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

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 isn't really a murderer at heart, and when you pick him up he'll confess." That wasn't impossible, was it? Or too much to ask?

"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."

"Hey, that'll work!" I said, cheering up. If there was more than one witness, then killing me wouldn't serve any purpose, right? Not that I intended to hang around to find out. Now that I'd thought of it, a few nice, lazy days at the beach sounded great. I had this great turquoise bikini I'd bought last year and hadn't had a chance to wear. Tiffany-my inner beach bunny-was practically purring in anticipation.

I stood up, picked up the notepad before he could stop me, and ripped off the top page. Like I was going to forget his list of transgressions, right? As I neatly folded the page I said, "I'm ready to go home now. Really, Lieutenant Bloodsworth, you could have told me all this at Great Bods, you know. You didn't have to manhandle me in front of everyone and drag me down here just to prove you're a big macho cop." I made grunting noises like Tim Allen, which I probably shouldn't have.

He just looked amused, and motioned with his fingers. "Hand it over."

I snorted. "Get real. Even if you tore it up, do you think I wouldn't remember what's on the list?"

"That isn't the point. Hand it over."

Instead I tucked the list into my bag and zipped it. "Then what is the point, because I'm missing something here."

He got to his feet with a smooth, powerful grace that reminded me what an athlete he was. "The point," he said as he came around the desk and calmly took my bag away from me, "is that the men in your life probably let you get away with murder-figuratively speaking-because you're so damned cute, but I'm not going to go down that road. You're in my territory and I said hand over the list, so if you don't do it, I'll have to take it away from you. That's the point."

I watched as he unzipped my bag and took out the list, which he slipped into his pants pocket. I could have gone for another undignified struggle, but even if I'd won-which wasn't likely-retrieving the list would have meant putting my hand in his pocket and I wasn't born yesterday. This was one battle I'd be smarter not to fight. Instead I shrugged. "So I'll write one when I get home, where, by the way, I would like to have been an hour ago. You should also really work on this problem you have of making everything personal, Lieutenant Bloodsworth." I kept calling him that instead of Wyatt because I knew it irritated the hell out of him. "In your job, that could be a real problem."

"What's between us is definitely personal," he retorted as he gave my bag back to me.

"Nope. Not interested. Sorry. May I go home, please?" Maybe if I said it often enough, he'd get tired of hearing it. A big yawn punctuated the end of my sentence, and I swear I didn't fake it. I covered it with my hand, but it was one of those jaw-cracker yawns that just took over and seemed to go on forever. My eyes were watering when it finally ended. "I'm sorry," I said again, and rubbed my eyes.

Damn his eyes, he grinned. "Just keep saying you aren't interested often enough, and maybe by the time you're ninety you'll believe it. Come on, I'll take you home before you collapse," he said before I could respond to his first statement, putting his hand on my waist and urging me toward the door.

Finally! I was so glad to be making progress toward home that I didn't pay proper attention to where his hand was or how it looked. He leaned forward and opened the door for me, and as I stepped through it, what seemed like a hundred pairs of eyes turned toward us. Patrol officers in uniform, detectives in street clothes, a few people who were obviously there under protest-the department was a beehive of activity despite the lateness of the hour. If I'd been paying attention, I'd have noticed the hum of voices and ringing of telephones outside that closed door, but I'd been focused on my battle with Wyatt.

I saw a multitude of expressions: curiosity, amusement, prurient interest. The one expression I didn't see, I realized, was surprise. I spotted Detective MacInnes hiding a grin as he looked back down at the paperwork on his desk.

Well, what had I expected? Not only had they witnessed our very public disagreement that ended with him putting me in his car-only the public part had ended, not our disagreement-but now I realized Wyatt must have said something that indicated we had a personal relationship. The sneaky rat was trying an end run around my objections, but more important, he had made certain none of his people would interfere in our argument.

"You think you're so smart," I muttered as we stepped into the elevator.

"I must not be, or I'd stay the hell away from you," he replied calmly as he punched the button for the bottom floor.

"Then why don't you up your IQ and go after someone who wants you?"

"Oh, you want me, all right. You don't like it, but you want me."

"Wanted. Past tense. As in, not now. You had your chance."

"I still have it. All we did was take a breather."

My mouth was open in astonishment as I stared up at him. "You call two years a breather? I've got news for you, big boy: your chance was over by the end of our last date."

