The unusually cold winter which hit in the Deep South this year would be her downfall, Eve knew the moment she watched Raymond Becnel striding in her direction. In fact, cities across Louisiana had closed down for a few days when freezing ice plagued the region. While Lake Charles was familiar with a few snowflakes, New Orleans had been ill prepared for the affects.
He could not dare to think she would even consider dating him after their last encounter. The smug look on his face suggested otherwise. The other people at her booth soon noticed the attractive, six-foot-tall man as Eve tried to blend into the background.
“Ooh la la. I think I am in lust,” Eve’s baby sister Lilly Marie announced. All seven Deaux siblings had red hair, but the youngest had more blonde highlights, thanks to a recent visit to a beauty salon. “Left hand ring finger bare. I think he feels the instant attraction, too. He’s heading his way. Everyone, push over. I’m going to invite him to join us.” Eve refused to budge, even if her sister-in-law Camille and co-worker Jayne inched over in their booth.
“Hello ladies,” Raymond smiled as he reached them. “Genevieve, I’ve been trying to get in touch with you for weeks now. When I saw the news about it snowing in New Orleans, it reminded me you and I haven’t had a chance to reschedule our dinner plans.”
“Wait a minute.” Lilly Marie suddenly realized she knew the man. “Are you that dreamy, tall guy who used to run around with my older brothers?”
“Shortcake, what happened to the pigtails you used to sport way back when?” Raymond smiled.
“I’m all grown up now, but we can set up a play date anytime you like,” she smiled boldly up at him.
“Introduce me to your friends,” Raymond said, staring straight at Eve.
Unless she wanted to go into a long explanation, Eve had no choice. “Raymond Becnel, meet Camille, she’s Jean’s wife, Jayne, my friend from work and you already know Lilly.”
“Ladies, may I borrow Genevieve for a moment? She and I have unfinished business to discuss.”
“You and I don’t do business together, remember?” Eve hoped her voice did not sound as strained as she felt.
“Still sensitive about that?” He raised one dark eyebrow and Eve had to stop herself from noticing how attractive he was. “I will be in town for a few weeks. It’ll be easier to just go out to dinner with me than trying to avoid me for that long.”
“I’ll go out to dinner with you,” Lilly Marie winked at him.
Raymond laughed, his perfect smile doing something to the pit of Eve’s stomach. She was over him, she told herself. He was a jerk. He only saw her as a child, a weak female, someone he could push around. Then again, if she were the type of woman who went for that alpha male scene, Raymond would be the man she would pick to lead her around.
“I have lots of cases I am handling for Deaux Consultants right now,” she said coolly. “Even if I wanted to go out to dinner with you, I am booked solid.”
Jayne, the receptionist for the business chimed in, “Eve’s schedule is quite tight right now. Aside from the wedding reception tonight, I don’t think she has a night off for at least a month.”
“Wedding reception?” Something in his eyes lit up and Eve silently groaned as her body responded to him of its own accord. “Ladies,” he nodded before turning to walk away.
“He has one hot ass,” Lilly Marie cooed. “Camille, you are awfully quiet.”
“Why did I let you talk me into getting my hair cut? Jean is going to be pissed off.” The brown hair beauty snapped, her fingers pulling on her locks as if willing them to grow out.
The two women fussed back and forth with peacemaker Jayne trying desperately to change the subject. Eve just kept staring off into space. Raymond Becnel did have a great ass. She often dreamed of digging her nails into it as they made wild passionate love. Too bad they didn’t suit. He was too bossy and controlling for an independent woman like her.
Later that night at the wedding reception, Eve noticed Raymond hanging by the bar, watching her every move. His eyes seemed to be undressing her as she moved around the dance floor. Maybe he didn’t see her as a small child? Might there be a chance to see his impressive ass in action? Grabbing a drink from a waiter passing by, she started debating her next move.
She had not really given him a chance to talk about their falling out. Maybe he came to Lake Charles to apologize for his rude behavior. He could have realized his mistake and be looking for a chance to make amends. One meal out with him wouldn’t be too horrible to withstand. Here, they would be on her turf. She would be the one in control. If he really wanted to take her out, he would have to accept she was no longer a compliant little girl, begging to do his bidding just to see his sexy smile or earn a bit of praise.
Eve found the gumption to head his way when a blonde swooped in and started flirting outrageously with him. She recognized her brother, Paul’s former girlfriend immediately. Before Jayne came to work at the family business, Paul had dated this brash woman. He dumped her after falling for Jayne’s beauty and innocence. Just the other day, Eve had been forced to kick the other woman out of her brother’s office. He had not been there. Erica Summers, the blonde throwing herself at Raymond, had let herself into Paul’s office, no doubt hoping to start trouble. Eve did not suspect the other woman was hurt because she still had feelings for her brother. No, Erica was the one used to breaking up with someone. It did not sit well to be pushed aside by one of her lovers.
