A Warrior’s Journey, Chapters 9-12

Chapter Nine

A large pan of homemade biscuits were baking. Thick cut, smoked bacon sizzled on the griddle as she whipped eggs to be scrambled. Ribbon Cane syrup was in the warmer. Homemade butter was in the butter dish, a gift from a patient of John’s. Coffee was brewed and kept warm. The table was set for everyone in the house. All she needed to do was set out the milk and orange juice and cook the eggs. Everything would be ready when they all came in for breakfast.

When the biscuits were done, she buttered each one placing them and the bacon back in the oven to stay warm. She sat at the table with her cup of coffee and opened her Bible to read her daily devotional. As she finished, she heard the heavy footsteps of Jake moving about his room across from the kitchen. His door opened as he smiled at Bonnie.

Without a word to each other, he walked past her to the coffee pot gently patting her shoulder as he went. She cleared the four place kitchen table of her things and joined him. For years, they spent many mornings drinking coffee and solving the world’s problems. She handed him his paper while she sipped her coffee in silence.

One by one, within the next few minutes, everyone was milling around the kitchen and dining room table.

“Y’all sit down. The eggs are hot and ready for you.”

Jake sat at the far end of the table with Shaun next to him. Bonnie sat at the other end near the kitchen. She was prone to jump up and bring things to the table defending her territory with vigor.

Shaun watched L.L. walk to the table. When she entered the room, her eyes instantly locked with his. His heart skipped as she smiled and took her seat next to Nicole. She was in her uniform. He enjoyed checking out the snug fit of her khaki pants and the couture of her shirt. She seemed to transform into an officer. She held her chin a little higher. Her mannerisms were more professional than when she was in casual wear. Her smile confirmed his suspicions. She had waited until he was in the middle of soaping down during his morning shower to flush the toilet. He thought he heard her laughing on the other side of the wall. The little smirk fixed on her pretty face told him he was right. She was in for it now. Just wait, smarty. I’ll get you back better than you got me this morning.

Jake cleared his throat, a standing signal he was about to ask the blessing.

Every head bowed and every eye closed as he began to pray. He thanked God for all their blessings. He asked God to watch over Cindy and her girls, to give them peace and love.  He lifted up all the men and women serving in the military. Before he finished, Shaun cracked open his right eye to look at L.L.

She was looking directly at him. Her face turned bright red as she smiled back. He closed his eyes and made a solemn promise to himself. First he would win her over. Then when the time was right, he would marry her. He never broke promises and she was no exception. He opened his eyes to look at her as his father finished. She opened her eyes and caught him staring at her. Once again, that little pouty smirk appeared. You just wait, L.L. You have no idea what you have in store .

Near the end of the meal, Jake cleared his throat again and spoke.

“We have some news this morning. Also we have a little business to address as well.”

“First, I want all of you to know Bonnie decided to move back here with us. She will stay in her room as before. Her sister is moving into her house. We will help them make the move. All hands on deck Saturday morning at day break. We will split up in groups after breakfast Saturday with trucks and trailers. Half will go to Bonnie’s and the other to her sister’s. We should be finished by noon. Now Bonnie has something to share.”

“Yes, in the end it was my decision but Jake McVeigh greatly influenced it. My sister lives in a bad part of town. I love her but I can’t stand to be around her longer than Christmas Dinner. She drives me crazier than I already am. I want her to be safe and so does Jake.  She will move into my house and sell hers. I will stay here from now on. Let me set the record straight. I am not your slave. I am part of this family and will expect to be treated as such. I work when I want and rest or do whatever I wish, when I wish. I expect each of you to pick up after yourself. You are all grown now and I am not your Momma. If you get out of line, I will whip you like I own you. Isn’t that right Shaun and Nicole?”

“Yes ma’am,” they answered.

“Cindy, I know things have been hard on you and the girls. You are safe here and you are loved. It’s time for your girls to get into the swing of things. Vacation time is over. It is time for them to come in my kitchen and give me a hand. They need to learn it all from washing dishes to cooking and running this house. They are young but not too young to learn to help. They can dust and learn how to work like we all did. I started when I was three like little Melissa. I hope you agree, Cindy. I don’t want to overstep my bounds with you. I mean no harm. I just want to help them and let them help me.”

“Bonnie, I am so grateful you want to help my daughters. Thank you for doing this. It is time for them to start learning these things. It will give them satisfaction knowing they make contributions as we all do. I know they will be in good hands when they are with you.”

“Thank you, Cindy. I just have one more thing to ask. Each morning you let them sleep late and eat when they feel like it. I think they have settled in now and this needs to change. When I prepare a meal, I want everybody in the house at the table. No stragglers will be tolerated. I noticed they don’t like to take their afternoon naps when told. I think it is because they slept late. I would like to see them here in the morning with the rest of us from now on. Are you alright with this?”

“I agree with everything you say, Bonnie. They will be here with us in the morning.”

All the women pitched in with the kitchen duties while Shaun and Jake loaded his bag in the Cub. Jake helped him perform the pre-flight check before he headed out. L.L., Cindy and Nicole left at the same time heading north toward town in a little convoy. Moments later, Shaun lifted off as the sun was breaking the horizon. He climbed to 200 feet and radioed Shreveport approach. He announced he would climb to altitude momentarily.  His lower level was approved as he approached the three woman convoy. The power lines were on the west side of the highway next to the railroad tracks. He came down behind them and passed over the tops of their cars doing a little over 120 miles per hour. His landing wheels came within 10 feet of their roof tops. He thought he could hear each of them scream as he passed over and began his climb.

“Bastard!” L.L. shouted out her side window. “You crazy Bastard!” She held her left hand out the window and flipped him the finger. “I ought to call the FAA on your ass for that.”  Her heart was pounding and she was mad as hell. She took a deep breath and forced herself to relax. She dialed in KRMD, turned the volume loud and listened to the Foggy Mountain Breakdown. She did not realize it but she was smiling. She thought of the shower and realized he was on to her now. I’ll get you back Shaun, just wait. When she glanced in the mirror, she wiped the smile off her face and uttered Bastard one last time.

An hour later, Julie and Melissa came in the kitchen. Bonnie reached down and took both of them in her arms.

“Good morning angels! Did you two sleep well?”

In unison they said, “Yes ma’am.”

“I have your breakfast ready,” as she reached over to flip on the small TV mounted on the wall by the cabinets. She scrolled off Fox news and found cartoons for them. Jake moved his paper folded to the stock market so Bonnie could set their plates.

“What are we going to do today. Mr. Jake?” Julie asked as she took her seat by him.

As Jake was about to come up with taking a tour of the stables or going to check on the cows, Bonnie spoke first.

“You girls are going to start helping me here in the house. I’m going to start teaching you how to cook and do other things around the house. We all work on this plantation and it is time you learned how to do your part. Julie and Melissa’s eyes widened as they smiled at her.

“What are we going to do first?”

“After you eat, we will pull the stools to the sink and let you wash your dishes. Then we will make chicken soup to go with sandwiches for lunch. I have the morning planned. It’s going to be hard work but it’s going to be fun at the same time.” Before he realized it, Jake was caught up in the cartoon instead of the stock market.

Bonnie sat at the table with a tablet and pen in her hand. She began to write a shopping list. She covered all the foods they would need to go along with assorted things for the house. She added two aprons for Julie and Melissa. They would be small but would match hers. She smiled as she pictured them wearing them as they got into the work routine. As the girls cleaned their plates, Jake stood and started to pull the stools to the sink for them. Bonnie was quick to stop him.

“Just leave those to us, Jake. Go check on your cows or something. We don’t need you under our feet this morning.” He smiled as he took his coffee to the back porch.

Jimmy Baker and Sam Massy were pushing the two Ag Cats out of the hangar. He walked off the porch and headed their way.

“Morning Jim, Sam. How y’all doing today?”

“Great!” they responded.

Sam was a man of few words. He was a couple of inches taller than Jimmy, in his late 60’s and still in great shape. He worked hard and his arms rippled with muscles. Over the years, his flat-top hair style had come and gone and returned in fashion. He kept it that way and let fashion go to the wind. He was easy going for the most part. But he did have a reputation that followed him throughout his life. Years earlier, he stopped at a roadside bar near Taylor Town to have a beer on his way back to the plantation one evening. He loved to chase women but had never married. The story goes, he took a seat at the end of the bar far away from the oil field workers and ordered his beer. The pretty blonde behind the bar always flirted with him even though she was dating a drilling boss currently out of town. She handed Sam his beer, patted his hand and asked where he had been for so long. The men at the other end started grumbling in low voices. Sam’s guard went up a notch. The barmaid went to their end to replace their empty beer bottles with cold ones. One of the men was a big, heavy brute and asked how her boyfriend was doing. He called the boyfriend by name, Andy.  She answered while taking their cash to the register, “He’s fine and should be back in town tonight.” The barmaid pulled a quarter from the change drawer and walked around the bar to the jukebox. She dropped it in the slot and selected an old Johnny Cash ballad. As she walked toward Sam wearing her short, low-rise, cutoff jeans and a tight fitting tank-top, Sam and all the other men in the place watched her well-developed breasts bounce. She took Sam’s hand pulling him from his stool.

“Dance this one with me, Sam. I just love this song.”

Sam was reluctant. He knew if he turned her down, it would embarrass her. He had plans to be with her one day after she dumped the oil field guy. He held her properly with his left hand up and his right hand resting on her bare hip. She dropped her right hand from his left and wrapped her arm around his waist. She pulled him tightly to her large breasts and smiled up to him. A second later, a big hand grabbed her shoulder and pushed her back from Sam. The big, dirty brute’s face was red. He was angry as he broke the couple apart.

“Sally, you don’t dance with anyone but Andy and his friends, especially with a crop dusting piece of crap like him.” The brute elbowed Sam as he took Sally in a tight hold and began to dance.

