“Way to lay on the Southern charm,” she says.
“I am Southern, and it may have sounded charming, but it doesn’t make it less true.”
“Miss Kate! Miss Kate!” Sam comes running down the walk at full speed, the way only a young boy can, with Kate’s phone waving in the air. “He wants to talk to you!”
“I’m dizzy,” Rhys says dryly, as Kate takes her phone and smiles at her cousin.
“He looks happy,” she says.
“He talks more than anyone I’ve ever met in my life, and that includes you. Cute kid.”
“I have to go tell Mom!” Sam takes off back to the house, and I begin to follow him.
“I’ll be up at the house, cher. Take your time.” She shakes her head, as if to keep me here, but I simply kiss her hand and smile. “I have to say hi to Gabby.”
Her soft laugh follows me as I saunter behind the excited boy to the house. I glance around at the freshly mowed grounds of the plantation and the flowers around the house. Birds are singing in the trees, and the breeze Kate mentioned brushes through my hair.
Why haven’t I ever noticed before how lovely it is out here?
Because I haven’t noticed much for years. I haven’t given two fucks about anything for years.
Except for my family and the business, and not necessarily in that order.
I climb the steps of the porch, then turn and look out at the trees and the amazing woman chattering away at her phone, smiling and laughing.
She’s the reason I’ve come alive.
“Gabby makes incredible cookies,” Kate says, as she pops the last bite of an oatmeal raisin in her mouth and tilts her head back to the let the sun warm her cheeks. “I could get used to this.”
“Cookies and sunshine and just…” she shrugs.
We’re wandering through the gardens behind the house, toward the slave quarters and caretaker’s home, which is where Beau currently lives. I take her hand in mine and bring us to a stop, turn her to me, and cup her neck in my hand. “Just what?”
“Just being happy.” The last word is said in a whisper, tugging at something unfamiliar in my gut. Before I can pull her into my arms, she smiles and continues walking. “What’s over there?”
“Slave quarters,” I reply. “Gabby had them refurbished, just enough to make them safe, so guests can learn and check them out.”
“You owned slaves?” she asks with a gasp.
“Not me personally, no.” I chuckle and tuck her hair behind her ear. I can’t fucking stop touching her. “Many generations ago, slaves lived here, yes.”
She frowns and bites her lip.
“It was two hundred years ago, Kate. That wasn’t uncommon in the South.”
“This way.” I lead her away from the slave quarters, through a rose garden in a riot of color.
“I want to check them out,” she says, pointing to the small slave buildings.
“Later. Let’s walk through the gardens.”
“What’s over there?” She squints her eyes, looking in the nearby field. “With the fence?”
“That’s the cemetery.”
“Is it old?” she asks with glee.
“Yes.” I raise a brow. “Do you have a thing for cemeteries?”
“I know it sounds weird, but yes. Especially old ones. They’re so interesting. Can we go look?”
She walks quickly through the gardens, barely paying attention to the flowers. The gate to the graveyard is rusty, and a bit stuck, and I make a note to have it repaired, as I wrench it open and Kate hurries inside.
“I bet this is creepy at night,” she says reverently, looking about like she doesn’t know where to start, then makes a beeline for the very back and studies each headstone as she walks by. “There are dates here that go back to the 1700’s.”
“And there are graves on the property older than that, but the Boudreaux family started this graveyard around that time.”
“Why aren’t these graves above ground like the ones in the city?”
“Because the water table is different here. We’re close to the river, but we sit higher. Even during Katrina, we didn’t flood. We simply had wind damage.”
“Amazing.” She folds her arms and continues to walk through. The headstones have moss grown over them. Some are so faded that you have to really get close to read them. Several oak trees are planted throughout the space, giving shade and shelter from the elements, but their roots have made some of the stones go a bit cockeyed.
It is exactly what it looks like: an old cemetery.
“Oh, there are babies,” she murmurs sadly, trailing her fingertips over a lamb carved in the stone.
I simply nod, my hands shoved in my pockets, my fingers rubbing the half dollar I keep there. The closer we get to a certain grave, the more nervous I become.
And that’s ridiculous. He’s been dead for two fucking years.
“The dates are getting more recent. Here’s 1977.” She sighs. “And these are sisters. Look,” she points at the dates on the stone. “They were only two years apart. Died in the same week.”
“They were spinster aunts,” I inform her, remembering the stories I’d been told of the old maids. “They lived together, here, their whole lives. They were odd.”
I grin. “This is the Bayou, dawlin’. Let’s just say they enjoyed the eccentricities that living here brought them. And if you ever made one of them mad, well…Bad things usually happened.”
“They were witches?”
“Of course not.” I chuckle and kiss her cheek. “They were simply Bayou women.”
“Oh, this one looks new.”
It is new.
She reads the stone and her eyes grow wide. “Your daddy.”
I nod and read the stone for myself.
Beauregard Francois Boudreaux
Beloved Husband & Father
I’ve adjusted my sails.
“I’ve adjusted my sails,” Kate reads aloud, and looks at me with a raised brow.
“Daddy always said, you can’t control the wind, but you can adjust your sails. It was his way of reminding us that you can’t control most of what happens in life. You can only control your reaction to it. I imagine he did the same in death.” I smirk. “I’m quite sure he’s running Heaven by now.”