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Grand Central Forever
New mass market paperback coming soon!

Originally published April 2005 and reissued in July 2007 for a limited
time at a special low price.

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Chapter One 

The long hot summer just got hotter...

"That Richard Simmons sure is a hottie."

Whaaat?  René LeDeux put down the caulking gun he'd been using to chink the logs of his home-in-progress and stared in astonishment at his great aunt Louise Rivard who'd made that astounding announcement.  Tante Lulu, as she was known, lounged on a hammock in the front yard, cool as a Cajun cucumber.

He wore only cargo shorts, a tool belt and heavy work boots in deference to the scorching heat--the hottest summer in Louisiana history.  He swiped the back of a forearm across his forehead, as much to gather patience as sweat, before speaking.  "Tante Lulu!  Richard Simmons is not a hottie.  Not by any stretch of anyone's imagination."

"He is in mine.  Whoo-ee!  When he wears those short shorts, I just melt."

Now, that was an image he did not need.  He tried picturing his seventy-nine-year-old great aunt in hormone overload.  Talk about!  But it did explain her attire: a pink headband encircling tight white curls, a red tank top with the logo "Exercise That!", purple nylon running shorts, and white athletic shoes with short anklets sporting pink pom poms on the back.  She was a five-foot-zero package of wrinkled skinniness, the last person in the world in need of a workout.  The fact that she was a noted traiteur or folk healer, while at the same time being a bit batty, was a contradiction he and his brothers had accepted all their lives.

He adored the old lady.  They all did.

He started to walk toward her and cracked his shin against the big wooden box in the middle of the porch.  "Ow, ow, ow!" he howled aloud, while screaming much fouler words inside and hopping about on one foot. 

"I tol' you ya shoulda put yer hope chest inside," Tante Lulu said as she raised her head slightly to see what all his ruckus was about.  "Doan wanna get rain or bird poop on it or nuthin'."

Actually, inside wasn't much better than outside when it came to René's raised log house.  He had the roof and frame up, but no windows.  It was all just one big room with an unfinished loft at this point, aside from the bathroom which was operational thanks to a rain-filled cistern.  A gasoline-operated generator provided electricity for the fridge and stove.  That was it.  Except for a card table and two folding chairs, a bookcase, and a bed with mosquito netting, there was no furniture.  That's the way he liked it.  It would do till the work was completed.

Of course, now he had a hope chest to add to his furnishings.  And the midget-size plastic St. Jude statue sitting in the front yard, another of Tante Lulu's "gifts."  St. Jude was the patron saint of hopeless causes.  Tante Lulu was giving him a message with both her gifts.

"Auntie, there is something I need to say to you.  My life is in shambles right now.  I quit my job.  I'm burned out totally.  Don't even think of trying to set me up with some woman.  I am not in the market for a wife."

René was no fool.  He knew the purpose of his great aunt's hope chest and statue.  Whenever she thought it was time for one of her nephews to bite the bullet, she started in on them.  Embroidered pillow cases, bridal quilts, doilies for chrissake.  She was a one-woman Delta Force when she got a bee in her matchmaking bonnet.

Right now, he was the bee.

Tante Lulu ignored everything he said and continued her previous thread about the exercise guru.  "Charmaine is gonna try to get us tickets to go see Richard...I likes to call him Richard, or time he comes to N'awlins."

Dickie?  Mon Dieu!

"Mebbe I'll even get picked fer one of his TV shows."

Now, that was a hopeless wish if he ever heard one.  He hoped.  He thought a moment, then said silently, just in case, St. Jude, you wouldn't!  Would you?

Charmaine was his half-sister and as much a bubblehead as his great aunt.  The prospect of his great aunt doing jumping jacks on TV was downright scary.  But then, Tante Lulu and Charmaine had entered a belly dancing contest not so long ago.  So, not out of the realm of possibilities.

"Mebbe ya could go to his show with us.  Mebbe ya could meet a girl there.  Then I wouldn't have to fix you up."

