Saving Savannah

Saving Savannah

Sandra Hill

September 2013 $3.99
ISBN: 978-1-61194-355-9

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A Tante Lulu Novella

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When Tante Lulu decides to matchmake, matches aremade. But this time, her meddling Cajun charm will be put to the test . . .

For five years Savannah Jones thought Special Forces Captain Matthew Carrington died in Afghanistan. For five years he thought she’d rejected him—thanks to his mother’s interception of the letter she wrote to him as he left on his tour of duty. Now she’s struggling to re-build a life for herself and their daughter, Katie, despite the devastation Katrina wrought on New Orleans. Thanks to Tante Lulu and her police-officer great-nephew, Tee-John, Savannah and Matthew are about to be reunited. Willl Tante Lulu’s bayou wisdom and sassy attitude be able to turn their broken relationship into a loving gumbo?

Sandra Hill is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of more than thirty romantic humor novels. Whether they be historicals, contemporaries, time travels, or Christmas novellas, whether they be about Vikings, Cajuns, Navy SEALs or sexy Santas, the common element in all her books is humor. It’s been said that love makes the world go ’round, but in Sandra’s world, love with a dash of laughter, makes it spin.



Coming soon!



Chapter One

A lady’s gotta do what a lady’s gotta do...

"NO, I AM NOT taking you into a sex shop, chère.”

"Why? It ain’t as if I’m not old enough.”


"Whatcha ’fraid of, Tee-John? Us modern ladies gotta keep up with the times. If men kin go ta these places, why cain’t us wimmen?” Louise Rivard, best known as Tante Lulu, put her hands on her hips and glared up at her nephew John LeDeux, a Louisiana police detective.


"It’s not like it’s illegal or nothin’.”


"Besides, it’s called the Garden of Eden. It’s prob’ly a religious sex shop.”

Tee-John rolled his eyes and gave her another head-to-toe survey of disapproval. "Did you have to wear that hooker outfit?” He couldn’t fool her. He was hoping to change the subject.

Not a chance! She smacked him on the arm with her St. Jude fly swatter. Truth to tell, if folks were staring their way, it was at Tee-John, who was once described by a TV reporter as "sex on a stick,” whatever that meant. That George Clooney didn’t have nothing on him. Or Richard Simmons, for that matter. Whoo-ee! That Richard Simmons could park his sneakers under her bed any day.

"Thass the tenth time you said that ’bout my ’pearance, and I doan appreciate yer sass any more’n I did the first time. Remember what I allus say. The gator doesn’t see its own tail.”


"You should check out yer own tail before checkin’ out mine.”

"Never in a million years would I make an observation about yer tail, chère. I’m jist sayin’ that maybe you ought to dress a little more, I don’t know, dignified.”

"Dignified, smignified!” she scoffed.

Because of her petite size, she did most of her shopping in the children’s section of department stores, usually Walmart. "This is from the Hannah Montana collection, and Hannah Montana ain’t no hooker.”

"Hannah Montana has gotten older, and so have you. In fact, she’s just Miley Cyrus now. You shoulda seen her at the video music awards show. Whoo-ee! On the other hand, ninety-two-year-old women should dress their age,” he muttered.

She gave him a dirty look. "I might be so old I coulda made Fred Flintstone’s bed rock, but I ain’t dead yet.”

Today she was wearing her Farrah Fawcett wig, a nod to the prettiest gal there ever was, an angel for real now, bless her heart. A glittery red tank top and tight white pedal pushers, or what they called capris today, were meant to accentuate her assets. But, truth to tell, she’d lost her boobs and butt about nineteen eighty-seven; as a result, she wore falsies, both above and below, to help Mother Nature. Wedgie, open-toed shoes with purple flowers completed her outfit. Her fingernails and toenails were painted Hot-To-Trot Red. To her mind, she looked darned good.

"I’m still not takin’ you into a sex shop.”

"You heard of Desperate Housewives, boy?” She still called him boy, even though he was close to thirty now. Compared to her, Moses was a boy. "How ’bout Desperate Nonagenarians?”

"Nona... what?”

"A person what’s ninety-somethin’. I heard that word on that new cable TV show. Sex After Seventy.”

"You’re makin’ that up. Aren’t you? Never mind! You about froze my brain with that picture. And I’m still not takin’ you into a sex shop.”

"Are you blushin’?” On tippy toes, she peered closer at her nephew, once the baddest boy on the bayou before he married. Still was, truth to tell.

"Of course I’m blushin’. Is that why you wanted me to bring you to Nawleans t’day? Talk about!”

"No. I tol’ you. I wanna go ta the Voodoo Palace. Not that I believe in voodoo, but the shop carries some herbs I ain’t been able ta find anywhere else.” Tante Lulu was a traiteur, or folk healer. Had been all her life, and a good one, if she did say so herself.

"It’s at the end of this block.” Tee-John grabbed her by the upper arm and practically frog-marched her down the street a ways.

