Authors: Heather Graham
For a moment, she almost forgot that the wind was tearing apart her city. It was such luxury just to feel the warm water.
But then she came to her senses, rinsed quickly and stepped from the shower. She did feel better. A hundred times better. She wrapped up in one of the red towels, then found Jordan waiting for her just outside the door. He was wearing a white robe. Too big for him, yet oddly not that huge. It might have been a woman's robe, perhaps. She was sure he wasn't very happy about it.
He grimaced at her. “I tried the black one. But I step all over it. I imagine I'll be lots taller than you one day, but for the moment, well, mind this one?”
She grinned, taking the black terry robe he handed her and wrapping it around her before letting her towel fall to the floor. “Give me your towel, Jordan,” she said, swooping down to pick up her own. “I don't want to leave this place a mess.”
Jordan handed her his towel. He was grinning. She paused. “What?”
“You're afraid to take a shower in the storm, but you don't think twice about cleaning up!” Jordan teased.
“It isn't our house.”
“Yeah, but I'll bet he has a maid to come in and clean for him,” Jordan said.
“It doesn't matter, it isn't our houseâ”
“And we really should impress him, huh?”
“No,” Katie protested indignantly. “We just shouldn't be piggy, that's all. Especially in the home of someone who pulled us out of the storm.”
Jordan shivered suddenly, staring at her. “Wow, Mom. That was awful! The wind, the rain! I couldn't breathe, I really couldn't breathe. I've never been so scared.”
“I know. I was scared, too.”
“Right out of my wits.”
“We could have died!” Jordan said.
They could have, Katie reflected. She could hear the wind. The brutal, slashing, destructive, furious wind.
Jordan shivered again. “Oh, Momâ”
“It's all right. That part of it is over, and really, we're out of it now.”
But they weren't. Not really. Maybe this house would stand. No matter how hard she tried not to, she could still hear the cries and moans and shrill screams of the wind. The rain was coming harder, too.
“Let's get downstairs quickly,” she said. She finished picking up, folding their wet and muddy clothes and trying to leave them as neatly as possible in a corner of the bathroom.
Then she ran her hands absently over the robe and realized there were initials on the pocket.
Once again, she found the embossed letters AGC. Well, whoever he was, AGC made a nice income.
She heard the wind beating against the house as they started down the stairs. Chills swept through her, and she decided that since she couldn't ignore it, she was going to have to learn to listen to it. She tightened her jaw, determined she wasn't going to let her son feel her shaking. But even as the feelings of security stole over her, she couldn't forget the terror of running through the storm. She would never forget the awesome power of it.
She found their host in the large living room, seated on the chesterfield, staring at the small screen television. He had changed, too. He was dressed in faded jeans, a knit polo shirt and Docksiders.
He looked from the television to the two of them, his eyes roving up and down them but betraying no emotion. Then the corner of his lip curled just a bit.
“You decided to shower, I see.”
“Yes. Quickly,” she told him.
He nodded, then stood, sweeping a hand toward the sofa. “Take a seat. You can see something of what's going on.”
Katie sat, and Jordan joined her. The news anchor was sending out warnings about what to do when your roof went or your windows caved in. There were reports from people who called in. Terrible reports, some about horses and cattle, that had flown right through the windows to land in their owners' living rooms.
She was staring at the television in horror when she heard her host speak again. “It's been so long since we've really been hit this hard, no one prepared for this storm. People didn't board up. They didn't prepare.”
“I prepared,” Katie muttered bitterly. Those golden eyes looked at her hard, and she wondered at the brooding anger in them.
Then she realized that he was holding mugs, and he passed one to her. “Coffee. Hot. Black. If you want something in itâ”
“No, no, that's fine, thank you very much,” Katie said quickly. She accepted a cup from him, then he offered the other to Jordan. “Hot chocolate. Hot. Brown. No marshmallows, sorry.”
Jordan grinned and took the mug from him. “Great. I'll manage without the marshmallows.”
Their host turned and walked out of the living room. Jordan followed his departure with his eyes.
“Nice guy, Mom. Flirt a little.”
