For the second day in a row, Eliot left work early. A successful career wouldn’t matter if he went to prison for murder.
Or if one day Edward took over his—their—body and he himself never came back.
Both possibilities were equally terrifying.
He’d gotten Wayne Palmer’s home and work addresses by calling Patsy at Executive Styles. She was reluctant to tell him and warned him that Wayne was big and could be mean. But she finally relented when he reiterated how much he needed to find out what happened to Kay.
Ironic, he thought, that Patsy was concerned about his safety when he might be a murderer.
Palmer’s Paint and Body Shop sat between an adult book store and a vacant lot in a seedy section of town. The sound of a grinder and the acrid smells of paint and other chemicals greeted him as he walked into the place.
A man in torn blue jeans, sweat stained tee shirt and safety goggles looked up from sanding a large chalky-looking repair on the fender of an older model sedan. He glanced toward the other side of the room then went back to his work.
Eliot followed the direction of his glance to see a large man in paint-stained coveralls set his sprayer on the floor and lift the visor of his helmet. The man’s expression was grim, his bushy eyebrows looming over bloodshot brown eyes.
“Whadda you want?” he demanded.
“Are you Wayne?”
“Yeah, I’m Wayne.”
“I wanted to talk to you about Kay...about your wife.”
Wayne slammed a huge fist onto the hood of the car he’d been working on, seemingly oblivious of the wet paint, of the fact that he’s just put another dent into the metal. “Damn straight she was my wife. Guess you forgot that when you were boffing her.”
Eliot cringed. He had assumed that Wayne wouldn’t know who he was, had hoped he’d be able to talk to him anonymously. “I’m sorry about Kay’s death.” More sorry than you can ever imagine. “Is there some place we could talk?”
“Did you kill her?” Wayne demanded. “If I find out you killed her, I’m coming after you. She didn’t stand a chance against the likes of you with that fancy car, taking her to those fancy places.” Wayne yanked off his helmet and tossed it to the floor, taking a threatening step closer.
This wasn’t going at all the way Eliot had hoped. He moved a step closer to Wayne, refusing to let him control the situation.
“Did I kill her? From what I hear, you’re the prime suspect. What did you do when she asked you for a divorce?”
Wayne’s big face crumpled from within. For a second, Eliot thought the man was going to burst into tears, but then he lunged forward and grabbed Eliot’s tie. “I don’t reckon that’s any of your damned business, fancy boy.”
Wayne was no taller than Eliot, though he probably outweighed him by fifty pounds...most of it fat, Eliot suspected. He had no intention of getting into a fight with the man, but he had no intention of being bullied either.
He grabbed Wayne’s wrist, holding it in place with one hand, then snapped his other hand up under his elbow, stopping just short of enough pressure to break the joint.
Wayne grunted and jerked back, and Eliot released him. He rubbed his elbow and looked even more furious.
“What did you tell her about a divorce?” Eliot demanded.
“I didn’t want her after she’d been fooling around with the likes of you. Does that answer your question? Now get outta here.” He turned away, still holding his elbow, and picked up his helmet.
“What was her maiden name?” Eliot called after him, but the big man didn’t look back. “Was it Becker?”
Wayne pulled on his helmet. The interview was over. If he could believe Wayne, he’d agreed to give Kay a divorce. Which meant she would have called her lover to celebrate.
If he could believe Wayne.
He didn’t want to believe the man, but he couldn’t forget the overpowering sadness that had flashed across Wayne’s face when Eliot had asked about the divorce. Wayne had loved her, and now he mourned her.
Which didn’t mean he hadn’t killed her in a fit of anger. He definitely had a temper.
Eliot held onto that thought as he left the car repair shop and drove toward Leanne’s office. He had to believe Wayne could have killed Kay; otherwise, he would have to believe Edward had killed her...that he had crushed her throat with the hands that shaved his face in the mornings and put food in his mouth at meals.
Those hands were sweaty on his leather covered steering wheel. Somewhere deep in his gut, he didn’t believe Wayne had killed Kay.
Eliot parked his car and went up to Leanne’s office.
He pushed open the door of her outer office and found it empty. The receptionist had already left. But Thurman would be there today. Though initially he’d been opposed to involving a third party in his problems, it was good that the older man would be here. It would solve the problem of Leanne’s safety. It would allow him to meet with her after hours instead of waiting until she could work him into her day schedule.
He perched on the edge of a pale blue chair. Leanne had obviously gone to a great deal of trouble to make her office soothing, to relax her patients. The colors were all muted pastels, even in the paintings that decorated the walls. But the effect was lost on him.
