Chapter 1

Caution: This Romantic Sex Story contains strong sexual content, including Ma/ft, Consensual, Heterosexual, First, Oral Sex, Masturbation, Menstrual Play, Slow, .

Desc: Romantic Sex Story: Chapter 1 - Hurricane season in south Louisiana. Dan stays behind because it's HIS ancestral home. In the aftermath, he rescues another stay-behind, a young girl. Hurricanes change a lot of things. Including two lives.

"Ill blows the wind that profits nobody" –

William Shakespeare


The land had been home to members of my family for generations, with the best part of the property being a high ridge running parallel to the not too distant Gulf of Mexico. After great great grand-dad bought a couple of thousand acres, over the years of heirs and sub-dividing, I was fortunate to end up with the choicest of tracts, including the hillock on which I built my house.

Now about the house. I'm an engineer, electrical, actually, and several years ago I was in the middle of a bunch of other engineers, drinking beer and eating barbecue in somebody's back yard and I mentioned the tract of land. Beautiful place, but it was the stripe down the middle of hurricane alley. Flooding wasn't likely, but winds? Nothing for miles in any direction except a few live oak trees bent in interesting poses by decades of wind.

We had representation of the engineering staff there, my co-workers, contemporaries, and when I said something about building, they ran through a litany of jokes about houses blowing away. But the civil guy said, "Nah! Piece of cake. I can draw up some specs and some plans and details and I can guarantee that a Category Five won't touch it." And that's how the house was built. Where a standard foundation rode on the surface of the soil with a thick chainwall around the edge, MY foundation was tied with steel to a set of poured reinforced concrete borings. And the frame was bolted and strapped to the foundation. And the roof was strapped to the walls. And the roofing was sheet steel, screwed down with five times the standard fastenings. The windows were double strength and there were REAL shutters, decorative when folded back, to be sure, but when closed, the wind and blown debris wouldn't touch the windows. Anything outside was built to stand a hundred and seventy-five mile per hour winds. With engineered margins. Everything. That was the house.

And I'm the electrical guy, so behind the house was a generator. And a BIG tank of fuel. Enough for three or four weeks. Propane. It doesn't go bad. And I took care of it, running it, maintaining it, just like the ones that my clients depended on for emergency backup power. And when the parish (county if you're not in Louisiana) came by with a community water system, I said NO! and kept my deep well with a pump that I supplied power for.

That's what I had. And it was wonderful solitude. The nearest neighbor was a half mile away for the first two years after I built the house and moved in. And then a distant cousin decided to make some money off the government and built a set of apartments on an adjacent tract. Our rural area had NO "low income" housing, and a set of apartments was guaranteed to be filled with occupants who paid with government checks. Plus, he got a "special" deal on financing. And his "do-good" project leapt right over my objections to the zoning.

So my dream house now was neighbor to a set of four apartments in a two story frame building. Ten miles from the coast. And I can tell you that it wasn't built like MY house.

And it was August in Louisiana and every day I spent a few minutes checking weather reports for hurricanes. It was that time of the year. And one morning I looked, and there one was. I and everybody else on the coast followed the track and two days out, I knew I was in for a ride.

I called the agency that employed me as a troubleshooter and go-to guy for industrial power, and told them to take my name off the board for a few days. It was time to prepare. I bought groceries. I checked the battery stock, just in case. Wasn't anything left to do but close and bar the shutters and I was ready. Twenty-four hours before the storm, I was sitting in the living room, watching TV and petting the big yellow cat that was my companion. I watched the local news stations breathlessly calling for evacuations of the parish wherein I resided. I sat on my own porch and watched cars leaving the apartments as well as places further back up the road.

The winds picked up under strange-colored skies, clouds moving purposefully in busy patterns toward the storm out in the Gulf. I walked into my garage to check the big diesel pickup truck that was enclosed. Its tank was full, and there was a fresh drum of diesel inside the garage. In an adjacent building was my travel trailer. In hurricane winds, that trailer would be like a ping-pong ball in a blender, except that it was fully ensconced in a shelter built just as well as the house.

The truck was a tool of the trade. So was the trailer, home away from home when I had an out of state project. Prepped? That was me. Before cell towers went down, I called my family, sister and brother, safely housed further inland, and they were joining thousands moving north and east and west out of the oncoming storm. Both of them tried talking me out of staying, but I knew what roads looked like, jammed bumper to bumper, moving start and stop for a hundred miles in every direction.

