Crescent Moon (Chapter 30)
"Guns are dangerous," he said solemnly.
My lips tightened. "Sorry."
He shrugged. "Heard it before."
I bet he had.
"Just not from a lady."
He still hadn't, but I wasn't going to point that out.
"What are you doing here?" I craned my neck. "Did your dad bring you?"
I heard the hope in my voice and wanted to curse again. If Adam had brought Luc, then maybe he'd changed his mind about me seeing the boy. And if Adam had changed his mind about that, then –
He'd buy me an engagement ring, fix up the mansion, we'd move in and start playing Ozzie and Harriet?
At any rate, I needed a reference a little more up-to-date. Was there an example of a happily married couple on TV these days? For the life of me, I couldn't think of one.
"My dad doesn't know I'm here."
"Uh-oh," I said before I could stop myself.
Luc shrugged and drew his toe across the floor in an "aw shucks" gesture. Only then did I realize he was barefoot On closer examination, his shirt was inside out and his shorts weren't zipped.
"Were you in a big hurry to leave?" I asked.
"Huh?" He stared at me with innocent Adam-eyes.
"Your… um – " I waved vaguely. "Barn door."
He glanced down, then presented me with his back. "I forgot to X-Y-Z."
The sound of the zipper being zipped punctuated his words.
"Examine your zipper. Dun."
As I said, I knew nothing about kids, particularly male ones, having never been one myself. I felt pretty "duh" all around.
"I should call your dad," I said.
He shrugged. "Don't need one."
Everyone needs a phone. Don't they?
Luc wandered around the mansion, glancing at my stuff, peering into corners, then staring upstairs.
He saw me watching him and shrugged. "Never been here."
I frowned. This was the family home – despite its disarray. Why hadn't Adam brought him?
I hate that place, I wish it would rot, but de damn thing never will.
"I cut through the swamp," Luc said. "Wasn't far."
"Do you walk around the swamp a lot?"
I wasn't sure that was such a good idea He was so little, the things out there so big. Or at least they'd seemed big while chasing me.
"Did you see anything… strange?" I asked.
Well, that was informative.
"Did you see anything?'
"Trees, gators, water, snakes. Critters."
"What kind of critters?"
He shrugged. "I didn't really see any. Just heard 'em scratchin' around."
"Maybe you shouldn't go in the swamp for a while."
His face creased into a mulish expression that resembled a dried-apple doll. "I've been playing in the swamp since I could walk."
"And your dad doesn't care?"
"He says I need to know how to survive there. Someday I might have to."
What a bizarre thing to say to a child.
The two of us stared at each other. I smiled a trifle uneasily. What was I going to do with him until Adam showed up?
He would show up. Wouldn't he?
I'd wait a half an hour; then I'd take Luc back myself and head into town as I'd planned.
"Are you… hungry?"
I smiled. "I've got crackers."
He made a face. "That's not food."
I dug out the package, handed it over.
"How many can I have?" he asked.
Which was probably the wrong thing to say to a kid, but he wasn't my kid, and Adam had made it clear he never would be. If Luc went home on a sugar high, well, that was no more than the man deserved. What kind of father allowed a child to roam the swamp?
What did I know about it? Maybe down here, or anywhere for that matter, a four-year-old was plenty old to swamp-wander.
I eyed Luc's size, then thought of his speech, his behavior. Maybe he was older than four. Regardless, he wasn't twenty-four. Which is how old I thought he should be before he went into the swamp alone again.
"How old are you?" I asked.
"How old are you?"
"It isn't polite to ask a woman her age."
"How come? Don't you know?"
God, he was cute.
"You're older than my dad."
Well, wasn't that special?
"How much older?"
In my opinion, that didn't count.
"OK, your turn."
I took a cookie myself, earning a scowl of reproof from Luc. Did he plan to eat them all? From the way he was wolfing them down – stupid question.
"I'm little, but I'm quick. And smart."
