Deadly Sweet Lies (The Dream War Saga #2)
by Erica Cameron
Expected publication: August 18th 2015
Publisher: Spencer Hill Press
Nadette Lawson knows when you’re lying.
Every night for the past two years, the Balasura have visited her dreams, enticing her to enter their world. And every night she’s seen through their lies. Now, they’re tired of playing in the shadows and they begin to stalk her in the waking world. It’s no longer just an invitation; if Nadette doesn’t join them, they’ll take her family. Forever. She needs help, and the haven she’s seeking may be just out of reach.
Julian Teagan is a master of deception.
To survive, he has to convince the world his mother isn’t useless, that everything’s fine, otherwise he’ll lose what little he has left in this life. He knows the lying won’t be enough to keep him and his mother in the shadows, but it’s all he knows. The only light of truth is Orane, a Balasura who sees past Julian’s facade and challenges him to face the darkness.
Then Orane is killed, and Julian learns his mentor was far from innocent. The Balasura have hunted children like him for centuries, and their next target, Nadette is his one chance at finally being a part of something real. If Julian can just convince her to trust him…
Some people think the world runs on money or power or, for the particularly optimistic, faith. It doesn’t. The world runs on lies.
Big ones, little ones, black ones, white ones, lies that fool an entire nation, and lies that don’t fool anyone but make people feel a little better about themselves for a while. As though all they really need to be able to do to sleep soundly at night is tell themselves, “Well, at least I tried.”
Some idiots talk big about being able to call anyone’s bluff, about being able to read any lie no matter how seemingly insignificant. They can’t. Even if they catch most of them, they still let themselves believe the ones they like. The ones that fit the way they want to see the world. Or the ones that comfort. Or the ones that’re easy.
They don’t understand what it’s like to actually hear every. Single. Lie. Every one. To flinch when people tell you something they know isn’t true or, worse, to hear the lies even the people telling them believe.
That was bad enough, but now I wish I could go back to that. It’s better than losing my mind completely. It’s better than getting struck with insomnia so hard that my creepy-ass dreams start stalking my waking hours.
Six months of seeing a psychiatrist. I thought I’d be used to these appointments by now. Especially since I asked for the first appointment. But, nope. Doesn’t seem to matter. Doesn’t even matter that I actually like Dr. Peter Branson. He’s kind and relatively non-judgmental and his waiting room is nice, with wood floors and cream walls and beautifully soothing watercolors, but every time I walk into this office, my nerves start buzzing like live wires and I can’t stop fidgeting. I can’t stop wishing I could somehow give myself amnesia, wipe my brain clean, and start over. As long as it would take this stupid Jedi mind trick of mine with it.
Mom’s latest interior design project must be overwhelming because she’s staring at the red silk fabric with white dragons embroidered on it like it’s a code she has to decipher. Eyebrows drawn close together, she looks at me and asks, “Are dragons too typical in an Asian-inspired décor?”
“Do the clients like dragons?”
“I assume so. They own a company called Dragon Fire Industries.” She bites her lip and holds up the fabric, staring at it intently. “Maybe if I found something a little more modern. More abstract. Something with the hint of dragons instead of the shape. If anything like that even exists.”
“So make it. Your designs are usually better anyway.”
Mom gives me a quick, but bright smile, her cheeks a little flushed at the compliment. It only takes her about thirty seconds to throw her lapful of fabric samples onto the coffee table in front of us and pull her sketchbook out of her huge purse. She’s about to get lost in the project when the door opens and Peter smiles at me. He’s tall with one of those “I used to be athletic when I was a kid” builds, and every time I see him standing in that doorway it strikes me again how similar his skin tone is to the walnut wood of his office door. Mom looks up from her sketchbook, giving the doctor a tired smile.
“How are you, Grace?” Peter asks my mom.
Her bright green eyes flick toward me before she answers. “Tired, but I’m all right.”
As he nods his acknowledgement, he gestures for me to come in to his office. “You let me know if you need to talk, okay, Grace? Don’t wait until you’re too overtaxed.”
“Thanks, Peter. I’ll keep that in mind.”
He smiles again, his brown eyes crinkling at the corners, then closes the door behind us, locking us in for the next hour.
“Have you been sleeping, Nadette?” It’s always the first question he asks.
“No. Not more than an hour a night.”
He hums and makes a note on his legal pad as he settles into the dark brown leather armchair. I plop onto the matching overstuffed leather couch across from him and lift my fingers to play with my necklace. The gesture draws Peter’s eye. He leans forward, squinting as though he’s trying to get a better look.
