To Die For by Linda Howard

  “Pink,” he said.

  “Close, but no cigar. That’s my second favorite color.”

  “Good God, you have more than one?”


  “Teal’s a color? I thought it was a duck.”

  “Maybe the color comes from a duck. I don’t know. The point is, if we had spent a lot of time together and really gotten to know each other, you’d have noticed that I wear a lot of teal and you might have guessed it. But you couldn’t, because we haven’t spent a lot of time together.”

  “The solution to that is to spend more time together.”

  “Agreed. But without sex.”

  “I feel as if I’m banging my head against a brick wall,” he said to the ceiling.

  “I know the feeling.” I was beginning to get exasperated. “The point is, I’m afraid you’ll break my heart if I let you get too close to me. I’m afraid I’ll fall in love with you and then you’ll walk away again. I want to know you’re with me every step of the way if I do fall in love with you. How can I know that if we’re having sex, when sex means so much to a woman and it doesn’t mean much more to a man than just jerking off? It’s chemistry, and it short-circuits a woman’s brain, sort of drugs her, so she doesn’t notice she’s sleeping with a rat until it’s too late.”

  There was a long pause; then he said, “What if I’m already in love with you, and I’m using sex to show you that, and to get closer to you?”

  “If you’d said ‘infatuated,’ I might have believed you. I repeat, you don’t really know me, therefore you can’t truly love me. We’re in lust, not love. Not yet, and maybe not ever.”

  Another long pause. “I understand what you’re saying. I don’t agree with it, but I understand it. Did you understand what I said, about using sex to show you I care?”

  “Yes,” I said guardedly. What was he leading up to? “And I don’t agree.”

  “Then we’re at a stalemate. You don’t want to have sex and I do. So let’s make a deal: any time I put the move on you, all you have to do is say no and I promise I’ll stop, regardless. I may be on top of you about to put it in, but if you say no, I’ll stop.”

  “That’s not fair!” I wailed. “What’s my record so far in saying no to you?”

  “Two years ago, you were two for oh. This time, it’s four-zip in my favor.”

  “See! You’re two-thirds better at this than I am. I need a handicap.”

  “How in hell do you handicap sex?”

  “You can’t touch my neck.”

  “Uh-uh. No way in hell are you putting your neck out-of-bounds.” Just to prove his point, he hauled me up his body so I was level with him, and before I could stop him, he buried his face in the curve of my neck and shoulders and lightly bit me. Lightning pleasure shot through me and my eyes rolled back in my head.

  Yes, he cheated.

  A while later, bracing himself over me on his arms, both of us sweaty and our lungs pumping like mad, he said, with great satisfaction, “Make that five-zip.”

  I hate it when a man gloats, don’t you? Especially when he cheats.

  “We’ll fly home,” he said as we packed our bags after breakfast.

  “But my truck—”

  “We’ll turn the rentals in here. My car’s at the airport at home. I’ll take you to pick up your car.”

  Finally I was getting my car back! That part of it was a good plan. But I don’t like flying all that much; I do it, occasionally, but I’d much rather drive. “I don’t like to fly,” I said.

  He straightened and stared at me. “Don’t tell me you’re afraid.”

  “I’m not afraid, exactly, not gasping for breath and things like that, but it isn’t my favorite thing. The squad was flying to the West Coast once for a ball game, and we hit some turbulence and dropped far enough that I thought the pilot would never be able to pull us out. Since then I’ve been uneasy about it.”

  He watched me for another minute, then said, “Okay, we’ll drive. Follow me to the airport so I can turn in my rental.”

  Well, blow me down. For a minute there I’d expected to be strong-armed onto a plane; I’d told him so many fibs these past few days, why should he believe the truth? But he evidently had a Blair Truth Detector like the one Mom had, and realized that if anything, I was understating a little how much it bothered me to fly. Just a little, because I truly don’t panic or anything.

