"And then what happened?" Jeb Blake leaned over his cup of coffee, speaking in a raspy voice. Nearly seventy, he was lean and tall-almost too thin-and his face was deeply wrinkled. The thinning hair on his head was almost white, and his Adam's apple protruded from his neck like a small prune. His arms were tattooed and scarred, covered with sun spots, and the knuckles on his hands were permanently swollen from years of wear and tear as a shrimper. If not for his eyes, a person would think he was frail and sick when looking at him, but in truth he was far from it. He still worked almost every day, though only part-time now, always leaving the house before daybreak and returning around noon. "Nothing happened. She got into her car and drove away." Rolling the first of the dozen cigarettes he would smoke a day, Jeb Blake stared at his son. For years his doctor told him he was killing himself by smoking, but because the doctor died of a heart attack at sixty, his father didn't put much faith in medical advice. As it was, Garrett assumed the old man would probably outlive him as well. "Well, that's kind of a waste, isn't it?" Garrett was surprised by his bluntness. "No, Dad, it wasn't a waste. I had a good time last night. She was easy to talk to, and I enjoyed her company." "But you're not going to see her again." Garrett took a drink of coffee and shook his head. "I doubt it. Like I said, she's here on vacation." "For how long?" "I don't know. I didn't ask." "Why not?" Garrett reached for another packet of cream and added it to his coffee. "Why are you so interested, anyway? I went out sailing with someone and had a good time. There's not much more I can say about it." "Sure there is." "Like what?" "Like whether you enjoyed your date enough to start seeing other people again." Garrett stirred his coffee thinking, So that was it. Though he'd grown used to his father's interrogations over the years, he wasn't in the mood to cover old ground this morning. "Dad, we've gone over this before." "I know, but I'm worried about you. You spend too much time alone these days." "No, I don't." "Yes," his father said with surprising softness, "you do." "I don't want to argue about it, Dad." "I don't, either. I've already tried that, and it doesn't work." He smiled. After a moment of silence, Jeb Blake tried another approach. "So, what was she like?" Garrett thought for a moment. Despite himself, he'd thought about her for a long time before finally turning in for the night. "Theresa? She's attractive and intelligent. Very charming, too, in her own way." "Is she single?" "I think so. She's divorced, and I don't think she would have come along if she were seeing someone else." Jeb studied his son's expression carefully as Garrett answered. When he finished, he leaned over his coffee again. "You liked her, didn't you." Looking his father in the eyes, Garrett knew he couldn't hide the truth. "Yeah, I did. But like I said, I probably won't see her again. I don't know where she's staying, and for all I know, she could be leaving town today." His father watched him in silence for a moment before asking the next question carefully. "But if she were still here and you knew where she was, do you think you would?" Garrett looked away without answering, and Jeb reached across the table, taking his son's arm. Even at seventy his hands were strong, and Garrett felt him applying just enough pressure to get his attention. "Son, it's been three years now. I know you loved her, but it's okay to let it go now. You know that, don't you? You've got to be able to let it go." It took a moment for him to answer. "I know, Dad. But it's not that easy." "Nothing that's worthwhile is ever easy. Remember that." A few minutes later they finished their coffee. Garrett tossed a couple of dollars onto the table and followed his father out of the diner, toward his truck in the parking lot. When Garrett finally got to the shop, a dozen different things were going through his head. Unable to concentrate on the paperwork he needed to do, he decided to go back to the docks to finish working on the engine he had started repairing the day before. Though he definitely had to spend some time in the shop today, at the moment he needed to be alone. * * * Garrett pulled his toolbox from the back of his truck and carried it to the boat he used when he taught scuba diving. An older Boston Whaler, it was large enough to carry up to eight students and the necessary gear needed for underwater dives. Working on the engine was time-consuming but not difficult, and he'd made good headway the day before. As he removed the engine casing, he thought about the conversation he'd had with his father. He'd been right, of course. There wasn't any reason to continue feeling the way he did, but-as God was his witness-he didn't know how to stop it. Catherine had meant everything to him. All she'd had to do was look at him and he'd feel as if everything were suddenly right in the world. And when she smiled . . . Lord, that was something he'd never been able to find in anyone else. To have something like that taken away . . . it just wasn't fair. And more than that, it just seemed wrong. Why her, of all