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Damn it, he was right. The sooner she started serving her sentence, the sooner it would end. She pressed ink to paper and signed away a month of her life. Q Very little had changed in the nine years since June graduated high school and left Sultry County. Wood signs contrasted against faded brick facades, clamoring for the attention of saints and sinners alike, all with one common business principle: in God we trust. All others pay cash. It had taken several years before June understood why he never wanted to play in the abandoned house.

A breeze stirred, and the familiar high, metallic tinkle of wind chimes sang out from above. Heaving a sigh, she set the carrier down and marched to the door with her shoulders firmly squared. Before she lost her nerve, she punched the doorbell and held her breath. Almost instantly, the front door swung open and Grammy Pru glowered from inside, wearing a long floral cotton dress and a scowl. Other grandmothers offered soft hugs and gathered little ones onto their plump laps for story time.

Other grandmothers smiled gently below rosy cheeks. They spoiled and cuddled, bragged and loved, smelled of cookies and hairspray. Armed with a prayer on her lips and a wooden spoon in her hand, Grammy ruled with an iron fist that would make Samson cower in fear. Let me get it. Once they were inside, Gram placed a hand on her hip and took a long, silent look at June.

Gram nodded approvingly and gestured toward the stairs. No griping, no rehashing their last argument. And that was fine by June. It felt like a lifetime ago. Her mama and daddy had laughed and sandwiched her into a hug. It was her favorite. Not now, anyway. Back when Luke still lived here, back before everything fell apart, things had been different. The sounds of laughter and clomping sneakers used to echo in the now silent home. She bit her lip and glanced into the hall. She slipped off her leather pumps and tiptoed down the hall to the last door, then opened it slowly and peeked inside. The same black comforter concealed his mattress, and aside from the pine desk in the corner, the room was empty.

Every single recruiting poster had been removed; every trace of the old Luke was gone. She padded to the desk, wincing when she stepped on a creaky floorboard, and quietly slid open the largest file drawer. Luke smiled at her from inside a simple black lacquer frame. He had his arm around a stunning Sultry with a Twist 21 young woman with tanned skin and cropped blonde hair. Was this his wife? The tips of his hair brushed his shirt collar, and they were reddish brown at the ends, the way his hair always looked at the end of summer. But he was somehow even more attractive now.

All grown up. And up. And good God, those dusty jeans, worn paper thin, practically plastered against his long, muscular legs. Gorgeous or not, Luke Gallagher was off limits. Every single one had been a gift from her. An unexpected warmth blossomed within her chest, and she shoved the shoebox back into the drawer before the warmth had a chance to grow. Off limits. One feeble bar flickered to life and then faded out.

Gram shook the biscuits into a wicker basket and covered them with a clean dish towel. May I use your phone? She already knew the answer. I need you to call me at this number right away. Four places. June opened the maple cabinet and pulled out four sets of dishes and salad bowls and began placing them atop the red and white checkered tablecloth. Her voice rose an octave.

With you? The sounds of bubbling beans and sizzling chicken filled the small kitchen. Then she turned around and pulled off her apron. But he stayed here awhile to get back on his feet. Gram lifted her wooden spoon from the pot and pointed it at June, and her thigh muscles clenched in response.

Or twenty. Ask him yourself. No reason to get worked up. Still, she heard the echo of her inner voice calling off limits, off limits. Distraction on the job was more dangerous than dry rot, and somehow he had to get her out of his head. He leaned back to tuck in his shirt and then joined Trey at the front door. With a smile already in place, he knocked twice and let himself in, but he stopped short on the other side, smile frozen on his face.

Grammy told me about you. What was she still doing here, and more importantly, why was God punishing him? I was beginning to wonder if you were real. His words probably hit too close to home. Trey leaned down and talked to the furball. She bent over and set the thing on the floor, and it pattered away, stepping forward with two front legs and then hopping along with a single hind leg. She cuddled it against her chest and smoothed her cheek over its head. I paid for his amputation and adopted him. I think that makes him lucky.

