Elena dreaded the end of class.
She had already identified the students who were poised to attack. There were three of them, clustered at the front right corner of the room. Faces shining with anticipation.
They might as well be sharpening knives.
As soon as class ended, they leapt forward. But it was not three students. It was five. And Elena had no chance of escape.
“Dr. Burroughs, will you sign my book?”
Some of the other students clearly had no idea what all the fuss was about. Out of the corner of her eye she saw them hovering at the back of the classroom by the door, watching and talking among themselves.
Wanting to get it over with, Elena autographed the books, responded to the students’ eager questions, and ushered them out; she hardly heard her own words. After shutting the door on their excited chatter, Elena walked to the window and stared at the rain. There was no reason this classroom should feel like a prison with plate-glass bars.
She had, after all, received exactly what she had asked for.
The previous year had basically been a disaster. Elena considered herself an optimist by nature, tempered by a hefty dose of realism. But she had no trouble with the truth, even when it bent and twisted her most recent memories into a torrent as steady as the rainfall beyond the classroom window. Her year had started badly and grown steadily worse. At the end of January, the insurance company had refused to pay for her home, which had been destroyed by fire. They claimed there was some doubt over whether she had had a hand in starting the blaze. The resulting court case looked certain to drag on for several years. Her lawyers were confident, but this did not fill the hole in her bank balance.
In February, the Oxford clinic where she had practiced decided not to reinstate her. Too much bad publicity related to her leave of absence, they claimed. The director had actually said her career was fatally tainted.
In March, the romance she had hoped to start with Antonio, her Italian financier, fizzled out. There was no acrimony. The spark simply died, and they both knew it.
In April, Lawrence Harwood, the other mainstay of her international prayer group, suffered a mild heart attack. At the insistence of his wife, Lawrence retired from the US financial oversight committee. His replacement had no interest in being connected to Elena. Just like that, the group she had sacrificed so much to help found disbanded.
Which led to May, June, and July. And the multiple whirlwinds that had landed her here.
Reluctantly, Elena had spent much of the spring revising Book of Dreams
to bring the six-year-old text up to date. Her publisher begged Elena to do another publicity tour. Though she loathed the idea, Elena was desperate both for money and something to fill the empty days.
Her summer had been simply awful. Three months of airports and hotels and television appearances and lecture halls. She traveled and spoke and lived in a state of perpetual jet lag. Her prayers had become a simple litany, often spoken from the backseat of another taxi.
Then at an Atlanta appearance, the president of Atlantic Christian University approached Elena and offered her a chair, which was the academic name for a professorship that had been funded by an outsider. ACU had received a substantial grant from an alumnus to help build its psychology department and were looking for a name. Elena would teach several classes but have ample time to write or continue with her private practice. The president described the city of Melbourne as a quiet haven nestled between Cape Canaveral and the glitz of south Florida. Elena had almost wept with gratitude, and called the offer an answer to a prayer.
Now, she was not so sure. Especially since the local forecasters talked about a hurricane bearing down on their coast, as though the weather was determined to show her just how bad things could become.
Elena turned from the window and felt her heart stop. There in the doorway stood Miriam, her best and oldest friend.
The problem was, Miriam had died the previous summer.
• • •
The woman stepped into the empty classroom and closed the door behind her. “I’m Rachel Lamprey. Perhaps you remember me?”
Elena felt her chest unlock. The woman’s resemblance to her late sister was astonishing. “Of course. We met at Miriam’s funeral.”
“I know I should have called. But I was afraid you wouldn’t see me.”
Rachel Lamprey was impossibly elegant. It was not merely her designer outfit of rough silk, shaded like ancient bone china. Nor was it the perfect coiffure, the heels, the pearls, or the small Cartier watch. Rachel Lamprey held herself with a queenly elegance. As though she expected the world to do her bidding. And do so because she deserved it.
Miriam had seldom spoken of her younger sister, or the rift that had kept them apart. Elena recalled how once Miriam had mentioned her sister’s casual ruthlessness. Miriam had called it a throwback to some distant era, when their forebears had held the power of life or death over thousands. Another time, Miriam had mentioned Rachel’s disdain toward faith. Rachel considered herself too intelligent and too modern to need any God, Miriam had said. Standing before the haughty woman, Elena decided that other than the physical resemblance, Rachel possessed none of Miriam’s most vital qualities. “Won’t you sit down?”
