“Are you going to stop sleeping anytime soon?” Annette hung over the armrest, oddly draped and upside down. I was still lying on my back and looking up at her, which created the strangest illusion that she and the chair were all above me. “You sleep like a corpse.”
Sunlight barreled into the room, burning my eyes. “What time is it?”
“Nine in the morning.” She slid off the armrest and came to sit beside me.
I put a hand over my eyes. “Then why hurry? It’s only Wednesday.”
I sprang into a sitting position. “You lie
, but not today.”
I lifted my arm, expecting an onslaught of pain, but there was none. Looking underneath, there was only an indistinct set of scars where the gaping wounds had been. The ones on my neck had dissipated as well. I was dumbfounded. Her natural remedies were good, but this didn’t make sense. “Impossible.” I eased off the couch, still paranoid of potential pain. “How?” I said, running my fingers over the pink lines, which faded more each second.
Annette chuckled. “Not impossible, just something you don’t understand. What’s important is that it worked.” Her explanation didn’t ease my curiosity. However, I knew her well, and the more I pressed her for answers, the less she’d reveal. I had to be patient.
For the time being, I dropped the conversation. We really were running low on time. “What about your luggage? Your apartment is twenty minutes away.”
“Not to fret. I snuck out while you were knocked out. My luggage is by the door with yours,” she said with a cheeky grin, quite proud of herself.
“But you don’t have a ticket.”
Annette held up a hand. Between her fingers was a ticket.
“Did you build a new house too? Because I could use one of those.” Shock aside, I took advantage of the good news. “I guess we better get moving then.”
She clapped her hands. “Fabulous. At least I don’t have to go home and attend late-night garden parties with my parents and their friends.” She scoffed.
“That doesn’t sound horrible.”
“Well, it’s not…until Ida Snow strips naked and starts dancing under the full moon.”
“What kind of garden parties do they have?”
“Well, they belong to a naturalist group.”
“Yes. It’s not that interesting… Shouldn’t we be on our way? Don’t want to miss the plane.” With that, she swept out of the room to fetch me some clothes that didn’t smell quite as bad as the ones I had on. Two days lying immobile on the sofa did not make for a pretty scent.
* * * *
My parents knew I was gay. They didn’t mind it in the slightest, which differed from the train of thought permeating my small Georgia town considerably. I’d spoken of Annette so much they felt compelled to meet her. Two birds with one stone. They could meet her, and she could continue her treatments, though it didn’t look like I needed them anymore.
Our luck was in full-force that morning. Every light we came upon turned green as if they were expecting us. The cab managed to drop us off right in front of the entrance of the airport without having to circle endlessly. I didn’t even have my lucky rabbit’s foot.
Maybe it was Annette. The cab driver said she was so beautiful he couldn’t bring himself to charge us—the meter read thirty-five dollars, so neither of us argued, quickly exiting the cab before he changed his mind. He had a dazed look in his eyes, like a lovesick school boy. As soon as our luggage was unloaded from the cab, he slowly merged into traffic and disappeared, still smiling wildly.
“Does that happen to you often?” I prodded. Between the green lights and the bedazzled driver, there were too many odd occurrences, and they were starting to add up. But to what, I still couldn’t put my finger on.
Annette brushed off the question. “Every now and again.” She readjusted her purse strap and grabbed my arm. “Enough questions. Let’s go.”
I rarely felt like she hid things from me, but I did now.
I’m not sure how she managed it, but she had us upgraded to first class. We checked in, boarded, and chugged a couple of glasses of champagne. There were two other people enjoying the luxury of fully reclinable seats and complimentary booze, but our section of the plane was empty otherwise. The flight was only four hours long, and I only had to leave my first-class cocoon once. I caught a glimpse of the people in business class, and it was packed. Since I still wasn’t entirely convinced I was fully healed, I was grateful for the upgrade. It was probably best I didn’t have some stranger in the crowd elbowing me in the side. I hadn’t been home in quite some time. Georgia to Boston. And now, Boston back to Georgia. Acclimating to the city had been a daunting task. Now I had to work on re-acclimating to my original stomping grounds.
The captain spoke over the intercom, alerting us to our impending arrival in Georgia. When he clicked off, I called the stewardess. Another round of champagne was in order.
* * * *
Around four in the afternoon, the plane landed. Overhead bags in tow, we filed out into the terminal’s waiting area. I scanned the crowd as we funneled into the open. My parents weren’t hard to spot. Their sense of style hadn’t changed since I’d seen them last, but there was something new. Directly behind them was a man I didn’t recognize. He was tall, scruffy, and built like Fort Knox. I felt a tingling sensation between my legs. I had to readjust myself, and I did it as discreetly as possible.
“Who is that
?” Annette whispered into my ear while clutching my shoulder.
“A gorgeous piece of ass.” Even I was shocked by what I said. Annette looked stunned. Normally, I wasn’t so blunt. My mental censor had checked out.
“Shall we flip for him?”
I knew she was joking…sort of. “No. Why don’t we start with meeting him instead of fighting for him like were at an auction?” My social compass was still somewhat
Annette sighed. “Fine
, be that way.”
He smiled as we walked over to them. The stark white of his teeth contrasted nicely with his bronzed skin. As did his silver-tinted hair and goatee. Next to my parents, he stood like a Hercules. My parents weren’t that
short, but in comparison, it was hard to tell when they were standing next to that mountainous man.
“I really want to climb him.” I quickly shut my mouth.
Annette snickered. “I heard that.”
“Shut up,” I snapped.
