Authors: Wendy Owens
by Wendy Owens
This book is dedicated to my one true love, Joshua, I am blessed to be living my happily ever after every day.
I want to give special thanks to my editors Ashley and Alicia, you did amazing work strengthening this book. Thank you to my cover artist,
Claudia Lucia McKinney
, brilliant as always. Thanks to Jennifer Steele, the cover model for capturing the essence of Rachel and to photographer Teresa Yeh for the image. And a very special thank you to my readers, without you this wouldn’t be possible.
The squeal of the tea kettle sent Uri leaping from the make-shift bed on the floor.
Gabe laughed at his friend.
He had been so immersed in his solitude for the past five years that he couldn’t help but smile, reminiscing about Rampart Manor.
No matter how much Gabe had tried to convince himself otherwise, it was comforting to not be alone, even if it was temporary.
He had forgotten what it was like just to hear someone else breathe.
Being completely absent of any kind of companionship can play tricks with one’s mind; Gabe had been fighting off the madness of loneliness for longer than he cared to think about.
In an instant though, the five years that had passed seemed to melt away.
It was as if he and his friend, Uri, had never been apart at all.
The overnight visit had already turned into a three day stay.
It was hard to say goodbye when it had taken them so long to find one another again.
Gabe would never have admitted it out loud, but he loved being entertained by Uri’s tales of ferocious battles each night.
Rachel on the other hand, had not made much of an impression on Gabe.
She was quiet and seemed to be more of an observer.
She would occasionally snicker at one of Uri’s funny stories about the good old days, when he and Gabe were going to take on the world.
In particular, the story of Gabe’s tests to enter Guardian school had her in stitches.
When Gabe faced those deadly challenges years ago, he never imagined he would laugh at the retelling of them, yet here he was, chuckling at the boisterous way Uri shared the tale.
After only three days together, Gabe was already used to having Uri around.
They didn’t speak much about the war that was going on in the real world.
Here, in this little hide away, both were content to simply enjoy reuniting.
“Where’s Rachel?” Uri asked, straightening his long arms out into a stretch.
When Gabe looked back at his friend, he couldn’t help feel somewhat inferior.
Though Gabe had matured and developed into a fit and lean man, in no way could his muscles compare to those of his longtime companion.
“She went outside.” Gabe replied, focusing on the kettle.
“For what?” Uri quickly replied, almost panicked.
“What am I, her keeper?” Gabe snapped.
While Gabe enjoyed having Uri as a guest, he could not help but feel annoyed at the presence of Rachel.
He had left Rampart with the intention of not meeting Rachel, and not looking after her.
He was not about to be roped into becoming The Protector now.
“Wow, all this time alone hasn’t done much for your personality, has it?” Uri groaned while pushing past Gabe, and opened the front door to the small cabin.
“Uri I’m—” but before Gabe could finish the apology, Uri was outside calling for Rachel.
As thrilled as Gabe was to have Uri with him, he had a sneaking suspicion there was more to his visit.
He couldn’t be certain, but he was confident in the assumption that Uri somehow thought there would be this magical connection when Gabe met Rachel.
Perhaps Uri thought Gabe would feel compelled to step into his role as protector.
Gabe in fact felt absolutely no connection to the girl.
As annoyed as Gabe was by her intrusion into his life, he was relieved to meet her in a way.
He had spent so much time avoiding his destiny that it had grown into a fear that haunted him.
The prophecy that was foretold to him by the Oracle was one of certain death for either him or the one he protected.
Rachel would give birth to the child he was supposed to save, it was her destiny.
Now that Rachel was here, he no longer felt his own destiny was some mystical thing he could not escape.
It was clear to him that he still held the power to choose his own path.
Eventually, Uri would come to understand, nobody should be expected to die for a stranger, at least Gabe hoped he would understand.
Gabe sat at his empty table, in his empty cabin, running his finger tip around the edge of his cup of tea.
He wished he had not been so short with Uri.
It felt good that the home he had built not to be quiet, but to be filled with laughter.
A thought had been on Gabe’s mind since Uri arrived, he wanted to ask him to leave the cause, abandon the Guardians, and come stay with him.
He didn’t ask Uri though, because he already knew what his answer would be, of that Gabe was sure.
Uri is not one who would ever run away from a fight, unlike myself,
He was certain that everyone he had known in his old life surely now thought of him as a coward.
He had told himself the reason he left was because of Sophie and his broken heart.
Now though, after all this time, perhaps the others were right.
Maybe the reason he now stayed away was fear.
