Come Lie With Me by Linda Howard

  It was even earlier than it had been the morning before when she gave in to her enthusiasm and bounded into his room, snapping on the light as she did, because it was still dark.

  “Good morning,” she chirped.

  He was still on his side; he opened one blue eye, surveyed her with an expression of horror, then uttered an explicit word that would have gotten his mouth washed out with soap if he’d been younger. Dione grinned at him.

  “Are you ready to start?” she asked innocently.

  “Hell, no!” he barked. “Lady, it’s the middle of the night!”

  “Not quite. It’s almost dawn.”

  “Almost? How close to almost?”

  “In just a few minutes,” she soothed, then ruined it by laughing as she threw the covers off him. “Don’t you want to see the sunrise?”


  “Don’t be such a spoilsport,” she coaxed, swinging his legs off the bed. “Watch the sunrise with me.”

  “I don’t want to watch the sunrise, with you or anyone else,” he snarled. “I want to sleep!”

  “You’ve been asleep for hours, and you don’t want to pass this sunrise up; it’s going to be a special one.”

  “What makes this sunrise so special? Does it mark the beginning of the day you’re going to torture me to death?”

  “Only if you don’t watch it with me,” she promised him cheerfully, catching his hand and urging him upright. She helped him into the wheelchair and covered him with a blanket, knowing that the air would feel cool to him. “Where’s the best place to watch it from?” she asked.

  “By the pool,” he grunted, rubbing his face with both hands and mumbling the words through his fingers. “You’re crazy, lady; a certified lunatic if I’ve ever seen one.”

  She smoothed his tousled hair with her fingers, smiling down at him tenderly. “Oh, I don’t know about that,” she murmured. “Didn’t you sleep well last night?”

  “Of course I did!” he snapped. “You had me so tired I couldn’t hold my head up!” As soon as the words left his mouth a sheepish expression crossed his face. “All right, so it was the best night I’ve had in two years,” he admitted, grudgingly, it was true, but at least he said it.

  “See what a little therapy can do for you?” she teased, then changed the subject before he could flare up at her again. “You’ll have to lead the way to the pool; I don’t want to go through the courtyard, since the workers have put so much of their equipment there. It could be tricky in the dark.”

  He wasn’t enthusiastic, but he put the chair in motion and led her through the silent house to the rear entrance. As they circled around the back to the pool, a bird chirped a single, liquid note in greeting of the new day, and his head lifted at the sound.

  Had it been two years since he’d heard a bird sing?

  Sitting beside the pool, with the quiet ripple of the water making its own music, they silently watched the first graying of dawn; then at last the first piercing ray of the sun shot over the rim of the mountains. There were no clouds to paint the sky in numberless hues of pink and gold, only the clear, clear blue sky and the white-gold sun, but the utter serenity of the new day made the scene as precious as the most glamorous sunrise she’d ever seen. As fast as that, the day began to warm, and he pushed the blanket down from his shoulders.

  “I’m hungry,” he announced, a prosaic concern after the long silence they had shared.

  She looked at him and chuckled, then rose from her cross-legged position on the concrete. “I can see how much you appreciate the finer things in life,” she said lightly.

  “If you insist on getting me up at midnight, naturally I’m hungry by the time dawn rolls around! Am I getting the same slop today that I had yesterday morning?”

  “You are,” she said serenely. “A nutritious, high-protein breakfast, just what you need to put weight on you.”

  “Which you then try your damnedest to beat off of me,” he retorted.

  She laughed at him, enjoying their running argument. “You just wait,” she promised. “By this time next week you’re going to think that yesterday was nothing!”

  Chapter Four

  Dione lay awake, watching the patterns of light that the new moon was casting on the white ceiling. Richard had worked miracles and informed her at dinner that night that the gym was now ready for use, but her problem was with Blake. Unaccountably he’d become withdrawn and depressed again. He ate what Alberta put before him, and he lay silent and uncomplaining while Dione exercised his legs, and that was all wrong. Therapy wasn’t something for a patient to passively accept, as Blake was doing. He could lie there and let her move his legs, but when they started working in the gym and in the pool, he’d have to actively participate.

