White lies (Chapter Ten)
Then he braced his hands and lifted his weight off her, staring down at her with an expression so fierce that she almost cringed from it, without knowing why. He swore, his voice low and gravelly, as he disengaged their bodies and shifted to a kneeling position. Uncertainty paralyzed her as her sluggish mind began trying to grasp the reason for his anger.
He pulled his pants up but didn't bother fastening them; instead he tugged her up and into his arms, lifting her from the ground and rising to his feet with a lithe grace that belied the strength necessary to do it. He climbed the steps and strode into the house without saying a word, then carried her into the bathroom. After carefully standing her on the rug, he bent to turn on the water, then straightened and turned back to her. Her dress was unfastened and gently pulled over her head, leaving her naked and shivering from both chill and reaction. She stood docilely, her arms limp at her sides, her eyes wide and dazed and a little frightened as she watched him. What was wrong?
He hurriedly stripped, then lifted her into the tub and stepped in beside her, pulling the shower door closed. Jay moved back, a little bemused by how much room he took up, and watched the rippling muscles in his back as he adjusted the water, then turned on the shower. Warm water blasted out of the shower head, immediately filling the small area with steam. Steve pulled her under the water and held her there even when she gasped a protest, because the water was stinging her cold skin.
"No, you need to get warm," he said roughly, rubbing his hands up and down her arms and shoulders. "Turn around and let me wash your hair."
Numbly she did so, realizing that they must have gotten mud all over them. His hands were gentle as he lathered and rinsed her hair, then washed her all over. She began to feel very warm from the combination of water and the stroking of his soapy hands, first over her breasts and abdomen, then her legs and buttocks, and finally between her legs. Her breathing began to hasten as heat built in her.
His touch slowed, and a spasm twitched his tight facial muscles. Her breathing halted altogether as he probed tantalizingly at the entrance to her body, his fingertips barely stroking, one finger barely entering. She caught at his shoulders, her nails digging into his sleek, wet skin. Her breasts were tight and aching as she hung there in an agony of anticipation, waiting for that small invasion, wanting so much more. She felt him hardening against her hip, and a great shudder of pleasure shook her.
He muttered something, but the sound was so rough she couldn't understand it; then she was in his arms, and his mouth was bruising hers. She yielded to his urgency, sliding her hands to the back of his neck. Their water-slick bodies rubbed together, his abrasive chest hair rasping at her nipples, his muscled stomach rippling against the softness of hers, his hardness pushing at her. "Yes," she whimpered.
"I'm sorry, baby," he said, the words rough and frantic and urgent. He slid his mouth down her throat, biting at the sensitive arch, licking the small hollow at the base, where her pulse throbbed visibly. "I didn't mean to be that rough."
So that was why he was angry, not at her, but at himself. But even that wasn't enough to keep him from having her again. She could feel the hunger in his big, powerful body, and again his loss of control thrilled her in a deeply primitive way. She had been married, but Steve had always kept his cool, kept part of himself securely locked away from her, and the passionate part of her had been hurt, because she'd needed more. The man in her arms now was savage in his hunger, driven out of control by his need for her, and his wildness matched the fierce passion of her own nature. All her life she had needed this answering intensity to balance her; without it, she had withdrawn behind a shell of rigid control, and only now was she being freed.
She clung to him like a vine, her wet body undulating against him. "I love you," she groaned, because that was the only thing she could say, the one outstanding truth in the maze of lies and subterfuges.
He lifted his mouth from her throat, his face so close to hers that his burning gaze was all she could see. "I hurt you," he growled.
She couldn't deny it. "Yes," she said, and fitted her mouth to his, her tongue delicately probing. His arms tightened so convulsively that she couldn't breathe, but breathing didn't matter. Kissing him mattered. Loving him mattered.
But finally he did find some remnant of control, enough to allow him to turn off the water and haul her out of the tub. She never released her hold on his neck as he swept her up and carried her, both of them dripping wet, to his bed. She didn't care about the sheets. All she cared about was his hot mouth on her breasts, the rasp of his slightly roughened fingertips on her silky skin, and finally his powerful invasion of her body. It was still such a shock to her senses that she cried out, instinctively trying to close her thighs. But her legs tightened on his muscled thighs and the movement only drew him deeper.
