GENRE: Gay Fantasy Romance
LENGTH: 30,725 words
After decades of searching, Rob has finally found others who are like him. Magical beings who can shift form and charm humans; the Hidden Ones.
A beach house in a sleepy shore town is home to an eclectic group of shifters, all outcasts in their own way, yet fiercely bonded together by choice. Rob is particularly drawn to Jack, the unofficial leader of the group, who immediately takes a shine to him, as well.
Magic brings answers to questions Rob has had for years; about his health, his history, as well as his future. Rob grows closer to each of his new roommates, and eventually forges a romantic relationship with Jack.
But even as Rob becomes more immersed in the magical world, Jack seems to be pulling back. Tensions rise as Jack's temper flares and old wounds reopen. Can Rob be able to find a way to keep his relationship with Jack strong without sacrificing his newfound freedom?
As they approached the lifeguard stand, the tall, shirtless figure of a man dropped from the stand to the beach in movements no less graceful than the woman's had been. Loose locks of dark hair fell around sharp, olive skinned cheekbones. Full lips curved to show white, even teeth. He pushed his sunglasses up off his nose onto his head to reveal deep brown eyes. He only looked a year or two older than Rob. Rob wondered what that translated to in calendar years.
"Hey there." The man's smile seemed genuine as he held one hand up in greeting. "I'm Jack. Nice to meet you."
"Is it?" Rob asked warily. "That's not the response I usually get from ... most of you just avoid me, like I'm trouble."
Jack shrugged, the easy grin still on his face. "If you were trouble, Anya wouldn't have brought you over." He leaned over to elbow the woman playfully, then turned back to Rob, one eyebrow raised. "Speaking of names, what's yours? You never said. Just started right in, complaining about me being polite."
"I wasn't ..." Rob trailed off. There was no point in arguing. Better that he stuck to answering the questions he was asked. "I'm Rob. Rob Wilson."
"Well, Rob Wilson," Jack drawled, "like I said, nice to meet you." He turned to Anya and tilted his head expectantly.
"He's looking for Alex," she said in a low voice.
Jack didn't seem fazed, nor did he look away from Anya. "He's not from Home." It was not a question. Anya didn't bother to confirm what was apparently already known.
Rob stiffens. The word 'home' hadn't been spoken any differently, but Rob had heard it differently. Something in Jack's voice vibrated. Rob was sure that had anyone else been listening, they wouldn't have noticed, but he had. A thrill ran through him. He suppressed a shiver even as an excited warmth filled his chest.
This was real.
Rob had often wondered how likely it was that he was truly alone. Maybe he was just an accidental fluke. He'd been nearly certain of it for the first twenty years of his life, when he'd had nothing but vague stories of a father long since disappeared to reassure him that there were others like him out there. Perhaps his father hadn't been able to shift his form as his mother had described. He might have just been one of the countless men in their rundown apartment complex who abandoned their responsibilities. Perhaps Rob's abilities had manifested from some other anomaly.
When he'd first sensed another person like him, his elation had quickly soured as his newfound kin had declined to speak to him. Over the coming decades, Rob had been soundly rejected by a grand total of three others. They had recognized him for what he was, as he had recognized them, and they had been cordial to Rob, even friendly. Yet they had clearly held back, unwilling to answer his frantic questions. They'd left soon after they'd finished their first drink, no excuses or apologies offered.
By the time the fourth one came around, spotted at the bar just down the street from his current apartment and looking around surreptitiously for the other that he could clearly sense, Rob had been prepared. He had avoided the man's gaze as he'd sidled up to the bar and used that strange form of charm that he possessed to encourage the bartender to feed the stranger at the end of the bar a few extra strong drinks. Once the man's smiles grew wider and less controlled -- not a simple feat, if Rob could extrapolate from his own experiences with mind altering substances -- Rob had taken a seat several stools down and settled in to wait with a drink of his own.
The fourth one had abandoned him as well, but not before he'd given up names. Alex. Driftwood. It wasn't much, but it was enough.
Rob had never heard of Home before, but just hearing the word in that voice tinged with something made him yearn for it.
He looked back and forth between Jack and Anya. "I've come a long way," he said carefully. "I'd like to talk, if you have the time. I guess you can tell that I'm ... well ..." He shifted his weight and winced at the dull pain in his stance. He fought to keep his expression blank, but Jack's eyes bore into his own in a way that showed he'd missed nothing.
"We'll talk," Jack said with a brief nod. "Back at the house." He reached up into the lifeguard stand and grabbed a loose white tank top, which he threw over his head. 'Driftwood Beach Patrol' was printed across the front in navy block letters. He pulled a plain hair band off his wrist with his teeth and scraped his loose hair back into a knot at the base of his neck.
He didn't look at Anya as he asked, "You'll be fine on your own for a little while, yeah? No one's going out in the water much."
"Of course," she said. "If you're sure."
Jack snickered. "When's that ever stopped me?"