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Dead End

DEAD END by Stella Cameron

Purple Papaya, LLC
January 14, 2014
ISBN-13: 978-1621811152
ASIN: B00HV5RM30

Louisiana lush, bayou bad…DEAD END brings Father Cyrus (FRENCH QUARTER) into his own intense story. With the victim’s brother, maverick architect Marc Girard and medical examiner Reb O’Brien stirring the waters of intrigue and murder…and stirring their own unfinished business. DEAD END is a page-turning race to find and stop a killer, and unearth a secret buried too deep for too long.

a significant expansion of the story originally published as COLD DAY IN JULY

Read the Interview!New York Times Bestselling Authors Jayne Ann Krentz and Stella Cameron chat about rewriting old books, Stella’s indie career, and pets.

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One Magical Christmas

One Magical Christmas

Purple Papaya, LLC
November 6, 2013
ASIN: B00GI2XJ7U

Dumped by her fiancé and fired from her job, Hannah’s day couldn’t get any worse. Or could it? When she arrives home and finds a mysterious delivery man, a past long forgotten comes rushing to the present. An intriguing invitation hints at a centuries-old story that still waits for its ending, and suggests she holds the key to the final chapter. With nothing to keep her in Chicago, Hannah heads home to Georgia for Christmas and a love she left a long time ago.

previously released as AN ANGEL IN TIME

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A Cold Day in Hell – Excerpt

A Cold Day in Hell

Harlequin Mira
November 15, 2012
Amazon ASIN: B009NEMGMO
ISBN-13: 9781460308523

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Eileen Moggeridge slammed the door of her van and locked it, keeping her right hand on the gun she carried in a jacket pocket.

Tonight she had met with someone she thought she would never see again. He had stood in this parking lot, nodding toward Poke Around, her gift shop, with a smile on his face. “I’m happy for you, Eileen. I only ever wanted the best for you—and Aaron.” And the smile was sad, his expression guilty, apologetic, humble.

As far as she could remember, he’d never regretted a thing he did and she didn’t believe he’d changed.

He wanted something, and it wasn’t an opportunity to take back responsibility for the family that was no longer his.

Chuck Moggeridge had left her, and Pointe Judah, almost two years ago. There had been talk about another woman but Eileen had not known who that was, didn’t want to know, didn’t care. Chuck had beaten her one time too many and she still hated herself for not getting rid of him a lot sooner. In the end, her so-called husband had barely beaten Eileen to a divorce lawyer.

Now he was back.

He had called from his car in the parking lot, asked her to talk to him, “Tell me about Aaron. Just for a couple of minutes. He’s my son as well as yours.

His car had been parked only slots away from hers in the Oakdale Mansion Center lot, but Chuck didn’t know what she drove anymore. Or he hadn’t, but did now. Eileen had walked to her van and seen him hurry toward her. She got quickly behind the wheel, locked the doors and opened her window a crack.

For too long they had looked at each other.

Strange how two people who had made a life together, made a child together, could become strangers.

He didn’t ask to get into the van with her, or for her to go somewhere with him. At least he knew better than that—tonight. Eileen didn’t trust him not to push for more, not when his parting words had been, “I know my responsibilities. You should have let me know he was in rehab. Aaron’s had a rough time and he needs his father. It’s good to be back so I can make things right.

Lies. Mostly lies.

How had Chuck found out about Aaron’s problems with alcohol? They weren’t an issue anymore. Aaron had gone through rehab—quietly—although she didn’t fool herself that no-one knew— and he was just fine. When he had needed Chuck, the man hadn’t been around and now she wanted things to stay the way they were.

She had met Angel DeAngelo—his first name was really, Christian—through his nephew Sonny, and Aaron, and he had stepped up to give masculine support when needed. Eileen liked him—a lot. Sonny wasn’t nearly as high on her list. Surly and silent around her, he was an Aaron-rescue. Aaron had a history of championing misfits and he had let her know it was he who encouraged the friendship between two guys the other kids avoided.

She held the gun so tight her fingers ached.

The thought of being afraid of Chuck might not be new, but she hadn’t worried about it since he made a complete break. His timing for coming back couldn’t be worse. She raised her face, grateful for the fine moisture on her skin.

If she didn’t get back inside the shop, Angel would arrive before her and ask where she’d been. She wasn’t ready to tell him.

They had moved slowly together, each of them scalded by past experience, but Eileen wanted them to have a chance at something more, and she thought he did, too—if he could ever stop thinking of her as his good buddy. Most afternoons, around closing time, he stopped by for coffee but their conversations mostly revolved around Aaron and Sonny.

Damn Chuck for showing up now. He shouldn’t scare her, but he did.

The rain had eased off but the evening remained damp, the air heavy. Eileen hurried away from her van toward the lighted windows of Poke Around. The shop was in what had once been the conservatory at the beautiful old Oakdale Mansion and she had strung white icicle lights around the roof and outlined the windows with twinkling multi-colored strands.

Chuck’s call came only moments after Eileen’s employee, Suky-Jo, had left. They had been stock-taking—not so easy when the shop was crammed with Holiday merchandise. All but low lights were off in the patisserie and the new salon that flanked her place. Old friends ran the salon and Eileen had an investment in that, too.

The business was hers; at last.

Eileen could not get over the excitement she felt whenever she looked at the shop. Her shop. She had come a long way from being Chuck’s mostly ignored wife, the woman who belonged at home, who mustn’t ask for anything, so got nothing.

Angel’s offices were also in the Oakdale Mansion Center. He was Operations Manager for a construction firm and worked late. Then he liked to walk over and pick her up. Within the hour he’d be at the shop door. She wanted to see him. In the months since they had started their tentative relationship, her need to be with him grew daily.

They circled each other and knew that’s what they were doing. Eileen wondered how much longer Angel would be satisfied with being her close friend. She couldn’t face the question tonight.

Her cell phone rang in her purse and when she looked at the readout she saw Angel’s number.

“Hi,” she said, smiling to herself.

“Where are you?”

Eileen frowned and slowed her pace. “Where I almost always am.”

He took his time to respond. “And that is?”

“You’re not interrogating a suspect in your former life.” He admitted to several years’ service as an ATF (alcohol, tobacco and firearms) agent but wouldn’t discuss what he’d done before that. “I’m at the shop,” she said. Or she soon would be.

“No you’re not. What’s going on?”

Eileen’s scalp prickled. She felt colder than she should on a humid night. He’d never spoken to her sharply like that. He had no right to. Feet from the sidewalk, she stopped and stared at the shop. Angel stood inside the door, staring out, his face set, hard and cold, the way she’d seen it several times before, but never when he was speaking to her.

He had his own key.

In a way, since Aaron and Sonny met, they had almost become a family—with some notable things missing.

His tone turned her stomach. It also made her angry. “What do you think is going on, Christian?” She winced. Her habit of calling him Christian when she was either really happy or really unhappy with him, gave her away every time.

He kept the phone at his ear but didn’t say anything. So far he didn’t know she was only yards away and staring at him.

Angel was one of those men who took up a lot of space, When he walked into a room, there was a subtle change in the atmosphere. People looked at him, and conversation faded. It happened, that was all, and if he didn’t feel watched, he ought to.

Eileen crossed her arms. The open line between them unnerved her. She tapped a hand at her throat. When she and Angel had met, she and Matt Boudreaux, the local Police Chief, had seemed to be moving toward a serious relationship. But Matt had been taking his sweet time, often treating her as if they’d been married for years and she shouldn’t mind a broken date, and another, and another. Eileen’s patience ran out. She would always love Matt in a certain way, but Angel’s attention had eventually distracted her.

Sometimes she thought Angel didn’t trust that it was over between her and Matt. He’d never made a romantic move but he did give the impression that she was his property.

Suddenly, Angel slipped his phone into the breast pocket of his dark blue shirt and stood with his big arms spread. He gripped the door frame on either side. Those arms and shoulders weren’t just big, they were massive. She thought about his arms, and the way they moved—too often. Just touching him messed with her mind.

Eileen put her own phone away. She had about thirty seconds to see his face, his usually cool gray eyes, before she approached the door and he saw her.

She paused again. Cool didn’t have anything to do with his face now. Emotions, none of them anything Eileen wanted to explore, passed over his features. She could see a white line around his compressed lips. Below his rolled up sleeves, the muscles and tendons in his arms stood out. He squeezed the door frame.

That’s enough. Where does he think I am? Or maybe that should be, who does he think I’m with? She hated the thought because playing the field wasn’t her style.

She arrived in front of him and they stared, eye-to eye, through the glass. He wore his dark blond hair short and at the moment it stuck up as if he’d pushed at it. He had thicker, darker eyelashes than a man should have and he lowered them to half-mast so he could fix his gaze on her face.

Before she could find her keys, he swept open the door and stood back.

Eileen walked inside and he locked up behind her.

“You’re early,” she said.

“So you thought you had more time to get back before I found out you’d left?


“Hey, buddy.” She walked to the back of the store where a soft red velvet couch stood, and threw down her purse. “You’re out of line. I’m not having a wonderful evening and I don’t need you to make it worse. I had to step out and deal with something. That’s all, and I don’t have to explain every move I make to you. Can I get you an espresso, or a glass of wine—or a beer?”

“No.”

She turned toward him and found that in his naturally uncanny manner, he’d closed the space between them soundlessly. Although she was a tall woman, she was forced to look up at him.

“A woman doesn’t belong out there alone, in the dark,” he told her. When he narrowed his gray eyes they became almost black. “It probably used to be that folks didn’t have to lock their doors around here, or worry about crime. Times have changed.”

“I walked to my van. Then I walked back from my van when I’d finished my business. Really, I do appreciate your concern.” She tried a smile but his expression didn’t change. “As I said, thanks, but I’m a big girl.”

“That depends on what you mean by, big girl.”

There would be no discussion about what he thought it meant.

Angel rubbed his face. “I tried to check on Sonny but his cell’s off. You know it bothers me when he does that.”

She sympathized with his worry about his nephew. Sonny had come to Pointe Judah because he needed a strong hand if he wasn’t going to end up in jail. “He and Aaron were out riding bikes,” she said. “You know how that goes. They always go farther then they say they will.”

“That’s fine for Aaron,” Angel said. “Sonny’s got limits. He’s got to be where I can reach him at all times.”

“He’s a good kid. You’re too hard on him.” Sonny needed a firm hand but there was something under the tough facade that made her want to gather him in and make him feel cared about. She took out her phone again and placed a call.

Angel moved closer, so close she could feel him. “You calling Aaron?”

She nodded. Pick up the phone, Aaron.

“So Aaron’s gone dark, too?”

“Don’t put it like that,” Eileen said. “They’ll check in just as soon as they’re close to home. You’ve got them scared stiff.”

He tapped his chest with spread fingertips. “Me? Crap, I’m a pussycat. I care, is all.”

She believed the last bit but he was no pussycat. “Sonny’s likely to stop by my place before he goes home. He likes the food. I’ll make sure he gets back in one piece.”

The following silence unnerved Eileen. She took a deep breath and put the phone away again.

“Eileen,” Angel said, his voice softening, a little raspy. “I’m sorry I came on too strong. I was worried.”

She avoided looking at him. “Forget it.”

“I will when you do. You’re mad.”

“No. Edgy is all.”

He put a hand beneath her hair and held the back of her neck. “You said you weren’t worried.”

Eileen held quite still. Her scalp tightened and she felt as if a subtle breeze lifted her hair. They might be trying to pretend they had no physical effect on each other, but it was a lie.

If she told Angel about Chuck, how would he react? He’d never understand that she couldn’t just brush it off. “I’m not worried,” she told Angel. He rubbed her neck and she shivered. When she glanced at him, he was frowning.

“Is there anything you’re not telling me?” he said.

She looked at the floor.

“Eileen?”

“Leave it. When I can talk about it, I will.”

He took her by the hand and led her into the stockroom. Once there, he turned her to face him and held her shoulders. “Not good enough. “What is it?”

She kept her gaze on his chest.

“C’mon,” he said quietly. “Don’t do this to me.” He kissed her cheek, pushed her hair away from her left ear and stroked his thumb across it.

“Stop it,” Eileen said, without conviction. He had bad timing, choosing tonight to make moves on her.

“I’d rather not stop.” He pulled her against him. “I’ve already waited too long.”

“Christian, don’t.” He was a big man. If he decided to hold you, you were held.

“Sorry—I think we both need a little warmth sometimes.” He stepped back at once, but still held her arms and made it uncomfortable to look at him. It would be more uncomfortable to look away. “You’ve got a gun in your pocket,” he said.

She felt her face heat up. “Yes, I have.”

“I didn’t know you owned one.”

“You’re the one who’s always saying that people in quiet places like Pointe Judah should take precautions.”

