Broken Illusions: A Midnight Dragonfly Novel

BOOK: Broken Illusions: A Midnight Dragonfly Novel
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For Chuck, Ellie, and Jack.
Who says dreams can’t come true?

 

Acknowledgments

No book is written in isolation. Above and beyond the actual fingers to the keyboard, there’s the brainstorming and the research, the trial balloons, the time spent writing and the time spent imagining, the revising, the rethinking, the imagining all over again … And with that comes an amazing supporting cast for which I am forever grateful:

My wonderful agent, Roberta Brown, for your continued wisdom, belief, and energy.

My incredibly talented editor, Holly Blanck, for sharing my vision and my drive, and knowing when to say keep going, and when to say pull back.

My awesome friends Linda Castillo and Catherine Spangler, for the friendship, the support, and the ruthless red pens.

Faye, for all things New Orleans.

Amy H., Kim S., and my beautiful mother, for the early reads.

My Facebook friends, for patiently answering questions, and sharing my excitement.

And as always, my husband and children, for letting me play in Trinity’s world, and not taking it personally when I forget to wash the clothes. Or fix dinner. Or about that school project, or what day of the week it is …

 

Contents

Title Page

Dedication

Acknowledgments

Prologue

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

Chapter 25

Chapter 26

Chapter 27

Chapter 28

Chapter 29

Chapter 30

Chapter 31

Chapter 32

Chapter 33

Chapter 34

Chapter 35

Chapter 36

Epilogue

Also by Ellie James

About the Author

Copyright

 

Prologue

Everyone dreams. Some see color. Others experience only black and white. Some laugh, and some cry. Some run and hide, while others play and dance. Some return over and over again. Others never go back. Very few remember.

They are the lucky ones.

Sometimes my friends will talk about what they see and do there in the shadowy realm of their sleep. For them it’s no big deal, a movie in their mind instead of a theater, a comedy or drama to be shared and compared. Sometimes it’s funny, stupid stuff. Sometimes they go on amazing rampages. Sometimes they’re naked or falling or flying. My best friend gets ravaged by a mysterious vampire at least once a week—or so she says.

For me, it’s never like that. There are no smiles or laughter or yummy immortals, no silliness. No sex. No salvation.

I awaken in the predawn darkness, my heart racing, my body frozen, the echo of a silent scream burning my throat. Breathing hurts.

Remembering destroys.

I try anyway. I’m scared not to. They’re messages—I know that now. From some place unseen, some person unknown. Sometimes they come while I’m awake, like when I enter a place where something bad has happened. Psychic residue has a way of hanging around. But usually, the messages come only when my guard is lowered. When my eyes are closed and my body sleeps.

When I awaken, they fade.

I don’t need to look at a clock to know what time it is. The glowing numbers will show 5:21.

They always do.

Instead I lay tangled in the damp sheets, hot, sweaty, forcing myself to breathe. In, out. Slow, steady. I know the drill. I know the routine. A few minutes and I’ll be able to move. A few minutes and a new day will begin.

But the remnants of the dream will linger as the hours pile up, not falling away until I close my eyes and the drowning begins anew.

 

ONE

“Do you believe in forever?”

Working to untangle two silver chains, I glanced toward the front of my aunt’s French Quarter shop, where my friend Victoria stood with a baby-doll tee in her hands. Half an hour before she’d walked in from the rain without any warning, not even a text. She’d hardly said a word since, other than asking what she could do to help.

Stopping by was normal. Silence was not.

“Forever?” I asked, focusing on her and not who would be walking in any minute—or what we’d be doing after I turned off the lights and locked the door. “Where’d that come from?”

Robotically she placed the tee—bubblegum pink with the shop’s name,
FLEURISH!
, emblazed in rhinestones—on top of the stack and looked up.

“What does it even mean?” she said, so totally a million miles away. “How can anything last
forever
?”

Brightly colored Mardi Gras merchandise crowded the display tables, beads and doubloons, parasols, even some crazy tutus that were actually selling. Upbeat music flirted from discreetly placed speakers—normally we went with Louis Armstrong or Harry Connick, Jr., but for the next few weeks my aunt insisted we flood the store with the traditional songs of the season.

The jazzy rhythms made standing still impossible.

But in that moment, I did just that.

Forever
.

It was hardly a Saturday night, five weeks before Carnival, ten minutes before closing kind of thing.

But I also knew the twisty, timeless place where my mind immediately went was not where Victoria was coming from. She spun from one moment to the next, seeing and hearing,
feeling
that which was in front of her. It was the whole tip of the iceberg thing.

If she couldn’t see it, it must not be there.

And I so knew what this was about. “You and Lucas had another fight, didn’t you?”

With a distracted sigh, she picked up a strand of purple-and-gold beads someone had left by the T-shirts. “He thinks saying I love you makes everything okay,” she said, twirling the necklace around her wrist. “And, once, maybe it did.”

