Midnight Bayou Page 70

"You can be spitting mad, and still carry on a polite conversation about rhododendrons." He peeked through the ballroom doors, sighed. "All clear. Anyway, when most guys work up a head of steam, it spews. Well …" He stepped inside. "What do you think?”

The walls were a pale rose, the floor gold and gleaming.

"It's big.”

"It'll need to be for this little do. The General says we've got two-fifty coming. Otherwise, you can use the pocket doors to turn it into a couple of parlors.”

He crossed the floor, drew one of the big doors out of its slot. "Isn't this amazing?" He trailed his fingers over the carved wood reverently. "The craftsmanship in these. More than a hundred years ago. I hate hiding them. See how the pattern matches the ceiling medallions? Tibald did a hell of a job restoring those.”

She had worked up a head of steam since her conversation with her grandmother, but found it dispersing now as she watched his undiluted pleasure and pride.

"It's true love, isn't it? You and this house. Most men don't look at a woman the way you look at those doors.”

"I look at you that way.”

She had to turn away. "You make it damn hard to hold onto a mad. Tell me why you're not mad, Declan. Why aren't you mad she stole from you?”

"I am. And if I have occasion to see her again, she'll know it.”

"You should go to the police.”

"I thought about it. I might get some of the money back, but it would embarrass Miss Odette.”

"She's already embarrassed.”

"I know. Why add to it? I got back the things that mattered.”

The bitterness gushed through her anew. "She came in your house, she went through your things. She took from you.”

He lifted a brow at the tone of her voice. "Working up that steam again?”

"Goddamn it. Goddamn it, Declan, she violated your home. It's not like taking from me or Grandmama. How much did she take?”

"Couple thousand.”

The muscles in Lena's jaw tightened. "I'll have you a check tomorrow.”

"You know I'll tear it up. Put it away, Lena. I figure it was a cheap lesson. If you're going to live in the country, have a houseful of valuables and spare cash, you don't walk off and leave it unlocked and unattended.”

"She'd have broken a window.”

"Yeah. That's why I'm getting a couple of dogs. Always wanted a pack of dogs. I thought I'd go to the shelter after the wedding. Want to come with me?”

She just shook her head. "You lose two thousand dollars-and I bet it was more– to a thieving junkie, and your response is to buy some dogs.”

"Figured I'd get some fun out of it. How about it? They'll be your dogs, too.”

"Stop it, Declan.”

"Uh-uh." With a satisfied smirk on his face, he walked toward her. "Let's get us a couple mongrel puppies, Lena. They'll be good practice before the kids come along.”

"You get your own puppies." But he'd teased a smile out of her. "And run around after them when they pee on your rugs and chew on your shoes.”

"Maybe Rufus will teach them their manners. You're wearing my earrings," he said as he slipped his arms around her and glided into a dance.

"They're my earrings now.”

"You think of me when you put them on.”

"Maybe. Then I think how nice they look on me, and I forget all about you.”

"Well, then I'll have to find other ways to remind you.”

"A necklace." She skimmed her fingers up the nape of his neck, into his hair. "Couple of nice glittery bracelets.”

"I was thinking of a toe ring.”

She laughed, eased in closer so that she could rest her cheek on his. They were waltzing, and a tune was playing in her head. One she'd heard him hum or whistle countless times. She could smell his workday on him-the sweat, the dust-and under it the faint, faint drift of soap from his morning shower. His cheek was a little rough against hers as he'd neglected to shave.

If life were a fairy tale, she thought, they could stay just like this. Waltzing around and around on the satiny floor, while the sun slid down, the flowers rioted, and the lights from hundreds of tiny crystal prisms showered over them.

"I've got such feelings for you. More than I ever had for anyone, or wanted to. I don't know what to do with them.”

"Give them to me," he pleaded, turning his lips into her hair. "I'll take good care of them.”

She hadn't realized she'd spoken aloud. Hadn't meant to. Now, when she would have drawn back, he pulled her closer. So close, so tight, she couldn't get her breath.

Her head spun, and the music inside it soared. The strong scent of lilies rose up and almost smothered her.

"Do you hear it?" His hands trembled as he gripped her arms. "Violins.”

"I can't …" His voice sounded far off, and as she fought to focus on his face, another seemed to float over it. "I'm dizzy.”

"Let's sit down." He kept his hands on her arms, lowered them both to the floor. "You heard it, too. The music. You felt it, too.”

"Just hold on a minute." She had to regain her bearings. The room was empty but for the two of them. There was no music, no crystal light, no pots heaped with fragrant white lilies. Yet she had heard, seen, smelled. "I didn't know hallucinations were catching.”

"It's not hallucination. It's memory. Somehow, it's memory. They'd have danced here, Lucian and Abigail, like we were. Loved each other, like we do." When she shook her head, he swore. "All right, damn it, he loved her, the way I love you. And there's something still alive between them. Maybe something that needs to be finished, or just acknowledged. We're here, Lena.”

"Yes, we're here. And I'm not living someone else's life.”

"It's not like that.”

"It felt like that. And living someone else's life might just mean dying someone else's death. He drowned himself in that pond outside there, and she-was "She died in this house.”

Lena took a calming breath. "Depending on whose story you believe.”

"I know she did. Upstairs, in the nursery.

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