(Not professionally edited)
For the first part of the night, Sam had tossed restlessly, captured in her own lust. She dreamt of Ethan and his wonderfully powerful lips, his hands so gentle she thought he touched her with butterfly wings. They made love on a bed of feathers, under a clear starry night. But before complete fulfillment. Frustrated, she’d lain in bed, trying desperately to forget how soft Ethan’s lips had been and how much she wished he were here with her now.
When she’d finally fallen back asleep, she’d dreamt of a lonely little girl, sitting on a dirt floor, whimpering.
“I’m trying to help you, Alexis,” Sam spoke softly, her heart aching for the small child. “But I’m not getting anywhere. If you could tell me something, anything,” she sighed deeply, her eyes taking in the line in the small girls neck where the brutality of a man’s knife had ended her short life. “I am so sorry this happened to you.”
Alexis held out her tiny hand, her big eyes pleading with Sam to follow her.
“Okay, where are we going?” Taking the tiny hand, Sam found herself whisked off into the land of the dead. She shivered, coldness she’d never known before curled angry fingers around her. She knew they’d traveled some place, but Sam couldn’t see where they were. The darkness surrounding her, she felt the cold dirt beneath her feet.
Sam turned to Alexis with confusion. “Where are we?”
Alexis moved like a whispering wind, then knelt down on the ground, urging Sam to do the same.
Slowly, Sam knelt down, following Alexis’s eyes; she saw the mound of fresh tilled dirt before her. “What is this?”
A hand thrust out from beneath the soil to grab hold of her arm. A second followed, and a third, then a forth. They grabbed hold of her, tugging at her, pulling her down, and no amount of struggling could break their grip. A head thrust through the soil, eyes hollow, face decayed and when he opened his mouth, vermin squirmed free.
Sam screamed, falling backwards, she scrambled to get away. Nausea filled her and her eyes burnt with tears. One by one, children, small helpless children, clawed their way out of the ground. There were boys, girls, red hair, blonde hair, and hair the color of dirt. Their faces muddied, some bruised, some already decayed beyond recognition. All so very very innocent.
“Oh, God, no!” So many children, all the children that had gone missing over the past year all clawed their way toward her. Like their hands in the dirt, they dug into her mind.
Gregory Anton, eight: he liked to play soccer and loved eating ice cream, and his death hadn't been easy. Asphyxiation, at the hands of his abductor. Suzie Evans: seven, had kicked and clawed for her life while her abductor violated her, then twisted her neck so that death was fast and hard. She loved her cat Misty. Anna Monroe: five, liked playing with her dolls and annoying her big brother. Her life had been snuffed out by a vicious blow to the head when she’d bitten her assailant as he’d tried to kiss her. Sara Masterson: six. Poor Sara had been held for weeks, endured endless sexual acts, starved when she wouldn’t cooperate. She’d died slowly, agonizingly, wanting her mommy and daddy to save her.
There were so many, and they all called to her for help. Begging, pleading to be found, to be given that final ounce of peace and a sanctuary from their torment. Crawling backwards, desperate to get away from the horror before her, Sam bumped into a wall.
Getting to her feet, she found the door and whisking it open, cringed from the sunlight as it pierced her eyes. Scrubbing her hands over them, Sam tried to focus in on where she was. The shrill ringing broke her out of her dream and Sam bolted up in bed.
Cursing, she slammed her hand on her alarm clock and shut it off. Tossing the blankets aside, Sam ran for her sketchpad. She had to get it down before she lost it all, before it became too fuzzy to remember clearly.
There were trees, plenty of tall old trees full of leaves and birds chirping in the gloriously warm day. The mountains stood gloriously in the background, tall figures even in their distance. And fields, wide open fields. She could still smell it, the strong aroma of hay, animals, and manure. Her hand busy working, she drew feverishly. And when she was done, she looked down, and frowned. Well that could be just about anywhere.
“Okay, think, Sam, think.” She set the pad down to pace, chewing on her pencil. “He has you buried somewhere with lots of trees and open fields. Somewhere that houses animals. A farm!” she said suddenly as it dawned. “A farm, he has you buried on a farm. But where?” She tossed the pencil across the room to have it bounce off the wall and splinter. “Damn it, where are you?” She jumped when her telephone rang.
“You really shouldn’t throw your pencils, Sam.”
