dark-colored car veered off the narrow, asphalt road that paralleled the
river and stopped a few feet in front of a chain-locked gate.
An overgrown driveway, blocked by rusted bars, snaked through a
grove of pecan trees and disappeared into the fog.
The driver lowered the window and listened.
Nothing. Only a foghorn and the distant rattle of a diesel engine
broke the silence.
odors and sounds from the river mingled with the mist and rolled down
the grassy slope that formed the levee.
As the dampness drifted through the opened window, the driver
breathed in the mixture. Like
a magical potion, the intoxicating air heightened his anticipation.
He liked what he felt. He
would do his job well.
again the foghorn blasted a warning.
Though hidden by the levee, the man pictured the muddy
Mississippi churning, prodding against its earthen captor, searching for
a breach, that one undermining fissure that would set the river free.
intended victim might look for a way to escape, but like the river, he
wouldn’t find it.
his head against the seat, the man closed his eyes and whispered,
“This is the only way, Lindsey. You’ll
forget him in time.”
rising sun cleared the silhouetted branches of the trees and pierced the
foliage with silver fingers. He
glanced at his watch. Now.
a lever beneath the dash, he climbed out and raised the hood. Then,
through the thinning fog, he caught sight of his quarry, a lone jogger
less than a quarter of a mile down River Road.
on time,” he muttered. He
walked around the car and opened the trunk.
his back to the runner, he pulled a syringe from his shirt pocket and
tossed the protective cap onto the plastic tarp that covered the inside
of the trunk. Poised to strike, he tensed when the footsteps drew
trouble? Can I--”
one swift move, the assailant turned and plunged the needle into Michael
the reward another fifty thousand,” Lindsey Vidrine ordered.
She tucked the phone receiver beneath her ear and scribbled a
line of circles across a note pad.
“My husband had no reason to walk away.
Why can’t I convince you of that?”
sorry, Lindsey, but Michael’s disappearance just doesn’t add up.
With no evidence of foul play and no demand for a ransom, all we
have is a missing person.”
listened for the hundredth time to Lieutenant Barnes’s explanation,
which she refused to accept. She
twisted strands of her hair around and around a finger, a nervous habit
she enjoyed since childhood. Shaking
her head in denial, she fired back when the detective paused.
loved me. He--” The
intercom on the phone buzzed. “Just
one minute.” She placed
the detective on hold and answered the page.
is it, Judy?” she snapped at the receptionist.
wants to see you in his office.”
him I’ll be there shortly.”
at the blinking light, she wondered if she’d ever discover what
happened to Michael. After
three years, the odds of finding any leads grew slimmer.
She pushed the button.
about the interruption. I
know you’re doing your best, but how can someone vanish without a
trace? There has to be
something the police overlooked.”
but we combed that area thoroughly and found nothing. No fresh tire tracks. No
footprints on the levee or leading down to the river. No grass trampled down.”
for me, will you give it another try?”
you what. A new guy came
onboard yesterday. I’ll
see if a fresh set of eyes and ears can turn up something.”
I’ll be in touch.”
hung up the phone and leaned back in the chair. Like so many times before, she relived her last moments with
in, my princess,” he had whispered then tucked the blanket over her
shoulders and kissed her cheek. “I’ll
fix us some coffee when I get back.”
her first cup of coffee came from Detective Barnes’s thermos.
look great.” Randy Glavin
spread the eight-by-ten photographs over the conference table.
“Just the type of scene I want.”
Gilmore watched the editor mull over the proofs from last weekend’s
shoot in the marsh. “Look, Randy, when you called, I jumped at this
assignment. Not just
because of the money, but because I’m familiar with your magazine’s
circulation. I figured I
could reach some of your more influential subscribers.”
glanced up with calculating eyes. “I wouldn’t think you’d need
not what I meant. I’m
hoping to catch the eye of certain politicians.”
right,” Randy mumbled. He
rearranged the photos and resumed his evaluation.
yet, the pictures might influence their wives.
If I could get just one of those Washington socialites to take up
the cause of saving the wetlands--”
one.” Randy held up a photograph of a sunset over a desolate
stretch of beach. “Yeah,
give me more shots like this. That’ll
get their fantasy juices flowing.”
shook his head. “You
haven’t heard a word I said.”
lowered the photo and tossed it onto the table.
