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

I loved Mrs. Bloodsworth's house. It was white, the gingerbread and trim were painted lavender, and her front door was robin's egg blue. You have to respect, and possibly fear, any woman who has the guts to paint her house those colors. The porch, which wrapped around two sides of the house, was wide and gracious, filled with ferns and palms, and ceiling fans had been installed to provide a breeze whenever nature fell down on the job. Roses of various hues provided explosions of color. Dark green gardenia bushes, heavy with the fragrant white blooms, punctuated each side of the wide steps leading up to the porch.

Wyatt didn't park so we could go up the front walk, though; he continued down the driveway and parked behind the house. I was escorted to the back door, which opened into a small back foyer and then into the kitchen, which had been modernized without sacrificing the style. His mother was waiting for us there.

Roberta Bloodsworth wasn't the type of woman who is ever described as matronly. She was tall and slim, with a short, chic hairstyle. Wyatt had inherited his sharp green eyes from her, and his dark hair. Hers wasn't dark now, though; instead of doing gray, she'd gone blond. As early as it was, not even eight o'clock, she already had on makeup and earrings. She hadn't dressed up, though; she was wearing tan walking shorts with an untucked aqua T-shirt, and regular flip-flops. Her toenails were painted fire-engine red, and the left foot sported a toe ring.

She was my kind of woman.

"Blair, honey, I couldn't believe it when Wyatt said you'd been shot," she said, putting a careful arm around me for a hug. "How are you feeling? Would you like some coffee, or hot tea?"

Just like that, I was in the mood to be mothered. Since my own mom was forbidden to do it, Wyatt's mom had stepped into the breach. "Tea sounds wonderful," I said fervently, and she immediately turned to the sink to fill an old-fashioned kettle with water and put it on the stove to start heating.

Wyatt frowned. "I'd have made tea for you if you'd said you wanted it. I thought you liked coffee."

"I do like coffee, but I like tea, too. And I've already had coffee."

"Tea gives you a feeling that coffee doesn't," Mrs. Bloodsworth explained. "You just sit at the table, Blair, and don't try to do anything. You must still be feeling shaky."

"I'm a lot better than I was last night," I said as I obeyed her and took a seat at the wooden kitchen table. "I actually feel fairly normal today. Last night was-" I made a rocking motion with my hand.

"I imagine so. Wyatt, you go on to work. You need to catch that creep and you can't do it standing in my kitchen. Blair will be just fine."

He seemed reluctant to leave. "If you have to go anywhere, she should probably stay here," he said to his mother. "I don't want her seen out in public right now."

"I know; you've already told me."

"She doesn't need to do anything strenuous, after losing that much blood yesterday."

"I know; you've already told me."

"She'll probably try to talk you into-"

"Wyatt! I know!" she said in exasperation. "We went over all of this on the phone. Do you think I've gone senile?"

He was smart enough to say, "Of course not. It's just-"

"It's just you being overprotective. I get it. Blair and I will do just fine, and I'll exercise my God-given common sense by not parading her down the middle of Main Street, okay?"

"Okay." He grinned and kissed her cheek, then came to me and rubbed his hand down my back before squatting beside me. "Try to stay out of trouble while I'm gone," he said.

"Excuse me, but how is any of this my fault?"

"It isn't, but you do have a talent for the unexpected." He reversed the direction of his hand, sweeping it up my spine to brush the side of my neck with his thumb, then laughing at my alarmed expression. "Be good, will you? I'll check in during the day, and pick you up late this afternoon."

He kissed me, tugged on my ponytail, then rose to his feet and went to the back door. Pausing there with his hand on the doorknob, he looked again at his mother, and this time he was wearing his cop face. "Take very good care of her, because she's the mother of your future grandchildren."

"I am not!" I shrieked after a split second of pure shock.

"I thought so," his mother said at the same time.

He was out the door by the time I got there. I wrenched it open and yelled at him, "I am not! That is so underhanded, and you know you're lying!"

