Avon Books
June 2017 (05-30-17)
ISBN-10: 0062566369
ISBN-13: 978-0062566362

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The Big C strikes again…

The first time Dr. Daniel LeDeux met ten-year-old Deke Watson, Deke asked him what it felt like to have sex. The second time they met, Deke asked what it felt like to die.

Lying back in one of a dozen leather reclining chairs at the Juno, Alaska Pediatric Medical Center, with a first dose of chemo blasting into his IV, Deke looked like any other pre-adolescent kid, iPod blaring in his ear, baseball cap turned backwards on his head, freckles dotting his pug nose, a wide mischievous grin on his face. He was a little on the thin side, having been feeling lousy for a long time and only recently diagnosed with Stage One Chronic Myelogenous Leukemia. CML.

“Seriously, if I’m gonna die from this crud, I’d like ta know what it’s like ta boink a girl.” He batted his stubby eyelashes at Daniel with fake innocence.


Deke was joking, of course. At this stage, he was full of hope for a complete remission, as he should be. No time, or need, for fearing death. As a pediatric oncologist, Daniel had seen hundreds of cases, many of which defied the odds for survival. No need for a miracle here. Unless Deke’s CML morphed into AML, Acute Myelogenous Leukemia, his chances were good. Deke’s question was a blatant guilt trip ploy to get some info Daniel might not otherwise be inclined to share.

While Daniel checked his patient’s pulse and heart rate, he said, “I think those kinds of questions should be put to your dad, don’t you?”

“Sure. If I had one!”

Daniel arched his brows.

“He skipped out when I was five. Coke head.”

Daniel nodded. Not an unusual story. He recalled now that Deke’s mother, Bethany Watson, a special ed teacher, had been raising him single-handedly for a long time. Dealing with childhood cancer was a kick in the gut for a couple; it was a body blow for one parent to handle alone. He had to admire her bravery.

“If you don’t wanna give me the goodies…”


“The details about sex,” Deke explained. “You could always just give me a Playboy magazine…you know, if you’re too shy to talk about sex. One of the old magazines, not one of the new PG versions.” More batting of eyelashes.

Daniel laughed. “Nice try, kiddo.”

“My buddy Chuck says it feels like every hair on your body is doin’ the hula, and your cock is like a train racing to the finish line.”

Cock? A ten-year-old using that word? Daniel shouldn’t be surprised. Kids today knew things that would have been shocking twenty years ago. Still, he stopped checking the latest white cell count on Deke’s chart to stare at him. “Chuck has had a lot of sex, huh?” Now, that would shock him.

Deke ducked his head sheepishly. “Nah! He’s only ten, too, but he has seen a Playboy magazine. Three of them. The good ones, too. He has older brothers.”

“Wow! A man of experience!” Daniel could remember the time his identical twin, Aaron, now a pilot, had shown him a stash of Playboy magazines he’d hidden under his mattress…a cool trade scored with AJ Coddington for five Snicker bars and a Big Blaster water pistol. Come to think of it, they’d been about ten, too…more than twenty years ago.

That evening he went to his mother Dr. Therese Chaussin’s house for dinner. Already he could hear Barry Manilow crooning through the sound system he and Aaron had given her for a Christmas gift last year. Big mistake, that. Now they got to hear Barry in every room of the house and outdoors on the patio. Their mother and Melanie Yutu, her longtime significant other, best known to them as Aunt Mel, had attended dozens of the crooner’s concerts…thought nothing of flying cross-country, one end of the United States to the other, to hear him in person.

Sad to say, he and Aaron knew the words to every Barry Manilow song ever written, and there were lots of them.

But tonight he had something else on his mind. After he sat down at the dining room table, he asked Aaron, who’d also been invited for dinner, “Do you remember those ratty old Playboy magazines you used to hide under your mattress?”

Aaron grinned at him. “No, I don’t think I do. Unless you mean…oh, let me see…um, Karin Mantrose, May 1992. Turn-ons: Being naked on a fur in front of the fireplace. 36-20-34. Which had nothing whatsoever to do with that Sherpa bath mat I bought from Wal-Mart with my paperboy money. Uh-uh.”

Daniel grinned. “Or DeLane Velasquez, June 1991,” Daniel reminded him.

“Turn-ons: Bubble baths for two,” they both said at the same time, then gave each other high fives.

“How about Patti Ann Jones? Remember that one,” Daniel said.

“How could I forget? Her ideal date was with a brown-eyed, curly-haired male.”

“And our hair was curly in those days. We were sure she was just waiting for us to grow up.” It was amazing what stuck in a young boy’s head, Daniel thought. Hell, a man’s head, too.

“You two are idiots,“ his mother said as she placed the big tureen of jambalaya on the table. “Thirty-something adolescents!”

Coming up beside her, Aunt Mel scoffed, “Any gal with a twenty-inch waist beyond the age of twelve is anorexic or wearing a corset.”

“Could someone please turn down the volume on that music? I can barely hear myself think,” Daniel said.

“Barry is best at full volume,” his mother asserted, although she did go over and turn a knob so that “At the Copa” was only a distant backdrop.

“What brought up the skin mags? You’re not usually a memory lane kinda guy.” Aaron leaned back in his chair and studied him in a way he knew would annoy Daniel. “Oh, don’t tell me. You met a centerfold today at the medical center. You have all the luck!”

“I wish! No, it was a young kid, a new cancer patient, who wanted me to buy him a Playboy.”

“Don’t you dare,” his mother said. “With all the malpractice suits today, you could be sued. Somehow they’d find a way to prove that pornography causes cancer.” His mother was a GP in a small medical group that struggled under the burden of monumental malpractice insurance premiums.

He noticed his mother’s hand shaking as she sat down next to him and placed a napkin on her lap. Reaching over, he took her hand in his, “Mom? What’s up?”

She and Aunt Mel exchanged odd glances.

Oh, this is not good.

“Tell them,” Aunt Mel prodded, her eyes welling unexpectedly with tears.

