LaShaun sat on her back porch gazing in fascination at the glowing dots. Tiny beams flickered against the dark orange and blue sky as the day quickly faded into night. Lightening bugs danced along the edge of the woods that started at the end of her neatly manicured lawn. They seemed to be thanking her for creating a habitat in which they could thrive. She got up from the cane rocker and went down the back steps. Standing still, LaShaun held out one hand and was rewarded. One of the little flying beetles settled just above her wrist. Soon three more of her sparkling friends decided to join the party. LaShaun smiled as they blinked on and off like tiny flashlights.
"I'm so glad you decided to visit. Next time I'll open a tiny bottle of vintage nectar just for you." She laughed as their little bodies lit up as if accepting her invitation.
The peaceful night was a welcome respite from the chaos of dealing with people. The residents of Beau Chene still whispered that the Rousselle family practiced voodoo, the same tale that had been passed on for over one hundred and twenty years. In hushed tones they spoke of ghosts and goblins. It was said that there were strange ritual gatherings in the woods on their land. Like most Louisiana natives, they possessed a mixture of fascination and fear when it came to the supernatural.
But the same house and land that inspired so many dark tales whispered in Vermillion Parish, and the parish seat Beau Chene, brought tranquility and comfort to LaShaun. The restored Creole style home first built by their ancestor Louis Volant in 1830 had been lovingly restored at least twice. Her late grandmother's second husband had done the last renovation in 1950. At Monmon Odette's direction, her husband had kept the old Creole nineteenth century look and charm intact.
LaShaun breathed in the cool air of the October fall evening. She gazed at the house, once more thanking her ancestors for their business acumen and love of the land. She was about to go inside when a rustling in the brush caught her attention. She faced the woods cloaked in shadows. The wild, verdant growth stood in contrast to the neatly mowed lawn that surrounded the house. Curious, LaShaun tilted her head to one side and listened. Something untamed moved through the thick leaves. She could feel the essence of the creature, savoring its freedom of movement in the night. The creature didn't fear LaShaun, but sent out waves of equal curiosity at the strange upright being in sight. It was cautious not to approach and felt secure hidden among the vegetation that cloaked it. Then a high pitched keening sound cut through the tranquil surroundings. LaShaun's visitor went from calm to tense in an instant. Seconds later it skittered deeper into the woods away from the danger signal. Another keening wail echoed sounding a little closer. The haunting sound brought silence. Even the crickets and small frogs hushed. LaShaun took three steps towards the woods to investigate, but stopped when headlights swung down her driveway. The mystery in the woods forgotten, she walked across the grass until she reached her driveway made of crushed rocks.
The lights shut off, and seconds later the door to the light gray F-10 Ford truck swung open. Deputy Chase Broussard, dressed in civilian clothes, waved. "You out enjoyin' this pretty evening?Thought you might want some company."
LaShaun walked up to the six foot two handsome Cajun lawman. She tilted her head up and was rewarded with a quick but sugar sweet kiss. "Hmm, you thought right Deputy. Come on in the house. I'll make us some supper. "
"Hope I'm not being presumptuous coming out here. I tried to call, but you're too busy communing with nature to hear your phone." Chase wrapped a muscular arm around LaShaun's waist as they walked down the driveway to the back porch.
"I do lose track of time when I'm breathing in this sweet Louisiana fall air. You can't blame me. We only get nights like this twice a year." LaShaun looked up at the evening night sky. "I don't miss Los Angeles anymore. I thought I would at first, that I'd become used to the excitement of a big city. There was always a cultural event to attend, and nobody cares if you're different. In fact, being different is normal."
"Not like being in a small town where different is seen as dangerous you mean," Chase said.
LaShaun shrugged. "Beau Chene is different now, and so am I. Coming home is what I needed. Not to mention I've made some nice new friends."
"You got that right, lady." Chase pulled her close and kissed her again, this time longer and with more passion.
When they pulled apart LaShaun smoothed back his dark brown wavy hair. "You hungry?"
"Hmm, but we can eat a little food first," Chase replied with a wink.
She gave him a playful push and darted up the porch steps. "That moon is bringing out the beast in you."
Chase followed her into the house and locked the back door. "No, a beautiful woman with
the taste of honey and cinnamon brings out the beast in me. Be careful, cause I just might bite."
LaShaun laughed as she entered the kitchen. "Then I definitely better feed you, and fast."
"That won't stop me from nibbling on you later, girl."