Mom ran to me and threw her arms around my shoulders. I had to hinge at the waist to make it easier for her. While doing so, I snuck another glimpse of the mystery man, and he was looking at me too.
“Oh, my baby is home
.” Her voice reverberated throughout the airport.
“Momma, I can’t breathe.”
“Give me a minute, Kayden Nathaniel Garrett. I haven’t seen you in over a year. Let me suffocate you while I can.” She swung me from side to side. Using my full name meant business, so I let the smothering ensue.
“Julia, let the boy breathe.” Dad put his hand on her back. When her vise-grip loosened, he pulled me in for a hug—without cutting off my air-flow.
“Can I help you get your bags?” The statuesque man stepped forward, smile still blazing. His thick Cajun accent was smooth as bourbon and impossible to ignore. I had always been a sucker for Louisiana boys, and this unexpected surprise had taken me off guard.
“Why yes, you can.” Annette honed in on him like a heat-seeking missile. “And you are?”
Remembering my manners, I fought off the urge to trip her.
“Paul Devereux.” He took her hand and shook it delicately.
“I’m Annette Winchester.” She took a deep breath, giving her cleavage a little extra height—that it didn’t need. Any higher and she’d have two black eyes. I was shocked that he wasn’t paying them any attention.
Mom wedged in between them. “So nice to finally meet you, darlin’.” She yanked Annette over for a hug.
“Oh…” Annette whipped her hair around, and it landed on top of mother’s head. “Nice to meet you too, Mrs. Garrett.” Her plum dress billowed at her knees. It had a demure hemline but a scandalous neckline. Thin straps and backless. Impossible to be worn with a bra. I could see my dad’s gaze wandering lower and lower. Then came the head tilt.
,” I said under my breath.
“Hmmm?” He looked into my widened eyes. Sorry,
“I’ll help you grab the luggage,” I said, quite aware that I had pitiful upper-body strength. Paul didn’t appear to have that problem. I guessed he could carry me and the luggage at the same time—and I’d love to find out.
Annette glared as we walked away, mouthing, Not fair.
I winked and smiled at her, then ran after Paul. Seeing him from behind was nothing to take for granted. His wide and thick back tapered to a narrow waist. Each step brought focus to his meaty backside and how it filled his jeans. He could easily be mistaken for that man on the paper towel roll. Only thing he didn’t have was the red plaid shirt. And I bet it would have looked amazing on him.
. An impossible feat.
“So do you work for my parents?” I asked casually, trying to subdue the overt curiosity in my voice.
“That I do. They were kind enough to take me in and give me work when I needed it the most.”
I closed the gap between us and caught a whiff of aftershave. It was like warm citrus, and it reminded me of the outdoors, which was funny because I wasn’t overly fond of nature. However, for him, I’d stay outside indefinitely.
“Well, they are good that way. Never guilty of turning down a person in need.”
Paul agreed wholeheartedly. “And I owe them a great deal because of it.” He looked at me with his beautiful green eyes. They were hypnotic—either that, or I was very much in lust. It didn’t feel like it, though. There was something about him that I couldn’t put my finger on, and I vowed to get my fingers on it eventually.
I smiled, and he smiled back. It was brief, but there was definitely a spark between us. I refocused my attention on the conversation at hand. “Even so, they will never ask you for anything in return.”
Paul stopped. “Oh, trust me. I know. In the time I have spent on that plantation, I have gotten to know them rather well. And they have gotten to know me too. They may not expect anything, but they know I will do just about anything for them.”
I smiled warmly, genuinely thankful. “I appreciate you looking after my parents, especially since I’ve been so far away.”
The look on his face could melt even the coldest of hearts. “Like I said, they were there for me. It’s the least
I can do.”
The baggage area was scarcely crowded, and by the time we got there, most of the luggage had been claimed, except ours. Annette had packed enough for a few months. Luckily, Paul had already grabbed a cart, so we just piled them on.
“Do you stay in the house?”
“Not anymore,” he said. “I live in the cabin that borders the old woods.” Paul hauled and loaded while chatting, and he never even broke a sweat.
“That run-down shack?” I was surprised. As a child I never wanted to go near that thing. It had been a slave shack in the old days. A sorry reminder of how times used to be. I used to hear strange sounds coming from it.
“That’s home.” Paul grunted as the largest of Annette’s suitcases fell off the cart. Catching and hoisting in one smooth motion, he launched the bag right back up. “She have a body in here?”
“It’s possible,” I teased. “Would be nice to see what you’ve done with it. Do the ghosts there approve with the renovations?”
“Oh yeah. They come round for drinks every so often. Maybe I could give you a tour when you get settled in.” His smile was contagious.
I hoped he was kidding about the ghosts.
“I like tours.” My answer didn’t sound as smooth as I would’ve liked.
“It’s a date, then.”
We returned to find my dad still
ogling Annette. Mother was playing with the bottom of her dress. Analyzing every detail. But, again, not more than my dad.
“Not sure your pop’s heart can take all that,” Paul whispered in my ear.
I whispered back, “If not, then he’ll go with a smile on his face.”
Paul and I shared a private laugh. I cleared my throat, and they all turned to look at us. Annette seemed happy to have us back.
Mom released Annette’s dress. “You boys got everything?”
“Ready and waiting to be packed into the car.” Paul took the cart and started for the exit. Now Annette got to see the view from behind. She appeared a tad frustrated that he still hadn’t noticed her cleavage. They usually started working in under a minute, but Paul wasn’t taking the bait.
“Damn it,” she cursed under her breath.