Definitely not good. Aunt Mel was not a crier.

Squeezing Daniel’s hand which she still held, his mother took a deep breath and said, “I have cancer.”

He and Aaron said the same foul word under their breaths. To show how serious the situation was, neither woman reamed them out, as they would normally.

For a moment, Daniel felt faint with shock, but then he choked out, “What kind of cancer?” Being an oncologist, that was the most important question he had to ask.


The most deadly. “What stage?”

“Two. It’s already spread to my lymph nodes.”

Oh, shit!

“And that’s all I’m going to say on the subject tonight,” she declared. “I’ll show you all the records tomorrow, and you can start interfering in my medical care then. For tonight, I just want to have a nice family dinner.”

He and Aaron, who was equally stunned, looked at each other. They didn’t have to be twins to read each other’s minds this time. Their mother was in big, big trouble.

“I knew it!” Aaron stood angrily. “Mom, I even asked you last month if you were sick when I noticed how much weight you’d lost, and then I caught you at home in the middle of the day, puking your guts out. You said it was the flu.”

His mother shrugged. “I didn’t want anyone to know yet. I was waiting for the right time.”

“There’s a right time to discuss cancer? Coulda fooled me, and I’ve been dealing with it for ten years. How long have you known?” Daniel narrowed his eyes when his mother squirmed in her seat.

“Three months, and don’t take that tone with me, Daniel. I have a right to handle this any way I want.”

Daniel stood now and shoved Aaron in the chest. He had to have some way to vent his fury, and, yes, fear. “You knew something was wrong and didn’t tell me? I’m a doctor, lamebrain!”

“Mom’s a doctor, too, in case you hadn’t noticed.” Aaron shoved him back.

“Yeah, but she’s a GP, not a specialist.”


“Both of you, sit the hell down and listen,” Aunt Mel yelled.

Duly chastened, they sank back into their chairs and watched with disbelief as their mother calmly served up the jambalaya and salad, then passed slices of warm bread to each of them. Aunt Mel poured iced tea into four glasses.

They expect us to eat? Now?

“And don’t be such sad sacks,” Aunt Mel added. “Things aren’t hopeless. Your mother and I are still going to Hawaii this summer.” They had been planning that two-week vacation for years. Icing on the cake was the fact that good ol’ Barry would be performing there at the same time for a few days.

Four months away, Daniel thought. Please, God, let her get a chance to wear that lei. Help her and I’ll lobby for Barry Manilow songs, rather than Muzak, in the hospital elevators…a penance for all my past sins…and any forthcoming ones, too.


Nine months later…prayers are answered, but not always the way we expect…

Daniel’s eyes burned, and he blinked back tears as he approached the little house on Arctic Lane.

His mother had died two days ago at the far-too-young age of fifty-three, after what had turned into a painful battle with cancer, despite several trips to the Mayo Clinic, and some experimental treatments outside the U.S. Cliche though it was, death had been a blessing. Didn’t make the loss any easier, though.

And now here he was, asking for another dose of heartache. He should have developed thicken skin by now, considering his specialty, but instead he felt like he was at the end of his rope. He had no business coming to this particular house under which the heavy cloud of hospice care hovered. His work as a pediatric oncologist had ended when Deke left the medical center last week, for good. In-home nurses had taken over.

The hospital lawyers would deem it unwise, from a legal standpoint, for a physician to involve himself personally with a patient. Especially off-premises.

Lawyers! They couldn’t know, or care, how close Daniel had gotten to the kid over these past nine months, even with all the time he’d taken off for his mother. There was just something about Deke that touched him, deeply.

He was dragging with him the most pitiful example of mankind. Jamie Lee Watson, once a promising Marine lifer, now a thirty-five year old thin-as-a-skeleton, nose-bleeding cocaine addict. Apparently, the man had seen things in Iraq that only drugs helped him forget. Daniel had found the whereabouts of Deke’s father last week, but it had taken him all that time, when he wasn’t at his mother’s bedside, trying to get the man halfway lucid, showered, and dressed in clean clothes. The new, barely improved Jamie Lee was not a happy camper.

“This is a goat fuck about to happen,” Jamie Lee complained.

“Not if I can help it.”

“My kid…” His words trailed off as he choked up, fully aware of Deke’s rapidly deteriorating condition. “My kid doesn’t need a loser like me.”

“He needs you, all right.”


“Because you’re his father. Simple as that. He doesn’t care if you’re the President of the United States or a circus clown.”

“Bethany is gonna have a fit.”

“She’s the one who asked me to find you.”

Jamie Lee stared at him with the most incredible hope in his bleary eyes before he masked the emotion by rubbing his hands over his face, a face which Daniel had personally shaved for him, removing a year-old beard. Jamie Lee would have probably slit his own throat.

Before Daniel had a chance to knock, the door flew open and Bethany smiled…a smile that did not reach her bloodshot eyes. “You came.”

It wasn’t clear if she was referring to Daniel or her long absent husband.

Daniel stepped aside and shoved Jamie Lee forward. “Go for it, buddy.”

“I am so sorry, Bethany,” Jamie Lee said. That apology covered a whole lot of ground, Daniel suspected.

She nodded, seemed to hesitate, then opened her arms to give Jamie Lee a comforting hug. Almost immediately, she stepped back, putting space between them.

“Deke’s been in and out of a coma for days, but he asks for his daddy when he wakes up.” She laughed, but there was no mirth, just an odd tone of near-hysteria.

With a squeeze to her shoulder, Jamie Lee walked into the dining room which had been converted into a sick room with a hospital bed and medical equipment. The oxygen machine whooshed away while an obscene number of tubes ran from the child’s frail body, no attempt to hide his bald head under its usual baseball cap. A nurse moved away from the bed to give the stranger room. Daniel and Bethany stood in the open doorway, watching.

It was odd the things you noticed in times of crisis. Birds chirping outside the open window. A Disneyland souvenir glass on the sideboard. A framed photo showing a much younger Deke with his mother and a guy in a buzz cut and military uniform, all of them smiling.

