The smell of crushed lilacs mingled with the acrid scent of smoke. He was here with her again. In the one place he could still reach her. Her dreams.
Kara fought to wake herself but he was not ready to let her go just yet.
“You think you can get rid of me so easily, Kara. You can’t. Don’t you know you’ve become part of me? Part of this thing. You became part of it the moment I chose to make you part of it. You can’t leave me until I say it’s over. And it’s not over. There are more games to play. More victims.”
Smoke quickly overpowered the fragrant lilacs, making it impossible for Kara to breathe. He’d bound her hands together. Her fingers fumbled with the knot. She could feel his breath against her cheek.
But she couldn’t see. The silky blindfold felt soft and familiar against her skin. A contradiction to the horror she knew lay just beyond its comfort.
Kara heard her scream. Kim Billings. The woman who’d died in Kara’s place the last time they’d played this deadly game. She could still hear Kim pleading for help after all these years.
“Hold on. I’m coming!” Kara forced the words out.
This is just a dream. It’s just a dream!
He touched her shoulder and whispered her name but something wasn’t right. His touch felt soft and gentle. All wrong.
Mommie? Kara forced her eyes open with a tiny gasp, her fearful glance searching the familiar bedroom of her home outside of El Paso, Texas.
He isn’t here. Thank God, he isn’t here.
Just her daughter, who stood next to Kara’s bed trying to wake her mother. Ava’s frightened little face was screwed up in fear.
“Oh baby, I’m sorry. Did I wake you?” Ava’s expression relaxed a little at those words. She climbed into bed with Kara, her tiny arms wrapping tightly around her mother’s waist for comfort.
“Baby, it’s okay. It was only a bad dream.” Kara wished she could believe those words. But in her heart she feared the worst. It had started again.
“It’s the same dream as before, isn’t it, Mommie?” Ava asked in a sleepy little voice. It sickened Kara that her innocent daughter knew this dream so well.
“Mommie, will it ever end?”
She would give anything to be able to answer yes and mean it.
As Kara tried to find something believable to tell her daughter, Ava’s quiet breathing made lies unnecessary.
Slowly Kara untangled Ava’s clinging arms and climbed out of bed, holding her breath for a moment. Ava didn’t wake. She quietly pulled the bedroom door closed, leaving it open just a sliver in case her daughter should wake up.
Outside, the Texas night still held the heat of the day. From her front porch, Kara could see for miles.
This stretch of desert outside El Paso, where it met the foothills of the Cochinay Mountains, made for a great lookout point with the exception of one problem. There wasn’t anywhere to hide and no chance of surviving the desert for any length of time should it come calling. Nothing could last more than a day in the blazing heat except for the vultures.
But then, wasn’t that the very reason why she’d moved there in the first place? To escape the past and become normal again.
So far, Kara hadn’t accomplished either.
Tonight, nothing moved on the desert’s surface. Up above were thousands of stars as far as the eye could see, and a full moon fitting the Texas night blazed across the surface of the sky.
She shivered in spite of the heat. It was the same dream as always. It grew stronger with each passing anniversary. It had haunted her for six years. It always got to her. But then, coming so close to death was bound to lead to a few unpleasant dreams.
If only it were that simple. Kara knew better. Just thinking about him made her want to check on Ava again. She needed that reassurance.
Kara quietly opened the bedroom door and tiptoed to the bed, looking down at her sleeping child. Ava—Ava Elizabeth Bryant, named after both Kara’s mother and grandmother—slept peacefully in her mother’s bed. She was like Kara in many ways, and yet so like her father that at times Kara could almost feel his touch again.
She stroked a strand of silken brown hair, one of the traits she shared with Kara, away from Ava’s damp forehead. Even in the air-conditioned house, the heat at three in the morning could be suffocating.
Recognizing her mother’s touch, Ava opened her eyes for a moment. Startling gray in color they never ceased to stun Kara. Reminding her of Davis.
“Mommie, what’s wrong?”
“Shh…nothing, baby. Everything is just fine. Go back to sleep now.” Already Ava’s eyes had closed. Soon her breathing grew deeper with sleep.
Kara kissed her daughter’s forehead softly then crept from the room.
Buster, their faithful golden retriever, waited for her outside, standing guard against the coyotes howling off in the distance. Beyond the wail of the coyotes came a much stronger cry.
The sound of things to come.
They were coming again. Dammit, they always came back, no matter how much she discouraged them.
Why couldn’t they leave her alone? Six years and every unsolved case brought a fresh group of them to Kara’s door, searching for an answer to the impossible. And just desperate enough to come to her for help. No matter how much she didn’t want to be found, they always managed to track her down.
Through all those years, her answer had always been the same. She couldn’t help them. She had nothing left inside her to help them. Dealing with the Death Angel case had destroyed the gift for her.
Grandmother Maggie called it a gift, but nothing could be further from the truth as far as Kara was concerned. It wasn’t anything to be welcomed in the same way a gift should be. This was a nightmare. Seeing into the minds of the most deviant people on the face of the Earth felt nothing short of terrifying.
But the gift of seeing ran in their family. Her great-grandmother had used it to make money. Kara’s own mother Emily had been twenty-eight years old when she’d committed suicide because she couldn’t handle the gift. Grandmother Maggie made her peace with it long ago.
Kara tried to do the same.
From the moment Ava was born, Kara watched her daughter carefully for any of the telltale signs of its existence. There were times when she’d almost been able to convince herself Ava was going to be lucky. But then the little girl would say something curious and all the old doubts would resurface.
For as long as Kara could remember, she’d possessed the gift. But as Grandmother Maggie loved to say, there was always a defining moment when it came to the sight. Either for good, or for bad.
For Kara’s mother it was visualizing the death of her husband. That was the bad. For Kara it came in the form of watching the death of a young child, a total stranger. She saw the details of the boy’s death clearly. The police, of course, hadn’t believed her. They thought she was a kook, until the second boy went missing. By this time, the killer had grown confident. He took his time. He wasn’t in any hurry to kill him. She saw it all as clearly as if it were taking place right in front of her. She could even make out a sepia image of the man. She ended up with enough information about the killer to solve the case for the local Austin police department. That was the good. Or so Kara believed until another case came her way, followed by another.
And then her real defining moment happened when she became the target of the Death Angel.
He took away all the good from the gift. Until then, Kara never realized how truly twisted the human mind could become.
The Death Angel taught her all the intricate workings of the mind of a serial killer, and in the process became Kara’s biggest challenge and almost her greatest downfall. Of all the cases she’d worked, she’d always been able to visualize some features of the killer, something to help bring justice for the victim’s family. The Death was different. He was much stronger than any of the others.
Kara often wondered how he’d found her in the first place. She wasn’t the first person to solve a murder by using psychic visions. It was as if he were playing some deadly game with her, taunting her with clues, then slamming the door, reminding her of just how daunting an opponent he was. And how much he loved the game.
Seeing into the mind of such an evil sociopath brought her to the attention of the FBI right away and to Agent Davis Martin. Davis broke her heart, left her picking up the pieces of her life with a baby he didn’t know he’d fathered, and never would if she had anything to do with it.
As far as Kara was concerned, the only good to come from that part of her life was that little girl asleep in her mother’s bed.