Blue Autumn in the Bayou (Gumbo Love) (3 page)

“It’s important to us to make this as memorable as possible for both of our families, and for us. I want this wedding to be more than a celebration of our life together. I also want it to be for the special people who make us who we are.”

“Well, it’s romantic as hell. I can’t wait to do this myself.” Erica danced in front of the mirror.

Mona rolled her eyes. “And I’m going to starve to death before a wedding can even get here.”

Everyone turned and glared at Mona like she’d grown another eye.

Once Autumn and crew left the boutique
, they stopped and picked up her contact lenses. They all ordered something different at the little café and continued to discuss the plans for the next couple of weeks. Mona ate like she was actually starving. Her friends just looked at her and shook their heads. “We should get going.” Reggie picked up the tab, but Autumn snatched it from her hand.

“I don’t think so
, sugah. This is mine, today.”

“Honey, I’m just taking the opportunity to use Trae’s credit card.”

“Trust me. You’ll have plenty of time to do that.” Mona slapped several twenties on the table to cover the bill. She trumped both by paying the check before she headed to the door.

Reggie pulled into the park fifteen minutes before the photographer asked them to be there.

“Wait, I have to put in my contacts.” Autumn fussed. She pulled a mirror from her purse and propped it on the dashboard. She instantly noticed that the coloring was off just a little. “I guess these will do.” She looked from Reggie to Erica, and then to Mona.

“Why do
you have to do this anyway, girl? You’re a natural beauty. And you don’t have to explain what you look like to anyone.”

“That’s easy for you to say, Mona
,” Autumn rebutted. 

“She’s right, but you do what makes you comfortable
,” Erica added. She always seemed to be the supportive one of the group.

“You my girl no matter what. And you still have my future brother-in-law to deal with. It’s not as easy as you think
,” Reggie commented.

* * * *

Travis sat just across from Reggie and her caravan of friends. Trish and Shelly had already arrived. He waited to see if Autumn would appear before he got out of his car. If she didn’t show up, he saw no reason to stay. He tried to make out the four figures hidden behind the tinted windows of Reggie’s SUV. Travis sweated in the driver’s seat as he waited. They still hadn’t gotten out of the car.

What are they doing in there
?
What’s taking them so long?

He looked at his watch and then looked back at the car. They still had a few minutes. He clicked the top button on his blue-tooth. “Call Wiggins.” The indicator on both the earpiece and his phone lit up. The connection broke after two rings.

“Yo’, Travis. What’s the word, man?”

“When are you getting to the city?”

“The end of the week. I haven’t told Trae exactly when I’m coming, even though he keeps hounding me for an answer. Are we still on for the weekend?”

“Sure thing. Everything is pretty much set. I was able to catch up with most of your old teammates. It’s going to blow him away to see all of you again.” Travis’s eyes remained hone
d on the car as he talked to Trae’s best friend, Rykard Wiggins.

“Well, it’ll be a good reunion. You know I’m happy for
Trae. Those two have come a long way.”

When the front passenger
door opened and the long beauty stood outside of the car, Travis’s heart raced and he nearly lost his train of thought. “True that. Listen, Wiggins, I’ll check back with you a little later. Remember, you’re bunking at my place. The key will be in the same spot. I’ve gotta go for now.” Travis didn’t give Rykard a chance to respond.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER 4

 

 

Travis couldn’t take his eyes off her. He couldn’t explain his sudden infatuation with this woman, not since she strolled into his great-uncle’s funeral on Wednesday. He found himself besieged by her. Her frosty responses did nothing to deter him from wanting to find out what made her tick. He managed to hide his interest in Autumn from his family. He needed to figure out what his attraction to her was before he embarrassed himself in front of his folks.

He watched her stretch her long arms over her head,
and her slim tank top rose, revealing smooth, brown flesh. Travis feasted his gaze on her bare stomach, and her lean hips and ample behind. She was very beautiful. But when she turned, he was sure they connected beyond a physical attraction because she stared right at his car. Travis sucked in a breath and held it. She didn’t turn away until one of the ladies touched her arm. She then moved to follow her friends down the path toward the fountain. After she was out of sight, he released the air in his chest.

Travis waited a few minutes before he opened the driver
-side door. He needed a moment to collect himself and to give the group a chance to congregate before he showed up. He stuck his hands into his jeans pockets as he strolled down to the fountain. He sauntered toward the group. A smile curved his face when he reached them.

Trish sprint
ed toward Travis. He was her oldest and, surely her favorite brother because Travis treated her like a princess. He opened his arms and accepted his little sister’s warm receptions.

“TK!” She wrapped her arms around him and
kissed his cheek.

“Hi
, Lil’bit. How’s my baby sister?”

