The burly man was completely nude. He looked italian, Sicilian descent maybe. His hair was black and wavy and stopped underneath his ears. He had a freshly groomed beard and mustache that was as dark as his hair, his eyes were brown, underneath dark intense thick brows.
“You gettin’ out or what?” The man knocked on the glass, startling my frozen look of horror.
“What’s a Shifter?” Robyn whispered hurriedly.
“Did you not just see that dog transform into a person!?” I whispered back just as quickly. He knocked again and stepped away from the car. He was so tall that I now only had a view of his lovely private area. Because that wasn’t awkward, right?
Robyn unlocked the door and got out. I started to do the same when Bruno grabbed my arm. “We can’t trust them.” He said.
“Ok but I’m not just gonna sit here with his dick in my face Bruno, we have to do something.” I argued back. Hesitantly, he let go of me and I got out the car. He did the same.
“I’m Ray, I reckon you’re Jason’s kinfolk?” The man asked looking from one person to the next. He had a southern drawl that was a lot more charming than his supreme masculine appearance.
I nodded wordlessly.
“First time you seen a Shifter, huh?” He noticed my inability to speak. “Well, you’ve got a thing or two to learn about the supernatural world then.” He glanced at Bruno, his nose twitching slightly. “Quit your scowlin’ vamp, you’re in my territory now and I heard your mind ain’t quite right, so you best get used to bein’ in our community.”
“Why would my Creator send us with your kind?”
“Cause this here is Cherrywood Springs, all Shifters. Our smell overpowers anythin’ you all are carryin’ so ye’r safe from any vamps findin’ you here.” Ray explained. “Now come on in, don’t be strangers.” He led the way to the house. The German Shepard stood up and trotted along behind us. I wondered if that was an actual person too. It didn’t seem to make any sense for a dog to own a dog. But then again, what made sense anymore? Vampires, Shifters...I didn’t want to know what was next to pop up in front of my eyes.
“Shit.” I heard Bruno curse, and I looked back to see him doubling over in pain on the outside of the doorway we had just come through.
“Bruno!?” I rushed over to him.
“Darn it I forgot, we don’t get vamps here. Bruno, you’re welcome in my home.” Ray announced and Bruno staggered through the doorway, recovering from what appeared to be some severe pain. “Vamps ain’t allowed in Shifter homes without proper permission, I wasn’t thinkin.”
“Right...” Bruno muttered, not believing Ray’s excuse. He stood up and lifted his shirt a little, I could see what appeared to be burns on his torso. They healed before my eyes. He gave me an ‘I told you so’ expression, I held his hand tightly in my own.
“So this Shifter thing...how does it work?” Robyn, who had previously been quiet, asked. She looked around briefly before sitting down on the loveseat. Ray picked up the folded pair of jeans that lay across the top of the couch. He pulled them on, which removed a lot of the awkwardness that was still felt by his extra comfortable nudity.
“Well, I can shift into just about any animal I’ve ever seen in person.” Ray explained, he sat across from her and ran his hands through his silky hair. “I prefer a dog, simple, gets the job done. Some folk ‘round here like to be complex; panthers, horses, wolves.” He shrugged.
“Were you born like that?” Robyn asked. She seemed real interested in what Ray had to say. I personally was focused on Bruno, who leaned against the wall, uninterested in the scene that was unfolding in front of us.
I lowered my volume so we could have a side conversation. “Why don’t you like him? He seems nice.”
“That’s like asking a Leopard to make friends with a Deer.” He said. “It’s just against nature.”
I sighed, giving up, when my cell phone began ringing. Recognizing the ringtone, I hurriedly answered. “Jason, any updates?”
“Have you made it to San Mateo?” He asked, ignoring my question.
“Yes, we’re here. Just discovered Shifters, thanks for the heads up.” I said sarcastically.
“I had no time to explain, it was better for you to see for yourself. I have good news and bad news.”
“Give me the good news first, I need a break from the bad.” I noticed Ray’s voice lowered and Robyn glanced over at me questioningly. I excused myself, stepping outside.
“We’ve found Isabella.”
I perked up, “That’s great! So we’re cool then, right?” When he didn’t respond, my heart dropped. “Jason, please tell me we’re cool now...”
“I’m afraid she has no recollection of who she is. Soon, the Elitists are going to step in if we are unable to fix this.”
“Oh God...” I groaned, covering my face.
He continued, “Not only that, but whatever Robyn has done is also affecting her strength as well. Isabella has been so overcome with a constant hunger that she nearly drains every donor human we’ve given her. A vampire old as her should only need to feed a few times a month.”
“Bruno’s been doing the same thing.”
“I figured as much. Has Robyn found out anything of her family history?”
I shrugged, “I mean she told me some irrelevant shit about her grandmother being an Obe-something but--”
“Stop.” Jason’s voice was sharp, “Her grandmother was involved in Obeah?”
