To die for, p.26
To Die For, page 26
“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.
You’d think that because he said he loved me I’d be happy as a lark, but he’d made it sound as if I were a dose of nasty-tasting medicine that he had to take or die. Never mind that he’d made love to me in the backseat of the car as if he couldn’t get enough of me; my feelings were hurt. Not only that, after I had a chance to think about it, I was very uneasy about the state of that backseat. I mean, the car’s a rental; there was no telling what had been back there, and now my bare butt had been added to the list.
I didn’t speak to him all the way home, and as soon as we were inside, I raced up the stairs to take a shower, just in case I’d picked up some rental-car cooties. Well, I hurried up the stairs; I still wasn’t in racing shape. I also locked the bathroom door so he couldn’t join me in the shower, because I knew how that would end and I hate being a pushover.
I should have planned ahead and taken some clean clothes into the bathroom with me, but I didn’t, so I had to put on what I had just taken off. No way was I walking out with only a towel wrapped around me. I knew Wyatt Bloodsworth, and his motto was: Take Advantage.
He was waiting for me when I came out of the bathroom, of course, leaning against the wall as patiently as if he didn’t have anything else in the world to do. He didn’t shy from an argument; I’d noticed that about him.
“This isn’t going to work,” I said, forestalling him. “We can’t even go to the movies without getting in a major argument, which you then try to solve with sex.”
His brows lifted. “There’s a better way?”
“That’s just like a man. Women don’t like to have sex when they’re angry.”
The brows went even higher. “You could have fooled me,” he drawled, which wasn’t the smartest thing he could have said.
My lower lip quivered. “You shouldn’t throw that up to me. It isn’t my fault you have my number, but when you know I can’t resist you, it’s really snotty of you to take advantage the way you do.”
A slow smile curved his lips and he straightened from the wall. “Do you have any idea what a major turn-on it is when you admit you can’t resist me?” Quick as a snake he coiled one arm around my waist and locked me to him. “Do you know what I think about during the day?”
“Sex,” I said, staring straight ahead at his chest.
“Well, yeah. Some of the time. A lot of the time. But also how you make me laugh, and how good it is to wake up beside you in the morning and come home to you at night. I love you, and swapping you for the most even-tempered, uncomplicated, low-maintenance woman in the world wouldn’t make me happy because the spark wouldn’t be there.”
“Uh-huh,” I said sarcastically. “That’s why you dumped me and stayed away for two whole years.”
“I got cold feet.” He shrugged. “I admit it. After just two dates I could tell there would never be a peaceful minute around you, so I decided to cut my losses before I got in too deep. At the speed we were going, I figured we’d be in bed within a week, and married before I knew what was going on.”
“So what’s different this time around? I’m not.”
“Thank God. I love you just the way you are. I guess I faced the fact that no matter how much trouble you are, to me you’re worth it. That’s why I’ll chase after you when you go to the beach, why I didn’t walk out of the movie theater even though I was so mad I don’t remember a single thing about the movie, and why I’ll move heaven and earth to keep you safe.”
I wasn’t ready to stop being mad, but I could feel my temper slipping away. I tried to hold on to it, and scowled at his shirt so he wouldn’t know his sweet-talking was working.
“Every day I learn a little more about you,” he murmured, pulling me closer so he could nuzzle my temple. I hunched my shoulders to keep him from getting at my neck, and he laughed softly. “And every day I fall a little more in love. You’ve also eased some tension in the department, because the guys who resented me before are now sympathizing with me.”
I scowled harder, but this time it was real. He needed sympathy because he loved me? “I’m not that bad.”
“You’re hell on wheels, honey, and they figure I’m going to spend the rest of my life scrambling to put out your forest fires. They’re right, too.” He kissed my forehead. “But I’ll never be bored, and I’ll have your dad to teach me the finer points of surviving in the middle of a tornado. C’mon,” he cajoled, moving his lips to my ear. “I bit the bullet first. You might as well say it: you love me, too. I know you do.”
I fidgeted and fussed, but his arms were warm and the smell of his skin was making me dizzy with want. Finally I heaved a sigh. “All right,” I said sulkily. “I love you. But don’t think for a minute that means I’m going to turn into a Stepford wife.”
“Like there was ever a snowball’s chance in hell of that happening,” he said wryly. “But you can bet the farm that you’re going to be my wife. I’ve been serious about that from the beginning . . . the second beginning, that is. Thinking you might have been killed was a real eye-opener for me.”
“Which time?” I asked, blinking at him. “There’ve been three.”
He squeezed me. “The first time. I’ve had enough scares in the past week to last me a lifetime.”
“Oh, yeah? You should try it from my side of the situation.” I gave up and leaned my head on his chest. My heart was doing that flutter thing he could make it do, but in stereo. Confused, I concentrated, and abruptly realized that I was hearing his heartbeat while I was feeling mine—and his was racing, too.
Delight bloomed in me, filled me like water in a balloon until I felt all swollen with it, which may not be a really great description but kind of fits, because I felt as if my insides were too big for my skin. I tilted my head back and gave him a huge beaming smile. “You love me!” I said triumphantly.
He looked faintly wary. “I know. I said so, didn’t I?”
“Yeah, but you really do!”
“You thought I was lying?”
“No, but hearing and feeling are two different things.”
“And you’re feeling . . .” He let the words trail off, inviting me to f
“Your heartbeat.” I patted his chest. “It’s jumping around just like mine.”
His expression changed, became tender. “It does that whenever I’m anywhere near you. At first I thought I was developing arrhythmia, but then I realized it acts up only when you’re around. I was about to go in for tests.”
He was exaggerating, but I didn’t care. He loved me. I had longed for and hoped for and dreamed of this practically from the moment I’d met him, and he had devastated me by dumping me the way he had. Oh, I’d have been devastated no matter how he’d done it, but he’d really done a number on me by not telling me why. I’d made things as difficult as possible for him this past week because he deserved it for treating me the way he had, and I didn’t regret one moment of it. I just wished I could have made things even tougher by not rolling over for him every time he touched me, but what the hell; sometimes you just have to go with the flow.
“Do you want to get married as soon as we can, or do you want to plan some sort of shindig?” he asked.
There wasn’t any doubt which one he’d prefer. I cocked my head and thought about it for a minute. I’d had the big church wedding and loved every minute of it, but church weddings are a lot of trouble and cost a lot of money—and they take time to plan. I was glad I’d gone through it once, even though the marriage itself hadn’t held up, but I didn’t feel any need to go through all of that pomp and ceremony again. On the other hand, I wanted more than just a quickie marriage.
“Shindig,” I said, and he managed to stifle his groan. I patted his arm. “But not a big one. We have to think of our families and have some sort of to-do, but we don’t have to do a big deal with ice sculptures and a champagne fountain. Something small, no more than thirty people—if that many—maybe in your mother’s garden. Would she like that, or would she be terrified her flowers would get trampled?”
“She’d love it. She loves showing off that house.”
“Good. Wait, what if you can’t find out who’s shooting at me and tampering with my car? What if I have to stay in hiding until Christmas? There won’t be any flowers then, and besides, it’ll be too cold to have a garden wedding. We can’t even pick out a date!” I wailed. “We can’t plan anything until this is settled.”
by Linda Howard / Romance / Mystery & Thrillers have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes