By Sandra Hill
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Copyright © 2003 by Sandra Hill
Excerpt from The Cajun Cowboy copyright © 2003 by Sandra Hill All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without permission in writing from the publisher, except by a reviewer who may quote brief passages in a review.
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RACHEL'S RULES FOR REMY
Rule One: No sex.
Rule Two: No kissing.
Rule Three: No deliberate touching.
Rule Four: No naughty talk. Rule Five: No flaunting of bare skin.
The thing about rules? They're made to be broken. . .
"The next time I'm in need of some belly laughs, I'll be searching out Ms. Hill's books."
—The Romance Reader
This book is dedicated respectfully—in a most non-religious, ecumenical manner—to St. Jude, the patron saint of hopeless causes. St. Jude has played a role in a number of my books, including Tall, Dark, and Cajun, as has God, or whatever celestial being(s) there might be, all of whom surely share a wonderful sense of humor.
For instance, can you imagine God's laughter when he placed Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden with the snake? Or Noah's Bill Cosby-like reaction when God asked him to build an ark? Or Moses saying the archaic version of "Whoo-ee!" when he saw the Red Sea parting?
Don't you think God smiles on occasion at the predicaments we humans get into? Can you imagine how many times good ol' Jude must have rolled his eyes at the myriad hopeless prayers he was asked to answer?
Surely, laughter is a gift of the gods, no matter what your belief. And that's what I celebrate in this book— the sheer joy of humor.
When the thunder bolt hits, duck, baby, duck
" Happy birthday to you . . . "
Remy LeDeux's head shot up from the mug of "burnt roast," the thick Cajun coffee he'd been nursing at his galley table. Who came out to Bayou Black to visit him on his houseboat?
" Happy birthday to you . . . "
Oh, no! Oh, no, no, no! Please, God, not today!
Steps were approaching his door.
It better not be Luc and René. I am not in the mood for their games. Unbidden, a memory flashed through his mind of a birthday twelve years ago when his brothers Lucien and René had shown up at the VA burn hospital following one of his numerous operations. They had brought with them Ronald McDonald, but what a Ronald McDonald! Underneath the clown outfit had been a half-naked, six-foot-tall, Bourbon Street female impersonator with a body that could rival Marilyn Monroe's, appropriately singing, "Happy, Happy Birthday, Baby!" There had been a lot of military vet patients cheered up that day when she. . . he . . . whatever . . . had passed out Happy Meal cartons as favors, all containing talking condoms, red vibrator lips and edible thongs.
" Happy birthday, dear Remy . . ."
Remy peered through the dust-moted dimness toward his open door. It was definitely not Ronald McDonald, or a sexy stripper, not even his teasing brothers. Much worse. It was his seventy-nine-year-old great-aunt Lulu, who was all of five feet tall, and she was carrying a cake the size of a bayou barge with a pigload of candles on top.
" Happy birthday to you," she concluded and used her non-existent butt to ease the wooden screen door open and sidle inside. Today his aunt wore a Madonna T-shirt with cone cups painted in the vicinity of her non-existent breasts, and a flame red spandex miniskirt. Who knew they made them in midget sizes? On her feet were what could only be described as white hooker boots. Her hair today was short and curly and pink—no doubt due to the efforts of his half-sister Charmaine who ran a hoity-toity beauty spa over in Houma, Looks to Kill, as well as a regular hair salon, Kuts & Kurls, in Lafayette. Uncertain whether the pink color was in honor of his birthday or an accident, he decided not to ask.
Despite her age and always outrageous appearance, his aunt's services as a noted traiteur or healer were still needed up and down the swamp lands. Unfortunately, of late she believed that he was the one most in need of her care.
If he could have, he would have fled, but where could a six-foot-two ex-Air Force officer hide in a houseboat? Besides, he couldn't ever be rude to his aunt, who was dear to him.
" Tante Lulu! Welcome, chère, welcome."
