Authors: Kathryn Smith
Tags: #Romance, #Fiction, #Love stories, #Suspense, #Historical, #Supernatural, #Man-woman relationships, #Paranormal, #Paranormal romance stories, #Criminal investigation
The Nightmare Chronicles
This one’s just for Steve.
For the flowers bought in celebration of every finished book,
For the takeout he ate without complaint,
For all the trips to the bookstore just so I could get out of the house,
For putting up with neglected housework, mood swings, and all the ups and downs of being married to a writer.
And for having the courage to sign on with me for life.
You’re one brave man, babe.
Nothing good ever comes out of fog.
“You look like crap.” This lovely sentiment was the first…
True to my word, I walked into Amanda’s hospital room…
As usual, Noah and I didn’t say much on the…
I clung to Verek for maybe four or five seconds…
Over the next few days my life was fairly quiet.
Noah and I decided to get out of the city.
You’d think that given my true nature—and the total fantasticness…
If I were the heroine in a movie or TV…
I went to work feeling a little bit like a…
Antwoine Jones was a little shorter than me with a…
“My boobs are going to pop out of this thing.”
Given the twists and turns my life has taken since…
“You have to be fucking joking.”
“Did you know?” I demanded of Verek as I gazed…
Noah. It was Noah. I must have called out to…
Before leaving the palace, Morpheus allowed me a brief “escape”…
Padera’s confession put a halt to everything. The Council wanted…
Padera came at me like a lioness pouncing on a…
So now I’m the Warden.
Nothing good ever comes out of fog.
Horror movies have used it for decades to evoke fear, suspense, and mystery. And, in most cases, shroud some truly horrific beings in an atmosphere that seems to have a life of its own. I’m convinced that that imagery originally came from a dreamer who got a little too close to the border of the Dream Lands—and saw the “guard dog” that lurks there.
All this occurred to me as I narrowly escaped being disemboweled by sharp, misty fingers.
I’m Dawn Riley and the reason I’m at the mercy of this fog right now is because I’m the daughter of Morpheus, God of Dreams. I’m also human, and I’m not
supposed to exist. The mist knows this. Since its job is to protect this world, it sees me as a threat—something to be destroyed.
Clawlike tendrils of fog raked at my skin, raising fat, angry welts wherever they managed to take hold. Tiny dots of crimson rose from several of the marks. First blood. Freaking mist hated me.
The feeling—“Ow! Not the face!”—was mutual, damn it.
“Are you going to let it do that to you?”
I turned toward that rumbling voice. Standing a few feet away, the mist lovingly caressing him as though he was a soft little kitten and not six-plus feet of heavily muscled, chiseled and buffed man. Verek, my trainer.
And by man, I mean his sex. He isn’t a man in the human sense of the word. Simply because he isn’t human. For that matter, neither am I. We’re Nightmares—guardians of the Dream Realm—but Verek is a full blood while I am merely half.
The mist keeps humans from straying too far within the Dreaming, and keeps enemies from getting in. It is rare that either happens, which made it all the hungrier for me, like a pack of wolves gone too long without fresh meat. Verek says I have to learn how to make the mist see me as part of this world and not as a threat.
Basically, I have to tame it, and I have no idea how to do that.
“Easy for you to say,” I snarled. “It’s all over you like a horny masseuse at a rub and tug.”
Obviously Verek liked the comparison, because he grinned, flashing pure white teeth in a tanned face. He really is gorgeous—and I spend my time half in awe, half wanting to break his lovely nose.
“It respects me,” he replied in an arrogant tone. “It knows I’m dominant, but that I mean it no harm.”
What he didn’t say was that the mist should regard me in the same way. Whatever sentient creatures made their home in those creeping fingers of fog should see me as a lord and master, especially given my parentage. But instead of being treated like Queen Elizabeth—the first one—I was the butt of the joke. I was Prince Freaking Charles.
As if to prove my point, the mist wrapped around my messy ponytail and pulled—hard. Tears sprang to my eyes as my scalp silently screamed in protest.
“That is so fucking it!” I yelled. I raised my hand and suddenly a dagger appeared in it. My dagger. A Morae blade, made especially for Nightmares like me. Palming the moonstone-set handle, I felt the weapon mold itself to my hand an instant before I raised the wicked-sharp blade to defend myself.
Strong arms grabbed me before I could strike. “Don’t!” Verek shouted. “That’s not the way to do it!”
I froze. The incessant whispering of the mist stopped
as well. The swirling tendrils drew back, as though afraid.
“Hurting it will only make it fearsome and angry,” Verek told me softly. I looked down to see one of his hands held out to the mist, like he was trying to woo a skittish puppy. His other arm was wrapped tightly around me, preventing me from drawing away when the fog moved closer. Wisps curled around his fingers and wrist, and I could hear soft inhuman whispers coming from the pale curls. “You would only prove yourself a threat by harming it.”