June set the cat down and they all headed to the kitchen. The air was hot and thick with steam and the walloping scents of fine, fine country cooking. She shook her head and tugged a lock of his hair. Now the roles were reversed. June was the outsider and Pru favored him. Half a grin curved his lips before he could stop it. Luke hurried and did the same for Pru, and they all held hands for grace. What the hell was up with that? June hesitated and her eyes darted to Pru. Then she set down her fork, took a slow drink of iced tea, and sat ramrod straight. She looked at Pru, not him, when she finally answered.

On Sixth Street. Lifting a buttered biscuit to her lips, June continued staring down her grandma, waiting for a reaction like a game of emotional chicken. Totally upscale, romantic, sexy. It took a long time to save enough money for my own place. It was as close as June would get if she wanted approval.

Luke knew his buddy would rather roll naked in a bed of pine cones than spend an hour in a stuffy bar like that. Luke shrugged, pretending like nothing had happened, and lifted his glass to June. But the bad news is pretty bad. Sweet Jesus, a month? It took a solid minute before he could concentrate again. He had it all planned out!

It kills me not to be there. I promise. Yep, exactly. She smoothed her tight black skirt, adjusted her silky blouse, and sat down, flashing an apologetic grin. God love her, Pru asked what they were probably all thinking. But enough about my problems. Then she glanced down and used her fork 32 Macy Beckett to make swirls in her mashed potatoes. Trey had nothing to feel guilty about.

Hell, if anything, Luke was to blame for what happened. Just that Miss Pru had a granddaughter. Then she gave him that look, wrinkling up her forehead and widening those big, brown eyes. Aw, shit. Why did women try so hard to take offense to every little thing? The incestuous implication made him shiver.

Faith Lehane

Then he came to live with Grammy and me when he was twelve. I assume he told you why. Is that close enough to the truth for you, Junebug? But Luke never told Trey about his little sister. Like he was inferior, not worth keeping. You three take it on the porch while I make a call. A cool night breeze rustled his hair and tickled the back of his neck. The air was sweet with honeysuckle, which brought back memories of other summer nights when he and June used to eat watermelon out here and spit seeds onto the front lawn. His always went farther, and one year a melon plant took root beneath the big pecan tree.

June curled up on the porch swing and tucked her feet underneath her. The moonlight glowed from behind, illuminating the curls of her hair, but leaving her face concealed in shadows. She looked like a dark angel, all soft curves and sensuality. I can work at the church or with some charity that fixes old homes. No thanks. What had he done to deserve this?

No scorpions or rabid raccoons in church. June bit the inside of her cheek and stared into the darkness. Then he grabbed one for himself and joined her on the swing without offering Luke a slice. Was she batting her lashes at Trey, or did she have something in her eye? It was pretty good. Luke fished his keys out of his pocket and skipped down the front porch steps toward the truck. Once he and Trey were on the road headed back to town, his buddy switched off the radio. Just forget about June. You two have a history. What happened? Some things a man just kept private.

They deliver the shingles? June squinted at the digital clock on the cracked gray dashboard. Another scorcher. June glanced out her window at a parched irrigation ditch running alongside an even more parched, withered cornfield. Esteban had phoned that morning, and aside from an argument with the building inspector, things were going more smoothly than either of them expected. Sultry with a Twist 39 A dull thunk sounded from the engine, and June eased up on the accelerator. Time to keep it below fifty. She read the directions Gram had written for her. Only one more mile until the Jenkins house.

June held her breath and tried to calm the nervous flutter inside her belly. What did she know about fixing things? She also hoped Luke had exaggerated about the critters. An old, white colonial came into view, its roof half stripped of shingles and baring the faded plywood underneath. A shirtless man straddled the roof peak, pulling off tar sheets and tossing them behind the house.

As June drove closer, she realized it was Trey. Taking a deep breath, June pulled Bruiser onto a shaded dirt path around the side. Folding her community service time sheet, she pressed it between her lips while stepping out of the car. Flashing a wide, brilliant smile, he strolled forward and pulled her into a crushing hug, the sour, smoky tang of marijuana practically emanating from his pores.

He eyed her up and down like she was a warm slice of cherry pie, or in his case, like she was an oversized bong with boobs. She tugged off her hat and rubbed her throbbing scalp. She could handle the sight of all bodily fluids, with the Sultry with a Twist 41 exception of blood. Or vomit. He busted his nose again. Then a vehicle started and drove away, flinging gravel in its wake.

