It may be easier to patch up an old home than a broken heart. But along the Louisiana bayou, where beauty and danger mingle all too seamlessly, thoughts of romance may have to simmer on the back burner . . .
Twin sisters and fellow divorcees Sunny Taylor and Eve Vaughn have established their home repair and remodeling business with an eye toward quality and personal attention. So when they’re approached by hunky Dave Price to fix up his bayou fishing camp, they’re more than happy to take the job—especially since they both secretly think he may prove to be more than just another satisfied customer . . .
The ramshackle campsite could certainly use a woman’s touch. What it does not need is a dead body—but that’s what the trio stumble across. Clearly, the poor soul was murdered—and once the town tongue-waggers get going, Sunny, Eve, and Dave come under suspicion of the police, not to mention potential clients . . .
Now, with their futures on the line, their brewing love triangle will have to wait. Helped—and harried—by the twins’ mother and her retirement home’s cadre of amateur sleuths, the trio starts snooping on their own. But when another dead body turns up, they’ll have to get their hands dirtier than a swamp-bottom snake if they hope to clear their names . . .
I had never seen my identical twin Eve so content and so miserable. While cicadas screamed and the sun began its slow descent, a small group of family and friends stood in her windy front yard, one emotion of hers twisting into the other when the corners of her clear blue eyes lifted and an instant later drooped. Their sparkle dulled and her face saddened as she looked at the baby in her arms that she would soon need to give away.
The wind blew her flame-red waves across her face while she snuggled her weeks-old grandchild Noah, pressing the pink-faced bundle against her tall slender body as though she needed him there for her to continue to breathe.
Her daughter Nicole stepped closer to them and pulled the white medical mask off her own face and stretched out her arms. With a soft sigh, Eve pressed a lingering kiss on the baby’s forehead and handed him over.
“Oh, my God, how wonderful it feels to get to take him home.” The young woman who looked like a small replica of her mother planted kisses all around the boy’s tiny face. “Mom, thank you so much for keeping him.” She squeezed my sister’s hand.
“The pleasure was mine.” Eve’s shoulders remained stiff, as though she were forcing herself to stay back, although she probably wanted to keep both of them inside her arms.
I knew the feeling, but surely not with as much intensity as she experienced. I reached the index finger of my right hand out, slid it beneath Noah’s fingers, and for the last time felt the snug grip of his small hand. Yes, I also wanted to keep the only child in our family around. I also longed to rock him again on Eve’s comfy rocker bought only for him, and smell his new baby-powdery smells, and snuggle with him. I lived on the next street, so I had been around him often. Now they were taking him to another state.
“Aunt Sunny, thank you for helping Miss Eve take care of him.” Nicole’s husband Randy, a nice fellow of average height and build, gave Eve and me quick hugs. “Y’all need to come out and see us in Houston sometime.”
Both of us nodded, neither saying a word while they buckled the babe into his sturdy infant seat in the backseat of the car, but others who’d had dessert with us didn’t remain quiet.
“Y’all stay safe,” our mother called to them. “And keep him warm.” It wasn’t winter here in south Louisiana, and even if it were, the temperature might be eighty-five. We’d learned our mom had wrapped Eve and me in blankets so much after we were born that summer about forty years ago, we kept a rash coating our bodies so that strangers feared coming near. They thought we had measles, but we actually sported heat rashes. “You don’t want that precious boy to catch a cold or the flu,” Mom said.
Her words made Nicole and Randy jerk their faces toward her, their previous happiness replaced by fearful expressions with eyes tight and brows furrowed. The flu was what made them need to avoid their newborn. Nicole had come down with the virus soon after he was born, and shortly afterward Randy developed a worse case. They couldn’t be near Noah unless they were outside, and even then they needed to wear medical masks. No other family lived around them. That’s why those of us in bayou country got the pleasure of his company for a while. But now he was leaving us.
Dave Price, the handsome businessman Eve and I were attracted to— although my feelings remained secret thus far—stepped closer to us on the circular drive while the young family pulled away. “Flu germs wouldn’t stay in their car or their house, would they?”
I waited for Eve to reply, but she only sighed and watched the car. She had invited Dave to join our family for the bread pudding I’d made and she’d served and to see the baby before he departed.
“They’ve been decontaminating everything,” I said. “They used sanitary wipes on every surface a number of times and sprayed so much disinfectant that a germ would feel terrorized about taking up residence on any fiber in their home or cars.”
“Great. I know they’ll be thrilled to be together.”
I knew they would, too. I only wished they could stay closer to us. “That sure is a cute baby.” The slender, frightfully pale woman who had remained across the yard from us kept her eyes toward the family’s car until it moved out of view. “I’ll be going home now.”
