5 Page Challenge
Plagued by nightmares where she's entombed alive, Rachel seeks help from a sleep research clinic. Dr. Nic Covelli is confused by his feelings for the dark haired beauty who haunts his dreams every night...until he meets Rachel and recognizes the familiar green eyes and raven hair of his dream lover.
Pages 1 - _
She was suffocating.
Rochelle’s hand went to her throat then fluttered weakly to her side. Her mouth was so dry she could barely swallow and she would have wept if there had been an ounce of moisture left in her body. Was it night or day? She couldn’t tell, not when they’d so carefully applied a thick layer of mortar before fitting each brick snuggly into place. There wasn't so much as a pin sized hole for light to seep through.
Even knowing no sound could possibly be heard beyond the airtight room they’d entombed her in, Rochelle had screamed until her voice was so hoarse and raw it was nothing more than a rasping whisper by the time she gave up. They’d finally broken her, but what did it matter? He wasn’t coming. She knew that now, just as she knew her last breath was only moments away.
Rochelle’s heart ached, but not for herself. It ached for the man who would be utterly crushed when he was told she’d deserted him. He wouldn’t believe their lies at first, he was much too certain of her love for that. But as time passed and she didn’t return to his waiting arms, would he give credence to their false accusations? She prayed he wouldn’t.
Her eyelids closed as her labored breath came less frequently and the weariness of fighting for air took its toll. Rochelle allowed herself to slip sideways along the rough wall until she lay with her cheek pressed against the floor, the stone slab only slightly colder than her own body temperature. The only warmth she felt at all was in her shoulder where the bullet had lodged, but even that was beginning to fade.
She would sleep now, Rochelle decided, and dream of a time when nothing mattered but the love shinning in his eyes for her, only her. In his arms she’d been safe, secure in the knowledge they were destined to be together forever. Even as death slipped its icy fingers around her throat and began to squeeze, she wasn’t afraid. Because her love knew no bounds, and because she envisioned Nicolo’s handsome face and the wicked grin he always wore just before he seduced her back into his bed.
One brief kiss from his sensuous lips was all it had ever taken to ignite a fire in her soul. And his hands…so strong and yet so incredibly gentle as they stroked her intimately, their warmth searing her skin and giving rise to an inner heat that was as volatile as a live volcano. It was always so good with Nicolo, so good.
Rochelle smiled, breeching the gap between life and death as she slipped into his dreams and gave herself to him one last time.
Nic bolted upright, staring into the darkness for several minutes before shoving the blankets back and swinging his legs over the side of the bed. Raking his fingers through sweat soaked hair, he tried to shake off the feeling that what he’d experienced was real, that she was real. He dreamt of her often, the raven haired beauty with green eyes and skin that felt like satin beneath his fingertips. She haunted him, and not just at night when he slept.
At work, at home, even on dates with other women his mind was consumed with her; thoughts that made him ache to hold her, touch her, feel her writhing beneath him as she surrendered herself. Just as she did in his dreams every night. Nic groaned out loud and pushed himself off the bed, thoroughly disgusted by the physical reaction he was having to a woman who didn’t even exist.
He padded to the kitchen and downed a glass of ice water before climbing back into bed only to lay there with his eyes wide open, staring at the ceiling. If she was just a woman his subconscious mind had planted in his dreams, why did he still feel her warmth surrounding him? Why did her soft scent linger in the air and on his skin long after he woke up? And how was it possible he could taste the sweetness of her lips and feel the tingling sensation where her elegant hands had wandered?
If she wasn’t real…why did he feel this horrible loss deep in his chest as if his heart was being ripped out every time he woke to find she wasn’t lying beside him?
“Pathetic, truly pathetic,” he muttered.
He was a healthy, thirty-four year old male who'd never once been so obsessed with a woman he couldn’t drive her out of his head. Except for her. What would his colleagues say if they knew he’d been plagued by erotic dreams for almost a year, and that he had genuine feelings for his imaginary lover. What deep seeded childhood issue would they drudge up to explain it?
Nic scoffed at the idea. Recurring nightmares were often a reflection of childhood or even adult trauma, but in most cases there was something tangible to grab onto. He was a realist; he didn’t believe dreams were anything more than fantasy or an indicator of a troubled mind and balked at the concept they were visions of the future, or even more ludicrous; memories of a past life.
