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Blair Mallory Book 1: To Die For (Chapter Twenty-eight)

Obviously I would never have gone with him if he hadn't had that pistol jammed in my side, but he did, so I did. I was sort of in shock, trying to wrap my mind around what was happening. Thinking about something else until my subconscious felt ready to face this obviously wasn't going to work this time. By the time I realized he wouldn't have shot me in front of witnesses-and there had been a couple of other people still in the department-it was too late; I was already in his car with him.

He made me drive, while he kept the pistol trained on me. I thought about driving him into a telephone pole or something, but I flinched at the idea of being in yet another car accident. My poor body was just now recovering from the last one. I didn't want to get hit in the face by another air bag, either. Yeah, I know, a bruise is temporary but a bullet can be forever, so maybe I didn't make the best choice. Just in case I had to drive into a telephone pole, though, as a last resort, I glanced down at the steering wheel to make certain there was an air bag there. The car was a late model Chevrolet, so of course it had one, but after the week I'd had, I wanted to double-check.

The funny thing is, I was alarmed but not terrified. See, the main thing to know about Jason is that he'll do anything to protect his image. His whole life is built around his political career, polls, and his ambition. How he thought he could get away with murder when at least two people had seen me leaving with him, I don't know.

I followed his directions while I waited for him to realize this, but somehow he seemed to be in his own alternate reality. I didn't know where he was taking me; in fact, we seemed to be driving aimlessly around town while he tried to think of somewhere to go. He kept pulling at his lower lip, which, I remembered, was a habit he had when he was worrying about something.

"You wore a black wig, right?" I casually asked. "When you cut my brake line?"

He shot me a nervous glance. "How did you know?"

"Some hairs got caught on the undercarriage. The forensics team found them."

He looked faintly puzzled, then nodded. "Oh, yeah, I remember sort of catching the wig on something. I didn't think about any hair coming out because I couldn't feel anything pulling."

"They're checking now for a list of people who bought black wigs," I lied. He gave me another nervous glance. Actually, it wasn't much of a lie. When Wyatt found my notebook with the word wig circled, he would definitely check it out.

"People saw me leaving with you," I pointed out. "If you kill me, how are you going to explain that?"

"I'll think of something," he muttered.

"What? How can you dispose of my body? Besides, they'll hook you up to a lie detector so fast your head will spin. Even if they can't find enough evidence to bring you to trial, the publicity will ruin your career." See, I know Jason; he has nightmares about anything that might threaten his career. And even though he'd cut my brake lines, I simply couldn't see him killing me in person.

"You might as well just let me go," I continued. "I don't know why you're trying to kill me-wait a minute! You might have cut my brake lines, but you definitely didn't shoot at me last Sunday. What's going on here?" I jerked around to stare at him and the car swerved. He cursed and I hurriedly straightened the wheel.

"I don't know what you mean," he said, staring straight ahead and forgetting to keep me covered with the pistol. See? Jason is just not cut out for a life of crime.

"Someone else shot at me." My brain was racing, and all the separate little links were knotting together, forming a chain. "Your wife! Your wife tried to kill me, didn't she?"

"She's crazy jealous," he blurted. "I can't stop her; I can't reason with her. This will ruin me if she gets caught, and she will, because she doesn't know what she's doing."

That made two of them.

"So you thought you'd sort of kill me yourself so she wouldn't have to? Beat her to the punch?"

"Something like that." Frazzled, he raked a hand through his blond hair. "If you're dead, she'll stop obsessing about you."

"Why on earth would she obsess about me? I am so totally out of your life; this is the first time I've spoken to you since our divorce."

He mumbled something, and I threw a glare his way. "What? Speak up." He mumbles when he feels guilty about something.

"It might be my fault," he mumbled, slightly louder.

"Oh? How's that?" I tried to sound encouraging, when what I really wanted to do was beat his head against the pavement or something.

"When we argue, I might say something about you," he confessed, and now he was staring out the passenger window. Really. I thought about simply reaching over and taking the pistol away from him, except he had his finger on the trigger, which is so totally stupid if you aren't an expert, and Jason wasn't. If he had been, he would have been watching me like a hawk instead of staring out the window.

"Jason, you dummy," I groaned. "Why would you do something stupid like that?"

