To Die For by Linda Howard


  After I finished my list I was bored—how long do those stupid games last, anyway?!—and I got sleepy. His shoulder was right there, his arm was supporting my back, so I cuddled up and went to sleep.

  I woke as he was carrying me upstairs. The lights were off downstairs, and I assumed it was bedtime. “I get a shower tonight,” I said, yawning. “And a new bandage.”

  “I know. I’ll get everything ready before we get in the shower.”

  He got the gauze and sterile pads ready, then carefully cut and unwound the thick layers of gauze until he got to the pad that was stuck directly over the stitches—and I do mean stuck. After a careful tug, I decided to get in the shower and let the water loosen the gauze from the stitches.

  He turned on the shower so the water would get warm, then stripped me and then himself. Considering my stance about not having sex with him—yeah, like that was even slowing him down—I probably shouldn’t have been naked with him, but the truth was I liked it. A lot. I liked seeing him naked and I liked the way he looked at me when I was naked. I liked the way he touched me, as if he couldn’t help himself, cupping my breasts and rubbing his thumbs over the nipples. He hadn’t paid much attention to my breasts since he’d found out about my neck, but I could tell he did my neck for my benefit, and my breasts were for his. He liked them, and he showed it.

  When we got in the shower and our bodies were all wet and slippery, and we had to stand close together so he could peel the pad off my arm, we wound up belly to belly and slowly moving against each other in a sensual water dance. I found out that enough time had lapsed for him to get it up again, and I quickly said, “No sex!” He laughed, as if it didn’t matter, and began washing me. And I found out why he thought it didn’t matter. Look, I tried. I really did. I just hadn’t been prepared for all the places he washed me, or how long he took.

  “Don’t pout,” he said afterward, as I sat on the vanity chair and he rebandaged my arm in a much more sensible manner. “I like that you can’t resist me.”

  “I’m working on it, though,” I muttered. “I’ll manage it yet.”

  He took my hair down out of the ponytail and brushed it, though I could have done the brushing. I handled brushing my teeth, didn’t I? But he wanted to, so I let him. I did the skin-care routine, then asked for the drawstring pants and tank top I wanted to wear to bed. He snorted. “Like you’ll need them,” he said, picking me up and taking me to bed just the way I was, which was bare.

  Poor Detective MacInnes, I’d forgotten about him, putting in long hours while Wyatt was at home with me. The phone rang just as Wyatt was getting into bed beside me; he had the receiver in his hand before the first ring had finished. “Bloodsworth. You got it?” He looked at me and said, “Dwayne Bailey. Ring a bell with you?”

  An image shot to mind, that of a burly man about six feet tall, with a lot of body hair. “I remember him,” I said. “He needed electrolysis.”

  “Could he have been the man you saw?”

  I have very good visual spatial skills, and I could mentally place Dwayne Bailey standing beside Nicole’s car, comparing him to the man I had seen. “There’s no way I could recognize his face, but he’s about the right size. About six feet, a little on the heavy side. He was kind of surly, too, like he had a bad temper.” I remembered that because he’d been in an argument with another of our members, a regular, over using one of the weight machines. Evidently he’d been in a hurry and hadn’t liked waiting while the other man finished his sets.

  “Good enough. We’ll go see him tomorrow,” Wyatt said. “MacInnes, grab what sleep you can.”

  “Why don’t you roust Bailey out tonight?” I asked, a little indignant. They might have found the man who killed Nicole and shot me, and they weren’t going to pick him up right away?

  “We can’t just arrest him,” Wyatt explained as he turned out the light and slid under the covers. “We don’t have probable cause, and no judge in town would sign a warrant. We’ll interview him, see what shakes loose. That’s how you investigate, honey, by talking to people.”

  “And in the meantime, he’s running around shooting at innocent pieces of fluff. Something’s wrong with this picture.”

  He chuckled and ruffled my hair, then settled me against him. “I never said you were innocent, either.”

  I pinched his side. “Just think,” I said with fake anticipation. “This time tomorrow night, I could be in my own bed.”