From somewhere behind the house, the shrill buzz of a saw pierced the air, and she realized the drama was over. Everyone had already gone back to work. From there, her gaze lowered to the hard curves of his bare chest and those broad shoulders. Sweet mother of Stevie Ray. Off limits! In your first five minutes, you managed to send one of my men to the hospital.

Trey runs it for me. I founded it. And twice as ugly. Luke shook his head and pulled his cap back on. You break down, it might take half a day before someone else drives along and finds you.

Sultry Days of Blood and Angels

You already met Karl. At the pond? Not at all. The heat spread to other places too. Probably just her imagination. You hear me? Most of these guys need the experience. There were so many ways to do it. Her favorite option involved the use of a discarded toilet seat protruding from the temporary Dumpster out back.

June picked up another cracked shingle and tossed it in her black trash bag. And painful. She winced and massaged her lower back, stiff from hours of bending. Wanna try? Give me a hand with the ladder, will you? He looked like a stoned, bowlegged cowboy taking ten paces before a showdown at high noon. Between the two of them, they extended the heavy aluminum ladder 46 Macy Beckett and pushed it into position against the chipped siding near the roof.

When June reached the roof, she peeked at the ground, her hands automatically tightening against the top rung. Best not to look down. She focused on watching Trey nail a sheet of new, jet black shingles in place. A battered cowboy hat shaded his face, but his bare back glistened with sweat and had started to turn pink near the shoulders. Trey glanced up and smiled, then hammered one last nail in place before joining her.

It was kind of nice for a change. Trey glanced at the gutter and reached out to curl his fingers around it. Maybe at your place? He chewed his bottom lip and concentrated on pulling clumps of dark debris from the gutter. Did she have tar on her face? Food between her teeth? Trey leaned down to dislodge an old mud dobber nest inside the gutter, and then a loud metallic noise clanked from below and shook the ladder. It separated from the siding with a dry crack.

Trey toppled forward, panic flashing in his eyes as he lurched sideways, trying to steady himself. She reached out to grab his arm, but the sweaty flesh slipped from her fingers, and he went down, feet first. But she recalled running outside and identifying the only person she knew besides Karl. When the ambulance finally arrived, the paramedics let her ride in the back with Trey, and she held his hand the whole ride, apologizing over and over. She waved from her seat in the waiting area to get his attention.

The front of his shirt was slick with sweat, the hollow of his throat pulsing visibly beneath tanned skin. June handed him her Coke. But what happened? June soon understood why. He looked like death warmed over, cooled back down, and then steamrollered. Just a couple cracked ribs and a broken femur. We were both holding on to the gutter when it broke, and I lost my balance. How am I supposed to get my house on the market in time?

I can still supervise the crew from a chair. Come on. Suddenly, she ached for home so badly she almost doubled over, but not wanting to upset Luke any further, she nodded and followed him to his truck. Instead, June rested her forehead against the window and stared outside, seeing nothing but a green and brown blur of landscape. Sultry with a Twist 51 When they reached the Jenkins house, Luke waited to be sure her car started.

Then he stalked away into the back yard. A minute later, she saw him on the roof hammering shingles. June bit her lip and rested her forehead on the steering wheel. Hot tears pressed against her eyelids, but she forced them back. He heard the toilet flush in the hallway bathroom and figured June was up too. The reason behind the dream was obvious. A heavy fog had settled inside his chest ever since. He pulled on his jeans and followed the scent of Sultry with a Twist 53 coffee into the kitchen.

Pru was already working on breakfast, dressed in one of those flowery grandma ensembles. She pressed a steaming mug into his hand. Eyes all puffy. Hard, but soft at the same time. Maybe even sad. In his bare feet, Luke strolled through the cool, damp grass to the garden on the side of the house. Clouds drifted across the sun, and the crisp morning air puckered the skin on his chest into gooseflesh. Then he saw her, and all the oxygen in his lungs vanished. In her long, white nightgown, June looked mystical, like one of those faeries his mama had told him about.

