Sea of Destiny – Part 11. Kyle and Carmelita are chatting as they board the ship. He compliments her by saying she looks like an Amazon Queen. Carmelita isn’t sure at first if he’s giving her a compliment.
Under the Western Sky is a retro-romance, set in the spring of 1978. Libby Marshal and Bobby Menendez have been friends since childhood. Only recently have they decided to give dating a try. Little do they know that their near perfect world is about to crash around them.
Bobby’s friend, Danny, is white. He and his father are being forced to join a white supremacist’s group that neither of them wants to join. By threatening their family, the leaders coerce Danny into doing their dirty work – attacking, possibly killing, Bobby.
Is their friendship enough to save Bobby and keep Danny from doing something horribly wrong? Can Libby and Bobby overcome racial prejudice? Read Under the Western Sky to find out.
Reluctantly, Bobby left, waiting until Libby had locked her door behind him. Strolling across the street, he was thinking about Libby and how much he loved her, when someone got out of a car just down from his mother’s house.
Acting like he didn’t notice, he walked slightly faster to his front porch. If he made enough noise, Jim would hear him and come out. He wasn’t scared, not yet. The other person came forward until he stood under the streetlight. It was Danny. His face was bland, expressionless, which was more frightening than seeing anger. If he’d been mad, it would mean he still cared.
Bobby faced his former best friend, checking the car and shadows to see if the bigger boy was alone. Bobby didn’t see anyone else, but that didn’t mean they weren’t there.
“Roberto, you and I need to talk.”
Bobby held his arms out from his body, shrugging. “I’m here, amigo. Talk.” He said loudly, hoping someone would hear.
Danny didn’t move, his hands in the pockets of his jacket. He spoke quietly, calmly.
“You know I didn’t beat Ramon, right?”
“I know you were there. I can’t believe you’d hit him with a fucking bat. That’s not your style.”
Danny’s mouth quirked and he dropped his head. “What is my style?”
“Take a swing, kick his ass, but a bat’s bad form. You weren’t ever a cheat, Dan.”
“Really?” The reply was dry, sarcastic, not Danny’s usual style either.
Something was wrong. It was a warm night. Why was Danny wearing a jacket? Why were his hands in his pockets? Bobby knew he was in trouble. It was late, his friends and family were going to bed, and, despite Toby’s warnings, he was alone.
“You know, Danny,” he said rather too loudly. “That was a cheap shot you did to his balls. Were you trying to emasculate him or just mess him up so he couldn’t take your woman?”
“I didn’t do that, Bobby. You have to believe me. That wasn’t my idea.”
“I hope not because I’d hate to be the man who did that to Ramon. Whoever did better hope he recovers full use, or he’s gonna wish he’d killed my cousin. Because Ramon will come after whoever it was. And that man will die badly. Make no mistake.”
“Nobody needs to die here, Bobby.” Danny was getting nervous.
“What’s in your pocket, Daniel?” Bobby took a step toward his friend.
“Don’t come near me,” Danny cautioned, holding out his left hand like a stop sign. His right hand stayed in his pocket.
“Lemme see,” Bobby took another step. “We never used to have secrets. We’re brothers, remember? When we were ten, we cut our hands and did blood brothers.”
“Bobby, I mean it. Don’t come any closer.” His voice shook, his left hand trembling.
“Gonna shoot me, Danny? Is that the plan? You gonna come and kill your best friend? Is that what it takes to be part of the clan? Sever your ties, kill the Mexican vermin. Jesus, Danny, did our friendship mean so little?”
“Don’t, Bobby. Stop. I mean it!” He yelled, yanking the gun out of his pocket.
The streetlight glittered on the barrel of a snub nosed .38 revolver. Danny’s hand shook, but he kept the gun trained on Bobby.
“Drop the gun, Danny. Fight me like a man. You never needed a weapon against me. Don’t you think you can take me? I’m half your size.”
He was willing his friend to come closer, begging him in his mind to drop the weapon and let down his guard, but it wasn’t happening—yet. He kept talking, taking little steps closer. The gun didn’t drop. Danny’s hand shook uncontrollably. The closer Bobby got, the more danger he was in that the gun would go off by mistake.
