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Carnival Confessions: A Mardi Gras Novella

 
h1={color:#1e287f;}. Carnival Confessions

by Cherie Claire

 

 

 

 

Published by Happy Gris Gris Productions at Shakespir
 

Copyright 2016 Cherie Claire

 

Carnival Confessions by Cherie Claire

Published by Happy Gris Gris Productions

COPYRIGHT © Cherie Claire 2016

ISBN (none)

1st Edition, November 2016

Produced with Typesetter

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be used or reproduced or transmitted in any manner whatsoever, electronically, in print, or otherwise, without the prior written permission of both Happy Gris Gris Productions and Cherie Claire, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.

PUBLISHER’S NOTE: This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

 

Shakespir License Statement

This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. 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 it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to Shakespir.com and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.

To Durward and LilyB, lovers of Mardi Gras.

Also By Cherie Claire

 

The Cajun Series

Emilie

Rose

Gabrielle

Delphine

A Cajun Dream

The Letter

 

The Cajun Embassy

Ticket to Paradise

Damn Yankees

Gone Pecan

 

TABLE OF CONTENTS

  • Title Page
  • Chapter 1
  • Chapter 2
  • Acknowledgements

Carnival Confessions

Chapter One

 

Cameron scanned the floor of the New Orleans Municipal Auditorium, a sea of black and white elegance in stark contrast to the colorful bawdiness of the Carnival crowds outside. Even in his rented evening attire of white tie and tails, Cameron felt completely out of his element, more like an orchestra conductor than a bayou boy attending his first traditional Carnival ball.

The formal event was the last thing Cameron wanted to do on Mardi Gras, when the city was exploding with parades, parties and concerts. His tastes ran more toward Geno Delafose playing hot zydeco at the House of Blues. If he hadn’t overheard Steve Whitfield making a pass at the junior lawyer at his firm, he’d be downing a beer with his buddies in the French Quarter now. But he had heard the jerk. He couldn’t back out.

“Your invitation, sir?” the man at the door asked.

Cameron offered his most charming smile. “Left it in my other suit. Surely, you can let a krewe member in without a ticket.”

The man cringed. “It’s not a ticket,” he said as if the word was vulgar. “We only send out personal invitations.”

“Whatever,” Cameron answered. “If you’d just let me speak to Stephanie Bertrand, we could clear this up.”

The man ignored Cameron, accepting the invitation of the couple to his right. “No invitation, no admittance,” he said without looking back.

“Fine.” Cameron headed for the parking lot. He’d ditch the coat and tie in his car and head over to Decatur Street. He could taste the beer now, feel the exciting hum, like a beating heart, of the zydeco dance crowd.

But as he reached the door handle leading outside, the words Whitfield had uttered came back to haunt him. He had to tell Stephanie. He had to warn her somehow that the man she was going to marry was a first class jerk and womanizer.

Cameron leaned his head back and sighed. Why he cared so much for the spoiled debutante was beyond him. He never would have come near Stephanie had they not been thrown together on a law case. She was the daughter of the law firm’s owner. Raised in money. Educated in the finest schools. Guaranteed a position at the city’s finest law firm. About as far removed from Cameron’s upbringing as a woman could get.

Still, Stephanie Bertrand was sitting inside the ballroom waiting for a man who was more than likely enjoying a wild night with law clerk Karen Hilyard. Stephanie was so naive, so vulnerable. He couldn’t let Whitfield break her heart like that. Or worse, he couldn’t let the poor girl marry the S.O.B.

It will only take a minute, he assured himself as he made his way down the hall. He knew where the stage entrance was, having attended numerous Jazz Fest concerts at the old auditorium. If he could manage to enter the ballroom through the back door, he could talk to Stephanie, give her some brotherly advice and make Delafose’s first set.

The door to the stage was slightly ajar and Cameron slipped in quietly. There were several men between the door and the stage, all in various stages of dressing.

“Ben Harrison?” the head man asked.

Cameron smiled sheepishly and shrugged.

“Where’s your costume?” the man continued. “You were supposed to bring it.”

“Let me guess,” another man said. “First time?”

Cameron said nothing, at a loss for words. The others laughed, amused at his apparent stupidity.

“Here.” The head man threw Cameron a colorful sequined shirt and pants, followed by a headdress. “Don’t forget to wear the hat.”

Cameron pulled on the satin pants and shirt and headed for the ballroom. The hat resembling something Darth Vader might envy, but made entirely of satin, completely covered his head and neck and slipped down far enough to cover most of his face. His eyes and nose were thankfully cut out of the material and his exposed chin and mouth allowed fresh air to infiltrate the suffocating costume. But it was doubtful anyone would recognize him.

When Cameron made it to the ballroom floor, the scene before him made his jaw drop. A queen and king were draped in yards of elegant silk, taffeta and lace, presiding over their Carnival peasantry with jeweled scepters and dazzling crowns. A court of debutante princesses and masked dukes in equally impressive gowns and suits paraded across the ballroom floor and bowed before the royalty.

It was like something out of a fairy tale, Cameron thought. But this imitation of European royalty was one hundred percent American made.

