Authors: Susan Andersen
|Be My Baby|
Proper Boston Brahmin Juliet Rose Astor Lowell doesn't want her body guarded by
while she's in New Orleans for the grand opening of Daddy's new hotel—especially not by macho cop Beau Dupree. He's too big, too pushy, too virile, too . . . everything! His shameless, hungry-eyed gaze shakes her carefully cultivated decorum. But Juliet is a Lowell—and there's no way she's ever going to lose control!
Beau has more important things to do than babysit a beautiful Yankee rich girl. By driving the well-mannered socialite beyond the bounds of her good-girl restraints, he figures he can get himself pulled off of the assignment. But who would have thought that real passion sizzled beneath Juliet's polish—or that when she lets her hair down, she just might prove to be more woman than Beau can handle?
This is dedicated to the women of the industry with
much gratitude and affection
To my very good friend
and brainstorming partner,
for hauling me out of the pits I dig myself into
To my agent, Meg Ruley,
for guidance through the mine fields
To my editor, Micki Nuding,
for making me look better
To the Avon Ladies of the Internet,
for sharing, teaching, and making me laugh
And to romance readers everywhere
Fools may attempt to pigeonhole us,
but we know exactly who we are
Juliet Rose Astor Lowell paused in the shade of the…
Goddam, sonofabitchin’ bureaucrat! Beau punched the accelerator to the floor…
Seconds or hours later—she couldn’t tell which—she heard a fist…
Josie Lee checked her lipstick, then tilted her tiny compact…
What are you, friggin’ nuts? The plan was to freak…
Well, that sure as hell hadn’t gone the way he’d…
Luke was more than ready to go home by the…
How could you be so foolish? Morning sun slanted through…
Paralyzed, Juliet stared down at the water in horror. Grungy…
“Roll where? I’m not going anywhere with you.” Her spine…
“Mr. Lowell is on line two.”
Beau herded people away from the parking lot and into…
Juliet’s emotions were all over the map, and she desperately…
Juliet felt as if she’d unleashed something as elemental as…
Celeste sat in her wing-backed chair, outwardly placid. She sipped…
The pounding on Roxanne’s door awakened her. Focusing bleary eyes…
Juliet was already feeling mortified by how quickly she’d succumbed…
Juliet was sleeping soundly when the beeping started. It was…
The Garden Crown was ablaze with lights and packed with…
Rage burned through Beau’s veins. Sure as hell, it was…
Beau leaned in the office door. “Afternoon, ladies.”
For the third day in a row, Beau sat planted…
Beau was riding the crest of a piss-poor attitude when…
Celeste completed her toilette and leaned forward to regard herself…
Luke found Josie Lee standing with her sisters. Anabel leaned…
Juliet stared down the barrel of Celeste’s gun, and could…
It was red beans and rice night at Beau and…
uliet Rose Astor Lowell paused in the shade of the marble columns outside the Eighth District Police Station and discreetly blotted her forehead with the back of her wrist. Drawing in a deep breath, she softly expelled it. Lord, it was hot. And so humid. Just the short walk from the air-conditioned limo left her feeling limp. She peeled a clinging yard of voile away from her thighs and gave her dress a delicate shake to promote air circulation. She’d been in New Orleans less than an hour, and already things were entirely different than she’d envisioned when she left Boston.
But that was mostly due to this unscheduled stop. She had thought to have the tiniest bit more freedom down here; it seemed a small enough thing to wish for. After all, she was away from Grandmother’s rigid constraints, in a city whose name was synonymous with enjoyment, and whose inhabitants certainly had no preconceived expectations of her as an Astor Lowell. And it
wasn’t as if she’d planned a wild spree of dancing naked across tabletops, for heaven’s sake—she’d simply wanted to loosen the ever-present restraints a bit. Just enough to take a really deep breath.