people? And why him? For months he had lain awake at night, asking himself "What if." What if she'd waited an extra second before crossing the street? What if they had lingered at breakfast for another few minutes? What if he'd gone with her that morning instead of going straight to the shop? A thousand what ifs, and he was no closer to understanding the whole thing than he had been when it first happened. Trying to clear his mind, he concentrated on the task at hand. He removed the bolts that held the carburetor in place and removed it from the engine. Carefully he began to take it apart, making sure nothing was too worn inside. He didn't think that this was the source of the problem, though he wanted a closer look just to make sure. The sun rose overhead as he worked steadily, and he found himself wiping the sweat as it formed on his forehead. Yesterday at about this time, he remembered, he'd watched as Theresa walked down the docks toward Happenstance. He'd noticed her right away, if for no other reason than she was alone. Women who looked as she did almost never came down to the docks alone. Usually they were accompanied by wealthy, older gentlemen who owned the yachts that were moored on the other side of the marina. When she stopped at his boat, he'd been surprised, though he'd expected her to pause for only a moment before moving on to her final destination. That's what most people usually did. But after watching her for a little while, he realized that she had come to the docks to see Happenstance, and the way she kept pacing around made it seem as if she were there for something else as well. His curiosity aroused, he'd gone over to speak with her. At the time, he didn't notice it, but when he was closing up the boat later in the evening, he realized there was something odd in the way she had first looked at him. It was almost as if she recognized something about him that he usually kept buried deep within himself. More than that, it was as if she knew more about him than she was willing to admit. He shook his head then, knowing that didn't make any sense. She said she'd read the articles in the shop-maybe that's where the strange look came from. He thought about it, finally deciding that had to be the case. He knew he'd never met her before-he would have remembered something like that-and besides, she was vacationing from Boston. It was the only plausible explanation he could come up with, but even now there was some thing that didn't sit quite right about the whole situation. Not that it mattered. They'd gone sailing, enjoyed each other's company, and said good-bye. That was the end of it. As he'd told his father, he couldn't reach her again even if he wanted to. Right now she was probably on her way back to Boston, or she would be in a few days, and he had a hundred things to do this week. Summer was a popular season for diving classes, and he was booked up every weekend until late August. He had neither the time nor the energy to call every hotel in Wilmington to find her, and even if he did, what would he say? What could he say that wouldn't sound ridiculous? With these questions rolling through his mind, he worked on the engine. After finding and replacing a leaking clamp, he reinstalled the carburetor and the engine casing and cranked the motor. The engine sounding much better, he freed the boat from its lines and took the Boston Whaler out for forty minutes. He ran it through a series of speeds, started and stopped the engine more than once, and when satisfied, returned the boat to its slip. Pleased that it had taken less time than he'd thought it would, he collected his tools, returned them to his truck, and drove the couple of blocks to Island Diving. As usual, there were papers stacked in the in-box on his desk, and he took a moment to review them. Most were order forms, already filled out, for items that were needed in the shop. There were a few bills as well, and settling himself in his chair, he worked quickly through the stack. Just before eleven, he finished most of what he needed to do and headed toward the front of the shop. Ian, one of his summertime employees, was on the phone when Garrett walked up and handed him three slips of paper. The first two were from distributors, and from the short messages scrawled, it seemed likely there had been a mix-up with some of the orders they had placed recently. Another thing to take care of, he thought, starting back toward the office. He read the third message as he was walking and stopped when he realized who it was from. Making sure it wasn't a mistake, he entered his office and closed the door behind him. He dialed the number and asked for the proper extension. Theresa Osborne was reading the paper when the phone rang and picked up on the second ring. "Hey, Theresa, this is Garrett. There's a message here that you called." She sounded pleased to hear from him. "Oh, hi, Garrett. Thanks for returning my call. How are you?" Hearing her voice brought back memories of the evening before. Smiling to himself, he imagined what she looked like as she sat in her hotel room. "I'm fine, thanks. I was just going through some paperwork and I got your message. What can I do for