He'd devoted his life to sleep study and held fast to the belief it was usually some form of anxiety buried in the subconscious mind that found a way to manifest itself in dreams. Still…he could almost hear those soft, throaty moans she made when he was kissing her followed by a sharp little gasp as he eased himself into the warmth of her body. His chest tightened as her whispered words of love sent a thrill racing through him.
Good Lord, he needed to find a real woman and fast!
Rachel Delacourte scanned the directory encased on the wall, a slight scowl marring her delicate features. Lucisano Research owned the entire building, a minor detail her hair-brained sister neglected to tell her when she’d coaxed Rachel into coming here. She checked her watch, letting out an irritated huff. She was already five minutes late. How long had she been standing here, staring like an idiot as if the answer would miraculously appear?
She gnawed at her lip. What difference would it make if she didn’t show up for the appointment? They probably couldn't help her anyway, and at least she’d be spared recounting the nightmares to a perfect stranger. But what if they could help? The chances were remote, but even the smallest of odds were worth gambling on at this point. Because the dream scared the holy crap out of her, Rachel admitted to herself, and because it was becoming more vivid each time she had it.
She wasn’t the only one who noticed the dark circles under her eyes or the gradual withdraw from outings with friends and family over the past year. But she couldn’t seem to gather the energy to socialize and there was such a heaviness in her heart all the time, as if she’d lost something she would never be able to get back. Maybe it was just the sleep deprivation, but Rachel didn’t think so. Deep down inside, she could feel something ominous brewing and it was only a matter of time before it erupted.
“Excuse me, Miss, may I help you?”
Rachel turned to find a pleasant faced woman standing behind her.
“I wish you could,” Rachel sighed. “Unfortunately, my little sister set the appointment but forgot to tell me which suite or even what floor it was on.”
“I’m sure we can figure it out in no time,” she assured Rachel. “Most people who come here don’t realize what a huge corporation Lucisano Research is, so we’re used to it. Now, if you’re here to be part of a group study I just need to know what kind of study it is and…”
“No, it’s nothing like that. I’ve been having trouble sleeping and just had an appointment for a consultation.”
“Ah, then you want the Sleep Study labs on the ninth floor. Just take a left when you get off the elevator and the receptionist will direct you to the right office.”
Lord, she didn’t want to do this. She wanted to do it even less when she stepped out of the elevator on the ninth floor, and by the time Rachel stood in front of the door for Drs. Agostino, Covelli, and Montesanti she was practically cured of her desire to be rid of the nightmare altogether. Maybe it was a sign, or maybe it was just the price for lingering a little too long, but it was at that precise moment the door swung open.
“Miss Delacourte? Excellent,” the woman said when Rachel nodded mutely. “I was afraid you’d gotten lost and wound up in one of the other offices.”
Rachel was ushered inside and handed a form to fill out, and for the next fifteen minutes she agonized over how much of the nightmare she should reveal. There was the suffocating and dying part which was probably important to notate, but there was also the erotic ending where she and her dark haired lover did things to each other that were way to intimate to convey to a stranger. Just thinking of it brought a blush to her cheeks and even worse, a longing to slip back into the fantasy so she could relive the passionate kisses and ardent love making once more.
She was losing her mind, there was no other explanation. Why else had she stopped dating in the past year since the nightmare began? It was ludicrous; having such deep feelings for a man who didn’t even exist and avoiding relationships with other men because if it. The few times she had gone out on dates were complete and utter failures because, absurd as it seemed, she’d actually felt as if she was being unfaithful to her dream lover.
Rachel’s pen hovered over the form before she jotted down the part about being intimate with a man she’d never met, though she was careful not to elaborate. No doubt they’d say it was just her subconscious mind that had created a hero to come and rescue her. Or maybe they’d tell her there was something more symbolic to it. She’d read somewhere that dreams shouldn’t be interpreted literally and usually had some deeper meaning. She seemed to recall that dreaming of spiders indicated you were feeling entangled by a clingy relationship or something along that line. Too bad she didn’t remember what having hot sex with a tall, dark stranger meant.
“Excellent,” the woman smiled brightly when Rachel brought the form back to the check-in counter. She gave the form a cursory glance before leading Rachel down a long corridor. “You were actually scheduled to see Dr. Covelli but he was here most of the night with one of his patients so you’ll be seeing Dr. Agostino for the initial consultation.”
