Authors: Charlotte Rose
The Shifters of Alligator Bend 2
Narcisse Laurent heads out on a swamp tour. On the bayou, she sees Armand Vitrac and Nelson Rey turn from sexy men to vicious alligators right before her eyes. She’s surprised to find she’s not afraid. But what surprises her more is when their fling becomes an accidental mating.
The gator congregation’s fishing business is threatened when a competitor starts overfishing, threatening the entire ecosystem. As she struggles to fit in with her new shifter family, Narcisse’s attempts to help backfire. Thinking that she doesn’t really belong as Armand and Nelson’s mate, she runs away. But due to the nature of the shifter curse, leaving the bayou could mean death.
Now, Armand and Nelson have a huge problem. Can they rescue their mate and prove their love? And will they get back in time to help the congregation put a stop to their competitor once and for all?
Ménage a Trois/Quatre, Paranormal, Shape-shifter
The Shifters of Alligator Bend 2
Siren Publishing, Inc.
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A SIREN PUBLISHING BOOK
IMPRINT: Ménage Everlasting
Copyright © 2012 by Charlotte Rose
E-book ISBN: 1-61926-202-9
First E-book Publication: January 2012
Cover design by Les Byerley
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For Phoebe, who cheers me on through every writing challenge.
The Shifters of Alligator Bend 2
Copyright © 2012
“So, I kind of spilled red wine all over your shirt. I’m really, really sorry. Maybe I can have it dry-cleaned for you when we get back to Houston?”
Narcisse Laurent was on her last nerve. She took the white silk shirt from Janelle and clenched her jaw, trying to control her temper.
I should have known better than to bring such a nice shirt on a vacation like this. I should have known better than to come on this trip at all
Opening the crumpled ball of fabric, Narcisse couldn’t help but gasp at the giant stain covering the front of her blouse. It looked as though Janelle might have been shot while she was wearing it.
“How did this happen?” Narcisse didn’t care if Janelle heard the irritation in her voice. She wanted everyone in the room to know that she was at her wit’s end.
“I, uh, I was just dancing, and this guy bumped into me, and spilled my drink. But if it makes you feel any better, I got spots on my jeans, too.” Janelle gestured to her thighs, which were dotted with a few small splotches.
“What I don’t remember is when you asked to borrow my shirt in the first place.”
“Well, you, uh, you and Sarah wanted to take a nap, and there was this band I wanted to check out with Alyssa, and I’d seen the shirt in your suitcase and thought it would be perfect, but you were already asleep by the time I thought of it, and I didn’t want to wake you, so…”
“So you decided to just take it, rather than wearing something of your own.”
“I didn’t think this would happen. And I said I’d get it cleaned.”
“It’s red wine. I doubt even a good dry cleaner is going to be able to get it out.”
“Well, I’m really sorry. I’ll still try.”
Taking a deep breath, Narcisse went into the bathroom and locked the door before she lost her temper completely.
Narcisse had met Alyssa, Janelle, and Sarah at work. They’d bonded at an office holiday party, and then started meeting up for the occasional happy hours, which eventually became a weekly event. A few weeks ago, they’d decided it would be a good idea to all take a vacation together. The time they spent planning the trip had been exciting, and the drive out had been great, but the second they’d checked into their hotel room in the French Quarter, each one had started to drive Narcisse crazy.
First, Alyssa had been dissatisfied with everything. From the water pressure in the shower to the drinks at the venues to the bands themselves, nothing had been up to her exacting standards, and she made sure everyone knew her opinion. Then, Sarah had blown all of her money in the casino, and now was relying on the others to float her a loan for the rest of the trip. Now, Janelle had ruined one of Narcisse’s favorite shirts, and seemed only mildly apologetic about the fact that she’d taken it without permission in the first place.
Taking a few more deep breaths, Narcisse left the bathroom, grabbed her purse, and headed for the door.
“I’m going out for a few hours. I need some alone time.”
Janelle raised her eyebrows. “Are you mad?”
“Of course I’m mad! You took my shirt without permission, and then you ruined it!”
“I said I was sorry!”
“You sure don’t act like you’re sorry.”
“Give her a break,” Sarah said. “It’s not like she meant for it to happen.”
Narcisse took a deep breath and let it out in a sigh, struggling to control her temper. “I know, I know. But there have been a lot of unexpected problems on this trip. Like how you unintentionally gambled away all of your money in the casino. I know things happen, and I don’t want you to starve, but I didn’t exactly budget helping out with your expenses into my plan.”
“Maybe you should go off for a few hours,” Alyssa said, her voice cold. “Go do your thing, and come back when you’re in a better mood.”
“Yeah, see ya.”
Narcisse resisted slamming the door on the way out. There was no need for her to make a scene. Instead, she raced out of the hotel, hurried into the first bar she could find, and ordered a rum and Coke more out of obligation than desire.
Narcisse sighed as she sipped the drink she'd never really wanted to begin with.
I thought going to New Orleans would be an escape from real life
But it’s really just the same old shit, just repackaged with Mardi Gras beads and public intoxication
She dropped a few dollar bills on the bar and made her way out of the noisy, cluttered club into the roaring crowd of Bourbon Street. Her cell phone buzzed, but Narcisse didn’t answer it. She didn’t want to deal with her so-called friends right now. She’d much rather brave the French Quarter Festival alone than plaster on a fake smile for a group of people she found were less than ideal traveling companions.