“Shut up, Trent,” she spouted at him, still angry for the stunt he’d pulled the night before. She scooped the phone up. “Hello.”
“Sam, its Olivia. I need you to come in as soon as you can. It’s about your Child at Peace plaque. I’ve had an offer.”
Sam’s heart began to thump wildly. “Are you serious? Who?”
“We can discuss that when you come in.”
Hanging up the phone, Sam was perplexed at why Olivia hadn’t just told her who. It didn’t matter. Someone wanted her work and she couldn’t have been happier about it.
Racing to her room, she grabbed a pair of plain grey slacks and a navy sleeveless pullover. Running to the shower, she frowned at Trent as he stood in the doorway. “Excuse me, do you mind?”
“Not at all. I’ve seen you naked before.” He made himself comfortable on the toilet seat, smiling smugly.
Sam narrowed her eyes. “What did we discuss about that, Trent?”
Deflated, his face sunk. “It’s an invasion of your privacy and I should respect that.”
She nodded. “Right. Now get out. I’m still pissed at you for last night. Trust me; you don’t want me angrier at you.”
“We both know what I did was right. I’ll go.” He vanished when she snarled at him.
She huffed. “I know you’re still here, Trent. I can feel you.”
Relieved when she felt his presence vanish, Sam showered as quickly as she could, then hurried back to her room to change. The sketch she’d drawn lay on her disheveled bed and lifting it, Sam sat down. How was she supposed to feel joy about her life when so many children had lost theirs?
“I’ll find you all, I promise.” Setting the sketchbook on her dresser, Sam began to dress.
Sitting in Olivia’s office, Sam could do nothing but stare, mouth open. It took several moments before she could speak. “You’re kidding, right?”
Olivia shook her head rapidly. “I never kid when it comes to art. Mr. Demarra was quite insistent.”
“Why, did he say why?”
“I’m sure you can ask him when you dine with him at lunch.”
“Oh god, he wants to have lunch with me, and he wants to purchase my art. I think I’m going to faint.” How could it be that the world’s most renowned art connoisseur, and collector, wanted her work, not to mention have lunch with her? She was going to faint.
“This is a big deal for my gallery as well, Sam.”
“Oh, I know. This is all so….My work, my work,” she repeated, giggling foolishly. “Will be placed in his gallery. Oh God, I’m… I can’t describe what I’m feeling right now.”
“That’s a good start.” She stood, her legs more than a little shaky, the card with instructions where to go to meet him in her shaky hand. “This is incredible.”
“The start to a lucrative career for you, Sam.” Olivia stood with her. “Congratulations.”
“Thank you, really, if it weren’t for you this wouldn’t be possible.”
Olivia beamed. “Well, I’m sure Mr. Montgomery aided in this as well, but you’re welcome. Please let me know how it goes.”
“I will. Oh God, I’m so nervous.” Turning, Sam walked out on shaky legs. The fresh air helped to revive her. She really did feel light headed and who wouldn’t when one of the world’s richest and influential men in the art world wanted one of her creations. This is what she’d dreamt of. Having one of her creations in a Demerra gallery would skyrocket her career. She couldn’t be happier.
As she slipped into her car, feeling giddy, she saw the list of missing children sitting on the passenger seat of her car.
While her life was taking a glorious turn for the better, eight children had not been so lucky.
Now this was rich, Sam thought in awe as the maître d' escorted her to a private table in the very same restaurant Ethan had taken her to. Only difference was, Alfonzo Demarra had reserved an entire section just so he could discuss business with her. With her!
Dressed in a strapless white summer dress, her hair pulled up in a twist, Sam walked with the maître d' who led her to Mr. Demarra. Her stomach curled in a ball and her nerves got the best of her. She prayed she didn’t hurl at his feet.
“Miss Dowling.” Alfonzo stood stood, took her hand, and gently pressed his lips to her delicate skin. “It’s a pleasure to finally meet you.”
The maître d' held the chair for her as she took her seat. She’d seen Alfonzo Demarra’s picture before, anyone who was in the art world knew him, but the pictures didn’t do him justice. With hair the color of pure white snow, and a face as charming as any prince in any fairy tale book, brown eyes that could calm the most savage beast, he smiled at her and took her breath away. The man was well over sixty, but she still packed a hell of a punch.
“Oh the pleasure is all mine, Mr. Demarra. I’ve been an admirer of yours all my life.” Well, as far back as she could remember at least.
