Sea Of Dreams
Just when Brooke Fisher thought she had a handle on her anxiety, strange things start to happen. In addition to her hair turning green, she has had nothing but cold showers and iced coffee for weeks. When the man starring in her nightmares walks into her reality, she struggles to make sense of her undeniable attraction to him.
The beautiful woman Will Engel has met is complicated in a way that speaks to him. As he helps her unravel the clues in a mysterious journal, he finds that their pasts are intertwined in a way that defies all logic. As an illusionist, he struggles to make sense of the magick that surrounds him.
The threat of the Shadowman from Brooke's dreams grows stronger, and their journey takes them to a magical land that parallels their own. What they find confirms Brooke's destiny as the element of Water, and cements Will's role in a land he never knew existed. The fate of both worlds is now tied to their choices, but the universe has plans of its own.
New Age Magick. Mystical & Paranormal Creatures. Empowered Heroines and Supportive Heroes. With the addition of an HEA, this series has it all! Click to start your reader library today!
The complete series:
Prequel: Twist of Fate (Fantasy lead in to the series)
Novelette: The Jinni's Wish (Fantasy Short)
Book One: Sea of Dreams
Book Two: Winds of Change
Book Three: Playing with Fire
Book Four: Heaven on Earth
Release date: November 2, 2020
Publisher: Saray Books LLC
Print pages: 349
Content advisory: Adult content
* BingeBooks earns revenue from qualifying purchases as an Amazon Associate as well as from other retail partners.
Sea Of Dreams
The dusk was alive with the soft rustle and chirps of faceless creatures heralding the night. Brooke moved toward the banister, shivering against the damp chill that seeped through the gauze-like material of her gown. She barely registered the tickle of bright green fabric across the tops of her bare feet as she stepped forward on the balcony.
He was in the yard below watching her, and it pulled on her awareness. Her eyes searched the darkness to find him. She knew he was there, knew he had come for her, and her heart fluttered nervously in anticipation of seeing him again.
He was difficult to see, even after her eyes adjusted to the dark. His black silhouette was framed by the ghostly rows of pale, white birch trees that grew along her property’s edge. He wore thick shadows like a shroud, and only when he took a step forward, was she able to distinguish his features.
The man lifted his face. As the gaze from his glowing eyes met hers, she felt as though she would drown in their crystalline depths. Brooke’s heart raced as he lifted his hand toward her beckoning, and she raised her arm in response.
The man stood motionless for a moment. Then, without a sound, he curled his fingers toward the center of his hand and released a spark of dark blue fire.
At first, there was shock. It wasn’t the man she expected, the one that had captured her heart. Panic pushed the breath from her lungs. Her chest tightened as though gripped in a vise. She stood above him, paralyzed, and powerless to look anywhere but the hollow, dead eyes of her destiny.
She allowed the inevitable. There was no other choice.
Brooke awoke with a gasp, her heart fluttered against her ribs as she gulped in breaths to fill her screaming lungs. Her eyes darted around the room as she allowed her mind to catch up and recognize her surroundings. It was okay. She was safe at home.
Keyed up from the reoccurring dream, she flopped back down and counted her breaths, slowing her pulse like her therapist had taught her. She repeated the mantra, learned when the horror of her parents’ death tore through her young mind. Sleep didn’t always offer an escape. Years ago, she had learned it sometimes brought something worse. She had spent well over two decades running from it – from him.
She chanted softly, willing the words with each deep breath to cover her in a blanket of tranquility. I find peace, love, and happiness in myself and those around me. I find peace, love, and happiness in myself and those around me.
The sound of her cell phone playing California Girls by The Beach Boys jolted her. She blindly felt around the covers for it, smiling softly at her choice in ringtones. Her brother, James, never understood her fascination with the American rock band from the ’60s, especially since they grew up in Britain in the ‘90s. She enjoyed pointing out he had no right to talk since he knew the words to every song by the Steve Miller Band. His tone-deaf rendition of Abracadabra was the worst.
The boys started singing about the Midwest farmer’s daughters when she found the phone under the pillow next to her. She slid her hand beneath, trying her hardest not to disturb the pile of fluff that rested on top. With great skill, she simultaneously nabbed her phone and hit snooze.
Misty looked up with sleep-filled eyes and cried out before plopping her head back down.
“So sorry to disturb you, love,” Brooke murmured softly as she scratched behind the cat’s ears. She felt the tension from the dream slip away with Misty’s vibrating purr. Just a few minutes more and she could get ready for the day.
Brooke had used her dreams when she was younger as an escape from her fears and was kept safe under the watchful eyes of the motherly figure her mind had conjured. Although there was an ominous presence in those dreams as well, it never approached her when the woman was around.
The dreams became a way to avoid life in general as she got older. The woman’s presence faded, and a young man filled Brooke’s adolescence with adventure. He was full of life and mischief and could get Brooke to try things she would never have done otherwise.