He reminded Danny of every time they had been there for one another, all the pranks they had played, how their mothers called them the Dastardly Duo. Each statement started as an “I remember when,” cataloging the last ten years of their lives. Tears formed in Danny’s eyes but he blinked them away. When he was close enough, Bobby stopped moving.
Danny’s arm was within reach, the gun leveled at Bobby’s forehead. Steadier now, it didn’t waver. He shifted his grip on the gun and Bobby moved. Lunging at his friend, he grabbed the barrel of the gun, pulling Danny toward him, catching him off balance.
With an easy shift of his hands, he put pressure on Danny’s wrist, forcing him to drop the gun. Bobby kicked it away, slamming his elbow into Danny’s chin. The other boy should have dropped, but Bobby hadn’t hit him hard enough. A vestige of their friendship remained, tattered and shredded as it was.
Danny tried to head butt Bobby, but the young Mexican man dodged, pulling Danny further off balance by a shift of his weight. Knocking his friend down, Bobby flipped Danny on his face, holding his arm up behind him as his foot pressed into the white boy’s shoulder. Hand at an awkward and painful angle, Danny screamed as he felt his shoulder pop out of the socket.
It’s late and night and something strange is happening. Has Orchid found them?
“What’s wrong?” He said in a normal tone of voice.
“I don’t know. I woke up suddenly. It was weird. I thought I heard someone’s voice.”
“Me too. Moments ago. I thought it was you.”
“You’re freaking me out, Jason. I thought it was you.”
“Could Orchid already know I’m out?”
“Possible. We didn’t make a big show of it, but it’s not like the press was unaware. If she’s around, she heard.”
“Great. She could already know where I am.”
This room had been made to look like a 1950′s living room. Even in a panic room, he had a theme. The mini kitchen on the end sported a full bar, refrigerator and an array of soda spigots. Since he liked to work in here, he’d stocked the refrigerator with a variety of soft drinks, but not much else. He grabbed a couple of sodas for them, handing her one. He collapsed on the couch.
“That’s kind of the point, isn’t it? Her finding you?”
“I’d rather have it the other way round,” he said more calmly than he felt. “Then I’d feel as if I had the upper hand. I don’t like the feeling that the bitch is ahead of me again.”
“How could she project her voice into the house?”
“Who knows? I very much doubt she could get in. The place is a ruddy fortress. But there’s all kinds of things you can do with electronics if you know what you’re doing.”
“Me, perhaps. But you? She doesn’t even know you. Let’s hope it stays that way.”
“Because I like you. I don’t want you a target. More to the point, I don’t want you to kill her. I want that opportunity myself—and you’d be better at it than me.” He flashed his winning smile at her, making her weak.
Taylor’s heart fluttered. She wanted so badly for him to kiss her she could hardly stand it. She’d never been so incredibly attracted to anyone as she was to Jason. However, she had a rule that she wouldn’t go to bed with a man she barely knew. Hell, she’d known Greg nearly two years and hadn’t gone to bed with him either! After a particularly horrible relationship crashed and burned a few years ago, she’d made a promise to herself that she’d be more careful. That vow got hard to keep when he looked at her like that.
Her phone rang. “Yes? Oh, thank God, Greg. What’s going on?”
There was a rumble of his voice on the other end. Jason couldn’t make out the words.
“Okay. We’re coming out. Thanks.” She hung up. “All clear. False alarm.”
“Did they figure out what it was?”
“He’ll explain when they get back up here.”
“I’m adding a peephole to my door tomorrow. I don’t like not being able to see out.”
“Good idea. We should all have them.”
“Get me some, I can put them in. I’m good with tools.” He gave her another amazing grin.
“All kinds, I bet.” Her smile and tone turned seductive.
“Oh, God, love! You’ve no idea what that does to me!”
She did, he could tell. She knew exactly where that smile had hit him and she loved it. He watched her ass all the way to the door of the panic room. She made him stay in there until she checked to be sure the men were back in the house and at his bedroom door. She let them in while Jason waited in the other room.
“Does that stair from the gym seal off?” Greg asked.
“Yes. If you remember, it’s in a tube at the bottom. And has a thing like a sub door on this end. It’s been sealed since we came up. The tube is coded, so’s the hatch.”
“Good. I was having a paranoid moment.”
“All ready had them, mate. Hence the hatch.”
“I like how you think,” Greg said, accepting a soda.
“So, what was it?”
“Someone’s baby monitor,” Tim said.
