To Die For by Linda Howard

I read for a while; then when the sun got hot, I took a cooling dip in the ocean, and after that read a while longer. By eleven, the heat was too much for me, so I put on my flip-flops and a beach cover-up, got my bag, and went shopping. I love that about beach towns; no one turns a hair if you go shopping in your bathing suit.

  I found a really cute pair of blue shorts with a blue-and-white matching top, and a straw bag with a fish embroidered on it with metallic thread, so it glittered in the sunlight. The bag was great for holding all of my beach stuff. I ate lunch on an open deck looking out over the ocean, where a good-looking guy tried to pick me up. I was there to rest, though, not to look for love of the transient variety, so he was out of luck.

  Finally I wandered back to my cottage. I’d left my cell phone on the charger, and when I checked it, there were no new missed calls, so evidently Wyatt had given up. After renewing my sunscreen, I hit the beach again. Same routine: read, cool off in the ocean, read some more. By three-thirty, I was so drowsy I couldn’t keep my eyes open. Putting my book aside, I stretched out on the towel and went to sleep.

  The next thing I knew, someone was picking me up. I mean literally. The odd thing was, I wasn’t alarmed, at least not that I was being kidnapped by some beach maniac. I blinked my eyes open and stared up at a hard, angry face that I knew very well. But even before I’d opened my eyes I’d known, whether by some weird skin chemistry or subconsciously recognizing the scent of him; my heart did that crazy dance.

  He was carrying me toward the cottage. “Lieutenant Bloodsworth,” I said in acknowledgment, as if he needed any.

  He scowled down at me. “Jesus. Just shut up, okay?”

  I don’t like being told to shut up. “How did you find me?” I knew Mom wouldn’t tell him, just because she’s Mom and would figure if he couldn’t keep track of me, that wasn’t her problem, and if I’d wanted him to know where I was, I’d have told him.

  “You paid by credit card.” He reached the cottage, which wasn’t locked, since I’d been lying on the beach right in front of it, and turned sideways to get me through the door. The air-conditioning raised goose bumps on my bare, sun-heated flesh.

  “You mean you tracked my credit card as if I was a common criminal—”

  He released my legs but kept his grip on my upper body, and I grabbed at his shirt for balance. The next thing I knew, he had me lifted off my feet again and his mouth was on mine.

  I think I’ve mentioned that I went into major meltdown whenever he touched me. Two years down the road, that hadn’t changed. His mouth felt the same and tasted the same; his body was hard and hot against me, his muscled arms like living steel around me. Every nerve ending in me revved to immediate attention; it was like a mild electrical current running through me, magnetizing me so that I was pulled to him. I actually whimpered as I wound my arms around his neck and my legs around his hips, and kissed him back as hungrily as he was kissing me.

  There were a thousand reasons why I should have stopped him right there, and I didn’t listen to any of them. The only coherent thought I had was: Thank God I’m on birth control pills, which I had gone on and stayed on after my previous experience with him.

  My bikini top came off on the way to the bedroom. Frantic to feel his bare skin against me, I yanked and jerked at his shirt, and he obliged me by raising first one arm and then the other so I could pull it off over his head. His chest was broad and hairy, and hard with muscle. I rubbed against him like a cat as he fought to unbuckle his belt and unfasten his jeans. I guess I didn’t help any, but I didn’t want to stop.

  Then he tossed me on the bed and peeled off my bikini bottom. His eyes were glittering as he stared down at me, stretched naked across the bed. He visually searched every inch of my skin, that hot look lingering on my breasts and hips. He pushed my legs apart and looked at me, making me blush, but then he eased two big fingers into me and I forgot about blushing. My knees came up and my hips lifted as sheer delight fizzed through me.

  He said, “Fuck,” in a strained voice, and pushed his jeans down, letting them drop to the floor. I don’t know how he got rid of his shoes; for all I know, he took them off before walking down on the beach to get me, which would have been the best thing to do. But he stepped out of his jeans and then he was on top of me, and the diabolical fiend bit the side of my neck as he entered me with a hard push that took him all the way in.