So I made a pot of red beans and a pot of rice to go with it, and sat back to surf the news until the lines went down.

The winds continued to pick up. I watched my home's weather station. The winds started gusting above forty at dark. Sunset? No sun visible, just some peculiar glow in a generally western direction. I kicked back the recliner. The display was showing gusts over sixty by eight PM. And rising. The lights flickered. Came back on. Flickered again. And stayed off. That was the electricity. THEIR electricity. I went to my utility room, flashlight in hand, pushed a button, pulled a handle, and the lights were back on. Generator.

The cable was gone, too. Same pole somewhere up the road, most likely. Mentally I cussed. I knew I should've switched to a satellite system. I could've hardened that. I took comfort in the idea that with the heavy cloud and rain, the satellite signal would have been very erratic. But still ... I made mental note for a change when things got back to normal.

We were ninety and gusting higher, the howl of the wind audible even through well-built and insulated walls. Tommi, the neutered tomcat, decided that he needed companionship and he wedged himself into the recliner beside me. I put a DVD in the player and went to sleep.

I woke up and the winds were from the opposite direction, but down to forty in gusts. I looked out my portholes, the little windows that I didn't have shutters on, and it was daybreak. I'd weathered the storm. I fixed breakfast for myself and put a treat down for the old yellow cat. We enjoyed breakfast. Well, I enjoyed my own. He looked at his, and turned his picky old butt to it and stalked off.

By eight, the winds were down to thirty mile per hour gusts. I decided it was time to survey my kingdom. I walked outside. Windy. Splatters of rain. Low clouds scudding purposefully towards the eye somewhere inland. But the storm was over. I walked around the building. Not a thing was out of place. It had survived unscathed, result of a little engineering and a little extra time and money. The RV shelter was similarly unscathed. I busied myself opening shutters, putting my house back in normal condition. That took an hour.

I flipped open the cellphone. No signal. And I looked around, past my own fence. My neighboring apartment building was down in a shambles. Roof of part of it lifted off and flew to who knows where. The rest pushed over. I didn't see a sign of life, but as far as I knew, everybody had evacuated

The next thing I did was turn on the radio for local news. The storm had come ashore as a Category Three, the eye passing fifteen or twenty miles east of me. I'd come through the worst of it. The radio detailed post-storm situations. Like the fact that I was inside an area that was off limits to travel. The people who had evacuated wouldn't be allowed back. Walking down to the road and looking toward town, I could understand. Storm surge waters covered it a quarter mile from me. I could see debris as far as I could see.

I walked to the fence between my property and the apartment complex to get a better look. The fence, tall boards, was laying flat, having succumbed to early winds, I imagined. I was thinking about how much money was 'saved' on its construction and the construction of the apartments, building as cheaply as possible. I supposed that they have more than enough insurance, and after a few years of charging exorbitant rates to people who were spending government money, I figured they'd gotten their investment back already. But that's just numbers. I deal with a lot of numbers.

What I didn't intend to deal with was a faint sound from the rubble. I tilted my head to hear better. Yes. It was there. Sobbing.

"Helloooooo!!!!" I yelled. "Who's in there?"

"Hellllllllppppp!" was the return. My day just went from a relaxing bit of isolation to some sort of rescue effort. I jumped onto the flattened fence and ran to the edge of the rubble pile. "Help me!" A strained, crying, feminine voice. "I can't get out!"

"Keep talking," I called. "I need your voice to find you!" I turned to the western end of the rubble. "Are you okay?"

"I'm trapped! I can move, but I can't get out!"

"Can you see daylight?" I asked.

"Yes! There's boards in the way. I can't get past them."

I moved closer to the voice. I carefully climbed on some sort of satanic playground, carefully, wood splintered, cheap siding and plywood folded and cracked. "One more time," I said.

"Here. Over here. I saw your shadow. I'm wavin' my arm!"

I stopped and scanned the pile for movement. There! I saw a hand. "For heaven's sake, girl, are you okay?"

"I ... I don't know! I got hit on the head. I scraped my leg."

She wasn't too badly covered. The building's collapse had basically taken her wall sideways in one piece, leaving her with a space big enough for her to fit safely, a minor miracle. "Okay, I see your hand! Now keep still. Let's see what I need to do to get you out!"

"Oh, thank God," she said. "Are you the rescue people?"

"Nope, I'm the guy next door." I carefully lowered myself to a semi-prone position on the rubble so I could see her. There was a teenaged female face, wet, speckled with debris, hair a matted mess. She was separated from freedom by a lattice of two by four wall studs that had collapsed accordion-like as the building fell sideways.

I tried pulling on one. It was loose. Not loose enough that I could pull it out of the way with my hands, but loose enough to tell me that if it was gone, the building wouldn't fall further. I tried another. Same finding. Okay. A plan was forming.

"Let's get some names. "I'm Dan Granger. And you're..."

"Dominique Domingue. People call me Nikki. N-I-K-K-I." That last name was pronounced "doe-main" in Cajun country.

"Hi, Nikki. I would have rather met you on a better note. I'm gonna have to go back to my house and get some tools. But we're gonna get you out of here, okay? Just wait a few more minutes."

"O-okay," she said. "Thank you, Mister Dan."

"It's okay, Nikki. I'll be back in a few minutes."

I carefully eased off the pile very carefully. I knew that I was on my own here. The last thing I needed was an injury to myself, especially since now there was another human life involved. Reaching the edge, I jogged back to the house and unlocked the side door to the shop building that held my tools. I retrieved a battery-powered reciprocating saw and a couple of the most aggressive blades I had in the drawer, and headed back to see Miss Nikki.

Reaching the edge of the pile, I called, "Nikki, I'm back. Hang in there."

"I'm not going anywhere, Mister Dan," she said. I parsed that answer. Trapped in a collapsed building in a hurricane disaster area, and she found enough in herself to make a joke.

After carefully picking my way back up the pile, I looked in at her. "Everybody's gone except the one comedian," I said.

"Sorry. It's the stress," she said. "Can you get me out?"

"Yeah, in a minute. Back up away from me as far as you can. I need to saw these boards." I put my hand on the offending lumber.

She scooted back a couple of feet.

"Close your eyes. There's gonna be sawdust," I warned.

"Okay. Go ahead."

I positioned the saw and pulled the trigger. Three seconds to complete the first cut. I pulled the board out of the way, watching for movement that might indicate the debris shifting. I saw none. I cut the other end of that bit loose. A similar procedure had the second out of the way in another minute. There was, I surmised, a girl-sized hole to crawl through.

"Okay, Miss Nikki," I said. "Let's see if you can get out of there."

I saw her hands appear, then she stuck her head out. A few wiggles later, she was holding onto my hand as she slithered free. She stood up shaking. Soaking wet. Jeans were soaked, spattered with bits of insulation and debris. Cotton t-shirt, torn at the neck. Athletic shoes. Hair plastered to her face. Shivering. Dammit! I should've thought to bring a blanket. Rescuers need blankets, right?

"Can you walk?" I asked.

"Uh-huh. I think so," she answered.

"Then let's be real careful getting off this mess. We don't want to get hurt here by ourselves."

I held her hand and guided her over the mess to get to solid ground.

She saw my house. "Your house. It's okay?"

"Yes it is, Nikki." WE walked across the collapsed fence and into my yard. I opened the door. Cool air flooded out. "Come in. Let's get you cleaned up."

"Okay. How? How do you still have electricity?"

"Generator," I said. "Look, we need to get you cleaned up and you need to check yourself out. I have a shower. Hot water. Can you clean yourself?"

"I ... I think so."

"We have a problem, though. I don't have any clothes that'll fit you. You can give me those and I can wash 'em. You'll have to make do with a T-shirt and maybe a pair of pajama bottoms. They'll be big, though."

I herded her to the bathroom. She was shivering. I turned the water on. "Shower? Or bath?"

"S-shower, please..."

"Okay. I'll leave the shirt and pajamas outside the door when you finish. Call me. Okay?" I thought. "Are you sure you can do this?"

"I ... I think so."

I left her and went into my bedroom. The ONLY bedroom. I was a single guy and I'd turned the other room that MIGHT be a bedroom into an office, complete with desk, CAD station, bookshelves, drafting table (sometimes you just NEED to do things on real paper) and file cabinets.

