Come Lie With Me by Linda Howard

  “This definitely calls for champagne,” he murmured, leaning over to crush his lips lightly over hers, then withdrawing before the contact could start anew the searing fire of discovery.

  Dione was under control again, and the therapist in her began to take over. “Definitely champagne, but first let’s get off the floor.” She rolled gracefully to her feet and extended her hand to him. He used his hands to place his feet in a secure position, then placed his forearm against hers, his hand cupping her elbow. She stiffened her arm, and he used the leverage to pull himself up, swaying for a moment before he found his balance.

  “What now?” he asked.

  Someone else might have thought he was asking about the immediate future, but Dione was so attuned to him that she knew he was asking about his progress. “Repetition,” she replied. “The more you do it, the easier it’ll be. On the other hand, don’t push yourself too hard, or you could hurt yourself. People get clumsy when they’re tired, and you could fall, break an arm or a leg, and the lost time would really hurt.”

  “Give me a time,” he insisted, and she shook her head at his persistence. He didn’t know how to wait; he pushed things along, impatient even with himself.

  “I’ll be able to give you a ballpark figure in a week,” she said, not letting him push her. “But I’ll definitely be able to keep my promise that you’ll be walking by Christmas.”

  “Six weeks,” he figured.

  “With a cane,” she threw in hastily, and then he glared at her.

  “Without a cane,” he insisted. She shrugged. If he set his mind to walking without a cane, he probably would.

  “I’ve been thinking of going back to work,” he said, startling her. She looked up and was tangled in the web of his blue gaze; it captured her as surely as a spider caught a helpless fly. “I could do it now, but I don’t want to interfere with my therapy. What do you say about the first of the year? Will I be far enough along that working won’t interfere with my progress?”

  Her throat clogged. By the first of the year she’d be gone. She swallowed and said in a low but even voice, “You’ll be out of therapy by then and can resume your normal schedule. If you want to continue your exercise program, that’s up to you; you have all of the equipment here. You won’t have to work as hard as you have, because I was building you up from a very low point. All you have to do now, if you want to continue, is maintain the level you’re at now, which won’t require such intensive training. If you’d like, I’ll draw up a program for you to follow to stay in your present shape.”

  Blue lightning suddenly flashed from his eyes. “What do you mean, for me to follow?” he demanded harshly, his hand darting out to grip her wrist. Despite her strength, her bones were slender, aristocratic, and his long fingers more than circled her flesh.

  Dione could feel her insides crumbling; hadn’t he realized that when his therapy was completed, she’d be leaving? Perhaps not. Patients were so involved with themselves, with their progress, that the reality of other responsibilities didn’t occur to them. She’d been living for weeks with the pain of knowing that soon she’d have to leave him; now he had to realize it, too.

  “I won’t be here,” she said calmly, straightening her shoulders. “I’m a therapist; it’s what I do for a living. I’ll be on another case by then. You won’t need me anymore; you’ll be walking, working, everything you did before…though I think you should wait a while before climbing another mountain.”

  “You’re my therapist,” he snapped, tightening his grip on her wrist.

  She gave a sad laugh. “It’s normal to be possessive. For months we’ve been isolated in our own little world, and you’ve depended on me more than you have on any other person in your life, except your mother. Your perspective is distorted now, but when you begin working again, everything will right itself. Believe me, by the time I’ve been gone a month, you won’t even think about me.”

  A dark red flush ran up under his tan. “Do you mean you’d just turn your back on me and walk away?” he asked in a disbelieving tone.

  She flinched, and tears welled in her eyes. She’d gone for years without crying, having learned not to when she was a child, but Blake had shattered that particular control. She’d wept in his arms…and laughed in them. “It…it’s not that easy for me, either,” she quivered. “I get involved, too. I always…fall a little in love with my patients. But it passes…. You’ll pick up your life and I’ll move on to another patient—”

  “I’ll be damned if you’re going to move in with some other man and fall in love with him!” Blake interrupted hotly, his nostrils flaring.