  So I followed him to the airport, where he turned in his rental, and then waited behind the wheel while he stored his gear beside mine in the bed of the truck. He surprised me yet again by getting in on the passenger side and buckling himself in without even asking to drive. Only a man secure in his own masculinity will let a woman do the driving in a pickup truck . . . either that or he was very sneakily buttering me up. Whatever. It worked. I was feeling much more mellow with him during the long drive back home.

  It was late afternoon when we got to our small regional airport, where he’d left his car. I turned in the rental truck and we transferred everything to his Crown Vic; then he drove me to Great Bods to get my car.

  To my dismay, the yellow crime-scene tape was still strung around most of my property. About half of the front parking lot was taped off, and all of the building and the back parking lot. He pulled into the section of parking lot that was open. “When will I be able to reopen?” I asked as I handed over my car keys to him.

  “I’ll try to get the scene closed tomorrow. If I do, you’ll be able to open on Tuesday—but I’m not making any promises.”

  I stood beside his car while he walked around back, and a moment later he reappeared driving my Mercedes. He pulled in on the other side of the Crown Vic, closest to the street, and stopped beside his car. Leaving the Mercedes running, he got out and transferred my duffel to my small backseat, then stepped back only a little, so that he was standing very close beside me when I started to get into the car. He caught my arm, his big hand warm on my skin.

  “I have to work tonight, shuffle some papers around. Will you be at your parents’ house?”

  Thoughts of him had so completely consumed me for two days that my nervousness about being named as the witness to Nicole’s murder had almost completely calmed down. “I don’t want to do anything stupid, but is there really much of a chance this guy will try to eliminate the witness, namely me?”

  “I can’t discount the possibility,” he said, looking grim. “It isn’t likely, but it isn’t impossible. I’d feel better if you were either at your parents’ or if you came home with me.”

  “I’ll go to their house,” I decided, because if he thought I should be worried, then I was worried. “But I need to go home and get more clothes, pay bills, that sort of thing.”

  “I’ll go with you. Get what you need, and do your paperwork when you get to your parents’. Better yet, tell me what you need; I’ll get it and bring it to you.”

  Right, like I was going to let him go through my underwear drawer?

  No sooner did I have that thought than I mentally shrugged. Not only had he seen my underwear—some of it, anyway—he’d taken it off me. Besides, I like pretty underwear, so it wasn’t as if there was anything there I’d be embarrassed for him to see.

  “Give me your little notepad and a pen,” I said, and when he produced them from his pocket, I wrote down detailed descriptions of exactly what clothes I wanted him to get for me, and where my unpaid bills were filed. Since I already had my makeup and hair products with me, he was getting off easy.

  When I gave him my house key, he looked down at it with a strange expression on his face.

  “What?” I asked. “Is something wrong with the key?”

  “No, everything’s fine,” he said, and bent his head. The kiss was warm and lingering, and before I knew it, I was on tiptoe with my arms laced around his neck, kissing him back with enthusiasm, plus interest.

  When he lifted his head, he slowly licked his lips, tasting me. My toes curled and I almost told him to take me home with hi
m, but common sense resurfaced at the last moment. He stepped back to give me room to get into the car.

  “Oh, I need to give you directions to Mom and Dad’s house,” I said, remembering at the last moment.

  “I know where they live.”

  “How do— Oh, yeah, I forgot. You’re a cop. You checked.”

  “When I couldn’t find you on Friday, yeah.”

  I gave him the old Beady Eye, which is what Siana called it when Mom knew we had been up to something and would try to stare a confession out of us. “I think you have an unfair advantage, and you throw your cop weight around. That has to stop.”

  “Not likely. That’s what we do,” he said, smiling as he turned to go to his car.

  “Wait! Are you going to my house now and bringing my things, or are you going to work and bringing them later?”

  “I’ll bring them now. I don’t know how long I’ll have to work.”

  “Okay. See you there.” I tossed my bag into the passenger seat, but the toss fell short and the bag hit the console, falling back into the driver’s seat. I leaned down to pick up the bag and give it another toss, and a sharp crack reverberated on the street. Startled, I jumped sideways, and a sharp knife of pain sliced through my left arm.

