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Authors: G.P. Ching

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BOOK: Return to Eden
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With a deep sigh, Abigail pivoted to face him. "I’m not ready to give up."

Gideon shook his head. "I won’t give up. Ever."

Silence wedged itself between them, but it wasn’t because there was nothing left to say. The words that waited in the corners had sharp edges. Words like that could do permanent damage if flung too hard at the one you loved.

"Do you want to watch the sunrise from the tower?" Gideon asked.

"Can you still hear it?"

"No, not really. Sometimes, when it breaks the horizon, I think, maybe. There’s a smell like citrus and seawater. But it only lasts a second and then it’s gone. I’m beginning to think it’s more memory than reality."

"I can’t even remember it anymore. All I can see is the light."

Gideon’s face twisted and he looked away from her.

"It’s still worth seeing." She spread her arms. "It’s worth seeing with you."

He ran toward her and leaped, transforming into the red cat before landing in her embrace. She scratched him behind the ears and sank her lips into his plush red fur. "Don’t worry, my love. I can fix this. If we keep believing, if we keep moving forward..."

Gideon purred.

"Trust me. Trust me and I promise I’ll do whatever it takes to keep us together."

 

Chapter 2

The Laudners

 

Behind the kitchen window of their cheery yellow home, John and Carolyn Laudner did what they always did on lazy mornings. John read the paper from front to back while Carolyn gossiped to the rafters about anything and everything she’d heard that week. With Lillian opening the shop, Katrina away at summer school, and Jacob spending the day with Malini, Carolyn had plenty of time to speculate about everyone else’s business and didn’t spare John a single thought.

"Did you know they still haven’t found Stephanie Westcott?" she asked. "Every time Fran comes to book club, it’s like the pink elephant in the room. No one knows how to comfort her."

John grunted, flipping to the sports section.

"Well, Fran Westcott is just beside herself. She insists the police aren’t doing anything, but I heard from Rosanne that her husband has exhausted all of Paris’ resources on searching for the girl. Even as captain, there’s only so much he can do. You know what people think, John?"

"Hmm."

"They think she ran off with a boy. She’s the oldest and Fran always treated her like the baby of the family. People think she just had enough of her mother and took off." Carolyn took a sip of her coffee. "You know what I think?"

John grunted.

"I think that Fran Westcott needs to let it go."

This made John look up from his paper. "Her daughter is missing, Carolyn. She could be dead, or worse. A person doesn’t just let that go. A person shouldn’t just let that go. How would you feel if it was Katrina?"

Carolyn pursed her lips and took another sip of coffee. "I suppose you’re right. It is just so darn sad. And now, with the bombing at the school and Dane Michaels still missing, I wonder what this world is coming to. A person does not know what to do to help."

John mumbled something that sounded like "stop blabbing about it."

"What, John?" Carolyn asked, sure she misheard him.

He looked her in the eyes. His lips parted.

"Oh wait, John, look!" Carolyn pointed out the bay window. "Abigail is headed for our door. I wonder what’s going on?"

"I’m sure you’ll find out," John said, folding his paper and pushing back his chair.

When the doorbell rang, Carolyn motioned frantically with her hand. John slowly walked to her side before she opened the door.

"Why hello, Abigail! How nice of you to stop by."

"Carolyn," Abigail said, tipping her head forward. "How are you and John doing today?"

"Us?" Carolyn glanced toward John who was smiling stiffly over her shoulder. "Oh we are just fabulous! Enjoying all of this time together now that Katrina is out of the house." She bobbed her head.

"Good to hear." Abigail smiled and handed her an envelope. "Looks like Pete accidentally put one of your letters in my mailbox."

Carolyn accepted the envelope and ran her finger over her name and address on the label. Her eyes narrowed and her mouth pulled into a straight line. "Thank you. So unlike Pete. I wonder if something’s going on at home?"

"I wouldn’t know," Abigail said. "Well, I’ll let you get back to your morning." She turned to leave.

"Wait, Abigail," Carolyn called, her voice rising in pitch. "Can I ask you about something?"

"Of course. What?"

"I thought I saw a man through your window the other day." Carolyn lowered her chin and raised her eyebrows. "A very attractive man. Are you seeing someone?"

