Come Lie With Me by Linda Howard

  “Don’t do it!” Serena said sharply, twisting her fingers into knots.

  Blake turned and looked at his sister in disbelief. “You think she can beat me, don’t you?” he murmured, but the words were more a statement than a question.

  Serena was tense, staring at Dione with an odd, pleading look in her eyes. Dione understood: Serena didn’t want her brother humiliated. And neither did she. But she did want him to agree to therapy, and she was willing to do whatever was necessary to make him see what he was doing to himself. She tried to say that with her eyes, because she couldn’t say the words aloud.

  “Answer me!” Blake roared suddenly. Every line of him was tense.

  Serena bit her lower lip. “Yes,” she finally said. “I think she can beat you.”

  Silence fell, and Blake sat as though made of stone. Watching him carefully, Dione saw the moment he made the decision. “There’s only one way to find out, isn’t there?” he challenged, turning the wheelchair with a quick pressure of his finger on a button. Dione followed him as he led the way to his desk and positioned the wheelchair beside it.

  “You shouldn’t have a motorized wheelchair,” she observed absently. “A manual chair would have kept your upper body strength at a reasonable level. This is a fancy chair, but it isn’t doing you any good at all.”

  He shot her a brooding glance, but didn’t respond to her comment. “Sit down,” he said, indicating his desk.

  Dione took her time obeying him. She felt no joy, no elation, in knowing that she would win; it was something she had to do, a point that she had to make to Blake.

  Richard and Serena flanked them as they positioned themselves, Blake maneuvering himself until he was satisfied with his location, Dione doing the same. She propped her right arm on the desk and gripped her bicep with her left hand. “Ready when you are,” she said.

  Blake had the advantage of a longer arm, and she realized that it would take all of the strength in her hand and wrist to overcome the leverage he would have. He positioned his arm against hers and wrapped his fingers firmly around her much smaller hand. For a moment he studied the slim grace of her fingers, the delicate pink of her manicured nails, and a slight smile moved his lips. He probably thought it would be a cake walk. But she felt the coldness of his hands, indicating poor circulation, and knew the inevitable outcome of their little battle.

  “Richard, you start it,” Blake instructed, lifting his eyes and locking them with hers. She could feel his intensity, his aggressive drive to win, and she began to brace herself, concentrating all her energy and strength into her right arm and hand.

  “Go,” said Richard, and though there was no great flurry of movement between the two antagonists, their bodies were suddenly tense, their arms locked together.

  Dione kept her face calm, revealing nothing of the fierce effort it took to keep her wrist straight. After the first moments, when he was unable to shove her arm down, Blake’s face reflected first astonishment, then anger, then a sort of desperation. She could feel his first burst of strength ebbing and slowly, inexorably, she began forcing his arm down. Sweat broke out on his forehead and slipped down one side of his face as he struggled to reverse the motion, but he had already used his meager strength and had nothing in reserve. Knowing that she had him, and regretting her victory even though she knew it was necessary, Dione quickly settled the matter by forcing his arm down flat on the desk.

  He sat in his wheelchair, a shattered expression in his eyes for a flashing moment before he closed himself off and made his face a blank wall.

  The silence was broken only by his rapid breathing. Richard’s face was grim; Serena looked torn between the desire to comfort her brother and a strong inclination to throw Dione out herself.

  Dione moved briskly, rising to her feet. “That settles that,” she said casually. “In another two months I won’t be able to do that. I’ll put my things in the room next to this one—”

  “No,” said Blake curtly, not looking at her. “Serena, give Miss Kelley the guest suite.”

  “That won’t do at all,” Dione replied. “I want to be close enough to you that I’ll be able to hear you if you call. The room next door will do nicely. Richard, how soon can you have those changes made that I stipulated?”

  “What changes?” Blake asked, jerking his head up.

