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Crime Makes an Entrance ~ A Love Under the Sun Romantic Suspense by Dellani Oakes Part 1

In the semi-dark of the old building, its musty smell strong in his nostrils, Deacon Stewart shuddered away the story that the place was haunted. Theater people tended to be somewhat superstitious and melodramatic, creating tales of deaths in the theater, accidents which befell the unwary and unbelievers. Anything from decapitation by a piece of falling scenery, to suicide pacts between love struck actors and actresses. Deacon made his way carefully through the clutter of the back storage room carrying a flashlight. The main circuit breaker had to be here somewhere. The power had been turned on the day before, and he still couldn’t find the damn breaker box in the cold darkness.

What made the stories stronger and more alarming, in this case, some of them were true. There were documented deaths associated with this place. Nothing sensational, just a few freaky accidents that had caused it to be shut down about six years ago.

One such accident was that involving an electrician who was hanging lights. He had a Leko in need of repairs already on the baton. He should have brought it down to fix it, but instead had simply unplugged it, leaving the cable hanging near the ladder. Someone had come along, not realizing what he was doing up on the ladder and plugged it in. Instant, crispy fried techie.

That was the most recent in a long history of such incidents. The theater closed the same day, and had not reopened until Deacon Stewart was hired to run it for the winter snowbird season, in a small, seaside town in Florida.

Having finally located the circuit breakers behind a pile of empty boxes, he examined the panel, the wires, and the immediate area carefully before hitting the main switch. Without a spark, the panel clicked and the dim backstage lights came on, glimmering merrily, teasing him with their cheerfulness.

Breathing a sigh of relief, he took off the protective rubber gloves he wore, thanking God for a small favor. This was one thing, at least, that did not require his immediate attention. He couldn’t say the same thing for the rest of the place. They’d brought in an exterminator to rid them of the carpenter ants and palmetto bugs infesting the attic and walls of the old wooden structure. Once the fumes cleared, the renovations started, beginning with the power being restored.

The building itself dated back to the early forties when the area was used by the military. It looked every bit its age. It needed a major overhaul if it was to be ready on time for its grand re-opening on January Twenty-seventh. Deacon hoped he could find competent people to help him. He had taken the job mostly because it was supposed to be a low stress environment. The doctors had told him he had to avoid stress. Being lead designer in a major theater scenery company in New York City, wasn’t conducive to low stress levels.

After an episode, as it was so tactfully diagnosed by the psychiatrists, he had been put on forced leave of absence, and told to get his shit together before coming back to work. They couldn’t fire him, he was part owner of the company, but they could make him take a vacation.

The episode was brought on by a combination of stress and cocaine, not a period of his life that he was proud of. Also adding to the problem was the recent break up with his long time girlfriend, Frieda Massey. She was an actress who worked mostly off-off Broadway; second rate at best. She had finally landed a good job as a minor character on a new sitcom filming in LA. She hadn’t hesitated to take the job, and flew out of his life, as if he never existed.

Two weeks later, he’d gone wild in the shop, shooting the nail gun into a piece of plywood, screaming and crying hysterically. Then he tried to kill himself with the radial arm saw. He’d intended to cut his own head off, but that wasn’t a terribly easy thing to accomplish. Some fast thinking tech pulled the plug on the saw before he even had his head all the way on the table. Several months and extensive therapy later, the episode behind him, he was told by his two partners he needed a break.

“Go south, young man,” Bernie said. “Florida is nice this time of year. Not too cold, not too hot. I have a friend who owns a small place down there, he’s looking for a Technical Director to open it back up. I put a word in for you. You’re hired.”

Deacon’s protests were ignored. Bernie helped him pack. Maxine, Bernie’s wife, and the other partner, drove him to the airport. If she could have put him on the plane personally, she would have. She stayed by the security gate until his plane took off. He arrived in Orlando three hours later and was picked up by Bernie’s friend Dino.

Dino’s parents must have had a sick sense of humor. Their last name was Sawyer. Despite growing up a living parody, he was a nice guy. Big, blond, darkly tanned, he had inherited the theater from his great uncle. Having always loved acting and directing, he decided to open the theater for the winter season. It was Deacon’s job to whip it into shape.

“I’ve hired a crew to come in starting early Monday morning. Bunch of guys I know who work construction. Not too many jobs in the winter, even here, so they agreed eagerly.”

Today was Saturday, and Deacon had come in late Thursday afternoon, to find the tents just being taken off the building. They left it open to air out all day Friday, and the power was turned on by three o’clock. It took hours to find the circuit breakers in the dim recesses of the building. Having very few windows, all of which were filthy, Deacon could hardly see, even with a high powered flashlight.

Scenery and building supplies littered the entire backstage area. All the supplies had been delivered for the show when the electrician died. Pieces of set were already in place, one dark spot on the floor bore grim testimony to his untimely passing.

©2021 Dellani Oakes

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Raven Willoughby – Origins ~ A Fantasy by Dellani Oakes – Part 23

“Yes, until the bodies built up. Then I came inside to keep them off my rear. How many of these beasties are there? I still haven’t gotten them all.”

“Far more than we’d thought,” Robin said. “Do you suppose they’ve gathered more to them?”

“I have no way of knowing. It’s pure insanity. I never saw such a thing.”

“Strong magic at work,” a dark skinned man, with the lilt of the islands in his voice, said.

“Magic?” Robin scoffed. “Not magic, Etienne, pure evil.”

The dark skinned man shook his head, insistent. “Magic! We deal with zombies. Someone skilled in the dark arts. You kill them, they make more.”

“How would we fight someone like that?” Raven asked without a hint of skepticism. “I have met a powerful witch….”