So this was how the other half lived. He should have known. The rich were always eager to proclaim themselves king and queen, if only for one night.

Growing up poor in the rural bayous of southwestern Louisiana, Cameron held no love for the rich. He wanted success in his career, which was why he changed his name from Thomas Francois Tibault to Cameron Reed. He smiled thinking of that drive to his first year at Tulane Law School, when he crossed the Cameron Parish’s marshlands and invented a new name. He had to admit, Cameron Reed seemed to open doors Thomas Tibault never did, especially since he had to repeatedly explain that it wasn’t pronounced “Tie-balt” but “T-bow.” And once he learned to conceal his Cajun accent, New Orleanians began to accept him as one of their own.

Even Stephanie Bertrand thought he came from an upper class family. Wouldn’t she be surprised to learn he grew up in a community where half of the town spoke French and harvested crawfish for a living.

Cameron spotted Stephanie immediately. She sat near the front of the action, no doubt on account of her position in society. She looked stunning, her long silk beige gown clinging to her trim figure like a second skin. Her hair was sculpted atop her head making her appear more like a goddess than the uptown debutante he knew her to be. She was gorgeous tonight. So remarkably dazzling.

And so bored. She stared off into space while unconsciously sipping champagne from her glass. If he didn’t know better, he would have assumed she wished to be someplace else as well.

“Do you wish for me to call someone out sir?” a man in tails asked Cameron.

“Is that how this works?” he asked. “I tell you the woman I wish to dance with and you go get her for me?”

“Yes sir,” the man replied.

Strange, Cameron thought. The rich even have escorts for their escorts.

“Stephanie Bertrand please.”

The elegantly dressed man nodded and moved toward Stephanie. Not knowing what else to do, Cameron followed on his heels until he suddenly realized he was supposed to remain on the sidelines with the other costumed men. Cameron stopped short but not before Stephanie looked up and smiled. Even in his silly costume, he suspected he had been discovered.

“Oh boy,” Stephanie said with a playful smile. “Is it my turn to dance now?”

Before Cameron could react, Stephanie leaped out of her chair and stumbled right into his arms. “Oops,” she said with a giggle, trying to right herself. “Little too much champagne tonight.”

Cameron restored her balance, but not before breathing in the scent that was all Stephanie. God, but she looked beautiful tonight. Radiant. Elegant. Drunk! “Have you had too much to drink?”

Stephanie laughed. “Of course I have. It’s Carnival time.” She removed her glass from the table, toasted him, then emptied its contents. “I have to give it up tomorrow for Lent, might as well enjoy myself tonight. Besides, just between you and me, these balls bore me to tears.”

Cameron grabbed the glass from her hand and placed it on the table. “I think you’ve had enough.”

Stephanie gazed up at him, standing regally despite the alcohol. “What are you? The court police?”

It was a familiar feeling. Wanting to protect this delicate debutante. Cameron never quite understood it. He bowed. “Would hate for you to not fully receive the pleasure of my dance,” he said, offering a charming smile.

Stephanie returned an equally dazzling grin. “Well, aren’t you a breath of fresh air. Usually, I have the pleasure of one of my drunk uncles to dance with.”

“I assure you, Madame,” Cameron continued. “I am neither drunk nor related.”

Stephanie stared harder this time, her smile disappearing. “Do I know you?”

She’s on to me, Cameron thought. If she isn’t now, she’ll find out soon enough. Then a clever idea came to him. “Don’t think so, chèr,” he said in his best Cajun accent. “Don’t do Carnival balls where I come from.”

Stephanie’s resplendent smile returned. “You’re Cajun.”

Oui. I’m from da bayous.” Cameron cringed. Even though he had changed his name and masked his voice, he was proud of his once Canadian French heritage that now stretched back two hundred and fifty years. He hated being a novelty.

“I love Cajun music.” Stephanie leaned so close Cameron could smell that delicious French perfume she always wore. “Zydeco too. Did you know Geno Delafose is playing the House of Blues tonight?”

She liked zydeco? The debutante born with a silver Carnival doubloon in her mouth? “Yes, I know,” Cameron answered. “Delafose’s great in concert.”

Stephanie paused and looked away thoughtfully. “I suppose he’s there tonight.”

This was it, Cameron realized. She was probably drinking too much worrying about that prick Whitfield standing her up. He had to get her dancing, get her mind off the jerk and advice her to move on. “Wanna dance, chèr?”

Stephanie looked back as if remembering she had a dance partner. “Sure,” she said, and headed for a dance floor filled with women in gowns dancing with men in silly costumes much like his own. When they found a spot, Cameron took her hand in his while Stephanie placed her other on to his shoulder. Then he grasped her waist and began to waltz. Stephanie looked up dreamily into his eyes. “Are you sure I don’t know you?”

She was so incredibly attractive tonight, Cameron thought. Acting so uninhibited. At the law firm, her hair hung about her shoulders in a neat, conservative bob. Her clothes were always expensive, yet unimaginatively tasteful. Her demeanor reserved, obedient. The perfect little socialite. But here, she was expressive. She was sexy. She was….

