Authors: Heather Graham
“No!” Katie protested, horrified. “I would never think of putting you out of your homeâ”
“You might,” he murmured wearily, leaning back.
He inhaled and exhaled. “Mrs. Wells, you're very welcome to stay here. I'll leave if you like, I'll stay if you like. You can take the guest room, and Jordan can have the room to the left of itâthere's an entertainment center in there with a stereo system, television, even games. Assuming we get electricity again some time in the near future. Both rooms have private baths. I'm sure you'll be as comfortable as possible out of your own domicile. I can almost guarantee you that I won't be around very much, not with the cleanup that's going to have to go on now.”
“Will you please quite worrying?”
Katie hesitated. The offer was a darned good one. Her choices were limited. She could go to a shelter and sit there endlessly, chewing her lip, biting her nails, wanting to be doing something.
In a few days, of course, she could go to her father's. She loved her father.
And she could listen endlessly to him telling her that she was young, that she needed to get herself a life that didn't include other people's joys and devastations in black and white and color film.
She could stay in the Holloways' weight room.
Or join Ted at Sophie and Len's. Poor Ted. He'd wind up on a couch, of course, to give her and Jordan a room.
Here, she was right across from her own home. She could be here when the insurance adjusters and the repair people came. She could watch what happened.
She could dig through the rubble.
She needed to start digging right now.
“If you are going to stay, please call me Drew. Mr. Cunningham gets irritating after a while.”
“Well, then, excuse me!” she said, with just a note of sarcasm to her voice. “I wouldn't want to be irritating. Which is the precise reasonâ”
“You want to take a little boy to a shelter to sweat to death in the days ahead?”
“I do have places to goâ”
“Not many people will be going anywhere today, Mrs. Wells. They're begging people to stay off the streets. I'm willing to bet that it's impossible to get through half of them. In fact, I'm willing to bet it's impossible just to drive around the cul-de-sac right now.”
“If I'm going to stay here,” Katie said, “my name is Katie, or Katherine. Mrs. Wells gets irritating after a while.”
He grinned, the anger suddenly gone. And when he smiled like that, he was very attractive. It was a sensual smile.
No wife. He had said so. But there had to be a woman somewhere in his life. Maybe lots of women.
Maybe he had so many of them he hadn't even noticed she was among the ranks.
Maybe she should quit speculating about the man.
Maybe she should keep doing soâshe was contemplating staying in his house with her only child.
Ah, well. Surely, natural disasters made for strange bedfellows.
Not bedfellows. House fellows.
It seemed amazing that she knew some people fairly well and could still keep such a distance from them. And now here was this man she barely knew, and she was already thinking about such personal things as the look of his hands, the feel of his thigh against hers. She was tempted to stroke the contours of his cheek.
Chemistry. A certain draw, she told herself firmly. Almost animal instinct.
Thank God she was human, of course. She could feel such things and never act upon them.
Oh, God! But she was losing it.
“Katie,” he said softly. “I would be delightedâno, I insist that you make my home your own. And as I've said, I'll be happy to leave, if you deem it necessary.”
His voice was husky. Low. Masculine. As sensual as his smile.
Yes, leave. One of us needs to, she thought.
She was being an idiot.
“Fine,” she said. “We'll stayâuntil we can leave, of course.” She realized she was still hunched down, gathering up shoes. She was very close to him. She could inhale that very pleasant and subtle scent of man and soap and after-shave.
She stood quickly. “I'll put these upstairs, out of the way,” she told him.
“Fine,” he said.
Katie turned and ran up the stairs, opening a closet to dump the shoes.
The closet was empty.
Well, perhaps he didn't have a live-in girlfriend.
Idiot, Katie told herself. If he did have a live-in girlfriend, she'd probably be living in his room!
She slipped into Midge Holloway's loafers and found them a reasonable fitâthe shoes were very narrow, which helped make them tighter. Now she was dressedâa borrowed bathrobe and borrowed shoes.
She came downstairs. Jordan still slept on the sofa.
Katie walked to the door and opened it. The rain had stopped again. The sky remained battleship gray, but the wind seemed to be dying down again.
Across the fallen trees in the center of the cul-de-sac, she could see her house very clearly. Suddenly, the urge to see exactly what was inside it was very strong.
She should find Drew Cunningham and tell him where she was going.
She should wake Jordan and tell him.
But when she walked to the sofa, her son was sleeping so peacefully that she didn't want to waken him. And Drew had disappeared somewhere.
And after all, she had agreed to stay here. She hadn't made him her lord and master or anything.
Her child was sleeping on his sofa.
But she was very confident of one thing. Jordan was certainly all right in the man's house.
She hurried to the door, promising herself that she would take a quick look and come right back.
She started across the street, noting that Drew Cunningham was rightâyou couldn't even drive a car around the cul-de-sac, there were so many trees down.
She walkedâthen climbedâher way across the street and came to her house.
The front door was banging open and shut in what remained of the wind.
She stepped into her living room. The carpeting squished beneath her feetâthere was a good inch of water in it.
Midge's shoes were ruined. She made a mental note to replace her neighbor's shoes with a new pair Midge would love.
Then she looked around.
Her furniture was soaked, and bits of plaster lay all about. In the hallway, the whole of the roof was down.
She walked into the living room and threw off one of the curtains that had landed on the edge of the sofa. She inhaled, startled to find one of her camerasâdry, untouched by the water and wind because the drapery had somehow managed to fall and protect it.
She checked quickly. High-speed film, perfect for the gray day. And thirty exposures left.
She started to set the camera down, then slipped the strap over her shoulder. She wasn't leaving this camera nowânot for a second. She wasn't going to take any chances.
