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MINDMATCH

Chapter One

 

Psychologist Gabrielle Rousseau was not psychic. Nineteen years of peace told her that. 

Yes, she was highly perceptive. That was all. 

Last night was just a dream. She did not have a vision of a man’s murder. Ridiculous. A dream caused by too much of what passed as news sensationalizing crime.

She told herself that once again as she took a sip of her cinnamon latte. Taking a deep breath, she keyed up the morning news. 

And her stomach fell to the bricks.

Prestigious Attorney Slain in French Quarter Hotel, the headline read. 

She searched for the name in the article, and found it:  Ashton Bayard IV, one of her patients. But Ashton wasn’t the man she’d seen.

Taking slow breaths, she grit her teeth and closed her eyes until she fought nausea down.

Her tranquil courtyard came back into focus, and soft morning sunlight shifted lazily across the old brick. 

She read the full article and found a man's name. She wasn't surprised.

After all, she'd watched Sam Arceneaux die.

Then her gaze caught upon the word knife, and the rest of the world turned hazy.

It was the details that made it real—made it undeniable.

No, she thought. Not again. 

She could see the career she'd spent years building crumble in the wake of ‘poor Gabrielle's’ hallucinations. Gabrielle’s mother would tearfully assure Gabrielle she could get her into The Sanctuary immediately for ‘treatment.’

No. Not this time.

Focus on what’s real, she admonished herself as she left the courtyard and walked into her offices.

Last night was an aberration. It won't happen again. 

#

Lucas Thorne pulled his car in front of the Uptown address for Leala Bayard with a low whistle. Through a polished, wrought iron gate, he spied a path to the house. Deep red azaleas and bougainvillea lined the footpath, and massive live oak trees draped with Spanish moss curved overhead. 

He swung out of the car and walked through the gate. Stone crunched under his feet, and he heard the soft splash of water from a fountain. He climbed the steps and rang the doorbell.

The door opened immediately. Holy shit, he thought. Town & Country meet Playboy. 

"Mr. Thorne?"

"Yes."

"I'm Leala Bayard. Please, come in." She turned and sauntered into the house.

Lucas followed, amazed that a woman could wear a dress that tiny. Is it taped on? 

When they reached a palatial living room, she gestured to a gilded Louis XV chair. "Please, sit." Gracefully seating herself on a sofa, she crossed her bare legs and reached for a crystal tumbler. "Thank you for coming so quickly."

He hesitated, then sat. "I am sorry for your loss, Miss Bayard." His gaze caught on an immense tapestry adorning one wall. It was a Celtic design, swirling spirals around a blue-cloaked woman holding a round, white ball bearing the same pattern. "You like Celtic art?"

"Yes."

"Danu as the High Priestess,” he mused aloud.

"The High Priestess of the tarot. Yes. And please call me Leala. Miss Bayard sounds like an old spinster."

"Leala, then." He studied her and thought no one would ever describe Leala Bayard without the word sex. Pale blonde hair fell in waves around her angular face, softened by lush, red lips. She wore several earrings in each ear, and diamond bracelets jangled when she moved. On her left wrist, she wore what Lucas recognized was a Richard Mille Tourbillon Celtic Knot watch, costing close to half a million dollars. Slithering up her leg was an evocative tattoo of a snake, its tongue flicked in the direction of the vee of her thighs.

Too much money and too little attention, Lucas concluded. Or maybe the wrong kind of attention.

"I want to hire you to find my father's killer." She spoke the words as if she were making a dinner reservation.

"Miss Bayard, Leala, why in the hell would you want to hire a private investigator? Your father was an important guy. The police will be falling all over themselves to get this solved."

She took a long drink from her glass, and Lucas caught the piney scent of gin. "I'll pay you one million dollars."

His jaw dropped. One million dollars? Is the woman nuts? "Leala--"

"Look, I've checked you out. I know all about that trouble you had in Wales. A bit neat in my eyes, but it doesn’t matter either way. The police couldn't find their way out of a paper bag. They most likely will be falling all over themselves. Literally. One million dollars. Find me the killer."

"You know about--?"

She waved aside his question. "You're probably the only investigator with a functioning brain."

He swallowed back an instant of discomfort. So, she knew about his past. He didn't even bother to defend himself anymore. "Is this some kind of vigilante justice?”

"No," she clipped. "Not at all."

Every instinct in Lucas clamored at him to get up and walk out. He stood and frowned at her. "That's a lot of money."

She raised a brow. "I know. I don’t care about money, Mr. Thorne. I care about finding out who murdered my father.”