“That’s just fabulous,” I muttered. I can’t defend myself against it either. I pulled free of his grasp. Verek’s hands felt better than I was comfortable with, and I didn’t like him feeling as though he could restrain me whenever he wanted. It wasn’t that long ago he’d seen me as an interloper and a foe and tried to best me in a fight. Of course, in most circumstances he could pound me silly. But not here, not if I let myself go.
It’s funny—and not in a ha-ha kind of way—but thirteen years ago I turned my back on this world and swore never to be part of it again. Now I’m trying to make up for all that lost time because I have to be able to protect myself from those who would use me to get to my father. The King. And wasn’t there always someone trying to get rid of the king? Get rid of him or get back at him, that was the way of all those sto
ries. And the Dreaming was where all those stories come from.
I didn’t really have a choice but to try and make this work. It was with that petulant realization that I held out my hand to the mist as Verek had done. Tentative swirls came toward me and slipped through my fingers. It felt like silk, which was odd because normally the mist was sharp and…
“Son of a bitch!” I cried. It’s a wonder the mist wasn’t blue I’d cursed so much that night. “Fucker bit me!”
Right in that fleshy bit between thumb and forefinger. It stung worse than a paper cut. Good thing I can heal myself because I knew from past experience that the mist had some nasty venom to its bite.
“Let me see.” Without waiting for permission, Verek grabbed my hand and lifted it to his mouth. I barely had time to stiffen before he wrapped his lips around the wound and sucked viciously at it.
“Ew.” I attempted to yank my hand away. He didn’t let go. “What are you doing?”
Finally, he released me, turning his head to spit a mouthful of blood on the ground with a grimace. Swiping the back of his hand across his mouth, he faced me. “I drew out the venom.” He shot me a sharp glance. “You’re welcome, by the way.”
I wiped my hand on the leg of my jeans and shook my head. “I could have done that myself, thanks.” Then
I glared at the fog. “Poisonous bastard. Isn’t that treason, trying to kill a member of the royal family?”
“Don’t get angry at it,” Verek advised. He treated the mist as a whole, while I had bounced back and forth between singular and plural. “It will react aggressively. You have to make yourself its superior.”
“I am its superior!” I shouted at the low-lying fog. “It’s just too stupid to realize it!”
He started laughing then. If my hand hadn’t hurt so much, I might have punched him in the mouth. Instead, I turned my attention to healing my wounds, all the while cursing Verek and men in general, under my breath. Thankfully all I have to do to heal myself is concentrate on the area. I could do that and curse at the same time.
God, I was so angry my ears were ringing. Wait. That wasn’t anger. I’m pretty sure anger didn’t sound like Def Leppard.
“What is it?” Verek asked, obviously noticing my sudden alertness.
“Cell phone,” I replied. I’d purposefully dreamed myself into the Dream Realm tonight rather than physically crossing over as I normally do. And Noah was supposed to call and let me know when he’d be home from LA. That’s probably him calling now.
My heart did a backflip, and my entire mood shifted from storms and thunderbolts to sunshine and daisies.
“Gotta go!” I chirped, as I prepared to leave. “I’ll get it right with the fog next time, promise.” Right. Who was I trying to kid?
“We’re not done!” Verek protested as I closed my eyes and began shifting my conscious self across the dimensions. It happened much faster than it ever had before—so fast that I bolted upright, dizzy and wide-eyed, in the mussed tangle of blankets that was my bed. My phone was on one of the pillows, serenading me with “Pour Some Sugar on Me,” the ringtone I’d picked for Noah. Sappy, I know. Tacky even. But I liked it.
“Hello?” Like I didn’t already know who it was.
His voice was enough to send shivers down my spine. Low, melodic and oh-so sexy. Noah Clarke is my boyfriend. He’d been a regular at the sleep center I used to work at, but then a Night Terror had targeted the pair of us for extinction and we’d been forced to acknowledge our mutual attraction. It was a long story. “Hey yourself. How’s L.A.?”
“I’m not there anymore.”
When he didn’t immediately offer his location—Noah was a man of sometimes infuriatingly few words—I pressed on, “Oh? Where are you?”
“Yeah.” I barely had time to register that he was back in the city before he said, “I’m here with Amanda.”
Okay, so Amanda was his ex-wife, and I admit that my first reaction wasn’t concern, it was jealousy. I hid it well, though. “What happened?”
There was a pause on the other end. “She’s been raped.”
Oh, God. Jealousy went out the window, replaced by a feeling of deep stupidity. “Can I do anything?”
