Read Forever With You (Bayou Dreams Book 5) Online

Authors: Farrah Rochon

Tags: #Contemporary, #Romance, #Fiction, #African American, #Interracial, #Adult, #Bayou Town, #Widowed, #Single, #Mother, #Daughters, #Principal, #Younger Man, #Louisiana, #Dedicated, #Students, #Dreams, #Scandal, #Sizzling, #Distruction, #Family Life

Forever With You (Bayou Dreams Book 5)

BOOK: Forever With You (Bayou Dreams Book 5)
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New life. New love?

The tranquil bayou town of Gauthier is the perfect place for widowed single mother Leslie Kirkland to raise her two daughters. Until she’s elected president of the elementary school’s Parent-Teacher Organization. Caught in a clash between the community and progressive science-teacher-turned-assistant-principal Gabriel Franklin, Leslie vows not to take sides. But it’s hard to be objective when a sexy younger man is awakening such an irresistible desire.

Years ago, a teacher saved Gabriel from a one-way path to destruction, and now he is dedicated to his students and the Louisiana town he calls home. But the chemistry sizzling between him and Leslie could ignite a scandal. And when the gathering firestorm threatens both their dreams, Gabe is ready to take a stand. Can he convince Leslie that it’s time to move on and make a bright future...with him?

“Do you mind company?” Gabriel asked.

Leslie’s eyes narrowed with suspicion.

He put both hands up. “I swear I just want to help.”

“Fine. You can help,” she said. “Just remember that there’s a gymnasium full of students just steps away, so no funny business.”

“I promise,” he said, a wickedly seductive smile tipping up the corners of his lips. The moment they entered the school’s storage room, Gabriel caught her wrist and spun her around, pinning her to the door.

“I didn’t realize you were so gullible,” he whispered against her lips.

Leslie returned his smile. “It looks as if it worked to my advantage.”

Amusement glittered in his eyes as he brought his chest flush against her breasts. He lowered his head and took her lips in a kiss that had every fiber of her body humming with need.

If not for the door holding her up, Leslie would have melted into a puddle right on the floor. She pressed her body into his as he pushed his tongue into her mouth.

The moan that climbed from her throat was drenched with want.

“Gabriel, we need to stop,” she murmured against his lips, but it was the exact opposite of what she wanted.

Dear Reader,

Have you ever visited a place and fallen instantly in love with it? So in love that you find yourself wanting to visit over and over again? And each time you visit you discover something new, exciting and unique that makes you want to keep coming back for more?

Well, that’s exactly the way I feel about the fictional town of Gauthier, Louisiana. With every new book I write in my Bayou Dreams series, I find yet another thing to love about this charming town and its nosy, but well-meaning, residents.

Readers will recognize the heroine of
Forever with You
, Leslie Kirkland, from
Forever’s Promise
. This widowed single mother definitely deserves her happily-ever-after, and I believe the young, handsome Gabriel Franklin is the perfect man to help her find it.

I hope you enjoy this latest glimpse into the lives of the people of Gauthier.

Happy reading,

Farrah Rochon

Farrah Rochon
had dreams of becoming a fashion designer as a teenager, until she discovered she would be expected to wear something other than jeans to work every day. Thankfully, the coffee shop where she writes does not have a dress code. When Farrah is not penning stories, the
USA TODAY
bestselling author and avid sports fan feeds her addiction to football by attending New Orleans Saints games.

Books by Farrah Rochon

Harlequin Kimani Romance

Huddle with Me Tonight
I’ll Catch You
Field of Pleasure
Pleasure Rush
A Forever Kind of Love
Always and Forever
Delectable Desire
Runaway Attraction
Yours Forever
Forever’s Promise
A Mistletoe Affair
Forever with You

Visit the Author Profile page
at
Harlequin.com
for more titles

For you, Mama.
Thank you for teaching me to trust and have faith.

Some trust in chariots and some in horses,
but we trust in the Lord our God.

