To Catch a Fox
Sex. Murder. Blackmail. Revenge. Life in the Big Easy can be a real bitch.
Meet Jon Fox, a sexy New Orleans private detective with more family secrets than even he knows about. But his latest case is about to bring more to the swampy surface than Fox himself could ever have guessed—
A polite old lady with a plot to murder a stranger;
A mother whose secret sent her insane;
An uncle with complete control over the family empire;
A father whose suicide might once again tear his family apart;
And a hot, handsome, clueless blond with a knack for being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Yes, meet Jon Fox. A New Orleans private detective whose complicated life…just got a little more complex.
Release date: 15 April 2013
Category: Gay Mainstream
Sub-Genre: Action/Adventure, Contemporary, Erotic,Mystery/Suspense, Romantic, Series
Number of words: 108,000 words
Formats available: e-book and print
Heat level: 4 out of 5
This writing team is like peanut butter and chocolate. Simply amazing writing! I would recommend this story to any mystery, private detective fan. This book is a complete homerun.
“Don’t take this the wrong way, Mr. Fox,” she said with a lamp-lit smile, “but I do declare—it’s time for you to die.”
The words drifted across the smoky sitting room, tinged with mild amusement, dripping with that sweet Southern accent from lips stained with glossy, blood-red lipstick.
The kind left like a kiss on the rim of a glass.
Or on a shirt collar.
Which was precisely the evidence Jonathan Fox had found in the young chauffeur’s apartment to prove Delta Deveraux was having an affair. Which was, evidently, the same reason Delta herself had broken into his house to kill him.
At first he wasn’t sure if she was bluffing or not.
That’s when she pulled the small, pearl-handled revolver from her purse.
Nope. No bluff.
“My only dilemma,” she said, her shiny red lips snaking into an even wider smile, “is where to put the first bullet.” She eyed him playfully, like a cat with a mouse. He was handsome, there was no arguing that. Dark eyes hiding secrets with lips to match. And just the right age—thirtyish, she guessed—still young enough to appreciate his own cock, yet old enough to know how to use it properly.
Delta pointed her gun. “I could finish you off quickly with a single shot straight to the heart, but I’m suspicious that heart of yours may be made of stone and the bullet might ricochet off. Then again, I could shoot you through the stomach and make things slow and painful, much like the humiliating divorce proceedings my foolish husband believes he can force me to suffer through. But then again, I’m tempted to instantly gratify myself and put the first bullet right between your legs. In terms of size, it certainly looks like the easiest target.”
Delta Deveraux cocked the hammer on the revolver.
“Yes,” she said, taking aim at Fox’s crotch, her finger squeezing gently on the trigger. “I do believe that would give me a great deal of satisfaction indeed.”
Fox simply sighed, his broad shoulders slumping just a little.
He didn’t back away or squirm, showing no sign of fear.
He simply said—
“Can I at least fix myself a drink first? It’s hotter than hell.”
* * * *
Twenty minutes earlier, Fox’s pickup had rocked back and forth as he turned off the river road, which ran alongside the levee that stood between him and the Mississippi, and onto the dirt lane that disappeared into the tree line just ahead. Fox cursed the hissing air conditioner which seemed to be gasping for its last breath. He hammered the dash, no longer able to ignore the fact he needed to break down and buy a new vehicle.
Fox’s fist clobbered the dash in a frustrated attempt to fix the air, but his banging only killed the headlights.
Fox wiped the sweat off his brow, then ran his fingers through his matted black hair. He loosened his tie even further down his chest and unbuttoned his shirt a little more. The late afternoon rain had turned the early June heat into a sticky sauna, and even with the sun having disappeared beyond the horizon, the air was still thick and heavy.
In the dying light, Fox passed into the patch of woods that separated his destination from the prying eyes of the outside world. He knew this track well from when he was a child, though now every turn and pothole and bump and groove was a reminder of how much his life had changed from those days long gone.
Funny, he thought. It’s the little things that stay with you.
The big things, the important things, they’re always the things you lose.
One of the reasons behind his decision to move back into the family home was his choice of occupation. Not surprisingly, being a private investigator requires, in no uncertain terms, privacy. Fox liked the fact that the family home was secluded, but at just over an hour’s drive from the French Quarter it was still close enough to the action. And the work.
Despite all the horrible things that had happened here when he was a child—the things that had driven him away from De la Fontaine—to this day it was still the only place he could remember ever being truly happy. He hoped that fact had a certain cache to it, as if immersing himself in it might somehow bring him some peace.
Suddenly the truck broke through the woods and there it was, sitting in the middle of the ten acre plot of land.
De la Fontaine.
From here he could only catch glimpses of the thick columns from the Greek revival antebellum plantation through the massive oak trees, all of which were well over two hundred years old, surrounding the house on three sides. As night set in, the full moon began to rise and break through the canopy of the trees. The low-hanging, moss-covered branches looked black and skeletal, stretching out like charred bones.
Fox couldn’t help but think how deceptive it all was from a distance, the way the painted white exterior of the mansion gleamed in the moonlight. Much like his own life: grand from a distance, but with each step closer the façade slowly faded and the truth revealed itself in the decay created by time and the elements. Neglect had taken its toll. The once elegant and well-manicured gardens and courtyards were now being swallowed up by the overgrown grounds and the swamp that sat along the back of the property. The bronze fountain, after which the plantation was named—once a grand and illustrious structure that stood almost a story and half high—was now a twisted tangle of thorny vines.
Slowly, surely, the Maurepas Swamp was re-staking its claim, taking back what rightfully belonged to her.
Yet there was still something about this place, he thought, listening to what was left of the once graveled road pop and crackle under the slow roll of the tires. He felt a kinship to it, standing there proud and defiant, even when on the very brink of ruin, like a fuck you to Mother Nature.
A chill ran right up his spine as if he’d just tempted fate even thinking those words after Katrina.
Fox shook it off. That attitude was something Granddaddy Fox might have approved of. By all accounts, the man was a real son-of-a-bitch. He wondered if certain family traits really did skip a generation, as there were times he felt more attune to the grandfather he’d never known than his more refined and genteel parents.