“Jordan, we're in the middle of a major disaster. And we don't even know this guy's name. I meanâ”
“Right, right. He's a stranger, we don't know if he's sane, we don't know anything about him. But he has a great houseâand he keeps hot chocolate. What more do you want?”
Jordan was teasing her, and she was glad. Looking into his eyes, she saw the sparkle in them, and she was grateful that children could be so resilient. Of course, they had been lucky.
They had been rescued.
And by this man.
He came into the room again and she quickly stared at the television, yet she was certain he knew that they had been speculating about him. He brought his cup of coffee with him this time and sat down beside Katie, sipping the hot brew. He looked at the television again, and they all listened as the weather reporters tried to ascertain just where the storm was doing the greatest damage.
He turned, meeting her eyes, and Katie realized that she had been staring at him again. She blushed, but then said bluntly, “My son came in and introduced the two of us. If you don't mind, what's your name?”
He winced. Looked at the television, stared at her, hazel eyes glittering. “Andrew,” he said. “Andrew Grant Cunningham.”
“Oh!” Katie said.
Jordan started to laugh. “Andrew!” Then he sobered quickly. “It's a great name. I mean, usually it's a great name. I have a few friends named Andrew.”
“Right,” Andrew Cunningham said, and as usual, when he was talking to Jordan, he seemed to smile. “I guess all of us will have a hard time of it for a while. But I go by Drew. You can call me that.”
“Then there's always Mr. Cunningham,” Katie advised.
“Yeah, sure,” Jordan agreed.
“You don't need to call me Mr. Cunningham. Drew will do just fine,” their host told him firmly.
“Drew,” Jordan agreed. Katie had been outvoted.
Jordan took a long swallow from his mug, then looked at the coffee table, then at his mother. “I'll take it,” she told her son. “If you'll point me toward the kitchenâ”
“Just give it to me.”
“I don't want to put you outâ”
“You're not putting me out!” he said with exasperation, taking the mug and striding away.
“You seem to make him mad easy, Mom,” Jordan told her.
That seemed true enough. She didn't reply, though, because Drew Cunningham was returning, taking his seat beside her again, staring at the small television.
Katie suddenly felt Jordan ease down beside her. “Can I put my head on your lap, Mom?”
“Sure,” she said, and he did so. She ran her fingers through his tawny hair and became more acutely aware of the man beside her than she was of the wind and rain. He was very well built, broad-shouldered, muscled. His hands were large, fingers very long, nails clean and neatly clipped, and yet she noticed that his palms were callused, as if he was accustomed to manual labor. He was tanned, his face nearly bronze and very handsome with near-gold eyes and very dark hair. He was, she decided at last, youngâyoung enough, anywayâvery good-looking, certainly in good shape, and certainly financially sound. And he had an almost alarmingly sensual scent. A clean, masculine scent with a very subtle hint of after-shave or cologne.
Someone should have latched on to him by now, she found herself thinking, and then she realized she was staring again and looked quickly at the television.
“Everyone was out of your house, right?” he asked her suddenly.
“You and the boy live alone?”
“Yes,” she told him. And then she decided she might as well ask a few questions herself.
“You live here alone?”
“It's so strange. I never knew any of my neighbors before. And now, tonightâ¦”
“There are only seven houses in this cul-de-sac,” he reminded her. “And since the invention of garage-door openers, people come and go through their garages and sometimes never see one another. I think your son has fallen asleep,” he finished suddenly.
Katie looked down. Jordan's eyes were closed. His lips were slightly parted. He was breathing easily.
She wished she could do the same.
“Listen,” Drew Cunningham advised her.
“The wind. It seems to be dying down some.”
She did listen. She couldn't tell at first, but then she looked at the television and listened as the weather reporter said the storm was beginning to move on. It could weaken as it crossed the state, but those in its path must beware.
There were warnings about going outdoors, warnings about electric wires, pleas that people stay home and off the roads so crews could work and emergency vehicles could get through.
“Want more coffee?” Drew asked her.
“I'll get it.”
“Your little boy is sleeping,” he reminded her.
