The Obsession Page 33

Hands in pockets, Xander studied the blueprint of the projected kitchen. “That’s what the hole’s for. What was there before?”

“Standard door. Total waste. I knew Naomi had that vision when she said to open it up.”

“Vision and deep pockets.”

“Lucky for both of us. Lucky for this place. She’s got an eye—you know, photographer and all that. And she gets the feel of the place, the character. She’s not looking to go all sleek and polished. This space here and the master bath, those are the biggest projects. You add in new windows—got them coming in tomorrow—refinishing the floors, the plumbing, the wiring, trim—she wants crown molding here and there, and some of the original trim needs to be replicated—painting, installing, it’s all mostly cosmetic, but it’s a lot of that.”

“How many rooms in this place?”

“Eighteen, plus five and a half baths now that we took the one out in here. Not counting a granddaddy of all basements—unfinished.”

“She’s single, right? Lives alone?”

“Some people like space, some people like to live in three rooms over their garage.”

“Some people drive a minivan.”

Kevin gave him a light punch. “Wait till you have kids.”

“Yeah, let’s wait on that. Where is she anyway?”

“She’s up in the master, as far as I know, painting.”

“She’s painting—like walls or with an easel?”

“Walls. She did all right on the prep and priming up there, but I expect we’ll be calling Jimmy and Rene in to handle the rest.”

He could’ve handed Kevin the bill, put the tire in her car, and gone on his way. But since he was here anyway . . .

“I’m going to go on up.”

“You can take the back stairs.” Kevin wagged a thumb. “Corner room, facing the inlet.”

“Buy you a beer when you knock off?”

“I wouldn’t mind it. Yeah, I’ll swing by.”

He went up the back way—and having Kevin for a friend all his life, he recognized good craftsmanship in the new stairs, the sturdy rail. The light looked like it had come out of someone’s cabin in the fifties, but that was an easy fix.

Then he reached the second floor and just stood, staring down the hallway. It looked like something out of The Shining. He half expected to see some kid on a Big Wheel pedaling along. Or a decomposing corpse leaking its way under a doorway.

He wondered how she slept in this place at night.

He knocked on the door of the corner room, considering his options when no one answered. He went with the simplest and opened the door.

She stood on a stepladder in paint-splattered clothes and ancient Converse high-tops, carefully cutting in the wall at ceiling height. She’d nearly finished, he noted, and couldn’t fault her work.

He started to rap his knuckles on the open door, but as she dipped her brush she picked up the chorus of “Shake It Off.”

“’Cause the players gonna play, play, play, play, play.”

Decent voice, he thought, and noticed the earbuds.

By the time she got to “Baby, I’m just gonna shake, shake, shake,” he’d crossed over, tapped her shoulder.

She spun around so fast, leading with the brush, he barely dodged the paint swipe across his face. He said, “Wow,” and then, because she overbalanced, put a firm hand on her ass to keep her on the ladder.

With that he smiled—all smug male. “Nice.”

“Back off.”

“Just keeping you and that bucket of paint off the floor.” But he dropped his hand. “I knocked, but you and Taylor were too busy shaking it off to hear.”

Very carefully, she set down her brush. “When you knock and nobody answers, the logical and polite thing to do is go away.”

“That’s fifty-fifty, don’t you think?” She had green eyes. He hadn’t been able to tell in the dark on the side of the road, but she had incredibly deep green eyes. And they were pissed. “A lot of people open the door, take a look.”

“What do you want?”

“Nice to see you again, too. I dropped off your tire—the replacement.”

“Oh. Thank you.”

“No problem.” He took a folded invoice out of his back pocket, held it out. “It cost more than a slice of pizza.”

“I bet. Will you take a check?”

“Sure. Cash, check, credit card.” He took an electronic swipe out of his jacket pocket. “Your choice.”

“We’ll use my card then. Isn’t that high-tech for a garage?”

“I like tech, plus it’s handy when people need roadside assistance. I can fix them up, swipe their card, send them on their way.”

She nodded, took a slim wallet out of her back pocket. Xander just cocked an eyebrow as she slid out a credit card. Every woman he knew carted around a purse the size of a Shetland pony, filled with the mysterious.

“I appreciate you bringing the tire all the way out here.”

“It’s not that all the way. I’ll put it in the spare compartment when I leave. Kev’s got it torn up down there.”

“Yes. Yes, he does.”

“You’ve got a big hole in the wall.”

“At the end of the day it’ll be a door. Please, God.”

He swiped her card. “Nice color—the paint.”

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