Authors: Jenna Mills
Tags: #Fiction, #Romance, #Suspense
Even then he’d known she was dangerous.
And even then he’d known he was so not the man for the job.
But then she’d been a child, and the power she’d had over him was nothing compared to the woman she’d become. She could still twist him up with just an easy pure-Cami smile, but the dark light in her eyes, the glow of horror and hope, of loss and grief and strength, of hard, gritty courage…
He looked at her now, at the warm water raining down from the shower and sluicing along her face, her chest, and damn near forgot to breathe. He’d told himself no more. He’d told himself never again.
The words, the memory, seduced. Even as it punished. He’d been so sure he didn’t know how, that there was nothing left inside of him.
“It’s lavender,” she said, and he blinked, brought her back into focus, saw the small bottle she’d lifted to her face. She smiled. “Big, tough, untouchable Jacques Savoie is going to smell like a
Lavender. Sweet mercy, lavender. The scent had haunted him. Every time he’d smelled it he’d turned, looked.
Until the one time the scent had pulled him from sleep, and he’d found his wife leaning over him, asking if he liked her new perfume….
Crushing the memory, he stepped toward Camille and joined her under the spray. “No flowers.”
Her eyes, so luminous and blue and happy, dazzled. “What’s the matter, Sheriff? You’re not scared, are you?”
He reached for the shampoo, but she slipped her arm behind her back. “Be careful now,
” he said, and the teasing cadence to his voice rocked him. He couldn’t remember…didn’t have a single idea when was the last time he’d teased someone. “You sure you want to do that?”
She tilted her face. “Do what?”
to touch drove him. He stepped toward her, felt the warm slipperiness of her legs as their bodies touched—and his readied.
“My, my,” she said in that same throaty voice, playful now whereas before, in bed, there’d been only intensity. “Is that a big tube of soap you’ve got there, Sheriff, or are you just—”
He took her mouth before she could finish, pulled her slick body to his. She stepped into him, lifted her sudsy hands to his shoulders—and laughed.
“Gotcha,” she said against his open mouth.
Leaning back, he glanced toward his shoulders, smelled before he saw. Lavender. She slid her hands down along his arms, to his stomach, lower—“Too bad it’s not chocolate,” she murmured as she took him in her hands and rubbed. And squeezed.
The rumble started low and built, rumbled up through his throat. He tossed his head back and tried to savor, to enjoy, but the need pushed too hard, and before he could stop himself he caught her hands and backed her toward the little white tiles, took her mouth and absorbed her laughter. And then he was pushing inside and she was welcoming him, again, and again.
And with the warm water pulsing against them, he forgot all about smelling like a flower—and never wanting again.
She loved lavender.
With the moonlight playing against them, Camille lay on her side, with a hand against Jack’s stomach, watching him sleep. Finally. It had been like a game of chicken, neither wanting to drift off first. But after he’d carried her back to bed and she’d slid on top, after she’d held his hands up by the pillow as he’d let her take over, take control, after all that, when she’d lain quietly atop of him, the rhythm of his breathing had finally deepened.
Now she skimmed her fingers along his body, toying with the trail of dark hair that vanished beneath the sheet at his hips. She didn’t want to wake him, not when for the first time since she’d come home, the shadows were gone, the lines of his face relaxed.
So she lay there and watched. Earlier there’d been music. Now the only rhythm came from the rise and fall of his chest, the steady cadence of his heart. She wasn’t sure how much time passed…somewhere along the line the bedside clock had hit the floor. The low rumble of thunder came first, through the window the occasional flicker of lightning. Then the patter of rain. Hearing a soft flapping from the outer room, she slid from bed and felt the chill, grabbed the big towel from the floor. She wrapped it around her and padded from the bedroom, stepped into the living area, where the two silver domes still sat atop the white-cloth-covered serving tray. When Jack awoke, maybe they could—
The movement came through her peripheral vision. She spun toward her left—and saw him. He stood just inside the sliding-glass door with Jack’s backpack in his hands. And in that horrible frozen moment, everything flashed. Recognition hit with brutal force. “You…”
“Easy there, sweet girl,” the man said. “I’m not going to hurtcha….”
he voice crawled over her. She tightened her hand against the towel and retreated, but the denial wouldn’t come. “It was you,” she whispered as he froze, tall and disheveled, his hair long and silver, but his eyes—God, his eyes.
