Veiled eyes, p.7
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       Veiled Eyes, p.7

           C.L. Bevill

  Gaspard had left before Sebastien began to feel the same thing as Gabriel had. The girl was waking up. There was that rushing sense of abject dread that came to her when she floated up into full consciousness. Sebastien couldn’t help sticking his head out the door just after that to see what Gabriel would do. The boy had fled the sanctuary of his boat and trotted toward his cabin. Sebastien nodded firmly, rubbing his head where the pain seemed most intense.

  Minutes later it had stopped. Then there was a gush of mottled anger that blocked everything else, and Sebastien couldn’t help a reluctant chuckle. He didn’t know what Gabriel had done, but it must have been a doozie.

  Deliberately going about his typical business, Sebastien couldn’t get the child out of his mind. She had the delicate features of an angel, a characteristic that put him in the frame of reference of someone he’d known long before. It was the curve of her lips and the shape of her eyebrows that suggested a likeness. Perhaps she was an offshoot of the branch of the family who’d vanished into the north around the time of the Civil War.

  Sebastien shook his shaggy white hair in denial. The girl was clearly a member of the family. The black hair, gold eyes, and her untutored level of abilities all attested to that. Not a throwback but someone only recently removed. Perhaps she was untrained or naïve, but one of them all the same. And Gabriel, well…Sebastien chuckled to himself. He was stuck with her, for better or worse.

  * * *

  An hour after Gabriel had been dunked in the drink, the three women appeared like angels of mercy. Gabriel had parked himself in the Adirondack chair with the girl’s leather jacket hanging on the armrest and waited, shaking lake water off his skin like Phideaux. Anxiously he rattled the tips of his fingers across the aged wood and watched his spaniel chase his own tail around for a full twenty minutes.

  Not wanting the girl to disappear, he didn’t take the chance of leaving the front porch. Neither did he want her to be upset. He couldn’t hear anything from inside. And there was nothing from inside his head. She seethed with internal wrath. Bits of red haze surrounded her consciousness and made it impossible for him to penetrate it.

  Gabriel blinked and closed his mind. Listening to her for the briefest of moments was like sitting in the middle of a nest of rattlesnakes. He didn’t even try to communicate with her again. It didn’t seem like there was much point to it.

  Then Camille drove up in the little truck with sufficient backup to aid in whatever Gabriel had done or had not done. She didn’t have the twins, so he knew they still must be at school. But she did have Aurore Benoit, and worse, she had Cecily Bergeron, their mother. Camille clambered out of the little Toyota pick-up truck, dressed in denim overalls and a flowered shirt. He knew she had been working in the garden, preparing the soil for the early growing season. Gabriel frowned. Every cent counted with Camille and Mathieu. Extra pennies went into a college fund for the twins.

  Cecily got out of the passenger side and was dressed in her own work clothes. A neat cotton shirt patterned with stripes, a plain navy skirt, low heeled blue pumps. She’d come from work too. Her youngest child had driven all the way to the small construction company where she was a secretary to get her. Gabriel sank down further in the deck chairs as he contemplated the situation.

  The third one was Sebastien’s wife. Aurore Benoit had been sitting in the cramped middle seat and uncoiled her long legs from the driver’s side as she exited. She was dressed in patched jeans and an old football jersey and carried a plain brown sack. Gabriel would have guessed she had been doing inventory in the back of the general store when Camille had requested her assistance. Of the three, he knew that she would mind the least. She was like an Earth mother, dedicated to the family and taking in strays as if they were her own children.

  Gabriel shifted uncomfortably in the chair. Everything was damp, and even though the wind had shifted from the north to the south, he was still chilled. More so with wet clothing. But everything he owned was inside the house with her. And what was he going to do, frighten her more by pounding on the door demanding entrance. Already he felt like the monster that had drugged her and handcuffed her to the back of his truck.

  But he still couldn’t help the errant wanting to taste her lips again, to feel her flesh pressed up against his own, all softness and feminine mystery, while their tongues wound together. Gabriel shifted again in the chair, uncomfortable for another reason.