The crow’s feet danced at the sides of his eyes when he smiled. “Now you have me feeling my age.”
Aghast, Sam stuttered. “I…oh my, I didn’t mean—”
His laughter bolted out in a deep harmonious tone. “That’s all right, Sam, may I call you, Sam?” She nodded; he continued. “I was merely joking with you.” He patted her hand like that of a dutiful father calming his child. “Now, shall we sample this delicious wine I’ve ordered before we begin our negotiations?” He signaled the maître d' who seemed to be waiting at his beck and call.
Sam sat stiffly in her chair, her nerves making her belly feel as if it were a cement mixer and waited while the wine was poured.
He lifted his glass, and nervously, Sam took hers. “To a long and happy association together.”
She was stunned and speechless, and felt like a fool only nodding. Lifting the glass to her lips, the wine had enough zing to it to knock her out of her daze. She took another sip before setting it down, telling herself to relax.
“I understand now what Ethan meant by you having a charm that was all your own.” He leaned in a little closer, taking her hand in his. “But he didn’t do you justice when he said you were a beauty. You are that and more.”
If she didn’t say something now she was going to come off as a complete idiot. And she really needed to stop blushing. “You know Ethan well?” She drank from her glass, grateful for the chill that helped to ease the fire in her throat.
“He’s practically a nephew to me. I grew up with his father and was named as Ethan’s Godparent.” He released her hand, shaking his head and the light in his eyes seemed to dim a bit. “It’s a shame he was taken in by that leach of a women he had the misfortune of marrying. But I digress.” His eyes lifted and the light was back. “Tell me about Samantha Dowling.”
She drew in a deep breath and began, leaving out a few key points. She didn’t think it would bode her well to tell him she saw dead people and they asked her for help. “What you see is really what you get. I’m a simple woman who loves to create.”
“A simple woman, who, from what I’ve learned, comes from two very famous parents,” He lifted his wine, but didn’t sip just yet. “A mother in broadcasting and a father who has numerous best selling non-fiction novels and a movie under his belt. Quite an accomplishment. But I’m curious, what made you decide to dabble in art rather than in journalism or writing?”
She told her legs to quit shaking. He was only a man after all. An influential man at that. “I didn’t choose to dabble in art. I am my art and it is me. To create is like breathing for me, journalism isn’t.” What she didn’t say is that her art was often a saving grace for her sanity after years of dealing with the dead.
He smiled, lifting his wine. “Well then, shall we begin discussing your art?” He took a sip before setting his wine down and the transformation was unmistakable. Now he was in business mode.
“I want your work, Sam. I find it riveting. The workmanship is staggering and incredibly touching.”
“It was created from the heart,” she said without a thought.
“And it shows. I am willing to pay you two hundred and fifty thousand dollars for the Boy at Peace.”
Sam nearly choked on her wine. “Wow, I wasn’t expecting that.” She took a deep breath. “Okay.” She cursed herself for sounding so amateur. “What I meant to say was—”
“It’s all right, Sam.” He laid his hand over hers. Smiled. “I understand your excitement. You’re new at this.”
“May I ask a question?’
“By all means.”
“Why me? I mean, I’m nobody. I’ve sold only one piece and that was to my sister’s boss.” Which also happened to be his godson. Oh, she was an idiot. Ethan must have talked him into it. She felt absolutely deflated now.
He leaned forward and took her hand gently in his. “A smart man knows when to scoop up a golden opportunity when it’s handed to him. I know talent, Sam. I’ve been doing this longer than you’ve been around and I know a talented person when I see one. You underestimate yourself, my dear. You are somebody and you will make me a famous man someday.”
Feeling better, Sam felt as if she could cry. “You’re already famous.”
He nodded, that gentle charming smile filling his face once more. “Yes, true, but I’ll be even more famous someday. People will flock into my establishments to see one of the very first works by the famous Samantha Dowling. What could be better than that? Now, what shall we have to eat?”
How could she even think of food when he’d just turned her world upside down? He promised her fame simply by displaying her work in his galleries. He treated her as if she were the next Renoir or Van Gogh. She was only Samantha Dowling, helper of the dead, nothing special. Yet he made her feel like a queen.
Lifting her menu, she took that opportunity to show the emotion she’d schooled herself not to show while he was praising her. The smile wide on her face, she scanned the menu without a clue as to what it said.