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Authors: Ann Mayburn

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BOOK: Dreamer
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Jack gave him a hard shove with his elbow and Devon looked
to the ground, trying to ignore the rather amused vibe coming from the gods and
goddess.

Still, it took him a moment to shake off the unfamiliar
goddess’ power. Damn, he knew better than to stare at a god or goddess without
permission. He had no idea who she was, but without a doubt she was a fertility
deity of some kind. The fact that they’d seen the woman he was obsessing over
in his mind irritated him, offended him somehow, and he tried to tamp down on
his hot temper.

“Forgive me, please, but you want me to be her mentor and
guardian?” Being a guardian meant swearing a binding oath to be the personal
protector of someone until such a time that the gods released you from your
oath. You weren't only responsible for their physical welfare, but their mental
and emotional welfare as well. There had only been a couple of thousand
guardians in the history of the Chosen, and each had been essential for
defeating Destruction.

He knew his path.

Not giving himself time to second-guess, he went with his
gut. “I accept.”

“Don't
you wish to know who she is?”
Loki's voice held a hint of teasing.
“Maybe she’s an old woman who will require
you to feed her cats and pick the fleas out of her hair.”

Keeping his eyes on their feet, Devon shrugged his broad
shoulders. “If that is what is needed, I will do it.”

“Why?”
the
goddess asked in a soft tone.

Devon thought about his answer and tried to express
himself—not the easiest thing to do. “Because you asked me to.” Silence met
this statement and he tried again. “You wouldn't give me this responsibility
unless there was a reason. I'm Mentu's Chosen, and I live my life trying to be
worthy of his choice.”

“Don't worry, dude,” Jack whispered. “She's hot.”

Loki snickered while Mentu cleared his throat and the
goddess growled.

“Listen
well, Chosen of Mentu,”
the goddess said.
“Even we cannot see what the gods of Destruction are planning, but we
do know that their target has been dreamers.”

Racking his brain, Devon tried to think of dream goddesses
that he knew. It was against the rules to do anything that might affect a pre-Chosen's
chances of surviving, but it couldn't hurt to know what to prepare her for. He
faced this challenge with the same determination that served him during his
time in the Marines and now as a Temple Guard.

“With
your help, I pray that she will survive long enough to face her time of trial.”
The
edge of her robe moved as she shifted. “
Our
prophets have indicated that she is the one who will either stop the plans of
Destruction, or fail and plunge our world into chaos. If we know this, then the
chances that the Destruction prophets have seen the same thing are good.”

“I understand.” He didn't really, but he understood his
marching orders when he heard them. Devon took a deep breath and began to shift
the focus of his life. “What is her name?”

“Shan
Harrison.”
The gods and goddess waited for a reaction from him.
Clearly they expected him to recognize the name.

He glanced over at Jack, who also watched him closely. “I'm
sorry, but I don't recognize the name. How will I find her?”

“You've
already been looking for her,”
Loki said with a chuckle.
“Chocolate eyes with flecks of honey. I
never knew you were such a romantic.”

Devon's heart pounded in his chest as his mouth fell open.

It couldn't be.

No, fucking, way.

Mentu said in a dry voice,
“Jack will introduce you to her tomorrow. It is essential that you
remain with her as much as possible. Do what you need to, but make sure that
you don't leave her side. If the forces of Destruction knew exactly who she
was, she would be dead by now. It's only a matter of time before they figure it
out. She must have passed her trial by then.”

Trying to be patient, not his strong suit, Devon said, “My
Lord, is there anything else I should know about her?”

A wall of silence cut the gods and goddess off from he and
Jack as they discussed something that wasn't for his ears.

“How do you know Shan?” Devon asked Jack. Even though he
knew Jack was in love with Chrissy, he couldn't help the tiny prick of
jealousy.

“She makes jewelry for me. You know, those mood rings?”
Devon nodded, recalling how the ring had helped Eliana survive her time of
choice. “Well, Shan makes them for me.”

“Are her parents Chosen?”

“Nope, she's adopted. Her parents are High Priests in the
Celtic pantheon, I forget who they worship.” Jack spun his head around as the
shield fell.

“We
wish you luck,”
Mentu said.

Frustrated, Devon tried to keep his temper under control.
They knew something important, but weren't going to tell him in typical
mysterious god fashion. He hated that. “Are you sure there's nothing else?”

“Such
impudence,”
the goddess said in a slightly amused tone.
“Know this, Chosen of Mentu, no matter what
happens, you are meant to be her guardian. Do not fail us.”

