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

I woke during the night, cold and disoriented. The cold wasn't surprising, because Wyatt had the window air conditioner in the bedroom turned on the "Frost" setting. I must have been dreaming, because a loud noise like a gunshot startled me awake, and for a moment I didn't know where I was.

Maybe I made a sound, or jerked the way you do when you're startled. Wyatt said, "Are you all right?" in an instantly alert voice as he sat up in bed, and the question jerked me out of the weird moment. I stared at him in the darkness, able to make out only the outline of his body framed against the slightly lighter background of the window. I reached out and touched him, my hand finding the warmth of his bare stomach just above the sheet pooled around his hips. Touching him was automatic, an instinctive need for contact.

"I'm cold," I muttered, and he lay back down, pulling me against him and tucking the covers up around my shoulders. I cradled my head on his shoulder and put my hand on his chest, comforted by the warmth and hardness of his body, the substantial presence of him beside me. I hadn't wanted to sleep with him-I mean in the literal sense, because I was still desperately trying to preserve my boundaries-but I'd fallen asleep in the middle of the argument and he'd obviously taken advantage of my unconscious state. I suspected it was a deliberate tactic: exhaust me with sex, so I couldn't stay awake. But now I was glad he was here beside me in the night, snuggling me close and keeping the chill away. This was exactly what I had wanted from him before, this intimacy, the companionship, the link. The depth of my contentment now, in his arms, was frightening.

"What were you dreaming?" he asked, rubbing my back with a slow, soothing stroke. His deep voice was roughened by sleep, and the sweetness of lying there like that with him wrapped itself around me like a quilt.

"I don't know. I don't remember anything. I woke up, and it was one of those creepy times when I didn't know where I was, plus I was cold. Did I say something?"

"No, you just made a funny sound, like you were scared."

"I think I heard a loud noise, but it may have been in my dream. If I was dreaming."

"I didn't hear anything. What kind of loud noise?"

"Like a gunshot."

"No, there definitely wasn't anything like that." He sounded absolutely certain. I supposed, since he was a cop, he was attuned to things like that.

"Then I must have been dreaming about the murder. I don't remember." I yawned and cuddled closer, and as I did a wisp of memory floated back. I hadn't been dreaming about Nicole's murder, but about mine, because before the cops found Nicole's body, I'd thought the shot had been aimed at me. For about ten minutes, until the cops arrived, I'd been terrified.

"Wait, I do remember a little. I dreamed I was being shot at, which at first I thought was what had happened. I guess my subconscious is working that out."

His arms tightened around me. "What did you do? That night."

"Stayed down, duck-walked back to the door and got inside the building, then locked the door and called nine-one-one."

"Good girl. That was exactly the right thing to do."

"I left out the panicking part. I was scared to death."

"Which proves you aren't an idiot."

"And it also proved I didn't shoot Nicole myself, because I didn't go out into the rain to check things out. I was completely dry. I asked them to do a gunpowder residue test, though, because I was tired and didn't want to be taken in for questioning, which as it turned out was a wasted effort because you dragged me in anyway." That was still a sore point with me.

"Yeah, I heard about the 'thingie' test." His tone was dry. Evidently he thought I'd played like a dumb blond to allay the detectives' suspicions. I can't imagine where he got an idea like that.

"I couldn't think of the name right then," I said innocently. "I was rattled." Half of that was the truth.

"Uh-huh."

I think he didn't believe me. Moving right along, I said, "I don't know why I'd dream about being shot now. Why not the first night? That was when I was so shaken up."

"You were exhausted. You probably did dream, but you didn't wake up enough to remember them."

"Then what about last night? I didn't dream then, either."

"Same theory. You'd had a long drive on not much sleep. You were tired."

I snorted. "Hah! You think I wasn't tired tonight?"

"Different kind of tired." He sounded amused now. "The other was stress. Tonight was pleasure."

That was for certain. Even fighting with him was pleasure on some level, because I got so much enjoyment out of it. I was alarmed because he seemed to be winning all the battles, but I was still exhilarated by the fight. I imagine moths are happy while they're flying right into the fire, too. If Wyatt burned me again, I didn't know what I'd do. He'd already gotten to me way more than he had before, witness the fact that I was in bed with him.

I pinched him. Just because.

He jumped. "Ow! What was that for?"

"For not even courting me before you got me into bed," I said indignantly. "You make me feel as if I'm easy."

"Honey, nothing about you is easy. Trust me." His tone was wry.

"I must be." I managed to put some tears into my voice. Hey, if I can't win the battles, at least I can mess with him, right?

"Are you crying?" He definitely sounded suspicious.

"No." That was the truth. Can I help it if the word quivered a little?

His big hand touched my face. "You are not."

"I said I wasn't." Damn, did he accept nothing on face value? We definitely had an issue with trust here. How was I supposed to get away with anything?

"Yeah, but you were doing that little guilt-trip act. You know damn good and well that all you had to say at any time was 'no' if you really didn't want it."

"You sabotaged me with the neck thing. That has to stop."

