She shook her head. «No, he’s a lawyer. He has his own practice.»
«With his name, he must be busy.»
«He is. He works a lot.»
He thought he heard something in her tone, and the next question came automatically. «Does he treat you well?»
She didn’t answer right away, as if she were considering the question for the first time. Then she said, «Yes. He’s a good man, Noah. You’d like him.»
Her voice was distant when she answered, or at least he thought it was. Noah wondered if it was just his mind playing tricks on him.
«How’s your daddy doing?» she asked.
Noah took a couple of steps before answering. «He passed on earlier this year, right after I got back.»
«I’m sorry,» she said softly.
He nodded, and they walked on in silence.
They reached the top of the hill and stopped. The oak tree was in the distance, with the sun glowing orange behind it. Allie could feel his eyes on her as she stared in that direction. «A lot of memories there, Allie.»
She smiled. «I know. I saw it when I came in. Do you remember the day we spent there?»
«Yes,» he answered.
«Do you ever think about it?»
«Sometimes,» he said. «Usually when I’m working out this way. It sits on my property now.»
«You bought it?»
«I just couldn’t bear to see it turned into kitchen cabinets.» She laughed under her breath, feeling strangely pleased about that.
As the sun dropped a little lower and the sky turned orange, he asked, «So, how long are you staying?»
«I don’t know. Not long. Maybe until tomorrow or the next day.»
«Is your fiance here on business?»
«No, he’s still in Raleigh.»
Noah raised his eyebrows. «Does he know you’re here?» She shook her head and answered slowly. «No. I told him I was looking for antiques. He wouldn’t understand my coming here.»
Noah was a little surprised. It was one thing to come and visit, but it was an entirely different matter to hide the truth from her fiance.
He asked, «Allie, do you love him?»
She answered automatically, «Yes, I love him.»
The words hurt. But again, he thought he heard something in her tone, and decided she was saying it to convince herself.
He stopped and gently took her shoulders in his hands, making her face him. The sunlight reflected in her eyes as he spoke.
«If you’re happy, Allie, and you love him, I won’t try to stop you from going back to him. But if there’s a part of you that isn’t sure, then don’t do it. This isn’t the kind of thing you go into halfway.»
Her answer came almost too quickly. «I’m making the right decision, Noah.»
He stared for a second, wondering if he believed her. Then he nodded and they began to walk again. He said, «I’m not making this easy for you, am I?»
She smiled a little. «It’s okay. I really can’t blame you.»
«I’m sorry anyway.»
«Don’t be. There’s no reason to be sorry.»
«I’m glad you came. It’s good to see you again. You were the best friend I ever had, Allie. I’d still like to be friends, even if you are engaged, and even if it is just for a couple of days. How about getting to know each other again?»
She thought about it, and decided that since he knew about her engagement, it would probably be all right. Or at least not wrong.
She smiled slightly and nodded. «I’d like that.»
«Good. How about dinner? I know a place that serves the best crab in town.»
«Sounds great. Where?»
«My house. I’ve had the traps out all week, and I saw that I had some good ones caged a couple of days ago. Do you mind?»
«No, that sounds fine.»
He smiled and pointed over his shoulder with his thumb.
«Great. They’re at the dock. I’ll just be a couple of minutes.»
A breeze broke the stillness and chilled her, making her cross her arms. She stood that way, until she heard him reach her side. She could feel his closeness, his warmth.
«It’s so peaceful here,» she said, and her voice was dreamlike.
«I know. I come down here a lot now just to be close to the water. It makes me feel good. Come on, let’s go. The mosquitoes are getting vicious, and I’m starved.»
THE SKY had turned black and they started towards the house.
Noah set the bucket by the door, and then led the way inside to the kitchen. It was on the right, large and smelling of new wood. The cabinets were made of oak, like the floor, and the windows were large and faced east, allowing the light from the morning sun.
«Do you mind if I look around?»
«No, go ahead. I did some shopping earlier and I still have to put the groceries away.»
She toured the house for the next few minutes, walking through the rooms, noticing how wonderful it looked. She came down the stairs, turned towards the kitchen, and saw his profile. For a second he looked like a young man of seventeen again, and it made her pause a second before going on. «Damn,» she thought, «get a hold of yourself. Remember that you’re engaged now.»
«It’s unbelievable, Noah. How long did the restoration take?»
He looked up from the last bag he was unpacking. «Almost a year.»