Sam’s right hand quickly grasped the big guy’s throat and squeezed. The guy was unable to do anything but try to pull Sam’s powerful hand from his neck. In a matter of seconds, the man’s knees buckled. Sam eased him to the floor asleep. Sam took another swig of his beer as he turned his back to the oil field men. He looked at Sally and smiled, “Looks like we will have to finish this dance another time.”

She smiled back as she said, “I think the next dance may take all night.”

The hand on Sam’s shoulder was not unexpected. He spun around with a quick, left backhand to the nose of who would try to take him down. As blood sprayed across the bar, Sam smashed the beer bottle in his right hand directly on the forehead of the next one. When Sam walked out of the bar that evening, six men were sprawled out on the floor. The next time he came to the bar, Sally had a black eye. Yet Andy and his buddies stayed at their end of the bar to live another day.

“Y’all dusting down by the river this morning?”

“Nope, we finished that section yesterday. We are heading down to the south end on the west side of the road. There is no wind this morning so we can dust right up next to the highway without it drifting into traffic. It will take us all morning to knock it out but will finish the spraying for this month. Tomorrow we start maintenance on the dusters and tractors.”

“That’s good news, Jim. Are y’all keeping an eye out for Bubba?”

“Yep. Shaun filled us in. We are keeping our eyes peeled on the ground and when we are up. If we spot him from the air, Shaun wants us to buzz the house to signal you that Bubba is on the move.”

“Good deal, Jim. Y’all be safe and by the way, that bonus I promised y’all for finishing the season without problems will be in cash. No taxes off your payroll checks this time.”

Sam spoke up. “Jake, I need to take a few days off after we finish the tractor work. I need to go up to Arkansas to check on my farm. My brother says we need to do some fence work. Some of my cows are finding a way to my neighbor’s pastures.”

“No problem, Sam. You have earned a week with pay on top of the bonus.”

“Thanks, Jake.”

Bubba started drinking that evening without eating supper. He passed out on his front porch swing around midnight. When the sun came up and shined on his face, he slowly sat up and rubbed the sleep from his eyes. Setting on the porch rail was the fifth of Jack Daniels with only a couple of shots left in the bottom. He went in the kitchen to make coffee and fix something to eat. While the coffee brewed so did he. He thought of Cindy living with the McVeighs. She left him and she was wrong. They had promised till death do us part. Sure he had been a little hard on her but she needed to know who the boss was. Shaun McVeigh. I remember him now, little punk. I should have kicked his ass years ago…thinks he’s a big bad ass SEAL. Well, he has an ass kicking coming his way. That L.L. Jackson thinks she is as good as a man, wearing that little badge and gun. I’d like to take it off her and show her how it feels to be with a real man…bend her over the hood of that car and make her scream for a while. Someday I’ll do just that. He poured himself a cup of coffee. As he sipped, he realized he had forgotten to put the filter in the pot. The cup was filled with grounds. He tossed it against the wall and stormed out to the porch.  Sitting in the sun, he sipped the remaining whiskey. The edge was soon gone and his head began to feel numb. Shaun came back to his mind. He remembered the smart ass smirk plastered on his pretty face. Well, it’s time to wipe off that smirk once and for all. He finished the whiskey, wiped his mouth with the sleeve of his shirt, stumbled to his truck and fired it up.

Shaun made good time flying to Dallas. Air traffic was heavy at Love Field so he landed at the Addison field instead. He tied down the Cub, shouldered his bag and strolled into the FBO. The pretty, young lady behind the counter beamed at him.

His eyes were so green! He caused her temperature to rise just smiling at her. He only had to ask once and she would drop everything to go anywhere with him. She looked at his left hand checking for a ring.

“Can I help you?” she offered as she smiled at the tall handsome man. Boyfriend or not, I would love to spend some time with him.

“Yes ma’am, I need to rent a truck for a couple of days if you have one.”

“Sure thing. We have all makes and models. What is your flavor?”

“How about a King Ranch?”

“Sure. We have three parked across the lot over there,” as she pointed.

“The black one will do.”

She picked up her talkie and told Bobby to bring the black King Ranch to the front door.

“Are you here on business or pleasure?”

“I’m in town to visit a buddy just released from the hospital.”

“Do you have a place to stay while you’re here?”

“Not yet.”

“Can I help you? I can get you a discount at the Hilton.”

“Is it very far?”

“No, not at all. It’s a couple of blocks from here.”

“Sure, just make sure I get a non-smoking with a king.”

“Consider it done.”

“Shall we fuel up your plane?”

“Yes, send out the truck and I’ll meet your man by my plane.”

“All righty!”

Shaun tossed his bag in a chair in the lobby and headed back to his plane. She watched him walk away feeling a tingling sensation run through her body. Well, I need to move on this. I can’t just let him slip by without giving us a chance. She wrote her cell number on her business card and called her boyfriend to cancel their dinner plans for tonight.  Shaun wanted to watch the fuel man top off his plane to be certain he selected the correct grade. He also wanted to be on hand to sump the tanks and make sure the new fuel was free of water.

He was standing at the desk waiting for her to finish her phone call.

“Yes that’s right. I have to work late again. That’s ok. We can make it another time. Sure, I will. Bye.”

“Mr. McVeigh, your room is booked and here are the keys to your truck. I hope you have a great visit. I hope I am not being too forward but here is my cell number. I had plans tonight but I canceled them. If you want to get together, give me a ring. I live a couple of blocks from the Hilton.” She smiled and batted her dark brown eyes. She had a body on her for sure. That long black hair and sexy body was easy on the eyes. He recalled what L.L. said about him not dating yet. Well, it’s time to step out and give it a try. How would she react if he told her he dated a lovely lady in Dallas?

“I would love to see you tonight,” he said as he grinned at her. “I’ll give you a ring, say around six?”

She reached out her slender hand to take his. Her eyes sparkled and a big grin appeared on her face. “My name in Juanita Salazar and it’s good to meet you.”

“Shaun McVeigh, and it’s my pleasure to meet you, Juanita! I’m looking forward to tonight and getting to know you.”

She gently caressed his hand as she told him she was looking forward to that too.

“I got to run for now but I’ll call you later. We can work out the details for tonight.” He winked as he took his hand away.

She returned the wink and waved her fingers at him as he headed for the door. She took in a deep breath thinking about a night with Shaun McVeigh. Oh, never have I wanted a one night stand but with him, it would definitely be worth disregarding those rules.

Jake topped off the fuel in the ATV and left to ride several miles of fence line. Bonnie and the girls were busy cleaning the house. She taught them how to properly load the washer and add the right amount of detergent. She showed Julie how to operate the vacuum cleaner and Melissa how to correctly dust.

L.L. drove to the station to request her vacation preferences for the fall holidays. She hated every minute she was out of service. Her beat was covered by a floater, a rookie on the job less than six months. He was still wet behind the ears and eager to show the department he was a good officer. She hoped he did not screw up something while she was out. She met with her sergeant and listed the holidays she wanted. It came down to Thanksgiving or Christmas. She quickly chose Christmas. Thanksgiving was a day when people gave thanks and ate too much. She would rather eat a light lunch while on duty and take Christmas Eve and Christmas day off to be with her family. As she was heading out of the city thinking about presents for each person in her life, something deep in her stomach twisted. It was a sick feeling deep within. She knew the feeling well. It was not illness. It was something far worse. She was blessed with a gift women and cops have. It was a feeling, an instinct, God’s way of warning her of danger. She pushed down on the accelerator as she felt the urge to head toward the plantation. Something wasn’t right. She knew it without a doubt. This instinct had saved her life on at least two occasions. Once was off duty when she opened the door to her apartment about to step inside, she felt it. Following her gut, she did not go in but walked around to the back of her apartment. She noticed her bedroom window had been forced open. The curtains were laying outside the building. She heard movement inside and called for backup. When the place was surrounded by four officers, they yelled into the apartment for the guy to come out. Suddenly, a man dove out of her window. She slammed her fist in his face as he tried to get up from the ground. He was handcuffed by the time the others got to them. The guy was a burglar and a rapist. He was matched on fingerprints and DNA evidence.  He had warrants for burglary and aggravated rape.

When searched, he carried a big hunting knife and four feet of lightweight rope. If she had entered her apartment, he would have taken her off guard, held the knife to her forcing her to disrobe and submit to being tied. He would have raped here every way possible until he was finished with her. She knew he would have killed her because she was a deputy. After she secured her apartment, showered and dressed in comfortable clothes, she began to tremble without control. She was scared and angry at the same time. She sat in the darkness on her couch and began to pray.

The other time L.L.’s instincts saved her life, she was working graveyard shift. She clocked a car load of men traveling at a high rate of speed just south of Shreveport. They had a headlight out and were going well over the posted speed limit. She spun her unit around and pushed the accelerator to the floor. She had to do almost 100 miles per hour to catch the car. She fell in behind and called in the tag to headquarters. She flipped on her overhead lights to signal the car to pull over. The car slowed a little but continued down the highway. They were outside the city with no street lights for miles when the car finally stopped. She flicked on both fender mounted spotlights and switched her headlights to high beam. She saw four men’s heads through the rear window of the car.  Before she could exit, the suspects rolled off again. It was slow but the car traveled another 50 feet. That sick feeling deep inside told her to ramp up. She unsnapped her Glock and held it in her hand as she placed the shifter back into drive. Once again, she closed the distance. She realized the men in the car were arguing about the decision to stop or run. She radioed describing the actions and gave the number of suspects in the car. She requested backup immediately. In less than 30 seconds, Sgt. Stevens rolled up behind her followed by another unit. She exited her unit. With her free hand, she squeezed the mic to the PA speaker ordering the driver to remove the keys and toss them out the driver’s window. The suspects in the back seat turned their heads to squint at her. The driver was slow to respond. He placed his shifter in park and the keys dropped to the side of the road.

