Come Lie With Me by Linda Howard

  “Patients have fallen in love with me before,” she pointed out.

  “I don’t doubt that, but have you ever fallen in love with a patient before?” he asked relentlessly.

  “I’m not in love with him.” She had to protest the idea, had to thrust it away from her. She couldn’t be in love with Blake.

  “I recognize the symptoms,” Richard said.

  As sticky as the conversation was when they were discussing Serena, Dione infinitely preferred it to the current line, and she moved jerkily away. “I don’t have any sandcastle built,” she assured him, clenching her hands into fists in an effort to keep herself from trembling. “When Blake’s walking, I’ll move on to another job. I know that; I’ve known it from the beginning. I always get personally involved with my patients,” she said, laughing a little. That was all it was, just her normal intense concentration on her patient.

  Richard shook his head in amusement. “You see so clearly with everyone else,” he said, “to be so blind about yourself.”

  The old, blind panic, familiar in form but suddenly unfamiliar in substance, clawed at her stomach. Blind. That word, the one Richard had used. No, she thought painfully. It wasn’t so much that she was blind as that she deliberately didn’t see. She had built a wall between herself and anything that threatened her; she knew it was there, but as long as she didn’t have to look at it, she could ignore it. Blake had forced her on two occasions to face the past that she’d put behind her, never realizing what the ordeal had cost her in terms of pain. Now Richard, though he was using his coolly analytical brain instead of the gut instincts Blake operated on, was trying to do the same.

  “I’m not blind,” she denied in a whisper. “I know who I am, and what I am. I know my limits; I learned them the hard way.”

  “You’re wrong,” he said, his gray eyes thoughtful. “You’ve only learned the limits that other people have placed on you.”

  That was so true that she almost winced away from the thrust of it. Instinctively she pushed the thought away, drew herself up, marshaling her inner forces. “I think you wanted to talk to me about Serena,” she reminded him quietly, letting him know that she wasn’t going to talk about herself any longer.

  “I did, but on second thought, I won’t bother you with it. You have more than enough on your mind now. In the end, Serena and I will have to settle our differences on our own, so it’s useless to ask anyone else’s advice.”

  Walking together, they reentered the house and went into the study. Serena was sitting with her back to them, though her posture of concentration told them exactly what expression was on her face. She hated to lose, and she poured all her energies into beating Blake. Although she was a good chess player, Blake was better. She was usually wild with jubilation whenever she managed to beat him.

  Blake, however, looked up as Richard and Dione came in together, and a hard, determined expression pulled his face into a mask. His blue eyes narrowed.

  Later that night, when she poked her head into his bedroom to tell him good-night, he said evenly, “Dee, Serena’s marriage is hanging by a thread. I’m warning you: don’t do anything to break that thread. She loves Richard. It’ll kill her if she loses him.”

  “I’m not a home wrecker or a slut,” she retorted, stung. Anger brought red spots to her cheeks as she stared at him. He had left the lamp on, evidently waiting until she told him good-night, as she usually did, so she could see exactly how forbidding he looked. Bewildered pain mingled with her anger to make her tremble inside. How could he even think…“I’m not like my mother,” she blurted, her voice stifled, and she whirled, slamming the door behind her and fleeing to her own room despite the sound of her name being called demandingly.

  She was both hurt and furious, but years of self-discipline enabled her to sleep dreamlessly anyway. When she woke hours later, just before her alarm went off, she felt better. Then she frowned. It seemed as if her subconscious could hear the echo of her name being called. She sat up, tilting her head as she listened.

  “Dee! Damn it to hell!”

  After weeks of hearing that particular note in his voice when he called her, she knew that he was in pain. Without her robe, she ran to his room.

  She turned on the light. He was sitting up, rubbing his left calf, his face twisted in a grimace of pain. “My foot, too,” he gritted. Dione seized his foot and forcefully returned his toes to their proper positions, digging her thumbs into the ball of his foot and massaging. He fell back against his pillow, his chest rising and falling swiftly as he gulped in air.