They were the eyes from before, the eyes that had gleamed at her through the ski mask in Jack’s house, when Jack had lain unconscious in his bathtub. The eyes of that long-ago night, that had glowed at her through the darkness before he’d lunged for her. Chased her.
The dark chocolate eyes that had glowed at her through the shadows of the bedroom, as Jack had moved over her…
“Your own son…” The words barely found voice. “You could have hurt him,” she said, but deep inside, she knew that Gator Savoie already had. Brutally. He’d hurt his son in the most fundamental way imaginable, when he’d abandoned him. And now, standing there in the hotel room, with Jack’s backpack in his hand, he was about to hurt him even more.
“No,” he said in a rough, gravelly voice, the kind that came from too much whiskey and too many cigarettes, too much regret, from a life in ruins. “I wuz careful. I only used enough to make him sleep a little while—”
“So you could get the map.” The map he and her father had allegedly used to find the depiction of the rapture.
The gravity of her mistake burned. She’d been so sure it was Marcel Lambert following her, Marcel Lambert pursuing her, that she’d never even considered other possibilities.
“I had to,” Gator said. “There’s been enough blood spilled already. I had to stop it, had to get that thing before anyone else found it.”
“You were there that night,” she whispered against the horrific chill, the one that seeped into her bones. “In my father’s study. You know what happened. You—”
“No,” Gator said, moving toward her, shaking his mane of silver hair. “That’s not the way it was. I’d just gotten there, heard the gunshot…but then I saw you, I saw you hunched in the shadows and I knew. If Lambert saw you—”
She backed away. “No.”
“I got you out of there, girl…the only way I could.” Behind him, the wind pushed spatters of rain through the open door. “I made you run. I—”
“Fils de putain!”
Out of the darkness Jack materialized, bare-chested and barefoot, but with his jeans pulled over his legs, charging across the room and knocking aside the serving cart, plowing into his father. The two crashed hard, the older man going down on his stomach, Jack pinning him there, pressing his arms to the floor.
“Son,” the older man muttered, but Jack showed no mercy.
“It was you,” he seethed. “You who chased Camille—”
“I protected her!”
“You who’ve been following her, who stole her laptop and paid that kid to break into the bank. Who attacked her—”
“I didn’t attack her!”
“—drugged me,” Jack went on, and Camille’s heart kept right on shattering. She stepped toward them, put a hand to Jack’s back.
“Maybe we should get D’Ambrosia—”
He glanced back at her, his eyes an awful combination of shock and horror—and hurt. “Why don’t you go on in the other room,
Put some clothes on.”
She stiffened, didn’t move. “I’m not leaving you.”
Something hard and jagged flickered through his gaze, but then he turned back toward his father. “We thought you were dead,” he gritted out, and for the first time, emotion leaked into his voice. “Mama and I—”
“Don’t y’think I know that?” Gator twisted toward his son, looked up at him with the most haunted eyes Camille had ever seen. “It ate at me, boy. It ate at me to know you thought I was dead—that I walked out on you. When your mama got sick—”
A hard sound broke from Jack’s throat.
“I was there,” Gator said. “At the hospital. I went…and when she slept, I’d sit with her.”
Camille lifted her hand to her mouth as Jack rocked back.
“But I couldn’t let them know,” Gator went on, and a nasty, horrible feeling bloomed in her gut. “I couldn’t let Lambert know I was there or he woulda—”
Camille sank to her knees, kept her hands on Jack’s back. “Let her die.”
“Get back,” Jack snapped, but instinct wouldn’t let Camille move.
“He was paying for her treatment,” Gator said. “He told me he’d take care of her, take care of you both, so long as I stayed away and forgot what I saw. But if’n I ever came back—”
“You’d regret it.” Camille finished the threat for him. She looked at the broken man sprawled on the floor, his gaunt cheeks and haunted eyes, and knew. Gator Savoie had made a deal with the devil. “Jack—”
But he was already shaking his head. “No. That’s bullshit. If my da—” His eyes flashed. “If Gator had something on the Lambert brothers, they would have killed him, like they did your father. They’d be crazy to let him live.”
