Oberon turned, slow and unconcerned, to stare down the barrel of the rifle, a nefarious smiled plastered to his face. Hollis’ heart leapt into her throat as Winston startled, edging backwards. She peered around Oberon’s shoulder, mouth agape as she took in the sight of the sinewy, angry woman. She was skinny, muscled, and had to be in her sixties, with long gray hair playing in the wind. Her keen brown eyes were locked on Oberon, finger poised on the trigger. Hollis prayed she wouldn’t pull it—she didn’t want this woman to die for angering him.
Oberon leaned forward again, casual as ever, but Hollis doubted the woman would miss the wickedness he was exuding.
“And show her what she’s been missing,” he said.
“I ought to shoot ye right between yer eyes, you piece of scum—”
“No!” Hollis gasped, eyes wide with fear. Oberon whirled, throwing a dark look of warning her way, but she continued, ignoring him.
“He was just…he was teasing me, miss, he meant no harm…he’s, uhh…we are…erm…together,” Hollis stammered, face a flaming shade of red. Her eyes flitted between the woman’s and Oberon’s, and she didn’t miss the smug grin plastered to his face. The woman considered a moment before lowering her rifle.
“We’re sorry, if we trespassed, we’ve never been this way before…” she trailed off, earnest in her explanation. The woman nodded, considering the pair.
“S’pose yer hopin’ I’ll take ye in for the night,” she said, collecting a wad of brown tobacco to spit at Tyr’s feet. Oberon sneered down at her, barely able to contain his disdain. Hollis wished he would take her lead on this; after all, he was the one who’d needed help acting more human.
“Y-yes, if it’s not too much trouble. We have money, or goods to trade—”
“You look familiar, girl,” the woman said, squinting up at Hollis. She blanched, wondering if she should divulge her parentage.
“I’ve never met you, I’m Hollis, I—”
The woman shook her head, shrewd brown eyes still squinted up at her.
“Who’s your mother?”
Hollis felt her heart crumble in an instant.
“Sarry,” she said, voice a bit breathless. The woman’s eyes widened a bit, and she allowed her tanned, lined face to smile.
“I know yer mother, comes to town every once in a while. How’s she doin’, sugar?”
Hollis searched for words as Winston swayed beneath her, Oberon’s golden gaze watching her, drinking in her pain and sorrow.
“She…she was killed,” Hollis muttered. The woman’s face fell a bit.
“Sorry to hear that, hun. Come along, I’ve got mutton stewing,” she said, ushering them down the small game trail. Hollis cast a nervous glance to Oberon, who’s jaw seemed to be ticking. His gaze was difficult to decipher on a regular day, but now it was devoid of anything. Fear clawed at her ribcage like a beast searching for freedom. She prayed her choice to follow would be wise.
The cabin was cramped, longer than it was wide, with a loft, a couch, and one bedroom. The washroom was outside, but Hollis didn’t mind. She hated mutton, though, but wouldn’t turn down a free meal and offend their host. The entire time they worked to unpack their necessities, Oberon’s eyes followed her possessively. Something wasn’t quite right, but the feeling was shrouded, drowned by Hollis’ loud emotions. He’d become too attuned to her, and now shutting her out was impossible. As a compromise to himself, he wouldn’t let her out of his sight.
They took turns showering before seating themselves at the small dinner table, night having fallen, the wind picking up its speed. Thunder rolled in the distance, and Oberon watched the woman with keen eyes as he devoured his meal.
“Yer mother never said anythin’ about a man, Hollis,” she said to her, nodding to Oberon. He stiffened, waiting for her to lie and cover for him, unusual fear taking root in his gut. He would rather die again than be captured and sent back to his creator.
Hollis offered a small smile, cheeks red from the sun and wind, long blond hair still damp and fragrant. He was ready to bury his face in it and fall asleep, clutching her to his chest to stem his mounting anxiety.
“He’s Elena’s grandson, Garry, and he came by to visit her grave a while back. We weren’t able to get rid of him, after mom cooked for him,” she said, smiling wider, glancing over at Oberon with apprehensive eyes. Garry, he thought with a sneer.
