It wouldn’t be a holiday in Bull Creek without something going wrong, and this Halloween is no different.
Shifters are disappearing, and when one of the bodies is discovered with fang marks in its neck, Josh Rayburn believes the vampires are involved and the peace between the factions broken. Of course, he struggles to explain the massive monster carrying the body.
Karena Hahn, leader of the vampire coven on the Fringe of Bull Creek, has kept her secret for decades, but now it might be time to reveal her true nature as corpses of the shifter community start popping up. But is Bull Creek ready to know about the Agamidae? And what of the monster tracking her?
A war between the factions threatens to break out unless Dimitri Everest, Alpha of Bull Creek, can stop it and prove it’s not the vampires killing shifters. However, a new witch moves into his community, and she has no use for an Alpha.
The beast, a conglomerate of shifters by all appearances, isn’t satisfied with what he has and now wants more. Yet, no one can find this creature, a monster more powerful than them all, and quite possibly the dragon no one even knew lived in Bull Creek. And all while Josh plans their first Halloween Festival.
No Place to Hyde promises to be a suspenseful, paranormal adventure of Jekyll and Hyde proportions. One-click now for the ride of your life this Halloween.
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About the Author
Writing as R.C. Wynne
Start of Content
No Place to Hyde
No Place to Hyde
By Robbie Cox
copyright @ 2021
Book Cover Graphics & Art: Beautiful Mess Graphics
Book Cover Layout: Beautiful Mess Graphics
Editing by CTS Editing
Formatting by CJC Formatting
This book is a work of fiction. All names, characters, locations, and incidents are strictly products of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
This book is licensed for your personal enjoyment only and may not be reproduced in any form, except in assisting in a review. This book may not be resold. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.
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To Charleen, who always throws herself into every holiday
JOSH RAYBURN WIPED the sweat from his brow with the back of his hand as he stood, placing his other hand in the middle of his lower back and bending backward to stretch the muscles. It definitely felt like a Monday to him. This was not what he intended to do today. Hell, it’s not what he intended to do on any day. Why he let Dimitri talk him into this was beyond him.
“You finished staring at the sky?” Ezra asked as he tossed another log onto the pile in the back of Dimitri’s truck. “We still need to get the rest of those branches cut away from the house. They’re almost touching the roof.”
Josh glared over at him. “You told me this was a small tree.” He pointed up at the massive oak, sighing. Dale Robinson offered Dimitri the wood once the tree branches were cut, and of course, Dimitri offered Josh’s help to cut it down. The Alpha, however, was too busy to lend a hand. Josh growled. “This is not a small fucking tree. There’s no way we can get this down in one day.”
“Not with you standing there doing some old man yoga,” Ezra said, chuckling. “Besides, we’re not taking it down, just doing a massive trim job on it.” He cocked his head to the side slightly. “You sure you’re up for this?”
“I brought some water,” Dale Robinson said as he emerged from his cabin carrying three bottles of water. “I appreciate you guys showing up like this. Walt Egerton was supposed to help, but I haven’t seen him in a few days. I think he took off to visit family.”
“Did he have family?” Josh asked, reaching out and taking one of the offered bottles. “I was under the impression he was mostly a loner.”
Dale shrugged as he handed Ezra one of the other bottles. “I have no idea to be honest. I just assumed.” He swiped his dark bangs out of his eyes before he opened his water and took a long swig. When he finished, he wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. “It’s hard to know anything about anyone in this community. Most of us are here to avoid the outside world, which means we don’t even want our family to know where we are unless we brought them with us.”
Josh nodded, placing a hand on his hip while holding his water with the other. Dale Robinson moved to Bull Creek just over a year ago, a bear shifter on the run from something, and that’s all Josh knew about the man. “Yeah, that whole everyone keeps their own secrets rule kind of keeps us from knowing what we probably need to know about everyone to make sure they’re all right.”
Ezra shrugged. “It’s a Catch-22. We need to sacrifice privacy for safety, but in doing so, we surrender even more of our freedom. We simply have to decide what we want more. All roads have their issues. The question is what can we live with in order to find that balance.”
Josh stared over at his friend, one brow cocked. “And when did Ezra Havlin become so philosophical?”
Ezra laughed as he bent over, placing his bottle on the ground, and grabbed another of the thick branches they cut a short time ago. “I’ve been on plenty of stakeouts,” he said. “Left me plenty of time to think about things that made my head hurt.”
Dale laughed, shaking his head. “Hell, just trying to figure out what you said made my head hurt.”
