Darksider Book three in the Reveler series

She has always been his dream...

Chef Serafina Rochan believes her recurring nightmares of pursuit are a symptom of her anxiety about opening her second restaurant. But when the stalker appears in the waking world, she swallows her pride and calls the one man she trusts to go into her dreams, even if it means risking her heart.

When Marshal Harlen Fawkes receives Sera’s call, nothing else matters. Time has not eroded the power of his feelings for her. After years apart, they go Darkside together and cannot resist the longing and desire their connection evokes. The past and present collide, and Sera abandons all reservations to embrace Harlen again, if even for one night.

In order to protect her, Harlen aligns himself with disavowed friends, and in so doing is drawn deeper into the secrets and perils of the dreamwaters. As the tide of darkness rises, Harlen faces his demons…but not without Sera, who fights just as fiercely for the dream of a life together.

Dream dangerously.

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Information

  • Darksider is book three in the Reveler series
  • Release Date: 6/2014

Excerpt from Darksider

CHAPTER ONE

“What did you do now, Harley?"

The flirty, drawling voice was female, so Marshal Harlen Fawkes pivoted and walked backward along the bright hall of the San Diego Chimera headquarters to check who'd spoken. Penny Armstrong.

"You know me, sweetheart"—he grinned and winked at her, and turned back around—"could be any number of things."

The suit had given him away. He only wore it for annual reviews and disciplinary hearings. He'd found his suit crumpled at the bottom of his closet under his gym bag, which was why he was wearing his father's—he'd run by his folks' home last night to borrow it. His pop was six foot three and wide through the shoulders, too, so the fit was okay. There was a good chance the old man wouldn't get it back, at least not in the same condition, a fact which Harlen's canny and ruthless ma had leveraged to get him to agree to a blind date tonight with his nephew Tyler's tennis coach. And why not? He liked tennis.

Harlen checked his watch. Two minutes to go, so he'd timed it perfectly. Would be better if he knew what he was in for. The list of his infractions did go on.

His good mood evaporated when he dragged the door open: a panel had been convened this time. Usually one of the guys gave him a heads up about what to expect, but this time all he'd gotten when he'd fished for info were shrugs.

James Dugan was standing in front of the long table; Allison Bright had already taken a seat; and, hot damn, there was Matthew Bruner, who had his picture on the wall downstairs in the front lobby. He was fiddling with a laptop. Harlen had shaken Bruner's hand once, back in the Army. And there was a fourth person coming up on the laptop screen, streaming in via video conference. No idea who that guy was.

So...bigger trouble than usual.

Best guess? He was probably being disciplined for sneaking a date into that sold-out Rêve concert featuring country music star Johnny Hawkins. Tickets were insane and the dreamscape venue had been a literal walk through country music history. Security had been tight; the president's daughter had been attending, too. Any breach would've been investigated.

Well, they could fire him if they wanted to. He deserved it. With his background in Rêve—four years in the Army's Rêve unit and another three in Chimera—he could get a job at a private company no problem. He could get a job for double the pay. Hell, there'd be a bidding war.

James Dugan approached, hand outstretched. "Harlen."

Harlen had no choice but to take it and fake a smile. "James." He was Mr. Dugan now, promoted a couple levels above him, but as they'd started together back in the day, Harlen wasn't about to Mister him. "Looks like a party."

James frowned. "I advise you to treat today with the utmost seriousness. They're considering pressing charges."

Charges even? Hell.

"If we could get started?" That was Allison Bright, a tough lady of his ma's make and model. She'd never once smiled at him, but she was Ms. all the way. Ma'am on Sundays.

James took his place on the other side of the table. The laptop screen was adjusted and pointed in Harlen's direction. He sat in the chair left in the middle of the room like a prisoner at a parole hearing, put ankle to knee, and scooted down enough to be comfortable.

"Hello," said Ms. Bright, looking at Harlen over her glasses, then glancing down to a sheet of paper, she read, "This meeting is being conducted under Section 13.25 of the Chimera Standards and Code, and is therefore secret and confidential. Discussion of this meeting, the information provided, and the nature of the questions is prohibited and punishable by law."

Just peachy, thought Harlen.

Her eyes flashed back up at him. "Could you please state your name and rank for the record?"

"Harlen Anthony Fawkes. Chimera Special Agent, Marshal, RSL Four."

"Thank you, Marshal Fawkes. We have several questions for you today and we require direct, succinct answers. At the conclusion of our inquiry, you will have an opportunity to ask your own or make a statement."

In most situations, Harlen thought he had a cool head, but during the short silence that followed—he knew to keep his mouth shut—his heart rate ticked up a few beats. His dad's collar felt a little tight, too.

Ms. Bright was reviewing yet another sheet of paper in hand. Woulda been nice if they'd let him prepare as well. He liked being one of the good guys.