I scrabbled through my drawers and found a pair of pajama bottoms that I never wore, and a t-shirt and I placed them folded neatly by the door of the bathroom. I could hear the sound of the shower. And then I went back to the living room, watching the cat patrolling his kingdom.

I heard the shower stop and the door open and immediately close. Moments later she walked out her head wrapped in a towel. My t-shirt hung loosely, VERY loosely, on her frame. And she was holding the pajamas up with one hand.

"Okay," I said. "You made it through the shower. Now, what hurts?"

"My head."

"Where?"

"Right here," she said, lifting the edge of the towel to reveal a reddened mark at her hairline just above her right eye. It was red, but not bleeding nor was it swollen.

"That's not too bad. Any headache? Ears ringing? Blurry vision?"

"No sir."

"Okay, good," I said. "Are you hurting anywhere else?

"I have a bruise or something on my leg. I scraped it crawling out of the building. But it's not bleeding either. It's gonna be blue, though."

"Okay," I said. "Let me get your stuff in the washer."

"You have a washer working?"

"I have EVERYTHING working except stuff that came in on a pole. No cable. No phone. But we have our own electricity." And that was the subconscious "we".

She sat down on the sofa while I collected her clothes. I rinsed most of the debris off before I loaded up the washer with her stuff, along with a few of my own things. I threw her sneakers in with the clothes. When I made it back to the living room, she was asleep on the sofa. I surveyed. Five feet five inches, more or less. Maybe a hundred ten or a hundred twenty pounds. Definitely brunette, the color of polished walnut, cut at the jawline, bangs straight across at her eyebrows. Blue eyes. Pleasant face. Bare feet showed no polish, nor did her nails. And she was sound asleep. I picked up a light blanket and covered her. Tommi walked up, looked, and he climbed up and made a comfy loaf shape beside her. And purred.

I went back to my office to do a little work. Presently I heard the washer cycle end, and I moved the wet load to the dryer. An hour later the dryer beeped and I took the clothes out. I neatly folded her jeans, paired her socks, folded an A-cup sports bra and a pair of blue hip-hugger panties. Her shirt was another matter, but Mom taught me well. I retrieved a sewing kit and dutifully stitched up the torn seam. It was good enough to wear, maybe not to the prom, but good enough. I folded my own stuff, too, and put it up, then went back to my drawings.

I was putting a red pen to some field changes when I heard a light knock. "Mister Dan?"

I swiveled the chair around. "Hey, Nikki! You got a nap?"

"Yessir. I just passed out. It feels good to be clean and dry. I thought I was gonna die in there."

I noted that she was holding her bundle of clothes.

"Thank you for washing these, okay?"

"Oh, don't mention it. You can change in the bathroom."

"Okay." And she disappeared. I heard the door close. A couple of minutes later, it opened. "Mister Dan, you wouldn't have hair dryer, would you? My hair's still wet."

"Hang on," I said. I got up and went into the bathroom and rifled through the back of a cabinet. I handed her a hair dryer. I opened a drawer and pulled out a brush. "If you don't mind a used brush. But it's clean. The cat's got his own."

"I don't mind at all," she said quietly. She plugged in the dryer and went to work on her hair. I went back to my office.

Ten minutes later she was back knocking at the door.

"Nikki," I said, "if you knock every time you want to come in a room here, you're gonna wear your knuckles out."

"Uh ... but..."

"Look, sweetie," I said, "The only time you need to knock is when the door's closed, okay? And I'll do that for you, okay? You need privacy, just close the door. I'll knock then."

"Okay."

"Now, are you thirsty? There are cold drinks in the fridge, and water, and if you want, I can make iced tea."

"Oh, do you have a coke?"

"Yes ma'am. And I have red beans and rice for dinner. Leftovers, but I can reheat 'em."

"That's wonderful."

"Come on, then. Let's go get something to eat." She followed me to the kitchen. Tommi was winding himself between her ankles as I moved pots on the stove and stuck leftover rice into the microwave.

I looked at the cat. "That's Tommi, with an "i". I never saw him take to somebody like he seems to do with you. He's usually pretty suspicious."

"With an "I"?"

"Yeah, since I had him fixed."

Nikki giggled. For the first time. It was like the tinkle of tiny bells. And it was a long time since that sound had graced these walls. "You're funny."

