Authors: Mindee Arnett
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To Adam, Inara, and Tanner, for being my foundation, my purpose, and my heart
Dusty and Eli aren’t the only ones whose dreams come true. Mine did. You’re holding it in your hands right now. But it’s one that never would’ve happened without the support of a lot of people.
Firstly, thanks to God and his Son from whom all good things come.
Thanks also to Suzie Townsend, my rock-star agent and the book’s first champion. I will be forever grateful; your support and guidance have changed my life. To Sarah Goldberg for pulling me out of the slush pile, and to the entire team of New Leaf Literary and Media—you all are the best.
To my wonderful editor, Whitney Ross. Thank you for first loving this book and then for making it better. The experience has been magical. To Kate Forester for my beautiful cover art. Also thanks to the entire team at Tor Teen for taking my little Pinocchio of a story and turning it into a real book—Lisa Davis, my production editor; Seth Lerner, the art director; Jane Liddle, the copy editor; Sally Feller, my publicist; and John Morrone, the proofreader. And, of course, to Tom Doherty and Kathleen Doherty for giving my book and so many others such a fabulous home.
To my amazing critique partner, Lori M. Lee, who is not only a fine writer, but also the absolute best at providing insightful feedback and infectious enthusiasm. You made the dark days bright. To Cat York for making the world of my book come to life through her gorgeous art. And to my awesome beta readers: Mallory Hayes, Leigh Menninger, Ashley Aynes, Katherine Hazen, and Jamie Stryker.
To Barb Ryan, my sixth-grade teacher, who opened my eyes to the possibility of writing my own stories. And to Sharon Rab, my first creative-writing teacher, who showed me the beauty of language and character.
To my parents, Betty and Phil Garybush, for your love and encouragement. Thank you, Mom, for bestowing on me your love of reading and for teaching me to be strong and independent. To my dad, Jim Gaver, for exposing me to the wonders of all things fantasy and sci-fi. To my brother-in-law, Jay Sharritt, for your enthusiastic reads and awesome analytical feedback. And also the biggest of thanks to my sister, Amanda Sharritt—you are my first reader, my ideal reader. I write them all for you, Sis.
To my children, Inara and Tanner, for giving my life purpose and filling it with laughter and joy like I’ve never known before. And last, but never least, to my husband, Adam. Thank you for your constant love and support and for always keeping my feet grounded. You are my rock.
And finally, to you, dear reader. You give stories life, and that makes you the only real magickind I know.
Scene of the Crime
Breaking and entering wasn’t as easy as it looked in the movies. Especially not from the second story of a house in the suburbs. Yet there I was, perched on the ledge by my tippy toes and tugging on the stupid window that refused to budge even though I could see it wasn’t locked. My feet were starting to cramp.
I gave the window another hard tug, and it came free at once, smacking the top of the frame with a loud thump. The force of it knocked me off balance, and I tumbled inside, landing on my face.
Way to go, Dusty,
But it could’ve been worse. Might’ve gone the other way.
Panicked by the noise I was making, I sat up, certain the bedroom’s occupant would be coming at me with a baseball bat any second. My heart felt like a jackhammer trying to break its way through my chest. I froze, listening for movement but heard only the soft sounds of someone sleeping.
I looked up and saw a huge bed towering over me. A repugnant smell, like the inside of a gym locker, filled my nose. I glanced down and realized I was sitting on a pile of clothes, including what appeared to be several pairs of dirty boxer shorts.
I stood and tugged the bottom of my fitted black tee down around my hips, taking a deep breath. I could smell the person’s dreams from here. Those dreams were the reason I’d broken in. I wasn’t some criminal or weirdo who liked watching people sleep or anything. I was just an average sixteen-year-old girl who happened to be the offspring of a normal human father and a mother who was a Nightmare.
She was one of those mythic creatures who sat on your chest while you were asleep and gave you bad dreams, the kind where you woke up struggling to breathe. Some stories said that Nightmares were demons (not true), while others said they were “hags,” as in scary old women who lived in the forest and abducted lost kids to cook for supper (more true, although I didn’t recommend saying so to my mother).
Only kidding. Moira Nimue-Everhart didn’t eat children, but she did eat the stuff dreams were made of—
. Nightmares had to dream-feed to live, including me.
I approached the side of the bed. The occupant was lying on his stomach. Go figure. The subject—I refused to think of him as a victim—was almost always on his stomach. At least this guy didn’t sleep in the buff, too. Not that the red boxers hid much. The sight of his naked back stunned me. It was so
. Even in the darkness, I could see the muscles outlining the backside of his ribs. More muscles bulged in his arms.
He was by far the sexiest dream-subject I’d encountered, and I fought off an urge to run away. Not that I preferred my subjects to be ugly or anything, but something in the middle would’ve been all right.
