The whispered command tickled the inside of Rory
MacGrath’s ear, feather-light and taunting.
He brushed it away and rolled over, trying to
block out what he instantly knew.
It was the dream again—the one that felt too real
to be just a dream.
In a moment he would open his eyes and find the
woman standing beside him.
He wouldn’t know
if she was flesh or fantasy, wouldn’t be able to
distinguish imagined from reality.
Not even in the morning.
He acknowledged this, tried to convince himself that he
didn’t believe her to be more than a projection of his
own mind. A
fantasy he’d conjured and spewed into this
He felt his heartbeat begin to race; his breath
slowing and deepening—combatant symptoms to the
He thought he opened his eyes, but couldn’t be sure
Either way, he saw her waiting impatiently beside the
couch where he’d fallen asleep watching ESPN.
The apartment was dark, lit only by the
flickering screen of the TV behind her.
It cast her in gray and white, dreamscape
Then the flashing screen went blank and they were both
bathed in darkness.
This—of all that was about to come—it was
this that he
hated the most.
The black on black void held him captive for
Sound came before the light was restored.
It was rumbling, indistinct, but a sensory input
that his panicking mind grasped gratefully.
There was something out there.
Something more than his fear.
More than his sleep-deadened body.
A flicker heralded the flame of a candle.
An instant later others sparked to life until
boundaries of a room could be determined in the glow.
He was no longer in his apartment.
He scanned his surroundings quickly before fixating on
the woman again.
It was impossible not to.
She looked the same as she had last night and the
night before and the night before that.
She had dark hair—too burnished for black, too
velvety rich for brown.
It was full and silken and glossy as mink.
It hung to her waist in a wave of body and
bounce, gleaming with the flicker of the candlelight.
Her eyes were brown, as dark as her glorious
burned like the tiny flickering flames around her.
Even his dream-self couldn’t believe their
Her lips were full and soft, one corner caught
between her teeth.
She looked exotic, her skin dusky and her
She wore a blue dress with white sleeves—something that
laced in places where there should have been seams or
bloused and flowed over her round shoulders, past hips
that made him think of sex in a deep, drowning way.
The hem brushed a scattering of twigs and straw
on the floor.
Not even her feet peeped out.
She stood in the center of a room with three stone
Behind him hung a thick woven curtain that served as the
knew it without turning to look.
There was a table with a pitcher on it in the
corner beside a lumpy bed covered by a scarlet blanket.
The room was damp and drafty, making the
tapestries on the walls billow, but the woman seemed
oblivious to the cold.
As he watched, she began to untie the dress, letting it
fall, revealing a white shift beneath it.
The thin material silhouetted her body for a
moment before she began to remove that too.
Even as some part of him shouted again that she
wasn’t real, Rory succumbed to the seduction.
She was every fantasy he’d ever had, ever wanted.
Her skin was so smooth and hued it might have been
carved from the waxed light that made it gleam.
Her breasts were full and heavy and he felt the
air leave his lungs as she bared them.
She glanced up then—every time, every night, at
just that moment.
Almost as if she’d heard him.
Her cheeks were flushed.
Her eyes defiant.
Anger, bordering rage filled their depths.
So much of the dream made no sense, but that
part—that look of fury mixed with consent—it bewildered
him the most.
When she was stripped bare, she stood in the flickering
light and stared at something just over his shoulder.
He turned—every time he turned even though by now a part
of him knew what he’d see.
A tall man with overlong hair stood just behind
him. A man
dressed in a weird get-up that looked like it had come
from a movie set.
Archaic, like the dress the woman had stripped.
His cloak was made of some animal fur—not politically
correct faux fur, but the real thing, with paws
stretched flat at four points and the stub of tail
nearly dragging the floor.
It was flung back from his massive shoulders,
revealing a heavy circle of gold round his throat.
An obscure word floated to the top of Rory’s
That’s what it was called.
It was as thick as Rory’s fingers and engraved
with Celtic spirals covering its surface.
It looked heavy.
The man’s shirt had a wide slit for his head,
boxy sleeves that fell to his forearms, and a front
embroidered with more spirals and symbols in purple and
gold at the hem and seams.
It hung to his thighs, like a dress.
Beneath it were short pants that gathered below
his knees and leather sandals wrapped midway up powerful
calves, Roman style.
But even his bizarre attire was not the strangest part.
