Blair Mallory Book 1: To Die For (Chapter Twelve)
"You kissed me there in the parking lot, remember? So he might very well figure we have a thing, you're a cop, and work it from there. How hard can it be?"
"We have over two hundred people in the department; narrowing down which one I am could take time. Then he'd have to find me. My home phone number isn't listed, and sure as hell no one in the department would give out information on me or any other member. If anyone wants to contact me about work, they call this," he said, tapping his cell phone. "And it's registered with the city."
"All right," I conceded. "I'm safer at your place. Not totally safe, but safer." Someone was trying to kill me. Despite my best efforts not to think about it just yet, the hard truth of that was pushing in on me. I knew I'd have to come to grips with it pretty soon-say, sometime tomorrow. I'd been sort of expecting it… not really, but the possibility had been in the back of my mind… but I hadn't factored in the shock of actually being shot. That was totally unexpected.
Just like that-boom!-my life had gone out of control. I couldn't go home, I didn't have my clothes with me, I was in pain, I felt weak and shaky, and God only knew what would happen to my business. I needed to get that control back.
I looked over at Wyatt. He was driving out of the city proper; we had left all the streetlights behind, so his face was lit only by the dash lights, and I shivered a little at how tough he looked. This whole situation with him was out of control, too. I'd tried my best to put on the brakes, and instead here I was, going home with him. He'd seen an opportunity and grabbed it, though I was really surprised, considering how pissed he'd been about my list.
Who would have thought a little thing like that would annoy him so much? Touchy, touchy. And here I was, totally at his mercy. There wouldn't be anyone else around-
I had a horrible thought. "How are you at doing hair?"
"What?" he asked, as if I'd said something in a foreign language.
"Hair. You'll have to do my hair."
He gave a quick glance at my hair. "You were wearing it in a ponytail Thursday night. I can do that."
Okay, that was acceptable, and was probably best until I was more functional. "That'll do. I don't even have my hair dryer with me, anyway. It's still in my car."
"I got your bag. It's in back with mine."
I could have kissed him, I was so relieved. Most of the clothes in the bag needed washing, of course, but to be on the safe side I'd taken an extra outfit to the beach. I had underwear, something to sleep in, and even makeup if I felt like putting some on. I had my birth control pills, thank God, though I figured I was safe from him tonight, at least. All in all, things were looking up. Until Siana could pack more clothes for me tomorrow and meet Wyatt with them, I had enough to get by.
We'd been driving for miles, and now there was nothing around except for the occasional house, but they were spaced far apart. I was getting impatient to get there and see how this was going to work out. "Where on earth do you live?"
"We're almost there. I was making certain no one followed us, so I've been taking some extra turns. I live just inside the city limits."
I was dying to see his house. I had no idea what to expect, and part of me was braced for the typical bachelor den. He had made some money playing pro ball; he could have built anything from a log-cabin-style lodge to a fake chateau.
"I'm surprised you don't live with your mother," I said, and I was. Mrs. Bloodsworth was a nice old lady with a wicked sense of humor, and Lord knows she had enough room to house half the block in that big old Victorian she loved.
"Why? You don't live with your mother," he pointed out.
"It's different for women."
"We don't need anyone to cook for us or pick up after us or do the laundry for us."
"News flash, honey: I don't either."
"You do your own laundry?"
"It's not exactly rocket science, is it? I can read labels and set the controls on a washer."
"And cook? You can actually cook?" I was getting excited.
"Nothing fancy, but yeah, I can get by." He glanced at me. "What about it?"
"Think, Lieutenant. Do you remember eating at any time during the past"-I checked the time on the dashboard clock-"five hours? I'm starving."
"I heard you had a cookie."
"Fig Newton. I had four of them, and it was an emergency. That doesn't qualify as eating."
"It's four Fig Newtons more than I've had, so to me it qualifies."
"That's beside the point. Feeding me is now your duty."
His lips twitched. "Duty? How do you figure that?"
"You commandeered me, didn't you?"
"Some people might think it was more along the lines of saving your life."
"Details. Mom would have fed me extremely well. You took me away from her, so now you have to step up to the plate."
"Interesting woman, your mother. You came by the attitude honestly, didn't you?"
