Prince of Dreams

Prince of Dreams
Val Cache Series  —  Book 2
Bantam (February 1995)
ISBN-13: 9780553567762 ♦ ISBN-10: 0553567764

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San Francisco psychologist Diana Ransom can’t take her eyes off the gorgeous, green-eyed stranger. But when she finally approaches him across the smoke-filled room, her reasons have little to do with the treacherous feelings he inspires. Diana suspects that this brooding, enigmatic man is responsible for the disappearance of her fragile young cousin. Desperate to find her and determined to plumb the mystery behind Nicholas Gale’s hypnotic charm, Diana will follow him into the velvety darkness. . . and awake to a haunting passion. For Nicholas is no mere human but a vampire with the power to steal into a woman’s dreams and fill her nights with untold rapture. And soon, blinded by an ecstasy sweeter than any she’s ever known, Diana will find herself risking her eternal soul for a love that promises to be forever.

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Prince of Dreams

He sat up a little straighter, and for the first time Diana saw a flicker of emotion cross that impassively handsome face. She breathed in very deeply and released the breath as silently as she could. After a week of searching, she’d finally found the man she was looking for. She’d recognized him in an instant.

“Keely?” he echoed. He blinked, the first time she had noticed him do so; deep gold lashes swept down over eyes the color of dark jade. They had looked paler in the gallery, and his hair, in this dim light, was a more prosaic blond. But his remarkable, aristocratic good looks were rather overwhelming at this proximity.

Oh yes, he was quite beautiful. Not so beautiful as to have lost his masculine edge; he had that in plenty, radiating outward from his seemingly relaxed body. A dancer’s body, she thought, remembering the way he had moved with Keely on his arm. Lithe but strong, in a way his casual denim and leather couldn’t conceal. The kind of man who would attract attention and expect it as his due.

She let herself meet his eyes, looking for the challenge she had seen in the alley outside the gallery. Surely that had been her imagination; there was no mockery in his gaze now. In fact, the abandon with which he had conducted himself in Keely’s company was entirely absent.

The twitchy unease she’d felt when she’d seen him here in the coffeehouse was fading, leaving more confusing emotions in its wake. She could tell herself a million times that her interest in this man was limited to his connection to Keely, but somehow the explanation seemed dishonest. She remembered the way she had felt in the gallery, transported for an instant to an alternate reality where she was the woman in his arms, laughing and wild…

Here eyes fell unwilling to his lips. Strong, mobile lips, last seen kissing Keely with unbridled passion. Was it any wonder Keely had fallen–

Diana snapped herself out of her treacherous thoughts. She leaned forward, clasping her hands on the table top.

“Where is she?” she asked, schooling her voice to calm.

The man’s eyes narrowed as he settled back into his seat. A fine network of tiny creases radiated outward from the corners of his eyes, and Diana wondered how old he was. Thirty? Surely not much older. Her own age.

“I don’t know,” he answered. His voice was deep and even and laced with vibrations like the purr of some great tawny cat. His simplest words held a note of refinement, the barest trace of an accent Diana couldn’t place. He looked away, gestured to someone over Diana’s shoulder. “Would you care for a cup of espresso, Miss–”

“Dr. Ransom,” she supplied, watching him carefully.

He lifted one straight, golden brow. “The name sounds familiar.” He paused with maddening nonchalance to order two cups of espresso from the leather-clad waitress and slowly turned his attention back to Diana. “Are you a friend of Keely’s, Dr. Ransom?”

Diana struggled with the hostility and anger that suddenly threatened to overwhelm her necessary detachment. Detachment? a small voice mocked her. You never had that where Keely is concerned.

She forced her mouth into a cool smile. “Yes, Mr. Gale. I am Keely’s friend. And right now I am very concerned about her. Id very much like to speak with her.”

A trace of bemusement — feigned or otherwise — crossed Nicholas Gale’s face. “I’d like to speak with her myself, Dr. Ransom. I haven’t seen her in over a month.”

