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CHAPTER ONE

 

Christina Lambert sat bolt upright in her bed, awakened once again by her own screams. Breaths choppy, a bead of sweat trailed down her temple. She flattened a hand to her chest but it did nothing to lessen the dull ache caused by the pounding of her own heart. Her eyes darted from one dark corner of her room to the next, searching for a monster who was never there. He was only in her mind, trapped in memories she couldn’t shake.

Nights like this were why she lived in a house set back far from the road and surrounded by nothing but trees. Last thing she wanted or needed was to have neighbors calling the police every time she had a nightmare. She felt safer there, too.

She stretched to grab her phone from the bedside table and checked the time. Two twenty-one. Three minutes earlier than yesterday morning, six minutes later than the day before that.

Christina flopped back onto the bed with a groan and draped her arm over her face. She laid there for another thirty minutes or so, tossing, turning, willing herself back to sleep. Knowing from past experience that was not to be, she tossed off the covers, swung her legs over the side, and tucked her feet into her old, fuzzy slippers. She shoved up off the bed and shuffled into the adjoining bathroom where she took care of business and washed her hands.

What she saw when she looked in the mirror were the haunted blue eyes of the scared little girl she used to be long ago. She ran the cold water, leaned over, cupped her hands under the spray, and splashed her face once, twice, three times, then shut off the water. Avoiding her reflection, she yanked a towel from the rack and buried her face in its fluffiness. Christina breathed in the calming scent of fabric softener and gave the adrenaline time to dissipate from her system.

She wasn’t always awakened in such an abrupt and horrifying manner. Thank goodness. The nightmares always occurred with more frequency as the anniversary of what happened to her loomed. She’d like to think the timing was a coincidence, but, like her mother used to say, believing isn’t getting, Christina.

“Okay, enough of that.” Calling upon her practical midwestern upbringing, she drew her shoulders back, folded the towel, and hung it over the bar.

She headed back into her bedroom and changed into her workout clothes. A nice little yoga session would go a long way toward shaking off the nightmare.

After thirty minutes of stretching and deep breathing, she was ready for her morning coffee. She ground her favorite beans, dumped the rich, brown powder into the stainless-steel coffee pot that belonged to her grandmother, and plugged it in.

Something about the sound of the coffee churning and percolating and the way the wonderful aroma filled the room reminded her of a better time. A time when she still thought the world was filled with only kind and wonderful people—like her grandmother had been. That fairytale had been shattered at much too young of an age.

She poured the coffee into her favorite oversized mug, hovered her nose over the dark brew, and drew in a deep breath. Ah-h-h. She settled onto her favorite reading spot—a decadent reupholstered fainting couch positioned to take advantage of the light from her big front window. The perfect place for reading and watching the birds in the feeder outside, in between spontaneous naps. All things she enjoyed immensely on a lazy Sunday.

She’d found the old piece when she and Emily O’Halleran, her best friend, had decided on a whim to go to their first-ever estate sale. Christina had gotten hooked on hunting for old pieces she could make new again. Emily, not so much. But her friend was a good sport and always tagged along with the promise of lunch after they were through scrounging through other people’s stuff, as her friend like to tease.

The couch was just one of several unique finds Christina had purchased. In addition to a few smaller pieces, she had a vintage vanity with the original mirror still intact. It was the first thing she’d sanded, repaired, and repainted all by herself. Her favorite piece of all was a large dresser manufactured somewhere in France before the eighteen-nineties. Made from rosewood and satinwood with a marble top, it had only needed a few minor repairs to two of the legs and a good polishing to make it look like new. To her delight, hidden behind years of grime was a beautiful, intricate pattern inlaid across the front of each drawer.

Christina had bought it from a young, uppity guy who lived in the city. He’d inherited his grandparents’ farmhouse and didn’t want any of their old junk. His words, not hers. He wanted the house emptied so he could sell it and the property it sat on.

She liked to think she’d rescued the antique from certain destruction and, therefore, felt zero guilt about only paying three hundred dollars for something that appraised at close to five thousand. Besides, the guy had been an arrogant jerk.

 

You didn’t have to be a professional therapist to correlate her passion for saving old pieces of furniture with what happened to her right before her eleventh birthday. Now that Christina thought about it, she realized she was actually the first project she’d ever restored and rebuilt.

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