"You're not sure? Some unknown, good-looking guy came to your door, kissed you, and now he's sitting on your couch? Yeah, that's weird all right. I'm jealous. Shit like that never happens to me. Where's my hunk delivery?"
Sighing, Lyssa looked at her notepad and froze, shocked to her toes to see Aidan's smiling face staring back at her. My god…
"All kidding aside, Doc," Stacey whispered conspiratorially, as if Aidan might hear her. "Do you want me to call the cops? Or are you pulling my leg?"
Lyssa traced the drawn shape of the blatantly sensual lips she'd managed to capture so well. A childhood therapist had encouraged her to take art classes, saying the ability to commit her thoughts to paper might help her to remember her dreams and share them with her mother. It hadn't worked for the purposes intended, but drawing was soothing to her, and she fell into the habit often.
"Lyssa? Is everything okay?"
"I feel like it is," she said absently, her heart racing, making her feel dizzier than she already was. "I mean, common sense says no, but…"
"But what? You're killing me!"
Sliding off the bar stool again, Lyssa straightened her shoulders. "Everything else says 'yes.' "
"Okay, listen. You take a picture of this guy and then hide your camera in your car. Stick a note in the bag with his name— Oh! Can you get his wallet?"
"Stacey!" Lyssa laughed. "I think he's okay. Jelly Bean loves him." She stared at the sofa, where JB slept in Aid-an's lap like an angel…
Are you an angel?
No, darling. I'm not.
"No way," Stacey scoffed. "JB doesn't like anyone, not even Justin, and everyone loves my kid."
"He's a great kid." Suddenly Lyssa's smile was genuine. Something inside her knew the man in her living room— and liked him. A lot. "I'm going to get off here, Stace. See you at ten?"
"I better. If you don't show up to work, I'm coming over with the National Guard. What's this guy's name any-
"I like it! Sounds edible."
"He is." Lyssa rounded the counter and bent to pick up the Tylenol. "I'll talk to you tomorrow."
"I'll expect to hear everything, Doc."
"Yeah, yeah. Bye." Hitting the off button, Lyssa set the handset on the granite top and filled a glass with chilled water dispensed through the fridge door. Then she moved to the living room and knelt on the floor next to the couch.
Leaning forward, she touched Aidan, unable to help herself. She ran a hand through the short lock of hair that hung over his forehead, and his eyes fluttered open.
A soft smile curved his lips. "I'm glad to be here with you."
"Charmer." She swallowed down the lump in her throat. If it weren't for the fierce intelligence in those dark sapphire eyes, she would think he might be a little touched in the head. Hot guys weren't usually so sweet. "I bet you say that to all the ladies you barge in on."
"I've never said that to anyone in my life, Hot Stuff."
"Stop it. You're making me sappy."
The feeling of deja vu struck her again.
"Promise me…" Aidan yawned while reaching for her hand. "Promise me you'll eat something while I nap. And don't fall asleep."
Her brows arched. "No?"
He shook his head, his gaze intent on her face. "No. Stay awake until I get up."
"Okay." She cupped his cheek and felt his high temperature, just before he shivered violently. "But you have to promise to take these."
Shaking two tablets out of the bottle and into her hand, Lyssa made him swallow them, despite his wince of displeasure, then she arranged him on the couch and covered him with her throw. JB moved up to his standard spot on the armrest with an irritated flick of his tail.
"Eat," Aidan ordered. "No sleep."
"I got it."
Lyssa watched him fall into a fitful slumber, and studied his features for a long time after that. Then she made her-self a sandwich and sat at the dining table with her book about dreams and reincarnation. And thought about love at first sight.
As awareness took over, that was first thing that registered in Aidan's mind. A scorching breeze moved over him, blistering his skin, drying his nostrils, cracking his lips. The air was fetid, filled with the stench of death and despair.
Opening his eyes, he found himself facing the Gateway, tied to a pole with his arms behind him. Nightmares poured out in endless, unchecked numbers. Around him, hundreds of voices shouted, casting blame at his feet for actions he couldn't remember. He was alone except for the slender, golden-haired figure who reached for the door…
Aidan jerked awake, startling JB, who screeched in alarm. His heart racing, it took him a moment to realize where he was. He ran both hands through his hair, wincing at the damp roots and his sticky skin.