“What?” Jason was incredulous.
“They don’t shield those things worth shit. We traced the signal to the house next door. Scared the crap outta them showing up at two o’clock in the morning with guns.”
“Why did it sound like someone saying my name?”
“His name’s Jason too. I saw his license myself, no joke. We caught some of their kinky foreplay on the security feed,” Alex replied with a laugh.
“She talks dirty to him over the baby monitor.”
“Do they even have a kid?”
“No. It’s some game they play. Don’t ask….” Greg cautioned.
“Why’d we hear it?”
“That’ amazing sound system you’ve got. I’m not sure how it works, but that’s the gist of it. All safe and sound. Go back to sleep.”
“Yeah, that’s gonna happen,” Jason complained. “Maybe if I was stone drunk or sexually satiated after a few hours debauch with a beautiful woman. Clean and sober, no way!”
The men stared at him. He didn’t realize what he’d said right away. Blushing, he covered his head with his hands.
“Don’t kill me, Taylor. Sorry.”
© Dellani Oakes
Jason gave directions, helped out when there were problems and kept up an easy flow of chatter while they worked. Soon, the sauce bubbled on the stove, noodles cooked, garlic bread warmed in the oven. The house was full of good smells and laughter. Jason and his security team sat around sipping sodas.
“What made you become an agent?” Jason asked Greg.
Greg smiled, nodding so expansively, he bent nearly from the waist. “Clint Eastwood.”
“What? The actor?”
“Yeah. At first, I thought Dirty Harry, you know? But he’s played cops, agents, Secret Service. They all come across so strong and sexy, I thought That’s what I want to be when I grow up.”
“That was sometime last year,” Alex said with a smirk.
Greg punched him. “What about you, old man?” Greg directed to Alex.
“Who you calling old, boy? I’m not even forty!”
“I’m not even thirty. I’ll call you old if I want.”
“I grew up hard,” Alex replied. “My neighborhood was a war zone. Wasn’t surprising to have police cars all over the place most of the night. If they came when they were called, that is. Most of the cops knew to stay out. Only a handful were brave enough to face the risks. Veterans of Vietnam, mostly. Wasn’t nothin’ those men hadn’t seen. Bunch of street toughs didn’t scare them—not even me.”
“You were a gang banger?” Tim asked him, stunned.
“Was goin’ that way, for sure. I was small, fast, smart…. Lots of those guys needed runners for one thing or another. I was being groomed until I got in too deep. Couple of the cops got me off the street one night when all hell broke loose. Most of the gang I hung with got wiped out that night, the others got arrested. Me, they gave a chance. I was thirteen. I promised to clean up my act and I got to hang out with them at the station. They kept an eye on me, let me ride with them sometimes. Some of them taught me to shoot and others showed me karate and the like. They wanted me on the force, and I did that a few years. Felt like I wasn’t making a big enough difference, so I came here instead.”
“Tim, how about you?” Taylor asked.
“Nothing that dramatic or romantic,” he said quietly. “I bought into the whole make a better America schtick and joined the military. I was in Dessert Storm—sorry assed war. Saw me a little action, but not a lot. Got sent home and realized I had nothing to look forward to. So there I was, an out of work Marine, and got recruited by the feds. Found my niche. How about you, Tay?”
“You all know about my dad.”
“Well, I thought about being a police officer for awhile. I considered the military. Then I was seriously interested in the DEA and the CIA, but my mom talked me out of those. I applied for Secret Service, but declined when Obama was elected. However, I’d been through all the preliminary stuff and cleared, so they offered me this job. I liked what I saw, so I stayed.”
“How did you become a thief?” Tim asked politely of Jason.
“Oh, well… fell into it, really. I was small, fast, smart—much like Alex. I was a born con man. I could charm the wings off bees and tell the sun not to shine. I waxed most poetical, so even the bullies left me alone. Amazing, but I got through school without getting beaten regularly. Pretty soon, I had my own protection racket going. Not of businesses, of other small squirts like me. They paid and I saw they were protected. Worked slick too, ’til the school got wind. Ah well.
“By that time, things were bad at home. Both parents finally left and I was on my own. I needed food, shelter, rent money. I started by shoplifting, then picking pockets. I worked honest jobs for a while, but that didn’t pay as well. Lost the apartment eventually, lived on the streets, in flop houses, cardboard boxes—that was the worst. Then I met up with this fellow who was looking for an apprentice.”
