Eliot’s lips infused tingling, vibrating life into Leanne’s. Her mouth clung to his, her arms held him close, her body molded itself to him. She knew it was crazy to be kissing this man who might at any moment become Edward, but she didn’t want to stop. She couldn’t stop.
Knowing he was mentally ill and she could never have all of him, knowing he could vanish at any minute and be replaced by a man who hated her, only intensified her need to have as much of him as she could while she could.
He seemed to feel the same way, holding onto her desperately, kissing her in a wild and passionate manner totally out of character for such a controlled man. His hands moved under her jacket, caressing the thin silk of her blouse, the only thing separating his flesh from hers, and she wished the fabric wasn’t there.
His body against hers felt hard and capable, and his tongue invading her mouth tasted like spearmint gum. Her hands curled about his neck. She wanted to relax into his strong arms, forget the reality that surrounded them.
Footsteps and panting sounded behind them.
She pushed away from him, her already rampant heart beat becoming even wilder.
A jogger ran past.
“Just a runner,” he said. “For a second there I thought—” He broke off, drawing a shaky hand across his forehead.
“I know. I thought it, too.” Her eyes searched his for answers she knew he didn’t have. “For a minute I thought it was Edward.”
“I’m afraid he only exists up here.” Eliot tapped the side of his head and smiled wryly, humorlessly.
She flinched away from the reminder. It was so easy to forget that a man she feared, a sickness she feared, lived in the brain of this man she was so incredibly attracted to. And after that searing kiss, she wanted more than ever to forget. Even as her mind pointed out reality to her, her body ached for more of Eliot...more kisses, more caresses...more.
“We’d better be getting back,” he said. “It’s going to be dark soon.” He reached a hand toward her invitingly, then scowled and dropped it. “What am I doing? I make a resolution to stay away from you with the hope that will keep Edward away, then the next thing I know we’re walking along the lake path together, and I’m kissing you like a teenager who can’t control his hormones.”
He turned away from her and started down the trail the way they’d come, but not before she glimpsed the look of self-disgust on his face. She hurried after him, catching up to walk alongside him.
“I didn’t exactly push you away,” she reminded him. “In fact, I was the one who invited you to meet me here.”
He shoved his hands into his pockets and kept walking. “I didn’t have to come. I knew I shouldn’t.”
“But you wanted to. And I wanted you to. If you’re going to indulge in guilt, you’ll have to give me my share.” Though she didn’t feel the least bit guilty. In fact, her lips—her whole body—still tingled with the memory of his kiss.
“You’re sounding like a psychiatrist again.”
“That’s funny. I don’t feel at all like one,” she said softly.
He stopped and gazed at her for an endless moment, his eyes full of longing, then shook his head and resumed walking. “It seems as if Edward’s hatred of you is tied to the time I spend with you, the closeness. If he knows I kissed you, you could have more problems.”
“You’ve got to stop worrying about Edward and me,” she said, although his words gave her an uneasy feeling, almost as if they were a threat. “I always lock my doors and windows, and Thurman and Dixie are right across the street.”
“You know I would never deliberately harm you.”
“I know that.” A shiver ran down her spine at the emphasis he placed on the word deliberately.
“When I first came to you, I had no idea...” He shook his head and looked away, striding purposefully on down the path.
Almost running to stay up with him, she wondered about the rest of his unfinished sentence. He had no idea his coming to her would put her in danger? Or he had no idea he would be attracted to her? Or both?
By the time they reached the parking area, he seemed to once more be in total control. He stood beside her car, holding the door while she got in.
“I appreciate your meeting me here, even if it wasn’t a very good idea,” he said.
She thought about the kiss they’d shared and knew she wouldn’t have wanted to miss that. She smiled up at him. “It was a good idea.”
His gaze turned hungry as it dropped from her eyes to her lips, then he blinked and stepped back to close her car door. “Goodnight, Leanne,” he said.
As she drove away, she checked in her rear view mirror. He remained standing in the parking area, watching her, and she watched him until he disappeared into the gathering dusk behind her.
In kissing Eliot, she had crossed a line. As long as their attraction was unacknowledged, they could both pretend it didn’t exist. That was no longer possible.
He’d seen everything. Eliot and Leanne’s disgusting scene at the lake both angered and pleased him.
Eliot thought he was going to have it all again, but he was wrong. The more Eliot cared for Leanne, the more pleasure it would give Edward when he took Leanne away from him—when Eliot had to take the blame for killing her.
Everything was going his way this time.
Eliot had finally noticed the money. It had given him infinite happiness to be able to take some of what was owed him. Breaking the computer code had been a snap. That should prove to Eliot that Edward was smarter than him. Eliot didn’t even use all those years of computer training, but Edward had learned along with him, and now he’d surpassed him. Soon there’d be only one...and it would be Edward.
“You know you’re playing with fire,” Thurman said, setting his coffee cup in the saucer. Seated across from her, he leaned back from the round wooden table in her sunny kitchen and took a large bite of his bagel.
