Come Lie With Me by Linda Howard

  “The patio!” she wailed. “Mother’s bench…it’s ruined! They’ve turned the pool into a madhouse! It looks awful!”

  “What?” he asked, his brows snapping together. “What’re you talking about?”

  Serena pointed a shaking finger at Dione. “Her gym! They’ve torn up the entire patio!”

  “I don’t think it’s that bad,” Dione said reasonably. “It may be disorganized now, but nothing should be torn up. Richard’s overseeing the installation of the equipment, and I’m sure he wouldn’t let anything be damaged.”

  “Come see for yourself!”

  Dione checked her watch. “I think we should have lunch first. The patio isn’t going anywhere, but the food will be cold.”

  “Stalling?” Blake inquired coldly. “I told you, Miss Kelley, that I don’t want this house changed.”

  “I can neither deny nor confirm what changes have been made, because I haven’t been outside. I’ve been with you all morning. However, I trust Richard’s good sense, even if you don’t,” she said pointedly, and Serena flushed furiously.

  “It isn’t that I don’t trust my husband,” she began heatedly, but Blake cut her off with a lifted hand.

  “Not now,” he said shortly. “I want to see the patio.”

  Serena fell into immediate silence, though she looked sulky. Evidently Blake was still very much the big brother, despite his obvious ill health. His voice carried the unmistakable ring of command. Blake Remington was accustomed to giving orders and having them carried out immediately; his morning with Dione must have gone completely against the grain.

  It was the first time Dione had been on the patio, and she found it beautifully landscaped, cool and fragrant, despite the brutal Arizona sun. Yucca plants and different varieties of cactus grew in perfect harmony with plants normally found in a much more congenial climate. Careful watering explained the unusual variety of plants, that and the well-planned use of shade. White flagstones had been laid out to form a path, while a central fountain spewed its musical water upward in a perfect spray. At the back of the patio, where a tall gate opened onto the pool area, was a beautifully carved bench in a delicate pearl-gray color. Dione had no idea what type of wood it was, though it was gorgeous.

  The patio was disorganized; evidently the workers Richard had hired had used the patio to store the pool furniture that was in the way, and also the materials that they didn’t need at the moment. However, she saw that they had been careful not to disturb any of the plants; everything was placed carefully on the flagstones. But Serena ran to the lovely bench and pointed out a long gouge on its side. “See!” she cried.

  Blake’s eyes flashed. “Yes, I see. Well, Miss Kelley, it looks as if your workers have damaged a bench that I consider priceless. My father gave it to my mother when they moved into this house; she sat here every evening, and it’s here that I see her in my mind. I want this whole thing called off before something else is ruined, and I want you out of my house.”

  Dione was distressed that the bench had been damaged, and she opened her mouth to apologize; then she saw the flash of triumph in Serena’s eyes and she paused. To give herself time to think, she walked to the bench and bent down to examine the scarred wood. Thoughtfully she ran a finger over the gouge; a quick glance at Serena caught a hint of apprehension in those amazingly expressive eyes. What was Serena worried about? Looking back at the bench, the answer became readily apparent: The bench was undoubtedly damaged, but the gouge was old enough to have weathered. It certainly hadn’t been done that morning.

  She could have accused Serena of deliberately trying to cause trouble, but she didn’t. Serena was fighting for the brother she loved, and though her battle was useless, Dione couldn’t condemn her for it. She would just have to separate Serena from Blake so her work could continue without a constant stream of interruptions. Richard would have to bring that laser brain of his into use and keep his wife occupied.

  “I can understand why you’re both upset,” she said mildly, “but this gouge wasn’t done tonight. See?” she asked, pointing at the wood. “It isn’t a fresh scar. I’d guess that this has been here for several weeks.”

  Blake moved his wheelchair closer and leaned down to inspect the bench for himself. He straightened slowly. “You’re right,” he sighed. “In fact, I’m afraid I’m the culprit.”

  Serena gasped. “What do you mean?”

