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Lucky's Woman

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She turned, and even in the dimly lit hallway he could see her smile. “You’re gruff, and skeptical, and occasionally rude. You have little respect for women, even though you claim to like them well enough. I don’t think you like me very much. At the very least, I confuse you. You’re slow to give your friendship or your trust, and…with good reason, I suppose.” She sighed deeply.

“But you don’t have a dishonest bone in your body. I have nothing to fear by asking you to let yourself out. I don’t even have to remind you to lock the front door, because I know you will.”

“You don’t know me,” Lucky insisted.

Annie turned away and continued her slow, tired, annoyingly sexy walk to her bedroom. “Lucky Santana, I know you better than you know you.”

Annie stripped off her clothes, pulled on an oversize T-shirt that had Drama Queen emblazoned across the front and fell into bed, exhausted. A moment later she heard the front door open and close, and she knew Lucky was gone for the night.

Calling up all those memories of two violent deaths had drained her. She had known the task would be unpleasant and difficult, but until her head had begun to swim and she’d looked across the table to see two Luckys as her vision doubled, she hadn’t known how difficult.

Twice in her adult life, this inherited ability had surfaced in spite of her refusal to accept and hone it. In Nashville, as now, a murder that might’ve gone unsolved had been the crux of the problem. The dreams were bad enough, but they didn’t come alone. They came with draining, uncontrollable, unwanted glimpses into the minds and hearts of others. It was as if the dreams unlocked a gate bursting through the defenses she’d so carefully constructed.

Maybe once she completed this mission—if that’s what it was—the visions would cease again, for a while. Being tortured with vivid and all-too-true nightmares, and suffering from unwanted flashes of precognition once every four or five years, was doable, she supposed.

Annie sank into her soft mattress, relaxing completely. She’d done all she could to find the truth, so maybe tonight she wouldn’t dream about the murdered couple. That would be nice. Maybe instead of death she’d dream about life. Maybe she’d dream about Lucky.

It had been a long time since she’d found herself face-to-face with a man she was attracted to. True, she wasn’t his type—and he wasn’t hers. Gorgeous or not, he was stodgy and conservative, and he liked his life neat and orderly and without surprise. She was too peculiar for him, even without the psychic ability. She was creative; he was logical—and she suspected he was quite the control freak. They probably didn’t like any of the same movies or books.

But there was something between them—something besides a creepy killer. Chemistry. Hormones. One lonely person sensing another and reaching out in a primal, unmistakable way.

Lucky would never think of himself as lonely, but in his own way he was every bit as lonely as she was.

Too tired to think clearly any longer, Annie drifted toward sleep. As she fell into a slumber she remembered what it had felt like when Lucky had taken her arm, when he’d gently wiped her face and neck. And she recalled the vision of him hovering above her, naked and possessive. Her fingers moved along the sheet, tracing the scar she had not yet touched.

And when she dreamed, the images were not of death, but of life at its finest.

Lucky dialed Murphy’s cell number as he stepped out of his car. The bed-and-breakfast that would be home for the next day or two was well-lit and eerily old-fashioned. He half expected a Southern belle in a hoop skirt to saunter onto the porch to greet him, maybe with a mint julep in hand.

Murphy answered on the second ring. “What’s up?” he asked.

“Nothing much.” Lucky sat in a rocking chair on the porch, since the cell signal here was clear and strong. “Did Cal tell you much about this case?”

Murphy laughed lightly. “The kook? Apparently she was very persistent on the telephone. Cal said you could handle her, though. Will you be here tomorrow? The new guys are even greener than the last batch, though there are one or two who have promise.”

“No, I won’t be there tomorrow. I’m sticking around here for a couple of days, with the kook.”

There was a long moment of silence, followed by a disbelieving “You are?” And then a moment later, “Why?”

Lucky was glad Murphy couldn’t see his smile. “I think maybe she’s for real.”

Again, there was that small, meaningful pause. Murphy probably wore his own huge grin, thinking he’d pulled one over on Lucky. But instead of egging Lucky on in his newfound belief, he exploded with a crisp “You’re kidding me, right? No, this is all wrong. You’re a rock, man. You can’t go flaky on me. I’m going to tell Cal to order you home ASAP, you hear me? If you start seeing auras and…and meditating…”

“Hold on,” Lucky ordered. “I’m just pulling your leg.”

“Oh.” There was a lot of relief in that one syllable. “So why are you staying? I get it,” Murphy continued before Lucky had a chance to respond. “She’s, like, gorgeous, right?”

“Pretty enough,” Lucky conceded.

“Oh.” Again there was a world of meaning in that one word. Lucky Santana didn’t go for women who were simply pretty enough. “Don’t stay there too long,” Murphy continued. “I have some new, kickin’ toys.”

