To Die For by Linda Howard


  I washed off in the ladies’ restroom, using paper towels to scrub the dried blood off my face and out of my hair as best I could. I have no idea how blood from a nosebleed got in my hair, but it was there. I had blood in my ears, behind my ears, on my neck, my arms—and another bra was ruined, damn it! I even had blood on my feet.

  There was a small cut across the bridge of my nose, and both cheekbones were red and swollen. I suspected I would have two black eyes in the morning. I also suspected I would have so many other aches and pains that I wouldn’t care about a black eye, or eyes.

  Wyatt hadn’t found my bag, so I didn’t have my cell phone. The bag had to be in the car . . . somewhere . . . and the car was in the police lot, secured behind a locked fence. The forensics team had gone over the car there at the scene, at least the exterior, so the wrecker could haul it in without destroying any evidence. They would do their best to check out the interior, too, and Wyatt said they’d find my bag then. I could do without everything that was in it, except my wallet and checkbook. Having to replace all my credit cards, my driver’s license, insurance cards and all the others, would be a pain, so I hoped they found it.

  I hadn’t called Mom yet, because telling her someone had tried to kill me—again—was infinitely worse than telling her I’d been in an accident.

  The cops kept bringing me stuff to drink and eat. I guess, having heard tales of the cookie situation on Sunday, they thought I needed sustenance. One woman, who looked stern and businesslike in her blue uniform and with her hair tightly braided, brought me a bag of microwave popcorn and apologized because she didn’t have anything sweet to offer. I drank coffee. I drank Diet Coke. I was offered chewing gum, and cheese crackers. Potato chips. Peanuts. I ate the peanuts and the popcorn, and refused everything else or I’d have been bloated. They did not, however, offer me the one thing I was waiting for. Excuse me, but just where were the doughnuts??? This was a cop station, for crying out loud. Everyone knows cops eat doughnuts. Of course, considering it was now lunchtime, probably the doughnuts were long gone.

  The officer, Adams, who had been the primary accident-scene investigator, went over the sequence of events at length with me. He had me draw diagrams. He drew diagrams. I got bored and drew smiley faces, too.

  They were keeping me occupied, of course. I knew that. It was probably on Wyatt’s orders, so I wouldn’t be tempted to interfere in Dwayne Bailey’s interrogation, as if I would. Hard as it may be to believe, I know when to butt out. Wyatt, however, evidently had doubts.

  Around two, Wyatt came to collect me. “I’m taking you to your place to get cleaned up and your clothes changed; then I’m taking you to your mom’s for right now. It’s a good thing your bags are still packed, because you’re going back to my house with me.”

  “Why?” I asked as I got to my feet. I’d been sitting in his chair, at his desk, making a list of everything I needed to do. Wyatt frowned a little when he saw the list and turned it around so he could read it. His brow cleared when he realized the list wasn’t about him.

  “Bailey swears he didn’t touch your car,” he said. “He says he doesn’t even know where you live, and that he has an alibi for his time from Thursday night on. MacInnes and Forester are checking things out, but just to be on the safe side, we’re going back to Plan A, which is keep you hidden.”

  “Bailey is here, right? Is he under arrest?”

  Wyatt shook his head. “He’s in custody, but he isn’t under arrest. We can hold him for a little while without officially filing charges against him.”

  “Well, if he’s here, then who am I hiding from?”

  He regarded me soberly. “Bailey’s the most obvious person—if the sabotage was done before yesterday and he didn’t tell us about the car because then we’d figure he was the shooter on Sunday and the car was just another attempt to kill you. On the other hand, if his alibi checks out, then we have to consider that someone else is trying to kill you and used this opportunity while someone else had the motive for doing it. We had this conversation the night Ms. Goodwin was murdered, but we need to have it again—have you been in an argument with anyone?”

  “You,” I said, pointing out the obvious.

  “Other than me.”

  “No. Believe it or not, I don’t get in many arguments. You’re the exception.”

  “Lucky me,” he muttered.

  “Hey. How many people have you had arguments with in the past month, other than me?” I asked indignantly.

