The Dream Thief
The Drákon Series, Book 2
ISBN-10: 0553588052 ISBN-13: 978-0553588057
air hung heavy with soot and a wet, cool fog, clinging
to his face like an unpleasant skin, dampening his breath.
But he was used to it; in fact, he usually welcomed
it, because foggy nights meant fewer shadows. In his
business, light and shadow were as important as picklocks
and poison and knives.
From the hours
outdoors his hair had worked loose from its queue, unfashionably
long, distinctive. It would be dark against his skin
and the dull white of his cravat. He should have worn
a wig. A wig, a cheaper hat, a plainer greatcoat: it
would have been more anonymous. But what was done was
done; he wasn’t a man to linger long in regret. The
people he’d cornered these past few days were paid too
damned well to remember his face, anyway.
At least tonight
was over. Tomorrow he’d start again, but right now he
was hungry, he was tired, and he was very much looking
forward to a meal and his bed—and what awaited him in
lantern just past his house burned sulphur yellow, a
very dim sun choked with mist. None of the small, neatly
spaced houses he passed were even visible through the
gloom. He found his way because he’d always known it,
because he’d lived here since he was a child, and had
mapped the streets and pavements and gutters in his
mind so well he knew every alley, every door, every
possible route of escape.
He made himself
part of the night. He made his footsteps silent, his
breathing imperceptible. He listened to the dark so
intently it sounded like his own heartbeat, familiar
This was his
realm, for better or worse. This was the place he claimed
and defended, a tiny, ragged patch of safety in the
midst of chaos.
around to the back of his house, evading all the traps
he’d set, finding the short rise of stairs through the
clouded darkness and then the keyhole to the kitchen
waiting inside. He was seated at the side table eating
a bowl of something that smelled like very bad eel.
grunted, by way of a greeting.
his cocked hat, running a hand through his hair. “Whatever
it is you are consuming, I do not want it served at
my table tonight. Or any other night.”
The man’s brows
arched; past his scars and badly mottled skin, he looked
pained. “It’s me mum’s recipe.”
“Then she is
welcome to my portion.” He bolted the kitchen door closed
once more, had worked the top buttons of his coat free
and was heading for the hall, for bed, when he was halted
by his front man’s voice.
“Got a visitor.”
a look back at him. Joseph shrugged. “A girl. Put her
in the parlor.”
“A girl,” he
repeated slowly. “Are you certain?”
Joseph, with exaggerated care. “I’m certain.”
again and silently left the kitchen.
His house was
dark. He’d grown up with it this way and kept it as
a useful habit. A house ill-lit on the inside revealed
much less of its inhabitants; he nearly always preferred
to see and be unseen. But Joe had apparently felt the
girl in question required a great deal of illumination.
When Zane stopped at the arched doorway to the parlor,
he saw that every lamp was burning, plus the pair of
candelabras from the dining room. The contrast was almost
like daylight: the reds and blue-greens of the Peshawar
rug searing bright, the carved corners of the paintings
rubbed with gilt, the gleam of the satinwood chairs
The child slumped
aside in one of them, head back, eyes closed, lips apart.
There was a half-filled cup of chocolate tilting precariously
on her lap, her fingers still curled around the handle.
Her frock was girlish blue sprigged with daisies, her
pumps were dirty, her hair was mussed. Limp ringlets
of darkened gold fell softly against her cheeks. She
looked pale and gaunt and remarkably plain, despite
the beauty of that hair. Everything smelled of hot wax
He stood there
and felt, to his distant surprise, none of the anger
he had expected, but instead a profound sense of relief.
To manage it
he took the cup from her fingers and gave the chair
a hard kick.
She came awake
at once, straightening, her hands fluttering across
I wish I could say I was happy to see you, but I’ve
already endured the pleasure of the Marquess of Langford’s
company thrice in the past two days. What the devil
are you about?”
she asked, looking around them.
“Not at the
present. No doubt it won’t be long before he returns.
I don’t believe he’s fully convinced I haven’t hidden
you away somewhere in the house. Imagine my joy,” he
added silkily, “at walking into my parlor tonight and
discovering it to be true.”
I....” she trailed off, shaking her head, then covered
her eyes with one hand. “I haven’t been sleeping well.”
it has something to do with the fact that you’ve been
riding in a public coach for—let me see—almost a fortnight,
isn’t it? That’s about how long it takes to travel from
Darkfrith to my door by stage. Unless, I suppose,” he
paused, “you flew here.”
He hadn’t meant
it as a barb but she grimaced, just a little. Then her
hand lowered; she gazed at him steadily.
“I didn’t fly.
