This novel is limited to 100 free copies due to its part in Inkitt’s Novel Contest.
This was all wrong. She wanted to stop, to rub her eyes, but could only continue the sensuous torture. And it all felt so wonderful, so vibrant. Her touch leaving heated trails on her body, awakening every inch of skin. So soft, so warm. Rain drops left tingling spots of cold against her upturned face and she raised her hands to the heavens. Yes, rain, life. It tasted like smoke and oil. A picture formed in her memory, an elderly shirtless slave hunched over a pot of steaming tar. Uncle Seth. A sense of loss tugged at her heart, her throat, and tears welled up adding to the raindrops. She dropped her hands and choked back a sob, the sound of her own voice hollow, so far away. Another wracking cry shook through her and she fell to her knees, silently screaming at herself to get out of the rain, to put clothes on. She couldn’t stop crying, the tears coming so hard she could barely breathe. It didn’t matter if she was outside in dishabille—she was a whore and no one would expect anything better from her.
And then she blinked.
Stunned, Kay looked at her own hands as if she’d never seen them before. “What the hell happened?” She blinked again then rubbed her stinging eyes and looked around. Why was she outside in the rain? Where was her shirt?
And where was she?
Stumbling back against the wrought iron balustrade, Kay took in the rooftops around her. New Orleans. She didn’t remember anything past the cab at the airport and mentally retraced her steps, coming up with only a blank.
Straightening her shoulders, she turned and walked inside through the open French doors. There was her shirt, crumbled up on the floor—not folded. Her Birkenstocks, one in the center of the room and one through the open door at the top of the stair—not neatly side by side. The evidence of her actions rang false. This simply wasn’t her; the lack of modesty, self control, order—it was all wrong. She had to remember, but could only come up with a picture of a haggard old man sweating over a fire, a man she didn’t know but made her sad. That, and the fact she was horny as hell.
She hadn’t had a seizure in years, but if this was one, arousal was a really strange side effect. Kay laid a hand on the hard lump above her collar bone; the Vagus Nerve Stimulator had kept her epilepsy at bay for so long the battery was surely dead. Cursing, she made a note to contact a neurologist right away. She couldn’t let seizures interfere with her new life, new job. Especially sexy seizures.
Philippe stood outside the door to 933-B Burgundy Street bearing a gift basket and unsure of how to proceed. For almost a year that door had never been closed. Now, not only was it closed, but an hour ago the new owner had shut it in his face. Not the kind of reception he’d hoped for, but she had seemed out of sorts—if you considered staring past him while stripping odd behavior. Then again, she was from California, so maybe it wasn’t so weird. She could have at least acknowledged his greeting. For the millionth time, he regretted selling the apartment. The locked door before him made him feel like the old building had rejected him.
Not only was the new owner rude, dead sexy, but rude, she was about to fill her nineteenth century shotgun house with trash. Selling it hadn’t been any harder than selling one of his sculptures. The difference was that when the sculptures were sold, they went home with the new owners and he never had to see them being used as a hat rack or a scratching post. Living across the hall, he would be tortured by it daily. This was a bad idea—especially if she didn’t care about who saw her half naked. He would introduce himself and welcome her to the building, tomorrow. She would think nothing of it—she was from Los Angeles, California where people ignored each other.
Turning to leave, the lock clicked behind him. He looked back over his shoulder to see the door ajar. He ignored it and crossed the hall to his apartment.
A loud crash, a woman swearing, and he turned back. “Is everything okay?”
Some more crashes and swearing.
“Hello? I am Philippe Jarreau, your neighbor.” He knocked, pressing the door open a little more, not sure if this was a good idea. “I heard a crash…”
Dr. Karma Betancourt, barefoot, hurried down the stairs, tracking blood. She met his eye without a smile, but did not tell him to leave.
“I was trying to build my bed.” She lifted her foot and put it in the sink, teetering on tiptoe. “I need a towel or cloth or something.”
The tap coughed once before a steady stream of water came through. Even after a complete refurbishing, the plumbing could be temperamental.
