Fear clogged five-year-old Sara Andrews’s throat. She could see her twin sister running from the old wooden house, stumbling down the porch steps, crying as she raced toward the woods.
“Help me,” Cissy cried. “He’s gonna hurt Mommy!”
The wind whistled, shaking the trees. Leaves swirled and rained down. A dog howled in the distance.
Then thunder boomed.
No, not thunder.
It was the big, hulking man storming down the steps. “Cissy!” the monster bellowed. “Come back here.”
He slapped at the branches with his beefy fists, moving so fast he was nearly on top of her. Then he lunged for her.
Cissy screamed and darted to the right, running, running, running into the darkness?.
The monster reached a pawlike hand toward her and snatched her jacket. Cissy screamed again, stumbled and fell to the ground. But her jacket slid off in the man’s hands, and he cursed.
Sweat slid down Sara’s temple. Her heart was pounding so loud she could hear it beating in her ears. “Get up,” Sara whispered. “Get up and run, Cissy.”
As if Cissy heard her, she took a deep breath, grabbed a fistful of dirt and hurled it at the man.
The dust sprayed his eyes and he cursed, then swung one fist toward Cissy. Cissy dodged the blow, pushed herself to her hands and knees and stood. Tree branches cracked. The wind screeched.
The monster roared and dove for her.
“No!” Sara cried. “Run, Cissy, run.”
Tears streamed down her sister’s cheeks as Cissy tried to run, but the monster yanked her by the hair and dragged her back toward the house.
“Help me!” Cissy cried. “Please, help me!”
“No!” Sara screamed. “Let her go?.”
Madelyn Andrews raced toward her daughter’s bedroom, her lungs tightening at the sound of her daughter’s terrified sobs. Outside, the wind roared off the mountain and sleet pelted the window, reminding her that a late winter storm raged around the small town of Sanctuary, North Carolina.
Shivering with the cold, she threw open the door, flipped on the sunflower lamp Sara had begged for and crossed the distance to her little girl’s bed. Sara was thrashing around, tangled in the bright green comforter, sobbing and shaking.
“No, don’t hurt her, don’t hurt Cissy?”
Madelyn’s heart broke, worry throbbing inside her as she eased herself onto the mattress and gently shook Sara.
“Honey, wake up. It’s just a nightmare,” she whispered. Although Sara would insist that it was real.
Sara sobbed harder, swinging out her hands as if fighting off an invisible monster, and Madelyn pulled her into her arms. Tears blurred her own eyes as she rocked her back and forth. “Shh, honey, Mommy’s here.
It’s all right.”
“Gonna hurt Mommy?” Sara wailed. “Help Cissy. We have to help Cissy!”
“Shh, baby.” Madelyn stroked Sara’s fine, blond hair. “No one is going to hurt Mommy. I’m right here.”
Sara jerked her eyes open, her pupils distorted, her lower lip quivering. For a moment, she stared at Madelyn as if she didn’t recognize her.
“But Cissy’s mommy is hurt,” Sara said in a shaky voice. “The bad man chased Cissy into the woods and he catched her, and?”
“It was a dream.” Madelyn cupped Sara’s face between her hands, imploring her to believe her. “A really bad dream, sweetheart, but it was just a nightmare.”
“No,” Sara choked out. “It was real. Cissy’s in trouble and we gots to help her or he’s gonna hurt her.”
“Oh, honey,” Madelyn said softly.
Sara gulped. “It was real, Mommy. I saw Cissy.” Tears rolled down her face. “And she saw me. She begged me to help her. I tolded her to get up and run, but he caught her and dragged her back to the house? ”
Shaken by the horror in Sara’s voice, Madelyn took a deep breath, desperately trying to calm the anxiety bleeding through her.
She dried Sara’s tears with her fingers. “Sara, I told you that we lost Cissy a long time ago.”
“No,” Sara said with a firm shake of her head. “She lives with that other mommy. But if we don’t helps her, that mean man’s gonna kill ’em both.”
Madelyn hugged Sara to her, lost in turmoil.
Something was very wrong with her little girl. She’d been having these nightmares for the past two months, ever since they’d moved back to Sanctuary, and nothing Madelyn had done or said had helped. Not her long talks with her about Cissy, Sara’s twin who they’d lost at birth, or the therapists Madelyn had consulted for assistance.
“Please, Mommy,” Sara cried. “We gots to do something.”
A tear slid down Madelyn’s cheek. The day the twins had been born was the happiest and saddest day of her life. She’d gotten Sara but lost her sister.
