|Shadow of the Hawk by J.J. Keller|
Cold drops of liquid splashed against her cheek.
She’d lost consciousness. How could she have let that happen?
Chills ran over her skin, creating a brief clamminess. Kristina couldn’t allow deep sleep for lengthy periods. Vigilance was required or she would become vulnerable to outside forces. Evil lurked and waited, for that fraction of time when her defenses were lax, to take advantage. Mentally she checked her safeguards, on the window ledges and thresholds. Outdoor lights activated, chimney flue, made from an iron bound by special spices, locked into place, and the local security agency’s system blinked green. Although the emerald lights were soothing, she tried to power off her brain. What had she forgotten? The smoky odor of the fire and her warm, tea-filled belly had weakened all of her shields, allowing her to segue to the other realms and open pathways to slumber. Yet, cold drops of water slid along her cheek.
The cold liquid slipped down her neck. Focused on her surroundings, she drew a deep breath, trying to get a scent and determine if a foreign entity risked entering her living room. No unusual sounds, just the quick blustery winds whipping leafless birch branches against the massive wall of windows. The repetitious click and snick of freezing rain provided a musical torrent, as a rough-callused finger stroked the side of her face. Her muscles tensed, tightening in preparation to fight whatever monster dared enter her home.
She met an amber stare straight on. A shiver of fear ran through her at the sight of a well-formed man. Over six feet tall, he had a sleek, golden cap of wet hair stuck to his perfectly shaped head. Naked, his sculpted muscles gleamed in the dim light provided by the combustion of red, blue, and white flames snapping on the wrought-iron grate housed inside the stone fireplace. She couldn’t tap into his thoughts. Well, this was different.
She could fry him on the spot with a single bolt of lightning from her fingertip, though that weapon wasn’t her most potent. As a youngster she’d sent a playmate into another dimension. His molecules separated like falling confetti and disappeared in a violent flow of energy. Granted her mother found the missing boy and retuned him to his parents. A heart-wrenching experience, but it gave her a sense of power. She could create a force to send this handsome stranger somewhere into the galaxy.
Water had formed perfect circles, and clusters ran rippling along his powerful physique, leading her gaze from his shoulders to a tapered waist. Her lower region tingled with pleasant jolts of carnal need. From his relaxed, almost sappy expression she assumed he intended no harm, but still, a naked stranger in her living room did unnerve her.
His penis rose. She lowered her glance. Pools of water collected near his large feet, soaking onto her burgundy Persian rug. Fight the attraction!
She jerked upright. Chilled, due to his touch leaving her or a result of the open French doors, she glanced at the human-designed security system. The jade lights continued to flash. Keep calm. She snatched her cell from beside the laptop and tapped the face. “Who are you? How did you get past—”
“Your time has arrived. You need to be strong,” he responded without answering her query.
She jumped to a stand and unsteadily held out the phone, keeping the face away from him. No bars, no signals, no help from that quarter. “I’ve notified the police.”
“You are the one I seek, the one chosen. Prepare.” He leaned. His elongated nose bumped into hers, and he exhaled licorice-scented breath. Warm, firm lips touched hers.
His arrogance and features reminded her of her gypsy relatives, but his kiss—straight from her dreams.
Despite wanting another kiss, she drew the chair in front of her like a shield.
He took a step away and smiled a cocky grin.
“What do you mean you’ve been seeking me? Why?” The words would have been more authoritative if she could have focused on anything but his southern region. The pungent tang of red vine titillated her mouth. She licked her lips, wanting to taste him again. An unclothed, beautiful man, who favored a sweet, told her she’d been selected to…what? Her mind stuttered to a stop. The warmth of the flames didn’t heat her numb body as she drew random conclusions of what to do next.
He didn’t appear to be threatening. Could he simply be seeking help from a modern day crystal ball, rune-stone-carrying fortune teller? His eyes glittered as if he’d read her thoughts. He was beautiful, exactly what she’d look for in a mate, if she was searching for one. His amber gaze softened. Her stomach rioted with desires she’d squelched years before. Who or what was he? More importantly, why did her heart beat staccato at his nearness?
His well-muscled legs took him closer to the patio doors. Instead of walking out, he pivoted. “We need to save the world.”
* * * * *
Grant converted from man to hawk on Kristina Palmer’s porch. Years of becoming the creature didn’t make the transition easier. As he transformed, his body experienced a sharp tingle as though his arms and legs were falling asleep. His feet changed first, turning into sharp talons, and then, moving upward, arms became wings. His head feathered, and the sharp beak hardened on his face. Wings expanded, he lifted, flying through the cold rain to his lair.
The cave quarters had been created on sacred Native American ground on the west side of a mountain, ten miles or so south of Cyan, as close to Kristina as he could get. No one would bother him; most of the local population believed spirits roamed the hills where Native Americans had lost their lives in battle, from illnesses carried by the white man, or if a higher being had deemed it—old age.
At the entrance, he shifted into human form. His friend and former manservant, Ramsey, had prepared a bath. Not an easy task as the nearest well was an eighth of a mile away.
In this century, an average person didn’t have a personal butler, but one could never have too many friends. He and Ramsey, each unwillingly under a spell, had traveled through several centuries together. Instead of shaking off rain, Grant climbed into the tub of hot water and quickly soaped his body. The air would cool the water soon enough.
