The Obsession Page 53

“It was the overbite.” Even now, Xander could sigh over it. “I’ve always been a sucker for an overbite.”

“Naomi doesn’t have one.”

“It’s a flaw I’m overlooking. Sometimes it’s just sex, as Bonnie illustrates and your memory serves. And sometimes, as you ought to remember, you want some conversation, some meat along with the sizzle. Bonnie had the sizzle, but I knew it wasn’t going to be enough, even for the summer, when she picked up a copy of East of Eden I had on the nightstand and said she didn’t know I was religious.”


“She figured Eden—so it must be a biblical story. She didn’t even know who Steinbeck was.” And he could still shake his head over that. “Even an overbite can’t make up for that.”

“It’s good to have standards.”

“Oh, I’ve got standards. So far, Naomi’s meeting them, so I can take some time.”

“What if she’s lousy in bed?”

“That’d be both surprising and disappointing, but if so, we can still have conversations. Does she ever talk about her family with you?”

“Her brother, her uncles. Little bits and pieces here and there. Not much elaboration, now that you mention it.”

“Exactly. It’s interesting—what she doesn’t say. It’s interesting.”

He thought about that, late into the night, long after rehearsal and the cold-cut subs he and his bandmates chowed down on.

In general he liked the company of men more than the company of women. He understood what men didn’t say, didn’t need or want it all laid out in specific words, expressions, freaking tones of voice. Women, to his mind, were work. Often worth it, and he didn’t mind work.

But time spent with women, when it wasn’t before, during, or after sex, was entirely different than hanging out with men or working with them.

In general, he preferred the short, straightforward mating dance and considered the extra steps and flourishes a waste of everyone’s time.

You wanted or didn’t; there was heat or there wasn’t.

For some reason he found himself willing to take those extra steps with Naomi. He didn’t really mind them; in fact, he enjoyed them, all the stops and starts, the detours.

And in his experience once the mating dance was done, the first rush of sex slowed, interest faded.

He liked being interested.

He turned on the bedroom TV, with the sound low as it was mostly to cover the silence so he didn’t miss Milo’s snoring so keenly. He picked up his nightstand book—a worn paperback of Lord of the Flies.

He never had a first read on the nightstand, not if he wanted to sleep, so he settled in with the familiar and fascinating.

But he couldn’t get Naomi off his mind.

On the bluff, Naomi turned off the lights. Her brain was too tired for more work, too tired to pretend to read, even to stream a movie. The dog had already settled down, and it was time she did the same.

Since her tired brain didn’t want to turn off, she let it wander, circling around faucets, lighting fixtures, whether she should do that study of Douglas firs she’d taken that morning, the green eerie through thin mists. It would make a solid cover for a horror novel.

She worked on it in her head, played up shadows until she drifted off, drifted away.

When she walked through that eerie green, the wind rolled through the tops of the trees, a whoosh and moan that laid a chill on her skin. She followed the path. She wanted to get to the water, to the blue, to the warm. Her footsteps were muffled on the thick cushion of pine needles, and those deep green shadows seemed to shift into shapes. And the shapes had eyes.

She moved faster, heard her breath quicken. Not with exertion, but with an atavistic fear. Something was coming.

Thunder mumbled overhead, over the rolling, muttering wind. The shimmer of lightning tossed all into an instant of relief, and brought a sick heaviness to her belly.

She had to run, had to find the light again. Then the shadow stepped from the shadow, a knife in one hand, a rope in the other.

Time’s up, it said in her father’s voice.

She tried to scream, and woke with it trapped in her throat, with the weight crushing her chest.

No air, no air, and she clutched at her own throat as if to fight away the hands that circled it.

Her heart thudded, sharp, vicious hammer blows that rang in her ears. Red dots swam in front of her eyes.

Somewhere deep under the weight, the terror, she shouted at herself to breathe. To stop and breathe. But the air wheezed, barely squeezed through her windpipe, only burned her starving lungs.

Something wet ran over her face. She saw it, felt it, as her own blood. She would die here in the woods of her own creation, in fear of a man she hadn’t seen in seventeen years.

Then the dog barked, hard and fierce, chased the shadows like rabbits. So she lay panting—breathing, breathing, with the terrible weight easing as the dog lapped at her face.

He had his front legs braced on the bed. She could see his eyes now, gleaming in the dark, hear his pants along with her own. Struggling to steady, she raised a trembling hand, stroked his head.

“Okay.” She rolled toward him, comforted, let her eyes close, focused on long, slow breaths. “It’s okay. We’re okay. Just a dream. Bad dream. Bad memories. We’re okay now.”

Still, she switched on the light—she needed it—brought her knees up to rest her clammy forehead on them.

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