L.A. homicide detective Regan Hart's life is turned upside down with the discovery that she was adopted. Following a trail left in her birth mother's journal, she lands in Louisiana's Blue Bayou, where she's determined not to let Nate Callahan, the town's handsome, sweet-talking mayor, distract her from her search.
Nate Callahan loves women -- and they've always loved him right back. No-nonsense Regan couldn't be more different from his usual type, but as they spend time together, unlocking the puzzles of Regan's past, neither can deny the attraction sizzling between them -- and both come to realize that family bonds are forged not through blood ties, but through choices of the heart.
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New Orleans, Louisiana
"I've always adored a Libra man," the blond purred.
"Have you now?" Nate Callahan grinned and drew her closer. There were few things in life more enjoyable than making love to a beautiful woman.
"Oh, absolutely." Cuddling up against him, she fluttered her lashes in a way only a true southern belle could pull off. "Why, a Libra man can charm the birds out of the trees and flatter a girl right out of her lace panties."
"It wasn't flattery, chère." He refilled her crystal champagne flute. "It was the absolute truth."
Nate had always enjoyed females -- he liked the way they moved, the way they smelled, their soft skin and slender ladies' hands. From the first time he'd filched one of his older brother Finn's Playboy magazines, he'd flat-out liked everything about women. Fortunately, they'd always liked him right back.
He toyed with a blond curl trailing down her neck. It was a little stiff and hadn't deflated much during their session of hot, steamy sex, but Nate was used to that, since most of the women he dated favored big hair. Big hair, big breasts, and, he thought with a pleasant twinge of lust, big appetites for sex.
"Your moon is in the seventh house." She trailed a glossy coral nail down his chest.
"Is that good?" He skimmed his palm down her back; she arched against the caress like a sleek, pampered cat.
Outside her bedroom, a full moon rose in a star-studded sky; inside, flames crackled cozily in the fireplace and gardenia-scented candles glowed.
"It certainly is. You're ruled by Venus, goddess of beauty."
"Seems that'd fit you better than me, sugar." He nuzzled the smooth curve of her shoulder. His accent, always more pronounced when romancing a woman, turned thick as Cajun gumbo. "Bein' how you've gotten more beautiful every year since you won that Miss Louisiana crown."
"I was only first runner-up." She pouted prettily.
"Officially," he allowed. "But everyone in the state knew the judges were obviously blind as swamp bats."
"You are so sweet." Her laugh was rich and pleased.
Nate's mind began to drift as she chattered on about the stars, which, if he were to be perfectly honest, didn't interest him. He'd never thought much about lunar signs until the afternoon he'd shown up to give the blond astrologer a bid on remodeling her bedroom.
Although he'd arrived ten minutes late at her Garden District house, he'd gotten her out of the shower; she'd shown up at the door, breathlessly apologetic for not being ready, prettily flushed, and smelling of jasmine. It was only later, when he'd remembered that her hair hadn't been wet, that Nate realized he'd been set up. Having always appreciated female wiles, he didn't mind.
She'd hung on to his every word as he'd suggested ways to open up the room -- including putting a skylight over the bed -- declared him brilliant, and hired him on the spot.
"You are," she'd sworn on a drawl as sweet as the sugarcane his granddaddy used to grow, "the first contractor I've interviewed who understands that a bedroom is more than just a place to sleep." She'd coyly looked up at him from beneath her lashes. "It is, after all, the most important room in the house."
When she'd touched a scarlet fingernail to the back of Nate's hand, warm and pleasant desire had ribboned through him.
"You've been so sweet. Would you do me just one teensy little favor?"
"Sure, chère. If I can."
Avid green eyes had swept over him in a slow, feminine perusal. "Oh, I think you're just the man for the job."
She'd untied the silk robe, revealing perfumed and powdered flesh. "I do so need to exorcise my horrid ex-husband's memory from this room." The robe dropped to the plush carpeting.
That had been six months ago. Not only had Nate done his best to exorcise her former husband's memory, he'd done a damn fine job on the remodeling, if he did say so himself. Lying on his back amid sex-tangled sheets, Nate looked up at the ghost galleon moon, decided he'd definitely been right about the skylight, and wondered why he'd never thought to put one over his own bed.
"Of course, Venus is also the goddess of love." The L word, slipping smoothly from her coral-tinted lips, yanked his wandering mind back to their conversation.
"She is?" he asked with a bit more caution.
"Absolutely. Make love, not war, is a phrase that could have been coined with Libras in mind. You became interested in women at a young age, you make sex a rewarding experience, and will not stop until your lover is satisfied, even if it takes all night."
"I try," he said modestly. She'd certainly seemed well satisfied when she'd been bucking beneath him earlier.
She smiled and touched her lips to his. "Oh, you not only succeed, darling, you set the standard. Libras also rule the house of partnerships."
