The Obsession Page 31

She chose which studies belonged on her site, which should be exclusive to the gallery, which should be put up as stock.

There were dozens of decisions to be made, and she would have sworn not as many hours in the day as there’d been a week before.

She took more time off to look at slabs of granite, and ended up spending more than an hour taking pictures—those raw edges, the graining, the dapples and colors. Tired of cold meals or soup over the Coleman, she stopped and picked up pizza in town on the way home.

She’d sit on her pretty slate blue glider, breathe in the quiet, and eat loaded pizza on her bedroom deck. Then she’d treat herself to a movie on her laptop. No more work that day. And thank God the king-size mattress she ordered would be delivered in the morning. She’d spend her last night on her air mattress.

Twilight shimmered in the west as she followed the snaking ribbon of road.

The deer leaped out of the trees. She had time to see that it was a massive buck before she cut the wheel to avoid the collision. She hit the brakes, fishtailed.

She felt more than heard her tire blow, and cursed as she tried to fight the wheel back.

She ended up thudding into the shallow ditch alongside the road with her heart pounding between her ears.

The buck merely turned his head, gave her a regal stare, and then leaped into the shadows.

“Damn it, damn it, damn it. Okay, okay. Nobody’s hurt, including fricking Bambi.” She shoved open the door to see the damage.

Tire shot, she noted, but she didn’t think she’d damaged the wheel. She could change a stupid tire, but it was going to be tricky with the way she’d angled into the ditch. And dusk was falling fast now—with her on the curve of the switchback.

She opened the back, pulled out the emergency kit, lit a flare, set it several feet behind the truck, set another several feet in front, eased into the car, turned on her flashers.

Resigned to the annoyance, she hauled the jack out of the trunk.

She caught the headlights, worried they came too fast. But the truck—she made out the shape of a truck—slowed, then swerved gently to the shoulder between her car and the back flare.

Naomi set down the jack and took a good grip on the tire iron.

“Got some trouble?”

“Just a flat. I’ve got it, thanks.”

But he sauntered forward, in silhouette with the headlights glaring at his back.

“Got a spare?”

Deep voice, deeply male. Tall—long legs and arms.

“Of course I have a spare.”

“Good. I’ll change it for you.”

“I appreciate that.” Her hand tightened on the tire iron. “But I’ve got it.”

He just hunkered down to take a closer look. She could see him better now—a lot of dark, windblown hair, a sharp-boned profile under some scruff. A battered leather jacket, big hands on the knees of long legs.

“You’re at a bad angle for the jack, but it’s doable. I’ve got emergency lights in the truck.”

He looked up at her now. A hard and handsome face, a tough-guy face with the scruff, with the thick, windblown hair, a firm, full, unsmiling mouth.

She couldn’t see the color of his eyes, but didn’t detect any mean in them. Still . . .

“I’ve changed a tire before.”

“Hey, me, too. In fact, you can make a living. Xander Keaton. Keaton’s Garage and Body Works—name’s on the side of my truck. I’m a mechanic.”

“I didn’t call a mechanic.”

“Aren’t you lucky one just came along? And I’d appreciate the hell out of it if you didn’t smack me with that tire iron.” He goose-stepped over, picked up the jack, got to work. “Killed this tire good. You’re going to need a new one. I can order one for you.”

He picked up the lug wrench. “How’d it blow? It doesn’t look worn.”

“A deer—it jumped out in front of me. I overcompensated.”

“That’ll happen. Heading home? Just making conversation,” he said when she remained silent. “I can smell the pizza. You’re coming from town, so you’re not staying in town. I haven’t seen you before, and given you’re a serious looker, I’d remember if I had.”

“Yes, I’m going home.”

“New around here—because I know everybody—heading home on this road. Killer blonde. Are you Naomi?”

She stepped back.

“Settle down.” He said it calmly as he got up to get the spare. “Kevin Banner. He’s rehabbing the old Parkerson place up on Point Bluff for you. Best pals, birth to earth. Well, earth’s a ways off, unless you kill me with that tire iron, but we’ve known each other since before we could walk. You can call him, get my bona fides if it’ll loosen the grip you’ve got on that thing.”

“He never mentioned you.” But her grip did loosen, a little.

“Now that hurts. He was my wingman, I was his best man. I’m Tyler’s godfather. His cousin Mark’s doing your plumbing, and Macie Addams—who I was madly in love with for about six weeks in junior year—is one of your carpenters. Does that clear me?”

“I’ll know when I ask Kevin tomorrow.”

“That’s a cynical and suspicious nature you’ve got. I have to like it.” He tightened the lug nuts on the spare, gave it a testing spin. “That’ll do.”

As he lowered the jack, he looked up at her again. “How tall are you?”

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