Eliot shot bolt upright in bed, heart pounding against his ribs. Dear God, not again! How could he possibly dream such horrible things? How could any corner of his mind harbor thoughts and emotions so completely opposite to what he really felt?
With shaking fingers he picked up his watch and looked at its luminous dial. Almost three in the morning. He couldn’t call Leanne at this hour just to hear her voice, to know she was safe.
She’d been all right the time before when he’d dreamed of killing her.
But when he’d dreamed of being at her door, he’d actually been there.
No, he hadn’t been there. Edward had been. No way could he associate that foul creature with himself.
He stumbled out of bed and into the bathroom to splash cold water on his perspiring face. He had to calm down, to think about this rationally.
He looked at himself, at his bare chest, the black bikini briefs he wore—not the khaki pants and cotton shirt he’d worn in the dream. It was only a dream. That’s all. A crazy, inexplicable nightmare.
The last part—the part where Edward had broken into Leanne’s house—had been fuzzy and out of focus, the way the first dreams of killing Kay had been. A dream about a dream.
He flicked on the harsh overhead light and looked at his reflection in the bathroom mirror, into his eyes for some sign that they could possibly have been fantasizing about watching Leanne die, at his fingers to see if they showed the imprint of her throat, of her breasts—
He turned away in disgust and leaned over the toilet bowl, gagging.
This wasn’t possible. No part of him could feel those depraved things Edward had felt in his dream. No part of him could want Leanne dead.
He staggered back into the concealing darkness of his bedroom and slumped onto the bed, his hand reaching for his phone. He had to know. He had to be certain she was safe.
The burring that sounded in his ear, indicating her phone was ringing, was harsh and discordant. By the second ring his heart was racing, sweat once again beading on his forehead and upper lip, hand shaking so badly he could barely hold onto the phone.
“Answer, Leanne,” he croaked into the darkness.
On the third ring, he heard someone pick up. He held his breath, terrified he’d get only her recorded voice, that he wouldn’t know if she was safe.
“Hello?” Leanne’s sleepy voice came over the line.
Eliot exhaled a long sigh of relief.
“Hello?” she said again. “Who is this?”
“It’s me. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to wake you. I had another dream, and I needed to be sure you were okay.”
“I’m fine, Eliot.” She cleared her throat, and her voice sounded a little more alert. “Tell me about it.”
“At this hour of the night? Go back to sleep. I apologize for waking you.”
She laughed softly. “You inform me you had a terrible dream about me, you call me in the middle of the night, but you won’t tell me what the dream was, and you think I can go back to sleep now? You might as well tell me. It can’t be worse that what I’ll imagine.”
He leaned against the wooden headboard, finally able to catch his breath, and reached for a stick of gum from the nightstand. If he’d had a cigarette now, he might have broken down and smoked it.
He shoved the minty gum into his mouth and chewed. Maybe it would help get rid of some of the bad taste of the dream...though that taste permeated his entire being, not just his mouth.
Edward had been smoking in the dream. Had he consigned his bad habits to Edward as well as his anger and hatred?
No taste of cigarettes lingered in his mouth, so at least he knew that part hadn’t really happened.
“It was like the one I had before, the one about killing you.”
“Go on,” she said, her voice precise and emotionless...the consummate doctor.
“Leanne, I probably shouldn’t be telling you this. You’re not my doctor any longer.”
She was silent for a long moment, long enough for him to regret pointing out their severed relationship, long enough for him to realize he didn’t want her to hang up. He wanted to talk to her.
“I may not be your doctor, but I’m still your friend.”
Eliot let out the breath he’d been holding.
In the background on Leanne’s side he heard a sharp bark.
“Oh, dear. The phone woke Greta, and she wants to go out. Can you hold on just a minute? I’ll be right back.”
When Leanne’s hand closed around the knob of her bedroom door, she found herself suddenly afraid to open it, to see what waited on the other side.
Greta stood patiently, tail curled happily upright, staring at the door as she waited for it to open. Wasn’t Greta’s calmness a sign that Edward wasn’t in her house? Wasn’t Eliot’s voice on the phone a sure sign? He couldn’t be in two places at once.
