The Summer Guests - Mary Alice Monroe


The storm originated as a tropical wave off the coast of Africa, but during the next forty-eight hours, it grew highly organized. As it veered west, it met with favorable, warm surface-water temperatures and low wind shear. It rapidly intensified, developing a distinct eye feature. When the sustained winds reached seventy-five miles per hour, the storm was given a name: Hurricane Noelle.

The hurricane wobbled, shifting directions and sending the experts racing back to their computers to create updated tracking cones. This, in turn, sent another group of residents into panic mode. Everyone living in the Caribbean and along the southeastern coast of the United States was stocking up on supplies and preparing for evacuation.

The only thing the experts agreed upon was that Hurricane Noelle was fast becoming an extremely powerful, Cape Verde–type hurricane, typical in August and September and potentially deadly. As the storm plowed west across the Atlantic and intensified, it was becoming possibly the most catastrophic hurricane to reach land in more than a decade.


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August 15, 2018, 7:15 a.m.

Isle of Palms, South Carolina

Tropical Storm Noelle intensifies into a hurricane in the Atlantic Ocean

Cara Rutledge rubbed her arms and looked out over the Atlantic Ocean. The mercurial sea rolled in and out in its metronome fashion, reflecting the blue-gray color of the sky. The beach was nearly empty, the vast expanse of sand scarred only by her footprints. All seemed calm. Even the golden panicles of the sea oats hung still in the pensive air. Yet she sensed a heightened tension coiling under the calm façade of the water, like some great beast rippling, lying in wait to pounce.

Cara shivered, though it wasn’t cold. She was a tall, slender woman accustomed to daily walks along the beach with her daughter, Hope. She’d spent her childhood on this beach, and had returned as an adult to make the quaint beach house, Primrose Cottage, her home. From May until October she was on the Island Turtle Team, like her mother before her. After a lifetime living beside the ocean, she felt attuned to the moods of her old friend. And today, something felt off.

The sun was shining, but thin streaks of clouds stretched from the sea toward land, eerie fingers reaching out from the incoming storm.

Cara inhaled the salty air and placed her hand against her chest. There was an unusual heaviness in the air. A moistness that tasted of rain. She was no stranger to summer storms, or the havoc they could wreak. She also knew that she was unusually skittish when it came to storms. Cara had lived through too many hurricanes not to be on guard. And yet, she didn’t want to panic. There was a wave out in the Atlantic the meteorologists were keeping an eye on, but it was August, the height of the hurricane season. There were a lot of storms that lost steam or changed direction long before they neared landfall.

She was leaving the island this afternoon to visit the mountains of North Carolina with David Wyatt and his family. It would be a welcome change of pace with the lush green foliage, cooler air, and hiking. She might even get some horseback riding in. She exhaled slowly. Yes, she thought with relief. She was working herself up over nothing. Whatever storm was coming would likely blow in and out by the time she returned. And, she thought with a hint of a smile on her face, she was bringing along with her the one thing she treasured most in the world—her daughter, Hope.

Cara turned her back on the ocean and, swinging her arms, began her trek across the beach toward home.


August 20, 6:30 a.m.

Palm Beach, Florida

72 hours till Hurricane Noelle’s expected landfall in southeastern Florida

Hannah McLain brushed away a shank of blond hair to hold the phone to her ear. The male voice at the other end of the line rattled off instructions in staccato.

“Do not forget the medals,” Angel told her in his heavily accented English. “Most important is Olympic medals. Sí? You won’t forget.”

“Yes, okay. Got them,” Hannah said as she pulled the gold and silver medals from their perch over the fireplace mantel. She tossed them into the leather duffel bag with the other awards he’d won in his fabled equestrian career.

The living room, usually bathed in southern light, today was shadowy. Outside the plate glass windows of her condo overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, an armada of silvery clouds streaked across the sky. Her television was tuned to