The Obsession Page 111

“Or he lives a lot of his life tearing down those dark places.”

She’d reached for a market bag, stopped. “He does, doesn’t he? And I should learn to turn it that way.”

When they carried the groceries inside and to the kitchen, she got out a bottle of wine.

“I’m about to start some major cooking. Cleaning can work, but I lean toward cooking when I’m upset or stressed.”

“Lucky me. I was going to head out when your brother got here, give you guys some catch-up time. But you bought pork chops.”

“You bought them,” she corrected. “And everything else in these bags.”

“You have to contribute. I like pork chops.”

“Do you like stuffed pork chops, Mediterranean-style?”


“Good, because that’s what we’re having, along with roasted herbed potatoes, sautéed asparagus, pretzel bread, and vanilla bean crème brûlée.”

He wasn’t sure he realized crème brûlée existed outside restaurants. “I’m definitely staying for dinner.”

“Then I suggest you clear out.”

“Give me a job.”

“A kitchen job?”

“Definitely not a kitchen job.”

He needed to work off the worry, too, she thought.

“Cecil’s holding a table and four chairs—so far—for me. I was going to have Kevin pick them up, take them to Jenny, but if you brought them here, just cleaned them up, we’d have an actual table to eat this magnificent meal on. And don’t say you don’t want to leave me here alone,” she added before he could. “I have the dog, I have an alarm system, and an excellent set of Japanese kitchen knives.”

“You’ll keep the doors locked until I get back—or Mason does.”

“It pains me as it’s a gorgeous day and I’d like the doors open, but for a dining room table, I’ll keep them locked.”

“Keep your phone on you.”

“I’ll keep my phone on me. Do you know how to lower the backseats in my car for the cargo area?”

“I’m a mechanic, Naomi. I think I can handle it. Let Cecil know I’m coming. It’ll save time.”

He hauled her in for a kiss, then pointed a finger at the dog. “You’re on duty.”

Naomi made the call, shoved the phone in her back pocket, then rubbed her hands together.

“Let’s get cooking.”

With the dog occupied with a rawhide bone, she focused in. It cleared her mind, pushed the terrible thoughts and worries away. The process, the textures, the scents and colors.

She had dough rising, potatoes in the oven, and the crème brûlée nearly ready to go into oven two when the dog scrambled up.

Maybe her heart tripped at first, maybe she glanced at the chef’s knife on her cutting board, but she ordered herself to keep to the task at hand.

And was rewarded when she saw Xander haul chairs onto the back deck.

Swiping her hands on the dish towel tucked into her waistband, she walked over to at least open the doors.

“He swore—I almost made him take a blood oath—these were the chairs you wanted.”

“That’s right.”

Xander looked at them—scowled at them. The faded, ripped, ugly patterned seats, the scuffed wood. “Why?”

“They’re going to be adorable.”


“Reupholstered with this fabric I’ve picked out, painted. The ladderbacks a slatey blue, the armchairs a sagey green.”

“You’re going to paint them?”

“Jenny is. I’ve retired. They can be ugly until she takes them. I’ve got rags and wood cleaner. We can make them presentable for one meal.”

“They look like presentable kindling to me, but it’s your deal.”

“What about the table?”

“I get the table—needs a little work, but it’s a good piece.”

“I meant do you need help getting it out of the car?”

“Eventually.” Clearly unconvinced, he gave the chairs a final frown. “I’ll be back in a minute.”

“I’ll get what you need.”

She got the supplies out of the laundry room, filled a bucket with water, carted it out in time to see him coming back up the steps behind a forest of lilacs in a tall cobalt blue pitcher.

“There.” He set them on the table on the deck. “I brought you flowers and something to put them in.”

Staggered, she stared at them, at him. “I . . .”

“I stole the flowers, but I bought the pitcher.”

“It’s—they’re . . . They’re perfect. Thank you.”

He stood there, scruffy, scowling at the chairs he obviously considered a waste of time and money—and she had to swallow, twice.

“This better be some dinner.” After taking one of the rags from her, he dropped it in the bucket. “Are you okay?”

“Yes. Absolutely. I’ve just got things going inside.”

“Go on, deal with that. I’ll clean up these butt-ugly chairs.”

She went inside, grabbed the wine on the way and took it with her straight to the powder room—the one that still needed lights, new fixtures, and a towel bar.

Her heart was tripping again. In fact it was tripping, stumbling, staggering all at the same time. Not a sensation she’d ever experienced before. Not a panic attack—not exactly, though she definitely felt considerable panic.

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