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The road sign indicating that Greenwood was only seventeen miles away was a blessing. It had been a long day and all Cassandra wanted was dinner, a drink of something strong and a hot shower, and all of that would be hers, she promised herself, once she got to her goal, Greenwood. She could keep going for another seventeen miles, she thought. Then, after dinner, drink and a shower, she would fall into bed and hopefully have a good night's sleep, without the dreams that had plagued her for the past two months.
She sighed with relief as she passed through the town of Abbeville and saw another sign that said she was a mere thirteen miles from Greenwood. Smiling in anticipation, she picked up speed only to hear a loud bang and feel the car pull sharply to the right. With a firm hand on the wheel, she coasted to the side of the road.
The problem was unfortunately with the front tire, and as she stooped to take a look she saw that it was definitely more than flat. It was totally blown out. Damn. That meant buying a new tire rather than just getting this one patched.
She stood and slammed her hand on the hood in frustration and fatigue. After more than ten hours of driving that day, this delay was the last thing she needed. Sighing, and then laughing, more as a means to keep from crying as anything else, she opened the passenger door to find her cell phone. The sound of a diesel engine drew her attention to the back of her car, where the largest pickup truck she had ever seen was stopping behind her, its four way flashers blinking.
The late afternoon sun blinded her slightly, so she put her hand up to shade her eyes. Even so, all she could determine was a shape comingtoward her, tall, broad-shouldered, with a wide chest narrowing to a lean waist and hips. Long legs propelled the man toward her. When he got closer, he smiled and she could see straight, white teeth and the bluest eyes she had ever seen, set into a tanned face. His hair was dark brown and a little shaggy, but all in all, he was a wonderful specimen of manhood. A dream of a man, literally.
When he stopped beside her she looked up into his face in amazement. "It's you!"
"I can't believe it's you. I must be in the right place, at last."
Dan looked at her, thoroughly perplexed. "Do you need some help? I just stopped to see if there's anything I can do."
Purposely making his drawl soft and soothing, he saw the woman relax slightly.
He stuck one hand in his back pocket and smoothed the hair on the back of his head with the other, as he tried to decipher what this woman was saying. Dan had seen the car stopped on the side of the road. While he didn't always take it upon himself to help stranded travelers, the sight of the lovely woman banging her hand on the hood of her car was enough to turn him into a Good Samaritan that afternoon as he headed back home to Greenwood.
Now that he was standing beside her, the good looks that he had quickly appraised as he walked up paled in comparison to how beautiful she actually was. Shoulder length auburn hair, held away from her face with a green plastic band, waved back over her ears and around her chin. Deep green eyes peered at him from under long lashes that would accent high cheekbones when she closed her eyes, and her mouth was full and deep red, not from lipstick, but from natural coloring. She stood about five feet eight and fit comfortably into her tee shirt and jeans that couldn't be more than a size six or eight. Dan was glad that he had been the first man on the scene.
"Do we know each other?" he asked.
She narrowed her eyes and looked at him intently. "No, we don't. I appreciate your stopping to help me, though. It seems I have a blow out and I don't have a spare. I was about to call the auto club, but do you know someone here in town who could help me? I'm on my way to Greenwood."
Dan bent to look at the tire and saw that it was unsalvageable. "If you're going to Greenwood, I'd advise calling a friend of mine there. He'll come and tow it into town for a reasonable price and take care of it Monday. Being Saturday evening, you won't find anyone here in Abbeville to get a new tire on before then, so unless you want to stay here until Monday... " Cassandra shook her head. "Well, I'll call Dill if you want and see what he can do for you. Do you have friends or family in Greenwood who can come and get you?"
"No, I'm afraid not. I'd appreciate it if you'd call your friend."
"Okay." He pulled a cell phone out of his pocket and punched in the number, giving Dill the location of the car and the license number. He put his hand over the phone momentarily and spoke to Cassandra. "He's going to be an hour or so. Are you hungry? There's a good place just up the road and we can wait for him there."
"Oh, I don't want to put you out. You've done more than enough for me as it is. I can just wait here."
