“He came at me with his policeman’s baton this time.”
“What did you do?”
“I ran. Like I always run.” She had been such a wimp once upon a time. “But I couldn’t get away from him. The blows were like shockwaves. On my back, my head. Then somehow the baton turned into a knife.” Miranda felt her throat go tight as she remembered the feel of the real-life knife he’d cut her with.
“Take a deep breath. What happened next?”
“What always happens. I ran upstairs to Amy’s room.” She stopped as she remembered her dream more clearly. “I could see Amy in her crib. She reached out to me with her little hands. I could even see the mark.” She touched her throat and fingers trembled.
She nodded. The dark mark on the side of her baby’s neck. It was as big as a dime. “Then she was gone. Just like she’d been gone thirteen years ago. But I could hear her calling for me.”
Ridiculous. Her baby was too young to talk the last time she’d seen her. She rubbed her hands over the fabric of her slacks and fought back the stupid, embarrassing tears. She’d cried enough over the things Leon had done to her.
“Leon came up behind me. He had the knife in his hand. Like the last time I saw him.” Automatically, her fingers went to the scars on her chest. “I screamed. And I woke up.” Her throat constricted again as her hands moved to the arms of her chair to squeeze the soft leather.
Her spineless cries had woken Parker up last night. He’d held her close and told her everything would be all right, just as he always did. It was comforting and humiliating at the same time.
And just as before, he was the one who insisted she come here today. But she hadn’t argued with him.
Miranda inhaled and looked into the kind, youthful face of Dr. Valerie Wingate. Behind her square-shaped glasses the shrink’s steady brown eyes exuded compassion.
“I was such a wuss in my dream.” She tried for a smirk, but a tear escaped and rolled down her cheek.
Dr. Wingate reached across her tidy oak desk for a box of tissue. “You’re still working through those issues.”
Yeah, she guessed she was. Miranda took a tissue, wiped her face, blew her nose, and stared at the medical texts on the bookshelf in the wide, friendly office.
Leon Groth. Her ex-husband. She’d like to resolve him. Once she’d snuck into his hospital room and had almost done just that. But that douchebag wasn’t worth going to prison for. At least, not at the moment.
It wasn’t that she was afraid of him anymore. She was over that. She just wanted to make sure he never hurt anyone else again. And she’d like to stop having nightmares.
“Why can’t I get over this, Doctor?”
Dr. Wingate studied her a moment. The young psychologist was wearing a cream-and-tan summer suit with no frills or jewelry and as usual had her blond hair pulled back in an unadorned clasp. Except for color, her taste in clothes was a lot like Miranda’s. Plain and simple.
“Is there anything going on in your life that might trigger these dreams?” she asked softly.
Hell, yeah. Her daughter.
Her stomach still clenched tight, Miranda stuffed the tissue into her pocket and once more rubbed her hands over the thighs of her dress slacks. The last time she’d faced Leon, he’d killed two young girls and an older woman in Pennsylvania. He’d been stalking her for years and she hadn’t even known it. But that wasn’t the trigger.
“Would you like to talk about it?”
Miranda could only grunt.
Dr. Wingate folded her hands and sat back in her chair. “How was your honeymoon?”
Changing the subject to get her mind off Leon. Good move. It helped a little and Miranda let herself grin a bit. “Pretty good.”
“Only pretty good?”
She lifted a shoulder. “Only as good as you’d expect with a man like Parker.”
Now Dr. Wingate grinned. Besides being a top-notch private eye, wealthy and well-bred Wade Parker, with his to-die-for face that matched his to-die-for, muscular body, was the sexiest, most desirable catch in Atlanta.
“You went to Hawaii?”
“Yeah, but we ended up in Italy.” Miranda didn’t want to talk about what happened in Maui. Or the murder she’d solved there. Or her brother whom she couldn’t save. “We drove some fast cars around the countryside and ate lots of Italian food.” Her favorite was the Saltimbocca alla Romana. Veal with sage and prosciutto. “And spent a lot of time in the sack.”
Dr. Wingate laughed. “I should hope so on your honeymoon. It sounds like you both had fun.”
“Yeah, we did.” If you didn’t count Maui. But they’d been back three weeks now and she’d had four nightmares. She’d never had them so often before. Miranda’s hands moved from her slacks back to the arms of her chair, rubbing again.
“How’s the relationship?”
She made a circle on the arm of the chair, watching the diamond-and-sapphire ring on her finger sparkle and felt suddenly self-conscious. The first time she’d come to see Dr, Wingate, it had been about Parker. He’d just given her that ring. He was getting serious and she didn’t see how things could work out between them with all her baggage.
And yet now, for the first time ever she was beginning to believe it just might. “It’s good. Really good.”
“Wonderful.” The doctor was silent for a long moment. Then in a quiet, steady voice, she asked, “So, is there something else you’d like to tell me about?”
Miranda blew out a breath. Distract the patient then bring her back around to the disturbing question. Pretty good shrink trick. Dr. Wingate was almost as bad as Parker at reading her mind. She’d keep on until she wheedled it out of her. Might as well get it over with.
Before she wore a hole in the arm of the chair, Miranda rose and strolled over to the tall arched window. She stared out at the willow tree. In about a month its leaves would start to drop. And the oaks and elms would turn colors. She’d heard fall in Atlanta could be gorgeous. She wondered if she’d be sharing it with her daughter.
“You know I’ve been looking for Amy,” she said without looking back at the doctor.
“For a number of years.”
Thirteen. “We recently got some data and we’ve appealed the judge’s decision. We’ve requested him to open Amy’s adoption records.”
“Oh? That’s good news.”
