I can still see you.
Okay, I’ll ramble a few minutes while you lurk.
I had an opening today for the blog tour, so I thought I’d throw out an alternate ending for JUST BREATHE. The published ending is actually the third version. The first was totally different, as you’ll see below. The second version incorporated Zoe’s change, but I switched the order of events to maximize the impacts of Zoe’s and Gavin’s respective job decisions at the end of the book. Zoe’s transformation in version 2 happened when Lily showed up in the Dreaming on the equinox, and Jack was there to witness it. Another ending for another day perhaps. :-)
If you’re still reading, I’ll assume you’ve either finished JUST BREATHE or you’re okay with spoilers, so I’m spilling the damn beans now…
I felt that at the end of the series, Gavin and Zoe had to make some tough decisions about their jobs to prove they were willing to sacrifice the things they loved to be together. In the original ending below, Gavin quit being a Sentinel so he could sleep beside Zoe, and Zoe never turned Wæter. I envisioned the two of them living their Happily Ever After as two normal Wyldlings. It never occured to me to make Zoe a Wæter Elemental.
My editor liked the original ending, but she was a little let down. She said I’d left all sorts of clues throughout the book about Zoe becoming a Wæter, and she was disappointed at the end when it didn’t come to pass.
“Huh? What clues?” I said. Well, when I went back and looked, I damn sure had left ‘em. Must’ve been my subconscious planting seeds my active brain knew nothing about. :-)
I wasn’t flat-out opposed to turning Zoe into a Wæter, but it took me a few days to warm up to the idea. Once I did, the implications blossomed:
- I could still have Gavin and Zoe give up something to be together. In the final version, Gavin was fully prepared to relinquish his Sentinel powers for her (even though he didn’t have to in the end), and Zoe still sacrificed her “voice” to help out Lily and the Wæters. Both did something selfless, which made me super happy.
- If Zoe turned Wæter, and Gavin remained a Sentinel, I could bring them back in later books as more powerful players in the Elemental/Sentinel world I’d created — always a plus for readers when familiar characters pop up unexpectedly. ;-)
- Throughout the original version, Gavin was too much of a victim — to Fate, Scarlet, the other Sentinels. Once I decided to keep him as a Sentinel at the end, it forced me to go back through and toughen his sorry ass up. No more “Eeyore” as my editor called him. If he was gonna keep his job, he had to prove he was worthy of it from start to finish. Just the kick in the pants he (and I) needed.
- Everyone loves to see paranormal characters live “forever.” While Gavin wouldn’t go on indefinitely in his present body, he could come back in another life, which is common for Sentinels, and his current lifetime would be extended significantly.
- Zoe deserved her transformation, damn it. She’d been through so much, I decided she should get a major “prize” for all the shit she’d taken — not just in these books, but throughout her whole life, dealing with her bitch mom and triple X syndrome.
So, here’s the orginal, unedited ending of JUST BREATHE. The epilogue stayed pretty much the same except for a few Elemental references, so I’m not including it. Enjoy!
The fog of the Dreaming had lifted, replaced with yellow rays of sun, blue sky, green earth, and only a few tinges of dying red embers in the muddy ground. The fresh wash of colors elicited an air of excitement and new beginnings, but Gavin could only think about endings.
He made his way to the Sentinels’ great castle and wandered through the flagstone corridors to the chamber where the leaders waited.
Erin, Kai, Camira, Seth, Wyland, and a new face—Killara—rose from the old jarrah wood table as he entered. Gavin bowed his head to them out of respect and glanced at the only empty seat. Council leader.
“This place of honor belongs to Killara.” Gavin gestured at chair. “Not me.”
“It’s yours by right,” Killara said, but Yileen spoke the words.
“It was never mine to begin with.” Gavin ambled to the table and laid his hands on the polished wood. “I said I’d resume leadership until the council found a suitable replacement. My time here is done. If there are no objections, I abdicate my position to Killara.” He looked at each council member in turn and received five nods of approval.
Fixing his gaze on Killara, Gavin indicated the seat with an open palm. Camira beamed as her son stood slowly, walked to Gavin, and embraced him.
It was an odd but pleasant sensation, feeling Yileen’s awesome power through the conduit of someone else’s body. His mentor, but not exactly. Killara was definitely in there too. Different voice, youthful glow, no more accent, yet still Yileen.