The nightmares came later, at a time when she was vulnerable, and the young man no longer shared her dreams. Evil sliced into her safe place like a knife and affected her reality. The gaping hole it left in her soul bled panic. Brooke realized her obsession had taken over her life when she started searching in every used bookstore for the journal that the dark presence in her dreams insisted she had.
As she lay relaxing, fingers absently rubbing Misty’s soft fur, she saw them again in her mind...the eyes. They were a brilliant blue, the color of the sea on a cloudless day, and just as fathomless. In her dreams, they peered into her soul, unlocking her every weakness.
Blurred like a distant memory, the man’s features faded like smoke. But his eyes were something she couldn’t forget, even in the clarifying light of day. Their glowing image frightened, yet intrigued her, and as crazy as it seemed, she had always felt as if she were dreaming of two different men. But two different men with the same features? The same eyes? Through therapy, she found comfort in the understanding that dreams were a way for the mind to sort things out. She had stopped trying to rationalize them long ago.
Brooke forced herself into her morning routine. It was the best way for her to tamp down her stress. Still somewhat groggy from sleep, she stumbled up the hall, past the room with her diving equipment, and into the bathroom. The blinding florescent shocked her eyes as she leaned against the sink to pull her lonesome toothbrush from its stand. A quick glance in the mirror turned into a startled and longer second look. “Must be tired,” she said, rubbing her eyes. “Why does my hair… Well, that’s brilliant! Green again!”
Several long blinks didn’t change a thing. Sure enough, her long blonde hair, which had just been brightened, included strands with a bright green tinge to them. Some were even what she would consider turquoise blue.
Staring at her reflection, she hoped she was still dreaming. Another blink… Nope, not dreaming. “Fat lot of good it did me to have Tara treat my hair out of a box,” she muttered. “This is the worst it’s ever been.”
She shook her head, unable to stop the partial smile that crept across her face as she resigned herself to her fate. Was it odd she found humor in the fact that not only did she swim for a living, but now she looked the part? She groaned as she ran her fingers through her colored tresses. “Looks like seaweed. What a lovely way to start the day.”
As she dithered over how to wear her hair in a way that would attract the least attention, the doorbell rang followed by four short knocks.
“Boy, you’re in for it,” she laughed to prevent herself from crying and ran to the door to let Tara in.
“Come on, Brooke, these bags are heavy,” Tara blurted out as Brooke swung open the door. She walked right past Brooke without a glance, putting the bags down in the kitchen with a dramatic huff, which was entirely out of character for her even-tempered friend.
Brooke followed Tara into the kitchen and stood quietly in the doorway as her friend unloaded the groceries. A pent-up fury was released that, in Brooke’s observation, must have been brewing for some time.
“He is unbelievable!” Tara slammed the cereal box down on the counter as she vented. “He says I’m smothering him, and he needs time to think. I haven’t seen him in three weeks! How can I possibly smother someone I never see! We don’t go out, never spend time together, and when he comes over, he’s gone within an hour! And the sex! Don’t even get me started on the… Oh Lord, Brooke…what the hell happened to your hair?”
Arms crossed as she leaned on the doorjamb, she responded with a smirk. “I wondered if you were going to notice. I think you and a box of color is what happened to my hair.”
Brooke watched with a sinking heart as Tara closed her eyes and leaned her head back. She realized her attempt to make light of the situation hadn’t worked when Tara looked up at the ceiling, blinked her eyes as though there was an eyelash in one, and then totally lost it. Glistening tears turned into soft crying, and after another look at her hair, morphed into uncontrollable sobs. When Tara flopped down on the kitchen floor, leaning her back against the cupboard doors, Brooke moved quickly to sit by her side.
“Come on, Tara, it really isn’t bad. I kind of like it,” Brooke joked. “I have the rock star thing going on, and you know how I love everything ’80s.” Tara stopped sobbing long enough to take another look at Brooke’s hair and proceeded to cry even harder. “Well, I know you aren’t that upset about my hair, so it has to be Greg. What has he botched up now?”
Tara took a deep, shuttering breath, pausing slightly before she found her voice. “I think it’s over,” she said simply. “I’m not sure if I’m sad because I’ll miss him, or sad because I’ve spent the past year of my life with a man I won’t miss.”
Brooke put her arm around her friend, rubbing the top of Tara’s back, and the sobs kept coming. “Honestly, love, he was a bit of a wanker,” Brooke said softly. “I never really liked Greg anyway.”
Tara’s slender shoulders shook, slightly at first then with a steadier rhythm, and Brooke knew her friend was laughing before she heard it. Tara looked up, smiling through her tears, “You know, you’re right, and I don’t think I ever did either.” Brooke watched as Tara tipped her head, a crinkle between her eyebrows, as she questioned her with a grin, “A wanker is a bad thing, right?” They took one look at each other and burst out into simultaneous, tear-soaked laughter. When the giggles faded, they paused for a few minutes in contented silence.
Tara took a deep breath, picked herself up off the floor, and pulled Brooke up by the hands. “Now, what are we going to do with that hair Miss Lauper?”
