Excerpt for Diamond Dreams by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

This page may contain adult content. If you are under age 18, or you arrived by accident, please do not read further.






Diamond Dreams

Strong Southern Women Series

Book 1




Ali Spooner




2018








Back of the Book



Cameron St. Angelo dreams of playing softball in the College World Series. Earning a scholarship to play ball for her beloved LSU, brings Cam one-step closer to achieving this dream. When Cam arrives on campus, she joins a family of women who share her love of the sport, and she realizes there is room in her life for another love. This is the beginning of a three-part story, of Cam and the St. Angelo family’s struggle to survive in the bayous of South Central Louisiana.

Diamond Dreams

Copyright © 2018 by Ali Spooner


Smashwords Edition


All rights reserved.


ISBN: 978-1-98-854912-5


First Edition


PDF, ePub, mobi


Published: February 14, 2018


This book is Published by

Affinity eBook Press NZ LTD

Canterbury, New Zealand


E-mail: affinity@affinityebooks.com


Editor: JoSelle Vanderhooft

Proof Editor: Alexis Smith

Cover Design by Irish Dragon Designs

* * *

This work is copyrighted and is licensed only for use by the original purchaser and can be copied to the original purchaser's electronic device and its memory card for your personal use. Modifying or making copies of this work or distributing it to any unauthorized person by any means, without limit, including by email, CD, DVD, memory cards, file transfer, paper printout or any other method, constitutes a violation of International copyright law and subjects the violator to severe fines or imprisonment. Please purchase only authorized electronic editions.

* * *

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, businesses, companies, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.




Acknowledgments



I would like to thank my fans for following my stories, providing great feedback and encouragement. Writing wouldn’t be so much fun without you. Thanks to Affinity Rainbow Publishing, Irish Dragon for the cover art and the team of editors, readers, and publishers who continue to help me grow as a writer. Thank you to Rhonda for being patient with me when I have the urge to write.




Dedication



To Gail and Deborah, thanks for always being there.




Also by Ali Spooner



Single Stories

The Bee Charmer

Ruined

Back in the Saddle

Open Your Heart

South of Heaven

Shotgun Rider

The Settlement

Love’s Playlist

Cowgirl Up

Twisted Lives

The Epitaph

Terminal Event

Bailey’s Run


Series

The Island Series

Neptune’s Ring

Venus Rising


The Hunter Series

Bound

The Devil’s Tree


Sasha Thibodaux Series

Sugarland

Bayou Justice

Line of Sight




Table of Contents



Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

About the Author

Other Books from Affinity





Chapter One





The ball made a loud pop as it whizzed past Cameron St. Angelo and hit the leather of the catcher’s mitt. The inside pitch was meant to brush her back from the plate, but Cam barely twitched as the ball breezed right past her face. After the umpire bellowed, “Ball two,” Cam stepped out of the batter’s box and tapped the aluminum bat against the metal cleats on both shoes. She turned her head toward the pitcher’s mound and grinned. “Is that the best you got, Bugsy?”

“You damn well know it isn’t,” the pitcher growled back.

“Are y’all gonna play ball or jabber the rest of the game?”

Cam stepped back into the batter’s box. “Sorry, Blue.” She twisted her right foot in the packed clay until she felt comfortable and dropped her hand, indicating she was ready for the next pitch.

“’Bout damn time, St. Angelo,” the catcher barked. “This gear is hot, so let’s get a move on.”

“Bring it,” she called out to the pitcher.

Ursula Bugg, or Bugsy to Cam, was a top-ranked pitcher on the opposing team, and Cam knew she had a wicked-fast rise ball. She also knew that Ursula had a weakness and it was Cam herself. They had competed against each other in every sport since they first met in high school, and Cam had always proven to be the superior athlete. As hard as she tried, Bugsy had never bested her in any sport, and facing Cam now as the opposing pitcher would make no difference. Yes, Bugsy was good, but Cam was better, and she understood how much she got into Bugsy’s head. They’d battled through three years in high school, and by their senior year, Bugsy’s frustration had grown to an obsession. Bugsy’s continued attempts to flirt with her creeped her out at first, but Cam learned to deal with Bugsy by ignoring her comments and gently reminding Bugsy that she had no interest in dating her.