"What are you going to do, get rid of your neck?"

"Does that mean you won't promise to leave my neck alone?"

"Are you kidding? Have I ever struck you as the type to cut my own throat?" He sounded lazily amused.

"I'm serious about not having sex. I think it's the wrong thing to do this soon. We should have waited to see if a relationship gets going between us."

" 'Gets going'?" he echoed. "Seems to me we're halfway around the track already."

"Not really. We haven't left the starting line yet. We haven't even been out on a date. This time, I mean. Two years ago doesn't count."

"We had dinner tonight."

"That doesn't count, either. You used your physical strength against me, then coerced me with threats."

He snorted. "Like that would have stopped you from screaming your head off if you hadn't decided you were hungry and I might as well pay for it."

There was that, of course. Plus I was never in the least worried that he might actually hurt me. I felt remarkably safe and secure when I was with him-from everything except him, of course.

"So here's the deal. I go out with you the way I would if we were starting all over again. That's what you want, isn't it? Another chance? That means no sex, because sex clouds the issue."

"The hell it does."

"Okay, it clouds my issues. Maybe when I get to know you better, and you get to know me, we'll decide we don't like each other that much, after all. Or maybe you decide you don't like me nearly as much as I like you, because like I said, sex clouds the issue for me. Maybe men aren't that influenced by having sex with someone, but women are. You'll be saving me a lot of possible heartbreak if we back off and take our time with this."

"You're asking me to close the barn door after the horse is already out."

"So round it up and put it back in your pants-barn, I mean."

"That's your point of view. In mine, it goes against every instinct to not make love to you as often as possible, because that's how a man makes sure a woman is his."

From his voice I could tell he was getting testy now. I sort of wished a light were on so I could read his expression, but that would have meant he'd be able to read mine, too, so I left well enough alone. "If we were that far along in our relationship, I'd agree with you."

"From the evidence at hand, I'd say we are."

So we were both naked and in bed together. So what?

"But we aren't. We're very much physically attracted to each other, but we don't know each other. For instance, what's my favorite color?"

"Hell, I was married for three years and I never knew her favorite color. Men don't think about colors."

"You don't have to think about something to just kind of notice it." I glossed over the fact that he'd been married before. I'd known it, of course, because his mother had told me before she ever introduced us, but I didn't like thinking about it any more than I liked thinking about my own failed marriage. In Wyatt's case, however, I was just plain jealous.

"Pink," he said.

"Close, but no cigar. That's my second favorite color."

"Good God, you have more than one?"

"Teal."

"Teal's a color? I thought it was a duck."

"Maybe the color comes from a duck. I don't know. The point is, if we had spent a lot of time together and really gotten to know each other, you'd have noticed that I wear a lot of teal and you might have guessed it. But you couldn't, because we haven't spent a lot of time together."

"The solution to that is to spend more time together."

"Agreed. But without sex."

"I feel as if I'm banging my head against a brick wall," he said to the ceiling.

"I know the feeling." I was beginning to get exasperated. "The point is, I'm afraid you'll break my heart if I let you get too close to me. I'm afraid I'll fall in love with you and then you'll walk away again. I want to know you're with me every step of the way if I do fall in love with you. How can I know that if we're having sex, when sex means so much to a woman and it doesn't mean much more to a man than just jerking off? It's chemistry, and it short-circuits a woman's brain, sort of drugs her, so she doesn't notice she's sleeping with a rat until it's too late."

There was a long pause; then he said, "What if I'm already in love with you, and I'm using sex to show you that, and to get closer to you?"

"If you'd said 'infatuated,' I might have believed you. I repeat, you don't really know me, therefore you can't truly love me. We're in lust, not love. Not yet, and maybe not ever."

Another long pause. "I understand what you're saying. I don't agree with it, but I understand it. Did you understand what I said, about using sex to show you I care?"

"Yes," I said guardedly. What was he leading up to? "And I don't agree."

"Then we're at a stalemate. You don't want to have sex and I do. So let's make a deal: any time I put the move on you, all you have to do is say no and I promise I'll stop, regardless. I may be on top of you about to put it in, but if you say no, I'll stop."

"That's not fair!" I wailed. "What's my record so far in saying no to you?"

"Two years ago, you were two for oh. This time, it's four-zip in my favor."

"See! You're two-thirds better at this than I am. I need a handicap."

"How in hell do you handicap sex?"

"You can't touch my neck."

"Uh-uh. No way in hell are you putting your neck out-of-bounds." Just to prove his point, he hauled me up his body so I was level with him, and before I could stop him, he buried his face in the curve of my neck and shoulders and lightly bit me. Lightning pleasure shot through me and my eyes rolled back in my head.

Yes, he cheated.

A while later, bracing himself over me on his arms, both of us sweaty and our lungs pumping like mad, he said, with great satisfaction, "Make that five-zip."

I hate it when a man gloats, don't you? Especially when he cheats.

"We'll fly home," he said as we packed our bags after breakfast.