His fingers tightened on her arms. “Do you carry all the time?”

This was the problem when you hung around with a man who had interrogated people for a living. “No.”

“You keep a gun in the shop?”

She tried to wrench away but he didn’t let her go. “Yes. Are we done now?”

“And tonight you decided you needed to be armed when you went out to do this business in your van you talk about?”

Eileen looked him in the eye. She felt the prickle of tears and blinked several times. “This conversation is over.”

“I don’t think so.”

“Leave it, okay? Just leave it.” Chuck had driven away. What if he’d come back and was skulking around outside, hoping she’d leave on her own?

“I’m sorry I’m so snappy,” she said.

“Me, too.” He looked at her mouth. “Do you want me to leave?”

She shook her head. He was sending her messages he’d kept under wraps before. Or perhaps she subconsciously wanted that to be true.

“You sure you don’t want to tell me what’s on your mind?” he said.

She wasn’t sure, but she’d wait anyway.

“Eileen, would this be a bad time to talk about us, too?”

He’d done a great job of behaving like Aaron’s strong, benevolent uncle and her friend. And he’d done the things a woman wished for when she wanted to know a man without getting in too deep.

He dropped his hands.

“No it’s not a bad time,” she told him, lying. She laughed a little. “We are so grown-up about things. I’m proud of us. We should get a prize for being reasonable.” And if she concentrated on something else, she wouldn’t keep trying to figure out what Chuck might or might not plan to do.

“As soon as we’re sure the boys are at your place, why don’t we go to The Boardroom for a drink,” Angel said. “And something to eat. The music’s good. We might even dance.”

“Dance? You told me you can’t dance.” Going to a club didn’t appeal to much but she said, “Yes. Looks like Delia and Sarah Board have a success on their hands with that place.” He was asking her out on a date. They’d had meals together before, in places like Ona’s, but there had never been any planned dates.

Located in the middle of Pointe Judah, The Boardroom had been open just a few months. It revved up when the town revved down and there was nothing else like it around.

Delia owned a cosmetics firm with offices and labs around the country but liked living in Point Judah. Her daughter, Sarah, was a chemist at the local labs and the club had been her idea.

Eileen hitched her bag over her shoulder and turned out the lights in the stockroom. “I’ve got extra help coming in tomorrow and I need it. It’s easy enough to get part-time people but I need someone full-time.”

“You’re working too hard,” Angel said. “Why don’t you put the gun in your purse if you’re going to keep on carrying the thing. It could fall out of your pocket.”

She did as he suggested without comment.

“Give me a couple more minutes,” Angel said. “If you don’t want to say anything, at least listen.”

In the darkness, piles of boxes loomed all around and unpacked merchandise was piled high on tables. Much of the stuff on the tables sparkled, even in the gloom. Eileen glanced at the high windows but all she saw was rain speckles heavy enough to make the glass look pebbled in the glow of the icicle lights at the roofline.

“Eileen?”

“Okay. Sorry I got distracted.”

“Something’s wrong, something you’re not telling me.”

When he nailed her like this she felt trapped. “And I told you I’ll talk about it when I can.”

“What’s changed?” he said, ever persistent. “If there’s something to be worried about I need to know what it is or I can’t help.”

“There’s nothing to worry about.” Yet. And probably wouldn’t be. “Angel, has Sonny done jail time?”

A silence followed and went on so long she wished she’d kept her mouth shut.

“No, he hasn’t,” Angel said, opening the door again. “What made you think he had?”

“Oh, forget I said anything. He’s a lot more mature than Aaron and sometimes I worry there could be things Aaron doesn’t need to know yet, that’s all.”

Angel propped himself in the doorway. Behind him, colored lighted blinked on and off on display trees in the shop. “How did you make the leap from Sonny being mature to his having done jail time?” Angel asked.

She felt ashamed, and judgmental. “He was sent to you for some reason. You told me he needed extra discipline.”

“I said he needed a man’s hand, a man’s guidance. He doesn’t have a father.”

Like Aaron didn’t have a father, or hadn’t. And Eileen wanted Chuck out of town again, now.

“Look,” Angel said. “I don’t want to say this but I’ve got to. You give me the impression you think Sonny’s no good for Aaron. You’ve pegged Sonny as a bad boy.”

“No!” Was she that transparent? “Aaron got in his own trouble. He’s not perfect.” She hadn’t told him how silently belligerent Sonny often was with her.

“But Aaron was just acting out and he did it quietly. You told me that and I believe you. He got muddled up after his father left. Finn told me all about it. He tried to fill in but Aaron got the idea it was his fault his dad ducked out.”

Finn Duhon was Eileen’s brother. His wife, Emma, used to own Poke Around but sold it to Eileen when she came into money from the sale of the Duhon family home. Finn had insisted she take all the proceeds because he didn’t need them. That money had changed Eileen’s life. Finn also owned the construction company Angel worked for.

“Say something,” Angel said.

She thought she saw movement outside the front windows of the shop. Her heart missed a beat, and another, then pounded rapidly. She was getting too jumpy. “Leave it, I said,” she told him, hearing her voice rise. “I can’t do this now. You’re pulling me apart like you’re suspicious of everything I say. Let me be.”

“Eileen, please—”

“No. I’d better go home on my own. I’m not good company.”

“I’m coming with you.” He reached for her but she tried to evade him. Angel caught her as she backed into a file cabinet.. “Hold it,” he said quietly.

She began to shake and she had to stop it. Some things had to be dealt with on her own. “I’m fine,” she told him. “I’m just overworked and kind of worried.”

“You’re not fine,” he said. He pulled her against him. For an instant she resisted, but then he felt her soften and lean into him. “You’re making too many excuses and you’re trembling. If I’m not scaring you to death, something else is. Now tell me because I won’t quit asking until you do.”

She wanted to close her eyes, breath him in, hold on tight. How many times had she dreamed about this moment? Now she couldn’t relax and enjoy it.

The phone in his pocket rang and he switched it off.

“That could be Sonny,” she said.

“We’re going back to your place now. I’ll deal with him when I get there. Hold my hand. You’re important to me, let me be here for you.” He held her hand and led her into the shop.

Nobody had ever told her such things, and he said them without pushing for anything more intimate?

Hammering on the front door made her jump so hard her teeth ground together.

“It’s okay,” Angel said, but he shoved her behind him and a gun appeared in his hand. “Hell, will you look at this?”

He holstered his weapon and strode to open the door.

Sonny just about fell inside. Drenched, covered with mud and, unmistakably, smeared with blood, he staggered and Angel stopped him from tripping.

“What’s the matter?” Angel said.

Eileen rushed to him. “Where’s Aaron?”

“I gotta get back,” Sonny said, dragging in breaths, not looking at Eileen. “You gotta come with me, Angel.” He looked into Angel’s face, a hard stare as if he was sending a silent message.

“Where’s Aaron?” Eileen felt herself losing it. “Sonny—”

“Hush,” Angel said, but his face wasn’t expressionless now.

“It’s all my fault,” Sonny said. “I shouldn’t have been . . . I went where I shouldn’t have, and talked to the wrong people. They kind of dared me. I got Aaron and me into trouble. It’s bad.” His big, dark eyes stretched wide and she could feel his fear. “Angel, do you think someone—”

“Let’s go,” Angel said.

“Tell me where Aaron is?” Eileen begged.

“Oh, God,” Sonny moaned, hanging his head. “He’s in the swamp. North of town. I know how to get back. Chuzah made sure. I hope he made sure. He sent me in his—er—car.”

“Stop it,” Angel said. “Calm down, both of you. Chuzah is?”

Sonny looked as if he could cry. “Um, a doctor.”

“Oh, thank God,” Eileen said.

“In the swamp?” Angel said. “This doctor just happened by, huh?”

“He lives there.”

“Aaron hurt himself?” Eileen said.

“No, someone else . . .” Sonny swallowed. “He got hurt.”

“But there’s a doctor there. A general practitioner?”

Angel pushed them both through the door and locked it behind him. “Eileen, we’ll have to take your van. My truck’s at home.”

“I’ve got to drive Chuzah’s vehicle back,” Sonny said. “I’m afraid he’d do something awful to me if I didn’t get his car back. I know the way. Follow me.”

Angel grabbed Sonny’s arm and spun him around. “What do you mean, something awful?”

“Oh,” Sonny said. “He’s a root doctor.”

Eileen felt faint. She held Angel’s sleeve. “We need a real doctor. I’ll get on to Mitch Halpern. And let’s call Matt—”

“No,” Sonny said. “Chuzah knows about other medical stuff. If we show up with some new guy he doesn’t expect, he won’t let us find him.”

“You said you knew the way,” Angel said.

Sonny scrubbed at his oiled scalp. “Do what I’m tellin’ you. Please. I know how to get to where there’ll be someone waiting to guide us in.”

To the right, at the curb, was a dark green vintage Morgan sports car. Again, all Eileen could do was stare.

“This root doctor threatened you,” Angel said.

“Well . . . he was nice about it.”

“I’m calling Matt now,” Eileen said. “Some voodoo practitioner has kidnapped my son.”

“Anything could happen if you call the law,” Sonny said, with his familiar hard stare. The street-wise kid from Brooklyn was back. “I know Aaron’s okay with Chuzah. He helped us.”

“That isn’t his Morgan, is it?” Angel said.

“Uh, huh. He’s really weird.”

“And you left Aaron alone with him?” Eileen said.

Sonny broke away and hurried toward the driver’s door on the Morgan. “He saved Aaron’s life,” he said and climbed in, slamming and locking the door behind him.

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A Grave Mistake – Excerpt

A Grave Mistake

Harlequin Mira
November 15, 2012
Amazon ASIN: B009NEMGT2
ISBN-13: 978-0778323532

Buy at Amazon Buy at Barnes and Noble Buy at iTunes

Toussaint, Louisiana.

Jilly Gable had a man to confront. Maybe this time Guy Gautreaux would keep his big mouth shut and let her finish what she had to say before he piled in and told her what to do and why, and reminded her of his earlier warning that the reappearance of her long lost mother could be bad news.

Guy had trouble with the concept that a woman could have a change of heart after thirty years of not giving a damn about a person. He didn’t believe people changed, he thought that as years went by they became more of what they had always been. In this case, once a bad mother, eventually a really bad mother.

Jilly pulled her aging VW Beetle into the forecourt at Homer Devol’s gas station—the last gas station on the way out of the town of Toussaint, and first on the way in, depending on if you were going or coming and which side of the sign you looked at.

Homer usually went to pick his granddaughter up from school in the afternoon, leaving Guy to tend the gas station and the convenience store beyond, where a string of colored lights outlined the roof. The lights stayed on all day and into the evening, all year.

Pots of showy geraniums hung beneath the eaves with ivy trailing to the ground.

Jilly looked around. Nothing on two legs moved. With her head out of the window she called, "Homer! Guy!" then she screwed up her eyes and listened. No response. She looked quickly toward the road. All day she’d had a sick sensation that she was being followed, watched. Last night she had got a warning, even if it wasn’t direct, that someone was watching her movements. Who better to advise her than Guy, a New Orleans Police Department homicide detective on extended leave?

Way to the left, closer to the bayou, Homer’s split timber house stood on stilts with its gallery facing the bayou across the sloping back lawn.

She got out of the lime green Beetle and went through the useless exercise of trying to take in a breath. Hot didn’t cover it. Heat eddies wavered above the burned out grass and did their shaky dance on tops of the roofs. From where she was she could see cypress trees crouching, totally still, over Bayou Teche. Beards of Spanish Moss hung from branches like they were painted there, and the pea-green surface of the bayou might have been set-up jello. Even the gators would be sleeping now.

She reached behind her seat and hauled out several bakery boxes tied together with string. If she didn’t get them inside fast, the contents would be gooey puddles. Jilly owned All Tarted Up, Flakiest Pastry In Town, one of Toussaint’s favorite gathering places. Her brother, Joe—a lawyer—had been her partner until his marriage the previous year. She’d been able to assume the loans and she loved having the business to herself.

Guy’s beat up gray Pontiac hugged a slice of shade beside the store, but she saw no sign of the man, either in the gas station or the store. He didn’t live out here and mostly stayed away from the house.

A walk toward the bayou ended her search. He stood on the dock, a cell phone clamped to his ear, his arms crossed, and his face pointing away from her.

A door slid open behind her and she jumped, swung around and barely kept her balance. Homer’s fish boiling operations were housed in this other building, one you didn’t see until you got close to the bayou. Ozaire Dupre walked out and turned to slide the doors shut, but not before the dense smell of boiling fish rushed free. Ozaire, caretaker at the church, man of many schemes, also helped out with Homer’s boiling and drove the giant pots of fish, and sometimes vats of his part-time boss’s own special gumbo, to backyard barbeques or any event looking for real Louisiana cooking.

