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 on the Georgia coast east of Historic Savannah. Jonathan had 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 Paul, Jonathan’s partner, rushes off to Chicago for the chance to woo a high profile client, leaving Jonathan alone and brokenhearted until a chance meeting with a mysterious and seductive stranger linked to a beloved island legend provides a chance at discovering forever love.
But someone with strong familial ties to Tybee Island is desperate to expose its secrets and avenge a grudge decades in the making. An assailant so threatened by the forces of nature that defy explanation, he will stop at nothing to unmask ancient island lore…even if he must kill to prove it.
Jonathan slipped on a pair of board shorts and headed out shirtless for a stroll beneath a clear night sky. The balminess skimming off the ocean reminded him of the nights as a boy he’d lain awake in his bed staring out the window at the stars. His window had faced east toward the sea, providing a stellar inky-black canvas for spotting the constellations his grandfather had pointed out to him. Jonathan smiled at the thought of his grandpa who had taught him more about the earth and its natural beauty than any textbook ever did.
Meandering down the beach about half a mile before walking to the water’s edge, Jonathan dug his toes into the sand and felt the granules beneath his feet erode with the retreating water. Moonlight bathed the beach in incandescence as the ocean lapped the shoreline, depositing tiny crabs and shells in the recoil of the waves. His eyes adjusted to the darkness of the sky when he glanced up. He spotted Polaris, the North Star, right away, the first luminary he’d discovered with Grandpa; Ursa Major, more commonly known as the Big Dipper, opposite and more difficult to spot, Ursa Minor, the Little Dipper. Snaking its way between the two was Draco, the dragon, Jonathan’s favorite constellation of them all. Every night before falling asleep, he used to fantasize about the mighty dragon racing across the inky blackness at lightning speed slaying Leo the lion and Taurus the bull. “Ever diligent,” his grandfather used to say, all those years ago. “Protector of the stars and planets.”
That feeling again. Goosebumps fanned out across Jonathan’s chest and snaked along his arms.
The stars shine bright tonight, no?
Startled by the deep, melodic voice, Jonathan jerked around, but the dunes stood alone. A sudden awareness, like a sense of déjà vu washed over him. The hair on his arms prickled. Seeing no one, he shrugged off the strange feeling as having had too much scotch. He turned around to head back toward the cottage.
He spun around like a frightened animal. Syllables drifted through his mind, forming words into inner thoughts, the sound not his but a voice of long ago. Jonathan saw no one on the beach with him. “Who’s there?”
It is I, Jonathan. Your old friend.
The voice caused his heart to skip, a warm flush to his cheeks as he stood frozen. “Lucius?” Jonathan said. “Where are you? I can hear your voice but I don’t see you.”
I am here, my friend. The familiar voice urged him forth. Near the palm.
Jonathan spotted a tree with its trunk jutting out of the sand like a giant rocket impaled in the sand. A large image emerged from the shadows. He saw it was the man he’d tangled with before, the same person he’d tried to rescue from drowning. Lucius wore white slacks and nothing else, the fabric fluttering in the breeze. His torso shimmered in the moonlight, the sheen highlighting the toned muscles of his chest and the tautness of his stomach. A simple leather cord hung around his neck, bearing a lustrous stone of intermediate shades of white, pink and brown that fell in the hollow of his throat.
A voice cooing in Jonathan’s head beckoned him closer. The moment seemed surreal, dreamlike. “Lucius, is that really you?” He took a few tentative steps forward. “It’s been so long.”
It is I, Jonathan. The voice wafted. I am here now.
“I don’t understand.” Jonathan stood, disbelieving the voice drifting in his head. “How is it possible I can hear your words, but your lips aren’t moving?”
Lucius chuckled, that same wonderful melodic echo that had warmed Jonathan’s heart all those years ago. I speak in your consciousness, my friend, as can you. I perceive your thoughts and you mine, but only if you allow. Lucius moved forward, his arms outstretched and welcoming. You feel the connection, do you not?”
Jonathan stood still. Since returning to the island, he’d sensed something tugging at his psyche, an outpouring of passion eluding explanation, one he had chosen to ignore. Images of the two boys exploring the north shore flashed in his mind. Heat flowed through his body in a large burst, sparking awareness unlike anything he’d ever experienced before.
Seeing his childhood friend ignited a familiar fire within Jonathan. He moved forward like a kid again, the years melting away like ice cream on a beach.
“I think I do.” Jonathan closed the distance between them. He felt giddy and childish. “I feel you and sense your thoughts, yet I don’t understand how that’s even possible.”
