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Authors: Lauren Faulkenberry

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BOOK: Bayou My Love: A Novel
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“The
thought crossed my mind.”

He
laughed again. “Lord, cher. Can’t you take a man at his word?”

Truth
was, I couldn’t.

I
hoped Jack wasn’t one of those things I would regret in days or years to come.
He was clearly upset, but I couldn’t be sure it was because he wanted to be
closer to me. After he’d left, a hundred thoughts banged around in my head like
marbles. And in the swirling fragments, there was one that stuck.

What
if he was trying to con his way into keeping the house?

This
could very well be Jack’s way of trying to secure the roof over his head. He
hadn’t struck me as the calculating type in the beginning, but the more I
thought about it, the more it seemed possible he’d planned to seduce me all
along, to make sure I didn’t kick him out. He knew the effect he had on me, and
that would make me an easy mark. Then he’d be just another person who left me
and took a part of me with him.

There
was no way I’d let that happen. I was not gullible, and I would not be conned.
As tempting as Jack Mayronne was, I needed to put distance between us.

“I
should get some sleep,” I said, standing. “And I know you need it too. We don’t
have to start too early in the morning, but the parish building inspector’s
coming at nine.”

“OK,”
he said. “Me, I’ll just go dream about all the things I was going to do to you
to make up for leaving you in such a state.”

I
tossed a throw cushion at him, and he raised an eyebrow.

“Mmm,”
he said. “Guess you’ll have to lie awake all night wondering.”

“Get
some sleep,” I said. “You’ll need it.”

He
laughed, and I trudged up the stairs, cursing my brain for being so damned
logical. This was going to be a long six weeks.

 

Chapter
6

When
that bright orange hearse rumbled down the driveway the next morning, I thought
I’d finally reached my quota of strange. Jack’s bedroom door was still closed
when I came downstairs, so I’d perched on the porch steps to drink my coffee.
The car sputtered when it stopped, and a man in dark blue coveralls climbed out,
dusting himself off. With a clipboard under his arm, he walked to the house in
that same slow way Jack did, as if he weren’t bound by time like the rest of
us.

When
he was halfway up the walk, he said, “You Miss Parker?” He had flecks of white
on the front of his coveralls and a streak across his nose. Powdered sugar from
beignets, I imagined.

“I’m
Enza,” I said. “You’re here for the inspection?”

He
shook my hand, squeezing too hard. “I’m Grant Carmine. You talked to my
assistant last week.” When he yanked his cap off, his blond hair stood straight
up in the air.

“Right,”
I said. “Interesting choice of vehicle.”

“Low
miles. Lots of room. Hell of a deal.”

“Come
on in. I haven’t done much besides painting.”

“If
you don’t mind, I’ll start outside,” he said, pulling a pair of horn-rimmed
glasses from his chest pocket. “Before it gets too steaming hot.”

To
keep out of his way, I sat on the porch, skimming the headlines of the local
paper. Every few minutes I’d look up to see him scribbling in a small notebook,
the dog following behind. He’d whistle at her every now and then, and she’d lie
down and stare at him.

After
a while, Jack wandered onto the porch wearing only a pair of jeans, his hair
standing up in tufts. “Morning,” he said, sipping his coffee. I could tell from
his dopey expression that he’d showed up half-dressed to make me regret leaving
him on the couch last night.

It
worked.

I
pretended not to notice he was missing a shirt, even though it felt ten degrees
hotter on that porch. I just said, “Good morning,” and handed him half of the
paper.

While
he was reading, I studied his tattoo—a bird with long feathers that trailed
down his bicep. Black and grey with hints of green. I was dying to get closer
and see what kind of bird it was, since I’d been too preoccupied to get a good
look the day before. The feathers rippled as Jack turned a page, and I quickly
averted my eyes.

Once
again, he’d caught me staring. The tiniest smile touched the corner of his
mouth, and I raised my section of paper to shield myself from his gaze.

