The Obsession Page 49

The three of them managed to load the dresser in the 4Runner—Cecil was old, but he proved ox-strong.

“Kevin’s going to pick up the other pieces,” Jenny told Cecil.

“He is?” Naomi wondered.

“Sure. He’ll get them after work or in the morning. And remember, Cecil, Naomi has that big house to furnish so we’ll be back. And expect good prices.”

The dog sprawled out content enough beside the dresser, and Jenny settled in the passenger seat.

“That was fun.”

“I’m dazzled by your Arabian marketplace skills. Thank you, really. I can come back and get the other pieces. Kevin doesn’t have to come all the way out here.”

“It’s fine. Plus, if you hire me to refinish that desk, he’ll just bring that home to my little workshop.”

“You have a workshop?”

“I refinish and reimagine furniture and decorative pieces on the side. I didn’t want to say anything, make you feel obligated or awkward. But boy, I want to do that desk. I’m good, I promise. I’ll make it gorgeous.”

“I bet you will.” And she could cross off the hours it would take her to do it. “You’re hired.”

“Really? Yay! If you came over for dinner Sunday—Kevin said not to bother you, but I’ve been dying to have you to dinner—you could see the workshop. I’ve got a bench I’m working on that’s perfect for the deck outside your bedroom. An old wire garden bench with a big, curved back. And you can bring the dog. The kids would love him.”

Naomi started to make an excuse—knee-jerk. But curiosity won. “I’d love to see your workshop. You don’t have to feed me.”

“Come to dinner. We eat a little early most Sundays. Come by anytime after four. Time to see my shop, for the kids to play with the dogs.”

“I’ll be there. I’ll bring dessert.”

Bright and early she took a long-sleeved T-shirt and leggings out of boxes. She refused to use the dresser until she had Kevin fix the drawer and she’d replaced the hardware.

When she walked casually out to the car, the dog followed, jumped right in, gave her that smug-dog grin.

He didn’t know what he was in for.

But he got at least part of the picture when she pulled into the parking lot at the vet’s.

He quivered, shook, tried to glue his nicely healed paws to the floorboards.

“This time you’ve got a reason, but you don’t know that. Come on, grow a spine.” She pulled, hauled, bribed—with a tennis ball, as food was off the table until after the surgery.

“You won’t miss them,” she told him, then shook her head. “How do I know? I’d miss pretty much anything somebody snipped off me. But it has to be, okay? It’s just how it goes.”

She got him through the waiting room—empty, as she’d arranged to be the first surgery or appointment of any kind of the day.

“Hey, boy.” Alice greeted him with a good rub, relaxed him so he leaned on her. “We’ll take him from here. The procedure’s routine—sometimes a little tougher on a grown dog, but still routine. We’ll keep him a few hours after, to make sure everything’s good.”

“Okay. I’ll come get him when you call.” She gave the dog a pat on the head. “Good luck.”

When she turned to go he howled—long and mournful, as he’d done a few times when he heard a siren. She glanced back, saw his blue eyes full of sorrow and fear.

“Shit. Just shit.”

“Just let him know you’re coming back,” Alice advised. “You’re his alpha.”

“Shit,” she said again, and walked back to crouch in front of the dog. “I’m coming back to get you, okay?” She took his head in her hands, felt herself battered with the love his gaze sent out. “Okay, all right. I’m coming back to get you, take you home. You just have to do this first. I’ll go—hell—I’ll go buy you some good dog-sans-balls presents.”

The dog licked her cheek, laid his head on her shoulder.

“He’d hug you if he could,” Alice commented.

Sunk, Naomi hugged him instead. “I’ll be back.”

He whined when she rose, cried when she started out.

“He’ll be fine,” Alice called after her.

And the heart Naomi hadn’t wanted to give away broke a little when she heard the dog howl.

She bought him a little stuffed cat, a ball that squeaked—telling herself she’d regret both purchases. She added a sturdy tug rope, a dog brush.

She made herself go home, made herself work. And when she couldn’t concentrate for more than ten minutes, she put on her paint clothes. She didn’t have to be creative to paint a room.

While she primed the walls, she imagined furnishing it. Maybe a sleigh bed, maybe dark gray. Mason would like it when he came to visit her. Or maybe old and iron—gray again. Gray would work with the green tones she’d paint in here.

Why didn’t Alice call?

Annoyed with herself, she broke one of her unwritten rules about poking into whatever the crew was doing unless it was for pictures, and went downstairs.

They’d primed the living room—mostly because she couldn’t quite decide what color she wanted there. The fireplace mantel needed refinishing, and made her think of Jenny. If Jenny did a decent job on the desk, she could do the mantel.

She wandered the space, looked out windows at the views. She wasn’t ready to throw in the towel and hire a landscaper, but most of the outside rehab just had to wait until the bulk of the work was done inside, and men—and women—weren’t tromping all over the place.

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