A Scandal So Sweet

By: Ann Major

Houston, Texas

A man’s life could change in a heartbeat.

Seven days ago Zach Torr had been in the Bahamas, elated to be closing the biggest deal of his career. Then he’d received an emergency call about his uncle.

The one person who’d held Zach’s back these past fifteen years was gone.

Now, still dressed in the suit he’d worn to give his uncle’s eulogy, Zach stood on the same narrow girder from which his uncle had fallen. He stared fearlessly down at his contractors, bulldozers, generators, cranes and men, big tough men, who appeared smaller than ants in their yellow hard hats sixty-five stories below.

Zach was a tall man with thick black hair and wide shoulders; a man his competitors swore was as ruthless as the fiercest jungle predator. The women he’d left behind agreed, saying he’d walked out on them without ever looking back.

Normally, his eyes were colder than black ice. Today they felt moist and stung. How had Uncle Zachery felt when he’d stood here for the last time?

A shudder went through Zach. Men who walked iron were no less afraid of heights than other men.

The chill breeze buffeting him whipped his tie against his face, almost causing him to step backward. He froze, caught his balance…hissed in a breath. A sneeze or a slip—was that how it had happened? Up here the smallest mistake could be fatal.

Had Uncle Zachery jumped? Been startled by a bird? Been pushed? Suffered a heart attack? Or simply fallen as the foreman had said? Zach would never know for sure.

As Uncle Zachery’s sole heir, Zach had endured several tough interviews with the police.

The newspaper coverage had been more critical of him than usual because he’d stayed in the Bahamas to close the deal before coming home.

He hated the invasion of the limelight, hated being written about by idiots who went for the jugular with or without the facts.

Because the fact was, for Zach, the world had gone dark after that phone call.

When he’d been nineteen and in trouble with the law for something he hadn’t done, Uncle Zachery had come back to Louisiana from the Middle East, where he’d been building a city for a sheik. Uncle Zachery had saved him. If not for his uncle, Zach would still be serving hard time.

Houston-bred, Zach had been cast out of town by his beautiful stepmother after his father’s death. Her reason—she’d wanted everything. His father had naively assumed she’d be generous with his sixteen-year-old son and had left her his entire fortune.

If it hadn’t been for Nick Landry, a rough Louisiana shrimper who’d found Zach in a gutter after he’d been beaten by his stepmother’s goons, Zach might not have survived. Nick had taken Zach to his shack in Bonne Terre, Louisiana, where Zach had spent three years.

It was in Bonne Terre where he’d met the girl he’d given his heart and soul to. It was in Bonne Terre where he’d been charged with statutory rape. And it was in Bonne Terre where the girl he’d loved had stood silently by while he was tried and condemned.

Fortunately, that’s when Uncle Zachery had returned. He’d discovered his sister-in-law’s perfidy, tracked Zach to Louisiana, gone up against the town of Bonne Terre and won. He’d brought Zach back to Houston, educated him and put him to work. With his powerful uncle behind him, Zach had become one of the richest men in America.

His cell phone vibrated. He strode off the girder and to the lift, taking the call as he descended.

To his surprise it was Nick Landry.

“Zach, I feel bad about your uncle, yes. I be calling you to offer my condolences. I read about you in the papers. I be as proud as a papa of your accomplishments, yes.”

So many people had called this past week, but this call meant everything. For years, Zach had avoided Nick and anything to do with Bonne Terre, Louisiana, but the warmth in Nick’s rough voice cheered him.

“It’s good to hear from you.”

“I’ve missed you, yes. And maybe you miss me a little, too? I don’t go out in the boat so often now. I tell people it be because the fishin’ ain’t so good like it used to be, but maybe it’s just me and my boat, we’re gettin’ old.”

Zach’s eyes burned as he remembered the dark brown waters of the bayou and how he’d loved to watch the herons skim low late in the evening as the mist came up from the swamp.

“I’ve missed you, too, yes,” he said softly. “I didn’t know how much—until I heard your voice. It takes me back.”

Not all his memories of Bonne Terre were bad.

“So why don’t you come to Bonne Terre and see this old man before he falls off his shrimp boat and the crabs eat him?”