After the night(2)

By: Linda Howard

Jodie thrust out her round breasts, covered by a sleeveless, hot pink blouse. She had left the top two buttons undone. "What about my shirt?" she asked, pouting a little to make her lips stick out more too, as she had seen Renee do thousands of times.

"Wrong color," Gray had said, his voice going hard and contempt leaking into the tone. Faith knew why. It was because Renee was sleeping with his father, Guy. She’d heard the way others talked about Renee, knew what "whore" meant.

He had brushed past them then, pushing open the door and disappearing into the drugstore. Jodie stared after him for a few seconds, then turned her greedy eyes on Faith. "Let me have your shirt," she said.

"It’s too little for you," Faith replied, and was fiercely glad that it was. Gray had liked her shirt, had touched it, and she wasn’t about to give it up.

Jodie had scowled at the obvious truth. Faith was small and skinny, but even her narrow shoulders strained at the seams of the two-year-old T-shirt.

"I’ll get my own," she’d declared.

She would, too, Faith thought now as she gazed dreamily up at the flickering patterns made by the sun in the trees. But Jodie wouldn’t have the one Gray had touched; Faith had taken it off as soon as she’d gotten home, carefully folded it, and hidden it under her mattress. The only way anyone would find it there would be if they stripped the bed to wash the sheets, and since Faith was the only one who did that, the shirt would be safe, and she could sleep on it every night. Gray. The violence of her emotions scared her, but she couldn’t control them. All she had to do was see him and her heart would begin pounding so hard in her skinny chest that it hurt her ribs, and she felt hot and shivery all at the same time. Gray was like a god in the small town of Prescott, Louisiana; he was wild as a buck, she’d heard people say, but he was backed by the Rouillard money, and even as a young boy he’d had a hard, reckless charm that made feminine hearts flutter. The Rouillards had spawned their share of rascals and renegades, and Gray had early shown the potential to be the wildest of the lot. But he was a Rouillard, and even when he raised hell, he did it with style. For all that, he’d never been unkind to Faith, the way some of the people in town had. His sister, Monica, had once spat in their direction when Faith and Jodie had met her on the sidewalk. Faith was glad that Monica was in New Orleans at some fancy private girls’ school, and wasn’t home very often even during the summer, because she was visiting with friends. On the other hand, Faith’s heart had bled for months when Gray had gone oif to LSU; Baton Rouge wasn’t that far away, but during football season he didn’t get much time off, and came home only on the holidays. Whenever she knew he was home, Faith tried to hang around town where she might catch a glimpse of him, strolling with the indolent grace of a big cat, so tall and strong and dangerously exciting.

Now that it was summer, he spent a lot of time at the lake, which was one of the reasons for Faith’s afternoon expedition through the woods. The lake was a private one, over two thousand acres, and

totally contained by Rouillard land. It was long and irregularly shaped, with several curves in it; broad and fairly shallow in some places, narrow and deep in others. The big, white Rouillard mansion was to the east of it, the Devlin shack on the west, but neither was actually on the lakeshore. The only house on the lake was the Rouillard summerhouse, a white, one-story house with two bedrooms, a kitchen, a living room, and a screened-in porch that totally encircled it. Down from the summerhouse was a boathouse and a pier, and a brick barbecue pit had been built there. Sometimes, during the summer, Gray and his friends would gather there for a rowdy afternoon of swimming and boating, and Faith would slip along the edge of the woods so she could watch him to her heart’s content. Maybe he’d be there today, she thought, aching with the sweet yearning that filled her every time she thought about him. It would be wonderful to see him twice in one day. She was barefoot, and her threadbare shorts left her skinny legs unprotected from scratches and snakes, but Faith was as at home in the woods as the other shy creatures; she wasn’t worried about the snakes, and disregarded the scratches. Her long, dark red hair tended to hang untidily in her eyes and annoy her, so she had pulled it back and secured it with a rubber band. She slipped like a wraith through the trees, her big cat eyes dreamy as she pictured Gray in her mind. Maybe he’d be there; maybe one day he’d see her hiding in the bushes, or peeking out from behind a tree, and he’d hold his hand out to her and say,