Devon opened his mouth to question them again and found
himself being kicked out of the Spirit Realm. Time and space raced past him and
he didn’t even try to slow his descent, instead enduring the pressure of moving
too fast from the different worlds. He came back to his body in a rush that
left him gasping for air. Obviously, he had pushed their patience as much as
they were allowing.

Cracking his neck, Devon stood and stretched the kinks out
of his muscles. Time moved differently in the Spirit World, and he wondered how
long he had been gone. His pocket vibrated, and he saw Jack's number on the
screen of his phone. “They kicked you out too?”

Jack snorted on the other end of the line. “Yeah. Loki made
some joke about you being hung like a bull, and the goddess didn't appreciate
it when I laughed.”

Smirking in the dark, Devon felt around the wall for the
light switch. “I'm gonna keep my comments about that to myself. All I need is
an angry goddess smiting me right now.”

“My girl's gonna be here in a few minutes, and I need to
call Shan before it gets too late. When can you meet us tomorrow?”

At the mention of the temperamental little beauty, Devon's
body went tight. Looking down at his cock, which was ready to party with no
place to go, he growled out, “Whenever and wherever you want. I need to put
Shan on lockdown ASAP.”

Jack's laughter rolled through the phone, and Devon's temper
increased. “What's so funny?”

“Oh, man. Shan is going to love you.”

Trying to get his body to calm down before he walked out of
the room, Devon said, “I don't care if she loves me or hates me. As long as
she's alive, I'm a happy man.”

Chapter Seven

 

 

Shan pulled into the nearly empty parking lot of Jack's
store and parked in front of his bright yellow garage door. Jack had converted
the top floor of the store into his private apartment and had asked her to come
meet a potential client. Her friend wouldn't say who it was, but he hinted that
it was someone important.

After turning the engine off, Shan dug out her phone from
the sparkly purple purse that matched her sparkly purple pants. A silver silk
tank top complemented the pants, and a chain belt with a silver rose buckle
pulled the outfit together. Looking into the vanity mirror, she tried to decide
if she should go with pink or purple lipstick.

Noting that she had a missed call from Daisy, she called her
back and carefully applied the glossy pink lipstick while she waited for her to
answer.

“Hey, Shan,” Daisy said in a rough voice.

“Hey back. You sound awful, what's up?”

“I've had some pretty bad nightmares the last couple nights.
Woke up screaming a couple times.” She gave a raspy chuckle. “I sounded like
you did during the sleepover I had in the fifth grade when Marcy Fargo thought
someone was killing you.”

Surprised that the memory still had the power to sting after
all these years, Shan held the phone against her ear as she tugged her
briefcase onto her lap. “Thanks for that trip down memory lane. Did you have
some reason to call other than reminding me what a freak Marcy thinks I am?”

Daisy snickered. “Yeah, since the club got shut down after
the...incident, we need a new place to meet.”

“Oh.” Heat suffused her cheeks. Talking about this at 10
a.m. on a Monday seemed to add an extra layer of embarrassment to the
conversation. She shut the door to her car and leaned against it, checking out
the other cars in the lot to get an idea of whom the potential client might be.

“Would you feel more comfortable meeting at your place or at
the temple?” Daisy coughed, and Shan heard the hiss of a can being opened. “I
didn't know if it would be too weird to do it in your personal space. If we use
the temple, I can promise you that we'll have total privacy.”

Shan examined the beautiful 1971 black Barracuda that
gleamed in the sunshine like a sleeping predator parked next to her car. While
her little Bug was great on gas and perfect for parallel parking in the city,
she had always had a soft spot for cars that went really, really fast.
“Temple,” she said in a distracted voice. If that was the client's car, she
could use it as a neutral starting point for a conversation.

“Okay. Can you meet me there at five o'clock?”

“Huh? I mean, yeah, five o'clock.” Shan walked across the
lot, still admiring the car. Whoever had restored it had really done a
fantastic job. It even had a custom grill with a stylized bull’s head on it.

“Bring an outfit with you. I'll make sure we have privacy so
you can change.”

Stopping at the white-painted iron gate that blocked the
stairs leading to Jack's apartment, Shan set her briefcase down. “I have to go,
Daisy. Meeting with a new client.”

“Fantastic!” Daisy croaked and cleared her throat. “Maybe
you'll be able to finally afford to section off a guest bathroom.”

“That's the plan. Kisses.”

