“Oh, God,” another female voice choked out. He looked up to spy Holly Dennison, a set designer, for Christ’s sake. Hand clapped over her mouth, she was backing up. Her huge eyes were round with sheer horror. “Oh, God, oh, God, oh, God.”
He ignored her; turned back to the actress lying on the wet street. What the hell had happened? No one was supposed to get hurt on the set of Dead Heat. Other movie-set tragedies slid through his mind as he heard the sound of footsteps and conversation buzzing around him. “For fuck’s sake, someone call nine-one-one!”
“On their way,” the producer said as the medic, talking rapidly into a cell phone and carrying a bag, finally hurried to Lucinda’s side.
“Back off,” the man, all of twenty-two, nearly shouted.
Gratefully Arnette gave up his post, climbing to his feet and stepping backward, knowing in his heart that it was too late. The harsh klieg lights illuminated her beautiful, motionless face. And just like Shondie Kent, the character she’d been so feverishly portraying, it appeared Lucinda Rinaldi was dead.
The nightmare was relentless.
Like a vaporous shadow it seemed to slip under her door and through the window casings, shifting and swirling through the hospital room before steadfastly pushing into Cassie’s brain, infiltrating her dreams as she desperately tried to sleep.
No amount of medications or willpower could stop the nightmare from sliding a kaleidoscope of painful pictures through her subconscious. Tonight, in her mind’s eye she saw it all again. Lightning sizzled across the sky. Thunder clapped. Rain poured from the heavens.
She and Allie, her little sister, were running frantically for their very lives.
The crack of a rifle exploded and she jumped, startled, the noises and visions racing through her head so real, so damned real. “No more,” she whispered, and let out the breath she hadn’t been aware she’d been holding.
Slowly she opened her eyes and saw the digital readout of her clock. Three AM. Again. Every damned night. Jittery as always from the nightmare, she slid off her hospital bed and walked to the window where rain ran in jagged rivulets against the glass. Her room was located on the fourth floor of this wing, part of the original building built over a century earlier. She peered into the darkness, past the parking lot flanked by hundred-year-old rhododendrons. Farther down the hillside the city of Portland stretched in myriad lights that pulsed along the snaky blackness that was the Willamette River. Bridges linked the river’s shor
es and streams of lights blurred as cars and trucks sped across the concrete and steel spans connecting the city’s sprawling east side to its hilly west. Atop this hill, Mercy Hospital was afforded a breathtaking view of the city. If one chose to be inspired.
With her index finger, Cassie traced the path of a raindrop on the pane, the glass cool to her touch. Slowly, as it always did, her heartbeat returned to normal and the nightmare thankfully withered into the hidden corners of her subconscious again. “Just leave me alone,” she muttered as if the dream could hear. “Go away!” She was sick of being trapped here in this damned hospital, plagued by the nightmare and exhausted from lack of sleep.
Angry at herself and the whole damned situation, she made her way to the bed, slid between the sheets, and drew the thin blanket to her neck. Sleep would prove elusive, she knew, and she considered picking up the book she’d tried to read, a mystery novel that was lying on the table beside her plastic water container and a phone that looked like it had come straight out of the eighties, or maybe even an earlier decade. But her gaze wandered back to the window where, in the glass, she spied a watery reflection, a dark figure backlit by the illumination slicing into the room from the doorway.
Her heart nearly stopped.
She swung her head around and expected the room to be empty, that the image she saw was imagined, a play of light and dark, a figment of her imagination, but she was wrong. A tall woman in a nurse’s uniform stood in the doorway, garbed in an outfit straight out of the fifties or early sixties: crisp, pointed cap; white dress; pale nylon stockings; heavy-duty shoes; and tiny red cross earrings. In her hands, she carried an old-fashioned clipboard and a medical chart, and she ignored the computer monitor mounted near the bed. The thin scent of smoke followed her into the room.
It was all weird as hell.
“You work here?” Cassie asked, not completely sure she wasn’t dreaming. What was this? The nurse was almost ghostlike in appearance, her skin pale and sallow, her eyes buried so deep in her skull their color was in question.
Staring down at Cassie, she didn’t try to take her vital signs or offer medication or anything.
“Who are you?” Cassie asked, and her fingers moved on the bed rail to the nurse’s call button as she searched the snowy uniform for some kind of name tag. None was visible in the half-light.
“Your sister is alive.”
“Your sister..” The woman’s voice was flat, her face with its deep-set, haunted eyes expressionless. “She’s not dead.”
“How do you know?” God, this had to be a dream. Allie had been missing since the time she hadn’t shown up for the final shot of Dead Heat. “Have you talked to her? Seen her?”
Cassie asked, “Where is she?” And when that didn’t garner a response, added, “Of course she’s alive.” Allie had to be okay. She just had to. No way would Cassie let the doubts creep in, the doubts that had been shouted across the tabloids, screamed in all those horrid blogs, discussed on fan-based chat and message boards, regurgitated over and over again in celebrity news media that Allie Kramer, one of Hollywood’s brightest stars, was missing and feared dead. Speculation ran rampant that she’d been kidnapped or committed suicide or been murdered, or come to some deadly fate, but it was all just gossip. No one knew where Allie Kramer was, least of all Cassie, and she felt miserable about it. Allie who had been such a sweet, sensitive child until the monster had come. Long ago, in one of the coldest winters on record, their world had been shattered and Allie had never recovered. Nor, she supposed, had she. Now her insides shivered and she twisted the blanket in her fingers.