As the ferry neared Chapel Isle, the picturesque vista of the island was marred by a troubling sight. One of the dock’s pilings had buckled, and a broken plank dangled precariously over the water. The dock appeared on the verge of collapse.

“That doesn’t look good,” Abigail declared.

Studying language for so long had taught her that initial impressions weren’t necessarily dependable. The spelling of a word and its pronunciation could be astonishingly irreconcilable. That was why every entry in the dictionary had a phonetic guide. Abigail willed herself to believe the same rationale would hold true for Chapel Isle.

“This is it. End of the road,” Denny announced, ambling toward her car. The ferry’s engine whirred to a stop while he wound the lead lines around an intact piling, then slid a ramp out to bridge the gap to the dock.

“Denny, what happened?”

“To what?”

“To this dock.”

“Oh, yeah. Hank Scokes ran into it.”

“Ran into it?”

“With his fishing boat.”

“On purpose?”

“Naw, old guy was drunk as a skunk.”

“Is the structure secure enough to drive on?”

“Plenty o’ people have.”

“How reassuring,” Abigail mumbled. “When did this little ‘accident’ occur?”

Denny had to give it some thought. “’Bout a month ago.”

“And nobody’s fixed it?”

“That’s a seriously messed-up dock. It’s going to take a lot of fixing to get it right again. Don’t you fret, though. I’ll keep an eye on ya. Where are you staying?” he inquired with a suggestive tilt of his head.

“The lighthouse. I’m actually the new caretaker,” Abigail replied, braced for some type of advance.

Instead, Denny’s expression faltered. He pursed his lips to prevent himself from saying what he wanted to say.

“It can’t be that bad,” she joked halfheartedly. “The place isn’t operational anymore, so I can’t get in too much trouble.”

“No, it’s not that. It’s…um, never mind.”

After the lengthy trip, Abigail didn’t have the energy to prod Denny into opening up. Whatever he was holding back would have to wait.

“I’m supposed to go and see the realtor first,” she told him. “Can you give me directions to her office?”

“Lottie Gilquist’s who you need. Ain’t hard to find her. All you gotta do is listen.”

Forgoing any further explanation, Denny went to unhook the chain that barred the front of the ferry.

Confused, Abigail pulled the station wagon alongside him. “Let’s say my hearing’s not very keen; how exactly would I find her?”

“You go straight.”

“Okay, straight. What’s next?”

“Just straight.”

“If I just go straight, I’m going to drive into the ocean on the other side of the island.”

“You’ll spot Lottie’s place before that’d happen.”

A whistle rang out from behind Abigail’s car. Denny’s father was hovering in the doorway to the wheelhouse. He folded his arms in silent command.

“Take the main road,” Denny instructed. “You can’t miss it.” He started to trot away, then stopped himself. “Oops. Promised I’d see you get onto the island safe and sound.”

Abigail was glad he remembered, because she hadn’t forgotten. “Thanks,” she said, easing her foot from the brake.

“Maybe I’ll see you around?”

“I think you will.”

Denny broke into a wide grin, which made Abigail smile too. However, her smile dissolved the instant she let the Volvo inch forward onto the dock. The wood whinnied and groaned under the wagon.

“It’s fine,” he said encouragingly. “Go ahead. Really. It’s solid as a rock.”

Despite the squawking planks, Abigail drove onward while Denny waved goodbye. She would have waved back but couldn’t pry her fingers from the wheel.

As soon as the car coasted off the dock onto a gravel lane, Abigail exhaled, grateful for solid ground. A placard at the side of the road read: Welcome to Chapel Isle.

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