What was he thinking? He was here to avert a heartbreak, not have wanton thoughts about his debutante law partner. “No, you don’t know me,” Cameron finally said. “Not unless you’re from the Cajun Riviera.”

Stephanie grinned at the reference of the Louisiana coastline. “My favorite band’s from there.”

Cameron found it hard to believe Stephanie would appreciate any music outside of a society function. He figured she was just being polite. Do what you came to do, he commanded himself, and be done with it.

“Where is your beau, darlin?’” Cameron asked.

“Who?”

Cameron didn’t want to give too much away. Mentioning Steve Whitfield would surely blow his cover. He decided to use his charm instead. “A woman as gorgeous as you should have a beau in hand tonight, n’est pas.”

Cameron nearly tripped when Stephanie’s face illuminated. Her reaction to his flirting was startling. Who was this vibrant, exciting woman in his arms and how had he missed this all these months?

“I don’t have a beau,” she said quietly, yet still retaining that brilliant smile.

Cameron was clearly confused. Not only did he find it hard to believe that a woman as beautiful as Stephanie would not have a date, but Whitfield had made it clear he was her fiancée.

“I thought I heard a rumor that you were seeing someone at your law firm.”

Stephanie’s smile disappeared. “Are you sure I don’t know you?”

Cameron had to think quickly. He still had to warn her about Whitfield, but he had plunged head first into the water and he couldn’t back stroke now.

“Your father and my father went to law school together. I thought I heard something about you and a fellow lawyer.” Cameron hoped that was enough. The rich were indeed a small group of people, always socializing together, always spreading their news in the social columns of the newspaper. Wouldn’t they all know who was seeing whom?

Still, Stephanie’s smile never returned. “What lawyer?” she asked, a guilty look spreading across her face.

Think quick, Cameron instructed himself. Don’t make it obvious. “I’m not sure. Steve, maybe.”

“Whitfield?”

“Yes, that’s it. Steve Whitfield.”

Finally, the smile returned. “In his dreams maybe?” Stephanie tilted her head back and laughed. “I don’t mean to sound obnoxious. It’s just that I work for my father in his law firm and some of the new lawyers think it would be cool to marry the firm’s daughter. You know, instant partnership, spend your days playing golf with the clients. But Steve Whitfield’s the farthest thing from my mind. And he’s definitely last on any list.”

Cameron felt relieved. He never understood what a smart girl like Stephanie would see in a pompous idiot like Whitfield. “I’m glad to hear it. I’d hate to see you running after the wrong man.”

Stephanie gazed up at him with that dreamy look again. “Who said I’m not?”

“Oh, there’s someone else?” Cameron felt a twinge of jealousy run through him, despite his best intentions.

“Not that he would ever notice.”

Now who could this be? Cameron wondered. The only man he had ever seen Stephanie socialize with was Whitfield, and that was lunch. And since they began work on the extensive Beauregard case, they had been working day and night, leaving little time for a social life. He decided to be inquisitive. “How could it be possible that a man wouldn’t notice a woman as beautiful as you,[_ chèr_]?”

The dreaminess left her eyes and a painful one took its place. “He doesn’t think of me as beautiful. He thinks I’m a spoiled debutante.”

For a moment Cameron imagined she was speaking of him. But that was impossible. Sure, he had nicknamed her “deb” and insinuated on several occasions that she came from a privileged class. But Stephanie Bertrand would never be interested in him. And he certainly wasn’t interested in her.

“Are you a spoiled debutante?” he asked with a grin.

Stephanie leaned her head back in the coquettish way he was beginning to enjoy and laughed again, her blue eyes sparkling around a perfect oval face. “Yes, but that’s beside the point.”

They both grinned while they waltzed around the dance floor until Stephanie became serious again. “Actually, I’m not a spoiled debutante. I’m a lawyer, and a good one at that. I graduated summa cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa and that wasn’t because of my father’s money.”

Cameron had to give her credit. He had difficulty keeping a three-point-five average when he was in law school. “Still, you have to admit. You work for your father. How many law school grads have those positions waiting for them when they graduate?”

Stephanie lifted her chin defiantly. “Yeah, I have a job. A job I have to share with every male on the staff. I’m my father’s baby girl. I can’t seem to convince him to let me handle important cases on my own, even though I have a perfect court record with the firm.”

“A perfect record?” Cameron was impressed. He hadn’t known that tidbit of information.

“Every one,” Stephanie said proudly. “Little good it has done me. My colleague on a case thinks I’m a spoiled opportunist and my father thinks I’m ten years old.”

“Colleague?” Was she talking about him?

“Maybe I should get a complete makeover,” Stephanie offered, a mischievous sparkle appearing in her eyes. “Something wild and dangerous.”

Cameron couldn’t imagine her any more beautiful than the way she looked at that moment. He started to tell her so, but the music ended and all the dancers began returning to their chairs.

“The dance is over,” Stephanie said, wondering why he hadn’t moved.

“Can we have another?” He couldn’t leave her now. He wasn’t ready to let her go.

Stephanie looked confused, but she still exhibited that radiant personality. “You’re supposed to dance with every woman on your list, then give her a favor. If you dance with me again, some poor woman will go home without a silly trinket to show for her evening.”