Psalms
20:7

Chapter 1

T
he frenetic whir of post-Sunday-service gossip floating through the Mop & Glo–scented air of the New Hope Baptist Church hall intensified the throbbing behind Leslie Kirkland’s eyes. She slid into a cubby between the water cooler and a multitiered plant stand, her cheeks demanding a respite from the constant smiling at well-meaning church members determined to impart their gratitude for her singing at this morning’s service.

Leslie took a sip of lukewarm fruit punch, the drink of choice during the church’s fellowship hour, and glanced at her watch. She was counting down the seconds until she and her girls could leave without garnering judgmental stares from the deaconesses, who considered the fellowship hour sacred. She’d faced her share of raised penciled-in eyebrows when she walked into the sanctuary this morning after being absent the past two weekends. That was more than enough censure for one day, thank you very much.

“Leslie Kirkland, I swear you are an angel sent down from heaven.”

Frustration at being discovered tightened the skin around her mouth, but her expression softened when she saw it was Nathan Robottom, owner of the hardware store in Gauthier, the tiny dot on the Louisiana map that Leslie had called home for more than a decade.

Nathan clasped her hands between his roughened palms and gave them a gentle squeeze. “That solo this morning was the loveliest thing I’ve heard since the last time you sang a solo in church.”

“That’s so nice of you to say, Mr. Nathan,” Leslie said, her lips stretching into a genuine smile. It was impossible not to love this old man. “How is Ms. Penelope? I noticed she didn’t join you this morning. I hope everything is okay.”

“Aw, she’s fine,” he said, waving off Leslie’s concern. “Her gout flared up and she didn’t want to come limpin’ in the church. She’ll be sorry she missed your pretty singing.” He gave her hands a good-natured pat before heading to the other side of the church hall where day-old doughnuts were doled out after Sunday service.

Leslie glanced at her watch again and decided that twenty minutes of fellowshipping should more than satisfy the deaconesses. She left her safe cubby in search of Kristi and Cassidy. Based on the trouble her daughters had given her when she’d woken them for church this morning, they should have been scratching at the doors to leave. As usual, they’d met up with friends and now she had to play Find the Kirkland Sisters.

As her eyes roamed the crowded hall, Leslie spotted Clementine Washington and Claudette Robinson sitting at the church ministries sign-up table. She averted her gaze, trying not to make eye contact, but she wasn’t quick enough. The Two Cs rose from the table simultaneously and started straight for her.

What would happen if she made a run for it? Just dashed right through the doors?

“Leslie!” Claudette called, waving her arms to get her attention.

Too late.

“Ms. Clementine. Ms. Claudette,” Leslie greeted with as much enthusiasm as she could muster. “How are you two doing this morning?”
Please don’t ask me to join the Ladies’ Auxiliary.
“I hope you’re both doing well.”

“Oh, yes. And especially after hearing you sing,” Claudette said. “Girl, I know the spirit was moving in you.”

“Amen,” Clementine added.

“Thank you.” She smiled. Leslie just knew her cheek muscles were on the verge of staging a revolt after the workout she’d put them through today. “Well,” she said, clamping her hands in front of her, “I really need to find my girls. We have plans for this afternoon.”

“Oh, I’m sure they’re out there with the youth ministry,” Claudette said. “Marsha and Lewis Marcel donated Popsicles for the little ones.” She slid a step closer to Leslie and leaned toward her. “And speaking of people who live out on Willow Street...”

Confusion tugged at the corners of Leslie’s mouth.
Huh?

“Did you notice the way Sawyer Robertson was looking at you while you sang this morning?” Clementine asked.

Leslie couldn’t prevent her eye roll even if the Eye Roll Prevention Wizard had granted her special powers. And her eyes
were
rolling. Hard.

She should have known these two had something much more intrusive up their sleeves to ask her than joining the Ladies’ Auxiliary. In the month since Sawyer Robertson had moved into the charming colonial on Willow Street—only a few streets from where she lived in the residential area of downtown Gauthier—Leslie had encountered no less than a dozen people who were all too eager to make introductions.

According to the gossip she’d overheard while browsing the produce section at the supermarket last week, the handsome divorcee, who had left Gauthier about three years ago, had just started a job with the state, though the gossipers had not been sure in what capacity. He hailed from one of Gauthier’s more prominent families, and both of the ladies had agreed that he probably didn’t have to work if he didn’t want to.

