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Authors: Amber Benson

The Last Dream Keeper

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P
RAISE
FOR

The Witches of Echo Park

“A dark and compelling page-turner.”

—Kelley Armstrong, #1
New York Times
bestselling author of
Otherworld Secrets

“Great characters, great story, great setting—Amber Benson's got it. Get it for yourself.”

—John Scalzi,
New York Times
bestselling author of
The End of All Things

“Dark, delicious, and devilishly intricate. A spellbinding winner.”

—Seanan McGuire,
New York Times
bestselling author of
A Red-Rose Chain


The Witches of Echo Park
is dark, thoughtful urban fantasy about destiny, the ties that bind us, and the power of women who rely on themselves—and each other—for strength. A fantastic read.”

—Christopher Golden, #1
New York Times
bestselling author of
Dead Ringers

P
RAISE
FOR
THE
C
ALL
IOPE
R
EAPER
-J
ONES
NO
VELS

“Benson knows how to tell a good story, and she ratchets up the tension with every page.”

—Seanan McGuire

“Amber Benson does an excellent job of creating strong characters, as well as educating the reader on some great mythology history . . . A fast-paced and very entertaining story.”

—
Sacramento Book Review

“An urban fantasy series featuring a heroine whose macabre humor fits perfectly with her circumstances. Sure to appeal to fans of Tanya Huff's Vicki Nelson series and Charles de Lint's urban fantasies.”

—
Library Journal

“A beguiling blend of fantasy and horror . . . Calliope emerges as an authentically original creation . . . The humorous tone never gets in the way of the imaginative weirdness of the supernatural events.”

—
Locus

“Opens the door on an intriguing, fully thought-out universe, with a likable main character and the potential for mayhem around every corner. It's a lot of fun.”

—
Fangoria

“‘Multitalented' doesn't begin to cover the gifts of former
Buffy
TV-alumna Benson. Her quirky, cranky, and humorous heroine leads readers on a wacky first-person adventure through Hell. Great supporting characters and wild antics keep the pace brisk and the humor flowing.”

—
RT Book Reviews

“Benson has crafted a well-written page-turner mystery. Full of colorful characters and hilarious dialogue, this is a series supernatural fans will devour.”

—
Fresh Fiction

“Reads like a clever and complex whodunit . . . Urban fantasy fans should not miss this lighthearted, exciting series.”

—SciFiChick.com

“An entertaining, frenzied fantasy frolic that will have the audience laughing at the chick-lit voice of the heroine, who is willing to go to Heaven on a hellish cause.”

—
Genre Go Round Reviews

Ace Books by Amber Benson

The Calliope Reaper-Jones Novels

DEATH'S DAUGHTER

CAT'S CLAW

SERPENT'S STORM

HOW TO BE DEATH

THE GOLDEN AGE OF DEATH

The Echo Park Coven Novels

THE WITCHES OF ECHO PARK

THE LAST DREAM KEEPER

An imprint of Penguin Random House LLC

375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014

This book is an original publication of Penguin Random House LLC.

Copyright © 2016 by Benson Entertainment, Inc.

Penguin supports copyright. Copyright fuels creativity, encourages diverse voices, promotes free speech, and creates a vibrant culture. Thank you for buying an authorized edition of this book and for complying with copyright laws by not reproducing, scanning, or distributing any part of it in any form without permission. You are supporting writers and allowing Penguin to continue to publish books for every reader.

ACE® is a registered trademark of Penguin Random House LLC.

The “A” design is a trademark of Penguin Random House LLC.

For more information, visit
penguin.com
.

eBook ISBN: 978-1-101-63052-5

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Benson, Amber, 1977–

The last dream keeper / by Amber Benson.

pages ; cm. — (An Echo Park Coven Novel)

ISBN 978-0-425-26868-1 (trade)

1. Witches—Fiction. 2. Magic—Fiction. I. Title.

PS3602.E685L37 2016

813'.6—dc23

2015027251

PUBLISHING HISTORY

Ace trade paperback edition / January 2016

Cover illustration by Larry Rostant.

Cover design by Diana Kolsky.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

Version_1

Eleanora

I
am dead.

It's strange to think those words and feel nothing. One spends an entire lifetime pushing the thought from one's mind, pretending it doesn't exist, and then suddenly it's over: Your partner whirls you off the dance floor and you are no longer among the quick . . . Now the dead beckon you to their side of the ballroom.