The waitress appeared with the espressos, and Nicholas looked up with a smile that warmed his sculpted features like sunlight striking marble. “I can’t tell you anything. I’ve been out of town for several weeks.” He took a sip of his drink and glanced inquiringly at Diana’s. “I don’t believe we’ve met before, though Keely may have mentioned your name….” He shook his head, and a wave of golden hair tumbled over his forehead. “Is there a particular reason why you came to me?”

Reaching for her espresso, Diana concentrated on the slow and steady movement of her hand. What kind of game was he playing? Their eyes had met at the gallery a week ago, and it wasn’t an overabundance of ego that made her believe he wouldn’t have forgotten her so quickly. He claimed that he hadn’t seen Keely in a month….

“Mr. Gale,” she said, feeling her control slip away. “Let me refresh your memory. I was at Keely’s opening at Newbold’s a week ago Sunday night. I saw you with her there, and I’ve been trying to locate her ever since. You weren’t easy to find either, Mr. Gale. No one seemed to know your name or who you were. I came to this place because Keely mentioned it once or twice, and I–”

He did no more than lift his hand, but that single gesture stopped her words as if he had shouted. “I’m afraid you must have me confused with someone else, Dr. Ransom. I was in New York during Keely’s opening.”

She knew she was staring at him, dumbfounded at his barefaced lie. Confused with someone else? Not in a million years. And if she wasn’t able to trust her own eyes and memory…

Prince of Dreams

She wanted to lean forward over the table and stare him down, take him by his leather lapels and shake him. Irrational, irrational. Just like the feeling she’d had when she’d seen him take Keely in his arms and kiss her with passionate abandon.

“That’s very interesting, Mr. Gale,” she said at last. “Quite a number of people seem to remember seeing you with Keely recently.”

Gale looked at her through half-lowered lids. “Not more recently than six weeks ago,” he said. Diana thought she detected the trace of an edge in his voice. Abruptly he sat up again. Energy seemed to course through him, an almost visible thing. “Why are you looking for Keely, Dr. Ransom? Has something happened to her?”

Diana stood up so suddenly that she almost knocked over her chair. “If anyone knows, it’s you. I don’t know why you’re playing this game, but I only want to talk to her. Or are you so insecure in your relationship that you have to keep her to yourself?”

She knew she had gone overboard, and she almost didn’t care. The past weeks of growing worry and upwelling memory had done their work. All her attempts at objectivity were going right down the tubes, and the old emotions were coming back like furious, hungry ghosts.

Gale looked up at her. His face was expressionless, but she knew she had struck a nerve. “Ransom,” he muttered. He looked away for a moment, and then back again. His green eyes were hard as crystal. “Ransom. Keely has a relative, a psychologist of some sort–”

“Yes. Keely is my cousin. I’ve been looking for her ever since that day in the gallery, when she seemed to drop off the face of the earth–”

Easy, Diana, she told herself. Antagonism will get you nowhere. Just because the same thing had happened to Clare before Adrian had abandoned her, just before she’d taken her own life…

It wasn’t difficult to pretend earnestness as she leaned over the table, using her position over him to reinforce her authority. She stared into Gale’s eyes, searching for signs of recognition or guilt. “I only want to talk to her. She hasn’t even been to her apartment, and I need to know where she is. Family business.” She breathed in slowly. “I know your relationship with her is between the two of you, but I see no reason why you’d have to hide her away from her family and friends–”

“I didn’t, Dr. Ransom.” He was on his feet before she realized it, his face inches from her own. She caught her breath, leaning more heavily on the table, unable to look away from him.

“I didn’t,” he repeated quietly. “Keely and I are friends, but not in the way you are implying. I left town several weeks ago because she wanted our relationship to change.” He looked directly into her eyes. “She wanted us to be lovers, and I — declined.”