Ozaire saw Jilly and frowned, shook his big, shaved head dolefully, "Better you keep me company today, girl. That one down there—he’s one big, black cloud, him." Ozaire fooled some people with his short, thick , slow-moving body. In fact the man’s strength was legendary in the area, and his speed if he chose to hurry.

A rangy, part-grown black mutt loped around his legs but soon left to investigate Jilly.

"You say that every time I come," Jilly pointed out, scratching the dog’s velvet head. "Who’s this good looking fella?"

"That Guy Gautreaux’s a big, black cloud all the time, that’s why I say it." Ozaire looked smug with himself. His scalp shone in the sunlight and sweat ran down the sides of his round face and heavy neck. "Never got nuthin’ good to say. I reckon he’s got a curse on him. Bad luck boy, that one."

"You should be more careful what you say, you," Jilly told Ozaire. "A man could get in trouble for saying things like that."

"Get on. I’m just sayin’ it like it is. Last woman that boy got close to is in a cemetery."

Last year Guy’s longtime girlfriend had been murdered in New Orleans. He blamed himself.

"Later," Jilly said, exasperated. She held out the boxes. "We had extra at the bakery. They’re fresh. Put them in the store case for Homer to sell."

Ozaire took the load from her and gave a rare grin. "An’ I thought you was bringin’ me a treat."

Jilly wagged a finger at him. A bug flew into her eye and she dealt with it, then pointed at him again. "You get one. I’ve counted those pastries, I’ll count them again when I come back up. There better be no more than one gone." Give the man the chance and he’d be hauling the stuff off to sell to whoever was using the church hall at St. Cécil’s.

"That there’s a dog what’s a prize, that’s what he is," Ozaire said, as if the topic had never been pastries. "Can’t keep ‘im, no sir. My Lil says four dogs is enough. But this guy’s too good, got too much character to drop him at the pound and have ‘em put him down in a couple of days."

Jilly had been the recipient of Ozaire’s earlier attempts to place strays. "Hope you find a home for him," she said. The man’s love of dogs made her feel more kindly toward him.

"Reckon I have," Ozaire said. "With your prickly friend, huh? Put in a good word, huh? For the dog’s sake, and for that miserable son-of . . ." He let the rest trail off.

Jilly shook her head. "You’re too hard on Guy," she told him, and walked toward the dock. She turned and walked backward a few paces. "I’m going to check on the pastries, mind."

Jilly hurried downhill.

Guy bent to push off one of the rental boats. A couple of guys with fishing gear started the outboard and phut-phutted into the middle of the channel. With the phone still clamped to his ear, Guy stood up and saw Jilly. He gave her a brief wave and started meandering back along the dock. They’d met the previous year when an investigation brought him to Toussaint and he’d become her friend, her best buddy, and she needed to talk openly with him about what was on her mind. He had never attempted to turn their relationship into something deeper but Jilly had seen the hot looks he quickly hid—she wasn’t the only one frustrated by the sexless hours they spent together.

"Take your sweet time," Jilly muttered. How could a man walk that slowly? "Just let me squirm as long as possible." Do I admit I’m scared and I need to tell you about it? If she did, he’d probably jump all over her, say she was putting herself in danger. Get out of the situation. End of discussion.

Guy stood still, staring up at her, and continued his conversation. After the death of the woman he had loved he refused to go back to NOPD, but they were holding a place for him. Guy was a darn good detective. Meanwhile, Homer had needed someone reliable and asked Guy if he’d work at his place—just to fill the time until he moved on. Guy accepted the job and give it his all. He seemed grateful to Homer and to treat his own place at the station as a trust, even though Jilly knew he had enough money to live on if he wanted to hang around his rented house and do nothing until he decided on his next steps.

Jilly didn’t want Guy to leave his haven in Toussaint, even though he had made it plain he didn’t intend to stay for good.

He stuck the phone back on his belt and speeded up. A tall, rangy man, in faded-out jeans and a navy T-shirt with holes in it, he could cover the ground quickly when it suited him. He met Jilly before she could put a foot on the dock.

She looked up at him, at his unreadable, almost black eyes, and wished she hadn’t come. Ozaire hadn’t been joking about the cloud.

"I wasn’t expectin’ you," he said and winced. He almost always said the wrong thing to Jilly, but not because he didn’t want to tell her how he felt each time he saw her. He guessed he’d never be polished.

"I’m not staying," Jilly said. Not when he looked as if he wished she was somewhere else and he couldn’t even manage to crack a welcoming smile.

He cocked his head to one side and took off his straw Stetson, held it by the fraying brim. "You must have had somethin’ on your mind," he said. "No reason to come this way otherwise." And he wished she’d say something he’d really like to hear, like her creep of a mother had packed up and left town again.

"You can make a person feel pretty unwelcome, Guy." She didn’t dare say it hurt her when he behaved as if she was stranger with bad timing.

He ran a deeply tanned forearm over his brow, blinking slowly.

You got used to a man’s little mannerisms, got to like them even. Next he’d rake his fingers through dishwater blond hair. Yep, that’s what he did.

"Guy, can I ask your honest opinion about something?"

He swallowed and rubbed the flat of his right hand back and forth on his chest. Jilly, you can ask me anything. If I was any kind of a man, I’d get over what I can’t change and find a way to be what you need, what you want me to be. "Ask. Maybe I can be useful—maybe not." He sickened himself. She wanted intimacy with him, the kind that never let her doubt he was on her side. But he was scared to give it to her. Stuff had happened, deadly stuff, to the only women he’d gotten really close to.

Yeah, Jilly thought, she just wanted him to reassure her that she shouldn’t question her mother’s motives for being back in Toussaint. And she’d like him to put her mind at rest about one or two things that made her antsy at old Edwards Place where Edith’s second husband, Daddy Preston, had set his wife up in lavish style. She’d dissuaded Edith from re-naming the estate, so Edwards Place it remained, but Jilly didn’t like the house much. Too big and eerie, filled with memories and sad stories Edith insisted on relating.

Then there was what happened last night. Guy could help her get through that if he had a mind to. All he had to do was tell her it was no big deal, and that he was on her side.

Jilly gave Guy a little smile, then dropped her face so he couldn’t study her so closely anymore.

Would it be so dangerous to give her a hug, he wondered. A brotherly hug to take away some of the trouble he had seen in her eyes? He wasn’t the only one who had suffered loss. Jilly’s former fiancé turned out to be a felon and destined to spend the rest of his life in the pen.

Jilly moved closer. She could feel him, always could when he was anywhere around.

"Okay," he said, and put a hand on her shoulder. She wasn’t a fragile woman, but he felt clumsy around her. "Tell me about it, cher."

It was just his way to be reserved. He cared what happened to her, the same as she did about him. "You don’t like it that Edith came back," she said.

"I never said that."

"You said she’d make trouble in the end. That sounded pretty much as if you didn’t think she should have come here."

Had he said that? "I don’t think that was exactly what I said but if you want me to take it back, I will. She’s been here awhile now and she hasn’t hurt you so far as I can tell."

"Having her show up was a shock." Jilly rested her forehead on his chest. "I’m still getting used to her. She’s not what this is about. Forgive me for being a whiny wuss, but I’m worried about something."

Guy looked down at the top of her head, at thick, blond-streaked brown hair that reached her waist. A yellow ribbon, tied a few inches from the bottom, kept it behind her shoulders.

That had been his old partner, Nat Archer, on the phone. Before long he would show up here, even though Guy had warned him previously that he didn’t want them seen together in Toussaint. From the sound of Nat’s voice, something big was going down. Ozaire was already backing a truck out and would be on his way back to St. Cécil’s within moments. Jilly ought to be gone before Nat arrived, too.

A half-grown black mutt with legs too long for its body ran back and forth and Guy made a note to call for the dog-catcher when Jilly left.

Jilly looked up at him. "I said I was worried."

"And I’m waitin’ to hear why."

"You are so tough, Guy Gautreaux. You never give an inch and you’re the only person I have to share this with."

"You have Joe. I’d have thought your brother would have the best insight on this one."

Hurt, disappointed, she tried to shrug away but he exerted a little more pressure on her shoulder and she couldn’t go anywhere. "Joe isn’t objective about this. He hates Edith. He isn’t into giving people second chances. But then, he’s my half-brother. Edith isn’t his mother."

"Joe Gable has his head screwed on right."

"Damn it, Guy." She punched his unyielding chest. "I think you’d side with anyone but me."

He shook her gently. "Could it be that Joe and I have your best interests at heart? Could that be it? Joe might remember picking you up when your dad was long gone, who the hell knows where, and the people he hired on the cheap to look after you kicked you out because he’d quit sendin’ money. You were fourteen years old. Joe might harbor a grudge against the so-called mother who walked out and left you with that angry son of a gun who fathered you, and left you just like she did."

"Yes," she said. "That could be. Sorry I bothered you. Joe and Ellie won’t be back from Italy for weeks, anyway. Forget it. It’s no big deal." Except that she felt she could choke, and wished her brother and his wife weren’t so far away.

Yes it was a big deal. He could feel that it, whatever that was, could be a very big deal. "I’ve got a clumsy mouth, you know that? When it comes to your old man, I’d gladly help Joe feed him to a gator."

The suspicious sheen on her light hazel eyes turned his stomach. If she cried, he was a gonner.

"I want to hear what you came to say and you aren’t leavin’ till you tell me," he said in a hurry.

Jilly met those black eyes of his and he made a valiant attempt to give her a reassuring smile. "Okay," she said. "No, it isn’t okay. It’s going to sound stupid. Forget it."

He put his mouth by her ear. "Listen to me, carefully. You and I will stand right here until you come clean." He was starting to get a really nasty feeling that this could chew up some time and prayed Nat would take longer than expected to arrive.

"You know there’s a live-in staff at Edwards Place?" she said.

"Only because you told me. I haven’t been invited to tea, yet."

She looked at him sideways. "There’s a new man who came from New Orleans a couple of days ago. I think he’s a bodyguard."

He didn’t know how he felt about that—if he felt anything at all. "Edith and that woman who came with her are pretty much alone. Could be they feel safer with a man watching out for them."

"When this one arrived—he came in on the chopper–I think Edith was as surprised as I was. That he was there, I mean. She knew him, even though they didn’t say much to each other. He just went to a room like he knew it was going to be there, and moved in." There was no reason to mention that Edith’s daughter-in-law, Laura Preston, threw a tantrum at the sight of the man.

"Mr. Preston flew in, too," Jilly went on. "I was glad to meet him finally."

"Is that right?" All of Guy’s nightmares were coming true. The so-called happy family wanted to draw Jilly in, to change her.

"Yes. He’s a nice man. He couldn’t have been kinder to me. He said he hoped I’d let him think of me as the daughter he never had."

"Did he?" Guy had turned ice cold. Goosebumps shot up his arms. "Is he staying at the house now?"

"He had to go back to New Orleans, but he said he’ll be spending a lot of time here. I can’t get used to the idea of someone having a helicopter pad in their garden." She held out her left arm to show him a thick gold bracelet with a diamond clasp. "I feel funny about it, but he gave me this. He gave one each to Edith and Laura, too."

Guy felt his nostrils flare. Every alarm bell went off. What could this guy possibly want from Jilly?

"Very nice," he said. "But the bodyguard stayed?"

"Yes. Daddy Preston went back alone."

Had he misheard her? "What did you call him?"

She reddened. "That’s what everyone calls him. At least, Edith and Laura do."

"So you call him what? Daddy?"

"No. I wouldn’t be comfortable—even though he did ask me to. I called him Mr. Preston."

If he had the right, he’d tell Jilly to stay away from that place. He didn’t have the right and wasn’t likely to. "You were talking about the new bodyguard. Did he seem threatening to you?"

"No-o. Not at first."

He gripped both of her arms. "Explain that."

"I think I was followed back to my place last night. It was getting dark but when I got out of my car in the driveway, a car drove by slowly."

"And you believe this was the same man who just moved into Edwards Place?"

She hadn’t been able to see his face, just that he was big. "I don’t think so. But the car had those black windows."

If he showed any sign of the sudden panic he felt, she’d be terrified. "That doesn’t mean it had anything to do with you, then."

"When I was inside, I went upstairs and looked out of a window. A man was standing close to a tree at the corner, watching my house. I could have missed him if he hadn’t drawn on a cigarette."

Guy set his back teeth. "He didn’t have to be looking at your house—and he didn’t have to have come from the car you saw being driven past."

"No. Except I just knew he was looking at my place and I could see the back of the car around the corner."

Guy put his hands on his hips and expanded his lungs. He felt an artificial calm in the air as if the world was about to split wide open and nothing but filth would pour out.

