He knew his words unsettled her, but he was only being honest. In his time, women were much more compliant and quiet. He’d thought this girl would be the same, but she was already very outspoken, and it made his chest feel alight with fire every time she chose to glare at him. His nature wanted to dominate her, but something held him in place, whether it was the tinge in her cheeks when she thought of intimate details, or the way she trembled in fear around him. He figured a more nurturing approach would suffice for now.
They ate in silence, and only a small amount of guilt followed their meal. He’d crushed enough sleeping medicines into her food and drink that he was almost worried it would kill her, but the substance had felt rather natural and innocuous in his grasp. She ate timidly at first, but being starved, she soon finished her helping, polishing it off with a second and third. He watched in coy satisfaction as her eyes drooped, her body slackening.
“Sleep,” he commanded, feeling the shift in the weather; the rain would soon cease, and he would need to work quickly. Her wide blue eyes, rimmed in angry red, snapped to his, and she wavered on the stool. Her heart rate sped up.
He stood, and she jumped up as well, tottering, rubbing her exhausted eyes. As she retreated, he followed, curious. She crawled into her slim bed, tugging the heavy quilt around her, hugging that damnable doll tight to her chest as she brought her knees up, curling herself into a ball. Her tired eyes watched him in the doorway, wary, as the rain outside cascaded down from the roof and splashed into small rivers just outside her open window. He pushed into the room, meaning to close it, but her small voice stopped him.
“No,” she said, with a tinge of panic. He glanced at her, surprised. Did she want it open for escape? No, he sensed, it was another routine, another comfort to her. She liked the sounds and the fresh air. He dipped his head in a nod before he began to back out. She blinked a few times, her eyelids heavy. He was annoyed at the size of her bed, for it would not accommodate the two of them, and his selfish masculine impulses yearned to hold her close again after he finished his next task.
If he was being honest with himself, he was afraid to be alone. Suffering as he had, he needed some form of contact to bring whatever humanity remained in him to the surface. If not, he would be doomed to turn himself over completely to his nature, and the tiny Hollis would be nothing to him but a body for him to use as he pleased. The two sides of him were balanced currently, but he knew all too clearly what the cost would be if he allowed one side to overtake the other.
Her heart thumped a steady rhythm, and Oberon backed out of the room, silent as a cat. With a sigh, he rolled out his shoulders and shook his arms, relishing the way his muscles pushed and pulled, as though no time had passed between his death and awakening. In truth, he wasn’t all that sure he’d ever died, but he didn’t care now; he was alive, and he would right the wrongs committed upon him without mercy.
He pulled back the makeshift curtain, eyes falling to the still, stony bodies on the floor, a large kitchen knife just out of the older one’s grasp. He frowned, tuning out their last moments. It was one thing for him to administer justice or fight and kill for what he desired, but to kill for sport was a waste entirely, especially those who could not fight for themselves. It sickened him.
His thoughts flashed to Hollis again, and a surge of testosterone coursed through his body, impossible to ignore. He took a few shuddering breaths, cursing God for giving him exactly what he’d always wanted, but under such strange circumstances it was near impossible for him to reconcile what he would do to her if he unleashed himself. The human side of him took control once more, and he bent to the first body, a scowl plastered to his face for the rest of the night.
It was just a few hours before dawn when Oberon stood in the shower, a strange contraption that he had no real recollection of, but somehow felt familiar with all the same. He hated this aspect of his awakening, of not knowing the origin of certain memories. He fiddled with the faucet, then the temperature, so very curious, and quite enjoying the simplicity of such an invention.
He changed into his extra clothing, holding up a foot-covering that felt bulky and cumbersome. He tossed it aside, for his feet were strong enough to go without such a contraption. He wore another plain black shirt and grey shorts, holding up an even tighter pair of shorts that he’d tried on. He sensed it was some undergarment, but it was highly constrictive and uncomfortable. He shoved those back into the bag, tiredness washing over him.
Hollis had been making small noises all night, tossing and turning in her tiny bed, to the point where he wanted to smother her and be done with her grating, human ways. He stood in the doorway, though, and watched in awed silence as the last of the moon’s beams caressed her face and icy hair. He growled, knowing he couldn’t kill her. He would miss gazing upon her angelic face, for she was as close to one as he’d ever seen.