Maybe I am a coward
, Gabe could not shake the words from his mind.
Several more minutes passed and still no sign of Uri or Rachel.
Gabe suddenly felt an uneasiness wash over him.
He knew his fortress of solitude was sound, at least he thought it was until Uri had found him.
The scenarios began to run through his head.
What if Uri and Rachel were followed?
The magical alarms were not triggered, they have to be safe.
Of course Uri had managed to not trigger the alarms either.
Gabe couldn’t take it anymore; he had to ensure Uri was alright.
He stepped out the front door and glanced around, they were nowhere in sight.
Another twinge of panic hit him before he turned and rounded the corner of the cabin.
“Uri…. Uri?” Gabe called out, searching for any sign of his friend.
He waited a moment for a response, but heard nothing.
Gabe continued on the path to the creek, perhaps they had gone to gather more water.
Concentrating, he pushed the thoughts that they were in danger out of his mind.
Dodging through the brush, Gabe picked up the pace.
The sooner he found them, the sooner his mind could rest at ease.
He came to a clearing.
Moving past the tree line he saw a figure near the stream.
After a moment’s hesitation, Gabe realized it was, in fact, Uri.
He was not yet used to his friend’s new physique and the image of a broad shouldered, muscular man had unsettled him at first.
Gabe approached Uri, a smile beaming across his face.
Remembering how they had left things at the cabin, Gabe quickly tried to explain his attitude.
“Hey man, about what I said back there… I didn’t mean anything by it.”
“Look at her.” Uri said as if he hadn’t heard a word Gabe said.
“Huh?” Gabe asked puzzled.
“She is always so blissfully happy.” Uri added.
Gabe glanced over to where Uri was directing his attention.
There, Rachel stood in the stream, the water tickling her ankles.
Her bohemian skirt was pulled up and knotted at her knees, one leg was locked straight and the other bent, the light bounced off the water illuminating her silhouette.
Gabe’s eyes travelled up her curvy body.
The white tank top clung to her torso, and for the first time, without the baggy sweatshirt to cover her, Gabe noticed her exquisite figure.
Rachel’s arms were out stretched, her chin raised to the sky, a colorful butterfly dancing on her fingertips.
Gabe had not noticed how beautiful she was until that moment.
Her large, almond shaped brown eyes sparkled in the light and her smile lit up her entire face.
The sun traced her petite nose and her full lips glowed with a rosy color.
Her dark hair crept down her arched back; the strands looked as though they were dancing in the wind.
Uri noticed Gabe’s sudden enchantment with her.
Knocking the wind out of him with a blow to the stomach, Uri laughed saying, “Be sure you pick your jaw up off the ground.”
Gabe shook his head as if coming out of a trance.
No, I wasn’t… Sounds to me like you’re the one who has a thing for that girl.”
Uri looked back at Rachel and smiled.
“She is special, that is for sure, but she and I are not meant to fall in love.”
“Oh yeah, and how do you know that?” Gabe questioned in a sarcastic tone before steeling another glimpse of Rachel.
“Let’s just say, I know.” Uri replied turning and walking back towards the cabin.
“Oh, that’s right.
Now I remember, all the mysterious mumbo jumbo crap they would feed us at Rampart is coming back to me.
It’s your life, Uri, how about you live it for yourself.” Gabe huffed as he turned to follow.
“You really have no clue what you’re talking about.
It has nothing to do with Rampart.
There is no room in my life to fall in love with anyone.
Rachel deserves to be with someone that can love her back.” Uri explained.
“And what make you too busy to love her back?” Gabe goaded.
“Some of us are fighting a war, Gabe.” Uri replied coolly.
“Oh, now I get it.
You’re all brave and noble; you don’t have time for love because you’re rescuing the world.
Well, we cowards don’t have room for love either!” Gabe added defensively.
“Nobody called you a coward, what is your deal?” Uri questioned.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.” Gabe snapped.
“Yeah, whatever you say.” After Uri spoke, the silence lingered for a moment until Gabe continued at last.
“I know what everyone must think about me,” he added.
“None of your friends expected you to be anything more than yourself.” Uri said, attempting to reassure him.
“No, I’m not stupid. I know what people are saying, I wasn’t always alone during those five years.
I heard things while I was traveling.
I abandoned the Guardians, I was a disappointment, a coward, selfish, I even heard a rumor I had joined the demons at one point.” Gabe rattled off, frustrated.
“Those words did not come from your friends, none of the people who really knew you.
Who cares what anyone else says?” Uri added.