Dying to Please by Linda Howard

  “Not too much, dear. You've been very sick.”

  She was still very sick if she was paralyzed, but maybe this man didn't know she couldn't move. She closed her eyes, fighting for strength, but, dear God, she didn't have any. She was so weak that she felt almost boneless.

  “I'll bring you some soup in a little while. You need to eat something. I didn't realize you hadn't eaten, and I'm afraid I accidentally made you ill.”

  The softness of the voice clicked, and memory crept back. “Mr. Densmore?”

  “Yes, dear, I'm right here.”

  “I feel so sick,” she whispered, opening her eyes and blinking. This time she found her vision had cleared a little, and she could plainly see his face, full of concern.

  “I know, and I'm sorry for that.”

  “I can't move.”

  “Of course not. I couldn't have you hurting yourself, now could I?”

  “H-hurting myself?” She was winning the battle against the fog; with every passing second she felt less confused, more aware of her surroundings. She felt as if she were surfacing from anesthesia, which she remembered well from when she broke her left arm when she was six years old, and she'd been put under general anesthesia when it was set. She'd hated the anesthesia a lot more than she'd hated the cast.

  “If you tried to leave,” Mr. Densmore explained, but that didn't make any sense.

  “I can't. I haven't.” Tried to leave? She had tried to get up from the table, and that was the last thing she remembered.

  “I know, I know. Don't get upset. Just stay calm, and everything will be all right.” The brush moved slowly through her hair. “You have such lovely hair, Sarah. Overall I'm very pleased with you, though your indecisiveness was an unpleasant surprise. Still, you've been through a lot of upset. I'm sure you'll settle down with time.”

  He wasn't making any sense. Settle down? She frowned, her brow wrinkling, and he smoothed the creases with his fingertip. “Don't frown, you'll wrinkle your pretty skin. I was right about how lovely a ruby would look against your skin. But I've looked all through your things, and I can't find the pendant. Why aren't you wearing it?”


  A chill ran through her, and she went very still as an awful suspicion seized her. Her stomach heaved again, but this time with fear.

  “Why aren't you wearing the pendant I sent to you?” he asked, sounding a little petulant.

  He was the one. He was the stalker, the weirdo whose presence she'd sensed, like a hidden cancer. He'd waited, and seized his chance. She wasn't sick at all, she realized; the bastard had drugged her, and since she hadn't eaten anything in over a day, the drug had hit her hard.

  She had to answer him. Don't annoy him, she thought. Don't do anything to make him wary. Think. She needed an excuse that wasn't her fault. Think! “Allergic,” she whispered.

  The brush paused in its motion. “My dear, I'm so sorry,” he said contritely. “I had no idea. Of course you shouldn't wear something that will give you a rash. But where is it? Perhaps you could put it on for just a moment, so I could see you wearing it.”

  “Jewelry box,” she whispered. “Could I have more water?”

  “Of course, dear, since the first has stayed down.” He lifted her head and held the glass to her lips again, and she gulped as much as she could. “There,” he said as he let her head rest on the pillow again. “Where's your jewelry box?”

  “At the bungalow. Lankford estate. Crime scene . . . police have it sealed. I can't get in.”

  He made an exasperated noise. “I should have realized. Don't worry, dear, I'll take care of collecting the rest of your things. You'll feel so much more comfortable with your own possessions around you.”

  Sarah tried once again to move her arms, and this time she felt something wrapped around her wrists. The truth occurred to her in a sickening rush: she was tied to the bed. She fought the panic that threatened to overwhelm her. She couldn't give in to it, she had to think, she had to concentrate. If she panicked she was helpless, but if she kept her wits, she might outsmart him.

  She had one big advantage: she knew he was dangerous, but he didn't know she was.