Even though he was glad Thurman was going to be there, the thought of the man’s presence grated on his nerves. In addition to his usual reluctance to reveal himself, he felt resentment toward Thurman, as if Thurman were an intruder. As if Eliot and Leanne shared a closeness that Thurman would shatter.
He shifted uncomfortably in the comfortable chair.
It didn’t take a psychiatrist to point out to him the analogy between his teenage experience with Kay and Edward and the present situation with Thurman and Leanne. Except Leanne was his doctor. He couldn’t afford to lose control of his hormones where she was concerned.
Leanne’s office door opened, and she came out wearing a white suit with a sapphire blue blouse that just matched her eyes. She managed to look soft and sexy in spite of the severe lines of the outfit...and he didn’t dare see her that way. He had to see her as a doctor, only as a doctor. Her blasted Code of Ethics aside, if he thought of her as a woman, an attractive woman, he wasn’t sure he could make himself trust her enough to spill to her what little was left of his guts.
And he was certain he couldn’t trust Edward.
She gave him a tired smile and lifted one hand to rub the back of her neck. In spite of his resolutions, he wanted to push her hand aside and replace it with his own, massage away her tiredness, see if that hidden skin was as soft as her hands...the only part of her body he’d touched...unless you counted his dreams.
And he had no intention of counting them.
A film of perspiration broke out on his forehead as he tried desperately to control his feelings...his desires. Kay had excited his desires, and Kay was dead.
“Eliot,” she said, “come on in. Thurman should be here any time. He always leaves things to the last possible moment.”
Eliot rose and preceded her into the office. God, he hoped Thurman got there soon. At the same time, he hoped Thurman never got there, that he could be alone with Leanne.
He took a seat in the familiar gray leather recliner and looked around the office—anywhere but directly at her. She’d opened the curtains today. The considerate gesture didn’t escape him.
Like her reception area, her office was furnished tastefully in a subdued, professional manner in contrast to her home which was cheerful and comfortable. In her living room last night he’d become entirely too relaxed. For a few minutes he’d forgotten that Leanne was a doctor doing a job. Especially with Thurman taking over that role, for a few minutes he’d fancied an emotional connection between Leanne and him.
He made a resolution to stay away from her house.
But how could he keep Edward away? If there was a link between the women he was attracted to and Edward, then he had to keep all personal thoughts of Leanne from his mind.
She settled behind her desk and took out her tape recorder. Her actions, her expression, everything about her was completely businesslike. And still he was incredibly aware of her as a woman.
She might be his only chance to achieve sanity...yet at the same time being with her might provoke the next step in his descent into madness.
His palms on the soft leather chair arms were damp.
Leanne studied Eliot and fervently wished Thurman would get there. For the first time since she’d been an intern, she was nervous with a patient.
She’d like to believe that her fear was a normal concern for her personal safety in the presence of a mentally ill person who might be a murderer. But that wasn’t all of it. In spite of her common sense and ethical training, something inside her responded to the barely-veiled desire in Eliot’s eyes every time he looked at her.
Transference, she told herself sternly. The patient frequently became obsessed with the analyst. An occupational hazard. She was experienced enough to know that.
Maybe her brain knew that, but her emotions didn’t.
As always Eliot wore a conservative suit and tie, but the expensive fabric and well-tailored lines failed to disguise the outlines of thigh muscles she knew would be hard and solid to the touch, of a broad chest that she fancied would be covered with a mat of hair the same color as that on his head.
She pressed the button on the recorder. “Did you have any more dreams last night?”
“No,” he answered. “No more dreams. I didn’t sleep very much after everything that happened.”
“That’s certainly understandable.” She hadn’t slept much either...had tossed and turned, kicked off the cover and pulled it up, dozed off only to wake with a start dreaming of Eliot’s hands on her body, her throat, choking her, caressing her.
At the moment his long fingers clutched and massaged the leather fabric of the chair arms. She stared at them in hypnotic fascination, unable to look away.
A quick knock sounded on the door she’d left partially open, and she breathed a silent prayer of thanks. “Thurman? Come on in.”
“Sorry I’m late. Rush-hour traffic. I’d forgotten what a misnomer that is. Nobody can possibly rush.” The older man strode in looking ten years younger. Being back in practice seemed to agree with him.
He scooted over a chair and sat close to Eliot, facing him. “So how are you today, Eliot?”
