To die for, p.5
To Die For, page 5
He came in with a Diet Coke in his hand, stopped dead when he saw me sitting at his desk, then very carefully and deliberately closed the door and in a low voice of doom said, “What do you think you’re doing?”
“Writing down all the things you did so I won’t forget any of them when I talk to my lawyer.”
He plunked the Diet Coke down on the desk and jerked the pad away from me. Turning it around, he looked at the first item and his dark brows snapped together. “ ‘Manhandled the witness and caused bruises to her arm,’ ” he quoted. “That’s a load of bullsh—”
I lifted my left arm and showed him the bruises on the underside where he’d gripped my arm while he was bodily forcing me into his car, and he stopped in midword. “Ah, hell,” he said softly, temper fading. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to hurt you.”
Yeah, sure; that’s why he’d dropped me like a hot potato two years ago. He had definitely hurt me, no denying that. And then he hadn’t even had the decency to tell me why, which was what had really made me mad.
He hitched one hip on the edge of the desk and continued reading. “ ‘Unlawful detainment. Kidnapping’—kidnapping?”
“You forcibly took me away from my place of business and drove me to another location where I didn’t want to be. Sounds like kidnapping to me.”
He snorted and continued reading my list of grievances, which included bad language, a snotty attitude, and poor manners. He hadn’t even thanked me for the coffee. Oh, there were other legal terms in there, too, like coercion, badgering, and harassment, refusing to let me contact my lawyer, but I hadn’t let any detail slide.
Damn his hide, he was smiling by the time he got to the end of the list. I didn’t want him to smile. I wanted him to realize what an asshole he’d been.
“I brought you a Diet Coke,” he said, sliding the can toward me. “You’ve probably had enough coffee.”
“Thank you,” I said, to underscore the difference between his manners and mine. I didn’t open the can, though. My stomach was already jittery from too much caffeine. Also, as a peace offering, the Diet Coke didn’t make the grade, especially since I was well aware he’d left the room more to give himself some breathing space before he snapped and tried to strangle me. The Diet Coke was a last-minute thought, to make it look as if he was being considerate when in fact it was his own skin he’d been protecting, because I’m sure it would be hell on his career if he strangled a witness. Not that I was much of a witness, but in this case I was all they had.
“Now get out of my chair.”
I blew my hair out of my eyes. “I’m not finished with my list. Let me have the pad back.”
“Blair. Get out of my chair.”
I wish I could say I behaved like an adult, but I was already way past the point where I could do that. I clamped my hands on the arms of the chair, glared at him, and said, “Make me.”
Damn, I wish I hadn’t said that.
A very short and humiliating struggle later, I was back in the chair where he’d originally put me, and he was in his chair, looking angry again.
“Damn it.” He scrubbed his hand over his whiskery jaw, where his five o’clock shadow had long ago become darker than that. “If you don’t behave— Do you know how close you came to being in my lap instead of that chair?”
Whoa. Where had that come from? I pulled back in alarm. “What?”
“Don’t act like you don’t know what I’m talking about. And I don’t buy your earlier act, either. You remember me, all right. I’ve had you naked.”
“You have not!” I said, shocked. Did he have me confused with someone else? I was pretty sure I’d have remembered that. Yes, clothing had been shed, but I definitely had not been naked.
He gave a grim smile. “Honey, trust me: when all you have on is a skimpy little skirt pulled up around your waist, that’s naked.”
I trembled a little, because this was indeed familiar. I remembered the occasion well. It was the second date. He’d been on the couch; I’d been astride him, his fingers had been inside me, and I’d been an inch away from saying to hell with the concept of birth control, and taking my chances.
I blushed, not in embarrassment, but because the office was becoming uncomfortably warm. The thermostat for the air-conditioning in the building needed to be bumped down just a notch. Just because I felt all squirmy inside, however, didn’t mean I was giving up the fight. “Naked means totally without clothes, so therefore by your own description I definitely wasn’t naked.”