Emotion clogged her throat. She looked into Jack’s eyes, felt the ache slice through her heart. “There are many ways to kill someone—not all of them leave blood on your hands.”
The word pounded through Jack. His father was—
Very slowly, very deliberately, Jack turned off the cold water and looked up at the mirror hanging above the small sink at the back of his parish station. It was an antique. Oval, framed in gaudy gold filigree. Every evening MaryAnne brought in her spray bottle and paper towels and cleaned the surface until it glistened. When she got done, there were never any streaks or smears or smudges, just a blisteringly clear sheen that hid nothing.
his father, Jack corrected. A father didn’t let obsession blind him. A father didn’t put his own desires ahead of the needs of his family.
A father didn’t just…walk away.
Jack pivoted from the mirror, didn’t want to see those muddy eyes one second longer. He had a job to do. A suspect to interrogate.
Not. A. Father.
That was the only warning he got. The second he stepped into the cool hallway, he turned toward Camille’s voice—but saw his grandmother. With Camille at her side, Ruby Rose hurried toward him. Shock hollowed out her eyes—but along with it glowed a punishing sheen of hope. She spoke rapidly, in pure undiluted Cajun, questions and confusion all rolled together.
“Gran.” He reached for her, hating how frail she felt, despite the steel she showed the world. “You shouldn’t be here.”
“He is my son,” she said, struggling from Jack’s arms to look up at him. “He is my boy,
Why would I not be here?”
Because it was too soon. Too many questions remained. Gator was a suspect. Jack was the sheriff. He had a job to do. But with his grandmother gazing up at him with those tired, love-drenched eyes—
“I want to see him.”
Jack brought her painfully thin hands to his mouth and brushed a kiss against her knuckles. “In time.”
But not yet. Not until all those questions tearing through him had answers.
Camille joined them, reached for him.
He stepped back.
She lifted her eyes to him, damn near slayed him with the warm, steady understanding glowing there. “You need to listen to him,” she said. “You need to hear him.”
He looked at her in the fluorescent glow of the overhead light, with her tousled hair and the simple white T-shirt she’d pulled on, the well-worn jeans that hugged her hips, and for a moment the storm fell away. Leaving only her, the woman who’d put her arms around him the night before, who’d opened to him and given to him, made him want to believe the eye of the storm could last forever.
“Go to him,” she said calm, quiet, steady, nice and shockingly slow. “Do what you need to do. I’ll be here.” She reached for his grandmother’s hand. “We’ll be here.”
“I was in Nuevo Laredo when I heard. I’d been there a few months. Stayed in an old hotel that catered to the college crowd.”
Jack stared at the man across from him, every line on his face illuminated by the harsh glare of the overhead light. There’d been lines before—but only around his mouth and at the corners of his eyes. Laugh lines, his grandmother had called them….
The deep groves carved into Gator’s cheeks, across his forehead, were not from laughter.
Jack knew Nuevo Laredo—once a thriving border town, the small Mexican community, a favorite among college kids looking for prescription drugs, had fallen victim to gang violence.
“There was a TV in my room, got a few cable stations.” Gator lifted his eyes, those muddy eyes against a leathery face that should not have looked the same.
“Imagine my surprise when I came out from shaving one morning and saw Lambert’s picture on one of those news shows. They said he was facing murder charges…that his brother Nathan was dead.”
That had been March, just before Bayou d’Espere’s string of break-ins began.
“And I knew,” Gator said, glancing beyond Jack to the two-way mirror. Behind it stood Hank and Russ and D’Ambrosia. They’d all volunteered to handle the interrogation.
But. Jack. Was. Sheriff.
“Their reign of terror was over,” Gator said. “I could come back.”
Which was exactly what he’d done. He claimed he was trying to pick up the pieces he’d abandoned two decades before, that he knew the stained glass had allegedly been destroyed, but like Camille, he didn’t fully believe the claim.