  “I need some special equipment,” she explained, noting that the diversion had worked, as she’d intended it to. He’d already lost that empty look. She’d evidently made the right decision in being so casual about beating him at arm wrestling, treating the incident as nothing unusual. Now was not the time to rub it in, or to let him know that there were a lot of men walking the earth who couldn’t match her in arm wrestling. He’d find out soon enough when they got into the weight-lifting program.

  “What sort of special equipment?” he demanded.

  She controlled a smile. His attention had certainly been caught by the possibility of any changes in his beloved home. She outlined her needs to him. “A whirlpool is a necessity. I’ll also need a treadmill, weight bench, sauna, things like that. Any objections?”

  “There might be. Just where do you plan to put all this?”

  “Richard said he could outfit a gym for me on the ground floor, next to the pool, which will be very convenient, because you’ll be doing a lot of work in the pool. Water is a great place for calisthenics,” she said enthusiastically. “Your muscles still get the workout, but the water supports your weight.”

  “You’re not putting in a gym,” he said grimly.

  “Read my contract.” She smiled. “The gym is going in. Don’t make such a fuss; the house won’t be disfigured, and the equipment is necessary. An Olympic trainee won’t be getting the workout you’re facing,” she said with quiet truth. “It’s going to be hard work, and it’s going to be painful, but you’ll do it if I have to drive you like a slave. You can put money on it: You’ll be walking by Christmas.”

  A terrible longing crossed his face before he brought his thin hand up to rub his forehead, and Dione sensed his indecision. But it wasn’t in him to give in to anyone else easily, and he scowled. “You won the right to stay here,” he said grudgingly. “But I don’t like it, and I don’t like you, Miss Kelley. Richard, I want to see that contract she keeps harping about.”

  “I don’t have it with me,” Richard lied smoothly, taking Serena’s arm and edging her toward the door. “I’ll bring it with me the next time I’m over.”

  Serena had time for only an incoherent protest before Richard had her out the door. Trusting Richard to keep his wife away, at least for the time being, Dione smiled at Blake and waited.

  He eyed her warily. “Don’t you have something else to do besides staring at me?”

  “I certainly do. I was just waiting to see if you have any questions. If you don’t, I need to be unpacking.”

  “No questions,” he muttered.

  That wouldn’t last long, she thought, leaving him without another word. When he found out the extent of her therapy, he’d have plenty to say about it.

  It was evidently up to her to find her way around the house, but because the design was so simple, she had no difficulty exploring. Her suitcases were sitting in the foyer, and she took them upstairs herself, finally examining the room she’d chosen for her own. It was a room for a man, done in masculine browns and creams, but it was comfortable and suited her; she wasn’t picky. She unpacked, a chore that didn’t take long because she didn’t burden herself with a lot of clothing. What she had was good and adaptable, so she could use one outfit for several different things just by changing a few accessories. The way she traveled around, from one case to another, a lot of clothing would have been a hindrance.

  Then she went in search of the cook and housekeeper; a house that size had to have some sort of staff, and she needed everyone’s cooperation. It might have been easier if Richard had remained to introduce her, but she was glad that he’d taken Serena out of the way.
  She found the kitchen without difficulty, though the cook who occupied it was something of a surprise. She was tall and lean, obviously part Indian, despite the pale green of her eyes. Though her age was impossible to determine, Dione guessed her to be at least in her fifties, possibly sixties. Her raven black hair didn’t hint at it, but there was something in the knowledge in her eyes, the dignity of her features, that suggested age. She was as imperial as a queen, though the look she turned on the intruder into her kitchen wasn’t haughty, merely questioning.

  Quickly Dione introduced herself and explained why she was there. The woman washed her hands and dried them with unhurried motions, then held her hand out. Dione took it. “My name is Alberta Quincy,” the cook said in a deep, rich voice that could have been a man’s. “I’m glad that Mr. Remington has agreed to therapy.”

  “He didn’t exactly agree,” Dione replied honestly, smiling. “But I’m here anyway, and I’m staying. I’ll need everyone’s cooperation to handle him, though.”