"Stop pushin’ me. I was jist kiddin’ ’bout goin’ in the sex shop, fer goodness sake.” Then she noticed something interesting and stopped in her tracks. "Whass that?” That was the great thing about Nawleans. There was always something interesting going on.

Before them was a grungy-looking storefront with the windows blacked out. The sign read St. Christopher’s House of Refuge.

"It’s a homeless shelter or soup kitchen, or something,” he said, attempting to tug her along.

She dug in her feet. St. Jude, patron of hopeless causes, was her favorite saint, but she’d like to know what St. Christopher was up to, as well. "Let’s go in.”

That’s when Tante Lulu got a big shock. She’d lived in Southern Louisiana all her life. She knew the seedy side of the Big Easy. Even though her bayou region wasn’t hit as hard as the city, she’d seen the news coverage of Hurricane Katrina and all its devastation.

What she hadn’t known was that, years later, people were still suffering. Terribly. That just dilled her pickle. Was she really that insulated in her cozy bayou home? Bayou Black was only an hour away from the Crescent City, but apparently worlds away.

For the next hour she and Tee-John walked around the place, both of them shaking their heads with dismay. It was a huge room, like a warehouse, with a mural of New Orleans before the Civil War adorning the walls. She recalled then that this had been an opera house in the 1800s. There was a cafeteria-style meal service to the left where folks were lined up for breakfast, it being barely nine a.m. After filling their trays, they sat down at long folding tables.

At one end were a series of ladies’ and men’s rooms and showers for each of the sexes. Desks had been set up at the far side where social service people were advising folks on what benefits they could get—not much—and job opportunities—very little. Racks of used clothing and blankets occupied another area, along with giant bowls filled with hotel-sized personal products, like toothpaste, soap, and shampoo, probably donated by traveling businessmen.

She’d have to mention this to her niece Charmaine who owned a bunch of beauty salons. Charmaine, a self-proclaimed bimbo who was once Miss Louisiana before she married the hottest cowboy to put his tushie on a horse, probably had lots of this kind of stuff she could donate. Poor people didn’t care if they were using last year’s samples or a no-longer-popular scent like Peanut Butter Brickle.

"No kidding?” she’d asked Charmaine when she’d shown her a new manufacturer’s display case last year highlighting ice cream scented shampoos, conditioners, body washes, and colognes.

"Oh, yeah,” Charmaine had assured her. "Some ladies like to smell like ice cream flavors.”

"I wonder if they attract lots of bees... or ants,” Tante Lulu had wondered. What was wrong with good old Ivory soap anyhow?

Whatever! Ice cream scents were out this year, apparently, and tropical fruits were in. Go figure!

Most of the shelter space was filled with cots, hundreds of them, some of which were separated from their neighbors by hanging sheets. For families, Tante Lulu presumed.

The most pitiful thing was the belongings piled next to cots. Suitcases, boxes, big plastic trash bags filled with all their personal effects.

Tee-John explained that the Katrina floods wiped out certain neighborhoods, including ones with low-income housing. But instead of rebuilding the units, the government chose to sell the land to developers who were constructing more upscale dwellings way beyond the means of the poor people. "That on top of shutting down the HUD trailers,” he added.

She wiped the tears welling in her eyes with her St. Jude handkerchief. It was then that she noticed one element all these people shared: hopelessness.

"The saints must weep over this travesty,” she murmured.

Tee-John was staring at a curly-haired boy, no more than five, playing with two rusty old Matchbox cars. The little mite probably reminded him of his own son, Etienne. Distressed, he snarled at her, "Where’s your famous St. Jude when he’s needed so badly?”

She winced. It was hard sometimes to understand why God allowed certain things to happen.

"Do you wanna leave?” he asked, putting an arm around her shoulders.

She shook her head. "Not yet, but I need ta get some air.”

When they were standing on the back porch, which faced a small parking lot, she straightened with determination. "We gotta do somethin’ ta help.”

"We who?” Tee-John inquired.

Knowing her nephew, Tante Lulu figured he would probably slip the little boy’s mother a fifty-dollar bill. And he would mail a check to the shelter. She would, too.

But that was the easy way.

"Me and St. Jude, thass who, you idjet. St. Jude musta sent me here t’day. He’s usin’ me ta get a job done.”

"Like an angel?” he teased.

"If thass what you wanna call me. All I know is God mus’ wanna use me fer a higher purpose. A LeDeux family mission, I’m thinkin’.”

Tee-John suspected that she’d be calling on him to be one of the "missionaries.”

Living on Not-So-Easy Street...

SAVANNAH JONES was a master of deceit. She’d become so, by necessity, while living in the Big Easy these past few years.

It was just past dawn. On the road outside Butler Park in New Orleans, she was busy polishing her red Subaru, which she’d affectionately nicknamed Betty. It was fifteen years old, but it still ran, as long as she employed that special trick in getting the wonky ignition to start.