When he stepped back, Gavin said, “If it pleases the council leader, I have a request.”
Killara smiled and sat down. “Of course.”
How to say what he needed to without sounding ungrateful? He rubbed the hard spikes of his hair and paced.
“I’ve served Wyldlings for six years as a Sentinel. During that time, I learned a lot about what it means to be a protector of humanity, a force of good for the benefit of mankind. But something happened recently that made me realize I’m not cut out for this job anymore. I fell in love.
“When the Dreaming called me to rescue Zoe a few months ago, I was broken and beaten and bitter. I’d lost a good friend to the Fyres. I blamed myself for her death. I did a lot of stupid shit as a result. But Zoe brought me back to life. She found my fractured soul and rebuilt it with the Water I’d lost. She restored my Balance and showed me how to love not only her, but myself.
“I’m not sure where our future together is heading, but I know I can’t go on without her. If I have to give up my life here in Australia to be with her, I will. She’s my music, my Water, my life—my everything.
“Because my feelings for her are in direct opposition to my job, I can no longer fulfill my responsibilities as a Sentinel. I respectfully request to be relieved of my duty to this council and to the Wyldlings.”
Killara’s brow smoothed. “This is a serious request that shouldn’t be made lightly. It can’t be undone. Are you absolutely certain?”
Yileen stared through the teenager’s eyes, like a concerned papa bird counseling his fledgling son before he leapt from the safety of the nest into the endless sky of the unknown. Gavin saw no judgment. Lots of pride. But most importantly, a willingness to let go.
Gavin inhaled a breath and released it slowly. He was ready to take that leap and risk crashing a thousand times for Zoe. “I’m certain.”
“So be it.”
The air above the center of the table trembled and inflated like a transparent balloon. The councilors glanced to one another with anxious expressions, but Killara kept his calm eyes on Gavin.
The Dreamweaver shimmied out of the disturbance, her skin a bit tighter against her fuller frame. Seemed like she’d regained some strength now that the equinox had passed and the Elements had realigned into Balance.
“Gavin Cassidy, you wish to renounce your Sentinel powers?” Her lilting voice rang like a bell, caressing his ears.
“I do.” He bowed his head.
“You understand that in order to do so, your peers will forever renounce you too?”
He gritted his teeth at thought of losing Yileen again, but his need to be with Zoe gave him the strength to reply. “I do.”
She faced Killara. “Council members, what say you?”
Everyone stood and faced him.
“I no longer acknowledge you as a Sentinel,” Wyland said and gave Gavin his back.
In turn, Seth, Erin, Kai, and Camira followed Wyland’s lead.
When only Killara was left, he met Gavin’s gaze, steady and strong. Respect, a hint of regret, and mutual love bounced between them.
“I wish you happiness in your new life,” Yileen said. “I no longer acknowledge you as a Sentinel.” He beamed a proud smile, turned away, and Gavin was alone.
“Your peers have spoken,” the Dreamweaver intoned with an unmistakable twinkle in her eye. “I hereby strip you of all Sentinel powers and privileges associated with that station.”
The colorfully painted Elemental walls of the council chamber spun in a swirl of red, yellow, green, and blue. His arms throbbed with a maddening itch as the magic Yileen had hammered into them six years ago on the night he became a Sentinel fled his skin, wafted up, and blended with the dizzying blur of the room. He closed his eyes…
…and awoke on the quiet stretch of beach where he’d left his body for the Dreaming.
He sat up and rubbed his tattoos. No tingles, burning, or other signs of life—just the original images, slightly faded with age. He tested his Dreamsense by sending it in search of Elementals. It failed him.
He smiled. “I’m free.”
The sun was heading for the horizon. He stood and checked his watch. Five o’clock.
Shit. He scrambled to the Harley, kicked the bastard wide open, and raced toward Jack’s house.
I’m coming, Zed. Please don’t leave without me.
When Gavin arrived at Jack’s fifteen minutes later, the drive was empty. No lights on inside.
He raced up to the door, flung it open, and stepped inside. “Zed?”
The place was silent. Brown boxes lined the lounge room walls. None of Jack’s stuff was here, and the computers were gone.
Double fuck. If he hurried, he might make it to the airport before her flight took off.
His heart caught in his throat as Zoe came down the hall. She paused a moment, smiled, then rushed into his open arms.
“Damn it, I thought you’d left.” He pressed his nose to her hair and breathed in the safe, flowery scent that haunted his memories.