The logical part of Eve knew the bitch was probably trying to pay her back for tossing her out of Deaux Consultants by flirting with Raymond. Eve’s emotional side fumed that he wasn’t putting up much of a fight. Damn, she realized suddenly that if Erica was trying to humiliate her, the other woman had to know Eve had the hots for Raymond. How many people knew about her secret crush? She scanned the area, sure everyone around was watching to see her reaction.
Holding herself tall, she lifted her glass high toward the couple at the bar, pretending as if nothing about the situation concerned her. Then Eve forced herself to take a sip of champagne before slipping away to lick her wounds.
One of the benefits for working as an investigator is knowing the layout of most businesses she had frequented. Most women might run to hide in the ladies’ room, but Eve made her way to a storage room near the back of the club house where the wedding reception was being held. She let the tears fall as she sat there in the darkness, willing herself to forget about her childhood fantasy of living happily ever after with Raymond Becnel.
Those were childish dreams. She was a grown woman, dammit. Yet the feelings she had for him were far from innocent childhood daydreams these days. Something about him called to her on a deeper, more intimate level. All day long, she worked on untangling one sinister plot after another. It would be nice to come home to a man who could make her forget the evils of the world. Was it too much to ask to find a man who could take care of her, remind her of what it was like to be loved and protected?
A knock at the door startled her, but it was Paul’s voice who called out, “Can I come in?”
Wiping her face to rid it of the tears, she kept the light off as she opened the door. “I noticed the ladies’ room was running dangerously low on toilet paper,” she offered by way of explanation for her current location. “This is where they keep the supplies.”
“Want me to punch him for you?” Paul walked inside and closed the door.
A chuckle filled the room as Eve considered it. “It depends. Did he already pay the bill for the job you had to take over for me at the warehouse? You added that asshole penalty charge, right? You promised you would when you convinced me to let you take my case because Raymond Becnel is an ass.” It still irked her that the man had ignored all the hard work she put into solving his problems, only to have him kick her off the case. The spanking he gave her for pulling a knife still made her fume, too.
“I called it a nuisance penalty because bookkeeping didn’t know how to record the asshole clause,” her brother said.
Eve hated remembering the warehouse case Raymond pulled her off of. It was too hard to separate his rejection from the details she gathered. “Did the company end up prosecuting the warehouse manager?”
“The company decided to let him go quietly instead of taking a hit with the bad press a trial might cause.”
Even in the dark, she could imagine her older brother shaking his head with disapproval. She said what he was thinking, “I guess the company didn’t care who was behind the whole scheme. Eliminating the bait fish won’t stop the shark from hunting. I told him firing me was going to end up biting his ass. I ought to let you deck him.”
The door opened, flooding the room with light from the hallway. “Deck who? Is this a private party or can anyone join in?”
“You aren’t invited,” Eve insisted as she placed the voice of the new arrival long before he switched on the light in the room.
“You weren’t invited when the guys and I went off to the bike trail or fishing, but you tagged along anyway. Think of this as payback.” Raymond’s solid frame filled the doorway.
Paul regarded the two people facing off with amusement. “Still want me to deck him for you?” he asked Eve.
Raymond merely smiled at the suggestion. “Jean isn’t here to hold me down, buddy, but, by all means, give it your best shot.”
Her brother shrugged. “Give me a minute. I’ll go hunt down Jean. Don’t let him out of this closet until I get back.”
“Instead of hunting down your twin, you ought to go find your woman. She might be little, but she just tore a chunk of my ass off just now at the bar. She blamed me for Erica Summer’s ridiculous behavior earlier.”
Paul was out of the closet and heading away before Eve could stop him. “I told her to wait with the family,” he muttered as he disappeared.
A firm hand reached to pull her back into the small room and the door closed. She was trapped in a closed space with the one man who she longed to avoid. Grabbing a roll of toilet paper, she tried to escape with what dignity she could muster. “The ladies room is running low. If you will excuse me…”
His lips dropped to hers, and he pulled her in tight against his hard body. The toilet tissue dug into her stomach until she had found the good sense to let it go. Then her arms wound around Raymond’s thick neck and she returned his kiss.
You’re not wearing anything under this dress?” his husky voice sounded pleased to Eve’s ears. She really ought to object to his callused fingers exploring her skin as he lifted the material out of his way.
“Panty lines,” she explained foolishly.
