Word Count 2, 012
“Johnny…” The whisper was light as a feather, feminine and haunting, coming from everywhere, coming from nowhere.
Johnny slowly shifted on the sofa and listened, his heart beating a little faster. He was alone in the great room, the crackling logs in the fireplace his only companion.
“Johnny…” A warm breath touched his right ear.
He set his book down on the cushion next to him, the page forgotten. Last night, as he was drifting off to sleep, he’d thought he heard light footsteps walking past his bedroom door. He’d grabbed his gun and searched the entire house but found nothing.
His heart slowly inched up toward his throat. He wasn’t dropping off to sleep now.
The room was bathed in a soft glow from the lamps and sconces. Shadows danced on the high ceiling as the fire roared in the hearth. Most nights the pools of light spilling onto the walls and floor were comforting. But tonight there was a chill in the air that neither light nor fire could push away. Why had he never noticed how large this room was? Was it the massive furniture and heavy drapes that disguised its true size? Or was it the huge presence of Murdoch Lancer that dwarfed the room? His very presence seemed to command every room he stood in. But Murdoch was in San Francisco with Scott and Teresa. He remembered how he had talked and cajoled until he had convinced them that he would be fine alone for two weeks, that he looked forward to the time alone. He’d cringed at the thought of dressing up to go to the theater or some highfaluting restaurant. Even worse was the thought of sitting at Murdoch’s side through long boring meetings.
Looking around the room he saw reminders of Murdoch everywhere: his humidor sitting on his desk, with his pipe ready for fresh tobacco. Scott and Teresa were there too, the chess set, the basket of socks and shirts waiting to be mended. He couldn’t deny it. Johnny Madrid Lancer was feeling lonely. Funny how he had been alone most of his life, but seldom felt lonely. Now he missed his family, a feeling he never would have felt three years ago.
Johnny wished they were here right now to push away the voice that echoed in his mind.
Had he really heard it?
Damn if he wasn’t letting his imagination get the better of him. He was dead tired. A half full glass of Murdoch’s fine sipping whiskey sat on the coffee. It didn’t explain why he felt so damn worn out, like he hadn’t slept in days.
“Johnny…” The melodious voice called, seemingly coming from everywhere in the room. He jumped to his feet and spun around just in time to see a dark shadow pass the candle burning on the dining table. A soft scent filled the room. Mimosa. How did he know that?
The scent grew stronger, cloying, replacing the air with its sweetness. Suddenly, he couldn’t breathe. His legs buckled and he slumped back onto the sofa, a soft blackness descending over him.
“Johnny… Don’t be frightened. I have waited so long for you.”
A soft invisible hand stroked his face, tingling fingers walked down his neck, his shoulder, until a firm hand cupped his elbow. Every fiber of his being wanted to fight, to push the offending hand away, but the scent of mimosa was overpowering, seeping into his mind.
He was standing before he realized he had gotten to his feet again.
“Come with me…”
Johnny felt powerless to fight. He walked up the stairs, his feet barely touching the steps.
He followed the hypnotic scent of the mimosa, his mind screaming to stop, but he couldn’t. Step after step he walked down the hallway, passed Murdoch’s room and then Scott’s. The click of his bedroom door sounded overly loud as the door slowly opened. One candle burned on his nightstand. Fear broke through the sent of mimosa and took a step back. He had left the covers a tangled mess this morning. Now the bed was made, the sheet turned down, inviting.
“No…” He groaned. This wasn’t happening.
The hand on his elbow tightened painfully. He tried to stand his ground, but he had no control over his movements. He walked toward the bed, his footsteps so light they barely made a sound on the hardwood floor. A faint shadow waited for him, pressed against his body. He had the inexorable need to fold his arms around the shadow. It had substance and form, soft and feminine.
His knees buckled and he sagged onto the edge of the bed. Invisible hands pushed his shoulders back and he sank into the softness of the mattress. His feet were raised, one at a time, and his boots flew across the room, landing with a loud thud on the floor.
Johnny’s heart pounded in his throat, in his head. He could hardly think. His legs were lifted onto the bed. This couldn’t be happening.
“Don’t fight me, Johnny. You are mine tonight.”
He squeezed his eyes shut. It was a dream. A nightmare. It had to be. If he opened them again he would be downstairs on the sofa, Murdoch’s whiskey bottle all but empty. One glass must have led to another. Why didn’t he drink tequila?
No…! Fingers slowly unbuttoned his shirt, the ringlets of hair on his chest twisted and tugged enticingly. His arms felt boneless as each shirtsleeve was tugged and pulled until his shirt fell to the floor.
“What do you want?” Johnny whispered, his voice catching in his throat.
A soft giggle filled the room. “Has it been so long, Johnny? Have you forgotten our time together?” A furtive shadow passed between him and the candle, blocking out the light. “You said you loved me. Promised me that there would never be another woman. Remember the perfume I wore that night?”