Ducking down a quiet side street, Narcisse took a deep breath and tried to relax. As she moved away from the relentless hum of people and music, she felt her nerves start to settle, but she was too frustrated to let go completely. This vacation was so frustrating that it was starting to feel like she’d never really left town. What was supposed to be an adventure in New Orleans with her friends was turning into one hassle after another. She wasn’t able to loosen up and enjoy herself any more than she was able to during a typical Houston weekend. She was in an entirely different setting, but nothing was especially different. Narcisse felt her hopes and dreams of a grand adventure slip away. Wandering anonymously through the French Quarter was about the best she could hope for.
Nothing about this trip was going as planned, and she had half a mind to rent a car and start driving back to Houston that afternoon. But the prospect of a four-hour drive all by herself wasn’t all that tempting, either. Especially not if she would be returning to the life she trying to avoid for a few days. Narcisse decided to just meander through the Quarter until something captured her attention.
The Quarter, however, still reverberated with noise, no matter how many low-traffic streets Narcisse took. Before she knew it, she found herself leaving the Quarter and meandering over to the riverbank. Finally, it was quiet enough for her to really settle down. Narcisse looked out as the water as she walked, relishing the beauty of a calm river on a warm spring day. Passing by a small building shaped like a lighthouse, she saw a sign advertising swamp tours in the window. Glancing at her watch, she realized she would be just in time for the last departure of the day.
“Is there a spot left on the last boat?” Narcisse asked, hurrying through the door.
The desk attendant checked her computer. “Three left, actually. That will be fifty dollars, please.”
Narcisse forked over her credit card and refused to let herself dwell over the cost. She probably would have spent that much on overpriced liquor if she’d stayed in the Quarter.
At least this is getting me out of the city, away from my troubles, and into nature
With her high-stress job in a law office, Narcisse had put her passion on the back burner. In college, as a biology major, she’d jumped at every possible chance to assist professors in fieldwork, and had spent countless hours out on the water, helping with data collection. After college, though, she’d let her job take over her life, and on weekends, she rarely worked up the motivation to get outside. None of her friends cared for the outdoors the way she did, and now she realized that it had been at least three months since she’d spent any real time outside.
The attendant handed Narcisse a life jacket, and she hurried out to the docks, where she handed the tour guide her ticket and grabbed a seat on the boat. Five minutes later, the engine sputtered to life and she was making her way down the Mississippi River. The slight ripples glittered in the sunlight, and Narcisse suddenly felt herself feeling drowsy.
“Welcome to Bayou Tours,” said the guide. “My name is Harry, and I’m gonna be leading your river tour this afternoon. We’re gonna spend three hours touring the mighty Mississippi and all it has to offer, and we’re gonna make some stops for nature demonstrations. For your safety, I need ya to listen carefully to the following instructions.”
Narcisse tuned Harry out as he outlined safety regulations and then began describing the parts of the bayou they would be touring. It wasn’t that she didn’t care. Rather, the escape from the ongoing noise that filled the French Quarter as well as her frustrations with her friends meant Narcisse was more willing to lean back, enjoy the sun and the gentle rocking of the river, and doze off. She closed her eyes, and before she knew it, she had been lulled into a gentle nap.
* * * *
Armand Vitrac made a few more notes on the legal pad he kept at his side, and then he turned toward Nelson Rey. “I don’t get it, man. There haven’t been any changes in water quality, at least not in the past six weeks. At least, nothing so drastic that the fish population would be reduced this much. I can’t explain it.”
“What about compared with the numbers we recorded last year?”
Armand flipped through his binder and scanned a spreadsheet but didn’t come up with anything resembling an answer. “The levels are actually pretty consistent with last year. No significant changes. Nothing to explain why the fish don’t seem to be reproducing this spring. Whatever the reason is, it has nothing to do with water quality.”
Nelson frowned. “Well, we’re going to have to come up with something. The congregation ain’t gonna be pleased if this trip doesn’t give us any clues. You know your father’s getting desperate to figure out what’s goin’ on.”
“We’re all gettin’ desperate,” Armand said. “Our entire business is threatened if we can’t figure this out soon.” He sighed. “I don’t even know why my father insisted I help you with this.”
“Without many fish bein’ hatched, not as many people are needed on the boats. It ain’t personal. What, you don’t like workin’ with me?”
“Naw, man, I just would rather be fishing than trying to figure out some crazy puzzle. It’s like my father wants me to prove myself or somethin’. It ain’t my fault I got kidnapped. Now I gotta assert my place in the congregation? Can’t I just fight someone for it?”
Nelson chuckled. “I’d totally let you fight me and get away with winnin’, if it would make you feel better.”
Now Armand smiled. “Oh, c’mon. You know you wouldn’t have to throw the fight. I could kick your ass any day of the week.”
Nelson gave him a playful shove. “I’d like to see you try.”
“Over on that dock there?”
“It ain’t like we’re accomplishing anything else on this damn boat. Fish ain’t gonna come back in the next five minutes.”
“Oh, you think it’ll take me that long to beat you?” Armand asked with a laugh. “We’ll see about that.”
Just as Armand started the engine, a tour boat floated into the area.
“Shit,” Nelson said. “Just what we need.”
“Don’t worry about it,” Armand said. “Just be cool. We’ll re-check the measurements again, just to make sure we didn’t screw anything up. Just keep busy. As long as we make it look like we belong here, they’ll leave us alone.”