He stood and emptied his mug into the sink, then took the cake from her, placing it on the table. On its white iced top, mixed in with the thirty-three candles, was the message, "Happy Birthday, Remy," in bright blue letters. Typical sentiment. But in the corners stood four tiny plastic statues of St. Jude, the patron saint of hopeless cases. St. Jude was a favorite of Tante Lulu. He almost asked her what his birthday and hopeless cases had in common, but he caught himself just in time.
She kissed him on the cheek then, which involved her standing on tiptoes and his leaning down. And wasn't it just like his aunt to kiss his bad cheek, the one so disfigured by that 'copter crash in Desert Storm twelve years ago? Most people would at least flinch. She didn't even blink.
" Didja think I'd let you stay here alone like a hermit on your special day? Bad bizness, that—being alone so much. Lost your joie de vivre, you have. Never fear, I have a feelin' this is gonna be your year for love. Whass that smell? Poo-ey! Stinks like burnt okra."
He plopped back down to the bench seat and watched his aunt sniff the coffee in his pot, wrinkle her nose, then dump the contents down his sink. Within seconds, a fresh pot perked on the stove.
" Tante Lulu, this is not my year for love. Don't you be starting on me. I am not interested in love."
" Hanky-panky, thass all you menfolks are interested in. I may be seventy, but I ain't blind."
" More like eighty, sweet pea," he reminded her. "And don't for one minute think I'm gonna discuss hanky-panky with you."
" Not to worry, though, sweetie," his aunt rambled on. "I got time to concentrate on you now. I'm gonna find you a wife. Guar-an-teed! Love doan ask you if you're ready; it jist comes like a thunder bolt."
Over my dead body, he vowed silently. "That's nice." He decided to change the subject. "How did you get here?"
" Tee-John drove me in his daddy's pick-up truck." His aunt was bent over now—and, yes, he'd been right about her having no behind anymore. She was trying to shove off to the side the saddle he'd left in the middle of the room— a reminder of his ranching days.
But then his aunt's words hit him belatedly, like a sledgehammer. "Tee-John? Mon Dieu, Tante Lulu! He's only fourteen years old. He doesn't have a license." Tee-John was his half-brother, the youngest of many children, legitimate and otherwise, born to Valcour LeDeux, their common father.
His aunt shrugged. "My T-bird's in the shop. This place, she needs some light. Mebbe you oughta install a skylight. It's so dark and dreary. No wonder you're always so grumpy."
A skylight in a houseboat that's as old as I am? "About your car?" he asked grumpily.
Now she was checking out the mail on his desk. "Someone stole the spark plugs. Can you imagine that?"
Yeah, he could imagine that. It was probably one of his brothers, trying to keep their aunt off the highways.
" Where is the brat?"
" Outside playin' with that pet alligator of yours, I reckon. You oughta get yerself a wife. A man your age should be pettin' his woman, not some slimy bayou animal. If I dint know you better, I'd think you were into those pee-verse-uns I read about in one of Charmaine's Cosmo magazines. You got any heavy cream for café au lait?"
He decided to ignore the wife remark, and the perversion remark, and, no, he didn't keep heavy cream in the house. "Useless? I do not pet Useless." He'd named the old alligator who lived in his bayou neighborhood Useless because he was, well, useless. "I toss him scraps occasionally. Tee-John better not be feedin' him Moon Pies and RC Cola again. Last time he did that, Useless was so jazzed up he practically swam a marathon up and down the bayou. A sugar high, no doubt."
Tante Lulu was nosing around in his cupboards now. Most likely, searching for evidence of perversions.
" Dad's gonna be furious at Tee-John for driving without a license—and taking his vehicle."
" It doan take much to make that Valcour red in the face . . . which he use'ly is from booze anyways," Tante Lulu said icily. His great-aunt hated their father with a passion, with good reason. "He's already spittin' mad at Tee-John. The boy is grounded for two weeks."
Remy was about to point out that driving her to his remote bayou home didn't count as grounded, but figured logic was not a part of any conversation with his aunt. "Why is he grounded?"
