Blue Autumn in the Bayou (Gumbo Love) (15 page)

Her words cut deep, down to the
core of his soul. He frowned. If she was trying to cut him loose, she was doing a damn good job at it. “So you’re telling that we can’t have a relationship after tonight, Autumn?”

“No, I’m not saying that at all. What I’m saying is that you don’t know anything about me other than what you’ve seen here in the last couple of weeks. There’s so much more to me than what you see.”

“Then, tell me, Autumn. Show me. I don’t want to go back.”

“I don’t think you want to know.”

“How can you be sure if you don’t let me decide for myself?”

“Here and now is not the time or place, Travis.”

“Then, when? Where? You name it, I’m there.”

“Okay. Once we get Reggie and Trae snuggly behind bridal suite doors, we can talk this out.”

He kissed her brow. “Then let’s do this.” He led her back into the reception. Reggie threw the bridal boutique, and Mona of all people caught it. Corey caught the sky-blue garter. Travis started the money dance with the bride and groom. He danced with both Reggie and Trae. He held up his twenty dollars for a dance with his brother and everyone thought for sure he wouldn’t go for it, but Trae did.

“You just remember that I’ll always be the oldest
,” Travis told him.

took a sighing breath when the bride and groom called it quits and the guests began to leave. He made arrangements for the limo and the hotel staff to take care of Trae and Reggie once they left the country club. He loaded all the gifts into the back of a van, and sent them to Trae’s house. Autumn took care of all of Reggie’s things, and sent the top cake tier home with his mother. Travis found her sitting in a chair with her shoe straps draped through the fingers of one hand and her bag clutched in the other.

He looked down at her tired face. “Come.” She stood and Travis picked her up
, holding her close to his chest. He went straight to his car and waited as she climbed in. When Travis got in on the driver’s side, he drew her seatbelt over her, and snapped it into place. By the time they got to his house, neither had uttered a single word. He got out, walked around, and opened her door.















Autumn stepped out of the car, and once again, Travis picked her up; and she let him. He walked through the kitchen, and headed straight to his bedroom without turning on a single light. He placed Autumn in his bed fully clothed on top of the comforter, and got in next to her. He took the shoes from her finger and the bag from her hand and dropped them both on the floor. He pulled off his shoes and jacket, dropped them with the other stuff, eased next to Autumn, and draped his arm across her middle. They both fell asleep within minutes.

Autumn moved beneath Travis’s large arm
, draped over her like a blanket. She vaguely remembered him carrying her into the house, but couldn’t recall him putting her to bed. She blinked her eyes several times willing them to moisten. Her contacts now grazed against her lids.
She should have taken them out before she fell asleep. She remembered that her eye drops were in her bag, wherever it was. After the crazy and very long day, she couldn’t remember if she actually had it.

Sighing, she looked across the bed
, and could just barely read the digital clock on the nightstand. 2:00 a.m. She assumed it was the correct time. People started leaving the country club a little before eight o’clock, and Autumn and Travis had left shortly after that. She tried to extract her body from beneath Travis’s trap, but instead of escaping, he pulled her closer to him. His body heat instantly enveloped her. “Where are you going?”

“I have to go the bathroom.”

He loosened his grip and moved back until he was off the bed. “Shield your eyes sweetheart; I’m going to turn on some light.

Autumn complied. Travis helped her from the bed. Her gown hugged her legs until she stood up erect. She glanced around the huge room. The bed set smack in the middle of it. The chocolate and olive tones definitely created a masculine fla

“Through there.” He pointed toward a set of French doors to the right of the room. “Towels are in the closet if you need them
, and there are shirts and bottoms in one of those drawers if you want to change.

“I have a change of clothing in my bag.” She looked around to see if maybe she’d placed her bag on the bed.

“This bag?” He fished it from beneath his discarded jacket.

“Yes. Thank you.” She took the bag from his hand.

Travis tilted forward and placed a kiss on her hair. “I’ll go down the hall.”

“No, please. I can go to the other room. I don’t want to put you out of your own bedroom.”

“You’re not putting me out. Let me know if you need anything.” He left her watching him.

* * * *

Autumn padded to the kitchen. The smell of bacon summoned her in that direction. After a quick shower, she felt refreshed. She bathed her eyes with solution, and they no longer ached. When she entered the kitchen, Smokey Robinson’s “I Don’t Know Why” hummed from speakers, positioned on a bar near the breakfast nook. “Smells good in here.” She walked up to Travis. He’d just dumped pre-measured flour into a bowl.

He turned and kissed her again. “Are you hungry?”

His hair still glistened with moisture. The shadow on his face and his dark smoky gaze all made him irresistibly handsome. “Yes. Can I help?”

“Only if you like.”

“I would. What do you want me to do?”

“This.” He turned completely and feasted on her mouth.
He didn’t linger. After he released her, he turned back to his biscuit mix.

Autumn didn’t believe she’d ever get use to
Travis’s kisses. His soft lips left her panting and wanting more. Like now, he could have lingered at her mouth just a bit longer. She moved around him and fell right in place. Before long, they’d whipped up a hearty breakfast. Travis and Autumn sat across from one another as they ate the tasty meal.

“Do you make
it a habit eating so late, or should I say so early in the morning?” Autumn bit into the fat, tender biscuit. She was amazed at how well he cooked. He made the biscuits from scratch. The homemade raspberry preserve, he said came from his mother’s makeshift cannery in her basement. “I would be as big as a house if I ate like this all the time.” She licked her fingers.