He wanted Edith Preston, and anyone remotely attached to her, out of Toussaint, preferably yesterday.

"You were right in the first place," Jilly said. "I’m overreacting. I need to head back into town."

And without a word of reassurance from me, ass that I am. "I’ll walk you to your car. Good lookin’ mutt running loose up there. I’ll call the pound."

Jilly stopped so suddenly, he’d taken two steps before he halted and looked at her. "What is it?"

"You call the pound on that dog and I’ll never speak to you again."

Shee-it. "It’s lost, Jilly. Kindest thing to do—"

"Is have it picked up and gassed? Oh, no, sir, not that sweet-natured pooch. Look at that trusting face. He’s just what you need to take your mind off yourself now and then."

Guy felt a bit wild. "I need that trampy dog?"

"You surely do, Mr. Gautreaux." She clapped her hands at the hound. "Here, boy. Here, boy. Come and meet Guy."

"Damn it, Jilly, don’t do that. I can’t have a dog."

"Sure you can. What else do you have in that miserable shotgun house of yours? Not furniture, that’s for sure."

"I like—whoa." The dog arrived, bypassed Jilly as if he’d never seen her, now or before, and landed against Guy’s middle. His long tongue lolled out of his mouth, he slobbered, and looked for all the world like he was grinning.

Guy patted the dog’s head and said "Down, boy," which the critter did. He sat beside the man like he was giving an obedience demonstration.

"Look at that, he—"

"Never mind the dog. I’ll see he’s taken care of. Let’s go sit at a picnic table. I want you to tell me what you really need from me. And you can kick me if I put my foot in my mouth."

She blinked. He was trying to reach out to her. Jilly couldn’t find the words she really wanted to say. "The first thing you need to do when you adopt a dog is to get him looked at by a vet. He’ll need all of his shots, and—"

Guy’s pinched-up expression stopped Jilly. "I said, forget the dog." He took off toward the back lawn.

Jilly followed him. She surreptitiously patted her thigh and the big pup gamboled past her to lope along at Guy’s heel. Guy walked easy, his big shoulders and arms swinging.

"I’ll get us a cold drink," Guy called back.

Something about him suggested he was in a hurry. "Not for me, thanks," Jilly said, although her mouth felt like sandpaper.

They sat, facing each other across the table, the dog a couple of feet distant with his liquid eyes firmly on Guy’s face.

"Let’s get to it," Guy said. He wasn’t going to grow a silver-tongue so he might as well wade in.

"Why don’t you like Edith?"

He gave her a long, considered look. "I like you. I don’t like anyone who hurts you. That should cover it."

"She’s changed."

"People don’t change."

Jilly hitched at the thin straps on her yellow sun dress. One of the nicest things about Edith’s mother having been part black was that Jilly had inherited skin the color of pale gold coffee. Edith had it, too. Guy’s eyes flickered toward her thumbs where they were hooked beneath her straps, then away again. Most of the time he treated her like one of the guys, but there were those moments that let her know he didn’t entirely think of her that way. Those moments tended to make her legs wobbly.

"I already told you how I felt about that, Jilly," he said. "People changing. But I understand you wanting to believe something different."

"I don’t like to disturb you, Guy, but I am going to ask you something. As long as there’s nothing to suggest Edith is some kind of criminal who came here just to ruin my life, could you try to back me up? Give me some confidence until I know, one way or the other, if she wants to make things up to me like she says she does?"

"How do you intend to find out these things?" he asked her. "One way or the other? Do you wait till you get dragged in too deep to get out? Or until the man you insisted watched you from across the street decides to wait for you inside your house one night?"

"Stop it!"

"I can’t. I can’t pull any punches. What if Sam Preston decides you could be dangerous to him?"

She crossed her arms. "I couldn’t be. That’s silly."

"You don’t know that."

"What have you got against the man? He’s married to my mother, that doesn’t make him a criminal."

And there she had him. "You’re right." He couldn’t tell her Joe Gable had already confided that he didn’t trust Edith’s supposed reason for being in Toussaint, or that he thought all the flash was to impress Jilly for some ulterior motive. Joe had speculated that Edith might know about an inheritance Jilly was about to get, a big one, only between them they couldn’t come up with a plausible benefactor. "Preston’s an antiques dealer in the Quarter, right?"

"Yes," Jilly said. "I told you that before."

"I guess you did. I can’t help thinking about the guy seeming to be stinking rich. I suppose there must be a lot of money in antiques."

"I suppose there must. Guy, all I want is for you to tell me everything’s okay," Jilly said, feeling empty. "Just be there for me while I allow it all to settle down."

"Everything’s okay," he said, his eyes burning in their sockets.

"No! Please don’t patronize me. I know what I’m asking is kind of silly, but I won’t find out what happened between my parents, not for sure, unless I can take this chance I’ve been handed and make the best of it."

He let out a long sigh. The dog, with his long fur shining like seal skin, had slid his head onto Guy’s thigh. He stood quiet and like a statue—as if he could be invisible if he tried real hard.

Guy gave the mutt a rub and that earned him a look of adoration. "I don’t want to patronize you, Jilly. I’d be a fool if I did because you’re one smart woman." Why would she want to know anything more about the senior Gables’ dysfunctional relationship?

"Could you try to be happy for me?"

"I’m happy for you."

"You’re doing it again." She blinked and her eyelashes were wet. "Repeating what I say in that flat voice you can put on. I’ve finally got what I’ve always wanted, a family. Can’t you be glad about that?"

"You’ve always had Joe. Now you’ve got a sister-in-law, too, and Nellie’s one of the best. You’ve always had a lot of people in this town. You’ve got . . ." Whoa.

"Yes? What else have I got?"

"I’m not the same as family, but I hope you think of me as a good friend," he told her rapidly, feeling the hole he’d dug open up beneath his feet. He smiled at her and reached for her hand. "Jilly, you’re the best friend I’ve got and you know it. That’s why I worry about you so much."

She smiled back. "Thank you. Forget what I said about that man. You’re probably right and he wasn’t looking at my house at all."

He’d let it go at that, even though the thought of Daddy and his expensive gift made him crazy.

Jilly got up from her bench and came around the table. She slipped her arms around his neck, pressed his face to the soft, bare rise above her bodice, and hugged him. She rested her cheek on top of his head and rocked a little.

What was he supposed to do? Be real careful, he guessed. His hands fitted around her waist and came close to touching at the back. "You are a sweet thing, Miz Gable. You’ve had too much hardship and it’s time for the good stuff to come along for you." If he had his way, it would, even if it probably shouldn’t be with him.

Her face dropped to his neck.

This could so easily go farther than he had promised himself it ever would.

Lifting her with him, he got up and swung her around before setting her feet firmly on the ground. She smiled up at him and he smiled back, tapped the end of her nose with a forefinger, tried not to stare at her mouth.

Over her head he saw a black Corvette slide past the gas station and come to a stop. The driver maneuvered until the nose of the car pointed uphill.

Ready to get away fast, Guy thought.

Jilly felt his attention move away and looked behind her. A man got out of a flashy, black car. A man with a linen fedora tipped over his eyes, and a shirt so white it made him look even darker than he was, especially where the sleeves were rolled back over his bunched forearms. His pants were dark, his tie loosened, and he carried a suit jacket tossed over his shoulder.

Guy waved, shouted, "Some wheels you’ve got there."

"Hard work and clean livin’ pay off," the other man said, walking toward them. "Less vices a man got, the better he lives and I got noo vices, Guy." The grin was as white as the shirt and he was one spectacular looker. The dimpled grooves beside his mouth only got slightly less defined when he turned serious and looked at Jilly.

"We get good cell reception down here, huh?" Guy said in the most obvious attempt at distracting someone that Jilly had ever heard.

"Yeah," the man said, nodding.

Jilly wished she could sit down again. Guns were a part of life in these parts, but this man wore a shoulder harness with the kind of ease that yelled, "cop," and she didn’t have to work hard to figure out this was someone Guy had worked with.

She didn’t like to be reminded of his other life.

The man’s eyes went from Guy to Jilly and back again. "Son-of-a-gun, Gautreaux, you never did have manners. You gonad introduce the pretty lady?"

His easy manner made Jilly grin.

"Jilly’s a friend of mine," Guy said. "She was just leavin’. Take it easy as you go, kid."

He might as well have said, get lost. A creepy sensation shot up her spine and she felt sick. "Yes, right." She backed away, perfectly aware that the newcomer was just about as uncomfortable as she was. He shot out a hand and she took it, shook it and tried not to wince.

"Nat Archer," he said. "Guy and I go way back. Like I said, he’s got lousy manners."

"Jilly Gable," she told him and waved her hand at waist level before running uphill toward her car.

"Hey, Jilly," Guy hollered. "I’ll call you later. Maybe we can get a late bite." And he had to make sure she didn’t mention Nat to anyone else.

"Not tonight," she called back. "I’ve got plans."

Cypress Nights – Excerpt

Cypress Nights

Harlequin Mira reprint
November 15, 2012
Amazon ASIN: B009NEDW0E
Barnes & Noble ID: 978-1460308554

Buy at Amazon.com Buy at BN.com Buy at Kobo.com Buy at Sony Reader Store Buy at iTunes.com Buy at Seattle Mystery Bookshop

Excerpt Two | Excerpt Three | Excerpt Four

Excerpt One

Toussaint, Louisiana.
Early evening.

He was a worthy man, a brilliant, necessary man. His decisions benefited everyone in Toussaint. They would never recognize the good he did. Just as well. Their ignorance kept him free. Foolish interference with his plans would not be tolerated. Could not be tolerated.

Justice, that was his rightful name.

The final caress of warmth had seeped from the old, stone church. This wasn’t the place he would have chosen to deal with a threat to his plans, but he had no choice. Where else could he be certain of finding Jim Zachary alone?

St. Cecil’s and the holier-than-thou hypocrites who minced through its doors, represented the enemy. The people who loved to simper and whisper in the pews, to frown while they condemned the innocent for their supposed sins, and utter pious words of forgiveness they didn’t mean, enraged him.

Judgement. He had been judged, and punished. Now it was his turn to judge. And punish—and to take his reparation.

Fresh flowers spread their fickle scents, but the stench of old, rotted stems in unwashed vases ensured no-one forgot that this was a place where memories of the dead lingered. They had come here as innocent children with sweet flowers in their hands, then as adults with roses in their hair, in their buttonholes, and, when it was their turn, they came with lilies on their coffins.

From behind the bronze screen that hid tables loaded with hymnals, bulletins, donation envelopes and baskets where the hopeful left prayers written on scraps of paper, he watched the side door Jim Zachary used when he arrived for solitary evening prayer.

The knife felt slippery. Sweat wouldn’t be allowed to make the death noisy, or less swift.

Zachary was late.

Around the walls of St. Cecil’s, sconces flickered on. Rather than make one lone visitor more conspicuous, the small lights reduced the interior to a wash of shadows in shades of brown.

An outer door creaked, groaned on its great hinges, and metal-capped heels clattered on stone flags.

The inner door squealed open . . . Voices marred the silence.

Justice half-knelt to watch. His heart squeezed and thudded when scrawny little Jim Zachary entered the nave with Father Cyrus Payne behind him. The tall, well-built priest accentuated the other man’s almost childlike stature.

Weak and helpless in the strong hands of Justice.

But not tonight with the priest around.

Father Cyrus’s laugh echoed between the walls and the pillars. He picked up a clipboard from a table near the door and said, “See you at the meeting later?”

“I’ll be there,” Zachary said.

Father Cyrus gave Zachary a wave and left.

Justice’s breathing returned to normal and the iciness in his legs thawed. You will not be there, Jim Zachary. Come to me. You have brought this on yourself by your interference. Walk this way. You know where you sit—just a few feet from where I stand. You always sit there. Did you ever think that a habit could be dangerous? It is a great help when certain plans must be made.

From a distance, Zachary’s face couldn’t be seen. He held his head slightly turned and bowed—always—in a sign of humility. Or perhaps of subservience and insecurity.

Closer and closer Justice drew, his steps small, his gray hair falling over his tilted brow in a thick, straight wad.

Into the pew, put down the kneeler, bury your head in your hands, abject in the knowledge that you are not worthy.

Justice slowly produced the Italian switchblade he treasured, fired its silken smooth action open with the slightest audible, snick, and wiped its grip. He held ten inches of unforgiving stainless steel blade. The thin gloves he pulled on had leather stitched to the palms and fingertips and they would serve him well now that the knife handle was dry. His own hand was strong, and now it was cool.

On the balls of his feet, and rapidly, he left the cover of the screen, crossed the aisle to stand near a pillar, and allowed a few seconds to pass before he got
behind Zachary and slammed his left hand over the small man’s face.

