The sun burned hot on my back, spreading warmth through my body as I lay on the sand. Waves crashed into the beach, water licking at my toes. The tide was coming in, and even though Dastien and I should move, I couldn’t make myself get up. Maybe I would’ve if the ocean weren’t so warm, but the water was perfect, cooling me off just enough to temper the heat of the sun.
We can move if you want, my mate, Dastien said through our bond.
Shhh. Don’t distract me. I was trying to force a vision of what was going on at St. Ailbe’s. I hadn’t seen anything in weeks—not since we left Ireland—and it was starting to freak me out.
Dastien wanted a zero distractions rule for the beach portion of our honeymoon. That meant no texting. No checking email or social media. No internet use of any kind—well, except streaming Netflix at night. But that was it.
St. Ailbe’s was closed—at least for now—and interest in werewolves had slowed down enough that we could fully check out for a bit. Now that Luciana was gone, any situations that came up, Mr. Dawson—the Alpha of the St. Ailbe’s, the Seven, or the Cazadores were way more than capable to deal with than we were, so we were taking this time for ourselves.
You’re stressing out when maybe you’re not getting a vision because everything is okay, Dastien said.
I let out a long sigh. Maybe, but my gut told me that wasn’t right.
Do you want to check your phone?
“Kind of,” I said aloud. “If I can’t see anything by this afternoon, then yes. We should probably check-in.” Forcing a vision was a little like cheating anyway, but it felt different. And honestly, it’d been really nice having my phone the last couple of weeks. Mr. Dawson had the number to the landline—we were borrowing his beach house—so if he needed us, he’d call. I trusted him. So, I should assume everything was fine.
A niggle of anxiety started to build and it took me a second to realize that it wasn’t my own, but Dastien’s. That stank. I didn’t want him to worry about my worrying, but ever since we completed our mate bond, our emotions and thoughts had gotten a little tangled. We could read each other completely, and sometimes, I felt like I was in two places at once. It wasn’t a bad thing exactly, but it was an adjustment.
Over the past six weeks, I’d learned to filter out most of it. Only Dastien’s strongest thoughts and feelings came through now, which was totally manageable. He didn’t filter out as many of my thoughts, but I didn’t mind him listening in. I didn’t have anything to hide.
“I like knowing what you’re thinking,” Dastien said.
I sat up so I could see him. Werewolves healed too fast to tan, but Dastien’s skin naturally had a little hint of gold in it, unlike my own pasty white. He was wearing a blue swimsuit and no shirt, which I appreciated. His abs and chest and shoulder and arms… I was biased, but he was perfect. He grinned as the last thought crossed my mind.
I pushed a curl of still-drying dark brown hair from his forehead. “Doesn’t knowing what I’m thinking all the time take away some of the mystery?”
His eyebrows rose above the frame of his golden aviator sunglasses. “No. Do you think it takes away the mystery from me?”
“No. I don’t think so?” I wasn’t sure how to answer that. Dastien was pretty much my first everything. Before he bit me, I had zero control over my visions. Every time I touched anyone or anything, I’d see things that I had no business seeing. That had made it next to impossible to have friends, let alone date. So, I’d never really known anything other than how we were as true mates, and I liked us. Knowing what Dastien was thinking and feeling made things easier. There were no misunderstandings, and I’d found that we were usually on the same page. Or as close to it as two people could get.
“I like us, too.” He sat up. “And our life has plenty of mystery. There’s a lot we can’t control. All the supernaturals have been outed, and all but a few of the fey have gone into hiding. I’m not sure what the backlash is going to be from all this change. Knowing where you are and how you’re feeling and that you’re alive and well? It makes me feel safe.”
“Safe?” I laughed. That wasn’t what I’d expected him to say, which basically meant I shouldn’t worry about the whole mystery thing.
“Exactly. So, don’t worry about filtering if you don’t want to. Go ahead and poke around in my head at your leisure.” He gave me a big grin, dimples pressing deep into his cheeks.
“At my leisure?” I said, unable to stop grinning back at him. I couldn’t see his eyes through his sunglasses, but I knew their amber color would be glowing just the tiniest bit—which meant he was happy. His dark hair was still a little too long, the curls falling into his face. He was planning on having them cut as soon as we got back, but I liked him the way he was.
The man was beautiful, and just looking at him made my heart sing. And the fact that he knew me—every weird part of me—and he still wanted to be with me? That was always a bit of a shock.
So even with how crazy things were with in the supernatural world, I was happy. I really was. But there was just one thing wrong, and I couldn’t stop poking at it.
