To Die For by Linda Howard

  “I said a blanket no beforehand.”

  “Those aren’t our rules of engagement. You can’t stop me before I get started. You have to say it after I’ve made a move on you, to prove you really don’t want me.” He was still scowling, but he turned to rescue the pancakes before they burned. He buttered them, then got a paper towel and mopped up the coffee. Then he very calmly went back to the skillet he was using and poured more batter into it.

  “That’s the point! You keep short-circuiting my brain, and it isn’t fair. It’s not as if I can short-circuit your brain, too.”

  “Want to bet?”

  “Then why are you winning and I’m losing?” I wailed.

  “Because you want me, and you’re just being stubborn.”

  “Hah. Hah! Using that logic, your brain should be just as fried as mine if we were on the same footing, in which case you wouldn’t be winning all the time. But you are, so that means you don’t want me.” Okay, I knew there were holes in the argument, but it was all I could think of to sidetrack him.

  He cocked his head. “Wait a minute. Are you saying I’m fucking you because I don’t want you?”

  Trust him to immediately see the holes, and drive a verbal truck through the argument. I didn’t see anywhere to go with that, so I backtracked. “The thing is, whatever the reasoning, I don’t want to have sex anymore. You should respect that.”

  “I will. When you say no.”

  “I’m saying no now.”

  “Now doesn’t count. You have to wait until I touch you.”

  “Who made these stupid-ass rules?” I bellowed, frustrated beyond control.

  He grinned. “I did.”

  “Well, I’m not playing by them, understand? Flip the pancakes.”

  He glanced at the skillet and flipped the pancakes. “You can’t change the rules just because you’re losing.”

  “Yes, I can. I can go home and not see you again.”

  “You can’t go home, because someone’s trying to kill you.”

  There was that. Fuming, I sat down at the table, which he had already set with two places.

  He walked over with the spatula in his hand, and bent down to kiss me warmly on the mouth. “You’re still scared, aren’t you? That’s what this is all about.”

  Just wait until I saw Dad again. I was going to tell him a thing or two about giving information to the enemy camp.

  “Yes. No. It doesn’t matter. I still have a valid point.”

  He ruffled my hair, then returned to his pancakes.

  I could see arguing with him wasn’t going to work. Somehow, I’d have to keep my wits about me enough to tell him no when he got started again, but how could I do that if he kept jumping me when I was asleep? By the time I was awake enough to think, it was already too late because by then I didn’t want to say no.

  He took the bacon out of the microwave, divided it between our plates, then dished out the buttery pancakes. Before sitting down, he freshened our cups of coffee, and also got a glass of water for me and set out the antibiotic and a pain pill.

  I took both pills. Though my arm felt better, I wanted to stay ahead of the pain.

  “What am I doing today?” I asked as I dug into breakfast. “Staying here while you go to work?”

  “Nope. Not until you can use that arm. I’m taking you to my mother’s house. I’ve already called her.”

  “Cool.” I liked his mother, and I really wanted to see the inside of that giant Victorian she lived in. “I assume I can talk to my family whenever I want, right?”

  “I don’t see why not. You just can’t go see them, and I don’t want them coming to see you, either, because they could lead this guy straight to you.”

  “I don’t see why y’all are having such a hard time finding out who he is. He has to be a boyfriend.”

  “Don’t tell me how to do my job,” he warned. “She didn’t have an exclusive relationship going on. We’ve checked out the guys she was dating, and they’re clear. There are some other angles we’re exploring.”

  “It wasn’t drugs, or anything like that.” I ignored his rude comment about telling him how to do his job.

  He looked up. “How do you figure?”

  “She belonged to Great Bods, remember? She didn’t have any of the signs, and she was in good shape. Not great; she couldn’t have done a backflip if her life had depended on it, but she wasn’t a druggie, either. It has to be a boyfriend. She came on to all the guys, so I figure it’s a jealousy thing. I can talk to my employees, find out if they noticed anything—”

  “No. Stay out of it. That’s an order. We’ve already interviewed all your employees.”