“How did he find you?”
“I found him, more is like. I picked the old boy’s pocket on the train. He slipped his wallet back out of my pocket and slid me a note clipped to some cash. If I showed up at that address, I’d be even better paid. I’m figuring he’s some kind of pervert, but I was hungry and desperate. I went.”
“And he wasn’t?” Taylor pressed.
“Nicest old man I’ve ever met. Treated me well, taught me all he knew and gave me his fortune and property when he passed. That’s how I learned about investments. You can’t believe the portfolio he left me. He was the closest thing I had to a real parent in my entire life. Monty Philips, he went by. Wasn’t his real name, of course.”
“Did you ever think of doing anything else with your life?” Taylor asked quietly.
“Thought about being a chef once. Yeah, didn’t work out.”
“Why not?” She asked.
“Too many homosexuals. I wasn’t about to change my preferences just to get a better job. Mind you, not all of them, but enough to make it mighty uncomfortable. I didn’t really put on any size until I turned twenty.”
“Just how old are you?” Taylor asked, trying to sound casual.
“Sure you really want an answer?” He glanced at her, not quite meeting her eyes.
She smirked. “Why not?”
© Dellani Oakes
Sea of Destiny – Part 10. Kyle has been talking to his travel agent. He told her to find a family friendly cruise for his family and Carmelita, their housekeeper. Angie, the travel agent, calls him with details. They are going to Mexico. She suggests he may find love again, but teases that the name of the boat is not the Love Boat. Curious, Kyle decides to see what the name of the boat really is.
Jason laughed as the men filed out of his room. He really enjoyed these rough and ready FBI men. Never having had many friends, he felt himself lucky to have three—four if he counted Taylor. Could he count her? Or did she fall into another category entirely?
He locked the doors to his suite and threw his dirty clothing in the hamper. The water jets hit him from all sides as well as above his head, beating the soreness from his body.
While he bathed, he worked off the sexual tension the only way he could. It wasn’t ideal, but better than nothing. Maybe, if he did it a few hundred times a day, he could control himself and not act like a teenager when Taylor was around. He was careful to keep images of her from his mind, concentrating instead on actresses and super models.
As he dressed, there was a tap at his door. Thinking it was one of the men, he slipped on his boxers and unlocked it.
“It’s open.” He turned away, padding silently to the dresser.
“You decent?” It was Taylor.
“Much as I’m likely to get.”
“I meant are you dressed?”
The door opened and shut with a furtive click as he bent over to put on his jeans. Glancing over his shoulder, he was surprised to see Taylor in a pair of soft, pink yoga pants and a coordinating sweater. No bra, he noticed, and barefoot.
“Feet’ll get cold on the tile downstairs,” he remarked as he zipped his pants.
She stared at him again. He could feel her eyes follow the movements of his body as he pulled on his shirt.
“I think we need to talk about this,” she said quietly, leaning against the door.
“Guys will be here shortly.”
She nodded. “Greg and I never got very far,” she said suddenly. “And before him, not that many men. I was very focused on my career.”
“Taylor, you don’t owe me an explanation.”
“I know. But I want you to know. I’m not a virgin—not exactly, but….”
“Not exactly?” He held up his hand to stop her babbling. “Do I really want to know this?”
She smiled, shaking her head. “Probably not. It’s been a long time for me and I’m not sure I’m ready to make any kind of commitment….”
She crossed the floor between them in a sudden rush. Her arms were around him, her lips on his. Her kiss had desire and fury burning in it, searing his mouth. Just as suddenly, she stopped.
“I’m sorry! I’m so sorry!”
She ran from the room, nearly knocking Greg over. She headed to her room, slamming the door.
“My advice,” Greg said calmly as he strolled into Jason’s room. “Is to quietly do her, get it out of your system and move on.”
“Jason’s laugh was caustic. “Variety of things wrong with that, mate. Quietly?”
He chuckled. “Get her out of my system and move on? Can you?”
“No. And we never had sex. Not for lack of trying on my part.”
“Why not? Seems to me you’d be well suited.”
Greg shrugged. “Don’t know. Every time we got close, she’d slam on the brakes. Only I don’t think she wants to any more. Got to admit, I’m jealous as hell. But I want her happy. I know I’m not the man to do that. I think you are.”
