By Brenna Lyons
From the age of five, all of Sanctum has known Jaden would marry the Mage Lord's eldest female heir, but Rachel has no interest in being Jaden's mate. In fact, she denies that she is Jaden's mate and insists that the Mage Prophet who foretold it was wrong.
As a Dream-Walker, Jaden can enter the dreams of anyone who asks for his help. The only dreams he can enter uninvited are those of his mate. But when he's drawn into his mate's dreams, he finds much more than he bargained for. His mate is in danger...and she isn't Rachel. He discovers that Lara is the Mage Lord's eldest female heir, an heir no one within Sanctum knew existed.
Now it's a race against time. A rogue wants Sanctum, and Lara is his way in, if he gets to her before Jaden can.
“Have you recovered well from your nightmare, Rachel?” Jaden expected Rachel to concede defeat, however grudgingly. She was his mate, and his ability to walk her dreams without an invitation to do so proved it.
The look of venom she shot him announced the fight wasn’t over yet. Her words sank in slowly.
“I didn’t have a nightmare, Jaden. Lying about this won’t work. Call in a Truth-Sayer, if you wish. Or a Mind Healer. Either one can testify to the fact I am being truthful. You are not my mate.”
Jaden opened his mouth to protest the accusation that he was being underhanded, and she offered her palm in silent order to keep quiet.
“I don’t care what the Mage Prophet said, and I don’t care that you and my father believe her. She. Is. Wrong.” With that, Rachel rose smoothly and sauntered out of the room.
Jaden wanted to shake the truth from her. He wanted to growl and shout, to throw the crystal tableware against the wall, and maybe even to hit someone. Hard.
Reeve sighed. “You walked her dreams without an invitation to do so?”
“Yes, I did.”
Reeve shot a scowl after his daughter. “There really isn’t a question then.”
He offered Rachel’s father a weak smile. “Thank you for believing me.” If Reeve thought he’d lied, life would get complicated quickly. As Mage Lord, Reeve had the power to banish Jaden from Sanctum without even waiting for a trying by the Truth-Sayer.
“The Mage Prophet is never wrong, Jaden. Rachel is your mate. Sooner or later, she must accept that.”
A new idea occurred to him. “They’re not wrong, but they don’t always tell us the whole story. They offer puzzles and riddles as well as facts.”
Reeve leaned toward him. “What are you thinking?”
“What if...” He was being presumptuous, he was sure.
“Go on?” Reeve steepled his fingers and sat back in his chair.
Jaden took a drink of his coffee, composing himself. “What if Rachel hasn’t been ready to be my mate until now? What if my dream walk is the first indication that she might be becoming ready?”
Reeve’s brow furrowed. “In what way?”
“Perhaps her powers are evolving...changing somehow. Some young mages develop additional powers or expand them in their mid to late twenties.” That might be why neither of Reeve’s children—nor either of his granddaughters—had displayed the Lord’s power yet.
“The Mage Healers said Rachel’s powers had set. There is no fluctuation.” There was a note of finality in that, a warning that Reeve would not stand for further discussion on the matter.
“Not her powers then,” Jaden conceded. “A precipitating event, perhaps?”
Reeve tensed minutely. “Of what sort?”
“I don’t know,” he admitted.
There was a moment of tense silence. “I will seek answers from the Mage Prophet this Worship Day.”
Jaden tipped his head in thanks and took his leave. There was no possibility Rachel would choose to spend more time with him today.
“Come back here, you little bitch!”
Lara ran faster, her body aching, her lungs and heart working hard. Day and night, awake and asleep, she ran from him. How did Gart keep finding her?
On one level, Lara knew she was dreaming. She should be able to snap herself out of this or rewrite the dream, since it was lucid dreaming. Somehow, she had done so the night before, but she didn’t know how.
If I did, I would repeat it. Anything has to be better than running from Gart in my dreams, even lack of sleep.
On another level, Lara knew dreams weren’t safe. Gart could track her in dreams. He was tracking her in dreams.