  Insulted that he seemed to be totally dismissing my views on the subject, I finished eating in silence. Typical man, he didn’t like that either.

  “Stop sulking.”

  “I’m not sulking. Realizing that there’s no point in talking is not the same as sulking.”

  The dryer dinged, and I got my clothes out while he cleaned up the table. “Go on upstairs,” he said. “I’ll be up in a minute to help you get dressed.”

  He came up while I was brushing my teeth again, because pancakes make my teeth feel sticky, and he stood beside me at the vanity, using the other basin while he did the same. Brushing our teeth together made me feel strange. That was something married people did. I wondered if one day I’d do all my tooth-brushing here in this bathroom, or if some other woman would be standing in my place.

  He crouched down and held my capri pants for me, and I balanced myself with one hand on his shoulder while I stepped into them. He zipped and buttoned, then eased his shirt off me and slipped my bra in place and hooked it.

  My blouse was sleeveless, which was good, but the bandage was so big the armhole was just barely big enough. He had to tug the cloth across it, which had me wincing and mentally thanking Dr. MacDuff for the dope. He buttoned the tiny buttons that marched up the front of the blouse, then I sat on the bed and eased my feet into sandals. I continued to sit there, watching him as he dressed. The suit, the white dress shirt, the tie. The shoulder holster. The badge. The handcuffs clipped to the back of his belt. The cell phone clipped to the front. Oh, man. My heart was jumping like crazy, just watching him.

  “Are you ready?” he asked.

  “No. You haven’t put up my hair yet.” I could have gone with it down, since I wasn’t working out today, but I was still pissed at him.

  “Okay.” He got the brush, and I turned so he could gather my hair in a ponytail at the back of my head. When he had it all caught in one hand, he said, “What do I put around it?”

  “A scrunchie.”

  “A whatie?”

  “Scrunchie. Don’t tell me you don’t have a scrunchie.”

  “I don’t even know what the hell a scrunchie is.”

  “It’s what you use to hold up ponytails. Duh.”

  “I haven’t worn a ponytail lately,” he said drily. “Will a rubber band do?”

  “No! Rubber bands break the hair. It has to be a scrunchie.”

  “Where do I get a scrunchie?”

  “Look in my bag.”

  He was very still behind me. After a few seconds, without saying a word, he let go of my hair and went into the bathroom. Now that he couldn’t see me, I grinned to myself.

  “What the hell,” he said about half a minute later, “does a scrunchie look like?”

  “Like a big rubber band with cloth on it.”

  More silence. Finally he came out of the bathroom with my white scrunchie in his hand. “Is this it?”

  I nodded.

  He started the process of gathering my hair again.

  “Put the scrunchie on your wrist,” I directed. “Then you can just slide it off around the ponytail.”

  His thick wrist just about stretched my scrunchie to the limits, but he grasped the theory at once and got my hair in a decent ponytail without any more delay. I went into the bathroom and checked out the results. “That’s go
od. I think I can go without earrings today, if that’s all right with you.”

  He rolled his eyes up to the ceiling. “Thank you, Lord.”

  “Don’t be sarcastic. This was your idea, remember.”

  As we went down the stairs, I heard him mutter behind me, “You little shit,” and I grinned to myself again. It was good that he knew I’d got back at him, because otherwise what would be the point?



  I loved Mrs. Bloodsworth’s house. It was white, the gingerbread and trim were painted lavender, and her front door was robin’s egg blue. You have to respect, and possibly fear, any woman who has the guts to paint her house those colors. The porch, which wrapped around two sides of the house, was wide and gracious, filled with ferns and palms, and ceiling fans had been installed to provide a breeze whenever nature fell down on the job. Roses of various hues provided explosions of color. Dark green gardenia bushes, heavy with the fragrant white blooms, punctuated each side of the wide steps leading up to the porch.