  Camille put a hand over her mouth. Gabriel’s eyes narrowed. His sister was trying to keep from laughing at him. The porch around his feet was wet. His boots lay upside down in a sunny patch. His socks were draped over the railing. “Oh Lord, Gabriel,” she uttered at last with a suspiciously amused snort. “Shoes upside down invites the devil to come try them on. Ça va mal. What did you do?”

  Cecily put her hands on her hips and thoughtfully surveyed her son. Near the same height as her son, she never backed down at an opportunity to play the mother with him. He would always be her first born and only son. “Never mind,” she pronounced. “The girl. She will let us in.”

  It was Gabriel’s turn to snort. “Better hope she hasn’t found Grandpapa’s shotgun. I think it has salt rock in it. But could be birdshot.”

  Camille hesitated as she considered whether Gabriel was telling the truth or trying to get a rise out of their mother.

  “Anh!” exclaimed Cecily. She stepped onto the porch and thumped solidly on the door. “Mamselle!” she said imperiously. “I am Cecily Bergeron, and with me is Camille Landry, my daughter, and Aurore Benoit, our friend. We are not going to harm you. We merely wish to give you aid and comfort you in this terrible time.”

  Gabriel studied his dog. Phideaux had left off attempting to catch his tail and was trying to eat a praying mantis. The praying mantis wasn’t exactly happy about it.

  Silence ensued from the house. Gabriel said, “Maybe she slipped out a back window,” knowing perfectly well the girl was still inside. He would have known if she so much as moved in the opposite direction. He could smell her fragrant scent as if it were burned into his senses.

  “Is she insane?” muttered Cecily. “Clearly we aren’t axe murderers.” Her voice got louder. “We aren’t axe murderers, mamselle!”

  Gabriel added sarcastically. “Mamselle, we don’t even have an axe out here!”

  Aurore sighed loudly and stepped up on the porch. She shooed an outraged Cecily away with one hand. Holding the brown bag so that it could be seen from the windows at the sides of the front door, she rapped loudly on the door and said, “I am Aurore Benoit. I have beignets. Café au lait? And some pralines for the sweet tooth?”

  Gabriel rolled his eyes. Ah Dieu. That would work just as well as –

  Her voice sounded loudly through the thickness of the door. “You have something to eat?” The deadbolt sounded as the girl inside unlocked it.

  * * *

  Anna listened apprehensively to the man moving around the porch. After throwing the deadbolt, the first thing she had done was raid his kitchen for the biggest, sharpest butcher knife she could find. It only took her thirty seconds to find one that would do him serious bodily damage if he tried to get into the house with her. In the meantime, she simmered with fury.

  Men with grabby hands were the worst. The fact that she had an appealing appearance had been made clear to her at a young age. There had been enough covetous men, who reached out with unhesitating, avaricious hands instead of simply asking if their advances were desired, to give her sincere pause.

  And him. The one outside. If he had helped to rescue her from what she knew to be a sadistic murderer, then he should know that the first thing Anna would want upon waking up from being drugged was NOT to be grabbed again.

  Anna sat down in a large worn-leather chair that was positioned in front of the fireplace and reached for the telephone that was nearby. She kept the butcher knife in the other hand, balanced the handset between shoulder and head, and dialed with the other hand. Nine. One…then she stopped. W
hat was she going to tell them? She had woken up in some strange house with no one in attendance, with only a speckled cocker spaniel outside, her cuts bandaged, and her belongings safely within reach. The handcuffs were gone, and no one apparently was about to threaten her until Mr. Kissy Face came up to ask her why she’d waited so long and to say that she wasn’t his sister…just as if he could read her mind. She put the phone down, slamming it into its cradle.

  Jane! Anna picked up the phone again and listened to the dial tone. She could call Jane. Jane would move heaven and Earth to make sure that everything was all right with Anna. She would send money. She would send a car. She would…three days? Jane must be worried sick. How can I make her worry more?

