It’s release day for TEMPTED FROM THE OAK (Tales of the Grove #2)! The Tales of the Grove tell the stories of the Gille Dubh, or Dark Men, a race of male tree spirits native to Scotland. The Gille Dubh and their daragin, the sentient oak trees in which they live, were thought to have died out thousands of years ago, but one by one (two by two, actually), the Gille Dubh and their daragin are reawakening.
In celebration of Tearlach and Gavin, please enjoy Chapter Two from TEMPTED FROM THE OAK!
Gavin turned up the collar of his leather jacket as he walked and tugged his hat down around his ears then plunged his hands back into the pockets as deep as they’d go. Which wasn’t nearly deep enough. Fortunately it wasn’t all that windy anymore and the snow they’d been predicting all day was apparently going to hold off long enough for him to get home, at least.
Home. He tried not to wince as he trudged along the path through the park in the darkness, new snow crunching under his thrift-store boots. He had a home for a few more days, at least. Jeremy hadn’t wanted to kick him out at Christmastime. Sleeping on the couch, though, didn’t feel much like any kind of home he’d ever heard of. Especially not with a tipsy ex-boyfriend and his equally tipsy new boyfriend tiptoeing past him in the middle of the night, trying to make it to the bedroom without turning on the lights.
It’s my own damn fault. Gavin wondered how people ever managed to take comfort in the thought that they’d brought their troubles on themselves. Maybe that was the kind of thing people only did in books. The notion—the entirely true notion, unfortunately—that he was wholly responsible for his current predicament left him feeling nauseous rather than comforted.
He’d been an idiot. The ink hadn’t even been dry on his diploma—Gavin Cross, M.F.A. in Scenic Design—when he’d met Jeremy at a performance at the Bathhouse Theater. He’d thought it was kismet, meeting a hot and available guy who just happened to be looking for a roommate in the same city as the Guthrie Theater, the very place he’d had his heart set on working ever since his undergraduate days.
Maybe it had actually been kismet. But just because something was fated to happen didn’t mean it was a good idea. Moving halfway across the country and moving in with a guy with the emotional maturity of Miley Cyrus had been a spectacularly bad idea. One step closer to his dream, sure, but maybe he wasn’t supposed to be getting closer to that dream just yet. Or ever for that matter. Now here he was—four days before Christmas—looking at ringing in the New Year sleeping on the street in the middle of a Minnesota winter unless one of the leads he’d found on Craigslist surprised the hell out of him by calling him back.
You, my boy, are a fucking idiot. Which was news to absolutely no one, least of all to the fucking idiot himself. Gavin had a long and ignoble history of deciding he “ought to” be in love with someone for whatever reason—because everyone said a guy was perfect for him, because a guy had smiled at him when he was having a bad day or because a guy offered him half a bed in the city of his dreams and ambitions—and then making himself do what he “ought” to do. It was kind of like crushing except that a crush was something mindless and whatever it was he did, he always did it to himself with his eyes wide open. Which broke his heart every time. And this time, it had also brought him halfway across the country to a deep freeze in which he knew essentially no one and committed him to a future with a man who saw him as a temporary decoration rather than a permanent fixture.
You could always go home, you know. Gavin hated the sensible voice in the back of his head with a passion. It’s not like you stand a chance at the Guthrie, not for years yet. Why hang around here and let the man you convinced yourself you loved treat you like shit when your only reason to stay is a pipe dream?
Well, at least the being-treated-like-shit part was getting taken care of.
Little spots of cold stung his face. Great, the snow decided not to wait. There was already a good foot of it on the ground, more than he’d ever seen in one place at one time before. And Jeremy had said earlier in the month, when the two of them were still on speaking terms, that Mother Nature was just getting warmed up. Mother Nature can take this particular twelve inches and she can shove it where—
Gavin blinked, then squinted. Loring Lake was up ahead on his left. And— impossible on this overcast night—a huge oak tree on the shore was bathed in the cool white of moonlight.
A spotlight? Gavin studied the tree and the ground around it. But there was no light source, no reason for there to be one—and judging from the shadows, the light was coming from above. The way moonlight was supposed to.