Dan studied her. Small fatigue lines were evident around her eyes, and her hand, as she stood holding her cell phone, was shaking a bit. "I have the feeling you've had a tiring day. You'll feel better after a good meal, and then you can decide if you want to ride into town with Dill or with me. He'll meet up with us at Sanford's." Cassandra thought only a moment before giving in and nodding her head.
"Dill? We'll be at Sanford's waiting for you and you can get the keys then... Okay, thanks." He flipped the cover over the phone and slipped it back in his pocket. "I'm Dan Morgan, by the way." He held out his hand.
"Cassandra Hudson," she said, as she took his hand firmly.
"What do you need out of here?" he asked, opening the passenger door. Cassandra picked up her purse, a large leather bag that held everything from her wallet to a plastic freezer bag of overnight toiletries. Other than that, she had only a suitcase and overnight bag in the trunk of the Intrepid, and she would get them out when the tow truck dropped her at the motel that evening.
Dan helped her climb into the big Ram pickup, then started the engine to merge into traffic for the short drive to Sanford's Homestyle Cafeteria. It was already going on seven o'clock, but the small cafeteria style restaurant, known for its delicious home made food, still had a line out the door. Dan parked and helped Cassandra out, then guided her to the end of the line where they chatted impersonally for the few minutes they had to wait.
As she made her way along the serving line, Cassandra was almost embarrassed by the amount of food she selected, but she didn't let that stop her from asking for a small portion of barbeque pork to be added to her plate. "Hungry?" Dan shifted an amused expression to her tray.
Cassandra laughed. "It feels like it's been a long time since breakfast. And it's too hard to decide on one main item when it all looks so good." She glanced at his tray. "Although I have to say my tray looks worse compared to yours. You're hardly eating."
"It's a fact you won't be sorry as far as flavor is concerned. And I can admit now that I ate not too long ago. I didn't want to say anything before for fear you wouldn't come, out of politeness."
"This is doubly nice of you, then. Thanks." Cassandra insisted on claiming the tickets for both of their meals and Dan graciously let her. He led her to a table where they could be seen from the door.
With little conversation, she tackled her food and finished off every bite before leaning back in her chair, sighing with contentment. Happily accepting a second cup of coffee from the waitress servicing their table, she glanced from it to Dan.
"What's so funny?" she asked, seeing the smile on his face as he watched her.
"I was just thinking how nice it is to have a meal with a woman who doesn't eat like a bird. It's pleasant sharing dinner with someone who enjoys her food."
"I don't always eat this much, but it would be hard not to when it's this good. For the sake of my wardrobe, it's lucky I don't live near this place." She looked over his shoulder at the number of people still in line. "Actually, I was just thinking of slipping up there and getting a dessert." Dan laughed out loud. "Stop it," she said, smiling. "I was so hungry before, I concentrated on substance instead of sweets, but now I want a little something more. How about you?"
"I wouldn't say no to pecan pie and ice cream." Cassandra left Dan at the table, coming back a few minutes later with slices of pecan and peach pies, both topped with vanilla ice cream.
"Gotta have peach pie in South Carolina," Cassandra said, humming in appreciation as she took a bite. Several minutes later, as she sat back to enjoy yet another cup of coffee, she admitted to Dan that she did feel better having eaten, and thanked him again for talking her into coming.
"What are you doing in Greenwood, if you don't mind my asking? Business or pleasure?"
"Neither, actually. I wouldn't call it pleasure, although I am here for personal reasons. It's a little complicated. And to tell you the truth, if I fully understood it myself I'd be happy to tell you, but I'm not really sure what I'll be doing while I'm here. It's just, seeing you makes me feel that I'm where I need to be."
Dan regarded her through narrowed eyes, his brow wrinkled into a slight frown. Before he could ask anything further, a man approached their table in jeans and a blue uniform shirt with Dill's Auto Service embroidered on it.
"Hey, Dill. This is Cassandra Hudson. Cassandra, Dillard Williams, best mechanic in southwestern Carolina." Dill took off his Caterpillar Engine cap as he turned to Cassandra. His brown eyes crinkled as he smiled and held out his hand. He was shorter than Dan by a few inches, she judged, with a stocky but powerful build. He looked about the same age, perhaps mid-forties.
"Pleased to meet you, ma'am. Gotta tire problem?"
