To Die For by Linda Howard


  “Not as bad as I thought I would. Better than last night. Of course, I haven’t tried to get out of bed yet. Are my eyes black?” I held my breath, waiting for the answer.

  “Not really,” he said, studying me. “The bruising isn’t any worse than it was last night. All of that voodoo y’all were doing in the kitchen must have worked.”

  Thank God. I’d do the ice-pack thing again today, just to be on the safe side. I wasn’t very fond of the raccoon look.

  He didn’t get out of bed right away, and neither did I. He stretched and yawned, then sleepily settled down again. There was an interesting tent thing going on just below his waist, and I wanted to check it out, but that seemed cruel considering my stated position of not wanting to have sex with him. No, that wasn’t accurate; it wasn’t that I didn’t want to, but that I knew we shouldn’t until we had a lot of things settled between us. I really, really wanted to, though.

  Before I succumbed to temptation—again—I forced my attention away and gingerly sat up. Sitting up hurt. A lot. Biting my lip, I slid my legs off the side of the bed, stood up, and took a step. Another. Hunched over and hobbling like a very old person, I made it to the bathroom.

  The bad news was, my muscles hurt worse today than they had the night before, but that was to be expected. The good news was, I knew how to deal with it. Tomorrow I would feel much better.

  A warm soak in the tub while Wyatt was cooking breakfast helped. So did a couple of ibuprofen, some gentle stretching movements, and that first cup of coffee. The coffee helped my feelings more than it helped my muscles, but feelings are important, too, right?

  After breakfast I made the butter sauce to pour over the bread puddings. It was fast and simple, just a stick of butter and a box of powdered sugar, with rum flavoring. The sugar content had to be off the charts, but my mouth watered just thinking about that first bite. Wyatt didn’t resist temptation; the butter sauce wasn’t cool before he’d dipped a large spoonful onto a saucer and dug in. He half closed his eyes and made an appreciative humming sound. “Man, this is good. I may keep both pans for myself.”

  “If you do, I’ll tell.”

  He sighed. “All right, all right. But you can make this for me on my birthday every year, okay?”

  “But you know how to make it for yourself,” I said, wide-eyed, but my heart was doing a little happy dance at the thought of being with him for all of his birthdays, year after year. “When is your birthday, exactly?”

  “November third. When’s yours?”

  “August fifteenth.” Oh, dear. Not that I believe in astrology or anything, but a Scorpio and a Leo can be a pretty explosive combination. Both are stubborn and hot-tempered, though I’m out of the norm there because I’m not hot-tempered at all. I plead the Fifth on the stubbornness part, though.

  “What’s the frown for?” he asked, lightly rubbing between my eyebrows.

  “You’re a Scorpio.”

  “So? That’s a scorpion, right?” He put his hand on my waist and pulled me close, leaning down to kiss under my right ear. “Wanna see my stinger?”

  “Don’t you want to know what’s bad about being a Scorpio? Not that I believe in astrology.”

  “If you don’t believe in it, why should I care what’s bad about Scorpios?”

  I hated when he was logical. “So you’ll know what’s wrong with you.”

  “I know what’s wrong with me.” He cupped my breast and nipped the side of my neck. “It’s a five-four blond with an attitude, a smart mouth, and a round, bouncy ass that drives me crazy.”

  “My ass does not bounce,” I said, instantly indignant. I worked hard to keep my butt tight. I also had to work hard to stay indignant, because of what he was doing to my neck.

  “You haven’t seen it from behind when you’re walking.”

  “Well, duh.”

  I felt him smile against my neck. Somehow my head had tipped back and I was clinging to his shoulders, and I was forgetting how much it hurt to move. “It moves up and down like two balls bouncing. Haven’t you ever turned around and noticed men wiping the drool off their chins?”

  “Well, yeah, but I thought that was an evolutionary problem.”

  He chuckled. “Could be. Damn, I wish you weren’t so bruised and sore.”

  “You’d be late to work.” I didn’t bother protesting that I wouldn’t let him make love to me, because I’d proven to have truly pitiful self-control where he was concerned. I could try, but—

  “Yeah, and everyone would know what I’d been doing, because I’d have a big grin on my face.”

