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Once upon a Dream

Nora Roberts


  In Dreams

  By #1 New York Times Bestselling Author


  She heard someone—something—whisper her name.


  Instinctively, she glanced to the side, out the rain-spattered window, into the gloom. And there, for an instant, she saw a shadow take shape, the shape of a man. Eyes, green as glass, glittered.

  She hit the brakes, jerking forward as the car slid in the mud. Her heart raced, her fingers shook.

  Have you dreamed of me? Will you?

  Fighting fear, she quickly lowered the window, leaned out into the driving rain. “Please. Can you help me? I seem to be lost.”

  But there was no one there. No one who would—could—have said, so low and sad, So am I.

  Once Upon A Dream





  This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events or locales is entirely coincidental.


  A Jove Book / published by arrangement with the authors

  All rights reserved.

  Copyright © 2000 by Penguin Putnam Inc.

  “In Dreams” by Nora Roberts copyright 2000 by Nora Roberts.

  “The Sorcerer’s Daughter” by Jill Gregory copyright 2000 by Jan Greenberg.

  “The Enchantment” by Ruth Ryan Langan copyright 2000 by Ruth Ryan Langan.

  “The Bridge of Sighs” by Marianne Willman copyright 2000 by Marianne Willman.

  This book, or parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form, without permission.

  For information address: The Berkley Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Putnam Inc.,

  375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014.

  The Penguin Putnam Inc. World Wide Web site address is

  ISBN: 978-1-1011-9112-5


  Jove Books are published by The Berkley Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Putnam Inc.,

  375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014.

  JOVE and the “J” design are trademarks belonging to Penguin Putnam Inc.



  Nora Roberts


  Jill Gregory


  Ruth Ryan Langan


  Marianne Willman


  Nora Roberts

  For those who believe in magic


  ALL HE HAD were the dreams. Without them he was alone, always and ever alone. For the first hundred years of his solitude, he lived on arrogance and temper. He had plenty of both to spare.

  For the second, he lived on bitterness. Like one of his own secret brews, it bubbled and churned inside him. But rather than healing, it served as a kind of fuel that pushed him from day to night, from decade to decade.

  In the third century, he fell into despair and self-pity. It made him miserable company, even for himself.

  His stubbornness was such that it took four hundred years before he began to make a home for himself, to struggle to find some pleasure, some beauty, some satisfaction in his work and his art. Four hundred years before his pride made room for the admission that he may have been, perhaps, just slightly and only partially responsible for what had become of him.

  Still, had his actions, his attitude, deserved such a harsh judgment from the Keepers? Did his mistake, if indeed it had been a mistake, merit centuries of imprisonment, with only a single week of each hundred-year mark in which to really live?

  When half a millennium had passed, he surrendered to the dreams. No, it was more than surrender. He embraced them, survived on them. Escaped into them when his soul cried out for the simple touch of another being.

  For she came to him in dreams, the dark-haired maid with eyes like blue diamonds. In dreams she would run through his forest, sit by his fire, lie willing in his bed. He knew the sound of her voice, the warmth of it. He knew the shape of her, long and slender as a boy. He knew the way the dimple would wink to life at the corner of her mouth when she laughed. And the exact placement of the crescent moon birthmark on her thigh.

  He knew all of this, though he had never touched her, never spoken to her, never seen her but through the silky curtain of dreams.

  Though it had been a woman who had betrayed him, a woman who was at the root of his endless solitude, he yearned for this dark-haired maid. Yearned for her, as the years passed, as much as he yearned for what had been.

  He was drowning in a great, dark sea of alone.


  IT WAS SUPPOSED to be a vacation. It was supposed to be fun, relaxing, enlightening.

  It was not supposed to be terrifying.

  No, no, terrifying was an exaggeration. Slightly.

  A wicked summer storm, a strange road snaking through a dark forest where the trees were like giants cloaked in the armor of mists. Kayleen Brennan of the Boston Brennans wasn’t terrified by such things. She was made of sterner stuff. She made a point of reminding herself of that, every ten seconds or so as she fought to keep the rental car on the muddy ditch that had started out as a road.

  She was a practical woman, had made the decision to be one quite deliberately and quite clearly when she was twelve. No flights of fancy for Kayleen, no romantic dreams or foolish choices. She had watched—was still watching—such occupations lead her charming, adorable, and baffled mother into trouble.

  Financial trouble. Legal trouble. Man trouble.

  So Kayleen had become an adult at twelve, and had stayed one.

  An adult was not spooked by a bunch of trees and a few streaks of lightning, or by mists that thickened and thinned as if they breathed. A grown woman didn’t panic because she’d made a wrong turn. When the road was too narrow, as this one was, to allow her to safely turn around, she simply kept going until she found her way again.

  And a sensible person did not start imagining she heard things in the storm.

  Like voices.

  Should have stayed in Dublin, she told herself grimly as she bumped over a rut. In Dublin with its busy streets and crowded pubs, Ireland had seemed so civilized, so modern, so urbane. But no, she’d just had to see some of the countryside, hadn’t she? Just had to rent a car, buy a map, and head out to explore.

  But honestly, it had been a perfectly reasonable thing to do. She’d intended to see the country while she was here and perhaps find a few treasures for her family’s antique shop back in Boston. She’d intended to wander the roads, to drive to the sea, to visit the pretty little villages, and the great, grand ruins.

  Hadn’t she booked her stay in a licensed bed-and-breakfast for each night that she’d be traveling? Confirmed reservations ensured there would be no inconvenience and no surprises at the end of each day’s journey.

  Hadn’t she precisely mapped out her route and each point of interest, how long she intended to stay studying each?

  She hadn’t anticipated getting lost. No one did. The weather report had indicated some rain, but this was Ireland, after all. It had not indicated a wild, windy, wicked thunderstorm that shook her little car like a pair of dice in a cup and turned the long, lovely summer twilight into raging dark.

  Still, it was all right. It was perfectly all right. She was just a bit behind schedule, and it was partly her own fault. She’d lingered a bit longer than she intended at Powers-court Demesne on her way south. And a bit longer again
at the churchyard she’d come across when she headed west.

  She was certainly still in County Wicklow, certainly somewhere in Avondale Forest, and the guidebook had stated that the population through the forested land was thin, the villages few and far between.

  She had expected to find it charming and atmospheric, a delightful drive on her way to her night’s stay in Enniscorthy, a destination she’d been scheduled to reach by seven-thirty. She tipped up her arm, risked a quick glance at her watch, and winced when she saw she was already a full hour late.

  Doesn’t matter. Surely they wouldn’t lock the doors on her. The Irish were known for their hospitality. She intended to put that to the test as soon as she came across a town, a village, or even a single cottage. Once she did, she’d get her bearings again.

  But for now…

  She stopped dead in the road, realizing she hadn’t even seen another car for over an hour. Her purse, as ruthlessly organized as her life, sat on the seat beside her. She took out the cell phone she’d rented, turned it on.

  And swore softly when the readout told her, as it had since she’d driven into the forest far enough to realize she was lost, that she had no signal.

  “Why don’t I have a signal?” She nearly rapped the phone against the steering wheel in frustration. But that would have been foolish. “What is the point of renting mobile phones to tourists if they’re not going to be able to use them?”

  She put the phone away, took a deep breath. To calm herself, she closed her eyes, tilted her head back, and allowed herself two minutes of rest.

  The rain lashed the windows like whips, the wind continued its feral howl. At jolting intervals the thick darkness was split by yet another lance of blue-edged lightning. But Kayleen sat quietly, her dark hair still tidy in its band, her hands folded in her lap.

  Her mouth, full and shapely, gradually relaxed its tight line. When she opened her eyes, blue as the lightning that ripped the sky, they were calm again.

  She rolled her shoulders, took one last cleansing breath, then eased the car forward.

  As she did, she heard someone—something—whisper her name.


  Instinctively, she glanced to the side, out the rain-spattered window, into the gloom. And there, for an instant, she saw a shadow take shape, the shape of a man. Eyes, green as glass, glittered.

  She hit the brakes, jerking forward as the car slid in the mud. Her heart raced, her fingers shook.

  Have you dreamed of me? Will you?

  Fighting fear, she quickly lowered the window, leaned out into the driving rain. “Please. Can you help me? I seem to be lost.”

  But there was no one there. No one who would—could—have said, so low and sad, So am I.

  Of course there was no one. With one icy finger she jabbed the button to send the window back up. Just her imagination, just fatigue playing tricks. There was no man standing in the forest in a storm. No man who knew her name.

  It was just the sort of foolishness her mother would have dreamed up. The woman lost in the enchanted forest, in a dramatic storm, and the handsome man, most likely a prince under a spell, who rescued her.

  Well, Kayleen Brennan could rescue herself, thank you very much. And there were no spellbound princes, only shadows in the rain.

  But her heart rapped like a fist against her ribs. With her breath coming fast, she hit the gas again. She would get off of this damned road, and she would get to where she intended to be.

  When she got there, she would drink an entire pot of tea while sitting neck-deep in a hot bath. And all of this…. inconvenience would be behind her.

  She tried to laugh it off, tried to distract herself by mentally composing a letter home to her mother, who would have enjoyed every moment of the experience.

  An adventure, she would say. Kayleen! You finally had an adventure!

  “Well, I don’t want a damn adventure. I want a hot bath. I want a roof over my head and a civilized meal.” She was getting worked up again, and this time she couldn’t seem to stop. “Won’t somebody please help me get where I’m supposed to be!”

  In answer, lightning shot down, a three-pronged pitchfork hurled out of the heavens. The blast of it exploded the dark into blinding light.

  As she threw up an arm to shield her eyes, she saw, standing like a king in the center of the road, a huge buck. Its hide was violently white in the slash of her headlights, its rack gleaming silver. And its eyes, cool and gold, met her terrified ones through the rain.

  She swerved, stomped on the brakes. The little car fishtailed, seemed to spin in dizzying circles propelled by the swirling fog. She heard a scream—it had to be her own—before the car ran hard into a tree.

  And so she dreamed.

  Of running through the forest while the rain slapped down like angry fingers. Eyes, it seemed a thousand of them, watched her through the gloom. She fled, stumbling in the muck stirred up by the storm, her bones jolting as she fell.

  Her head was full of sound. The roar of the wind, the booming warning of thunder. And under it a thousand voices chanting.

  She wept, and didn’t know why. It wasn’t the fear, but something else, something that wanted to be wrenched out of her heart as a splinter is wrenched from an aching finger. She remembered nothing, neither name nor place—only that she had to find her way. Had to find it before it was too late.

  There was the light, the single ball of it glowing in the dark. She ran toward it, her breath tearing out of her lungs, rain streaming from her hair, down her face.

  The ground sucked at her shoes. Another fall tore her sweater. She felt the quick burn on her flesh and, favoring her left arm, scrambled up again. Winded, aching, lost, she continued at a limping run.

  The light was her focus. If only she could make it to the light, everything would be all right again. Somehow.

  A spear of lightning struck close, so close she felt it sear the air, felt it drench the night with the hot sting of ozone. And in its afterglow she saw that the light was a single beam, from a single window in the tower of a castle.

  Of course there would be a castle. It seemed not odd at all that there should be a castle with its tower light glowing in the middle of the woods during a raging storm.

  Her weeping became laughter, wild as the night, as she stumbled toward it, tramping through rivers of flowers.

  She fell against the massive door and with what strength she had left, slapped a fist against it.

  The sound was swallowed by the storm.

  “Please,” she murmured. “Oh, please, let me in.”

  By the fire, he’d fallen into the twilight-sleep he was allowed, had dreamed in the flames he’d set to blaze—of his dark-haired maid, coming to him. But her eyes had been frightened, and her cheeks pale as ice.

  He’d slept through the storm, through the memories that often haunted him even in that drifting place. But when she had come into those dreams, when she had turned those eyes on him, he stirred. And spoke her name.

  And jolted awake, that name sliding out of his mind again. The fire had burned down nearly to embers now. He could have set it roaring again with a thought, but didn’t bother.

  In any case, it was nearly time. He saw by the pretty crystal clock on the ancient stone mantel—he was amused by such anachronisms—that it was only seconds shy of midnight.

  His week would begin at that stroke. For seven days, and seven nights, he would be. Not just a shadow in a world of dreams, but flesh, blood, and bone.

  He lifted his arms, threw back his head, and waited to become.

  The world trembled, and the clock struck midnight.

  There was pain. He welcomed it like a lover. Oh, God, to feel. Cold burned his skin. Heat scorched it. His throat opened, and there was the blessed bliss of thirst.

  He opened his eyes. Colors sprang out at him, clear and true, without that damning mist that separated him for all the other time.

  Lowering his hands, he laid one on the back of his c
hair, felt the soft brush of velvet. He smelled the smoke from the fire, the rain that pounded outside and snuck in through his partially open window.

  His senses were battered, so overwhelmed with the rush of sensations that he nearly swooned. And even that was a towering pleasure.

  He laughed, a huge burst of sound that he felt rumble up from his belly. And fisting his hands, he raised them yet again.

  “I am.”

  Even as he claimed himself, as the walls echoed with his voice, he heard the pounding at the door. Jolted, he lowered his arms, turned toward a sound he’d not heard in five hundred years. Then it was joined by another.

  “Please.” And it was his dream who shouted. “Oh, please, let me in.”

  A trick, he thought. Why would he be tortured with tricks now? He wouldn’t tolerate it. Not now. Not during his week to be.

  He threw out a hand, sent lights blazing. Furious, he strode out of the room, down the corridor, down the circling pie-shaped stairs. They would not be allowed to infringe on his week. It was a breach of the sentence. He would not lose a single hour of the little time he had.

  Impatient with the distance, he muttered the magic under his breath. And appeared again in the great hall.

  He wrenched open the door. Met the fury of the storm with fury of his own.

  And saw her.

  He stared, transfixed. He lost his breath, his mind. His heart.

  She had come.

  She looked at him, a smile trembling on her lips and sending the dimple at the corner of her mouth to winking.

  “There you are,” she said.

  And fainted at his feet.


  SHADOWS AND SHAPES and murmuring voices. They swirled in her head, swelling, fading in a cycle of confusion.

  Even when she opened her eyes, they were there. Revolving. What? was her only thought. What is it?