The First Prophet
Within the FBI, there exists a team of psychics whose powers cannot be denied. But these agents are feared—by a cabal of conspirators with only one weapon: to blind the psychics to the evils all around them.
Months ago Sarah Gallagher woke from a coma with psychic abilities she couldn’t control. They changed her life and cost her the man she loved. And now, someone is playing games with Sarah’s mind.
It begins with Sarah’s home being destroyed by fire—an act of arson that draws novelist Tucker Mackenzie into Sarah’s confidence. But he has other reasons for pursuing a woman who can see what others can’t. So does a mysterious enemy intent on eliminating Sarah, and everyone she cares about. Because it’s only a matter of time before her visions lead her and Tucker to a secret many will kill to hide. Only then will they begin to discover the scope of a terrifying conspiracy so deep and complex they can trust almost no one.
It had once been an excellent example of an updated Victorian, but now it was only a smoking ruin swarming with fire department personnel. As Tucker Mackenzie got out of his car, he heard the hissing and crackling of embers as they were soaked by the fire hoses, and the pounding of axes as smoldering wood was broken up, and he heard the brisk voices of the men working to make certain the fire would not flare up again. He also heard the whispers of the neighbors who were standing around in clumps, watching her while pretending their attention was focused on what was left of the house.
She stood alone. She looked alone. Her pretty dress was a bit too thin for the hint of cold that was creeping into late September, and she stood almost hugging herself, arms crossed beneath her breasts, hands rubbing up and down above her elbows as though to warm chilled flesh. Her dark, reddish hair was blowing in the fitful breeze that also snatched at the long skirt of her dress, and she appeared to notice that no more than she noticed she was standing in a muddy puddle left by the fire hoses.
Tucker hesitated, then walked over to her side. Before he could speak, she did.
“Are you the one who’s been watching me?” she asked in a curiously remote voice.
“What?” He had no idea what she meant.
“Never mind,” she said, as if it didn’t really matter. She turned her head to look at him, scanning him upward from his black western boots to his windblown blond hair. Her pale brown eyes rested on his face, wide and startled. More than startled. She looked briefly shocked, even afraid, Tucker thought. But it was a fleeting expression, vanishing completely and leaving behind nothing except her earlier numb detachment. She returned her gaze to what had been her home.
“Someone’s been watching you?” When she didn’t reply or react in any way, he said, “I’m sorry about your home, Miss Gallagher. What started the fire?”
She glanced at the fire marshal, who was standing some distance away scowling at the ruin. “He thinks it’s arson,” she said.
“Is that what he told you?”
“No. He didn’t have to tell me.” She sent Tucker another brief look, this one mildly curious. “Haven’t you heard about the local witch? That’s me.”
“I had heard that you were reputed to have psychic abilities,” he confessed. “I wanted to talk to you—”
“Let me guess.” Her voice went flat, something ground beneath a ruthless heel. “Someone you love has died, recently or a long time ago, and you want to communicate with them. Or you’ve lost something you need to find. You’re suffering unrequited love and want a magic potion to solve that problem. You or someone you know has a horrible disease and you’re searching for a cure. Your life has gone off track, and you don’t know how to right it. Or you want to make a million bucks and need me to pick your lottery numbers . . .”
When her voice trailed into silence, Tucker said evenly, “No, it’s nothing like that.”
“You’re searching for something. They’re always searching for something.”
Her shoulders lifted and fell in a tired shrug. “The ones who come and knock on my door. The ones who call and write and stop me on the streets.” Again, she turned her head to look at him, but this time it was a direct stare. “There are only two kinds of people, you know. Those who run toward a psychic, hands outstretched and pleading—and those who run away as fast as they can, frightened.”
“I’m neither,” he told her. “I’m just a man who wants to talk to you.”
The breeze picked up, blowing a curtain of reddish hair across her cheek and veiling her mouth briefly. “Who are you?” she asked, again mildly curious.
“My name’s Tucker Mackenzie. I’m a writer.”
Her gaze was unblinking. “I’ve heard of you. What are you doing here?”
