MEMORIES Silhouette Intimate Moments #1338
sight of the sleeping man on Leah Davis's front porch gave her
a start. He was slumped in a heap of humanity near the steps.
His back was to her, his face hidden in the crook of his arm.
And just beyond where he lay, on the top step of the porch, was
the newspaper, the reason she'd ventured out in the first place.
just great," she grumbled, shoving a stray strand of auburn hair
behind her ear. "Just what I need." Between the August heat and
humidity and the double shifts she'd been pulling at the hospital,
not to mention the occasional bouts of nausea, she'd just about
gone her limit. And now this.
her eyes against the bright glare of morning sunlight that not
even the deep porch of the old Victorian home could block, she
stared hard at him.
least this one appeared to be still breathing, she thought as
she noted the slight rise and fall of his back. The last one she'd
found on the porch had been dead, cancer and malnutrition according
to the coroner's report.
staring at the man, she slowly shook her head. The fact that they
kept showing up amazed her. It was almost as if every bum in New
Orleans had some kind of built-in radar that directed them to
her front porch.
a lot, Grandm'ere," she muttered as she tightened the belt of
her thin cotton robe more securely then stepped out onto the porch
to get a closer look.
a year had passed since her generous, softhearted grandmother
had died, and still they came. Leah had inherited her grandmother's
house, but she had no intention of taking over her grandmother's
charity work as well. Even so, no matter how many times she called
the police to come and haul away one of the unwelcome, indigent
visitors, more kept showing up to take their place.
of them were harmless and simply there for a handout, but Leah
had learned not to be as trusting as her grandmother had been.
enough," she grumbled as she crossed her arms protectively around
her slightly rounded abdomen and tapped her bare foot against
the wooden floor of the porch. Unlike her grandmother, who had
felt that it was her calling in life to help every hungry, homeless
man who showed up on her doorstep, Leah didn't feel that she could
take such chances, especially now that she had her unborn baby
her eyes still on the man and with every intention of returning
inside to call the police, Leah took a step backward toward the
door. Instead of going inside though, she hesitated.
her head and narrowing her eyes, she frowned. There was something
different about this one, different from the normal run-of-the-mill
bums who had showed up in the past.
one thing, even though he could use a haircut, his thick, dark
hair looked fairly clean and well kept instead of long, greasy
and dirty. And instead of the usual sweat and dirt-crusted pants
and shirt, this man was wearing what appeared to be hospital scrubs.
frown deepened. Strange. Very strange indeed.
so, the hair and clothes had nothing to do with why he seemed
different. Though it was probably a silly notion, she could swear
there was something familiar about him. That she'd seen him before
. . . somewhere.
more puzzled with each passing moment, she continued staring at
him. Was it possible that he was a former patient, someone she'd
treated at Charity Hospital? Leah frowned. Now she was really
getting paranoid. There was no way a former patient would know
where she lived.
why the nagging feeling of familiarity? Leah had no answer. Maybe
if she saw his face, maybe then she'd know.
forget it. Go call the police and have his butt hauled off.
glared at the man as indecision warred within her. "Oh, for Pete's
sake," she muttered. There was only one way to find out for sure,
and though she was curious, she wasn't careless. Her experiences
working as a nurse at Charity Hospital had taught her to be cautious.
reached just inside the doorway and grabbed the baseball bat that
she kept propped there. Unlike her grandmother who, in Leah's
opinion, had always been far too trusting, Leah kept the bat handy,
just in case of trouble.
Taking a deep breath for courage, she gripped the bat with both
hands and eased over to within a couple of feet of the sleeping
man. Using the tip of the bat, she poked him just below the shoulder
you!" she called out. "Wake up!"
man groaned, but he didn't budge.
the bat tighter, she poked him again, pushing harder than she
had the first time. "You're trespassing, mister. If you don't
leave I'm calling the police." She poked at him once more for
good measure. "Now, get up!"
like a coiled spring, the man jumped to his feet.
a yelp of surprise, Leah immediately jerked the bat into a swinging
position as she stumbled backward. "Please leave," she shouted,
her legs trembling. "Go on, get out of here."
the man turned to face her, and she froze. Her breath caught in
her lungs, and all she could do was stare at him, her eyes wide
with disbelief, her heart pounding like a bass drum against her
she whispered. The baseball bat slid through her nerveless fingers
and fell to the porch with a clatter. "No," she moaned as she
slowly shook her head from side to side, trying to deny what was
before her eyes. Had she finally lost it, gone over the edge?
