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Blair Mallory Book 1: To Die For (Chapter Eighteen)

I felt like a bird out of a cage. Even though I'd been under constraints for less than forty-eight hours, it felt much longer than that. I still wasn't able to do everything for myself, but at least my movements weren't hampered. I could go somewhere if I wanted; I didn't have to stay indoors; I didn't have to sneak in back doors.

"I'm free, I'm free, I'm free," I sang as I practically boogied out to Wyatt's car when he came to pick me up. It was later than it had been the day before; the sun was almost down, so it was after eight.

"Not exactly," Wyatt said as he buckled me into the seat.

"What do you mean, 'not exactly'?" I yelled at him. I yelled because he was walking around the car, and he wouldn't have heard me otherwise.

"You still look incapacitated to me," he said as he got behind the wheel. "You can't dress yourself, you can't wash your hair, and you can't drive with both hands on the wheel."

"You don't drive with both hands on the wheel," I pointed out.

"I don't have to, because I'm in charge. You're not."

I snorted, but let that bit of provocation slide past. "As for all of that, the only reason I didn't go to Mom's in the first place is because you said Dwayne Bailey might look for me there and I could be endangering Mom and Dad as well as myself. Well, Dwayne Bailey's been arrested, and there's no reason for him to look for me anymore. So I can go to Mom's."

"Not tonight," he said.

"I'd like to know why not."

"Because I'm not taking you there."

"Do you have something you have to do tonight? She can come pick me up."

"Stop being deliberately obtuse. I'm not buying it. I've got you right where I want you, and I'm keeping you there."

My temper began to fray. "I am not going to be your little sex toy for you to play with whenever you get the urge. I have a life to get back to. I have to go to work tomorrow."

"You can go to work tomorrow. But I'll take you, not your mother."

"That makes no sense whatsoever. What if something happens and you have to work? I'm correct that you can be called in at any time, right?"

"It's possible, but I'm not called on to go to the crime scenes very often. That's what my detectives are for."

"I don't need to be taken to work anyway. My car has an automatic transmission, and I can buckle my seat belt one-handed. I'm perfectly capable of driving, and don't start with that two-hands-on-the-wheel stuff again." I was as determined now to leave as he was determined for me to stay. I hadn't been before, but he was calmly assuming he could tell me what to do, and I had to nip that in the bud, now didn't I?

He was silent for a moment; then he completely undermined me with a quiet, "Don't you want to be with me?"

I stared at him, mouth open. "Of course I do," I blurted before I could catch myself; then reason reasserted itself and I said indignantly, "I can't believe you're that underhanded and sneaky. That was a girl argument, and you used it against me!"

"Doesn't matter. You admitted it." He gave me a smugly triumphant smirk, then blinked. "What's a girl argument?"

"You know, appeal to the emotion."

"Damn, if I'd known it worked that well, I'd have used it before." He reached over and squeezed my knee. "Thanks for the tip."

He winked at me and I couldn't help laughing. I swatted his hand away. "I realize circumstances got in the way, but you haven't lived up to our bargain. You haven't courted me at all. So I want to go home."

"I seem to remember having this discussion before. Your idea of courting and mine aren't the same."

"I want to go out on dates. I want to go to movies, to dinner, dancing-You do dance, don't you?"

"Under great protest."

"Oh, dear." I gave him the BSE-big sad eyes. BSEs are just one step below tears in the arsenal. "I love dancing."

He darted an alarmed look at me, then muttered, "Shit. All right. I'll take you dancing." He said it with a long-suffering air.

"I don't want you to do it if you don't want to." If that wasn't the perfect place for the classic feminine low-blow, I'd never seen one before. If he took me at my word, he knew he was disappointing me, but if he did take me dancing, he had to pretend he was enjoying it. This is one of the ways women get back at men for not having periods, you know.

"But-after the date is over, we do what I want to do."

Two guesses what that was. I pulled a shocked look. "You want me to pay for a date with sex?"

"Works for me," he said, and squeezed my knee again.

"Not going to happen."

"Good. Then I don't have to go dancing."

Mentally I added Uncooperative and not willing to do things for me to his list of transgressions. The way that list was going, it was going to be in volumes like the encyclopedia.

"No comeback?" he prodded.

"I was just thinking of things to put on your list."

"Would you forget about that damn list! How would you like it if I made a list of all your mistakes and shortcomings?"

"I'd read it and try to work on my problem areas," I said righteously. Well, I'd read it, anyway. What he considered a problem and what I considered a problem might be two very different things.

"That's a crock. I think you actively cultivate your problem areas."

"Such as?" My voice took on a very sweet tone.

