Authors: Jenna Mills
Tags: #Fiction, #Romance, #Suspense
Something quick and potent licked through Jack. The man who’d broken into the savings and loan had ditched the computer. That either meant there was nothing else of value on the hard drive…or he’d found what he wanted and didn’t want to get caught with the evidence.
Camille had been unwilling to confirm either theory.
Jack took the satchel and flipped it open, pulled out the laptop. New, he noted, sliding his index finger to the power button. Small, state-of-the-art.
“Um…how well do you know this Fontenot woman, Sheriff?”
The question stopped Jack cold. He looked up from the computer language flashing across the screen, to find his deputy watching him with the same hesitation that had weakened his voice. “Better than she knows herself.”
That was the problem.
Camille Fontenot tore through life with the same reckless disregard as her namesake. He’d hoped with time she’d find peace, closure.
But if anything, the years away from Bayou d’Espere had pushed her closer to the edge.
“Oh,” Russ said. “Then you already know.”
Jack felt a small muscle in the hollow of his cheek thump. “Know what?”
His deputy strolled over and clicked open the word processing program, pulled up a file. “I’m just glad she’s here with you, Sheriff.”
Four words appeared against the stark white of the screen—black, bold, all caps.
“Cuz if Billy Hebert is on Marcel Lambert’s payroll…”
Everything inside of Jack went cold. Russ still talked. Jack knew that. Beauregard nudged at his hand—and the cicadas screamed. But the low roar of his blood drumming against his ears drowned out everything…except those four simple words.
One night. One bullet. One gunshot. But with it more than just one man fell. More than just one man died. Families collapsed, and childhoods ended. Innocence shattered, and a dark dance of lies and betrayal began.
Jack stared at the computer screen, didn’t trust himself to move. Russ stood a few feet across the porch, pretending to roughhouse with Beauregard. But Jack knew his deputy watched. He could feel the burn of his gaze, the questions. The…curiosity.
It was all there, on the computer, in file after file. Her secrets, her thoughts and memories and plans.
The word, the reality, settled like a rock in his gut.
He’d known she had secrets. He’d seen them crowding her eyes. He’d known there was something she wasn’t telling him. She’d been too driven. Too…deliberate.
But God Christ have mercy, he’d never imagined—
God Christ have mercy, Camille hadn’t come home because she was curious about her father’s safe-deposit box, or to testify against Marcel Lambert.
She’d come home to crucify him.
As Cameron Monroe.
Jack looked up toward the night, refused to let himself look toward the house, where she slept inside, so goddamned innocently. She. Camille—Cameron Monroe. The author preparing to serve up every prurient detail, every crumb about her own father’s death for public consumption.
That’s why she was here. That’s why she’d come home. That’s why she’d been at Whispering Oaks. That’s why she’d sugared up to locals all afternoon, in bar after bar, after bar.
That’s why she’d sidestepped his questions.
One night. One bullet. One gunshot.
Troy Fontenot was the victim’s name. He was a husband and a father, a scholar. A dreamer. He was always home from work by six, washed the dishes after dinner, helped his son with his homework and read stories to his little girl. But after the house fell quiet Troy would retreat to his study, and there he would let his own passion take over.
Jack’s cell phone started to ring.
It was that passion that drove him, controlled him…that passion that killed him.
The cicadas fell quiet.
That passion that killed them all—the families and the childhoods, that—
Jack looked up and reached for his phone, brought it to his face. “Savoie.”
Cold punched in from all directions. The voice was tired and frail and…scared, and before he even asked the question, he knew. “Gran? What’s wrong?”
“I—I think someone’s trying to get in,” she said, but Jack was already running.
—killed the innocence.
The slam of a door broke her sleep. The rush of heavy footfalls jump-started her heart. And then his hands were on her body, curving around her, pulling her from beneath the covers. “Jacques—”
“Come on,” he said, and before she could so much as breathe, she was on her feet and he was practically dragging her toward the door.
She blinked against the glare of light and tried to orient herself, staggered and slammed into him…felt the gun. “My God…” she tried, but her throat closed up on her, and panic came in a tight cold fist. She caught sight of him then, the tight lines of his face and the hot burn in his eyes, and deep in her bones, she knew. “W-what’s going on?”
“There’s no time—”
“Sheriff,” came a second voice, “I can stay with her if you like—”
“I’m not leaving her here.”
He didn’t say the word, but it echoed through the silence. He’d left her earlier. He’d left her, and Lambert had gotten to her.
Now he lifted her into his arms and continued toward the front of the house. Without letting her get dressed. Without even waiting for her to put on shoes.