He crossed the room and settled his hefty frame into the leather
chair behind his desk.
the uneasy silence that followed, Sam wished he’d kept his mouth shut.
Friend or no friend, Randy held the purse strings.
heard you,” Randy grumbled, “but I don’t give a crap about your
political agenda. I hired
you because you’re the best at what you do.
Leisure is about the lure of adventure and the beauty of secluded
hideaways. It lets the
viewers find that secret place to do whatever it is they can’t do
here. Come to think of it,
that’s probably why I have a lot of politicians as subscribers.”
Randy gave a low, closed-mouth chuckle.
“If I don’t give them what they’re looking for, they’ll
take their business elsewhere. You
know what that would mean.”
no more assignments.” Sam
shoved his hands into his pockets and walked toward the windows
overlooking downtown Atlanta.
sure that’s not what you wanted to hear, but that’s the way it
Glavin?” A soft voice drawled over the speakerphone.
“You asked to see Lindsey.
Shall I have her wait?”
Judy, send her in.”
stared down at the overlapping Interstates.
He pushed his hands deeper into his pockets and bit back words he
knew would cost him a paycheck. Might
as well face it--what he hoped to accomplish in this layout wasn’t
going to happen. If only he didn’t need the money to see him through the
crossed to the table, gathered up the photographs and stuffed them into
his briefcase. No doubt the arrival of Randy’s next appointment signaled
the end of their meeting.
Randy, I’ll get you what you want.
If that’s all, I might as well head for the airport.”
so quick,” Randy said.
door to his office opened and a tall, willowy blonde entered the room.
She moved with the ease and flair of a model.
Even in her gray, tailored suit, she commanded attention.
Her short, sassy hair fell just beneath her ears, and the silky
strands bounced in cadence with her long strides.
in, Lindsey. There’s
someone I want you to meet.”
didn’t wait for Randy’s introduction.
“Hi, I’m Sam Gilmore,” he said, meeting her halfway and
extending a hand. Her tapered fingers slipped into his palm.
Like an animal picking up a scent, he breathed in her fragrance
then quickly let go and stepped back.
to meet you, Sam. I’m
Lindsey Vidrine,” she said, looking up at him.
melodious sound of her voice played on Sam’s ears like good jazz.
is one of my top photographers. Like
you, she hails from Louisiana.”
Where?” Sam stared into deep blue eyes rimmed in black.
Her features fit together beautifully--the nose, the chin, the
lush lips, the spacing between the eyes.
A sculptor couldn’t ask for a more idyllic model.
was reared near the little town of St. Dumain.
It’s on the northern most edge of East Baton Rouge Parish.
Before coming to Atlanta, I lived near LSU.”
a seat, you two.” Randy motioned them toward matching wing-backed
chairs that faced his desk. His
eyes shifted from Lindsey to Sam. “This
might be bad timing since I just jumped your case, Sam, but I’ve got a
favor to ask. I want you to take Lindsey on your next trip into the marsh
and show her the waterways. She
has a style all her own, and I’m curious to see how she’ll handle
some of your favorite locations.”
off guard by Randy’s request, and definitely not wanting a tag-along,
Sam stammered for a reply. “I...uh...you
know I work alone.” The
startled expression on Lindsey’s face told Sam she knew nothing of
Randy’s proposal. “Besides,
I don’t believe Ms. Vidrine would find the accommodations very
me,” Randy countered. “Lindsey
can handle any assignment I give her.
Would a five-thousand dollar bonus improve the accommodations?”
wet his lips at the thought of the extra cash, but the sensuous package
of curves sitting next to him could put a wrinkle in his plans.
A few days alone with her, and he might start thinking with his
glands. Not good.
Not good at all.
not spare the lady an unpleasant ordeal?
Don’t you have a male photographer who could make the trip?”
could almost feel the fire that ignited in Lindsey’s eyes.
She bolted from the chair and jerked her head toward Randy. While her voice remained low and soft-spoken, her words
dripped with sarcasm.
Mr. Gilmore prefers not to work with me, I’ll get back to my
down, Lindsey. I make the
decisions around here.”
eased back into her chair, letting out a sigh that hissed exasperation.
Sam, more than once I’ve offered you a job with my company, paying a
hell of a lot more than you get for teaching.
But you insist on staying in that dead-end job.
Because of that, you’re not always available.
