Safe haven, p.1
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Safe Haven


  ALSO BY NICHOLAS SPARKS

  The Notebook

  Message in a Bottle

  A Walk to Remember

  The Rescue

  A Bend in the Road

  Nights in Rodanthe

  The Guardian

  The Wedding

  Three Weeks with My Brother (with Micah Sparks)

  True Believer

  At First Sight

  Dear John

  The Choice

  The Lucky One

  The Last Song

  Copyright

  This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is coincidental.

  Copyright (c) by 2010 Nicholas Sparks All rights reserved. Except as permitted under the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, no part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, or stored in a database or retrieval system, without the prior written permission of the publisher.

  Grand Central Publishing Hachette Book Group

  237 Park Avenue

  New York, NY 10017

  Visit our website at www.HachetteBookGroup.com.

  www.twitter.com/grandcentralpub.

  First eBook Edition: September 2010

  Grand Central Publishing is a division of Hachette Book Group, Inc.

  The Grand Central Publishing name and logo is a trademark of Hachette Book Group, Inc.

  ISBN: 978-0-446-57424-2

  Contents

  Copyright

  Also by Nicholas Sparks

  Acknowledgments

  Chapter 1

  Chapter 2

  Chapter 3

  Chapter 4

  Chapter 5

  Chapter 6

  Chapter 7

  Chapter 8

  Chapter 9

  Chapter 10

  Chapter 11

  Chapter 12

  Chapter 13

  Chapter 14

  Chapter 15

  Chapter 16

  Chapter 17

  Chapter 18

  Chapter 19

  Chapter 20

  Chapter 21

  Chapter 22

  Chapter 23

  Chapter 24

  Chapter 25

  Chapter 26

  Chapter 27

  Chapter 28

  Chapter 29

  Chapter 30

  Chapter 31

  Chapter 32

  Chapter 33

  Chapter 34

  Chapter 35

  Chapter 36

  Chapter 37

  Chapter 38

  Chapter 39

  Chapter 40

  Chapter 41

  Chapter 42

  Chapter 43

  In loving memory of Paul and Adrienne Cote.

  My wonderful family. I miss you both already.

  Acknowledgments

  At the completion of every novel, I always find myself reflecting on those people who've helped me along the way. As always, the list begins with my wife, Cathy, who not only has to put up with the creative moodiness that sometimes plagues me as a writer, but has lived through a very challenging year, one in which she lost both her parents. I love you and wish there were something I could have done to lessen the loss you feel. My heart is with you.

  I'd also like to thank my children--Miles, Ryan, Landon, Lexie, and Savannah. Miles is off in college, my youngest are in the third grade, and watching all of them grow is always a source of joy.

  My agent, Theresa Park, always deserves my thanks for all she does to help me write the best novel I possibly can. I'm lucky to work with you.

  Ditto for Jamie Raab, my editor. She's taught me much about writing, and I'm thankful for her presence in my life.

  Denise DiNovi, my Hollywood friend and producer of a number of my films, has been a source of joy and friendship over the years. Thank you for all you've done for me.

  David Young, the CEO of Hachette Book Group, is both smart and terrific. Thanks for tolerating the fact that I'm endlessly late on delivering my manuscripts.

  Howie Sanders and Keya Khayatian, my film agents, have worked with me for years, and I owe much of my success to their hard work.

  Jennifer Romanello, my publicist at Grand Central Publishing, has worked with me on every novel I've written, and I consider myself lucky for all she does.

  Edna Farley, my other publicist, is professional and diligent, and is fabulous at helping to make my tours run smoothly. Thank you.

  Scott Schwimer, my entertainment attorney, is not only a friend, but also exceptional at negotiating the finer points of my contracts. I'm honored to work with you.

  Abby Koons and Emily Sweet, a couple of cohorts at Park Literary Group, deserve my thanks for all they do with my foreign publishers, my website, and any contracts that come my way. You're the best.