At first the man didn’t move. He allowed himself to be jerked to his feet and yanked backward over the seat. With Zachary’s head crammed against his chest, Justice raised the knife.

Zachary flung out his arms and tried to twist free. He braced his feet on the back of the pew in front of him and pushed hard, but his opponent was like an iron jaw closed on a feeble catch. Gurgling burbled from Zachary’s throat, and a quavering scream.

He jerked from side-to-side, and bowed his body into an arch, repeatedly.

“You wouldn’t listen,” Justice said against the other’s ear. “Even when you knew you were wrong, you would not back down. This is for the good of Toussaint and this parish.” And Justice.

With one deft thrust, he sunk his long blade into the man’s neck and all the way through, shoved him, head first, to the seat and skewered him against the wood. He jerked, thrashed. So much blood, pumping out a man’s life. Why couldn’t Zachary have stayed away from church politics?

Gradually the violent movement faded. A rolled pamphlet was ready in Justice’s other pocket. He removed this and left it just as he had planned.

The great gush of blood from the artery in Zachary’s neck ebbed to a trickle and stopped.

Dead men didn’t bleed.

Later. Same evening.

“Why are you here?” Bleu Laveau said. She knew Roche Savage had come to the Parish Hall meeting because she was the one giving a presentation. He couldn’t have any interest in plans to build a new school.

He had come for her.

A tall, rangy man, with curly, almost black hair and the bluest eyes she had ever seen, he was in the business of fixing minds. And from his reputation, he was very successful. Somehow he must have found out her secret and she was a challenge to him now.

Only one person in Toussaint was aware of the life she had been trying to outrun for more than three years, and her cousin, Madge Pollard, wasn’t the gossiping type. That didn’t mean Roche couldn’t track her down some other way.

Why didn’t he say something? Dressed in jeans and an open-necked shirt with sleeves rolled back over his forearms, he looked casual but Bleu felt his tension. She inched away from him.

His relaxed stance didn’t match the way he stared at her. As if he was planning his next move.

Roche weighed what he should do. Bleu’s behavior had caught him off-guard. The woman trying to inch away, as if he might pounce on her, wasn’t the one he’d first met a couple of weeks ago over a cup of coffee. Something had happened to make her afraid of him and he wished he didn’t feel so certain about what that was.

Bleu was still moving. With her hair streaming in the wind, she took sideways steps up the slope from the Parish Hall to the spot where she had parked her Honda in the lane above.

Roche didn’t follow her. “Just talk to me,” he said. “That’s all I want. Tell me what’s wrong and I’ll try to make it right.”

She had been the last to leave a packed meeting on plans to build a new Parish school. Everyone else had already driven off.

And the instant she saw him, she had just about run away at first. He didn’t get it.

Bleu’s head pounded.”Please excuse me, ” she said. “I have to get home. Tomorrow’s a full day.”

What she wouldn’t ask him was if he knew about her marriage, about the horrible, personal things she’d been forced to talk about with strangers. If he did know, he could also be aware of the way her former husband had turned sex into something horrifying, and that she had been left with a fear of intimacy.

Yesterday, the potential truth about Roche’s interest in her suddenly became clear. She had been looking forward to having dinner with him when she figured it out: She wasn’t his type. He had another reason for wanting to spend time with her—to see if she would make an interesting case study, maybe?

Roche felt furious that he’s missed some signal she must have given him. He picked up some of the documents and files she’d dropped when she saw him waiting for her. “You’ll need these,” he said.

Last night she stood him up for dinner, but he had put it down to preoccupation with getting ready for tonight’s meeting. Obviously he had been wrong; she’d ducked out of the date to avoid him.

Damn, he was a healer, a seasoned psychiatrist who had only ever wanted to help people, not a man who terrified women in the dark.

When he looked up again, she stood like a stone, utterly still. He saw her honey blond hair glint in the moonlight, saw the glitter in her eyes. In the daylight they were bright green, always questioning, always vulnerable.

She took the paperwork from him. “Thank you.” Her soft words were difficult to hear in the wind.

Bleu Laveau, with her unassuming air and the way she listened closely when he talked, and her passion for the job she’d come to Toussaint to do, had captured him. His fascination with her, the urge to protect—and possess-almost disoriented Roche.

Disorientation was dangerous. He had to be in control of himself at all times.

She must not get any idea of his single-minded focus on her, not unless he could be sure she wanted it.

“I heard your presentation at the meeting,” he told her. And afterward, I stood in the shadow of a wall out here, waiting for you. You and I were meant to be together, Bleu. If someone’s told you I like adventure with my sex, the wilder, the better, they’re more or less right, damn them, but I can be whatever you want me to be. I’m the one in control, not my sex drive. You’ll never be afraid with me.

She looked from him to her car, probably figuring out how fast she could get away from him and what the chances were that he wouldn’t catch up.

About zero, lady.

Bleu felt foolish. She took another small step. He must be adding up symptoms to analyze later. He would be thinking she seemed nervous, and she was.

The only way out of this was to change the subject and calm down. “It will be a fight to build a school here,” she said. “So many people are against it.” Holding her ground wasn’t easy.

“Don’t leave without the rest of your papers,” he said. Bleu had come to Toussaint to do a study on the feasibility of building a new school for St. Cecil’s. The papers were important to her, every one of them.

“A lot of people are angry,” she continued, her voice tight. “The money hasn’t even been raised yet but they’re talking about using it for something else.”

Now she was babbling. One more symptom for his list.

“Yeah,” he said. “Some of them. Not all.”

Roche finished gathering her things and walked toward her. The pale moon did nothing more than suggest a light all but snuffed out, and his eyes looked black, fathomless.

“Some of them made it clear they wish I’d go away,” Bleu said.

Roche would have expected her to be tougher. He knew she had been through the same type of process a number of times before. “They’ll come around,” he said. “Who could resist you for long?”

That had been the wrong thing to say. She turned away at once. Her breath came in loud, rough gasps.

“Bleu! Damn it, why are you afraid of me?”

She had made a pact with herself that no one would frighten her again. Now the pact was broken.

“I’m not afraid of you,” she lied. “I’ve got to go.”

“Fine. Here, take these and I’ll wish you goodnight,” he said.

“You don’t understand,” she told him.

“No, I don’t. What is it about me that’s suddenly disgusting to you? We’ve had coffee together, and—”

“All Tarted Up was packed,” she shot back. “The only empty seat in the whole café was at my table. You asked if you could sit there.”

He held out the folders. “We enjoyed talking. Can you say that’s a lie?”

“It’s—not a lie.” She inched forward to take her files and held the whole pile of documents against her chest. “Thank you for picking all these up. I’m . . . I got rattled in there tonight. That’s all.”

Her excuse didn’t cut it with Roche. “That afternoon when I ran into you by the bayou, you seemed glad to walk with me. We talked about a lot of things. You’re great to talk to.” But you’re damaged, even if you do try put up a good front.

“I was interested in the clinic, and your brother Max and the plastic surgery he does. And in your work out there. That’s all. You’re making too much of it.”

The cut didn’t bother him. What he wanted was to figure out the reason for her change in attitude.

“You had lunch with me at Pappy’s Dancehall. I invited you and you accepted. You seemed comfortable. You met Annie and if you didn’t like her, you put on a good act.”

Annie was Max’s wife and managed Pappy’s.

“She’s nice,” Bleu said. “Thank you for introducing us.”

“Last night you were supposed to have dinner with me. You didn’t call. You just let me show up at your place and find out you weren’t there. You didn’t forget, did you?”

“I’m sorry.” The thin skirt of her dress blew back, gripping her thighs.

Roche felt the swell of anger. “You don’t have to be.” She was small, but her shape was sweet, curvy, all woman. What the wind did with her dress against her legs also did things to him.

“Goodnight, then,” she said.

The old wildness attacked him. Bleu hadn’t gone two steps before he reached her and settled a hand on her shoulder. “Look at me.” Her pause let him know this could go either way, but then she turned toward him. Roche stepped up beside her. “I’m not a threat to you,” he said.

Bleu couldn’t hide her spasms of shivering. “Roche,” she whispered. “I don’t know you. You don’t know me.”

He knew himself. This was a test and it wasn’t going well. He had decided to prove he could be alone with a woman he wanted desperately and not make the kind of move that might turn her off.

“It’s time we did know each other,” he said. He didn’t give her a chance to argue.

He kissed her, and her body tensed.

It had been so long since she had felt like this—invaded. Yet Roche didn’t intend to violate her. Her eyes closed and she tried to relax. With the tip of his tongue he made soft, sleek and persuasive passes until her lips parted. Where they touched, she tingled. Her muscles softened and she leaned closer.

Finally it had happened. The cold place she had lived with for so long was thawing. She wanted intimacy. The excitement she’d dreamed of but been denied hammered at her. And it was this man who had stirred the feelings she thought she’d never have.

A tightening low in her belly stole her breath and her attention. Downward between her legs it went, sharper and sharper. Then she felt wet. “Women are weak, they need saving from themselves.”

That voice she thought she had forgotten, the one from her wasted years, sounded so clear that she braced for the shove, the fall to the bed, and the punishing pressure of a big man’s body.

“No.” Bleu jerked her head sideways. “I don’t want this.”

Roche held her firmly, wrapped his arms around her and pressed her face into his shoulder. “Hush,” he said, wishing her damn paperwork wasn’t between them like a shield. For a little while she had started to respond to him, but she was rigid now.

Careful. Don’t push too far.

He used his thumbs to raise her chin, and he brought his mouth to hers again. Holding her against him with the pressure on the back of her head, he emptied her hands and leaned them both sideways to put the pile on the ground.

She kissed him in return, but not like a woman who had done a lot of kissing. With his mouth and tongue, turning her head with his fingers, delving deep, he showed her that this wasn’t about putting one mouth to another. It was a connection, and could be a prelude, a small, erotic promise of a closer joining.

A promise wasn’t enough.

Already hard, he strained against his jeans.

“You’re okay with me,” he whispered, leaning away.

No, she wasn’t entirely, but he had a logical mind and he worked to make it heed him in situations like this one, where lust had taken him over the edge in the past.

His heart thudded. Slowly, gently, he put his hands beneath her arms. Her body was warm, the bodice of her dress made of a silky stuff.

His palms settled on the sides of her breasts.

Again she stiffened in his arms.

He rested his forehead in the curve of Bleu’s neck. Tonight he felt leaden but even that didn’t dampen his need to make love to her. Nothing had ever dampened that need, only kept it in check.

“You feel so good,” he whispered, his lips against the soft skin of Bleu’s neck.

“I don’t . . . I’m not . . .”

“I know,” he murmured. “You’re not casual. I like the way you are.” Moving carefully, he nipped her ear then kissed her shoulder–and wasn’t quick enough to avoid the slap that landed on his face.

He flinched and gave a surprised laugh. Her next swipe cut off the laughter.

“You’ve made your point,” he said, ducking number three.

She dropped her arms to her sides. He could hear her hard breathing, and see the glimmer of tears on her cheeks. “You’re going too fast for me,” she said. “But I shouldn’t have hit you.” She sounded upset, but not sorry.

“I’ll live,” he said. “I deserved what I got.”

Bleu looked at the sky and felt a stillness capture both of them. “Why would you deserve it? You couldn’t know I’m not ready . . . for anything, really.
Maybe one day I’ll tell you why. Not now.” If she could think of the right words, she’d tell him he had already changed her, and she was grateful. That would have to wait.

He moved as if he would touch her but pulled back. “Okay. I’ll ask you to do that, but I’ll give you some time. You need to go home. But I warn you, I’ll be calling you again and inviting you out.”

She looked at the ground. “Did you feel a raindrop?” she asked, knowing she must sound inane.

“No, but it wouldn’t surprise me if it rained.”

“I feel like an idiot.” She arrived at her car with Roche right behind her. “Don’t waste time on me. I’m too much of a liability emotionally. Move on, Roche.”

His heart turned and he realized the sensation was new. “Don’t sell yourself short.” She might not know exactly what he meant. He dealt with the kind of “liabilities” she talked about every day. It could be that they had a chance to heal each other—or create a kind of hell for themselves. Whatever the risks, Roche felt like taking them.

He heard the sound of a door slamming, a muffled sound.

“Where was that?” Bleu said. “The church?”

The church was the closest building to the Parish Hall.

“I don’t think so. Farther away and not so heavy. The Rectory. There’s Cyrus, I think. He’s across the alley.

The window of Bleu’s car was open and she threw everything but her purse inside.

Together they hurried downhill again and past the church. They met Cyrus just inside the gate to Bonanza Alley. “What are you two doing here?” he said, not sounding like himself. “I thought you’d gone home, Bleu.”