"What attitude?" I asked in bewilderment.
He reached across and patted my knee. "It doesn't matter. Your dad told me his secret to handling you."
"He didn't!" I was appalled. Dad wouldn't have sided with the enemy, would he? Of course, he didn't know Wyatt was the enemy. For all I knew, Wyatt had told him we were engaged or something and that was why Dad hadn't batted an eye about Wyatt taking me home with him.
"Of course he did. We men have to stick together, you know."
"He wouldn't do that! He never told Jason any secret. There isn't any secret. You just made that up."
I fished out my cell phone and furiously punched in Mom and Dad's number. Wyatt reached over and neatly confiscated the phone, punching the end button, then slipping it in his pocket.
"Give me that!" I was seriously hampered by my wounded arm, since he was sitting to my left. I tried to turn in the seat, but I couldn't move my arm much at all and it sort of got in the way, and I bumped my shoulder against the back of the seat. For a moment I saw stars.
"Easy, honey, easy." Wyatt's crooning voice reached me through the waves of pain, but it was coming from the right, which was very disorienting.
I took a few deep breaths and opened my eyes, and found that his voice was coming from the right because he was leaning into the car from the open passenger door. The car was stopped in a driveway, the motor still running, and a dark house loomed in front of us.
"Are you going to pass out on me?" he asked as he gently straightened me in the seat.
"No, but I might throw up on you," I answered honestly, and let my head drop back while I closed my eyes again. The nausea and pain receded at the same rate.
"Try not to."
"It was probably an empty threat. I haven't eaten, remember?"
"Except for four Fig Newtons."
"They're long gone. You're safe."
He brushed his hand over my forehead. "Good deal." He closed the car door, then came back around and got behind the wheel.
"Isn't this your house?" I asked in confusion. Had he pulled into the first driveway he came to?
"Sure is, but I'll park in the garage." He hit a button on the garage-door opener clipped to the sun visor, and simultaneously an exterior light came on and a double garage door in the side of the house began sliding upward. He put the car in gear and pulled forward, then turned to the right and smoothly slotted the car into its place. He punched the button again, and the door began sliding down behind us.
His garage was neat, which impressed me. Garages tend to be catchalls, getting choked with everything except the cars they were meant to house. Not Wyatt's. To my right was a tool bench, with one of those big, red, multidrawered tool chests like mechanics have parked off to one side. An array of hammers, saws, and other guy stuff hung neatly on the pegboard wall. I stared at them, wondering if he knew what to do with all of them. Men and their toys. Huh.
"I have a hammer, too," I told him.
"I bet you do."
I hate being condescended to. You could tell he thought my hammer was nowhere in the ballpark with his collection. "It's pink."
He froze in the act of getting out of the car, staring at me with an appalled expression. "That's perverted. That's just not right."
"Oh, please. There's no law that says a tool has to be ugly."
"Tools aren't ugly. They're strong and functional. They look like they mean business. They aren't pink."
"Mine is, and it's just as good as yours. It isn't as big, but it does the job. I bet you're against women joining the police force, too, aren't you?"
"Of course not. What does that have to do with a friggin' pink hammer?"
"Women are mostly prettier than men and mostly not as big, but that doesn't mean they can't get the job done, does it?"
"We're talking hammers here, not people!" He got out of the car and slammed the door, then stalked around to my side.
I opened the door and raised my voice so he could hear me. "I think your aversion to a tool that's attractive as well as functional-mmmph." I glared at him over the hand he'd clapped over my mouth.
"Give it a rest. We'll argue about hammers when you don't look like you're about to fall over." He raised his eyebrows in question, waiting for me to agree, and he kept his hand over my mouth while he waited.
Disgruntled, I nodded, and he removed his hand, then released my seat belt and gently lifted me out of the car. He hadn't thought this through, because if he had, he would have unlocked the door leading into the house before he picked me up, but he handled it with only a little juggling. I couldn't help him because my right arm was trapped between my body and his, and my left arm was useless. Tomorrow I would be able to use it a little, but I knew from experience that right after a trauma the damaged muscle just refuses to work.
He got me inside, turning on light switches with his elbow, and deposited me in a chair in a breakfast nook. "Don't try to get up for any reason. I'll get the bags out of the car, then carry you wherever you want to go."
