Blair Mallory Book 1: To Die For (Chapter Twenty-five)

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."

"Have you thought about your dates for this past year or so?" I asked. "Were any of them brunette?"

"Yeah, sure, but I'm telling you, there was nothing serious going on."

"Haul 'em all in and question them anyway," I said in exasperation. This had to be personal, because I hadn't done any of the other things that provide the usual motives for murder.

"How about the guys you've dated? Maybe one of them had an ex who was crazy about him-'crazy' being the important word here-and got a real hate going for you when her guy started dating you."

"That's possible, I suppose." I mulled it over. "I don't remember anyone mentioning a crazy ex-girlfriend, though. No one said anything about being stalked, and this type of person would be a stalker, right?"

"Maybe, maybe not. We have to look at everything now, so I'll need a list of everyone you've dated in the past couple of years."

"Okay. Let's start with you." I smiled sweetly at him. "Let's check out your girlfriends."

You can see we weren't going anywhere with that subject, so we abandoned it while we ate supper and cleaned up the dishes afterward. Then Wyatt shoved his recliner back in front of the television and settled in it with the newspaper, happy as a clam. I stood in front of him and glowered until he finally put the paper down and said, "What?"

"I'm bored. I haven't left this house in two days."

"That's because you're smart. Someone is trying to kill you, so you should stay where you can't be seen."

Did he think that was going to deflect me? "I could have gone somewhere today, to other towns, but I thought you would worry if I went out by myself."

He gave a brief nod. "You're right."

"You're here now."

He sighed. "All right. What do you want to do?"

"I don't know. Something."

"That narrows it down. How about a movie? We can make the nine o'clock showing in Henderson. That'll count as a date, right?"

"Right." Henderson was a town about thirty miles away. It was almost seven now, so I went upstairs to get ready. The bruising on my face was already turning yellowish, thanks to Mom, and I used enough concealer to hide most of it. Then I dressed in long pants and a short-sleeved blouse, and tied the ends of the blouse at my waist. I brushed my hair, put on earrings, and I was set.

Wyatt, of course, was still reading the newspaper. And he was still half-naked.

"I'm ready," I announced.

He glanced at his wristwatch. "We have plenty of time." He went back to reading.

I found my list and added inattentive. You'd think he'd have wanted to make a better impression on our first date in two years. See, I knew sleeping with him so soon had been a big mistake. Already he was taking me for granted.

"I think I'll move into one of the other bedrooms," I mused aloud.

"Jesus. Okay. We'll leave." He dropped the paper to the floor and took the stairs two at a time.

I picked up the paper and sat down in his recliner. I'd already read it, of course, but I had no idea what movies were currently out. The listings were for our town, but I figured Henderson would have the same ones.

I was in the mood to laugh, and there was a new romantic comedy out that looked both cute and sexy. Wyatt came down the stairs, buttoning a white shirt. He stopped and unzipped, then tucked in his shirttail and zipped back up. "What do you want to see?" he asked.

"Prenup. It looks funny."

He groaned. "I'm not going to see a chick flick."

"Well, what do you want to see?"

"That one about the mob after the survivalist guy looks good."

"End of the Road?"

"Yeah, that's it."

"We're set, then." Wyatt's choice was a typical shoot-em-up, with the hero fighting for his life in the mountains, and of course there was the requisite half-naked beautiful woman whom he rescues, though why he'd bother when she's always so cosmically stupid was beyond me. But if Wyatt liked it, that was his choice.

We went in the Taurus, and I breathed a sigh of relief at the change of scenery. The sun was very low, the afternoon shadows long, and the heat still intense enough that the car's air-conditioning was working full blast. I angled the cold air toward my face because I didn't want to sweat off the concealer over my bruises.

We arrived at the theater almost half an hour before showtime, so Wyatt cruised the streets for a little while. Henderson was about fifteen thousand people, just big enough to have the one four-screen theater. It was a nice theater, though, renovated a couple of years back to stadium seating. Being a typical man, Wyatt hated waiting for a movie to start, so we made it back to the theater with just five minutes to spare.