Brooke laughed merrily as she ran back to the bathroom, yelling over her shoulder, “Oh no, you’re not touching it again!”
While she didn’t normally shower before going to work at the pool, Brooke wanted to see if she could get some of the green to wash out or at the very least to fade a bit. As she scrubbed, Brooke prayed the clarifying shampoo would work a minor miracle. Being a part-time swim instructor was hell on her hair. It was too bad Mr. McGregor couldn’t hire her full-time at the bookstore.
Brooke got out of the shower and wrapped her head in a towel before putting in her contacts. Since her eyesight was perfect, she didn’t need them to see well but used them more to avoid the stares. The contacts changed the natural color of her eyes, one emerald green, and the other sky blue, to a beautiful turquoise for both. Tara was the only one who had ever seen Brooke without contacts, and she never commented on the two-tone oddity that topped Brooke’s list of insecurities. It was one of many reasons they became such fast friends.
Brooke joined Tara in the kitchen, who seemed more at ease after her vent session. She was putting away the last of the groceries and talking to the cat. Misty was feigning disinterest in what was brought but clearly curious to see what was happening. Brooke couldn’t help but laugh at her antics as Tara caught her out of the corner of her eye, wriggling her way into one of the paper bags and noisily turning herself around to peek out like a lion in a cave.
“You better get your fluffy butt off your mom’s English muffins, or there’ll be the devil to pay,” Tara berated the cat with a laugh over her shoulder as she put the milk in the fridge.
Misty proceeded to do what any other cat would do under the circumstances. She stayed exactly where she was, shifting slightly to adjust her comfort level, and prepared to stay for the long haul.
Tara shook her head, her mouth wide with disbelief and mirth. “Can you believe her?” Brooke grinned as her friend turned to address Misty. “I see how it is! Well, I’ll show you, stinker. I have a secret weapon!”
Grabbing a can of tuna out of the cupboard, she pushed down on the electric opener. That was all Misty needed to decide she had enough of the bag, and she was wasting away to nothing from her intense and uncontrollable hunger.
“You’re nothing, if not predictable,” Tara chuckled as she spooned the treat into Misty’s bowl and scooped up the last of the groceries.
Tara had cooked breakfast while Brooke was in the shower, evidenced by the food she carried out to the table. She didn’t have the heart to remind Tara that she hardly ate first thing in the morning. Brooke decided to force something down since Tara had gone through the trouble.
Lifting an English muffin and opening it on the small plate in front of her, Brooke’s first thought was that it was slightly overdone. She glanced up at Tara, whose wide smile dimpled her face. That was all Brooke needed to see to finish creating her sandwich with a rubbery egg and a cold cheese slice.
“Tara, why don’t you just move in here with me for the time being, until Greg moves out, and you can get yourself settled? I have plenty of space, and you’d only have to share your room with Misty.” Brooke crunched into her sandwich before adding, “Oh, and a bit of my diving equipment.”
She scrunched her face at the thought of having to straighten the room quicker than she intended, or perhaps because the inedible breakfast sandwich was chipping her teeth.
“I wouldn’t want to impose and…”
“It is not imposing. I’d love it if you were here!” Brooke reached over and squeezed Tara’s hand, glad to have an excuse to put down her sandwich. “You’re always a big help to me, and I’d adore the company. Besides, you’re practically living here anyway since you’ve been doing my shopping.”
“I don’t mind. It keeps me busy while I’m looking for a job,” Tara said with a smile. “Besides, if I didn’t shop for you, you’d never have any groceries!”
“Just so,” Brooke agreed with a nod. “Please think about it. I’d really like to help you out.”
Tara seemed to mull it over as she nibbled on her muffin, answering after a few seconds with a big smile. “Ok, I’ll stay for a few weeks under one condition. You let me cook for you a couple of times a week!”
Brooke agreed, knowing full well she would do whatever it took to deter her from cooking. As great as Tara was at everything else, she was a horrible cook!
“I’m going to run home and pack a bag. I can meet you here later tonight.”
“Sounds perfect.” Brooke put her plate in the sink and gave Misty a scratch behind the ears. “Spare key is under the mat, so you can let yourself in. I should be home around eight or so.” Brooke walked back toward the living room, removing the towel from her head and shaking her hair loose.
“I see the green and blue didn’t come out,” Tara said as she wrinkled her nose. “I feel horrible about messing up your hair.”
“No worries. It’ll grow on me,” Brooke joked as she put on her jacket. “There are all kinds of people that pay top dollar for this kind of look. Besides, I’m in the water half the time anyway. I bet no one will even notice.”
Wisps of smoke filled the stage. It pooled on the floor as the orchestra set the mood by playing deep, haunting strains of music to die by. The lights were hazy, creating shadows in the corners of the room. It supported the illusion the walls didn’t exist, and the space was somehow connected to infinite darkness. The whispers of light and dark crept over the frozen faces of mystical creatures carved into the pillars edging the stage, giving them life and movement.