Well, hell. "What else is going on here besides your father's death?”

"Nothing." She stared at him unblinkingly.

Damn. A million bucks. His career as an archeologist was gone. But with Leala Bayard's money, he could finally buy Tiaco Island. And leave all the bullshit behind him.

He sat, opened his battered, leather portfolio, and took out a pen. "Tell me about your father."

She took another drink. "Daddy was a selfish, ruthless bastard. You won't have any difficulty finding suspects."

Her utter absence of grief was chilling. "Was he having any problems?"

"No, but he was seeing a shrink."

"Do you know the psychiatrist's name?"

"Psychologist, I think. Gabrielle Rousseau. She's in the Quarter."

He made a note. "How long had your father been seeing her?"

She shrugged. "I don't know, a while I think."

"Did he talk about why he decided to see a psychologist?"

"Discussing his feelings wasn't exactly Daddy's thing."

"Then, why was he seeing her?"

Her gaze turned hard. "Probably looking for help to deal with that bitch he married."

"Did you ever meet Dr. Rousseau?"

“No. Daddy said she was a long, cool walk at twilight." Leala sipped her drink. "I guess he liked her."

Which meant he'd be paying Dr. Rousseau a visit first thing. “Does your father's wife live here?"

"Hell, no. She lives on Prytania."

"Her name?"

"Adrienne Bayard. She's number four." Leala gave him a mocking smile. "They keep getting younger. Adrienne's only a few years older than me."

A low sense of unease settled into his chest. "Did your father seem troubled by anything recently?"

"You don't understand. Daddy never let anything worry him. He believed he could master anything. And anyone."

"When was the last time you spoke?"

For the first time, she looked disquieted. "Yesterday. We were supposed to go to dinner, but he cancelled, said he had to meet a friend."

"Who?"

"He didn't say. Frankly, I wasn't aware he had any."

“No friends?”

“My father wasn’t the kind of man who had friends.”

"Do you have any idea why someone would want to kill him?"

"That's what I'm paying you to find out." She shook off whatever sorrow had briefly possessed her and gave him a sly look. "Daddy had his hand in a lot of pots, but I don't know specifics."

"What kind of pots?"

"I said I didn't know."

"Financial problems?"

"Nope. He was rich as Midas, just kept getting richer." 

For the next hour, Lucas questioned his client. She described a successful attorney with a high profile lifestyle, but at the end of their interview, he felt as if he didn't have a clue who Ashton Bayard had been. "Was he seeing any other women?"

She laughed, looked pointedly at her watch and stood up. “You mean screwing? Probably. I'm sorry, Mr. Thorne, but I have another appointment." She arched her back, and he had a good idea what kind of ‘appointment’ she referred to.

One million dollars, he reminded himself. "I'll get started right away."

"Perfect." She reached into a silver box on the table, took out a check and slipped it onto his pad. "Your advance."

One hundred thousand dollars. He shut the portfolio and gave Leala Bayard a measured look.

Her glossy lips slowly curved into a feline smile.

“Thanks,” Lucas said and started toward the front of the house.   

As they walked, Miss Bayard gave him a sideways glance from beneath her lashes. He forced himself to smile politely. One million dollars, he reminded himself again.

“How often will you report to me?”

“Whenever I find out something useful or if I have a question unless you would prefer a set schedule.”

She opened the door. “Call me anytime cher. For anything.”

Lucas nodded and walked out, feeling as if he had just escaped the lair of another species. One day after her father’s murder and Leala Bayard was as cold as a frozen daiquiri. Why did she want him to investigate? Obviously, not out of love for her father.

Well, for one million dollars, Leala Bayard could have any damned reason she pleased.

#

Gabrielle resisted the urge to look at the clock and smiled at her last patient. It had been the longest day she could remember. Not even sweet Donald with his culinary magic or Fiona Jackson with her oft-humorous tales of love-gone-bad could lighten her sense of impending calamity. She took a deep breath. “Now, Tucker, I want you to try the exercises we talked about. All right?”

Tucker flipped his trademark red baseball cap in his hands and gave a faint nod. “I’ll try, Dr. Rousseau.”

“Good. We’ll talk more about this next time.” Gabrielle stood and walked to the door, opening it with a sense of acute relief. “Goodbye, Tucker. See you next week.”

“Bye, Dr. Rousseau. Thanks.” Still playing with his cap, Tucker exited her offices and wandered down Royal.

“Poor Mr. Bayard. So terrible,” Anna, her receptionist, was whispering to Gabrielle’s office manager.

