Gavin Cassidy, rock star by day and Sentinel by night, met his muse in the Dreaming, and now he's found her in real life. But Zoe Morgan is having a hard time believing the gorgeous guy from her dreams is real, let alone that he's attracted to her.
Gavin's not the only one who's interested in Zoe. Her boss wants her too, and he could end her career in marine biology if she refuses his advances. Zoe's struggling to balance her dream man with her dream job, but that's the least of her worries. The whale she's guarding has been marked for death, and Zoe's new enemy Scarlet is eager to deliver the killing blow. To both of them.
Gavin is desperate to keep Zoe safe, but he's got other problems. People are dying in their sleep all across Australia. He and his fellow Sentinels can save them, but only if they find and lock the door to the Dreaming before the Fire Elementals launch an attack. Now Gavin must protect Zoe from Scarlet's vengeful clutches while organizing a Sentinel defense strong enough to prevent a full-blown Elemental war—all with a traitor fighting by his side.
“Intense, exhilarating, shocking, and heart-wrenching, Exhale is truly a worthy sequel to Inhale and shows that Kendall Grey can push her characters way beyond limits.” —Grace, MyBookSnack
Book 2 in Kendall Grey's JUST BREATHE urban fantasy series
Release date: June 5, 2012
Publisher: Howling Mad Press
Print pages: 346
Content advisory: Graphic sex, language, and violence
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Hervey Bay, Queensland, Australia—August 2012
He’d been stood up.
Gavin Cassidy checked his watch and swiveled on the barstool to face The Whale & Whistle’s door. The woman of his dreams was an hour late.
He shouldn’t have gotten his hopes up. Should have known finding Dr. Zoe Morgan in the waking world of Realis would be much harder than keeping track of her in the Dreaming.
Head sagging and heart aching, Gavin left the pub and shuffled down the sidewalk under the fading purplish wisps of dusk. The smell of the ocean rolling in from the harbor reminded him of her. Goddamn everything did.
He scrubbed his face. What should he do? The Fyre Elementals knew where she lived. If they—Scarlet especially—got to Zoe before he did, she wouldn’t stand a chance against them, here or in the Dreaming.
Fuck. He had to find her.
He paused on the trek to his car and reached into his leather jacket pocket for his cigarettes. Empty. Damn it. He’d picked a great time to quit smoking. Half-heartedly scanning the intersection ahead for signs of Zoe, he continued onward.
It hadn’t been just the protection issue that lured him out of the Dreaming and into Realis to look for her. As that bastard Fyre Elemental, Sinnder, had so kindly pointed out, Gavin was in love with her. Which brought his true motivation for finding her to a totally different level, didn’t it? Upgraded from routine Sentinel responsibility to hardcore, hands-on involvement.
He had to warn her she was in danger. Maybe he should—
His Dreamsense rattled to life at the sound of his muse’s familiar song, broadcast on a dream frequency beyond human hearing. The tune was as haunting as the songs of the whales he knew she loved.
He snapped his head up.
“Hey. You forget something?” a female voice with an American accent called from behind him.
He turned around.
It was her. His muse. In the flesh.
Familiar blond-streaked hair poured down the sleeves of a tight red button-up shirt. She looked five or six years older than him—maybe thirty—and hotter than sex during a summertime thunderstorm. Worth every bump, bruise, and scrape he’d endured to find her. His heart broke into a balls-out run. Along with the rest of him.
“Zoe?” He skidded to a halt a few feet in front of her. Tried to catch his breath.
She tilted her head to the right and smiled. Hell, yes. She recognized him.
Zoe tossed him the little wooden falcon he’d left on the bar inside The Whale & Whistle. Too captivated by the blue of her wide eyes to bother glancing away, he caught it without looking. His childhood toy-turned-good-luck-charm vibrated in his palm as if pleased with itself, and he slid it in his jacket pocket.
“I waited for you.” Obvious, but he was a little tongue-tied. He stretched his grin wider.
“I got lost.” Her voice had a little rasp to it. She was breathless too, though whether from chasing him down the street or for reasons similar to his own, he had no idea.
God, right here, right now. Zoe Morgan. He stepped closer. Dreamsense checked the area for Fyre Elementals. All clear.
After everything they’d been through together in the Dreaming, meeting her for real wasn’t just a pleasure. It was an honor. She’d sacrificed her Elemental Water and nearly died to defend the Dreaming from the Fyres. She’d saved thousands—maybe even millions—of human dreamers from death. And she’d done it all for him and a whale named Lily.
She was his heroine.
With his tongue, he flicked the silver ring jabbed through his bottom lip. Her eyes narrowed.
“Gavin Cassidy.” At your service. He grabbed her by the arms and pulled her close. She gasped but didn’t resist—more fell into him, which was fine. He liked the idea of keeping her steady.
Elemental Water bubbled deep within his chest, proof of the heavy emotions practically denting the inside of his rib cage with their attempts at escape. So, his Water wanted to show its arse now? Fine.
He lowered his head and kissed her.
