To Die For by Linda Howard

  “Some people,” I announced to the sky, “have better manners than to laugh at someone who’s been shot and is bleeding to death.”

  “You aren’t bleeding to death,” Wyatt said, his voice showing some strain.

  Maybe, maybe not, but you’d think they’d give me the benefit of the doubt, wouldn’t you? I was almost tempted to bleed to death just to show him, but where’s the profit in that? Besides, if I died, then I wouldn’t be around to make his life miserable, now would I? You have to think these things out.

  More vehicles arrived. I heard Wyatt organizing a search-and-destroy mission, though he didn’t call it that. It was more like, “Find this bastard,” but I knew what he meant. A couple of medics, a young black woman with cornrowed hair and the prettiest chocolate eyes I’d ever seen, and a stocky red-haired man who reminded me of Red Buttons, arrived toting tackle boxes full of medical supplies and gear, and hunkered down next to me.

  They quickly did the basics, such as checking my pulse and blood pressure, and slapped a pressure bandage on my arm.

  “I need a cookie,” I told them.

  “Don’t we all,” said the woman with some sympathy.

  “To get my blood sugar up,” I explained. “The Red Cross gives cookies to people who give blood. So a cookie would be nice. Chocolate chip. And a Coke.”

  “I hear you,” she said, but no one was making any effort to put the requested items in my hand. I made allowances, because it was Sunday and none of the nearby shops were open. I guess they didn’t carry cookies and soft drinks in the medic truck with them, but, really, why didn’t they?

  “With all these people around, you’d think at least one person would have some cookies in the car. Or a doughnut. They are cops.”

  She grinned and said, “You’re right.” Raising her voice, she yelled, “Hey! Does anyone have anything sweet to eat in his car?”

  “You don’t need to eat anything,” the red-haired man said. I didn’t like him nearly as well as I did her, despite his sweet Red Buttons face.

  “Why? I don’t need to have surgery, do I?” That was the only reason I could think of not to eat.

  “I don’t know; that’s for the doctors to decide.”

  “Naw, you won’t need surgery,” she said, and Red glared at her.

  “You don’t know that.”

  I could tell he thought she was being way too free with the rules, and actually I understood his point. She, however, understood me. I needed reassurance, and a cookie would be just that, putting my blood loss on the same plane as giving blood at the Red Cross. If there were sweets available and they wouldn’t let me have any, then that meant I was in Serious Condition.

  A patrolman appeared, duck-walking between the cars even though no other shots had been fired and any murderer with an ounce of sense would have left the scene as soon as reinforcements arrived. He held a package in his hand. “I got Fig Newtons,” he said. He looked puzzled, as if he couldn’t understand why the medics needed something to eat and just couldn’t wait.

  “That’ll do,” she said, taking the package and tearing it open.

  “Keisha,” Red said in warning.

  “Oh, hush,” I said, and took a Fig Newton from the proffered pack. I smiled at Keisha. “Thanks. I think I’ll live, now.”

  Three more Fig Newtons later, I wasn’t feeling dizzy at all, and I sat up to prop myself against the tire once more. Red objected to that, too, but he had my well-being in mind, so I also forgave him for wanting to deny me the Newtons. I noticed that the multitude of cops milling around were walking upright now, so evidently the shooter had long since disappeared.

  Wyatt was nowhere in sight. He had joined the search-and-destroy mission, and hadn’t yet returned. Maybe this time they’d found some clues, though, that would lead them right to the shooter’s door.

  I was loaded into the back of the boxy ambulance. The back part of the gurney was raised instead of lying flat, so I was in a sitting position. I didn’t feel like walking anywhere, but I was definitely up to the task of sitting.

  It seems as if nothing at a crime or accident scene is ever done with any haste. Honest. There were a lot of people walking around, most of them uniformed, and most of them not actively doing anything other than talking to other people who were doing the same thing. Radios squawked, and people talked into them. Evidently they’d found the spot from which the shot was fired, and forensics people were going over the area. Red talked on his radio. Keisha repacked stuff. No one was in any hurry, and that was reassuring, too.