“So you do remember,” he said with satisfaction. “And don’t split hairs. You were as good as naked.”
“There’s still a difference,” I insisted stubbornly. “And, yeah, I remember that we made out. So what?”
“You mean you get naked with a man so often it doesn’t mean anything anymore?” he asked, his eyes narrowing.
I was tired of pretending. He wasn’t buying it, anyway. I looked him in the eye and said, “Evidently it didn’t mean anything that time, either.”
He grimaced. “Ouch. I know I owe you an explanation. I’m sorry—”
“Save your breath. The time for explanations passed a long time ago.”
“I moved on. Haven’t you?”
“I thought I had,” he said, scowling. “But when I got the call that there’d been a murder at Great Bods and the victim was a blond female, I—” He broke off, then said, “Shit.”
I blinked at him, honestly surprised. Come to think of it, his first words to me had been Are you all right? And he’d gone out in the rain to the crime scene to see Nicole’s body before coming inside. Surely by then her name had been broadcast, but maybe not, until her family could be notified. I had no idea who or where her family was, but there was probably a next-of-kin listed in her paperwork at Great Bods, which Detective MacInnes had taken.
Poor Nicole. She’d been a psycho-bitch copycat, but it bothered me that her body had been lying out in the rain for such a long time while the cops worked the crime scene. I knew crime scene investigations took a while, and the rain had hindered the cops as well, but still, she’d lain there for a good three hours before they let her be moved.
He snapped his fingers in my face. “You keep wandering off.”
Man, I wanted to bite those fingers. I hate it when people do things like that, when a little wave will suffice to get my attention. “Well, excuse me. I’m exhausted and I witnessed a murder tonight, but it’s terribly rude of me not to stay focused on personal matters. You were saying?”
He studied me for a moment, then shook his head. “Never mind. You are exhausted, and I have a murder investigation to oversee. I wish you weren’t involved in it, but you are, so you’ll be seeing more of me whether you want to or not. Just stop pushing, will you? Let me do my job. I admit it, I can’t concentrate when you’re in my face making me crazy.”
“I don’t make you crazy,” I snapped, incensed. “You were evidently crazy before I ever met you. May I go home now?”
He rubbed his eyes and visibly reined in his temper. “In a few minutes. I’ll take you home.”
“Someone can give me a ride back to Great Bods. I need my car.”
“I said I’ll take you home.”
“And I said I need my car.”
“I’ll have it brought to you tomorrow. I don’t want you messing around the crime scene.”
“Fine. I’ll take a cab home. No need to put yourself out.” I stood and grabbed my bag, ready to head out the door. I’d stand on the sidewalk, even though it was still pouring down rain, while I waited for the cab.
“Blair. Sit down.”
That was the bad thing about him being a cop. I didn’t know exactly where his official authority ended and the personal stuff began. I didn’t know exactly what legal ground I was standing on. I was pretty sure I could walk out and there wouldn’t be a thing he could do about it—legally—but there was always the tiny possibility I was wrong, and the big possibility that
I sat down, and contented myself with glaring mulishly. I had a niggling suspicion he intended to get back on a personal footing with me, and I didn’t want to go down that road again. With that in mind, the less contact I had with him, the better.
I have a rule: Walk out, crawl back. If a man does the first, then he has to do the second to get back on good terms with me. I can handle an argument, because at least then you’re communicating, but to just walk out and not give me a chance to work things out—that’s a big no-no.
I know that sounds as if I need to get over myself, but the truth is—and I know I blew it off as the divorce being the best thing for both of us—it hurt like hell when I caught Jason kissing my sister Jenni. Not just because Jenni had betrayed me, but because I had truly loved Jason. Our first couple of years together had been very happy. At least, I’d been happy, and I think he was, too. We did grow apart and I fell out of love with him, but that didn’t mean I had given up on our marriage. I was willing to work on it, to try to get close to him again. When I saw him kissing Jenni, it was like a punch in the stomach, and I realized he must have been cheating on me for some time. Not with Jenni; I pretty much thought that was the first time he’d touched her. But he wasn’t in love with her, so that meant he’d done it just because she was pretty and available, and that meant he’d very likely done it with other women, too.
