His grandfather needed dedicated nurses and the latest, modern, long-term care, and he was going to have them.

More to the point: his grandfather was his responsibility.

The sooner he dealt with Cici and sent her packing, the better.


Cici turned off the hot water and sighed. For the first time in a long time, she felt good, surprisingly good. Almost at peace with herself.

Maybe taking a break from her cameras and all the death she’d seen in war zones and coming home had been the right decision after all.

She stepped out of the shower, grabbed a towel from the rack and flung it on the floor. Planting her bare feet with their hot pink nails on the thick terry cloth, she sucked in a breath and savored the sensual feel of warm water rushing down her breasts and belly and thighs onto the towel.

Her toes curled into the soft terry in sheer delight. She, who’d lived for months in tents with no running water, appreciated a hot shower in a safe, familiar locale as the luxuries they truly were. Whipping a second towel free, she wound it around her curly, wet hair and began to rub.

The windows were open. The sweetness of the faint breeze that brought the scents of magnolia and crepe myrtle and pine through the second-story windows caused her to shiver.

Frogs sang. No, they roared in chorus right along with the bull alligators after the rain last night when she’d taken Pierre’s pirogue and had paddled it out into the brooding swamp to watch the herons and egrets and buzzards flying home to their nests.

She squeezed her eyes shut and listened. She could almost hear the stirring of moss in the cypress trees.

“Aah,” she murmured, sighing heavily and yet very happily. She knew she was procrastinating, that she should be at the computer writing, but she couldn’t resist taking a moment to appreciate fully the bliss of being home after years of exile.

Writers had so many excuses for not writing. Life versus work was a biggie. How could you write if you did not let yourself experience life?

Content to procrastinate, she took in a deep breath and then another. Until this particular, miraculous moment, for such moments of true awareness were small miracles, she’d never let herself admit how much she’d longed to come home and see Belle Rose again. For always, always Belle Rose, ever since she’d been orphaned at eight and brought to live in her Uncle Bos’s shack on marshy land that bordered the Claibornes’ superior property Belle Rose had stood like a vision of paradise in her imagination.

There was no place for her at Belle Rose, yet she’d always wanted to belong. The closest she’d ever come to that had been when Uncle Bos had worked briefly as a part-time gardener for the Claibornes, and she’d had free run of the place. That’s when she’d formed the habit of following Logan everywhere any time he was home.

“What the hell?” the deep, too-familiar voice of the present master of Belle Rose roared as lustily as any bull alligator.

For a second or two she felt the same rush of adrenaline in her stomach she’d known when that bullet in Afghanistan had whizzed by her face, missing her by mere inches.

You had to get close to death to film it.

She opened her eyes, and when they fastened on the tall, broad-shouldered man, who was in her bedroom, she screamed.

For nine years she’d imagined what clever thing she’d say or do if she ever saw Logan Claiborne again. She’d give him a piece of her mind, for one thing. But in this long, nightmarish moment, she just stood where she was like a dumbstruck idiot. Vaguely she noted that his eyes were as wide with conflicting emotions as hers probably were.

If he’d taken a single step toward her or said something clever and belittling, she would have screamed again. But since he was as paralyzed as she, she did nothing. Absolutely nothing.

She just stood there without a stitch on and let him gape at her. For the record, and she being a journalist kept minute records, a whirlwind of thoughts and feelings and visual images did storm through her. At first, they flew so fast and hard she couldn’t focus on any particular memory. Still, for a second or two she felt keenly in touch with her younger, more vulnerable self—that naive, innocent eighteen-year-old girl who’d loved him, trusted him and had been shattered by his callous treatment.

How could he have misused her so? They’d grown up together. She’d always had a crush on Jake, his wilder twin. Logan had been more like a brother to her, the brother who’d mainly ignored her but with whom she’d felt safe and comfortable around because no powerful childish crush got in the way and had made her shy around him.

He’d played in the swamp with her when she’d been a child. He’d taught her to tease alligators, collect egret feathers, trap crawfish. Then they’d grown up, and she’d given up her infatuation for Jake and had fallen in love with Logan. Hadn’t he really, always been her hero? Then he’d made his move, and soon after, her fantasy world had come crashing down around her.

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