To Die For by Linda Howard

  Jenni looked stricken that her grand plan should be so summarily turned down, not just by me but by Wyatt, too; in the end, his was the approval that counted, because he had the authority to either nix the plan or put it into motion. He’d nixed it.

  “There must be something I can do,” she said, and a tear streaked down her face. She looked pleadingly at me.

  “Well, let’s see.” By this time I’d found my voice. I tapped my bottom lip with a fingernail while I thought. “You could wash my car every Saturday for the next year—after I get a car, that is. Or you could regrout my bathroom, because I really hate doing that.”

  She blinked at me as if she couldn’t quite make her mind wrap itself around what I was saying. Then she giggled. In the middle of the giggle she hiccuped a sob, and that was a very strange sound combination. It startled me into my own giggle—which I’ve tried hard to stop doing because of the image thing. I’m blond; I really shouldn’t giggle.

  Anyway, we ended up hugging and laughing, and she apologized five or six times, and I told her she was family and I’d choose her over Jason Carson any day because he was a lowlife bastard who made a pass at his seventeen-year-old sister-in-law and I was better off without him.

  Whew. Family dramas wear me out.

  Wyatt had to take Jenni home. They asked me to come along, but I elected to stay because I felt that I needed some alone time to get my emotions settled. I had tried to forgive Jenni and to some extent I had, because the lion’s share of blame belonged to Jason; he’d been an adult, and married, while teenagers aren’t the best in the world at making rational decisions. Still, it had always been there in the back of my mind that my own sister had betrayed me. I had tried to act normally toward her, but I guess she knew there was a difference between Before and After. What surprised me most was that she cared. No, what really surprised me most was that she’d ever been jealous of me; Jenni is gorgeous, and has always been gorgeous, from the day she was born. I’m smart, but not as smart as Siana. I’m pretty, but not in the same class with Jenni. I was sort of middle-of-the-road in our family. Why on earth would she be jealous?

  I started to call Siana to talk things over with her, but decided that I’d keep this private between Jenni and me. If she was serious about mending our relationship—really mending it—then I wasn’t going to sabotage the opportunity by maybe blabbing something she wasn’t comfortable with others knowing.

  Wyatt was back within the hour. His dark brows were drawn down in a scowl when he came in the door. “Why the hell didn’t you tell me you blackmailed your ex into giving you everything you asked for in the divorce? Don’t you think that’s something that could be considered as motive?”

  “Except Jason didn’t shoot at me,” I pointed out. “And he thinks he got the negative.”

  He did the green-eyed laser look. “He thinks?”

  I blinked my eyes at him, and put on my most innocent expression. “I mean, he knows he got the negative.”

  “Uh-huh. Does he know he got all of the copies?”

  “Um . . . he thinks he did, and that’s what’s important, right?”

  “So you blackmailed him, then double-crossed him.”

  “I look at it more as insurance. Anyway, I’ve never needed to use the picture and he doesn’t know it still exists. I haven’t had any contact with him since our divorce was final, and that was five years ago. That was why I knew Jason wasn’t trying to kill me, because he wouldn’t have any reason to.”

  “Except he does have reason to.”

  “Well, he would if he knew, but he doesn’t.”

  He pinched the bridge of his nose, as if I’d given him a headache. “Where are the copies?”

  “In my safe deposit box. There’s no way anyone saw them by accident, and no one else knows I have them, not even my family.”

  “Okay. I strongly suggest that, when this is over and you can come out of hiding, that you get those copies and destroy them.”

  “I can do that,” I allowed.

  “I know you can. The question is: Will you? Promise me.”

  I scowled at him. “I said I would.”

  “No, you said you could. There’s a difference. Promise me.”

  “Oh, all right. I promise I’ll destroy the pictures.”

  “Without making any extra copies.”

  Sheesh, he wasn’t the most trusting guy in the world. It pissed me off that he’d thought of that, too. Either Dad had been giving him advice again, or he had an unnaturally suspicious mind.

