I have to say, going to a casino in Indiana is nothing like going to a casino in Vegas. In Vegas, you get class…in Indiana you get Casino Walmart. People watching was interesting. I saw an aged rhinestone cowboy all gaudy in his sparkly white shirt and silvery cowboy hat. And aging women all wrinkled up with their tight pants and cigarettes dangling from their lips as they shimmied around the wrinkly old men in their bedraggled suits. I was waiting to see if anyone got in a knock down drag out over a bucket of booze.
The band was good and so was the magicians. The slots were tighter than some of the pants on the wrinkly old women, so I spent my cash on drinks. Dinner was fantastic. Nothing like prime rib cooked to rare perfection and the bread pudding was almost—almost—as good as the stuff served in the restaurants in New Orleans.
I hope all of you have had a great start to your new year. That you got to spend New Year’s Eve with good company. That the rest of your year is filled with love, prosperity and good health.
For those of you who have been patiently waiting for the next scene of Faith’s Hope, here you go…and if you have time…head over to my Facebook page at www.facebook.com/TeresaAKeefer and vote for my book cover that was nominated for cover of the month for January!
Brentley Maillieux stopped dead in his tracks as he saw the familiar figure step inside the little coffee shop on the corner of Burgundy and St. Louis. There had been something so familiar about her from the time he first set eyes on her standing alongside the fence that circled the lush lawn and garden of his family home. Not so much her looks, but a sense of familiarity that he couldn’t describe. And his beloved auntie hadn’t been much help when he’d mentioned it to her. She went on one of her forays into fate and life path and reincarnation and quite frankly, he’d blocked it out.
Something pulled at him. Curiosity. Where was that coming from? Brent had never been curious about anything that didn’t include one of his current cases. Having only passed the bar a couple of years prior, he already carried a full caseload for his father’s firm and tended to work eighty or more hours a week. It was better for him to work than sit around thinking about how his damned fiancée had run off with another man three weeks before their wedding date.
Brent couldn’t help himself. He walked toward the door of the coffee shop with purpose in his step. Nothing like a nice caffeine-infused latte to get his heart beating faster than it already was. After spending the morning in a rather difficult deposition where neither of the fighting marital partners were ready to give an inch and spent throwing insults at each other across the table, his day was already set to be a real pain in the ass.
The bell above the door jingled as he stepped inside the air-conditioned interior. A nice relief from the smoldering heat that hovered at face level and sucked the energy out of him. He surveyed the shop and didn’t see the girl anywhere, but he was certain she’d walked inside just a few scant moments before he had. Striding toward the counter, Brent reached for his wallet not paying attention to what he was doing. And collided with the object of his curiosity as their paths met by the tall counter. The sound of cups shattering across the floor accompanied the muttered oath of the young woman who had been carrying them.
Brent watched for a moment as she stooped to pick up the unbroken cups without looking up to see who she’d run into. Her brown hair was secured tightly in a braid down her back, and she appeared to be rather skinny in the fitted jeans and neon green tee shirt emblazoned with the name of the shop on the front. His first thought was to chastise her for not paying attention to where she was going, but he stopped himself. There was something vulnerable about her and in all honesty, had he been paying attention to where he was going he wouldn’t have ventured anywhere near the swinging door to the kitchen beyond.
He approached her and squatted down to her level, reaching for one of the unbroken cups and handing it to her. His fingers barely touched hers, but the effect for him was profound. It was like he had touched those fingers a million times before. As his eyes met hers, another feeling. Déjà vu. Then her hands started trembling, and she stood up with the stack of rescued cups and disappeared behind the swinging doors.
Another woman came out with a broom and dustpan and started sweeping up the ceramic fragments of the remainder of the cups. Smiling brightly, she motioned him away with a sweep of the hand. “Thank you for trying to help Faith pick up the cups. I’ve got it from here. Now go on and get yourself a cup of coffee or latte. On the house.”
