“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.
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