She pressed her lips together, then that laser gaze hit him again. "On October twenty-fifth of this year, you submitted a report detailing an unexpected Rêve incursion wherein Chimera Marshal Malcolm Rook and his recruit, Jordan Louise Lane, breached the Dragon's Lair Rêve, run by Madhouse Games, Inc., correct?"

Oh. Harlen sat up. Finally. This had to be about the nightmare creature that had followed Rook and Jordan into the Dragon's Lair. The idea that such a thing existed in the dreamscape bothered Harlen, too, and deeply. In fact, he thought they should temporarily suspend all Rêves until the investigation was complete. Safety was more important than shared dreaming.

"I did, yes. And it's about time—"

Ms. Bright held up her hand to stop him. "Do you care to revise your report?"

Harlen perused the faces staring at him so intently. Matthew Bruner looked like he wanted to spit. "No. It's accurate."

So they didn't believe him. Damn.

Harlen wasn't the only witness, though. The revelers in the Dragon's Lair dream all saw the nightmare creature. Their names, contact information, and statements were included in the report, too.

But even better was Vince Blackman's testimony. The man not only claimed to have seen the same kind of creature but that he'd killed one, as well. Harlen had written up his interview with Blackman last night but had yet to submit it. The panel this morning had gotten in his way.

He inhaled to let them know, but Ms. Bright was already speaking.

"And two days ago, you also logged a meeting held by Marshal Steven Coll in a now defunct flying dream owned by Silver Sunrise, Inc.?"

"I did." Harlen was confused again. Was this about the creature or not? A current of unease buzzed through his system.

"Also present at that meeting was Malcolm Rook, Jordan Lane, and her sister Maisie Lane?"

"Yes," he said.

"When was the last time you had any contact with them?"

A siren went off in Harlen's head, the kind that had sounded during the war when there was incoming fire and casualties. "That meeting was the last time I saw them. Has something happened?"

Coll, who rarely broke a smile, had seemed sweet on the girl Maisie.

"Any contact, Marshal Fawkes?"

"No. I haven't heard from any of them. Are they okay?" Steve Coll and Maisie had rescued a man who'd been kidnapped from the Sunrise flying dream. They were currently on assignment to discover who ordered the kidnapping and why. Chimera feared a mob-like organization gaining traction Darkside, and this might be it.

"Please save your questions for after," she reminded him. "Was there any conversation or communication of any kind beyond what is stated in your reports?"

What the hell is going on?

"No," he said. "It was my understanding that Maisie Lane was going to attempt to reinsert herself into her previous organization. That's it."

"Would you call yourself a friend to any of them?"

Harlen scratched his head and readjusted his position in his chair: both feet on the ground, an elbow on the armrest. "I do consider Steve Coll and Malcolm Rook my friends. I don't know the women very well, but they seemed like good people."

"Do you know where they are at this time?"

"No." He sure as hell was going to find out, though.

"Do you have a means to contact them?"

"I have the same mobile numbers you have." And ideas. But ideas weren't means.

"Did you have any contact or knowledge of Maisie Lane and/or her sister Jordan Lane before they were recruited by Marshals Rook and Coll?"

Umm...? "No."

"Have you ever considered a career in Rêve outside of Chimera?"

His brain stalled for a sec there, too, but he went with the truth. "Yes. For the money." What agent hadn't?

Ms. Bright took off her glasses and dropped them on the folder in front of her. "There will be a Chimera-wide announcement this morning that the four of them are presently at large, unresponsive to our attempts to communicate, and are considered dangerous to the dreamscape."

The women, maybe—Harlen didn't know them well enough—but Malcolm Rook and Steve Coll? "What did they do?"

Pigs were flying, hell was freezing, and shit was hitting the fan everywhere.

Ms. Bright held up her be-quiet hand again. "Their access to the Agora has been rescinded. Should they appear there, they are to be apprehended immediately." The Agora was the aggregation of all commercial Rêves and legal shared dreaming policed by Chimera. "If they should contact you, you are to notify the lead on duty without delay."

"Noted." His heart rate had dropped back to normal. This meeting was a warning. How 'bout that? The panel knew he was friends with them. Maybe they thought he would help Coll and Rook with whatever criminal activity they'd undertaken. He did have an interesting skill set, but he was certain it had been redacted from his Army records as his abilities ran counter to a number of resolutions in the International Pact on Shared Dreaming.

"We'll take your questions now," Ms. Bright said.

Any explanation from them would be worthless, so Harlen had only one thing to ask. Thank you, James Dugan for the tip. "Am I being charged with anything?"

"Not at this time." Another threat. Fine.

He stood and strode to the door, was just yanking it open when the phone in his pocket buzzed. As he crossed the long hallway, he glanced at the screen, but knew not to take the call now.

The number wasn't familiar, but he could guess who it was.

Son of a bitch. They were all going to end up in prison. The pisser was that Harlen had been left out of the fun that got them there.

