Secrets Among the Shadows

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Chapter 20

Fear washed over Leanne in nauseating waves. She shoved ineffectually at Edward’s chest. His grip was unrelenting. She was trapped.

He pushed against her. Panic-stricken, she struggled to maintain her footing. Was he trying to shove her to the floor, complete in violence what they’d begun only minutes before in mutual desire and caring?

Behind her she heard the door close and realized he’d been moving her out of the way so he could insure their privacy. No chance Thurman or Dixie might look out a window and see him. No chance anyone passing by would see. She could rely on no one but herself.

Behind her Greta continued to growl menacingly, but Leanne knew the small dog’s bite couldn’t equal her valor. She was alone against a mad man. Fear weakened her muscles, almost paralyzed her. Who could prevail against the inexorable power of a diseased mind?

Edward’s hands clutched her arms, holding her a few inches away from him. He smiled the smile that was a macabre mockery of Eliot’s. “So you recognize me,” he said.

“You wanted me to,” she guessed. He’d made no effort to be gentle, to impersonate Eliot.

He raised one eyebrow. “You’re a bright lady. No wonder Eliot’s so whacked out over you.”

“Is he?” Even in the midst of her fear, she felt a spark of elation that Eliot should be whacked out about her. That feeling descended into despair as she admitted to herself that Eliot’s feelings for her had undoubtedly put her in this position.

"Is he?” Edward mocked. “I wish you could see the eager look on your face. It almost hides the terror. So what did you have in mind, doctor? A three-way wedding? Surely you’ve figured out by now that you can’t have Eliot without having me, too.”

Leanne sucked in a deep breath and held it for a moment, ordering herself to relax and be rational—to be a therapist. It was her only chance.

“I understand that, Edward,” she assured him, lowering her voice a couple of octaves, trying to sound soothing. “I’m willing to accept both of you. I care about all of Eliot.”

His grip on her arm tightened. “You care about Eliot and only Eliot. That’s the way it’s always been. I’m not gullible enough to believe you give a damn about what happens to me.”

She concentrated on the physical pain in her arm, trying to control the panic that threatened to overtake her and make her lose her rational thought. “You’re wrong, Edward. I do care what happens to you because, as you yourself just said, you and Eliot are the same. How could I care about the one and not the other?”

He snorted in disbelief.

She decided to try a line of shock. “Edward, have you thought about what happens if Eliot goes to prison for Kay Palmer’s murder? You’ll go to prison, too.”

For a moment his gaze turned inward with a haunted look, but then his smile became crafty. “You don’t have to worry, doctor. I’ve got that covered.”

“But, Edward, you and Eliot share the same body. Where one of you goes, the other goes.”

“Is that his excuse for breaking into my house?” He shook her arm brutally. “Oh, yes, I know he was there. I know he was here tonight, too. I know all about that sordid little scene on the porch between the two of you. I know a lot more about him than he knows about me. I sent him away tonight. I have that much power.” He paused as if waiting for her response. His grim, insane expression held a half-hidden quality that reminded her of a small child waiting for praise for something he’d achieved.

When she didn’t respond, he continued with his diatribe, and she questioned if she’d actually seen that brief look of childish longing. “I don’t care what Eliot does with you, but he had no business breaking into my house. That’s why I called the police and told them he killed Kay. He has no right to be in my house.”

“But you’ve been in his home. You even stole some of his pictures.”

His hand flashed before her and slammed against her cheek, twisting her head sideways. In the instant it took her brain to register that he’d slapped her, he grabbed her hair and yanked her head painfully backward. An involuntary scream escaped her lips as she stumbled, reaching automatically for his arm, for something to hang onto.

“You’re damned right I took them. I have as much right to those pictures as he does! I have as much right to his life as he does!”

Suddenly with a loud curse, he flung her from him, sending her reeling. As she pushed herself up, she saw the reason for his actions. Greta was hanging onto his leg with all the might of her tiny jaws. With a swift movement, he flung the little dog across the room.

“Greta!” Leanne staggered, half walking, half crawling, to her pet. Rage obscured her vision. If that devil had hurt Greta...

But Greta lurched to her feet, shook herself and, with a snarl, charged Edward again. Leanne flung herself forward and caught the dog before she could reach her target and put herself in danger again.

Clutching the squirming, growling dog to her, Leanne looked up, her terror now mixed with a healthy dose of anger, to see what Edward would do next. He appeared frozen in place, a glazed look in his eyes as though he were watching sights only he could see.

