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Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Jessica Degarmo
About Jessica

Jessica Degarmo grew up in Upstate New York and now lives with her husband, children, and dogs in rural Pennsylvania. When she is not writing, she is an insurance agent, the lead singer in a classic rock band, and an avid collector of gemstones.
Her publishing credits include:
How to Meet a Guy at the Supermarket (Night Publishing, November 2010)
Hooking Up (Night Publishing, May 2011)
Decisions (Silver Publishing, July 2011)
Six Weeks (Pfoxmoor/Pfoxchase Publishing, August 2011)
The Storm Within (Night Publishing, September 2011)
She is currently working on several other projects.

For Hooking Up: Supermarket: Decisions: Six Weeks: The Storm Within: Blog:
www.jessicadegarmo.comMy facebook page:!/pages/Books-by-Jessica-L-Degarmo/133702720018415


Chapter 1
The forecast was grim, and the weather man was a sadist.
While the entire town hunkered down to await the biggest storm that Johns Creek had seen in seventy years, the meteorologist announced the encroaching storm with relish. He practically bounced in his seat while he discussed fronts, snowfall accumulations, ice and traffic delays.
Amanda Pickett rolled her eyes as the news anchor on the six o’clock said that he wouldn’t be surprised if they had record-breaking snow and emergency conditions. Well, they always said that, didn’t they? If she was wrong half as many times at her job, she’d have been fired by now.
Life in Upstate New York meant snow. It meant rain, fog, four distinct seasons with a heavy concentration on winter, and summers that seemed to be gone in the blink of an eye. This winter was no exception. The residents of Johns Creek had already experienced record-setting snowfalls and mind-numbing cold. Amanda changed the channel and wished for the third time today that Roger was there.
If Roger had been there, they would have stocked up on hot cocoa, popcorn and romantic movies. They would have piled all their blankets in the living room and snuggled on the couch together. They would have built a fire in the flagstone fireplace and made passionate love in front of a roaring blaze while the storm raged outside.
But instead, Amanda was alone. She had gone to the grocery store before the snow started to fly and bought the essentials. She made sure she had a fresh bucket of wood in front of the fireplace, but it had been so long since the chimney had been cleaned, she wasn’t sure she dared to light a fire. Instead of popcorn and romantic movies, she had a few novels piled in a heap on the leather couch. Instead of Roger’s warm body next to hers, she had only her memories of his strong, masculine arms around her. It was a lonely existence, to be sure, but it was all she had.
It had started snowing at nine in the morning. It was now six o’clock, and there was already significant accumulation. Amanda had given up shoveling two hours earlier. She had thrown her hands up in despair and gone inside where it was warmer. It had been impossible to keep up with the snow. She was exhausted from hours of hefting weighty shovelfuls and disgruntled that her efforts were now barely discernible. Still shivering, she sat down and prepared to wait out the storm.
A scraping sound from outside the house startled her. She glanced out the bay window in the living room and saw a tree branch brushing against the glass. Those branches normally cleared the window by a good eighteen inches; right now, they hung in icy tentacles almost to the ground and rubbed against the window panes with an eerie groan. The snow was coming down as fast as rain. It was thin snow, not quite frozen but not quite liquid, that in-between snow that falls fast and hard and wreaks havoc with both travelers and power lines. Every time the wind blew, it picked up snow and flung it in deep drifts, temporarily obscuring from view anything past her driveway. The wind was howling like a cast-aside lover, and it bounced the electrical lines out front around like marionette strings. What would she do if the power went out?
As if on cue, the lights flickered. Amanda groaned. She relied on electric heat. Would she dare light a fire in the fireplace? Would she freeze to death before the power came back on? And who would even notice if she perished in the storm? Her house was on a steep dirt road on the outskirts of town. It could be days before anyone could get to her, if they remembered she was there at all.
Silly girl, she admonished herself. Quit thinking so fatalistically. It’s going to be fine. You have candles, food, and water. You have blankets and the fireplace for heat. The fireplace is probably fine. Probably.
The wind continued to howl outside; it seemed to have fangs and claws. The lights flickered again and stayed out for what seemed like an eternity before springing valiantly back to life.
She missed Roger.
Roger would have made her feel safe. He would have distracted her from the storm. He would have gathered her close and made her forget the flickering electricity, the storm growing and blowing outside. It had to be close to zero out there, but if Roger had been there, the house would have felt as warm and safe as a cozy oasis. But Roger was gone, and it didn’t do her any good to dwell on it.
She grew more and more anxious the longer the storm raged outside. It didn’t show any signs of slowing down, and as the weather man had said, it was going to get worse before it got better. The news anchors were calling this the Blizzard of 2011. They were predicting snowfall of around twenty inches and a half inch of ice for good measure. And that was just for today.
Amanda hated storms, and had ever since she was a little girl. She was mildly claustrophobic and the feeling of being trapped inside was already eating away at her fragile self-control. Coupled with loneliness, her terror at being held captive inside a confined space was forcing the breath out of her in short pants, and she felt the start of hysteria creep in. If she didn’t get a grip on herself now, she’d be crippled by her trepidation before another hour had passed. Gasping, she paced, hugging her arms around herself in a feeble attempt to calm down.
