Lily Sawyer flees her controlling, wealthy family in New York City for a solitary existence on Cape Cod. Three months later, a mounting anxiety binds her to the house she can no longer leave.
With hurricane season approaching, Lily hires Cliff Buckley—an angry carpenter with an immediate disgust for his elitist employer—to storm-proof her house.
Cliff soon discovers they have more in common than he thinks, as well as a raging spark between them could either destroy—or save—everything they care about. The question is, can either of them survive Hurricane Lily?
Copyright © 2013 by Rebecca Rogers Maher
Praise for Hurricane Lily
“Two very intense, emotionally damaged characters…this is a very different book. I’ll definitely be checking out more by Rebecca Maher.”
“A storm of emotions and hot sex.”
“The reader is fully invested in what happens to these characters.”
“I really liked the style, voice, and tone of this story and I appreciated that the author gives readers complicated characters as opposed to ‘types.’ … It’s a good example of one of my favorite types of romances – the nontraditional kind.”
Wendy the Super Librarian
“A complex, thought jarring, and…intimate story…worth the read.”
I make a playlist for every book I write. Selecting and organizing songs helps me clarify who my characters are, how they feel, what they struggle with and what they need. Here’s the soundtrack to Hurricane Lily. Enjoy!
Download it today!
1. Ship of Fools, World Party
2. The Rifle’s Spiral, The Shins
3. Telling Ghosts, Puscifer
4. Girl and the Ghost, Carina Round
5. Invisible Ink, Aimee Mann
6. Come Undone, Duran Duran
7. I’m on Fire (Live), Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band
8. The Lightning Strike (What If This Storm Ends?), Snow Patrol
9. Lay Down Your Pain, Toni Childs
10. We’re In this Together, Nine Inch Nails
Lily stood in bare feet on cold linoleum, counting containers of food.
Soup, vegetables, fruit, condensed milk. Rice, pasta, dried beans, grains. Water. She tallied up every can, jar, box and bottle, and when she came to the end she counted again to be sure.
Outside a steady wind shook the shutters of the old house, and rain beat against the roof. The weather channel promised only a routine summer storm, but its presence rattled Lily’s nerves anyway. Summer storms brought trees down and cut electricity wires, and it was best to be prepared.
All the surrounding trees had been pruned of branches that hung over the roof, and God knew there was enough food and water if the power went out. But the rain sent her pacing anyway—back and forth across the worn kitchen floor—and the pollen it swept through the windows brought on the familiar grip of an asthma attack.
Her inhaler lay on the counter now, staring at her. It made her heart race, but when the wheezing started she’d taken a puff of it anyway, out of old habit. The habit of going on living, even when she didn’t feel like it.
The familiar fantasy of not-taking-the-puff spun out in her head. Of letting the wheezing take over. Of shutting down her organs one at a time, for good, starting with her heart.
How long would that take?
She slipped down to the chilled floor and lay back, staring up at the ceiling. A few minutes, maybe. She could handle that.
The tiles on the ceiling were arranged in a pleasingly linear pattern, and she began counting them. Left to right, as you would read a book. She wondered about the person who had placed them up there, and whether it had upset him, as it did her, to have run out of ceiling space and been forced to cut the final tile in half. She imagined him standing there in the unfinished kitchen with a saw in his hand, biting his lip, searching for a way to fit the tile in and not finding one.
He would be wearing jeans, probably. And have sawdust in his hair. His forearms would be strong and muscular.
She began to shape his body with her hands, in miniature, in the airspace just above her belly. With her eyes closed, the contours of the figure rose up easily and became almost at once three-dimensional.
She rolled off the floor and reached for a block of modeling clay in the kitchen cabinet.
One of these days she would get around to making a studio somewhere in this decrepit house, where she could do her sculpting. If you could call it sculpting. It was more like the fumbling of a child with Play-Doh.
Or so her father had once said.
She pressed her thumbs into the clay anyway and began to smooth it out.
By the time the sun was fully up, she held a tiny carpenter in her hands. He stared at her with something like defiance, a hammer in his hand.