 

~~~~

 

After
an hour and a half, Grant handed me a list of things not up to code. He seemed
a little too chipper about the number of shortcomings.

“It
looks so solid, you wouldn’t think it would have all these problems,” he said.
“Sorry to be the messenger with bad news.”

“Give
me the three most critical,” I said.

He
pulled a pencil from behind his ear and marked his list. “Mold in this
downstairs room, dry rot in the west corner of the roof, leaky pipe in the
downstairs bathroom.”

“Any
estimate on that?”

He
shook his head. “I couldn’t say, ma’am. But it’ll need a new roof too. Probably
before the end of the year.”

The
dog trotted over and stopped at his feet. She looked at him, then dropped
something from her mouth.

Grant
stared at the tiny object by his shoe.

“What
is that?” I asked.

He
picked up a small fabric pouch tied with string. “It seems somebody lost their
mojo,” he said.

I
stared at the little bag in his hand. It looked like something that might
contain a piece of jewelry, some souvenir a tourist would take home.

He
placed it in my hand before I could object. I cringed at the dog drool and laid
it on the porch rail.

Grant
handed me the bill and smiled like he was at a funeral. Perhaps he’d picked the
right car after all. “You have a good day, now. Good luck with the repairs.”

I
sighed as the hearse sputtered and wheezed down the driveway. I’d known the
house would need some work, but this was more than I’d expected. My plan was to
come down and spruce the place up with some paint and a few upgrades—not
repairs that would run into thousands of dollars. I could call my father, but
as soon as he heard the word “mold,” he’d be down here moving like his tail was
on fire. He’d come in and take over everything. He was no doubt hoping I’d call
him in such distress that he would have to send a crew to rescue me from my own
ambition.

It
would take more than a few mold spores and leaky pipes to make me give in.

“It’s
OK,” I said to the dog. She was lying under the hammock again, staring at me
with narrowed eyes. Grant had given me the phone number of a “mold guy” and a
plumber, and said, “Just tell ’em I sent you, and they’ll fix you right up.” I
had a bad feeling this was going to take the entire budget and leave me
justifying it to my father. But I’d have to push that aside for now. Like that
old saying,
Better to ask for forgiveness than permission.

Problem
was, I didn’t want to ask for either.

Jack
came back to the porch—this time with a plaid shirt—and leaned on the banister.

“So
what’s the damage?”

“You
don’t want to know.”

He
frowned. “Sounds like my to-do list just got a little longer.”

I
needed him more than I’d anticipated, but I hated to tell him that. With the
number of repairs piling up, it would take serious effort to finish in six weeks.
As much as it pained me to admit it, I couldn’t do it without Jack.

“Guess
we better get started then.” I tried to sound nonchalant.

He
sipped his coffee, barely hiding a smile. “We might need to renegotiate the
terms of our agreement.”

“First
let’s see how efficient you can be.”

He
slid his fingers along the porch rail. “Fair enough. I like a challenge. What’s
first on your agenda today?”

“We’ve
got a couple more rooms left to paint.”

“What’s
this doing here?” He stepped to the corner of the porch and picked up the tiny
bag the dog had brought up.

“Who
knows? The dog was chewing on it.”

“It
was here by the door?”

“Out
in the yard. Why? What is it?”

“Probably
nothing.” Something in his tone said otherwise.

“But
if it wasn’t nothing, what would it be?”

He
shrugged. “The old folks call them gris-gris.”

“As
in voodoo? Let me see that again.”

“It’s
just a bunch of leaves and spices,” he said, handing me the bag. “Nothing to
worry about. Somebody probably lost it out in the swamp. People carry them for
luck. That dog’ll drag up anything.”

I
turned the small pouch over in my hand, pulling the strings loose to open it.
Inside were some leaves, what looked like herbs, and a few beads. When I dug to
the bottom, I pulled out something that looked like a bone from a small mammal.
I winced, holding the bone out for him to see. “Isn’t this stuff used for hexes
too?”

“Don’t
tell me you believe in that,” he said.

“Don’t
you?”

He
laughed. “Give me a break. That’s from one of those voodoo tourist shops that
take your money.”

“But
what if it isn’t? What if it’s real?”

“You’ve
been reading too many ghost stories. Ain’t no such thing as black magic.”

“Four
hundred years of history say otherwise.” I tied the strings back together,
sealing the pouch.

He
laughed again. “Come on. Get serious. You can’t put hexes on people with
chicken feet and coffee grounds.” He turned to go back in the house. “Tell me
which paint color you want to use so I can get started, chief.”

I
followed him inside and stuffed the pouch into my pocket.

 