If you teach Lindsey about the marsh, she can pick up the
the best I have, a fast learner and capable of taking care of herself.
You won’t be babysitting.”
knew he didn’t have a chance in hell of getting out of this situation,
not without jeopardizing his future with Randy.
“I was only thinking of the lady.”
patronize me,” Lindsey retorted.
“I’m a professional, and I expect to be treated as one.”
I can see we’re going to get along just fine.”
you two. Cool it,” Randy said.
“So, I can count on you?”
Randy nodded as if anticipating Sam’s agreement.
much time do we have?” Sam asked.
the end of June. Maybe by
then you two can be civil to one another.
Either way, I want results.
Lindsey, take Sam to your office and make the arrangements.”
punched the intercom button. “Judy?
Send in my next appointment.”
way, Mr. Gilmore,” Lindsey said, walking briskly past the
inside her office, she closed the door behind them.
didn’t ask for this assignment,” she said, “and I’m sorry you
see me as an inconvenience.” She waited for him to fire back.
He didn’t. Instead,
if we’re going to work side-by-side for several weeks, we shouldn’t
be at each other’s throat. What
say we start over?” He
stuck out his hand. “Hi,
Sliding her hand into his large palm, she agreed, “I’m
studied her soon-to-be companion. Chiseled
biceps bulged from beneath his short sleeve shirt, and fine golden hairs
glistened against his deep tan. Light brown hair, streaked by the sun,
fell in loose curls across a wide forehead, and hazel eyes melted into a
bronze complexion. His
rugged good looks spoke of hours in the outdoors.
was nothing like Michael. For
a moment, Michael’s dark hair and eyes flashed through her mind.
Once again she pictured his tall, firm body entwined with hers.
and where do you want to meet?” she asked, shaking away intimate
thoughts of Michael.
are finished by the end of May. How
about the first week in June?”
flipped the pages on her calendar.
impressed,” Sam said, walking around her desk and scanning the
certificates and plaques that canvassed the wall.
“Can’t imagine what I could teach you.”
deep voice sounded sincere, but when she looked up, she caught him
studying more than her awards. He
seemed content to let his eyes roam over her body, and she found his
know as well as I do, there’s always more to learn,” she said,
bringing his attention back to her face and the subject at hand.
“How about Monday, the second of June?”
by me.” He reached for his wallet and pulled out a business card.
“Here’s my address and phone numbers.
Call a few days before, and I’ll give you directions to my
looked at his card and frowned. “You’re
a professor of photography? I
graduated from LSU and can’t place your name.”
is my first year. I used to
room with one of the staff. He
convinced me to give it a try. Before
that I did freelancing. While
I liked being able to choose my subjects, that didn’t always pay the
bills. A steady income with
summers off works best for me.”
unless there’s something else you need to tell me, I guess I’ll see
you in June,” she said, fidgeting with the pen in her hand.
that won’t keep. As I
said, just give me a call.”
Sam left, Lindsey slipped his card into her purse.
On Friday, May twenty-third she penciled in the name, Gilmore. Studying the month, she decided to take off the previous week
to get things together and pay another visit to police headquarters.
on Michael’s absence made her head ache.
She rubbed her neck and pondered the slow investigation.
Michael’s abrupt disappearance made no sense. Police found his car locked and his wallet beneath the front
seat--the only thing missing, his driver’s license. The scene showed no signs of violence, and fingerprints
lifted from the vehicle led nowhere.
tapping sound disrupted her thoughts, and a crop of thick, black hair
appeared around her office door.
it safe to come in?” Benjamin
Kincaid asked, bringing the rest of his handsome self into the doorway.
“I hear Randy gave you a new assignment.
frowned. “He sure did.”
let you know when it’s over. Does
Judy always eavesdrop on her boss’s meetings?”
When Benjamin didn’t answer, she motioned to him.
“Have a seat.”
Got a meeting in five minutes.
How does Chinese sound? I
can pick some up tonight, or if you’d rather, we can go out?”
must have read my mind. Let’s
eat in. I have some things to finish before next week’s assignment.
I should be through by eight o’clock.”
you’re hungry. I tend to
overdo when I go through the buffet.”
Benjamin walked toward the kitchen, gingerly holding two paper
bags in his arms. He slid them onto the counter while Lindsey grabbed some
plates and flatware.
beer in the frig,” she said. “I
think I’ll have water.” She
turned on the tap.
leaned against the cabinets and mentally seduced his favorite subject.