Abigail’s face was unreadable. She was so still, Carolyn thought she was having a stroke or something. After a few awkward moments of silence, Abigail glanced at the yard and smiled sheepishly. "Nothing gets by you, Carolyn. Yes, I am."

Carolyn bounced up and down clapping her hands. "Is it someone from town? Someone I know?"

"Nope. He works at the University of Illinois with me."

"How exciting! Well, tell us his name." Carolyn slapped back the nudge of John’s knuckle.

Abigail opened her mouth and tilted her head. "Gideon. His name is Gideon."

"Ah, a biblical name. A man can’t go wrong with a name like that," Carolyn said.

"Unless he’s one of the many murderers named Matthew, Mark, Luke, or Moses," John chimed in. "Notice I left off John. Johns are good people."

Abigail laughed. Carolyn elbowed her husband in the ribs.

"So, do I hear wedding bells in your future? I’ve always told John that it’s amazing a man hasn’t already snatched up a beautiful woman like you, and smart, too."

Abigail’s eyes shifted toward the hem of her long skirt.

"Please excuse my wife, Abigail," John said. "She has a terrible time minding her own business."

Carolyn shot him an appalled stare.

"No, John, it’s okay. Carolyn, to be honest, I’m not really the marrying type. I like being on my own. I’m not sure you’ll see Gideon around much anymore."

"Oh." Carolyn lips pressed together. She wondered what must be wrong with a woman to not have any desire to be married.

"Well, I’ve got to get back to my research. Nice to see you again, John, Carolyn." Abigail gave a small wave and retreated to her home across the street.

Carolyn backed into the house, sliding her finger into the envelope flap and ripping it open. There was an official looking form inside. She read it over as John returned to his paper.

"John. John!"

"What is it now, Carolyn?"

Her hand pressed into her sternum, a smile dimpling her full cheeks. "We’ve won a cruise to the Caribbean!"

"What?" John returned to her side, lifting the paper from her hands.

"I entered that Crispy Crepes contest that came on the box. We won! We won the cruise!"

John read the letter twice over Carolyn's shoulder, then slapped his upper thigh. "Well, I’ll be damned! Wait, it says we leave from New Orleans the day after tomorrow. If we’re going to do this, we’ve got to hustle."

Carolyn shook her head. "We can’t just leave? What about Jacob? What about the store?"

"Jacob has his mom now, and I’m sure Lillian wouldn’t mind watching the store for a couple of weeks."

Nodding her head, Carolyn moved toward the stairs. "Ooh, I’ve got to get packing. There’s so much to do." She jogged up the steps, anxious to get started. Wait until her book club heard about this.

 

Chapter 3

Jacob and Malini

 

With Malini’s hand pressed over Jacob’s eyes, he tried to use his other senses to figure out their location. Wherever they were, it was sunny. Light broke through between her fingers and warmed his skin. The roll of ocean waves mingled with the unmistakable smell of salt water. He slipped off his shoe and was rewarded with sand beneath his toes.

"The beach," he said.

"Which beach?" Her lips grazed his ear and the warm whisper made his skin tingle.

"Malini, I can’t possibly guess. It could be any beach in the world." He tugged at her fingers.

"Ah, ah, ah. You’re smarter than that, Jacob. Guess again."

Jacob took a deep breath and tried to concentrate, not an easy task with Malini’s cheek pressed into the side of his neck, and her body against his. He’d play along. After all, he didn’t actually have to sort through all the beaches of the world, just the ones Malini might take him to for his seventeenth birthday. Since they’d arrived by way of enchanted staff, they had to be somewhere Malini could picture clearly in her mind. That meant she’d either been here before or seen pictures.

It had to be Hawaii. Not only had Jacob shown her pictures of his favorite beaches, for months he’d been begging her to go. He’d longed to show her where he grew up since the day they met.

"Hawaii," Jacob said. "Oahu for sure. But which beach?"

Malini sighed but didn’t say anything.

"I think...Waimea Bay," he said.

Malini groaned and dropped her hand. "How did you know? I thought I had you."

Content, his attention drifted to the blue-green waves. "Thank you, Malini. I’ve wanted to come back here since my first day in Paris."

"Why didn’t you come back before this? I mean, with the staff you could’ve come any time you wanted."

