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Authors: Charlie Cochrane

Dreams of a Hero

BOOK: Dreams of a Hero
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Dreams of a Hero

By Charlie Cochrane

Mild-mannered and unassuming, Miles is on a journey he never expected. After a visit to Greece with his partner, Roger, he begins to experience vivid dreams in which he travels back in history and takes on the role of avenging hero.

Roger notices Miles’s newfound bravery during his waking hours and is concerned that his lover is changing into someone he doesn’t recognize.

When they discover a gay-friendly café is being plagued by violent thugs, Miles is uncharacteristically determined to take action, no matter the cost. Roger argues it would be both dangerous and pointless to intervene, but Miles insists he’s been called to fight an army, and now he’s found one.

17,000 words

Dear reader,

It’s not that I love winter, but I love some of the things that come with winter. Here in the States, February brings some of the coldest temperatures of the winter, but it also brings the promise of spring right around the corner. So I don’t mind hunkering down in my living room next to the fire with a blanket, a kid or a dog on my feet, and a mug of hot chocolate or hot tea (or even a hot toddy) beside me. And, of course, my digital reading device of choice in hand.

There’s something permissive about cold weather that makes it easy to laze away hours at a time reading a great book without feeling guilty, which makes February one of my favorite months. I know I can always indulge in plenty of guilt-free reading time!

This month, Carina Press offers a new selection of releases across the genres to aid you in your own reading-time indulgence. Romantic suspense favorite Marie Force is back with a new installment in her Fatal series,
Fatal Flaw.
Newlyweds Sam and Nick discover that they won’t get the normalcy they were looking for post-wedding…because someone has other plans for them. Also look for author Dee J. Adams to follow up her adrenaline-packed romantic suspense debut with her sophomore book,
Danger Zone,
which delivers thrills and action.

Two steampunk titles will get your gears whirling in February. Look for
Prehistoric Clock
by Robert Appleton and
Under Her Brass Corset
by Brenda Williamson to take you back to a time altered by steam and clockwork. Also in the science fiction and fantasy realm, author Nico Rosso offers up
The Last Night,
a post-apocalyptic tale of romance, while Kim Knox takes us into the future with her futuristic science fiction romance,
Synthetic Dreams.

And for those of you with a yen for the paranormal, we have several authors joining us for their Carina Press debuts.
Blood of the Pride
by Sheryl Nantus and
Pack and Coven
by Jody Wallace hit the virtual shelves in mid-February.

Portia Da Costa will heat up your day with
Intimate Exposure,
a sexy and intense look into the world of BDSM.

Rounding out our amazing and genre-packed February lineup are books from Claire Robyns, Charlie Cochrane, Debra Kayn, Shelley Munro, Amie Denman, Crista McHugh and Susan Edwards, with everything from historical and contemporary romance to m/m romance to a fun romantic caper. February offers a little something for everyone’s reading pleasure.

We love to hear from readers, and you can email us your thoughts, comments and questions to [email protected] You can also interact with Carina Press staff and authors on our blog, Twitter stream and Facebook fan page.

Happy reading!

~Angela James

Executive Editor, Carina Press

www.carinapress.com

www.twitter.com/carinapress

www.facebook.com/carinapress

Dedication

To the Theban Band and any modern-day equivalents.

Acknowledgements

Thanks to my family, who both inspire and exasperate me in equal measure and for whom I, no doubt, do the same.

Chapter One
Greece, Dream and Awakening

“It’s beautiful.” Roger Searle peered into the display case, his long, expressive fingers dancing on the glass, obviously itching to break through the protective barrier and touch the golden mask. This would be the high spot of their visit so far. Three hours on a plane, airport transfers, a coach trip and a lot of Shank’s pony had brought them from a cold and wet English spring to within inches of one of the greatest icons of the classical age.

“It’s beautiful, but is it Agamemnon’s?” Miles Storrie admired the stunning face, trying to penetrate the metal and the years, to work out whether this really was an image of the great king. Mycenae had kept her secrets to herself for a long time.