Like I want to meet a fat woman on an exercise show!  Yep, that's my dream date, all right.  "Don't you dare try fixing me up."

"And Charmaine's gonna get me the latest video of `Sweatin' to the Oldies' fer my birthday in September.  You want she should get you one, too?"

"No, I don't want an exercise video.  Besides, I thought Charmaine was planning a big birthday bash for your gift."

"Caint a girl get two gifts?  Jeesh!"  She eyed him craftily.  "Actually, I'm hopin' fer three gifts."

At first, he didn't understand.  Then he raised both hands in protest.  "No, no, no!  I am not getting leg shackled to some woman just to give you a birthday present.  How about I take you to the race track again this year for a birthday gift, like I did last year?"

She shook her head.  "Nope, this birthday is a biggie.  I'm 'spectin biggie gifts."  She gave him another of her pointed looks.


"Of course, I might be dead.  Then you won't hafta give me anythin', I reckon."

He had to laugh at the sly old bird.  She would try anything to get her own way.  "I'm only thirty-five years old.  I got plenty of time."

"Thirty-five!" she exclaimed.  "All yer juices is gonna dry up iffen ya wait too long."

"My juices are just fine, thank you very much."  Jeesh!  Next, she'll be asking me if I can still get it up.

"You can still do it, caint you?"

He refused to answer.

"I want to rock one of yer bébés afore I die."

"No.  No, no, no!"

"We'll see."  Tante Lulu smiled and saluted the St. Jude statue.  "Remember, sweetie, when the thunder bolt hits, there ain't no help fer it."

René had been hearing about the thunder bolt ever since he was a little boy hiding out with his brothers Luc and Remy from their alcoholic father.  Always, they would hot-tail it for Tante Lulu's welcoming cottage.  The thunder bolt pretty much represented love in the old lady's book.

He had news for her.  He owned a townhouse in Baton Rouge, but this piece of land was all the love he needed, even if it was just a weekend or vacation place.  In truth, it was all the love--translated trouble--he could handle at the moment.  To say his life was in chaos was an understatement.

He'd recently quit his job in Washington as an environmental lobbyist.  Burned out after years of hitting his head against the brick wall which was comprised of the oil industry, developers, sport fishermen and levee builders who were destroying the bayou he was so passionate about.  Up to thirty-five miles of the Louisiana wetlands were sinking into the Gulf of Mexico each year.  In some places, the coastline had already retreated thirty miles.  But environmental protection cost money.  Estimates were that they'd need billions over the next fifty year, with three to one matching funds from the feds and state.  But the U.S. government had expensive problems of its own: terrorism, poverty, you name it, and Louisiana was a poor state due to fiscal mismanagement, corruption and loss of oil and gas revenues.  For every battle he'd won in his fight to protect the Louisiana coastal wetlands, he'd lost a war. 

In his lifetime, he had been a shrimp fisherman, every type of blue collar worker imaginable, a musician (he played a mean accordion), an environmental advocate and lobbyist.  Hell, if he ever finished his doctoral thesis, he could probably be a college professor as well.

But there was no point to any of it.  He was a failure in his most important work.  The bayou.  The fire in his belly had turned to cold ashes.  For sure, the joie de vivre was gone from his life.

So he'd hung tail and come back to Southern Louisiana and resumed work on this cabin--or fishing camp as they were known thereabouts--in one of the most remote regions of Bayou Black.  He loved this piece of property which he'd purchased ten years ago.  It included a wide section of the slow-moving stream.  To the right of the cabin, the stream forked off in two directions, separated by a small island which was home to every imaginable bird in the world, including the graceful stilt-legged egret.  The only access to the land was by water plane or a three-day, grueling pirogue ride from Houma.  No Wal-Marts.  No super highways.  No lookalike housing developments.  No wonder he'd been able to buy it for a song.  No one else had wanted it.      "I think I hear a plane."  Tante Lulu interrupted his reverie.  "Help me offa this thing.  I'm stuck."

