Lay Me Down Book two in the Reveler series
Able to navigate sleep's vast dreamwaters, wild child Maisie Lane makes easy money as a courier delivering packages from one dream to another. So what if her employers are on the shadier side of the law? Her sister thinks she's living for the pleasure of the moment. Pleasure is involved—why shouldn't it be?—but every step Maisie takes is part of a careful plan. That is, until she crosses into a dream so evil, she has no choice but to run.
Special Agent Steve Coll is tasked to recruit Maisie for Chimera, the organization that polices shared dreams. At first he’s taken with her funny and carefree spirit, then brought to his knees by her tough and passionate soul. Touching her is forbidden ecstasy, but Steve can't resist breaking the rules with Maisie. A darkness is gathering, evil preparing to strike, and only Maisie stands between it and innocent lives. No matter what happens, Steve won't let her stand alone—he'll die before he leaves her side.
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- Lay Me Down is book two in the Reveler series
- Release Date: 5/2014
Excerpt from Lay Me Down
Steve Coll hit his left-turn signal and checked for traffic, but most of his attention was focused on the woman half sitting, half kneeling on the passenger seat beside him. She hadn't yet decided if she was going to cooperate (the least likely), stage a getaway (her usual way of coping), or try to kill him (on direct orders from her boss).
Her predicament was the most fun he'd had in a long time, especially since it was the woman herself who was gnawing her thumbnail in suspense. Even she didn't know what she was going to do.
What a way to live.
Maisie Louise Lane wasn't just another Reveler whom Chimera wanted to recruit. She was the ultimate recruit, the critical talent. And it was Steve's job to secure her cooperation and loyalty.
Which meant she was probably going to try to kill him.
At least he'd get a kick out of watching her work up to it. She might just pull it off, too. Maisie could do anything; it was potentially deadly to think otherwise.
"If we're going to Vegas," she said, "I need to pick up some things from my place."
Steve checked his rearview mirror. Still clear. "Not an option. It was ransacked after you left. Nothing much remains but the scum waiting to grab you."
"Well, I've got some clothes at my sister's and my laptop is there, too."
"Your associates have that place covered as well, and since your sister had to drown one of them so that she could get to safety, it's not an option, either."
Maisie was standing on the only bridge she hadn't burned, an empty gallon of gas in one hand, lit match in the other.
He flicked a gaze her way for a quick assessment. Her magenta-dyed hair was showing blond roots. The black makeup around her big gray eyes was smudged. And yeah, she was wearing the same outfit—tight, dark-green jeans with a slouchy black tank on top—that she'd been wearing when she'd escaped his companionship on the UCSD campus yesterday. The several narrow leather bands around her wrist hid scars from wounds she'd inflicted herself.
She had her sister to thank for keeping her alive this long, but the company Maisie kept was now more dangerous. Big sis had done as much as she could. Time for someone who didn't love Maisie to take over.
"Well, I have to shower and change. I stink," she said.
Strangely, he really didn't mind the sharp edge to her usual feminine scent. And at the moment, he wouldn't put it past her to crawl out a bathroom window, dripping and naked, to escape him. So she could just wait.
"When we get settled, you can have first dibs on the shower."
Another glance in the rearview. A black car edged into their lane, some five car-lengths behind them.
"You mean in Vegas? That's like an eight-hour drive."
"Five," he corrected. "And new clothes will be waiting there as well."
"I choose my own clothes, thanks."
"This is torture," she said.
The black car kept its distance, which Steve didn't like. It should've pulled up a bit by now. Its front window reflected a bright glaring spot of the sun, whiting out the rest, so no driver was visible, even if Steve could make him out from this far away.
He debated letting the car continue its pursuit to find out for certain if it was deliberately tailing them. He'd been eluding her business associates for the past few days while attempting to win Maisie's cooperation. That her sister Jordan had become a Chimera was helpful. That those same associates had gone after Jordan had forced a choice on Maisie: family, or wealth and power?
Family had won, which was how Maisie had come to be sitting next to him, regardless of her mood.
Steve cruised through a late yellow light; the black car ran the red that followed.
Damn. Better to lose them now than to chance an incident on the road before he and Maisie reached their destination.
He hated to do it while driving, but fine.