“How about you?” Josh asked as he dropped his bottle to the ground and followed Ezra in stacking the logs into the back of Dimitri’s truck. “Do you have family that don’t know you’re here?”
Ezra laughed as he tossed a log in with the others. “So much for people keeping their secrets.”
“What?” Josh asked, ruffled at what his friend insinuated. “That rule doesn’t mean I can’t ask questions, just that he doesn’t have to answer them if he doesn’t want to. I mean, some things are just normal conversation, don’t you think? Like what do you do for a living? Where are you from? Do you like football? The color purple? How are we to get to know people if we don’t talk to them and learn about each other?”
Dale chuckled, reaching down and snatching a log off the ground. “It’s all good,” he said. “I agree. You can’t truly know people if you don’t ask questions, and people can’t know you if you don’t answer them.” He turned to Josh, shrugging. “But no, I don’t have any family to speak of. I grew up with this curse with all the headaches that go along with it. I didn’t want to pass it on to my kids. The only way to avoid that was not to get married and have children.”
Josh nodded but said nothing. Growing up in Draven Falls, he hadn’t had to deal with too much of the animosity that went with being a paranormal. While it wasn’t out there for the whole world to see, the paranormals outnumbered the humans so that the prejudice of the world didn’t affect him, or anyone else for that matter, all that much. Still, he knew it wasn’t like that everywhere, and in some places, if you were outed, it could lead to life-threatening situations. Most of the residents of Bull Creek were out here to avoid that part of humanity’s personality.
A bird cried out overhead, drawing everyone’s attention up to the sky, hands covering their eyes. The others went back to work, but Josh stood there, staring after the bird, watching as it glided across the wide blueness of the sky. There were places in Bull Creek where you could stand and stare out at nothing but sky for miles, especially if you stood at the edge of one of the many pockets of water that dabbled the land. You couldn’t do that back in Draven Falls with the surrounding mountains. At least, you couldn’t see where the sky met the horizon as you could in Florida. Of course, it wasn’t as hot in North Carolina either. For over two years, Josh had sweated his ass off, and he hated almost every minute of it. The only thing that made living in Florida bearable for him was Alanna Bradbury. However, she was also the one thing that drove him absolutely fucking crazy, as well.
“That’s the last of it,” Ezra said, as he tossed another branch in the back of Dimitri’s truck. “Let’s go drop it off, and then we can go get a beer or something.”
Josh turned around and glanced up at the tree they had spent the day trimming. “You know, you could make this your business. Tree trimming. I’m sure there are a lot of people out here who could use your help with stuff like this.”
“I’m quite content helping Julian out,” Ezra said as he moved to the passenger seat of the truck. “He gives me enough work to keep me busy, and I can do it in the air conditioning. Hell, I can do it at Everglades.”
Dale slid into the backseat, as Josh slid behind the steering wheel of Dimitri’s truck. Letting them use his truck was the least he could do since he wasn’t there to help them do the work and he was getting all the wood. At least, that’s the way Josh had rationalized borrowing the truck. They would drop the wood off at Dimitri’s designated spot for his weekly bonfires, something Josh never understood. Even in October, Florida was in the upper eighties as far as temps went, and the idea of huddling around a fire simply made him nauseous.
“And you don’t have to leave home unless you wanted to,” Josh said as he pulled out onto the gravel road. “Or wear pants for that matter.”
“Winnie loves that part,” Ezra said as he glanced over at Josh, winking.
Dale simply shook his head, laughing. “Must be nice. I take it Julian is with that Para-Force unit you used to work for. Or, I guess, still work for.”
Ezra nodded. “Yeah. He’s hired me out to do some odd and end research whenever the team gets too busy and Tyra gets a little overwhelmed with things. It’s not what I was trained for, but it keeps me busy and helps me pay the bills.”
“I heard Winnie plans on opening one of those witchy type of stores,” Josh said. “Any truth to that?”
“She’s working with Adira and Dimitri picking out a place in Holopaw,” Ezra told them. “Adira seems excited. She’s missed it since she left Draven Falls.”
The truck rocked as they made their way to the clearing. The gravel roads needed filling once more after the last storm that whipped through the area, washing most of the dirt away.
“From what I hear, Dimitri wants to bring some smaller businesses closer,” Josh said as he turned the corner. “Nothing major, but things like a coffee shop or a bakery or something like that, I think. Simple things that we might not want to drive forty-five minutes to enjoy.”
“Makes sense,” Dale said. “You can only drink so much of Gracie’s coffee before you forget what good coffee tastes like.”
The others laughed. “Better not let her hear you say that,” Josh said, still chuckling. “Or you’ll never get another cup of coffee, good or bad.”