"Not possible," she protested. Hunter was dead. Yet, even while
logic dictated that there was no way this man could be Hunter,
her insides quivered with the ache of recognition. The same ruggedly
handsome face, made even more rugged by the shadow of his dark
beard . . . the same deep-set, steely blue eyes . . .
myriad questions rushed through her head, for the moment, she
didn't care. For the moment, more than anything, she longed to
throw herself at him, to once again feel his arms around her,
just to assure herself that the man really was Hunter.
their gazes collided, and when she saw the clouded, confused look
in his eyes, her mind reeled with her own confusion. Something
was wrong . . . terribly wrong.
held up his hands defensively. "I don't mean you any harm," he
said in that rich whiskey voice that had always sent goose bumps
chasing up her arms. "You called me Hunter. Do you know me? Is
that my name?"
didn't know her. Leah fought to gain control over her runaway
do you recognize me?"
Even more disconcerted, Leah could do little more than nod. Of
course she knew him. How could she not know her own husband? But
why did he even have to ask such a question?
feelings surged through her, then suddenly, without warning, his
face and the porch began to spin. Her vision grew hazy then dark
around the edges even as she felt her knees buckle.
lady--" He reached out and wrapped an arm around her shoulder
to steady her. He was a tall man, six foot two to her mere five
foot five, and her shoulders fit just beneath his armpit. His
touch was a jolt to her senses, and memories of all the other
times he'd touched her assailed her.
it easy. You look like you're about to pass out. Are you sick?"
not-not sick," she whispered, shaking her head as she gave voice
to the half lie. She had been sick though. For four, long, hellish
months she'd been sick with guilt and remorse. How could she not?
After all, it had been her fault. If it hadn't been for her, he
wouldn't have gone out that night; he wouldn't have had the accident
. . . he wouldn't have died.
the heat, a chill ran through her. But how could he have died
when he was standing next to her, talking to her, touching her?
She began to shiver. "Hey--" His arm around her shoulder tightened.
"You'd better sit down before you fall down."
Hunter. Was Hunter his first name or his last name? the man wondered
as he silently repeated it. He nudged the woman toward the porch
swing. She looked exactly as he'd pictured her in the brief flashes
of memory he'd had over the past month . . . well, almost exactly.
Same warm brown eyes shot with flecks of jade, same alabaster
skin sprinkled with a faint dusting of freckles across a pert,
ski-jump nose, all framed by thick shoulder-length auburn hair.
The only difference was her body. In his memory she'd appeared
to be a lot slimmer. Not that she was fat, far from it; but then
again, it was highly possible that his memory couldn't be totally
that he'd seen her, there was no doubt that she was the one he'd
traveled hundreds of miles to find. And even better, just as he'd
hoped and prayed, she knew him. But how did she know him . . .
Unable to do much else, Leah allowed Hunter to help her to the
porch swing. After she was seated, he knelt in front of her.
searched his face. If she'd had any doubts that the man was Hunter,
they disappeared. This close there was no denying who he was,
right down to the tiny scar on the right side of his forehead
where a bullet had grazed him.
know me, don't you?" he asked again. "Is Hunter my name?"
nodded, still trying to make heads or tails of what was happening.
"First name or last name?" he asked.
n-name is Hunter Davis," she blurted out. "And you're--" Whether
it was instinct or her overcautious nature, for reasons Leah didn't
understand, she couldn't complete the sentence, couldn't tell
him that he was her husband . . . not just yet.
Davis," he repeated softly, almost in awe as if savoring each
you remember?" But even as she asked the question she knew he
didn't. If he did he wouldn't be asking in the first place. Even
so, she'd had to ask, if only to hear him say it, to hear him
head slumped forward until his chin almost touched his collarbone.
just the problem," he said. "I don't remember." He slowly raised
his head until he could look her in the eye. "They tell me I have
was just as she'd suspected. But who on earth were 'they'?
was told that I was in an accident and almost died," he continued.
"They said that the car I was driving went out of control and
hit an eighteen-wheeler hauling gasoline, then burned. The only
reason I survived at all was because I was thrown free." He cleared
his throat. "When I finally woke up, it was a month later-so I
was told. I was in a hospital in Orlando, Florida, and didn't
remember any of it, not even my own name. They told me I'd been
in a coma."
frowned. As shocked as she was to see him, she could still think
enough to realize he should have been identified right away. So
why wasn't he? "But what about your billfold? And fingerprints?