  “It’s all right,” she murmured, moving her soothing hands up his ankle to his calf.

  She devoted her attention to his leg, unaware of the fixed way he watched her. After several minutes she straightened out his leg and patted his ankle, then pulled the sheet over him. “There,” she said, smiling as she looked up, but the smile faded as she met his gaze. Those dark blue eyes were as fierce and compelling as the sea, and she faltered in the face of his regard, her soft lips parting. Slowly his eyes dipped downward, and she was abruptly aware of her breasts, thrusting against the almost transparent fabric of her nightgown. A throbbing ache in her nipples made her fear that they had hardened, but she didn’t dare glance down to confirm it. Her new nightgowns didn’t hide a lot; they merely veiled.

  Suddenly she couldn’t withstand the force of his gaze, and she averted her eyes, her thick lashes dropping to shield her thoughts. His body was in her line of vision, and abruptly her eyes widened. She almost gasped, but controlled her reaction at the last second.

  Jerkily she got to her feet, forgetting about how much the nightgown revealed. She’d accomplished her aim, but she didn’t feel smug about it; she felt stunned, her mouth dry, her pulses hammering through her veins. She swallowed, and her voice was too husky to be casual when she said, “I thought you said you were impotent.”

  It was a moment before her words registered. He looked as stunned as she felt, then he glanced down at himself. His jaw hardened and he swore aloud.

  A hot blush suddenly burned her face. It was ridiculous to stand there, but she couldn’t move. She was fascinated, she admitted, completely bewildered by her reaction, or rather, her lack of it. As fascinated as a bird before a cobra, and that was a Freudian simile if ever she’d heard one.

  “I must be psychic,” he whispered rawly. “I was just thinking that that little bit of nothing you have on would rouse the dead.”

  She couldn’t even smile. Abruptly, though, she was able to move, and she left the room as swiftly as she could without actually running.

  That disturbing dryness was still in her mouth as she dressed, pulling out her old clothes rather than the clinging new garments she’d been wearing. There was no need to dress seductively now; that particular milestone was behind him, and she knew better than to play with fire.

  The only problem was, she discovered as the days passed, that Blake didn’t seem to notice that she’d reverted to her old clothes, her modest nightgowns. He didn’t say anything, but she could always feel the blue fire of his gaze on her when they were together. In the course of therapy she was constantly touching him, and she gradually became accustomed to the way he’d wrap his fingers around her leg while she massaged him, or the frequency with which their bodies rubbed together when they were swimming.

  Much sooner than she’d expected, he stood alone, not using his hands. He swayed for a moment, but his legs held and he regained his balance. He worked harder than any patient she’d had before, determined to end his dependency on the wheelchair. He paid for his determination every night with the torturous cramps that he suffered, but he didn’t let up the killing pace he’d set for himself. Dione no longer organized his therapy; he pushed himself. All she could do was try to prevent him from doing so much that he harmed himself, and soothe his muscles at the end of every workout with massages and sessions in the whirlpool.

  Sometimes she got a lump in her throat as she watched him straining h
imself to the limit, his teeth clenched, his neck corded with effort. It would soon be over, and she’d move on to another patient. He was already an entirely different man from the one she’d first seen almost five months before. He was as hard as a rock, tanned the color of teak, his body rippling with lean muscles. He’d regained all of his weight, and possibly more, but it was all muscle, and he was as fit as any professional athlete. She couldn’t analyze the emotions that quivered through her when she watched him. Pride, of course, even some possessiveness. But there was also something else, something that made her feel warm and languid; yet at the same time she was more alive now than she’d ever been. She watched him, and she let him touch her, and she felt closer to him than she’d ever thought possible. She knew this man, knew his fierce pride, the daredevil in him that thumbed his nose at danger and laughingly accepted any challenge. She knew his swift, cutting intelligence, the blast of his temper, his tenderness. She knew the way he tasted, the strength of his mouth, the texture of his hair and skin beneath her hesitant fingers.

