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

I should have known he'd show up. He was, after all, a lieutenant with the police department, and in a fairly small town like ours-sixty-odd thousand people-murders weren't an everyday occurrence. Probably most of the cops on duty were there, and a good many who weren't.

I heard his voice before I saw him, and even after two years I recognized the deep timbre, the slight briskness that said he hadn't spent his entire life in the south. It had been two years since I'd last seen the back of his head as he walked away from me without so much as a "Have a nice life," and still I felt the bottom drop out of my stomach as if I were riding a Ferris wheel and just beginning the downward arc. Two damn years-and still my heartbeat speeded up.

At least I was still in my office when I heard his voice; he was just outside the door talking to a knot of cops, so I had a moment to prepare myself before he saw me.

Yes, we had a history, Lieutenant J. W. Bloodsworth and I. Two years ago, we had dated-three times, to be exact. His promotion to lieutenant was fairly recent, no more than a year ago, so then he'd been Sergeant Bloodsworth.

Have you ever met someone and every instinct, every hormone, sat up and took notice and whispered in your ear, "Oh, my God, this is it, this is the real thing, grab him and do it NOW!"? That was the way it had been from the first hello. The chemistry between us was incredible. From the moment we met-we were introduced by his mother, who belonged to Great Bods at the time-my heart literally fluttered whenever I saw him, and maybe his didn't flutter, but he zeroed his attention in on me the way guys do when they see something they really really want, whether it's a woman or a big-screen plasma TV, and there was that flare of heightened awareness between us that made me feel slightly electrified.

In retrospect, I'm sure a bug feels just the same way as it flies into a zapper.

Our first date passed in a blur of anticipation. Our first kiss was explosive. The only thing that kept me from sleeping with him on the first date was: (A) it's so tacky, and (B) I wasn't on birth control pills. I hate to say it, but (A) was almost more compelling than (B), because my rioting hormones were screeching, "Yes! I want to have his baby!"

Stupid hormones. They should at least wait and see how things turn out before doing their mating dance.

Our second date was even more intense. The kissing became heavy making out, with most of our clothes off. See (B) above for my reason for stopping, even though he produced a condom. I don't trust condoms because when Jason and I were engaged, one shredded on him and I sweated bullets for two weeks until my period came right on schedule. My wedding gown was ready for the final fitting, and Mom would have blown a gasket if my waistline had started expanding. Normally I don't worry about Mom's gaskets, because she can handle just about anything, but planning a big wedding will stress out even a woman with ironclad nerves.

So, no condoms for me, except for entertainment purposes; you know what I mean. I fully intended to go on birth control pills as soon as I got my next period, though, because I could see into my future and a naked Jefferson Wyatt Bloodsworth figured very large in it… very large, indeed. I just hoped I could hold out long enough for the pills to take effect.

On our third date, it was as if he'd been taken over by the Pod people. He was inattentive, restless, constantly checking his watch as if he couldn't get away from me fast enough. He ended the date with an obviously reluctant peck on the lips, and walked away without saying he'd call-which would have been a lie, because he didn't-or that he'd had a good time, or anything. And that was the last I'd seen of him, the bastard.

I was furious with him, and two years hadn't done anything to dilute my fury. How could he have walked away from something that promised to be so special? And if he hadn't felt the same way I did, then he'd had no business taking off my clothes. Yes, I know that's what guys do, and God bless them for it, but when you get out of the teenage years, you expect something else to go along with the lust, for the shallowness of a puddle to have deepened into at least… a deeper puddle, I guess. If he had walked away because I'd twice stopped him from consummation, then I was better off without him. I certainly hadn't called him later to ask what was wrong, because I was so angry I wasn't certain I could control myself. I intended to call him when I was calmer.

Flash forward two years. I still hadn't called.

That was my state of mind when he walked into my office in Great Bods, all six feet two inches of him. He was wearing his dark hair just a little longer, but his green eyes were just the same: observant, sharp with intelligence, hard with the hardness that cops have to acquire or get a different job. That hard cop gaze raked over me, and appeared to sharpen even more.

I wasn't happy to see him. I wanted to kick his shins, and I might have if I hadn't been pretty sure he'd arrest me for assaulting a police officer, so I did the only thing any self-respecting woman would do: I pretended not to recognize him.

"Blair," he said, coming over to stand way too close. "Are you all right?"

What did he care? I gave him a startled, faintly alarmed look, like the one women get when some strange man is getting too close and too familiar, and discreetly hitched my chair just an inch away from him. "Uh… yes, I'm fine," I said warily, then subtly changed my expression to one of puzzlement as I stared at him, as if I half-recognized his face but couldn't pull a name out of my memory banks to match it.