“You say that like it’s a punishment,” Dale said, feigning shock.
Josh pulled into the clearing, and everyone slid out of the truck, Ezra rubbing his ass from all the bumping the vehicle did.
“Hey, look over there,” Dale whispered, as he pointed off to the other side of the road.
The others glanced to where he indicated just as a small doe slid from between a clump of small bushes, turning her head to stare at them. Josh felt his panther hiss within, wanting to chase after the animal, and he clamped down on the sudden urge to shift.
The doe stared at them for a moment, and then turned and hopped back into the woods and out of sight.
“That’s one of the reasons I love living here,” Dale said, his voice holding the awe of the moment. “You just don’t see things like that in the city.” He turned back to the others, shrugging. “I much prefer wildlife as neighbors to teenagers blaring their music from their cars.”
Josh laughed as he moved around to the back of the truck. “I agree with you there. Draven Falls wasn’t huge, but we still had our fair share of idiots. You had to venture out to the edge of town to see anything like a doe watching you. Here, they’ll come right up to your back door.”
“Nothing like food delivered,” Dale said, chuckling as he reached for a couple of the branches. “Under the tree as usual, I assume.”
“Yeah, that’ll be fine,” Josh said. “Dimitri didn’t say to do anything different.”
“Works for me,” Dale said as he walked over and tossed the limbs he carried onto a small pile already there.
It took them less than thirty minutes to empty out the back of Dimitri’s truck, stacking the wood in as neat of a pile as possible. By the time they finished, sweat soaking into his shirt, Josh knew he needed a shower before hitting Everglades for a beer.
“Thanks again,” Dale said once they were done. He leaned on the truck by his forearms as he stared over at the others. “I needed that done at the beginning of hurricane season. I waited too long as it was. Luckily, we didn’t get any storms this year.”
“I’ve had enough to last for a while,” Ezra said. “Just give me a good old thunderstorm and leave the hundred-mile-per hour winds out of it.”
“But what’s the fun in that?” Josh asked, laughing as he patted the truck. “Come on, I’ll give everyone a ride back.”
“Thanks, but I think I want to wander for a while,” Dale said. “It’s been some time since I allowed my bear to roam. He’s getting antsy.”
“I can relate,” Ezra said, nodding. “I might have to do that, as well, soon.”
“All right,” Josh said as he pushed away from the truck and headed for the driver’s door. “We’ll be at Everglades in about an hour if you want to join us for drinks.”
“I’ll do that,” Dale said. “I owe you each a round for helping out last minute.”
Josh and Ezra opened their doors, saying they’d look for him at the bar just before they slid into their seats. Of course, when they drove off, they never saw the giant shadow that slid out of the woods and struck Dale across the back of the head.
KARENA HAHN STOOD under the heavy branches of a massive cypress as she stared out at Crabgrass Creek, her arms over her chest as she watched a pelican float along the glassy surface. The water seemed darker these days, not as crystal blue as it was back when the logging industry thrived in the area. The sun was high overhead still, which is why she remained in the shadows of the tree. Vampires were fatally allergic to the sun, after all.
Bull Creek had changed a lot since she moved here back before Hopkins had bought it around nineteen hundred. He had even built a small railroad he used to haul cypress to Melbourne in the east, which he did until about the year 1928. By then several vampires had joined her, and they made their home near Crabgrass Creek, building small homes for themselves. Nothing elaborate, just simple structures back in the woods that would keep them out of the sun and protected them from vampire hunters. They counted on the fact that most of the land was too wet as well as too far away from the main road for anyone to come and disturb them.
Of course, the land hadn’t always been treated fairly nor were the people who trusted those in government. Back in the 1960s, corrupt county officials allowed remote swampland bordered on both sides by the Wildlife Management Area to be divided up into a paper subdivision, which was a subdivision in name only, and then they mass-marketed it nationwide to unsuspecting buyers as an investment. It didn’t take long for those buyers to realize they had been tricked, and they retaliated by simply not paying their property taxes. That allowed others to come in and buy it up, making it their homes, some using it merely for hunting camps when they wanted to escape the city while others made it their permanent home. When the other shifters started to move into the area, the vampires remained in the background, choosing not to associate with them or get involved in their politics. That was before the Paranormal Council from Draven Falls bought the land and turned it into a safe haven for paranormals. A few times since then, Karena had participated in Dimitri’s quests for peace in the area, helping to toss out the riffraff who would choose to ruin their perfect hideaway.