Chase gave her butt a playful swat then ducked when she tried to hit him back. He turned on the radio to a local station playing zydeco and Cajun music. LaShaun hummed along with a lively tune as she took shrimp from the freezer. Already cleaned, she set them under cold running water while she mixed up a tomato roux. She had fresh loaves of French bread from a local bakery. She would make shrimp and sausage in a Creole sauce over rice. Without asking, Chase pitched in. He filled the rice cooker and set it. Then he spread garlic butter on the bread and put it in the oven to warm. LaShaun savored the cooking smells and the cozy feel of their togetherness.
For most of her life she'd felt separated from other people. The exception of course had been her relationship with her grandmother, Monmon Odette. They were both socially apart from the locals who whispered about the Rousselle family voodoo legend. The Rousselle extended family was large, but contentious with battling factions. Monmon Odette, the matriarch at the center of this feuding brood, kept them in line. But with her death ten months ago, and the fight over her estate, the fragile ties had frayed even more. LaShaun kept in touch with a few cousins, but they weren't close. The legacy and resentment of LaShaun being Monmon Odette's favorite meant that she wasn't close to her family. When LaShaun inherited the bulk of her grandmother's estate, those delicate ties were strained even more. So to have Chase in her life meant she wasn't isolated anymore. She'd even managed to make friends with Savannah Honoré and Deputy Myrtle Arceneaux. LaShaun was still getting used to not being on her own.
Chase gathered salad fixings from the refrigerator. "I hope your day was better than mine."
"Being Chief of Detectives not as fun as you thought it would be, huh?" LaShaun asked.
"Fun isn't anything close to the words I wanna use to describe work these days. But it's better than the Army," Chase said.
"I'll bet." LaShaun didn't say more. Chase had only recently told her he was in the Army, and had been in Afghanistan. But he didn't like to talk about it, so she didn't push. He'd tell her when he was ready.
So what have you been up to?" Chase seemed content to get steeped in domestic chores.
"I'm still untangling Monmon Odette's business interests and getting a crash course in mineral rights, timber rights, stocks and bonds. I knew she was sharp, but I didn't have a clue she was such a whiz at being a tycoon. Thank goodness she hired an accountant and lawyer I can trust."
"Your grandmother looked out for you in every detail, honey. That's real love," Chase said as he sliced Creole tomatoes into the big wooden bowl of salad and carrots.
"I miss her so much," LaShaun said softly. She added shrimp to the roux and stirred the simmering mixture in her grandmother's favorite deep cast iron skillet.
"I know, but she's resting in peace knowing you're well taken care of." He finished the salad and wiped his hands on a towel. Then he joined her at the stove, pushed aside her thick braid and kissed the back of her neck.
"Yeah, but sometimes I can feel her spirit." LaShaun smiled at the thought of her beloved grandmère hovering nearby.
"Oui, cher," Chase said quietly. "My mama swore that the spirit of her grandmother protected her all through her childhood after her mama died. Miss Odette was a strong life-force on this earth. Wouldn't be surprised if she carried that after passing to the other side."
LaShaun sighed as she covered the skillet and lowered the flame under it. She turned to face him. "Oh, I'm convinced she did."
"You had some sign?" Chase no longer questioned LaShaun's "gift" of being in tune to the supernatural.
"Not really, just a feeling." She smiled at him and playfully tapped the end of his nose with a fingertip. "She's glad that I'm happy."
"Hmm, can I claim some credit for that?" Chase smiled back.
"Mais oui," she replied with a wink. "Now let's have some supper."
LaShaun pushed aside talk of sadness and spirits as they filled their plates and sat down to eat in the kitchen. After saying grace, they exchanged small town talk about the weather and local news. Chase had LaShaun laughing as he described his latest family news. A younger cousin had become a local high school football hero, and had gotten a little too friendly with more than one cheerleader. His account about the teenager's conservative mother's embarrassment had LaShaun in tears.
"Glenda hoping he'd be a priest," Chase said in between chuckles. "Guess she can scratch that."
LaShaun put away leftovers as Chase stacked the dishwasher. "Back to your day. I take it you had a rough one?" she asked.
Chase grunted. "The usual knuckle-headed nonsense. I had to chase down some fool who
shoplifted a crate of cigarettes from the Stop-N-Go on Oak Road. A couple of drunks got into a fight."
"That's what you signed on for when you became a lawman," LaShaun teased.
"That I can handle, but dealing with dead livestock is definitely not my favorite thing." Chase pushed the button to start the dishwasher then leaned against the counter watching LaShaun.