"She's always trying to make me jealous," he said defensively. "I love Debra, I really do, but she isn't like you. She's clingy and insecure, and I got tired of the way she tried to make me jealous and I started firing back. I knew it made her mad, but I didn't know she'd flipped out about it. Last Sunday night, when I got home from playing golf and found out she'd actually shot at you, we had this huge argument and she swore she'd kill you if it was the last thing she did. I think she's been staking out your house or something, trying to find out if there's something going on between us. Nothing I said made any difference to her. She's crazy jealous, and if she kills you, I probably won't even be reelected as state representative. I can kiss the governorship good-bye."

I mulled all this over for a minute.

"Jason, I hate to tell you this, but you married a nitwit. That's fair, though," I added judiciously.

He looked at me. "How's that?"

"So did she."

That made him sulk for a few minutes, but finally he groaned and said, "I don't know what to do. I don't want to kill you, but if I don't, Debra is going to keep trying and she'll ruin my career."

"I have an idea. How about you have her committed to a mental institution," I suggested sarcastically. I meant it, too. She was a danger to others-namely, me-so she met the criteria. Or criterion. Whatever.

"I can't do that! I love her."

"Look. It seems to me you have a choice: if she kills me, it may ruin your career; but if you kill me, the results will be way more serious because you've made a prior attempt and this shows premeditation, which will get you in serious hot water. Not only that, I'm engaged to a cop, and he'll kill you." I took my left hand off the steering wheel and held it over for him to see the ring.

"Wow, that's a rock," he said admiringly. "I didn't think cops had that kind of money. Who is he?"

"Wyatt Bloodsworth. He questioned you the other day, remember?"

"So that's why he was so nasty. I get it now. He was the football player, wasn't he? I guess he has plenty of money."

"He gets by," I said. "But if anything happens to me, he'll not only kill you-and the other cops would look the other way, because they like me-he'll burn your village and sow your fields with salt." I thought I'd throw in a little biblical warning just to impress him with the seriousness of the consequences.

"I don't have any fields," he said. "Or a village."

Sometimes Jason could be stupendously literal. "I know that," I said patiently. "It was a metaphor. What I meant was, he'll totally destroy you."

He nodded his head. "Yeah, I can see that. You're looking hot these days." He tilted his head back against the seat and groaned. "What can I do? I can't think of anything that will work. I called in that murder/suicide to get the cops out of the building, but not all of them left. You were right; there were witnesses. If I kill you, I'd have to kill them, too, and I don't think that would work because by now the cops have probably found out that call was a false alarm and they're back at the station."

As if on cue, my cell phone rang. Jason jumped a foot. I started to fish around in my bag for the phone, but Jason said, "Don't answer it!" and I pulled my hand out.

"That will be Wyatt," I said. "He'll go ape shit when he finds out I left with you." That wasn't biblical, but it was accurate.

Sweat beaded on Jason's brow. "You can tell him we were just talking, right?"

"Jason. Get a clue. You've been trying to kill me. We have to get this settled or I'm telling Wyatt you made a pass at me, and he'll take you apart all the way down to your molecules."

"I know," he groaned. "Let's go to my house so we can talk, come up with a plan."

"Is Debra there?"

"No, she's watching your folks' house, figuring you'll turn up there sooner or later."

She was stalking my parents? I'd scalp the bitch for that. Hot fury zipped through me, but I controlled it, because I needed to keep my head. I had talked Jason around, but I knew Jason and I wasn't the least bit afraid of him. Evidently his wife was crazy as a loon though, and I didn't know what we could do about her.

I drove to Jason's house, which of course is the one we'd bought together, and which I'd given him in the divorce. It hadn't changed much in five years; the landscaping was more mature, but that was about it. The house was red brick, two-story, with white shutters and trim. The style was modern, with interesting architectural details, but there was nothing about it to make it stand out from the rest of the neighborhood. I think developers have at the most five house plans and styles that they use, so subdivisions have a cookie-cutter look to them. The garage doors were down, so Debra wasn't at home.

When I pulled into the driveway, I said thoughtfully, "You know, it might have been smart to move rather than expect Debra to live here."

"Why's that?"

Like I said: clueless. "Because this is where we lived when we were married," I said patiently. "She probably feels like this is my house instead of hers. She needs her own house." Weird, but for the first time I felt a gleam of sympathy for her.

"There's nothing wrong with this house," he protested. "It's a good house, nice and modern."

"Jason. Buy the woman her own house!" I yelled. Sometimes that's the only way to get his attention.

"All right, all right. You don't have to yell," he said sulkily.

