Illusions: Paranormal Shapeshifter Romance (The Seekers Book 1), page 2
Rohan continued, “And I’m sorry, too, to leave our parents. There’s something about being under the watchful eye of dragons and dire wolves that’s very reassuring. Not to mention that I may not be around when Mother gives birth.”
Gwynne, their mother, who was affectionately known as the Dragon Queen, had recently announced that she and her mates were due to have another child: an infant sibling for the adult twins, which would only enhance their already impressive family tree.
“But I plan to be back as soon as I can with my mate by my side. I hope to bring her here, to live in this time. If I find her, that is.”
“Of course you know that I’d love that, assuming that the other male in your trio agrees to it,” said Lily. “Don’t forget that there will be another man involved, Roh.”
“How could I forget?” he asked. “Though sometimes I wish it were simple. The other man brings with him a whole other set of issues.”
“It’ll be fine. You know how close Graeme and Conor are. They tell me that it’s a bond stronger than that of brothers.”
“And I believe them. They’re great mates for you and excellent fathers. You did well.”
“Thank you,” said Lily. “And of course I agree. As for being under anyone’s watchful eye, it’s not like you’re helpless without us. In a way, you’re the most powerful of us all.”
“Well, at the moment, I’m feeling quite powerless. I can sense my mind going to that place that other males talk about, where they can’t focus on anything but the Seeking. It’s as though the unfortunate woman who’s the subject of my desire is already commanding my brain, leading me to her. I can’t even begin to consider what our other mate will be like; I can only hope that he’s worthy and ready. ”
“Ah yes, the Seeking,” said Lily. “I’d always wondered about that term until I met Conor. Having a man led to you via images in his mind’s eye teaches a woman what ‘destiny’ is all about. Sometimes I think that he, Graeme and I would have wilted if we hadn’t found each other by some miracle of fate. They are what sustains me. And Kiron here,” she added, giving her son a kiss on top of his mop of hair.
“I don’t think it’s a miracle at all,” said Rohan. “I think something controls us; some external force, pulling us together and pushing us apart. That’s the only way that I can explain feeling as though I’m being lured so far away now.”
“But are you sure you’re headed to the right place on this hunt of yours?”
“No,” he laughed. “Not in the least. I’m confident in so many ways, Lily. But in this one I feel lost, confused. But as I’ve told you, my destination fascinates me. For that reason alone, I’m glad to be going.”
“You always were almost as adventurous as me,” his sister replied, teasing him. Though she’d earned her reputation as the family member most prone to drama and danger; she and her mates had been to hell and back on their travels, only to settle into a blissful life of comfort at the end of it all. “But I’ve got to ask you, Roh: Salem in 1692? Heading for the era of the Witch Trials seems like a holiday only a true masochist would take. If they find out what you are, they’ll come after you with torches. I can’t imagine that a man of your ilk would be welcomed with open arms in such a time and place.”
“I suppose that’s exactly why I’m drawn there: it’s the man in me, the protector, or perhaps the dire wolf in my blood. I can’t stand the idea of innocent women being persecuted by powerful men. Besides which, don’t forget that you and your mates have altered the course of history.”
Things had indeed changed for the better, thanks to Lily’s role in averting what had previously been referred to as the “Dragon Wars”: a massive conflict which had been prevented thanks to the strength shared between her and her mates, and their bond with one another.
In spite of the fact that her mates had been on opposing sides of the conflict, the three had managed to stop the war in its tracks. A war which had risked to put an end to the breeding of many shifter families, an end to the Rituals which linked them together and gave them powers: one woman, mating with two men who would become fathers to her offspring, their skills intermingling as their bloodlines had.
“I suspect that things have changed quite a lot,” said Rohan.” Thanks to you three, reports are coming in that shifters are flourishing in what they’re calling the ‘new future.’ Who knows? Maybe our kind are protecting those women, too. Maybe in the altered timeline, there are no Witch Hunts at all, and I’ll find that Salem is all peace and happiness.”
“Something tells me that’s not the case,” said Lily, a chill running down her spine. In her mind, she saw images that she didn’t like, of stockades, of nooses, of women and children crying out in horror. Of innocents being pursued by powerful men bent on claiming them. But she knew perfectly well that once Rohan made up his mind, that was the end of it. She remained quiet as she held little Kiron close.
“I trust your instincts, and no doubt you can see all sorts of things that I can’t,” said Rohan. “But if you’re right; if things are going badly and people are being unjustly arrested, it’s all the more reason for me to proceed.”
Rohan stood and Lily followed suit, preparing herself for the good-bye to come. Her brother spoke once again.
“You and yours changed things, though, when you averted the War, Lily. Shifters are everywhere; Rituals and bloodlines continued, all because of you. In the modern day, they say, our kind is accepted and treated with respect. Perhaps after all of it, I will be welcomed with open arms into Salem society.”
“I’m very pleased that my mates and I did some good,” said Lily. “And whatever you do will change things once again, no doubt. Hopefully for the better. But as for you being welcomed, I think it’ll be a little more difficult than all that.”
