Returning to her flooded New Orleans home to face Henry Boudreaux, the man she jilted at the altar, is the hardest thing attorney Sonja Bosco has ever done—even before she discovers she’s pregnant. Sonja backed out of the marriage for Henry’s sake. He wants to be part of his father’s law firm, and his parents will never approve of an interracial marriage. Better to bruise his heart than ruin his life.
Henry can’t forgive Sonja, and doubts that he can trust her again. But learning that they’re going to be parents means there’s no avoiding each other. Springtime on the bayou is already steamy enough…now they’re living in the same small space while their damaged house is repaired. And with each passing day they’re getting a little more honest. A lot more real. And realizing that nothing—not even New Orleans at Mardi Gras—glows brighter than the desire they’re trying to deny…
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Sonja Bosco's grip on the leather-covered steering wheel lessened when she saw the empty driveway in front of the house that had been more than her home for the past three years. It had been her very heartbeat. Henry's car could be in the garage, of course, but she doubted it. According to what she'd ascertained from their shared receptionist, he was hard at work in the New Orleans office of Boudreaux Law. She'd gathered the courage to call into the main office in Baton Rouge, run by Henry's father, late last week. The senior Boudreaux knew she planned to report back to work later this morning. Three weeks and two days after she'd left NOLA, left St. Louis Cathedral, and more significantly, left her ex-almost-husband-to-be, Henry, on said altar.
Of all the degrees, positions, and dreams she'd aspired to, runaway bride had never made the list. The tug of remorse at her emotionally cataclysmic decision was strong, but her will to jump into her new routine, whatever that was going to look like, was stronger.
She parked her BMW in the driveway for what would be the last time. Her finances as a single woman demanded she sell the once cherished Beemer, and her status as Henry's ex meant she'd never again live in the house they'd built together. If only it didn't still feel like home. As much as she dreaded seeing the devastation the flood had done to it the last two weeks, maybe it would crack the code on the invisible signal that made her body home in on this place as if it were her last grasp for freedom. Hell, it wasn't just her body. Her soul had planted roots here, damn it all to hell.
The graveled drive felt so familiar under her sandaled feet she almost wept. Home. She'd needed to be here, by herself, licking her heart wounds these past few weeks, instead of holing up in a close elementary- school friend's backwater cabin. She hadn't had Wi-Fi and had refused to check her phone, save to let her parents and family know she was still breathing, and was safe from the flooding rains that pummeled so much of the bayou two weeks ago. The flooding had been so extensive she couldn't get back to the river house if she wanted to, not without a boat and the help of Henry or his brother Brandon.
She'd only gone out twice, each time to the tiny local grocery store.
Where the third pregnancy test she'd purchased gave her the same result as the previous two, before the wedding. She was pregnant, newly so. Not only was Henry Boudreaux her ex-groom and ex-fiancé, but he was also her baby daddy. She couldn't muster the tiniest of smiles, much less a giggle, at the humor of it. She, Sonja Bosco, didn't think she'd ever laugh again.
The heavy wooden front door opened with a single turn of her key. It stuck a bit in the frame, and she wondered if it might still be swollen from the devastating rains that soaked the area the week after the wedding. So much so that Poppy, her best friend and appointed honeymoon house sitter, had had to leave for higher, drier ground. And had promptly fallen in love with her rescuer, Henry's brother Brandon.
At least some people still believed in love.
Sonja sucked in a huge breath and faced the house she'd lived in with Henry for the past couple of years, where they'd planned their wedding.
"The un-wedding," she muttered to the empty house as she entered. It was worse than she'd thought it would be. The main floor had been flooded during the storm, and Poppy and Henry had done a quick storm prep by moving as much as possible to the second floor of the custom- built riverfront home.
Streaks of dried mud led the way from the living room to the French doors where the water had come in. Shadowed stains on the previously ivory cream walls indicated that the water had risen to at least eighteen inches, maybe even two feet, in the house.
Her and Henry's dream home had drowned. Not unlike their hopes for a future together. Certainly her tears that first week after the wedding that never happened were enough to drown her crushed dreams. She thought she'd cried out all the pain of her broken heart, but as she gazed at the storm's destruction, waves of anguish rushed up from her stomach and she turned around and ran back out of the house. The crepe myrtles had survived the storm, and she took shelter behind them as her morning sickness left her helpless until her stomach was emptied.
"Son of a bitch." She ran a shaky hand across her forehead. "Nothing personal, baby. You're sweet, don't worry. Mommy's just getting used to you is all." Sweet Jesus and iced lemonade, she sounded like her grandmother. Grandma Edwina had made her opinion of Sonja marrying a "white gentleman" clear. "I'll support whomever you choose, sweet girl, but you have to know that you're making your life harder than it needs to be."
Sonja had blown her maternal grandmother off, assigning the words to a generation that had marched on Selma. While Loving v. Virginia had been decided within two years of Selma, there was still such a long way to go, and Sonja's grandmother never let her forget it. Grandma was as protective of her as could be and didn't want to see Sonja risk the extra pain that an interracial marriage could bring.