She took a deep breath as she shifted her gaze from the water to the cypress and oaks along the shore, the birds building nests in the highest branches as they prepared for winter, not that it got cold much in Florida, and rarely before January. The breeze rustled the branches but did nothing to disturb the birds that made their homes there or the squirrels that hoarded their winter supply of food. She loved this time of year. While the Florida temperatures didn’t really cool off enough to call it fall or winter, the nights were longer, allowing her and her coven to roam about more without worrying about turning into a chunk of ash on the ground. Turning her gaze up into the burning sky once more, she started to count the hours before she could scour Bull Creek for whoever dragged trouble to her coven’s doorstep. She didn’t need the other factions turning on them.
The rustling of someone walking behind her caught her attention, causing her to cock her head to the side slightly so she could hear better. It was one of hers, Antonio Foster, and he wasn’t alone. She could hear another set of footsteps, heavier this time. A smile creased her face. Russell Mackey, the newest member and youngest vampire among them. He had only been turned about ten years ago and was still getting used to his hunger pains. He was learning, though.
She turned, her eyes going wide as she noticed the body draped in Russell’s arms. By the troubled expression on Antonio’s face, she wondered if perhaps she had praised Russell too soon. She glanced at Russell, feeling her brows pinched in confusion, but she said nothing.
“It’s not—” Russell started, but Karena held up a hand, silencing him.
She walked over to where Russell stood and examined the body in his arms. She recognized the dead man, a David Potts, one of Dimitri Everest’s shifters, a gorilla if she remembered correctly. She ran her hand over her short, dark hair, which she kept cut close to her scalp, as she took a deep breath. This would not go over well. The shifters and vampires had a longstanding truce for the past few years, ever since the Paranormal Council of Draven Falls bought the area actually. Glancing up at Antonio, she asked, “Okay, what happened?”
“We don’t know,” Antonio said, gesturing for Russell to put the body on the ground. “But, you better take a closer look, especially around the neck.”
She didn’t need to look. She could smell the blood and knew what she would find, two puncture holes at his jugular, just like the fangs of a vampire. “Drained of blood. I assume?” she asked as she watched Russell stand back up.
The two men nodded.
She glanced at Russell, not wanting to ask the next question but knowing she had to anyway. “And this wasn’t you? You swear it?”
Russell nodded, his dark blond bangs sliding across his forehead and into his eyes. “No, I promise. I’ve been controlling the urge with small animals.”
She nodded, her lips pressed together as she studied the young kid’s eyes for any duplicity. “Sorry,” she said finally. “I had to ask so I knew how to handle this.”
“We found the body in the woods on the edge of our camp, however,” Antonio said, his thick arms over his chest. “If that Alpha discovered the body before we did, he would assume it was us who did it. This is the third body we’ve found like this. Someone is setting us up.”
“It would seem so, wouldn’t it?” she asked, placing her hands on her hips. “The question is, who would even want to do something so devious? We’ve been at peace with the shifters for years now. We need to find out who did this before that peace gets shot to hell.”
“I hate to ask this but could it be one of the shifters?” Antonio asked. “I mean, they have had their fair share of trouble over the past couple of years. Remember that coyote Alpha who tried to drive out the humans and witches? I could see someone like him doing it just to drive a wedge between us and the shifters.”
She thought about what he said for a moment, seeing the logic in Antonio’s statement. There had even been some organization, The Order of Wardens, who came in wanting to destroy all paranormals. Perhaps they were back. Still, it wouldn’t do well to open a can of worms she couldn’t shove back into the can if things went south. “Let’s do some investigating of our own first,” she said. “I want to be able to offer up a suspect before talking to Dimitri. We don’t need people getting the wrong idea and then try to throw their weight around. We’ve done things our way for too long to have that stripped away from us now.”
“So, what do we do with him?” Russell asked, pointing to the corpse. “We can’t preserve him, and if we drop him where someone will find him, they’ll notice the marks on the neck and come to the same conclusions you did at first; that it was a vampire.”
As much as she hated to admit it, he was right. “Do we know if he had a family?” she asked. She dreaded the idea of someone simply vanishing on their loved ones. She saw the damage something like that did to people.
Antonio shrugged. “No clue. I could ask around, but it’s not like we hang around the shifters much. It might look suspicious.”
She nodded. “That might be something we need to fix if we’re to figure this out.” But what should she do with the body until she figured out what to do about the whole mess? She pressed her lips together, hating the spot she found herself in at the moment. Glancing around at the others, she made her decision. “Let’s wrap him in a tarp and bury him somewhere the animals won’t find him. We can return him to his family once we know who did it. Or, we can dispose of the body, like we did the others, depending on what we find. Either way, I don’t want anything to happen to the corpse until I’m ready. We might need it to prove we didn’t do it.”