Looking from her foot to her face, he found her tired gaze on his, no hint of recognition, embarrassment, nothing. In fact, she seemed like an entirely different person. She looked more or less the same, strikingly beautiful, but something had changed.
“It’s nice to meet you. Mr. Jarreau, is that what you said?” Her smile lit up her face. “Do you have paper towels?”
The warmth in her sparkling eyes caught and held him in place. It took a moment for him to respond, “Oh, of course.” He put down his gift basket and nodded to her before he ran across the hall. He’d heard her arrive an hour or so ago and headed over to introduce himself, but froze as she stood there, her blue eyes ice cold and staring past him as she caressed her own body, tearing at her clothes. He asked if she was feeling okay and helped bring her lugged inside. She didn’t respond, only walked toward him. He backed up and she shut the door. Who did that? Meeting her now, it didn’t seem like she was on drugs or crazy. One thing was certain, she was beautiful. No doubt about it, especially given the eyeful from earlier.
It didn’t matter how attractive she was—he shouldn’t have sold. From all the sales documents, he knew she’d come to New Orleans for a job as a professor of religious studies at Tulane University. That information alone had created a clear image in his mind of a tailored, mature, uptight academic, despite her first name. The petite young woman with fly away black curls, her sloppy jeans and tee shirt covered in dust, didn’t match his expectations at all. Lean enough to still be curvy and tall enough to tuck her head under his chin, she was damn hot, but what struck him the most was smile and the honesty shining in her gaze. Again, those eyes, silvery blue fringed by thick black lashes—a sharp contrast to her caramel skin. Her black hair was a mess of curls tumbling down her back, but the texture seemed fine and silky. He wondered what her origins were—Indian? African? He knew barely anything about her. She obviously had money if she could afford this place. She was respected in her field, if her position at Tulane was an indication. But here she was, trying to assemble her furniture barefoot. PhD or not, she must not have a lot of common sense.
He raced back with the paper towels and his first aid box.
“I also brought some peroxide and Band-Aids, just in case.” He handed her the towels, this time not meeting her eyes.
He watched her wrap her foot in silence, noticing the delicacy of her hands, her wrists. She couldn’t be more than five foot two. A few inches over six foot, he felt like a giant beside her.
Shaking his head, he ordered himself to stop staring and grabbed a paper towel. One by one, he cleaned up the bloody footprints—the wax was still fresh, so the wood shouldn’t stain. Every other step as the stairs curved to the third level of the building, he stopped to inspect, even if he didn’t see any spatter. He’d reached the bedroom before she caught up with him and grimaced at the puddle of water by the open door to the balcony. He knelt down to sop it up.
“Thank you for your help,” she said, coming into the room. There was no trace of awkwardness, as if she didn’t remember seeing him earlier at all.
He stood, balling the wet, bloody paper towel in his fist behind his back. “You’re welcome. I hope you don’t feel like I’m infringing on your space, Dr. Betancourt.”
“Call me Kay. And you’re not infringing at all. This space was yours long before it was mine. You did a beautiful job here.”
“Thank you.” Her eyes really were stunning. She went by Kay, not Karma—Philippe wondered why. “How’s your foot?”
“I cracked a toenail.” She shrugged, her long curls scrunching up on her shoulders. “Thank you for the Band-Aid’s.”
“Just being neighborly. Plus, I didn’t want the blood to damage the floors.” He winced, instantly regretting his words. He should probably care about her foot more than the floor.
“Well,” she rocked back on her heels, her arms crossed over her chest, “I should probably get back to work if I want somewhere to sleep tonight.”
She gestured to the pile of metal rods and particle board slats with a hex key.
Even with his sculptor’s eyes, he saw no potential for anything beautiful in that mess. “That is going to be your bed?”
“Well, bed frame. It’s functional.”
“Not yet it isn’t.” He picked up the instructions. “Oh, I see. Functional is a good description.”
Crouching low, he matched the pieces on the floor to the illustration. “I’m happy to help, if you’d like.” He’d already started moving things around, laying out the puzzle. “This looks easy, but it would go better with four hands.”