“Hey, slugger,” Jamie Lee said, clearly uncertain what to do, where to put his hands. But then he leaned over and kissed his boy’s cheek. “That’s what I always called him. Slugger,” Jamie Lee nervously told Daniel.

Miraculously, considering his sedation, Deke’s eyes fluttered open. “Dad?”

“Yeah, it’s me,” Jamie Lee choked out.

“I prayed…that…that you…would come,” Deke finally got out. Talking was difficult at this stage.

“That’s me…the answer to a little boy’s prayer,” Jamie Lee muttered.

“Am I dead yet?” His little hand clung to his father’s. “Are you an angel?”

Jamie Lee started to weep then. Hell, they all had tears in their eyes.

“No, I’m hardly an angel, son. Just your daddy.”

“I’m afraid. Will you stay with me?”

“As long as you want, slugger.”

And he did stay with him for the next five hours, never moving from the seat the nurse had pushed behind him, never releasing his son’s grip on his hand, until Deke slipped away. The death was almost an anti-climax.

Daniel had gone back to his office for several hours and returned just in time. As he left for the last time, he wondered how many more of these cancer deaths he could handle without going insane.


A dog is a dog, no matter the breed…

Samantha Starr walked down the corridor of the French Quarter courthouse with her new lawyer, Lucien LeDeux, at her side. They were headed toward a conference room where they would meet with her horndog ex-husband Dr. Nicholas Coltrane (aka Nick the Prick), his shark lawyer Jessie John Daltry, and an associate judge for the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, District of New Orleans.

“Don’t say anything,” Luc warned her. “You know the good doc will try ta rile you into a hissy fit, which won’t sit well with the judge. Just let me do all the talking.”

“I’ll try.”

“Not good enough. I’ve studied the records, chère. You’re paying Coltrane as much alimony as you do because of your outburst last time.”

She stiffened and raised her chin haughtily. “Or because the judge was a female influenced by my ex’s dubious charms. Nick commented on my lack of sex appeal as an excuse for his adultery, and the judge didn’t even reprimand him.”

“Huh? No way! You are as hot as a goat’s behind in a pepper patch.”


“Oops. That’s my Tante Lulu’s favorite Cajun saying. Hang around her long enough and she wears off on you.”

Samantha knew and even worked on occasion with Louise Rivard, better known as Tante Lulu to everyone, and she was outrageous in appearance, actions, and general reputation. Not the role model Samantha would set for herself.

Luc grinned. “Anyhow, don’t let the asshole put you down.”

“Oh, please! I am what I am.” Samantha was five-foot-ten in her bare feet. When she wore heels, she was taller than Nick’s five-eleven frame which had annoyed him to no end. If that wasn’t bad enough, her body was covered with freckles from forehead to toes, and not the attractive kind. Once, in a drunken rage, Nick had likened her freckles to tobacco juice spit on her by a redneck farmer. Orange spittle. As for her bright red hair…no more! She paid a fortune to her hair stylist to keep it a more subdued auburn.

Samantha hated that she’d taken so much care with her appearance today…white, long-sleeved, Chanel pant suit with a fitted peplum jacket, matching stiletto pumps, and tailored, jade green, collarless, silk blouse…to match her green eyes, her only feature that she really liked. Her auburn hair was swept off her face in a neat chignon. Emerald drop earrings in a platinum setting and her great-grandmother’s emerald and diamond filigree ring were her only jewelry. Unfortunately, there was no way to cover the freckles on her hands, face and neck. She hadn’t dressed to impress Nick, but for her own self-esteem which always tanked in his presence. “I don’t need phony compliments.”

“The dickhead has done a job on you, darlin’. Talk about!” Luc just shook his head. “We can discuss that later. Maybe you should have stayed home and let me handle this.”

“No. I am not going to let him continue to bleed me. Did I tell you that a friend of mine saw him in the South of France? He was on the freakin’ French Riviera for a month. A month!”

Luc sighed. “Yes, you told me. His lawyer says it was a medical conference.”

“For a month? What kind of medical conference lasts a month? SDU? Slimy Doctors United?”

Samantha had been married to Nick for five years and divorced for another five, but she was still paying for that mistake. And not just with the continuing humiliation of his serial adultery, or the very public, acrimonious divorce. Nope, the jerk had demanded alimony, that on top of her having paid his way through medical school.

During the course of her relationship with Nick, she’d met many of his physician friends, and they all seemed to be focused on their net worth and what expensive toy they could buy next. Very few were in the profession for the good they could do. And most had been divorced at least once, or were blatant adulterers. Thus, her bias against doctors. It was an unreasonable bias, to lump all male doctors into one assumption. She realized that, but perhaps it was understandable.

“SDU? Sounds like a sexual disease. But see, that’s the kind of remark that will get you in trouble.” Even as he chastised her, Luc had to smile. “All we need is time. Wish you had contacted me earlier, but not to worry. I’ve got investigators checking into his activities. We’re gonna nail his sorry ass to the wall, one way or the other.”

“I wish I’d hired you sooner, too. My old lawyer, Charles Broussard, was a lovely man…a friend of my grandfather…but not the sharpest knife in the drawer, not a barracuda like Daltry.”

“I eat big fish for breakfast,” Luc bragged.

He probably did. That, or fried gator kidneys if his crazy aunt had any say.

Samantha put one of her recently manicured fingernails to her mouth and began to gnaw nervously.

Luc slapped her hand away. “Enough of that! You have to walk in there as if you own the world. Fearless!”

“Pfff! How do I do that with a man who looks like some kind of Norse God in Armani? And a lawyer who sharpens his teeth on people like me?”

“No, no, no! Daltry is a shark, guar-an-teed, but, darlin’, you hired yourself an even badder shark. A Cajun shark. The best kind.” He waggled his eyebrows at her. “Here’s a clue on how not to be intimated. When I’m in court, if it’s a man tryin’ to disconcert me, I just picture him naked, walkin’ down Bourbon Street with a string of Carnival beads looped around his…um, family jewels. If it’s a woman, I picture her, naked, too, but with a behind the size of a bayou barge, doin’ a Cajun shimmy snake dance. In both cases, people are laughing their asses off at them.”

