Midnight Bayou Page 22

It took nearly an hour to wind their way around the house and into it as there had to be conversations with the landscapers, inquiries about their family, speculation on the weather, discussion of the garden.

When he finally got them into the kitchen, Odette fisted her hands on her hips and nodded. "That's a good color, like a nicely baked pastry crust. Most men, they don't know anything but white. Brings out these good pine floors.”

"I should have the cabinets ready to install next week." He gestured toward the dining room. "I'm using pine there, too. With glass fronts.”

Lips pursed, Odette walked in, ran her hand over a cabinet. "This is nice work, Declan. You got a talent.”


"And it makes you happy.”

"It sure does. Would you like to go into the parlor? I've got a table in there. We'll have some tea." He glanced up as something heavy hit the floor above. "Sorry about the noise.”

"Work's rarely a quiet activity. Lena and I will just wander along, if you don't mind. We'll find the parlor.”

"You can't miss it. It's the only room with a table.”

"He's a very nice young man," Odette commented as she and Lena walked out of the dining room.

"He is.”

"Good-looking, too."


"Got a hot eye for you, chиre.”

Now Lena laughed. "He does.”

"What're you going to do about it?”

"I'm still thinking. Lord, what a place." Lena trailed her hands over a wall. "Doorways wide enough to drive a car through. It makes you cry to see how it's been let go.”

"Let go? I don't know. Seems to me it's just been waiting. Isn't this just like a man," she said when they stepped into the parlor. "Living with one table and two chairs. Bet he hasn't fixed a decent meal for himself since he got here.”

Lena cocked an eyebrow. "Grandmama, you're not going to make me feel sorry enough for him to cook his dinner." Amused, Lena wandered to the window. "It's beautiful, what you see from here. Imagine what it would've been like to stand here when the house was in its glory. Horses coming through the allйe, those funny old cars rumbling up the drive.”

"It'll be beautiful again. But it needs a woman-just like that boy needs one.”

Lena toyed with the little key that hung around her neck. "I said I'm still thinking. Chilly in here yet," she added. "Needs a fire going.”

"I'll build one," Declan told her as he came in with a pitcher of over-steeped tea and plastic cups.

It was a good hour, Declan thought. And not counting Remy and Effie, his first real company.

He liked having them there, the female presence in his parlor with the fire he'd built crackling cheerfully and the late afternoon sun fighting through the dust on the windows.

"I'm going to come back," Odette told him, "to see your kitchen when it's finished.”

"I hope you'll come back often. I'd be glad to show you the rest of the house.”

"You go on and show Lena. Me, I'm going to walk on home.”

"I'll take you home, Grandmama.”

"No, you stay awhile." However casual her tone, there was a sly look in her eye. "I want to walk, then it'll be time for my nap." As she started to rise, Declan got up, offered his hand. And made her smile. "You got a pretty manner about you. You come back and see me when you're not busy. I'll make you some sauce patate-potato stew-before you get so skinny your clothes fall off your bones.”

"I got the phones hooked up." He dug in his pocket for a scrap of paper, found a pencil in his shirt pocket and wrote down the number. "If you need anything, just call.”

"Yes, indeed, a very pretty way." She turned her cheek up, inviting his kiss. When he walked her to the door, she gestured for him to lean down again. "I approve of you sparking my Lena. You'll have a care with her, and most don't.”

"Is that your way of telling me I don't have a chance with you, Miss Odette?”

She laughed and patted his cheek. "Oh. If I was thirty years younger, she'd have a run for her money. Go on now, and show her your house.”

He watched her walk by the trees with the spirit bottles dangling.

"You like my grandmama," Lena said from the parlor doorway.

"I'm love-struck. She's wonderful. Listen, it's a long walk to her place. You ought to-was "If she wants to walk, she walks. There's no stopping her from doing anything." She wandered to the front door to stand beside him. "Look there, it's Rufus come to walk her home. I swear, that dog has radar when it comes to her.”

"I kept hoping he'd come around." He turned to Lena. "Bring you with him. I started out two nights this week to go to your place, and talked myself out of it.”

"Why's that?”

"There's persistence, and there's stalking." He reached up to twirl her hair around his finger. "I figured if I could hold out until you came by here, you wouldn't consider getting a restraining order.”

"If I want a man to go away, I tell him to go away.”

"Do men always do what you tell them?”

Her lips curved into that cat smile that made him want to lick at the little black mole. "Mostly. You going to show me this big house of yours, cher?”

"Yeah." He caught her chin in his hand, kissed her. "Sure. By the way." Now he took her hand as he led her toward the staircase. "I have Miss Odette's permission to spark you.”

"Seems you need my permission, not hers.”

"I intend to charm you so completely, we'll slip right by that step. Fabulous staircase, isn't it?”

"It is." She trailed a red-tipped finger along the banister. "Very grand, this place of yours, Declan. And from what I've seen of it, I realize you're not a rich lawyer after all.”

"Ex-lawyer. And I don't follow you.”

"You got enough to put this place back, to keep it-you do mean to keep it?”

"Yeah, I do.”

"Then you're not rich. Step up from rich. You're wealthy. Is that the case?”

"Well, money's not a problem. It doesn't buy happiness, either.”

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