Secrets Among the Shadows

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Chapter 24

Confused and disappointed, Leanne slid onto the plastic covered bench in the almost-empty coffee shop. Eliot sat across from her, the fluorescent lights accenting the grim look on his face. This certainly wasn’t the way she’d envisioned spending the evening.

Obviously there would be no news to assure her Eliot wasn’t a murderer, wasn’t a danger to her, wouldn’t be arrested for murder in only two days. No tender lovemaking and cuddling until dawn. Instead they sat stiffly with a Formica table between them in a restaurant that smelled of stale grease and onion rings already consumed.

“Just coffee,” Eliot told the waitress.

“Me, too,” Leanne agreed.

“Now tell me about this phone call,” Eliot said.

Leanne looked down at the scratched surface of the table, embarrassed that she’d been so eager to see Eliot she’d let herself be fooled. Dismay weighed heavily on her shoulders. Her hopes, so recently buoyant, had been destroyed. She’d had no choice about loving her father, but this pain was her own fault.

“You called...at least, I thought it was you.” She related, in as much detail as she could remember, the exact conversations that had taken place. She was pretty sure she remembered every word, that she’d never be able to forget. For a delicious half hour, she’d dared to hope that she and Eliot could be together.

The waitress returned and poured coffee into the thick white mugs. Leanne stared at hers. It mirrored the way she felt—black and murky.

Eliot sipped his and grimaced.

“Bad, huh?” she asked.

“Awful.”

She wasn’t sure if he referred to the coffee or the entire situation. Probably both.

“I must have stopped somewhere and called you,” he said, the words seeming to be ripped from somewhere deep inside. “Probably about halfway because that’s when I got an eerie feeling that something was wrong. Guess that explains my psychic warning.”

“But, Eliot, I don’t understand. How could I be in danger when you weren’t even here? Why would Edward want me to come to an empty condo?”

“I don’t know. Maybe it was an ego thing, to see if he could do it after I warned you to stay away from me. Maybe just to upset you, to make you mad at me. Maybe he thought he could get there without me.” He laid his head in his hands. “I still can’t accept it. I’m still talking about him as if he’s another person, as if I’m not the one doing all these unspeakable things.”

She resisted the impulse to touch him, to try to soothe and comfort him. He had to come to terms with reality.

“It doesn’t make any sense,” she agreed. “I took half an hour getting ready. If I’d gone straight over after you...he...called, I’d have knocked, got no answer and been gone by the time you got there.”

She looked away from him, staring at the window. She couldn’t see outside, could only see her own distorted image staring back at her. If Edward had wanted to upset her, he’d succeeded.

“So it was all a lie,” she said quietly, addressing the image in the window. “You didn’t find out anything new.”

“I did find out something,” he said, pulling her attention—her hope—back to him. But whatever he’d discovered, it wasn’t good. He held himself with a stony rigidity, his expression bleak. “Edward...the real Edward, my brother...may still be alive. He didn’t die in the car wreck. He was put into a state hospital in Ft. Worth. He was catatonic, had a brain injury.”

“Oh, no. I’m so sorry.” She reached across and touched his forearm where it lay on the cold table top. “You must be devastated.” This was all he needed on top of everything else. A lesser man, someone not as strong as Eliot, would have cracked under the pressure.

A shiver darted down her spine as she reminded herself that he had cracked, had split into another personality. It was so easy to forget that.

He accepted her gesture of comfort, laying his hand over hers. “The really horrible part is that, if he’s still alive, he’s been there all these years, and I didn’t know it. I could have gone to visit him.”

“Don’t be too hard on yourself. If he’s catatonic, he probably wouldn’t have known you were there.”

“But I’d have known. I’m going over tomorrow.”

“I’d really like to hear how it goes,” she said. “Will you call me when you get back?”

He grimaced. “If I don’t, Edward probably will. At least Edward’s done me one favor. By making that phone call, I got to see you tonight.” He looked around the restaurant. “This isn’t exactly the setting of my fantasies, but I guess it’s better than not seeing you at all.”

“We could go to my house,” she said. “Sit on the porch.”

“What would be the point?” His voice was harsh. Abruptly he slid out of the booth, snatching their ticket off the table. Without a word, he strode over to the cashier and paid.

With a sigh, she rose and followed. He was right. This was it. The end.

The thought of never seeing him again filled her with a tearing loneliness. But what difference did one more minute or one more hour or even one more night make? If her father had waited one more day to kill himself, the end result would still be the same.

Though she’d give anything for one more day with her father.

Eliot held the door open for her, and she stepped into the dark parking lot, walking beside him to her car.

“Leanne.” The mist falling around them cushioned the edge in his voice, made the single word sound muffled and intimate.

She turned to face him. “It’s all right,” she said. “I understand.”

He trailed one finger down her cheek. So achingly tender. “Do you have any idea how much I want you? How much I care about you? I thought the worst part of going to prison would be losing my freedom, being restrained, but the worst part is that I’ll lose you.”

