To Die For by Linda Howard

  The nurses took care of the bandaging, applying a huge amount of gauze and tape that wrapped around my upper arm and shoulder and would make it virtually impossible for me to get into any of my own clothes. I grimaced and said, “This is so not going to work.”

  “How long before we can change the bandage?” Mom asked Cynthia.

  “Give it twenty-four hours. You can shower tomorrow night,” she said to me. “I’ll give you a list of instructions. And unless you want to wait while someone goes to get some clothes for you, you can wear this beautiful gown home.”

  “The gown,” I said.

  “That’s what they all say. I don’t understand it myself, but, hey, when you like something you like it.” She left to go do whatever paperwork needed to be done, pulling the curtain closed behind her with a practiced jerk.

  The gown in question was half on, half off, with my right arm threaded through one of the armholes but my left arm bare. I’d been preserving my modesty by holding the gown in place over my breasts, but no way could I get the thing the rest of the way on without flashing everyone.

  “If you men don’t mind stepping out,” I began, only to be interrupted when Mom picked up my date book, which was lying beside my leg because that’s where Keisha had put it.

  “What’s this?” she said, frowning a little as she read. “ ‘Unlawful detainment. Kidnapping. Manhandled the witness. Snotty attitude—’ ”

  “That’s my list of Wyatt’s transgressions. Mom, Dad, meet Lieutenant J. W. Bloodsworth. The J stands for Jefferson, the W for Wyatt. Wyatt, my parents—Blair and Tina Mallory—and my sisters—Siana and Jennifer.”

  He nodded at my parents while Siana reached for the list. “Let me see that.”

  She and Mom put their heads together. “Some of the things on this list are prosecutable,” Siana said, her dimples nowhere in sight as she leveled her lawyer’s stare at him.

  “ ‘Refused to call my mom,’ ” Mom read, and turned an accusing look on him. “That’s indefensible.”

  “ ‘Laughed while I was lying on the ground bleeding,’ ” Siana continued.

  “I did not,” Wyatt said, frowning at me.

  “You smiled. Close enough.”

  “Let’s see, there’s coercion, badgering, stalking—”

  “Stalking?” he said, doing a wonderful imitation of a thundercloud.

  “ ‘Casual about severity of my wound.’ ” Siana was having a great time. “ ‘Called me names.’ ”

  “I did not.”

  “I like the idea of a list,” Mom said, taking the date book back from Siana. “It’s very efficient, and that way you don’t forget anything.”

  “She never forgets anything anyway,” Wyatt said, aggrieved.

  “Thank you very much for putting this list thing in Tina’s head,” Dad said to Wyatt, and he wasn’t being sincere. “Way to go.” He put his hand on Wyatt’s arm and pulled him around. “Let’s go outside so they can get Blair dressed, and I’ll explain a few things to you. Looks to me like you need the help.”

  Wyatt didn’t want to go—I could see it in his face—but neither did he want to pull any of his snotty attitude with my dad. No, he saved all of that for me. The two men walked out, and of course didn’t pull the curtain closed again. Jenni got up and did the honors. She was holding her nose in an effort not to laugh out loud until they were out of hearing distance.

  “I’m particularly fond of the ‘snotty attitude,’ ” Siana said, then slapped her hand over her mouth to stifle the giggles.

  “Did you see his face?” Mom whispered, grinning. “Poor man.”

  Poor man, indeed.

  “He deserved it,” I groused, sitting up and trying to find the left armhole in the gown.

  “Just be still; I’ll do it,” Mom said.

  “Don’t move your arm at all.” That was from Jenni, who had moved around behind me. “Let Mom thread the gown up your arm instead.”

  Mom did, being very careful around the huge bandage, though it was so thick I doubt I could have felt anything through it anyway, even if Dr. MacDuff hadn’t numbed my arm before he started stitching. Jenni pulled the gown’s edges together in back, and tied the little strings.

  “You aren’t going to be able to use that arm for at least a couple of days,” Mom said. “We’ll pick up some of your clothes and take you home with us.”