“I don’t know.” Roger peered closer. “I’ve read too many arguments on either side to be convinced one way or the other. I thought if I stood before it I’d be able to tell.”

“And can you?”

“Not a cat in hell’s chance. Not even sure that I care anymore.” Roger stood upright again, nursing a back which had started to twinge on the plane. “Does it matter whether this particular mask has adorned that particular face? It’s magnificent. The historical significance has transcended its particular provenance.”

“That sounds far too clever for me.” Miles fanned himself with his elegant straw hat. It might only be early May, but Greece was a damn sight warmer than Surrey, and a holiday which had started at Gatwick in sweaters and raincoats had ended in shorts and shirts, hastily put on at the hotel within minutes of arrival. Still, it was more pleasant here than it had been in the city, so the exhibit they sought being on temporary loan had worked to their advantage. Staying too long in Athens might just have been a trial too far.

“Heat getting to you?”

“As always. It’s all right for some.” Miles considered his partner—official civil partner as pronounced by the registrar—in admiration of how cool he appeared even when the sun blazed down. Roger had slightly olive-toned skin, as if some Mediterranean blood had somehow inveigled itself among the strictly Norman Searle family stock, a line which alleged it had come over with the Conqueror.

“I think it’s quite a pleasant change from the Arctic conditions of Epsom Downs.” Roger grinned, dark eyes alive with delight. “Can yae Gallic blood nae stand it, hen?” Roger may have been some throwback to an Adriatic ancestor, but when Miles looked in the mirror he thought himself all Celtic edges.

“It’s never this warm in Edinburgh. Except for the week before.”

“Sorry?”

“When I used to go and visit my granny, it always rained, and she’d say I should have been there the week before because it had been lovely.” Miles gave up fanning himself and tapped his partner’s arm. “So why this outbreak of apathy towards the mask’s provenance?”

“Not apathy, imagination. I don’t care if it really was Agamemnon himself bearing this burial mask, or one of his generals. To me it’s more than that—I feel I’m within a few feet of the Trojan War.” Roger’s fingers inched towards the glass again. “Degrees of separation. This is as close as I’ll ever get.”

Miles smiled, always delighted at his partner’s ability to make connections and gain enjoyment from them. There’d been one notable occasion when Roger had almost clambered over the side of a Dart River pleasure cruiser to get eight inches closer to Agatha Christie’s old house up on the hillside. Their journey through Greece had been littered with him getting excited at how he was treading the same paths trodden in the great age. His battered copy of Mary Renault’s
Fire from Heaven
had been dragged out time and again, along with joyous cries and fingers jabbed at the text.

This is where this scene happened, Miles. Look.
And Miles had smiled indulgently. Greece had been an unknown quantity, one he’d anticipated being full of tourists, poor-quality souvenirs and pickpockets. So far they’d avoided all of those and he’d even drummed up a bit of enthusiasm for the sights. And the sites. He’d ended up delighted by the resonances of the past, not just at his partner’s happiness.

“Pleased we came to Tolon?” Roger looked up, as if reading Miles’s mind. “Better than expected?”

“If I had to write an internet review, I’d say it’s a pleasant town with a decent enough hotel and an even better creperie. I can’t say anything about the beach as you’ve not yet let me laze about on it.”

“You’ll get your recompense.” Roger smiled and went back to studying the golden face. Mycenae was the latest heroic age site they’d eschewed sunbathing in favour of, but Miles would get his reward later in the year. Greece was pleasant in May, much more so than Cape Cod would have been, so their maiden trip over the Atlantic had been scheduled for July, when the Med would be heaving with heat, swarming with tourists and totally unsuitable for visiting by anyone with a touch of class.

“I’ll deserve it.” A little house near a beach in Massachusetts had been Miles’s choice—the lure of Boston, history and Provincetown an irresistible combination—and if he had to pay for it in advance with beehive tombs and Delphic oracles, then so be it.

“Perhaps next year we should follow in
his
footsteps.” Roger’s words brought Miles out of a daydream of clam chowder and humpback whales.

“Whose? Agamemnon’s?” He was vaguely aware that he’d lost about ninety percent of what Roger had said.

“You’re not listening, are you? We’ve passed on from Troy to Macedonia, at least conversationally.” Roger smiled, the faint wrinkles radiating from his eyes like starlight, the white troughs highlighted against his tanned skin. It had turned golden brown within what seemed just hours of disembarking. “I was saying I’d like to follow Alexander’s footsteps, over Turkey and into Egypt.” His gaze lost focus, seeming to be fixed on events miles and years away. “Over the desert, through the Persian Gates and on to Ecbatana.”

“You’ve been watching too much television. It was that bloody thing on the History Channel, that got you going, wasn’t it? With the blond bloke you fancied—
the thinking woman’s crumpet.
” Miles fanned himself with a convenient guidebook, scared that the hat was becoming too battered. “Fat chance you’ve got of making that dream come true, on either the travel or the seduction front. He’s straight, and half the route must be a war zone.”

“Then it can remain an aspiration until peace breaks out.” Roger’s gaze came back to the present. “If it ever does. I sometimes think all that stretch from the Med to the Indian Ocean’s been like a volcanic zone for thousands of years. Always bubbling under the surface, waiting to erupt.”

“The cradle of civilisation and the cradle of conflict?”

“Very poetic.” Roger straightened up again and stretched, at last seeming to have had his fill of the mask. “I think I’ll use it for the title of my next book. I’ve always fancied writing a murder mystery set in ancient Babylon, or maybe Macedonia.”

“Sounds like a winner. Only avoid setting it on an archaeological dig. That’s—if you’ll excuse the pun—been done to death.” Miles could never quite come to terms with the ingenuity required to write a successful book—where to start, what to do?—but he enjoyed seeing the pleasure Roger got in creating a new plot. And neither of them objected to using the proceeds for holidays.

“I’ll stick to Alexander’s days, then.” Roger grinned. “And we could count this trip against tax. Research purposes.”

“As long as you don’t drag me to Iraq for the same principle.” Miles fanned himself again. He needed fresh air and a long, cool drink. “We’ll make do with Massachusetts in the meanwhile. It’s much more civilised, or so I’m told.”

The shield was tall and heavy, but the bearer was taller still. This gave little advantage when it meant he could get such a clear view of the advancing lines of troops. Miles adjusted his stance for comfort, staring oncoming death in the eye. “Which one is he?”

“The small one, that’s what they say.” Roger held the spear straight, never wavering even in the heat of impending battle. “Word is he’ll be leading the cavalry, away from where his father’s stationed.”

“Can’t have two firebrands together in case the whole world catches flame?” Miles managed a rueful smile. “They say he’s handsome, the son.”

“And spoken for.” The smile was returned.

“I only said he was rumoured to be handsome, not that I wanted him to carry me off to his tent.” Miles adjusted his stance again, eliminating any chink in the shield wall.

“You might be grateful if that were your fate, come nightfall.” Roger shivered. “I pray we’ll survive to joke about this. Now comes the deluge.”

“Deluge? Don’t you mean the conflagration, with the son of fire at its head? And with Hades’ gates wide open in his wake.”

The company turned slightly, as the horses came charging over the plain of Chaeronea.

Miles woke with a start. He’d been awake—or dreamed he was awake—yet couldn’t move, his limbs still asleep or pinned by unseen forces. Just as he’d lain in his dream, pinned by the weight of a horse’s haunches. He couldn’t remember if he’d forced himself out of sleep, or whether he’d woken naturally and shed both the dream of being paralysed and the dream of battle within it.

Roger lay at his side, just as he’d been lying in the dream. Only now he was alive, his face as calm and peaceful as a baby’s as he enjoyed a sleep which was clearly less distressing than his partner’s had been. Miles tentatively touched his chest, to double-check that he was still breathing. This nightmare had been all too real. Roger stirred, turning and drawing Miles closer to him. He was half aroused, as always when he woke, but they’d got beyond the point of that arousal always needing to be acted on. Morning routine, evidence that life went on as normal no matter how vivid death had seemed.

