Read The Lost Girls of Johnson's Bayou Online

Authors: Jana DeLeon

Tags: #Suspense

The Lost Girls of Johnson's Bayou (6 page)

BOOK: The Lost Girls of Johnson's Bayou
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Ginny looked down at her watch, not saying a word.

He rose from the booth. “I better get out of here and let you get to the festival before your mother starts worrying. I know we still have a lot to talk about, but we can get to it later. I want you to act completely normal. I don’t want anyone to know that you are on to them.”

Ginny nodded, still stunned from Paul’s earlier declaration.

“I’ll drop by the booth when you’re not busy. In the meantime, I’ll be around, watching.” He pulled a card from his pocket and handed it to her. “That card has my cell number on it. If you see anything suspicious or get that feeling like you’re being watched, call me immediately.”

He pulled some money out of his wallet and handed it to her. “When you see your mother, please tell her the breakfast was great.” He exited the café and walked down the sidewalk toward the town square.

Ginny stared after him for a minute, then jumped up and locked the café door behind him.

He’d called her beautiful.

That almost scared her more than knowing someone was watching her.

 

P
AUL WALKED AMONG THE booths of the festival, stopping occasionally to chat with townspeople about their wares and then making notes on his phone to go over with Ginny later on. Whoever was watching Ginny was probably someone local—someone she’d known her entire life, which was why they weren’t on her radar. Someone who knew the truth about the past had sensed a change in Ginny or perhaps misread an action and now feared her memory was returning.

And that could be very dangerous for Ginny, especially if something nefarious had gone down at the LeBlanc School all those years ago. Paul believed something was wrong with the entire situation, the school, the girls with no families to speak of, the fire—all of it reeked to high heaven. Someone was already watching her, had already risked getting caught in her apartment. They’d taken that risk for a good reason.

With any luck, he’d figure it out before Ginny’s watcher escalated to something worse than reading her journal.

He had to make sure that no one suspected his involvement in researching Ginny’s past. In small towns, people would notice everything, especially a stranger dating a local. He had to make sure people believed he was interested in Ginny in the dating sort of way, despite being as averse to relationships as Ginny claimed to be.

He’d meant it when he told her she was beautiful. She was, in fact, one of the most beautiful women he’d ever seen outside of television or magazines. Even without the benefit of camera filters and Photoshop, her skin was flawless, her hair so silky it made him want to touch it. And the eyes. Her eyes were more than just brilliant pools of blue. They conveyed emotion without words.

Get a grip!

The words echoed through his mind. The last thing in the world he should be doing right now is running down a laundry list of Ginny Bergeron’s most attractive qualities. He needed to get as much information as he could from her, figure out what the threat to her was and eliminate it, then get out of Johnson’s Bayou and back on with his life.

He looked over at Ginny’s booth, which had been crowded the entire day. Two women who’d been deliberating over the selection for almost a half hour finally made their choices and left Ginny’s table with satisfied looks on their faces. It was the first time that day her booth had been empty, so he walked over to check in. Ginny looked up from her cash box as he approached and gave him a tentative smile.

“Busy today,” he said. There were more bare gaps on the table than jewelry.

“Definitely. I’m glad I made extra pieces earlier this week, or I’d run out before the festival is over.”

“How long does it last?”

“One more day.”

“Good. I can get a rundown on the locals from you tonight, and hopefully some of them will still be around tomorrow so I can get a feel for the ones that interest me.”

Ginny looked taken aback. “You think someone who lives here has been spying on me?”

“If it was a stranger, you would have already noticed him.”

“Yes, of course. I’m sorry. I must sound stupid, but all of this is so outside of my normal realm.”

“Don’t worry. It’s not outside of mine. I can explain to you how I work tonight.”

“What about tonight?” Madelaine’s voice sounded behind Paul.

He turned and gave her a smile as she stepped up to Ginny’s table. “I was just trying to convince Ginny to let me buy her dinner tonight.”

Madelaine beamed at Paul. “That’s so nice. Isn’t that nice, Ginny?” She poked Ginny, who looked remarkably guilty for a woman who hadn’t done anything wrong.

“Yes,” Ginny said, coming alive when her mother’s finger connected with her ribs. “That would be very nice.”

