She had plump cheeks that hadn't quite lost their baby fat. Wispy, light brown curls covered her head, and her hazel eyes were large and framed with dark lashes. She was adorable. Behind her on the couch, Aubrey lay curled up in a tight little ball. Godiva lay beside her.

A delighted smile spread over the little girl's face, creating a dimple in one cheek. A powerful wave of love and joy spread through me, emotions that my raw and aching real self barely allowed to come through. Just like the first time I'd dreamed this dream, I knew with certainty - absolute certainty - that this girl was my daughter.

After a few more moments, I returned to my dishes, though I wanted nothing more than to go back to the living room. Damned manual labor. Neither my dream self nor my waking self could get enough of the girl. I wanted to drink her in. I could have watched her forever, taking in those long-lashed eyes and wispy curls.

Unable to resist - and bored with washing dishes - I finally gave in and glanced back again. The girl was gone. I pulled my hands out of the water, just in time to hear a thump and a crash. The sound of crying followed.

I sprinted out of the kitchen. Aubrey and Godiva jerked their heads up, surprised at my sudden movement. On the other side of the living room, my daughter sat on the floor beside an end table with sharp corners, a small hand pressed to her forehead. Tears streamed down her checks as she wailed.

In a flash, I was on my knees, wrapping her up in a tight embrace. Watching and feeling this dream, I wanted to weep as well over the feel of that soft, warm body in my arms. I rocked the girl, murmuring soothing, nonsensical words as I brushed my lips against the silken hair. Eventually, her sobs stopped, and she rested her head against my chest, content to simply be loved and rocked. We sat like that for another happy minute or so, and then, distantly, I heard the sound of a car's engine. I lifted my head.

"You hear that?" I asked. "Daddy's home."

Mirrored excitement showed on the girl's face as I stood up, still holding her and balancing her on my hip. It was an act of some coordination, considering how small I was.

We walked to the front door and stepped outside onto a porch. It was nighttime, all quiet darkness save for a small light hanging overhead. It shone onto a long stretch of unbroken white snow on the lawn and the driveway. All around, more snow fell in a steady stream. I didn't recognize the place, but it certainly wasn't Seattle. That much snow would have sent the city into a panic, putting everyone on Armageddon alert. My daughter and I were perfectly at ease, barely noticing the snow. Wherever we were, this weather was a common occurrence.

Down the driveway, the car I had heard had already parked. My heart swelled with happiness. A man stood behind it, a nondescript dark figure in the faint lighting. He took out a rolling suitcase and slammed the trunk shut. The little girl clasped her hands in excitement, and I waved my own hand in greeting. The man returned the wave as he walked toward the house. It was too dark, and I couldn't see him yet.

His face. I had to see his face. We were so close. This was where the dream had stopped before, denying me its conclusion. Some part of me was certain this was a trick too - that the Oneroi were going to do what Nyx had done and end the dream.

They didn't.

The man continued walking toward us, and at last, the porch light illuminated his features.

It was Seth.

Lacy snowflakes rested in his messy hair, and I could make out some wacky T-shirt underneath his heavy woolen trench coat. He left the suitcase by the stairs and sprinted up them to get to us that much more quickly.

His arms encircled us, and both my daughter and I snuggled against him. It might have been freezing elsewhere, but our little circle held all the warmth in the world.

"My girls," he murmured. He took one of his gloves off and ran his hand over the fine silk of our daughter's hair. He brushed a kiss against her forehead and then leaned toward me. Our lips met in a soft kiss, and when we pulled away, I could see mist in the air from the warmth of his mouth. He hugged us tighter.

I sighed happily. "Don't leave anymore," I said. "Don't do any more traveling."

He laughed quietly and gave me another kiss, this time on my cheek. "I'll see what I can do. If it was up to me, I'd never leave."

But the dream left, shattering like pieces of glass that were then swept away by a broom. Whereas before I'd counted the seconds for these dreams to go away, this time I wanted to cling to it. The hands I didn't have in this insubstantial form longed to grasp those shards, bloodying my flesh, if only to have a few more moments of that perfect, content bliss my dream-self had held.

But it was gone. I was empty.

For a long time, I simply couldn't get over the dream's loss. I was a tangle of emotions: hurt and anger and longing and incompleteness. It was all feeling, no thought. When coherency began to return, even it was a jumble. Seth. Seth was the man in the dream? Of course he was. Hadn't I felt it from almost the first time we met? Hadn't I often said he was like a piece of my soul? Hadn't I felt like something was missing when we'd split up?

Then, all the doubt that the Oneroi had been so good at instilling in me began to descend. It couldn't be Seth. I couldn't be with a mortal, not in any real capacity. I certainly couldn't have a child with one, and anyway, Seth was marrying someone else. This was a trick. Another lie. Everything here was a lie, meant to continue the torment the Oneroi thought I deserved.

"That can't happen," I said. The words were hard. And hadn't I already said them earlier? Circles, circles. My life was repeating itself over and over. "None of that could ever happen."

"No," agreed Two. "Not anymore. Your future shifted."

"That was never my future. You lie. Nyx lied. There's no truth anywhere."

"This is truth," said One.

Another dream. A true dream? No, no. The part of me that was starting to lose it swore up and down that it couldn't be true. There's no truth anywhere.

I was in the mundane human world again, with Seth and Simone-as-Georgina. They were at a tuxedo shop, browsing suits, and I futilely racked my brain to figure this out. Maddie had requested they go shopping...yet, surely it hadn't happened that day. Or had it? Was this another day? How much time had passed? I couldn't tell if these dreams lasted a second or a lifetime. The sky outside was deepening to twilight, so maybe it was the same day.

"You don't have to wear a bow tie," said Simone, studying a well-dressed mannequin. She herself was dressed magnificently, in a tight dress that was an orange reminiscent of autumn leaves. It was short, of course, and emphasized my br**sts as much as was decently possible - maybe more so. Bronze high heels completed the look. It was too fancy for tux shopping, but it looked great on her. Me. Us. Whatever.

Seth wandered over to stand beside her, studying the suit. If there hadn't been a salesman straightening a display near the door, I had a feeling Seth would have made a run for it.

"It's more traditional," said Seth. "I think that's what Maddie wants."

Simone scoffed. "So? What about what you want?" She took a step toward him. "You can't just sit by and let others tell you what to do! You have your own needs. Your own wants. You can't be passive here."

There was passion in her words, a conviction that even I couldn't help but admire. It was the kind of speech that rallied people to your cause - but like everything else she'd said lately, there was this sexual subtext laced within it. He stared at her for a few seconds, as impressed as I was, but finally looked away. He also took a step back.

"Maybe. But I don't really feel like my life currently hinges on whether I choose a bow tie or a regular tie. I think I should save my heroic moments for something a little bigger." He wandered off to look at another suit and didn't see the scowl on her face that I did.

Soon, she had that sweet smile on again and was back by his side - very close to his side - while they examined cuts, colors, and all the myriad details that went into planning a lifelong commitment. The salesman couldn't stay away, of course, and finally swooped in to offer his assistance.

"This jacket would be very flattering with your build," he told Seth. "It comes in black and gray, as well as a few others - so it would definitely complement your dress." That last part was directed to Simone. She laughed merrily. It was nails on a chalkboard to me.

"Oh, we're not getting married." She patted Seth's arm. "We're just good friends. I'm helping out."

Tags: Richelle Mead Georgina Kincaid Fantasy
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