It didn’t matter that Cam was an all-state shortstop and the team’s leading cleanup hitter, bound for Baton Rouge in the fall with a full ride to play softball for LSU. Bugsy was determined to strike her out. Cam could almost hear the grinding of Bugsy’s teeth as she reached deep down inside for extra strength and released the next pitch.

“High and wide,” the umpire called out. “Three balls and one strike.”

Forced to throw a strike, or risk walking her, Bugsy stepped off the mound to wipe her hand, as Cam waited on the fastball that would be nestled in the center of the plate. Bugsy then stepped up to the pitching rubber, using the toe of her right foot to dig the hole beside it deeper for more traction and power, then begin her windup. She moved as if in slow motion to Cam, and the ball looked the size of a cantaloupe as it approached. Cam’s eyes locked on their target as she tucked her chin to her chest and started her swing. Her teammates were probably holding their breath, but Cam had no doubts the ball was leaving the park. She caught the ball on the sweet spot of her bat, and it sailed out of the park for a walk-off home run. She rushed out of the batter’s box toward first base as the left fielder backed toward the fence until she realized there was no keeping the ball in the field of play. Cam rounded the base and slowed her pace to a jog as Bugsy glared at her from the pitcher’s mound. When her cleated foot touched home, the umpire called, “Ball game.”

Welcomed by her teammates with high fives and slaps to her helmet, Cam made her way to the dugout to drop off her gear before joining her friends in congratulating the other team on a game well played. When she approached Bugsy at the end of the line, she smiled. “See you next fall.”

“You better believe it,” Bugsy answered, finally cracking a smile. She would also be attending LSU to play softball. “Maybe we’ll meet again next week if we make it to the tournament.”



As they packed their gear, Cam looked over and smiled at her childhood friend, Brenda Toussant. “Are you still coming over tonight, Bren? Dad’s not cooking, so we can go over to the camp for a fire and maybe a few brews.”

“Dontcha know it. I’ve been looking forward to the weekend. Just think, in three more weeks, we’ll be high school graduates.”

“Yes, we will. Have you given any more thought to college?”

“Thought, yes, but there’s no way we can afford tuition, and going to another school just wouldn’t be fun without you.”

Cam’s heart sank, but she knew Bren was right. The tuition at LSU was expensive, and Bren’s parents were struggling to raise her five younger siblings. They both knew the eventuality of Bren’s future was to miss out on college and go straight from high school to work, but for now, they would enjoy the last few weeks of freedom.

Cam draped her arm across Bren’s shoulder as they carried their bags to the bus for the short ride back to school. On the way, the team sang along at the top of their lungs to Lynyrd Skynyrd.

“See ya when I see ya,” Cam teased as she pulled Bren into a hug. “Be careful. I’ll be ready by the time you come over.”

“I’ll be there as quick as I can. Daddy’s going to let me use his truck, but I’ve got to be home before midnight.”

“I wish you could stay, but I’ve got to be up early too. I promised to help Dad with cutting some sugarcane.”

Bren disappeared into a crowd of sweaty boys as spring football practice ended and they headed to the showers. Cam’s heart ached when Bren raised up on her tiptoes to plant a kiss on Rudy Merchant’s lips. Rudy had graduated two years earlier, and had been hired as an assistant coach for the football team. Bren and Rudy had dated for the last four years, and Cam was almost certain he would ask Bren to marry him after she graduated. That’s what everyone expected, and her moving out of the house would mean one fewer mouth for her daddy to feed. Rudy was a good guy and treated Bren kindly, even though she was making him wait until after they were married to have sex. The thought of Bren in another’s arms made Cam shiver.

She turned away and strolled over to her Jeep. She was no beauty, but Cam and her dad had gotten her running, and so far, she had proven reliable. Cam had heard her parents talking about giving the Jeep a paint job for her graduation present. She grinned at herself in the rearview mirror. Bren gets an engagement ring and I get a paint job. At least I’ll have a few more years of freedom before I have to decide where my future lies.

