Authors: Erica Spindler
Book two in the unforgettable Blossoms of the South series by
New York Times
bestselling author Erica Spindler.
Hunter Powell's no family man, though Aimee Bourdeaux once tried to convince him otherwise. The heat between them was undeniable, but Hunter's haunted past kept him from truly giving his heart. Now, years later, the connection between Aimee and Hunter is even strongerâ¦especially considering the son between them Hunter never knew he had. It isn't long before their passion begins to reignite, but can Hunter finally find the courage to let go of his demons and reach for the love of a lifetime?
Table of Contents
pril sun spilled over Hunter Powell, warming him. That same light reflected off the New Orleans pavement, blinding and white, and he cursed himself for having left his sunglasses back at the convention center.
Hunter stuck with his fellow doctors as they made their way through the throngs of tourists crowding the French Quarter sidewalks, unsure of howâor whyâhe had gotten himself hooked up with them. Drinking mind-numbing concoctions and tramping in and out of T-shirt shops was not his idea of a good time.
And yet, here he was.
The group made its way onto the more refined and less trafficked Royal Street. The sounds here were mellowerâtaps striking the pavement as a panhandler danced for quarters, the whisper of the breeze, thick with the scent of boiling seafood, occasional bursts of laughter, rich with amusement.
Everything reminded him of Aimee.
Hunter caught his breath as her image flooded his mind. Aimeeâwith her big dark eyes and sexy contralto voice. Aimee, always laughing, bringing him out of himself and into the world of the living. Aimee in his arms, his bed, his life.
Hunter curled his fingers into his palms, the memory of her so sharp he winced. Since his plane had touched down at New Orleans International Airport two days before, he'd been unable to stop thinking of her. He'd found himself looking for her, listening for her.
He shook his head. Only because she was from a Cajun fishing village not far from here, he reasoned. Only because she'd laughed so often about its nameâLa Fin, “the end” in French.
Hunter drew his eyebrows together. It had been three and a half years since she'd walked out of his life. Or rather, he amended, since he'd driven her out of it. And in all that time he'd never questioned that her leaving had been for the best. Oh, he'd thought of her. He'd missed her. But he'd never considered going after her.
He'd had nothing to give her. He still didn't.
Hunter's frown deepened. The reminiscing stopped now, he decided. It was a foolish waste of time and energy; it bordered on maudlin. He would go back to the hotel and look over the paper he was scheduled to present in the morning. Just as he'd put Aimee from his life three and a half years ago, he would put her from his mind now.
Hunter dragged his attention from the past to his fellow medical conventioneers, a couple of them already half drunk on a local favorite called a “hurricane.” “I'll see you all at dinner. I'm heading back to the hotel.”
“Awe, c'mon, Hunter,” said Jack, an orthopedic man from Des Moines and one of the ones who was half in the bag, “all work and no play will make you a very dull boy.”
“Yeah, Hunter,” piped up another colleague whose name Hunter couldn't recall, “you're going to give us doctors a bad name.”
“Leave him be, all of you,” piped in Sheila, one of the internists from his own clinic in California. “Hunter's got the right idea. My feet are killing me.” She turned to Hunter. “I want to take a peek in this shop, then I'll walk back with you.”
Hunter lifted his gaze to the shop in question. Small Miracles, the sign proclaimed. Antiques and bric-a-brac. Nodding, he followed Sheila inside.
The interior of the shop was cool and smelled of mildew and mothballs. Intent on waiting until Sheila had seen her fill, Hunter leaned against the counter. As he did, his elbow knocked against an item sitting on the counter's edge. Turning quickly, he caught it a moment before it toppled to the floor.
The object, a domed music box, landed neatly in his hands. Hunter stared at it, his heart beginning to thump against the wall of his chest. Antiques didn't interest him. He'd furnished his own home in clean, modern lines. Simple. No froufrou.
The box in his hands, with its gold filigree and porcelain figurine, was definitely froufrou. He told himself he should set the box back on the counter and be more careful where he put his elbows. Instead he held it up for a closer look.
The figurine, a replica of a southern belle complete with hoop skirt and picture hat, was exquisite. She wore a coquettish expression, and in her hands she held a cluster of white star-shaped blossoms. Hunter wound the box's key and as a romantic Brahms melody filled the air, the figure circled the base, hands out as if offering the flowers.
Hunter stared at the figurine, his mind again flooded with thoughts of Aimee, thoughts so vivid, so sensory, he could almost hear her coaxing laugh, almost feel the brush of her mouth on his flesh. He tightened his fingers on the box's lustrous wood base. Aimee had smelled of sunshine and exotic flowers. She'd tasted as sweet asâ
“Night Jasmine,” a woman said from behind him, her voice husky and amused.
Startled, Hunter swung around, thinking for one moment that it was Aimee behind him, rather than the tiny woman with flame red hair and a mischievous grin whom he found instead. Night Jasmine. Hunter stared dumbly at the shopkeeper, his mind still on Aimee. Aimee had talked of the night jasmine that grew wild near her home, had spoken of the warm spring evenings in the bayou when its scent would become almost overpoweringly potent.