I glanced down at the tangled chains.

“I mean, for a long time, that was all I wanted to hear. When we first got together, all he had to do was look at me and I melted.”

I knew that feeling well. It was exactly what would happen the second Chase walked in and the electric blue of his eyes locked onto me.

He’d said eight thirty, but with Victoria such a mess, it was best that he was late.

“I couldn’t imagine a day I wouldn’t feel the same way,” she was saying. “Being with him was all I wanted.”

I glanced at the clock. “And now?”

“IDK.” She let the beads drop to the table. “So much has changed.”

For all of us
.

Most of the time life was like a river. It flowed from one day to the next, giving no real awareness of when the deep water ended, and the shallow began. There was no defining line, no before and after. It just flowed.

But sometimes there was a point. Sometimes there was an exact moment, and when you looked back, you saw it all, the moment, the place, and you knew, you knew how different things could have been if you’d made a different choice.

Four months had passed. Four months since the night a simple dare had turned into a nightmare we never saw coming.

Four months since one chapter ended, and another began. And Victoria was right—so much had changed. I think that’s what surprised me the most, how one event could cast so many ripples. Even my aunt’s life had turned. She would have opened Fleurish! anyway. That had been in the works. But Detective LaSalle had been a stranger then—and now the two were inseparable.

Yeah, that was awkward.

But for Victoria, it was the change itself that rocked her, the realization of how quickly life could turn.

“It’s like now, whenever he says forever, I freeze up inside, like it’s some kind of trap.”

It didn’t take a psychic to figure that out.

“Maybe that means he’s not the one,” I pointed out, as I’d done many times before.

“I think it’s the word.
Forever.
Even things you want to last, don’t.” She shifted toward me, zinging me with the glitter in her eyes. “Think about it,” she said. “Everything dies.
Everything.
Flowers, trees, animals. Love … people. I mean, really, from the second we’re born, that’s all we’re doing. Dying.”

I took a deep breath—a really, really deep breath. Victoria was many things, and she could definitely lose herself in drama, but that was a bit much, even for her.

Trying to lure her back from the edge, I let the hopelessly tangled necklaces slip from my fingers and snagged a purple-and-green rhinestone tiara.

“Aren’t you just a ray of sunshine tonight,” I teased, strolling over to plop it on her head. Stepping back, I gave her an overly bright smile. “Can’t say I’ve thought about it like that.”

“How can you not? I mean, you of all people, with your parents and your grandmother, Chase, and the thing with Jessica…”

My smile faded. Detective LaSalle said she was lucky, that the drifter who abducted her had taken others. Taken, and not given back. But after all these months, the thought of what she’d been through still twisted me up inside.

One decision. One cruel twist of fate. Sometimes that was all it took.

“How can you believe
anything
lasts?”

I glanced away, toward the antique mirror behind the jewelry case, looking long and hard at the new me. My hair was still long and dark and wavy, my skin still a hue of olive, and I still rarely touched dark eyeliner or goth lipstick. But like everything else, the changes were there, running deeper than the sparkly powders I’d grown to adore, staring back at me from eyes that looked as if they’d lived a lot more than sixteen years. In them a new awareness glowed.

How could I believe anything lasts? That was easy. How could I not? The things I saw, the coming attractions of events yet to happen, had to come from somewhere.

“Maybe not here,” I said, rearranging bracelets and earrings. “But later—after.”

“You mean like …
after we’re dead
?”

I was no longer sure there
was
a before—or an after. There just … was.

“So what do you think happens?” she asked as I returned a pair of dangly fleur-de-lis earrings to their card. “Do you really think we go to Heaven and live happily ever after? Or that we come back and get reborn, get a do-over?”

I turned from the jewelry as the music shifted, and Big Chief started singing about smoking a peace pipe. (After a week of nonstop play, I knew the words by heart.)

The gleam in Victoria’s eyes should have warned me.

“What if we could find out?” she asked, reaching for the camo messenger bag she’d dropped by the front display. She dipped her hand in, and for at least the fifth time over the past month, pulled out the Ouija board.

And over the music, the buzzing began.

“Victoria—” I started as the bell on the door jingled. I spun around—

The lazy grin stopped me. “Evenin’, beautiful,” the taller of the two guys drawled.

“Deuce,” I said, smiling. He strolled in as he did a few times per week, his walk in rhythm to the music. His bandmate, Trey, made a beeline for Victoria—just like
he
always did.

“I thought ya’ll were playing tonight,” I said.

Looking every bit a sax player with his skinny black jeans and slim-fitting button-down with tribal tattoos, the two gold hoops in his ear, Deuce took me by the hand and twirled me under his arm.

“Not until eleven.” Releasing me, he frowned. “What’s wrong, Mile High? You lookin’ way too serious.”

BOOK: Broken Illusions: A Midnight Dragonfly Novel
10.86Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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