She handed him her cup. He came back with more coffee for them both.
She would have liked to see the kitchen. She wondered if the room would give her any idea if there had been a Mrs. Cunningham somewhere along the line.
It was none of her business, of course.
And once again, she found herself thinking that he was just too attractive, even if he could be gruff and almost rude. There had to be a woman.
He was a stranger who had saved her, and that was all.
“Listen again,” he told her. “It's almost died down.”
It was still thereâbut he was right. The wind whistled softly. It wasn't shrieking anymore.
“I'm going out,” he told her, setting down his coffee cup, rising.
He hesitated and she eased Jordan's head to the sofa, then rose swiftly with him.
“Why don't you let meâ”
“I want to see,” she told him firmly.
He shrugged and made his way to the front door. He opened it and stood a moment, then started out.
She glanced at her wristwatchâwaterproof, thankfullyâand saw that it was just after seven o'clock. With the robe tightly bundled about her, she followed Andrew Cunningham outside and into the slow-dawning light of day.
The rain continued to drizzle; the wind would be silent, then sweep around her in a gust, then go still once again.
Massive trees lay everywhere, the roots having ripped up earth and grass and asphalt and concrete. Branches lay strewn everywhere.
Power lines were down. They cracked and sizzled, and Andrew Cunningham barked a quick warning to her. “Don't even go near one of those wires.”
She bristled. She wasn't stupid. She knew that contact with one of the wires could fry her.
She had barely stepped off the porch, and she was seeing all she thought she could bear to see. Her house stood across the way, across a jungle of trees and bushes and newly created, wildly twisted trash. Bits and pieces of automobiles were entwined with the downed foliage. Someone's awnings lay scattered across a pile of branches.
Clothing, some of it brightly colored, added a strange touch to the rubble. Everything was everywhere. Desks lay strewn about; drawers had flown out and cracked open. Kitchen utensils lay upon the earth, and someone's television lay amid a pile of muddied socks.
Roof tiles and shingles were everywhere. There didn't seem to be an unlittered piece of earth anywhere near them. Some palms were half down, looking like strange, naked skeletons in a death dance. It was horrible.
The storm was, for all intents and purposes, over. At least here. It would be moving across the state, still strong enough to wreak havoc in the Everglades and pay a brutal visit to the west coast. But here its damage had been done.
Yes, it was over.
But the disaster it had created was just beginning.
here were seven houses, each on an acre, in the once pretty cul-de-sac, on a drive that had come around a small circular park of trees and foliage.
The massive banyan was down, and the earth and the road were ripped up along with it. It was along the path Katie and Jordan had taken from their own home to Andrew Cunningham's.
The banyan had nearly done her in during the storm. While she'd still been home, she would have gladly ripped it straight out of the ground herself. Now, she was sorry to see its destruction. Somehow, it was sadder to see the majestic tree even more destroyed than her own home. It had been such a beautiful old tree. The builders of the place had obviously taken great pains to go around it. Now their pains didn't seem to matter much.
Nor did much else. Of the seven houses, four remained standing and seemed almost absurdly untouched. The three others, including her own, were wretchedly damaged. The boards she had put over her windows were goneâas were her windows. Her roof had all but disappeared in several places. The structure was still standing.
She needed to take pictures. All of this needed to be put on film.
But her cameras were inside that shell of a house, along with most of her film and a number of her best pieces. Maybe something was left. She needed to get in to see.
“Wow!” she heard suddenly. She turned quickly. Len Hampton, a retiree from New York City, had come out of his house, which was still standing and was next to Drew Cunningham's. His wife, Sophie, a sweet, petite little lady with a lot of fire and gumption, came up behind him, her silver hair in a perfect coiffure, as if she hadn't tossed a single moment throughout the long night. They were a nice couple, very pleasantly old-fashioned, and Katie had met them because Sophie had dragged Len over with a thermos of coffee and a pound cake the day Katie had moved in. The couple hadn't said a word about any of theirâneighbors. They had been friendly, telling her about themselves, and said she must feel free to visit or ask for any kind of help any time.