His gaze held hers for another long moment and then snapped away. As if at a silent command, the shaven-headed barkeep wandered over to the table, looking curiously from Nicholas to Diana.

“You rang,” she said to Nicholas, flicking one of several earrings with a black-painted fingernail.

Nicholas sat down slowly, ignoring Diana. “Barb, when was the last time you saw me in Mama Soma’s?”

The young woman rolled her eyes thoughtfully. “A few weeks ago, I guess.”

“And have you seen me anywhere else recently?”

“Well, as I told this lady here, once or twice as I was going home, I saw you on the street with Keely. Haven’t seen her here in a while, either.”

Diana watched Gale’s face. He was frowning now, a look of open puzzlement. “Are you certain it was me you saw her with, Barb?”

The woman wrinkled her nose and ran a hand over the smooth dome of her skull. “I don’t know too many people who look like you, Nick,” she said with a grin. “But it was kinda dark….” She shrugged. “If it wasn’t you, it had to be your twin.” Someone called out behind her, and she winked at Nicholas. “Gotta run.”

Nicholas muttered something and stared blankly at Diana. It was as if he looked right through her.

Prince of Dreams

Diana gritted her teeth. She’d always considered herself a reasonably good judge of people — a very handy trait in her profession — but Nicholas Gale was an enigma. His bemusement seemed genuine. What possible reason could he have to deny his relationship with Keely, construct such an act to refute it, unless–

She had no chance to follow the wisp of thought. Nicholas leaned forward, and she found herself meeting his gaze, held fast by crystal green eyes.

“Did Keely ever mention the name of the man she was seeing?”

His voice was low and even, but his words held all the intensity of a roar. She shook her head. “No. That was why it was so hard to find you, Mr. Gale. No one at the gallery had been introduced to you either–”

Because it wasn’t me,” he said. “I’ve already told you, Dr. Ransom. I wasn’t here.”

Cold, sourceless fear raced up Diana’s spine. She fought it with anger. “Do you have a twin then, Mr. Gale?” she snapped.

#

Her words echoed in Nicholas’s ears, rebounding and gaining power with each mocking repetition, carrying him away. A twin, a twin, a twin…

The woman faded from his sight as he withdrew into memory. Back to another time and place.

He had stopped counting the years long ago, accepting the burden of guilt he would always carry. But he could never forget the day he had last seen that fallen angel’s face.

Adrian.

Nicholas let the name settle in his mind. He hadn’t spoken it, even inwardly, in all the time since he had condemned Adrian to eternal damnation.

A living death. He’d realized what it meant the day he left Adrian imprisoned deep in the earth, sealed away from the only thing that could keep him sane and whole. Mortal life force, forever denied him….

There was no afterlife for their kind. So their mother had told them over two centuries ago. Elizabeth had met only a handful of their blood in her long life. She had never known what became of the rest, those who had vanished without a trace.

But she had learned, in the end, the hell that awaited their kind if they attempted to defy their inborn natures. If they were driven or forced to stop taking life essence from mortal men and women.

It was the hell to which Nicholas had sent his treacherous brother. A hell with no hope of redemption. Adrian could not have returned from this terrible exile.

“I don’t know too many people who look like you, Nick–”

Impossible. Nicholas felt a chill in his heart that worked its way through his body, draining his strength like a long fast. His instincts responded, bringing him back to himself and to the source of warmth and life so close at hand.

For a moment the woman across the table was no more than a jumble of colors and heat and flaring life force. Nicholas struggled to focus on her face, on her stubborn, intelligent eyes.

He said the first thing that came into his head. “Do you have a first name, Dr. Ransom?”

She blinked at him, caught off guard and resentful of it. “I don’t see what that has to do with Keely or where she is, Mr. Gale. That’s all I’m interested in at the moment. If you–”

“Then we’re back where we started, Dr. Ransom. As it happens, I share your concern for Keely.” He lost his train of thoughts for a moment, looking at the woman with her brittle control and overwhelming aura. He could almost hear the singing of her life force in the three feet of space between them.

