A sultry dream can become a real-life nightmare…
Tax consultant Charlotte Bennett isn’t the type to lose control. Until she’s seduced in a dream by a handsome, rugged man named Kieran. In her dream state, she decides to let loose, letting pleasure and desire lead the way. But she quickly discovers her “safe” night of passion has dangerous repercussions.
The lust-driven dream was in fact a magick illusion that’s left Charlotte indefinitely bound to a controlling fae named Kieran. Under his order, she must find the last piece of a powerful relic. Only Charlotte knows the location of the bosca fadbh, but the knowledge is hidden deep within her bloodline—and only wicked magick can draw it out.
Forced to work with the enticing Kieran, she finds it hard to escape their seductive chemistry. Even though he’s harboring a deadly curse, one that puts Charlotte in danger—and could make this attraction fatal…
He made her want to be bad, and Charlotte Bennett was never bad.
She lay on her side in bed, eyes slowly coming open, the remnants of an amazing nocturnal adventure still clinging to her mind. In adulthood her dreams had a tendency toward monotone colors and were about as interesting as the act of folding towels. This dream had been real enough to make up for a lifetime of black-and-white snorefests.
She rolled onto her back, stared at the ceiling fan over her bed, and groaned. Apparently her body was trying to tell her something. She was still tingling in places that hadn’t tingled in a very long time. Considering she hadn’t had sex in nine months, the reason for the dream probably wasn’t all that surprising.
That man! She’d never met anyone like him in real life. That was because men like the one in her dream didn’t exist. Her subconscious had probably fashioned him from bits and pieces of the heroes she’d read about in romance novels, or characters she’d seen in movies. Longish dark hair, muscular build, strong jaw, deep brown eyes, hands that—
The phone rang.
She closed her eyes for a moment, cursing it inwardly. Just a few more minutes cuddled under the covers, immersed in her dream would have been nice. Reality was about to steal away the clinging vestiges of the luscious, sensual experience—and the delicious man who’d given it to her. Ah, well. It couldn’t be helped.
She rolled over, grabbed the phone, and gave a sleep-husky “Hello.” At the same time, she groped for her glasses and shoved them on.
Charlotte sat up a little. “Hello?”
“Charlotte? Is that you?”
“Harvey?” She sat all the way up, clingy dreamy deliciousness now completely eradicated. Panicked by the only reason her boss would be calling on a Monday morning, she glanced out the window—daylight-bright, she now noticed—and then at the clock. Shock rippled through her.
“Are you all right? It’s—”
She smacked her forehead with her open palm. “It’s ten AM, I’m not there, and I haven’t called.”
“Ah . . . yes.”
She threw the blankets back and bolted from the bed, her bare feet going cold on the hardwood floor. “I don’t know happened. I’m so sorry! I guess my alarm never went off. You must think I’m a total incompetent.” She stared accusingly at her alarm clock, which was set to play Tchaikovsky’s “1812 Overture” every morning.
“That’s okay, Charlotte. This isn’t like you at all. You’ve never even been late, not once since you started working for us. Remarkable, really.” Harvey chuckled. “So we knew you hadn’t suddenly gone crazy and were sleeping off a bender or anything.” Chuckle. “Or that you’d had a hot date and were—”
Charlotte gave a forced laugh and tried not to grind her teeth. “Right, yes, of course. That would be crazy.”
“Of course it would. No, we just wanted to make sure you were all right. So, you’re coming in?”
“Absolutely.” She’d missed only two days of work in the last five years. Flu. Hand washing was so important. “I’ll be there within the hour.”
“Great, Charlotte. You know we’re lost without you.”
She smiled, warmth from the compliment suffusing her.
It didn’t take her long to get dressed, throw her hair up into a clip, and dash on a minimum of makeup. She grabbed her purse and headed out the door. It was now almost ten thirty. Her in-box would be growing more unmanageable by the moment.
She stopped with her hand on the doorknob, the low, shivery voice blowing through her like a breeze. That had been the voice of her dream man and it had been coming from . . . inside her house.