  He wouldn’t talk to her about what was bothering him. She knew exactly when it had happened, but she couldn’t begin to guess what had triggered it. They had been sniping at each other while she gave him a massage before beginning the exercises, and all of a sudden his eyes had gotten that blank, empty look, and he’d been unresponsive to any of her gibes since then. She didn’t think it was anything she’d said; her teasing that day had been lighthearted, because of his greatly improved spirits.

  Turning her head to read the luminous dial of the clock, she saw that it was after midnight. As she had done every night, she got up to check on Blake. She hadn’t heard the sounds that he usually made when he tried to turn over, but she’d been preoccupied with her thoughts.

  As soon as she entered his room she saw that his legs had that awkward, slightly twisted look that meant he’d already tried to shift his position. Gently she put her left hand on his shoulder and her right on his legs, ready to move him.


  His quiet, uncertain voice startled her, and she leaped back. She’d been so intent on his legs that she hadn’t noticed his open eyes, though the moonlight that played across the bed was bright enough for her to see him.

  “I thought you were asleep,” she murmured.

  “What were you doing?”

  “Helping you to roll over on your side. I do this every night; this is the first time you’ve been disturbed by it.”

  “No, I was already awake.” Curiosity entered his tone as he shifted his shoulders restlessly. “Do you mean you come in here in the middle of every night and roll me around?”

  “You seem to sleep better on your side,” she said by way of explanation.

  He gave a short, bitter laugh. “I sleep better on my stomach, or at least I did before. I haven’t slept on my stomach in two years now.”

  The quiet intimacy of the night, the moonlit room, made it seem as if they were the only two people on earth, and she was aware of a deep despair in him. Perhaps he felt a special closeness with her, too; perhaps now, with the darkness as a partial shield, he would talk to her and tell her what was bothering him. Without hesitation she sat down on the edge of the bed and pulled her nightgown snugly around her legs.

  “Blake, what’s wrong? Something’s bothering you,” she said softly.

  “Bingo,” he muttered. “Did you take psychology, too, when you were in training to be Superwoman?”

  She ignored the cut and put her hand on his arm. “Please tell me. Whatever it is, it’s interfering with your therapy. The gym is ready for you, but you aren’t ready for it.”

  “I could’ve told you that. Look, this whole thing is a waste of time,” he said, and she could almost feel the weariness in him, like a great stone weighing him down. “You may feed me vitamins and rev up my circulation, but can you promise that I’ll ever be exactly like I was before? Don’t you understand? I don’t want just ‘improvement,’ or any other compromise. If I can’t be back, one hundred percent, the way I was before, then I’m not interested.”

  She was silent. No, she couldn’t honestly promise him that there wouldn’t always be some impairment, a limp, difficulties that would be with him for the rest of his life. In her experience, the human body
could do wonders in repairing itself, but the injuries it suffered always left traces of pain and healing in the tissue.

  “Would it matter so much to you if you walked with a limp?” she finally asked. “I’m not the way I would like to be, either. Everyone has a weakness, but not everyone just gives up and lets himself rot because of it, either. What if your position were reversed with say, Serena? Would you want her to just lie there and slowly deteriorate into a vegetable? Wouldn’t you want her to fight, to try as hard as she could to overcome the problem?”

  He flung his forearm up to cover his eyes. “You fight dirty, lady. Yes, I’d want Serena to fight. But I’m not Serena, and my life isn’t hers. I’d never really realized, before the accident, how important the quality of my life was. The things I did were wild and dangerous, but, my God, I was alive! I’ve never been a nine-to-five man; I’d rather be dead, even though I know that millions of people are perfectly happy and content with that kind of routine. That’s fine for them, but it’s not me.”

