Mouse over the cover to see
the hero, Auri Levalois
Cajun Hot Press
formerly published as: SIM #1163, July 2002
2003 Daphne du Maurier Award for
Best Romantic Suspense of 2002
Best Short Contemp of 2002
Romance Reviews Today
2002 Dorothy Parker Award
2002 Lorries Winner
She was a very good girl…
Grace Summerville’s identical twin sister has vanished without a trace. Grace has left her cozy Charleston home and high school counselor job, and rushed to New Orleans’ notorious French Quarter, where she discovers a dark, mysterious man watching her from the neighboring balcony.
He was a very bad boy…
Auri ‘Creole’ Levalois is looking for a killer. Determined to put his foster-brother’s killer behind bars, he has taken a leave of absence from New Orleans PD to hunt the man down. But what he finds instead is a woman who turns his lonely world upside down—and touches him as no other woman had ever done.
Together they were dynamite…
From the second their eyes meet, Creole and Grace’s attraction burns out of control. But she is wary. She has heard about these hot-blooded Cajun men. They are intense. Passionate, like their music. Nothing remotely similar to the calm, dignified South Carolina gentlemen she is used to. Creole is just the kind of man she desperately needs to avoid.
After days—and nights—of sizzling clashes where each suspects the other of duplicity, they finally strike a truce and work together to trap the man who is responsible for both terrible crimes. Meanwhile, their attraction flames hotter and hotter with each erotic encounter they are helpless to avoid, until at last they end up in each other’s arms.
Closing in on the murderer, the worst happens, and they are trapped in his deadly net. Faced with certain death, will they finally admit to their secret hope for love and a future together?
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The French Quarter
New Orleans Police Detective Auri ‘Creole’ Levalois backed up deep into the sweltering shadows of his new French Quarter apartment’s balcony. From his hiding place, he watched the woman in the apartment across the narrow courtyard slowly pull down the zipper of her dress. It was August, about nine p.m. and still hot as a night in Hades.
It wasn’t because she was undressing that Detective Levalois watched her, shrouded behind the hanging plants. Although that certainly added an interesting angle to the situation. Hell, if you were stuck doing surveillance for days on end, you might as well have something sweet to look at. But Creole was after something much more important than a nice view.
The woman lifted her thick blond hair off her neck, strolled to the fridge, and reached into the freezer for a tray of ice. He silently studied her delicate chin, straight nose, and long, elegant neck, all silhouetted by the refrigerator light. Dieu, she was a pretty thing.
He’d lucked out when he’d been able to flash his police credentials and leap to the top of the waiting list for the vacant apartment directly across from Muse Summerville. The modest complex was typical French Quarter–ancient two-story brick buildings surrounding a postage stamp courtyard choked with flowers and greenery. Ribbon-narrow brick walkways lead to streets on either side, except, the gate to the street on this end had been bricked up years ago. He and the Summerville woman now shared the deserted backside of the courtyard, their balconies forming a tight arch over the overgrown cobblestoned path, a scant four feet of air separating the black wrought iron railings. Very cozy.
From Creole’s spot on his own balcony he could clearly observe her entire second floor apartment. Like his, it was small, just a kitchen-dining-living-room combo and a bedroom with a bath attached. Tall, curtainless French doors led from both rooms out onto a balcony that ran the length of the apartment.
Just yesterday he had taken the plunge and moved his few belongings here. He didn’t work out of the Quarter’s Eighth District police station, but where he lived at this point in time was irrelevant. It was just a place to leave his stuff while he was out sifting through the dregs of New Orleans, pursuing his private revenge.
As long as he got what he was after, nothing else mattered. And Muse Summerville would give him what he wanted. One way or another, he’d make sure she did.
She moved from the kitchen into the bedroom, and he idly wondered what she’d done with the ice tray. With an irritated shrug, he shifted his pinching shoulder holster to a more comfortable position. He’d really have to concentrate.
That evening he’d trailed her from her job at Leavy, Dunn and Roland on Camp Street to a small restaurant in the Quarter–where she’d eaten alone–then home to Burgundy Street–also alone. It occurred to him a woman who looked as good as she did shouldn’t be doing anything alone.
Where was her slime-ball boyfriend? It definitely wasn’t like him to leave his women unattended. Not good. Not good at all.
Creole eased himself into a cramped iron bistro chair and wiped at a bead of sweat that trickled down his temple. The object of his surveillance turned her back on him, giving him an eyeful of slim waist and bare shoulders exposed by the wide-open zipper of her dress.
Nice. The male in him hummed appreciatively. Si belle.
Of course, looks were deceiving. Muse Summerville might have the body of an angel, but she was anything but nice. The woman was involved with some bien mauvais drigaille, some very nasty people.
He grabbed the tumbler of bourbon he’d set on the nearby table and closed his eyes, fighting the wave of rage that swamped over him at the thought of those people.
Unfortunately, during his quick search through her apartment yesterday he’d come up empty. The lock had been child’s play. But he’d found neither hide nor hair of her small-time hood boyfriend, Gary Fox. No address, no implicating letters or documents, not even a photograph. Either the scumbag was being very careful, or he had cleared out. For Creole’s own sake, he hoped it was the former. It was tough enough to stay sane in the broiling summer humidity of New Orleans under the best of circumstances, but if he’d lost the only lead on his brother’s killer, he’d really go nuts.
He was counting on this unauthorized stake-out of the Summerville woman to lead him to Fox, and from him to Fox’s boss–the man who had murdered his brother.
If Fox had soured on Muse, Creole could be in for a very long wait. Not to mention possibly getting thrown off the force if the Captain found out he was still pursuing a case he’d been specifically barred from investigating. But he wasn’t about to fail. He’d find out what he needed to know to bring Luke’s killer to justice, even if it meant losing his career in the process.
