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If he'd agreed to see the FBI psychiatrist like his boss had wanted, this was probably what the doctor would have ordered.
That was the first thought that jumped into Sam Connelly's head when he pulled up in front of the Bachelor Moon Bed and Breakfast.
Located ten miles from the small town of Bachelor Moon, Louisiana, the huge two-story house was surrounded by large cypress and maple trees and sported a large sweeping veranda. The website had indicated that the house had three guest quarters inside and an additional three in a renovated carriage house.
As Sam parked his car and got out he was greeted with the blessed sound of nothing but nature at work. A bird sang from one of the trees as a light breeze rustled through the branches. Somewhere from the distance he heard a faint splash from the huge pond on the side of the house that the website claimed was stocked with catfish and bass.
Yes, this was just what the doctor would have ordered: two weeks of peace and quiet, fourteen days of thinking about nothing more difficult than what bait to use. He supposed he needed a break from the darkness that had been his life for so long. In truth there were times when he felt as if he'd swallowed a whole night full of darkness.
He stretched his arms overhead. The drive from Kansas City to Bachelor Moon, Louisiana, should have taken only about nine hours, but road construction had added an additional two hours to the trip.
The bed in the motel room where he'd stayed the night before had been abysmal, and he'd gotten little sleep. If he thought about it he could get downright cranky.
This vacation had been forced on him, and Sam didn't like the idea of time off or anyone telling him what he needed to do. As an FBI profiler he knew that the serial killers he hunted certainly didn't take vacations.
With a sigh he accepted the here and now and grabbed his duffel bag from the backseat. Although it was just after ten in the morning, already the sun beat hard on his shoulders and the humidity pressed tight against his chest.
At that moment the front door of the house swung open and a woman appeared on the veranda. She wore a long, dark blue, gauzy skirt that the breeze swirled around her slender legs, and a light blue sleeveless blouse that exposed lightly tanned arms and emphasized the press of full breasts.
Long blond hair framed a heart-shaped face, and the smile of welcome that curved her lips caused a flicker of something alien deep inside Sam.
"Hello," she said as he approached. "You must be Mr. Connelly."
"Sam. You can call me Sam," he replied. As he drew closer he realized that she wasn't just pretty, but she had the kind of classic beauty that required little makeup or artifice. Her eyes were the blue of a summer sky, and her features were elegant without being cold.
"I'm Daniella Butler, owner and operator of this place." She opened the front door wide to allow him inside.
He swept past her and into a large foyer, aware of the scent of ripened peaches that either came from her or rode in the air inside the house.
"I'll just show you around and then take you up to your room," she said.
He nodded, vaguely surprised by his instant attraction to her. God, he couldn't remember the last time he'd felt anything for anyone. He'd turned off his emotions a long time ago.
"This is the common room," she explained as she led him into a large family-room-type area. There was a television, a bookshelf with books, puzzles and games, a table and a sofa and several easy chairs. "It's just a place to hang out if you're feeling sociable."
The one thing he didn't intend to feel while he was here was sociable, he thought, as she led him into the next room, a large dining area.
"This is where meals are served," she continued.
"Breakfast is from seven to nine, lunch is eleven to one and dinner is five to seven." Her voice had the soft drawl of somebody born and bred in the region. "On Sundays the only meal I serve is breakfast, but there's plenty of dining places in town. I also try to keep little nibbles in the common room if you get the munchies between meals."
She offered him another warm smile, and he forced his lips to stretch in what he hoped was a smile of his own. It had been so long since he'd smiled at anyone the gesture felt forced and strange.
"Now, if you'll follow me, I'll show you to your room," she said.
As he followed her up the wide staircase he tried not to notice the sway of her shapely hips before him. Normally, his head was filled with crime scene reports and grisly details of murders. He couldn't remember the last time that his head had been empty enough to enjoy the view of a woman's swinging hips, the weight of a fishing pole in his hand, the simple things that everyone told him made life worth living.
"Is it always this quiet?" he asked once they had reached the second-floor landing.
She turned to face him. "On the weekdays it's fairly quiet. I have one man who has been staying here for the past two months, but other than that the place only fills up on the weekends and then things get a little livelier. So, that gives you the next three days to enjoy the peace and quiet, if that's what you're after."
She gestured him into a room on her right. The large, airy bedroom was painted soft green with white borders. The four-poster bed looked as if it had one of those pillowy mattresses that instantly made Sam's muscles moan in sweet anticipation.
He set his duffel bag on the floor and moved to the window to look outside. From this vantage point he could see a wooden walkway, which led to a dock, and a pond almost big enough to be considered a lake, which sparkled in the morning sunshine.
"The bathroom is here," she said, drawing his attention away from the window. "And here's the key to the room. Unfortunately the days of unlocked rooms in a bed-and-breakfast are over."
He took the key she held out to him and noticed that she wore no wedding ring. Not that it mattered. Not that he cared in the least. There was only one thing he wanted to know from her. "What's the best bait to use?"
"Worms or crawdads," she replied. "And I don't clean what you catch, but I'll be glad to cook it up for you if you want. There's a shed in the backyard that has bait and a place to clean fish, and you're welcome to help yourself. Just let me know if you need anything else and once again, welcome to Bachelor Moon."
He was grateful when she left him alone. Being sociable and pleasant had never been one of Sam's strong suits. What Sam did best was crawl into the mind of killers.
"Not here, not now," he muttered to himself as he opened his duffel bag and began to unpack.
It took him only minutes to store the jeans and T-shirts he'd brought with him in the dresser drawers. Then he left the room and went back downstairs, intent on spending the rest of the day with a fishing pole in his hand.