The woman nodded, pushing her beans around her plate.
“I’m sorry, we were so caught up in unpacking and washing, I don’t remember if we caught your name?” Hollis asked, voice genuine and sweet. Oberon watched her, unable to tear his eyes from her perfect face. Her heart was as pure as a gem.
The woman wiped the corners of her mouth, giving a small grin.
“Cara,” she said with a wink before turning her attention to Oberon. He stiffened. Hollis wracked her brain, trying to remember if her mother had ever mentioned a Cara, and if so, what she had said about her.
“Yer a big man with few words,” Cara said. He shrugged.
Hollis snorted into her cup, making Cara laugh.
“Well, you two can stay as long as you’d like. Where was it you were headin’?”
“Alaska,” Hollis said, a sadness gripping her. Cara’s eyes widened.
“That’s quite a ways.”
“It’s where my father was from, and I…well, I want to see it.”
Cara clasped her hands beneath her chin, giving Hollis a warm, sad smile.
“Good thing you have such a brute to chaperone you,” she teased with another wink, making Hollis blush again. Oberon grit his teeth together as the woman’s dark eyes probed him. He faked a small laugh, not fooling anyone.
“I’m afraid I have rules in this house, though. The Lord’s rules,” Cara said with a sigh, leaning back. Hollis pushed her empty plate away, wiping her sweaty palms on her thighs, glancing at Oberon, who sat with his arms crossed over his broad chest.
“Of course,” Hollis said.
“I know ye two aren’t married, so you’ll be sleeping in the loft,” she said to Oberon, who narrowed his eyes.
“And you can have my room. I’ll be on the couch with Gladys, my rifle, and she hasn’t missed her mark yet,” she said, staring pointedly at Oberon. Hollis nodded, feeling relief she would be able to have one night of freedom.
“We can respect that,” she said.
“Good. I won’t have no funny business under my roof.”
Oberon tried with every fibre of his being to not roll his eyes. He would hold Hollis all night, this woman be damned.
She pushed her chair away, standing and reaching up to a shelf.
“Gotta go feed the hogs and check my livestock before bed. Make yourselves at home,” Cara said, attaching a headlamp to herself and clicking it on. Hollis stood, gathering their plates and taking them to the sink to wash them as Cara left. She let the water run over her fingers until it was hot enough, squirting a bit of soap onto the sponge and making it foam. Her body was exhausted, and her mind withdrawn, this turn of events taking its toll on her nerves.
She felt him, then, his dominating presence before he even touched her. She dropped the sponge into the murky water, staring out the window into the grey, stormy evening.
“You lie well,” he commented, placing both hands on the counter, trapping her. Swallowing, she reached into the water for the sponge again, feigning nonchalance, even though her heart was in her throat.
“I had to,” she defended.
“Something is wrong with her,” Oberon said, lowering his voice. Hollis stiffened, glancing back up and out the window, eyes searching for any sign of Cara.
“She’s super nice,” Hollis said, wanting to turn around and face him but afraid to.
“I do not like her condemning my ways.”
“You—your ways?” she questioned, still scrubbing the same plate.
“She may have her God, but I have none,” he hissed, and she felt the wrath emanating off him in tangible waves. She shuddered despite the warmth of the cramped space. Hollis shrugged one of her shoulders.
“She’s just…old fashioned.”
“I do not trust her.”
Hollis sighed in annoyance, tossing the sponge aside and turning around, mustering her false bravado. She stared at his chest for a moment before her eyes traveled up to his devastating face. He smirked down at her, making her heart flutter.
Cara, Hollis thought, mouth twisting into a frown. Had her mother ever mentioned a Cara? If Oberon distrusted her, then perhaps she should, too.
No, she argued with herself. The woman lived alone in the woods. Of course she was a bit batty. But there was something, in the peripheral of her memory.
“How was town today, mother goose?” Hollis asked of her mother, using her least favorite nickname.