The elevator stopped and the doors slid open-it doesn't take long to travel three floors-and Wyatt did the hand-on-my-waist thing again, ushering me out of a small foyer and into the parking lot. The rain had stopped, thank goodness, though the trees and power lines still dripped. His white Crown Vic was parked in the fourth slot down, where a sign saying, "Lt. Bloodsworth," was posted. The parking lot was fenced and gated, so there weren't any reporters waiting outside that entrance. Not that there would be a lot, anyway; our town had one daily newspaper and one weekly, four radio stations, and one ABC affiliate television station. Even if every station and newspaper sent a reporter, which they wouldn't, that was a grand total of seven.

Just to be a smart-ass, I reached for the back door handle. Wyatt growled and pulled me forward as he opened the front passenger door. "You're a pain, you know that?"

"In what way?" I seated myself and buckled the seat belt.

"You don't know when to stop pushing." He closed the door with a solid thunk, and went around to the driver's side. He got in and started the car, then turned in the seat to face me and draped one arm along the back of the seat. "We aren't in an elevator now with a camera watching every move, so tell me again how my chance with you is over and you don't want me."

He was challenging me, actually egging me on so I'd say something rash and give him a reason to do something just as rash, such as kiss me. The parking lot lights were bright enough for me to see the glint in his eyes as he waited for my response. I wanted to fire a verbal blast back at him, but that would have been playing his game and I was so tired I knew I wasn't at the top of my form. So I yawned in his face and mumbled, "Can't this wait? I'm so tired I can't see straight."

He chuckled as he turned around and buckled his own seat belt. "Coward."

Okay, so he didn't buy it. What mattered was that he'd decided not to push the issue.

Well, I showed him. I leaned my head back and closed my eyes, and despite the amount of caffeine I'd had that night, I was asleep before we were out of the parking lot. That was a gift I had; my dad called it Lights Out Blair. I've never been one to toss and turn at night, but with all the stress and coffee I thought this would be one night when sleep wouldn't come. Not to worry; the lights went out as usual.

I woke when he opened the car door and leaned in to unbuckle my seat belt. I blinked sleepily at him, trying to bring him into focus. "Are we there yet?"

"We're there. Come on, Sleeping Beauty." He picked up my bag from the floorboard, then tugged me out of the car.

I live in the Beacon Hills area-the condos are called Beacon Hills, which is so original-meaning all the streets march up and down hills. Beacon Hills Condominiums comprises eleven separate buildings, each containing four three-story units. I live in the third building, first unit, which means I have windows opening to the outside on three sides, not just two. The end units cost more than the middle units, but to me the windows were worth it. Another big plus was the side portico under which I could park my car. Middle dwellers had to park at the curb. Yes, the side portico also upped the price of the end units. So what? I didn't have to park my Mercedes in the weather, so the portico was worth the cost. Having been there before, Wyatt had parked under the portico.

There was a front entrance, of course, but there was a door connecting the portico and a small entrance nook that also contained my washer and dryer and then led into the kitchen. I almost never used the front entrance unless a date was bringing me home, and the lights beside the side door were on a timer. They came on at nine P.M., so I never had to fumble my way inside in the dark.

I took my bag from him and dug out my keys. "Thank you for bringing me home," I said politely. I didn't even point out that I would have preferred taking a taxi.

He loomed over me, standing too close, and I automatically tightened my grip on my keys in case he tried to take them from me. "I want to check the locks on your doors and windows."

"Dad can do it tomorrow. I'll be fine tonight, because no one will know I witnessed anything until the papers come out."

"Is your dad knowledgeable about security?"

No more than I was, but, hey, I had an alarm system, and I could check my own doors and windows. "Lieutenant Bloodsworth," I said as firmly as I could around another yawn. "Go home. Leave me alone." As I spoke I unlocked the door and moved so I was blocking him.

He leaned a shoulder against the doorjamb and smiled down at me. "I wasn't intending to force my way in, you know."

"That's good. Why don't we pretend you're a vampire and can't ever come in unless I invite you?"

"You already have invited me, remember?"

Oh. Well, there was that. "I've redecorated since then. That starts everything over. Go home."

"I am. I'm pretty beat, myself. You redecorated, huh? What was wrong with the way things looked before?"

I rolled my eyes. "I'm sure you're so interested in interior decorating. Go home. Leave. But make sure you have someone bring my car to me first thing in the morning, okay? I can't be stuck here without it."

"I'll take care of it." He reached out and cupped my face, his thumb lightly tracing my lips. I drew back, glaring at him, and he laughed. "I wasn't going to kiss you. Not yet, anyway. There might not be anyone around to see at this time of night-or morning, rather-but since your clothes tend to come off when I kiss you, we'd better wait until we're more private and have both had some sleep."