“I know a couple of wonderful restaurants in New Orleans, if you’re up for the drive.”

“Oh, I have to be at work early. Can we eat in town at Maude’s?”

“Sorry. I forgot you guys are up before the chickens. I can pick you up at your place.”

“You can meet me at my place. Maude’s is just a couple blocks away. I won’t be done here until six, though, so it will have to be seven or after.”

“Seven is fine. Where is your place?”

“I have an apartment above the café.”

Paul smiled. “Seven, then. Nice seeing you again,” he said to Madelaine and left.

Madelaine’s timing had been perfect. Paul had no doubt that the proud mother would share her daughter’s date with her friends. By tomorrow morning, the entire town would know that he’d taken Ginny to dinner, and his alibi would be in place.

He had a couple of hours until he met Ginny, and he needed to get some work done. First up was making a few phone calls about the girl who’d been taken to the hospital in New Orleans after the fire at the LeBlanc School. He’d helped a woman track down her deadbeat ex about six months ago, and if memory served him correct, her mother was a nurse at that hospital. If her daughter referred him, the mother might be willing to talk to him off the record.

If he could find the hospitalized girl—if she was still alive—he might have another lead.

 

G
INNY NERVOUSLY SMOOTHED her skirt under the table at the only restaurant in Johnson’s Bayou that was open nights. Paul studied the menu of home cooking and looked far too handsome and polished to be in this town. He wore tan slacks and a navy shirt that looked good next to his tanned skin. He hadn’t shaved, and the two-day growth gave his jaw that rugged look that she found so incredibly sexy. Of course, in Johnson’s Bayou, she usually saw it only on television, not sitting across the table from her at Aunt Maude’s Country Kitchen.

“It’s more crowded than I expected,” Paul said.

“It’s because of the festival.”

Paul glanced around the restaurant and frowned. “I don’t want to be overheard,” he said, his voice low. “Once the table next to us leaves, I’ll tell you what I’ve found.”

“Okay. So what do we do in the meantime?”

Paul smiled. “We chat like any other date. Is it really that hard to pretend you’re on a date with me? I must need to work on my charm.”

Ginny felt a blush rise up her face. “No, it’s not you. Johnson’s Bayou is not exactly a hotbed of eligible men. I don’t date much.”
Try not at all.

“Oh, c’mon. What about those two brothers who own the auto garage? I met them today and they said they were single.”

Ginny giggled. The Moreau brothers were in their mid-eighties, at best. “They’re a little too wild for my taste.”

Paul laughed. “You know, you’re probably right. They told me some whoppers over a burger and beer.”

Ginny leaned a bit across the table. “Is that what you did today? Talked to townspeople to get information?”

The family at the table next to them rose from their seats and Paul motioned his head in their direction. Once they were out of earshot, Paul said, “Mostly listened. Small-town people tend to close up if you ask too many questions. One thing that you can probably answer is why the school is still standing. I was surprised to find it, figuring it would have been torn down, especially given the circumstances.”

“The house is owned by some real estate trust. The mayor appealed to the trust’s lawyers to tear it down, but the house is outside city limits, so he couldn’t force them to. I don’t think they wanted to absorb the cost. There are a lot of abandoned structures out in the bayou. Eventually the swamp claims them.”

“I guess so.”

“So did you find out anything by listening?”

“There are a couple of people I wanted to ask you about, but first I want you to tell me about the break-in at your apartment. Did you report it to the sheriff?”

“No. There was no break-in, per se. But I know someone had been in the apartment.”

“Was anything missing?”

Ginny shook her head. “But my journal was out of place. I put it in the same place in my nightstand every night.”

Paul didn’t look convinced. “Are you sure it was moved? With the festival and your run-in with me in the woods, maybe you didn’t follow your usual protocol.”

“I know I put it back in the same place, and the bookmark was wrong, too. Even if I got one wrong, I wouldn’t have messed up both. Besides, there was a faint smell of men’s cologne, and I don’t have anything in the apartment that smells musky.” She hesitated for a moment, not wanting to say what was on the tip of her tongue.

Paul narrowed his eyes at her. “Whatever you’re thinking you shouldn’t tell me, I wish you would.”