“Yeah, any cute boys to sweep us off our feet?” Willow chimed in, grinning mischievously from the kitchen sink. Their mother rolled her eyes, dropping her bags on the floor.
“No, girls, only Crazy Cara spouting off her beliefs,” she said, hands on her hips and annoyance clear in her tone.
“What, like she knows the Easter bunny?” Hollis teased. Their mother sighed in exasperation, peeling off her boots.
“No, idiot,” Willow said to her little sister. “Crazy Cara believes only people of a certain race should be able to fuck and have kids.”
“Willow Grace!” their mother yelled while both girls giggled.
“What are you thinking, tiny Hollis?” Oberon asked, reaching up to press his thumb between her concerned brows. He dropped his hand, feeling her sudden shift into angst. She shook her head, plump lips parted, ignoring his gentle touch.
“My mother knew Cara, said things about how she was…well, kind of weird.”
Oberon rolled his eyes now, having gathered as much on his own. Hollis glared at him.
“She had these beliefs, I can’t remember exactly the details, but that people shouldn’t…uhh…lay together…unless they were of the same race.”
Oberon’s brow now furrowed. Strange beliefs, to be sure, but during his own time there was slavery, and it was considered rather taboo for classes or races to intermarry or fornicate.
“That is…not of your beliefs?” he questioned, staring into the depths of her sapphire eyes. She shook her head, gnawing on the inside of her cheek.
“Those beliefs…they helped start a world war, over a hundred years ago. Millions of people were murdered just because they were a certain race.”
“So she is dangerous?” he hissed, pressing himself closer and snapping his eyes to the window.
“I don’t know if she means any harm, I think she just kinda…keeps to herself.”
He returned his eyes to hers, exhaling.
“I do not like this. Something is off,” he said.
“How…how can you always tell?” she said, quirking her head to the side in curiosity. He scowled down at her.
“I do not know what you mean,” he hissed, feigning ignorance. She was about to argue her point when his large hand gripped her waist, fixing her with a pointed look.
“Take the gun tonight. Shoot anyone that threatens you, if something happens,” he said before releasing her. Breathless, she went to follow and ask him what he meant, when she heard Cara’s footsteps on the front porch. Oberon disappeared into the loft without a backwards glance.
Oberon stared at the ceiling, only a foot from his nose, the old wood rafters creaking in the relentless wind. Both humans slept soundly, but oblivion evaded him. Every time his eyes slipped closed, he pictured the end of his life, over and over and over, as though he were being taunted by it. He rolled onto his side, eyes falling to Hollis, curled in a ball below on the wide mattress. She shivered in her sleep before rolling onto her stomach, giving him a faint view of her wide bum. She only wore her shirt and undergarment this time, torturing him.
He growled, annoyed. The woods, this cabin—everything about it unnerved him. Something sinister lurked, but it was pressed down deep, unreachable to his senses.
“Damn it all,” he whispered, gathering his things and climbing down from the loft. No human would ever be able to hear him when he desired to be quiet. Into Hollis’ room he crept, unafraid of the revolver on the nightstand, for he’d already known the sting it was able to inflict. She would probably enjoy shooting him, too, given the chance. He smirked at the thought as he closed the door, his anxiety dissipating more with each second in her presence.
He crawled across the bed, throwing off his shirt, being respectful enough to keep his shorts on. He pulled her close, careful not to wake her as he nuzzled his face into her hair, her scent his drug. His eyelids drooped.
“Obe…” her wispy voice said, a contented sigh on her lips. He smiled into her hair. He would never let her know how much she affected him, but in moments such as this, when she was unaware, he didn’t mind so much. He slipped into sleep, tightening his hold on her.
He was cold—frigid, really, but he didn’t mind so much. Not when he was staring at the expanse of a moonless night sky, swaths of green and purple dancing above him in a spectacular display. Hands cupped beneath his head, he grinned wide at the sight. The snow beneath him was of little bother in a moment such as this. Peace, he thought. I am at peace. He’d never felt more welcomed, more at home, a concept that had eluded him for many years. He was always meant to go north, away from the cradle of civilization and into the wild where only the strong survived.
