Aidan was silent a moment, then, "They're looking for someone, Lyssa. They're not sure who they're looking for, but there are certain traits that raise alarm. "You bear some of the traits. I worry that too many years of searching have made them overzealous. I want you to be careful when they visit with you. I would prefer that you reveal as little as possible without appearing suspicious. I'm telling you this because I want you to be prepared."
She nodded. "Okay. We should come up with a secret signal or something. If I start talking too much, you can warn me."
"Lyssa…" He inhaled sharply.
Her stomach churned when Aidan didn't say anything further, which said so much.
He wasn't coming back.
"I see." She'd felt his expertise in his touch, had tasted it in his kiss, would have been fucking him blind right now if she hadn't needed a few minutes to recover. The man knew his way around a woman's body. "Is seduction part of your job, too?"
His jaw tightened. "Sometimes."
She winced at the sharp pain she felt in her chest. "A lover and a fighter."
"A warrior," he corrected grimly.
"A man of many talents." Blowing out her breath, Lyssa rolled away from him and crawled to the edge of the bed, hiding her quivering lower lip. "Go ahead and tell them I'll let them in."
She felt him move behind her, and then his large hands were on her shoulders. A moment later his lips were pressed to her skin. She jerked away and left the bed entirely, wishing there was a robe or something to cover herself with. To her surprise, one appeared on the chair by the door, and she caught it up before she stepped outside…
… where the sun was shining on a sandy beach. Frozen in place with surprise, she was galvanized into movement when she heard Aidan approaching.
She pictured a thatched-roof bar a little ways up the beach and strode toward it rapidly. She needed a drink. Bad. "I think I've got the hang of this dreaming thing. Thanks for your help."
"Perhaps it was fear that held you back," he said behind her, following. "At some point the Nightmares must have really frightened you. You chose the safety of darkness and the door over your dreams."
"Good to know. Guess I'm cured." When he materialized before her, she screamed and jumped back. "Damn it, you scared the shit out of me! Don't do that."
Aidan's dark gaze roiled with powerful emotions she couldn't identify. "Don't turn away from me after what we just did."
The simple statement started a quiver in her belly that expanded into a full-fledged shiver of awareness. All she wanted in the world—this one and her own—was to step into his embrace and feel safe while she sorted this all out in her mind. But she was feeling things she shouldn't be. Longing, possessiveness, desire… it would only get worse the longer he stayed. "What do you want me to do, Aidan?"
Something hot flickered in his eyes when she said his name. "Come back inside. We still have time."
"No." Her voice was shakier than she would have wished. Despite the short length of their association, he had been her comfort, her rock to lean on. Losing him was going to be painful. It already hurt. "It would be better if you just left."
"Why?" he asked through gritted teeth.
"I'm not into pity fucks." She actually heard his teeth grind, and she was glad. Her emotions were all out of whack; it was only fair that his should be, too. "I've been protecting myself just fine over the last however-many years. I don't need you to screw me into the Twilight, or whatever the hell it is you do."
His nostrils flared. "You're upset. I sympathize. But you know that's not the reason we had sex."
"I do? Hmm…" She turned around and pictured her hut bar in the opposite direction.
"Lyssa—" His grip stopped her so fast, she was yanked to a halt.
"Lyssa! For god's sake wake up!"
Violent shoving brought her to the awareness of her mother's voice and her taupe-colored living room.
"Okay, okay," she muttered, rubbing her eyes.
Her mother hovered over her. "Christ, Lyssa! You scared me to death."
"You've been asleep for almost twenty-four hours without moving a muscle. I had to check on you every hour or so just to make sure you were breathing!"
Closing her eyes, Lyssa sighed and stretched, finding every muscle sore from hours of being in the same position.
"I slept in your bed last night because I was afraid to leave you."
Her mother had fussed and poked at her most of her life, searching in vain for a physical cure for what Lyssa had always suspected was a mental ailment.
"I'm okay, Mom." And for the first time in years, she really felt as if that was true. She wasn't sure why she felt that way; she just knew that she did. Like something was settled or resolved. A long-standing question answered. "What time is it?"
"Just after eight."
"Ugh!" Tossing off the chenille throw, Lyssa stood with a grimace. "I'm going to be late for my first patient if I don't get going."
