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.
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.
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
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
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
She put her hands on her hips and glared at him. "Come
out here and shake a peg leg, you randy buccaneer."
had to grin at that. "Who says I'm randy?"
"You're always randy."
"And you know this...how?"
"All the satisfied smiles I've seen on women exiting
your revolving bedroom door the past ten years."
"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."
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'
"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.
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
"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."
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."
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
"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
"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
"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
full moon allowed him to see Grace's face. She was
concerned. For him.
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."
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.
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
love with you, have been for a long time."
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,
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
"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?"
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."
shook his head. "Not anymore."
She frowned. "What do you mean?"
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
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?"
nodded. "But I had to say something now. This Amber
Project...Jinx's next job...is 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
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.
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.
was that?" he asked, his head jerking back.
"An alligator, I think. Probably Remy's pet Useless.
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
shrugged. "I've gone out and bought you tampons when
you had an accident in white slacks. Didn't make me go
saw you clipping your gross toenails in the kitchen."
grinned. "You have funny looking toes. The pinkies are
"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
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?"
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 friend...my best friend."
"Well, we're sure as hell not gonna continue being
friends with this between us now."
"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."
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
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.
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
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.
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
"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
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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