The woman's face might be beautiful, but it was also the stuff of nightmares.
And Jane MacGuire just wanted it to go away!
She jerked upright in bed, her heart pounding.
She closed her eyes, her hands clenched into fists.
She wouldn't do it again. Not again. There wouldn't be any change from the last time. And if there was a change, what could she do about it?
It was only a nightmare. She sat there in the darkness, every muscle of her body stiff and unyielding. Accept it and go back to sleep, she told herself.
But she found herself reaching for her sketch pad on the nightstand even as she gave herself that very excellent advice.
Okay, just do it. Get it over with.
She turned on the bedside light and started quickly sketching the woman's face. Same dark flowing hair, high cheekbones, pointed chin, same huge brown eyes, intense, burning eyes, hauntingly familiar eyes, in a face she didn't ever remember seeing before.
Just focus, don't think of anything else but the face you're drawing. Then it would be over and she would be able to go back to sleep.
Because it wasn't quite the same face. The eyes were still intense, but they held despair.
And this time there was blood.
The lower lip of that beautiful mouth was split as if from a hard blow and a trickle of blood was running from it and down her chin.
It was done!
Now leave me alone, dammit.
Jane tossed the sketch pad on the bed and drew a deep, shaky breath.
But there was no question that she wouldn't be going back to sleep anytime soon. She got out of bed and threw on her robe. Okay, get a glass of water and then go out on the porch and get some air.
She padded barefoot to the bathroom and turned on the light. As she drank the glass of water, she noticed her face in the mirror was as strained as that of the woman in the sketch. Her red-brown hair was rumpled and her jaw was taut.
And her stomach was still churning as she remembered the blood running from the lip of the woman in the sketch.
"I don't need this. It isn't fair. Find someone else." She turned on her heel and strode through the house to the front porch.
A moment later, she was standing looking out at the lake. If she'd hoped that staring out at those clear, serene depths would soothe her or give her perspective, it wasn't happening.
All she could think about was the blood.
"Problem?" Eve was standing behind her in the doorway. "You should be sleeping. Your flight leaves at eight in the morning."
"I can sleep on the plane." She turned and smiled at Eve. "You're the one who should be asleep. Michael is the most challenging two-year-old on the planet. Between taking care of him and doing your forensic sculpting work, you need all the rest you can get."
"Nonsense. Michael may be a challenge, but he's pure joy." She came out and stood beside Jane and said quietly, "You didn't answer me. Problem?"
It wouldn't do any good to try to lie to her, Jane knew. From the time Eve Duncan and Joe Quinn had adopted her off the streets when she was ten years old, she and Eve had been so close that anything but total honesty was out of the question. Eve was one of the foremost forensic sculptors in the world, but she was also Jane's best friend. They had been through tragedy and joy together, and now that Eve had given birth to a son, Michael, Jane had been privileged to share that with Eve and Joe, too. "Nothing that I can't handle." She made a face. "Maybe I'm a little sad to be going back to Scotland and leaving you and Joe and the baby. Three weeks wasn't long enough."
"It's the truth." She grinned. "But I was getting to the other." She glanced out at the lake. "I grew up here on this lake and I thought the familiarity would be soothing. It appears not to be happening tonight."
"Why not try me? I'm a hell of a lot better than that lake in the soothing department." Her arm slipped around Jane's waist. "I've been told I have excellent credentials."
"Yes, you do." She felt a rush of love as she looked at her. Eve's face was always intelligent and intriguing, but these days she seemed to glow. "But I'm out in the real world with a career as a budding artist these days. I was trying not to bother you with something that's —" She shrugged. "I just feel helpless. I don't know what I —"
"First, you're not a budding artist; you're totally brilliant," Eve said firmly. "Second, you know there's no such thing as bother when it's family. Talk to me. Or we'll be out here all night."
She meant it, Jane knew. Family was everything to all of them. She drew a deep breath. "Dreams. I've had dreams for the past six nights."
Eve went still. "Cira?"
"No." But it was natural that Eve would jump to that conclusion. At seventeen, Jane had experienced a period when she had dreamed constantly of a young actress from ancient Herculaneum. She had even been so obsessed that she had researched and found evidence that the young woman had actually existed. "Not Cira. But it's a woman." She frowned. "Or girl. At first, I thought she was younger, but now she's different...."
"You're not being clear, Jane."
"She's not being clear," Jane said in frustration. "At least when I was dreaming about Cira, I had a story. I knew what was happening in her life. The dreams unraveled, telling me her story. I might have believed I was crazy and it was pure fantasy, but I knew. I don't know anything about this woman. All I have is a face. I go to sleep and then her face is there before me. Then I wake up and I have to sketch what I've seen. I have to do it." She moistened her lips. "And I think she's scaring me."