“Favor?” What was she talking about?

Stephanie studied him from head to toe and frowned. “I think you forgot to pick up your bag of favors. Do you even have a list of names?”

“List of names?”

“Of the women you’re supposed to dance with? They give you a list of names, you ask them to dance and then hand them a favor from your bag. It’s usually some item with the krewe logo on it. Last year it was a charm. You know, the kind you wear on a bracelet.”

Cameron watched as the other costumed men reached inside a satin bag and handed their dance partners small packages wrapped like presents. “I guess I forgot my bag,” he finally said. “And as far as a dance list, you’re the only one on it.”

Stephanie studied him, clearly puzzled. Then she shrugged and smiled. “Fine with me. You’re the best dancing partner I’ve had in years.”

They waited on the dance floor until the costumed men had delivered their dance partners to their chairs and then requested dances from new partners. “So the court is made up of men who are here tonight strictly to dance with the ladies?” Cameron asked. “Don’t these women have dates?”

Stephanie laughed. “Well, I, for one, do not.”

Cameron looked down into Stephanie’s pert shining face, her eyes still misty from the effects of the champagne. With her chin defiantly tilted and a small dimple appearing in the crook of her grin, Cameron wanted desperately to kiss her. Instead, he focused back on the conversation at hand. “And why are you here alone, mon petite?”

Stephanie’s confidence never faltered, the light still burning bright in her dark blue eyes. “Because I choose to be.”

Cameron was surprised to find his heart beating faster. Why was this spoiled rich girl suddenly so irresistibly radiant in the mystical stage lights of the Carnival ball? When had she become so attractive? He had always admired her spit and fire, the way that dimple appeared despite her best intentions when he teased her. And he teased her daily. Like a lovesick teenager who fears having his real feelings known. But the biggest question of all was why did he wish to be that mysterious man she longed for?

Before he could ask that important question, the orchestra began another waltz. When he placed a hand on to Stephanie’s waist, he wanted to pull her nearer, close to his body that was hungry for hers. Instead, he kept a safe distance, dancing effortlessly around the dance floor.

“What about you?” Stephanie asked, jolting Cameron from his thoughts. “Do you have a beau, or is it belle?”

The question made him smile, considering the meditations ragging through his mind. “Belle, and I didn’t think I wanted one until today.”

Stephanie leaned back and gave him a puzzled look. “Now what is that supposed to mean?”

There it was. That seductive tilt again. Her head angled just right so that his mouth could fit perfectly against hers. “It means that I work too hard, too busy worrying about getting ahead in my career to have time for a love life. And a woman I know… Well, I never thought… I wasn’t really sure how I felt about this woman….” Cameron gave up. “Hell, who is this guy you’re crazy about anyway?”

For a moment he thought she discovered his identity. The shocked look she sent him confirmed it. After a brief pause, Cameron realized Stephanie was simply trying to collect her thoughts, more than likely afraid of speaking his name aloud. Afraid of what the spoken truth might mean, especially to a member of her social set.

“I work with a man,” she began seriously. “He’s a nice person, really, a kind and caring man. Although he probably thinks I hate him.” She snorted. “I should hate him. He’s abominable.”

“Then go ahead and hate him,” Cameron injected. He certainly did. What imbecile would miss out on such a stunning, intelligent and personable woman like Stephanie?

“Like I said, he thinks I’m spoiled. My father probably gave him that idea. Always asking him to watch out for me, to do more than his share of the load. My father thinks I’m his little girl and he always will. Which is why I’m thinking of leaving the firm.”

Cameron wanted to question her further about this mysterious man, but her last sentence stopped him cold. Stephanie Bertrand, the firm’s only legacy, leaving the finest law firm in New Orleans? “Where will you go?” Cameron asked.

“There’s a firm in Atlanta that I have been speaking to. A firm that’s impressed with my work. My father won’t like it, but I can’t spend my whole life being pampered and ignored.”

Cameron couldn’t believe what he was hearing. But his respect for her doubled. “And what about this colleague?”

The painful look returned to Stephanie’s eyes. “I must admit, he’s the only reason I have stayed in New Orleans this year. But what’s the point? I can’t spend my whole life waiting for him to find me attractive.”

Cameron slowed his steps until they stood silently in the middle of the dance floor. He wanted to shake the man that Stephanie longed for, to make him realize what an idiot he really was. “How could someone not find you attractive?” he whispered.

Then he realized the hypocrisy of his statement. Until that moment, he had failed to see her beauty. Had he been less prejudiced against her money all these months he would have realized what an exciting, vibrant and intelligent person Stephanie Bertrand was. He had despised people who looked down on him because he was poor. Yet he had done the same disservice to her. All the while, they might have had a wonderful relationship and Stephanie could have been his belle that night. If she cared for him the way she was longing for this mysterious lawyer, Cameron knew damn well she wouldn’t be dancing alone tonight.

While Cameron searched his brain for something witty to say, thankfully the orchestra stopped playing, signaling for the costumed men to trade one dance partner for another. But Cameron’s feet remained planted to the floor and his arms firmly around Stephanie’s waist.