He eyed the bed, knowing he could fit if he tried, and he refused to allow her to awake before him and get herself into trouble. If she was to be his, he would have to continue to protect her from anything and everything—even herself. With a sigh, he slid in behind her, pulling the blanket over them both, even though he didn’t need the heat. She grumbled something incoherent, but he ignored her, laying on his back and pulling her on top of him. Her cheek rested against his chest, her furry doll dangling from her grasp.
He stilled himself, waiting for her noises and movements to cease, for her heart rate to slow once more. His eyes slipped closed as he allowed himself to feel her dreams. They weren’t happy, but they also weren’t nightmarish. He rested his heavy hand on the small of her back, his other arm behind his head as support. The weight of her on his chest was comforting; the ice that had encapsulated him had been crushing. He much preferred her small, warm body.
He sighed, falling easily into sleep.
Hollis felt late morning sun on her face, and her body was sweltering, her mouth dry, her nose stuffed. Her bed was rather hard and lumpy, and something was pressing down on her back. She peeled open her eyes, her room familiar, but the sensation beneath her not. Her eyes widened as she stiffened, feeling the rise and fall of his chest against her cheek, lifting her body a fraction in a steady rhythm.
She was petrified and unable to move for fear of waking the inhumane creature. His body was verging on hot, his smooth muscles firm. Her bare legs tangled with his, and the scratch of his manly hair was so foreign and strange to her. She settled her cheek once more, praying he wouldn’t awake, remembering his words to her the night before. How long did she have, now? Would it be today, when he awoke? Or perhaps tonight? What was the best time of day for such an action?
His grip on her tightened, his large hand snaking its way across her bare lower back where her sweatshirt had ridden up, until he gripped her hip bone with his long fingers, pressing her to him. She felt a flash of hotness beneath her, and again was reminded of that moment in the woods with those disgusting men…
“Hush, tiny human,” his deep voice growled, sending her heart racing like a flushed grouse. She hadn’t said anything, or even moved…
He sighed, the sound one of annoyance. His other hand found its way to her hair, and he began to run his fingers through it as he had the first night. She stilled, her muscles taut and waiting to spring into defensive action. His chest rumbled beneath her in what could only be a dark laugh.
“Clutch your strange doll and let me sleep a little while longer.”
Her heart clenched, eyes widening as she searched the bed for Teddy. His hand left her hair for a moment, diving under the quilt and producing him. She grabbed him, tucking him under her chin, feeling tears wavering as her lip wobbled. His fingers resumed their stroking, and she sensed it was meant as a comfort, but it had the opposite effect on her.
“What is this doll you are so attached to?” he asked. She sniffled, attempting to keep her tears in her eyes, but her nose was running and they spilled forth regardless.
“Ted-Teddy,” she offered. His thumb rubbed back and forth on her hip absentmindedly.
“What creature is it?”
His tone was of curiosity, which calmed Hollis a bit.
“A bear,” she said, trying to shift her hips away from his.
“Bears do not look like that,” he scoffed, seeming fully awake now.
“I…well, there are no bears, anymore,” she said, unsure of what they looked like as well. She remembered aged artist renderings in some books of her father’s, but the memory was old and faded to her.
“You cry, when I’m near,” he said, his words not a question. Her heart took off once more as she stiffened. How was she supposed to respond to that?
“I’m…just…waiting, for you to…” her voice caught before she could finish. Again, she felt a deep chuckle in his chest.
“I will not harm you, even when the time comes to take you.”
She wondered how that was even a possibility, and though she had some inkling, her and Willow had always agreed it was more disgusting than enticing.
“I don’t want you to,” she said, setting her jaw. Hollis could be more stubborn than a rock, and her mother had hated that characteristic when raising her. She pushed herself up, hands splayed on his sturdy chest, his heartbeat heavy beneath her fingertips as she glared at him. He stared back, golden eyes simmering, lips twisted into a frown. His jaw and cheeks were dotted with stubble, a few shades darker than his light brown hair.
“You may,” he countered, fingers tightening their hold on her hip. In his eyes was a clear threat: quit arguing. Her anger flared.