He ground his teeth together, trying to force himself to stillness when every instinct told him to move. The need was so urgent that it smothered everything else in the world except the woman he held in his arms, the woman whose slim body clasped him so tightly and pushed him to the edge of insanity. But for her sake he managed to hold still until she was more comfortable with him. Lying propped on his elbows so his weight wouldn't crush her, he looked down at her and shuddered with pleasure at the intense, absorbed look on her face as she lifted her hips slightly, tentatively, to accept all of him. A deep groan tore from his chest. He knew he'd been too rough and urgent to allow her time to enjoy it before, but this time she was with him.
Her lips parted slightly in a smile so female it took his breath away, and her deep blue eyes beckoned him, dared him. Once again her hips lifted. "What are you waiting for?" she breathed.
"For you," he answered, and even as he lost himself in the mindless ecstasy of making love to her, the truth of that remained. He'd waited for her forever.
He was a light sleeper, so much so that even in the heavy-limbed aftermath he was disturbed by the damp sheets, a discomfort they hadn't noticed before. Jay lay in his arms, exhausted and deeply asleep; he didn't want to disturb her, but neither did he want her to become chilled from the wetness. He eased from the bed and lifted her light weight in his arms, then carried her into the other bedroom to place her on the dry bed. She made a disgruntled noise as he jostled her, then relaxed again, and her breathing evened out as he stroked her back. He joined her on the bed, and she snuggled closer, into his hard, possessive embrace.
The way he felt about her was so intense it edged into pain. Even without his memory, he knew no other woman had ever shattered his control as she did. He'd never desired another woman so intensely, never would have waited as long as he'd waited for her. She overshadowed every other concern. Because of her, he hadn't dwelled on his loss of memory, beyond a peculiar irritation and a certain detached interest in the curiosities of what he had retained. His past life didn't matter, because Jay was here in the present. They were linked in a way that went beyond memory.
A slight frown creased his brow as he held her, his rough hand sliding from the curve of her hip to the warmly resilient mound of her breast. Of all the knowledge he'd kept, why wasn't any of it of Jay? Those were the memories he resented losing. He wanted to remember every minute he'd spent with her, and he wanted to remember why he'd let her slip away from him. He wanted to remember their wedding, the first time he'd made love to her, and the total lack of those memories ate at him. She was the core of his life; why hadn't something been familiar? Why hadn't he felt some deep-seated recognition of the silkiness of her skin, the rounded curves of her high breasts or the rose-brown of her small nipples? Why hadn't there been some sense of familiarity in the tight sheath of her body as he entered her?
But everything had been new.
She moved slightly against him, and he stilled his stroking hand, content to simply hold her. They would be married as soon as he could talk her into it, and now he had a very powerful weapon at his disposal:
The scene exploded in his mind. There was a laughing bride and a groom looking excited, proud, wary and impatient all at once. The groom shook his head, beaming, and the bride hugged him tightly. "You made it!" she said exultantly. "I knew you would!"
An older woman and man hugged him just as tightly. "I'm glad you're back, son," the man said, and the woman cried a little even as she smiled at him, the smile full of love. Then there was a rush of other people to shake his hand and hug him and clap him on the back, and the scene dissolved in a confusion of voices.
He lay rigidly, his jaw clenched with the effort required not to jackknife out of bed. Where in hell had that memory come from? The man had called him "son," but that could as easily have been a title of affection as one denoting a relationship. He didn't have a family, so they must have been close friends, but Jay had said he'd always been a loner. Who were they? Did they worry about him? Did Jay know anything about them?
Hell, was it even something that had really happened, or a scene from a movie he'd watched?
Movie. Just thinking the word triggered another flashback, but this one was complete with rolling credits. It was a television special on Afghanistan. Then it became another movie, starring a widely acclaimed actor. It was a good movie. Then, in slow motion, the scene shifted. He was standing on a rooftop with the same actor when the man pulled a .45 automatic and pointed it at him. Serious business, a .45. It could have a major impact on a man's future. But the guy was too close, and too rattled. Steve saw himself lash out with his foot, sending the gun flying. The actor staggered back and tripped, fell over the low wall and screamed as he dropped the full seven stories to the ground.
