A floorboard in the hall creaked. Rubbing tired eyes, Geoff glanced up from the computer screen. Just the house settling. Another creak. From the rug beside the desk, his wolfish-looking black dog pricked his ears in the direction of the sound. Someone was definitely there. The door cracked open, and Mosby wagged his tail.
“Daddy…” Clad in seahorse-patterned pajamas, his seven-year-old daughter entered the library, clutching her spotted stuffed pony.
“Sarah, it’s one in the morning. What are you doing up so late?”
Tears streaked her cheeks as she scurried over to the desk with red locks flying behind her. She climbed onto his lap and clung to him. Her cries intensified. “Daddy!”
“Sarah?” Wiping the tears from her face with his thumb, he hushed her and rocked her. “What’s wrong?”
She stared up at him with blue saucer-like eyes and sniffled. “I thought you were gone.”
It was the second time in a week, and the sixth time in a month that she had complained about the dream. Her description never varied. She kept seeing him lying in a pool of blood on the ground or floor, she wasn’t certain which, choking to death. After a consultation with a psychologist, he had been reassured that his daughter’s nightmare was caused by their recent loss of Mosby’s sire, Saber. At seven, children were becoming aware of the finality of death, and Sarah had transferred her fear from the loss of a pet to a parent. But how could such a young mind envision graphic details of a lingering death, especially since Saber had died peacefully in his old age? Geoff would have expected more typical childhood fears of going to sleep and not waking up. “I’m fine, Sarah. There now—see, there’s nothing to cry about.”
Another sniffle. Calming slightly, she touched his face to reaffirm he was real. “Will you read me a story?”
“You pick one out, while I let Mosby outside.”
Sarah scampered over to the bookcase, where the children’s books were arranged on a lower shelf.
He strode to the door at the far corner of the library and held it open. “Mosby.”
The dog raced across the room and out the door. He returned to Sarah, who was waiting with The Black Stallion under her arm, and resumed his seat. Unlike his son, Sarah was easy to calm. Neal was at that difficult teenage stage. At fifteen, he had his learner’s permit, which he thought entitled him to special car privileges. Earlier in the evening, they had engaged in a stupid argument and exchanged heated words. He’d have a talk with Neal and apologize before the boy left for school in the morning.
Geoff drew Sarah onto his lap and began to read. After he had read several pages, the scent of honeysuckle drifted over him. He sucked in his breath. Unlike Saber, Mosby hadn’t shown the capability of alerting him to an impending seizure, but then, he had gone nearly three years without one. The dog had only been a puppy at the time.
“Sarah, can you run and get your mom?”
She dashed for the door leading to the hall, but stopped short and screamed. His ex-wife stood in the doorway.
But she kept staring at Sarah. Finally, she took one of Sarah’s red curls between her fingers. “You’re a lot like my little girl. George… I thought Georgianna was…” She glanced up at him. “You’re not George.” In her hand, she held a gun.
Not Sarah! Geoff hurtled across the room, shoving his daughter aside. Landing on the floorboards beside her, he heard a gunshot. Blood spattered over Sarah’s pajamas. “Sarah!” Burning pain spread from his chest to his back. It wasn’t Sarah’s blood, but his own. Her dream. She had foreseen his death.
As his gaze met with Beth’s violet eyes, she shouted, “Stay dead this time!” She vanished from the doorway.
Gasping for breath, he rose on an elbow and checked Sarah. Although paralyzed by fear, she seemed physically unharmed. His vision blurred. Don’t die in front of her. Not like Mom. For a fleeting second, he was five. Glass shattered, and his mother’s bloody head slumped over the steering wheel.
He felt the warmth of blood filling his shirt. Lightheaded, he struggled to remain conscious. “Sarah…” Losing the battle, he sank to the floor. A fog drifted over him, and he had no idea how long he lay there when panicky voices surrounded him. Gentle hands rolled him onto his back.
“Geoff!” His wife grasped his hand. “Please be all right.”
“Chris? Sarah, is she… ?” he asked weakly.
“She’s fine. Help is on the way.”
In an attempt to slow the blood flow, his father applied direct pressure to the wound in his chest. Geoff gasped in agony. Unable to catch his breath, he tasted blood at the back of his throat. He reached out. “No…” Ignoring him, his father continued with his futile lifesaving efforts. Geoff clamped his fingers around his father’s wrist. “Please… stop.” Their gazes met, and the pressure lifted from his chest.
“Dammit, Geoff.” Tears welled into the older man’s eyes.
He had never seen his father cry before, and it seemed strange, even now. He coughed—more blood. Finally, another breath came.
Chris cradled him in her arms and whispered, “Hang in there, Geoff. Help will be here in a few minutes.”
Her fingers stroked his hair, and she hugged him tighter. As he fought for another breath, his hand encircled hers. “I… love…” Unable to force another breath, he gulped back the blood. He choked and sputtered. His lungs were exploding. Suddenly, he felt incredibly light. He drifted. His mother waved at him. He had forgotten her gentle dimpled smile. Alongside her, Saber waited. Rejuvenated to his sleek, youthful form, the dog wagged his feathery tail and barked excitedly. Near a soft light stood a woman with black hair cascading the length of her back. Margaret… He now understood. His death had been a terrible error in judgment.
He turned to Chris’s voice, summoning him back to life.
“He’s gone, Chris,” said his father, weeping unashamedly.
“Noooo!” She dug her fingernails into her palm and moaned.
Geoff struggled to touch her cheek to let her know that he was all right, but his arm remained frozen at his side. He tried to speak. No words came out. She bent over him and began sobbing. Then he saw—a crimson patch covered his chest, and his own eyes stared up, sightless in death.