At least she could capture something of today.
She turned, anxious, still checking.
If she wanted to capture a piece of Andrew, she could start right here. Her beautiful draperies were sodden, discolored lumps on the floor. Curtain rods hung in disarray. Her chairs were soaked and battered; a large croton bushâdirt and roots includedâhad slammed against her coffee table. Glass was everywhere. The living room was demolished.
Strange things had remained. The camera on the couch had been just fine. And across the room, she could see a little rosewood wall stand that contained some of her small porcelain miniatures.
Not one of them had even moved.
And there, just down the wall from the standâ¦
She hurried across the living room, amazed to discover that the picture of her and Terry and Jordan as a three-year-old still hung in place.
The windows were gone, the roof was half caved in, and stillâ¦ Her picture remained. It was so strange. In the midst of such destruction, strange and somewhat delicate things remained. She started to reach for the picture.
“Katie! What in God's name do you think you're doing!”
Stunned, she spun around. Drew Cunningham was standing in her doorway, hands on his hips, his voice that of a shipmaster yelling at a second mate.
“It's my house!” she said indignantly.
“It's not safe!” he exploded.
“I have toâ”
“Katie, look up, look out!”
“The storm is overâ” Katie began, but looked up as he had warned her. She could already hear a strange, tearing sound. As she stared at the ceiling, Drew came hurtling across the room, throwing his arms around her and himself upon her as he brought them both down to the floor away from the wall.
She was beneath him. And even as they landed, a large chunk of plaster came crashing down, the bulk of it missing them, but a corner of it breaking away and landing with a startling thud right on his back.
“Oh!” Katie gasped in alarm.
He raised his shoulders quickly without a word or a groan, and the plaster fell to his side. He remained above Katie, and she met his eyes, shaking.
She struggled quickly for words. “I'm sorry, are you all rightâ?”
“I'm all right.”
“You're covered with plaster.”
“I said I'm all right!”
She might have been killed. He might have been killed. And it would have been her fault for running in here. But the shakes were dwindling to something an awful lot like warm, shooting tremors.
And she wasn't at all sure the feeling was coming from the danger of the storm-damaged house.
All she really knew was that he was half lying atop her, that she could feel the heady fever of his body, the shape and form of it, the warmth and life of the muscles in his thighs and chestâ¦
“I said I was sorry!”
“You can get killed running into dangerous places like this without knowing what the condition is!”
“You could have been killed, as well!”
“I, at least, know what the hell I'm doing!”
“But it's my house!”
For a moment, he looked as if he would shout at her again, and she was ready, tense and ready. Somehow, she was afraid to lose this argument, and if she just kept shouting back, she'd be all right.
But he didn't shout at her again. He opened his mouth, then fell silent. Then he said softly, “Katie, it's not safe.”
It wasn't safe. Not at all.
And she wasn't thinking of her houseâ¦
he immediate danger didn't last long.
Before many more seconds had ticked by, they were interrupted by a tentative call from outside the house.
“Mom? Mr. Cunningham?”
“Jordan!” Katie cried. She set her hands on Drew's chest to push him away, but he was already up, reaching down a hand to help her up, too.
They were both somewhat whitened by ceiling plaster, and Katie wasn't sure whether to laugh or try to apologize again. Before she could do either, her camera swung around from her shoulder and belted him in the ribs.
“Sorry!” she said again.
“You came in here for a camera?”
“I came in here to see what was left!”
“And you picked up a camera?”
She gritted her teeth. “I'm a photographer. Free lance. It's what I do for a living.”
“And I'm good at it and I don't have a house anymore and I might need what I can make off of storm pictures! Not to mention the fact that this has been something that should be remembered!”
“It's still not worth your life!” he told her.
Of course not. But before she could assure him that she hadn't meant to put anyone in danger, including herself, she heard her son calling to her again. “Mom? Mr. Cunningham? Are you in there?”
“Yes!” Katie called quickly. “Don't come in, I'll come out.”
“Mr. Cunningham needs to come, too. There's a lady on the phone for him. Can you believe it? We've barely got a house and Mr. Cunningham's phone is still working!”
Drew grimaced, then set his hands on Katie's shoulders, spinning her around and urging her toward the door, which was hanging open.
She felt his hands on her shoulders as they walked.
There was a lady on the phone for him. Well, of course, he hadn't been spending his life in celibacy, waiting for her.
Katie was startled by the strength of the jealousy that seemed to pour through her.
Drew propelled her out of the house. Jordan stood on the porch, watching them with open curiosity. “I was trying to see what was left,” Katie told her son. “Mr. Cunningham stopped me.”
“The place isn't safe,” Drew said. The words were quiet. The tension in his voice was nearly controlled.
Jordan sighed. “Anyone can see that, Mom.”
Drew Cunningham was behind her. She was certain that he was nodding sagely at the wisdom of a ten-year-old âa child brighter than his mother.
“Yes,” she murmured, just a little acidly, “Mr. Cunningham has so informed me.” She spun around. “Don't you think you should run over and answer your phone, Drew?”
“Oh, yeah, the lady is real worried,” Jordan said. “I told her that you were fine, that you'd gone out to chase my mom somewhere. She was real nice, so I told her that your house was just fine, and she wasn't quite sure who I was so I tried to explain that our house wasn't fine. I think I confused her worse.”
“Maybe you'd better hurry,” Katie suggested sweetly.
“And I think you'd better follow along with me,” he said, not seeming to be in a hurry to rectify things. “It's not safe to go into that house.”
“I know you want to see what you can salvage. If you'll just wait a few minutes and come with me now, I'll come back with you and make sure that you sift through the house safely.”