  “A few weeks ago I was out here and I bumped the wheelchair into the bench. You’ll notice that the gouge is the same height as the hub of my wheel.” He rubbed his eyes with a thin hand that trembled with strain. “God, I’m sorry, Serena.”

  “Don’t blame yourself!” she cried, rushing to his side and clutching his hand. “It doesn’t matter; please don’t be upset. Come inside and let’s have lunch. I know you must be tired. It can’t do any good for you to tire yourself out like this. You need to rest.”

  Dione watched as Serena walked beside the wheelchair, all concern and love. Shaking her head a little in amused exasperation, she followed them.

  Serena remained close by Blake’s side for the rest of the day, fussing over him like a hen with one chick. Blake was tired after his first day of therapy, and he let her coddle him. Though Dione had planned to have another session of exercise and massage, she let it go rather than fight a battle to do it. Tomorrow…well, tomorrow would be another story.

  Richard arrived for dinner, a practice that Alberta had told Dione was the usual whenever Serena came over, which was every day. He watched silently as Serena hovered anxiously over Blake, and though Richard had the original poker face, Dione sensed that he wasn’t happy with the situation. After dinner, while Serena got Blake settled in his study, Dione took the opportunity to speak privately to Richard.

  They went out to the patio and sat on one of the benches that were scattered around. Dione looked up at the countless stars that were visible in the clear desert night. “I’m having a problem with Serena,” she said without preamble.

  He sighed. “I know. I’ve had a problem with her since Blake had his accident. I understand how she feels, but it’s still driving me crazy.”

  “He said something today about raising her.”

  “Practically. Serena was thirteen when their mother died, and it was quite a shock to her. It was weeks before she could bear for Blake to be out of her sight; it must’ve seemed to her as if everyone she loved was dying. First her father, then her mother. She was especially close to her mother. I know that she’s terrified something will happen to Blake, but at the same time I can’t help resenting it.”

  “‘Forsaking all others,’” Dione quoted, a little sadly.

  “Exactly. I want my wife back.”

  “Blake said that you don’t pay any attention to her, that you’re wrapped up in your work.”

  He rubbed the back of his neck with restless fingers. “I have a lot of work to do, with Blake like he is. My God, what I wouldn’t give to go home to just a little of the tender loving care that she smothers Blake with every day!”

  “I spoke to Alberta about having the locks on the doors changed, but the more I think about it, the more I think it isn’t such a good idea,” she confessed. “Blake would be furious if anyone locked his sister out of his house. The problem is, I can’t keep him on a schedule if she keeps interrupting.”

  “I’ll see what I can do,” he said doubtfully. “But any suggestion that will keep her away from Blake will go over like an outbreak of plague.” He looked at her, and his teeth suddenly flashed white as he grinned. “You must have the steadiest nerves I’ve ever seen. Was it interesting today?”

  “It had its moments,” she replied, laughing a little. “He threw his breakfast at me.”

  Richard laughed aloud. “I wish I could’ve seen that! Blake’s always had a hot temper, but for the past year he’s been so depressed that you couldn’t make him angry if you tried all day. It would’ve been like old times if I had been here to see him.”

“I hope I can get him to the point where he doesn’t need to be angry,” she said. “I’m certain that he’ll progress more rapidly if we aren’t interrupted. I’m relying on you to think of something that’ll keep Serena occupied.”

  “If I could, I’d have used it before now,” he said in disgust. “Short of kidnapping her, I can’t think of anything that will work.”

  “Then why don’t you?”


  “Kidnap her. Take her on a second honeymoon. Whatever it takes.”

  “The second honeymoon sounds good,” he admitted. “But there’s no way I can get free until Blake returns to work and takes over again. Any more ideas?”

  “I’m afraid you’ll have to think of something on your own. I don’t know her that well. But I need privacy to work with Blake.”