He paused with the car door open. "Last night, did we or did we not talk about having children?"

"Yes, but not each other's!"

"Don't fool yourself, honey," he advised, then got in the car and drove away.

I was so mad I did a Rumpelstiltskin, punctuating each stomp with "Shit!" and of course the jumping up and down hurt my arm, so it went like this: "Shit! Ow! Shit! Shit! Shit! Ow!"

Then I realized I was doing this in front of his mother, and I turned a horrified look on her. "Omigod, I'm so sorry-"

Except she was leaning against the sink laughing her head off. "You should have seen yourself! 'Shit! Ow! Shit! Ow!' I wish I'd had a video camera."

I could feel my face burning. "I'm so sorry-" I began again.

"For what? Do you think I've never said 'shit' before, or a lot worse? Besides, it does me good to see a woman not rolling over for Wyatt, if you know what I mean. It's against the natural order of the world for a man to always get what he wants, and Wyatt always has."

Holding my arm, I went back to the table. "Not really. His wife divorced him."

"And he walked away without a single backward look. It was his way or nothing, no compromising. She-her name is Megan, by the way, but I don't know her last name because she remarried within the year-always deferred to him. I suppose she had stars in her eyes because he was this big football star, and as rough and dirty as football is, the NFL is a glamour job. She didn't understand it and couldn't handle it when, without talking things over with her, he quit playing ball and walked away from everything she expected out of life. What she wanted didn't matter to him. It's always been like that; he's never had to work for a woman, and it has driven me crazy. So it's nice to see someone standing up to him."

"For all the good it's doing," I said glumly. "He seems to be winning every battle."

"But at least there is a battle, and he's aware there's resistance. What made you so mad about what he said?"

"Because he's trying to do an end run around me, and I'm not certain it means anything. I told him 'no'-for all the good it did-and he's so frickin' competitive it's like waving a red flag at a bull. So did he say that because he loves me, or because he can't stand to lose? I vote for number two, because he doesn't know me well enough to love me, and I've told him that I don't know how many times."

"Good for you." The water for the tea began boiling, the kettle making a whistling sound. She turned off the stove, and the whistle slowly died while she put tea bags in two cups, then poured the hot water over the bags. "How do you take your tea?"

"Two sugars, black."

She put sugar in mine, and sugar and cream in hers, then brought both cups to the table. I thanked her as she set my cup in front of me, and she sat down across from me. A thoughtful frown between her brows, she stirred her tea. "I think you're handling him exactly right. Make him work for you, and he'll appreciate you a lot more."

"Like I said, he's winning all the battles." Dispirited, I sipped my hot tea.

"Honey, ask him if he would rather have played in a hard, close-fought game, or a runaway. He loved the games where it was toe-to-toe until the very end, and he loved making those bone-crunching tackles to stop the ball carrier. He'd be bored within a week if you made things easy for him."

"He's still winning all the time. It isn't fair. I want to win every now and then."

"If he's sneaky, you have to be sneakier."

"That's like saying I have to be more of a Hun than Attila." But I suddenly felt more cheerful, because I could do it. I might not win the battle of the neck, but there were other battles where we were more evenly matched.

"I have faith in you," Mrs. Bloodsworth said. "You're a smart, savvy young woman; you have to be, to make such a success of Great Bods at your age. And you're a hottie. He's dying to get in your pants, but take my advice and don't let him."

I managed to keep from choking on my tea. There was no way I was going to tell his mother he'd already been in my pants. I was sure my parents had already figured it out, since Wyatt insisted on taking me home with him last night, but I couldn't admit it to his mother.

Out of guilt, I steered the conversation away from Wyatt and my pants, and asked if she'd mind showing me through her house. It was a good choice. She beamed and jumped up, and we were off.