“As I said, I wanted to talk to you. I’ve been trying to call you for more than a week but couldn’t get an answer. So I decided to take a chance and just come over here. Obviously, I—didn’t know about the fire.”
“You’re a novelist. Is it research you’re after?”
“Not . . . specifically.”
“Then what? Specifically.”
Tucker hadn’t come prepared to deal with this. He had discovered very early in his career that people liked to talk about themselves, particularly to a novelist. Under the nebulous heading of “research” he had asked and listened to the eager answers to an astonishing variety of questions both professional and personal. It was obvious, however, that this taut woman would not accept vague explanations for his curiosity and his questions.
Problem was, he had no specifics to offer her. None he was willing to voice, at any rate. I’m after answers. I need to know if you really can predict the future. I need to know if I can believe in you.
Before Tucker could figure out something close enough to specifics to satisfy her, a plainclothes detective who had been talking to the fire marshal picked his way through the puddles to stand before Sarah Gallagher. He was tall and thin and looked to have dressed by guess in the dark, since his purplish tie definitely clashed with a shirt the color of putty, and the khaki pants hardly matched a jacket with the suggestion of a pinstripe. But for all his sartorial chaos, there was something in his dark eyes that warned the contents made a lot more sense than the package.
“I’m sorry, Miss Gallagher.” His voice was deep and abrupt. “The house is a total loss. And since your car was in the garage, it’s gone too.”
“I can pretty much see that for myself, Sergeant Lewis.” Her smile was hardly worth the effort.
He nodded. “There’ll have to be an investigation, you realize that. Before you can put in an insurance claim. The fire marshal thinks—that is, evidence suggests this might not have been an accident.”
It was her turn to nod. “I gathered that.”
The detective seemed uncomfortable beneath her direct stare and shifted just a bit as though to escape it. “Yes. Well, I just wanted you to know that we’ll be keeping an eye on the place. And since there’s nothing you can do here, maybe it’d be best if you went to a hotel for the night. You’ve been standing out here for hours, and anybody can see the weather’s taking a turn for the worse. I’m sure you could use a hot meal and—privacy. Time to collect your thoughts and make a few decisions. I’d be glad to drive you, explain things to the manager so there’s no trouble while you wait until the banks open tomorrow and you can make arrangements . . .”
“I won’t need to stay at a hotel. There’s a small apartment above the shop. I can stay there for a few days at least.”
He produced a notebook and consulted notes made earlier. “That’d be the antique shop? Two-oh-four Emerson?”
“You said your partner—Margo James—is out of town?”
“On a buying trip, yes.”
He frowned slightly as he returned the notebook to his pocket. “Miss Gallagher, can you think of anyone who might . . . wish you harm?”
Lewis seemed dissatisfied with the terse response, and Tucker was surprised; why didn’t she say something to the cop about being watched? If that was true, if someone was watching her, then surely she must have realized that whoever it was might wish her harm. But she didn’t mention that, just continued to look at Lewis without much expression.
The cop said, “Several of your neighbors saw a strange man hanging around here not more than a few minutes before the flames were spotted. Does that surprise you?”
“That my neighbors watch my house? No.”
This time, Lewis scowled. “The man, Miss Gallagher. Did you see anyone hanging around here today?”
“No. As I told you before, I was reading in the front room and didn’t see or hear anything until I smelled smoke. None of the smoke alarms had gone off, so I had no warning. By the time I smelled smoke, the fire was so bad I barely had time to call 911 and get out. I couldn’t even get to my car keys so I could move the car out of the garage.” She drew a little breath to steady a voice that had begun to wobble just a bit, and finished evenly, “I wasn’t cooking anything. I didn’t have any candles burning. No fire in the fireplace. And all the wiring was inspected just ten months ago when I completed the renovation. It was no accident that my house burned. But I don’t know of anyone who would want to hurt me by starting that fire.”
“All right.” Lewis lifted a hand as if he would have touched her, then let it awkwardly fall. It was obvious that he was wary of touching her, and equally obvious that Sarah Gallagher knew it.
How much of that sort of thing had she been forced to put up with? How many times had she seen people draw back in fear, or look at her as though they believed she wasn’t normal? Mysterious watching strangers notwithstanding, Tucker couldn’t help wondering whether one of her wary neighbors had decided to burn out the local witch.
Avoiding her steady gaze, the cop turned his own to Tucker and scowled. “Who’re you?”
Rather surprised he hadn’t been asked before now, Tucker gave his name and no further information, surprised again when Sarah Gallagher added a cool explanation.
“He’s a friend, Sergeant. If you’ve finished with me, he’s going to drive me to the shop.”
“I’m finished—for now. But I might have more questions for you tomorrow, Miss Gallagher.” Lewis sent Tucker another glowering look, then turned away.
“Do you mind?” Sarah was watching Lewis stalk toward the fire marshal; her voice was distant.
“Of course not. I’ll be glad to drive you to your shop.” Deliberately, Tucker reached out and took her arm in a light grip. “Why don’t we go now, before it gets any colder. You must be frozen.”
She looked down at his hand on her arm, then raised her gaze to his face. For a moment, her expression was . . . peculiar. To Tucker, she seemed both disturbed and resigned, as though she had no choice but to accept something she knew would bring only trouble. Bad trouble. He didn’t like it.
“You can trust me,” he said.
Matter-of-factly, she said, “It has nothing to do with trust.”
He didn’t know how to respond, either to that or to her oddly fatalistic smile. Opting to let it go for now, Tucker led her to his car and saw her in the passenger side, then went around and got in himself. As soon as he started the engine, he turned the heater on high, not because she was shivering but because she should have been.
“The shop’s on Emerson?”
She nodded. “It’s called Old Things.”
“I think I know where it is.” Tucker put the car in gear and pulled away from the curb, and as he did so he caught a glimpse of a tall man in a black leather jacket slipping around behind a wooden fence two houses down from the smoking remains of Sarah’s house. His foot touched the brake, and Tucker tensed. He didn’t know why, but every sense was instantly alert; he could feel the hairs on the back of his neck stirring. When he looked quickly at Sarah, he found her looking after the man, her face still.
“Did you see him?”
She nodded. “Probably just a curious neighbor embarrassed at being caught gawking.”
The car was barely moving now, and Tucker hesitated either to stop completely or go on. “You don’t really believe that.”
“It’s what the police would say.” She shrugged.
She was probably right, he thought, especially since the man had seemingly vanished; when the car drew abreast of the wooden fence, there was no sign of him. Tucker took his foot off the brake and continued down the quiet residential street. But the hairs on his nape were still quivering a warning. “You asked me earlier if I was the one who’d been watching you. What makes you think somebody has been?”
“I know somebody has. For a week, maybe a little longer. I’ve caught a glimpse of him several times.”
“That man back there? The one in the black jacket?”
“Maybe. I’ve never been close enough to get a good look at him. There could be more than one, for all I know. But always at least one.”
“Why didn’t you mention that to Lewis when he asked if you knew of anyone who might want to hurt you?”
Sarah shrugged again. “He never made a threatening move. Never came close. He just watched me.”
“Stalkers just watch, Sarah, at least in the beginning.”
“He isn’t a stalker.” She didn’t react at all to Tucker’s use of her first name. “He isn’t obsessed. There’s something very . . . businesslike about him. Something coldly methodical.”
“As if watching you is his job? A private investigator, maybe?”
“Maybe. But I don’t know who would have hired him, or why.”
“You said you’d been getting a lot of unwanted attention lately. People who came to you for help.”
“So maybe you gave somebody the wrong advice and somehow made an enemy. An investigator could have been hired to look for something that could be used against you in court.”
“Like what? That I use imported tea leaves instead of domestic?” Without waiting for a response to that dry question, she went on in the same tone. “I don’t offer advice. I don’t give readings. I don’t take money from anybody unless they’re buying a Regency table or a Colonial chair. I’ve never owned a crystal ball or a deck of tarot cards. I don’t claim to be able to solve problems, or I would have started with my own. So I don’t see how anyone could claim I’d wronged them.”
“All right. But if you’re being watched, and if he’s a pro, then somebody had to hire him. There must be a reason.”
As he stopped the car to wait at a traffic light, Tucker turned his head and looked at her. “Any trouble with an ex-husband or lover?”