And I have awakened with injuries he inflicts before.
“You’re mine, Lara. You know you’re mine.”
Oh, Mother. How could you do this to me?
In twenty-six years, her mother hadn’t mentioned a word about the betrothal. At the reading of her mother’s will, the magar had revealed the document her mother had signed on the day of Lara’s birth.
According to the magar, it was unbreakable. Lara was promised in marriage to a man nearly twice her age. She’d guess he was; in truth, Lara was basing that on Gart’s appearance. She knew nothing about him but his cruelty and his name, so all she could do was guess.
That and his legal claim on me. In essence, Gart owned Lara. She and everything that was hers—meager as that was—was his.
But not the opposite.
“I will find you. I will not be denied,” he warned.
Gart appeared before her as if by magic, his hand closing around her wrist and tightening.
Lara wrenched against his hold, desperate to escape him. She didn’t question what Gart was doing. They’d played this game for almost two weeks.
As if in confirmation, he chuckled darkly. “New York. You thought you could lose yourself in a crowd?”
Her breathing went strangled, and Lara shook her head. He’d tracked her again. She had to move.
Fast. Lara didn’t question where she’d go. She’d simply run. As far as the money will go, and then I’ll walk. Anything that kept Gart away from her was what she would have to do.
As if he could pick that thought from her mind, Gart’s face hardened. “Stay where you are, Lara. Don’t make this more difficult than it has to be.”
That unglued her tongue. “Difficult? I have crossed half the world to escape a madman intent on—”
He slapped her hard enough to send flashes of color through her field of vision. The copper tang of blood invaded her mouth.
Gart opened his mouth to say something, but a roar of rage eclipsed it. His hand loosened, and he turned away.
Lara didn’t waste time wondering what was happening. She was momentarily free. Her heart pounding in fear, she ran.
When I wake, I’ll have to run in the physical world. He’d touched her. He knew where she was.
His enemy recoiled, ducking Jaden’s blow.
A mocking smile curved the man’s lips. “A little Dream-Walker,” he taunted. “Did she call for help, Dream-Walker?”
“Clearly,” he lied. His energy is mage in nature. He’s not a part of Rachel’s dream; he’s an invader in it. He knows I’m a Dream-Walker. As long as he doesn’t know I’m Rachel’s mate, I have an advantage.
Jaden’s mind worked at this complication. He’d thought Rachel’s nightmare had been a natural dream. It wasn’t, which left him with the questions of who the mage was and how he found his way into Rachel’s dreams. For that matter, what sort of rogue terrorized another this way?
Rogue! That was the answer. Whoever he was and whatever his aim, he was no doubt a rogue out for revenge against Reeve, using Rachel to find it.
“You have no business here, Dream-Walker.” There was a threat couched in that.
“She asked for my aid. That is my business, by design of the Goddess Mother Herself.”
“How old are you, boy?” He sneered at Jaden. “Thirty...at most?”
“It is of no consequence, rogue.” It was, if the mage he faced was markedly older. If his powers have matured into a master mage’s abilities.
As if in answer, his opponent materialized a scythe. It wasn’t a young mage’s power. A mage would have to be twice Jaden’s twenty-nine years to do that.
A scythe. A scythe is a Tracker’s weapon. So, he’s a Tracker.
“Stay and die, Dream-Walker.”
The weapon arced toward Jaden, and he dodged too slowly. The slice across his bicep was excruciating, nearly painful enough to make Jaden lose his concentration.
That was unacceptable. If he lost concentration, Jaden would be catapulted out of Rachel’s dream realm, and that would leave her defenseless against the rogue.
The next two arcs missed entirely, but Jaden admitted to himself that he was outmatched. This was an old and accomplished mage who wasn’t adverse to the idea of killing him.
Jaden needed help. He needed—
He didn’t translocate to her within the dream realm, as he should have. Jaden sidestepped another blow, confused by his failure. This was Rachel’s dream. If she’d awakened, he would have been catapulted to his own dream world. A Tracker didn’t have the power to bind Jaden in the dream realm or to siphon his powers, no matter how accomplished he was.
