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There was nothing but love and happiness surrounding the big pavilion that separated the main house of Clay and Benita Deveraux from the guesthouse. The occasion was a joyous one: a double wedding had just taken place. The happy couples were Julian Macarthur Deveraux, Sr., and his bride, Ruth Bennett. His oldest son, Julian Jr., had remarried his wife, Maya, in what was actually a mere formality, as they had never been legally divorced. The ceremonies took place in Atlanta because Hurricane Katrina had laid claim to the beautiful city of New Orleans, the birthplace and home of the two grooms.
It had been a simple ceremony, but festive. The pavilion was full of beautiful flowers, fantastic refreshments and immediate family. The Deveraux family was a big one, and there were smiling faces everywhere. The Atlanta Deverauxes boasted five children, all of whom were married, with multiple children, and the Louisiana Deverauxes also had five children, four sons and a recently married daughter. "Immediate family" for the Deverauxes was a flexible term because there were in-laws, cousins, children of all ages and several lively pets who joined the outdoor reception with gusto.
Lucien Deveraux, Julian Jr.'s brother and, with his twin brother, Philippe, the last of the line, had eyes for only one person at the reception.
He'd met her before, when her brother Titus had married his only sister, Paris. Nicole Argonne. She was the youngest of Titus's sisters and had been one of the bridesmaids at the wedding. He'd thought she was gorgeous, with her dark chocolate skin, her long black hair and her huge, expressive almond-shaped eyes. After getting to know her throughout all the pre-weddingfestivities and walking with her down the aisle, he'd planned to ask her out. But she'd brought a date to the wedding, so he'd missed his chance. She seemed to be alone on this trip, something he decided to remedy at once.
Lucien was about to make his move when she took the microphone from his young cousin Trey's hand and began to sing. Trey had the brilliant idea of charging people to sing at the reception with all the proceeds going to Hurricane Katrina survivors. Trey, although barely in his teens, was a born entrepreneur. The boy had executive producer written all over him. Both couples had refused wedding gifts of any kind, asking only for donations for the survivors of Hurricane Katrina. And Trey, knowing how much people enjoyed singing, whether they could do it or not, had hit upon this novel idea for the reception. It was karaoke to the ninth power with a live band accompanying the singers, and everyone was having a ball. Lucien took a seat near the makeshift stage and settled down to enjoy Nicole's voice.
She was wearing a soft pink dress in some kind of filmy material that showed off all her best assets: her long, curvy legs with their slender ankles and dainty feet, her ample bust, small waist and big, rounded hips. She was just the kind of woman he craved, a soft, cushy, full-figured woman who looked like she would taste like chocolate and feel like a soft warm cloud wrapped around him. When she began singing Chaka Khan's "Through the Fire," Lucien was profoundly glad he was sitting down, because certain parts of his body were straining to catch every note of her beautiful voice.
"Luc, man, quit drooling. You're embarrassing us," Philippe said with a lazy grin. Lucien hadn't even heard his twin come to join him. He didn't even bother to front; he simply ignored him until the last notes had faded into the scented air.
"Dang, Luc, you look like you've been lobotomized. Somebody's gonna think that woman has you hypnotized," Philippe said.
"She does," Lucien answered, never taking his eyes from her face. "I'm going to marry that woman."
Philippe made a choking sound. "Are you crazy? Marry her? You don't even know her! And what makes you think you're ready to get married? You're the biggest hound in Louisiana and all of a sudden you're ready to settle down?"
He braced himself for an outburst of anger from Lucien. The Deveraux brothers were notorious hotheads. They were perfectly charming gentlemen with excellent manners and deportment when they were in public, but when they were alone they would do battle like samurai warlords. They could and did argue about everything from sports to law to music and they enjoyed every raucous moment of it.
Lucien looked at his twin for the first time. "Take a look around you. Look at Pop and Julian," he said.