She seemed almost to flinch, but her answer was steady enough. “No.”
“You’re sure?” he probed.
Sarah looked at him. “I’ve never been married. As for lovers, since you ask, I’ve had only two in my life. One was back in college; we broke up amicably and still send each other Christmas and birthday cards. The other decided back in April, a few weeks after I got out of the hospital, that he didn’t want to live with a woman who freaked out every time he got near a railroad crossing. So he requested a transfer to the West Coast.”
“And?” Tucker kept his gaze on her face, his attention caught by the thread of pain in her otherwise expressionless voice.
“And he was killed two weeks later. At a railroad crossing.” She turned her head to look forward, adding, “The light’s green.”
Tucker tried to pay attention to his driving, but it wasn’t easy. He got the car rolling forward and fixed his gaze on the car ahead of him. “Let me make sure I understand this. You told your lover that railroad crossings were dangerous to him, that he’d be killed at one? Because you’d seen it in his future?”
Softly, she said, “I hadn’t yet learned that warnings were useless, that what I saw would happen no matter what. I thought I could save him. But I couldn’t, of course. I couldn’t change his destiny.”
“Don’t you believe in free will?”
Tucker digested that for several blocks in silence. “According to what I’ve read, even the best psychics don’t claim to get a hundred percent right; haven’t you ever been wrong?”
He sent her a quick look. “So what makes you so special?”
“I don’t know.” She took the question seriously, obviously thinking about it. “Maybe it’s because I never go looking for the future. What I see comes to me without any desire on my part.”
“You can’t control it?”
“Can’t block it out?”
“And you truly believe that what you see is the absolute truth, actual events that haven’t yet taken place. You truly believe that you can see the future before it happens.”
She was silent for a moment, then replied simply, “I truly believe that.”
Tucker made two turns without comment, but then curiosity made him say, “But that isn’t all, is it? I mean, you knew the fire marshal suspected arson. Did his face give away his thoughts, or can you also—pick up information from the people around you?”
He didn’t think she was going to answer at first, but finally she did.
“Sometimes I know things. I look at a person’s face . . . and I know things.”
“Oh? Do you know anything about me?” He didn’t mean to sound so challenging, but knew he did even as the words emerged. He started to take back the question, knowing from experience that nobody liked being backed into a corner and ordered to perform, particularly a self-proclaimed psychic. But she surprised him.
She really surprised him.
Without looking at him, and in a tone that was almost idle, she said quietly, “I know why you came to see me today, if that’s what you mean. It was for the same reason you’ve spent your adult life chasing after anyone who claimed to have psychic abilities. Shall I tell you why, Tucker?”
“No.” The refusal emerged harshly before he thought about it, but given a couple of minutes of silence to consider it, he wasn’t tempted to change his response. If she did know the truth, there was time enough to find out later; if she was only guessing, there was time enough to find that out as well. Either way, he wasn’t quite ready to put it—or her—to the test just yet.
Still, he couldn’t quite let it go. “You asked me back there why I came to see you. If you already knew the answer—”
“I just wondered if you’d tell me the truth. Most don’t. As if it’s some kind of test. That was your reason. You’ve been waiting for a . . . real psychic. Someone who’ll know without any hint from you. Someone you can really believe in.”
Tucker was more shaken than he cared to admit, even to himself.
“Turn left here,” she said in the same detached tone. “The shop’s up ahead a couple of blocks.”
He obeyed, telling himself silently that she was only making shrewd guesses and nothing more. She had not, after all, told him anything remarkable. She’d said herself that people came to her because they were looking for something they hoped she could help them find. And he didn’t doubt that many of those seekers came to her with a chip on their shoulders, waiting for her to “see” them clearly and know without being told what they wanted.
Sarah didn’t seem disturbed by his silence. “You can let me off at the front,” she said.
Instead of doing that, Tucker pulled his car into one of the parking places at one side of the neat, two-story building that had once been a residential home but now joined others on the street as a small business. “If you don’t mind,” he said pleasantly, “I’d like to go in with you. I could use a cup of coffee, for one thing.”