"Scaring you? Why?"
"Because I think she's afraid. Oh, she's fierce and angry and bold, but I think she's afraid. And this time there was blood." She swallowed. "And I think I know her. She's ... familiar."
"You sketched her every time you had the dream?"
She nodded. "I had to do it. It was a compulsion."
"May I take a look at them?"
"Why not?" She turned and went back to her bedroom and snatched the sketchbook from the bed. When she got back to the porch, Eve was curled up on the porch swing. Jane turned on the porch light and handed her the sketchbook. "Here she is." She sat down beside Eve. "She. But I feel as if I should know her name."
"She's that familiar to you?" Eve was slowly going through the sketches one by one. "She's lovely. Full of fire and boldness ..." She gazed more intently. "And you're right: The first sketches appear to be of a girl who is younger than in the later sketches. But the background is the same. ..." She raised her eyes to meet Jane's. "You only mentioned the face, but you sketched in an entire background scene. Snowcapped mountains, garden ..."
"I didn't pay any attention to the background. I was only concerned with her face. Why can't I remember her? Did I know her when I was a teenager? Is she familiar to you at all?"
Eve's gaze narrowed on the sketch in her hand. "Not really. Perhaps a hint ..." She shook her head. "Nothing is clicking." She turned to the last sketch and froze. "Blood."
"I told you."
"But you didn't tell me that she thinks she's going to die."
Jane inhaled sharply. "Why do you say that?"
"Because you drew it right here, Jane," Eve said soberly. "I told you that you were a brilliant artist. It's here in front of you. Look at it again. That's why you're so frightened."
Jane lost her breath as she looked down at the sketch. The fear was stark and raw on that face. Boldness, defiance ... and fear. Her hands clenched. "I'm afraid because I don't know anything. I'm afraid because I'm helpless to do anything. Why do I keep dreaming about her? Why me?" Her voice was shaking. "For all I know, that woman died centuries ago, just as Cira did."
"Or maybe she didn't and is trying to reach you."
"Why me?" she asked again. "I'm not even sure I've ever met her."
"How do I know? Strange things happen. People are chosen. You know that I believe there's a plan for all of us. At times, the plan seems unbearably painful, like when I lost my little daughter, Bonnie. Like the night Trevor, the man you loved, was shot. But sometimes we get lucky and have the chance to make the plan a little brighter for ourselves or someone else." Eve closed the sketchbook. "Maybe you're the only one this woman could reach. You were sensitive to Cira, but she was gone centuries before you were born and there was nothing you could do for her. Perhaps it's your turn to reach out to someone you can help."
"You know I've never been entirely sure that I had any actual connection to Cira. Those dreams could have been figments of my imagination."
"Because you're stubborn and a realist who hates to admit to anything that she can't see and touch." Eve smiled. "But those dreams of Cira have dominated you in so many ways. I believe she's as much alive to you as the rest of us in your life. Even when you fight acknowledging that Cira actually existed and reached out to you, you're still drawn to everything connected to her. You spent months on the Internet and in libraries tracking down references to her. When you discovered she might have fled from that erupting volcano in Herculaneum to Scotland, you tracked her down to a connection with the MacDuff clan." She reached out and touched Jane's cheek affectionately. "And you've been at Gaelkar, Scotland, with the MacDuffs for almost two years, trying to find Cira's treasure. Not because you want the treasure itself; you just want proof that your Cira exists."
"But I don't have that proof yet." She looked at the sketchbook. "And if I don't, then maybe I'm just nuts and I need to see a shrink."
"But what if you don't have time to wait for proof?" Eve asked. "Six nights in a row? And each one of these sketches shows an escalation. Something's happening to make her more afraid every time she comes to you."
Jane moistened her lips. "Maybe it's already happened. Maybe she's not even alive, Eve."
Eve was silent. "It's possible, I suppose. Do you believe that, Jane?"
"No!" The rejection came instantly. "I don't want to believe it. She wants to live. She's out there somewhere. But I could be wrong."
"Or you could be right."
"And what am I supposed to do about that? Look in your crystal ball. All I see is her face."
"And the background. She makes sure that she's giving you the background with every sketch. Study them and see if you can come up with something. Research. Go on the Internet, as you did when you were tracking down Cira."
"It was easier to do research on Cira. That was history."
"And this may be a matter of life and death," Eve said quietly. "Stop being stubborn and do your job, Jane. Isn't that what you were going to do anyway? You're out here fretting and giving yourself arguments pro and con when you know you have to see if you can help her." She paused. "So what's your first move?"
