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  The Aisling Book Two Dream

  GLBT YA Books from Prizm

  The Aisling: Book I Guardian by Carole Cummings The Aisling: Book II Dream by Carole Cummings Banshee by Hayden Thorne

  Changing Jamie by Dakota Chase

  City/Country by Nicky Gray

  Comfort Me by Louis Flint Ceci

  Desmond and Garrick Book I by Hayden Thorne The End by Nora Olsen

  A Field Guide to Assassins of Muromachi Street by Tamara Sheehan

  Heart Sense by KL Richardsson

  Heart Song by KL Richardsson

  I Kiss Girls by Gina Harris

  Icarus in Flight by Hayden Thorne Josef Jaeger by Jere’ M. Fishback Masks: Evolution by Hayden Thorne Masks: Ordinary Champions by Hayden Thorne Masks: Rise of Heroes by Hayden Thorne The Mediocre Assassin’s Handbook by Tamara Sheehan The Next Competitor by K. P. Kincaid Repeating History: The Eye of Ra by Dakota Chase Staged Life by Lija O’Brien

  The Suicide Year by Lena Prodan

  The Tenth Man by Tamara Sheehan

  The Twilight Gods by Hayden Thorne Under the Willow by Kari Jo Spear The Water Seekers by Michelle Rode Without Sin by J. Tomas

  The World’s a Stage by Gail Sterling 2

  Carole Cummings

  The Aisling:

  Book Two, Dream

  Carole Cummings

  Illustrations by Rose Lenoir

  Prizm Books

  a subsidiary of Torquere Press, Inc.

  3

  The Aisling Book Two Dream

  This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitious-ly. While this novel is inspired by historical events, it is a fictionalized portrayal, and the author created all characters, events and storylines in the pursuit of literary fiction, not historical accuracy.

  The Aisling Book Two Dream

  PRIZM

  An imprint of Torquere Press, Inc.

  PO Box 2545

  Round Rock, TX 78680

  Copyright 2011 © by Carole Cummings Cover illustration by Rose Lenoir Published with permission

  ISBN: 978-1-61040-249-1

  www.prizmbooks.com

  www.torquerepress.com

  All rights reserved, which includes the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form whatsoever except as provided by the U.S. Copyright Law. For information address Torquere Press. Inc., PO

  Box 2545, Round Rock, TX 78680.

  First Prizm Printing: June 2011

  Printed in the USA

  If you purchased this book without a cover, you should be aware the this book is stolen property. It was reported as “unsold and destroyed”

  to the publisher, and neither the author nor the publisher has received any payment for this “stripped book”.

  4

  Carole Cummings

  To Jenni, who told me so, who gets it and never fails to give me at least one Ah-ha! moment. To Linda, who’s on better speaking-terms with my subconscious than I am, and who makes sharing a little less terrifying. To Connie and Donna, who always at least pretend to be thrilled when I throw chapters at them.

  Love and vast appreciation to my husband, Eric, who doesn’t get it and loves me for it, and to my sister and cheerleader, Barbara, who is always convinced I can. Thanks to my children—Jenna, Rachel, Eric Jr. and Olivia—for existing, and for waiting until I’m done typing to talk to me. And to John Comitz, who told a nerdy teenager there is nothing wrong with writing ‘silly things’, as long as those ‘silly things’ are written to the best of one’s abilities.

  The Aisling:

  Book Two, Dream

  Carole Cummings

  Illustrations by Rose Lenoir

  5

  The Aisling Book Two Dream

  6

  Carole Cummings

  Interlude

  The lad’s got scars you en’t seen.

  All Dallin had to do was slide his fingers into Wil’s hair, feel about for scarred shapes. Their lack would prove that Dallin was just playing into everyone else’s madness; their presence would confirm—at least circumstantially—that the Aisling was real. Which would, in turn, prove that the Guardian was real.

  Wil was still sleeping, curled up on his side but not scrunched in like he was trying to hide. Deeply asleep, cheeks with some color beneath the bruises, not as hollow as only a few days ago, and brow smooth. His right hand lay on the pillow beside his head, the left hanging over the edge of the mattress, fingers twitching slightly. He looked perfectly peaceful, sound asleep, nothing out of the ordinary.