  “Then you’ll have it,” he promised after a moment’s thought. “I don’t know what I’ll do, but I’ll keep her away as much as I can. Unless Blake’s completely dead, it shouldn’t take him long to realize that he’d rather have you fussing over him than his sister, anyway.”

  At the obvious admiration in his voice, Dione shifted uncomfortably. She was aware of her looks, but at the same time she didn’t want anyone to comment on them. Blake was her patient; it was out of the question for her to become involved with him in any sort of sexual relationship. Not only was it against her professional ethics, it was impossible for her. She no longer woke up in the middle of the night trying desperately to scream, her throat constricted by sheer terror, and she wasn’t going to do anything to reawaken those nightmares. She’d put the horror behind her, where it had to stay.

  Sensing her unease, Richard said, “Dione?” His voice was low, puzzled. “Is something wrong?” He put his hand on her arm, and she jumped as if she’d been stung, unable to bear the touch. He got to his feet, alarmed by her action. “Dione?” he asked again.

  “I…I’m sorry,” she murmured, wrapping her arms tightly around herself in an effort to control the trembling that had seized her. “I can’t explain…. I’m sorry—”

  “But what’s wrong?” he demanded, reaching out his hand to her again, and she drew back sharply, jumping to her feet.

  She knew that she couldn’t explain, but neither could she stand there any longer. “Good night,” she said rapidly, and walked away from him. She entered the house and almost bumped into Serena, who was stepping out onto the patio.

  “There you are,” she said. “Blake’s gone to bed; he was so tired.”

  “Yes, I thought he would be,” Dione said, gathering her composure enough to answer Serena evenly. Suddenly she felt very tired, too, and she was unable to stifle a yawn. “I’m sorry,” she said. “It’s been a long day.”

  Serena gave her an odd, considering look. “Then Richard and I will be leaving; I don’t want to keep you up. I’ll see Blake tomorrow.”

  “I’ll be increasing his exercises tomorrow,” Dione informed her, taking the opportunity to let Serena know that her presence would hinder rather than help. “It would be better if you waited until late afternoon, say after four.”

  “But that’s too much!” Serena gasped. “He isn’t strong enough!”

  “At this point, I’m doing most of the work,” Dione reassured her dryly. “But I’ll be careful not to let him do too much.”

  If Serena heard the sarcasm that Dione couldn’t quite suppress, she didn’t let on. Instead she nodded. “I see,” she said coldly. “Very well. I’ll see Blake tomorrow afternoon.”

  Well, will wonders never cease, Dione thought wryly to herself as she made her way upstairs. All she’d had to do was mention that Blake would be busy, and though Serena hadn’t been happy with the situation, she’d agreed to it.

  After she’d gotten ready for bed, she tapped lightly on Blake’s door; when she didn’t hear an answer she opened the door just enough to peek inside. He was sound asleep, lying on his back, his head rolled against his shoulder. With only the light from the hallway on him, he looked younger, the lines of suffering not visible now.

  Quietly she closed the door and returned to her room. She was tired, so tired that her limbs ached, but after she was in bed she found that sleep eluded her. She knew why, and lay awake staring at the ceiling, knowing that she might not sleep at all that night. Such a silly, trivial thing…just because Richard had touched her.

  Yet it wasn’t trivial, and she knew it. She might have pushed the nightmare away, she might have restructured her life completely, but her past was hers, a part of her, and it hadn’t been trivial. Rape wasn’t trivial. Since that night she hadn’t been able to bear for anyone to touch her. She’d worked out a compromise with herself, satisfying her human need for warmth and touching by working with her patients, touching them, but she could bear the contact only as long as she was the one in control.

  On the surface she had recovered completely; she had built a wall between who she was now and who she had been then, never dwelling on what had happened, literally forcing herself to gather together the shattered pieces of her life and, with fierce concentration and willpower, actually mending the pieces into a stronger fabric. She could laugh and enjoy life. More importantly, she had learned how to respect herself, which had been the hardest task of all.

  But she couldn’t tolerate a man’s touch.