Blinking rapidly, as she did when she was nervous, she scanned the kitchen to her left and the formal living room to her right. Then she peered up the stairs to the second floor. All was calm, silent. The house was empty.
She gave her head a shake. “Crazy,” she muttered and headed out the door.
Just as she’d presumed, the papers on her desk had multiplied like rabbits. The problem with being a capable employee was that your boss had lots of confidence in you, and that was a double-edged sword.
She paused in the entrance of her cubicle and stared at the pile of work for a moment, sighing. Then she firmly reminded herself that this was why she’d obtained her MPA from the University of Illinois, cheating herself out of a personal life while she’d done it. It was true that her position here at Yancy and Tate wasn’t her ultimate dream, but it was a stepping-stone to the career she really wanted. Everyone had to pay their dues, and she was no exception.
She jerked a little, startled, and turned to see Harvey behind her.
“Sorry.” He grinned, transforming his plain face into something close to handsome. He studied her for a moment. “You’re wearing glasses.”
Glancing at him, she touched the frame, readjusting it on the bridge of her nose. “I didn’t want to waste time with my contacts today.”
“Ah, well, glad to see you made it in.”
She walked into her cubicle, setting her purse onto the one free space on her desk, and sank into her chair. “Glad to be here.”
“Just stopped by to remind you that we have a client meeting at one thirty.”
Panic shot through her veins as she remembered. “Tricities Inc?”
He nodded meaningfully.
She stopped herself from lunging at her desk. She’d totally forgotten and she had so much to do! “I’ll be ready, Harvey.”
He smiled at her. “I know you will. I have complete confidence in you.”
She spent what was left of her morning cutting through the pile of work on her desk and then, instead of taking a lunch, prepared for the meeting with Tricities.
By the time early afternoon rolled around, she felt caught up and prepared to consult with their client. Knowing she must also look prepared, she headed into the bathroom with her makeup bag and examined her face in the mirror.
“Ugh.” The sound echoed into the empty room.
With hardly any makeup, her face looked white and gaunt. She hadn’t had much time to fuss with her hair that morning and was decidedly “pillow-styled.” She undid the clip, extracted her brush, and went to work. There wasn’t much she could do with the thick mass other than straighten it up and put the clip back in. That accomplished, she set her glasses aside and worked on her makeup.
Then she stood back and took a critical appraisal of her clothing. She’d thrown on a white button-down shirt, a plaid cardigan and a pair of black pants. Frowning, she saw the top two buttons of her shirt were undone. She corrected it, put her glasses back on, and gave herself a critical head-to-toe sweep. Marginally better. She gave her shirt one last downward tug to settle it more smoothly in place and smiled at herself in the mirror to practice for the meeting.
Grabbing her makeup bag from the counter, she walked to the bathroom door.
She stopped short, her entire body going cold. The voice of her dream man again. At work. In the bathroom.
Oh, God, was she going insane?
Charlotte, come to me.
Images flashed through her mind. An airplane ticket, destination Protection City, Carolina. A flash of heavy, tall gates—the gates of Piefferburg, if she wasn’t mistaken. She’d only ever caught glimpses on the TV program Faemous, but she thought she recognized them. Piefferburg was the huge warded detainment area where the fae were kept imprisoned by the Phaendir.
With the flashing images came a nearly irresistible compulsion to leave work right now. Drive to the airport right now. Buy a ticket to Protection City right now. All of a sudden she had to get to Piefferburg, no matter what.
Dropping her makeup bag onto the floor since it no longer mattered—nothing except getting to Piefferburg mattered—she went for the bathroom door. If she hurried, she could make it to Protection City by evening.
“Wait a minute!” She stopped cold with her fingers wrapped around the door handle, and then yanked her hand away, scrubbing it on her pants as though she could wipe the germs off.
What was she doing? She couldn’t leave; she had a financial consultation to give. Anyway, she had no reason to drop everything and fly to Protection City, Carolina. Even less reason to go to Piefferburg.
The fae? No way.
