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Home > Nights in Rodanthe(14)

Nights in Rodanthe(14)
Author: Nicholas Sparks

“You wouldn’t mind?”

“Not at all. I think I could use one, too.”

“Thank you. Just let me put my jacket in my room and clean up, and I’ll be right back down.”

He smiled at her before he left the kitchen, and Adrienne felt herself exhale, unaware she’d been holding her breath. In his absence, she ground a handful of fresh beans, changed the filter, and started the coffee. She retrieved the silver pot, poured the contents down the sink, and rinsed it out. As she worked, she could hear him moving in the room above her.

Though she’d known in advance that he would be the only guest this weekend, she hadn’t realized how strange it would seem to be alone in the house with him. Or alone, period. Sure, the kids had their own activities and she had a little time to herself now and then, but it was never for long. They could pop back in at any moment. Besides, they were family. It wasn’t quite the same as the situation she was in now, and she couldn’t escape the feeling that she was living someone else’s life, one in which she wasn’t exactly sure of the rules.

She made a cup of coffee for herself and poured the rest into the silver pot. She was putting the pot back on the tray in the sitting room when she heard him coming down the stairs.

“Just in time,” she said. “Coffee’s ready. Would you like me to get the fire going?”

As Paul entered the sitting room, she caught a trace of cologne. He reached around her for a cup.

“No, that’s okay. I’m comfortable. Maybe later.”

She nodded and took a small step backward. “Well, if you need anything, I’ll be in the kitchen.”

“I thought you said you wanted a cup.”

“I already poured one. I left it on the counter.”

He looked up. “You’re not going to join me?”

There was something expectant in the way he asked, as if he really wanted her to stay.

She hesitated. Jean was good at making small talk with strangers, but she never had been. At the same time, she was flattered by his offer, though she wasn’t sure why.

“I suppose I could,” she finally said. “Just let me get my cup.”

By the time she’d returned, Paul was sitting in one of the two glider rockers near the fireplace. With black-and-white photographs along the wall that depicted life in the Outer Banks during the 1920s and a long shelf of thumbed-through books, this had always been her favorite room in the Inn. There were two windows along the far wall that looked to the ocean. A small stack of cordwood was piled near the fireplace along with a container of kindling, as if promising a cozy evening with family.

Paul was holding his cup of coffee in his lap, rocking back and forth, taking in the view. The wind was making the sand blow, and the fog was rolling in, giving the world outside an illusion of dusk. Adrienne sat in the chair next to his and for a moment watched the scene in silence, trying not to feel nervous.

Paul turned toward her. “Do you think the storm’s going to blow us away tomorrow?” he asked.

Adrienne ran her hand through her hair. “I doubt it. This place has been here for sixty years, and it hasn’t blown away yet.”

“Have you ever been here during a nor’easter? A big one, I mean, like the one they’re expecting?”

“No. But Jean has, so it can’t be too bad. But then again, she’s from here, so maybe she’s used to it.”

As she answered, Paul found himself evaluating her. Younger by a few years than he was, with light brown hair cut just above the shoulder blades and curled slightly. She wasn’t thin, but she wasn’t heavy, either; to him, her figure was inviting in a way that defied the unrealistic standards of television or magazines. She had a slight bump on her nose, crow’s-feet around her eyes, and her skin had reached that soft point in between youth and age, before gravity began to take its toll.

“And you said she’s a friend?”

“We met in college years ago. Jean was one of my roommates, and we’ve kept in touch ever since. This used to be her grandparents’ house, but her parents converted it to an inn. After you made arrangements with her to stay, she called me, since she had an out-of-town wedding to attend.”

“But you don’t live here?”

“No, I live in Rocky Mount. Have you ever been there?”

“Many times. I used to pass through on trips to Greenville.”

At his answer, Adrienne wondered again about the address he’d listed on the registration form. She took a sip of coffee and lowered the cup to her lap.

“I know it’s none of my business,” she said, “but can I ask what you’re doing here? You don’t have to answer if you don’t want—I’m just curious.”

Paul shifted in his chair. “I’m here to talk to someone.”

“That’s a long way to drive to have a conversation.”

“I didn’t have much of a choice. He wanted to meet in person.”

His voice sounded tight and remote, and for a moment, he seemed lost in thought. In the silence, Adrienne could hear the whipping of the flag out front.

Paul set his coffee on the table between them.

“What do you do?” he finally asked, his voice warming again. “Besides watching bed-and-breakfasts for friends?”

“I work in the public library.”

“You do?”

“You sound surprised.”

“I guess I am. I expected you to say something different.”

“Like what?”

“To be honest, I’m not sure. Just not that. You don’t look old enough to be a librarian. Where I live, they’re all in their sixties.”

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