Park police usually made their first rounds by seven a.m. She would move her vehicle before then to another location, probably the Walmart parking lot. But, no, she’d used that two days ago, and the security guard was starting to eye her suspiciously. She could push her shopping cart inside only so many hours without buying anything. Maybe the Dunkin’ Donuts. Or the parking lot behind St. Christopher’s. Yes, that was it. The homeless shelter served breakfast on Tuesdays and wasn’t so diligent about patrolling the premises. Plus, the authorities weren’t as persistent about grilling folks at the meal area as they were at the sleeping quarters.

She gave Betty one last pat with her chamois. It was important that no one realize it was her home. Had been for three weeks now. Three weeks and two days. If she could survive for another two weeks, she would have enough money to move. Alaska or bust! That should be far enough away from... Never mind. She didn’t need to start her day on a negative note.

"Did you get the tree sap off, honey?” she asked the little girl who was studiously rubbing the fender beside her. At five, Katie was the sweetest little thing, not at all difficult.

"Yep. An’ some bird poop, too.” She smiled up at her, showing the empty spaces in her mouth where she was missing two front teeth. "I’m hungry, Mommy.”

"I know, sweetie. We’ll have breakfast soon. After we go to the Y. Then I’ll drop you off at kindergarten.”

"I don’t wanna go t’day,” Katie whined.

"You have to, darling. You know that. Mommy has to go to work.”

"Why can’t I come with you?”

Oh, yeah, that would work. Crazy Hal of Crazy Hal’s Strippers and Dippers would just love having her wait tables with a kid tagging along at her side. Hal’s was famous for its boneless hot wings with twelve different dipping sauces, but even more famous for the twenty-four-hour-a-day strippers. It was no environment for a child.

"You just can’t, sweetie. But we’ll do something special tonight. Maybe go to a movie.” It was dollar night, kids free, at the Bijou on Tuesdays. "Okay?”

"Okay. Kin we have popcorn... with butter?”

"Sure thing, short stuff.” She ruffled Katie’s black corkscrew curls, which were unlike her long, straight blond hair but just like Katie’s father’s. Father and daughter also shared the same mischievous dark caramel eyes. Her were a darkish blue. Immediately, Savannah crushed the image. It hurt too much and served no purpose. Matt was gone and never coming back, one of the multitude of soldiers lost in Afghanistan.

Katie yawned widely, setting down her rag.

It broke Savannah’s heart to see her daughter living this way. Heck, it broke her heart to see herself living this way. When she graduated from the University of Georgia eight years ago with high honors in secondary education, she never would have guessed that she would be jobless and homeless one day. In fact, when she’d had Katie five... almost six years ago, she’d been teaching full-time and was living in a nice apartment.

Savannah hated self-pity, but, honestly, she had become the poster girl for Murphy’s Law. Whatever could go wrong, did, in her unfortunate case.

It started with Hurricane Katrina. Her apartment and almost all of her belongings were swept away in the flood. Then the school where she was a teacher closed, and all the children were parceled out to other districts. The school never reopened. Despite her excellent credentials, she was unable to find another permanent teaching job locally.

Until recently, she was able to get by with substitute teaching, but because of government cutbacks, those assignments dried up.

In order to move to Alaska, where she heard employment opportunities abounded, she figured she needed five thousand dollars. Thus far, she had only three thousand. Murphy’s Law again, what with a mugging and a long bout with the flu, not to mention the dentist and pediatrician for Katie. Two steps forward and one step back.

Living in her car ended up being her only option for saving, unless she wanted to risk losing her daughter by going into a homeless shelter. Child Protective Services hovered there, like vultures. Oh, she had to give CPS credit. They did good for lots of neglected or abused kids, but they also thought nothing of taking a child away from her mother. Being homeless and working in a strip joint did not stack in her favor.

By the time she and Katie had completed their early morning swim at the Y, followed by a quick shower and change of clothes, they were both starving. Luckily, the St. Christopher shelter was still serving breakfast.

When they’d gone through the line and were about to sit down, Savannah noticed an old lady staring at her. A really strange old lady. Wearing tight capri pants with a glittery red tank top, a huge blond wig disproportionate to her small stature, and a generous slathering of make-up. Actually, she resembled a dolled-up version of that actress Estelle Getty who used to be on the TV show Golden Girls.

More important, Savannah was pretty sure the same woman had been watching her when she pulled into the parking lot a short time ago. Not a good thing. Hers and Katie’s clothing were stacked to the roof of the back seat, along with clear plastic boxes holding all their belongings, including photo albums she had luckily rescued before the flood. A person wouldn’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure out their situation. Staying under the radar had been Savannah’s code for too long to not be fearful of any attention now.

She led Katie to the back of the room, far from the serving area where the woman continued to stare suspiciously at her. With their backs to the cafeteria, she and Katie sat down and dug in. Scrambled eggs and toast. Pancakes and syrup. Oatmeal and dry cereal. All washed down with milk for Katie and black coffee for her. She would take several packets of crackers and a carton of orange juice with her for later.


Savannah jumped with surprise, almost knocking over her coffee. Katie giggled at her side.

The old lady sank down into a chair across from them. No more than five feet tall, she had to lift her arms to rest her elbows on the table.

"Are you a grandma?” never-bashful Katie blurted out. "I don’t have no grandma.” The little devil pouted her lips with exaggerated woe. Her daughter had been on a grandmother kick for a week, ever since the grandmother of a classmate brought chocolate cupcakes to school. So far no questions about a daddy, thank God.

"No, but I’m an auntie. My real name is Louise Rivard, but you kin call me Tante Lulu. Thass what everyone calls me. Tante means aunt.”

Katie’s eyes went wide. She tried the words out hesitantly. "Tan-te. Lu-lu. You talk funny.”

"Katie!” Savannah admonished.

Katie ignored her and continued talking to the stranger. "Are you Spanish? My teacher, Miss Sanchez, is from Party Rico.”

Tante Lulu laughed. "No, mon petit chou, I’m jist Cajun from down the bayou.”

Savannah had thought she detected that lyrical accent prevalent in Southern Louisiana. Having an English minor in college, she’d once done a paper on the various patois prevalent throughout the South. The Cajun dialect was by far the most fascinating.

But wait. Her persistent daughter had a new idea, and before Savannah could halt her running tongue, the little girl asked with wonder, "You’ll be my aunt, too?”

Whoa, whoa, whoa! Too much, too soon. Not ever.

"Sure. Jist like I am to my nieces and nephews, Luc, Remy, René, Tee-John and Charmaine, and ta all the folks that ain’t blood kin but like family anyways.”

Katie practically beamed.

Savannah bristled.

"And who ’zackly are you, sweetheart?” The wily old witch was addressing her daughter, probably sensing that she would get no response from the mother.

"Katherine Mary Carrington.”

Savannah was going to have a talk with Katie again, the one where she insisted on caution with strangers, even seemingly innocent looking old ladies.

"What a pretty name fer such a pretty little girl!”

Katie preened. "But you kin call me Katie, like my mommy does.”

"Even prettier,” the old lady remarked, then looked pointedly at Savannah.

Realizing that there was no avoiding the woman, she said, "Savannah Jones.”

"I ain’t never heard of anyone named Savannah. It could be worse. I had a third cousin named Galveston. Tee, hee, hee!”

At least she hadn’t commented on her and Katie’s different last names. Although she’d never married Katie’s father, Matt Carrington, she’d given her baby his surname at birth. Big mistake, she’d learned later. Matt’s parents would love to take their only grandchild away from Savannah, and her being homeless would give them all the ammunition they’d need. Thus the need for anonymity and caution.

"I was born in Savannah,” she explained. Not that she had any reason to defend a perfectly good name.

"I dint mean no offense,” the old lady said with genuine regret.

Just then a tall, good-looking guy in khakis, a black T-shirt, and a blazer sat down next to the old lady and smiled at her and Katie. He carried two styrofoam cups of coffee, one of which he placed in front of Tante Lulu.

"This is my nephew John LeDeux. We call him Tee-John.” To Katie, she explained, "That means Little John ’cause when he was a boy, he was the littlest LeDeux.”

The guy grinned and winked at Katie. He better not wink at Savannah. She was immune to good looking men who promised the moon and then... Oh, God! Why do I keep thinking about Matt today? I’ve got to focus, and besides, this guy is wearing a wedding band.Not that marriage inhibited some jerks. Working where she did brought that fact home every day.

Katie flashed a toothless smile and said, "Maybe I could be Tee-Kate.”

"Sure as gators got snouts.” Tante Lulu smiled back, then added to Savannah, "Tee-John is a cop up Fontaine way.”

Savannah stiffened. Okaaay! Time to get this show on the road! She began to gather up the remains of their breakfast. "We have to go,” she whispered to Katie.

The old lady and the man exchanged glances.

Her reaction had caused them to be suspicious, Savannah could tell, but she couldn’t help herself. Every time she saw a policeman come in her direction, she figured that Matt’s parents or CPS had finally found her and were about to take Katie away. For all she knew, that’s exactly who this one was, though she didn’t think a hired cop would bring his elderly aunt along.

"What’s yer rush?” the nosy old biddy asked.

"I have to take Katie to kindergarten.” She checked the wall clock. "We only have fifteen minutes.”

"And Mommy has to go to work so we can earn enough money to go to Alaska. There’s polar bears in Alaska. And seals. We looked on the computer at the library.”

Savannah groaned inwardly at her daughter’s running tongue.

"And where do you work, honey?” the old lady asked Savannah.

Before she could come up with some hazy answer and drag her daughter away, Katie revealed with a giggle, "Crazy Hal’s.”

What was it with the giggling today? Katie had become a regular giggle machine. "Isn’t that a crazy name?”

"Sure is, sweetie,” Tante Lulu agreed.

But the guy gave Savannah a knowing look. Obviously, he was familiar with Crazy Hal’s.

"I’m a waitress, not a stripper.” Not that it’s any of your business.