  Then a ton of concrete hit me and knocked me to the pavement.



  The concrete was hard and warm, and was swearing a blue streak. And as I said, he also weighed a ton. “Son of a fucking bitch!” he said between clenched teeth, spitting out each word like a bullet. “Blair, are you all right?”

  Well, I didn’t know. I’d hit the pavement pretty hard and banged my head, and I was kind of breathless from being squashed beneath him, plus my arm hurt like a mother. I felt sort of boneless from shock, because I’d heard that same crack before and I pretty much knew what was wrong with my arm. “I guess,” I said without much conviction.

  His head moving from side to side as he kept a watch out for any approaching killers, Wyatt levered himself off me, then hauled me to a sitting position and propped me against the front tire, saying, “Stay!” as if I were Fido. Didn’t matter. I wasn’t going anywhere.

  He pulled his cell phone off his belt and pressed a button. Talking into it as if it were a handheld radio, he said something hard and fast, of which I understood only “Shots fired,” and then our location. Still swearing, he moved at a fast crouch to his car and wrenched the back door open. He reached in, and came out with a big automatic pistol in his hand.

  “I cannot fucking believe I forgot to get my weapon out of my bag,” he growled as he plastered himself, his back to me, against the rear tire of my car and risked a quick look over the trunk, then ducked back down. “Of all the fucking times—”

  “Do you see him?” I interrupted his muttered stream of profanity.


  My mouth was dry, and my heartbeat was hammering wildly at the thought of the shooter rounding the car and firing at both of us. We were sandwiched between the two cars, which should have seemed secure, but instead I felt horribly exposed and vulnerable, with those unprotected spaces at each end of the cars.

  The shot had come from across the street. Very few of the shops that lined the street were open on Sunday, especially this late in the afternoon, and traffic was almost nonexistent. I listened, but didn’t hear the sound of a car leaving, which to my way of thinking wasn’t good. Leaving was good; staying was bad. I wanted the man to leave. I wanted to cry. And I was seriously thinking about throwing up.

  Wyatt glanced over his shoulder at me, his expression grim and focused, and for the first time, got a good look at me. His whole body stiffened. “Ah, shit, honey,” he said softly. He took another quick look over the trunk, then moved in a crouch to my side. “Why didn’t you say something? You’re bleeding like a stuck hog. Let me see how bad it is.”

  “Not very, I don’t think. It just sliced my arm.” I thought I sounded just like a cowboy in an old western movie, bravely reassuring the pretty farm-woman his wound was just a scratch. Maybe I should get Wyatt’s pistol and return fire across the street, just to complete the illusion. On the other hand, maybe I should just sit here; it took less effort.

  His big hand was gentle as he turned my arm so he could examine the wound. Personally, I didn’t look. With my peripheral vision I could see way too much blood anyway, and knowing it was all mine wasn’t a good feeling.

  “It isn’t too bad,” he murmured. He took another look around, then briefly put his weapon down to take a handkerchief from his pocket and place it, folded, against my wound. He had the big pistol in his hand again less than five seconds after he’d put it down. “Hold this as tight as you can against your arm,” he said, and I reached up with my right hand to do as he’d directed.

  I struggled not to feel indignant. Not too bad? It was one thing for me to be brave and dismissive about being shot, but how dare he? I wondered if he’d be that blasé if it were his arm that felt as if it were on fire, if his blood was soaking his clothes and beginning to pool on the pavement.

  Huh. That pooling on the pavement part couldn’t be good. Maybe that was why I felt light-headed and hot and nauseated. Maybe I’d better lie down.

  I let myself slide sideways, and Wyatt grabbed me with his free hand. “Blair!”

  “I’m just lying down,” I said fretfully. “I feel sick.”