She pulled back to look at him, tears sparkling her eyes. “I couldn’t leave without saying goodbye.”
His lungs caved in. So, she was leaving. He smoothed the blond waves falling across her shoulders and sighed. “I promised I’d take you to the airport, but before we go, there’s something I want to give you.”
Crushed by the weight of despair, he slipped his shaking hand inside the pocket of his jacket and pulled out his lucky bird. He held it out to her. “This is for you.”
Zoe’s face crinkled into a mess of anguish, and she burst into tears as he dropped the toy falcon into her palm. Bawling, she closed her eyes and curled her quaking body into his unsteady embrace.
“You have no idea, do you?” Her sobs muddled the words.
Why was she getting so worked up about the stupid bird when everything they’d built together was about to crumble to dust?
“No idea about what? Tell me, Zed.”
She wiped her eyes and stared up at him, a smile edging out the sadness. “This bird.” Holding it up, she shook her head.
“What about it?” Gavin was at a loss for words.
“Where did you get it?”
He shrugged. “I’m not sure. I’ve had it since I was a grub.”
Her racing breaths slowed. “You may not remember, but I do. When I was twelve, I came to Australia with my mother. We were walking down the street one day when a man—Yileen—stopped us. He handed me this bird.”
“What? Yileen gave it to you? Then how did I—” Shocked slammed Gavin’s head like a needle to the brain and injected it with a forgotten memory. Fucking gods. “It was you. You gave me the bird!”
She laughed and nodded.
The details came rushing back. “I was at a restaurant with my family…upset and crying about something…I saw it on your table and came over…” Warmth flooded his body. No way. “Zed, I played with the falcon for years after that. My brothers were always trying to steal it from me, but I defended it with my life. It was my most prized possession.” This was too much.
Fuck. Just, fuck.
“And now, all these years later, here it is again. This bird brought us together, Gavin.” She marveled at the wooden figure and returned her gaze to his. “I never believed in magic until I met you. How can I deny this—or you—any longer?”
He blew out a long breath. “I’m hoping you won’t. Why didn’t you tell me about the bird when we first met?”
“I was scared of what it meant. Worried that maybe Fate really did have a hand in our lives. I wasn’t willing to accept that. I believe we make our own choices, but nothing is set in stone. We have free will, and we’re allowed to change our minds.
“I’ve waited for years to get this promotion, yet I’ve felt nothing but dread since I accepted it. I knew it wasn’t right all along, but I didn’t want to admit that I let something—someone—come between me and the whales. I do want to be with you, Gavin. More than I want the job. More than I love the whales. If that means we have to sleep in separate rooms, I’ll do whatever I have to—”
“You won’t have to. I changed my mind about some things too. I’m no longer a Sentinel.” He held up his tattoos. “I liked that job, but let’s face it. I sucked at it. I’m not cut out for being a hero.”
“What? You gave up being a Sentinel for me?” Her eyes somehow widened more.
He smiled. “Are you joking? I’d give up my left nut to be with you. Anything. Besides, my job has caused us nothing but trouble. If I hadn’t been a Sentinel, we wouldn’t have had to deal with half of the bad shit that happened to us.”
“But if you hadn’t been a Sentinel, we never would have met.” She stroked his arm where whales swam and mermaids frolicked. “Aside from when I gave you this.” She held up the bird.
“True, but all the shit with Scarlet—”
“Scarlet would have come after you regardless.”
“Not being able to wake up beside you every morning—”
She smiled. “Fair enough. Do you feel different now?”
He slipped his thumbs through her belt loops and tugged her hips to his. “I’m heavy with Water, yet light as a balloon. A little empty in some places, but completely full when I look in your eyes. Regretful about the mistakes I made, yet confident I won’t repeat them. Yeah, I do feel different. But I couldn’t be happier.”
He dropped a soft kiss on her lips. Her breath rushed across his skin as she folded herself into his arms. Sentinel or not, he would treasure and protect his muse for goddamn ever. She was the missing piece that made him whole. The Water that Balanced his Fire.
The front door opened, and Adriene hobbled inside on her crutches. “Okay, love bugs, enough with the smoochy-smoochies.”
“I thought you went back to America,” Gavin said.
“Hell, no. I just ran Dani and Elizabeth to the airport. My best friend and I have new jobs with Oceania Whale Trust. I’m not going anywhere.” Adriene grinned and studied her fingernails.