Sonja had fallen for Henry as he had her — flat-out soul mate attraction. But the reaction from his parents was some kind of 1950s flashback. They thought the marriage was doomed before it started simply because Sonja was black. She'd been sad for Henry because she knew his relationship with his parents was going to suffer. Had suffered.
But had it been enough? She still wasn't sure that if he'd drawn a firmer line with his folks she'd never have run.
The doubt and guilt that had scratched at her conscience after each altercation with Henry's parents came screaming back, and she paused in her damaged house survey. Worry that she could be wrong; that it might be possible that somewhere underneath all of his wonderfulness Henry had at least the teeniest bit of bigoted asshole in him, like his folks. And guilt that she'd never mentioned any of the confrontations to him. They'd been almost non-events to her; racism wasn't anything that surprised her. And the Boudreauxs were so subtle, their passive-aggressive skills so finely tuned, that it would have been hard to explain her point of view without coming off as having a huge chip on her shoulder.
The best bigots were like that. Cunning.
She stood under the large arched threshold into the great room, and the memory of Henry standing next to her at this spot, over which they'd hung the mistletoe last year, immediately shifted her morose thoughts to sadness.
Her parents had been thrilled she'd finally shown an interest in something besides law and studying. And they adored Henry. Their disappointment at her decision to not follow through with her vows had been keen, but they'd get over it. Especially when they found out they were going to be grandparents. Her sisters and brother had always been on board with her marrying Henry and were still sending her texts to "Quick, beg him to take you back." They meant well, but their words were starting to wear.
The French doors opened up, and she breathed in the brackish breeze, allowed the strength of it to move across her face. Her hair was going to frizz to all get-out but what the hell? The wind helped her nausea. She had her hand on her nape, giving herself a massage as best she could, willing her stomach to settle. It wasn't easy, seeing how the deck was strewn with debris that Henry obviously hadn't taken the time to clear.
Or maybe he hadn't come back, either?
A definite thud stiffened her spine and made her grip the door handles. She was alone in the house, vulnerable. If it was an unwelcome visitor she could escape from the back deck, over to their neighbor's. As quietly as possible she turned around and looked into the living room, across to the open space's huge granite-topped counter, to the kitchen. No one. Nothing. Maybe the wind had forced the front door open. But she'd closed it tight, she was certain.
"This is a far cry from the cathedral." An unmistakable voice, the sexiest timbre on the planet, rocked her.
A startled gasp left her lips before she had a chance to even know she made the sound. She faced him, looked into the brilliant blue eyes whose look always felt like a caress. Right now it was more like a harsh slap of hail on her bare cheeks.
"I didn't see your car in the drive so I thought it'd be okay to come in." Her defensiveness surprised her. She'd practiced how she'd behave when she saw him again, and this was nothing like the detached air she'd hoped to project.
"Why wouldn't it be okay? It's your house, too." Tall, lean, and with the lethal stare he usually reserved for his toughest courtroom cases, Henry stared at her from the foyer. As imperious as ever but without his usual air of humor. The self-deprecation that had endeared him to her. He wore his best attorney mask without any sign of the warmth she'd gotten too used to. He was guarded, prepared for battle.
She drank in his presence anyway. Glugged it down as if he were a tall glass of iced ginger ale, soothing her belly, easing the tight restrictive cords she'd wrapped her heart back together with.
He stepped into the living area, and sunlight from the open French doors reached him. His eyes seemed brighter than she remembered, more aquamarine, though at closer inspection they had shadows hanging over them. Clouding them.
"It's impolite to stare, Sonja."
She licked her dry lips. "Sorry. You startled me."
His short laugh was surgically strategic as it knifed through her. "Oh, I believe you're the one with the element of surprise under your belt. What's next, Sonja, are you going to tell me you ran off to Vegas to marry someone else?"
"You know I didn't."
"Do I? Let's go over the facts, shall we?"
She held up her hands. "No. No, Henry. I can't." She moved as if to walk past him but reconsidered. She didn't want to risk coming close enough to touch him. Her fingers tingled with his nearness, and she didn't trust herself to walk on by without reaching out to him. As much as her head knew they were done, that he wasn't her prince on a horse, not even her life's partner on a bayou dugout, her heart was not to be trusted.
"Can't what, Sonja? Tell me why you felt you had to wait until the last possible minute to run out on me? Tell me why you led me on so long, right up to the goddamned altar, mind you, before you took off? Thanks for helping me tell our guests, by the way." Henry's words were harsh as he relaxed into his stance in the middle of the room. He'd shoved his hands into the pockets of his jeans, and his open-collared long-sleeved shirt was rolled up to his forearms.
"Wait — aren't you working? Why aren't you in a suit?"
One side of his mouth lifted in challenge, and it was so much like the expression he gave her before he was about to go down on her that she wanted to weep with sorrow over her loss. She'd never feel the pressure of his most talented tongue on her again.
