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So Into YouSo Into You
Grand Central Publishing

August 2009
ISBN-10: 0-446-53577-X
ISBN-13: 978-0-446-53577-9

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The angel was wild tonight...

Angel Sabato stood at the edge of the dance floor, like a dunce, shaking in his thousand dollar Tres Outlaw boots, as he watched the redhead shake her bootie to the beat of "Wild Thing." For an ex-nun, she sure had moves.

Ironically, he was the one feeling wild.  His hands were clammy, his heart was thumping--da dump, da dump, da dump--and, truth to tell, he was scared spitless.  Tonight was going to be the night.  Do or die time. 

It was ridiculous, really.  He was thirty-four years old.  He'd been around the block so many times, there were probably street signs named after him.  At the least, his "tread marks" were notorious.  Shyness wasn't even in his vocabulary.  After all, he was the dick-for-brains who'd bared it all for Playgirl Magazine at one time.

Just then the redhead in question, Grace O'Brien, noticed him and smiled widely, crooking a forefinger for him to come out and join her.

Not a chance.

It wasn't dancing he had on his mind.

She said something to her partner, one of the young LeDeuxs...a freshman at LSU.  Then she left the kid behind and snaked a slow, sensuous boogie toward him, her green, twinkling eyes holding his the entire time, her arms held out in front of her, fingers beckoning.  She must be half plastered, or more likely, in a teasing mood.

He was not in the mood for teasing.

"Yo, matie," she drawled at him.

This was the tail end of the Pirate Ball.  It was being held here in Houma, Louisiana to celebrate the successful hunt by Jinx, Inc., a treasure hunting company, for Jean Lafitte's hidden gold.  Thus, the silly pirate talk.  Not to mention silly pirate costumes.

He and Grace had worked on the Jinx team's Pirate Project these past weeks.  Before that they'd been professional poker players.  And before that, Grace had been a nun, and he had been in the Navy, then construction, and...well, a lot of things.

She was dancing around him now, dressed in a saucy tavern wench costume with a jagged knee-length hem, while he was in a puffy shirt tied with a red sash.  Jerry Seinfeld would be so proud of me.

When he pretended to ignore her sexy dancing, she grabbed his upper arm and attempted to tug him forward.  Being about seventy-five pounds heavier at six-foot-one to her measly five- feet-five, he was pretty much immovable.

She put her hands on her hips and glared at him.  "Come out here and shake a peg leg, you randy buccaneer."

He had to grin at that.  "Who says I'm randy?"

"You're always randy."

"And you know"

"All the satisfied smiles I've seen on women exiting your revolving bedroom door the past ten years."

"You noticed?"

"Stop changing the subject.  I wanna dance."

"Are you blitzed?" he asked with a laugh.

"Just a little," she slurred.

Luckily, the DJ changed the music to a different pace.  Mariah Carey urging "Touch My Body."

He opened his arms to Grace and adjusted her so that her arms were around his neck, and his hands were linked behind her waist, just above her butt.  And, yes, Mariah, he had touching in mind.  Touching Grace.

"I'm flying back to Jersey early tomorrow morning.  I need to talk to you," he said into her hair that smelled like apples, or was it peaches?  Some kind of frickin' fruit, anyway.

"Uh-huh.  I'm listening," she replied, definitely not listening as she nuzzled her face into the crook of his neck, inadvertently pressing her belly against the crotch of his tights.

Yeah, he was wearing XXX-sized tights.  With testosterone-induced hysterical irrelevance, he mused that the guys back in his old gang in Newark would get a kick out of him in latex, unless it were of the prophylactic kind.  Or was that spandex?  Spandex, latex, whatever!  That was beside the point.  Call me crazy, but did she just lick my ear?

Blood drained from his head and slam dunked into sex central.  For a second, he thought his knees might give out.

"Not here," he gurgled.  "Let's go outside for a walk, down by the bayou.  Better yet, I'll take you back to your hotel room."

"I already checked out.  I'll be staying with Tante Lulu from now on."  She leaned her head back to look at him.  "You sound serious."

"I am serious, babe."  He wondered if she was aware that when she arched back like that it caused his erection to rub against her belly button which was exposed by her low-riding wench skirt.  And that was damn serious.

"You can drive me to the cottage.  Let's go tell Tante Lulu that I'm leaving."