Jane sighed. "No, I can start doing that on the plane while heading back to Scotland. I'd like to ask Joe to take one of the sketches to the precinct in the morning and run it through the missing persons database and see if he can come up with anything. She was hurt in that last sketch. Someone struck her. It might be a stranger or a supposed friend or a member of her own family." Her lips twisted. "Who knows? How many times have you run across the murder of a child caused by people who should have been taking care to keep the child safe, Eve?"
"Too many. But this isn't a helpless child; this is a woman who is fighting back." She got to her feet and handed Jane the sketchbook. "And you're fighting back, too. What's the next step?"
"Identify that mountain range in the background. National Geo might help."
Eve chuckled. "Listen to you. This has all been simmering in your mind for how long?"
"I told you: I really didn't notice the background." Or did I? Jane wondered. She wasn't even looking at the sketches, and that mountain range was before her, down to the last detail. "Well, maybe I did."
"Maybe you did," Eve said softly. "Choose the sketch you want to give Joe."
"I will." She made a face. "But he'll probably think it's a waste of time."
"No, you know Joe better than that. He's a realist, too. But he went through that Cira business with you when you were seventeen. And since he's a police detective, he realizes that black and white can sometimes end up gray or even scarlet. He'll get you what you need." Eve leaned forward and kissed her forehead. "And now I'll say good night. If we keep talking, neither of us will be able to function in the morning." She started to turn away and then stopped. "You said you needed to know her name. It's bothering you. So give her one."
"Give her a name. Do you remember when I was pregnant with Michael that I felt I had to know his name so that I could be closer to him?"
"I believe this is a little different, Eve," she said drily.
"It doesn't have to be her true name. I give my reconstructions a name before I begin working on them, so that I can form a connection with them."
"I know you do." She had grown up watching Eve work on those pitiful skulls and had known that every one was personal and special to her. "But she may not even exist."
"She'll exist for you if you give her a name. I think she exists for you now anyway." She turned away and headed for the door. "Good night, Jane."
"Good night. Thank you, Eve. I'm sorry to disturb your night. I hope I didn't wake Michael."
"You didn't wake him." Eve turned and smiled at her. "Who do you think sent me out here? He was already restless. I believe Michael was worried about you and sending out vibes. He'll sleep better now that I've done something about you."
"And you'll sleep better," Jane said. The closeness of the bond between Eve and her son was remarkable and far beyond the ordinary. Jane wasn't sure that she knew the full extent of that tie, but she was just grateful that Eve had been given this special child after all the heartache she had gone through after losing seven-year-old Bonnie all those years ago. "Between the two of you, I feel as if I've been railroaded."
Eve's brows rose. "Do you?"
"No, just kidding. As usual, you've managed to cut through all the fog and clarify. You and Michael are a great team."
"With a great deal of help from his father." Eve blew her a kiss. "See you in the morning."
The next moment, the door closed behind her.
Jane gazed after her for a moment before she looked down again at the sketchbook. She'd been telling the truth. She did feel clearer and more focused now that she'd talked to Eve. Yes, she still had doubts that this dream was anything but pure imagination, but Eve was right: She had to explore before she could take a chance on dismissing those dreams. So research, but don't become obsessed. Look upon it as an interesting exercise.
A name. Eve had wanted her to give the woman a name.
She opened the sketchbook and looked down at the first sketch. In this one, the woman looked younger than she did in the later sketches. Maybe only eighteen or nineteen. Still intense, still burning and bold, but somehow more youthful.
A name ...
The name came out of nowhere.
She looked at the second sketch.
She flipped to the third sketch.
Whatever. She wasn't going to sit here all night and try to think of names when her mind seemed to be stuck on that one. It didn't matter anyway.
"Okay. Lisa it is." She closed the sketchbook and got to her feet. "Now either let me go back to sleep or tell me what I'm supposed to do to help you." She moved across the porch and went inside the house. "I'll take a stab at finding you tomorrow, but I can't promise anything. ..."
But she could still see that drop of blood trickling from Lisa's cut lip.
And she could see those huge dark eyes staring out at her with fear and a knowledge of her own mortality.
"Well, maybe I'll spend more than just tomorrow," she murmured. "But help me, dammit."
* * *
Eve was smiling as she passed Michael's nursery.
Jane really can take care of herself, you know. She didn't need us. She would have worked it out for herself.
But you would have gone to her anyway.
More than likely. Now go to sleep, Michael.
I will. Only waiting for you ...
He was gone, slipping away into sleep like the healthy toddler he was.