“New?” he asks.
“Yeah. Mom gave it to me this morning.” I look down. All I can see is the oblong black pendant wrapped in silver wire. I trace the etching on the front of the stone, Chinese characters that mean “protected.” “She’s working on a house for these clients from China, and I don’t know. I guess she told one of them I’ve been having nightmares.”
Peter’s head tilts. “So she bought you a necklace to apologize for breaking your confidence?”
My lip quirks up, almost a smile. “No. The woman’s mother was an herbalist and medicine woman. According to her, black jade is good for keeping away angry spirits and cleansing negative energy. The lady sells jewelry imported from China. She gave this to Mom to give to me.”
“And? Do you feel cleansed?”
I stroke the beads, my fingers bumping from one sphere to the next. “Not really. But it can’t hurt, right?”
“No. I definitely haven’t heard of black jade having any adverse side effects.” He smiles at the joke. I can’t join in. I remember too well the side effects of the sleeping pills and antipsychotics he’s tried on me. None of them worked. Some only made things worse.
Peter runs a hand over his dark hair. His fingers linger over his ears where the strands are starting to go gray. “So, Nadette, we’ve been dealing with the recent past since you came here—the insomnia and the waking dreams.”
“Which still don’t make sense. Not even after the CAT scans and sleep studies,” I say.
Peter cocks his head to the side slightly. Almost a sideways nod like he’s conceding the point. “Traditional methods obviously aren’t going to work for a non-traditional problem. Concentrating on the dreams doesn’t seem to be helping, so I want to go back further. Tell me about the progression of your other talent.”
“Talent?” As if it’s something I honed or wanted. Or have any control over. “You mean the invisible polygraph I seem to carry around in my head?”
“That’s a good metaphor for it.” Peter grins and nods. “I like that. And yes, the progression—or evolution, rather—of your invisible polygraph.”
I bite my lip and tug at the black jade pendant. “I’m not sure what you mean exactly. I’ve always been able to tell when people are lying. My brain has been weird my whole life.”
It took until I was six for me to understand that hearing bells ringing in your head when someone told a lie wasn’t normal.
“I know you’ve always had the bells,” Peter says. It took him a month to really believe me when I told him I heard lies. Once he adjusted to the fact that I wasn’t bullshitting him or completely off my rocker, he’s been quietly fascinated by the concept. “But you’ve said more than once that your sensitivity has increased dramatically.”
Pulling my fire-orange hair over my shoulder, I nod slowly.
“I want you to examine the timeline of that evolution for me. Think back to the first time you remember it changing. Try to remember what you noticed was different and when that happened, okay?” He leans forward, scanning my face and gripping his pen in his left fist.
When did everything start to change? “It was just after my sister Sophia’s birthday. About nineteen months ago.” I bite my lip and try to remember the conversation we were having at the time. My breath hitches a bit. I remember it word for word. Weird. Shaking myself out of my thoughts, I refocus on Peter. “She was telling me about this guy she’d met and how excited she was for their date. She said, ‘It’s amazing a guy like that is still single. I can’t believe someone else hasn’t realized how perfect he is.’”
Peter nods. “And she was lying?”
“Well, no. She really thought she was telling the truth. She believed this guy was single. But I heard the bells anyway.” I cringe. “Sophia was pissed when I told her she was being played. She went out with him anyway. A month later I found a CD of Schubert’s compositions, a shirt of hers I’d been coveting for months, and a gift card to Amazon on my bed.”
“So, that was what?” Peter tapped on the legal pad with his pen. “Six months after the dreams started? Seven?”
Peter’s grip on his pen loosens and he makes a note. “That’s a pretty significant difference—being able to spot a falsehood even when the person speaking believes it.”
“It sucks.” I slide down the couch a little until my butt is almost hanging off and cross my arms over my chest.
“Bet it helps on tests.” A small smile curves his lips.
I snort. “Please. How many teachers are willing to admit they’re wrong? Or accept ‘Because the bells told me so’ as proof?”
Peter’s smile slides away. “Hmm. Okay, good point.” He takes a slow breath and makes another note before he looks up and asks, “What did you notice next?”
“That’s not enough?”
“Is that everything?”
I bite my lip and look away, pushing myself up on the couch again. “No.”
“Then it’s not enough.”
Groaning, I rub my hands over my face. “Six months after that, I started seeing lies.”
“How do you mean?”
“You know how sometimes you look at someone and you can just tell that they’re faking a smile?”
