She applied steady pressure to the pedal, and the car began to creep forward.

“A little more,” he told her as he strained.

Suddenly the station wagon bucked free, spraying a stew of mud and sand all over Nat’s clothes. Abigail pulled onto firm ground and hurried to him.

“I’m so sorry.”

The expression on his mud-spattered face was priceless. She clamped her hand to her mouth, stifling a laugh.

“You think this is funny?”

He wiped the muck from his cheek. Abigail forced a straight face that crumbled as she cracked up. Nat relented, his grimace loosening into a guarded smile.

“It is sort of funny.”

They stood in the middle of the muddy road together, laughing like people who could be friends, if not at that very moment, then someday.

Merle’s truck was parked in front of the lighthouse when Abigail returned. He was on a ladder removing the plywood boards from the second-floor windows.

“I must be more popular than I thought. People keep surprising me today.”

“Last couple o’ days have been full of surprises, I’ll say that much.” Merle climbed down from the ladder. “I heard about Nat Rhone. Strange how Caleb Larner changed his mind,” he said knowingly.

“Stranger things have happened.”

“They always do.”

“Hey, you fixed my shutters. They look great.”

“Glad you like them, because you’re not going to like what I have to tell you. Lottie’s on her way over here.”

“She found out about the furniture and the paint?”

“No, ma’am. She called me from the mainland to say she and Franklin were okay and mentioned she’d be stopping by to give you some more of those romance novels o’ hers.”

“What am I going to do? The changes aren’t exactly subtle. Though she did lie about the condition of the property. This should make us even. In a weird, Chaple Isle-ish sense. Right?”

“Appears to me, Abby, you have a knack for getting people to do the complete opposite of what they want to do, so I feel supremely confident you’ll be able to get Lottie to overlook any…rental indiscretions. Especially if you were to, say, allude to the fact that she might not have declared the antiques to her insurance company, in order to avoid paying more for coverage,” Merle suggested with a smirk. “While you’re at it, you might propose she make some overdue repairs to this place too. That is, if you’re going to be around to enjoy it.”

Abigail had made her decision. She was going to stay.

“I will be.”


Merle collected the plywood boards he’d removed from the windows and volunteered to haul them to the basement.

“My, my, my.” He was admiring what she’d done with the house. The pile Sheriff Larner had gathered the night before remained in the center of the living room. “Not finished rearranging?”


“You did a fine job,” he said, patting one of the wingback chairs as if it were a long-lost friend.

“Now I get it. You put the antiques in the basement. You didn’t want me or anybody else to find out about them, because of the robberies.”

“That’s why I like you, Abby. You’re the logical type.”

“Chapel Isle logic is the only kinda logic I got,” she said, quoting him.

“It’s all ya need.”

Merle was right. That was all she would need.

“If you moved the antiques upstairs from the basement,” he asked, “what’d you do with the rest of that ratty furniture Lottie had?”

“It, uh, found a new home.”

He smiled. “Sounds like somebody I know.”

Once Merle was gone, Abigail replaced the furniture that Sheriff Larner had moved, putting it back where it belonged. With the boards off the windows, the house filled with the warmth of sunlight. The hurricane had wiped the sky clear. Though the power was still out, Abigail didn’t miss it. The sunshine was enough for her.

She put the batteries she’d bought into the radio and turned it on for company while she unpacked for the second time since arriving on Chapel Isle. Dr. Walter was on the air.

Вы читаете The Language of Sand
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