“Were you successful, sir?” Ramsey asked. He tucked a white sleeve under his jacket cuff. He sported a new vest with tiny silver threads woven through the brown-red plaid.
“Maybe. I cast the thought into her mind. Tomorrow I’ll approach her again to see if she’s the least bit interested or capable for that matter of helping us.” Grant Carmichael settled as deep as possible in the hip bath. Living in a cave, cut into a stone hill, had its disadvantages. “She acted as if she didn’t know what I was talking about.”
“Could you have the wrong woman?” Ramsey set a large, fluffy towel on the stool beside the bath.
“I don’t believe so. If only I knew the name of the preposterous entity attempting this takeover, I could fly directly to him and stop the action before it’s put in place. Instead, I’m burdened with encouraging an English teacher to see me as just a man and not an intruder spouting bizarre statements.” He sighed, wishing he’d listened to his head instead of his cock all those years ago. “Time is imperative.”
“If you’re stuck with a change from human to bird, at least you have the shape-shifting abilities of an intelligent hawk instead of a canary. As a canary you might not remember to transform back.” Ramsey didn’t grin. His voice was deadpan.
A short laugh left his mouth, surprising him. “Right, I should be content with the limited abilities I do have. Yes, a calculating mind, keen insight, and sharp talons are what every man wants to be granted.” He ran his fingers through his hair, separating the mist-crusted strands. The warm water battled with the cold air, creating a haze above the foot of the tub. “I hate being imprisoned in this metamorphosis. I’d love to be a simple human and settle down in a regular home like in the old days. Wouldn’t you, Ramsey?”
“Aye, sir.” His eyes became clouded. He placed a hand towel on the edge of the tub and turned away.
Was his friend attempting to keep his secret thoughts to himself? He surely knew the likelihood. The talent to hear a person’s thoughts by a simple touch was part of his genetic makeup, except of course when it came to Miss Kristina Palmer. Her mental imagery had eluded him when he stroked her soft skin. As a clairsentience, touching her should have given him insight into her thoughts; instead he only had the physical visual of a sweet and delightful woman.
Could Ramsey also have a woman he’d set his sights on? “Are you thinking of the miss at the inn in Cyan?”
“Aye, sir. Once we get our solid human form back, I might decide to stay in this little town. Have a family, age like a normal man…God willing.” Ramsey picked up the unused scrub brush. “Do you think we’ll become dried up old men in the blink of an eye if the book is returned to the sorcerer?”
Horror struck Grant at the idea of instantly aging. He shoved aside the image of wrinkles and stooped shoulders and wiped his face with the towel. A vision of Ramsey and Miss Maryanne Clemmons rollicking and joining invaded his thoughts. Ramsey had fallen in love, and by the expression on the lady’s face, she returned the emotion. Could he find such happiness with Kristina?
“I imagine we’ll begin aging from our current states. Today’s thirty is really fifty from our era, so we’re younger than we were.” At least he sincerely hoped that was true. “I might decide to stay in Cyan as well. Tomorrow we’ll go to the real estate company and buy the residence next to Ms. Palmer. The shingle, hanging out on the lawn, declared it’s move-in ready. The space would support two entire families and then some. It will be nice to sleep in comfort again.”
“Ready to quit punishing yourself, are you?” Ramsey nodded to the glimmering wet black cave walls.
His friend was sincere. Had he indeed been castigating himself, by living like a hermit, all of these past months as they searched for the chosen one?
“Even if I’m unable to convince Ms. Kristina to help us, I believe we’ll fit nicely into this city. Who knows? There might be other individuals who can see into the past, the future, and have other special powers. Maybe we won’t stand out in an odd little town.” He climbed from the tub, leaving the now cool water behind, quickly dressed, and lifted one end of the container. Ramsey grabbed the other, and they dumped the liquid off the edge of the cave entrance. A slick, frozen path would form, preventing outsiders, human and some other beings, from invading.
He slid into his sleeping bag, the air mattress squeaking beneath him as he settled his weight. From the chest near his head he withdrew a packet of papers and quickly rewrapped his makeshift bed. He was a significant distance from the fire pit, allowing his friend the closer position, but his sight was immeasurable due to the hawk.
The animal hide parchment unfolded under his fingertips. He skimmed over the first half of the document and leaned closer to the dim light to read the small print that struck his heart. She will be named Kristina and have a deep, sultry voice. Soft skin, smelling of peaches, and hair the color of penetrating rays of the sun. She will look at you with dark brown eyes, and expect your soul. Guard your being, or you will be lost to her charms.
He put down the scroll, without reading the rest of the prophecy. He’d been drawn to her. Her warm and supple lips, slightly parted as if she’d anticipated the kiss, consumed his. Drugged by the contact, he wavered, then acted without clear and conscious thought, adding passion to the kiss. Yet, he wanted more, needed more.
She’d be curious, because he’d left her with questions on her sweet, plump lips.
Next time, he would get more than a vexing kiss from Kristina Palmer. At the point of their bodies merging, he would finally receive the final clue. Over a century he’d waited, and once they’d become as one, he’d find the answer he sought. Riddle solved, he’d become whole again. So it was written.