To Die For by Linda Howard

  Hah! The phone.

  I looked around and saw an actual corded phone hanging on the wall, with a really long cord that would reach anywhere in the kitchen. Please. Why not just get a cordless? The units are so much more attractive.

  I already had the number dialed and it was ringing by the time Wyatt, carrying both bags, reappeared at the other end of the little hallway. I gave him a “you didn’t fool me” smirk, and he rolled his eyes.

  “Daddy,” I said when Dad answered the phone. I call him Daddy when I mean business, sort of like using someone’s full name. “Just what did you say to Wyatt that he thinks is the secret to handling me? How could you?” I was in full indignant wail by the time I finished.

  Dad burst out laughing. “It’s okay, baby.” He calls all of us baby because, well, we did used to be his babies. He never calls Mom that, though. Uh-uh. He knows better. “It’s nothing that’ll undermine you; it was just something he needed to know right now.”

  “Like what?”

  “He’ll tell you.”

  “Probably not. He’s stubborn that way.”

  “No, he’ll tell you this. I promise.”

  “You’ll beat him up for me if he doesn’t?” That was an old Dad-joke, that he’d beat up any man who made any of his girls unhappy. That’s why I didn’t tell him about Jason kissing Jenni, because I figured in that case he would really do it.

  “No, but I’ll beat him up if he hurts you.”

  Reassured, I said good-bye and turned to find Wyatt leaning against the cabinets with his arms crossed, regarding me with amusement. “He didn’t tell you, did he?”

  “He said you would, and that he’d beat you up if you didn’t.” So I stretched the truth a little. Wyatt hadn’t been able to hear what Dad had actually said.

  “It wasn’t anything bad.” Straightening, he went to the refrigerator. “How about some breakfast? That’s the fastest thing I can do. Eggs, bacon, toast.”

  “That sounds great. What can I do to help?”

  “With that arm, not much. Sit down and stay out of the way. That’ll be a big help.”

  I sat, and looked around the breakfast nook and kitchen while he got out what he needed and started the bacon cooking in the microwave. To my surprise, the kitchen looked kind of old. The appliances were top-notch and fairly new and there was an island with a cooktop occupied the center, but the room itself had that solid, established feel to it.

  “How old is this house?”

  “Turn of the century. The last century. So it’s a little over a hundred years old. It was a farmhouse, and it’s been remodeled a couple of times. When I bought it, I did a major remodeling, tore down some interior walls, opened it up for a more modern look, added a couple of bathrooms. There are three bathrooms upstairs, a half bath down here. It’s a nice-size house, a little over three thousand square feet. I’ll show you around tomorrow.”

  “How many bedrooms?”

  “Four. There used to be six small ones, with just one bathroom, so I took that extra space to make the other bathrooms and enlarge the bedrooms and closets. That’ll make it easier to sell if I ever decide to move.”

  “Why would you?” That was a lot of room for just one person, but from what I could see, there was a nice, homey feel to it. The kitchen cabinets were a warm golden color, the countertops were a greenish granite, and the floor was polished pine with colorful rugs strewn about. It wasn’t a fancy kitchen, despite the granite, but one that looked well-arranged and comfortable.

  He shrugged. “This is my hometown and I’m comfortable here, plus this is where my family is, but a better job may open up somewhere else. You never know. I may spend the rest of my life here; I may not.”

  It was a sensible outlook and one I held myself. I loved my home, but who knew what might happen? A smart person was flexible.

  In short order he had plates of scrambled eggs, bacon, and toast set on the table, with glasses of milk poured for both of us. He also opened the bottle of antibiotic pills and put two of them beside my plate, plus one of the pain relievers.

  I didn’t fuss about taking the pain reliever. I’m no idiot. I wanted to quit hurting.

  By the time I finished eating, I was yawning. Wyatt rinsed the plates and put them in the dishwasher, then plucked me out of my chair and sat down in it himself, with me in his lap.