  Despite herself, Dione laughed. “Not all of my patients are men; I have a large percentage of children.”

  “That’s not the point.” His flesh was suddenly taut over his cheekbones. “I still need you.”

  “Oh, Blake,” she said in a half sob, half chuckle. “I’ve been through this more times than I can remember. I’m a habit, a crutch, nothing more, and I’m a crutch that you don’t even need now. If I left today, you’d do just fine.”

  “That’s a matter of opinion,” he snapped. He shifted his grasp on her wrist and brought her hand up, cradling it to his beard-roughened cheek for a moment before touching his mouth to her knuckles. “You shoved your way into my life, lady, took over my house, my routine, me…. Do you think people forget volcanoes?”

  “Maybe you won’t forget me, but you’ll discover, one day soon, that you don’t need me anymore. Now,” she said briskly, deliberately inserting cheer into her voice, “what about that champagne?”

  They had champagne. Blake rounded up everyone, and between them they drank the entire bottle. Angela received the news of Blake’s progress by gently crying; Alberta forgot herself so far as to give Dione a smile of self-satisfied complicity and drank three glasses of champagne; Miguel’s dark face suddenly lighted, the first smile Dione had ever seen from him, and he toasted Blake with a silently raised glass, the two men’s eyes meeting and communicating as memories flashed between them.

  There was another bottle of champagne at dinner that night. Serena hurled herself into Blake’s arms when he broke the good news to her, wrenching sobs of relief shaking her body. It took some time to quiet her; she was almost wild with the joy of it. Richard, whose face had become more and more strained as the weeks passed, suddenly looked as if the weight of the world had been lifted from his shoulders. “Thank God,” he said with heartfelt sincerity. “Now I can have that nervous breakdown I’ve been putting off for two years.”

  Everyone laughed, but Blake said, “If anyone deserves a long vacation, it’s you. As soon as I get back into harness, you’re relieved of duty for at least a month.”

  Richard moved his shoulders tiredly. “I won’t refuse it,” he said.

  Serena looked at her husband with determined cheerfulness. “How about Hawaii?” she asked. “We could spend the whole month lying on the beach in paradise.”

  Richard’s mouth thinned. “Maybe later. I think I just need to be by myself for a while.”

  Serena drew back as though he’d slapped her, and her cheeks paled. Blake looked at his sister, reading the dejection in her, and anger brightened the dark blue of his eyes. Dione put her hand on his sleeve to restrain him. Whatever problems Richard and Serena were having, they had to work them out by themselves. Blake couldn’t keep smoothing the path for Serena; that was a large part of the trouble. He was so important to her that Richard felt slighted.

  In only a moment Serena gathered herself and lifted her head, smiling as though Richard’s comment had completely missed her. Dione couldn’t help but admire her grit. She was a proud, stubborn woman; she didn’t need big brother to fight her battles for her. All she had to do was realize that for herself, and make Blake realize it, too.

  Dinner was an astonishing melange of items that weren’t normally served together, and Dione suspected that Alberta was still celebrating. When the cornish hen was followed by fish, she
knew that the three glasses of champagne had been too much. She made the mistake of glancing at Blake, and the barely controlled laughter on his face was too much for her. Suddenly everyone at the table was laughing, effectively banishing the silence that had fallen after Richard’s rejection of Serena.

  To keep from hurting Alberta’s feelings, they made a valiant effort at eating everything placed before them, though she’d evidently gotten carried away and prepared much more than she normally did. If she hadn’t been such a good cook, even when she was tipsy, it would have been impossible.

  They could hear occasional bursts of song from the kitchen, and just the thought of Alberta, of all people, singing, was enough to bring on fresh bouts of hilarity. Dione laughed until her stomach muscles were sore. The champagne was having its effect on them, too, and she suspected that anything would have made them laugh at that point.