“It was nice of you to come out here to see him,” I told her, although I could have been speaking to the wind for all of the response I received.
The woman, Mrs. Wilburn, took long steps toward her house, the one to the right of my sister’s. I realized that even though I lived close and came to Eve’s place often, this was only one of the handful of times I had seen her neighbor outside. It was definitely the first time I had seen the woman’s small, dark eyes not look mean. Usually seeing them spear me from her window next door almost brought a Christmas carol out of my mouth, a horrible trait of mine that fear sometimes triggered. This day she had come here because she’d seen the baby. I normally referred to her only as “your snoopy neighbor” when I mentioned her at all to Eve since I had seen Mrs. Wilburn’s eyes peering toward Eve’s place many times through the front window facing Eve’s as though someone placed her there to stand guard.
Now her young adult son Royce took her place between those curtains. He often stood right behind her at that window. At the moment, his expression appeared grim. His lips seemed extra tight pressed together and his normally stern eyes looked sad. Why? Sudden thoughts came that maybe he wished to become a father. Or was he already one, but for some reason couldn’t be with his child? All we’d heard about him since he returned to stay with his mother was that he had many debts from trying to gamble for a living in Las Vegas.
“I need to get back to the manor. Sunny, you’re going to bring me? I can’t wait to tell my friends all about that little boy.” Mom’s snowy hair bounced in the sunshine while she moved, shoving the strap of her white purse up on her shoulder with the hand most twisted from the rheumatoid arthritis that made her insist on residing in Sugar Ledge Manor, the assisted living home in town, instead of with Eve or me. Mom was one of its youngest residents. She gave Eve a hug and scurried to my truck.
I squelched my instinct to ask Eve if she’d be okay. Of course she wouldn’t. Not now, and probably not for a few days at least. She had kept that baby almost a month and dreaded having him taken away. I gave her a one-armed hug and stopped myself from again suggesting she go and stay with the young family awhile.
“They need their time together with their newborn,” she had said after both parents received their doctor’s approval to take their baby home, and I agreed.
I suggested that Dave stay behind with Eve, which I believed would give her some comfort. He was her soulmate, she’d told me, even if she had never shared that idea with him. He knew she cared about him because she was more outgoing and pushy with men than I was. But he also knew she had previously loved many others, having married and divorced three men, who still showered her with signs of affection like jewelry and cars. The only thing my ex left me with was such a dread of sex that imagining myself doing that quick, miserable deed normally pulled a carol out of my throat. Except when I was around Dave.
A relationship with him was something I wanted to explore. Eve and I had gotten to know him a few months ago when she had his company install an alarm system in her house. During the few times I’d been around him, I felt he might care for me, too, although this wasn’t the time to admit it to my sister. She had urged me to find a man to get into a romantic relationship with because I’d avoided romance since the unpleasant experiences with the man I’d married. I had been ready to tell her about the person I wanted when excitement interrupted my admission. Since then we’d been busy with the baby.
With unusual wordiness, Mom didn’t let me speak. She chattered all the way across town, admiring one thing and another about the baby—his tiny eyes, little lips, curly fine hair, his looking like his mother, which meant like Eve and me—and the minute she stepped down from my truck, repeated those descriptions and many others about her first great-grandchild to the people she saw outside the manor. She didn’t need me to go in with her, which was fine since I wanted to get back to Eve.
When I arrived, her front yard and drive were empty. Disappointment sat inside me since Dave already left. I questioned my reasoning and knew that no, I didn’t want him there for me this time.
I rang the doorbell and then used my key to let myself in. “Hey, I’m back,” I called while I entered. When she didn’t respond, I rushed through her picture-perfect spacious den that normally had nothing out of place. Now a small pink and blue striped blanket lay on the coach beside a blue plastic baby bottle holding a trace of milk. Instead of the room’s usual vanilla scent from candles, it carried the enticing smell of baby.
Stepping into her art room beyond the den, I found Eve flinging black paint from a brush onto a canvas on a stand. “Your art is matching your mood.” She didn’t reply or glance at me. She dipped her brush in a can and stroked big black marks on her painting. Nothing else was in this room where she used to create colorful, bright paintings until someone broke into her house and destroyed all her work. Those paintings had represented men she’d dated, their brightness and size representing her feelings toward them. The one she had created for Dave had been brightest of all. It was their relationship she expected to experience.
With all of her first artwork gone, she would have started on more that represented men. Instead, a grandchild popped into her life, and she treasured each moment with him. Obviously, her happy moments had vanished.
I watched her long minutes while she seemed not to know I was there. I ached inside for her and wanted to do something. “Call if you need me,” I said.