He nearly reached out to touch her. Just to see what she would feel like, if that psychic energy would flow into him with so simple a joining. It had happened like that with Sarah sometimes.

He stopped his hand halfway across the table and clenched it carefully. She had never seen him move. “Since you seem to require proof that I’m not hiding Keely in a closet somewhere, I’ll give it to you.” Withdrawing his hand, he reached into his inner jacket pocket. He set the card on the table between them.

She stared down at it. “Proof?” she echoed.

Prince of Dreams

“This is the name of the friend I was staying with in New York over the past several weeks. He can vouch for me, and direct you to others I did business with during that time.”

The delicate skin of her neck shivered as she swallowed. Abruptly she snapped up the card and tucked it into the breast pocket of her blazer.

“What is your business, Mr. Gale?” she asked. The antagonism in her voice had grown muted, and there was a flicker of uncertainty in her eyes.

“I have many varied — interests,” he said honestly. He smiled, and for a moment he loosed a tiny part of his hunter’s power. “But my business and your first name don’t have anything to do with Keely, do they?”

She stared at him and lifted a small hand to run her fingers through her short brown hair, effectively disordering the loose curls. That simple act affected Nicholas with unexpected power. He felt his groin tighten, a physical response he had learned to control and ignore long ago.

When was the last time? he asked himself. The last time he had lain with a woman, joined with her physically, taken some part of what he needed in the act of love?

Before he could blunt the thought his imagination slipped its bonds, conjuring up an image of this woman, her aura ablaze, naked and willing and fully conscious beneath him. Knowing what he was, giving and receiving without fear, as Sarah might have done before Adrian destroyed her…

“Diana.”

“What?” Reality ripped through Nicholas, dispelling the erotic, impossible vision.

“My first name is Diana,” she murmured.

Her face was flushed, as if she had seen the lust in his eyes. She was an attractive woman. Mortal men would pursue her, even blind to her aura as they must be. Did she look at him and observe only another predictable male response to be dissected with an analyst’s detachment?

His hungers were not so simple. He would have given the world to make them so.

“Diana,” he repeated softly. “Huntress, and goddess of the moon.”

She wet her lips. “It’s getting late, Mr. Gale–”

“My first name is Nicholas.” Diana twisted around in her chair and lifted a small, neat purse. “Here,” she said, slipping a card from a silver case. “This is where you can reach me if you should hear from her.”

Nicholas took the card and examined the utilitarian printing. Diana Ransom, Ph.D. Licensed Psychologist. Individual psychotherapy. Treatment of depression, anxiety, phobias and related sleep disorders.

Sleep disorders. Nicholas almost smiled at the irony of it. She could never cure his particular disorder. He looked up at her. “If you need to talk to me again, I’m here most nights. Or you may leave a message with Barb or one of the regulars. They’ll make sure it gets to me.”

“Then you don’t plan to leave town in the next few days?” she asked with a touch of her former hostility.

His gaze was steady. “No, Diana. I’ll make a few inquiries of my own.”

They stared at each other. Diana. Was she a child of the night as her name implied? Did she dream vivid dreams that he could enter as he could never enter her body? Or was she part of the sane and solid world of daylight, oblivious to the untapped power that sang in her aura like a beacon in darkness?

She was the first to look away. Hitching the strap of her purse higher on her shoulder, she rose. “Then I’ll be going.” She hesitated, slanting a look back at him with narrowed blue eyes. “Perhaps we’ll see each other again — Nicholas.”

He watched her walk away and up the stairs. Her words had held a warning. No promise, no hint of flirtation. With even a little effort he could have won her over. He could have learned more about her, perhaps enough to determine if she would be a suitable candidate to serve his needs. One glimpse of her aura was enough to tempt him almost beyond reason.