  “You just tell me what you want,” Alberta said with pure confidence. “Miguel, who takes care of the grounds and drives Mr. Remington’s car, will do as I tell him. My stepdaughter, Angela, cleans the house, and she’ll also do as I say.”

  Most people would, Dione thought privately. Alberta Quincy was the most regal person she’d ever met. There wasn’t much expression in her face and her voice was even and deliberate, but there was a force to the woman that most people wouldn’t be able to resist. She would be an indispensable ally.

  Dione outlined the diet she wanted Blake to follow, and explained why she wanted changes made. The last thing she wanted to do was offend Alberta. But Alberta merely nodded. “Yes, I understand.”

  “If he gets angry, put all the blame on me,” Dione said. “At this point, I want him to be angry. I can use anger, but I can’t work with indifference.”

  Again Alberta nodded her regal head. “I understand,” she said again. She wasn’t a talkative woman, to understate the matter, but she did understand, and to Dione’s relief she didn’t express any doubts.

  There was one other problem, and Dione broached it cautiously. “About Mr. Remington’s sister…”

  Alberta blinked once, slowly, and nodded. “Yes,” she said simply.

  “Does she have a key to the house?” Gold eyes met green ones, and the communication between the two women was so strong that Dione had the sudden feeling that words were unnecessary.

  “I’ll have the locks changed,” Alberta said. “But there’ll be trouble.”

  “It’ll be worth the benefits. I can’t have his routine interrupted once I get him started on it, at least until he can see some improvement for himself and will want to continue with it. I think Mr. Dylan can handle his wife.”

  “If he even wants to any longer,” Alberta said calmly.

  “I think he does. He doesn’t seem like a man to give up very easily.”

  “No, but he’s also very proud.”

  “I don’t want to cause trouble between them, but Mr. Remington is my concern, and if that causes friction, then they have to handle it as best they can.”

  “Mrs. Dylan worships her brother. He raised her; their mother died when Mrs. Dylan was thirteen.”

  That explained a lot, and Dione spared a moment of sympathy for both Serena and Richard; then she pushed thoughts of them away. She couldn’t consider them; Blake would take all her concentration and energy.

  Suddenly she was very tired. It had been a full day, and though it was only late afternoon, she needed to rest. The battle would begin in earnest in the morning, and she’d need a good night’s sleep in order to face it. Starting tomorrow, her hands would be full.

  Alberta saw the sudden fatigue that tightened Dione’s features and within minutes had a sandwich and a glass of milk sitting on the table. “Eat,” she said, and Dione knew better than to argue. She sat down and ate.

  Dione’s alarm clock went off at five-thirty the next morning. She rose and took a shower, her movements brisk and certain from the moment she got out of bed. She always woke instantly, her mind clear, her coordination in perfect sync. It was one reason why she was such a good therapist; if a patient needed her during the night, she didn’t stumble around rubbing her eyes. She was instantly capable of doing whatever was required of her.

  Something told her that Blake wouldn’t be such a cheerful riser, and she could feel her heartbeat speeding up as she brushed her long hair and braided it in one thick braid. Anticipation of the coming battle ran through her veins like liquid joy, making her eyes sparkle and giving a rosy flush to her skin.

  The morning was still cool, but she knew from experience that exertion would make her warm, so she dressed in brief blue shorts, a sleeveless cotton shirt with cheerful polka dots in red, blue and yellow, and an old pair of tennis shoes. She touched her toes twenty times, stretching her back and legs, then did twenty sit-ups. She was capable of many more than that, but this was only a quick routine to warm up.

  She was smiling when she entered Blake’s room after a quick tap on the door. “Good morning,” she said cheerfully as she crossed the floor to the balcony and opened the curtains, flooding the room with light.

  He was lying on his back, his legs positioned a little awkwardly, as if he’d tried to move them during the night. He opened his eyes, and Dione saw the flare of panic in them. He twitched and tried to sit up, groping at his legs; then he remembered and fell back, his face bleak.

