Holding Ari, the poodle, for observation overnight
proved a distraction. In more ways than one. The dog would not stop
pacing the kennel and whining. And Storm could not stop thinking about
Blake, new handyman extraordinaire, after she hadn’t bothered to think
through having him working around her place. Invading her very private,
coveted space. And she needed space. And peace.
The nightmares had returned.
Storm reached for Ari, probing gentle fingers over the poodle’s
abdomen, hips and legs. The swelling had diminished but the little dog
still seemed distressed. “Hey, little girl, I’d rather not sedate you.
What’s going on?” The poodle pressed close to her warmth and shuddered
“Homesick, huh? Should have known, a girl just can’t stay away from a hot guy like your guy.”
Storm had no trouble driving the route back to the small ranch house
where Blake lived. She knew the house; it had been abandoned for years.
As kids, she and her friends would pepper the windows with rocks,
thrilled at the sound of shattering glass. But that was before… now as
she turned down the drive, a shiver wracked her. She still could not
look directly at the barn looming on the back of the lot. Even after all
On the seat beside her, safe in a crate, Ari went
berserk, yapping and spinning in circles with excitement. The poodle
knew she was home. Storm saw the warmly lit windows, the fresh coat of
paint on the house and heard music. She opened the truck door and
listened to the sounds of a guitar playing melancholy riffs, pausing,
plucking a minor set of notes that sent a quiver of loneliness down her
spine. And Ari barked, a joyous shout that silenced the sad guitar.
Blake came out on the porch. Storm felt less, well, lustful, now his
gorgeous chest was covered by a T-shirt and those long, sexy legs were
encased in levis worn at the knees. He still wore no shoes. Her toes
curled at the sight of his, naked.
“She was homesick,” Storm
said. At the same time, Blake said, “I missed you, little girl” and
reached for the poodle. Ari scrambled up his chest to wrap her body
around his neck like a scarf, pink tongue bathing his face.
“True love if I’ve ever seen it.” Storm said and felt a blush heat her cheeks.
A deep sorrow flashed cross Blake’s handsome face, tightening his
mouth. “It was,” he said, then, “Dammit, Ari, that’s my ear you’re
chewing!” He grinned at Storm from under the wriggling dog. ‘It is, I
mean. True love. Obviously. I wouldn’t let just anyone chew my ear.”
Heat fired Storm’s cheeks again. She backed down the steps to hide her
blush. “Well,” she said to gain composure, “as her vet, I recommend as
much chewing as you both can handle tonight. She’s going to be fine.”
Blake laughed, a spontaneous, delighted sound that shot a thrill
straight to her heart. “Told you she was. Wanna come in for some coffee,
She shook her head.
“C’mon. Truly, I don’t
bite.” Blake grinned again, held the door open for her with one hand
while holding the dog in place with his other. “At least not without
permission,” Storm heard him murmur as she passed him on her way into
“Wow!” She looked around, flushed to the core and
pretending she hadn’t heard. “You have done wonders with this place.
This is reference enough of your skill if I hadn’t already hired you to
work on my house. I love the wainscoting. Pine?”
lifted Ari from around his neck, pointed her at the doggie bed sitting
near a woodstove. The poodle scuttled over to search out the treat.
Blake poured them each a mug of coffee, fresh brewed, Storm’s nose told
her. She sighed, felt the day’s tension leave her shoulders. He took a
carton of cream from the fridge and placed it on the kitchen table next
to a delicately beautiful sugar bowl. She reached to touch the bowl, saw
his face shadowed again, and drew her hand back.
“I’m sorry,” Storm said. “It’s just so lovely.”
“Yes.” Blake pulled out a chair for her and took one for himself. “Everything about my wife was lovely. She died. Last year.”
“I am so sorry. The song you were playing…”
Blake glanced at her and away. “Hers too. And the guitar. And Ari, for
that matter.” He looked Storm full in the face, pain around his eyes.
“I’m still not over it.“
“Yeah.” She ducked her head from his warm gaze and spun her cup on the tablecloth. “Me, too.”
“Alright then,” Blake flashed his devastating smile again. “Enough said.”
They talked of other things, movies they’d seen, books they’d read, the
oddest animal Storm had ever treated as a vet, the worst job Blake had
ever agreed to do. And began to relax with each other. As Storm drove
out of the drive an hour later, she felt… good. Normal, sort of. And was
glad she hadn’t asked him if he’d found what was in the barn. She let
the night settle around her, felt a simple contentment in the glow of
the headlights, the familiar rattle of her truck. And for a moment she
wasn’t afraid, felt none of the dread that constantly haunted her and
woke her screaming from nightmares.
Something large and fast
dashed suddenly through her headlights. Storm slammed on the brakes. Not
again! This time she didn’t feel the thud of her truck hitting another
animal. She did hear the squeal of an animal in pain and was out of the
truck and running across the ditch in seconds. A mare had run into a
partially downed fence and was fighting with everything she had against a
mass of barbed wire tangling around her legs.
“Whoa, girl, easy, girl.” Storm crooned, approaching the thrashing horse with her hands out, voice calm and soothing.
The mare stopped struggling and stood, her entire body trembling. Her
chest heaved. She snorted, half crouched. Storm laid a soft hand on her
shoulder. The mare shuddered, but stayed, barbs tearing her legs, blood
already pooling on her hooves.
“Damn, damn and damn.” Storm swore softly at the damage. “Hold on, girl. I’ll be back.”
Storm sprinted back to her truck for the gloves and wire cutters she
always kept under the seat. As she returned, the mare began to fight the
“Whoa! Stand!’” Storm commanded, then turned her
voice honeyed and warm. The horse quieted slowly, still edgy, nostrils
flared and huffing gusts of air. Storm could see the white of a wild eye
in the dark. She talked, clipped a strand of wire, stepped closer, ran
her hands over the silken hide, quiet, serene. And the mare stood.
Storm bent to snip the wire around a hind leg. The mare twitched,
jerking her leg but didn’t fight. Storm cleared away another section of
wire, easing the barbs from the tender flesh. As if sensing freedom
near, the mare reared, spun and knocked Storm to the ground with her
hindquarters. Then, with a rapid pounding of hooves, the horse was gone.
So were the wire cutters, lost in the dark grass. And Storm lay bound
in a snare of barbed wire.
Just like before.
screamed and fought, strained every muscle like she did before, ripping
her hands to shreds as the barbs tore her skin, panic crushing her
chest, hysteria rising in her throat. Pain. Blood flowing warm over her
chilled skin. She smelled her own fear, sharp and feral. Just like
before… No dark hell of a barn this time. No bright lights seen through
the broken boards of a roof.
Except… Storm screamed again,
forcing herself into the present. And saw lights in the sky above her,
blinking and flaring as if in distress.
Go to Chapter Four