Delirium Book six in the Reveler series

As the new Darkside Division head, Marshal Harlen Fawkes has a target on his back, and the Oneiros are taking their best shot. To complicate matters, a mercenary has been hired to infiltrate Maze City, jeopardizing the one safe place left in the dreamwaters. Harlen’s allies are divided while covering different fronts, but that means their collective strength is divided, too.

If I die before I wake...

Summoning her courage, Sera must face the harsh Scrape winds to add her strength to Harlen’s fight. But nothing can combat the forces rising in the deep as they finally make their move. Danger comes from all sides at once, leaving Harlen no choice but to use the woman he loves as a proxy to penetrate the Black Market. And yet doing so leaves them utterly vulnerable, adrift in the sands, as nightmares descend.

Delirium is the sixth installment in the Reveler serial, a hot paranormal romance set in a world where shared dreaming is a new pop culture phenomenon that allows people to indulge their wildest fantasies. But there are also unknown dangers Darkside; nightmares are slowly infiltrating not only dreams, but the waking world as well.

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Information

  • Delirium is book six in the Reveler series
  • Release Date: 1/2015

Excerpt from Delirium

CHAPTER ONE

“Well, thank God he shaved,” Harlen’s sister, Jessica, said.

Sera tore her gaze from Harlen’s televised profile to flash Jess a smile—good natured ribbing—but she didn’t feel happy. She knew what Harlen was really taking on with his new job, and it made her guts twist like snakes.

Jess stood at the back of the Fawkeses’ family room, a toddler passed out and molded to her shoulder. Eleanor and Gary, Harlen’s mom and dad, sat on the sofa beneath her, their eyes glued to the screen. His brother, Jake, had taken the morning off from his medical practice and now stood watching from the side of the sofa with his arms folded, brow furrowed. This was a Fawkes family event.

“He looks very handsome,” Eleanor said to Jess.

Sera looked back at the TV. Harlen was by nature a two-day-shadow, jeans-and-T-shirt kind of guy. He’d polished up to sit before the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Shared Dreaming to help defend a Chimera budget increase for his new Darkside Division. It’d been quite the sudden promotion. Having the new black suit altered in time had been a couple of hours of panic, but he wore it very well. Apparently, he’d been borrowing his dad’s before.

“Pretty big job for a guy who cut class more than a few times during high school,” Jake said.

Eleanor shot him a narrow look.

Jake grinned sheepishly. “I might’ve taught him how to forge your signature, Ma. Your E’s are very loopy.”

Sera felt a real smile flickering on her face in spite of her worry, thanks to Harlen’s family, though they had no idea what he was up against. She’d hoped for a poorly attended senate hearing, a dry and boring proceeding that no one would watch—so that he wouldn’t be made into a recognizable target—but the room was packed with press, and every seat was filled. People even stood along the back wall. Shared dreaming was more than big business; it was a shared passion, a new way of life, and a major cultural paradigm shift.

“Has the media found that college picture of him showing his butt cheeks to the world during a football game?” Jessica asked.

“I have a copy,” Jake said. “Maybe I should send it in.”

Gary chuckled, but Eleanor shot Jake another sharp look.

“Anonymously, of course,” Jake added.

Chimera Director Allison Bright sat to Harlen’s left, the so-called other woman in his life. She was in her early sixties and had worked in the Agora—where all legal, commercial, and governmental shared dreaming took place—since its inception. Her steely blue gaze had seen right through Harlen’s flirtatious, rule-breaking, mischief-making demeanor to the man underneath. Which was why she was putting such responsibility on his shoulders.

And dammit, he’d accepted the job. All Sera could do was watch and wait for disaster, or maybe go to her restaurant and cook like a demon, terrified that one day he might go Darkside and never wake up.

More and more people these days weren’t waking up.

“That’s my tie,” Gary said of the navy-blue-and-black striped silk around Harlen’s neck. “My tie is on television.”

“It’s as close as you’re going to get to your fifteen minutes of fame, Pop,” Jessica said. “Relish the moment.”

“It’s right where it ought to be.” No one mistook the pride in his voice. “And I am.”

Sera felt her smile fail again as her heart struggled to maintain an even beat. If she thought about the dangers too much, she wouldn’t be able to sit still. His dad should feel proud. Harlen was…being Harlen, a good man and a hero.

