Larger Font   Reset Font Size   Smaller Font  

Goddess of the Rose

P. C. Cast

Chapter One

  Part One

  Chapter One

  "I've been having those dreams again. " Nelly straightened in her chair and gave her what Mikki liked to think of as her Clinically Interested Look.

  "Would you like to tell me about them?" she asked.

  Mikki shifted her eyes from her friend. Would she like to tell her? She uncrossed and then crossed her long legs, ran her hand nervously through her hair and tried to settle into the wingback chair.

  "Before I answer that question, I want you to answer one of mine first. "

  "Fair enough," Nelly said.

  "If I tell you about my dreams, how will you be listening? As my friend or as my shrink?"

  The psychiatrist laughed. "Please, Mikki! We're at a coffee shop, not my office. You're definitely not paying me a hundred and twenty dollars an hour to sit here with you. And let's not forget" - she leaned forward and exaggerated a whisper - "you've been my friend for years, but you've never been my patient. "

  "True, but that hasn't been because of my lack of issues. "

  "Oh, definitely," Nelly said with purposeful sarcasm. "So you gonna tell me, or do I have to use my secret shrink tricks on you to get you to divulge?"

  "Anything but that!" Mikki raised her hands as if to fend off an attack. Then she shrugged her shoulders. "Well, they're the same as the others. " Noting Nelly's knowing look coupled with her raised eyebrows, Mikki sighed and rolled her eyes. "Okay, maybe they have changed some lately. "

  "Could you see his face this time?" Nelly asked gently.

  "Almost. " Mikki squinted and stared at a spot above the cozy brick fireplace in the corner of the coffee shop. "Actually, I think I could have seen his face this time, but . . . "

  "But?" she prompted.

  "But I . . . " Mikki hesitated.

  Nelly made an encouraging sound.

  "But I was so preoccupied I couldn't make myself concentrate on his face," she finished in a rush.

  "Preoccupied with . . . ?"

  Mikki stopped staring at the hearth and met her friend's eyes. "I was preoccupied with having the most incredibly erotic dream of my life. I really didn't give a damn what his face looked like. "

  "Well, well, well . . . " She drew out the word. "I don't remember you describing sex in the other dreams. Now I really am interested in the rest of the story. "

  "That's because they weren't . . . or maybe I didn't . . . oh, I don't know. For some reason they're changing. " She struggled to describe what was happening to her. "I'm telling you, Nelly, the dreams are getting more and more real. "

  The joking sparkle went out of Nelly's dark eyes, instantly replaced by concern.

  "Talk to me, honey. What's going on?" she asked.

  "It's like the more realistic the dreams get, the less real my life is. "

  "Tell me about your latest dream, Mikki. "

  Instead of answering her, Mikki twirled an errant strand of thick, copper-colored hair and bought time by sipping her cappuccino. She and Nelly had been friends for years. They'd met at the hospital where they both worked and had been instant girlfriends. On the outside they had little in common. Nelly was tall and slender - dark with an exotic beauty - a gift from her mother's Haitian blood. She towered over Mikki's five-foot-seven-inch frame. Where Nelly was dark, Mikki was fair, just as where her friend was slender and graceful, Mikki was voluptuous and earthy. But instead of being jealous of or put off by the differences in their exteriors, the two women had, from the moment they'd met, appreciated each other for their uniqueness.

  It was a solid friendship, founded in trust and mutual respect. And Mikki had no idea why she was so hesitant to tell Nelly about the dreams, especially the last one . . .


  "I'm thinking of where to start," she prevaricated.

  Nelly gave her a little half-smile and sipped her own cappuccino before taking a delicate bite from her chocolate biscotti. "Take your time. All good shrinks have one thing in common. "

  "I know, I know . . . you're all annoyingly patient. "

  "Exactly. "

  Mikki fiddled with her coffee cup. She really did need to get this dream stuff straightened out. It was becoming too weird, in a hypnotic, seductive way.

  But she was stalling, and not just because she was hesitant about revealing such intimate details aloud, but also because part of her was afraid her friend - who really was an excellent psychiatrist - would have some kind of magic words that would cure her.

  She wasn't sure she wanted to be cured.

  "Hey, it's just me," Nelly said softly.

  Mikki gave her a tight, appreciative smile, drew a deep breath and began. "Okay, this one started the same as the others. " She picked nervously at her fingernail polish.

  "You mean in the canopy bed?"

  "Huge canopy bed in the enormous bedroom. " She corrected and then nodded. "Yeah. It was the same place, only it wasn't as dark as it usually is. This time a little light was coming into the room through a whole wall of windows. I think they're called" - Mikki searched for the word - "mull-something-or-other . . . panes of vertical stripes of glass. Know what I mean?"