"Strippers are ladies that take off all their clothes,” her precocious daughter whispered to Tante Lulu.

The guy pulled a deck of cards out of his pocket. "Do you like magic tricks, Katie? I always carry these in my pocket because I have a little boy your age who loves card tricks.”

Katie nodded enthusiastically.

He began to deal them both cards and explain some game to Katie in a low voice. It soon became obvious why. He was giving his aunt time to get Savannah in her crosshairs.

"Girl...” Tante Lulu started to say.

At first, Savannah didn’t realize she was talking to her. At twenty-nine, she couldn’t remember the last time anyone had referred to her that way. And sometimes she felt so tired, she could be ninety-nine.

"Are you in trouble?” Tante Lulu continued.

"What? Why would you ask that?”

"Because St. Jude, he’s tappin’ on my shoulder ta beat the band.”

She’d always wanted to be a private dick...

"DID YOU GET her license number?” Tante Lulu asked Tee-John as the red Subaru peeled out of the parking lot.


"What kin you find out about her?”

"Pretty much everything.”

"Her address?”

"Usually, except I’m thinkin’ she lives in that car.”

Tante Lulu gasped. "Why wouldja say that?”

"All the signs are there. Looks like everything they own is in that car. Bed rolls and pillows. Labeled plastic boxes. Toiletries. Clothes. Shoes. Toys. Stuff like that.”

"Thass awful. If she has a waitress job, why wouldn’t she have a place ta live, even if it ain’t real nice? And if she’s short of cash ta pay fer an apartment, why wouldn’t she stay at the homeless shelter?”

"She’s probably afraid of losing her daughter. Plus, I’d bet my left nut—I mean, my left arm that’s she’s on the run.”

"From what?”

"Don’t know, but I’ll find out. Guar-an-teed.”

"I gave her my bizness card, in case she’s in trouble.”

"You have a business card?”

"’Course, I do. I need it fer my traiteur bizness. It has the St. Jude prayer printed on the back.”

"That should help Savannah.”

He probably didn’t know that she could recognize sarcasm when it hit her in the face. What an idjet! "Yer darn tootin’ it will.”

Then she said a little prayer in her head. We got us a mission, Jude. At least, she thought she’d said it in her head.

But then, Tee-John said, "Jist don’t be draggin’ me inta any more of your acts of mercy. Last time I ended up bailin’ you out of the slammer.”

"I dint ask you ta help. In fact, I was havin’ fun. You meet all kinds of interestin’ folks in jail, y’know?”

John’s jaw dropped, as it often did when in the company of his wacky great-aunt. I know! I’m a cop. I deal with those "interestin’” folks every day.

"The food ain’t so good, though. I tol’ the captain he needs ta find a cook what knows how to make a good roux. The gumbo was downright disgustin’.”

Rolling his eyes, John cautioned, "You need to slow down, auntie. Relax and enjoy yer golden years!” Like that is ever gonna happen. Even so, Tante Lulu was getting old, and he hated the idea of her overdoing and ending up in a hospital or worse. She was precious to him and all his family, despite her interfering, outrageous ways. Probably because of those interfering, outrageous ways.

"Pfff! There ain’t nuthin’ golden about creakin’ bones and farts what slip out without warnin’.”

He chuckled before he had a chance to catch himself.

"Besides, I like helpin’ people.”

"Even when they don’t want yer help?”

"Specially when they doan want my help. Those are the ones needin’ me most. Wait, wait, wait. Doan be in such a rush.”

What now? He was steering her toward their parked car in hopes of getting out of Nawleans before noontime.

"I tol’ you I need ta go to the Voodoo Palace over on Dumaine Street.”

He’d been hoping she would forget. As he drove them over, he asked, "What herbs are you missing? I thought you had every weed and plant that ever grew.” The pantry off the kitchen of her bayou cottage was overflowing with hanging dried plants and shelves of all her different herbs in labeled bottles along with ancient ledgers spelling out her remedies. As a child, he’d loved standing in there, sniffing the various intriguing scents.

"A love potion.”

"Huh?” His mind must have been wandering. Did she really say... ? "Um, you have someone who’s looking for a love potion?”

"Heck, no! I’m wantin’ some fer myself. Have you seen that new butcher over at Boudreaux’s General Store?”

He had to think for a minute. Then, he exclaimed, "Tante Lulu! Thass Boudreaux’s great-grandfather, Gustave, helpin’ out over the summer. He’s almost bald and walks with a cane.”

"Yeah, but have you checked out Gus’s hiney?”

Un-be-liev-able! "Can’t say that I have.”

"Watch yer sass, boy. Even us older ladies notice a man’s back side now and then. Ain’t nuthin’ wrong with that.”

"His hiney, huh? Does Gus have a fart problem, too?”

She smacked him on the arm. "If you weren’t so busy bein’ sarcastic, you would have noticed the man’s cute hind end.” She waved a Richard Simmons fan in front of her face to emphasize her point.

What could he say to that? "And you need a love potion because... ?”