  “But you won’t be.”

  “Why not?”

  He chuckled again. “Because the piece of fluff can’t dress herself.”

  Chapter

  Seventeen

  The next morning I could move my arm more, though very gingerly. While Wyatt was downstairs cooking breakfast, I brushed my teeth and hair, and just to show him, even got partially dressed. I found my clothes hanging in the closet next to his, which gave me butterflies in my stomach, seeing them together like that. He must have unpacked my bag when he brought it up last night, because I certainly hadn’t. I searched for my underwear and found it in a dresser drawer, all neatly laid out the way I would have done it instead of jumbled together the way I’d expected. The man had depth to him.

  I looked through the rest of the drawers to see how he treated his underwear, and found that he was neat. His T-shirts were folded and stacked, his boxers were folded, his socks were matched and mated. There was nothing unusual about his underwear, just regular guy stuff. I liked that, because a relationship between two vain people can really cut into mirror time. One needed to be normal.

  I admit that I’m vain. A little. I’m not as bad as I used to be, when I was a teenager, because as I got older I guess I got a little more confident about how I looked. Strange, isn’t it? When I was sixteen, which you have to admit is probably a peak year for body and beauty, I would spend hours fixing my hair and putting on makeup, trying on outfit after outfit, because I wasn’t sure I looked good enough. Now that I’m thirty, I’m much more comfortable, even though I know I don’t look as good as I did at sixteen. Having dewy skin takes an effort now. I have to work out like mad to keep my weight under control. When I’m going out for a big date or something more formal than my usual stuff, I can still make a big deal out of hair and makeup, but for the most part I don’t bother. A little mascara, a little lip gloss, and that’s about it.

  I still loved clothes, though, and was perfectly capable of trying on every item of clothing I had in an effort to find just the right combination. And some days I couldn’t decide what color underwear I wanted. Was it a blue day, or a pink day? Or red? Or black? White, maybe?

  Today was one of those days. First I had to decide what I was wearing, because that determines the color of your underwear. No dark underwear under white pants, right? I was feeling colorful, so I finally picked out a pair of aqua shorts, and teamed it with a pink tank top. My tank tops have wide shoulder straps, by the way, because I can’t stand the bra-strap-peeking-out style. I think it’s just tacky. Anyway, the pink tank top dictated that I couldn’t wear anything really dark underneath, so that meant a pastel. Pink would have been the obvious choice, but maybe too obvious.

  Wyatt appeared in the bedroom door. “What’s taking you so long? Breakfast is ready.”

  “I’m deciding what color underwear I want today.”

  “Jesus,” he said, and left.

  Yellow! That was it! Maybe you think yellow wouldn’t look good with pink, but the lingerie set was a pale yellow, and it looked great under the pink. Not that anyone other than me would see it—well, Wyatt would, because I still couldn’t manage a bra—but it made me feel like the ice cream cone he had mentioned yesterday. Maybe it would put licking in his mind again.

  Food was calling, so I carefully pulled on the underpants and shorts, but I got one of Wyatt’s button-up shirts from the closet to wear until he could help me with the tops. I slid my feet into flip-flops—these had aqua sequins on the straps—and went downstairs.

  He eyed me as I e
ntered the kitchen. “Flip-flops and one of my shirts took half an hour to choose?”

  “I’m wearing shorts, too.” I lifted the hem of the shirt to show him. “You’ll have to help me with the rest.” I sat down at the table, and he took a plate of eggs, sausage, and whole wheat toast off the warmer and set it in front of me. A small glass of orange juice and a cup of coffee completed my feast. “I could get used to this,” I said as I dug in.

  “Do you cook at all?”

  “Well, of course. I just don’t get waited on all that often. And I usually eat on the run, because Great Bods opens so early.”

  “You open and close?” He took his own plate and sat down across from me. “That makes for a long day.”