Despite the town’s small size, Leslie had never had much interaction with Sawyer in the years before he’d hightailed it out of Gauthier. She hadn’t seen him much in the month since he’d returned, either, though she sure had heard his name enough.

“Sawyer comes from good people,” Claudette said. “Rich as sin, but not uppity.”

“Nope, never was uppity,” Clementine agreed. “I went to high school with his mama, Cheryl Ann. Cancer took her a while back.”

“Oh, I didn’t know that,” Leslie said. “Didn’t his father die of cancer, too?”

She knew at least that much about him.

Clementine nodded. “Sawyer took care of Earl until he passed, then he sold the house, married that girl from New Orleans and moved somewhere up north.” Clementine clucked her tongue. “Don’t know what happened, but that marriage sure didn’t last long.”

“You know what I heard,” Claudette started.

Leslie held up her hand. “This really isn’t the place for that, is it? And I should really go—”

Claudette’s face brightened. “Well, speak of the devil.”

Leslie turned and just barely held in her groan at the sight of Eloise Dubois—another pillar of the church—and Sawyer Robertson walking toward them. Sawyer looked as though he’d been hit by a hurricane.

Or three very determined deaconesses.

“Look who I found in the parking lot,” Eloise said.

“Why, Sawyer, you remember Leslie Kirkland, don’t you?” Clementine asked in the most pathetic attempt at subtly known to mankind.

If only the floor could open up and swallow me...

Or, better yet, let it swallow up the deaconesses.

Leslie hid her frustration behind a smile as she stuck out her hand. “Nice to see you again, Sawyer.”

The shimmer of understanding that flashed in his eyes put Leslie at ease. He sympathized. Of course he sympathized. They were in the same boat, being thrust together by a community of meddlesome, though well-meaning, people.

“It’s nice to see you, as well,” he said.

So, he had a really nice voice. And strong, yet soft hands. He wasn’t bad on the eyes, either. His smooth dark skin was practically flawless, and those obsidian eyes practically dared you to look away from him.

But a pretty face had never been a selling point for her.

“I was sorry to hear about Braylon,” he said. “All of Gauthier was proud of him when he joined the military. He served our country well.”

Leslie nodded and smiled. The old nod and smile had become her rote response whenever talk veered in the vicinity of her deceased husband.

“I really enjoyed your singing this morning,” Sawyer added, his tone lighter. “It’s been a long time since I stepped foot in a church. Your voice was a lovely homecoming.”

He had that charm thing down pat. She was a sucker for a charmer, but still, no cigar.

“Thank you,” Leslie said with another polite smile.

He shifted from one foot to the other. So did she. The awkwardness was so tangible that Reverend Allan would demand it add money to the collection plate if it hung around much longer.

Of course, it was hard not to notice the palpable awkwardness when the conversations around them had all but ceased, making it painfully obvious that she and Sawyer were the focus of every eye in the church hall.

Where in the heck were her daughters? She needed rescuing from this charming, handsome man before the dozens of people watching them—all of them failing miserably at being covert—got the wrong impression. Leslie knew that if even one person thought there was a spark between her and Sawyer, the sweet, well-intentioned matriarchs of Gauthier would wage an all-out campaign to get the two of them together.

Why couldn’t the people in this town mind their own damn business?

It was as if a green light had been turned on the day after the first anniversary of Braylon’s death. Once the acceptable grieving period had passed, all of Gauthier had been on a quest to find her a man, as if she was on the verge of collapsing from loneliness if she wasn’t paired with someone soon.

Because, of course, she had all the time in the world to be lonely.

She was a single working mother with two daughters determined to take part in every extracurricular activity they could sign up for, and a full-time job that demanded more from her than she had to give. She barely had time to breathe.

But that didn’t stop the fine people of Gauthier from foisting their single friends and relatives on her.

Sawyer Robertson was just one in a passel of men who had been paraded before her, all of them the
perfect
man to help her raise her poor little fatherless daughters. But Sawyer had proved to be more dangerous than any of the other men thus far. She had been introduced to her share of visiting nephews or friends of a friend of a friend, but the full-court press she’d faced since Sawyer’s return was unprecedented.