"How the hell can you even think about going to work when you were a vegetable only a minute ago?" The effect of the chastising hands on her mother's hips was ruined by bed-head.
"Work's all I've got left, Mom. I'm not letting that go to hell along with my health and my love life."
"I'm calling your doctor and telling him he needs to run more tests."
Lyssa was already halfway up the stairs. "No way."
"If you don't agree to a checkup, I'm not letting you go to work."
"Mom…" She glared down the stairs, but the stubborn set of maternal jaw told her arguing would be pointless. "Fine," she conceded grudgingly, "but you have to make me coffee, too."
A shower and three cups of Java later, Lyssa was speeding out of her condo complex on her way to work. It was still a bit foggy and gray in the valley, with a slight chill in the air that invigorated her. She didn't feel rested as she had last week, but she didn't feel as if she was going to fall asleep at the wheel, either. That fact alone started her day off on a lighter foot.
She was whistling when she pulled open the heavy steel door to the back of her clinic, and by the time she entered Exam Room One with its pretty blue and white striped wallpaper, Lyssa was full-on smiling.
"Good morning," she greeted, her eyes widening as her patient's owner turned to face her. "I'm Dr. Bates."
Tall with short-cropped dark hair, he was handsome and well-built, filling a loose pair of jeans and tight black T-shirt to perfection. The writing on the shirt betrayed his occupation as a fireman, a job she admired.
He shook her outstretched hand. "Chad Dawson." He gestured to the beautiful German shepherd who sat elegantly by his feet. "This is Lady."
Lady held out her paw for a shake.
"What a clever girl you are, Lady," she praised, glancing at the chart in her hand. "Shots, I see. I promise to be gentle."
Never one to torture her patients, Lyssa got straight to it and then offered a treat in reward. The whole time, Mr. Lady hovered nearby, his cologne a gentle presence in the room, his large body absorbing all the space. She was keenly aware of him and his undisguised interest, so when she finished notating the chart and prepared to move on to the next room, she wasn't surprised when he stopped her.
"I appreciate your care for Lady. She hates shots, and shakes like a leaf when we come to the vet."
Lyssa rubbed Lady behind the ears, "You were very brave, Lady. One of my best patients ever." She glanced up. "She's a wonderful dog, Mr. Dawson."
"Call me Chad, please."
She smiled, but her stomach did a little flip that was partly excited and partly panicked.
"I hope you don't mind," he began with a sheepish smile, "but I noticed you're not wearing a wedding band. Are you seeing anyone?"
The urge to say yes was strong and confusing. "Not unless you count grumpy cats."
His returning grin was dazzling. "In that case, I'd like to take you out to dinner sometime, if you're open to dating owners."
"I never have before," she admitted, "but there's always a first time."
She pulled a notepad featuring a pharmaceutical advertisement out of a drawer, and they exchanged numbers and set a date for the weekend.
Lyssa stayed in the room a short while after Chad and Lady left, trying to figure out why a date with a hunky fireman who liked dogs was making her sad.
Hidden beyond the edge of the Twilight, Aidan stared at the woman writhing on the bed. She keened softly, her naked body arching upward as she stroked her clit with one hand while thrusting two fingers deep into the drenched cleft of her sex with the other.
He barely blinked, refusing to look away, his mind urging his errant body to cooperate and become aroused. Around him, he felt and heard the Nightmares moving in, drawn to the energy the Dreamer was exuding into the Twilight. She was as vulnerable as it was possible to be, and it was his job to lead her to safety. But despite his sincere wish to help her, he couldn't find the tiniest bit of desire for the task ahead.
Sighing, Aidan closed his eyes and sent out a silent call for help. As the woman on the bed moaned in the beginnings of a climax, he felt a presence at his side.
"I was coming to find you anyway," said the laughing voice next to him.
"Oh?" Shooting a sidelong glance at Connor, Aidan tried not to look too relieved when his friend began to strip with obvious anticipation.
"I was assigned to your Dreamer tonight, Cross. I figured once you knew, you would want to swap again. You've been giving me all of your sexual assignments for weeks, but I strongly suspected you'd want to have another dream with her. And you need it, man. Bad."