Any second now, she was going to crack and start jabbering about nightmares and the Sandman, and Harlen out there in the Scrape. She should’ve never come to his family’s home this morning. She should’ve said she needed to take care of business for the opening of her second restaurant. Anything but be here. Except…they loved him, too. If she couldn’t be with Harlen in Washington, DC, this was the place to be.

Sera’s mobile screen lit, and she glanced down to find a text from him: I have to pee.

Her faltering smile warmed through her worry; the broadcast was live. Deep breaths, she typed back.

The chairman of the subcommittee began with some opening remarks about the new Chimera task force, thanking Director Bright and Marshal Harlen Fawkes for their presence and their continued hard work. Sera knew all this, so her restlessness got the better of her. As the family leaned in to listen, she soundlessly slipped out of her chair, past Eleanor’s jewelry business workshop in the dining room, and headed to the kitchen, her safe place.

She got a glass from the cupboard, ran the tap to fill it, and took a long drink. Then she decided she needed way stronger stuff, which she couldn’t have in a dry house—Harlen’s dad was nine years sober—nor could she take the edge off her fear at home later. Alcohol could impact dream control, and there was no way she wasn’t meeting Harlen when she slept that night, or any night when he wasn’t officially working.

When she turned, she found Eleanor blocking the archway.

Sera brightened. “Is he speaking now?”

She made to move forward as if excited, not on the verge of tears. But Eleanor held up a hand. “This new task force Harlen is going to head up…”

Sera lifted her brows. “Yes?”

“Is shared dreaming safe?” his mom asked.

Easy question, easy dodge. “That’s what they say.”

Shared dreaming had been around commercially for more than ten years. All sorts of studies had been done. And Harlen had worked in the field for a total of nine years, first in the sleep study at UCSD, then for the Army, and finally for Chimera. His mom had to be aware of the basics by now.

“Is shared dreaming still safe?” his mother asked again, her question toned to cut through bullshit and elicit a straight answer.

Sera felt the brightness in her eyes dim at the harshness in Eleanor’s voice. Whatever warmth Harlen’s mom might’ve felt for her years ago had cooled after the breakup, even though Sera and Harlen had gotten back together, this time for good.

She had no idea how to answer. With Didier Lambert dying in some reveler care center, Rêve was a bit safer. Of course, the confirmation of the existence of the Sandman far outweighed any threat Lambert could’ve presented. Harlen’s new task force, the Darkside Division, had been formed to combat the nightmares that were sneaking into both natural and artificial dreams, as well as, alarmingly, the waking world. None of that was public information, however.

Sera did not subscribe to the Ignorance is bliss philosophy where family was concerned. She wouldn’t lie to his mother, but she couldn’t reveal anything concrete, either.

“Harlen had to leave too quickly to come by and tell you about it,” Sera said. He could pick and choose what to tell his mom later. “But he will, just as soon as he gets back.”

The iron that ran through Eleanor Fawkes glinted in her eyes as she processed this.

“He’s got a good team,” Sera said, to give her something. It’s what she told herself when she got worried. “And he was chosen because he’s the best.”

But, yeah, dangerous.

Eleanor cocked her head slightly back toward the sound of the television. “And this?”

Sera shrugged. “Politics.”

Eleanor looked down. Sera could see that her jaw was set, even though her chest rose in a telltale, too-deep breath of a mother struggling with sudden, deep concern for her child.

Sera wanted to hug her. Well, actually, Sera wanted a hug.

“He’ll be okay,” she said. “He’s still based out of San Diego. We’ll see him when he’s awake.” Which would be less frequent.

Eleanor’s gaze lifted. “Is it very bad?”

The worst. Sera saw herself reflected in Eleanor’s eyes. She tried to assure them both. “He’s going to make it better.”

***

“One last question for Marshal Fawkes,” said the senator from Delaware.

The seriousness of the venue meant Harlen didn’t have to smile, didn’t have to be That Guy, the one to whom everything came easy, most of all a good time.

One last question before he could make a beeline for the bathroom, though that was the least of his discomforts. He hated the slippery partial truths with which he and Director Bright were forced to answer the mighty senators in the semicircle before him, though credibility and speed demanded it.

It wasn’t like he could tell them that a terrible god lived out on the Scrape.

“Certainly,” Harlen said.

The formation of the Darkside Division would extend Chimera’s powers outside the Agora and beyond tracking criminals who preyed within the dreamwaters. Harlen’s new team represented everything the public feared from Chimera—the dream police, a Big Brother that could legally infiltrate any dream. If not for the nightmares threatening revelers Darkside and in the waking world, Harlen would not be accepting its leadership.