His father and his oldest brother were both on the dance floor, staring down at their wives with such adoration it was as palpable as a warm wind caressing the faces of the persons witnessing their love. Lucien wasn't finished, though.
"Now look at Clay and Martin and Malcolm and Marcus. Check out Angelique and Donnie. Look at Paris, too, while you're at it."
Philippe obeyed, looking at all their Atlanta cousins. Each one was either dancing with his wife or holding her. In Clay's case, he was sitting next to his beloved Benita and stroking her rounded tummy; she was pregnant with their sixth child. Angelique, the only sister of the Atlanta Deveraux brothers, was being cosseted by her big handsome husband the way he always babied her when she was pregnant, like she was now. Marcus was holding his daughter Anastasia on his lap and he was kissing his wife, Vera, like there was no one else around. Martin was whispering something in his wife, Ceylon's, ear that was making her blush and giggle. And their sister, Paris, was sitting on her husband, Titus's, lap while he looked at her like she was the only thing of any importance in his world.
"Okay, I get it. All our cousins have found beautiful wives. Pop has found himself the perfect woman, and Julian has even managed to get back with Maya. So what's that got to do with you?"
Lucien narrowed his eyes at his brother. "Don't be dense, man. After what we went through with Katrina, how can you ask such a stupid question? Life is too short for playing around anymore. I can't just take my life for granted the way I used to. I need to follow the example of the men in the family and get my priorities straight. Look at all that bliss, man. I want some of that, too. It's time out for chasing around with a different woman every night. I want what they have, and I'm going to get it with her," he said, staring at Nicole as she left the stage. "That's my woman right there, and before the year is out, I mean to have her," he said confidently as he rose from his seat and headed in her direction. "And if you have any sense at all, you'll be looking for a woman of your own. This time next year I'm gonna be looking like Clay and Martin and Pop, and you're gonna be looking horny and mad like you always do," he added with a grin.
In minutes he'd reached Nicole's side and looked down at her with the smile that had been breaking hearts all over the South since he was in middle school. "Nicole, I hope you remember meI'd love to dance with you while we get re-acquainted. And if you dance half as well as you sing, it would be my extreme pleasure." He laughed.
She looked at him, smiled, hesitated about thirty seconds before putting her hand through his extended arm and floating out to the dance floor.
Lucien was in heaven. Nicole was beautiful; she smelled like flowers and she felt warm and sexy next to him. His lines had always worked before, but this time, when it really mattered, he had managed to tempt the right woman into his arms. At that moment, life couldn't have been any better.
INicole didn't quite know what had come over her when Lucien asked her to dance. Her first instinct was to say "No, thank you" and rejoin her brother and sister-in-law at their table, but she found herself wrapped in Lucien's arms as the music became soft and romantic. She tried not to look up at him, but it seemed silly not to. She took a deep breath and was glad she had, because when she looked up, the expression on Lucien's face almost made her forget how to exhale.
His eyes were half-closed, and he was smiling at her with a tender, intimate look that turned her insides to jelly. She was trying desperately to think of something flippant to say, something to let him know that he wasn't making any kind of impression on her, not at all.
Just because he was tall, charming and handsome enough to be modeling, she wasn't going to let him get to her. Why does he have to look so yummy? She couldn't even hope that he was beautiful but stupid. because she knew he was one of the leading attorneys in Louisiana. He had a very lucrative practice with his brothers and they all had outstanding reputations. Lucien practiced corporate law, while his brothers specialized in tax law, entertainment and environmental law. He doesn't even have the decency to be dumb as a rock, she fretted, hoping her dismay wasn't apparent to him. It didn't seem to be, because he suddenly moved his arms so both of them were around her waist and pulled her closer to his long, muscular body. He smelled wonderful and he was a superb dancer, two things that were high on her list of preferred attributes in the opposite sex. She was jolted out of her musings when he suddenly kissed her on the forehead.