She’d heard that twins had a special connection, but why was Sara still dreaming that Cissy had survived?
Knowing neither she nor Sara would sleep well the rest of the night, she carried Sara to her bed, then snuggled beside her. Sara lay on her side, sniffling for another hour, then finally drifted into an exhausted sleep.
Madelyn’s heart wrenched, and she lay and watched her daughter, unable to sleep. Just as dawn streaked the sky, her telephone jangled. Who could be calling at this hour? She checked the caller ID. Her mother.
She grabbed the handset, then slid from the bed, walked to the window and connected the call.
“Mom? What’s wrong? Are you all right?”
“Yes, honey, I’m fine. Have you seen the news?”
“No, why? What’s going on?”
“A big story aired about a doctor in Sanctuary who stole babies and sold them. His name was Dr. Emery. Isn’t that the doctor who delivered the twins?”
“Yes. Oh, my god. What else did the story say?”
“This lady named Nina Nash thought her baby died in that big, hospital fire eight years ago but discovered her child was alive. She hired these detectives at an agency called Guardian Angel Investigations there in Sanctuary. These men are all dedicated to finding missing children and they found her little girl.”
A cold chill swept up Madelyn’s spine. She glanced back at the bed where Sara was sleeping.
Was it possible that Cissy could have survived?
Caleb Walker entered the offices of GAI, his neck knotted with nerves. He hadn’t liked the sound of his boss’s voice when he called. The urgency had him postponing his visit to the cemetery to visit his wife’s grave this morning, and that pissed him off. He’d wanted to go by first thing, to pay his respects, leave Mara’s flowers, talk to her and beg her forgiveness one more time?
Gage’s voice rose from his office, breaking into his thoughts, and Caleb forced himself to focus. There would be time for seeing Mara later. Time to drown his sorrows and guilt.
He climbed the steps to Gage’s office, his mind racing. Had another child gone missing?
Or was there another case related to Sanctuary Hospital? Ever since the news had broken about the recovery of Nina Nash’s daughter and Dr. Emery’s arrest for selling babies, the phones had gone crazy.
People from all over were demanding to know if their adoptions were legal. GAI had been plagued by crank calls, as well, two from distraught women whose accusations of baby kidnapping had turned out to be false. The women had been so desperate for a child they’d tried to use the illegal adoptions to claim one for themselves.
Caleb twisted the hand-carved arrowhead around his neck to calm himself as he knocked on his boss’s office door. “Come in.”
Caleb opened the door and Gage stood.
“I’m glad you’re here,” Gage said without preamble. “We have a new client. One I’d like for you to handle.”
Caleb narrowed his eyes. “Why me?”
Gage’s eyes darkened. “You’ll know after you meet her and her five-year-old daughter, Sara. Sara insists she sees her twin in her nightmares, that her sister is in trouble.”
“I don’t understand,” Caleb said. “Sounds like a child having bad dreams, not a missing person case.”
“It gets even more interesting.” Gage flicked his gaze to the conference room across the hall. “The mother claims the twin died at birth, but Sara insists she’s alive.”
Damn. Gage requested him because of his so-called sixth sense. He wished to hell he’d never divulged that detail.
But Gage had caught him in a weak moment. Gage motioned for him to follow. “Come on, they’re waiting.”
Caleb rolled his hands into fists, then forced himself to flex them again, struggling to control his emotions. Emotions had no place in business. And business was his life now.
The moment Caleb entered the conference room, he spotted the woman sitting in a wing chair cradling the little girl in her lap. Gage had purposely designed the room with cozy seating nooks to put clients at ease.
But nothing about this woman appeared to be at ease.
Her slender body radiated with tension, her eyes looked haunted, her expression wary.
Yet he was also struck by her startling beauty. Copper-colored hair draped her shoulders and flowed like silk around a heart-shaped face. Big, green eyes gazed at him as if she desperately needed a friend, and freckles dotted her fair skin, making her look young and vulnerable. Her outfit was simple, too, not meant to be enticing—long denim skirt, peasant blouse—yet the soft colors made her look utterly feminine.
And downright earthy.
Earthy in his book meant sexy. Lethal combinations to a man who had been celibate for the past three years.
Dammit. He hadn’t been attracted to another woman since Mara. He sure as hell didn’t want to be attracted to a client. Not one with a kid who claimed to see her dead sister.
Then his gaze fell to the little blonde munchkin, and his lungs tightened. She looked tiny and frail and terrified and so lost that his protective instincts kicked in.
“Ms. Andrews,” Gage began. “This is Caleb Walker. He’s one of our agents at GAI. I’d like for him to hear your story.”