Didn't they run a check on your fingerprints?"
gave a one-shouldered shrug. "My ID must have burned with the
car, and when the police ran a fingerprint check, they didn't
find a match."
that's impos--" Leah broke off the sentence and clamped her mouth
he asked. When Leah refused to answer and shook her head, he narrowed
his eyes. "You were about to say something. What was it?"
She forced a smile, hoping it would take the wary edge off her
tone. And suddenly, she was wary, big-time wary, and growing more
so with each passing minute. Too much of what he'd told her simply
didn't make sense. After all, the police were the ones who had
told her he was dead in the first place.
shuddered. They had said he'd been burned beyond recognition,
burned to the bones, and she'd buried those bones in the same
tomb that held her grandmother's remains. Then, there were the
fingerprints. Hunter was a cop from New York City who had been
on leave for medical reasons. His fingerprints would definitely
be on file somewhere.
would the police have lied to her . . . and to him? What reason
could they possibly have for such a deception?
whose bones had they given her to bury?
LaRue Mystery Kensington Hardcover
out for that woman. She's not someone you want to cross.
a nagging toothache that just wouldn't go away, Bitsy Duhe's dire
statement about Mary Lou Adams came to mind yet again as Charlotte
LaRue drove down Prytania.
morning traffic had slowed to a crawl, and as Charlotte inched
along in her van, she found herself growing more frustrated with
each passing minute. The traffic jam was bad enough, but what
Bitsy had said had haunted her all week . . . and worried her.
The last thing that Charlotte had wanted was to listen to one
client gossiping about another client, especially a brand-new
client whom she'd never met except through a phone conversation.
She'd always preferred to form her own opinions about the people
she cleaned for. And truth be told, Bitsy, bless her old heart,
was one of the biggest gossips in New Orleans. Any little tidbit
of information was fair grist for Bitsy's gossip mill.
usual, though, Bitsy had ignored Charlotte's attempts to change
the subject, and she'd filled her ears with information about
Mary Lou and Gordon Adams.
to Bitsy, Mary Lou was a social butterfly, but a butterfly with
the sting of a wasp. As for Gordon Adams, his one obsession in
life was becoming even wealthier than he already was. He had not
only expanded his car dealerships to include South Louisiana but
had ventured into Mississippi as well.
Charlotte a car horn blared and she jumped. "Okay, okay, for Pete's
sake!" She glowered in the rearview mirror at the driver behind
her, then eased her van forward. Both of them were going nowhere
fast, so she didn't see what the big deal was about lagging a
few feet behind the car in afront of her.
irritated at being honked at, she ventured a quick glance at the
dashboard clock. Five minutes. She drummed her fingers impatiently
against the steering wheel. She still had five minutes to get
to the Adams's house before nine.
line of vehicles in front of her stopped again, and with a groan
of frustration, Charlotte craned her neck in an attempt to see
past the SUV ahead of her. Half a block down was a side street.
If she could just reach the side street, she could get around
the traffic jam altogether.
few minutes later, Charlotte sighed with relief when she finally
parked behind an old battered truck alongside the curb in front
of the Adams's house. From
the looks of the contents in the bed of the truck, she figured
that today was most probably the day for the gardener as well
as the maid.
glanced at the dashboard clock again. "You're late," she grumbled
to herself. Just five minutes. So what? her inner voice chided.
It's highly doubtful that Mary Lou Adams is sitting in front of
a clock and counting the minutes, Charlotte. Feeling a bit foolish
for worrying so much about the time, Charlotte quickly unloaded
her supply carrier and vacuum cleaner from the back of the van.
black cast-iron fence surrounded the house, and as she let herself
in through the ornate gate, she paused a moment to admire the
beautifully preserved home and the well-manicured grounds.
huge house was magnificent, probably built in the late 1800s,
she decided. Like many of the old homes in the New Orleans Garden
District, she could tell that it had been altered over the years,
the end result that the style was a combination of Greek Revival
and Victorian. But the landscaping was what really caught her
eye. She'd worked in the Garden District for more years than she
cared to count, and she'd be willing to rate the grounds of the
Adams's home as one of the most fascinating that she'd seen. It
was filled with exotic plants. A couple of the plants she recognized--Tibouchina,
the Sago Palm--but there were many more that she didn't.
long experience working as a maid exclusively in the Garden District
had made her somewhat of an expert on architecture and furnishings,
and she was well aware that only someone very wealthy could afford
the upkeep on such an extravagant old home.