With a gun.
“Follow me,” he called back to the young deputy. “Hank should already be there.”
Camille reached for his arm, held on tight. “Where?”
He pushed open the front door and ran. “Gran’s.”
Russ stood at the window. Hank stood at the front door. Another deputy stood just inside the kitchen. The cozy little parlor, with its chintz drapery and chintz sofa, the thick Aubusson rug, the antique buffet crowded by picture frames, was completely surrounded. No one was getting in without going through Jack’s men first.
Outside on the porch, Detective D’Ambrosia waited. Through the thick sheers he appeared more shadow than man, but Camille watched him, watched the stillness. The intensity. The way he stood with his gun in his hand, without even seeming to breathe. Saura’s fiancé had arrived within minutes of Jack. The two had conferred, then Jack had taken off.
Now silence breathed through the old-fashioned room. Camille sat on the edge of the sofa, couldn’t stop looking at the pictures. They were all there, all the photographs that were not at Jack’s house. Of his mother and father, his grandparents. Of her and Gabe and Saura…of Jack in high school football pads. Him in a flight suit standing next to an F-16.
Of Jack in his dress blues…standing next to a dark-haired woman in a wispy white dress.
The urge to stand and step closer tugged at Camille, but she remained on the sofa, didn’t let herself move.
“Are y’all sure I can’t get y’all something?”
Camille glanced from the haunting photo toward the hot pink, velveteen wingback chair where Ruby Rose sat. With her parchment-thin hands clasped and her almost-shocking-blue eyes bright, Grandma Ruby looked from Russ to Hank, back to Russ. “Maybe some tea or coffee?”
“No, ma’am,” Russ said.
Then Hank spoke up: “You just stay right where you are…that’s what Jack said.”
She frowned. “It was just that ole ’coon. I let my imagination git the better of me is all.”
“Maybe,” Russ said. “But until the sheriff gives the all clear, we need to be careful.”
“I’m sure he’ll be back in a few minutes,” Camille said. She slipped from the camelback sofa and went to Jack’s grandmother. “You know Jack. He’s being careful.”
Ruby Rose sighed. “Just look at you,” she said, reaching for Camille. “All grown-up and still as pretty as can be.”
She went down on her knees and took Grandma Ruby’s hand, felt something soft and gentle shift through her. Jack’s grandmother had to be pushing eighty, but she could easily pass for a woman ten years younger. Her skin was buttery soft, her coiffed hair still the color of cola…now no doubt courtesy of her sister Rita, who ran the local beauty shop. Her pajamas were silky—and straight from the pages of a well-known lingerie catalog. And the fuzzy fuchsia slippers on her feet…well, Camille was pretty sure they were intended for coeds in a dormitory.
“This is just such a surprise,” she said. “I had no idea you were back.”
“No one did.”
The deceptively quiet voice swirled through Camille like the leading gust of a late-night storm. She twisted and saw Jack, instinctively reached for the edge of the chair. There was a stillness to him that chilled, the way he dominated the elegant foyer, his feet shoulder-width apart, his eyes unreadable. “Seems she’s still not a big fan of radar.”
The innuendo stung. Camille pushed to her feet and started toward him, acutely aware of the hardwood beneath her bare feet and the swirl of air-conditioning against her legs—Jack hadn’t even given her time to dress.
No way was she going to give
advance warning—or Marcel Lambert time to evacuate.
No way was she going to give either of them time to take control.
“Did you find anything?” she asked, glancing from him to D’Ambrosia, who now stood inside the door.
Jack moved past her to his grandmother, took her hands in his. “Everything looks fine, Gran. I don’t see any sign of attempted forced entry.”
Grandma Ruby’s smile was tired. “I feel so silly—”
“No.” He brought a hand to her face. “You did the right thing. After the fire…”
Camille bit down on her lip but couldn’t look away from the silent communion between Jack and his father’s mother. She’d been widowed early, much like Jack’s mother. Camille was willing to bet Jack still mowed her lawn and cleaned her gutters.
He always had.
And she could only imagine the horror of the fire that had gutted the vacant house two doors down a few months before. Arson, Saura had told her. The wind had thrown sparks toward Grandma Ruby’s house, but the firefighters had intervened.
Then tonight, to get the phone call that his grandmother thought someone was outside…
Something sharp and cold cut through Camille. It wasn’t coincidence. It was the hallmark of Marcel Lambert, the nasty mind games he got off on playing. Even while awaiting trial.
