My brain was foggy.
I blinked my eyes to clear it away, trying to focus on the things around me.
I blinked my eyes again in surprise.
I was standing in a room, Hogwarts great hall style minus the tables, crowded with people dressed Victorian England style. Looking down at myself, I was too. Where were my jeans and Converse? The skirts of the dress sat heavily on my hips, and my shoes felt pinched and achy. I never went anywhere without my converse. I only took them off to sleep, if even then. I wanted my normal clothes. Though, this dress was an excellent shade of turquoise. It matched my eyes.
All of the people were looking at me, cheerful, anticipatory smiles on their faces. My face, in that horrible way, started burning. I hated being the center of attention.
Someone grabbed my hand.
I realized that I wasn’t the only one the people were staring at. The man standing at my side, holding my hand firmly in his own, was tall and handsome. But not my type. His hair was pale and so were his eyes. He looked very . . . regal. I don’t think I’d ever used that word to describe anyone before. But he just, was, decked out like some Victorian lord.
Despite the paleness, there was something dark about him.
What kind of wacky, messed up dream was this?!
He called to the people, his voice carrying, “Friends.”
There was no way all those people were his friends.
He continued, not hearing my sarcastic thoughts. “I apologize for taking time away from your evening. But,” a smile spread across his face, “I’d like to announce that the Lady Gavan has just given me her consent!”
Consent for what, to smack him upside the head? I felt like that would be a good thing to do at this moment.
“We shall be wed as soon as we can find a priest.”
Oh no, he didn’t!
On no, I didn’t!
I jerked my hand out of his. “WHO ARE YOU?!”
His eyes narrowed.
The people on the floor started murmuring quietly to themselves, sounding like the gentle hum of a microwave.
The man wrapped his long fingers around my upper arm and dragged me, off balance, from the room.
I wanted to pry my arm out of his fingers, but he’s was pulling me down the hallway so quickly I couldn’t find my balance.
A servant, she was dressed in little more than rags, stepped out of one of the doors lining the hallway. She stumbled back, seeing the fire in my captors eyes.
“Where is the physician?!” he yelled at her.
“I . . . He . . .” The poor girl was kind of freaking out in the face of this jerk. She took a quick breath. “He requested that his supper be brought to his quarters.”
Mr. Not-Right-In-The-Head, Angry Man stormed past her.
I banged on his arm with my free fist, accenting each word with a punch. “Let. Go. Of. Me!”
He turned on his heel and backhanded me across the face.
I was stunned into silence as he continued to drag me down the hall. My face burned with pain and embarrassment. Nobody had ever struck me before. My forehead creased. When had I started using words like struck? Why hadn’t I used hit, like a normal person?
Wait, that hurt! You’re not supposed to be able to get hurt in dreams.
I pushed the thought away, not liking where it was taking me. There was no way any of this could actually be happening. It was too impossible.
Mr. Jerk stopped at a door on the left before kicking it open and throwing me in.
I landed on my hands and knees. Quickly, I scrambled to my feet and stepped away from the man. I folded my arms and pushed out my lip. Yeah. I was totally pulling out the pouting card.
Unfortunately, it fell unnoticed. Mr. Angry had already forgotten I existed. He was looming over a little, portly man. He was squinting like he’d forgotten he put on his glasses. Did they even have glasses in whatever time period I was dreaming in? I made a mental note to Google it when I woke up. Was this the physician?
Mr. Angry was yelling at the little man. I felt kind of bad for him. “She lapsed! She lapsed when I was making the announcement of our intentions! She was supposed to have another hour! What happened?!”
The physician wiped sweat, and probably spittle, from his forehead. “M’lord, it’s possible that she is developing a resistance to the effects of the drug.”
“A drug!” I burst, losing my pout. “You have not been drugging me!”
The physician looked confused. “But we have been drugging you, Lady Gavan.”
Mr. Angry glared at the physician and he fell silent. Angry took a moment to let himself become not so angry. “Fine. It won’t matter after we’re wed. Do you have any here we can give her now?”
“It doesn’t matter,” I interrupted. “drugging me won’t make me marry you.”
“You’d be surprised at what I’ve made you do under its influence before. Your consent was witnessed by more than myself.” His voice was cold.
