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

You'd think that because he said he loved me I'd be happy as a lark, but he'd made it sound as if I were a dose of nasty-tasting medicine that he had to take or die. Never mind that he'd made love to me in the backseat of the car as if he couldn't get enough of me; my feelings were hurt. Not only that, after I had a chance to think about it, I was very uneasy about the state of that backseat. I mean, the car's a rental; there was no telling what had been back there, and now my bare butt had been added to the list.

I didn't speak to him all the way home, and as soon as we were inside, I raced up the stairs to take a shower, just in case I'd picked up some rental-car cooties. Well, I hurried up the stairs; I still wasn't in racing shape. I also locked the bathroom door so he couldn't join me in the shower, because I knew how that would end and I hate being a pushover.

I should have planned ahead and taken some clean clothes into the bathroom with me, but I didn't, so I had to put on what I had just taken off. No way was I walking out with only a towel wrapped around me. I knew Wyatt Bloodsworth, and his motto was: Take Advantage.

He was waiting for me when I came out of the bathroom, of course, leaning against the wall as patiently as if he didn't have anything else in the world to do. He didn't shy from an argument; I'd noticed that about him.

"This isn't going to work," I said, forestalling him. "We can't even go to the movies without getting in a major argument, which you then try to solve with sex."

His brows lifted. "There's a better way?"

"That's just like a man. Women don't like to have sex when they're angry."

The brows went even higher. "You could have fooled me," he drawled, which wasn't the smartest thing he could have said.

My lower lip quivered. "You shouldn't throw that up to me. It isn't my fault you have my number, but when you know I can't resist you, it's really snotty of you to take advantage the way you do."

A slow smile curved his lips and he straightened from the wall. "Do you have any idea what a major turn-on it is when you admit you can't resist me?" Quick as a snake he coiled one arm around my waist and locked me to him. "Do you know what I think about during the day?"

"Sex," I said, staring straight ahead at his chest.

"Well, yeah. Some of the time. A lot of the time. But also how you make me laugh, and how good it is to wake up beside you in the morning and come home to you at night. I love you, and swapping you for the most even-tempered, uncomplicated, low-maintenance woman in the world wouldn't make me happy because the spark wouldn't be there."

"Uh-huh," I said sarcastically. "That's why you dumped me and stayed away for two whole years."

"I got cold feet." He shrugged. "I admit it. After just two dates I could tell there would never be a peaceful minute around you, so I decided to cut my losses before I got in too deep. At the speed we were going, I figured we'd be in bed within a week, and married before I knew what was going on."

"So what's different this time around? I'm not."

"Thank God. I love you just the way you are. I guess I faced the fact that no matter how much trouble you are, to me you're worth it. That's why I'll chase after you when you go to the beach, why I didn't walk out of the movie theater even though I was so mad I don't remember a single thing about the movie, and why I'll move heaven and earth to keep you safe."

I wasn't ready to stop being mad, but I could feel my temper slipping away. I tried to hold on to it, and scowled at his shirt so he wouldn't know his sweet-talking was working.

"Every day I learn a little more about you," he murmured, pulling me closer so he could nuzzle my temple. I hunched my shoulders to keep him from getting at my neck, and he laughed softly. "And every day I fall a little more in love. You've also eased some tension in the department, because the guys who resented me before are now sympathizing with me."

I scowled harder, but this time it was real. He needed sympathy because he loved me? "I'm not that bad."

"You're hell on wheels, honey, and they figure I'm going to spend the rest of my life scrambling to put out your forest fires. They're right, too." He kissed my forehead. "But I'll never be bored, and I'll have your dad to teach me the finer points of surviving in the middle of a tornado. C'mon," he cajoled, moving his lips to my ear. "I bit the bullet first. You might as well say it: you love me, too. I know you do."