you?" "Well, I left my jacket on the boat last night and I was wondering if you found it." "I didn't, but I really wasn't looking that closely. Did you leave it in the cabin?" "I'm not sure." Garrett paused for a moment. "Well, let me run down there and take a look. I'll call you back and let you know whether I found it." "Is that too much trouble?" "Not at all. It should just take a few minutes. Will you be there for a little while?" "I should be." "Okay, I'll call you right back." Garrett said good-bye and left the shop, walking quickly back to the marina. After stepping aboard Happenstance, he unlocked the cabin and went below. Not finding the jacket, he turned and glanced up the deck, finally spotting it near the stern, partially hidden under one of the seat cushions. He picked it up, made sure it wasn't stained, then returned to the shop. In his office again, he dialed the number written on the slip. This time Theresa picked up on the first ring. "This is Garrett again. I found your jacket." She sounded relieved. "Thanks. I appreciate your looking for it." "It wasn't a problem at all." She was quiet for a moment, as if deciding what to do. Finally: "Could you hold it for me? I can be down at your shop in about twenty minutes to pick it up." "I'd be glad to," he answered. After hanging up the phone, he leaned back in his chair, thinking about what had just happened. She hasn't left town yet, he thought, and I'm going to get to see her again. Though he couldn't understand how she could have forgotten her jacket since she'd brought only a couple of things with her, one thing had just made itself abundantly clear: he was definitely glad it had happened. Not, of course, that it mattered. * * * Theresa arrived twenty minutes later, dressed in shorts and a low-necked sleeveless blouse that did wonderful things for her figure. When she entered the shop, both Ian and Garrett stared at her as she glanced around. Finally spotting him, she smiled and called out, "Hi," from where she was standing, and Ian raised his eyebrow at Garrett, as if to ask "What haven't you been telling me?" Garrett ignored the expression and moved toward Theresa with her jacket in hand. He knew that Ian would scrutinize everything he did and badger him about it later, though he wasn't planning on saying anything. "Good as new," he said, offering it to her when she stepped close enough to take it. While she was on her way, Garrett had washed the grease off his hands and changed into one of the new T-shirts his store offered for sale. It wasn't spectacular, but it was better than the way he'd looked before. At least now he looked clean. "Thanks for picking it up for me," she said, and there was something in her eyes that made the initial attraction he'd felt the day before begin to rise again. Absently he scratched the side of his face. "I was glad to do it. I guess the wind must have forced it from plain view." "I guess so," she said with a slight shrug, and Garrett watched as she adjusted the shoulder of her blouse with her hand. He didn't know if she was in a hurry, and he wasn't sure he wanted her to leave yet. He said the first words that came to mind: "I had a good time last night." "So did I." Her eyes caught his as she said it, and Garrett smiled softly. He didn't know what else to say-it had been a long time since he'd been in a situation like this. Though he was always good with customers and strangers in general, this was completely different. He found himself shifting his weight from one leg to the other, feeling as if he were sixteen again. Finally it was she who spoke. "I feel like I owe you something for taking the time to do this." "Don't be ridiculous. You don't owe me anything." "Maybe not for picking up my jacket, but for last night as well." He shook his head. "Not for that, either. I was glad you came." I was glad you came. The words rolled through his head immediately after he spoke them. Two days ago he couldn't have imagined himself saying them to anyone. In the background the phone rang, and the sound of it broke him from his thoughts. Buying time, he asked: "Did you come all the way down here just for your jacket, or were you going to do a little sight-seeing as well?" "I hadn't really planned on that. It's about lunchtime, and I was going to get a quick bite to eat." She looked at him expectantly. "Any recommendations?" He thought for a moment before responding. "I like Hank's, down at the pier. The food is fresh, and the view is out of this world." "Where is it, exactly?" He motioned over his shoulder. "On Wrightsville Beach. You take the bridge over to the island and turn right. You can't miss it-just look for the signs to the pier. The restaurant is located right there." "What kind of food do they have?" "Mainly seafood. They have great shrimp and oysters, but if you want something other than seafood, they have burgers and things like that as well." She waited to see if he would add anything else, and when he didn't, she glanced away, looking toward the windows. Still she stood there, and for the second time in a couple of minutes, Garrett felt awkward in her presence. What was it about her that made him feel this way? Finally, gathering