  How often did that happen? How often did he wake, not remembering the accident, and panic because he couldn’t move his legs? He wouldn’t do that for very much longer, she determined grimly, going over to sit on the bed beside him.

  “Good morning,” she said again.

  He didn’t return the greeting. “What time is it?” he snapped.

  “About six o’clock, maybe a little earlier.”

  “What’re you doing here?”

  “Beginning your therapy,” she replied serenely. He was wearing pajamas, she saw, and wondered if he were able to completely dress himself or if someone had to help him.

  “No one’s up at this hour,” he grumbled, closing his eyes again.

  “I am, and now you are. Come on; we’ve got a lot to do today.” She rolled the wheelchair to the side of the bed and threw the covers back, revealing his pitifully thin legs clad in the pale blue pajamas. His feet were covered with white socks.

  He opened his eyes and the anger was there again. “What’re you doing?” he snarled, reaching out an arm to whip the covers back over himself again.

  He didn’t want her to see him, but she couldn’t permit any modesty to interfere. Before long she’d be as familiar with his body as she was with her own, and he had to realize that. If he were ashamed of his physical condition, then he’d simply have to work to improve it.

  She snatched the covers away again, and with a deft movement scooped his legs around until they were hanging off the side of the bed. “Get up,” she said relentlessly. “Go to the bathroom before we get started. Do you need any help?”

  Pure fire sparked from his blue, blue eyes. “No,” he growled, so angry that he could barely speak. “I can go to the bathroom by myself, Mama!”

  “I’m not your mother,” she returned. “I’m your therapist, though the two do have a lot in common.”

  She held the chair while he levered himself into it; then he shot across the room and was in the adjoining bathroom before she could react. She laughed silently to herself. When she heard the lock click she called out, “Don’t think you can lock yourself in there all morning! I’ll take the door off the hinges if I have to.”

  A muffled curse answered her, and she laughed again. This was going to be interesting!

  By the time he finally came out she had begun to think she really would have to take the door down. He’d combed his hair and washed his face, but he didn’t look any more pleased with being awake than he had before.

  “Do you have any unde
rwear on?” she asked, not making any comment on the length of time he’d spent in the bathroom. He’d timed that very nicely, stalling as long as he could, but coming out just before she did something about it.

  Shock froze his features. “What?” he asked.

  “Do you have any underwear on?” she repeated.

  “What business is it of yours?”

  “Because I want your pajamas off. If you don’t have any underwear on, you may want to put on a pair, but it really doesn’t matter to me. I’ve seen naked men before.”

  “I’m sure you have,” he muttered snidely. “I have underwear on, but I’m not taking my pajamas off for you.”

  “Then don’t. I’ll take them off for you. I think you learned yesterday that I’m strong enough to do it. But those pajamas are coming off, the easy way or the hard way. Which is it?”

  “Why do you want them off?” he stalled. “It can’t be so you can admire my build,” he said bitterly.

  “You’re right about that,” she said. “You look like a bird. That’s why I’m here; if you didn’t look like a bird, you wouldn’t need me.”

  He flushed.

  “The pajamas,” she prodded.

  Furiously he unbuttoned the shirt and threw it across the room. She could sense that he would have liked to do the same to the bottoms, but they were a bit more difficult to remove. Without a word Dione helped him back onto the bed, then pulled the garment down his thin legs and draped it over the arm of the wheelchair. “On your stomach,” she said, and deftly rolled him over.

  “Hey!” he protested, his face smothered in the pillow. He swept the pillow aside. He was shaking with fury.

  She popped the elastic waistband of his shorts. “Calm down,” she advised. “This will be painless this morning.”

  Her impertinent little gesture made his temper flare so hotly that his entire torso flushed. Smiling at his response, she began to firmly knead his shoulders and back.

  He grunted. “Take it easy! I’m not a side of beef!”

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