Isabelle cocked a hip against Anna’s desk. “Have the police arrested anyone?”

Anna’s voice dropped an octave. “No. But there was another man dead in the room.”

Gabrielle frowned at the topic of their conversation, then smiled when she looked over at Isabelle. As always, her friend was a burst of confidence and energy, today in a short, red tank dress and four inch heels. Many of Gabrielle’s male patients visibly salivated when they caught a look at Isabelle. 

“Hey Doc, what do you think?” Isabelle asked.

“I have no idea why anyone would want to kill Ashton. I’m sure the police will figure it out, though.”

Isabelle strolled over and smiled. “I’m meeting Lucky for drinks. Why don’t you come with me?”

“Ah, I don’t think so.”

“Come on.” Isabelle winked. “He’s got great friends.”

“Just because a man happens to have rippling muscles doesn’t make him good dating material,” Anna observed. Anna’s husband was about two inches taller than her diminutive height, and if he ever saw a piece of gym equipment, it was from watching some bikini-clad, surgically enhanced fitness ‘influencer.’

“Don’t forget sexually energetic, Anna,” Isabelle responded with a husky laugh. 

Anna rolled her eyes.

“What do you say, Doc? It’ll be fun.”

For a moment, Gabrielle was tempted, but then she looked down at her attire. Simple straight black skirt just below the knee, pink silk blouse, understated jewelry. She could never be like her vivacious office manager. She certainly wouldn’t fit in with Lucky, the buff personal trainer, and his friends. “No thanks, Isabelle. I’ve got some work to do.”

“You need to play more, Doc.”

“Maybe so, but not tonight. Thanks for the invitation, though.”

Isabelle shrugged and glanced back at Anna. “I tried.”

“She’s right, you know. You do need to get out more.” Anna grinned. “Laissez le bon temps rouler, and all that.” 

“Yeah. It’s the big easy, darlin’,” Isabelle purred. 

Gabrielle laughed and shook her head. “You both have a nice evening. See you tomorrow.” She waited until Isabelle and Anna left, then locked the front door. She stared out the window onto Royal, crowded with the usual mix of natives getting off work and tourists ambling along with cups from one of the innumerable drink stands lining the streets. The muted sounds of conversation and laughter drifted in. She put her hand against the glass for a moment.

Gabrielle turned from the window and walked upstairs. When she opened her door, a quick snuffling sound preceded a full body launch by Zeus, fourteen and a half pounds of white, fuzzy love. Laughing, she caught the dog and rubbed his head. “Hey, Zeus.” 

He gave a little woof before bathing her face in sloppy dog kisses.

Late afternoon sun cast streamers of gold across her rear gallery, and she smiled in anticipation of a few minutes of relaxation. Gabrielle poured a large glass of Chardonnay while shedding her hose and started to walk out of the kitchen when she remembered she hadn’t checked her personal phone all day.

Two voicemails, one from an unknown number. The other number she knew quite well. Gabrielle sighed as she hit play. “Dear, this is your mother. Please call me as soon as you can.” The second message made her stop short in puzzlement. “Gabrielle, this is Steve Lewis.” There was a pause as if the speaker were trying to choose his words. “I need to talk to you about something. Can you meet me at the Laughing Gull tomorrow for dinner? Seven?” She heard a sigh. “I’ll see you then,” he said.

Gabrielle headed out to the gallery and sank onto one of her cushioned chairs, taking a sip of the buttery wine. She rolled it around her tongue in sheer contentment. Zeus popped up, made three precise circles and settled into her lap with a happy snort. 

Gazing unseeing out at her courtyard, Gabrielle wondered about her old friend. Since Steve went with the behavioral science unit at the FBI, they’d had only sporadic contact. Though they were close in grad school, he was busy with his career, wife and children, and she, well, she was busy with her work. Gabrielle picked up the phone again and slowly pressed the numbers for her mother.

“Good afternoon, Gabrielle,” her mother answered.

“Hello, Mother.”

“The reason I called is to ask you to join us this weekend. The family is going to a dance at the club. Everyone’s planning to go.”

Gabrielle mentally cringed. She couldn’t think of any event more deadly boring and pretentious as a dance at the club, her mother’s home away from home. “I’m sorry, Mother, but I’m busy.”

“Oh, darling, I really would like you to go. It should be so much fun.”

“I have plans.”

An irritated silence greeted her words. “What are you doing?”

“I, uh, I’m getting together with Nana,” Gabrielle improvised.