If I'd had a wall right there, I'd have beat my head against it.

We went inside, and I rolled my eyes when I saw he still had the same furniture. The man was dense beyond saving. He was the one Debra should kill.

Now, I knew the cavalry was on the way; the first place Wyatt and the guys would check would be Jason's house, right? They knew Jason wasn't the one who had shot me, but Wyatt would also see my notes and put two and two together the way I had. The person who was jealous of me was my ex-husband's new wife, only she wasn't so new, since they'd been married four years. How much more obvious could it be? Jason hadn't shot at me, but he'd left that worried message the next morning-after five years of no contact at all. Wyatt might not catch on immediately that Jason was the one who had cut my brake lines, but that didn't matter. What mattered was that I could probably expect the first patrol car to come rolling up within five minutes.

"So," Jason said, looking at me as if I had all the answers, "what can we do about Debra?"

"What do you mean, what can you do about me?"

The shriek made me jump about a foot straight up, not only because I hadn't been expecting it, but because it obviously meant Debra was home, after all. On the list of things that were not good, that was at the top.

Jason jumped, too, and dropped the pistol, which didn't go off-thank you, Jesus-because my heart probably would have stopped. It came close to stopping anyway when I turned around and faced the former Debra Schmale, now Mrs. Jason Carson, who appeared to be dead serious about her status. She was holding a rifle, and she had the stock up to her shoulder and her cheek against the stock as if she knew what she was doing.

I swallowed and put my tongue in gear, though my brain was still stuck in park. "He meant how could we convince you that you don't have any reason to be jealous of me. This is the first time I've talked to Jason since our divorce, so he was just trying to get back at you for trying to make him jealous, by throwing me in your face to make you jealous, and really you should shoot him instead of me because I think that was a really shitty thing for him to do, don't you?"

Under the circumstances I think that was a masterpiece of a speech, if I do say so myself, but she didn't even blink. She kept that rifle aimed right at my chest. "I hate your guts," she said in a low, vicious tone. "That's all I hear-'Blair, Blair, Blair.' Blair this and Blair that until I want to throw up."

"Which, I'd like to point out, isn't my fault. I had no idea he was doing that. I'm telling you, shoot him instead of me."

For the first time Jason seemed to realize what I was saying. "Hey!" he said indignantly.

"Don't 'hey' me," I snapped. "You're the one who caused this. You should get down on your knees and apologize to both of us. You've driven this poor woman almost crazy, and you've caused me to almost get killed. This is all your fault."

"I'm not a poor woman," Debra snapped. "I'm pretty and I'm smart, and he should appreciate me, but instead he's still so in love with you he can't think straight."

"No, I'm not," Jason said instantly, taking a step toward her. "I love you. I haven't loved Blair in years, since way before we got divorced."

"That's true," I said. "Has he ever told you he was cheating on me? Doesn't sound to me as if he loved me, does it to you?"

"He loves you," she repeated. Obviously she wasn't about to listen to reason. "He insisted we live in this house-"

"Told you," I said in an aside to Jason.

"Stop talking to him. I don't want you to ever speak to him again. I don't want you to ever breathe again." Furiously she stepped closer, so close the rifle barrel was almost jabbing me in the nose. I drew back a little, because the bruises from the air bag were fading and I didn't want a fresh set. "You got everything," she breathed on a sob. "Oh, I know he kept the house, but he can't bear to change it, so you might as well still have it. You got the Mercedes. You drive around town with the top down like you're hot shit, and I have to drive a Taurus because he says it's good for his image that we drive American cars."

"A Taurus has really good suspension," I said, trying to deflect her. See? Somehow my subconscious knew the car was important.

"I don't give a shit about the suspension!"

Huh. She really should try it out before being so dismissive.

I thought I heard something outside, but I didn't dare turn my head to look. Besides the obvious points of entry into the house-the front door and the back door and the windows-there was a set of French doors leading onto the patio from the breakfast room. From where I was standing, I could catch a glimpse of the French doors and I thought I saw movement there, but I couldn't look directly at them or she would know something was up.

Jason, standing to my right, didn't have the same angle and couldn't see anything except the stairs. Debra could see out the living room window, but her view was restricted because of the angle of the house and the sheer curtains that were drawn over the windows to let in light but provide a measure of privacy. I was the only one who knew rescue was at hand.

But what if they busted in the way cops do and scared Debra, and she pulled the trigger? I was dead, that was "what if."