Bemused, he did a quick three-sixty. He hadn’t seen many people out tonight to begin with—apparently, even hardy Minnesotans preferred to spend the longest night of the year indoors. This end of Loring Park was nearly deserted, but there were a few other people on the paths and not one of them seemed to be paying any attention to the odd phenomenon, despite the way the clear light bathing the tree made it stand out from the darkness around it.
Gavin shrugged. It’s not like I’m in a huge hurry to get home. Damn, there was that word again.
As soon as he stepped off the path, the snow was over the tops of his boots. It clung to his jeans and fell into his boots, one soft clump after another as he slogged through the unmarked snow. He hardly noticed, though. His gaze was fixed on the tree.
That’s odd. The moonlight—if that’s what it was—cast no shadows anywhere but under the tree itself. He was almost to the overhanging boughs now and glanced up— having a snow-covered branch dump its load down the back of his neck a couple of weeks ago had been enough for him.
The snow on the branches was melting.
Maybe I shouldn’t be doing this.
Gavin stepped into the circle of moonlight.
He was still under an oak tree. A completely different oak tree, one growing out of bare and rocky soil, its roots visible in places. The sounds of an urban park, cars and planes and dogs barking, were gone, replaced by a profound silence. Only the moonlight was the same, pouring down through the branches and dappling the ground.
Gavin spun around to look back the way he’d come. There was no sign of snow or park or lighted walking path. Only darkness and a sense of something massive, looming, blotting out the moonlight. Something that definitely hadn’t been there a few seconds ago. The lake was gone too. Where it had been was a rocky slope scattered with patches of scrub grass. Down the slope, a few hundred yards or so, he could make out water, gleaming in the clear white light. And the stars were glorious.
Shouldn’t I be panicking? Gavin looked past the tree, down toward the water. I’m not. Not yet, anyway. Maybe I would, if this were even a little less impossible. As his eyes adjusted to moonlight and starlight, he could make out shadows rising around the lake. Great hills or small mountains, their tops mostly bare, pale stone. Chances were the presence he could still feel at his back was another one. Toto, I don’t think we’re in Minneapolis anymore.
Wherever he was, it was warmer than Loring Park had been. The leather jacket was still a good idea but he pulled off his knit cap and stuffed it into a pocket, running his hand idly over the short dark fuzz the barber had left him yesterday. Jeremy liked his hair long. Which was a reason for a buzz cut if he’d ever heard one.
Maybe I’m dreaming. Though if he was, why he’d started dreaming in the middle of an after-work stroll through the park was an open question. Unless the whole day had been a dream. Surely, though, there were better things to dream about than spending six hours explaining the difference between a tall, a grande and a venti. Still, dreaming was the only explanation he could come up with off the top of his head that didn’t somehow involve total insanity on his part.
Gavin tipped his head back, looking up through the branches and the sparse leaves into the impossibly beautiful night sky. If it was a dream he’d wake soon enough. Hopefully not when Jeremy or his Quentin or Benton or whatever the hell his name is trips over me again.
He shook his head. There was no place, no time for idle thoughts here, or fear, or nursing a grudge. It was just too damn beautiful. Stark, silent and peaceful. Exactly what he needed.
The space around the oak was a little more grassy, a little less rocky. Gavin slid down the trunk to sit. He’d almost touched down when he lurched to one side, as a rock rolled out from under the heel of his waterlogged boot. The heel of his hand skidded off more stones as he caught himself and he felt the slam all the way up to his shoulder as he finally fell against a gnarled tree root.
Cursing under his breath, he fell back against the trunk of the tree and rolled his shoulder, shook out his hand. Bleeding. Hell. But it wasn’t the ache or the scrape he minded so much as the broken spell.
“Damn it.” His voice sounded much too loud in the stillness and he lowered it to a murmur. “No peace even in my dreams.”
The crown of the oak tossed as if in a wind.
But there was no wind.
Peace is here. Leaf on leaf, the tree whispered to him. Wait for it.
And the story begins with HEART OF THE OAK (Tales of the Grove #1): http://www.amazon.com/Heart-Oak-Boys-Will-Do-ebook/dp/B00FBF4XIY/ref=pd_rhf_dp_p_d_2