"I bet you are."
"My mom was little. And Dad said he didn't grow until he was twelve. Then he grew five inches in one year."
"That must've hurt."
"Hurt?" His eyes went wide and his lip trembled.
Hell. I had no idea how to talk to kids.
"I meant helped. That must have helped. With… basketball."
From his expression he didn't buy the excuse. He was quick.
"Dad didn't play basketball."
"No? What did he play?"
"Nothin'." His lip stuck out. "He says life isn't a game, it's a responsibility."
Luc grinned. "Yeah."
That gap in his teeth just did me in.
"Shouldn't you be in school?" I asked.
"Dad teaches me."
Huh. Mobile residence. Multiple babysitters. Home-schooling. But why?
Another question for Adam, if he ever spoke to me again.
"You wanna play cards?" Luc asked.
"I don't have any cards."
He reached into the pocket of his shorts and pulled out a deck.
"Just one game," I allowed. "What do you play?"
I put my hand out to take the cards, and he stared at my palm, confused.
"You don't want me to hold them?" I asked.
"I meant Texas hold 'em."
"Like on TV?"
"That's where I learned it."
He started shuffling with card-shark precision, which was both adorable and scary. Also sad. The child had to learn games from TV?
"How often do you see your father?"
"Then why the babysitters?"
"They stay all night."
"Where's your dad?"
He shrugged. "Workin', I guess."
"Working at what?"
Stranger and stranger. I'd slept with the man, shared intimacies untold, yet I didn't know what he did for a living. But, to be fair, neither did his son.
Luc beat me at hold 'em. Badly. Several times.
I forgot about "just one game." I forgot about leaving in a half an hour. An hour later we were still playing; I was still losing.
"I think that's enough." I tossed in another hand of junk.
"That's what they all say when I win."
I contemplated his tangled hair, his gappy teeth, his familiar eyes. "Why did you come here, Luc?"
He pocketed the cards and crawled into my lap. I was so surprised, I let him.
"Dad likes you." He shifted his butt, snuggled his head under my chin, and put his arms around my waist. "I can tell."
"I don't think he does."
I left out not enough and not anymore.
"He's never mumbled a girl's name in his sleep before. That's gotta mean somethin'."
I knew what it meant, and I wasn't going to tell Luc.
"I thought he worked all night," I said, wondering how Luc could have heard Adam mumbling in his sleep.
Then he sleeps most of the day. That's when I watch hold 'em."
What was Adam up to all night that made him sleep when the sun shone? I had a feeling I didn't want to know.
While we'd been talking, my arms had automatically circled the child. My cheek rested on his hair. His body was warm, both bony and soft His hair smelled like summertime in the rain.
"If Dad likes you," he murmured, his voice slurred with sleep, "I like you."
I didn't say anything until his breathing evened out and he went slack. I wasn't going to be taking Luc home anytime soon. He might be little, but he was probably too big for me to carry. Besides, I didn't want to wake him.
I stretched out on the bedroll, letting his body tumble onto the cover next to me. When he mumbled and shifted, I stroked his hair and whispered, "I like you, too."
He fell back to sleep, his hand resting in mine.
I found myself fascinated by that tiny, soft hand. He had a scrape on one knuckle, a scab on the palm; his fingernails were encrusted in dirt. Had he been digging with them? I suspected that might be something little boys did, but I wasn't sure.
Luc looked so much like Adam. From the blue eyes, to the dark hair, to the skin that turned bronze beneath the sun. Was there anything of Luc's mother in him at all?
I'd never had a maternal yearning in my life. Never heard the biological clock ticking. Never went gaga over babies. I didn't drool over sunsuits and tiny shoes. So why did holding Luc Ruelle's hand make my stomach flutter?
A movement at the corner of my vision made me glance up. I wasn't surprised to find Adam watching me from the window.
From his expression, Luc was wrong. His father didn't like me very much at all.