There was a hesitation on the other end of the line, as though he wasn’t sure what to say. “Meet me at the hospital.”
I could tell from the tone of his voice that it had taken a lot for him to say that—to request my presence. “I’ll be right there.”
I made it to the hospital in record time. All the while I tried to keep my thoughts focused on how awful the situation was. I tried not to indulge in my own petty feelings of jealousy, insecurity and self-doubt. Okay, and maybe a little bit of anger, but admitting to that just makes me all the worse as a person, doesn’t it? I mean, I’m supposed to be non-judgmental when it comes to feelings and actions. I’m a psychologist, they teach us that in school.
And normally I can do that—in a professional capacity. I help people deal with their lives through their dreams. I can give them exercises designed to help
them live their lives and be healthier emotionally and mentally. But when it comes to my own life, I’m not nearly so adept. I have to work at it.
Of course Noah would run to Amanda’s side after such a tragedy. He wouldn’t be the man I thought he was if he didn’t. And I’m sure there was a good reason why Amanda continued to list him as her next of kin even though their divorce was long since final and her parents lived in the same city.
Long story short: Noah and Amanda divorced after she cheated on him. Apparently things had been falling apart before that. I met Noah when he joined a sleep study conducted through the MacCallum Institute where I used to work as a grunt, doing menial tasks and research while I tried to get my own practice underway.
I managed to keep my relationship with Noah professional until Karatos—the Night Terror—decided he wanted to use Noah, a strong lucid dreamer, to cross over into this realm and do some damage. Karatos was aligned with my father’s political foes, who weren’t above using me to get to Morpheus. Hence, Karatos decided to kill two birds with one stone—namely me and Noah. We defeated Karatos—I wouldn’t be here now if we hadn’t.
Noah found out the truth about me because of Karatos. An artist, Noah gets a lot of inspiration from his
dreams, which is why there’s a portrait of me called “The Nightmare” hanging in Noah’s bedroom. He’s been my rock through this craziness.
I wasn’t sure where my relationship with Noah was headed, or if we had a future, but I liked him enough to not give up without a fight. I also knew him well enough to know that he wouldn’t turn his back on Amanda just because they were no longer married. His knight-in-shining-armor complex wouldn’t let him.
That’s what made me an awful person—being jealous of a woman who had just endured the worst thing a woman physically could. After all, Noah had called me to be there with him, surely that meant something?
But for the moment, as I stepped off the elevator and hurried down a fluorescent-lit corridor that smelled of alcohol, gauze, and antiseptics, I didn’t care about the whys of it all. I was scared for Amanda. Like many women I’ve always believed that rape was one of the worst things that could happen to my gender. You could recover, but you could never forget.
I spotted Noah waiting for me by the nurses’ station. In this sterile, bland environment, he was as difficult to miss as a smear of red lipstick on a pale face.
Noah Clarke was tall enough that at five foot ten I had to look up to meet his dark gaze. His hair and eyes were almost completely black, save for a touch of brown that came out in certain lights. His skin was golden, and
his jaw was covered with dark stubble. He was dressed in a brown leather jacket, T-shirt, jeans, and boots. He looked tired, but I thought he looked divine.
He also looked happy to see me, which was a plus, given the reason he was here.
I walked toward him. He walked toward me. It was almost like something out of a movie. I increased my pace, almost jogging. What was I going to say? What was the right thing to do?
Noah made that decision for me. As soon as I reached him, he took me into his arms—wonderfully strong arms—and crushed me against his chest, his face buried in my hair. It might not be the kiss I’d imagined for his homecoming, but it was just as good.
“It’s good to see you, Doc,” he murmured, the scent of him warming my blood with its sweet and spicy heat.
I hugged him back, savoring how solid he was beneath my hands. I might not be sure of where our relationship is going, but I know the direction I’d like to go in. I let myself indulge in these thoughts for just a second or two before shaking off the selfishness.
“How’s Amanda?” I asked.
“Not great,” he replied, lifting his head. “I’m waiting for her doctor.”
“You haven’t spoken to him yet?”
“Her, and no. I got the call this morning and I caught
the first plane I could in from L.A. on such short notice.”
It was ten o’clock at night. It must have driven him crazy trying to get back here. Luckily New York had three airports including Newark eager to service the city. That would have increased his chances of finding a flight.
“Is her family here?” I asked as we walked down the corridor. Noah kept my hand tucked in his.
“Mandy didn’t want them called until I got here. I think she hoped I’d handle them.”
That seemed an odd choice of words. “Do they need handling?” Personally, I couldn’t imagine anyone who would act like an idiot when their child needed them.
“Her mother is very…emotional.” His brow puckered a little, as though remembering something unpleasant.