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When Two Hearts Collide

Chapter 2

She rubbed her fingers over her eyes. She had to be totally insane. Nuts. Wacko. Out of her mind. Crazy. Mucho loco. Looney tunes. Definitely had a screw loose. Three bricks short of a load. Two sandwiches shy of a picnic. Lights on, nobody home. Elevator doesn't go all the way to the top…I get it already, she grumped to herself. Two days ago she'd been happily minding her own business. Okay, maybe not so happily. She didn't think there was a time in her life she had ever been happy. Well, maybe once or twice. She hadn't been unhappy…exactly. Lonely…absolutely, positively, utterly, devastatingly lonely. Oh, she had friends. Very good friends. All four of them. Her family. But they couldn't fill that lonely…empty…place inside her. Yes, she was most certainly…lonely. And not…happy.

She shook her head mentally, tried to corral her wandering thoughts. She couldn't blame her 'visitor' on booze, because she hadn't been drinking. She hadn't been high, she didn't have the money to spare in order to indulge in any happy weed; she hadn't been overtired or anything else that might explain her current predicament. Which was driving down a narrow, two-lane highway toward Colorado Springs, Colorado.

Kelley hadn't been home Saturday night, calling to say that her mother was feeling worse, and that she was staying the night. Casey had offered to come and sit with her, but her best friend of nine years had insisted that it wasn't necessary. She'd stopped by anyway, taking an order of nachos for Kelley, and flowers for Vicky. The older woman had smiled weakly and thanked her. She hadn't stayed long, not wanting to tire the woman, and Kelley hadn't seemed overly concerned about her mother's condition. Just another 'episode' in the fight against the cancer that was taking control. That would inevitably win.

Alone in the apartment, Casey had set out and lit all of her candles, sat down in the middle of the floor and began to meditate. She was hoping that once again she could call forth the spirits of health to visit the woman who had been like a mother to her. Much more so than the bitter, hateful woman who had raised her…had made her childhood a living hell. She wasn't sure how long she'd been sitting there when she became aware of a presence in the room. She shivered as she remembered opening her eyes and seeing Miss Eloise sitting across from her.

"Hello, Sunshine," the old woman had said, smiling at her. "We need to talk."

Miss Eloise had never been one for beating around the bush. She certainly hadn't that night! Her first reaction to what the old seer had said was to laugh. And she had. Until she realized she was sitting alone on the living room floor having a conversation with a woman who had been dead for nearly ten years.

For several long minutes she'd been certain that she was going insane. Miss Eloise had convinced her that her gift of sight was what was allowing the…visit. That, and Destiny. For nearly five hours they had talked. Argued actually. But eventually she'd relented. The old woman had assured her that what was going on was real, very real. And that what she needed to do was very important. Another hour was spent memorizing everything that the old seer told her, being questioned again and again until the tiny, white haired woman was certain that she understood exactly each step she was to take.

She'd paced for thirty minutes trying to talk herself out of going. Finally giving in to the old woman's request, she'd thrown a couple of changes of clothes and her toiletries into her worn duffel bag. Thirty minutes after that, she'd made a stop at the ATM, pulled what little money she did have from the account, and with a prayer and the feeling that she was about to enter the twilight zone, had turned her little beater Toyota toward I-90, heading east.

"I am totally nuts," she muttered again. And dying for a cup of coffee. She didn't have much money left. Enough for gas to get her to her destination, maybe one more meal, if she was very careful. Better to get there first, her mind told her.

'Silver Springs…82 miles'.

A glance at the gas gauge had her moaning. She was going to have to stop and fill up soon. It was the middle of the night, and she hated stopping in the middle of the night. Unless it was a truck stop. Usually the men there left her alone. Oh, they looked. There were always a few comments. But none of them ever approached her. Unlike stopping in the convenience stores. Men in those places were certain that the only reason she was out at that hour was because she was looking for companionship…theirs specifically.

There was no truck stop in sight. She sighed as she slowed down upon entering the quiet, tiny little town of Uriah, according to the sign. Obviously it was a mining town. She was still in high in the Rocky Mountains. She tugged her lower lip between her teeth, an unconscious movement whenever she was worried or frightened. Right now she was a little of both. There wasn't an open gas station, either. Another glance at the gas tank had her heart pounding. She had no choice but to go on.