“You’ve worked extensively outside the Agora before?” the senator asked.

“During the Rêve War, yes.” When shared dreaming had been seen as a way for certain militant regimes to undermine and even infiltrate countries that were either already weak or held beliefs that were at odds with their own.

“What were your duties?”

“I’m not at liberty to say.” Harlen had warned Director Bright about this; he’d been involved in some illegal tactics during the war, all of which had been classified, redacted, and buried.

Director Bright hadn’t been overly concerned. She’d explained that the hearing was a matter of course. The funds and extended powers were to be granted in lieu of issuing a public warning and shutting down the Agora, which would hugely impact the economy and incite a public outcry. No one was going to allow that, so whether the senators and the public liked it or not, Chimera would be getting its Darkside Division.

“What is Indirect Surveillance?” the same senator asked.

Harlen’s body flashed with heat and sweat. Indirect Surveillance. What a bullshit term. The crush, confusion, and illness of what he’d experienced in the Army dried his throat. He tried to stay emotionally removed from the hardest period in his life as he repeated, “I’m not at liberty to say,” without cursing.

The senator smiled. “I believe it’s otherwise known as proxying.”

He was well aware, thanks. Proxying was when one dreamer—him, for example—merged with another, an enemy, to experience what the other did Darkside and thereby get firsthand intel. It was like memory replication, but usually without consent. Extremely invasive, proxying left him ill and disoriented. The practice had been outlawed by the International Pact on Shared Dreaming.

“I’m not at liberty to say,” Harlen repeated.

Well, he’d thought his past had been buried. Clearly, someone had fed the senator information. Which meant Chimera had an enemy who was playing dirty. A million people were probably searching the term proxying on the Internet at that very moment.

Director Bright slid a piece of paper toward him. Harlen glanced down at it and almost snorted.

Am I dreaming, or is this the waking world?

Didier Lambert, now slowly dying, had tortured Bright by trapping her in Rêves that resembled the waking world until she hadn’t known if she was asleep or awake. It was also illegal. She’d been incredibly strong to both endure and stay sharp.

He tapped waking world to reassure her. Unfortunately. Yes, the hearing had officially gone to hell.

The senator continued. “Okay then. What have your duties included as a Chimera marshal?”

Harlen forged on, too. It couldn’t get any worse. And besides, the senator’s question was answered in the report he had before him. “Up until this appointment, I pursued breaches in the Agora, crimes committed therein, such as memory transfers, and I searched and apprehended predators within the Agora’s Rêves.”

“Did you ever pursue any one of these predators outside of the Agora? What I understand Chimera refers to as tracking…”

“I’m not a tracker,” Harlen said. “No.” Didn’t have that talent.

“Then, I wonder, what makes you qualified to lead this Darkside Division beyond the Agora, if not your experience in the war, which, as you say, you are not at liberty to discuss?”

The senator had meant that to be the zinger, but he’d really just given Harlen an opportunity to diffuse and deflect.

“Ah,” Harlen said, as if finally understanding. “Just because I’m not a tracker doesn’t mean I can’t navigate outside the Agora with ease. The Agora is where I go to work every day. I’ve been lucid and in control in the dreamwaters since I participated in one of the first sleep studies, when the only thing comparable to the Agora was the Quad set up by UCSD.

“Since then, I’ve explored every known dreaming schema. I was in and out of the earliest Rêves. Consulted on some, even. I’ve spent too much time in the Scrape, which will be one of the main concerns of the new Darkside Division.

“The issue today,” Harlen continued, “is that other people are getting more savvy Darkside, as well. They don’t need to use the Agora to share a dream—or to hurt or steal or transfer information. Limiting Chimera primarily to the Agora originally answered concerns about privacy. Well and good. But it also limits the protections people have when they go to sleep.”

He could’ve added that right now, all dreamers—not just revelers—were sitting ducks, but he refrained. Fear mongering was not his thing. He just wanted to catch the bad guys.

Could he go to the bathroom now?

When the hearing ended, he headed across the hallway to the men’s room. He was just sighing in relief when James Dugan, Chimera ladder climber and the man most likely to leak classified information to senators, walked in and stood at the urinal next to him. Dugan had been one of Didier Lambert’s pawns, a willing party to heinous crimes against revelers, though Harlen had no proof with which to charge him. One day, though. Soon.

