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Four hours, twenty-eight minutes of driving, only to sit and cool her heels.
Sadie Thompson had left Lagniappe, Louisiana, at three-thirty this hot and humid July morning to make sure she wouldn't be late to pick up her half brother Caleb at eight, sharp. Which meant she'd set her alarm for three. Now she stood in the main room of the Terrebonne Parish Juvenile Detention Center, pacing as she waited for them to process Caleb out of the system.
Her soles squeaked against the buffed floor. What would he be like after all these years of living with his father? No telling what lies that man, an oil field worker, had filled Caleb's mind with. Of course, she shouldn't speak ill of the dead, but she'd never liked Caleb's father. But she'd come this far and she'd see this through. Besides, she wouldn't allow what happened to Uncle Joe to happen to Caleb. Not if she could help it.
Who knew, maybe they could build a real brother-sister relationship. It wasn't as if she had anyone elseshe had no other living relatives. Didn't even have any friends aside from her pastor.
She'd spent hours last night readying her guest room for her brother. Cleared out all the floral-printed curtains and comforter, replacing them with a navy blue set. Maybe it was silly because he'd be her charge only for the few months until his eighteenth birthday, but Sadie wanted to make the effort. Make Caleb feel welcome. She'd made sure her kitchen was well-stocked. Wasn't it a fact that teenage boys had bottomless pits for stomachs?
Vibrations ran along her hip. Sadie jerked her cell from the belt clip and pushed it open. "Hello."
"Another facility's been sabotaged. One of the new ones. The rednecks arenow picketing outside the office, claiming that if we hadn't laid them off, this wouldn't be happening. Deacon's blowing a gasket and asking for you." Georgia, Sadie's assistant public relations representative, sounded flustered. And Georgia Maldon never got flustered. "On top of that, those fishermen are making a stink again. They're getting more vocal."
Great. Just par for a Monday. Why did the bottom have to fall out today of all days? "Look, I can't come in. You'll just have to deal with Deacon."
Deacon Wynn, owner and president of Vermilion Oil. Her boss. Shrewd and ruthless. And very accustomed to having people jump when he spoke.
"Sadie, don't do this to me." Georgia's voice dropped to a whisper. "He's ballistic. Second facility sabotaged within a month, and the media's all over it. Fifty-eight wells produced into this facility. He says we're losing business right and left and you'd better do damage control. Or else."
She glanced at her watchbarely eight forty-five. How much longer would she be left waiting? How much paperwork could it take to release someone from prison? Wait, this wasn't prison, this was a juvenile detention center. Wasn't that what the court representative had harped over and over? Caleb had been brought in for downloading pirated DVDs and music off the Internet, of all things. According to the representatives, the judge had sentenced him to incarceration for sixty days only to teach Caleb a lesson to deter his misguided life direction.
"Sadie, please." Georgia's voice cracked.
Running a hand over her hair, Sadie felt as if she were being pulled in two different directions. Right now, she couldn't leave. "I can't help it. I'm out of town right now and can't make it in.
Stave Deacon off by telling him I'll get a press release out to the media today." If she could get in touch with her contact at the Lagniappe Gazette, she could head off the rumors against the company. She knew better than most how much the locals loved to wag their tongues. Hadn't she been trying to live down her own past reputation? "Set up an appointment with the fishermen for later this week. I'll try to smooth over their concerns. And call security and see if they can do anything about the picketing. If those guys are on our property, we can have them removed."
"Deacon's going to want to see you, Sadie. He needs to hear directly from you that this is under control."
If it wasn't one thing, it was another. Her nerves bunched into tightly coiled springs as she stared at the door the guard had told her Caleb would exit from. She gripped the cell tighter. "Tell Deacon I'll work out an angle and call him later. Bye." She closed the phone and slid it back onto her hip, dropping into one of the plastic chairs as she did so.
Sadie loved working as the public relations officer for Vermilion Oil. Loved working angles. But over the last two weeks, with sabotages well, the situation had become a scramble for damage control. Now she was about to add another layer of stress to her lifecustody of her brother. Had she lost her ever-loving mind?
