To Die For by Linda Howard

  Besides, I felt fine. The stitches in my left arm had been in for seven days and the muscle was healing nicely. I could even dress myself. The soreness from the car accident was mostly gone, taken care of by yoga, ice packs, and general experience with sore muscles.

  After about fifteen minutes Wyatt came down the stairs and saw me sitting in front of the television. “Making another list?” he asked warily as he approached.

  “Yeah, but it isn’t yours.”

  “You make lists of other people’s transgressions?” He sounded a little insulted, as if he thought he was the only one who deserved a list.

  “No, I’m making a list of the evidence.”

  He leaned over and kissed me good morning, then read the list. “Why is your red Mercedes on the list?”

  “Because I’ve dreamed about it twice. That has to mean something.”

  “Maybe that the white one is a total wreck and you wish you had the red one back?” He kissed me again. “What would you like for breakfast this morning? Pancakes again? French toast? Eggs and sausage?”

  “I’m tired of guy food,” I said, getting to my feet and following him into the kitchen. “Why don’t you have any girl food? I need some girl food.”

  He froze with the coffee carafe in his hand. “Women don’t eat the same things that men eat?” he asked cautiously.

  Really, he was so exasperating. “Are you sure you were married? Don’t you know anything?”

  He finished pouring his coffee and set the pot back on the hot pad. “I didn’t pay that much attention back then. You’ve been eating what I eat.”

  “Just to be polite, because you were going to so much trouble to feed me.”

  He thought about that for a minute, then said, “Let me drink my coffee and I’ll get back to you on this. In the meantime, I’m going to cook breakfast, and you’ll eat it because that’s all I have and I refuse to let you starve yourself.”

  Man, he gets testy over the least little thing.

  “Fruit,” I said helpfully. “Peaches. Grapefruit. Whole wheat bread for toast. And yogurt. Sometimes a cereal. That’s girl food.”

  “I have cereal,” he said.

  “A healthy cereal.” His taste in cereal ran to Froot Loops and Cap’n Crunch.

  “Why worry about eating anything healthy? If you can eat yogurt and live, you can eat anything. That stuff’s disgusting. It’s almost as bad as cottage cheese.”

  I agreed with him about the cottage cheese, so I didn’t leap to its defense. Instead I said, “You don’t have to eat it; you just need to have girl food here for me to eat. If I’m going to stay, that is.”

  “You’re staying, all right.” He fished in the pocket of his jeans and pulled out something, which he tossed to me. “Here.”

  It was a small velvet box. I turned it over in my hand but didn’t open it. If this was what I thought it was—I tossed the box right back at him. He fielded it one-handed and frowned at me. “Don’t you want it?”

  “Want what?”

  “The engagement ring.”

  “Oh, is that what’s in the box? You threw my engagement ring at me?” Boy, this was such a big transgression I would have to write it in block letters on its own page, and show it to our children when they grew up as an example of how not to do something.

  He cocked his head while he gave this a brief consideration, then looked at me standing there barefoot, dwarfed by his robe, waiting narrow-eyed to see what he would do. He gave a quick little grin and came to me, catching my right hand in his and lifting it to his mouth. Then he went down gracefully on one knee and kissed my hand again. “I love you,” he said gravely. “Will you marry me?”

  “Yes, I will,” I replied just as gravely. “I love you, too.” Then I threw myself at him, which of course knocked him off balance, and we sprawled on the kitchen floor, except he was on bottom, so that was okay. We kissed for a while; then I sort of came unwrapped from the robe and what you might have expected to happen, happened.

  Afterward he retrieved the velvet box from near the door, where it had skittered when he dropped it, and flipped the top open. Taking out a simple, breathtaking solitaire diamond, he took my left hand and gently slid the ring onto my ring finger.

  I looked at the diamond and tears welled in my eyes. “Hey, don’t cry,” he cajoled, tilting my chin up to kiss me. “Why are you crying?”