“Not that . . . new age friend of yours?” Her mother’s voice oozed disapproval.

“Yes, my friend, Nana. I’m sorry, Mother, but I’ve got to go.”

“You sound tired, dear. Are you working too hard?”

Gabrielle closed her eyes and struggled for calm. To her knowledge her mother had never worked a day in her life, other than her ‘charity work’, despite having earned a law degree. “No more than usual.”

“You should take a break, have some fun. It would be wonderful to have you with us. We don’t get to see you enough, Gabrielle.”

Oh no, Gabrielle thought. The Guilt Lecture was about to get underway. “As I said, I have plans. Y’all have a good time.”

“But--

“Goodbye, Mother.”

Her mother let out the kind of long-suffering sigh only a debutante who had spent fifty years mastering the art of guilt-driven manipulation could summon. “Goodbye, dear.”

Gabrielle clicked the end button and leaned back in her chair, wondering if she might have been switched at birth. Her father, a former judge, mother, a society patroness, and three perfect children, each one a successful attorney with the proper address and memberships. And then there was her. Perhaps she was a switch-baby, Gabrielle mused. Or secretly adopted. 

Unquestionably, no one else had what the locals called ‘the sight’.

She stroked Zeus’s belly and took a gulp of wine. Why would she have a vision about a victim she didn’t know? It made no sense. But neither did Ashton Bayard. She still wasn’t sure why he’d come to see her. He was more adept at keeping his secrets than anyone she had ever encountered. 

Perhaps one of those secrets finally got him killed.

#

“Lucas?”

“In here, Hauk.” Lucas stood up from behind his desk and stretched, amazed to see it was close to five. He rolled his shoulders and glanced down at his notes.

Hauk appeared in the doorway, a six-pack of Turbo Dog beer in one hand and a tool bucket in the other. “What are you up to?”

“You have paint on your face.”

Hauk grinned and shrugged. “A hazard of my profession.”

Lucas shook his head. It still struck him as odd that a six-two, beer-swilling, former rugby player slash lawyer spent his days happily creating whimsical paintings featuring a magical purple tiger named Angelique. A single painting sold for more than Lucas usually made in a month. 

“What’s keeping you closed up in here? I thought I would come across you performing some bizarre motions with your arms out in the garden.”

“I have a new case. A big one.” Lucas glanced up at the photograph of Tiaco Island taped to the wall. “And Tai Chi is great for freeing the mind.”

Ignoring Lucas’s comment on the virtues of Tai Chi, as he always did, Hauk said, “That good, huh? By the way, I fixed the railing on the porch today.”

“Thanks. There’s no shortage of repair projects around here.” Lucas thought of the many rooms he hadn’t yet finished, the foremost being his bedroom upstairs. 

“Well, you could have bought a nice condo out in Kenner instead of a crumbling old mansion in the Garden District.”

Lucas grinned. “But then I wouldn’t have an extra house in the back to lodge a famous artist.”

“Good point. What’s the new case?”

“Give me one of those beers, and I’ll tell you.” Lucas popped off the cap and took a long swallow. “It’s about that lawyer who was just killed.”

Hauk’s brows went up a notch. “Ashton Bayard?” 

“Yeah. His daughter wants me to find who did it. A very strange lady.”

“How so?” Hauk asked as he uncapped his beer.

“One day after her father’s murder, and she doesn’t shed a single tear during our meeting. We could have been talking about the weather. And she looks like some kind of wannabe Kardashian. But, get this.” Lucas took another swallow. “She’ll pay me a million bucks.”

For a moment, Hauk just stared at him openmouthed. “Why?”

“Beats the hell out of me.”

Hauk sat down and put his feet up on the desk. “Lucas, I knew Bayard.”

“From when you used to practice?”

“Yeah. Had a deal with him. One of the biggest assholes I had the misfortune to meet in my former profession, and that’s saying something.”

Lucas bit back the question on his tongue. The one time he’d asked Hauk why he quit the law, Lucas got the kind of vague answer that said don’t ask. “His daughter pretty much said the same thing. Unethical?”

“Ashton’s the kind of guy who’s always skirting the edge. God rest his soul and all that, but he was not the guy you want to have a beer with. And that much money, what else is going on?”

Good question, Lucas thought. He trickled beer down his throat and considered what little he knew about the case. “According to Leala Bayard, nothing.”

“Bullshit.”

“I agree. But I can’t afford to walk away from that kind of money.”

