The Obsession Page 87

The dog smelled of the rain that had dripped from wet trees, of wet ground, of good, wet dog. She used it to keep centered. As long as she had the dog, right here, she could get through it.

When she heard them coming, she drew more breaths, then got to her feet. “I’m here,” she called out.

The chief broke through the trees first, followed by a uniformed deputy carrying a case. Then another with a camera strapped around his neck.

She couldn’t see their eyes behind their sunglasses.

“She’s over there.”

His head turned. She heard him let out a breath of his own before he looked back at her. “I need you to wait here.”

“Yes, I can wait here.”

She sat again—her legs still weren’t altogether steady—and looked out to the water, to its sparkling beauty. After a time, Tag relaxed enough to sit down, lean against her.

She heard someone coming, too fast for safety on the steep, muddy track. Tag sprang up again, wagged everywhere in happy hello.

“They want me to wait here,” she told Xander.

He knelt down beside her, pulled her in.

She could have broken then—oh, it would have been so easy to break. And so weak.

He eased back, skimmed a hand over her face. “I’m going to take you up to the house.”

“I’m supposed to wait.”

“Fuck that. They can talk to you up at the house.”

“I’d rather do it here. I’d rather not bring this into the house until I have to. I shouldn’t have called you.”


“I called before I . . .”

She trailed off as the chief walked back to them. “Xander.”

“I called him after I called you. I was pretty shaky.”


“I . . . I’m sorry, the dog . . . I didn’t see her at first. I was taking pictures, and I didn’t see her. He had a shoe—her shoe, I think. I just thought . . . I’m sorry, I know we weren’t supposed to touch anything, but I didn’t see her at first.”

“Don’t you worry about that. You came down to take pictures?”

“Yes. I often do. I—we—I mean the dog and I walked from the house, through the forest. I spent some time in there getting photos, but I wanted to take some here. After the rain. There was a boat with a red sail, and Tag had the shoe. A woman’s pink heel. I don’t know what he did with it.”

Sam took the water bottle out of her jacket pocket, handed it to her. “You have a little water now, honey.”

“All right.”

“You didn’t see anybody else?”

“No. He kept barking, and whining, but I didn’t pay any attention because I wanted the shot. Then I yelled at him, and turned. And I saw her. I went a little closer, to be sure. And I could see . . . So I called the police. I called you, and I called Xander.”

“I want to take her up to the house. I want to take her away from here.”

“You do that.” Sam gave Naomi’s shoulder a light rub. “You go on home now. I’m going to check in with you before I go.”

Xander took her hand, kept it firm in his as they started up the track. She didn’t speak until they were in the trees.

“I hurt her.”


“I hurt her on Friday night, at the bar. I meant to. And she walked out of there with her wrist aching, her pride ripped up, and her temper leading her. Otherwise, she’d have left with her friend.”

“I looked at you instead of her. You want me to feel guilty about that, to try to work some blame up because it was you, not her? This isn’t about you and me, Naomi. It’s about the son of a bitch who did this to her.”

It was the tone as much as the words that snapped her back. The raw impatience with anger bubbling beneath.

“You’re right. Maybe that’s why I needed to call you. I wouldn’t get endless there-theres and poor Naomis from you. That sort of thing just makes it all worse. And it’s not about me.”

“Finding her’s about you. Having to see that’s about you. You don’t want any poor Naomis, I’ll keep them to myself, but goddamn I wish you’d gone anywhere else to take pictures this morning.”

“So do I. We sat right out on the deck earlier. And she was down there. She had to have already been there.” She took a breath. “Does she have family?”

“Her mother lives in town. Her father left I don’t know how many years ago. She has a brother in the navy, joined up right out of high school. A couple years ahead of me. I didn’t know him really. And she has Chip. This is going to flatten him.”

“They don’t care about that.”


“Killers. They don’t care about any of that, they don’t think about all the other lives they rip apart. He strangled her. I could see the bruising, her throat. He dumped her clothes near her. I think she was wearing those pink heels on Friday night. I think she was. She must’ve been with him since then, since she left the bar.”

He wanted to pick her up, just lift her up and carry her back to the house. Instead, he kept a solid grip on her hand.

“There’s no point in telling you not to think about it, so I’ll say yeah, it’s most likely he took her after she left the bar. We don’t know what happened after that. They’ve got ways to figure out if she was killed there or somewhere else and dumped there.”

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