I drop my hands as Peter’s nose wrinkles, his grimace not stifled quite fast enough. “My ex-mother-in-law seemed to do that every time she saw me.”
A little of the tension in my shoulders eases. I almost smile. That’s one of the reasons I like Peter—he’s willing to poke fun at himself sometimes too, to point out that not even the psychiatrist has everything figured out.
“Well, six months after I started being able to spot,” I pause, searching for the word Peter used, “falsehoods, I was watching a friend of mine smile at her boyfriend. She… Look, this is weird even for me, okay?”
“Okay.” Peter puts his pen down and settles against the back of the armchair. “Go on.”
Taking a deep breath, I force the words out. Even though it feels like I’m wearing an iron corset and someone keeps pulling the strings tighter. “There was this red haze over her face. Kind of like how a rainbow looks on a cloudy day? Color that’s kind of there but not there? But the haze was only red. And only over her face. And only until she dropped that fake smile.”
“That’s…” Peter’s eyes are wide. He swallows hard and shakes his head. “That would be incredibly useful in my line of work.”
I laugh, a startled, harsh laugh that dissolves into breathless chuckles. I look up at Peter, expecting to see him laughing with me.
He isn’t moving. Though his lips are slightly parted like he’s about to speak, no sound emerges. His shoulders aren’t moving with the breaths he should be taking and his foot is stuck on the upstroke of the rhythm his toes have been tapping on the carpet.
Oh, no. Please, no. Not again. Not now.
I pull my legs tight against my chest. One arm locks around my knees and the other hand wraps tight around the black jade pendant. It’s warm in my hand. Warmer than it should be from just my body heat. Please, I silently beg the necklace. Please, please work. Nothing else has stopped these moments where time seems to still.
The air in front of Peter’s large, wood desk shimmers and sparkles. All I can do is hold on to the ridiculous hope that a string of black jade beads will work where medication and therapy have failed.
Where there was empty air a second ago, there’s now an arch of white light shot through with orange. Through the door I see a strip of snow-white, powder-fine sand leading down to water the color of turquoise. The warm breeze that blows into the room, ruffling strands of my hair against my cheek, smells like saltwater and tropical flowers.
So often, the worlds that appear through that glowing arch are impossible. Fairylands out of fantasy movies, cities built on clouds, crowded Carnival-like festivals lit by floating lanterns. None of them call to me the way this simple, vibrant beach does. I wiggle my toes inside my sneakers, wishing I could run out onto the sand and let my feet sink into the soft-looking grains. Instead, I force my attention onto the man framed inside the arch.
His artfully shaggy hair is an iridescent green-black that reminds me of a beetle’s wings. His tawny skin gleams in the bright sunlight of his world and his full lips are almost always smiling. Syver smiles now and steps closer to the edge of the arch, leaning against the strip of light as though it’s a solid thing. I relax a little, some of the tension easing out of my shoulders, but I don’t let go of my knees. Looking at him is like playing a really complicated find-the-difference puzzle. There’s something off, something that makes me itchy, but I’ve never been able to point to any one word or detail and say, “That.”
“Hello, Nadette,” he says, smiling like we’re friends who just happened to run into each other. “How are you?”
Swallowing, I nod a greeting. “Tired.”
Concern lines his forehead as his head tilts slightly. “I think you are wearing yourself too thin.”
I shrug. Not being able to sleep and living in constant fear of another time-stopping visit from Syver’s world is enough to wear anyone thin.
“Two years and you still don’t trust me enough to let me show you an easier way.” His sigh sounds so disappointed, but I can’t tell if he’s more upset with himself or me. I can’t tell why it matters so much to him either. “Why do you spend so much of your energy fighting?”
That one is easy. “It’s worth it if I can find a way to get rid of this…whatever it is that’s in my head.” I want it gone. Whatever it is that created the invisible polygraph and makes me see doors to other worlds and too-beautiful people who, more often than not, lie.
Twenty-six different people have invaded my mind since these strange dreams started two years ago, but Syver shows up twice as often as anyone else. And he’s the only one of them who has never lied to me.
“Why is it easier for most humans to believe themselves crazy than to see themselves as special? Unique.” His voice reminds me of a cello, smooth and melodious. “I thought you would have accepted the truth by now, Nadette.”
“What is the truth?” I ask, the words escaping my lips before I realize I’m going to speak.
“That what you can do is not an affliction, it is a gift.”
My hand tightens around the jade pendant. A rush of nearly scalding heat floods my skin. I can’t control the shudder that runs through me. These doorways always send shivers across my skin, but they’re never this bad.