The audience collectively held its breath, as it had off and on for nearly two hours. They were nervous and edgy in their dark surroundings. Compelled to concentrate on a single point of light in the room, the contagious energy quickly gave way to excitement as the man in black walked back on stage.
His lean build was visible through the fit of his tee-shirt, and while he was not heavily muscled, there was no denying his strength. He moved across the stage with a glide in his step, almost as though he were performing on ice. The speed and grace in which he moved was magical, like the illusions he performed.
“And now for my last trick, ladies and gentlemen, I will cut my lovely assistant, Trina, in half!” Will Engel crossed over to center stage, announcing his intentions with a dramatic wave of his arm and a brilliant smile. “After which, we will put her back together…if everything goes as planned,” he finished with a wink.
Trina was already getting into position in the coffin-like box on stage, moving quickly for someone in four-inch heels and a sequined bathing suit.
Once his assistant was in place and the lid was secure, he lowered the gleaming saw from the ceiling and lined it up with the top of the container, banging on the large round blade with a hammer for dramatic effect. He touched his finger to the blade, quickly pulling it back as though he had nicked himself.
“I should probably mention this is the first time we’ve done this trick,” he muttered softly, yet his voice was heard easily enough by the transfixed crowd.
He took the feather boa Trina dropped by the side of the box and rubbed it along the blade’s edge, demonstrating in one swipe what the sharpened steel could do. With a wave of his hand, he let the severed boa flutter to the floor.
The audience stared with greedy anticipation as he fired up the saw. The jagged disk spun faster until the edge was all but a blur. As the blade reached the top of the box, splinters flew forward, pulling screams from some young ladies in the front row as they were surprised with small chunks of wood.
Will guided the blade lower still, until it paused, seemingly stuck on the body of the assistant inside. Her screams went from terror to agony.
The shocked audience was mesmerized as he pushed hard on the spinning blade with such force that Trina’s head and feet rose simultaneously. Her screams stopped abruptly as the blade went straight through the center of the box.
Blood sprayed out from the crack, horrifying the ladies in the front row. They stared, wide-eyed, hands covering their mouths and muffling their shrieks.
Trina was silent, blood dripping from her mouth and eyes open in a vacant stare. With a tearing wrench, Will split the box open, pushed the parts of the box apart at the cut, and sent them to opposite sides of the stage. Trina’s soft hair flapped quietly as the box half with her head in it rolled to the left-wing.
Collectively holding their breath, the crowd watched as stagehands brought the box pieces back to the center of the stage. They pushed them together while Will shook open a red piece of silk the size of a large tablecloth. Handing the fabric to one of the stagehands, he slid on top of the reconstructed box and crossed his arms over his chest. With a nod of his head, Will directed his helper to cover him completely, draping the fabric around his prone body and down the sides of the box.
Will lie still for a moment, his trim, muscular frame shrouded by the soft fabric, then slowly moved beneath the silk as though he were propping himself up on his side. Within seconds, the fabric was torn away by one of the stagehands, revealing the beautiful Trina, in her shiny silver bathing suit, posing on her side in Will’s place.
The crowd began to clap as she was helped down. With a swipe of her hand, she released the sides of the box which revealed the magician who had taken her place inside.
Will climbed from the cramped space, and the audience went wild, the roar of the applause deafening as he straightened then took his bow. He winked and waved with a two-fingered salute to the ladies in the front row before turning to Trina. He gestured his arm toward her, indicating to the crowd that they should clap for her as well. As the curtain came down, he gave one last wink to the front-row ladies for good measure. It never hurt to flirt with the audience.
Trina kicked off her heels and put her fingers through the straps to carry them toward the dressing rooms. As she rubbed her back with her other hand, it was apparent to Will that she was tired and probably needed the upcoming break too.
“It’s a good thing this was our last show. I’m not sure how much longer I’m going to be able to fit in that box with a baby coming!”
“Not to mention your outfit won’t look so hot with a big old belly,” Will laughed as she gave him a good-natured swat on the arm.
“I’ll look awesome in this outfit with my belly out to here!” She gestured a foot past her slightly rounded waist with a grin.
“You certainly will, gorgeous! You’re going to be the hottest mother-to-be on the Vegas Strip,” Will bantered with a lift of his eyebrows and a dimpled grin.
She laughed, calling his bluff. “You’re always full of shit! And don’t you dare give me that same look you just gave those chicks in the front row, ‘cause it won’t work on me! You’re such a horrible flirt!”
He laughed heartily. She always knew how to put him in his place. “I was taking one for the team, you know. A bit of audience interaction helps with ticket sales.”
“Oh, is that what you’re calling it now? Audience interaction? Looks like a bit of fishing for company, if you ask me.”
“Trina, we’ve known each other way too long! With you around, I can’t get away with anything, which is exactly why I stopped fishing long ago. But that doesn’t mean I can’t look at the aquarium.”