Rachel groaned inwardly. It was going to be painful enough to discuss the nightmares with a stranger but if she had to repeat everything all over again she’d just throw the towel in and learn to live with it. She entered the office of Dr. Luis Agostino feeling a little apprehensive and seated herself in a chair across from his desk. He looked up briefly when she entered and offered an even briefer smile before taking the form she’d filled out from the woman who’d accompanied her and began to read. Rachel shifted nervously, gnawing at her bottom lip until he finally finished reading and greeted her with a genuine smile this time.
“You say the nightmares started about a year ago. Do you recall anything traumatic occurring around that time which might have triggered these nightmares?”
“No, I lead a very uneventful life.” So uneventful it was a shocker that she hadn’t slipped into a coma by now.
“No deaths in the family or close friends? No break-ups with boyfriends or loss of a job?”
Rachel shook her head, feeling as if she should apologize for the lack of tragedies he could link the nightmares to. He asked her several more questions, probing for the elusive trauma and when he came up empty, Dr. Agostino asked her to tell him about the nightmare.
“It’s always the same,” she told him. “I’m in the dark, trapped in some kind of enclosure made of brick. There aren’t any windows and no door and…” she touched her throat, alarmed to feel it constrict just as it always did in her dream. “Could I have a glass of water before I continue?”
“Of course,” he nodded to a cooler in the corner, “help yourself, Miss Delacourte, and please…just take your time.”
Rachel gulped down the contents of the cup before refilling it and settling back into the chair. “There’s no air in there and I’m slowly suffocating. It’s cold too, except for a strange burning sensation in my right shoulder, and I…I know I’m going to die.”
“Do you know how you came to be in this room?”
“No…well, sort of. I don’t know who exactly…but it was more than one person because while I’m waiting to die I keep thinking that they’ve won. And when I finally die…”
“You actually die in the dream?”
“Yes, is…is that bad?”
“Dreams can be interpreted many ways, Miss Delacourte, but generally speaking dying in your dream symbolizes changes in your life. It’s not a physical death, but the ending of a phase in your life and the beginning of something new.”
Changes in her life. Ha! The only changes in her life over the past six years had been the gradual climb to the top of her profession. She’d been a wonder to her parents who were just regular upper-middle class people with no special talents to speak of. Her father was a principal at the same local high school where her mother taught history and though Rachel considered them both intelligent people, neither of them could take credit for the prodigy child they’d produced.
Rachel had graduated from high school shortly after her fifteenth birthday and gone straight into college. She could have chosen any career she wanted and excelled at it, and though her college counselor had encouraged her to go into a math or science related field she went with her heart and earned her Master’s degree in Architecture. At age twenty, she’d graduate from a prestigious west coast university at the top of her class and was immediately offered a position by several of the most highly respected firms in the country. She’d turned them all down.
Oh, they’d all done their best to coerce her into signing on; promises of ridiculously high salaries, company cars, condos and even a junior partnership were all laid out on the table. But it wasn’t what she wanted. Rachel wanted to make a difference and she didn’t think she could do that if she hired on at a large corporation where her talents would be confined to designing office buildings and shopping malls. And she didn’t want anyone clipping her wings when she allowed her imagination to fly which is why she’d declined their generous offers and accepted a position in a fledgling company with a staff that consisted of the owner, one other architect, and an overworked secretary.
Rachel blinked. “I’m sorry, my mind tends to wander these days.”
“Perfectly understandable,” Dr. Agostino smiled at her. “Your sleep pattern has been disrupted for quite some time and it has slowly worn your body down. I asked if there were any changes in your life around the time the nightmare started, and it doesn’t necessarily need to be traumatic. Any kind of change…anything that might be preying on your mind, even on a subconscious level.”
She thought about it for a moment before slowly nodding her head. “I’m sure it has nothing to do with this but it does coincide with when the nightmare began. I’m an architect and…”
“Of course,” he beamed at her. “I thought I recognized the name. So you’re R.J. Delacourte. I’ve seen some of the houses you’ve designed. They’re simply breathtaking, truly magnificent work.”
“Thank you,” Rachel said with pride, “I love what I do and it’s always nice to know someone appreciates my designs.”
“I most assuredly do, but you were saying…?”
“A year ago I was approached by Antonio Covelli and asked to restructure an old Victorian manson that had been in his family for generations. It’s been sorely neglected and I don’t think anyone has lived in it for at least fifty years. At any rate, I accepted the job but since I’m usually booked a good year in advance, I’m not actually scheduled to begin working on it for another month or so.”
“Are you concerned you won’t be successful in restructuring this house?”
“Not at all,” Rachel shrugged. “As a matter of fact, I’m very anxious to begin working on it. It’s a beautiful house, and as I’ve mentioned it’s been horribly neglected so I’m dying to get in there and start drawing up the preliminary plans.”
Dr. Agostino nodded thoughtfully. “Is that why you chose to come here, because of Nic Covelli’s association with the house?”
Her eyes widened in surprise. “No, I…I hadn’t made the connection. You see, my sister set up the appointment and I guess I didn’t even consider the possibility that Dr. Covelli might be related to Antonio.”
“Antonio is his grandfather.”
Rachel grimaced. “I hate to even ask but…Dr. Covelli wouldn’t tell Antonio I’m his patient, would he? Assuming I come back, that is.”
“You have nothing to worry about, Miss Delacourte. I assure you that everyone at Lucisano Research understands the importance of patient confidentiality.”
“I’m glad to hear that. I know I’m probably just being overly sensitive but I’ve never told anyone about the nightmares or how…physically and mentally draining they are. I wouldn’t want Antonio to think I’m not capable of maintaining my focus on this job.”
“Is that why you’re here, you’ve lost your focus?”
“Not on the job.” Rachel gave him a feeble smile as a slow blush worked its way up her neck. “It’s my personal life that’s taken a serious nose dive.”
“It’s not unusual to lose your sex drive when you aren’t getting the proper sleep your body needs.”
“My…uh…sex drive isn’t the problem. It’s who I’m having sex with that’s a bit disturbing.”
“Oh?” Dr. Agostino said, obviously perplexed.
“You see, after I die I sort of have a dream within my dream, and that’s when I go to him.”
“Go to him?”
“My lover,” Rachel explained. “I go to my dream lover.”
Nic glanced up from the notes Luis had taken during his consultation with Rachel Delacourte. “She actually said this?”
He eyed Luis suspiciously. “You’re sure this isn’t another one of Michael’s pranks? It sounds like the kind of joke he’d play; paying this woman to come here and make up dreams about her erotic sexual encounters.”
“You think I didn’t check it out as soon as she left? I pulled up some information about the Delacourte and Ross Architectural firm and it had both Todd Ross and Rachel Delacourte’s pictures posted on the website. Besides, there was something else she told me that confirmed she wasn’t sent here by our comical partner.”
“Your grandfather hired her to restructure the old Covelli mansion.”
“Now that you mention it, I think he told me about it some time ago but I didn’t realize he’d gone ahead and hired someone. She doesn’t have a problem being my patient because if my connection with Grandfather, does she?”
“No. The only thing that made her a little uneasy was having to recount her dream all over again to you but I assured her my notes would be sufficient.”
“You have her set for a dream study?”
“Tomorrow night. I figured you could use a good night’s sleep after pulling a double yesterday.”
Nic didn’t think he could have stayed awake tonight if his life depended on it. “I appreciate that, Luis. I think I’ll just finish reading over your notes on Miss Delacourte and call it a day.”
After Luis had gone, Nic kicked back with his feet propped up on his desk and scanned the brief answers Rachel Delatorre had written on the form before reading the more in depth notes Luis had taken. He found it interesting that her recurring nightmare had started about the same time his had, and it was even more intriguing that she was experiencing similar sexual interludes every night.
The dream is so vivid I wake up feeling as if I really have spent the night having mind blowing sex.
Nic reread what Rachel had told Luis one more time with an eerie sense of familiarity. Wasn’t that exactly what he’d been thinking about his own nightly encounters with the green-eyed beauty who invaded his dreams? Rachel even admitted that she could still feel where his hands had touched her and often woke in the middle of an orgasm. Luis noted that she seemed embarrassed by this and had assured her it was perfectly natural considering the nature of the dream.