“But it’s all safe now,” Jack said with his back to Camille. He hadn’t looked at her, spoken to her, since he’d deposited her in his car. “Why don’t you go back on up to bed? Russ and Hank will stay here just to be sure.”
Grandma Ruby stepped back from his arms. “That’s not necessary—”
he said, and now his voice was thick, warm, and deep inside, Camille tensed. She knew that voice…had gone to superhuman lengths to scrub it from her memory. “It’ll make me feel better all the same.”
And with that, the battle was over. Ruby Rose had a will of iron, but a soft spot for her grandson a mile wide. Once he made it personal, once he made it about
feel better, the steel faded from her eyes, and her mouth curved. “
if it’ll help you sleep better…”
And that, Camille knew, was the danger of Jacques Savoie.
Darkness spilled around them. Silence breathed. She stepped from the squad car onto the gravel that comprised Jack’s driveway, then crossed the cool damp grass to the front porch. Jack followed.
At the door, he pulled open the screen and put in his key, pushed inside and deactivated the alarm. Held the door. Let her in, let Beauregard out. Locked up behind them. Jabbed a series of buttons against the security panel.
Just as he hadn’t looked at her, touched her.
Slowly she turned toward him—but there was nothing slow about the way her breath caught. He stood next to a small marble-top table containing a lamp and not much else. His eyes were shuttered, his temple bruised. And in his hand, he still held the gun.
“Go on to bed, Cam—” He stopped abruptly—unnaturally. And a hard sound broke from his throat.
Something about the way he said her name made her go very still. She saw the way he watched her as if she were a suspect…with nowhere to run.
And before he said anything else, before he flicked on the lamp…she knew. “Or would you rather me call you Cameron?”
he’d chosen the name carefully. Cameron was a parish in southwestern Louisiana. In 1957 a hurricane named Audrey barreled ashore with little warning and wiped out everything in her path. Cameron was flattened. Four hundred and twenty-five people were killed. Of those, one hundred and fifty-four were under nine years old.
But out of that devastation emerged courage and grit and determination, and the community rebuilt. Cameron persevered. Cameron endured.
When Camille’s editor asked about a pseudonym, Camille had thought about Audrey…and Cameron. As it was her parents had named her after a storm…but Camille didn’t want a name that symbolized devastation. There’d been enough of that. She wanted…rebirth.
And Cameron Monroe was born.
She’d always found great satisfaction in the name, even if no one other than she understood the symbolism. But here, now, standing in the shadows of Jack’s living room, the acrid edge to his voice sent something dark and cold slipping through her.
She’d always known he would find out. She’d always known this moment would come. But she’d wanted it on her terms, at a time and a place of her choosing. Not…like this.
“Well, congratulations, Sheriff. Guess you don’t need a radar screen, after all.”
Whiskers had crowded his jaw since he’d found her at Whispering Oaks. That first night they’d invited her caress. Now, they warned her to stand back. “Trust me,
you don’t want to know what I need.”
She laughed. It wasn’t the time or the place, but she wasn’t about to fall for the blatant attempt at intimidation. “Oh, but there’s a difference between wanting and knowing,” she said in that same slow, deliberate tone he so preferred. “Maybe I don’t want to know, but trust me, I do all the same.”
He stepped toward her, stopped so close she couldn’t so much as breathe without taking the scent of him—leather and soap and man—deep inside. “Then why don’t you tell me.”
The urge to retreat streaked through her, but with her calves against the sofa, there was nowhere to go. “It’s not going to work,” she said, even as her lungs forgot how to work. “You can try this big bad sheriff routine all you like, but I have nothing to apologize for.”
He took another step. “Really?” His voice was hoarse, quiet. “Then maybe you should go on down to the hospital and tell that to Greg and his kids.”
“Or maybe you’d like to see Janelle herself—”
“I had no way of knowing—”
“Didn’t you?” He pushed on in that same awful voice. “Isn’t that why you didn’t say anything. Not even to me?”
“Tell me something,” she snapped, and all those broken edges, the ones she’d bandaged and protected for too many years, broke free. He stood so rigid and unyielding, as if she’d known this horrific accident would happen, and pressed forward anyway.
“What difference would it have made? If I’d called? If I’d put myself on your sacred little radar screen?” The question tore from some wounded place inside. “Would you have met me at the airport? Would you have taken me to the bank, opened the safe-deposit box yourself?”
The muscle in the hollow of his cheek thumped. “I would have taken precautions,” he said. “And yes, I would have taken you to get the safe-deposit box before anyone had a chance to steal your laptop.”
And tip the terrible chain of events into motion.
