Secrets Among the Shadows

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Chapter 25

Heart hammering in sudden alarm, she pulled her robe close around her and tried, with trembling fingers, to secure the sash.

Greta, barking furiously, charged around the bed toward Eliot...or Edward. He smiled, and any doubts...any hopes...were gone. She was alone with Edward.

As she leaned backward, away from him, her hand touched the nightstand. Eliot had made her promise—no, he couldn’t expect her to keep that promise.

Nevertheless, almost as if her fingers acted independently of her brain, she tugged the drawer open behind her, reached in and touched the cold steel of the gun. Her hand closed around the wooden handle, and she picked it up.

Before Edward could reach her, she slid away from him, out of bed, snatching up Greta with one hand and pointing the gun with the other.

“Edward? I know it’s you! Stay where you are!” Her hand shook in spite of her efforts to hold the weapon steady. Could she shoot the man she’d just made love with, the man who’d said he loved her? She’d known their time together would be short, but this was too cruel.

He stopped and spread his hands innocently. “Leanne, what’s wrong? It’s me, Eliot. Come back to bed and let me hold you again.”

Her heart ached at his words, at his verbalization of something she’d planned to do, wanted to do, but the man she wanted to do it with was gone. “I think you’d better put on the rest of your clothes and leave.” Forever.

Suddenly Greta gave a lunge and burst from the confinement of her arm. A streak of black, she headed straight for Edward. He dropped the pizza and jumped backward. Leanne lunged forward, grabbing Greta again and trying to get past the man to the door.

But she wasn’t fast enough. He grabbed her arm and yanked her to him, twisting painfully until she dropped the gun.

“Damn you!” she swore, anger mingling with her terror and grief. How was it possible that the fingers hurting her now were the same fingers that had touched her so gently and brought her so much pleasure only minutes ago?

She released Greta and turned to fight. He grabbed her other arm and twisted her around, shoving her across the bed. She kicked blindly and was rewarded when her foot connected with his stomach. He released her with a grunt.

She dove to the floor, searching for the gun, but he fell on top of her, crushing her beneath his weight as he cursed her. Steely fingers gripped her throat, and she remembered Eliot’s dream of Edward choking her. Her blood felt icy in her veins. She couldn’t breathe. Panic overwhelmed her, and she reached behind her, scratching, clawing, trying to hurt him, determined not to die that way.

Suddenly the pressure on her throat was released, the weight lifted from her. She rolled over to see two men fighting.

Two Eliots...Eliot and Edward.

She blinked, unable to comprehend what she was seeing. This wasn’t possible. Split personalities weren’t real people. They didn’t come to life and fight with each other! It was only Edward’s fantasy that he and Eliot had separate bodies.

Whatever was happening, she needed to get help. She looked at the phone on the nightstand, but the two bodies pummeling each other were an effective barrier to reaching it.

She dashed downstairs and picked up the phone in the living room then stopped, her finger poised to call 911. Her attention was drawn to the pile of clothing in the middle of the floor. Shoes, socks and a shirt...identical to the ones Eliot had left in her bedroom.

A few feet away, her fireplace poker lay in the middle of the floor.

The living room window stood open, and she saw the perfectly cut hole near the top, near the lock. The intruder must have used a glass cutter to make a hole just big enough for him to reach in and unlock the window.

She shuddered. He’d come in the window, as Edward had in Eliot’s dream.

The noises from the floor above told her the fight between the two men was continuing, and she had no way of knowing who was winning.

With trembling hands she punched in 911. “Someone’s broken into my house,” she told the operator, fearing the entire story would take too long and be too unbelievable. “He’s trying to kill me!” She gave the address then hung up in the middle of the operator’s insistences that she remain on the line.

On shaky legs she raced back upstairs. When she reached the landing, she saw that one man had the other face down on the floor, a knee in his back.

“Eliot?”

“It’s me. It’s okay. I’ve got him,” the captor gasped.

“Help me, Leanne! I’m Eliot,” the captive exclaimed.

The two men were identical, including the khaki slacks. Greta crouched in a corner, snarling, but Leanne couldn’t tell which man she was snarling at.

She hesitated, unsure what to do.

“He’s Edward,” the man being choked said. “They developed laser surgery and were able to release the pressure on his brain so he regained consciousness and got out of the hospital. He killed Kay. Shoot him!”

The other man’s eyes widened at that revelation. His hold loosened, his captive took advantage of the lapse, and the pair began to struggle again.

