Pleasures of the Night (Dream Guardians, #1) : Chapter 1

Prologue

The woman beneath Aidan Cross was only moments away from a stunning orgasm. Her throaty cries filled the air, urging their audience to draw closer.

After centuries of protecting women in this manner, he knew the signs and adjusted his thrusts accordingly. His lean h*ps rose and fell in tireless motion, stroking his c*ck through her creamy depths with unfailing skill. She gasped, scratched his skin, arched her back.

"Yes, yes, yes…"

The breathless pants made him smile, the power of her rapidly approaching cl**ax filling the room with a glow only he could see. On the fringes of the Twilight, where the light of her passion met the dark of her inner fears, the Nightmares waited with palpable excitement. But he held them off.

He would deal with them in a moment.

Cupping her buttocks, Aidan angled her h*ps higher, so that every deep thrust rubbed the root of his c*ck against her clit. She came with a cry, her cunt rippling in orgasm along the hard length of him, her body moving with a wild, reckless abandon she never displayed while awake.

He kept her there, suspended in rapture, absorbing the energy this dream created. He enhanced it, magnified it, sent it back through her. She began to sink into the deepest dream state, the most restful, far from the Twilight where she was vulnerable.

"Brad…" She sighed before drifting completely away.

Aidan was aware that this encounter was no more than a phantasm, a connection of minds. Their skin had touched only in her subconscious. For her, however, their lovemak-ing had seemed entirely real.

When he was certain she was safe, Aidan withdrew from her body and shed the skin of her fantasy. From beneath the facade of Brad Pitt, his true body emerged—growing taller, broader of shoulder, his hair changing to his natural close-cropped inky black, the blue of his irises darkening to their natural shade of translucent sapphire.

The Nightmares writhed in anticipation, their shadowy bodies undulating on the edge of the Dreamer's consciousness. There were several of them tonight, and only one of him. As he summoned his glaive, Aidan's grin was genuine. He loved it when they outnumbered him so greatly. Eons of fighting had left him with a grudge, and he relished every opportunity to take it out on Nightmares.

With practiced grace Aidan flexed his sword arm with sinuous movements, using the substantial weight of his blade to alter the focus of his muscles from sexual tension to the limberness of a warrior. Certain assets could be aug-merited in dreams, but facing multiple opponents required innate skill regardless.

When he was ready, he drawled, "Shall we?"

And with a powerful forward lunge, Aidan made the first fatal thrust.

"Did you have a good night, Captain Cross?"

Aidan shrugged away his memories and kept moving toward the Temple of the Elders, his black robes swirling around his ankles with every long stride. "Same as usual."

Waving his farewell to the Guardian who had called out to him, Aidan passed beneath the massive torü gate into the open-air center courtyard. As his bare feet carried him silently across the cool stone floor, a gentle breeze ruffled his hair and teased his senses with its fragrance. Energized as he was, he could have remained in the field and fought longer, but the Elders forbade it.

For an age now they had insisted that every Guardian return to the Temple complex at regular intervals. They claimed it was to give them time to rest, but Aidan knew this wasn't the entire reason. Guardians needed very little downtime. The archway behind him was the true purpose of the order to return. Huge and colored a shocking red, it was so imposing that it forced every Guardian to stare and read the warning engraved in the ancient language:"Beware of the Key that turns the Lock."

He had begun to doubt the existence of the Key. Perhaps the legend was merely a tool to inspire fear, to urge the Guardians forward, to keep them on their toes and prevent them from becoming lax in their duties.

"Hi, Captain."

He turned his head at the soft purr and met the dark eyes of Morgan, one of the Playful Guardians whose job it was to fill in dreams of surfing on the beach or weddings, among countless other joyous activities. Slowing, he altered his course to meet her where she peeked out from behind a fluted column of alabaster stone.

"What are you doing?" he asked, his mouth curved in an indulgent smile.

"The Elders are looking for us."

"Oh?" His eyebrows rose. It was rarely a good thing to be summoned. "So you're hiding? Clever girl."

"Let's frolic by the stream," she suggested in a husky whisper, "and I'll tell you what I heard."

No fool he, Aidan nodded without hesitation. When a lovely Player was in the mood to be playful, one didn't question the offer.