I fidgeted and fussed, but his arms were warm and the smell of his skin was making me dizzy with want. Finally I heaved a sigh. "All right," I said sulkily. "I love you. But don't think for a minute that means I'm going to turn into a Stepford wife."

"Like there was ever a snowball's chance in hell of that happening," he said wryly. "But you can bet the farm that you're going to be my wife. I've been serious about that from the beginning… the second beginning, that is. Thinking you might have been killed was a real eye-opener for me."

"Which time?" I asked, blinking at him. "There've been three."

He squeezed me. "The first time. I've had enough scares in the past week to last me a lifetime."

"Oh, yeah? You should try it from my side of the situation." I gave up and leaned my head on his chest. My heart was doing that flutter thing he could make it do, but in stereo. Confused, I concentrated, and abruptly realized that I was hearing his heartbeat while I was feeling mine-and his was racing, too.

Delight bloomed in me, filled me like water in a balloon until I felt all swollen with it, which may not be a really great description but kind of fits, because I felt as if my insides were too big for my skin. I tilted my head back and gave him a huge beaming smile. "You love me!" I said triumphantly.

He looked faintly wary. "I know. I said so, didn't I?"

"Yeah, but you really do!"

"You thought I was lying?"

"No, but hearing and feeling are two different things."

"And you're feeling…" He let the words trail off, inviting me to fill in the blank.

"Your heartbeat." I patted his chest. "It's jumping around just like mine."

His expression changed, became tender. "It does that whenever I'm anywhere near you. At first I thought I was developing arrhythmia, but then I realized it acts up only when you're around. I was about to go in for tests."

He was exaggerating, but I didn't care. He loved me. I had longed for and hoped for and dreamed of this practically from the moment I'd met him, and he had devastated me by dumping me the way he had. Oh, I'd have been devastated no matter how he'd done it, but he'd really done a number on me by not telling me why. I'd made things as difficult as possible for him this past week because he deserved it for treating me the way he had, and I didn't regret one moment of it. I just wished I could have made things even tougher by not rolling over for him every time he touched me, but what the hell; sometimes you just have to go with the flow.

"Do you want to get married as soon as we can, or do you want to plan some sort of shindig?" he asked.

There wasn't any doubt which one he'd prefer. I cocked my head and thought about it for a minute. I'd had the big church wedding and loved every minute of it, but church weddings are a lot of trouble and cost a lot of money-and they take time to plan. I was glad I'd gone through it once, even though the marriage itself hadn't held up, but I didn't feel any need to go through all of that pomp and ceremony again. On the other hand, I wanted more than just a quickie marriage.

"Shindig," I said, and he managed to stifle his groan. I patted his arm. "But not a big one. We have to think of our families and have some sort of to-do, but we don't have to do a big deal with ice sculptures and a champagne fountain. Something small, no more than thirty people-if that many-maybe in your mother's garden. Would she like that, or would she be terrified her flowers would get trampled?"

"She'd love it. She loves showing off that house."

"Good. Wait, what if you can't find out who's shooting at me and tampering with my car? What if I have to stay in hiding until Christmas? There won't be any flowers then, and besides, it'll be too cold to have a garden wedding. We can't even pick out a date!" I wailed. "We can't plan anything until this is settled."

"If we have to, we'll take the entire family to Gatlinburg and get married in one of those little wedding chapels."

"You want me to get ready in a motel?" I asked, my tone letting him know I wasn't crazy about that idea.

"Don't see why not. You aren't planning on wearing one of those long, big-skirted things, are you?"

I wasn't, but still… I wanted my stuff around me when I was getting ready. What if I needed something and had forgotten to pack it? Things like that can ruin a woman's memories of her wedding.

"I have to call Mom," I said, pulling away from him and going to the phone.

"Blair… it's after midnight."

"I know. But she'll be hurt if I don't tell her right away."

"How will she know? Call her in the morning and tell her we decided over breakfast."

"She'll see through that in a heartbeat. You don't decide to get married over breakfast; you decide to get married after a hot date with making out and stuff."

