn’t sure why I wanted or needed that from him. “What size is it?”

“Size Ten. You can fit in a size ten, right?”

“My tits, yes. My ass? No.” She scowled at me and tossed it in my direction. I huffed, “Fine. I’ll try it on.” I slipped it over my current tank top and it surprisingly fit fine. It rode up in the back a little bit, but most shirts did that. I turned just in time to catch a pair of black and white striped shorts that Kylie decided would go with my top. “Okay, I might actually need a dressing room now. I’m not trying these on in the middle of the store.”

A woman with hair brighter than my new shirt and at least ten piercings in her face came up behind me. I actually envied that about her. I was too terrified of needles to even get my ears pierced. “I can set you up with a dressing room if you’d like.” I nodded and thanked her as she led me to the back.

By seven, the two of us were in the car headed back. I had slipped on the red shirt, put some stocking on that bordered on fishnets with my new black and white short shorts on top. I had thrown on my charcoal grey sports coat I had gotten from Goodwill to stifle the slightly chilled air. You would think that sixty degree weather would feel warmer.

“So,” she began as she got onto the highway headed home, “We just had lunch and spent the rest of the evening clothes shopping for you so you could look good for work tonight, which is something you have never done since you’ve worked there. I’m sure you know what my next question is going to be, right?” I turned around and looked out the window. “Cora,” she chided, “are you ready to talk about last night yet?”

“What’s there to talk about? Tri came in, I freaked out and threw bottles at his head. Then I go home and he’s outside my car and he tries to tell me he wants to get back together.”

“He what?!” She almost screamed, “You better spill woman!” I did. In fact, I went into even more detail with her than I did with my Mom. After I finished, she chewed on it for a moment as we got off the highway onto a smaller one. “Okay. First thing’s first. The reason everyone called you guys Tri-Corac acid was because it sounded cool. Not because you two were disastrous together.” She drummed her hands on the steering wheel, “Second, you and I both know that you still love him.”

I leaned up to protest but she held her hand up until I shut my mouth. “Don’t go on and tell me that you don’t. You’ve had a total of two boyfriends since him, and both of them you held up to him. Trust me, I was the one you called with all of your doubts. Every doubt you had came back to Tri. So, let’s talk about him telling you that he still loved you. Or almost told you.” I sighed and leaned my head against the head rest of her car. “How’d you feel when you knew that was where he was headed?”

I thought about it for a moment before speaking. “I felt scared. Weak. Hurt.” I sat up straighter in her car to pull my make-up bag in my lap. I opened the sun visor and flipped on the light on as I tried to busy myself with my makeup. “I didn’t want to hear it. I wanted him to not be in love with me so I can move on. My biggest problem, as you’ve told me so many times, is that we didn’t really have any closure.”

“That’s one of them.”

I ignored that hint of insight hidden in her tone. “Anyhow, I think maybe I should talk to him. Ask him what the hell happened. Why he didn’t come back, all that shit. Maybe I’ll be able to finally move on and get over him.” Silence ensued my comment until Kylie began slurping her drink so loudly it made me wanna shove the straw up her nose. “Why do you do that?” I groaned.

“Because I know it irritates you.” She grinned. I laughed and continued my make-up, taking care to do the best job I knew how. I wanted Tri to see how awesome I am. What he lost. Like Dave said, it’s what I always do with my other ex-lovers. Why not him?

With five minutes to spare, I hopped out of her car and bolted inside the back door. I decided quickly to keep my jacket on knowing I could slip it off when I get too hot. I was feeling suddenly very self-conscious. My hands were jittery and my legs felt weak as I went to the computer and clocked in. “Whoa, Cora. You’re lookin’ hot!”

I turned around to see Joe standing at the end of the hallway that led to the bar and growled at him. “Don’t start with me, Joe. I’ve had a rough week so far.”

“Clearly.” He looked me up and down, smiling as he continued past me back to the grill. “You hungry?”

“No. I had a late lunch with Kylie.” He nodded and I headed to the front of the bar. As I entered the main area, eyes turned to me, at first in angst as they worried what I was going to do, but then in surprise as they saw the way I was dressed.

Oh, this was a bad idea.

Then I saw those caramel eyes and I wanted to cry. Tri sat on the far end of the bar, his toffee-toned skin glowed against the harsh bar lights. His eyes glistened against them as he stared at me. Damn, he was beautiful. And he used to be mine. What happened? How did we get to this point?

I had to have been staring at him for a couple of minutes before Dave walked up behind me, “Cora, you alright?”

I jarred myself away from Tri’s gaze and turned to stare into Dave’s. “Yeah, I’m fine. Thanks Papa Bear.” I winked playfully and turned to get behind the bar.

He followed me in and grabbed a couple of dirty glasses. “You look beautiful tonight, Coralynn.” I turned to him with shock. He had never told me that before. Not like that, anyway. He smiled thoughtfully, “I think you definitely got his attention.”

He knew what I was doing. Of course he did. He knew me too well for that. I looked behind me and caught Tri’s gaze who had clearly still been watching me. He didn’t look away or try to mask his desire for me. It was smoldering and hungry.