To Die For by Linda Howard

  “Is there anything I can do to help?” I asked, hoping there was, because it was getting kind of old just sitting around all day and letting someone wait on me.

  “One-handed?” she asked, and laughed. “Other than setting the table, I can’t think of a thing. Just come into the kitchen and keep me company. I don’t get to cook all that often now, with just me in the house. There’s no point, is there? I’ll eat a sandwich for supper, and sometimes in the winter I’ll open a can of soup, but food’s pretty boring if you don’t have company.”

  I followed her into the kitchen, and took a seat at the table. There was a formal dining room, of course, all true Victorians had them, but you could tell most of the Bloodsworth meals had been eaten at this very table. “You sound a little bored. Have you thought about rejoining Great Bods? We have some great new programs.”

  “I’ve thought about it, but you know how it is. Thinking about something and actually getting around to doing it are two different things. After my bicycle accident, I’m afraid I became a bit of a slug.”

  “Who took care of you when you were hurt?”

  “My daughter, Lisa. It was misery. The collarbone was bad enough, but the ribs—that was agony. I couldn’t move without hurting, and I couldn’t find a comfortable position, so I was constantly moving. My left arm is still weak, but I’ve been exercising it and I’m almost back up to normal. Six months! It’s ridiculous to take that long to recover, but I suppose that shows my age.”

  I snorted. It wasn’t an elegant sound, but it got my point across. “I’ve broken a collarbone, too, when I was on the high school cheerleading squad. I had to work hard to get back in shape for the next year. It’s a good thing the squad didn’t do pyramids and flying stunts for the basketball games, or I couldn’t have managed. Six months sounds like a good recovery time to me.”

  She smiled. “But I’m not doing handstands, am I? You were.”

  “Not then, I wasn’t. I couldn’t; my shoulder just wouldn’t hold up.”

  “Can you still do a handstand?”

  “Sure. And a backflip, cartwheel, splits. I try to work on my gymnastics at least twice a week.”

  “Could you teach me how to do a handstand?”

  “I don’t see why not. It’s balance and strength, and practice. You need to do some light weight-lifting to get your arm and shoulder stronger, though, before you start. The last thing you need is to fall and break something else.”

  “Agreed,” she said fervently.

  “I can do a one-handed handstand,” I said, bragging a little.

  “You can?” She turned from the stove and stared at my injured arm, wrapped in the blue-shawl sling. “Not now, you can’t.”

  “I probably can, because I use my right arm, since it’s strongest and because I’m right-handed. I always tuck my left arm behind my back, anyway, so it won’t wave around and upset my balance.”

  Well, the upshot of that conversation was that by the time the pork chops, green beans, mashed potatoes, and biscuits were finished, we were both dying to see if I could manage the handstand. Mrs. Bloodsworth kept saying no, I shouldn’t take the chance of injuring myself even more, since the stitches were new and I’d lost blood, things like that, but I pointed out that in a handstand what blood I had left would be rushing to my head, so I wasn’t likely to faint.

  “But you’re weak.”

  “I don’t feel weak. I was shaky last night, just a little shaky this morning, and now I feel fine.” To prove it, of course, then I had to do the handstand.

  She fussed around me like she wanted to stop me but didn’t know how, and at the same time I could tell she was really interested. We took the sling off my left arm, and though I could move the arm a little today, I still didn’t have a lot of range, so she moved it for me and tucked it behind my back. Then, in a stroke of genius, she tied the shawl around my hips and over the arm to keep it in position.

  I got on the other side of the table, away from the stove and in the wide entry into the dining room, so there was plenty of space. I bent over, placed my hand on the floor with my elbow braced against my right knee, centered my gravity over my arm, and slowly slowly slowly began to curl, lifting my feet off the ground.

  So that’s what Wyatt saw when he came in the back door. We’d been so engrossed we hadn’t heard the car in the driveway.

  “Holy shit!” he said, the words exploding out of him and making his mother and me both jump.

