Can the man you meet in your dreams become your life mate? Don’t miss New York Times bestselling author Megan Hart’s scintillating romance…
The first time Mariella Finch made love to Butler Meadows they had just escaped from a soul-eating monster. What began as Butler’s nightmare turned into one of the most intensely exciting nights Mariella had ever had in the land of Ephemeros, the land of dreams. And in Ephemeros, Mariella has the power to shape reality and her physical appearance.
When Mariella finds Butler in the waking world, he doesn’t recognize her. Sweet and shy, Butler is the man she never knew she was looking for. But he’s reluctant to show the passion he feels free to release in their nocturnal rendezvous.
Mariella knows that she can use everything she learns about Butler in Ephemeros to make him love her. What she doesn’t know is if she wants a romance built on lies and fantasy—or if Butler will ever trust her if he knows the truth.
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It began, as it almost always did, on the sand. Black shifting sand sprinkled with glittering shells that Mariella didn’t bother to pick up. They’d probably fall into dust at her first touch. She let her feet sift through the sand, cool though the greenish sun overhead blazed in a purple-tinted sky.
This was the Ephemeros. The land of dreams. And for the moment, Mariella was still alone, though she knew that could and would change at any moment.
For now, though, it was enough to lift her face to the scent of salt water blowing off the black ocean. The breeze blew her long white dress around her ankles and molded it to her thighs. It lifted her hair, which fell to her hips, longer than she wore it in real life, but the same dark red as her waking self. Tonight she was representing almost exactly as she really looked, at least so far. Though who knew what the night would bring?
She always started here on the sand because in the waking world, she lived too far from the ocean to make it a daily trip. At least in dreams she could always find the sea. Breathe it in. Bathe in it. Cool blue tropical waters, frigid green depths, or this, the black and violet swirling, heated waters now lapping at her toes. If she waded in, she’d be buoyant. Floating. Her hair would spread out all around her, delicate as spider’s filament, and her white dress would turn transparent. She could drown in a sea like that. Drown and be reborn.
But not tonight.
Tonight, Mariella had other things in mind. She’d spent the day at work, then running errands, hitting the gym. She’d been a good daughter and checked in on her parents, who lived a few hours away, and paid her bills. Cleaned her bathroom. By the time she’d slipped into bed, her eyes had already been closing. She deserved a night of fun and intended to have one.
“Music,” she murmured. “Dancing.”
She hadn’t been dancing in the real world in months, not since she’d gone clubbing with her best friend, Janice, to celebrate their birthdays, only a week apart. They’d spent the weekend in Baltimore, hitting up the Power Plant Live’s multiple bars. Janice had been drunk enough to ride the mechanical bull in one of the clubs. Mariella had taken pictures that they’d laughed themselves silly over the next day, but though they’d danced with a bunch of different men, they’d gone back to their hotel room with only each other.
Mariella hadn’t had a date in six months or so. Too busy at work, no good prospects… She had a lot of excuses, but a big part of the truth was that it was hard to find someone in the waking world. Hard to make it work. At least in dreams she could, as Adam Ant had said, get in, on, down, off, up, dressed and out. No hassles. No worries.
No love, either, though.
Mariella had never even come close to exploring the entire Ephemeros, but she’d learned that there were a few places in the dream world that stayed constant. Built by the collective unconscious, the decor and locale might appear different from visit to visit, but the place itself would always be the same. One of them was a dance club. Sometimes it looked like a discotheque. Sometimes, an industrial club. Others, an Irish pub, a WWII-era dance hall, and once, Mariella had found it as a ballroom in a Jane Austen type country estate. But there was always music and dancing, always people looking for romance. It wasn’t one of her favorite places to explore in the Ephemeros, but she knew how to find it, and tonight it would be just the place to get what she was looking for.
Sex. Straight up, plain and simple, nothing complicated or too kinky. Just some good old-fashioned fucking and a half-dozen or so orgasms. Her expectations weren’t too high, Mariella thought with a laugh as the landscape in front of her changed according to the push of her will. The sand in front of each step became clear glass that formed a path snaking through the beach and toward the jagged Cimmerian mountains in the distance. Getting to the dance house wasn’t so much about following a path as it was about following a feeling.
She could’ve imagined a car for herself. Or a horse. A unicorn. Hell, Mariella could’ve flown to the dance club if she wanted to, but at the moment she was content to walk. One foot in front of the other, and though the distance she traveled was much farther than it would never have been in the real world, it took her only a few steps before she’d almost reached it. The landscape changed as she walked. She could’ve shaped it herself, but instead let it morph on its own. She liked to see what the dreamers did.
This dreamer in front of her now stood on the side of her path and kept his gaze focused toward the ocean. Not the dance club. He wore a pair of khaki cargo pants and a white oxford shirt with the sleeves rolled up to his elbows. A thick brown belt matched his heavy brown work boots. He didn’t wear a fedora or have a gun or a whip curled on his belt, but it was clear he was representing as some kind of adventurer in the style of Indiana Jones. She found him utterly charming, though not exactly what she was looking for.
Still, he was the only one in the dreamscape with her at the moment, and definitely a dreamer, not a shaper. Mariella had learned to pay attention to being the only shaper in the dreamscape. She’d met other shapers who believed it was their duty to help out the dreamers who needed them to guide their dreams, but she usually tried to avoid that task.
“Hello,” the man said as she passed.
Wary, Mariella nodded. “Hi.”
“You should be careful,” the man said mildly, using his chin to point at a place somewhere off the path. “Someone over there is dangerous.”
Though there was very little in the Ephemeros that could truly hurt her, at least not permanently, Mariella paused to look in the direction he’d pointed. “What are they doing?”
“I’m not sure.” The man gave her his full attention. He had kind, greenish-hazel eyes and thick dark hair. A little silver glinted at the temples, a nice touch and probably close to, if not exactly how he looked in the waking world. People who represented to assuage their vanity never gave themselves gray hair or wrinkles like the ones crinkling at the corners of his eyes now when he smiled at her. They made themselves taller, too, she thought as she eyed his height, an inch or three taller than her five foot five. “Hi. I’m Butler Meadows.”