She smiled and gave him a large wet smack, leaving a smear of her fire engine red lipstick on his stubbled cheek. He groaned as he used his sleeve to wipe the greasy makeup from his face. She nabbed her robe from a nearby peg before they went upstairs to change.
Will followed Trina up to the tiny dressing room which adjoined his. The place wasn’t so bad, but he wanted to get to the point where he wasn’t living week-to-week and having to convince the larger venues to take on his show. Hell, he wouldn’t mind being able to convince his parents either. They didn’t agree with his choice of careers any more than some of the casinos did.
Now that he was creeping up on thirty and a successful career in magic was less obtainable in their eyes, his parents had started pressuring him again to take over the family business. He knew his dad wanted to ease into retirement, and they would be happier with him earning a more responsible income. But Will didn’t believe he was built for corporate life.
He realized how it looked to them, especially in the early years when he had lived entirely off the trust fund his grandfather left him. His grandfather, Henry, believed with hard work and dedication anything was possible which was what inspired him to work his way through law school and start his firm all those years ago. He also believed that Will, his only grandson, was going to follow in his footsteps. In a way he had, just not the way his grandfather had envisioned.
Grandpa Henry inspired him to follow his own dreams, and he honored his memory by dedicating himself completely to his craft and becoming the best illusionist he could. He had stopped tapping into the trust fund years ago, living simply from the income he earned with his magic shows. Because he paid his own way, he hoped his parents would have one less thing to hang over his head.
It was easy for him to live on the frugal side – he caught his meals at the casinos or ate at Trina’s – and with his schedule, there never was enough time to go out anyway. Rent was typically covered by the venue where he was performing, and his belongings were limited to what he could fit in a set of luggage. It was just one more reason in a long list not to get involved with anyone. He couldn’t grow a set of roots even if he were a tree.
As much as Will didn’t want to take a sabbatical, he didn’t really have much of a choice, since soon Trina would look like she swallowed a basketball. Besides, he was tired, and a vacation was looking pretty good.
Trina assured him she would be ready to get back to work by the end of the year which gave Will a little less than eight months to decide on his future. His parents wanted him to buckle down and earn a serious living. Will felt if he committed to researching and developing new material for the show he could break into the mainstream. While his parents held firm to the belief that he was too old to be wasting time chasing dreams of becoming the next hot act, he knew the only difference between him and anyone who was a success was that he hadn’t been seen by the right people - or at least not yet.
To keep the family peace and to ensure that he had somewhere to stay during his vacation, Will made an arrangement with his folks that they would get their answer after his break. That seemed to appease them enough to agree to give him access to their time-share.
Will snatched his worn leather coat from the back of his dressing room door and slid it on.
“Hey, have you seen my keys?” He scanned the room, half-heartedly lifting a few things out of the way.
Trina was sitting at the vanity in her room, removing the stage make-up from her face. She answered him through the open door that adjoined their rooms.
“Sorry, no. Did you check the jeans you had on earlier? Tony always does that - totally drives me crazy on laundry day!”
He swept up the jeans laying on the floor of his dressing room and patted them down, finding a stick of gum, fifty cents, and a book of matches, but still no keys.
“Simply amazing,” he muttered to himself, “I can make shit disappear like nobody’s business, but when I need to find something, it’s a different story!”
Trina giggled, “That’s because you’re such a slob!”
“Who asked you anyway? And I’m not a slob, I’m domestically challenged!”
Trina chuckled, “Yeah, you and Tony both. Seems to be an epidemic for people with a Y chromosome. So, where did you end up deciding to go on your vacation? Somewhere with sandy beaches and teeny bikinis?”
Will smiled at the thought. “Not a hundred percent sure yet. Really just thinking about getting away and doing some research. Need to add some new tricks to the show. I’m not planning on it being much of what you would consider a vacation.”
“Well, if it were me, I would go somewhere tropical with blue ocean as far as the eye could see. You can do research pretty much anywhere! And I’m not planning on my time off being much of a vacation either,” Trina said with a laugh.
“Yeah, better you than me,” he responded with a smirk as he continued to rummage for his keys. “My folks have a time-share in Florida, so I’ll probably end up there. Might give me the opportunity to go out to the streets and see if some of the newer stuff will work up close and personal. I need to go home also. You know – to touch base.”
“That sounds great. Your parents would love to see you! You’ll have to let them know I send my love.”
He tried not to let the hesitation he felt sound in his voice. “I do every time I talk to them.” He knew his mom would be excited to see him, but he wasn’t quite sure he would leave without a lecture from his dad. Trina adored his parents, and at one time, they had high hopes for her becoming more than a work partner to him. It turned out to be another disappointment in a long line of disappointments for them.
“Aha!” he exclaimed as he found his keys under a towel on his changing table. He lifted his duffel bag, tossed the balance of his belongings in it, and walked through the door into Trina’s dressing room. He leaned over to give her a quick kiss on the cheek she had just wiped clean and wished her luck.