“Maybe, but do you think we’ve got a chance?”
“Don’t know unless you try. Take it slow. Let her come to you.”
“And if she doesn’t?”
“She will…. Let’s fix dinner.”
Although the agents were dressed casually, they were armed and diligent. More agents patrolled outside and there were now agents in the security office monitoring the screens. All the cameras had been cleared, making Jason happier.
His new friends lined up on the other side of the island, watching Jason expectantly as he checked the refrigerator.
“What’s for supper?” Greg asked for the third time.
“How about spaghetti? It’s quick, easy, goes a long way.”
“Sounds good. Assign us jobs, Chef,” Tim replied.
“Tim, brown the meat.” He handed the older man ground beef. “Greg, open sauce.” He pointed to the bottles neatly arranged on the counter. “Then dump them in the pot. Who can be trusted with a sharp knife?”
Taylor raised her hand.
She grinned, taking the chopping board and vegetables he handed her.
“What about me?” Alex asked.
“You’ll put the salad together and help Taylor with veggies.”
“And you?” Greg asked, licking sauce off his thumb.
“I’m going to sit here and watch you lot make a mess in my kitchen.” He winked, settling down on a bar stool. “Actually, I’ll take over once all the prep work is done.”
© Dellani Oakes
Greg found Taylor on the bench in the women’s dressing room. She was dry eyed, but red in the face. She held a towel balled up in her hands, working it like bread dough. He flopped on the bench beside her.
“Got it bad, baby?”
She nodded. Greg put his arm around her, hugging her close.
“Him too, looks like. Hell, me three, if I’m honest. It’s impossible to be around you and not be attracted.”
“Tim and Alex aren’t all bunged up over me.”
“They’re in relationships, Tay. Jason and me—we’re the boys in blue….”
Taylor started to laugh. “I’d really like to know if that’s true.”
He eyed her dubiously. “Had this conversation before?”
“Do they really go blue? Seriously. Why do men say that?”
He laughed, kissing her hair. “I dunno. No good answers for either of those questions. Want to look?” He offered to pull down his pants.
“Had that offer already.”
“Damn! The boy’s quick!” He chuckled, hugging her shoulders.
“It didn’t do him any good either.”
“Why won’t you let someone in, Tay-tay? I was crazy about you. I still am. I see how you look at Jason and it eats me up. I wanted it to be me.”
“What do you mean?”
“The man you fell for.”
“Greg, you’re one of the greatest guys I know. You’re my best friend….”
“And I’m dead in the water. Blow away by the F word.” He clapped his hand on her knee. “Anytime you need a friend—or more than just a friend—you know where to find me.”
She laughed, brushing his cheek with her fingertips. “Yeah. Thanks, Greg.”
He leaned over suddenly, kissing her firmly on the lips. Her mouth opened with surprise and he took full advantage. He didn’t go any further than a very powerful, sensuous kiss, but it was full of promises.
“Anytime you change your mind,” he replied huskily.
Taylor licked her lips slowly. It had been a nice kiss, but she wasn’t full of that burning desire that Jason filled her with.
“Let’s get back out there before they think we’re being bad.” He held out his hand to her.
The door to the dressing room popped open and Taylor appeared with Greg behind her. Jason glanced over, concerned. She looked okay, not angry, smiling a little. He smiled back.
What was he thinking? No involvement. He knew that. It was precisely because he knew that, it kept bugging him.
“You okay?” They asked one another.
“Yeah, fine.” Jason replied as she grinned. “You?”
“I’ve been worse.”
“Enough of this today,” Tim decided. “It’s nearly supper time. Let’s get cleaned up and get some dinner going.”
“Good idea,” Greg agreed. “What’s for supper?”
“We’ll figure it out. Some of the others planned a menu and went shopping.” Tim said. “We pick something we feel competent with and make it. They got recipes off the net.”
“You blokes any good in the kitchen?”
The men shrugged, shaking their heads.
“I’m competent enough. If you can read, you can cook.”
“Good in theory. I guess I’m Chef Ramsey.”
Taylor leaned near him, sniffing delicately. “Chef needs a shower.”
“We’re all pretty ripe,” Tim said. “Showers, clean boxers, dinner.”
The men laughed an Taylor blushed slightly.
