Erika awoke to the warm blankets wrapped snuggly around her shoulders. Moonlight seeped through the wispy drapes. Had she slept all day and into the night? What exactly were those pills Gerard had given her? Her ribs protested when she tried to move, but she gritted her teeth against the pain and sat up a little. She was still wearing the flannel shirt, buttons intact. It was just a dream. It-
This isn't the same shirt. Even in the shadows of the bedroom, she could see that this shirt was darker in color. When she shifted, she felt the slight bruising of her pelvic bone and her sore thigh muscles, and images from the dream exploded through her head of the man fucking her with urgency and force.
Man? Are you sure it was a man? She could still feel the knot rolling up his cock and locking him in. That wasn't natural. And the sharpness of his teeth?
She shook her head and laughed anxiously. "What're you saying?" she whispered uneasily, "That you're being fucked by an…animal?" You're losing your fucking mind, woman. He's just a man. So why did he only show up at night? But just before he'd left her bed, he'd seemed different somehow, less-
A quiet knock on the door quickened her pulse. She hurriedly reached for the lamp on the nightstand and tugged the short chain. The light was dim and did little to extinguish the shadows, but rather shoved them to the edges of the bedroom. "Y-Yes?"
The door opened and Gerard entered. "Do you feel up to taking dinner in the dining room, ma'dam?"
"Uh…" Erika glanced at her shirt, underneath which she was naked. "I don't have any…"
Gerard walked to large antique wardrobe and opened the tall narrow doors. He plucked out a small suitcase and brought it to the bed, laying it across the foot. Her suitcase, from the car. He straightened and gazed at her softly. "I'll be back up in a few minutes to escort you to the dining room."
Erika nodded and watched him leave, then looked at the suitcase. She crawled carefully out of bed and opened it, taking out a clean pair of pants, a shirt, and fresh under garments. She shed the flannel shirt and pulled on the clothes. She went to stand before the tall oval mirror in the corner. She shuddered as she leaned closer and touched her fingertips to her cheek, sliced up from the wreck. Her hand was wrapped in a bandage but still throbbed severely.
Images from her dream…or whatever it was…drifted up behind her eyes as she stared at her reflection. Topaz eyes…dark hair…soft lips. "What is happening?" she whispered thickly, tears beginning to rise. She hugged herself even as her body responded to the memory. It frightened her that she craved this lover whose face she hadn't even really seen. She could feel herself becoming addicted to him, like a drug. A deep primal need consuming her - the need to be with him.
Her heart raced wildly. What the hell was wrong with her?
The rate of her pulse was still heightened when Gerard returned and led her downstairs to the dining room. The entire manor had an ancient air to it, and even the dining table was of thick polished wood with intricate designs carved along the edges and down the legs.
"This…is an amazing place." Erika murmured when Gerard held her chair for her.
She glanced around. Large portrait paintings hung along the walls. "Are they ancestors of…Mr. Foxland?"
Gerard nodded slowly, "In a manner of speaking."
"What-" Erika stopped abruptly when a young man of eighteen or nineteen entered and took a seat across the table from Erika. He was cute with an innocent face and sandy blond locks that dropped down into his eyes which she couldn't see the color of because he kept them cast downward shyly.
"Laddy." Gerard spoke to the boy softly and the kid raised his head, revealing sapphire eyes so beautiful and stark in color it took Erika's breath away - and incited a rush of déjà vu. Your eyes, they look... "Say hello to our guest."
When Gerard didn't introduce her, she realized she had never told him her name. "I'm Erika." She told the boy, smiling. "Erika James."
An uncertain smile pulled at his lips and he met her gaze briefly then averted his lovely eyes and absently brushed a strand of blond back away from his face, revealing a faint scar cutting back across his temple. "It's nice to see you again." He whispered, then stiffened. His eyes shot to Gerard, almost fearfully.
Erika frowned. "Again?" she asked, her eyes locked on the scar. "Have we-"
"Forgive the boy." A new male voice intervened and Erika glanced from Laddy to the dining room doorway - and gasped softly when she was met with a pair of topaz eyes beneath a head of mostly controlled black hair, with the exception of a couple sable strands escaping down over the man's forehead. His stare held hers as he moved around the table. "He sometimes gets confused." His hand touched the boy's shoulder and slid across it affectionately and the kid calmed, lowering his eyes again.
The man worked his way around to the head of the table and held out his hand to Erika. "I'm Tobias." He smiled. "Tobias Foxland."
Why were you in my dream? The sudden thought nearly jumped off her lips but she pulled it back. It was just one of those weird happenings, surely. She accepted his hand and he squeezed firmly, inciting another bout of déjà vu. "Erika." She said thickly.
