The Obsession Page 137

“A baby,” she repeated. “I’m sorry, so sorry. God! Did he hurt you? Did he—”

“He never touched me. He was strict, and sometimes he’d leave for days at a time. But he never laid a hand on me or Mason. He was a deacon in the church. He worked for a cable company. He mowed the lawn and painted the porch. And murdered women.”

Jenny tightened her grip, swayed them back and forth. “You never think about the families of . . . You never really think about them, and what it’s like for them. You didn’t have to tell us,” she said as she drew back. “It has to be hard for you to talk about.”

“I didn’t plan to tell anyone. Just to live here, just to be here. But . . .” She looked at Xander. “Things changed.”

“She figured you’d probably pull back,” Xander commented. “Look at her different.”


“Shut up. Some people put it together, one way or the other, and did that or went the other way and salivated for all the nitty-gritty details, so she’d pack it up and take off.”

“Some people aren’t worth spit. Is that what you thought of us?” Jenny demanded. “That’s insulting.”


“You should apologize.”

“I . . . I’m sorry?”

“Accepted. Kevin, accepted?”

He half smiled at his beer. “Yeah.”

When Naomi covered her face with her hands, fought for composure, Jenny stabbed a finger at Xander, then at Naomi. Fisted her hands on her hips until he stepped over, put his arms around Naomi.

“Cut it out.”

“Oh, give her a minute,” Jenny snapped. “Where’s my wine?” She swung back to Kevin to take it, and swiped at tears. “I need a minute, too, and all I can see is a little girl only a few years older than Maddy dealing with what no little girl should even know exists. If you don’t want anyone else to know, Naomi, no one will. You can trust us.” On a huff, she pulled Naomi from Xander. “Hell, men are no good at times like this. We’re going inside for a few minutes. I’m taking the wine.”

“She’s one in a million,” Xander said as Jenny pulled Naomi into the house.

“Which one of them?”

“Looks like both. We’re lucky bastards.”

“Yeah, we are. Now tell me what Bowes has to do with Marla and Donna, and whoever was around here today.”

“I’m going to.”

Xander sat down, and did.

In the morning, Naomi set a mug under the coffee machine when she heard Mason coming down the back stairs. And turned to take the plate she’d already prepared out of the warmer when he stepped into the kitchen.

“Coffee and a hot breakfast? I may have to relocate. Whoa, eggs Benedict? Seriously?”

“I was in the mood to cook, and Xander’s fond. You’re wearing your suit again.”

“It’s what we do in the Bureau. I know I got in late. Since Xander’s going to be here, I may bunk in town off and on. More on than off probably until we finish this. Thanks.”

He took the coffee, drank. “But I’m not going to get eggs Benedict and coffee this good at the diner.”

“Will you finish it, Mason?”

He looked at her, those clear brown eyes—like their father’s. Nothing like their father’s.

“I won’t stop until it’s finished. He wears a size ten Wolverine Sentinel. Some wear on the treads so he’s had them awhile.”

“You found that already, from a boot print.”

“It’s what we do in the Bureau,” he said again. “We figure him for between one-sixty and one-sixty-five, between five-ten and six feet. Going by shoe size, depth of print, stride. He’s white, he’s most likely around thirty. That’s a hell of a lot more than we had a few days ago.”

“Now we just have to figure out who I know who’s average height and weight, about my age, and wants to kill me.” She held up a hand before Mason could speak. “I’m not being sarcastic. It’s something I’m racking my brain over.”

“You may not know him. Or not realize you do. But he knows Bowes. I’m going to be going over all the visits and correspondence today—starting that. Then I’m going to go see him.”

“You’re . . . You’re going to West Virginia.”

“It’s unlikely anyone’s obsessed with Bowes’s daughter, has been killing in a way that mimics Bowes, and hasn’t had contact with him.”

She braced herself. “Should I go?”

“It may come to that, Naomi, but no. Let me make the first pass. If we get to the point that we believe you talking to him could help, can you do it?”

“It’s something I’ve thought about, asked myself. Yes. I can go back, I can see him. I can do that to save myself, and any other women this pseudo Bowes might target. Mason, it hasn’t been fear of Bowes—or not primarily that—keeping me from going back. It’s been the need to deny it. Maybe I had to keep denying it, in my way, until I could accept, fully. I let it define me in too many ways. I’m not going to let it define me anymore. I told Jenny and Kevin last night, and it’s okay.”

“It’s a hell of a good step toward defining yourself. You made the first one buying the house. You shifted your lines then, Naomi. You’ve kept shifting them, and making your own. You did what you needed to do until you could.”

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