“Eliot?” she whispered, hoping the trance portended a change of personality.

He blinked and focused on her. “Not yet, but he’s trying to get here. He’s worried about you. He knows I’m here.” Edward shook his head. “He’s getting stronger.” The last sentence seemed spoken only to himself.

He turned, opened the door then looked back at her. “This isn’t over between us.” He walked away, closing the door behind himself.

Greta squirmed from Leanne’s loosened grasp, ran to the screen door and barked, then came back to lick Leanne’s cheek and cuddle up beside her.

Leanne collapsed the rest of the way onto the worn carpet, uncontrollable, hysterical sobs bursting from her. The episode had frightened her...terrified her...but the worst part had been the cruelty displayed by a man she cared about, a man she’d wanted to make love with only a few minutes before. Her mind, her heart, couldn’t deal with that. It was impossible. That man was no part of Eliot.

No wonder he had such a hard time accepting Edward as a segment of his own psyche. She knew about the manifestations of the illness, and even she couldn’t accept that some part of Eliot had slapped her, pulled her hair, kicked her dog.

She wept in hard, driving sobs as though she could somehow push out with her tears the pain and knowledge of Edward’s visit.

The door flew open, and Leanne looked up through tear-veiled eyes to see Eliot or Edward charge into the room. In total panic, she leapt to her feet, snatching up Greta.

“Get the hell out of here! I’ve already called the police,” she lied breathlessly, fear knotting in the pit of her stomach.

The man halted, one hand still on the door, and she saw an echo of her own horror in his eyes. “Dear God, Leanne, what did he do to you?”

She set Greta on the floor, and the dog ran to him, wagging her tail, though Leanne hadn’t really needed that final proof.

It was too much. Her emotions were on overload. Adrenalin flooded her body—from fear, pain, relief, a thousand feelings jumbled together, unrecognizable and unbearable. She flung herself into Eliot’s arms. He held her against him tightly, desperately.

She lifted her face to look at him, to tell him...something. She didn’t know what she’d meant to say. She couldn’t think, could only feel. For a moment he searched her eyes, then, with a groan, crushed his mouth to hers. Her lips parted, and she greedily took him in, their tongues dancing a wild, unbridled ritual, a foretelling of what was to come.

He tasted of spearmint gum and desire, and her need was greater than she could ever have imagined. She was excruciatingly aware that this could be the only time they had together, that even this was time stolen from the specter of insanity.

She started to pull away for a moment to lock the door, but that was absurd. The danger was here beside her, not on the other side of that door.

They sank to the floor together. She didn’t know if he pulled her or she pulled him, and it didn’t matter. They couldn’t afford to take the time to go upstairs to her bedroom or even across the room to the sofa. She knew he was as aware as she that if either of them stopped to think, they’d realize how insane their actions were.

His lips trailed kisses down her throat, sending delicious shivers along her spine. She slid her arms around him, under the sport coat that he still wore, over the soft cotton of his shirt, holding him as tightly as he’d held her, as though she could thus keep him from slipping away, from becoming someone else.

His hands on her back under her sweater trailed sparks along her bare skin. As his fingertips slid along her ribs, she fancied she could feel each one separately, a path of finger kisses.

He knelt over her then and pulled off his jacket, flinging it carelessly aside. She reached up and unbuttoned his shirt, her fingers surprisingly steady, the world more right than it had been in a long while. She slipped his shirt from his shoulders, sucking in her breath at the sight of the broad muscular expanse. Her heart beat even faster as she took in the contrast between the tailored slacks he still wore and his naked upper torso, covered but not hidden by a mat of light brown hair that tapered into the waistband of his slacks.

He bent toward her and lifted her sweater over her head. She raised her arms compliantly.

His touch was feather soft as he reached around her back and freed the hooks on her bra then lifted the wispy fabric away. Her blood surged in ecstasy, and she heard Eliot’s sharp intake of breath as her bare breasts touched his naked chest.

His lips left hers to move downward, over her chin, along her throat, down her chest. She gasped as he drew his tongue around the sensitive flesh of one breast, slowly moving in circles until he touched her nipple. When his lips finally closed around it, she realized her body had begun to writhe in her anticipation and need of him.