That’s why he tried to find the map. That’s why he broke into the library and the historical society, a storage building.
“I didn’t set no fires,” he said. “You gotta believe me—”
Jack stood. They’d been at this over an hour. “I don’t have to do anything.”
“Of course he is,” Saura said. She shifted the convertible into Park and turned toward Camille. “In less than a week his whole world’s blown up all over again.”
Camille closed her eyes, but could still see him standing in the hallway outside the interrogation room, so tall and isolated, in full cop mode. There wasn’t a trace of son to him, not even in the dark brown of the eyes he’d inherited from the man on the other side of the door.
She’d waited with Ruby Rose as minutes had dragged into hours, until finally the sun had started to slip against the horizon and Ruby had started to yawn. D’Ambrosia had popped out, whispered something to Saura. A few minutes later she’d suggested they clear out for a little while, go home and clean up.
It was a nice suggestion, but Camille knew the truth.
Jack wanted to be alone.
Long after she hugged her cousin goodbye and went inside Jack’s house, locked up, the ache of being shut out kept right on winding, deeper, tighter. She wanted to be there for him. She wanted to support him. But he wanted to be alone.
It was all he knew.
In the bathroom, she turned on the water. She’d shower and put some dinner on, take a few minutes to jot some notes. The book was changing. With each day in Bayou d’Espere,
Sins of the Storm
shifted, intensified. It was her story, her life, but the curveballs kept right on coming. Gator—
She closed her eyes, opened them a long moment later. All this time, he’d been alive. All this time he’d been living in exile. All this time he’d been planning his return.
Just like her.
Numbly, she pulled off her shirt and wriggled out of her jeans, stilled when she caught sight of herself in the mirror—and everything started to blur.
Love wasn’t supposed to hurt. Smiles weren’t supposed to scrape. But as she lifted a hand to her chest and rubbed, all those jagged pieces inside rubbed against each other, hurting.
She hadn’t thought it possible. She’d thought Jack too broken, too isolated. That he didn’t know how to love anymore. Didn’t want to. That he’d been so lost in the debris of his life, that he wouldn’t let himself reach out. Wouldn’t let himself want.
But there in the shadows of the hotel room, he’d reached, and he’d wanted. And in response, her body still burned.
Turning from the mirror, she noticed the empty towel rack and stepped toward the linen closet, looked inside. A neat stack of blue towels sat on the bottom shelf. She reached for one, was turning toward the shower when the plastic registered. She turned back toward the bag stashed at the back of the shelf, behind the towels, and everything inside of her stopped.
Everything else, all those dreams she’d begun to let herself build, crumbled.
Through the front windows, light glowed.
Jack sat in his squad car for a long moment and watched. He’d bought this land, built the Acadian-style house almost completely by himself. For Susan, he’d told himself. He’d built the house for his wife, to make her happy.
But the plans, the dreams, had begun long, long before Susan had ever walked into his life. And she’d never been happy there, not when he’d shown her the overgrown parcel of land, not when he’d rolled out the blueprints, not when he’d blindfolded her and carried her over the threshold.
Finally he knew why. That day, when he’d carried her inside, he’d brought her into another woman’s home.
And somehow she’d known it.
With the purple glow of twilight fading, he glanced at the rose bed, no longer consumed by weeds, but cleared, ready to grow.
Gator had been released. Charges were pending. There was no evidence linking him to the fires. To everything else, he’d confessed. He’d confessed, and he’d returned what he’d taken. He’d sat there in the small interrogation room, a broken man. And Jack had tried so damn hard to be the cop he’d become, but the boy had been there, the boy who’d missed his father.
I’m sorry, son…so dadgummed sorry.
There are many ways to kill someone—not all of them leave blood on your hands.
Marcel Lambert had done that. He’d killed more than just Troy Fontenot that rainy night over two decades before. He’d killed bits and pieces of them all.
Opening the car door, Jack stepped into the warmth of early evening. Less than a week had passed since he’d faced Whispering Oaks and savored the anticipation, walked through the rain. Nice. And. Slow.
Now it was all he could do not to run.