With a groan, he pulled her into his arms, his lips devouring hers. She pressed her body against his, releasing the hunger that overwhelmed her in the ferocity of their kiss. The world around them vanished. The only reality was where Eliot’s body touched hers. Only now did she feel alive.

Slowly he withdrew his lips from hers and gazed at her, a thousand questions and a thousand doubts in his eyes.

“Come home with me,” she said. “We can do this. You’re gaining more control over Edward.” If Eliot should be arrested on Monday, if she could never hold him or make love to him again, she wanted this night, this one last chance to be with him. Maybe it wouldn’t make any difference in the ultimate outcome, but that didn’t matter. She wouldn’t want to lose even one of the days she’d had with her father.

Eliot scowled, his eyebrows almost meeting over his nose so severe was his expression. “I have more control, but it’s not enough. What you’re asking is impossible. You’re still in danger.”

“I have—” She hesitated then forced herself to say the words. “I have the gun you gave me.” For Eliot, for the chance to be with him, surely she could overcome her apprehension about guns.

For a long moment he gazed into her eyes. “Could you use it?” he asked quietly.

“I can do whatever’s necessary.” Could she use the gun against Edward, knowing she’d be shooting Eliot?

Eliot drew in a deep breath. “This isn’t a good idea.”

She lifted her fingers to his lips to stop his words. “Please.”

He said nothing, but the look in his eyes told her he needed her as desperately as she needed him. She turned away from him and got into her car.

As she drove homeward, Eliot’s car lights shone behind her, making every turn and every stop with her, staying with her, following her for good or ill...for possibly the last time.

A tiny voice niggled at her, whispering that, even though Eliot had gotten into that car in the restaurant parking lot, she had no idea who was driving it now.

She ignored the voice. It was Eliot. It had to be Eliot. She couldn’t bear for it not to be him. More than she feared Edward’s threats, she feared losing Eliot.

She pulled into her garage, and he pulled in the driveway behind her. Without waiting for him, she ran up to her front door and unlocked it. Greta met her, wagging her tail and bouncing around happily.

Leanne paused just inside the screen, one hand still on the wooden door, and looked back. Eliot stepped onto the porch, and Greta continued her antics.

A potent mixture of relief, gratitude and ecstasy flooded through Leanne. Fate was going to allow her this last night. She’d been cheated of a chance to say goodbye before her father’s madness took him from her, but this time she’d have her chance. She’d have one more night, one more hour with Eliot.

He stepped inside, she closed the door behind him, and he pulled her against him. She slipped her arms around him and pressed her face to his broad chest, savoring his scent, the feel of his cotton shirt on her cheek, the width of him in her arms, the exact spots on his back where her hands reached. She had to have it all now. There’d be no second chance.

He brushed her hair back and kissed the side of her throat, his lips lingering, sending sparks to every extremity of her body.

“Leanne,” he whispered, “are you sure?”

“More sure than I’ve ever been of anything in my life.” She held onto him, reveling in the delicious feeling of the firm solidity of his body. Then his lips found hers, touching gently, tentatively at first, becoming increasingly more demanding. Her lips answered his, matching his fervor, his desire. For so long she’d wanted him and known she could never have him, dreaded the pain of losing him. Now that pain was near, so crushingly near, but they would steal these minutes, these hours from that inevitable pain, cheat it of all the time they could.

His hands slid down her back, and she could feel the warmth through the thin fabric of her blouse and slacks. Cupping her buttocks, he held her closer to him, and she thrilled to the feel of his hardness, to know that he wanted her as desperately as she wanted him.

He withdrew his mouth from hers just enough to speak. “Are we close to the gun?” His warm breath washed over her with each word, sending her blood rushing so fast it took her a minute to comprehend the meaning of his question.

“It’s upstairs,” she said. “In my bedroom, in—”

He laid his fingers gently over her lips. “Don’t tell me where. I don’t want Edward to know. Just get us close enough that you can reach it if you need to.”

She took his hand and led him up the flight of stairs, into her bedroom. Greta bounced ahead of them and dove into her bed in the corner.

Eliot paused in the doorway and tilted his head in Greta’s direction. “If she lets out one growl or shows any other sign that she’s upset, you get the gun and get out of here immediately.”

She sat on the bed, staring at the nightstand, telling herself she could do it if she had to.

“Promise me,” he grated, grasping her shoulders and forcing her to look at him. “Promise me you’ll take the gun and run. If I try to stop you, shoot me.”

She didn’t want to listen, didn’t want this ugly piece of reality to intrude on their last hours.

“Promise me!” he demanded, his hold on her tightening. “Promise me or I leave right now.”

Numbly she nodded.

His touch turned gentle, and he lifted her in his arms then laid her down on the blue-flowered comforter that Edward had seen from across the street as white, the comforter that had been tainted as a part of her terror and would now become a part of her ecstasy.

Eliot knelt beside her, his large fingers fumbling as he unfastened the top button on her blouse. But his lips were sure as he kissed the skin thus revealed.

