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

The concrete was hard and warm, and was swearing a blue streak. And as I said, he also weighed a ton. "Son of a fucking bitch!" he said between clenched teeth, spitting out each word like a bullet. "Blair, are you all right?"

Well, I didn't know. I'd hit the pavement pretty hard and banged my head, and I was kind of breathless from being squashed beneath him, plus my arm hurt like a mother. I felt sort of boneless from shock, because I'd heard that same crack before and I pretty much knew what was wrong with my arm. "I guess," I said without much conviction.

His head moving from side to side as he kept a watch out for any approaching killers, Wyatt levered himself off me, then hauled me to a sitting position and propped me against the front tire, saying, "Stay!" as if I were Fido. Didn't matter. I wasn't going anywhere.

He pulled his cell phone off his belt and pressed a button. Talking into it as if it were a handheld radio, he said something hard and fast, of which I understood only "Shots fired," and then our location. Still swearing, he moved at a fast crouch to his car and wrenched the back door open. He reached in, and came out with a big automatic pistol in his hand.

"I cannot fucking believe I forgot to get my weapon out of my bag," he growled as he plastered himself, his back to me, against the rear tire of my car and risked a quick look over the trunk, then ducked back down. "Of all the fucking times-"

"Do you see him?" I interrupted his muttered stream of profanity.

"Nothing."

My mouth was dry, and my heartbeat was hammering wildly at the thought of the shooter rounding the car and firing at both of us. We were sandwiched between the two cars, which should have seemed secure, but instead I felt horribly exposed and vulnerable, with those unprotected spaces at each end of the cars.

The shot had come from across the street. Very few of the shops that lined the street were open on Sunday, especially this late in the afternoon, and traffic was almost nonexistent. I listened, but didn't hear the sound of a car leaving, which to my way of thinking wasn't good. Leaving was good; staying was bad. I wanted the man to leave. I wanted to cry. And I was seriously thinking about throwing up.

Wyatt glanced over his shoulder at me, his expression grim and focused, and for the first time, got a good look at me. His whole body stiffened. "Ah, shit, honey," he said softly. He took another quick look over the trunk, then moved in a crouch to my side. "Why didn't you say something? You're bleeding like a stuck hog. Let me see how bad it is."

"Not very, I don't think. It just sliced my arm." I thought I sounded just like a cowboy in an old western movie, bravely reassuring the pretty farm-woman his wound was just a scratch. Maybe I should get Wyatt's pistol and return fire across the street, just to complete the illusion. On the other hand, maybe I should just sit here; it took less effort.

His big hand was gentle as he turned my arm so he could examine the wound. Personally, I didn't look. With my peripheral vision I could see way too much blood anyway, and knowing it was all mine wasn't a good feeling.

"It isn't too bad," he murmured. He took another look around, then briefly put his weapon down to take a handkerchief from his pocket and place it, folded, against my wound. He had the big pistol in his hand again less than five seconds after he'd put it down. "Hold this as tight as you can against your arm," he said, and I reached up with my right hand to do as he'd directed.

I struggled not to feel indignant. Not too bad? It was one thing for me to be brave and dismissive about being shot, but how dare he? I wondered if he'd be that blase if it were his arm that felt as if it were on fire, if his blood was soaking his clothes and beginning to pool on the pavement.

Huh. That pooling on the pavement part couldn't be good. Maybe that was why I felt light-headed and hot and nauseated. Maybe I'd better lie down.

I let myself slide sideways, and Wyatt grabbed me with his free hand. "Blair!"

"I'm just lying down," I said fretfully. "I feel sick."

Supporting me one-handed, he helped me to lie down on the pavement. The asphalt was hot and gritty, and I didn't care. I concentrated on taking deep breaths and staring at the blueness of the late-afternoon sky overhead, and gradually the nausea began to fade. Wyatt was talking on his cell phone/radio, whatever it was, requesting medics and an ambulance. Already I could hear sirens as units responded to a call that their lieutenant was under fire. How much time had lapsed since the shot? A minute? No more than two, I was certain of that.

To one part of me, everything seemed to be moving in slow motion, but another part of me felt as if too much was happening simultaneously. The result was a total sense of unreality, but one in which everything seemed to be crystal clear. I couldn't decide if that was good or not. Probably a little fuzziness would be nice, because I really didn't want to have clear memories of this.

Wyatt crouched over me and put his left hand to my neck. Good God, was he coming on to me now? I glared up at him, but he didn't notice because his head was up and he was checking in all directions, his weapon steady in his right hand. Belatedly, I realized he was checking my pulse, and he looked even more grim than before.

