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Chapter One

The ear-piercing shriek of the smoke alarm continued to blare despite her frantic fanning with the magazine.  Cheese and rice!  Why wasn’t it working?  Picking up the smoking metal with a pot holder, she rushed to the back door and flung it open hoping to release the noxious stench into the backyard and far away from her kitchen.  She tossed out the smoking burner cover and squealed as it landed with a clatter on her back porch, barely missing a pair of shiny black boots.

“I’m so sorry.  I didn’t know you were standing there.”  She took off the oven mitt and fanned it in front of her face.  The disgusting odor of burning paint and scorched aluminum was starting to make her sick.  Shouting to be heard over the perpetual screeching she asked,   “I didn’t hit you with that did I?”

“No ma’am.   I dodged your smoking missile just in the nick of time.”  Speaking equally as loud, Lieutenant Vince Cooper smiled at the frazzled woman standing in the smoky doorway.  “Do you need help?”

“No thanks.  I’ve got this.  I turned on the wrong eye on my stove again and scorched another burner cover.  I seem to be doing that all the time.”  She looked up at the tall, handsome and nicely dressed cowboy standing on her back porch.  She frowned.  “May I help you?”

“I’m Lieutenant Cooper with the Texas Rangers, ma’am.”  He flashed his badge.  “I’d like to ask...,” He stopped because as soon as he flashed his badge she returned inside and began dragging a kitchen chair across the floor.  The next thing he knew she was climbing on it and stretching to remove the cover of the ceiling mounted alarm.

He rushed inside as he saw her wobble unsteadily on the chair.  To be heard over the screaming alarm he shouted, “Let me get that for you before you fall.”  Putting his hands around her waist he easily lifted her off the chair and set her on her feet out of his way.  He moved the chair aside and reached up to remove the cover.  Immediately, a welcome silence fell over the room.

“Sweet sugar, that’s a relief.  Thank you, officer.  I didn’t mean to be rude but all that noise was driving me nuts.”  She waved her hand in front of her face and wrinkled her nose.  She had really stunk up her kitchen.  “Now, how can I help you?” 

Coop watched her brush back the wisps of wavy blonde hair that had fallen out of her hair clip during her minor culinary emergency.   She was an attractive woman who looked to be in her late thirties with hazel eyes and fair smooth skin.  He eyed her dark purple dress which was made of a sheer gauzy material and had sparkly metallic threads running through it.  The sleeves were loose and flowing.  She had on a pair of short black boots that laced up the front and peeked out below her calf length hemline.  He placed her at about 5’6” in her heels.   Although the dress was long and loose, the top was gathered and showed off a hint of full breasts and a narrow waist.  She reminded him of Stevie Nicks from her Fleetwood Mac days, especially with the lace choker she wore at her throat.  There was even new age music playing in the back ground and was that, (sniff-sniff) pot he smelled beneath the lingering scent of burning stove cover? 

“No Sir, that’s not pot you smell underneath that lovely aroma of burning metal.  It’s just some herbs I had drying near the stove.  I think they got singed in the fire.”  When he looked at her oddly she offered to show him.

“That won’t be necessary.  You’re Erica Stevens, correct?”  She nodded and looked at him expectantly.  “I need to ask you about your neighbor Debra Wilson and her daughter Cheyenne.”

“I’m sorry Inspector but I’m fairly new to the neighborhood and haven’t met many of my neighbors.  What about them?”

“It’s Lieutenant and I’m sorry to have to tell you but your neighbor was murdered and her daughter is missing.”

“Goodness gracious, that’s awful.  When-” She stopped abruptly as a familiar sensation of apprehension rushed through her.  Oh no, not now please.

Oblivious to what she was experiencing, Lt. Cooper continued explaining.  “Her body was discovered today by her ex-husband.  We don’t know the time of death but she had been there for a while.” 

Erica put a hand to her mouth as a wave of nausea hit her followed by a vision of a dark haired woman, lying in a pool of blood.  Her blouse was ripped open and one breast was exposed.  She had a gunshot wound in her chest.  Another wave of nausea hit and she felt bile rising up in her throat.  Hurriedly, she turned to leave the kitchen through the inside door.  “I need to get some air.”

She rushed through her small home and out the front door where she staggered to her porch swing.  Sitting, she put her head between her knees, taking deep gulps of air trying to steady her rebellious stomach and stave off the dizziness that was overtaking her.  She looked up as her front door opened and Lt. Cooper followed her onto the porch.  He reached out and cupped her shoulders in concern.

“Are you all right?  You look very pale all of a sudden.”

She nodded breathing deeply in through her nose and out through her mouth.  “The smell in the kitchen got to me.”

He leaned against the porch railing, watching her focus on her deep breathing until it looked like she had regained control.   “Can I get you a drink of water or a wet cloth?”

“No thank you.  I’m starting to feel better.”  She looked at him and her gaze shifted over his shoulder to the police cruisers parked in front of her neighbor’s home.  Lights flashed on an ambulance and a white hearse-like station wagon with medical examiner stenciled on the side.  “She’s dead.”

“Yes.  Can you tell me anything about her?”

“I never met her.  I saw her coming and going and we waved a few times but never spoke.”

“Can I show you some pictures and see if you recognize anyone else?”

She nodded and he turned over a picture.  It was the woman she had seen in her vision but she was smiling into the camera.  “That’s my neighbor.  I didn’t know her name until you told me.”

He nodded and showed her another picture.  It was another of her neighbor only she looked several years younger and was standing with a dark haired man. 

“Ever seen him?” 

“No sir.”

“How about this one; do you recognize this woman?” As he flipped the last picture over she sucked in a deep gulp of air and raised a trembling hand to her mouth. 

“You recognize her?”

She shook her head but then nodded as she took the picture to study it closer.  “I don’t know her but I have seen her before.”

“She lived with her mother.” 

She shook her head again.  “I saw her somewhere else.”

“Where?”

Cheese and Rice! It was the woman from her dreams.  She looked up at the Lieutenant and wondered if he would haul her off to the psych ward if she told him.  At the very least he would bring her in for questioning.  Maybe he would go the route of writing her off as a crackpot only to have to return at some later date when he needed her help.   She had experienced each of the scenarios in equal proportions, and although she risked being thought of as a nut by the first attractive man close to her age she’d  met in a very long time, she had to tell the Lieutenant about her dreams.   


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