"Your smart-ass mouth, for one thing."

I blew him a kiss. "You liked my mouth this morning when I was kissing my way down your zipper."

That reminded him, all right, and he visibly shuddered in response. "You're right," he said thickly. "I liked it a lot."

I knew what he meant. All day, I'd been harboring some longings myself. I wanted to forget all this jockeying about as we fought for the upper hand and for once just eat him up, enjoy him, wallow in sex and pleasure. Maybe when I got him home-Until then, though, there was no point in letting him think he'd won.

"You also like my Pebbles hairdo, even though you made fun of it."

"I didn't make fun of it. And, yeah, I like it. I like everything about you, even when you're being a pain in the ass. You're a walking wet dream, you know."

I gave him a doubtful look. "I don't know if that's good or not." The image in my mind was decidedly sticky and icky.

"From my point of view, it is. Personally speaking, not professionally. You're playing hell with my concentration at work. All I can think about is getting you naked. Probably when we've been married a year or two that'll slack off, but right now it's pretty intense."

"I haven't said I'll marry you," I said automatically, but my heart was doing a tap dance and my own concentration kept wanting to slide off our conversation and instead focus on getting him naked.

"It's gonna happen and we both know it. We still have some details to get ironed out, like this trust thing you're so worried about, but I figure in a couple of months I'll have that under control and we can maybe have a Christmas wedding."

"Definitely not gonna happen. Even if I said yes, which I haven't, do you have the tiniest clue of how long it takes to plan a wedding? This Christmas would be impossible. Next Christmas, maybe-I mean, it would be possible to plan a wedding in that length of time, not that I want to get married next Christmas, because even if we did get married, it wouldn't be at Christmas because our anniversary would get lost in all the holiday hoopla and I'd hate that. Anniversaries should be special."

He grinned at me. "You said 'our anniversary.' That's tantamount to an acceptance."

"Only if you don't understand the English language. I said 'if,' not 'when.' "

"The Freudian slip overrode that. It's a done deal."

"Not yet it isn't. Until and if I say those three little words, I haven't committed myself to anything."

He gave me a thoughtful look, as if until now he hadn't realized that neither of us had said "I love you." I don't think men put as much importance into saying "I love you" as women do. For them, it was more about doing than it was about saying, but while they might not understand why it's important, at least they get that it is important to women. The fact that I hadn't said it to him got his attention, though, made him realize that perhaps things weren't as cut-and-dried between us as he assumed.

"We'll get there," he finally said, and I was relieved that he hadn't said "I love you" as a means of prompting me to say it too, because then I would have known he didn't mean it. Lord, this man-woman stuff was complicated; it was like a game of chess, and we were equally matched opponents. I knew what I wanted: total reassurance that he was in this for the long haul. I hoped, but until I knew, I was holding back a little part of myself. He was having fun, I thought; I was having fun, even when we argued. At some point the chess game would be over and then we would see where we stood.

He took my hand. It was my left hand, of course, since he was driving, so I couldn't move my arm very much. He gently slid his hand under mine, and laced our fingers. No doubt about it, he was a damn fine strategist.

That night was far different from the first two nights. He did laundry, both his and mine, and impressed me by not messing up. He cut the grass, even though it was dark by the time he got around to it. His riding lawn mower had headlights on it and he also turned on his outside spotlights. I felt as if I were Ms. Bower Bird, watching Mr. Bower Bird build his nest with all sorts of interesting sparklies to show what a good provider he was, then parading in front of it, hoping to lure Ms. Bower Bird inside. This was Domestic Wyatt in action. To be fair, though, his yard was well-maintained anyway; I could tell he regularly mowed the grass.

It was ten o'clock when he came in, shirtless and dirty, sweat gleaming on his chest because it was still hot outside even though it was dark. He went straight to the sink and downed a big glass of water, his strong throat working as he swallowed. I wanted to jump on his back and wrestle him to the ground, but my darned arm wasn't up to the action.

He set the glass in the sink and turned to me. "You ready for your shower?"

Maybe it was a tactical error, but tonight I didn't feel very hard to get-well, not that I'd ever been all that difficult for him anyway. Give me points for trying though. Tonight I didn't even want to try. "Can we wash my hair tonight, too?"

"Sure."

"Blow-drying it won't take long."

"Doesn't matter." He gave a slow smile. "I'll enjoy the scenery while I'm working."

It doesn't take a genius to figure out how the next hour went. We were both wet and slippery and turned on, and I said to hell with controlling myself-just this once-and threw myself into our lovemaking. It started in the shower-then a panting time-out was called while he dried my hair-and ended in the bed.