I couldn’t stop myself from wondering, what had I done? Nothing, I reminded myself. This was just a dream.
“Do you have any more?” Mr. Angry’s question was directed at the physician.
“Nay, we cannot give her more now, M’lord. Even if the drug isn’t working, it is still in her system. To give her more would be dangerous.”
I snorted, very un-ladylike.
Angry whipped his eyes at me.
I raised an eyebrow at him. “You actually think I’m going to sit there and let you drug me? Well, newsflash, I’m not.”
He looked a little confused at the word “newsflash,” but he definitely understood “not.”
“Is that so?” a small smile curled the corners of his mouth.
Not the reaction I was expecting. I tried to maintain my superior attitude, folding my arms across my chest, again. “Yup.”
He stepped away from the physician. He threw open the door and pushed me out in front of him. His fingers returned to their favorite spot on my arm as he dragged down a different hall. “It would have been better for you, had you remained the meek lamb.” He threw open a door.
Did he know me at all? I had never in my life acted the meek lamb. Why did he want to marry me, anyway?
Past the door, cold stone steps led down in a circular staircase. I had to struggle not to trip as he forced me down them. A soldier at the bottom stood at stiff at attention.
“Follow me,” Mr. Angry ordered the man.
We were in a dungeon of sorts. Was this guy serious?
There was only one other guest that I could see in the row of cells. Angry opened the next available cell and shoved me in. I really doubted this guy’s mother had ever taught him to be nice to a lady, even one as rough around the edges as me.
The soldier locked the cell behind me.
I turned and pressed my face against the bars, glaring at Mr. Angry.
“You will be obedient to me. Before long, you will be begging for that which you so ardently refuse.”
He turned to the guard. “No food. No water.”
I started screaming everything I could think of as he walked toward the stairs. “I plead the fifth! I demand to see a lawyer!” He didn’t turn around. “You’ll never take me alive!”
To that, he did turn around. The smile on his face made me take an involuntary step back. “My dearest Rebecca, you cannot take that which you already possess.” He was gone.
I suppressed a shudder and sank to the floor, cross legged, thinking.
Before I could settle too deep into my thoughts, my neighbor interrupted.
“Becky, what happened? Are you all right?”
Normally, I would have bristled. Nobody calls me Becky but the people I give permission too, like my friends and family. Not a random stranger in Mr. Angry’s dungeon. But I kind of liked the way it rolled off his tongue, so I put my claws away.
It was too dark to make out much about him, but I tried. His voice didn’t sound much older than me. His hair was dark, making his face look pale. I tried to pick out more details, and failed.
He was crouched against the bars of our adjoined wall. “Becky?”
I remembered he’d asked me a question. I smirked. “I’m afraid you have the advantage over me. Who might you be, mysterious stranger?”
He barked out a short laugh. “Ha, real funny, Beck. Don’t avoid the question. Why are you down here? I thought you were all set to marry your one true love.”
I detected something bitter in his voice. His nonresponse muffled me but he said true love as if he were quoting me. That made me angry. “My one true love! Mr. Angry? Are you serious? What kind of unreliable gossip chain are you listening to down here? You’re almost as bad as him. Telling all those people I’d given my consent—”
He cut me off. “Becky, I was there, remember? Don’t play these games with me. Allow me to quote you: ‘I would gladly give my hand in marriage to my one true love.’” It sounded like the words hurt him.
“I never said that!” I spit back at him. “I think I would remember.” So Mysterious Stranger was the witness Mr. Angry had mentioned earlier. Why would Mr. Angry have my consent witnessed by a prisoner? Not that I’d ever given it or anything. I was only 18, sheesh.
Mystery sat down and rested his head his hands. He slowly massaged his temple, like he had some massive headache. I had one of my own starting to creep in.
“Stop playing your games with me, Beck. I can’t take it.” He rolled forward onto his knees and stretched his arm through the bars to reach me.
I was out of his range and didn’t try to move any closer.
His hand dropped slowly. He clenched the bars. “Whatever I did to make you hate me so much, I’m sorry. Tell me what I can do to fix it.” He sighed. “I know I should have told you this a long time ago, but I was too much of a coward. I need you to know before he comes back.” He paused, as if, even now, he was trying to gauge what my reaction would be. “I love you, Becky.”