“As do I, my dear friend.” Lucius moved his lips for the first time. “We share a mystical bond, you and I, unlike any other.”
Lucius stood well over six feet tall, blessed with wide shoulders and muscular arms, and a trim torso lined with ribbed abs. His brooding eyes caught the moonlight and sparkled like emerald fireflies.
“Was it always so?” Jonathan asked.
“Yes, since we were young pups. You don’t remember?” Lucius laughed and grinned at him. “Your return has brought me much joy, Jonathan. I have missed you terribly, my friend. I always knew you would return home one day.”
Jonathan felt dumbfounded. His family had worked hard to convince him Lucius did not exist all those years ago. They’d said he was Jonathan’s imagination. And now this.
He sensed the mutual attraction. Little had changed between them it seemed, save for their physical size. Lucius stood taller and more muscular, his face blunt and masculine, offset with a straight Nordic nose and razor-sharp jaw, no longer the boy with plump cheeks and a pudgy middle. Long dark hair wisped about his face in the breeze and shimmered in the bright moonlight.
“I trust your lungs have cleared since…”
“What…yes, thank you. It was stupid of me to have gone into the surf, much too rough. But I thought you were in trouble.”
“Jonathan, I meant you no harm. I admit I came inshore to gain a better view, to confirm my intuition that you had indeed returned.” He cast his eyes down. “I did not anticipate you would see me and enter the tide.”
“It’s okay,” Jonathan said. “If not for you, I might have drowned.” He smiled and faked a punch to the man’s right shoulder. “Enough of this. I’m just so damn glad to see you.” He wanted to pull the man into his arms, but sensibility won out.
Lucius offered his hand instead. “Walk with me.”
Jonathan took his friend’s outstretched palm and immediately sensed his incredible strength. The gesture was natural and innate, the act needing no words. He remembered when he and Lucius used to explore the rocks and dunes together for hours on end, forever seeking new adventures or sneaking into the island’s marine preserve to snorkel or skin-dive. Once, they had stowed away on a cargo ship docked in the Savannah harbor bound for China and jumped from the bow of the vessel before it sailed out to sea. He recalled their laughter, guiltless and blithe as they had howled all the way back to the island that day, oblivious to the dangers of their stunt. Thinking back, he cherished those days of naiveté, far from the expectations and responsibilities of adulthood.
They strolled hand in hand along the shoreline. Jonathan was transported back in time and immersed in the reminiscences of their childhood, running and laughing along the sand. He remembered swimming in the green water beneath the pier at Mid Beach and yanking on baited hooks, giggling at the surprised fishermen reeling in empty lines.
A keen perception passed between them after a time. Jonathan felt vibrant and alive, and light on his feet. He didn’t want this moment to end.
Is this happening? Am I actually walking hand-in-hand with the boy—now a man—who once stole my heart, my first crush?
He held the hand of the most beautiful man ever. The touch felt genuine and real, not obligatory or forced, like strolling along with Paul. Joy filled his heart as a sense of belonging that had eluded him of late rushed in like the coming tide. It felt right to be here with this man. Nothing else in the world mattered.
They came across the trail of a loggerhead sea turtle and followed the reptile’s tracks. Lucius spotted her a few feet up the beach and motioned Jonathan forward. She pushed at the thick sand using powerful back flippers to burrow a nest for her eggs. They observed in silence as she worked, witnessing the beauty of nature firsthand. Over the next hour, she spawned a hundred or more white oval shells before covering them with sand and crawling back into the sea, leaving a trail in her wake.
“Tell me something,” Jonathan said as they resumed walking along the beach, at times stopping to marvel at a shell or the shimmering of the moonbeam across the ocean. “Why did you stay? Most of us youngsters went off to universities or moved to bigger cities for better paying jobs, yet you chose to remain on the island.”
“This is my home.” Lucius gestured at the wide expanse before them, the tiny white lights of Little Tybee twinkling in the distance. “Generations of my clan have been reared here, and many more to come. I cannot imagine residing elsewhere. Why should I want to leave the home of my father, my ancestors?”
Jonathan nodded. “What do you do,” he asked. Lucius turned with furrowed eyebrows. “You know, for a career.”
“I am unsure what you mean.”
“You work, don’t you?”
Lucius stared at him, emanating a radiance that clutched Jonathan’s heart.
“Your livelihood. How do you earn a living, you know, pay the bills?”
“Ah, I understand now.” Amusement flashed in Lucius’s eyes, and he appeared coy. “I protect the ocean, its inhabitants and environment. My family has safeguarded the waters and the island for centuries.”