He went over and lifted her off the hammock and onto her feet.  The top of her head barely reached his chest.

"It mus' be Remy," she said, peering upward.

His brother Remy was a pilot.  He'd brought Tante Lulu here yesterday for an overnight visit, promising to return for her before evening today.

But, no, it wasn't Remy, they soon discovered.  It was René's friends, Joe Bob and Maddie Doucet, who could best be described as overaged hippies.  Both of them had long hair hanging down their backs, black with strands of gray.  At fifty, and childless, they were devoted to each other and the bayou where generations of both their families had lived and "farmed" for shrimp.  They were quintessential "tree huggers" and they couldn't seem to accept that René had dropped out of the fight... for now.

"Lordy-a-mercy!  It's those wacky friends of yers," Tante Lulu said as they watched the couple climb out of the rusty old water plane and anchor it to the shore by tying ropes from its floats to a nearby live oak tree.

Tante Lulu calling someone wacky was like the alligator calling the water snake wet.  But they were eccentric.  And not just in their often unpredictable behavior.  Like, right now, J.B. wore his old Marine camouflage fatigues; the only thing missing was an ammunition belt and rifle.  Maddie wore an orange jump suit that either had a former life on an airplane mechanic or a prisoner.  Probably a prisoner.  They had both served time on occasion when their participation in peaceful protests had become not-so-peaceful.  J.B. had been a well-decorated soldier, then come home to emerge as a "soldier" in domestic causes.

"Holy crawfish!  Where do those two shop?  Goodwill or Army Surplus?" Tante Lulu whispered to him.

He had no time to comment on that or warn his great aunt to be nice.  Not that she would ever deliberately hurt anyone...unless she perceived them to be a threat to her family.  She did have a tendency to be blunt, though.

"Hey, Joe Bob.  Hey, Maddie.  Whatcha doin' here?" Tante Lulu asked as they walked toward them.

Yep, blunt-is-us.  René groaned inwardly but smiled.  "J.B.  Maddie.  Good to see you again so soon."  Whatcha doin' here?

They didn't smile back.

Uh-oh!  The serious expressions on their faces gave René pause.  Something was up.

"What's up?" he asked.

"Now, René, don't be gettin' mad till you've heard us out," Maddie urged.

The hairs on the back of his neck stood up on high alert.  "Why would I get mad at you?"  The last time he'd lost his temper with them was two years ago when they'd used their shrimp boat as a battering ram against a hundred thousand dollar sport fishing boat out on the Gulf.  The sport fishermen's crime: they'd been hauling up almost extinct species of native fish as by-catch, which meant they just tossed them back into the water, dead.  It had taken all of his brother Luc's legal expertise to extricate J.B. and Maddie from that mess.

"You've got a lot of work done since we were here last week," J.B. remarked, ignoring both his wife's and René's words. The idiot obviously made polite conversation to cover the fact that he was as nervous as a cat in a room full of rocking chairs.

I wonder why.  "Forget the casual bullshit.  What going on?" René insisted on knowing.

"Remember how you said one time that what we need out here in the bayou is some celebrity to get behind our cause?  Like Dan Rather or Diane Sawyer.  TV reporters or somethin' who would spend a week or two here where they could see firsthand how the bayou is bein' destroyed.  Put us on the news, or make a documentary exposing the corruption."  It was Maddie who put forth that fervent reminder.  Man oh man, I hate it when people quoted back to me stuff I don't recall saying.

"Yeah," he said hesitantly.  "So, did you bring Dan and Diane out here?  Ha, ha, ha!  Like that would ever happen!"

"Well, actually..." J.B. offered.

René went stiff.

Tante Lulu whooped, "Hot-diggity-damn!"

It was then that René noticed how J.B. and Maddie kept casting surreptitious glances toward the plane.

"What's this all about?  What's in the plane?"

"Jumpin' Jehosephat!  They musta brought Dan Rather here," his great aunt said, slapping her knee with glee.  "Great idea!  I allus wanted to meet Dan Rather.  Do ya think he'd give me an autograph?"