~~~~

 

In
Jack’s room, we took the bed apart and slid the mattresses into the hall. I
tried not to imagine him pinning me to that very mattress, his lips moving
against my ear as he told me all the ways he longed to touch me. We pushed the
dresser, the bookcase and the massive cedar chest into the center of the room,
creating an island of mismatched wood. We spread the drop cloths out again, and
Jack shoved a heap of clothes into his closet.

We
had an efficient system going. He was good with a roller, covering the large
areas quickly and evenly. I applied painter’s tape around edges of chair rails
and window frames, and followed him with a brush to get the areas that needed
more attention.

He
still squeezed the roller too hard, which resulted in his whole body getting
covered in a fine dappling of paint. But the walls looked great, so I didn’t
critique his method. I caught myself staring though, as he rolled with one arm
and let his weight shift to his opposite hip. Each time the taut muscles of his
arms flexed, I thought of how they’d felt under my palms.

“Hey,”
he said at last. “What are you going to do about that list of repairs you got
today?”

I
snapped back to the present. Inspections. Codes. The endless list of broken
things.

“I
need to think that over tonight and crunch some numbers,” I said.

“Tough
break. But we’ll manage.”

“Yeah.”

As
soon as Grant had left, I’d told Jack about the damage. It was more than I
should have disclosed, but it was one of those times when you spew everything
you’re thinking because of your utter shock at the ridiculousness of it all.

Jack
eased the roller into the tray. “Well, you let me know what you decide. I know
lots of folks around here who could help. A few of them even owe me favors.”

“Thanks,”
I said, wondering how many favors it was going to take to pull off this flip.
My father was a stickler for staying within a dime of his budgets. He had this
uncanny ability to create one based on his own appraisal of a property plus the
official one from an inspector. He’d get list prices of comparable homes,
factor in his buying price and the cost of updating, and if the profit margin
was high enough, he took on the project. For all of his faults, I admired his
ability to calculate risk versus profit. If he had seen Vergie’s house himself,
he might have spotted one of these things that had made the top of Grant’s
list. He might have decided to sell it “as-is” instead of risking his own money
against a return.

But
I’d insisted he let me do this one, and he had skipped his own inspection and
given me what he thought was a reasonable budget of $8,500. Every time I
started feeling anxious about it, I reminded myself that he would get his money
back regardless: The house would sell, and since he was only out the taxes he
covered for my inheritance of the property plus the repair budget, he would
recoup his money even if this ended in disaster and I sold the house under
market value. If I did this right, I’d have a profit too. And I’d take on
bigger moneymakers that came my father’s way—historic ones with some character.

This
house was my set of training wheels. And with my father, you only got one shot
to prove you didn’t need the assistance.

When
Jack had rolled the last empty spot on the wall, he poured the remaining tan
paint from the tray into the pail. Then he peeled the tape from around the door
and windows.

He
stood back to admire the room. “I used to think all those off-whites and tans
were basically the same, but you proved me wrong, Miz Parker.”

“It’s
looking good,” I said, climbing down the ladder.

“I
think a celebration is in order,” Jack said.

“How’s
that?”

He
dunked the roller in a tray of water and said, “Two rooms in two days. Not a
bad average.”

“This
is the warm-up, remember?”

He
grinned and closed the paint buckets, stepping on them to seal the lids. “I
think we should go have a nice celebratory meal. Can I take you to dinner,
cher?”

A
dinner date with Jack was hardly the way to keep him out of my zone of
distraction, but it was impossible to say no to him. His eyebrows had that hopeful
arch to them, and when he unleashed that crooked smile I said, “Sure you can.”

“I’m
just going to jump in the shower and try to scrub off this layer of butternut
or pecan or whatever this lovely shade is. I’ll be back in a few.”

“Take
your time,” I said.
I will not picture Jack in the shower. I will not. Will
not.

He
smirked as he stepped into the adjoining bathroom and shut the door behind him.
When the water started running, I imagined him peeling off his jeans and
T-shirt. I grabbed the roller and paint tray, and took them into the kitchen to
wash them in the sink.

When
I was finished, I went upstairs and quickly changed clothes. I considered a hot
bath, but decided to do that later, when I could stumble down the hall to bed
and not have to be social and chat through dinner. A bath had a way of relaxing
all of my parts—especially my brain.

BOOK: Bayou My Love: A Novel
11.2Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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