  “Without making any extra copies,” he repeated.

  “All right!” I snapped, and made plans to maybe accidentally drop his television remote in the toilet.

  “Good.” He crossed his arms over his chest. “Now, are there any other little secrets you’re keeping from me, anyone else you’re blackmailing, any revenge thing going on that you neglected to mention because you didn’t think it was relevant?”

  “No, Jason’s the only person I’ve ever blackmailed. And he deserved it.”

  “He deserved worse than that. He needed to have his ass kicked up around his shoulders.”

  Slightly mollified by those sentiments, I shrugged. “Daddy would have done it, so we didn’t tell him why Jason and I got divorced. That was to protect Daddy, not Jason.” No way was stomping Jason worth my dad spending even one minute under arrest for assault, which is what would have happened, because Jason is the petulant type and he’d have filed charges.

  “Agreed.” Wyatt watched me for a moment, then gave a rueful little shake of his head and pulled me into his arms. Comforted, I slid my arms around his waist and laid my head on his chest, and he rested his cheek on top of my head. “Now I understand why you need so much reassurance,” he murmured. “That was a big hit you took, finding your husband kissing your sister.”

  If there’s anything I hate, it’s people feeling sorry for me. In this case, there was no need. I’d moved on, and left Jason in my dust. But I couldn’t say, “Oh, it didn’t really bother me,” because that would have been a big fat lie and he’d have known it and thought I still hurt so much I couldn’t let myself admit it. So I muttered, “I got over it. And I got the Mercedes.” Except I didn’t have my Mercedes now, because it was just a hunk of crushed and twisted metal.

  “You may have gotten over the hurt, but you didn’t get over the experience. It made you wary.”

  Now he was making me sound like some poor wounded bird. I pulled back and scowled up at him. “I’m not wary; I’m smart. There’s a difference. I want to be sure there’s something solid between us before I sleep with you—”

  “Too late,” he said, and grinned.

  I sighed. “I know,” I said, and laid my head back on his chest. “Gentlemen don’t gloat.”

  “What does that tell you?”

  It told me he was way too cocky, and I needed to shore up my defenses. There was a big problem, though: I didn’t want to shore them up; I wanted to tear them down. Common sense said I might as well abandon my stance on not sleeping with him, since I was doing nothing but wasting my breath. On the other hand, it went against the grain to let him have his way in everything.

  “It tells me I should probably go stay in a motel in another town,” I said, just to wipe the smile off his face.

  It worked.

  “What?” he snapped. “What gave you a harebrained idea like that?”

  “I should be perfectly safe in another town, right? I could check in under a fake name, and—”

  “Forget it,” he said. “There’s no way in hell I’m letting you run away.” Then he realized that I now had wheels, and he had no control over what I did during the day while he was at work. He didn’t anyway, because if I wanted to leave, all I had to do was pick up the phone and call any of my family and they would come pick me up. For that matter, his own mother would, too. “Ah, shit,” he finished.

  He was so eloquent.



I had a nightmare that night, which isn’t surprising considering all that had happened. Probably I should already have had several nightmares, but my subconscious is as good at ignoring things as my conscious is. I don’t have many nightmares; my dreams are usually about everyday stuff, with weird little details, because that’s what dreams are for, right? Like I’d be at Great Bods trying to take care of a mountain of paperwork, but the members would keep interrupting me because half of them wanted to be able to ride the stationary bikes in the nude, and the other half thought this would be a total gross-out, which it would. Stuff like that.

  I didn’t dream about being shot. There was nothing to dream about that, except the sound and then the burning in my arm, which isn’t very much to build on, but the auto accident had a wealth of details for my subconscious to resurrect. I didn’t dream about going through another stop sign; instead I was in my red Mercedes, the one I had got when Jason and I divorced and had since traded in for the white one, and I was driving over a high, arching bridge when all of a sudden the car went out of control and started spinning. Car after car kept hitting me, and each hit knocked me closer and closer to the rail, and then I knew the next one would push me over. I saw that last car coming at me, in slow motion; then there was a horrible jolt and my red Mercedes hit the guardrail and tipped over it.