" Went to a underwear option party up in Natchitoches. That boy, he is some kind of wild." She shook her pink spirals from side to side and clucked her tongue to show her disgust.
" Huh?" A lingerie party? A teenage boy at a lingerie party? That doesn't sound right. Then, understanding dawned. "Oh. Do you mean underwear optional?"
" Thass what I said, dint I? There was a hundred boys and girls running around with bare butts wavin' in the wind when the police got there. Lordy, Lordy!"
He started to grin.
But not for long.
She was standing before his open freezer, empty except for two ice-cube trays. The way she was gawking you would have thought he had a dead body in there—a very small dead body, considering the minuscule size of the compartment. "You ain't got nothin' in your freeze box," she announced, as if he didn't already know that. "Where's the ice cream? We sure-God gotta have ice cream with a birthday cake."
" Tante Lulu, I don't need ice cream." Really, the old lady only meant good. At least, that's what he told himself.
" The youngens do."
His neck prickled with apprehension. "What youngens?"
" Luc and Sylvie's chillen, thass who. You dint think we'd have a party for you without the rest of the fam'ly, didja?"
Of course not. What was I thinking? He would have put his head on the table if the cake didn't take up all the space.
" René couldn't come 'cause he's in Washington on that fish lobby bizness, but he said to wish you 'Happy, Happy Birthday' and to expect a Happy Meal in the mail. Do you know what he's talkin' 'bout?"
" Don't have a clue," he lied.
In walked Tee-John. What a misnomer! Tee-John was definitely no Little-John. At almost fifteen, he was not done growing, not by a Louisiana long shot, but already he was close to six feet tall. And full of himself, as only a born-to-be-bad, good-looking, bayou rascal could be. He was soaked from the neckline of his black "Ragin' Cajun" T-shirt to the bottoms of his baggy cargo shorts. He grinned from ear to ear.
" Hey, Tee-John."
" Happy birthday, bro."
" Thanks, bro."
" Can I go check out your 'copter up there on the hill?"
Nice try, kiddo. "NO!" The boy would probably decide to take the half-million-dollar piece of equipment for a spin. Never mind that it was the backbone of Remy's employment or that he was in hock to the bank up to his eyeballs. Never mind that Tee-John didn't know a propeller from a weed whacker.
Tee-John waggled his eyebrows at him, as if to say he had just been razzing and Remy had risen to the bait.
" You jump in that pick-up, boy, and go buy us some ice cream at Boudreaux's General Store," Tante Lulu ordered Tee-John. "How come you wearin' those baggy ol' shorts? Yer Daddy lose all his money and can't afford to buy you new pants?"
" That's the style, auntie." He chucked her playfully under the chin.
" What style? Thass no style, a'tall." She swatted his teasing fingers away. "And don't you be flirtin' with that Boudreaux girl, neither. Her Daddy said he's gonna shoot yer backside with buckshot next time you come sniffin' around."
" Me?" Tee-John said, putting a hand over his heart with wounded innocence.
Outside, a car door slammed, followed by the pounding of little feet on the wooden wharf. The shrieking of three little girls could only be three-year-old Blanche Marie, two-year-old Camille, and one-year-old Jeanette. The admonition of Luc and Sylvie echoed: "Do not dare to touch that alligator."
Remy heard a loud roar of animal outrage, which pretty much translated to, "Enough is enough!" Then a loud splashing noise. Useless was no fool; he was out of here.
Tee-John headed out the door to buy ice cream, or to escape the inevitable chaos that accompanied Luc's family. "Guess what Luc is considerin'?" He threw over his shoulder.
" Putting you in a dimwit protection program till you're, oh, let's say twenty-one?" he offered. Luc was a lawyer, and a good one, too. If anyone could tame Tee-John down, it was Luc. Look what he'd accomplished with him and René.
Tee-John ignored Remy's sarcasm. "Luc is thinkin' about gettin' neutered."
" The hell you say!" was Remy's immediate reaction.
