Lorraine jolted awake the moment she hit solid ground. Her head bounced off the hardwood floor of her bedroom, stunning her even more. In a panic, she looked around. There was no one holding her down and no Vikings surrounding her. Just Captain, who had padded into her room and began licking her face.

She pushed him away and sat up, her mind still hung up on the man who had pulled her to the ground. Though some things were a little fuzzy, one thing was clear—he was the same ruggedly handsome, blond man who’d been visiting her dreams for years. Normally, he left her with an unforgettable kiss. So, why did her dreams suddenly change?

“Are you all right?” Patrick asked as he rushed into the room, his strong arms already helping her to her feet. “I heard you yell. Did you actually fall out of bed?”

“I guess I did,” she admitted, rubbing her sore temple.

“That must have been some kiss,” Patrick joked.

“He didn’t kiss me this time. I was standing in a meadow, near a river. He came out of the bushes and pulled me to the ground. I tried to get away, but he was so strong. And then he spoke to me.”

Held by the facets of her peculiar dream, Patrick inquired further. “What did he say?”

Lorraine swallowed hard, reliving the terrifying moment beneath the man’s heavy weight. “He said for me to keep quiet…else the men would see us and kill us both.”

Patrick’s eyes widened in disbelief. “What men?”

She looked at him and found it difficult to believe it herself. “There were hundreds coming ashore… Vikings.” She watched as Patrick regarded her last word, his brow furrowing. “I know it sounds strange, but the men in my dream were Vikings.”

Patrick attempted to rub away a smile from the corners of his mouth. “And was your knight in shining armor also a Viking?”

“I think so.” She pondered for a moment, remembering the beautiful bear cloak hanging across his shoulders, his striking sea-blue eyes and golden blond hair. She also vividly recalled the blue kirtle he wore, the sword and scabbard at his left hip, and the small silver clips in his hair. Concluding that no one in this day and age wore tablet-woven tunics or bear cloaks, there was no doubt that he too was a Viking.

She glanced at Patrick and saw that he was grinning at her expense. “I know it sounds ludicrous, but I know what I dreamed.”

Patrick wrapped his arm around her shoulders. “Maybe you have seen too many epic historical movies.”

Lorraine elbowed him, but he didn’t budge. He led her out of her bedroom and down the hall to the kitchen, going on about the last historical movie they’d watched together. She hardly heard a word as her mind focused on the strange dream and the man who had looked into her eyes with genuine urgency and concern.

“You hungry?”

Patrick’s question and the smell of goetta and eggs brought her back to reality. She brushed her messy morning hair from her face and sat down. “I could eat.”

“Good grief, Lorraine,” Patrick said, heading straight for the freezer. He reached in for a bag of frozen peas and brought it to her. “You have a goose egg on your forehead.”

She touched the painful lump and felt its pang beneath her fingertips. “Ouch. I sure do.” Still stunned by her eventful morning, she took the cold compress of vegetables and gently applied it to her head.

Patrick crossed his arms and gave her a sympathetic smile. “If you were trying to get out of going to Ireland today, you could’ve just faked a stomach virus instead of concussing yourself.”

“Ha-ha,” Lorraine mocked, wincing in pain from crinkling her brow.

“Sip on some coffee. I’ll get your plate ready.”

Lorraine slumped in her chair at the head of the large country table, big enough for eight people, with Captain finding his usual spot at her feet. She drank the coffee Patrick had prepared for her and licked the whipped cream from her upper lip, indulging in the first taste of sweetness in her otherwise unpleasant morning.

“What time is my flight again?”

Patrick divided the scrambled eggs and goetta between two plates and carried them over to the table. “You have an hour and a half before we have to leave for the airport.” He sat down next to her and placed the pepper shaker at the top of her plate before he took a sip of his own coffee.

Lorraine smiled inwardly at the gesture. It wasn’t so much that he knew she loved pepper on her eggs. It was that he’d always been attentive to her likes and dislikes. Who would do that for her once she was in Ireland? While Patrick had contended that being single was a great opportunity to pamper herself, she feared it was a time to get acquainted with the many stages of loneliness.

“Oh, I almost forgot. I have something for you.” He walked over to the counter and grabbed a small box wrapped in green-and-silver wrapping paper, complete with a bright orange bow. To most, it would be an unsightly combination of colors, but to her, it was beautiful. No one got her love for Ireland the way Patrick did.

He sat back down and slid it across the table. “Thought you might need this on your trip.”

She looked at him, contemplating the contents of the gift, and set the makeshift ice pack next to her plate.

“It’s not much, but I figured I owed it to you.”

A small upsurge of excitement bubbled inside her as she pulled off the bow and unwrapped the box. “You didn’t have to do this.”

Patrick laughed as he took another bite of his toast. “Yeah, I did.”

When she opened the box, she found a brand-new cell phone. She recalled the sudden death of her other phone and smiled appreciatively. “Thanks, Patrick.”

“I’ve already got my number programmed in there for you, so if you feel the need to call me, just press ‘two.’ And don’t even think of using this phone to call Brad. Right now the phone is still in my name, and if I so much as see his number on your itemized call list, I’m shutting it down.”

Lorraine’s mouth dropped open. “You don’t trust me?”

Patrick stuffed his mouth with a goetta patty. “Nope.”

She wasn’t all that shocked. Hell, she didn’t even trust herself at this point. Without Patrick by her side, she probably would’ve answered Brad’s call last night and listened to his cheap apology. What’s worse, she feared she might have even believed it.

“So, here are my rules while you’re in Ireland,” Patrick continued as he swallowed. “No calling Brad. No turning in before the sun sets. No wallowing in self-pity. And above all, do something crazy at least twice a week while you’re there.”

“Crazy…in Ireland…”

“I know it’s not exactly Spring Break in Panama, but surely you can do something unexpected on the Emerald Isle. I want a full report the next morning when you do.”

Lorraine had to laugh. She was never the type to throw caution to the wind. The likelihood of doing something foolish in another country was slim to none.

Instead of dousing Patrick’s high hopes, she went back to drinking her coffee and eating her meal. It was better to let Patrick think she’d be daring, given he was footing the bill for this expensive vacation. To do anything less would seem ungrateful.

Patrick was the solid ground beneath her feet, her best friend—her only friend. No one could boast knowing more about her than he could. They’d shared so much through the course of their lives that being with him felt as comfortable as breathing. The only aspect of their platonic relationship they hadn’t jumped into was the intimate part. Not that it didn’t ever come up or that they never found themselves staring into each other’s eyes for a few awkward moments before breaking away. It seemed inevitable that those moments would rear up from time to time, especially when two heterosexual friends lived under the same roof. But both of them seemed to be a little hesitant to make that leap for fear of ruining something special.

After taking the last bite of her food, she leaned back in her chair and pressed the thawing bag of peas to her head. She looked at Patrick, who was smirking like the devil.

“Vikings, huh?” he asked.

She scoffed. “And to think you’re the one who kept acting as if this guy in my dream was real, not me.”

“Who knows, maybe this Scandinavian is waiting for you in Ireland. If I remember correctly from all those European history courses we had to take in school, the Vikings visited there often.”

Lorraine knew Patrick’s sarcasm was only meant to humor her. She rose from her chair and planted the bag of peas on top of his noggin. “I think you need this more than I do.”