She pulled away from the curb and drove for home, the lyrics to “Sweet Home Alabama” still playing in her head. When she turned into the long drive leading to her house, her eight-year-old baby sister Sandy was searching the ditch for crawfish. Cam pulled the Jeep to a halt when Sandy rushed over to her.

“Hiya, Cam.”

“What you doing, Squirt?”

“Looking for crawdads.” She beamed.

“Find any?”

“Just a couple, but I let them go.”

Cam smiled at her. “Hop in.”

Sandy was barely tall enough to open the door, and Cam reached across and offered her a hand to climb into the Jeep. She saw Cam’s uniform. “Did you win today?”

“Is it hot out?”

“It’s a bit warm.”

“Yes, we won, and your big sister hit a home run. How was your day at school?”

“It was good. I had a home run, too, in our kickball game.”

“Awesome.” Cam offered her a high five. “I have to help Dad with harvesting some sugarcane tomorrow, but when I get done, why don’t we check some cages and see if we can round up enough mudbugs for dinner tomorrow night?”

“I’d like that, Cam.”

“When we get home, I’ll check with Mama and see if that’s okay with her.”

“Is Bren coming out tonight?”

Cam noticed the sparkle in her baby sister’s eyes and wondered if she wasn’t the only St. Angelo crushing on Bren. “Yes, she is. We’re going over to the Island for a campfire at the hunt camp.” Sandy drew in a deep breath. “No, before you ask, you can’t go with us tonight.”

“Aw, Cam. Why not? Are you two meeting boys over there or something?”

She couldn’t hold back her chuckle. “Nope, no boys allowed, and no baby sisters either.” Cam ruffled Sandy’s hair. “Don’t worry, we’ll have all afternoon.”

Sandy poked out her bottom lip in her best attempt at a pout. Cam ignored the plea. “Crank up that window for me, please.”

With an audible huff, Sandy turned the metal crank to raise the passenger-side window.

“C’mon, let’s go see what Mom’s cooking. I don’t know about you, but I could eat a horse.” Cam walked around to the passenger side and took out her bag. “Hop on, Squirt,” she said and turned her back to Sandy.

Sandy wrapped her legs around Cam’s hips, and arms around her shoulders. “Giddyup, Horse.”

Cam twisted to the right, then spun back to the left, but remained conscious of the precious cargo clinging to her neck. “Better hold on tight,” she warned and bolted for the side door.

Her mother, Camille, and sister, Teresa, were in the kitchen preparing dinner when they raced through the door.

“Whoa, slow down, you two. You gonna make my cornbread fall with that commotion,” their mama teased.

Cam spun one last time before lowering Sandy to her feet. “Will you carry my bag to my room?”

“Sure, Cam.”

Sandy raced from the kitchen as Cam kissed her mama’s cheek. “What you got smelling so good in here?”

“Swamp cabbage, fried fatback, cornbread, and Teresa’s going to try her hand at creamed corn tonight.”

“Ewwee, there’s gonna be some gas up in this house tonight.”

“When isn’t there?” Camille replied.

Cam chuckled. “You do have a point there, Mama. Are you up for a boil tomorrow night? I promised Sandy I’d take her out to check some crawfish traps tomorrow, if you were up to having a boil.”

“That does sound good,” T chimed in. “Would you mind if I invited Buster out?”

“Good Lord, I’ll have to find a lot of mudbugs if Buster’s coming,” Cam groaned with a smile.

Camille smacked Cam’s hand as she reached for a slice of fatback. “You are gonna have to wait like the rest of us. Why don’t you and Sandy make an afternoon of it and bring us several catfish to fry? That way nobody should go hungry.”

“We can do that.”

Sandy returned to the kitchen. “Do what?”

“Catch up a mess of catfish to fry up with the boil. T’s inviting Buster out, and you know how that boy can eat.”

“Oh heck yeah, I love to fish.”

Camille pointed at Cam. “You go hit the shower. Tell those sisters of yours to come set the table as you pass by their room, and you, ma cherie, go tell your papa to get ready for dinner. We’ll be eating in twenty minutes.”