“Be sure to call if you need anything and text to let me know how you’re doing.”
Trina looked up with a smile, “I’ll keep you posted. And Will, try to relax while you’re off. It is supposed to be a vacation, you know… Time to chill.”
“Yeah, yeah, I get it. I’ll see what I can do,” he answered with a wink, smile, and his two-fingered salute, leaving Trina grinning and shaking her head.
He stepped into the hallway, smiling and interacting with the stagehands on his way to the backstage door. They were breaking the set down, preparing for the next show, and he wondered if he would see them again. He hoped he would. They were a great group of people, but he had a decision to make, one that could very well change the course of his life. He knew his father, so the stage might be the last place he’d end up when all was said and done.
The Witch’s Brew was by far Brooke’s favorite local coffee shop. After her morning swim classes, she popped in on her way to the book shop. Her latest potion of choice was the pumpkin spice java, topped with a vanilla whip and served with a gingersnap cookie. She had visions of the concoction dancing through her head all morning and instantly relaxed when she walked in the door, and the smell of fresh-brewed coffee hit her full force.
She loved the Brew, with its year-round Halloween décor. She supposed it was because it reminded her of a cool, crisp autumn, which she didn’t get to see much now that she lived in Florida. Even though the area was a great place for someone who liked to scuba dive, she missed the fall.
The Brew also happened to be the only place that served a real English style tea, which brought back fond memories of Devonshire. She didn’t get back home often enough. When she missed her brother, she would pop into the small coffee house, order an entire pot of tea, and ensconce herself in the corner to video chat with him.
Although Brooke was raised in England, her voice didn’t generally hint at her heritage. Since moving to America, her crisp, cultured tones had been quickly replaced with a lazier and less formal American dialect. Hints of her accent came back after talking to James or having a few cocktails. It was also prominent when she was really worked up – she couldn’t help it.
She had about an hour before starting her shift at the bookstore, which wasn’t far from the Witch’s Brew and located just a stone’s throw from her flat. There was just enough time to do a bit of research.
Brooke parked herself at a corner booth and fired up her laptop. There were dive destinations she was researching, and she was anxious to narrow her choice down. She had finally saved enough to book her trip.
Absently, she stirred the coffee she had been cooling. The first sip caused her to scrunch her brow since it wasn’t what she expected at all.
“Damn this coffee is cold as ice,” she muttered to herself. “Really unlike this place.”
She walked back to the counter and asked the barista for a new cup, thinking perhaps the burner had been shut off, and the coffee allowed to cool. The woman apologized for the inconvenience, handed Brooke a new steaming cup, and tossed in a streusel pumpkin muffin at no charge. Brooke thanked her with a smile and walked back to her table, looking forward to munching on the muffin as she researched her trip.
Paying more attention to what was on her laptop than the drink she held in her hand, she absently blew on the liquid to cool it before attempting a swallow. She took a sip and almost spit it out on her laptop. Cold! Ice Cold! She was confused. She knew for a fact she had seen the barista pour steaming coffee into the cup right out of the pot. Yet here she was, with a drink that might as well be frozen.
Baffled, she stood and shook her head. “When life gives you lemons,” she said under her breath as she wandered up to the counter to ask for a cup of ice. There was no way she was asking for another cup of hot coffee at this point. She paid no attention to the strange look on the barista’s face, merely thanked her and pulled a straw and lid from the basket on the self-serve counter.
Back at the table, she poured her coffee over the ice, put on the lid, and popped in the straw. Picking up where she left off on the travel site for Hawaii, she gave a swish to the drink in her cup.
Out of the corner of her eye, she noticed it was getting darker. A glance outside told her a storm was coming, confirmed by the black clouds rolling in off the coast. They looked like laundry tumbling in a dryer. She was glad she remembered her umbrella, although she didn’t have far to go. While mulling over the best dive sites in Maui, she took her first sip of drink number three.
The warmth of the coffee that came through the straw shocked her tongue, a tongue that proceeded to blat out a very colorful expression as she lowered the cup to the table. The barista glanced over at Brooke. Confusion wrinkled her brows as she wiped the counter and shook her head. Brooke was stunned as she watched the steam rise through the straw-like a tiny chimney.
She was aware of the fear and irritation creeping into her mind, increasing her pulse. The other mishaps from the week bled into that moment, affecting her mood. Her hair was tolerable, she accepted that, and she could even accept her new leather jacket being dowsed last week by the sprinkler system in the hallway outside her flat. Accidents happened. But cold showers for the last couple of days, and now coffee that changed from hot to cold for no reason?
Much as she tried to make light of the situation in her mind, she couldn’t. She wanted to believe they were all coincidences, but she didn’t.
Inevitably, her overactive imagination started making connections between what was happening and the dreams she’d been having. Her worries splintered her mind, fracturing the thin wall she had built years ago to separate dreams from reality. What if the frequent nightmares and the strange things happening to her were related? What if they were real?