She stared up at him unsmiling, still haunted by the painful conversation. “Another dance?” she asked.

Cameron forced a smile. Tonight was only the beginning. He had time to make it up to her. Time to sway her mind from this inattentive man. Time to keep her out of Atlanta.

Suddenly, a matronly woman appeared, dressed impeccably in a tight-fitting sequined gown that stretched about her abundant waist, a petite tiara perched on top of her coifed head. She snapped their photo, shaking them back to reality.

“Stephanie, darling, you have to introduce me to this man who has been holding you hostage on the dance floor.”

“I’d love to, Mrs. Wallace, but I have no idea who he is.”

So this was the Virginia Wallace Cameron had read about daily in the New Orleans Post, the social columnist who filled pages with photos of New Orleans high society. The two women looked up at Cameron, who raked his brain for instructions. If he was a bonafide krewe member, was he allowed to reveal his name? Were the costumes only a formality? And if he did, would Stephanie be furious at his deception?

“Stephanie?” a voice called from behind.

Cameron turned and found another costumed man standing before them, a much older man by the look of his wide girth and white beard protruding down from his mask.

“Hi Uncle Philip,” Stephanie answered.

“How’d you know it was me, dawlin,’” Uncle Philip said in a slurred voice, followed by a laugh. So this was the drunk uncle.

After Stephanie planted a hesitant kiss on the side of his satin headdress, she turned toward Cameron. “This is my Uncle Philip, on my mother’s side. Uncle Philip, this is….”

Now, he really was cornered. “Thomas Tibault,” he blurted out.

Stephanie appeared pleased he had spoken his name, yet she studied him hard, trying to place him. “Are you related to…?” Here it comes, Cameron thought. How the rich identify each other. “…the accordion player in the Kaplan Ramblers?”

Cameron was amazed. The band was one of the oldest and most prominent Cajun bands, but he had no idea Stephanie would be that fond of the music? “He’s my uncle,” Cameron said, his pride of his family emerging in his voice.

The hurtful expression on Stephanie’s face disappeared and her bright smile returned. “Their latest album was awesome, particularly that haunting love song with that mournful violin solo.”

Funny, Cameron thought, his uncle had written that song in Cameron’s honor after he had insisted his life included no time for love. The lyrics weren’t about a man lovesick for a woman, but a man going through life without love. “One of their bests,” Cameron told her.

When the music started playing again, Uncle Philip moved between them. “Thibault? I don’t know any Thibault.”

“Old French Louisiana family,” Cameron said, sending a charming smile his way. That certainly wasn’t a lie.

“I don’t know any Thibault,” the older man repeated. “And why are you dancing with Stephanie when she’s on my list?”

A man couldn’t dance with other women at these functions? “Ah, I couldn’t resist. Cameron continued to smile, hoping the man would get the hint and go away. Instead, Uncle Philip called to another costumed man on the side of the dance floor, the man who had given Cameron his costume.

Fearing his identity unmasked, Cameron knew it was time to flee. He grabbed Stephanie’s hand and kissed her knuckles gently. “Don’t go to Atlanta, mon amie,” he said sweetly, starring into those hauntingly lustrous blue eyes. “Stand up to your father, tell him how you feel. And don’t spend all your time chasing a fool man who doesn’t recognize your talents and beauty.”

Stephanie blushed at his actions. “If only it were that easy. If only I could get him out of my mind. But we’re working on the same case. I see him every day. I really think I need to go to Atlanta.”

The knowledge hit Cameron like a sledgehammer. She had been talking about him. He was the mysterious lawyer she cared for.

His heart raced and the hope that followed made him do what he had wished to do all evening. He placed a hand at Stephanie’s silky waist, pulled her hard into his chest and delivered a soft yet meaningful kiss on her delicious lips. She tasted of champagne bubbles and clouds and smelled of heaven. Had it not been for the Carnival Gestapo at his heels, Cameron would have remained there until eternity.

Instead, he leaned back and stared down into the startled yet vibrantly beautiful eyes of his debutante, then rushed away.

Carnival Confessions

Chapter Two

 

The lawyers gathered around the coffee pot like hungry sharks, eagerly pouring their chicory coffee before the morning meeting. Typical Ash Wednesday. Dazed men and women in dark suits acting like they had run marathons over the Mardi Gras weekend, grasping their cups of caffeine like life preservers. Usually, Cameron was first at the coffee station, but not today. Oh yes, he had definitely missed out on a good night’s sleep, lying awake reliving that momentous kiss. Or the adorable tilt of an elegant, yet defiant chin. The deep aquamarine eyes that had gazed into his soul. Under ordinary conditions Cameron would have needed caffeine. But today he was surfing on a natural high.

John Bertrand burst into the conference room as he did every morning, vibrant and talkative. He barked orders to his secretary, threw files at two startled lawyers, then looked around for his daughter. Just like every morning.

How had Cameron missed all this? The dutiful Bertrand daughter. Always there at father’s elbow. Pouring him his morning coffee. Retrieving misplaced files. Making sure his dry cleaning was picked up. No wonder Stephanie felt so denied. She wasn’t a spoiled socialite. She was an overworked, overlooked talented lawyer — female lawyer — who had never gotten past the third grade in her father’s eyes.