He hadn’t even tried to make our marriage work. He’d dumped me emotionally a long time before, and I hadn’t realized it. Once I did realize it, though, I cut my losses. I didn’t go crying on everyone’s shoulders; instead I built myself a very satisfying new life, but that doesn’t mean I’d escaped without some very deep emotional bruises.
Bruises heal, and I wasn’t the type to mope around anyway. I learned from the experience, and set new guidelines and standards for myself. One of those guidelines was that if a man walked out without even trying to work things out, then he wasn’t worth my effort unless he proved he was serious about getting another chance.
Wyatt hadn’t proved a thing yet. And he wasn’t the crawling type. So that meant the idea of us getting together again was pretty much a nonstarter.
He pushed the Diet Coke toward me. “Drink it. Maybe it’ll cool you down.”
What the hell. No way would I be able to sleep tonight anyway. I popped the top on the can and took a sip, then steered my thoughts to a more practical subject. “I assume there’s no way I can be open for business tomorrow.”
“How long will it be before I can open? One day? Two?”
“The time varies. I’ll try to move things as fast as possible, but I won’t cut corners. A couple of days, probably. I’m sorry for your financial loss, but—”
“Oh, I won’t lose any money. The vast majority of the membership pays by the year because it’s cheaper than paying by the month. I don’t offer any memberships shorter than a month. It’s the inconvenience to the members that I don’t like, and I know that’s minor in comparison to a murder, but as the owner of a business it’s a hard fact that I have to take care of my customers or the business will suffer.”
He eyed me consideringly, as if he hadn’t expected me to be that practical. That irritated me, because he’d spent three dates in my company and if he’d been paying any attention at all to anything other than my body, he’d have realized I’m no airhead.
Maybe I should have been surprised he’d recognized me, because two years ago he evidently hadn’t looked any higher than my breasts.
Bad thought, because he’d definitely looked at my breasts. And touched them. And sucked them. Now, I’m not much on breasts—they’re more of an irritant to me than a source of pleasure—but there was no getting away from the intimacy of the memory, and that was what had me blushing again.
“My God,” he said, “what are you thinking this time?”
“Why? What do you mean?” Like I was going to tell him what I was thinking.
“You’re blushing again.”
“I am? Oh. Sorry. I’m going through premature menopause, and I have hot flashes.” Anything to regain lost ground.
He grinned, a quick flash of white teeth. “Hot flashes, huh?”
“Premature menopause isn’t for sissies.”
He laughed out loud, and leaned back in his big leather chair to watch me for a moment. The longer he watched, the more uneasy I became. Remember what I said about how his eyes looked? I felt like a mouse being stared down by a cat . . . a mean, hungry cat. In all this time I hadn’t given two thoughts about what I was wearing, but I was abruptly conscious of my pink halter top that bared my midriff, and the formfitting yoga pants. The way he was looking at me made me feel as if way too much of my skin was exposed, and that he was remembering seeing even more of it than he was seeing right now. Even worse, that he was planning on seeing more of me again.
That was the effect he’d always had on me: when he looked at me, I became acutely aware of being female—and that he was male, with all the corresponding bits and parts. You know: Tab A fits into Slot B. If I got close to him, all I could think about were tabs and slots.
He picked up the pen I’d been writing with and tapped it in a rapid tattoo on his desktop. “You’re not going to like what I’m about to say.”
“I haven’t liked anything you’ve said, so that isn’t a big surprise.”
“Give it a rest,” he advised in a hard tone. “This isn’t about us.”
“I didn’t assume it was. And there is no ‘us.’ ” I just could not give him an inch, the benefit of the doubt, or a break. I didn’t want to deal with him. I wanted Detective MacInnes back.