  “What?” I asked, surprised by my perch. I’m not much for sitting on men’s laps—it strikes me as ungainly—but Wyatt was tall enough that our faces were level and his arm around my back was wonderfully supporting.

  “Your dad said that when you get scared, you get mouthy. How mouthy and demanding you get is in direct proportion to how scared you are.” His big hand rubbed my back. “He said it’s how you cope until you aren’t as scared anymore.”

  It’s no secret in my family, that’s for sure. I let myself lean against him. “I was petrified.”

  “All except for your mouth.” He chuckled. “Here we were, conducting a search for an armed murderer, and I hear you behind the car loudly demanding a cookie.”

  “I wasn’t loud.”

  “You were loud. I thought I’d have to kick my men’s asses to make them stop snickering.”

  “It’s tough to get my mind around the fact that someone tried to kill me. It’s impossible. Things like that just don’t happen. I live a nice, quiet life, and within the space of a few days everything has turned upside down. I want my nice, quiet life back. I want you to catch this guy, and do it now.”

  “We will. We’ll get this nailed. MacInnes and Forester were working all weekend, following leads. They have a couple of good ones.”

  “Is it Nicole’s boyfriend?”

  “I can’t say.”

  “You don’t know, or you literally can’t say?”

  “I literally can’t talk about an ongoing investigation.” He kissed my temple. “Let’s get you upstairs and tucked into bed.”

  It’s a good thing I fully expected him to take me to his bedroom instead of one of the guest rooms, because that’s exactly what he did. I could have walked, even gone up the stairs, but he seemed to want to carry me around and, hey, why not? He set me down in the roomy master bathroom, with its double vanity, garden tub, and large shower. “I’ll get your bag. The towels and washcloths are in there,” he said, pointing to the door of the linen closet.

  I got a towel and washcloth, and managed to untie the neck of the hospital gown with just my right hand. I couldn’t manage the second tie, though, which was halfway down my back. Didn’t matter. I let the huge thing drop off of me, and stepped out of the circle of fabric.

  I surveyed my half-naked form in the mirror. Ugh. My left arm was mostly orange with Betadine, but there were still dried streaks of blood on my back and under my arm. I wet the washcloth and had removed all the blood I could reach by the time Wyatt returned. He took the cloth from me and finished the job, then helped me out of the rest of my clothes. It was a good thing I had gotten used to being naked with him, or I’d have been embarrassed. I looked longingly at the shower, but that was off-limits. The tub, though, was an option. “I could take a tub bath,” I said with obvious hope.

  He didn’t even argue. Instead he ran the water, and helped me into it. While I was happily soaking, he stripped down himself and took a quick shower.

  I leaned back in the tub and watched as he stepped out and toweled dry. A naked Wyatt Bloodsworth was a fine sight, broad-shouldered and slim-hipped, with long, muscled legs and a very nice package. Even better, he knew how to use that package.

  “Have you finished lolling around?” he asked.

  I can loll with the best of them, but I had finished bathing, so I nodded and he helped me to stand, then steadied me to make certain I didn’t slip as I stepped out of the big tub. I could have dried myself one-handed, maybe a bit awkwardly, but he took the towel and gently wiped me down, then got my toiletries out of the duffel so I could tone and moisturize. Skin care is important, even when a murderer is
after you.

  I had a T-shirt to sleep in, but when I dug it out, I saw that no way was it going to go over the bulk of that huge bandage, not to mention I couldn’t lift my arm to put it on anyway.

  “I’ll get one of my shirts,” Wyatt said, and disappeared into the big walk-in closet that opened off the bedroom. He came back with a button-up white dress shirt, and gently worked the sleeve up over my arm. The shirt hung halfway down my thighs, and the shoulder seams drooped down my arms. He had to put three turns into the cuffs before my hands poked out. I turned in front of the mirror and checked out the fit. I just love the way men’s shirts look on women.

  “Yes, you look hot,” he said, smiling. He slipped his hand under the shirt and rested it on my bare butt. “If you’re a good girl for the rest of the night, tomorrow I’ll kiss your neck and make you happy.”

  “No neck kissing. Remember our deal. We aren’t having sex again.”

  “That’s your deal, not mine.” Then he picked me up and took me to bed. He settled me between the covers of the king-size bed, I rolled onto my right side, and it was Lights Out, Blair.



  I woke some hours later shivering with cold, hurting, and generally miserable. I couldn’t get comfortable no matter how I squirmed. Wyatt woke and stretched to turn on the lamp, and mellow light flooded the room. “What’s wrong?” he asked, putting his hand on my face. “Ah.”

  “Ah, what?” I asked fretfully as he got out of bed and walked into the bathroom.

  He came back with a glass of water and two tablets. “You’re feverish. The doctor said you probably would be. Take these; then I’ll get another pain pill for you.”

  I sat up to take the two tablets, then huddled under the covers until he came back with the other pill. After I took it, he turned out the light and got back into bed, cuddling me close and sharing his body warmth with me. I pressed my nose against his shoulder, inhaling the heat and scent, and my heart turned over. No doubt about it: he cranked my tractor. I could probably be near death and he’d still turn me on.

  I was still too cold and uncomfortable to go back to sleep, so I decided I might as well talk.

  “Why did you get divorced?”

  “I wondered when you’d get around to that,” he observed in a lazy tone.

  “Do you mind talking about it? Just until I get sleepy?”

  “No, it’s no big deal. She filed for divorce the day I quit pro ball. She thought I was crazy to walk out on millions of dollars to be a cop.”

  “Not many people would disagree with her.”

  “Do you?”

  “Well, see, I’m from your hometown, so I’ve read the articles in the newspaper and I know that being a cop was what you always wanted, that you majored in criminal justice in college. I would have expected it. She was surprised, I take it?”

  “Big-time. I don’t blame her. She signed on to be the wife of a pro football player, with the money and the glamour, not the wife of a cop, with never enough money and never knowing if he’s going to come home or die on the job.”

  “You didn’t talk about the future before you got married? What you wanted?”

  He snorted. “I was twenty-one when we got married; she was twenty. At that age, the future is something that happens in five minutes, not five years. Throw in rioting hormones, and there you go, one divorce in the making. It just took us a couple of years to get there. She was a good kid, but we wanted different things out of life.”

  “But everyone knows—everyone assumes—you made millions while you were playing ball. Wasn’t that enough?”

  “I did make millions—I had four of them when I quit, to be exact. That didn’t exactly turn me into Donald Trump, but it was enough to turn things around for the family. I took care of all the repairs and renovations on Mom’s home, set up college funds for my sister’s kids, bought this place and remodeled it, then invested the rest. There wasn’t a huge amount left, but if I can leave it untouched until I retire, it should give me a comfortable retirement. I took a hit when the stock market bottomed out five, six years ago, but my stocks have come back all the way, so things look okay.”

  I yawned and settled my head more comfortably on his shoulder. “Why didn’t you buy a smaller place? One that didn’t need so much work?”

  “I really like the location, and I thought it would be a good house someday for a family.”

  “You want a family?” I was a little startled. That usually isn’t something you hear a bachelor say.

  “Sure. I’ll get married again someday, and two or three kids would be nice. What about you?”

  The bottom dropped out of my stomach, and it was a moment before I realized that wasn’t a very offhand proposal. The pain medication must be kicking in, if I was getting that punchy. “Sure, I want to get married again,” I said sleepily. “And have a munchkin. I have the perfect setup. I could take a baby with me to work, because it’s my business and it’s an informal, relaxed setting. There’s music, no television, and lots of adult supervision. What could be better?”

  “You have it all planned out, huh?”

  “Well, no. I’m neither married nor pregnant, so everything is still hypothetical. And I’m flexible. If circumstances change, I’ll adjust.”

  He said something else, but I was in the middle of another yawn and missed it. “What?” I asked when I could talk.

  “Never mind.” He kissed my temple. “You’re fading fast. I thought it would take the pill half an hour or so to work.”