“Thank you, no. I have something of vital importance to discuss and very little time. Could we perhaps find somewhere more private?”
Elena was not certain she wanted to go anywhere with this coldly aloof woman. “Is this about your daughter?”
“Penelope?” She sniffed. “Hardly. Whatever gave you that idea?”
“You two argued through Miriam’s funeral. I thought, well, with my clinical background—”
“My daughter has spent her entire life indulging in phases, Dr. Burroughs. When we were in London for Miriam’s service, Penny was consumed by gothic rock. I ordered her to leave her black garbs and body piercings at home. Penny was not pleased. We argued. Now she is obsessed with whales. Penny uses such phases as an excuse to redesign her entire personality, wardrobe, lifestyle. She becomes enraged and sullen when the world refuses to go along with her latest fad. Unfortunately my daughter has no idea who she truly is. No one does.”
“Perhaps these phases are your daughter’s lonely cry to be loved and accepted by her mother,” Elena replied sharply. “Only she has grown so accustomed to your disdain she has either forgotten or repressed the original longings. She enters into each new phase expecting to fail in your eyes.”
“You sound just like Miriam.”
“I consider that the finest compliment I’ve received in a very long while.”
“Another point on which we must disagree.” Rachel Lamprey glanced at her watch. “I am expected at a board meeting in Orlando at four. Could we perhaps step into your office?”
“Sorry, no. It is full of boxes.”
“Oh, very well.” She walked over and opened the door. Instantly a wash of student noise filled the room. She spoke to someone unseen. A young man followed her back inside. “This is Reginald Pierce. My deputy.”
“Dr. Burroughs.” The young man was dressed in a pin-striped shirt, suspenders, gold cuff links, dark tie. He moved like a dancer. Or a fighter. Elena could not be certain which. His movements were as smooth as they were swift. He extracted a small device from his briefcase, extended the antennae, and swept the room. “You’re clean, Ms. Lamprey.”
“See we’re not disturbed.”
“You have ten minutes. Otherwise—”
“I’m well aware of the time issue.” She stepped to the windows and pulled down one shade after another as Reginald left the room.
“What are you doing?”
“It’s possible for an observer to bounce a signal off plate glass, turning any window into a listening device. Your shades will render this impossible. It’s unlikely that anyone was able to track us. Reginald is very thorough. But we can never be too certain.”
The room was bathed in a vague gloom. Elena seated herself slowly behind her desk. This woman clearly was comfortable only when in utter control. “Won’t you have a seat?”
Instead, Rachel Lamprey began pacing in front of Elena’s desk. “I am trained as a biochemist. Perhaps Miriam told you that. I am well aware of how my sister pushed you into sharing her obsession over dreams. I positively detested Miriam’s determination to taint every discussion and every topic with her religious obsession.”
Elena’s chair creaked as she shifted. “Two points of clarification. Miriam was not obsessed. And the issue was not religion, but faith.”
“Another point on which we must disagree.” Yet Rachel Lamprey showed no irritation. At least, not at Elena. “My division at SuenaMed, my company, is at the point of making a major breakthrough. The news will be announced at any moment. And yet here I am, forced to take time I do not have, to deal with an issue related to dreams.”
Elena found herself resuming her mode as a clinical analyst. Listening and watching and absorbing. It was as if she had slipped into an old favorite suit left at the back of her closet for far too long. Elena could thus separate Rachel Lamprey from the memory of her sister. Because whatever else Rachel might be, she was most certainly not Miriam.
Rachel’s heels formed a sharp cadence across the linoleum tiles. “Dreams and foretelling have been a burden or a calling or a passion or an obsession that has remained with my family for centuries. I call it by different names depending upon the season.”
Elena asked, “How do you refer to it now?”
Rachel’s glittering black eyes held a fierce intensity. “I have no idea.”
“What has changed?”
“My division is confronting an issue that specifically relates to your work on dreams.” Rachel faced her squarely. “One of my clinical patients has been having dreams that follow a very disturbing pattern. The sequence is precise. Repetitive. And overwhelming in its power.”
“I don’t understand. You fear this is due to some adverse reaction to your new drug?”
“I did. At first.” Rachel Lamprey’s eyes flashed a dark fire. “Until I learned that others with no discernible connection to our company were having the same dream.”