"Because Gus pays me no nevermind. Even when I wear my ‘Wild Girl’ T-shirt, he doan even blink my way.”

"Why don’t you just get some of Sylvie’s hopped up jelly beans?”

Years ago, his half-brother Luc’s wife, Sylvie, who was a chemist, invented a love potion that she put in jelly beans. What a stink there was in the newspapers about that! The product never was sold to the public.

"First of all, Luc gave Sylvie strict orders not ta give me any. I cain’t imagine why.”

John could. Being an inveterate matchmaker, Tante Lulu would probably be feeding them indiscriminately to every couple she deemed worthy, whether they wanted them or not. Like the time she planned a secret wedding for his half-brother René and his nemesis, a court TV lawyer. The wedding had been a secret to everyone, including the bride and groom.

"Secondly, Sylvie claims they doan really work.”

"Seemed to work with Luc. He was head over heels in love with her after popping a few of the candies.”

"Thass what I said.”

"Has it ever occurred to you that Gus has cataracts? Boudreax tol’ me when I picked up that poke of okra fer you. His PawPaw is goin’ in fer surgery soon. His vision’s so bad that he gave Millie Pitot ham hocks when she asked fer chicken thighs last week.”

"So, it wasn’t me?” Tante Lulu smiled. "Well, I want some of those love potion herbs anyways. You never know when I might need ta do some emergency matchmakin’.”

Emergency matchmaking? He didn’t want to think what that might mean.

"Mebbe that Savannah gal needs a little help in the love department.”

Yeah, a homeless stripper living in a car with her five-year-old kid is thinking of a man. More like where her next meal is coming from. That’s what he thought, but what he said was, "Whatever you say, auntie.”



Chapter Two

Georgia... and other things... on his mind...

CAPTAIN MATTHEW Carrington, U.S. Army Special Forces, sat down at a desk in the temporary office assigned to him at Fort Dix in New Jersey. He was so shocked, he felt gut-shot.

After five years of hell in an Al-Qaeda prison, after torture that would haunt him for life, after a badly tended leg wound that gave him a limp, and after six months of multiple surgeries and rehab in a D.C. hospital, he’d thought he couldn’t be hurt any more. He was wrong.

He examined the creased and stained envelope in his shaking hands. It had so many forwarding addresses, it was amazing that it had actually caught up with him. From Georgia to three different Army Post Offices to five other addresses, it had traveled, finally sitting in a dead mail box until some postal employee had given it one more shot.

He pulled the letter out and read it once again. It was dated more than five years ago.

Dear Matt:

You’ve been gone for a week now, and I haven’t heard from you. I know, I know, you hate letter writing, and you’re probably still in transit. You need to give me your new email address, BTW. Your old one isn’t working.

First of all, I love my ring. I’m looking at it now and getting tears in my eyes. I swear it is the most beautiful engagement ring a woman has ever received.

There’s something I need to tell you, honey. Pretend you hear a drum roll. I just can’t wait any longer.

I’m pregnant.

I know, I should have told you in person, but I didn’t want to ruin our time together. You said, repeatedly, that we’d set a wedding date when you came home, and we’d have kids sometime in the future. The future is now, sweetheart.

It happened, and there’s nothing I can do about it. Actually, I’m ecstatic. Our baby might be unplanned, but it will be more than welcome. By me, anyhow. Please, please, please tell me that you’re happy, too.

Gotta go now. I’m writing over my lunch break, and my one o’clock Creative Fiction class is waiting. I’ll write again tomorrow. I just wanted to get this in the mail ASAP.

Love you forever,


He could kick himself for not setting up a new email account as soon as he hit Afghanistan, but he hadn’t had time. He’d been immediately engaged in briefings for an upcoming mission, which turned out to be his gateway to hell.

Ever since he’d come back to the States a month ago, he’d been trying to contact Savannah, but she seemed to have disappeared off the face of the earth. All his mail had been returned Forwarding Order Expired, including the dozens of letters he’d written from the hospital. He couldn’t find a phone number for her or a trace of her current whereabouts on the Internet. Finally, he’d given up, figuring she’d delivered to him the GI’s dreaded silent shaft. It wasn’t her style, but maybe she’d met someone else and didn’t have the nerve to tell him in person. Shit happened.

And now, just as he was about to go on leave, his commanding officer had handed him this letter. Straightening with determination, he picked up the phone and dialed a certain number.


"Matt! Darlin’!” His mother’s deep Southern drawl was warm with welcome. "When will you be getting here? Your father’s at the club. He’ll be so disappointed to have missed your call.”

His parents had visited several times while he was at Walter Reed Medical Center, but this would be his first trip back home.

"I’ll still arrive about seven p.m., but, Mom, I have a question for you. When you came to the hospital, I asked if you knew where Savannah was, and you said no.”