"Yeah, I really liked that 'stuff' part," he said reminiscently. "It's been eighteen, nineteen years since I'd done it in the backseat of a car. I'd forgotten how fucking uncomfortable it is, and vice versa."

I started dialing.

"Do you want your mom to know about the 'stuff' part?"

I gave him a "you're kidding me" look. "Like there's any way she doesn't already know."

Mom answered on the first ring, sounded harassed. "Blair? Is something wrong?"

Caller ID is a wonderful thing. It saved so much time, bypassing the need for identification. "No, I just wanted to tell you that Wyatt and I have decided to get married."

"What's the big surprise about that? He told us when we first met him in the hospital, when you were shot, that y'all were getting married."

My head whipped around and I glared at him. "He did, huh? Funny thing, he didn't mention it to me until tonight."

Wyatt shrugged and looked totally unrepentant. I could tell I was going to have my hands full with him over the years. He was way too sure of himself.

"Well, I wondered why you hadn't said anything," Mom said. "I was beginning to feel hurt."

"He'll pay for that," I said grimly.

"Oh, shit," Wyatt said, knowing good and well I was talking about him, but without knowing exactly what his transgression was. He could probably get in the ballpark, since he knew what we were talking about, but he hadn't yet realized what a no-no it was to hurt Mom's feelings.

"There are two schools of thought concerning these situations," Mom said, meaning she had considered two angles of approach. "One is that you come down hard on him, so he'll learn how to handle things and won't make that mistake again. The second is that you cut him some slack because he's new to this."

" 'Slack'? What's that?"

"That's my girl," she said approvingly.

"Why are you still awake? You answered the phone so fast you must have been sleeping with it." I was a tad curious, because Mom always slept with the phone when she was anxious about any of us. It was a habit she developed when I started dating at the age of fifteen.

"I haven't slept with the phone since Jenni graduated high school. No, I'm still working on these damn quarterly taxes, and this stupid computer keeps freezing on me, then losing touch with its parts. Now it's typing gibberish. I'd love to send in the taxes typed in code, since the IRS instructions and rules are so clear even they don't know what they're doing. How do you think that would fly?"

"It wouldn't. The IRS has no sense of humor."

"I know," she said glumly. "I could have done this by hand much faster if I'd known this stupid machine was going to go bananas, but all of my files are in the computer. From now on I'm going to keep a paper copy."

"Don't you have a backup disk?"

"Well, of course. Ask me if it'll work."

"I think you've got a major problem."

"I know I do, and I'm just about fed up with the whole mess. But it's become a point of honor now not to let this demented monster win."

Meaning she would keep at it way past the point where any normal person would have thrown in the towel and taken the thing to a computer hospital.

Then I thought of something, and looked at Wyatt. "Is it okay if I tell Mom about the hair y'all found?"

He briefly thought about it, then nodded.

"What hair?" Mom asked.

"Forensics found some dark hair, about ten inches long, stuck under my car. Can you think of anyone with dark hair about that length who might want to kill me?"

"Hmmm." That was Mom's thinking sound. "Is it black hair, or just dark?"

I relayed the question to Wyatt. He got that expression that said he wanted to ask what the difference was, but then he thought about it and realized the difference. "I'd say black," he said.

"Black," I relayed.

"Natural or dyed?"

Mom was on a roll here. I said to him, "Natural or dyed?"

"We don't know yet. The evidence will have to be analyzed."

"The jury's still out on that," I said to Mom. "Have you thought of someone?"

"Well, there's Malinda Connors."

"That was thirteen years ago, when I beat her out for Homecoming Queen. Surely she's over it by now."

"I don't know about that; she always struck me as a vindictive girl."

"But too impatient. She couldn't have waited this long."

"That's true. Hmmm. It has to be someone who's jealous of you about something. Ask Wyatt who he was dating before y'all started going together."