“There is one thing I discovered about Salem, and I hope to find out the truth of the matter,” said Rohan. “Tales, which may or may not be mythological, about a group of women who live outside the town, isolated in an all-female community. According to what I’ve heard, they have powers—and not quite like our own. Theirs are more to do with spell crafting and magic. It’s said that the members want nothing to do with men; that they’re strong, fiercely independent and put up with no crap whatsoever.”
“So, exactly what you’re used to from Mother and me,” laughed Lily. “Perfect.”
“Precisely. I suppose I’m sort of fascinated by the concept. And besides, what man wouldn’t want to find himself at the centre of an all-woman community?”
“Indeed. But remember, Roh: you only get one woman; not all of them.”
“I only want one,” he said. Male shifters tended to be devoted, fiercely loyal to their one mate in spite of the fact that they shared her with another man.
“Just don’t set yourself up for rejection. I don’t want to see you hurt.”
“It’s a risk I’m willing to take,” said Rohan, “Though I’m probably a fool to head to a community that seems to avoid anything with testicles. That’s a strike against me right from the start.”
“Well, you always were a stubborn ass,” said Lily. “I’m sure you’ll find a way to convince even the most prudish female to enjoy all that men have to offer.”
His twin sister and his mother were Rohan’s role models, not to mention his Phoenix-Shifter grandmother, Freya. Three strong-willed women who would die before letting a man rule their lives. Somehow, in the twenty-first century he hadn’t come upon a single woman who could live up to their levels of sass or independence.
“Anyhow, if I find myself a witch, hopefully she’ll be a good one. But even if she’s a bonafide, pointy-hat wearing woman, she’d best not one of those wicked, striped-socks, cackling lunatics depicted in films who rides on broom sticks and issues commands to flying monkeys. Though flying monkeys would be incredibly cool.”
“You’re a lunatic.”
“I may be. But I need to do what I need to do, and there’s no f
“Well, Brother of mine—trust your gut. But I’ll miss you,” she said. “Don’t get yourself into too much trouble, please.”
“If I do, I know where to find you, at least.” He smiled at her before giving her one last hug. “Say good-bye to everyone for me, okay? You know I don’t like to do it myself.”
“You lazy bastard.”
“Not lazy. Just—reluctant to let go. Of them, or of you.”
And with a kiss to Kiron’s forehead he was gone, shot through time and space to meet his destiny. Away from his twin sister, Lily, and her mates. And away from the protection of a family composed of creatures who could take on any foe. These included a new brother-in-law who was one of the Beorn, the legendary species of bear who could fight even the most powerful dragons.
For a time at least, Rohan would have to survive without their guidance or aid. This was another component of the Seeking: independence. He didn’t want his family’s input, as much as he loved and respected each of them. Something deep inside told him to branch out alone, to find his way. This was his battle, and hopefully one that would end very, very happily.
His decision to take off had its positive side, too. Like his sister, Rohan had always grown restless when confined for too long to one place and time. With the desire to seek came a desire to settle; to find a home. And he hoped that the woman buried deep in his soul would represent just that: comfort, familiarity, happiness. His restless mind could finally learn to rest.
* * *
His search led him to a small village near Salem, near the Atlantic coast, and he managed the leap through time without incident. With Lily’s guidance he’d refined the skill of shifting through time and space over the last few months, learning to appear with precision exactly where and when he intended. The only thing he couldn’t do was to swing backwards and forwards in order to alter recent events; for instance, a stubbed toe or a broken limb. These were, it seemed, under the control of fate.
Upon his arrival he’d noted that the place smelled a little of his former home in Cornwall, the salt air hitting him this time from the west side of the Atlantic ocean, fresh and clean, still devoid of the pollutants of the modern day in which he’d spent many months.
He’d learned that shifters were rare in this place, or at least they kept their identities concealed from others, afraid of being labelled guilty of black magic or any other tradition that went against the teachings of the church. And as in his own era, female shifters were still more rare than males.
According to Rohan’s findings, his kind had largely kept its presence on the new American soil a secret. Most shifters had remained overseas in Europe, unwelcome among the seafaring travellers to make the voyage west. If anyone wanted to be accused of dealings with the Devil, the quickest way to it was to turn into a dragon or a wolf. And the new settlers, already on edge, wanted no ties to such creatures.
There were some who regarded Rohan’s kind as freaks; abominations against nature. The simple humans were powerless against those with Gifts, and for that they feared them. At home in Cornwall, though, his family was admired and loved for its protective nature. The human locals appreciated all that they had to offer.
But to those who abhorred their kind, Rohan was the most threatening type of freak: A shape-changer. A morph, as they were sometimes called. The sort of shifter who could alter into any form, be it a tiny moth or a mammoth. If he could imagine a living creature, he could inhabit its body. And over his years he’d enjoyed every manipulation of the skill, honing it to the point where he could all but disappear, scurrying off as a mouse or flying away as an eagle, faster than the blink of a human eye.
