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Dream Man(3)
Author: Linda Howard

Just a little more, she silently urged herself, and struggled to her hands and knees again. Get in far enough to close the door. That’s all.

It wasn’t really crawling now. She dragged herself in, whimpering with the effort, but she didn’t hear the noise. The door. She had to close the door. Only then could she give herself over to the blackness.

Her arm waved feebly, but the door was out of reach. She sent a command to her leg and somehow it obeyed, slowly lifting, kicking—a very weak kick. But the door swung gently shut.

And then the darkness overwhelmed her.

She lay motionless on the floor as the clock ticked away the hours. The gray dawn light penetrated the room. The passing morning was marked by the path of sunlight, shining through a window, as it moved down the wall and across the floor to finally fall on her face. Only then did she move in a restless attempt to escape the heat, and the deep stupor changed into a more normal sleep.

It was late afternoon when she began to rouse. The floor wasn’t the most comfortable of sleeping places; each shift of position brought a protest from her stiff muscles, nudging her toward consciousness. Other physical complaints gradually made themselves felt, a full bladder protesting the most insistently. She was also very thirsty.

She struggled to her hands and knees, her head hanging low like a marathon runner at the end of the race. Her knees hurt. She gasped at the sharp, puzzling pain. What was wrong with her knees? And why was she on the floor?

Dazedly she looked around, recognizing her own safe, familiar house, the cozy surroundings of the small living room. Something was tangled around her, hampering her efforts to stand—she fought the twisted straps and finally hurled the thing away from her, then frowned because it looked familiar, too. Her purse. But why had her purse straps been around her neck?

It didn’t matter. She was tired, so tired. Even her bones felt hollow.

She used a nearby chair to steady herself and slowly got to her feet. Something was wrong with her coordination; she stumbled and lurched like a drunk on the way to a common destination: the John. She found the comparison faintly humorous.

After she had taken care of her most pressing need, she ran a glass of water and gulped greedily, spilling it down her chin in the process. She didn’t care. She couldn’t remember ever being so thirsty before. Or so tired. This was the worst it had ever been, even worse than six years ago when—

She froze, and her suddenly terrified gaze sought her own reflection in the mirror. The woman who stared back at her had her face, but it wasn’t the soothingly ordinary face she had become accustomed to. It was the face from before, from six years in the past, from a life that she had thought, hoped, was finished forever.

She was pale, her skin taut with strain. Dark circles lay under her eyes, dulling the blue to a muddy shade. Her dark brown hair, normally so tidy, hung around her face in a mass of tangles. She looked older than her twenty-eight years, her expression that of someone who has seen too much, lived through too much.

She remembered the stark, bloody vision, the storm of dark, violent emotion that had taken control of her mind, that had left her empty and exhausted, just as the visions always had. She had thought they had ended, but she had been wrong. Dr. Ewell had been wrong. They were back.

Or she had had a flashback. The possibility was even more frightening, for she never wanted to relive that again. But it suddenly seemed likely, for why else would she have seen that flashing knife blade, dripping scarlet as it slashed and hacked—

“Stop it,” she said aloud, still staring at herself in the mirror. “Just stop it.” Her mind was still sluggish, still grappling with what had happened, with the aftereffects of the long stupor. Evidently the results of a flashback were the same as if she had had a true vision. If the mind thought it was real, then the stress on the body was just as strong.

She thought about calling Dr. Ewell, but a gap of six years lay between them and she didn’t want to bridge it. Once she had relied on him for almost everything, and though he had always supported her, protected her, she had become accustomed to taking care of herself. Independence suited her. After the encompassing, almost suffocating care of the first twenty-two years of her life, the solitude and self-reliance of the last six had been especially sweet. She would handle the flashbacks by herself.


THE DOORBELL RANG. DETECTIVE DANE HOLLISTER OPENED one eye, glanced at the clock, then closed it again with a muttered curse. It was seven o’clock on a Saturday morning, his first weekend off in a month, and some idiot was leaning on his doorbell. Maybe whoever it was would go away.

The bell rang again, and was followed by two hammering knocks on the door. Muttering again, Dane threw aside the tangled sheet and swung naked out of bed. He grabbed the wrinkled pants he had discarded the night before and jerked them on, zipping but not fastening. Out of habit, a habit so ingrained that he never even thought about it, he picked up his 9mm Beretta from the bedside table. He never answered the door unarmed. For that matter, he didn’t even collect his mail unarmed. His last girlfriend, whose tenure had been brief because she couldn’t handle a cop’s erratic hours, had said caustically that he was the only man she knew who carried a weapon into the bathroom with him.

She hadn’t had much of a sense of humor, so Dane had refrained from making a smart-ass remark about male weapons. Except for missing the sex, it had been a relief when she had called it quits.

He lifted one slat of the blinds to peer out, and with another curse he clicked the locks and opened the door. His friend and partner, Alejandro Trammell, stood on the small porch. Trammell lifted elegant black brows as he studied Dane’s wrinkled cotton slacks. “Nice jammies,” Trammell said.

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