  That was what I’d already figured, so I nodded. A few days of being coddled by my parents was just what the doctor ordered. Well, he hadn’t, but he should have.

  By the time Cynthia returned with forms for me to sign, a list of instructions, and an aide with a wheelchair, Dad and Wyatt had also returned. Wyatt may not have been in a better mood, but at least he wasn’t scowling at everyone.

  “I’ll go get the car,” Dad said when the aide appeared with the wheelchair.

  Wyatt stopped him. “I’ll get my car. She’s going home with me.”

  “What?” I said in surprise.

  “You’re going home with me. In case you’ve forgotten, honey, someone is trying to kill you. Your folks’ house is the first place anyone would look. Not only is it not safe for you, are you willing to endanger them, too?”

  “What do you mean, someone’s trying to kill her?” Mom demanded fiercely. “I thought it was a random—”

  “I guess there’s a slight chance the shooting could have been random. But she witnessed a murder last Thursday, and her name was in the paper. If you were a murderer, what would you want to do about a witness? She’ll be safe at my house.”

  “The killer saw you, too,” I said, thinking fast. Saw you kissing me. “What makes you think he wouldn’t track me to your place, too?”

  “He wouldn’t know who I am, so how could he find out where I live? The only way he’d even know I’m a cop was if he hung around afterward, and trust me, no one was there.”

  Darn it, he made sense. I didn’t want to endanger any of my family—or Wyatt either, come to that—so the last thing I should do was go home with them.

  “She can’t go home with you,” Mom said. “She needs someone to take care of her until she can use her arm.”

  “Ma’am,” said Wyatt, steadily meeting her gaze, “I’ll take care of her.”

  Okay, so he’d just told my family we were sleeping together, because we all knew that “taking care of” meant bathing, dressing, and so on. Maybe I had shouted in front of all his men that I wouldn’t sleep with him again, but that was different. For me, anyway. This was my parents, and this was the south, where of course such things went on, but you generally didn’t announce it to the world or your family. I expected Dad to take him by the arm and lead him out again, for another little talk, but instead Dad nodded.

  “Tina, who better to take care of her than a cop?” he asked.

  “He has a list of transgressions two pages long,” she replied, indicating her doubt that he was capable of taking care of me.

  “He also has a gun.”

  “There is that,” Mom said, and turned to me. “You’re going with him.”



  “You know,” I said as Wyatt drove me to his place after stopping to get my prescriptions filled, “this guy saw your car, and it has ‘cop’ written all over it. Who else drives a Crown Vic—I mean, who under the age of sixty drives a Crown Vic except for cops?”


  “You kissed me there in the parking lot, remember? So he might very well figure we have a thing, you’re a cop, and work it from there. How hard can it be?”

  “We have over two hundred people in the department; narrowing down which one I am could take time. Then he’d have to find me. My home phone number isn’t listed, and sure as hell no one in the department would give out information on me or any other member. If anyone wants to contact me about work, they call this,” he said, tapping his cell phone. “And it’s registered with the city.”

  “All right,” I conceded. “I’m safer at your place. Not tota
lly safe, but safer.” Someone was trying to kill me. Despite my best efforts not to think about it just yet, the hard truth of that was pushing in on me. I knew I’d have to come to grips with it pretty soon—say, sometime tomorrow. I’d been sort of expecting it . . . not really, but the possibility had been in the back of my mind . . . but I hadn’t factored in the shock of actually being shot. That was totally unexpected.

  Just like that—boom!—my life had gone out of control. I couldn’t go home, I didn’t have my clothes with me, I was in pain, I felt weak and shaky, and God only knew what would happen to my business. I needed to get that control back.

  I looked over at Wyatt. He was driving out of the city proper; we had left all the streetlights behind, so his face was lit only by the dash lights, and I shivered a little at how tough he looked. This whole situation with him was out of control, too. I’d tried my best to put on the brakes, and instead here I was, going home with him. He’d seen an opportunity and grabbed it, though I was really surprised, considering how pissed he’d been about my list.

  Who would have thought a little thing like that would annoy him so much? Touchy, touchy. And here I was, totally at his mercy. There wouldn’t be anyone else around—

  I had a horrible thought. “How are you at doing hair?”

  “What?” he asked, as if I’d said something in a foreign language.

  “Hair. You’ll have to do my hair.”

  He gave a quick glance at my hair. “You were wearing it in a ponytail Thursday night. I can do that.”

  Okay, that was acceptable, and was probably best until I was more functional. “That’ll do. I don’t even have my hair dryer with me, anyway. It’s still in my car.”

  “I got your bag. It’s in back with mine.”

  I could have kissed him, I was so relieved. Most of the clothes in the bag needed washing, of course, but to be on the safe side I’d taken an extra outfit to the beach. I had underwear, something to sleep in, and even makeup if I felt like putting some on. I had my birth control pills, thank God, though I figured I was safe from him tonight, at least. All in all, things were looking up. Until Siana could pack more clothes for me tomorrow and meet Wyatt with them, I had enough to get by.

  We’d been driving for miles, and now there was nothing around except for the occasional house, but they were spaced far apart. I was getting impatient to get there and see how this was going to work out. “Where on earth do you live?”

  “We’re almost there. I was making certain no one followed us, so I’ve been taking some extra turns. I live just inside the city limits.”

  I was dying to see his house. I had no idea what to expect, and part of me was braced for the typical bachelor den. He had made some money playing pro ball; he could have built anything from a log-cabin-style lodge to a fake château.

  “I’m surprised you don’t live with your mother,” I said, and I was. Mrs. Bloodsworth was a nice old lady with a wicked sense of humor, and Lord knows she had enough room to house half the block in that big old Victorian she loved.

  “Why? You don’t live with your mother,” he pointed out.

  “It’s different for women.”

  “How so?”

  “We don’t need anyone to cook for us or pick up after us or do the laundry for us.”

  “News flash, honey: I don’t either.”

  “You do your own laundry?”

  “It’s not exactly rocket science, is it? I can read labels and set the controls on a washer.”

  “And cook? You can actually cook?” I was getting excited.

  “Nothing fancy, but yeah, I can get by.” He glanced at me. “What about it?”

  “Think, Lieutenant. Do you remember eating at any time during the past”—I checked the time on the dashboard clock—“five hours? I’m starving.”

  “I heard you had a cookie.”

  “Fig Newton. I had four of them, and it was an emergency. That doesn’t qualify as eating.”

  “It’s four Fig Newtons more than I’ve had, so to me it qualifies.”

  “That’s beside the point. Feeding me is now your duty.”

  His lips twitched. “Duty? How do you figure that?”

  “You commandeered me, didn’t you?”

  “Some people might think it was more along the lines of saving your life.”

  “Details. Mom would have fed me extremely well. You took me away from her, so now you have to step up to the plate.”

  “Interesting woman, your mother. You came by the attitude honestly, didn’t you?”

  “What attitude?” I asked in bewilderment.

  He reached across and patted my knee. “It doesn’t matter. Your dad told me his secret to handling you.”

  “He didn’t!” I was appalled. Dad wouldn’t have sided with the enemy, would he? Of course, he didn’t know Wyatt was the enemy. For all I knew, Wyatt had told him we were engaged or something and that was why Dad hadn’t batted an eye about Wyatt taking me home with him.

  “Of course he did. We men have to stick together, you know.”

  “He wouldn’t do that! He never told Jason any secret. There isn’t any secret. You just made that up.”

  “Did not.”

  I fished out my cell phone and furiously punched in Mom and Dad’s number. Wyatt reached over and neatly confiscated the phone, punching the end button, then slipping it in his pocket.

  “Give me that!” I was seriously hampered by my wounded arm, since he was sitting to my left. I tried to turn in the seat, but I couldn’t move my arm much at all and it sort of got in the way, and I bumped my shoulder against the back of the seat. For a moment I saw stars.

