The obsession, p.38
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       The Obsession, p.38

           Nora Roberts

  “I missed you, too.” Beaming right back, Mason held her a few inches away. “You have a house. And a dog.”

  “Crazy, isn’t it?”

  “It’s a hell of a house. Great dog. And you’ve got . . . a mechanic.”

  “A . . . oh.” She laughed, gave Mason another squeeze. “Xander, this is my brother, Mason.”

  “Yeah, we met outside. I’m going for coffee.”

  “I’ll get it. I’ll show you the house,” she said to Mason. “We’ll start with the kitchen. Right now it’s the best part.”

  “It’s a big house.”

  “With plenty of room for you and Seth and Harry to visit. And I’ve talked Gram and Pop into coming out, at least by the fall. Your rooms aren’t finished yet, but we’ll figure something out. How long can you stay?”


  “Have you eaten?”

  “Had a bagel on the ferry.”

  “We can do better than that. The ferry? Where’d you come from? I thought you were in New York.”

  He made another noncommittal sound, one that put Xander on alert. It didn’t bump against Naomi’s delight, not yet. And Xander changed his mind about getting a coffee to go, and leaving the siblings to themselves for a while.

  He’d stick around.

  “I set up a FaceTime with the uncles for later today. They didn’t say a thing about you being out here.”

  “I had to come to Seattle.” Mason stopped, looked over the kitchen space, out to the view. “Wow. Nome, this is amazing.”

  “I really love it. Xander, maybe you could take Mason out on the deck. I’ll bring coffee.”


  “Sweet,” was Mason’s opinion when Xander opened the accordion doors. “Yeah, this would grab her. The first time she saw the ocean, she fell for it. I always expected her to end up on the East Coast, but yeah, she’d fall for this. How long have you been sleeping with my sister?”

  “That’s a conversation you should have with her first, then we can have one. No problem. The quick one we should have now, before she comes out, is why you’re here. Because it’s not just a surprise visit to your sister. You’ve got business here. She doesn’t see it,” Xander added, “because she only sees you.”

  “I have a meeting with your chief of police in about an hour.”

  “If you’ve come to talk to him about Marla, is that FBI or the brother who’s FBI?”

  “My supervisor signed off on it. You knew her, Marla Roth.”


  “Do you know Donna Lanier?”

  A cold blade sliced into Xander’s belly. “Yeah. What happened to her?”

  “I don’t know, yet, that anything has. I’d appreciate it if you’d let me get to this with Naomi in my own time.”

  She came out with three white mugs on a tray. “How about waffles? I bought a waffle iron,” she told Xander. “We can have an early Sunday brunch, and toast the uncles. No champagne, but I’ve got OJ.”

  “Coffee works for now. Relax.” Smoothly, Mason put an arm around her shoulder, rubbed the top of her arm. “You must have taken a million pictures right from this spot.”

  “It might be two million. And the town’s a charmer. We’ll have to take you through it. We could rent kayaks. I’ve been dying to. Xander, why haven’t we rented kayaks?”

  “Why would I want to sit in a hole in a boat with a paddle?”

  “It’s a whole new perspective.”

  “I like this one fine.”

  “For those who prefer land, there’s plenty of hiking. You didn’t say how long you can stay.”

  “I’m not sure yet. Seth and Harry are coming out.”

  “What? When? Today?”

  “No, jeez, not today.” Amused, Mason sipped his coffee. “They’re probably going to spring it on you when you call later. A couple of weeks maybe—they’re working on it.”

  “God, I have to get beds. And champagne. And serious supplies. If you think I can cook,” she said to Xander, “wait until Harry makes a meal.” Obviously buoyant, she jumped back to Mason. “Do you think you can put in for some time off so you can be here, too?”

  “I’ll look into it.”

  Sipping his own coffee, Xander saw it start to get through, when some instinct, some tone, maybe some body language told her something was off.

  “Is something wrong?” The moment she asked, she went pale. “Oh God, Harry and Seth. Is something wrong? Is one of them sick?”

  “No. No, they’re both fine.”

  “Then what? It’s something. You . . . you didn’t tell me you were coming,” she said, stepping back to look at him more keenly. “You aren’t telling me how long you’ll be here. You aren’t telling me something else.”

  “Why don’t we sit down?”

  “Don’t do that. Just be straight with me. Is this about Marla Roth? Are you here about the murder?”

  “When someone’s murdered near my sister, and my sister finds the body, I take an interest.”

