Authors: Terri Herman-Poncé
This edition published by Crimson Romance
an imprint of F+W Media, Inc.
Blue Ash, Ohio 45242
Copyright © 2012 by Terri Herman-Poncé ISBN 10: 1-4405-5596-6
ISBN 13: 978-1-4405-5596-1
eISBN 10: 1-4405-5597-4
eISBN 13: 978-1-44055597-8
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, corporations, institutions, organizations, events, or locales in this novel are either the product of the author’s imagination or, if real, used fictitiously. The resemblance of any character to actual persons (living or dead) is entirely coincidental.
Cover art © 123rf.com
There are so many people who helped make this book possible, but in particular:
Harry and Erik — for all the nights and weekends you gave me for writing, editing, reading and marketing, without intrusion. Oh, and for all the Yankees games you let me watch, too. You never complained. And I never acknowledged it. I’m acknowledging it now. Thank you for your love and silent encouragement.
The Cherries — for giving me the extra push when this story was just a kernel of an idea so many years ago, especially with chapter one. You may not remember, but I do. It was through you that I learned so much about the craft.
The Guppies — for providing support and letting me vent and just being there when I needed it. I’ve never met or known a group of writers quite like you.
Jennifer Lawler — who saw the gem behind the rough edges in my story and gave me the guidance to finally see my dream become reality. You are, without a doubt, the most tireless, patient, gifted editor a writer could have.
And finally, nothing pleases this writer more than hearing from readers. So keep those emails, web posts, Facebook likes and tweets coming. When all is said and done, I write for you.
When you’ve known someone your entire life, there isn’t a lot they can say or do that can surprise you anymore. So when David entered the bedroom, tea and toast in hand and a determined look on his face, I knew the words that would come out of his mouth before he even said them.
“No, Lottie. You’re not going into work today.” And he watched me with an expression that said he knew what I intended to say, too.
“I’m feeling better.”
“Really?” He sat down on the king-sized bed and placed the food tray in front of me. “Eat this. All of this. Then we’ll talk.”
I smelled hot green tea and fresh toast and, for one brief moment, my stomach reminded me that it was empty before rolling over with nausea again.
He sent me a long look. “I figured as much.”
I shifted in bed and tried again. “I have a meeting with my boss today, David, plus a new client who’s expecting me. I’ve also got four appointments that I can’t walk away from.”
“You have the flu and can get your clients sick.”
Now he stared me down, aiming for intimidation despite the bare feet, blue jeans, and faded T-shirt. And I saw why the men that David commanded feared and respected him. Powerful stature aside, his green eyes had a way of cutting right through you until you felt compelled to obey his every word.
However, I wasn’t one of his men.
I nibbled the toast to prove a point more to me than to David, and my stomach pitched again. David said nothing, probably because he knew better, and I pushed out of bed and headed for the master bathroom. Halfway there, my legs turned rubbery and I knew I’d lost the battle.
Another therapist would have had a field day with my stubbornness.
I leaned against the counter and dropped my head. I felt beaten and fatigued, and the uneasiness I’d been experiencing since getting sick prickled at me once again. I couldn’t pinpoint the emotion except to call it restlessness, living in a fog that would eventually lift and reveal something with life-altering clarity that I hadn’t discovered before. It was an irrational sensation and one I attributed to the flu.
“I’m on leave for the next two weeks,” David called out. “Take advantage of that and stay one more day. You know you need the rest and I can take care of you over the weekend until you go back on Monday.”
His taking care of me wasn’t the issue. The love of my life was an ace in the kitchen and a neat freak with an affectionate bedside manner. I simply wanted to get back on my own two feet, and under my own terms and steam. I grabbed a brush from a drawer and worked it through my hair. As I bent over to get the underside, dizziness followed and I held on to the counter until the room settled down. I drew in a breath, straightened and tried one last time with determined optimism. My hands moved up and down, up and down and then once again.
Two hands became three, then four. I felt a gentle tugging at my head and the weight of something heavy settle on top of it. The hands stroked and pampered, moving from my hair to my face and neck. A noise followed, the sound of a lid removed from a bottle, and a rich, spiced scent spread over the room and over me. I inhaled, long and deep, wanting more. Much, much more.
“Does it meet with your pleasure?” someone asked.
I could not answer. The aroma was too intoxicating and reminded me of him. Of us.
The person spoke my name and repeated the question, and still I could not answer. My name was uttered once more.
Hands settled on my shoulders and shook.
The aroma started fading away.
“Lottie, can you hear me?” The scent evaporated and I shook my head to clear the remnants of its evocative memories. David stood just behind, a firm grip on arms. “Are you okay?”
“I’ll be fine. I just need a moment.” I saw his worried expression in the mirror and its intensity surprised me. “What’s wrong?”
“Enough of this already.” David steered me from the bathroom back to our bed, tucked me in and made sure I felt comfortable. He stood near me for some time and asked, “What happened in there?”
