BayouBabe99er on the blog, bringing you the latest on the atrocities in the Gulf. Don’t fall for everything you see on TV. Would you believe they tried to sop up all that black slop with diapers big enough to fit Little Lotta? I kid you not! The load they’re shoveling, shifting the blame, is maddening. Some of the locals are able to earn a little money, risking health issues in the process, by picking up tar balls. What’s the monetary value of tar balls, you want to know? Ask those whose livelihoods are destroyed. Until my next update.
Forty-four-year-old Sharlene Mouton networked her a** off. But it was to no avail. Outsourcing had her outraged, out of her banking position, and after more than a year, out of options. Now, she was one of the maligned ninety-niners. However, she’d be damned if she wore the label pinned on people in her situation.
Her meager savings tided her over while she worked up the nerves to make the life-altering decision. Coming back home—even for a brief month’s stay—was as hard, if not harder, than when she left. Only difference—this time—she returned alone. Here she sat, a divorced empty nester, all because of her ex-husband’s roving eyes and groping hands.
Sharlene squinched her eyes against the setting sun’s glare bouncing off the Louisiana Gulf. The trawler rocked as it strained on the anchor. Between the waves slapping the hull and the serene stillness, she drifted off into space propped comfortably on the back wall in the August heat. Her bout with lethargy was short-lived when the drone of a racing motor shattered her peace and quiet. Above the motor’s rumble was the clash of hard-rock music beating the airwaves. Shifting her body for a look, she reacted to the pressure of the hard wooden bench on her bottom. Apparently, daydreaming took its toll on the rear end.
She kept tabs on the boaters.
The advancing powerboat zoomed perilously close to hitting her, rocking the small trawler like a cradle. Noise blasted passed her ears as the driver whipped the wheel and the speedboat leaned into a cresting curve. The close call left raucous laughter in the air and a body over the side. It was long gone before the splash sounded or the call for help went out.
He bobbed in the wake a good distance away, still shouting and calling names. It wasn’t long before the name calling took a vulgar turn. She watched as he swam to the nearest buoy where he clung for dear life. He swept the horizon with his eyes while circling his life preserver, one hand always in contact. Then—his eyes caught sight of her.
A hand swiped water from his face. “Hey!” his baritone timbre rumbled. That same hand flagged overhead.
The next thing Sharlene knew, he took off in her direction. Strong strokes propelled him within reach of the side ladder in no time flat. That was as far as she permitted for she swung the oar like a weapon. “You’re drunk as a skunk.”
“No, I’m not, Captain,” he countered. “Permission to come aboard.”
“Don’t patronize me, mister.”
“Look around you.” He floundered to stay afloat. “I’m not in any position to patronize anybody. Please.”
She wasn’t feeling very sympathetic at the moment.
“I’m Drake Cormier. I don’t bite.”
Something unexpected happened in her spirit. Laughter bubbled even as she gave him a direct stare. “I wasn’t born yesterday. You’re a man, right?”
“Last I looked.”
His comment sobered her. She disappeared from the side of the boat. It shocked him when the motor started and his lifeline puttered away. To add insult to injury, she slung a life ring overboard and nearly clocked him. Hearing his pitiful cry, she cut the engine.
* * * *
Drake gulped, sputtering water in his attempt to yell. “I’m sorry!” He hung on to the life preserver for dear life. He saw his chance as the boat slowed. Long pulls had him within grasping distance of the ladder, and he hauled his tired body onboard. All he could do was lie facedown in a puddle of his own making. Smooth—brown—shapely—legs came into his line of sight when he dared to look up. He allowed himself the luxury of scanning her anatomy at his leisure from the top of her short, curled, cayenne-pepper hair down to her snow-white deck shoes.
His eyes retraced their trek to land on hers.
“Are you finished?”
Her candid way of putting him in his place affected him. Yet, it was the dazzle in her sparkling brown eyes that captivated him. He knew better than to respond, for his sarcastic wit was well known in his circle. Instead, he devoted all of his energies to getting off the deck. “Thank you.”
Those words zipped passed his ears as she marched back to the wheelhouse. He turned to follow, only to be barred by the extended oar she brandished in his face.
“You’re welcome on the boat,” she reiterated. “Not in the cabin.”