Jacob took off his other shoe and sat down on the beach, tugging Malini down next to him. Sifting handfuls of sand through his fingers, he tried to put his feelings into words. "I guess I was afraid to come alone. I mean, before I found mom in Nod, I wanted to come back here because I thought of it as home. But now, all the family I have left is in Paris. Sure, I like the weather here better, but every time I thought about leaving, I wondered if that would be the day Lucifer would launch an attack on Paris." He leaned back on the heels of his palms. "Last year, I thought I lost everything, and then I met you and found mom. Coming here alone would feel like tempting fate. You know?"

Malini slid herself between Jacob’s knees and leaned her back against his chest. He wrapped his arms around her shoulders, breathing in the familiar scent of coconut that lingered in her hair from her particular brand of shampoo.

"I think I get it," she said. "We can’t go backward in life. Your memories here were important but returning alone would feel like you weren't grateful for your new life. Only with me here, it's okay because we’re building new memories."

A warm breeze wafted through his hair and Jacob watched a pair of pigeons fight over a French fry at the water’s edge. "Yeah," he said. "Anyway, I love it. Thank you for coming here with me." He kissed her on the cheek.

Turning her head, she met his lips. He dipped her over his leg, to position her for a deeper kiss, but stopped when the father of a family with small children cleared his throat accusingly behind them. Self-conscious, he sat up and put some space between their bodies.

"What do you want to do first?" he asked. "I’d teach you to surf but no surfboard."

"Sorry. Surfboards and enchanted staffs don’t mix."

"We could get shave ice from Matsumotos? Or pop over to my old apartment building."

Malini shrugged. "Both. Unfortunately, we have an errand to run first."

"Nooooo," Jacob said. "Are you telling me that my birthday trip isn’t just celebratory?"

"It’s time to start gathering the Soulkeepers. Master Lee is here, as is a Horseman named Jesse that he’s training. We need to persuade them to come with us to Eden. They’re not safe here. Not anymore."

"And you know this because?"

"Because it’s my job to know this."

"Seriously, Malini, prom was three weeks ago. Why now? Couldn’t it wait one more day?"

"Jacob, I’m sorry but you know how this works. I see it in the fabric and I have to act. When I go to the In Between, it’s like finding a needle in a haystack. The details jump out to me when the time is right."

Pushing himself up onto his feet, he sighed. "Fine. Soulkeeper stuff first, but you owe me a shave ice."

"Absolutely."

"And, Malini, please tell me you brought cab fare because Red Door Martial Arts is across the island from here and no way can we use the staff in that part of town."

She reached into the pocket of her shorts and pulled out a wad of cash. "I got it covered."

"Let’s go. The sooner we get this over with, the sooner we can do something important, like celebrate the day of my birth."

Smiling, she took his hand and led him toward the street.

* * * * *

Through the plate glass window of Red Door Martial Arts, Jacob watched a class of elementary school kids dressed in karate uniforms. A Filipino man with a Mohawk demonstrated a series of kicks and punches at the front of the dojo. The far wall was decorated with a display of weapons. Beside them, a ginormous red door with a clunky metal ring for a knob spanned the building.

"I guess we're in the right place," Malini said to him, eyeing the door.

"This is where it all started for my mom," Jacob said. "She told me she saw the weapons and wanted to know if she could use them. It was before she knew she was a Horseman."

"I’m sure she raised some eyebrows. Overnight Ninja." Malini threaded her fingers into his.

"Yeah, they should have a special belt for that." Jacob tugged the door open and slid quietly along the windows, past the place where a group of parents watched the lesson. The instructor eyed them suspiciously as they made their way toward the door labeled
Office
in gold press-on letters. The
f
, half-peeled from the wood, hung precariously by a corner. Jacob knocked twice.

"Come in." Jacob recognized the man’s voice. It had been a long time since their phone conversation about his mom but the deep, accented tone was not one he could forget easily.

Inside, a small Chinese man with a shaved head and one milky eye sat, hands folded, behind a desk. For a moment, Jacob questioned whether he was mistaken about the man’s identity. The frail body in front of him couldn’t be the great Master Lee. But when the man saw Malini, he leapt over the desk and bowed at the waist in a series of unnaturally lithe movements.

BOOK: Return to Eden
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