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

"You're sleeping with Lieutenant Bloodsworth, huh?" Keisha asked, grinning.

"I have in the past," I said, and sniffed. So what if the past was just that morning? "He shouldn't hold his breath waiting for the next time." I was a bit chagrined that I had blurted out something as personal as details of my love life, but I'd been provoked.

It seemed to me that Red was driving inordinately slow. I didn't know if he was always that careful-which might not be a good thing when you have someone dying in your ambulance-or if he just wanted to listen to as much of our conversation as possible before we arrived at the hospital. Other than Keisha, no one, absolutely no one, seemed to think my condition was worth any extra worry or attention.

Keisha, however, was a woman after my own heart. She'd given me Fig Newtons, and she'd got my bag for me. Keisha understood.

"That would be one hard man to turn down," she commented thoughtfully. "No pun intended."

"A woman's gotta do what a woman's gotta do."

"I hear you, sister." We shared a look of total understanding. Men are difficult creatures; you can't let them get the upper hand. And thank God Wyatt was being difficult, because that gave me something to think about other than that someone was trying to kill me. I just wasn't ready to deal with it yet. I was safe for the time being, and that gave me some breathing space, which was all I needed. I would concentrate on Wyatt and my list until I felt better able to handle the situation.

At the hospital, I was whisked away and put in a private little cubicle-well, as private as anything can be that has a curtain for a door-and a couple of friendly, cheerfully efficient nurses cut away my blood-soaked top and bra. I really hated that the bra had to be sacrificed, because it was this beautiful seafoam lace and matched my underpants, which I would now be unable to wear unless I bought another matching bra. Ah, well. The bra was ruined anyway, because I doubted any treatment would get bloodstains out of silk, plus I now had bad memories associated with it and probably wouldn't have worn it again anyway. I was draped in a blue-and-white hospital gown, which was in no way fashionable, and made to lie down while they did a preliminary workup.

They also peeled the bandage off my arm, and by now I felt steady enough to get a look at the damage myself. "Ewww," I said, wrinkling my nose.

Now, there's no place you can get shot that you won't have muscle damage, except maybe in the eye, in which case you don't have to worry about it because you're probably dead. The bullet had torn a deep gouge in the outside of my upper arm, just under the shoulder joint. If it had gone any higher, it would likely have shattered the joint, which would have been much more serious. This looked bad enough, because I didn't see how the gouge could be closed with a few stitches.

"It isn't so bad," said one of the nurses. Her name tag said Cynthia. "It's a flesh wound; nothing structural's damaged. Hurts like the dickens, though, doesn't it?"

Amen to that.

My vital signs were taken-my pulse was a bit fast, but whose wouldn't be? Respirations normal. Blood pressure a little elevated over my norm, but not by much. All in all, my body was having a rather mild reaction to being shot. It helped that I was healthy as a horse, and in great shape.

There was no telling what sort of shape I'd be in by the time this arm was well enough for me to work out again, I thought glumly. In a couple of days I'd start doing cardio, then yoga, but there wouldn't be any gymnastics or weight training for at least a month. If getting shot was anything like the other injuries I'd had in the past, muscles took a while to get over the trauma even after the initial symptoms were gone.

They gave the wound a thorough cleaning, which didn't make it hurt any worse than it was already hurting. I was lucky in that my top had been sleeveless and there weren't any fabric fibers caught in the wound. That greatly simplified things.

The doctor finally came in, a lanky guy with wrinkles in his forehead and cheerful blue eyes. His name tag said MacDuff. No joke. "Rough date, huh?" he asked jokingly as he pulled on plastic gloves.

Startled, I blinked at him. "How did you know?"

He paused, startled in turn. "You mean-I was told it was a sniper."

"It was. But it happened at the end of my date." If you could call being followed to the beach and taken by surprise a "date."

He laughed. "I see. Gotcha now."

He took a look at my arm and rubbed his chin. "I can suture this for you, but if you're worried about a scar, we can call in a cosmetic surgeon to do the honors. Dr. Homes here in town has a nice touch with scars; he can make them practically go away. You'll be here a while longer, though."

I was vain enough not to be crazy about the idea of a long scar on my arm, but I also hated the idea of being shot and not having anything to show for it. Think about it. Would this be a great show-and-tell for my future children and grandchildren, or what? I also didn't want to hang around the hospital any longer than necessary, either.

"Go for it," I told him.

He looked a tad surprised, but he went for it. After numbing my arm, he painstakingly pulled the edges of the gash together and began stitching them closed. I think my choice appealed to his pride, and he set about doing an exemplary job.

In the middle of the procedure, I heard a commotion outside and said, "There's my mom."

Dr. MacDuff glanced up at one of the nurses. "Ask everyone to stay outside until I get finished here. Just another few minutes."

Cynthia slipped out of the cubicle, pulling the curtain firmly closed behind her. The commotion got louder; then I heard Mom's voice rising above everything, saying in that tone of finality, "I want to see my daughter. Now."