Steve stared at the bedroom ceiling, feeling sweat run down his ribs. Was that another movie? Of all the things he could remember, why a series of films? And why were they so realistic, as if he had stepped into the action? He'd have to ask the doctor about that, but at least it was a sign his memory was returning, just as they'd told him it probably would. He needed to make the trip anyway, to have his eyes checked; it was a real strain to read, and the strain hadn't lessened. He definitely needed glasses. Glasses…
An elderly man smiled benignly at him and removed his glasses, placing them on the desk. "Congratulations, Mr. Stone," he said.
He stifled a curse as the scene faded. This was weird; why would that old guy call him "Mr. Stone" unless he'd been using an assumed name? Yeah, that made sense, unless it was just another scene out of another movie. It could just be something he'd watched rather than something that had actually happened.
Jay stirred in his arms and abruptly woke, lifting her head to stare at him in alarm. "What's wrong?"
She had sensed his tension, just as she had from the beginning. He managed a smile and touched her cheek with the backs of his fingers, a different kind of tension taking over his muscles. "Nothing," he assured her. She looked sleepy and sensual, her eyes heavy-lidded, her luscious mouth swollen from contact with his firmer lips.
She looked around. "We're in my room," she said in bewilderment.
"Mmm. The sheets on my bed were wet, so I brought you in here."
Warm color tinted her cheeks as she thought of how the sheets had gotten so wet, but her smile was both secret and content. She lifted her hand and touched his face, much as he had touched hers; her dark blue eyes drifted over his features with aching tenderness, examining each line and plane, feeding the need in her heart. She was unaware of her expression, but he saw it, and his chest constricted. He wanted to say, "Don't love me like that," but he didn't, because it was essential to him that she love him exactly like that.
He cleared his throat. "We have a choice."
"We do? Of course we do. Of what?"
"We can get up and eat the lunch you were cooking–" he broke off to lift his head and look at the clock "–three hours ago, or we can try to wreck this bed, too."
She considered it. "I think we'd better have lunch, or I won't have the energy to help you wreck the bed."
"Good thinking." He hugged her, reluctant to get up despite his own hunger, and found his hands stroking down her sides in sensual enjoyment. Then he paused and moved his hand around to her stomach. ''Unless you want to get married this weekend, we'd better do something about birth control."
Jay's heart felt as if it had abruptly swollen so large that it filled her entire chest. For a few glorious hours she'd forgotten how hemmed in she was by this tortuous maze of deception. She wanted nothing more than to simply say "Yes, let's get married," but she didn't dare. Not until he knew who he was–and she knew who he was–and he still said he wanted to marry her. So she ignored the first part of his statement and merely answered the second. "We don't have to worry about birth control. I'm on the Pill. My doctor put me on it seven months ago, because my periods had gotten so erratic."
His eyes narrowed a little and his hand lay heavier on her stomach. "Is something wrong?"
"No. It was just stress from my job. I could probably do without them now." Then she smiled and turned her face into his shoulder. "Except for a sudden development."
He grunted. "Sudden, hell. I've been hard for two months. But we could still get married this weekend."
She cased out of his embrace and got up, her face troubled as she put on fresh underwear and got a sweater from the closet, pulling it over her head.
He watched her from the bed. His voice was very soft and raspy when he spoke. "I want an answer."
Harried, she pushed her tangled hair out of her eyes. "Steve–" She stopped, almost cringing at the necessity of calling him by that name. Now more than ever, she wanted, needed, to know her lover's name. "I can't marry you until you've gotten your memory back."
He threw the sheet back and stood, magnificently naked. Jay's pulse rate skittered as she looked at him. All the miles he'd run and the wood he'd chopped had corded his body with muscles. He didn't look as if he'd ever been injured, except for his scars. Her heart settled into a slow, heavy beat. She had cradled his weight, taken his pounding invasion, returned his fire with her own. As tender as she felt now in different parts of her body, she could still feel herself grow warm and liquid as she looked at him.
"What difference does my memory make?" he snapped, and she jerked her gaze upward, realizing that he was angry. "No other woman has a claim on me, and you know it, so don't bring up that crap again. Why should we wait?"
"I want you to be certain," she said, her voice troubled.
"Damn it, I am certain!"
"How can you be, when you don't know what's happened? I just don't want you to regret marrying me when everything comes back to you." She tried a smile, and it only wobbled a little. "We're together, and we have time. That will have to be enough for now."
