The Obsession Page 94

She hadn’t been inside a church in more than a decade. They reminded her of her childhood, of Sunday dresses stiff with starch, of Wednesdaynight Bible readings.

Of her father standing at the lectern reciting scripture in his deep voice, so much sincerity on his face as he spoke of God’s will, or God’s love, of following a righteous path.

Being inside one now, the sun streaming through the stained glass, the lilies clogging the air, the reverend reading all-too-familiar passages, she wished she’d stayed away. She hadn’t known Marla, had only had a difficult encounter with her.

But she’d found her, so she’d made herself come.

Relief came like a sharp wind through musty memories when she stepped outside into the clear, uncolored sunlight, the clean, unscented air.

Xander steered her away from where most gathered to talk before the drive to the cemetery.

“You went pale.”

“It was so close in there, that’s all.” And too many who’d come snuck glances at her.

At the woman who’d found the body.

“I need to go to the cemetery,” he told her. “You don’t.”

“I don’t think I will. It feels too much like gawking when I didn’t know her.”

“I’ll drive you back, drop you off.”

“I should’ve brought my own car. I wasn’t thinking.”

“It’s not much of a detour,” he began, then turned as Chip walked up.

The picture of grief, Naomi thought. Red-rimmed, dazed eyes, pale skin bruised under those dazed eyes from lack of sleep. A big man with a hollow look.

“Chip. Sorry, man.”

They exchanged the one-armed hugs men seemed to prefer before Chip looked at Naomi.

“Miss Carson.”

“Naomi. I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry.”

“You found her. The chief said the way they’d . . . how they’d left her, it might’ve been a while before anybody did. But you found her so they could bring her back, take care of her.”

Tears leaked out of those dazed eyes as he took her hand between his massive ones. “Thank you.”

Habitually she avoided touching strangers, getting too close, but compassion overwhelmed her. She drew him to her, held him a moment.

No, killers didn’t think of this—or did they? she wondered. Did pain and grief add to the thrill? Did it season it like salt?

As he drew back, Chip knuckled tears away. “The reverend said how Marla’s gone to a better place.” Chip shook his head. “But this is a good place. It’s a good place. She shouldn’t have to go to a better one.”

He swallowed hard. “Are you coming to the grave site?”

“I am. I’m taking Naomi home, then I’ll be there.”

“Thank you for coming, Naomi. Thank you for finding her.”

As he walked off like a man lost, Naomi turned away.

“Oh God, Xander.”

And she wept for a woman she hadn’t known.


As most of the crew had known Marla, Naomi came home to a relatively quiet house. The noise centered, for now, in what would be her studio, and came in the form of country music and a nail gun.

Still, when she tried to work, she couldn’t settle. Whatever images she brought onto her screen, she ended up seeing shattered eyes.

Instead, she took the dog and her camera out front. She’d get those before pictures for Lelo, as simple and routine a task as she could devise. She’d make copies for herself, she thought, maybe put together a book on the evolution of the house.

She could keep it in the library, revisit the process when it would have the charm of distance.

When the dog dropped one of his balls at her feet, she decided to embrace another distraction. She tossed it, watched him joyfully chase after it.

The third time he returned, he spat it out, his ears pricked up, and his gaze shifted with a low, warning growl seconds before she heard the sound of a car.

“Must be the crew coming. Talk about distractions.”

But she saw the chief of police’s cruiser come up the rise.

Everything in her tensed, balled up in tight, cold fists. She’d seen him at the funeral. If there’d been any progress on the investigation, the odds were high she’d have heard something there. In any case, her finding the body didn’t mean he’d feel obliged to tell her anything directly.

There was only one reason he’d come to see her.

To help calm herself, Naomi laid a hand on Tag’s head. “It’s okay. I’ve been expecting him.”

They started across the bumpy, patchy grass as Sam got out of the cruiser.

“The Kobie brothers,” he said, nodded toward the truck.

“Yes. Wade and Bob are upstairs working. The rest of the crew went to the funeral.”

“I just left the cemetery myself. I wanted to have a private word with you before the rest of Kevin’s crew got back.”

“All right.” Her stomach in knots, she turned toward the house. “I don’t have a lot of seating yet, but it’s nice on the deck off the kitchen.”

“I heard you hired the Lelos to do some landscaping.”

“They plan to start on Tuesday.”

“You’re making real progress,” he commented as they stepped inside.

She only nodded, continued back. Progress, she thought, but for what? She should never have let herself fall in love with the house, with the area. She should never have allowed herself to become so involved with the man.

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