“There would have been no high-speed chase.” He pressed on with that same unnatural stillness. She tried to put some space between them, but the sofa made that impossible. “No one would have gotten hurt,” he said. “No one would have lured me away from you tonight.” He paused, let a beat of silence throb between them. “And no one would be playing mind games with my grandmother.”
Camille looked down, not wanting him to be right. “But why? This has nothing to do with her.”
“A message,” Jack said. “To me. And to you. That he’s here, that he knows. That he can get to us, get to her—get to anyone.”
Slowly, she looked up. “Because of my computer…”
The light in Jack’s eyes went dark. He reached around her and picked up something from the sofa, pulled his arm back to reveal the laptop. “Bingo.”
Relief flashed through her. Then shock. Then…horror. She knew what was on her hard drive. She knew what was in her files. “My God,” she whispered. “Where did you—”
“Hebert.” He flipped it open. “Because you didn’t call me…because you didn’t trust me…” When the system finished rebooting, he opened her word processing program and pulled up a file. “It’s all here in black-and-white.”
Her throat burned. Her chest tightened. She looked from the file to Jack.
She’d seen the look before. She’d seen people look at her as if she were a pariah. She’d stood quietly while a bereaved father lashed out at her and his wife cried. She’d caught the way cops looked at her as she scanned grisly photographs, had put up with the insinuations of lawyers who didn’t like being on the receiving end of questions.
She’d tolerated reviewers who called her work trash.
At first the bricks hurled at her had hurt; the insults had bruised. But she’d learned to wall herself away from those who did not understand. She’d learned to walk from case to case without being touched. By any of it.
She’d known coming here would be different. She’d known coming here would be worse. There was no shield of anonymity. This wasn’t a random case. She couldn’t simply walk into and out of all the lives that had been affected. This was her home. These people, the witnesses to that long-ago rainy night, were part of her. She’d known them as long as she could remember. And the victim…
She was the victim.
Her mother was the victim, her brother.
Jack. Jack was the victim, despite how hard he tried to hide behind a cop’s strength.
He looked at her now the way the other cops had, with all the scorn and the ridicule. But this time she felt every lash of contempt clear down to her bones. “I don’t expect you to understand—”
“Smart girl,” he said again, this time quieter. Colder. “I should have put two and two together…but it never even crossed my mind that you could write those books.”
She was accustomed to the insult. Even so, she found her chin coming up. “I write their stories,” she corrected. “I write stories for those who can’t, for those who suffered. For those who were robbed, cheated.” Made victims, taken away too soon. “I make sure they’re remembered. I make sure no one forgets what happened to them.”
The flatness in his eyes chilled. “I guess the phrase
rest in peace
doesn’t mean anything to you then.”
The walls pushed in on her, but she didn’t let herself move, refused to grant him that power over her, even as the memory shredded.
…may the lord take you into heaven and watch over you, keep you in eternal peace.
“It means everything to me.” But she also knew sometimes the words were a flimsy fairy tale, a tidy little bow and ribbon to disguise the truth: there could be no peace, no rest, when the end had been swift and brutal and violent.
When killers walked free.
Swallowing against a throat suddenly raw, she slipped away from him and crossed to the piano. She wasn’t about to let him dissect her as though she were some science project.
It took effort, but she’d learned how to keep it all inside, how to shove the ugliness so deep it couldn’t make her shake. Couldn’t make her bleed.
“Sweet Mary,” he said from behind her.
“Who are you?”
She didn’t want to turn—didn’t want to see. Because once she did, once she saw, all those silly fantasies that sometimes sneaked into her sleep, the ones in which nothing stood between her and Jack, would shatter.
“You’re gone fourteen years,” he said. “Without a word, not even to your mother. And then you waltz back into town like not a day has passed,
to write a book?
About the night your
He made it sound so ugly.
With the same precision she did everything, she turned. And saw.
He hadn’t moved, still stood beside the sofa, his expression condemning her like a criminal in a lineup.
“I’m Camille,” she said, and with the words her chest tightened. It had been a long time since she’d allowed herself to use that name. Cameron Monroe was easier, cleaner; it was who she’d become. To be Camille was to go back. To be vulnerable.
And that was something she could never allow.
“All grown-up, but like you said, still me.” She still hurt. “I’m still here—and I still remember.” Everything. The smiles and the tears and the laughter. The horror. The devastation.
And Jack. She remembered Jack, the way he’d been before their world blew up in their faces, when he’d looked at her with warmth, rather than suspicion.