De la Fontaine had once been the Grand Dame and largest of all the great sugar cane plantations that once thrived throughout the region. Then along came his granddaddy who bought the plantation just for prestige, forcing himself upon the so-called polite society, breaking rules and making new ones, winning friends and enemies as he made a somewhat successful attempt at rewriting the robber-baron Fox family history.
“You were some piece of work, Granddaddy,” Fox said. “May you rest in peace.”
He laughed, realizing how exhausted he was and how it was starting to show. All Fox wanted after the week he’d just had was a drink and something to eat. A shower. His bed.
The pickup rounded the final curve and slowed to a stop, not next to the house itself but beside Virgil’s rickety old distillery shed, a few short steps away from the small single story stucco building which sat just behind the main house.
This was the kitchen house.
It was unassuming, shadowed by its much larger sister whose massive two story columns stretched upward, creating the bi-level covered porch that wrapped around all four sides of the manor house.
Fox pushed open the creaky old driver’s door and made his way across what used to be the paved pathway that led to the kitchen house door. He flipped on the light switch and headed straight for the old, white refrigerator on the opposite wall—past the long, rustic wooden table in the middle of the room where servants and children and, in more recent generations, the Fox family themselves, had once upon a time enjoyed the heartiest of home-cooked meals.
The 1960s gas stove sat next to the original wood-fired kiln, like a museum display of cooking throughout the ages. He reached up, tapping one of the many cast iron skillets, listening to the clank and tong as it swiveled and bounced against the miscellaneous copper pots that had been dangling from the walls and ceilings for God-only-knew how many years on his way to investigate what was inside the fridge.
To this day, he still wasn’t sure why no one had ever updated the kitchen or bothered to move it inside the main house for that matter. Back in the day, kitchens were kept separate from the main house due to the risk of fire. But in today’s world it wasn’t exactly practical. Just another thing to add to his mind-numbingly long list of renovations.
A list that left his head, along with every other care, the moment he opened the refrigerator door.
“Virgil, I love you, man!” He grinned, removing the pot of leftover gumbo and shoving the door shut with his hip. Snatching a tin spoon out of a drawer, Fox began wolfing down the gumbo, cold and delicious, the flavor stewed and cooled all the way through.
Fox managed to devour half the pot before placing the rest back in the fridge. He turned off the light and left the kitchen house.
His belly satisfied.
But still in need of a drink.
Something stronger than the cold beers he’d spotted in the ice box.
Quietly he passed between the columns of the manor house, careful not to make too much of a ruckus for fear of waking anyone.
He got as far as the back door of the manor house—and froze in his tracks.
The door was ajar.
“Damn it, Virgil.” He surveyed the grounds, listening for any signs of Miss Savannah, praying he wouldn’t find her out wandering barefoot in the moonlight, picking the wildflowers that grew by the edge of the swamp, wearing nothing but a smile.
“Deliver me from ever witnessing that again,” he mumbled.
It hadn’t been an easy decision, bringing his mother back here to live with him. Her state of mind had been in question ever since the day Fox’s father died, but now as she grew older she was suffering from dementia as well. Savannah didn’t know who Fox was most of the time, which he found preferable to days when she thought Fox was his father, based on the uncanny—and on those particular occasions, disconcerting—resemblance between father and son.
But while taking Miss Savannah out of the nursing home facility had felt like the right thing to do, Fox worried that bringing her back here might somehow make her worse.
That was his biggest fear of all.
He harbored no delusions that she would ever get better.
But if her return to De la Fontaine ever led to her ultimate demise—whether one night wandering obliviously into the alligator-filled swamp, or even worse, the sheer emotional impact of living in the house where her husband had committed suicide pushed her to do the same in a fit of madness—
—Fox couldn’t bear the thought of it.
Desperately, he pushed it out of his head, then quickly scouted around the house searching for any sign of his mother through the trees or down by the swamp.
He knew what he was looking for.
A small, ghost of a figure.
Her arms plucking gently at the low-hanging twines.
Her bare feet stepping assuredly through the grounds where she had once planned massive, elaborate parties.
Her soft voice trailing through the night, humming a tune she once sang to him at bedtime.
But there was no sign of her, not tonight.
With a relieved sigh he returned to the back door and entered the house, intent on checking Savannah’s room, hoping she was fast asleep.
Inside, the house was quiet, but the air even more stifling than outside. There wasn’t a breeze to be found in all of Louisiana on this night.
He paused momentarily, noticing the faint glow of lamplight emanating under the door to his father’s study.
Make that my study.
Far down the central hallway that ran clear through to the opposite side of the house, Fox could see the slightly open door to the study.
As well as the tendril of smoke which crawled out into the great hall.
Even from here he could smell it.
Sweet. Delicate. It was the smoke from a woman’s slender cigar.
Not the cheap carton crap that Virgil loved.
And given the fact that Savannah didn’t smoke, Fox realized instantly that the back door had not been left open by either Virgil or his mother, but rather an intruder.
One who was waiting for him.
Cautiously he made his way down the central hallway, pausing at the large accent table that sat in the middle of the antechamber. Fox paused and glanced upward, looking all the way up to the eye-shaped glass dome in the ceiling three stories above.
The moon slid into the corner of the eye-shaped skylight.
Growing up Fox always thought the moon was watching him through the roof.
He ignored it, glancing back to the open door of the study.
He cursed himself for being so quick to blame Virgil for leaving the back door open that he neglected to check if the lock had been tampered with. He was working too much and he knew it. Between that and the added stress of bringing Miss Savannah back home, it was making him careless. Not exactly the sort of attribute one might hope to find in a private investigator.
Yet his instincts were still intact enough to guess who had broken into his family home.
He’d immediately recognized the scent of those Cubans, the same scent that had lingered on the chauffeur’s shirt with the lipstick traces on the collar.
He stopped on the creaky boards in front of the door, which was sitting slightly ajar.
Before stepping into the study, Fox shot a glance back toward the staircase, wondering if he had time to wake Virgil and get both him and Miss Savannah out of the house. Fox knew he was the only thing standing between Delta and what was sure to be an imminent divorce where she got nothing for breaking the Deveraux’s pre-nup by having had an affair with the family chauffer.
Despite the fact he couldn’t imagine Delta was capable of violence, if Fox had learned one thing from his recent years of detective work, it was that desperation changed everything and cheating spouses who got caught could easily become convinced they had nothing to lose.