There was an ominous silence before she said, "That is still true.” She laughed, a fake laugh, if he ever heard one. "I don’t know why you’re still interested in that girl. Good Lord, she didn’t even know her parents. She had no birth name. She was abandoned. An orphan! I shudder to think what might be in her genes. I always said you were too good for—”

"Enough! I didn’t like you talking Savannah down before, and I don’t like it now.” He shook his head with disgust. Something was fishy here. Slow down and think, he told himself. Sometimes a soldier needs to regroup and try a different tactic. "Mother, did Savannah ever contact you or Dad after I was deployed almost six years ago?”

The silence was telling.

"Did you know she was pregnant?”

Her gasp carried through the telephone line. He could just picture her with a hand held delicately to her heart. "Yes, but—”

He said a foul word that he’d never said in his mother’s presence before. "Did you see the baby?”

"Yes, but—”

"Boy or girl?”

"A girl. Her name is Katherine Mary Carrington. I told Savannah she had no right to give the baby our name, but she probably used it as a ploy to gain money from us.”

A little girl. Oh, God! I have a daughter. And she would be... five years old already. Oh, God!

"Did you give her money?”

"Of course not!”

"Did she ask for money?”

"Well, no, not exactly, but—”

For Savannah to go to his parents for anything, knowing how his mother felt about her, there must have been some emergency. "She was my fiancée. Why would you refuse to help her with anything?”

"She could have hocked that too-expensive engagement ring you bought her if she had that many troubles.”

"And did you tell her so?” he asked with brutal calm.

"I did, indeed. The hussy had the nerve to turn around and walk away. Good riddance to bad rubbish, if you ask me.”

Matt saw red. He literally understood for the first time in his life what people meant when they used that hackneyed expression. Through the haze of fire floating in front of his vision, he gritted his teeth, knowing he needed more information before he could end the call. "Are they still in Savannah?”

"No. At least I don’t think so.”

"Savannah must have given up her teaching job. I called the school, and all they would tell me was that she was no longer employed there and hadn’t been for years. She loved her teaching job. They wouldn’t have fired her for a pregnancy; that’s against the law. Do you know why she left?”

"Um... I have no idea. I mean, we offered to... well, never mind.”

"You offered what?”

"We offered to bring up the girl, if you must know, once we were told of the birth by a friend of ours at the hospital. Doctor Morgan. You remember him, don’t you? His daughter Emily used to play tennis with you at the club.”

"About the baby?” he prodded.

"Oh. Well, all Savannah had to do was sign the papers, but she tore them up and threw them at us. Can you imagine?”

"You saw her then? The baby?”

"Briefly. She looked like you did as an infant, actually. And at that point, as far as we knew, you were probably dead. It would have been our last link with you. Our only child!” She barely stifled a sob.

Matt was not touched with sympathy for his mother. He knew from experience that she could sob at will when it suited her purposes. And he noticed that she’d referred to her granddaughter as "it.” Some life that child would have had under his mother’s care.

"You must admit, Matthew, we have much more to offer than a single mother,” his mother continued, apparently recovered from her brief bout of grief, "but Savannah wouldn’t listen. In fact, she had the gall to have a security officer escort us from the hospital.”

Good for her! "Why didn’t you tell me as soon as you realized I was alive?”

"We didn’t want to worry you. Especially not in the beginning, when you were in the hospital recovering from physical injuries.”

"And later, when I asked where Savannah was?”

"We didn’t lie. We don’t know where she is. We even had a court date, several, in fact, and she never showed up.”

"A court date for what? No, don’t tell me. A custody hearing. No wonder she disappeared.”

He’d always known his parents were snobs of the highest order, but he’d mostly been amused by their exaggerated sense of self-importance. He’d never thought they could be so deliberately cruel.

"Did you threaten Savannah?”

"Of course not. We just offered to take it off her hands.”

"It? It? Are you referring to my daughter... to your grandchild... as an ‘it’? Thus far, I’ve heard you call her ‘the girl,’ ‘the baby,’ and ‘it.’ Don’t you have a friggin’ heart?” He was shouting now. He couldn’t help himself.

"Matthew David Carrington! Don’t you dare take that tone with—”

For the first time in his life, he hung up on his mother, and he pulled the plug on the land phone when it immediately started ringing.

Two hours later, he was on a flight to Georgia. In the past, when he was happily on his way home after a long mission, that Gladys Knight song "Midnight Train to Georgia” would play in his head. This time, he for damn sure wasn’t happy. He pulled his wallet out of his back pocket and looked, for about the thousandth time, at the photo of himself and Savannah taken two weeks before his deployment, on the night he’d asked her to marry him. They looked so happy.

Was she happy now?

Had she built a new life for herself without him?

Where the hell did she think he’d been all this time? He’d forgotten to ask his mother. Probably dead. Yep, he’d bet his stripes that his mother would have told her he was deceased, not MIA.

Another unwelcome thought came to him. What if she’d married and his little girl was calling another man daddy?

"Oh, Savannah, where are you?” he whispered, pressing the picture to his lips. Tears welled in his eyes, but then he raised his head with determination. "I’m on my way, sweetheart, wherever you are.”

Some puzzles just take time to solve...