His fingers fumbled with the zipper on her slacks, and she reached down to help him, to speed the process as though their time together might be limited. The urgency to taste the fulfillment of the ultimate closeness before it was too late lent a desperate edge to her need.

As Eliot sat up to rid himself of his own slacks, she could see the same desperation in his eyes. “Leanne?” The word held a myriad of questions. Did they dare continue? How could he guarantee that Edward wouldn’t appear?

For answer she raised her arms to him and pulled him to her. She’d been with him but unable to touch him too many times.

He positioned himself over her, and she reached down to guide him into her. As he slid inside her, she lifted to absorb all of him, to feel that she was a part of him and he was a part of her, so joined that no one else could possibly be involved, just the two of them.

Eliot’s movements were frantic, and hers coordinated with him perfectly. Time and space ceased to exist. The two of them had this one chance to complete their desire, and they had no idea how long that chance would last.

Leanne wanted their lovemaking to go on forever, yet she felt herself rushing headlong, inevitably, to fulfillment. As the waves gathered then rushed over her, exploding along every nerve ending, Eliot groaned and, with a final thrust, shivered and cried out his ecstasy then collapsed beside her.

She snuggled into his arms, replete and content, her head against his chest, listening to the sound of his heartbeat as it gradually slowed from a rapid pounding.

But as the euphoric cloud began to fade, reality returned. He kissed the top of her head and stroked her back lazily. While it felt delicious, while his touch was wonderful, she had to fight an almost irresistible impulse to pull away and scrutinize him, just to be sure.

Eliot didn’t want to move, to disturb this fantasy come true of having Leanne in his arms, but he felt the slight tension in her back muscles and knew what she must be thinking. Not that he blamed her. In fact, he blamed himself for losing control and putting her in this position.

“Leanne,” he whispered into her hair, his breath stirring the silky strands, bringing the clean airy scent to his nostrils. God, this was hard! He wanted to hold her all night, make love to her again, wake beside her in the morning. “I guess we’d better get up.”

She nodded, and he stood, pulling her with him.

Turning away so she couldn’t see his guilt, so he wouldn’t have to see the doubt and fear that had undoubtedly replaced the desire in her eyes, Eliot gathered his scattered clothes and began to dress.

Damn! he thought, sinking to the sofa and pulling on his socks. This wasn’t the way things ought to be after making love. The two of them should be lying together in that bed upstairs, cuddling, drowsing, whispering, counting the freckles on each other’s bodies.

Damn Edward and damn his own mind for harboring such a monster!

“We shouldn’t have done that,” he said gruffly as she sat down beside him. “It’s too dangerous.” From the corner of his eye, he saw that she’d dressed again. Greta leapt onto the sofa and curled up beside her.

“Shouldn’t we?” she asked. Her voice was gentle, caring, but tinged ever so slightly with fear.

That fear sliced through him like a knife, sharp and painful, drawing the lifeblood from him. “You know we shouldn’t have. We can’t let it happen again. Not until...until it’s safe. Until Edward is gone.” If Edward was ever gone.

For just a moment he questioned if he was being honest with himself. He’d never been one to hang around, to spend the night with his lover and wake to a cozy breakfast the next day. Was that what was going on now?

It didn’t really matter, he supposed. Edward was a very real danger. He had to leave.

“Tell me what happened,” he said, forcing himself to look at her, to ask the question he didn’t want to hear the answer to. “What did he do to you—what did I do to you that made you cry?”

“You don’t remember anything?”

Eliot shook his head. “Not really. When I left here, I didn’t go straight home. I drove around for a little while in kind of a fog, I guess.” A fog of unsated desire, of frustration with himself for not being able to handle the situation. “Then all of a sudden I felt connected to Edward. I could feel him hating you. For just a flash it was like I was in the room with you and him. I didn’t want to be there, I pulled away from him, and then I was sitting in the car at a stop sign. I turned around and drove here as fast as I could. Tell me what happened.”

“Somebody knocked on the door. I thought it was you coming back.” She pushed her hair from her face as she turned to pet Greta, turned away from him...and he knew this was going to be bad. “I opened the door, but as soon as he kissed me, I knew it wasn’t you.”

Eliot clenched his fists as anger and jealousy flooded through him at the thought of Edward kissing Leanne. He hated Edward, he hated himself.

“I tried to get away,” she continued, her voice strained, “but he grabbed my arms. He knew you’d been here and he knew about the trip you made to his house. That’s why he called the police, to punish you for that.”