“Driver, step out of the car. Place your hands on top of your head and walk back to my unit!” The young suspect stood six feet tall. He wore a ball cap turned to the side as he laced his fingers together as instructed. His pants were hanging low in the style of a gang-banger. “Get down on your knees!” Sgt. Stevens cuffed him and pulled a hand gun from his lower back. L.L. and the other officer heard loud thumps coming from the trunk of the car. She heard the muffled cries of women inside. They were frantic and pleading to be released. More officers appeared on the scene and all the suspects were taken into custody. The suspects were separated and  placed in the back seat of the units. L.L. picked up the keys and popped open the car trunk.

Two young, high school girls were stuffed in the trunk helpless and crying. L.L. assisted them out. The girls had been at a shopping mall in Shreveport about to get in their car when the men suddenly surrounded them. They were overpowered and crammed in the trunk of their own car. As the men drove the girls out of town to the middle of nowhere, the men in the back seat yelled to the girls in the trunk. The men told them in crude details what they would do to them when they got to the woods where no one could hear them scream. They would be gang raped and killed.

L.L. pressed down a little more on the accelerator as she sped toward the plantation.

Bonnie left Julie and Melissa upstairs pulling sheets off the beds while she went to the laundry room to get another clothes basket. As she walked down the hall, she could see to the front door of the house. She saw Bubba appear at the front door. He pushed open the door slamming it against the small, antique table next to the wall.

“Can I help you, Bubba?”

“Why yes, Mammy. You can tell me where my family is!”

“Now, Bubba, you know you’re not supposed to be here. Why don’t you just go on back home and let’s not have a scene, you hear?”

As he approached, she stood directly in his path. She heard Julie call out to her asking if she was coming back upstairs. Bubba heard his daughter and continued toward Bonnie. When he came within four feet, she raised the nickel plated Smith & Wesson and aimed it at his chest. He was drunk but not too drunk to realize she would pop him in the center of his chest. He raised his open hands and started to take another step.

“I will blow what little heart I know you have out your back if you don’t turn around and leave this house now!”

He raised his hands a little higher and lifted his foot to take another step. Bonnie’s thumb pulled the hammer back. Bubba’s eyes widened the instant he heard the distinct sound of the hammer and froze.

“I am their Daddy. You don’t have the right to stop me from seeing them!”

“True, you are their father. But the court gave you an order to stay away from them for a while. If you don’t turn and walk out of this house right now, I’ll drop you where you stand, Bubba!”

He hesitated before he spoke. He glared at her as he turned to go. “This is none of your business, Mammy. I warn you! You will pay dearly for this.”

“Just get your ass out of my house, Bubba, if you want to take another breath on this earth!”

Bonnie heard the 911 operator answer the same time she heard Bubba’s truck start in front of the house.

The call blasted over L.L.’s radio. Bubba Easterly was at the McVeigh plantation. She flipped on her siren and all her emergency lights. She was five miles from the farm traveling well over 100 miles an hour. She heard the rookie radio he was a short distance from the call and was rolling that way hot.

Sam was about to land when he saw Bubba’s black, Chevy truck leaving the house. He knew Bubba was crazy and probably drunk. Sam shoved the throttle to the firewall and raised the nose of the big duster. He climbed to a hundred feet and turned to follow Bubba. Bubba turned south on Highway 1 heading to Desoto Parish. Sam knew it was another jurisdiction and the Caddo officers would need permission to go after him. He still had about 50 gallons of spray on board, his only weapon. The mixture of herbicide and peanut oil was strong but not fatal if a human came in direct contact with it.

From his aerial vantage point, Sam scanned the road for other vehicles. What he was about to do was a direct FAA violation and could cost him his license as a duster. What the hell? I’ve been doing this for over 30 years. Perhaps it’s time I got off the stick. No other cars were within miles of Bubba who was now doing over 100 miles per hour. Sam dropped the nose of the big, heavy plane leveling to about 20 feet above the highway. As he descended, he gained speed and quickly closed the distance between them. Just like dusting cotton fields, Sam hit the trigger on the stick and dumped 50 gallons of oily herbicide onto Bubba’s truck. He pulled back on the stick and climbed above the tree tops. He looked back and saw the brake lights on Bubba’s truck. It suddenly swerved off the roadway into a deep ditch. The truck bounced from side to side as it lost its speed. The ditch channeled its direction. There was no way for Bubba to drive back out.

Sam spotted a patrol unit speeding toward the plantation. He knew it had to be L.L. She was going straight for the big house. As she began to slow to make the turn into the driveway, Sam swooped in again heading south. He came along side her unit and pointed for her to continue south. She nodded and gave him a thumbs up. Two miles south of the plantation, she spotted smoke on the right side of the road. She pulled up just as Bubba staggered out of the banged up truck. She knocked him to the ground and cuffed him before he had time to do anything.

Chapter Ten

The rookie jumped out of his car and rushed to help L.L. Bubba’s spit landed on her chest as he called her a little bitch. The rookie was so quick she was unable to stop him. He kicked Bubba squarely in the face breaking his nose. The blow knocked Bubba completely out landing him flat on his back.

L.L. was angry. She was about to do the same thing to Bubba but the rookie beat her to the punch. She started to reprimand him but knew why he did it. She respected him although it crossed departmental rules to strike a handcuffed prisoner. She was going to forget what happened. Her report would say he was slightly injured during the crash.

They stuffed Bubba in the back seat of the rookie’s unit and off to jail he went, again. She waited for the impound wrecker to arrive. Sam flew by a couple of times. She waved and gave him thumbs up once again. When she pulled up to the house, Bonnie met her on the front porch.

She told L.L. to have a seat and handed her a glass of ice tea.

“Jake and the girls are in the pool. I don’t want them to know what happened. They been through enough already.”

Bonnie told L.L. every detail of how she forced him out of the house. L.L. shared sensitive details of the arrest and how Sam Massy took Bubba’s truck out of commission. She even shared the rookie’s actions swearing Bonnie to a lifetime secret. Bonnie smiled and shook L.L.’s hand.

“I’ll take it to my grave honey. But I would like to make that rookie his favorite cake. Let me know what kind and you can take it to him. Sorry bastard deserved that and much more. Wish I could have been there to kick his teeth in too! Forgive me Lord of my sinful words.”

“I think He will this time, Bonnie.”

Sam walked around the side of the house. As he stepped on the porch, he was quickly grabbed by both women. They commenced to hug and kiss him several times. Sam blushed and Bonnie patted his bottom.

“Sam, if I ever decide to take me another man, you’re him. If I ever have a weak moment, I’ll be slipping out to your bunk house, you hear me darling?”

L.L. blushed. “Bonnie, you better make another prayer on that last comment.”

“Honey, Lord knows my heart and He is a forgiving God. Besides, Sam needs to be thanked properly for what he did.”

“Bonnie, you are a lot of woman. I don’t think I could handle you in my tiny bunk.” His smile grew as he pecked her on the cheek.

“Sammy, you can have a key to my bedroom anytime you want it.” She reached into her pocket and her hand slapped it into his. His face turned a shade brighter as he quickly handed it back. Bonnie laughed holding her belly while bending over. “You know you don’t need no key cause I’ll just leave the door unlocked for you.”

“You know you are a mess, Bonnie Whyte! I may just collect late one night.” He hugged her and pecked her head.

“Anytime Sammy. Just know, once you taste chocolate, you will be spoiled forever!”

“I know Bonnie! That scares me down to my bones!”

“Enough of this! Do I need to get a bucket of cold water and douse you two?”

Bonnie took the girls upstairs for their nap as Sam and L.L. told Jake of the day’s events.

“I wish I had been here when he came into my house. They would have to carry him to the morgue.”

“That’s right, Jake. We are glad you did not have to kill him in front of his daughters.”

“You’re right honey. He better never set foot here again. I can’t promise he will walk away next time.”

“I believe you, Jake, and I got your back.”

The rookie texted L.L. to inform her Bubba was locked down and being held for Judge Clark for a bond hearing the next morning. She relaxed a little knowing she could drop her guard for at least one night. She headed back to headquarters to write her arrest report.

Shaun spent the day with his buddy and old partner, Jackie Lewis, and his wife, Alice.  They lived about 20 miles from town on a farm with horses and a few cows. Three teenage kids rambled around the house and pampered Dad. He was a little irritable but otherwise in good spirits. He and Shaun visited privately while Shaun rolled his wheelchair to the barn to check on the horses.

“Why don’t you hang it up now, Jackie? You have a full retirement, kids to take care of and a ranch to care for. Do like me. Walk away once and for all. Get on with your life.  You have so many people here who love you and need you instead of being in the sand box risking it all, for nothing.”

“I never thought I would see you walk away, Shaun. I know you as well as anyone. You  were addicted, like me. But you did walk away and the team wasn’t the same after you left. I’ve had plenty of time to sort things out. I was leaning toward leaving the team. After hearing you put it the way you just did, I have to go with my gut. I will send my letter of retirement to headquarters in the morning. How about staying here a few days and hanging out with me for a while?”

“Tell you what, Jackie. I have plans tonight but I will check out of the hotel in the morning and come here. I will spend the day and night and we can catch up and I will head home the next day. I have plenty to do on my place back in Louisiana.”

“Sounds like a plan. Roll me back now, will you? I’m ready for that beer I promised you.”

On his way back to town, he called Juanita and set the time. She insisted on picking him up at his hotel. He went to his room and called L.L. to see how things were going at home.

When her caller ID showed it was Shaun, her pulse jumped and a slight smile came to her face. She was pulling into the horseshoe drive at the plantation. She parked leaving the engine running with the air conditioner on.

“First, Shaun, let me warn you. When you fly back into Shreveport air space, you will likely receive a call to contact the FAA. After your little stunt this morning, I reported you for buzzing an on-duty law enforcement officer.” She tried to act serious and not snicker.

He knew better and called her bluff.