  I went off like a rocket. If I’d had any self-control left, it was destroyed by that bite.

  When I settled, I opened my heavy eyelids to find him looking down at me with a fiercely triumphant expression in his eyes. He stroked my hair out of my face and nuzzled my temple with his lips. “Do I need a condom?”

  He was already inside me, so it was a little too late to be asking. I managed to say, “No. I’m on the pill.”

  “Good,” he said, and got started on me all over again.

  That was the good part about letting passion override common sense. The bad part was when common sense returned. No matter how many orgasms you have, if you have any common sense to begin with, it always comes back.

  Daylight was almost gone when I woke from an exhausted, satiated nap to stare in disconcertion at the naked man beside me. Not that he wasn’t great to look at, with that strongly muscled body, but I had not only gone against my own rules, I had also lost a huge amount of tactical ground. Yes, the battle of the sexes is like fighting a war. If everything works out, you both win. If it doesn’t work out, you want to be the one who loses the least.

  Now what? I’d just made love with a man I wasn’t even dating! Used to date, yes—very briefly. Absolutely nothing between us had been settled, and I had given in like a total surrender-monkey. He hadn’t even had to ask.

  How humiliating that he was right: all he had to do was touch me, and I started shedding clothes. It didn’t help that actually making love with him had been just as good—better—as that damn chemistry reaction between us had promised. That shouldn’t happen. It should be illegal or something, because how was I supposed to ignore him the way I wanted to when actually knowing how good we were together was so much worse than imagining how it might be? If I’d been tempted before, the feeling would be ten times worse now.

  I realized I’d been staring at his penis for a good ten minutes, and in that length of time it had changed from soft and relaxed to not so soft. I looked up to find him watching me, his green eyes both sleepy and hungry.

  “We can’t do this again,” I said firmly, before he could reach for me and undermine my resistance. “Once was enough.”

  “Must not have been,” he said lazily, trailing a finger over my nipple.

  He had me there. Damn it. Never go back for seconds.

  I brushed his finger away. “I mean it. This was a mistake.”

  “I don’t agree. I think it was a great idea.” He raised up on his elbow and leaned over me. A little panicked, I turned my head away before he could kiss me, but he wasn’t going for my mouth.

  Instead he pressed his lips just under my ear and trailed sucking little kisses down the side of my neck, following the ligaments that led straight to the soft little hollow where my neck joined my shoulder. Heat flooded through me, and though I opened my mouth to say “no,” or something like it, nothing came out except a moan.

  He licked and bit and sucked and kissed, and I shuddered and squirmed and generally went crazy. When he slid on top of me again, I was too far gone to do anything except grab him and hold on for the ride.

  “That isn’t fair!” I stormed at him as I stomped into the bathroom half an hour later. “How did you know that? Don’t do it again!”

  Laughing, he followed me into the shower. I couldn’t throw him out unless he let me, so I turned my back on him and concentrated on showering off the heady combination of sunscreen, saltwater, and man.

  “Did you think I wouldn’t notice, or remember?” He put one big warm hand on the back of my neck, and his thumb stroked up and down. I shuddered.

  “You were naked in my lap—”

  “I had on a skirt. I was not naked.”

  “Close enough. At any rate, honey, I paid attention. If I touched your breasts, you barely noticed, but when I kissed your neck, you’d almost come. What was so tough about figuring that out?”

  I didn’t like him knowing so much about me. Most men assume that if they touch or kiss your breasts, they’re turning you on and can maybe talk you into doing something you don’t really want to do. My breasts are pretty much nothing to me, pleasure-wise. Sometimes I envy women who get pleasure from their breasts, but I’m not one of them, and anyway, I figure keeping a cool head more than offsets the lack.

  Kiss my neck, however, and I melt. It’s a weakness, because a man can kiss your neck without taking your clothes off, so I don’t go around blabbing about it. How had Wyatt noticed so fast?

