Authors: Lynn Emery
Tags: #romance, #suspense, #bayou, #private detective, #louisiana, #cajun country
All names, characters, stories, and incidents
featured in this novel are imaginary. They are not inspired by any
individual person, incidents or events known or unknown to the
author. Any resemblance to actual persons living or dead is
coincidental. GOTTA GET NEXT TO YOU was originally published in
2001. This is a reprint.
Copyright 2001 Margaret Emery Hubbard
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of this author.
Charlene Noble glared at the man on the other
side of the mahogany desk. Outside the window behind him was an
expanse of sky. Blue turned to orange and pink as the sun set in a
summer south Louisiana sky. The offices of Gulfco, Inc. were
designed to impress, even intimidate. Two things John Mandeville,
influential in Louisiana politics, was good at doing. He’d taken
over the family business started by his great-grandfather and made
his old-money family even richer. His gaze was steady, his bearing
straight, as he faced his former lover. At the moment Charlene was
neither impressed nor intimidated. Her copper-colored eyes narrowed
as she stared him down.
“It’s the least you can do for your
daughter,” she said, her tone cold.
“It’s been four years since I’ve seen you,
and you come in swinging. There’s nobody else like you, Charlie.”
His lips curved up in a slightly flirtatious smile. “Cut the crap,
John. I’m serious.”
“I can’t just tell the board who to
Charlene wore a tight smile. “Bull! You run
this town the same way your father did.”
“I’m just part of the advisory council,” John
Charlene leaned forward. “John Mandeville,
you haven’t done nearly enough for Andrea.”
“I did what I could, given the
circumstances,” he said in a taut voice. John clenched one hand
into a fist.
“What circumstances? The fact that you didn’t
have the guts to stand up to your mommy and daddy?” Charlene tossed
John blew out a gust of air. “Oh hell, here
we go again.”
“I’m not going to dredge up ancient history,
John’s dark brows came together. “What kind
of life would we have had thirty years ago, Charlene? An
inter-racial couple in south Louisiana with no money. None. My
father would have seen to that.”
“Heaven forbid you would have had to get a
job. Too high a price to be with the girl you claimed you loved
more than life.” Charlene pressed her lips together.
John’s face flushed pink. When he spoke his
voice was low and husky. “It was more complicated than that, and
you know it. Sometimes ... I wish we could just go back.”
Charlene stared into John’s eyes without
flinching. “But we can’t.”
“No. We can’t,” John said, regret making his
voice deeper. “So now what?”
“The clinic needs a new director,” Charlene
“What makes you think—”
Charlene waved a hand, her crimson
fingernails polished to perfection. “I have my sources. I know Bob
Billings, the current director, accepted a position in Baton
John gave a grunt of exasperation. He did not
bother to deny what she obviously knew. “The bum.”
“Andrea has the qualifications. She’s been
the assistant director of a county clinic in Chicago for the past
“Really?” John rubbed his chin.
“You’ve gone through two directors in the
last four years, three now,” Charlene said.
“Each one was worse than the one before.”
“Andrea wants to come home.” Charlene looked
down at the purse in her lap. “If only to be close to her
John studied her for a time. “And you want a
chance to fix your relationship.”
“I’m getting—” Charlene said.
“Older?” John’s eyebrows went up.
She ignored him. “The point is, I want her
“I understand, Charlie. Really I do.” John’s
voice was sympathetic. He glanced away from her stony gaze.
“Don’t give me some phony excuse,” Charlene
“The clinic is going through a rough patch.
We need someone seasoned, someone who can stand firm.”
“I can’t push anyone on them. It’s got to be
done carefully.” John toyed with the Mont Blanc ink pen on his
“You mean having our daughter put in charge.
Don’t tell me you’re worried about your reputation, or what’s left
of it after thirty years of raising hell.” Charlene’s lovely mouth
curved up in a sardonic smile.
“Damn it, Charlene, I’m thinking how rough it
could be on her.” John’s fingers raked his black hair.
“Andrea is strong willed. She inherited that
on both sides,” Charlene said promptly. Her expression softened.
“Please, John. Do this for me and for her.”
The speaker phone on his desk buzzed. John
pressed a button. “Yes, Norma?”
“Your appointment is here, Mr. Mandeville.”
His secretary’s voice came through clearly.
“Give me ten minutes.” John gazed at
Charlene. “Okay, Charlie. Andrea can have the job.”
“Good.” Charlene sighed.
“You’re welcome,” John said dryly.
“You’re not doing me a favor, you know.”
John shook his head in amazement as he stood.
He lifted a hand to touch her hair, but Charlene moved away. “God,
you’re such a lovely woman. When will I see you again?”
He followed her to the private elevator that
would take her from his office to die first-floor lobby without
anyone seeing her.
Charlene got on the elevator and punched the
button. “Goodbye, John,” she said tartly.
Suddenly there was a knock on the door and it
opened. Norma entered. “Are you available now?” “Send him on in.”
John stood in front of the elevator to block the view when he
realized the doors were not completely closed.
“Evening, Mr. Mandeville.” The tall, muscular
man strode into the office. He extended a large, dark brown hand
even as his gaze flicked to the elevator.
“Mr. Matthews, nice to meet you. What’s your
first name? We’re used to being informal down here,” John said.