He pushed the door open slightly in order to get a better look inside the study. The figure of woman sitting in his father’s favorite armchair caught his attention; he could make out the legs of her immaculate red pant suit.
The matching heels.
The perfectly-set blonde hair.
And there was no mistaking—
“Surprise,” she said without getting up, or even bothering to turn her head.
Fox sighed, pushing the door fully open, listening to it creak as if attempting to scream a warning.
He folded his arms, leaning against the door jamb. “But I was expecting a pony.”
She turned to eye his figure in the doorway. “What a shame, you got a mare who’s ready to kick the shit out of you instead!”
Fuck, he hated these types of cases.
They always got messy and usually led to more trouble than they were worth.
Fox knew he should have turned down the Deveraux case. He should have told his uncle no, but Jackson Deveraux was apparently a family friend. That probably meant as a state senator, he was well connected. He hated to think what favors the man might have done for Uncle Mason over the years. Frankly, he didn’t want to know.
“Are you going to be standing in the doorway much longer, Mr. Fox?” Delta asked, her voice as thick and smooth as honey. “Or might I finally enjoy the pleasure of your company?”
Delicately she twirled the end of her slender Cuban into the silver ashtray on the side table by her chair, smothering the embers.
Fox walked into the room leaving the only exit wide open, remembering that unexpected encounters often called for quick getaways.
As he moved casually into the room, she gave him a cool, calm smile. Her face was immaculately made up, fully painted—her lips glimmering, her high cheekbones brushed with rouge, the surrounds of her eyes thick and black with liner and long false lashes—although on this particular occasion Fox sensed it wasn’t for vanity, but for war. It made her stand out even more sitting amidst the faded and worn fabrics and furnishings that decorated the study.
An oil painting of Savannah, as she looked when she married Beauregard Fox, hung above the fireplace mantle.
Fox couldn’t look at his mother’s coy, smiling face for long before forcing his gaze back to Delta. It stung seeing his mother like that, captured in time, a constant reminder of a woman he could barely remember.
“She was lovely once,” Delta said, his eyes having given him away.
There was almost a sense of yearning, of sadness, in the way Delta had said that, as if she too longed for days gone by; when every man turned to look whenever she entered a room. Delta was still quite beautiful. She’d been well-cared for and it showed. Her curves were likely fuller than they’d once been, but that only served to add to her femininity.
She stood up in one smooth, languid movement. It was almost seductive, an art she’d crafted over the years.
Fox took a step back from her.
“Mr. Fox, you seem a little… uncomfortable. Is it this room? From the stories I’ve heard about you over the years, I hadn’t imagined you to be the type to spook easily.”
He hated that she was in here. Hell, he didn’t even like to come in here, and it ate at him for anyone else to see it. But he didn’t want her to think she had an upper hand. Casually he backed up to what used to be his father’s massive mahogany desk. He hoisted himself up and took a seat on top of it. “Spooked? No.”
“Oh, but why wouldn’t you be,” Delta taunted. “This room,” she said, turning in a circle before meeting his gaze once again, “Why, it’s practically a shrine to your parents. All that moonlight and magnolia…days gone by.”
She certainly had him dead to rights on that one. The room was like a museum or, more appropriately, a mausoleum. For thirty odd years Virgil had lived out here and never so much as moved a goddamn thing. Like every other room in this house, it was a time capsule. Everything sat exactly as it had before his father had hung himself, forever shattering what had been, up until that point, an idyllic childhood for Fox.
“What are you doin’ here, Mrs. Deveraux?”
Delta laughed. “Oh, come now, Mr. Fox. I think we both know the answer to that.”
“If this is about keeping me from sharing the photos of you and your chauffer with your husband, you’re wasting your time.”
Her face darkened momentarily before placing her hand theatrically over her mouth. Her fingers, expertly tipped with long red nails, trembled.
“Please. You simply can’t turn over those pictures, Mr. Fox. My husband will leave me with nothing. If you had any idea…”
Quickly she took a petite handkerchief from her purse and dabbed at tears that didn’t actually exist.
“Careful you don’t ruin your make-up,” Fox said, crossing his arms over his broad chest, refusing to buy her first attempt to dissuade him from doing the job he’d been paid to do.
Delta took a step closer, only to stop. “You don’t understand my position. He’s certainly been no saint, you know. He wants to cast me aside after all I’ve done to get him where he is today. The pain, not to mention the price of humiliation, is more than I can bear. My mother suffered the humiliation of my father leaving her, I couldn’t possibly go through the same thing. Mr. Fox, please. I’m begging you.” She dabbed at her empty tear ducts once more. “If not for me, please think about all the time and money I devote to my charity work…all the less fortunate children I’ve shined a light on to make their miserable lives a little brighter. To provide them with a warm bed and a reason to smile.”
Fox felt the corners of his own mouth curling up over that one. “Like your chauffer, you mean?”
She straightened, her eyes transforming from fake tears to an angry storm as her hand slowly dropped back down to her side.
“You certainly give him a warm bed and a reason to smile, don’t you, Mrs. Deveraux?” Fox could see the rage boiling over in her eyes and marveled over how relaxed her body seemed in contrast. “He’s what, eighteen, nineteen now? But he was about twelve when you first met him, if I remember from my research. Couldn’t find any playmates your own age?”
A big throaty laugh escaped from between her lips, her head falling back ever so slightly. It seemed well rehearsed. Delta took the four or five steps required to close the distance between them.
“Is that what’s really bothering you?” she asked. “If I didn’t know better I’d think you were jealous.” She bit her lip, taking in all of Fox as her gaze moved down his frame, settling on his crotch. “I’d be more than happy if we could settle this whole mess in a much friendlier manner.”
Even he hadn’t seen that one coming.
Her hand suddenly slid between his legs.
Seductively she ran her palm up his inner thigh. “Surely we could work something out?”
Fox raised one eyebrow as he gazed over her face, a little too close for comfort now. He watched her mask began to slip, her smile begin to fade, as she took note of the lack of amusement on his.
Coldly, matter-of-factly, Delta Deveraux removed her hand and backed away.