What made Rory gasp was more tangible, more
It shook him no matter how many times he faced it.
The man looked exactly like Rory.
He didn’t resemble; he wasn’t similar.
Literally, he could have been Rory’s reflection.
As Rory stared he became aware of the ebb and flow of
noises coming from beyond the curtained wall, a rumble
that now distinguished itself into laughter and
conversations he hadn’t noticed while he’d watched the
He’d heard only the beat of his heart pounding in his
ears then. Now
sounds surged into the candlelit room, the drone of
speaking men mingling with raucous hoots and jeering, an
occasional giggle or shriek of mirth from the women.
One man’s words rose above the rest as the
speaker threatened to come in and show Rory where
The man used Rory’s name, but pronounced it with
the same Gaelic inflection that his dream woman had used
when she’d urged him to hurry.
Rory frowned, realizing he recognized the man’s voice.
He knew he’d heard it before.
From their expressions, it was familiar to the
naked woman and his identical twin too.
A surge of lewd cheers followed the man’s threat.
Volunteers offered to help with the endeavor.
The taunts galvanized Rory’s twin into action and he
began stripping away the strange costume with nimble,
He unfastened a gold chain holding the fur cloak
at his throat and tossed the heavy garment onto the bed
before bending to untie the sandals.
Frowning, Rory went back to watching the woman as
she watched his double.
She stood straight and proud, neither hunching to
cover her nudity or posing to flaunt it.
She wore no expression, but her eyes sparked and
flared with something Rory couldn’t quite identify.
It couldn’t be longing.
There was too
much anger for that.
Her fingers curled in on each other in a tight
they eased, then they contracted again.
But it was the way her gaze swept over his twin, the way
her breasts lifted with a soft breath and her tongue
moistened her lips that enthralled him.
He couldn’t look away though that distant awareness
inside him was shouting again, warning him not to relax,
not to be mesmerized by the rise and fall of those
But he couldn’t stop himself as he stared at her,
longing to touch her.
He knew the end of this fantasy dream was coming, as it
always did just at this point when he felt he might
explode with the want and need rising inside him.
He braced himself for it, for what came after
when he finally awoke alone and aching, still feeling
that somehow it had been more than a dream, though he
knew that was crazy.
She would torment him during the wakeful hours
The sight of her, close enough to touch . . . to smell .
. . to taste . . . .
He would imagine she was everywhere, just out of
But this time the dream took another turn, veering
Rory tensed, suddenly uncertain in unknown waters.
Would his body double do what the real Rory
Would he take her in his arms and bury himself deep
between the woman’s warm thighs?
Would watching them be better or worse than
always wondering what came after that heated look in her
Her gaze flitted over his twin’s body, lingering on the
bunched muscles in his shoulders, the tight ridge of his
abs, sliding lower, to the hard-on that stood tight
against his belly.
She flushed and turned away, moving to the table
where she filled a cup with wine and gulped it down.
Rory found himself entranced by the play of
candlelight on the slope of her spine, on the curve of
her ass, the long length of leg.
His body double watched with equal fascination.
She took another drink before facing his twin again, but
whatever Dutch courage she’d gained vanished when she
looked so vulnerable standing before the massive size
and barely restrained power of his muscled twin.
Rory wanted to intercede, not trusting his double
with his dream woman.
Even now, a part of him caught the irony in that.
Rory was no more trustworthy than this stranger
who looked like him.
He watched with growing frustration as the two met in
the center of the room.
As his twin reached out and touched her skin,
slid his hands from shoulders to buttocks, pulling her
tight against his body. It
enraged him, watching.
Confounded him, because he also felt some strange
sense of participation.
The old phrase, taking a shower in a raincoat
came to him.
It fit exactly.
He experienced some of what his twin must be
feeling, and yet only through the thick layer of
His twin and woman backed up until they reached the
crude bed and then fell on it.
Rory’s gut tightened as they came together in a
tangle of limbs and passion.
There was little love, that was apparent, but
there was heat and need that perfumed the air and
sizzled in the silence.
The two seemed to clash in a battle for control,
yet neither relinquished it and neither retained it.
Rory could only ride the wave, dry and isolated
while his mind and his body yearned to take his twin’s
place, be one with the complex and fervent
When it was over, he was twisted tight and hard as a
cursed under his breath, damning this dream world that
had dominated him.
Wishing to awaken but unable to bring his
consciousness back to his sleeping body.