“I had to finish up,” she said. “Roche was seeing me to my car. It’s pretty dark to be on your own out here. Is Madge still at the rectory?” Her cousin, Madge Pollard, was Cyrus’s assistant.

“She left with that . . . Sam Bush drove her home. He’s our accountant.” Cyrus stared at her a moment. “I shouldn’t have left you. I wasn’t thinking.”

Cyrus, Roche thought, often seemed to have a great deal on his mind these days.

“Did you see Jim Zachary at the meeting, Bleu? I saw him earlier. He always spends a little time in the church. He said he’d be at the meeting and now I can’t remember if he was.”

“I don’t know him,” Roche said.

Bleu thought about it. “He wasn’t there,” she said slowly. “No, I’m sure he wasn’t. He would have spoken up if he had been. I don’t know why I didn’t miss him at the time.”

“He could have changed his mind,” Roche pointed out.

“No,” Cyrus said, “he couldn’t. Jim does what he says he’ll do. He’s a bachelor and he and the widow who lives next door keep an eye out for each other. She just called me because he told her he’d be home around ten and it’s
almost eleven.”

“Maybe he went out for dinner. Or for drinks with friends.” Bleu said.

“He’s not the kind to go out to dinner. And he doesn’t drink. He’d tell you himself that he’s a recovering alcoholic,” Cyrus sounded distracted. Abruptly, he let out a breath. “At least his car’s gone. He got hung up somewhere. Jim’s always doing things for people. That’s what’s happened.”

“What does he drive?” Roche asked.

Cyrus considered, then said, “A Camry. Black. Fairly old but they don’t seem to wear out, do they?”

“No,” Roche agreed. “There was a black Camry behind my car. I pulled around and parked in front. See. I’m facing this way.”

Bleu turned to see. The cream colored BMW showed up clearly—so did the Camry once all three of them got closer.

“Was he upset about something?” Roche said, visualizing the dark, sluggish bayou beyond the church grounds. How easily a man could slip into those waters.

“I don’t think so,” Cyrus said. “No, he was his usual cheerful self. Mrs. Harper said she tried to call him but he didn’t answer on his cell phone.”

“Would he have his phone on in the church?” Bleu said.

Cyrus shook his head. He pulled a phone from his belt, peered at a piece of paper and pressed numbers. Roche could hear the faint ringing from Cyrus’s
phone.

“Nothing,” he said.

“He’s a nice man,” Bleu said. “He’s really behind building a school.”

Roche nodded. “A lot of people will be.” He looked at Cyrus who frowned absently.

“I’d better check inside the church,” the priest said, and started walking toward the vestibule door. “He could have collapsed in there.” He broke into a run.

Roche and Bleu ran with him and they filed inside the gloomy building. This was Roche’s first visit and he wrinkled his nose at pungent scents he didn’t recognize.

“I don’t see him,” Cyrus said. He went rapidly to the top of the center aisle and scanned from side to side, carefully.

“He always sits in the same place,” Bleu said. “I’ve noticed.”

“Does he?” Cyrus seemed surprised and Roche figured the priest got too involved in what he was doing to see who sat where during services.

“Over there,” Bleu said, pointing fairly far back. “He sits on or near the aisle. And he usually ushers so he’s on his feet quite a bit.”

They all stood with their hands on their hips. “Does he have any relatives at all?” Bleu asked.

“Not that I know of.” Cyrus turned away.

“Did you hear that?” Bleu said, raising her chin and listening.

Roche had. “Sounded like a little drill.”

“Or a phone set to vibrate,” Bleu said.

Cyrus looked at each of them, then covered distance in a hurry. He crossed to the side aisle and started toward the back of the church.

“Wait here,” Roche said and went after him. He expected to hear Bleu’s sandals following on the stone flags and she didn’t disappoint him.

Cyrus skidded to a halt beside a pew. Even at a distance Roche saw how the other man blanched. “Stay where you are, Bleu,” Cyrus snapped out.

Roche caught up with him. “Bastards,” he muttered.

Sideways on the bench, his legs sprawled, one on and one off the seat, his arms twisted above his head, lay an elderly man. His eyes were open—and empty. Clots of congealed blood matted his thick gray hair, spattered his face, the pew and the floor. His lips were drawn back in a grimace and a rolled piece of paper stuck out of his mouth.

“Jim,” Cyrus said softly. He flipped open his phone and called 911.

Bleu’s long, uneven breath meant she had seen the dead man. “He must have been stabbed so violently.” She shuddered but didn’t glance away. “Whatever it was went right through his neck. It cut his jugular.”

Looking at the body from all angles, Roche went behind the pew and bent over to examine the obvious knife wound in the corpse’s neck.

He was too slow to stop Bleu from pulling the yellow flyer from Jim Zachary’s mouth. “Don’t touch,” he said to her. “They’ll want to dust for
fingerprints.”

She puffed up her cheeks and backed away, holding the paper by one top and one bottom corner and opening it.

“Bleu,” Roche said. “Don’t.”

“I already have and I’m glad.” She stared at him. “Do you think he brought this with him?”

“He could have. But why would the killer stuff it in his mouth.”

“To make a point,” Bleu said. “This is one of those flyers that got spread all over, the one telling people not to vote for the school.”


Excerpt Two

Later. Same evening.

“Why are you here?” Bleu Laveau said. She knew Roche Savage had come to the Parish Hall meeting because she was the one giving a presentation. He couldn’t have any interest in plans to build a new school.

He had come for her.

A tall, rangy man, with curly, almost black hair and the bluest eyes she had ever seen, he was in the business of fixing minds. And from his reputation, he was very successful. Somehow he must have found out her secret and she was a challenge to him now.

Only one person in Toussaint was aware of the life she had been trying to outrun for more than three years, and her cousin, Madge Pollard, wasn’t the gossiping type. That didn’t mean Roche couldn’t track her down some other way.

Why didn’t he say something? Dressed in jeans and an open-necked shirt with sleeves rolled back over his forearms, he looked casual but Bleu felt his tension. She inched away from him.

His relaxed stance didn’t match the way he stared at her. As if he was planning his next move.

Roche weighed what he should do. Bleu’s behavior had caught him off-guard. The woman trying to inch away, as if he might pounce on her, wasn’t the one he’d first met a couple of weeks ago over a cup of coffee. Something had happened to make her afraid of him and he wished he didn’t feel so certain about what that was.

Bleu was still moving. With her hair streaming in the wind, she took sideways steps up the slope from the Parish Hall to the spot where she had parked her Honda in the lane above.

Roche didn’t follow her. “Just talk to me,” he said. “That’s all I want. Tell me what’s wrong and I’ll try to make it right.”

She had been the last to leave a packed meeting on plans to build a new Parish school. Everyone else had already driven off.

And the instant she saw him, she had just about run away at first. He didn’t get it.

Bleu’s head pounded.”Please excuse me, ” she said. “I have to get home. Tomorrow’s a full day.”

What she wouldn’t ask him was if he knew about her marriage, about the horrible, personal things she’d been forced to talk about with strangers. If he did know, he could also be aware of the way her former husband had turned sex into something horrifying, and that she had been left with a fear of intimacy.

Yesterday, the potential truth about Roche’s interest in her suddenly became clear. She had been looking forward to having dinner with him when she figured it out: She wasn’t his type. He had another reason for wanting to spend time with her—to see if she would make an interesting case study, maybe?

Roche felt furious that he’s missed some signal she must have given him. He picked up some of the documents and files she’d dropped when she saw him waiting for her. “You’ll need these,” he said.

Last night she stood him up for dinner, but he had put it down to preoccupation with getting ready for tonight’s meeting. Obviously he had been wrong; she’d ducked out of the date to avoid him.

Damn, he was a healer, a seasoned psychiatrist who had only ever wanted to help people, not a man who terrified women in the dark.

When he looked up again, she stood like a stone, utterly still. He saw her honey blond hair glint in the moonlight, saw the glitter in her eyes. In the daylight they were bright green, always questioning, always vulnerable.

She took the paperwork from him. “Thank you.” Her soft words were difficult to hear in the wind.

Bleu Laveau, with her unassuming air and the way she listened closely when he talked, and her passion for the job she’d come to Toussaint to do, had captured him. His fascination with her, the urge to protect—and possess-almost disoriented Roche.

Disorientation was dangerous. He had to be in control of himself at all times.

She must not get any idea of his single-minded focus on her, not unless he could be sure she wanted it.

“I heard your presentation at the meeting,” he told her. And afterward, I stood in the shadow of a wall out here, waiting for you. You and I were meant to be together, Bleu. If someone’s told you I like adventure with my sex, the wilder, the better, they’re more or less right, damn them, but I can be whatever you want me to be. I’m the one in control, not my sex drive. You’ll never be afraid with me.

She looked from him to her car, probably figuring out how fast she could get away from him and what the chances were that he wouldn’t catch up.

About zero, lady.

Bleu felt foolish. She took another small step. He must be adding up symptoms to analyze later. He would be thinking she seemed nervous, and she was.

The only way out of this was to change the subject and calm down. “It will be a fight to build a school here,” she said. “So many people are against it.” Holding her ground wasn’t easy.

“Don’t leave without the rest of your papers,” he said. Bleu had come to Toussaint to do a study on the feasibility of building a new school for St. Cecil’s. The papers were important to her, every one of them.

“A lot of people are angry,” she continued, her voice tight. “The money hasn’t even been raised yet but they’re talking about using it for something else.”

Now she was babbling. One more symptom for his list.

“Yeah,” he said. “Some of them. Not all.”

Roche finished gathering her things and walked toward her. The pale moon did nothing more than suggest a light all but snuffed out, and his eyes looked black, fathomless.

“Some of them made it clear they wish I’d go away,” Bleu said.

Roche would have expected her to be tougher. He knew she had been through the same type of process a number of times before. “They’ll come around,” he said. “Who could resist you for long?”

That had been the wrong thing to say. She turned away at once. Her breath came in loud, rough gasps.

“Bleu! Damn it, why are you afraid of me?”


Excerpt Three

She had made a pact with herself that no one would frighten her again. Now the pact was broken.

“I’m not afraid of you,” she lied. “I’ve got to go.”

“Fine. Here, take these and I’ll wish you goodnight,” he said.

“You don’t understand,” she told him.

“No, I don’t. What is it about me that’s suddenly disgusting to you? We’ve had coffee together, and—”

“All Tarted Up was packed,” she shot back. “The only empty seat in the whole café was at my table. You asked if you could sit there.”

He held out the folders. “We enjoyed talking. Can you say that’s a lie?”

“It’s—not a lie.” She inched forward to take her files and held the whole pile of documents against her chest. “Thank you for picking all these up. I’m . . . I got rattled in there tonight. That’s all.”

Her excuse didn’t cut it with Roche. “That afternoon when I ran into you by the bayou, you seemed glad to walk with me. We talked about a lot of things. You’re great to talk to.” But you’re damaged, even if you do try put up a good front.

“I was interested in the clinic, and your brother Max and the plastic surgery he does. And in your work out there. That’s all. You’re making too much of it.”

The cut didn’t bother him. What he wanted was to figure out the reason for her change in attitude.

“You had lunch with me at Pappy’s Dancehall. I invited you and you accepted. You seemed comfortable. You met Annie and if you didn’t like her, you put on a good act.”

Annie was Max’s wife and managed Pappy’s.

“She’s nice,” Bleu said. “Thank you for introducing us.”

“Last night you were supposed to have dinner with me. You didn’t call. You just let me show up at your place and find out you weren’t there. You didn’t forget, did you?”

“I’m sorry.” The thin skirt of her dress blew back, gripping her thighs.

Roche felt the swell of anger. “You don’t have to be.” She was small, but her shape was sweet, curvy, all woman. What the wind did with her dress against her legs also did things to him.

“Goodnight, then,” she said.

The old wildness attacked him. Bleu hadn’t gone two steps before he reached her and settled a hand on her shoulder. “Look at me.” Her pause let him know this could go either way, but then she turned toward him. Roche stepped up beside her. “I’m not a threat to you,” he said.

Bleu couldn’t hide her spasms of shivering. “Roche,” she whispered. “I don’t know you. You don’t know me.”

He knew himself. This was a test and it wasn’t going well. He had decided to prove he could be alone with a woman he wanted desperately and not make the kind of move that might turn her off.

“It’s time we did know each other,” he said. He didn’t give her a chance to argue.

He kissed her, and her body tensed.

It had been so long since she had felt like this—invaded. Yet Roche didn’t intend to violate her. Her eyes closed and she tried to relax. With the tip of his tongue he made soft, sleek and persuasive passes until her lips parted. Where they touched, she tingled. Her muscles softened and she leaned closer.