“Good. No more dreams.”
“Are you ready to find out what’s happening to you?”
“Yes,” Eliot replied, his voice firm.
She rose and drew the curtains over the wall of windows, turned down the lights and brought her chair around to the front of her desk, on the other side of Eliot from Thurman. She and Thurman had agreed the night before that she should do the hypnosis since she’d already gained his trust and taken him under once.
“All right, Eliot. Lean back and relax.” As before, his stance bore a resemblance to relaxation only by comparison to his usual tightly controlled posture. But it would suffice. He was so determined to succeed, he practically put himself into the trance.
“We’re going back in time, Eliot,” she said when he appeared to be in a light trance, “back to yesterday, to the first time you met Thurman Powers. Are you there?”
“Yes.” The word was a drawl, a stark contrast to his usual clipped tones. He seemed to have gone a little deeper this time.
“Okay, now we’re going back to the first time you came to my office. See yourself coming in the door and sitting down.” She paused for a moment to let him get oriented in that moment of the past then continued. “Now let’s go back even further, back to your high school graduation. Can you tell me about that?”
His features softened, and a faint smile crossed his face. “I know Mom and Dad are happy. I made valedictorian.”
It didn’t surprise her to learn he’d been an overachiever even then.
“Very good. Now let’s go back some more, back to the first day you went to grade school. Tell me about that day.”
He frowned in a petulant little-boy manner, his strong, chiseled features appearing to soften. “They said Edward can’t come. He wants to go to school, too.”
She caught her breath, exchanging a significant look with Thurman. They were narrowing it down. The answer she didn’t want to find was becoming more certain. Was he talking about an imaginary playmate, something most children had at one time or another, or had he already dissociated by the time he was six years old?
“Who said Edward can’t go to school with you?”
His frown deepened. “Mommy and Daddy. But I’m going to take him anyway. We won’t tell them. Edward wants to learn to read and write, too.”
It was still impossible to determine what role Edward actually played in Eliot’s life.
“How does Edward feel about the fact that your parents don’t want him to go to school with you?”
“It makes him sad, but he never cries.”
“Do you cry?”
“Sometimes. I cry for Edward and me both since he can’t.”
She exchanged another look with Thurman. One personality who did the crying for the both of them and another personality who never cried. That sounded very much like dissociation.
“Eliot, we’re going back some more, back to when you were three years old, back to the accident that killed your parents. I want you to watch this as though it were a movie and report to me what you’re seeing. You’re not going to be personally involved. You won’t feel the pain. You’ll just tell me about it. As soon as you get there, tell me what’s happening.”
He flinched, and she caught herself doing the same. She could only hope her admonition would be sufficient to keep him from reliving the pain as though it were actually happening. If this did prove to be the incident that had caused the split, eventually he’d have to deal with the agony, but she needed to know more about what was going on before they began that process.
“Noise,” he said in a small voice as though his vocal chords had shortened to those of a child.
“What kind of noise?”
“Crash! Loud. Mommy screaming.”
“What else besides noise?”
“We’re going round and round but not a fun kind of round and round. A scary kind.”
“It’s okay. You’re just watching. You’re not really in the car. Is it still going round and round?”
“What’s happening now?”
“We go upside down and then right side up, over and over. It’s kinda like a ride at the fair, but it’s not fun. I’m scared.” His fists clenched, and his face contorted as if he were about to cry.
“Relax,” she soothed, her heart going out to this strong, controlled man who’d once been a frightened child. “It’s not really happening. You’re watching like when you got to a movie. Relax.” Impulsively she reached out a hand and laid it on his.
Another hand touched hers, and she gasped. Gently Thurman, with an admonitory look, took her hand from Eliot’s and laid it back in her lap. She’d become so involved with Eliot’s story that she’d momentarily forgotten herself, lost the doctor part of her to the human part. She should never have touched Eliot.
She leaned backward and nodded her agreement with Thurman’s gesture.
“Go on, Eliot,” she said. “Tell me what you’re seeing. What’s happening to your mother and father?”
“I don’t know. Something’s wrong with Daddy. Daddy! Wake up! Mommy’s hurt. She turned around, and her face is all bloody! Mommy, Mommy! Now she’s going to sleep, too. Wake up, Mommy! Please wake up! Mommy and Daddy won’t wake up.” He made fretful sounds.
“Eliot, don’t look at them anymore. Tell me about you. What are you doing?”
“I gotta get out of my car seat, but Mommy fastened me in so tight I can’t. Edward, help me!”