Cameron had checked up on her record. She was right about winning every case. Stephanie had also brought in thousands of dollars when she captured the Beauregard account. But true to form, her father insisted Cameron work the case with her.

All that was about to change.

“Where’s Steph?” John asked Cameron.

Cameron shrugged, equally amazed that Stephanie would be late to the morning planning session. It wasn’t like her.

“Why don’t I get your coffee for you, sir?” Cameron offered.

The senior lawyer sent him a surprised look, but handed Cameron the coffee cup anyway. “Sugar, one packet. And a little cream.”

“Coming right up.”

“We can’t wait for her,” John said over his shoulder, pleased that his coffee needs had been taken care of. He promptly started the meeting.

As Cameron moved to the coffee station and poured John a cup of java, he heard the door open and a silence fall upon the group. It was the most unusual sound — or lack of one. Cameron had never known the group of lawyers to be at a loss for words.

When Cameron turned to see what had caused the miracle, Stephanie stood in the doorway sporting the most becoming haircut and outfit. Her rich auburn hair had been pulled back so that her oval face was accentuated and her long, elegant neck exposed. She wore conservative earrings, but ones of a vivid blue that set off her eyes. Her suit, well, it wasn’t a suit exactly. More like a sleek black skirt topped by a snug-fitting sweater and a vibrant auburn jacket that looked like it stepped out of Vogue magazine.

In a word, Stephanie Bertrand was stunning.

 

Stephanie acknowledged the silent group of blue suits and sighed. She expected such a reaction. But her colleagues were not the ones she wanted to impress. At least not the colleagues staring at her with their chins on the table.

“Sorry I’m late.” Stephanie moved past her father assertively and placed her briefcase on to the table. “I spoke with Matthew Beauregard this morning. He has the information on I-Pax. It’s time we went to court.”

John grinned his usual patronizing smile, the one that made Stephanie feel two feet high. But she wasn’t backing down now.

“Well, spunky now that you got a new hairdo, eh, sweety?”

Stephanie felt the fire burn in her veins, but she refused to lose her temper. “I have the figures here, Father.” Unsmiling, she placed a stack of papers before him. “Cameron and I have worked up a solid case. It’s time.”

John demurred temporarily, taken aback by her sudden assertiveness. “What does Cameron say about all this?” he asked, regaining his usual arrogance.

Where was he? Stephanie thought. She accounted for all of the lawyers, but Cameron was nowhere to be seen. “This report is the result of both of our hard work. He would agree that it’s time to go to court.”

John snorted. “Well I want to hear it from the horse’s mouth.”

Stephanie closed her eyes and sighed. Her father was insufferable. And just where was this horse’s mouth anyway?

Then a voice came from behind. “Whatever Ms. Bertrand says.”

When Stephanie turned to look into the eyes that had been her undoing for the past four months, a thread of electricity traveled down her spine. Why did the man always take her breath away?

“Mr. Beauregard said he has the tapes,” Stephanie said, more to convince Cameron than her father. “Plus he has all the records from the time of the take-over. We have tracked the phone calls and….”

“You’re right,” Cameron interrupted. “We’re ready to go to court.”

Was this a bluff? Stephanie thought. And what was he holding?

As if Cameron agreeing with her wasn’t shocking enough, when he handed her father his cup of coffee, she nearly fainted.

“What are the statistics on I-Pax?” John asked Cameron.

“Ask Ms. Bertrand,” Cameron said, throwing a gentle glance her way. Was she imagining this or was the man with unending ambition being nice?

Stephanie watched Cameron take his seat, then look upon her with what appeared to be respect. Now she knew she was dreaming.

“Well?” her father demanded.

Stephanie turned and met her father’s gaze head-on. “Well, let’s all turn to page one and I’ll give you an overview.”

 

When the meeting adjourned, Stephanie collected her assorted papers from the table and loaded them into her briefcase. All in all, the new Stephanie went over well. She managed to remain cool while she stood her ground with her father — she could take on the most well-seasoned lawyers in court but her father was a different story — and was now on her way to one of the most important court cases of her career.

Now if she could only figure out why Cameron had sat through her presentation without saying a word. Usually, he was all talk, eagerly interjecting his opinion. But not today. Even now, he lingered in the conference room, gazing out the window at the slowly awakening French Quarter that was still war-struck from the wild revelry of Mardi Gras.

As she stuffed her papers into her briefcase, Stephanie couldn’t help but drink in the image. Cameron’s tall form was silhouetted by the morning light filtering through the glass, his hands buried inside his trouser pockets, causing the material of his jacket to stretch across broad, strong shoulders. His jet black hair glistened in the sun.

As if Cameron knew she was staring, he turned and grinned. And as if his image alone didn’t stop her heart, his smile surely did.

“Want some lunch?”

Stephanie felt like someone had dunked her into ice cold water. Did he ask what she thought he asked. “What?” she managed to say.

“I said, do you want some lunch?”