The woman squared her shoulders as if anticipating a confrontation. She expected skepticism.
“You can call me Madelyn,” she said in a husky voice that sounded as if it was laced with whiskey.
Gage claimed the love seat, leaving the other wing chair nearest Madelyn for him. Caleb lowered himself into it, aware his size might intimidate the little girl.
“What’s your name?” he asked in a gentle tone.
Eyes that mirrored her mother’s stared up at him as if she was trying to decide if he was friend or foe. Smart kid. She should be wary of strangers.
He smiled slowly, trying to ease her discomfort. But his senses prickled, suggesting she was special in some way. That she possessed a sixth sense herself.
Not that he would wish that on anyone, especially a kid.
“Let’s see,” he said, a smile quirking his mouth. “Are you Little Miss Sunshine?”
A tiny smile lit her eyes, and she relaxed slightly and loosened her grip on her blanket. “No, silly. I’m Sara.”
“Hi, Sara,” he said gruffly. “That’s a pretty name.”
“Thank you,” she said, her tone sounding grown up for such a little bitty thing. “It’s my Gran’s middle name.”
“Okay, Sara. Tell me what’s going on so I can help you.”
Madelyn stroked her daughter’s hair. “Sara’s been having nightmares for the past two months, ever since we moved back to town.”
“Where are you from?” Caleb asked, probing for background information.
Madelyn hugged Sara closer. “We moved to Charlotte four years ago to be near my mom, but Sara was born in Sanctuary. Recently my mother suffered a stroke, and I found a nursing facility here that she liked, so I bought the craft shop in town, and we packed up and moved back.”
“I see,” Caleb said. Had the move triggered these nightmares? “Sara, did you have dreams of your sister when you lived in Charlotte?”
Sara nodded and twirled a strand of hair around her finger. “We talked and sang songs and told secrets.” Caleb narrowed his eyes. “What kinds of secrets?” Sara pursed her mouth. “They’re not secrets if I tell.”
Hmm. She was loyal to her sister. But those secrets might be important.
“She has dreamed about her twin all her life,” Madelyn confirmed. “But lately those dreams have been disturbing.”
Sara piped up. “Her name is Cissy, and she looks just like me.”
Caleb nodded, aware that she used the present tense. “Sara and Cissy. How old are you?”
“Five,” Sara said and held up five fingers. “Cissy’s five, too.”
He smiled again. “You’re identical twins?”
She swung her feet. “Yep, ‘cept I gots a birthmark on my right arm and hers is on the other side.” She pointed to a small, pale, crescent-moon shape on her forearm.
Caleb folded his hands. He needed to keep Sara talking. “Tell me what happens in your dreams, Sara.”
Terror darkened the little girl’s face. “Cissy is scared and she’s screamin’ and she runned into the woods.”
Damn. He understood about nightmares, how real and haunting they could seem. “Who is she running from?” Caleb asked.
“From a big, mean man. He screamed at her mommy,” Sara said with conviction. “Cissy says he’s gonna kill them.”
Caleb intentionally lowered his voice. “Can you see his face? Does she call him by name?”
Sara chewed on her thumb for a moment as if trying to picture the man in her mind. “No, I can’t see him.” Her voice rose with anxiety. “But I saw Cissy running and crying.”
Caleb clenched his hands, listening, hating the terror in the little girl’s voice. The last thing he wanted to do was traumatize a troubled child by doubting her or confirming her fears. And she was genuinely afraid and believed what she was telling him.
His sixth sense kicked in. This little girl was?different. Did she truly have a psychic connection to her twin?
Other questions bombarded him: If her sister was dead, was Sara seeing and conversing with her spirit? Was Sara a medium? If so, why was she seeing images of Cissy at the same age as herself instead of the infant she’d been when she died? Was Cissy’s growth a figment of Sara’s imagination?
Another theory rattled through his head. Or could Sara be experiencing premonitions? Could Cissy’s spirit be trying to warn Sara that Sara was in danger from some future attacker?
“You’re a brave girl,” Caleb said, then patted Sara’s arm. “And if you see anything else—the man’s face, or the mommy’s—I want you to tell me. Okay?”
Sara bobbed her little head up and down, although she looked wrung out now, as if relaying her nightmare had drained her. Or maybe she was worried that describing the terrifying ordeal might make it come true.
He lifted his gaze to Madelyn. “Can we talk alone?”
Her wary gaze flew to his. “I don’t like to leave Sara by herself.”
Gage retrieved a pad of paper and some crayons and gestured to the coffee table.