Buck up. You're the one who ran.
"You're not the only one who can change their mind, Sonja."
"What the hell is that supposed to mean?"
"You think you know everything about everyone. Even now, you're looking at me like I'm crazy, standing here and not measuring up to what, who, you think I should be." He pulled his hands out of his pockets and gestured at his attire. "Maybe I'm tired of all of the bullshit, Sonja. Not just you, not just the sham of a relationship we had, but of it all. I'm done playing the perfect corporate lawyer. I'm good enough at what I do. I'll wear suits in the courtroom, but why should I in the office?"
That stung. So he'd lumped her in with bullshit. He still didn't get it, and she had zero hope he ever would. This wasn't about her betrayal. This was about being able to trust him. Too painful to go there.
"You think loosening up your dress code will loosen you up? Take the stick out of your ass?"
His eyes narrowed, and she knew he wanted to tell her to fuck off. Before, when they'd been so in tune, he would have bent her over the sofa that usually was in the center of the living room, and they would have fucked themselves to the oblivion of the priceless chemistry they'd shared. And then laughed about it later, sprawled out on the same sofa.
"Maybe I'm not the one who needs to loosen up, Sonja." His drawl was pronounced, the way he knew she liked it.
Against her mind's best advisement, her body reacted in the only way it knew to. She crossed her arms across her chest, hoping he hadn't seen her nipple hard-ons. It had to be baby hormones. No way would she feel attracted to him like this, after all she'd done.
"What's that supposed to mean?" She stood her ground as he took one, two, five steps toward her. They were no more than two feet apart. Too close, too soon.
"You were always so quick to place the role of the uptight legal beagle on me, sweetheart, but did it ever occur to you that you're the one with the rigidity issues?"
"No." It came out as a goddamned whisper even as she straightened her spine. As if he were turning her on as quickly and effectively as ever. As if she could forget the betrayal at finding out there was so much he'd never told her about himself and throw herself at him, beg him to make love to her.
He made a show of looking her up and down. His gaze lingered on her breasts, covered by her arms, before sweeping to her hips and back up to her face. "You're looking as hot and luscious as ever, Sonja. Who would know that underneath it all lies a woman who was able to leave her fiancé of two years at the altar?"
* * *
Henry saw her intake of breath before he heard it — her chest rose in a decisive move of shock, and he waited for the satisfaction to curl through him.
Instead he couldn't take his gaze off her liquid brown eyes, eyes he'd drowned in every single time they'd made love. Had a conversation. Shared their lives for over three years.
"You have no moral high ground here." She looked around the wrecked bottom floor of their house. The house they'd built together, long before she ever agreed to marry him. "The entire time we were a couple, you told me that you'd had a few relationships before me. You neglected to mention your engagement to a college classmate, or how she'd never learned how to let go of you."
"Can you let go of Deidre? She's nothing to me other than an ex at this point. Hell, she's my parents' friend, not mine."
"A friend who showed up at our wedding, ready to wreak havoc." Her expression faltered. "Look, I'm not blaming her. I feel awful for her, in truth. The fact that she still has feelings for you — no, don't argue this point, Henry. No ex goes to a wedding in such a sneaky way unless she wants to get back with the groom. But you didn't even give me a warning that you'd invited her in or tell me that she's a goddamn lunatic. How was I supposed to feel when I saw you and her in an embrace at the cathedral?"
"It wasn't an 'embrace' for fuck's sake. She came up to me, caught me off guard." He threw up his hands. "I knew I couldn't count on you to be reasonable about any of this."
"Reasonable? You do remember that I left you at the altar, right? What's so reasonable about that?"
"I don't need a reminder of what you did." He stared at her, unable to imagine anything sadder than the sight of the woman of his dreams standing in the middle of a room stained from the storm floods. In what had been their dream retreat from the world but now smelled like the dankest parts of the bayou. The stagnant parts — the places that didn't get any circulation.
"About that, Henry, I have to tell you something." A flash of her pearly front teeth as they tugged on her full, lush lower lip.
"Save it. The only talking we need to do is at the office." He turned to leave, or at least, he thought about it. But he couldn't take his eyes from hers. Sonja was the goddess he'd fallen for as she stood there in what he knew was one of her least favorite work outfits. She'd always complained that the two-piece skirt suit was too big in the waist. The golden silk jacket and skirt were set off by a creamy underblouse — more of a camisole. He knew because the last time she'd worn this suit he'd practically ripped it off her before they made love in her office. After hours, of course. They always did everything by the book. He was tired of following rules.
He mentally corrected his memory of their making love. They'd had sex. The love hadn't been mutual, couldn't have been. Someone who loved you didn't leave you with your goddamned heart pulsing in your fucking hand.
"Henry, I don't expect you to want to listen to me, or to be ready to believe me about anything, not now."
"But there are still some things that you should know, things I have to tell you."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Bare Devotion"
Copyright © 2018 Geri Krotow.
Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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