“Yes, Mama,” Sandy said and bolted out the back door.

Cam chuckled at Sandy’s exuberance. She bent down and kissed her mother’s cheek. “Love you, Mama.”

“I love you too. Now git or you’ll hold up dinner.” She shooed her out of the kitchen and smiled. The five beautiful girls completed her and Ronny’s dreams. Cam, Teresa, Karen, Wanda, and the baby Sandy kept them in stitches with their antics, but each and every one of them had their own special skills to help keep the family businesses thriving.



Being the oldest did come with a few small privileges. Like a private room and a tiny bathroom all Cam’s own. T, the next oldest, would take over her room in the fall when she left for college. Cam stripped out of her uniform and turned on the shower.

The warm water felt good on her skin, and when finished, she dried off and dressed in worn jeans and a tank top. After dinner, she’d slip a flannel shirt over the tank for the ride out to the Island. The full Louisiana summer had yet to arrive, so the night on the water could still be a bit on the cool side. Cam pulled on thick socks and her broken-in work boots, then ran her hands down her thighs. Her jeans were worn, and nearly see-through. She’d be lucky if they lasted the summer.

I reckon I’ll have to break down and buy some new clothes for college. Wow, college. The word excited and terrified her at the same time.

She’d been away from home a few times for ball tournaments, and one spring break down at the coast. Sure, Baton Rouge wasn’t that far away, but it was much larger than her little town, and there was so much a young, naïve country girl could get into in the big city that could get her bounced right back to Podunk.

She shook the negative thoughts from her head. She was determined to be successful and the first in their family to graduate from college. Cam opened her door to find Sandy with her hand raised, ready to knock.

“Dinner’s ready. Mama says get a move on.”

“Oh yeah?” Cam stepped out of her room and placed Sandy behind her. “Race you.”

Sandy squealed, “You cheat,” and did her best to pass Cam, who weaved down the hallway to block her until the very end when she let Sandy sneak by her. “I won,” she cried out.

“This round, yes, but I’ll get you next time.”

Cam looked up to find her mama smiling at the exchange between sisters and winked at her. “She’s a fast one, Mama. You’re gonna have to keep an extra-close eye on this one when I’m gone.” It was too late to take back her words, and Cam felt a twinge of guilt as she looked at Sandy, who was on the verge of tears. “Hey now, Squirt, I won’t be gone forever. I’ll come home every chance I get, and if you’re lucky, I may get an extra ticket for a football game in Death Valley.”

Sandy squealed. “Really, Cam?” Her disappointment temporarily forgotten, she slipped into a chair beside Cam.

Her dad walked into the room, his shoulders slumped with weariness. He smiled down at his oldest daughter. “Yak Box here said you hit another homer. What’s that make, about twenty?”

“Twenty-two, and the state tournament is next week. Maybe I can add a few more to the record books before I graduate.”

“Are the finals next weekend?”

“Yes, sir, on Saturday at the LSU field.”

“Maybe we should load up the girls and go to the big city, Ma.”

Camille carried a bowl of cabbage to the table. “That would be a nice break for all of us.”

“Let’s make it happen, then.”



The girls pitched in to clean the kitchen while their parents relaxed in the living room. Sandy carried the dishes from the table and sat on a stool watching as Cam and T washed and dried them while Wanda and Karen put away the leftovers.

T nudged Cam’s shoulder. “Did I hear you say earlier that Bren was coming out tonight?”

“Yes, we’re going over to the Island for a campfire at the hunt camp.”

“You aren’t gonna be sampling any of Dad’s cooking, are ya?”

Heat rose up Cam’s neck. “Probably not, I’ve got to be up early to help Dad and she’s got to drive home.”

T leaned in closer. “Y’all could stay out at the camp and get up early. No one would be the wiser.”

“You have grown into such an instigator, Teresa St. Angelo,” Cam teased. “Have you and Buster done that?”

T’s face turned scarlet. There was no need to answer Cam’s question. Her face revealed everything. “Only once, but we didn’t stay all night.”

“Uh-huh, you better not let Dad hear that or Buster may be in big trouble.”