  Supporting me one-handed, he helped me to lie down on the pavement. The asphalt was hot and gritty, and I didn’t care. I concentrated on taking deep breaths and staring at the blueness of the late-afternoon sky overhead, and gradually the nausea began to fade. Wyatt was talking on his cell phone/radio, whatever it was, requesting medics and an ambulance. Already I could hear sirens as units responded to a call that their lieutenant was under fire. How much time had lapsed since the shot? A minute? No more than two, I was certain of that.

  To one part of me, everything seemed to be moving in slow motion, but another part of me felt as if too much was happening simultaneously. The result was a total sense of unreality, but one in which everything seemed to be crystal clear. I couldn’t decide if that was good or not. Probably a little fuzziness would be nice, because I really didn’t want to have clear memories of this.

  Wyatt crouched over me and put his left hand to my neck. Good God, was he coming on to me now? I glared up at him, but he didn’t notice because his head was up and he was checking in all directions, his weapon steady in his right hand. Belatedly, I realized he was checking my pulse, and he looked even more grim than before.

  I wasn’t dying, was I? People didn’t die from gunshot wounds to the arm. That was silly. I was just a little shocky from losing blood so fast, the way I got whenever I gave blood at the Red Cross. It was no big deal. But he’d radioed for an ambulance, which to my way of thinking was for serious stuff, and I wondered if he could see something I couldn’t, like maybe an artery spurting out blood like Old Faithful. Not that I had really looked, because I’d been afraid I’d see exactly that.

  I pulled the folded handkerchief away from my arm and looked at it. It was totally soaked with blood.

  “Blair,” he said sharply, “put that back over your wound.”

  Okay, so maybe I might die. I added up the pieces—a lot of blood, shock, ambulance—and didn’t like the picture. “Call my mom,” I said. She would be so royally pissed if I had a medical crisis and no one let her know.

  “I will,” he replied, and now he was trying to sound soothing.

  “Now. I need her now.”

  “You’re going to be all right, honey. We’ll call her from the hospital.”

  I was outraged. I was lying there bleeding to death and he refused to call my mother?! If I’d had more energy, I might have done something about it, but as things were, all I could do was lie there and glare, which wasn’t having much effect because he wasn’t watching me.

  Two patrol units, lights flashing and sirens blaring, slid into the parking lot, and
two officers, weapons drawn, bailed out of each. Thank goodness each officer driving killed the sirens just before stopping, otherwise we’d have been deafened. There were other units on the way, though; I could hear more sirens, and they seemed to be coming from all directions.

  Oh, man, this was going to be so bad for business. I tried to imagine how I would feel if I belonged to a fitness center where there were two shootings in four days. Safe? Definitely not. Of course, if I died, I wouldn’t have to worry about it, but what about my employees? They’d be out of a job that paid above the average, plus benefits.

  I had visions of the empty parking lot sprouting weeds through the pavement, windows broken, roof sagging. Yellow crime-scene tape would forlornly droop from poles and trees, and kids would walk by and point at the decaying building.

  “Do not,” I said loudly from flat on my back, “string even one inch of that yellow tape in my parking lot. Enough’s enough. No more tape.”

  Wyatt was busy giving instructions to the four officers, but he glanced down at me and I thought he struggled not to smile. “I’ll see what I can do.”

  Here I was bleeding to death, and he was smiling. Smiling. I needed to start another list. Come to think of it, I needed to rewrite the one he’d confiscated. He’d distracted me with sex, but now I was thinking clearly again and the list of his transgressions would probably take up two pages—assuming I lived to write them.

  This was all his fault.

  “If a certain lieutenant had listened to me and brought my car to me on Friday the way I asked, this wouldn’t have happened. I’m bleeding, and my clothes are ruined, and it’s all your fault.”

  Wyatt paused briefly in the middle of my condemnation, then continued talking to his men just as if I hadn’t said anything.

  Now he was ignoring me.

  A couple of the officers seemed to be coming down with something, because they had simultaneous coughing fits—either that or they were trying not to laugh in their lieutenant’s face, which I didn’t like because, again, I was the one lying there bleeding to death and they were laughing? Excuse me, but was I the only one who didn’t think it was funny that I’d been shot?

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