He led her stealthily away, descending from the raised marble platform to the grass beyond. Steadying Morgan down the sloping path to the heated stream below, Aidan took a moment to enjoy the pristine beauty of the new day and the panoramic vista of rolling green hills, bubbling streams, and raging waterfalls. Over the rise, his home waited. An image of sliding shoji doors and tatami mats over hardwood floors came into his mind. It was sparsely furnished, the colors muted,

everything chosen with peace and tranquillity in mind. Small and intimate, it was his refuge—albeit a lonely one.

With a careless wave of his hand, he silenced the water so that a breathless hush weighted the air. He had no wish to strain his hearing or shout to be heard.

Discarding the robes of their respective stations—his black to display his elevated rank, hers multicolored in honor of her frivolity—they sank na**d into the steaming water. Resting against a small shelf of rock, Aidan closed his eyes and tugged his companion closer.

"It's unusually quiet today," he murmured.

"Because of Dillon." Morgan curled into his side, her small br**sts a delicious pressure against his skin. "He claimed to have found the Key."

The news didn't affect Aidan in any way. Every few centuries a Guardian fell prey to their desire to live the legend. It was nothing new, although the Elders took every mistaken discovery seriously.

"Which clue did he miss?" he asked, knowing that he personally would never miss one. Occasionally Dreamers would show some signs, but never all of them. If they had, he would kill them without question.

"His Dreamer couldn't actually see his features, as Dillon thought. Turns out the Dreamer's fantasy of how Dillon looked just happened to be very close in appearance to reality."

"Ah." The most common error, and one that was made more and more frequently. Dreamers didn't have the ability to see into the Twilight, so they couldn't discern the true features of the Guardians who spent time with them. Only the mythical Key could see them as they were. "But the other traits were there? Was he called by name?"

"Yes."

"The Dreamer controlled the dream?"

"Yes."

"The Nightmares seemed confused and disoriented?"

"Yep…" Turning her head, she licked his nipple, then swam around to encase his h*ps between her widespread thighs.

He caught her by the waist and urged her against him. He was distracted, his physical actions more habitual than passion-driven. Deep affection for anyone was a luxury Elite Warriors could not afford. It was a weakness that made them vulnerable. "What does that have to do with you and me?"

Morgan ran damp fingers through his hair. "The Elders are now reinvigorated by the news. That so many mortals display such a proliferation of the traits leads them to believe the time has come."

"And?"

"They've decided to send Elite Warriors, like you, to enter the dreams of those who resist us. My task is to work with the Nurturers to heal them once you've gained entry."

Sighing his misery, Aidan dropped his head back gently against the stone. Some Dreamers shut away parts of themselves so securely, not even the Guardians could enter. Either they had been abused in some manner and blocked out the recollections, or they felt such guilt for certain past actions, they refused to recall them. Protecting Dreamers of that nature from the Nightmares was the most difficult task of all. Without a full understanding of their inner suffering, the ability of the Guardians to help them was severely limited.

And the horrors he had seen in their minds…

As memories resurfaced with a vengeance—wars, disease, tortures unparalleled—a shiver swept across his skin despite the warm water. Images that haunted him through centuries.

Fighting, action… he could handle. Sex, the blessed forgetfulness of orgasm… he sought with near desperation. A tactile man with insatiable desires, he f**ked and fought well, and the Elders had no hesitation in using him to their best advantage. He knew his strengths and weaknesses, and took on the Dreamers who benefited from them.

To assign him to work exclusively with those who were damaged, with no reprieve… What the Elders asked of him now would be pure hell, not just for him but for his men.

"You must be excited," Morgan murmured, misunderstanding his sudden hurried breathing. "The Elite so love a good conflict."

He took a deep breath. If the weight of his calling seemed crushing, that was for him alone to know. Once he'd had boundless enthusiasm for his work, but lack of progress had a way of disheartening even the most hopeful.

Amid all the ancient legends and tall tales, there was nothing that said his work would ever end. The Nightmares could not be eliminated, only controlled. At any given moment, thousands in the mortal realm were suffering from nightmares whose merciless grip they could not awaken from. Aidan was weary of the stalemate. He was a man who sought a result, and he had been denied one for centuries.

Morgan, sensing his preoccupation, brought his attention back to her with a hand between his legs, talented fingers circling his cock. Aidan's mouth curved in the smile that promised her every desire. He would give her what she wanted. Then he'd give her more.

By concentrating on her, he could forget himself. For a while. "How shall we begin, love? Hard and fast? Or slow and easy?"

With a quiet sound of anticipation, Morgan rubbed her hard ni**les against his chest, "You know what I need," she breathed.

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