“It’s not Eliot!” A gnome-like man burst into the room, eyes glazed, thin gray hair flying. “Didn’t expect to see me, did you?”
Leanne sighed, suddenly extremely tired.
Bruce Hedlund. As long as he took his medication, he was a meek little man. Obviously he’d missed a few doses.
“No, I didn’t expect to see you,” she said. “Your appointment isn’t until next week.”
Dealing with Eliot and the multitude of emotions he evoked in her had left her exhausted. She wanted to go home, bask in the undemanding love of her little dog, then crawl into bed. She definitely did not feel up to dealing with Bruce Hedlund.
He leaned over the desk, his face inches from hers. “You thought I wouldn’t figure it out,” he snarled.
“What did you figure out, Bruce?”
“The pills. You and my wife, you’re trying to poison me. But I’m on to you. I’m not taking any more of them.”
Leanne rubbed at the knot in the back of her neck that always appeared toward the end of particularly trying days. “So you’ve stopped taking your medication. Bruce, your system is out of balance. You need those drugs. We’ve discussed this before.”
She jumped as he slammed a small hand onto the desk top. Bruce was prone to paranoid fantasies and hyperactivity, but he’d never before exhibited violent tendencies. For a brief moment she considered the fact that she was alone with this irrational man.
Immediately she dismissed the thought. Why was she suddenly seeing danger at every turn? First the scene outside her house last night and now a man smaller than she. She could handle the situation by herself. That’s what she was trained to do. She’d never feared a patient...before Eliot Kane.
“Why don’t you sit down, and we’ll talk about this,” she said, keeping her voice even.
“No!” He snatched the letter opener from her desk and glared at her, his small eyes wild and unfocused.
She had to make an effort not to flinch. She must not allow him to have the upper hand. Moving slowly, maintaining eye contact, she rose to a standing position. “Sit down, Bruce,” she ordered firmly.
But he whirled away and charged across the room.
“Don’t spy on me!” he shouted, stabbing the drapes viciously and repeatedly though the letter opener didn’t penetrate the smooth, heavy material. “You’ll be sorry!” The threat, issued in his high-pitched voice, was almost comical. Almost.
Leanne stood at her desk, her heart hammering against her ribs as a shiver of fear ran down her spine despite her best efforts to deny it. She had no choice but to face him down. She took a step closer though what she really wanted to do was back away.
“Bruce Hedlund! Stop that this instant and sit down!”
He turned toward her, arm upraised to strike again. His forehead wrinkled as if in concentration. Thank God! She seemed to be reaching him.
At that moment Eliot charged through the door, his face stormy, and she gasped, taking an involuntary step backward. For a brief moment she thought he had returned to carry out his dream, that he would rush forward and grab her throat, and he frightened her far more than the disturbed little man stabbing her curtains.
But Eliot headed straight for Bruce Hedlund. “Drop it!” he shouted as he grabbed Bruce’s arms, forcing them behind the man, then wresting the letter opener from him.
Leanne sagged into her chair, relief flooding through her—relief because Bruce had been taken care of and even greater relief because Eliot had come to rescue her, not to harm her.
Eliot shoved a restraining knee in Bruce’s back, but the action was unnecessary. The little man collapsed and began sobbing. Eliot released him, and he slid to the floor in a crumpled heap.
“Are you all right? I saw this guy getting off the elevator when I was getting on. Just as the door was closing with me inside, I saw him heading for your office. I knew you were alone up here, and this guy seemed pretty upset, talking to himself and waving his arms around. I came back as fast as I could.”
To Leanne, Eliot looked like an avenging warrior, a knight in a blue suit, as he stood there breathing heavily, face shiny with perspiration, expression anxious, and she wanted to run to him. She had to forcibly remind herself that he was her patient, a mentally ill patient.
She nodded and rose on shaky legs, making herself go to Bruce, do her job. “It’s all right now.” She extended a hand, but he didn’t seem to see or hear her.
“I’d better call his wife,” she said to Eliot. “She may want to have him hospitalized again.”
While they waited for the ambulance to arrive, Leanne tried to calm him, but the little man alternately sobbed and cursed, carrying on senseless conversations with invisible companions.
Eliot remained, hovering over her and never getting too far from Bruce. And she found herself unable to tell him he to leave. She should; the situation was under control...and she liked having him there entirely too much.
By the time the emergency services arrived, Bruce was calm enough to go with them voluntarily.
“Take him to Westwood General,” she directed them. “I’ll meet you over there and get him admitted.”
Leanne turned to Eliot to thank him for coming to her aid, but the words caught in her throat. She was suddenly, excruciatingly, aware of being alone in the office with him—of the possible danger, of the unaccountable, inexplicable sense of herself as a woman and him as an attractive, desirable man.