***

"Hi, Wayne." Sera Rochan had a Bluetooth headset stuck in her ear, a dead cobia fish in her hand, and a two-week-old migraine that had stopped responding to ibuprofen.

She needed sleep. Like, eighteen uninterrupted hours. A quick pee. Then eighteen more.

"Sera-fina!" Wayne liked using her full name, though she'd asked him to call her Sera about a hundred times since she opened Marina de Sel three years ago. "I hoped I'd be getting a call from you."

"You did?" she asked. Her assistant Gil usually handled the accounts, but today he was at the restaurant's second location waiting for the stoves to be delivered. The contractors' banging and sawing had been too much for her head.

She looked around for a place to put the fish, but her desk was covered with papers and blueprints were stretched over the little table. Exhaustion must've been why she'd carried it from the kitchen down to her cubby-hole of an office. Her brain was going to mush. The smell would linger the whole time she was trying to reconcile accounts later.

"Well, I hoped," he said. "Congratulations on the second location."

Ah. Idiot thought she was going to give him the new contract? With this fish stinking up her day? Dreamers irritated the hell out of her.

"I called to invite you to come by," Sera said as cheerfully as the throb in her head would allow. The cobia was excellent motivation.

"I'd love that." His voice had warmed.

She hated flirts, too. "Well, I'd love to cook for you. I've got just the fish." She glanced at it. "Its eyes look like my ninety-year-old grandma's cataracts."

Fresh fish had clear eyes, and nothing about this thing was fresh.

"Serafina! I-I don't know what could've—"

Baloney. "Lunch service just started, and I've got a meeting with the investors in five minutes. If I don't have my fish—and I'm talking beautiful fish—in fifteen minutes, I swear I will fillet you in its place, douse you in sautéed butter and shallots, and serve you up with a sprig of tarragon between your balls. You got me?"

She ended the call. Looked at the fish. Still couldn't find a place to put it down.

She was just so damn tired. The nightmares had to stop, would stop, just as soon as the other location opened. Which was in four months.

It was normal to be a nervous wreck. But, damn, menus and signage and blueprints were supposed to be the fun parts.

She pulled out her Bluetooth earpiece and dropped it on her desk. She climbed the stairs and had to shimmy sideways to get into the kitchen where Michael, her sous chef, was already at the grill and Natalia, a line cook, was just grabbing some mussels from the walk-in.

Handing the cobia to Natalia, she said, "Prep this for Wayne, will you? He'll be stopping by shortly."

Natalia smiled. "With pleasure."

After washing her hands, Sera stepped into Natalia's empty spot for a little therapy. Taking a chef's knife from the rack, she rocked the blade back and forth, precise and clean; the rhythm of the cuts and symmetry of the sprigs soothed the pounding in her head. As executive chef, she didn't have to do the chopping, but technical work helped keep the visceral textures and smells of her ingredients bright in her mind.

She loved food. She loved feeding people and making them happy. Cooking was a simple and pure calling; it was that pesky ambition that was driving her crazy.

Two locations? When was she ever going to cook again?

Except—a glitter of happiness tingled in her heart like champagne on the tongue—two locations!

Natalia returned. "Umm...?" Seemed like she wanted her station back.

Sera surrendered the spot and knife, smiled at the little pile of brunoised leeks. Some days she wanted to go back to working on the line, but then she would also have to surrender dictating what went on the menu. Tough call, but she'd take the menu, thank you very much.

"Chef!"

Sera looked over at Michael.

He cocked his head toward the dining room. "They're here."

That would be Antonio and Octavio Adria. Once upon a time, they were "the money," now they were her partners in crime. The restaurant business was not a sound investment; it was a passion, a madness, a calling.

Her apron came off, she straightened her skirt, and she walked out into the dining room—three quarters full for Friday lunch. Tonight there'd be a line out the door.

Her partners were at the front of the house—Becca hadn't seated them yet. The sun glared a little through the plate glass, but that was just migraine light sensitivity.

With a big smile on her face, she strode between the tables—the patrons seemed happy—and she nodded when she finally caught Antonio's eye.

No, she would not be naming his favorite dish Canard de Rêve. Her duck was real, not a dream.

She came around the reception podium with her arms out. The Adrias were huggers.

It was when she pulled back that she saw him through the front glass of the restaurant—the man from her nightmares.

Her heart clogged, and her brain pulsed with excruciating pain. She couldn't draw a breath.

He'd leaned into the glass, bright sunshine pouring down one side of his body, making him half invisible, but the side of him in shadow, almost a caricature, was clearly her stalker.

That son of a bitch!

So he wasn't a figment of her imagination, wasn't her anxiety taking some weird nightmare-stalker form. He was real, and he'd been tormenting her sleep for months.

Why she didn't go for the door would perplex her for some time after. Exhaustion. Insanity, maybe. But the reason she hadn't called Harlen for help when the nightmares had started? Yeah, that was pride.

She lunged for the man directly—through the plate glass. She didn't feel a thing until she hit the sidewalk outside.