Rae stared ahead without really seeing the faded blue paint on the wall of the dressing room; one hand still on the phone that sat on the table with her combs and hot curler. Her brother’s voice, from far away, had delivered the news that had not surprised her: Lucien was dead.
“Look here, if you want, I’ll let Buddy know you’ve got to cancel.” Jamal, her drummer and best road partner, spoke in a voice full of compassion.
“We’ve just got one more song, man. It’ll take no time and Kevin can start packing the bus while we’re still on stage.” Wesley, one of the guitarists, rubbed his top lip.
Jamal turned on him with a scowl. “You one cold-blooded–”
“All I’m saying is we been on the road for four years, with finally a solid rep. You know how this business goes, man. We can’t get no name for not sticking through a job.” Wesley did not back down from his position. He considered himself the only true businessman among them, though Rae’s astute management had brought them this far.
“One song, Wes. Buddy isn’t going to object under the circumstances.” Jamal gave a grunt. “He’s got a heart.”
“Hey, I didn’t say Rae shouldn’t leave. Give me some credit. But –”
Rae held up a hand to cut off the argument. “I’m okay. And Wes is right, we got one more song and I’m going to do it,” she said, taking a deep breath before picking up a brush. Rae pulled it through her shoulder length hair, and then pulled back into a long braid that fell down her back.
Jamal gazed at her with concern in his eyes. “Rae, baby, you sure about this?”
She met his gaze and nodded. “Yeah, I’m sure. Now go on both of you. I’m fine.” With one touch to her shoulder, Jamal followed Wesley out.
Rae looked down at the phone again. “I can do this.”
She said the words to test her voice again, to make sure it was steady, but also as reassurance that she had the strength to go on stage after that phone call. Singing a few notes, Rae cleared her throat.
As she walked to the stage of the combination dance hall and supper club called Buddy’s Blues Shack, Rae tried to conjure an image. None came until in a flash she realized she was humming a tune Lucien had taught her. On beautiful summer mornings while she trailed after him down at the river dock, he’d sung songs in his rich baritone. Songs about life; funny songs that made her laugh with delight. Lucien Dalcour was a mixed bag kind of man; good memories jumbled with the bad. For too many years the bad memories had ruled in Rae’s mind. Now she wouldn’t have another chance to talk with him about the good times.
“I know y’all done had a rockin’ good time tonight. We have been fortunate to have these fine performers with us, ain’t that right?” Buddy Rolston, a short round man the color of ebony, shouted to the crowded nightclub audience. They clapped and yelled their agreement. “Just wanna tell Rae and the guys you know you always welcome back to Oakland, California. Now give up some love for the Bon Temps Band!”
The crowd erupted into a welcoming clamor as the band took the stage. Rae went to the microphone, her guitar hung around her shoulders. Seeing a sea of faces watching her, she felt a wave of emotion. This was her life; one she’d carved out with sometimes ruthless determination. There were days when her music pulled her back from the deep valley of despair. How many times had she sworn to never leave the road until she was too old to move? Hundreds? Thousands? Yet, in a split second of looking out, she was tired of it all.
“This last song is about hard times. Something we all been through, I guess.” Rae’s voice was soft, pulling everyone into the mood with her. She could see heads nodding in affirmation. “But it’s also about having the guts to make it when everybody says you can’t, when folks say you’re no good.”
“That’s all right now!” Buddy called from his favorite place in the wings.
“Go on, babe,” Jamal said from his place at the drums.
“It was written by somebody who knew a lot about hard times. Bear with me ‘cause I haven’t sung it for a long time.”
Rae felt a rush of love for the band as they began the opening notes of the blues tune. Wes blinked at her with eyes shining, his hard businessman shell gone. He gave a slow bow of his head in a gesture of empathy and affection.
“So this is ‘Can’t Let It Get You Down’ by my father, Lucien Dalcour.” Rae closed her eyes. Lucien’s smiling face was there; a color snapshot.
* * *
“My baby,” Aletha murmured, gathering Rae into her plump arms. “You had something to eat?”
Rae stroked her mother’s cocoa brown face. Her skin was still supple, despite her fifty years. Trust Mama Letha to think of comfort food. “I’m not hungry right now, Mama. Thank you.”
“Come over here and give your Tante some sugar.”
