At thirty, Nora Kehoe is feeling pressured to settle down. On a blind date, Nora unexpectedly ends up in the emergency room where she meets Dr. John Blessing. She hopes the pragmatic Dr. Blessing can make her life complete. Then, a passionate encounter with a childhood friend changes everything.
The charismatic Jean Marc Gaspard manages the family business, Gaspard Fisheries. But rumors abound that Jean Marc is running more than seafood through the waters around Manchac Louisiana. When a family crisis sends Nora to Manchac, she is thrown headlong into the dangerous world of smugglers and swindlers. And as Jean Marc tries to protect Nora from his past, he realizes he may lose her because of it.
The dark bayou waters run deep with secrets in Louisiana, and every Cajun knows how to dance the fine line between the right and wrong side of the law. But for strangers, learning the steps to staying alive in the swamps can be tricky. Life, and love, will be dependent on how well one can master the … Acadian Waltz
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Excerpt 1 Acadian Waltz:
For many, the course of an entire lifetime could be summed up in a few defining moments, but moments do not choose your path. There was always an indescribable force lurking inside of us that shaped our destiny. Whether this motivation was the result of fear, longing, or in my case, guilt, it haunted our being and oversaw our every action. Like a constant voice inside our heads, this energy gave each of our lives direction.
My inner voice was hugely influenced by the city where I was born. Built at the bend in the Mississippi River and tucked behind protective levees, New Orleans nurtured a peculiar world infatuated with the Catholic rituals of sin and penance. Therefore, it should be no surprise that those of us who endured in this swamp-ridden land below the level of the sea had mastered the art of sin. In fact, we turned it into something of a tourist industry. It was the penance part that many of us had not quite gotten a handle on. But God, in his infinite wisdom, wanted to make sure that we were always reminded of our heavy feelings of culpability. That was why he created the greatest guilt-making machine of them all—the mother.
Mine was named Claire Mouton Gaspard Kehoe Schuller. My mother’s first husband, Etienne Gaspard, had been her high school sweetheart. Etienne was known for running touchdowns, shrimp boats, and little else. Their marriage ended the day my mother first laid eyes on Clayton Kehoe at the criminal court house, where she had gone, yet again, to bail her drunk husband out of jail.
Her second husband, the late Clayton Kehoe, had been a prominent attorney in the city of New Orleans. Mother’s current husband was a Jewish jewelry maker named Lou Schuller. Lou was not as influential as Kehoe had been, but infinitely more skilled with gold and diamonds, which invariably pleased my mother to no end. But my mother had always insisted that it was Clayton Kehoe who had swept her off her feet from the first moment their eyes met.
“Your father,” Mother would always say. “Had the sweetest way of talking, and he always knew how to treat a lady like a queen.”
My mother was nineteen and my father was thirty-two when they married. It was a happy marriage, with lots of parties, many friends, and eventually the arrival of me, Nora Theresa Kehoe. I was named after my mother’s favorite saint and my father’s favorite movie star.
Marriage to my father must have agreed with Claire. She enjoyed being the wife of a well-connected New Orleans attorney, and thrived on the social circuit of parties and political gatherings. Even after my father died when I was fourteen, she would still meet with her old friends from the various political groups around the city, and pound the pavement for many of my father’s former colleagues who were running for office. But that all ended when she married Lou Schuller.
At fifty-five, Lou was dumpy, chubby, bald, and had the personality of a matzo ball. But Lou had the money to keep Claire in the lifestyle to which she had made herself accustomed, even after all the insurance money my father had left ran out. In the beginning of their marriage, Lou tolerated my mother’s love for the social scene, but he soon grew tired of the endless cocktail parties and political fundraisers, and reined in Claire’s activities. Now, after fifteen years of marriage, middle-aged, and trying to cope with the passage of her youth, my mother had found a new venture in which to place all of her efforts; me. Or more to the point, my marriage to some man, preferably wealthy, in the hopes of attaining the beat all and end all of middle age—grandchildren.
“You’re thirty now, Nora. It’s time to meet a man and settle down. Why haven’t you found someone? It can’t be all bad out there,” my mother began one Sunday morning in March.