“This is very special magic. Dark.”

Raven couldn’t imagine anyone darker, or more chaotic, than Osceola, but he didn’t say so. He wished he could contact his former lover. If anyone could find the person making the zombies, it would be she. He knew she was dangerous, perhaps evil. Could she be doing this? He doubted it. It didn’t have her feel and taste. It bore the scent of another, one he couldn’t identify.

“You must get some sleep,” Robin’s wife said kindly. “You have worked hard on our behalf, Raven. We cannot thank you enough.”

“I do what I can, Mrs. Cooper. I’ll be back before sunset, my friends.” He bid farewell and went back to the inn.

News had traveled from the docks to the rest of the town. There were people waiting in the taproom, when he went in to ask for a bath. The Mayor, Mr. Morton, was intent on speaking to him.

“Sir, with respect, I’m tired and I stink. Take these folk, and leave.”

“But you’re a hero!”

“Perhaps, but even heroes need rest. Go. Sam, I’ll thank you to keep folk away, who have no business here.”

“As you wish, Mr. Willoughby.” Looking staunch and formidable, he folded his arms and glowered.

Raven had his bath, and went to his room. His other clothing was clean and folded on the bed. Beside it was another set of clothing, with a note.

“We thought you could use something more comfortable to fight in.” And it was signed Myra and Samantha. They had made him a pair of soft breeks and a shirt with less full sleeves, better for fighting. The breeks were longer, made to be worn with boots, not stockings and shoes. A pair of soft suede boots sat on the floor by the bed. He wondered how they’d discovered his size. Considering Myra’s discerning eye, she’d probably figured it out. He tried them on, and they were a perfect fit.

Again, he fell into his bed, waking when Uriah arrived with another update.

“The magistrate came by and inspected the ships. Cortez opened the boxes, as you told him to. The papers have been gone over, and a master ship builder came in to examine them. He confirms what you said to the letter. He aided in the refitting of one of the ships, though he had no idea what it was for at the time.”

“Any word yet on the Annabelle?”

“None yet. She should be back by now.”

“You don’t think…. Could she have…?”

“Could she be a death ship again, you mean? I don’t know. Nor can I conceive why someone would be so intent upon doing all this. What is there to gain?”

“I don’t know. If I could figure that out, I’d have more idea how to fight these things.” He handed Uriah a bundle with the first two daggers. “See to it that these are given the treatment by Mr. Silver tomorrow. He knows what they need.”

“As you wish, sir.”

“We need to go,” Raven glanced at the sky. It as clouding over, and he had no idea what that would mean in terms of the zombies.

Uriah parted ways, rushing home. Raven got himself barricaded in the office as the first drops of rain began to fall. Full night fell, but the dead did not arrive. Finding that an interesting side note, Raven made himself comfortable with a cup of Uriah’s good coffee, and waited. Dozing off in the small hours, he dreamed of Osceola.

“I need you my love,” he whispered. “I need your help….”

“You have but to ask. There is a price….”

“Name it!”

“Your son.”

“I have no son. And how could I give you a child?”

Suddenly, there was great warmth in his loins, and desire surged through him. Impossible to ignore, it woke him. The scent of Osceola lingered in the room, and he knew he’d spoken to her in his dreams. Would she really help? He could only hope so. Meanwhile, he had a burning desire he could not tame. Perhaps a visit to the ladies, on his way home, was in order.

Uriah arrived, the men behind him.

©2021 Dellani Oakes

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Raven Willoughby – Origins ~ A Fantasy by Dellani Oakes – Part 18

“We have come a long way, sir. Now, to business. Will you take Renard as a witness?”

“Yes, sir. One other would please me.”

“Renard, a second?”

“Yes. We can use my assistant.”

“Excellent. Shall we?”

Sterner led the parade, Raven and Renard behind him, with Uriah poking and prodding the Governor. A lean, tall man hopped off one of the ships, landing on the dock in front of them. To his surprise, it was a man that Raven knew well. He’d been captain of one of Raven’s ships.

“Carlos, is it you?”

“Raven!” He dashed forward, clasping his friend by the hand, before pulling him in for a hug. “My friend, we thought you dead! How have you survived? When the ship didn’t come in, we feared the worst.”

“There was a storm at sea. My own fault for traveling so late in the season, but I was summoned to Maine. I didn’t know myself for some weeks, when I remembered my business, I had to make my way on foot. Now, I come to find that my ships are in the service of another.”

Carlos frowned. “I’m assuming he’s not in charge of this inquiry?” he pointed to the Governor.

“I am,” Sterner said. “Your name?” He opened his book, pencil poised.

“Carlos Gonzalez Cortez Prientos Hermida, originally from Barcelona.”

“And your connection to Mr. Willoughby?”

“I was his first captain when he bought his first ship, The Annabelle, in a port in Cardiff. She was a fair and lovely ship, fastest thing I’d ever seen. I was her captain three years.”

“And why are you no more?”

“She was confiscated, as were the other ships of the Willoughby line. One by one, they came to disaster and were impounded by himself.” He nodded, gesturing rudely at the Governor. “Sat in dock a wee bit, then their looks and names were changed. They fly his flag now. This one here, she was the Heart Song, out of London. Next to her, that’s the Artemis from Greece. She’s a bit slower, but hell for stout.” He went on to name the other ships, pointing to each and telling the origin.

“Those aren’t the names upon them,” Sterner said.

“As I mentioned, Governor Blot there….”

“Bluth,” the fat man corrected.

Carlos shrugged, making it known what he thought of Bluth. “He bribed and finagled until he got what he wanted—best ships on the ocean. Runs his own docks now, as you see.”