Tante Ina, round and the color of caramel, did not wait for an answer before giving Rae a tight hug. Her father’s sister was her favorite aunt, a quintessential mother hen. “Get you a plate, cher.”
“No, really, just give me a cola.” Rae felt soothed at being fussed over by the two women.
All three greeted relatives and friends paying their respects in the rundown Acadian-style house, where Lucien and Aletha had raised three children. Aletha filled the house with delicious food she’d prepared at her home in New Iberia. Her second husband, George, had even accompanied her.
“Hey, baby girl. Don’t complain when there’s nothing left.” Andrew, with a lopsided grin so like their father’s, stuffed another mound of jambalaya into his mouth.
“Stop making a pig of yourself.” Neville, the eldest of the siblings, frowned at his younger brother in distaste. “Sheila, stop hitting your brother,” he barked, switching his attention to making one of his four children behave. Mumbling, he wandered off to separate the squabbling youngsters.
“Don’t mind him, Andrew. He’s just upset.” Neville’s wife, Trisha, tried to prevent hurt feelings.
Andrew gave a shrug. “I don’t mind Neville, Trish. Don’t know why he’s so down. He...”
Aletha placed a hand on her son’s shoulder. “Don’t start nothin’, Andrew.”
Tante Ina shook a finger at them. “Now y’all be nice.”
Neville had gone out of the back door and come back to the living room through the front. “No, let him say what he was going to say.”
“It’s not like you gotta get all respectful now Daddy is dead – all but denied the man the past ten years,” said Andrew, pushing the plate of food away as though full, “Living in your big, fine house on four acres with a stocked pond.”
“I work hard and I’m proud of it,” Neville shot back. “I want something better for my family.”
They all fell silent, including a host of cousins nearby. After whispered comments, they withdrew from the gathering conflict and went out onto the front porch.
What Neville left unspoken was how they had suffered because of Lucien’s drinking and wild money schemes. The family never had enough. Lucien was a big, handsome man, the color of brown sugar. He could never really settle down to being a family man. For twenty-years, Aletha stayed with Lucien, but his wild rages finally drove her away. At the same time Rae left home to live on campus at college in Lafayette, Aletha left her first love.
Now, with all these old wounds being opened, Rae wanted to run again, the way she had eight years ago. Once they had all been so clear on how they felt about Lucien. Rae had seemed to side with Neville, yet deep down she felt gut-twisting turmoil about their father. Leaving Belle Rose to pursue a singing career had been her solution. Andrew’s response was to endlessly make excuses for Lucien while Neville soundly condemned all he represented.
“Oh right. That big, fine house we keep hearing about.” Andrew waved a hand in the air. “So what?”
“Don’t knock it. I mean, look at this place. And that tin box you live in isn’t much better.” Neville jerked a thumb in the direction down the road where Andrew lived in a small mobile home.
“Me an’ Daddy wasn’t owned by nobody though. When we got tired of work, we’d take off for fishin’. I’ll never forget it wasn’t but a few months ago we was down at Mulatto Bend–”
Neville cut him off – “Did more drinking than fishing, I’ll bet.”
“Shut up, Neville!” Rae stunned them all by shouting. “And Andrew, Daddy wasn’t perfect, so quit making him sound like some lovable father from television.” She rubbed a hand over her face. “I gotta get out of here.”
“Now look what y’all done!” Tante Ina boxed Andrew’s ears. “Shame, Neville.” She glared at the tall man as though he were ten years old.
“Hey! That hurt, Tante.” Andrew wore a pout.
“He didn’t have no business sayin’–” Neville‘s voice went weak at the look of disapproval from both his aunt and his wife. “Sorry.”
Rae crossed the porch in long strides and jumped down to the ground. As the sunlight of early spring splashed the leaves and road, she started off toward the worn footpath down to Grande River. Usually, the splendor of a sunny day with blue skies in south Louisiana would comfort her, but not today.
“Raenette, wait for me,” her mother called out. Aletha caught up with her. She squinted up at the cloudless blue sky. “Wanted me some fresh air, too.”
Rae glanced at her sideways. “Sure you did.”
The two women were so different. Rae had been her father’s daughter from the moment she’d been born. Where Aletha was quiet and unassuming, Rae was brash. As a girl she’d resisted any effort to be babied, pushing out on her own. Aletha had many scares when she turned to find her little girl out in the bayous or on the river with children older than her, or alone.