  “I didn’t get much sleep last night,” I mumbled. “Accumulative effect.” He was the reason I hadn’t had much sleep the night before, because he kept waking me every couple of hours to have sex. My toes curled at the memory, and for a moment I flashed to how it felt when his big body settled on mine. Wow. I definitely wasn’t cold now.

  I wanted to climb on top of him and take care of matters, but I’d told him no sex, so I couldn’t violate my own edict. Probably I should have put on underwear before getting in bed with him, though, because of course the shirt had ridden up to my waist. That’s what shirts do when you sleep in them. He’d been very gentlemanly, not feeling me up or anything, but that was only because I was hurt. I expected that would change, because being a gentleman was probably a strain for him. Not that he didn’t have great manners, because he did, but his instincts were aggressive and competitive. That was what had made him such a good athlete. Besides the physical ability, he had that ruthless drive to come out on top. I wondered how long he would be considerate because of my arm.

  I went to sleep on that thought, and found out the answer around six in the morning when he gently turned me on my back and settled between my legs. I was barely awake when he started, but wide awake when he finished. He was careful with my arm, but ruthless in his attack on my neck.

  When he finally let me up, I stormed into the bathroom. “That was so not fair!” Delicious, but not fair. “That was a sneak attack!”

  He was laughing when I slammed the door. Just to be on the safe side, I also locked it. He could use one of the other bathrooms.

  I definitely felt better this morning, not as shaky, and the pain in my arm was more of a dull throb now. Checking myself in the mirror, I saw that I didn’t even look pale. How could I, when Wyatt had just done me? My cheeks were flushed and it wasn’t from fever.

  I cleaned up, then rummaged one-handed through my duffel, which was still parked in the middle of the bathroom floor. I found my clean underwear and managed to pull it on, then brushed my teeth and hair. That was the limit of what I could do by myself, though. My clean clothes were wrinkled and needed to be run through the clothes dryer, but even if they had been newly pressed, I couldn’t have coped. I couldn’t put on a bra. I could move my arm a little more this morning, but not enough to extend to dressing.

  I unlocked the door and stomped out. He was nowhere to be seen. Just how did he expect me to harangue him if he didn’t stay where he could hea
r me?

  Fuming, I gathered my clean clothes in my right arm and went downstairs. The stairs led me to a great room with ten-foot ceilings, leather furniture, and the required big-screen television. There wasn’t a plant in sight.

  The smell of coffee made me turn to the left, which led through the breakfast room and into the kitchen. Wyatt, barefoot and shirtless, was busy at the cooktop. I looked at that muscled back and brawny arms, the deep furrow of his spine and the slight indentations on each side, just above the waistband of his jeans, and my heart turned over again. I was in deep trouble here, and not just because some idiot murderer was after me.

  “Where’s the laundry room?” I asked.

  He pointed to a door that opened off the short hall leading to the garage. “Need any help?”

  “I can manage. I just need to get the wrinkles out of my clothes.” I went into the laundry room and put my clothes in the dryer, then turned it on. Then I went back to the kitchen and took up the battle. Well, first I poured myself a cup of coffee, using the cup he had set out for me. A woman needs to be alert when she’s dealing with a man as underhanded and sneaky as Wyatt Bloodsworth.

  “You have to stop doing that.”

  “Doing what?” he asked as he flipped a buckwheat pancake.

  “The sneak attacks. I told you no.”

  “You didn’t tell me no while I was doing it. You said some interesting things, but no wasn’t among them.”

  My cheeks got hot, but I brushed that aside with a wave of my hand. “What I say during doesn’t count. It’s that chemistry thing, and you shouldn’t take advantage of it.”

  “Why not?” He turned aside and lifted his own coffee cup. He was smiling.

  “It’s almost date rape.”

  He spewed coffee all over the floor. Thank goodness he’d turned away from the pancakes. Outraged, he glared at me. “Don’t you even start down that road, because it isn’t funny. Date rape, my ass. We have a deal, and you know it. All you have to do is say no and I’ll stop. So far, you haven’t said it.”

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