“If you knew this was going on, why didn’t you report it?” Sterner asked.

“Who would I tell? Who would believe the word of a Spaniard over that of an Englishman? If I had come to you, would you have listened, or would I have been forcibly removed from your offices?”

Sterner had the decency to look chagrined. “I believe you now, Señor Cortez. And you’re right. None would believe your word over this puffed up, poor excuse for a man. Bluth, I don’t know how you pulled this off, but we’ll find out. Mark my words.” He turned to Raven. “My apologies, sir. It will take some time, but with fair witnesses….”

“I believe I can add credence to my captain’s words, Mr. Sterner. On each of my ships, there is a secret compartment, that only I know about. In them, I secured papers, not only to identify the ships, but to identify me. If you will follow me below, with Mr. Renard, I will happily produce these documents.”

“What of me?” Bluth bellowed.

“You’ll stay here with Carlos and Uriah, so you can’t sneak off. And if you’d be so kind to send our young friend for the constable, I’d be appreciative,” he said to Uriah.

“As you wish, my Lord.”

A nearby sailor was sent up to give Boris the message. The noise of his footsteps faded as he ran up the grassy hill.

Raven led the men to the captain’s cabin. Removing a poorly executed painting, which had replaced a portrait of the original ship, Raven took a knife from his pocket. This, he slipped in a concealed slit between the finely hewn boards. A sharp click and a panel opened. Inside, wrapped in oilskin, was a steel box, secured with a padlock. Raven reached further into the hole and produced the key.

“You keep the key with the box?” Sterner scolded. “Is that wise?”

“Since no one knew this was here but me, it was safe. Not even my captains knew.” He opened the box and lifted out another oilskin packet. Inside, there was a lithograph of the ship, another of himself, and ships registry. Sterner looked them over with a critical eye.

“You realize, this looks little like the ship we’re standing on.”

“If you take away the decorative items and look only at the lines of the vessel, she’s easy to identify. A shipbuilder could tell you, if doubt arises. I know each detail of my ships, Mr. Sterner. For you see the last six years of my life represented by board and tar, wheel and sail. I worked long and hard on my business, sacrificing home and family. These ships are my home, the men who worked them, my family. Aside from Carlos, I know not if they live. I mourn their losses and could tell you each by name.”

©2021 Dellani Oakes

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Raven Willoughby – Origins ~ A Fantasy by Dellani Oakes – Part 9

“My soul is in no jeopardy, but thank you.”

Micah grabbed his arm in an iron, unshakable grip. He turned Raven so they met eye to eye. “Hear me well, Boy. This is not a good thing. Nor is it a small, inconsequential one. You are a human, turned werewolf, who has now had vampire blood. I don’t know of another man who’s had the same—and lived.”

“What?” Raven shook off Micah’s hand. “Explain.”

“Our kind,” he pointed to himself and Payter. “We age eventually, though much more slowly than humans. You’d not know to look at me that I’m over a hundred, and Payter’s in his eighties. Some of the more vain decided to approach a vampire of their acquaintance. Asked for a blood exchange—some vamps fancy our blood, though many disdain it.”

“They like pure were blood more than shifter,” Payter said. “But the results are similar for them. They like to be able to shift, and not all of them have that power.”

Raven nodded, completely out of his depth. His knowledge, heretofore, of werewolves and vampires had been myths and legends—horror stories told to frighten children into behaving. Never, in his wildest dreams, had he thought such creatures were real. He said as much to his friends.

“This is hard for me to credit,” Raven muttered. “Though I stand here, a man who has changed with the moon’s pull. And now, you think me vampire, too?”

“Hard to say,” Micah sniffed him. “But you don’t smell pure blooded were-kind anymore. There’s another scent, earthy…. And death, though not dead. Can’t explain it. But the proof is in the pudding. If you don’t change tomorrow night, we’ll know there’s something amiss.”

“Why wouldn’t I change?”

“As a vampire, you are able to control how you change, and when. Handy, if you live in town. But the success of such a transformation can be—risky.”

“What do vampires get from werewolves?”

“The ability to shift their shape. They are limited to things like wolves or bats, but some can even transform into birds—like vultures. Things that hunt and kill. It makes them more adaptable. For us, we have more freedom, not subject entirely to the moon’s call—though that might not all go away. Can’t say for certain. Everything I know is rumor. But we become ageless. That of itself is enough to make people take the risk. If she succeeded, you are immortal. If she didn’t….”

“I’ll die horribly tomorrow night?”

“Probably. We never know for certain, until you make the change.”

“And if I am both were and vampire?”

“Then we’ll take action from there.”

“Action?” That sounded ominous.

“You’ll have no home with us,” Payter said. “You are our friend, but the vampire kind have always subjugated our kind. Though you might not want to, you would do so, after a time.”

“You’d always be welcome to visit,” Micah added kindly. “But you’d have to find another home.”

Sudden, deep sorrow filled Raven. He had, for the first time in his life, found a place he’d belonged. It wasn’t something that he’d ever had before. He’d been part of things, like the ship’s crew or the army, but had always been set apart. Finding Micah and Payter had been a great joy. Even finding that he was a werewolf had, strangely, pleased him. He’d felt at home the short time he’d been with these men. Now, because of something beyond his control, he was on the outside again. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d cried. Sometime in his youth? But he wanted to now.

The day passed with each man lost in his own thoughts. The following day was much the same, though all men could feel the moon’s tug. Raven’s stomach curled in knots as dusk approached. He and his friends took their refuge in the cave, making a simple meal as they waited for the moon to rise.