When he approached and cleared his throat, she sucked in a startled breath and dropped everything. She frowned at the scattered peppers. That same Luke is sorry. He knew he should look away, but hell, he was only a man, and she was even more spectacular than he remembered. Sweet Jesus.


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She gasped, digging her fingernails into the skin on his shoulders. Christ, she smelled delicious, like oranges and cloves, and he could feel her heartbeat through her gown. The soft curves of her breasts, her hot breath panting against his chest, her silky hair tickling his jaw, all the dizzying sensations scrambled his brain into oatmeal. He lowered his lips to her ear and tried to form a coherent sentence.

He cleared his throat and gently pushed her away. God help him, he was hard enough to crack granite. Esteban had done that too. Nothing got between Luke Gallagher and a hearty meal. Luke lifted his hips and scooted forward, and June felt a rush of heat pool between her thighs, remembering how those hips had pressed against her in the garden. Maybe working at church away from him was a good idea after all.

Luke appeared holding something black and greasy. How am I supposed to get around? He drained the whole glass and wiped his mouth on the back of his arm. I need to get a few parts before you can drive that heap again. He reached for the biscuit and his fingertips brushed the inside of her wrist, sending a thrill up the length of her arm. But I wound up working on helicopters when they sent me overseas. It was easy: panic with a dash of stress. This might be my last chance to get it back. If she tipped her head a teeny bit, she could rest against his shoulder.

Instead, she leaned forward and wrapped her arms around her knees. He fidgeted with his own hands, pressing a thumb inside the opposite palm. But he died before the paperwork went through, and everything passed to Mama. Something closer to Sultry with a Twist 59 the pond so I can sit on the front porch with my coffee and look at the water. It had taken nine months and three price reductions before her condo sold.

And fast. So anyway, all I gotta do is finish it up, list it, and let the bidding begin.

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Now, can I ask you something? June had never felt entitled to a free education. Not fear of Grammy, but of the disappointment and loathing in her voice. And each year that went by, it got harder to call. She glanced away and swallowed hard. Luke intended to spend his days laboring there before driving an hour and working all night on his investment property? Chapter 6 About fifteen years ago, an argument over whether or not Jazzercise counted as sinful dancing broke out among the Sultry Springs churchgoers, and a few disgruntled members marched their legwarmers over to a new house of worship: Holy Baptism by Water.

The rift had rocked the county, pitting brother against brother, much like the Civil War but far more serious. The Sultry Springs Holy War raged on for six months until the Jazzercise instructor ran off to Vegas with her boyfriend. Then, with their heads hung in defeat, the defectors returned home and rejoined the flock. Nowadays, if a person wanted his soul saved, there was only one option: Holy Baptism by Hellfire. June brushed her fingertips against the shiny oak pew, polished to a high gloss by hundreds of bottoms and decades of use.

Otherwise, nothing had changed. The air inside the church still smelled like dusty silk flowers and arthritis ointment. Apparently, June was a celebrity now. Bicknocker straightened her spine and peered down her long nose. Now she looked just as constipated as everyone else. Bicknocker shook her head disapprovingly. Tough crowd. June decided this was the perfect moment to excuse herself.

And come inside if you get too hot. That glass of iced tea sounded awfully good, but she had too much pride to take a break before actually doing anything. After filling the gas tank, June primed the motor and yanked the start cord a few times, until the engine turned over and rumbled to life. She started near the building and worked her way out, mowing in meticulous, straight lines. An hour later, she stood back and admired her work and then rewarded herself with two tall glasses of tea.

It was dull, monotonous work, so she let her mind wander, imagining opening night at Luquos. But while June tried to decide which outfit to wear, her thoughts drifted to Luke. What was he doing right now? Did he think about her? That person had always been her. But perhaps that was a blessing. She rubbed the side of her sneaker against her leg, but the prickle intensified until it felt like her skin was on fire. A stinging, swarming cloud of yellow and black covered her calves and ankles. They crawled in frantic zigzag patterns higher up the length of her body while some took flight and prepared to attack her face.