  Marty Bowen and Wyck Godfrey, who did a terrific job as the producers of Dear John, deserve my thanks for the work they did. I appreciate the care they showed the project.

  Likewise Adam Shankman and Jennifer Gibgot, the producers of The Last Song, were terrific to work with. Thanks for all you did.

  Courtenay Valenti, Ryan Kavanaugh, Tucker Tooley, Mark Johnson, Lynn Harris, and Lorenzo di Bonaventura all showed great passion for the films adapted from my novels, and I want to thank you all for everything you've done.

  Thanks also to Sharon Krassney, Flag, and the team of copyeditors and proofreaders who had to work late evenings to get this novel ready to print.

  Jeff Van Wie, my screenwriting partner on The Last Song, deserves my thanks for his passion and effort in crafting screenplays, along with his friendship.

  1

  As Katie wound her way among the tables, a breeze from the Atlantic rippled through her hair. Carrying three plates in her left hand and another in her right, she wore jeans and a T-shirt that read Ivan's: Try Our Fish Just for the Halibut. She brought the plates to four men wearing polo shirts; the one closest to her caught her eye and smiled. Though he tried to act as though he was just a friendly guy, she knew he was watching her as she walked away. Melody had mentioned the men had come from Wilmington and were scouting locations for a movie.

  After retrieving a pitcher of sweet tea, she refilled their glasses before returning to the waitress station. She stole a glance at the view. It was late April, the temperature hovering just around perfect, and blue skies stretched to the horizon. Beyond her, the Intracoastal was calm despite the breeze and seemed to mirror the color of the sky. A dozen seagulls perched on the railing, waiting to dart beneath the tables if someone dropped a scrap of food.

  Ivan Smith, the owner, hated them. He called them rats-with-wings, and he'd already patrolled the railing twice wielding a wooden plunger, trying to scare them off. Melody had leaned toward Katie and confessed that she was more worried about where the plunger had been than she was about the seagulls. Katie said nothing.

  She started another pot of sweet tea, wiping down the station. A moment later, she felt someone tap her on the shoulder. She turned to see Ivan's daughter, Eileen. A pretty, ponytailed nineteen-year-old, she was working part-time as the restaurant hostess.

  "Katie--can you take another table?"

  Katie scanned her tables, running the rhythm in her head. "Sure." She nodded.

  Eileen walked down the stairs. From nearby tables Katie could hear snippets of conversations--people talking about friends or family, the weather or fishing. At a table in the corner, she saw two people close their menus. She hustled over and took the order, but didn't linger at the table trying to make small talk, like Melody did. She wasn't good at small talk, but she was efficient and polite and none of the customers seemed to mind.

  She'd been working at the restaurant since early March. Ivan had hired her on a cold, sunny afternoon when the sky was the color of robins' eggs. When he'd said she could start work the following Monday, it took everything she had not to cry in front of him. She'd waited until she was walking home before breaking down. At the time, she was broke and hadn't eaten in two days.

  She refilled waters and sweet teas and headed to the kitchen. Ricky, one of the cooks, winked at her as he always did. Two days ago he'd asked her out, but she'd told him that she didn't want to date anyone at the restaurant. She had the feeling he would try again and hoped her instincts were wrong.

  "I don't think it's going to slow down today," Ricky commented. He was blond and lanky, perhaps a year or two younger than her, and still lived with his parents. "Every time we think we're getting caught up, we get slammed again."

  "It's a beautiful day."

  "But why are people here? On a day like today, they should be at the beach or out fishing. Which is exactly what I'm doing when I finish up here."

  "That sounds like a good idea."

  "Can I drive you home later?"

  He offered to drive her at least twice a week. "Thank you, no. I don't live that far."

  "It's no problem," he persisted. "I'd be glad to do it."

  "Walking's good for me."

  She handed him her ticket and Ricky pinned it up on the wheel and then located one of her orders. She carried the order back to her section and dropped it off at a table.