Karma, no Kay, knelt next to him. “Are you sure? I’d appreciate the help, but you don’t know me and have no reason…”
“You could say I’m doing it for myself so I don’t stay up all night worried about you injuring yourself.” Or the walls. Or the floor. “Purely selfish reasons.” His smile got even broader when she smiled back.
She handed over the hex key. “Thank you. I guess what they say about Southern Gentlemen is true.”
“What do they say?”
“That they actually are gentlemen.”
He used the small wrench to tip an imaginary hat to her and made a mental note to stop noticing the way her breasts stretched the Gap logo on the tee shirt. “As you say, mam’selle.”
Kay tried to be helpful, but ended up getting in the way. Eventually she resigned herself to the job of fetching things as needed. So much for putting together her home by herself. She’d lived in the protective bubble of academia for too long. At the age of twenty-nine she had two masters, a PhD, and two published books—but in a vacuum of research, she’d never experienced “real life” responsibility. Buried in her studies, knowledge was the goal—everything else was irrelevant. In the Los Angeles apartment she’d shared off campus, her roommates had been the ones who owned all the furniture, the dishes—that stuff wasn’t important. Even with her publications, her agent handled all the mundane details like money. Now she was taking her first big step in the world of independent, employed adults and what had she done? Broken her toenail and came off as an idiot in front of her neighbor.
Philippe. Wow. They didn’t make men like that in Los Angeles.
Emotionally exhausted from jumping into a new life sight unseen and physically exhausted from traveling all day, she put one foot in front of the other until she made it downstairs. Grabbing the first bag she found, Kay placed it on the counter and started to unpack. Kitchenware. At least the delivery men had put the correct items in the correct rooms. She ripped her way through the containers and put her new dishes and utensils into the new dishwasher. Of course, she had yet to buy dish soap.
She turned on the hot water tap and let the steady stream heat as she grabbed her phone and started a shopping list. She may be new at this adult responsibility shtick, but she would adapt. Thank goodness she had a helpful neighbor. She hoped he wasn’t insane or anything, that her ridiculous mammalian response to him hadn’t made her give her trust unwisely. Overall, she got a good feel from him, a really, really good feeling. Smiling she told herself that the width of his shoulders, the tangled mess of dark hair pulled back in a pony, or his reluctant, boyish, smile had nothing to do with the decision, even though she knew it had everything to do with it. Add the way he looked at her to the mix... she had to catch her breath and stop thinking about it or she might actually reach out and do something reckless like touch him. Was it weird that she really wanted to scratch his stubble? Yes. Stop it, Kay.
“The bed frame is ready for the mattress,” he called out to her as he made his way down the stairs. “Do you have sheets?”
“Um, yes….” She pulled the steaming cups out of the sink and turned off the water before she scurried back up the stairs, her energy renewed with the idea of sleeping in a bed as a light at the end of the tunnel. Digging through one of the tied off canvas bags, she pulled out the plastic wrapped rectangle of sheets. Another bag held the down comforter and duvet cover. Pillows had to be somewhere. “I wish I could wash them first but it will have to do.”
Philippe laughed, coming up behind her. “I saw you scalded these clean. I hope that’s good enough,” he handed her a coffee mug filled with red wine, “but I figured the alcohol would kill anything harmful.”
“Good call.” She closed her eyes and took a sip. The heavy tang lingered on her tongue. It was a far cry from the boxed White Zinfandel she used to make spritzers. “Where did this come from?”
“It was part of my welcome gift.”
He put his mug on the floor by the door and started ripping the plastic from the mattress propped against the wall. She took another sip and joined him. As soon as the mattress was down, they both sat down hard, bouncing on the springs.
Kay smiled at the picture of her room becoming a reality. A large fireplace dominated the wall across from the bed. She would have to find a piece of art to hang above the mantle.
“I kept the fireplaces in this building as true to the original as I safely could.” Philippe said, standing and walking across to crouch by the hearth. “It seemed important at the time, but now I wonder if I shouldn’t have replaced this marble.”