“Yeah that’s it, how’d you know? What is that?” I asked.
“Obeah is a form of witchcraft that is practiced in Barbados amongst powerful healers and priests. It is nothing to be taken lightly and is extremely powerful.” He explained. “Does she practice it herself?”
My pulse started racing. Robyn had witchcraft in her blood? I suddenly wondered what else about her I didn’t know, what she could possibly be doing behind closed doors?! What if I have a curse on me through her? Now it made sense...the chanting the other night, she was casting a voodoo curse!
“Oh.” I jolted, looking up at Robyn who had just joined me. “Hi.”
She eyed me, “You’ve been taking a while out here, what’s going on? Who’re you talking to?” She sat next to me on the porch stairs.
“Under no circumstances must you tell her what she is Roxanne. Witches who practice black magic are a threat to vampires, especially those involved in Obeah. They are Necromancers, meaning they can control the dead. They can control us.” He spoke quickly, knowing that I couldn’t just sit there and ignore Robyn’s questions for very long without garnering suspicion.
“Oh it’s Jason.”
“Really? Anything new?” She leaned closer.
“Do not tell her.” He repeated, and my phone beeped with the end of the phone call.
I looked up at Robyn with a blank expression, “Nothing yet, he was just wondering about Bruno.”
“I heard my name.” He strolled out casually and leaned against the porch post, his hands in his pockets. “Gossiping about me?”
I faked a smiled, “Of course.”
Ray soon followed, now wearing a shirt. “Nice night out here, ain’t it?” He looked around.
“We live in the city, we rarely get any calmness like this.” Robyn hugged her knees to her chest. I was glad his presence swooned the subject off of my recent conversation with Jason.
“There’s a real nice park ‘round the corner from here, we could take a walk if you’d like.” Ray offered; Bruno and I exchanged glances, Ray was inviting all of us but directed the question to a grinning Robyn. We both knew whatthat meant.
I faux-yawned. “I’m tired.” I jumped up and dusted myself off. “I think I’ll just wind down for the night.” I started inside and Bruno was right behind me, his hands on my hips.
“I’d rather not wander around a place full of Shifters.” He added as his excuse. At least his reasoning was actually true.
“Guess that just leaves me?” Robyn squeaked. Ray strolled down the stairs and offered his hand. He sure was a real gentleman. She blushed and took it in her own, standing up.
“The guest room on the second floor is the first door on the right, can’t miss it.” Ray called over his shoulder as they walked away together. Bruno walked me inside, still holding me by my waist. I placed my hands over his own while we waddled upstairs together, giggling, just having fun.
“What’d Jason call you about?” He finally asked. “I could hear his voice.” He released me and I sat on the bed in the guest bedroom. It smelled like cinnamon, Ray was hospitable, he lit a candle for the scent.
I laid back and thumped my fingers on my stomach one after the other as I exhaled. “We halfway figured out what Robyn is, and why you’ve lost your memories.”
“What’s the deal?”
I took a deep breath. “Apparently her grandmother practiced some black magic voodoo. So by blood, she’s a witch...one time you attacked her, you tasted something in her blood I remember. Whether or not she is actually involved in it, we currently have no idea.”
“Why don’t you ask her?” He laid next to me, but on his stomach, propped up on his elbows.
“Jason said don’t say anything to her about it; but we’ve got to find out if she actively does witchcraft or if she’s just the victim of her bloodline.” I shook my head.
“So basically I’ve been cursed...like there’s a spell on me?”
“Alright, so let’s go see a witch who knows the reversal to this curse and then once I get my mind back maybe I know more about this.” He said as if it were that easy.
When is anything ever that easy?
“No Bruno, Jason was really worried when he found out about this. He said Necromancers can control the dead, and vampires are dead, they can control you. And if we get into a fix and you....” I trailed off distantly, not wanting to finish even bringing that thought into existence. Bruno sensed my discomfort and moved closer to me, holding my hand and giving a squeeze.
“Sometimes in life you’ve gotta take risks, didn’t you take a risk to get into this industry?”
“Yeah but risking my career and risking your life are two completely different risks. I just feel like if we get deeper into this, we’re gonna dig ourselves into a hole we can’t get out of alive.” I was worried, hell I hadn’t had an anxiety attack in a while but if any time was the time to have one, it was now.
“You love me, right?” Bruno asked with a half-smile.
“Yeah.” I replied like it was nothing, of course I loved him. Love didn’t do what I felt for him justice.
“And I love you too, you know that right?”
I nodded, “Yes.”
“Ok then let’s quit playin’ the victim and fight. If we go down, we go down swingin’, and we go down together.” He challenged. He put his fist out, “Deal?”
I bumped my fist against his and shoved him over, laying atop him and kissing him. “Deal.” I agreed with a firm nod.