You have to let yourself relax, Dastien said as he settled back onto our beach towel. Everything is fine. If it wasn’t, Michael would call.
I hoped he was right.
I am right. Come down here. Dastien pulled me until I was resting against him.
I had the beach and Dastien and plenty of quiet. It was paradise. The only thing that would’ve made it better was if his stomach had a bit more padding.
Should I apologize?
Your stomach is about as comfortable as a hunk of granite. I rolled over enough so that I could bite Dastien’s side.
“Ouch! Watch it.”
I laughed softly. “It was barely a nip, you baby.”
“Barely a nip? You nearly drew blood. Is this payback for biting you? Or are you going vamp on me?”
I rolled my eyes. “Like that’s even possible.”
“Well, you were bitten…” His contained laughter was so overwhelming it became my own for a second before I stifled it.
“You’re such a dork.”
Dastien rolled, and I was pinned under two-hundred and twenty pounds of handsome. All joking was gone, instantly replaced with hunger.
He ran the tip of his nose along my neck, sending goose bumps across my skin, before pressing a feather-light kiss just below my ear. I melted into the sand.
Are you more comfortable now?
“Mmmm,” was all I could manage. I wrapped my arms around him, pulling his body flush against mine. He moaned against my neck, and suddenly I was on fire. Every place his body touched me was too much and not enough. This is the best.
You. This beach. No people. We were so far away from everyone and everything on our secluded island in the US Virgin Islands—a long boat ride away from anything—and it was perfect.
He rose and lifted off his glasses so that I could focus on his amber eyes. “I’m glad you’re happy.”
“I wish we could stay here forever.” But I knew we’d have to go home. Maybe soon. There was something coming—
Stop, Dastien’s voice interrupted my thoughts. Everything is fine. There’s nothing—
You don’t know that.
And you don’t know everything isn’t okay. If anything was up at home, Michael would call. Dastien had said that about a million times a day, and I knew it was true. I just couldn’t let this go. I promise. We can trust him.
I wanted to believe Dastien, but the what-if’s were driving me bonkers, and the lack of visions was adding to my nerves.
It might not be as bad as you think. It could be something as simple as your subconscious cutting off your visions so you can deal with how powerful our bond has gotten.
I definitely liked his theory better than my own. I guess that’s possible. I blew out a breath. There had been a lot of changes in my life in the last few months, but gut was telling me it was more than that. I couldn’t ignore my instincts anymore.
But before I grabbed my cell from my beach bag, I was going to give my visions one more go. I tightened my grip around Dastien and closed my eyes.
I pictured St. Ailbe’s in my mind. The quad and five buildings surrounding it. Show me St. Ailbe’s. Show me my friends, I said as I relaxed my mental barrier, willing myself to see what was going on back in Texas.
I felt the familiar tingling along my skin as the vision started, but the mental image of St. Ailbe’s disappeared.
Everything went dark.
My heart beat thumped in my ears and I tried to picture anything, but all I saw was black. All I got were feelings. Despair so strong I wanted to curl up in a ball and sob. Pain. It was like my heart was being ripped from my chest. And a huge load of fear. Enough to drive me crazy. My breath whooshed out of me.
Dastien’s weight was suddenly gone as he jerked me up to sitting, pulling me free from my vision. I blinked at him. The sudden brightness was blinding and shaking free of the feelings was taking longer than I liked. “What was that?” I asked when I had enough air to talk.
“Your heart. It skipped a beat.” His voice was barely more than a whisper.
“What!” How was that possible? I’d never had anything like that happen before.
My eyes burned and I blinked to keep ay tears from falling. I tried to tell myself that the feelings from the vision didn’t mean anything—that it wasn’t some future fate of my friends at St. Ailbe’s—but that was too close to a lie. I’d felt that fear and despair for a reason.
Dastien wiped a hand down his face, not really hiding his fear. “You have your phone here?”
I nodded. “In my beach bag.” I’d been using it for music while reading.
“You’re going to call Chris or Claudia?”
I’d been planning on calling Chris, but now that he said Claudia’s name, I wanted to call her, too. She’d have a little more insight on my visions. “Both. But Chris first.” If there wasn’t anything immediately wrong in Texas, then Claudia would be my next call.
“I’m going to get us some food. If Chris says they need our help, just grab the stuff and come back to the house. It’ll take some doing, but we’ll get travel booked and head back.”
“Thank you. I wish our honeymoon didn’t have to end so soon.”
“You don’t know that it will yet. And if it has to, then there will be plenty of time to come back. This is just the beginning for us. Okay?”
I nodded. “Okay.”