  That night had effectively prevented her from marrying and having a family. Since that part of life was denied her, she ignored it, and never cried for what might have been. Instead she became a vagabond of sorts, traveling around the country and helping other people. While she was on a case she had an intense relationship full of love and caring, but without any sexual overtones. She loved her patients, and, inevitably, they loved her…while it lasted. They became her family, until the day when it was over and she left them with a smile on her face, ready to continue on to her next case and her next “family.”

  She had wondered, when she began her training, if she would ever be able to work with a man at all. The problem worried her until she decided that, if she couldn’t, she would be handicapping her career terribly and made up her mind to do what was necessary. The first time she worked with a man she’d had to grit her teeth and use all her considerable determination to make herself touch him, but after a few minutes she had realized that a man who needed therapy obviously wasn’t in any shape to be attacking her. Men were human beings who needed help, just like everyone else.

  She preferred working with children, though. They loved so freely, so wholeheartedly. A child’s touch was the one touch she could tolerate; she had learned to enjoy the feel of little arms going about her neck in a joyous hug. If there was one regret that sometimes refused to go away, it was the regret that she would never have children of her own. She controlled it by channeling extra devotion into her efforts for the children she worked with, but deep inside her was the need to have someone of her own, someone who belonged to her and who she belonged to, a part of herself.

  Suddenly a muffled sound caught her attention, and she lifted her head from the pillow, waiting to see if it was repeated. Blake? Had he called out?

  There was nothing but silence now, but she couldn’t rest until she had made certain that he was all right. Getting out of bed, she slipped on her robe and walked silently to the room next door. Opening the door enough to look inside, she saw him lying in the same position he’d been in before. She was about to leave when he tried to roll onto his side, and when his legs didn’t cooperate, he made the same sound she’d heard before, a half sigh, half grunt.

  Did no one ever think to help him change his position? she wondered, gliding silently into the room on her bare feet. If he’d been lying on his back for two years, no wonder he had the temperament of a water buffalo.

  She didn’t know if he were awake or not; she didn’t think so. Probably he was just trying to change positions as people do naturally during sleep. The light in the hallway wasn’t on now, since everyone was in bed, and in the dim starlight coming thr
ough the glass doors she couldn’t see well enough to decide. Perhaps, if he were still asleep, she could gently adjust his position without his ever waking up. It was something she did for most of her patients, a gesture of concern that they usually never realized.

  First she touched his shoulder lightly, just placing her hand on him and letting his subconscious become accustomed to the touch. After a moment she applied a little pressure and he obeyed it, trying to roll to his right side, facing her. Gently, slowly, she helped him, moving his legs so they didn’t hold him back. With a soft sigh he burrowed his face into the pillow, his breathing becoming deeper as he relaxed.

  Smiling, she pulled the sheet up over his shoulder and returned to her room.

  Blake wasn’t like her other patients. Still lying awake over an hour later, she tried to decide why she was so determined to make him walk again. It wasn’t just her normal devotion to a patient; in some way she didn’t yet understand, it was important to her personally that he once again become the man he had been. He had been such a strong man, a man so vibrantly alive that he was the center of attention wherever he went. She knew that. She had to restore him to that.

  He was so near to death. Richard had been correct in saying that he wouldn’t live another year the way he was. Blake had been willing himself to die. She had gotten his attention that morning with her shock tactics, but she had to keep it until he could actually see himself progressing, until he realized that he could recover. She would never be able to forgive herself if she failed him.

  She finally slept for about two hours, rising before dawn with a restless anticipation driving her. She would have loved to run on the beach, but Phoenix didn’t have a beach, and she didn’t know the grounds well enough to go trotting around them in the dark. For all she knew Blake had attack dogs patrolling at night. But despite her lack of sleep she was brimming with energy. She tried to burn off some of it by doing a brisk routine of exercises, but the shower she took afterward so refreshed her that she felt she was ready to tackle the world. Well, at least Blake Remington!

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