The Obsession Page 64

But she’d come, maybe to prove a point to herself, to him. To both.

If he left her alone, just backed away? He suspected she’d be fine with it. And that was likely something else she was good at—making wherever she was, whatever she did, fine for the moment.

She’d be used to that.

And he was damn set on giving her something she wasn’t used to.

The hell with fine.

They moved on to Clapton, and Xander ordered himself to concentrate. Even as he watched Naomi and Jenny get up and join the others on the dance floor.

She couldn’t remember the last time she’d danced, but since Jenny had pleaded, Naomi thought dancing might help burn off some of the heat, the tension.

It felt good to move, to let herself go with the music, let her hips clock the beat.

She didn’t think anything of it when someone bumped her hard from behind. It was all part of it. But when it happened a second time, she glanced around.

“Am I in your way?” Naomi asked the sulky blonde.

“You’re damn right.” She gave Naomi a pissy little shove. “And you’d better get out of it.”

“Cut it out, Marla,” Jenny warned. “You’ve had too much to drink.”

“I’m not talking to you. I’m talking to the bitch in my way. You can’t just come around here and try to take what’s mine.”

“I don’t have anything of yours.”

Several of the dancers had stopped or slowed, eased back to stare. The attention had spiders crawling over Naomi’s skin. To avoid any more, she held up her hands.

“But if you want the floor, it’s yours.”

She started to back off, and the woman shoved her again, slapped out at the friend who said her name, grabbed at her arm.

“You’ll be on the floor if you don’t stay away from Xander.” Eyes gleaming from too much beer, too much frustration, she shoved.

Avoiding attention, sidestepping confrontation—those were hard-learned habits. But defending herself, standing up, those were ingrained.

“You don’t want to touch me again.”

“What’re you going to do about it?”

Smirking, drunk-sure of her ground, Marla planted a hand on Naomi’s chest and started to push. Naomi grabbed her wrist, twisted, and had Marla squealing as she dropped to her knees.

“Don’t touch me again,” Naomi repeated, then released her and walked away.

“Naomi, Naomi! Wait.” Jenny caught up with her. “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. She’s drunk and stupid.”

“It’s all right.”

It wasn’t, it wasn’t all right. She heard the buzzing, felt eyes following her. And she saw Kevin making his way through the crowd toward them, annoyance and concern clear on his face.

“I’m just going to go. Why ask for trouble?”

“Oh, honey. Let’s just go outside, take a walk. You shouldn’t—”

“I’m fine.” She gave Jenny’s hand a squeeze. “She’s drunk enough to try something again, and I need to get home to the dog anyway. I’ll see you later.”

She didn’t run. She wanted to, but running made it too important. But by the time she got out to her car she felt as if she’d run a mile in a sprint. And the shaking wanted to start, so she just braced herself against the door until she could gather herself to drive.

She straightened quickly and dragged out her keys when she heard someone coming.

Xander just closed a hand over hers before she could hit the lock release.


“I need to go.”

“You need to wait until you stop shaking so you can drive without running off the road.” He let go of her hand to put both of his on her shoulders, turned her around. “Do you want an apology?”

“You didn’t do anything.”

“No, I didn’t, unless you want to count that I had sex with Marla twice—when I was seventeen. That’s about fourteen years ago, so it shouldn’t apply here. But I’m sorry she upset you and made a fool of herself.”

“She’s drunk.”

“You know, like brilliance, I never find that a decent excuse for being an asshole.”

She let out a short laugh. “Me either, but it’s a fact she’s drunk. And she’s fixed on you, Xander.”

“I haven’t given her reason to be in fourteen years.” Hints of frustration leaked out, but he kept his gaze calm, and on hers. “Plus, for nearly seven of those she’s been with or married to someone I consider a friend. I’m not interested.”

“Maybe you should tell her that.”

He had, more times than he cared to remember. But given the current circumstances, he accepted that he’d have to do it again—and hurt someone he had a fondness for.

No, you didn’t get through life’s labyrinth without it.

“I don’t like scenes,” she added.

“Well, they happen. You play in enough bars, at enough weddings, you see every kind of scene there is, more or less get used to it. You handled it, and that’s all you can do.”

She nodded, hit the lock release.

He turned her around again, pressed her back against the door.

Not fair, not right, she thought, for him to take her over this way when her feelings were so raw, so unsettled.

Not gentle, not soothing, but a struck match to dry timber. And his mouth, just his mouth taking hers, set it all raging.

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