Faith was curled up on the sofa, her slender legs tucked up beneath her and a book on her lap. The mystery was an older paperback she’d picked up at a sidewalk sale as she walked home from work the day before. Anything to take her mind off the man who so closely resembled the image in the photo she’d found in the trunk upstairs. After that first meeting as she stood outside the house in the Garden District, she brought the old tintype downstairs and set it on her bedroom dresser. The next day she came home from work and found it standing against the vase on the side table. And every time she returned it to the bedroom, the old photo ended up back where it was now. On the side table. Apparently Hope preferred it to be displayed in the living room.
When Faith mentioned the whole situation to Frankie, the older woman merely nodded and continued working in the flowerbed the two of them had created the second week she’d lived here. It was coming along nicely with a selection of annuals and perennials now blooming in a variety of colors.
“I’m glad she has decided to annoy someone else for a change. That infernal crying is enough to drive a person to distraction at times.” Frankie pulled a weed and tossed it over her shoulder and that was that.
Faith hadn’t heard the crying after the night it had stormed, but she knew there was a presence on her side of the double. She would catch a drift of fragrance that wasn’t hers or see a shimmery shadow pass down the hall in the middle of the night – and of course the tintype being moved. But other than that, the only thing that really haunted her was how his eyes seemed to look at her like he knew her.
She pushed the thought of the man that she discovered through her browsing the internet at the library was a descendent of Geoffrey Maillieux. An attorney with the firm Maillieux and Bonaparte. Handsome, refined, educated and wealthy. Old family money that could be traced back to the grandparents of the young man in the tin type photo. Which didn’t make sense, because from what she’d discovered was that men from the rich part of town didn’t go to the area around the French Quarter to find a wife in those early days. They went there to find a good time. But the letter she’d found in Hope’s chest didn’t sound like a man who was just looking for a good time. It sounded like a man who was in love with the girl from the wrong side of town and had every intention of returning to her after the war. But from her searches in the attic there was no evidence that he’d returned for Hope. Perhaps that was why the ghostly apparition lingered in the attic close to the carved chest that contained items she was positive Hope had made herself while waiting for her man to return. Things that would be useful in her marital home.
It was a quiet night. Cooler than usual so Faith opened the windows to let fresh air breeze through the screens and fill the house with the fragrance of the night air slipping in through the lacy curtains. She’d come to enjoy the sound of blues music, and there was an instrumental CD playing on the secondhand stereo that now sat on the bookshelves in the living room. A set of bookshelves that were starting to fill up with not only books but also with little personal touches as well.
She was starting to feel much better physically. Emotionally, at least the nightmares didn’t haunt her every night like they had when she’d first come here. Faith was beginning to feel safe. No more prying eyes or whispered comments as she walked down the street. Faith would never be the same as she had been before, but maybe she could at least have some peaceful solitude here. Maybe even make a friend or two. She already had a good start with her quirky landlady and neighbor, Frankie.
Absorbed by the novel she was reading, she didn’t immediately recognize that fragrance that she had come to associate with Hope. Or rather Hope’s spirit. But she did notice it about the same time that the tintype photo dropped into her lap and a knock sounded at the door. She glanced at the slender, gold watch on her wrist that was all she had left of her mother. It was still early, and she shook her head. Frankie’s date must not have turned out so well for her to be back this soon. Setting the book aside, Faith got up and went over to the door, pulling it open without looking. An action that was so unlike her these days. And she came face-to-face with Geoffrey Maillieux’s twin. Descendent. Unwelcome.
Faith didn’t have time to react before the man stepped inside her doorway and jerked her roughly into his arms. His mouth was on hers with a ferocity that left her breathless. And more. Her blood pulsed through her veins and pounded in her head. She lost all sense of equilibrium as the floor swayed beneath her and the floral scent spun around them like a whirlwind. Strong fingers tangled in her hair while the other hand at the small of her back became the only thing that held her upright because the way he was kissing her practically caused her legs to buckle. His body was strong and hard with a heady heat emanating from the parts that touched her body. Then the sensual assault was over and he held her away from him, his dark eyes piercing.
