The Obsession Page 57

“You’ve got game,” Xander commented after she’d trounced everyone at the LEGO Movie game—twice.

“Everything is awesome when you have a brother who’s still a video game maniac. And now that I remain undefeated”—she added a finger in the belly for Tyler—“I really have to go.”

“Play one more!”

“Practice,” she advised, “and I’ll take you on next time. But Tag and I have to get home. Everything was great, Jenny, thanks for having me. I can take those frames with me if you want.”

“I really want.” In her easy way, Jenny stepped up and hugged Naomi. “Sunday dinner, open invitation. I mean it.”

“Thanks. And thanks, Kevin. See you tomorrow.”

“I’ll get the frames. Meet you out front with them,” Xander told her.

She hadn’t intended to stay so late. But the setting sun painted the sky in the west and the air had cooled enough that she could have used a sweater.

Still, she thought as she walked the dog to the car, she could get some work in, plan out her agenda for the week, and have time to read herself to sleep.

She opened the door to the back; the dog jumped agilely in. Then she sat on the back of the car, facing the water, and took pictures of the sunset over the inlet, the empty docks, the shimmering silence.

“Do you ever quit?” Xander asked as he carried the frames across the lawn.

“I get amazing sunrise shots from my place, but this little spit of water edges west, and that’s one champion sunset.”

“My place isn’t on the water, but I get some worthy sunsets through the trees. You might want to check it out.”

“I might.”

He propped the frames in the back, gave the dog a rub, and then managed to turn in a way that boxed her in.

“It’s still early.”

“That depends. Maddy was drooping.”

“Maddy’s four. Why don’t we go into Loo’s? I’ll buy you a drink.”

“I had several glasses of wine.”

“Over about four hours. Walk a straight line.”

She laughed, shook her head. “I can walk a straight line, and since I want to continue to be able to, I’ll pass on another drink. You have terrific friends, Xander.”

“Seems like they’re your friends, too.”

“Jenny won’t take no.”

“Why say no?”

She shrugged, looked back to the sunset. Going to gold now, she thought. Soft, shimmering gold. “General rule.”

“You make it hard not to ask questions.”

“I appreciate that you don’t. I really have to go.”

He ran a hand down her arm, but stepped back. Didn’t kiss her, Naomi realized, because she expected it.

He had game, too.

But he walked around, opened the door for her. “Do you like eggplant parm?”

“I do.”

“Come to my place Wednesday for dinner. We’ll have eggplant parm.”

Her eyebrows shot up. “You’re going to make eggplant parmesan?”

“Hell no. I’ll get takeout from Rinaldo’s. They make good eggplant parm.”

“Two social outings inside one week? I don’t know if I can handle it.”

“Try. Bring the dog.”

She blew out a breath as Tag shoved his face out her door and pushed his muzzle into Xander’s big, callused hand.

“Just dinner.”

“I can take no.”

“You’re going to have to. What time?”

“About seven works best. I’m over the garage. You come around back and take the stairs up.”

“All right. Wednesday. Probably.”

Still letting the dog nuzzle his hand, Xander grinned. “You like keeping the door cracked open.”

“Always. Good night.”

Why was that? he wondered when she drove away. What was it she needed to be ready to run from?

Yeah, she made it hard not to ask questions.


Creatively, her week sucked. She had to move her workstation from the bedroom into one of the guest rooms—at least she could try it out as her potential studio—as they wanted to demo her bathroom. And since they were doing that, Kevin opted to have them demo all but one of the other baths on the bedroom floor.

The noise, even with earbuds in and music blaring, was horrendous.

She considered moving downstairs, but the painters held court in the living room, with the library next on the slate. She’d end up playing musical workstations, so she tried her best to stick it out.

By midweek she gave up and drove into the national forest with the intent of hiking with camera and dog.

Fresh air, a dry, sunny day, and lovely green-tinged light whipped annoyance away. She wished she’d brought her laptop, as she’d have found a handy stump, sat right down, and done her updates in the serenity of the forest.

She walked—the leash fixed to her belt, as Tag tolerated it now—through a stand of trees that looked as if they’d stood since time began. Towering columns with branches lifted to catch the sea of wind and send dapples and rays of filtered sun to the forest floor.

Wildflowers danced there through fans of young ferns, around moss-carpeted rocks. Snow-white trillium like fairy brides, and calypso orchids their colorful slippers.

She thought about taking a few days, camping out. How would the dog deal with that, now that she had a dog to consider? Two or three days, on her own again, away from the noise she’d brought on herself.

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