Johnny’s mind reeled. Mimosa. How did he know that name? Invisible fingers walked down his stomach, played with his belt buckle. The horror of what was about to happen slammed into him like a sledge hammer. He could barely breathe. He tried to lift his arms to push the invading hands away, but they lay at his side, too heavy to move. He watched in disbelief as his belt unbuckled. The bottom of his pant legs jerked and his pants began to slide over his hips, down his thighs until they fell to the floor. He was naked except for his short long johns.
A soft dry kiss brushed his cheek. “I’ve been watching you, waiting until you were alone, when we could meet again.”
He cringed as fingers made their way under the waistband of his long johns. Fingers that searched, touched, explored. His skin crawled with each touch.
“I thought you were mine when you were shot. You were so very close to joining me. Then they took you away from me. Called you back to the living. I can’t stand the loneliness anymore. I can’t watch your happiness knowing that I am not a part of it.”
The shadow began to take on more shape. Tendrils of fog swept away from the silhouette of a face like long flowing hair. Fingers of mist played with his chest again, continued to roam beneath his long johns.
“I’ve come to take what is mine.”
“I’m not yours,” Johnny gasped as she draped her body over his. He could feel her melt into him, his bones aching as the cold mist descended deeper into his body.
“Dios, please, help me,” he cried.
“God knows you belong to me.”
The mist darkened and a face formed in the swirling fog.
“You remember. I knew you would.”
Her hair cascaded over his face, her lips touching his and Johnny remembered the sweet kisses they had shared in the loft of her father’s barn. For him, it was a night of pleasure, among many others. But for Amanda, it had been a promise of love.
“I’m sorry, Amanda. I didn’t mean to hurt you. I didn’t know.”
Pain erupted inside him, burning hot and freezing cold. He couldn’t get his breath.
“You didn’t care. Pa said I was a fool for waiting. I told him you would return.” Her voice turned hateful. “But I meant nothing to you. Just a toy to play with and throw away.”
“No…” Johnny remembered the night. He’d been hiding in her family’s barn for days, so tired from running that he couldn’t have taken another step. She came to him everyday, her dress pulled off her shoulder, her voice as sweet as honey, tempting him, wanting him. She’d climbed up into the loft, her skirt bundled in her hands, treating him to glimpses of what awaited him.
“You broke my heart.”
Her hand slipped inside his chest, through skin and bone, tightening around his heart. “Now I’m going to break yours.”
He couldn’t breathe. He didn’t want to die. Not now. Not when he had found a home and family. When he had found a happiness he never knew could be his.
“Amanda…” His voice was no more than a rush of air.
“Johnny!” A new voice rang in his ears, raw with fear, and Amanda hissed at the intrusion.
“They can’t have you. You’re mine!” Amanda screamed.
“Do something!” The voice was frantic. “I can’t lose him. I can’t lose my son again.”
“You’re mine.” Ropes of fog encircled his ankles, wrapped around his legs, his thighs.
“Johnny fight!” Johnny knew that voice. Scott?
“They don’t need you. I do!” Amanda’s face faded away to a black malignant shadow hovering over his face. The tendrils of fog pulled tighter and tighter, inching up his body, slowly spinning around his waist up to his chest, trapping his arms at his sides. It continued to encircle him squeezing the life out of him.
“Damn it, Johnny, don’t do this!” Hands warm and comforting slipped beneath his back and raised him up. He could smell the sweet aroma of pipe tobacco.
Amanda’s rage intensified. The ropes of fog tightened around his chest and he couldn’t get a breath. He gasped for air that couldn’t reach his lungs.
“I love you, Son.”
Amanda screamed in agony, the tendrils of fog evaporating into the air. Johnny took a deep breath, his lungs filling with air.
“He’s coming back.” Johnny heard Scott shout. “He’s going to make it.”
Johnny’s bedroom disappeared. Night turned to day and he was lying on the sofa, Murdoch and Scott hovering over him.
He could barely find the strength to ask the question. “What happened?”
“We came home to find you here, passed out.” Murdoch combed his fingers through Johnny’s sweat damp hair. “Teresa’s getting some cool towels. You’re burning up with fever. Sam’s been sent for. How long have you been sick?”
Johnny shrugged. “I was fine until last night. I had a headache and laid down here.”
“You had us pretty worried there for a time, Brother. You weren’t breathing when we found you. We thought we’d lost you.”
He thought he was lost too. The dream had been so vivid. He could still smell the mimosa clinging to his skin. He cringed at the memories of her…
“Here, Johnny, this will make you feel better.” Teresa placed a cool towel on his forehead.
“Thanks, Teresa. It does feel good.”
“Oh, I almost forgot.” Teresa pulled a silk handkerchief from her skirt pocket. “I found this on the coffee table when we got home.” She sniffed it and smiled. “Mimosa. You had company while we were gone?”
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