Zoe tugged Adriene over and hugged her. “It took a little bit of convincing, but Adriene talked me into giving Catherine Marchand a call. Turns out, they’ve been so busy at OWT, Catherine needs a co-researcher and another assistant for their humpback whale project in Hervey Bay. It’s not a Vice President position, but I get to keep my whales and my Gavin. I suppose I can settle for that.” Zoe smiled. “Plus, I got to tell Randy to take his job and shove it. You have no idea how good that felt.”
He could only imagine. His heart swelled even bigger.
“Don’t let her fool you, Gavin. She was never going to leave you. The sex is too good.” Adriene winked and high-fived him.
Zoe swatted her ass. “Adriene wasn’t going to leave either. She’s got a thing for Mike.”
“I do not!” Adriene’s eyes nearly popped.
“Mike is made of pure, undiluted trouble,” Gavin said. He opened his arms and hugged Adriene too. He was glad Zoe had such a great friend.
“Exactly why she wants him.” Zoe grinned.
A wistful sigh snuck out of Adriene’s mouth. “That boy is a fool. A beautiful blond fool…”
Gavin shook his head. “Oh, hell. You’re fucked.”
Those two together would actually be amazing. Mike needed someone like Adriene to set him straight. And Gavin had it on good authority that the attraction was mutual.
Zoe squeezed him and Adriene, then let go and gestured to the boxes. “Jack called and said he had to leave town on emergency business, but he’s planning to come back to Oz when things settle—hopefully a couple weeks from now. I gotta admit, my dad is nothing like I expected, but I can’t imagine life without him.”
“Yeah, he’s something else.” Gavin started to say he’d check in with Jack in the Dreaming tonight, but the other realm no longer concerned him. Hell, maybe now that his powers were gone, he’d have dreams of his own again. Wouldn’t that be some shit?
But most importantly, tomorrow morning, he’d wake up in Zoe’s arms. Holy. Fuck. He couldn’t wait.
Blond hair framed his muse’s lovely face. The tear streaks were a dried up memory now. He couldn’t read her aura anymore, but happiness poured off her in great waves and rolled right into him. Her Water. Their Water.
He’d fight legions to keep her. Even as a powerless Wyldling.
The rumble of a car engine averted his attention to the window. Mike.
Adriene lifted her chin. “Looks like my ride is here. I’ll catch you two tomorrow.”
“For Chrissakes, be sure you use condoms. God knows where Mike’s been.” Gavin opened the door for her.
When she got to the threshold, Adriene faced Zoe. “You made the right decision. I love you, my girl.”
Zoe smiled. “We both did. And I love you more.”
Mike got out of the car and waved at Gavin. “Got your party hat, love?” he said to Adriene.
“Hell, yes!” She blew Zoe a kiss and hopped down the drive to the car.
Gavin shut the door and turned to his muse, who stood with hands on her hips. He sauntered to her, his cock waking up as if from a dream. “I don’t believe it.”
She slid her hands up his chest and curled them around his shoulders. “Don’t believe what?”
“We’re finally alone.” He swept some hair from her face and laid his palms on her hips. She pulled them around to her ass.
“What about it?” Zoe tugged the hem of her tee shirt up and over her head, then tossed it to the floor. Hair fanned over her arms. She unbuckled his belt.
A slow grin spread across his mouth as he unhooked her bra. He slipped it off her arms and let it fall. He plotted a line of kisses from her neck down to her breast. “When does the new job start?”
Her gorgeous blues glazed a bit as he breathed against her skin. “Two days.”
“Good. I’m gonna need at least that long to mark all these positions off my list. No interruptions. Just non-stop sex. When I’m done, no part of your body will be untouched. It’ll be the most relaxing first day on a job ever.”
“Sounds like I might need a few days to recover…” His jeans zipper creaked with calculated, agonizing slowness. She pushed everything south of his waist to the carpet. “But you will too.”
“God, I hope so.” He stepped out of the tangle of clothing, tore his shirt off and tackle-grabbed her around the waist. He hefted her up, and her legs wrapped around his arse.
“You know you’re stuck with me now, rock star,” Zoe whispered against his lips between deep, mind-blowing tongue kisses as he trudged down the hall to the bedroom.
“No place I’d rather be stuck than inside—er, with you, Dr. Morgan.”