  Nelly nodded. "Mullioned windows. "

  "Right, I think. Well, whatever they're called, I noticed them this time because they were letting in some light. " Mikki's gaze was trapped by the cheerily burning fire as she relived her dream. "It was a soft, pink-tinted light that must have been dawn," she said dreamily and then caught herself and continued, "Anyway, it woke me. " She hesitated and a small, half-laugh escaped her throat. "It even seemed odd in the dream - having my dream self wake up to experience another dream. " Mikki shrugged her shoulders. "But I woke up. I was lying on my stomach, and I could feel someone brushing my hair. It was wonderful. The 'whoever' was using one of those big brushes with soft, wide bristles. " Mikki grinned at her friend. "You know there are few things better than having your hair brushed. "

  "I'm with you on that one, but hair brushing is not sex. "

  "Okay, it's been a long time, but I'm fully aware that hair brushing is not sex. I'm not at the sex part yet, I'm just at the why-I-was-so-relaxed-and-happy part," Mikki said, giving Nelly an impatient look.

  "Sorry for interrupting. Just pretend like I'm not here. "

  "Is that shrink-talk stuff?"

  "Nope. It's I-want-to-hear-about-the-sex-part stuff. "

  Mikki grinned at her. "In that case, I will gladly continue. Let's see . . . I was so relaxed that I could feel myself drifting. It was bizarre - like my soul had become so light that it lifted from my body. It was then that everything got freaky. "

  "Explain freaky. "

  "Well, there was a rush of wind. It was like the breeze had all of a sudden picked me up and carried me someplace. But not really me. Just my spirit me. Then there was a settling feeling. It startled me, and I opened my eyes. I was back in my body, only now I was standing in the middle of the most incredible rose garden I have ever seen, ever even imagined. " Mikki's voice lost any hint of hesitation as she fell into the description of the scene. "It was breathtaking. I wanted to drink the air like wine. Roses were all around me. All my favorites: Double Delight, Chrysler Imperial, Cary Grant, Sterling Silver . . . " She sighed happily.

  "Any Mikado Roses?"

  Nelly's question brought her back to reality.

  "No, I didn't see any of my namesake roses. " She sat up, giving her friend an irritated look. "And I really don't think this is happening to me because my mother thought it was clever to name me after her favorite rose. "

  Nelly made a conciliatory gesture with her hand. "Hey, you have to admit, Mikki," she said, pronouncing the nickname clearly, as if to erase the word
Mikado from the air around them, "that it's weird that roses, in some form, appear in every one of your dreams. "

  "Why should it be odd? I'm a volunteer at the Tulsa Municipal Rose Gardens. I raise my own roses. Why should something that has been such a big part of my life not figure into my dreams?"

  "You're right. Roses are an important part of your life, as they were your mother's - "

  "And her mother's before her, and hers before her," Mikki interrupted.

  Nelly smiled and nodded. "You know I think it's a lovely hobby, and I'm completely jealous of your ability to grow such beautiful roses. "

  "I'm sorry. I shouldn't be so touchy. I guess I'm running short on sleep. "

  Worry shadowed Nelly's expression. "You didn't tell me that you're not sleeping. "

  "Oh, no, it's nothing," Mikki said briskly. "I've just been taking too many papers home from the office and staying up too late. "

  Please don't ask me any more questions about that, she thought, glancing at Nelly as she hastily stirred and then sipped her cappuccino. She didn't want her to know that her exhaustion had nothing to do with lack of sleep or too much work. All she wanted to do was to escape to her dream world and sleep, and even though she never felt fully rested after she'd been to that fantasy world of dreams, she felt compelled to return night after night.


  "Where was I?" she floundered.

  "In the beautiful rose garden. "

  "That's right. "

  "And things were getting freaky. "

  "Yeah. " Mikki let her eyes fall back to the fireplace. "For a while I just walked among the roses, touching each of them and appreciating their beauty. My guess was right, it was early morning and the air was fresh and cool; the roses were still sprinkled with dew. Everything looked like it had just been washed. The garden was circular, and the roses and their terraces formed a kind of labyrinth or maybe a maze. I wandered around and around, just enjoying myself. "

  Mikki's smile wavered, and she paused before beginning the next part of her dream. She could feel her cheeks coloring. Her eyes shifted abruptly to meet her friend's curious gaze.

  "Do not tell me you're embarrassed!"

  Mikki gave her a sheepish grin. "Kinda. "

  "Please recall that you and I have gotten Brazilian waxes. Together. In the same room. Get over it and give me the details. Plus, if all else fails, remember" - she took another big bite of biscotti and continued through a full mouth - "I'm a professional. "

  "Don't remind me," Mikki mumbled. She took a deep breath. "Okay, so I'm in the rose garden and then I suddenly felt him. I couldn't see him, but I knew he was behind me. " She licked her lips. Unconsciously, Mikki's hand moved to her throat. Her fingertips slowly stroked the sensitive skin at the base of her neck as she spoke. "I started walking faster, because at first I felt like I should get away from him, but soon that changed. I could hear him behind me; he was gaining on me. He wasn't being quiet or trying to hide. His noises were feral . . . dangerous. . . . it was as if I was being hunted by a fierce, masculine animal. "

  Mikki tried to force her breathing back to normal. Her body tingled with a flush of heat. She could feel the drop of sweat that made a hot, wet path between her breasts.