Her skin tingled as she watched the same awareness flame in his eyes.
He took a step closer to her, and she turned, hurrying across the room, putting her desk between them, uncertain if she was running from fear of him or from her desire for him.
“Well,” she said, hoping her voice didn’t sound as artificial to his ears as it did to hers, “it’s been a long day. Thanks for coming to my rescue.”
He studied her in silence for a moment then nodded curtly. “Any time. Are you ready to leave? I’ll go down with you.”
She should tell him to go on without her, but that would be illogical. She had to leave immediately and get to the hospital. “Sure,” she said. “Just let me grab my briefcase.”
As they rode together in the elevator, even though they stood stiffly against opposing walls and Leanne kept her eyes trained carefully on the overhead numbers, she could feel Eliot’s presence as distinctly as if they touched. And, God help her, she wanted to touch him...wanted him to touch her.
Leftover adrenaline, she told herself, adrenaline heightening her senses. That’s all it was. A culmination of the excitement of the day. Everything finally hitting at once now that it was over and she could let her professional guard down.
Nevertheless, when they reached the first floor and the doors slid apart, she burst through the opening with a mingled sense of relief and regret.
The security guard was just coming on duty, and she waved to him. “Good night, Ken.”
“Good night, Dr. Warner.”
Dr. Warner. She was still Dr. Warner, the psychiatrist, not Leanne the woman, and she had to remember that. As long as a patient—Eliot—was with her, she was still a doctor, and she had to keep her strangely erratic emotions in line.
Yet when they reached the heavy glass doors of the building and he stepped determinedly in front to open the door for her, for a moment she stood motionless, transfixed by his gaze. The man outside her bedroom window the night before had paralyzed her with the force of his anger and hatred. Now those same eyes held her in place with the force of his desire.
He stood only inches away, so close she could feel the warmth of his breath, smell the scents of peppermint gum and expensive cologne...and feel the electricity arcing between their bodies.
Moving as if she were walking through water, Leanne forced her legs to obey the commands of her brain, not her heart, to walk through the door, into the parking lot and away from Eliot. Still she could feel his presence behind her, his eyes on her back. Her car, parked only a few spaces from the building, seemed to be miles away. With every step she heard his footsteps like an echo of her own. The sensation warmed and chilled her at the same time.
And then she was beside her car. The strange evening was over...Eliot with his frightening dream, Bruce stabbing her curtains and Eliot coming to her rescue, then this curious journey from her office.
Fumbling in her purse, she located her keys and pulled them out then turned to him, forcing a smile on her face.
He loomed above her, close and intimidating and exciting. The harsh light atop a pole picked out shadows on his face, but, oddly enough, the effect was to soften the lines rather than make them ominous. Or was she just looking for confirmation of his goodness, refutation of the evil she’d seen on his face the night before?
“Good night,” she said, her voice a whisper in the stillness. “And thanks again.”
He smiled, a disarming dimple appearing in one cheek. “It was my pleasure. I guess I’ll see you tomorrow.”
“Tomorrow?” she repeated stupidly, her heart racing at the thought of a continuation of this exquisite torture.
“We do have an appointment tomorrow, don’t we?”
“Oh!” She laughed nervously. “Of course. I just...I’m really exhausted. It took my brain a minute to kick in.”
He grimaced. “And that’s my fault for keeping you so late. Otherwise, you’d have been gone when that guy got here.”
“I don’t mind staying. Really.” Instinctively she reached for his hand to touch and reassure him, but pulled back before actual physical contact, turning the motion into a sweeping move, ending with lifting her hair off her neck.
They were doctor and patient, not friends. The gesture would have been inappropriate.
“I know it’s an imposition, and I appreciate it,” he said.
“I don’t mind,” she repeated inanely. “That’s why I chose this profession. I enjoy helping people.” That, she hoped, made it all sound impersonal, just part of her job.
He nodded. “Goodnight, then.” He didn’t move, just continued to gaze down at her, and she’d never before in her life been so certain that a man was going to kiss her as she was now. Nor had she ever been so certain she wanted a man to kiss her.
She whirled away, unlocked her car, flung the door open and slid in, then closed it determinedly behind her. When she dared to look up, he was gone.
Across the parking lot she saw him striding boldly toward a dark blue Lexus. As though he could feel her gaze on his broad back, he stopped, turned and lifted his hand in a wave. He was between two parking lot lights, and she saw only a silhouette—couldn’t see his expression. But she fancied she could feel it, and again it was desire, not evil. Or maybe she only wanted it to be so.
She started her car and pulled away, refusing to look back.