He made it sound as if I started stripping whenever he touched me. I gave him a poisonously sweet smile. "I have a better idea. Why don't you cram-"

"Uh-uh," he cautioned, putting a finger over my lips. "You don't want to let that sassy mouth get you in trouble. Just go inside, lock the door behind you, and go to bed. I'll see you later."

Never let it be said that I don't recognize good advice when I hear it. I always recognize it; actually following it is a different category. In this instance, however, I did the wise thing and slipped inside, and locked the door just as he'd directed. Yeah, he might think I was actually following his orders, but it just so happened his orders coincided with my survival instinct.

I turned on my kitchen light and stood at the door waiting until his car pulled away before I turned off the outside lights. Then I stood in the middle of my familiar, cozy kitchen and let everything that had happened that night crash in on me.

There was a sense of unreality to everything, as if I had disconnected from the universe. My surroundings were my own, yet they seemed somehow alien, as if they belonged to someone else. I was both exhausted and jittery, which is not a good combination.

First thing, I turned on all the lights on the ground floor and checked all the windows, which were securely locked. Likewise with the doors. The dining alcove had double French doors leading onto my covered patio, where I keep strands of little white lights outlining the posts and roof edge, and entwined through the young Bradford pear trees. I turn the lights on almost every night that I'm home, because I love how they look, but tonight I felt vulnerable with all that glass and I pulled the heavy curtains closed over the French doors.

After setting the security system, I did what I had been wanting to do for hours. I called Mom.

Dad answered, of course. The telephone was on his side of the bed because Mom didn't like answering it. "Hello." His voice was a sleepy mumble.

"Dad, it's Blair. There was a murder at the gym tonight, and I wanted to let you know I'm all right."

"A-what? Did you say murder?" He sounded much more awake now.

"One of the members was killed in the back parking lot"-I heard Mom in the background saying fiercely, "Give me the phone!" and I knew his possession of the phone was numbered in seconds-"a little after nine, and I- Hi, Mom."

"Blair. Are you all right?"

"I'm fine. I wouldn't have called, but I was afraid someone else would, and I wanted you to know that I'm okay."

"Thank God you did," she said, and we both shuddered at what she might have done if she'd thought any of her children had been hurt. "Who was killed?"

"Nicole Goodwin."

"The copycat?"

"That's her." I might have complained about Nicole a time or two to my family. "She was parked in the back parking lot, waiting for me-we had a slight altercation this afternoon-"

"Do the police think you did it?"

"No, no," I soothed, though for a while I had definitely been Suspect Number One. Mom didn't need to know that, though. "I had just stepped outside tonight and locked up when this man shot her, and he didn't see me. He left in a dark sedan."

"Oh, my God, you're a witness?"

"Not really," I said ruefully. "It was dark and raining, and there's no way I could ever identify him. I called nine-one-one, the cops came, and that's all I know. They have just brought me home."

"What took them so long?"

"The crime scene. It took forever for them to go over everything." Not to mention I probably would have been home a couple of hours earlier if it hadn't been for a certain lieutenant.

"Um… they brought you home? Why didn't you drive?"

"Because my car is inside the area they have taped off, so they wouldn't let me go back there. An officer is supposed to bring it to me in the morning." Morning meant some time after daylight, because technically it was already morning. I expected to see my car between eight and ten, and I would be so lucky if an officer and not Wyatt delivered it. "Great Bods will have to be closed for a couple of days, too, maybe longer. I think I'll go to the beach."

"That's a great idea," she said firmly. "Get out of Dodge."

It's scary sometimes how my mom and I think alike.

I reassured her again that I was okay, that I was going to bed because I was exhausted, and hung up feeling much better. She hadn't made any there-there noises, which is so not my mom, but I had headed off any well-meaning gossips who would have upset her.

I thought about calling Siana, but I was too tired to remember my list of grievances off the top of my head. After I'd had some sleep, I'd write them all down again. Siana would get a kick out of my run-in with Lieutenant Bloodsworth, because she knew about our past connection.

There was nothing I wanted more than sleep, so I turned off all the lights except for the dim sconces that lit the stairs; then I climbed up to my bedroom, where I pulled off my clothes and collapsed naked in my cloud of a bed. I groaned aloud with relief as I stretched out-then I ruined the moment of bliss by imagining Wyatt naked and stretching out on top of me.

The damn man was a menace. Before my wayward imagination went any further, I made myself recall and go over every detail of our last date, when he had acted like such a horse's ass.

There. That worked.

Feeling peaceful, I rolled over and went to sleep. Lights Out, Blair.

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