“Okay, if I follow you home tonight, so I can make sure you don’t have a breakdown?” he said.

She nodded. “I suppose that’s allowed.”

He opened her car door for her, and she slid inside.

“I’m glad you came tonight. I wanted to see you again. You know me—the wild swamp girl with the self-destructive streak.”

“Cici, I want it to be different this time.”

“I’m not sure I want…a this time,” she replied. “I’m not sure I could ever trust you again.”

“I don’t blame you for feeling that way. All I can say is that ever since last night… I’m not myself.”

“Right, you lost the merger and your girlfriend. So, you’re feeling a little vulnerable.”

He was about to argue, but she pressed a fingertip against his warm lips. “Cheer up. This too shall pass. You’ll be your old killer, ambitious self in no time. I promise.”

“Maybe that’s not enough for me anymore.”

“One night of sex with me and you’re a changed man? Forgive me if I can’t quite buy into the new, reformed Logan Claiborne. I know I’m good, but that would take a miracle worker.” With a laugh she turned her key in the ignition and revved her engine. “Better hop in your car. You’re going to have to drive pretty fast to catch me.”

As she roared out of the parking lot, the last thing she saw was his headlights flash on and leap forward through the darkness after her.

The scent of freshly brewed coffee and cooked toast filled the high-ceilinged kitchen that had been used as the prep room in the olden days. Back then the large brick ovens in the real kitchen had been outside.

Through the open double doors, Cici could see the lovely dining room as she leaned against a long table, munching toast and sipping coffee. And for a moment, the room with its glittering crystal and silver seemed as fantastic as it had when she’d been a child, standing outside peering through the windows.

“Belle Rose was always a magical place to me,” she said. “I used to love helping Noonoon cook. But most of all I loved hearing her stories about you and Jake.”

“You were so infatuated with Jake back then.”

“I did have a crush on him for years and years. He was so reckless and wild. Always doing something like chasing gators to get a girl’s attention. You were so serious.”

“You mean dull.”

“No.”

“Yes. I was dull because Grandpère was always throwing my father and mother up to me. Besides, one twin had to pay attention to business. I was ten minutes older and, therefore, the older, more responsible brother.”

She laughed.

He opened the refrigerator. “There’s leftover crawfish étouffée, dirty rice, yams and some gumbo. Are you hungry for more than toast?”

“I’m okay.”

“It was wrong of me to come between you and Jake that last summer,” he murmured, his voice growing darker as he shut the door. “Wrong to justify my actions by saying I was saving Jake from you. Wrong to give in to my grandfather’s grudge against you.”

“Are you finally apologizing?”

“For what it’s worth, yes. But saying I’m sorry can’t undo the past.”

“You’re right about that. But we wouldn’t be here now, if you hadn’t wooed me then.” She faltered, not wanting to say more.

“And we wouldn’t have had last night,” he said.

“What are you saying?”

“I’m saying I’m not sorry about last night.”

“Not even if it cost you the merger…and Alicia?”

“No. I’m not sorry.”

She took a deep breath. “That’s saying a lot, then.”

“But do you believe me?”

“It’s too early to tell. But I’ll keep you posted.”

“Cici…”

“What?”

“Nothing. Eat your toast.”

He flushed darkly as if he suddenly felt shy around her.

She laughed. “Tongue-tied?”

“What’s with the new, subdued look?” he asked. “The hair…brushed and tied back so neatly? The demure dress?”

“Maybe last night changed me, too. Although not as profoundly as you claim to be changed. But I’ll be honest enough to admit that I was thinking about you when I bought this dress, thinking maybe I should try to tone my image down.”

“Cici, I’m not asking you to change. You can even go with the Princess Leia look if you wish.”

“Who said I was changing just to please you?”

“Nobody, but I do like the dress. Not that it matters.”

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