Two from the Heart

Two from the Heart

James Patterson


IF THERE was one thing that could be said about me, one thing almost everyone in my life could agree on, it was this: Anne McWilliams does a lousy job of taking advice.

My mother, when I was eight: Annie, don’t ride your bike down that hill with your shoes untied.

My dad, when I was sixteen: Don’t waste your hard-earned money on that rust bucket—it won’t drive you to the A&P without blowing a gasket.

My best friend, when I was thirty: Don’t marry Patrick Quinn. Your courtship was way too short, and he’s way too hot.

What I have to say in retrospect (after a broken arm, a broken fuel line, and—you guessed it—a broken heart) is this: A girl should be free to make her own mistakes. That which doesn’t kill you, etc., etc.

For thirty-six years I thought I knew what was best, mistakes be damned. But then, all of a sudden, my life turned upside down, and it didn’t seem like I knew anything anymore.

Chapter 1

A STORM was coming. Even an island transplant like me could tell.

From the deck of my little cottage, thirty yards from the beach, I could see the gray Atlantic churning wildly, furiously, like something alive. The gusting wind whipped my hair into my coffee when I tried to take a sip.

My neighbor Bill was watching the ocean from his deck, too. He turned to me and yelled, “The tropical depression got upgraded to a Category 1 hurricane. Gonna make landfall tonight near Myrtle Beach.”

“Kind of exciting!” I called back.

Bill snorted. I could see what he was thinking: Fool Yankee—she’ll probably walk around with that dang camera of hers, trying to take pretty storm pictures. But I had no intention of doing that. I was going to sit on my couch with a glass of wine and a good book and wait the whole thing out.

“Well, it’s probably going to be fine,” he allowed, “but it’s not going to be fun.”

“But Myrtle Beach is over a hundred miles south of us,” I pointed out.

Bill glanced up at the sky, then back at me. “You don’t know what a hurricane’s going to do until it’s done it, Anne,” he warned. “You’d better cover your windows.”

“I’m about to.”

“You got supplies? Food, water?”

I nodded. I had bottled water, a well-stocked pantry, and a case of good pinot—I was ready for a siege. But I wasn’t afraid of the coming weather. I’d lived on this island for two years now with no storms to speak of. Everything was going to be okay.

The first drops of rain began to fall. Like an idiot, I welcomed them.

“Best get moving on them windows,” Bill said.

I hurried down below my cottage (like most houses on this North Carolina island, it was built on stilts), and, one by one, hauled up the six big pieces of plywood I needed.

An hour later, I was high on my rickety ladder, struggling with the last unwieldy piece, when the rain started really coming down. Then the wind suddenly got crazy, and it started raining sideways.

Bill came out again and shouted over the gusts. “You need help, Anne?”

“I’m okay—this is the last one,” I called.

“I hope Gimme Shellter gets blown out to sea,” he yelled.

Gimme Shellter belonged to my other neighbor, Topher, a software executive from Oklahoma City who’d just planted enormous, spot-lit palm trees all around his brand-new McMansion so it looked like a mini Las Vegas casino. The only good thing to say about Topher was that he was rarely home.

“Worse things could happen,” I called back.

The rain stung my face as I wrestled the last window covering into place, banging the wood into tension clips mounted to the window frame. Then I stumbled inside, exhausted and soaking wet.

Maybe I’d been wrong, thinking this was going to be exciting.

Through the tiny glass pane in the front door I could see green sheet lightning flashing over the Atlantic. The clouds had gotten lower, like they were trying to press down against the earth and squash it. The big fronds of Topher’s date palms were being ripped off and sent pinwheeling through the air.

Half an hour later, the water was white with foam and surging up the beach toward my house. Would it crest the small dune, the only thing between me and the open ocean?

The rain was torrential now, and debris flew high into the sky. A trash can someone had forgotten to tie down shot down the beach like a bullet.

It looked as if the wind were trying to tear the world to pieces.

I turned on the TV, but before I’d even found the right station, the power went out.

Like Bill said, things will be fine, they just won’t be fun, I reminded myself.

I didn’t have a battery-operated radio, so I didn’t know that the storm had changed course.

Or that it had gotten bigger and was headed right toward me.

Outside, the wind roared like a freight train. I crawled under the kitchen table, which was shaking right along with the house. How dumb I’d been: I’d thought I’d be drinking a glass of wine on my couch, and here I was, cowering on the rattling floor.

After what felt like forever I got up, my knees weak with fear. Wanting better shelter, I threw every pillow I owned into my bathtub and grabbed my laptop and phone. Something—a tree limb, another trash can, I don’t know—crashed into the side of my house. There was another bang as something smaller hit my deck.

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