He was back from the dead...and had a lot of explaining to do to his pregnant wife
When Sandy DuChaud's murdered husband shows up very much alive on her doorstep confessing he's an undercover Homeland Security agent with terrorists in hot pursuit, she can't just forgive and forget. She has their unborm child to think about. And a future with a man who faked his own death—no matter how much attraction still sizzles between them—isn't in the cards. Still recovering from the near-fatal injury that almost cost him his life, Tristan vows to protect his wife and earn back her trust. But with the killers closing in and the overgrown depths of the Louisiana bayou hampering their escape, another funeral—this time for both of them—seems inevitable....
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Mallory Kane has 2 great reasons for loving to write. Her mother, a librarian, taught her to love and respect books. Her father could hold listeners spellbound for hours with his stories. His oral histories are chronicled in numerous places including the Library of Congress Veterans' History Project. He was always her biggest fan.
She has published 26 books for Harlequin Intrigue. She lives in Tennessee with her Renaissance husband and two very smart cats.
Murray Cho had always worked hard, as a boy in Vietnam after his parents were killed and in America after he immigrated. But the so-called land of opportunity was not accurately named, at least not for a poor immigrant from Vietnam. Eventually, he managed to buy a shrimp boat in a small town in South Louisiana on Bayou Bonne Chance and make enough of a living to take a wife and have a son.
But when Patrick was five, Murray's wife ran off, leaving him to rear his son alone. He and Patrick had made it just fine until two months ago, when gun smugglers hid their booty in Murray's shrimp warehouse and hurt his reputation. So Murray moved himself, Patrick and his shrimp boat to a dock near Gulfport.
For a couple of weeks, Murray had thought the move was a good one, until an ominous voice on his phone had shattered his peaceful fisherman's existence. The voice threatened harm to his son, Patrick, if he didn't follow their directions with no questions.
It wasn't difficult to figure out why the men had chosen him. He was at once familiar and suspicious to the people of Bonne Chance. Brandishing a gun at and threatening the smugglers who'd used the old seafood warehouse he'd bought as a depository for the automatic handguns they were smuggling into the United States had not helped his reputation in the town.
Stealing a laptop from Tristan DuChaud's home had been a piece of cake, once Patrick had shown him how to disarm a security system. He didn't want to know how his son knew that. All he wanted to do was leave the laptop computer where he'd been instructed and go back to his simple life. With any luck that was the last he'd hear from the men.
Murray reattached the rope he'd just mended to the rear of the boat, and then headed across the dock and through the gate, locking it behind him. The RV that he and Patrick lived in was across the parking lot. It was tiny but it served. He slept in the bedroom and the boy slept on the couch.
Murray opened the door quietly, frowning to find it unlocked. Patrick always promised to lock the door before he went to sleep, but he was barely eighteen. He had trouble remembering to close the door, much less lock it.
The interior of the RV was dark and quiet. It was after ten o'clock on a school night. His son should be home studying or in bed. Irritated and a little worried, Murray dialed Patrick's number. No answer. Then before the display went off, the phone rang.
"Patrick, where are you?" he snapped.
"Murray Cho?" a familiar voice said. It was the same man who'd sent him into Tristan's house for the laptop.
Murray's heart pounded. "Where's Patrick? If you've done something to him—"
"Listen to me," the voice said. "We've got your son. He's alive—for now."
"What? For now? What's going on? I want to speak to him."
"I said listen! You did a good job of getting the laptop. Now we've got another job for you. DuChaud's wife is back in the DuChaud house, by herself. My boss is wondering why she didn't stay with her mother-in-law. What do you know about Tristan DuChaud?"
The dread that had squeezed his chest the first time the man had called him seized him again. "DuChaud?" Murray stammered. "He's dead."
"Is he?" the voice on the phone asked. "How do you know?"
"Th-there was a funeral," Murray stammered. "Please. Let me talk to Patrick."
"We'll make you a deal. You get us proof that Du-Chaud is alive and we won't kill your son."
Murray's heart seized in terror at the man's words. "No! Please! I'll do anything, but don't hurt my son."
The man sighed. "Come on, Cho. You think begging me is going to do any good? I've got orders from my boss to get this information or my ass is on the line. I picked you because you're known around that area and nobody would think it unusual if you were seen around the dock or the DuChaud house."
"I—I don't understand," Murray stammered.
"Look, we're not bad people. We don't want to hurt you or your kid, but if we don't get this job done it's going to hurt us—permanently. That's another reason I picked you. Because you have a kid, you're motivated. So get me some proof. If he's alive, my boss wants to see proof. If he's dead—" The man gave a little snort. "That'll be harder to prove."