Lou and Gordon Adams were indeed wealthy. Not only did Gordon
Claiborne Adams III own a conglomerate of car dealerships that
stretched over the entire state of Louisiana, but according to
Bitsy, he came from old New Orleans money as well.
climbed the steps to the lower gallery and approached the double
entry doors. Each oak door contained beveled leaded glass, and
above the doors was a transom made of the same type of glass as
well. A large brass door knocker was located to the side of the
doors and was shaped in an oblong circle; within the circle was
an ornate A.
"A for Adams," Charlotte murmured as she lifted the door knocker
and banged it a couple of times. She waited several minutes. When
no one came to the door, she banged the door knocker again.
After a moment, Charlotte frowned and tapped her foot impatiently.
The gardener. Maybe the Adams woman was outside in the backyard
with the gardener. Still she hesitated. Should she take the supply
carrier and vacuum cleaner with her or not? Not, she decided.
Neither was that heavy, but both together were a bit unwieldy,
and besides, there was no use lugging them all over creation if
she didn't have to. She set the supplies and vacuum cleaner down
on the porch, then went in search of her new employer.
Charlotte neared the back of the house, she heard voices. One
was the low, gravely rumble of a man's voice. Probably the gardener,
she figured. Though Charlotte had never met her newest client
face-to-face, she had talked to her for just a few minutes over
the phone, and there was no mistaking the other voice, with its
imperious, higher-pitched tone, as belonging to Mary Lou Adams.
Charlotte rounded the back corner of the house, she glanced around
in awe. The landscape of the backyard was just as amazing as the
front and side yard had been. The entire property in the back
was encased in a wall of well-manicured Photina that served as
a living privacy fence. At the far back corner of the property
was what looked like a small greenhouse. Beneath a portico attached
to the main house was a large brick terrace which Charlotte suspected
was original to the house. Flanking the terrace were even more
exotic plants, and in the center of the terrace was a circular
brick planter containing ferns and a Venetian urn.
stared at the small urn and shuddered. Though not nearly as large
as the urn that one of her former clients Patsy Dufore had owned,
Charlotte doubted that she would ever be able to look at another
urn again without remembering the harrowing experience she'd had
when she'd worked for Patsy. With another shudder, Charlotte forced
herself to turn her attention to the middle-aged, scruffy-looking
man and the tall, slim woman near the edge of the property.
first impression of Mary Lou Adams was that the woman's appearance
fit her voice. Her dark brown hair was long and brushed straight
back in a seemingly effortless style that revealed a high forehead;
finely arched brows; a straight narrow nose; and full cupid lips.
She was a tall woman, probably in her midforties, and though she
appeared to be dressed casually, even from a short distance Charlotte
suspected that the aqua-colored blouse and matching slacks she
wore were made of silk because of the drape of the fabric.
herself was only five-feet-three with short, gray-streaked, honey
brown hair, which she liked to think was cut stylishly, and she
still wore a size nine. But compared to Mary Lou Adams, she felt
It's the age difference, she consoled herself. She figured that
she was probably almost twenty years older than the other woman.
And, of course, there was no way her plain blue polyester uniform
could compare to Mary Lou's silk outfit.
just the thing to wear while mucking around in the heat and dirt.
The moment that the sarcastic thought popped into her head, she
felt the chiding prick of her conscience. Shame on you. Judge
not lest ye be judged. Promising herself that she would try to
be less critical in the future, she walked briskly toward where
the couple was standing.
is the one." Mary Lou pointed out a small tree that was all but
naked of leaves. What few leaves that were left on the scrawny
tree were brown and shriveled. "I want it dug up, roots and all."
She gave Charlotte a cursory glance, and continued her instructions
to the gardener. "After you get it all up, I need you to prepare
this area for a small flower bed. About three feet by ten feet
should be plenty of room."
waiting for a question or comment from the gardener, she turned
her back on him and faced Charlotte. "You must be Charlotte."
She thrust out a hand with perfectly manicured and polished fingernails.
nodded and shook her hand. "And you must be Mary Lou," she said
with a smile, noting that although the handshake was brief, the
other woman's grasp was strong and firm.