Adolescence had been an especially turbulent time for mother and daughter. Rae was in constant rebellion, seemingly intent on establishing a reputation as ‘That wild Dalcour girl.’ Mother and daughter clashed frequently over Rae’s behavior; the drinking and sneaking to bars. Yet somehow the rift had not been with her mother. Aletha understood her daughter better than anyone knew. Now Rae sensed her mother needed to nurture her.
Aletha laughed. “All them Dalcours, Cavaliers and Ricards coming out the woodwork. Can’t turn around without stepping on one of ‘em.”
“Uh-huh.” Rae tried to smile, but could not summon up the energy. The angry words of her brothers kept buzzing in her head. They walked on until they reached a curve in the river. It went through the small town of Belle Rose.
As they stood on a grassy bank staring at bateau bobbing on gentle waves, Aletha looped her arm around Rae. “Your brothers still got to work out what they feel for their daddy. Takes boys longer, just like we fought more, remember?” Aletha gave her a tug.
“Thank goodness you never gave up. No telling where I’d be if you had. Daddy sure was no role model.” Rae was not bitter; just able to see Lucien clearly. “You did good with all of us, Mama. Andrew could have slipped down further if you hadn’t been there.”
“He still might, Raenette.” Aletha bit her bottom lip. “I’m scared he’s gonna decide to take up where his daddy left off. He’s still drinking too much. Old man Ventre love Andrew like he was his own boy, otherwise he would have fired him long ago.”
“He’s got to do it himself, Mama.”
“Andrew ain’t strong like Neville, or you, come to that. He’s beginning to talk just like Lucien about the old days.” Aletha let go of Rae to cross her arms. She seemed to feel a chill in spite of the warm weather.
Rae looked at her mother. “Daddy never gave up on that, did he? He might have stopped talking about it so much, but Pawpaw Vince was never far from his thoughts.”
“You know better than me,” said Aletha, raising an eyebrow at her. “When you came to visit two years ago when he had that mild heart attack, what did he tell you?”
“You know about that?” Rae was shocked. She had not mentioned their conversation to anyone, not even her close girlfriend, Marcelle.
“Lucien told me.” Aletha nodded at her. “Last few years he kept in touch – him and George even got on kinda good.” She laughed when Rae’s mouth fell open. “No reason why they shouldn’t.”
Rae shrugged. “Guess you’re right.”
In fact, George was like Lucien in some ways. Both men were quick to smile and forgive. George had the easygoing temperament of a man who was happy with himself. Maybe if life had been different for her father... Rae thought of her last talk with Lucien.
“But you got your own life. Don’t rake up the past. Nothing you can do about it after all this time anyway – fifty years.” Aletha gazed out at the river, and then down where it wound toward downtown Belle Rose.
“He’s gone, baby. Ain’t one thing gonna make it right now.”
Rae did not know if her mother was talking about Lucien or Pawpaw Vincent. It did not matter. “I can’t turn my back on him this time, Mama.”
“You listen to me. It’s still folks who get plenty nasty just at the mention of your grandpére’s name. Especially them Joves. Toya is big in town, like her mama was.”
“Really? Toya always did like being a big fish in a little pond.” Rae felt a flash of rancor at the mention of her name.
“Take care of your daddy’s business and get on with your life. Neville won’t care if you sell the dance hall and Andrew won’t fuss when he sees he might get some money out of it.” Aletha’s voice took on an intense tone.
Rae looked at the rich green vegetation swaying in the river breeze. Yellow, red and blue wild flowers bloomed. Even on a weekday afternoon, people fished from the banks or in small boats. There was a rhythm to life in this rural parish that had never left her. She could not stand the thought of leaving it again.
“Mama, I’ve been wandering all around, trying to find myself. This is where I’ve been all along.” Rae waved to several folks in a passing boat. “I’m home now.”
* * *
“Cher! Come here and give me some sugar.” Marcelle stretched out her free arm. Her new baby girl was perched in the other as she sat in the rocking chair on her veranda.
“Hey now, you still producing little Browns, I see.” Rae laughed out loud from sheer joy at seeing her oldest and dearest friend.
The kissing and hugging went on for several minutes, before the two women shared remembrances and news in a rush, chattering at break-neck speed, as if to make up for the years they’d been apart. Soon, Marcelle’s other four children poured out of the house to see the newcomer. Four boys, all rough and tumble, competed to show off in front of Rae.