Steve let his vision blur slightly so that his darksight could sharpen, and he imposed a simple waking dream on the real world. He showed the occupants of the black car that his car was turning to the right, down an intersecting street, while in reality he continued straight ahead.
The black car turned down the street, following the dream.
Which meant that yes, the car had probably been following them, and the driver didn't have the darksight to recognize a waking dream for the illusion it was.
Steve glanced at Maisie again, the other immediate threat to his life.
She was staring at him, unblinking and wary. "What was that?"
Maisie, however, did have darksight, though still undeveloped.
Chimera agents each had talents, most of which were awakened during lucid dreaming, the revolution taking over the world. Maisie, should she prove loyal enough to join them, could also cross between one dream and another effortlessly.
Steve gave her a friendly smile. It was the only answer she was going to get. He didn't even share what he could do, what he really was, with people he trusted. They'd be afraid.
"Fine. Whatever." She folded her arms and hunkered down in her seat. "Wake me when we get there."
Steve had to stop himself from laughing out loud. The humor felt good, though, lodged in his throat and warm across his chest. As if he would let her escape him that way. Her associates could catch up to her Darkside, too.
No. Not happening. She had no idea whom she was dealing with.
Maisie Lane was about to be afflicted with an extreme case of insomnia.
He was keeping her high and dry until it suited him for her to sleep, yet another one of his abilities. She'd sleep when he did.
Beside him, she sighed and modulated her breathing so that it was deep and slow. Eyes closed, the tension dropped out of her. She went quiet, studiously so, as she sought refuge.
It was cute, really.
Steve banked onto the I-15 exit and climbed onto the freeway, heading north. Traffic mid-morning moved fast along the ten-lane stretch. If they made good time, maybe they could get there before rush hour.
A colorful billboard advertising a new Rêve—the term used for commercial shared dreams—rose above the graying buildings below. The billboard depicted a black door with a fanlight above and a knob in the middle. The number 221B gleamed in brass above a subtly ornate knocker. Doors led the way into Rêves, and this door led the dreamer to 221B Baker Street, Sherlock's home. Stories and adventures were the rage, far exceeding the thrills a theme park could offer. Rêve was a fully immersive experience for which people would pay anything.
Of course, just as Rêves offered unlimited worlds to explore, they also offered innumerable ways to exploit and/or threaten dreamers. It was Chimera's job to police Rêves and to venture (or track) beyond Rêve into the waters where natural dreaming occurred. A certain kind of talent was required, and it was Steve's job to recruit the personnel who had it.
Like Maisie here, who'd been playing in illegal Rêves for at least a year now and had gotten in a little too deep with the criminal element.
The minutes ticked by. He changed to the far left lane and accelerated.
Any second now she'd realize she was trapped in the waking world.
She huffed a little. Squirmed.
He restrained a grin, but glanced her way to see if she'd figured it out yet.
He found her looking back at him, a bad mood wrinkling her forehead. Then her forehead smoothed as understanding dawned. A glimmer of horror darkened her eyes. She's got it now. The realization finished with a steady glare of hate.
Steve looked at the road ahead. "Just as long as we understand each other."
See, now she wanted to kill him.
Before, she'd just wanted to escape and disappear for a while. She'd been thinking Phoenix sounded good. Crash on her friend Lola's couch, but hide in her own dreamspace for a while, where she could be in control and keep the unfriendlies out until they lost interest in her. An excellent plan.
It was Steve's fault she was happily contemplating ways she could make him suffer, and five hours' worth of traveling time—no sleep, no music, no decent conversation—was bound to make her think up the worst possible.
Death by rat bucket was the top contender. She'd need a feral rat, a bucket, and a blowtorch.
At least her murderous thoughts kept her from contemplating how royally screwed she was. To head directly to Mr. Graeme, her ex-boss, was insanity. They should be heading any other place but Vegas.
Desert turned into dirty metropolis turned into high-rise splash and glitter off the freeway.
Apparently, they were staying at a hotel on the Strip, because they were creeping along Flamingo trying to merge into the turn lane. They finally pulled into the traffic-jammed, sweeping roundabout that was valet parking at The Wake Hotel.
Frustration zapped along her nerves. This was so stupid. Steve-o had a death wish, and she was going to have to stay by his side or her ex-boss would do the deed and get bragging rights for his murder. And she really wanted to do the honors herself.