“This is insane. He’s mad because I went to his house, a house I’m paying for.”

“I pointed out to him that he’d been in your house and stolen your pictures. That’s when he slapped me.”

“He hit you?” Eliot exclaimed in shock and horror. That was impossible! It had to be impossible. No part of him could hurt Leanne. “Where? What happened? Are you all right?”

“I’m fine.” She touched the right side of her face.

“Is that where?” Eliot moved her hand away and studied her face closely.

“Am I going to have a black eye?” she asked with a nervous half-laugh.

“I don’t think so. Your face is a little red, though. God, I’m sorry!” He squeezed his eyes shut and shook his head. ”Sorry. That seems so lame. I’d cut off my hand before I’d hurt you, Leanne.”

He stroked her skin, barely brushing over it with the tips of his fingers as if he could somehow take away the other, harsher touch. “I wish I’d never gotten you involved in this. I want to make you happy, and all I seem to do is cause you grief.”

She brushed the back of his neck, her touch soft and fragile and vulnerable. “Just a few minutes ago you made me very happy. Eliot, I know you’re fighting Edward, and tonight something new happened. He felt you coming, and he couldn’t stop you.”

“What do you mean, he felt me coming?”

“He got a kind of glazed expression on his face, and I thought maybe a personality shift was taking place, so I called your name. He said you were trying to get here, that you knew he was here and you were worried about me. He said you were getting stronger. Then he left.”

It was the first ray of hope he’d had in a long time. “Does that mean I may one day be able to stop him from coming?”

“I don’t know whether you want to stop him from coming. You did that when you were younger, and now he’s erupted as a mutated caricature. We have to cure whatever’s causing his anger. But I think you’re making progress in that direction if Edward’s concerned about your growing strength. You said for a moment you seemed to be here with him, then you got away from him. Tell me how that felt, how he felt, everything you can remember.”

Had he really just made love with this woman? She was back in her doctor mode, wanting to know how he felt about everything but her, pulling away from him the same way he’d pulled away from Edward, putting up barriers between them.

Not that he blamed her. He really had no one to blame but himself. He’d left himself open, made love to a woman who knew too much about him, knew enough to hate and fear him.

“I could feel his hatred for you,” he said, trying to comply with her request. “I could see you through his eyes. You were holding Greta, and you looked terrified. I felt—” He hesitated. How had he felt? It happened so fast, he hadn’t stopped to analyze it. “I was worried about you. I hated Edward. I wanted to stop him, make him go away and leave you alone.”

“That’s encouraging. You need to call Thurman and tell him immediately.”

Eliot stood abruptly. Leanne was doing the right thing, the smart thing, putting their relationship back on impersonal ground. And he hated it. “Tomorrow,” he agreed, suddenly anxious to leave, to get away from this reminder of the woman he’d touched so briefly and could never possess, from the special intimacy between a man and a woman that would never be his. “It’s almost midnight. I’d better get out of here and let you get some sleep.”

Leanne rose, too, and Greta jumped down between them, looking up eagerly, wagging her tail.

“Oh!” Leanne exclaimed. “I almost forgot. Greta attacked Edward. Did she...is your leg all right?”

“Greta attacked him? What happened? Did he hurt her? Is that why you were holding her?”

“Yes. He kicked her across the room.”

Eliot groaned at this latest cruelty. How could he have it in him to hurt a defenseless animal? He leaned down to examine the small dog, running his fingers over her ribs. Greta didn’t flinch.

“She seems to be okay,” Leanne confirmed. “What about you? She’s had all her shots, but you might want to get a tetanus booster.”

Eliot looked down at his legs. “I don’t feel anything. Which leg?”

“The left, I think. I’m not sure. It all happened so fast.”

He sat down again, lifted his left foot, lifted his pants leg and pushed down his sock. The skin showed no signs of dog bite. Hesitantly he lifted his right foot and went through the same procedure with the same results.

He looked up at Leanne and shrugged, then reached down to pet Greta again. “I don’t even see any pulls in the fabric of my slacks. Sorry, little one, but I’m afraid those choppers of yours don’t qualify you for the police academy. I certainly admire your courage, though.” Greta wagged her tail enthusiastically as if she understood, as if he’d never been anything but kind to her.

How could he do it? How could he hurt this woman he wanted so badly he ached for her and this small dog who seemed to adore him?

“I’ve got to go,” he said curtly.