"Who's your boss?"
"Nope. Now, Cho, you should know I can't tell you that. Just do what you're told and don't ask questions."
Murray shook his head numbly. He had no choice. His son's life was on the line.
"We'll take care of your son as long as we can. You need to concentrate on what I'm saying."
Murray did his best to remember what the man had said the boss wanted. "Y-your boss wants proof Tristan DuChaud is alive? But he's dead. They buried his body. I can't prove he's alive."
"You're not helping yourself or your boy by arguing. We're going to check with you every day and find out what you're doing. This better not take long, Cho. And if you even think about going to the authorities, your son will suffer, and I do mean suffer." The phone went dead. The caller had hung up.
Murray stared at the phone's screen until it went black while the man's voice echoed in his ears. You get us proof...cmd we won't kill your son.
He had to do something. Had to rescue Patrick. But how? How could he prove that a dead man was alive?
It was at dusk, the end of the day, when she missed Tristan the most. A thousand years ago, someone in Britain had known enough about loneliness to name this time of day the gloaming. A little later, it was called eventide. These days, most people said twilight or dusk. Pretty words, but depressing, according to Sandy DuChaud.
Sandy preferred the sunrise. The beginning of the day. Each rising sun was a new promise, a bright beginning that called to her. She'd loved to roust Tristan out of bed, thrust a hot mug of coffee into his hand and make him watch the sunrise with her. And he in turn had delighted in making her take a walk with him at sunset. With Tristan at her side, she'd begun to get over her innate sadness at the fading of the sun's light.
But Tristan was gone now, and even the sunrise didn't cheer her.
"Do you know what today is, bean?" Sandy asked her unborn baby as she rubbed the sore spot on her baby bump where he liked to kick. "No? Little bean, you need to keep up. It's been two months since your daddy died—" Her voice gave out and her breath caught in a sob.
"Come on," she said. "We need to unpack." Yesterday afternoon, she'd walked into their house on the outskirts of Bonne Chance, Louisiana, for the first time since the day after her husband's funeral. It had been so quiet, so empty, so lonely.
At first, she had been overwhelmed with grief and sadness that Tristan wasn't there and would never be there again. But as she'd stood looking out the French doors past the patio and the driveway to the graceful, drooping trees, vines and Spanish moss of Bayou Bonne Chance, she'd felt a serenity inside her like nothing she'd ever felt before.
The faint sound of the surf and the mellow ring of the wind chimes on the patio washed over her, adding to her peace and calm.
This was why she'd come back to Bonne Chance and their home and all the memories, good and bad. She could hear Tristan's laughter in the organic, spiritual sounds of nature. It called to her as the sun always had.
Forgetting about unpacking, she slid open the French doors and walked outside. The air in June seldom got cool in South Louisiana. Oh, sometimes a storm would send a chilly breeze in from the Gulf. But anyone who lived in the Deep South knew that chilly and cool were not the same thing.
Cool was pleasant—afternoons on the front porch with the ceiling fan rotating, watermelon or iced tea and desultory conversation about nothing more important than how well the fish were biting. Chilly, on the other hand, was a damp breeze that cut through any material, even wool, and made fingers and toes stiff and cold.
"We seem to be all about word choices today, bean," she said. Lifting her head, she let the evening breeze blow her hair back from her face. When she opened her eyes, there was still a faint pink glow in the western sky.
"Okay. Yes. The sunset is kind of pretty," she admitted reluctantly. "I'll give you that. But it will be completely dark in less than fifteen minutes. I'd planned to walk over to the dock and back this afternoon, but I let the time get away from me. It's too close to dark now."
She'd walked over there late the day before. She still wasn't sure why. Maybe hoping to feel Tristan's presence there, where he'd spent so much time. That dock had been his second favorite place all through his childhood. Boudreau's cabin had been his first.
Tristan had always liked swimming in the Gulf this time of the day. He'd pointed out to her that as the sun went down, everything calmed. The breezes that normally seemed to carry sound died, the birds and animals quieted, and the waters of the Gulf became calm and slick as glass. He'd said it was as if the whole world hushed in respect for vespers.
Sandy recalled the dark form she'd seen in the water, diving and swimming out beyond the shallows at the dock. She'd been looking into the setting sun and so all she could see was a sinuous silhouette sliding between the waves. She'd thought it was a dolphin.
But now, thinking back, she could convince herself it looked human.
The sky was getting darker every second. As Sandy turned back toward the house, a faint whispering stopped her. It sounded like voices.