“He won’t be the only one in trouble,” Karen said as she bumped T with her hip. “You better keep those legs crossed, girlie.”

“Will y’all relax? Buster’s all hands and lips.”

Wanda moved behind Sandy and covered her ears. “We all know what hands and lips can turn into quick,” she said before Sandy wiggled out of her grasp.

“Will you stop, Wanda?” Sandy cried out.

“Sorry, Squirt, but some things you shouldn’t be hearing yet,” Cam said and shot a glare at Karen and Wanda.

Before anyone else could speak, a vehicle pulled up in the yard and Sandy rushed out of the kitchen to greet Bren.

“Slow down,” Camille hollered from the living room as Sandy sped to the back door and slung it open.

Cam looked out the window to see Bren step out of the truck just as Sandy arrived. Her best friend ruffled Sandy’s hair just as Cam had done so many times. Sandy reached for Bren’s hand, and her mouth was moving ninety miles an hour as they walked to the house. Cam smiled at her baby sister’s innocence and felt a twinge of jealousy at how easily Sandy took Bren’s hand.

“Go ahead. We’ll finish up here,” Wanda told Cam after smacking her butt with the dish towel.

“Damn, ouch, that hurt. Tell Bren I’ll be out in a minute. I’ve got to brush my teeth and get a flannel shirt.”

Wanda nodded toward the yard. “No worries, I think Sandy will keep her busy for a few.”

“It looks that way.” Cam chuckled and left the room.



When Cam returned to the kitchen, Sandy was still talking ninety to nothing. “And Dad said he was going to load all us girls up and come watch y’all play in the finals next weekend.”

“Whoa, slow down, Squirt. We’ve got to make it to the finals first.”

“Cam, you know good and well you’ll be there. No team has come close to beating y’all this year.”

“That doesn’t mean we can’t have a bad day and lose.”

Sandy cocked her head as she let Cam’s words sink in. “I reckon that could happen.”

Bren smiled sweetly at her. “We’re going to do our best to make sure it doesn’t happen, though.”

“Darn straight we are.” Cam looked at Bren. “Are you ready to head out?”

“Yes, I am.” She hugged Sandy and kissed the top of her head. “See you next week, Squirt.”

“Bye, Bren. You sure I can’t go with you tonight, Cam?”

“Positive. Now get some sleep tonight so you can get up and help Dad and me with the cane so we can get out on the water sooner. We’ve got a big day tomorrow.”

Cam walked into the living room to say good night to her parents. Ronny St. Angelo grinned at his daughter. “Go easy tonight. I put a six-pack of Abita’s in the fridge if you’d rather have those. Make sure Bren’s okay to drive before she leaves here. I’d rather she spent the night than end up in a ditch.”

“Thanks, Dad.” She leaned down to kiss his cheek. “We won’t be out late, Mama.”

“Just be careful.”

“Yes, ma’am. See you bright and early, Dad.”

“Good night, Cam.”




Chapter Two





Cam and Bren walked out to the boat they would take to the Island. “So, what’s the grand adventure you have planned with Sandy tomorrow?”

“We’re gonna round up some crawfish for a boil and catch a few catfish to fry up with them. T’s invited Buster out, and you know that boy can eat.”

“I bet she doesn’t sleep a wink tonight. You know she worships you, right?”

“Yeah, but my baby sis has a crush on you, I think. Whenever she talks about you, she blushes.”

Bren chuckled. “That’s so sweet.”

“It’s going to break her heart when you marry Rudy. Mine too,” she said without thinking.

Bren stepped into the boat and turned back to Cam. “I do believe that’s the sweetest thing I’ve heard come out of your mouth, Cameron St. Angelo.”

“It’s true, but at least I’m losing you to a nice guy. If Rudy doesn’t take good care of you, he’ll have me and Sandy to contend with.”

She waited until Cam stepped onto the board, then took a seat next to Cam. “He is a good guy. You will still be my best friend, Cam.”

“Yeah, but things will change once you’re an old married woman.”

“Do I need to remind you that you’re still a year older than me?”

“Ha, I’d have been graduated by now if Mama would have enrolled me in kindergarten on time.”