She turned her head and looked at him as he shut off the engine. “I don’t need you to look in the closets for monsters. I don’t mind being alone.”
For the first time, Tucker felt he was getting a sense of her, and he thought she was lying. She did mind being alone. She minded it very much. Ignoring her protest, he said, “If there’s no way to make coffee here, I can get some at that restaurant down the street and bring it back for us.”
After a moment, Sarah nodded and reached for the door handle. “I can make coffee here.”
He couldn’t tell whether she wanted his company or was merely resigned to it, and didn’t ask. He was very good at getting his foot in the door, and for now that was all he wanted.
Sarah led the way around to the rear of the building, where a flight of stairs provided access to the second-floor apartment. They were greeted at the top by a large cat who was sitting on the railing. A large black cat.
Of course, it would have to be a black cat. Tucker reached out and scratched the cat under his lifted chin while Sarah got the door key from under a flowerpot also on the railing. “Yours?” he asked, reading the cat’s name tag in surprise and with a vague sense of familiarity.
“He seems to think so. He showed up a few days ago, and so far no owner’s come forward to claim him, so I’ve been feeding him.” She unlocked and opened the door, stepping just over the threshold to reach inside and deactivate a security system using a keypad by the door. Then she looked back at the cat. “You want in, Pendragon?”
Pendragon did. He jumped down from the railing and preceded them into the apartment.
The place had the slightly stale smell of infrequent use, but it was cheerfully decorated and bright enough. The main room was a combination kitchen/dining area/living room, with low bookshelves separating the dining and sitting areas and a breakfast bar partitioning the kitchen from the rest. There were area rugs in muted colors on the polished hardwood floor, light and airy curtains hanging at the few windows, and overstuffed furniture chosen for comfort in light neutral shades, with plenty of colorful pillows scattered about. There was even a gas-log fireplace and compact entertainment center.
A doorway led to a short hallway, off which Tucker assumed was a bathroom and one or two bedrooms.
Sarah went first to the thermostat on the wall near the hallway and adjusted the temperature so that warm air began to chase away the slight chill of the room. Then she went into the kitchen and got coffee out of one cabinet and a small coffeemaker out of an appliance garage to one side of the refrigerator.
“I stocked the place with groceries just the other day,” she said conversationally as she measured coffee. “And I have spare clothes here. When either Margo or me is out of town, the other one usually spends at least a few nights here. It gives us a chance to catch up on paperwork while we’re keeping an eye on the place.”
Tucker wondered whether she was talking just to fill the silence, or whether it was her way of keeping reality at bay. The numbness couldn’t last forever; sooner or later, she would have to face the loss of her home and belongings, with all the shock and grief that would entail. But if her choice was later, it was, after all, her choice.
He sat down on one of the tall bar stools at the breakfast bar, watching her. “Have you had break-ins here?”
“No. Most burglars are looking for valuables they can put in a sack, or at least carry by themselves; our stock is made up mostly of furniture, with very few easily portable valuables. But Margo is paranoid about theft, which is why we have an excellent security system. And I don’t mind spending time here when she’s out of town.”
“How long will she be gone this time?”
“Another week, maybe two.” Sarah got a pet bowl out of the dish drainer beside the sink and filled it with kibble, then set it on the breakfast bar in front of the stool beside Tucker’s. He watched in silence as Pendragon leaped up on the stool, sat down, and began eating delicately from his bowl, then looked at Sarah.
She met his quizzical gaze and smiled for the first time in genuine amusement. “I found out quickly that Pendragon likes to sit up and eat like people. I hope you don’t mind.”
“No. It’s more his house than mine.”
She nodded, the smile fading, then said, “I think I’ll go change. If the coffee’s ready before I come back, help yourself. Cups are in that cabinet, and the sugar and cream is already out on the counter.”
“Thanks. Take your time. I’ll be fine.” He watched her leave the room, then absently reached over and scratched Pendragon behind one ear. The cat made a faintly disgusted sound, which Tucker took to mean he disliked being touched while eating. “Excuse me,” he told the cat politely, drawing back his hand.
Pendragon murmured something in the back of his throat, the sound this time so obviously mollified that Tucker blinked in surprise.