"The owners should call the local vet for that," LaShaun said as she sealed a plastic container with the shrimp Creole.
"Frank Jeffers over on the other end of Black Bayou first called in that somebody was stealing his cows and goats. That was two days ago. Today he found three goats slaughtered." Chase wore a slight frown. "I mean really ripped up bad."
"Sounds like wild dogs." LaShaun felt a prickle along her arms as she remembered the keening animal like call in her woods.
"Or coyotes." Chase wrapped the remaining loaves of bread in wax paper.
"Around here?" LaShaun put the rest of the food in the fridge and faced him.
"Believe it or not, Louisiana has a growing coyote problem. The population has gotten bigger, and they're moving up from snatching small house pets I guess. I'm no authority on the damn things. Frank is in a big uproar about it. He' demanding that we protect his property."
"Okay, you're going on a coyote stakeout. Guess I better start fixing you coffee and homemade donuts for those long night watches," LaShaun teased, covering her mouth to hold in a giggle.
He crossed the space between them in two long-legged strides and grabbed her around the waist from behind. "Me chasing mangy animals is funny to you, huh?"
"I think you're very qualified to chase down all kinds of criminals, included the furry ones. Quit that," she squirmed as he held her tighter.
"I'll have you know I was trained by the FBI for real police work, missy." He lifted her
from the floor.
"Put me down," LaShaun ordered, though she didn't try very hard to get away.
"Take back that crack about a coyote stakeout, and I may turn you loose." Chase pulled her closer to him and buried his face into her hair.
"Maybe I don't want you to let go."
Instead of trying to get away, she pressed against his pelvis. Chase took in a slow breath and exhaled. LaShaun felt his growing passion, and let her head fall back. His long, strong fingers pulled her hair loose from its braid until it was around her shoulders. They kissed as they unbuttoned, unclasped and pulled free of clothing.
"Here?" LaShaun murmured, her lips still against his.
"Hmm," was his only reply.
He lifted her against the countertop, and LaShaun wrapped her legs around him. Soon they were locked in a steady rhythm of sweet passion. He entered her, letting her rest on the warm granite surface. The sensation of floating in his arms combined with his steady thrusts pushed LaShaun over the edge, but each time he eased her back by slowing his pace. Soon even he couldn't hold back. As the heat between them rose, LaShaun cried out begging for more. She reached her peak in an explosion of pleasure that sent the most delicious shock waves all through her body. Holding on for every last bit of delight, she savored the force of his release inside her. Chase moaned and gasped as the fever took control of every inch of his being. He called her name, urging her to move with him. LaShaun bit into his shoulder, crying out once more as she rode the wave of a second orgasm. Seconds later they grew still. Then Chase lifted her from the counter. LaShaun trailed kisses down his chest, and led him to her bedroom leaving their clothing scattered don the kitchen floor.
Once in her private sanctuary, she pulled back the comforter and they climbed into bed. LaShaun snuggled against him. "I love that you wanted to be with me after a trying day at work."
"No place I'd rather be. Whenever you're ready we can make this forever, cher," Chase whispered as he stroked her hair.
LaShaun felt the disquiet of her doubts threaten the sweet moment. "I know. It's just..."
"Times have changed, LaShaun. Nobody would question us being together, or hold that against me being elected."
"Not out in the open, but you know damn well they have plenty to say behind closed doors. With you running for sheriff things could get nasty." LaShaun wanted to protect him, but the thought of letting him go for his own good left her feeling weak with despair.
"Girl, how many times I got to tell you; I'm a big boy, and I can handle these small town folks just fine," Chase said in a light tone.
LaShaun finally manage to get free of his arms. She sat up next to him. "The subject of me being a political liability has come up. Tell me the truth."
"Joe Castille brought up the Trosclair murder investigation, and your cousin's case. I forcefully reminded him you were cleared in both cases.i
"The chief alderman is an influential man, and he knows what folks think. Maybe he's got a point." LaShaun pulled the sheet up to her chin. She looked at him steadily.
"He's got a lot of bull is what he's got." Chase gazed back at her for a few moments as silence stretched between them. "Honey, I'm not psychic. Say what you got to say."
"I've never been as close to a man as I feel to you; having someone who looks out for me, even though I can stand on my own," she added quickly.
"What we have is good; real good, but..." LaShaun took in a deep breath and let it out.
"Okay, I didn't need a sixth sense to hear the 'but' coming at me." Chase smiled at her, but her somber expression made it fade away. He stroked the arm LaShaun used to hold the sheet up as though it were a shield. "Baby, come on."