Leanne gaped at the two, paralyzed by shock, her mind spinning. Edward wasn’t a mental aberration of Eliot’s. He was real, and he was there, in the room with her, fighting with Eliot.

She had to do something. She had to help Eliot.

She darted across the room, found the gun and snatched it up. “Stop it, both of you,” she ordered, aiming the weapon in the general direction of the two men. Her hands still trembled, but this time she was positive she could shoot Edward...if she could only tell which one he was.

The men continued to battle, ignoring her command. She ran to the window, threw it up and aimed the gun through the screen, pointing upward. Gritting her teeth, she ordered her finger to squeeze the trigger. Images of her father’s finger squeezing another trigger loomed before her.

She couldn’t think of that. This situation was different. This could mean saving somebody she loved. This time she wouldn’t lose him to mental illness—his or someone else’s.

She pulled the trigger.

At the loud explosion, the men flew apart, and she aimed the gun at them. “I said, stop it.”

One of the men smiled and stood. “Good girl, Leanne.”

She looked at him, at his smile that sent shivers down her spine, and suddenly she knew. The proof had been there all along.

“Don’t move,” she said, her eyes never leaving his face. “Take him, Eliot.”

With a quick movement, Eliot shoved Edward to the floor and restrained his arms behind him. She lowered the gun, letting out a long, relieved sigh. “The police are on the way.”

Eliot nodded, his expression grim. “Who the hell are you?” he demanded of the man.

“Your brother.” Edward spat out the words.

She could see that Eliot didn’t want to believe it, didn’t want to accept that his brother could be all the terrible things he knew Edward was. “You can’t be Edward.”

“Why? Because I finally got out of that damned hospital without your help? Things have changed a lot in thirty years.”

“What things? Mom and Dad said you’d have to be in the hospital for life.”

Edward snorted. ”Mom and Dad? Those people didn’t know or care what happened to me. The wreck caused pressure on my brain, paralysis. The doctors relieved it with laser surgery. They gave me back my freedom, but they couldn’t give me back the years that wreck stole, the years I was in a coma, unable to move, the years you left me alone.”

“Dear God, I didn’t know,” Eliot said quietly. He stood, releasing Edward and backing away from him. Leanne raised the gun again, but Edward only sat up, running a hand through his hair wearily in a gesture so like Eliot...though, like his smile, different. Edward used his left hand, not his right.

“I didn’t know,” Eliot repeated, “until today when I talked to Mom and Dad. I wouldn’t have left you alone if I’d had any idea. You’re my brother. I love you.”

Edward looked sullen and beaten. “You knew,” he accused. “When we were kids, you took me everywhere.”

“Only in my mind,” Eliot protested, sinking to the floor beside Edward.

“That’s right. My mind and yours. We were the same. I was trapped inside that hospital, inside a body that wouldn’t move. Do you have any idea how terrifying that is, to order your arms to move, your eyes to open, and nothing happens? I couldn’t even take a deep breath. Day after day, night after night, I lay there, trapped.”

“I felt that,” Eliot said quietly. “I felt your terror of being trapped, not being able to move. My claustrophobia. That’s where it came from.”

"Your claustrophobia? Sure, it’s always you. What about me? The only life I had was through your eyes. Then you left me.”

“Because of what Kay did.” Eliot shook his head. “I’m sorry. I didn’t understand.”

“I hated that bitch.”

“Then you really did kill her.”

“With a great deal of delight. And I let you watch.” Edward smiled again, his expression wry, sad and proud. “It took me a while to learn how to do that, to make you watch, but I had nothing else to do for years. I learned how to go along with you without your cooperation. Then I learned how to take you along with me. It wasn’t so hard. We were always connected.”

“What about Mary Lunden?”

Edward shrugged. “Practice at passing for you. She was never very important to you, so I settled for breaking her heart and making her hate you.”

Eliot looked at Leanne, devastation written all over his face, pooling in his eyes.

“Yeah,” Edward said calmly, “I hate Leanne, too. I hate everything you had that I didn’t. If she’d come to your condo before you got back or if you’d stayed unconscious downstairs a little longer, she’d be dead. You’d go to prison, and I’d have it all for me.” His eyes blazed as he shifted his gaze from Leanne back to Eliot. “It’s not fair. It’s my turn.”

“Edward,” Leanne said, “we found a computer in your house. Do you know how to use it?”

Edward snorted. “Of course I know how to use it. I learned everything Eliot learned, then after my surgery, the state sent me to school to learn a trade. I know more about computers than my charming brother does. I found your address that way and took money from his bank accounts.”