But even that was to be denied her. Once again Father had arranged matters without bothering to consult her, dropping this little bombshell as a fait accompli over the limo phone. Crown Hotels had received a letter protesting the opening of the New Orleans Garden Crown. He’d read it to her over the phone, and if it had struck her as more an ardent treatise against the bastardization of a historic landmark than a threat, that simply didn’t signify. Father wanted police protection for her, so here she was, all choice removed from her control. She pulled open the door and entered the building.
Her ears were still attuned to the crisp accents of New England, so the slow, soft drawls of the officers manning the counter sounded almost foreign. As she turned away from the desk and followed their directions to the captain’s office, she inconspicuously—but avidly—observed everything around her. She’d never been in a police station before, and it felt both exotic and full of energy.
The man who rose from behind his desk when she tapped on his door was neither. He had the prosperous, well-fed look of a politician—Father’s kind of person; exactly the sort she was accustomed to dealing with. The man’s brown hair was expensively barbered, his ruddy cheeks shone from a close shave, and his suit was cleverly cut to minimize the appearance of a middle that had begun to
spread. Police work must pay better than she’d thought.
“Captain Pfeffer? I’m—”
“Ms. Juliet Lowell,” he overrode her enthusiastically. His voice, at least, was exotic, dripping elongated, honeyed vowels. He rounded the desk and extended a smooth, manicured hand.
. She swallowed the impulse to correct him, though the desire to do so was automatic after years of conditioning at Grandmother’s knee. Smiling politely, she shook his hand.
“Please,” he said, patting her hand avuncularly as he led her into the office. “Do c’mon in and have a seat. Your fawtha and I had a long talk, and I’ve been expectin’ you.”
“Yes, I know.” Juliet sat. Though it was most likely futile, she insisted quietly, “Father was a bit precipitous, I fear. There’s truly no need for me to monopolize the services of an officer whose time could be better employed elsewhere.”
“Nonsense. Sergeant Dupree is happy to be of assistance. Don’t you worry your pretty little…well.” He cleared his throat, undoubtedly seeing something in her expression that warned him he was heading down an unpopular avenue. “The New Awleens Police Department is always happy to assist a pretty lady,” he substituted heartily, which was not a great improvement in Juliet’s opinion. “We believe in assigning the best to the best. I was personally handpicked by the commissionah himself to be acting captain when Captain Taylor left on an extended vacation. And I in turn
have handpicked the detective best suited to be your escort.”
Juliet’s polite smile froze, and her brows drew together. “Detective? Oh, but…I thought you said he was a sergeant.” This just kept getting worse and worse. Bad enough to usurp the services of an officer; now she had visions of taking a detective away from a murder investigation.
“There is no official rank of detective in the NOPD. Most of ’em hold the rank of Police Officer III or Sergeant.” He waved the distinction aside. “I must say we’re all verra excited that Crown Hotels has decided to grace our fair city with one of their fine establishments. Why, society has hardly talked of anythin’ else.”
Somehow she doubted that, but she
proud of the Garden Crown. She’d waited years to be in charge of one from conception to start-up, and the New Orleans hotel was her baby. “Yes, we’re also quite excited,” she agreed.
“As well you should be. And you needn’t be concerned for your safety while you go about your business, because we’re heah to see to it that you aren’t left alone and unprotected for a single moment.”
That’s exactly what Juliet was afraid of.
“I understand y’all have quite a roster of excitin’ pre-opening events planned,” the captain continued.
“Yes, we do.” Juliet briefly summarized the upcoming social schedule. When she finished, Pfeffer looked at her so expectantly that she said with au
tomatic courtesy, “You and your wife must join us for one.”
“Why thank you, Ms. Lowell, I know she’d like that. She’s a Collier, you know. From the Savannah Colliers.”