In the corner of the kitchen, a stack of cardboard boxes stood empty. They still smelled like the deliveryman. He’d been doused in an ocean of Brut and couldn’t take his eyes off her tits. She would find the courage to go near them later, once the stress of having the mess in her kitchen won out over the panic of going into the garage.
It didn’t lead all the way outside, but still. It almost did. And that was enough to make the room start spinning.
At least she had enough food for the month. The last time she’d made it just three weeks, but only because she’d run out of fresh vegetables and had felt certain she was on the verge of contracting scurvy. Scurvy was a grueling way to die, and thus undesirable despite its retro-sailor kitsch value.
Lily sat down at the kitchen table and swallowed two pills from her collection of prescription bottles. Their bitterness was familiar and reassuring.
The deliveryman had stayed too long. That was it. And the storm outside was stressing her out. It would pass—this feeling. It always did, if she just forced herself to wait.
Which would be easier if the real carpenter weren’t coming tomorrow. If she had more time to prepare. If she could just carry on here, alone, and never have to see anyone again. Unfortunately, the house she loved was falling down around her. Someone had to come fix it or soon she’d be standing in a pile of rubble.
It was a good house—well camouflaged and cozy, with two bedrooms, a working fireplace, an outdoor shower that Lily had never used, and a rusty set of pipes that needed to be pulled out and replaced. And shingles that were falling off the roof. And rotting kitchen cabinets. And a broken porch. And peeling paint. In short, it needed a massive overhaul or it would not survive the next winter.
All of Lily’s treasures were in this house. Everything she valued. Day after day she walked the floors and touched those treasures to make sure they were still there, and worried that the house would fall apart around her. Lately it had begun to feel smaller, like the walls were closing in, and she needed to do something about that. Immediately. She needed to make the repairs and keep the house livable, sustainable.
It was already arranged. Tomorrow the carpenter would assess the property, and for the sake of the house she would have to endure that. She didn’t have a choice.
Maybe he would be hot. That would be a laugh. Maybe, in a parallel universe, he would throw her against a wall and fuck all her troubles away. Until he got bored, that is, and stomped all over her like a kid with a toy he was done using.
The hard immovable plane of the tabletop soothed her. She pulled a placemat over the back of her hand and regarded her arm, cut off and invisible from the wrist down. Outside, rain shook the oaks around the house and wind groaned against the siding.
No, there wouldn’t be any hot carpenters for Lily. Because even if there were, it would be doomed before it began. She had nothing to give anyone. There was nothing left for anyone to take.
Hope you like your right hand then, honey.
Lily went ahead and regarded that hand, pleasantly compressed and unseen between the table and placemat. Why not? It had never let her down yet.
She waited by the open window, watching the driveway. The way to the house was more of a narrow dirt path than a true road, and trees obscured the view of any other nearby homes. One of them—her favorite—stood sentry over the house, guarding her. Or so she liked to think. It was a huge oak, several dozen feet tall, with large knobs that birds and squirrels used for climbing. She sat in the kitchen sometimes and watched them. Envied them.
Somehow she’d managed to convince her dad to bankroll a year at this house, to oversee the repairs. God knew he wouldn’t be the one to do it. The real estate business not being able to run itself and all that.
Whereas Lily, unemployed, deflated, and basically useless to everyone otherwise, was easily dispatched to Cape Cod to renovate a house no one cared about anyway.
No one since her mom, dead now for fifteen years.
In February Lily sold nearly everything she owned—which wasn’t much—and drove a suitcase of clothes, a laptop and a case full of clay and wires to the Cape. “Someone needs to clean the place up,” she’d told her dad. “And, you know, see to all the preliminary details.”
He’d barely looked up from his Wall Street Journal. “Do what you must, Lily. You’ve never been one to listen to sense.”
It was as much of a blessing as she was likely to get. The blessing of his money, of the ability to live rent-free at one of his abandoned properties. Eye contact—or a basic human acknowledgment of her existence—was purely optional.