  Cahill. He knew she was here. Sooner or later he would call and want to see her, talk to her. All she had to do was keep things calm and under control until then. She didn't want to do anything to agitate Densmore, prod him into violence. He was a stalker, obsessed with her; he was happy now because she was here, under his control. So long as he believed that, she was safe. She hoped she was safe. But if he thought she was trying to escape from him, he was likely to explode into violence. If that happened, if she couldn't make a clean escape, then she had to make certain she was ready to handle him.

  But there was no telling how long it would take Cahill to try to contact her. He knew she was here, but all the cops were working almost around the clock trying to find the killer. He would try her cell phone first, and if she didn't answer, he would try again later. “Later,” however, could be days later.

  No, Cahill wouldn't wait that long. He was too tenacious.

  But in the meantime she had to help herself. The first order of business was to convince Densmore to untie her.

  She made her voice weaker than it truly was. If he wanted her sweet and helpless, she'd give him sweet and helpless, at least until she could kick his ass. “Mr. Densmore?”

  “Yes, dear?”

  “I . . . I'm so embarrassed to say this.”

  “You don't have to be embarrassed about anything. I'm here to take care of you.”

  “I need to use the bathroom,” she whispered, and she had the benefit of that being so true she was on the verge of really embarrassing herself. Add in the fact that she was having her menstrual period, and the situation was not good.

  “Dear me. That does present a problem.”

  “I—I think I'm paralyzed,” she said, and let her voice wobble. It was better that he thought she was more incapacitated than she really was. Not that she would be able to fight or run even if she was untied, at this point, but she wanted him to think she was recovering very slowly.

  “Of course you aren't,” he exclaimed, his voice warm with sympathy. “I just used restraints to keep you from harming yourself. Now, let me see, how can we work this?”

  She squirmed a little; her distress was becoming so acute that it was no problem to let a tear leak out of her eye. She needed to see if she could walk, or if too much of the drug he'd given her was still in her system.

  “Yes, that will work,” he murmured to himself, and folded back the covers. To her immense relief she saw that she was still wearing her clothes; he'd removed her shoes, but that was all. He worked diligently, untying her ankles and then refashioning the thin, woven nylon restraints into a sort of hobble, with an extra length attached to it and held in his hand. If she could walk at all, it would be in very short steps, and if she tried anything, all he had to do was jerk the rope in his hand and she'd fall flat on her face.

  She was truly crying by the time he got all that worked out and began releasing her hands.

  “I'm sorry, I know you have to be miserable,” he crooned. “Just a few more minutes, and I'll help you to the bathroom.”

  “Please hurry,” she croaked, squeezing her eyes shut.

  At last he was helping her to sit up, and she saw immediately that even if she were untied, she wouldn't be able to accomplish much. Better to do nothing to arouse his suspicions this time, and wait until she was in better shape. She had to remember that he was stronger than he looked, if he'd managed to get her upstairs all by himself. Unconscious people, since they were totally limp, were a bitch to move.

  She was so woozy that she could barely sit up; in fact, she couldn't, not without help, and she leaned heavily into him. It turned her stomach to touch him, but she had to concentrate on allaying his suspicions, and if that meant accepting his help, she'd grit her teeth and do it.

  He got her on her feet. Her knees immediately buckled, a
nd he was supporting her entire weight. She clung to him as he half walked, half dragged her, to the big gray marble bathroom that was part of her quarters.

  All of her toiletries were set out on the vanity; since he'd unpacked for her, she hoped her personal supplies were in the vanity drawers. Yes, there was the bag she had packed everything in, sitting on a shelf; even if he'd left the tampons in the bag, she could get to them.

  He eased her over to the toilet, and stood there a moment looking uncomfortable. “Er . . . do you need any help?”

  She braced her hand against the wall, panting. “I think I can manage.” He should feel safe leaving her in here; there was a window, but it was glass block; she couldn't see out, no one could see in, and it didn't open. Even if she could break it out, the room he'd given her was on the second floor; the first floor in this house, she'd noticed, had what appeared to be sixteen-foot ceilings, so the drop would be much higher than from the ordinary second-story window.

  She'd risk it, though, if that turned out to be her only chance.

