Blue Autumn in the Bayou (Gumbo Love)

Travis pulled his shirt from his pants and began to unbutton it.

Autumn attempted to help him, but he halted her with one hand. “Wait for me, darling.” His touch scorched her skin. She sank back onto the bed. It was then that she noticed the rose petal beneath her. She grabbed a hand full and dropped them on her flat stomach. Travis’s crooked smile split his face when she did.

He eased out of the shirt and let it drop to the floor. Beautifully wide shoulders with ripples muscles crisscrossed his body. Dark straight hair trailed down the center of his chest, tapered down and disappeared below the waistband of his pants. He undid his pants next, paused before slipping them down his massive thighs and stepping out of them. Lastly he pulled down the black briefs that concealed, until now, his most masculine feature, and the wonder of her desire.

 

 

 

 

BOOKS BY ANN CLAY

More Than a Bargain

Waving From the Heart

Cupid’s Connection

A Fresh Encounter

A Love for all Times

Priceless

Protective Custody

 

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Ann Clay resides in Southern Illinois with her family. She enjoys reading, writing, crafts, traveling, and family time. She began writing in 1999 and is a member of the Romance Writers of America. Thanks to the support of family and friends, Ann shares her heartwarming stories with readers of the heart.

Blue Autumn in the Bayou
is the first book of the Gumbo Love series. Ann is currently working on the next title in the series.

 

 

 

 

Blue Autumn in the Bayou

 

 

 

 

ANN CLAY

 

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, organizations, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

All rights reserved. The unauthorized reproduction or distribution of this copyrighted work is forbidden. No part of this book may be used or reproduced electronically or in print without written permission from the author. For permission please contact the author at P.O. Box 4506 Fairview Heights IL 62208 or
[email protected]
.

 

Blue Autumn in the Bayou

Gumbo Love Series

Copyright © 201
3 Ann Clay

All rights reserved.

ISBN-10: 1490318224

ISBN-13:
978-1490318226

 

Cover image from Colorful Covers –
www.colorful-covers.com

 

Book Cover Design by Nikisha Logan

Edited by Donna Miller, Shenita Clay, and Thompson’s Literary Services

Proofer: Claire King

 

This eBook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This eBook may not be re-sold or given away to other readers. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each reader. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or i
t was not purchased for your own use, then please return it to bookstore and purchase your own copy. It is illegal to upload books without the publisher’s permission to share sites. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author

 

DEDICATION

 

 

This book is dedicated to my baby brother, Michael A. Smith, and my son, Brian S. Clay, II. Strong men are gems we sometimes take for granted. There is real power in having a protector.  And for that reason alone, I'm blessed to have men of honor in my life.

 

Also, I can't say enough about the people around me; always loving, supporting, and encouraging me.  My greatest hope is that you gain something from my stories. I have always believed in true love, family, and friends. This story and how we got to this point, hopefully encompasses all three.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

 

 

Where do I begin? Of course, first, I give honor to God… awesome, powerful, and gracious.

 

I’ve come to truly appreciate my family and friends. My children, Nikisha and Brian are wonderful young people.

 

Thank you Donna, Royce, Louise, and Shenita; you’ve helped me a great deal, and I’m truly grateful to you.

 

Thank you to my sister-girlfriends who always got my back.

Sistah’s Turning Pages Book Club is my reading family; sweet, funny, and unforgettable. Thank you for your continued support.

 

My mentors and author-friends continue to amaze me with their willingness to impart their wisdom about the writing business. It’s important to acknowledge these men and women because they love the craft enough to want to preserve it. So thank you, very much!

 

And lastly, and more importantly, readers, I acknowledge you because you are the souls of our writing passions. We try our very best to make you fall in love with the characters and the lives they share with you. Happy Reading!   

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER
1

 

 

When Clemons Boudreaux sat up in his shiny
, light-oak casket, almost the entire church emptied in five minutes flat.

Travis Brooks looked around the church just in time to witness the calamity Clem had caused. His gazed followed the stream of people shoving and pushing their way toward the rear door. Shaking his head, he mumbled, “Wow! Nothing like a good old Cajun home-going.” A smirk danced across his face.

“What the hell?” An intoxicated man seated in the back row leaped up and nearly stepped on a woman who’d tripped and fell right in front of him

She was trying to make her great escape, but instead was trampled by people taking the same escape route. “Lawd, help me,” she cried as she tried to get up but couldn’t. And no one stopped long enough to help her.

“My goodness!” Another woman seated in the same aisle made the sign of the cross before backing out of the church, refusing to turn away from the casket.

The soloist’s
rendition of “The Lord’s Prayer” was drowned out by fleeing mourners as they escaped the sanctuary like ants scattering from an invaded nest. And Travis almost felt sorry for her, because she looked like she wanted to flee as well, but couldn’t. In order to make her escape, she would have had to pass right next to Clem’s upright body, sitting in his shiny, new oak casket.