A crash from outside made her jump and squeal. The lights flickered again and the house went dark. Whimpering, Amanda grabbed the flashlight she had placed on the coffee table and clicked it on. The thin beam was completely inadequate in the large room. It shone weakly on the TV that had been silenced by the storm. The house already seemed a few degrees cooler, even though she acknowledged that she might have been imagining it. The light made things seem so warm, so bright. In the dark, shadows reigned and her terrors grew to gigantic proportions.
Sniffling now, she made her way to the couch and sat heavily. She grabbed a thick comforter from the stack she had set out earlier and wrapped it around herself, savoring its warmth. The cozy fabric-softener fragrance that clung yet to the fabric made her feel just a bit better.
The wind continued to bluster and moan outside and the house felt distinctly colder than it had before the power went out. She turned on the battery-powered radio she had placed on the end table just in case, and heard the reassuring voice of the evening DJ reading off the emergency closings and other important messages. Emergency crews had been dispatched to evacuate residents whose power had been lost in the storm. Amanda wondered if anyone would come for her, being isolated as she was.
The DJ advised listeners that the town had been placed under a State of Emergency. No one was to be out on the roadways except for emergency personnel. The sound of his voice was a welcome distraction, regardless of the news he was sharing, so Amanda turned the volume up on high to drown out the moan of the wind. The iced-over tree branches scraped constantly now against the windows and siding. It sounded like nails on a chalkboard and it made Amanda shiver. She clutched the blanket around her more tightly and held the flashlight like a lifeline. If she could get through the night, she’d be fine. It wouldn’t be dark forever. Soon it would be morning, and she’d be safe from the nightmares that plagued her.
She settled in more comfortably on the couch and shone the flashlight on a random book. She flipped through the pages, trying to concentrate on the plot instead of her ever-mounting panic. Another huge crash from outside sent her racing to the rear of the house in time to see a downed tree coming to rest in the middle of her sunroom. It had crashed through the windows and the roof and ice-covered tree branches now rested heavily on every piece of furniture, making a huge mess and effectively blocking off one of her two doors. She was terrified that the other would be blocked and she’d be trapped.
A knock at the front door made her scream thinly. As she bit it back and leaped to her feet, she frowned. Who would be out in this weather? Puzzled, she wrapped a quilt more firmly around her shoulders and went to answer the door, crying out in relief when she saw a tall man dressed in a warm parka and ski pants. Without thinking, she flung her arms around him and backed up, pulling him inside.
He seemed sent straight from Heaven. She clung to him for a moment before remembering herself. Swallowing a sob, she released him and backed up so that he could enter. He followed her into the room, pausing just a moment to stomp the snow off his heavy boots.
"Are you alright, Ma’am?” he asked in a gruff, masculine voice.
“A tree came through the back of the house, and it’s so cold in here,” she returned, teeth suddenly chattering. It wasn’t that cold, but her distress had transitioned to shock and her panicked body trembled wildly.
“Come on, let’s get you warm.” He wrapped the quilt more firmly around her slender frame and escorted her over to the stack of blankets nestled on the couch.
“Here, sit down,” he instructed.
She sat instantly. It was a relief to obey orders, to not have to think anymore. It was too frightening to think. He selected a thick down comforter from the mound on the couch and draped it over her shoulders, tucking it around her like one would for a small child. With the two blankets providing a buffer from the chill in the air, and with someone here to take care of her, she felt fractionally better. Her body relaxed by inches as she regarded her savior.
She studied him as best she could in the dim twilight, memorizing his face for future reference. He had full lips, even white teeth and dimples on each cheek. They accented his mouth when he smiled. His nose was straight and well-proportioned. His eyes were the warmest shade of green she had ever seen. In short, he was an unexpected gift in the middle of a crisis, and she was grateful.
“Ma’am, my name is Raif Weston. I’m a lieutenant from Johns Creek Fire Company. I’m here to escort you to the Johns Creek High School. They have an evacuation center set up there with backup generators running. It’ll be nice and warm there. Do you want to go?”
She nodded.
“So, let’s take a look at the damage and try to secure it before we leave, ok? Do you have any lumber or tarps?”
“Anything I have is in the garage.” She motioned outside.
“Ok. Be right back.”
Panic filled her throat like bile. He couldn’t leave. She needed him!
“Don’t go, please. I’m scared.”
“Ma’am, I assure you, you’ll be perfectly safe here. I’ll be right back.”
“No! I’ll go with you. Don’t leave me.” She clutched his arm and worried it anxiously.
Raif was silent for a moment, as if he was considering what to do with her. Then he nodded. “Alright. Let’s get moving. We don’t have a lot of time.”
Amanda hurried to bundle up in her coat and boots. She pulled on some warm mittens and a hat and said, “Ok. I’m ready.”