  He was a cop. Noticing details was part of who and what he was. That’s fine when he’s after a criminal, but he shouldn’t be allowed to use that skill in a sexual situation.

  “Keep your hands and your mouth off my neck,” I said, turning around to glare at him. “We are so not doing this.”

  “You have a remarkable talent for ignoring the obvious,” he said, grinning down at me.

  “I’m not ignoring it; I’m making an executive decision. I don’t want to have sex with you again. It’s not a good thing for me—”


  “—in any way other than sexually,” I finished, glaring harder. “Just go back to your life and I’ll go back to mine, and we’ll forget this ever happened.”

  “That’s not going to happen. Why are you so dead set against us getting together again?”

  “We were never together. The term implies a relationship, and we never got that far.”

  “Stop splitting hairs. I couldn’t forget about you and you couldn’t forget about me. Okay, I give up: not seeing you didn’t work.”

  I turned my back and began shampooing my hair, so angry I couldn’t think of anything to say. He wanted to forget about me? I’d be glad to help him. Maybe if I hit him in the head with something hard—

  “Don’t you want to know why?” he asked, sliding his fingers into my hair and massaging my scalp.

  “No,” I said stonily.

  He moved closer, so close his naked body was pressed against me as he worked the suds through my hair. “Then I won’t tell you. One day you’ll want to know, and we’ll talk about it then.”

  He was the most exasperating man I’d ever seen. I clamped my teeth together to keep from asking him to tell me.

  Frustration and resentment built, and finally I relieved it by saying, “You’re such an asshole jerk.”

  He laughed and pushed my head under the shower.



  I don’t know how I ended up going to dinner with him. Actually, I do. He wouldn’t leave.

  I had to eat, and I was starving. So after I got out of the shower, I totally ignored him while I dried my hair and got ready, which actually doesn’t take all that long because I didn’t bother with anything more than the basic makeup—mascara and lipstick. The summer heat meant I’d just sweat off anything more, so why go to the trouble?

  He irritated me no end by actually bumping me away from the bathroom sink with his hip so he could shave. I stared at him openmouthed, because that just isn’t the way things work. He looked at me in the mirror and winked. In a snit, I marched into the bedroom and threw on some clothes, which again didn’t take long because I didn’t bring much in the first place, and what I did bring was color coordinated. Now that I wasn’t in a fog of lust, I saw a small black duffel sitting open on the floor at the foot of the bed; that was evidently where the razor and shaving cream came from.

  Come to think of it, the closet was fuller . . .

  I whirled and opened the closet again. Yes, pushed to the side were a pair of jeans and a polo shirt.

  I grabbed them off the hangers and turned to stuff them back into that duffel where they belonged. He came out of the bathroom in time to say, “Thanks for getting these out for me,” as he took them from my hands and put them on.

  That was when I realized he was out of control, and the best thing I could do was escape.

  While he was pulling on his jeans, I rushed through the living room and grabbed my bag and keys on the way out. A rental sedan—a white Saturn—was parked beside the truck, another little detail I’d missed in my earlier delirium. I opened the truck door and slid behind the steering wheel . . . and just kept on sliding, pushed by his big body as he forcibly took my place behind the wheel.

  I shrieked and tried to push him out; when he didn’t budge, I pulled my feet up and pushed with them, too. I’m strong for a woman, but he was like a rock sitting there. And the jackass was smiling.

  “Going somewhere?” he asked as he neatly filched the keys from the floorboard where I’d dropped them.

  “Yes,” I said, and opened the passenger door. I was sliding out when he caught me under both arms and hauled me back into the truck.

  “There are two ways we can do this,” he said calmly. “You can sit there like a good girl, or I can handcuff you. Which do you choose?”

  “That isn’t a choice,” I said indignantly. “That’s an ultimatum. Neither is what I want to do!”

  “Those’re the only two alternatives I’m offering. Look at it this way: you put me to the trouble of chasing after you, so you’re damned lucky I’m giving you even this much of a choice.”