Raven could sense when Luna made her upward voyage. His skin tingled, not unpleasantly, and things looked and smelled different. His friends doffed their clothing, folding it neatly before going outside. He did the same, following them to a grove. The sky above was clear, allowing the light of the moon to touch them for the first time. The silver blue bathed their skin, illuminating each hair.

Payter grunted, falling on all fours. Micah leaned over, placing his hands on the ground as his body shivered. Hair sprouted on both men, covering them, as their limbs changed shape and configuration. All Raven felt was a wild elation, a trembling of joy, that filled him to the brim, spilling over into the night. The moonlight still tugged at him, but he didn’t feel the compulsion to change. Instead, he felt refreshed by its silky rays.

Their transformation complete, his friends moved away from him, distancing themselves. Ashamed and disappointed, Raven lowered his head, walking back to the cave. He dressed, returning to the hut, gathering his belongings. He left a note, thanking them for their generosity, and set off—once more alone.

The salt laden wind whipped in off the water, blowing his black locks around his head. His coat billowed around him like a storm cloud. He walked far into the night, before deciding to stop. Though he wasn’t tired, or particularly hungry, he found a pretty cove along the coast, and wanted to enjoy it for a time. Building a fire, he cooked a simple meal, ending with an herbal tea his friends had given him. Settling in for the night, he lay with his head on his pack, his great coat wrapped around him. Lulled by the wind and waves, he fell into a dreamless sleep.

©2021 Dellani Oakes

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Raven Willoughby – Origins ~ A Fantasy by Dellani Oakes – Part 8

“Do I have to worry if I’m—with a woman?”

Micah and Payter frowned.

“Meaning?” Payter shook his head.

“Will I harm her? Lose control? With Osceola, I bit and fed off her when we had our romps. I don’t want to kill a woman by mistake.”

“Then keep it to yourself,” Micah warned. “Unless you’re sure you won’t be tempted, then don’t bed anyone. You’ve been without before, you’ll be without again.”

“How do you two manage? If you don’t mind my asking?”

Payter and Micah exchanged a look.

Huffing into his beard, Micah spread his hands. “There are women among my people who are more than willing to accommodate us. We’re strong, smart, passably good looking. They particularly like Payter, considering all his attributes are proportional.”

The big man blushed, chuckling softly. Raven eyed Payter with a critical gaze.

“Strewth, Payter! If that’s so, there is no justice in this world, whatsoever.”

Micah sneered. “Don’t I know.” Shaking his head, he sipped his wine.

“I’m for bed,” Raven said. “Thank you both. I value your advice and I shall follow it.”

“Tomorrow, we’ll make a plan for what you can do while in town,” Payter said, yawning. “I survived it. You can, too.”

“Thank you.”

They all bedded down for the night. Raven’s dreams were wild and chaotic. His memory kept changing, adding details. He had no idea what was real and what was false. Waking with a start, he got up and dressed. It was the darkest hour before daylight, and everything was still. The waxing moon glittered on the low waves of the ebbing tide. Walking barefoot down the sand, Raven stared at the starry sky, wishing he knew more about himself. Osceola had told him a lot, but there were things she didn’t know, couldn’t possibly even imagine. No one, who was not in his particular situation, could ever understand what he was going through. Not even his friends. Sure, they were both shifters, but they weren’t werewolves, a different animal entirely.

Sitting on the sand, he watched the nightly dance of the sea creatures who lived along the edge of the water. He inhaled the salty air, watching the rippling waves break and crash against the shore. It was quite hypnotic. Soon, the sound and movement lulled him into a stupor. He imagined he saw a woman walking across the surface of the sea, coming toward him. He couldn’t see her face, but he recognized her figure. There was no woman built like she—voluptuous, majestic.

“Osceola….” He rose, holding out his hands to her, but she faded. With a start, he woke, not even knowing he’d been asleep. He might have thought he was dreaming, but he saw her footprints on the sand.

His throat hurt as it had after the beast bit him. Running his fingers over it, he felt welts as he had after Osceola fed off him. Had she been here, drunk her fill and left? How? And why? Rising slowly, he made his way quietly to the cottage, lying down on his palette once more. He slept heavily until full light, then the noises of his house mates woke him.

“I had an odd dream,” he said without preamble. “I dreamt Osceola came to me.”

“And?” Payter wanted to know details.

“And…. I don’t know. I think she did. I think she fed.”

Micah grabbed the collar of Raven’s shirt, yanking it aside. Running stubby fingers over his friend’s skin, he frowned deeply.

“Aye. Something bit you. Wasn’t human. Wasn’t shifter, or were-kind. Did you feed off one another?”

Raven was slightly embarrassed by the question. Unlike sex, which was normal and spoken of between men, being bitten and sharing blood, was something entirely more intimate. Ducking his head, he nodded slightly.

Micah rapped him upside the head. “You daft bugger! Don’t you realize she is probably a vampire?”

“Then why would you send me to her?”

“You needed answers. Did she give you them?”

“Yes, she did. For the price of taking her to bed. Once for each question. I had—many—questions.” He smirked, tilting one eyebrow as he walked across the sand toward the water.

Micah muttered and grumbled. “She only made me do chores. Wouldn’t have been unhappy to bed the wench, but would have been a danger.”

“Danger adds to the allure,” Raven said, proud of himself. “And so what if she bit me? No harm done? I’m still me.”

“But you fed from her,” Micah emphasized. “More than once. Don’t you feel different?”

“Not especially.” He shrugged, shaking his head.

“You mark my words, this is not a good thing, Raven Willoughby. Not a good thing at all. I’ll pray for your soul, my friend.”