  He looked around, and she could see him mentally cataloging the contents of the room to see if there was anything she could use as a weapon or to escape. He was very careful, and he didn't trust her. She leaned heavily against the wall, underscoring her weakness.

  “All right,” he finally said. “I'll be right outside if you need me.”

  “Could you leave the door open a little?” she asked. “Please? So you can hear me in case I fall.” Talk about reverse psychology, asking him to do the very thing he intended to do anyway; perhaps that would convince him she wasn't making a break for it.

  He looked pleased and gave her his shy smile as he left the bathroom and pulled the door half-closed. That was all the privacy she was going to get, but at this point she didn't give a damn.

  The relief was almost painful, and those damn weak tears leaked down her face again. She found the box of tampons in the bottom vanity drawer and took care of that problem, too. Feeling much better and not nearly as desperate, but still very weak, she hobbled to the sink and leaned against it while she wet a washcloth and washed her face and private areas. If he peeped, then he peeped; she didn't give a damn. She needed to freshen up more than she needed to worry about her modesty.

  She drank more water, greedily gulping it down, then made her slow and wobbly way to the door. “Please,” she said weakly. “Help me back to bed.”

  Densmore rushed to her side. “Lean on me,” he said tenderly. “Poor dear.” He supported her on the trek back to the bed and helped her lie down again. She was trembling, and it wasn't a pretense; her legs felt as if they wouldn't have supported her another minute. He caressed her cheek, smoothed her hair back from her face, then began fastening the restraints around her arms and ankles. She had to bite her lip when he touched her, but she didn't protest, just lay limply, her eyes closed. Cahill did that sometimes, pushing back her hair and stroking her cheek, and she hated that Densmore had so closely mirrored the action. “I'll be right back with some food,” he murmured, and left the room, closing the door behind him.

  There was nothing she could do, trussed as she was, so she didn't even tug against the nylon restraints. She wouldn't put it past the bastard to have this place wired for both video and audio, and if he was watching her on camera, she didn't intend to do anything that would put him on alert.

  That brief excursion had exhausted her small store of strength. She took a deep breath and let herself sink into the waiting darkness. She would use the darkness this time, to get stronger.


  The voice seemed to come from far away, but she was instantly alert, instantly aware. She lay still, letting herself appear to awake gradually.

  “Sarah, wake up. I have soup.”

  She shifted restlessly and rolled her head to the side. “Wha—?”

  “You need to eat. Wake, up, dear.”

  She opened her eyes as he set a tray on the bedside table. “Good, good,” he said, smiling at her. “Let's see, what would be the best way to do this? I think I should feed you, don't you? I'll put another pillow behind you to raise your head more, and here's a towel to catch any spills.”

  He suited actions to words, lifting her head and stuffing an extra pillow behind her head and shoulders, raising her to a more reclining position, then draping a towel over her chest and tucking it under her chin.

  “This is a nice chicken soup,” he said, and chuckled to himself. “Could I have made a more clichéd choice? But it is very good, and hearty. You don't need red meat for a hearty soup or stew, though a lot of people seem to think so. I don't eat red meat, just chicken, turkey, and fish.”

  In that case, considering how he'd turned out, he should beat a path to Milo's and hope he could be saved, she thought sarcastically as he brought the spoon to her lips and she obediently opened them, like a child. Sarcasm felt good; outwardly she had to be meek, but inside she was still fierce, still herself.

  The soup was good, though, and she forced herself to eat every bite. She had to concentrate on recovering as fast as possible; she would need her strength.

  After she had finished the soup, she blinked drowsily at him. “Thank you,” she murmured. “That was good.” She yawned. “Excuse me. I'm still so sleepy.”

  “Of course.” He patted her lips with a napkin and removed the towel from under her chin. “I'll leave you alone and let you rest, but I'll check back occasionally to see if you need anything. I have a surprise for you,” he said slyly.

  “A surprise?”