Travis took a long sip from his mug before s
etting it down and he leaned back in his chair. He got joy in watching her eat. He loved when people enjoyed his cooking, but with Autumn it meant something special. Hell, being with her was an experience he enjoyed these days. He soared when they were together, and the last couple of weeks were different from anything he’d felt before. In a couple of hours, she would board a plane back to New York. The thought of her leaving didn’t set right with him.

Autumn, with a mouth full of food, saw him push back from his plate, and so she put down her fork. She forced the food in her mouth down
, and took a sip of her juice. She’d already consumed a small omelet, three strips of bacon, and two fat biscuits. Tilting her head to one side, she watched him watching her.

“Please don’t stop. I’m enjoying this.” He smiled.

“Making a pig of myself, you mean.”

“There’s nothing wrong with a healthy appetite. Besides
, you hardly touched your food last night at the reception.”

“I ate a little bit.”

“Very little.”

“Okay. I was a little nervous. Is that alright?”

“Perfectly. It was our first time doing something like that, right?”

She sighed heavily. “Right.”

“So tell me, are you nervous about us?”

“There’s an

He looked at her for a long moment. “Yes. I believe so.”

Autumn fidgeted with the napkin in her lap. She could just lie to him, but he would know it. She wanted to tell him she loved him, but didn’t know how without feeling so vulnerable. Mer Drace had told her that it would happen, if she opened her heart to it, and she did. Now what? She had a life in New York with no plans to give that up, at least not yet. Mer Drace didn’t tell her how this dream of hers would end. “You’ll figure it all out, little one” was all she said.

“I need to tell you something about me, Travis.” Autumn balled up the napkin in her lap. She twisted the end around several of her fingers. The advice from Mer Drace, Reggie, and Erica rang in her head. She
wasn’t ashamed of her life or her grandmother’s life, either. She rustled with that demon years ago, which is why she left Grand Isle in the first place.

sat up straight when he saw the struggle in her expression. He waited patiently to hear what she had to say. Whatever it was, he would support her. “You have my undivided attention.” When she didn’t respond right away, he stood up, walked around the table and pulled her from her chair. He led her to the box seat in the bay window. “Take all the time you need.”

Autumn admired his patience. The gentle way he touched and held her
to put her at ease. His actions didn’t match this playboy image he tried so desperately to showcase. She took a calming breath before she began. “Where I grew up there were very few African-American families. Most of them were born and raised on Grand Isle. Reggie’s family was the only transplant when her father’s job transferred him to the island. They lived there for about three years. The few of us on the Isle were like one big family. We tried to look out for one another. The one school housed all the grades; so the few school-age black kids on the island blended very well, sort of like cousins, only we weren’t blood related.”

She paused and looked out the window at the flickering
lights off the lake behind Travis’s house. It reminded her of the water along the beach at home. She turned back to Travis when he touched her arm. “There weren’t many black boys to date, so most of the young women left the island to go away for school, to find work, or to find a husband. Rarely did any of them come back, at least not my generation.” She picked up her story. “I was very shy and withdrawn, mostly because of how people treated me and my family. I was especially withdrawn when tourists came to the island, and when we went to the mainland to shop, or visit my father’s relatives. I became this peep show. The children thought I was possessed or something crazy like that. People can be really cruel, especially to children.” She paused again, recalling the painful moments of her childhood.

“Something about dancing helped me get past all of that. Reggie coming when she did
, was a godsend. Dancing made me look and feel differently about myself. Others saw it too; which leads to the story of how I met Paul.” She looked at him and took yet another long breath.

Travis sat as still as he could. He couldn’t quite understand where she was going with her story
, so he waited patiently. He resisted the scowl that would normally take residence on his face when he felt frustrated or anxious.

Autumn continued with revealing her story because in order
to move forward she had to pull off all the covers. “I’d never dated before, let alone have a boyfriend. Mona was the only one dating in our circle. The summer before my senior year, I met Paul. He’d come to the island two years before to live with his grandparents. His parents had kicked him out. He was a very troubled guy. And when he started dating a black girl,” she held her fingers up to signify quotation marks, “most of the islanders thought it was a continuation of his rebelliousness.” Autumn told him the saga of her senior year from hell. And her last comment was what stumped Travis. “He committed suicide the night of our senior class graduation.”

Autumn pulled away when
Travis picked up her hand and tried to pull her into his lap. She moved to the patio door where she stood a moment, before she felt him behind her. She just knew he would try to touch her again, so she braced herself for it, but he didn’t. Instead he whispered down to her. “Autumn, Paul had troubles that had nothing to do with you.”

“You don’t understand
,” she defended. “Every woman in my family has had bad luck with men. For years, people whispered that we were cursed.”

“Autumn I don’t know much about your family
; only what you’ve told me. What would make you think this? You fell for a guy that had issues before you met him. I hardly think that has anything to do with you or anyone in your family.”

“It started with my grandmother, Mer Drace. Something happened, not even she knows exactly what. And every woman in our family after her seems to have fallen to the same fate.”

“Really, Autumn. Do you believe in that kind of stuff?”

She looked at him just when
Travis frowned. The gesture caused her some frustration because she obviously wasn’t making her point clear. “I’m telling you there has to be something.” She looked away and then turned back quickly. “I don’t believe it’s a curse, but I know that people have treated me differently my entire life. Whenever I try to get close to someone, something happens. That frightens the hell of me.”

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