She had to get them off, and fast. She was still yelling when she threw open the door and dashed inside. Get the hose. Within seconds, the air was practically impossible to breathe as Gram fogged the fellowship hall with thick, acrid insecticide. Coughing hard enough to hack up a Sultry with a Twist 67 lung, June bent over and braced her hands against her knees. Even Ms. Bicknocker joined in, flicking a dishtowel with the skill of a seasoned locker room jock. Call Doc Noble. Bicknocker said over the top of her bifocals. It really hurts. If anything, it mounted with each passing second.

June grasped the cool edge of her plastic chair and held her breath. She agreed, unable to think of a single excuse not to, and asked for indoor community service hours until her legs healed. Back home, Grammy made June lie in bed with three pillows under her knees. Like a child at bedtime, she grinned in anticipation of the rare morsel to come. She was eat up with welts.

Nobody messed with his little girl, not even Mother Nature. Ever the stoic, Grammy made a noncommittal grunt and tucked the ribbon back into her pocket. She smoothed an imaginary stray hair back into her bun and changed the subject. Gram smiled once again, sending creases and deep folds in motion over the tops of her cheekbones. Was that you? He never needed one from me. Told him to come back home anytime he pleased. June cleared her throat.

What could I do? She probably knew June had fantasized for years about marrying Luke and raising their children together on this farm. For Gram to attend his wedding to someone else seemed like an act of betrayal. You had a boyfriend? Finally, she lowered her head just a fraction Sultry with a Twist 71 and gave June a solemn look. Think on that. June stared into the empty hall.

Teach him to love? Luke knew how to love other women, just not her. But now, as he crossed the threshold into Sultry County Memorial Hospital, he held his breath once again.

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Luke hated hospitals. Nothing good happened within these walls. Hell, at that very moment, a dozen people were probably dying all around him. But true, all the same. As he approached the elevators, he slowed his pace, Sultry with a Twist 73 allowing a group of visitors to file inside and head off to their destinations. Hundreds of people pushed that switch every hour, and he knew it was crawling with flu viruses, or worse. When Luke stepped onto the fourth floor, he immediately flinched back.

The odor of bleach and vomit slammed his nostrils with the force of a freight train. After one quick knock that sounded more like a body slam, he tugged open the door and bolted inside. She glanced down and picked a bit of lint off her 74 Macy Beckett designer blouse, then smoothed a set of nonexistent wrinkles from her tan slacks. Luke stood from his seat. For the love of God, it had been five years. How much Sultry with a Twist 75 longer was the sanctimonious fucker going to punish his only son? Trey exhaled, puffing out his cheeks. Though his left eye was barely visible beneath its swollen lid, the expression behind it seemed clearer than yesterday.

Alert and teasing, just like the old Trey. Broken bones were painful, but nothing made a man feel lower than losing the ability to take care of his own personal needs. Bet your nurse loves to get you reeeal clean.


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  • Nothing but junk. Those carnations over there match the wine stains on my sofa. It better not involve bedpans. You practically tore her a new one the other day. Did I strike a nerve? I can tell something happened. You never tell me anything. I think you grew a vadge, my friend. Then eat me. Or you want some of that shit with wings?

    Very funny. A pretty, young redhead balanced a plastic tray in one hand, gripped a cup of juice in the other, and pushed the door Sultry with a Twist 79 aside with her hip. Waving a quick goodbye, the redhead left and pulled the door shut behind her. So back off, man. Maybe even a slice of pecan pie. Take a rest. You look like shit, no offense. Get some sleep. Cleanliness is nexta godliness. With one hand on the doorjamb, he leaned his head and shoulders inside and found her resting in bed, reading a Better Homes and Gardens magazine.

    For free. Leave them in a pile outside the bathroom. You gonna try to sneak a look? While in the shower, his mind conjured naughty images of June. He needed to finish this repair and get the hell out of here before he died of chronic blue balls. How did they manage to survive? Nobody ever told you this? Did other women smell this good? Had he simply failed to notice all these years? This could save your engine. He shoved the dipstick back into place and wiped his greasy fingers on the rag.

