The Obsession Page 126


“Something I couldn’t do, just couldn’t do, with our father. I want to talk to him.”

“Let’s catch him first.” But Mason went to her, wrapped his arms around her before stepping back. “You and Xander? Things are okay there?”


“You were yelling—both of you—when you came up here yesterday. And you were still off and upset when you came down again.”

“He pisses me off so I won’t panic. It works. Most of the time. He said he’s in love with me. Well, he didn’t say it, he shouted and swore, and worked it into that. And I don’t know what to do about it.”

“What do you want to do about it?”

“If I knew that, I’d do it.”

“You know.” He poked a finger in the center of her forehead. “You’re still brooding on that one. I’ll let you know if I’m going to be late.”

Alone, Naomi considered brooding on that one a little longer. Instead, she sat behind her desk again, dug out files.

And took herself back to college.

She spent two hours, made notes before taking her camera and going outside for a break. Dirt-covered and joyful, Tag paused his love affair with the landscapers to race to her.

“Sorry about that!” Lelo called out. “He’s sure having fun, though.”

“It shows.” Resigned to carving out time to bathe the dog, she took pictures of the crew setting pavers. Another of the one she thought of as Mr. Hunk—tall, golden, built, and currently sweaty, stripped to the waist and leaning on a shovel.

Hunks at Work, she thought, immediately seeing a series of photos. Maybe a calendar, she thought, remembering Xander working on an engine, Kevin with a nail gun.

She spent longer than she’d intended, taking candids, devising poses. Then she left the dirty dog with the exterior crew and went back inside.

Back in her studio, she grabbed a bottle of water, texted Mason.

Give me the next in line, chronologically. I’ll organize notes on the college years and have them for you tonight.

Within minutes he’d emailed her two names, two dates. One eight months after Eliza Anderson he’d termed a possible, and the other, nearly eight months after that, termed probable.

She went with the possible.

And spent her day in the past. In the brisk winds of November on a college campus where Eliza Anderson had walked from the library to her car, intending to drive back to the group house she shared with friends, to the sweltering summer in New York where a runaway—only seventeen—was found beaten, stabbed, and strangled in a Dumpster behind a homeless shelter. To a bitter February weekend where Naomi had traveled with her photography group to New Bedford, where a married mother of two left her evening yoga class—and was found dead on the rocky shoreline Naomi had photographed only that afternoon.

She skipped any excuse for lunch, fueling herself on water, far too much cold caffeine, and sheer drive. When she’d ignored the headache as long as she could, she popped some Advil and finished writing up her notes in a way—she hoped—someone besides herself could follow.

Exhausted, she decided Jenny was right. She needed a love seat in the studio. If she’d had one she’d have curled up on it right that minute for a nap.

Then again, if she had a love seat to take a nap on, she’d have a dirt-covered dog roaming the house. Best to wash the dog, then think about dinner. Because now that she’d stopped, she was starving.

She stepped out of the studio, stood for a moment in the absolute silence—and decided having the house to herself was nearly as refreshing as a nap.

So she’d grab a couple of cookies to fill the hole, wash the stupid dog, then think about dinner.

But she realized as she came down the back steps into the kitchen that she didn’t have the house to herself. Seeing the accordion doors wide open would’ve stopped her heart if she hadn’t heard Xander’s voice.

“Jesus, go lie down, will you? Do I look like I have a hand free to throw that damn thing?”

She stepped out.

He sat on a rolling stool, assembling a stainless steel cabinet. The rest of the . . . behemoth was really all she could think, was spread out on a folding table behind him.

The dog—clean and smelling of his shampoo—managed to work his way under Xander’s arm to drop the ball in his lap.

“Forget it.”

“Is that . . . a grill?”

He glanced up. “I told you I’d get the grill.”

“It’s really big. Very really big.”

“No point in puny.” He fitted the bit of an electric drill into a screw, gave it a whirl.

“Don’t they come already assembled?”

“Why would I pay somebody to put something together when I can put it together myself?” To buy some time, Xander heaved the ball over the deck rail.

For one heart-stopping moment Naomi feared the dog would leap off after it, but he went into a flying scramble down the stairs.

“You bought a grill—what looks to be a Cadillac of grills.”

“I said I would.”

“And you do what you say you’ll do.”

“Why say you will if you don’t?” He shifted, watched her watching him. “What?”

“I had a headache,” she said, thoughtfully. “And I was tired—brain, body, spirit, if you want to do the hat trick. I wished I had a couch in my studio so I could take a nap. But I needed to wash the dog.”

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