You know I can’t. And that’s not why.”
like that look, long-lashed, brown-eyed, direct. It
reminded him too much of her mother. They stared at
each other in the growing silence. Amalia’s lips slowly
compressed into a thin, stubborn line.
With a sigh
he gave it up, lowering himself into the opposite chair.
He glanced down at her cold chocolate and then tried
a taste, feeling his stomach rumble. Hell was going
to cut loose sooner or later, and he’d already missed
did not take kindly to losing one of their kind. He
knew that too bloody well.
silver along the scrolled edge of a tray beside him.
Saints be praised, Joseph had left her food. Scones,
orange cake, a dish of honeyed nuts and dried fruits—he
leaned forward and helped himself to half an apricot
and a sliver of cake.
“Yes.” It was
a miserable whisper.
I’m certain it was worth fleeing your home without a
word to anyone—without, I am equally certain, permission
from your almighty drákon council—to come here
to tell me.”
But she still
didn’t avert her gaze. She didn’t even seem abashed.
All her initial, drowsy confusion appeared completely
vanished. She looked cool and composed and very much
older than her years, even in her wrinkled skirts. Whatever
it was that had compelled her halfway across the kingdom
was well hidden behind that mask of mulish calm.
He knew how to wait.
the apricot and crumbled the cake into pieces, consuming
each mouthful with purposeful leisure. Joseph was thick-witted
and slow and strictly as loyal as his next paycheck,
but the true reason Zane kept him in his home was this:
Cake. Scones. Fresh berry pies. He was the best hand
at sugar pastries this side of the Channel, and the
starving child Zane had once been fully appreciated
his skills. By the force of his nature Zane remained
a hammered blade; fat men never made good thieves. He
survived on bites and water and potfuls of bitter coffee.
But he was on his third slice before Amalia rose, taking
back her cup from his hand.
She made a
slow circle of the room, not drinking. “This doesn’t
seem much like the residence of a notorious criminal.”
rather the point.”
“Is that why
Mother gave it to you?”
he retorted, brushing the crumbs from his waistcoat,
“she did not give it to me. I purchased it from
her, and at a damned premium price. It was all extremely
She set the
chocolate on the windowsill. She lifted a hand to the
iron bolt holding the shutters closed.
“Do not, if
you please,” he said curtly, unmoving. “I’d prefer not
to invite your kith and kin inside at the moment.”
“It isn’t sealed?”
around one of the panes has come loose. I discovered
that the hard way two days ago.”
jerked back as if burned. It was only one loosened pane,
nothing very helpful to the ordinary men and thugs who
usually haunted him, a mere breath of space between
the solder and the glass. Yet it was all Christoff Langford
had needed to breach all of Zane’s careful defenses.
Because Langford, of course, wasn’t a man at all. He
wasn’t even human.
was his daughter.
“You love my
family,” Amalia said now, her back to him, rubbing her
palm up and down her rumpled blue-and-flowered skirts.
He did not
“Some of them,
anyway.” She glanced at him from over her shoulder.
“You do love some.”
“If you say
“You know what
we are,” she persisted. “You’ve helped us, over the
years. You’re...close to my parents. You’ve aided the
for love, I assure you.”
“What was it,
then? Only money?”
“Money is a
subject very dear to my heart, child. Do not underestimate
“And what of
power?” she asked, softer. “Is that dear to you as well?”
“Did you venture
all this way for an examination of my character, snapdragon?”
and looked him fully in the face. She didn’t like his
pet name for her, and never had. It sounded whimsical,
childish, when everything inside her felt strong and
But she knew
what he thought of her. She’d always known.
He was the
only mortal tolerated by the tribe. He was the only
one suffered to keep their secrets. While she and all
her kind were kept trapped in the green heaven of Darkfrith,
Zane was the sole living creature allowed to come and
to go at will. Even her father, the Alpha, tended to
inform the council when he meant to travel.
It was their
way. She knew it was how they had survived all these
centuries. The Others raised livestock, or crops. The
drákon raised silence, year after year after
Lia was the
daughter of a lord. She lived in a mansion of glimmer
and light; she looked out her bedroom window every day
at open skies and wild wooded hills and sometimes felt
so suffocated it was a wonder she didn’t open her mouth
and start screaming and never stop.
Rhys and Audrey
and Joan—even Kimber, who at least got to leave to attend
a proper school—moved through the hours as if there
could be nothing finer than what had been placed before
them. Their lives were planned out, their hopes and
futures would be forever confined by the boundaries
of their land. They were born there, they would find
mates there and they would die there. To them, the world
beyond the mist and bracken was of little consequence.
why her mother had run away, all those years ago. If
she thought for an instant she could truly do the same—
But she couldn’t.
