The Obsession Page 134

So she brought out cold drinks and started a jug of sun tea on the deck because it reminded her of summers in New York and how Harry had added mint from his kitchen garden.

She didn’t interfere, didn’t ask questions—yet—but she was present.

If somehow he watched, through a long lens, through field glasses, he would see that she was present.

Sam Winston stepped over to her, adjusted his ball cap. “I’m sorry about this, Naomi. The fact is somebody could’ve taken advantage of the house being empty just to satisfy curiosity. Point Bluff’s got a lot of people curious.”

“But you don’t think that.”

He inhaled through his nose. “I think we’re going to take every precaution and turn over every stone. The FBI has people who can study those footprints, give us a sense of height, of weight, give us the shoe size, even the make. If this is who we’re looking for, he made a mistake.”

“Yes, he did.”

Maybe not the same mistake the chief meant, Naomi thought. He’d made one by coming into what was hers. He’d made one by helping her pump that anger over the fear.

She went over to Lelo’s truck. They’d be sending him away—as they had the others who’d come to work. She’d get the plants, at least take them around to the containers.

When she found none, she decided Lelo had taken them around for her already. With the dog again on a leash to keep him from rolling over the evidence, she took him around the far side of the house with her, and onto the deck.

Tears swam when she saw the flats and pots lined up on the deck, and her own garden gloves, spade, and rake beside them.

“He’s a sweet man,” she told the dog. “Remind me to stock some Mountain Dew. That’s our Lelo’s drink.”

Though Tag objected, she tied the leash to a picket. “You need to stay with me, let them do what they have to do around front.” To soften the insult, she got him a bowl of water, a biscuit.

Then she crouched, rubbing the spot between his ears that made his eyes roll back in bliss. “Was it you? Did you chase him off—big, fierce dog? Did some good fairy put you on the side of the road that day for me?” She laid her head on his. “Did you scare him as much as he scared you? Well, we’re not going to let him scare us. We’re going to take a bite out of him, you and me, if he tries it again.”

She pressed her lips to his muzzle, looked into his wonderful eyes. She’d fallen in love with the dog, just as she’d fallen in love with Xander. Against her better judgment.

“There doesn’t seem to be a thing I can do about it.”

She rose, then walked to her pretty new containers to plant.

Xander found her tamping the dirt around a tomato plant while the dog stretched out full-length in the sun, half snoozing.

“They’re pretty much done out there, and said there’s no reason the landscapers couldn’t get back to it tomorrow. Kevin’s crew, too.”

“That’s good. That’s fine.” She picked up a pepper plant. “Do you know why I’m doing this?”

“It looks obvious, but tell me.”

“Besides the obvious, I’m planting these herbs and vegetables. I’m going to water them, watch them grow, watch the vegetables flower and watch the tomatoes and peppers form. I’ll harvest them and eat them, and it all starts with what I’m doing right here. It’s a statement. I need to do some research, but I think you can plant things like kale and cabbage in the fall.”

“Why would you?”

“I can make some very good and interesting dishes with kale and cabbage.”

“You’re going to have to prove that to me.”

She kept planting while he went in, came out, and stood watching her.

“He ran away,” Xander began, and she nodded.

“Yeah, I saw that.”

“Saw what?”

“The footprints. You don’t have to be an expert to conclude, or at least speculate. The ones going toward the house, toward the side are different from the ones leading away. Leading away they’re farther apart, and with a kind of skid—moving fast, even running.

“I bet he strolled around the back here. The son of a bitch. Cocky, confident. I don’t know if he’d intended to break in or just look, but he wasn’t feeling cocky and confident when he left. The dog scared him.”

Tag thumped his tail at her quick glance.

“I think he came around here, and would’ve gone in if the door hadn’t been locked—or maybe planned to get in anyway, but the dog scared him off, defending his territory. Defending what’s ours.”

“You ought to know that the scenario you just outlined is the one those trained feds and cops outlined a few minutes ago. It’s how they see it.”

“Well, aren’t I fucking clever?”

He arched an eyebrow. “I think so.”

“I’m so pissed off. I should probably level that out before I plant any more. I don’t think you should plant living things when you’re so incredibly pissed off. You’ll probably end up with bitter tomatoes.”

She yanked off her gloves, tossed them down. “He used her again, Xander. He used Donna, used the fact that everyone who’s usually here would be at her funeral. That makes me sick inside.”

“Then think of this instead. That stray, that dog who wandered from place to place as much as you used to, stuck, like you stuck. And scared the bastard off. He didn’t leave here strolling, Naomi, just like you said. He left with his heart knocking and his knees shaking.”

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