Only I have chosen not to join them just yet. I stand in the middle, caught between this world and the next. We blood sisters, or witches, as society has deemed us, are allowed to make this choice upon our death. We can stay behind and become Dream Walkers, traversing the dreamlands without corporeal form, using our powers to help those we've loved during our lifetimes—though many of them will never see our invisible hand helping to guide their destinies.

One might think this means we are only “ghosts” who cannot affect the human world, but Dream Walkers are more than mere shades. Unlike the rest of humanity, we have magical
powers that we carry with us to the other side—because magic transcends death, it seems.

What lies beyond the veil of human consciousness, you ask? What does one see when one is no longer blinded by mortal wants and needs?

That I cannot say.

For I still linger here, drifting between the Earth and the dreamlands—and I will stay this way, unaware of what lies beyond, until I cut the final tie, severing the connection that holds me here in self-imposed purgatory: my love for my granddaughter, Lyse, and my worry for her safety in these desperate times.

I stay because something terrible is coming; something that seeks to wash away our human world and install a new regime. They call themselves The Flood, but they are so much more than that . . . and their will shall be enacted across the land unless someone stands against them.

So I have chosen to throw in my lot with the living. Like Hessika, the coven master before me, I will remain a Dream Walker, and together we will help Lyse and her coven mates mount a defense against what is to come. Whether they know it or not, they will need all the help they can get.

For if they fail (
no, they cannot fail
), a darkness unlike any other will blanket the Earth, and all will be lost. The world as I have known it will cease to exist, and another kingdom will rise in its place.

A kingdom of horror that begins with the arrival of a bloodred moon.

Lyse

I
dreamed that I murdered someone last night.

But was it a dream?

Lyse woke up on the floor in her underwear, blood from the reopened wound on her calf smeared across the rag rug she'd used as a bed. There were bruises all over her body (dreams did
not
leave bruises) and she was bone tired. The kind of tired that made your whole body ache.

She lay there on the floor, staring at the ceiling, too worn out to get up. The jangle of the landline screamed through Eleanora's bungalow like a war cry. It was the impetus Lyse needed. With a sigh, she climbed to her feet and threw on a pair of flannel pajama pants, padding out of the bedroom.

She didn't bother to clean the blood off the rag rug.

She took the call in the kitchen. It was a wrong number. Some kid from the
L.A. Times
wanting to renew Eleanora's subscription. Lyse hung up on him. After that she was wide awake, her body thrumming like she'd swallowed a carafe of coffee. More than anything, she decided, she needed to clear her head. There were just too many questions she didn't know the answers to, and
she wanted them all to go away. Wanted the silence of sleep to fill her head again.

I want to disappear,
Lyse thought, the weight of her guilt making her heart hurt.
But I think I might've killed someone last night, and, if I have, I need to do the right thing and turn myself in. And if I'm wrong? If I've imagined it all? Then I need to confirm my insanity with my own eyes.

This was not something she relished doing, but it was necessary. She would go down to Echo Park Lake and look at the scene of her “dream” crime. Then, if fantasy proved to be reality, she would call the police.

She slapped a couple of Band-Aids on her calf and got dressed. Wearing sweats and her red hoodie, she stuffed the house keys in her pocket and closed the front door softly behind her. She crossed the deck and took the footbridge that led over the koi pond—which had always been the focal point of Eleanora's front yard—taking the steps two at a time. She made her way onto Curran Street, her Converse sneakers squeaking against the cool asphalt.

She loved the way Echo Park smelled: a clean scent without any trace of the pollution you got when you ventured into other neighborhoods in the city. There were strains of eucalyptus, flowering jasmine, freshly mown grass, and sizzling meat from the neighborhood taco trucks all woven together—but there was another smell there, too. Just out of reach. A strange, indefinable note she could never place. It sat apart from the other scents, almost as if it weren't really a smell, but the musk of magical energy transfusing the air.

Eleanora had once told her that Echo Park sat on a flow line, a place where there was a confluence of supernatural energy, making it the perfect setting for a coven of blood sisters to do their work. If that was true, then why
couldn't
there be a taste of magic in the air?

