Oberon paced a trench in the soft dirt, his toes curling in angst with every step. He checked the position of the sun again, though it hadn’t changed in thirty seconds since the last time he’d thrown his face to the sky. Hollis had been gone near an hour now, and his eyes kept scanning the town below, waiting for the flash of her ashy blond hair. Growling, he peered through the branches once more, his heart clenching.
There, there she was, arms full of supplies, broad smile stretched taut across her face. He sighed, running a hand through his hair as his temperature rose. His desire for her had grown each day, but the worry he’d had while she jaunted into town was something Oberon was not used to, and it frightened him more than anything. His attachment to her had flourished like an ivy vine, unrelenting and glorious—but also uncontrollable. Not only did this stand as a distraction from his task, it added another layer to it altogether.
He would succeed, of that he was certain, but to keep her safe through it all would prove to be rather arduous as well. His keen golden eyes watched as she neared the hill, ensuring no one was pursuing her, his chest lightening the closer she drew to him. He wondered if she could feel the pull as strongly as he did, but doubt coursed through him. She was young, naive, and a man’s presence was new to her, as all her emotions toward him would be. She had seemed to warm to him, though, and he counted that as a small success.
Breathless and red-cheeked, Hollis beamed up at Oberon as she burst through the last of the ferns.
“I got beef, I can make us cheeseburgers tonight, you’ll love them—”
She was cut short as she dropped the bags, Oberon’s arms wrapping tight about her. He felt her confusion, but he cared not as his anxiety dissipated. After a moment, she rested her head against him, relaxing as she put her small, sinewy arms about his waist.
“Next time, we both go, tiny human,” he said, voice gruff. She pulled away to glance at him, brows furrowing. He didn’t like her scrutiny of his actions, watching as she sifted through reasons, her face as plain to read as text.
“Did you think I would…abandon you? We have a deal, dork. I won’t break it,” she said, blue eyes depthless and enchanting. It was his turn for his brow to furrow, even if the sentiment felt endearing with the way she delivered it.
“Stupid, idiot,” she said, flashing him a toothy grin as he glared. He released her as she bent once more to the bags, her excitement palpable.
“Look, I got you some new shirts and a new pair of shorts, and then, well this is for me,” she rambled, pulling colorful bits of cloth out of the bags. He felt the small smile tug at his lips.
“Come, Hollis, I’ve found a spot to rest for the night,” he said, and her gaze snapped back to his, a gentle smile on her lips. Her cheeks flushed pink as she stared at him. He didn’t miss the surreptitious glances she often sent his way the past few days, nor the way her mind often wandered back to their shower, even if the instance was cloaked by trauma. He could feel her trust grow more each day, could feel her intrigue, and her surge of hormones each time she slipped into thinking about him holding her.
It was there, awakening within her, no matter how hard she attempted to smother the feelings.
They rode a mile or so south, the land dipping and becoming a bit more lush as afternoon crept into evening. Hollis smiled as she heard the calls of the loons, a melancholy but beautiful song. Oberon stopped Tyr, hopping down, and she followed his lead, walking their horses the last few feet until they were greeted by a wide, emerald lake. The sight pulled Hollis up short, eyes bulging at the untouched beauty before them.
“We will stay two nights here to regain our strength,” he said, peering over his rounded shoulder at her, golden eyes seeming to glow. She nodded, all too grateful to be given a break from their unending trek. She worried about others living along the winding shoreline, but no cabins or smoke interrupted the view of the overgrown trees.
“I will set up camp, if you’d like to wash,” he suggested. She felt the redness in her cheeks, praying he couldn’t see. He’d become quite the chivalrous gentleman these past days, learning quick how to best make her comply. She gave a nod, scurrying off to the lake, thankful for a chance to scrub her cheeks and hair clean.
Oberon stayed back and set to work, eyes and ears attuned to Hollis’ movements, in case she needed his help, but the woods here felt safe, calm, with little in the way of grim memories. Even Tyr and Winston seemed more relaxed in the presence of water—the life source of all beings. Oberon stared into the greenish depths, chest constricting in a flare of fear that he quelled with a gnash of his teeth. Never again would he so willingly succumb to his fate.
Hollis returned an hour later, damp hair in a fresh braid down her back, wearing shorts and a top that revealed her shoulders and hugged her breasts tight, the scent of it still fresh and new to him. Oberon watched with wide eyes, drinking her in. She peeked up, throwing him a small smile and a wave as she picked her way to him with bare feet, and he felt his face cloud over with desire.
“Hungry?” she asked, plopping next to him on their sleeping bags. She’d taught Oberon how to zip them together to enlarge them, making it easier for the both of them to fit. It was a trick her and Willow used to do, when their mother allowed campouts near the homestead. He gave her a smirk.
“Your turn to wash. I’ll cook,” she offered, eyes twinkling. He didn’t miss the mischief in her gaze.
“You’re eager to ask me more questions,” he surmised, and her eyes fell to her lap in embarrassment at being caught. With a cautious hand, he gripped her chin, forcing her eyes to his. He wished to plant his lips on hers again and not relent this time.
“I’ll be quick, then,” he said, thumb brushing over her bottom lip before he stood, choosing the spot directly in front of their camp to wash. He glanced back, catching her doe-eyed stare as he tossed his shirt aside, a dark chuckle emitting from his lips as she turned away once his shorts followed. So demure, and she was all his.
The smell of sizzling meat with all sorts of spices was enough to spur him into a quicker wash than he desired, for hunger would always win, and whatever she was making had his mouth watering. He returned to their small camp as the sun began to set, Hollis’ back to him as she stoked the fire beneath the cast iron skillet. He watched in fascination as she flipped the round piece of meat, but his eyes were more drawn to her slender back, the way her hips widened before her butt, the tight shirt showing off her pale, freckled skin.
He tossed his dirty clothes aside, wearing a black pair of athletic shorts now, but still no shirt. He quite enjoyed the sun and wind on his bare chest, but more than that, he enjoyed the way her eyes widened when she stared at the expanse of muscles that made up his torso.
She glanced back at the sound of his approach, smile disappearing as he knew it would when she saw him. She whirled back to her task, her braid flying after and scattering droplets of water, but he didn’t miss the red tint to her cheeks. He situated himself across the fire to better stare her down, and she squirmed. He quirked his head to the side.
“I make you uncomfortable,” he surmised. Her eyes flashed to his, and she shook her head, defensive.
“I meant, I make you feels things that are new. They come across as discomfort,” he corrected, smirking as she blushed and stammered.
“Well…yes, but…that’s not fair.”
He chuckled, and he watched as the wheels in her mind turned.
“How do you know what I’m thinking all the time? Can you read minds?”
He sighed, for she was relentless in her pursuit of piecing together the truth.
“I cannot read minds. I can read energy, from every living thing. Even the trees,” he said, titling his head up to their wavering leaves and pine needles.
She flipped the meat, and it sizzled loud for a moment, emitting more delectable scent.
She seemed annoyed.
“You do not like this trait of mine,” he guessed. She glared at the pan.
“No, I think that it gives you an unfair advantage.”
“I did not ask for it, Hollis,” he said.
She softened, her gaze more gentle now as she peeked at him over the fire.
“What are you?”
His breath stuck in his lungs, trepidation creeping through him like a lethal snake.
“No, you’re not,” she argued. He gave her a dark look, and though she backed down, she wasn’t nearly as frightened of him as she’d been before. He counted it as a blessing and a curse. He felt his lips twitch into an ominous smirk.
“No, I am not.”
“Then what are you?”
“You would not believe me if I told you, tiny Hollis. And if you somehow did, I fear you’d think much differently of me,” he said with a frown. Her brows inched together in thought as she removed the skillet.
“I don’t think I would. You’ve saved me, a lot…”
He felt warmed at her words.
“Not now. But someday, I promise, I will tell you of how I came to be.”
Her sapphire eyes turned to icy fire as she nodded, excitement coursing through her.
“Here,” she held out the meat, sandwiched between bread. He stared at it, concerned but starving. She rolled her eyes.
“It’s good, I promise, a cheeseburger,” she reminded him, pushing it toward him again. With a nervous nod, he took it, examining it, before giving the thing a ginger bite. He groaned in ecstasy, eyes slipping closed as he chewed, listening to her small laugh.
“How many of these did you make?” he asked around a mouthful of food, eyes shooting to the pan. Chewing her own dinner, sitting cross legged and smiling, she held up her hand so she could swallow.
“I made five, I think I’ll only eat one—”
“You will eat two, and make more, if possible,” he said, eagerness in his tone as she laughed louder. He grunted, annoyed at her teasing him.
“Say please,” she chided, but now it was his turn to smirk.
“I’ll make you say please,” he said, chuckling as she coughed, eyes watering.
They ate their fill, Hollis making him a total of five burgers per his adamant request. She watched him eat in shock, not used to someone who had such an appetite. As night fell, Oberon stretched onto his back, stomach protruding as he groaned. Hollis stared out over the lake, listening to the loons more closely, their song making her eyes droop. The fire burned low but warm, and with the days shifting into summer, she didn’t feel chilled for once.
She felt his fingers, then, trailing up her back, sending a fit of sparks straight to her belly, his touch so gentle and hot.
“Come here,” he said, voice low and rumbling to her like distant thunder. She glanced at him, his face serious—as it always seemed to be—but his eyes burning her through. She did as she was asked, laying on her side as she always did so he could pull her close and fall asleep.
“No,” he said, turning her so she faced him, her cheek on his chest, his heavy hand on her lower back, pressing her to him. She stilled at the newness of this, but she didn’t mind it, their contact a source of comfort as well as a thrill for her. She chided herself, for not so long ago she’d wept in his arms because of his maleness. And as conflicted as she still felt, she somehow felt this was alright, that she deserved a chance to explore this newness. Her hands, trapped between herself and him, began to go tingly, but she was too nervous to move.
“You can touch me, Hollis, I won’t pounce on you.”
Came his deep, melodic voice.
Shaky, she freed one hand, laying it on his stomach, feeling his deep, calm breaths.
“You don’t normally, uhh, hold me, this way,” she said, voicing what had her nerves on fire. The hand on her back trailed up to her bare shoulder.
“It is more intimate,” he said, and she imagined him shrugging, if he’d been able. She wondered how he considered this more intimate. He chuckled.
“You are facing me, as an equal,” he explained.
“Oh…is this a…like a custom, from your time?” she asked, fingers itching to trace the lines of his abdominal muscles.
“No. But it is significant to my kind.”
“How?” she breathed, pushing herself up onto her elbow to look him in the eye. His hand slid back down to her waist, fingers digging into her exposed flesh.
“Humans are not my equals. To face them in such a way as this would lower my status,” he explained, narrowing his eyes at her.
“Because I want to see your face, when you fall asleep,” he said. She felt her blush, knew he could too as he smirked. His smile fell, though, when he noticed the crestfallen look in her eyes.
“What is it?” he growled. She looked past him to the trees, her heart aching.
“You’ve…you haven’t even met another girl from this time, yet, and—”
“I’ve met and been with plenty during mine,” he said, the tone of his voice cutting her off.
“You are pure, raw beauty, untainted by this world, Hollis. Everything a man such as myself searches his entire life for and never finds,” he said. Stunned, she was silent.
“You hated me, didn’t you?” he pressed, and she nodded, still dumbfounded and mute.
“The women of my time threw themselves at my feet like whores, even if they were the wealthiest virgins. There was not one I met that didn’t beg to spend one night with me. Of course that is appealing when you’re a boy, but I am a man, and I will have no other woman,” he said, and she could swear his eyes glowed through the darkness. Her heart now felt it would burst, and there was a heat between her thighs she couldn’t ignore, and she felt she would faint at his words.
“Your blush tells me everything I need to know,” he said, fingers tracing her cheekbone. She shuddered at his touch, eyes sliding closed. He sat up, laying her flat on her back to better stare at her sprawled beneath him. Her eyes shot open in a sudden flash of fear.
“I am in control,” he assured her, and she relaxed a fraction.
“What…what will you do?” she squeaked. Again, he chuckled, deciding to fluster her even more, to give her a taste of his power.
He stroked her hairline, gentle as the touch of a feather, and her eyes searched his, wide with unease.
“I will never hurt you,” he whispered, eyes flitting between hers. She lay still, prone and surrendered beneath him.
“I would kiss you, here,” he said, using his thumb to brush across her bottom lip. He felt the intake of her breath, a small gasp on the pad of his finger as her chest rose. His eyes stayed locked on hers, their blue so deep and dark in the night.
“And then, I would kiss you here,” he said, trailing his fingers along her neck, her breathing more rapid, her arousal clear and screaming out to him. He rolled, the motion quick, until he was on her, hips between her legs and pressed tight to her.
“I would face you, as I gave you myself. I would never disgrace you by not gazing upon your face as we made love,” he purred, hand cupping her sweltering cheek, her small body shuddering beneath him. He leaned in, his lips almost touching hers.
“Would you like that, Hollis?” he asked, nose to nose. After a moment of innocent hesitation, she gave a slight nod.
“Say it,” he whispered, lips brushing hers. She bolstered her courage, chest rising in rapid breaths and touching his.
“Yes,” she said, voice small and timid.
He heard it, then, the snap of the twig. Hollis’ heart rushing in both their ears, he’d almost missed it. He stilled, not wishing to frighten her in such an intimate and vulnerable moment. Slow, gentle, he brought his lips to her ear.
“Be still, my woman. Someone is watching.”