The echo of the gunshot jerked Sage Anderson out of her nightmare. Her eyes flew open. She lay in the darkness, panting, sweating, her heart pounding in fear, her hands clenched into fists. Oh, God.
The images. The sounds. Oh, dear God.
It was a dream. Just a dream. One of those old, horrible, terrifying nightmares that had haunted her since the events she dreamed about had been her reality.
Slowly the past retreated. Her pulse calmed and her fingers relaxed. At that point, the shivering began, a reaction to both the chill in the room and the aftermath of the dream.
Sage rolled up and reached for the bedclothes she’d kicked off the end of the bed during the dream. This was the first time in months that she’d been plagued by one of these nightmares. She had thought she’d put them behind her.
“I am so totally done with this,” she said aloud as she yanked up the sheet, tugged up the comforter, and fished for her discarded socks at the bottom of the bed. When she finally cuddled beneath goose down and Egyptian cotton, she turned her head into the pillow and tried to cry.
She badly wanted to succeed in the effort, to sob and wail and release these vicious emotions churning inside her. As usual, the tears wouldn’t come. In the past few years she’d managed to find catharsis in tears only a handful of times.
When her eyes remained stubbornly dry and the possibility of sleep appeared completely beyond reach, she focused her attention on more pleasant thoughts. She thought about weddings. Her best friend’s wedding. Well, one of her best friends, anyway.
Yesterday Nic Callahan had returned to town and reconciled with her husband. They planned to reaffirm their wedding vows at St. Stephen’s church later this morning prior to the grand opening celebration for Angel’s Rest, Celeste Blessing’s healing center and spa. Sage was thrilled for Nic and Gabe. She was pleased for Celeste and excited for Eternity Springs. Today promised to be a lovely day.
And I’m not going to let a bad dream ruin it.
With that determined thought uppermost in her mind, she glanced at the bedside clock, where 4:07 glowed in red numerals. Today promised to be a lovely day—and a long one, she realized with an inner sigh. She knew she wouldn’t get back to sleep at this point.
Sage sat up and took stock of her options. She could read or watch TV or surf the Net. She could catch up on paperwork or tackle the painting she’d begun yesterday for her upcoming show in Fort Worth. Except she wasn’t in the mood for the first three, and she needed to let that painting sit for a few days. Something wasn’t working with it, and experience had taught her that walking away for a day or two almost always helped her figure out the fix.
Her thoughts returned to the wedding, and at that point she knew what she wanted to do. She’d grab a new canvas and see if she could create a gift for Gabe and Nic to mark their special day. She’d do something simple, but light and bright and beautiful.
“Perfect.” She blew out a breath, rolled out of bed, and headed for the studio she’d set up in the cottage’s second bedroom. This was what she needed now—something positive to think about, a task to take her out of the shadows and away from the pain and the past.
In the studio, she placed a blank canvas on her easel and studied it, opening her mind to inspiration. She shied away from one image that hovered in her head, a leftover from her nightmare. Instead, she thought about Nic and Gabe and the obstacles they’d overcome while finding their way to today. She opened her mind to the promise of their bright and happy future, and inspiration flowed. An idea took shape in her imagination. She picked up her paintbrush and went to work. When she stepped away from her easel three hours later, she studied the finished painting and smiled. “Good job, Anderson.”
She had managed to shake off the lingering ugliness of her dream and create something she knew her friends would treasure. All before breakfast. “Not a bad start for the day.”
She showered and dressed and had just decided to toast a bagel when, to her surprise, someone rapped at her front door. Warily Sage peeked through the window blinds.
Celeste Blessing stood on her front porch, a canvas tote bag in one hand, a