It only took Lyse fifteen minutes to reach the lake, her nervousness making her move quickly. As she walked, she let her
brain default to autopilot, hoping this would keep her from turning back for home. Fear held on tight to her gut, squeezing her insides until she thought she might throw up. The abject horror at what she'd done the night before—
you murdered someone,
her brain screamed—lingered like a virus, feeding on her unconscious worry even as she tried to push it away.

The only thing you can do now (if you didn't dream the whole thing) is to take responsibility for your actions. It was an act of self-defense. He would've killed you if he could have—

Stop it,
she shouted at her brain,
you don't dream things like this!

She cleared her thoughts, focusing instead on the staccato hum of traffic and the chatter of other pedestrians as she took the crosswalk at a jog. It got quieter as Sunset Boulevard disappeared behind her, and soon she found herself accompanied only by the sound of her own footsteps . . . the silence serving to highlight the fear buzzing inside her head.

Just keep moving. Don't think. Don't second-guess—

Her heart skipped a beat as she stepped off the sidewalk and saw that there were no policemen or women anywhere on the grounds of Echo Park Lake, no cordon blocking the jogging path, no ambulances encircling the park.

“What the hell,” she said out loud, the sound of her own voice startling her.

She scanned the horizon, eyes squinting against the sun's reflection as it skipped off the surface of the lake and blinded her. She jogged over to the newly constructed playground, but its swings and bright-colored plastic slides were empty. She could see swirling mandalas in the sand made in kid-sized footprints, but the squealing laughter of giddy children was missing in the crisp morning air.

It was early enough that there were only a few plodding joggers and a flock of spandex-clad mothers pushing expensive baby carriages around the circumference of the lake. The little café was open and a burly man in a green army jacket stood outside, holding a cup of steaming coffee in his hands sans lid.

She wished she could swap lives with him, wished she were the one standing there holding a cup of coffee while
he
had carnivorous butterflies in his belly, eating him from the inside out.

Sadly, there would be no life-swapping today.

She relinquished her wish for what could've been and returned to what was. Thus began the slow trudge around the lake that would lead her to the (imagined?) horrors of the previous night and to the destruction she'd rained down (or had she?) on the Lady of the Lake, the art deco stone statue that had stood sentry over the park for decades.

Last night (in her dream?) the statue had been struck down by a ghostly flash of lightning, crushing Lyse's homicidal uncle into a pulpy mass of exposed human entrails underneath its massive weight. Now as she rounded the corner and the far end of the lake came into view, Lyse was prepared to see the statue's shattered remains. To her shock, she found the Lady of the Lake wholly intact. There was no sign the statue had saved her life the night before.

Even though she'd guessed this would be the case when she hadn't seen any signs of police activity at the lake, it was still a bit of a shocker. The night before had felt so real. She couldn't believe it was a figment of her imagination. That she'd
dreamed
it.

Part of her brain—the part that held on to things that were considered “rational”—insisted someone must've come along and cleaned the whole mess up, fixed the statue, paid off the police, and uncrushed her uncle's body.

But that's impossible,
she thought.
No one could or would do any of that . . .
unless they were using magic.

This was the only way for someone to fix a statue and dispose of a corpse with no one ever the wiser.

Until a few weeks ago, Lyse would've laughed at the idea, found it repugnant even. The people who believed in magic were right up there with the idiots who swore the Loch Ness
monster existed and that Stanley Kubrick faked the moon landing. But since then her world had been upended and everything had changed.

Life turned on a dime and either you could roll
with
it, or it would roll over you. It was your choice.

She'd arrived on the West Coast expecting to be there for a brief visit. Just enough time to take Eleanora to another doctor, get a miraculous second opinion that said the cancer was surmountable and Eleanora would make a full recovery. Then Lyse would've hopped back on a plane to Athens, returning to the simple life she'd built for herself in Georgia.

Nothing
had gone as she'd planned.

Instead, Eleanora had sprung a trap. She'd pinned Lyse to Echo Park with a deathbed promise: Stay in Los Angeles and take Eleanora's place as the master of the Echo Park coven of witches.

Lyse was shocked to learn that the woman who'd taken her in and raised her as her own after she'd been orphaned was, in fact, a witch—or blood sister, the name they preferred because of the connotations associated with witchcraft. Lyse hadn't known such things existed in the world—and now because of the promise she'd made, she found herself in the thick of powerful magic she didn't understand.