“Lord, Marcelle, these boys have grown.” Rae beamed at the smooth faces of cinnamon, all looking like their father.
“Now don’t pretend you remember these rascals. Truth is I get confused they all look so much like Freddie. This is Freddie Jr. He’s my big boy, just turned eleven. That’s Tremaine. He’s nine. Eric Paul quit that! Eric Paul is eight. And my sweet boy, Torrence, is five.”
“Come here, sweet things!” Rae gathered the boys to her. They were a squirming, dusty little crew, now very shy to be on formal display. “You’re right, girl. They all look like Freddie just spit ‘em out.” She pinched Torrence’s plump cheek.
“Uh-huh, got his mischief in ‘em too. Now y’all go play. And you better stay out Miss Pearl’s fig trees,” Marcelle yelled at the disappearing shirt-tails. “Lotta good that’s gonna do.” She lifted a shoulder. “Here now. Hold your godchild.”
“This one here is going to be beautiful like her mama,” said Rae. “Hello Felicia Lynette.”
Rae settled onto the swing with the infant cradled in her arms and stared down at the little brown face, smooth with sleep. Looking at the baby tugged at her heart in an unexpected way. Tiny Felicia Lynette smelled of baby lotion and formula. Rae gazed at the wood-frame house, which was brightly decorated. Marcelle managed to keep it neat after a fashion. But the toys of four active boys were scattered around the front yard.
Rae kissed the baby’s head. What did she have to show for her life? A modestly successful band, a couple of recordings on compact disc, which sold fairly well, but not much else. Had she been wrong to choose the path she’d taken?
“Girl, you doing so good. I’ve got both of your CDs. I envy you.” Marcelle sighed. She smoothed down the cotton dress over her still plump tummy.
Rae was startled out of her reverie. “What?”
“Mais, yeah – you’re living a carefree life, traveling all over, even to foreign countries. I spent my twenties either being pregnant or wiping baby butts.” Marcelle sighed again. “Sometimes I wonder what if I’d gone to New Orleans to study accounting, instead of getting married.”
Rae touched one of Felicia’s hands. “I was just sitting here thinking that you’ve made such a good life for yourself.”
“I love my babies. But I just wonder what if. You know?”
“Yeah.” Rae stared off across the blacktop road, but she did not see the trees swaying in the spring breeze. Being back in Belle Rose was like taking a ride in a time machine. She went back fifteen years to when she and Marcelle were teenagers.
“Things haven’t changed round here too much. I mean downtown got a little more spruced up in the last four years. We got that new crawfish-processing plant. Them Joves– ” Marcelle broke off with a sharp glance at Rae.
“Since when did you walk on eggshells around me?” asked Rae, not looking at her.
“Listen, cher, talk has already started about you and Darcy. You’d think it happened yesterday.”
“You know, since I got home, sometimes it does feel like fifteen years ago. Sorta like being in two time dimensions.” Rae shook her head. It was strange how this town was affecting her.
“Oui. Coming home can be like that, I guess, especially after so long.” Marcelle was in tune with Rae as usual. The two had always been like sisters.
“So, Darcy is doing well for himself? I’m not surprised.”
Marcelle studied Rae’s expression for several moments before speaking. “Yeah, he’s got several businesses goin’. The canning plant, crawfish ponds and real estate. At least his businesses are doing well.”
“What do you mean?” Rae looked at her with interest.
“Darcy just got divorced from his third wife. She left him. Said he’s crazy and his sister crazy too.”
Rae laughed. Darcy and Toya Jove had grown up in an old Creole family with an inflated value of their social status. Their mother, Lorise, was fond of reminding everyone of her proud French heritage. Two years older, Darcy was handsome and self-possessed. After seeing him from a distance throughout their childhood, Rae fell in love with him the summer she turned fourteen. To her amazed delight, he turned his attention to her. They would sneak off together, both knowing his parents would never approve, to stroll through the fields. Toya followed them one day and told her parents.
“Toya Jove. She always took it on herself to protect her brother from females.” Rae remembered how Toya had warned her to stay away from Darcy.
Marcelle sniggered. “Pooh. With his track record, he don’t seem to need much help running off women these days.”
“How does he look?” Rae could not resist wondering about the boy she’d wanted so much. For two years they defied all efforts to keep them apart, until Darcy succeeded where his sister and parents had not. One day, in blinding pain, Rae had discovered the real Darcy Jove.
