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. Everything possible, such as piles of lumber, tools, etc. were moved 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.
Finding it difficult to concentrate on the printed words as the thunderclaps and lighting flashes grew closer, she marked her place with her favorite bookmark, closed the paperback, and laid it on the coffee table. She went 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 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 criss-crossed on her sofa, hugging an accent pillow from the sofa close to her chest, as she watched the constant lighting strikes out her windows, jumping with each explosive boom, as the bolts seem 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 could barely be heard over the loud 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 of the storm. The smell of smoke filled the air. Something was burning, most likely struck by the lightning. She stepped out away from her house, into the street. The rising plume of dense black smoke could be seen in the distance.
When she suddenly realized the smoke was coming from the direction of Tara, she ran back into the house, 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 lone highway.
The nearer to Tara she got, the more the air was full of smoke, the more she could see the actual blaze of the fire. 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, and then she parked, and jumped out. Tara was engulfed in flames.
"No! No!" she screamed, as she began running toward the burning mansion.
Jacob heard her screams at once and turned away from the Fire Marshall standing next to him just in time to see her running past.
He ran after her, grabbing her around the waist.
"Let go," she cried as she tried to pull away from him. "Let me go!"
"Cassie, no! It's gone. Tara's gone. There's nothing you can do," he said, as he held her tightly.
"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, Cassie. 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, Cassie. I checked before I locked up this afternoon, just as I always do. She's not in there, I promise you."
Jacob turned at the sound of the female voice, finding 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 no 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. "Just 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 car.
Almost two hours passed before Jacob and Mark arrived at Cassie's still dark home. Inside, they found Margo sitting in the living room, the pillar candles Cassie had lit much earlier still burning.
"How is she?" Jacob asked.
"She was still pretty upset when we got here. I finally persuaded her to take a sedative. She's been asleep for a while. Hopefully, she'll stay that way through the night. Bless her heart. Tara meant so much to her. It's just heartbreaking."
"I know," Jacob said, his voice solemn. "You guys go on home, I'll stay with her. Hopefully, the power will come back on soon."
"Yeah. Cassie obviously left here in a hurry. Candles were still burning. It's a wonder she didn't burn this place down, too."
After they left, Jacob went into the garage. Once he checked to be sure Margo had pulled Cassie's car into the small garage far enough to clear, he pulled the garage door down, locked it, then went back inside, locked the front door, blew out all the candles but one. Taking the one remaining lit candle with him, he walked down the short hall to Cassie's bedroom. He pulled her covers up over her, kissed her forehead, blew out the candle, then settled in the easy chair next to her bed, propping his feet on the ottoman in front of it.
When he woke the next morning, still in the chair, he found himself covered with the small quilt from Cassie's bed, and Cassie gone.
"I thought I'd find you here. Are you okay?"
Cassie was standing in front of what once was Tara, staring into the ashes.
"Well, since my dream is little more than a pile of smoldering ashes this morning, I guess you could say I've had better days."
"I'm sorry, Cassie. But as soon as it cools enough to be safe, we'll clear it out, and start over."
"No," she said, shaking her head.
"What do you mean no? So, that's it? You're just going to give up on your dream? Just like that? That doesn't sound like the Cassie I know. And what about us? Are you going to give up on us as well?"
"No! Of course I'm not going to just give up! Especially not on us. I love you, Jacob. I would never give up on us."
"Well, that's good to hear, cause I love you and I want to spend the rest of my life with you."
"I want that, too. And I'm not giving up on my dream of a bed and breakfast; I just don't want to start over with Tara. Tara is gone. There are plenty of other abandoned mansions around, just like this one was, that need to be saved. I want to find another one and save it. I want us to find another one and save it, together."
"I like that, especially the us together part." Jacob stepped closer to Cassie, took her in his arms, kissed her.
She pushed away from him, walked a few steps away, then turned back to face him.
"Jacob, there's something I need to tell you."
"What?" he asked, his facial expression instantly turning from delight to concern.
"I'm going to have a baby, Jacob; we're going to have a baby."
"Are you kidding? Seriously? Are you sure?"
"Well, it's not confirmed yet. I have a doctor's appointment next week. But according to four different home pregnancy tests, I am."
"Cassie, that's great! That's fantastic!"
"Is it?" Her voice was soft, unsure.
"Well, I certainly think so! You don't?"
"But what?" he asked as he took a couple of steps toward her, removing the distance between them she had created moments before.
"I have two grown kids. I could be a grandmother at any time."
"I'm forty years old, and you're forty-five—"
"So. We'll be older parents. So what?"
"Jacob, there's a lot of health risks involved with a pregnancy at my age. I might not even be able to carry the baby to full term, and then there's the possibility of birth defects, Down Syndrome..."
"If any of those things happen, we'll just deal with them, together, however we need to. Do you want to have this baby, Cassie, or not?"
"Of course I do. It's your baby. Our baby. Of course I want it. It's just not that simple."
"Seems pretty simple to me."
He put his arms around her once again, kissed her. They remained in each other's arms for several minutes, their kisses passionate.
Finally, Jacob asked, "So, this other abandoned mansion we're going to save. When do you want to start looking for it? Today? Tomorrow? When?"
"Not today," Cassie said. "Tomorrow will be fine." Then she paused, a huge grin taking over her face. "After all, tomorrow is—"
Jacob planted his lips on hers before she had a chance to finish.
Miss Prissy's Bed & Breakfast opened eleven months after Tara burned to the ground. Cassie and Jacob were married over the Thanksgiving holiday in a small church ceremony, with Margo and Mark by their sides. Patricia and Paul were in attendance.
The happy couple moved into their dream home Jacob built where Tara once stood five months before the opening of the bed and breakfast.
Cassie gave birth to a healthy baby boy exactly nine months after their first night together. They named him Jacob Benjamin Miller II. Mark and Margo, who married on New Year's Eve in Las Vegas, were named as his official godparents.
Patricia, Paul, and Phillip took the first steps to mend their severed relationship during Christmas break, spending some time together. Cassie was confident it would happen with time, and while she doubted she would ever forgive Phillip and Melanie, she did hope they were as happy in their life together as she and Jacob were. Well, maybe not as happy.
Prissy, the cat, spends most of her days soaking up the sun from the comfort of her favorite chair in the parlor of the bed and breakfast. She does occasionally make her way outside, keeping the mice and rats at bay.