"Now there's where your stars might be a little off, sugar." He stroked her smooth silk back, cupped her butt, and pulled her closer. " 'Cause I've always enjoyed working alone."
It wasn't that he was antisocial, far from it. But he liked being his own boss, working when he liked, and playing when he wanted.
"You weren't alone a few minutes ago, and you seemed to be enjoying yourself well enough."
"I always enjoy passin' a good time with you, angel."
"If you didn't play well with others, you wouldn't have run for mayor." She rolled over and straddled him. "Libras are not lone wolves, darling. A Libra male needs a permanent partner."
Nate's breath clogged in his lungs. "Permanent?"
Having grown up in South Louisiana, where water and land were constantly battling, with water winning most of the time, he knew that very few things were permanent. Especially relationships between men and women.
"We've been together six months," she pointed out, which exceeded any previous relationship Nate had ever had. Then again, it helped that she'd spent most of that time away, selling her astrology books at New Age festivals and talking them up on television talk shows around the country.
Doing some rapid calculation, Nate figured they'd probably been together a total of three weeks, and had spent most of that time in bed.
"I've been thinking," she murmured when he didn't respond. Her clever fingers slipped between them, encircling him. "About us."
"It occurred to me yesterday, when my flight was cruising at thirty thousand feet over New Mexico, that we should get married."
Married? Having not seen this coming -- she'd certainly never shown one iota of domesticity -- Nate didn't immediately answer.
"You don't want to." Danger sparked in her voice, like heat lightning flashing out over the Gulf. She pulled away.
Sighing, Nate hitched himself up beside her and saw any future plans for the night disappearing.
"It's nothing to do with you, chère." His cajoling smile encouraged one in return. "But we agreed goin' in that neither of us was the marrying kind."
"That was then." She left the bed and retrieved his shirt from where it had landed earlier. "Things change." The perfumed air swirled with temper. "The moon is also a mother sign."
"It is?" Nate caught the denim shirt she threw at him. Christ, he needed air.
"Yes." Her chin angled up. Her eyes narrowed to green slits. "Which is why Libras often repeat the same childlike behavior over and over again in their relationships."
It was a long way from charming to childish. Boyish, Nate might be willing to accept -- in the right context. But he hadn't been a child since that life-altering day when he was twelve and a liquored-up, swamp-dwelling, gun-carrying idiot had blown away his father.
"If I didn't know better, I might take offense at that, darlin'." He bent to pick up his jeans from the loblolly pine floor; one of his boots came sailing toward him. "Mon Dieu, Charlene." He ducked the first one and snagged the second out of the air an instant before it connected with his head.
"Do you have any idea how many proposals I get every month?" She marched back across the bedroom and jabbed her finger against his bare chest.
"I'll bet a bunch." Nate reminded himself that he'd never run into a situation he couldn't smooth over.
"You damn well bet a lot!" His chest now bore little crescent gouges from her fingernail. "I've turned down two in the past six weeks -- from men who make a hell of a lot more money than you -- because I was fool enough to think we had a future."
"You're a wonderful woman, chèrie," he tried again, hopping on first one foot, then the other, as he pulled his pants up. "Smart, beautiful -- "
"And getting goddamn older by the moment," she shouted.
"You don't look a day over twenty-five." Thanks to a Houston surgeon whose clever touch with a scalpel had carved a good ten years off her face and body.
When she began coming toward him again, Nate backed away and yanked on his shirt. Not pausing to button it, he scooped his keys and wallet from the bedside table and shoved them into his pocket. "Twenty-six, tops." He debated sitting down again to pull on his boots, then decided not to risk it.
"It's not going to work this time, Callahan."
A champagne glass hit the wall, then shattered. She tossed her stiff cloud of honey blond hair. "If I'd taken the time to do your full chart before hiring you, I never would have let you seduce me."
Deciding that discretion was the better part of valor, Nate wisely didn't point out that she'd been the one who'd dropped the damn robe.
"I would have realized that you're suffering from a gigantic Peter Pan complex."
Peter Pan? Nate gritted his teeth. "I'll call you, chère," he promised as he dodged the second flute. PMS, he decided. "Later in the month. When you're feeling a little more like yourself."
A banshee could not have screamed louder. Nate escaped the suffocating room, taking the back stairs two at a time. Something thudded against the bedroom wall; he hoped to hell she hadn't damaged the new plaster job.
Feeling blindsided, Nate drove toward his home on the peaceful bank of Blue Bayou, trying to figure out where, exactly, an evening that had begun so promising had gone offtrack.
"Peter Pan," he muttered.
Where the hell had she come up with that one?
The full moon was brighter than he'd ever seen it, surrealistically silhouetting the knobby bayou cypresses in eerie white light. Having just survived Hurricane Charlene, Nate hoped it wasn't some weird portent of yet another storm to come.
Copyright © 2003 by The Ross Family Trust