Hauk’s gaze shot to the photograph of Tiaco Island. “This is crazy. You’re going to get yourself in trouble. People like that, who knows, maybe all the intermarriage thins the blood, but they don’t play by the same rules we regular folk do. This isn’t just about dear old daddy’s death, you can be sure of that.”

“I know. I don’t care.”

Hauk stood and shoved the beer across the desk. “You’re going to need this more than me. I think I’ll go finish Angelique’s flight of fancy.”

After Hauk left, Lucas got up and took the photograph off the wall. Nursing another beer, he gazed at the glossy picture. White sand as fine as baby powder outlined a tangle of bright green, the circular piece of paradise drifting upon a platter of crystalline blue water. Tiaco Island.

Lucas glanced over at a framed certificate stuck behind a pile of books. The memory of Eve Manning’s betrayal was a constant, bitter taste in his mouth. 

But it wouldn’t matter on Tiaco Island.

My Published Books

ALTB Anchor
The Lost Touch Series  
The Lost Touch Series is a collection of stand-alone books with overlapping characters. After I published A Lost Touch of Bliss, readers wanted to know supporting characters' own heroic stories. Each romance is very different, but all take place in Medieval Britain and feature ghosts, magic, or possession.
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A Lost Touch of Bliss

ISBN-13-978-1932815269

Five years ago, Cain Veuxfort, Earl of Hawksdown, followed duty and broke Amice de Monceaux's heart. But now he needs her. Desperately. For Amice has a very special talent. She is a Spirit Goddess, able to help restless souls move on. And Cain has a very restless ghost he wishes fervently would leave his castle. Anxious to regain order in his chaotic life, Cain offers Amice the one thing he's sure she can't resist; an Italian villa on the sea in exchange for her unique services. Although Amice's wound is deep, and as fresh and painful as ever, she agrees to help her former lover. Life on the Italian coast will be the start of a new life for her. Perhaps then she will finally be able to put the past behind her as well as an importunate Highland lord who wants nothing less that her hand in marriage.

 

But there is more going on at Castle Falcon's Craig than a simple haunting, and more than one tragic tale of unrequited love. Yet to set things right, for both the living and the dead, Cain must find the courage to shed his mask of indifference, Amice must move beyond her pain to forgive, and long dead, star-crossed lovers must lead them all on the path to a lost touch of bliss.

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A Lost Touch of Paradise

ISBN-13-978-1932815665

​For the first time in his life, Lugh MacKeir, Laird of Tunvegan, finds himself in a battle he cannot win. His precious daughter is dying of the same illness that claimed his wife. The Isle of Parraba is a whispered legend, a place rumored to be ruled by a sorceress, an isle no one can reach. Yet, legend speaks of a powerful healer as well. Lugh MacKeir, desperate, determines to find Parraba and face its mysterious ruler. Losobal is the Lady of Parraba, mystical and magical, a woman apart from the world around her. Drawn to something familiar in Lugh's child, however, she reluctantly agrees to help her in exchange for Lugh clearing the blocked entrance to a very special cave. But the child's illness defies Losobal's skill, and Lugh's task proves more of a challenge than he anticipated. In the end, the secret to saving Lugh's daughter lies in Iosobal's ability to open her heart to a brash warrior who has invaded her tranquil sanctuary. She must find the courage to end her isolation, and the wise innocence of a child must lead them all to a lost touch of paradise.

ALTI Anchor
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A Lost Touch of Innocence

ISBN-13-978-1933836096

​By touching a magic crystal, Piers Veuxfort recklessly unchained the essence of a decidedly wicked Fin Man who now resides within his body. Meanwhile, Giselle St. Germain’s life in a secluded nunnery is over and she has been thrown into the world to become Piers’ bride. Giselle quickly becomes frightened by both her betrothed’s unabashed adherence to pleasure and his increasingly unusual personality, and Piers wants nothing but to send back his bride-to-be. Eventually the pair discovers that destiny is theirs to win, but it will take all the courage that lies within their deepest hearts to seize it together.

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A Lost Touch of Magic

ISBN-13-978-1934755518

Hidden within the stone walls of Castle MacCoinneach is the seemingly quiet realm of Paroseea, yet danger now stalks the halls of the castle, seeking vengeance and patiently awaiting the return of the fallen laird. When the ghost of Padruig MacCoinneach’s beloved sister sends him back to the highlands and a life he forswore, he promises to do anything to save his remaining sister and aid his clan. He never expected, however, that he would have to marry his ally’s daughter, Aimli, whom he deems both a reckless child and a potent temptation. Together they will have to overcome their anger and doubt to find trust, love, and ultimately safety for themselves and their clans.

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