Kay rose and stood beside him, watching him trace the sealed cracks in the hearth, wondering how they’d happened—they lent a sense of history to the empty space. To think that she was one more notch on the timeline for the historic home. Wondering at the people who came before her, she hoped she would leave a piece of herself behind, become part of this home’s identity.
“I’m glad you didn’t replace it. Everything in California is so new that it makes you forget that anyone may have come before. I don’t think you can forget that in a place like New Orleans.”
“True. And that goes double for this property.” He straightened, frowning at the hearth. Blinking away a fleeting troubled look, he raised his eyes to hers. “How’s your toe?”
She held up her foot, wiggling her toes. “Meh. It will heal.” She bent her knee, pulling her foot toward her face. She twisted to see the other foot and grimaced. The soles of her feet were black. “How did I get so filthy? These floors are so clean.”
“Maybe when you were on the balcony. There’s a lot of dust in these old buildings, then the rain turns it to mud.”
Her eyebrows rose, spine straightened. She ran her hand over the prickled skin of her arm and stood up slowly. “You saw me on the balcony?”
“No,” he answered and looked away. He was silent for a moment, then stepped forward, his hands out in a gesture of supplication. “But I did see you earlier and I heard the balcony door open. That you went outside is only a guess based on that and the puddle I mopped up by the door.” He gestured to the French doors. “You must have left them open during the rain earlier.”
“What did you see?” She winced at the desperation in her tone.
“I saw you when you first arrived.” He swallowed, the tendons on his throat contracting. “It didn’t seem like you noticed me, but I was standing right there. Then you closed the door. That is all.” His answer was simple, spoken in staccato sentences. That, along with the blush and the way he averted his eyes, spoke volumes.
“I did not have my shirt on.”
He cleared his throat and looked down at the floor. “Oh, didn’t I mention that part?”
Carolyn Hahn-Re: I really liked this story! The writing was well done, and the plot was suspenseful. I couldn't stop reading chapter after chapter, on the edge of my seat! The characters were well developed, and true to form. Thank you so much for this wonderful read.
LouiseJ2: I enjoyed the detail you went into with regards to the case. It made the UNSUB appear believable. The crisis in the middle of the story was my favorite part, very dramatic but not over the top. I feel like sometimes pairings can be overdone but I liked that some of the relationships were a little...
MavisMcQueen: "To Live Again" is a well crafted, highly engaging, heart vibrating tale surrounding our favorite Elven King. The author will keep you engrossed until the very end and by that time you will feel so strongly for Clara and the other characters that you will never want it to end...like ever. Thrandu...
aeratheninja: Interestingly enough, this story touches on different psychological states and was very informing, on top of being a solid story. Although somewhat predictable, I thoroughly enjoyed reading this; I could feel the fear and the frustration of the characters, and was happy when they were happy.Even ...
Alex Rushmer: Although I don't know the story of the Phantom of the Opera, I really enjoyed this story. The writing was very evocative, and it really put a picture of time and setting in my mind. The voice of the story really added to the character development. The idea of the time travelling -- or whatever re...
263Adder: Okay so I adore this story. I only knocked one star off plot for historical inaccuracies because I'm a bit of a stickler for that. The ending broke my heart though, considering you already changed history couldn't you (SPOILER) change it a bit more and have them together!!!! I want an alternative...
Flik: Hi! ^.^ huge fan of yours on ff.net! When I saw the note about this contest on The Way We Smile, I couldn't help but rush over here, create an account, and vote! XD Seriously love this story and would recommend it to anyone! :D best FT fanfiction out there. Amazing story, amazing concept that wa...
Fashakin Michael: I have looked for the right word to describe this piece of Art but I concluded with "Wow!" Every chapter held me glue till the last and the book is just the reflection of our environment with its reaction. Though the writeup is not far from what happens in home but the writer was able to hold me ...
FreakyPoet: "you made me laugh, made me cry, both are hard to do. I spent most of the night reading your story, captivated. This is why you get full stars from me. Thanks for the great story!"
Sara Joy Bailey: "Full of depth and life. The plot was thrilling. The author's style flows naturally and the reader can easily slip into the pages of the story. Very well done."