She’d hated being alone, but she hadn’t told anybody because she’d been too afraid the authorities would take her away from him. Logan may have suspected her plight because often when her uncle disappeared, he’d sent Noonoon over or had come himself to check on her and bring her food.
Back then, before Uncle Bos had fallen out with the Claibornes over his bar and cockfights, he’d worked part-time as a gardener at Belle Rose. She’d loved going over to the plantation, loved following the Claiborne twins around, loved hearing about all the exciting things they were doing from Noonoon, who’d often let her inside to help in the kitchen.
Everything at Belle Rose had seemed beautiful and as magical as the places she’d read about in books. After the twins’ parents’ fatal car wreck, Pierre had welcomed them. He hadn’t disappeared for weeks without telling them where he’d gone. He hadn’t made them feel lost and left out or like they didn’t belong. He’d taken them on wonderful vacations, too. When they returned, she’d pestered them into telling her everything they’d seen and done and into showing her their pictures.
How she’d longed for the stability she’d known with her parents, but that was a vanished world, one she only dimly remembered. Once her uncle had taken her to her old neighborhood. A new house had stood where her family’s home had been. The place had seemed empty and utterly foreign to her. She’d felt alienated. It was as if she’d never lived there. As if her life with her parents had been completely erased. How she’d craved to feel some sense of belonging somewhere.
Over time Belle Rose had become a symbol for the kind of home and loving family life and stability she’d longed for but didn’t think anyone like her could ever achieve again.
Cici leaned over and stared into the dark water. When she caught sight of her own reflection, she laughed out loud. Talk about a bad hair day!
Driving over to her uncle’s with the top down hadn’t done her crazy, Princess Leia hairdo any good. She looked like she’d sprouted a pair of wild pompoms above each ear. With a smile she remembered watching part of an old Star Wars movie with Noonoon’s granddaughter, who’d wanted to pretend she was Princess Leia after the film was over. Cici had fixed Latasha’s hair and then her own.
She was still laughing at the memory when she heard the unmistakable sound of a big car on the gravel road. Turning, her smile dissolved the second she recognized the grim, broad-shouldered man in the silver Lexus pulling up beside her Miata.
What was he doing here? Logan Claiborne was the last person she felt like talking to after the horribly humiliating scene in his office yesterday. He wasn’t welcome here, either. Her uncle held a long-standing grudge against all Claibornes.
Squaring her shoulders she headed toward the tall man in the three-piece black suit who was swinging himself out of his car while scowling at her.
Ignoring the acceleration of her heart and his forbidding expression, she said, “Didn’t you see the signs? You’re not exactly welcome here, you know. Tommy told me…”
Logan shot her a tight smile. “Tommy can go straight to hell.” As always his narrowed, blue gaze lingered a little too long on her breasts.
She was wearing a tight black T-shirt today with big pink letters that said, Pretty Woman. Not that the T-shirt was anything a Princess Leia clone should be caught dead wearing.
“You’re not too welcome here yourself from what I hear,” he said.
“Your being here will make me even less popular, but that’s none of your business. I’ve been reading up on the Butler-Claiborne merger on the Web. Don’t you have big important rich guy stuff to be doing back in New Orleans? Or maybe you could drill up more of the wilderness we both used to love, digging your canals to get to your well heads and thus destroying the natural water flow, your machines throwing so much mud up on the banks, you smother all the vegetation and habitat for good.”
His eyes climbed from her breasts up her throat to her face with such searing intensity she blushed. When he suddenly smiled, she wondered if it had anything to do with her crazy hairdo.
“Cici, why did you come home? What do you want? Why are you hanging out with my grandfather and pestering me?”
“I could argue as to who’s pestering who. This is my home, too, you know.”
“Is it? Did your uncle ever really want you?”
She took a deep, painful breath. “That tack won’t win you any points. And as for Pierre, I like him. Ours is a friendship born of mutual need.”
“I thought you ran away to get away from all this. This place must seem pretty tame to a woman who’s lived like you have.”