She wasn't on a major highway, hadn't been since just after Rifle, Colorado. Stupid, stupid, stupid, she thought irritably. She never should have left the interstate! No matter that Miss Eloise had insisted that she follow this particular route. Because it would take her to the exact place where she needed to be. To do what she needed to do.

What she needed to do. Break into a secure military facility in the Cheyenne Mountain Military Complex. Yeah. Right. Piece of cake. She was absolutely, bona fide, certifiably insane! She was supposed to find a concrete 'bunker' of sorts, sort of a huge barrel, she'd been told. On the top of this was a metal hatch. With a keypad hidden beneath what looked like an ordinary sign. She was supposed to key in a sequence of numbers that would unlock the hatch. Then she was to climb down eleven levels, sneak through what had to be a fortress, find the hatch that would lead her farther down, to a storeroom on sub-level eighteen. In this storeroom, she would find a mirror. And according to Miss Eloise, someone waiting to explain what the hell she was doing there. She sighed. Yep, certifiable. Insane. Bonkers.

Her heart skipped a beat when she saw the lights of what appeared to be a small truck stop. She pulled in, stepped out of the car into the bitter cold of a mountain winter night. She was relieved that there was no one there, other than herself and a woman who looked terribly bored behind the counter inside the café of the stop. She put the nozzle in the gas tank opening, and began to pump the gas. She shivered, pulled her long black coat tighter around her slender frame.

Miss Eloise had been insistent that she follow all instructions to the letter. Just before she left…well, vanished actually, the old woman had cupped her cheek with a gnarled hand and smiled. 

"Trust me, Sunshine. Your life is about to take a turn for the better. You deserve to be happy. Do this, trust me, and you will be. This is your Destiny."

Destiny. Happiness. Two words that had never been much a part of her life. When she'd considered what she had to lose, her heart had plummeted. She was living in a one-bedroom apartment, shared with her best friend from college. She had a job she hated, and no chance of ever having much more without going back to school. Which was a catch-22 situation. She'd dropped out of Western Washington University after her sophomore year, unable to keep up with the hours she was required to work, in order to pay for tuition and basic survival necessities, as well as go to classes and labs and do homework. Exhausted, she'd found a local technical school and enrolled. No, she had absolutely nothing to lose by going on this…adventure. Nothing. And everything to gain, if Miss Eloise was right. And in all the time she'd known the old woman, the seer had never been wrong.

So here she was, freezing her ass off, spending every last dime that she had, heading to a supposedly secret military site. She rolled her eyes. Who did she think she was, James Bond? It was never going to work! The thought that prison at least meant three meals a day and a warm bed skittered across her weary mind. Hope was the driving force behind her now. Hope that Miss Eloise was right. Hope that her life was about to take a turn for the better. Lord knew it couldn’t get much worse!

Tank full once again, she went inside and carefully counted out the money for the purchase. The woman wished her well, and turned back to the magazine she'd been reading. She opened the door, hit in the face with what felt like air straight from the North Pole, and hurried back to her little car. And back onto the highway.

 

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Dawn was breaking over the horizon when she stopped the car on the side of the dirt road. The high, metal chain-link fence stood starkly next to the strip of gravel. She looked around, eyes searching for the…there it was. Her hands began to shake. Miss Eloise had insisted that she needed to proceed as soon as she arrived. Okay, she thought. Here goes nothing!

She left her coat in the car, pulling her denim jacket over the sweater she wore. She was hoping that the physical activity she was about to engage in would keep her warm enough to prevent her from freezing to death. Filled her pockets with the things she thought she might need…listening to her 'little voice'. She locked her purse in the trunk of the car beside her duffel.

It had been a long time since she'd climbed a tree. This one wasn't going to be easy. For one thing, the tree was on the wrong side of the fence. But just as Miss Eloise had promised, there was a single branch that was low enough, long enough, and hopefully strong enough to support her weight. It took three tries before she managed to wrap her cold fingers around the rough bark. When she had a firm grip, she began to swing, until she could wrap her legs around the branch as well. With a grunt of effort, not pleased to learn that in spite of her aerobic exercise routine and weekly runs, she was sadly out of shape, she hoisted herself to sit on top of the limb. She took her time scooting toward the trunk of the tree. Falling onto that very nasty looking razor wire wasn't on her 'things-I-really-want-to-do' list. When she was safely against the thick trunk, she took the time to catch her breath, her heart battering her ribs. She pulled the compass from her pocket. One that she'd used often when she and Ricky paired up to play laser tag or paint ball. Okay, she needed to go…that way. She lowered herself to the ground. Hoped like hell that it wouldn't take all day to find this thing. She was tired, having driven for twenty-two hours straight. After working all day, eager for the overtime hours that would help her pay the bills that waited on the kitchen counter. And sitting up all night arguing with a dead seer. And there was still all that climbing to do...

