Lake of Dreams by Linda Howard


  If she could have laughed, she would have. This time, Richard wouldn’t have to do anything. She had managed to do the deed herself. Still, she didn’t stop fighting, trying to swim against the pull of the boards.

  The surface roiled with his dive, as he cut through the water just to her left. Visibility was poor, but she could see the gleam of his skin, the darkness of his hair. He spotted her immediately, the white of her nightgown giving away her position, and he twisted his body in her direction.

  Anger speared through her. He just had to see it through; he couldn’t let the lake do its work without his aid. Probably he wanted to make certain she didn’t fight her way free.

  She put up her hands to ward him off, redoubling her efforts to reach the surface. She was using up all her oxygen in her struggles, and her lungs were burning, heaving with the need to inhale. Richard caught her flailing hands and began pushing her down, down, farther away from the light, from life.

  Thea saw his eyes, calm and remote, every atom of his being concentrated on what he was doing. She had little time left, so very little. Pain swirled inside her, and anger at the fate that was hers, despite her best efforts. Desperately she tried to jerk free of him, using the last of her strength for one final effort. . . .

  Despite everything, she had always loved him so much, beyond reason, even beyond death.

  That was an even deeper pain: the knowledge that she was leaving him forever. Their gazes met through the veil of murky water, his face so close to hers that she could have kissed him, and through the growing darkness she saw her anguish mirrored in his eyes. Trust me, he’d said repeatedly. Trust me . . . even in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Trust me. . . .

  Trust him.

  Realization spread through Thea like a sunburst. Trust. She had never been able to trust him, or in his love for her. They had been like two wary animals, longing to be together, but not daring to let themselves be vulnerable to the other. They hadn’t trusted. And they had paid the price.

  Trust him.

  She stopped struggling, letting herself go limp, letting him do what he would. She had no more strength anyway. Their gazes still held, and with her eyes she gave herself to him, her love shining through. Even if it was too late, she wanted him to know that in the end, no matter what, she loved him.

  She saw his pupils flare, felt his renewed effort as he pushed her down, all the way to the bottom. Then, without the weight of the boards dragging at her, he was able to get enough slack in the fabric of her nightgown to work it free of the entangling wood. The last bubble of air escaped her lips as he wrapped his arm around her waist and used his powerful legs to propel them upward, to the surface and wonderful oxygen, to life.

  “God, please, please, oh God, please.” She heard his desperate, muttered prayer as he dragged her out of the water, but she couldn’t respond, couldn’t move, as she flopped like a rag doll in his arms. Her lungs weren’t quite working; she couldn’t drag in the deep, convulsive breaths that she needed.

  Richard dropped her on the grass and began pounding her on the back. Her lungs jerked, then heaved, and she coughed up a quantity of lake water. He continued to beat her on the back, until she thought he would break her ribs.

  “I’m . . . all . . . right,” she managed to gasp, trying to evade that thumping fist. She coughed some more, gagging.

  He collapsed beside her in his own paroxysm of coughing, his muscular chest heaving as he fought for air.

  Thea struggled onto her side, reaching for him, needing to touch him. They lay in the grass, shivering and coughing, as the first warming rays of the sun crept across the lake to touch them. Convulsively he clasped her to him, tears running down his cheeks, muttering incoherently as he pressed desperate kisses to her face, her throat. His big body was taut, shaking with a tension that wouldn’t relent. He rolled her beneath him, jerking the sodden folds of her nightgown to her waist. Thea felt his desperate, furious need, and lay still as he fought with the wet, stubborn fabric of his jeans, finally getting them open and peeling them down. He pushed her legs open and stabbed into her, big and hot and so hard that she cried out even as she held him as tightly as she could.

  He rode her hard and fast, needing this affirmation that they both still lived, needing this link with her. Thea’s response soared out of control and she climaxed almost immediately, crying out with the joy of having him there with her as she clung to him with arms and legs. He bucked wildly, shuddered, and she felt the warm flood of his orgasm within her, then he fell onto the grass beside her.