Bren leaned against her as they pulled away from the docks. “I’m glad she didn’t. It’s been great having you in my life all these years.”

“Yes, it has,” Cam agreed as she opened up the throttle once they cleared the dock.



The family parcel on the Island had been in the St. Angelo family for hundreds of years. The hunt camp they had built there served a multitude of purposes. Not only a family getaway spot, the camp also served as a base for the private hunting trips her dad led each season. The Island was home to an abundance of white-tailed deer and wild boar. The trips helped supplement the family income from farming, harvesting gators, and the ’shine business her dad continued to run. The St. Angelo family, known to brew some of the finest ’shine in the South, used recipes handed down generation after generation. Yes, it was still illegal, but deep in the heart of Bayou Country, it was still a way of life.

Ronny and Camille were blessed to raise five female children. Cam, being the eldest, was the first tutored in the family business. She’d been helping her dad run the mash since she was twelve, and she proved a quick and apt student. It was with her dad’s blessing that she developed the recipe for Red Bliss, a beautifully colored watermelon liquor, which quickly became popular. Ronny had said he could see the sparkle in his daughter’s eyes as they cooked together, and he grew confident she would carry on the family business.

Cam maneuvered the boat through the narrow slough and pulled next to the dock. As the boat slowed, Bren picked up the mooring line and stepped onto the dock to tie off the boat. Darkness was falling quickly in the protected cove.

“I’ll get a fire started if you’ll grab a couple beers out of the cabin, unless of course you’d rather have ’shine.”

“I have to drive home tonight, remember, so I’ll stick to beer.”

Cam watched her disappear inside the cabin, then turned to start a fire. She had laid a fire in the pit earlier in the week when she’d helped her dad with a run of Swamp Juice. All she needed to do was douse the stacked wood with a bit of diesel fuel and put a flame to it. A portable blowtorch was just the trick, and when Bren emerged from the cabin with two beers, the flames were licking through the pile of logs.

She handed Cam a beer. “It always amazes me how fast you can get a fire going.”

Not as fast as you, but that’s a different kind of fire. “I’ve had lots of time to practice over the years.”

“I sure am going to miss these times when you go off to school.”

“I imagine you’ll be busy planning a wedding or some such thing,” Cam said as she took a seat next to the fire.

“You’ll be there. For the wedding, I mean.”

Cam smirked. “I’ll see what I can do.”

“Would you consider being my maid of honor? You’re my best friend and all. I think it’s only right.”

“You know I haven’t worn a dress since they changed the dress code in second grade, to allow us to wear shorts and slacks as our uniforms in school.”

“Really? The second grade.”

“Yeah, me wearing a dress would be like a fish out of water. Maybe you could ask T or someone else who’s into all that girly stuff. Besides, depending on your date, I probably wouldn’t be able to be here for the rehearsals and all the events.” Cam was relieved when Bren didn’t appear to be upset with her. “I will be here for the wedding, no matter what.” Bren held out her bottle and Cam gently tapped the neck of her bottle against it. “So when will you be planning the big event?”

“We were thinking about a Valentine’s Day wedding, since that’s when we first started dating.”

Cam smiled. “That would be fitting. You think you’ll still be able to wear white?”

“Hell yes! Rudy knows he’s not getting anything until our honeymoon except a good case of blue balls.”

Cam couldn’t help but break into laughter at the comment. “That’s going to make for one helluva honeymoon. Do you know where you want to go?”

“We’ll probably go down to one of the beaches. Biloxi maybe, or Galveston.”

“Rudy is starting out on the oil rigs this summer, isn’t he? Are you going to be okay with two weeks on and two off?”

“Don’t cherish the idea, but that’s the best money Rudy can make. I’ve already got a job lined up at LB’s, being a secretary at the processing plant. It’s not glamorous, but it’s money coming in.”

Cam sensed a sadness come over Bren. “I’ll still be seeing you when I come home to help Dad with the gators.”

“Even if it is short weekends, it’ll be good to see you.”

“Maybe you and Rudy can come to town for a ball game or something when he’s home.”