Steve forced himself to be content with that, and in many ways it was enough. They lived together in the truest sense of the word, as partners, friends and lovers. It was a week before the snows came again, and in that week they explored every inch of their high meadow. He showed her the laser-beam sensor he'd installed across the trail and demonstrated how to operate both the radio and the computer. It was a relief not to have to hide from her how deeply he'd been in- volved in espionage, though she got a little huffy with him because all the equipment had been hidden from her in the shed and only now had he gotten around to telling her about it.
He liked making her lose her temper. It was exciting, in a primitive way, to watch those blue eyes narrow like a cat's. It was the final sign that he'd tormented her into attack. The day he'd thought she was an intruder and tracked her in the snow, then tackled her, her rage had startled him, caught him off balance, but it had excited him. Most people who knew Jay would never think she was capable of that kind of anger, or that she would physically fight anyone. It told him a lot about her, about the passionate, volatile side of her personality and about what it took to bring it out. Probably very few people could make her angry, but because she loved him, he could. And after he'd provoked her to anger, he liked to wrestle with her and love her out of her temper.
Physically she delighted him. She was still too thin, though she ate well, but he liked to watch her trim hips and rounded buttocks in her tight jeans too much to complain. Her skin was satiny, her breasts high and round, her exotic mouth full and pouty; no matter how she dressed, she turned him on because he knew what lay under those clothes. He also knew that all he had to do was reach for her and she'd turn into his arms, warm and willing. That kind of response enchanted him; there was something so new about it, as if he'd never known it before.
Then one morning they got up to find that it had snowed again during the night, and it continued snowing all during the day, not hard, just a continuous veil of flakes sifting down over the meadow. Except for trips outside to bring in more firewood, Jay and Steve spent the day in the cabin, watching old movies. That was an extra benefit of the satellite dish; they could always find something interesting to watch on television, if they were in the mood. It was perfectly suited to a lazy day when they had nothing better to do than to lie around and watch the fat snowflakes drifting down.
Just before dark, Steve left to check the area, something he always did. While he was gone Jay began cooking dinner, humming as she did so, because she was so contented. This was paradise. She knew it couldn't last; when his memory returned, even if he still wanted to marry her, their lives would change. They would leave here, find another home. She would have to find another job. Other things would take up their time. This was time set aside, out of the real world, but she meant to enjoy every minute of it. Briefly a dark thought intruded: This could be all she had. Perhaps it was. If so, these days were all the more precious.
Steve entered through the back door, slapping snow off his shoulders and shaking it out of his hair before taking off his thick coat. "Nothing but rabbit tracks." He looked thoughtful. "Do you like rabbit?"
Jay turned from the cheese she was grating for the spaghetti. "If you shoot the Easter Bunny…" she began in a threatening tone.
"It was just a question," he said, and grabbed her for a kiss, then rubbed his cold, beard-roughened cheek against hers. "You smell good. Like onion and garlic and tomato sauce." Actually, she smelled like herself, that sweet, warm, womanly scent he associated with her and no one else. He buried his cold nose against her neck and inhaled it, feeling the familiar tension growing in his loins.
"You won't get any points for telling me I smell like onions and garlic," she said, returning to her chore even though he kept his arms looped around her waist.
"Even if I tell you how crazy I am about onions and garlic?"
"Humph. You're like all men. You'll say anything when you're hungry."
Chuckling, he released her to set the table and begin buttering the rolls. "How would you like to take a trip?"
"I'd love to see Hawaii."
"I was thinking more in terms of Colorado Springs. Or maybe Denver."
"I've been to Colorado Springs," she said, then looked at him curiously over her shoulder. "Why are we going to Colorado Springs?"
"I'm assuming Frank doesn't want us returning to Washington, even briefly, so he'll fly the doctor out to check my eyes. That means, logically, either Colorado Springs or Denver, and I'm betting Colorado Springs. I'm also betting he doesn't want the doctor to know the location of the cabin, so that means we go to him."
She had known he would have to have his eyes checked again, but just talking about it brought the real world intruding into their private paradise. It would feel strange even seeing other people, much less talking to them. But reading strained his eyes, and enough time had passed for them to realize his sight wasn't going to improve. She thought of how he would look in glasses, and a warm feeling began spreading in her stomach. Sexy. She gave him a smile. "Yeah, I think I'd like to make a trip. I've been eating my own cooking for a long time now."