Two hours later she was staring at the round concrete bunker that she'd been told about. That's two for two, she thought grumpily. Apparently this wasn't some twisted joke that the old woman was playing on her. Which meant that the entire thing about Destiny and Happiness was true as well, her heart told her. Hmmph, she replied testily. She'd reserve judgment on that until it happened. If it happened.

Her fingers were so cold she could barely force them around the metal sign. It lifted rather easily, to her relief. The thought that she might have some sort of help never crossed her tired mind. The numbers that she had memorized flashed through her brain, and she carefully keyed in the combination. She heard the metallic sounds of a lock disengaging. She tugged on the heavy hatch, and peered down into the darkness of the vertical tunnel. Well, now she understood the reason for the penlight. She pulled it from her pocket, turned it on. The light didn't penetrate very far. And the metal rungs on the side of the concrete wall continued downward as far as she could see.

She heaved a sigh. She'd come this far, no reason to quit now. She crawled into the narrow opening. Carefully pulled the hatch shut, holding the penlight in her mouth as darkness surrounded her. Heard the sound of the lock re-engaging. Good thing I'm not claustrophobic, she complained to herself. Just seconds before it felt as if the round walls of the tunnel were closing in on her. She closed her eyes, took a deep breath. Let's do this! Time to find out what it's like to be happy, really happy.

There were hatch-type doors at each level; each one marked her progress. Level One...Level Two...Level Three...Level Four...Level Five. She clung to the bars for a second. She was so damned tired! Level Six...Level Seven...Level Eight...Level Nine...Level Ten...Level Eleven. She dropped down onto the floor. Just a few minutes, she just needed to rest for a few minutes...

 

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Voices just outside of the door in front of her forced her awake. She held her breath, listened as the sound faded. How long had she been asleep? A glance at her watch told her that only fifteen minutes had passed since she'd last looked at it. She shook herself, stood to her feet. This was the tricky part, she'd been told. The hatch was beyond the security checkpoint. She wouldn't have to worry about that. However, she would have to cross the corridor that led from the checkpoint to the elevator. The hatch that would open to the escape ladder to take her down the rest of the way was on the opposite side. She took a deep breath, carefully opened the door, just far enough to press her eye to the crack. She could see three men, three armed men, dressed in military fatigues. It looked like they were playing cards. Yep, the door was across the corridor. About ten feet or so away, and closer to that elevator. She watched the men for a few seconds. Her palms were sweating, her heart pounding, she could hear the blood rushing in her ears.

'Go, now!'

Not bothering to even question the voice, the one that had been with her since she'd turned eleven, the one that had never yet led her wrong, she slipped out one door, closing it quietly behind her, scurried down the long, white tiled corridor, and opened the other. Yep. Straight down. She sighed, and began to climb yet again.

Level Twelve...Level Thirteen...Level Fourteen...Level Fifteen...Level Sixteen...Level Seventeen...Level Eighteen. Thank the goddess! She was damned close to the end of her endurance.

'To the left, down a corridor long, past three rooms filled with things from places long gone. Turn right this time, and count doors two. Third door on the left is the door for you,' Miss Eloise's voice sing-songed in her mind.

She took a deep breath. This was the hardest part, she had been warned. She had to make it from the escape ladder to that storeroom…undetected. She would be caught, she knew that. She just had to make sure it was after she did what she had come to do. Whatever that was. Her hand shook as she pulled the door open just a bit. Oh, lordy! Her breath caught in her throat as she watched the man walking down the corridor. He was reading whatever was in the folder in his hands, a slight frown on his incredibly handsome face. The blue uniform pants covered long legs, the black tee shirt was stretched across a broad chest, and the sleeves could barely contain the biceps that strained against the cloth. He pushed up the stylish wire-rimmed glasses that were perched on his nose, ran a hand through his short, sandy-blond hair, and turned into the first of the doorways. She pushed the door closed when two more uniformed men stepped off the elevator and walked toward her.