  “From six in the morning to nine at night. But I don’t do both every day. Lynn and I work it out between us; if I need to stay late, she’ll open, and vice versa. One day a week, on Monday, I do both so Lynn can have a two-day weekend. All of my employees get two days off, but they’re staggered. That’s why yoga classes aren’t offered every day, things like that.”

  “Why Monday? Why not Saturday, if she wants a two-day weekend?”

  “Because Saturday is our busiest day, and Monday is our slowest. I don’t know why, but it’s that way for beauty shops, too. Most of them are closed on Monday.”

  He looked as if he didn’t know where to go with that bit of information. As a cop, you’d think he would see the value in knowing things like that. What if someday he had to arrest a mad hair stylist? He could save time by not going to the shop, if it was Monday.

  “So,” I said, changing the subject, “why did I even bother to get dressed today if you’re chaining me in the bathroom? I hope you’ve thought this out, because besides the obvious benefit of being there, just how am I going to get something to eat?”

  “I’ll make some sandwiches and put them in a cooler for you.” His eyes held a glint of laughter.

  “Just for the record, I do not eat in the bathroom. Yuck. Just think of all the bathroom cooties waiting to jump all over your food.”

  “I’ll make it a long chain so you can stand just outside the door.”

  “You’re all heart. A warning, though: when I get bored, I get into trouble.”

  “Now, what trouble could you get into in the bathroom?”

  Right off the bat I could think of several things, but I didn’t share them with him. He must have read something in my face, though, because he shook his head. “It’s tempting, but no way would I leave you on your own all day.”

  “So it’s back to your mother’s, right?”

  “I’m afraid so. I’ve already called her this morning.”

  “And apologized for being a sorehead, I hope.”

  “Yes, I apologized,” he said wearily. “I think I might as well make a recording and give it to you so you can play it whenever you think it’s needed.”

  I thought that totally missed out on the spirit of an apology, and told him so. “That’s the idea,” he replied, and I saw I hadn’t gained as much ground as I’d thought.

  This time I helped him clean up the kitchen. I was very careful when I moved my arm, but it was time to start giving it some gentle movement and exercise. Then we went upstairs to get ready, and again it had that comfortable, intimate feeling, as if we’d been doing this together for years. He liked the yellow bra, and insisted on pulling down my shorts so he could see my matching yellow underpants. That was his excuse, anyway. The hand he slid inside my underpants gave away his true intentions, though. I swear, the man was a lech.

  I quickly said, “No!”; and with a wink, a pinch, a pat, and a teasing probe of his finger that put me on my tiptoes, he withdrew his hand.

  Oh, damn him. My heart was pounding and I felt flushed. Now I had to deal with being horny all day at his mother’s house.

  I got back at him. I bent down and lovingly kissed my way down his zipper. He jerked, and threaded his hand through my hair. “Just think,” I purred, “how it would feel if these pants weren’t in my way.” His hand tightened, and he shuddered.

  I straightened and said briskly, “But they are, and you need to get to work.”

  “That’s dirty,” he growled, eyes hot.

  “That’s payback. If I’m going to be horny all day, so are you.”

  “Gonna be interesting tonight,” he mused as he restored my clothes to proper order.

  “It might not. I’m getting better at heading you off,” I said with satisfaction.

  “Then I’ll just have to get to your neck faster.”

  I had another uneventful day at Mrs. Bloodsworth’s house. I talked to Lynn and she gave me an update on the computer situation, plus how many members had returned now that we were reopened. I was gratified when she told me, because I’d expected a slow couple of weeks. Evidently the weight room was full, the cardio machines were occupied, and almost everyone had asked if I was okay. The comments about Nicole’s murder ranged from “I didn’t care for her, but she didn’t deserve that” to “I’m not surprised.” One person asked for his membership to be extended because our facilities hadn’t been available for his use for three days. I told Lynn to give him a four-day extension. There’s an asshole in every crowd. When she told me who he was, I wasn’t surprised. He was one of the city bigwigs who thought he was privileged. What he was, was tolerated. Barely.

