Lucky's Woman
Linda Winstead Jones

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And just like that, he was trapped. He’d never been able to turn his back on a woman in trouble. Maybe he had some sort of sick hero complex. Maybe he needed a doctor and some serious medication just as much as psychic Annie did. He could only hope that this time being a hero didn’t lead to complete, utter disaster.

Annie felt the urge to make fried chicken and mashed potatoes for supper, along with green peas and apple crisp. She didn’t cook often but she could cook, and having company—even if that company was a reluctant P.I. who thought she was crazy—brought out the homebody in her. Her mother had taught her the ways of the kitchen, hoping such skills would lead to a happy domestic life for her only child. That had been before divorce had soured Penny Lockhart’s views on love and marriage. The lessons had ended long ago, but Annie still remembered how to cook.

Divorce, after nearly twenty-five years of marriage, had definitely soured Penny Lockhart’s opinions on love, and it hadn’t done much for Annie’s perceptions, either. She’d always known all was not perfect with her parents, but she hadn’t expected they’d call it quits after such a long time. Her father had remarried quickly, and had more children. Two boys, to be precise. It was odd, having half brothers so much younger. Since she didn’t see her father and his new family often, it wasn’t exactly a problem. It was simply odd.

Her mother, on the other hand, visited often. Too often, to be honest. She had no qualms about jumping in her new electric-blue sports car and driving from Florida to Tennessee, almost always arriving unannounced.

These days Annie barely recognized the woman who had taught her to cook and clean and become a good wife. There would be no more marriage for Penny. She had completely embraced the life of a middle-aged single woman. She took dance lessons and was learning to play the guitar. She dated. She flirted with men half her age, and with men old enough to be her father. She dyed her hair. Red one day, blond the next. She’d lost thirty pounds, and often wore clothing intended for women thirty years younger.

Mid-fifties did not mean matronly for Penny Lockhart.

Annie could only hope that her mother didn’t make an appearance while Lucky Santana was here. How on earth would she explain him away? She certainly couldn’t tell her mother the truth. Heaven forbid.

She didn’t want her mother to know the psychic gift had reappeared. She’d freak, just as she had when as a child Annie had had nightmares about illness and accidents that too often came to pass within days. Why couldn’t she dream of winning the lottery?

By the time Lucky returned to the cabin, supper was ready. Annie had cleared a long worktable in the great room and set out notebooks and an assortment of pens. She was partial to the purple one, but she’d bet Lucky Santana wouldn’t dare take notes in anything other than blue or black.

He remained skeptical, suspicious of her every word. It didn’t matter. Eventually he would believe her. She was pretty sure he wouldn’t be happy about discovering that psychic ability was real. He liked his world neat and tidy, and to have his beliefs turned upside down would not be pleasant.

With any luck, his work would chase this unwanted return of her ability away, and she could return to her simple, uncomplicated, ordinary life, in which she didn’t dream of murderers or have very crisp visions of naked men in her bed.

Lucky ate as if he enjoyed the meal she’d prepared. The apple crisp went over especially well. He continued to hold much of himself back, but Annie didn’t take it personally. That was his nature. He wasn’t one to give his trust easily—or often. Something in his past had made him leery of getting too close to anyone—and to be honest, she needed no special gifts in order to be certain of that. She didn’t know what might’ve happened to make him so wary, and she didn’t try to see. That would be an invasion of privacy, and he was a very private person.

Besides, trying to tap deeply into her abnormal ability really wore her out. Sometimes she ended up with a headache, or double vision. Seeing what she shouldn’t sapped her energy. Another reason to be rid of the nuisance.

Her newly hired P.I. relaxed a little when they moved to the great room and the work area she’d set up. They pulled chairs to the worktable and Lucky grabbed a notebook. He reached past her purple pen to a black one—naturally.

“I’ll tell you about the dreams, and you write it all down.” She gestured with waving fingers.

“I’d prefer to start with the facts of the case,” he responded sharply. “You do have the facts, don’t you?”

“We’re starting with the dreams,” she insisted. The best way to rid herself of the memory of those dreams was to get them out, right? By telling him all about the nightmares, she’d be handing them over to someone else. Facts could come later.

His response was a very subtle lifting of his dark eyebrows. Would he walk out now? He wanted to. Well, he obviously didn’t want to be here, and that was basically the same thing.

She’d never met anyone quite like him, and she’d known it the moment he walked into her house. There was a toughness to him, a distance, an edge she could not entirely explain. He was very big on enforcing the rules, unless, of course, he was the one breaking them. No one told him what to do, least of all a small, frightened woman.

But in the end he put pen to paper and said, “Fine. We’ll do this your way. Tell me about your dreams.”

Annie’s thoughts were jumbled, so disconnected that for a while the notes Lucky took didn’t mean much of anything. As he had imagined earlier, they looked like pieces to a large, complicated puzzle, and from what he could tell, none of the pieces fit together.

After more than half an hour, though, he began to get a clearer picture.