The earth trembled, and he sat up, wondering if this was another strange northern phenomenon. The tremors grew in intensity, the air around him whipping into a frenzy. He stood up, glancing around for any sign of danger. Even there, on the top of the glacier, he could hear it; the screams of the petrified townspeople below. His eyes honed in on the ensuing peril as their cries ceased.
A massive, white-capped tidal wave roved through the village, swallowing everything in its path like a greedy pig. Oberon stood, backing away as it drew near at an alarming speed, turning to flee. With hatred coursing strong through his veins, he knew what this meant—knew who this cleansing, holy water was for. He would never outrun the wrath of God, but he swore with his dying breath he would never stop fighting.
“Oberon,” a breathy voice whispered as he drowned in frigid water, his lungs filling to the brim, screaming for air.
“Oberon!” the voice hissed, more urgent, panicked. No, he thought, not her too. He released his inner nature, letting it rage through him to the very surface, knowing it was his only hope for saving them both.
He felt small hands pressing against his chest, and his eyes flew open to a darkened room, the bed beneath him plush and warm, the tiny woman beside him writhing and wriggling to be free of his crushing grasp. Too late, Oberon felt his mistake.
A dream, it had only been a dream. His worst nightmare of the last moments of his life, but they had felt so real. And in that moment of fear and weakness, he’d unleashed himself. Agony coursed through his veins for Hollis. He only hoped he wouldn’t hurt her beyond what she could forgive him for.
He rolled, pressing her face down onto the mattress with his body, his hand reaching to knot itself into her hair. She stilled, heart hammering hard enough that he felt it thumping in his chest.
“Oberon, it’s me,” she hissed, trying to be brave.
“I know,” he growled back.
“You’re squishing me,” she breathed. He pressed his hips harder into her ass, having waited to have her beneath him and at his monstrous mercy for some time.
He tried to calm his breathing, to pinch his eyes shut and reign himself in, but he was afraid it was past that point.
Hollis seemed to know it, too.
“Please,” her tiny voice wavered, thick with tears. His free hand clutched her waist and the flimsy cotton covering her. Gripping her hipbone, he gave a sharp tug, pulling her into a better position.
“Please, Oberon,” she cried softly.
“Hush,” he whispered, sliding his hand over her mouth to muffle her pleas. He stared down at her back, wracked with frightened tremors, so small beneath him. He couldn’t hurt her, but he’d let himself loose. If he could make her leave, get her away from him…
Without realizing it, the hand on her hip yanked the garment down, exposing her pale, silky flesh. His eyes feasted on the sight, better than he could have imagined. She whimpered beneath his hand, tears wetting his fingers. He bent to her ear, trembles roving through his body as well.
“I am sorry, tiny Hollis,” he whispered. She shook her head as best she could in her position. He stilled, then, listening intently to the sound of hooves thundering in the distance. They weren’t even trying to hide their noise, and with them came something more sinister than death.
He grit his teeth, the monster within himself changing its course; no one would harm his Hollis.
She heard it, too. He flipped her over, pulling her to his chest in a crushing embrace.
“Forgive me,” he whispered into her hair. “I was startled. I will not harm you.”
Sniffling, shaking, she nodded into his chest. He cradled her head there for a moment, listening. Five men. Armed, with a sole purpose—Hollis. He grasped her cheeks in his hands, pulling her tear-stained face away from his chest to stare into her frightened eyes.
“They are coming for you. Cara sold you,” he hissed as her face blanched, letting the betrayal sink in.
“I will not let them have you. Do you trust me?” he asked, unleashing the full force of his gaze upon her. It took her a moment, traumatized as she’d been by his most recent actions, but she nodded.
“There are five bullets left. Aim, pull the trigger,” he demanded, releasing her.
“Oberon—” she said as he stood, moving to the door. His eyes flashed to hers. She may hate the monster she had just come so close to, but she would be thankful for him, come the dawn.
“Do not hesitate, Hollis. I can assure you they will not, either.”
And with that, he left the room as silently as he’d come.