But it wasn’t Edward she feared awaited her outside that door. With a sinking feeling, she realized her own nightmare had returned to threaten her. Eliot’s presence in her life—someone who mattered to her and who was dangerously unstable—was stirring up all the emotions she’d had to deal with since the night she’d seen her father kill himself. Just as she had cared about her father, now she cared about Eliot, was trying to save him the way she was unable to save her father.
Leanne set her jaw and yanked open the door then walked downstairs with Greta. She had to put the past behind her and refuse to allow it to influence the present.
As the little dog bounced happily out into the back yard, Leanne reflected that she probably shouldn’t have told Eliot she was his friend. She couldn’t do that, couldn’t risk even that degree of involvement for his best interest as well as for hers.
Greta ran back inside, and Leanne closed and locked the door—as if she could lock out the events already set in motion.
Before returning upstairs to the phone that connected her to Eliot, she made a quick survey of the downstairs, checking each window to be sure it was secure and undisturbed. The boogey man was not, however, lurking in a dark corner or even waiting across the street. He was on the other end of that phone line, and he was inside her head.
Back upstairs, she picked up the receiver again. “Eliot? Are you still there?”
“I’m here. Thank God you’re back. I was starting to get worried.” He barked a short, mirthless laugh. “Guess that doesn’t make much sense when I’m the one you need to be worried about, and I’m right here.”
He had no idea how accurate his statement was. “Tell me about your dream.” It was her professional voice again, the one she felt comfortable with, the one she used to put distance between herself and her patients.
“The first dream I had about you, only the outside of your house, your bed, and you were clear. After Edward went inside, everything got foggy. In this one, after he got inside I could see the entry hall, but everything else was still a blur. It was like a dream about a dream.”
“So what you’re saying,” she said, relieved by the opportunity to be analytical, “is that you only dream clearly about what you know. The rest is more like a fantasy, weaving together the known and the unknown. You can’t fantasize clearly about what you haven’t seen yet.”
“But I’ve seen your living room and the staircase, and they were still a blur in my dream. And your comforter was still solid white. You told me it had blue flowers. That separates me from Edward, doesn’t it?”
She didn’t want to answer him, to dash his nebulous optimism, but she had to. “The dream is Edward’s fantasy. What he’d like to do, not what he has done. He hasn’t seen anything but the outside of my house, the bedroom through my window, and now the entry way. Edward doesn’t share all of your memories, just as you don’t share all of his. Remember that he was unclear about what had happened the night Bruce Hedlund came to my office?”
Eliot was silent for a long time. When he finally spoke, the life had drained from his voice. “I see. Edward’s fantasies are what he wants to do, what he wants to torture me with watching him do. He talked to me this time and as much as admitted that. But one of his fantasies came true. He killed Kay Palmer, and he wants me to go to prison for her murder.” He swallowed audibly. ”I killed Kay Palmer. I deserve to go to prison.”
A part of her wanted to agree with him, wanted him to be some place there was no chance he could harm himself or anyone else—including her. But that was her untrained gut reaction. There was still so much that remained unknown. It was too early to draw definitive conclusions.
And there was a part of her, an emotional part, that cringed at the thought of Eliot in prison.
“You dreamed about killing her. As yet, we have no proof that you...that Edward actually did it. But even if he did, you weren’t legally responsible.”
He snorted. “Not legally responsible? I killed a woman, but I’m not legally responsible because I’m insane? Is that supposed to make me feel better?”
She ignored Eliot’s question since she couldn’t answer it. Knowing her father hadn’t been responsible for his actions because he was mentally ill didn’t make her or her mother feel better. Eventually, her mother had gone on with her life, remarried and now seemed happy. But Leanne knew the pain was still there just as it was still with her.
“There are some things that don’t fit,” she said.
“You don’t have elements of missing time. That’s a big one. For another, we haven’t been able to contact Edward. We can’t make a positive diagnosis until we reach him.”