  Wyatt didn’t park so we could go up the front walk, though; he continued down the driveway and parked behind the house. I was escorted to the back door, which opened into a small back foyer and then into the kitchen, which had been modernized without sacrificing the style. His mother was waiting for us there.

  Roberta Bloodsworth wasn’t the type of woman who is ever described as matronly. She was tall and slim, with a short, chic hairstyle. Wyatt had inherited his sharp green eyes from her, and his dark hair. Hers wasn’t dark now, though; instead of doing gray, she’d gone blond. As early as it was, not even eight o’clock, she already had on makeup and earrings. She hadn’t dressed up, though; she was wearing tan walking shorts with an untucked aqua T-shirt, and regular flip-flops. Her toenails were painted fire-engine red, and the left foot sported a toe ring.

  She was my kind of woman.

  “Blair, honey, I couldn’t believe it when Wyatt said you’d been shot,” she said, putting a careful arm around me for a hug. “How are you feeling? Would you like some coffee, or hot tea?”

  Just like that, I was in the mood to be mothered. Since my own mom was forbidden to do it, Wyatt’s mom had stepped into the breach. “Tea sounds wonderful,” I said fervently, and she immediately turned to the sink to fill an old-fashioned kettle with water and put it on the stove to start heating.

  Wyatt frowned. “I’d have made tea for you if you’d said you wanted it. I thought you liked coffee.”

  “I do like coffee, but I like tea, too. And I’ve already had coffee.”

  “Tea gives you a feeling that coffee doesn’t,” Mrs. Bloodsworth explained. “You just sit at the table, Blair, and don’t try to do anything. You must still be feeling shaky.”

  “I’m a lot better than I was last night,” I said as I obeyed her and took a seat at the wooden kitchen table. “I actually feel fairly normal today. Last night was—” I made a rocking motion with my hand.

  “I imagine so. Wyatt, you go on to work. You need to catch that creep and you can’t do it standing in my kitchen. Blair will be just fine.”

  He seemed reluctant to leave. “If you have to go anywhere, she should probably stay here,” he said to his mother. “I don’t want her seen out in public right now.”

  “I know; you’ve already told me.”

  “She doesn’t need to do anything strenuous, after losing that much blood yesterday.”

  “I know; you’ve already told me.”

  “She’ll probably try to talk you into—”

  “Wyatt! I know!” she said in exasperation. “We went over all of this on the phone. Do you think I’ve gone senile?”

  He was smart enough to say, “Of course not. It’s just—”

  “It’s just you being overprotective. I get it. Blair and I will do just fine, and I’ll exercise my God-given common sense by not parading her down the middle of Main Street, okay?”

  “Okay.” He grinned and kissed her cheek, then came to me and rubbed his hand down my back before squatting beside me. “Try to stay out of trouble while I’m gone,” he said.

  “Excuse me, but how is any of this my fault?”

  “It isn’t, but you do have a talent for the unexpected.” He reversed the direction of his hand, sweeping it up my spine to brush the side of my neck with his thumb, then laughing at my alarmed expression. “Be good, will you? I’ll check in during the day, and pick you up late this afternoon.”

  He kissed me, tugged on my ponytail, then rose to his feet and went to the back door. Pausing there with his hand on the doorknob, he looked again at his mother, and this time he was wearing his cop face. “Take very good care of her, because she’s the mother of your future grandchildren.”

  “I am not!” I shrieked after a split second of pure shock.

  “I thought so,” his mother said at the same time.

  He was out the door by the time I got there. I wrenched it open and yelled at him, “I am not! That is so underhanded, and you know you’re lying!”

  He paused with the car door open. “Last night, did we or did we not talk about having children?”

  “Yes, but not each other’s!”

  “Don’t fool yourself, honey,” he advised, then got in the car and drove away.

  I was so mad I did a Rumpelstiltskin, punctuating each stomp with “Shit!” and of course the jumping up and down hurt my arm, so it went like this: “Shit! Ow! Shit! Shit! Shit! Ow!”