She went still, listening. Disturbed by her sudden anxiety, the baby kicked. Sandy patted her belly reassuringly.
Within a few seconds, the sounds became repetitive and she realized her ears had played tricks on her. The susurrus noise wasn't voices. It was leaves and twigs rustling as something or someone moved through the tangled jungle of the swamp. Something or someone large.
But who—or what? And was it as close as it sounded?
She shivered. There were a lot of wild animals in the swamp, some very large, like alligators or bears. But she'd lived here all her life. It wasn't the prospect of meeting a wild animal that made her tremble.
It was the memory of the dark form swimming gracefully in the Gulf. Had it been a person? Who would be swimming at dusk and then walking through the swamp, the way Tristan once had?
No. She had to stop imagining that each breeze that lifted the curtains or each murmur of waves licking the shore could be Tristan—or his ghost.
There had been nothing ghostly about whatever was moving through the tangle of trees and vines just now. Those sounds were real.
There was no reason she could think of for anyone to be on DuChaud property, not at this time of day—or any time of day, actually. The DuChaud's home was eight miles from the town of Bonne Chance. Everybody knew where the beautiful hand-built house was, but the road from town turned from asphalt to shells and gravel about two miles away and ended at the DuChaud's patio. It was not a road that invited casual drivers.
A different noise broke the silence of the early darkness, again faint, but recognizable. The sound of snapping twigs and crunching leaves.
Whatever or whoever was out there was on the move and didn't care who heard him. Sandy inched her way backward, away from the trees and toward her house, both hands cradling her tummy protectively. She ran through the French doors as if the hounds of hell were nipping at her heels, locked them and set the alarm.
Only then did she breathe a sigh of relief. "Sorry, bean," she muttered. "I know it's silly, but I think I scared myself."
All at once, her eyes began stinging. Blinking furiously, she tried to make the tears disappear, but they still welled and slipped down her cheeks.
"Damn it, I don't want to be afraid in my house. But like it or not, you and I are here alone. We have to be careful. Besides, that's our dock—your daddy's dock," she said, her voice tightening with grief.
"Oh, Tristan," she whispered. "I need you so much. I'm doing my best to live without you. Why are you still. Right. Here?" She slapped her forehead with two stiff fingers.
"Right here in the very front of my brain. Why aren't you fading, like a perfect memory should—" Her voice cracked and a couple of sobs escaped her throat. She pressed her lips together, hoping to hold in any more sobs. She didn't want to cry. The more upset she got, the more restless the little bean.
In all the years she'd been married to Tristan, in all the years she'd known him before that—essentially their whole lives—she'd never been afraid of anything. But the sound of footsteps had spooked her.
"Don't worry, bean. I'm not turning into a scaredy-cat. I came back here for the peace and quiet, and no alligator or poacher—or whatever that was—is going to scare me away." Her brave words made her feel better, and as she relaxed, she realized how tired she was.
Yawning, she checked the alarm system and armed the doors and windows, then headed toward the master bedroom.
As she passed the closed door to her office, which they'd converted into a nursery, she realized she hadn't even thought about checking her email. Too distracted by memories, she supposed.
When she turned on the light, the desktop was empty. Her laptop wasn't there, where it always sat. Automatically, she glanced around as if it might have gotten set aside by someone during the time she'd been in Baton Rouge with her mother-in-law.
But by whom? And when? A chill ran down her spine at the thought of someone coming into her house.
No, she told herself. Don't start panicking. Think rationally about who of all the people who must have had access to the house could have done it. Obviously Maddy Tierney or Zach Winter, but Maddy would have told her, right? So...people from the crime scene unit? But all the evidence of Maddy's kidnapping by the captain of the Pleiades Seagull was in the master bedroom. Why would they need to take her laptop computer?
But if not them? Then she had a thought that sent her heart hammering. What if it had been Tristan? What if he was out there, hiding, and needed something from the laptop.
"Stop it!" she cried. "You can't go there every time something odd happens or you hear a strange sound. He's dead and nothing is going to bring him back to life!" Blinking, she forced away all her silly romantic thoughts of Tristan out there somewhere, alive and hurt.
Forget all the evidence about how he had died. Forget everything except one fact. He'd gone overboard into the dark, dangerous water and had never come out. That, if nothing else, told her he was really dead. If he were still alive, he would move heaven and earth to get to her. Tristan would die before he'd allow her to believe he was dead.
With a quick shake of her head, she forced away thoughts of Tristan and concentrated on the missing laptop.
Before she jumped to any conclusions, she should check with Maddy and Zach. They may have had to confiscate it so the hard drive and memory cards could be revie...
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