Now she’s trying to pick up the pieces of her old life while Ian adjusts to being trapped in the modern world, unable to go back to his home in ancient Greece. Any free time they have is spent trying to find the missing portal and capture any mysterious creatures that appear.
But when a monster attacks another innocent person, Austen decides that maybe the dangers they’re facing are too much for her and Ian to handle alone. Maybe it’s time to ask for help.
Soon the fragile peace Austen has tried so hard to cultivate crashes down around her and she realizes that sometimes the most treacherous things in the forest walk on two legs, not four.
Here’s a sneak peek of Chapter 1:
“You missed a spot.” I point at a half inch of black plastic on the ley line detector on the table that’s not covered in duct tape.
“Funny.” Ian scowls and lobs a roll at me from across the table. “Here. You do it.” He cocks one dark eyebrow, daring me to fix the stupid thing. Okay, maybe it is my fault it’s broken, but there’s no way I could’ve seen that branch in the middle of the night. “They’re still our best chance of finding the portal again.” I know he doesn’t blame me for the missing portal, but I hadn’t blown it up, it’d still be on the beach.
“Like that’ll help,” I mutter, trying to ignore the way the deepening sunlight slants across the planes of his face or the unconscious way he brushes tendrils of wavy black hair out of his eyes. I’d better focus on making sure the other detector’s working right. I glance up to catch him watching me, his dark eyes smoldering. Yeah, like that’s going to happen.
Ian chuckles. “How do they say it? You have two left hands.”
My cheeks warm, and I glance at my arms, one noticeably paler than the other. “At least I don’t have the cast anymore.” It’s only been a few days, but I hope I can get my arm back to the way it was before. “I think the saying is two left feet, and it refers to dancing, but I get your point.”
“I haven’t been dancing in ages,” he muses. “We should go someday.”
My mind wanders to tantalizing thought of being trapped in his arms, swaying from side to side, dipping and twirling. I clear my throat to stop the imagery before Ian notices. “When all of this is over, it’s a date.”
The corner of his lips twitch. “I’ll hold you to that.” He turns his ley line detector on and watches the lights flicker to life. “There. Let me see yours.”
I hand Ian my device, and watch his long, agile fingers as they hover over the detector’s buttons.
He lays it on the table, fiddles with the antennae poking out of it, and rearranges the crystals wired along each side. “There, that should do it.” He wipes off the little screen. “It doesn’t have to be pretty to detect portals. It just has to work.”
I chuckle. “And they work better if I don’t drop them, right?”
“It’s possible.” His lips twitch. “Why don’t we go and give them a whirl? I’ve isolated a section over on the north side of the property that looks promising.” He stows both devices in his backpack. “We’re close; I can feel it.”
“That would be awesome.” I slip my jacket on as he finishes getting the supplies ready. Evenings can still get chilly here in northern Michigan, even in the beginning of August. Besides, the denim material provides some added protection from sticks and branches, not to mention creatures and just plain tripping over my own feet.
“And we’ll get a chance to ride the ATVs.” He grins, his excitement making him seem more like a normal nineteen-year-old rather than someone who’s been around for over a hundred years.
I groan. “Again? I barely survived the last ride we took. You drive like a maniac.”
“Your driving isn’t any better. I’ve been afraid to go out on the road ever since you got that car.”
I roll my eyes. I’m not that bad of a driver, and he knows it. “Thanks.”
Ian takes my hands and tips my chin so my gaze meets his. “I won’t let anything happen to you. I promise.”
His words awaken butterflies in my stomach, and I gulp. “I know.” I wonder if he knows how his words affect me. I hang off of them, breathe them in, and hold them deep inside.
He tugs me toward the door. “Then what are we waiting for? Let’s go.”
The two shiny black ATVs rest in the shade next to the lighthouse. After we reach them, Ian waves a set of keys in the air. “Want to drive?”
I shudder dramatically. “Not a chance.”
Ian laughs and hands me the backpack. “They’ll grow on you eventually.” He hops on the nearest ATV and pats the seat behind him. “Just hold on tight,” he says, and I wrap my arms around his waist. No complaints here. Holding on to Ian, breathing the scent of his shampoo, is by far the best part of riding with him. Not that I’d ever tell him that, though.
Following an old deer path, Ian guides the ATV around towering pines and leafy maples toward the northwest part of his property. Feathery ferns brush against us as we pass, their dappled leaves swaying in our wake.
We reach our destination, and Ian parks under an enormous oak tree. When he asks, I hand him the pack, and he pulls out a handheld GPS device and a map. He spreads the map out on the seat and consults the GPS. “I don’t want to waste time and check the spot twice,” he says.
Of course. Finding the portal is of utmost importance, before more creatures, either four-legged or two, comes through. We don’t need another flock of pterodactyls or a mobster bent on revenge. Or an innocent child, like Nico. My heart aches for the little boy who followed me through the portal. He had to grow up too fast, and in the end, it hadn’t been safe to leave him in his home world. Ian’s home world.