“Good night’s sleep?” Roger’s blurry, early morning voice was reassuring.

“Not really. I slept, but it’s not done me any good.” Miles felt more tired than if he’d lain tossing and turning into the wee hours.

“What’s up?” Roger’s voice sharpened into concern. “Something’s happened.”

“Just a dream, that’s all. I should never have gone to sleep reading your book and on a full stomach.” Miles turned uneasily, the sheets drenched in sweat that wasn’t just caused by the warmth of the night.

“A full stomach doesn’t give you nightmares normally. Are you sure it wasn’t the three glasses of ouzo?” Roger was wide-awake now.

“They were very small glasses.” Miles found himself able to joke, now that the constriction on his chest was easing. “I dreamed we were in Chaeronea, you and me. Facing King Philip and Alexander.”

“In the Athenian army?”

“Not just them. Among the Theban elite. You and I, spear and sword together in the line.” Miles had never had the ability to paint pictures with words, not like his partner. He wished he could depict how vivid it had been, the brightness of the light, the smell of blood and fear.

“The Sacred Band?” Roger’s voice softened, the dreamy edge matching the slightly soppy look on his face. “Lucky you. They’ve never graced my dreams.”

“I’m not sure you’d want them to.” Miles wrapped the thin cover around himself, shivers starting to flow through his lean frame. It might be warm, but it felt like February. “And I wouldn’t describe myself as lucky.”

“You aren’t right, are you?” Roger reached down the bed, to where a thicker blanket had been discarded earlier. “Get this on top of you, for goodness sake. You feel like you’re coming down with something.”

“I’m fine, honestly. At least I don’t think I’ve caught anything.” Still, Miles took the blanket and snuggled beneath it. “It’s shock, I think. You have no idea how vivid it was. I never have dreams like that.”

“Welcome to the club. I don’t always dream, but when I do it’s horribly disturbing—I think sometimes they’re more vivid than reality.” Roger snuggled into the spare couple of inches of blanket which he could wheedle away from his lover.

“Maybe that’s why you’re such a good writer. Do you use them in your stories?” The blanket—and the heat of Roger next to him—was beginning to have an effect, warming Miles’s body and helping the images to recede from his brain. With any luck, by lunchtime they’d be nothing more than a vaguely disturbing memory. And he’d make sure he didn’t read
Fire From Heaven
again.

“Good God, no. Nobody would be convinced by the plotlines, for one thing.” Roger’s arm snaked across Miles’s chest, holding him close. “It’s the lack of control that’s so terrifying, the hurtling illogicality of the world.”

“I didn’t have that sensation—I felt completely in control of what I was doing, if not of my destiny. Everything was far too horribly logical. I knew that we’d all die.” Despite the blanket’s warmth, a shiver ran along Miles’s body again. “What happened back then was real. Every one of them dead, Roger. Crushed by the Macedonians, and I thought we were with them.”

“Come on, it’s all over now.” Roger’s strong arms brought extra heat and comfort. “We weren’t there, we’ll never be there.” The sounds of the night floated in through the windows, the same symphony of nocturnal life on the Aegean as Alexander might have heard. “And perhaps they didn’t all die, you know. There’s a tradition that some survived, if wounded. I’d like to think that’s true.”

“Really? That’s not what your book says.” Miles had almost cried at reading the scene where Alexander and Hephaistion had walked among the dead. Now he felt somehow cheated or manipulated. Would he have had the dream if he’d known they’d not all succumbed?

“Author’s licence. Miss Renault’s, or more correctly, Plutarch’s.”

“Author’s licence, oh yes.” Miles couldn’t help smiling. Roger had used that licence once or twice and got himself into a bit of hot water from purists who’d insisted his historical interpretation had been less than accurate. “So tell me what you think happened.”

“When they excavated the Lion of Chaeronea they found the wrong number of skeletons. Not the three hundred skeletons that should have been interred if the entire Band had been killed.”

“How many were missing?” Miles felt warmer now, the faint hope that a handful of those extraordinary men had survived eliminating some of the chill.

BOOK: Dreams of a Hero
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