Marcelle pursed her lips. “The same.”
Rae knew what that meant. He was still almost too pretty to be a man – dark curling hair, full lips and large eyes like Louisiana dark-roast coffee. Yet the thrill was long gone.
“Well, I’m through with that,” Rae said. “Guess what?”
“What?” Marcelle followed her swift change of direction with ease, like the old days, ready to play the question game from their childhood.
“I’m thinking about staying in Belle Rose,” said Rae, as surprised as Marcelle to hear the words come out of her mouth.
“Quit lyin’! You’re gonna give up being a singing star to live in Belle Rose? Poo-ya!” Marcelle stared at her with big, round eyes.
Rae laughed. “I’m not a singing star. We did okay, but I’m not famous or rich.”
“Still, why would you wanna get stuck in podunk Belle Rose? Especially with... you know.”
“That’s the main reason why, Marcelle. Daddy lived here all his life under a cloud. I don’t accept that the Dalcour legacy is going to be shame.”
“What about Toya and Darcy? Not to mention old man Jove. I just don’t wanna see you get hurt. They own land around your daddy’s dance hall, you know.”
Rae went rigid. “Nobody told me that.”
“They bought it up and was trying to force him off, too. Mr. Lucien was talking a lot about his daddy, and all that stuff that happened back in the forties. Mr. Henry was hot about it.”
Rae glanced at her. “He’s been bad-mouthing my grandfather for years. But I won’t let him or any of the Joves rule my life.”
“What you gonna do?” Marcelle’s eyes gleamed with excitement. “Better watch out for Toya.”
“I’m going to do exactly what they don’t expect, that’s what.”
“Things about to get interesting in this town for the first time in ten years. Welcome back, sister.” Marcelle sat down on the swing next to Rae and put an arm around her. “I can’t wait to see what you’re up to this time.”
Rae gazed around at the willow trees dancing in the wind. Yellow wildflowers covered the ground in a field down the road. This was the warm, vibrant land of her family. Nothing else spoke to her like the lush vegetation and hot sunshine of south Louisiana. Kudzu vines, bushes and trees crowded every space of earth, encouraged by the hot, moist climate; a tangle of greens in various shades.
Life in Belle Rose was like that, she mused – a tangle of relationships that stretched back years. Her father, her grandfather and the Jove family were connected for better or worse. Maybe it was time to stop running from it. Yet doubt trickled through her. Sometimes tangles should not be disturbed. But she didn’t feel as though leaving was a choice anymore.
Rae turned to her friend. “Marcelle, do you think I still belong here? Like you said, I’ve been traveling so long.”
“Some folks come back and you can tell this isn’t their home anymore. They’ve got roots in California or Chicago now.” Marcelle took a deep breath. “Not you. You’re right to wanna be home, Rae.”
“I sure hope so, Marcelle. I sure hope so.”
* * *
“Okay, quit joking around. It’s been three weeks and I can’t put JoJo Lawson off again. When are you coming back?” Wesley stood with one hand on his hip.
Wesley and Jamal had stayed with Rae for the weekend. They enjoyed fishing and small-town life in small doses. Now they were ready to leave. Jamal helped Rae load groceries into Wesley’s Chevy Blazer.
“I’m not. I keep telling you. I’m going to stay here and run the dance hall.” Rae yanked on a sack of potatoes with Jamal’s help.
“No!” Wesley dropped a bag of groceries onto the gray seat of his vehicle. “No, no, no.” He shook his head back and forth. “You can’t just quit the band.” His voice was positive, as though his saying it would make it so.
Rae gazed up at the tall, lanky man with a look of resolution. “Yes, I can.”
Jamal slapped him on the shoulder. “Told you she wasn’t kidding.”
“Just like that – walk away?” Wesley wore a look that was a mixture of disbelief and betrayal. “Well, if that’s all we mean to you, fine.”
“Get real, Wes.” Jamal barked out a harsh laugh. “You of all people trying to lay an emotional guilt trip on somebody.”
“We’ve been like family and you know it.” Wesley turned to Rae. “Baby, we’ve been through the fire together.”
Rae thought of the tough times when they only had each other – nights of rowdy crowds and surly club owners. One record producer even told them they had no chance of making it. Yet they had pushed on.