The bastards. He was no longer safe from them in his sleep. They dug deep into his mind, finding his fears and feeding on them. He felt drained and on edge at the same time.
Never having met his foe unguarded before, he felt violated. Wretched. His stomach heaved.
Seeking the only true solace he had ever known, Aidan turned his head toward the low drone of the TV and saw Lyssa at his side, seated on the floor. It was dark, the blinds drawn, the only illumination coming from the flickering light of the television and the aquarium in the dining room. He reached for her, running his hand through the loose golden strands he loved. She moved, sliding slowly away, toward the floor…
… a dead weight.
The panic he'd recently retreated from flared anew, pounding through his blood until his heart was ready to explode. He leaped from the couch, barely catching her slumping body before it hit the floor.
"Lyssa!" He shook her violently. "Damn it, I told you to stay awake!"
Her eyelids fluttered, but her subconscious was already connected to the deadly Twilight.
The cry that tore from him was both desperate and inhuman. His nightmare wasn't over.
It had only just begun.
* * *
As icy shards tore into her flesh, Lyssa flailed in agony, her subconscious pulling free of the mechanical banging and insidious whispers that were tearing her mind apart. She gulped down a massive breath into tight lungs and opened her throat to scream. Instead, her mouth was covered, increasing her terror.
Struggling to breathe and desperate to evade the needles that struck her everywhere, she clawed at the unyielding arms that trapped and held her immobile.
Sucking in air through her nose, she smelled a scent that caused her eyes to fly open…
… and met darkly determined sapphire blue ones.
Panicked, she clung to the wet, hard body that held hers so rigidly. She gasped for breath, inhaling Aidan's exhale as he swallowed her cries with the heat of his mouth.
Suddenly her surroundings became clear—the stone tile of her bathroom, the freezing spray from the showerhead behind her, the fully dressed form pressed so tightly to hers.
She ceased her struggles, sagging into him, so relieved to be in safe arms after the horror of only a moment before.
He tore his mouth away, breathing harshly, his embrace so tight that no water slipped between them. The feel of his chest was warm, a stark contrast to the river of melted ice water that coursed down her back.
"I-it's c-cold," she complained, circling his powerful upper back with her arms.
Turning, he took the brunt of the water from her, the tensing of his jaw the only sign of his discomfort. Lyssa attempted to step away, to free her arms to adjust the temperature, but he held fast.
"L-let me't-turn up the h-heat."
It took him a long moment to do as she asked, as if he was reluctant to release her. Reaching around him, Lyssa turned the knob. The water began to heat, and steam rose around them. Then she chanced another look up. A tic in his jaw matched his formidable scowl.
"I told you not to fall asleep," he bit out.
"I didn't mean to."
Her arms wrapped her waist in a vain effort to warm up. Aidan moved then, his hands catching the hem of her shirt and tugging upward. If he hadn't looked so formidable, she might have protested his forwardness. Or she might not have…
"'tbu scared the crap out of me," he muttered, intensely focused on stripping her bare.
She moved with him, taking his silent commands, understanding by his forcefulness that he was a man who bore the weight of power and responsibility with unusual finesse. Despite how her wet clothes clung to her skin, he had her undressed in no time at all. An expert. The absolute certainty that he undressed women often added to her sense of unrest.
"Yeah, well," she began grumpily, "I got the crap scared out of me, too, so… mmpph—" She grunted as he tugged her into him and crushed her close. Her stiffened frame relaxed immediately, and she sank into his strength and the comfort he offered.
"I'll take care of you," he promised gruffly. "Don't be scared."
She almost cried. Unlike everyone else in her life who told her what she had to do to make herself feel better—see the doctor, take more meds, eat healthier—Aldan took the burden completely from her. She gave it to him gladly.
"I had the worst nightmare," she confided. "There was pounding and banging against metal, grinding and scratching, and this god-awful wailing sound."
"You can't just drift into sleep." He gave her a little shake to emphasize his words. "You've got to fall hard and fast into it."
Tilting her head back, she caught the torment in his gaze, amazed to realize he cared about her. More than casually. "You scare me, too."
"No." Aidan shook his head. "You trust me. You need me."
"That's what's scary." She felt safe with him, her fear unable to affect her when he was in her arms. That dependence on something so new was frightening. Could she trust something she didn't comprehend?