  I woke with a start, my heart pounding, and shaking all over. I was shaking, not my heart. Maybe my heart was, too, but I didn’t have any way of knowing; all I could feel was pounding. And Wyatt was leaning over me, a big, protective shadow in the darkness of the room.

  He stroked my belly, then gripped my waist and eased me into his arms. “Bad dream?”

  “My car was knocked off a bridge,” I muttered, still half asleep. “Bummer.”

  “Yeah, I can see where it would be.” He had his own technique of comforting, and it involved tucking me under him. I wrapped my legs around his hips and pulled him close.

  “Do you feel okay enough for this?” he murmured, but he was a tad late with the question because he was already sliding inside me.

  “Yes,” I answered anyway.

  He was careful, or tried to be. He kept his weight braced on his forearms and his strokes were slow and even—until the very end, when there was nothing slow or even about it. But he didn’t hurt me, or if he did, I was too turned on to notice.

  The next day was sort of a repeat of the one before, except I did more stretching and yoga and felt lots better. My left arm still hurt if I tried to pick up anything and put strain on the muscle, but I had pretty much full use of it if I kept the motions slow and didn’t do any jerking around.

  The bush Wyatt had bought for me was going to live, I thought, though it needed a full week of TLC before it would be able to stand the shock of being planted in the yard. Wyatt might not understand the concept of houseplants, but he had bought it for me and I treasured the poor thing. I was getting cabin fever from my enforced inactivity, so I walked around outside and selected the spot where I wanted the bush planted. Because of the age of the house, the landscaping around it was mature and lush, but it was all shrubbery and no flowers, so it would benefit from some color. It was too late in the season now to plant flowers. Next year, though . . .

  The heat and sun felt good on my skin. I was bored with being an invalid and craved the high of a good workout. I wanted to go to work so much I ached, and it made me angry that I couldn’t.

  The dream from the night before kept nagging at me. Not the part about going over the bridge, but the fact that it was the red Mercedes, which I had traded over two years ago. If you believe in the prophetic nature of dreams, that probably meant something, but I didn’t have a clue what it could be. That I regretted not getting another red car, maybe? That I thought white was too boring? I don’t, and anyway white was more practical in the south because of the heat.

  In terms of coolness—the quality, not the temperature—I would even rank red third, with white second, and black first. There’s just something about a black car that makes a statement of power. Red was sporty, white was sexy and elegant, and black was powerful. Maybe my new car would be black, if I ever got a chance to shop for one.

  Because I was bored, I rearranged the furniture in the family room, pushing the furniture around with my legs and my right arm, and just for the hell of it moved Wyatt’s recliner from its place of honor in front of the television. There was nothing wrong with the way he’d had it arranged and I didn’t care if his recliner took the prime spot, but like I said, I was bored.

  Since I’d opened Great Bods, I seldom had the time to watch much television, except for maybe the eleven o’clock news at night, so I’d gotten out of the habit. Wyatt didn’t know that, though. I might be able to have some fun whining about missing my favorite shows, which of course would be on the channels like Lifetime, Home and Garden, and Oxygen. The bad part about that was, if I won the battle for the remote, I’d have to watch the shows, too. There’s always a catch.

  I went out to the road and fetched the newspaper from the box, and then sat down in the kitchen and read every item. I needed some books. I needed to go shopping and buy some makeup or shoes. New makeup and shoes always lift my spirits. I needed to find out what Britney was doing these days, because that girl’s life was such a mess she made getting shot at look downright sane.

  Wyatt didn’t even have any flavored coffee. All in all, his house was woefully ill-equipped to keep me satisfied.