himself, he spoke. "If you'd like, I could show you the place. I'm getting kind of hungry myself, and I'd be happy to take you there if you want some company." She smiled. "I'd like that, Garrett." He looked relieved. "My truck is out back. Do you want me to drive?" "You know the way better than I do," she replied, and Garrett pointed the way, leading her through the shop and out the back door. Walking slightly behind him so that he couldn't see her expression, Theresa couldn't help but smile to herself. * * * Hank's had been in business since the pier was built and was frequented by locals and tourists alike. Low in ambience but high in character, it was similar to the pier restaurants they had on Cape Cod-wooden floors scraped and scuffed by years of sandy shoes, large windows offering a view of the Atlantic Ocean, pictures of trophy fish on the walls. Off to one side was a door that led to the kitchen, and Theresa saw plates of fresh seafood loaded on trays, carried by waiters and waitresses dressed in shorts and blue T-shirts emblazoned with the name of the restaurant. The tables and chairs were wooden, sturdy looking, and decorated by the carvings of hundreds of former visitors. It wasn't a place that required more than casual beachwear, and Theresa noticed that most of the people there looked as though they had been lying in the sun most of the morning. "Trust me," he said as they were walking to a table. "The food is great, no matter what this place looks like." They took their seats at a table near the corner, and Garrett pushed aside two bottles of beer that hadn't yet been cleared. The menus were stacked between a series of condiments including ketchup, Tabasco, tartar sauce, and cocktail sauce in squeeze bottles, as well as another sauce labeled simply "Hank's." Cheaply laminated, the menus looked as though they hadn't been replaced in years. Glancing around, Theresa saw that nearly every table was occupied. "It's crowded," she said, making herself comfortable. "It always is. Even before Wrightsville Beach got popular with tourists, this place was kind of a legend. You can't even get in here on Friday or Saturday nights, unless you're willing to wait for a couple of hours." "What's the draw?" "The food and the prices. Every morning Hank gets a load of fresh fish and shrimp, and you can usually get out of here without spending more than ten dollars, including the tip. And that's with a couple of beers." "How does he do it?" "Volume, I guess. Like I said, this place is always crowded." "Then we were lucky to get a table." "Yeah, we were. But we got here before the locals come in, and the beach crowd never lingers. They just pop in for a quick bite and head back out into the sun." She looked around the restaurant one last time before glancing at the menu. "So what do you recommend?" "Do you like seafood?" "I love it." "Then go with the tuna or the dolphin. They're both delicious." "Dolphin?" He laughed under his breath. "Not Flipper. It's dolphin-fish. That's what we call it around here." "I think I'll go with the tuna," she said with a wink, "just to make sure." "You think I'd make up something like that?" She spoke in a teasing voice. "I don't know what to think. We just met yesterday, remember. I don't know you well enough to be completely sure what you're capable of." "I'm hurt," he said in the same voice, and she laughed. He laughed, too, and after a moment she surprised him by reaching across the table and touching his arm briefly. Catherine, he suddenly realized, used to do the same thing to get his attention. "Look over there," she said, nodding toward the windows, and Garrett turned his head. On the pier an older man carried his fishing gear, looking completely normal except for the large parrot that was perched on his shoulder. Garrett shook his head and smiled, still feeling the remnants of her touch lingering on his arm. "We get all kinds around here. It's not quite California, but give us a few years." Theresa kept watching as the man with the bird wandered down the pier. "You should get yourself one of those to keep you company when you go sailing." "And ruin my peace and quiet? Knowing my luck, the thing wouldn't talk. It would just squawk the whole time and probably bite off part of my ear the first time the wind shifted." "But you'd look like a pirate." "I'd look like an idiot." "Oh, you're no fun," Theresa said with a mock frown. After a brief pause, she looked around. "So do they have anyone to serve you here, or do we have to catch and cook our own fish?" "Damn Yankees," he mumbled while shaking his head, and she laughed again, wondering if he was having as much fun as she was, knowing somehow that he probably was. A few moments later the waitress arrived and took their orders. Both Theresa and Garrett ordered beers, and after putting the order into the kitchen, the waitress brought two bottles to the table. "No glasses?" she asked with a raised eyebrow after the waitress had left. "Nope. This place is nothing if not classy." "I can see why you like it so much." "Is that a comment about my lack of taste?" "Only if you're insecure about it." "Now you sound like a psychiatrist." "I'm not, but