©2021 Dellani Oakes

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Raven Willoughby – Origins ~ A Fantasy by Dellani Oakes – Part 7

“You’ve been gone through the winter and into the spring!” Micah bellowed. “We were sure she’d killed and eaten you. Are you fit? Are you well?”

“I’m perfectly fine. Better than fine, he lady has an appetite unequaled….” His voice drifted off as he watched his friends.

“When you didn’t come back, we went looking for you,” Micah growled. Though he’d said they wouldn’t. “We couldn’t find her lair, though we were up the coast three days or more, and back down. No sign of you or her. Where have you been, nigh on four months?”

“With her. Eating, drinking, making love.” He paused, squinting at the shorter man. “Four months? You’re sure?”

“Positive. One of the mildest winter’s we’ve had, but still here and gone. You came at winter’s start and here it is spring.”

“My business!” Raven moaned. “My ships! They’ll think I’m dead. What’s become of my venture. My money!” Grasping his hair, he paced the land, bemoaning his fate.

“That’s why you never love a witch,” Payter said. “Didn’t your mother ever teach you that?”

“Excuse me,” Raven said. “But she died when I was seven. And before that, the subject of bedding ancient witches hadn’t come up. Until all this happened to me, I thought witches were a thing from fairy tales.”

Payter shrugged. “Still. Anyone should know that. Worst thing in the world, bedding a witch.”

“Best thing that ever happened to me,” Raven countered. “If I died today, I’d be a happy man. The things she did to me—weren’t human, decidedly immoral, and very likely illegal.” He chuckled earthily.

“She’ll have spoiled you for other women,” Micah snarled. “Won’t be the same, now.”

Raven nodded, having already come to that conclusion. But he had his memories of Osceola’s body writhing beneath him, the sound of her voice when she hit her climax, the rasp of her nails down his spine. Shaking himself, he found his focus.

“I must get to Maine. What’s the fastest way there?”

The two men looked at one another. “No fast way from here. Nearest port is Hopedale, about a day’s walk south. You might find a ship willing to take you aboard, but the full moon is coming in two days time, my lad. You’d do best to wait until that passes, and set out the day after,” Payter said.

“How far is it on foot, do you think?”

Micah looked up at the sky and sighted along the land as if he could see the way. “It’s a month’s walk, at least. The average man, which you aren’t, can make about twenty miles a day. You can put in at least twice that. As the crow flies….” He squinted into the sun, making mental calculations that lasted quite awhile. Raven had very nearly given up when his friend spoke again. “Say fourteen hundred miles, give or take the odd bit.”

“That’s a powerful amount of walking,” Payter said. “Best take a ship. Have you there in a span of days. Shouldn’t be hard to find one.”

“I have no money, though I did have plenty.”

Micah looked uncomfortable. “Well, when I thought you was dead, I might have—relieved you of the burden.”

Raven burst out laughing. “May I have it back, please?”

Chuckling, Micah wiped his hands on his pants. “All right, I suppose so. Will you spend the night?”

“I think I’d better stay until after the full moon, just to be safe. But how do I cope, Micah? I can’t live my life in hiding.”

“You go settle your affairs in Maine, then come back here and we’ll teach you what we know. Meantime, since you’ll be the next couple of nights, we give you enough to get you through the worst part.”

They finished working in the garden, the work going faster with Raven helping them. They talked long into the night, both Micah and Payter telling him things he would need to know, in order to survive on his own, in the city.

“The most important thing to remember—take off your clothing first,” Micah said, changing the subject suddenly. “Put it aside so you won’t destroy it.”

“Took me awhile to learn that,” Payter said with am embarrassed shrug. “After I lost my last pair of pants, I learned. Nothing like spending a day in the woods without breeches, to teach a man to be careful.”

“And find a place where you can be alone. The first shifts hurt like the very devil,” Micah said. “Now, it’s not so bad, more of a tugging and such. But your first times….” He shuddered. “Glad I don’t have to go back.”

“Do you worry that you’ll hurt people? Turn them into monsters like yourselves?”

The men exchanged a look.

“First off, we’re not monsters,” Micah explained, trying not to lose his temper. “We’re all just folk. But yes, we do worry, so we live out here. Being in the city, it was hard, especially on Payter. Me, I grew up with this, had family to teach me. He learned on his own, and that’s not easy for a boy. Hell, it’s not easy on a full grown man.”

©2021 Dellani Oakes

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Raven Willoughby – Origins ~ A Fantasy by Dellani Oakes – Part 6

“Do you know what I want?” she snapped.

“Yes.” At least he hoped he did.

“Do you know how? Or shall I kill you now?”

“I’ll do my best, my sultry vixen. Please, allow me to live, so I may pleasure you.” Nipping her body, he allowed his mouth to drift lower.

Osceola gasped, writhing beneath him, as he continued his erotic ministrations.

She tasted like wild honey and he lapped at her hungrily, savoring her sweetness. Waves of desire coursed through him, more powerful than any he had ever felt before. He wanted her more than he could possibly have imagined.

Unbidden, fangs descended, raking against her skin, leaving tiny drops of dark blue blood in their wake. It seemed hours that she writhed and bucked beneath him, howling her pleasure. Finally, with a mighty roar, he reached completion. He bit her throat, drinking deeply of her sweet, dark blood. She let him drink his fill before demanding blood of her own. She drank only a little while, smiling as she licked the redness from her dark lips.

Like a leech that is replete, he rolled off her, lying helplessly on his back. Osceola rolled to her side, the savaged skin of her throat already healing. Smiling, she let her fingers trail down his body.

“You did well, my handsome beast. You will love me again later. But first, I will answer a question.”

“What am I?” he asked, nuzzling her as his hands caressed her.

“You were a man—become werewolf. Stay with me but a while longer, and I will make more of you than ever you thought possible.”