"James." He nodded and smiled. "I caught your introduction to Laddy."
She swallowed thickly, unnerved by the familiarity of his touch and the sudden heat it incited in her body.
He took his seat at the head of the table and nodded to Gerard, who disappeared into the kitchen. Erika licked her lips anxiously, uncertain what to say to this man. She reached for the first thing that came to mind. "Were you…" she met his eyes. "…the one who found me?"
"Yes." He picked up a decanter of wine and filled their glasses, and then Laddy's. "I saw the tire tracks of your car where they went off the road. If it hadn't been for the vehicle catching fire, I might never have found you. Luckily, the rig didn't explode. It could have well caused a small avalanche of snow and rock to come down on you."
She nodded slowly. "Thank you."
Tobias smiled and his gaze enamored her for a moment. "It's always my honor to rescue a damsel in distress."
Smiling, she bit her lip then ducked her head as the smile faded off.
"How did you…go off the road?" he asked.
Erika stiffened as the memory returned in a rush. The child. The little boy had run out in front of her. Or had all that been her imagination? Could it have just been an animal - and everything else conjured up by her traumatized mind? "Uh…" she licked her lips then cleared her throat. "I thought I saw…a child in the road. And swerved to miss him." She swallowed thickly. "But…I don't know…maybe it was nothing…a trick of the night."
Tobias leaned on his elbows and steepled his fingertips against his lips. "What else do you remember?"
"I…" Erika frowned. "I remember the Jeep going over the bank, crawling out, then…the river. I almost fell in the river. And…" she hesitated, brow pinching harder. Had the little boy really been there? It all seemed so…surreal now. More like a dream than reality. And the…thing that had come out of the trees…the hunter and the teen kid…none of it seemed real anymore.
Erika raised her eyes and Laddy was staring at her, head still ducked a bit, watching her with those beautiful blue eyes from beneath thick blond lashes. What was it about those eyes that seemed so…familiar? Her gaze drifted up to the scar and lingered.
"Do you remember anything else?" Tobias asked quietly.
"I'm…not sure." She whispered. "I think…I was dreaming." Her gaze shifted from Laddy to Tobias. "I thought I saw the boy…down by the river. He was…bleeding and crying for…his mom."
A slight tension pinched Tobias' brow and a faint sheen glossed his eyes before he looked away. When she turned her focus back to Laddy, the boy's head was ducked lower, his hair covering his face, but she thought she saw a tear slide down his cheek before he quickly wiped it away.
Tobias cleared his throat and when he looked at her again, there was no trace of the sheen of tears. "What were you doing up this way…if I may ask?"
"I…" her throat knotted and an ache squeezed her chest. "I came up here to…" She shook her head and bit her lip, eyes burning. "To honor my brother's memory, I guess. He…died a year ago."
"I'm sorry." Tobias murmured. "He's buried up here?"
"No." Erika sniffed then cleared her throat. "Not exactly. I…spread his ashes up along his favorite hiking trail. He was…" her vision blurred. "He was too much of a free spirit, back to nature kind of person to be…buried in the ground. I knew he wouldn't want that." She wiped at her eyes with her fingertips. "He loved the country up here. Even had a cabin that he stayed in most of the year. It was like…he was in love with this place. I could see it in his eyes when he would visit me. Like he couldn't wait to get back." Her chin trembled and she looked at Tobias. "He didn't have to say it for me to know that…this was home to him. Isaac wouldn't have wanted to be buried somewhere away from here."
She pressed her napkin to her eyes then glanced up when Laddy suddenly stood and left the table, head down. She watched him leave then met Tobias' gaze. The sheen was back in his eyes, thicker than before.
"Did I say something wrong?" she asked thickly. "I didn't mean to…"
"No." Tobias assured. "Don't worry about Laddy."
Erika glanced towards the doorway where the young man had disappeared, and for reasons that eluded her…her heart broke for the boy
The flames warmed his back as he sat on the hearth, elbows resting on his knees. He gazed blankly at the floor, his throat tight.
He was…crying for his mom.
Tears were rolling down his face before he knew they had broken. He let them go, dripping onto the floor. Someone sat down beside him. He didn't need to look to know who it was. Laddy laid his head on his shoulder, his own warm tears seeping into Tobias' shirt.
"I'm sorry…I couldn't save her, Laddy." Tobias' hands slid up over his face and he cried. "I tried."
Laddy hugged him, body trembling with quiet sobs. "I know." He choked softly. "I know, Uncle Tobias."