He took a long, cooling sip of bourbon and opened his eyes again, calmer. The heat was still oppressive, but at least he’d beaten the rage back to where it belonged, in the blackest recesses of his heart.
Through the ornate curlicues of their two balconies and the open French doors of her bedroom, he watched the woman pause by the nightstand on her way toward the bathroom. There was a click and he recognized the tinny whine of KBON, a Cajun music station. His focus shifted to her pink satin-sheeted bed, and to the purse and briefcase she’d tossed there upon arriving home a few minutes ago. His eyes narrowed consideringly. He’d give a lot for five minutes alone with that briefcase.
She kicked off her four-inch heels and grabbed a clip to pin up her long hair. But she didn’t slip out of her dress until after she’d shut the bathroom door behind her. For the second day in a row, Creole was mildly surprised. Her skimpy file hadn’t pegged Muse Summerville as the modest type. Not by a long-shot.
Creole leaned back in his chair and tried to relax while he waited for her to emerge from the bathroom. Picking up his tobacco pouch, he rolled himself a cigarette.
He really should quit. It was a filthy habit, but one he and Luke had forced themselves to calmly master as adolescents, after going through hell together. Smoking had bonded the foster brothers during those grim times in a kind of wordless ritual of courage, and he hadn’t quite been able to shake it since. Not that he’d really tried. He liked the coarse edge it added to his tough-guy image. It suited his purposes.
Shame he couldn’t light the damn thing. If he did, he’d reveal his presence to the woman. Bien. He’d save his nightly smoke until after she went to bed. If yesterday was any indication, she’d hit the sack as soon as she finished her shower.
Right on cue she emerged, wrapped in a towel big enough to cover the essentials, but small enough to give a man ideas. Her pale breasts spilled plump and round above the towel, begging for a man’s touch; her bare, shapely legs went on for miles, hinting at other hidden delights. For a breathless moment, he imagined those legs wrapped around his waist, her silky hair floating across his–
He frowned in annoyance. He shouldn’t even be thinking such things. This woman was nothing but bad news. He had no business being attracted to her.
Even if it seemed half New Orleans shared his opinion of her enticements. And she didn’t mind flaunting them, either. Her uncurtained bedroom was littered with heaps of cheap, gaudy, green, purple and gold Mardi Gras necklaces. Everyone knew what a woman had to do to earn those necklaces up on Bourbon Street.
Pulling open a dresser drawer, she leaned over and sifted through its contents, drawing out a sheer black baby-doll nightie.
Creole’s mouth went dry, his mind dancing with unbidden visions of her sprawled across her queen-sized, satin-sheeted bed wearing nothing but that nightie. Then she shook her head, replaced it and took out what looked to be a man’s muscle-style undershirt and a pair of boxer shorts. Disappointment rolled through him, thick and powerful.
“Aw, honey,” he muttered under his breath. “Don’ do this to me, chère.”
He drilled a hand through his hair and slugged back a stiff belt of bourbon. Le bon Dieu mait la main. God help him. Where the hell was Fox? The man was either dead or a flaming idiot to leave a woman like this alone for two nights.
Surely, he’d have heard on the streets if Fox was dead. He liked the other possibilities even less. Creole had spent the past two weeks pumping all his street contacts about Fox’s whereabouts. Everyone had said the same thing–he was lying low for a while, reasons unknown. Where? No one knew. But Creole would bet good money Fox couldn’t resist paying a visit to his fancy lady friend. After the show tonight, he’d double that bet.
So where was he?
Fox was the only one who could lead him to Luke’s killer. The man had better show up. And soon. Creole had no desire to continue playing peeping tom to a woman who was already messing with his mind big-time.
He jerked up at the sound of footsteps on her balcony. She was coming out. Damn. Somehow he’d missed when she’d
dressed in the man’s under-things and fetched herself a cold drink.
Ice cubes tinkled merrily, and an old Cajun waltz wheezed softly from the radio as she walked to the balcony railing. To Creole’s horror, she stared right at him. A cold sweat broke out on his forehead. He opened his mouth, about to give himself away and say something totally inappropriate, when she turned, set her glass down on a small table, and with a deep sigh lowered herself into the lounge chair next to it.
He almost keeled over in relief. She hadn’t seen him.
Only a few feet of air space separated her balcony from his over the narrow path of the courtyard. She was practically close enough to touch. If he moved a muscle she’d spot him, despite the mass of hanging plants and shadows that concealed him in their dusky gloom.
She reached up and let her hair fall loose from the clip that held it. Backlit from the glow of the kitchen light, the golden waves surrounded her pretty face like a halo. She lifted it off her neck and sighed again, a sweet murmur that flavored the heavy air with poignant longing and frustration.
He could smell her soap. Jessamine. And caught himself just before he groaned out loud.
Instead, he clamped his jaw tight. She shut her eyes, stretching back in her chaise, and he silently pushed out the breath that had backed up in his lungs. She dipped a finger into her tall glass, scooped out an ice cube and popped it into her mouth. Sweat crawled down the front of Creole’s white T-shirt and pooled beneath the leather straps of his shoulder holster.
Pulling out another ice cube, she slowly trailed it over her neat chin, down her pale throat, and around her collar- bone. Drops of melted ice gathered at the neck of her muscle-shirt and purled downward. Even in the half-darkness, he saw the pucker of her nipples as they peaked in reaction to her chilly ministrations.
His breath backed right up in his lungs again.
This was not working. He would never make it until Fox showed up. He needed another plan–
She fished out another ice cube.
Fast. Fervently, he prayed she wouldn’t–
Lord have mercy.
With a shaking hand, he struck a match and lit his cigarette.
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