  He lay there holding her for a long time, her head cradled on his shoulder, neither of them able to stop touching the other. He smoothed back her unruly tumble of curls; she stroked his chest, his arms. He kissed her temple; she nuzzled his jaw. He squeezed and stroked her breasts; her hands kept wandering down to his naked loins. She imagined they made quite a picture of debauchery, lying there on the ground with her nightgown hiked to her waist and his jeans down around his knees, but the sun was warm and she was drowsy, her body replete with satisfaction, and she didn’t much care.

  Eventually he moved, kicking his legs free of the damp jeans. She smiled as he stretched out, blissfully naked. He had never been blessed with an overabundance of modesty. But then, it was almost a crime to cover up a body like his. She sighed with her own bliss, thinking of the naughty things she planned to do to him later, when they were sprawled out in that big bed. Some things required a mattress rather than grass. Though those pelts had been wonderful . . .

  “All those times,” she murmured, kissing his shoulder. “You were trying to save me.”

  His vivid eyes slitted open as he gathered her closer. “Of course,” he said simply. “I couldn’t live without you.”

  But you did. The comment died on her lips as she stared at him, reading his expression. His eyes were calm, and accepting. Emotion swelled in her chest until she could barely breathe, and tears glittered in her eyes. “Damn you,” she said shakily. He hadn’t lived. Each time, when he had failed to save her, he had remained there with her, choosing to share her death rather than live without her. This had been his last chance as well as hers, and theirs. “Damn you,” she said again, thumping him on the chest with her fist. “How could you do that? Why didn’t you live?”

  A slow smile touched his lips as he played with one of her curls. “Would you have?” he asked, and the smile grew when she scowled at him. No, she couldn’t have left him in the water and gone on living. She would have remained with him.

  “You little hellcat,” he said contentedly, gathering her against his chest. “You’ve led me on quite a chase, but I’ve caught you now. We finally got it right.”

  TWO DAYS LATER Thea and Richard were sitting outside in the swing, which he had repaired, contentedly watching the lake. Her bare feet were in his lap and he was massaging them, saying he wanted to get in practice for when she was big with pregnancy and would need such services. Both of them were absurdly positive that their first lovemaking had been fertile, and her happiness was so intoxicating that she felt giddy.

  Her fear of the water had disappeared as suddenly as it had formed. She hadn’t been swimming yet, but that was more because of Richard’s anxieties than her own. Whenever they walked, he still positioned himself between her and the water, and she wondered if he would ever relax his vigil.

  Plans. They’d made a lot of plans for their life together. For one thing, she would be moving to North Carolina. Her warrior wasn’t just “in” the Special Forces—he was a lieutenant colonel. Since he was only thirty-five, that meant he had a lot of time left to reach general, which was probably inevitable. Thea rather thought she would have to give up painting houses; it just wasn’t the thing for a general’s wife to do. The murals, though, were something else. . . .

  For now, though, they were selfishly enjoying getting reacquainted with each other, hugging
every moment of privacy to themselves. They had cleaned up the yard, and this morning they had started preparing the house for its new coat of paint. Most of the time, though, they had spent in bed.

  She tilted her face up to the sun, and gently cupped her hand over her belly. It was there. She knew it was. She didn’t need either drugstore or lab test to confirm what she felt in every cell of her body. Too tiny almost to be seen, as yet, but indubitably there.

  Richard’s hand covered hers, and she opened her eyes to find him smiling at her. “Boy or girl?” he asked.

  She hesitated. “What do you think?”

  “I asked first.”

  “Let’s say it together. You go first.”

  His mouth opened, then he stopped and narrowed his eyes at her. “Almost got you,” she said smugly.

  “Smart-ass. All right, it’s a boy.”

  She twined her fingers with his, sighing with contentment. “I agree.” A son. Richard’s son. The baby who had died with her had been a daughter. She blinked back tears for that child, wondering if it was forever lost, or if it too had been given another chance.

  “She’ll have another chance,” Richard whispered, gathering Thea close. “Maybe next time. We’ll know.”

  Yes, they would. Each night, her memory became more complete as the dreams continued. Richard still shared them, and they would awaken to find their bodies locked together, ecstasy still pulsing through them. They were linked, body and soul, the past revealed to them as it was to only a few lucky people.

  They heard the cars before they could see them, and Thea sat up, swinging her feet to the ground. Richard stood, automatically moving to place himself between her and whoever approached. Thea tugged on his belt and he looked around, a sheepish look crossing his face as he realized what he’d done.