  “Would a limp prevent you from doing all those things again?” she probed. “You can still jump out of airplanes, or climb mountains. You can still fly your own jets. Is the rhythm of your walk so important to you that you’re willing to die because of it?”

  “Why do you keep saying that?” he asked sharply, jerking his arm down and glaring at her. “I don’t remember heading my wheelchair down the stairs, if that’s what you’re thinking.”

  “No, but you’re killing yourself just as surely in a different way. You’re letting your body die of neglect. Richard was desperate when he tracked me down in Florida; he told me that you wouldn’t live another year the way you were going, and after seeing you, I agree with him.”

  He lay in silence, staring up at the ceiling that he had already looked at for more hours than she could imagine. She wanted to gather him into her arms and soothe him as she did the children she worked with; he was a man, but in a way he was as lost and frightened as any child. Confused suddenly by the unfamiliar need to touch him, she folded her hands tightly in her lap.

  “What’s your weakness?” he asked. “You said that everyone has one. Tell me what torments you, lady.”

  The question was so unexpected that she couldn’t stop the welling of pain, and a shudder shook her entire body. His weakness was obvious, there for everyone to see in his limp, wasted legs. Hers was also a wound that had almost been fatal, for all that it couldn’t be seen. There had been a dark time when death had seemed like the easiest way out, a soft cushion for a battered mind and body that had taken too much abuse. But there had been, deep inside her, a bright and determined spark of life that had kept her from even the attempt, as if she knew that to take the first step would be one step too many. She had fought, and lived, and healed her wounds as best she could.

  “What’s wrong?” he jeered softly. “You can pry into everyone else’s secrets, so why can’t you share a few of your own? What are your weaknesses? Do you shoplift for kicks? Sleep with strangers? Cheat on your taxes?”

  Dione shuddered again, her hands clenched so tightly that her knuckles were white. She couldn’t tell him, not all of it, yet in a way he had a right to know some of her pain. She had already witnessed a lot of his, knew what he thought, knew his longing and despair. None of her other patients had demanded so much from her, but Blake wasn’t like the others. He was asking for more than he knew, just as she was asking him for superhuman effort. If she put him off now, she knew in her bones that he wouldn’t respond to her anymore. His recovery depended on her, on the trust she could foster between them.

  She was shaking visibly, her entire body caught up in the tremors that shook her from head to foot. She knew that the bed was vibrating, knew that he could feel it. His brows snapped together and he said uncertainly, “Dione? Listen, I—”

  “I’m illegitimate,” she grounded out, her teeth chattering. She was panting with the effort it took her to speak at all, and she felt a film of perspiration break out on her body. She sucked in her breath on a sob that shuddered through her; then with a grinding force of will she held her body still. “I don’t know who my father was; my mother didn’t even know his name. She was drunk, he was there, and presto! She had a baby. Me. She didn’t want me. Oh, she fed me, I suppose, since I’m alive to tell about it. But she never hugged me, never kissed me, never told me that she loved me. In fact, she went out of her way to tell me that she hated me, hated having to take care of me, hated even seeing me. Except for the welfare check she got for me, she would probably have dumped me in a trash can and left me.”

  “You don’t know that!” he snapped, heaving himself up on one elbow. She could tell that he was taken aback by the harsh bitterness in her voice, but now that she had started, she couldn’t stop. If it killed her, the poison had to spew out now.

  “She told me,” she insisted flatly. “You know how kids are. I tried every way I knew how to make her love me. I couldn’t have been more than three years old, but I can remember climbing up on chairs, then onto the cabinets so I could reach the whiskey bottle for her. Nothing worked, of course. I learned not to cry, because she slapped me if I cried. If she wasn’t there, or if she was passed out drunk, I learned to eat whatever I could. Dry bread, a piece of cheese, it didn’t matter. Sometimes there wasn’t anything to eat, because she’d spent all the check on whiskey. If I waited long enough she’d go off with some man and come back with a little money, enough to get by until the next check, or the next man.”

