Chapter 7: All clear
Cassie found Jacob waiting on the raised porch of the mansion when she arrived in her new platinum Infiniti convertible.
Stepping out of the car, she immediately noticed his bulging biceps accentuated by the tight short sleeve of his tee.
Margo’s toast the evening the two had celebrated the finalization of Cassie’s divorce from Phillip filled her head.
Here’s to perfect vision and Louisiana summer heat.
She shook the words away as soon as they entered. She had no interest in a summer romance, not with Jacob or anyone else. The mansion, the restoration of it, and the start of her life as the owner of a B&B were her only interests. She averted her eyes away from Jacob, focusing her attention instead on the area surrounding the mansion. The tall brush and weeds were gone. The lot was clean, except for a few trees that had been spared, including two huge oaks, one on each side of the mansion.
“Wow! It doesn’t even look like the same place. The oak trees are magnificent! I’m so glad you saved them,” she exclaimed as she joined Jacob on the porch.
“Every Louisiana Bed and Breakfast must include at least one oak tree. The more, the better. They’re one of the main symbols of the state. And those two are beautiful with the dangling Spanish moss. Some people have no use for the moss; I think it adds character, even a bit of romance, to the trees.” His cheeks turned red as he made the last comment, his dimples deep. “Not that they need anything. They’re beautiful trees on their own,” he quickly added.
Cassie smiled. “I agree. They are splendid, and the moss does give them a romantic appeal.”
Their eyes locked, but only momentarily, with Cassie looking away.
“Can we go inside?”
“Yes, of course! You’re going to be pleased, I believe. The interior is incredible.”
“I think so. Let’s go in, and you can see for yourself.” Jacob opened the door, then stood to the side, allowing Cassie to enter ahead of him.
She remained both quiet and expressionless as she walked around the downstairs, making her way from the large central room to the others off of it, taking her time to examine every detail, from the floor-to-ceiling marble fireplace in the main room to the ornate staircase leading to the second floor.
“Of course, it still needs a whole lot of work,” Jacob said in an effort, it seemed, to clarify his comment moments before as he followed behind her.
She turned around to face him. His excitement of the house reminded her of an innocent child’s. Phillip had always been too dignified to show much emotion about anything. She found Jacob’s youthful exuberance rather charming, though she would never admit that to anyone, especially Margo.
“It does need a lot of work, but you’re right. It is incredible. It has all the character and charm I expected—that I hoped—it would have. The crystal chandeliers, the wood flooring, the marble. They’re amazing! Can they all be saved?”
“The wood floors, absolutely, as well as the marble, and I’m pleased to hear that you want to save them. With any luck, all the chandeliers will turn out to be salvageable as well; hard to say right now,” Jacob replied.
I do want them saved. I want to keep as much of the personality and spirit of the home as possible.”
“I’ll do my best. Ready to see the upstairs?”
“Are the stairs safe?” Cassie asked as she studied the massive newels flanking each side of the first step with their large scrolls embellished with an acanthus leaf design.
“They are. I had concerns that the wood would be rotted, but it’s not. You’ll still want to be careful. I wouldn’t put much weight on the handrail though, not that you have that much weight to put on it.”
Cassie chose to ignore Jacob’s assessment of her size as she glided her hand over one of the designs. “Can the banister be saved? I love the style of the balusters with the intricately engraved design. This first newel is beautiful.”
“Ma’am, I’ll save every inch of the place I possibly can.”
She smiled at him. “Good. And, please. Cassie, not ma’am.”
Cassie laughed. “Cassie is fine. Miss Monroe is too formal, and ma’am, while polite, makes me feel old.” With that, she turned and headed up the stairs, suddenly uncomfortable with her casualness, but not caring at the moment. She was too thrilled with the interior of the plantation home to care.
A sudden loud bang caused her to jump. Turning to Jacob, who was following a few steps behind, she asked, “What was that?”
“I don’t know. I left the front door open. Maybe the wind blew it shut,” Jacob replied.
“There is no wind.”
