HAVE you ever had that feeling—you know the one—when someone is watching you? That was what I had right now. I opened my eyes, and there he was, standing over by my dresser. Normally, a person would be alarmed about finding a man in their bedroom, but I’m not normal. Far from it. I’m the person that doesn’t seem to fit in anywhere. Part of that was my birthright, and part of that was me.
“Who are you and what are you doing here in my bedroom?”
Not that in those first couple of seconds I hadn’t noticed how gorgeous he was. I was still noticing and finding it difficult to concentrate.
“Hello, Elle. Are you surprised to find me here?” His casual manner of speaking was in complete contrast to the speed at which he moved, startling me. He’d been across the room, and then suddenly he was beside the bed, staring down at me. There was enough light in the room for me to see the sparkle that went over his eyes. Flecks of gold and green danced to make up a mosaic of brilliance. Even if I’d been able to, I wouldn’t have wanted to look away.
I scrambled up against the headboard, only too aware of my Hello Kitty pajamas. My heart raced. I panicked, not wanting him to think I was some immature kid. I was twenty-one, and I wanted him to see me as a woman.
He narrowed his gaze, a hint of a smirk touching his lips. I felt as though I were underneath a microscope and he could see the finer details of my psyche.
“You make me burn, Elle.” His words rippled over me, leaving little shivers of anticipation in their wake.
No guy had ever said that to me before.
I reached out, touching his cheek, running my finger along the stubble shadowing it. He took my hand, kissing each fingertip. A river of desire flowed through his eyes, holding me to him.
“Do you want me?” He’d found the sensitive patch along my neck, each point of contact from his lips sending my nerve-damaged tissue into overdrive. Ever since I’d taken a tumble off my broom, the injury had left the area oversensitive. Apparently, there were some perks to injuries, after all.
“Feel good? Those nerves are my piano keys. Let me play you, Elle.”
“This is a dream. I’m dreaming. I wish I wasn’t, but I am.” I sighed. He was so good-looking. No. Strike that. He was intriguing and gorgeous and sexy. Too bad he wasn’t real.
“What’s your name?” I asked.
“You know me. I’m the Sandman.”
He laughed and the throaty sound woke a longing inside me. I wanted him to kiss me. To kiss me and hold me and more. He leaned closer until I felt his breath on my cheek. I was almost afraid to breathe lest he disappear. His lips were soft and his kiss undemanding. I closed my eyes, letting him lead. When the hot wetness of his tongue slipped into my mouth, I was truly being swept away in this tide of lust. His palm felt hot against my torso. He slipped his hand under the pajama top, and I didn’t resist when he slid it higher. I cried out against his mouth when he cupped my breast.
“I want so much more,” I whispered.
“I know you do, but I have to go to work,” he said, breaking away. Then he came in closer, clapping his hands together hard, jarring me awake.
Once again, it had all been a dream. The darkness and silence of the room only accentuated how miserable I felt. Considering my gift was that of being a lucid dreamer, level four, something wasn’t quite right about the whole thing. I should be able to direct my dream like a theater production, but that wasn’t happening. This slow seduction had been unfolding over what I considered too long a time. I’d been having the same dream for over three months, and it was going nowhere. The whole point of a fantasy dream was to get what you wanted, right? My only consolation prizes to date had been insomnia and frustration. What had changed, though, was that the man had spoken to me. He’d ended the dream, not me and that wasn’t supposed to happen. The yawn got away before I could stifle it. Time to count some sheep and hope sleep would find me.
“One wooly sheep, jumping, jumping. Two wooly sheep, jumping, jumping. Three wooly sheep, jumping, jumping…” Useless. The whole counting sheep thing was one crock of sheep-doo. I threw back the covers, swinging my legs over the side. There was a bit of a chill in the air, so I slipped on my robe. I paused to straighten the bed, my feet sinking into the thick, soft wool carpet. Wool, how ironic. I stumbled along to the kitchen, thinking of several choice expletives to inflict on the imaginary sheep. Idiot sheep, the only thing that endeavor had managed to invite was hunger. Each time one of those plump creatures jumped over the moon, my mind had filled with images of herb-roasted lamb chops. Counting sheep would now lead to counting calories.
“Little children everywhere are now afraid of you, Elle.” How could anyone go from cute and cuddly sheep to wanting to eat barbecue? I could, I thought. A wall of cold seeped out from the open fridge, and I shuddered against its reach. Cricket’s shrill call cut through the stillness of the space, sending my heart racing. I glanced over in the direction of the dining room, where the massive enclosure sat in darkness beside the bay window. It was home to my blue and gold macaw, Cricket. Cricket didn’t like to be disrupted and had both the vocabulary and ill temperament to express himself more than sufficiently. There would be hell to pay for my rummaging. Most witches had cats as familiars. I had a parrot. Remember how I’d said I didn’t fit? Consider Cricket example number one.
“Go back to sleep, you old sea shanty,” I whispered and then chuckled. Knowing Cricket, he’d heard every word I’d said and was currently logging it into his system. I poked at a container of leftover pasta, wondering if it was still good. I opened the lid and sniffed. Safe. A few minutes in the microwave followed by a sprinkle of cheese and voila—a midnight snack. I poured a glass of wine, lit a candle, and got comfortable at the dining room table. Why not? Might as well get into the ambiance of nonsleeping. It was only Cricket and me, so I wasn’t worried about waking anyone. Most twenty-one-year-olds didn’t live alone or own a house. I did. Mind you, I did with the help of my rich and influential aunt, Maybella Bly.