    He crawled forward with a grin tugging his lips. Probably not a good idea to say plenty of cushion on that big, gorgeous ass. Scenes from the shower Sultry with a Twist 85 flashed in his mind, tying his stomach in knots, but those sexy mental pictures died awfully quick as her imaginary, silken skin was replaced by oozing, scarlet blotches. Happens to people all the time. Only June could find trouble in a churchyard. She snatched a fallen pecan from the ground and hurtled it at his boot.

    This explains the Amish dress. He halted his hand. Not really. Gotta finish tearing out the old cabinets before they deliver the new ones. His shoulders tensed, and a heavy weight settled around his ribs. The new doors would arrive soon, right along with the cabinets, which meant pulling off the old Sultry with a Twist 87 doors, unscrewing all the hinges, filling the holes, and prepping them for new hardware.

    June helped him clean up, tossing a screwdriver into his toolbox. And your time. Replacing the fan and all those belts had lifted an invisible burden from his back. Come lie down. June was a terrible liar. And quit fretting. When a yawn threatened to 88 Macy Beckett stretch his lungs, he stifled it, knowing June was still watching him. Pulling out onto the main road, he switched on the radio, smiling when the perfect song filled the cab.

    The early morning light streamed in from the side office window and lit up what remained of his bushy, mad scientist hair. And the feel of the cool, dewy grass beneath her bare feet first thing in the morning when she gathered fresh tomatoes. The judge leaned over his desk and glanced at her time sheet. He gave a slow, cautious nod. They spent their evenings rocking on the front porch, sometimes shelling beans or pecans, and sometimes just eating melon and listening to the wind chimes. Even Lucky had warmed up to Gram. You mind if I apply?

    That oughta bring enough tips to tide you over.


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    But June had a plan. She intended to storm the Jenkins place, deliver her presentation, and if necessary, refuse to leave until Luke agreed. June knew she could lighten the load on his shoulders. She just needed to make the stubborn fool see it. I forgot about that. You can help him.

    Maybe then he could catch a few winks in the shade when his crew left for the local diner. He tossed the empty soda can into the recycling bin and winced in pain. Damn it, his shoulder hurt like the devil. He wedged a crowbar between two wood planks and levered it back with a grunt, which sent invisible flames lapping at his muscles. Even that jackass Karl stayed on task and kept his head down. Maybe he should hurt himself more often. Luke used his good arm to lift his shirt and wipe the sweat from his eyes.

    The sun beat down like a sledgehammer against the back of his neck, and he wondered when this damn heat would let up. Then all of a sudden the crack and creak of boards being pried off the deck was replaced by cat calls and wolf whistles. When Luke turned, he saw what had brought his workers Sultry with a Twist 93 to a dead halt. It was June, and she looked better than a chocolate ice cream cone in hell.

    A double scoop. He told the men to get back to work and led June through the side door into the house. She was up to something. It was full of paint colors, pictures of model homes and flower beds, and information on girly stuff like furniture and interior design. And lawn care and landscaping? Now his neck was feeling stiff. Just pulled it last night. Luke laughed dryly and gave her a teasing grin before she disappeared behind him. She moved a little too slowly, sweeping her fingertips over his ribs, and his pulse quickened a beat or two.

    Or fifty. Her palm skimmed lightly across the skin on his shoulder. Actually, he could. But this was a close second. Though still tender, the pain in his shoulder nearly evaporated. First guy I ever lived with. He taught me all his tricks. Tsk, tsk. Or warming her bed at night. She laughed and leaned down to use her elbow for more pressure.

    Yes, it was really bad. Big mistake. There never had been. How would Pru have reacted to learn his marriage was over in four weeks? Bigger mistake. Almost overnight, Ada had changed. Those magical fingers curled over his shoulders to massage the top of his chest in small circles. He wanted her to keep going lower, to feel her firm touch all over. And when she did go lower, ghosting her palms over his nipples, he sucked in a sharp breath.

    Then she leaned down until he felt the soft cushion of her breasts against his shoulders, and she pressed her lips to his ear. His blood turned hot and rushed right between his legs. As she stepped slowly around to face him, she let her fingernails trail along the side of his neck and down the front of his chest. When Luke opened his eyes, she was bent over gazing right into his face. Would the guys outside see if he laid her on the table and pushed up her skirt?