"My treat," I said, taking out my money and stepping up to the ticket window. "One for Prenup and one for End of the Road." I slid a twenty in the window.

"What?" I heard Wyatt say in outraged tones behind me, but I ignored him. The ticket clerk tore both tickets and pushed the two stubs through the window, along with my change.

I turned and gave him his ticket. "This way we can both see what we want," I said reasonably, and led the way inside. Luckily, both movies started within minutes of each other.

He looked furious, but he went off to watch his choice and I sat in the dark by myself and had a very nice time, watching silly antics and not worrying about whether or not he was bored. The sex scenes were nice and hot, too, just the way I like them. They made me think about jumping Wyatt's bones on the way home; I hadn't made out in a car since I was a teenager, and the Taurus had a respectable backseat. Not a great one, but respectable. Nice suspension, too.

When the movie was over, I walked out smiling, having enjoyed the hour and fifty minutes. I had to wait a little while for Wyatt's movie to finish, but I passed the time by looking at all the posters.

The movie hadn't improved his mood any; he was still scowling like a thundercloud when he came out about ten minutes later. Without a word he seized my arm and marched me to the car.

"What in hell was that about?" he barked when we were in the car and no one else could hear him. "I thought we were going to see the same movie."

"No, you didn't want to see the movie I was interested in, and I didn't want to see the one you liked. We're both adults; we can go into movie theaters by ourselves."

"The whole idea was to spend time together, to go out on a date," he said between clenched teeth. "If you didn't want to see the movie with me, we could have stayed at home."

"But I wanted to see Prenup."

"You could have seen it later; it'll be on television in a few months."

"The same goes for End of the Road. You didn't have to sit in there if you didn't want to; you could have watched the other one with me."

"And been bored out of my mind by a chick flick?"

His attitude was getting to me. I crossed my arms and glared at him. "If you won't watch a chick flick with me, give me one good reason why I should watch a dick flick with you. Unless I want to see it, too, that is."

"And everything has to be your way, huh?"

"Now wait just a damn minute. I was perfectly happy watching the movie on my own; I didn't insist you go with me. If anyone is insisting on things being her way, it's you. 'His way,' I mean."

He ground his teeth together. "I knew it would be like this. I knew it. You're so damned high maintenance-"

"I am not!" I was abruptly so furious with him I could have smacked him, except I'm a nonviolent person. Most of the time.

"Honey, if you look up 'high maintenance' in the dictionary, your picture is there. You want to know why I walked away two years ago? Because I knew it would be like this, and I figured I could save myself a lot of trouble by getting out early."

He was so angry he was practically spitting out the words. My mouth fell open. "You threw us away because I'm high maintenance?" I shrieked the words. I'd thought his reason would be something deep, something important, like maybe he'd been going on an undercover job and he'd made a clean break with me in case he got killed, or something. But he'd dumped me because he thought I was high maintenance?

I grabbed the shoulder strap of my seat belt and twisted it as hard as I could, to keep myself from doing the same thing to his neck, or trying to. Since he outweighed me by about eighty pounds, I didn't know how that would turn out. Well, I did know, and that's why I strangled my seat belt instead of him.

"If I am high maintenance, you don't have to worry about it!" I shouted at him. "Because I don't depend on anyone; I take care of myself and do my own maintenance! I'll get out of your hair and you can go back to your nice peaceful life-"

"Fuck that," he said savagely, and kissed me. I was so angry I tried to bite him. He jerked back, laughed, and kissed me again. He threaded his fingers through my hair and tugged my head back, exposing my neck.

"Don't you dare!" I tried to wriggle away from him, releasing my grip on the seat belt to push against his shoulders.

He dared, of course.

"I don't want a nice peaceful life," he said against my throat a few minutes later. "You're a lot of trouble, but I love you and that's that."

Then he settled me back in my seat, started the car, and drove out of the parking lot before we drew someone's attention and the cops were called to us. I was still pouting and near tears, and I don't know how far he drove before he pulled off the road and parked the car behind some big trees where it couldn't be seen from the road.

Oh, a Taurus has very nice suspension.