"How did you learn how to use a rifle?" I asked, not because I cared but just to keep her talking, keep her focused on something besides shooting me right now.

"I used to go hunting with my father. I also shoot skeet, so I'm very accurate." She gave a fleeting glance at the bandage on my upper arm. "If you hadn't bent down when you did, you'd have seen how accurate I am. No, wait-you wouldn't. Because you'd be dead."

"I wish you'd get off this dead stuff," I said. "It's boring. Not only that, you won't get away with it."

"Sure I will. Jason won't tell, because he doesn't like negative publicity."

"He won't have to tell. Two cops saw him kidnap me."

"Kidnap?" Her eyes rounded.

"He's been trying to kill me, too," I said. "So you won't get caught. See, he does love you, because I wouldn't do that for anyone."

She glanced at him. "Is that true?" she asked hesitantly.

"I cut her brake line," he admitted.

She stood very still for a moment, then tears began to well in her eyes. "You do love me," she finally said. "You really love me."

"Of course I do. I'm crazy about you," he assured her.

Crazy was a very apt word under the circumstances, don't you think?

I blew out a relieved breath. "Good, that's settled," I said. "Y'all have a nice life. I think I'll just be going-"

I took a half step back, and several things kind of happened all at once. When I moved, Debra reacted automatically and swung the rifle at me. Behind her came a crashing sound as the French doors were kicked in, and as if in slow motion, I saw her jump, startled. When she swung the rifle at me, my body sort of reacted all on its own, without any command from me. Muscle memory, you know? She swung, I jerked back, and years of training took over. I kept on going, my body bending back, legs tensing for the spring that would take me over, my arms going out for balance. The room turned upside down; then my legs and back muscles took over and provided the thrust and twist.

As a backflip, it was a disaster. Both my legs came up and Debra was way too close: my left foot caught her under the chin and the other knocked the rifle flying. Unfortunately, her finger was on the trigger and the motion pulled it; the sharp crack was deafening. Because she was in the way, my legs couldn't complete their proper rotation and I fell flat on my back, hard. My kick under her chin sent her stumbling backward, completely off balance, her arms windmilling. She lost the battle to regain her balance and hit on her butt, skidding across the polished hardwood floor.

"Ouch!" I shrieked, grabbing my left big toe. I was wearing sandals, which is not the best choice of footwear for kicking someone in the chin.

"Blair!" The house was suddenly full of cops, pouring in from every opening. Uniformed cops, plainclothes cops-and Wyatt. He was the one who had literally burst through the French doors when he thought she was about to shoot me, and he scooped me up off the floor, holding me so tight to his chest I could barely breathe. "Are you all right? Did she hit you? I don't see any blood-"

"I'm fine," I managed to say. "Except you're squeezing me to death." The iron band of his arms loosened just a bit, and I added, "I hurt my toe."

He drew back and stared at me, as if he couldn't believe I was all in one piece and had come out of this without even a scratch. After the example of this past week, he must have been expecting me to be bleeding from a dozen bullet wounds.

"A hurt toe?" he said. "Good God. This calls for a cookie."

See? I told you he was a fast learner.

Epilogue

You know who got shot? Jason. Can you think of anyone more deserving? Debra's wild shot creased his head, since the rifle barrel had been flying upward when she pulled the trigger, and he'd hit the floor as if he'd been poleaxed. Everyone says that, but I don't really know what a poleax is. If I had to guess, I'd say it's something to do with cutting timber, but if that was the Final Jeopardy! answer, I wouldn't bet all of my money on that question.

She didn't kill him, but he was bleeding like a stuck pig, because heads do that when something tears up the scalp. Both of them started blabbering away, sort of blaming each other but at the same time trying to take the blame on themselves, and none of it made any sense, so I explained everything to MacInnes and Forester, and Wyatt, and even Chief Gray, who for some reason had come along. I think almost the entire police department was there. The SWAT team was, in their cool black fatigues, and when the medics came, my pal Keisha was one of them. We greeted each other like long-lost girlfriends.

Getting things sorted out took a while, so I went into the kitchen and put on a pot of coffee for everyone. I hobbled a little bit because my toe hurt, but I didn't think it was broken.

About six o'clock, Wyatt took me home.

"Do me a favor," he said during the drive. "For the rest of our lives together, don't put me through another week that's anything like this past one, okay?"