I climbed to my feet and backed as far away from him as I could. “What is it with you people?!” I shrieked. “First, Mr. Angry stands me up in front of whole bunch of people and tells them we’re getting married. Then he throws me in the dungeon. Now, you’re telling me you love me. You won’t even tell me who you are!” I smacked the side of my fist against the bar, the pain giving me something to focus on. “Why won’t I just wake up?!”
“Wake up? You’re not asleep.”
Though I couldn’t see details, something about him seemed so incredibly sad. Maybe I should have been more tactful in spurning his love. “Of course I’m asleep. It’s the only way any of this makes sense.”
“You’re not sleeping, Becky.” His voice was more solid. Even so, he paused. “You really don’t know who I am? That wasn’t you just trying to be funny in a completely not funny way?”
“No,” I whispered. I had to be sleeping. My throbbing hand said differently.
“It’s me,” his whole posture pleaded for me to remember, “Bennett.”
I tried. I honestly did try to remember. I wanted to. But there was nothing there but the fog. “What’s going on?”
Bennett slumped against the bars. “I wish I knew. I haven’t know what’s going on since you walked into my life a few weeks ago.”
“Walked into your life?” Under my despair and confusion, I was honestly curious. “Where did I walk into it from?”
He laughed soundlessly, shaking his head. “I’d tell you if I could, really. But you never told me, despite how many times I asked.” He paused again. “Do you really not remember anything?”
I huffed. “Am I supposed to?” Even I knew my question was stupid.
“What did he do to you?”
I shrugged, resigned. “I don’t know. After he made the announcement and I yelled in his face—”
“Wait. Stop.” I could hear the smile in his voice, even if I couldn’t see it. “You yelled in his face? I bet that didn’t go over well.”
I smiled too. “It didn’t. He got pretty upset.”
I kind of liked lover boy, Bennett. We shared the same sense of humor.
“Anyway,” I continued, “After I yelled at him, he dragged me out of the room to find this physician guy. Apparently, I’ve built up an immunity to the drug they’ve been giving me. I told Mr. Angry I wasn’t going to take his stupid drug. That’s when he threw me down here, so I would beg him for it or some other nonsense.”
Bennett was silent.
“Oy, Mystery Lover Boy,” I smiled to myself at the unintentional rhyme, “what are you thinking about over there?”
“I’m thinking, a whole lot of things just started to make sense.”
“What do you mean?” Maybe he could spread his sense to me.
“You might not remember everything, but I do. There have been quite a few things you’ve done over the last little while that haven’t made sense.”
Why wouldn’t he just come out and tell me? He was playing with me! Maybe we were too much alike. Oh, I would definitely play with him. I took slow steps toward him. “Like what?” I asked smoothly.
“Like how you called him your one true love. I can’t see you saying something that corny to anyone and really meaning it.”
I silently agreed with him on that point. I would have done it vocally but it would have messed with my game.
I crouched down in front of him. “Silly Bennett,” I whispered our faces only inches apart. He was frozen. “You should know that you will forever be my one true love.” I turned his face in my hands and pressed my lips gently to his check, letting them linger for a moment before releasing him and sitting back on my heals
He was absolutely silent and I had to fight to keep from bursting into laughter. After a several long seconds, he found his voice, but it sounded more confident than I’d been anticipating “You’re mean. I forgot that you like to play dirty.”
His hand snaked out and grabbed mine, catching me by surprise. He pulled me back to the bars. His strong hands cupped my face. This time, it was me who was to shocked to move as he brought his lips to mine. After a few seconds of my head swimming, he pulled back, our foreheads still resting together and teasing me.
His voice was like silk gently brushing my skin. “But you have also forgotten that I know how to play dirty too.”
He released me and moved to sit with his back against the stone wall next to our adjoining bars. After a few seconds, I sat down next to him on my section of the stone wall, less than a foot between us. His fingers slipped through the bars and intertwined firmly with my own. I didn’t pull away.
Crazy dream or not, but I think I was falling in love. In a dungeon. With a boy whose face I couldn’t even clearly see. I had no idea it was that easy. What if he was ugly? I hoped he was ugly, then it would make it easier to wake up. But, for now, I didn’t want the dream to end quite yet.