The Obsession Page 123

No coincidence, no excuses, she ordered herself. The facts stood clear and straight. She had to face them.

“Why hasn’t he come after me? The others are what you call surrogates; why hasn’t he come after me? There have to have been countless opportunities.”

“Because then it’s over,” Xander said, shrugged. “Sorry,” he said to Mason. “It’s what makes sense.”

“And I agree. I still have more to do, more to analyze, but I can tell you I’ve got enough to have convinced Chief Winston and the coordinator of the BAU to send a team here. This unsub is smart, organized, mission-oriented, and tenacious. But he’s also arrogant—and that arrogance, using those particular sites for his dump spots, is going to break this open. We’re going to stop him, Naomi. I need the data from you. It’s key.”

“I’ll go up, email you the files.” She slid off the stool, went up the back steps without another word.

“She’s telling herself she can’t have this.” Mason lifted his hands to encompass the house, the life. “Not now. What Bowes is, what she tried to leave behind, came here with her.”

“Yeah, she’s telling herself that. She’s wrong.”

With a nod, Mason started to get up, sat back again. “You go. The torch passed while I wasn’t around. And we both came from him. She needs somebody who doesn’t carry that.”

“I’ll take care of it.”

She sat at her desk, her beautifully restored desk in her beautifully designed studio. A space that, less than an hour before, had made her so happy, so hopeful.

Had she really told herself, really believed, the past was done? Never done, she thought now. Never over. The ghosts never exorcised.

And once again a killer’s life twined and twisted with hers.

When she heard footsteps, she opened her computer, began to bring up the files.

“It’s going to take me a few minutes,” she said, very, very calmly when Xander came in.

“I got that.” He wandered, measuring the space, the look and feel of it. “Swank, but not fancy. That’s a hard note to hit.”

“You should go down. You and Mason should get to that pizza before it gets any colder.”

“Nothing wrong with cold pizza.”

“There’s nothing for you to do here, Xander.”

“That’s where you’re wrong. You need another chair in here. How else is somebody going to hang out and bug you when you’re working? Why don’t you spit out what’s circling around in your gut. I can figure some of it anyway.”

“You want me to spit it out? Start with if I hadn’t gotten it into my head I could stay here, live here, Donna would still be alive.”

“So, straight to the cliché?” He shook his head. “I thought you’d do better. That’s not even a challenge. If you’d moved on, how many others before somebody like your brother finally clued in on the pattern? And what are the chances anybody but him would’ve seen the connection with your photos?”

“I don’t know the chances. But obviously the chances of me being connected to a serial killer for the second time are really good.”

“Sucks for you.”

Shock snagged her breath. “Sucks for me?”

“Yeah, it does. It sucks for you that some lunatic’s out there obsessed with you and emulating your fuck of a father. But you’re not the reason, you’re the excuse. The reason’s inside this sick bastard’s mind, just like your father’s reasons were in his.”

“It doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter: excuse, reason. It doesn’t matter what’s in their minds, what drives them to kill. It matters that for the first twelve years of my life I grew up in a house with a monster, and I loved him. It matters that where I spent those years is now best known as Thomas David Bowes’s killing field. It matters that what I grew up with followed us to New York until my mother killed herself rather than live with it. It matters that it’s followed me, leaving death behind, ever since.”

She wouldn’t weep. Tears were useless. But fury, full-blown fury, felt righteous. “It matters that I tried to convince myself I could have what the majority of the human race has. A home, friends, people I care about. A damn idiot dog. All of it.”

“You have that, all of it.”

“It was—is—a fantasy. I got caught up in it, let myself believe it was real, but—”

“So what, you’ll pack up, take off, sell this place, dump the dog?”

The fact stood clear, she thought again. “Sometimes people have roots so corrupted, they shouldn’t try to plant them.”

“That’s bullshit, and it’s weak. If you want to feel sorry for yourself, I’ll give you a pass, but that’s weak. You’ve got better than that, baby.”

“You don’t know what I’ve got, baby.”

“Hell I don’t, and because I do, I know you’re not going to let some son of a bitch send you running.”

He put the palms of his hands on her desk and leaned toward her. “I know what I’ve got, and I’m damned if I’ll let you run. You’ve got what you need right here, and you’re going to stick.”

She surged to her feet. “Don’t tell me what I’m going to do.”

“I’m telling you. You’re going to stick because what you want, what you need is right here. What makes you happy is right here. You need me, and I make you happy. And I fucking well need you, so you’ll stick.”

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