“Kisses.” Slipping the phone back into the side pocket of
her leather jacket, Shan took a deep breath and pushed the button on the
intercom.

“Who iisss ittt.” Jack's voice sang out in a pitch-breaking
falsetto.

“Avon calling,” Shan replied with a grin.

“Oh, fabulous. I'm all out of my Tahitian Sunrise lipstick.”

The intercom clicked off, and the gate buzzed. Shan opened
it, and a fierce shiver went down her spine as she closed it behind her. It
felt like a million feathers tickling all over her body. Letting go of the
gate, she stumbled onto the first step. When the sensation didn't return, she
took a hesitant step. Just one more thing to add to her ever-growing list of
weirdness.

At the top of the stairs, Shan took a deep breath and
smoothed back her hair. The knocker on the door consisted of a gilded rubber
chicken. Grasping the cool talons, she rapped it against the door and tried to
slow her heartbeat. Waiting for Jack, she took a moment to admire the pot of
bright yellow mums growing out of an orange jack-o’-lantern.

The door swung open, and Jack beamed at her with two
partially filled martini glasses in his hand. Yellow and green parrots
decorated his orange Hawaiian shirt. Despite the cold weather, he was barefoot.
“Hey, Shan. We've been waiting for you.”

Stepping into clean, white foyer, she marveled that, despite
being such a spaz, Jack had an awesome apartment. Bare white walls with pale
yellow bamboo floors, Jack had an array of expensive modern art flanking the
walls leading into the kitchen and family room area. Despite his eclectic
tastes, he had a fantastic eye for art.

Shan set her briefcase down and shrugged out of her jacket.
With a smile, Jack handed her one of her favorite sins, a chocolate martini.
Little bits of chocolate floated on top, resting on a layer of some kind of
cream liquor.

“Little early, don't you think?” She arched an eyebrow as he
hung her jacket up.

“It's five o'clock somewhere.” He winked at her, but she
detected some nerves beneath it. They both sipped at their martinis, and Jack
tugged at the ends of her hair. “Getting long now, almost to your waist.”

She licked some cocoa powder off the rim of the glass. “So
who's the mystery guest?” She sniffed her drink. “Did you put coconut in here?
I can't taste it, but I can smell it.”

“Nope.” Jack gave a chuckle that once again sounded nervous.
“Must be my sunblock. You can never be too safe about skin cancer.”

Arching an eyebrow at his year-round tan, she tapped her
glass with what little nails she had. “Who am I meeting, Jack?”

He drained his glass with a gulp and set it on the small
foyer table that held a collection of rhinestone-encrusted kazoos. “Easier to
show you.” He took her glass out of her clutching hands and set it on the table
next to his. “Let me carry your briefcase.”

Smoothing her hair, she then took a deep breath and followed
him down the hallway. Their steps didn’t make any noise on the well-insulated
floors.

“You burning incense?” She took a deep breath. “Smells
wonderful in here.” Dark spices rolled through the air, and she took another
greedy lungful. “Usually they smell cheap, but this smells gr—”

The word choked off into silence as they reached the living
room.

Surrounded by modern white furniture, the delicious asshole
Temple Guard, Devon, rose from his chair and faced them. Today he wore a pair
of jeans that fit his hips and muscled legs to perfection. The same stylized
bull's head that graced the grill of his car also gleamed on his belt buckle.
Following the impressive line of his body upward, she paused to admire the way
his tight black long-sleeved shirt hugged every inch of his muscled torso.
Finally reaching his eyes, she sucked in a breath at the intensity of his
neon-blue gaze.

“Glad you finally decided to stop ogling me long enough to
look at my face,” he said in a deep voice that made things tighten low in her
body.

Embarrassed at having been caught staring at him, of all
people, she snapped, “I was wondering why your belt buckle is so big.
Overcompensating for the small size of something below?” Jack had a coughing
fit behind her as she fisted her hands on her hips.

Those amazing teal-blue eyes narrowed behind his thick
lashes and his shoulders tightened. “Listen here, Polly Pretty Pants, I didn't
sign up for—”

“So,” Jack said in a loud voice, “you're probably wondering
why I brought you here, Shan.”

Jack practically shoved her into a chair and sat across from
her. “You're about to become a Chosen, and Devon here is your mentor.” He gave
her a thousand-dollar smile and wiped his palms on his battered jeans.

