A beautiful, capable, tough woman who obviously had a strong code of ethics. And maybe a strong faith.
His sister had tutored Connor in that department, but he often wondered if God had heard Deidre’s pleas on his behalf. Or his pathetic attempts to talk to God.
Now he thanked God for keeping them alive and pulled out cash to pay the cab driver a hefty fare. They’d made it out of town but the route had been twisted and tiresome.
He glanced over at Josie, then tapped the taxi seat. “Stop here.”
The cabby gave him a strange glance. “You sure? I mean, this ain’t the best place to be on a Saturday night—er, make that an early Sunday morning.”
“It’s the best place for us,” Connor retorted with a hundred-dollar bill. “And you never saw us.”
“Man, I don’t even tell people about this place,” the cabby replied. “So I was never here.”
Connor helped Josie out and straightened. “Dawn’s coming.” He pointed to the pink-tipped sun shining through the mossy cypress trees.
“Yes, I see,” she replied. “And I’m so glad. Gives me a chance to really take in my surroundings.” She did a complete turn. “This is sure some kind of resort, Randall. Have we reached the end of the earth?”
“Close,” he said, eyeing the thick swampland and a couple of lean-to shacks on stilts. Early-morning humidity hung like brown gravy over the air. “This is a little-known tributary bayou off the Mississippi. Only outlaws and people who’ve reached the end of their rope come here.”
“And you’ve been both?”
“And more,” he replied. Then he took her hand. “But they know things that normal people haven’t heard yet, so we might pick up some chatter regarding the Armond shooting. Besides, this place has the best French toast on earth.”
Josie halted and shook her head and then pointed to the shack with the flashing neon sign. “You eat food in there?”
Connor slanted a glance at the run-down old building. The planked restaurant sat fat and swollen atop skinny stilts out over the water. The Crooked Nail lived up to its name. Every nail left in the place was either crooked or rusted out. Connor figured the grease from the fryer and the butter fumes from the griddle were the only things holding the place together. That and a mixture of humanity that rivaled the full-flavored gumbo.
“Yes, I’ve had a lot of meals here. Mama Joe knows how to make a mean bouillabaisse.”
Josie looked skeptical. “I’m okay with coffee, but I don’t want to drink any swamp mud.”
“The coffee is black and strong, but Mama Joe makes it with fresh water. And maybe a little swamp mud.”
He led her up the crusty shell-covered path to the wide, planked front porch that served as part of the restaurant and bar. “We can kick back here and regroup.” He motioned toward another building nearby. “Mama Joe’s Bed and Breakfast, bayou-style.”
Josie gasped at the sight of the other squatty house that seemed to be low and floating until she realized it was a boathouse, then gave him a hard stare when they hit the last step. “That’s not exactly a hotel. It’s a boathouse. You’re always luring me out into the boonies, Connor. Why is that?”
He leaned close and winked. “Maybe I want you all to myself.”
Her eye roll didn’t offer much hope. Swatting at mosquitoes, she said, “Just get me the coffee, Randall.”
* * *
Josie woke with a start. She’d heard a splash. Blinking, she glanced around the tiny room Mama Joe had put her in early this morning after feeding them a huge platter of that famous French toast. According to the height of the sun, it must be noon. She’d slept about six hours.
The bed was comfortable and clean, and the gentle rocking of the old boathouse had lulled her into a deep sleep. She was forever thankful for that. The heavy screens on the two windows allowed for a nice warm breeze, and the squeaky old ceiling fan had hung on for another night to keep her from sweating to death. The boathouse was all cypress planks and creaking floors with a primitive decor that spoke of eccentricity and a bit of artistic flair. Bright colors in the furniture and the bedspread and curtains took away from the gloom of the weathered wood. And since the sheets smelled like sunshine, Josie decided she could probably stay here forever just rocking with the tide.