“Good point. I’ll go back down and check. Go on up and look around. Just be careful.”
He met her upstairs a few minutes later.
“The front door is closed. Must have been a sudden gust of wind. I looked all around, didn’t see anything out of the ordinary.”
“Hmm—” Cassie merely replied.
After touring the upstairs and finding it as impressive as the downstairs, she said, “Your crew did an excellent job of cleaning out the bad. I’m wondering if they ran off Dr. Savoy’s ghost as well, or is he’s responsible for the door closing downstairs?”
“Yes, didn’t you know, Jacob, that the place is haunted?”
“Umm—no, I was not aware of that. But I am intrigued by the idea. So many of these old plantation homes are believed to be. You’ll have to fill me in.”
“Another time perhaps. So, when can you get started?” Cassie asked as she headed back downstairs.
Following behind her, Jacob replied, “Well, first we need to meet with the architect so he can draw up the plans. He’s coming out later this morning with his team to take measurements and do an initial sketch. Then you will need to meet with him and to go over your ideas. It will take a series of meetings before he has it completed to standard, as well as your approval. I’d like to participate in those meetings if you’re comfortable with that. I can add my input on what is feasible, and what might not be, maybe offer a suggestion here and there.”
“Whatever it takes to get going.”
“Good. Do you have in mind what you want, the layout of it?”
“I do. Now that I’ve seen the interior, I know exactly what I want.”
“Something told me you would. I get the impression you always know what you want.”
“I do,” Cassie replied, making eye contact with Jacob for a second before turning away and then adding, “Though I don’t always get it, or manage to keep it.” She immediately regretted adding the last sentence. The last thing in the world she wanted was to discuss her personal life with her contractor, especially this one.
“The architect will be here at ten if you’d like to hang around. His name is Jefferson Beauchamp, but everyone calls him Beau. He’s Cajun, so his accent is difficult to understand at times, but he’s excellent at what he does. I’ve used him for years.
“Yes, you gave me his information earlier. I did meet with him. I look forward to working with him.”
“Good.” Checking his wristwatch, Jacob said, “It’s eight-thirty now, how about we drive into town for some breakfast. You can share your ideas with me and tell me all about this ghost.”
Cassie started to decline but decided it would be easier to kill time in a restaurant over breakfast than just hanging out at the mansion. The morning was already warm, the humidity high. A slight amount of sweat cooled her brow.
“Sure, why not. You pick the place, I’ll follow.”
“There’s no need for that. You can ride with me.”
“I don’t think that’s a good idea.”
“Are you concerned about my truck, or me? Because my truck is clean, and I’m pretty harmless.”
“Neither,” Cassie insisted, feigning offense at his implication. “I was concerned about leaving my car here.”
“I think it’s safe, but it’s up to you. Whichever way you would be more comfortable.”
“I’ll trust your judgment, then, and ride with you. I just need to grab my handbag from the car and lock it.”
Jacob opened the passenger side door of his truck as she approached it. He reached in, gathered up the assortment of folders on the seat, and tossed them into the rear seat before reaching for her hand.
“Careful. Step up on the side railing.”
Cassie allowed his assistance, once again noticing the rough feel of the calluses on his hands as she had the day they first met. And once again, she found herself comparing them to the perfect smoothness of Phillip’s. She also found herself acutely aware of Jacob’s scent. Unlike the rich aroma of spices of Phillip’s cologne, Jacob’s was invigoratingly clean, much like the freshness of a rain shower on a hot summer’s day.
She heaved a frustrated sigh as she watched Jacob walk around the front of the truck. Why in the hell did she keep comparing Jacob to Phillip? Margo, that’s why! Margo was to blame for putting such ridiculous ideas in her head with her absurd talk of hunks, muscles, and summer heat
Yet, as she watched Jacob climb in next to her and start the engine, Cassie couldn’t help but imagine how he would look without his shirt. Feeling her thin tank top begin to stick to her body, she reached for the air vent, turning it so that the air flowed directly on her.
Yes, she blamed Margo, and just maybe the fact that she hadn’t had sex in over six months.