He disappeared down the short hallway that led into the garage, and I wondered if the doctor had told him something about my condition that hadn't been passed along to me, because I was perfectly capable of walking. Yes, I had gone all woozy in the car, but that was because I'd hit my arm. Other than feeling a little shaky-and my arm hurting like blue blazes-I was okay. The shaky feeling would be gone tomorrow, because this was how I always felt when I gave blood. It wasn't even bad shaky, just a little shaky. So what was up with the "Don't try to get up for any reason?"
Hah! The phone.
I looked around and saw an actual corded phone hanging on the wall, with a really long cord that would reach anywhere in the kitchen. Please. Why not just get a cordless? The units are so much more attractive.
I already had the number dialed and it was ringing by the time Wyatt, carrying both bags, reappeared at the other end of the little hallway. I gave him a "you didn't fool me" smirk, and he rolled his eyes.
"Daddy," I said when Dad answered the phone. I call him Daddy when I mean business, sort of like using someone's full name. "Just what did you say to Wyatt that he thinks is the secret to handling me? How could you?" I was in full indignant wail by the time I finished.
Dad burst out laughing. "It's okay, baby." He calls all of us baby because, well, we did used to be his babies. He never calls Mom that, though. Uh-uh. He knows better. "It's nothing that'll undermine you; it was just something he needed to know right now."
"He'll tell you."
"Probably not. He's stubborn that way."
"No, he'll tell you this. I promise."
"You'll beat him up for me if he doesn't?" That was an old Dad-joke, that he'd beat up any man who made any of his girls unhappy. That's why I didn't tell him about Jason kissing Jenni, because I figured in that case he would really do it.
"No, but I'll beat him up if he hurts you."
Reassured, I said good-bye and turned to find Wyatt leaning against the cabinets with his arms crossed, regarding me with amusement. "He didn't tell you, did he?"
"He said you would, and that he'd beat you up if you didn't." So I stretched the truth a little. Wyatt hadn't been able to hear what Dad had actually said.
"It wasn't anything bad." Straightening, he went to the refrigerator. "How about some breakfast? That's the fastest thing I can do. Eggs, bacon, toast."
"That sounds great. What can I do to help?"
"With that arm, not much. Sit down and stay out of the way. That'll be a big help."
I sat, and looked around the breakfast nook and kitchen while he got out what he needed and started the bacon cooking in the microwave. To my surprise, the kitchen looked kind of old. The appliances were top-notch and fairly new and there was an island with a cooktop occupied the center, but the room itself had that solid, established feel to it.
"How old is this house?"
"Turn of the century. The last century. So it's a little over a hundred years old. It was a farmhouse, and it's been remodeled a couple of times. When I bought it, I did a major remodeling, tore down some interior walls, opened it up for a more modern look, added a couple of bathrooms. There are three bathrooms upstairs, a half bath down here. It's a nice-size house, a little over three thousand square feet. I'll show you around tomorrow."
"How many bedrooms?"
"Four. There used to be six small ones, with just one bathroom, so I took that extra space to make the other bathrooms and enlarge the bedrooms and closets. That'll make it easier to sell if I ever decide to move."
"Why would you?" That was a lot of room for just one person, but from what I could see, there was a nice, homey feel to it. The kitchen cabinets were a warm golden color, the countertops were a greenish granite, and the floor was polished pine with colorful rugs strewn about. It wasn't a fancy kitchen, despite the granite, but one that looked well-arranged and comfortable.
He shrugged. "This is my hometown and I'm comfortable here, plus this is where my family is, but a better job may open up somewhere else. You never know. I may spend the rest of my life here; I may not."
It was a sensible outlook and one I held myself. I loved my home, but who knew what might happen? A smart person was flexible.
In short order he had plates of scrambled eggs, bacon, and toast set on the table, with glasses of milk poured for both of us. He also opened the bottle of antibiotic pills and put two of them beside my plate, plus one of the pain relievers.
I didn't fuss about taking the pain reliever. I'm no idiot. I wanted to quit hurting.
By the time I finished eating, I was yawning. Wyatt rinsed the plates and put them in the dishwasher, then plucked me out of my chair and sat down in it himself, with me in his lap.