  “It'll be waiting for you when you wake up.”

  That assurance wasn't conducive to sleep, and after he left, she carefully examined the ceiling and walls, looking for anything that could possibly be a camera. Without looking closer it was impossible to tell, so she had to go on the assumption that she was being watched. She didn't overtly tug on her restraints, but she began tensing and releasing her muscles, starting in her legs and working up. She had to fight off the lingering effects of whatever drug he'd given her, and keep her circulation going and her muscles limber. If an opportunity for escape presented itself, she had to be ready to take it.

  Why in hell wasn't Sarah answering her cell phone? Cahill had called her repeatedly, unwilling to stay out of touch for very long with matters so tenuous between them. Yes, they'd made love and she'd agreed to give him some time, a chance to see if they could work things out, but the temporary nature of the agreement nagged at him. He didn't want temporary; he wanted permanent.

  She had gone to Densmore's house late yesterday afternoon. Okay, he could understand her not answering her cell phone while she was getting settled in, but the phone had been on and when she checked it, she would see that she'd had some calls. She should have called him back by now. Today, the phone hadn't been on; he'd been getting the “customer not in service” message.

  Densmore's phone number was unlisted, but if you had the right software and search engine, that didn't matter. Cahill pulled up the information and called the estate, only to get an answering machine that answered in a computerized voice. He left a simple message: Call Detective Cahill at the Mountain Brook Police Department. It wasn't personal, and it was the type of message that people tended to deliver immediately. Still she hadn't called.

  A frightened public was calling in tips and leads that led nowhere, but every one of them had to be checked out, and he literally didn't have time to eat. He was frustrated enough in his efforts to contact Sarah, though, that he made time to actually drive by the estate like a lovesick teenager, to see if he could spot her SUV parked there. The wrought-iron gates were securely shut, and he couldn't see any type of vehicle.

  The damn place looked like a fortress, anyway, with that high stone wall surrounding it. The wall by itself had to have cost a fortune, and from what he could see, it was wired like Fort Knox. Mr. Densmore evidently valued his privacy.

  He called the estate number and left another message, this time letting his im
patience show, and leaving the impression that Miss Stevens should get in touch with the department, for her own good. That should get some response, if anyone at all was inside the house.

  His phone rang a short time later and he snatched it up. “Cahill.”

  “Detective Cahill.” It was a man's voice, kind of soft, like you'd expect a priest's to be, but full of authority, too. “This is Trevor Densmore. You've left two messages for Miss Stevens and it sounded imperative that she contact you. I'm sorry, but Miss Stevens is ill, and is unable to talk.”

  “Ill?” Cahill asked sharply, alarm prickling his spine. “In what way?”

  “Laryngitis.” Densmore chuckled. “I meant it literally that she's unable to talk. Perhaps in a few days she'll be able to call.”

  The son of a bitch disconnected before Cahill could say anything else. Damn it! He wanted to see her, but the estate was walled and gated; he couldn't enter without either an invitation or a search warrant, neither of which was likely to be forthcoming.

  Sarah was sick? She'd told him that she almost never even caught a cold, so for her to suddenly catch some bug seemed ironic. She'd been under a lot of stress, and that played hell with the immune system, but . . . that fast? Literally the next day? Bull-shit. She might be avoiding him, though.

  No, that wasn't Sarah, either. Sarah didn't avoid; she faced things head-on. Even if she did have laryngitis, she'd have gotten on the phone and croaked a reply to him.

  He had the feeling that guy Densmore was lying. He didn't know the man and Sarah seemed to like him, or at least appreciate his offer, but Cahill's gut said something was wrong. Why would Densmore lie? There was no reason to, which made Cahill feel even more uneasy. But it wasn't that there was no reason for lying; it was just that Cahill didn't know the reason.

  Well, one way or another, if Sarah didn't get in touch with him soon, he was going to see her if he had to climb over the damn wall. He'd probably get arrested for trespassing, but at least he'd know whether or not she was okay.

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