Samantha’s jaw dropped open before she burst out with a giggle.

And that was how her ex-husband and his lawyer saw her as she and Luc entered the auxiliary courtroom. And, to her surprise, Nick was the one who looked disconcerted.

“Game on, Samantha?” Luc whispered in her ear.

“Game on,” she agreed, leaning in to his ear.

As Nick and his lawyer stood, Nick’s eyes widened with surprise at what must seem an intimate interplay between her and her lawyer. Luc might be fifty or so years old and married with kids, but he was still handsome and successful, the type of man Nick had always intimated would never be interested in her.

The two lawyers exchanged cool greetings while Nick pulled his charm mask on and smiled at her. “Samantha, it’s good to see you again.”


Giving her an insulting head-to-toe survey, he winked at her and drawled, “Lookin’ good, babe.”

Another lie. Among other things, Nick had more than once suggested she get breast implants. And skin bleaching to reduce the freckling. Like Dolly Parton and Michael Jackson, for heaven’s sake! The image still made her blood curdle.

Her upper lip curled with disgust at Nick’s continuing swarmy smile. Was there ever a time when she’d thought him attractive? Aliens must have invaded her brain.

“Oy-yay! Oy-yay! Judge Bernadette Pitre presiding in the case of Coltrane vs Starr,” the bailiff called out through an inner door which had just opened. The judge was followed by a court reporter with her portable steno machine.

“Oh, no! Another female judge!” Samantha complained to Luc.

Seemingly undismayed, he patted her arm and murmured something that sounded like, “Thank you, St. Jude.”

“Your honor, Jessie John Daltry representing Dr. Nicholas Coltrane.” The judge nodded at Daltry, but then frowned when Nick in an impeccable gray suit with lavender shirt and purple striped tie, his blond hair perfectly groomed, and reeking of Bleu de Chanel, said with a teeth-showing, I-can-get-any-woman-I-want smile plastered on his sun-tanned face, “It is such a pleasure to meet you, Ms. Pitre. I have heard so much about you. Congratulations on your recent—”

“Are you tryin’ ta influence me, young man?” the judge asked with steel in her deep Creole voice. At forty-something she was not that much older than Nick’s thirty-four, but she was a big-boned, mocha-skinned Amazon of a woman who clearly handled her courtroom in a no-nonsense fashion. She looked a little bit like Queen Latifah in a judge’s gown.

Samantha had to grin at a female stonewalling Nick’s charm tactics.

Then the judge turned to her and Luc, and groaned aloud. Samantha could swear she said under her breath, “Oh, crap!”

Not a good sign.

“Lucien LeDeux! What’re you doin’ here, cher? Shouldn’t you be down the bayou chasin’ ambulances or somethin’?”

Instead of being insulted, Luc just grinned. “How’s yer Mama, Bernie?”

“Jist fine. And that old bird Tante Lulu?”

“Still causin’ trouble. Thanks fer askin’.”

Samantha did a mental snoopy dance as they all sat down, Nick and Daltry looking as if they’d swallowed bad crawfish. It would appear that Tante Lulu’s outrageousness had unexpected benefits.

“I’ve read the history on this case. It appears that Ms. Starr is requesting a termination of alimony payments…very substantial alimony, I see here…to her ex-husband Dr. Nicholas Coltrane. How come a doctor needs alimony?” the judge asked right off the bat.

“Because Doctor Coltrane deserves to live the life style he shared with Samantha Starr while they were married. The same would be true if the genders were reversed, and a woman wanted alimony from her husband.” Daltry then cited some statute which supposedly supported his position.

“Don’t y’all be tryin’ ta teach me the law, Mistah Daltry.”

“My apologies, your honor,” a red-faced Daltry said.

Judge Pitre nodded. “For how long? It’s been five years. How long before Dr. Coltrane earns an income to match his former life style?”

There was a telling silence which pretty much said, “Forever.”

Then Daltry said, “Records show how expensive the medical equipment is in the facility Dr. Coltrane had to purchase for his practice after moving out of a Starr family building. That on top of rising office salaries, insurance, etc. Little is left for even a minimal standard of living.”

The judge raised her eyebrows skeptically.

“Your honor? If I may speak?” Luc stood and picked up a folder, which he opened on the table.

The judge nodded.

“There are new circumstances that warrant the termination of alimony payments to Dr. Coltrane.”

“I object,” Daltry said, standing abruptly. “What are those documents? We’re entitled to discovery.”

“Don’t be an ass, Mistah Daltry. This isn’t some high-falutin’, on-TV, criminal trial,“ Judge Pitre exclaimed.

Daltry flushed again and plopped back down into his chair.

Nick raised his hand in the air like a little kid asking his teacher for permission to go to the bathroom. At Judge Pitre’s surprised nod of acceptance, he smiled his lopsided smile, the one that meant he was playing the ain’t-I-adorable card. “I never wanted a divorce. It was Samantha who rejected my affections.”

“You were screwing the neighbor’s babysitter, you prick!”

“Sam!” Luc hissed. “Remember. Carnival beads.”

“So not true! Your honor, Samantha is very insecure,” he confided in a whisper as if they couldn’t all hear. “She was always looking for infidelity in our marriage.”

“And you were looking for size double-D’s.” And, yeah, taking Luc’s advice, Samantha had to admit that Nick did look silly in her mind picture, bare-assed naked, with an erection standing out like a bird’s roost, holding strands of colored beads. She couldn’t help but grin.

“Atta girl,” Luc said, guessing what she was thinking.

Nick snarled at her seeming amusement at his expense, then told the judge meekly, “I even suggested we take ballroom dancing classes together, not just to heal our marriage, but because, I have to tell you, Samantha has no sense of rhythm at all.”