I smiled at her. She sipped her coke and looked around.

"I can't believe you have all this stuff running. And why's YOUR house okay when my apartment is a wreck?"

"Because this is what happened when engineers get to do things the way they want to. I probably paid an extra twenty percent to build this house like this."

"Wow!"

"So how come you didn't evacuate? Was there anyone else in that building?" I kicked myself now. I should have asked that question earlier.

"I was the only one there. I watched everyone else leave."

Why didn't you leave with your folks?"

"My mom was already up north. I was supposed to catch a ride with my neighbor, but they wouldn't let her back into the parish after they started the evacuation. I couldn't get a ride. And I really didn't want to go off with her. She's a huge slut. And a druggie."

"Why didn't you call 911?"

"I tried. The phone lines were messed up. Busy, I guess."

"Oh," I said. "Does anyone know you're here?"

"I dunno," she said. "Mom prob'ly thinks I'm with my cousins. She's prob'ly thinkin' that we'll catch up in a few days."

"In a few DAYS!?!?!?" I was incredulous.

"You gotta know my mom. She's not exactly a candidate for parent of the year. I've been home by myself for four days now."

"Huh? Even with a hurricane?"

"Yessir. Sometimes she goes off with one of her guys for a few days. I'm okay."

"She leaves you? How old are you, Nikki?"

"Fifteen. Since last month."

"That's hard to believe."

"At least we got the, uh, we HAD the apartment. Section 8. Welfare. An' Mom works as a waitress at that bar up in town. They pay her cash so she doesn't have to report it."

"Oh." This wasn't a happy story. I heard the pot bubbling. "Beans are ready. Come fix you a bowl."

I showed her where dinnerware and silverware was located and we each sat down at the table with a bowl of beans and rice before us. She wasn't bashful about digging in. "I haven't had anything to eat since yesterday."

"I'm sorry. I should have offered you something sooner. I didn't think..."

"Oh, Mister Dan, that's okay! You've done enough already."

"Yeah, but if you wait on me, I'm liable to forget. I'm not used to having guests."

"I'm not a guest."

"Yes you are."

She looked at me with those blue eyes. "No wife?"

"Nope. Not for seven years. She moved to California with a new husband."

"Kids?"

"Nope. Wife and I tried. She had complications that almost killed her. So no, no kids."

"Oh. Girlfriends?"

"Nuh-uh. And while you're here, you don't have to ask if you're hungry or thirsty. Just grab it and eat. But go light on the milk. There's only a gallon before we have to do powdered."

"I don't want to be a burden."

"You're not a burden. Make yourself at home. Really."

We finished our meal and SHE got up and collected the dishes and put them in the sink and started washing.

"Baby, I usually save up until I have a load for the dishwasher."

She smiled. She had a quite pleasant smile, I noted. "Oh, this is okay. I'm not used to a dishwasher. I AM the dishwasher at our house."

It was my turn to smile. "I appreciate it, babe. Let's go sit in the living room."

I noticed a slight limp as she got up and walked. "Are you sure your leg's okay? You're limping."

"It's bruised. And scraped, sort of."

"Uh ... I don't know how I could look at it, but I should."

She regarded me for a few seconds. "I'll be back," she said. She went into the bathroom and in a few moments came out without her jeans, but with a bath towel wrapped around her hips, sarong-style. She walked up to me and turned.

I could see the lower end of the bruised area, red and blue. "Nope, not bleeding. It's gonna be interesting colors, though. Where's it hurt?"

Securing the towel with one hand, she raised the bottom edge above her right leg, just under the cheek of her ass. Higher. Higher. Light blue panties showed. I could see the bruise. "Right there's the worst part. Feels lumpy."

"Do you mind if I touch it?"

"Just don't get ambitious," she laughed.

I carefully felt the periphery of the raised area. "Yeah, I can feel where it's kind of raised. But it oughtta go away. We could put some ice on it if you want."

"Nah," she said, heading to the bathroom, returning with her jeans. "It's just sore. I'm okay, huh?"

"Yes, you're okay. Best looking girl that I've ever seen crawl out of a building this week."

She grinned. "Thanks." She sat on the sofa and then turned and put her legs on it, lounging. Tommi jumped up beside her, purring. She petted him.