I am. But for goodness sake, call me Mimi. It's a nickname I've
had so long that I probably won't answer to anything else."
Charlotte nodded. "I'll try to remember that." Charlotte motioned
toward the small tree. "Termites or the heat?"
Mimi retorted. "The poor thing was murdered, outright killed on
purpose by Sally Lawson, that awful woman who lives next door.
It's the second one she's killed in less than a year."
wasn't quite sure how to respond. All she could think of to say
was, "But why?"
Why indeed. Because Sally is a selfish, vindictive woman who loves
nothing more than to make my life miserable. And all because of
her stupid pool."
has a swimming pool just on the other side of the hedge. Pathetic
creature that she is, evidently her pool parties are her only
form of social entertainment." She glared toward her neighbor's
house. "Her noisy pool parties," she added in a loud voice as
if hoping that Sally Lawson were listening. She turned back to
Charlotte. "She's already cut down a couple of trees in her own
yard--beautiful old live oaks that had to be over a hundred years
old. And all because they shaded her pool. So now she's poisoning
suddenly laughed. It was a wicked sound that matched the sly expression
on her face. "But I've found a delicious way to get even." She
motioned for Charlotte to follow her and led Charlotte to the
small greenhouse. Near the opening of the greenhouse were several
large containers grouped together. Inside the containers were
what appeared to be flowers, but Charlotte personally thought
they looked more like weeds. From a distance, the plants, with
their pale green stems, large leaves, and purple, funnel-shaped
blooms, were rather pretty, but by the time Charlotte and Mimi
got within a few feet of the plants the putrid, rotten-egg smell
was overpowering. Charlotte wrinkled her nose and tried not to
breathe too deeply.
they smell just awful?" Mimi said with a grin, her hands on her
hips. Charlotte nodded, and Mimi laughed and bent down to gently
caress one of the stinky blooms. "These are my little revenge."
stood upright, pulled a small package of hand wipes from her pocket
and, using one of the wipes, scrubbed at her hands. Then, to Charlotte's
horror, Mimi dried her hands by rubbing them on the legs of her
silk pants. "Actually, they're classified as weeds," Mimi continued.
it looks like a weed, then it must be a weed, Charlotte thought.
you'd never know from the looks of them," Mimi said.
had to bite her tongue to keep from voicing her thoughts on that
friend of mine came up with the idea," Mimi told her. "Instead
of planting another tree for Sally to kill, I'm going to plant
these. With enough of them growing along that fence, I'm banking
that the awful smell will drive her and her noisy friends crazy
or, at the very least, ruin her parties."
won't the smell bother you as well?"
shrugged. "Just a small price to pay. Besides, we don't entertain
back here hardly at all. And I can always get rid of them eventually."
found herself at a loss for words. The capacity for one human
being to hurt another never ceased to amaze her, nor the lengths
someone would go to. For most of her life, she had always tried
her best to live by the Golden Rule "repay no one evil for evil"
doctrine instead of the "eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth" philosophy.
Finding herself really uncomfortable with the whole conversation,
she decided that about now would be a good time for a change of
cleared her throat. "Well, I guess I'd better go get busy and
leave you to your gardening before it gets too hot. I left my
cleaning supplies on the front porch, though, so if you'll unlock
the door, I'll get to work."
gave her a curious look, and then, with a whatever shrug, she
pointed toward the back door beneath the portico. "You can go
in that way. That door isn't locked, and there's a key in the
dead bolt on the inside of the front door."
a nod and eager to get away from the awful smell of the flowers,
Charlotte forced a quick smile, did an about-face, and gladly
headed for the portico.
Charlotte approached the terrace, the stench of the flowers still
lingered in her nostrils, and unbidden, Bitsy Duhe's warning about
Mary Lou Adams came to mind. Watch out for that woman. She's not
someone you want to cross.
reached inside her apron pocket and pulled out a tissue. She could
hardly wait to get inside and blow her nose, and the moment she
closed the door behind her, she did so. It helped, but a bit of
the stench still lingered. She wadded the tissue and shoved it
back inside her pocket. As far as Charlotte was concerned, Mimi's
little feud was just plain ridiculous. Regardless of what Sally
Lawson had or had not done to the silly tree, Charlotte didn't
think it justified what Mimi was doing. Besides, there were always
two sides to an argument, two sides to every story, weren't there?
So what was Sally Lawson's side?