Samantha returned the snarl. “And you have no sense at all, period.”

The judge put her face in her hands, then shouted, “Enough! Does anyone have anything to present today that is remotely sane? Otherwise, I’m going down to Arnaud’s where I plan to order a Hurricane…or five.”

“Your honor,” Luc said with exaggerated meekness, “I submit credit card statements for Doctor Coltrane which indicate he is living a life style that far exceeds his supposed medical debts, despite his claims of near poverty.”

“There are privacy laws, LeDeux. You have no right to those records,” Daltry sputtered.

“Shut up!” the judge said, then turned to Luc. “Continue.”

Shoving one sheet of paper after another toward the judge, Luc explained, “In the past six months, designer suits worth ten thousand dollars, restaurant expenses totaling twenty thousand dollars, jewelry, fifty thousand dollars, and purchase of a condo during his recent one-month stay in the Cote d’Azure.”

Judge Pitre’s jaw dropped with each sheet. Daltry looked a bit shocked, as well.

But Luc was on a roll. “I would like the court’s permission to subpoena Cerise Barclay, Antoinette Gaudet, and Pussy Gate.”

“Your honor!” Daltry protested.

“You bitch!” Nick seethed at Samantha. “You’re just jealous because you’re such a dog no man would want you.”

“You’re the dog, Nick,” she snapped back, leaning across the table.

Luc tugged on her arm, pulling her back. “Shhh. He’s baiting you. Naked. Carnival beads. Naked. Carnival beads.”

“You didn’t think I was a dog at one time,“ Nick went on. “In fact, we’d still be together if I hadn’t had a vasectomy…”

“Without telling me,” she pointed out, sitting now, but with her arms folded over her chest in anger.

Nick shrugged. “Just because you drooled over kids didn’t mean I wanted to propagate the likes of you.”

The judge was pounding on the conference table. “Silence! Everyone!”

When they’d all quieted, though everyone was simmering, Judge Pitre addressed Luc. “Subpoenas, Luc? What do you think this is, Law and Order?”

“No, but the women will never come testify unless you order them to.”

“Who are they?”

“Coltrane’s mistresses.”

The judge raised a silencing hand when Nick and Daltry prepared to protest again. “And the one with the funny name…Pussy-something?”

“Pussy Gate. A stripper,” Luc said succinctly, not even breaking into a grin, even though he probably wanted to.

Nick flashed her a venomous look. Hey, she hadn’t even known about the stripper. She’d thought his tastes ran higher class than pole dancers.

“This case is postponed until…” the judge consulted her calendar, “two months from now. September 15. At which time I expect documentation, supporting case law, and decorum. From both sides. Do I make myself clear?”

“I’ll be ready to leave in a few minutes,” Luc said, motioning toward the clerk who’d stayed behind while the judge left the chamber.

Samantha went into the corridor ladies room while she waited for Luc to complete some court paperwork. Although everything seemed to have gone well today, she felt drained…and frustrated that the case would be continued for another two months.

Nick was waiting for her when she came out.

She tried to step around him, but he blocked her way, then grabbed her with a pincer-hold on her upper arm, dragging her into a side corridor leading to a maintenance closet. The hatred on his face turned his normally perfect features into something scary.

“Have you lost your mind?” she asking, slapping at him. Her handbag dropped in the process, and her carefully-styled hair came undone.

Shoving her up against the wall, he spat out at her, “You stupid cunt! Do you honestly think I’m going to let you get away with this?”

“Let me go!” She tried to squirm away from him, but his arms now bracketed her against the wall.

“You’re not getting away with this.”

“Wanna bet? The cash cow is about to shut down for business.”

“Don’t count on it.” He made an obscene milking with a hand on one of her breasts, then returned the hand to the wall beside her head.

Unable to squirm out of his extended arms, she tried to calm herself down. “Isn’t it time you earned your own way, Nick?”

“You owe me,” he said, spittle settling at the edges of his lips.

“For what?” Samantha knew she should scream for help, but she didn’t want to appear frightened. It was just Nick, after all. All flash and no bang, as her grandfather used to say.

“For five years of torture living with you.”

She should shut up, but she had to ask, “So you never loved me?”

“Get real!” He gave her another of those insulting once-overs. “As if! Now, you’re going to go inside that courtroom and drop this complaint for termination of alimony, or—”

“Or what?”

He shook her until her teeth practically rattled. “I know where you live. Remember that.”

“What? Are you threatening me?”

Nick had been a heartache during their marriage and an expensive pain in the ass since then, but he’d never threatened violence before. This was something new, and, truthfully, a little scary.

“I’m not afraid of you,” she lied. “You are the biggest mistake of my life, and I’m done paying for it.”

As voices came closer, he released her and turned on his heels, but, before he stormed away, he said, “You’ll be done, all right, unless you back down.”

She decided not to tell Luc about Nick’s actions. Not just yet. She didn’t want to get involved in filing a complaint with the police, which is what Luc would surely demand. Not just yet. And truth to tell, she was a bit rattled.

Samantha was an educated woman. And a wealthy one. Her family, owned Starr Foods, a chain of supermarkets throughout the South. Her grandfather, Stanley Starr, a Yankee carpetbagger from Boston whose family had emigrated from Scotland, founded Starr Foods with a little French Quarter grocery store after World War II. There were now more than a hundred stores. Thus, she was guaranteed a healthy income for life. Not that she didn’t work for it, both in the accounting department and as director of the Hope Foundation, the umbrella organization for Starr Wishes and Jude’s Angels, the latter being Tante Lulu’s brainchild.

To outsiders, Samantha appeared independent and confident. And she was good looking, dammit, no matter what Nick said. Not beautiful, but attractive.

Despite all that, by the time she returned to her Garden District home that evening, she felt shattered. Forget about physical threats, her ex-husband wounded her with words, every single time.

What she needed was a Prince Charming to rescue her.


She would settle for a suit of armor, or thicker skin.



What’s your theme, baby?…

One week after his mother’s death, a still reeling Daniel LeDeux stood in her back yard.