  “Easy, honey, easy.” Wyatt’s crooning voice reached me through the waves of pain, but it was coming from the right, which was very disorienting.

  I took a few deep breaths and opened my eyes, and found that his voice was coming from the right because he was leaning into the car from the open passenger door. The car was stopped in a driveway, the motor still running, and a dark house loomed in front of us.

  “Are you going to pass out on me?” he asked as he gently straightened me in the seat.

  “No, but I might throw up on you,” I answered honestly, and let my head drop back while I closed my eyes again. The nausea and pain receded at the same rate.

  “Try not to.”

  “It was probably an empty threat. I haven’t eaten, remember?”

  “Except for four Fig Newtons.”

  “They’re long gone. You’re safe.”

  He brushed his hand over my forehead. “Good deal.” He closed the car door, then came back around and got behind the wheel.

  “Isn’t this your house?” I asked in confusion. Had he pulled into the first driveway he came to?

  “Sure is, but I’ll park in the garage.” He hit a button on the garage-door opener clipped to the sun visor, and simultaneously an exterior light came on and a double garage door in the side of the house began sliding upward. He put the car in gear and pulled forward, then turned to the right and smoothly slotted the car into its place. He punched the button again, and the door began sliding down behind us.

  His garage was neat, which impressed me. Garages tend to be catchalls, getting choked with everything except the cars they were meant to house. Not Wyatt’s. To my right was a tool bench, with one of those big, red, multidrawered tool chests like mechanics have parked off to one side. An array of hammers, saws, and other guy stuff hung neatly on the pegboard wall. I stared at them, wondering if he knew what to do with all of them. Men and their toys. Huh.

  “I have a hammer, too,” I told him.

  “I bet you do.”

  I hate being condescended to. You could tell he thought my hammer was nowhere in the ballpark with his collection. “It’s pink.”

  He froze in the act of getting out of the car, staring at me with an appalled expression. “That’s perverted. That’s just not right.”

  “Oh, please. There’s no law that says a tool h
as to be ugly.”

  “Tools aren’t ugly. They’re strong and functional. They look like they mean business. They aren’t pink.”

  “Mine is, and it’s just as good as yours. It isn’t as big, but it does the job. I bet you’re against women joining the police force, too, aren’t you?”

  “Of course not. What does that have to do with a friggin’ pink hammer?”

  “Women are mostly prettier than men and mostly not as big, but that doesn’t mean they can’t get the job done, does it?”

  “We’re talking hammers here, not people!” He got out of the car and slammed the door, then stalked around to my side.

  I opened the door and raised my voice so he could hear me. “I think your aversion to a tool that’s attractive as well as functional—mmmph.” I glared at him over the hand he’d clapped over my mouth.

  “Give it a rest. We’ll argue about hammers when you don’t look like you’re about to fall over.” He raised his eyebrows in question, waiting for me to agree, and he kept his hand over my mouth while he waited.

  Disgruntled, I nodded, and he removed his hand, then released my seat belt and gently lifted me out of the car. He hadn’t thought this through, because if he had, he would have unlocked the door leading into the house before he picked me up, but he handled it with only a little juggling. I couldn’t help him because my right arm was trapped between my body and his, and my left arm was useless. Tomorrow I would be able to use it a little, but I knew from experience that right after a trauma the damaged muscle just refuses to work.

  He got me inside, turning on light switches with his elbow, and deposited me in a chair in a breakfast nook. “Don’t try to get up for any reason. I’ll get the bags out of the car, then carry you wherever you want to go.”

  He disappeared down the short hallway that led into the garage, and I wondered if the doctor had told him something about my condition that hadn’t been passed along to me, because I was perfectly capable of walking. Yes, I had gone all woozy in the car, but that was because I’d hit my arm. Other than feeling a little shaky—and my arm hurting like blue blazes—I was okay. The shaky feeling would be gone tomorrow, because this was how I always felt when I gave blood. It wasn’t even bad shaky, just a little shaky. So what was up with the “Don’t try to get up for any reason?”

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