“Is mind reading one of your skills?”

“No, but a good detective is perceptive and knows to watch body language. Yours tells me you’re holding something back.”

Ginny sighed. “I know you’ve already said you don’t think I’m crazy, but this is still going to sound odd. I know someone was in the apartment because it felt different. From the moment I walked in the door, something felt off, almost ominous.”

“But nothing was missing and nothing was out of place except the journal?”

“Yeah.” Ginny looked at Paul, trying to read him as he’d read her, but all she saw was a man contemplating her words.

“Okay,” he said finally. “If you definitely think someone was in your apartment and read your journal, then I believe that’s exactly what happened. It fits, really, if we assume someone is afraid you’re remembering. If you were, your journal is where you’d document those thoughts.”

“But there’s nothing in there. I mean, nothing concrete. I wrote about feeling unsettled lately, but what girl in her twenties working for her mother and living in a tiny town wouldn’t feel that way?” Except her. Until someone started watching.

“He’ll be thinking of everything in terms of what he wants to hide. If he was involved in anything that happened at the LeBlanc School, he’s not young. His mind won’t automatically go to the norm for young ladies.”

He pulled his phone from his pocket. “I jotted down a couple of names today that I wanted to ask you about. The first one is Saul Pritchard.”

“He’s a handyman. Does basic repair and maintenance for the people and businesses in town.”

“Did he work at the LeBlanc School?”

“Yes.”

“Did you see him there?”

“I don’t remember ever being at the house before the other night. If I saw him there, I don’t remember. I’m sure I’ve heard someone in town say he worked there, but I don’t remember who it was. People here don’t talk much about the LeBlanc School.”

“Which is interesting in itself. Usually that sort of thing is huge gossip in small towns.”

Ginny frowned. “I think it’s because it was kids. The whole thing is horrifying, and I think a lot of people are embarrassed because something was going on under their noses and they never have figured out what. They’re the same way with me.”

“What do you mean?”

“People here are suspicious. The rumors range from I’m the child of a witch to I was meant to be a sacrifice that escaped. Just my presence makes a lot of people uneasy. And I don’t help matters. I never had friends in school—mostly because the other kids avoided me—but I keep to myself as an adult, too. Then, when I turned down a college scholarship, some decided that I’d been cursed and couldn’t leave the town.”

“Wow. Big imaginations some people have.”

Ginny shrugged. “They’re simple people. Things they don’t have an answer for scare them.”

“There’s another reason they might be scared.”

“What’s that?”

“Some of them were involved, and they don’t want anyone to figure out what was going on.”

“Yeah. I’m sure you’re right. I just hate to think—”

“Ginny.” A man’s voice boomed across the restaurant.

Ginny looked over and saw the mayor of Johnson’s Bayou making his way over to her table, his wife and two disgruntled teenagers in tow. She forced a smile on her face.

“Hello,” she said as Mayor Daigle stepped up to the table.

“My wife said you’re doing a brisk business at the festival.” He glanced over at Paul, the curiosity clear on his face.

“Yes,” Ginny said. “I’ve been doing very well.”

The mayor looked over at Paul again, then back at Ginny, clearly not about to leave until she made an introduction.

“Oh, sorry,” Ginny said. “Mayor Daigle, this is Paul Stanton. He’s here for the festival and some fishing.”

Mayor Daigle turned to Paul and extended his hand. “Joe Daigle,” he said as Paul shook his hand. “Stanton, huh? Any relation to Emily Stanton in Lafayette?”

“Not that I’m aware of,” Paul replied.

Mayor Daigle waited, clearly hoping Paul would give him more information, but Paul just smiled pleasantly.

“Well, enjoy your vacation,” Mayor Daigle said finally. “I’ll let you kids get back to your dinner.” His wife said a hasty goodbye and followed her husband and teens out of the restaurant.

“Is the mayor always so nosy?” Paul asked.

“Yes. My mom says he had two options for a career—politician or gossip columnist.”

“Hmm. I wonder if I could get him to talk about the school?”

“Anything’s possible. He’ll be fishing early tomorrow morning at his favorite spot. You could always pretend to run into him and give it a shot.”

BOOK: The Lost Girls of Johnson's Bayou
12.62Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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