Nic had to give the woman kudos for having the courage to tell Luis, especially since he’d been somewhat of a coward by keeping his recurring dream to himself so he wouldn’t have to confess the very same thing frequently happened to him. He idly wondered what would happen if two people such as Rachel and himself got involved in a relationship with each other. Would the dreams end or would they both wake up with ravenous sexual appetites and go at each other like animals in heat after being primed by their dream lovers? It was an interesting thought, but one he’d definitely have to keep to himself.
Nic finished reading the rest of the narrative and jotted down a few questions to ask Rachel when he saw her tomorrow. He was glad she was coming in on a Friday so he’d be able to take it easy the next day and catch up on some much needed sleep. It also tended to make his patients a bit more relaxed because they weren’t worrying about missing work and consequently fell into a deeper sleep. He closed the file and was just about to shut down his computer when curiosity about Rachel Delacourte got the better of him.
Pulling up the internet, he typed in Delacourte and Ross and found their home page right away. Nic’s heart slammed against ribs when he saw the picture of Rachel smiling back at him. She was much younger than he expected and was also undoubtedly one of the most beautiful women he’d ever seen. But that wasn’t what made his heart vibrate inside his chest like a jack hammer or why the air had suddenly been sucked out of his lungs. He leaned closer to the screen, studying every familiar feature of her face.
He’d never met Rachel but he knew her intimately all the same. His fingers had sifted through her silky dark hair, traced the line of her delicate jaw, caressed her soft skin. He’d kissed her perfect mouth and gazed into her jade green eyes every night as he sank into the warmth of her body. He’d woken with her scent filling his senses and his mind reeling from the heated passion they’d shared. Rachel wasn’t just the type of woman dreams were made of; she was the woman his dreams were made of. Night after night she came to him while he slept and made love to him in his dreams.
For a year now she’d haunted him, consumed his mind both day and night, and it made Nic wonder…was he the one haunting Rachel Delacourte’s dreams as well?
Rachel perched on the edge of the chair, her back rigid as a board while her eyes roamed around the office of Nic Covelli. The small delay the nurse informed her about had turned into a thirty minute wait so far which had only added to her anxiety and made her wish she’d cancelled altogether. It hadn’t occurred to her until after she’d checked in that while Dr. Covelli was monitoring her brain waves and analyzing the cause of her nightmares, he’d also be observing her while she slept.
It was bad enough that he’d witness her thrashing around and calling out for someone to save her but once the dream migrated from the twilight zone to the erogenous zone…Rachel shuddered to think what the good doctor would have to say about that. What if the throaty moans and cries of ecstasy she made in her dreams actually erupted from her mouth while she slept? Or worse, what if she simulated the act of making love by gyrating her hips and squirming around like a fish caught on a hook? It was mortifying to say the least.
She’d just have to keep reminding herself why she was here in the first place and that Dr. Covelli was a professional who probably dealt with things like this all the time. Well…maybe not all the time, Rachel conceded. After all, why would anyone want to put a stop to dreams that made you wake up feeling as if you’ve just been made love to by the sexiest man God ever created? Just thinking of him made her skin tingle and the muscles in her abdomen clench. It was a shame the dreams of him and the nightmare were connected because she couldn’t honestly say she wanted them to end.
She seriously contemplated making up some lame excuse about a family emergency and high tailing it out of there but the thought of having to explain to her sister, Monica, why she’d bailed was enough to keep her planted firmly in her seat. Monica was a royal pain in the ass but she was also genuinely concerned about Rachel and she could hardly fault her baby sister for that, even if she did think Monica was overreacting.
“What if you stop breathing in your sleep when you die in the dream?” Monica had asked, her big blue eyes misting with tears.
Rachel laughed it off. “If my dream was going to kill me, don’t you think it would have done so by now?”
“I’m worried about you, Rach. You look so tired all the time and if anything happened to you…”
“Nothing’s going to happen to me, I promise. Now tell me about your new boyfriend. I suppose he’s incredibly handsome and obnoxiously rich.”
Monica had set her chin in that determined manner that told Rachel she wasn’t going to give up. “Don’t try to change the subject. Something has got to be done about the nightmares, and I know just the thing.”