“I called them when I landed in Addison. I explained as I was climbing to 2,500 feet, I spotted a black pickup following you with his lights off. I told them about the problems we were having and for your safety, I needed a closer look. When you tapped your brakes after I passed well over you, the driver in the truck realized his lights were off and quickly flicked them on. So don’t worry about the FAA, I have already been cleared.”

“Well, Shaun, that is good to hear. But the next time you buzz me like that, I will personally arrest you and issue you a citation for reckless operation of an aircraft. In court, you can tell the judge your little bull shit story.”

“L.L., give me a break. I was safe and I am a good pilot. You nor the others were ever in any danger.”

“OK, I will let it pass this time. But never pull a stunt like that again or I promise I will do what I just said, got it?”

“Got it Deputy Jackson. What does L.L. stand for anyway?”

“You will never know, Shaun. So don’t ask again.”

“How are things at home?”

“Good, now that Bubba is locked down.”

“What happened?”

L.L. gave him every detail. His blood was boiling by the time she finished. The first time he leaves the house, Bubba makes his move. He wished he had been there to deal with him.

“Looks like Dad and I need to give Sam a second bonus when I get back.”

“Well, I am aware of a bonus that was offered to him but he seemed inclined to pass on it. I will give you the details when you get back but not on my cell phone.”

“Sounds interesting. Can’t wait to hear about it.”

“When are you planning to come home?”

“Are you missing me?”

Her face blushed as she rolled her eyes.

“No, I was just wondering.”

He grinned as he told her day after tomorrow. He figured it was time for her medicine.

“I decided to take your advice and go on a date.” He paused, on purpose, waiting for her to make the next move.

She hesitated a moment before she responded. “Great! I hope you have a good time, Shaun.”

She felt something rush through her body. It was not a good feeling but she concealed it. She would not let him know she really did not want him to see anyone else.

“Wow, you don’t waste any time. How did you land a date in just a few hours. Did your buddy fix you up?”

“Not at all. I landed in Addison and Juanita was the first person I met. She works at the desk at the FBO I am using. It’s just a dinner engagement, someone to share dinner with tonight.” She did her best to conceal her disappointment but he could tell she was not happy to learn he was doing what she suggested.

She wanted to ask if he asked her or if Juanita asked him. Instead she bit her cheek and held off.

“Well, have a good evening, Shaun. I’ll see you when you get back.”

“Oh, I plan to L.L. I’ll tell you all about her when I get home. Thank you for being a friend L.L. It means a lot.”

She wanted to slap him, several times. But it was her idea and she was not going to back down. She would not show her cards now, if ever. I wonder what she looks like.

After the call, she sat in the unit rehashing their conversation. He was rubbing her nose in it. She saw right through him. It hurt a little to hear him talk about his date. She would be forced to listen to all the romantic details. If she refused, he would know she was not happy about it and perhaps even a little jealous. She would never give Shaun McVeigh the satisfaction of admitting she was wrong.

Just like the shower, two can play this game. When he gets back, the shoe will be on the other foot. She would share her details like him. The smile on her face grew as she locked her unit and headed for the old mansion.

She dialed the cell phone number Dr. James Paxton gave her a year earlier. It was saved in her phone if she ever felt like getting out and being treated like a lady. She met him at the emergency room of the state hospital where most shooting victims are treated. She had worked a drive-by shooting between rival gangs. This shooting was retaliation from their rival gang in Cedar Grove. The small row of sharecropper houses, built in the 1920’s, were nestled together on a dirt road within shooting distance of Hwy 1 just north of Taylor Town. The Vic, that’s what she had to call him, was a consummate gang-banger. Tats all over his shirtless, upper body and a slug in his lower leg. He was a smart ass bastard refusing to give a statement at the scene. She followed the ambulance to the emergency room and went in to try again.

James Paxton was the attending physician. He was a good looking man, tall and slender.  His long black hair was held in a ponytail. He had light blue eyes and a thick, black mustache. Clearly, he could have his choice of the young registered nurses following him around like little puppies. He zeroed in on her the moment she entered the ER.

While the Vic was being treated and readied for x-ray, he walked over and offered his hand. Every nurse in the place stopped as he asked for her phone number. She refused his request. She was on-duty and was not comfortable exchanging personal phone numbers. James quickly pulled out his business card and jotted his cell number. “Keep this, Ms. Jackson. You never know when it may come in handy?” His smile made impressionable females melt and sigh. She, however, just crammed the card in her pants pocket like it was nothing.

Every time she was at the ER, he seemed to be there.

“Still have my number, L.L.? I sure would like to take you to dinner sometime,” he would say.

“Yes, Dr. Paxton, I have it. If I ever decide to date again, I’ll give you a ring.”

The call went straight to voice mail. I bet he’s out with one of those pretty little nurses.

“James, this is L.L. Jackson. Just wanted to see how you are doing. Give me a call when you have time,” and hung up.

Before she could make it up the stairs, his name appeared on her caller ID.

“Jackson.”

“L.L., sorry I missed you. I was working out and left my cell in my locker. How are you doing?”

“I’m great. Just wanted to see if you wanted to meet for drinks tonight.”

He paused as he figured out how to cancel his date with the radiologist. “I would love to, L.L. Where shall I pick you up?”

“How about we take our own cars. We can meet for drinks wherever you wish.”

“Great, that works. How about meeting at the Vintage on Line Avenue? Say 7:30?”

“Sounds good. See you there. Let’s try to get a table on the patio. I hate smoke and as I recall, the Vintage is a cigar bar.”

“I know Enrico, the owner. I’m sure he will save us a table for two. I’ll call him right away. Thanks for calling me, L.L. I’m excited to meet you for drinks.”

“Good, James. See you at 7:30.”

She went upstairs and filled her tub to the brim. She added her favorite bath oil and eased into the warm water. She closed her eyes and began to relax. Her thoughts were of Shaun and the lucky lady with him tonight. Is she a bimbo? What is her hair like? I bet she asked for the date. Where would they go for dinner? How far would Juanita go on the first date? That feeling returned and she cursed under her breath. Damn him. He needs to see others and so do I. We should get our minds off one another.

She dressed in her new black pants with the matching silk blouse. I wonder what Juanita will wear tonight? Cindy knocked on her door and walked in.

“L.L., you look lovely! Where are you going?”

She frowned as she said, “I have a date. Just drinks with a guy who has pestered me for the last year or so.”

“That’s great, L.L. Where is he taking you?”

“I’m meeting him at the Vintage at 7:30. I hate being trapped on a date. I’m taking my own car so I can leave when I want. I will not have to deal with a goodnight kiss when the evening is over.”

“I see your logic and respect wisdom. Tell me about him.”

“He is a doctor at the state hospital emergency room. He’s been hitting on me since we met a year ago. I think he’s a player. Nice looking but I get the feeling he only looks for another challenge rather than a long-term relationship.”

“Well, meeting for drinks is a great way to find out what he’s after. Ray told me Bubba was arrested again today. He came here and violated the court order. Will you tell me what happened?”

After L.L. told Cindy about Bubba’s arrest, L.L. went down to the kitchen for the keys to the Mercedes. Jake was on the back porch swing with the girls as she stepped out headed to the garage.

“Wow, honey! You are all dressed up. Where you off to?”

“I am meeting someone for drinks but will not be out late.”

“Have a good time. I’ll see you when you get back. Are you going out to drink on an empty stomach?”

“Yes, I will get something to eat when I get back. Two drinks are my limit so don’t get all worried about me, OK?”

“Smart girl, L.L., taking your own car on a date. I like the way you handle yourself.”

She waved at him and the girls as she walked to the garage.

He was waiting at the table as she pulled in the space next to the Vintage patio. She could see him through the ivy covered latticework surrounding the table area. Ceiling fans were spinning slowly and blues music drifted from the sound system as she walked to his table. She noticed the small candle in a short, crystal dish flickering as he stood to give her a light hug and a small kiss on her cheek. He pulled back her chair and helped her settle in. He was wearing blue jeans, alligator cowboy boots, a light blue dress shirt and a navy sport coat.

“L.L., I’m so happy to finally get you out on a date! You are a hard lady to get to know.”

“No, I’m easy to get to know, James. I am just selective with those I choose to associate.”

“May I ask you a question?”

“Sure.”

“After all this time, why now did you decide to meet?”

“Well, I felt I needed to get away from the routine and enjoy an evening with a guy. Nothing more than that.”

“I’m happy you did.”

They ordered drinks and settled into a comfortable conversation. They talked about their childhoods, schools and jobs. He was raised on a farm in the northern part of Caddo Parish and worked his way through Med school. He has a ranch and raises horses. He likes fast cars…and she suspected fast women. He was a perfect gentleman.

He was a good listener. He kept his eyes locked to hers as she described being an officer. She watched to see if he would let them stray to other parts of her body. She gave him an A for not doing so. He asked questions and was clearly interested in her profession and her personally. She had to admit, she was impressed. She had thought he was a player wanting to score another notch on his belt. He was relaxed and easy to talk to. He had a great sense of humor. She found herself laughing several times. He was not wrapped up in being a Doctor. He was just another guy enjoying an evening out on the town.

He leaned back in his chair and casually sipped his Macallen scotch. It put her at ease. She realized he was nothing like she expected. He was interesting. Before the evening was over, she learned he was at a time in his life hoping to settle down. He was tired of dating and wanted a relationship. As they stood to leave, Enrico approached to shake hands with James. He introduced L.L. to Enrico who held her hand and brushed his lips across her cheek.

“I apologize for being forward, L.L. I don’t shake pretty women’s hands.” His smile was disarming.

“I don’t mind a proper kiss or hug from a gentleman, Enrico.”

James walked her to her car. The moment of awkwardness had arrived. She braced herself for his kiss even though she did not want to be kissed.

He stood back a comfortable distance telling her he enjoyed the evening. He made no move toward her. She breathed a little easier. She agreed. She had also enjoyed the evening and conversation.

“How about dinner tomorrow evening, L.L.? I know a great place I would love to take you.”