So she’d driven to the Cape. Unpacked her stuff in five minutes flat. Wiped the whole place down with baking soda and lemons, and gone about her business. Reading. Staring out this very window at the clouds passing by. At the trees that the wind whistled through. Listening to music. Baking tray-loads of cookies and piles of cakes that had to be frozen because no one was there to eat them. Occasionally emailing a freelance article to the one magazine that still intermittently employed her.
And in the three months since the first day she’d stepped foot into this house, she had not stepped foot out of it.
A burst of dust preceded the truck that roared up the driveway, and though she’d been expecting it, Lily jumped back a little at the sight. It was a rusty black pickup with the words Promised Land Construction inscribed on the side. She let the curtain fall and backed away, not wanting to be seen lying in wait.
The truck and its occupant might have been the sole reason her dad was allowing her to live up here. But that didn’t mean she was happy to see the man, whoever he was.
She had no plan yet for convincing her dad to give her the house. But the first step was making it habitable. Making it sturdy enough to withstand the storms that were coming.
And make no mistake, they were certainly coming.
Back in New York, Lily’s rows of emergency supplies had puzzled her friends.
“What are you preparing for exactly?” Gina had asked, pulling a bottle of iodine pills off a shelf. “I mean, isn’t this a little…excessive?”
She hadn’t tried to justify it. What was the point? Any survivalist could sit in his bunker with a shotgun on his lap and offer a persuasive description of how the world might end. That didn’t make him sound any more sane. Of course it was possible that climate change could lead to massive global weather emergencies. Of course everyone knew theoretically that local and international infrastructure did not exist to cope with heretofore unheard of levels of wind and drought and flooding. But to act as though these changes were imminent, to actively prepare for them—that looked crazy. No matter how you explained yourself.
So she didn’t bother. With her medicine cabinet full of anti-anxiety meds and her two decades’ worth of treatment with Manhattan’s preeminent psychologists, who would take her seriously anyway?
That was Lily, they’d say. Always jumping to the worst conclusions. Always looking on the dark side.
Well, she’d left them all behind. Them and their constant dismissals and judgments. She didn’t need them anyway.
She’d quietly taught herself how to can and preserve her own food. Taken foraging classes so that in a pinch she could tell the difference between edible dandelion and poison hemlock. And she’d moved out of a city that, to her, seemed to be sitting in the bull’s eye of an oncoming extinction-level event.
Not that Cape Cod was any less vulnerable. Surrounded by water on three sides, the town of Wellfleet was a prime target for an errant hurricane. But where the hell could anyone go, these days, that wasn’t privy to some sort of natural disaster? West Coast—earthquakes. Midwest—tornadoes. South—drought. It was the same choose-your-poison dilemma in every country in every part of the globe.
The fact was, as a planet, they were royally fucked. So she might as well plant her stake in Wellfleet, where if she were washed away, at least it would be by clean ocean water. At least her last memories would be of fresh breezes and scrub pine, where she could be buried in the same sand as her mother.
Outside, the truck’s engine shut off and a door slammed shut, followed by the sound of footsteps on gravel. Predictably, Lily’s heart began to hammer. Even though she’d talked herself through this moment dozens of times.
“Fuck you,” she said to her heart. “He’s just a stupid carpenter. He probably won’t be able to string two sentences together.”
Whereas you can string many sentences. Particularly when you’re talking to yourself like a mental patient.
She pinched the soft skin under her arm to pull herself together. He was at the door. She could feel his presence there like a hulking shadow.
After a moment, the shadow knocked.
She breathed deep, and opened the door.
The man who stood there was not what she expected at all.
He should have been wearing a pair of cargo pants and a hardhat. And a white T-shirt and Timberland boots. He should have been large and gruff, and smelled like cigarettes.
She had prepared herself for that—for some blue-collar type like Schneider the super from One Day at a Time. Some semi-Neanderthal who’d invade her home for weeks on end and talk to her about sports teams.
This wasn’t that guy.