“Oceanography, how cool. It makes sense,” Jonathan said. “You always knew way more about the ocean than I ever did, and you always were an excellent swimmer. Are you affiliated with the Skidaway Institute over in Savannah?” Lucius nodded. “Wow, I’m impressed. That facility is world renowned for its marine research.”
“And you?” Lucius asked. “Did you discover your dreams inland?”
The question seemed odd, though sincere. Jonathan considered a moment before answering. “I suppose so,” he said. “For as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to be an accomplished writer. I studied creative writing and dramatic arts at the University of Georgia. After graduation, I took out for L.A. after landing a job writing copy for an independent network. After a few years, I was awarded a gig as a screenwriter for Destiny Road. Have you heard of it? It’s this tawdry melodrama chronicling the lives of two feuding families with far too much money for their own good. The show runs on cable, not one of the major networks, but it pays well. We’ve been picked up for another two years, so not bad in a business where ninety-five percent of new pilots each season fail to impress the viewing audiences.”
They slowed and turned toward the sea. “In my spare time, I develop screenplays to pitch to the networks. I’ve got boxes full of rejections to prove it.” Jonathan snickered. “Oh, and there’s this great novel I’ve been working on for years that I’ve got saved on my computer’s hard drive.”
“What is a screenplay?” Lucius asked.
“You’re serious?” Jonathan hoped the shock on his face hadn’t offended his friend. “You know, movies, television, that sort of thing.”
Lucius smiled without a hint of understanding.
“I write stories which are then acted out on film.”
Recognition swept across his friend’s features. “Do you mean Hollywood?”
“Yeah, I guess you could say that.” Jonathan sensed fire below his navel. The man’s innocence was more than sexy, ridiculously tempting. Jonathan struggled to ignore his carnal desires. Lights on a cargo ship headed out to sea flickered on the darken horizon. “You don’t get out much do you?”
“Perhaps not,” said Lucius.
“Are you married now? Have a girlfriend?”
Jonathan actually surprised himself by venturing into personal territory so quick, unsure why he even broached the subject. The syllables crossing his lips sounded lame to his ears, very seventh grade. He wanted to take his words back. He had pried into the man’s love life as if testing the waters of possibility, looking to hook up. No longer available and off the market for a decade now, he wondered why the hell he felt the need to snoop into Lucius’s personal affairs at all.
“I have no one, Jonathan.” The sadness in the man’s words sounded heavy and ominous. “I am alone…except for my family.”
Jonathan fought the urge to pull his friend into an embrace, to reassure him. Lucius must have sensed his worry because he moved in closer so that their arms and hips touched. Jonathan’s stomach somersaulted. Tendrils of delight surged through his body and he turned to shield his flushing face.
A bright star shot across the horizon.
“Did you see that?” Jonathan asked. “The most beautiful sight in the world, isn’t it? My grandfather used to say when a star fell from the sky it meant someone had fallen in love.” He turned to Lucius, pulled in by his green eyes sparkling in the moonlight. “I never understood what he’d meant as a boy, but I do now.” The energy emanating between them grew intoxicating. Jonathan leaned into his friend and drank in the oceanic scent of his skin.
The snap of twigs distracted Jonathan. He glanced back, but saw nothing moving in the shadows. “It’s probably some small animal foraging in the dunes,” Jonathan said, offering a slight chuckle that sounded shallow and unsure. Turning back, he saw the distress in Lucius’s face.
“I should go,” Lucius said.
“Okay.” Jonathan’s mood fell faster than a barroom rejection.
Lucius flinched and stood rigid. He surveyed the dunes and the beach, searching the darkness and making Jonathan uncomfortable.
“Is something wrong? You seem…”
Lucius leaned into him with ease. Jonathan lost himself in the man’s lovely scent and parted his lips to receive a kiss, a stirring caress that left his head spinning and snatched his breath.
Jonathan pulled back, somewhat startled. “Lucius. I—”
What Jonathan wanted to say, what he needed to explain, was that he had a boyfriend, a partner of ten years. Someone he loved very much. But the sensation he’d had just now left him confused. No denying it. Touching Lucius’s lips was stunning, amazing even but… Jonathan yearned for more, holding steadfast in a delirious haze.
Lucius broke the embrace. “Meet me on the rocks at North Shore tomorrow at sunset,” he said. “I will present to you the most amazing view of the stars.”
Another snap of timber caused Jonathan to turn inland. A shadow moved beyond the seagrass lining the dunes. The hair on his arms prickled.
When he turned back, Lucius was gone.
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