  I called Mom, and brought her up to date. I didn’t tell her Dwayne Bailey’s name, just in case he was innocent. I did tell her about my computer woes, and she filled me in on hers. Mom’s in real estate, and she keeps all her records on a computer in her little office at home. Her electronics were evidently in a state of revolt against her. In less than a week, her printer had died, her copy machine had to be taken in for repairs, and her computer had experienced two mini-crashes. She was in the middle of preparing her quarterly taxes, and her frustration level was high. I hadn’t helped by getting shot.

  I made soothing noises to her, and promised to keep her apprised of my situation. She asked after Wyatt, which I guess is normal, since he’d insisted on taking her daughter home with him. She liked him. She said he was a hottie. I thought about him naked, and agreed with her.

  Business taken care of and the home front covered, Mrs. Bloodsworth and I settled in for another uneventful day. She worked in her flower garden for a while, and to be on the safe side, I didn’t. I doubted Nicole’s murderer was going to drive by Mrs. Bloodsworth’s house and spot me pulling weeds in her flower garden, but until Wyatt sounded the all clear, I wasn’t taking any chances. I had a very sore arm to remind me of how dangerous this guy was.

  I read. I watched television. I watched the clock. I didn’t call Wyatt, though I was tempted. I knew he’d call when he had anything, so there wasn’t any point in harassing him.

  I did some light yoga, to keep my muscles limber. Mrs. Bloodsworth came in while I was doing it, and was intrigued. She changed into less restrictive clothing, got her exercise mat, and got on the floor beside me. I showed her some basic yoga positions, and we stretched our muscles and entertained ourselves until it was time for lunch.

  Around two, Wyatt called. “MacInnes and Forester interviewed Dwayne Bailey this morning, in the presence of his wife. Evidently she’d had some suspicions he was cheating on her, and the family scene got intense. Bailey broke down and confessed on the spot; his story is that Ms. Goodwin was threatening to tell his wife if he didn’t come through with some money she needed, so he shot her. He’s in custody.”

  I went weak with relief, and collapsed back against the sofa. “Thank goodness! I don’t like this hiding-out stuff. So I can go home? And go back to Great Bods? It’s all over?”

  “Looks like.”

  “Was he the one who opened my gate?”

  “He denies that. He also denies shooting you, which is smart on his part. A good lawyer can get him second-degree on Ms. Goodwin’s murder, but shooting you would be premeditated and automatically carry a longer sentence.”

&nbs
p; “But you can prove it, right? Ballistics and all that.”

  “Actually, we can’t. Two different weapons were used. We found the weapon he used to kill Ms. Goodwin, but nothing that matches the caliber of the slug that hit you. That just means he ditched the second weapon, but without it we can’t prove squat.”

  I didn’t like that, because I guess I wanted official vengeance or something. If he wasn’t charged with shooting me, then it was like he got away with it. I wanted him to get that longer sentence.

  “Will he get out on bail?”

  “Probably. Now that the jig is up, though, there’s no point in killing the witness, right?”

  He was right, but I was still unhappy about the man wandering around loose. He might snap, and decide he needed to finish the job.

  “If it helps,” Wyatt said, “he isn’t a homicidal maniac. He was a man desperate to keep his wife from finding out he cheated on her; then he was desperate to keep from getting charged with murder. Both of those things have already happened, so he isn’t desperate anymore. He’s cooperating.”

  Okay, I could understand that. You only fear something that hasn’t happened. Once it has happened, all you can do is deal with it.

  “Is it okay if I tell Mom and Dad?”

  “Sure. It’ll be on television tonight anyway, and in the papers tomorrow.”

  “That’s wonderful news,” Mrs. Bloodsworth said, when I told her about Dwayne Bailey. “But I’ll miss having your company during the day. I think I’ll rejoin Great Bods; I’ve been bored since my accident, and I didn’t realize how much.”

  I called Mom and gave her the good news, then Siana, then Lynn. I told her I’d be back at work tomorrow, but asked her to open up again in the morning. Until I could use my arm more, doing anything in a hurry was off the table.

 
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