"I've already thought of that. He says there aren't any candidates."

"Unless he lived like a monk, there are candidates."

"I know, but he won't even give me their names for me to check out on my own."

He came to sit beside me on the bed, looking worried. "What are y'all talking about?"

"You and your women," I said, turning my shoulder to him and scooting farther away so he couldn't eavesdrop.

"I don't have any women," he said in exasperation.

"Did you hear that?" I asked Mom.

"I heard it; I just don't believe it. Ask him how long he was celibate before he met you."

Notice my mother assumed he was no longer celibate. The fact that she was so unconcerned about my current love life told me that she thoroughly approved of him, which is a big thing. Having Mom's approval goes a long way toward keeping our family life smooth and happy.

I looked over my shoulder at him. "Mom wants to know how long it had been since you'd had any, prior to our engagement."

He looked deeply alarmed. "She does not. She didn't say that."

"Yes, she did. Here. She'll tell you herself."

I extended the phone to him, and warily he took it. "Hello," he said; then he listened. I watched two spots of color start to burn on his cheekbones. He put his hand over his eyes as if he wanted to hide from the question. "Uh… six weeks?" he said sheepishly. "Maybe. Could be a little longer. Here's Blair."

He couldn't hand the phone back to me fast enough. I took it and asked, "What do you think?"

"Six weeks is a long time to wait if you're crazy and fixated on someone," Mom said. "He's probably in the clear. What about you? Have you had any former semi-boyfriends who have since hooked up with some nutcase who may have developed intense jealousy over his former relationships?"

Semi-boyfriend means a couple of dates, maybe several, but nothing serious developed and we both sort of drifted out of each other's orbit. Since Wyatt, I'd had a few of those, and at the moment I wasn't certain I could even remember their names.

"I haven't kept in touch, but I guess I can find out," I said. If I could remember their names, that is.

"That's the only other possibility I can think of," Mom said. "Tell Wyatt he'd better get this settled in a hurry, because your grandmother's birthday is coming up and we can't celebrate if you're still hiding out."

After I hung up the phone, I relayed that message to him and he nodded his head as if he got it, but I'm pretty sure he was still in the dark about Grammy. He had no idea of the wrath that would come down on our heads if she felt the least slighted. She said that at her age she didn't have many more birthdays left, so if we loved her, we'd better make the most of them. Grammy is Mom's mother, if you haven't already guessed. She'll be seventy-four on her birthday, so she isn't even all that old, but she plays on her age to get what she wants.

Huh. Genetics is a funny thing, isn't it?

I gave him the beady eye. "So. What's her name?"

He knew exactly whom I was talking about. "I knew it," he said, shaking his head. "I knew you'd latch onto that like a leech. It was nothing. I ran into an old acquaintance at a conference and-it was nothing."

"Except you slept with her," I said accusingly.

"She has red hair," he said. "And she's a detective in-no, hell no, I'm not saying where she works. I know better than that. You'd be on the phone with her tomorrow, either accusing her of attempted murder or comparing notes on me."

"If she's a cop, she knows how to shoot."

"Blair, trust me in this. Please. If I thought there was the slightest possibility she would do something like that, do you think I'd hesitate for a second before hauling her in for questioning?"

I sighed. He had a real knack for phrasing things in a way that left me little wiggle room, and he'd picked it up fast.

"But it's someone who's jealous of me," I said. "Mom's right. I'm right. It's something personal."

"I agree." He stood up and began stripping off his clothes. "But it's after midnight, I'm tired, you're tired, and we can talk about this after we get the analysis on the hair. Then we'll know if we're dealing with a real brunette or someone who may have dyed her hair as a disguise before acting."

He was right about the tired part, so I decided he was right about that, too. I pulled off my clothes and crawled naked between the cool sheets. He turned the thermostat down to Stage Two Hypothermia, turned out the lights, and got under the covers with me, which is when I found out he'd been lying about the tired part.

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