She hesitated a moment thinking. “Ok, pick me up at the McVeigh plantation at seven and I’ll join you for dinner.”

He stepped closer and took her hands in his. They were warm and had the roughness of a laborer rather than a physician. This struck her as strange as he gently leaned over and kissed her cheek. “Goodnight L.L. I’ll see you tomorrow evening.”

“Goodnight, James, I’ll be ready at seven.”

She drove out of town heading for the country. He had been fun. Nothing like she expected. She was prepared to be kissed but was relieved when he didn’t. He sensed her feelings and earned yet another A+ for that. She smiled as she thought of the funny things he had told on himself. He did not have an ego or Doctor’s syndrome. He was a real, down to earth man. She liked him and was pleased she chose to get to know him better.

Chapter Eleven

As she slipped between the sheets, she closed her eyes to lift up her nightly prayers.

She prayed for Cindy and the girls. She prayed for everyone in her life and all the officers on the streets. She prayed Shaun would have a safe flight home. She ended her prayer on him as she drifted off thinking of him on his date. I wonder how it went or is going if they are still out. That feeling began to surface once again so she rolled on her side and forced him from her mind.

Juanita pulled under the portico of the Hilton in her little, red convertible sports car. The top was down. She waved to him as she came to a stop. He hopped in and off they went.

After riding a couple of miles, Shaun noticed they were in a seedier part of town. Tough looking men with hateful eyes stood on the street corner glaring as the red car passed.  They clearly did not like a gringo riding in a car with a pretty Latina.

Shaun asked, “Are we passing through this area on the way to the restaurant?”

“Nope, it’s right here.” She pulled in the parking lot of a Mexican restaurant. “This place has the best Mexican food in town. Forgive the neighborhood, but be assured, you are safe with me.” He met her at the hood as she took his hand to lead him through the front door. A loud female voice greeted her by name when she stepped in the lobby.

“Juanita! It’s so good of you to come!” The lovely lady at the hostess station was dressed in a colorful, flowing skirt with a low cut, white cotton blouse that would turn any man’s head. She was in her 50’s and had taken good care of herself. She embraced Juanita and held her in her arms as she studied her.

“Juanita, you are not eating right. You’ve lost weight again!”

Juanita, turned the lady around so she could make the introductions. “Mama, this is my friend, Shaun McVeigh. We want to have dinner with you tonight.”

Still with a smile, the lady studied Shaun. “It’s nice to meet you, Mr. McVeigh. Do you like Mexican cuisine?”

“It’s good to meet you, Mrs. Salazar. Yes, I love Mexican food but it has been a long time since I had any. I have been craving it.”

“Then you have come to the right place to set your cravings to rest, Mr. McVeigh. We serve the best you ever tasted, if I do say so myself. My husband, Juanita’s father, is our chief cook. I will make sure he prepares your dinner.”

Mrs. Salazar escorted them through the crowded tables to a back corner partially closed off from the rest of the dining room by a stucco partition. He noticed the lights were lower in this section.

Mrs. Salazar pulled a lighter from her pocket to light the candles setting on fragile stems.

“What will you have to drink, Mr. McVeigh? I know what Juanita wants.”

“What will you be having, Juanita?”

“I always drink margaritas on the rocks with salt.”

“Make that two please, Mrs. Salazar.”

“I’ll be right back. Make yourselves comfortable.” A waiter delivered queso, chips and salsa to the table. Juanita asked him something in Spanish Shaun could not understand. A moment later he returned carrying a covered dish. Juanita placed her napkin in her lap and opened the dish. It was filled with handmade corn tortillas. She rolled one with the tips of her fingers, dipped it in the queso and then in the salsa. She aimed it at Shaun’s mouth for him take a bite. While he was chewing, she laid the rest of it on his plate. It was still warm. He could not recall tasting something so good. It was a little spicy but he enjoyed it.

She took one for herself and did the same. Her mother returned carrying two, large frozen mugs of margaritas. Shaun noticed everyone in the place spoke in Spanish.

Juanita toasted, “To a good meal, good drinks and a good evening with a new friend.”

Shaun clinked his mug to hers and said, “Salud.”

Shaun scanned the menu considering the steak fajitas or enchiladas. He looked at Juanita. She was looking at him. She clearly knew what she would have.

Her mother returned to take their orders. Juanita chose a taco salad and Shaun went with the fajitas.

During the dinner, they relaxed and savored the fine food. The conversation drifted from childhood to college. Juanita was taking night courses at Texas A & M Dallas working on her Masters in Graphic Art. She would finish her degree in one more semester and then look for a job in the art profession. Shaun told her of his college days and years of service. He kept it simple avoiding the gory details of the years in combat.

Mrs. Salazar and her husband, Patricio, checked on them asking Shaun if he enjoyed the meal.

Shaun shook the hand of Juanita’s father and head chef, “I sure did, Mr. Salazar. It was, in fact, the best food I have ever had. It was nice to meet you. I hope we will meet again sometime. Will the check be brought to our table or do I cash out at the register?”

“There is no check for you in our restaurant, Shaun. Your money is no good here!”

“Oh, please, let me pay!”

“We would be insulted by accepting money, Shaun. Please accept our services and don’t insult us by offering us money.”

“I thank you both. I will not insist although it is hard for me.” He smiled and shook their hands as they prepared to leave.

Juanita pulled in the Hilton parking lot stopping under the portico.

“The evening is young, Shaun. How about we go to the bar for a drink?”

Shaun agreed and they walked into the dimly lit bar across the lobby. They took a booth in the corner and ordered drinks. A small combo was playing an old blues tune. He wondered if they were plucked right out of the French Quarter. Juanita stood taking his hand. She led him to the floor pulling him close. She moved softly and slowly in his arms. Her smile was inviting. He knew he could lean over and touch his lips to hers. He did not want to rush things. This could be the only date they had. When the song ended, she quickly kissed his cheek and gently nipped his ear lobe before they parted returning to their booth.

Shaun felt the heat rise in his body. She was so lovely and sexy. Her kiss was a clear invitation how far she was willing to go. He knew Juanita was a true lady who did not sleep around or engage in one night stands. If he crossed the line with her, they would become a couple. He was not sure he was ready for such a commitment.

After they finished their drinks, it was time for Shaun to go. He patted her hand as he spoke, “Juanita, I really enjoyed spending time with you this evening. Meeting your family and eating in their restaurant was great. I have to get up early tomorrow and head to my buddy’s house. I plan to spend the day with him and his family. The next day I will be back home in Louisiana.”

She rolled her hand over and squeezed his. “I too had a great time, Shaun. You are a remarkable man. I can’t recall being entertained so. I love your sense of humor. You are such the perfect gentleman. I will walk you to the elevator.”

Shaun pushed the button in the vacant hallway and waited for the elevator door to open. Juanita stood by. Shaun took her hands and pulled her into a strong hug. He pecked her on the cheek and told her good night.

She was smooth and quick. Her lovely lips touched his. He was not sure how it happened but her tongue was deeply inserted into his mouth. He was responding to her in the same manner. As the bell chimed, she broke away from the kiss and the doors opened. She planted her foot against the doors preventing them from closing.

“It’s been a very good evening, Shaun. It doesn’t have to end here.”

He was slightly caught off guard. “Juanita, you have no idea how hard it is for me to not pull you to my room and into my bed. I know you are not so casual. I will not take advantage of you no matter how tempted I may be. I will be back in a week or so. I will call and if you want to see me again, I will take you to dinner and dancing.”

She lightly kissed him and stood back with a small pout on her face.

“Deal?”

“Deal. Goodnight, Shaun. I do hope to see you again, very soon. Don’t make me wait.”

“I will be calling you. I promise.”

Shaun’s nightmares were slowly diminishing. Mostly he was able to sleep without sinking back into them. The time he spent on the long road home seemed to have worked well for him. Settling in with his family helped even more. He rose the next morning and headed to Jackie’s. They spent the day on the ranch. Jackie was in a great mood. After lunch, Shaun loaded him in the King Ranch truck and they hit the country roads. They drove past horse farms, lakes and rivers. The temperature was easing down. Occasionally you could catch a glimpse of the coming fall. This simple outing lightened Jackie’s spirit.

When they returned to the ranch, they learned Jackie’s parents, along with his brother and sister in-law, were coming for dinner. Shaun knew Jackie was on his way to make a full recovery with a family that supported and loved him. He would quickly get his life in order.

“I’m heading home, Jackie. I had a great time and I love your family. I have many things to do in Louisiana. Now that I know you’re ok, I feel good about leaving.”

“Man, it was great to see you again. As soon as I get out of this cast, I will come spend some time with you. I always wanted to meet your family and see your plantation. I want to fish a little in that Oxbow. I want to see for myself if it’s full of those 10 pound bass.”

“You are welcome anytime. Bring your entire family.” Shaun kneeled and took his hand. “Take care. Buddy. Call me when you have time. Let me know how you’re doing.”

“You do the same, Shaun.”

L.L. had a great day on duty. Her request to be off on Christmas was approved. Bubba was still locked down in the parish jail pending the special hearing. Judge Clark’s assistant left subpoenas for the hearing at the patrol desk. There was one for her, Sam Bass, Bonnie and Jake McVeigh. This made her a little uneasy but it was part of her job. For Bubba’s actions to be documented in the court records, it had to be done.

She took a leisurely bath and laid out the black, silk dress she had bought but never worn. It was knee length with a silver chain belt, spaghetti straps and a low cut V down the front. She struggled between being a deputy and a lady. She preferred wearing her uniform and cut offs. She never quite understood what made her purchase the diamond pendant and matching earrings. Perhaps it was her way of confirming her feminine side. There were times she wanted nothing more than to be a woman, to look and act like one. The dress was a year old and the jewelry even older. It was time to cross over from deputy and go out on the town dressed as a classy lady. She smiled as she examined her reflection in the mirror. Her long blonde hair was draped over her shoulders and the combination of dress and diamonds was impressive.