He was slim, almost slight, with dark blond hair and a beard. He wore a Shins T-shirt and a pair of jeans and converse sneakers. And a tool belt. And he looked at her with eyes so blue she felt cut into. He looked at her with swift and immediate disgust.
Lily let out a surprised breath. “Hi,” she managed.
He didn’t answer. He just stood there and stared at her.
Cliff had known this was going to be a shitty gig. It always was, with the out-of-towners. Especially the new crop of morons from New York whose sprawling estates in the Hamptons were no longer enough. No, they needed a country house in upstate New York, too, and one on the Cape. And one in Vail. And one in Spain.
They thought buying up some decaying old shack in the boonies would give them street cred, like they were roughing it out in the wilds or something. And then they called him in to install their marble countertops and custom cabinets and antique claw-foot bathtubs, until by the time he was done the place looked like a fucking MoMA exhibit.
Well, what did he care? He overcharged them and they loved it, their respect for his work increasing in proportion to how much money he asked for it. So what if he had to endure endless hours of secondary chattage about private schools and fundraising galas and other bullshit they spent their entire day talking on their cell phones about? Interrupted, of course, by petulant little tantrums about the lack of cell service in the backwoods of the Cape.
The only thing that kept him going, that brought him to this one last godforsaken doorstep, was the fact that he’d finally amassed enough cash to take a few months off and write.
Yes, he knew nobody read books anymore. More’s the pity. But that didn’t mean he couldn’t write one if he felt like it. And not some highfalutin literary drivel about how nobody could feel anything, either. A detective novel was what he wanted to write. A story about real people with real problems. About streets and not avenues.
His college friends snickered when he told them he was writing genre fiction. “Why don’t you write something serious? I mean, honestly—crime stories? You might as well totally sell out, for God’s sake, and write a romance novel. Fill it with sex and sell it at the grocery store with a stamp from Oprah’s Book Club.”
Their wholesale dismissal made him want to write the book even more. He could pen an academic text or literary novel on social issues that twelve elite snobs would read. Or he could write a kick-ass crime story about the same social issues and start an actual conversation with normal people. To him, the choice was obvious.
October through December—that’s what he had. Free and clear of work. Nobody wanted construction done during the winter, anyway. His clientele was all out in New York or Boston or the Caribbean, buying and selling their fellow human beings or some shit like that. Who could keep track?
And now here he was, last gig of the season, standing at the door of some disheveled ice queen who didn’t even have the courtesy to invite him in.
He held out his hand. “Cliff Buckley. Nice to meet you.”
The ice queen blinked at him. When she finally reached out her hand, it was predictably cold and slight. Cliff didn’t bother to hide a grimace. These people were protected enough from the rightful disgust of the unwashed masses. He made no effort to shield them from it further. This lady wore some sort of designer sweat suit and a pair of diamond earrings that would pay for his stepmother’s retirement, and for that vulgar display of unearned wealth alone she deserved his disdain.
Another Daddy’s girl, according to the email correspondence from the client’s assistant. The daughter of some real estate mogul who somehow had the wherewithal to take several months off work and sit here doing nothing in the country.
Her cold hand warmed fractionally in his, and she gave his palm a quick squeeze before letting go. That brief pressure threw a jolt up his arm. It was then that he looked—really looked—into her eyes. They were a pale, quiet green, and as soon as his gaze penetrated hers she turned away.
“I’m Lily Sawyer. Come in.”
Cliff had a little game he liked to play. It was how he separated the truly shitty rich people from the less shitty rich people. The truly shitty rich would sooner set a pack of purebred bloodhounds on him than offer him a glass of water when he came to their houses. Why? Because to them, he didn’t actually exist. Would you offer a glass of water to a hammer? Of course not. And to them, Cliff was just the hand that held the hammer.
He stole a look around the kitchen. It was ridiculously clean. Lily Sawyer must have spent a fortune on cleaning services to get these old, broken-down surfaces to shine like they did. And broken-down they were: a collection of seventies-era relics slapped together in what the owners probably estimated to be Cape Cod chic. The shoddy materials inside matched the semi-collapsing outside porch and the half-hanging shingles on the side of the house. In short, the place was a mess. Cliff wondered why a family like the Sawyers would keep a wreck like this, and why their daughter would bother to try to refurbish it. He’d Googled them; they had more money than God. Why not just knock it down and build something better?