I was surprised by the flash of potent anger in his green eyes. "Wyatt," he said curtly.

I backed up a little more. "Why what?" I leaned to the side and looked around him, as if making certain there were still cops within calling distance to protect me if he turned violent-which, to be honest, he looked as if he might.

"Wyatt Bloodsworth." The words dropped from his grim mouth like lead balloons. He wasn't finding my little charade at all funny, but I was having a great time.

I repeated the name silently to myself, moving my lips just a little, then let enlightenment dawn on my face. "Oh! Oh! I remember now. I'm so sorry, I'm terrible with names. How's your mother?"

Mrs. Bloodsworth had fallen off her bicycle onto the sidewalk in front of her house and broken her left collarbone as well as a couple of ribs. Her membership at Great Bods had lapsed while she was recuperating, and she hadn't rejoined.

He didn't look any happier to hear that his mother was my foremost connection to him. What had he thought, that I'd throw myself into his arms, either crying in hysteria or begging him to take me back? Fat chance. The Mallory women are made of sterner stuff than that.

"She's almost back up to speed. I think what hurt her even more than breaking bones was finding out that she doesn't bounce back as fast as she used to do."

"When you see her, tell her I said hello. I've missed her." Then, because he was wearing his badge on his belt, I lightly smacked myself on the forehead. "Duh! If I'd noticed your badge, I'd have made the connection faster, but I'm a little distracted right now. Detective MacInnes didn't want me to call my mom before, but I notice half the town seems to be in the parking lot, so do you think he'd mind if I called her now?"

He still didn't look very pleased with me. Oh dear, had I hurt his little ego? Wasn't that just too damn bad? "No civilians have been allowed on the scene yet," he replied. "The press is being held off, too, until the preliminary investigation is finished. We'd appreciate it if you didn't talk to anyone until the interviews are finished."

"I understand." And I did, truly. Murder was serious business. I just wished it weren't serious enough to have required Lieutenant Bloodsworth's presence. I stood up and stepped around him-giving him the same amount of personal space I would a stranger-and poured myself another cup of coffee. "How much longer will it take?"

"That's hard to say."

Which was a good nonanswer. I noticed him looking at the coffee and said, "Please, help yourself." I grabbed the plastic pitcher I'd been using to fill the coffeemaker now that both pots were occupied. "I'll just get some water to start another pot." Then I whisked myself out of the office and down to the bathroom, where I filled the pitcher and basked in satisfaction.

He certainly hadn't liked the idea that he'd been so unmemorable that I hadn't even recognized him. If he'd thought I'd spent the last two years mooning over him and mourning all the might-have-beens, his thinking had now been properly adjusted. And what had he expected, anyway? A rehash of old times?

No, not under these circumstances, not while he was working. He was way too professional for that. But he had definitely expected me to react to him with the unconscious intimacy you use when you've known someone personally, even if the relationship had ended. Too bad for him I wasn't unconscious.

When I came out of the bathroom, Detectives MacInnes and Forester were talking with Wyatt in the hallway, their voices pitched low. He was standing with his back to me, and while he was distracted by their conversation, I had an opportunity to really look at him, and damn if it didn't happen again, the heart-flutter thing. I stopped in my tracks, staring at him.

He wasn't a handsome man, not the way my ex was handsome. Jason was model handsome, all chiseled bone structure; Wyatt looked sort of battered, which was to be expected, since he'd spent a couple of years playing defensive end in pro football, but even if he hadn't, his features were basically on the rough side. His jaw was solid, his broken nose had a bump in the middle and was just slightly off-center, and his brows were straight black lines above his eyes. He'd kept the honed physique of an athlete to whom both speed and strength were equally important, but while Jason's body had the streamlined, strong elegance of a swimmer, Wyatt's body was meant to be used as a weapon.

Most of all, he practically dripped testosterone. Good looks are almost totally irrelevant when a man has sex appeal, and Wyatt Bloodsworth had it in spades, at least for me he did. Chemistry. There's no other way to explain it.

I hate chemistry. I hadn't been able to get serious about anyone else in the past two years because of stupid chemistry.

Like the detectives, he was dressed in slacks and sport coat, with a tie that was loosened at the throat. I wondered what had taken him so long to get here; had he been out on a date, with his pager or cell phone turned off? No, he was too conscientious for that, so it followed that he had been far enough away that getting here had taken roughly two hours. He had also been outside in the rain, because his shoes and the bottom six inches of his pants legs were wet. He must have taken a look at the crime scene before coming inside.