“Who am I?” The question, the answer, hurt. But she was done pretending, and she was done hiding. “I’m a woman who remembers what it was like to hear the gunshot that killed my father…to see him collapse.” To see him lying there so still. “I remember the voices.” The realization that she recognized them. “I remember running.” Being chased. The rain. It had come down in vicious sheets. “Hiding.”
Jack’s eyes went hard and dark, and she knew that he remembered, too. “Damn it, Camille,” he said, moving toward her.
She held up a hand before he could reach her. “Don’t.”
He stopped, let out a rough breath. “That was a long time ago.”
“Yes, it was.” But time didn’t matter, not when lies remained. “But that man is still free.” Walking the streets and living his life, hurting those who got in his way—just like so many others who crossed the line between civility and depravity.
“That’s what this is about?” he asked. “You go from one crime to the next because you can’t stop reliving what happened to your father?”
The stab of disappointment surprised her. She’d known she couldn’t walk back into the life she’d left behind. She’d known fractured relationships couldn’t be taped back together, that mistakes could not be taken back. Time changed people. She’d told herself that countless times, had reminded herself that in the years she’d been gone, Jack had fought a war and buried a wife….
But it wasn’t until he gave her nothing that she realized how badly she’d wanted to be wrong.
“It’s not just my father. What happened that night wasn’t only to him. It happened to me. To Gabe.” He’d never been the same after that, had grown up virtually overnight. “And to you.”
“And you think serving up every dirty detail for public consumption is going to make that better? Make that okay?”
Only in her dreams.
His expression darkened. “Damn it, you have to let it go.”
He made it sound so ridiculously simple. Let go. Forget. Move on. Pretend she hadn’t seen her father murdered. Pretend she hadn’t identified the killer, that everyone hadn’t thought she’d made the whole story up.
Pretend she’d never gone to Florida…“I can’t.”
“Damn it, Camille, he
” Jack bit out the words. “Lambert told your brother everything.”
And then denied it to the judge. She knew that, had heard the details from Saura. With Gabe trapped in a condemned warehouse, Lambert had admitted to killing her father—but he’d also alleged that her father had double-crossed him first. That the shooting had been an accident.
Instinct warned otherwise. She’d seen the look in her father’s eyes when she’d found him in her bedroom a few hours before his death. She’d seen the secrets and the determination, the fear. “Are you sure? What if there’s more?”
“What are you talking about?”
She gestured toward the laptop. “Someone wants to stop me, Jack. Someone stole my computer and found out about the safe-deposit box, got there before I could.” The dots practically connected themselves. “Doesn’t that make you wonder why? If the real truth is still out there—”
“Did you ever stop to think, that maybe Marcel Lambert doesn’t want you writing this book?”
That went without saying. All his dirty little secrets, that elaborate house of cards he’d built—that she’d let him build by allowing herself not to be heard—was about to go up in flames. “It’s not up to him.”
The brown of Jack’s eyes flashed. “Damn it, this isn’t a game. This isn’t some benign case that you can whip together and serve to the public. This is
life,” he said, and then God, he was reaching for her again, crushing the years and mistakes between them to touch her, with all the familiarity of the boy who’d once found her wet and cold and hiding from the man who’d chased her into the swamp. He put his hands to her arms and urged her closer, forcing her up on her toes.
“That man is dangerous,” he said, and the rhythm of her heart changed, deepened. “He’s killed before.”
This, she realized. This was why she had to be careful, why she’d kept her real agenda from him for as long as possible. As a child she’d let Jacques Savoie define her world. If she stood any chance of laying the past to rest, she had to ignore the hot burn in his eyes—and the slow steady thaw in that place she’d meticulously walled off. “I know.”
“Then what? You think he’s going to sit back and let you write this book? Or do you just not care?”
The questions slammed into her. She cared. More than she’d allowed herself to admit. “I was a kid, Jack, and I was scared. For more than half my life I’ve lived with the truth about that man…and I’m not going to do it anymore.” She stepped back from his arms. “Will he try to stop me?” she asked. “Absolutely. But what kind of woman would I be if I didn’t try to stop him first?”
“Alive,” he answered point-blank. “You’d be alive.”
It shouldn’t have been possible to feel a trickle of warmth, even as the chill consumed. “Would I? Are you sure? Because it hasn’t felt that way to me.”
Not for a long, long time.
“I knew you wouldn’t be happy,” she said. “I knew you wouldn’t want me to write this book…that you’d try to talk me out of it.” The way he’d tried to talk her out of everything. Of spreading her wings. Of living.
Of wanting him.
“But I never thought…”