“I’d like that.” Bren took a long sip of her beer and sighed. “Where do you see yourself four years down the road, Cam?”

Cam fidgeted as she peeled the label from the bottle. “Honestly I have no clue. I can barely see past graduation at this point.”

“Do you know what you want to study at LSU?”

“Not really, but the first year is basically core courses, so I won’t have to declare a major right away.”

“My, aren’t we a pair?” Bren chuckled. “You ready?”

Cam drained the rest of the beer. “I am now.”



Four more hours, they sat around the fire reminiscing about their childhood, laughing at some of the pranks they had pulled over the years. The wood had turned into glowing embers, allowing the darkness to close in around them.

Bren shivered. “You cold?”

“Naw, just a chill—a possum running over my grave, Granny would say. It is getting late, though, and you have a big day ahead. I know time’s going to fly by after we graduate, but let’s try to spend some time together before I head off to college.”

“I’d like that very much, Cam.”

“Let’s make it happen, then,” Cam said as she turned on a hose and doused the fire, filling the air with hissing smoke.

She denied being cold, but Bren snuggled in close to Cam as they rode back across the bayou. The reflection of the full moon shimmered on the water ahead, and the stars were specks of glitter as they filled the dark sky. Cam understood little of romance, but for a few moments, she wished the night with Bren would never end. They had shared so much, and tonight Cam realized both secretly harbored apprehensions about the futures looming before them.

Strands of Bren’s hair pulled away from her ponytail and blew against Cam’s cheek as they neared the canal leading to her home. Cam smiled and wrapped an arm around her friend’s shoulder, sharing the warmth of the fire burning in her heart.

After getting Bren off for home safely, Cam crept as quietly as possible into the house. It was just past midnight when she changed into her sleep clothes and crawled between the sheets. She tucked her head into the crook of her arm and a smile grew on her face as she breathed in the scent of Bren’s perfume.



Cam woke the next morning, ten minutes ahead of her alarm clock. She was enjoying the last few minutes of rest until the door clicked open and she peeked from the covers to see Sandy creeping into her room. She waited until Sandy was close enough to grab before lunging and pulling the squealing child into the bed. Cam placed her hand over Sandy’s mouth. “Hush, you’re gonna wake the dead.”

Sandy settled onto the bed and snuggled into Cam’s warmth. “You smell like Bren,” she said with a suddenly sleepy voice.

“What?”

“Your arm, it smells like Bren’s perfume.”

Cam lifted her arm to her nose, and found the perfume lingering on her skin. “Yeah, it does. So why are you sneaking in here so early?”

“Mama’s cooking pancakes and bacon for breakfast. She asked me to come get you to eat before Dad drags you off to the cane fields.”

“I bet she said it just like that too, didn’t she?”

Sandy nodded.

“How long have you been up?”

“I woke up about a half hour ago when I smelled the bacon cooking.”

“We’d better hurry, then. If you smelled it, then so did our sisters. If we want bacon, we’d better go now.”

“Can I still help you today?”

“Yes, ma’am, you can. Go get dressed and meet me in the kitchen.”

Sandy leaned forward and kissed Cam’s cheek. “Love ya.”

“Love you more.”

Sandy slid off the bed. “No way, man.”

“Yes way, man.”

Cam climbed from the bed and pulled on some work clothes, tied her hair back in a ponytail, washed her face, and brushed her teeth before walking to the kitchen. As she expected, Sandy was already sitting at the table, devouring a stack of pancakes. “Did you save some for me?”

“Mama’s got a bunch just waiting on you.”

Cam turned to find her mama handing her a plate with an equally large stack of pancakes and a mound of bacon. “Thanks, Mama.”

“You want juice, milk, or both?”

“Both, please, so I can keep up with Squirt today.”

“Wanda’s going to drive the tractor for y’all while me and your other two sisters go grocery shopping. Is there anything special you’d like this week?”

“Will you make some banana-nut bread, please, Mom?”

“Sure. That does sound good, and I’ve got some overripe bananas.”

“Is Dad already at the barn?”

“He’s pulled out the tractor and is sharpening your cane knives. Do be careful with those things.”

