Check into the inn, she decided. A hot shower, she thought longingly. Watch the eleven o'clock news. Then, as Samuel Pepys wrote, "And so to bed."
When she'd first come to Spring Lake, and impulsively put a deposit down on the house, she had stayed at the Candlelight Inn for a few days, to be absolutely sure she'd made the right decision. She and the inn's owner, Carrie Roberts, a septuagenarian, had immediately hit it off. On the drive down today, she'd phoned to say she'd be late, but Carrie had assured her that was no problem.
Turn right on Ocean Avenue, then four more blocks. A few moments later, with a grateful sigh, Emily turned off the ignition and reached in the backseat for the one suitcase she'd need overnight.
Carrie's greeting was warm and brief. "You look exhausted, Emily. The bed's turned down. You said you'd stopped for dinner, so there's a thermos of hot cocoa with a couple of biscuits on the night table. I'll see you in the morning."
The hot shower. A nightshirt and her favorite old bathrobe. Sipping the cocoa, Emily watched the news and felt the stiffness in her muscles from the long drive begin to fade.
As she snapped off the television, her cell phone rang. Guessing who it was, she picked it up.
She smiled as she heard the worried-sounding voice of Eric Bailey, the shy genius who was the reason she was in Spring Lake now.
As she reassured him that she'd had a safe, relatively easy trip, she thought of the day she first met him, when he moved into the closet-sized office next to hers. The same age, their birthdays only a week apart, they'd become friendly, and she recognized that underneath his meek, little-boy-lost exterior, Eric had been gifted with massive intelligence.
One day, when she realized how depressed he seemed, she'd made him tell her the reason. It turned out that his fledgling dot-com company was being sued by a major software provider who knew he could not afford an expensive lawsuit.
She took the case without asking for a fee, expecting it to be a pro bono situation, and joked to herself that she would be papering the walls with the stock certificates Eric promised her.
But she won the case for him. He made a public offering of the stock, which immediately rose in value. When her shares were worth ten million dollars, she sold them.
Now Eric's name was on a handsome new office building. He loved the races and bought a lovely old home in Saratoga from which he commuted to Albany. Their friendship had continued, and he'd been a rock during the time she was being stalked. He even had a high-tech camera installed at her townhouse. The camera had caught the stalker on tape.
"Just wanted to see that you made it okay. Hope I didn't wake you up?"
They chatted for a few minutes and promised to talk again soon. When she put the cell phone down, Emily went to the window and opened it slightly. A rush of cold, salty air made her gasp, but then she deliberately inhaled slowly. It's crazy, she thought, but at this moment it seems to me that all my life I've been missing the smell of the ocean.
She turned and walked to the door to be absolutely sure it was double locked. Stop doing that, she snapped at herself. You already checked before you showered.
But in the year before the stalker was caught, despite her efforts to convince herself that if the stalker wanted to hurt her he could have done so on many occasions, she had begun to feel fearful and apprehensive.
Carrie had told her that she was the only guest at the inn. "I'm booked full over the weekend," she'd said. "All six bedrooms. There's a wedding reception at the country club on Saturday. And after Memorial Day, forget it. I don't have a closet available."
Copyright © 2001 by Mary Higgins Clark
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