Loved by P. C. Cast

1


            Zoey

            The dream started innocently enough. I mean, really, don’t most of them? One second you’re happily flying across the sky like Superman, and the next spiders are raining all around you while Yoda, Tim Gunn, and Beyoncé play strip poker in the middle of an episode of America’s Next Top Model as you keep score for them—naked.

            So when my dream-self realized I was back at Capri, standing in the rooftop garden of the ancient Vampyre High Council, looking out at a Mediterranean Sea illuminated so brilliantly by a full moon that it almost hurt my eyes, my subconscious didn’t scream, Nightmare! If it screamed at all it was something like, Ooooh, pretty, as my dream-self strolled over to the grove of potted orange trees in full bloom and waited for my imagination to conjure something awesome like a tea party (and by tea, I mean brown pop) with Zac Effron and Michelle Obama. It wasn’t until I heard his voice behind me that I began to wonder if something might be wonky.

            “It’s been a long time, Zoey Redbird.”

            I sighed and didn’t turn around. “I thought you were done creeping in people’s dreams.”

            “Creeping?” He chuckled softly. “Why must I be creeping? Can we not simply call this a visit? I thought we had become friends.”

            He joined me at the edge of the balcony and I glanced at him. “Friends wear shirts when they visit other friends—unless the dream visit is, well, a different kind of friendly.” Kalona started to speak, and I held up my hand. “And that’s a kind of friendly I thought you’d reserved only for Nyx.”

            “You misunderstand my intent. I simply thought you would enjoy the familiar scenery. We have been here before, Zoey. Remember?” He smiled at me with all the force of his ridiculous immortal gorgeousness and, even though I am absolutely not interested in anything even vaguely romantic with Kalona, there was no denying his beauty. But just because there was no denying it, that doesn’t mean I had to give in to what Grandma would call his shenanigans.

            I turned to face him, rolling my eyes so dramatically even Aphrodite would’ve approved. “Oh, yeah, I remember this place. This was where you snuck into my dreams and tried to get me to join you in one of your sneaky, sexy ‘let’s take over the world together’ plots.” I air quoted. “So that’s what this setting reminds me of.”

            The eternally charming smile slid from his face. “Perhaps I did misjudge the setting for this little conversation. And my clothing choice.”

            “Ya think?”

            He cleared his throat, looking uncomfortable, then with a snap of his fingers his muscular chest was covered in a simple black tee (that had slits for his amazing white wings). “Yes. And I apologize. Is that better?”

            “Absolutely,” I said. Noting how chagrined he looked, I added. “And I didn’t mean to be overly sensitive.”

            “Thank you.” He paused. “Would you be more comfortable if I changed this as well?” Kalona gestured at the incredible scene surrounding us.

            “No, never mind. It’s no biggie. Oh, and I do like your new white wings.” I studied them as I spoke. “But they’re really not white. They’re more like the inside of an oyster shell—all sorts of pretty shades of light merged together to form white. They suit you better than the black ones.”

            He glanced behind him, as if he was shocked that the huge wings tucked against his broad back were no longer black. Then he met my eyes, his expression unreadable. “I appreciate the color change as well. White pleases me.”

            The silence stretched between us, becoming awkward until I finally broke it with a sigh and said, “Well? Why are you here?” When he just frowned and wouldn’t meet my eyes, I started to get worried. “Is Rephaim okay? Did something happen to Stevie Rae? I just talked to her yesterday. She said the Chicago House of Night was having some growing pains, but—”