The Obsession Page 63

Conversation posed no issue with Jenny, so she’d just let Jenny take the lead, ride that wave until it was time to go.

Keeping it all light had to help throttle things back with Xander. She’d chosen the house—or it had chosen her—the small town. Which meant that avoiding Xander struck the wrong note. So throttle it back to casual friendship. That was the answer.

How could she have forgotten, allowed herself to forget, what she’d come from and how easily normal could come crashing down?

A book on a shelf, she thought now. It only took that to remind her.

As before, she’d timed it so the band already rocked the small stage. She made her way to Jenny and Kevin, cozied up at the same table. Jenny immediately grabbed her hand.

“Great timing. Sitter was late so we just got here. And they’re hot tonight! Kevin’s going to get us drinks, then he’s going to dance with me.”

“My round,” Naomi insisted. “Sam Adams, red wine?”

“You got it, thanks. Come on, Kevin.”

“Why don’t we just—”

But Jenny dragged him to the dance floor while Naomi worked her way back to the bar.

She felt Xander’s eyes on her, the responsive flutter in her belly. She needed to acknowledge him, and she would. She would.

She outlined it as she maneuvered.

Get to the bar, order, then lean back on the bar, send Xander a smile.

Two bartenders worked nonstop, so she figured she’d have a wait. But the hot brunette—sassy swing with . . . yes, that looked like magenta streaked through the brown—glanced her way.

She had a face so sharp, cheekbones so keen, she might have been carved with a scalpel.

“Leggy blonde, short hair, long bangs, a boot-in-the-balls face. You’re the photographer.”

“I . . . Yes.”

The woman sized her up with eyes more gray than blue in the dim light. “All right,” she said with a slow nod. “You’re with Jenny and Kev?”


“Sam Adams, glass of merlot—and what’re you drinking?”

“The merlot’s fine.”

“It’s not bad.”

The woman wore big silver hoop earrings, joined in the left lobe by a trio of red studs that matched her snug, low-necked T-shirt.

“I used to be married to the guy who pretended to take care of the lawn and yard work up at the old Parkerson place.”

“Oh. Pretended?”

“Turned out he was smoking more grass than he mowed. I ended up firing him as a husband before they fired him as groundskeeper. Can’t say he wasn’t a good-natured sort. Do you want to run a tab?”

“Ah, no. Thanks.”

Naomi paid cash, digging bills out of the wallet in her pocket.

“I can have that brought out to you,” the woman said.

“I’ve got it.” Competently, Naomi used one hand to cup the two wineglasses, the other to lift the lager.

“You’ve done some waitressing.”

“Yeah, I have. Thank you.”

They’d slowed it down with the Stones and “Wild Horses.” As she worked her way back, she saw Kevin and Jenny, still on the dance floor, wrapped around each other and swaying.

The sweetness of it struck her straight in the heart.

Love could last, she thought. She’d seen it with Seth and Harry. For some, love could last.

She set the drinks down, sat, and, since the bartender had distracted her from her outline, picked up her wine and looked toward the stage with a smile ready.

Xander’s gaze locked on hers. He sang as though he meant it. As if wild horses couldn’t take him away. Talent, showmanship, she told herself. And she wasn’t looking for love, for promises, for devotion.

Still, where Jenny and Kevin had struck her heart, he gripped it. Just hard enough to make it ache.

She wanted it to stop, just stop. Wanted to empty herself of what he made her feel, made her need. He’d been a mistake, she knew it. Had been a mistake since he’d hunkered down to change her tire on the dark side of the road.

She made herself look away, told herself to watch the dancers. Her gaze brushed over the woman who’d whispered something in Xander’s ear the last time she’d been here. Right now the woman looked back at her with something between a sulk and dislike.

Great. Now she had the attention of some jealous groupie.

She should’ve stayed home with the dog.

The ache stayed lodged in her when they kicked it back up, and Kevin pulled Jenny back to the table.

“Two dances in a row.” Bright-eyed, Jenny pumped fists in the air. “That’s a record.”

“You don’t like to dance, Kevin?”

“Did you see me out there?”

She laughed, and spoke absolute truth. “I thought you looked adorable.”

He’d known the minute she’d come in—not because he’d seen her, Xander thought as he let Lelo take the lead. But because there had been a change in the air. The way there was before a storm.

She had that inside her, that storm. He knew why now, but the why wasn’t the whole story. He wanted the whole of it as much as he wanted her.

Should he tell her he knew? He’d asked himself that question a dozen times and more since he’d picked that book off the shelf. Would telling her help her relax or send her running? She remained too much of a mystery to be sure.

If she trusted him . . . But she didn’t.

She didn’t want to be here. She covered it well—he imagined she was used to covering—but even in this light he could see that the smile didn’t reach her eyes and stay there.

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