  Struggling to force her anger away, Anna put down the phone and sat for a while. The truth was that she didn’t feel that good. Whatever drug cocktail had been forced on her made her feel as sluggish as a worm and about as active. Walking out to the edge of the lake and the brief tussle with him had caused her to realize that her legs trembled weakly, and her arms were limp spaghetti noodles. Her stomach groaned with the state of its emptiness and alternately rolled with nausea.

  Anna sat in the chair and listened with one ear. The man moved around a little and then threw himself down in one of the chairs on the porch. There he stayed, obviously dripping water and cursing her roundly under his breath, until she heard a vehicle pull up outside.

  Curiosity got the better of her. She got out of the chair and went to the window, barely parting the curtains to observe what was happening outside. Three women got out of a small truck, and the man in the chair shifted his body in a way that suggested he was uncomfortable with their presence.

  The youngest one was a tall woman with French-braided black hair, dressed in denim overalls. She paused to say something to the sitting man, but there was a tilted curve to her lips that hinted at her amusement. The next one was older, with more gray in her hair than black, attired in semi-professional clothing as if she were on her way to work or on her way home. The third was a little younger than the second, with the same kind of gray-streaked black hair. Dressed in shabby jeans and a black and gold jersey, she appeared as though she had stepped out of doing some kind of manual labor. She also held a brown bag in her hand.

  Anna withdrew and pondered on her situation. Serial murderers, as far as she was aware, didn’t involve their entire families. Furthermore, the oldest one, with her hands akimbo, looked distinctly put out with something.

  Conversation followed until one female voice said something that made Anna’s mouth drool. It was obvious that these women weren’t going to let the man harm her or even look at her sideways. Anna couldn’t keep the desperate note out of her voice when she said, “You have something to eat?” Until the woman named Aurore had mentioned beignets and coffee, Anna hadn’t realized that she was outright starving.

  She unlocked the door. One hand on the doorknob, she kept the butcher knife in her other hand. Anna pulled the door open about three inches and peered out. One of her feet blocked the edge of the door in case someone started to force it open, but no one moved. They hardly even breathed as they stared back at her. Finally she said, “You can come in, but he has to stay out there.”

  The three women looked at each other slowly. The man grumbled something under his breath. He threw his hands up in the air and said more loudly, “Fine. I go back to the boat. I have clothes there.” He threw himself out of the Adirondack chair and stalked off around the side of the house.

  Anna waited until he was out of her vision and slowly opened the door. She lifted her head up and regarded the three women solemnly. Then she said, “I’m really hungry, and I wasn’t sure what would be in his refrigerator.”

  Cecily looked stern for a moment and then chuckled. “Chère, no one in his or her right mind goes into Gabriel’s icebox.”

  Aurore entered first and only gave the butcher knife the briefest glance. She held up the brown bag and said, “The kitchen is warmest this time of day. Lots of sun coming in the windows there. I’ll make tea, and you can drink the café au lait before it gets cold.”

  Anna put the knife down on a table beside the front door. “You know I’d really like to know how it is that you all have the same color eyes as I do.”

  Camille shut the door behind her and motioned toward the small connected kitchen. “So would we. But first we would like to know your name.”

  “My name?”

  “To be sure. For three days you’ve been as still as a corpse, and no one knew anything about you. No missing persons reports about you. No family members pounding our doors down in search of you. Not a bit of identification on you.” Camille glided into Gabriel’s kitchen and pulled out the chairs, waving Anna into one. Cecily followed with an odd expression on her face. Aurore yanked open cupboard doors until she found a bright red teakettle with a small “ah,” of success.

  Camille sat in the chair opposite Anna and glanced at her mother. Aurore paused in putting water in the kettle. Anna didn’t notice either action because she was staring at the brown bag sitting on the kitchen table.

  Anna said, “Can I have a beignet? I’m quite sure I haven’t eaten since Dan the twisted truck driver fed me some drugged coffee somewhere in eastern Texas.”