“You could have gotten a job and earned for yourself all the things Eliot has. Why did you have to ruin Eliot’s life?”

He looked at her, and she saw the madness...a madness he could hardly be faulted for having. Thirty years in the prison of his own body would be enough to drive any man insane.

“Because we had to change places to make it right. I had to be free to enjoy all the things Eliot enjoyed all those years, and he had to spend thirty years in prison like I did. It wasn’t enough to have a car like his or clothes like his. I wanted his car, his clothes, his condo.”

“I’m not crazy,” Eliot said, some of the sadness clearing from his eyes. “You did all of it. You picked up my clothes at the dry cleaners and told Kay you were me and took my pictures from my closet. How did you get in my condo?”

Edward smiled his terrible smile. “That, my dear brother, was a piece of cake. I told the guard I was you and I’d lost my key. He was only too eager to get another one for me. Those Christmas bonuses you give him really left an impression. I thought it was a nice touch to have the lock on my house changed to the same as yours.” His face darkened. “But you had no right to break into my house.”

“I’d have given you anything you wanted,” Eliot said softly. “You only had to ask.”

Edward turned away. “I spent almost thirty years dependent on other people for everything, and I hated every minute of it. I’ll never do that again.” Beneath the anger, Leanne heard anguish in his voice and felt unexpected sympathy for him.

A siren sounded in the distance, coming closer. Edward rose abruptly and looked about him, panic on his face.

“It’ll be okay,” Eliot assured him, standing beside his brother. “I’ll get you the best defense attorney in the state.”

“So I can end up in a mental hospital instead of a prison? What’s the difference?”

The siren stopped.

Eliot extended his hand to Edward. “They’re here. Let’s go downstairs together, brother.”

Edward looked at Eliot’s hand for a long moment, but he didn’t take it. He moved past Eliot and through the doorway, then came back and abruptly grasped Eliot’s hand after all.

“Brother,” he said, holding Eliot’s hand tightly for a moment and gazing into his eyes, then abruptly he released it, dashed for the rail on the landing and threw himself over.

“Edward! No!” Eliot ran down the stairs.

Leanne followed him and found him kneeling over Edward’s still body. He looked up at her, tears glazing his eyes. “He’s dead.”

She knelt beside him and felt for Edward’s pulse, though one look at the angle of his head told her his neck was surely broken.

“Yes,” she agreed. “Edward’s gone. Now he won’t have to go back to being in a prison.” Despite what he’d done to her, she couldn’t fault him for his final decision. Only he knew the agony he’d gone through.

As she stared at his lifeless features, the pain gone along with the life force, a peace settled over her. She’d seen his torment. She understood what he’d done, why he’d taken his own life. She had to give that same understanding to her father.

Only her father knew the agony he’d gone through, the torture in his soul that had forced him to do the same thing Edward had done. She couldn’t expect her father to endure a pain she understood this stranger couldn’t endure.

Eliot released a deep sigh then slowly rose to his feet. “I know he did some terrible things, but he was my brother, my twin. We started out life in the same womb. We loved each other. I lost him for years, and now that I’ve found him again, it’s too late. He’s gone.”

Leanne reached to take him into her arms, but the doorbell rang. “Police,” a man’s voice called.

“They’re here,” Eliot said wearily.

***

In the chilly mist, Leanne stood on the porch beside Eliot, watching as the tail lights of the ambulance carrying Edward’s body disappeared around the corner.

The glaring porch light accented the harsh angles and grim lines on Eliot’s face. He looked a decade older.

“Come inside,” she said. “I’ll make some coffee.”

“I let him down,” Eliot said quietly. “If I hadn’t deserted him, things might have been different.”

Leanne laid a comforting hand on his shoulder. “Don’t do that, Eliot. You can’t blame yourself. It’s terrible that things happened the way they did—the accident, Edward’s injury, his emotional problems—but you’re not to blame for any of it.”

“Aren’t I?”

“No!” she exclaimed. “Oh, Eliot, how can you even think that? Edward was very sick. He wanted you all to himself, and you just wanted to be a normal child. If you’d let him, he’d have consumed you. You’d have been as sick as he was.”

He turned to her, wrapped both arms about her and gazed into her eyes. “I can accept that on an intellectual level. Emotionally, I think it’s going to take me a while to get used to all of it—to having a brother and losing him, to the fact that my brother—” He swallowed hard. “My brother hated me.”