“Thank goodness for fashion sense. It saves me time. I want you, Red. Right here. Right now. I’ve been dreaming of claiming your body for so long, just being this close to you is about to make me explode.”
Denying she felt the same would be useless. Her excitement was coating his fingers as he teased her clit. “I should tell you to shove it, Raymond Becnel.”
“Give me a second to undo my slacks and I will shove so far inside of you, you won’t know where you end and I begin.” A table against the far wall caught his attention. He lifted her up and carried her over to it. Sitting her on the edge, he slipped the thin material covering her breasts aside and pulled one perk nipple in his mouth. His hands worked on the fastening of his pants as his lips enthralled her. It was as if he knew every sensitive chord of her body, understood just how hard to bite down and suck, just short of painful.
Spreading her legs open wide, he wrapped them around his waist and eliminated the distance between them. “The next time, I promise to take it slow and easy, but not now. I have to possess you, Genevieve. Give me a sign you want this, too. I can feel your passion and your body is more than ready to accept me. But if you aren’t ready, you better say so now before I…”
She reached between them for his thick member and guided him toward her channel. “Less talking. More shoving.” She tightened her legs, pulling him inside before he used his fingers to steady her for his total invasion. At first he lingered inside, and she was glad for the chance to adjust to his size and width. The time for second thoughts had passed, Eve told herself. This was fantasy turned reality and she would not panic because there seemed to a bit of a snag in their fitting together without a slight spot of difficulty.
“Were you a virgin, Genevieve?” Raymond’s voice was hoarse and she did not know if he was disappointed, too.
She was blowing her chance to fulfill a lifelong dream. The first time she shot a gun, the sting and recoil had made her question why she even wanted to learn the skill. Maybe making love was an acquired taste. Eve pushed against him tentatively, glad the feeling of stretching was subsiding. There did seem to be enough moister to help ease him in and out without any further pain.
“Son of a bitch,” Raymond held her hips still and his breathing sounded quite labored to her. “I royally screwed this whole thing up. Let’s try this again, but a bit slower.”
His index finger moved between them to locate her nub. He stroked her slowly, increasing the pressure ever so slightly every minute or so. He stayed buried just inside her, only moving now and again. Her body molded around him, and soon he did not feel too big. When a growl escaped her lips as the tension between her thighs grew, Raymond’s pace increased. His tongue darted over her breast again, tracing a delightful pattern which mirrored the one his fingers danced around her clit.
As her body tightened, and her breath became labored, he leaned her back on the table and pushed in and out so fast, she could only hold on and hope the table survived. Her heart felt like it had exploded, and wave after wave of delicious release coursed through her body. It was incredible. Beautiful. She definitely wanted to do that again. Soon.
Lying against the hard surface of the table, Eve tried to catch her breath. Raymond moved around, but it was only when he started cleaning between her legs that she moved. “Lay still, kitten. I made a mess when I took you. It never crossed my mind that you were still an innocent. How did someone as incredibly sexy and perfect as you manage to stay untouched this long?”
“I’m picky, I guess,” Eve sighed, regrets already starting to haunt her. She had just learned the satisfaction of pure, sexual release from a man she was determine to have nothing to do with.
“Here, let me help you stand up.” He supported her as she gained her footing. Her eyes scanned the room for her high heels. Slipping them on, she tried to look anyplace but at him. “Give me a minute to go get my car. I’ll pick you up at the back entrance and we can go find someplace to talk.”
“I can’t leave with you,” she blurted out before taking a calming breath and trying to sound more sophisticated than she felt. “I drove my sister here tonight.”
“You’re building that protective wall around yourself again,” he sounded frustrated. “It’s too late to retreat now, Genevieve. You just gave yourself to me.”
“Loaned,” she muttered. “There is no time to stay in this closet debating what just happened.”
“Neither of us is leaving until we discuss this or at least make a date to discuss it,” he insisted.
“Fine,” Eve threw up her hands. Adjusting her clothes, she tried to come up with a solution. She needed time to think before she faced him. “I’m due to come to Baton Rouge in two months. I’ll call you and we can set up a meeting.”
“Two months?” he demanded, but she held up a hand to ward off his advancing frame.
“I explained before, I have a busy schedule right now. Take it or leave it, Raymond. It’s all I am willing to offer right at this moment.”
To her surprise and secret disappointment, Raymond left Lake Charles the next day. Eve reassured herself it meant he finally respected her as an equal. He understood she was not a needy little girl trailing after him and her brothers. She was independent. She did not hang on his every word or order these days. She was horny as hell, and wished she had never sent him away.