Don Ho was belting out “Tiny Bubbles” from the loud speakers. A pig was roasting on a monster rental spit in the backyard, which was decorated with sand and fake palm trees. Among the fifty or so guests were men wearing garish, floral, Hawaiian shirts and women dazzling in sarongs or skimpy, fake grass skirt outfits, all accented by artificial leis. Luckily, the weather had cooperated. While normally the July temps in Alaska didn’t go above the sixties, it was in the low eighties today. Everyone sipped at drinks adorned with pineapple slices and little umbrellas. Macadamia nuts were heaped in one bowl, and a questionable grayish purple poi of three different consistencies was available for one, two, or three-finger dipping. Those who had already overimbibed on the coladas were dancing in a wacky hula-style conga line that skirted all four sides of the house.

It was the best luau Juno, Alaska had ever seen.

At the same time, it was the wackiest funeral Daniel and Aaron had ever attended. Unfortunately, the guest of honor was their mother, whose body, donated to science, had already winged its way to the Johns Hopkins research facility in Baltimore more than seven days ago.

“I feel a little guilty,” Aaron confessed to him. “Like we should be howling with grief, instead of partying.”

Daniel shook his head. “No need. She was in so much pain. Even morphine didn’t cut it near the end.”

As a single parent, their mother had struggled to bring twins into the world, care for them while attending college and medical school, and provide a loving home for thirty odd years. Her death was a monumental loss to both of them. But, really, they’d said their good-byes to her months ago, when she’d still been able to put two coherent sentences together.

He squeezed his brother’s arm.

“Cancer is a bitch,” Aaron said.

You’re telling me! Try watching a ten-year-old kid wither away to nothing.

“You boys havin’ a good time?” Aunt Mel asked, giving each of them a hug.

“Just super!” Daniel remarked.

Smiles twitched at their lips as they viewed her attire. She was a native Aleut, except for some Russian blood contributed by an anonymous grandfather, thus her height of five-foot-eight. Despite a huge appetite, Mel had always been skinny. Now, she had her almost non-existent hips tucked into a grass skirt riding way too low on her butt. Halved coconuts looked like torpedoes covering her breasts, which were also practically non-existent. A circle of lavender orchids lay atop her permed, bottle blonde hair. On a chain about her neck hung a half of a silver heart pendant to match the one their mother had always worn. Although Mel had a smile on her mouth, her eyes were red-rimmed from crying.

“Just wait ’til the singing starts,” she said. “Father Sylvester is gonna lead us in hymns.”

“Yippee!” Aaron said under his breath.

“At least it’s not Barry Manilow songs,” Daniel murmured back, with a hand over his mouth.

“Gag me at the Copa,” Aaron quipped.

Despite their whispered remarks, neither of them would ever deliberately hurt Aunt Mel, who had been with them since they were toddlers. In fact, she had given Aaron his first flying lesson when he was twelve years old and later welcomed him as half owner of her air shipping company.

“I know it’s cornball, having a theme funeral, but your mother and I never made it to Hawaii. Fate intervened.” Tears welled in her eyes and dripped down her flat, round face onto her lei. “Do you think it’s crazy? Or disrespectful?” She spread her arms out to indicate the whole shebang.

“No, it’s wonderful.” My nose is probably growing.

“This is just what I want when I die,” Aaron added. “A theme funeral.̶

Daniel gave his brother a sideways glare of warning.

“Except mine would be held in a strip club, or a Playmate Mansion kinda place. Clothing optional. And there would be a wet t-shirt competition, and lap dancing, and Victoria’s Secret models, and—”

“Oh, you!” Aunt Mel punched Aaron playfully on the arm. At least the tears were gone, which had probably been his intention.

“Mellie!” State Representative Rogers stepped up and gave her a sympathetic hug. “Come with me. There’s someone I want you to meet.” Before they walked off, Aunt Mel told the two of them, “We need to talk later. I have something important to discuss with you.”

She probably referred to their mother’s will, which surely left everything to her, as it should. “There’s no need, Aunt Mel. We can talk later this week.”

Aunt Mel shook her head. “No. I promised your mother.”

On that puzzling note, she strolled off with the politician, whose wife had been a long-time MS patient of their mother’s.

They were silent then as they sipped at their drinks, then grimaced at the sickening sweetness.

“I keep thinking Mom will step out of the house and push her famous gumbo on us,” Daniel remarked. Or talk to me about medicine. She understood what it was like to lose a patient. Lots of patients.

Aaron looked at him with concern.

Oh, great! I probably have tears in my eyes, too.

“If that hula dancer over there in the grass skirt decides to give me a lap dance, I won’t complain.” Aaron was clearly trying to cheer him up, like he had Aunt Mel.

“Yeah, right. That’s Kirima Kulowiyi, a nurse from Mom’s practice,” he told Aaron. “She’s married to a roughneck who does hard manual labor out on the oil rigs. That’s him over there by the barbecue…the guy who looks like he could bench press a polar bear.”

“Okaaaay,” Aaron said with a laugh. Then, blinking rapidly to hide his own tears, he put down his fruity drink and took a beer out of a cooler and handed a second one to him.

Raising the bottle, as if in a toast, Daniel took a long draw before wiping his mouth with the back of his hand. “I quit my job today,” he announced out of the blue.

“Job? Being a doctor isn’t a job. Do you mean that you won’t be working at the pediatric medical center anymore?”

“No, I mean that I’m quitting medicine.”

“No way, Dan! You love being a doctor.”

“Correction. I used to love being a doctor.” Daniel didn’t elaborate. It went without saying that working day in and day out with terminally ill kids ate away at a man’s spirit. Losing his mother was the last straw. Did I mention that Deke Watson died on Tuesday…just two days after Mom? Ten years old, and he weighed fifty pounds. Amy Lewis lost two of her baby teeth on Wednesday…and all her hair. Lionel Harris got his tenth spinal tap yesterday. Shiiiit!

