If I Die Before I Wake Excerpt

Charlie’s cell phone rang. “Jesus Christ almighty!” She was so startled her car swerved. Her heart was racing wildly when she clicked the dashboard display to accept the call. “Rachel Wright, one of these days you’re going to scare my heart straight out of my chest!” The deep chuckle on the other side of line made her smirk despite herself.

“You’re too high strung, you need to get…”

“Enough! You know how I feel about that. Is there a reason why you just shaved a good five years off my life?” Rachel was always needling her about getting laid, but the idea didn’t even hold a glimmer of interest. Not that she was dead below the belt; it was just that she never felt right about dating.

“I wanted to know how it went.”

Charlie huffed out a breath. Today had been beyond bizarre, and her mind simply could not wrap itself around the enormity of changes coming her way. “Surreal, and boy oh boy was Claire fit to be tied. I’m surprised my clothes didn’t burst into flames from the death rays she was shooting my way.”

Rachel sighed melodramatically. “What’s up with your evil twin now?”

“Princess perfect is livid. Let’s say she was expecting much more than she got.”

“Oh dear! Did she turn the room and everyone in it red like Brutus did?”

Charlie laughed heartily. “Pretty much. She didn’t get a fucking thing.”

“What?” Rachel’s voice rose to a squeak-like register.

Charlie lowered the volume of the call then rubbed her abused ear in sympathy. “She was cut out of the will completely. Penelope and Daniel got money for college and not much more than that. And here’s the kicker: she doesn’t have any access to their trusts. Graham is the trustee.”

“Why didn’t you invite me? I could have brought popcorn.”

“No hecklers allowed. Besides, only Claire and I were able to attend. Mother was not thrilled about remaining in the waiting room.”

“That must have produced quite a floor show.”

“Mother was surprisingly docile. Claire was calm, too, until the will was read. I was certain her head was going to pop right off her shoulders when she found out that I got the house and the necklace.”

The necklace,” Rachel repeated melodramatically.

“The necklace that great grandma Connor wore when she left Ireland. Grandma Briar wore it every day. Though I have no idea why this upset Claire so much. It’s a simple pendant and she has buckets full of jewelry. She never showed the slightest interest in the necklace. I don’t get what her deal is.”

The heavens opened up, and Charlie was having a hard time seeing through the downpour. “Rach, I’ll tell you more when I get there. It’s raining cats and dogs. Taking these hairpin turns makes me nuts on a regular day.”

“You got it.” Rachel hung up.

“Goodbye to you, too!” The school bus in front of her braked suddenly, and she almost rear ended it. “Seriously fucker, you have kids in there!”

She dialed her frustration back a few notches and slowed down. It would take her a good twenty minutes to get back to Slate, Massachusetts, so she might as well use the time to unwind.

Charlie caught a break getting a parking spot right in front of the Lighthouse Café. Thankfully it had stopped raining or she would have been in trouble since she forgot her umbrella. Honestly, she was surprised she managed to put on matching shoes.

Charlie had barely set foot in the café when she felt herself swooped up from behind. She let out a squeak of fright; she didn’t have enough air for a scream. The sweet smell of vanilla gave away the identity of her captor. “Rachel Wright, let me go you scoundrel!” Charlie was quickly released, only to be swept up in a mammoth hug. Her best friend never did anything in halves. Charlie luxuriated in the feeling of being held. Rachel’s hugs were all apple pie and vanilla ice cream, and she could use all the comfort she could get.

Rachel’s wild red curls were at odds with the sleek pantsuit she wore. She was a good seven inches taller than Charlie’s petite five-foot-two, and even her buttoned up look screamed Amazon or Viking berserker.

“Have a seat Charlie Brown, I’ll get the coffee. Spanish latte?”

Charlie groaned at the thought of the sweet brew, a combination of condensed milk and espresso so smooth it should be illegal. “Absolutely.” Charlie was pleased to see their favorite spot was free. “I’ll grab our table before one of these wily co-eds beat me to it.”

Rachel winked at her then gestured for her to hurry up.
The Lighthouse Café was cozy with mismatched couches, wingback chairs, and leather reading chairs that promised to swallow you up when you sat in them. Their favorite table was toward the back in front of the picture window. The view of Slate’s lighthouse and the roiling seas below always helped her to unwind and get out of her head, and that is precisely what she needed at the moment.