When the last button was undone, he kissed her stomach, then trailed his tongue tantalizingly over her bare skin, up to her bra, the lacy one she’d worn on purpose knowing he could see her nipples through the sheer fabric. Now she wished she hadn’t worn it at all. Her breasts yearned for his touch.

She reached for the front hook, but he pushed her hand aside. “Let me,” he said, his voice hoarse and trembling. “I need every inch of you. I’ve waited so long.” In her head she heard the words he didn’t say: And I may never have the chance again.

She felt the release when he undid the hook, then the warmth of his hands as he cupped her breasts, his tongue making scorching circles on first one then the other, each circle bringing him teasingly closer to her taut nipples.

She gasped when he finally touched one, flicking it with his tongue, then drawing it between his lips, into his mouth. She could feel him, his touch, like a tugging all through her body, as if he were actually stroking the center of her.

She tangled her fingers through his hair, mussing it, begging him to continue, never to stop, to stretch the moment to infinity.

Trailing kisses across her chest, he moved his mouth to her other nipple. She groaned, abandoning herself to his caresses.

Just when she could stand the building pressure no longer, as if he could read her mind or her body, he moved downward to unfasten her slacks and slide them off along with the underpants that matched her bra.

She sat up and reached for his shirt. “My turn,” she whispered, needing to touch him as he’d touched her, to feel his reassuring reality, to know this was actually happening and not just an impossible dream.

She unbuttoned his shirt, planting kisses on his wide, solid chest, following the mat of coarse hair down his flat, muscled stomach to where it disappeared into his slacks. Reaching over, she flipped on the lamp. They’d made love in the light before, and she knew what he looked like, but she wanted to see him again, to study every hair on his body, to know every mole and scar.

She fumbled with his belt, finally releasing it, unbuttoning his slacks and sliding down the zipper, wanting to unveil the rest of him, to see him and touch him, to memorize him with her eyes and her fingertips.

He sat up then, pulling off his shoes and socks followed by his pants and briefs. But when she reached boldly for him, he took her hands in his and held her back.

“I’m afraid if you touch me, I’ll explode,” he whispered huskily. “And I don’t want to do that. I want to make you explode. I want you to lose control the way you’ve made me lose it.”

His words excited her even more. “Have I?” she asked. “Have I made you lose control?” When he’d first walked into her office, she’d thought it would be an impossibility for this man ever to lose control.

“Totally.” He leaned over her, his lips capturing hers greedily as he lowered them both back to the bed.

For just an instant as he loomed above her, the familiar fear flitted through her, but immediately it vanished, devoured by another, deeper fear...that anything could keep her from savoring this experience, from tasting a forbidden fruit that would likely be denied her forevermore. With no reservations, she welcomed him into her body.

He began to move, slowly, languidly, and she matched his rhythm, relishing every nuance of the sweet agony washing over her. Gradually, imperceptibly, their tempo increased. She gripped his arms as if grounding herself while every nerve in her body exploded in delicious release. She heard Eliot call her name then felt him throbbing inside her, increasing her own pleasure.

He collapsed atop her then rolled to the side, still holding her in his arms. She pressed against him and listened to their heartbeats gradually slowing, their breathing becoming more regular.

“I love you, Leanne,” he whispered into her hair, his words so soft she barely heard him and wasn’t sure he’d intended for her to hear him.

“I love you, Eliot.” There was no need to say anything else, to reiterate all the reasons that made their love impossible.

For a few moments they lay still, holding each other tightly. Leanne tried to absorb all of him she could while she could.

Then her stomach rumbled, reminding her she hadn’t eaten anything since a light lunch early in the day.

“Hungry?” he asked.

She wasn’t as hungry for food as she was for him. “Not really,” she said.

He lifted her chin with one finger and kissed her softly. “I wouldn’t mind a little food myself. All I’ve had today is coffee. If we order a pizza, we’ll only have to get out of bed to answer the door when the delivery man comes.” Without waiting for an answer, he picked up the phone beside the bed and punched in a number. “What do you like?”

You. “Everything.”

“A large special,” he said into the phone, then replaced the receiver and stretched out beside her. He drew one finger along her jaw line, down the side of her neck and circled her breast, his touch inflaming her. “We have a good thirty minutes before he gets here,” he said, his voice suddenly husky. The mention of time reminded her of how short theirs was. She lifted her arms to him, urging his mouth to hers.

***

Later when they lay together, once more sated for the moment, the doorbell rang. She started to get up, but he gently pushed her back down. “You stay here and keep the bed warm.” He stood and slipped on his slacks.

When he went downstairs, she rose and went into the bathroom to freshen up. One glance in the mirror made her glad she hadn’t gone with Eliot. Though her cheeks were becomingly flushed and her eyes shone, her mascara and lipstick were smudged most unbecomingly. She turned on the water in the sink and began to scrub off the remnants of her makeup.

She took her robe from a hook and returned to the bedroom just as Eliot came across the landing, pizza in hand.

“Hi,” she said, smiling at him as she slipped her arms into her robe.

“Hi,” he answered. “I’m back.”

As Eliot came slowly across the room toward her, Greta growled.

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