“A little nausea and another dizzy spell.” I rubbed my forehead, trying to put a name to what I felt. “Maybe I still have a fever, too.”
David touched my forehead, shook his head and sat down beside me. He was studying me now, probing, and trying to see something he didn’t see before.
“You were immobile for almost five minutes,” he said, tucking my hair behind an ear.
“I think you’re exaggerating.”
The restlessness I’d been feeling surged through me again, stronger this time, and I didn’t like the way it felt. Something seemed off, and I wasn’t sure if it was with David or with me. Remnants of last night’s sleep started trickling in, and then a connection clicked into place.
“I had a dream last night and I started remembering it in the bathroom.” I closed my eyes, trying to remember more. “I was in a room with a servant who was waiting on me. She was preparing me to meet someone. A boyfriend.” No, that wasn’t quite right. “A lover.”
I felt a tingling uneasiness as I said the word.
“A lover?” David asked.
I opened my eyes, saw David’s grin and recognized the bait for what it was.
I grinned back. “The lover wasn’t you.”
His grin widened and then faded away. “That still doesn’t explain your behavior in the bathroom. You looked like a statue.”
“I’m tired, David,” I said, sliding down under the covers. “The human mind is capable of doing unusual things when a person is under stress, like when they’re sick, and the gods only know I’ve been feeling a lot of that these past few days. Forget about it. It’s not a worry.”
David paused. “Is that your professional assessment?”
It looked like David wanted to say more but he got up and walked to the windows that overlooked the backyard instead. I wasn’t sure what was going through his mind but I knew him well enough to know not to pry. It always backfired whenever I did. So I let him have his moment, toyed with the toast, and then passed on it in favor of some tea. My cell phone rang as soon as I put the mug on the nightstand, and I answered it on the second ring.
“Tough night’s sleep, Lottie?” The voice on the other end was male and one I didn’t recognize. “You shouldn’t tell your boyfriend about your other lovers. Especially those you dream about.”
“Who is this?” I asked.
“I’m disappointed you don’t recognize me.” He laughed, the sound crawling over my skin like a snake over sand. “I’m the man you dreamed about last night.”
The line went dead.
I studied the phone in my hand then looked at David.
“Who was it?” he asked.
“I don’t know.” Though some part of me, deep down and far out of reach, felt as if maybe I should have known. It wasn’t so much the voice that was familiar but a feeling, like a buried emotional memory trying to claw its way to the surface. “But I think he knew me, David.”
David stilled. “He?”
A vague image of a man with a deep voice eased in, enveloping me in that rich, spiced scent again. It lingered, reminding me of my dream, and I inhaled deeply to savor it, to hold onto it, until it drifted away. Its absence felt wrong, as if I’d lost something extraordinary and intense. Yet I couldn’t explain why.
“Why do you think he knew you?” David asked.
I’d been too wrapped up in the dream to notice David was talking until I realized he had gone silent. With a deep inhalation, I refocused and told David about the call.
“I don’t know whether to be worried or to write this off as a prank,” I said when I finished.
David’s gaze swept from me to my phone. Prank calls were typically made from an immature need for attention and threats were usually a manifestation of mental disturbance. But what happened a few minutes ago was neither.
“You sure you didn’t recognize the voice?” he asked.
“Positive,” I said, shrugging off some lingering doubt. “Something about the caller reminded me of my dream last night. That’s all.”
David took the phone and cycled through the call history. “No caller ID.” He pressed redial and seconds later, the bedroom cordless rang.
We both looked at each other as I answered, finding David on the other end of the line.
“How is this possible?” I asked into the receiver.
David took the time to think about it. “Someone either has access to your account or knows how to maneuver around the system.” He disconnected the cell phone, took the cordless from my hands and set it back into its charger on the nightstand, and settled down next to me. It felt comforting having him beside me, protective, even if I didn’t always need it.
I needed it now.
“So how does he know about my dream?” I asked.
I shuddered and sank further into the bed.
David squeezed my hand in a way that was meant to comfort and tell me that everything was just fine, and dialed another number on my cell.
“Neil, it’s David. I need a favor from you.” He explained about the call and the redial back to our house. “I want to know who did it and how this happened. See what you can find out and get back to me ASAP.”
David disconnected. “Neil is one of my contacts at the phone company. If anyone can get a lead, he can.”
This came as no surprise. Ex-Marine turned contract soldier for Professional Recruitment and Operations, a global military corporation known as PROs, David had contacts everywhere.
“Should we call the police?” I asked as he returned to the windows.
He shook his head, a response I pretty much expected. I didn’t think the police could do a lot for me either. Give me a troubled teenager, an angry divorcee, or an obsessive-compulsive and I was in my element. But this made me feel vulnerable and exposed. It was as if the dream and the call and the voice unraveled something deep inside.
“David, what happens if Neil doesn’t find anything?”