Circling the statue, she looked for telltale signs of cracking and repair—but there was nothing. The Lady of the Lake was as pristine as the day she was created. As was every inch of ground around the statue's square perch.

She stared at the statue.

If only you could talk,
Lyse thought.

But the Lady remained stubbornly silent.

Lyse fished her cell phone and headset from the pocket of her red hoodie and jammed in the earbuds. She didn't care what she listened to, just fired up the music and let shuffle choose the song.

Flustered, she turned away from the shining water. She
spent the long walk back across Sunset and up into the hills questioning her sanity.

*   *   *

Lyse stayed to the left side of the road. This way she could keep an eye on the oncoming traffic and get out of the way quickly if need be. Shafts of sunlight shot through the tree line, bathing the sidewalk in an undulating kaleidoscope of shadows. She'd made the executive decision that it was okay to enjoy her late-morning constitutional now that she didn't feel like a fugitive.

Though she hadn't been prepared to permanently stay in Los Angeles, after Eleanora died Lyse was forced to accept the changes her death had wrought. The night before—dream or no dream—she'd finally understood this. As Eleanora had foreseen, her life no longer belonged to her.

It had been appropriated by the coven.

At first Lyse had been angry with Eleanora. For shielding her from the truth. For lying to her. But her anger had quickly evaporated. How could she blame Eleanora for wanting her to have a normal life before being dragged—kicking and screaming—into a world she had no control over?

Yes, she probably should have told me a bit sooner,
Lyse thought, as she hit the top of Echo Park Avenue and started down the backside of the hill.
But so be it. What's done is done.

She passed through a tree-lined bohemia, tiny wood-slatted bungalows and Spanish-style stucco houses dotting the side of the hill like wildflowers. Her eyes followed the sloping curve of the stairways that were built into the hills, the concrete steps spiraling off through the trees before disappearing into the woodland. A few cars passed Lyse as she walked, but none going so fast they couldn't see her coming and make allowances—and she did the same, stepping off into the grass, or hopping onto a curb to give the vehicles more room.

An old Jeff Buckley tune came on—“Last Goodbye,” a song she loved—and she pressed the repeat button.

Yes, she was
that
girl. When she was obsessed with a particular tune, she'd listen to it over and over and over until she'd worn out her love for it. Then she'd move on to her next musical obsession. This quality drove her best friend and business partner, Carole, insane. Lyse would be working in The Center of the Whorl, the nursery they co-owned back in Georgia, blasting a ridiculous rock song on repeat because she'd broken up with some jerk, and it would send Carole on the warpath.

I told you not to date that asshole,
her friend would say—and Lyse, who hated anyone saying
I told you so
, would just turn the stereo up louder.

She'd spoken to Carole twice since Eleanora's funeral. Once to tell her Eleanora had died and she needed to stay longer to sort out the estate. The last time they'd talked, she'd told Carole most of the truth: Lyse wasn't coming back to Georgia anytime in the near future.

Carole had taken the first call like a champ, worry for her friend apparent in her voice—the second call, well, she'd yelled at Lyse and then immediately apologized. Needless to say, she was not pleased with Lyse's news.

Carole had a little boy, and Bemo occupied all the time her friend didn't spend at the nursery. Lyse understood that Carole wasn't really mad at her, that she was just worried about losing her livelihood. What she didn't know was that the coven had recently placed a large sum of money in Lyse's account, and that a cashier's check for her half of the business was already on its way to Carole's bank in Athens—and it was double what Lyse's share was actually worth.

She hated that the Athens part of her life was over. It left a hole in her gut, an empty place that would never be filled, no matter how long she lived. With her normal existence gone, and Eleanora dead and buried, Lyse felt rootless. Add to this the fact that she'd ruined the only possible love connection she'd had in ages, and she felt more than lost. She felt alone.

Weir, her friend Lizbeth's ridiculously hot older brother, had
been smitten with her until she'd behaved like a terrified child and demanded he give her “space.” She'd acted like an emotionally unavailable asshole who wasn't ready to get involved in anything serious—which wasn't really true. It was just with so many changes in her life, she felt overwhelmed. And as much as she wanted a relationship with him, she was just too scared of getting hurt, especially when she was already feeling emotionally bruised.

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