She wanted him to drink his lemonade and scat, Zack thought, but was too polite to say so. Because he knew that, he sat on the little stoop outside the kitchen door, made himself comfortable. "Mind if I sit a minute? It's been a long day. Don't let me stop you from getting started, though. It's pleasant to watch a woman in the garden. "

She'd wanted to sit on the stoop, she thought. To sit there in the sunshine and imagine what she would do with the flowers and herbs. Now all she could do was begin.

She started with the pots, reminding herself if she didn't like the results, she could always redo them.

"Did you, um, talk to the man with the dog?"

"Pete?" Zack asked, sipped at his lemonade. "I think we came to an understanding, and peace settles over our little island once more. "

There was humor in the way he said it, and a lazy satisfaction as well. It was hard not to appreciate both.

"It must be interesting, being the sheriff here. Knowing everyone. "

"It has its moments. " She had small hands, he noticed as he watched her work. Quick, clever fingers. She kept her head bent, her eyes averted. Shyness, he decided, coupled with what seemed to him to be a r

usty sense of socializing. "A lot of it's refereeing, or dealing with summer people who're vacationing too hard. Mostly it's running herd on about three thousand people. Between me and Ripley it's simple enough. "

"Ripley?"

"My sister. She's the other island cop. Todds have been island cops for five generations. That's looking real nice," he said, gesturing toward her work-in-progress with his glass.

"Do you think?" She sat back on her heels. She'd mixed some of everything into the pot, stuck in some of the vinca. It didn't look haphazard as she'd feared it might. It looked cheerful. And so did her face when she lifted it. "It's my first. "

"I'd say you've got a knack. Ought to wear a hat, though. Fair skin like yours is going to burn if you stay out long. "

"Oh. " She rubbed the back of her hand over her nose. "Probably. "

"Guess you didn't have a garden in Boston. "

"No. " She filled the second pot with soil. "I wasn't there very long. It wasn't my place. "

"I know what you mean. I've spent some time on the mainland. Never felt home. Your folks still in the Midwest?"

"My parents are dead. "

"I'm sorry. "

"So am I. " She tucked a geranium into the new pot. "Is this conversation, Sheriff, or an inquiry?"

"Conversation. " He picked up a plant that was just out of her reach and held it. A cautious woman, he decided. In his experience cautious people usually had a reason. "Any point in me inquiring?"

"I'm not wanted for anything, never been arrested. And I'm not looking for trouble. "

"That about covers it. " He handed her the plant. "It's a small island, Miz Channing. Mostly friendly. Curiosity comes along with it, though. "

"I suppose. " She couldn't afford to alienate him, she reminded herself. She couldn't afford to alienate anyone. "Look, I've been traveling for a while now, and I'm tired of it. I came here looking for work and a quiet place to live. "

"Looks like you found both. " He got to his feet. "I appreciate the lemonade. "

"You're welcome. "

"That's a pretty job you're doing. You've got a knack for it, all right. Afternoon, Miz Channing. "

"Afternoon, Sheriff. "

As he walked back to his car he tallied up what he'd learned about her. She was alone in the world, wary of cops, prickly about questions. She was a woman of simple tastes and skittish nerves. And for reasons he couldn't quite fathom, she just didn't quite add up for him.

He glanced at her car as he crossed to his own, scanned the license plate. The Massachusetts tag looked brand spanking new. Wouldn't hurt to run it, he thought. Just to settle his mind.

His gut told him Nell Channing might not have been looking for trouble, but she wasn't a stranger to it.

***

Nell served apple turnovers and lattes to the young couple by the window and then cleared an adjoining table. A trio of women were browsing the stacks, and she suspected they'd be lured into the cafe section before long.

With her hands full of mugs, she loitered by the window. The ferry was arriving from the mainland, chased by gulls that circled and dived. Buoys bobbed in a sea that was soft and green today. A white pleasure boat, sails fat with wind, skimmed along the surface.

Once she'd sailed on another sea, in another life. It was one of the few pleasures she took from that time. The feel of flying over the water, rising on waves. Odd, wasn't it, that the sea had always called to her? It had changed her life. And had taken it.

Now, this new sea had given her another life.

Smiling at the thought, she turned and bumped solidly into Zack. Even as he took her arm to steady her, she was jerking back. "I'm sorry. Did I spill anything on you? I'm clumsy, I wasn't watching where-"

"No harm done. " He hooked the fingers of one hand through two mug handles and, careful not to touch her again, took them from her. "I was in your way. Nice boat. "

"Yes. " She sidestepped, hurried back to the counter, behind it. She hated having anyone come up behind her. "But I'm not getting paid to watch boats. Can I get you anything?"

"Take a breath, Nell. "

"What?"

"Take a breath. " He said it gently as he set the mugs on the counter. "Get yourself steady again. "

"I'm fine. " Resentment pricked through her. She clanged mugs together as she scooped them off the counter. "I didn't expect to have anyone hulking around behind me. "

His lips twitched. "That's better. I'll take one of those turnovers and a large coffee to go. Did you finish your planting?"

"Nearly. " She didn't want to talk to him, so she busied herself with the coffee. She didn't want to have the island cop making friendly conversation and watching her out of those sharp green eyes.

"Maybe you can make use of this when you're finishing up and tending to your flowers. " He laid a bag on the counter.

"What is it?"


Tags: Nora Roberts Three Sisters Island Romance
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