Trying to ignore the more interesting bits of that naked body, I reached over and gently took hold of the guy’s arm. One soft tug and he rolled over. When I saw his face, I almost cried out in alarm.
A sensation of weightlessness came over me from the shock of recognition, as if I were on a roller coaster that had just plunged over the first hill.
Then I really did try to run away, even though I knew it was pointless. I made it as far as the window before something that felt like invisible tentacles grabbed hold of my body and pulled me back to the bedside. I sagged against it in defeat, knowing better than to fight The Will. It was too powerful a spell. No, not just a spell, more a
like gravity. The magickind government created The Will to prevent magical misbehavior. It kept fairies from stealing babies, witches from turning people into toads, and for a Nightmare like me, it determined whose dreams I fed on, when, and how much.
Basically The Will says, “Jump,” and Dusty says, “You got it.”
The invisible grip on my body eased, and I shook off the unpleasant feeling of being manhandled by a magical spell. Trying to ignore the trembling in my knees, I looked down at that familiar face once again.
Eli Booker was the hottest guy at my old high school, maybe in all of Chickery, Ohio, itself. He was a sophomore like me, but his hair was black and his eyes cornflower blue. Tall and with a face so handsome even old ladies swooned at the sight of it, he was the guy every girl crushed on. Didn’t hurt that he had a bit of a bad-boy, daredevil reputation, either. My eyes dropped to the scorpion tattoo on the left side of his chest. I’d heard rumors that he had one but this was the first time I’d seen proof. I wondered how he’d gotten it.
I forced my eyes away, aware of how quickly my heart was beating. So, yeah, even I had wasted a daydream or two fantasizing about him, and now I had to kneel on his chest and enter his dream.
. Who knew The Will had such a sense of humor?
Still, I wasn’t about to sit on him half-naked like that. I grabbed the sheet lying rumpled at the foot of the bed and swung it over him. Eli sighed as the sheet touched him, and my heart leaped into my throat. I held my breath, expecting the worst.
When he didn’t wake, I screwed up my courage and climbed onto the bed. If I didn’t, The Will would start nagging me to get on with it. If I resisted too long, the spell would get physical again. I planted my feet on either side of Eli’s arms and squatted down until the majority of my body weight rested on his muscular chest. Trust me, it
as strange as it sounded and even stranger being the person doing it. Once I was in position, an ache burned inside me like a terrible, desperate thirst. My body craved the fictus it needed to replenish my magic.
A soft moan escaped Eli’s throat, but this time I didn’t panic. Once a Nightmare was in place around a victim … er … subject, the magic kicked in, rendering the person powerless, even to wake. Which was why a girl like me, five foot four and 115 pounds, could sit on top of a sleeping boy without his knowing.
Thank goodness for the little things
I closed my eyes and exhaled, placing my fingers against his forehead. Bright light burst inside my mind like professional-grade fireworks as my consciousness left my body and entered the dream world of Eli Booker.
I knew at once something was different. I might be new to the Nightmare gig, not having come into my powers until a couple of months ago, but I’d done this enough to worry at the strange intensity of the colors swirling around me as the dream world came into focus. Most dreams were gray and foggy, old black-and-white horror movies, the kind with wide-angled shots of the rickety castle. This one was in full Technicolor. I felt like Dorothy first stepping out of her house into the Land of Oz.
I stood in the middle of a cemetery, surrounded by crumbling headstones and mausoleums thick with ivy. It was nighttime, but the full moon overhead shone bright enough that I could see the dark green of the ivy and the way its leaves stirred in the faint breeze. The murmur of voices echoed eerily around me, and for a moment I thought they might be ghosts. Then I turned and saw a bunch of police officers milling about with flashlights in hand. The presence of cops didn’t surprise me; Eli’s dad was a detective.
I looked around, trying to find Eli. With so many people, tombs, and trees scattered about the place, he could be anywhere. But I had to find him quick. Rule
in dream-walking: always know the subject’s location. It was absolutely essential not to have any physical contact with the dreamer. Touching them would break all the enchantments holding them in the dream and make them wake up. It was a lesson I’d learned the painful way.
Not seeing Eli anywhere, I flew into the air to get a bird’s-eye view. I spotted him at last on the other side of a supersized mausoleum, the kind reserved for an entire family’s worth of dead bodies. He looked strange, dressed up in a fancy gray suit with an obnoxious orange-and-blue necktie. It was the kind of thing his father wore when he gave statements to the local news channels about cases, and I guessed Eli was dreaming that he was a detective. I grinned. The whole thing was sort of sweet, like a kid playing dress-up. And totally out of character for someone like Eli, a guy who I imagined thought of himself as way too cool and rebellious to want to grow up and be like his dad. Or at least a guy too cool to admit it.