She shuddered, remembering the nightmares she’d had of them as a child. When she’d been six she’d woken night after night screaming, soaked in cold sweat. Her father had been there to reassure her that no goblins lurked under the bed, no joint-eaters peered at her from the cracked open closet door, but it had been close to her mother’s death and she’d cried for her.
Night after night she’d screamed and thrashed in her father’s arms realizing anew that her mother wasn’t there to hold her . . . and never would be again. The grief of that still lay heavy in her chest and the nightmares had forever linked the fae with it.
No, she wanted no part of the fae. They were right where they belonged and she had no wish to consort with them. She was quite happy to live all the way across the country from that place and nothing was going to force her there.
Still, the compulsion lingered. She gritted her teeth and furrowed her brow, fighting it. It eased a little, and she sagged against the door. What was wrong with her? It had to be the dream she’d had. It must’ve jarred something loose in her subconscious that she hadn’t known she needed to deal with. Find the root of the problem, address it, and she’d be able to continue with her job. She just needed a little time to sit down and think, analyze the situation. Unfortunately she wasn’t going to get that, not right now.
Feeling suddenly sick, she backed away from the door and leaned down to pick up her makeup bag. Just then Erica, one of her colleagues, came into the bathroom.
“Oh, my gosh, Charlotte, are you all right?” Erica breathed, her blue eyes wide. “You look like you’re about to vomit.”
She glanced into the mirror. Her pale face had taken on a distinctly greenish hue and she was covered in a light coating of sweat. Lovely. She blinked rapidly, searching for a response.
Charlotte, you cannot ignore me. Come to me now.
Compulsion filled her once again. The only thing that kept her from bolting for the door was her willpower. She bowed her head, closed her eyes, and grabbed the edge of the bathroom counter to stop herself from complying with the mystery man’s wishes.
“Charlotte? Should I call someone? Are you all right?”
Charlotte forced her eyes open and returned Erica’s panicked stare. “Did you hear that?”
“Hear what?” Erica’s frown deepened and she shook her head. “You really don’t look good. You should go home, Charlotte.” She entered one of the stalls.
Go home? In the middle of the day? She’d never done that in her entire life. She touched her forehead and found it warm and feverish.
Letting go of the counter and not bothering with her makeup bag, she lunged for the door and raced all the way back to her cubicle. Her watch showed it was exactly one twenty. Past time to get to the conference room. Scooping her papers into her arms, she raced across the office toward her destination.
CHARLOTTE LILLIAN BENNETT, COME TO ME.
Strong compulsion filled her. She fought it, but this time nothing stemmed the tide of must. Ten times stronger than what she’d felt in the bathroom, there was no denying this. Right outside the double doors of the conference room, she dropped all her files.
Leave. Yes, that’s exactly what she should do. Harvey could meet with the clients solo. He had all their financials and could consult with them just fine on his own. She needed to get to Piefferburg right now.
The heavy wooden doors of the conference room opened and Harvey stuck his head out, surveying the mess of paper on the floor and then looking up at her. “Charlotte?”
Alien persuasion crashed through her. Tell him you’ve received an urgent call from the Piefferburg Business Council and you must leave right away.
She bent down and gathered the files into her arms. “I just got a . . . a call. I need to leave. I’m so sorry, Harvey.” She stood and fled.
Stopping only long enough to drop the files at her desk and grab her purse, she went to her car and drove immediately to the airport. In her head shouted the refrain, What am I doing? Yet she was completely unable to stop herself from handing over her credit card to the clerk at the Transnational Airlines service desk for a seat on the next flight to Protection City.
The lady behind the counter looked up at her with a bland smile on her face. “Do you have any luggage to check?”
She glanced down at her side as if a suitcase had magically appeared there. “No.” She had nothing with her. No extra clothing, no toiletries. She’d even left her vitamins behind, drat it all. This was obviously fae magick of some kind. The prospect terrified her almost as much as it angered her. What if she’d had a critical prescription she’d needed to take? What if she’d had a pet at home? Or kids!
Fae magick. Fear made a cold sweat break out on her forehead.