" Well, kiss my grits and call me brunch," Tante Lulu said. "Where did you hear such a thing?"
" Sylvie told her friend Blanche who told Charmaine who told everyone in Houma that Luc went to see a doctor about one of those vas-ec-to-mies. Luc and Sylvie got a scare last month when Sylvie thought she might be knocked up again. She wasn't but, whoo-boy, they were sweatin' it. Guess those little squigglies of his are too potent." He grinned as he relayed the gossip.
Really, keeping a secret in the bayou was like trying to hold "no-see-ems" in a fish net. The little gnats were impossible to contain.
On second thought, Remy could see Luc taking such drastic action. After having "Irish triplets"—a baby born every nine months—he and Sylvie were both ready to shutdown the baby assembly line. But a vasectomy? He cringed at the thought. And wasn't it ironic that Luc was determined to stop having kids when Remy would never have any of his own?
Just before Tee-John went out the door, his aunt added, "Tee-John, when you come back, remember to bring in Remy's birthday present from the truck." She smiled broadly at Remy. "Your very own hope chest."
" A hope chest? A hope chest for a man?" Remy winced. "No friggin' way!" he exclaimed, then immediately chastised himself. He didn't speak that way in front of women, especially Tante Lulu. "Sorry, ma'am."
" You'll be feeling lots better, once I get your hope chest filled, and we find you a good Cajun wife. I made a list." She waved a piece of paper that had at least twenty names on it.
" Plus, I'm gonna say a novena to St. Jude to jump start the bride search."
Remy groaned again.
" I'm thinkin' we should launch this all off with a big fais do do, a party down on the bayou."
" Launch what?" Remy choked out.
" Your bride search. Ain't you listenin', boy? With all the women there, you would have a chance to cull down the list."
" Bad idea, auntie."
" Mebbe we could have it at Luc and Sylvie's place. They have a big yard where we can set up tents for food and a wooden platform for the musicians and dancing. René might even come play with his old band."
She talked over him as if he wasn't even there.
He shouldn't be surprised. It was se fini pas, a thing without end, the way his family interfered in each other's lives.
Forget about the government contract he was about to undertake. If he had any sense, Remy would run off to some faraway country, like California, where no one could find him, especially his interfering family. But first, he'd set fire to everything here: the houseboat, the 'copter, all his belongings, the hope chest.
He was only half kidding while playing out this tempting fantasy in his head.
It would be the biggest bonfire in bayou history, though.
Then, he would be free.
Yeah, right, some inner voice said.
It was probably St. Jude.
Come on, baby, light my . . . whatever . . .
" This is gonna be the best damn bonfire anyone has ever seen in the parking lot of The Summit, or I'm gonna die trying," Rachel Fortier said as she tossed another wooden chair onto the blaze, then whisked her hands up and down briskly.
The fact that there were tears in Rachel's eyes as she headed back toward the open door of her townhouse in the D.C. suburbs could be attributed to the smoke. She hoped.
" At least since a certain female senator, who shall remain nameless, set her philandering husband's Lexus ablaze five years ago," her neighbor Laura Jones stated just before she added a chair to the fiery pile. Laura must have caught sight of her tears because she looped an arm over Rachel's shoulder and gave an encouraging hug as they headed up the sidewalk together. In some ways, Laura was more outraged on Rachel's behalf than Rachel was herself—but not by much.
Halfway up they met Jill Sinclair. She was carrying the last of the wooden chairs for the bonfire.
Rachel had purchased the oak kitchen table and chairs at a fleamarket for a song and wasn't all that upset about their loss. However, what the fire represented had her on the verge of bawling—something she'd done a lot of the past two days.
Jill gave them the a-okay sign. Thanks to Jill, the fire department hadn't arrived yet, and probably wouldn't, in no small part because Jill was married to Hank Sinclair, the chief. Besides, there were several gardening hoses at the ready. "I just got off the phone with Hank. You owe me big-time for this favor," she said with a laugh. "I had to promise lots of stuff to get Hank to wait an hour or two to check this out." Jill, the mother of three adolescent boys, loved her husband passionately. She was always regaling them with stories of her colorful sex life. Who knew a couple could do that with a fireman's pole?