Just then, Father Sylvester and Aunt Mel could be seen wheeling a portable organ into the back yard. Aaron and Daniel looked at each other, put their empty beer bottles on a picnic table, and headed toward the front yard and their cars parked in the driveway. They’d already said their goodbyes to their mother.

“Whoever said that funeral’s are for the living, not the dead, knew what they were talking about,” Aaron remarked, as if reading his mind.

“Yep. Singing `Amazing Grace’ isn’t going to help Mom now,” and it might just push me over the edge.

Aaron summed up the situation very well. “Time to do what comes natural. Let’s go get blitzed.”


Who knew they had a “Daddy Dearest?”…

“Your roots are in Louisiana. Cajun country,” Aunt Mel told them the next morning. For the third time. Daniel and Aaron were having trouble understanding the news.

“Oh, my God! We’re rednecks,“ Daniel finally exclaimed to Aaron.

Aaron just grimaced with fake horror at Mel’s announcement.

Aunt Mel put down a tray of coffees, then smacked them on their respective shoulders before sitting down behind the desk in her small home office. Daniel and Aaron sat in chairs before the desk, their long legs extended and crossed at the ankles. Like twins, for crying out loud! Daniel cringed at his use of the expression “for crying out loud,” even in his head; it had been a favorite of his mother’s.

“Idjits!” Aunt Mel had just told them about their mother’s last wishes, that they know their family history. Like they cared at this late date!

“Just ’cause you have Cajun blood doesn’t make you rednecks,” Aunt Mel explained patiently, like they were little boys who didn’t know any better.

The two brothers hadn’t returned to their mother and Mel’s house until this morning, having exceeded their goal of getting blitzed last night. They’d both ended up knee-walking drunk. My head feels the size of a basketball. Which isn’t helped by the fact that good ol’ Barry is belting out “Mandy” for about the thousandth time. Don’t CDs ever wear out?

Their mother’s death was hitting them hard today. This house, without her in it, felt empty and sad. Any minute now he expected her to come into the room and ruffle his hair or kiss his cheek.

I miss her, too, he heard in his head, and it wasn’t him thinking those words. Glancing over to Aaron, he realized that it was his brother whose word-thoughts he’d read. Twins did that a lot. He could feel Aaron’s silent pain, literally. They nodded at each other with understanding.

Aunt Mel, fulfilling their mother’s wishes, was telling them about their father, Valcour LeDeux. A father whose surname their mother had given them, and nothing else over the years. And about their mother’s family, the Chaussins.

“I thought our father was dead,” Daniel said, scanning once again the documents and newspaper clippings spread across the desk.

“I thought Mom was from France.” Aaron’s brow furrowed with puzzlement. “Hell, that’s how she always explained her accent. I should have known better. It was the strangest French I’ve ever heard. I mean, what born and bred French woman says, `Holy Crawfish!’?”

“Like you know French!” Daniel remarked.

“Hey, I dated that French model.”

“For what? A week?”

“What’s your point?”

“The point,” Aunt Mel interrupted them, “is that your mother was pure one hundred proof Cajun, same as your father, which makes you two morons Cajun, too.”

Cajun? I don’t even know what that means.

Picking up on his mind cue, Aaron teased Aunt Mel, “Cajun… does that mean I have to chew tobacco and wrestle alligators?”

“Don’t you dare!”

“Or talk like Dennis Quaid in that old movie,`The Big Easy’?” Daniel added.

Aaron glanced at him with surprise.

“Hey, I have a sense of humor when I want one.”

Aunt Mel sighed. “I like Dennis Quaid. He can put his slippers under my bed any ol’ time.”

Which was ridiculous, and they all knew it. Aunt Mel was as gay as…well, their mother. The two women had been together longer than many married heterosexual couples.

“I don’t understand why Mom wanted us to know about this now. Why, after all these years of keeping us in the dark?” Aaron asked.

“She wanted you to know that, even though she’s gone, you still have family.”

“You’re family. That’s enough for us,” Aaron said.

“Ah, honey,” Aunt Mel said, getting up from her chair behind the desk and giving Aaron a big hug. “I know that, but it’s not the same.” She dabbed at her eyes with the tissue she always had tucked in her bra strap under her blouse and sat back down.

“Your mother wants you to go there and meet your relatives.”

Daniel choked on his coffee. Whoa! Learning about his family history was one thing. Going all huggy face with a bunch of strangers was something else. “I beg your pardon?”

“Why in God’s name should we go there?” Aaron asked.


“Whose? Ours? I could care less,” Daniel said.

“You’re gonna do it for your mother’s sake. Yeah, that horndog loser treated her like dirt. Yeah, he never told her he was married. Yeah, he suggested she get an abortion, said he had too many brats already. And, yeah, her own family, the Chaussins, put her out like so much garbage, without a penny. They were ashamed of her being pregnant and not married.”

“All the more reason for us to stay put,” Daniel concluded.

“In Valcour’s defense, though not much,” Aunt Mel went on, as if he hadn’t even spoken, “Valcour did give your mother a sizeable payoff that enabled her to go to college and med school. No skin off his teeth, of course, him being filthy rich from oil wells. And he gave her you two precious boys. You have to go back, for your mother’s sake.”

“Like hell! I’m not going to Louisiana to meet some no-good man who did my mother wrong or a family that kicked my mother to the street…uh, bayou. I don’t care if he’s a tycoon or a ditch digger, he means nothing to me.𔄢 Daniel poured himself more coffee to calm down his temper.

“Looks Like We Made It,” Barry warbled.

“I wish!” Daniel and Aaron said at the same time. Sometimes, that twin thing in their heads was a pain in the ass.

“That’s all I need in my present mood…a trip to the Southland. I just gave up medicine. I want to wallow for awhile. Maybe I’ll sit myself down on a glacier and push out to sea.”

Aunt Mel cast a blistering glance his way, which he ignored.

“I don’t know, bro.” Aaron tapped his closed lips thoughtfully. “It might be fun to kick some Cajun butt.”

