The Obsession Page 136

“I was just waiting for you to get used to it. I love you, Naomi.”

She lifted her hands to his wrists, squeezed hard. “You do. I know you do. Thank God you do. I love you so much we’re going to build a garage. Wait, a three-car—”

It was as far as she got before his mouth took hers, before the kiss swept her up, swept her away. Then to the delight of the dog, he lifted her off her feet, spun her around.

“You’re what was missing,” he told her. “Not anymore.”

“You told me you made me happy, and you do. But it’s more than that. You helped me understand I deserve to be. A thousand hours of therapy never got me all the way there.”

She sighed, drew back. “I’m still screwed up, Xander.”

“Who isn’t?”

The dog let out a yip, then raced toward the front of the house.

“Early-warning system says Kevin and Jenny are here.”

She drew a breath. “All right.”

“It’s going to be okay. Have some faith.”

“I’m going to borrow some of yours. My supply tends to run low.”

“Try regular fill-ups. I’ll let them in.”

She took the tray out, set it on the folding table, went back for glasses, plates, napkins, heard Jenny’s laughter.

As she opened a bottle of wine, Jenny came in.

“Great timing! Oh, Naomi, every time I get out here there’s more done. It must be crazy living in the middle of it, but it’s amazing to see it off and on.”

“I’m glad you could come. I know it was last-minute.”

“Worked out great. We had my parents over for dinner, and they took the kids back with them for a sleepover. Fun for all.” She moved in for a hug. “I’m sorry you’ve had trouble. Kevin told me somebody was poking around out here while we were at Donna’s funeral. I’m sure it was just some kids trying to get a look in the house.”

“I think it was . . . something else. That’s part of what I wanted to talk to you about.”

“All right. You’re really upset. I shouldn’t make light of it.”

“I thought we’d sit outside.”

“Perfect. Oh! Look at these planters—Lelo built them? They’re wonderful. You’re really making this deck a wonderful outdoor living space. Kevin, look at these containers.”

“Nice,” he said as he came out with Xander. “How are you doing?” he asked Naomi.

“I’ve had better days. Then again . . .” She looked at Xander. Love, given and received, outweighed everything. “Let me get you some wine, Jenny. Then I’m going to dive right into this, get it done.”

“It sounds serious.”

“It is.”

“Oh God, are you sick?” Immediately, Jenny grabbed her arm. “Is something wrong, or are you—”

“Jenny.” Kevin spoke quietly, drew her back. “Come on, sit down.”

“Sorry. I’m sorry. I’ll shut up.”

Naomi poured wine for Jenny, for herself, but couldn’t sit. “Okay, straight in. Carson was my mother’s maiden name. It’s my uncle’s name. Mason and I had our names legally changed a long time ago. From Bowes. Our father is Thomas David Bowes.”

She wasn’t expecting blank, quietly expectant looks, and it threw her off.

“Not everybody knows who that is, Naomi,” Xander pointed out. “Not everybody gives a damn.”

“It’s familiar,” Kevin said. “Like I ought to know.”

“Thomas David Bowes,” Naomi continued, “killed twenty-six women—that he’s admitted to—somewhere between 1986 and 1998. August of 1998, when he was arrested.”

“Bowes. Yeah, I remember some of that,” Kevin said slowly. “Back east somewhere.”

“West Virginia. He raped and tortured and eventually strangled his victims.”

“Your father?” With one hand gripping Kevin’s, Jenny stared at her. “Is he alive?”

“Yes. They don’t have the death penalty.”

“Did he escape? Is that what’s happening now?”

“No. No, he’s in prison. He’s been in prison for seventeen years. We changed our name, we moved away. But it doesn’t change the reality of it. You’ve been friends to me. You’re helping me make a home here. I needed you to know.”

“I remember some of it, I think. We were just kids,” he said to Xander. “They made a movie. I caught it on TV a few years ago.” His gaze shifted to Naomi. “You found that girl he had. Is that true? You found that girl and helped her, got her to the cops.”

“I never saw the movie, or read the book. I don’t know how accurate they were.”

“Close enough,” Xander said. “She followed Bowes into the woods one night, went into the cellar by a burned-out cabin, found the girl.”

“Her name’s Ashley,” Naomi added.

“Ashley. Found her, got her out, walked miles through the woods, and got her help. That’s how they found him. That’s how they stopped him.”

“Seventeen years?” Jenny repeated, eyes huge, face pale. “But you’d have been . . . Oh God, Naomi.” She sprang up, shoved her wine at Kevin, threw her arms around Naomi. “Oh my God, poor little girl. You were just a baby.”

“I was nearly twelve. I—”

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