"But my truck-"

"We'll turn the rentals in here. My car's at the airport at home. I'll take you to pick up your car."

Finally I was getting my car back! That part of it was a good plan. But I don't like flying all that much; I do it, occasionally, but I'd much rather drive. "I don't like to fly," I said.

He straightened and stared at me. "Don't tell me you're afraid."

"I'm not afraid, exactly, not gasping for breath and things like that, but it isn't my favorite thing. The squad was flying to the West Coast once for a ball game, and we hit some turbulence and dropped far enough that I thought the pilot would never be able to pull us out. Since then I've been uneasy about it."

He watched me for another minute, then said, "Okay, we'll drive. Follow me to the airport so I can turn in my rental."

Well, blow me down. For a minute there I'd expected to be strong-armed onto a plane; I'd told him so many fibs these past few days, why should he believe the truth? But he evidently had a Blair Truth Detector like the one Mom had, and realized that if anything, I was understating a little how much it bothered me to fly. Just a little, because I truly don't panic or anything.

So I followed him to the airport, where he turned in his rental, and then waited behind the wheel while he stored his gear beside mine in the bed of the truck. He surprised me yet again by getting in on the passenger side and buckling himself in without even asking to drive. Only a man secure in his own masculinity will let a woman do the driving in a pickup truck… either that or he was very sneakily buttering me up. Whatever. It worked. I was feeling much more mellow with him during the long drive back home.

It was late afternoon when we got to our small regional airport, where he'd left his car. I turned in the rental truck and we transferred everything to his Crown Vic; then he drove me to Great Bods to get my car.

To my dismay, the yellow crime-scene tape was still strung around most of my property. About half of the front parking lot was taped off, and all of the building and the back parking lot. He pulled into the section of parking lot that was open. "When will I be able to reopen?" I asked as I handed over my car keys to him.

"I'll try to get the scene closed tomorrow. If I do, you'll be able to open on Tuesday-but I'm not making any promises."

I stood beside his car while he walked around back, and a moment later he reappeared driving my Mercedes. He pulled in on the other side of the Crown Vic, closest to the street, and stopped beside his car. Leaving the Mercedes running, he got out and transferred my duffel to my small backseat, then stepped back only a little, so that he was standing very close beside me when I started to get into the car. He caught my arm, his big hand warm on my skin.

"I have to work tonight, shuffle some papers around. Will you be at your parents' house?"

Thoughts of him had so completely consumed me for two days that my nervousness about being named as the witness to Nicole's murder had almost completely calmed down. "I don't want to do anything stupid, but is there really much of a chance this guy will try to eliminate the witness, namely me?"

"I can't discount the possibility," he said, looking grim. "It isn't likely, but it isn't impossible. I'd feel better if you were either at your parents' or if you came home with me."

"I'll go to their house," I decided, because if he thought I should be worried, then I was worried. "But I need to go home and get more clothes, pay bills, that sort of thing."

"I'll go with you. Get what you need, and do your paperwork when you get to your parents'. Better yet, tell me what you need; I'll get it and bring it to you."

Right, like I was going to let him go through my underwear drawer?

No sooner did I have that thought than I mentally shrugged. Not only had he seen my underwear-some of it, anyway-he'd taken it off me. Besides, I like pretty underwear, so it wasn't as if there was anything there I'd be embarrassed for him to see.

"Give me your little notepad and a pen," I said, and when he produced them from his pocket, I wrote down detailed descriptions of exactly what clothes I wanted him to get for me, and where my unpaid bills were filed. Since I already had my makeup and hair products with me, he was getting off easy.

When I gave him my house key, he looked down at it with a strange expression on his face.

"What?" I asked. "Is something wrong with the key?"

"No, everything's fine," he said, and bent his head. The kiss was warm and lingering, and before I knew it, I was on tiptoe with my arms laced around his neck, kissing him back with enthusiasm, plus interest.

When he lifted his head, he slowly licked his lips, tasting me. My toes curled and I almost told him to take me home with him, but common sense resurfaced at the last moment. He stepped back to give me room to get into the car.

"Oh, I need to give you directions to Mom and Dad's house," I said, remembering at the last moment.

"I know where they live."

"How do- Oh, yeah, I forgot. You're a cop. You checked."

"When I couldn't find you on Friday, yeah."

I gave him the old Beady Eye, which is what Siana called it when Mom knew we had been up to something and would try to stare a confession out of us. "I think you have an unfair advantage, and you throw your cop weight around. That has to stop."

"Not likely. That's what we do," he said, smiling as he turned to go to his car.

"Wait! Are you going to my house now and bringing my things, or are you going to work and bringing them later?"

"I'll bring them now. I don't know how long I'll have to work."

"Okay. See you there." I tossed my bag into the passenger seat, but the toss fell short and the bag hit the console, falling back into the driver's seat. I leaned down to pick up the bag and give it another toss, and a sharp crack reverberated on the street. Startled, I jumped sideways, and a sharp knife of pain sliced through my left arm.

Then a ton of concrete hit me and knocked me to the pavement.

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