“Hush now, you do not know enough to speak on such matters,” he said, pushing her down, his strength alarming. She squirmed in his grasp.
“I know…enough…” she growled, twisting in his grasp. He made an annoyed sound, hooking his leg around hers and flipping them over in an instant, pinning Hollis on her back while he straddled her hips. His one hand held both her wrists pinned above her head, and he glared down at her before quirking his head to the side, his face red and nostrils flared.
“I just want to sleep, woman. My body is not used to this world yet,” he said, his eyes boring into hers. She turned her face away, clenching her teeth and wriggling her hips, but to no avail.
“Get…off…me…” she gasped, using all her strength to attempt to move even an inch.
“At least you are learning how to fight,” he said above her, a note of laughter in his voice. She huffed, now sweating from exertion.
“It’s good. I want you to fight, so no other man will touch you but me.”
“I don’t even…want you…to touch me…” she hissed, trying to dig her nails into his hand. He snorted.
“You did a fine job of letting those scoundrels grope you the other night,” he said, voice thick with sarcasm. Her cheeks now flamed with embarrassment and fury and despair. She gazed up at him, all fight leaving her body. Oberon’s eyes softened, feeling the flow of her emotions, sensing his misstep. He cast his eyes to the ceiling, steadying his breathing.
“It was not your fault, what happened. You have not yet known the world,” he said, gaze falling to her face. Tears slipped from her wide blue eyes, disappearing into her blond hair. He released her wrists, but she made no move, all fight having left her. He fought the surge of hormones again, pinching his eyes shut, muscles tensing. It almost overpowered him this time, bringing his unearthly nature to the very surface, seeing her sprawled beneath him. She shuddered in response, and he opened his eyes to find her looking away, cheeks bright red, hands under her chin as her arms covered her chest.
A blue vein throbbed in her neck, pulsing strong and vibrant. His tongue wished to dance across it, to taste her skin. He closed his eyes again, cursing his duel nature. It was his purpose, to procreate his kind, to poison the world with his offspring. He hadn’t asked for such a task, but it had been passed to him, through his damnable father. In his heart, Oberon was good. But poor Hollis was catching glimpses of his more sinister side.
He was about to apologize, to explain his nature to her, when a small tremor snaked its way to his acute ears. His eyes widened, and he clapped his hand over her mouth, staring out the window as she fought and struggled beneath him. Footsteps, one human, two equine. He gnashed his teeth together, glancing down at the fair haired woman. Her wide sapphire eyes held murder within their depths.
“Someone is coming,” he whispered, brow pulled together in concentration. Hollis ceased her motions, and her heart rate changed its course from anger to trepidation. Oberon closed his eyes, listening, feeling. Male, older, strong. He would have to finesse his way out of this somehow, but he knew it would most likely turn into a brawl. He was close enough now that even Hollis could hear, and she craned her neck, attempting to peek out the window, straining against his hand.
His eyes shifted side to side as he considered his options, a plan forming in his mind. The girl would hate him for it, but it would help them on their journey.
“He will fight me, for you,” he said, searching her face as he released her mouth. Her eyes widened.
“I will not let him win, tiny Hollis, but you must help me lure him in, so he is unarmed. Can you do that?” he asked. A surge of nervous energy wracked her body as he watched her think through her own options.
“He will not be as courteous to you as I’ve been. It is in his nature to…” Oberon trailed off, wincing at the images forcing their way into his mind. Mutilations. Science experiments. Humans begging for death instead of mercy. He was a hunter, searching for prey to sell to the wealthy. The notion hit home for Oberon, and he felt quiet fury course through his veins.
“Can you do this?” he asked, searching her face. He was so near now they could hear the horses snorting. Eyes wide and filled with tears, Hollis nodded.
“Good,” he said, giving her a small smile of reassurance. Hollis felt her heart leap at the expression, for it made his face even more handsome when he smiled. He rolled off her, standing and pulling her up.
“Lure him here, I will be waiting. Do not leave the house, understand?”
She nodded again, quivering in fright. He nudged her out of her bedroom, where she stood in the kitchen, apprehensive, twiddling her hands together. She glanced back into her room, his golden eyes catching hers before he slipped behind the door.