They walked outside to a world gone wild. The snow blew in thick, icy sheets across her driveway. She couldn’t even see as far as the road, only a hundred feet away. The path she had shoveled had disappeared, erased by the heavy snowfall. As far as she could see, the ground was smooth and flat, all variations in the terrain hidden by the frozen accumulation. They plodded through snow that was already up to their knees. Groping in the dark, they reached the garage and tugged on the door, but it was stuck shut from the deep drifts. Weston shrugged and motioned for Amanda to head to the big black truck that was pointed toward the road and they climbed in. The cab was still warm from his drive, and the heat felt heavenly.
“So, if you’re a fireman, where’s your truck?” Amanda asked, confused despite her relief.
“I’m technically off-duty today, ma’am, but they need all the help they can get in this mess. I have four-wheel drive, so I thought I’d come out on my own to find people who might need transportation to the evacuation center.”
“Oh. So, how did you find me? I’m pretty well out of the way up here.”
“I love it up here. It’s so peaceful. I come up to the state game lands every chance I get,” Raif said, referring to the acres of forest up the road from Amanda’s house that the state owned and maintained.
“Well, I’m glad. Thanks so much for stopping. I was worried, to say the least.” She smiled at her rescuer and thanked her lucky stars he happened to be a nature fan.
Weston returned her smile and put the truck in drive. They pulled out carefully and his grille pushed snow. The headlights reflected off the accumulation and very clearly illustrated just how fast it was coming down.
They reached the bottom of the driveway on sheer luck and fishtailed as they turned into the road. It was slow going, even with four-wheel drive. The wind seemed intent on blowing them in every direction except the one they were traveling in. Raif struggled to keep the truck in the middle of the road. It was impossible to tell where it ended and the steep ditches on the shoulders began. He cursed as an especially deep rut in the dirt road bounced them. The wind chose that particular moment to blow fiercely, and the truck fishtailed. He fought to maintain control but the road was too slick. The truck skidded and swung and hit a ditch with a bang. It reared up and rolled crazily, coming to rest on the passenger side. There was a brief flash of nauseating pain, then Amanda’s world went dark.
When she came to, Raif’s worried face hovered over her. “Are you ok? You took quite a knock on your head,” he said. He pulled a penlight out of his coat pocket to check for a possible concussion. She blinked and squinted at the bright light in her eyes and said, “Yes, I’m fine. What happened?” Her head was throbbing and her vision was slightly gray at her periphery.
“We hit a tree. Damn roadway is a mess. There’s no way we’re getting out of here.”
“Can we walk to town?”
“I’m going to go find out. Can you hang here for a minute? I promise you, I’ll be right back. I won’t leave you.”
She nodded, winced slightly as another bolt of pain shot through her skull, and nodded again at his frown. He regarded her for another long moment, then turned and climbed out of the vehicle. Soon, his tall form disappeared amid the white swirls. She sat patiently and waited, moving her arms and legs to try to keep the circulation going and prevent them from stiffening from their accident.
Before twenty minutes had passed, she saw him emerge from the white-out. He brushed snow off his coat, climbed back in the truck and said, “It’s incredible out there. I couldn’t see five feet in front of my face.”
“So, can we get to town?” she asked, eager to be safe and warm again. The temperature in the truck had plummeted since their crash and she was shivering again.
He shook his head. “Not in these conditions. It’s really bad out there. No visibility at all. The snow is past my knees already, and it’s at least four miles to town. I took a quick walk a little ways and there’s trees down everywhere. The road’s blocked about a half mile down by a huge old oak. We’re not going anywhere, even if we could manage to roll my truck back over.”
“What are we going to do?” she asked in mild panic.
“Can you walk back to your house? It’s only about four hundred feet. We can bunk there until the storm breaks and we’re rescued.”
“I can try.” She grimaced a little as she moved, but after a moment, she was able to climb out of the truck through the driver’s side and follow her would-be rescuer back to her house. It was difficult, to say the least. The snow acted like shackles around their legs, slowing them down and forcing them to fight to plod through it. They clung to each other and stumbled a few times. It was impossible to see what was under the snow, and they tripped on the large stone that marked the opening to Amanda’s drive. The wind blew snow into their faces, and Amanda’s cheekbones soon smarted from the icy shards hitting her exposed skin. The snowflakes were being flung so hard by the wind, they felt like razorblades instead of tiny, fluffy ice-crystals. Her head throbbed from the bump it took.
After what seemed like an eternity of trudging through the dark, they reached the house. Amanda offered up a silent prayer that they made it. She hurried to unlock the door with frozen fingers and they stepped into the living room, shutting the violence of the storm outside. They slid off their boots and wrapped themselves in the blankets she’d stacked on the couch.
“Do you have food in the house?” he asked. She nodded.
“Water?” Another nod.
“Batteries and other emergency supplies?” Again she nodded.
“Do you have a phone that connects directly to the wall without an external power source?”
To that she shook her head. Who would call her anyway?
“No, just my cordless.”
“How about a cell phone?”
“There’s no service up here.”
“And I left my radio back in the truck. Lord knows where it is now.” He sighed. “Well, that’s that, then. I guess we’ll just have to hang out here until we’re evacuated.”
“How long will that be?” Amanda asked, worried.
“I have no idea.” Raif turned to Amanda and grinned in an obvious attempt to lighten the mood. “So, now that you have me here, what are you going to do with me?”

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