He brushed a kiss against my lips and cupped my cheek. I leaned into him a second. When he pulled away, I laid back down, focusing on him as he walked back to the beach house. I could feel the sand under his feet. The brush of leaves against his arm as he pushed a shrub out of the way. Hunger was growing in him. My thoughts filled with images of sandwiches, piled high with turkey and avocado.
The water splashed on my toes—drawing me back to my own body—and I got up, scooting our stuff out of reach from the rising tide.
I sat back down on our bright red and blue striped beach towel, and dug my phone out of my bag. It took me a few minutes to turn on the data and accept the ten-dollars-per-day fee for international usage, which was basically highway robbery. Even with the fee, data on the beach was slower than anything. Before I called Claudia, I figured I should check my email and see if anyone had been trying to reach us.
When my email finally loaded, I groaned. I must’ve gotten over a hundred messages for every day we’d been gone, all of them useless junk. I started deleting them, but then gave up. Weeding through them was going to take forever. I just needed to skim through to see if there were any from an actual person I knew. But eighty-ish emails in, there was a chain of emails—the most recent one was dated yesterday one—that made my skin grow cold.
They were from Chris. The subject was Demon attacks
My thumb shook as I pressed the screen and skimmed his first email.
Hey! Mr. D said that you were gonna be MIA for a bit. Just in case you’re checking this or see anything, we had a small demon attack last night. No big. Didn’t want you to worry. Talk soon.
That didn’t sound so bad, and there was nothing for a couple days. But then Chris emailed again.
Hey, Tess. Adrian and I decided to stay at St. Ailbe’s. There’ve been a few more attacks. Figured Mr. D could use a hand. The reporters have mostly gone, but the Cazadores have more work than they thought now with all the patrolling and whatnot. We’ll let you know if anything changes. No worries!
I was glad they were able to stay, but I wasn’t liking where this was heading. A couple days after that, there was another one.
Getting a little crazy here. We’re trying to keep up, but there’s got to be a reason why all these fuckers keep coming through. Do you think there’s like a portal or something that Luciana left open? We burned the compound to the ground, so I’m guessing not, but we’re all scratching our heads over here and this has got to stop. If you check this and have any ideas, could you call me or Adrian or Mr. D.
Tried getting through to Claudia, but apparently her and Lucas are hiking the Inca trail and MIA. Won’t be back for a few more days. If you even point us in the right direction, we’ll get it done.
Just call me. Okay?
I licked my lips as I kept reading on to the next one, dated a few days later.
Do you think Luciana could come back from the dead? Because we’re ass deep in demons and if she’s back, I’m going to freak out. We killed her, right? She’s dead. And no witch can come back from that. Right?
Just call me. We’re handling it—Mr. D has some back up on their way—but serious strugglebus going on here. Hoping Keeney’s coming. But no one’s getting that we have to figure out WHY this is happening. I need back-up on that count. We can slay ‘em all night, but until we figure out why, we’re SOL.
If you get this, call me. Doesn’t matter what time. Okay? Thanks.
Then there was nothing, until last night.
I’m throwing in towel here. I hate it. But I’m doing it. I tried to be chill and go with what Mr. D said, but that’s bullshit. We need you home.
I know I said in my last email that we were handling it, but we’re not. Keeney’s guys got here and that helped take the load off for a bit, but everyone’s exhausted now and it’s making us sloppy. Adrian was slow enough to let a freaking demon bite him!
It’s not bad—Doc says he’ll be fine in a day or two—but we haven’t had a night off since we got home from Meredith’s wedding. I’m freaking out. It’s been two weeks since the first demon attack, and they’re getting worse. More demons than we can handle, even with a few groups of Cazadores helping.
I’ve been begging Michael to give me your number, but he keeps saying that if we reach the point when we need more help, he’ll make that call. I know he’s my Alpha and I should trust him, but why am I the only one that sees that HE’S FUCKING WRONG! WE CAN’T TAKE ANOTHER NIGHT OF THIS SHIT. I don’t know why I’m the only one seeing it, but if we could’ve handled the demons, then the outbreak of attacks would be OVER and I wouldn’t be emailing you right now. There’s something bigger going on here and whatever it is—Mr. D seems to be ignoring it. And no one here is alpha enough to get through to him. You are.
Get your fucking asses back here. TONIGHT.
Check your goddamned email already! Call me as soon as you get this. Thanks.
I wanted to scream and cry and punch myself. Why hadn’t I trusted my gut sooner?
And holy shit. Could Luciana be back? That seemed impossible, but what the hell did I know? In the world of the supernatural, anything was possible.
She’s not back. I don’t know what’s going on, but there’s another explanation.
I hoped Dastien was right. And if there’s not another explanation?
Then we’ll deal with her. I’m calling Michael, and then I’ll start getting our travel figured out.
Thank you. I’ll call Chris. It took me three tries to get the call to connect and then it went straight to voicemail. If he was up fighting demons all night, he was probably asleep. I shot off a text apologizing and telling him we were on our way as soon as possible.
Shit. What had happened?
For a while after the fight with Luciana, a bunch of different baddies had come out of their hiding holes. Vampires. A few goblins. Some lower-level demons here and there, but nothing as bad as what we’d seen when Luciana opened the hell portal. A handful of pissed-off fey who’d stuck around when the courts disappeared. The worst of which Meredith had to deal with in Ireland. A will-o’-the-wisp had even popped up at the Grand Canyon and started guiding unsuspecting people off a cliff. It’d been a little more than the Cazadores were used to, but definitely manageable. At least that’s what everyone told us. Which was why we’d felt okay disconnecting.
I threw my phone down and walked to the edge of the water. Everything had been fine, but two weeks ago, clearly something had changed. Chris was right. There had to be a reason for the sudden spike in demon attacks in Texas.
What had changed? And why after Meredith’s wedding? Was that just a coincidence?
It could be, but I didn’t believe in coincidences. Everything happened for a reason. I just didn’t know why yet.
But I’d find out.
Left a message for Michael and I’m going to start working on travel now. Want to come back to the house and eat?
I’m not hungry anymore. The swirling pit of anxiety in my stomach made it impossible to think of eating right now.
Then why don’t you go for a swim? Clear your head. When you get back, I’ll have our travel figured out.
Are you sure? Shouldn’t I be helping?
We only have one reliable phone line, and I need the WiFi to book the airfare once I have the boat and ferry lined up. Go for a swim. If nothing else, it’ll kick your appetite back into gear.
I took a breath. The water did look nice. I dragged my feet as I walked back to the beach towel to grab my fins, mask, and snorkel. Tell me if you need my help. I’ll come back.
Of course. Go. You’ll feel better after a swim.
I walked into the clear water, watching tiny gray fish swimming around my ankles. The water was waist-deep but clear as crystal. My toes disappeared under the sand as I tried to balance while pulling on my fins. The mask tugged on my hair, but I got the straps in place and dove in.[ I added a bit more description. Does this help? I “dive” in when I’m in 3ish feet of water. It doesn’t take much water to start snorkeling. If you’ve a better word for it, then totally game, but that’s what I do. I kind of half-belly flop, half-dive to switch from walking in the water to snorkeling.
She does it 1:00 into this video— https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8G8SOluLEws
But she does it on her back and then flips over. I go face first into the water. Just kick off from there with a little jump and plunging my head a bit under water and land on my tummy, so that I’m able to swim. I think she’s in like 3ish feet of water. Maybe 3.5? I’d call this a dive into the water. Feels a little over the top to get into the specifics of it, but maybe that’s just me. Any better word for that move?]
The warm water was like a balm on my soul. Until we got to the island, I hadn’t been swimming since becoming a werewolf. The change had made me a stronger swimmer, but too much muscle wasn’t a good thing when it came to floating. I couldn’t lay in the water without sinking anymore.
I used my legs, flicking the fins just enough to keep my head above the surface as I watched the colorful fish dart around the coral.
After a few minutes of tuning out, I felt better. Anxiety wasn’t making it quite so hard to breathe anymore and I started to swim farther out. A mile or so away was a tiny island that we hadn’t explored yet. We’d talked about kayaking over, but if we were leaving tomorrow, then this was probably my last chance…
We can come back, Dastien said.
That’s a given. Now that I knew this place existed, I was addicted.
I froze as a nurse shark swam under my feet. They were harmless, but they still made me nervous. I pulled my legs up, and it ignored me. As I floated there, waiting for it to leave, I wondered if I should go ahead and call Claudia. I was pretty sure that my messed up visions had something to do with the demons in Texas, but I didn’t want to bother her before I had to, especially since she was in Peru on her own version of a honeymoon. But if we got home and I couldn’t figure out what was going on, she was going to be the first call I made.
The water grew rougher the farther from shore I swam. I’d passed the drop off and couldn’t tell how far down the bottom was anymore. Maybe if I’d brought a light, but I was only snorkeling. I couldn’t swim down that far unless I had SCUBA gear, even as a werewolf.
I looked around to make sure the current hadn’t knocked me off course and spotted the strip of white sand behind me. The tree line nearly gobbled up the beach, forming a horseshoe shape. I’d made it out of the inlet but had drifted a little to the right.
I corrected my direction and started kicking my feet before answering Dastien. Yeah, maybe I’ll call Claudia when—
Pain sliced through my knuckles, one by one in rapid succession. I screamed. For a split second, I thought the shark had come back, but my hands were fine.
What’s happening? Dastien asked. Are you okay?
I don’t know. I shook my hands, trying to get rid the pain, but it lingered. What the hell—
My arms locked in place as pain slashed through my wrists. Through my elbows. My shoulders.
I couldn’t move them through the searing pain. I started to sink into the ocean.
I kicked my feet to keep my head above the water. Dastien! What’s happening?
I’m coming! Swim back toward the beach.
I tried to around, but the pain left me gasping for air. I couldn’t focus enough to even see the beach. It was like someone had chopped off my arms, bit by bit. But they were there. Totally intact. I could see them. But all I could feel was searing pain in my shoulders.
Whatever I was feeling, it wasn’t real. It had to be witchcraft. A curse. Something.
Think, Tessa. Think. I had to stop whatever this was. I needed a protection spell. Something to stop—
I screamed as the pain multiplied. This time it started with my toes. They were still safe and sound in my flippers, but it was as if they’d been chopped of.
And then my knees.
And then I couldn’t move my legs.
No. No. No.
I wiggled my body around, but it was no use. I sank like dead weight.
Screams ripped from my throat until my lungs were burning.
Pressure started to build in my head and my ears felt like they were going to explode.
I tried to find the surface. The light was getting farther away.
I held my breath, trying not to suck in water. I didn’t have any air left in my lungs.
I needed to reach the surface or I was going to die before Dastien got here.
My heartbeat thumped in my ears as I tried to swim with just my torso. With my arms and legs locked in place, I couldn’t work up any momentum.
I was still sinking.
I flailed around, tossing and turning as I fell. Dastien! I can’t see the surface. The water had gotten darker[ If she’s sinking like a rock, then it wouldn’t take that long to hit 200 meters. She’s heavy—not just weight but the muscle mass is heavier and she sinks faster b/c bouyancy is all f-ed. And it only takes a couple minutes max to drown. 60 seconds of fighting it before you submit. So let’s say this is 30 seconds and she’s hitting 250 meters. Does that sound accurate?], I couldn’t tell which way was up. What do I do? The water tossed and turned me, rolling me until I’d lost all sense of direction.
Why couldn’t I find the surface? What magic was doing this to me?
Just hold on! I’m coming!
And then suddenly I could move my arms.
I waved my arms through the water like I was digging to the surface. I wasn’t sure if I was heading the right way, but I had to keep moving.
My head was getting fuzzy, making it hard to think. Which way should I go?
Have to keep swimming. Grasping for the surface.
I swam wildly as my panic grew.[ I’ve nearly drowned this way in a pool with zero current when I was a kid. Like 8-9ish. I was reaching for something in the pool, and toppled in. As I fell, I rolled, and then I was panicking so bad, I couldn’t figure out which way was up. My dad had to pull me out. I learned to swim before I could walk. We had a 1/2 olympic sized-pool that was always heated and 10 feet deep. I spent every day of my summers and weekends in there. They called me “the fish”. I should’ve been able to get out of the pool no problem, but my sense of direction got thrown off and when you’re under the water and so panicked, it’s harder to figure out than you’d think. And I think my dad waited a bit too long to grab me. He didn’t know what I was doing. He thought I was messing around. Anyhow, this is the feeling that I’m going for. And the lack of oxygen also doesn’t help. You get confused.]
I needed to breathe.
I needed air.
I was going to breathe in. My body was burning for me to do what was natural, and I was fighting it. But I’d lose.
I had to reach the top.
Dastien! The surface! I can’t! I reached along our bond, grabbing for his strength to give me a boost. I felt it flow into me, but without direction, it wasn’t a help. He couldn’t feed me oxygen.
He was hitting the beach at a sprint. Diving into the water. He’d reach me soon, but not soon enough.
My lungs filled with fire. Dastien was going to be too late.
This was it. The end. I was going to die.
I didn’t want to die.
The last few months flashed through my mind. The cave of vampires.
Killing Mr. Hoel.
Luciana stealing my powers. Then killing her.
Closing the portal.
I hadn’t fought this hard to give up now, but I couldn’t hold my breath any longer.
I’m sorry. I took in a lung-full of water as I stopped swimming, sinking farther and farther into the darkness.
He yelled something that I couldn’t understand.
My heartbeat seemed to slow. I heard each one.