  By the time he came home that afternoon, I was ready to climb the walls. Out of sheer frustration I had even started another list of his transgressions, and the number one item was his lack of my favorite coffee. If I was going to stay there for the duration, I wanted to be comfortable. I also needed more of my clothes, and my favorite bath gel, and my scented shampoo, and all sorts of things.

  He kissed me hello, then said he was going upstairs to change clothes. To get to the stairs, you have to go through the family room. I stayed in the kitchen, and listened to his footsteps come to a dead stop as he registered the change in his living environment.

  He raised his voice and called, “What’s with the furniture?”

  “I was bored,” I called back.

  He muttered something that I couldn’t understand, and I heard him continue upstairs.

  I’m not a helpless decoration. I had also gone through the contents of his refrigerator and found some hamburger meat in the freezer section. I’d browned the meat and made spaghetti sauce. Because he never came home at the same time two days in a row, I hadn’t put on the spaghetti to boil, so I did that now. He didn’t have rolls, but he did have loaf bread, and I buttered the slices and sprinkled them with garlic powder and cheese. Something else he didn’t have was the makings for a green salad. This was not what I considered a healthy meal, but considering the contents of his pantry and refrigerator, it was either that or beans from a can.

  He came downstairs wearing only a pair of jeans, and my mouth watered when I saw him, with those tight abs and that muscled, hairy chest. To keep from drooling and embarrassing myself, I turned away and slid the baking sheet with the slices of bread on it into the oven. By the time they were nicely browned, the spaghetti would be done.

  “This smells good,” he said as he set the table.

  “Thank you. But unless we go grocery shopping, there’s nothing else to cook. What do you usually eat for supper?”

  “I usually eat out. Breakfast here, supper out. It’s easier that way, because by the end of the day I’m tired and don’t want to fool with cooking.”

  “I can’t eat out,” I said grumpily.

  “Well, you could, if we go to another town. Want to do that tomorrow? That would count as a date, right?”

  “No, it won’t.” I thought we’d covered that ground at the beach. “You eat anyway. A date would be if we did something you don’t normally do, like go to a play or a ballroom dancing exhibition.”

  “How about a ball game?” he countered.

  “There’s nothing going on now except baseball, and it’s stupid. There aren’t any cheerleaders. When it’s football season, then we’ll talk.”

  He let my insult to baseball pass and instead filled our glasses with ice, then poured tea into them. “Forensics found something today,” he said abruptly.

  I turned off the heat under the spaghetti. He sounded puzzled, as if he didn’t know what to make of whatever it was forensics had found. “What?”

  “A couple of hairs, caught in the underside of your car. It’s a miracle they’re still there, considering the shape your car is in.”

  “What can a couple of hairs tell you?” I asked. “If you had a suspect you could test for DNA, they would come in handy, but you don’t.”

  “They’re dark, so they tell us the person is a brunette. And they’re about ten inches long, so that raises the strong possibility that we’re looking for a woman after all. Not a certainty, because a lot of men have long hair, but they’re testing the hairs for hair spray and styling gel, that sort of stuff. That should help, because not many men around here use stuff like that.”

  “Jason does,” I pointed out.

  “Jason is a girlie bastard with more vanity than brains,” was his succinctly delivered opinion.

  Man, he didn’t like Jason. It warmed my heart.

  “Do you know any women with dark hair who might want to kill you?” he asked.

  “I know a lot of women with dark hair. It’s the last part that throws me.” I shrugged helplessly. The whole thing was a puzzle. “I haven’t even had a parking lot incident in years.”

  “The reason may not be anything recent,” Wyatt said. “When Nicole Goodwin was murdered and you were named as a witness, someone probably saw an opportunity to kill you and blame it on Nicole’s killer. But Dwayne Bailey confessed to the murder, so there’s no reason for him to kill you.”

  “Then why didn’t this person stop when he was arrested? Obviously it can’t be blamed on him, now.”

  “Maybe, since she didn’t get caught, she figures she can do it and get away with it.”

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