“You’re right, Wes. Like family, we’ve had hard times and stuck together. So now I need you to understand that I’ve got to do this, for Lucien and for me.” Rae put a hand on Wesley’s arm.
“He was a sweet dude, your daddy. I don’t care what anybody says.” Wesley, for all his gruff exterior, had a sentimental core. “Sure gonna miss you. Come here, girl.” He gave her a quick hug.
Jamal joined in for a group hug. “Aw, man, leaving you behind is going to be tough.”
Rae blinked back tears. “It’s going to be hard watching you leave. But, hey, you’re coming back.” She thumped Wesley’s chest firmly. “I expect you guys to play for me at least twice a year.”
He winked at her. “You got it, little sister.”
They went back to loading the last few bags into the Chevy. Jamal and Wesley teased Rae about the joys of living in a small town as they drove into the old part of Belle Rose. Antique shops and boutiques lined the main street.
“Let’s stop here. I want to get my mom a souvenir,” said Jamal. His mother lived in Detroit, but collected Southern figurines. They stopped at a shop selling small statues made from pecan shells.
“Whoa, who is that?” asked Wesley. He did not follow Jamal into the shop, but lingered on the brick sidewalk, staring down the street.
Rae followed his gaze. An unpleasant tingle went through her at the sight of the curvy figure in a white pant set. “Toya Jove,” she murmured, more to herself than to answer Wesley’s question.
Toya straightened the stylish white, short-sleeved shirt, with flowers in an appliqué pattern across the front. A wide, white woven belt with a gold buckle was wrapped around her waist. The pants were loose fitting, but still showed her figure to advantage. She touched the designer sunglasses on her face as she looked at Rae. Her lips lifted at one corner in a perfect expression of disdain, and then she turned and walked away. A tall man emerged from a storefront. After a brief exchange, Toya went past him and into another store.
“Some lady. Maybe I could arrange to hang with you a while longer.” Wesley seemed in a daze. “You know, help out with the hall.”
“How thoughtful,” Rae said. Toya still had that effect on men, it seemed. “Wouldn’t have anything to do with Spider Woman, would it?”
“She’s something else.” Wesley still stared in the direction that Toya had taken.
“Save your libido, Wes. Toya has an income requirement for her men. Besides, she was just with some other poor sucker. Guess he’s in her web.” Rae examined the tall man who had spoken to Toya. To her surprise, he walked towards them.
Rae watched him approach, wondering why he seemed familiar. He was at least six foot four, with skin that shone like burnished bronze in the bright sunshine. His hair was a cap of tight black curls; a short afro. Muscular arms appeared from the light green, cotton-knit shirt neatly tucked into his chino slacks. Graceful, like a trained athlete, his stride was smooth.
Rae felt a prick of disappointment that he wore dark sunglasses. She wanted to see the eyes of this stunning man. What the heck is wrong with me? Rae wondered at her reaction to this stranger. Though she’d had at least two serious relationships in the past six years, Rae had never been one to fall for a handsome face on sight. Life had made her wary of good-looking men. Still, she was quite content to watch this man walk by. He smiled, revealing even, white teeth. Rae nodded a greeting, expecting him to continue on his way.
“Hello, Miss Dalcour,” he said in a voice that hinted he sung bass.
“Hello.” Rae took his outstretched hand. The flesh was smooth and cool.
She tried to recall his face and voice. Strange, but she liked the solid feel of his hand in hers. It seemed to steady her, giving a hint of how good the rest of him would feel. His broad chest seemed perfect for touching. Rae wondered if he was single. Being home might be even better than I thought.
“You probably don’t remember me. We met only a couple of times years ago. I’m Simon St. Cyr.” He smiled at her.
So that was it – the St. Cyr clan. Now she recognized him. His grandfather was the third partner in the ill-fated venture that had left a stain on the Dalcour name all these years. Joseph St. Cyr, Henry Jove and Pawpaw Vincent had been best friends. As young men, they decided to go into business together. Things had gone terribly wrong; all of it blamed on Vincent Dalcour. Yet the St. Cyrs and Joves not only survived, but prospered.
Rae gazed at the strong profile. Cold dislike crept over her. This well-dressed pretty boy could not help but strut in front of her.
“Oh yeah,” she said in a short tone. All amorous thoughts of snuggling up to him vanished. “Sure you want to be seen talking to me in public?”