  He was becoming so much a part of her that, when she allowed herself to think about it, it frightened her. She couldn’t let that happen. Already he needed her less and less, and one day in the near future he would return to his work and she would be gone. For the first time the thought of moving on was painful. She loved the huge, cool hacienda, the smooth tiles underfoot, the serene expanses of white wall. The long summer days she’d spent in the pool with him, the laughter they’d shared, the hours of work, even the sweat and tears, had forged a bond that linked him to her in a way she didn’t think she could bear.

  It wasn’t easy admitting that she loved him, but as the gilded fall days slipped past, she stopped trying to hide it from herself. She’d faced too much in the past to practice self-deception for long. The knowledge that at last she loved a man was bittersweet, because she didn’t expect anything to come of it. Loving him was one thing; allowing him to love her was quite another. Her golden eyes were haunted as she watched him, but she threw herself into their remaining time together with a single-minded determination to gather all the memories she could, to let no shadows darken the time she had left. Like pieces of gold, she treasured his deep chuckles, the blistering curses he used whenever his legs wouldn’t do as he wanted, the way the virile groove in his cheek deepened into a dimple when he would look up at her, elated, at every triumph.

  He was so vitally alive, so masculine, that he deserved a woman in every sense of the word. She might love him, but she knew that she wouldn’t be able to satisfy him in the way that was most important to him. Blake was a very physical man; that was a part of his character that became more and more evident with each passing day as he regained command of his body. She wouldn’t burden him with the tangle of somber memories that lay just under the calm exterior she presented to the world; she wouldn’t make him feel guilty that she’d come to love him. If it killed her, if it tore her to pieces inside, she’d keep their relationship on an even keel, guide him through the last weeks of his therapy, celebrate with him when he finally took those first, all-important steps, then quietly leave. She’d had years of practice in doing just that, devoting herself body and soul to her patient…no, the relentlessly honest side of her corrected. Never before had she devoted herself body and soul to anyone else, only to Blake. And he’d never know. She would smilingly say good-bye, walk away, and he’d pick up his life again. Perhaps sometimes he’d think of the woman who’d been his therapist, but then again, perhaps he wouldn’t.

  Her eyes were cameras, hungrily catching images of him and etching them permanently into her brain, her dreams, the very fiber of her being. There was the morning she went into his room and found him lying on his back, staring at his feet with fierce concentration. “Watch,” he grunted, and she watched. Sweat beaded on his face, his fists clenched…and his toes moved. He threw his head back, giving her a blinding smile of triumph, and her built-in shutter clicked, preserving another memory; there was the scowl he gave her one night when she bested him in a long-fought game of chess, and he acted as outraged as he had when he’d discovered that she lifted weights. Laughing or frowning, he was the most beautiful thing that had ever happened to her, and she watched him constantly.

  It simply wasn’t fair that one man should be so rich with all the treasures of manhood, tempting her with his strength and laughter, when she knew that he was forbidden to her.

  The depths of her fey golden eyes held a world of silent suffering, and though she was very controlled whenever she thought anyone was looking at her, in repose her features reflected the sadness she felt. She was so engrossed with the discovery of her love, and regret for what could never be, that she failed to notice the sharp blue eyes that watched her in return, read the pain she felt and determined to find the cause.

  As the early days of November brought the sizzling Phoenix heat down into the comfortable mid-seventies, the milestone that she had dreaded, yet worked for so determinedly, was finally reached. He’d been on the bars all morning, literally dragging his feet along, and he was so wet with sweat that his dark blue shorts were soaked and clinging to him. Dione was exhausted by the effort of crouching beside him, moving his feet in the proper motions, and she sank to the floor.

  “Let’s rest a minute,” she said, her voice muffled by fatigue.