“You going to the lunch with the vice president?” Dugan asked him.

Name-dropping. “Wasn’t aware there was one.”

“Oh. Sorry.” Dugan didn’t quite suppress his smirk.

Seemed he wanted a pissing contest.

Harlen wasn’t interested. He adjusted his clothes and hit the sink. Sera would be expecting a call. He could almost sense her furiously chopping something while she waited, and he grinned. He couldn’t wait until he could meet her Darkside. Her dreams or his, it didn’t matter as long as he could feel her humor or her temper—he enjoyed them both. As long as he could touch her, even though she was thousands of miles away, he could take on this shady business.

The men’s room door swung shut behind him. Harlen had his phone in hand and was just about to touch SERAFINA when Director Bright called out. “There you are.”

“What’s up?” Probably damage control about the proxying thing. Please, not press.

“We have a meeting with Senator Fleight.”

“Right now?”

“I had a message on my voice mail,” Bright said. “Bound to be interesting.”

“Ain’t that the truth.” Frowning, Harlen pocketed his phone.

A week ago, Fleight’s daughter, Agatha, had been “murdered” by Mirren Lambert and Vincent Blackman. Harlen knew she’d been killed in self-defense—he’d been peripherally involved in the situation—but all evidence testified otherwise.

Director Bright’s gaze went over Harlen’s shoulder, and he turned to find Dugan behind him, sniffing like some kind of rat.

“Have a good lunch,” Harlen said to him and joined Bright to walk down the hallway.

Senator Fleight had become a huge Chimera supporter overnight in order to bring her daughter’s so-called killers to justice. Mirren and Vince, however, were the good guys. Well, not all the way good. They were goodish. Or rather, on occasion, they contemplated good things and might be prevailed upon to be good if they weren’t put in too much trouble.

A car was waiting for Harlen and Director Bright—a driver and bodyguard were overkill in his opinion—but when they got out into traffic, beyond the pylons set up to keep protestors from blocking the entrances to the Russell Senate Office Building, the scope of the perception problem Chimera had with the public became excruciatingly clear.

Back in San Diego, protestors were regular fixtures, first at exit 24 off the I-5, and then again off Torrey Pines Road, where the main gate to the Chimera compound was located. Harlen hadn’t exactly stopped seeing the anti-Rêve activists, but he had long accepted their presence as background noise. Figured they’d eventually tire themselves out and go home.

These people thronged against the barrier, roaring and shaking signs high in the air. There was the usual—KEEP DREAMS FREE!—which had dogged Chimera from the very beginning. And a few new ones, notably, KILL CHIMERA! That one made Harlen’s tie feel kind of tight. The bodyguard was making a little more sense.

“It’s not going away, you know,” Director Bright said as the car crept slowly down the street. “There’s no way to go back to a time before Rêve. The technology is too widespread. There are too many people who are now lucid and in control Darkside. Even if everyone agreed to stay in their own dreamscapes at night, the nightmares that we’ve stirred will continue to cross. We poked a dragon, and now we have to deal with the consequences.”

They were taken to a townhouse on Vermont Avenue, near Logan Circle. It had three stories of red brick, a small iron gate out front, and steps leading up to the front door. A man in a dark suit stood sentry.

Once inside, they moved beyond another bodyguard to a woman in black slacks and a pale-pink blouse. Senator Fleight. Her hair was styled in some unmoving kind of shoulder-length helmet, and her hands were folded gracefully in front of her waist. It was as if she’d been counting the seconds until their arrival.

“Welcome,” she said. “Please, this way.” She gestured into a sitting room off to the right.

Harlen shook hands with her as he passed, and she greeted him with, “Good to meet you, Marshal Fawkes.” Everyone seemed to know his name now.

The house was the classy kind of expensive, with dark hardwood floors and antique-looking furniture that didn’t remotely suit Harlen’s size. He ended up perched on some fancy sofa thing with skinny legs, trying not to give it all his weight. There was room for Director Bright next to him, but she took a straight-backed, hard chair and sat with her ankles crossed and lower legs angled to the side so that her body made a Z. He’d never understood why women did that. Looked damned uncomfortable.

Senator Fleight did not sit, and her hands didn’t quite make it back in their controlled fold but ended up in partial fists at her side. “I want you to know you have my full, unqualified support,” she began. “I know what’s in the Scrape. I know about the nightmares—I’ve seen them. And I know about the Sandman. You have a fight ahead of you. I’ll fight with you.”