My best guess is the house had at least twenty rooms, most of them with those lovely octagonal lines that must have been a nightmare to build. The formal parlor was done in cheerful yellow and white, the dining room had cream-and-green-striped wallpaper, with the table and chairs in a very dark wood. Each room had a very definite color scheme, and I had to admire her resourcefulness in coming up with so many different schemes, because after all there are only so many colors from which to choose. The entire house showed the love she had poured into it, the effort.

"If you get tired during the day and want a nap, use this room," she said, showing me into a bedroom with polished hardwood floors, mauve paint on the walls, and a four-poster bed with a mattress that looked like a cloud. "It has it's own bathroom."

About that time she noticed the way I was cradling my arm, which was still throbbing from the jarring it took. "I bet your arm will feel better if it's supported in a sling. I have the perfect thing for it."

She went to her bedroom-done in shades of white-and returned with a beautiful soft blue shawl. She folded it and fashioned a very comfortable sling for me, which did indeed take some of the stress off the stitches.

I was certain I was hindering her, getting in the way of her normal routine, but she seemed happy to have my company and chattered away. We watched television some, read some. I called Mom and talked to her, and told her what Dad had done. That would fix him. After lunch I did get tired, and went upstairs for a nap.

"Wyatt called to check on you," Mrs. Bloodsworth said when I woke an hour later and came back downstairs. "He was worried when I told him you were lying down. He said you had a fever last night."

"That's normal after you get a wound, and it was just high enough to make me uncomfortable."

"I hate that, don't you? It's such a miserable feeling. But you aren't feverish now?"

"No, I was just tired."

While I'd been half-dozing, I'd been thinking about Nicole, and how Wyatt had brushed off my ideas about her murderer. Where did he get off, thinking he knew more about her than I did, just because he was a cop and could investigate people? He was wrong, and I knew it.

I called my assistant manager, Lynn Hill, and got her at home. When she heard my voice she gasped. "Omigod, I heard you were shot! Is that true?"

"Sort of. It kind of grazed my arm. I'm okay; I didn't even have to stay overnight at the hospital. But I have to stay mostly out of sight until they catch the guy who murdered Nicole, and I'm ready for this to be over. If Great Bods reopens tomorrow morning, can you handle things?"

"Sure, no problem. I can do everything except meet payroll."

"I'll handle that, and get the checks to you. Listen-you talked to Nicole some."

"When I had to," she said drily.

I understood that completely. "Did she say anything about a special boyfriend?"

"She was always making mysterious hints. My guess is she was running around with married men, because you know how she was. She always wanted what some other woman had. She wouldn't have been interested in some single guy, other than as a temporary boost to her ego. You're not supposed to speak ill of the dead, but she was a piece of work."

"Married men. That makes perfect sense," I said, and it did. Lynn had nailed Nicole's personality.

I said good-bye, and called Wyatt's cell phone. He answered immediately, not even saying hello. "Is something wrong?"

"Do you mean other than being shot and someone trying to kill me? Not really." How could I have resisted that line? "Anyway, I checked out something and the word is Nicole was seeing a married man."

He paused. "I thought I told you to stay out of police business." There was an edge of anger to his voice.

"Kind of hard to, in this situation. Are you going to be so stubborn you aren't going to check this out?"

"You didn't leave the house, did you?" He didn't answer my question, instead asking one of his own.

"No, of course not. I'm still tucked away nice and safe."

"Good. Stay there. And, yes, I will have this checked out."

"It isn't exactly something the guy will admit to, running around on his wife. Want me to try finding out-"

"No! No. I want you to do nothing, understand? Let us handle the investigations. You've already been shot once, wasn't that enough?" He hung up.

He hadn't exactly been gracious about my pointer. Okay, so he was worried something else would happen to me, and I wasn't crazy about the idea of putting myself in danger, either. But I could call people, couldn't I? I was using my cell phone, so there was no way I could give away my location. The ordinary person didn't have cell-phone tracing capabilities.

And if you can't win one battle, go find a battle you can win.