I sat in my recliner. "Cable's out, but I have a lot of movies. You can look through them. And there's music CD's too, but it's probably not stuff you like. You're free to look, though. They're in the cabinet next to the TV."

She got up and looked. Took a CD, turned to me. "You listen to classical? This is Mozart!" She pronounced it "moat-sart".

"Yeah. Actually, I'm pretty eclectic in my tastes, but that's stuff I want to hear over and over."

"Really!?!? I would've expected rock or country and western."

"Sorry. I'm a little different in that area."

"No, Mister Dan," she said. "I'm sitting in YOUR house in the middle of a hurricane disaster zone, sipping a cold coke, the lights are on, the air conditioning's on, and you have classical music. You're different in a lot of areas."

"Oh, thanks, I guess."

"I mean it good, Mister Dan. I like classical music, too. Don't know why. I go to a different place when I hear it. A place where things are just put together RIGHT! Not the way my life usually is!"

"Nikki, you can stop with the "Mister Dan" thing and just call me Dan. Okay?"

"But you're, like, OLDER! Uh ... How old are you?"

"Forty-one. Ancient, in other words."

"I don't think so. But definitely older than me. What kind of work do you do?"

"I'm an electrical engineer. I work for whoever's got problems."

"Do you make a lot of money? I mean, I'm not bein' nosey, but I saw your truck before, an' your travel trailer."

"I'm not Bill Gates. But I've got plenty in savings and this house and that truck and that trailer in the shed are all paid for."

"Wow!"

"Nikki, it's not that big a deal."

She searched through the stack of DVD's and pulled one out. "Do you mind if we watch this?"

It was a movie I could called a 'chick flick' although I like the actress in it and it was funny. "Pop it in. I'll turn the TV on." I clicked the remote. She sat back down on the sofa, her legs stretched out in front of her, watching the TV, and if I caught it correctly out of the corner of my eye, she was looking at me, too. We laughed at the same spots.

She kept a running commentary about the relationships and how they developed. "I keep wishing things like that would happen to my mom, but they just don't. We've been in that apartment for two years now and I bet she's had at least a dozen and a half different boyfriends."

'I don't know what to say, Nikki."

"Me neither. I just don't understand how people can be like that. And some of those guys! She left one at home while she went to get beer an' cigarettes, an' he tried to put the moves on ME!"

"He did?"

"Yeah," she said. "An' when I told Mom, she accused ME of flirting with 'im." She looked me in the eye. "If somebody's doin' my mom, I don't WANT him. I don't want the kind of guy who'd go with somebody like her."

The movie was showing a bedroom scene. "And that."

"What?"

"Sex. When I do it, it's gonna be something special with somebody I love, not somebody I met at a bar on Saturday night." Her eyes were moist. "You know how much it hurts to figure out your mom's a slut?"

"Baby, we can turn this movie off."

"Oh, Mister Dan ... uh, Dan, it's not this movie. I'm sorry. I don't know what made me tell you all this." She took a deep breath. "I'm okay. Sorry I unloaded on you. You're just bein' nice to me. Sorry."

"That's okay, baby."

"I don't have many people to talk to, you know. The neighbors over there aren't exactly the kind of people I want to tell my problems to."

"I guess. I never met anybody from over there."

"I could tell you stories, babe!" She smiled. "But I'm not there now, am I?"

We finished watching the movie. "I don't know what to do about you, Nikki," I said.

"What'd'ya mean?"

"I mean, nobody knows you're here, and you're probably wanting to find out where your mom's at, and she's probably looking for you."

"Dan," she said, "I don't have any close family besides Mom. She never talks to her Dad. He practically disowned her. Her mom's dead. She's got one brother, and nobody's seen him in five years. And Mom's not exactly dying to go back to worryin' about me an' her both."

"I'm sorry, babe. I just want to take care of you, is all."

"You've took better care of me than anybody else has as long as I can remember."

"But I don't want to stop you from being where you need to go."

"Uh, Dan, I don't know where to go. I mean, they have shelters an' stuff. But I'd be fifteen an' in a shelter with nobody to take care of me." She stared at me. "I really don't have a place I want to be. This is better than I could ever hope for."

"You're welcome to stay here as long as you want, babe, it's alright with me." I breathed a sigh. "But when the roads open up, I will probably be working every day for a few weeks. You'll be by yourself here."

