Tara rested her head on Peter’s chest while they lay in his bed, watching TV. She kicked the blanket off of her, and then sighed. She should be happy. She finally had a family of sorts—a boyfriend who would do anything for her, and a best friend who was more like a sister. But she wasn’t happy, and she couldn’t tell anyone.
Peter’s bed was somehow more comfortable than hers, and he seemed to want her there. That didn’t stop her from feeling terrible over waking him up—for the third time that week. Her plush bed looked inviting, but it was home to her horrible nightmares. At least she wished they were nightmares…
She used to find solace in Zanya, back in the orphanage, when they were all each other had. Funny how life had changed so much, so fast. Best friends, they spent their entire lives dreaming of a future outside of the orphanage’s walls, only to be sucked into a reality that surpassed even their idea of insane.
Back then it was Zanya whose dreams were filled with terror.
They’d been taken from the orphanage to Renato’s estate in Belize, where they’d experienced so much, and discovered Zanya’s dreams were real. Then they traveled to Moscow. That’s when things had gone from bad to terrible for Tara.
Her throat tightened. She curled her fingers around Peter’s T-shirt. Half asleep and with the TV on, he didn’t seem to notice.
She fought to stay awake out of fear of reliving her time spent with Sarian, the underworld general. The nightly reminders hadn’t gone away. In fact, they had only gotten worse.
It was just like when she was a kid, before she was taken from her mother by child protective services. Then, the fear of another encounter with her mother’s “boyfriends” had coiled around her in a paralyzing way, stalking her day and night.
Her eyelids grew heavy, and her muscles ached for just a few hours of sleep. Being close to Peter somehow made it all better, for the moment. He chased away her demons and made her forget.
Peter pushed one of her curls aside and placed a soft kiss behind her ear. “How are you feeling?” he said in a groggy whisper.
She shrugged. He nudged her shoulder with his chin and rested his lips on the curve of her neck. His breath teased her skin.
She smiled and cringed away. “Knock it off. You know I’m ticklish.”
“Mmm.” He trailed kisses down to her shoulder.
The tickling subsided, and Tara’s eyes fluttered closed. Her lips parted, fingers tightening around the blankets underneath her.
The smell of fresh rain filled the air. God, she loved his scent. The first time Peter had stepped close to her at Renato’s house, it had washed over her like a wave of relief. After that, she just couldn’t stay away.
“You think you can get some sleep?” he whispered. “You need it.”
Tara composed herself and nodded. Even though he didn’t push the issue, a tiny piece of her wished he’d keep kissing her neck to see where it went—see if she felt comfortable, without committing to anything from the beginning. After all, it was she who didn’t want to take the next step in their relationship. Peter, however, would never put her into a situation she didn’t ask for. He loved her too much. It was the first time she had experienced that kind of commitment from anyone. There was no way she’d risk ruining it with sex.
Tara sat up, rubbing the tight muscles in her neck. Every nightmare threw her body into a more tense and agitated state. Her appetite was all but gone, her sense of humor dimmed, and since the flashbacks had become more vivid, she’d nearly lost the ability to smile.
Peter’s hands replaced hers and worked around her shoulders, massaging the knots into submission. Warmth radiated from his fingertips and spread through her body, soothing the tension. His healing ability had come in handy more than once over the last few weeks.
She exhaled and melted into him. “Thanks.” She glanced at the digital clock. It was almost four in the morning. Guilt tore at her. “I really have to stop coming in here every time a memory breaks through. I’m not five.”
“No, what you really have to do is tell Marzena that you’re remembering more.”
Marzena, the group’s dreamwalker, had helped Tara unlock the hidden door in her mind, allowing them to find the memories to locate Sarian. If only she could go back in time and block that door with concrete and chains to seal the memories inside…
“I won’t do that,” Tara said. “Not yet anyway. It’s not that bad.” Only bad enough to wake her in a cold sweat with her stomach knotted and muscles so tender she was achy for days. “Besides, she isn’t even in Moscow, so it’s not like she could do anything about it.”
“She would come back if you needed her.”
“Well, I don’t.” Not if that meant putting her issues on display. “She already reached into my head once. I don’t need her doing it again.”
Peter leaned forward and wrapped his arms around her. “Even if it’ll help?” He kissed her temple. “Come on, Tara. You know you can’t keep doing this.”
He was right, but she couldn’t admit it aloud. She had been so selfish, staggering to his bedroom, shaking like a leaf. Not exactly a romantic midnight rendezvous. “I’m sorry I keep dragging you into this.”
If she could just leave him alone, at least one of them would get some rest and not feel like a zombie.
With her stomach in knots, she scooted to the side of the mattress and stared blankly at the wall. Lights from the TV danced, casting shadows over the room.
“Whatever you’re dealing with, I’m here for you.” His voice was soft and comforting.
She swallowed down the urge to cry.
Zanya was still working to counter Sarian by travelling decades into the past with Renato, Arwan, Hawa, and Jayden, leaving Marzena, Tara, and Peter behind. Tara had tried to curb her bitterness about that, especially since she had nobody to channel it toward. It wasn’t Zanya’s choice to leave them. That’s what she kept telling herself, anyway.
Tara rubbed her throbbing eyes. It was probably good that Marzena had gone back to Belize to manage the workers while they patched up the damage to Renato’s house. It needed to be done before they all went back—if they went back. Renato’s house had already become her home. Her heart ached at the memory of it under attack. And with Marzena gone, no one had to know Tara was steadily losing her mind. Again.
Peter grabbed the remote and flipped through the channels. “There’s nothing on that’s not in Russian.”
She glanced at the screen. Had the actors been speaking Russian? Showed how much she’d been paying attention. He stopped on a news station with a woman speaking English in a heavy Russian accent. Behind her, emergency lights from police cars and ambulances flashed. Tara sighed and slumped her shoulders forward. “The news?”
“There’s nothing else on.” He lifted the remote. “You want me to just turn it off?”
She shook her head. “Nah. Leave it. At least it’s in English.” She tuned in for the first time.
“Officers responded to a call of a suspected gang clash outside of the Moscow Academy of Science. Authorities say a confrontation occurred between a student and an alleged gang member when the student’s younger sister was forced into a gang-marked vehicle. The victim, who was wounded at the scene, was a freshman. Sadly, he died before the ambulance could respond, while the alleged attacker, who was also wounded, is now being treated at the Yakimanka Hospital where he is in critical condition.”
Tara pushed the power button on the remote and the screen winked off. “I changed my mind. Even if it is in English, that’s just depressing.”
“Poor guy,” she whispered, imagining the look of terror on the brother’s face while his little sister was being dragged away. “I hope they get her back.”
Peter moved to the far side of the bed. “Get who back?”
“The girl who was kidnapped.”
“Yeah.” His yawn deepened her guilt. “Come on.” He patted the mattress. “Lie down next to me.”
It was still dark out. If she left now, he could catch at least a few hours of sleep before the morning. She stood up and walked toward the door.
“Where are you going?”
She paused with her fingers wrapped around the handle. “I’m letting you get some rest. I’ll be fine until morning.”
Whether that would prove true or not, only time would tell.