"I JIST CAIN’T understand why she won’t accept my help. I’ve asked her ta come stay here with me,” Tante Lulu told Tee-John as they sat in rockers on her Bayou Black back porch. Tee-John’s five-year-old son Etienne was down at the bayou stream fishing. Or more accurately, scaring away every fish, bird, and small animal within fifty feet with his wild casting technique.

Tee-John took a draw on his long neck bottle of beer, then wiped his mouth with the back of his hand, even though there was a perfectly good St. Jude napkin sitting on the wicker table beside him.

"She’s afraid, Tante.”

"Of what?”

"I’m not sure.”

She gave him a narrow-eyed look, the one that had been working since he was a young’en causing mischief up and down the bayou. "How kin you not be sure?”

"I’m a detective, not a magician. Besides, I’ve been stickin’ close ta home with Celine bein’ pregnant and all.” She was in the house at the moment, taking a nap on the same cot Tee-John slept on all those years ago when he ran away from his father, Valcour LeDeux, when he got to drinking. That man was meaner than a grizzly with a corncob up its butt.

Imagine. Tee-John having another chile. And this time he would be around to see the bebe be born. "I hope she has a girl this time.”

"That would be nice, but Etienne sez it better be a boy or we’re sending it back.”

She had to smile at that. The little imp! "Back ta Savannah. Fer two weeks, I been goin’ over ta Nawleans ta talk with her. You were right, she’s livin’ in her car. I ain’t et so many chicken dippers in all my life. I think I’m startin’ ta cluck.”

"Oh, Lord! You’ve been going to that strip joint, haven’t you?”

"Yeah, and I’m learnin’ some good dance moves, too. Didja ever hear of the twerk?”

"I’m afraid to ask.”

"It involves bendin’ yer knees and spreadin’ them. Sorta like squatin’ ta pee in the woods.”

"I pee against a tree.”

She swatted him on the knee with her folded Richard Simmons fan for the interruption. "Then you vibrate yer tushie real fast. You could say it’s like shimmyin’ yer butt. Me and Charmaine been practicin’. When Charmaine showed Rusty how it was done, he almos’ had a heart attack. Then he took her ta bed fer a whole afternoon. Leastways, thass what Charmaine said. Want me ta demonstrate?”

"Please don’t.” He was staring at her like she was a little bit crazy. Nothing new there. "I bet Savannah is pissed about you bird-doggin’ her.”

"You could say that. Las’ night, fer example, I followed her around Walmart ’til she stopped and asked what I was doin’ there. I tol’ her there ain’t no law sez I cain’t shop wherever I want. ‘At midnight?’ she asked then. Jeesh! I did buy her little girl a pretty sundress, though.”

"I’m afraid to ask how you got ta Walmart, presumably in Nawleans, at that ungodly hour. No. Don’t tell me. I’ll be the one havin’ a heart attack then. I’m surprised that Savannah accepted your gift.”

"She couldn’t not accept. I tore off the tags and ripped up the sales receipt.” She thought for a few moments. "Mebbe we should kidnap the two of ’em.”

"We are not kidnapping anyone. Get that idea out of yer head right now.”

"You doan have ta yell.”

"Sometimes yellin’ is the only thing that will get through yer fool head.”

"You ain’t helpin’ much.”

Tee-John shrugged. "I gave you all the info I could find.”

"Tell me again.”

"Savannah Jones, born almost thirty years ago at St. Margaret’s Hospital in Savannah, Georgia. No known birth parents. Adoptive parents, James and Ellie Jones, deceased. A graduate of the University of Georgia with high honors. Had been an English teacher at a private school in suburban Savannah. Then suddenly, she resigned and moved to Nawleans where she taught school in the lower ninth ward until Hurricane Katrina. She lost her apartment and her job because of the floods and hasn’t been able to get back on her feet since then.”

"There’s a puzzle in there somewheres. I jist ain’t figgered out what it is yet.”

"Oh, I forgot ta tell you. A friend of mine in Georgia dug up something interestin’. Turns out Savannah got engaged to a Captain Matthew Carrington, just before he shipped out for Afghanistan more than five years ago. Todd and Evelyn Carrington, his parents, are big-shot, country-club types. Carrington was a POW for several years, but he escaped about six months ago. That’s all I know.”

Tante Lulu smacked him on the arm. "You knew that and dint tell me. Sometimes, I swear, you got the brain of a flea.”

"I was gonna tell you.”

"Hah! I doan suppose you got any addresses or telephone numbers.”

He pulled an index card out of his shirt pocket and grinned at her.

She grinned back.

"Be careful what you do, auntie. Savannah is runnin’ from somethin’, and it could very well be this guy. Maybe he was abusive. Or maybe he didn’t care about being a father or a husband.”

"I’ll be careful. Jist you watch me. I know how ta handle people. I’m a people person.”

Tee-John rolled his eyes.

She didn’t care if he was skeptical. Tante Lulu had a feeling she was about to solve the puzzle. Thank you, St. Jude.



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