Her eyes brightened. "You'd trust me to be here by myself?"

"I shouldn't?"

"No, you CAN. I promise." She smiled. "Really! I can take care of the house while you work."

"Then that's what we'll do. Until we have to do something different."

"Thank you." She smiled again. "You have games in that cabinet. Wanna play one? Like "Trivial Pursuit"?"

"I haven't played that in years. My sister and her husband and my brother and his wife come over every now and then and we play games. I'll get it." I spread the game stuff on the sofa between us. And didn't tell her that nobody wanted to play with me because I beat them ALL so badly..."

I almost DIDN'T beat Nikki. "You play a tough game, little girl," I said.

She smiled. "I haven't ever been beat before. You beat me. I thought I was going to impress you."

"Believe me, you did."

I looked at the clock. "It's getting late. Sleeping arrangements. One of us gets this room. One of us gets the bed."

"I'll take the sofa," she said. "It's your house."

"It makes out into a bed, if you want."

"Nope, it's fine like this. D'ya have a pillow an' stuff?"

"Yes," I said. "Lemme get it." I got up to put the game up and get her some sleeping gear. I was retrieving it from the upper shelf of a hall closet and when I turned around, I bumped into her. "Oops," I said. "I didn't know you were behind me."

"Sorry, Dan," she said. "I was trying to help."

"Here ya go, then." I gave her a sheet and a blanket and a pillow and pillowcase. "In the morning, just ball this up and put it in the corner. We'll do it that way."

"Okay," she said as she started turning the sofa into a nest.

I went to my own bedroom and stripped, hitting the shower and shaving afterward. And just because, you know, I threw on a little cologne. After I got out of the shower, I pulled my jeans back on and walked back into the living room. In the dim light, I saw her there, stretched out on the sofa. She wasn't asleep yet.

"G'nite, Dan," she said. "Thanks for rescuing me."

"G'nite, Nikki," I said. And I turned and went to my own room, noting that when she had the covers pulled up to her chin, her shirt and jeans were folded neatly beside the sofa on the floor.

I woke up the next day to the smell of bacon. BACON! And I wasn't cooking it. I walked into the kitchen, bleary-eyed. Nikki was at the stove.

"You're cooking breakfast?"

"I didn't think you'd mind. I saw you had bacon and grits and since you live here by yourself, that means YOU like them. So that's what I cooked. How do you like your eggs?"

"You're fixing me EGGS? Can you do "over easy"?"

"Sure, silly," she laughed. "They go with bacon and grits." About that time, the kettle started whistling. "I saw you had a coffee pot. I hope I make your coffee right." Five minutes later I was sitting in front of a full breakfast. And she was sitting at the table with me, staring at me over a mug of coffee. The coffee wasn't perfect, but it was close enough.

"How's the coffee?"

"Great. Just about the way I do it."

"And everything else?"

"I'm astounded. And I have NEVER eaten breakfast here that I didn't cook myself."

Giggle. "Really?"

"Really."

"I'm just trying to earn my keep, Dan."

"You don't have to earn your keep here, Nikki. You're here. That's good enough. But god, I appreciate eating somebody else's cooking."

"I like doing it. I made you smile. That makes me happy!" Her eyes twinkled.

I looked at those twinkly eyes gazing at me over her coffee mug. Made me smile some more. Together we cleared the table. "That was perfect," I said.

"What are we gonna do today?" she asked.

"I dunno. Lemme try something." I turned on my cellphone. No signal. "Well, so much for that," I said. "Wanna walk next door? We can look at where you crawled from."

"Yeah, we can do that."

We sat at opposite ends of the sofa putting socks and shoes on. She kept looking at me, and I couldn't parse what her expression was saying. We walked out of the house. First thing I saw was a snake slithering across the yard.

"Come back inside," I said. "I wanna get a gun."

"Why?"

"Just in case. We have a lot of wildlife that's very confused and in unusual places. You never know what we'll run into." I retrieved a short-barreled shotgun.

"Aren't you gonna load it" she asked.

"It IS loaded," I said. "It stays that way."

"You keep a loaded gun in the house?"

"Of course," I said. "If somebody was to break in, I wouldn't want to waste time loading it then. And there are four of them in the house, loaded."

"Isn't that dangerous?"