“LeRoyce, but call me Lee.” He let a beat
pass. “Good meeting you, John." The newcomer did not intend to let
the Mandeville mystique affect him either.
John’s smile faltered. “Yes, well, sit down.”
He pointed to the seating area of two chairs and a small sofa near
another window. “Would you like a drink?”
“Seven-Up, thanks,” Lee said. He folded his
six-foot- four frame into the leather wing chair.
John walked over to the small built-in bar.
He poured himself a finger of scotch, and then poured the soft
drink into another glass. “I was sure a two-fisted private eye
would want a strong belt.”
Lee scanned the office carefully, taking in
each detail. “Only in old movies. And you wouldn’t want to hire a
private investigator that drinks.”
“Good point,” John said as he walked over to
his desk and sat down. He handed Lee the glass of soda and sipped
from his drink. “You’ve read our report about the problems. What do
“It’s tricky.” Lee stretched one long leg
“What do you suggest?”
“If I worked at the clinic for a few months,
it would help.” Lee looked at him directly for the first time. “I’m
pretty good on a computer and a dam good receptionist.”
“Put you inside the clinic.” John rocked his
chair and wore a thoughtful expression.
“The one they’ve got now needs a career
change. One in a string of bad hiring decisions.”
John scowled. “I’ve heard about her!”
“It’s an opening and won’t seem strange.” Lee
sat back as though waiting for John to process his proposal.
“A receptionist built like a linebacker. You
don’t think that would look strange?”
“With the characters in and out of that
place, some of the patients might welcome it,” Lee retorted.
John laughed out loud. “Damn it, I like you!”
He shook his head. “I’ll get that woman out of there and you can
Lee stood. “Give me a week to wrap up some
other work with my partner, Vince.”
“Excellent.” John walked him to the door.
“Er, we’ve hired a new director, by the way,” he said in a tone
meant to be casual.
Lee studied him. “Something special I should
know about him?” His full eyebrows went up as John avoided his
“Her. Andrea Noble. And no, I just wanted you
to be fully informed.”
Lee’s eyes narrowed as he glanced at John.
“All right,” he said in a voice that implied he’d find out
John watched the tall man stride off. “Damn
place. More trouble than it’s worth,” he muttered.
Good Lord. What have I gotten myself into?”
Andrea turned around in a circle. A layer of dust filmed every
surface. Faded blue plastic chairs were scattered across the floor
in an uneven pattern. Patients waiting to be seen looked just as
forlorn as the waiting room of the Bayou Blue Public Health Clinic.
Her grandmother and Cousin Pam had warned her it might need “a bit
of sprucing up.” What an understatement. “Hey, you!” a gruff female
voice called out.
A woman with hair piled high and stiff with
styling gel looked at her from behind a Plexiglas partition with a
small opening. She sat in an office that faced the waiting room. A
plastic tag pinned to her chest had the name Shonda etched in white
letters. Her wide, light brown face was bored. Her jaws moved as
she worked on a lump of chewing gum.
“Are you talking to me, ma’am?” Andrea asked;
her tone deliberately measured and polite.
“Yeah. You need to sign in before you sit
down. Come here.”
Immediately Andrea decided to go with the
flow. She walked over to the window. “I left my Medicaid card at
home. And I don’t have an appointment.”
Shonda rolled her eyes and threw down the
pencil she was holding. “Then you can’t see the doctor.”
“They told me you accepted walk-ins.” Andrea
could see Shonda was losing what little patience she had.
“Well, they told you wrong. Dr. Hayes ain’t
even here. Them people waitin’ to see the nurse.” Shonda waved a
hand at the twelve or so people sitting in faded blue plastic
“I thought the doctor was in Thursdays.”
Andrea grimaced and put a hand to her stomach. “I’ve got a pain
that’s killing me.”
“Look, he ain’t here, okay?” Shonda snapped.
“How many ways I hafta say it?”
There were a few snickers from several of the
women nearby. Andrea ground her teeth. Sally Ranger, the registered
nurse who’d recruited her, would definitely get a phone call. So
would her mother. To think she’d left Chicago to come home to
“Now, what’s your name?” Shonda slapped a
clip-board down on the desk. A form faded from too much copying had
two columns with times, dates, and names.
Andrea ignored her question. “Will the doctor
be in at all today?”
“Well, I’ll be—” Shonda bit off as she shoved
her chair back and stomped through the door.
Andrea heard muffled voices, one of which was
Shonda’s. After a few moments, a heavyset white woman came out.
Nurse Cresson appeared to be in her fifties. Her brunette hair was
pulled back. She had on a green scrub suit.
“I’m Nurse Cresson. What’s wrong with you,
“I told her Dr. Hayes ain’t here,” Shonda
muttered over Nurse Cresson’s shoulder.
“I’m in pain.” Andrea held her stomach
“Well, you need to go to the emergency room
over in Houma,” Nurse Cresson said in a crisp tone. She did not
even look at Andrea.
“But I thought Thursday was the day the
doctor would handle small emergencies. I don’t have a car and—”
“He’s not here and he’s not coming,” Nurse
Cresson cut her off sharply. “You can make an appointment for
follow-up. But if you in that much pain, go to the hospital.”