Refusing to look at Devon, though her body was more than
aware of his nearness, she took a deep breath and said, “Jack, how long have
you been smoking crack? And what the hell is a Chosen?” This had to be one of
his bad practical jokes.

Now it was Devon's turn to chuckle, and she tried not to
shiver. Something about his voice resonated in her bones in an entirely
pleasurable way. The stark white furniture made his tanned skin look even
darker, and as she examined him she couldn’t detect one imperfection in its
smooth surface. A need to touch him, to caress that perfect skin, made her
shift in her seat as Jack cleared his throat.

Running his hand through his blond hair, Jack stood and
started to pace the room. “I knew I should have brought Aiden,” he muttered
before looking up. “Shan, you know how your dad and father are High Priests,
right?”

“No, I totally missed it growing up with them for the last
twenty-three years. What's a High Priest?” Sarcasm was her natural armor that
protected her whenever she felt uncomfortable, a security blanket of snark.

Jack ignored the snipe and continued, “Well, you’re about to
enter into a special time of your life—”

“Jack, I've already gone through puberty. You don't need to
tell me about getting hair in weird places or training bras.” Devon's laughter
rolled over her, bringing her nipples to tight, aching buds beneath her silk
tank top. She crossed her arms and hoped he didn't notice.

“Damn it, Shan, I'm serious!” Jack glared at her, and she
slumped back into the chair.

Real worry started to pluck at her. Jack wasn't the yelling
type. Maybe this wasn't a joke. “Sorry.” Not the most sincere apology she’d
ever made, but it was the best he was going to get with Captain Asshole staring
at her.

Devon leaned forward, and she found it hard to look into his
eyes as he spoke. “You're going to be in danger every minute of your life until
a god or goddess chooses you as their hand on Earth.”

Trying to keep her gaze from skittering back down to admire
his body, she said, “What are you talking about?”

Jack made a relieved sound and sat back on the couch across
from her. “A Chosen is like one step above a High Priest or Priestess.”

“But not really,” Devon added quickly.

She kept her gaze focused on Jack. “Why haven't I heard
about them?”

“Because it's not common knowledge, and we like to keep it
that way.” Jack pulled a yo-yo out of his pocket and rolled it up and down the
string with a snap of his wrist. His shoulders relaxed as he played, and she
shook her head at the absurdity of the situation. “Imagine if the world at
large knew about Chosen. A man or woman who was pretty much a direct line to
their god or goddess. They'd never be able to leave the house and do the work
of their gods.”

She almost turned to look at Devon as she asked, “And how
does one become a Chosen?”

Devon rolled up his sleeves, displaying an impressive set of
biceps, and lord help her could he get any hotter, a tattoo that she couldn’t
quite make out. “You're born that way. You have to have had someone in your
bloodline that was a Chosen to inherit that extra gene.”

The mention of a bloodline struck a nerve in her. She had
always wondered who her real parents were, why they’d given her up, and what
her history was. Endless attempts at locating any records and Internet searches
had netted absolutely nothing. She loved her adoptive parents more than
anything in the world, but part of her would always ache to know where she came
from and why she’d been given up. Her heart beat faster, and she closed her
eyes. Focus, she needed to focus on what they were saying.

Having been raised by two High Priests, one of whom was a
big fan of Conan the Barbarian, it wasn't hard for her to accept a secret
society of magical warriors. She could easily picture Devon in an outfit
consisting of leather straps and not much else, swinging a sword around and
slaying things. Trying to picture herself in a similar situation was much
harder. “So I'm born a Chosen?”

The yo-yo continued to go up and down the string. She found
the movement strangely soothing. “No. You're born with the
potential
to become a Chosen.”

“And how do you know this? Did your god tell you?” They were
both so sincere she had no choice but to believe them. Jack's idea of a joke
was a pie in the face, not some extended prank.

Clearing his throat, Devon said, “Yes, our gods told us, but
you smell good.”

An unexpected blush heated her cheeks at the compliment. “I
practice good personal hygiene.” She dared a glance at his face and then
quickly looked away.

“Not body smell,” Jack interjected. “The smell of your
spirit, your aura.”

“Huh?”

Devon moved from his chair and crouched down in front of
her. Up close, he was overwhelming. “Smell me.”

“Uh—okay.” Leaning forward the tiniest fraction, she took an
exaggerated sniff of the air. A slight hint of shampoo, but that was about it.
“I don't smell anything.”

His voice dropped an octave, and he leaned closer, not
invading her personal space but making her oh-so aware of his body nonetheless.
“Smell me again.”

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