The two detectives were both shorter than he, and Detective MacInnes's face was carefully impassive. The older men must not be happy, I thought, to have a younger man promoted so fast. Wyatt had risen through the ranks like a comet, only partly because he was a good cop. He was also a Name, a local boy made good, a celebrity who had made All-Pro in the NFL his rookie year, then walked away to become a cop in his hometown after just a couple of years in the pros. Law enforcement was his first love, he'd told the media.

Everyone in town knew why he'd played pro ball: for the money. The Bloodsworths were Old Money, meaning they had once had money but were now broke. His mother lived in a four-thousand-square-foot, hundred-year-old Victorian house that she loved, but the upkeep was a constant drain. His older sister, Lisa, had two children, and though she and her husband had a solid marriage and did okay with day-to-day expenses, college tuition would be beyond them. Wyatt had pragmatically decided that replenishing the family bank account would be up to him, so he put off his planned career in law enforcement to play pro ball. A couple of million dollars a year would go a long way toward repairing finances so that he could take care of his mother, send his nephews to college, and so on.

The older guys on the force had to resent him, at least a little. At the same time, they were glad to have him, because he was a good cop, and he wasn't a glory hound. He used his name when it was for the benefit of the force, not for his personal gain. And he knew people whom it was important to know, which was another reason why he'd been promoted so fast. Wyatt could pick up the phone and talk to the governor. The chief of police and the mayor would have to be stupid not to see the benefits of that.

I'd stood there long enough. I started toward them, and the movement caught MacInnes's eye, causing him to break off in midsentence and making me wonder what they were saying that I wasn't supposed to hear. All three men turned to look at me, staring hard. "Excuse me," I murmured, sliding past them to enter my office. I busied myself making another pot of coffee, and wondered if for some reason I had regained my position as Suspect Number One.

Maybe I didn't need to call Mom. Maybe I needed to call Siana. She wasn't a criminal defense attorney, but that didn't matter. She was smart, she was ruthless, and she was my sister. Enough said.

I marched to my office door, crossed my arms, and glared at Detective MacInnes. "If you're going to arrest me, I want to call my lawyer. And my mother."

He scratched his jaw and darted a glance at Wyatt, as if saying, You handle this one. "Lieutenant Bloodsworth will answer your questions, ma'am."

Wyatt reached out and caught my right elbow, smoothly turning me around and ushering me back into my office. "Why don't you sit down," he suggested as he poured himself another cup of coffee. He must have downed the first cup in one gulp.

"I want to call-"

"You don't need an attorney," he interrupted. "Please. Sit down."

There was something in his tone, other than the flat tone of authority, that made me sit.

He pulled the guest chair around so it was facing me and sat down, so close that his legs were almost touching mine. I backed up just a little, in that automatic way people have when someone gets too close. He didn't have the right to invade my personal space, not anymore.

He noticed my action, of course, and his mouth thinned. Whatever he thought about it, though, he was all business when he spoke. "Blair, are you in any trouble that we need to know about?"

Okay, so maybe that wasn't exactly coplike, and totally unexpected. I blinked at him. "You mean, other than thinking I was being shot at and instead finding out I witnessed a murder? Isn't that enough?"

"You said in your statement that you'd had an incident with the victim earlier this afternoon when you told her that her membership wouldn't be renewed, and that she'd become violent-"

"That's right. And there were witnesses. I've already given their names to Detective MacInnes."

"Yes, I know," he said patiently. "Did she threaten you?"

"No. Well, she said she was going to sic her lawyer on me, but I wasn't sweating that."

"She didn't make any threats to harm you physically?"

"No. I've already told all this to the detectives."

"I know. Just be patient. If she didn't make any threats, why, when you saw her car parked in the back lot, did you assume you were in physical danger from her?"

"Because she's-she was-a psycho. She copied everything I did. She colored her hair to match mine; she started wearing clothes like mine; she got the same hairstyle, the same style earrings. She even bought a white convertible because I have one. She gave me the creeps."

"So she admired you?"

"I don't think so. I think she hated my guts. Several of the other members thought so, too."

"Then why did she imitate you?"

"Who knows? Maybe she wasn't able to put together a look on her own, so she just copied someone else. She wasn't very bright. Cunning, but not bright."

"I see. Has anyone else threatened you?"

"Not since my divorce." Impatiently I checked my wristwatch. "Lieutenant, I'm exhausted. How much longer do I have to stay here?" Until all the cops had left the building, that was for certain, so I could lock up. They would be stringing yellow crime-scene tape all over the back lot, but surely they'd let me get my car out first-

That's when it hit me that they would probably cordon off the entire building and two parking lots. I wouldn't be able to open tomorrow, and maybe not the next day either. Or maybe not for a lot longer than that.