  Except for the tiny trickle of blood dripping slowly from his left nostril and onto the beige pillowslip.

  “Oh, shit,” Dallin breathed, reached out then drew his hand back quickly. “No, no, no, don’t do this to me.” He stared, watched the small trickle pool on the pillowslip, blotch and spread like ink-drops on paper. Slowly, like he was still dreaming, he dragged his gaze away and peered up at the tiny little window, back down at Wil. “Make it rain,” he whispered.

  The low rumble of thunder growled immediately 7

  The Aisling Book Two Dream

  in the distance, the pink-yellow light through the little window darkening to gray in the space of only a minute or two, while Dallin stood there and watched it. Wil stirred, groaned a little and shifted restlessly. A new freshet dribbled from his nose, heavier this time, and then a thin little rivulet seeped from his ear, traced along his jawbone.

  “Oh, no,” Dallin whispered, shook his head slowly, and… stared. He couldn’t do anything else, nailed to the spot. “I remember where I’ve seen those Marks now,” he heard himself say then barked out a harsh laugh, turned dazedly to look at the window as the first smattering drops of rain pelted the glass.

  Lesson Five, his mind nattered at him, a wild little cackle hovering beneath its calm, chastising tone, Everything he told you was the truth, and you have just spent the night being educated by the Mother Herself. You are the Guardian, and here before you lies the Aisling. You have been Called. The Mother help you both.

  Boneless, bloodless, Dallin let his legs give, sat heavily on the bed, just missing plopping clumsily atop Wil, then bent over his knees and dropped his head into his hands.

  “Oh, no.” A rusty little laugh shivered up his throat, shocky and hollow, and he closed his eyes, fisted his hands. “Fucking shit!”

  8

  Carole Cummings

  Chapter One

  Hey. Hey, Wil, c’mon, wake up.”

  Wil groaned, swatted blindly, realizing too late in his sleep-stupor that he’d done it with his right hand. A low hiss skidded through his teeth, and he curled the now-throbbing hand—thank you, Brayden—into his chest, dragging open hazy eyes. He squinted.

  “Are you all right?” Urgent disquiet. When Wil only blinked in muzzy irritation, Brayden’s face pinched up with worry, and he took Wil by the shoulders, roughly sat him up. “C’mon, now, say something, do one thing I ask, all right, I’m drowning here.”

  Annoyed, Wil shrugged out of the grip. “Get off, will you?”

  And why was he annoyed and not afraid? He’d just let Brayden paw at him for who-knew-how-long, and would have been just as happy to have slept right through it.

  Where had his reflexes gone, damn it?

  A balled-up something was coming at his nose—

  another handkerchief? what the hell?—pressing a little too roughly. Wil tried swatting that away, too, but Brayden shook his head, said, “Just calm down, you’re bleeding.”

  And if that wasn’t the dumbest contradiction Wil had ever heard.

  9

  The Aisling Book Two Dream

  “What…? Why am I—?”

 
“What were you dreaming?” Brayden was gently but intractably tipping Wil’s head back, his fingers pressing at either side of the bridge of Wil’s nose.

  Wil fumbled at the handkerchief, blinking fuzzily at the ceiling. “Coffee,” he said without thinking. He frowned.

  “I was dreaming about coffee, and… rain, I think, but I don’t—” Suspicion crowded out the sleep-haze and murky confusion. “Why d’you care?” He pushed Brayden’s hand away and snatched the handkerchief from his loose grip. Eyes narrowing, Wil started to back himself into the headboard, but there was no need—Brayden had frozen with the first sentence, and now he leapt back as though Wil had just spit hot coals at him. He just stood there, looking down at Wil with a mix of disbelief and too-cogent dismay, shaking his head slowly. Wil couldn’t decide between bewilderment, apprehension or pique.

  “What?” he snapped.

  Brayden didn’t say anything, just stared, still shaking his head, like he was trying to deny Wil’s very existence. Wordless, Brayden turned slowly, stunned gaze going inexorably to the little window above the cupboard. Staring, still, like the steady drops of rain had mesmerized—

  The rain.

  It all slipped into place, snapped into a broader shape, like those puzzle-pieces Brayden was always on about.

  Every bit of blood in Wil’s body dropped to his gut, leaving him cold and sickeningly numb. “Oh, shit,” he whispered.

  Brayden’s hand was tangled in his hair now, like he’d gone to brush it back and forgot what he was doing halfway through. “Yeah,” was all he said.

  Brayden’s voice was thin and shakier than Wil had ever heard it before. Wil’s own dawning dread was somehow 10

  Carole Cummings

  temporized by the fact that Brayden looked almost as shocked and repelled as Wil felt.

  “You were there.” It was just as tremulous as Brayden’s had been. “How did you—?”

  “I’ve no idea.” Brayden turned to look at Wil, those dark, intelligent eyes gone wide and near-vacant now.

  And then he shook his head, frowned. “No. No, I… I mean yes. Yes, I do. I think I do.” He looked at Wil, still nearly dazed, but earnest now. “Millard was right. She loves you.”

  And that was just about enough for Wil. He threw back the tangle of bedding and lurched from the bed, only half-noticing the dull spikes of pain that shot through his hips, his thighs, even his arse as he did so. Damn it, he’d had a feeling he was going to pay for a day in the saddle. He ignored it, skirted clumsily about the bed and made a dive for his pack on the floor to Brayden’s right. Wil snatched it up and backed himself out of immediate reach, hugging the pack to his chest like it was going to offer even the smallest protection when Brayden decided to… to… well, to do whatever he meant to do.

  Except Brayden didn’t look like he meant to do anything but stare at Wil in troubled bemusement. He hadn’t moved a muscle except to turn his head and follow Wil with his gaze.

  “You’re still bleeding,” Brayden said quietly. “Looks like it’s slowed some, but check your ear, too.”

  Wil lifted his hand up to his ear then his nose, backed up into the wall when Brayden leaned over, retrieved the stained handkerchief from the bed, then held it out. He did it all without taking a single step, the breadth of his reach going from the bed to the wall against which Wil cringed without having to so much as stretch. No wonder Brayden wasn’t chasing Wil about the room—he could probably reach every corner of it without taking more than two steps.

  11

  The Aisling Book Two Dream

  “Take it,” Brayden said calmly, held the wad of bloody linen out between his fingers. “I’m not going to hurt you, I’m not going to grab for you, just take it before you bleed to death.”

  Cautiously, Wil reached out, eyes never leaving Brayden’s. A shudder he couldn’t help swept along Wil’s backbone when his bloody fingertips brushed Brayden’s knuckles. He snatched the handkerchief more roughly than he’d meant to and brought it back up to his nose, pack still clutched clumsily with his left elbow and his newly throbbing right hand. “What do you mean to do?”

  It was small and too timid, mumbled through the ball of blood and linen.

  Brayden’s eyebrows went up, like he hadn’t thought of anything beyond the damned handkerchief. He rubbed at his face, the scratch of callused fingertips against the bristly growth on his chin louder than it should have been, but it was like Wil’s senses had trebled. The soft patter of rain was the roar of a gale; the tiny draft seeping through the glass the winds of a wild hurricane. He could hear raindrops searing and sizzling in the flue of the chimney, could hear ash tremble loose from the dying coals in the fireplace, sough down through the grate, could feel the infinitesimal drop in temperature with each one. He would swear he heard Brayden’s heart beating, almost as loud in his ears as his own.

  “Do?” Brayden laughed, a low, arched snort without a trace of mirth. “I’ve been Called. No.” He frowned, jaw clenched, and cast his gaze out the window. “No.

  I’ve been dragged into a Calling I didn’t even believe in ten minutes ago.” Another snort, just as hollow, and he shifted his glance to Wil, mouth twisting with bitter irony.

  “And it’s really not what you think it is. Whatever sinister things they told you, they were lies. Besides being a foul little shit who drugs and preys on little boys, Siofra’s a 12

  Carole Cummings

  bloody filthy liar. He lied because he wanted you to be afraid of me, it’s why he sent those men to Lind, and…

  I don’t know, but She certainly—” Brayden’s dark eyes narrowed, head tilting slightly to the side. “How can you look at Her and not see the way She loves you? How could you ever think She means you harm?”