I am a mother, and that makes me something of an expert in human nature." "Is that so?" "It's what I tell Kevin." Garrett took a sip of his beer. "Did you talk to him today?" She nodded and took a drink as well. "Just for a few minutes. He was on his way to Disneyland when I called. He had early morning passes, so he couldn't talk that long. He wanted to be one of the first in line at the Indiana Jones ride." "Is he having a good time with his father?" "He's having a great time. David's always been good with him, but I think he tries to make up for the fact that he doesn't see Kevin that often. Whenever Kevin goes out there, he expects something fun and exciting." Garrett looked at her curiously. "You sound like you're not so sure about it." She hesitated before continuing. "Well, I just hope it doesn't lead to disappointment later. David and his new wife have started a family, and as soon as the baby gets a little older, I think it's going to be a lot harder for David and Kevin to be alone together." Garrett leaned forward as he spoke. "It's impossible to protect your kids against disappointment in life." "I know that, I really do. It's just that . . ." She stopped, and Garrett gently finished her thoughts for her. "He's your son and you don't want to see him hurt." "Exactly." Beads of condensation had formed on the outside of her bottle of beer, and Theresa began to peel off the label. Again, it was the same thing Catherine used to do, and Garrett took another drink of beer and forced his mind back to the conversation at hand. "I don't know what to say except that if Kevin's anything like you, I'm sure he'll end up all right." "What do you mean?" He shrugged. "No one's life is easy-yours included. You've had some tough times, too. I think that by watching you overcome adversity, he'll learn how to do it as well." "Now you're the one sounding like a psychiatrist." "I'm just telling you what I learned growing up. I was about Kevin's age when my mom died of cancer. Watching my dad taught me that I had to go on with my life, no matter what happens." "Did your dad ever remarry?" "No," he said, shaking his head. "I think there were a few times that he wished he had, but he never got around to it." So that's where it comes from, she thought. Like father, like son. "Does he still live in town?" she asked. "Yeah, he does. I see him a lot these days. We try to get together at least once a week. He likes to keep me on the straight and narrow." She smiled. "Most parents do." * * * The food arrived a few minutes later, and they continued their conversation as they ate. This time Garrett spoke more than she did, telling her what it was like growing up in the South, and why he'd never leave given the choice. He also told her about some of the adventurous things that had happened while sailing or scuba diving. She listened, fascinated. Compared with the stories that the men told up in Boston-which usually focused on business accomplishments-his stories were completely new to her. He spoke about the thousands of different sea creatures he had seen on his dives and what it was like to sail through a storm that had come up unexpectedly and nearly capsized his boat. One time he'd even been chased by a hammerhead shark and was forced to take cover in the wreck he'd been exploring. "I almost ran out of air before I could come up," he said, shaking his head at the memory. Theresa watched him closely as he spoke, pleased that he had loosened up compared with the evening before. She still noticed the things she had last night-the lean face, his light blue eyes, and the easy way he moved. Yet there was energy in the way he spoke to her now, and she found the change appealing. No longer did he seem to be measuring every word he said. They finished their lunch-he was right, the food was delicious-and went through a second beer each as the ceiling fans whirred overhead. With the sun rising steadily in the sky, it was hot in the restaurant now, but no less crowded. After the bill arrived, Garrett put some money on the table and motioned for them to leave. "Are you ready?" "Whenever you are. And thanks for lunch. It was great." As they walked out the front door, she fully expected that Garrett would want to return to the shop right away, but he surprised her by suggesting something different. "How about a walk along the beach? It's usually a little cooler down by the water." When she said yes, he led her to the side of the pier and started down the steps, walking beside Theresa. The steps were slightly warped and thinly layered with sand, forcing them to hold the railings as they made their way down. Once they reached the beach, they turned toward the water, walking beneath the pier. The shade was refreshing in the midday heat, and when they reached the compact sand at the edge of the tide, both of them stopped for a moment to remove their shoes. All around them, families were crowded onto towels and splashing in the water. They began to walk in silence, strolling beside each other as Theresa looked around, taking in the sights. "Have you spent a lot of time on the beaches while you've been here?" Garrett asked. Theresa shook her head. "No. I only got here