Midnight Bayou Page 14

"Look what the cat dragged." Lena sent Remy a grin. "Hey, Effie. What's everybody drinking tonight?”

"A glass of chardonnay for the lady. And two more Coronas," Declan told her. "Then maybe you can call nine-one-one. My heart stops every time I look at you.”

"Your friend's got himself a smooth way once he gets rolling, Remy." Lena took a bottle of wine from the cooler.

"Those Harvard girls were putty in his hands.”

"We southern girls are too used to the heat to melt easy." She poured wine, topped the beers with lime wedges.

"I do know you." It bounced back in his memory. "I saw you, this morning, playing with your dog. Big black dog, near the pond.”

"Rufus." It gave her a little jolt to realize he'd watched her. "He's my grandmama's dog. That's her house back the bayou. I go out sometimes and stay with her if she's feeling poorly. Or just lonely.”

"Come by the Hall next time you're out. I'll give you the tour.”

"Just might. I've never been inside." She set a fresh bowl of pretzels on the bar. "Y'all want something from the kitchen?”

"We'll think about that," Remy said.

"Just let us know." She swung around and through the back door.

"You gonna want to mop that drool off your chin, Dec." Remy squeezed Declan's shoulder. "It's embarrassing.”

"Don't tease him, Remy. A man doesn't get a little worked up around Lena, he's got some essential parts missing.”

"You definitely should run away with me," Declan decided. "But meanwhile. Best wishes." He nudged the gift bag in front of her.

"You bought me a present? Aren't you the sweetest thing!" She tore into it with an enthusiasm that made Declan grin. And when she held up the frog, she stopped, stared. Then threw back her head and let out a hooting laugh. "It looks like Remy. Look here, honey, he's got your smile.”

"I don't see it.”

"I do. Dec did." She swiveled on the stool and beamed up into Declan's face. "I like you. I'm so glad I like you. I love this moron here so much I can hardly stand it, so I'd've pretended I liked you even if I didn't. But I don't have to pretend.”

"Oh now, don't start watering up, Effie." Remy dug out a handkerchief as she sniffled. "She does that when she's happy. Night I asked her to marry me, she cried so much it took her ten minutes to say yes.”

He pulled her off the stool. "Come on, chиre, you dance with me till you dry up again.”

Declan got back on the stool, picked up his beer, and watched them circle the floor.

"They look good together," Lena commented from behind him.

"Yeah. Yeah, they do. Interested in seeing how we look together?”

"You are persistent." She let out a breath. "What kind of car you going to buy me?”

"Car?”

"You offered to buy me a drink, coffee, a car or a dog. I can buy my own drinks, and I like my own coffee. I got a dog, more or less. A car, too. But I don't see why I shouldn't have two cars. What car are you buying me?”

"Your choice.”

"I'll let you know," she replied, then moved down the bar once more.

He worked solidly for three days. There was little, in Declan's opinion, more satisfying than tearing something apart. Even putting it back together again didn't reach into the gut with that same primal zing.

He gutted the kitchen, ripping out the center island, the counters and cabinets. He steamed off wallpaper and yanked up linoleum.

He was left with a shell of plaster and wood, and endless possibilities.

In the evenings he nursed his blisters and strained muscles, and pored through design books.

Every morning, before he started the day, he took his first cup of coffee out on the gallery and hoped for a glimpse of Lena and the big black dog she'd called Rufus.

He contacted workmen and craftsmen, ordered materials, and in a frenzy of enthusiasm, bought a full-sized pickup truck straight off the lot.

The first night he was able to build a fire in the downriver parlor, he toasted the occasion, and himself, with a solitary glass of Merlot.

There'd been no more sleepwalking, but there had been dreams. He could remember only snatches of them upon waking. Music-often the tune had seemed to be lodged in his brain like a tumor. Or raised voices.

Once he'd dreamed of sex, of soft sighs in the dark, of the lazy glide of flesh over flesh, and the need rising up like a warm wave.

He'd woken with his muscles quivering and the scent of lilies just fading from his senses.

Since dreaming about sex seemed to be the best he could manage, he put his energies into the work.

When he did take a break, it was to pay a call, and he went armed with a bouquet of white daisies and a rawhide bone.

The bayou house was a single-story cypress, shotgun style. Tobacco-colored water snaked around it on three sides. A small white boat swayed gently at a sagging dock.

Trees hemmed it in where the water didn't. The cypress and live oak and pecan. From the limbs hung clear bottles half-filled with water. And nestled into the gnarled roots of a live oak stood a painted statue of the Blessed Virgin.

There were purple pansies at her feet.

A little porch faced the dirt drive, and there were more potted flowers on it along with a rocking chair. The shutters were painted a mossy green. The screen door was patched in two places, and through the checkerboard net came the strong, bluesy voice of Ethel Waters.

He heard the deep, warning barks of the dog. Still, Declan wasn't prepared for the size and speed as Rufus burst out the door and charged.

"Oh, Jesus," was all he managed. He had an instant to wonder if he should dive through the window of the pickup or freeze when the black mass the size of a pony skidded to a halt at his feet.

Rufus punctuated those ear-splitting barks with rumbling growls, liquid snarls and a very impressive show of teeth. Since he doubted he could beat the dog off with a bunch of daisies, Declan opted for the friendly approach.

"Hey, really, really big Rufus. How's it going?”

Rufus sniffed at his boots, up his leg and dead into the crotch.

"Oh man, let's not get that personal right off." Thinking of those teeth, Declan decided he'd rather risk his hand than his dick, and reached out slowly to give the massive head a little shove and pat.

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