Authors: Charlotte Hughes
A Romantic Comedy
“We need to get out of these wet things,” Michelle said, crossing her arms in front of her in an attempt to hide herself. She shivered as Gator continued to stare. He still had the power to make her body go berserk when he looked at her that way. Those glittering black eyes didn’t miss a thing. It was as though he were capable of seeing past flesh and bone to her inner workings, all of which shook at the moment as violently as the tree limbs outside the window. She was certain he knew what that look did to her—what it did to every female, for that matter. He had it down to an art. And if it had had a powerful effect on her at sixteen, it was doubly so now at thirty-two.
“That’s the best idea I’ve heard all day,” Gator said, shrugging out of his shirt. It was cold and felt like wet seaweed against his skin. He mopped his brow and chest with it and ran it across the back of his neck.
Michelle wondered if he had any idea how sensual that simple act was. He was all rippling muscles and taut flesh. Goose pimples stood out on his shoulders and his nipples puckered from the chill in the room. His arms were lean and as brown as the rest of him. The room seemed to shrink to the size of a shoe box. Michelle had seen enough male bodies in her job to know that the one before her was one of the best she’d ever laid eyes on.
Gator would have had to be blind not to notice her perusal. The grin he shot her was brazen. “Like what you see, Mic?”
Michelle’s head snapped up with a force that almost sent her reeling. Her face flamed. “I was just … just …”
“Staring?” He looked faintly amused.
He was laughing at her, she thought angrily. She fought the urge to race out of the room. “Don’t flatter yourself,” she said tersely.
“I don’t have to, pretty lady. You just gave me the biggest compliment I’ve had in a long time, whether you know it or not.”
“You haven’t changed at all, Gator Landry. I would have thought by now somebody would’ve knocked some manners into that thick skull of yours.”
“And you haven’t changed much yourself,” he said. “You’ve still got the prettiest green eyes I’ve ever seen. Not to mention the cutest rear end. I’d say you have improved with age.” He slung his damp shirt around his neck and stepped closer. “So you’re a nurse now. I remember the first time you told me you wanted to go into nursing. Do you?”
Michelle fought the urge to back away from him. To do so would have been cowardly, and she would sooner bite off her tongue than show Gator she was afraid of him. “How can I forget,” she said. “You suggested we play doctor so I could practice on you.”
He chuckled. “But you refused.”
“That’s because I knew what ailed you and didn’t want any part of it.”
“I think you did. Is that why you didn’t return the following summer like you promised?”
“Let’s just say I came to my senses.”
“You’re still crazy about me, aren’t you?” he teased.
She almost laughed, because at the moment it was just like old times, with Gator trying his darnedest to get a rise out of her and her tossing his words or innuendos right back in his face. Gator Landry had always been able to make her blush and feel things that other boys couldn’t.
“Don’t be ridiculous, Gator,” she said. “I was only sixteen years old at the time. I’m twice that age now, and I hope I’ve got twice the knowledge I had back then when I acted on hormones instead of common sense. Besides, you weren’t the first man to kiss me; nor the last.”
He cocked his head to the side, as though pondering the thought. “Maybe not, but I’ll bet I’m the one you remember best.”
Copyright © 2015 by Charlotte Hughes
All rights reserved, in whole or in part, in any format. The content should not be used commercially without prior written permission, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews. This book is provided for your personal enjoyment.
Welcome to Temptation
was originally published as a
paperback in 1990 by Bantam Books, a division of Bantam, Doubleday, Dell Publishing Group, Inc., under the title
It has since been updated and revised.
The content that follows is a work of fiction. Characters, incidents, and dialogue are drawn from the author’s imagination, and any resemblance to actual persons and events is coincidental.
The rain fell in earnest, pelting the lush vegetation along the grassy banks of the ever-changing bayou. A bullfrog belched as though protesting the strong gust of wind that shook the tall reeds and Virginia creeper along the riverbank. Fan-shaped palmetto leaves bowed low in the flurry; a carpet of duckweed was swept to one side of the bayou, where it nestled among knobby cypress knees and flowering water hyacinths. Overhead, the August sky hung like a giant water-filled canopy about to burst. A blast of wind sent water spraying through an open window, and Michelle Thurston slammed it closed.
She tossed her grandmother a look of pure annoyance. “Reba Kenner, you are the most stubborn, hard-headed, obstinate woman I ever laid eyes on. You’re a dead woman, you know that? If you stay here, you’re as good as dead.”
The elderly woman obliged her granddaughter with a smile and a nod. At eighty, Reba Kenner was a shrunken version of her former self. But her skin was smooth and free of mottling and her nappy white hair clean and healthy looking, the result of a concoction she’d drank for years that she declared was part bayou water. It was the same remedy she’d insisted her granddaughter drink as a teenager to ward off acne and was the reason, or so Reba said, that at thirty, Michelle’s complexion was flawless and her long ash-blond hair thick and luscious. But if Michelle looked anxious, her grandmother was anything but.
“Would you like more coffee now, dear?” she asked at last in a pleasant, fruity-textured voice.
Michelle fixed her green-eyed gaze on her grandmother, her anxiety and frustration mounting, much as the wind outside had in the past hour. “Have you even heard a word I’ve said, Grand?” she demanded.
“I heard most of it,” the woman confessed, “but I may as well tell you the battery is going dead on my hearing aid, and I haven’t replaced it. I thought maybe we’d go into town while you’re here.”
Michelle stared at the woman in disbelief. “We
go to town,” she said, raising her voice, hoping her grandmother could hear. “We’re under a hurricane warning!”
“Yes, I heard it on the news. They’re calling it Katie, you know.”