Raven wasn’t sure what to say. He had so many questions, he found it difficult to formulate an answer.

“Will you stay, Raven Willoughby?”

“Do I have a choice? Where else can I go? How can I live?”

“I said one question, my bestial lover. You must earn another answer.”

“Gladly,” he said, applying himself eagerly to his task.

Raven lost track of how long he made love to the vexatious, voluptuous Osceola. It could have been hours, it might have been days. In that time, she fed him from her body, and she from his, even as he pleasured her. He had never felt so alive, so free, so completely himself—but much more. No longer quite human, though not full beast, he was a man from two walks of life. She told him many things about himself, not the least of which was how to cope with the pesky necessities of finding nourishment, to feed the creature within.

“You can eat real food, though as a beast you will probably want it raw. With the right direction, you will be able to control the brute at will, shifting when you like. It will take much trial and error, not something to embark upon alone, or you might find yourself stuck as an animal, with no way home.”

Raven shuddered when she said that. It sounded so horrible, to be shifted and trapped in a body that was not his own. “I will be careful, my darksome beauty.”

“We will sleep now,” she commanded.

Suddenly tired, Raven did as she bid him. When he woke, she was gone. Beside him lay a small bouquet of rowan berries, twigs and raven wings. Taking it up, he held it carefully, sensing that this was something important. Where his clothing had been, tattered and worn, lay a fine suit of dark blue and black. The boots were soft, black leather that caressed his feet. The entire suit, from the undergarments up, made his skin tingle deliciously, as if Osceola’s hands traveled his body with unerring familiarity.

Taking up the bouquet, he put it through the slit in his lapel, adjusting it so the feathers fanned upward. Pleased with his appearance, he took up his belongings to head back to the cottage. Knowing he would not see Osceola again, unless she wanted him to, he cast his thanks upon the waves and wind.

“It was both magical and sensual,” he said as he bowed toward the woods and sea. “My thanks for all you gave me, my sultry, nettlesome beauty. I carry the memory of you in my heart.” Blowing a kiss in each of the four winds, he set out.

The return trip seemed longer, and he wondered if somehow, Osceola had known he was coming, quickening his way. It took nearly a day and a half of walking to get back. The cottage looked much the same, the nip in the air had lessened. New buds bounced on the bushes and trees. Raven walked into the cottage, setting his bag on the table. Food bubbled in a pot over the fire. Lifting the lid, he gave it a stir before looking for his friends. He found them tending a small garden.

“Hello,” he said with a bright smile. “Did you miss me?”

Payter leaped to his feet, rushing to Raven. He lifted him, spinning the smaller man in a circle as he nearly crushed his ribs. Micah’s surprise translated itself into anger. Rushing at Raven, he rammed him in the belly with his shoulder.

“Where have you been?”

“With the Witch of Black Cove, of course. You sent me there but a week gone.”

©2021 Dellani Oakes

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Raven Willoughby – Origins ~ A Fantasy by Dellani Oakes – Part 5

The waves rolled and crashed along the shore, creating their own cadence. His feet picked up the rhythm as he swung along the sand. Whistling, he chose tunes from memory, filling the air with happy music. Around noon, he stopped for a rest, wondering why he wasn’t more tired. He’d put in half a day’s hard walking, and felt as fresh as when he’d started. Had the magic of the creature filled his blood, making him more than human? He felt stronger, faster, more capable. After a quick meal, he drank deeply from his water flask, and settled in for the remainder of his walk.

Near dusk, the shadows darkened. He knew it wasn’t the sun, more a lack of light, as if the land itself absorbed the radiance. Even the water looked gray, and finally wispy blackness snaked out, hungry tendrils in the rushing waves, as they ran up the shore. It wasn’t his imagination that the water reached for him, with blackened, twisted fingers. Hopping away, he went on full alert, the hairs on the back of his neck rising. A shadow dashed along the edge of the wood. He sensed, rather than saw, the woman emerge from the shade of a gnarled pine.

Turning to face her, he bowed. “Good evening, my lady. I am Raven Willoughby, and I seek the counsel of the mistress of this land. Do you know her?”

“I am she, who lives here,” she replied. Her voice was hazy like the gray mist rising from the water. “What do you want, Raven Willoughby?”

“I have heard that you are a wise woman,” Raven said, stroking her ego. “A lady with knowledge. I have undergone changes lately….”

She snorted, raising a shapely eyebrow. Raven couldn’t see details, but he was able to tell that her looks belied her age. If this woman was ancient, she wore it well. Then again, if she was a witch, the likelihood that she would have means to stay young, seemed logical. Keeping his mind open, his voice sincere, he told her his tale, asking once more for her help.

“You were bitten and left for dead by a werewolf?”

“That is my conclusion, my lady. I have no clear memory of the moment.”

Nodding, she smiled and he saw her wild, primal beauty for the first time. “Come closer, Raven Willoughby.”

“If it pleases you, mistress, I’ll stay right here. If I’m completely honest, ma’am, I’m a little worried….”

In a flash, she was in front of him, her hands on his broad shoulders, her hips brushing his, her lips a mere breath away from his own. She didn’t feel quite warm, nor did she feel cold. It was more as if there were an absence of heat. Her hands, dexterous and strong, caressed his body. Though by no means a virtuous man, he had been a few weeks on board the ship, without the company of a woman. Her touch warmed him, her beauty, sultry and dark like the woods she inhabited, enticed him.

“Tell me, Raven Willoughby, what would you do to get this information you need?” She laid her head on his shoulder.

“Anything the lady wishes, within reason,” he stipulated. “I won’t kill—myself, or anyone else.”