  “Hah! You didn’t have to follow me and you know it. You had no reason other than being an arrogant jackass for telling me not to leave town, so don’t act so put upon. You got laid, didn’t you? I didn’t notice you acting like I was a lot of trouble when you were tossing me on the bed.”

  He reached across me and grabbed the seat belt, pulling it around to buckle it. “I’m not the only person in this truck who got laid. Fun was had. Rocks were got off. It was a mutual thing.”

  “Which shouldn’t have happened. Casual sex is stupid.”

  “Agreed. But what’s between us isn’t casual.”

  “I keep telling you there is no ‘us.’ ”

  “Sure there is. You just don’t want to admit it yet.” He started the truck and put it in gear. “Nice truck, by the way. It surprised me. You strike me as a luxury-car kind of person.”

  I loudly cleared my throat, and he looked at me with raised brows. I stared pointedly at his seat belt, which he hadn’t fastened. He grunted and put the truck back in park. “Yes, ma’am,” he said while he buckled himself in.

  As he backed out of the driveway I returned to the argument. “See? You don’t know what kind of person I am. I like driving pickups. You really don’t know anything at all about me, so therefore we have nothing between us except for physical attraction. That makes the sex casual.”

  “I beg to differ. Casual sex is scratching an itch, and nothing more.”

  “Bingo! My itch has been scratched. You can go now.”

  “Are you always like this when your feelings get hurt?”

  I set my jaw and stared out the windshield. I wished he hadn’t realized that hurt feelings were behind my hostility and resistance to him. You have to care about someone before he can hurt your feelings, because otherwise what he said or did wouldn’t even blip on the old radar screen. I didn’t want to care about him; I didn’t want to care about what he did or whom he saw, if he was eating properly or getting enough sleep. I didn’t want to be hurt again, because this man could hurt me big-time if I let him get really close. Jason had hurt me bad enough, but Wyatt could break my heart.

  He reached out and put his hand on the back of my neck, gently massaging. “I’m sorry,” he said gently.

  I could tell I was going to have trouble with him when it came to my neck. He was like a vampire, going straight for it whenever he wanted to influence me. The apology wasn’t playing fair, either. I wanted him to crawl, and here he w
as undermining my resolve with that simple apology. The man was sneaky.

  The best thing to do was fight fire with fire, and tell him exactly where he stood and what the problem was. I reached up and removed his hand from the back of my neck, because I couldn’t think straight while he was touching me there.

  “Okay, here it is,” I said steadily, still focusing on what was outside rather than in the truck with me. “How can I trust you not to hurt me again? You cut and ran instead of telling me what the problem was, instead of working on it or giving me a chance to work on it. My marriage failed because my husband, instead of telling me something was wrong and working with me to fix it, started running around on me. So I’m not real big on trying to build relationships with people who aren’t willing to put some effort into maintaining it and repairing the breakdowns. You do that for a car, right? So my standard is, a man has to care as much about me as he does about his car. You failed.”

  He was silent as he absorbed all of that. I expected him to start arguing, explaining how the situation looked from his side of the fence, but he didn’t. “So it’s a trust thing,” he finally said. “Good. That’s something I can work with.” He slanted a hard look at me. “That means you’ll be seeing a lot of me. I can’t earn your trust back if I’m not around. So from now on, we’re together. Got it?”

  I blinked. Somehow I hadn’t foreseen he would take a lack of trust and make it seem as if that meant I had to be in a relationship with him so he could re-earn my trust. I’m telling you, the man is diabolical.

  “You’ve had a brain fart,” I pointed out as kindly as possible. “Not trusting you means I don’t want to be with you.”

  He snorted. “Yeah, right. That’s why we tear each other’s clothes off every time we get within touching distance.”

  “That’s a chemical imbalance, nothing more. A good multivitamin will take care of that.”

  “We’ll talk about it over dinner. Where do you want to eat?”

  That’s right, distract me with food. If I hadn’t been so hungry, his ploy would never have worked. “Someplace with champion air-conditioning where I can sit down and some nice person will bring me a margarita.”

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