The Obsession Page 58


No question Tag enjoyed the forest, puffing himself up by threatening squirrels or prancing along beside her. He even sat patiently enough when she paused to take pictures, no matter how long she took.

“It could be fun. Just you and me, and all this.”

As they meandered she began to think getting a dog—or being got by one—had been a fine idea after all.

A couple of hikers came her way, leading a handsome little beagle. Before she could give them the fellow-hiker nod of greeting, Tag let out a yip of terror and literally leaped into her arms. And knocked her flat.

The hikers—a couple of guys up from Portland for a few days—rushed to her aid. But the friendly and harmless beagle only had Tag squirming on top of her as if he could worm his way straight through and under her where it would be safe.

Since her camera was cushioned between her body and the dog’s, no damage done. But she’d seen stars—and felt their sharp little points in her ass.

“You’re a disgrace,” she told the dog as she walked stiffly back to the car. “Definitely no camping for you. A teacup poodle might come along and try to rip you to pieces.”

Tag crawled into the back, hung his head, and said nothing.

Since her butt ached, she tried the seat warmer on low and found that it soothed her considerably on the drive back. And with relief she saw only Kevin’s truck in front of the house.

He walked out as she gingerly eased out of the car.

“Hey! I just left you a note. We made some good progress today. How was the hike?”

She watched Tag rush over to greet Molly like a long-lost friend.

“He’s fine with her.”


“If there’s a cat or a Pom or Pekinese, whatever, in the vet, he shakes like he’s walking into the seventh circle of hell. He runs at squirrels, or barks at them, but we ran into a couple of guys with a damn beagle on the trail, and he freaked. Jumped on me, knocked me flat.”

“You okay?”

Automatically she rubbed her sore ass. “It rang my bell, I’ll tell you that, and he’s all but clawing me open to climb inside, away from the terrifying beagle who licked at my limp hand in sympathy.”

To her shock, Kevin stepped straight up and started running his hands over her head. “You’ve got a little bump. I can run you to the ER.”

“It’s just bumps and bruises. And extreme pissed-off.”

He cupped her chin, looked hard into her eyes, and did something she thought no one could at that moment. He made her smile.

“Bumps and bruises only, Dr. Banner.”


“No. Ass ache.”

“Ice bag, warm bath, a couple of Motrin. That’ll be two hundred dollars.”

“Put it on my account, because that’s exactly what I’m going to do.”

“A good dinner you don’t have to cook over at Xander’s should polish it off.”

“I . . . It’s Wednesday.”

“All day, half the night. You take it easy,” he added, giving her a gentle poke. “And I know it looks torn up in there, but it’s good progress. Tell Xander I’ll see him tomorrow at Loo’s.”

“Right.” Fuck, fuck, fuck. She started in as Kevin got into his truck.

She had a perfect excuse—reason, she corrected—to cancel dinner at Xander’s. Sore, cranky, out of sorts—all for good reason, she thought, and headed straight back for that ice pack.

Then she turned straight around and walked back to stand and stare at the living room.

The painting wasn’t finished—as the ladders and drop cloths attested—and she could see where touch-up was needed.

But oh, it was going to be just lovely.

She’d gone back and forth, around and around on color, and had worried the soft taupe would come off as dull and boring.

It didn’t.

Settled, she thought. For some reason the tone said settled to her.

“I keep thinking I’ve made a mistake with this place.” Sighing, she laid her hand on Tag’s head as he leaned against her leg. “Then I see the next step or stage, and know I haven’t.”

She looked down, smiled. Then narrowed her eyes. “I’m mad at you,” she reminded them both, and went back for the ice bag.

She argued with herself as she soaked her aching butt in the ugly baby blue tub in the single bathroom left to her upstairs. She could call off dinner without a qualm. She’d had an incident.

But calling it off tonight really equaled postponing.

Better to do it—get it done—and work on a way to shift whatever this was with Xander into the kind of friendship she had with Kevin.

The kind where being touched made her smile instead of tense.

And that, she admitted, would never happen.

Too much heat.

She got out of the tub, pleased the ache had lessened—and displeased to see she had a palm-sized bruise on her posterior.

She opted for leggings—softer on the ass—and a pale gray hooded sweater. She considered skipping makeup altogether but deemed it too obvious, so she kept a very light hand with it.

At quarter to seven she started out—though she felt Tag didn’t deserve a second outing. Then she walked back in and grabbed a bottle of wine.

It wasn’t a strawberry torte, but she’d been raised too well to go empty- handed.

She made the drive easily, then let the dog out but gave him the cold shoulder. As instructed, she took the steps up and rapped a knuckle on the door.

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