But she had affected him too deeply. He could not afford even the slightest loss of control with his dreamers. Emotional detachment was a matter of survival — his, and that of the women he touched by night.

Diana Ransom was something almost beyond his experience — except for Sarah. Remembering Sarah was enough to stop his futile fancies cold.

He would never sample the promises behind Diana Ransom’s unremarkable façade, would never slip into her dreams and skim the abundance of energy that burned beneath her skin. Far less would he ever revive the old hope that had cost Sarah her life….

Prince of Dreams

As he had done a thousand times before, Nicholas schooled himself to detachment and consigned hope and memory to their familiar prisons. If he arranged matters correctly, he need never see Diana Ransom again.

And there was still Keely. Something was wrong, and though reason told him it could not be what the slight evidence suggested, he knew he couldn’t let it go. If Keely had found someone to give her the human comfort he’d denied her, he wished her happiness. But if her cousin believed she was in trouble, if there was any chance at all that the impossible had happened…

Nicholas stood, pushing the chair against the wall behind him. He glanced at his watch. The sun would rise in a few hours. Too late to make the drive into the mountains — he couldn’t risk the massive drain on his energy that full sunlight would take from him. He’d have Judith look into the matter tomorrow, and plan the trip for sunset.

Insanity, he told himself. His heartbeat accelerated and he leaned heavily against the wall. He would go back as he hadn’t in a century, as he had always feared to do. The thought of what he might find turned his stomach and filled his body with a wasteful surge of adrenaline.

His weakness reminded him that he must feed — feed well this night, to replace what emotion had cost him. His regular dreamers would be safe, giving him just as much as he required and never upsetting the careful stability of his life with unwanted desire.

Not like Diana Ransom.

Nicholas pushed away from the wall and tossed a handful of bills onto the counter as he passed the bar. There were enough hours left in the night to do what he must, and in the morning — in the dim silence of his house — he would have all the time he needed to recover his discipline and prepare.

He remembered what a wise man had said to him once, a hundred and fifty years ago: “There is no calamity greater than lavish desires. There is no greater guilt than discontentment. And there is no greater desire than greed.”

He thought he had learned that lesson long ago.

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Read the Reviews

“Two Thumbs up to the stratosphere for the dazzling second romantic fantasy from the pen of one of the genre’s next superstars. . . . Ms. Krinard takes a giant leap forward in what promises to be a spectacular career. Brava!”

— Melinda Helfer, Romantic Times

“Sue Krinard’s first novel, PRINCE OF WOLVES, is a treasured gem; however, as hard as it may be to accept, PRINCE OF DREAMS is an even better novel. Ms. Krinard has taken the old myths and legends surrounding vampires and modernized them, giving them a less violent but greater sensual aura. This is one gifted author who always surprises and entertains her readers.”

— Harriet Klausner, Affaire de Coeur

“Ms. Krinard once again takes us on an erotic journey where there is such a thin line between dreams and reality that it’s difficult to tell where one begins and the other ends. Her unique and remarkable style for relating the unusual captivates the imagination. PRINCE OF DREAMS is a vampire fantasy with bewitching characters, spellbinding suspense, and a dramatic climax.”

— DK, Rendezvous

“Author Susan Krinard has polished the vampire myth. The story of the good and flawed archangels as dream vampires is exquisite, mystifying, and deliciously dangerous to contemplate. Sexual dreams are real; sexual satisfaction with a dream god entices one’s fantasy. A dark hero with a good stripe, coupled with a twin with a flaw, fascinates the readers. Total power corrupts, but strength may spring from an apparent flaw. . . .PRINCE OF DREAMS is a dream of a read.”

— Marilyn Huber, Gothic Journal

“This book is hard to put down. Ms. Krinard has woven suspense, sensuality and the spine- tingling thrill of the vampire world into a real winner.”

— Laurel Watson, The Paperback Forum