“Great. Are you here to take pictures with us
?” She fell into an easy step with Travis and her arm immediately went around his waist.

“No, sweetheart. I’m just here to watch. I came to see how my little brother manages to keep all these beautiful women to himself.” His eyes instantly went to Autumn before they traveled to the others already formed in a lineup the photographer had arranged.
Once he acknowledged everyone else with a simple glance, he recaptured her gaze.

Travis noticed her hopeless attempts to gaze at his lips without getting caught. And when he did capture her eyes, she quickly looked away.
He liked her response. No doubt in his mind, he saw and understood the passion as thick as clay in her gaze. He didn’t miss how she pulled her lip between her teeth. He felt the electric sparks dancing between them and it didn’t stop until she turned when Reggie’s voice interrupted their private interlude.

“Trish, get back in line. We want to
take as few shots as possible,” Reggie scolded.

Trish pouted
, leaving her brother’s embrace. Travis stopped just short of the group. With his saucy smile still in place, he nodded. He didn’t miss the reaction he saw in Autumn’s face and posture.

“I’m not surprise
d you’re here, TK.” Trae gave him a knowing look.

“I vote that he join the crew.” Mona
added. “Whew! Your brother is fine, Trae.”

Reggie rolled her eyes. “Modesty has never been your
strong suit has it, Mona? Everyone, this is Travis.”

“Afternoon
, ladies. Sorry you’re not taking pictures with the best-looking Brooks man.”

“Modesty doesn’t seem to be your strong suit
, either,” Erica so graciously added.

Travis tipped his head toward the beautiful little lady standing right next to Autumn. “No
, beautiful. I can’t say that it is. I know what I want and when I want it.” He managed to maintain her gaze long enough to acknowledge her before he moved it directly to Autumn. “Aren’t you going to introduce these lovely ladies, Reggie?”

“Autumn, Erica, and Mona
.” She signaled toward each of her friends.

Travis moved
forward and extended his hand. He started with Mona. “You’re saucy, I like that.” His smile broadened. “You’re very beautiful.” He shook Erica’s hand. She blushed. When he extended his hand to Autumn, once again he waited for her delicate hand. And when she finally placed it into his outstretched fingers, sparks screamed through his body. Travis held it a little longer than he should have but he couldn’t pull his hand away. He squeezed his lips tight to keep from saying something that was inappropriate for the audience.

Autumn pulled her hand from Travis
’s and, at the same time, lowered her lids. “No comment for me, Mr. Brooks,” she said.

Travis stood gauging her posture, before he responded. “Absolutely.” He paused for a moment. “You can’t avoid me forever. We’ve got a lot of work to do if we’re going to make sure these two love doves get hitched. I
, for one, want to make sure they get it done so I can finally get him off my hands.”

H
e tried to memorize every detail of her face. His nostrils flared when the scent of her cologne wafted in the air between them. Nothing prepared him for her response. Travis knew there was an instant attraction to her. Perhaps it was the long shapely legs or the perfect curve of her backside that pulled at his groin, but something in her eyes attracted him to her.

Autumn stared at him
, speechless. The rattled rise and fall of her chest and the ever-so-slight thumping of the vein in the left side of her neck belied her attraction to him. Something about his comment had undertones no one else caught, except her.

“Cousin Travis.” Shelly broke the spell between him and Autumn.

“Yes, sweetheart. Now in addition to my little sister, you are the most beautiful woman within a hundred yards of here. No offense Reggie.”

“None taken.” Reggie tilted her head to one side.

Travis picked up Shelly and swung her around once. The teenager squealed and giggled.

“Where’s Denis
e?” he looked around, referring to Michael’s girlfriend. She, too, was a bridesmaid.

“She couldn’t make it. Ken will
Photoshop her into the picture later,” Reggie replied.

Her answer made Travis smile. He then reached up and kissed Reggie on the forehead. “The beautiful bride. My brother is a lucky man.”

Trae pushed his brother back. “Now that you’ve interrupted our session, be gone. Today is all about me, my man.”

“You’re so right. That it is. Listen, I’ll get out of your way for a few. What’s the plan for this evening
, ladies?” his eyes once again roamed from one to the other.

Before anyone could speak, Reggie chimed in. “We’re having some girl time before Erica and Mona head out tomorrow. That means no boys allowed!”

“Whoa, okay. Just thought I’d throw together a seafood boil at Momma’s house. I can also put some ribs on the grill. And then you ladies can do all the girl stuff you want afterwards.”

“What? Food
? Now you know I don’t turn away a chance to eat.” Mona’s saucy grin extended from one ear to the other.

“Down, girl
,” Erica spoke from behind clenched teeth.