And unlike the visiting nephews, Sawyer wasn’t just passing through town. He was in Gauthier to stay. In a house just a few blocks from hers. All of Gauthier was determined to see this love connection happen.

This town! These nosy, prying people! She needed a break from it all.

“Mommy!” Kristi, her youngest, who had just turned five and was no longer her little baby, came running up to Leslie, the front of her white dress stained with purple Popsicle juice. “Mommy, are we still putting the swinging bed in the backyard after church?”

“Yes, we are!” And Kristi would get extra dessert for rescuing her from this painful situation. “Why don’t you get your sister so we can leave?” Leslie turned to Sawyer and explained, “It’s a hammock. I promised the girls we would finally hang it today.”

“Sounds like a lovely way to spend a lazy afternoon.”

Yeah, that smile was
really
nice. There was no way to deny it.

“Do you need any help hanging the hammock?” he asked.

“Oh, no,” Leslie said quickly. “The instructions are pretty straightforward. My girls and I can handle it.”

A perfectly shaped brow arched before he asked, “Are you sure? I wouldn’t mind coming over to help.”

Leslie heard an excited gasp come from somewhere just over her shoulder. Lord, she needed to leave. Now.

“Yes, I’m sure,” she said.

More silence. More awkwardness. More reasons to get the heck out of here.

She pointed to the double doors of the church hall. “I should probably go.”

Sawyer nodded and stepped aside so she could pass. As she skirted around him, he called, “Uh, Leslie?”

Her eyes darted to him and she held her breath.

Please don’t ask me out. Please don’t ask me out.

Sawyer stuck both hands into his pockets and quickly glanced to the side where Eloise, Clementine and Claudette were staring openly. He lifted one shoulder in an indelicate shrug and said, “I was wondering if maybe you’d like to grab dinner sometime?”

Oh, good God. He asked me out.

The effort to keep the pained expression from taking over her face was a valiant one, but it was impossible to stop it. She mentally cursed every interfering busybody in this town. Sawyer was a perfectly nice man. He didn’t deserve this.

“I’m sorry, but I can’t,” Leslie said. “I’m so busy with work and my girls, and I’m also president of the PTO at the school this year. I just can’t spare the time. Thank you for the invitation, though.”

He did a fantastic job of hiding his disappointment, but Leslie still caught a glimpse of it in the way his mouth pinched at the corners.

She hated this. She hated being this perpetual stick-in-the-mud who constantly shot down advances from genuinely nice men. But finding a man was the very last thing on her agenda. She didn’t care that the people in this town thought it was time for her to jump into the dating pool again. She was not putting herself out there until she was good and ready.

“Maybe some other time,” Sawyer said.

Leslie didn’t give him an answer, only another of those half smiles before she quickly made her way toward the door. She caught sight of Clementine, Claudette and Eloise standing off to the right. All three looked shocked and agitated, as if she’d messed up their well-laid plans.

That was too bad. She didn’t need a matchmaker.

Unfortunately, she was living in a town that was chock-full of them.

* * *

Hammock hanging was not all it was cracked up to be.

What she’d anticipated to be a quick and easy project had turned into a quiz on deductive reasoning. Leslie lost track of how many times her eyes had darted between the creased instruction guide and the thick trunks of the two elms in her backyard. At one point she had seriously considered jogging over to that cute colonial on Willow Street and taking Sawyer up on his offer to help. But once she figured out the correct height—thus saving her butt from hitting the ground when she lay in it—it had been smooth sailing.

She’d spent the past half hour gently swaying in her newly hung hammock while Cassidy and Kristi attempted to play tennis in the backyard. It wasn’t easy with Buster, the Yorkshire terrier Leslie had been bamboozled into adopting for the girls, stealing the tennis ball whenever she could get her little paws on it.

“You have to be quicker than that,” Leslie called out to Kristi when the dog snagged the ball yet again. Her daughter plopped her hands on her bony hips and gave her a look that screamed
Duh, Mom
.

BOOK: Forever With You (Bayou Dreams Book 5)
3.6Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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