By: Maya Banks

Taggert’s voice sounded urgently, close to her, and she turned frantically to him, seeking escape from the horrific image of Sean awash in his own blood.

Her eyes fluttered open to see Taggert on his knees beside the couch, Greer standing behind him. Worry creased their brows. Had she screamed aloud?

She couldn’t catch her breath. The more she sucked in, the tighter her chest became.

Taggert stroked her face with a gentle hand. “Breathe, baby. With me. Look at me.”

She focused on those dark eyes, trying to mimic the slow rise and fall of his chest.

“That’s it, Emmy. In and out. Look at me. See me. You’re safe.”

She gave a deep, shuddering breath as the tightness eased and the air flowed smoothly once more. She gazed helplessly up at him, hating her weakness but knowing she wasn’t strong enough to overcome it. Was she?

She’d overheard Doc Summerston tell Greer and Taggert that she’d given up. Funny, she’d never really thought of it in terms like that. Dying didn’t mean giving up, did it? No one ever bothered to tell her she was alive until Doc issued a sharp reprimand that she was killing herself.

Sean hadn’t given up, and he was dead.

But you’re alive. The tiny voice whispered in the back of her mind.

Oh God. Did she want to live?

“Come here,” Taggert whispered as he gathered her into his arms.

The blanket slipped to her waist as she leaned toward him. He simply plucked her from the couch and sat down with her on his lap. Greer sat beside them and propped her legs over his lap.

“Bad dream?” Greer asked softly.

“Blood,” she blurted. She shuddered violently. “It was everywhere.” She raised her hands to stare at them and then rubbed them frantically over her pants legs. “It was all over my hands. I couldn’t get it off.”

Taggert pressed his lips to her hair and rubbed his hand down the length of her arm. “It’s okay, Emmy. It was just a dream. You’re safe.”

“Make it go away,” she whispered.

He squeezed her tight, and she snuggled further into his embrace. It was ironic that for so long she would have given anything to be here in Taggert’s arms, close to Greer. All that was missing was Sean.

She stiffened and bowed her head, shrinking from his embrace.

“Don’t,” Taggert said huskily. “I know you hurt. But don’t push me away. Not like I…”

…pushed you away.

The words hung between them in the thick silence that ensued. She didn’t want to go there. Not now. She simply couldn’t have this conversation. It was much easier to pretend that day never happened, that she’d never bared her soul and that Taggert and Greer hadn’t rejected her.

Slowly she laid her head back on his broad chest and stared mutely at Greer. His hand ran over her leg, pausing occasionally to offer a light squeeze.

What had changed? They confused her, and she was too exhausted to figure them out.

“Emmy,” Greer began, his voice hesitant, “sweet pea, you’ve got to start living again.”

She flinched and looked away, but Greer reached forward, cupped her chin and forced her gaze back to him.

“We miss him too.”

She went very still in Taggert’s arms. No one had said Sean’s name since her arrival. No one had mentioned him even indirectly.

“I’d like to go to bed,” she croaked.

Greer’s lips firmed, and he looked like he’d argue. He pulled away from her and ran a frustrated hand through his hair.

“All right, Emmy. But tomorrow things are going to change.”

She heard the warning in his statement, but that was tomorrow, and it was all she could do to deal with today. Tomorrow…that was a long time away, and she’d take it one day at a time.

Chapter Five

The gentle strains of a guitar woke Emily from her sleep. She blinked fuzzily, wondering if it was just part of a dream. It was still dark outside, but a quick glance at the clock told her dawn wasn’t far off.

A haunting melody, so simple and beautiful, floated over her ears. Her chin trembled. It was the first song she’d recorded—a song she’d written long ago when she and the Donovan brothers had spent a spring afternoon in the rain. Mountain Rain.

She closed her eyes and let the chords take her back to the nights spent round a campfire, Sean playing the guitar while she sang. Taggert and Greer sat by the fire, their long legs stretched out, their brims pulled low over their foreheads and their worn boots reflecting the flicker of the flames.

Drawn to the music, she eased out of bed and walked into the hallway to stand at the top of the stairs. Clad in only her flannel PJs, she followed the sound of the guitar down to the living room and realized it was coming from the front porch.