“Would you steal?” she asked, raking her nails down his back.

Raven felt her hands tug at his clothing. The pressure of her embrace increased.

“I would steal whatever is within my ability to do so.”

“Would you lie?”

“I would lie to all but you, my lady.”

“Would you bed me, Raven Willoughby?” She leered at him, her ebony eyes limitless. Her skin had a blueish, ashen hue. Despite that, she was the most beautiful woman Raven had ever seen.

“I would gladly bed you, my lady, were I assured that I would live through the experience, with all my parts in the same configuration.”

The Witch of Black Cove threw back her head, laughing loudly. Her lips were dark blueish black, her hair like soot in the rain. She was elegant, sensual, brutal and cruel. Raven knew that if she wanted to, she could rip him apart. She chose not to, more concerned with what she wanted him to do.

“Come,” she beckoned, leading him into the woods.

Not far from the shore, there was a secluded grove of trees, surrounding a small, dark glade. A comfortable bower stood in the middle of it. The woman led him to it, telling him to climb up. Hesitantly, he did so.

“What do I call you?” Raven asked. “I can’t call you Witch. That seems rude. Do you have a name I may call you?”

“You may call me Osceola.”

He rolled the word over his tongue, caressing it as he whispered it huskily. He sensed her shiver as he lowered his mouth to her throat. Osceola clutched his cheeks tightly, with one hand, nearly piercing them with her claw-like nails.

“If you fail to please me, Raven Willoughby, you won’t live to regret it.”

“I will do my best to please you, my beautiful, exceedingly dangerous, Osceola,” he purred.

Their clothing disappeared in a flash of magic. Raven rolled her onto her back. Sensing she wasn’t like human women he’d been with, he wondered what she would want in terms of foreplay. He was still deciding when Osceola made the decision for him. Taking his head, she guided him until his chin rested on her belly.

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Raven Willoughby – Origins ~ A Fantasy by Dellani Oakes – Part 4

“I’m full blooded Native,” he stated proudly. “My people have shifted shape for longer than they can remember. I can change as I wish, into any creature I wish. I like the boar best. Payter changes on the full moon only. And now you.” He shook his head. “What I can’t figure, is how the beast got loose and attacked. If he’s like me, he had control. If he was like Payter, he shouldn’t have changed when he did. Something set him off….” Shaking his head again, he shrugged. “I wish I knew. I suspected he’d gotten you. You smell different. But you don’t smell like a shifter, not exactly. Do you remember anything more about what happened?”

Raven closed his eyes, trying to relax. He cast back to the night, just over a week ago, when all hell had broken loose.

“I was sleeping in my berth, the sea was calm. Something grabbed me up…. There was a smell, of death. Whatever had woken me, lifted me from the bed, casting me aside.”

“Had it bitten you?” Payter asked, his dark eyes wide.

Raven closed his eyes once more, doing his best to remember. “I don’t—” His right hand flew to his throat. “Yes. He bit, savaging my throat. It hurt horribly, then he threw me aside. I don’t remember what happened after that. I woke later, to carnage. I hid myself in a compartment of the hold. But the creature found me. We fought. I killed it. And then I found the others….” He shuddered, groaning loudly as the memory became clear. “All of them dead, bodies shattered, some still bleeding. And—I fed.” He retched, gagging at the memory of the coppery flavored blood running down his throat. “Who am I now?” he pleaded with his friends. “What have I become?”

Payter patted his hand comfortingly. His silence offered no answers. Raven turned to Micah.

“I beseech you, what am I now?”

“You, my friend, are the stuff of nightmares. It’s no wonder you’ve healed quickly.”

“You speak in riddles, Micah, things I know not of. What have I become?” he repeated, grasping the other man’s shoulders.

“I’m sorry, Raven. I wish I could tell you more. I just don’t know.” He shook his head.

“Please tell me, Micah. What am I?”

“I’m not certain, Raven, but I think…. I believe you were bitten by a wolf-shifter. You, Raven Willoughby, are were-kind.”

“No!” Raven screamed, holding his head. He rocked back and forth, not wanting to believe, but knowing Micah spoke the truth. “No,” he groaned. “What shall I do? How can I live?”

“You can stay here with us,” Payter offered.

Micah stiffened, but said nothing to negate his words. Squirming, he settled more comfortably on his stool. “I may know someone who can tell you more. She is ages old and has seen much in her life. It’s possible she will help you.”

“The Witch of Black Cove?” Payter asked, wide eyed. “Really, brother? She’d as happily eat us, as help us.”

We’re not going,” Micah said. “She doesn’t take kindly to crowds—not of shifters. Though, she might not kill you,” he told Raven.

“Might? That’s not very comforting.”

“You haven’t much choice. You could die anyway. Or, if you don’t, do you really want to live as you are?”

Raven shrugged. “I don’t know. Please. Help me find this witch.”

Micah urged him outside, pointing up the coast. “Walk for a day in that direction. When you come to the black water, you’ll know you’re close. She lives nearby. Don’t worry about finding her. When you get close enough, she’ll find you.”

Raven shuddered, not liking the sound of that at all. “Is there any defense?”

“Cold steel and a steady hand.”

“I have both,” Raven declared. He retrieved his sword, belting it on. Filling his pack with food and fresh water, he bid farewell. “If I live, I’ll be back.”

“And if you don’t come back, don’t expect us to come looking,” Micah grumbled. “No one lives that she doesn’t want to. Better hope she likes you.”

Raven flashed a toothy, white smile, his blue eyes sparkled in his tanned face. Black hair wisped around his square jawed visiage. “Oh, she’ll like me. Not a woman alive as hasn’t.” Winking, he set off with a cocky swagger.