"Brace yourself," I told Dr. MacDuff. "I don't think Cynthia can hold up against Mom. She won't scream or faint or anything; she just wants to see for herself that I'm alive. It's a mom thing."

He grinned, blue eyes twinkling. He seemed to be an easygoing kind of guy. "They're funny that way, aren't they?"

"Blair!" That was Mom again, disturbing everyone else in the emergency department in her frantic need to find her wounded offspring, namely me.

I lifted my voice. "I'm okay, Mom; I'm just getting some stitches here. We'll be finished in a minute."

Did that reassure her? Of course not. I had also assured her, at the age of fourteen, that my broken collarbone was just a bad bruise. I'd had some lamebrained idea that I could wrap an Ace bandage around my shoulder and still perform, never mind that I couldn't move my arm without screaming. That wasn't one of my better judgment calls.

I'm much better now about assessing my injuries, but Mom would never forget and now wanted to See For Herself. Therefore, I wasn't surprised when the curtain was whisked open-thanks for preserving my privacy, Mom-and my entire family stood there. Mom, Dad, Siana, even Jenni. Nor was I surprised that Wyatt was there with them, still looking both grim and irritated.

Dr. MacDuff looked up and started to say something along the lines of, "Get out," though he probably would have phrased it more like, "If you people will step outside, we'll be finished in a minute," but he never got that far. He saw Mom and forgot what he was about to say.

That was a common reaction. Mom was fifty-four and looked maybe forty. She was a former Miss North Carolina, tall and slender, blond, and gorgeous. That's just the only word for her. Dad was nuts about her, but that was okay because she was nuts about him, too.

She rushed to my side, but once she saw that I really was mostly in one piece, she calmed and brushed my forehead with her cool hand just as if I were five years old again. "Shot, huh?" she asked gently. "What a tale to tell your grandchildren."

I told you. It's scary.

She switched her attention to Dr. MacDuff. "Hello, I'm Tina Mallory, Blair's mother. Is there any permanent damage?"

He blinked and resumed suturing. "Ah, no. She won't be doing much with this arm for a week or so, but in a couple of months she'll be as good as new. I'll give you some instructions for the next few days."

"I know the drill," she said, smiling faintly. "Rest, keep an ice pack on the arm, antibiotics."

"That's it," he said, smiling back at her. "I'll write her a prescription for pain, but she may be able to handle it with just OTC meds. No aspirin, though; I don't want this bleeding."

You notice he was talking to Mom now instead of me. She has that effect on men.

The rest of my family had crowded into the cubicle, too. Dad moved to Mom's side and slipped his arm around her waist, consoling her through yet another crisis involving one of their children. Jenni moved to the lone visitor's chair and sat down, crossing her long legs. Dr. MacDuff looked at her and started blinking again. Jennifer has Mom's looks, though her hair is darker.

I cleared my throat and brought Dr. MacDuff back to earth. "Suture," I whispered to him.

"Oh-yeah." He winked at me. "Forgot where I was for a minute."

"It happens," Dad said in sympathy.

Dad is tall and lanky, with sandy brown hair and blue eyes. He's calm and laid-back, with this really nutty sense of humor that came in handy a lot during our childhoods. He played baseball in college but majored in electronics, and he handled just fine the pressure of being the only man in a house with four females. I know he was anxious during the drive to the hospital, but now that he knew I was basically all right, he'd settled back into his usual unruffled demeanor.

I grinned at Siana, who was standing by the bed. She grinned back, and cut her eyes to the right. Then she looked back at me with raised brows, which is sister shorthand for: What's with the hunk?

The hunk in question, Wyatt, was standing at the foot of the exam table practically glaring at me. No, not glaring, and not even staring. He was focused on me, his eyes narrowed, his jaw set. He was leaning forward a little, gripping the footrail, and the powerful muscles in his forearms were taut. He was still wearing his shoulder holster, and the big black weapon rode under his left arm.

My family might have relaxed, but Wyatt hadn't. He was in a very bad mood.

Dr. MacDuff tied off the last stitch, then slid his rolling stool over to a counter, where he scribbled on a prescription pad and tore off the top page. "That's it," he said, "except for the paperwork. The scrip is for both an antibiotic and pain medication. Take all of the antibiotic, even if you feel fine. That's it. We'll get you bandaged up and you can go."

The nurses took care of the bandaging, applying a huge amount of gauze and tape that wrapped around my upper arm and shoulder and would make it virtually impossible for me to get into any of my own clothes. I grimaced and said, "This is so not going to work."

"How long before we can change the bandage?" Mom asked Cynthia.

"Give it twenty-four hours. You can shower tomorrow night," she said to me. "I'll give you a list of instructions. And unless you want to wait while someone goes to get some clothes for you, you can wear this beautiful gown home."

"The gown," I said.

"That's what they all say. I don't understand it myself, but, hey, when you like something you like it." She left to go do whatever paperwork needed to be done, pulling the curtain closed behind her with a practiced jerk.

The gown in question was half on, half off, with my right arm threaded through one of the armholes but my left arm bare. I'd been preserving my modesty by holding the gown in place over my breasts, but no way could I get the thing the rest of the way on without flashing everyone.