“Is she.” Juliet had no idea who the Savannah Colliers were, but she supposed it explained his apparent wealth. Long-standing instincts decreed it unlikely he was the descendant of old Southern wealth, for he had the too-eager-to-impress unctuousness she associated with Father’s sycophants. Manners instilled from the cradle, however, dictated the only acceptable reply. “Most likely you’re already on the list, then, but I’ll be sure to have my assistant send you an invitation.” She stole a glance at her watch.
Pfeffer caught her at it, which would have appalled Grandmother, but at least it had the benefit of hustling him along. “I realize you’re busy—let me just summon Dupree.”
He reached for the phone on his desk, but Juliet rose to her feet. “We needn’t pull him away from his duties.” Father might have a feudal belief that the welfare of the Lowells had priority over anyone else’s, but Grandmother maintained that an Astor Lowell did not inconvenience others for the sake of her own comfort. And Grandmother’s rules took precedence in Juliet’s social training, since she had raised her from the time of Juliet’s mother’s death and had therefore had time to drum them into her from birth—whereas Father had merely dropped into her life from time to time to lay down a new law before departing to reimmerse himself in his
precious corporation. “Please,” she insisted now. “We can just as easily go to him.”
Pfeffer continued to punch out numbers. “Trust me, little lady, you need to begin as you mean to go on with Sergeant Dupree. While I can assure you he’s one of New Awleens’ finest, he does tend to rise above himself if you give him the least little opportunity. It’s bettah to make him come to us.”
Juliet didn’t want to be here in the first place, and having her wishes ignored with such head-patting condescension by a man she was rapidly coming to suspect was a petty little tyrant was the push that crossed the line. Gaze level and voice icy, she said, “But I insist.”
Fleeting irritation registered on Pfeffer’s face, but he set down the receiver and stood. “Yes, of course,” he said smoothly. “Whatevah you wish.” He came around the desk and then stood aside with an obsequious smile to allow her to precede him from the office. “Right this way. We’ll take the elevatah.”
“Josie Lee’s on the warpath,” Beau Dupree informed his partner gloomily. “She says I’m overprotective and smothering, and she’s moving out.” He looked at Luke Gardner. “You think I’m overprotective?”
Beau scowled. “Bullshit. Hell, if it weren’t for this case, I’d pack her bags myself—I
of the time I’m no longer responsible for everyone. As things stand, though, she’ll move out over my dead
body.” He shook his head in disgust. “Overprotective, my ass.”
“Beau, for Christ’s sake, listen to yourself. When are you gonna let yourself off the hook for that, man? It wasn’t your fault.”
“The hell it wasn’t.” Beau’s scowl deepened. He’d allowed his baby sister to come to a strip joint late at night. It didn’t matter that she’d tracked him down via his cell phone, or how insistent she’d been that she had to have the car, refusing to let him get back to work until he’d agreed out of pure frustration to let a friend bring her by the club to get the keys. He should have insisted that he needed it himself, even though he’d ridden with Luke. Sure, he’d extracted her promise that the friend would then drop her off where he’d left the car parked, back near the station, and wait until she was safely inside. But big fuckin’ deal.
He and Luke had been staking out the joint because of the Panty Snatcher, a man who broke into women’s homes and forced them at gunpoint to strip and hand over their lingerie, terrorizing them with the unspoken possibilities of what else he might force them to do before he melted back into the night with his booty. Beau had known damn well the club was the only common denominator of the pervert’s last two victims. He’d had no business letting Josie Lee anywhere near the place.
“It’s not like I couldn’t use the peace, Gardner. I’d love to have the house all to myself. And I live for the day that I get my old sex life back.” Now, there was an understatement. He’d been fantasizing about the day for ten solid years.
Luke grinned. “Balls developin’ a bluish tinge?”
Beau gave him a look. “Hey, you try raising three opinionated sisters and see what it does to your nuts. It hasn’t exactly been the wild bachelor lifestyle it was before my folks died.” Then he, too, grinned. “The minute Josie Lee’s out the door, though, I’m picking it up right where I left off. First thing I’m gonna do is find me a little blonde with big tits.”