"Yes, I'm afraid so. I really appreciate your taking time on Saturday evening to help me. We're finished here, but do you want something to eat before you get the car? I'd be happy to buy your dinner."
"No, thanks. The wife and I will be going out as soon as I get back." He glanced at Dan with a slight smile. "So I guess I'd better get the car and get home before she decides to go on without me."
"Cassandra, why don't you give Dill your keys so he can do whatever he needs to and you and I can follow in the truck?" Cassandra handed her car keys to Dill and took their check to the cash register at the front of the restaurant. A few minutes later, as dusk was falling, they made a U-turn behind the Intrepid and got out to see what was left to do.
"Dill, can you drop me off at a motel in Greenwood? I didn't make reservations because I wasn't sure what was there. Figured I'd take my chances and find something. Would it be out of your way?"
"No ma'am, I'd be happy to," he said, with the polite attitude Cassandra associated with the South. "My shop is on the west side of town and there's The Upstate and a Green Hills Inn right close by. Either one can probably take care of you."
Dan spoke before Cassandra had a chance. "Why don't I take you? After all, you bought dinner and all I've done is call a friend to come and help out. It won't be out of my way at all." He dropped his voice, addressing just Cassandra. "Dill's shop is on the west side, but his house is a little further north. It will be easier for me, if that's all right."
Cassandra considered that momentarily. "That would be very nice, thanks." Dill was almost ready to leave. He gave her a card with his number on it, waited for her to get her suitcases out of the trunk, winched the front tires off of the road and left, promising to have her car ready Monday.
Dan put her suitcases in the backseat and in moments they overtook Dill as they headed east toward Greenwood. "Do you have a preference as to where you stay? The Green Hills Inn is pretty new, but The Upstate is nice too. They're both within walking distance of restaurants."
"It doesn't really matter. Green Hills Inn is fine, I guess." Cassandra leaned back in the seat and sat quietly as Dan cruised along.
"What did you mean that after seeing me you thought you might be in the right place?"
A few minutes passed before she turned to him and answered. "This is going to be hard for you to understand. I've ... seen you before. I've had dreams for the past several weeks that feature you pretty prominently. I recognized you as soon as I saw you."
Dan glanced at her, incredulity plain on his face and then he chuckled. "I have to admit, I don't think any woman has ever told me that she dreamed about me before. Not literally, anyway. You mean you had a dream about a guy like me."
"No, I mean I dreamed about you, you specifically. I know it's hard to believe, but it's true." She looked out the window, seeing only pines and a house here and there, on the side of the road in the growing darkness. Dan didn't speak immediately.
"What is it you dream? Something enjoyable, I hope." His words were light but his tone made it clear that he wasn't happy with the subject.
"Actually..." she turned to look at him again, "...I'm glad you asked, because I wondered how I was going to bring this up. I dream that you're dying. Drowning. You need to take special care around water."
Dan glanced at her again, his lips compressed and his eyes narrowed into slits. "Not so pleasant then. Good thing I don't believe in that sort of stuff. I noticed you've got California plates. The land of fruits and nuts, they say. No offense, but maybe there's some truth to that."
Cassandra glared at Dan. "You'd do well not to toss around old clichés and misconceptions, considering how many there are about the South. I appreciate your stopping and helping me as you have, but let's not go any further down this path of conversation." She lapsed into silence, and Dan didn't try to engage her in any further talk until he pulled up in front of the Green Hills Inn.
"I'll wait here while you find out if they have a room." She went inside, returning shortly with a key.
Opening the back door to reach for her suitcases, she said, "Thanks very much, Dan. I can't tell you how much I appreciate all you've done for me. Take care of yourself, okay?"
"Wait a minute." Dan jumped out of the truck and grabbed her suitcases. "I'll take these up for you."
"That's not necessary."
"Just get on inside, will you?" he said harshly. Cassandra scowled, but walked through the lobby to the elevators, where she jabbed the Up button. At room 410 she slid the keycard into the slot and opened the door just enough to admit herself. Turning, she wrestled her suitcases from Dan.
"Thanks again. Bye."
As she backed into the room and dropped her bags beside the bed, Dan put his hand against the door to stop it from closing and followed her in. "Wait just a damn minute," Cassandra started, "you've got no right to come into my room. Just because you helped me out doesn't give you any claims, and I'll thank you to leave. Now." Her eyes blazed green fire.