“Dear God, I don’t know what came over me. There’s something about you that is so familiar and enticing I couldn’t help myself.”
Faith struggled to pull loose from Brent’s hold. Her hands shook and her knees buckled. “Let me go.”
Brent shook his head. “I’m so very sorry. I only came here to meet you. I’ve had dreams of you ever since the day you were outside my home, and it’s been torture.” He touched her face, his eyes never leaving hers. “For the love of God, what is happening to me?”
Faith’s breath was coming in short gasps as she tried to recover her composure. She should send him away. Slap him for his aggression toward her. Push him right out the door on his ass. But that hot, sensual mouth on hers had been familiar. Like he had kissed her lips a million times before. Like Faith had felt his body against hers in the night. She lifted a hand to her mouth and put her fingers where his mouth had just been. Then the quiet in the room was interrupted by the eerie sound of laughter. Soft and musical laughter swirling around them both. Could he hear it or was she imagining it?
He frowned. “Is there someone else here? That laughter. Where is it coming from?.”
She shook her head. “There’s nobody else here. Maybe you and I need to talk.” She held out her hand to him. “My name is Faith Marshall.”
He nodded again. “Yes, I know your name. It took some doing, but I was finally able to get your boss at the coffee shop to spill the information.” His fingertips came up to touch her chin gently. “And I’m Brentley Maillieux and forgive me, but I need to kiss you again.”
As much as Faith wanted to push him away, something in her very soul stopped her. Instead of putting up her hands to protect her from his abrupt invasion into her space, she rested them on his shoulders. Let her fingers trail up his neck and tangle in his dark hair. When his tongue licked at her lips, she parted them and allowed the kiss to deepen. There was no panic. No icy fear stabbing through her chest this time. It was like a whole different person had taken up residence in her physical body. Someone who was familiar with this man and wanted all that he had to offer.
Faith felt his strong hands as they stroked down her back, leaving a trail of heat in their wake. She shivered as his lips moved along the tender skin of her neck and his arms held her closer. When his fingertips touched the side of her breast, she gasped from the sensation like electricity jolting through her body and coming to a head at a point between her thighs. She sucked air like a drowning woman before his lips returned to hers to once again play even more havoc with her senses.
There was a wild tempest in the room, swirling around like a cyclone of power. At first, it was just something Faith could feel as it set her skin tingling even more. Then suddenly, it changed. The air became heavy and she felt like she was starting to smother. The tin type, which had fallen to the floor earlier, lifted into the air and was returned to its place on the table. Brentley’s kiss was no longer enjoyable and Faith started to struggle to free herself from his embrace. Finally, unable to make him understand that he needed to release her, she shoved against his chest with all of the strength that she had.
As he stood looking at her with surprise and confusion in his eyes, music started playing in the attic. Glancing toward the ceiling, he sighed. “What in the hell is going on around here?”
Faith felt overwhelmed but as she looked at the disappointment on Brentley’s face, she stepped forward and carefully took his hand. The physical contact sent a shudder through her but she tried not to let it show. “Please, let’s sit down and talk. I don’t really understand what happened here tonight either but I have a pretty strong feeling that it has something to do with your ancestor.” As she led him over to the sofa, she glanced back at him over her shoulder. “Do you believe in ghosts?”
Brentley rolled his head and groaned. “Good grief, I thought only my aunt talked about things like that. Don’t tell me you are one of those crazy spiritualists too?”
Faith smiled and shook her head. “No, I’m not crazy and I didn’t believe in ghosts until I actually saw one. Here. In my attic.” She should have been offended by the look he gave her, let alone the reference to being crazy. But she understood what he must think because for a few days, she thought the same of herself. “Let me tell you what I know so far.”