“Man’s dead where he stands,” Micah declared as he watched Raven walk away.

“Don’t be so sure. He killed a werewolf. If anyone can take on the Witch of Black Cove, it’s Raven Willoughby.”

The sun on his face felt good. Raven was a man of the outdoors. He hunted, fished, hiked in the hills around his home in Wales. Living in a seaport, he went out on his boat at every opportunity. He’d done a stint as a sailor, in his youth, serving as a cabin boy. Though he loved the sea, he hadn’t found ship life much to his liking, and had taken up the sword in His Majesty’s army at the age of sixteen. Having a fleet foot, steady hand and fearless nature of youth, he’d lived through many battles, often by sheer audacity. Now, at thirty-five, he was a businessman, with interests in America as well as the British Isles and Labrador. By any measure, he had lived a charmed life. Though it might not look like it to many, he felt his luck had held. The creature could have killed him. Instead, it was dead.

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Raven Willoughby – Origins ~ A Fantasy by Dellani Oakes – Part 3

“Then you’d best be heading on, as quick as may be,” Micah said. “That ship will fail to arrive and someone might come looking. You need to be away from here, and on your way.”

“He can’t leave yet,” Payter stated adamantly. “He’s not strong enough.”

Micah’s dark eyed gaze turned to Payter. His heavy jaw clenched, but he said nothing. The two men stared at one another for well over a minute. They seemed to communicate in silence, though their faces betrayed their emotions. Payter was stubborn, sticking up for Raven. Micah was just as stubbornly wanting him gone.

“When I am able to walk on my own, more than a step or two, I’ll leave gladly, putting this place far behind me. You have my word.”

“How do we know your word is good?” Micah demanded.

“You’ll have to trust me. If I betray your trust, you’ll kill me. Why would I risk that? I like my skin.”

Micah inclined his head. “You may stay, until you are well enough to leave. Not a moment more.” He stood, heading out the door. “Heal quickly,” he cast over his shoulder.

Raven watched him go, a smile tugging his lips. Micah was more growl and grumble than anything else. Though he knew Micah could kill him with ease, he sensed the other man would give him a small amount of leeway. He wasn’t a murderer, but he was a killer. It was a fine, distinct line, one he knew well. Raven read in Micah, what he saw in himself—a man who did what needed to be done, but tried his best to be fair about it.

Payter gave him a bowl of fish stew that was incredibly good. With another cup of herb laced wine, he settled down to sleep.

Two days passed. The weather was miserable, the sea rough. Raven was glad to be on dry land and not on a ship, pitching about on the water. He’d known it was a risk, traveling so late in the season, but messages from America had made it imperative that he leave immediately. Just his bad luck to be on a death ship. Even now, he was uncertain what had happened, but his dreams were tortured by wild, nightmare images. A man who wasn’t a man, teeth dripping blood—Raven’s blood—tearing at his skin.

That night, Raven lay in bed, the soft furs covering him. Glancing out the window, he saw the full moon. It called to him like a lover, asking him to join in a cosmic dance, older than the earth, ancient as the stars. Rising from bed, he dressed in his breeches and shirt. Soft boots shod his feet, and a warm cloak swirled around his shoulders. The cottage was silent. He’d expected to find Micah and Payter sleeping in the front room, but they were nowhere to be seen. Easing the door open, he drank in the moonlight, opening his arms to embrace it. Clouds skittered across the sky, but suddenly, the moon, in all her glory, shone fully in his face.

Sharp pain stabbed his chest. He could see his bones and muscles rolling and tumbling beneath his skin. A sound like a wounded animal, escaped his lips, seeming to rise from his toes and through his skin, ripped from his lungs with another surge of agony. Falling to his knees, he clawed at his clothing, shredding it in his desperation to remove the confining cloth. Another scream escaped him. And another. To his horror, his hands changed to paws, his forearms grew hairy, roped with thick muscles. His body shuddered and convulsed as he became something no longer human.

“What is happening to me!” he cried. But instead of his voice, it was a long, high, piercing howl of a wolf.

He heard a shuffling in the bushes behind him. A huge, black shape emerged, shambling toward him. Even in his new guise, Raven recognized Payter, who was a bear. Moments later, a wild hog joined them. This, he knew, was Micah.

“What’s happened?” he tried to say once more.

Micah and Payter nudged him with their snouts, guiding him away from the house and his pile of tattered clothing. Together, the three of them went to a cave in the woods. A fire crackled in a pit and two neat piles of folded clothing lay to one side. Settling on their bellies, the other two invited Raven to lie down. The warmth of the fire and the companionship of the other two, lulled him to sleep.

A sliver of morning light woke Raven. Cold and naked, he yawned and sat up. The piles of clothing were gone, the fire had been banked. A crudely printed note was scratched in the dirt on the cave floor: Fire out. House. An arrow indicated direction, for which he was grateful. He had no recollection of how he’d gotten here.

After smothering the fire, he headed back to the cottage by the sea. A wisp of smoke rose from the chimney, inviting him with the promise of warmth. He walked in the door to find Micah and Payter, fully clothed, preparing breakfast. A pile of his clothing, neatly mended, sat on a stool. He dressed before sitting down to talk.

“I was afraid of that,” Micah said as Raven took his seat.

“Afraid of what?”

“That it bit you. The wolf.”

“You knew? And didn’t tell me?”

“We had no way of being sure,” Payter said softly. “Without scars….” He pulled the neck of his shirt away, exposing a bite mark. “I was mauled by a bear as a lad. I turned the next full moon. I was eleven.”

“And you?” Raven turned to Micah.

©2021 Dellani Oakes

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