  His nostrils flared, and he made a sound that was almost a snarl. With his hands clenched around the bars, his teeth bared with determination, he flexed his muscles and bore down with the strain. His right foot moved erratically forward. A feral cry tore itself from deep in his chest and he sagged on the bars, his head falling forward. Trembling, Dione scrambled to her feet and reached out for him, but before she could touch him, he pulled his shoulders back and began the agonizing process with his left foot. His head arched back and he gulped in air; every muscle in his body stood out from the strain he was subjecting himself to, but at last the left foot moved, dragging more than the right foot had, but it moved. Dione stood rooted beside him, her face wet with silent, unnoticed tears as she watched him.

  “Damn it,” he whispered to himself, shuddering with the effort it cost him as he tried to take another step. “Do it again!”

  She couldn’t take it any longer; with a choked cry she hurled herself at him, wrapping her arms around his taut waist and burying her face in the sweaty hollow of his shoulder. He wavered, then regained his balance, and his sinewed arms locked around her, holding her so tightly that she moaned from the exquisite pain of it.

  “You witch,” he muttered thickly, burrowing his fingers under her tumbled mane of hair and twisting his hand in the black mass of it. He exerted just enough pressure to lift her face out of his shoulder and turn it up to him so he could see her wet cheeks, her drowning, glittering eyes and trembling lips. “You stubborn, beautiful witch, you all but jerked me out of that wheelchair by the hair on my head. Shhh, don’t cry,” he said, his tone changing to one of rustling tenderness. He bent his head and slowly kissed the salty tears from her lashes. “Don’t cry, don’t cry,” he crooned, his lips following the tracks of her silvery tears down her cheek, sliding to her lips, where his tongue licked them away. “Laugh with me, lady; celebrate with me. Let’s break out the champagne; you don’t know what this means to me…lady…no more tears,” he whispered, sighing the words against her face, her lips, and as the last one became sound he settled his mouth firmly over hers.

  Blindly she clung to him, hearing the tone of his voice, though the words didn’t make any sense. His arms were living shackles, holding her to him, his long, bare legs pressing against hers, her breasts crushed into the dark curls that decorated his chest, and she wasn’t afraid. Not of Blake. The taste of him was wild and heady, his tongue strong and insistent as it moved into her mouth and tasted her deeply, possessively. Instinctively she kissed him in return, making her own discoveries, her own explorations. He bit gently at her tongue, then sucked it back into his mouth when she began a startled withdra
wal. Dione’s knees buckled and she sagged against him, which was enough to upset his precarious balance. He lurched sideways, and they stumbled to the floor in a tangle of arms and legs, but not once did he release her. Again and again his mouth met hers, demanding things that she didn’t know how to give, and giving her a wild, alien pleasure that set her to trembling like a tree in a hurricane.

  Her nails dug into his shoulders and she strained against him, mindlessly seeking to intensify the contact with him. Not once did she think of Scott. Blake filled her world. The sweaty male scent of him was in her nostrils, the slippery texture of his hot skin under her hands; the unbearably erotic taste of his mouth lay sweetly on her tongue. At some unknown point his kisses had slipped past celebration and become intensely male, demanding, giving, thrilling. Perhaps they’d never been celebration kisses at all, she thought fuzzily.

  Suddenly he removed his mouth from hers and buried his face in the curve of her neck. When he spoke his voice was shaky, but husky with an undertone of laughter. “Have you noticed how much time we spend rolling around on the floor?”

  It wasn’t that funny, but in her sensitized state it struck her as hilarious, and she began to chuckle helplessly. He propped himself up on his elbow and watched her, his blue eyes lighted by a strange light. His hard, warm hand went to her stomach and slid under the thin fabric of her T-shirt top, resting lightly but soothingly on her bare flesh. The intimate but unthreatening touch calmed her almost immediately, and she quieted, lying there and watching his face with huge, fathomless eyes, in which her tears still glittered.

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