She got out of the car and stretched, yawning hugely, dead center in the hotel's elaborate entrance while Steve came around the car. Hand on her elbow—so going to die—he led her into an opulently designed, massive foyer.
She'd heard about The Wake, the hotel known for round-the-clock Rêves. Very exclusive. The décor evoked the surreal sensibility of the dreamwaters—proportions all larger than life, yet slightly warped, colors vivid red and purple. Erotic shadows of figures lurked in corners, shifting depending on the position of the patron, to beckon a dreamer deeper. Even though the foyer was enormous and grand, it swallowed sound rather than making it echo and overlap.
The registration desk banked an entire wall far off to one side and was manned by no less than twenty uniformed, smiley people. The place was supposed to be booked solid for a couple of years.
"This way," Steve said, tugging her toward the slightly bigger desk with gold lettering—V.I.P.—emblazoned on the front. He was such a cop.
Scowling, she allowed him to lead and then folded her arms on the high desk and put her head down.
"My wife and I would like to check in."
Maisie snorted and lifted her head again to address the clerk. "Do I look like his wife?"
The ruse was ridiculous. Just look at him.
During the drive, Steve had taken off his tie and gray suit jacket, and he'd opened the top button on his white dress shirt, but that's about as chill as she'd ever seen him. She guessed the rest of him might be attractive to some women, if they could get past what a jerk he was. He had a good body, and his green eyes were sort of pretty, if they weren't always looking right into her, trying to find out her secrets. Good voice, too. Altogether he was a decent enough package to make someone's parents happy, he was just too ordinary and uptight for her.
The clerk paused, glancing back and forth between them, expression blank.
"We're deeply in love," Steve said. "The King Suite, please."
The clerk's expression warmed. "Mr. and Mrs. Coll?"
Steve nodded. "Yes."
Maisie groaned. Maybe she was in a nightmare. That's what it was. She was trapped in a nightmare, sleeping soundly on her sister's sofa.
"We were expecting you. Thank you for selecting The Wake for your stay. Walk with me to your private elevator. I'll take you up personally." The clerk held a large black portfolio in one arm.
Private elevator? Maisie pressed her lips together, considering.
Steve dared to take her elbow again, but she allowed it. Seemed Chimera had sprung for a good room.
They walked to an inconspicuous tuck in the wall, which turned out to be a short hallway terminating at an elevator. An attendant waiting outside straightened at their approach. He used a key in the wall, and the elevator doors slid open immediately. The interior was a deep gray velvet-and-leather box, spacious, but clearly intended for private use.
Maisie stared at herself in the mirrored panel that flanked the closing doors. She looked like hell. Sleep would've helped, but it wouldn't erase the fear in her eyes. No amount of effort, no drug, no silly joke would.
She'd seen evil. Her instinct was to run away, not toward, though really nowhere in the waking world was safe. At least Jordan would be okay. Graeme would simply have to cut his losses where Big Sis was concerned, because she was off limits and safe among the Chimera.
Maisie had no such luck. He'd said she knew too much, had seen too much. And she had.
She glanced at Steve, the Chimera who'd said he wanted to help her, and found him blandly watching her looking at herself in the glass.
Rat bucket. Definitely.
The elevator opened into a large room with a sweeping view of the dirty blue, late-afternoon Vegas skyline. Maisie stepped inside, glancing around to note the stainless-steel kitchen, the luxe sunken living room, and the spiral stairs to the second floor.
Okay. Maybe she could be Mrs. Steve for a day before killing him.
The clerk put the big black portfolio on a circular table in the middle of the atrium and opened it to display menus, spa brochures, and tickets. "Our personal shopper has filled the closet. The dedicated Rêve room is on the second floor of your suite. If you need assistance, a Rêvellier is always available to assist you. There's a private poker game at midnight tonight, but I can secure an invitation, if you're interested. Your reserve covers the minimum. Per your request, I've made reservations for dinner at seven at Coquin. If there is anything else you need, feel free to call down."
Maisie wandered deeper into the suite to find a glass wall separating the living space from a roof pool. She loved swimming. Had been on the high school team before Mom died.
When she turned around, Steve was standing a pace behind her. The clerk had gone.
Maisie lifted her eyebrows high to show how impressed she was. "You sure know how to show a girl a good time."
