The Lucky One - By Nicholas Sparks Page 0,1

of telling those crotch-biting stories that made Clayton double over in laughter. And Moore would definitely have appreciated the little skinny-dipping party Clayton had just broken up, when he’d spied a couple of coeds sunning down by the creek in all their morning glory. He hadn’t been there for more than a few minutes and had snapped only a couple of pictures on the digital camera when he saw a third girl pop up from behind a hydrangea bush. After quickly ditching the camera in the bushes behind him, he’d stepped out from behind the tree, and a moment later, he and the coed were face-to-face.

“Well, what have we got here?” he drawled, trying to put her on the defensive.

He hadn’t liked the fact that he’d been caught, nor was he pleased with his insipid opening line. Usually he was smoother than that. A lot smoother. Thankfully, the girl was too embarrassed to notice much of anything, and she almost tripped while trying to back up. She stammered something like an answer as she tried to cover herself with her hands. It was like watching someone play a game of Twister by herself.

He made no effort to avert his gaze. Instead he smiled, pretending not to notice her body, as if he bumped into naked women in the woods all the time. He could already tell she knew nothing about the camera.

“Now calm down. What’s going on?” he asked.

He knew full well what was going on. It happened a few times every summer, but especially in August: Coeds from Chapel Hill or NC State, heading to the beach for a long, last-chance weekend at Emerald Isle before the fall term began, often made a detour onto an old logging road that twisted and bumped for a mile or so into the national forest before reaching the point where Swan Creek made a sharp turn toward the South River. There was a rock-pebble beach there that had come to be known for nude sunbathing—how that happened, he had no idea—and Clayton often made it a point to swing by on the off chance he might get lucky. Two weeks ago, he’d seen six lovelies; today, however, there were three, and the two who’d been lying on their towels were already reaching for their shirts. Though one of them was a bit heavy, the other two—including the brunette standing in front of him—had the kind of figures that made frat boys go crazy. Deputies, too.

“We didn’t know anyone was out here! We thought it would be okay!”

Her face held just enough innocence to make him think, Wouldn’t Daddy be proud if he knew what his little girl was up to? It amused him to imagine what she might say to that, but since he was in uniform, he knew he had to say something official. Besides, he knew he was pressing his luck; if word got out that the sheriff’s office was actually patrolling the area, there’d be no more coeds in the future, and that was something he didn’t want to contemplate.

“Let’s go talk to your friends.”

He followed her back toward the beach, watching as she tried unsuccessfully to cover her backside, enjoying the little show. By the time they stepped from the trees into the clearing by the river, her friends had pulled on their shirts. The brunette jogged and jiggled toward the others and quickly reached for a towel, knocking over a couple of cans of beer in the process. Clayton motioned to a nearby tree.

“Didn’t y’all see the sign?”

On cue, their eyes swung that way. People were sheep, waiting for the next order, he thought. The sign, small and partially hidden by the low-slung branches of an ancient live oak, had been posted by order of Judge Kendrick Clayton, who also happened to be his uncle. The idea for the signs had been Keith’s; he knew that the public prohibition would only enhance the attraction of the place.

“We didn’t see it!” the brunette cried, swiveling back to him. “We didn’t know! We just heard about this place a couple of days ago!” She continued to protest while struggling with the towel; the others were too terrified to do much of anything except try to wiggle back into their bikini bottoms. “It’s the first time we’ve ever been here!”

It came out like a whine, making her sound like a spoiled sorority sister. Which all of them probably were. They had that look.

“Did you know that public nudity is a