The fear that she would once again become obsessed took root. Panic threatened to overwhelm her, and her heart fluttered in her chest like a bird in a cage. She decided immediately and without question that she had to leave. It wasn’t a thought as much as it was an overwhelming urge. While she packed her laptop, her managed irritation quickly changed to uncontrolled edginess when she felt the temperature in the room drop. A thick blanket of menace covered the typically quaint atmosphere.
Her hands shook, and a chill crept up her spine as she picked up the coffee, which only moments before had been steaming, and watched in confusion and fear as it froze solid. Tears brimmed in her eyes as she looked around the room, her mind frantically trying to make sense of what was happening. In a split second, she processed that she was the only person seeing what she was seeing. Quickly gathering her things, she moved toward the door. She was on the verge of a major panic attack or delusional meltdown; they were the only explanations that made sense.
As she walked out, every patron she hurried past was in their own world, chatting to friends, texting on phones, and surfing the web. None of them gave the impression they heard or felt anything strange.
It must be me. These sleepless nights are taking their toll. That must be it. Or is it caffeine deprivation? Lord, maybe I do need to make an appointment with Dr. Matthews.
She stepped onto Main Street, pushed the button of her umbrella, and opened it with a whoosh against the darkened skies. With each step, she repeated her mantra, taking deep cleansing breaths as she willed the words to slow her racing heart.
Even though the weather was less than stellar, overcast and drizzly in the sunshine state, she didn’t mind the short walk to her second job, especially since she knew the fresh air would help calm her nerves. By the time she rounded the corner, she was well on her way to rationalizing the strange things that were happening to her.
She had always had a wild imagination, anyone who read as incessantly as she did would. And she knew sleep deprivation took its toll on people in all sorts of bizarre ways. She made a conscious decision to treat what was happening to her like a puzzle she needed to work through – logically and methodically. That decision calmed her more effectively than any drug could. She had found it was control, or at the very least having a plan, that allowed her to squelch her panic when it reared its ugly head.
The wind picked up, pulling and tugging at the edges of the umbrella during her brief walk. Everything was secured in her backpack, so she was able to hang on to it with both hands, keeping herself tucked up under and away from the increasingly steady drizzle.
She was feeling more herself the further away she got from the coffee shop and the closer she got to her destination. To keep her mind occupied, she ran through a mental list of things she needed to get done before the day was through.
The temperature dropped again noticeably. A major storm was brewing, and she pulled up the collar on her fleece jacket to keep the wind from blowing down her neck. The streets were void of people, all of whom had likely gone inside to weather the storm. Storms were common this time of year, typically blowing in and out within a thirty-minute window. But this one felt more ominous.
As she walked, a tingling started on the back of her neck that graduated to a creeping, spider-like sensation, moving its way down her spine. Not again, she thought to herself, as she prepared for the next wave of panic and dread to fill her body.
Even with her earlier thoughts of control, she couldn’t shake the feeling she had. It reverberated in her back, crept around her sides, and tangled in her stomach in a quivering mass of nerves. Brooke described it to her therapist once as the “wet blanket,” a suffocating feeling of dread that triggered a full-blown panic attack. In addition to this phenomenon, she had the unmistakable feeling of being watched. But when she looked up the street and down the alleyways, there was no one to be seen.
She breathed through it, once again telling herself it was all in her mind. Picking up the pace, her hurried footsteps sounded on the pavement like the steady beat of a drum. She made it to the Book Nook, just in time for the clouds to let loose, and shut the door firmly behind her, taking a moment to breathe deeply. Brooke knew she needed to get a handle on her nerves. The dream the night before must have affected her more than she realized.
The tall dark figure had been following the beautiful woman with the green hair and bewitching eyes. He had been close enough to touch her, close enough to smell the perfume on her skin, to see the soft curve of her neck, and it pleased him. He had made much progress and was gaining more control each day. Soon, he would be able to take back what belonged to him, take back the item that would find its way to her. Her ignorance would be her undoing.
He watched her with greedy eyes from his vantage point. She ducked into a shop and spoke to a young lady inside. He could see the power that surrounded her, a bright blue and green aura, and sensed he did not have much time before she understood the changes she was undergoing.
She was much more perceptive than he had counted on and had missed seeing his presence by mere seconds as he followed her from the café. While he had been quick, hiding in the alleyways or fading into the shadows, he wasn’t quick enough. She seemed to know he was there and that she was being followed.
The thought excited him, this game of cat and mouse as it were. But at the same time, he was fearful. She was already showing signs of her abilities, which might prove to be more of a challenge than he anticipated.
With her growing powers and his talisman nearby, he knew he was running out of time. The journal had not yet made its way to her, but it would happen soon. He felt the book’s waves of energy calling like a siren’s song, and he ached to answer it himself.
As much as it pained him, he refrained from reaching toward the power the book expelled - afraid that if he grasped it, it might disappear again. He was especially fearful of reaching for it in his current fractured state. He knew she was his key to getting it back, to make himself whole. His patience would soon be rewarded.