"What?" I asked, surprised by my perch. I'm not much for sitting on men's laps-it strikes me as ungainly-but Wyatt was tall enough that our faces were level and his arm around my back was wonderfully supporting.
"Your dad said that when you get scared, you get mouthy. How mouthy and demanding you get is in direct proportion to how scared you are." His big hand rubbed my back. "He said it's how you cope until you aren't as scared anymore."
It's no secret in my family, that's for sure. I let myself lean against him. "I was petrified."
"All except for your mouth." He chuckled. "Here we were, conducting a search for an armed murderer, and I hear you behind the car loudly demanding a cookie."
"I wasn't loud."
"You were loud. I thought I'd have to kick my men's asses to make them stop snickering."
"It's tough to get my mind around the fact that someone tried to kill me. It's impossible. Things like that just don't happen. I live a nice, quiet life, and within the space of a few days everything has turned upside down. I want my nice, quiet life back. I want you to catch this guy, and do it now."
"We will. We'll get this nailed. MacInnes and Forester were working all weekend, following leads. They have a couple of good ones."
"Is it Nicole's boyfriend?"
"I can't say."
"You don't know, or you literally can't say?"
"I literally can't talk about an ongoing investigation." He kissed my temple. "Let's get you upstairs and tucked into bed."
It's a good thing I fully expected him to take me to his bedroom instead of one of the guest rooms, because that's exactly what he did. I could have walked, even gone up the stairs, but he seemed to want to carry me around and, hey, why not? He set me down in the roomy master bathroom, with its double vanity, garden tub, and large shower. "I'll get your bag. The towels and washcloths are in there," he said, pointing to the door of the linen closet.
I got a towel and washcloth, and managed to untie the neck of the hospital gown with just my right hand. I couldn't manage the second tie, though, which was halfway down my back. Didn't matter. I let the huge thing drop off of me, and stepped out of the circle of fabric.
I surveyed my half-naked form in the mirror. Ugh. My left arm was mostly orange with Betadine, but there were still dried streaks of blood on my back and under my arm. I wet the washcloth and had removed all the blood I could reach by the time Wyatt returned. He took the cloth from me and finished the job, then helped me out of the rest of my clothes. It was a good thing I had gotten used to being naked with him, or I'd have been embarrassed. I looked longingly at the shower, but that was off-limits. The tub, though, was an option. "I could take a tub bath," I said with obvious hope.
He didn't even argue. Instead he ran the water, and helped me into it. While I was happily soaking, he stripped down himself and took a quick shower.
I leaned back in the tub and watched as he stepped out and toweled dry. A naked Wyatt Bloodsworth was a fine sight, broad-shouldered and slim-hipped, with long, muscled legs and a very nice package. Even better, he knew how to use that package.
"Have you finished lolling around?" he asked.
I can loll with the best of them, but I had finished bathing, so I nodded and he helped me to stand, then steadied me to make certain I didn't slip as I stepped out of the big tub. I could have dried myself one-handed, maybe a bit awkwardly, but he took the towel and gently wiped me down, then got my toiletries out of the duffel so I could tone and moisturize. Skin care is important, even when a murderer is after you.
I had a T-shirt to sleep in, but when I dug it out, I saw that no way was it going to go over the bulk of that huge bandage, not to mention I couldn't lift my arm to put it on anyway.
"I'll get one of my shirts," Wyatt said, and disappeared into the big walk-in closet that opened off the bedroom. He came back with a button-up white dress shirt, and gently worked the sleeve up over my arm. The shirt hung halfway down my thighs, and the shoulder seams drooped down my arms. He had to put three turns into the cuffs before my hands poked out. I turned in front of the mirror and checked out the fit. I just love the way men's shirts look on women.
"Yes, you look hot," he said, smiling. He slipped his hand under the shirt and rested it on my bare butt. "If you're a good girl for the rest of the night, tomorrow I'll kiss your neck and make you happy."
"No neck kissing. Remember our deal. We aren't having sex again."
"That's your deal, not mine." Then he picked me up and took me to bed. He settled me between the covers of the king-size bed, I rolled onto my right side, and it was Lights Out, Blair.