He rolled off me with a groan and lay on his back, one arm thrown over his eyes while he sucked in huge gulping breaths. I was breathing fast and hard myself, and I was almost limp with mingled pleasure and exhaustion. Almost. I found the energy to climb on top of him and stretch out while I kissed his jaw, his mouth, his neck, and any other place I could reach.

"Uncle," he said weakly.

"You're giving up before you even know what I want?"

"Whatever it is, I can't. I'm mostly dead." His hand settled on my bare butt, patted once, then dropped limply to the bed.

"It's postcoital glow. I want to cuddle."

"Cuddling I can manage." His lips twitched in a smile. "Maybe."

"You can just lie there and I'll do the work."

"Why didn't you say that ten minutes ago?"

"Do I look stupid?" I settled my head in the hollow of his shoulder and sighed with contentment.

"No, I told you, you look like an ice cream cone."

And he'd licked me right up, too. I shivered as I remembered. If I'd been standing up, my knees would have wobbled. His knees had wobbled, too, I thought with satisfaction. He wasn't the only one who could play that card.

I smiled, thinking of doing it again. Not right now, though. After a while. I yawned, and the lights went out in mid-cuddle.

Mom called while we were eating breakfast the next morning. I didn't know it was her, though. Wyatt answered the phone, said, "Yes, ma'am," twice, then said "Seven," and "Yes, ma'am," again before hanging up.

"Your mother?" I asked as he returned to his food.

"No, yours."

"My mom? What did she want? Why didn't you let me talk to her?"

"She didn't ask to speak to you. She invited us to supper tonight at seven. I said we'd be there."

"We will? What if you have to work late?"

"To quote you, do I look stupid? I'll be there. And so will you, if I have to drag you kicking and screaming out of Great Bods. Make arrangements with Lynn for her to stay until closing."

I rolled my eyes, prompting him to say, "What?" in a testy tone.

"Before you start issuing orders, Lieutenant, you might ask what arrangements I've already made."

"Okay, what arrangements have you already made?"

He was such a smart-ass. "Lynn opened, then she goes home when I get there, and I work the middle chunk of the day. She comes in again at five and stays until closing. So she's working three hours this morning, and four tonight. That's just until my arm is better, because there's stuff that has to be done in the mornings and at night that would be hard to do with just one good arm. So your orders weren't necessary."

"Good deal." He winked at me.

It was easy to figure out why Mom invited us. Half of it was to get in some coddling of her injured firstborn, and the other half was to check out Wyatt. She must be half mad with curiosity, and having to wait because he'd had me hidden out would have made it worse. Mom deals with frustration just fine-up to a point. Beyond that point, she causes tsunamis.

I was filled with excitement over the coming day. I was getting my car-finally!-and I was going to work, and after work, I was going to my own home. I had packed my bags and Wyatt hadn't argued, though he hadn't looked pleased. That morning I had managed to dress myself, even my bra. I still couldn't twist my arm up behind my back to fasten the bra that way, but I had turned it backward so the hooks were in front, fastened it, then turned the bra around on my body and worked the straps up my arms. That method didn't look as sexy as the other way, but it worked.

"Take it easy today," he instructed as he drove me to my house so I could get my car. "Maybe we should stop at a medical supply store and get a sling for you, so you'll remember not to move your arm very much."

"I'll remember," I said wryly. "Trust me." If I tried a fast movement, the stitched-together muscle reminded me in a hurry.

A few minutes later he said, "I don't like you being away from me."

"But you knew my staying at your house was just temporary."

"It doesn't have to be temporary. You could move in with me."

"Uh-uh," I said without hesitation. "That wouldn't be a good idea."

"Why not?"

"Because."

"Well, that's enlightening," he said sarcastically. "Because why?"

"A lot of reasons. That would be rushing things way too fast. I think we need to back off and give ourselves some breathing room."

"You gotta be kidding me. After the past five days, you think moving in with me would be rushing things?"

"Well, look at everything that's happened. Nothing has been normal, not one single minute has been routine since last Thursday night. We've sort of been in an emergency situation, but that's over. Now our real lives kick in, and we need to see how things go under those conditions."

He didn't like it at all. I wasn't crazy about the idea myself, but I knew moving in with him would be a big mistake. I personally don't think a woman should ever live with a man unless they're married. I guess there are some really great guys out there who wouldn't take advantage of having a live-in cook and maid, but guess how those arrangements usually turn out? No, sir. That's not for me.