“Are you all right?” Ian asks, his eyes full of concern. Lines pinch the corners of his eyes and weigh down his shoulders. His longing and his loneliness wear at me, too.
I nod, banishing my regret to the back of my mind. I’ll dwell on that later. For now, we have new, super-charged ley line detectors to try out and a portal to find.
“Good.” His worry transforms into a dashing smile. “Let’s go. It shouldn’t be too far.”
“That’s fine by me.” As we walk away from the ATV, I scan the area around us. It’s a small clearing, punctuated by a stream and some squat hills on the other side.
“Be careful,” Ian says, pointing at the hills. “There are some old caves back there that the bears used during the winter. I haven’t checked them recently, but it’s better to be safe.”
“Than eaten by a bear?” I smirk.
He chuckles. “Yes, that.” Ian digs through the backpack and hands one of the ley line detectors to me. “Here, try this.”
I flip the switch, and the screen glows. “It turns on. That’s a definite plus.”
He arcs the other device in front of him. “Well, yeah. Of course it works. With the crystals to boost the signal, we should be able to find the portal sooner.”
I walk away a few feet to see if I can pick anything up. The screen’s straight line flashes at me. “Yeah, I think mine’s still broken. Isn’t the line supposed to be moving?”
“Only when we get close. Here, let me take a look.” His fingers brush mine as I hand him the device. I shiver deliciously at the touch. “Ever since you blew up the portal, I’ve been researching ways to blend the technology with the amorphous metaphysical power of the portal. Hopefully, I can create a device that will not only tell me where and when a portal shows up, but will also lock on and potentially change the destination.”
“So you can go home.” That familiar pit in my stomach returns. Part of me doesn’t even want to find the portal. If I do, and it goes back to ancient Greece, he’ll leave me. I know he will. He should, though. That’s the thing, I can’t hate him for wanting to go back home when I’d do the same.
His fingers pause over one of the dials. “Perhaps. Someday.” He takes a deep breath. “But not today.” Ian hands the device to me. “Try it now. During the last storm, the surveillance system detected a lot of lightning within about a quarter mile of here. Since the portal attracts electricity, I decided it was worth a shot.”
I glance at the sky instinctively, even though I know there’s hardly a cloud in the sky. That would be my luck, to get struck by lightning. We walk through the forest, following the stream, until the forest opens up again. This time, however, it’s not a natural clearing.
The charred trunks of trees dot the landscape for about a hundred yards. I wrinkle my nose at the acrid scent. The ground, scorched and black, crunches beneath my shoes. Branches and limbs, leafless and crackling, provide treacherous footing. Just beyond the edge of the clearing, a stream gurgles between the trees.
The line on my detector blips. I take another step, and it jumps up and down in rapid succession. The device beeps and then screeches, as if to make sure we’re paying attention. I glance over at Ian’s detector when his starts to do the same thing.
“I think we’re in the right spot,” I say.
He trots over to me, and we compare readings. “Me, too. I don’t think we need these anymore,” he says, a satisfied smirk on his face. “I told you we were close.” He turns off his detector, and I do the same.
“I can’t believe it.” I shift from side to side, jittery with excitement. I can’t believe we might find it this time, even if there’s a chance that it might go back to ancient Greece. It’s a slim chance, though. There are a million other places it could lead to. I just want a little more time with Ian. That’s not too much to ask, is it?
We step farther into the clearing, and a hushed silence settles around us. No birds tweet, no bugs flit through the air, no rabbits or foxes or anything else rustles through the ferns around the edges. We’re not just alone in the human sense, we’re alone, and it freaks me out. I’ve learned that silence equals predators and danger, and the animals in the forest are a better alarm system than anything electronic.
“I don’t know if we should be in here.”
“Just a second.” Ian presses on. “We’re almost there.” Shading his eyes, he scans the clearing, and we carefully pick our way through the charred logs. “There.” He stops and points at a spot of charred earth in front of us.
I follow his direction, but I don’t see anything different. “Are you sure?”
“Definitely.” He puts his arm around my shoulders, moving me slightly, and points again. My body hums with energy being this close to him. Even if I saw the portal, I’d probably fake it, at least for a few more seconds. “It’s right there. If you can’t see it, focus on something else, like that log over there. You’ll see a shimmering in the air, and that’s it.”
I lean in closer to him, fully taking advantage of the moment. “I don’t see it.” I glance up at him, and then something grabs my attention. It’s a shimmering, like he said it was, just at the edge of my vision. The air shimmers, and suddenly the spot is so visible, I can’t believe I didn’t see it sooner. “Oh my God. There it is!”
He wraps his arms around me, lifts me up, and twirls me around in a circle. “I knew we could do it!” His lips touch mine, so quickly that electricity barely has the chance to spark between us before he lets me go. When he turns away to face the portal, a chill fills the void he left behind.
Ian pauses in front of the portal. “You can still see it, right?” He runs his hand though his hair. “I can’t believe we found it.”
“I know,” I echo, hollowly. “It’s crazy.” I follow him, my shoes crackling on the scorched earth until I’m right next to him. Freed from the constraints of the cave on Ian’s beach, the portal stretches above us, a good five or ten feet into the air. It shimmers, like the mirage I see over the highway on a scorching summer day. “Is it just me or is the portal bigger now?”
Ian rocks back on his heels. “I think you’re right.”
“If I didn’t know what I was looking for, I would have walked right through it.”
He grins. “Then I suppose it’s a good thing you have me. We can’t risk you getting kidnapped again.” Gone are the lines that etched the corners of his eyes and the weary hunch to his shoulders. It’s almost as if he’s energized. “Thank God it’s still within the fence.”
That’s true. The fence is Ian’s boundary, meant to keep the creatures in and innocent bystanders out, but there’s nothing that says the portal has to remain within these boundaries. In my head, I imagine the melee if the portal popped up right next to Wal-Mart in Alpena. That would be a disaster, though probably funny, too.
Ian walks around the portal, blurring briefly when he passes behind it. “Now that we know where it is, we have to stabilize it before it moves again.”
“Oh yeah. I really don’t want to go chasing this thing down again.” I join him and stand in front of the portal, close enough to feel the breeze wafting from wherever it leads. “Where do you think it goes?”
Ian shrugs, but his gaze look troubled. “The only way to find out is to go through it.” He crouches down in front of the portal and scoops away some of the pine needles coating the ground. “Until then, no field trips. Okay? It’s much too dangerous.” There’s a sadness in his eyes that makes my heart ache. I can never erase it, never replace what he lost when he left his home and chose to stay here in this world. With me. I hope he thinks it’s worth it.
I have to change the subject, or I’m going to break down, and I can’t do that right now. Especially not since we just found the portal. “Do we have enough crystals?” I grab his bag and rummage through it until I find a little leather satchel. I empty a few of the clear stone points into my hand, each one roughly two or three inches long.
Ian plucks one from my hand and holds it up to the light. “I think we should probably get some larger ones.” He studies the portal. “These smaller ones probably won’t contain it.”
Which is my fault, since I blew up the portal. “What do we do now?”
He returns the crystal to the bag and brushes his hands off on his jeans. “I have some larger ones at home. If we hurry, we can make it back before the sun sets.”
I follow his gaze to the bright glow starting to descend upon the horizon. “Don’t you have to lay them out in the sun to charge them?”
“I already did, just in case I needed them for something else. Let’s go.” We hurry to the ATVs, and Ian takes a minute to spread the map out and circle the section we’re on. “There. Now if something happens to us, someone else will know where the portal is.”
His words chill me. “Would anyone even come looking? I mean, this isn’t really something you’d leave in your will.”
He gives me a weary smile. “I’ve made arrangements, trust me. If something happens to me, the portal will not go unguarded for long.”
That’s interesting, and it leaves more questions than answers. Just as I’m about to ask him what he’s talking about, Ian holds his hand up. “Shhh.” His voice is low, barely above a whisper.
I freeze. My heart starts pounding double time in my chest.
From the corner of my eye, I see a flash of tawny brown and black disappear between the trees. Ian reaches into his pack and tugs a gun free. The shiny black barrel comforts me, even though I know a gun isn’t a match against some of the portal’s denizens.
A low growl erupts from somewhere in the bushes, breaking the eerie stillness.
“Wait here,” Ian murmurs.
He creeps toward the sound, his steps nearly silent in the brush and his attention laser focused. His only acknowledgement of me sneaking along behind him is a brief scowl flashing across his face. When he reaches the spot where the creature disappeared, he kneels down and brushes some of the leaves aside. “Check this out.”
I kneel next to him, and he points at a footprint in the dirt. It’s sort of blurry, but when I really focus, I can make out the indentations of four toes and a large pad. It’s about the size of the palm of my hand. At least it’s not a dinosaur print.
“What kind of animal do you think it came from?”
Ian clears away a bit more of the brush to reveal another track. “I don’t know, but we need to find out, especially if it came from the portal.”
Crap. Of course it’ll be something from the portal. There’s no way we’d be lucky enough to find a stray coyote that somehow made it past Ian’s fence and gate. With our luck, it’ll be especially adept at killing humans, too. “What are we going to do?”
A high-pitched yipping noise interrupts us. We listen for a few seconds until it dies away.
“Go back to the lighthouse. We need to figure out what we’re up against before we set out to catch it. I’ll set up a few trail cams and get out a few live traps.”
“What if the creature leaves?”
“It won’t. With a few exceptions, animals usually stay close to the portal. We’ll find it and catch it, just not today. One problem at a time.”