“Excuse me?” he managed after a moment, knowing he must appear an idiot.
“The flowers,” the shopkeeper said, motioning to the figurine. “They're night jasmine. Ever heard of them?”
“Yes. Someone I once knewâ¦” Hunter let the thought trail off, turning his gaze back to the music box. “It's a beautiful piece. But I'm not interested in antiques.”
“No?” With a deep laugh, the woman took the box from his hands and wound it again. “But this is no ordinary antique. This one is quite special. It's from Ashland, one of the Mississippi delta's best known plantations. Ever heard of it?”
Hunter shook his head. “No, I'm from California, and I really don't care foâ”
“Such a sad tale. The plantation survived the war, but not the times. Anyway, this piece was fashioned for Annabelle Carter upon her betrothal to the master of Ashland, Beauregard Ames.” The shopkeeper patted her cap of red curls, and her silver bracelets jangled. “The family hated to let the box goâ¦but you know how it is. These things happen.”
Sheila tapped his arm. “Ready, Hunter?”
He looked blankly at her. “Yesâ¦no. In a minute. I'll be outâ¦in a minute.” Calling himself fourteen kinds of fool, he turned back to the saleswoman. He didn't need this thing. He didn't even want it. Not really. And yet, he had the strangest reluctance to let it out of his sight. “How much is it?”
“How can we put a price on history?” The little woman sighed dramatically. “But of course we must. It's a steal at eight hundred.”
“Eight hundred?” Hunter repeated, good sense making a belated appearance. He shook his head. “Thank you for your time, but I don't thinkâ”
“You will regret forever if you pass it up.” She looked him directly in the eye. “It is
Hunter blinked, thinking of regrets. And of Aimee and her little fishing village. Not for the first time since arriving in New Orleans he wondered how far from the city that fishing village was, wondered if Aimee would be there.
“You have questions,
Aimee used to call him that. Only Aimee. Hunter drew his eyebrows together and met the shopkeeper's gaze. “Have you ever heard of a place called La Fin?”
“But, of course.” The tiny woman stroked the music box's base as she spoke, a smile curving her lips. “It's about an hour from here. And such a pretty drive. I will give you directions.”
Hunter looked back at the box, his chest tight. He acknowledged that the thoughts running through his head were not only totally out of character, but bordered on irrational. Go see Aimee? After all this time? If she were even in La Fin, she would no doubt toss him out on his ear.
we have to follow our gut.” The woman cocked her head, her gaze still on his. “Don't you think so?”
Hunter frowned at the shopkeeper, unsettled by the feeling that she was able to read his mind, wishing he could dispute her words. But the hell of it was, he did think so. “I'll give you seven fifty for it.”
The little woman smiled, her eyes alight with satisfaction. “You are a hard man,
But you have a deal.”
his little piggy went to the French Market,” Aimee Boudreaux murmured, wiggling her three-year-old son Oliver's big toe. Oliver squealed with delight and tried to pull his foot away. Laughing, Aimee held onto his foot and grabbed the next toe. “This little piggy stayed back at the bayou.”
Oliver giggled and squirmed, then cocked his head to the side and stuck his bottom lip out in a show of great sympathy. “Poor little piggy,” he said sadly. “All alone.”
Aimee dropped a light kiss onto the tip of his big toe. “Maman would never leave Oliver all alone by the bayou.”
“No.” Oliver shook his head solemnly. “And I never go there without you or PÃ©pÃ re.”
“That's right.” She tickled the tender underside of his foot, then caught his third toe. “This little piggy ate roast beef on french breadâ”
Startled, Aimee lifted her head and turned in the direction of the expletives, toward her family's bait-and-tackle shop located just behind them. She drew her eyebrows together. Her father had a hot temper, and it wasn't unusual for him and a crony to all but come to blows over nothing more than a difference of opinion. At least, it wouldn't have been unusual before his illness. These days he rarelyâ¦
Another stream of angry French followed the first, and Aimee hurried to her feet. She held her hand out to Oliver. “Come on, baby. We better go check on your
We'll finish our picnic and game later.”
Oliver followed her up, his expression concerned. “Why's PÃ©pÃ re yelling?”
“I don't know, sweetheart,” she said, starting for the store. “Why don't weâ”
“Aimee!” her father shouted from inside the shop. “Bring me my shotgun!
Heart in her throat, Aimee scooped up Oliver and ran for the store. She bypassed the stairs, taking her father's ramp instead, and within moments was pulling open the screen door. She set Oliver down and motioned for him to stay put. “Papa!” she called, racing into the store. “What's wrong, what's happenedâ¦” She stopped in her tracks, her words dying on her tongue.
Hunter. It couldn't be.
But it was. He stood just inside the door, his expression frozen with alarm.
Aimee sucked in a steadying breath. Hunter had stolen her heart and the last of her youthful naÃvetÃ©; he had given her the light of her life even as he had taught her that life rarely gave what one wished for. She'd once loved him as passionately as she'd later hated him.