Not grilled or great, but the meal would fill the void in my stomach. I finished the pasta as the dark-blue material covering the enclosure continued to rustle, randomly poking out around the edges followed by the odd shriek from the perturbed Cricket. If he’d wanted to, he could have simply come out. I didn’t believe in keeping anything “caged,” so one entire side of the enclosure was completely open, allowing my parrot to enter and exit his upscale pad at will. Even with the cover, Cricket could easily navigate underneath and get out.
“Surprising. He must be off his game tonight.” Not one four-letter expletive had come forth yet. Cricket must have been preoccupied. Earlier today, a package had been left for me at the institute where I was currently engaged in a six-month practicum. It now sat across the table, but as yet, unopened.
Normally, someone my age wouldn’t have been given the opportunity to work at the Institute for Lucid Dreaming. I’d excelled in school and had landed this opportunity with the help of Maybella and my gift. Don’t get me wrong, I know few would get breaks like this. If I hadn’t been born into a very old witch family and my aunt hadn’t been one of the senior coven directors—there was’ a good chance things wouldn’t have unfolded this way. Remember that part about not fitting in? I don’t. I’m a witch with faulty magic. It was’ rare, but there you are. For years, I’d tried, but my system seemed to be wired wrong. Poor Aunt Maybella had tried to find some sort of fix for my little problem, but to date, a big fat zero. It was hit and miss at best. I’d been sent to our Wiseone, a real old crone, but even she was at a loss for what ailed me. So, I’d learned to count more on myself and less on my magic. Perhaps I should rephrase that. I’d been given explicit instructions by the coven directors to proceed with the greatest of caution where all matters of magic were concerned.
I may not have been a stellar witch, but I still wanted to have a career. Maybella had bristled when I’d told her that one. In the Bly family, being a witch was your profession, your destiny, and your path. You’d have thought I’d suggested becoming something sleazy, like a politician or a movie producer. Truth be told, I wanted to work and enjoy what I did. Being a lucid dreamer by birth, it seemed logical and natural for me to keep going down that path. Hence why I’d moved to Blood Moon Harbour to complete my studies and start my life. Blood Moon Harbour had a long history of being a refuge for witches and those following a different path. No other witch in the coven had the gift of lucid dreaming, so my faulty magic had been tolerated. To give her credit, Maybella had been good about it, but deep down I knew she was troubled. When I’d lost my parents at fifteen, Maybella had brought me here. She’d become a surrogate everything to me. I owed her so much.
“What a peculiar thing to leave someone,” I muttered, opening the package to find a book. The candle flame danced in the wake of the air displacement, wax beading down one side. The cover intrigued me, compelling me to touch it. I ran my fingertips over the dark leather, its aging showing in the wear and condition. The deep rich color and the fancy font of the lettering had piqued my curiosity, as did the title. The History of Dreams.
I held the book up and then flipped through a couple of pages. Strange, no author was listed.
Who would have left this for me and why? The whole business was baffling at best. I drank down the last bit of wine, staring into the bottom of the glass. What I needed was to get some sleep. How ironic—a lucid dream researcher with insomnia. Now that was some sort of twisted joke. Unfortunately, I didn’t find it the least bit funny.
“Shut the hell up. I’ll come over there and knock you silly.” a heavily accented voice boomed out at me from underneath the cover of the enclosure.
“Go back to sleep, Cricket. I’ll be off to bed shortly and leave you to your parrot dreams.” I carried my plate and glass to the kitchen, depositing them into the sink. As tired as I was, I couldn’t stop a smile from breaking out. “Bossy bird,” I mumbled, shutting off the light and going off to bed.
After spending the next few minutes getting comfy under the covers, it hit me; I’d left the candle burning. Damn.
“It isn’t going to burn the house down. You don’t need to be paranoid about fire.” Talking aloud to myself didn’t convince me. Now, a normal witch would simply wave her hand, and the candle would go out. Not me. If I tried it, there would be some sort of catastrophe as a result. Things didn’t flow right with my magic. Strangely enough, most times the opposite would happen, but it was hit and miss. I wouldn’t chance it, in case I ended up turning the candle into an out-of-control flame thrower.
“Damn it.” Once again, I threw the covers aside. I flicked on the light, knowing it would spill out into the hallway and be enough to navigate my way along.
The house lay dead quiet as I fumbled back to the dining room. I stopped just inside the archway leading into the room. The whole area lay in complete darkness. I searched to find the flicker of the candle flame. No candle burning. Had the candle simply burned itself out? What jarred me was the absolute silence from Cricket’s enclosure. No shrieks or curses, not even his funny parrot-snoring sounds I’d got used to over the years.
“I’m going to bed.” Why I’d said that aloud, I didn’t know. As I’d turned to go, a feeling crept up my spine—the sensation of knowing I wasn’t alone despite not being able to see anything in the room.
This settling back into bed thing was beginning to feel like déjà vu. The memory foam mattress embraced me like a long-lost relative. I nudged the comforter into place, listening to the gentle scrunching sounds as the material moved. Finally, time to sleep. I groaned, realizing I’d forgot to turn off the light in the room.
“Close your eyes, I’ll get it,” a voice whispered right beside my pillow. What? I scanned about, trying to find the source. The light did indeed go out, and I found myself in total darkness.
“Thanks,” I said, almost breathing the word instead of speaking it.
Sleep did at last find me, taking me into its welcoming arms.