  “Then it’s a good thing I’m bruised and sore, because I really frown on being late to work.” And if my self-control wouldn’t work against him, maybe I could play this hurt-and-bruised thing for all it was worth. Yes, that’s a tad manipulative, but this was war—and he was winning.

  He nibbled on my neck again, just to show me what I was missing in case I needed reminding. I didn’t. “What will you do today while I’m gone?”

  “Sleep. Maybe do a little yoga, to stretch and loosen my muscles. Prowl through your house and snoop through everything. Then, if I have time, I may alphabetize your canned goods, rearrange your closet, and program your remote control so it turns the television to the Lifetime channel whenever it’s turned on.” I didn’t know if that was possible, but the threat sounded good.

  “Dear God.” His tone was full of horror. “Get dressed. You’re going to the station with me.”

  “You can’t put it off forever. If you insist I stay here, you have to suffer the consequences.”

  “Now I see how this works.” He lifted his head and looked down at me, narrow-eyed. “All right, do your worst. I’ll get my revenge tonight.”

  “I’m hurt, remember?”

  “If you can do all that, you’re in better shape than you’re letting on. Guess I’ll find out tonight, won’t I?” He lightly rubbed my butt. “I’ll look forward to it.” Oh, he was so sure of himself.

  I followed him upstairs and watched him shower and shave, then sat on the bed while he dressed. Today’s choice was a navy suit, white shirt, and a yellow tie with narrow navy and red stripes. He was a spiffy dresser, which I really like in a man; then when he topped the outfit off with the shoulder holster and the badge clipped to his belt, it was almost too much for my self-control. All of that authority and power turned me on, which is not very feminist of me, but what the hell. You take your turn-ons where you find them, and Wyatt was mine—no matter what he was wearing.

  “I’m taking your bread pudding to the boys and girls—which will make them very happy—then I’m going to see your ex,” he said as he shrugged into his jacket.

  “It’s a waste of time.”

  “Maybe, but I want to see for myself.”

  “Why aren’t MacInnes and Forester talking to him? How do they feel about you horning in on their case?”

  “I’m saving them some legwork, and besides, they know it’s personal, so they’re cutting me some slack.”

  “Were the others very resentful when you were promoted over them?”

  “Of course they were. Hell, they wouldn’t have been human if they weren’t. I try not to tread on their toes, but at the same time, I’m their boss and they know it.”

  And he didn’t worry if he had to tread on their toes. He didn’t say it, but he didn’t have to. Wyatt wouldn’t take any crap from them.

  I walked with him to the garage, and he kissed me good-bye at the door. “Don’t throw away anything you find when you’re snooping and prowling, got it?”

  “Got it. Unless it’s letters from an old girlfriend or something; then I might accidentally set them on fire. You know how things like that happen.” He should; he was interrogating Jason for suspicion of attempted murder mainly because he’d heard the message Jason had left on my answering machine.

  He grinned. “There aren’t any letters,” he said as he got into the car.

  I looked, of course. The day stretche
d peacefully before me; I didn’t have to go anywhere or do anything, didn’t have to talk to anyone. With that much time on my hands, I had to look. I didn’t organize his closet or arrange his canned goods, though, because that required moving and lifting.

  Instead I pampered myself that day. I watched television; I napped. I put in a load of laundry, and moved the somewhat recovered bush near a window so it could get some sunshine. That also required lifting and moving, which hurt, but I did it anyway because the bush needed all the help it could get. I also called Wyatt on his cell phone and got his voice mail. I left him a message to pick up some plant food.

  He called at lunch. “How’re you feeling?”

  “Still stiff, still sore, but otherwise okay.”

  “You were right about Jason.”

  “Told you.”

  “He has one hell of an alibi: Chief Gray. Your ex and the chief were in a foursome playing golf at the Little Creek Country Club on Sunday afternoon, so there was no way he could have taken a shot at you. I don’t guess you’ve thought of anyone else who might like to kill you?”

  “Not a clue.” I’d been thinking about it, too, but hadn’t been able to come up with anything. I’d come to the conclusion that someone was trying to kill me because of a reason I knew nothing about, and that’s not a good thing at all.

  Chapter

  Twenty-four

  When Wyatt came home late that afternoon, he was followed by a green Taurus. I stepped out into the garage, expecting to see Dad get out of the rental, but instead Jenni climbed out. “Hi,” I said in surprise. “I thought Dad was going to drive the rental here.”

  “I volunteered,” Jenni said, pushing her long hair behind her ears. She stood back as Wyatt kissed me hello. His mouth was warm, his touch gentle, as he held me against him.

  “How did the day go?” he asked, cupping my cheek.

  “Uneventful. Just what I needed.” The peace had been wonderful. Not one thing had happened to make me think I might die, which was a nice change of pace. I smiled at Jenni. “Come in and have something cold to drink. I didn’t realize how hot it is until I came out.”

  Wyatt stepped aside for Jenni to enter. She looked around, her gaze frankly curious. “This is a great house,” she said. “It looks old and modern at the same time. How many bedrooms are there?”

  “Four,” he answered, shrugging out of his suit jacket and draping it over the back of a chair. He tugged the knot of his tie loose, and unbuttoned the top button of his shirt. “Nine rooms total, three and a half baths. Do you want the nickel tour?”

  “Just downstairs,” she said, smiling. “That way if Mom asks me anything about your sleeping arrangements, I can honestly say I don’t know.”

  Mom wasn’t a prude—far from it—but she had impressed on her daughters that a smart woman didn’t sleep with a man unless they had a committed relationship, and by committed she meant at least an engagement ring on the finger. She was of the opinion that men, simple creatures that they are, value most that for which they work the hardest. I agree in principle, though maybe not completely in application. I mean, look at my current situation. Wyatt didn’t have to work hard for me at all; all he had to do was kiss my neck, and I rued the day he’d discovered that weakness of mine. To be fair to myself, though, he was the only man I’d ever met who could so easily undermine my self-control.

  Jenni dropped the keys to the rental on the kitchen counter, and followed Wyatt as he gave her the short tour around the ground floor of the house, which consisted of the kitchen, breakfast room, formal dining room (which was empty), living room (ditto), and family room. He had a small office just off the kitchen, as I had discovered that day, but he didn’t bother with that; it was very small, maybe six-by-six, more suited for a pantry or a walk-in closet than an office, but he had the essentials in there: desk, filing cabinet, computer, printer, phone. There was nothing interesting in the filing cabinet. I’d played some games on his computer, but hadn’t investigated any of his folders. I do have some limits.

  I didn’t follow the two of them, but I heard him pause in the family room and turn on the television—checking to see if I’d messed with his remote, huh? I grinned to myself. I’d thought about removing the batteries, but I figured I’d save that for when we had an argument. No, he probably had a huge supply of batteries, just in case. Instead it would be smarter if I just went shopping . . . and accidentally dropped the remote in my bag before I left. You should think of these things ahead of time, so you won’t have to hesitate. She who hesitates gets caught.

  I had glasses of iced tea sitting on the table when they came back to the breakfast room. Wyatt picked up one of them and chugged down half of it without pausing for breath, his tanned throat working. As affable as he’d been with Jenni, I could see the lines of frustration in his face. Evidently the police were getting nowhere in finding out who was trying to kill me, or why.

  When he finally lowered the glass, he looked at me and smiled. “Your bread pudding was a hit. The pan was empty within thirty minutes, and everyone was on a sugar high.”

  “Did you make doughnut bread pudding?” Jenni asked, then groaned. “And there isn’t any left?”

  Wyatt smirked. “It just so happens two were made, and one of them is still in the refrigerator. Want some?”

  She accepted with all the enthusiasm of a hungry wolf, and Wyatt pulled the pan out of the fridge. I turned to the cabinet and got out two saucers and two spoons. “Aren’t you having some?” Jenni asked with a little frown.

  “No. I can’t work out right now, so I have to watch what I eat.” I wasn’t having any fun doing it, either; I would much rather work out for an hour or two every day instead of counting calories. I wanted some of that bread pudding, but it wasn’t as if I’d never again have any—just not right now.

  We all sat at the table while Wyatt and Jenni ate. I asked Wyatt if they had any leads at all, and he sighed.

  “The forensics team did find a footprint in the dirt behind your condo, and we ran it through analysis. It’s a woman’s athletic shoe—”

  “Probably mine, then,” I said, but he shook his head.

  “Not unless you wear size eight and a half, and I know damn well you don’t.”

  He was right. I wore six and a half; none of the women in my family wore that size shoe. Mom was a six, and Siana and Jenni both wore size seven. I tried to think of any of my friends who might wear an eight and a half and who might also have been behind my condo, but no one sprang to mind.

  “I thought you said it probably wasn’t a woman trying to kill me,” I said accusingly.

  “I still don’t think it is. Sniper fire and tampering with a car’s brakes just aren’t generally the way a woman would go about it.”

  “So the shoe print probably doesn’t mean anything?”

  “Probably not. I wish it did.” He rubbed his eyes.

  “I can’t hide out forever.” I didn’t say it accusingly, just stating a fact. I had a life, and if I couldn’t live it, then this creep had killed me in one sense even if he hadn’t managed to kill my body.

  “Maybe you won’t have to,” Jenni said hesitantly, staring at her spoon as if the meaning of life was written on it. “What I mean is—I volunteered to drive your rental out because I’ve been thinking and I’ve come up with a plan. I could wear a blond wig and pretend to be you and be the bait in a trap so Wyatt can catch this creep and you’ll be safe again,” she finished in such a rush that she ran her words together.

  My jaw dropped so far it almost hit the floor. “What?” I squeaked. Never in a hundred years would I have expected Jenni to make such a preposterous offer. Jenni was really good at looking out for number one, and no way was that my number. “I can be my own bait, and I won’t even need a wig!”

  “Let me do this for you,” she begged, and to my surprise tears welled in her eyes. “Let me make it up to you for what I did. I know you’ve never forgiven me and I don’t blame you; I was a selfish bitch
and didn’t think how much I’d be hurting you, but I’ve grown up, I truly have, and I want us to be close the way you and Siana are close.”

  I was so flabbergasted I couldn’t think of anything to say, and that’s not an everyday occurrence. I opened my mouth, then closed it again when my brain remained in neutral.

  “I was jealous of you,” she continued, still talking fast, as if she had to get it all out before her courage failed. “You were always so popular and even my friends thought you were the coolest person they knew; they all tried to do their hair like yours, and buy the shade of lipstick you wore. It was sickening.”

  Now there was the Jenni I knew. I felt comforted, knowing the aliens hadn’t taken over my little sister’s body. Wyatt was sitting quietly, taking in every word, his gaze sharp. I wished he would go into another room, but I figured I had a better chance of growing wings and flying.

  “You were the best cheerleader, you were cute, you were athletic, you were the class salutatorian, you went to college on a cheerleading scholarship, you pulled down really good grades and got a degree in business administration, and you married the handsomest guy I’d ever seen,” she wailed. “He’s going to be governor someday, maybe a senator or even president, and he fell into your hand like a ripe plum! I was so jealous, because no matter how pretty I am I’ll never be able to do everything you did and I thought Mom and Dad loved you more. Even Siana loves you more! So that’s why when Jason made a pass at me, I took him up on it; because if he was looking at me, then it must be because you weren’t that great after all, and I was.”

  “What happened?” Wyatt interjected quietly.

  “Blair caught Jason and me kissing,” she confessed in a wretched tone. “That’s all it was, and that was the first time, but everything blew up at once and they got divorced. It’s all my fault, and I want to make it up to her.”

  “You’ll have to find another way,” he said, his words matter-of-fact. “There’s no way in hell I’d set up either you or Blair as bait. If we used that plan at all, one of our female officers would masquerade as Blair. We’d never risk a civilian.”

 
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