  It was much later than usual when Serena and Richard left, and if nothing else, the champagne had destroyed the distance between them. Richard had to support his wobbly wife for the short distance to the car, and Serena was frankly hanging on him, laughing like a maniac. Dione was still sober enough to be glad that Richard handled his alcohol well, since he was driving, but she was also tipsy enough to fall into gales of laughter at the thought that it was a good thing Blake was still in a wheelchair; he’d never have made it up the stairs if he’d been walking.

  He insisted that she help him undress, and she put him to bed as if he were a child. As she leaned over him to adjust the sheet, he caught her hand and pulled it. After the champagne, her balance wasn’t the best it had ever been, and she tumbled across him. He stopped her giggles by kissing her slowly, sleepily, then settling her in his arms. “Sleep with me,” he demanded, then closed his eyes and fell immediately to sleep himself.

  Dione smiled a little sadly. The lights were still blazing, and she was dressed in the royal-blue dress she’d put on to celebrate the occasion. She hadn’t had that much to drink. After a few moments she gently extricated herself from his sleep-relaxed grip and slid from the bed. She turned out the lights, then made her way to her own room and removed the dress, dropping it carelessly on the floor. She, too, slept deeply, and woke the next morning with a headache that tempted her to just stay in bed.

  With admirable, if painful, self-discipline, she got out of bed and showered, then went about her normal activities. The champagne hadn’t affected Blake as much as it had her, and he was as clear-eyed as usual, ready to begin his exercises. After helping him to warm up, she left him to it and went to take a couple of aspirin.

  Serena came in just as she was about to go downstairs—a radiant Serena, whose mouth seemed curved in a permanent smile. “Hi,” she said cheerfully. “Where’s Blake?”

  When Dione told her, she said, “Good, I came to see you, not him. I just wanted to ask you how the chase is going.”

  It took a moment before Dione realized what she meant; her “scheme” to attract Blake had been so short-lived that, in retrospect, it seemed silly that she’d gotten so upset over something so trivial. Other worries had taken over her time and attention. “Everything’s fine,” she said, forcing herself to smile. “I think everything’s fine with you, too. You look better than I’d expected you to look this morning.”

  Serena gave her a wink. “I hadn’t had that much to drink,” she admitted without a hint of shame. “It just seemed like too good an opportunity to pass up. You inspired me; if you could go after the man you wanted, why couldn’t I? He’s my husband, for heaven’s sake! So I seduced him last night.”

  Despite her headache Dione chuckled. Serena grinned. “The war isn’t won yet, but I’ve recaptured some lost territory. I’ve decided that I’m going to get pregnant.”

  “Is that wise?” So many things could go wrong. If the marriage failed, then Serena would be left to raise the child alone. Or Richard might stay because of the child, but that seemed like a hellish situation for all concerned.

  “I know Richard,” said Serena with confidence. “I’ve offended him, and it’ll take him a while to forgive me, but I really think that he loves me. Having his baby will show him how much I love him, too.”

  “What he really needs is to know that you love him more than you love Blake,” Dione said. She felt a little uneasy at giving advice; what did she know about handling a love life? Her own brief experience with marriage had been disastrous.

  “I do! I love Richard in an entirely different way from the way I love Blake.”

  “If you were faced with a situation where you could save one of them, but not both of them, which one would you save?”

  Serena paled, staring at her.

  “Think it over,” Dione said gently. “That’s what Richard wants. Your wedding vows were to forsake all others.”

  “You’re telling me that I have to let Blake go, to cut him out of my life.”

  “Not entirely; just change the amount of time that you devote to him.”

  “I shouldn’t have dinner over here every night, should I?”

  “I’m sure Richard wonders which house you consider your home.”

  Serena was a fighter; she absorbed Dione’s words, and for a moment she looked frightened. Then her shoulders straightened and her chin went up. “You’re right,” she said forcefully. “You’re a dear!” She startled Dione by giving her a fierce hug. “Poor Richard won’t know what’s hit him. I’m going to positively smother him with tender loving care! You can be the baby’s godmother,” she added with a wicked twinkle.

  “I’ll remember that,” said Dione, but after Serena had left she wondered if Serena would remember. By that time, Dione would be long gone.