Simon stopped smiling. “Ms. Dalcour, what’s past is past. I don’t have any interest in a fifty-year-old feud. When you get situated, give me a call.” He took a business card from his shirt pocket.
Rae did not take it. “Why?”
“You might be interested in the discussions I had with your father several months ago. He was planning to work with me on developing your family’s property.”
“I have a hard time believing my father would give you the time of day,” Rae replied, but she was intrigued despite her words. Lucien had spoken to a St. Cyr? More to the point, why would a St. Cyr talk to a Dalcour?
“Meet with me and I’ll explain it all to you.” Simon nodded. He still held out his card, his expression behind the sunglasses hinted at a challenge to her.
After a few seconds, Rae took it, and read, “Heritage Contractors and Dirt Service.”
“Thursday morning at ten okay?” Simon pointed to a building. “My office is down on Front Street, just a short distance from here.”
Rae watched him walk away. She definitely liked the way the man moved. While her body reacted to the sensuous presence of Simon St. Cyr, her mind issued a strong warning. What could it hurt to listen for a few minutes? What she remembered of him was neutral. Being four years older, Simon had been away at college during her high-school years. Besides, she’d been too infatuated with Darcy to notice other boys. Darcy. That experience alone should have taught her that men from those two families were trouble.
A stab of regret and pain made her wince at the memories. Maybe she shouldn’t meet Simon. Keeping her distance could be the best plan if she were to remain in Belle Rose. Rae ground her teeth in frustration. Within ten minutes of seeing Simon, she was torn with confusion. Trouble from the St. Cyrs and Joves already! She sat down on a bench to wait for Wes and Jamal to finish shopping. The small business district was quiet, with a few tourists wandering from shop to shop. Rae was still lost in thought when a shadow fell across her. Rae gazed up
“Look who’s back in town.” Toya stood over her, a tight smile on her face. “Hello Raenette.”
“Hello Toya.” Rae resisted the urge to stand up. Toya always had a way of making her feel outnumbered; somehow at a disadvantage.
“Sorry to hear about your daddy. Mr. Lucien was a real character; amusing in his way.” Toya wore a smile of indulgence as she sat down on the opposite end of the bench. “So you’ve been busy becoming a star, I hear.”
“Hardly, but we did okay.”
“You’re being modest. You always could play a mean blues guitar.”
Rae wondered where this conversation was going. Toya hardly cared about her or her music career. She settled back against the bench and waited. “Thanks.”
“I’m sure you have lots of engagements. Before you leave, tell me when your band will play around here again. I’d like to see you perform.” Toya started to rise. Her tone made it clear that she expected Rae to waste no time in leaving Belle Rose.
“No problem. Since I’m staying, you’ll get to see me as often as you like.” Rae grinned at the effect of her words.
“Staying?” Toya echoed.
“Sure, Daddy’s business is still here. I think it could be successful.”
Toya’s expression was taut. “Dalcour business deals have a way of going up in flames. I shouldn’t have to remind you of that.”
“Yeah, well, Simon St. Cyr doesn’t think so. He practically offered me an engraved invitation to do business with him.”
“Simon did what?” Toya snapped through clenched teeth.
Rae laughed. So, mentioning him touched a sore spot. “Made it a point to find me. Seems like a real nice man.” She made the simple words sound suggestive. “I really look forward to meeting with him.”
“You stay away from...” Toya’s voice trailed off when she realized that Rae was enjoying her irritation. “You never could recognize when you were out of your league.” She flounced off.
“See you around, Toya,” Rae called out in a false tone of friendliness.
Jamal and Wes appeared on the sidewalk, carrying several bags of purchases. Wes tried to get Toya’s attention, but she never looked his way.
“Let me guess, she wasn’t exactly a pal of yours back in the old days,” Jamal said.
Wes gave a low grunt of approval. “My, oh my, some fine-looking woman.”
“Wes, the woman is a chainsaw in expensive leather pumps,” Rae replied. “Toya is ten times more deadly than both your ex-wives.
“Ouch!” Wes wore a pained expression at the mention of the two women who’d pursued him relentlessly for alimony.
“Listen, Rae, seems there are a lot of bad memories here for you. Not to mention bad feeling.” Jamal jerked a thumb in the direction Toya had taken. “Sure you wanna hang around here?”
Toya threw one last glare at them before getting into her white Acura sedan and slamming the door.
Rae smiled “Oh yes, I’m looking forward to it more and more.”
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