From nowhere, Shaun came to her mind. Wonder what he would think of her dressed this way. Would he approve? She stepped into the black patent shoes with four inch stilettos to complete her ensemble.

On her way through the kitchen, she dropped the subpoenas on the old, wooden table and met Bonnie.

“Wow! Honey, you look like a movie star! I had no idea you could clean up so well. What are you up to tonight? Do you have a dinner date?”  Bonnie was setting glasses on the old tea tray as she studied L.L.

“Thank you, Bonnie. I feel a little strange. I’ve never worn these things before. They have been in my closet and jewelry box for a long time. Thought I’d try them out tonight. I have a dinner engagement with James Paxton. He will be here in a few minutes to pick me up. Our subpoenas were issued today by Judge Clark. He is holding the hearing Monday morning at 9:00 on Bubba. I hope he spends time in jail for violating the order.”

“This James Paxton. Is he the doctor down at the state hospital?”

“Yes, do you know him?”

“No, I have never met him in person. When John was an intern, he worked the ER with Paxton. From what I know of him, he comes from a good family. I also know of his rep. He’s a ladies man from what I’ve been told. I don’t see you dating a man like him L.L. In my opinion, he’s not your type.”

This took L.L. aback. She did not know how to respond for a moment.

“He has been after me for a long time to have dinner with him. We met for drinks last night and he was a perfect gentleman. He asked me to join him for dinner tonight. I feel comfortable going with him. I want to assure you, Bonnie, I am no fool when it comes to men. I know of his reputation but all I want to do is get out of the house and have dinner with a good man. We are not going to get into a relationship. I’m not ready for one. He’s just a male friend and a dinner companion.”

“I know you have your head on straight, dear, and can handle any man in your company. You have known me long enough to know I never bite my tongue when it comes to people I care about. Let me ask you a question.”

“OK.”

“Are you doing this to make Shaun jealous? If so, I may have misjudged you, L.L.”

“What? Make Shaun jealous? That’s ridiculous! I would never do such a thing! Shaun and I are good friends. I’m not interested in him that way!”

Bonnie sat the tray on the table and placed her hands on L.L.’s shoulders.

“Let me be open with you, L.L. I care about you. I love Shaun as if he were my own child. I have known him all his life. I helped raise him and tend to him until he went off to the Navy. I can read him like a nursery school book anytime I see him. I have known you for years now and I know you well. I have this gift the Lord gave me. I see things. I study people and I learn them. So, I know you like I know Shaun. I would have to be completely blind to not see what you two have. I see the way y’all look at each other. Whether you and that boy realize it or not, y’all have a special connection. There is chemistry in the room when you two are together. Now look me in the eyes girl and try to deny it!”

“Bonnie, I admit I have an attraction and affection for Shaun. However, we just met a short time ago. He came home from combat and hasn’t dated anyone yet. I’m too convenient for him. I’m right here in his home and we spend time together because of it.  I like him very much but he has many issues to work through. I want him to be happy and find someone who will complete his life. I’m not the one, Bonnie. I assure you.”

“I hear your words, girl! But your eyes tell me another story. You just keep telling yourself that, dear! This will be an interesting place to live while all of this shakes out. I am going to enjoy watching it unfold right before me. Honey, you have a good time with that Paxton boy. I trust you will come to your senses in time.”

Bonnie pulled L.L. into a motherly hug and patted her cheek. “Join us on the front porch. We are going to watch the beautiful sunset this evening. Shaun is flying in and should be arriving soon. Jake knows he’s going to buzz the house like he always did. We want to be out front when he does.”

Everyone living on the plantation, except Shaun, was sitting on the front porch watching the sunset as L.L. waited for James Paxton to arrive. Jake stood and took a long loving look at her.

“Boy, oh boy, L.L.! You are the loveliest lady I have ever seen. I always knew you were pretty but those cut offs and uniforms don’t do you justice!” She blushed as she took her seat next to Bonnie on the porch swing. Everyone complimented her in turn. Nicole  smiled at her from the far end of the porch as she rocked.

“You look great, L.L. What’s the occasion? Did you get all dressed up to greet Shaun?”

L.L. blushed once again. “No Nicole, I have a dinner date with James Paxton,” squinting her angry eyes back at Nicole.

Nicole’s mouth formed a large O before she rolled her eyes and smiled again.

They heard the tires on Hwy 1 as James slowed to make the turn into the long, gravel driveway. The drive under the canopy of the massive pecan trees created a tunnel and concealed the old home from the road.

Gravel pinged off the bottom of the low swung, bright yellow Lamborghini as he approached the house. This place had  been described as lovely all his life. However, that description fell way short. The home was magnificent. All the people sitting on the front porch watching him make the turn into the horseshoe drive almost frightened him. Was this her way of greeting him? Having the entire family watch him pick up L.L. on their first real date? Never had he had such a welcoming committee. He killed the powerful engine and stepped from the car.

He was wearing a burgundy dress shirt with the top button undone, a brass buttoned sport coat and tan, silk dress slacks. His thin soled Italian dress shoes crunched the gravel as he made his way to the porch. Jake stood and was first to meet him. They shared their names and Jake offered him a glass of tea. James took it and stepped to L.L.

“You look lovely tonight, L.L. I am honored to take you to dinner.”

“You look great, James. I think we will have a good time this evening.” Jake escorted James across the porch introducing everyone to him. When he came to Nicole, she stood and smiled as she took his hand.

When their eyes met, she felt something tingle inside her. His hand was strong and rough like a farmer. She wondered if he had this same effect on all the women he met.

“Nicole, I believe we have a friend in common. I was raised with Sleeve Culp north of town. If my memory serves me, you two dated when you were at LSU.”

“You are correct, James. I dated Sleeve during my last year of High School and into my first year in college. He was just a little too wild for my suiting.”

“I know what you mean. Sleeve was a free spirit back then. He never dated anyone as long as you. He works out of his own shop now building custom cars and motorcycles. He is still single and playing the field.”

He continued to hold her hand as they talked. There was something about her that pulled him to her. L.L. was lovely yet Nicole was beautiful in her own right. It seemed she could read his thoughts. He caught himself staring at her and looked down at their hands. He smiled as he squeezed her hand before he released it. A conflicting series of feelings ran through him as he thought of wanting to date L.L. at the same time he was fascinated with Nicole. Things could get complicated if I don’t proceed with caution.

Did he do this on purpose? Was he such a player he could spark feelings with his smile and the touch of his hand? Was he for real or just a womanizer? There was more than mutual physical attraction here and she knew it the moment they met. He was here to take L.L. to dinner, not her. She wished she was the one about to zoom down the road with him in his fancy car. She also knew it was only a matter of time before Shaun and L.L. faced reality and allowed themselves to fall in love. She would be patient and not make a mess of things but she did want to get to know James.

L.L. watched James and Nicole interact. She noticed something click between them as they talked. Not sure if they are playing or if it is more. There is definitely a connection.

L.L. looked to Nicole and rolled her eyes like she had done earlier. Jake walked James across the porch continuing to make introductions before he directed him to join him on one of the porch swings.

“Dr. Paxton, we are gathered here this evening to watch the sunset before we dine. We are expecting my son, Shaun. He is flying our Super Cub back from Dallas. I think he will be here shortly. Why don’t you have your tea and join us?”

James took a deep, slow breath as he looked at L.L. He winked as he took his seat.

“Isn’t that a Lamborghini?”

“Yes sir, I ordered it three months ago. It was delivered last week.”

“You did well, Dr. Paxton. You don’t see those around town much. When I was your age, I had a ’64 model. It was bright orange and I loved driving it. I kept it for a year before selling it to get a pickup. Wish I still had it.”

“By the way, Mr. McVeigh, please call me James. That doctor title is too formal.”

“Then just call me Jake, James.”

“Deal. If I recall correctly, an orange Lamborghini won Le Mans that year.”

“That’s right. When they won Le Mans, I decided I wanted one just like it. Had the only one in town until Firesides bought a red one. I came up beside Fireside one day as he pulled out of his driveway. As I began to pass him, he kicked it into gear. We were neck and neck for a quarter of a mile. I saw another car up the road heading our way. I slowed to move over to avoid the guy. I think we were doing about 160 when we slacked off.”

“Man, I bet that would have been something to see. I need to put another 400 miles on this one before I can see what she’ll do.”

Shaun had just announced to Shreveport approach his landing strip was within sight when the front of the house came into view. He nosed down and gained airspeed as he angled in. He spotted his family scattered across the front porch and the yellow sports car parked in the loop. His father stood on the steps and waved. Shaun dropped in and passed over the home a few feet above the treetops. He pulled up and made a tight turn.  He crossed up the controls and side-slipped the small plane in an aggressive manner. His altitude was quickly reduced, he kicked the rudder and corrected the slip into a smooth landing. As he slowed, he turned the plane and maneuvered onto the driveway. He taxied to the front of the house and hopped out.

Jake and James walked out to greet him.

“Looks like you got your touch back, Shaun. Glad your are home. This is James Paxton, our guest.” They shook hands as Shaun’s eyes focused on the yellow sports car. James’s were locked on the plane.

“I’ve always wanted to take lessons! I’ve been up several times with friends but never took the time to get my license. Watching you come in just now makes me want to find an instructor and get on with it.”

“If you’re serious, I may be able to help. We are about to finish our dusting season and have two certified flight instructors working for us. We can arrange for you to rent the Cub. I’m sure Sam and Jimmy, our dusters, will be happy to teach you and make a little pocket money in the off season.”

“I am serious. Here is my card. Have one of them call me. I will book a class right away.”

“Is this your car?”

“Yes, want to take it for a spin?”

“I’ve never been in one.”

“Well, if you can fly this plane, driving this car is a cake walk.”