She wasn’t Gifted like the rest of her family. She couldn’t
Turn to smoke, much less to dragon. She wasn’t beautiful,
she wasn’t brave, she wasn’t any sort of reflection
of the magnificence of her kind. It had taken all her
meager resources just to get this far, and Lia knew
her time here would be short. They’d find her soon.
only two things about her that set her apart from the
rest of her tribe—two dark, disturbing things. And one
of them was seated before her in this chamber.
Zane had not
stirred from his chair. The lamps were bright and the
shadows were harsh; he was sketched in charcoal and
light, studying her with a half-lidded gaze she recognized
from years of watching him pretending to relax at Chasen
Manor, every line of his body casually elegant, his
coat unbuttoned to drape the cushions, his waistcoat
a satin gleam of pewter and taupe.
His eyes were
paler than amber. His hair was very long and thick,
honeyed brown. He was poise and muscle and tall as her
father; Joan and Audrey used to keep her awake at night
for years in the nursery, just giggling his name, until
at last she was old enough to realize why.
this. Because of his hands, so strong and tanned. His
fingers, gently tapping the wooden arm of the chair
in an easy, steady percussion that belied the wolf-watchfulness
of his gaze. Because of his jaw, and his brows, and
the handsome curve of his mouth. Because when he stretched
his legs and crossed his ankles and lifted his dark
lashes to fully see her once more, she was as pinned
a deer in a dragon’s clear yellow sights.
the blind dream of him. She remembered the stroke of
if I interrupt your contemplation of my cravat,” he
said now, in a very different tone. “No doubt it’s adorned
with all manner of fascinating stains, as I’ve been
out the past two days and nights straight searching
every inn and tavern and coach yard in the city for
one thoughtless, wayward miss. I find I’m a shade impatient
with all these heavy silences. Why, pray tell, have
you landed in my parlor?”
“You—you were searching for me?”
seemed to require it.”
he repeated, this time clearly mocking.
She took a
breath. “If I tell you something, will you promise not
to mention it to anyone else?”
“No,” he said
“What if it’s
“In that case, absolutely no.
Look,” he said, leaning forward to prop his elbows on
his knees, “if it’s something so dire you can’t share
it with your parents, then I want nothing to do with
it. I’m not courting that sort of trouble. Sorry, my
heart. That’s the way of things.”
“Do you think,”
she asked carefully, “that is possible to—to tell the
His eyes narrowed.
“What, like tinkers and star-casters, that sort of thing?”
“Or, like dreams.”
“Aye. In fact,
I’ve a carnival soothsayer on payroll who’ll read your
runes and spin you as fine a future as you could wish—especially
if you’re so accommodating as to leave your reticule
“I wasn’t jesting!”
I. He’s bloody good at what he does. Only been locked
up twice. Much better average than most of my blokes.
But then,” he added mildly, “I suppose he’s able to
see just when the constables will be turning the corner.”
the rug to stand before him. She felt calm, removed,
after all the days of worry and heat and dread, rocked
to sleep and awake in that wretched excuse of a carriage,
the stench of people and old horsehair clogging up her
nose. She felt a thread of her dream-self, smooth and
mysterious, flowing through her veins.
With Zane still
seated, she leaned forward and pressed her lips to his.
When she drew
away again his eyes had taken on a harder glow.
he said coolly. “Feel free to try it again in about
ten years. Until then, don’t waste my time.”
came a light, feminine voice. “Am I interrupting?”
“Not in the
least.” Zane rose from the chair; Lia was forced to
step back. In the parlor doorway stood a woman, hooded
and cloaked, the slit in her mantle revealing skirts
of dove silk and a stomacher of white threadwork and
With a graceful
turn of her wrists, the woman pushed back her hood.
Red hair, gray eyes; her every movement carried the
fresh scent of night.
Lia felt a
flush of exquisite shame begin to creep up her throat.
“Who is this?”
asked the woman, sounding amused.
“No one. Merely
a little lost lamb.”
“A lamb,” said
the woman, still smiling, entering the parlor. She touched
a gloved finger to Lia’s chin, lifting her face. “With
those eyes? I think not. Rather more a windstorm descending.”
away. She glanced up at Zane—wolf-eyed, stone-faced,
despite his languid tone—then grabbed his hand and held
“I want you
to know,” she said quietly, “that I will do anything
to protect my family. Now, or in the future. I’ll do
anything at all. Remember that I warned you.”
His mouth flattened
into a smile. “How charming. Perhaps you’d care inform
your father as well.” He disengaged their hands. “I
believe that’s him at the window.”
And the locked shutters blocking the broken pane
began to rattle and shake.
from The Dream Thief by Shana Abé. Copyright
© 2006 by Shana Abé. Excerpted by permission of Bantam
Books, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved.
No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted
without permission in writing from the publisher.