Russell nodded and then bent down to scoop up the body once more.
Antonio dipped his head once to Karena. “I’ll find a spot; don’t worry.”
And then she watched as the two walked off, her arms over her small chest. She needed to talk to Dimitri without the Alpha knowing she was on a fishing expedition. That wouldn’t be easy, of course. She could understand why the Paranormal Council chose Dimitri Everest. He was sharper than the first Alpha they sent out to lead the small community. Dimitri would know he was being questioned. She could do it, she knew; she would just need to be cautious not to give herself away. The question was figuring out what she needed to ask. It wasn’t like she could simply ask if shifters had been vanishing from Bull Creek.
She glanced back out at the creek, rubbing her upper arms as she debated the course before her. She could handle everything herself, of course, leave Dimitri and his friends out of it as she solved the problem on her own, which might be the safest thing for everyone involved. She didn’t need her vampires getting angry when the accusations flew, and they would fly. The puncture marks in the man’s neck shouted vampire. She squinted her eyes, staring at the water but only seeing the mystery in front of her. What if it were a vampire? Not one of hers, but a rogue come into Bull Creek to stir up trouble. They wouldn’t know of the pact, even though they should have checked in with the coven and told her they were in the area. They could have fed on the man not knowing they were about to break a peace that kept everyone safe.
Or, it could be a shifter wanting to stir up a fight between the factions, of which at the moment, there were only two: shifters and vampires. The humans, the few that there were, didn’t count as they were so small in number, and there was only one—correction, now two—witches in the area, both mated to shifters, one to the Alpha himself. Karena remembered the time when the humans ruled the area and the witches were in greater numbers. That time was long ago, however.
Turning, she headed deeper into the shadows of the forest, moving to the homes the vampires had made when they first arrived in Bull Creek. It seemed she needed to get ready for a night out. It was time to get closer to the shifters, and the best way to do that was to get a drink at Everglades, the local paranormal bar. It would be out of the norm for her, or any vampire for that matter, but she felt she had helped the shifters enough over the past two years that they wouldn’t think too much about it. She could simply play it off as wanting to build a stronger bridge between the two factions, a bridge that could very well be demolished if Dimitri ever discovered the truth of why she was there. Hopefully, she could figure things out before anything revealed her subterfuge. She supposed she’d find out at the bar whenever she went. The more bodies dropped, the greater the danger to all of them. She enjoyed her peace and quiet too much to allow that to happen. The irony wasn’t lost on her, however. She used to love a good, bloody fight. God, I’m getting old.
A SCREAM RIPPED the humid air followed by the rattling of the metal operating table as Dale Robinson squirmed to get out of his bonds. “I swear, I’m going to break every bone in your body when I get off this table,” he growled. He strained, doing his best to force his shift, but nothing happened. “What the hell have you done to me?” He couldn’t see it, but he felt two thick needles stuck into his neck, felt the rubber tubes draped across his shoulder and running down his side. He couldn’t tell if whoever took him stole blood from him or pumped some toxic into him. All he knew was that he needed to get the hell out of there.
However, his kidnapper said nothing.
Dale glanced over at the person, a hood pulled up around their head as they stood in front of what he assumed was some twisted sort of workbench. It held test tubes, and beakers full of fluids, Sterno cans cooking something in a metal pot, and Benson burners heating up something else. He watched as the person moved around, pouring contents from one tube into another and then adding it to a third. From the reflection of another table, Dale spotted the tubes running out of his neck, blood sliding through them and out of him. “What the hell are you doing to me? Why are you taking my blood?” His head pounded, and he could feel something trickling down the side of his face from his scalp. With the headache he had, he could only assume it was more blood. He had a hard time focusing when he first woke up, his vision blurry as he tried to figure out what had happened and where he had been taken. The last thing he remembered was Josh and Ezra driving off for beers after they unloaded Dimitri’s truck of all the logs. Then he woke up tied to the table with Dr. Frankenstein playing with his mad scientist set.
The kidnapper kept their back to Dale, still fiddling with whatever it was they worked on at the wobbly, makeshift wooden table. “Because I’ve tried three others, and they all keep failing.” Female. All right, at least that was something. “I’m hoping the blood of a bear shifter is stronger than that of a gorilla, a capuchin monkey—even though I have no idea what the hell I was thinking even trying that one—and a panther. None of those worked out. At least, not completely.” The woman shrugged. “Although there were some interesting side effects.”
“Worked out?” Dale felt his brows pinch. “Worked out how?” None of this made any sense.
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