Shaun and James hopped in the car and wheeled out the driveway as L.L. watched from the porch. Her stomach was tied in knots from the time Shaun buzzed the house. When they meet by the plane, her stomach almost flipped. Nicole kept staring at her rolling her eyes while Bonnie grinned like she was a kid caught with her hand in the cookie jar. She felt her palms begin to sweat as the two young men drove off like high school buddies. Nicole walked to L.L. and Bonnie and took an empty rocker.

“Looks like your date is slightly delayed. Seems his interest is more in the car and plane than you, L.L.”

“Shut up, Nicole!”

Bonnie nudged her elbow gently into L.L.’s ribs. “Men and their toys. Women can’t compete. Once they get through playing together, you’ll have your little date, L.L.”

“Shut up, Bonnie!”

Nicole and Bonnie rolled with laughter. L.L.’s face turned red as she stood and went in the house to get away from them. They were men. She would kick their asses for this.

She went to her room and sat in the winged back chair by the window looking out to the highway. She saw them speed north on the highway. Her nerves shuddered at the thought of how this would go when it was time for them to be together as she left for her dinner date.

Shaun clicked the paddle shifter through its gears in the Italian sports car pressing the responsive engine to perform. It felt like flying. The car was a blast to drive. He loved the thrill of its beauty and power. They turned around, returned to the house and parked next to the Cub.

James glanced to the swing where L.L. had been seated. She was no longer there.

Shaun turned to him and said, “If you have time, I would like to return the favor and take you up for a short flight.”

“Sure, I can spare a few minutes.”

They climbed in with Shaun in the front seat and James in the back. Shaun spun the plane around and headed east on the main gravel farm road that led to the lake. He shoved the throttle forward and the Cub jumped off the ground in no time. He pulled back the stick and climbed at a rate of 2500 feet per minute.

James felt his body shoved back in the seat as the power increased. With the large side window open, he could hear the engine accelerate and feel the wind in his face. The feeling of flying captivated him. The thrill of taking off from a gravel road excited him even more.

The powerful engine quickly brought them to 1000 feet. Shaun shoved the stick forward and leveled out. They were soon over the Red River turning south. Shaun followed the river giving James a great view. The wind was cool and the scenery was beyond description. The skies were clear and they could see for miles. Fishermen were scattered along the river and livestock in nearby pastures. They caught the fresh smell of water, recently cut hay and the fertile smell of recently plowed soil. They were cruising along at 120 miles per hour when Shaun spoke into his mic. He asked James to take a light hold of the second stick in the rear seat area and follow along with his movements.

The plane eased to the right in a gentle turn, then left. James caught on in no time.

Now, take control, James, and fly where you want. My hands are off the stick. James kept the plane over the river as they passed the lock and dam. He maneuvered left and right, climbed a couple hundred feet, nosed it down and leveled out at the original altitude. He instantly fell in love with flying. He would get his license and have his own airplane one day.

L.L. went back down to the front porch to rejoin the others. She sat in the swing sipping iced tea as she listened to the give and take of the conversations. The tightness in her stomach disappeared and the discomfort of Shaun and James meeting was gone. She wanted to be angry but pushed the thought from her mind. Sure, she expected the men to be polite and conduct themselves as gentlemen, but that is where it should have ended. They became instant friends. Driving the sports car and now flying together like long lost friends. On one hand, she was pleased they were getting along. On the other, she felt neglected. James was here to pick her up for dinner, not spend his time giving joy rides in his little yellow car or flying around the river while she sat here and waited

Shaun told James to fly back to the plantation. He performed a gentle turn and followed the river back to the Oxbow lake. Once James was lined up to land on the gravel road, Shaun took charge of the Cub. “We are about 1000 feet now. I need to reduce it to a manageable level. I’m going to do what is called slipping the plane. I will drop a wing, cross the controls and kick the rudder over so we will come in somewhat sideways.”  Shaun pulled the throttle back to idle, configured the plane and dropped the left wing.  He kicked the rudder to the opposite side and the plane began to quickly descend, slipping sideways. Just before they touched down, Shaun straightened the plane and landed smoothly.

They all heard the Cub returning. The engine power was pulled back as it glided to the road beside the house. Soon it appeared in the front yard. Shaun killed the engine and they stepped out of the plane. As they walked to the porch, James shook Shaun’s hand thanking him for the ride and lesson. Jake stood on the steps as he handed James his glass of tea

“Well, what did you think, James?”

“I loved the flight! Shaun is a skilled pilot. We followed the river for a few miles. He gave me the controls to let me get the feel of flying. I will be taking lessons!”

Shaun stood by Jake and James but his eyes were glued to L.L. She was dressed to go on a date with James. She was strikingly beautiful. He had never seen her look more lovely. He wished he was taking her out tonight. He thought back to his date the night before. He had no right to be upset. He liked James. He would not give any hint of being concerned.

L.L. joined the men and asked James if he was ready to go. She did not make eye contact with Shaun as they walked to James’ car after saying goodbye to the family. She was holding her breath as she walked alongside James. Shaun was on her other side. He opened her door and smiled as he told her and James to have a good time. He turned and walked back to the house.

“Did you enjoy flying in the Cub?”

“I did, L.L. It is more fun than driving this thing. Shaun is a good pilot and driver. He gave me his number to link up with Sam Bass, the instructor I plan to use. Has Shaun taken you up before?”

“No. I am not sure I want to. He buzzes the house like a crop duster and takes off from the driveway. Not sure I am ready for all that. Where are we going tonight?”

“I made reservations at a special place. We may be a little over dressed but I guarantee we will experience some great food and music.”

“Well, tell me a little about it.”

“Ok, we are going to a renovated gas station. The name of the place is Marilyn’s. A friend owns it. It’s named after his Mother. We went to school together. He was in New Orleans for many years and learned to cook. He graduated from a world class culinary school earning his degree. He moved home last year to open his restaurant. When you taste his food, you will think you are in the Big Easy.  He often has a Cajun zydeco band playing on Friday nights.”

Shaun watched them drive off in the yellow car and went upstairs to freshen up. He unpacked his bags and headed for the shower. He stretched out on his bed to relax and reflect. He was still excited from driving the special car. He enjoyed meeting James and taking him for a flight. James was a cool guy. Shaun felt comfortable around him. He wondered how James and L.L. met. He closed his eyes and pictured her wearing that beautiful black dress. Her long blonde hair, normally kept in a ponytail, was hanging down her back. Those high heels made her look like a New York model. She looked at ease wearing them. He liked she could wear a uniform in the morning, cut offs in the afternoon and an evening dress at night. He dreamed of a woman so versatile. Does she have feelings for James? The thought made him feel a little queasy. He wanted her and no one else. He could not force her to have feelings for him but he knew she felt something. When he held her in his arms and kissed her, she responded. She admitted she had feelings, in a manner of speaking.

Time to go downstairs for supper.

James parked near the covered patio and went around to open L.L.’s door. They walked to the two, open roll up doors. The crowd of customers sat inside the old lube bays near the bar. Some were seated at tables in the parking lot outside the building. The band had just finished setting up and were tuning their instruments. The owner came out to meet them. “L.L., this is my buddy, Robert.” He was a short guy with a great beard, wore a small, plaid golf hat and a chef’s apron. He had a big grin as he took her hand.

“Pleased to meet you, L.L. The only thing I think I see wrong with you is your taste in men! The one you’re with tonight is beneath you! If you’ll give me your number, I’ll be happy to give it to a good man! I have just the guy in mind.”

James pulled the brim of Robert’s hat over his eyes. “Never mind him, L.L. He spent too much time in New Orleans and cooking on cruise ships. He was not right in the mind to begin with.”

L.L. took an instant liking to Robert. He made her feel at home. He seated them near the band and hurried off to bring them some wine. As L.L. sipped her wine, she searched the menu. The special tonight was shrimp scampi or jambalaya. She decided on the scampi and James ordered the jambalaya. During their meal, they sampled each other’s plate. The band was rocking big time with a Cajun song that had most people up and dancing. Just like in south Louisiana, some people brought their children with them. L.L. was a true people watcher. She enjoyed seeing everyone dance. There were couples in their late 70’s to toddlers barely walking. Entire families danced in groups not as couples. It was definitely a happy place to spend the evening.

The spirit of joy was clearly contagious. After they finished their meal and downed a couple more glasses of wine, James noticed L.L. was tapping her toes to the rhythm of the music. He stood, took her by the hand and led her to the crowded dance floor. She did not hesitate to join him. She quickly learned dancing to this kind of music and high heels did not mix. She pulled off her shoes and tossed them on their table. She got into the music and really had a good time. James was an excellent dancer with some good moves. They laughed as some smaller kids came between them to dance with them. After back to back dances, it was time to sit for a break.

“L.L., you are a great dancer! I never knew a deputy could move the way you do!”

“Thanks, James. I took ballet as a child and have always enjoyed dancing. It has been years since I danced like that. I should consider incorporating some dancing into my workout routine.”

“Tell me about your family. I had no idea all of you lived together.”

“Jake, Nicole and I go way back. I moved in a couple years ago to help Jake recover from a minor stroke. Nicole and I became close friends immediately. I love her like my own sister. As a matter of fact, I love the entire family.”

“Cindy and her daughters are a special cause. Her husband is an abusive bully and recently mistreated her. She left him taking the girls and found her way to us. Jake fell in love with them right away and demanded they move in. Bubba is currently locked up in the parish jail for violating a restraining order.”

“What does Nicole do for a living?”

“She is a school teacher at Youree Drive. Cindy is a CPA, currently working with Shaun’s older brother, Raymond. We call him Ray.”

James leaned back and watched the dancers as he sipped his glass of wine. L.L. watched him remembering the way he acted when he met Nicole. She saw something flash between them. She had mixed emotions about this. She had feelings for Shaun that she concealed. She liked James and enjoyed his company. She loved Nicole and wanted her to be happy. She thought her relationship with James could grow but only on a friendship level. He was interested in Nicole and was thinking of her at this moment.