"None of this was my fault," I said indignantly. "And I'm the one who's had the worst of it, you know. I've been shot and bruised and battered, and if you hadn't kept my mind off how much I hurt, I probably would have cried a lot."

He reached over and caught my hand, held it tight. "God, I love you. The guys are going to be talking about that karate kick you gave her for the rest of their lives. Even the SWAT guys were impressed, and they try to be real hard-asses. Where did you take lessons?"

"I provide all sorts of lessons at Great Bods," I said demurely. What, you thought I was going to tell him I sort of automatically did a backflip and didn't intend to do what I did? Not in this lifetime.

This proves beyond a doubt, however, that you never know when you'll need to do a backflip.

We called all the family and told them the crisis was over, which involved lots of explaining, but Wyatt and I didn't want any company. My latest close shave had been a hair too close, because there's something more immediate about a rifle in your face than a car accident, even though the accident had been horrific enough and that was what I dreamed about. I didn't dream about the rifle at all, maybe because Jason was the one who got shot, so that made it a good outcome, right? But we spent that evening cuddling and kissing and making plans for the future, sort of giddy with relief. Plans weren't all we made, of course. I'm talking about Wyatt, the horniest guy in the county. If he was happy, he wanted sex. If he was mad, he wanted sex. He celebrated everything with sex.

I foresaw a very happy and contented life with him.

The next day he took me car shopping. His sister, Lisa, delivered his Chevy Avalanche to him, thanked him for the loan of it, and asked me a million questions. Thank goodness I liked her immediately, but she was a lot like his mother, so there was no reason why I wouldn't have. I also liked his truck, and that's what we drove to the Mercedes dealership.

Of course I wanted another Mercedes. You don't think I'd let Jason and his nitwit wife stop me from buying my favorite car, do you? Picture me in a black convertible. Black is a statement of power, remember. The insurance company hadn't come through with the check yet and since it was Sunday, my bank wasn't open, but the salesman promised to hold my car until Monday evening. I was a happy camper when we arrived at Mom and Dad's house.

Dad answered the door, and held his finger up to his lips. "Shhh," he cautioned. "We've had another computer disaster and Tina has gone quiet."

"Uh-oh," I said, pulling Wyatt inside. "What happened?"

"She finally got her computer straightened out, she thinks, and this morning her monitor went blank. I just got back from the computer store with a new monitor, and she's in her office hooking it up."

Jenni came into the family room, and gave me a big hug. "I can't believe that stupid Jason," she said.

"I can. When you came by Mom's office, could you hear anything?"

"Not a word," Jenni said, looking worried. When Mom's mad, she mutters to herself. When she's beyond mad, she gets very, very quiet.

We heard Mom coming down the hall, and we all sat silently as she marched past without saying a word, or even glancing in our direction. She was carrying a large roll of plastic, which she took out into the garage. She came back in empty-handed, and again marched past us without saying anything.

"What's up with the plastic?" Wyatt asked, and we all shrugged in the classic "Who knows?" gesture.

There was a heavy thump, then a strange sliding noise. Mom came back down the hall, her expression grim and set. She had a thick cord clutched in her hands, and she was dragging the offending monitor behind her. We watched in silence as she dragged it to the garage door, down the two steps with more heavy thumps, and into the middle of the plastic she had spread on the garage floor.

She went to where Dad had his tools, attached to a big pegboard on one wall of the garage. She selected a hammer, weighed it in her hand, then returned it to its spot. She moved to what looked like a small sledgehammer or a mallet of some sort. I don't know tools, so I can't say for certain what it was. She took it down from the wall, considered it, and evidently decided it would meet her requirements. Then she returned to where the monitor was sitting on the plastic, and beat it to smithereens. She hammered it until it was nothing more than a pile of pieces. Glass flew; plastic splintered. She beat it almost out of existence. Then she very calmly returned the sledgehammer to its place, dusted her hands, and walked back into the house with a smile on her face.

Wyatt had the weirdest expression in his eyes, as if he didn't know whether to laugh or run for the hills. Dad clapped him on the shoulder. "You're a smart man," he said encouragingly. "Just keep a regular check on your list of transgressions so you'll know if there are any major problems you need to handle, and you'll be okay."

"You promise?" Wyatt asked drily.

Dad laughed. "Hell, no. I have all I can handle; if you get in trouble, you're on your own."

Wyatt turned and winked at me. No, he wasn't on his own; we were in this together.

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