“I’m going to make sure I have a bottle of booze and a good book on that iceberg.”

“How about a woman?” Aaron asked.

“Nope. I’m considering celibacy. Women are too much trouble.”

“Hah! When did you turn into Mister Grumpy?” Aaron asked him.

“I like being grumpy. People stay out of my way.”

“Would you two shut the hell up and listen to me? You have half-sisters and half-brothers you should meet,” Aunt Mel insisted. “Aunts, uncles, cousins.”

Daniel put his face in his hands.

“Some of them…most of them…are good people, despite that blasted Valcour. Lucien LeDeux is a lawyer, married to a chemist. Remy is a pilot, like you, Aaron; he’s married to a Feng Shui decorator. René was an environmental lobbyist and musician; he now teaches and is married to a lawyer. He still plays in a band, The Swamp Rats. Tee-John is a cop, about to marry a newspaper journalist. Charmaine owns a bunch of beauty salons and is married to a cowboy. One of the nephews is a New Orleans Saints football player.”

Holy hell! Since when had Aunt Mel become a LeDeux genealogist?

“Andy LeDeux? He’s one of our kin folk?” Aaron asked. “Wow!”

“Kin folk? You’re already sounding like a frickin’ Cajun.” Daniel flashed his brother a frown.

“I didn’t know they had cowboys in Louisiana. But nevermind. I can’t leave the air shipping business, even if I wanted to,” Aaron said.

“Yes, you can. We have an offer to sell the whole kit and caboodle…the air shipping business, the warehouse, both planes, everything. We would make a tidy profit.”

“We do?” Aaron looked surprised, and pleased.

“And I could retire to Florida. Buy a condo. I’m sick of the cold.”

This was the first Daniel had heard of his aunt wanting to move.

“Looks like we both might be unemployed,” Aaron commented to him. “Synchronicity, that’s what it is.” Aaron looped an arm over his shoulder. “Here you are, in need of fun to cure your grumpiness, just when we’re both out of work.”

“Listen, Aunt Mel, if our father, Valcour LeDeux, wanted nothing to do with Mom, why should we want to know him? Or vice versa. As for the Chaussins…they kicked a pregnant teenager to the curb. If those are family ties, I don’t want them,” Daniel seethed.

As Barry sequed into “Blue Velvet,” Aaron tried to lighten the mood, “Now that we’re Cajuns , we probably shouldn’t listen to any more cornball Barry Manilow songs.”

“Oh, you!” Aunt Mel laughed. Their opinion of Barry Manilow was a longtime joke in the family.

“In fact, we should probably adopt Cajun music,” Daniel added.

“You’re right. I’m gonna buy me some rowdy Cajun music CDs right after we leave here. The kind that makes people have to stomp their feet.” Aaron glanced down at his low-heeled, urban cowboy boots, as if checking to see if they were stomp worthy. Actually, he would probably fit in perfectly, as he never had in Alaska where the normal attire was fur-lined parkas, flannel shirts, and clunky Timberland boots.

“The Cajuns use accordions and washboards, don’t they?” Daniel asked Aaron, continuing the jest.

Aaron nodded, “Yep, and they yell yee-haw a lot.”

“Would you two stop?”

“Who’s the midget in this picture?” Aaron asked, holding up one of the newspaper clippings?“ It carried the headline “Oil Tycoon Hit by Cajun Traiteur.”

“Aaron! People don’t say midget anymore. They say ‘little person’.” Aunt Mel smacked Aaron on the knuckles with the will.

Aaron rolled his eyes. “Who’s the little person rapping our dear ol’ dad with a folded umbrella? And what the hell’s a traiteur?”

“That’s Louise Rivard, honey. Tante Lulu, she’s called. A LeDeux family matriarch of some sort. Not a midget…um, little person, I don’t think. Just short.”

“What’s a traiteur?” Daniel asked.

“A folk healer,” Aunt Mel answered. “Some of these letters are from her.”

“Oh, that is just peachy. We’re not just swamp trailer park trash, we have voodoo in our genes.” Daniel shook his head, more with indifference than amusement or revulsion.

“In fact, as soon as your mother died, I notified her and told her to spread the word. She got back to me right away with condolences, but, most important, she has something to give you two. ‘Something Important.’ You need to go there to pick it up, as soon as possible,” Aunt Mel told them.

“What does she want to give us?” Aaron asked. “Maybe it’s some kind of family inheritance.”

“Why can’t she just mail it to us?” Daniel wanted to know. “And isn’t it convenient that she waited until Mom was gone before offering it to us?” He, for one, had no desire to travel below the Mason-frickin’-Dixie line, on the whim of some old lady.

“Maybe it’s a plantation. Maybe we inherited a bleepin’ Tara,” Aaron teased.

“Frankly, I don’t give a damn,” Daniel said.

“Or it could be a trunk load of gold, too expensive to mail. Yeah, that’s it, pirate gold.”

“Pirates in Louisiana?” Daniel raised his brow with skepticism.

“Sure. Didn’t you ever hear of that pirate Lafitte? He had digs in Louisiana, didn’t he? Maybe we have pirate blood, too. That would be cool.”

“You two are demented,” Aunt Mel concluded. “The bottom line is, you have relatives in Louisiana. Your mother wanted you to know them. And one of them has ‘something important’ to give you.”

“It’s a Miracle,” Barry announced, jarring them all.

It would be a miracle if Daniel survived this Aunt Mel session without his head exploding. He counted off on his fingers. “So we’re Cajuns.” One finger. “Our maternal grandparents were bastards.” Two fingers. “We’re bastards.” Three fingers. “Our father was a bastard, for sure.” Four fingers. “An honorary aunt has a secret something for us.” Five fingers. “Big deal!” Six fingers. Daniel was not all that upset. He was never going to meet these people. What did it matter?

Aunt Mel slapped a hand on the desk. “You’re going! If you don’t go, how will your mother ever rest in peace?”

How could they refuse now?

Barry was thankfully silent.


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