When she checked again, the corridor appeared empty. Another deep breath, and she slipped out of the cramped closet-sized space she had just spent the past hour and a half in. She peered cautiously around the door of that first room, watched for a second as the handsome man sat reading from that folder at a table piled high with artifacts; a couple of the small statues even looked familiar to her, from what she could remember from her college classes.

Five minutes later, she stepped into what was apparently a storage room. And gasped out loud. Pacing in front of the mirror she'd been told to look for was a slender blonde wearing desert cammies. She'd seen her face often enough to know what she looked like. Which was exactly what this woman looked like. Her. They could be twins!

The woman looked up, startled momentarily. Then smiled. "Hi, there."

She would have replied. But it seemed that her voice had gone on vacation. Her tongue was glued to the top of her mouth.

The woman smiled. "It's okay. I'd be shocked as hell too." She shook her head. "When you've seen as much as I have-" she broke off, sent her blonde locks into motion again. "Okay, we don't have a lot of time. Here."

The woman thrust six envelopes at her. Her fingers closed around them slowly.

"There's one for each of them, and one for you. As soon as I step back through this," she said, pointing at the mirror, "destroy it. Completely. The frame won't break easily. But the…glass …well, this part will." She motioned to the center of the mirror.

There was a heavy looking hammer sitting on the floor just in front of the oddly shaped, six-foot tall object. "Okay." Well, how about that. Voice was back!

"I know this is all very…weird. But trust Miss Eloise. Everything is going to be all right now. You actually should have been here before now. Have no clue why you aren't already married to him…Trust me, you're supposed to be here." She glanced over her shoulder. "I have to go. Everything is in the letters. Don't let them take yours away from you. Oh, and when the alarms go off, and they will as soon as you hit this thing, get down on your knees, and cross your ankles. Hands on your head. That will throw them off for a few seconds." She grinned wickedly.

"Okay." Voice back. Vocabulary missing.

"Ask for Major Ferretti. When he gets here, tell him to check your pocket."

"Why?"

The woman smiled, stepped closer, took the envelopes and tucked them safely into the pocket of the denim jacket. "That's why. Tell him that the one with your name on it is personal. And that you haven't had a chance to read it yet. He's a Marine, but he's a fair man. He'll leave it alone, for now."

"Why do I-"

"It's all in the letter. In the letters. Remember, this thing has to be completely destroyed. First blow in the middle, then one in each corner." Without another word the blonde woman touched the glass of the mirror.

There was a flash of light, and she was left looking at her reflection. Well, almost. Because her reflection smiled, gave her a thumbs up, and then the mirror went black. This was too freaking weird! The sense of urgency that had filled the woman's voice, her posture, her very being, had leeched into her own body. She picked up the hammer. It was heavier than it looked. She swung hard. Hit the mirror in the center. The glass shattered, but remained within the frame. She hit each corner, until the glass was lying in shards on the floor around her. Two more hits cracked the frame.

She moved to a spot where the floor was clear of the sharp pieces of glass, the ear-wrenching sound of an alarm surrounding her, as it had been from the first swing, just as…she…had said it would. She knelt down, crossed her ankles, put her hands on her head…and waited.

For precisely ten seconds. She'd counted them off. Five men with very impressive looking weapons, which were pointed directly at her, slid into the room. They stared at her, then took a good look at the mirror.

"I'd like to speak to Major Ferretti, please," she said. In what she hoped would pass for a calm voice. She almost fainted when he slid into the room, behind a giant of a black man with a gold tattoo in the middle of his forehead. Dear god, his eyes were so blue!

"What the hell…" that handsome man said, gaping at what was left of the mirror.

Sexy voice, too! Stop it, she warned herself sternly.

Her hands were jerked down behind her back, she was handcuffed, then yanked to her feet.

"Why?" the man asked, nodding at the mirror.

"I'll let you know just as soon as I figure it out," she replied. Fatigue, fear, and the sense of humor that always seemed to show up at the strangest times spoke for her.

She was searched, the letters taken from her. "Hey, the one with my name on it is mine! I haven't even had a chance to read it yet!" she objected.

The sandy-blond haired man took the letters from the Marine. His eyes went wide as he read the names on each envelope. "How do you know us?"

"I don't," she replied. "Please, don't take my letter."

Her voice was soft, she sounded like a frightened child. He stepped closer to the beautiful…the enchanting…blonde woman. He gently tucked the letter back into her pocket.

"Thank you," she whispered.

"You're welcome," he replied in kind.


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