“Edward stood on your doorstep,” he said, his tone harsh. “You spoke to him face to face. In my dream, he announced his intention of killing you. What more will it take? Do you want to wait until he actually comes up your stairs and strangles you the way he did Kay?”
He was right, and she was right, and she was completely confused where he was concerned. Damn it! She was reacting on an emotional level. Somehow Eliot had slipped past her defenses and touched something deep inside. She cared about all her patients, but not like this, not on this level.
She was drawn to him, attracted to him, and against her will, she’d become personally wrapped up in his problem. It was as if she could come to terms with her father’s descent into madness if she were able to help Eliot escape his.
Thank goodness Thurman had taken over when he did. She shouldn’t be talking to Eliot at all. She should conclude this conversation as quickly as possible.
“Stop saying that as though it was a fact,” she ordered in response to his comment about murdering Kay. “I’ll tell you what more it will take to accept that conclusion. When Thurman is able to reach Edward through you, when he has your body in his living room and is talking to you one minute and Edward the next. That’s when I’ll be convinced. That hasn’t happened, and until it does, everything we say is pure speculation. All you have to go on is a fuzzy dream that could have been enhanced through the medium of a television newscast overheard by your subconscious while you were asleep. You don’t even know for sure that Kay Palmer is Kay Becker. You do not have sufficient evidence to convict yourself of murder.”
Eliot heaved a deep sigh, but he didn’t argue. “Keep your doors and windows locked,” he said resignedly.
“I will.” She tried to put a smile in her voice, to help him relax. “I’ll be fine. I’ve got a noisy watchdog.”
“That’s something else,” he said. “Greta wasn’t in the dream.”
“Edward definitely saw Greta. She wanted to tear him to bits. Maybe this isn’t so much a fantasy of what Edward wants to do, but your fear of what he might do. It’s so similar to your dreams of Kay Palmer, maybe they’re both an expression of your fear rather than Edward’s desire.” As she spoke the words, she felt her own hope rise irrationally.
“I have to give you credit,” he said. “You never stop trying.”
“You shouldn’t either. You’re a strong person. I can’t imagine that you ever would give up or that you’d ever fail to accomplish whatever you set out to do.” She probably shouldn’t have said that. It was too personal, but she’d needed to reassure him as well as herself of the validity of her thoughts.
“I hate to disappoint you,” he said, “but I was a very mediocre baseball player.”
She permitted herself a soft chuckle. “I find it hard to believe you’d tolerate mediocrity in any area.” Eliot had been very tense when he’d called her. Now he was starting to relax, had even made a joke. She was able to help him even if only to a small extent.
After she hung up the phone, Leanne continued to sit upright in bed, wide awake, thinking, trying to make sense of the senseless—of what was going on with Eliot, of her own attraction to someone who was almost certainly a danger to her safety—physical as well as emotional. No matter that he was now Thurman’s patient. This went beyond a question of ethics. If she let herself care about Eliot, he would break her heart with his mental illness. She would have to face the same terrible loss that she’d faced with the deaths of her parents.
Edward was a threat to her life, but Eliot was a threat to her soul.
Greta stretched up on the side of the bed, sticking her pointed nose under Leanne’s hand, looking for affection. “Am I ignoring you? I’m sorry.” Leanne reached down and boosted her up. Greta stretched out beside her, and Leanne stroked the dog’s sleek, shiny fur. She snuggled closer, and Leanne didn’t make her go to her own bed. Suddenly she didn’t want to be alone...and not because she was frightened.
She sank into sleep and dreamed about Eliot, about his lips on hers, his big, capable hands on her body, caressing her, stroking her, holding her against his broad chest, her fingers twining in a mat of hair always hidden by his white cotton shirts but which she knew must be there...about making love with him and feeling a release of all the pent-up emotions he’d engendered in her.
But then at the end when he pulled away and smiled at her, he wasn’t Eliot any more. The smile belonged to Edward.
His hands closed about her throat...and she awoke, gasping for breath, her heart pounding. Beside her, Greta whimpered as though she shared her owner’s fear.