  “Because I love you and it’s beautiful,” I said, and gulped back my tears. Sometimes he did things just right, and when he did, it was almost more than I could bear. “When did you get it? I can’t think when you would have had the time.”

  He snorted. “Last Friday. I’ve been carrying it around for a week.”

  Last Friday? The day after Nicole was murdered? Before he followed me to the beach? My mouth fell open.

  He put a finger under my chin and pushed up, closing my mouth. “I was certain then. I was certain as soon as I saw you on Thursday night, sitting in your office with your hair up in a ponytail and wearing that little pink halter top that had all the men’s tongues dragging the ground. I was so relieved to find out you weren’t the one who’d been murdered that my knees nearly buckled, and I knew right then that all I’d been doing for two years was avoiding the inevitable. I made up my mind right then to get you corralled as soon as possible, and I bought the ring the next day.”

  I tried to take this in. While I’d been busy protecting myself until he decided he loved me the way I knew he would if he just let himself, he’d already made up his mind and had been trying to convince me. Reality altered once more. At this rate, by the end of the day I wouldn’t have a real good grasp on what was real and what wasn’t.

  Men and women may belong to the same species, but this was proof positive to me that we are Not Alike. That doesn’t really matter, though, because he was trying. He bought a bush for me, didn’t he? And a gorgeous ring.

  “What are you doing today?” he asked over breakfast, which consisted of scrambled eggs, toast, and sausage. I ate about a third of what he did.

  “I don’t know.” I twined my feet around the legs of the chair. “I’m bored. I’ll do something.”

  He winced. “That’s what I was afraid of. Get ready and go to work with me. At least then I’ll know you’re safe.”

  “No offense, but sitting in your office is even more boring than sitting here.”

  “You’re tough,” he said unsympathetically. “You can take it.”

  He wouldn’t take “no” for an answer; his track record on that so far was pretty damn consistent. So I decided my arm hurt after all our rolling around on the floor and he had to help me put on some makeup to cover my bruised cheekbones; then my hair just wouldn’t do what I wanted it to do and I told him he’d have to braid it. After two attempts, he growled something obscene and said, “All right, that’s it. You’ve punished me enough. We need to leave or I’ll be late.”

  “You might as well learn how to braid hair,” I said, giving him the Big Eyes. “I just know our little girl will wear her hair in braids sometimes, and she’ll want her daddy to do it for her.”

  He almost melted under the onslaught of Big Eyes and mention of a little girl; then he caught himself. He was made of some stern stuff, to withstand the double whammy. “We’re having all boys,” he said as he hauled me to my feet. “No girls. I’ll need all the reinforcements I can get without you bringing in a ringer.”

  I grabbed my notebook before he hustled me out to the garage and practically stuffed me into the Crown Vic. If I had to sit in a police station, I might as well work on my clues.

  When we got to City Hall and he ushered me into the police station, the first person I saw was Officer Vyskosigh. He was wearing street clothes, so I guessed he had just finished his shift. He stopped and gave me a little salute. “I enjoyed the dessert you sent, Ms. Mallory,” he said. “If I hadn’t been late getting off my shift, I wouldn’t have gotten any. Sometimes things work out for the better.”

glad you enjoyed it,” I said, smiling at him. “If you don’t mind my asking, where do you work out? I can tell you do.”

  He looked faintly startled, then preened a little. “The YMCA.”

  “When this is over and I can go back to work, I’d like to show you around Great Bods. We offer some programs that the Y doesn’t, and my facilities are first-rate.”

  “I looked around last week,” he said, nodding his head. “I was impressed with what I saw.”

  Wyatt was gently herding me forward with his body, and as we turned the corner to the elevator, I looked past him and called, “Bye, now,” to Officer Vyskosigh.

  “Would you stop flirting?” Wyatt growled.

  “I wasn’t flirting. I was drumming up business.” The elevator doors opened and we stepped inside.