In the interest of keeping him current on Eliot’s situation, she’d asked him over for a late Saturday breakfast and confessed to him the events of the previous day, including the kiss. That last part had been difficult to tell. It was something private she didn’t want to share. But, from a professional standpoint, she knew that everything that happened, everything that was said, was important.
“I’m aware I’m playing with fire,” she replied.
“A lot of people get a charge out of that sort of thing, but you’ve never been like that. I’ve known you a long time, Leanne. This isn’t like you. I realize the question of ethics no longer applies since Eliot is now my patient, but that’s never been the main thing that kept that barrier between you and your patients.”
She paused in the act of spreading cream cheese over another bagel. “Barrier? Are you saying I keep my patients at arm’s length?”
“Absolutely. And that’s a good thing. You have a natural compassion that makes you care about people and want to help them. But you also have a natural fear that keeps you from losing your objectivity. It’s a good combination. You stay in your head, not your heart, and that makes it easier to see what people need and to help them. Until now. What’s going on, Leanne?”
Leanne continued to spread the cream cheese even though she was no longer hungry and had no intention of eating the bagel. But the few seconds of time she’d thus bought didn’t help her find any answers. “I don’t know, Thurman,” she admitted. “I don’t know what’s going on. I’m as confused about myself as I am about Eliot.”
Thurman peered at her intently. “I’m sure I don’t have to remind you that saving him won’t change the past. It won’t bring back your father.”
“Not much gets by you, does it?” She set her bagel on her plate and drew a finger around the rim of her almost-empty coffee cup. The china was cold to the touch, no longer warm from the beverage. “You’re right. I hadn’t realized until recently how much that incident still affects me.”
Thurman reached across the table and placed his hand on hers. “It always will. It’s a part of you. It’s not going to go away. You don’t recover from a trauma like that. You learn how to live with it, but it’s always a part of you. You know that.”
She gazed through the window beside the table, past the shrubs, past the trees, into her own mind. “I loved my father so much. He was my best friend. Even after he got sick, he managed to hide most of it from me. Sometimes, for a few minutes, I’m able to forget what happened and just remember the special relationship we had.”
She turned from the window and refocused on Thurman. “I know you can’t stop loving somebody just because he gets sick, and you can’t blame him for what he does. But he killed somebody I loved...himself.”
“What do you tell your patients with problems like that?”
She offered him a meager smile. “Accept, cope, learn to live.”
“You’ve done all those things.”
She nodded. What he said was true. A month ago she’d have agreed completely and even a little smugly, proud of her own success in dealing with her problems. But her association with Eliot had revived old feelings and left her with a sensation of something unfinished.
She pushed back her chair. “How about some more caffeine?”
“I can always use that.”
She took both cups over to the counter and refilled them then returned to the table. “What do you suppose Edward is doing with all that money he transferred?” she asked, deliberately changing the subject as she resumed her seat. There was, after all, nothing more to say about her situation.
“It’s difficult to even speculate. Maybe he needs it to feel independent of Eliot.”
“Trying to establish his separateness from Eliot, build his own life. That’s possible. Edward doesn’t seem to like Eliot very much. He could be setting up his own place, renting an apartment, buying his own car. Apparently he has another phone somewhere. Remember Kay Palmer’s co-worker said he’d given Kay a private number to call him.”
Thurman nodded slowly, apparently considering her suggestion. “That’s an interesting possibility. Multiples have been known to do that sort of thing.”
“But that wouldn’t explain why he dated that woman, that Kay Palmer, using Eliot’s name. Even gave her Eliot’s card. He came to my door pretending to be Eliot. He was pretty freaked when I called him Edward. Those things would indicate he’s trying to be Eliot.”
Thurman stroked his mustache thoughtfully. “So rather than trying to establish a separate identity, we may have a personality—a malevolent personality—who wants to take over the dominant personality.”
The bite of cold, tough bagel Leanne was chewing stuck in her throat. She stared at Thurman and swallowed. “You think he wants to take Eliot’s place? To do that, he’d have to get rid of Eliot.”
The older man stared back at her, his expression grim, and her heart contracted with a new fear.
“Thurman, you called him malevolent. Do you think he’d try to harm Eliot?”
“That sort of thing has happened before, one personality trying to dispose of the other. Multiples don’t always realize they’re sharing the same body.”
She rose from the table abruptly, an overt gesture of her inner desire to get away from the disturbing possibilities—the idea that Eliot could hurt himself as well as the other idea she still couldn’t quite face—that Edward’s hatred and anger against her were a part of Eliot.
“I’ll get us some more—” She hesitated. They already had fresh coffee.
“Leanne, have you let your emotions get so involved that you’re not facing reality?”
A knock on the door saved her from having to answer Thurman’s question.
Glad for the interruption, she went to the front door with Greta close on her heels.
A delivery man from a local florist shop stood on her porch holding a long box tied with a wide pink ribbon.