"No, listen to what I'm saying. Dealing with funny looks when you walk by and the comments are going to be a way of life if you're with me. You need to think long and hard. I'm used to being on the outside. But you've been part of a supportive community and family all your life. Popular guy in high school, accepted around town as one of the white hats. I'm not sure you grasp the reality of having people judge you based on being with me," LaShaun said as she closed her eyes and swallowed hard.
There. She'd said it, and she knew the danger. He could very well consider her words and the way he was being treated, and decide he couldn't handle the subtle ostracism. But she needed to know sooner rather than later. Maybe she should have been more forceful in pushing him away before they'd shared such sweet moments. Learning to be alone again, to settle for the occasional lukewarm love affair would be gut wrenchingly painful. But that would be less painful than seeing the love light die slowly in Chase's dark Cajun eyes.
"I'm going to think about what you said, seriously think about it. Because I know this means a lot to you, for me to be absolutely sure I've made the right decision. But I have to tell you, giving you up ain't the answer, cher. Being Sheriff just wouldn't be enough without the love of my life." Chase gently tugged LaShaun's arm until she lay nestled against him again.
LaShaun let out a sigh of relief inwardly at his response. "Don't say I didn't warn you."
Chase reached under the covers and lightly smacked her bare bottom. "And I'm warning you, get used to putting up with me a lot longer than you figured."
She wiggled with pleasure and managed to get even closer to him. "What did I do to deserve a spanking?"
"Trying to talk me out of a good thing, that's what." Chase kissed the top of her head. Then he threw back the covers and stood up.
"And where are you going?" LaShaun sat up in surprise. She enjoyed the view as he bent over to pick up his underwear. The dark blue briefs had somehow landed on the hardwood hallway floor just outside the bedroom.
He turned around and stepped into them, then stood with one hand on his waist. "I'm going home, ma'am. I'm not going to get into the habit of spending nights at your place."
"Good idea. That will generate less gossip." LaShaun nodded, though the bed already felt colder without him.
"Forget politics. When we start keeping house I want it to be for real. Right now we're still dating, and I'm letting you get comfortable with being part of a couple." Chase went out and came back with his shirt and pants. "I don't want you to get too skittish on me, more than you already are that is."
"I'm thinking of you," LaShaun protested with a huff.
"Uh-huh, I believe it. Being alone is a way to feel safe. So maybe a little part of you is afraid?" He pulled on his pants and zipped them, then paused, still holding his shirt.
"Now you're the one talking nonsense." LaShaun slapped at the beautiful quilt that served as her bedspread as though straightening it. She avoided looking at him for a few seconds. When he didn't say anything she glanced at him. "What?"
"LaShaun Rousselle, dangerous magic woman, is a scared of me. I'm one powerful dude."
"So full of yourself, Mr. Deputy Sheriff," LaShaun retorted. She snatched up the round accent pillow that matched the quilt and aimed it at his head.
Chase laughed and caught it. "Okay, darlin'. I won't tease you. Now give me a goodnight kiss to send me on my way."
"I'm not sure you deserve one." LaShaun didn't resist when he leaned down to her. In fact she wrapped her arms around his necked and kissed him hard. "Now get on home."
"Yes, ma'am. I'll call you tomorrow. Oh, and be careful to..."
"Lock the door, keep my shotgun handy and the phone close by," LaShaun repeated his favorite mini-lecture on safety each time he left her alone. She put her lips to his ear. "If you stayed the night more often I would be well protected."
He gave her another pat on the bottom. "When you're ready. Now come on and lock up."
"What does that mean?" LaShaun pulled her robe from a hook on the closet door and
padded after him down the hallway to the back door.
Chase tipped an imaginary cowboy hat at her. "You know exactly what I'm talkin' about, ma'am." He blew a kiss and went out the door.
"Smart ass," LaShaun muttered. She clicked the locks in place then hugged herself and smiled.
Two hours later the musical bells from her landline phone finally cut through the fog of sleep. LaShaun rolled onto her back and looked at the red numbers on the digital clock next to her bed. Her pulse picked up as anxiety flooded through her. Nobody called with good news at two o'clock in the morning. The soft glow from the night light in the hall kept her from groping around in the dark. She found the phone on the fifth ring before her voice mail picked up.
"Hello," she said, forgetting to check the caller ID first. When she did glance at it said,
"Don't let 'em get her. You got to help," said a raspy female voice raspy, desperate and like she was in deep trouble.