It was a bloody good magic trick, he’d always said. But that was all it had been. Rohan had never been called upon to battle as his parents had, or even as Lily had done. Her own battles had been taken on without him—something for which he’d had to forgive her. They were twins, after all, and he was meant to protect her. But he understood now better than he ever had: at some point they’d had to part, to go their separate ways. And she now had two incredibly powerful men at her side to look after her.
Not that she’d ever needed anyone’s help.
At Rohan’s core his animal form was a winged grey wolf, a product of his dire wolf fathers and his dragon mother. This creature was his fundamental déor, the old English word used to describe one’s shifted form. Though Rohan could turn into almost anything that breathed, this was the animal that best represented his soul, though only rarely did he inhabit its body; something in it felt so powerful that he chose to reserve it for times of great need. The wolf was a protector, the dragon powerful and possessive, seeking also to protect what it claimed as its own.
For most of his youth, Rohan had enjoyed shifting into every conceivable form of himself: birds, cats, even tiny rodents when the situation called for it. The winged wolf, to him, was sacred. But he felt certain that he would need its strength before long.
The drive to mate, to bond, was one that he now felt in his veins, just as he felt his déor overtake his mind at times. Occasionally he laughed the urge off as simple hormones—a young man in need of release. That was why young men sought women so frequently, wasn’t it? But it went deeper than all that for his kind; this was a biological need far greater than sex.
And so, as he emerged from thick woods near Ealdor dressed in his fifteenth-century tunic and leather trousers, boots up to his knees, he glanced around from under his head of thick brown hair at the colourful wooden houses which looked very much like something out of a fairy tale; something that a wolf could blow down. And a fire-breathing wolf could do so even more easily.
But he would never in a million lifetimes destroy these abodes; rather he wanted to protect them and their inhabitants from any and all external threats. And as he neared them, the feeling kicked in that he would soon be needed. Once again his wolf was sending him messages, warnings of things to come. He’d arrived, it seemed, at the right place and time.
The village’s houses were charming. Simple. Vulnerable. And on the air was the scent of females. This was the place where they congregated, that Sisterhood of women; a hundred or so of them in one tiny village, subsisting on their own skills for growing crops, raising animals and hunting. The ultimate in feminine independence. Heaven. And they didn’t want him there, if what he’d heard was true.
Having observed the village from within the cover of the forest for several minutes, Rohan resolved to approach, to find one of the inhabitants and to inquire about the women’s lives. He would be friendly but not threatening; after all, he wasn’t sure that men were even allowed to set foot within the perimeter of the village itself.
And he’d only taken one step out of the woods before seeing her.
The young woman, blond hair cascading in waves down her back, stepping lightly to the back of her house where she hung damp laundry to dry in the breeze as she moved gracefully through tall, billowing grass.
A small black creature appeared to be wrapped around her neck: a weasel, perhaps? It was an unusual sight, to say the least.
The woman was beautiful, her cheeks flushed pink from the walk in the cool autumn air. Her full skirt concealed what Rohan could only guess were round hips and an appealing backside. And the dress’s bodice was kind enough to display an ample bosom, which sent a signal silently to his body to stir, arousal already driving him a little mad. Her body was all curves, in fact: soft, round, and so, so desirable.
On the breeze he smelled her: lavender mixed with the sea air.
“Well, I’m in trouble,” he whispered, stopping in his tracks as he watched her go. “Serious trouble. And I’ve only just arrived.”
No one, not even her peers, knew Hedy’s actual age. She had always seemed ancient, though at one point she must have been a young woman, and before then even a littl
Now she was known to be among the most powerful of the Crones, and though her body was slightly bent, her skin wrinkled, she was full of life, self-reliant and clever. But in recent years, her Gifts had diminished as they tended to do with advancing age. This was only one of the many reasons that the Crones looked to the younger generation to advance and take their place as leaders. The truth was that their powers were fading in unison and it was time for a new cycle; new leadership for the Sisterhood.
The community of women would find rejuvenation, even a rebirth, under new guidance from the younger generation. And women like Serafina and Circe could provide it, bringing their own skill sets, their own vitality to the group. For centuries, the Sisterhood had chugged along as an efficient mechanism, cycling through its members as necessity dictated.
Only very recently had a wrench been thrown into their well-oiled machine, in the form of desertion. One of the most promising members had left; a young woman named Melina. She’d always exhibited great potential but, it seemed, she’d been easily lured away by the promise of a life among others; men, in particular. But Serafina, Circe, and many other young women remained, ready for their own time to come.
Serafina was regarded as loyal, reliable. A true Aspirant, which was the title bestowed upon the members before they grew to earn the title of Crone in their advanced years. Sera and Circe had always agreed that, though they wished to come into their powers, Aspirant certainly sounded better than that other word, which implied old age and a lack of desirability: two traits that the Sisterhood’s members did not strive to exhibit. For the most part, they had an exotic beauty in common, their blood origins unknown. Even the oldest among them possessed an ethereal quality, otherworldly and wise. And Hedy was no exception.
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