  Cecily flinched. Then she opened the bag deftly passing two beignets and a cup of café au lait to the young woman. Anna took them eagerly and hesitated as she looked at the other women. “You’re going to eat something too?”

  Understanding came to Camille first. “You want me to taste your café first?”

  Anna stared at the cup for a moment. “No, of course not. You people helped me out. I know that. Otherwise I wouldn’t have woken up here…or at all.” She lifted the lid off and drank the coffee and milk mixture with pleasure. Then she dug into the sweet square donuts that were heavily covered with powdered sugar. While Anna was finishing those, Aurore poured hot water into mugs she had located. Tea bags were in a basket next to the stove and quickly made use of. She passed the mugs around and sat in the fourth chair.

  “It was Gabriel who found you,” said Camille softly. “He was responsible for saving you and no one else.” It wasn’t quite true. The family would have never let him face down such a monster by himself, but only he could have located her. He and possibly some close relation.

  “You mean Mr. Grabby Hands out there?” Anna mumbled. She discovered a praline and chewed it contentedly. “However did he do that?”

  Cecily choked on her tea. Her golden boy had grabbed this pretty young woman? The level of blame shifted in her mind. Mr. Grabby Hands? Oh, Gabriel.

  Gabriel came back to her instantly, outraged indignity tinged with guilt. I didn’t mean to…oh, the hell with this. Then his mind shut right off.

  When Anna was done chewing on a praline, she sat back in the chair and said, “My name’s Anna. Anna St. Thais. From El Paso. I’m on my way to New Orleans. I had to hitchhike because someone stole my wallet in Abilene. But I can get some money to pay you people back from a friend I’m going to see. You don’t have to worry…”

  “Good God,” said Aurore horrified. “No one wants your money here, Anna.” She glanced at Cecily and Camille, unsure on how to proceed. This young woman didn’t know anything about her heritage. She didn’t know anything about her gifts. And she didn’t know anything about her connection to Gabriel. Aurore knew they had no family in the farthest reaches of Texas. Indeed, the family preferred the moist climes of the Deep South, especially Louisiana. She patted the girl’s shoulder, and Anna restrained herself from flinching. “You’re obviously one of us, and we’re all as curious about you as you are about us.”

  Chapter 8

  Wednesday, December 17th

  It is said that the number of magpies that one sees at a time can calculate one’s fortune. One for sorrow, two for luck, three for a wedding, fourth for death, five for silver, six for gold, seven for a secret not to be told, eight for a wish, nine for a kiss, and ten
for a witch…

  “Anna,” Gabriel repeated thoughtfully. “Anna.” She doesn’t look like an Anna. Isn’t an Anna tall and blonde and willowy? Not short with a cap of midnight hair that curls around that infuriatingly innocent face. With her full cheekbones that show off her delicately pointed face and frame that wonderful mouth. Those lush, full lips that have a hint of raspberries.

  Aurore held out a Tupperware bowl full of something he tentatively identified as gumbo. There was a lingering scent of Andouille and red pepper that made him recall that he hadn’t eaten for hours. On top of the bowl was something wrapped in foil. “Bread for the soup,” she qualified. “You should be thanking me.”

  Gabriel took the bowl and the bread and put it on the galley table. Aurore had called aboard the Belle-Mère a few minutes before, hours after he had angrily squished away from his home, changed on board the Belle-Mère, and continued sanding the decks.

  “I brought you something to eat, else you starve, non?” Aurore was tacitly amused. She knew Gabriel was teeming with questions that he was too proud to ask.

  Instead he went back up on deck with the older woman following him and retrieved a gallon of deep-soaking marine stain out of his equipment box. Then he fumbled for a brush. Aurore scuffed her tennis shoes across the stripped deck and noticed that Gabriel’s hands were scraped and raw at the knuckles. He hadn’t been paying close enough attention to what he’d been doing. “I have stuff to eat,” he protested mildly, wondering if pork rinds and a box of Ding Dongs counted.

  “What, Moon Pies? A bag of Cheetos? What exactly were you going to feed that poor girl when she woke up?”

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