  Then I realized I was doing this in front of his mother, and I turned a horrified look on her. “Omigod, I’m so sorry—”

  Except she was leaning against the sink laughing her head off. “You should have seen yourself! ’Shit! Ow! Shit! Ow!’ I wish I’d had a video camera.”

  I could feel my face burning. “I’m so sorry—” I began again.

  “For what? Do you think I’ve never said ‘shit’ before, or a lot worse? Besides, it does me good to see a woman not rolling over for Wyatt, if you know what I mean. It’s against the natural order of the world for a man to always get what he wants, and Wyatt always has.”

  Holding my arm, I went back to the table. “Not really. His wife divorced him.”

  “And he walked away without a single backward look. It was his way or nothing, no compromising. She—her name is Megan, by the way, but I don’t know her last name because she remarried within the year—always deferred to him. I suppose she had stars in her eyes because he was this big football star, and as rough and dirty as football is, the NFL is a glamour job. She didn’t understand it and couldn’t handle it when, without talking things over with her, he quit playing ball and walked away from everything she expected out of life. What she wanted didn’t matter to him. It’s always been like that; he’s never had to work for a woman, and it has driven me crazy. So it’s nice to see someone standing up to him.”

  “For all the good it’s doing,” I said glumly. “He seems to be winning every battle.”

  “But at least there is a battle, and he’s aware there’s resistance. What made you so mad about what he said?”

  “Because he’s trying to do an end run around me, and I’m not certain it means anything. I told him ‘no’—for all the good it did—and he’s so frickin’ competitive it’s like waving a red flag at a bull. So did he say that because he loves me, or because he can’t stand to lose? I vote for number two, because he doesn’t know me well enough to love me, and I’ve told him that I don’t know how many times.”

  “Good for you.” The water for the tea began boiling, the kettle making a whistling sound. She turned off the stove, and the whistle slowly died while she put tea bags in two cups, then poured the hot water over the bags. “How do you take your tea?”

  “Two sugars, black.”

  She put sugar in mine, and sugar and cream in hers, then brought both cups to the table. I thanked her as she set my cup in front of me, and she sat down across from me. A thoughtful frown between her brows, she stirred her tea. “I think you’re handlin
g him exactly right. Make him work for you, and he’ll appreciate you a lot more.”

  “Like I said, he’s winning all the battles.” Dispirited, I sipped my hot tea.

  “Honey, ask him if he would rather have played in a hard, close-fought game, or a runaway. He loved the games where it was toe-to-toe until the very end, and he loved making those bone-crunching tackles to stop the ball carrier. He’d be bored within a week if you made things easy for him.”

  “He’s still winning all the time. It isn’t fair. I want to win every now and then.”

  “If he’s sneaky, you have to be sneakier.”

  “That’s like saying I have to be more of a Hun than Attila.” But I suddenly felt more cheerful, because I could do it. I might not win the battle of the neck, but there were other battles where we were more evenly matched.

  “I have faith in you,” Mrs. Bloodsworth said. “You’re a smart, savvy young woman; you have to be, to make such a success of Great Bods at your age. And you’re a hottie. He’s dying to get in your pants, but take my advice and don’t let him.”

  I managed to keep from choking on my tea. There was no way I was going to tell his mother he’d already been in my pants. I was sure my parents had already figured it out, since Wyatt insisted on taking me home with him last night, but I couldn’t admit it to his mother.

  Out of guilt, I steered the conversation away from Wyatt and my pants, and asked if she’d mind showing me through her house. It was a good choice. She beamed and jumped up, and we were off.

  My best guess is the house had at least twenty rooms, most of them with those lovely octagonal lines that must have been a nightmare to build. The formal parlor was done in cheerful yellow and white, the dining room had cream-and-green-striped wallpaper, with the table and chairs in a very dark wood. Each room had a very definite color scheme, and I had to admire her resourcefulness in coming up with so many different schemes, because after all there are only so many colors from which to choose. The entire house showed the love she had poured into it, the effort.

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