Crazy Like a Fox

Crazy Like a Fox

Anne Stuart

November 2018 $14.95
ISBN: 978-1-61194-891-2

Is she falling for a dangerous man?

Our PriceUS$14.95
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Left broke and all but homeless by her shiftless husband, widow Margaret Jaffrey turns to his family in hope of a better life for her daughter . . . until she realizes the decaying family mansion in Louisiana comes complete with a domineering matriarch, a drunken uncle, and a madman locked in the attic.

The madman in question is Peter Delacroix, and he doesn't seem that crazy. In fact, Margaret is starting to find him irresistible. But if Peter isn't really unstable, then why did he confess to a murder he didn't commit? And which one of her new-found in-laws hides a lethal streak?

Most of all, how will she keep her daughter safe when she's falling in love with a very dangerous man?

Anne Stuart recently celebrated over forty years as a published author. She has won every major award in the romance field and appeared on the bestseller list of the NYTimes, Publisher’s Weekly, and USA Today, as well as being featured in Vogue, People Magazine, and Entertainment Tonight. Anne lives by a lake in the hills of Northern Vermont with her fabulous husband.


Coming Soon!



MARGARET O’ROURKE Jaffrey let the aging Ford Escort roll to a stop outside the big brick building, half her mind occupied with the cough­ing noise the overworked engine was making, the other half watch­ing her nine-year-old daughter with an uneasy mixture of pride and concern.

"Is this the place, Ma?” Carrie asked brightly.

Margaret bit her lip, turning off the engine and pulling the key. If she’d still had insurance she would have been tempted to leave the key in the hope that some poor fool would steal the car and relieve her of this automotive misery, but every possession they owned in the world now lay neatly packed in the back seat, the trunk and every nook and cranny of the tiny car. If someone stole it they would steal their life. "Doesn’t look too cheerful, does it?” she said with her own forced cheer. "I didn’t know they built things out of brick in Arizona.”

"It’s a church, isn’t it? I think they build churches to last,” Carrie said, rolling down the window and reaching for the outside door handle.The inside one had broken the week before and there’d been no money to fix it. Margaret had kicked it in her sleep while struggling for a comfortable position. But there was no way a five-foot-nine body could fit in a space that had to be five-foot maximum, particularly when an inefficient gear stick stuck up between the bucket seats.

"It’s a church. We don’t have to do this, you know. We could probably splurge on a feast at McDonald’s,”Margaret said, her voice light. "It’s going to be a warm night, though. I think we should sleep in the car again and save the money for a motel until it’s colder.” If they still had it, she thought miserably. She had one hundred and fifty-three dollars and twelve cents in her old leather purse, and no foreseeable income. All she had left was her pride.

"Come on, Ma. Why spend ten dollars on grease and cholesterol when we can get a free meal? Where’s your spirit of adventure?” Carrie was nine going on twenty-nine, and had been on a health food kick recently.

"God knows,” said Margaret, sliding out from behind the steering wheel that had dug into her backbone far too many nights."Lock your door.”

The sun still set early in February, and the murky dusk and cool air of the Arizona night gave way to light and noise. The basement of the Northside Congregational Church was filled with shabby people, all lining up against the far wall, away from the row of cots with their neatly folded blankets. The room smelled of cooked meat and boiled cabbage and unwashed bodies.

"Hey, Ma,” Carrie said, surveying the depressing row of beds. "We can sleep here if we want to. I’m tired of sleeping in the car.”

It took all of Margaret’s immense self-control for her not to shudder at the thought. "Darling,” she said gently, "this place is for the homeless.” She looked around her at the pinched, hollow-eyed faces, the shuffling bag ladies. "These poor, poor people.”

"Ma,” Carrie said with the great patience of the young when deal­ing with their elders, "we are homeless.”

"But...” Words failed her. To her utter shame she realized her nine-year-old daughter had faced reality long before she had. They were no different, no safer than the drab crowd shuffling through the basement of the old brick church. All Margaret had left was her pride, and her daughter had been paying the price for it.

"Come on.” She took Carrie’s hand and led her out of the crowded, noisy room, back into the Arizona night.

"Where are we going?”

"We’re going to find a motel room,”Margaret said, blinking back unshed tears. "And a telephone and a decent dinner.”

"What’s the telephone for?”

Margaret sighed, and as she did so, a huge weight slid off her nar­row shoulders. "To call your great-grandmother. We’re going home.”


Chapter One

"YOU’RE NOT WHAT I expected.” Gertrude Delacroix stared up into Margaret’s carefully blank expression. She was a very tiny, very old woman, with deep-set brown eyes that were both faded and piercing, a face so lined and wrinkled it resembled a crumpled tissue, and a com­plex upsweep of silvery hair atop her well-shaped head. At four-feet- eight she was no taller than Carrie, but every inch vibrated with autocratic control.

"You aren’t what I expected either,”Margaret said, clinging to Carrie’s hand as they stood inside the doorway to Gertrude’s drawing room.