“I really mean it.” He humbled himself. “Thanks for taking me on.” He stood at the bow, keeping an eye on her and the direction they traveled. “City’s that way.” He pointed while making his voice heard above the engine’s repetitious twang.
“I’m not going to the city.”
“Because I don’t live in the city. That’s why.” Those words slammed the subject closed.
Drake leaned on the railing, taking in the approaching shore. That wasn’t all capturing his attention as a sheen floated on the surface of the water. The oily swirl parted when split by the boat’s progression. He watched with immense curiosity while almost on the verge of skimming his hand in the water.
“Going in for another drink?”
His slow turn revealed a scowl as he looked at her. He received a facetious grin, which made him think of his sopping clothes and slick, black hair. He was sure he looked like a scrawny mutt.
They inched along, closing in on the channel entrance. Cypress stumps lined both sides of the waterway before finally giving way to groves of green-leaved, moss-draped trees. There were telltale signs crude settled around their trunks for quite a while. Every now and then, the tragic evidence of swamp creatures caught in the mire appeared.
“What’s the name of this canal?” he asked, unable to take his eyes away from the disastrous sight.
“Pauchex Pass.” He repeated the name several times to mark it in his memory.
* * * *
Sharlene felt terrible about the conditions of the swamp she traveled so much in her younger days. The Black Gold found its way into the deepest reaches of the waterway that led to the village. It turned up in the primary food source that, in the past, made the area a popular draw for those seeking a scrumptious seafood meal. That way of life was teetering on the edge.
The trawler crawled into the dock, with Sharlene displaying her finesse at the wheel. A smug grin touched her glossed lips. It was like riding a bike. Once one learned one never forgot. She shut down and closed up the wheelhouse. Deck shoes silenced her appearance at his side. He leaned forward with both arms braced on the railing. The way his thumbs beat a cadence on his clasped hands hinted at internal turmoil.
She waited on him to acknowledge her presence. Even closer to him now, the expression he wore piqued her interest. Finally, he realized she was beside him and pushed off. The distressed look faded as his black-eyed, penetrating gaze once again swept her person.
They stared at each other while standing on the open deck. Sharlene never said a word when she sidestepped him to take the gangplank down, forcing him to trail behind her. Drake lagged along all the way up the hill. She turned to face him without warning.
“You can use the phone over there.”
There wasn’t much to see when he swung to follow her finger point. The community looked every bit of two blocks long, with one dangling red light at the crossroads. By the time he looked back, Sharlene was bearing down on a gravel lot at the opposite end of the street. He took a couple of steps toward the building marked CLYDE’S, keeping tabs on her with the flat of his hand braced on the door of the business. Cowbells clanked and the door opened from the inside.
“Ya lettin’ the air out.” Drake came face to face with the store clerk’s curious expression. “Doused ya, huh?”
Drake pivoted to resume his watch of Sharlene, momentarily, ignoring the Southern drawl with the Cajun flavor. She seemed to have trouble starting her vintage truck before the engine rattled in cooperation. She drove off the lot and moseyed by them toward the light. “Why do you say that?” he asked halfheartedly, for his eyes were glued to the departing truck. He prepared to wave, but she never gave him the time of day.
“Hmmm. Didn’t know she was back.” That made Drake face him. The shop clerk seemed to size him up. “Ya don’t wanna mess with them Moutons.”
“And why not?”
“They’a ornery bunch. Stay mostly to they self.” He left Drake hanging out at the entrance—spying—until Sharlene turned and was out of sight.
Drake entered to wafting cool air pushed around by a couple of strategically placed black oscillating fans. The overpacked interior boasted everything from dry goods to a small deli counter complete with an eating area off to the side. The place also appeared to be the location to purchase bait for fishing excursions. It didn’t look like there’d been much business lately out back on the dock.
“Do you have a phone I can use?”
“Gon’ cost ya.”
Drake shook his head. “I can pay,” he reassured and pulled his water-logged cell phone and soggy wallet from his wet cargo knee-knockers.
Word Count: 25,980
Release: April 24, 2012
Price: $2.99 / Pre-order price: $2.69
(This title is offered at a 10% discount. Offer ends midnight CST, May 1st.)