“It might be. He could still deny the petition.” Probably would. The knot in Miranda’s stomach felt like she’d swallowed a handful of gravel.
“How long have you been waiting for the decision?” The doctor’s voice was somber now.
“Three weeks. Parker filed the papers the day we got home. We could hear tomorrow or two months from now.”
Dr. Wingate paused a moment, then spoke as gently as a mother to a crying child. “I’d say that’s the stressor provoking your dreams.”
Miranda pressed her lips together, forcing herself to admit the obvious. “Guess so.”
“Is there something else?”
She hugged herself, trying to settle her stomach. “I don’t know. I haven’t seen my daughter since she was three weeks old. I have no idea what she’s like now. I don’t know who’s been taking care of her. I don’t know—anything. She’ll be a stranger.” She thought of the presents she still kept in her closet. Gifts she’d bought for Amy over the years and hauled around in boxes in the trunk of her car when she’d moved. They seemed silly now.
“I’d say those feelings are very normal. But they’ll all work themselves out in due time. Whatever happens with Amy, I’ll help you get through it. We’ll take it one step at a time.”
Miranda nodded. She made it sound so easy.
“If you practice the relaxation techniques we talked about, eventually your anxiety will lessen. And the bad dreams will stop. Especially once you hear from the judge.”
Almost six months ago Miranda came to Atlanta because of a letter she thought Amy had written. Back then she knew—just knew—Amy was in this town somewhere. She thought she was close to finding her. When things didn’t turn out that way, she’d told herself she’d been wrong. And yet—she still felt as if her daughter were here in this town. As if Amy might be around any corner. As if she might run right into her and not even know it.
She thought about the nightmare she’d had on her honeymoon. She turned to face the doctor and decided to ask the question that had been gnawing at her ever since. “Dr. Wingate?”
“Do you believe somebody could be—psychic?”
Her attractive brows knit together. “Why do you ask?”
Miranda took another deep breath and spat it out. “I had a nightmare when Parker and I were in Hawaii. It was kind of prophetic.”
“What do you mean?”
She drew a hand through her hair. How did she say it without sounding crazy? “I dreamed something and then found out it had really happened. Around the time I had the dream, I think.”
The doctor considered that a moment. “Could be coincidence.”
“Yeah.” She also got those strange sensations when she investigated murder scenes that seemed to point her in the right direction. But if she mentioned that, Dr. Wingate might want to have her committed. “So what do you think?”
The doctor’s skeptical look told her what she’d feared. “I can’t say I put much stock in paranormal phenomenon. In my opinion, the body of evidence can be explained by natural occurrences such as trauma or hallucination.”
Miranda nodded. She’d certainly had her share of trauma. The doctor was probably right. She should just forget it, drink a beer before bed or something.
“We still have a few minutes. Would you like to go over some of those relaxation techniques again?”
Slow breathing and imagining yourself in some serene happy place had never worked for her. “Thanks, but—” Feeling suddenly ridiculous, Miranda glanced at her watch. “Gosh. Look at the time,” she said with a nervous laugh. “I’d better get going or I’ll be stuck in traffic half the night.” She left the window and crossed to the door.
As she passed, the doctor rose. “Miranda.”
“You know you can come and see me anytime. However it turns out with Amy, I’ll help you get through it. Please know that.” She looked so kind.
“Yes, I do. Thanks—again,” Miranda stammered, her hand already on the knob. Her stomach tighter than ever, she opened the door and escaped.
# # #
Miranda couldn’t wait to get home. The escalator was being serviced so she had to take the elevator. She was hurrying across the marble floor of the medical center’s lobby when her cell rang. She dug it out of her pocket and glared at the display.
Iris Van Aarle? Now there was a shocker. She ought to ignore the call, but her fingers pressed the button before she could stop herself. “Steele here.”
“Miranda? Did I catch you at a bad time?”
“Iris?” What did she want? Had she seen Miranda’s text messages on her daughter’s phone?
“Well, I—a business meeting came up at the last minute here at the house and Wendy’s at the ice rink. Do you think you could be a doll and pick her up for me? I’m so sorry it’s such short notice.”
Iris Van Aarle was the busy CEO of Iris Rose Cosmetics, a company she’d founded in her kitchen and built into a small dynasty. But some of her business meetings were excuses for a little hanky-panky on the side. Or so Miranda suspected.
A flood of emotions tearing through her, Miranda stopped so short, a dude with a briefcase ran into her from the back. As he cussed and hustled away, she stepped into an alcove, secured herself next to a potted fern and stared at her phone.
Of course, Iris was asking for a favor. The only reason the woman ever called.
But for the past month the woman had forbidden Wendy to have anything to do with Miranda. Miranda was too dangerous for a thirteen-year-old, she’d said. Now she was all sugar and sweet tea? Right. The last time she had Miranda chauffeuring her daughter, she was fooling around on her husband.
Miranda was pretty sure she was fooling around. After all, Iris had done it before and she almost couldn’t blame her. Golf pro Shelby Van Aarle was always away at some tournament and was as much of an absentee husband as he was an absentee father.
Miranda couldn’t stand what that did to Wendy.
Warm, maternal-like feelings fluttered in her chest. When she first came to Atlanta, she’d felt such a strong connection to that kid, she thought Wendy was her daughter. A month ago, they’d really gotten close. She cared about her. More than that. She loved her.
Then Iris decided Miranda was a pariah and forbade Wendy to have anything to do with her. So what was up with this one-eighty? Miranda had a good mind to tell Iris to find another babysitter and hang up. She was tired and wanted to get home.
Instead she heard herself mutter into the phone, “Okay. I’ll be there. What time?” Jeez what a pushover she was.