Finally it had happened. The cold place she had lived with for so long was thawing. She wanted intimacy. The excitement she’d dreamed of but been denied hammered at her. And it was this man who had stirred the feelings she thought she’d never have.

A tightening low in her belly stole her breath and her attention. Downward between her legs it went, sharper and sharper. Then she felt wet. “Women are weak, they need saving from themselves.”

That voice she thought she had forgotten, the one from her wasted years, sounded so clear that she braced for the shove, the fall to the bed, and the punishing pressure of a big man’s body.

“No.” Bleu jerked her head sideways. “I don’t want this.”

Roche held her firmly, wrapped his arms around her and pressed her face into his shoulder. “Hush,” he said, wishing her damn paperwork wasn’t between them like a shield. For a little while she had started to respond to him, but she was rigid now.

Careful. Don’t push too far.

He used his thumbs to raise her chin, and he brought his mouth to hers again. Holding her against him with the pressure on the back of her head, he emptied her hands and leaned them both sideways to put the pile on the ground.

She kissed him in return, but not like a woman who had done a lot of kissing. With his mouth and tongue, turning her head with his fingers, delving deep, he showed her that this wasn’t about putting one mouth to another. It was a connection, and could be a prelude, a small, erotic promise of a closer joining.

A promise wasn’t enough.

Already hard, he strained against his jeans.

“You’re okay with me,” he whispered, leaning away.

No, she wasn’t entirely, but he had a logical mind and he worked to make it heed him in situations like this one, where lust had taken him over the edge in the past.

His heart thudded. Slowly, gently, he put his hands beneath her arms. Her body was warm, the bodice of her dress made of a silky stuff.

His palms settled on the sides of her breasts.

Again she stiffened in his arms.

He rested his forehead in the curve of Bleu’s neck. Tonight he felt leaden but even that didn’t dampen his need to make love to her. Nothing had ever dampened that need, only kept it in check.

“You feel so good,” he whispered, his lips against the soft skin of Bleu’s neck.

“I don’t . . . I’m not . . .”

“I know,” he murmured. “You’re not casual. I like the way you are.” Moving carefully, he nipped her ear then kissed her shoulder–and wasn’t quick enough to avoid the slap that landed on his face.

He flinched and gave a surprised laugh. Her next swipe cut off the laughter.

“You’ve made your point,” he said, ducking number three.

She dropped her arms to her sides. He could hear her hard breathing, and see the glimmer of tears on her cheeks. “You’re going too fast for me,” she said. “But I shouldn’t have hit you.” She sounded upset, but not sorry.

“I’ll live,” he said. “I deserved what I got.”

Bleu looked at the sky and felt a stillness capture both of them. “Why would you deserve it? You couldn’t know I’m not ready . . . for anything, really.
Maybe one day I’ll tell you why. Not now.” If she could think of the right words, she’d tell him he had already changed her, and she was grateful. That would have to wait.

He moved as if he would touch her but pulled back. “Okay. I’ll ask you to do that, but I’ll give you some time. You need to go home. But I warn you, I’ll be calling you again and inviting you out.”

She looked at the ground. “Did you feel a raindrop?” she asked, knowing she must sound inane.

“No, but it wouldn’t surprise me if it rained.”

“I feel like an idiot.” She arrived at her car with Roche right behind her. “Don’t waste time on me. I’m too much of a liability emotionally. Move on, Roche.”


Excerpt Four

He heard the sound of a door slamming, a muffled sound.

“Where was that?” Bleu said. “The church?”

The church was the closest building to the Parish Hall.

“I don’t think so. Farther away and not so heavy. The Rectory. There’s Cyrus, I think. He’s across the alley.

The window of Bleu’s car was open and she threw everything but her purse inside.

Together they hurried downhill again and past the church. They met Cyrus just inside the gate to Bonanza Alley. “What are you two doing here?” he said, not sounding like himself. “I thought you’d gone home, Bleu.”

“I had to finish up,” she said. “Roche was seeing me to my car. It’s pretty dark to be on your own out here. Is Madge still at the rectory?” Her cousin, Madge Pollard, was Cyrus’s assistant.

“She left with that . . . Sam Bush drove her home. He’s our accountant.” Cyrus stared at her a moment. “I shouldn’t have left you. I wasn’t thinking.”

Cyrus, Roche thought, often seemed to have a great deal on his mind these days.

“Did you see Jim Zachary at the meeting, Bleu? I saw him earlier. He always spends a little time in the church. He said he’d be at the meeting and now I can’t remember if he was.”

“I don’t know him,” Roche said.

Bleu thought about it. “He wasn’t there,” she said slowly. “No, I’m sure he wasn’t. He would have spoken up if he had been. I don’t know why I didn’t miss him at the time.”

“He could have changed his mind,” Roche pointed out.

“No,” Cyrus said, “he couldn’t. Jim does what he says he’ll do. He’s a bachelor and he and the widow who lives next door keep an eye out for each other. She just called me because he told her he’d be home around ten and it’s
almost eleven.”

“Maybe he went out for dinner. Or for drinks with friends.” Bleu said.

“He’s not the kind to go out to dinner. And he doesn’t drink. He’d tell you himself that he’s a recovering alcoholic,” Cyrus sounded distracted. Abruptly, he let out a breath. “At least his car’s gone. He got hung up somewhere. Jim’s always doing things for people. That’s what’s happened.”

“What does he drive?” Roche asked.

Cyrus considered, then said, “A Camry. Black. Fairly old but they don’t seem to wear out, do they?”

“No,” Roche agreed. “There was a black Camry behind my car. I pulled around and parked in front. See. I’m facing this way.”

Bleu turned to see. The cream colored BMW showed up clearly—so did the Camry once all three of them got closer.

“Was he upset about something?” Roche said, visualizing the dark, sluggish bayou beyond the church grounds. How easily a man could slip into those waters.

“I don’t think so,” Cyrus said. “No, he was his usual cheerful self. Mrs. Harper said she tried to call him but he didn’t answer on his cell phone.”

“Would he have his phone on in the church?” Bleu said.

Cyrus shook his head. He pulled a phone from his belt, peered at a piece of paper and pressed numbers. Roche could hear the faint ringing from Cyrus’s
phone.

“Nothing,” he said.

“He’s a nice man,” Bleu said. “He’s really behind building a school.”

Roche nodded. “A lot of people will be.” He looked at Cyrus who frowned absently.

“I’d better check inside the church,” the priest said, and started walking toward the vestibule door. “He could have collapsed in there.” He broke into a run.

Roche and Bleu ran with him and they filed inside the gloomy building. This was Roche’s first visit and he wrinkled his nose at pungent scents he didn’t recognize.

“I don’t see him,” Cyrus said. He went rapidly to the top of the center aisle and scanned from side to side, carefully.

“He always sits in the same place,” Bleu said. “I’ve noticed.”

“Does he?” Cyrus seemed surprised and Roche figured the priest got too involved in what he was doing to see who sat where during services.

“Over there,” Bleu said, pointing fairly far back. “He sits on or near the aisle. And he usually ushers so he’s on his feet quite a bit.”

They all stood with their hands on their hips. “Does he have any relatives at all?” Bleu asked.

“Not that I know of.” Cyrus turned away.

“Did you hear that?” Bleu said, raising her chin and listening.

Roche had. “Sounded like a little drill.”

“Or a phone set to vibrate,” Bleu said.

Cyrus looked at each of them, then covered distance in a hurry. He crossed to the side aisle and started toward the back of the church.

“Wait here,” Roche said and went after him. He expected to hear Bleu’s sandals following on the stone flags and she didn’t disappoint him.

Cyrus skidded to a halt beside a pew. Even at a distance Roche saw how the other man blanched. “Stay where you are, Bleu,” Cyrus snapped out.

Roche caught up with him. “Bastards,” he muttered.

Sideways on the bench, his legs sprawled, one on and one off the seat, his arms twisted above his head, lay an elderly man. His eyes were open—and empty. Clots of congealed blood matted his thick gray hair, spattered his face, the pew and the floor. His lips were drawn back in a grimace and a rolled piece of paper stuck out of his mouth.

“Jim,” Cyrus said softly. He flipped open his phone and called 911.

Bleu’s long, uneven breath meant she had seen the dead man. “He must have been stabbed so violently.” She shuddered but didn’t glance away. “Whatever it was went right through his neck. It cut his jugular.”

Looking at the body from all angles, Roche went behind the pew and bent over to examine the obvious knife wound in the corpse’s neck.

He was too slow to stop Bleu from pulling the yellow flyer from Jim Zachary’s mouth. “Don’t touch,” he said to her. “They’ll want to dust for
fingerprints.”

She puffed up her cheeks and backed away, holding the paper by one top and one bottom corner and opening it.

“Bleu,” Roche said. “Don’t.”

“I already have and I’m glad.” She stared at him. “Do you think he brought this with him?”

“He could have. But why would the killer stuff it in his mouth.”

“To make a point,” Bleu said. “This is one of those flyers that got spread all over, the one telling people not to vote for the school.”

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Body of Evidence

Body of Evidence

Harlequin Mira
November 15, 2012
Amazon ASIN: B009NEFGRG
ISBN-13: 978-0778322788

A Bayou Book

A Stella Cameron classic. First time in eBook.

Emma Lachance is taken by surprise when she runs into her friend and high-school crush, Finn Duhon, on a construction site in Pointe Judah, Louisiana. But the last thing she expects to find is the corpse of her friend, a local journalist whose relentlessly scathing articles have enraged every lawmaker and opportunist in town, including the mayor—Emma’s husband.

When more bodies are found, Emma and Finn wonder if the link is Secrets, an eclectic support group for women in which all the murder victims were members. A group that has helped Emma find the strength to divorce her abusive, unfaithful husband.

Could an innocent women’s club drive a furious husband or boyfriend to murder, or are the killings only made to look as if that’s the connection? Emma and Finn intend to find out—before Emma becomes the next body of evidence….

(originally published March 2006 by Harlequin MIRA)

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A Cold Day in Hell

A Cold Day in Hell

Harlequin Mira
November 15, 2012
Amazon ASIN: B009NEMGMO
ISBN-13: 9781460308523

A Bayou Book

A Stella Cameron classic. First time in eBook.

‘Tis the season to be wary…

Christmas is coming and all is far from calm in Pointe Judah, Louisiana. Newcomer Christian DeAngelo — Angel to his friends — is at his wit’s end trying to manage Sonny, the hotheaded nineteen-year-old everyone believes is his nephew. In fact, Sonny is the orphaned son of a notorious mob boss, a protected witness…and Angel’s responsibility.

Angel has been commiserating with Eileen Moggeridge, whose lonely son Aaron has latched on to Sonny and gotten into deeper trouble than ever. But nothing could prepare Angel and Eileen for the boys’ latest crisis: as they are horsing around in the swamp one afternoon, a shot rings out. Aaron is hit, but was the bullet meant for Sonny?

Suddenly, goodwill toward men is in short supply and Angel doesn’t know who’s more dangerous: the hoodoo mystic with an eerie hold over the boys, the hit man roaming the bayou or Eileen’s volatile ex-husband, Chuck.

(originally published April 2008 by Thorndike Press)

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Body of Evidence – Excerpt

Body of Evidence

Harlequin Mira
November 15, 2012
Amazon ASIN: B009NEFGRG
ISBN-13: 978-0778322788

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Late on a purple-sky afternoon.

On a day like this one, Emma Lachance almost remembered why she used to think Pointe Judah was the only place she would ever want to call home.

The sun wasn’t quite down yet, but frogs already set up a gruff ruckus and night-scented blooms began to waft musky sweetness on humid air.

She ran hard, harder than she needed to. Anger and hurt could drive you like that, send you pounding over the treacherous, partly finished sidewalks and gravel streets of The Willows, an abandoned retirement development. Concentrating on not turning an ankle helped keep her focused on the anger.

Emma had a husband to divorce.

Emma needed to be angry.

“You’re stupid. And you’re getting fat. I’m going to run for Governor, remember? I intend to win. You’d better make sure you don’t embarrass me, so get hold of yourself, “Orville had told her less than an hour earlier, right before he left for another “important” evening appointment which she could expect to keep him out most of the night.
Orville Lachance, Mayor of Pointe Judah, Arcadia Parish, Louisiana wanted, no, expected his wife to take whatever insults he threw at her in private and keep smiling her adoration of him in public. She had stopped trying to talk to him when he arrived home in the early, dark hours to slide into bed as if he was being thoughtful by not waking her.

Emma didn’t sleep much anymore–something to do with the enemy beside her.

He frightened her, a deep, sickening fear. From the first time he’d let her see him in a violent rage, Emma knew her husband could be a dangerous man. With every smashing blow to a television or pile of dishes, the hate in his face suggested he’d much rather beat her. In the coming weeks she must proceed carefully, gather evidence against him without making him suspicious.

