Prince of the Sea
Destiny calls Jonathan home.
Jonathan Lemke thought spending two weeks alone with his partner in a beachside cottage would help to rekindle the lost passion of their ten-year union. He’d chosen Tybee Island, a quiet seaside community east of Historic Savannah on the Georgia coast. Jonathan spent his childhood growing up on the pristine shores of the barrier islet which continues to hold a special place in his heart.
The romantic surprise backfires when Jonathan’s partner, Paul, bails and rushes off to Chicago for the chance to woo a high profile client, leaving Jonathan alone and brokenhearted. But a chance meeting with a mysterious and seductive stranger linked to an ancient island legend provides a temporary distraction…and a chance at discovering forever love.
Island myth…or guarded secret? Someone with strong familial ties to Tybee Island wants to expose its secrets and avenge a grudge decades in the making. An assailant so threatened by the forces of nature that defy explanation will stop at nothing to expose island lore…even if he must kill to prove it.
Novella: 44,440 words Genre: gay paranormal, suspense/thriller
Editor: Jerry L. Wheeler
Cover: Dawne Dominique
Jonathan sauntered to the side of the verandah with his cocktail and leaned against the railing. The Jeep he’d rented at the airport sat idle against an ancient railroad tie baking in the sun, the space beside it empty. Glancing up, he didn’t see the tell-tale trail of dust billowing up through the brush to indicate a taxi drew near. Not even a glimmer of the sun’s intense rays reflecting off the body of an automobile, nothing to indicate someone approaching.
He wondered if Paul would appreciate the nineteenth century antebellum revival beachfront cottage Jonathan had rented for a surprise vacation, a second honeymoon of sorts. The past year had proved tough for them both, and Jonathan had sensed a growing tension in their relationship. They were drifting apart he feared, a fact that often plagued gay men in a relationship after a decade or so together.
Paul had taken months to get back on his feet after a rough job loss. Petty arguments had bubbled below the surface, but Jonathan thought two weeks on the beach far away from deadlines, cellphones, and demanding clients might prove ideal, a perfect oasis to help get them back on track. Jonathan had forked over the non-refundable deposit a few months back without a second thought, determined to inject some rest and recuperation into their lives.
Paul’s reaction to the gift proved more shocking to Jonathan than his impulse.
Sipping his cocktail, he recalled their exchange over dinner last week when he sprung the news of the planned escape.
“Now?” Anxiety had twisted Paul’s face, his lips tightening into a thin line as though he bit into a lemon. “You’re not serious? Are you insane?”
Jonathan had remained silent, of course, crushed beyond words at Paul’s comeback. He recalled how his chest tightened and forced the air from his lungs as he sat stoically, inspecting the food skewered on his fork, not knowing what to say.
“I’m only now getting my feet back on steady ground, John. You of all people should know I can’t afford to run away now, even if I wanted to. “Sometimes, babe, you just don’t think these things through before you make a stupid mistake.”
Clipped sentences and bitchy comments shared over several cocktails had capped the evening before they headed home earlier than originally planned.
Jonathan sighed and sucked down the rest of his drink.
Where is he?
He looked again toward the road, his hand shielding the afternoon sun. Exhausted after shuttling across the country to the east coastal town of Tybee, an island twenty minutes from Savannah, Georgia, he wanted to grab a bite and spend the evening relaxing on the porch facing the ocean’s cool breeze. Paul had booked a later flight in order to finish a few things at the office, but he promised to arrive in time for dinner. Jonathan checked his watch again. The evening loomed and still no Paul.
What if he’s not coming?
Will you stop? Jonathan chided himself for fretting when he needed to relax. Anxiety gripped the muscles in his chest, and his throat went dry despite the alcohol he’d consumed. He wrestled with the idea Paul might bail on him, offering the same old lame excuse about business coming first. It wouldn’t be the first time, but Paul wouldn’t do that, would he? Not after all that’s happened this year.
Still, Paul hadn’t called.
Jonathan had left several messages at both his partner’s office and on Paul’s cell. With everything going on between them, all they’d been through the past year, Paul at least owed him a phone call of explanation.
Shoulders slumped, head bowed, Jonathan raised his glass in toast to an ocean bathed in brilliant turquoise, and downed the last of the twelve-year-old scotch. He stared out across the water, despondent and aloof, like a seafaring mariner in search of land. The breeze skimming off the ocean’s surface cooled his cheeks and brushed the dark hairs of his chest peeking out from his open shirt.
The sun slowly joined with the western shore, its phosphorescent embers reaching out to touch the sugar-white sand. Moss-draped oaks and spiny palms fronting the beach basked in a sheath of glittery gold. Nearby tree frogs thrummed and crickets chirped as the afternoon began to yield to dusk.
A seagull floated past on the warmth of the current as insects indigenous to the area traveled in droves atop the sea of waving cordgrass. Rolling whitecaps of the ocean’s lips choreographed a symphony that crashed headlong ashore. Jonathan stared out across the water and wished on some level he could be one with the ocean to escape the realities of life threatening to suffocate him. The scent of salt, fish, and drying seaweed wafted in the breeze that coated everything in a gritty residue. He closed his eyes and drank in the air hitting his face, imagining the draft cleansing years of L.A. smog from his pores.