“I grew up here,” Lily said. He turned from his perusal of decaying pine cabinets to find her seated at the table, a pitcher of iced tea in front of her, and two glasses. She gestured to a chair and began to pour. “Well, um, actually I grew up in New York, but I came here every summer with my mom.” She pushed a full glass across the table to him. “Sorry. I hope it’s cold enough. I ran out of ice.”
He took a sip. It was sweet and very strong.
Okay, she gave him a drink. So what? She hadn’t been raised by wolves; congratulations. It didn’t mean she wasn’t a spoiled brat.
Across the table, she sat as stiff and still as an ice sculpture. Ivory skin, light green eyes, straight hair—she was so delicate, a high-pitched sound could crack and shatter her. The way a flock of birds would shatter, though, and come at you flying.
Cliff pulled himself back from that disconcerting thought and tried to gain control of the conversation.
“So you’re rebuilding for the sake of nostalgia,” he said. “You could just take pictures, you know. Pack up the trinkets. You don’t have to keep this house.”
He wasn’t a naturally rude person. Really. But experience had taught him to be very direct with wealthy people. It was part of the no-bullshit brand they thought they were buying when they hired him. He was a character in their stories: the blue-collar tool-monkey who knocked them over the head with common sense once in a while. Like their nannies did, or their housekeepers. It wasn’t just the service he provided. It was the novelty. The illusion of connection to a world they knew was more real, somehow, than their own.
They took from that world, siphoned energy off it. Consumed it. For their own entertainment and comfort. And if that consumption drained the resources of the people they took from? Well, they didn’t bother to notice.
He gave Lily Sawyer a sharp-eyed stare. Her face, he noted, was very pale. She held her tea glass so tightly he feared it would break in her hand. At the same time, he almost wished it would. The tension that radiated from her body was coiling into his. Gripping him. He wanted something to break it and release him.
“Maybe.” She gazed at him across the table and a trace of defiance flashed across her eyes. It caused a corresponding stir in the pit of his stomach, a flare of response that he tried like hell to push away. “But I want to rebuild it. I mean, sorry. I want you to.”
Regarding her, it only then occurred to Cliff that he hadn’t actually asked the question about selling the place aloud. They’d just launched into the conversation as though they’d been talking all morning. As though, in the truck on the way over, he’d already begun debating the renovation with her. The kitchen began, suddenly, to feel too hot—the space between them too small.
“How long will it take,” she asked. “To fix it properly?”
Cliff shrugged. “Can’t say for sure. I have to look around first, obviously. Assess the damage. See what’s what.” And the sooner he did that, the sooner he could get away from her. From her piercing, brittle gaze and the crackling energy beneath it.
“Okay.” Lily rose abruptly, taking her glass with her. “Sorry. I’ll get out of your way. Let me know when you’re ready to talk.”
He watched her go. He’d been dismissed, and much as he would have liked to be used to it by now, it still pissed him off. She hadn’t even had the decency to attempt small talk with him. Not that he liked small talk, but still, it was what people did, wasn’t it? To not even try was rude.
At the same time, he had no idea how he would have handled ten more minutes of chatting.
Because underneath the respectable kitchen table was the truly problematic fact of his sudden and unasked-for erection. What the hell was that about? He didn’t even like the woman. He had no use for any woman in her position, as a matter of fact. A position of absolute and unquestioning privilege. The kind who could wave a magic wand and assemble a team of professionals to “fix” her house for her. Who probably didn’t even know how to change the damn washer in her sink.
No erections allowed.
His dick was an idiot.
At least he had a semi-cold drink in his hand. He swallowed the last of the tea.
Copyright © 2013 by Rebecca Rogers Maher
Permission to reproduce text granted by Rebecca Rogers Maher.