the day before yesterday. This is the first time I've been on the beach here." "How do you like it?" "It's beautiful." "Is it like the beaches up north?" "Some of them, but the water's a lot warmer here. Haven't you ever been to the coast up north?" "I've never been outside North Carolina." She smiled at him. "A real world traveler, huh?" He laughed under his breath. "No, but I don't feel like I'm missing that much. I like it here and couldn't imagine a prettier place. There's no place I'd rather be." After a few steps, he glanced at her and changed the subject: "So, how long are you staying in Wilmington?" "Until Sunday. I have to go back to work on Monday." Five more days, he thought. "Do you know anyone else in town?" "No. I came down here on my own." "Why?" "I just wanted to visit. I'd heard some good things about the place, and I wanted to see it for myself." He wondered about her answer. "Do you usually take vacations alone?" "Actually, this is my first time." A female jogger appeared, moving quickly toward them with a black Labrador retriever by her side. The dog looked spent in the heat, his tongue hanging out too far. Oblivious of the dog's condition, she kept going, eventually veering around Theresa. Garrett almost said something to the woman about it as she passed but didn't think it was his business. It was a few moments before Garrett spoke again. "Can I ask you a personal question?" "It depends on the question." He stopped walking and picked up a couple of small seashells that caught his eye. After turning them over a few times, he handed them to her. "Are you seeing anyone up in Boston?" She took the shells as she answered. "No." Lapping waves collected at their feet as they stood in the shallow water. Though he had expected the answer, he couldn't understand why someone like her would spend most of her evenings alone. "Why not? A woman like you should have your pick of men." She smiled at that, and they slowly started walking again. "Thanks, that's nice of you to say. But it's not that easy, especially when you have a son. There are a lot of things I have to consider when I meet someone." She paused. "But what about you? Are you seeing anyone right now?" He shook his head. "No." "Then it's my turn to ask-why not?" Garrett shrugged. "I guess I haven't met anyone I'd really like to see on a regular basis." "Is that all?" It was a moment of truth, and Garrett knew it. All he had to do was affirm his earlier statement and that would be the end of it. But for a few steps he didn't say anything. The beach crowd had thinned as they moved farther away from the pier, and the only sound now was that of the crashing waves. Garrett saw a group of terns standing near the water's edge, already moving out of their path. The sun, almost directly overhead now, reflected off the sand and made them both squint a little as they strolled along. Garrett didn't look at her as he spoke, and Theresa moved closer so that she could hear him over the roar of the ocean. "No, that's not all. It's more of an excuse than anything. To be honest, I haven't even tried to find someone." Theresa watched him carefully as he spoke. He was looking straight ahead as if gathering his thoughts, but she could sense his reluctance as he went on. "There was something I didn't tell you last night." She felt something tighten inside, knowing exactly what was coming. Keeping her face neutral, she said simply: "Oh?" "I was married once, too," he finally said. "For six years." He turned to her with an expression that made her flinch. "But she passed away." "I'm sorry," she said quietly. Again he stopped and picked up some seashells, only this time he didn't hand them to Theresa. After inspecting them casually, he threw one into the oncoming waves. Theresa watched it disappear into the ocean. "It happened three years ago. Ever since then, I haven't been interested in dating, or even looking." He stopped for a moment, uncomfortable. "It must get lonely sometimes." "It does, but I try not to think about that too much. I keep busy at the shop-there's always something to do there-and it helps the days go by. Before I know it, it's time for me to go to bed and I start the whole thing over the next day." When he finished, he glanced at her with a weak smile. There, he'd said it. He'd wanted to tell someone other than his father for years, and he'd ended up telling it to a woman from Boston he barely knew. A woman who had somehow been able to open doors that he himself had nailed shut. She said nothing. When he didn't add anything else, she asked: "What was she like?" "Catherine?" Garrett's throat went dry. "Do you really want to know?" "Yeah, I do," she said in a gentle voice. He threw another shell into the surf, gathering his thoughts. How could he hope to describe her in words? Yet part of him wanted to try, wanted Theresa of all people to understand. Despite himself, he was drawn back in time once more. "Hey, sweetheart," Catherine said as she looked up from the garden. "I didn't expect you home so soon." "It's been pretty slow in the shop this morning, and I thought I'd pop home for lunch to see how you were doing." "I'm feeling a lot better." "You think it was