“Boxers? Thanks for looking, Tim.”
His booming laugh filled the room, echoing off the blank walls.
“Honey, if you really wear boxers, I’ll eat mine raw.”
“Kidding, Tim. I wear a thong.” She strutted from the gym, with a towel over her shoulder.
“Is she serious?” All eyes went to Greg.
“Don’t ask me. I never got as far as her panties.”
“Pity,” Jason murmured. “I was gonna ask for a description.”
Greg punched him.
“Showers, men.” Tim commanded.
“Yes, Sensei,” they replied automatically, bowing.
The three men had taken bedrooms at the front of the house across from Jason’s suite. Taylor had taken the room next to the stairs to the garage, leaving the corner bedroom free.
Jason took the spiral stairs to his room from the corner of the gym. The men went up with him. They checked his room and went to their own. They marveled once more at the luxury he had surrounded himself with. Knowing a bit about his background, they could understand it. But that didn’t prevent a little jealousy.
“We’ll come back when we’re ready,” Greg told Jason. “Don’t go down without us.”
“Aye, aye, sir.” Jason saluted. “I will stay in my room and behave like a good little boy.”
Greg thumped him. “Smart ass.”
© Dellani Oakes
“You’ve got good instincts on the mat, kid,” Tim Stuart complimented.
As the most experienced martial artist on the team, he’d taken on the role of Sensei. He was a good, patient instructor. Jason had learned a lot in the last half hour, not the least of which was how hard Taylor Driscole could kick. He was still limping.
“Falling down is the most important point,” Tim continued. “Learn to fall, you can always get back up. Fall wrong, it’s all over.”
They practiced knocking one another down for awhile. Greg was paired with Alex Graves, leaving Jason with Taylor. It was ideal for size, but not for desire. Every time they grappled one another, Jason’s body reacted automatically. It was getting more difficult to control the manly urges.
“This time, come at her from behind,” Tim told Jason. “Grab her around the neck and pretend you have a knife. You right or left handed?”
“Advantageous. Pick a hand. Taylor, be gentle.”
Jason didn’t like the look on her face as she turned her back on him and closed her eyes. He took a deep breath before running up to grab her. He held his left hand in a fist as if he held a knife. Grabbing her to him from behind, he accidentally got a handful of very tasty breast. She smelled fantastic and her hair tickled his nose as he held her close.
Taylor stiffened. She could feel Jason’s muscular body pressed close, his firm manhood just above the crest of her hips. Forcing herself to react to an attacker, she elbowed his gut and twisted the imaginary knife out of his hand. She hit him harder than she’d intended. Jason collapsed on the mat, gasping for air, eyes watering as he struggled for breath. His dry lips sipped oxygen raggedly.
“You trying to kill him, Tay-tay?” Greg asked as he gave Jason a hand up.
Jason stood slowly, doubled over, hands on his knees, as his lungs tried to find enough room to expand in his sore rib cage.
“Do you want to see Spence?” Alex asked solicitously.
Jason shook his head. Tim supported him, helping him walk to a nearby bench.
“I said disarm him, Driscole. Not kill him.”
Taylor said nothing. She’d overreacted and she knew it. The desire she felt warred with her training, causing major conflict. She tossed a clean towel at Jason, spun on her heel and headed to the dressing room in tears. Greg quickly followed her.
“Something me and the boys need to know about?” Tim asked gravely.
Jason shook his head. Alex handed him a bottle of water.
“Something’s not going on?” Tim pressed.
“We’ve got some personal—challenges—if you will.” He was embarrassed to admit his attraction. “I don’t want to get the lady in trouble, lads.”
“We’re close,” Alex said. “Tay’s like a sister. We’d never rat her out. But you’re feeling something even more personal. Am I right?”
“Oh, yeah,” Jason replied. “I’d love to say it’s just because of my incarceration, but it’s not.”
“You need a woman, friend.” Alex clapped him on the shoulder.
“Yeah, but not just any woman. That’s the problem. Until today, anyone with the right anatomy would have been great.”
“But not now,” Tim supplied.
Jason said nothing, just sipped his water.
“I wish I had some advice for you, kid. You can’t hardly tap that. It’s more than our jobs are all worth,” Alex said, staring at the door Taylor had walked through.
“Your jobs—my life,” Jason replied.
© Dellani Oakes