She tried to remember what Caleb had been like as a child. It'd been too many years to count since they'd lived under the same roof. Sullen, she remembered that much about him, but when he smiled oh, my, when he smiled, he could melt your heart. But she hadn't seen Caleb in the seven years since their mother's funeral, and if memory served her correct, it hadn't exactly been a warm and fuzzy reunion. More like an icy reception.
He'd grown tall and lanky, like his father, whom Sadie had never liked. Caleb had long, dark, greasy-looking hair, but also had been blessed with their mother's eyes, glimmering with proof that he could be capable of kindness and gentleness.
What was she supposed to do with a half brother she didn't even know? Especially one who'd been incarcerated?
Sadie crossed her legs and reviewed the paperwork the juvenile system had provided her. As if she hadn't read it four times already.
She'd have to take Caleb directly to the parole office upon his release. They would meet with his assigned parole officer, one Jon Garrison.
Parole offices, incidents which were in violation of parole and would result in immediate revocation of Caleb's release and sessions with summer school counselors to ensure her brother would integrate back into the public school system without difficulty all foreign to her before today. Now, these issues would become a part of her daily life.
But everyone deserved a second chance. She knew that better than most. Hadn't she been busy for the last year trying to prove to the people of Lagniappe she was no longer the woman with questionable morals?
The door creaked open next to the guard's post. Sadie shot to her feet, nervous energy tightening her muscles. Caleb dwarfed the guard beside him. Her brother stood over six feet tall, quite a difference from seven years ago. The gray sweatpants hung off his lean frame. His hair was differentshort, almost trimmed into a buzz. That probably wasn't a choice, but a requirement of the detention center policy. Acne pocked his freshly shaven face, a reminder that despite his size, he was still a minor.
Probably with a little boy's heart.
She rushed forward, unsure whether to hug him. She sucked her bottom lip and halted, waiting for him to make the first move.
He lifted his bowed head. His stare met hers.
Cold. Unfriendly. Resentful.
She swallowed back the hope. "Caleb." She struggled to smile.
The guard handed him a black trash bag. "Stay outta trouble, Caleb."
Again, her sullen brother didn't reply. He strutted toward the front doors, attitude seeping from his every movement.
The man touched Sadie's shoulder. "Better keep up with him." He glanced at Caleb's retreating back. "Best of luck, lady. You're gonna need it."
Oh, Father, please help me.
"Here's a new one for you."
Jon Garrison glanced up from the mountain of paperwork piled on the desk in front of him. He glared at the young clerk assigned to his parole office. "You're not serious." He leaned back in his chair and ran a hand over his face.
"Sorry, boss. I'm just the messenger." Lisa passed him a file, grinning.
He set the folder on top of his stack. It nearly toppled to the floor. Typical Monday chaos.
She chuckled, enjoying his angst way too much.
"Don't they realize I'm only one person? I can't handle this type of caseload."
"Request another parole officer be assigned to the office."
If it were only that easy. "Like that will happen. Haven't you heard budget cuts have caused several offices to close? Why do you think I moved here?"
"Because you got smart and wanted to live south of the Mason-Dixon line?" Her smile matched her commenttongue-in-cheek.
"Cute." Days like this, Jon wished he was back in Nebraska, where there were four seasons and snow wasn't something just seen on Christmas cards. The weather here was crazy. He'd been here since February and had yet to be able to differentiate between seasons except for warm, hot and humid. And that fourth season? Warm, hot and humid all blended together.
"Seriously, Jon, if there are too many cases, just call the state office. If no one complains about the overload in each office, they'll never do anything about it." She shrugged. "I'm gonna grab a burger for lunch. Want one?"
Another greasy, fried meal? Jon's stomach turned. Then rumbled. "Nope. I'm going to go eat a real meal." He grabbed the new file and his windbreaker. "But it'll be a working lunch."
"Want some company?"
The last thing he wanted, or needed, was to have his assistant getting the wrong idea. Not that the perky redhead wasn't attractive; she was. But he wasn't interested, and a too-comfortable relationship between coworkers wasn't a smart idea. That would just be an invitation for a sticky situation, or a sexual harassment suit, neither of which sounded the least bit appealing.
"I think I'm just going to bury my head in this latest file and see what I can get set up. Won't be very good company."
"See you in an hour, then." She rushed from the doorway.
The possibility of miscommunication between them was a complication he couldn't handle right now. Not on top of an already full caseload, with more arriving daily. What had he let himself in for, moving here? He'd believed he could help people, make a difference. Wasn' t that what his supervisor had said? When the Nebraska county he'd resided in fell victim to the dreaded budget cuts, the move had sounded like a good idea. But now
Jon allowed enough time for Lisa to get free of the parking lot before he walked to his car. Ever since moving to Lagniappe, dodging women had become more of a challenge for him than his stint in the Guarddodging fire in Operation Desert Storm. Give him an earth-to-missile launcher over an interested female any day of the week. And twice on Sundays.
The wind had picked up since he'd arrived at the office around seven. Hot air moving around, just his luck. While all his old buddies were gearing up for snow skiing and racing on snowmobiles in a few months, he'd be stuck in the bayou where the only things sliding about were the snakes and alligators.
As he drove around Lagniappe, Jon debated where to eat. No specialty cafés existed in the little community. The offerings ranged from deep-fried everything to smothered-in-gravy anything. Not that it wasn't goodit was, but he'd love a Runza about now. He could almost taste the homemade dough, stuffed full of flavor, then baked fresh every day. His mouth watered at the thought. Wishful thinking on his part. Sighing, he pulled in front of Cajun's Wharf. At least he could get some boiled shrimp.
He requested a corner table in the back of the room. While he ate, he'd be able to read the entire file on the new case assigned to him and make his notes, and that'd be one less to deal with back at the office.
After being served his iced tea, sans the cup of sugar normally mixed in the glasswhat was it with these Southern people and tea so sweet it made his teeth hurt?he ordered the boiled shrimp, without the "special" house seasonings.
"Would you like a bowl of cayenne on the side, sir?" The waiter scowled at him, disapproval lurking in his young face.
What would he do with a bowl of cayenne? "Um, no thank you."
The waiter gave a curt nod and disappeared, clearly delighted to make his getaway from the strange Yankee. Jon could hear it now, the waiter busting into the kitchen. "Y'all aren't gonna believe the dude sitting at my table. He even ordered unsweetened tea."
Jon opened the file and read the parolee profile.
Caleb Frost: seventeen; incarcerated for sixty days in the Ter-rebonne Parish Juvenile Detention Center in Houma, Louisiana, for illegal Internet downloading; six months probation; scheduled for releaseJon checked the datetoday. Great, already a day late and a dollar short. Caleb had been assigned to the Vermilion Parish Parole Office due to receiving new legal guardianship.
Stop the presses! A new legal guardian?
That raised red flags in Jon's mind. Minors this close to legal age normally didn't get new guardians. He flipped through the case notes and read on.
Ah, the boy's father died while Caleb was in juvie, an accident on an offshore oil rig. His mother died some years back, leaving him without a parent for a legal guardian. Made sense. So who was the new guardian? A foster family? Those never worked out and Jon often wondered why the courts were so gung ho on shipping these almost-adults around. Just added to the post-traumatic stress syndrome they all normally suffered from after juvie.
He flipped through more pages until he found the recent court documents. New legal guardian of Caleb Frost was one Sadie Thompson, half sister of the minor.
Jon turned the document over to find the details on Ms. Thompson.
A single woman, longtime resident of Lagniappe, employed by Vermilion Oil, four years into buying her home and twenty-four years of age.
The court had assigned a seventeen-year-old boy to a twenty-four-year-old guardian? A single woman, with no family listed to help her out? Were they serious? Glancing through the paperwork, he realized they were.
The waiter appeared with Jon's lunch. He plopped it onto the table, scowled again, as if Jon had personally insulted him by not ordering the side of cayenne, and scuttled away. Jon took a sip of tea, then went back to the case notes as he ate.
What was such a young, single woman going to do with her brother? Maybe they were close before his incarceration? Jon flipped pages and read the history.
Caleb Frost had lived with his biological father since his parents' divorce eleven years ago. His father had never remarried and according to the notes, there wasn't a woman's influence around Caleb since.
Jon did the math. Caleb had been caught in a man's world since he was six years old. No wonder he'd ended up in juvie. Jon's heart ached for the little boy Caleb had once been.