"Not much longer," he said, drawing my attention back to him. When was your divorce?"

"Five years ago. Why are you asking?"

"Does your ex-husband cause you any trouble?"

"Jason? Goodness, no. I haven't even seen him since the divorce."

"But he threatened you then?"

"It was a divorce. He threatened to trash my car. He never did, of course." Actually, he'd threatened to trash my car if I ever made certain information public. I had then threatened to make certain information public if he didn't shut up and give me everything I asked for-or at least, Siana had threatened it. I didn't think Wyatt needed to hear all of that, though. That comes under the heading of Too Much Information.

"Do you have any reason to think he might hold a grudge?"

Oh, I hoped so. That was why I still drove a Mercedes convertible. But I shook my head. "I don't see why. He remarried a few years ago, and from what I hear he's very happy."

"And no one else has threatened you in any way?"

"No. Why are you asking me all these questions?"

His expression was unreadable. "The victim is dressed almost identically to you. She was in a white convertible. It occurred to me, when I saw you and realized the similarities, that it was possible you were the intended victim after all."

I gaped at him in astonishment. "No way. I mean, I thought I was being shot at, but only because I knew Nicole was bananas. She's the only person I've had any trouble with."

"You haven't had any confrontations that maybe you passed off as minor but someone else could have taken more seriously?"

"No. Not even a snippet of an argument." Because I live alone, my life tends to be fairly peaceful.

"Could any of your employees be angry with you about something?"

"Not that I know of, and anyway, they all know me personally-and they know Nicole. There's no way any of them could mistake her for me. Plus, they all know where I park, and it isn't at the back of the lot. I don't think I'm involved in this at all, other than just being there by an accident of timing. I can't help you by pointing a finger at someone who might have it in for me. Besides, Nicole was the type of person who regularly pissed people off."

"Do you know any of those people?"

"She annoyed every woman who belongs to Great Bods, but men tended to like her because she had this syrupy sex-kitten act. It was definitely a man who shot her, though, which seems wrong, but brings up the question of jealousy. Nicole is-was-the type who'd play the jealousy game."

"Did you know any of her boyfriends, or was there one in particular?"

"No, I don't know anything about her private life. We weren't best buds; we never chatted about personal things."

He hadn't once taken his gaze off my face, which was beginning to make me nervous. See, his eyes are kind of pale, that shade of green that leaps out at you if the person's hair and brows are dark, which his were. On a blond you wouldn't notice eyes like that so much, unless he wore black mascara-never mind. Wyatt wasn't the mascara type. The point is, his gaze was piercing. When he stared at me, I felt sort of pinned.

I didn't like him this close. I functioned much better when he was at a distance. If we had been in a relationship, it would have been different, but we weren't, and after my last experience with him I wasn't willing to put myself on the emotional line with someone who blew so hot and cold. But he was so close I could feel the heat coming from his legs, so I moved back another inch or so. Better. Not perfect, but better.

Damn him, why couldn't he have stayed outside in the rain? Detective MacInnes had things handled in here. If Wyatt had just stayed outside, I wouldn't be having these very acute memories of how his skin smelled, how he tasted, the sounds he made when he was so turned on-

Nope. Don't go down that path. Because when he'd been turned on, I had been turned on, too.

"Blair!" he said, a little forcefully.

I jumped and refocused, and hoped he hadn't been able to tell where my thoughts had wandered. "What?"

"I asked if you got a good look at the man's face."

"No. I've already told all this to Detective MacInnes," I repeated. How long was he going to keep asking me questions I'd already answered? "It was dark, it was raining. I could tell he was a man, but that was it. The car was a dark four-door, but I can't tell you the make or the model. I'm sorry, but if he walked into this office right now, I wouldn't be able to identify him."

He watched me for a minute longer, then stood and said, "I'll be in touch."

"Why?" I asked in obvious bewilderment. He was a lieutenant. The detectives would be handling the case; he'd just be overseeing the big picture, distribution of manpower, okaying stuff, things like that.

His mouth thinned again as he stood looking down at me. No doubt about it, I was irritating the hell out of him tonight, which gave me a great deal of satisfaction.

"Just don't go out of town," he finally said, though he actually growled the sentence instead of saying it.

"So I am a suspect!" I glared at him, then reached for the phone. "I'm calling my lawyer."

His hand slammed down on mine before I could lift the phone. "You aren't a suspect." He was still growling, and now he was way too close, bent over me the way he was, his green eyes fairly snapping with temper as he glared back at me.

Ask me if I know how to leave well enough alone.

"Then I'll damn well go out of town if I want to," I said, pulling my hand out from under his and crossing my arms.

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