He heard a sound to his right.
Confused, he looked at the stone wall and saw the
woven banner with a crest at its center billow and then
move. A man
appeared—dressed like Rory’s twin had been only not so
fine, not so resplendent.
This man’s clothing lacked the adornment and
embellishment but it had the same ancient look to it.
He was armed with a bladed weapon—too short to be
called sword, too long to be a knife.
His manner said he knew how to use it.
What happened next came in a jerky blur—a film strip
that jumped and dragged then sped forward without pause.
His twin leaping off the bed, the woman sucking
in a harsh breath that seemed to clog the scream she
wanted to release.
There was recognition on all their faces and Rory
understood that this intruder was no stranger.
Unfettered by the vulnerability of his nudity, his twin
crouched in a fighting stance as the new man circled him
with that long and wicked blade clenched tight in his
they charged one another, one naked, one garbed.
The fight was quick, silent and violent.
Rory’s twin overpowered the other but not without
He unarmed the attacker quickly, slamming him against
the unrelenting stone and crushing the intruder’s throat
with his bare hands.
Stunned, Rory looked from the dead man now sprawled on
the floor to his naked twin to the woman who watched
from between spread fingers.
She rushed toward his twin with a look of horror
on her face.
Rory spun and saw that his double was on his knees now.
His hands clutched his gut and something dark and
viscous ran through his fingers.
Rory crouched beside the woman as she stared at the
gaping wound across his twin’s abdomen.
Blood gushed from it, splashing her bare skin,
seeping into the straw and twigs covering the floor.
There was so much
of it. Too
“Why?” she breathed the question, those eyes scanning
his twin’s face.
Rory wanted to know as well.
Why had the intruder attacked them without
His twin was bent with agony and didn’t answer.
As his twin reached out a bloody hand to the
woman, Rory knew the life was draining from him.
It was like watching his own death, unbearable
The look in his twin’s eyes cut him as deeply as
the gash in the other man’s flesh.
There was rage and there was pain.
And something deeper, more agonizing.
A wound more painful than the one emptying his
life onto the floor.
“It’s the both of us he’s betrayed, isn’t it?” the woman
said, her words so soft Rory thought they were imagined.
His twin closed his eyes and nodded once.
Then he looked up and for a cold instant, it
seemed he stared right at Rory.
There was comprehension in the look—comprehension
Then, relief. Rory
felt the how
forming on his lips but he had no voice here, in this
nightmare that had morphed into something no longer
symbolic but terrifyingly real.
His twin stumbled to his feet and now he clutched an
object in his hands.
Rory gaped at it, reeling again from the shift
this dream-world took.
It was the Book of Fennore.
Rory would recognize it anywhere, even here, in
this warped fantasy he couldn’t escape.
The Book had a
black cover made of leather, beveled with concentric
spirals, and crusted with jewels, gold and hammered
silver that twisted and twined around the edges and
Three cords of silver connected in a mystifying lock
fixed over the jagged edges of thick creamy paper.
As old as the earth and sky, the Book was more
than a bound text, it was an entity with its own
consuming desires and twisted needs.
Just touching it gave it access to the heart,
mind, and very soul.
Its call was irresistible.
Its promises, unimaginable.
Rory knew better than anyone.
A low humming had swelled around the three of them, a
sickening buzz that lodged in the pit of his stomach and
blocked out the sounds on the other side of the curtain.
He felt hot and cold . . . and scared.
The dream breached what little barrier remained
between nightmare and terror.
The humming whine throbbed and pulsated—too low to be
heard, too insistent to be ignored.
With it came a blistering heat that burned like a
coal in his head.
A reasonable, alien part of him began to cite
calming words—It will be all right. It’s
just a dream.
Just your imagination.
And once again, dream-Rory recognized that the
input was coming from his wakeful self.
Dream-Rory found that even more terrifying
because that implied a plurality that went beyond the
This can’t be a fucking dream if I’m thinking all of
that . . .
Everything began to shimmer, became the stuff dreams are
supposed to be—translucent, then transparent, then
Before he could wrap his thoughts around it, the woman
turned her head to where he knelt beside her.
The cold fear on her face struck an answering
chord within him.
She saw him.
She lifted a hand that shook and set it against his
chest, as if to test his solidity.
Her eyes widened; her mouth rounded and into an
“oh” of disbelief.
And the shock of her icy fingers against his hot skin
jerked him awake.