  “So you’re here to talk to Chief Winston.”

  “I’m here to see you, and to talk to Chief Winston.”

  “Okay.” Though some of the shine dimmed, she nodded. “I’m sure he’ll appreciate the assistance. You don’t have to circle around telling me something like that, Mason. I know what you do.”

  “It’s not just that. Another woman’s missing. Another local woman.”

  “What? Who? When did— Did you know about this?” She whirled on Xander.

  “No, and simmer down. Missing for how long?”

  “Donna Lanier closed Rinaldo’s restaurant at approximately eleven forty-five Friday night. She was the last to leave, and was last seen by two other employees, who left about the same time. According to statements, she was supposed to drive to Olympia to spend the weekend with her sister and a cousin. Her car’s still in the lot, and she never met her sister and cousin or contacted them.”

  “She could have changed her mind,” Naomi began.

  “Her suitcase is in the back of her car. She’d planned to drive straight there after her shift. She hasn’t been seen or heard from since eleven forty-five on Friday, she hasn’t used a credit card, sent a text, made a call.”

  “Donna. She’s the brunette?” Though she’d gone pale, Naomi’s voice stayed steady when she turned to Xander. “Early forties, round, cheerful face?”

  “Yeah. She and Loo are tight. Go back to high school together. You think whoever killed Marla wasn’t passing through, didn’t just grab her up because he saw an opportunity. You think whoever did that has Donna.”

  “I think it’s a strong possibility.”

  “She calls everyone sweetie.” Slowly, Naomi lowered to a chair. “I noticed that when I first moved here, and I’d go in for takeout, she’d say, ‘I’ll get that right out for you, sweetie.’ Or ‘How are you doing tonight, sweetie?’”

  “She has a kid in college. She raised her mostly on her own. Divorced, no interest from him in the kid. She has a daughter away at college.”

  “I’m sorry.” Naomi rose again, went to Xander. “You’ve known her all your life. I’m sorry.”

  “I’ve never known her to hurt anybody. She’s nothing like Marla. Don’t they go for a type? She’s fifteen years older, brunette, settled, steady—and not the sort who’d catch your eye like Marla.”

  “I need to talk to your chief of police, get more information.”

  “How do you even know about it?” Naomi demanded.

  “I contacted Winston after Marla Roth. Did you think I wouldn’t hear about it, Naomi? Christ, I’m a federal agent, I’m going to hear about it when my sister finds a body in her goddamn backyard.”

  “It wasn’t, and you’re taking that tone with me to block me from taking one with you. I didn’t tell you because there wasn’t a point. I didn’t want to worry you or the uncles. Is that why they’re coming out here?”

  “I haven’t said anything to them about this. Yet.”

  Mason let
the last word hang a moment.

  “I talked to Winston about Roth, gave him my contact information, asked him to let me know if anything else came up. It came up.”

  “If you two want to snipe at each other about it, I’ll stay out of the way.” Xander shrugged. “But it’s pretty pointless on both sides. I’m getting more coffee.”

  “You could have told me you’d called the chief, told me you’d come here to talk to him.”

  “You could’ve told me you found a dead body.”

  “Next time I find one, you’ll be the first.”

  “Don’t joke about it, Naomi.”

  “Oh, I’m not.” She closed her eyes. “I’m not. I’m sick at the thought of it. I don’t know how you do what you do. I know why, I understand why you chose to do what you do, but I don’t know how you face it. Day after day, how you stand being faced with it. I’ve done everything I could to cut all of it out of my life, to put up walls. And you do the opposite. I can be proud of you, and I am, and still wonder how you stand it.”

  “Doing this is how I stand it. We can talk about this when we’re alone, and when I have more time.”

  “Chief Winston knows who we are. He ran me after I found the body.”

  “Yeah, I figured as much.”

  “Xander knows. I told him.”

  “You—” Stunned, Mason stared at his sister, then Xander when Xander stepped back out. “Is that right?”

  “Yes, so you don’t have to worry about what you say.”

  “I can’t say much more of anything because I need to go meet Winston. I’ll be back.” Mason took Naomi’s shoulders. “I’ll be back after I meet with him. You can show me the house, what you’ve been working on.”

  “All right.”

  He kissed her forehead, stepped back. “I’ll be back,” he said to Xander.

  As Mason left, Xander sat on the glider. “Can we just sit here for a minute?”

