Midnight Bayou Page 41

With a snorting laugh, Odette broke off a sprig of rosemary. She pinched at its needle leaves, waved it under her nose for the simple pleasure of its scent. "Why scratch an itch if someone'll scratch it for you? I may be close to looking seventy in the eye, but I know when I see a man who's willing and able.”

"Sex doesn't run my life, Grandmama.”

"No, but it sure would make it more enjoyable." She straightened again. "You're not Lilibeth, 't poulette.”

The use of the childhood endearment-little chicken –made Lena smile. "I know it.”

"Not being her doesn't mean you have to be alone if you find somebody who lights the right spark in you.”

She took the rosemary Odette offered, brushed it against her cheek. "I don't think he's looking for a spark. I think he's looking for a whole damn bonfire." She leaned back on her elbows, shook back her hair. "I've lived this long without getting burned, and I'm going to keep right on.”

"It always was right or left for you. Couldn't drive you to middle ground with a whip. You're my baby, even if you are a grown woman, so I'll say this: Nothing wrong with a woman walking alone, as long as it's for the right reasons. Being afraid she might trip, that's a wrong one.”

"What happens if I let myself fall for him?" Lena demanded. "Then he has enough of swamp water and trots on back to Boston? Or he just has his fill of dancing with me and finds himself another partner?”

Odette pushed her hat back on the crown of her head, and her face was alive with exasperation. "What happens if it rains a flood and washes us into the Mississippi? Pity sakes, Lena, you can't think that way. It'll dry you up.”

"I was doing fine before he came along, and I'll do fine after he goes." Feeling sulky, she reached down to pet Rufus when he butted his head against her knee. "That house over there, Grandmama, that house he's so set on bringing back, it's a symbol of what happens when two people don't belong in the same place. I'm her blood, and I know.”

"You don't know." Odette tipped back Lena's chin. "If they hadn't loved, if Abby Rouse and Lucian Manet hadn't loved and made a child together, you and I wouldn't be here.”

"If they'd been meant, she wouldn't have died the way she did. She wouldn't be a ghost in that house.”

"Oh chhre." Both the exasperation and all the affection colored Odette's voice. "It isn't Abby Rouse who haunts that place.”

"Who, then?”

"I expect that's what that boy's there to find out. Might be you're here to help him.”

She gave a sniff of the air. "Bread's done," she said an instant before the oven buzzer sounded. "You want to take a loaf over to the Hall?”

Lena set her jaw. "No.”

"All right, then." Odette walked up the steps, opened the back door. "Maybe I'll take him one myself." Her eyes were dancing when she glanced over her shoulder. "And could be I'll steal him right out from under your nose.”

Declan had every door and window on the first level open. Ry Cooder blasted out of his stereo with his lunging rhythm and blues. Working to the beat, Declan spread the first thin coat of varnish on the newly sanded floor of the parlor.

Everything ached. Every muscle and bone in his body sang with the same ferocity as Ry Cooder. He'd thought the sheer physical strain of the sanding would have worked off his temper. Now he was hoping the necessary focus and strain of the varnishing would do the job.

The rosy dawn hadn't lived up to its promise.

The woman pushed his buttons, he thought. And she knew it. One night she'd wrapped herself all over him in bed, and the next she won't give him more than some conversation on the phone.

Snaps out in temper one minute, melts down to sexy teasing the next. Trying to turn the night they'd spent together into the classic one-night stand.

Fuck that.

"Aw, cher, what you wanna get all het up about?" he muttered. "You haven't seen het up, baby. But you're going to before this is done.”

"You look to be in the middle of a mad.”

He spun around, slopping varnish. Then nearly went down to his knees when he saw Odette smiling at him from the doorway.

"I didn't hear you come in.”

"Not surprising." With the privilege of age, she leaned down and turned down the volume on his portable stereo as Cooder switched pace, lamenting falling teardrops. "Like Cooder myself, but not that loud. Brought you by a loaf of the brown bread I baked this morning. You go on and finish what you're doing. I'll put it back in the kitchen for you.”

"Just give me a minute.”

"You don't have to stop on my account, cher.”

"No. Please. Five minutes. There's … something, I forget what, to drink in the fridge. Why don't you go on back, help yourself?”

"I believe I will. It's a bit close out already, and not even March. You take your time.”

When he'd finished up enough to join her, Odette was standing in front of his kitchen display cabinet, studying the contents.

"My mama had an old waffle iron just like this. And I still got a cherry seeder like the one you got in here. What do they call these dishes here? I can't remember.”

"Fiestaware.”

"That's it. Always sounds like a party. You pay money for these old Mason jars, cher?”

"I'm afraid so.”

She clucked her tongue at the wonder of it. "There's no accounting for things. Damn if they don't look pretty, though. You come look through my shed sometime, see if there's anything in there you want." She turned now, nodded at the room. "This is fine, Declan. You did fine.”

"It'll come together when the counters are in and I finish the panels for the appliances.”

"It's fine," she said again. "And the parlor where you're working, it's as lovely as it can be.”

"I've already bought some of the furniture for it. A little ahead of myself. Would you like to sit down, Miss Odette?”

"For a minute or two. I've got something from the house you might like to have, maybe put on the mantel in the parlor or one of the other rooms.”

She took a seat at the table he'd moved in, and pulled an old brown leather frame from a bag. "It's a photograph, a portrait, of Abigail Rouse.”

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