“Actually, I was going to suggest the same thing
,” Trae jumped in. He winked at Travis. “How long will it take here, Ken?”

“About an hour or less.” The photographer stood away from the group while they chatted.

“It’s going to take a couple of hours to get a boil together, so you still have some downtime together. You come, grab something to eat, and then be on your way.” Trae pulled Reggie into his embrace.

By
then, the whole line up had been disrupted, thanks to Travis’s insertion. But Ken didn’t seem to mind much. He was on their dime. He had all evening.

Reggie looked around at the ladies to see if anyone protested. The only one seemingly uninterested was Autumn. She expected her to not respond either way.
Reggie turned around while still in Trae’s embrace. “We’re coming to eat and nothing else, okay?” she turned once again toward her friends and said, “Okay, ladies.” After a couple of nods, Reggie gave Travis the thumps up.

Satisfied that he got what he came for, Travis leaned over and kissed Trish and Shelly on the cheek before he back
ed away. “I’ll see you all at Momma’s.” He didn’t turn before locking gazes with Autumn. She didn’t look away, not until he turned and headed back up the small hill.

Autumn
watched Travis’s broad shoulders and narrow waist move beneath powerhouse legs. The scent of his cologne still hung in her nostrils. She had to pace her breathing. The warning lights went off in her head yet again. She failed and couldn’t seem to resist him; Autumn inwardly scolded herself for letting her guard down. She planned to be better prepared next time. She could refuse to go with her friends, but that is why she was there in the first place, to fellowship with them. She knew she had to face Travis. She didn’t think she would have to do it on a continuously social basis.

The hell with it, I’m in this city for a couple more weeks and then I’m headed back to New York. I can do this
.

She decided she could tolerate Travis for the short time without committing to anything except the reception.

* * * *

By the time Reggie and
her crew pulled up to the Brooks’ house, their mouths watered from the aroma of shellfish coming from the gazebo area.

“Oh
, honey, something smells absolutely delicious,” Mona said, climbing from the back of Reggie’s car.

“It does smell great
,” Autumn admitted. She hadn’t been to a seafood boil in a very long time. She was actually looking forward to it. Once she made up her mind that she planned to deal with Travis on her own terms, she was able to settle down and begin to enjoy her friends.

Diane greeted the girls at the door. “Hi
, babies. Come on in. The guys are out back. For now you can come in here and drink some of these tasty frozen treats I whipped up for you.”

They all gathered in the kitchen while Diane pour
ed icy mixed drinks into huge goblets. “So tell me, what are you ladies up to tonight?” Diane placed a frosty glass into Reggie’s hand. Reggie leaned down and placed a kiss on her future mother-in-law’s cheek. “Thanks, Ma’Dear.” She rewarded Diane for the cocktail. Reggie took a sip before she answered Diane’s question. “Hmm, this is delicious. Well, we got massages already. So now we plan to go back to my place and have hand and foot massages. You remember Jena. She and two other technicians are coming over later tonight.

“That sounds wonderful!” Diane handed the virgin versions of the drinks to Shelly and Trish. “Here you go
, ladies.”

“Thanks,
Mom!” Trish perked up when she thought that she and Shelly would be relegated to drinking ginger ale or some other soft drink.

“Thanks.” Shelly added.

“Well there’s more where these came from in the blender over there. Drink all you want. And someone needs to be the designated driver, just in case. And oh, Trish and Shelly’s drinks are in this blender. No alcohol for either of you.” She looked directly at the girls.

“Thanks.” All the ladies chimed in together.

“You’re welcome. Now this old lady will get out of your way so you can enjoy yourselves. I’ll be upstairs if you need anything.”

“Thanks again.” Reggie hugged her.

“Good night.”

“Good night
,” they all sang in unison.

“I think I’m going to go check on the boil.” Autumn stood and headed for the door. She’d decided in her head that she was going to deal with Travis. Once he knew she wasn’t interested in his advances, she would demand that they work through thi
ngs until the wedding was over. She decided to act on her plan. Confront him head on. Armed with an icy drink, she left the house and followed the path down to the gazebo.

Travis had exchanged his snug jeans
and Polo shirt for a sleeveless T-shirt and a pair of thigh-length running shorts. His upper body looked like a chiseled work of art. Light perspiration dotted his forehead, and the damp T-shirt clung to the ripples on his chest and torso. She could see a horseshoe branded on his left upper arm from where she stood. He’d just lifted a huge vat with hot seafood in it from the spit and had dumped it into a bucket. Caught off guard, Autumn hadn’t counted on the sight of the man, not that way. Pure masculinity exploded and everything virile about Travis hit her with one eyeful. Her step faltered and she almost turned to run back to the house. Just as she contemplated the thought, he turned.

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