  That wasn’t a good thing, because it ruined my balance. I began to topple, Mrs. Bloodsworth grabbed for me, and Wyatt vaulted the table. Somehow he caught my legs, keeping me from tipping over, then wrapped a brawny arm around my waist and gently flipped me upright.

  There was nothing gentle about his tongue, though. “What in hell do you think you’re doing?” he roared at me, his face dark with temper, then turned to Mrs. Bloodsworth. “Mother, you’re supposed to stop her from doing something stupid, not help her!”

  “I was just showing—” I began.

  “I saw what you were ‘just’ doing! For God’s sake, Blair, you were shot just twenty-four hours ago! You lost a lot of blood! Tell me how, under those conditions, doing a handstand is even remotely reasonable?”

  “Since I did it, I’d say it was within the realm of possibility. If you hadn’t startled me, I’d have been just fine.” My tone was remarkably mild, because we had frightened him. I understood. I patted his arm. “Everything’s okay. Why don’t you just sit down and I’ll get you something to drink. Iced tea? Milk?”

  “You’ll be okay,” his mother said soothingly. “I know you had a scare, but really, we had everything under control.”

  “Under control? She—you . . .” He stopped sputtering and shook his head. “She isn’t any safer here than she would be at home. A broken neck can kill her just as dead as a bullet can. That’s it. I’m going to have to handcuff her to the vanity in the bathroom, and leave her at my house all day.”



  Needless to say, supper wasn’t a very cheerful occasion. We were mad at Wyatt, and he was mad at us. That didn’t interfere with my appetite; I had to rebuild my blood supply, you know.

  His mood didn’t improve when, as we were leaving after he’d helped his mother clean up the kitchen, she delivered a parting shot by hugging me and then saying, “Take my advice, honey, and don’t sleep with him.”

  “Gee, Mother, thanks,” he said sarcastically, which earned him a sniff and a cold shoulder.

  “I completely agree with you,” I told her.

  “Will you be back tomorrow?” she asked me.

  “No,” he sourly replied, even though she hadn’t asked him. “You’re a bad influence on each other. I’m going to chain her in the bathroom just like I said.”

  “I don’t want to go with you,” I said, scowling at him. “I want to stay with her.”

  “Tough. You’re going with me, and that’s that.” He clamped a strong hand around my right wrist and, on that note, hauled me out to the car.

  It was a silent drive to his house while I ruminated on what this latest show of temper meant. From him, not from us. I knew what was up with us, so there was no point in thinking about it.

  I’d scared him. Not just momentarily, as I’d thought at first, the way someone is startled by something unexpected, but all the way to the bone. He’d been stricken with fear.

  That was it, plain and simple. He’d seen me shot right in front of him; then the very next day he’d stashed me at what he thought was the safest place in town, his mother’s house, and after a stressful day he’d walked in to find me trying my level best, in his view, to break my neck or at least tear out all my new stitches.

  In my view, one adult apology deserved another. If he could do it, so could I.

  “I’m sorry,” I said. “I didn’t mean to scare you, and we shouldn’t have teamed up on you.”

  He gave me a brooding glance and didn’t reply. Okay, so he wasn’t a
s gracious about accepting apologies as I was. I let that slide, because his surliness meant he did care for me, after all; he wasn’t driven just by sexual chemistry and that competitive streak of his. Whether he cared about me enough for us to have something to build on was still up in the air, but at least I wasn’t in this alone.

  Just before we reached his house, he muttered, “Don’t ever do that again.”

  “What?” I asked in bewilderment. “Scare you, or team up on you? You can’t mean doing a handstand, because you, like, know what I do for a living, right? I practice gymnastics every week. The members of Great Bods see me practicing and they’re reassured that I know what I’m doing. It’s good business.”

  “You could kill yourself,” he growled, and with shock I realized that in fact he was, in a very manlike way, seizing on what he saw as the cause of his scare.

  “Wyatt, you’re a cop, and you want to lecture me on how dangerous my job is?”

  “I’m a lieutenant, not a patrol officer. I don’t serve warrants, make traffic stops, or do undercover drug buys. The guys on the street are the ones in danger.”

