I was sick of the nightmares.
I’d spent most of my life experiencing dreamless sleeps, with an occasional foray into the realm of vision-quest-type prophecy dreams. But nightmares were new for me.
For the first two months I didn’t know what to do about them. I was convinced it was a sure-fire sign I had been taken back into my own living version of hell. But I’d killed the man responsible for my suffering. His head had been severed with one fell swoop, a faster and easier death than he deserved.
I’d tasted his blood when it sprayed across my face.
He was dead and could never hurt me or those I loved again.
But that didn’t keep the dreams at bay.
In the dark of night, the gentle caress of hands would traverse my body with the familiarity of a lover, playing across my skin with the barest touch. The fingers would stop over my heart, one palm resting between my breasts, tickling the sensitive area above my sternum.
In my dreams I can’t move.
The fingers thrum, but the nails grow and grow until little half-moon-shaped puddles of blood begin to pool, and suddenly my pale skin is stained pink.
In my dreams I can’t scream.
Those nails get longer until the fingers are buried two knuckles deep in my chest and my heart shudders.
The Doctor leans in close, his sinister grin looming tight and charmingly evil in the dark. He licks his lips and says, “Heal this, bitch.”
Before he rips my heart out.
I woke up in a cold sweat, panting for breath.
My sheets had long since been kicked off and lay in a tangle at the end of the bed. At some point during the nightmare I’d found the gun under my pillow, and it was still clutched in my hand when I came around.
I’d disengaged the safety again.
It was no wonder Desmond didn’t sleep next to me anymore.
Lying still, I counted my breaths until they returned to a normal rhythm. My eyes adjusted to the darkness quickly, giving me plenty of time to stare at the tin ceiling tiles before I climbed out of bed. I didn’t need to peek through the curtains to know night had fallen. If it were still daylight, I wouldn’t be up.
Leaving the gun on the dresser, I grabbed my robe from the back of the door and padded barefoot into the big, open-concept living area of the hotel suite. Whereas the bedroom was a cocoon of inky blackness, the living room was lit by a dozen different lamps, and everything seemed brighter because of all the white-and-cream tones of the space.
Desmond was sitting on the big linen-covered sofa, his loafer-clad feet propped up on the low coffee table and his laptop balanced across his thighs. He glanced up, and his fingers went still on the keys.
“Hey.” His soft voice was the most comforting thing I could think of.
“Hey.” I moved across the room, but instead of sitting beside him on the couch I sat cross-legged on the coffee table, pulling his feet onto my lap and hugging them to my stomach. He wriggled his toes to tickle my belly.
“How bad was it?” He closed the laptop and set it aside, showing me I had his full attention. It was sweet but unnecessary. He’d been living with my nightmares for months; he didn’t need a play-by-play anymore.
“Same as usual.”
I think if I’d been a normal woman, he would have suggested some kind of a sleep aid or sedative. God knows I would have loved something to conk me out and keep the nightmares away. But being a whackadoodle supernatural hybrid had just as many drawbacks as it did benefits. One of the biggest was a heightened metabolism for narcotic substances. I used to think it was great, because it meant I never got hangovers when I drank. Now, though, I’d have willingly traded it in if it meant a good night’s sleep with the help of some Ambien.
Besides, if there had been anything I could take, I’d have figured it out by now. Between having a witch for a grandmother and a slew of otherworldly creatures lurking on the sidelines of my life, we’d tried every spell, potion and charm out there. All to no avail.
The nightmares were a part of me now.
I cut him off. “Yeah, it’s on the dresser.”
The gun routine got old for Desmond a lot faster than the restless sleeping did. He managed to ignore it for a while, but then came the day he couldn’t wake me when I held the armed weapon on him…
He had good reason to sleep on a different schedule, and it was hard for me to begrudge him for respecting his personal safety. I’d love to say I wouldn’t hurt him, but there were nights I woke up with my chest scratched bloody by my own hands. If I couldn’t keep from injuring myself, I didn’t know what I’d do to someone else.
I might pull the trigger.
I wouldn’t want to, I wouldn’t mean to, but in the depths of those dreams the only thing I wanted was a way out.
But it was either I sleep with the gun, or never sleep again.
“Do you want to sleep?” I asked.
“Nah, I had a nap when I got back from the office. You think you’re up for it tonight?”
God, if only he were talking about sex.
Putting on my best smile, I mustered up some enthusiasm. I did want to go out—I was getting a little stir-crazy in the suite, and some fresh night air would do me a world of good. “Yeah. Let me get changed.” I got to my feet, but before I could leave he grabbed my wrist.
Instead of recoiling—which was my typical response these days—I let him hold me, twining his fingers through mine.
“I’m sorry.” I thought I’d been getting better about that, but apparently the involuntary reaction to shut down was still as bad as before.
“Just come here.” He tugged me, and I yielded, straddling his legs and bracing my free hand against his chest. Desmond held our mingled fingers to his lips and kissed them. “We don’t have to go.”
“I want to.”
“I don’t know if it’s good for you.”
I rested my forehead against his and closed my eyes, breathing in his scent and briefly basking in his warmth. “I’m fine, I promise. It was just a dream.”
He released my hand but moved to cup my face instead. The kiss he laid on my lips was so gentle I almost didn’t feel it until he was already pulling back. There had been a time after my captivity I couldn’t handle even a kiss like that, but I was getting better. I wasn’t fixed by any means, but I was making slow inroads. He let his hands fall to my thighs, giving them a light, comforting squeeze. I returned his peck with one of my own.
“Go get ready. Don’t forget the gun.” His tone had a sarcastic edge, and I knew he was teasing me, trying to keep the mood light.
I never forgot the gun anymore.