Leanne watched Eliot leave, stared after his car until it turned the corner and disappeared, then went inside and locked the door. After checking all the windows, she went upstairs to bed. But even though the hour was late and she was exhausted, sleep was elusive.

What on earth had she been thinking tonight? She hadn’t been thinking. That was the whole problem. She’d only been feeling. And those feelings had been incredibly wonderful...while they lasted. Making love with Eliot had been everything and more than she’d ever imagined. The memory of that encounter would only make it that much harder in the future to avoid involvement with him.

The glorious moment they’d shared, the intense closeness, hadn’t changed anything. Nor could it ever. No matter how much she wanted him, no matter how much she cared for him, he would still be mentally ill…unpredictable. She’d never be able to trust him. She’d never know when she’d wake up beside a man who was capable of hitting her, kicking her dog...and maybe worse.

Yet none of that rationale changed the way she felt about him even one iota. She could no more stop caring about him than she could stop caring about her father. She could no more stop hating the effects of his illness than she could stop hating the effects of her father’s illness.

***

Their yard was full of other kids. They were three years old today, and Mommy and Daddy were having a birthday party for them. Eliot and Edward, both wearing blue shorts and shirts, sat happily surrounded by all their new toys.

By mutual, unspoken consent, they moved over to a red plastic dump truck. Sitting down beside it, they began to pluck strands of grass to fill the back. Another little boy came to join them, and Eliot scooted over to give him room. He could tell Edward didn’t much like having the new kid there. Including others in their games was the only thing they didn’t always agree on. But Eliot handed Edward some extra grass and let him put it in. Edward smiled and Eliot felt him go okay again.

Another little boy came over, and Eliot and Edward , sharing the same thought, got up together and ran, hand in hand, to their sandbox. Mommy had told them to stay clean for the party, but they knew she wouldn’t really get mad. They picked up their shovels and began to dig.

Then they heard Daddy calling. “Time to blow out your candles so we can cut this cake!”

Together they ran to the big table set up on the lawn. Daddy tried to help them onto the bench, but they pushed aside his hands and did it themselves. They were big boys of three now.

“Make a wish, then blow,” Mommy said. “But don’t tell anybody. If you tell, it won’t come true.”

They looked at each other and both wished for a puppy. A little fuzzy black one. They took deep breaths and blew at the same time, successfully blowing out the three candles.

“That means your wish will come true,” Mommy said, leaning over to start cutting and serving the colorful cake.

Eliot and Edward smiled at each other, deciding in the special way they could talk to each other, to name the puppy Sammie.

The alarm clock buzzed raucously. Without opening his eyes, Eliot slapped the snooze button, still savoring the innocent happiness he felt in the dream. His mind burrowed back down, searching for that happiness again, unwilling to wake up and face reality.

Edward had been with him before his parents were killed. Edward had been kind and loving, more than his best friend. Edward had been a part of himself, a good part. When had it changed, how had it gone wrong?

You know. The thought came to him from inside his own head yet from far away. The thought came from Edward.

I don’t know, Edward. Why can’t it be like it was before?

You were always the one who wanted to go off with other kids. The happiness he’d felt radiating from three-year old Edward was gone, replaced by vindictiveness, anger and a little sadness.

We went everywhere together. Eliot felt a familiarity in his attempts to placate Edward, as if he’d done it many times.

Not after Kay. You left me alone then. You refused to take me along, to even talk to me. The anger was rising. I couldn’t go anywhere unless you took me, and you shut me out! You left me alone in prison. Well, guess what? I’m not in prison anymore.

Eliot’s mind cringed, sinking deeper, trying to get away from the hatred of this person who’d once loved him. I took you to school with me so you could learn what I learned, he protested. And I played with you even when Mom and Dad got mad at me.

Don’t call those people Mom and Dad! Edward exploded. How could they be your Mom and Dad when they weren’t mine, too? They hated me. They knew I was in prison, and they didn’t care. You were all I had left, and they wanted to take you away from me. And you let them. You deserted me. Now you’re going to be the one to find yourself all alone and in prison. Edward paused, and Eliot could feel him smile, but it wasn’t a happy smile. You’re thinking of Leanne. I’ve always known what you were thinking.

He was right. Eliot had been thinking of Leanne, that if he had her, he’d never be alone, no matter where he had to go.

You won’t have her. You will be alone. She’ll be dead.

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