  “I need my bag,” I said, and Keisha retrieved it from my car to set it on the gurney beside me. Being a woman, she understood how much a woman needed her bag.

  I fished in the bag for a pen and my date book. I flipped to the back to the blank pages for taking notes, and began writing. Man, this list was getting long.

  Wyatt appeared at the open doors of the ambulance. His badge was clipped to his belt, and his pistol was in a shoulder holster worn over his polo shirt. Lines bracketed his mouth. “How are you feeling?”

  “Fine,” I said politely. I wasn’t, not really, because my arm was really, really throbbing and I felt weak from blood loss, but I was still mad at him and not inclined to lean on him. See, men want you to lean on them, because it satisfies their protective instincts, which are pretty much hardwired, and by refusing his sympathy, I was telling him he was in the dog house. You have to read between the lines on these things.

  His green eyes narrowed. He got the message all right. “I’ll follow the ambulance to the hospital.”

  “Thank you, but there’s no need. I’ll call my family.”

  The eyes got even more narrow. “I said I’ll follow you. I’ll call your parents on the way.”

  “Fine. Do what you want.” Which meant, I’ll still be mad.

  He got that message, too. He put his hands on his hips, looking all macho and masculine and disgruntled. “What has you in such a snit?”

  “You mean, other than being shot?” I asked sweetly.

  “I’ve been shot. It didn’t make me act like a—” He stopped himself, evidently thinking better of what he’d been about to say.

  “Bitch? Spoiled brat? Diva?” I supplied the choices myself. Up front, Red was sitting very still as he listened to the argument. Standing off to the side, waiting to close the doors, Keisha was pretending to look at a bird in the sky.

  He gave a grim smile. “You choose the ones that fit.”

  “No problem. I can do that.” I wrote another item on my list.

  His gaze arrowed in on the date book. “What are you doing?”

  “Making a list.”

  “Jesus Christ, another one?”

  “The same one. I’m just adding to it.”

  “Give me that.” He leaned forward into the ambulance as if to snatch the date book away from me.

  I jerked it back. “This is my book, not yours. Don’t touch it.” Over my shoulder I said to Red, “Come on, let’s get this show on the road.”

  “Blair, you’re pouting—”

  Well, yes, I was. When I felt better I might relent, but until then I felt my pouting was well-deserved. You tell me, if you can’t pout when you’re shot, just when is it called for?

  As Keisha closed the ambulance doors, I said, “Just see if I ever sleep with you again!”



  “You’re sleeping with Lieutenant Bloodsworth, huh?” Keisha asked, grinning.

  “I have in the past,” I said, and sniffed. So what if the past was just that morning? “He shouldn’t hold his breath waiting for the next time.” I was a bit chagrined that I had blurted out something as personal as details of my love life, but I’d been provoked.

  It seemed to me that Red was driving inordinately slow. I didn’t know if he was always that careful—which might not be a good thing when you have someone dying in your ambulance—or if he just wanted to listen to as much of our conversation as possible before
we arrived at the hospital. Other than Keisha, no one, absolutely no one, seemed to think my condition was worth any extra worry or attention.

  Keisha, however, was a woman after my own heart. She’d given me Fig Newtons, and she’d got my bag for me. Keisha understood.

  “That would be one hard man to turn down,” she commented thoughtfully. “No pun intended.”

  “A woman’s gotta do what a woman’s gotta do.”

  “I hear you, sister.” We shared a look of total understanding. Men are difficult creatures; you can’t let them get the upper hand. And thank God Wyatt was being difficult, because that gave me something to think about other than that someone was trying to kill me. I just wasn’t ready to deal with it yet. I was safe for the time being, and that gave me some breathing space, which was all I needed. I would concentrate on Wyatt and my list until I felt better able to handle the situation.

  At the hospital, I was whisked away and put in a private little cubicle—well, as private as anything can be that has a curtain for a door—and a couple of friendly, cheerfully efficient nurses cut away my blood-soaked top and bra. I really hated that the bra had to be sacrificed, because it was this beautiful seafoam lace and matched my underpants, which I would now be unable to wear unless I bought another matching bra. Ah, well. The bra was ruined anyway, because I doubted any treatment would get bloodstains out of silk, plus I now had bad memories associated with it and probably wouldn’t have worn it again anyway. I was draped in a blue-and-white hospital gown, which was in no way fashionable, and made to lie down while they did a preliminary workup.

  They also peeled the bandage off my arm, and by now I felt steady enough to get a look at the damage myself. “Ewww,” I said, wrinkling my nose.

  Now, there’s no place you can get shot that you won’t have muscle damage, except maybe in the eye, in which case you don’t have to worry about it because you’re probably dead. The bullet had torn a deep gouge in the outside of my upper arm, just under the shoulder joint. If it had gone any higher, it would likely have shattered the joint, which would have been much more serious. This looked bad enough, because I didn’t see how the gouge could be closed with a few stitches.

  “It isn’t so bad,” said one of the nurses. Her name tag said Cynthia. “It’s a flesh wound; nothing structural’s damaged. Hurts like the dickens, though, doesn’t it?”

  Amen to that.

  My vital signs were taken—my pulse was a bit fast, but whose wouldn’t be? Respirations normal. Blood pressure a little elevated over my norm, but not by much. All in all, my body was having a rather mild reaction to being shot. It helped that I was healthy as a horse, and in great shape.

  There was no telling what sort of shape I’d be in by the time this arm was well enough for me to work out again, I thought glumly. In a couple of days I’d start doing cardio, then yoga, but there wouldn’t be any gymnastics or weight training for at least a month. If getting shot was anything like the other injuries I’d had in the past, muscles took a while to get over the trauma even after the initial symptoms were gone.

  They gave the wound a thorough cleaning, which didn’t make it hurt any worse than it was already hurting. I was lucky in that my top had been sleeveless and there weren’t any fabric fibers caught in the wound. That greatly simplified things.

  The doctor finally came in, a lanky guy with wrinkles in his forehead and cheerful blue eyes. His name tag said MacDuff. No joke. “Rough date, huh?” he asked jokingly as he pulled on plastic gloves.

  Startled, I blinked at him. “How did you know?”

  He paused, startled in turn. “You mean—I was told it was a sniper.”

  “It was. But it happened at the end of my date.” If you could call being followed to the beach and taken by surprise a “date.”

  He laughed. “I see. Gotcha now.”

  He took a look at my arm and rubbed his chin. “I can suture this for you, but if you’re worried about a scar, we can call in a cosmetic surgeon to do the honors. Dr. Homes here in town has a nice touch with scars; he can make them practically go away. You’ll be here a while longer, though.”

  I was vain enough not to be crazy about the idea of a long scar on my arm, but I also hated the idea of being shot and not having anything to show for it. Think about it. Would this be a great show-and-tell for my future children and grandchildren, or what? I also didn’t want to hang around the hospital any longer than necessary, either.

  “Go for it,” I told him.

  He looked a tad surprised, but he went for it. After numbing my arm, he painstakingly pulled the edges of the gash together and began stitching them closed. I think my choice appealed to his pride, and he set about doing an exemplary job.

  In the middle of the procedure, I heard a commotion outside and said, “There’s my mom.”

  Dr. MacDuff glanced up at one of the nurses. “Ask everyone to stay outside until I get finished here. Just another few minutes.”

  Cynthia slipped out of the cubicle, pulling the curtain firmly closed behind her. The commotion got louder; then I heard Mom’s voice rising above everything, saying in that tone of finality, “I want to see my daughter. Now.”

  “Brace yourself,” I told Dr. MacDuff. “I don’t think Cynthia can hold up against Mom. She won’t scream or faint or anything; she just wants to see for herself that I’m alive. It’s a mom thing.”

  He grinned, blue eyes twinkling. He seemed to be an easygoing kind of guy. “They’re funny that way, aren’t they?”

  “Blair!” That was Mom again, disturbing everyone else in the emergency department in her frantic need to find her wounded offspring, namely me.

  I lifted my voice. “I’m okay, Mom; I’m just getting some stitches here. We’ll be finished in a minute.”

  Did that reassure her? Of course not. I had also assured her, at the age of fourteen, that my broken collarbone was just a bad bruise. I’d had some lamebrained idea that I could wrap an Ace bandage around my shoulder and still perform, never mind that I couldn’t move my arm without screaming. That wasn’t one of my better judgment calls.

  I’m much better now about assessing my injuries, but Mom would never forget and now wanted to See For Herself. Therefore, I wasn’t surprised when the curtain was whisked open—thanks for preserving my privacy, Mom—and my entire family stood there. Mom, Dad, Siana, even Jenni. Nor was I surprised that Wyatt was there with them, still looking both grim and irritated.

  Dr. MacDuff looked up and started to say something along the lines of, “Get out,” though he probably would have phrased it more like, “If you people will step outside, we’ll be finished in a minute,” but he never got that far. He saw Mom and forgot what he was about to say.

  That was a common reaction. Mom was fifty-four and looked maybe forty. She was a former Miss North Carolina, tall and slender, blond, and gorgeous. That’s just the only word for her. Dad was nuts about her, but that was okay because she was nuts about him, too.

  She rushed to my side, but once she saw that I really was mostly in one piece, she calmed and brushed my forehead with her cool hand just as if I were five years old again. “Shot, huh?” she asked gently. “What a tale to tell your grandchildren.”

  I told you. It’s scary.

  She switched her attention to Dr. MacDuff. “Hello, I’m Tina Mallory, Blair’s mother. Is there any permanent damage?”

  He blinked and resumed suturing. “Ah, no. She won’t be doing much with this arm for a week or so, but in a couple of months she’ll be as good as new. I’ll give you some instructions for the next few days.”

  “I know the drill,” she said, smiling faintly. “Rest, keep an ice pack on the arm, antibiotics.”

  “That’s it,” he said, smiling back at her. “I’ll write her a prescription for pain, but she may be able to handle it with just OTC meds. No aspirin, though; I don’t want this bleeding.”

  You notice he was talking to Mom now instead of me. She has that effect on men.

  The r
est of my family had crowded into the cubicle, too. Dad moved to Mom’s side and slipped his arm around her waist, consoling her through yet another crisis involving one of their children. Jenni moved to the lone visitor’s chair and sat down, crossing her long legs. Dr. MacDuff looked at her and started blinking again. Jennifer has Mom’s looks, though her hair is darker.

  I cleared my throat and brought Dr. MacDuff back to earth. “Suture,” I whispered to him.

  “Oh—yeah.” He winked at me. “Forgot where I was for a minute.”

  “It happens,” Dad said in sympathy.

  Dad is tall and lanky, with sandy brown hair and blue eyes. He’s calm and laid-back, with this really nutty sense of humor that came in handy a lot during our childhoods. He played baseball in college but majored in electronics, and he handled just fine the pressure of being the only man in a house with four females. I know he was anxious during the drive to the hospital, but now that he knew I was basically all right, he’d settled back into his usual unruffled demeanor.

  I grinned at Siana, who was standing by the bed. She grinned back, and cut her eyes to the right. Then she looked back at me with raised brows, which is sister shorthand for: What’s with the hunk?

  The hunk in question, Wyatt, was standing at the foot of the exam table practically glaring at me. No, not glaring, and not even staring. He was focused on me, his eyes narrowed, his jaw set. He was leaning forward a little, gripping the footrail, and the powerful muscles in his forearms were taut. He was still wearing his shoulder holster, and the big black weapon rode under his left arm.

  My family might have relaxed, but Wyatt hadn’t. He was in a very bad mood.

  Dr. MacDuff tied off the last stitch, then slid his rolling stool over to a counter, where he scribbled on a prescription pad and tore off the top page. “That’s it,” he said, “except for the paperwork. The scrip is for both an antibiotic and pain medication. Take all of the antibiotic, even if you feel fine. That’s it. We’ll get you bandaged up and you can go.”

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