the flu?" "I don't know. It was probably something I ate. About an hour after you left, I felt good enough to do a little gardening." "I can see that." "How do you like the flowers?" She gestured at a freshly turned patch of soil. Garrett surveyed the freshly planted pansies lining the porch. He smiled. "They're great, but don't you think you should have left some of the dirt in the flower bed?" She wiped her forehead with the back of her hand and stood, squinting up at him in the bright sunlight. "Do I look that bad?" Her knees were dark from kneeling in the dirt, and a streak of mud ran across her cheek. Her hair was escaping from a messy ponytail, and her face was red and sweating from exertion. "You look perfect." Catherine took off her gloves and tossed them on the porch. "I'm not perfect, Garrett, but thanks. C'mon, let me get you some lunch. I know you've got to get back to the shop." He sighed and finally turned his head. Theresa was staring at him, waiting. He spoke softly. "She was everything I ever wanted. She was beautiful and charming, with a quick sense of humor, and she supported me in everything I did. I'd known her practically my whole life-we went to school together. We got married a year after I graduated from UNC. We were married for six years before the accident, and they were the best six years I ever had. When she was taken away . . ." He paused as if he were at a loss for words. "I don't know whether I'll ever get used to being without her." The way he spoke about Catherine made Theresa hurt for him more than she would have imagined. It wasn't just his voice, but the look on his face before he described her-as if torn between the beauty of his memories and the pain of remembering. Though the letters had been touching, they hadn't prepared her for this. I shouldn't have brought it up, she thought. I already knew how he felt about her. There wasn't any reason to make him talk about it. But there was, another voice in her head suddenly chimed in. You had to see his reaction for yourself. You had to find out whether he was ready to put the past behind him. After a few moments, Garrett absently tossed the remaining shells into the water. "I'm sorry about that," he said. "What?" "I shouldn't have told you about her. Or so much about me." "It's okay, Garrett. I wanted to know. I asked you about her, remember?" "I didn't mean to come off sounding like I did." He spoke as if he'd done something wrong. Theresa's reaction was almost instinctive. Stepping toward him, she reached for his hand. Taking it slowly in hers, she squeezed it gently. When she looked at him, she saw surprise in his eyes, though he didn't try to pull away. "You lost a wife-something that most people our age don't know anything about." He lowered his eyes as she struggled for the right words. "Your feelings say a lot about you. You're the kind of person who loves someone forever. . . . That's nothing to be ashamed of." "I know. It's just that it's been three years . . ." "Someday you'll find someone special again. People who've been in love once usually do. It's in their nature." She squeezed his hand again, and Garrett felt her touch warm him. For some reason he didn't want to let go. "I hope you're right," he said finally. "I am. I know these things. I'm a mother, remember?" He laughed under his breath, trying to release the tension he felt. "I remember. And you're probably a good one." They turned around and started back to the pier, talking quietly about the last three years, still holding hands. By the time they reached his truck and headed back to the shop, Garrett was more confused than ever. The events of the past two days were just so unexpected. Theresa wasn't just a stranger anymore, nor was she just a friend. There was no question he was drawn to her. But then again, she'd be gone in a few days, and he knew that it was probably better that way. "What are you thinking?" she asked. Garrett shifted the truck into a higher gear as they made their way over the bridge toward Wilmington and Island Diving. Go ahead, he thought. Tell her what's really going through your head. "I was thinking," he finally said, surprising himself, "that if you don't have plans tonight, I'd like to have you over for supper." She smiled. "I was hoping you'd say that." He was still surprised at himself for asking as he turned left onto the road that led to his shop. "Can you come by my place about eight? I have some things I have to do at the shop, and I probably won't be able to finish until late." "That's fine. Where do you live?" "On Carolina Beach. I'll give you directions when we get to the shop." They pulled into the lot and Theresa followed Garrett into the office. He scribbled the directions on a slip of paper. Trying not to look as confused as he felt, he said: "You shouldn't have any trouble finding the place-just look for my truck out front. But if you have any problems, my number's at the bottom." After she left, Garrett found himself thinking about the upcoming evening. As he sat in his office, two questions plagued him without answer. First, why was he so attracted to Theresa? And second, why did he suddenly feel as if he were betraying Catherine?