She stole what little remained of his breath. Thanks to the dreams they’d shared, he knew her lips as well as he knew his own. Could have picked them out blindfolded from a police kissing lineup.
But as his mouth settled into a rhythm and took the lead in their dance, Air energy blew through the empty space between his ears, reminding him he’d only just met Zoe in this world, and kissing her might be a wee bit forward. He drew away. Her cheeks reddened, and she inhaled sharply.
“Pleased to meet you.” He grinned and held out his right hand.
Lips parted, she took it. The blue in her aura deepened. “Zoe Morgan. I’m pleased to meet you too.”
Coolness flowed from her trembling palm into his. Their Water merged, ebbing and flowing across the boundaries of flesh. Christ, it felt good. Familiar. Safe. She pumped his hand twice, then her grip slackened.
Though he didn’t want to let go, the break in contact helped him wrangle his scattered wits back into a manageable ball. He and Zoe were in the open, exposed. Gavin swept the street again with his Dreamsense. As far as he could tell, no Fyre Elementals had snuck up while his brain evacuated its cranial real estate in favor of warmer southern climes in Hardwood Heights.
Down, boy, he warned the tent itching for a pitching under his jeans.
“Can I buy you a beer?” Heart on an adrenaline drip, he gestured to the neon sign displaying the words ‘The Whale & Whistle’ several windows behind her. “We have a lot to talk about.” He leaned forward, barely able to resist the lure of another go with those pouty pink lips.
Raising an eyebrow, Zoe gave him a quick once-over. Her breasts strained against her shirt. She flipped a length of hair over her shoulder and glanced around the street. “Yeah. Okay. One beer.”
He walked her back to the pub, held open the door, and followed her inside. A couple of gray-haired blokes looked up from their drinks, probably cursing the younger generation’s invasion into their old folks’ hideaway.
Spine ramrod straight and shoulders squared, Zoe navigated the maze of empty tables toward a deserted corner away from the dozen other patrons in the pub. Gavin took in her backside with lazy appreciation. The subtle curves of her waist, her swaying hips, the contours of her arse through the black pants—even her tanned, sandal-covered feet with their unpainted toenails had him scrambling to adjust the heat dial on his body’s furnace.
His balls tightened at the memory of the sex they’d had in the Dreaming.
Mind on business. The Fyres, he told himself.
Gavin pulled out a chair for Zoe. “I’ll grab the beers. Is VB okay?”
He strode over to the bloke behind the bar and ordered two schooners. Handing the guy a twenty, he plotted out his next move. Moment of truth here. A do-or-die situation. Zoe’s life was in danger. Gavin had to convince her she needed him. For protection.
He turned sideways and cut his gaze to her. So goddamn beautiful. An ache built in his chest. Fanning herself with a hand, Zoe met his eyes, and then looked out the window to where they’d stood only moments ago.
She’d kissed him back, just like she’d done a dozen times in the Dreaming. Maybe winning her over here in Realis would be easier than he expected. Once they got through the pleasantries here, he’d invite her to his place where they could talk in private. Hell, maybe talking would lead to other things. His gaze drifted from her sultry lips to the hard nipples taunting him through her shirt …
Don’t get your hopes up, mate.
The bartender slid the schooners over, and Gavin nodded his thanks. Drinks in hand, he sauntered to the table, set the glasses down, and took his seat across from her.
“Cheers,” she said, bringing the beer to her lips. She sucked down a long, blokey draught, and pressed the back of a wrist over her mouth.
“That was quite a first impression.” Her low, tremulous voice set his ears on fire. “Do you always kiss strangers first and ask questions later?”
Shaking his head, he unleashed his crooked rock star smile on her—the one that made magazine covers and had landed him countless hard-to-get girls with big bastard boyfriends. So not feeling that confidence at the moment, but he tried to channel it anyway. “We’re not exactly strangers. Are we?”
Her aura exploded into a flurry of shifting, disjointed colors. With an unsteady hand, she reached into the pocket of her pants, withdrew a piece of paper, and unfolded it. “I believe this belongs to you.”
The blush in her cheeks deepened as she offered the wrinkled page to him. It was her bio and picture from the Cetacean Research Network’s web site. He’d jotted down a song about her on the back of it while he waited for her earlier. Bartender must have given it to her.
He shook his head. “Keep it. I wrote it for you.”
“Why? You don’t know me,” she said softly.
He dropped his voice to a whisper and met her stare. “So, the woman I met in your dreams was someone else?”
Wiggling in her seat, she rubbed at her palm with a thumb but didn’t look at it. “Okay. You kinda caught me off guard. I came here expecting to be interviewed for the newspaper, only to meet a guy I’ve been dreaming about for weeks. What the hell is going on? You remember me from your dreams?”
“They were your dreams, actually. And yes. I remember them.” Did he ever.
“I—” She tugged the tail of her shirt down, then smoothed the back of her hair. “I’d like to believe you, but I’m a scientist. I deal in facts. As far as I know, there’s no research proving the existence of ‘dream communication’ or whatever you want to call it.”