The Mayor who would be Governor would not quietly allow a scandal to interfere with his ambitions.

Squinting into the setting sun, Emma took the next right, downhill, and slowed to a jog. Her cheeks flushed and the light, burning white from pale concrete, turned the way ahead into a blinding landscape of shifting colors. Dark glasses were useless.

An engine, running rough, approached from behind and an ancient Cadillac sailed slowly past. Emma doubted it had any shocks left at all. The white car continued on, weaving slightly, and since she could barely see the heads of the couple up front she figured them to be older. Probably wandered in for a look, thinking the retirement community was up and running.

Whoever came up with the idea and the money to start this development had not done their homework. The closest place to go, Pointe Judah, was a small bayou town that looked the same today as it had when Emma had been growing up. Getting from here to a city with a major downtown or an airport took too long for people with time on their hands and families to visit.

For a few moments she jumped in place, hopped from one foot to the other, shaded her eyes with a hand. Creepers snaked from overgrown lots onto the sidewalk. She ran the route at least once a week because other people didn’t go there.

A ways ahead a blue Honey Bucket stood in the road. The portable latrine hadn’t been there before so maybe they were going to restart building. With vines crawling up their frames and patches of purple, orange and white bougainvillea thrusting through open roof timbers, shells of houses in various stages of construction looked like greenhouses turned inside out.

Another runner approached her, taking the incline with an easy, loping stride. A man. A big, powerful man. Emma could tell that but nothing more and she hesitated in the act of starting off in his direction. If she turned abruptly and dashed back the way she’d come he would think she was running away from him.

She would be.

Regardless of which way she went, he could catch her if he wanted to.
Emma carried on, her pulse ringing in her ears, and her lungs barely expanding. She responded to the man’s, “Hello,” with one of her own. She didn’t look at him when they passed one another.

Could Orville have found out she’d come here? Had he guessed her plans to leave him and decided she should die at some crazy stranger’s hands rather than cause the mayor any inconvenience?

Now there was a paranoid thought.

The woman Finn Duhon just passed could be Emma Balou, but it was a long shot. The Emma Balou he remembered from highschool, the brainy, shy girl who never noticed how much time he spent looking at her, had been tall like the woman runner, and honey blond. That’s where most of the obvious similarities ended, leaving him with only a feeling to go on. He guessed Emma Balou, who had been thin in that not yet grown way, could have matured into the shapely runner.

He shouldn’t look back but he was only a human, in fact he was really human. Finn turned and ran backward, grateful the sun had sunk lower. In a white tank top and shorts, the woman kept going. There surely was something familiar about her. She had obviously overcome any curiosity she had about him–probably because he hadn’t interested her in the first place.

The woman tried to look back at him without breaking stride.

Finn stood still and felt more pleased than he should. Evidently he’d had some effect on her after all.

The lack of female company in his life showed. Time was when he hadn’t been stand-offish around women, or suspicious of their motives for be interested in him. There were good reasons for the change in him.

Emma stopped running. She turned slowly and stared uphill. He’d stopped, too, and shaded his eyes to stare down on her. He walked slowly back toward her. The impulse to run away, shrieking, passed blessedly quickly. The man had stopped because he thought he knew her, just as she thought she knew him.

Walking this time, she retraced her steps until they stood a few yards apart. She took off her glasses, found the handkerchief she carried in a back pocket, and wiped her face thoroughly. Then she rubbed the long bangs that hung wet around her eyes and down the sides of her face.

“Hey,” he said. “Emma Balou, is that you?” He swiped a forearm across his brow and put his fingers through short black hair.

The only people who wouldn’t know she was Mrs. Lachance would be people who no longer lived in town, people who had moved away before she married Orville twelve years earlier.

The stranger’s grin couldn’t be missed, a big, white grin in a tanned face. They drew closer and her hand went to her mouth. “Finn Duhon? Well, I’ll be…Finn Duhon, it is you? I thought you were still in the…”

“Army. Not anymore,” he said and now she could see that his eyes were just as sharply hazel as they ever had been. A good-looking boy had grown into an arresting man. More than that, really. In his face she saw the look of a man who had seen too much for too long. His body testified to hard physical training.

“You were in Special Ops? I think that’s what they call it.”

He nodded. “Yep, that’s it. What’s been goin’ on with you?”

A gust of hot breeze caught the door of the Honey Bucket. It rattled and creaked.
With her hands on her hips, she bent slightly and looked at her well-worn running shoes. “Not a whole lot. I went to Tulane but decided not to stay on after my second year. I’ve got a shop at the old Oakdale Mansion–Poke Around it’s called.” She laughed. “Sandra, the woman who works with me, came up with that because we have a pretty eclectic stock. And folks do come in because they’re not sure what to expect. The shop keeps me busy.”

But it didn’t keep her happy, Finn decided. Sadness, or tension, hung around her eyes and mouth. He saw a wedding ring. So why hadn’t she said she was married?
He would like to tell her she was a beautiful woman but most likely she wouldn’t understand his uncomplicated appreciation for lovely females–usually uncomplicated.

“My mother left me her house,” he said. “I decided to come back and see if this was somewhere I could settle down.”

“Of course.” She turned pink. “Mrs. Duhon passed recently. I wasn’t thinkin’. I’m so sorry for your loss. She was a sweet lady.”

“That, she was. And smart.” He remembered his mother’s face. “I never met a more determined woman, even when her life must have felt ruined.”

Emma nodded and the trouble in her expression wasn’t faked. “I remember,” she said.

She was remembering the circumstances of his father’s death–just months before his mother’s—and Finn didn’t intend to get into that now. “Thank you for askin’. How are your folks?”

“Where are they would be a better question. I think they’re real well but they’re off in one of those RVs, drivin’ all over the country, and Canada. Who would have thought the town doctor and his schoolteacher wife would fall in love with drivin’ from one RV park to the next. My dad says there’s nuthin’ like the smell of bacon cookin’ outside in the mornin’. The two of them like to sit in their lawn chairs and soak up the scenery.”

“Sounds good to me.” He meant each word.

Emma looked into the distance. “Aren’t you going back into stocks . . . somethin’ to do with stocks? I remember hearin’ you shocked your folks when you left your business in New York to go in the service.”

“I was a stock-trader coach.” A successful one, only it had come too easy, been too lucrative, surrounded him with too many people who wanted what he had. “No, ma’am, I’m not goin’ back to that, either. Sometimes you’ve just got to cut loose and find a new way. Could be I’m comin’ close to findin’ it, too.”

Emma met his eyes directly but he felt she’d moved away from their conversation. Her lips parted and she frowned. He expected her to say something but she shook her head instead.

“Are you happy, Emma?” He had no right to ask but he wanted to know.

“Is anyone?” She gave an openly bitter laugh and pushed damp hair back. It had started to curl and he recalled she’d had curls in highschool, lots of curls. The ponytail she wore was as honey blond as he remembered from school. And if anything, her blue eyes were more vivid.

Why not jump in with both feet? “You just startin’ your run, or would you like to get a drink or some coffee somewhere in town? You could catch me up on the local action and be doin’ an old acquaintance a favor.” It was up to her to say yes or no, or that she was married. “I expect you’ve got a car with you.”

“No car. I like long runs.”

The old Caddy that passed him on his way up slowly retraced it’s route.

“These folks must be lost,” Finn said. The car crawled, going slower and slower as it approached. “I guess we must be the most interesting thing they’ve seen around here.” He laughed.

Emma grabbed his arm and pulled him back. The car took a too-wide arc and came straight for them. Correcting just in time, the driver, who peered out through thick glasses, glanced his front fender off the Honey Bucket, setting it rocking. Speeded up, slowed down again, and gradually climbed the hill.

“That’s dangerous,” Emma said, watching the car. “I think I’d like to get some coffee and catch up. You and I weren’t exactly part of any in-crowd so we can look at things from the outside, in, if you know what I mean. But I can’t be long.”

“Good enough. I drove here. My truck’s close.”

The latrine, still swaying a little, snapped open.

The top of a woman’s head burst into view, swung forward revealing a naked back. Light colored hair matted with something dark swung forward. The woman kept falling in slow motion, caught by a shoulder against the inside of the latrine.

Emma choked down a scream and started forward.

Automatically Finn said, “Get back, Emma. I’ll see to this.”
She didn’t move a muscle or avert her eyes–or scream. She gulped air through her mouth and turned chalky white.

“Call 911,” he told her. “Don’t touch anythin’.”

He closed in. The angle of the dying sun hit the inside of the fiber glass door, and the woman’s lard white skin. The pitch dark interior of the latrine didn’t reveal the rest of what had to be a horror picture.

“I don’t have a phone,” Emma said in a too-breathy voice. She ignored his instructions and stood beside him. “We have to see what’s happened.”

“What you don’t see, you don’t have to remember. Please step back. Take my phone.” He slid it from his waist and gave it to her.

“She may still be alive,” Emma said. “I’ll feel her pulse.”

Streamers of something other than blood marred the pale skin. Full breasts, trickled over with the same dark substance, added to her utter helplessness, her vulnerability to any curious eye. “She doesn’t have a pulse,” he said, looking at other telltale signs on the exposed skin. The legs were tucked back. “We shouldn’t risk disturbing any evidence.”

“Why doesn’t she just fall out of there?” Emma walked away from him, made to go closer to the latrine. He only held her wrist a moment before the look she gave warned him to let go.

She leaned to see inside, to see the rest of the body, and held herself there, still except for a silently moving mouth and tears that slid down her face. Emma kept her hands clasped behind her back and began to shake. She turned her back to Finn and threw up, too horrified to care what he thought.

Gasping, holding her handkerchief to her mouth, she said, “Denise,” and dropped to her knees while pressing buttons on the phone. “Denise Steen is dead.” She spoke into the receiver and gave their location. “She’s been murdered.”

Finn leaned over her. The woman’s body unraveled inch by inch from the grotesque pose in which it had been left. Her left hand had been clamped under her on the toilet seat. Her own weight on top kept her from just falling forward–until the latrine started rocking. Whatever had drizzled over head and body, also streamed down her legs. “Looks like chocolate syrup,” he said.

“No,” Emma whispered when Finn stepped back to keep away from the gradually sliding body. “She’s so decent. Who would do this to her?” The dead woman jerked against her own hand, thudded to the floor and came to rest in a twisted sitting position just inside the door.

“It’s so sick,” Emma said, pointing to an obscenely red cocktail cherry in the corpse’s navel.

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Cypress Nights

Cypress Nights

Harlequin Mira (reissue)
November 15, 2012
Amazon ASIN: B009NEDW0E
Barnes & Noble ID: 978-1460308554

A Bayou Book

A Stella Cameron classic. First time in eBook.

Roche Savage is a talented psychiatrist with an insatiable — some might say kinky — sex drive. He’s always avoided gentle, reserved women because he knows that if he loses control… Unfortunately, he spies reticent Bleu Labeau, a young widow who has come to Toussaint to start a new school — Bleu, who was taught that sex is dirty, wrong and best performed in the dark.

The school has unleashed another passion, as well. When bodies start turning up, the local sheriff and the townspeople must fend for themselves. Taking the lead, Roche and Bleu race to unravel the mystery. But when it’s revealed that all the victims are former patients of Roche, speculation arises that the people of Toussaint may not be looking for a stranger, but one of their own.

(originally published August 2008 by Avon Books)

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A Grave Mistake

A Grave Mistake

Harlequin Mira
November 15, 2012
Amazon ASIN: B009NEMGT2
ISBN-13: 978-0778323532

A Bayou Book

A Stella Cameron classic. First time in eBook.

The first mistake
Dead: an ordinary man in a pressed suit and tie. Just the latest in a string of losers in the wrong place at the most disastrous time. Not the kind of case to yank New Orleans Homicide Detective Guy Gautreax away from his leave of absence in Toussaint, Louisiana, the only home to offer him a sense of purpose after a tragedy that nearly destroyed his life.

The second mistake
But there’s someone in Toussaint Guy will do anything — even open up a dead cold case — to shelter. Jilly Gable is desperate to find the love of the family who abandoned her as a child. And when the wife of a powerful New Orleans antiques dealer, loan shark — and twisted degenerate — sweeps into town claiming to be her mother, Jilly is all too willing to love and forget.

The final reckoning
Slowly and methodically, an evil envelopes Jilly and Guy must bare the truth to snatch her back from the edge. Connecting the dots between the Big Easy and Toussaint all but cinches his case, but Jilly and Guy are drawn deeper into corruption and they have only each other for protection.

Will that be enough?

(originally published October 2006 by Harlequin MIRA)

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