    Would she let him? Chapter 9 June never understood why so many people hated hospitals. She adored the gleaming black and white floor tiles that squeaked beneath her sneakers. And the biting, yet oddly pleasant scent of lemon ammonia and disinfectant. She pulled in a long breath through her nose and savored it. More than anything, though, June equated hospitals with tender, loving care.

    Someplace you could arrive broken and return home whole. When June was nine and Luke had accidentally knocked her out of the tall pecan tree, Grammy had rushed her to this very emergency room. A sturdy white brace had replaced all the bandages that bound his chest, and the swelling above his left eye had smoothed out and turned the color of a ripe eggplant.

    She was a hosebeast. Partly, anyway. He glared at his lap and brushed cookie crumbs onto the floor. I swear to God, June, being a soldier was like a calling to him or something. He shook his head. And how was Trey involved? June was more determined than ever to help Luke finish his investment property. Vacant window boxes contrasted against the clean, white stucco and begged to be filled with colorful pansies. The exposed dark wood beams gave the structure an historic European feel. Gently rolling green hills filled the landscape as far as she could see.

    She thought she heard the babble of a creek nearby. No wonder he already had several families interested. The last owner had five dogs, seven cats, and somehow a rodent problem. Like, past tense? Of course I got rid of the vermin. Instead of wayward animals, the home smelled like fresh pine dust and plaster. Luke had removed a few walls to open the floor plan, and he was halfway through renovating the kitchen. In the upcoming weeks, they would need to refinish the wood floors, lay new carpet, paint the bedrooms, tile the bathrooms, and landscape the yard. A tall order, but doable if they worked hard.

    Finally, they stopped in the master bedroom, the cleanest space in the house. June pictured Luke snoring there, sleeping on his stomach with his mouth partly open and one arm reaching out to the side like the bronze man atop the Heisman trophy. Afterward, she vacuumed and mopped the wood floors underneath, and wiped down the walls to prep them for painting. When she met Luke in the kitchen, her face felt flushed and swollen, and a plump bead of sweat tickled its way down her back. The abrupt chill swept the sides of her neck and gave her goose bumps. His other hand lingered at her waist a moment while he enjoyed the cool air, and June wondered what he would do if she leaned her head back against his chest.

    Just as she began to cover his hand with her own, he moved away. Then, tugging off his cap, he dipped his head under the faucet and sighed loudly, using one hand to splash water onto the back of his neck. When he finished, Luke shook his head like a wet dog and rejoined her. No, strike that. It was a whole wish, not half. Sweet mercy, she needed to get her mind out of the gutter.

    June glanced down at her plate and something caught her eye. For those of us who never quite grasped the tragic depth of Hurricane Katrinas inundation of New Orleans, Tess Nottebohms new novel, Sultry Days of Blood and Angels, is a prose poem reminding us how fragile, beautiful, tragic, erotic and utterly sui generis was and is the Crescent City. Sultry Days is confected from the bitter-sweet urban archeology of a place that for three-hundred years has lived a few frightening meters of water away from extinction and lived, therefore, that much closer to the edge.

    It is that rich boundary teeming with life, sex, voodoo and death and the inescapable tie to Creole customs and cuisine that is an irreducible part of the richness of 19th Century New Orleans so convincingly captured and elegantly served up in Tess Nottebohms Sultry Days of Blood and Angels. The threadbare pages of an old man's antique journal burst with a Pandora's Box of deep-bayou intriguespurring a modern young adventuress to seek her own destiny through the journal's account of three wildly compelling female characters.

    Author Tess Nottebohm brings to vibrant life the mansions and back roads of old New Orleans with exhilaration and gutsy sensuality. Each bodice-ripping, mind-bending escapade is injected with a raw, unconventional twist on relationships, self-awareness, and the elusive nature of time itself. Nottebohm's satisfied readers will end up scouring flea markets everywhere for lace cravats, muslin bloomers, and dusty Cajun talismans!

    Under its powerful seduction, and through a chance encounter with a book merchant, she follows clues that lead her to an abandoned cabin in the bayou, where she finds the journal of a fabled recluse, Wellsworth Worthington.