"If you men don't mind stepping out," I began, only to be interrupted when Mom picked up my date book, which was lying beside my leg because that's where Keisha had put it.

"What's this?" she said, frowning a little as she read. " 'Unlawful detainment. Kidnapping. Manhandled the witness. Snotty attitude-' "

"That's my list of Wyatt's transgressions. Mom, Dad, meet Lieutenant J. W. Bloodsworth. The J stands for Jefferson, the W for Wyatt. Wyatt, my parents-Blair and Tina Mallory-and my sisters-Siana and Jennifer."

He nodded at my parents while Siana reached for the list. "Let me see that."

She and Mom put their heads together. "Some of the things on this list are prosecutable," Siana said, her dimples nowhere in sight as she leveled her lawyer's stare at him.

" 'Refused to call my mom,' " Mom read, and turned an accusing look on him. "That's indefensible."

" 'Laughed while I was lying on the ground bleeding,' " Siana continued.

"I did not," Wyatt said, frowning at me.

"You smiled. Close enough."

"Let's see, there's coercion, badgering, stalking-"

"Stalking?" he said, doing a wonderful imitation of a thundercloud.

" 'Casual about severity of my wound.' " Siana was having a great time. " 'Called me names.' "

"I did not."

"I like the idea of a list," Mom said, taking the date book back from Siana. "It's very efficient, and that way you don't forget anything."

"She never forgets anything anyway," Wyatt said, aggrieved.

"Thank you very much for putting this list thing in Tina's head," Dad said to Wyatt, and he wasn't being sincere. "Way to go." He put his hand on Wyatt's arm and pulled him around. "Let's go outside so they can get Blair dressed, and I'll explain a few things to you. Looks to me like you need the help."

Wyatt didn't want to go-I could see it in his face-but neither did he want to pull any of his snotty attitude with my dad. No, he saved all of that for me. The two men walked out, and of course didn't pull the curtain closed again. Jenni got up and did the honors. She was holding her nose in an effort not to laugh out loud until they were out of hearing distance.

"I'm particularly fond of the 'snotty attitude,' " Siana said, then slapped her hand over her mouth to stifle the giggles.

"Did you see his face?" Mom whispered, grinning. "Poor man."

Poor man, indeed.

"He deserved it," I groused, sitting up and trying to find the left armhole in the gown.

"Just be still; I'll do it," Mom said.

"Don't move your arm at all." That was from Jenni, who had moved around behind me. "Let Mom thread the gown up your arm instead."

Mom did, being very careful around the huge bandage, though it was so thick I doubt I could have felt anything through it anyway, even if Dr. MacDuff hadn't numbed my arm before he started stitching. Jenni pulled the gown's edges together in back, and tied the little strings.

"You aren't going to be able to use that arm for at least a couple of days," Mom said. "We'll pick up some of your clothes and take you home with us."

That was what I'd already figured, so I nodded. A few days of being coddled by my parents was just what the doctor ordered. Well, he hadn't, but he should have.

By the time Cynthia returned with forms for me to sign, a list of instructions, and an aide with a wheelchair, Dad and Wyatt had also returned. Wyatt may not have been in a better mood, but at least he wasn't scowling at everyone.

"I'll go get the car," Dad said when the aide appeared with the wheelchair.

Wyatt stopped him. "I'll get my car. She's going home with me."

"What?" I said in surprise.

"You're going home with me. In case you've forgotten, honey, someone is trying to kill you. Your folks' house is the first place anyone would look. Not only is it not safe for you, are you willing to endanger them, too?"

"What do you mean, someone's trying to kill her?" Mom demanded fiercely. "I thought it was a random-"

"I guess there's a slight chance the shooting could have been random. But she witnessed a murder last Thursday, and her name was in the paper. If you were a murderer, what would you want to do about a witness? She'll be safe at my house."

"The killer saw you, too," I said, thinking fast. Saw you kissing me. "What makes you think he wouldn't track me to your place, too?"

"He wouldn't know who I am, so how could he find out where I live? The only way he'd even know I'm a cop was if he hung around afterward, and trust me, no one was there."

Darn it, he made sense. I didn't want to endanger any of my family-or Wyatt either, come to that-so the last thing I should do was go home with them.

"She can't go home with you," Mom said. "She needs someone to take care of her until she can use her arm."

"Ma'am," said Wyatt, steadily meeting her gaze, "I'll take care of her."

Okay, so he'd just told my family we were sleeping together, because we all knew that "taking care of" meant bathing, dressing, and so on. Maybe I had shouted in front of all his men that I wouldn't sleep with him again, but that was different. For me, anyway. This was my parents, and this was the south, where of course such things went on, but you generally didn't announce it to the world or your family. I expected Dad to take him by the arm and lead him out again, for another little talk, but instead Dad nodded.

"Tina, who better to take care of her than a cop?" he asked.

"He has a list of transgressions two pages long," she replied, indicating her doubt that he was capable of taking care of me.

"He also has a gun."

"There is that," Mom said, and turned to me. "You're going with him."