Murphy was Benning’s computer and gadget expert. His toys were always interesting. “A couple of days, maybe.”

“Cool. Be careful.”

Lucky flipped his phone closed and headed for the door. Not Murphy, then. So who had told pretty enough Annie Lockhart that he’d once had the major hots for Sadie?

That was the true mystery, one he was determined to solve before he headed south to kick someone’s sorry ass for playing this practical joke on him.

Chapter 3

After a restless night filled with disjointed dreams that made no sense, Lucky was awakened by a knock on his door and a cheerful “Good morning! Breakfast is ready!” He glanced at the bedside clock and growled low in his throat.

He recognized the overly bright voice as belonging to the woman who owned and operated this bed-and-breakfast. Somehow he always associated elderly women with the job of landlady, especially in an older home like this one, but Kristie Bentley and her husband, Stu, were a young couple—probably not even thirty years old. They were newlyweds, married less than a year, and they were both attractive and friendly. And much too freakin’ cheerful.

Lucky crawled out of bed, quickly pulled on a pair of pants and opened the door with a jerk. He caught Kristie midknock.

Oblivious to his displeasure, she grinned at him. She had to look up to meet his glare, since she wasn’t much more than five feet tall. “Good morning, Mr. Santana. Breakfast is ready. We have pancakes, eggs, muffins, fresh fruit, bacon and country ham.”

“It’s seven forty-five,” Lucky grumbled.

Kristie cocked her head to one side, and her smile faded. “I’m so sorry.”

Lucky began to nod. At least she had the good grace to apologize.

“Annie said you’d want to be up by seven-thirty, since you have a busy morning ahead of you, but I had my hands full in the kitchen and Stu was helping the Hendersons to their car. They had so much luggage, and as I’m sure you noticed, Mr. Henderson has a sprained wrist.”

He hadn’t noticed. Then again, he’d only passed the older couple in the downstairs hallway once, last night after his conversation with Murphy. His mind had been elsewhere at the time.

In truth, he was ready to start looking into the supposed murders that had Annie all wound up. And besides, he was hungry. “I’ll be down in five minutes.”

Kristie nodded, her smile widened to its usual brightness once again and she backed away. Her long dark hair was pulled back in a ponytail, and it flipped gently as she turned around. The woman looked like she’d just stepped out of a shampoo commercial, freshly scrubbed and squeaky clean.

He’d bet this woman and Annie were friends. Maybe that’s why he was staying here instead of at a real hotel where they didn’t wake you up at the crack of dawn unless you personally asked for a wake-up call.

The old house had been renovated so that each bedroom had its own bath, thank goodness. Lucky slammed his door and headed in the direction of the small bath that might’ve once been a closet—judging by the size. Shower, breakfast, Internet. And after he proved that Annie Lockhart was full of crap, he could brush her off with a clean conscience.

Training a bunch of green recruits and testing Murphy’s newest toys was beginning to look damn good.

Annie spent Tuesday morning at the Mercerville location of Annie’s Closet, delivering two hats, taking inventory and talking to the store manager about adding on new personnel for the busy holiday season. She didn’t let on that her life had been turned upside down in the past few days. With any luck, no one would ever have to know.

She hadn’t had disturbing dreams last night, but whatever was happening to her hadn’t abated. As she looked around, she was all but assaulted with words and pictures that did not come from her own mind. If she concentrated, it all began to make sense. June, the manager, was preoccupied with her love life. A customer, someone Annie didn’t know, was thinking of lifting a small purse and walking out with it, but she was being too closely watched so she didn’t. She’d lift a different purse from a department store in Sevierville later this afternoon. Michelle, the newest employee, had dreams of owning a shop of her own one day, though she was really more interested in designing jewelry than hats and handbags. A woman picking up an order was thinking of her grocery list as she paid for her purchase. She was going to forget the milk.

Annie did her best to dismiss the intrusive thoughts of others and concentrate on small, ordinary things, like paying the bills and deciding what should go in the new window display. Eventually the nagging little voices faded, and then they stopped. Still, she was afraid they’d start again, so she took care of her business and very gratefully left the store—and all those jarring thoughts—behind. Home had never felt so good as it did when she closed the door behind her and experienced a moment of pure, total silence.

In the safety and silence of her own home, she had to ask herself the questions she most dreaded. What if this time the voices didn’t stop? It was possible that Grams had been wrong, and, practice or not, the ability was here to stay. She was so certain that catching the killer would end this, but what if Lucky couldn’t find the killer, or even worse, what if as soon as this murderer was caught, another round of violent dreams began?

What if the dreams stopped, but the newly rejuvenated psychic ability remained? Would she have to hide away for the rest of her life, keeping a distance between herself and others because she never knew when she might be assaulted by images and thoughts and secrets that were not her own?
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