The old
-timer had died sitting in his favorite rocking chair, holding a cup of charcoal-black coffee. And although he’d been at the funeral home a week, and the owner had taken great care in presenting him as distinguished looking as possible, the old man’s prone body rose up to the semi-slumped position he’d been in a week before.

Travis shifted his body in the space that before had been too small for his massive frame. Two latecomers had forced themselves into
the pew even though there was not enough room for all of them. Now as he stretched his limbs, he sighed, relieved that three of the pews’ former occupants had fled. “Thanks, Uncle Clem,” he mumbled under his breath. He once again looked around; this time at his baby brother, Traekin, seated directly across from him. The Brooks family was among the few still there to pay their final respects to Clem.

Travis turned back to the front of the church, just in time to see the
funeral director had moved to the casket and slowly shoved Clemons’s body down until his head rested on the white satin pillow once again. He snapped the glossy wooden top down, closing him into his eternal resting place.

Travis cleared his throat, garnering the attention of his middle brother
, Michael. Neither of them uttered a word at first, but Travis couldn’t help himself. He leaned over and whispered, “
quo’ faire?
” He wanted to know why such a fiasco had happened.

He shook his head sadly.
Both he and Michael then glanced directly across the church where Traekin, the youngest of the Brooks brothers sat with his soon-to-be bride, Reggie.

Trae, as he was known to friends and family, slowly turned to meet the knowing stares of his brothers. As if in concert, they all raised an eyebrow and quietly shook their heads
again. Travis then turned to survey what was left of a once full church. A few of their other distant cousins sat like nothing had happened. Like the Brooks, they seemed undisturbed by the raised body even though the old kook threatened to get up from his casket if things weren’t carried out the way he’d ordered before his death. Maybe they hadn’t heard.

Nonetheless,
the Brooks were at Clemons’s bedside when he’d given the strict orders to his children, children he hadn’t seen in almost fifteen years.

“I don’t want folks gawking at me when I’m dead. When I’m gone, I want a close casket
—one of them nice shiny oak wood caskets like Deacon Murray had. I don’t want to be on display like a weirdo in the circus.” Clem had ordered. 

His great-uncle had
suffered several heart attacks and lost the use of the right side of his body, but Clem just could not hang on any longer. Travis worried that the infamous Boudreaux family reunion would never be the same without Clem.

A
s he sat in the sanctuary of one of the oldest churches in New Orleans, where Clem lay securely tucked between the satiny folds of the light-oak casket, he sighed with relief that his great-uncle was finally at peace, both physically and spiritually. Family, friends, and fans had all came to pay final respects to the popular jazz guitarist, Travis’s favorite great-uncle, Clemons Boudreaux. Although not all of them stayed until the end because of Clem’s uprising, nonetheless, they came because they all loved him.

Travis and
his sister, Trish, had inherited their great-uncle’s musical talents. Clem stuck a guitar in Travis’s hand when he was five years old. By the time he was ten, he’d mastered the acoustic guitar Clem had given him for his eighth birthday. On the day of his funeral, he would pay homage to his great-uncle by playing a medley from Clem’s first recordings as the last tribute to a man he admired.

Travis’s gaze finally drifted to his future sister-in-law. He studied
Reggie’s reaction to all of this, as she sat silently, clutching Trae’s hand. He knew they’d hoped their upcoming wedding would be the family’s milestone event. His glance then, went to his mother seated on the other side of Trae as she used a starched white handkerchief to dry her teary eyes. His father, Alvin, guardedly comforted her with his arm around her shoulders. Travis admired his father, and tried to emulate him in every way. Well, not every way. He wasn’t the least bit interested in having some woman lead him around by the nose, as his mother did his father. He didn’t know how she managed it all these years, but his mother seemed to keep his dad on a string. Diane owned him and Alvin didn’t seem to mind.

Travis watched the two and stuck his finger
in his mouth in a gagging motion. For the life of him, he couldn’t understand all the sappy stuff he watched them do. He had yet to meet a woman who would make him succumb to her wishes, let alone forget his own name. Between his dad and brother, he couldn’t decide which one of them was the most hopeless cause.

Travis rolled his eyes
at the thought before he looked away
. I’m never giving in to a woman like some little punk
, he mused. Just as that thought settled in his mind, a long-legged brunette entered the church and strolled up the middle aisle. Her hair bounced around her shoulders as her spiked black pumps stomped the carpet. Travis turned back just in time to see her move up the center aisle and she eased into the pew next to Reggie and Trae. Her beautiful face lit into a wide smile and her arms immediately circled Reggie’s neck.
Autumn. She must be Autumn, Reggie’s maid of honor. She was supposed to come early to help Reggie with the wedding plans
, he mused.

His cousin,
Raymond, nudged him, bringing his attention to the podium up front. He snapped his attention to the woman’s voice when he heard his name. “We will now hear a selection of Clemons Boudreaux’s music played by his great-nephew, Travis Kane Brooks.” She pointed to Travis, drawing the attention of everyone left in the church to him.