  He pressed the button for his floor. “That was flirting. So cut it out.”

  Chief Gray was talking with a group of detectives that included MacInnes and Forester, and he looked up when Wyatt steered me toward his office. The Chief was wearing a dark taupe suit and a French blue dress shirt. I gave him a big smile and a thumbs-up, and he self-consciously stroked his tie.

  “Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea,” Wyatt muttered as he parked me in his chair. “But it’s too late now to change my mind, so just sit there and make lists, okay? There are some guys here who have high cholesterol, so try not to smile at them and give them heart attacks. Don’t flirt with anyone who’s over forty, or overweight, or married, or under forty, or single. Got it?”

  “I’m not a flirt,” I said defensively, and pulled out my notebook. I couldn’t believe he was being so dog-in-the-mangerish. That might be list-worthy.

  “The evidence says otherwise. Since you told him he’d look good in blue, Chief Gray has worn a blue shirt every day. Maybe you should clue him in on some other colors.”

  “Oh, how sweet,” I said, beaming. “He must have gone shopping that very day.”

  Wyatt studied the ceiling for a moment, then said, “Do you want some coffee? Or a Diet Coke?”

  “No, I’m fine right now. Thank you. Where will you be, since I have your desk?”

  “Around,” he said unhelpfully, and left.

  I didn’t have time to get bored. Several people popped into the office to thank me for the bread pudding, and ask for the recipe. The women asked, that is; I don’t think it occurred to the men. Between interruptions, I doodled in my notebook and wrote down other things that might or might not be relevant, but didn’t hit on that magic detail that would tie everything together.

  Around lunchtime, Wyatt returned with a white sack containing two barbecue sandwiches, and with two soft drinks hooked in his fingers. He moved me out of his chair—I don’t know what it is about him and his chairs, that he can’t share—and looked over my list of clues and my doodles while we ate lunch. He didn’t seem impressed by my progress. He did like where I’d written his name, then drawn a heart around it and an arrow through the heart. He scowled, though, when he found his new list of transgressions.

  After we had eaten he said, “The lab guys say that the black hairs are original, not dyed. And that they’re Asian, which is a big break. How many Asians do you know?”

  Now I was really puzzled. There aren’t many Asians in this part of the country, and though I’d had some Asian friends in college, we hadn’t kept in touch. “None since college, that I remember.”

  “Remember, Native Americans are of Asian heritage.”

  That put a whole new light on things, because this close to the Eastern Cherokee Reservation, there were a lot of Cherokees around. I knew a lot of people with Cherokee heritage, but I couldn’t think of one who might want to kill me.

  “I’ll have to think about this,” I said. “I’ll make a list.”

  After he left, I did make a list of all the Native Americans I knew, but even as I was writing the names, I knew this was a waste of time. None of them had any reason to kill me.

  I went back to my clues. I wrote down: Asian hair. Wasn’t that what all good-quality human-hair wigs were made of? Asian hair was heavy and straight and glossy; anything could be done to it, in terms of color and curl. I wrote down wig, then circled the word.

  If the person trying to kill me had been smart enough to wear a wig, then we shouldn’t be paying any attention to the color of the hair. This threw the field of suspects wide open again. A wild idea struck me and I wrote down a name, with a question mark beside it. This was taking jealousy to the extreme, but I wanted to think about this person some more.

  Around two o’clock, Wyatt stuck his head in the door. “Stay here,” he said brusquely. “We have a call about a murder/suicide. Turn your cell phone on and I’ll call you when I can.”

  If my cell phone is with me, it’s always on. The big question was, when would he be back? I’d seen how long it takes to work crime scenes; he might not be back to fetch me until midnight. There is no good that comes of not having your own wheels.

  The constant noise in the big room outside Wyatt’s office had lessened considerably; when I went to the door, I saw that almost everyone had left. They were all probably going to the scene of the murder/suicide. If I’d been given the choice, I would have gone, too.

  To my right, the elevator dinged, signaling someone’s arrival. I looked around just as the person stepped out, and I froze in shock as Jason, of all people, came into view. Well, not shock; that’s too strong a reaction. More like surprise. And I wasn’t frozen, either, if you want to get literal about things.

  I thought about ducking back into Wyatt’s office, but Jason had already seen me. A big smile lit his face and he came toward me with long steps. “Blair. Did you get my message?”

  “Hello,” I said with a lot less than enthusiasm, and didn’t bother answering his question. “What are you doing here?”

  “Looking for Chief Gray. Same question back atcha.”

  “There were some details to clear up,” I said vaguely. This was the first time I’d spoken to him in five years, and I felt uneasy about speaking at all. He was so firmly out of my life I could barely remember anything about our time together.

  He was still handsome, but his looks didn’t speak to me at all. The state legislature wasn’t in session, but now that he was a state representative, he did things like play golf with the chief of police, and even when he was casually dressed, as now, he went for a higher fashion statement than he had before. Though he was wearing jeans and docksiders—no socks, of course—he also had on an oatmeal-colored linen jacket. Some linen blends now don’t wrinkle so horrifically; he hadn’t been smart enough to find one. His jacket looked as if he’d slept in it for a week even though he’d probably put it on fresh just that morning.

  “I haven’t seen the chief since this morning,” I said, stepping back so I could terminate the conversation by closing the office door. “Good luck.”

  Instead of going on his way, he stepped forward into the office doorway. “Is there something like a break room where he’d go for coffee, or anything?”

  “He’s the chief,” I said drily. “He probably has his own coffeemaker. And someone to pour it for him.”

  “Why don’t you walk with me while I look for him? We could catch up on old times.”

  “No, thanks. I have paperwork to do.” I gestured toward Wyatt’s desk, where the paperwork was all his except for my notebook, but of course I’d gone through all his paperwork again, so in a way it was mine.

  “Aw, come on,” Jason cajoled. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a snub-nosed pistol. “Walk with me. We have a lot to talk about.”



  Obviously I would never have gone with him if he hadn’t had that pistol jammed in my side, but he did, so I did. I was sort of in shock, trying to wrap my mind around what was happening. Thinking about something else until my subconscious felt ready to face this obviously wasn’t going to work this time. By the time I realized he wouldn’t
have shot me in front of witnesses—and there had been a couple of other people still in the department—it was too late; I was already in his car with him.

  He made me drive, while he kept the pistol trained on me. I thought about driving him into a telephone pole or something, but I flinched at the idea of being in yet another car accident. My poor body was just now recovering from the last one. I didn’t want to get hit in the face by another air bag, either. Yeah, I know, a bruise is temporary but a bullet can be forever, so maybe I didn’t make the best choice. Just in case I had to drive into a telephone pole, though, as a last resort, I glanced down at the steering wheel to make certain there was an air bag there. The car was a late model Chevrolet, so of course it had one, but after the week I’d had, I wanted to double-check.

  The funny thing is, I was alarmed but not terrified. See, the main thing to know about Jason is that he’ll do anything to protect his image. His whole life is built around his political career, polls, and his ambition. How he thought he could get away with murder when at least two people had seen me leaving with him, I don’t know.

  I followed his directions while I waited for him to realize this, but somehow he seemed to be in his own alternate reality. I didn’t know where he was taking me; in fact, we seemed to be driving aimlessly around town while he tried to think of somewhere to go. He kept pulling at his lower lip, which, I remembered, was a habit he had when he was worrying about something.

  “You wore a black wig, right?” I casually asked. “When you cut my brake line?”

  He shot me a nervous glance. “How did you know?”

  “Some hairs got caught on the undercarriage. The forensics team found them.”

  He looked faintly puzzled, then nodded. “Oh, yeah, I remember sort of catching the wig on something. I didn’t think about any hair coming out because I couldn’t feel anything pulling.”

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