“I’d heard rumors you bent that way,” she said, retrieving a slim cigar case from her purse and lighting another of her slender Cubans. Delta Deveraux suddenly struck Fox as the type who’d eat her young if she thought it might get her something. That’s what it all boiled down to for people like Delta. Social vampires—sucking the life out anyone and everyone they could.
It was one of many reasons Fox shied away from the so-called better classes.
She inhaled deeply and blew smoke in Fox’s direction, her eyes undressing him once again “Never have I seen a bigger waste of such a prime piece of meat.”
The gentleman who was enthusiastically sucking me off earlier this evening didn’t seem to think so. A smile flickered across his face and his cock twitched at the thought of it.
Delta, however, was still trying to get a different kind of rise out of him. “How does it feel to be such a disappointment of a man?”
“If by disappointment you mean something you can’t have,” Fox smiled, listening to the scrape of his five o’clock shadow as he rubbed his chin, “then it feels pretty damn good.”
Delta glared at him.
The glowing tip of the cigar brightened as she inhaled deeply.
She propped her purse under her arm and withdrew the cigar from her open lips. For a moment the silky smoke from her lungs pooled in her mouth, as though it thought twice about leaving her—
—before she blew it away like she didn’t give a fuck.
“You think this case is closed, don’t you Mr. Fox. You think your check is in the bank. But the game’s not over yet.”
“Let me assure you, Mrs. Deveraux, there isn’t a thing you could offer me that would prevent me from turning those photos over to your husband. Not that I believe he’s any more or less morally corrupt than you. But he is the one who hired me, and unlike you, I take my commitments very seriously. Now why don’t you leave before you end up incriminating yourself even further.”
Fox slid off the desk and waved his hand toward the open door on the off chance he’d get lucky for once and she would leave without creating a further scene.
Delta smiled instead, showing no signs of vacating. “I must say you’re not at all what I was expecting. I’m seldom wrong about people, but I confess, had I met you before now I wouldn’t have wasted my time with this whole charade. Funny that someone like you would even pretend to know the difference between wrong and right. What with such a rich history of deviant behavior, no less. Didn’t you nearly beat another man to death during a bar fight at one point?”
Fox could feel his jaw clench and he forced himself to relax.
She laughed again, louder this time.
Fox heard the floorboard creak above his head. He took note that Delta looked up at the ceiling, her expression and demeanor never changing.
“This isn’t about my past,” Fox said. “It’s about yours. I left a message for your husband on his cell phone earlier this evening. By now he already knows.”
Delta reached into her purse, exchanging her sleek silver lighter for a phone. “You mean this cell phone? My husband always was a forgetful man. A stupid man, who also stupidly uses one of three passwords for all his personal security. They were each painfully easy to figure out, I’m afraid. So you see, your message has already been intercepted and erased by me.” She dropped the phone back into her purse and took another long drag of her cigar, exhaling defiantly.
She flicked her ashes onto the threadbare area rug with a smile, daring Fox to react.
On the inside, he fumed.
On the outside, he didn’t move a muscle.
“Having said all that, you were a worthy adversary, Mr. Fox. I rather suspected my husband had hired someone, but to give you your due—and as paranoid as I am—I never once saw you tailing me. Not so much as a blip on my radar.”
“I’m flattered,” Fox said with a snarl, as if her compliment made him feel sick to his stomach. “I have no doubt that without you by his side, your husband would still be the car salesman he once was rather than a state senator.”
“And a handsome one at that. But time takes its toll. Beauty fades. But not for you.”
Fox eyed her suspiciously. “What exactly do you mean by that?”
“Don’t take this the wrong way, Mr. Fox,” she said with a lamp-lit smile, “but I do declare—it’s time for you to die.”
Delta pulled a small, pearl-handled revolver from her purse.
“My only dilemma is where to put the first bullet. I could finish you off quickly with a single shot straight to the heart, but I suspect that heart of yours may be made of stone. Then again, I could shoot you through the stomach and make things slow and painful, much like the humiliating divorce proceedings my foolish husband believes he can put me through. But then again, I’m tempted to instantly gratify myself and put the first bullet right between your legs. In terms of size, it certainly looks like the easiest target.”
Delta Deveraux cocked the hammer on the revolver.
“Yes,” she said, taking aim at Fox’s crotch, her finger squeezing gently on the trigger. “I do believe that would give me a great deal of satisfaction indeed.”
Fox simply sighed. “Can I at least fix myself a drink first? It’s hotter than hell.”
Mrs. Deveraux’s smile broadened. “Why, of course. I wouldn’t say no to a spot of bourbon, myself.”
Fox made his way casually over to the silver bar trolley, his half-mast tie swinging from left to right across his sweat-drenched shirt. He could feel his muscles tensing up the slightest bit, as if preparing themselves for the first opportunity to take control of this situation. Somehow.
He continued the conversation to keep Delta distracted. “Seems like shooting a man’s dick off might draw a little unwanted attention, don’t you think? This is the South, after all. You better make damn sure you never get caught.”
“You underestimate me, Mr. Fox.”
“Not at all. But planning a murder isn’t the same thing as planning a charity ball. You have to make sure you’ve got every last detail covered.”
The noisy chorus of crickets on the lawn, and the frogs in the swamp chirping their night songs, mingled with the clink of the crystal decanter against the rim of the first glass. He poured a generous amount into a lowball glass for Mrs. Deveraux then proceeded to pour his own—straight to the top. He took a long sip immediately, the bourbon sliding smoothly down his hatch, before handing Mrs. Deveraux her glass.
“For example?” she asked.
“For example, your fingerprints are now on the glass. The lipstick and traces of your DNA will be the second you take your first sip. The ash of your Cuban cigar on the rug.”
Delta laughed. “I can’t bear that you think so little of me, Mr. Fox. Pretty soon, everything in De la Fontaine will be ash. Once I shoot you, I fully intend to burn this entire place to the ground.”
Fox’s casual demeanor jarred.
Instantly he knew he needed to draw her away from the house before he made any attempt at taking the gun from her. He wasn’t willing to risk a stray bullet making its way through the ceiling and into Savannah’s bedroom, which was located above the study.
Mrs. Deveraux noticed Fox’s body tense and smiled as they each heard the floorboards creak from the floor above once more. “Why Mr. Fox, you look anxious all of a sudden. Perhaps you should have thought about your precious mother before you took this case. Before you decided to fuck with Delta Deveraux.”