"So, you're staying with that Cajun dingbat, huh?" he asked, arm looped over her shoulder as they walked to the other side of the hall where Tante Lulu was chattering away to some guy in a frock coat and tricorn hat.  At least he wasn't wearing tights.

Louise Rivard, better known as Tante Lulu, was the craziest old woman he'd ever met.  But she was a noted traiteur, or folk healer, and Grace had decided to apprentice herself to the fruitcake in hopes of learning more about the healing arts.  Really, Grace's life was like a pendulum swinging from one extreme to the other.  Nun to poker player to treasure hunter to healer.  He couldn't wait to see where she landed next, as long as she took him along for the ride.

"Don't call her a dingbat."  Grace turned slightly and swatted him on the chest, then grinned.  "Even if she is a dingbat."

"Grace...Angel...hope y'all had a good time t'night."  Tante Lulu was dressed as a senior citizen pirate gal.  A scary sight, to be sure...she was ninety-two, after all.  She eyed them suspiciously when Grace told her she would be leaving with him. Grace was oblivious to that pointed look, which took in his arm on Grace's shoulder, but he could practically see the matchmaking wheels churning in Tante Lulu's little brain.  "That full moon t'night, she is purty enough to make a cat smooch a hound dog."

"Huh?" Grace said.

"Welcome to TanteLuluville," he muttered under his breath, then smiled.

"Ya gots a hope chest?" Tante Lulu asked Angel just before they walked away.  Tante Lulu had a tradition of making hope chests for the men in her family, or male friends of the family, just before the "thunderbolt of love" hit them.

Hah!  He had news for the Louisiana love bug.  That thunderbolt had done its business with him a long time ago.

"So, what did you want to talk to me about?" Grace asked, once they were sitting in his rental car back in Tante Lulu's cottage driveway.  She didn't seem so tipsy anymore.

A full moon allowed him to see Grace's face.  She was concerned.  For him.

"I want you to come back with me, sweetheart."  Well, that was laying his cards on the table from the get-go.

She frowned.  "Back to your motel room?"

"No.  I mean, yeah, that would be great, but I meant, fly back to the east coast with me in the morning.  Come with me and the Jinx team to Germany for our next project."  He gulped.  "Just come with me, that's all."

"I don't understand.  You know I quit treasure hunting.  It was never intended to be more than a one-shot deal for me.  I've already explained why I'm staying here."  She moved closer and accidentally put a hand on his thigh.

Big mistake, that.

He picked her up by the waist and laid her across his lap, her head cradled over his left elbow.  "This isn't about treasure hunting, or folk healing, or any other damn profession.  It's about you and me."  He leaned down, kissed her lightly on the lips, and whispered against her gaping mouth, "I love you, Grace."

She squirmed into a sitting position on his lap.  "I love you, too, sweetie.  You're my best friend."

"Dammit!  That's not what I'm talking about.  I'm in love with you, have been for a long time."

A stunned silence was not what he was looking for here.

"You're kidding, right?  What's the punch line?  You gonna tell some lame nun joke?"  She nipped at his lower lip with her teeth as punishment.

Angel jerked backward, though he didn't release Grace from his embrace.  It was true, he had been teasing Grace with nun jokes for ages, even though she hadn't been a nun for ages, but not now.  "This is not a joke, Grace."

She stared at him for a long moment.  "Sex.  All this forced celibacy while trapped out in the bayou must have turned you horny.  You want to have sex with me."  Grinning, she taunted him with that last accusation.

"No!  I mean, yes.  Here's the deal: I don't want sex for sex sake, as in any ol' female would do.  I want to make love with you.  But that's not all I want.  C'mon," he said, opening the car door and hauling her outside.  Oh, God!  I'm blowing it.  What the hell is wrong with me?  "Let's walk."

"You're scaring me, Angel."

"I'm scaring myself," he muttered as he linked his hand with hers and led her onto Tante Lulu's back porch facing the bayou.  Once they were leaning against the rail, he raised their linked hands and kissed her knuckles.

"Oooh, you are smooth."

"You have no idea."  Something occurred to him then, related to her mentioning going back to his motel room.  "Would you have sex with me?  Just like that?"  He snapped his fingers.  "Friends with benefits?"

"I don't know.  Maybe."

Angel was both angry and intrigued.

"Actually, I probably wouldn't.  Even half drunk.  You and I have been friends for a long time.  I wouldn't want to do anything to ruin that."

He shook his head.  "Not anymore."

She frowned.  "What do you mean?"

"I mean, friendship isn't enough anymore.  Haven't you felt it, too, Gracie, these weeks we've been here in Louisiana?  Those LeDeuxs are crazy as coots, but they're a closeknit family.  They would do anything for each other.  And you can just see the passion between the husbands and wives.  Luc and Sylvie.  Remy and Rachel.  René and Val.  Rusty and Charmaine.  John and Celine.  That's what I want."


"Passion, yeah, but more than that."

"Family?" she said with an oddly sad sigh.

"Bingo.  I want a woman to love who will love me back.  And a home...a real home, not some luxury condo.  And kids."

The more he explained himself, the stiffer she got.  Then she started biting on her thumb nail, a nervous habit she'd been trying to break ever since he'd first met her.  Angel sensed he was losing her bit by bit, but he didn't know how to fix it.

"You and I have no close family ties," she reminded him, pulling her hand out of his grasp and walking to the other end of the porch.  He followed after her.  "The LeDeuxs have family out the wazoo."

"We can make our own family.  I love you, honey.  That's what people in love do."

"Where is all this coming from?"  Her voice was shrill with panic.  "You never mentioned love before."

"It's been there for a long time.  I just haven't had the nerve to say anything."

"You?  Lacking nerve?"

He nodded.  "But I had to say something now.  This Amber Project...Jinx's next going to take months, maybe even a year, and it'll be mostly on site in Germany.  We're searching for that famous Amber Room that the Nazi's supposedly dismantled and hid.  Definitely Jinx's most ambitious treasure hunt yet, and I want you to be there with me.  As my wife.  Doesn't a honeymoon in Europe sound great?"  His heart was racing so fast it felt as if it might explode.  Deep down, he sensed he was fighting a losing battle.  How could he have misread her so badly?

"This is insane.  You've never even kissed me...that way.  You can't ask someone to marry you without even a proper kiss."     That was his cue.  "I thought you'd never ask."

When she saw his slow grin and his equally slow approach, she stuttered, "That's not what...oh, good grief, what are you doing?"

"About to kiss you properly."  Before she could blink, or tell him to get lost, he backed her up against the log wall of the cottage, cupped her butt cheeks, raising her to just the right height on her tip toes, spread her legs with his knees, anchored her with his belly against her belly, combed his fingers through her hair to hold her in place, then kissed her with all the love he'd been holding in for so long.

It should have been a gentle kiss, coaxing.  An introduction.  Something that said, "Hi!  We've known each other forever, as friends, but this is how I really feel.  I love you. Do you love me?"

Instead, his sex drive shot from zero to speed of light in a nanosecond, and the gentle, coaxing kiss was anything but.  It was hungry and demanding and said, "Oh, baby, I want you so bad. I can't wait, I can't wait, I can't wait..."

Just then, a loud bellow echoed behind them.

"What was that?" he asked, his head jerking back.

"An alligator, I think.  Probably Remy's pet Useless.  It's harmless."

An alligator?  Close by?  Harmless?  He pressed his forehead against hers, both of them panting for breath.

"This is not the way I want to make love to you the first time, sweetheart.  Come back to my motel room with me, and we can talk."

She tried to laugh but it came out choked.  "I think we've done enough talking."  Ducking under his arm, she stepped away.

Immediately, Angel sensed the tension in the air, and it wasn't a good tension.  She put up a halting hand when he moved a step closer. 

"Angel, I am not going to marry you, and we are not going to have a family together.  It is just not going to happen.  Ever."


"Because I'm not in love with you."

Angel had been playing poker for too many years not to read her "tells."  He'd like to think she was lying through her teeth. She wasn't.  How could he have interpreted her signals so wrong? "You don't mean that, Gracie."  Please, God, don't let her mean it.

"Angel!  Come on.  I've seen you puking your guts out when you've drunk too much.  That's a friend, not a lover."

He shrugged.  "I've gone out and bought you tampons when you had an accident in white slacks.  Didn't make me go `eeew!'."

"I saw you clipping your gross toenails in the kitchen."

He grinned.  "You have funny looking toes.  The pinkies are crooked."

"You told me my toes were cute."

"They are cute.  Crooked cute." 

All this was just blowing smoke, in his opinion.  Of no importance.  Once again, he tried to move closer.

Once again, she put up a halting hand.  "You've been the best friend I've ever had, but I don't feel that way about you.  Really, I had no idea..."

"Your kiss," he said, indicating with a wave of his hand the section of porch they'd just left, "your kiss said something else."

There were tears in her eyes.  "Sexual attraction fueled by too much alcohol."

"I'm not buyin' it."

"You have to.  Besides, there are things in my past...things you don't know about me."

"Hell, I have secrets in my past, too.  Big deal!"  He waited a moment, then asked, "What things?"

"I can't say.  Just know that I have good reasons for saying that you and I will never be a family, aside from my just thinking of you as a best friend."

"Well, we're sure as hell not gonna continue being friends with this between us now."

"Oh, Angel."

"I'm leaving, Gracie.  Are you coming with me?"

She shook her head, unable to speak.

"So be it.  I doubt we'll be seeing each other again.  I don't do begging very well."  He stared at her, then added, "I love you, babe.  I really do."


Two weeks later, and the news heard 'round the world, or at least, down the bayou...

Grace was in the pantry, using a mortar and pestle to grind dried herbs for Tante Lulu's amazing medicinal potions.

Pennyroyal, horehound, sassafras and catnip, which could be brewed into a tea and used for coughs.

Yarrow and jimson weed to go in poultices. 

Sumac for arthritis.

So many healing uses for nature's bounty.  And any one of them could have varying uses, depending on their stage of development...seed, flower, or full-grown plant.

Dust motes danced on the stream of sun light coming from the lone window.  Through the screen she could hear a hundred bayou birds join together, celebrating their unique habitat.  As she worked, she glanced over at the floor to ceiling shelves, neatly lined with dozens of glass bottles.  Some of them baby food jars. Some jelly jars.  Even old green Mason Jars with lead lids.  Each had its own label.  Each followed specific ingredients for one of the noted traiteur's remedies--nine hundred eighty three, at last count--that were outlined, longhand, in numerous journals which had their own shelf.  No computer software for her boss.  Nosirree, as Tante Lulu would say.

The pungent odors in the room, the feeling of history, the warmth of Tante Lulu's essence...all these things contributed to Grace's sense of well-being.  She was at peace.  Not happy precisely, but finally she was where she belonged.

A psychiatrist would have a field day with her history.  From promiscuous teenager to nun.  Nun to poker player.  Poker player to treasure hunter.  Treasure hunter to folk healer.  Still, she'd found a place that felt safe and promising to her. The only thing interfering with her happiness was Angel.  Her heart grieved at the hole her former friend had created in her life by his absence.  The louse hadn't called her.  Probably his pride had kicked in.  And she wasn't going to call him.  That would give him false expectations.  Even if she was in love, and she wasn't, there were other reasons why a future with him would be out of the question.

"Yoo hoo!"

Tante Lulu must be back from her trip to Boudreaux's General Store.  Her nephew John LeDeux had picked her up an hour ago.

Grace finished bottling her concoction, dusted her hands off, then walked into the kitchen where Tante Lulu and John were unloading armfuls of overflowing paper bags.  Both of them glanced at her.  And said nothing.

"What?"  It was obvious by the way they avoided direct eye contact that something was wrong.

"Ah, Gracie, bless yer heart," Tante Lulu said, reaching up to pat her cheek. 

Now Grace was really frightened.  "Tell me."

"Tee-John was talkin' ta Ronnie this mornin'," Tante Lulu started to explain, then stopped, turning to her nephew for help.

Ronnie was Veronica Jinkowsky, owner of Jinx, Inc., the treasure hunting company.

"Oh, my God!  Is it Angel?  Has something happened to him?"

"You could say that," John drawled out.  The sympathy in his dark Cajun eyes caused alarm bells to go off in her head and her heart rate to accelerate alarmingly.

"He got married yesterday," John told her.  "To an airline stewardess he met on the way to Germany.  Talk about!"

Grace plopped down into the kitchen chair, stunned.  So much for true love!  She tried her best not to be hurt.  After all, she was the one who'd sent him away, but the tears came anyway.

They would never renew their friendship now.

She tried to tell herself it was best this way.

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