“Or maybe two blondes—or a blonde and a redhead; I’m not fussy. Then I’m climbing into bed with her or them, and I’m not comin’ up for air for a week.” The thought carved a smile on his face, which disintegrated when his friend kicked his foot off the lower desk drawer where it had been propped. Beau straightened in irritation. “What the hell’s the matter with you?”
“Sergeant Dupree,” Acting Captain Peter Pfeffer said with rigid disapproval from behind him. “You will kindly watch your language, sir. There’s a lady present.”
Beau turned in his seat. Oh, great—his favorite bureaucrat. And if that wasn’t enough to make his day, Pissant Pfeffer was accompanied by a long-legged woman who regarded him with huge gray eyes, as if he were some unique species in the zoo. He gave her a slow once-over in return.
“I’d like to introduce you to Ms. Juliet Lowell,” Pfeffer said with that snake-oil-salesman’s smile that always set Beau’s teeth on edge. “Your new assignment,” he added with vicious triumph. “Ms. Lowell, meet Sergeant Beauregard Dupree.”
Juliet felt the sudden tension of every person in the squad room, and realized she had made a mistake when she hadn’t allowed Captain Pfeffer to send for his detective. This smelled suspiciously of a power play, and due to her insistence it was being played out in a public forum.
When the man whose conversation they’d interrupted had turned lazily in his seat and appraised her with black eyes so heavily lashed they drooped at the outside corners, Juliet had prayed it was the handsome bald guy with the engaging grin just beyond him who would be her new bodyguard.
No such luck, of course. Her heart began to bang against the wall of her chest as the black-haired detective climbed to his feet and gave her a comprehensive once-over.
wasn’t particularly handsome. Which was just as well, since gorgeous looks would have been overkill. The man was extremely…male. He was more male than any Y-chromosome individual she’d ever come across. A snatch of his conversation whispered through her mind.
Week-long sex with multiple partners?
Dear God, did people truly
that sort of thing? She stared at him, repelled and yet fascinated at the same time.
He returned her gaze, one thick dark eyebrow lifted, and a corner of his mouth quirked as if he were privy to something that secretly amused him. Then he turned to face Captain Pfeffer and his black brows lowered. Every eye in the room was on him and everyone seemed to be holding their breath, as if awaiting an explosion. But he merely exchanged a glance with the other detective and
said with a mildness that Juliet instinctively knew was fraudulent, “I already have an assignment, Pete.”
“That’s Captain Pfeffer!” The ranking officer puffed up with indignation as he spat the correction. “And your assignment is what I say it is, Dupree.
say it’s Ms. Lowell.”
The detective was only average height, maybe five-ten or -eleven. His shoulders were wide, however, his hips were narrow, and he had the lean muscle mass of a swimmer. Black hair feathered his forearms and was visible behind the unbuttoned placket of his polo shirt. His jaw, too, was dark with five o’clock shadow, though it was only eleven in the morning. He looked tough and competent as he stared at the captain, and his cool control made his superior appear soft and nearly hysterical in contrast. It was therefore a surprise when the detective suddenly rolled his shoulders and turned to her in compliance with Pfeffer’s order.
“Miz Lowell,” he said silkily, thrusting a hand out at her. He, too, had a slow, lazy drawl, but Juliet saw the energetic fury in the depths of his black eyes. “This is my partner—”
“You don’t have a partner, Dupree,” Pfeffer interrupted.
“Bite me,” Beau invited, but explained to Juliet, “Luke here was my partner before the NOPD decentralized in ’96, and I’m not about to start callin’ him my ex-partner at this late date.” He indicated the man with the smooth-shaven skull. “In any case, meet Sergeant Gardner.”
“Ma’am,” the detective said. But although Juliet acknowledged his greeting with a polite dip of her head, she couldn’t seem to pull her gaze away from Sergeant Dupree.