As he watched her through the window of the store, he considered for a moment what he might do with her once the book was in his possession and the way was unbound. She had the potential to be an immensely powerful sorceress, and there could be many benefits to converting her. He allowed himself to consider all the possibilities, smiling as he made his plans to capture her… and the journal.
Brooke tucked her backpack into the employee area and looked longingly at the half-full coffee pot that was there. The coffee debacle at the Brew was still fresh in her mind, and after careful consideration, she decided it wasn’t worth the attempt. Normally, she loved the fact that The Book Nook was a small, family-owned store, specializing in antique books and writings. But Alfred McGregor, the store’s owner, was rarely in, which normally suited her fine, but tonight had her frazzled. She wasn’t looking forward to the closing shift alone.
She threw some change into the vending machine instead, pushing for a diet soda and hoping it would at least be cold. She knew the boss didn’t like drinks out by the books, but she was thirsty and really needed some caffeine - her nerves were shot. After a quick reasoning session with herself, she went out to the front counter, greeting Nita who was finishing up her shift.
After commenting that she liked Brooke’s hair, Nita looked at her with concern. “Are you alright? You look a bit pale.”
Brooke shook her head and put on a smile. “I’m fine, Nita, thanks. Just edgy today. Didn’t sleep well last night. So, what’s pending?”
Nita accepted Brooke’s explanation and filled her in on the orders she had taken, which didn’t take long as they hadn’t been terribly busy. Brooke explained why her hair was a bit on the funky side, and they both had a good laugh.
“I actually like it. I think it’s adorable the kids thought you would sprout a mermaid tail.”
“Wouldn’t that be a sight,” Brooke chuckled as Nita pulled her purse out from under the counter.
“I’d better go. Looks like it’s getting really nasty out there.”
“It is, so be careful driving home. Maybe give me a double-ring when you get in, just so I know you’re okay?”
“Sure will. Two rings then hang-up like usual,” Nita agreed. She waved at Brooke while simultaneously pushing her way out the front door and opening her bright yellow umbrella against the storm. It looked like a small bit of sunshine against the darkened skies. Since she was still edgy from her earlier walk to work, Brooke stood in the front window and kept an eye on her co-worker until she made it to her car and drove off.
The building was old, weathered like most buildings in coastal towns. The creaks and groans always left her a bit on the uneasy side. The storefront was quiet, and Brooke reached under the counter to turn on the radio as she often did when alone. The oldies station played songs that reminded her of her parents. Then she started on the stack of new arrivals Nita had been working on when she first arrived.
Most of the books she needed to price were on the Top Ten Bestsellers list. She flipped a few of them over, quickly skimming the back to see if they were something she’d be interested in reading. The latest novel by a hot new author caught her eye, and she set it aside to take home.
The books on the bottom of the stack were older, which wasn’t surprising, since the store specialized in hard-to-find, unique, and used books. Interested in seeing what Alfred found this time, she slid the paperbacks from the top to get a better look. She was so absorbed in peeking through the stack, she hadn’t noticed the bell on the door go off until the person who had come through it was standing right in front of her.
A dark shadow crept over the counter toward her, which startled her completely, her arm arching of its own accord from her cringing shoulders. With a small scream and bounce, she knocked the books from the pile she had been working on and watched helplessly as they sprayed outward, scattering haphazardly across the lobby floor.
The dripping figure turned, the hollow clunk of his leather shoes vibrating from the old wooden floor as he took two steps into the lobby and hunched over the books that had fallen.
Completely embarrassed for letting her earlier imaginings get the best of her, Brooke came around the service desk and addressed the stranger before he felt obligated to pick up the mess for her.
She apologized without looking at him, her words sounding more like nervous rambling. The man straightened and turned toward her, the shadows falling from his face. As she lifted her head to thank him, their eyes connected, and in a single heartbeat, the queasy feeling she had shaken earlier returned to the pit of her stomach. It can’t be. He can’t be real!
Her hands shook, and her breathing quickened to match her already racing heart. His eyes…the eyes she had seen in her dreams practically her entire life were staring back at her with an intensity that looked right into her soul – and it crippled her.
Fear clawed at her mind, threatening to tear it to shreds as she stared back into his clear, compelling gaze. Paralyzed, her mind raced to fit all the pieces of the mystery together.
Her terror was all-consuming as though someone pushed a pillow down over her face but still expected her to breathe. She tried to catch her breath, to fill her lungs and slow her heart rate, but she couldn’t calm herself down. The panic was suffocating her.
Her mind instantly made connections that were impossible, that defied all logic, and she was tired of trying to rationalize it away. The part of her that she had squelched all those years came forward – the part that believed in magic – the part that recognized the man standing before her. “It’s you,” she whispered.
She realized with dismay she was starting to lose consciousness, and through the glittering sparkles, she saw the stranger’s hands reach out. When he reached touched her, Brooke did something she had never done before, something her controlling personality would never allow. She blacked out.
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