  “Dee, stop it!” he ordered harshly, putting his hand on her arm and shaking her. Wildly she jerked away from him.

  “You wanted to know!” she breathed, her lungs aching with the effort they were making to draw air into her constricted chest. “So you can hear it!…Whenever I made the mistake of bothering her, which didn’t take much, she slapped me. Once she threw a whiskey bottle at me. I was lucky that time, because all I got was a little cut on my temple, though she was so angry at the wasted whiskey that she beat me with her shoe. Do you know what she told me, over and over? ‘You’re just a bastard, and nobody loves a bastard!’ Over and over, until finally I had to believe it. I know the exact day when I learned to believe it. My seventh birthday. I’d started to go to school, you see, and I knew then that birthdays were supposed to be something special. Birthdays were when your parents gave you presents to show you how much they loved you. I woke up and went running into her room, sure that today was the day that she would finally love me. She slapped me for waking her up and shoved me into the closet. She kept me locked in the closet all day long. That’s what she thought of my birthday, you see. She hated the sight of me.”

  She was bent over, her body tight with pain, but her eyes were dry and burning. “I was living in the streets by the time I was ten,” she whispered, her strength beginning to leave her. “It was safer than home. I don’t know what happened to her. I went back one day, and the place was empty.”

  Her rasping breath was the only sound in the room. He lay as if he had been turned to stone, his eyes burning on her. Dione could have collapsed, she was suddenly so tired. With an effort she drew herself upright. “Any more questions?” she asked dully.

  “Just one,” he said, and her body clenched painfully, but she didn’t protest. She waited, wondering in exhaustion what he would ask of her next.

  “Were you eventually adopted?”

  “No,” she breathed, closing her eyes, swaying a little. “I eventually wound up in an orphanage, and it was as good a place as any. I had food, and a place to sleep, and I was able to go to school regularly. I was too old for adoption, and no one wanted me as a foster child. My looks were too odd, I suppose.” Moving like an old woman, she got to her feet and slowly left the room, knowing that the air was still heavy with questions that he wanted to ask, but she’d remembered enough for one night. No matter what she had accomplished, no matter how many years had passed since she was a lonely, bewildered child, the lack of her mother’s love was still a
n emptiness that hadn’t been filled. A mother’s love was the basis of every child’s life, and the absence of it had left her crippled inside just as surely as the accident had crippled Blake’s legs.

  Not surprisingly, she fell facedown on her bed and slept heavily, without dreaming, to awaken promptly when the alarm went off. She had learned, over the years, how to function even when she felt as if a part of her had been murdered, and she did so now. At first she had to force herself to go through the regular routine, but in only a moment the hard self-discipline had taken over, and she shoved the crisis of the night away. She would not let it drag her down! She had a job to do, and she’d do it.

  Perhaps something of her determination was written on her face when she entered Blake’s bedroom, because he promptly raised his hands and said mildly, “I surrender.”

  She stopped in her tracks and regarded him quizzically. He was smiling a little, his pale, thin face weary, but no longer locked in a mask of detachment. “But I haven’t even attacked yet,” she protested. “You’re taking all the fun out of it.”

  “I know when I’m outgunned.” He grimaced and admitted, “I don’t see how I can give up without at least trying again. You didn’t give up, and I’ve never been a man to back down from a challenge.”

  The hard knot of apprehension that had been tied in her stomach since he’d lapsed into depression slowly eased, then relaxed completely. Her spirits soared, and she gave him a blinding smile. With his cooperation, she felt that she could do anything.

  At first he was capable of very little with the weights. Even the smaller ones were too much for him, though he kept gritting his teeth and trying to continue even when she wanted him to stop. Stubborn was too mild a word to describe him. He was hell-bent and determined to push himself to the limits of his endurance, which unfortunately wasn’t far. It always took a long session in the whirlpool afterward to ease the pain from his tortured muscles, but he kept at it, even knowing that he was going to have to pay with pain.

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