According to Annie’s dreams, the killer had spied on his chosen couple for a long time, moving closer and closer each time. He’d stalked them; he’d taken pictures and broken into their home in order to steal a few personal items they’d never missed. Near the end he’d introduced himself to them, and they hadn’t seen the threat in him—not until he’d pulled a knife and stabbed his female victim. The male—the husband—had been shot, and his wound had been made to look self-inflicted. A first-rate investigative team probably would’ve found holes in the carefully staged scene, but in a rural area where there hadn’t been a murder in many years, it was easy for the investigators to simply accept what they saw.

Of course, this was assuming that what Annie was telling him was true, and not the product of an overactive imagination. It wouldn’t be tough to confirm or disprove what she was telling him.

As Lucky took notes, he wondered: If this scenario Annie presented was correct, how had the killer overpowered two people and still managed to stage the scene as he wanted without signs of a struggle? Drugs were the most likely answer, and he wondered if anyone had run a tox screen on the victims. Depending on the circumstances and the availability of state resources, maybe. Maybe not.

After almost an hour, Annie sighed with a deep, complete tiredness. Lucky had been so intent on taking his own notes he hadn’t noticed that his client had gone very pale, and her hands shook slightly. Closer examination revealed that her eyes were unfocused and tired. No, beyond tired.

“Are you all right?” Lucky set his pen aside and closed his notebook.

“Not really,” Annie said, and then she attempted a laugh that was weak and tremulous. “The dreams haven’t been pleasant, as you can imagine, and telling them in all detail just makes them seem real again. It’s almost as if I’m living it again, as I relate what I remember.” She swayed in her chair and then gripped the edge of the table to steady herself. After a moment, she placed her forehead on the table and took a long, deep breath. “Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea,” she said weakly.

Lucky muttered a curse and rounded the table. Annie looked as if she might fall out of her chair at any moment, and that wouldn’t do. If she was putting on an act, it was a damn good one. If she wasn’t…

He preferred not to think about that possibility too intently. “Come on.” He helped Annie to her feet, steadying her. She felt fragile beneath his hands, soft and tiny and breakable. He liked his women the way he liked his guns—solid and dependable. Annie Lockhart was neither.

But she was a client, and she looked as if she was on the verge of falling apart.

“Enough for tonight,” he said. “Get a good night’s sleep, and we’ll go over the notes tomorrow afternoon.” After he’d had a chance to check the facts of her so-called visions and see if she’d told him anything that wasn’t common knowledge. He didn’t think she was lying to him. Not exactly. Maybe she’d read about these unfortunate deaths, and her overactive imagination had supplied the rest. That didn’t explain the bit about Sadie, but there had to be a logical explanation for that, too.

He’d find that explanation, sooner or later. Cal wouldn’t stoop so low even if he did know something he shouldn’t, but Sean Murphy…This sort of prank was right up Murphy’s alley. Lucky tried to recall if he’d ever said too much, after one too many drinks at the end of a tough job. Nothing came to him, but maybe later.

Dante? No, even if Dante knew he wouldn’t tell. Had to be Murphy. Nerds were not to be trusted.

Lucky led Annie into the bathroom off the hallway. She sat on the lid of the commode, while he grabbed a handy washcloth and ran some cool water. With the damp washcloth in hand, he knelt before her and gently wiped her face. No makeup, he noted as he ran the washcloth over her cheek. The flawless complexion was real.

She closed her eyes and allowed him to tend to her, for a moment. He saw and felt her breathing change, as she began to regain her energy. He lowered the washcloth to her neck, and she tilted her head back while he wiped the length of her throat. Maybe Annie wasn’t gorgeous, but she had a fine, slender throat. Everything about her was feminine, in a very different way from the women he was usually attracted to.

As he cooled her throat with the washcloth, she smiled. “It’s good that you’re here,” she said softly.

“I’m not so sure about that,” he responded honestly.

Annie’s smile widened. “You’ll see.”

He didn’t like the way she said that, as if she knew something he didn’t.

Since she no longer looked as if she might fall apart, he dropped the washcloth into the sink and stood, then moved away from her. Fortunately, this was a good-sized bathroom, and he wasn’t forced to remain too close to her.

Her eyes—bluer than ever, it seemed—looked at him with an odd mix of fearlessness and innocence. “I’m not lying.”

Lucky sighed. “I know.”

“I’m not crazy, either,” she added crisply.

As far as Lucky was concerned, the jury on that one was still out. “I’ll come by tomorrow after lunch.”

Annie stood, steady and much stronger than she’d been just a few minutes ago, and passed by too closely as she made her way to the door. Lucky found himself holding his breath as she walked past him and her arm brushed against his.

“Maybe you’ll believe me tomorrow,” she said with confidence. “I’m sorry to be the one to shake your reality, but…well, maybe you’ll believe me tomorrow. I think it’s up to us to find him, and we can. I know we can.” She sounded less than confident as she made this statement.

In the hallway, she turned away from the den and the front door and headed for what he assumed was her bedroom. A few minutes ago she’d looked to be on the verge of breakdown, but now her stride was steady and even. There was a hint of a womanly sway in her walk. Just enough to make everything in him tighten.

“Let yourself out,” she called lightly. “I’ll see you tomorrow.”

Lucky was immediately incensed. “You hardly know me. We met a few hours ago, and now you’re instructing me to let myself out? Have you lost your mind? Sorry, wrong question to ask.”
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