Her tall, slender frame never failed to capture his attention and stir
his imagination. Large blue eyes, almost cobalt in color, stared out from a
smooth, fair complexion, and a small, straight nose ended above full,
slipped up behind her, unable to resist losing his fingers in her blonde
hair that shimmered beneath the overhead light.
missed you today,” he murmured, brushing his lips against her ear.
The scent of her shampoo filled his nostrils.
His hands massaged her waist then moved slowly toward her
her glass on the counter, she turned and pulled his hands away.
believe you did,” she said with a smile.
than you can imagine.” He
chuckled and pinned her against the counter.
His lips caressed her neck, and he pressed harder against the
soft curves of her body.
smile faded, and he looked into eyes colder than her words.
Even after several months of dating, she had managed to keep him
at a distance, but he wanted more than just friendship. “Why?
How long Lindsey? Tomorrow?
Next week? Never?”
answered in a gentle and apologetic voice.
“I don’t have an answer for you.
Maybe I’m not what you need.”
stepped back. “That’s
not true. You’re everything I could ever want.”
carried her glass to the table and sat down. “If I told you what you
wanted to hear, it would be a lie.
Michael’s gone, but I still can’t let go.”
understand that Michael will always be a part of you, but that’s not
to say you’ll never love again. All
I ask is a chance.” He
opened the refrigerator, took out a beer and popped the tab.
Would she ever accept the fact that her husband might never be
found? “I think it’s
time to change the subject,” he said and pulled out a chair.
the meal, Benjamin turned the conversation back to work.
“Tell me about your new assignment.”
told him about Randy’s plan for her to accompany Sam to the marsh.
“Sam and I didn’t exactly hit it off.
I’ll be curious to see how things work out.
Get this. He teaches
photography at LSU.”
you take any classes under him?”
He came on staff the year after I graduated.”
heard Randy mention him. He’s
supposed to be really good. How
long will you be gone?”
a couple of weeks. We’ll
do one round of shooting then come back to Baton Rouge to develop our
film and load the digitals into the computer.”
room in your bag for me?” He
but I’ll swap assignments with you.”
really? You mean you’d give up the marsh of south Louisiana for the
Italian Riviera? Guess
that’s one of the perks of being a senior editor.”
do you leave?”
noon. Look at it this way. If
Randy goes for the layout, maybe I can convince him to let you do the
shoot. Think you could
handle a couple of weeks with me in Italy?”
would be no problem. You,
on the other hand....” She stopped.
Her words turned to laughter.
face glowed, and her eyes sparkled with intrigue.
It was all he could do to keep his hands off her. “Do you know
how beautiful you are?”
shook her head. “No, but
I accept the compliment.” She
stood up and carried her plate to the counter.
“I hate to rush you off, but I still have work to finish.
And, my guess is you haven’t even packed.”
you are. Come on and walk me to the door.”
stood up and slid an arm around her shoulder.
Just touching her triggered an immediate reaction, but one he
managed to quell by the time he stepped onto the porch.
see you at the office before I leave,” he said.
“Can’t say I like the idea of your camping out in the marsh
with this guy. Maybe I should do a little more checking up on him.”
He’s just another assignment.”
to three weeks? That’s a
long time. I’d feel
better knowing more about him.”
makes you happy,” she said.
make me happy.” He pulled
her into his arms and kissed her.
are in a rare mood.” She
stepped back from his embrace.
hate that I won’t see you for a week.”
you’re definitely going to have problems during June.”
doubt about that. I’ll
find an excuse to get down there. Night,
walked down the sidewalk and climbed into his car. Her fragrance lingered in his mind, and he could still taste
the sweetness of her lips. Whatever
it took, whatever game he had to play, he would have her.
ripped the scribbled sheet of paper from the large pad on her desk and
tossed it into the wastebasket. Before
leaving the office for the day, she checked her calendar then made one
last check of her email. Delete.
Delete. Damn spam.
she shut down the computer, her cell phone rang and she rummaged through
her purse to find it. Recognition
of the incoming number brought a smile to her face.
Mom. I was going to call you tonight.”
tearful voice answered. “Lindsey,
this is Aunt Maggie.”
heart leapt into her throat. “What’s