  "You were afraid?" Nellie asked.

  "No," Mikki said in a whisper that her friend had to lean forward and strain to hear. "That's just it. I wasn't afraid at all. It thrilled me. It excited me. I wanted him to catch me. When I ran, it was only because I could tell it provoked him - and I wanted very much for him to be provoked. "

  "Wow," Nelly said on a rush of breath. "Sexy . . . "

  "I told you so, and it gets better. "

  "Good. " Nelly bit into another biscotti.

  "I ran naked and laughing. It felt like the wind was my lover as it rushed over my body. I reveled in every grunt, every huff, every growl made by the man-thing who pursued me. And I wanted to be caught, but not until he was very, very eager to catch me. "

  "Well, for God's sake don't stop there. Did he catch you?"

  Mikki's gaze became introspective, and her eyes moved back to the fireplace.

  "Yes and no. As I said, I was running and he was chasing me. I came to a sharp corner in the labyrinth and I turned, then stumbled, and fell into a pit. When I hit the bottom it should have hurt, but it didn't because my fall was cushioned. " Mikki's lips twitched and then curved into a seductive smile. "It was cushioned by petals. I had fallen into a pit that had been filled with a bed of rose petals. There must have been thousands of them. Their scent filled the air and caressed my body. Every inch of my naked skin felt alive against their softness. And then his hands replaced the roses. They weren't soft. Instead, they were rough and strong and demanding. The difference between the two sensations was incredibly exciting. He stroked my naked body, moving from my breasts down my stomach and my thighs. He caressed me exactly as I would have touched myself. It was like he had the ability to tap into my dreams and he knew all my secret desires. "

  Mikki paused to brush a strand of hair from her face. Her hand was shaking, but not wanting Nelly to notice, she hurried on with her story.

  "It was darker in the pit than it had been in the gardens, and my vision was hazy, almost like the scent of the crushed petals had created a fog of perfume that obscured my vision. I couldn't see him, but wherever he touched me I was on fire. Before then in all of the dreams I had felt his presence, like he was an insubstantial being, a ghost or a shadow. I had known he was there, but he had never pursued me, never touched me. And I had certainly never touched him. But in the pit of roses, everything changed. I could feel his hands on me, and when I reached for him, I could actually touch him, too. I pulled him to me. And he . . . he felt . . . "

  Mikki gulped and closed her eyes tightly in remembrance. "He felt thick and strong and incredibly big. I ran my hands up and down the width of his shoulders and his arms. His muscles were like living stone. And I felt something else . . . he was . . . he had . . . " Mikki swallowed around the sudden dryness in her throat. Could she really tell Nelly? Could she tell anyone? Remembering, it was almost as if she was there again, in that pit of sensation and fragrance. Her hands had moved up to bury themselves in the thick mass of his hair. She had intended to turn his face to hers - to open her eyes and to finally, finally see him. Then she had touched them. Horns. The man creature who was stroking her body into an excitement she had never before experienced had horns.

  No! She couldn't tell Nelly; it was just too crazy. And her friend definitely knew crazy. Instead, she said in a rush, "He had some kind of costume on. It was leather - hard leather, all across his chest. Like . . . like" - she searched for the word - "like an old-fashioned breastplate. It was unbelievably erotic - those hard muscles being barely covered by that hard leather. I let my hands feel him - caress him. His face was buried in my hair, right here. "

  Closing her eyes, Mikki's right hand moved slowly up, pulled forward a mass of her reddish curls and sank her hand into them near her right ear.

  "This is where his face was, so it was easy for me to hear every sound he made. When I stroked him, he moaned into my ear, except it wasn't really a moan - at least not a moan a human would have made. It was a low, deep growl that went on and on. I know it should have scared me. I should have screamed and fought, or at the very least been petrified, frozen with fear. But I didn't want to be away from him. That horrible, wonderful, beastlike sound excited me even more. I felt like I would die if I couldn't have him - all of him. Arching up to meet him, I could easily feel his erection. He was grinding it against me. "

  Mikki swallowed again. "And then he spoke. His voice was like nothing I've ever heard - a man's, yet not. An animal's, but not really. The power in it rumbled through me and it was as if I could hear him within my mind, too. "

  When she paused, Nelly prompted breathlessly, "What did he say?"

  "He growled into my ear, 'We must not . . . I cannot . . .
It cannot be allowed to happen!' but his words didn't stop me. I could feel his desire in them as surely as I could feel his hardness between my legs. I begged him not to stop as I clutched at his clothes. I wanted them off him; I wanted him naked against me. But it was too late. I was already climaxing, and all I could do was wrap my legs around him as my body exploded. The orgasm is what woke me. "