Excerpt II Acadian Waltz:
“I didn’t realize you and my uncle were so close.”
Jean Marc smiled, a warm and uplifting smile that muted the sadness in his eyes. “Jack was always a second father to me. My dad was too busy with the business, and when he wasn’t doing that, he was bailing Henri out of some mess.”
“I’m sorry. I’m his niece. I should have been more involved, and then maybe I could have helped him.”
Jean Marc reached across the table for my hand. “Don’t blame yourself. You didn’t know. You aren’t responsible for your uncle, Nora.”
“Then why are you?” I questioned, feeling a sudden twinge of something strange as his strong hand held mine.
“Your uncle has been good to me.” He let go of my hand. “He’s been there for me and listened to me.” He lowered his eyes to the worn surface of the old pine table. “I owe him a debt.”
I shook my head. “You owe him the debt of friendship. I owe him the debt of family.”
“‘It’s better to owe a debt of love than blood,’ my grandfather used to always say. I never realized what he meant until now.” He paused and the chill returned to his dark eyes. “I can look after Jack here. You won’t have time to keep coming back and forth.”
I stared at him, a little taken aback by his comment. “I can’t ask you to do that.”
“Nora, you have a great deal going on in your life. You have your wedding to plan and all the changes your new life will bring.”
“Did Uncle Jack tell you I was getting married?”
“He mentioned you were going to marry a doctor.” He paused and once again his eyes changed and a glint of warmth appeared in their darkness. “But he doesn’t believe you’re in love with this guy.”
I sat back in my chair, feeling slightly dumbfounded. “He said that?”
Jean Marc rose from his chair. “Make sure you love the man you’re going to marry, Nora. Otherwise, marriage can be a real bitch.”
I looked up into his face. “You were married once, weren’t you?”
He nodded. “Lasted less than a year. She was the daughter of a business associate I knew in Dallas. It was wrong from the start.”
“Wrong?” I asked, realizing how little I actually knew about the man.
He snapped his fingers. “There was no spark, no passion between Cynthia and me. Love needs passion to ignite. Without it you just have hormones.” He directed his attention to the small clock on the far wall. “You’d better get back to the city. It’s getting late. I’ll come back in a few hours and check on him. He’s much more reasonable when he’s sober.” Jean Marc placed a reassuring hand on my shoulder. “Don’t worry, I’ll find something for him to do at the crawfish farms or, if need be, at the house.” He gave me an encouraging smile.
I stood from my chair. “Thank you, Jean Marc. You’ve been a good friend to my uncle and I’m very grateful.” And then, without thinking, I stood on my toes and gently kissed his lips.
The electricity that passed between us was unlike anything I had ever experienced. I could feel my body throb with the touch of his lips against mine. But before I could pull away, he threw his muscular arms about me and deepened his kiss. I could smell his woody cologne mixed with the scent of the bayou out back. I could hear the wild chirping of the birds in the trees along with the pounding of my heart. All my senses came to life, and the effect made me slightly dizzy. John’s kisses had never been like this.
I pulled away first, overwhelmed by the frenzy of sensations raging within me.
He took a step back from me. “I’m sorry,” he murmured, but the way the light reflected in his eyes, I sensed he really wasn’t.
I smiled, trying to appear unflustered. “Don’t worry about it.” I turned to go and grabbed on to the back of the chair beside me to keep my knees from giving way.
“Nora?” Jean Marc whispered.
I straightened up and faced him. My stomach clenched as I took in his smug grin and the way he was dissecting my features as if he were a detective interrogating a murder suspect.
After several agonizing seconds, he finally said, “Are you sure you want to marry that doctor?”
I hastily lowered my gaze to the old linoleum floor. “You don’t know John. We are a good team and—”
But before I could finish, he stormed out of the kitchen. A few minutes later, I heard the gun of an engine and the screech of tires on my uncle’s shell-covered drive.
I kicked the little pine table next to me. “Damn it!”
I fought to regain control over my emotions. I was engaged to another man, so how could I possibly have feelings for a man I had always despised? I assured myself that I was simply exhibiting some nerves over my impending marriage; at least, I hoped that’s all it was. To consider any other reason was, quite simply, dangerous.