The Obsession Page 86

After an hour she nearly headed back, left the shoreline for another day. But she wanted the sparkle of sun on the water after the misty damp of the forest. She wanted the deeper, rougher green of those knuckles of land, the strong gray of rock against the blues.

Another hour, she decided, and then she’d pack it up, run her errands.

Thrilled to be off the leash, Tag raced ahead. She turned onto the bluff trail, one he knew well now. He barked, danced in place whenever she stopped to take other pictures.

“Don’t rush me.” But she could smell the water now, too, and quickened her pace.

The trail angled down, and proved muddy enough from the rains that she had to slow again. Considering the mud, she realized she’d now have to wash the damn dog before running into town.

“Didn’t think of that, did you?” she muttered, and used handy branches to support herself on the slick dirt.

All worth it. Worth it all in that one moment when the water and pockets of land opened up through the trees.

She balanced herself, risked a spill to get shots of the view through low-hanging branches with their fernlike needles.

Down below it would be bright, sparkling, but here, with the angle, the fan of branches, the inlet looked mysterious. Like a secret revealed through a magic door.

Satisfied, she picked her way down to where the dog barked like a maniac.

“Leave the birds alone! I want the birds.”

She scraped her muddy boots on rippling rock, climbed over them. Caught the diamond glint she’d hoped for, and happily, just beyond the channel, a boat with red sails.

She blocked out the dog barking until she got what she wanted, until the red sails eased into frame. When he raced back to her, she ignored him, took a long shot of the inlet, of the twin forks of water drifting by the floating hump of green.

“Look, if you’re going to tag along, you just have to wait until I’m done before— What have you got? Where did you get that?”

He stood, tail ticking, and a shoe in his mouth.

A woman’s shoe, she noted, open toed, long skinny heel in cotton-candy pink.

“You’re not taking that home. You can just forget about that.”

When he dropped it at her feet, she stepped around it. “And I’m not touching it.”

As she picked her way down, he grabbed up the shoe, raced ahead again.

She stepped down onto the coarse sand, the bumpy cobbles of the narrow strip. Tag sent up a fierce spate of barking, a series of high-pitched whines that had her spinning around to snap at him.

“Cut it out! What’s wrong with you this morning?”

She lowered her camera with hands gone to ice.

The dog stood at the base of the bluff, barking at something sprawled on the skinny swatch of sand. She made herself walk closer until her legs began to tremble, until the weight fell on her chest.

She went down to her knees, fighting for breath, staring at the body.

Marla Roth lay, wrists bound, her hands outstretched as though reaching for something she’d never hold.

The bright, sparkling light went gray; the air filled with a roar, a wild, high wave.

Then the dog licked her face, whined, tried to nose his head under her limp hand. The weight eased, left a terrible ache in its place.

“Okay. Okay. Stay here.” Her hands shook as she unlooped his leash, clipped it on him. “Stay with me. God, oh God. Just hold on. Can’t be sick. Won’t be sick.”

Setting her teeth, she pulled out her phone.

She didn’t want to stay; she couldn’t leave. It didn’t matter that the police had told her to stay where she was, to touch nothing. She could have ignored that. But she couldn’t leave Marla alone.

But she went back to the rocks, climbed up enough to sit so the air could wash over her clammy face. The dog paced, tugged on the leash, barked until she hooked an arm around him, pulled him down to sit beside her.

It calmed them both, at least a little. Calmed her enough that she realized she could do the one other thing she wanted. She took out her phone again, called Xander.

“Hey.” His voice pitched over loud music, noisy machines.


It only took one word, the sound in her voice on a single word, to have his stomach knotting.

“What happened? Are you hurt? Where are you?”

“I’m not hurt. I’m down below the bluff. I . . . It’s Marla. She’s . . . I called the police. I found her. I called the police, and they’re coming.”

“I’m on my way. Call Kevin. He can get down there faster, but I’m coming now.”

“It’s all right. I’m all right. I can wait. I can hear the sirens. I can already hear them.”

“Ten minutes.” Though he hated to, he ended the call, jammed the phone in his pocket, swung a leg over his bike.

On the rock, Naomi stared at the phone before remembering to put it away. Not in shock, she thought—she remembered how it felt to go into shock. Just a little dazed, a little out of herself.

“We have to wait,” she told the dog. “They have to get down the trail, so we have to wait. Someone hurt her. They hurt her, and they must have raped her. They took her clothes off. Her shoes.”

She swallowed hard, pressed her face against Tag’s fur.

“And they hurt her. You can see her throat. The bruises around her throat. I know what that means, I know what that means.”

The panic wanted to rear back, but she bore down, forced herself to take careful breaths. “Not going to break.”

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