"We may need a dedicated Rêve, and this one is hardlined into the Agora."
Maisie's eyebrows dropped and she made a face. The Agora was the aggregation of all the Rêves, the commercial shared dreams, under the purview of Chimera, who policed them. Kept people from misbehaving. But really, weren't dreams meant for mischief?
"So what now?" she asked.
"Now you make contact with your people."
"They're not my people. And no." Graeme was very unhappy with her at the moment.
"It's the reason we're here: to unequivocally extricate you from their company."
"I can take care of that on my own. I have been. I don't need you to do it for me. I never asked for your help."
His lips parted in silent surprise, a small victory for her. But, shit, he recovered. "Yeah, you did. You even said those words—Can you help me?"
Ugh. She hated people with good memories. "I meant with information, not taking over my life."
"Maisie, they're never going to let you go. You're too valuable."
The man was misinformed. "I was a courier. I delivered shit, that's all."
His green eyes went hard. "Maisie, one in five million people can cross from Rêve to Rêve on their own. Maybe one in ten million can cross into someone's personal dreamspace without being invited or brought in by that individual."
He made her stomach hurt with his statistics. "You did it," she said. He'd infiltrated her dreams to find her once before.
"I'm special, too," he said, deadpan.
"I recruited him, just like I'm trying to do with you."
"I imagine, once trained, your sister will be able to as well."
Maisie opened her arms wide. "Then there's got to be even more."
Because Steve's odds—one in ten million?—meant, yeah, Graeme would have a hard time replacing her. And the man liked his packages delivered on time, or else he got a little…unstable.
The money had been good, though.
"Aptitude like yours is very difficult to come by," Steve said. "Chimera can offer you refuge from those who would force your cooperation."
God, not the pitch again. She rolled her eyes. "I don't want to be one of you, man."
The dream police. The very concept was offensive. Dreams were free space. Happy space. Dreams were where she could be herself. And herself wasn't some anal marshal telling people what they could and couldn't do in wonderland.
She had other plans, had just made a small misstep, that's all. But she could figure it out. She would.
"Well, it's not even an option if you're still involved with these people."
"I don't get what's in it for you if you know I won't join up." Because she was being perfectly honest here. Her sister was the rule follower. The joiner. Not her.
"For starters, your current bosses will be out one very important component of their efforts to set up business in the dreamwaters. They'll be limited to Rêves, where Chimera can manage them, not spreading like a suffocating oil slick." He cocked his head. "Unless you plan to go back to them?"
"No," she said defensively. No amount of money was worth the horror of that last delivery. It was, to borrow Steve's word, oily. Nothing would wash it away. The memory made her heart beat faster, the drive to run almost compulsive.
Except now she was trapped. Graeme wouldn't cut her loose because he had no one else to do her job.
The suite's phone rang, and Steve stepped to the side of the sofa to pick up the receiver. "Yes?"
Damn it. She wrapped her arms around herself to keep from shaking. She didn't know what to do anymore. Graeme was going to kill both of them. Two rat buckets to go, please.
"Who is this?"
Maisie zeroed in on the call. Steve was looking at her again with his trademark serioso intensity that made her skin crawl.
"You can speak to me," he said. "Ms. Lane is under new management."
Incredulous, she turned away. Her eyes were welling and she didn't want him to see. Steve just didn't get it. Evil that big and bad would squash him—and her—like a bug.
They should run. Or since they just happened to be in Vegas, they should party hard, because this was the last day they'd be alive.
"No, that's not what's going to happen," he said.
A harsh laugh escaped her. Either Steve had a really big package down his trousers or he had zero clue about whom he was dealing with. She had to come up with a plan. Her brain just wasn't working so well at the moment. Again, sleep deprivation. Asshole.
"We'll meet you at six in front of the Bellagio fountains. We have dinner reservations tonight so we can't be long."
Zero clue. As in zilch.
Steve listened for a last second, said, "We'll see," and then hung up.
When he didn't immediately offer information, Maisie turned, uncrossed an arm, and made an impatient gesture. "Well?"
"We're meeting a Mr. Graeme at six. You have just enough time to shower and change. Coquin has four stars, so I'd recommend you wear something nice."
Steve was insane. "Graeme's going to kill us. You know that, right?"
"Not tonight, he won't," he told her. "Definitely not before we eat."