  He rubbed his face. “Good point. All right, let’s get moving. I’m having your ex-husband interviewed, too, by the way.”

  “Jason? Why?”

  “It struck me as a little odd that he’d call you like that, after five years of no contact at all. I don’t believe in coincidence.”

  “But why would Jason try to kill me? It isn’t as if he’s the beneficiary of any insurance policy I have, or that I know anything he wouldn’t want—” I stopped, because I did know something about Jason that would hurt his political career—and I had the picture to prove it. He didn’t know I had the picture, though, and I wasn’t the only one who knew he was a cheating scumbag.

  Wyatt’s eyes had that hard, piercing cop look. “What?” he said. “What do you know?”

  “It can’t be that I know about him cheating on me,” I said. “That doesn’t make sense. For one thing, I haven’t said anything for five years, so why would he all of a sudden get worried about it? And I’m not the only person who knows, so bumping me off wouldn’t accomplish anything.”

  “Who else knows?”

  “Mom. Siana and Jenni. Dad knows Jason cheated; Mom eventually told him that much, but he doesn’t know any specifics. The women he cheated with certainly know. Probably his family. And it isn’t as if knowledge that he cheated on his first wife, over five years ago and with someone who isn’t his current wife, would wreck his political career. Dent it, maybe, but not wreck it.” Now, if it were generally known that he’d been caught coming on to my seventeen-year-old sister, that would wreck his career, because that put him in the category of pervert.

  “Okay, I’ll give you that. Anything else?”

  “Not that I can think of.” Like I said, Jason didn’t know I had copies of those pictures, so I was safe on that count. “Anyway, Jason isn’t violent.”

  “I thought you said he threatened to trash your car. To me, this is definitely in the same ballpark.”

  “But that was five years ago. And he threatened to trash my car if I went public about him cheating on me. He was running for the state legislature at the time, so that would definitely have hurt him. And to be fair, he only did that when I threatened to go public on him if he didn’t give me everything I wanted in the divorce settlement.”

  Wyatt tilted his head back and surveyed the ceiling. “Why doesn’t that surprise me?”

  “Because you’re a smart man,” I said, and patted his butt.

  “Okay, if you don’t think it’s your ex-husband—I’m going to check him out anyway—do you have any other ideas?”

  I shook my head. “Dwayne Bailey has the only reason I can think of.”

  “C’mon, Blair. Think.”

  “I am thinking!” I said in exasperation.

  He was getting exasperated, too. He put his hands on his hips and looked down at me. “Then think harder. You’re a cheerleader; there must be hundreds of people who’d like to kill you.”

  Chapter

  Twenty

  My resultant shriek stopped the hum of voices that came from outside his closed office door. “You take that back!”

  “All right, all right. Pipe down,” he muttered. “Shit. I take it back.”

  “No you don’t. You meant it.” As a rule of thumb, you never let a man take something back on the first attempt. Section three, paragraph ten, of the Southern Women’s Code states that if one (meaning a man) is going to be a shithead, one must pay for it.

  “I didn’t mean it. I’m just frustrated.” He rea
ched for me.

  I drew back before he could touch me, jerked the door open, and swept out. Just as I had thought: everyone in the big, busy open room was staring at us, some openly, some pretending not to. I stalked silently to the elevator, and let me tell you, various aches and pains were making themselves felt, so stalking hurt. Creeping would have been better, but there’s just no way to creep with attitude. My feelings were hurt, and I wanted him to know it.

  The elevator doors opened and two uniforms got out. Well, the uniforms had men in them, but you know what I mean. Silently Wyatt and I entered the elevator, and he punched the button.

  “I didn’t mean it,” he said as soon as the elevator doors closed.

  I shot him a dirty look but didn’t say anything.

  “I’ve seen you get nearly killed twice in four days,” he said raggedly. “If Bailey didn’t do it, then you have an enemy somewhere. There has to be a reason. You know something, but you may not know that you know it. I’m trying to dig out some information that will point me in the right direction.”