"It's not Dan Rather," Maddie said, her face flushing in the oddest way.  Odd because nothing embarrassed Maddie.  Nothing.

This must be really bad.  "Spit it out, guys.  If it's not Dan Rather..."  He couldn't believe he actually said that.  "...then who is it?"

"Oh, Mon Dieu!  It mus' be Diane Sawyer then.  I allus wanted her autograph, too.  Betcha she could introduce me to Richard Simmons."

"What're you wantin' with that flake Richard Simmons?" J.B. asked his great aunt. 

Tante Lulu smacked J.B.'s upper arm.  "Bite yer tongue, boy.  He's a hottie."

"Are you nuts?" Maddie asked his great aunt.

"No more'n you," Tante Lulu shot back.

"Unbelievable!" René said, putting his face in his hands.  After counting to ten, he turned on J.B.  "Is there a human being on that plane?"

J.B. nodded.

There is!  Sonofabitch!  I sense a disaster here.  A monumental disaster.  And I thought I was escaping here to peace and tranquility.  "Why is that human being not getting off the plane?" he asked very slowly, hoping desperately that his suspicions were unfounded.

"Because the human being is tied up."  J.B. also spoke very slowly.

Tied up?  They kidnapped someone and brought that someone here.  Holy shit!  Holy freakin' shit!  I'm getting the mother of all headaches.  St. Jude, where are you?  I could use some help.

A voice in his head replied, Not when you use bad language.  Tsk, tsk, tsk!

It was either St. Jude, or he was losing his mind.  He was betting on the latter.

A celebrity who could do a TV documentary...that's what they hinted at.  "A network TV anchor?" he finally asked, even though he was fairly certain they weren't that crazy.  Best to make sure, though.  "Did you kidnap a major network TV reporter?"

"Not quite," Maddie said.

Not the answer I want to hear.  He sliced her with an icy glare.  "What the hell does `Not quite' mean?"

"Not from a major network."  She glanced at her husband and said, "I told you René would get mad."

Mad doesn't begin to express how I'm feeling.  "What the hell does 'not from a major network' mean?"

"She's a Trial TV lawyer.  And you don't have to yell."

You haven't heard yelling yet, Maddie girl.  "She?  A lawyer?  You kidnapped a celebrity female lawyer?"  His headache had turned into a sledgehammer, and visions of law suits began doing the rumba against his brain. 

Trial TV.



He looked at Tante Lulu, and Tante Lulu looked at him.  At the same time they swung around to the dingbat duo--who were holding hands, for God's sake--and exclaimed, "Valerie Breaux!"

"Yep," the dingbat duo said.

"You kidnapped Valerie `Ice' Breaux?" René choked out.  "The Trial Television Network reporter?  My sister-in-law Sylvie's cousin?"

J.B. and Maddie beamed at him, as if he'd just congratulated them, not raised a question in horror.

"Why her?" he asked through gritted teeth.  Valerie Breaux was such a straight arrow she would probably turn her mother in for tasting the grapes in the supermarket.  Even worse, he and Val went way back, and not in a good way.

J.B. shrugged.  "She was available.  She's from Louisiana.  I heard she had a crush on you at one time."

"You heard wrong.  Valerie Breaux can't stand my guts." 

"Oops," Maddie said.

"Maybe you could charm her," J.B. advised.  "You can be damn charming with the ladies when you wanna be."

"Charm that!" he said, giving J.B. a finger.  Luckily, Tante Lulu didn't see him.

"She's the answer to our prayers," Maddie asserted.

"Oh, no!  She caint be the one," Tante Lulu wailed, now that the implications of their conversation sank in.  "I won't let that snooty girl be the one; she's so snooty she'd drown in a rainstorm.  I remember the time she asked me iffen I ever looked in a mirror, jist cause I tol' her she could use a good girdle?  She's not a Cajun, even if she does have a Cajun name.  Her fam'ly likes ta fergit that Breaux skeleton in their closet from about six generations back, which makes her only one-tenth or mebbe one-twentieth Cajun.  Nope, she's a Creole.  Her blue blood's so blue she gives the sky a bad name.  She looks down on us lowdown Cajuns.  All them Breaux in her family do.  Take her back.  I doan want her to be the one fer René.  St. Jude, do somethin' quick."

René's jaw dropped open at Tante Lulu's long spiel.  He wasn't sure which surprised him more.  That his friends considered Valerie Breaux, who'd called him a `Crude Cajun Asshole' more than once in the years of growing up together in Houma, the answer to their prayers.  Or that Tante Lulu feared this woman might be his soulmate.  As if the Ice Princess would let him touch her with a ten-foot pole, let alone his own lesser sized pole!  Not after their past history.  Not after the infamous...uhm...incident. 

They'd both been fifteen.  There'd been a party.  He'd been perpetually horny back then, as most teenagers were.  She and her girlfriends had been sucking up sickingly sweet Slo Gin Fizzes.  Suffice it to say, he'd somehow found himself naked with Val in someone's spare bedroom.  Suffice it to say, he became a charter member of the Hair-Trigger Club that night.  Suffice it to say, she still retained her virginity after his fiasco.  If all that hadn't been embarrassing enough, afterward, she'd jumped off the bed, looked down, and splayed pink barf all over his instrument of non-pleasure.  Teenage hell, for sure!

He blushed just thinking about it, and he hardly ever blushed.

Could life get any worse?


J.B. had waded out to his water plane and was now carrying the "answer to their prayers" over his shoulder.  She was squirming wildly, but unable to say anything because, of course, the goofballs had duct-taped her mouth shut.  That should merit at least one felony count, on top of those to be levied for the restraints that bound her wrists behind her back and her ankles together.

But that wasn't the worst thing of all...or best thing of all, depending on one's viewpoint...and René's view was wide-open right now.  Staring at Valerie Breaux's bare white behind.

She was going to kill them all for that indignity alone, after she'd filed every legal charge in the world against them.

The court TV reporter wore what could probably be called a Sex-in-the-City version of a power suit, which meant it had a very short skirt.  A very short skirt which had ridden up with all her struggles, exposing her thong panties.

And thus the sun shone bright on Valerie Breaux's buttocks.

Very nice buttocks, by the way.

"Is she moonin' us?" Tante Lulu wanted to know.

"I never could figure out why women want to wear those thong thingees," Maddie mused.  "Seems to me they'd be mighty uncomfortable, up in your crack and all."

"I like 'em," J.B. said.

Maddie probably would have hit her husband if he hadn't had his hands full of Valerie.  Instead, she suggested, "You wear 'em then, honey."  Honey was not said as an endearment.

René felt like pulling his hair out, one root at a time, over the irrelevance of this chit-chat.  Meanwhile, Valerie's tempting tush was waving in the wind.

At that moment, J.B. turned slightly and René got a good look at Valerie's face.  Her shoulder-length, wavy black hair hung loose all over the place, but still he was able to see her dark Creole eyes which flashed angrily.  Against the duct tape, she screamed something that sounded pretty much like, "Flngukkk yuuuaauu!"  It probably wasn't a Howdy greeting.

Grabbing a knife out of his tool box, he walked over and lifted her off of J.B.'s shoulder.  She was unsteady on her high heeled feet, but he managed to stand her against a tree and cut away the restraints.  He saved the duct tape for last.

Once the tape was off, the first thing she did was shimmy down her skirt.  Then, she spun around to face him.  "René LeDeux!  I should've known you'd be behind these shenanigans."

"Hey, I had nothing to do with this."

"Save it for the judge, bozo."

René glanced over at the St. Jude statue and murmured, "Now would be the time to perform a miracle 'cause I sure am feeling hopeless."

He could swear he heard a voice in his head answer back, You're on your own, big boy.

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