All of Stephanie’s defensive sensors went into action. So this was it. She made points with her father, now he wanted to be on her good side. Pretty soon he, too, would be dreaming of golf with clients and a partnership, just like that insipid Whitfield.

An intense sense of disappointment flooded her heart. “Now why would you want to have lunch with me, Cameron Reed?”

Surprisingly, Cameron looked insulted. “Why not?”

“You never wanted to have lunch with me before.”

“I thought you were Steve Whitfield’s girl.”

A chill ran up Stephanie’s spine as she recalled the mysterious man at the ball. “Why does everyone think I’m….”

“Forget Steve Whitfield,” Cameron said hastily, moving to her side. “Have lunch with me.”

He stood so close she could smell the familiar aftershave. The one that lingered in her senses every day after hours on the job. The one that was slowly driving her crazy.

“You’re making fun, aren’t you? Little deb wears a new outfit, tries to impress daddy. Now you want to tease me over lunch, is that it?”

Cameron’s grin disappeared and he stared so hard she shivered. Then he grasped her hand and held it tight. “I’m proud of you,” he said earnestly. “And that’s no joke.”

My God, he was serious, Stephanie thought. “Let me get my coat,” she said softly, removing her hand from his grasp. “I’ll meet you in your office.”

Stephanie left the conference room quickly, afraid Cameron might hear the rapid beating of her heart. “What had just happened?” she thought. The way the man had looked at her she could almost imagine…. No, it wasn’t possible. Cameron Reed wasn’t interested in her. Was he?

Shaking her head to ward off hopeful thoughts better left alone, Stephanie grabbed her coat and headed toward Cameron’s office. As many hours as the two of them worked together, Stephanie had only been in his office twice, and both times on short visits. Cameron always preferred the wide open spaces of the conference room where he could peruse documents spread out before them and stretch his long legs.

She found Cameron on the phone, but he waved and held up a finger to indicate he would be off shortly. Stephanie crossed the threshold and entered the small, paper-littered but comfortable room. It had a homey quality to it, despite its masculine feel and overall disorganization. And in between the law firm’s standard artwork on the walls were family pictures and personal awards and diplomas.

Cameron motioned for her to sit down, but Stephanie shook her head, feeling more at ease on her feet. Better to keep moving than to sit and stare at the handsome man before her, the man responsible for interrupting all logical thought from her brain for the past four months.

She started examining the wall items, beginning with the diplomas. Tulane Law School. LSU undergrad, political science. Moot court winner. Board of Supervisors scholarship.

Then the photos. First, a picture of a large family standing next to a boat, the oldest man proudly holding an enormous fish. Another of the same group of people surrounding Cameron on his graduation day. More than likely his family.

Stephanie continued around the room. The next photo was a group of musicians, all holding their instruments in what appeared to be a recording studio. In the middle was Cameron, his trademark smile dazzling. If Stephanie wasn’t mistaken, this band was the Kaplan Ramblers.

“That’s odd,” she mumbled.

She leaned closer. There was an inscription at the bottom.

“To Thomas,” it began. “Good luck in New Orleans. Your Uncle….”

Just then Cameron grabbed her elbow, jolting her back. “Ready?” he asked pulling her away from the photo.

He looked nervous. Like he was hiding something.

“What’s the hurry?”

Then the knowledge hit Stephanie like a freight train.

“Oh. My. God.” She shut her eyes tightly, praying the painful revelation away. It couldn’t be true. Not Thomas Thibault. Not the mysterious Cajun who had danced with her last night at the ball. But she knew he stood there before her. The masked man she had brazenly confessed her love to.

“Stephanie,” she heard him say as he grabbed her shoulders. “I can explain.”

She opened her eyes and stared back into those fathomless brown eyes. If only a lightening bolt would strike her now, sending her humiliated soul into a thousand ashes. She had to get out of there. She had to escape his searching gaze.

Stephanie pulled her arms through his and released his grip on her. She turned and headed quickly for the door, but Cameron was there first, slamming it before she could reach the doorknob.

“You must listen to me,” he said earnestly, trying to get her to look at him while Stephanie turned her head to avoid his eyes. He gently placed a hand on her cheek and tilted her face back to his.

“I thought you and Whitfield were an item,” he began hurriedly, as if afraid she would bolt out the door. And she wanted to — badly! “I overheard him making a date with Karen Hilyard and I thought he was standing you up. I came to the ball to tell you. I didn’t want you to be sitting there all night waiting for the jerk. But they wouldn’t let me in without a damn ticket.”

“Invitation.”

“Whatever,” Cameron continued. “I snuck inside the stage entrance and the next thing I know they’re dressing me up in that silly costume and ‘I’m calling you out.’ I only wanted to tell you and be done with it. I never expected….”

Stephanie’s heart sank to her knees. Humiliated and heart broken, she whispered as she gazed at her feet, “Never expected a confession of love?”

Cameron lovingly stroked her cheek and raised her eyes to his once more. “No chèr,” he breathed so passionately she swore she audibly gasped. “I never expected to feel the way I do.”

Stephanie should have left well enough alone. After all, how much humiliation could a woman handle? Yet she had to know. “How do you feel Cameron?”

