The Obsession Page 40

“Never mind. You’re skinny enough I could pick you up and probably carry you a half a mile without breaking a sweat. But you’re just too dirty and smelly. We’ll wait for Xander. Stay there. Just stay.”

She dashed into the house, filled a plastic cup with water, grabbed some flatbread crackers. Best she could do.

When she dashed out again, the dog was whining, sniffing at the edge of the back. “No, no, just wait. A little refreshment, that’s all. Here, here’s a cracker.”

He all but inhaled it, and six others, then slurped and lapped the water from the cup.

“That’s a little better, isn’t it? He’s not going to be long. He really better not be long because every minute you’re in there is another week it’s going to take to air out the smell.”

This time when she broke down to pet him, the dog turned his head, nuzzled her hand. “Yeah, I guess that’s a little better.”

She went back into the car for the orange Fanta, then followed impulse and pulled out her camera.

“We can make flyers for the vet, for the shelter, for whatever.”

She took several photos while he stared at her with those strange blue eyes, so strongly colored against the dirty brown—and felt ridiculous relief when she heard the sound of an engine.

Xander, now in his truck, pulled up behind her.

The dog’s tail thumped.

“Fancy crackers?”

“I didn’t have kibble handy.”

“We got some. Better feed him out here in case he sicks it up again.”

“Good thinking.”

Xander, obviously not delicate about the dirt or smell, lifted the dog out. The dog stood this time, looked a little wobbly, while Xander hauled an already-open fifty-pound bag of dog food out of the truck.

“Think you got enough food?”

Xander only grunted and poured some into a big plastic blue bowl.


She caught the red bowl he tossed.

“For water.”

Naomi went around the side, where she had a hose to water the so-far-imaginary garden.

When she came back, the dog had wolfed down every morsel and appeared capable of doing it again.

His tail swung back and forth with more energy.

“Water first, big guy.” Xander took the bowl, set it down. The dog drank like a camel.

“I don’t care if you think I’m heartless, but that dog’s not coming in the house unless we can deal with that smell.”

“Yeah, yeah, can’t blame you. Somewhere along the line he rolled in something dead. They just love doing that. So we give him a bath. Probably a couple of them. Hose around there?”

“Yeah. I’ve got dish soap inside.”

“Don’t need it.” He went back to the truck and came back with a black dog collar and a bottle of dog shampoo.

“You did get supplies.”

“You’re going to have to hold him. I’ll soak him down, suds him up, rinse him off, but he’s not going to like it.”

“If he bites me, I’m going to hurt you.”

“He’s not a biter. There’s no mean in those eyes. You hold on to him, Slim.”

“I’ve got him.”

The dog was stronger than he looked—but then so was she. When Xander ran the water over him, he balked, strained, barked, pulled.

But he didn’t snap, snarl, or bite.

Xander pulled a massive dog biscuit out of his back pocket, and the dog settled down to eye it greedily.

“Yeah, you want this. Hold the hose,” he told Naomi, then broke the biscuit in half. “Half now, half when we’re done. Got it?”

He gave the dog the half biscuit, and poured green liquid from the bottle in his hands. Obviously the dog enjoyed the rubbing and soaping, and stood quietly while Xander scrubbed at him.

He didn’t care for the rinsing off, but the second round of soaping had his eyes half closing in bliss. By the end of it, he sat quietly—maybe, Naomi thought, as delighted as she was that he didn’t smell like dead skunk.

“Better stand back when I let him go.”

“Let him go? What if he runs?”

“He’s not going anywhere. Stand back, or you’ll get wetter than you already are.”

She released the collar, then danced back and out of range of the energetic shaking and storm of water.

“He isn’t as ugly as I thought.”

“Get some meat back on his bones, he’ll be a good-looking dog. Might have some Lab in him—shape of the head. Probably got a lot in him. Mutts make the best dogs.”

“Now that he’s clean, doesn’t look like he’s going to collapse, and you’ve got the truck, you can take him with you.”

“Can’t do it.”

“You know the vet by name. And—”

“I can’t. Look . . .” He turned, went back to his truck for a rag of a towel, and began to rub the wet dog. “I had to put my dog down last month. Had him nearly half my life. I just can’t take this one. I’m not ready.”

The open bag of kibble, the shampoo, the bowls, the collar. She should’ve put it together. “Okay. I know how it feels. We had a dog—my brother’s dog, really. The uncles gave it to him for Christmas when he was ten. He was so sweet, so considerate, we didn’t have to put him down. He just slipped away in his sleep when he was fourteen. The four of us cried like babies.”

The dog sniffed at Xander’s pocket.

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