I wasn't dying, was I? People didn't die from gunshot wounds to the arm. That was silly. I was just a little shocky from losing blood so fast, the way I got whenever I gave blood at the Red Cross. It was no big deal. But he'd radioed for an ambulance, which to my way of thinking was for serious stuff, and I wondered if he could see something I couldn't, like maybe an artery spurting out blood like Old Faithful. Not that I had really looked, because I'd been afraid I'd see exactly that.

I pulled the folded handkerchief away from my arm and looked at it. It was totally soaked with blood.

"Blair," he said sharply, "put that back over your wound."

Okay, so maybe I might die. I added up the pieces-a lot of blood, shock, ambulance-and didn't like the picture. "Call my mom," I said. She would be so royally pissed if I had a medical crisis and no one let her know.

"I will," he replied, and now he was trying to sound soothing.

"Now. I need her now."

"You're going to be all right, honey. We'll call her from the hospital."

I was outraged. I was lying there bleeding to death and he refused to call my mother?! If I'd had more energy, I might have done something about it, but as things were, all I could do was lie there and glare, which wasn't having much effect because he wasn't watching me.

Two patrol units, lights flashing and sirens blaring, slid into the parking lot, and two officers, weapons drawn, bailed out of each. Thank goodness each officer driving killed the sirens just before stopping, otherwise we'd have been deafened. There were other units on the way, though; I could hear more sirens, and they seemed to be coming from all directions.

Oh, man, this was going to be so bad for business. I tried to imagine how I would feel if I belonged to a fitness center where there were two shootings in four days. Safe? Definitely not. Of course, if I died, I wouldn't have to worry about it, but what about my employees? They'd be out of a job that paid above the average, plus benefits.

I had visions of the empty parking lot sprouting weeds through the pavement, windows broken, roof sagging. Yellow crime-scene tape would forlornly droop from poles and trees, and kids would walk by and point at the decaying building.

"Do not," I said loudly from flat on my back, "string even one inch of that yellow tape in my parking lot. Enough's enough. No more tape."

Wyatt was busy giving instructions to the four officers, but he glanced down at me and I thought he struggled not to smile. "I'll see what I can do."

Here I was bleeding to death, and he was smiling. Smiling. I needed to start another list. Come to think of it, I needed to rewrite the one he'd confiscated. He'd distracted me with sex, but now I was thinking clearly again and the list of his transgressions would probably take up two pages-assuming I lived to write them.

This was all his fault.

"If a certain lieutenant had listened to me and brought my car to me on Friday the way I asked, this wouldn't have happened. I'm bleeding, and my clothes are ruined, and it's all your fault."

Wyatt paused briefly in the middle of my condemnation, then continued talking to his men just as if I hadn't said anything.

Now he was ignoring me.

A couple of the officers seemed to be coming down with something, because they had simultaneous coughing fits-either that or they were trying not to laugh in their lieutenant's face, which I didn't like because, again, I was the one lying there bleeding to death and they were laughing? Excuse me, but was I the only one who didn't think it was funny that I'd been shot?

"Some people," I announced to the sky, "have better manners than to laugh at someone who's been shot and is bleeding to death."

"You aren't bleeding to death," Wyatt said, his voice showing some strain.

Maybe, maybe not, but you'd think they'd give me the benefit of the doubt, wouldn't you? I was almost tempted to bleed to death just to show him, but where's the profit in that? Besides, if I died, then I wouldn't be around to make his life miserable, now would I? You have to think these things out.

More vehicles arrived. I heard Wyatt organizing a search-and-destroy mission, though he didn't call it that. It was more like, "Find this bastard," but I knew what he meant. A couple of medics, a young black woman with cornrowed hair and the prettiest chocolate eyes I'd ever seen, and a stocky red-haired man who reminded me of Red Buttons, arrived toting tackle boxes full of medical supplies and gear, and hunkered down next to me.

They quickly did the basics, such as checking my pulse and blood pressure, and slapped a pressure bandage on my arm.

"I need a cookie," I told them.

"Don't we all," said the woman with some sympathy.

"To get my blood sugar up," I explained. "The Red Cross gives cookies to people who give blood. So a cookie would be nice. Chocolate chip. And a Coke."

"I hear you," she said, but no one was making any effort to put the requested items in my hand. I made allowances, because it was Sunday and none of the nearby shops were open. I guess they didn't carry cookies and soft drinks in the medic truck with them, but, really, why didn't they?

"With all these people around, you'd think at least one person would have some cookies in the car. Or a doughnut. They are cops."

She grinned and said, "You're right." Raising her voice, she yelled, "Hey! Does anyone have anything sweet to eat in his car?"