Evidently Wyatt decided that trying to reason with me was a lost cause. It isn’t; I’m normally very reasonable . . . except where he’s concerned. For whatever reason, he didn’t pick up that verbal gauntlet. “We try to control all the information that’s given to the press about a murder, but sometimes it isn’t possible. To do an investigation, we have to talk to people and ask if anyone saw a man driving a dark four-door sedan in the vicinity of the crime. That’s already begun. Now, we kept the reporters away from the crime scene, but they were right outside the tape with their telephoto lenses and cameras.”
“And?” I wasn’t getting his point.
“It doesn’t take a genius to put two and two together and come up with you as a witness. We were in your place of business, you were with us, you left in my car—”
“Considering that scene, they probably think I’m the suspect.”
One corner of his mouth quirked as he remembered the struggle to put me in his car. “No, they probably just think you were very upset by what happened.” He tapped the pen against the desk again. “I can’t keep them from naming you. If a suspect was seen, obviously there was a witness. Your identity is just as obvious. It’ll be in the papers tomorrow.”
“Why is that a prob— Oh.” I was being named in the newspapers as the witness to a murder. The person who would most likely worry was none other than the murderer himself. What do killers do to protect themselves? They kill whoever is threatening them, that’s what.
I stared at him, appalled. “Oh, shit.”
“Yeah,” he said. “My thoughts exactly.”
A thousand thoughts ran through my mind. Well, at least six or seven, anyway, because a thousand thoughts are a lot. Try counting your own thoughts and see how long it takes you to get to a thousand. Regardless of that, none of my thoughts were good.
“But I’m not even a good witness!” I wailed. “I couldn’t identify him if my life depended on it.” Again, not a good thought, because it just might.
“He doesn’t know that.”
“Maybe he was her boyfriend. It’s usually the boyfriend or husband, isn’t it? Maybe it was a crime of passion and he i
“Maybe,” he said, but his expression wasn’t all that hopeful.
“But what if he wasn’t her boyfriend? What if it’s drugs or something?” I got up and began to pace his office, which didn’t have enough room for serious pacing and had way too many obstacles, like file cabinets and stacks of books. I dodged around things more than paced. “I can’t leave the country. You won’t let me even leave town, which under these circumstances is a really crappy position to hold, you know.”
Not that he could stop me, I realized, not without arresting me or taking me into protective custody, and since I couldn’t identify the killer, I don’t think he could justify that to a judge. So why had he even told me not to leave town? And why was he telling me this when the most obvious, most intelligent response would be to get the hell out of Dodge?
He ignored my comment on his edict. “The odds are you’re right, and the reason Ms. Goodwin was murdered was a personal one. With luck we’ll have this wrapped up in a day or two.”
“A day or two,” I repeated. A lot could happen in a day or two. For one thing, I could get dead. No way was I going to hang around for that to happen. Despite what Lieutenant Bloodsworth had told me, I was leaving town. To hell with his permission, which I was fairly certain I didn’t need anyway; by the time he found out I was gone, it would be too late. I would tell Siana to get in touch with him and tell him that if he needed me, he could contact Siana, because of course I’d tell my family where I was. Great Bods would be closed for a day or so anyway, so I might as well take a short vacation. I hadn’t indulged my inner beach bunny in a couple of years; she was due.
When I got home I’d grab a couple of hours’ sleep, if I could. If I couldn’t, I’d pack. I’d be ready to go whenever my car was delivered to me.
“I can’t spare any patrolmen for guard duty, and I couldn’t justify it anyway in the absence of a credible threat—not to mention you aren’t exactly a witness, since you can’t identify anyone.” He leaned back in his chair and gave me a brooding look. “I’ll issue a statement to the press that ‘unnamed witnesses’ saw a man leaving the scene. That should take any focus off of you.”
by Linda Howard / Romance / Mystery & Thrillers have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes