The Obsession Page 85

But he couldn’t put it away. By the time he had Lelo’s truck on the lift—and Lelo, with a yen for ice cream, had wandered off to get some—he had a twist in his belly.

He got a clear picture of the look she’d tossed him when she’d come out of the bathroom—where Patti had dragged her on Friday night. The look she’d shot him, full of hot fury, before she shot up her middle finger and stormed out.

That was his last image of her—a girl he’d known since high school. One he’d had sex with because she was available. One he’d blown off countless times since because, like Lelo, he didn’t really like her.

She could have walked home in under five minutes, he calculated. And at the pace she’d stormed out, more like three. A dark road, he considered, even with some streetlights. A quiet road that time of night with nearly anybody out and about in the bar for the music and the company.

He tried to see the houses on the route she’d have taken, the shops if she’d cut across Water Street. Shops closed. People would have been awake—or some of them—but those at home most likely sitting and watching TV, playing on the computer. Not looking out the window after eleven at night.

Had somebody come along, offered her a ride? Would she have been stupid enough to get in the car?

Three-to-five-minute walk, why get into a stranger’s car?

Didn’t have to be a stranger, he admitted, which tightened the twist in his belly. And there, she’d have hopped right in, glad to have an ear to vent her temper to.

Nearly two thousand people made their home in the Cove, in town and around it. Small town by any measure, but no one knew everyone.

And a pissed-off, drunk woman made an easy target.

Had someone followed her out? He hadn’t seen anyone, but he’d shrugged and looked away after she’d shot him the look and the finger.

He couldn’t be sure.

Even people you knew had secrets.

Hadn’t he found black lace panties in the Honda of the very married Rick Graft—whose wife wouldn’t have been able to wish herself into panties that small—when he’d detailed the interior?

Graft came off as a happily married father of three, who coached basketball for nine- and ten-year-olds and managed the local hardware store.

Xander had tossed the panties, figuring it was better all around that way. But he couldn’t toss away the knowledge.

Or how Mrs. Ensen had smelled of weed and cheap wine, and the mints and spray cologne she’d used to try to mask it, when he’d answered the breakdown call and gone out to change her tire.

And she a grandmother, for Christ’s sake.

No, you couldn’t know everyone, and even when you did, you didn’t.

But he knew Marla wouldn’t sulk alone for going on four days.

He was very much afraid that when they found her, it would be too late.


Having a houseful of men had some advantages. Xander and Kevin carted out her shipping boxes and the smaller box of prints she’d framed for potential sale locally.

It left her free to carry her camera bag.

“Thanks. I’ll get these shipped off this morning.”

“You’re heading to New York, Xan.”

“Weird,” was his thought on it. “Gotta go.” He tapped Naomi’s camera bag. “Going to work, too?”

“I am. I’ll take an hour or two before I head to town.”

“Where?” When her eyebrows raised, he kept it casual. “Just wondering.”

“Down below the bluff. We’ll see if the rain washed in anything interesting. And pretty spring morning. Boats should be out.”

“Good luck with that.” He yanked her in for a kiss, gave the dog a quick rub. “See you later.”

She’d be within sight of the house, he thought as he swung onto his bike. And he’d already had a short, private conversation with Kevin about keeping an eye out.

Best he could do, but he wouldn’t be altogether easy until they found out what happened to Marla.

Naomi considered taking the car. She could drive nearly a half a mile closer, then take a track down through the woods—since she wanted shots there first—make her way down to the shoreline.

But quiet area or not, she didn’t like the idea of leaving her car on the side of the road with her prints locked inside.

She got the leash, which immediately had Tag racing in the opposite direction. Since she had his number, she only shrugged and started down the curve of road.

He slunk after her.

She stopped, took a dog cookie out of her pocket. “You want this, you wear this until we’re off the road.” She held out the leash.

Dislike for the leash lost to greed.

He strained against the leash, tugged it, did his best to tangle himself in it. Naomi clipped it to her belt with a carabiner, then stopped to frame in some white wildflowers the rain had teased open like stars on the side of the road.

He behaved better in the forest, occupying himself by sniffing the air, nosing the ground.

Naomi took carefully angled shots of a nurse log surrounded by ferns and blanketed with lichen and moss—yellows, rusty reds, greens on wood studded with mushrooms that spread like alien creatures. A pair of trees, easily ten feet high, rose from it, the roots wrapped around the decaying log as if in an embrace.

New life, she thought, from the dead and dying.

The long rain soaked the green so it tinted the light, seducing wildflowers to dance in sunbeam and shadow. It scented the air with earth and pine and secrets.

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