“Maybe she doesn’t really want it. She might not want you to have it because she knows how much it means to you.” Rachel said, startling Charlie again with the combination of non-sequitur and stealthy arrival.

“Seriously, you have got to stop scaring me that way. I have enough grey hairs as it is.” Charlie wasn’t really mad, but her heart was not as forgiving. She took a few deep breaths to slow it down before responding to Rachel’s comment. Charlie huffed out a sigh. “I thought so at first, but there was more to it. The look she gave me could have stripped paint. She really shocked Graham. I don’t think he’s ever seen Miss Prim and Proper without her signature Stepford wife smile. He reined her in pretty neatly, though.”

“A son Emily Post would be proud of.”

“Word. The other thing that made no sense to me was her being pissed at not getting the house. She hated that place.”

Rachel chuckled, her hazel eyes alight with mirth. “And that place hated her.”

“Ha ha. Oh my god, the time she got locked in the bathroom was priceless. It took Grandma Briar a full hour to find the skeleton key to let her out.”

“My kind of ghost.”

“I never had any problems, and to be honest, I was glad to have grandma to myself.”

“Missing her?”

Charlie sucked in a breath, the loss so fresh she had no hope of bracing herself for Rachel’s question. “Like crazy. Having the necklace makes me feel closer to her, though.” The pendant rested right above her heart, and she covered it with her hand. She would gladly return the necklace if she could have her grandmother back.

Rachel was silent for a bit. “This stuff with Claire reminds me of what you said about her when you were kids.”

“How so?”

“She used to take things away from you simply because you liked them. Like that doll she threw in the ocean just to spite you.”

Charlie trembled; she had nearly drowned going after it, but she couldn’t let that doll go. Grandma Briar had made it special, just for her. Charlie felt short of breath, as if the rain was pelting her. “It was terrifying,” she gasped out.

“Charlie honey, you’re so pale. Are you okay?”

She blinked several times, she felt dizzy as if drunk. “No, just a vivid memory…too vivid.” Charlie needed air. She pulled off her turtleneck sweater then took in a shaky breath.

She was miles and years away from the frigid ocean spray, but she shivered all the same. “I forgot to eat again.”

“You skipped breakfast.”

Charlie nodded. “Guilty. My appetite is shot.”

“Let me get you something. The vegetarian lasagna should fix you up.”

“Way too heavy. I can probably handle a brie and green apple baguette.”

Rachel was on her feet. She didn’t do well with Charlie being vulnerable, and she had to fix it. “Coming right up.”

The fresh bread, crisp apples, and mild cheese were just what she needed. It took over an hour of small bites here and there for Charlie to finish the simple meal, but she did feel better. That was par for the course; Charlie was too busy chatting to eat like a normal person. Just being next to Rachel helped her unwind, and it had been that way since they were a couple in college.

“Thanks Rachel, I needed this.” Now that she felt more human, she wanted to go home, take a shower and change.

“No problem Charlie Brown, anytime.” Rachel reached out to give Charlie’s hand a squeeze.

Rachel pulled her in for another long hug as they got ready to leave. Charlie sighed into her hair. There was a mixture of scents mingled with Rachel’s perfume, sweet and soothing, though Charlie couldn’t pick out individual notes. “You smell like incense. Have you been to Divine to see Valkyrie?”

“Wow, I still smell like her?” Rachel gave her a lopsided self-satisfied grin. “I was visiting her after my last class and simply had to have my way with her.”

“You always have your way with her!” Charlie scoffed. She was more than familiar with Rachel’s insatiable appetite.

“Gah!” she scoffed, giving Charlie a none-too-light punch on the shoulder. “Whenever she carves passion candles, she radiates sex appeal. She’s lucky I let her go back to work. I was a good sport and helped her put everything back on her desk.”

Charlie’s green eyes sparkled with mischief. “Did you manage not to break anything this time?”

Rachel’s fair skin flushed a deep crimson, nearly matching her fiery red curls. “Yes, well. She um… started putting her crystals in a safe place when she saw the look in my eyes.”

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