The thing Monica referred to was an appointment at the dream study clinic. So here she was with her overnight bag, feeling a little sick to her stomach at the prospect of being watched while she was dreaming of dying and having hot sex. At least she had the comfort of knowing whatever happened would never go beyond these walls, although she was a little concerned about running into Dr. Covelli outside the office once she started working on his grandfather’s mansion. It wasn’t likely he’d show up while she was there since the mansion hadn’t been lived in for years but it was possible he’d be curious enough to come and check it out once the restructuring began. Well, she supposed she’d have to deal with it when or if it happened.
Nic hovered outside the doorway feeling foolish as hell for being so nervous about meeting Rachel Delacourte. If his dream the night before hadn’t been so vivid he might have been able to convince himself it wasn’t the same woman and that he’d only imagined it was because there were a few similarities between them. But the sex had been so…raw, so intensely passionate he hadn’t been able to tear his eyes away from her face as she’d writhed beneath him, her sexy voice gravelly and breathless when she begged him for more, more, more.
Nic had happily obliged, sending her delectable body into convulsions as she climaxed time after time until he’d finally exploded inside of her. How was he supposed to walk in there and act as if they’d never met when an image of the soft smile she’d worn after they’d made love was still lingering in his mind? Thank God he’d had enough sense to grab his lab coat so he’d at least be spared the embarrassment of having her notice the raging hard on he was sporting. Yeah, he was the epitome of professionalism all right.
Drawing in a lung full of air, Nic pushed the door open and strode purposefully into the room to greet his new patient. Pasting a smile on his face as Rachel rose to her feet, he managed to get all the way across the room without making an idiot of himself, though he wasn’t quite sure how he did it when his legs felt as if they were made of rubber. He supposed he looked like a love sick teenager as he took the hand she offered but for the life of him, Nic couldn’t help the surge of emotion that swept over him when her soft skin touched his.
An entire gymnastic routine played out in Rachel’s stomach when Nic Covelli’s hand enveloped hers. It wasn’t just that he was drop dead gorgeous or that he exuded sexuality in spades, it was the way those dark eyes searched hers as if he’d find the answer to some puzzling question hidden in their depths. The intensity of his gaze should have made her feel uneasy but it seem to have just the opposite effect because there was only a strange sense of familiarity that they’d met somewhere before.
Rachel tilted her head. “Do I know you?”
Intimately. How would she respond to that answer, he wondered. “No, I don’t believe we’ve ever met but you do remind me of someone I’ve just recently become acquainted with. Please forgive me for staring,” he smiled down at her. “It’s just that the resemblance is so amazing it threw me for a moment.”
She returned his smile with one that was as teasing as her tone. “Then you won’t mind giving my hand back now?”
Nic glanced down at their joined hands before reluctantly releasing his hold on her. As he offered her a seat and took his place behind his desk, he tried not to think about where those elegant hands had wandered last night in his dreams or the way her slender fingers had curled around the back of his neck and pulled his mouth down onto hers. Blocking out the image of Rachel lying beneath him, her breasts heaving as she gasped for air each time he thrust into her was not an easy feat. Nor was hiding the disappointment he felt when he found no sign of recognition in her beautiful green eyes.
Nic leaned back in his chair, doing his level best not to look as if he wanted to pounce on her. “I’ve gone over the notes Dr. Agostino made yesterday and just have a few questions before I explain the process of the dream study. You said the nightmare started about the same time you agreed to take on the Covelli mansion.”
“Have you noticed the nightmare becoming more vivid the closer it gets to starting the job?”
Rachel shifted in her chair. “As a matter of fact it has, but I really don’t see what one has to do with the other.”
“You’re not worried about taking on such a high profile project?”
“High profile? I’m afraid I don’t understand.”
“You mean my grandfather didn’t tell you anything about the mansion’s history?”
“Only that it’s been in the family for generations and that no one has lived there for close to fifty years.”
“Well,” Nic sighed, “there goes one of my theories. I thought I might have been onto something when you said the nightmare was becoming more vivid, but that was because I assumed you knew about the mansion and why it was abandoned by the family.”
Rachel was intrigued. “Is there some dark secret about the place?”
“Not exactly.” Nic considered whether or not to tell her and decided she was probably right about the two not being related. “According to Grandfather, it started around the time his father was in his mid-thirties. Apparently, a young woman who worked there as a maid disappeared one night and was never heard from or seen again. Rumor has it she was murdered somewhere on the grounds and buried there and has been haunting the place ever since.”