She ran through the darkness, her breath coming in short rasps, her heart hammering painfully against her ribcage. The lake was behind her and she could hear the water slapping against the dock pilings. She didn't dare stop to look back, although every fiber in her being wanted to do so. She had to get away from him, had to hide somewhere.
Her dress was in tatters, her hair a tangled mess around her face. It was becoming harder and harder to run, her legs didn't want to work, they felt weak and shaky. She could still feel the slap of his hand against her swollen cheek.
Get away...never look back...run...run.
"No! Leave me alone!" Erica Parkhurst shouted. She sat up in bed and frantically looked around her, still half asleep and unable to fully recognize her surroundings.
Next to her, Joe Lakota stirred and mumbled, "Hmm...what's that?" Then he sat up and turned on the bedside lamp, casting a soft, amber glow over the cozy bedroom. From the floor, Mingo whined and yawned, stretching as he stood. His coat was multicolored and thick. The eyes were amber, set in a face that looked like it wore a mask of gray. Part wolf, part dog, he'd been raised by Joe from a pup.
Slowly, Erica took in the sturdy furniture and the thick comforter that was now in disarray around her. She was safe, with the man she loved, in the cabin he'd built with his own two hands.
Mingo laid his head on her leg and searched her face with big soulful eyes. She absently rubbed the canine's head. "I'm sorry, Joe. I had a nightmare. But it was so real."
He scooted closer to her and put a muscular arm around her shoulder, pulling her against his bare chest.
Erica had met Joe when she first happened upon Spirit Lake in July. She'd been running from a broken marriage, looking for a place of refuge and solitude. One night's stay at the local bed and breakfast had turned into something much more, when she found herself embroiled in not only a murder investigation, but a ghost hunt as well. Months later, the inn's owner, Evelyn Black, had asked her to return and run the business while she recuperated from surgery. Erica had done so, bringing along Paula Bascilla, her best friend. Actually, Erica would have come without Paula if it had meant seeing Joe again.
"Want to talk about it?" Joe asked, kissing the side of her head.
She looked at him and smiled. His dark eyes studied her with concern. His Iroquois heritage gave his skin a coppery glow, especially in this lighting. She felt her heart flutter a little as he stroked her cheek with a fingertip.
She shook her head and felt some of her thick, coppery hair tumble over her face. He made no move to push it back. She knew why, he liked the way she looked when she was "bed tumbled" as he called it.
"It was just a dream." She smiled again.
"Maybe I need to hang another dream catcher," Joe whispered, nodding backwards toward the feathered charm dangling above the headboard.
"To catch and destroy my bad dreams?" Erica asked.
Mingo snorted as though in disdain and resumed his previous position on the floor.
"I don't think Mingo appreciates my interrupting his sleep," Erica chuckled.
"Why don't you tell me what's really going on, Erica?" Joe asked, his expression somber.
Erica stroked his chest lightly. "Well, let's see...Christmas is only three weeks away and tomorrow our guests arrive for the inn's very first--"
He interrupted, "I'm not talking about that. You know what I mean." He put a little distance between them and propped himself up on one elbow. He looked at her, waiting for an answer.
Erica sighed. "I've been having this recurring dream. I'm back in time I think, because my clothing is old fashioned. I'm being chased up the hill from the lake. I'm desperate and frightened. It gets all muddled after that." She thought for a moment. "Forget it. It's no big deal. It's probably just the stress of the upcoming events. That and all the research we've been doing on the inn's past."
"You don't think what happened in October has something to do with it?" He eyed her closely, worry creasing his brow.
She had to admit, he had a point. "We had some damage control to do after the murder of a guest, that's for sure. And that is why this Christmas event is so important. I just don't want anything to go wrong."
Joe looked at the window and pointed. "It's snowing again. Should be the perfect atmosphere for your guests tomorrow."
Erica got up, put on one of Joe's flannel shirts, which hit her slender frame mid- thigh, and went to the window. She sat down on the window seat that, just months ago, had held one of Joe's best kept secrets. The snow was falling in large, lacy flakes, covering the two inches that had settled over the landscape yesterday.
"Looks like the stage is set," Joe said, joining her. He'd brought the comforter which he now wrapped around them both.
They sat there for the next hour, snuggled together, watching the snow fall.