"I'll get in touch with Frank after dinner." He could have done it then, but filling his stomach was more important. Jay made great spaghetti, and getting in touch with Frank could be time-consuming. First things first.
After the dinner dishes had been cleaned and Steve was in the shed contacting Frank, Jay stretched out on the rug in front of the fire, for the first time thinking about the chic little apartment in New York that Frank had been keeping for her. It contrasted sharply with the rustic comfort of the cabin, but she much preferred the cabin. She would hate to leave it; it would be beautiful here during the summer, but she wondered how much longer they would be here. Surely Steve's memory would return before then, and even if it didn't, how much longer would it be before Frank told him the truth? They couldn't let him live another man's life forever. Or could they? Had that been the plan? Did they somehow know he'd never get his memory back?
The mirrors kept reflecting back different answers, different facets to the puzzle, different solutions. And none of them fit.
"Are you asleep?" he asked softly.
She gasped and rolled over, her heart jumping. "I didn't hear you come in. You didn't make any noise." He always moved silently, like a cat, but she should have heard the back door. She'd been so deep in thought that the sounds hadn't registered.
"The better to sneak up on you, my dear," he growled in his best big-bad- wolf voice. He joined her on the rug, sinking his hands into her hair as he angled her mouth up toward his. He kissed her slowly, deeply, taking his tune and using his tongue. Her breathing altered, and her eyes grew heavy lidded. Desire was a heavy warmth inside her, slowly expanding until it completely filled her.
They weren't in any hurry. It felt too good to lie there in the warmth of the crackling fire and savor their kisses. But eventually the heat was too much, and she moaned as he unbuttoned her flannel shirt, parting the edges to press his lips to the swollen curves of her breasts. He lay on top of her, his heavy legs controlling hers even though she twisted restlessly. She wanted more. Moaning again, her voice sharp with need, she turned until her nipple brushed against his mouth. Lazily he extended his tongue and licked it, then clamped his mouth over it and sucked strongly, giving her what she needed.
The firelight burnished her hair with golden lights and her skin with a rosy glow as he unfastened her jeans and pulled them off. Her mouth was red and moist, glistening with the sheen of his kisses. Abruptly he couldn't wait any longer and jerked his own clothes off. The flannel shirt still hung around her shoulders, but even that was too much. He pulled it away from her and knelt between her legs, draping her thighs over his as he bent forward to enter her, fusing their bodies as surely as their lives were fused.
They lay together for a long time afterward, too content to move. He put another log on the fire and pulled on his jeans, then put his own shirt around her to stave off any chill. She sat in the circle of his arms, her head on his shoulder, wishing nothing would ever happen to disturb this happiness.
He watched the waving yellow flames, his rough chin rubbing back and forth against her hair. "Do you want kids?" he asked absently.
The question startled her enough that she lifted her head from his shoulder. "I… think I do." she replied. "I've never really thought about it, because it just didn't seem like an option, but now…" Her voice trailed off.
"Before, we didn't have much of a marriage. I don't want it to be like that again. I want to come home every night, live a normal life." He tightened his arms around her. "I'd like to have a couple of kids, but that's a mutual decision. I didn't know how you felt about it."
"I like kids," she said softly, but guilt assailed her. They hadn't had any kind of a marriage before! He was feeling guilty for another man's acts.
"Yeah, I like them, too." He smiled, still watching the fire. "I get a kick out of watching Amy–"
Jay jerked away from him, her eyes wide with something like panic in them. "Who's Amy?"
Steve's face was hard, his mouth grim. "I don't know," he muttered. "I feel as if I just ran into a brick wall. The words just slipped out, then bam! I hit the wall and there's nothing."
Jay felt sick. Had she been so wrong in trusting that Frank wouldn't have set this up if Steve had been married? Was he a father as well as a husband?
Steve was watching her and sensed the direction of her thoughts, if not the content. "No, I'm not married and I don't have any kids," he said sharply, pulling her back to him. "It's probably just a friend's little girl. Do you know anyone with a little girl named Amy?"
She shook her head, not looking at him. The terror was back; she felt stiff with it. Was his memory returning? When it did, would he leave? Paradise could end at any time.