  “Old habits,” he said, shrugging. “Real old.”

  Then the three cars came into view, and Thea watched in astonishment as her entire family drove up. It took her a moment to realize. “Today’s my birthday!” she gasped. “I’d forgotten!”

  “Birthday, huh?” He looped an arm over her shoulder. “How about that. That makes you . . . thirty, right? I have to tell you, this is the oldest you’ve ever been. But you’re holding up good.”

  “Thank you so much.” Grinning, she caught his hand and began tugging him forward. She’d see if he was so sassy after being overwhelmed by her family. Nieces and nephews were spilling out of open doors, running toward her, while adults unfolded themselves at a slower pace. Lee and Cynthia, Jason and June, and her mom and dad all approached a bit warily, as if afraid they had intruded on a romantic getaway.

  “I didn’t realize you’d brought company with you, dear,” her mom said, looking Richard up and down with a mother’s critical assessment.

  Richard laughed, the sound low and easy. “She didn’t,” he said, holding out his hand to Thea’s father. “My name is Richard Chance. I’m renting the house next door.”

  Her father grinned. “I’m Paul Marlow, Thea’s father. This is my wife, Emily.” Polite introductions were made all around, and Thea had to bite her lip to keep from laughing out loud. Though her father was perfectly relaxed, and both Cynthia and June were smiling happily at Richard, her mom and brothers were scowling suspiciously at the warrior in their midst.

  Before anything embarrassing could be said, she slipped her arm through Richard’s. “Lieutenant Colonel Richard Chance,” she said mildly. “On leave from Fort Bragg, North Carolina. And, for the record, my future husband.”

  The words worked a sea change in her more pugnacious relatives. Amid a flurry of congratulations and squeals, plus tears from her mother, she heard her father say reflectively, “That’s fast work. You’ve known each other, what, four or five days?”

  “No,” Richard said with perfect aplomb. “We’ve known each other off and on for years, but the timing wasn’t right. Everything worked out this time, though. I guess it was just meant to be.”

  Life just gave her a "do-over" . . . but will she take advantage of it?

  A pair of unlikely lovers struggle to leave the past where it belongs—behind them—and embrace a bright future in this sexy, charming romance!

  The Do-Over

  * * *

  ORDER YOUR COPY TODAY!

  ABOUT THE AUTHOR

  Linda Howard is an award-winning author whose novels include the recent New York Times bestsellers Shadow Woman, Up Close and Dangerous, and Drop Dead Gorgeous, as well as the Pocket Books releases Kill and Tell, Now You See Her, All the Queen’s Men, Mr. Perfect, and Open Season. She lives in Alabama with her husband and two golden retrievers.

  FOR MORE ON THIS AUTHOR: Authors.SimonandSchuster.com/Linda-Howard

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  SimonandSchuster.com

  BOOKS BY LINDA HOWARD

  A Lady of the West

  Angel Creek

  The Touch of Fire

  Heart of Fire

  Dream Man

  After the Night

  Shades of Twilight

  Son of the Morning

  Kill and Tell

  Now You See Her

  All the Queen’s Men

  Mr. Perfect

  Strangers in the Night

  Open Season

  PUBLISHED BY POCKET BOOKS

  We hope you enjoyed reading this Pocket Star Books eBook.

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  Pocket Star Books

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  New York, NY 10020

  www.SimonandSchuster.com

  This book is a work of fiction. Any references to historical events, real people, or real places are used fictitiously. Other names, characters, places, and events are products of the author’s imagination, and any resemblance to actual events or places or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

  Copyright © 1995 by Linda Howington

  Previously published in 1995 in the anthology Everlasting Love

  All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form whatsoever. For information, address Pocket Books Subsidiary Rights Department, 1230 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10020.

  First Pocket Star Books ebook edition May 2016

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  Interior design by Michelle Marchese

  Cover design by Patrick Kang

  Cover art © CoffeeAndMilk/Getty Images (woman); © Nick Brundle Photography/Getty Images (sunset on the lake)

  ISBN 978-1-5011-3102-8

 


 

  Linda Howard, Lake of Dreams

 


 

 
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