Gertrude sniffed and moved closer, the silver-handled cane in one birdlike hand seemingly more for show than support. "You look sensible. Not the sort I’d expect my grandson Dexter to marry. Despite that red hair and those gypsy green eyes, you look like you have a head on your shoulders. Why didn’t you call sooner?”

"Pride,” Margaret said, keeping her shoulders back.

"Pride,” Gertrude echoed. "I understand pride. Not, however, at the cost of my children. This is your daughter?”

"Yes. Carrie O’Rourke Jaffrey. She’s nine.”

"I know how old my only great-grandchild is,”Gertrude snapped. "Where’s the ‘Delacroix’?”

"I beg your pardon?”Margaret was both mystified and intimi­dated by this miniature tyrant.

"The ‘Delacroix’! The family name. Every child descended from the Delacroix bears the name. We accept Jaffrey because they are cousins—my daughter made a good match when she married Dexter’s father. But Delacroix is a powerful name in Louisiana, and all of us keep it. Where do you think you are?”

"Delacroix Landing, Louisiana,”Margaret said dutifully, still not quite believing it.

"And the name of the house?”

"Maison Delacroix,”Margaret said.

"And you’re telling me my only great-grandchild has no ‘Delacroix’ in her name?”

"Dexter never mentioned it.”

"Dexter!” Gertrude snorted dismissively at the mention of Margaret’s late husband. She looked directly into Carrie’s eyes, eyes very much like hers, and the semblance of a smile cracked her face. "Never mind. We can always have her name changed. Your cousin Wendell is a lawyer.”

"But...,”Margaret began, but Gertrude had already sailed past.

"You’ll like it here, the both of you. We’re no longer the family we once were, but we can afford to take care of our own.” Gertrude sank into a rose velvet chair that was probably older than she was. "Mind you, we all have to contribute. No free rides. Mrs. McKinley is our only hired help, and the Maison requires a great deal of upkeep. We’ll give you a day or two to get settled before you start your duties.”

"I thought I might get a job,”Margaret said with a trace of des­peration.

"You didn’t have much luck out West, did you?” Gertrude com­mented shrewdly. "And as far as I know you’ve never held a job—you married Dexter right out of college. What are you qualified to do? Didn’t Dexter support you properly?”

Margaret wasn’t about to tell Gertrude just how little the feckless Dexter had provided. "I was planning to teach.”

"A nice, ladylike profession.”Gertrude nodded her approval. "What grade level?”

"College. Reproductive biology was my field,”Margaret said with a hint of defiance, waiting for Gertrude’s reaction.

The old lady only sniffed once more. "Clearly you never became an expert. We Delacroix believe in large families. What happened in the past nine years after Carrie was born?”

"That’s none of your business,”Margaret replied huffily.

"I beg to differ with you. My great-grandchildren are very much my business. But that’s neither here nor there now, since Dexter was stupid enough to die young. You’ll have to settle for the one child.”

"Unless I remarry,”Margaret reminded her, just to be difficult. She had no intention of remarrying, no intention of ever putting herself at the mercy of another man.

"We’ll see about that,”Gertrude said. "In the meantime, repro­ductive biology is out of the question. Unacceptable for a Delacroix.”

"I’m not a Delacroix.”

"Indeed, you are. When you married my grandson, then came to Delacroix Landing as his widow, you most certainly became a Delacroix, and we have standards to uphold. What else can you do?”

Margaret had had enough of this. She’d been told often that red hair signified temper, and by the age of thirty-two she’d come to believe it. "Anything I set my mind to,” she said between her teeth.

Gertrude looked at her assessingly for a long moment, then let out a raspy laugh. "I believe you can. You should have come sooner, Margaret O’Rourke Delacroix Jaffrey. My grandson needed you.”

Margaret blinked, confused. "Dexter is dead, Mrs. Delacroix. And I don’t think he ever needed me in his life.”

"Pooh.” Gertrude made a little dismissing motion with her hand. "Call me grandmère. Or ‘Gertrude,’ if you prefer. And I wasn’t referring to Dexter. I have other grandsons.”

Margaret opened her mouth to ask what she’d meant, then shut it again. There were certain things, she decided, that she’d rather not know.

Gertrude went on, oblivious to Margaret’s mixed emotions. "None of the others are here right now, but you’ll meet most of them at dinner. I’ll have Mrs. McKinley show you to your rooms. I’m feeling fatigued.”

The old woman positively bristled with energy, but Margaret simply nodded. "The others?”

"You’re not the only relative seeking shelter at the Maison,” Gertrude said. "We’re a small but varied group. My son Remy lives here, and my widowed daughter Eustacia. Her two children, Lisette and Wendell, are also here right now, though Lisette never stays still long since her second divorce and Wendell is thinking of buying a cottage down by the river. And then there’s Peter.”


"Just another grandson,”Gertrude said shortly. "If Dexter had consented to a decent wedding or ever thought to bring his family back for a visit, you’d know these people.”

"Dexter hated Louisiana.”

"What about you, my dear? You’re a Northerner. What do you think of Louisiana?”