  I said, “Don’t you think you should check out Bailey’s alibi before assuming there are ’hundreds’ of people who want to kill me?”

  “Maybe that was an exaggeration.”

  Maybe? An exaggeration? “Oh? Just how many people do you really think want to kill me?”

  He shot me a glittering glance. “I’ve wanted to strangle you myself a time or two.”

  The elevator stopped, the door opened, and we stepped out. I didn’t respond to that last statement because I figured he was trying to get me mad enough to say something rash myself, like maybe accuse him of tampering with my brakes, since he admitted having wanted to kill me, and then I’d have to apologize because of course he didn’t really mean that, either, and I knew it. Rather than surrender the high ground, I played dirty and kept my mouth shut.

  When we walked out into the parking lot, Wyatt caught me around the waist and turned me to face him. “I really am sorry,” he said, lightly kissing my forehead. “You’ve been through a lot these past few days, especially today, and I shouldn’t have teased you, no matter how frustrated I am.” He kissed me again, and his voice roughened. “When you spun into the intersection and that first car hit you, I thought my heart would stop.”

  Well, hell, there was no point in being petty, was there? I leaned my head against him and tried not to think about the sickening terror I’d felt this morning. If it was that bad for me, what had it been like for him? I know how I would have felt if I’d been behind him and watched him get killed, which is what I’m sure he thought had happened to me.

  “Your poor little face,” he murmured, stroking my hair back as he examined me.

  I hadn’t been just sitting in the police station all day waiting for my face to swell up and my eyes to turn black. One of the cops had given me a plastic sandwich bag, and I’d filled it with ice and applied it, off and on, to my face, so however bad I looked wasn’t as bad as it could have been. I’d also put an adhesive strip across the cut on the bridge of my nose. I thought I looked like a boxer who’d just finished a fight.

  “J. W.,” someone said, and we both looked around as a gray-haired man in a gray suit approached. With his hair, I personally thought he should have worn a suit with more color in it, or at least a nice blue shirt, so he wouldn’t have given such a blah impression. I wondered if his wife had no fashion sense. He was short and stocky, and looked like a businessman, except that when he got closer, I could see he had that distinctive sharp gaze.

  “Chief,” Wyatt said, from which I deduced (duh!) that this was the chief of police, Wyatt’s boss. If I’d ever seen him before, I didn’t remember it; in fact, at that moment, I couldn’t even remember his name.

  “Is this the young lady the entire force is talking about?” the chief asked, studying me with great curiosity.

  “I’m afraid so,” Wyatt said. “Chief, this is my fiancée, Blair Mallory. Blair, this is William Gray, chief of police.”

  I resisted the urge to kick him—Wyatt, not the chief—and instead shook hands. Well, I would have shaken hands, but instead Chief Gray just sort of gently held my hand as if he were afraid of hurting me. I was afraid I looked a lot worse now than I had the last time I’d checked myself in a mirror, what with Wyatt’s “poor little face” and now the chief treating me like a piece of fragile glass.

  “It was a terrible thing that happened this morning,” the chief said solemnly. “We don’t have a lot of homicide in this town and we want to keep it that way. We’ll get this solved, Miss Mallory; I promise you.”

  “Thank you,” I said. What else could I say? Hurry up? The detectives knew what they were doing, and I trusted they were good at it—just as I was good at certain things. I said, “Your hair is a really great color. I bet it looks fantastic when you wear a blue shirt, doesn’t it?”

  He looked startled, and Wyatt surreptitiously pinched my waist. I ignored him.

  “Well, I don’t know about that,” Chief Gray said, giving the laugh that men do when they’re both flattered and a little uncomfortable.

  “I do,” I assured him. “French blue. You probably have ten shirts that color, don’t you, because it looks so good on you?”

  “French blue?” he murmured. “I don’t—”

  “I know.” I laughed. “To a man, blue is blue is blue, and don’t bother you with all those fancy names, right?”

  “Right,” he agreed. He cleared his throat and took a step back. “J. W., keep me up-to-date on how the investigation is going. The mayor is asking about it.”

  “Will do,” Wyatt said, and hurriedly turned me toward his car while the chief continued on into the building. Wyatt hissed, “Were you actually giving the chief of police fashion advice?”

  “Someone needed to,” I said in self-defense. “The poor man.”

  “Wait until news of this gets around,” he said under his breath as he opened the passenger door and helped me ease into the seat. I was becoming more stiff and sore by the minute.

  “Why’s that?”

  He shook his head. “You’re practically all everyone in the department has talked about since last Thursday night. They either think I’m getting my comeuppance, or that I’m the bravest man walking.”

  Well. I didn’t know what to think about that.

  * * *

  I closed my eyes when we got to the intersection where the wreck had taken place. I didn’t know if I’d ever be able to stop at that stop sign again without reliving everything. Wyatt turned onto the street that led to my condo and said, “You can open your eyes now.”

  I shook away the memory of screaming tires and opened my eyes. With the intersection behind me, everything looked normal and familiar and safe. My building loomed on the right, and Wyatt pulled under the portico. I looked around, remembering that my fence gate had been unlocked when the officer brought my car home. Had whoever tampered with my brakes—I still thought Dwayne Bailey was the most likely suspect—been lurking around then? Had he seen my car being delivered and figured if he couldn’t get to me in one way, he would in another?

  “I think I’m going to move,” I said vaguely. “I don’t feel safe here anymore.”

  Wyatt got out and came around to open the door for me, and helped me out. “That’s a good idea,” he said. “While you’re recuperating, we’ll get your stuff packed up and moved out to my house. What do you want to do with your furniture?”

  I looked at him as if he were an alien. “What do you mean, what do I want to do with my furniture? I need my furniture for wherever I move to.”

  “I already have furniture at my house. We don’t need more.”

  Ah. I was a little slow on the uptake, because I just then realized what he was saying. “I didn’t mean move in with you. I just meant . . . move. Sell the condo and buy another one. I’m not ready for a house, I don’t think, because I don’t have time to take care of yards and flower beds and things.”

  “Why make
two moves when one will do?”

  Now that I knew what track he was on, I could easily follow him. “Just because you told Chief Gray I’m your fiancée doesn’t make it so. You not only have the cart before the horse, you forgot to get the poor thing out of the stable. We haven’t even gone on a date yet, remember?”

  “We’ve barely been apart for five days. We bypassed the dating thing.”

  “You wish.” I stopped in front of the door and in that moment, like a blow, realized that I couldn’t get in my own house. I didn’t have my bag, didn’t have my keys, didn’t have control of my life. I gave him an appalled look, then sat down on the stoop and burst into tears.

  “Blair . . . honey,” he said, but didn’t ask what was wrong. I think I would have hit him if he had. Instead he sat down beside me and put his arm around me, cradling me close to him.

  “I can’t get in,” I sobbed. “I don’t have my keys.”

  “Siana has a set, doesn’t she? I’ll call her.”

  “I want my own keys. I want my bag.” After everything that had happened that day, not having my bag was the crowning blow, the one that sent me over the edge. Evidently realizing I wasn’t capable of being reasonable, he simply held me, rocking me back and forth while I cried.

  While he rocked, he unclipped his cell phone and called Siana. Because of the investigation none of my family had yet been told what happened that morning, and Wyatt kept the explanation brief: I’d been in a car accident that morning, the air bag had deployed and I wasn’t hurt, hadn’t even gone to the hospital, but my bag hadn’t yet been retrieved from my car and I couldn’t get in my house. Could she come unlock the door for me? If she couldn’t, Wyatt said he would have a patrolman stop by to get the keys.

  I could hear Siana’s voice, the tone of alarm, but I couldn’t make out exactly what she was saying. Wyatt’s calm responses reassured her, though, and when he disconnected the call, he said, “She’ll be here in about twenty minutes. Do you want to get back in the car in the air-conditioning?”

  I did. I wiped my face—very gingerly—and asked him if he had a tissue. He didn’t. Men are so unprepared.

 
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