Steve lay awake long after they had gone to bed that night. Jay slept in his arms, as she had every night since the chinook blew, her hair streaming over his left shoulder and her warm breath sighing against his neck. Her bare, silky body was pressed all along his left side, and her slender arm was draped across his chest. She had looked so panicked for a second when he'd mentioned Amy's name, whoever Amy was. He held her closer, trying to erase that panic even from her sleep.
This would probably happen a lot, a casual remark triggering flashes of memory. He hoped they wouldn't all scare her so much. Was she truly afraid he wouldn't want her when his memory returned? God, couldn't she feel how much he loved her? It went beyond memory. It was in his bones, buried in the very depths of his existence.
The name flashed through his mind like fire and suddenly he saw a little girl with glossy dark hair, giggling as she shoved a chubby, dimpled fist into her mouth. Amy.
His heart began pounding. His memory had actually supplied a face to go with the name. He didn't know who she was, but he knew her name, and now her face. The mental picture faded, but he concentrated and found he could recall it, just like a real memory. Just as he'd told Jay, she must be a friend's daughter, someone he'd met since their divorce.
He relaxed, pleased that the memory had solidified. His seAttal satisfaction made his body feel heavy and boneless, and his chest began to rise and fall in the deeper rhythm of sleep.
"Unca Luke, Unca Luke!"
The childish voices echoed in his head and the movie began to unwind in his mind. Two kids. Two boys, tearing across a green lawn, jumping and shrieking "Unca Luke" at the tops of their lungs as they ran.
Another scene. Northern Ireland. Belfast. He recognized it even as a tingle of dread ran up his spine. Two little boys played in the street, then suddenly looked up, hesitated and ran.
Flash. One of the first two little boys looked up with a wobbly lower lip and tears in his eyes and said, "Please, Unca Dan."
Flash. Dan Rather stacked papers at his newsdesk while the credits rolled.
Flash. A bumper sticker on a station wagon said, I'd Rather Be at Disney World.
Mickey Mouse dancing… Flash… a mouse crawling through the garbage in an alley… Flash… a grenade sailing in slow motion through the air and hitting a garbage can with a loud thump; then a louder thump and the can goes sailing… Flash… a white sailboat with sassy red-and-white striped sails tacking closer to shore and a tanned young man waves… Flash flash flash…
The scenes ripped through his consciousness, and they were truly only flashes, following each other like pages of a book being flipped through in front of his eyes.
He was sweating again. Damn, these free-association memories were hell. What did they mean? Had they truly happened? He wouldn't mind them if he could tell which ones were real and which ones were just something he'd seen on television or in a movie, or maybe even imagined from a scene in a book. Okay, some of them were obvious, like the one of Dan Rather with the credits rolling across his face. But he'd watched network news many times since the bandages had come off his eyes, so that could even be a recent memory.
But… Uncle Luke. Uncle Dan. Something about those kids, and those names, seemed very real, just as Amy was real.
He eased out of bed, being very careful not to wake Jay, and walked into the living room where he stood for a long time in front of the banked fire, watching the embers glow. Full memory was close, and he knew it. It was as if all he had to do was turn a corner and everything would be there; but turning that mental corner wasn't as easy as it sounded. He had become a different man in the months since the explosion; he was trying to connect two separate people and merge them into one.
He had been absently rubbing his fingertips with his thumb. When he noticed what he was doing, he lifted his hand to look at it. The calluses were back, courtesy of chopping wood, but his fingertips were still smooth. How much of him was left, or had his identity been erased as surely as his fingerprints had been? When he looked in the mirror, how much of it was Steve Cross-field and how much of it was courtesy of the reconstructive surgery? His face was changed, his voice was changed, his fingerprints gone.
He was new. He had been born out of the darkness, brought to life by Jay's voice calling him toward the light.
Regardless of what he did or didn't remember, he still had Jay. She was a part of him that surgery couldn't change.
The room had taken on a chill as the fire died, and finally he felt the coldness on his naked body. He returned to the bedroom and slipped under the quilt, feeling Jay's body warmth wrap around him. She murmured something, moving closer to him in her sleep, seeking her usual position.
Instantly desire fired through him, as urgent as if it hadn't been slaked only an hour or so before. "Jay," he said, his voice low and dark, and he pulled her beneath him. She woke and reached for him, her hands sliding around his neck, and in the darkness they loved each other until he had no room for memories other than those they made together.