Whispers

 
 
"There is no solitude in the world like that of the big city."

~ Kathleen Norris ~


Night is falling in the Big Easy. She's rented a car.

Anna Marie Darkholme, Private Investigator, may have been riding point on a motorcycle from the time she was old enough to put on leathers and earn that nickname "Rogue," but even she knows when a gal gets called out by black bag kind of money from one of the oldest families in the city, that same gal better show up well-dressed in a vehicle on four wheels.

This sprawling Garden District mansion before her, lit in the hazy glow of a New Orleans night, is reportedly only one of several residences belonging to the LeBeau family. It is an old house, extremely well-kept, giving off the scent of blooming gardenias that have wound up its trellis and porch, but it does not welcome her as she steps out of the black sedan and up the front walk. The façade gives off a forbidden air.

A shadow flits across her peripheral vision and she looks up sharply to see a lone bird winging across the dark sky. Sighting along its path brings her to the house on an upper balcony and she is startled to see a shadowy figure leaning against the railing, blowing out smoke to trail into the dusk.

It's just a man, she tells herself. A member of the family.

She turns away and rings the bell.

A maid answers the door.

"Anna Darkholme for Mistah LeBeau, please." Out of place she may be, but Rogue knows how to handle herself in fine company. A couple of years under the professional tutelage of her mother—Raven Darkholme, meanest, toughest, smoothest, most charming, and most dangerous officer in the Mississippi police force—to say nothing of living with the woman, prepares a gal for anything.

The maid leads her into a sitting room, then vanishes to fetch the master of the house.

...

Rogue takes in her surroundings keenly. The place breathes wealth.

family portrait, furniture, wall hangings, fireplace with mantel, great grandfather clock, rich persian rugs over plush carpet

While lavish—chandeliers, Persian rugs, original Renaissance art, hand-carved mahogany furniture, and intricately woven tapestries—the room maintains a simplicity in its arrangement and design that suggests good taste and breeding. And a decidedly masculine eye. The lines are too straight, the colors too robust to be a woman's.

Rogue turns to face the open fireplace with its broad mantel and hearth. One glance upward at the overlarge family portrait on the wall, three tall, angular men, including the one in front of her. Red iris on black eyes proudly displayed. It's surprising, flabbergasting even, that a family of such standing would flaunt the shameful trait of mutation.

"Darkholme, Private Investigatah," she replies curtly and promptly turns her back to sit primly on one of the thickly cushioned, altogether too comfortable chairs.

the moments that tick by on the mantel clock before Jean-Luc LeBeau appears.

...

"Y' ever worked homicides, Miss Darkholme?"

"In the department," Rogue admits. She's yet to tie herself up in one as a private investigator, but the uneasy suspicion that this case will be her first has been with her since she first received the call.

Jean-Luc clasps long, bony fingers behind his back and paces before the open fire. "Perhaps y' read de obituaries on y'r way in. Many o' New Orleans mourn de loss of Julian Boudreaux."

"Ah suppose they do," she says carefully.

...

Remy LeBeau watches her from the shadows, mere shadow himself beyond the edges of the lighted room. She's a beautiful woman, soft curves, bright eyes dancing like emerald gemstones in the flickering firelight, auburn hair twisted into a French chignon, soft white lovelocks caressing her face. Her feminine scent, something floral and faint, hinting and coy, swirls in the air about her. But her face is hard and eyes keen as she takes in his father's words. Too bright for New Orleans, too clean for this city, but she's tough. She'll make it.

Maybe.

When Remy first heard the news, his gut clenched tight and his heart went cold.

"Julien," he said simply, as if he was not screaming questions with that very word.

Henri eyed his younger brother shrewdly. "Y' hadn't heard?" he said, also simply, as if he was not accusing with his.

Everyone knew that Remy stood most to gain in the event of Julien Boudreaux's death, freedom to pursue his choice of wife without threath of death by dismemberment hanging over his head. Everyone knew that the price to pay for an Assassin to kill the son of their Guildmaster was death by even fouler means. No Assassin would dare, especially not and leave the heir still alive.

But that didn't make the accusation hurt less.

"An' who should 'ave told me?" Remy asked coldly.

"Frère..." Henri trailed off, then shook his head and threw it out there. "If y' know what happened, just tell me. I'll do anyt'in' t' protect y'. Y' family."

Remy shook off his brother's pleading, his brother's hand. "If I were family, y' wouldn' ask."

Jean-Luc LeBeau takes it all farther. Always has, always will. This girl is proof of that. A private investigator, name of the Rogue.

Remy tucks away details the way a growing boy wolfs down his dinner, ravenously. He takes in her mannerisms, her accent--Mississippi, the case as his father outlines it, the size of her shoe, the posture of law enforcement, the restlessness at the formality of dealing with things. She'll play dirty, like as not, and no doubt she'll need that too. Jean-Luc has yet to tell her who she's really facing.

He's itching for a smoke, but long habit has given him enough patience to ignore it.

...

He moves like liquid shadows, muscles flexing through his dark dress shirt, drawing her eye. The man's too handsome for anyone's good.

"So you're the youngah LeBeau, Ah take it?" Rogue drawls easily.

He cocks his head, appraising. Slowly, with predatory intensity, he circles her with his wine glass—it's full, she notes—then offers her a charming smile and the glass. "Remy LeBeau."

His dark red gaze burns on her and she catches her breath, startled at how it seems to have fled her. She flushes warmly under his continued attention.

Think, Darkholme, she thinks sharply. He's a mutant.

"Quite the charmer," she retorts, managing to lose the breathlessness.

He chuckles and the sound is like liquid.

...

"If y' can't take de heat, get outta de city." He leans in close when he says it, breathes in the soft, sweet scent of her that never matches the fierce, hard shell she wears.

She glares at him darkly. Then her expression glides into something decidedly more enticing. She leans in return, so close she's almost touching him, and his skin prickles with her nearness.

"Ah can." Emerald eyes glow darkly.

He almost does touch her, but she's already withdrawn into that hard, untouchable shell again.

"Ah suggest ya stop playin' games with me, sugah, 'cause they ain't goin' ta stop me from findin' what Ah need ta know."

Remy laughs at her bluster, and her glare only intensifies.

"Chérie, I suggest y' learn how t' play."

Her face flushes a dark red that has little to do with embarrassment and far more to do with anger. He can feel the rising temper beneath her skin. He wants to reach out touch it, but she takes yet another step back.

"Good evening," she states curtly, then brushes past him.

Her scent lingers behind, the only thing soft in his world of sharp edges and shadows. Remy leans back against the wall, watches her brisk stride to the black rental parked on the curb. He blows out the smoke of his cigarette and keeps on staring until she disappears.

"Remy, chér, y' got t' come over here." Her voice was panicked. His gut knotted up double time when he heard it.

Cold dread brought out the words. "What did y' do?"

"Nothing, I swear it. But if y' don't help me, dey're goin' t' blame y'." She never panicked. Something was off about this. "I need y', Remy. Y' promised."

Always be there. They'll always be there for each other.

"'M comin'." He snapped the phone shut harshly. He turned his face toward the city.

...

Remy LeBeau stands at the balcony door. Falling dusk gathers about him like so many shadows, lit by the hazy glow of a cigarette butt and two burning ember eyes.

Rogue stands behind him and thinks him the loneliest soul in the world.
 


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