She had saved herself all these years for him, pushing away anyone who ever got close to turning her on physically, waiting for the perfect time to find happiness with her dream lover. Granted, losing her virginity in a supply closet at the country club had been less than ideal. Many of her friends had shared the where and when of their first times with her. Backseats, dorm rooms, and football fields were on par with their experiences, but at least her friends had been teenagers their first time.
Life got very complicated in the weeks her lover, gosh, it was still hard to process, returned to Baton Rouge. Erica Summer, the bitch from the bar, went after another member of the Deaux family. Louis, a quiet, reserved sibling, was gay, but only a few family members knew it. When someone leaked the information to the news outlets, he had been forced to come out to the world before he was ready. Their parents and siblings were supportive. Their mother even stole the thunder from the press by sharing the news on her social media the day before it was set to come out.
Hothead Jean had been determined to figure out who leaked the information in the first place. Paul had not been around to buffer his twin’s blunt comments as he plotted his revenge. Eve had been there watching when her friend Jayne took off after one of her big brother’s insolent comments. Luckily, Eve’s brother Paddy was able to track Jayne down after she drove off crying.
Things really went to shit then. Paddy got shot, and Jayne was kidnapped. The Deaux siblings went hunting then. They managed to track the kidnapper to a small cabin just outside of the city. They were closing in to take him down when Jayne managed to free herself. The police arrived before Paul could fulfill his promise to kill the man who took his woman.
Paddy was recovering nicely now. Jayne and Paul were officially engaged and Jean had finally returned to New Orleans, where he and his wife Camille lived. Life was getting back to normal again. Which left Eve with too much time to consider her encounter with Raymond.
She spent almost every day fretting about Raymond. She was not disappointed they had finally had sex. It was wonderful and she longed to experience it again. Eve found herself cursing him for leaving town, even if she had all but ordered him to do it. What kind of man takes a woman’s virginity in a closet and doesn’t have the decency to stick around to make sure she is okay? At least she did not have to worry about an unplanned pregnancy. Doctors had put her on birth control to regulate her cycles when she was a teenager. But Raymond Becnel did not know that. She could be pregnant and desperate for all he knew. Bastard!
“Ms. Deaux, are you sure we should be here?” The weary sound of her current client focused Eve’s attention. “This is the time the odd occurrences start happening. The spirit haunting our new house gets really intense from eight to ten at night.”
“The damn house is not haunted, Eloise.” The woman’s husband threw up his hands in frustration. “Do you see why I had to call your company in? My daft wife is convinced someone is trying to scare us into moving out.”
Patting the woman’s arm, Eve tried to reassure her. “No harm will come to you or your husband, ma’am. After a few days of investigating, I think I understand exactly what is causing your problems.”
“You see,” her husband smiled, “No one is trying to force us out of our home.”
“Well,” Eve tried to soften the blow. “That’s not necessarily the truth. Someone does want you to sell this place and move away…”
“I told you we had ghost!” Eloise asserted. As if on cue, the lights started dimming and shadows crept across the walls as someone moved just outside the home. The middle-aged woman rushed into the protective arms of her husband. Eve pulled out her phone and sent a text. Within a few minutes, someone started knocking loudly at the front door of the home.
“That’s never happened before,” Eloise’s husband announced, shoving his wife behind his back as if to protect her.
“I’ll get it,” Eve smiled and walked to the door without delay. She opened it wide and a dark figure loomed. Two smaller beings cowering at its sides, and the homeowners shrieked in unison.
“The ghost has the boy from next door,” Eloise whispered. “And the teenager he hangs out with all the time.”
“I’ll be back in a minute.” The dark figure shoved the two boys inside the door frame before disappearing.
“It’s past my curfew, lady. My parents are going to be pissed off that you guys kidnapped us,” one of the boys said, but his voice cracked with fear.
“My brother just went to fetch your parents, Adam,” Eve said and blocked the exit. “Why don’t you boys have a seat? You can spend the next few minutes trying to convince your wonderful new neighbors not to press charges against you both.”
“Press charges?” Eloise’s husband suddenly realized their nightmare might be over. “What did you two boys do?”
Eve nodded with approval. Unlike most clients who just want their troubles to stop, this one wanted to understand the how and why. It was the only proper way to handle things in her experience. She shared what she had discovered since taking over the case. “When the original owners of this house moved out, Adam was hoping his best friend, Todd and his family would buy the house. You outbid Todd’s family. These two have been trying to convince you not only to move away, but to sell the house for dirt cheap. They suspected you would want out fast if a ghost started haunting your place.”
“My parents are going to kill me,” Todd groaned, slumping onto a sofa next to his partner in crime. “I told you this was a stupid idea.”