"You don't need to eat anything," the red-haired man said. I didn't like him nearly as well as I did her, despite his sweet Red Buttons face.

"Why? I don't need to have surgery, do I?" That was the only reason I could think of not to eat.

"I don't know; that's for the doctors to decide."

"Naw, you won't need surgery," she said, and Red glared at her.

"You don't know that."

I could tell he thought she was being way too free with the rules, and actually I understood his point. She, however, understood me. I needed reassurance, and a cookie would be just that, putting my blood loss on the same plane as giving blood at the Red Cross. If there were sweets available and they wouldn't let me have any, then that meant I was in Serious Condition.

A patrolman appeared, duck-walking between the cars even though no other shots had been fired and any murderer with an ounce of sense would have left the scene as soon as reinforcements arrived. He held a package in his hand. "I got Fig Newtons," he said. He looked puzzled, as if he couldn't understand why the medics needed something to eat and just couldn't wait.

"That'll do," she said, taking the package and tearing it open.

"Keisha," Red said in warning.

"Oh, hush," I said, and took a Fig Newton from the proffered pack. I smiled at Keisha. "Thanks. I think I'll live, now."

Three more Fig Newtons later, I wasn't feeling dizzy at all, and I sat up to prop myself against the tire once more. Red objected to that, too, but he had my well-being in mind, so I also forgave him for wanting to deny me the Newtons. I noticed that the multitude of cops milling around were walking upright now, so evidently the shooter had long since disappeared.

Wyatt was nowhere in sight. He had joined the search-and-destroy mission, and hadn't yet returned. Maybe this time they'd found some clues, though, that would lead them right to the shooter's door.

I was loaded into the back of the boxy ambulance. The back part of the gurney was raised instead of lying flat, so I was in a sitting position. I didn't feel like walking anywhere, but I was definitely up to the task of sitting.

It seems as if nothing at a crime or accident scene is ever done with any haste. Honest. There were a lot of people walking around, most of them uniformed, and most of them not actively doing anything other than talking to other people who were doing the same thing. Radios squawked, and people talked into them. Evidently they'd found the spot from which the shot was fired, and forensics people were going over the area. Red talked on his radio. Keisha repacked stuff. No one was in any hurry, and that was reassuring, too.

"I need my bag," I said, and Keisha retrieved it from my car to set it on the gurney beside me. Being a woman, she understood how much a woman needed her bag.

I fished in the bag for a pen and my date book. I flipped to the back to the blank pages for taking notes, and began writing. Man, this list was getting long.

Wyatt appeared at the open doors of the ambulance. His badge was clipped to his belt, and his pistol was in a shoulder holster worn over his polo shirt. Lines bracketed his mouth. "How are you feeling?"

"Fine," I said politely. I wasn't, not really, because my arm was really, really throbbing and I felt weak from blood loss, but I was still mad at him and not inclined to lean on him. See, men want you to lean on them, because it satisfies their protective instincts, which are pretty much hardwired, and by refusing his sympathy, I was telling him he was in the dog house. You have to read between the lines on these things.

His green eyes narrowed. He got the message all right. "I'll follow the ambulance to the hospital."

"Thank you, but there's no need. I'll call my family."

The eyes got even more narrow. "I said I'll follow you. I'll call your parents on the way."

"Fine. Do what you want." Which meant, I'll still be mad.

He got that message, too. He put his hands on his hips, looking all macho and masculine and disgruntled. "What has you in such a snit?"

"You mean, other than being shot?" I asked sweetly.

"I've been shot. It didn't make me act like a-" He stopped himself, evidently thinking better of what he'd been about to say.

"Bitch? Spoiled brat? Diva?" I supplied the choices myself. Up front, Red was sitting very still as he listened to the argument. Standing off to the side, waiting to close the doors, Keisha was pretending to look at a bird in the sky.

He gave a grim smile. "You choose the ones that fit."

"No problem. I can do that." I wrote another item on my list.

His gaze arrowed in on the date book. "What are you doing?"

"Making a list."

"Jesus Christ, another one?"

"The same one. I'm just adding to it."

"Give me that." He leaned forward into the ambulance as if to snatch the date book away from me.

I jerked it back. "This is my book, not yours. Don't touch it." Over my shoulder I said to Red, "Come on, let's get this show on the road."

"Blair, you're pouting-"

Well, yes, I was. When I felt better I might relent, but until then I felt my pouting was well-deserved. You tell me, if you can't pout when you're shot, just when is it called for?

As Keisha closed the ambulance doors, I said, "Just see if I ever sleep with you again!"

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