Midnight Bayou Page 49

"Those are my holy ashes.”

"Oh, right." His brain had definitely gone on holiday. "Ash Wednesday. I not only don't know where I am, but when I am.”

She couldn't bear to watch him sink into the dark again, and kept her voice brisk, just a little lofty. "I take it you didn't get to church today, on this holy day of obligation.”

He winced. "You sound like my mother. I forgot. Sort of.”

She arched an eyebrow. "Seems to me you could use all the blessings you can get." So saying, she rubbed her thumb on the print of ash on her forehead, then rubbed it on his. It made him smile.

"That's probably sacrilegious, but thanks. What time is it?" He looked at his watch and swore. "I have to get this sucker into the shop. It keeps stopping on me. I know it's past noon, and it sure isn't midnight.”

"It's about five. You did say to come early.”

"Yeah, I did. Why don't we go sit out back and have some wine?”

She watched him closely for the first few minutes, but he appeared to be steady again as he selected a wine. Got some lovely old stemware out of his new cupboards.

He'd frightened her, Lena could admit, and badly. She'd been certain he'd intended to walk into the water, to drown himself among the lily pads just as Lucian Manet had done.

And with the realization, a whole new realm of possibilities opened in her mind. "Declan …”

"I got steaks and I got a grill," he said as he poured the wine. He needed to focus on ordinary things-to steep himself in the here and now. "All real men can grill steaks. If you tell me you don't eat red meat, we're going to have to go for the frozen pizza.”

"If I eat meat, why should I care what color it is? Let's go out and sit. I've got an idea I want to run by you.”

They walked to the two wooden crates he was using for chairs and sat.

"What if it's not ghosts. Or not only ghosts?" she asked him.

"Oh, that's a cheering thought. What else have I got? Vampires? Werewolves? Maybe some flesh-eating zombies. I'm going to sleep much better now, thanks.”

"What do you think about reincarnation?”

"Past lives? Recycling souls?" He shrugged his shoulders. "I don't know.”

"It always seemed efficient to me-and fair, too. Everybody deserves more than one chance, don't you think? Maybe you're remembering things that happened here because you lived here before. Maybe you're Lucian, come back after all these years for his Abigail.”

"That's a romantic notion. I'll be Lucian if you'll be Abby.”

"You don't get to choose. And if you're going to make fun of the idea, I won't say another word about it.”

"Okay, don't get testy." He sipped his wine, brooded into space. "So your theory is I'm here, and these things are happening because I lived a past life, as Lucian Manet.”

"It's no more far-fetched than the place being haunted, which you swallowed easy enough. It would explain why you bought this place, needed it. Why you're working so hard to restore its beauty. How you saw the furniture in his bedroom upstairs.”

"Reincarnation," he repeated. "Sounds better than a brain tumor.”

"What?”

He shook his head, drank again. "Nothing.”

"You're thinking you got a tumor in your brain? That's nonsense, Declan." Her voice was sharper than she'd intended, so she continued more gently. "That's just nonsense, cher. There's not a thing wrong with your head or any other part of you.”

"Of course not. I was just thinking out loud.”

But she saw it on his face and, rising, slid onto his lap, straddling him. "You're really worried you've got something inside your head making you see things, do things?”

"I'm not worried. I'm just … Look, I'm going to have some tests, eliminate the possibility.”

"You're not sick, cher." She touched her lips to his cheek, then the other. There'd never been another man who'd so consistently, so effortlessly, nudged out her tender side. "I guarantee it. But if having some fancy doctor tell you the same thing settles your mind, that's fine.”

"Don't mention this to Remy." He took her hand until she eased back to meet his eyes. "He's got the wedding coming up. That's enough for him to think about right now.”

"So, you're planning on going to have brain tests all by yourself? That's not the way we do things around here, cher. You don't want Remy to know, all right. But you tell me when this is set up for, and I'll go with you.”

"Lena, I'm a big boy.”

"You're not going by yourself. So I go with you, or I tell Remy and we gang up on you.”

"Okay. I'll let you know when it's scheduled and you can hold my hand. In the meantime, I'm going to put my money on your reincarnation theory. It's weird, but it's a lot less messy than brain surgery.”

"They say Lucian Manet was a handsome man, like a young golden god." She trailed her fingers through Declan's disordered hair. It was a dark blond, she mused, thick, lush, and she bet it would streak up sexily with the summer sun. "I think you've improved on him this time around.”

"Oh yeah?" He hooked his arms around her waist. "Tell me more.”

"I never much cared for the golden-god type. Usually too pretty for my taste." She cocked her head, eased forward to kiss him. "You suit my taste, cher.”

He brought her closer and, sitting on the wooden crate, rested his chin on her shoulder as he looked out over the gallery railings. "I love you, Lena.”

"If you're trying to sweet-talk me into bed before you feed me-was He drew her back, and the grin faded from her face as she saw his. "I love you," he repeated. "I never understood what that meant before, and I didn't think I could.”

He held her in place when she tried to scramble up and away. "You need to settle down now," she told him.

"Yeah, I do-but I don't think you mean it the same way. I need to settle down, right here, with you. I don't care if it's the first time or the fiftieth time we've gone around. You're what I've been waiting for.”

"Declan, you're making more out of this than you should." Her voice wanted to shake. God knew, her stomach already was. "We went out to dinner. We went to bed. We've seen each other a handful of times.”

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