The lady gave her the boarding pass and soon she’d passed through security and reached her gate. She collapsed into a chair and stared at the waiting plane, every fiber of her being straining to get on it now so she could get to Piefferburg now.
Her father would kill her if he knew what she was doing. Whether or not she was under some magickal fae mind-control, her father would skin her alive. Her family had a dark and sordid history with the fae and she’d been fed stories about their treachery since she’d been a child. Never consort with the fae, her father had warned her. Stay away from Piefferburg at all costs, he’d said. Don’t be seduced by the glittering images that Faemous feeds the public. The fae are bad. Evil.
“The only good fae is a dead fae,” had been a familiar utterance in her home.
Her opinion was far more varied than her father’s. In her mind it wasn’t so black and white as all that. The HFF, Humans for the Freedom of the Fae, had some very valid points, in her opinion, though that was an opinion she would never share with her father. Especially since her father was the head of the HCIF, Humans for the Continued Incarceration of the Fae, the HFF’s flip side. The HCIF gave scads of money to the Phaendir and helped them lobby Congress for legislation that would keep the fae right where they were.
She glowered at the airplane. She had no idea what was going on here, but once she found out, there was going to be hell to pay. Of course, mostly that was the fear talking. She knew she lacked the ability to bring hell to a fae. The weakest one was twenty times more powerful than she was.
And this man was powerful, indeed.
Her mind strayed to the dream. At the time she’d thought it had just been a vivid dream, harmless. She’d played out all her fantasies with that luscious man. Now it turned out . . .
Oh, hell. The realization slammed into her.
That had never been an innocent dream and the man she’d committed all those erotic acts with was probably real. He had to be the one holding her leash at the moment, the one who was yanking it so forcefully.
Her hand strayed to the collar of her shirt. The things she’d done in that dream . . .
A man swathed in the traditional attire of the Phaendir sat down across from her. Many of the magickal sect of druids wore ordinary clothing, dark suits, dress pants, and polo shirts. Usually you couldn’t tell a Phaendir from an ordinary man, but this one wore the heavy brown robes of a monk.
Still holding the collar of her shirt, she gave him a tentative smile, which he returned with a stern look. Almost as if to say he knew what she’d done last night.
She slid down into her chair and looked away from him.
The Phaendir were always male and mostly all big and imposing. And one could never forget the powerful magick. Magick enough to keep all the fae of the world imprisoned. They deserved everyone’s utmost respect and were not to be trifled with.
Except she was about to both disrespect and trifle with them.
How was she supposed to get permission to be admitted into Piefferburg? It used to be that any human could enter at their own risk, but now that Gideon Amberdoyal had become archdirector, every human needed to be personally approved by him, their backgrounds thoroughly checked.
She blinked several times. “Excuse me?”
The Phaendir looked at her sharply, his eyes narrowing. The action reminded her of a hawk that had just caught sight of a juicy mouse.
Don’t say anything out loud. Speak to me in your head.
Her mind whirled for a moment. She chewed her lip. Finally, she tried it. You’re real?
As real as you are.
Oh, God. You’re fae?
Pause. Do you know any human capable of long-range telepathy and dream invasion?
She went silent for a minute, processing everything and trying very hard not to freak out in front of the brother.
When you arrive in Protection City it will be very late. Stop at a store and buy a suitcase, clothes, and toiletries. Find a hotel and stay there for the night. In the morning, go to Phaendir Headquarters and ask for entry into Piefferburg.
What will I tell them?
Tell them your company is doing some work for the Piefferburg Business Council and you’re coming in at their request. They need help with their accounting system and a few other issues. Tell them you’ll be there for an extended period of time, two weeks at a minimum to complete the project.
She forced herself not to react physically to his words. Two weeks? I can’t be gone from my job for two weeks. Anyway, the Phaendir will check my story and discover I’m lying.
We’ve got you covered.
What was that supposed to mean? What’s going on? Pause. Are you going to hurt me?
There was no reply for several moments. We have no plans to harm you.
That was not exactly a comforting answer.
I hate you with all that I am. Even in her mind, her voice shook with emotion.