By the time she finally got home after getting Bruce Hedlund admitted to the psychiatric ward, the hour was late, and she was completely exhausted. Nevertheless, she lay sleepless for a long time, trying not to think of Eliot yet unable to keep him out of her thoughts. It was much too early to make a definite diagnosis, especially when she’d been unable to contact another personality, but the evidence for multiple personality disorder was compelling.
At best, a merging of the personalities could take years, and there was no guarantee even then that he wouldn’t fragment again. When the possibility of murder was added to the equation, an already shaky picture turned bleak and hopeless.
And she was attracted to this man.
She rolled over onto her side and punched her pillow viciously.
She’d never been prone to destructive relationships. The lovers she’d chosen had been dependable, stable, safe men. Eventually they’d always parted company as friends with no wild, heart-rending emotions on either side. She could call any of them if she got an extra ticket to the theater or just wanted some companionship at dinner.
Eliot embodied all the things she feared in a man. In spite of trying to come across as a very controlled person, his emotions were roiling and raging. And he set off that same turmoil in her.
You couldn’t stop loving someone if they became mentally ill. But to deliberately become involved with someone who was already sick would be inviting disaster. Mentally ill people hurt those who got too close to them.
Her mother had no choice. Leanne’s father had been a happy, easy-going man when they married. The illness had come years later, after she and her mother both loved him with all their hearts.
Her father’s agonized face rose up in her mind as clearly as if it were only yesterday instead of seventeen years ago that she’d opened the door to his study, going in to tell him goodnight before leaving on a date. He’d looked at her, tears streaming down his cheeks, and it had taken a moment to register the gun he held to his head. “I’m so sorry,” he said. “Tell your mother her. I love both of you so much.”
He pulled the trigger.
Her father hadn’t meant to hurt the people he loved. His own torture had simply been too horrible to bear. Leanne understood that and didn’t hate him, but she never again wanted to endure that kind of agony.
She rolled onto her back, determinedly pushing that scene from her mind. She’d been sixteen years old, old enough to already know what she wanted to do with her life, to help mentally ill people like her father. But from that time forward she knew she could only give so much of herself to her patients. She could counsel them and help them and care about them...but only to a certain point. Beyond that point, she dared not go. The risk was too great.
If she was foolish enough to forget every ethic of her profession, she couldn’t forget that reality.
Eliot submerged himself in his work the next day. With Leanne Warner’s expertise and his determination, he would get his life back in order. He had to believe that.
The decision to seek help hadn’t been an easy one, but he’d really had no other choice. Talking to Leanne, telling her his innermost secrets, had been tough, especially when he had to continually remind himself that she was a doctor, not a desirable woman. He’d often been accused by women of not opening up to them, of holding himself back, and they were right, of course.
He would never expose his vulnerabilities and failings to someone he was trying to impress. That was a surefire way to turn off a woman.
But Leanne was a doctor and not available to him as a woman.
She thinks you’re crazy. She’ll tell. Everybody will know you’re crazy.
The thought seemed to come from someone else, someone else inside his head.
He pressed his fingers against his forehead in an effort to block the voice and the anger that came with it.
He jumped when the phone on his desk rang.
“Mr. Kane,” his assistant said when he lifted the receiver, “you have two gentlemen here to see you, a Mr. Stockton and a Mr. Easton.”
Sudden panic clutched at Eliot’s gut. The names weren’t familiar. Was this an appointment he’d made and then forgotten?
“I’ll be right there, Ms. Greer. Thank you.”
He walked out, uncertain of what to expect. The muscles in his neck felt like taut steel cables.
He sensed immediately that the two men standing in the reception area outside his office weren’t clients. It wasn’t just their clothing. Many of his clients, even the wealthy ones, wore inexpensive clothing. There was something about their stances, their demeanor, as though they were doing a job and were a little bored and a little belligerent about the whole thing.
“Did we have an appointment?” he asked.
The taller one flashed a badge. “Is there some place private we can talk?”
“My office.” He turned and, on legs that had suddenly become numb, led them back into his office.
“Detective Claude Stockton,” the taller man said as soon as the door closed. “And this is Detective Frank Easton.” He indicated his partner.
“Have a seat, gentlemen,” Eliot invited. His heart pounded so loudly that, like the murderer in Edgar Allan Poe’s Telltale Heart, he felt sure they must hear the guilty sound. “What can I do for you?”
They remained standing, rejecting his invitation. “When did you last see Kay Palmer?” Stockton asked, his voice casual, belying the import of the question.
Eliot sat down in his chair, afraid his legs would no longer support him. “The woman who was murdered last week? I’ve never seen her.”
Stockton lifted one bushy eyebrow. “Then do you want to tell us why she had your name and phone number in her appointment book?”