Tawny had returned to Rick, looked over the old ranch with him, and finally agreed his plans for it just might work. That left him with only having to get her to agree to come there to live. Convincing of her of that was the hardest task he ever undertook. He had considered himself extremely lucky the few times she had actually stayed an entire night with him since they had become lovers. Even if she had once nearly broken his nose when he had reached over to wake her from a screaming nightmare. Tawny had been horrified at what she had nearly done. Then explained she had nightmares that sometimes made her very dangerous when first waking from them, and that was why she didn't stay the night with him. She never told him what was in those nightmares. By then, Rick would have gladly slept in full body armor, just to be able to have her next to him for the rest of his life. After that, on the rare occasions she did sleep beside him, he would wake up whenever he felt her body tense, and prepare to roll out of bed and hit the floor if she came awake screaming. Once, feeling her tense, he prepared himself to roll out of the bed and hit the floor, but then she curled up into a fetal position. He was about to spoon up next to her when he heard her whimpering and begging for the pain to stop.
Something told him spooning with her right then might be extremely risky business, and only make whatever the dream was, worse. What made it worse for Rick was that it was a child's pain racked terrified voice begging, "Please, please, I will say it three times. Just don't do that again. I love you. I love you. I love you." Rick felt his heart break as he understood now why Tawny had never said those words to him, and wondered if she ever would. She had continued to whimper, and sometimes whisper words he knew the child in the dream had been forced to say.
Finally the whimpering stopped, Tawny's body began to relax slightly, and slowly uncurl from the fetal position. It was then he had carefully moved his body closer to hers. When she did not react violently to that, he spooned next to her. As her body relaxed completely, Rick put his arm around her, and in that moment realized just how much he had come to love the beautiful, complex, extremely lethal woman that pain racked begging child had become. He gently kissed the back of her neck, and made a silent promise to her.
Rick noticed when she returned from the trip she had taken just before they came to look at the ranch she would not sleep next to him at all. But he had snuck into the adjoining motel room, sat beside the bed, and watched and listened as she experienced what were obviously more nightmares about her childhood. He felt his heart shattering as he realized it wasn't just one man who had brought her so much pain. As he watched her whimpering, begging, and curling into the fetal position, he began to suspect her recent trip had something to do with the men in those dreams. He found himself hoping if it did, she had made them pay for what they had done to her.
Perhaps she had thought this trip would end the nightmares. Rick could have told her it wouldn't. At first, it would bring back the memories and make the nightmares worse. In time, it might help. For now, Rick would quietly sit beside her as the nightmares came and went. Softly talking to her in his mind as he did. Whispering words of love she didn't hear, but hoping that some part of her would come to understand. He wanted her to know that nothing that had happened to her in that nightmare past, would change how he felt about her now.
The renovations on the old ranch house were nearly complete before Rick could get her to even agree to try living there. Part of those renovations included quietly installing a monitoring device like that used to keep an eye on babies, in the Master Bedroom, and the room next to it. A door was also added from the Master Bedroom into that room.
He could tell she didn't hold much hope of things working out when she did finally agree to at least stay at the ranch for a couple of months. He had watched her attitude slowly changing, and not been as surprised as she was to see that happening. What had surprised him one night was to creep into the room she still often slept in, and find Big George standing over her. Rick motioned for Big George not to try and wake her, and for them to leave the room, then Rick turned and headed for the living room. Back in the living room, Rick poured two stiff shots of Jack Daniels. He handed Big George his shot glass, and watched him knocked it back. Then his old friend had looked at him and said, "I heard her as I was walking past the room. So went in to check on her. Rick, what the hell did she go through? And why didn't you let me wake her up?"
Rick swallowed the shot of whiskey, then quietly replied, "I don't really know what happened. She refuses to talk about it." Rick bowed his head and continued, "I can't touch her, or hold her during them. I'm afraid my touch, would make it worse." Then he sighed and said, "And when she is waking from those nightmares, she is, well, sometimes more dangerous than when fully awake. Like when she nearly broke my nose. Plus, I've found if she doesn't wake up herself, or get woken up during the nightmares, she doesn't seem to remember them."
Big George poured them both another shot of whiskey, then swallowed after taking a sip of his said, "That was child's voice. A child who was being hunted, like a fucking animal. And it wasn't the first time she had been hunted like that."
Rick had nodded, took a sip of his whiskey, then replied in a low voice racked with pain and anger, "Yeah, but it's what he, and some others did after they caught her, that will really break your heart. And I only know such a tiny bit about that. Just what I've heard while sitting next to her during the nightmares."
He had paused, then looked up at Big George and said very softly, "But see, I made a secret promise to her. I promised her even if I couldn't wake her, or hold her during them, I wouldn't let her go through the nightmares alone. She didn't like it the first time she woke screaming and found me in the room, but as long as I don't try to wake or touch her during the nightmares, she has accepted me being there." Then Rick turned, walked out of the living room, and went back to sit beside the bed Tawny slept in so often, but as long as Rick was there, never really alone.
Not long after the cruise they took got cut short by a pirate problem, Rick saw where one of the small towns around them was having a big festival. He decided taking Tawny to it might be a relaxing little outing for them. She and Loretta could check out the arts, crafts, jewelry and clothing vendors that would be there.
As they were walking past one vendor containing Native American crafts Rick saw dreamcatchers hanging from the top of vendors tent. Tawny and Loretta made a beeline for some dresses they saw at another vendor. Rick stood studying the dreamcatchers. As he did, the old Native American woman who was behind the counter watched Tawny, then turned to Rick and said, "Your woman, she needs the dreamcatchers." The old woman had then walked over to the dreamcatcher display, and carefully picked out two large pure white ones, mumbling words Rick did not understand as she took the dreamcatchers down.
Rick had looked into her wise old eyes, and didn't even find himself questioning how those eyes had seen that need and number. He simply nodded, paid her for the dreamcatchers, and had Big George take them and put in the trunk of the car. He didn't hold much faith in them protecting Tawny from the nightmares, but if there was even the slightest chance they could help, Rick would hang a thousand of them in every size and color in the universe above Tawny's bed so that perhaps she could finally sleep peacefully. In the meantime, he would see if the two he had just bought helped at all.
As he had turned to walk away the old woman said, "You won't need that many. Just these two, and your love. That love will work with them to help protect her from the nightmares." Strangely, Rick once more found himself not questioning how that old woman had seemed to read his thoughts, just hoping she was right, and the love he felt for Tawny, combined with dreamcatchers, would help protect her from the terrible nightmares.