  Ivan's was a local institution, a restaurant that had been in business for almost thirty years. In the time she'd been working there, she'd come to recognize the regulars, and as she crossed the restaurant floor her eyes traveled over them to the people she hadn't seen before. Couples flirting, other couples ignoring each other. Families. No one seemed out of place and no one had come around asking for her, but there were still times when her hands began to shake, and even now she slept with a light on.

  Her short hair was chestnut brown; she'd been dyeing it in the kitchen sink of the tiny cottage she rented. She wore no makeup and knew her face would pick up a bit of color, maybe too much. She reminded herself to buy sunscreen, but after paying rent and utilities on the cottage, there wasn't much left for luxuries. Even sunscreen was a stretch. Ivan's was a good job and she was glad to have it, but the food was inexpensive, which meant the tips weren't great. On her steady diet of rice and beans, pasta and oatmeal, she'd lost weight in the past four months. She could feel her ribs beneath her shirt, and until a few weeks ago, she'd had dark circles under her eyes that she thought would never go away.

  "I think those guys are checking you out," Melody said, nodding toward the table with the four men from the movie studio. "Especially the brown-haired one. The cute one."

  "Oh," Katie said. She started another pot of coffee. Anything she said to Melody was sure to get passed around, so Katie usually said very little to her.

  "What? You don't think he's cute?"

  "I didn't really notice."

  "How can you not notice when a guy is cute?" Melody stared at her in disbelief.

  "I don't know," Katie answered.

  Like Ricky, Melody was a couple of years younger than Katie, maybe twenty-five or so. An auburn-haired, green-eyed minx, she dated a guy named Steve who made deliveries for the home improvement store on the other side of town. Like everyone else in the restaurant, she'd grown up in Southport, which she described as being a paradise for children, families, and the elderly, but the most dismal place on earth for single people. At least once a week, she told Katie that she was planning to move to Wilmington, which had bars and clubs and a lot more shopping. She seemed to know everything about everybody. Gossip, Katie sometimes thought, was Melody's real profession.

  "I heard Ricky asked you out," she said, changing the subject, "but you said no."

  "I don't like to date people at work." Katie pretended to be absorbed in organizing the silverware trays.

  "We could double-date. Ricky and Steve go fishing together."

  Katie wondered if Ricky had put her up to it or whether it was Melody's idea. Maybe both. In the evenings, after the restaurant closed, most of the staff stayed around for a while, visiting over a couple of beers. Aside from Katie, everyone had worked at Ivan's for years.

  "I don't think that's a good idea," Katie demurred.

  "Why not?"

  "I had a bad experience once," Katie said. "Dating a guy from work, I mean. Since then, I've kind of made it a rule not to do it again."

  Melody rolled her eyes before hurrying off to one of her tables. Katie dropped off two checks and cleared empty plates. She kept busy, as she always did, trying to be efficient and invisible. She kept her head down and made sure the waitress station was spotless. It made the day go by faster. She didn't flirt with the guy from the studio, and when he left he didn't look back.

  Katie worked both the lunch and dinner shift. As day faded into night, she loved watching the sky turning from blue to gray to orange and yellow at the western rim of the world. At sunset, the water sparkled and sailboats heeled in the breeze. The needles on the pine trees seemed to shimmer. As soon as the sun dropped below the horizon, Ivan turned on the propane gas heaters and the coils began to glow like jack-o'-lanterns. Katie's face had gotten slightly sunburned, and the waves of radiant heat made her skin sting.

  Abby and Big Dave replaced Melody and Ricky in the evening. Abby was a high school senior who giggled a lot, and Big Dave had been cooking dinners at Ivan's for nearly twenty years. He was married with two kids and had a tattoo of a scorpion on his right forearm. He weighed close to three hundred pounds and in the kitchen his face was always shiny. He had nicknames for everyone and called her Katie Kat.