"I'm not asking for any claims, lady. I've just got something to say to you, and I think it will be in your best interest to listen up. There're a lot of superstitious notions still believed by some people in the South, but most people are going to look at you like you're crazy if you go around telling them you've been seeing and hearing things. And rightly so, to my way of thinking. So just a friendly word of warning. However long you're in my town, you'll get along better if you keep your little loony visions to yourself." He had stepped right up to her and looked directly down into her eyes.
She could feel the heat from his body and his breath softly blowing her hair. Although she knew she was frowning and appeared in control, she could feel herself getting lost in his eyes. She steeled herself.
"Point taken. Now you can leave. Or do you have any other words of wisdom to pass on?"
His eyes fell to her mouth then slowly moved back up to her eyes.
"I've wanted to do this since I first saw you," he murmured. Grasping her shoulders, he lowered his head and kissed her, softly at first, but then harder as his body began to respond.
Cassandra moaned, falling into the kiss as she leaned into him. His lips were soft and warm. He used them to massage hers and coax them into opening. His tongue was light on her lips, silky, brushing them as if to imprint their texture and form. She forgot for a moment that she had only known this man for a couple of hours. Just as he tried to slip his tongue between her lips, she came to herself and pushed against him. She caught her breath and without thinking, slapped him hard across the face.
He looked shocked, then angry as he stepped back. She could see her handprint on his cheek and knew that it had to have hurt, because her hand hurt. She put it to her lips as though trying to erase his kiss, and stared at him.
"Too bad. You're a sweet kisser, but the kisses aren't worth the rest of the nonsense that comes along with them. I hope you enjoy your short time in Greenwood, and have a safe journey when you leave. Dill will take good care of your car. Goodnight, Ms. Hudson." He turned and stormed from the room. A minute later, alerted by the unmistakable noise from the diesel, she watched him pull away from the motel and onto the street.
Cassandra took her bag of toiletries into the bathroom and undressed for her shower. Although she was shaken from the kiss and her initial reaction to Dan Morgan, the water beating against her body helped relax her. By the time she had put on her soft cotton gown, she felt that she could sleep.
However, she hadn't been in deep sleep very long when the dream started again.
She drove along a narrow, shady road with tall pines, oaks and other hardwood trees along the side. A road sign with the single word, Greenwood, in brilliant green, was on the right side of the road, and around a curve was a body of water. Was it a river? She wasn't sure.
After stopping the car, she walked along the beach while gazing across the water. There she saw her husband, Will, smiling and waving to her. He reached down to pick up a book, and as he opened it money fell to the ground. She shivered with dread. But then she felt a presence beside her, warm and protective, and when she looked up she saw that it was Dan. "Dan, help me."
His blue eyes were piercing as he smiled at her. "You know I will." He kissed her and then looked somberly at Will, who glowered at them. Dan stripped and she saw his body, feeling that she already knew it well. She glanced past him and saw an Indian. Dan waded into the water to swim to the opposite shore. At the same time, the Indian pushed a log into the water. When Dan was halfway across, the log floated into him. He turned to Cassandra and smiled before he sank out of sight. He never surfaced.
She woke in a sweat. Taking deep breaths, she got up for a glass of water, then forced herself to recall every detail of what she had seen. The scenes were slightly different than in the past. She had never before called Dan by name, he had never kissed her, and he hadn't stripped in previous dreams. Of course, it wasn't until tonight that she had known who he was, and of course, until tonight she hadn't known what it would be like to kiss him. The remembrance made her warm, despite the air conditioning in the room. The dream hadn't been sexual, but she felt as though she had been with Dan, as though she had touched him, gazed at him.
She sat on the bed and drew her legs up under her while she sipped the water. On the bedside table was a spiral notebook providing information to the traveler about Greenwood. Casually, she flipped it open to read about the town. The first thing she saw caused her breath to catch in her throat. Greenwood was known as "The Emerald City." Emerald. The color of the word "Greenwood" on the sign in her dream. If she had had doubts before, she was now certain that she was in the right place. If only she had some idea as to why she was here.