With that, she lifted her glass and threw back her entire portion.
Suddenly she gasped.
Her eyes shot wide open.
“Sweet Jesus! What that hell is this?”
Fox leveled his gaze. “It’s Virgil’s home-brewed bourbon. I grew up with it. It’s an acquired taste. One hundred percent proof. Murder on your throat if you aren’t used to it, but worse than that—it burns like hell in your eyes!”
Fox pitched his arm forward, holding tightly onto his tumbler as his entire glassful of bourbon flew across the room and splashed in Delta’s face.
The scream of pain and surprise that came from Delta was followed by the sound of her own glass smashing to the floor.
She scratched at her burning eyes with one hand—finger-painting crazed streaks of mascara down her face—while at the same time firing off two bullets.
The base of a lamp on the desk exploded.
Followed by the decanter on the bar trolley.
But Fox was already gone.
He was out the door before Delta’s tumbler hit the floor, bolting as fast as he could down the hall, knowing it was only a matter of seconds before Delta would come charging after him in a blind fury.
“You son of a bitch!” he heard her scream from somewhere behind him.
By that time he’d made it through the antechamber and was closing in on the back door. A third bullet spliced the air beside his ear and splintered the wood moldings by the back door just as he laid his hand on the doorknob.
He ducked out of instinct more than anything, the shot already fired, before yanking the door open and racing out into the sticky night air.
The paving stones of the courtyard, loose, cracked and covered in weeds, shifted under his sprinting feet, grating against one another as he bolted under the full moon. He made a single, assured leap over the four-foot wall at the end of the courtyard, clearing the blooming Jasmine that perfumed the night air.
Up ahead he saw his truck and dived behind it, reluctantly using it for cover, wincing at the sound of a bullet slamming into the chassis. Another shattered a head light. “Sorry old girl,” he muttered to his truck before pushing himself away and bolting between the kitchen house and the distillery.
Ahead of him, Fox saw the grove of trees at the edge of the property, the skeletal remains of the old green house rising above the tree line farther back.
Behind him, he heard another bullet puncture the side of his truck with a metallic clang. It was followed by the click of an empty chamber. Delta’s reckless, bourbon-blinded shooting spree had just bought Fox a few more moments. Enough time to make a break from the trees and into swamp beyond, where he’d have a decent shot at getting the jump on her.
He made it as far as the first tree before learning that Delta was faster at reloading than he’d given her credit for.
A bullet splintered the tree trunk only inches next to his head, a chunk of shredded bark hitting him in the forehead.
A second later, the night itself split open with Delta’s enraged, shrill screams. “You think you can run from me! Come back here, you bastard!”
“Hell hath no fuckin’ fury—” Fox said under his breath as he crashed through the overgrowth and hunkered down, landing on the soft, damp ground on his elbows and knees at the crack of another shot echoing through the swamp. Quickly he scanned his surroundings, eyes wide, head turning sharply listening for any sounds. He noticed the night had gone still, as if all the creatures that inhabited the swamp had sensed the intrusion. He listened for Delta, but she too had fallen silent.
She was on the hunt.
He glanced back at the kitchen house, the distillery. There was no sign of her.
She had vanished in the shadows.
In the full moon, his white shirt made him an easy target. It practically glowed. Even on his hands and knees in the overgrowth, he may as well be skulking around with a flashing neon sign pointing straight at him.
Swiftly he undid the buttons and shoved the shirt under a thicket.
As he crawled through the tangle of weeds and grass and scrub that grew thicker and more entwined the closer he came to the swamp, it crossed his mind that the damn cottonmouths might get him before Delta had a chance to—
Suddenly he froze as he came face to face with one of the deadly swamp vipers, its beady black eyes glinting in the moonlight.
“Ah, Fox,” he breathed to himself. “What’d ya have to go and think him up for?”
As man and serpent stared into each other’s eyes, both slowly backed away. Fox’s shins slid backward across the damp earth, his palms squelching against the ground, one then the other. At the same time, the cottonmouth began to recoil. But not to retreat.
Something Fox realized almost a second too late.
As the snake coiled back and sprang forward with lightning speed, fangs like daggers, Fox threw himself backward, hearing the snap of its jaws right in front of his face before he managed to scramble to his feet and sprint as fast as he damn well could, sliding and slipping till he stumbled straight inside the ruins of the old green house, its door hanging off its hinges and half-devoured by the vegetation.
As was the case with the entire structure.
Originally, it had been quite an impressive edifice, stretching out over the swamp on pylons, like a pier with a small dock—built half on land and half over the water.
But like everything else in Fox’s world, time had taken its toll on the structure.
The green house stretched up into the air like a giant, rusted web, its metal beams once forming a perfect dome several stories tall. Now, a number of those beams had collapsed, some bent and broken, some twisted and tired and leaning against one another in precarious resting positions. Vines had twisted and wrapped their way around the ironwork. Brittle curtains of Spanish moss clung from everything, hanging down and gracefully shifting back and forth whenever the occasional breeze blew through the dozens of glass panes that had either fallen or been smashed in storms over the years; the ones that remained intact were black with dirt and grime.
Once upon a time, a series of walkways had criss-crossed the floor of the green house. Now they looked like abandoned boardwalks, dilapidated and rotten. Those in the back half of the structure tilted down into inky dark waters. That was where the swamp had begun to rise up and swallow the structure— or had the structure begun to collapse and sink into the swamp? Fox decided it was a bit of both. Mother Earth was taking back what had been forcefully pried away from her long ago.
In its original state, the green house had been a source of beauty and pride. Savannah had always loved flowers, Beau had it built as a present for their first anniversary so she’d be able to grow and have all of her favorites year round. He had vague memories of this place from when he was a child, playing in the dirt while Savannah surveyed the work of the botanists she hired to cultivate her colorful crops. It was now reduced to a mere shell, haunted by the memories from his past.
The moment Fox had staggered inside the green house, the boards beneath his feet groaned loudly.
He quickly pulled himself to a halt, realizing his charge through the overgrowth had no doubt given him away.
Sure enough, out of the corner of his eye, he caught sight of a red-hued shadow through the grimy glass wall to his left.