"I haven’t been here long enough to form an opinion,” Margaret answered politely. Inside a little voice screamed, I want to get out!

"It’ll grow on you,”Gertrude said smugly.

"Like Spanish moss.”

"Indeed. But Spanish moss grows on the oldest, biggest, strongest trees. Remember that.”

"Yes, ma’am.”Margaret could feel Carrie leaning against her, still clasping her hand. "I think we might like a little rest before dinner, too. We’ve had a long drive.”

"You’re lucky your car made it this far. I’ll have Wendell arrange for it to be towed away.”


"Dear Margaret, it should be clear that your little car has breathed its last. It’s fit for nothing but the junkyard.”

"I want a mechanic to look at it,”Margaret insisted stubbornly.

"Certainly. Do you have the money to pay someone to come out here?”

"Not right now.”

"Then you’ll have to wait, won’t you? Mechanics don’t work on promises in Delacroix Landing. And I don’t want such a monstrosity sitting in the driveway. Maison Delacroix is famous for its long curving drive.”

"Its long, curving drive is choked with weeds,” Margaret pointed out.

Gertrude smiled, but not reassuringly. "So it is. Maybe you’d like to start work there.”

"I’d like to find a paying job, Gertrude.”

"Why? We can provide everything you need. Don’t worry about your car, child. I have a much better car at your disposal anytime you need it.”

"I need my independence. I need to feel I’m paying my way. I need to have my own transportation.”

"We don’t encourage independent women at Maison Delacroix,” Gertrude announced.

"If your son and two grandsons are still living here, it doesn’t sound as if you encourage independence in your men, either,” Margaret shot back, then bit her lip. She’d thrown herself on Gertrude Delacroix’s mercy. Rudeness wasn’t going to ensure her welcome, and for Carrie’s sake, she needed that welcome, for just a little while, until she could get back on her feet.

To Margaret’s relief and amazement, Gertrude didn’t look af­fronted.

"Independence is something ingrained, Margaret. I doubt if any­thing I did could keep you meek and subservient, and I doubt that anything could make Eustacia or Remy stand up for themselves. As for my grandchildren—there are extenuating circumstances.”

"Such as?”

"You’ll find out soon enough. Don’t ask too many questions, my dear. One thing the South excels in is quiet, fierce women, emphasis on the quiet. It wouldn’t do to stir things up too much. Not at first. You’re like a strong sea breeze. Very bracing, but not comfortable. We’ve settled into comfortable ways around here. Don’t be too quick to condemn.”

"I’m sorry. That was rude of me.”

"Yes, it was. A little rudeness can be refreshing every now and then. I’ll see about a paying job for you. And you can use the Cadillac for transportation.”

Once more Margaret had to swallow her pride, an indigestible meal. She looked down at the little woman who now held her life and that of her child in one arthritic hand and managed a lopsided smile. "You’re very kind.”

Once more Gertrude laughed her rusty laugh. "No, I’m not. Go with Mrs. McKinley, and I’ll see you down here for drinks at six.”

"I’m not sure I like her,” Carrie whispered when they stepped out into the cavernous hallway.

Secretly Margaret agreed with her, but she gave Carrie’s hand an encouraging squeeze. "Don’t worry about it,” she said, sotto voce. "You’re bigger than she is. I’d back you in a wrestling match any day.”

Carrie rewarded her with a giggle. "You told me not to fight.”

Before Margaret could come up with an answer another voice broke through. "Mrs. Delacroix doesn’t hold with fighting,” she said, and Margaret felt her stomach drop. How much had the woman heard? Plastering a serene smile on her face, she turned to look at Mrs. McKinley.

Maison Delacroix, the moldering antebellum mansion that had the sheltered Delacroix family for one hundred and seventy-five years, looked exactly as Margaret had expected—huge, decaying surrounded by live oaks, and Gertrude had lived up to her expectations. Mrs. McKinley did not. Margaret had been expecting someone akin to Mammy in Gone with the Wind. Instead she found someone closer to Gayle King, Oprah’s best friend, a slender, ageless, fiercely intelligent woman.

"We were kidding,”Margaret said, hoping she didn’t sound as intimidated as she felt. The woman merely nodded. "Mrs. Delacroix doesn’t have a sense of humor,” the woman said flatly. "Follow me and I’ll show you to your rooms.” She led the way up the winding central staircase with a firm yet graceful tread, as Carrie and Margaret struggled to keep up with her.

They had reached the spacious second-floor landing and were heading toward the back of the house, when a noise above them drew Margaret’s gaze. A man was descending; a muscular, otherwise non­descript man of middle years, with a tough face. He didn’t glance at the three women as he made his way down the stairs, but just as he passed by, his jacket coat flapped open, exposing a large service revolver tucked into his belt.

"Who’s that?” Carrie asked, fascinated.

Mrs. McKinley didn’t bother to look as she fitted a key in the door at the end of the hallway, then pushed it open. "That’s just Georges, honey,” she said. "One of the hired men. They don’t talk to us.”

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