  Wil shook his head, inching his way along the wall and toward the door, eyes locked to Brayden’s. Curiously, Brayden only watched him do it, a peculiar raw interest in his gaze, like he was seeing Wil for the first time and didn’t know what to make of him.

  “You’ve seen Her?” Wil asked—he couldn’t help himself—voice low and hoarse, vibrating with real curiosity and profound betrayal.

  Brayden didn’t answer the question, merely flicked a look over Wil, said, “You might want to put on some trousers before you bolt. And your boots.”

  Wil stopped dead. Stared. “You’d… I can…?”

  Again, Brayden didn’t answer, just slouched over to the bed, sat heavily then propped an elbow to his knee.

  He dropped his head into his hand and rubbed at his brow. “I don’t know what to do,” he muttered to the floor. “I’m meant to protect you. She ordered me to. She bloody chastised me for not doing my job.” He looked up at Wil, barked a cynical laugh. “Except She didn’t tell me how I’m supposed to convince you I’m not going to kill you, and I can’t prove a negative. The only way I can prove it is to keep not killing you, but you’ll go on expecting it, I’ll go on terrifying you without meaning to, and when you look at me like that, like I’m the worst monster conjured from your darkest nightmares, it makes me want to take your head off, so how am I supposed to…?” He threw up his hands. “Do I let you go, let you walk right into whatever’s out there waiting for you? Do I keep you a prisoner for your own good? You tell me.” He 13

  The Aisling Book Two Dream

  looked right at Wil, nothing in his eyes but real confusion and earnest asking. “What d’you want me to do? What do you want?”

  It resonated right through Wil’s chest, rife with remembered surprise and cautious hope, and he echoed back the answer he’d given the last time the question was put to him: “I want to not be afraid anymore.”

  Brayden winced, like hearing the words was another confirmation of something he didn’t want to believe.

  Cautiously, Wil lowered the handkerchief, fairly certain now that the bleeding had stopped. He peered curiously at Brayden. It scared Wil a little to see Brayden like this.

  From the moment Wil had laid eyes on him, Brayden had oozed conf
idence and good sense, wily intelligence and the capability to bend any circumstance to what he chose it to be. To go from that to this… disoriented perplexity…

  It was almost as unnerving as knowing that what had set it off was too real to be denied.

  “All right,” Brayden said quietly. “I want you to not be afraid anymore, too, but I don’t know how to…” A heavy shrug. “I didn’t mean to… to…” His great hand waved about. “I didn’t mean to ‘follow’ you, and I don’t even really think I did—I think She did—and even if I did, I’ll be buggered if I know how, and I’ve no idea—”

  “She was there?”

  “She

  brought me. I wouldn’t have been there had it not been—”

  “You’re

  always there,” Wil blurted heatedly, realized what he’d said then shut his mouth, hugging his pack a little closer to his chest.

  Brayden blinked over at him, eyebrows twisted tight.

  “What the hell does that mean?”

  Wil’s teeth clenched and he shook his head, angry and mortified at the same time when tears seared the backs of his eyes. “You’re always there,” he repeated, furious 14

  Carole Cummings

  now that not only did Brayden really not know, but that Wil couldn’t stop himself from enlightening him. “You’ve always been there, Watching me; you just didn’t know it, because… because…”

  He was posturing like he knew what he was talking about, and strangely, Brayden was listening to him.

  Inexplicably, it drove up Wil’s anger.

  “Because you’re a great lummox of a man who thinks that if he just reasons hard enough and believes hard enough, everything will be as he thinks it should be. You didn’t want to see; you didn’t want to know. And now you’re going to sit there and tell me that all this time, She’s been watching, She’s been seeing, and you could but you wouldn’t, and there I was—” He choked it off, bared his teeth in a snarl. “You want me to believe Siofra lied, made me afraid of you because he was afraid of you, and all right, it makes sense, but it doesn’t fix anything!

 
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