"Throw another bundle of shingles up here," Simone Ladner yelled down from the roof she was working on. Hurricane Katrina had devastated the Biloxi neighborhood she had grown up in. Like everyone along the Coast, she was doing her part to rebuild the area, one house, one block, one neighborhood at a time. Six months after the life-altering storm, things were nearly as bad as the day the storm washed ashore, but with the influx of volunteers from all across the country, as well as internationally, progress was being made.
"Rather than throw them, how about I give you a hand here?" a deep voice replied.
Simone paused, because she didn't recognize the voice. If she had heard it before, she was sure she would have remembered the deep sonorous sound. Footsteps vibrating the ladder alerted her that the owner of the voice was indeed bringing up the roofing shingles. She sat back on her haunches to await the delivery.
The February temperature was mild, the sky sunny and bright, just the type of day the people of the Coast needed to clean up and rebuild their lives.
A blond head appeared just over the roof's edge. Two plastic wrapped bags of shingles rested across his broad shoulders. She was always awed by the display of physical strength in the workers. One bundle of asphalt shingles could weigh anywhere from 70 to 140 pounds. The scene was repeated from sun up to sun down all up and down the coastline. She considered herself a strong woman, had proven it to herself since returning home and getting involved in the rebuilding process. However, carrying stacks of roofing shingles on her shoulders and back the way these guys did was way beyond her capacity.
"Here, let me take one of those," she said, scooting toward the ladder and sliding one bundle off his shoulder onto the roof. Turning again to the new arrival, who was built like the retired football player, Howie Long, she grabbed the other bundle and heaved it beside her. Then as she looked at him to offer her thanks for the help, she found herself staring into the greenest eyes the Good Lord had ever created. Something deep inside her stirred to life as her stomach clenched with desire and the heat of sexual awareness rushed from her toes to the top of her head. She slid back along the tar paper to give the big man room as he climbed from the ladder to the roof.
He was really big, Simone thought as he sat beside her. Wide, heavily muscled shoulders bunched underneath his denim shirt. His forearms were equally muscled and tan from the Mississippi sun. His hands, large and strong, effortlessly ripped away the plastic wrap around the shingles. The thought of those hands on her body nearly caused her to forget where she was. Simone shook her head to clear away the thought. The roof was not the place to be wigging out.
The stranger introduced himself, holding out his large hand in greeting. "Hi, I'm Keithen Knight."
"Simone Ladner." She took his hand and watched as hers was swallowed whole.
Keithen studied the small hand within his with curiosity. Although small and definitely feminine, there was strength in the grasp. There was also something magnetic about it, because it took sheer willpower to release it. As he met the warm cocoa-colored eyes and friendly smile of the beautiful woman returning his questioning gaze, he was sure she'd felt something as well.
"Nice to meet you, Simone." He released her hand and sat back looking at her. She had delicate features set in a creamy dark chocolate face. "Where should I start?" Keithen watched, spellbound, as she removed the baseball cap she wore. A shoulder-length ponytail fell free, curling around her neck.
"You can take this end, I'll work over there," Simone replied, and crawled back to where she had stopped working the day before.
"So where are you from, Keithen?"
"I guess my accent gave me away."
Simone glanced at him and laughed. "More like the lack of one."
"I'm a Native Californian. Born and raised in San Francisco." He smiled at her with pride. "I live on Belvedere Island. Ever heard of it?"
"Can't say that I have."
"It's a beautiful island across the bay with hilltop views of the San Francisco and the Golden Gate Bridge."
"Sounds beautiful," she replied.
"And you?" His green eyes watched her efficient movements with admiration as she laid a course of shingles and nailed them in place. He followed her actions and got to work as well.
Laughing, Simone paused and looked over. "Don't be deceived by the East Coast brogue. I was born and raised right here, though I lived in New York for four years."
"The storm brought you home?" He swung the hammer.
"Yes, it did. When I arrived back in the neighborhood not one house was standing on the block. I couldn't believe it. I grew up here and yet I got disoriented traveling around town because so much was gone. Landmarks I took for granted were nowhere to be found."
"I had to come," Keithen told her. "After weeks of watching the destruction, I knew I had to get involved."
"Well, on behalf of the people of the Coast, thank you."
Keithen nodded. He was humbled by the people he had met. In the face of all they had lost and the daily difficulties they continued to face, they were kind, giving, and so very thankful for any assistance. He and Simone concentrated on the work before them, laying shingles and nailing them down. The rhythmic pounding filled the air like music.
On hands and knees the pair worked from one end to the other, until their half of the roof was completely covered. The work was exhausting and dirty, but doing it gave Simone and Keithen a sense of pride. The team on the other side was nearing the ridge, so while they waited, Simone climbed down the ladder and quickly returned with water for everyone. She tossed each man a bottle then straddled the ridge.
Keithen unscrewed the cap to his bottle of water and took a long, thirsty drink, his eyes looking over to where Simone sat. She was just as dirty and sweaty as he and the other guys on the roof, and yet he couldn't take his eyes off her. Long thick lashes framed almond shaped eyes.
Simone felt Keithen watching her and observed him with curiosity. "So what do you do for a living, Keithen?" She rolled the cold bottle under her neck to cool herself.
"I'm a developer," he responded without explanation. He felt no need to tell her he was a millionaire developer of some of the most exclusive residential neighborhoods in the country, from Malibu to West Palm Beach
"As in residential developments?"
"Exactly, so you see, I'm familiar with a hammer and nails.
"Your talents are definitely needed around here." She downed the last of her water, then tossed the bottle over the side and returned to work on the ridge. Another hour went by before Simone checked her watch. She had to get over to the church. "That's it for me today, guys," she yelled to the crew on the roof. "I'll see you all later."
Keithen watched as Simone gathered her tools and headed to the ladder. As she drew along beside him, he stopped her. "Leaving so soon?"
"I'm afraid so. Hope to see you again, Keithen Knight," Simone said continuing to the ladder.
"Likewise." Keithen watched as she disappeared from sight. He could hear her saying her good-byes down below. He watched as she climbed into a late model black Chevy Silverado and drove off.