Instantly he felt his muscles tighten, wondering how badly he’d get cut up if he were to dive right through the glass and attempt to tackle her. Instead, he swiftly, silently, made his way deeper into the green house. His lean, muscular torso wriggled its way through a jagged jigsaw of iron bars and weaved through a snarl of vines. He stepped over what had to be hundreds of clay pots, most of which lay broken on the bed of nature underfoot.
He could feel a bead of sweat run down the center of his back; the air was hot and still.
He forced himself not to smack at the mosquitoes that were lining up for the buffet.
Carefully he made his way along a walkway that sloped into the murky black waters of the swamp. He walked ankle deep into the swamp before ducking under the walkway railing, and maneuvered himself behind an overturned potting bench, partly submerged in the mud.
As he crouched there, watching the shadow of Delta make its way cautiously toward the door of the green house, Fox caught the reflection of the moon dancing in the gently rippling swamp water.
And in between the water and the moon—was the reflection of the beam.
The beam on which Fox’s father hanged himself all those years ago.
Fox turned his face upward and a chill swept through his body.
It was one of the few beams in the place that refused to give way or crumble. There was no yielding to time or nature. No, this beam was strong, spanning the entire width of the green house. The one supporting beam that prevented the entire structure from falling to pieces and sinking into the swamp completely was the one beam that had fractured Fox’s family forever.
Staring up at it directly above him made Fox sick to the stomach.
He could feel his jaw clenching as the slow burning ache boiled up from somewhere deep inside. He knew it was pointless, that he’d never understand it, but here in this place, he struggled to control the anger he’d spent years fighting to overcome.
“Oh shit,” he heard Delta curse to herself, her voice carrying from the open doorway.
Fox jerked his head back and saw Delta struggling, her shoes digging into the spongy ground before even getting to the decrepit walkway. He figured heels weren’t exactly best suited for a place that Mother Nature now considered herdomain.
The fucking bitch probably hadn’t had to work this hard in decades, Fox thought, almost laughing as she clutched her revolver in one hand and pulled at her shin with the other, until eventually she yanked her foot free, leaving the shoe protruding from the ground.
Clomping along the walkway, one step three inches higher than the other, Delta aimed her gun into the dark, searching for Fox, winding her way through the twisted metal and twined vegetation.
Quietly, Fox leaned down and gathered up two large remnants of clay pot from the mud.
“You might as well come out, Mr. Fox. It’s no use hiding. I can assure you, you won’t be leaving this God forsaken hellhole alive.” She smiled as she added, “Just like your daddy.”
With a hoist of his arm, Fox hurled one of the clay shards twenty feet in the air. It flew soundlessly and landed with a loud splash, at which point Delta spun on her one heel and fired two shots into the mud and water, shattering the clay.
“Come out, damn it!” She was sounding a little more unhinged. “I will not let the likes of you ruin my life. You who had everything handed to you on a silver platter only to throw it all away.”
The detest she held for him in the tenor of her voice said it all. She not only hated him, she genuinely wanted him dead. He knew her hands were trembling with rage, as well as a fair amount of fear—he could hear her rings clattering against the pearl handle of the gun.
Keep coming, he repeated to himself. Come on, you bitch.
The rotting boards groaned under her uneven steps.
Fox tightened his grip on the shard of clay pot in his hand.
“Just look at yourself,” Delta continued to taunt him, trying to coax him out. “You’re nothing. And when you die, the Fox family name will be nothing too. Gone. Forgotten. Forever. It’s pointless trying to even fight it. There’s simply nowhere left for you to go, Mr. Fox. Especially out here. The swamp is a dangerous place at night.”
As if to confirm this, something suddenly moved through the black water fifteen feet or so behind Fox.
Crouching behind the overturned bench, Fox realized he and Delta weren’t alone. Delta heard the swoosh of water. She stepped ever closer to the overturned potting bench. She saw the ripples sweep up the moon’s reflection and she pointed her gun at the water.
Fox could hear the slight quiver in her voice now. “Mr. Fox? Was that you?”
He looked up and saw the glint of silver in the moonlight as the tip of the barrel came into view above him. “No, but this is.”
Fox launched himself to his feet, jumping out from behind the overturned bench, swinging his arm wide. With a crash of clay and a crack of a bullet, Fox smashed the pot shard against the barrel of the gun.
The bullet shot across the green house and shattered a pane of glass as the gun was knocked out of Delta’s grip.
The revolver flew forward, hitting the planks of the walkway that sloped down to the swamp. The weapon bounced and spun before coming to a rest at the edge of the water, where the swamp lapped against the sunken walkway.
Meanwhile Delta reeled backward, letting out a scream as her arms flailed and her uneven legs staggered awkwardly as she fell backward, landing flat on her back on the walkway.
Immediately Fox turned for the gun.
But Delta moved swiftly, kicking at Fox’s left calf with her heeled foot, striking so hard her stiletto pierced his trousers and punctured the flesh right through the muscle.
Fox let out an angry roar and collapsed, landing facedown, cracking several rotten boards, falling three feet short of the revolver.
Delta was already up and scrambling on all fours, clambering straight over the top of Fox, her nails scratching shreds of flesh off his bare back and pulling at his hair as she clawed her way over him and slid down on her stomach across the walkway toward the gun.
Her fingers locked onto the handle.
In one graceful move, she flipped herself onto her back, then up into a seated position, her back to the swamp and her gun aimed straight at Fox as he hauled himself up onto his hands and knees.
He stared down the barrel, panting, as she stared at him, smiling, her lipstick barely smudged.
“You lose,” was all she said.
The black waters directly behind her turned into a sudden torrent.
Delta spun about to see the white reptilian monster charge at her, thrashing and splashing and hungry for meat.
With a terrified scream, she dropped the gun in the mud and tore back up the sloping walkway as the killer—a ghost white alligator—caught the heel of her shoe in its wildly-snapping jaws. Her foot slipped free and Delta continued to scramble across the wooden planks while the great white beast pursued, pulverizing the designer footwear between those man-eating teeth before chasing Delta up the walkway.
Before he could be trampled, Fox quickly rolled left out of the way, dropping straight off the walkway and into the shallows of the swamp as Delta and the alligator thundered along the decaying walkway until—
Delta’s leg fell straight through a rotting wooden plank.