  “You may not do them now, but you did. You weren’t hatched out of the academy as a lieutenant, after all.” I paused. “And if you were still a beat cop and I pitched a fit because of the danger, what would you do?”

  He didn’t say anything as he turned into his driveway and pulled into the garage. As the door was coming down behind us, he said grudgingly, “I’d tell you it was my job and I’d do it to the best of my ability. Which has absolutely nothing in common with you doing a handstand in my mother’s kitchen the day after being shot.”

  “That’s true,” I agreed. “I’m glad you realize it. Just stay focused on what you’re mad at so we don’t get sidetracked into arguments about how I run my business.”

  He came around to open the door for me and help me out of the car, then got the bag with my clothes Siana had packed from the backseat, and led the way inside. Then he dropped the bag on the floor, put his arm around my waist, and pulled me to him for a long, hard kiss.

  I was kissing him back with enthusiasm when, belatedly, my danger signals began buzzing at me. Breathless, I managed to pull back. “You can kiss me, but we can’t have sex. There. I said it after you touched me, so it counts.”

  “Maybe all I planned on was kissing,” he murmured, and kissed me again.

  Yeah, and Napoleon’s venture into Russia was just a little day trip. Uh-huh. Did he really think I was buying that?

  He kissed me until my knees were wobbly and my toes were curled, then released me with a smug look on his face. He couldn’t hide the woody in his pants, though, so I felt pretty good myself.

  “Did Lynn find the name of that man in the files?” I asked. Maybe I should have asked that much earlier, but the handstand thing had kind of thrown us into a no-talking zone for a while. We were over that, so I wanted to know.

  “Not yet. MacInnes was going to call me as soon as they got the name and he did some preliminary checking. Lynn was having some trouble with the computer.”

  “What trouble? Why didn’t she call? She knows how to use the programs, so what’s wrong?”

  “It crashed.”

  “Oh, no. The computer can’t crash. We’re supposed to open again tomorrow. We are opening tomorrow, aren’t we?”

  He nodded. “We finished processing the crime scene, and all the ugly yellow tape is down.” He put little verbal quotation marks around “ugly yellow tape,” and I knew MacInnes had probably given him—and the entire department—a verbatim replay of our conversation.

  I waved that aside. “The computer,” I said urgently.

  “I sent one of our computer guys over to see what he could do. That was right before I left work, and I haven’t heard anything since.”

  I dug out my cell phone and called Lynn’s cell. When she answered, she sounded a little distracted. “Blair, we have to get another computer. This one’s possessed.”

  “What do you mean, possessed?”

  “It’s doing weird stuff. It’s speaking in tongues. Typing in tongues, anyway. This is gibberish. It isn’t even English.”

  “What does the computer cop say?”

  “I’ll let him tell you.”

  A moment later a man said, “It’s a major crash, but I can salvage most if not all of your files. I’m going to uninstall your programs and reinstall them; then we’ll see what we have. Do you have a backup?”

  “No, but I’ll get one there tonight if you say we need it. What caused the crash?”

  “It’s what they do,” he said cheerfully. “Right now, other than the gibberish on the screen, it’s totally frozen. Mouse won’t work, keyboard won’t work, nothing will work. Don’t worry, though; I’ll unfreeze it again—this is the third time it’s frozen—and we’ll dig those files out.”

  “What about the new computer tonight?”

  “Wouldn’t hurt,” he said.

  After we hung up, I explained the situation to Wyatt. Then I called one of the big office supply superstores, told them what I wanted, gave them my credit card number, and told them to get it ready because a policeman was coming by to pick it up. Wyatt was on his phone already getting that arranged. Then I called Lynn back and told her a new computer was on the way. There was nothing we could do after that except wait for the cop computer-guru to work his magic.

  “That was a couple of thousand dollars I hadn’t planned on spending,” I grumbled. “At least it’s tax deductible.”

  I looked up to find Wyatt grinning. “What’s so funny?”

  “You. You’re such a piece of fluff; it’s funny hearing anything businesslike coming out of your mouth.”