" What kind of stuff?" Laura wanted to know.
" Never mind," Jill said with an impish grin. "It would probably end up on the six o'clock news. 'Firemen Have Big Hoses,' or 'Firemen Can Light Your Fire, As Well As Put It Out,' or some such thing."
They all laughed.
" Do you think the bonfire's hot enough yet?" Laura asked.
" The fire is perfect," Rachel said, swiping at her eyes with the back of one hand. "Now for the good stuff!"
Over the next fifteen minutes, working together, they carried out all the exercise equipment in the apartment, and there was a lot of it.
" You know, I'm five-feet-ten and weigh a hundred and thirty-five pounds . . . okay, a hundred and forty," Rachel declared. "I'm in good shape for my height. Really, I am. I could be the poster girl for body tone. Why should I be made to feel like a blimp?" She threw her hands out in question to her friends.
" Men! They claim to want Miss Bountiful, but what they really want is Miss Anorexia." It was Jill speaking, and she really had no reason for concern in that regard. She was a perfect size eight, and always had been.
Shoving a Stairmaster into the blazing fire, Rachel recalled, "This was my Christmas present two years ago. God, how I hate this thing!"
" I sold mine in a yard sale last summer," Laura said. "They claim you can read or watch TV while exercising on it, but it gave me motion sickness."
" I gained five pounds after using mine for a month," Jill added. "Do you think they're designed by women-hating men?"
" For sure," Rachel agreed.
" Stairmasters make a great clothes rack," Jill offered.
They agreed about that, too.
" Valentine's Day, last year," Rachel said and pushed forward her infamous Butt Buster machine. She gave it a particularly hard shove into the inferno. "Is there anything more romantic than a guy inferring that his lover's butt is too big?"
" Yeah, it would be comparable to a woman giving a man a Weinie Widener . . . you know, something to build up the little hot dog." Laura waggled her perfectly arched eyebrows as she imparted that particular observation.
" I had a friend once whose husband wanted her to get a boob job. When she countered by buying him one of those penis enlarger thingees you see advertised on the Internet, he divorced her. No second chances." Jill looked as if she was still affronted on her friend's behalf.
"You guys are sooo bad," Rachel said. But what she thought was, Thank God you are here, good friends. I need your support for this final ending.
Next came the Body by Jake machine, engagement gift, a year ago; Bow-Flex, another Valentine's day gift; treadmill, a thirty-second birthday gift last year; and two exercise cycles—his and hers—from the previous Christmas.
They all stood staring at the fire for a long moment, almost as if it were a funeral pyre—which it was in a way. Rachel didn't expect all the metal parts to melt or anything, but they would be scorched beyond use.
" Is that everything?" Jill asked.
Rachel tapped her chin pensively with a forefinger, then smiled. "Not quite." Within seconds, she had gone into the apartment, then returned with a few more items for the fire. An unbelievable twenty-seven different kinds of vitamins, plus various sets of running shoes (male and female), three jock straps (male only), and two bottles of Rogaine.
" Here's to new beginnings!" Rachel said. She and her friends sat on three of the five pieces of matched Louis Vuitton luggage stacked outside her front door. They sipped at fluted glasses of champagne which Jill had had the foresight to bring with her.
Tenants of the posh development still stood on their postage stamp-sized lawns and peeked out designer window shades. Most of them were grinning. A few gave her a tight-fisted punch in the air for encouragement.
" I'm going to miss you," Laura blurted out.
Tears rose collectively in all their eyes.
" Me, too," Rachel said on a sob.
" You will come back, won't you, Rach?" Jill took one of Rachel's hands in hers and squeezed hard.
"Definitely." Rachel's employer at Serenity Designs, Daphne Fields, had graciously given her a three-month leave of absence, but Rachel expected to be back in the city in a month, or six weeks at the most.