To her surprise, he smiled. Not a triumphant, cocky grin but a warm, genuine smile. “I feel like a teenager falling in love at his prom.”

His smile broadened and he slipped an arm about her waist, pulling her tightly into his chest and that heavenly, masculine scent. “Oh God, Stephanie,” he whispered into her hair as they embraced. “Can you ever forgive me?”

Stephanie cautiously inched her hands around Cameron’s back and leaned into his shoulder. It felt so right. So amazingly right. It was what she had dreamed of for months.

“Forgive you for what?”

“For not loving you sooner, for being so blind by my own prejudices.”

He pulled back and looked into her eyes, threading his fingers into her hair while his thumb brushed her bottom lip seductively. Stephanie felt her knees weaken.

“Just who are you anyway?”

Cameron smiled. “Thomas Cameron Reed Thibault. I changed my name legally but only to add to it. Changing it completely would have killed my family.”

“But why?”

“Why?” He studied her carefully. “I’m from the Cajun Riviera, Stephanie, right in the middle of nowhere. Who’s going to give some poor Cajun like me a chance unless I act the part of the upper class lawyer?”

Now it was Stephanie’s turn to pull their bodies close together. She slipped her hands inside his jacket, feeling the soft silk material against her palms. “I will,” she whispered.

“Mrs. Stephanie Thibault?” he asked, as if doubting she would be so bold.

“Ms. Stephanie Thibault” she corrected him with a sly smile.

Cameron wasted no time silencing that smile with a kiss. But unlike the quick, steamy one he had delivered on the dance floor, this one lingered ever so passionately. When he began to explore the soft regions of her cheek and neck, he whispered heatedly, “I love you, Deb.”

Stephanie pressed her cheek against his and pulled her fingers through his dark black hair and sighed. This was what she had waited for all her life. “I love you too, Thomas.”

Just then a thought came to her and she laughed. Cameron pulled back to try and decipher her amusement. “This is probably a silly question but can you dance?”

Cameron sent her a puzzled frown. “You know I can.”

Stephanie grabbed his lapels and pulled him close. “Not social dancing, silly. Cajun dancing. I’m an honorary member of the Cajun Embassy.”

“The what?” Cameron’s eyebrows furrowed.

“It started with my cousin Lizzy Guidry and some Louisiana friends she met at school. My group of women, Lizzy included when she’s in town, go Cajun dancing, traveling all over south Louisiana visiting dancehalls and festivals.”

Cameron looked stunned but a smile slowly spread and his eyes twinkled. “Seriously?”

“And I want to meet this famous uncle of yours,” Stephanie continued. “He really is one of my favorites.”

Cameron’s face erupted into a broad smile. She could tell he was proud of his family, despite the fact that they lived at the edge of the world. “I’ll take you home with me one weekend,” he said, his natural accent emerging. “We’ll pass a good time. But only on two conditions.”

Stephanie searched his deep brown eyes that were so typical of the French. “Now what would that be, chèr?”

“No more talk about Atlanta, okay?” Then a sly twinkle appeared in his eyes. “And next time you want to talk about me, don’t go confessing your feelings to perfect strangers.”

A smile infused with the warmth of happiness spread across her face. “Agreed.”

And with that binding contract, the lawyers sealed it with a kiss.

Acknowledgements

 

Merci beaucoup to Alex Treadway,

who gave me insight into what goes on inside those

_traditional Carnival balls. _

_And to the amazing talents of Joshua Coen, _

who created the cover.

About the Author

 

Cherie Claire lives in South Louisiana where she works as a travel and food writer and pens several blogs about her unique culture. To learn more about her Cajun novels, upcoming events, Louisiana recipes and to sign up for her newsletter, visit her website www.CherieClaire.net. Write to Cherie at [email protected]

Also By Cherie Claire

 

The Cajun Series

Emilie

Rose

Gabrielle

Delphine

A Cajun Dream

The Letter

 

The Cajun Embassy

Ticket to Paradise

Damn Yankees

Gone Pecan

 


Carnival Confessions: A Mardi Gras Novella

Attorney Cameron Reed is not too pleased to be paired off in a court case with Stephanie Bertrand, a New Orleans socialite whose privileged background is vastly different from Cameron’s bayou upbringing. But when Cameron overhears Stephanie’s boyfriend asking another woman out, he feels it his duty to tell her of her financé’s betrayal. Wearing a mask and sneaking into a Mardi Gras ball, Cameron plans to inform Stephanie of her boyfriend’s tryst but never gets a chance. Instead, a tipsy Stephanie delivers a confession. Not only is she not dating the man in question, she is secretly enamored with Cameron. And because Cameron does not return the feelings, she plans to take a job in an Atlanta law firm. Like the wild Mardi Gras festivities, Cameron’s world turns upside down at the news. But how can he make amends to the woman he nicknamed “Deb” for debutante, and convince her to remain in New Orleans — and hopefully in his arms.

  • ISBN: 9781370668922
  • Author: Cherie Claire
  • Published: 2017-02-27 15:20:10
  • Words: 7774
Carnival Confessions: A Mardi Gras Novella Carnival Confessions: A Mardi Gras Novella