"No, baby," I said. "No little kids around to get to them. And I would hope adults would know how to handle them safely."

"But loaded?"

"I got stuff to protect. I got ME to protect. And now I got YOU to protect. So I have guns. Like this one." And I cycled the slide, chambering a round. I got another look, not fearful. And there was a little hint of a smile.

Aside from the single snake that we noted and ignored and a raccoon that scurried away when he spotted us, nothing else was of concern. Approaching the collapsed building, we looked at the opening she crawled out of.

"I was in the hall sitting on the floor when the place fell in," she said.

"That's the best place to be. There, or the bathtub." We walked around. "I was hoping we could get you some clothes out of there, but I don't want to try and get in there."

"Me neither," she said. "I thought I was gonna die there, Dan."

We walked back to the house. I opened the garage door and backed my truck out. We climbed in and drove a little distance down the road before turning back. Where the storm surge had covered the road, the debris was heavy and I didn't want to risk a tire in the debris, or risk running off into the marsh because the road was washed away where we couldn't see it. As we pulled back into the garage, I heard the unmistakable sound of a low-flying helicopter. A serious one. Close.

We walked out of the garage and waved as a national guard Blackhawk circled. It flared to land on the road in front of the house and we walked down to meet the occupants. A national guard lieutenant and the parish sheriff met us in the drive.

I shook hands with both of them, introducing myself. "Dan Granger," I said. "This is my house. And this is Nikki Domingue. She survived that building collapse over there."

"Damn!" the sheriff said. "You should know me. I'm your sheriff, Ernie Richard." He pronounced it "ree-shard." Cajun. "This" indicating the soldier, "is Lieutenant Gregus. We're doin' a survey. You're the only people on this side of the parish that we've found."

"Really?" I said.

Lt. Gregus said, "Yessir. We had a good evacuation. What're you doing here?"

This could be dicey. A mandatory evacuation was called, but in Louisiana, there was no law to force it. "I built this house myself to face a Category Five and then some. And I stayed. Miss Nikki here missed her ride out. I pulled her out of that pile a'crap over there."

The sheriff popped in, "No shit? We didn't think anyone was still here." He looked at Nikki. "You were lucky he was here. I don't know when we'd've got around to looking at that pile. D'ya wanna fly outta here? Where there's electricity and food and water?"

By this time one of the pilots of the helicopter were joining us.

"Why don't you guys come on up to the house and let me show you something," I said. "And see if YOU'D leave this for a shelter."

We all walked up to the house and inside. The cool dry air conditioned air was a stark contrast to the post-storm humidity.

The lieutenant said, "Hey, this feels good!"

"Yep," I said. "Generator back there, and enough fuel for weeks." Several weeks' worth of food. And I suffered NO damage. " Had bacon eggs and grits for breakfast this morning. I'd offer you all a cold beer, but..."

Sheriff said, "But we're flyin'..."

"We have cold Cokes," interrupted Nikki. "Want one?"

"That would be nice," said the pilot.

Nikki bopped back to the kitchen and returned with the cokes.

The sheriff sipped on his. "So nobody needs rescuin'?

"Nope, but thanks! Any idea when they'll get a road open so I can go back to work?"

The sheriff mused, "Oh, three or four days. Week at most. Where you work at?"

"Any of those plants up there on the channel. Electrical engineer."

"Oh," said the lieutenant.

"What about cell service," I asked.

The sheriff said, "Maybe a day or so. The carriers are setting up temporary towers and fixing the ones that are still up. We need cellphones, too, yah know."

"Can you give these people a call and tell them that I'm stuck down here?" I asked, scribbling a number and name on a pad of paper.

"Sure," the sheriff said. "And Miss Nikki, is it? Are you okay here?"

Nikki smiled, "Yessir. Best place I can be for the time being."

"Okay, then," said the sheriff. "We'll check on you again in a couple of days when they get the road open."

"I appreciate that," I said. Turning to the lieutenant and the other pilot, "If you see orange flares, come and get me. Green smoke is the barbecue's ready!" They laughed.

A few minutes later the helicopter lifted off. I turned to Nikki who was standing rather close by my side. "There went your chance to get out of here, Nikki."

She looked directly into my eyes and smiled. "Looks like we're stuck with each other, then, huh?"

Chapter 2 »