His thoughts in a snarl, Logan braked too sharply. His tires spun in the damp gravel as he stopped in the deep shade beneath the wide alley of the spreading oaks some anonymous Frenchman had planted a hundred years before the antebellum house had even been dreamed of. Beyond the house, fields stretched to a line of brooding cypress trees draped with moss that edged the wilderness of the swamp.
Logan flung the gleaming door of his late-model Lexus hybrid open and stepped out of the luxury sedan. After having his tall frame jammed behind the wheel for the two hour drive over bad roads from New Orleans, it felt good to stand up and stretch.
Despite the huge live oak trees, the heat was unbearably steamy for this early in March. He inhaled the thick, syrupy air, which to him smelled of home.
Little green frogs croaked. Bees hummed in azalea blossoms. Wood ducks made music. Did he only imagine lusty bull alligators roaring for their mates?
He smiled. How Cici used to love the dark, moss-hung wilderness that bordered the plantation when she’d been a kid. Whenever he’d been home and had put a foot outside, she’d followed him everywhere as eagerly as a devoted puppy. Their relationship had been so simple then. She’d been eight years younger than he and Jake, so Logan hadn’t taken her crush on his brother seriously until the summer he’d returned home from law school and discovered that his grandfather was right about Cici not being a child any longer.
Shutting his mind against those pleasant memories that included Cici, he began to regret he was out of the air-conditioned car.
Maybe because he dreaded seeing Cici so much, Logan took the time to rip his tie off and unbutton his collar. Shedding his custom-made suit jacket, he opened the door and tossed his jacket and tie onto his plush, leather seat.
He wished Alicia Butler, his girlfriend of the past four months, had been able to come with him. Maybe then he wouldn’t feel so haunted by the past. Or so tempted to remember Cici.
Unlike Cici, Alicia was sleek and elegant. He’d met her because they’d been thrown together due to his ambition to merge his company with her father’s. A brunette, her shoulder-length, straight hair made her slim face seem even more regal. She knew how to dress, how to carry herself. Heads turned at fundraisers whenever she was at his side, and not only because of her beauty and stylish attire, but because of her fortune.
Other men, ambitious men, envied him. Not that that was the only reason he felt such a sense of pride that she would soon be his.
Poised, she approached life deliberately, as he did. She was civilized, polished and, therefore, as appropriate for him as his wife, Noelle, had been before her untimely death.
Alicia spoke French and Italian. She set a beautiful table. She never ate too much or drank too much or wore an inappropriate outfit.
Not even when she was angry did she raise her voice. She was equally controlled in bed, too.
As Cici had not been, sprang the wayward thought. For an instant his blood pounded as he remembered Cici wild with pleasure, writhing beneath him.
But Alicia would warm up after they were married. He would be patient. He understood not trusting enough to ever let go. Together he and Alicia would build a life together as he and Noelle, his recently departed wife, had, a life that everyone would envy. They wouldn’t quarrel horribly and tear each other to pieces because their passions got in the way.
Briefly he remembered Noelle’s sad eyes in that last week before she’d died. Then, quickly as always, he ruthlessly checked the forbidden image. He would make Alicia happy. History would not repeat itself.
“I’m sorry I can’t come with you and meet your grandfather, darling,” Alicia had said when he’d called her this morning. “But Daddy needs me at the office.”
“Okay. I understand.”
Mitchell Butler, Alicia’s father, was a domineering shark, at least in business, but since Logan and he had this huge merger between their businesses pending, Logan didn’t want to cross him over something as minor as a personal issue. He would see Alicia tonight.
“Darling, I’m sure you’ll know exactly what to say and do to make your grandfather understand why he may not be able to stay at Belle Rose,” Alicia had said. “After all, it’s your family. He’s your grandfather. You love him and want only the best for him.”
If she only knew what a mess he’d made of things, Logan thought grimly. He’d made everybody unhappy. His family remained divided, as a result.
He didn’t want to dwell on his mistakes, especially not on his brutal handling of Cici the first time around or his nine-year estrangement from his twin. His thoughts on damage control and what was best for his grandfather, Logan had rushed down here today despite his heavy schedule. He was determined to deal with Cici before she got creative and made his grandfather believe he could have the impossible.