Hums of the world abuzz lulled him and warmed his heart with thoughts of the past. As a child, Jonathan had enjoyed long summer days playing on the beach with pail and shovel in hand, scooping up sand to fortify some sandcastle or surrounding moat. He remembered strolls along the beach with his family searching for that one of a kind shell or sand dollar. He’d spent his early years not far from where he stood now, the smell of salt air and seaweed all he knew before leaving the coast to attend the University Of Georgia in Athens. A promising career writing screenplays had sent him racing to the West Coast upon graduation to a life of fifteen-hour days and all-night parties.
Years had passed with little memory of his childhood until he’d returned to the tiny island. Being here now with the breeze jostling the fabric of his shirt, brushing past the cotton of his chinos, and with the sun highlighting his skin in iridescent bronze, caused his heart to swell. He closed his eyes and drank in the aroma of his youth.
Why hasn’t he called?
The past twelve months had tested their relationship more than in any other year. Jonathan knew they needed this vacation, time alone outside the pressures of deadlines, e-mails, texts, and cellphones. It was to be a break from the constant demands nibbling away at their time together without regard to their needs. The first sign of things to come had been when their trusted housekeeper of many years sold details of Jonathan’s and Paul’s private lives to one of those trashy supermarket rags. Her lies sold thousands of copies across the country and caused a flurry of activity around the Lemke-Morley household, even threatened to derail their careers in a town known for feeding water cooler gossip. For the most part, Jonathan managed to escape the scandal, but Paul was forced to leave his job as a publicist with a major public relations firm, striking out on his own.
Jonathan checked his cell again. No missed calls or texts.
Six months ago, Jonathan lost his beloved grandmother to pulmonary artery disease. Complications from a heart attack slowly took her life, a mockery to one so selfless. Jonathan had spent months traveling back and forth to the Florida Panhandle where Mama Effie had retired. Effie’s husband had died ten years earlier. He’d collapsed on his job of forty years, sucking in carbon emissions at a heavy equipment assembly plant in Brunswick, Georgia. After cleansing herself of unwanted material items, Mama Effie headed to the Gulf Coast to live with her sister. Jonathan recalled the faces of stunned family members as his grandmother passed out heirlooms like worthless trinkets and snickered.
He missed her. Like him, Mama Effie had preferred to mourn in silence, and if ridding herself of a few personal items that reminded her of the only man she ever loved meant being able to face each day, then he supported her one hundred percent. He knew his grandmother like no other. She had readily accepted him for the boy he was and the man he became, unlike his parents.
His cellphone buzzed. Snapping back from his reverie, Jonathan accepted the call and turned inland. “Where are you?”
Jonathan heard a long pause before familiar noises drifted through the connection, and a feeling of dread overcame Jonathan as Paul spoke.
“Hey, babe, I’m in Chicago. Look, something came up. I got a call from Gyllenhaal’s people, and it’s possible I’m not going to be able to make it.”
“What? Paul, you promised.” Jonathan gripped the cellphone, wanting to smash the metallic cover against the floorboards.
“I know, hon. I’m really sorry, but signing this new client would mean everything to me. You know how bad things have been. I’ve told you I’ve got to attract the bigger names to get my business off the ground. This might be the break I need, Jonathan.”
“Paul, we discussed taking this trip for us. What about what we need?” Jonathan struggled to suppress his anger. “I booked the cottage months ago so we could get away from the rat race, you know? Spend some much needed quality time together. Sit back and relax, take a real vacation for once, just you and me.”
Jonathan wanted to unload on his partner, to express how for months he’d sacrificed at every turn, given in to Paul’s every whim in the interest of salvaging what they had. True, Paul’s demands had bordered on the selfish, but Jonathan didn’t care. Their relationship had soured, but all they needed was time alone to focus on a romance gone dormant far too long.
“Paul,” Jonathan said in a steady voice, “you don’t have to work so hard. We have plenty of funds coming in from my royalties, scripts I wrote years ago, and more on the way. Last year’s writer’s strike guarantees us at least nine months to a year of cushion. “Do you hear what I’m saying? Why do you have to rush off now?”
“John, as usual you’re not listening. What about what I want, huh? What I need?”
Jonathan bit his lip and listened.
“It’s not always all about you,” Paul said. “Signing Gyllenhaal would be my first chance to become a respected publicist again. No one has been willing to take me seriously, on my own terms in this crazy business. Not without the bigger names and greater celebrity influence. You know that.”
Jonathan bowed his head and pinched the bridge of his nose with his fingers. “You promised.”
“I need to go, hon,” Paul said. “I’ll call you tomorrow.”
The call ended. Jonathan stared at his phone, stunned and slack-jawed.
What in the hell just happened?
A lone gnat buzzed about Jonathan’s face. He swiped the air in frustration, more at Paul than with irritation at the pest. He had agitated the insect, which fought to escape and yet managed to fly up his nostril. He plugged the side of his nose and tried to flush the pest without success. Finally, with apprehension, he swallowed to clear his throat of the insect.