  “I should—”

  “I need it. I have to hope this isn’t happening to her. She’s one of the best people I know, and she and Loo . . . I need to call Loo. She’d have heard. We’d have heard most likely but we had the out-of-town gig. She’ll need to talk to me, but I need to sit for a minute first.”

  Naomi went over, lowered to the glider beside him, took his hand. “We’ll just sit here, then you should go see her. It’s better if you go see her than call.”

  “You’re right, but I’m not leaving you here alone. Not until we know what the hell’s happening.”

  Not the time to argue, she decided. “I’ll go with you. I’ll text Mason so he knows, and go with you.”


  Mason’s impression of Sunrise Cove jibed with Naomi’s. It had charm, and its situation on the water added considerable appeal. He’d have enjoyed a few days downtime there, maybe renting some Jet-Skis, or that kayak his sister seemed so keen on.

  He couldn’t see making it his base, as Naomi was. He liked the city, where anything and everything could and did happen. He needed a quick pace, one that kept up with his own.

  But then she preferred the quiet, prized her solitude. He needed movement, conversation, needed to be part of a team. Work drove them both—hers in art and imagery, capturing moments and making them speak. His in behavior, in rules, in an endless quest to find out why.

  Compensations, he knew very well, for both of them, constantly on some level trying to weigh the scale against what they’d come from.

  She tried, often too hard in his opinion, to erase it, to shove it away. And he couldn’t stop studying it, aiming his life toward the pursuit of those, like his father, who lived to destroy, and found their only real pleasure in that destruction.

  He didn’t know what to think about Xander Keaton or Naomi’s relationship with him. Yet. He’d study that as well.

  The fact she’d told Keaton about Bowes indicated she’d formed a serious and he wanted to believe healthy attachment—something she’d avoided and denied herself all her life outside of their tight little family.

  As for Keaton . . . on first impression Mason would tag him with one of Harry’s terms. A cool customer. But he’d already observed a number of tells. The way he’d ranged himself in front of the house—with Naomi inside—before Mason had identified himself, the firm but casual order for her to “simmer down,” and the fact that he’d told Mason to talk to Naomi when Mason had asked about sex.

  Initial analysis? Mason thought as he parked in the tiny lot beside the station house. A confident man, and one who’d protect his sister. He could and would be grateful for that, for now.

  And like any self-respecting brother who was also a federal agent, he’d run him.

  Mason rounded to the front, noted the station had a small front porch, recently painted and swept clean as a parlor.

  When he stepped inside, he had that instant déjà vu he experienced any time he went into a small-town cop shop.

  Had Naomi been in here? he wondered. Would she see the similarities to Pine Meadows? Of course she would. Not the same, of course, not a mirror image, and the basic tools and equipment had advanced in the seventeen years since his father’s arrest.

  But the setup struck so similar, the tone. The smell of coffee and baked goods, plastic chairs, a trio of desks in what served as both a kind of lobby and the bull pen.

  A uniformed deputy sat at one of the desks, gave Mason the eye.

  “Help you?”

  You already know who I am, why I’m here, Mason calculated. And don’t like the idea of an outsider, especially a federal one, horning into town business.

  The reaction was nothing new.

  “Yes. Special Agent Mason Carson. I have a meeting with Chief Winston.”

  The deputy leaned back in his chair, sized Mason up with a faint sneer that clearly read fuck you. “Have you got identification?”

  Even as Mason reached for it, a man came out of the back holding a big blue mug that read CHIEF. “Mike, you climb up any higher on that horse, you’re going to get a nosebleed.” Sam stepped forward, hand extended. “Sam Winston. Pleased to meet you, Agent Carson.”

  “I appreciate the time, Chief.”

  “Come on back. You want some coffee? It’s not half-bad coffee.”

  “I just had some at my sister’s, but thanks.”

  They stepped into an office with a window at the back. The wide sill held a scatter of trophies, some framed photos, and a wildly thriving philodendron.

  The desk sat on the side wall, giving the Cove’s chief views out the window and to the door. Two visitor’s chairs—straight backs, no-nonsense—angled toward it.

  “Have a seat.”

  Sam took the chair behind the desk that looked as though it had stood in that spot for a couple generations.

  “I’m going to tell you straight off, we haven’t got line one on Donna Lanier. Her sister, her daughter, and her cousin are all on their way here. No stopping them. Her car was locked, and we found the keys on the ground, just under it. It’s clear whatever happened to her started in that parking lot.”

  Mason only nodded. “I’d like to see the lot, and her residence, if possible.”

  “We’ll do that.”

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