“That’s right. And it wiped out part of Cuba last night. Do you understand? It’s probably going to wipe us out too.” Michelle resisted the urge to shake her grandmother as she spoke
to make her see reason. Since her parents were out of town on business, as usual, it was up to her to see to her grandmother, which, under normal circumstances was a pleasure. They had always been close. But she was exhausted, having pulled the graveyard shift in the emergency room the night before, during which time she’d made periodic checks on the storm’s progress. At five a.m. it had changed course, and the small town of Temptation, Louisiana was right in its path. Because Reba had no use for telephones, Michelle wasn’t able to call. If they survived the storm, she was going to insist Reba have one installed.
She’d made the two-hour drive from Baton Rouge in record time, arriving shortly after nine that morning, still wearing her nurse’s uniform. Now, she was tempted to throw the slight woman over her shoulder and run for her car before their time ran out.
Reba stroked the gold tabby in her lap. The cat purred loudly and curled into a fat ball. “I’m not leaving my animals, Mic,” she said, her eyes suddenly bright with tears.
Michelle had only seen her grandmother cry once, and that had been at her grandfather’s funeral. Seeing them now was as traumatic as some of the scenes she faced in the emergency room. She felt her own eyes sting at the sight as she glanced about helplessly at the menagerie of animals. Two more cats sprawled on the old-fashioned braided rug in front of the fireplace. In the kitchen, a blue-tick hound named Mae West had recently given birth to six puppies. A large antique birdcage in the dining room held a green parrot named Mister Ed, who hadn’t stopped squawking since Michelle arrived.
“I suppose we could take them to Baton Rouge with us,” she said, although she did not relish the thought of hauling a small zoo in her brand new BMW. She had saved every spare dime for three years in order to afford it. And to think, she’d paid extra for the pearl colored leather seats.
Reba chuckled. “I can just see all that fur a-flyin’,” she said. “That hound won’t let anybody or anything within six feet of those puppies.”
Michelle sighed heavily and sank onto an old wicker rocker that matched nothing else in the room. Reba’s house had always looked as though it had been furnished from a neighborhood garage sale. She threw nothing away. Everything in the house was either patched or mended, but Michelle, who preferred newer styles, had to admit the furniture was very comfortable. What she’d give to curl up and take a nap on her grandmother’s vintage iron bed.
“I should have known you’d fight me over this,” Michelle said tiredly. “What am I going to do with you, Grand? You’ve become such a recluse since grandpa died. How is anybody supposed to know if you’re sick or injured, for Pete’s sake?”
Reba reached over and patted her granddaughter’s hand affectionately. “I can take care of myself, dear, really I can. And you know how much I like my privacy.” She made a tsking sound. “You’re just tired. You always did turn into a fussy little thing when you got sleepy. Why don’t you lie down on the sofa and rest? This old house is a lot stronger than you think. Why, I’ve ridden out more storms in this place than I can remember. And so have you, if you’ll think back over the summers you spent here as a child. It even made it through Katrina. We’ll be safe.”
Michelle knew it was useless to argue. When Reba made up her mind, no one could change it. She could beg and plead but it would only fuel Reba’s determination to stay. “I suppose we should get the house ready,” Michelle said at last, pulling herself up from the rocker. She didn’t know where to begin. She was trained to handle emergencies—it was what she did best. But most folks cooperated in tense situations, and Reba was doing her best not to.
Michelle tried to think of everything they might need if the storm hit hard—and she feared it would after hearing all the destruction it had caused thus far. It had picked up speed and turned due north. It was scheduled to hit Pensacola, Biloxi, and New Orleans that afternoon.
And then she heard it. At first Michelle thought it was the wind, but the grinding noise persisted. She hurried over to the window, wiped the steamy glass with the ball of her hand, and peered out. A small motorboat, barely visible in the rain, rounded the bend of cypress trees. “Somebody’s coming,” she said.
“In this weather?” Reba pushed herself up from the chair and joined her granddaughter at the window. “Oh, that’d be Gator Landry,” she said. “He’s our new sheriff,” she added. “‘Course, Gator ain’t his real name. He was named Mathieu after his daddy. But folks ‘round here have always called him Gator. I don’t reckon I know why.”
Michelle’s eyes widened to the size of half-dollars. “Not the Gator Landry I met the summer I turned sixteen!” she said. Dumb question. How many Gator Landry’s could there be in one small town? She remembered the wild, black-haired, black-eyed Cajun who’d teased and tormented and pursued her unmercifully that summer. “Somebody actually made him sheriff?”
“Aw, Gator’s okay,” Reba said. “I reckon he’s got a wild hair in him, but if he turns out half as well as his daddy, he’ll be a good man. His daddy was sheriff for many years, you know.” Reba paused. “‘Course Gator wasn’t none too pleased when the folks here ‘lected him. He put up quite a stink. He’d made a little money on a sugar cane plantation south of here and had his heart set on taking it easy for a while. Yes, it really riled him when they made him sheriff.”
Michelle pressed her lips into a grim line. “Why’d he take the job?”
Reba shrugged. “This town’s been good to Gator’s family. Their house burned to the ground when he was just a young’un, and a bunch of people got together and built them a new place. Gator’s mother still lives there, and while he was gone all those years making his fortune, the folks here looked after her. Besides, our last sheriff wasn’t worth a cuss. He’d just sit back and let that wild bunch from the pool hall terrorize folks. I s’pect he was scared of ‘em. Anyway, the town booted him out and ‘lected Gator sheriff. Everybody knows that Gator Landry ain’t scared of nothin’ or nobody.” She chuckled. “He raised hell, though; when he found out they’d voted him in without his permission.”
“He could have gotten out of it,” Michelle said, “if he was that much against it.”