  Chapter Eight

  The next day, without mentioning it to anyone, Dione began making arrangements to take another case. She’d give herself time to recover from the pain of losing Blake, time to adjust to waking up without knowing that he was in the next room. She’d begin at the end of January, she thought. Blake would be returning to work after the first of January, and she’d probably leave sometime around then.

  Now that success was in his grasp, Blake pushed himself harder. Dione gave up even trying to rein in his energy. She watched him force himself along the bars, sweating, cursing steadily as an antidote against the pain and weariness, and when he was too tired to continue she’d massage his exhausted body, put him in the whirlpool, then give him another massage. She watched his diet more closely than ever, knowing how badly he needed extra nutrition now. When cramps knotted his legs in the night, she rubbed them out for him. There was no stopping him.

  It was time for him to leave the wheelchair behind. She brought in a walker, a four-legged half cage that provided him with the balance and stability he needed, and the pleasure of getting around under his own power was so great that he gladly endured the slow pace, the strain.

  He didn’t mention Serena’s sudden absence from the dinner table, though Alberta immediately adjusted both her menus and the amount she cooked. The full dinners almost ceased; instead she began preparing small, light dinners, and Dione often found the table set with candles and a decanter of wine. The intimate atmosphere was another spike that crucified her heart, but as Blake welcomed the pain of therapy, she welcomed the hurt of his company. This was all she had, and the days were trickling away so swiftly that she felt as if she were grasping at shadows.

  On Thanksgiving Day, following Blake’s directions, she drove them to Serena’s house for dinner. Except for being transferred from the hospital to home, it was the first time he’d been out since his accident, and he sat turned to stone, his entire body tense as his senses struggled to take everything in. In two years Scottsdale had changed, cars had changed, clothing had changed. She wondered if the desert sky seemed bluer to him, the sun brighter.

  “When will I be able to drive?” he asked abruptly.

  “When your reflexes are fast enough. Soon,” she promised absently. She seldom drove, and she had to concentrate on what sh
e was doing. She jumped when his hand rested on her knee, then slid up under the skirt she was wearing to pat her thigh.

  “Next week we’ll start practicing,” he said. “We’ll go out in the desert, away from all the traffic.”

  “Yes, fine,” she said, her voice taut with tension caused by the warm hand on her leg. He touched her constantly, bestowing kisses and pats, but somehow his hand seemed much more intimate when she had on a skirt.

  A smile twitched at his lips. “I like that dress,” he said.

  She gave him a harried glance. He liked every dress she wore, evidently. He was definitely a leg man. He slid closer and bent his head to inhale the perfume she’d used in honor of the occasion, his warm breath caressing her collarbone just before he pressed his lips into the soft hollow. Simultaneously his hand slid higher, and the car wobbled dangerously before Dione straightened it.

  “Stop it!” she fumed, pushing uselessly at his hand. “You’re making me nervous! I don’t drive that well anyway!”

  “Then put both hands on the wheel,” he advised, laughing. “I’m in the same car, remember? I’m not going to do anything that’ll cause you to crash.”

  “You wretch!” she shouted as his fingers began stroking back and forth over her thigh. “Damn it, Blake, would you stop it! I’m not a doll for you to play with!”

  “I’m not playing,” he murmured. His fingers circled higher.

  Desperately Dione released the wheel and grabbed his wrist with both hands. The car veered sideways, and with a curse he finally moved his hand, grabbing the steering wheel and bringing the car back under control. “Maybe I’d better start driving now,” he panted.

  “You’re going to be walking to Serena’s!” she yelled, her face scarlet.

  He threw his head back and laughed. “You don’t know how good that sounds, lady! It would take me a while, but I could do it! God, I feel like a human being again!”

  Abruptly she realized that his spirits were sky-high, the natural result of his victory and the experience of being away from the house. He was delirious with pleasure, drunk on his newfound freedom from the prison of his own body. Still, she was driving, and she was afraid that he was going to make her run into something.

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