Still somewhat distracted by the beautiful woman seated across from him, Travis shot up from the pew, and in the process of standing, bumped into Michael’s knee. Several people nearby snickered when they saw the frown on both
men’s faces. Michael mumbled, “Watch out, TK, man.” His siblings called him the endearing name. So, Michael turned his knees sideways to allow his brother to pass. Travis blew out a cleansing breath, moved past Michael, and then walked directly to the instrument stand. 

Taking a few minutes to gather his composure, Travis hugged the guitar close to his body; the cool strings like magic against his fingers.
The congregation waited patiently for Travis to begin. With eyes closed, his fingers stroked the well-tuned strings and the silky melody filled the entire sanctuary. Like honey, the soothing rendition of early Clemons jazz blissfully drifted from one song to the next until the echo of the last cord danced across the back wall of the church. Afterward, a peaceful hush filled the entire place. Every person seated was transported back to a time and place when they’d first heard any one of the soul-stirring songs in the medley.

Quietly, Travis placed the guitar back in
the stand and stood. He walked over to the casket and laid his shaky palm on the center of it. “Sleep well.” He whispered. He balled his hand into a fist and squeezed it as tight as he could. He stood there for several seconds before he walked back to his seat. For a brief moment, his brothers were not certain he would hold it together and they were on the edge of their seats, ready to go to their brother if he needed them. But Travis held his emotions in check. He turned and headed back towards his seat.

* * * *

Something about Travis Brooks both excited and frightened her at the same time. The magical music played a small role in Autumn’s reaction to him, however, something else drew her to the man she only laid eyes on moments before. She and Reggie talked briefly about Trae’s family, and when Reggie had informed her that she would be paired up in the wedding with Trae’s oldest brother, Travis, she dreaded her unplanned maid-of-honor duties. 

A tingling sensation raced up the sides of her bare arms. She brushed her hands down the sides of them to ward off the
raised hairs along her skin. The sudden chill spiked up her spine like it was a racehorse. Autumn Makela Thibodaux attentively watched Travis standing at his great-uncle’s casket. 

Something
in Travis Brooks’ posture signaled that he was in the most vulnerable position she’d seen any man in. Something she couldn’t explain called her and she saw it the moment he turned to go back to his seat. He looked directly at her. No, he looked directly through her. She gasped in response. The vein in her neck leaped. Her breath caught in her chest, filling up until it rose high and forward. 

They connected and for a brief moment, without a single word, he spoke to her. Something familiar swept between them. Every fiber of her body quivered. The eerie air between them forced her to stare at him until he plo
pped down into the pew. When he was no longer in her direct sight, she released the air jammed in her chest. Reggie reached over and squeezed her hand. The two shared a knowing look. She in turn held tight to her friend’s palm. 

Autumn
came to New Orleans three weeks early to help Reggie finish the plans for her wedding, not to become involved with anyone or anything that would force her back to Louisiana. Her life was in New York. Autumn managed to stay out of sight for the first three days she was in the city and had almost forgone the funeral, but had decided at the last minute to attend to lend Reggie her support. After all, she was her oldest childhood friend and Autumn would do just about anything for her. Yes, that included coming home to be her maid of honor. Still, she didn’t believe coming back would be as unsettling as it was that very moment.

Autumn glanced back in the direction where Travis sat. She could only make out his grim profile. She didn’t know why, but at that moment, she decided to stay as far away from Travis Brooks as she possibly could. She didn’t like the way he made her feel
: vulnerable. She spent the previous five years running from her past, hiding from feelings she’d buried years before. She had no intention of opening up to that kind of misery again.

When the funeral director and his assistant pulled the closed casket down the center of the church and through the front doors, family members filed out behind them. Autumn
, on the other hand, remained seated, allowing Reggie and the others to pass in front of her. She sat very still, almost afraid to move because she felt out of place; that she would disrupt the ritual playing out before her if she moved. She decided to go back to Reggie’s house instead of walking the mile of the parade route to the cemetery where Clemons would be laid to rest.

By the time she rose from her seat and walked through the doors, she could hear the lazy jazz bellowing up the street as family and friends paraded a block away. People had lined the streets waving umbrellas and purple sashes in the air as they waltzed from side to side. Autumn watched from a distance for several minutes before turning in the opposite direction. She turned and looked back twice before she got into the
midsize rental she’d picked up at the airport.

* * * *

Travis gripped the front handle of the ledge beneath Clem’s casket. The weight in tow was light compared to his heavy heart. It would be the very last time he would be this close to his great-uncle. But not even the heaviness he felt could erase the face seared in his mind, a face that he looked for within the crowd following him, his brothers, and distant cousins as they carried Clem’s body through the streets. He didn’t see her. He saw Reggie, but she was nowhere close to his future sister-in-law. 

Just as they turned the corner, he looked down the street toward the church. There she stood, looking in their direction. He couldn’t stop. He stepped in cadence with the others, but kept his gaze down the street. When they blended into the crowd standing before them, he lost sight of her. He wanted to look back to see if maybe she was following
, but he couldn’t. His priority at the moment was to bury his uncle. Afterwards, he planned to talk to Reggie.

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