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Chapter 26: The Storm

Heavy clouds had covered the skies for three days. Tropical storm Hanna loomed in the Gulf Of Mexico but was expected to make landfall further west in the days ahead. Not wanting to take any chance, Jacob had ordered his crew to clear the area surrounding Tara of anything that could be picked up by hurricane force winds and slammed into the mansion. They had moved as much as possible, such as piles of lumber, tools, etc., inside.

The Atlantic hurricane season had begun June 1st and would end November 30th. So far it had been a relatively calm season, and Jacob and Cassie prayed it would remain the same through November.

Cassie could hear the skies rumbling in the distance as she cuddled in one of her living room chairs, determined to finish her novel, having been distracted from it several days before by Jacob, and their passionate lovemaking. This night she had the perfect opportunity to read without any distraction; Jacob had informed her earlier in the day at Tara that he needed to spend the evening at home, catching up on paperwork, bills, and the end-of-the-month payroll.

Unable to concentrate on the printed words as the thunderclaps and lightning flashes neared, she marked her place with her favorite bookmark before closing it and placing it on the coffee table. She stepped into the kitchen to gather flashlights, candles, and matches. She wasn’t surprised when her phone rang a few minutes later.

“Hey, you okay?” Jacob asked when she answered. “According to the local evening news, we weren’t supposed to get any storms tonight.”

“Yeah, well, what do they know?”

Jacob chuckled. “True. Want me to come to stay with you, in case it gets bad?”

“No, Jacob, I’m fine. I’ve weathered storms before. And I don’t want you getting out in it. Hopefully, it passes over us. So far it’s more noise than rain.”

She had indeed sat through plenty of nighttime storms in the past, but rarely alone. Phillip had been by her side, except on the occasions he was on a business trip, and even then, one of the kids had been home with her. And with their large generator, the loss of electricity was never an issue. Her small rental house had no such generator.

“If you change your mind, Cassie, call me. Got flashlights handy in case the power goes out?”

“Yes, I’m looking at them now. Flashlights, candles, I’m all good.”

“Good. Got your interior room picked out?”

“Yes, my bedroom closet should be perfect, provided all the clothes stuffed in the dinky little thing don’t smother me.”

Laughing, Jacob replied, “Okay. Just stay safe, and call if you decide you want me to come. I love you.”

“You stay safe as well. Love you.”

An hour later, Cassie sat with her legs crisscrossed on her sofa, hugging an accent pillow close to her chest, as she watched the constant lighting strikes out her windows, jumping with each explosive boom, as the bolts seemed to touch down all around. She had lit a few large pillar candles at the first loss of electricity, but there was no need. The room, as well as the night sky, was bright. She had texted Jacob earlier, letting him know she had lost power but was okay. The constant wailing of sirens in the distance battled for attention over the loud claps of thunder. When the lightning storm finally quieted several minutes later, Cassie stepped outside her front door to check for any damage in the area caused by the strong winds or lightning. The smell of smoke filled the air. She stepped out away from her house, into the street and at once noticed the rising plume of dense black smoke in the distance.

Realizing the smoke was coming from the direction of Tara, she ran back into the house and grabbed her phone.

“Answer, dammit! Answer!”

But Jacob did not answer, as his phone rang and rang, finally going to voicemail.

Frustrated, Cassie tossed the phone on the coffee table next to the paperback book, grabbed her handbag from the kitchen and headed out into her garage.

“Shit!” she exclaimed as she reflexively flipped on the wall light switch, and remained standing in the darkness of the garage. She ran back into the house to grab a flashlight, aware that she would have to open the single-car garage door manually.

Once she backed out of the garage, she headed toward River Road, leaving the garage door open.

Although the storm had passed, and the rain was now only a light steady drizzle, the windshield wipers swept hard and fast in front of her as the moisture from the road splashed as she sped down the highway.

The nearer to Tara she got, the more the air filled with smoke as the actual blaze of the fire came into view. When she reached the gravel road entrance, she saw the bright flashing lights of the large firetrucks. She drove as far down the road as she could before stopping, barely taking the time to put the car in park before jumping out.

Flames rose high over Tara, entirely engulfing it.

“No! No!” Cassie screamed, running toward the burning mansion right past Jacob and the Fire Marshall.

“Cassie! Stop!”

“Let go!” she cried when Jacob grabbed her by the waist and refused to release his grip. "Let me go!"

“Cassie, no! It’s gone. Tara’s gone. There’s nothing you can do."

“No, Jacob, no!” She continued to sob as she watched her dream for her future burn, her body slowly going limp in his arms. And then she was rigid once more.

“Oh my God! Prissy! Prissy!”

“It’s okay. She’s not in there,” Jacob assured her, his face against hers, his breath heavy on her neck.

“What if she is, Jacob! What if she is?”

“She’s not. I checked before I locked up this afternoon, just as I always do. She’s not in there, I promise you.”

“Dear God!”

Jacob turned at the sound of the female voice to find Margo and Mark standing next to them. Mark was shaking his head in disgust.

“Damn lightning. She didn’t stand a chance with all that old wood.”

Jacob shook his head in agreement.

“Cassie, are you okay, hon?” Margo asked, putting her hand on her friend’s shoulder.

“Margo, why don’t you take her home?” Jacob said.

“No!” Cassie replied, finally turning around to face him. “I’m not leaving.”

“Cassie, there’s nothing you can do here. There’s no reason for you to stay. You need to let Margo take you home.”

“He’s right, hon. Come on, let me take you home.”

“Thanks, Margo,” Jacob said. “We’ll be along later.”

“Want to take the truck?” Mark asked her.

“No, I’ll drive Cassie’s car.”

“Okay,” he said. “Be careful.” He leaned over and kissed her. “Love you.”

“Love you,” she said, touching her hand to his side, and then leading Cassie to her still-running car.

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