Meet Me in Barefoot Bay - Roxanne St. Claire

Chapter One

The kitchen windows shot out like cannons, one right after another, followed by the ear-splitting crash of the antique breakfront nose-diving to the tile floor.

Shit. Granny Dot’s entire Old Country Rose service for twelve was in there.

Lacey pressed against the closet door, eyes closed, body braced, mind reeling. This was it. Everything she owned—a meager baking business, a fifty-year-old hand-me-down house, and a few antiques she’d collected over the years—was about to be destroyed, demolished, and dumped into Barefoot Bay by the hand of Hurricane Damien.

She stole a glance over her shoulder. Everything she owned, but not everything she had. No matter what happened to the house, she had to save her daughter.

“We need to get in the bathtub and under a mattress!” Lacey screamed over the train-like howl of one-hundred-and-ten-mile-per-hour winds.

Ashley cowered deeper into the corner of the closet, a stuffed unicorn clutched in one hand, her cell phone in the other. “I told you we should have evacuated!”

Only a fourteen-year-old would argue at a moment like this. “I can’t get the mattress into the bathroom alone.”

The storm was inside now, tearing the chandelier out of the dining room ceiling, clattering crystal everywhere. Pictures ripped off their hooks with vicious thuds and furniture skated across the oak floor. Overhead, half-century-old roof trusses moaned in a last-ditch effort to cling to the eaves.

They had minutes left.

“We have to hurry, Ash. On the count of—”

“I’m not leaving here,” Ashley cried. “I’m too scared. I’m not going out there.”

Lacey corralled every last shred of control. “We are. Together.”

“We’ll die out there, Mom!”

“No, but we’ll die in here.” At Ashley’s wail, Lacey kneeled in front of her, sacrificing precious seconds. “Honey, I’ve lived on this island my whole life and this isn’t the first hurricane.” Just the worst. “We have to get in the tub and under the mattress. Now.”

Taking a firm grip, she pulled Ashley to her feet, the cell-phone screen spotlighting a tear-stained face. God, Lacey wanted to tumble into Ashley’s nest of hastily grabbed treasures and cry with her daughter.

But then she’d die with her daughter.

Ashley bunched the unicorn under her chin. “How could those weather people be so wrong?”

Good damn question. All day long, and into the night, the storm had been headed north to the Panhandle, not expected to do more than bring heavy rain and wind to the west coast of Florida. Until a few hours ago, when Hurricane Damien had jumped from a cat-three to a cat-four and veered to the east, making a much closer pass to the barrier island of Mimosa Key.

In the space of hours, ten thousand residents, including Lacey and Ashley, had been forced to make a rapid run-or-hide decision. A few tourists managed to haul butt over the causeway to the mainland, but most of the hurricane-experienced islanders were looking for mattress cover and porcelain protection about now. And praying. Hard.

Lacey cupped her hands on Ashley’s cheeks. “We have to do this, Ashley. We can’t panic, okay?”

Ashley nodded over and over again. “Okay, Mom. Okay.”

“On the count of three. One, two—”

Three was drowned out by the gut-wrenching sound of the carport roof tearing away.

Lacey pushed open the closet door. Her bedroom was pitch black, but she moved on instinct, grateful the storm hadn’t breached these walls yet.

“Get around to the other side of the bed,” she ordered, already throwing back the comforter, searching wildly for a grip. “I’ll pull, you push.”

Ashley rallied and obeyed, sending a jolt of love and appreciation through Lacey. “Atta girl. A little more.”

Right then the freight train of wind roared down the back hall, hurtling an antique mirror and shattering it against the bedroom door.

“It’s coming!” Ashley screamed, freezing in fear.

Yes, it was. Like a monster, the storm would tear these old walls right down to the foundation Lacey’s grandfather had laid when he’d arrived on Mimosa Key in the 1940s.

“Push the damn mattress, Ashley!”

Ashley gave it all she had and the mattress slid enough for Lacey to get a good grip. Grunting, she got the whole thing off the bed and dragged it toward the bathroom. They struggled to shove it through the door just as the wind knocked out one of the bedroom windows, showering glass and wood behind them.

“Oh my God, Mom. This is it!”

“No, this isn’t it,” Lacey hissed, trying to heave the mattress. “Get in!” She pushed Ashley toward the thousand-pound cast-iron claw-foot tub that had just transformed from last year’s lavish expenditure into their sole means of survival.

In the shadows