  The dinner rush lasted until nine. When it began to clear out, Katie cleaned and closed up the wait station. She helped the busboys carry plates to the dishwasher while her final tables finished up. At one of them was a young couple and she'd seen the rings on their fingers as they held hands across the table. They were attractive and happy, and she felt a sense of deja vu. She had been like them once, a long time ago, for just a moment. Or so she thought, because she learned the moment was only an illusion. Katie turned away from the blissful couple, wishing that she could erase her memories forever and never have that feeling again.

  2

  The next morning, Katie stepped onto the porch with a cup of coffee, the floorboards creaking beneath her bare feet, and leaned against the railing. Lilies sprouted amid the wild grass in what once was a flower bed, and she raised the cup, savoring the aroma as she took a sip.

  She liked it here. Southport was different from Boston or Philadelphia or Atlantic City, with their endless sounds of traffic and smells and people rushing along the sidewalks, and it was the first time in her life that she had a place to call her own. The cottage wasn't much, but it was hers and out of the way and that was enough. It was one of two identical structures located at the end of a gravel lane, former hunting cabins with wooden-plank walls, nestled against a grove of oak and pine trees at the edge of a forest that stretched to the coast. The living room and kitchen were small and the bedroom didn't have a closet, but the cottage was furnished, including rockers on the front porch, and the rent was a bargain. The place wasn't decaying, but it was dusty from years of neglect, and the landlord offered to buy the supplies if Katie was willing to spruce it up. Since she'd moved in, she'd spent much of her free time on all fours or standing on chairs, doing exactly that. She scrubbed the bathroom until it sparkled; she washed the ceiling with a damp cloth. She wiped the windows with vinegar and spent hours on her hands and knees, trying her best to remove the rust and grime from the linoleum in the kitchen. She'd filled holes in the walls with Spackle and then sanded the Spackle until it was smooth. She'd painted the walls in the kitchen a cheery yellow and put glossy white paint on the cabinets. Her bedroom was now a light blue, the living room was beige, and last week, she'd put a new slipcover on the couch, which made it look practically new again.

  With most of the work now behind her, she liked to sit on the front porch in the afternoons and read books she'd checked out from the library. Aside from coffee, reading was her only indulgence. She didn't have a television, a radio, a cell phone, or a microwave or even a car, and she could pack all her belongings in a single bag. She was twenty-seven years old, a former long-haired blond with no real friends. She'd moved here with almost nothing, and months later she still had little. She saved half of her tips and every night she folded the money into a coffee can she kept hidden in the crawl space beneath the porch. She kept that money for emergencies and would rather go hungry than touch it. Simply the knowledge that it was there made her breathe easier because the past was always around her and might return at any time. It prowled the world searching for her, and she knew it was growing angrier at every passing day.

  "Good morning," a voice called out, disrupting her thoughts. "You must be Katie."

  Katie turned. On the sagging porch of the cottage next door, she saw a woman with long, unruly brown hair, waving at her. She looked to be in her mid-thirties and wore jeans and a button-up shirt she'd rolled to her elbows. A pair of sunglasses nested in tangled curls on her head. She was holding a small rug and she seemed to be debating whether or not to shake it before finally tossing it aside and starting toward Katie's. She moved with the energy and ease of someone who exercised regularly.

  "Irv Benson told me we'd be neighbors."

  The landlord, Katie thought. "I didn't realize anyone was moving in."

  "I don't think he did, either. He about fell out of his chair when I said I'd take the place." By then, she'd reached Katie's porch and she held out her hand. "My friends call me Jo," she said.

  "Hi," Katie said, taking it.

  "Can you believe this weather? It's gorgeous, isn't it?"

  "It's a beautiful morning," Katie agreed, shifting from one foot to the other. "When did you move in?"

  "Yesterday afternoon. And then, joy of joys, I pretty much spent all night sneezing. I think Benson collected as much dust as he possibly could and stored it at my place. You wouldn't believe what it's like in there."

  Katie nodded toward the door. "My place was the same way."

 
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