“Yes.” She could feel a warm flush rising to her cheeks. They had to be from Eliot, and in spite of her common sense, she was thrilled.
She took the box and returned to the kitchen.
Thurman leaned back in his chair, smiling but shaking his head. “Leanne, you’re positively glowing. What’s going on?”
She smiled. “Every woman loves to get flowers.” She opened the box to find a dozen snow white roses. She lifted one by its thorny stem. The petals were exquisite, velvety white. She raised the bloom to her nose and inhaled. The fragrance, though faint, was sweet.
Laying the flower back in the box, she picked up the card. ”You made the muddy waters of White Rock Lake look pristine and pure. Eliot." In spite of her efforts the corners of her mouth twitched upward in a smile.
Thurman held out a hand, and, reluctantly, she gave him the card.
He studied it silently then returned it to her. “Kind of ambiguous if you ask me,” he said quietly. “Is he saying your presence made the water pure or that it looked pristine beside your muddiness?”
The excited, butterfly feeling in her stomach turned to a heavy lump. “I know you’re only trying to protect me, but that’s a cruel thing to say, Thurman.”
His pale eyes showed concern. “Since you’re dealing with somebody who alternately cares for you then hates you, I think you have to consider the ambiguity of everything he says.”
She looked longingly at the beautiful flowers, wishing she could enjoy them for all the normal reasons, but Thurman was right. “I’ll call him,” she said dispiritedly.
He stood. “Good idea. Let’s do it now.”
She balked at the idea. It was enough she’d had to share the intimate details of their walk around the lake. ”Let’s? As in you and me together?”
He nodded curtly, and she sighed. “Okay,” she agreed. “You might as well hear it all now instead of having me repeat it later.”
They went into the living room, and she took Eliot’s card from her purse then dialed his home number. When she got a recorded message, she hung up and called his office instead.
He was there, and she wasn’t sure if she was happy or distressed to hear his voice. Her emotions were becoming almost as unpredictable as Eliot’s personality.
“Eliot, I wanted to thank you for the flowers,” she said tentatively.
“Flowers?” His tone was suddenly tense. She could feel that same tension rising in her, but amazingly she felt no surprise. Disappointment, but no real surprise. However much she’d wanted the gift to come from Eliot, something in her must have known all along, even before Thurman pointed out the possibilities in the note that came with the gift.
“The white roses that came this morning.” She swallowed. “The card said they were from you.”
He was silent for an eternity. “I didn’t send you any flowers.”
“I see.” The cold that washed over her told her she’d been hoping against all odds that Eliot had sent the roses.
“What did the card say?”
She didn’t have to retrieve the card. The words were emblazoned in her memory. ”You made the muddy waters of White Rock Lake look pristine and pure.” How odd that a phrase that had, only a few moments ago, seemed beautiful and romantic now felt dirty and frightening.
“What’s the name of the florist?”
“Flowers, Etc. on Mockingbird.”
“That’s the florist I always use, but I didn’t send you those roses.”
Leanne looked up to see Thurman watching her. She shook her head.
Neither she nor Eliot said anything for a long moment. She suspected he was as unwilling as she to utter Edward’s name.
“In my dream the other night,” Eliot finally said, his voice stiff and lifeless, “Edward commented on your preference for white. He said...he said you might be fooling me, but you weren’t fooling him, that you weren’t really pure and pristine.”
She sucked in her breath. His words hit her in the gut, low and painful.
“I’ll check with the florist and see what I can find out about who placed the order and when,” he said, changing his tone to one of brisk efficiency.
“Good idea. Eliot, have you found out anything else about the missing money?”
“I found out it’s not in Edward’s account. The officer who told me the money had been transferred gave me the number of the account into which it was transferred. I called the bank this morning and told them he’d given me a check on that account for ten thousand dollars, and I wanted to know if it would clear. Bookkeeping told me it wouldn’t. Of course they wouldn’t give me the balance, but that tells me at least twenty-five thousand dollars is gone.”
“Have you considered the possibility that Edward is using that money to set up a separate existence, maybe by leasing an apartment, buying a new wardrobe, getting a different phone number—anything that would be his alone? You need to be aware that there’s a chance he doesn’t realize that you share the same body.”
Eliot swore quietly but vehemently. “Do you know how insane this sounds? The bastard wants me to take the blame for Kay’s murder and for yours, to go to prison while he remains free. Damn! How the hell can I deal with a part of my mind that’s trying to destroy me?”
Leanne could feel and even share his frustration. She was having a hard time dealing with the fact that a part of his mind hated her. “You can,” she assured him, trying to sound confident. “With Thurman’s help, you can. Trust him. Trust yourself to come through this. Don’t give up.”
“Trust. Right. I’ll let you know if I find out anything from the florist.”
Leanne hung up the phone. “Edward sent the flowers,” she told Thurman.
Moving on legs that seemed made of lead, she took the perfect white roses to the alley and tossed them into the trash.