Driven by need deeper than thirst, Jonathan ducked inside through the doorway of the single story cottage and crossed the threshold to the parlor of the west wing, filled with nautical trimmings and reproduced coastal collections. He tore past the cold fireplace and a sofa draped with an old patchwork quilt. The antique double-door bar cabinet nestled in the far corner reminded him of the days his mother had carted him through the vintage shops peppering the Southeastern Coast. In spite of his mood, he smiled at the memories. He snatched a fresh bottle of booze from the shelf below, tossed a couple cubes of ice into his glass, and filled it half-full of scotch.
Jonathan slugged the beverage, refilled his glass, and then shuffled to the floor-to-ceiling windows facing inland. He thought about being stood up by Paul, the knot in his chest traveling up his neck like a hand closing around his throat. Typical. Paul had become more distant of late and the excuses he tried to pass off seemed contrived at best. They were nearing the end of the relationship, perhaps. Jonathan didn’t know anymore, and it drove him crazy.
Stop with the melodramatics, Jonathan chided himself as he sipped his drink and stepped out onto the porch again. He set his cocktail on the railing, reached high above his head, and stretched his arms before crossing them over his chest and gripping his shoulders. The ocean breeze caressed him as he watched the waves rolling in, whitecaps bustling with the fury of stampeding cattle before crashing headlong into shore. Why did it bother him this much? Should he be surprised Paul chose career goals over their relationship yet again? Jonathan should have seen it coming months ago, but he’d ignored the signs, desperate to rekindle the passion slipping away after years of happiness.
A large cargo ship sailed in line of the horizon. Seagulls and pelicans floated along the shoreline searching for food. Jonathan dreamed of a relationship devoid of friction and financial strain, absent of business dinners filled with false hope and weekend interruptions. He savored his career as a successful scriptwriter, but he abhorred the Hollywood lifestyle.
His drink empty, Jonathan began to turn when something caught his eye. Glancing beyond the beach, he scanned the ocean’s surface searching the whitecaps. Someone was bobbing and swirling about in wide circular motions, dipping beneath the waves. Jonathan made out the head and shoulders of a man struggling to remain above the surface. Adrenaline shot through Jonathan like a bullet and panic clutched his chest.
He’s in trouble!
Jonathan scanned the beach for help. A few beachcombers walked in either direction along the sand, some strolling hand in hand, as others huddled in groups with a child or two darting out from the pack to race toward the water’s edge. No one seemed to notice the swimmer in distress. Most followed their downcast eyes, searching the beach for the ocean’s treasures washed up in the tide.
Jonathan raced toward the water’s edge and kicked off his loafers, flailing his arms and screaming trying to attract attention. He ripped off his shirt as he ran, the fabric falling behind in the sand. Pausing to strip off his slacks, he trudged into the sea.
Waves battered him in violent succession, pushing him back, forcing him to lift his knees high to stab his feet into the water to stay righted. When the water reached his hips, Jonathan dove headlong into the churning surf. The smack of cold water against his face and chest sobered him as he pinwheeled his arms through the strong current toward the struggling swimmer.
Where did he go? Jonathan eased up to get his bearings, dogpaddling around and looking for the man. He called out, “Can you hear me? I’m here to help.” He swiveled his head back and forth, searching for the swimmer.
I’ve gone too far, he thought. Jonathan whipped around, turning back toward the beach. The cottage stood farther up the beach than his current position. Fearing the swimmer had disappeared beneath the surface, Jonathan ducked below the water and aimed his body deep, opening his eyes to take a quick peek. The sting of the saltwater forced his lids shut and he retreated.
Jonathan angled his body upward and kicked his feet hard against the strong current. Reaching the surface proved elusive, as the undertow sucked him down. Disoriented and terrified, his lungs begging for air, Jonathan clawed at the wall of seawater to no avail. No matter where he aimed, he couldn’t find the surface. The harder he fought the farther down he sank. Desperate for oxygen, his heart pounding, Jonathan’s life flashed before him.
Is this it? Am I doomed to be another tragic drowning?
Jonathan drifted into a quiet calm from lack of air, his thoughts a random jumble. Why had he charged forth in the first place, foolish considering all the alcohol? What about Paul? Would he be stunned to learn of his death, perhaps feel guilty about refusing to join him sooner? Would his family ever forgive his carelessness?
His chest compressed, expressing the last bit of air from his lungs. He wrestled an onslaught of convulsions as brackish seawater invaded his nose and mouth, his lungs. Arms and legs became lead. He lashed out, each stroke pulling him down until he settled on the ocean floor.
The undertow snatched him away as his awareness waned. He reached out in a futile attempt to right himself but grasped onto something slick and supple instead. His fingers slid over the soft object.
Something large and powerful slammed into him from behind. He felt an incredible tug against his body, a whoosh that snapped him back like a bungee cord before he blacked out.
Releasing Tuesday, December 1, 2015 via All Romance ebooks, Amazon, Kobo, Smashwords, and other fine e-tailers.