She found her voice and was about to let him have it for overstepping his boundaries, when he apologized. "I'm sorry, Nicole. I shouldn't have done that but that complexion of yours was just irresistible. You're too soft and sweet for your own good," he murmured. "By the way, if I didn't tell you before, your voice is amazing. You should be singing professionally."
Nicole was a very talented interior designer. She'd worked very hard to get her bachelors and masters degrees and to establish herself as one of the leading designers in the South. "I like my job," she told him. "I'm an excellent designer and I have a very large client base who wouldn't appreciate me becoming a torch singer. They rely on me completely. The owners of the firm won't like it, either." The small design firm was The Lennox Group and it was owned by Davie and Andrea Lennox, a happily married couple.
"Do you do residential or commercial design?'
"I do both. I just finished a new resort near Atlanta. My next couple projects are vacation homes for two of my best clients."
"Then you can just sing for me," Lucien said.
She laughed at his audacity and he smiled. "You smell wonderful," he told her. "That's a very sexy scent you're wearing." She couldn't think of anything smart to say so she just enjoyed the rest of the dance.
Thankfully the music changed to something hot and lively, and Nicole was about to leave the dance floor, when Lucien took her hand. "I think we'd better go sit down before I do something I really have no business doing in public," he said with a smile so sincere and warm Nicole felt heat all over her body. Before she could say a word they were on their way to the table where her brother Titus was feeding his new wife, Paris. He was giving her small bites of their shared plate of hors d'oeuvres. At least this gave her something on which to comment, now that she was pretty sure she could talk without stammering.
"Umm, Titus, the last time I looked, my sister-in-law was capable of eating on her own. I don't really think it's necessary for you to feed her," Nicole said tartly.
She sat down across from the couple, and she had to smile. Titus, the last of the hard-hearted loners in the world, had fallen head over heels in love with Paris, and now he was acting like he'd invented the emotion. Paris was looking at him the same way, like he was the entire world to her, which he was. They finally tore their eyes away from each other long enough to look at Nicole and Lucien with sparkling eyes and big, secretive smiles. Finally Titus came clean with the whole story.
"Yes, I'm quite sure my wife is capable of eating on her own. It just so happens that I'm not feeding her," he drawled.
Nicole raised an eyebrow and looked at Lucien. "My eyesight is still twenty-twenty, and I saw you putting food in her mouth. Lucien saw it, too, didn't you?" She looked at Lucien for confirmation. He was still holding her hand.
"I was looking at you, to be perfectly honest, but it did seem like the two of them were involved in some strange newlywed ritual," he admitted.
Nicole was caught up in the tender thrill that ran up her body, so caught up that she almost missed what Titus said next. "Well, sis, it seems like we brought a little something back from the honeymoon with us. I was feeding your niece or nephew to be, if you really want to know," he said proudly.
"Oh. Well, that's a different story," she said absentmind-edly, and then the full import of what he'd just revealed hit her.
"You brought what? You were what? My what?" she sputtered. "Are we having a baby? I'm gonna be an auntie?" Tears sprang to her eyes, and she had to jump up and hug Paris, then Titus, and then Paris again. And she hugged Lucien, too. "A baby, Lucien, isn't it wonderful?" And before she realized what she was doing, she kissed him, a kiss he was only too glad to return.
It was a brief kiss born out of pure excitement, but the reason for the kiss didn't lessen its impact on the grateful recipient. Lucien felt a swift heat enflame his manhood when her soft, tender lips touched his. He didn't say anything; he simply smiled at her.
Her joy in her brother's announcement was obvious; her face was lit up with genuine love and happiness. She was so captivating that he continued to look at her as though he'd seen her for the very first time that day.
He liked everything about her, from her thick, shining black hair to her slender feet. Her eyes were amazing. They were big and clear, with long eyelashes and a slight almond shape that made them mysterious and sexy. Her smooth chocolate-brown skin looked soft and kissable, and she had high, sculpted cheekbones that he wanted to press his mouth against right there at the table, but he knew better. In the meantime, he just enjoyed the view.