He didn't see Daniella as he went back down the stairs although he heard the murmur of voices coming from another room. He walked back out the front door and to his car, where he grabbed a new fishing pole and tackle box from the trunk.
He'd been fishing only a couple of times in his life, the last time over twenty-five years ago, when he'd been about ten. At that time he'd gone fishing with his best friend and his best friend's father. It had been one of the few good memories he had of his childhood.
He found the shed where Daniella had indicated bait was kept. Inside the cool, dark interior an old refrigerator hummed; it stored foam containers of fat worms. Crickets chirped from a cage, and a dank tank held crawdads. There was also a wooden table with a water spigot and a trough for cleaning the daily catch.
Sam grabbed a container of worms and tried to keep his mind empty as he walked down the wooden walkway that led to the dock at the edge of the pond. The dock held several lawn chairs. He grabbed one and positioned it facing outward, then eased down and drew in a lungful of the warm, humid air.
He didn't want to be here. He wanted to be in the field, hunting bad guys and getting them off the streets.
He grabbed a worm and looped it onto his hook, then cast out into the sparkling pond.
His coworkers called him the Prince of Darkness because of his ability to creep into the mind and soul of evil. "You're immersing yourself too deeply in your work," Assistant Director Ken Walt had told him three days ago. "You need some time off, Sam. You need some distance, a reminder that there's still good out in the world. You might not know it but you're on the verge of permanent burnout from life."
Sam had argued that he was fine, but ultimately he was given a choice: go talk to the company psychiatrist or take a vacation. So here he was, sitting on a dock wishing he were back on the job.
"If you cast closer to the shore, you'll have better luck."
Sam jumped at the voice coming from just behind him and turned to see a little girl in overall shorts and a red T-shirt, her long blond hair escaping from pigtails. It was a no-brainer who the kid belonged to; she looked just like her pretty mama.
"Thanks, kid, but I'm doing fine." He turned back to stare out at the water, not wanting to encourage any further conversation.
"But if you want to catch fish you should do like I tell you," she replied, and sidled up next to him. "Frank says the best fish in the world like to hide in those big cattails by the shore."
The last thing Sam wanted was a fishing lesson given to him by a five- or six-year-old. "I'm doing just fine, thanks."
"Suit yourself," she replied. "But if you catch a big old catfish then Mommy can fry it up for supper, and there's nothing better than Mommy's fried catfish."
"I'm not going to catch much of anything if you keep talking. You'll scare all the fish away."
She giggled, a pleasant, childish sound. "Silly boy. Fish don't have ears and you sound a little bit crabby."
"I am just a little bit crabby," he replied, hoping that would end the conversation and she'd go find somebody else to talk to.
"Well, you can just get happy in the same pants you got crabby in," she exclaimed.
An unexpected burst of laughter escaped him, the sound rusty from lack of use. She grinned, pleased that she'd made him laugh.
"I'm Macy Marie Butler," she continued. "And I'm a little princess. My mommy is a big princess, and you don't have to be scared of monsters when we're around."
"And why is that?" Sam asked, despite his desire to be left alone.
"Monsters don't have any power when there are princesses around."
"Macy Marie!" Daniella's voice drifted to them from the back porch.
"Uh-oh. I'm in big trouble now." The little girl released a deep sigh. "Here she comes and she's gonna yell at me. I might even get a time-out."
Sam turned to see Daniella coming down the walk, the skirt swirling with each determined stride she took. When she reached them she gave her daughter a stern look. "Macy, go on and get to your room. You know you aren't supposed to bother the guests."
"She wasn't bothering me," Sam surprised himself by saying. "In fact, I was probably bothering her by asking so many questions about the fishing."
Daniella eyed him dubiously, but Macy gave him a beatific grin. "And I was explaining to him about monsters and that you and I are princesses," Macy added.
Daniella's cheeks flushed with color, and once again Sam was struck with a tiny flicker of heat in the pit of his stomach. God, the woman had a smile that could sizzle an egg in a cold skillet.
"Yes, well, this little princess needs to get inside and clean her room," she said, and gave Macy a pat on her bottom.
As Macy ran toward the house Daniella looked at Sam once again. "The princess thingit started as a story to help with her nightmares of monsters." She looked decidedly uncomfortable.
"So I guess that means you don't want me to call you Your Highness," Sam said. He began to wind in his fishing line.
"Definitely not," she replied with a small laugh.
"Still, it's nice to know you have the monster thing under control."
"Thankfully in Bachelor Moon we don't have to worry much about monsters. Can I bring you a glass of iced tea or something?" she asked, obviously eager to change the subject.
He shook his head. "No, I'm fine." He cast his line out closer to the shore where Macy had indicated he should be fishing.
"Again, I apologize for my daughter. She can be a bit of a handful."
"Nothing to apologize for," Sam assured her. "Besides, I'm sure she's the apple of her daddy's eyes."
Her eyes darkened. "I divorced my husband a year ago. Enjoy the rest of the morning and we'll see you inside for lunch." She didn't wait for a reply but instead turned on her heel and hurried back toward the house.
Sam watched her until she disappeared into the house, then turned back and stared out at the pond. The whole bed-and-breakfast thing was a pretty big operation for a single mother.
Of course, just because she wasn't married didn't mean she was all alone. A woman as gorgeous as Dan-iella Butler probably had any number of men willing to step up and help her in whatever way she needed.
Sam wouldn't mind helping her if she needed a body to warm her bed. He definitely found her physically attractive, and it had been way too long since Sam had been with any woman.
Monsters. Sam didn't worry much about the monsters he encountered in his work. What he worried about was the monster he feared slept deep in his soul, a monster that might awaken at any moment.