“A gift?” Gritting my teeth and tightening my arm around my knees, I shake my head and force myself to keep talking. “I have no friends because I freak people out. Even my family isn’t comfortable around me. It’s hard to see this as a gift.”
Syver’s head tilts and he studies me carefully. His eyes scan down from my bright orange hair to my black Converses tucked in close to my body. His gaze lingers longest on my throat, his expression tightening and his dark eyes narrowing when he spots my necklace.
“Has it come to this, Nadette? Hiding behind a wall of stone and light?”
What is he talking about? The only stones in the room are the ones around my neck. The only light is coming from Peter’s lamps and Syver’s white and orange archway.
My ears pop and my vision blurs. The feeling is somewhere between the pleasureful pain of a joint cracking and the rush of an epiphany. What I see when my vision settles sends my pulse beating harder and faster than a drumline.
The solid white border of the archway disintegrates into a tangle of tendrils, orange ropes that stretch out, trying to bind my wrists, my chest, my head. I scream and pull back. The coils of light brush like ice-cold drips of water on my overheated skin. Each one makes me shiver even though they never quite make contact.
There’s a layer of white, shimmering light coating my body, pulsing out from the black jade pendant.
The tendrils double, sliding over my skin, but never sticking. Never taking hold. My body is trembling, shaking like high-voltage electricity is running through it. My eyes stay locked on Syver’s. His smile never falters—a polite, vaguely concerned smile. That concern is no longer reflected in those changeable eyes.
“W-what is th-this?” I force the words past my chattering teeth. I can’t take a full breath. My chest burns. So do my eyes. I think I feel tears trail down my cheeks. “What is ha-ha-happening?”
“Can you see it now?” His dark eyes widen just a little. “Fascinating.”
“Stop!” I beg. “Please, p-please, stop.”
Syver’s head tilts as he considers, a lock of his dark hair falling over his forehead. Then he smiles and shakes his head. “No.”
I curl tighter around myself, pressing my eyes against my knees. Sobs intensify the tremors running through me. I can barely remember how to breathe.
Stop! Oh God, please. Stop, I repeat in my head. I’m gripping my pendant so tight the wire wrapping might leave permanent indentations in my palm.
“I am afraid this is a turning point for you. As engrossing as it has been to watch you struggle against us and fight the development of your own strengths, now you have a choice, pet.”
That voice is so rich, so compelling. Forcibly compelling. I look up, feeling as though there’s a hand on the back of my head guiding the motion. When I meet Syver’s eyes, that smile is still there, but now his dark eyes glimmer with that same strange green-black iridescence as his beetle’s wing hair.
“You have a rather unique—and surprisingly powerful—skill. It deserves to be used and cherished, not feared and hidden. Or erased, as you seem intent on doing.”
The green glimmer in his eyes intensifies and it feels like all the oxygen has been sucked out of the room. The jade around my neck grows even hotter. It’s not enough to counteract the chill surrounding me.
“I will give you some time yet to decide, but not long. Two choices, pet. Take my hand and willingly relinquish the thing you so despise yourself for having.” He extends one slender hand as though beckoning me forward. “Or I will take it from you.”
His hand flips and his body tenses. The tendrils shift from slithering, grasping vines to spears of light with glittering, razor-sharp points. Instead of groping for a grip, they attack. They slam against my thin shield of white light and send piercing electric shocks through my body.
I dive out of the way. They follow. The attack intensifies until the black jade pendant in my hand heats past the point of burning. I can’t release the stone. A scream rips through my throat and my voice breaks. My vision blurs, fading into a field of white. Something shatters, the sound somewhere between the crack of stone and the tinkle of glass.
Then there’s only silence and blissful, peaceful darkness.
About the Author:
After a lifelong obsession with books, Erica Cameron spent her college years getting credit for reading and learning how to make stories of her own. Erica graduated with a double major in psychology and creative writing from Florida State University and began pursuing a career as an author.
Erica is many things but most notably the following: writer, reader, editor, dance fan, choreographer, singer, lover of musical theater, movie obsessed, sucker for romance, ex-Florida resident, and quasi-recluse. She loves the beach but hates the heat, has equal passion for the art of Salvador Dali and Venetian Carnival masks, has a penchant for unique jewelry and sun/moon décor pieces, and a desire to travel the entire world on a cruise ship. Or a private yacht. You know, whatever works.
Her debut novel, Sing Sweet Nightingale, released March 2014 and it was the first volume of The Dream War Saga. In May 2015, Erica and her co-author Lani Woodland launched the Laguna Tides series with Taken by Chance.