I was raised by a woman who knows her own worth, and her daughters firmly believe that life is much better for a woman when a man has to work really hard to get her. It's human nature to take better care of something you've worked for, whether it's a car or a wife. In my opinion, Wyatt hadn't worked nearly hard enough for me to make up for what he'd done two years ago. Yes, I was still mad at him for that. I was beginning to get over it, but not enough to move in with him even if I hadn't thought that it was, in general, not a good thing for a woman to do.

We got to my condo, and there was my sweet little white convertible parked under the portico where it belonged. Wyatt pulled in behind it, and then got both my bags from his back seat. He still had a disgruntled expression, but he wasn't arguing. At least, right then he wasn't arguing. I knew I hadn't heard the last of it, but right then he was backing off the way I'd asked. He was probably busy planning a sneak attack.

I unlocked the side door and went in; the beeping noise from the security system proved that Siana had indeed set it when she left after packing my clothes. I disarmed it, then stood in my kitchen gloriously surrounded by my own Stuff, which I had missed dreadfully. Stuff is important in a woman's life.

I told Wyatt which bedroom upstairs was mine, if he wasn't capable of simply looking in the door and telling. He'd been in my condo, but had never been upstairs. Our scene of passion had been played out on my couch, which I had since had reupholstered, not because of stains or anything, because the scene of passion hadn't gone that far, but because it was my version of washing that man right out of my hair. I had also changed the furniture around and painted the walls a different color. Nothing in my living room looked the same as when he had been there.

The message light on my answering machine was blinking. I walked over and saw that there were twenty-seven messages, which isn't a lot considering how long I had been gone and that the day I'd left reporters had been trying to find me. I punched the play button and started deleting messages as soon as I verified they were from reporters. There were a couple of personal messages, employees wanting to know when Great Bods would reopen, but Siana had called everyone Friday afternoon and it was now a moot point anyway.

Then a familiar voice came out of the machine, and I listened in disbelief.

"Blair… this is Jason. Pick up if you're there." There was a pause, then he continued. "It was on the news this morning that you'd been shot. Sweetheart, that's awful, though the reporter said you'd been treated and released, so I guess it isn't too bad. Anyway, I was worried about you and just wanted to see how you're doing. Give me a call."

Behind me, Wyatt said, "Sweetheart?" in a dangerous tone.

"Sweetheart?" I echoed, but my tone was totally bewildered.

"I thought you said you haven't seen him since the divorce."

"I haven't." I turned and gave him a puzzled look. "Unless you want to count the time I saw him and his wife shopping in the mall, but since we didn't speak, I don't think that qualifies."

"Why would he call you sweetheart? Is he trying to get something started between the two of you again?"

"I don't know. You heard the same message I did. As for calling me sweetheart, that's what he called me when we were married, so maybe it was just an unconscious thing."

He made a disbelieving noise. "Yeah, right. After five years?"

"I don't know what's going on. He knows I'd never get back with him, period, so I have no idea why he'd call. Unless-Knowing Jason, he was just doing something for his political resume. You know: 'The candidate has remained on friendly terms with his former wife, phoning her after an incident in which she was wounded by gunfire.' That sort of thing. Setting it up so, if a reporter happened to ask me, I'd say yes, that he'd called. He does stuff like that, always thinking about future campaigns." I hit the delete button and erased his noxious voice from my answering machine.

He put his hands on my waist and pulled me to him. "Don't you dare call him back. The bastard." His green eyes were narrow, and his face had that hard look a man gets when he's feeling territorial.

"I wasn't going to." Now was the time for mildness, not for zinging him, because I knew how I'd feel if his ex-wife suddenly got in touch with him and left a message like that. I put my arms around him and nestled my head in the hollow of his shoulder. "I'm not interested in anything he has to say, anything he feels, and when he dies, I won't go to the funeral. I won't even send flowers. The bastard."

He rubbed his chin against my temple. "If he calls you again, I'll give him a call."

"Yeah," I said. "The bastard."

He chuckled. "It's okay, you can let up on the bastards. I get the idea." He kissed me and patted my butt.

"Good," I said cheerfully. "Now may I go to work?"

We both went out and got into our respective cars-I remembered to set the security system on my way out-and Wyatt reversed out of my short driveway into the street, backing up far enough to give me room to back out in front of him. I wondered if he intended to follow me all the way to Great Bods, maybe to make certain no ex-husband was lurking, waiting to talk to me.

I backed out of the driveway and shifted the gear lever to Drive. The engine purred as I gave it the gas, and Wyatt fell in behind me.

A hundred yards down the street was a stop sign, where the street intersected with a busy four-lane. I put on the brakes, and the pedal went right to the floor. I sailed through the stop sign and straight into four lanes of traffic.

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