Come lie with me, p.20
Come Lie With Me, page 20
He drove over early that afternoon. He looked younger than he had, tanned from his weeks in Aspen in the winter sun, and far more relaxed. The lines of strain that had been in his face were gone, replaced by a smile.
“You’re even more beautiful than before,” he said, leaning down to kiss her cheek. She didn’t shy away from him now; Blake had taught her that not all men were to be feared. She smiled up at him.
“You’re pretty great looking yourself. I gather you’ve seen Serena?”
“We had dinner together last night. She sent me to you.”
“But why?” Dione asked, bewildered. They walked out to the courtyard and sat down in the sun. With the walls of the house keeping any wind away from them, the cool January day was pleasant, and she didn’t even need a sweater.
Richard leaned against the concrete back of the bench, crossing his ankle over his knee. She noticed idly that he was wearing jeans, the only time she’d ever seen him dressed so casually, and a blue pullover sweater that made his gray eyes seem blue. “Because she’s a smart woman,” he mused. “She’s known from the beginning that I was attracted to you, and our marriage can’t work if you’re between us.”
Dione’s eyes widened. “What?” she asked weakly. “But…but Serena’s been so friendly, so open….”
“As I said, she’s a smart woman. She knew that you didn’t return my interest. You’ve never been able to see anyone but Blake. How I feel about you is something that I have to work out.”
She shook her head. “This is ridiculous. You don’t love me; you never have. You’re in love with Serena.”
“I know,” he admitted, and laughed. “But for a while I was pretty confused. Serena didn’t seem to care if I was around or not, and there you were, so damned lovely that it hurt to look at you, so strong and sure of yourself. You knew what you wanted and didn’t let anything stand in your way. The contrast was striking.”
Was that how he had seen her? As strong and confident? Hadn’t he realized that she was that way only in her profession, that privately she was crippled, afraid of letting anyone get close to her? It was strange that, as astute as Richard was, he hadn’t seen her as she really was.
“And now?” she asked.
“I’ll always admire you,” he chuckled. “But this visit is just for Serena’s peace of mind. You were right all along; I love her, and I’ve been punishing her because she relied on Blake instead of me. I freely admit to the illogic of it, but people in love aren’t logical.”
“She wanted you to be certain before you went back to her.”
“That’s right. And I am certain. I love skiing, but I spent the entire time I was in Aspen wishing that she was with me. You should hang out a shingle as a doctor in psychology,” he said, laughing, and put his arm on her shoulder to hug her.
She walked him to the door and sent him on his way, glad that he’d ironed out his problems, but she was also depressed at the thought that she’d been involved in any way at all, however innocently. She walked back out to the courtyard and resumed her seat. She was tired, so tired of these months of emotional strain. She closed her eyes and lifted her face to the winter sun, letting her thoughts drift.
“How long had he been here?”
The harsh voice sliced through the air and she jumped, getting to her feet and whirling to face Blake. “You’re early,” she stammered.
“I know,” he said, his voice as hard and cold as his face. “I haven’t been able to spend much time with you lately, and when I managed to get everything cleared for today I decided to surprise you. I didn’t mean to interrupt anything,” he finished with a sneer.
A sick feeling in her stomach made her swallow before she answered. “You didn’t,” she said briefly, lifting her chin. Suddenly she knew that this was it, that he would use this as an excuse to break their engagement, and she couldn’t bear to listen to him saying things that would break her heart. It would break anyway when she left, but she didn’t want to have the memory of hard words between them.
“He hadn’t been here over five minutes,” she said remotely, lifting her hand to cut him off when he started to speak. “He and Serena have patched up their differences, and he wanted to talk to me. She sent him over, as a matter of fact, but you’re welcome to call her if you don’t believe me.”
His eyes sharpened, and he took a step toward her, his hand reaching out. Dione backed away. It had to be now, before he touched her. He might not love her, but she knew that he desired her, and with them, touching led inevitably to sex. That was another thing she couldn’t bear, making love with him and knowing it was the last time.
“Now is as good a time as any to tell you,” she said, still in that remote voice, her face an expressionless mask. “I’ve accepted another case, and I’ll be leaving in a few days. At least, those were my original plans, but now I think it would be best if I left tomorrow, don’t you?”
His skin tightened over his cheekbones. “What are you saying?” he demanded fiercely.
“That I’m breaking our engagement,” she said, fumbling with the delicate clasp at the back of her neck and finally releasing it. She took the ruby heart and held it out to him.
He didn’t take it. He was staring at her, his face white. “Why?” he asked, grinding the word out through lips that barely moved.
She sighed wearily, rubbing her forehead. “Haven’t you realized by now that you don’t love me?”
“If you think that, why did you set a wedding date?” he rasped.
She gave him a thin smile. “You were making love to me,” she said gently. “I wasn’t in my right mind. I’ve known all along that you didn’t love me,” she burst out, desperate to make him understand. She couldn’t hold out much longer. “I humored you, but it’s time now for it to end. You’ve changed these past weeks, needing me less and less.”
“Humored me!” he shouted, clenching his fists. “Were you also ‘humoring me’ when we made love? I’ll be damned if you were!”
She winced. “No. That was real…and it was a mistake. I’ve never been involved with a patient before, and I’ll never let it happen again. It gets too…complicated.”
“Lady, I don’t believe you!” he said in disbelief. “You’re just going to waltz out of here as if nothing ever happened, aren’t you? You’re going to mark me down as a mistake and forget about me.”
No, he was wrong. She’d never be able to forget him. She stared at him with pain-glazed eyes, feeling as if she were shattering inside. A sickening headache pounded in her temples, and when she held the necklace out to him again her hand was trembling. “Why are you arguing?” she asked raggedly. “You should be glad. I’m letting you off the hook. Just think how miserable you’d be, married to someone you don’t love.”
He reached out and took the necklace, letting the tiny gold links drip over his fingers like metal tears. The sun pierced the ruby heart, casting a red shadow that danced over the white bench beside her. Savagely he shoved it into his pocket. “Then what are you waiting for?” he shouted. “Go on, get out! What do you want me to do, break down and beg you to stay?”
She swayed, then steadied herself. “No,” she whispered. “I’ve never wanted you to beg for anything.” She moved slowly past him, her legs weak and unwilling to work as they should. She would pack and go to a hotel, and try to get an earlier flight rather than waiting until her original flight was scheduled. She hadn’t imagined that it would be so difficult, or that she would feel so battered. This was worse, far worse, than anything Scott had ever done to her. He had hurt her physically and mentally, but he had never been able to touch her heart. It was killing her to leave Blake, but she had to do it.
Her headache was worse; as she stumbled around the bedroom trying to gather her clothing she had to grab at the furniture several times to keep from falling to her knees. Her mind was muddied, her thoughts jumbled, and nothing made much sense except the overpowering need she had to be gone. She had to leave before she was hurt
“Stop it,” a low voice commanded, and a hand caught her wrist, pulling her fingers away from the lingerie that she had been tossing carelessly into her suitcase. “You can pack later, when you’re feeling better. You have a headache, don’t you?”
She turned her head to look at him and almost staggered when her vision swayed alarmingly. “Yes,” she mumbled.
“I thought so. I watched you practically crawl up the stairs.” He put his arm around her waist, a curiously impersonal touch, and led her to the bed where they had shared so many nights. “Come on, you need a nap. You surprise me; I didn’t think you were the type who lived on nerves, but this is a tension headache if I’ve ever seen one.” His fingers moved down the front of her blouse, slipping the buttons out of their holes, and he eased the garment off her.
“I’m almost never sick,” she apologized. “I’m sorry.” She let him unsnap her bra and toss it aside. No, it wasn’t a matter of letting him do anything. The truth was that she didn’t feel capable of struggling with him over who would remove her clothes, and she badly needed the nap he had suggested. It wasn’t as if he hadn’t already seen every inch of her body. He eased her down on the bed and unfastened her slacks, sliding an arm under her and lifting her so he could pull them down over her hips. Her shoes came off with the slacks; then his hands returned and made short work of the filmy panties that were her last remaining garment.
Gently he turned her on her stomach, and she sighed as he began to rub the tight muscles in her neck. “I’m returning the favor,” he murmured. “Just think of all the massages you’ve given me. Relax and go to sleep. You’re tired, too tired to do anything right now. Sleep, darling.”
She did sleep, deeply and without dreaming, sedated by his strong fingers as they rubbed the aching tension from her back and shoulders. It was dark when she woke, but her headache was gone. She felt fuzzy and disoriented, and she blinked at the dark form that rose from a chair beside the bed.
“Do you feel better?” he asked.
“Yes,” she said, pushing her heavy hair away from her face. He tuned on the lamp and sat down on the edge of the bed, surveying her with narrowed eyes, as if gauging for himself how well she was feeling.
“Thank you for taking care of me,” she said awkwardly. “I’ll pack now, and go to a hotel—”
“It’s too late to go anywhere tonight,” he interrupted. “You’ve slept for hours. Alberta left a plate warming for you, if you feel like eating. I think you should try to eat something, or you’ll be sick again. I didn’t realize what a strain you had been under,” he added thoughtfully.
She was hungry, and she sat up, holding the sheet to her. “I feel as if I could eat a cow,” she said ruefully.
He chuckled softly. “I hope you’ll settle for something less than a whole cow,” he said, untangling a nightgown from the jumble of clothing that still littered the bed. He plucked the sheet away from her fingers and settled the nightgown over her head as impersonally as if he were dressing a child. Then he found her robe, and she obediently slid her arms into the sleeves while he held it.
“You don’t have to coddle me,” she said. “I feel much better. After food, I want a shower, and then I’ll be fine.”
“I like coddling you,” he replied. “Just think of how many times you helped me to dress, how many times you coaxed me to eat, how many times you’ve picked me up when I lay sprawled on the floor.”
He walked downstairs with her and sat beside her while she ate. She could feel his steady gaze on her, but the anger that had been there earlier was gone. Had it been only pride that made him lash out at her; did he now realize that she was right?
When she went back upstairs he was right behind her. She looked at him questioningly when he entered the bedroom with her. “Take your shower,” he said, taking her shoulders and turning her in the direction of the bathroom. “I’ll wait out here for you. I want to make sure you’re okay before I go to bed.”
“I’m fine,” she protested.
“I’ll stay,” he said firmly, and that was that. Knowing that he was waiting, she hurried through her shower. When she came out of the bathroom he was sitting in the chair he’d occupied before, and he got to his feet.
“Bedtime.” He smiled, pushing the robe off her shoulders. She hadn’t fastened it, knowing that she would be taking it right off again, and it slipped to the floor. He leaned down and lifted her off her feet, then deposited her on the bed. She gasped and clutched at his shoulder.
“What was that for?” she asked, looking up at him.
“For this,” he answered calmly, and kissed her. It was a deeply intimate kiss, his mouth opening over hers and his tongue moving in to touch hers. She dug her nails into his shoulder in surprise.
“Let me go,” she said, pulling her mouth way from his.
“I’ll let you go tomorrow,” he murmured. “Tonight is mine.”
He bent down to her again, and she rolled her head away; denied the sweet bloom of her lips, he found the sensitive slope where her neck met her shoulder and nipped at it with his teeth, making her gasp again. He dipped his hand into the bodice of her nightgown, rubbing his palm over the rich globes that had lured him.
“Blake…don’t do this,” she pleaded achingly.
“Why? You love me to touch your breasts,” he countered.
She turned her head to look at him, and her lips were trembling. “Yes,” she admitted. “But I’m leaving tomorrow. This…will only make it more difficult. I’ve accepted another job, and I have to go.”
“I understand,” he murmured, still stroking her flesh. “I’ll put you on a plane tomorrow, if that’s what you want, but we still have tonight together, and I want to spend it making love to you. Don’t you like what we do to each other? Don’t you like making me go out of my skull? You do. You make me wild, with your body like hot silk on me. One more night, darling. Let us have this last night together.”
It was exactly what she hadn’t wanted, to make love to him and know that she never would again, but the sensual promise he was making her with his hands and body was a heady lure. One more night, one more memory.
“All right,” she whispered, beginning to unbutton his shirt. His hot flesh beckoned her, and she pressed her lips to him, feeling the curling hair under her mouth and the shiver that rippled over him. The intoxicating excitement that always seized her at his touch was taking over again, and she unbuckled his pants, helped him kick them away. He parted her legs and fit himself between them, the fever of feeling so high that no more preparation was needed, no more loving required to make her ready for him.
With a slow, smooth thrust he took her, and she adjusted her body to his weight and motion, letting the excitement well up like a cresting wave and take her away.
One more night. Then it would be finished.
It didn’t get any better. She had thought that it would get easier, even if the wound never quite healed, but from the time Blake saw her onto the plane at Sky Harbor Airport, the hurting never peaked, then declined. It stayed with her, eating at her. If she could forget about it during the day while she worked with Kevin, who was her new patient, it returned full force at night when she went to bed and lay there alone.
Milwaukee was at the opposite end of the world from Phoenix, or seemed like it. In a matter of a few hours she had exchanged a dry desert for several feet of snow, and she couldn’t seem to get warm. The Colberts were nice, friendly people, anxious to do what they could to help her with Kevin, and Kevin was a darling, but he wasn’t Blake. The childish arms that hugged her so spontaneously didn’t satisfy the need she felt for strong, masculine ones, nor did the wet, loving kisses that Kevin and his little sister, Amy, gave her every night make her forget the kisses that had drowned her in a sea of sexual pleasure.
She had never thought that she would miss the fights that she and Blake h
With foolish desperation, she hoped that the last night they’d had together would result in a baby; he hadn’t taken any precautions that night, and for almost three weeks she was able to dream, to pretend. Then she discovered that it wasn’t to be, and her world turned that much darker.
When she received a large check in the mail, forwarded by Dr. Norwood, it was all she could do to keep from screaming aloud in pain when she saw his signature. She wanted to tear it up, but she couldn’t. The check was for the agreed-upon money. She traced her fingertip over the bold, angular script. It was just as she had known it would be; once she was away from him, she became only a part of his past. She had done what was best for him, but she hadn’t known that she would have to live the rest of her life on the fine edge of agony.
With grim determination she set about rebuilding the defenses that he had torn down. She had to have them, to push the pain and memories behind, to hold the darkness at bay. Someday, she thought, looking at the wintry gray sky, she would find pleasure in living again. Someday the sun would shine again.
She had been with the Colberts exactly one month when she was called to the telephone. Frowning in perplexity, she gave Kevin his coloring book and crayons to keep him occupied until she returned, then went out to the hall to answer the phone.
“It’s a man,” Francine Colbert whispered, smiling at her in delight; then she left to see what had happened to make Amy suddenly bellow as if she were being scalped.
Dione put the phone to her ear. “Hello,” she said cautiously.
“I’m not going to bite you,” a deep, rich voice said in amusement, and she slumped against the wall as her knees threatened to buckle under her.
“Blake!” she whispered.
“You’ve been there a month,” he said. “Has your patient fallen in love with you yet?”
by Linda Howard / Romance / Mystery & Thrillers have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes