Home > Every Breath(9)

Every Breath(9)
Author: Nicholas Sparks

SUNSET BEACH

Tru had no inkling of what Hope was thinking as she approached, but it was impossible for him to turn away. She was dressed in faded jeans, sandals, and a yellow sleeveless blouse that dipped to a low V in front. With smooth, lightly tanned skin and auburn hair framing high cheekbones, she drew his gaze with irresistible force. Her eyes widened with some effusive emotion—Relief? Gratitude? Surprise?—when she finally came to a breathless stop in front of him. Equally at a loss for words, they faced each other without speaking before Tru finally cleared his throat.

“I’m assuming this is your dog?” he inquired, holding Scottie toward her.

Hope heard an accent, something that sounded British or Australian but wasn’t quite either. It was enough to break the spell, and she reached for Scottie.

“Why are you holding my dog?”

He explained what had happened as he handed her the dog, and watched as Scottie licked her fingers, whining with excitement.

When he finished, he detected a note of panic in her tone. “Are you saying that he was hit by a car?”

“All I know is what I heard. And he was favoring his back leg and shaking when I found him.”

“But you didn’t see a car?”

“No.”

“That’s weird.”

“Maybe it was just a graze. And when he ran off, they thought the dog was unhurt.”

He watched as she gently squeezed Scottie’s legs, one by one. The dog didn’t whine; instead, he began to wiggle with excitement. Tru could see the concern on her face as she finally lowered Scottie to the ground. She watched the dog closely as he trotted off.

“He’s not limping now,” she remarked. From the corner of her eye, she could tell that the man was observing Scottie as well.

“Doesn’t seem to be.”

“Do you think I need to bring him to see the vet?”

“I don’t know.”

Scottie spotted another flock of seagulls. He broke into a flat-out run, leaping at one of them before veering away. Then, putting his nose to the ground, he headed in the direction of the cottage.

“He seems like he’s doing okay,” she murmured, more to herself than to him.

“Well, he certainly has a lot of energy.”

You have no idea, she thought. “Thanks for checking on him and bringing him back to the beach.”

“Glad to help. Before you go, you wouldn’t happen to know if there’s someplace nearby where I could get a cup of coffee, would you?”

“No. There are only houses in this direction. A little past the pier, you’ll find a place called Clancy’s. It’s a restaurant and bar, but I don’t think they open until lunch.”

She understood his crestfallen expression. Mornings without coffee were terrible, and if she had magic powers, she’d ban the very thought of it. Scottie, meanwhile, was getting farther away, and she motioned toward him. “I should probably keep an eye on my dog.”

“I was headed in the same direction before I got sidetracked,” he said. He turned. “Do you mind if I walk with you?”

As soon as he asked, Hope felt a frisson of…something. His gaze, the deep cadence of his voice, his relaxed yet gracious manner set a vibration thrumming inside her like a plucked string. Startled, her first instinct was to simply decline. The old Hope, the Hope she’d always been, would have done so automatically. But something took over then, an instinct she didn’t recognize.

“That would be fine,” she answered instead.

Even in the moment, she wasn’t sure why she agreed. Nor would she understand the reason years later. It would be easy to chalk it up to the worries plaguing her at the time, but she knew that wasn’t entirely true. Instead, she came to believe that despite the fact that they’d only just met, he summoned something previously unknown in her, an urge both primal and foreign.

He nodded. If he was surprised by her response, she couldn’t tell as they began to walk beside each other. He wasn’t uncomfortably close, but he was close enough for her to note the way the tips of his thick, dark hair fluttered in the breeze. Scottie continued to explore ahead of them, and Hope felt the crunch of tiny seashells beneath her feet. On the back porch of a home, a light blue flag fluttered in the wind. Sunlight poured down, liquid and warm. Because they were otherwise alone on the beach, walking beside him felt strangely intimate, as if they were together on an empty stage.

“My name’s Tru Walls, by the way,” he finally said, raising his voice over the crash of the waves.

She looked over at him, noting the lines at the corners of his eyes, the kind that come from spending hours in the sun. “Tru? I don’t think I’ve ever heard that name before.”

“It’s short for Truitt.”

“Nice to meet you, Tru. I’m Hope Anderson.”

“I think I saw you walking last night.”

“Probably. Whenever I visit here, I bring Scottie out a few times a day. I didn’t see you, though.”

He lifted his chin in the direction of the pier. “I went in the other direction. I needed to stretch my legs. It was a long flight.”

“Where did you fly in from?”

“Zimbabwe.”

“Is that where you live?” Her face registered her surprise.

“All my life.”

“Forgive my ignorance,” Hope began, “but where in Africa is that?”

“In the south. It’s bordered by South Africa, Botswana, Zambia, and Mozambique.”

South Africa was always in the news, but the other three countries were only vaguely familiar to her. “You’re a long way from home.”

“I am.”

“First time at Sunset Beach?”

“First time in the U.S. It’s a different world here.”

“How so?”

“Everything…the roads, the infrastructure, Wilmington, the traffic, the people…and I can’t get over how green the landscape is.”

Hope had no frame of reference for comparison, so she simply nodded. She watched as Tru tucked a hand in his pocket.

“And you?” he asked. “You mentioned that you’re visiting?”

She nodded. “I live in Raleigh.” Then, realizing he probably had no idea where that was, she added, “It’s a couple of hours northwest. More inland…more trees, and no beach.”

“Is it flat like it is around here?”

“Not at all. It has hills. It’s also a sizable city, with lots of people and things to do. As you’ve probably noticed, it can be pretty quiet around here.”

“I would have imagined that the beach would be more crowded.”

“It can be in the summer, and there will probably be a few more people out and about this afternoon. But it’s never really busy this time of year. It’s more of a vacation spot. Anyone you do see probably lives on the island.”

Hope pulled her hair back, trying to keep the strands from blowing in her face, but without an elastic band, it was pointless. Glancing over, she noticed a leather bracelet on his wrist. It was scuffed and worn, with faded stitching forming a design that she couldn’t quite make out. But somehow, she thought, it seemed to suit him.

“I don’t think I’ve ever met someone from Zimbabwe before.” She squinted at him. “Are you here on vacation?”

He walked a few paces without answering, surprisingly graceful, even in the sand. “I’m here because I’m supposed to meet someone.”

“Oh.” His answer made her think it was probably a woman, and though it shouldn’t bother her, she felt an unexpected flash of disappointment. Ridiculous, she chided herself as she pushed the thought away.

“How about you?” he asked, arching an eyebrow. “What brings you here?”

“A good friend of mine is getting married this Saturday in Wilmington. I’m one of the bridesmaids.”

“Sounds like a nice weekend.”

Except that Josh went to Las Vegas instead, so I won’t have anyone to dance with. And I’ll be asked a million questions about him and what’s going on, none of which I really want to answer, even if I could. “A celebration for sure,” she agreed. Then: “Can I ask you a question?”

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