“So, you deny that we met in the Dreaming?” He settled his elbows on the table. “That I rescued you from drowning? That we built a raft and fought Fyre Elementals together?” He wasn’t ready to remind her of the other stuff they’d done. Yet.
She looked away.
He wiped his sweaty hands on his jeans under the table. “What about Shaggy’s, a week ago? I saw you in the crowd when my band played there. You remember that, don’t you?”
“Yeah. What about it?”
“You were staring at me.”
Her intoxicating flowery scent filled his nose, and another beautiful pink blush settled into her cheeks. “I was enjoying the music.”
“Uh-huh. The music. So, it had nothing to do with the fact that you recognized me from your dreams?” He tried the smile again. “Or maybe it was the view?”
Her pupils dilated, and a flash of light red emerged from the panicked swirls in her aura. Jealousy? “Does your girlfriend know you’re here?”
The accusation slapped his reckless ego with a resounding crack. Shit. Zoe had seen Scarlet kiss him after the show that night. “I don’t have a girlfriend.” He took a quick detour down to the naked ring finger on her left hand. “Not yet, anyway.”
“Could have fooled me.” The light red gained traction on the other rapidly shifting colors in her aura—brown, pink, yellow-orange, neon yellow—too many to count.
Great. He stuffed a fist in his pocket, and it collided with the bird. He pulled out the wooden toy and set it on the flaking tabletop. Her gaze darted to it. Cheeks reddening again, she bit her lip.
He glanced at the falcon. What was that about?
Darkness clouded her face, and the air between them cooled. Both arms now resting on the table, she studied him as if he were a frog in a dissection tray. “Why’d you arrange this meeting? Tormenting me in my dreams isn’t enough?”
“I wouldn’t call what we did there ‘torment.’” He sighed. This wasn’t going as he’d planned. Maybe he’d totally misread her in both worlds. “Come on, Dr. Morgan, don’t play games with me. You fought the Fyre Elementals in your dreams. You know how powerful they are. They’re after you. Here.” He tapped the pockmarked tabletop with his index finger.
Her entire demeanor shifted, fast as a door slamming shut in his face. All traces of curiosity left, and harsh tenseness took its place. Her aura freaked the fuck out in an explosion of reds and browns. Grabbing her keys, she stood. “I think I’d better go.”
Shit. He snagged the back of her hand and pinned it to the table. Her eyes flashed.
A roar of laughter erupted from a bunch of geezers up front as if mocking him. He threw a scowl at them, and then turned back to Zoe. “Wait.” Releasing her hand, he checked her face for a crack in the armor. Nope. Solid, two-centimeter-thick stainless steel.
Before good sense had a chance to rein in his mouth, he blurted, “I want to go out with you.” Okay, not exactly following the script, but he was desperate to keep her here and talking.
Ears bright pink, she stared at him for a good thirty seconds before sitting back down. “Don’t you think I’m a little old for you?”
He let go of his held breath in a great rush. The two of them had survived a dream attack that had killed over a hundred people. He’d fallen in love with her, for fuck’s sake. What the hell did he care about her being a little older?
“No.” Gavin searched the bar for a refill on his resolve. Instead, he found two pissed old farts carrying on about football, a drooping plant in dire need of watering, and a meaty police officer eyeballing him.
His stomach dropped with a sudden, horrifying realization that he was way out of his league. He hadn’t expected the intimidation factor to be so high. Certainly hadn’t planned on his traitorous confidence ditching him, switching sides, and running offense for Zoe.
“You don’t want to go out with me?” The fireworks they’d conjured together in the Dreaming had been beyond explosive. Pretty unlikely she’d forget that.
The color drained from her face. Zoe paused, as if to measure her words before spewing them all over him. “Your kind and mine don’t mix. I’m a scientist. You’re a,” she waved her hand in a wild, quivering motion, “rock star. You and I are oil and water, north and south, milk and pickles. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to go. I have to be up early for work.” Zoe rose. The legs of her chair sputtered loudly across the scuffed wood floor as she pushed it under the table.
Tossing another glance about, he stood up and stepped around to her side. He slid his palms up the backs of her arms. The warmth from her closeness fucked his concentration to hell. “Some people out there want to see you hurt. Or worse. Can we at least exchange numbers in case something happens?” He hated the desperation heating his words, but if the Fyres got hold of her … especially Scarlet …
Dewy droplets of perspiration dotted her flushed skin. “I’m sorry, Gavin. I—I just can’t.”
Shit. What had he done? “But—”
“Thanks for the drink.” She downed the rest of it in two hurried gulps and set the empty glass on the table. Halfway to the door, she paused and looked at him over her shoulder, blond locks framing her beautiful face, eyes pleading. “Please don’t follow me.”
Conversation in The Whale & Whistle ground to a halt as everyone in the place—including the very interested policeman—watched Zoe walk out of Gavin’s life as fast as she’d breezed in.
He dropped his arse into her still-warm chair and rubbed his spiky hair.
Convincing his dream girl that she needed him in reality was going to be a hell of a lot harder than he’d expected.
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