Then why did I fail?
At a loss to explain it, Jaden pictured Rachel as he’d seen her moments ago. He reached his consciousness out into the construct of her dream, snagged her essence...
She hit him at a run, and they went down together in a tangle of limbs. A panicked little shout left her lips, and she raised her head to stare at him, her blue eyes going wide. Her face paled around the rising bruise the rogue had left.
“W-who are you?” she asked. “I know you. The beach...last night—”
A roar let Jaden know the Tracker was in motion and closing on them.
“Who is he, Rachel? Who is the Tracker?” And why haven’t you told your father about this?
She tried to push away from him, and Jaden held her close. They had no time for games. Didn’t she know that?
“Answer me, Rachel,” he demanded. “Who is he?” There was no question Jaden would need Reeve’s help, and knowing their shared enemy was essential.
“Let me go. He’s coming. Can’t you feel it?” Her eyes went wide and wild, and her struggling increased.
The Tracker barreled toward them from the dark recesses of her dreaming mind, and Jaden translocated them away. He cursed his inability to change her dream parameters with the Tracker fully engaged on his prey. If Jaden was older, he would be unparalleled in this realm. He would be able to evict the Tracker from her dream and even to wake Rachel from dreamtime to protect her.
“Who is he, Rachel? I must know, so I can stop him.”
She glared at him, an expression he knew well. “I’m. Not. Rachel.”
“What?” If she didn’t think she was Rachel, who did she think she was? And why would she not recognize herself in her own dream realm? Was it some trick?
If it was, how would the Tracker trick her dream self into the delusion? Short of him working with a rogue Illusionist, there was no way Jaden knew of to manage that.
She started struggling more earnestly. “Let me go!”
The Tracker reappeared, grumbling curses. Jaden translocated them again.
“He’s engaged now. He’ll find us faster every time I translocate us,” he warned her.
“Exactly. Let me go.” Rachel tried to push him off.
Jaden hoisted her up with him, wincing at the kick to his shin. “Stop that,” he growled. “Rachel, use your powers. When he shows up again, siphon his powers. Leave him helpless, and I can stop him.” At least for tonight.
“I can’t do that,” she snapped. “And, I’m not Rachel.”
The Tracker headed for them with a battle cry that warned he was going to kill Jaden at his first opportunity.
“What can you do?” Jaden countered, bracing himself for another jump. Surely, her delusion didn’t include her being powerless, trapped in a dream without her magic. Whatever she believed she could do was as real in here as her actual magic was in the physical world.
Rachel gaped at him for a moment. Her gaze snapped to the Tracker, and she wrenched her left hand from Jaden’s grasp. Before he could translocate them again, the outlay of her magic stunned him to stillness.
The Tracker flew the opposite direction with a grunt of pain. In the distance, something that sounded like glass crashed. The dream melted to a mist that told Jaden she was semiconscious. His hands were abruptly empty, as she took the first steps toward consciousness.
Realization was a moment behind. She’d woken herself by breaking something in the physical world with her magic.
The Lord’s power. Either Rachel was developing new powers, or this really wasn’t Rachel.
Perhaps not. He couldn’t state it definitively until he was certain. Perhaps Rachel had locked onto her father’s power in her befuddled state. It was a dream, after all, and she could use whatever she believed was real within the dream.
I have to get her out of here before the Tracker returns. The answers to all his questions could wait.
“Wake now,” he ordered her. “But call for me when you fear the Tracker is near. My name is Jaden.”
She whispered it back to him.
Jaden levered his eyes open, trembling, bathed in sweat. He pushed from the bed, his arm complaining the still-weeping wound the Tracker had inflicted in her dream.
He was weak from the outlay of magic and in need of rest, but visions of Rachel covered in bruises haunted him. If the Tracker had marked her as well—which he didn’t doubt—he would have his proof.
And reason enough to kill the rogue.
Jaden scooped his boots from the floor and headed into the rising sun.