  I was so appalled and taken aback that I’m sure my mouth fell open. “Piece of fluff?”

  “Fluff,” he said firmly. “You have a pink hammer. If that isn’t fluffy, I don’t know what is.”

  “I am not a piece of fluff! I own a business, and I’m good at what I do! Fluffs don’t do that; fluffs let other people take care of them.” I could feel a really serious snit coming on, because I hate being put down, and being called a piece of fluff definitely felt like a put-down to me.

  He framed my waist with both hands, still grinning. “Everything about you is fluffy, from that Pebbles hairdo to your fancy little flip-flops with the shells on them. You wear an anklet all the time, your toenails are hot pink, and your bras match your panties. You look like an ice cream cone, and I could just lick you all over.”

  Hey, I’m human; I’ll admit to being a bit distracted by that part about licking. By the time I dragged my mind back to the argument—at least I was arguing, he was evidently having fun—he was kissing me again, and before I knew it he was licking and biting my neck and my willpower crumbled. Again. Right there in the kitchen, I lost my pants and my control. I hate it when that happens. Even worse, he had to help me back into my pants afterward.

  “I’m starting another list,” I said furiously to his back as he made his smug way up the stairs afterward, carrying my bag. “And I’m showing this one to your mother!”

  He stopped and looked at me over his shoulder, a wary look entering his eyes. “Are you talking to my mother about our sex life?”

  “I’m talking to her about you being an absolute manipulative snot!”

  He grinned and shook his head, then said, “Fluff,” and continued upstairs.

  “Not only that,” I yelled after him, “you don’t have a single plant in this house and it depresses me to be here!”

  “I’ll buy you a bush tomorrow,” he called back over his shoulder.

  “If you’re any kind of cop at all, I won’t need to be here tomorrow!” There. Let him top that, if he could.

  When he came back downstairs, he had changed out of his suit and was wearing jeans and a white T-shirt. By that time I’d found a pad of paper and had settled in the big leather recliner in the great room, and I had the television remote tucked into my sling. The televisio
n was on the Lifetime channel.

  He looked at the television and winced. Then he looked at me. “You’re in my chair.”

  “The lamp is here. I need light.”

  “We’ve been through this before. That’s my chair.” He purposefully advanced on me.

  “If you hurt my arm, I’ll—” I broke off and shrieked as he lifted me high in his arms, then sat down in his chair with me on his lap.

  “There,” he said, nuzzling the back of my neck. “Now we both have the chair. Where’s the remote?”

  Still in my sling, by the grace of God, and that was where it was staying. I was clinging to the pad and pen with my right hand while I tried to ignore what he was doing to my neck. At least I was fairly safe right now, because I doubted he could get it up again so soon after the kitchen episode. “It was right here,” I said truthfully, looking around. “Did it fall behind the cushion?”

  He had to check, of course, so I got removed from his lap and he stood to check behind the cushion. He looked all around the recliner; then he turned it upside down to see if the remote had worked its way into the recliner’s innards. He turned a gimlet eye on me. “Blair. Where’s my remote?”

  “It was right there!” I said indignantly. “Honest!” Again, I wasn’t lying. It had been right there until he moved me.

  Unfortunately, he was a cop, and he knew all about hiding places. His gaze fell on my sling. “Hand it over, you little sneak.”

  “Sneak?” I began to back away. “I thought I was just a harmless little piece of fluff.”

  “I never said you were harmless.” He took a step toward me, and I broke and ran.

  I’m a good runner, but his legs are longer and my sandals didn’t get good traction, so that didn’t last long. I was giggling as he caught me in one arm and rooted the remote out of its hiding place.

  He wanted to watch a baseball game, of course. I’m not into baseball. So far as I know, baseball doesn’t have cheerleaders, so I never learned anything about the game. I know football and basketball, but baseball is probably a snooty sport, so I don’t want anything to do with it. But we both sat in the big recliner with me draped across his lap working on my list while he watched the game, and except for occasionally grunting when he saw an item that he considered questionable on my list, he did his thing and I did mine.

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