The Obsession Page 98

She crossed her arm over her body, gripped her own shoulder with her hand as if shielding herself.

Not from him, he thought. Goddamn it, not from him.

“I never told you anything about this.”

“You didn’t have to.”

He pushed down his own anger. He’d let it fly later, but for now, for right now, he spoke matter-of-factly.

“The day up in my place, that first time. You saw the book on my shelf. The Simon Vance book. You looked like someone kicked you in the gut. It didn’t take much to figure it out from there. There are photos in the book. You were about eleven or twelve, I guess. Just a kid. You’ve changed your hair, grown up. But you have the same eyes, the same look about you. And Naomi, it’s not an everyday name.”

“You knew.” The knuckles of her hand went white as bone.

“I can wish the book hadn’t been there to put that look on your face. But it was.”

“You . . . you’ve told Kevin.”

“No.” The doubt in her eyes came so clear he waited a beat, kept his gaze level on hers. “No,” he said again. “Womb to tomb doesn’t mean I tell him what you don’t want told.”

“You haven’t told him,” she repeated, and her fingers loosened on her shoulder, her hand slid down. “You’ve known all this time, known since before we . . . Why haven’t you said anything to me, asked me?”

“I didn’t know, so the book was there. But once I knew? I wasn’t going to put that look on your face again. And okay, I hoped you’d tell me before I had to shove it in your face like this, but you pushed the buttons.”

“You didn’t.” Rubbing the heel of her hand between her brows, she turned away. “You didn’t shove it in my face. Others have, so I know exactly what it feels like. I don’t know what this feels like.”

She set the wine on the rail, pressed her fingers to her eyes. “I need a minute.”

“If you need to yell, I can handle it. If you need to cry, I can handle it. Yelling’s preferred.”

“I’m not going to yell, or cry.”

“I think most people would do some of both. You’re not most people.”

“I’m aware of that.”

“Shut up.”

The ripe temper shocked her enough to make her turn back.

“Just shut the hell up.” Now he let some of that anger fly. “Are you fucking stupid? Maybe I don’t know you, because I pegged you as smart. Really smart. But maybe you’re stupid enough to believe because you share DNA with a psychotic bastard, you’re made wrong.”

“He’s a monster. He’s my father.”

“My father doesn’t know a carburetor from a brake pad, owns two sets of golf clubs, and likes easy listening.”

“That’s not the same, at all.”

“Why not? Why the hell not? We have blood ties, he raised me—mostly—and we’re as different as they come. He reads like one book a year, as long as it’s a bestseller. We baffle each other every time we spend more than an hour together.”

“It’s not—”

“What about your brother?”

He threw her off stride, just as he’d intended.

“I . . . What about Mason?”

“What kind of man is he?”

“He’s . . . great. He’s smart. Actually, he’s brilliant, and dedicated, kind.”

“So he can be what he is, with the same gene pool, but you’re what? Tainted?”

“No. No, I know better. Intellectually I know better, but yes, sometimes it feels that way.”

“Get over it.”

She stared at him. “Get . . . over it?”

“Yeah. Get over it, move on. Your father’s as fucked-up as it gets. That doesn’t mean you have to be.”

“My father is the most notorious serial killer of the century.”

“It’s a young century yet,” he said with a shrug, and had her staring again.

“God. I don’t understand you.”

“Understand this, then. It’s insulting and annoying—remember that—for you to think I’d feel differently about you because your father’s Thomas David Bowes. That I’d act differently because seventeen years ago you saved a life—no doubt saved a lot of lives. And if this whole fucked-up bullshit is the reason you’re trying to kick me to the curb, you’re out of luck. I don’t kick that easy.”

“I don’t know what to say to you now.”

“If you want me gone, don’t use Bowes as the lever to pry me loose.”

“I need to sit down.”

She sat on the glider. Obviously deciding she needed it, the dog picked his way back, laid his head on her knee.

“I didn’t mean it,” she murmured, and stroked the dog. “I didn’t mean it about the dog, or the house. I didn’t mean it about you. I told myself I should mean it; it would be better all around if I could mean it. It’s easier to keep moving than to root, Xander, for someone like me.”

“I don’t think so. I think that’s something else you’ve told yourself until you mostly believe it. If you believed it all the way through, you wouldn’t have bought this place. You wouldn’t bring it back to life. You sure as hell wouldn’t have taken on that dog, no matter how I worked you on it.”

He crossed over, sat beside her again. “You’d have slept with me. I saw that the first time you came into the bar.”

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