Twelve

“Let’s head home, James.”

“OK, did you enjoy Marilyn’s?”

“Very much. I would like to come back sometime. The food is to die for and the atmosphere is great. Like you said, I thought I was in New Orleans for a while.”

They pulled up to the front door and spotted Nicole and Shaun sitting on the porch. Shaun held a half filled, brandy snifter in his hand and Nicole was having her last cup of coffee for the day. Nicole stood and announced, “We’ve been waiting for y’all to get back.  Shaun and I want to play spades. We need you guys to join us. How was your dinner, L.L.?”

“It was very good. We had great food and danced to a zydeco band the owner brought in from South Louisiana. We all should go one Friday or Saturday night. I bet Jake would love it too.”

They settled down at the kitchen table and made another pot of coffee. “Men against women,” L.L. stated as she took her seat across from Nicole. In turn, James and Shaun partnered up. They played for two hours ending with the ladies winning 5-4.  Throughout the game, L.L. noticed James stealing glances at Nicole and she doing the same. Shaun kept his eye on L.L. as she focused on the others. He tried to understand what was happening but was clueless. They took their last cups of coffee to the back porch and relaxed in the rockers.

L.L. was never one to hold back. Perhaps she was related to Bonnie. If she did not deal with the subject tonight, things would become more difficult. She needed to involve Shaun. As Shaun leaned over to sit, L.L. asked if he would join her by the pool. She had something to discuss with him. He had a puzzled expression on his face as he agreed and followed her down the steps. Randy and Nicole sat in the rockers to visit as they watched the other couple walk to the pool.

L.L. took a seat on the diving board while Shaun stood nearby.

“Shaun, I want to share something. I ask you to let me finish before you say anything.”

“All right, L.L. I promise I will wait. Shoot.”

“I know this is going to sound strange but I must get this off my chest. I still feel you and I should date others at this time. I finally accepted a standing invitation from James to go out with him. Last night we met for drinks and tonight we went to dinner. When he arrived here today and met the family, I noticed something special happen between him and Nicole. Sparks flew you could say. When we got to the restaurant tonight, he tried to be subtle as he asked about the family. There was a moment he lost track of being with me and clearly was thinking of her. James does not deserve his current reputation. I know how to read people. James is not the player he once was. He is ready to settle down with the right woman and I am not her. However, I feel we should give him and Nicole a chance to get to know one another. It has to happen tonight. The only way Nicole and James will accept this is for me to either come right out and say what I told you or we let them think we have a special connection so they can pursue one another.”

“I think we should tell them you and I are going to see each other casually. We could invite them to join us for dinner and a movie.”

James and Nicole were having a great conversation as they rocked in the old chairs looking across the backyard to the pool where Shaun and L.L. talked. Nicole wanted to know what they were talking about. If L.L. was dating James, why was she out there talking to her brother? Had Shaun done or said something to make her want to confront him?

James looked at Nicole and recorded her every feature. She had wavy, deep auburn hair that flowed across her face to the middle of her back. Her skin was like milk, not a single blemish. Her lips were full and always seemed to be in a form of a smile. He felt the powerful urge to kiss them. Her eyes were cypress green and sparkled with energy and mystery. She was well educated and articulate. Her sense of humor was present in everything she said. When given the choice of humor or seriousness, she seemed inclined to take the humor route. She could be critical of herself in a funny way. He liked that.

As he looked at L.L. and back to Nicole, he found himself comparing the ladies. L.L. was so pretty and full of herself, being an officer. He respected that in a woman and she was selective when it came to dating men. He looked at Nicole and felt a deep desire to get to know as much about her as possible. How will I handle dating L.L. and switch over to Nicole? If I mishandle this, it could turn into a disaster. Does Nicole feel anything for me? Would she be willing to get to know me? Has she heard of my reputation? Will this be a major hurdle?

Nicole was thinking of James. She had not dated anyone seriously since Sleeve Culp in college. Sure she had been on dates, dinner and dancing, but none of the men caused her to feel anything lasting about them. No one touched her as deeply and as quickly as he did. She wondered if he felt it too. Was he interested in seeing L.L. again? How would L.L. feel if she knew what I was thinking? Would it hurt the love we have? She was tapped into the grapevine on Facebook staying in touch with her circle of female friends. She heard the rumors about James. He was hot but not looking to settle down. He was known for chasing skirts. Was he just toying with L.L.?

Shaun took a seat next to L.L. on the diving board. He stretched out his legs blowing coffee steam from his cup. He considered what she told him arriving at his own idea to present.

“How about we follow your plan of action, L.L.? They seem to be engaged in a very good conversation right now. I heard Nicole laugh at something he said. I trust your feelings here. If you picked up on something, then it must be. Women seem to have a gift for such things. What do you think about inviting them here for supper tomorrow night and afterward go dancing? I think they will jump at this.”

“I think it’s a great idea! If we take the lead, I think they will follow wherever we take them.” She smiled as she patted his hand. They stood, holding hands and started back to the porch. She found herself being turned around after only a couple of steps. He quickly brought her into his arms. She was unable to stop his lips from meeting hers. A warm sensation ran through her body. She saw flashes of tiny lights as the kiss grew. Her mouth was instantly open to him as he was to her. All her defenses to keep her distance from Shaun suddenly melted away. She knew she wanted his kiss all along. There was such comfort in his embrace. His touch was so tender. He stole her breath. She savored what she had so strongly wanted. Her knees wobbled slightly as they parted and continued toward the porch.

There was no way James and Nicole missed the display of passion between L.L. and Shaun. Nicole was spellbound as she saw her brother take L.L. in his arms and kiss her that way. She wanted James to kiss her that way. But only if he was serious and not still in his play mode.

James was amazed as he watched them embrace. He wanted to kiss L.L. the same way a couple of days ago. Now all he wanted was to kiss this beautiful lady sitting next to him. He looked to her and said, “Well, that settles everything I think.”

“What do you mean?”

“I was hoping to respectfully limit my friendship with L.L. to a good brotherly relationship. I like her very much. But I don’t feel more for her than being a good friend.  I thought it would be great to get to know her. I hoped we would click as a couple. It turns out we will be great friends. I’m certain she feels the same way.”

Nicole was silent as she digested his words. She watched Shaun and L.L. walk up the porch steps and take a seat together in the old swing.

No one spoke for a minute. They all just rocked or swung and gave it all some thought.

Several minutes passed before Shawn spoke. “James, do you have plans for tomorrow night?”

“No, I haven’t made any. Why?”

“L.L. and I are going to cook steaks and bake potatoes tomorrow evening. Then we plan to take in a movie and after go for a few spins around a dance floor. We would love for you and Nicole to join us. What do you think?”

James looked at L.L. who was smiling at him. He turned to Nicole as he spoke, “I would love to join you but it’s really up to Nicole.”

“I think it’s a great idea! I love your steaks, Shaun, and I have been wanting to go dancing for months. Just couldn’t find anyone to ask me,” she said as she giggled.

“Then I will. Nicole, would you like to have dinner here with us and go dancing?”

“Yes, very much.”

James stood to leave. He walked to Shaun who stood with L.L. at his side. He shook hands and told him he was ready to begin flying lessons whenever Sam or Jimmy could accommodate him. He took L.L. into a big hug and gently kissed her cheek.

“You are a special person, L.L. Jackson, and my new best friend!”

“And you are mine, Dr. James Paxton!”

Shaun walked Randy through the house and out to his car.

“I’ll set up your first lesson with Sam for eight tomorrow morning if that’s all right?”

“It is. What do I need to bring when I come?”

“Nothing but a clear head and a willingness to learn.”

“I think I can handle both.”

“Good. Come around to the back porch into the kitchen and join us for breakfast. Afterwards your lessons begin.”

“See you then, Shaun.” He hesitated to tell him how he felt about the events of the evening. He opened his door without another word and drove off. Sometimes words were not necessary.

Shaun knew he would not be welcome on the back porch at this moment. L.L. and Nicole would be deeply involved in talking over things. He walked to the lake road taking his time to get to the dock. He reflected as he strolled along. First, he needed to call Juanita to let her know he found someone and wanted to see where it would lead. He wanted a conversation with Nicole to see what she thought about all this. He felt a little uncomfortable about talking to his father but it had to be done. His father was his best friend. He could not hold anything back from him. His Dad would surely have something to say. That was what put knots in his belly.

Nicole sat next to L.L. looking at her for a moment without speaking.

Not waiting, L.L. asked, “What?”

Nicole held out her open palm tapping it with her other index finger, still not saying a single word.

“Do I need to go upstairs and get your cash now or can I give it to you when we come down for breakfast in the morning?” A small frown was fixed on her face as she conceded the loss of her bet.

“Keep your seat. I can wait. I know you’re good for it. I have several things I need cleared up first.”

“Ok.”

“Is this a stunt you and my brother concocted by the pool to get a response from James and me? Or is it your way of limiting things with James? I want to know why you did it.”

“It’s really simple, Nicole. James pestered me for over a year. I thought seeing him was a good way to push Shaun back. When I met James for drinks the first night, I knew I was not interested in being his girlfriend. I like him. He is charming and a perfect gentleman. I saw the sparks fly when you two met and so did everyone else on the porch. I knew instantly you two were attracted to each other. Since James and I were going to be no more than friends, I felt I should set things in order. I told Shaun what was happening and he agreed with everything I said. However, I did not plan to end up in his arms in front of you and James that way.”

“Are you trying to tell me you did not enjoy kissing my brother? You did not respond to his kiss?”

“No. I will not deny either. I did not plan it but I did enjoy it. That’s why I have to settle my bet with you. You were right, Nicole. I will not deny my feelings for him any longer.  You win.”

“No, you win, L.L. I am so happy for you and Shaun. If I were in a position to pick someone for my brother, it would be you. Nicole hugged L.L. as she kicked the swing into motion.

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