She tried to pull herself free but couldn’t.
All she could manage to do was twist around and watch in fear as the alligator charged straight at her.
Suddenly the gun went off, followed by the sound of glass smashing.
Delta was terrified, her body jolting as a few tiny shards scattered around her.
The alligator stopped in its tracks.
Delta and the beast both turned to see that Fox had climbed back onto the walkway behind them and was standing with one arm raised, revolver now in hand.
He’d retrieved the gun from the mud and fired a single shot into the air to startle the white alligator.
For a moment nobody moved.
Then suddenly Delta screamed at Fox, desperate and crazed. “Shoot it! Hurry! Shoot it now!”
Fox lowered the gun and shook his head. “I’d rather not. We’ve all gotta eat, right?”
Clearly, he was enjoying the sight of her squirming, trapped in the path of the snarling, salivating alligator.
“You’re crazy!” Delta heaved through clenched teeth. “Just like your mother.”
“I warned you to leave my mother out of this.”
“Okay! Okay! Just do something! Get rid of this thing before it’s too late.”
“All right then,” Fox agreed, before putting his fingers to his lips and whistling, like he was whistling a dog. “That’s enough, Snowflake, go on, get the hell outta here!”
Delta stared at him, wide-eyed, as though he truly were insane.
But the gator simply snorted and turned to hiss at Fox, as if it were pissed at having his dinner ruined, before sliding out over the side of the walkway and dropping into the swamp water, the sheer weight of the creature taking half the rotted boards with it.
With a swoosh of its tail through the water, the alligator returned to the distant depths of the swamp.
As soon as the imminent threat to Delta’s life was over, the evil in her eyes returned. “Why the hell didn’t you shoot that thing when I told you to?”
Fox opened the chamber of the gun, revealing it was empty before dropping the revolver into the water. “Rule number one, always count your bullets. Always keep one left in the chamber… in case of nasty surprises.”
Delta fumed even more at his patronizing logic. “I’ll make you pay for this, Jonathon Fox!” Her face was all fury as she attempted to free her leg.
“No, Delta. This case is closed.”
“Over my dead body!” she grunted, still struggling to free her leg. “This is still your word against mine and we all know your word is shit around here.”
“Will you give it up? You’re through, you’re done. Your marriage is—”
From above Fox suddenly heard the sound of glass clinking.
He looked up and saw a pointed, foot-long shard, sharp as a knife, swing like a pendulum from the frame of the bullet-smashed pane—
—directly above Delta.
“Delta, give me your hand,” Fox ordered, grabbing for her arm.
She fought him off. “Get away from me. I don’t need your help.”
Fox glanced up.
The swinging shard slipped even further out if the bracket of the framework, almost coming entirely loose, holding on by a mere inch now.
“Delta, I’m not asking. Take my hand.”
“Don’t you dare touch—”
Suddenly, with a sharp criiink, the shard of glass broke off the edge of the framework.
Delta looked up and gasped.
The shard plunged through the air, a broken stalactite made of glass, heading straight for her.
Fox seized Delta by both hands.
But as he slid his palms against hers, Delta’s fingers suddenly spasmed and twisted into talons. Three of her nails—perfectly manicured and maintained her entire life—snapped. Her eyes bugged, eyelids unblinking, pupils dilating into large, black, unfocused pools.
Fox didn’t hear the glass shard land.
And at first, he couldn’t see it.
But as Delta’s stunned face tilted ever so slightly, the moon gleamed all the way down the length of the vertical sliver of glass, now protruding out of the top of Delta Deveraux’s skull.
Delta stayed frozen for a moment, head tilted a fraction, fingers digging into Fox’s hands, before she said with a puff of panic, “I think I have something in my hair.”
As she spoke, a single, thick, shiny rivulet of blood ran from her hairline, down the middle of her forehead. It detoured left at the bridge of her nose and ran into her eye. She tried to blink it away.
Then her entire body began to shudder and convulse.
Fox wrenched his hands free and grabbed her shoulders, trying to stop her wild shaking. “Delta. No, shit, Delta! Stay with me!”
But as he held her shoulders, he felt her spasming body begin to melt in his grasp.
Her eyelids fluttered crazily.
Her eyes rolled back into her head.
And Delta’s entire body sank backwards until eventually the shuddering stopped.
Slowly, he lowered her down onto the walkway, lifeless and limp, before he wiped his sweating brow and muttered a pissed off, “Son of a bitch!”
Irritation was the first thing that swept over him, something he took out on a buzzing mosquito that landed on his neck. Fox smacked the life out of it, looked at the smear of blood on his palm, then back to the pool of blood beneath Delta that was quickly soaking into the rotting boards and dripping into the swamp below.
How the hell was he going to explain away the dead wife of a Louisiana state senator to the police? But on the bright side, he thought, “Apparently I’m a real lady killer after all.”
Fox made his way through the maze of metal, his own aches and pains more pronounced as he stumbled back out into the night air. Heading toward the house to call the cops, he made a solemn promise to himself to have that piece of shit cursed greenhouse dismantled before it claimed the life of anyone else.
Crossing the overgrown lawn, he heard the faint sound of sirens off in the distance and wondered if someone else had already made the call.
As if on cue, Virgil came bursting out the back door of the house, trying to tie the tattered chord of his bath robe, his white, bony legs jutting out beneath the flapping flannel material and a rifle tucked under his arm. He looked even older to Fox in the pale moonlight, scrawny as ever, like a bony-ass skeleton wrapped in skin.
As soon as he spotted Fox, the yelling commenced.
“What the hell is goin’ on out here? You could wake the devil with that ruckus!
“So happy to see you’ve finally come to my rescue,” Fox grumbled, rounding the bed of his pickup.
“Damn it, Johnny!” Virgil cursed. “You oughta be in bed! And that goes for you too!” He pointed a bony finger at the albino alligator, which grumbled and hissed back at him.
Virgil simply pulled a pack of Lucky Strikes out of a pocket in his bathrobe. “One day you’ll quit your bitchin’, you nasty old gator.”
“And one day you’ll quit callin’ me Johnny; I’m not a kid anymore.” Fox thumbed back toward the direction of the swamp. “There’s a dead woman in the green house.”