" You need this time away from here," Jill concluded, as if they hadn't discussed the subject to death in the last few days. "And, personally, I think it was synchronicity that you got that letter from your grandmother inviting you to come for a visit right when everything started to hit the fan here."
Gizelle Fortier's letter had, indeed, come at the perfect time; a lifeline, in a way. Rachel had never met the woman, or even heard of her, until she'd received the terse invitation following her birth mother's death last month. Apparently, Gizelle was the mother of Rachel's father, who had died before Rachel's birth.
Her grandmother lived in a quaint place called Bayou Black in Terrebonne Parish, Louisiana. Rachel pictured a kindly, white-haired lady in a modest plantation house with a sweeping lawn leading down to the meandering stream. A miniature Tara. Rachel needed this kind of quiet setting to make some life-changing decisions. Out with the old, in with the new.
The noise of squealing tires jarred her out of her reverie, causing her half-filled glass to slosh over onto her jeans. She rubbed her palm over the spot, then shrugged with unconcern. Even before she glanced up, she knew what she would see. A silver gray BMW sedan entered the parking lot at a fast rate of speed, barely making the corner. It came to an abrupt stop in its designated parking space out front, its occupant practically flying out the door before the engine had barely turned off.
Rachel stood, bracing herself.
It was David Lloyd, her fiancé. Well, former fiancé, she reminded herself as she pictured the two-carat solitaire diamond ring sitting on the dining room table beside her goodbye note.
" Okay, kiddo, time to go," Laura advised Jill. Then she addressed Rachel. "Jill and I will go pick up your rental car, Rach." Rachel had sold the VW convertible she'd had since college two years ago when she got the use of a company vehicle.
" Are you sure you don't want us to stick around?" Jill asked, standing, too. They gazed at her with concern.
Rachel shook her head.
" We'll be nearby, at Laura's. Just call if you need us," Jill said as they left.
Time for Rachel to face the music. Actually, it was time for the man of the hour to face the music. The man to whom the bonfire was dedicated.
David must have gotten her message on his answering machine. As one of D.C.'s most renowned plastic surgeons, he'd been out of the country the past five days at a medical conference in Switzerland. He must have come straight from Dulles, if his business suit and loosened tie were any indication. David had specific suits for specific purposes; travel, office, social, conferences—all of them Armani or Boss. Ditto for overly expensive designer shoes.
David stopped in the middle of the parking lot and was staring, practically bug-eyed, at her bonfire. His face began to redden and his fists were clenched at his sides. Then he turned to look at her across the lawn. A twitch at the side of his mouth was the only sign of just how angry he was.
Coming up the sidewalk, he waited until he stood in front of her. David had long ago mastered the art of coolness and civility and masking true feelings. So it wasn't surprising that he addressed her in an even tone of voice, "Are you nuts, Rachel? Have you lost your freakin' mind?"
Does he realize how weird it sounds for him to ask those questions in such a calm manner? "No," she answered with equal composure. "I haven't lost my mind. I've finally found it."
" Bullshit!" He waved a hand toward the pile and pointed out, "There must be ten thousand dollars' worth of exercise equipment out there going up in flames." He glanced briefly with disgust at the fire, then did a double take. "And another thousand dollars' worth of vitamins and health supplements."
" How like you to equate everything to the almighty dollar! Why do men always measure everything in terms of money?"
" Men? Men?" The fact that he sputtered was an indication of just how much fury he held in check. "Is that some kind of femi-Nazi, Sex-and-the-City, I-hate-men statement?"
" Why? This all started with those loony-bird friends of yours, didn't it? All of a sudden you're on this female equality kick." He passed a hand back and forth in front of his face in an erasure board fashion, as if none of that was important now, which it wasn't. He stared at her for a long moment, the kind of telling silence he often used to manipulate his staff and patients—and, yes, her—into complying with his wishes.
But she didn't bend now.
- On Sale
- Jun 16, 2008
- Page Count
- 416 pages