The next day Leanne felt a sense of relief as she watched her eleven o’clock appointment leave. All morning she had trouble keeping her mind on her work, on what her patients were telling her. After her disturbing dream, Eliot seemed to be filling all the spaces of her mind.
Thank goodness it was Friday and the day was half over. She could use the respite of lunchtime.
As the outer door closed behind her patient, Becky rose from her desk. “I’m going to lunch now, okay?”
“Sure. I think I’ll do the same.”
Becky tossed the strap of her purse over her shoulder then paused, indicating the message slips. “You might want to look through these. There’s one from the bank. They called to let us know Eliot Kane’s check bounced.”
“What?” Leanne strode to the desk and picked up the stack of pink slips, thumbing quickly to the one from her bank. “There must be some mistake. Maybe he accidentally wrote on a closed account.”
“Nope. Insufficient funds. I asked.” Becky walked around her desk toward the door. “You do somebody a favor, and look what you get.”
No, Leanne thought, she couldn’t have been this wrong. That would be a betrayal of her trust, and he’d never do that. The bank must have made a mistake.
She started back into her office then stopped in the doorway as the import of her reaction hit her. In a very dark way, it was almost comic. She might be forced to admit that Eliot had a personality fragmentation, but she couldn’t believe he would write a bad check.
She sank into her chair, forcing herself to take a hard look at her own assessment.
Eliot might have a personality lurking deep inside who wanted to murder her, and she could accept that, but she couldn’t believe he’d betray her by writing a bad check.
If there was something wrong with this situation, it was her own logic. She wanted so badly to trust Eliot, she had completely lost her objectivity. She was heading into precarious territory. The intelligent thing to do would be to avoid contact with him as much as possible. She should hand this check back to Becky and let her take care of it. That was the way she normally handled administrative problems.
But she didn’t do that.
She found Eliot’s business card and called him, relieved when the receptionist put her through. If he’d been at lunch, she’d have had time to reflect on her judgment, perhaps to do the sensible thing and not call him.
“Eliot, this is Leanne. What’s going on?” She didn’t give him time for idle conversation, for friendly exchanges. “The bank returned the check you wrote me on Monday.”
“What? Why would they return it?” He sounded genuinely shocked.
“That’s impossible. There’s some mistake. I have several thousand dollars in that account. Let me call my bank and get back to you. I’ll find out what happened.”
“Of course. That’s fine.” There was an explanation. She’d been right to trust him.
“Leanne, I’m really sorry about this. The bank must have made a mistake. I’ve never written a bad check in my life.”
After she hung up, Leanne sat for a moment, amazed at the strength of her relief, at how badly she wanted to believe in Eliot. She was right about one thing. Her judgment where he was concerned was totally askew and not to be trusted.
Elbows on her desk, she rested her head in her hands as if the burden in her mind was simply too much to hold erect. If Eliot was sane, that could mean he’d lied all along, that he killed Kay Palmer and needed a psychiatrist’s opinion to bolster a defense of insanity. Eliot was an intelligent man. He could have read a few books and come up with the symptoms of Multiple Personality Disorder.
Had he done that, however, he would have found that one of the most common symptoms of the disorder was missing time. Yet he firmly denied that element.
And if he wasn’t lying, if he truly was the strong, caring person she perceived him to be, that took them back to square one.
He seemed so sane, such a good person. He wanted to protect her even if it meant protecting her from himself. She remembered the evening he’d thrust the gun into her hand, how determined he’d been that she should be safe, even if it meant she’d have to kill him.
She slid open her desk drawer and looked at the gun where she’d hidden it away. She should have given it back to Eliot, but she hadn’t thought about it when he’d been in her office the last time.
Maybe she ought to take it home with her after all. What would she have done last night if Edward had somehow broken into her house as he had in Eliot’s dream?
If she wrapped it in paper towels and dropped it into her purse, if she didn’t have to touch it, maybe she would be able to get it home.
But would she be able to use it if the need arose?
She closed the drawer with a shiver.
Seeing the weapon took her back in time, back to the image of the gun that had fallen from her father’s lifeless fingers.