The coffee was still dripping down into the pot, beginning to smell good but not quite ready to drink. Restless, Tucker left the bar stool to prowl around the room, studying the decorations and furniture without really seeing them. After only a slight hesitation, he turned on the gas-log fire, which immediately made the room seem more cheerful but didn’t do much for the little ripple of coldness chasing up and down Tucker’s spine.
That unnerving sensation drove him to one of the two narrow dormers that provided a view out the front side of the building, and he found himself cautiously drawing aside filmy curtains so he could see the street below without calling attention to himself.
But the caution was wasted, because the tall man in the black leather jacket seemed to have a sixth sense of his own, vanishing into the shadows of an alleyway across the street before Tucker could catch more than a glimpse of him.
“Shit.” Brodie straightened from the crouch holding a piece of charred wood in his hand, his lean face as grim as the curse. He turned the wood in his hands—it had, once, been a piece of decorative porch railing—then dropped it and rubbed his hands together angrily.
“We don’t know they did it,” Cait Desmond reminded him.
“We don’t know they didn’t,” he retorted. “I prefer to err on the side of past experience.”
His partner looked at him for a moment, then looked back at the ruins of what had been Sarah Gallagher’s home. It was nearly dark now, but the devastation was still obvious. A cold wind whined miserably past the chimney that still reared up in a stark silhouette above the dead house, and Cait shivered as she turned up her collar and thrust her hands into the pockets of her jacket.
“Did you find out anything?” Brodie asked her, the anger muted now in his brisk tone.
Cait moved closer to him and kept her voice low even though there seemed to be no one else about and certainly no one within earshot. “Yeah. I talked to one of the neighbors while she was out walking her dog a little while ago. Arson is definitely suspected; a couple of people reported a stranger hanging around today.”
“Why doesn’t that surprise me.” It wasn’t a question. Brodie sighed, his breath misting in the cold air. “Well, they didn’t get her, or you would have said so by now. So where is she?”
“According to the neighbor, Sarah Gallagher left here with a tall blond man who ‘looked vaguely familiar.’ Not another neighbor, and not a cop. He was driving a late-model Mercedes.”
Brodie whistled in surprise. “That doesn’t sound like our guys. Their wheels tend to be very unobtrusive.”
Cait nodded. “That’s what I thought. Unfortunately, the neighbor didn’t get a license plate, so that’s no good. She did, however, say that she thought the cop in charge talked to both Sarah and the blond stranger before they left, so there’s a solid chance the locals know where Sarah’s supposed to be. Especially since she probably hasn’t been ruled out as a suspect herself.”
“Yeah, they will check the obvious first.” Brodie nodded slowly.
“So we need eyes and ears inside the local police department,” Cait said. “They probably wouldn’t know me, so—”
Brodie was shaking his head. “I don’t think so, Cait. We need to move too fast; planting someone on the inside takes time. But . . . I might know someone who already has eyes on the inside.”
“Someone you can trust?”
He smiled faintly, as though he found the question amusing. “I don’t deal with people I can’t trust. Come on—we need to get out of here before that squad car makes its next scheduled pass by here. And let’s find a landline; I don’t want to use the cell for this call.”
When Sarah came out of her bedroom wearing a bulky sweater and jeans, Tucker didn’t mention the watcher outside. It was not out of some outdated—and no doubt unwanted—sense of chivalry that he kept silent, but simply because he was convinced Sarah would not be surprised by the knowledge. She knew she was being watched; he thought she knew why, or had some suspicion why—and it had nothing to do with frightened neighbors.
It was an answer he wanted.
Sarah glanced toward the fire without comment as she passed through the living room, then turned on a couple of lamps and went into the kitchen area.
“I didn’t know how you took yours,” Tucker said, lifting his coffee cup in a slight gesture.
She poured a cup of coffee for herself, taking it black. “No problem. Look, it’s after six; I have some ready-made stew and bread in the freezer, if you’re planning to stay for supper.”
Tucker had to smile at the wording. “I’d hate to impose.”
“No, you wouldn’t,” she said, either another shrewd guess or certain knowledge. Whichever, it was accompanied by a slight smile as Sarah began getting out a pot and the frozen stew, and turning on the oven for the bread.
Tucker reclaimed his stool at the breakfast bar, sitting beside a cat who was neatly washing his paws and face after his own meal. “Okay, so I wouldn’t hate it. I’ve got the nerve of a burglar, according to most of my friends. But I was trained right; if you’re going to do the cooking, I’ll do the dishes.”
“Suits me.” She put the bagged stew into the microwave to thaw, then leaned back against the counter and sipped her coffee, looking across the space separating them at Tucker. “Are you planning to spend the night?”
That question would have bothered Tucker, except for the fact that she sounded totally disinterested in the subject. “That depends on you.”
“I told you I didn’t mind being alone. There are no monsters in the closet or under my bed; I just checked.” She wasn’t smiling.
Neither was Tucker when he said, “There’s one outside. Watching. Wearing a black leather jacket.”
Her eyes seemed to flicker slightly. “You saw him?”
“Yes. A few minutes ago, before it started getting dark. Who is he, Sarah?”
“I don’t know.”
“Why is he watching you?”
“I don’t know.”
Tucker shook his head. “And yet you aren’t worried about it? I don’t buy that.”
“Why worry about something you can’t change?” She shrugged.
“Then you do know why he’s watching.”
Sarah hesitated, then shook her head. “No. I—don’t know the why of any of it. Just the fact of it.”
Baffled, Tucker frowned and watched her turn to get the stew out of the microwave and put it in a pot on the stove. “So what is the fact of it?” he asked her.
“He’s watching me. He’s waiting. And sooner or later, he’ll do what he came here to do.”
“I don’t know.”
After a moment, Tucker drew a deep breath. “Yeah, I’m spending the night,” he said flatly.
She looked back over her shoulder at him, her eyes flickering again. “To guard the door? To keep the monster out? Don’t bother. You can’t save me from him.”
Her fatalistic attitude irritated Tucker. “At least I’m willing to try, which is more than I can say for you. Where’s the phone? This is something Sergeant Lewis should know about.”
“He can’t save me either,” she said softly, returning her attention to the stew.
“Why the hell not? He’s a cop, isn’t he? It’s his job.”
Sarah shook her head. “To protect and serve? No. There’s nothing he can do—even if he believed me. Even if he believed you. And he wouldn’t.”
“You can’t know that.”
She turned toward him again, leaning back against the counter and picking up her coffee cup. She was smiling. “Can’t I? Then you’ve wasted a trip, haven’t you, Tucker?”
It silenced him, but only for a moment. “You’re not going to do anything about that guy out there? Not even report to the police?”
“Not even report to the police. I’ve learned to accept what I can’t change.”
“You accepted me awfully easily,” he said curiously. “Why? Was our meeting—meant to be?” The question wasn’t nearly as mocking as he had intended it to sound.
“I recognized you,” she replied with yet another shrug.
“Recognized me? From where?”
“I had seen you.” There was an evasive note in her voice, something Tucker was quick to pick up on.
“Where had you seen me, Sarah?”
There was a moment of silence. She looked steadily down at her cup, a slight frown between her brows. Then, finally, softly, she said, “I had seen you in my dreams. My . . . waking nightmares.”
“You mean you had a vision and I was in it?”
Sarah almost flinched. “I hate that word. Vision. It makes me sound like some cheap carnival sideshow mystic. Pay your money and come into the tent, and Madam Sarah will look into her crystal ball and tell you your future. All filled with hope and dreams. Except that isn’t what I do. I don’t have a crystal ball. And I can’t get answers on demand.”
Patient, Tucker brought her back to the point. “All right, then. You had seen me in your—waking nightmares. You had seen me in your future. So you knew you could trust me?”
Her slight frown returned. “It has nothing to do with trust. I saw you. I knew you’d be there. When it happens. I knew you weren’t involved in it. At least—I don’t believe you are. But you’re there. When it happens.”
The writer in Tucker was going crazy with her tenses, but he thought he understood her. At least up to a point. “When what happens, Sarah?”
She looked at him, finally. Her gaze was steady and her voice matter-of-fact when she replied, “When they kill me.”
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