She touched his cheek, feeling the stubble of his beard, the square line of his jaw. He was a strong man. He’d survive this. “Your brother was mentally ill. Circumstances...being stuck in that hospital, having that horrible injury...those things made him that way. Focus on that last moment when he took your hand and called you brother.”

Eliot drew in a deep breath and shook his head. “It’s going to be hard to forget coming into your bedroom and seeing him choking you.”

She shivered. “That’s going to be pretty hard for me to forget, too, but it won’t accomplish anything to dwell on it.”

“You’re cold,” he said. That hadn’t been the reason she’d shivered, but she didn’t correct him. “Let’s go inside. What about that coffee you promised?”

As they walked through the living room, the broken window was the only sign of the tragedy that had just occurred. Eliot stopped for a moment and stared at the spot on the floor where Edward had died, then, with a sigh, followed Leanne into the kitchen.

“What happened?” she asked as she measured coffee into the filter. “When you came down to get the pizza, I mean. He said he hit you.”

Eliot sank into a kitchen chair and rubbed the back of his head. “With the fireplace poker, I guess. He must have been waiting downstairs. I paid the delivery boy for the pizza, closed the door, and that’s all I remember until I woke up on the floor with a giant headache. I panicked when I saw the broken window. It was the same window as in my dreams. I thought I’d done something to you. I ran upstairs and found him choking you. I pulled him off you and saw his face.” He shook his head. “For a minute there, I thought I’d really lost my mind, that I was fighting with myself.”

Her hands shook, spilling a few coffee grounds on the counter as she recalled the terror and dismay she’d felt when Edward had come into her bedroom. “I thought my worst fears had come true, that Edward had taken over your body and was going to kill me. And then there were two of you.”

“How were you able to tell the difference?”

“He smiled. There’s always been something about Edward’s smile that bothered me, that told me he wasn’t you. With the two of you together, I suddenly realized.” She poured water into the coffee maker and flipped the switch, then moved to stand beside Eliot. “Your dimple.” She touched his cheek gently with one finger. “When you smile, you have a dimple on your right side. Edward’s was on his left.”

Eliot frowned. “How can that be? We’re—we were—identical twins.”

“Some identical twins are mirror image. Like looking into a mirror. One’s right handed, the other’s left handed. Everything’s reversed.” She didn’t mention that, in this case, even their souls had become reversed. Edward had been full of hatred and anger while Eliot was kind and caring. But Edward hadn’t been born that way. Once he’d been kind and caring.

Eliot wrapped his arms around her waist and pulled her onto his lap. “When I woke up on that floor and saw that broken window, I almost lost it. My first thought was that I’d changed into Edward and hurt you. I barely remember running up the stairs. Then I saw a flesh and blood man attacking you. Life only started again after I pulled him away from you and saw that you were okay. If he had hurt you, I’d have killed him, brother or not.”

She cuddled against him, the gurgling sound of the coffee maker reassuring and normal. “I’m fine,” she assured him, but she was glad Eliot hadn’t had to make the decision to harm his brother.

“That must have been tough for you, holding a gun on him...on us. I already knew I loved you, and when you did that...” He leaned slightly backward to look into her face, one hand cupping her cheek, his eyes searching hers...asking and offering. “You had the chance to get away safely, but you didn’t. You forced yourself to pick up that gun and even to fire it...for me. I realized when you did that I could trust you with my life...with my heart.”

“It was hard,” she admitted. “Though the good part was that this finally forced me to leave my father’s death behind. I couldn’t save him, but I had the chance to save you. I had to take that chance because I love you.”

“Are you sure, Leanne? I’m not perfect. I may still have some problems dealing with Edward’s death and everything that’s happened.”

She smiled. “I loved you when I thought you were trying to kill me. Anything else should be a snap.”

She caught the faintest hint of a dimple in his right cheek just before his lips captured hers, touching, caressing, asking, giving, igniting fires all over her body.

“Let’s go upstairs,” she whispered. “We still have a few hours before dawn, and you don’t have any reason to leave before morning.”

“Do I have a reason to leave in the morning?” he asked, his mouth brushing hers, making it hard to concentrate on his words.

“Only if you want to,” she managed to reply. “I think I can find a spare toothbrush.”

“I don’t want to leave. I never want to leave you again.”

“Suits me.”

He kissed her again, slowly, tantalizingly. They stood together, and she left him only long enough to turn off the coffee maker. They didn’t need the stimulation of caffeine.

THE END

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