Harlen hadn’t expected such an emphatic preamble.

“It’s a relief to have such a strong ally,” Director Bright told her.

Very politic.

Fleight looked straight at him. “And I know what proxying is. I absolutely deplore the practice, but I also think it might save lives. At your first opportunity, you need to proxy members of the Oneiros. I’ll give you names.”

The Oneiros, aka the One Group, was a cult that worshiped the Sandman and welcomed the nightmares as His emissaries to the waking world.

“Proxying isn’t a technique the Darkside Division will use,” he told her. She could take her list of names and make a paper airplane out of it.

Her expression didn’t change, but it did harden.

See, all this, right here—the maneuvering and silent negotiations—he wasn’t cut out for it. He’d do the work, but the tie would hang him.

“Of course,” she said, as if she were making a concession. “Whatever strategy you think best.” The corollary was that she would want something in return. He wished she’d just get to it. “But I’m going to need your immediate help on something.”

And here it comes. Harlen almost smiled as Director Bright sat back in her chair, as if she’d been waiting for the boom, too.

“I’ve hired a contractor to locate Mirren Lambert and Vincent Blackman in the dreamwaters.”

Harlen’s bad mood just got worse. Contractor? More like mercenary.

“And he thinks he’s found them,” she added. “He has tracked them to some kind of dreamscape he can’t penetrate, and for that reason, he thinks it belongs to Mirren Lambert.” Senator Fleight looked from him to Director Bright. “You are aware that Mirren Lambert is not quite human.”

Mirren Lambert was a nightmare-human hybrid.

“Yes,” Harlen said.

But he also now knew that the senator wasn’t as informed as she believed. Either that or she was lying to them. Human nightmares like Mirren Lambert didn’t have their own dreamscapes. If the contractor had tracked them to a dream that was impregnable, it had to be Maze City, the dreamscape of Maisie Lane, an incredible talent who would’ve been great in Chimera…had she not been wanted for stabbing the revered Didier Lambert in the neck. Maze City was home base for Harlen and his friends, a safe dream from which to strategize, hide, and catch up on what was going on concerning the conflict Darkside.

“My man is going after her again tonight,” Senator Fleight continued. “But for obvious reasons, he can’t apprehend anyone.”

Darkside mercs were the kind of revelers the Darkside Division would be investigating, not helping.

Harlen knew what the senator wanted from him, but he wasn’t going to say it for her. Keeping his gaze steady, he waited for her to spit it out.

“Considering the tensions Chimera has with the public lately, it would be excellent PR for you to arrest Lambert and Blackman, wouldn’t it?” Fleight wasn’t really asking a question. “To apprehend high-profile criminals right away?”

Director Bright gave a noncommittal mmm hmm. She had to be pissed, too.

Harlen hadn’t signed up to be anyone’s puppet. That’s not how this new task force was supposed to work. And the hell if he was going to help some mercenary get into anyone’s dreamscape, much less the one where his friends were hiding. No.

Fleight had to have noticed his sudden bad mood, but she didn’t seem to care.

“My daughter̵#8217;s killers will be found and brought to justice,” she said, passing him a slip of paper. Seemed she’d had it in hand from the beginning.

He glanced down to find it held the coordinates for him to connect with the contractor, along with a time stamp.

“I did the all the work,” she said. “Chimera will claim the arrest.”

She did the work? Funny lady. She’d made more work.

Harlen would be warning Mirren and Vince. If they knew they were being tailed, they could take care of themselves. Mirren Lambert could do some freaky shit with Scrape sand. And no one wanted to face a maniac like Vince Blackman in a fight.

He stood and pocketed the slip of paper. “I’ve got a busy night.” The senator could take whatever meaning she wanted from that.

“Certainly,” she said, smiling.

Director Bright stood, as well. “We’ll let you know if there are any developments.”

“You mean when,” Fleight said.

“No,” Bright told her. “If.”

That helped to settle Harlen’s temper. At least he and Bright were on the same page. It seemed, at the moment, Director Bright wasn’t necessarily going to war with Senator Fleight—thus far their only avowed “supporter”—but Bright wasn’t going to allow Chimera to be told what to do, either.

The situation still sucked. He’d have to figure out how to handle this so-called contractor. And worst of all, no Sera. The promise of her had been the only thing that had gotten him through this total crap day, and now he’d have to spend the night putting this merc out of business.