Virgil’s jaw dropped and for one surprised moment, there was nothing but silence. After that, the pitch of his voice lifted somewhere amid the stars. “A dead what in the where! What in Hades’ Hell you done, Johnny?!”
“Would you keep it down, you’ll wake Miss Savannah.”
“Oh, and you don’t think the gunshots and the screaming banshee didn’t already take care of that?” Virgil asked.
Fox stood there for a moment and shrugged, rubbing the back of his neck trying to think straight now that he was coming down off the adrenaline rush.
Virgil looked nervously out toward the road leading in from the highway. The sirens were indeed getting louder. “I already done called the cops.”
Fox nodded, able to tell Virgil was second-guessing that decision. “I can hear that, thanks. You beat me to it.”
“What the hell you gonna tell the police?”
Fox shrugged once again. “The truth, I guess.”
Virgil’s voice blasted off for the sky again. “Which is what, exactly?”
“I dunno! She tried to kill me. It was self defense. An accident. Something like that.”
“Why the hell you got enraged females chasing you around in the dark tryin’ to kill you!” Virgil struck a match and fired up his smoke. “What the hell kinda homosexual are you, anyway?”
Fox didn’t give Virgil the pleasure of a response. Instead, he turned and stepped around the pick-up, then stopped at the sound of something splashing beneath his shoe.
He sniffed the air.
He looked down to see the ground was covered in liquid.
He looked across at the bullet hole in the pick-up’s gas tank.
Fox shot a panicked look at Virgil—
—just as Virgil tossed his lit match into the air.
But he was too late.
As the match flew through the air toward the large pool of gasoline on the ground, Fox threw himself through the air in the opposite direction, crashing into Virgil and sending them both rolling and tumbling across the lawn, away from the spill, just as—
The match hit the gasoline and ignited it.
A blue flame spread across the ground, rushing toward Fox’s pick-up.
As Virgil tried to push Fox off the top of him, cursing and groaning, Fox quickly shoved the old man back to the ground and covered him.
A second later, the truck exploded, creating a whoosh of blistering hot air that blew over them. Glass shattered and metal popped as a few flaming, twisted pieces of truck landed around them, still on fire.
Fox lifted his head cautiously, catching a glimpse of Snowflake casually crossing the lawn and heading back to the safety of the swamp, before rolling off Virgil and onto his back.
“Sweet Jesus and his Mama!” the old man was spluttering.
Fox, too, coughed on the smoke and shielded his eyes from the heat as the two men both sat up at the same time. He was beginning to take things personally, thinking he was only one dead family pet away from being reduced to a pathetic country music song.
“Will you just look at my truck!” Fox demanded.
“There ain’t nothin’ left to look at,” Virgil remarked.
“Thanks to you!”
Another large pop of metal startled both of them as the truck bed collapsed in on itself, making a huge racket. Fox could see the red and blue lights flickering through the tree line as the blare of the sirens were now competing for his attention while the truck continued to roar in flames.
“Damn it all to hell,” Fox grumbled before letting out a resigned sigh.
“Trouble follows you like a clap of thunder to lightnin’, boy.”
“Difficult to argue that one at the moment.” From somewhere on the other side of the truck, Fox caught sight of more glowing flames. “That ain’t what I think it is, is it?”
Virgil’s eyes turned to saucers. “Oh, Hell’s bells! Not my bourbon!”
With a squeal Virgil tried to jump up, but Fox yanked him back down to the ground as the old distillery shed erupted like an atom bomb, sending an almighty fireball rolling into the sky, setting the branches of trees alight as it towered into the night.
At that moment, several cop cars screeched to a halt.
Sirens squealing over the roaring blaze.
Blue lights flashing against the intense glow of orange all around.
Fox and Virgil sat up once again, this time with a few less eyebrow hairs.
A half-dozen cops leapt from their vehicles, guns drawn. “Freeze! Put your hands in the air!”
Slowly, Fox and Virgil raised their hands.
Virgil shook his head, unable to take his eyes off the inferno. “I can’t believe it. I keep this place up for twenty-five years, and you’re here five months and damn near burn it to the ground!”
“It’s good to have me back, huh?”
All Virgil could do was roll his eyes.
5 Stars from Leigh at Under the Covers Reviews
“an amazing start to what promises to be an excellent series.”
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Recommended Read from Drewey Wayne Gunn: GunnShots: Fall 2012 at Lambda Literary
“a fun read – more twists and turns than a backroad through a Louisiana swamp.”
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5 Stars from World of Diversity Fiction Reviews
“This writing team is like peanut butter and chocolate. Simply amazing writing! I would recommend this story to any mystery, private detective fan. This book is a complete homerun.”
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5 Stars from Two Men Are Better Than One Reviews
“Along with action and some very sizzling sex, there is mystery. There are twists and turns and surprises which keep you guessing right to the end.”
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5 Stars from Literary Nymphs Reviews
“To Catch A Fox is a gripping saga full of heart-stopping incidents. The complex plot has many twists and turns, exciting murder and mayhem, emphasis on mayhem thriller with a dash of humor.”
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5 Stars from Reviews by Jessewave
“A rollicking adventure that blew everything away in grand fashion. The characters were unforgettable and they lifted To Catch A Fox from an exciting adventure flick to an emotional roller coaster with incredible thrills and chills that were extremely fast paced with gunfights, narrow escapes, and fires that seemed to have a life of their own.”
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4.75 Stars from Jay at Joyfully Jay
“fast-paced and exciting and kept me furiously reading to find out what was going to happen and who was behind it all.”
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4.5 Stars from Barb at Hearts on Fire Reviews
“This story was a fast-paced, fascinating and complex mystery as well as a sweet and sexy romance.”
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4.5 Stars from Lucky at Mrs. Condit and Friends Reviews
“Sexy. Smoldering. Hot. Intriguing.”
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A ‘B’ Rating from Book Reviews and More by Kathy
“this delectably steamy romance is an action filled adventure that is sure to please mystery lovers.”
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4 Stars from Pixie at M/M Good Book Reviews
“a rollercoaster ride that you don’t want to get off.”
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4 Stars from The Armchair Reader
“I really love each of these authors separately, and more than any other author pair, each has his distinct stamp on the book.”
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