“I plan on coming back with everything intact, Mom.”

“Watch the little one too and make sure she doesn’t wander off chasing a butterfly or something.”

Cam chuckled. “Yes, ma’am, I’ll keep a close eye on her.”



The morning sun was soon beating down on them as Cam and her dad cut the cane. They would cut the large stalks, and Wanda with Sandy’s help would pile them onto a flatbed trailer. Ronny would deliver most of the harvest to the local farmers market, but they would hold back a portion to use in making Swamp Juice shine. It was a year-round favorite and a good source of income.

Cam stopped cutting the cane and wiped the sweat from her brow. Her dad, also taking a break, called out to her, “Let’s get something cold to drink. It’s hotter than a cat on a tin roof out here this morning.”

“That it is. You’ll get no argument from me.”

Sandy ran back to the tractor and returned with ice-cold bottles of RC Cola for them. “Now if we only had a moon pie to go with these, it’d be darn near perfect,” her dad said as he took a bottle from Sandy.

Cam took the bottle she offered. “Thanks, Squirt.”

Ronny wiped his face on his shirtsleeve. “Two more rows ought to be good for today. I hear we’re having a crawfish boil tonight.”

“Yes, sir. The Squirt and I are gonna go get us some mudbugs and see if we can catch us a catfish or two. T’s asked Buster out, so we gotta have plenty to eat.”

“Ain’t that the truth. I think your ma and I was blessed to have five girls. I can’t imagine having to feed five growing boys.”

Wanda chuckled. “You’d find a way, Dad. You always do.”

“Thank goodness we have a bounty of food provided from the bayou. There have been some lean times for groceries, but we can always go catch or hunt what we need to live.” He smiled at Cam. “I don’t have to worry about you girls going hungry. You’ve got the skills to survive.”

Cam returned his smile. “You’ve taught us well. We know more than how to thrive, but how to take from the swamp, to earn a living, and provide for others too. There are many families in town that depend on the goods we harvest.”

“That’s very true. This cane for instance will make some good syrup for someone to use or to sell to others for what they need.” He drained his bottle. “So I guess we need to get back at it so we can get it to market and you and Sandy can get to fishing.”

“All right,” Sandy squealed.

Wanda climbed back onto the tractor. “I’ll help Dad get the cane to the market so you two can get on the water.”

Cam picked up her cane knife. “We’ll all pitch in to get you loaded, and then we’ll head out in the boat.”

Sandy ran ahead of them and picked up a large stack of cut cane. “Slow your roll, Squirt. We’ve got plenty of time to fish.”

“I know. I’m just so ready to go.”

Cam chuckled and resumed cutting cane. In another thirty minutes, they were finished, loaded, and heading back home. After she saw the cane loaded in the truck, Camille called out to them, “I’ve got sandwiches on the table, so come and get them.”

“I appreciate all your help.”

“No problem, Dad. I enjoy working with you.”

“I’m really gonna miss you when you’re off at college.”

“I won’t be that far away and will be home every chance I get.”

Ronny frowned. “I don’t want that for you. I want you to enjoy your time at college without having to come home to work all the time.”

“I promise I’ll enjoy it, Dad, and I love working here too.”

“I know, but life at college will be different and more challenging than high school. Remember, your education comes first.”

“Yes, sir,” Cam resigned, knowing she wouldn’t win an argument with her dad. “Let’s go eat.”

“Now you’re singing my tune,” he said and walked inside the house with her.



Cam grinned as Sandy gobbled down a sandwich. “You know you should probably chew.”

Sandy swallowed hard. “I’m just sooo ready, Cam.”

“Okay, okay, I can take a hint.” She grabbed a final sandwich and a glass of tea. “I reckon we’ll see you all later.”

“Be careful and bring us back some good stuff for dinner,” Camille hollered as Sandy dragged Cam toward the back door.




Chapter Three





Cam finished her sandwich on the way to the dock. She drank a sip of tea, pulled a battered LSU ball cap from her back pocket, and stepped onto the boat. She laced her ponytail through the back of the hat, checked to make sure they had rods and bait, then grinned at Sandy. “Cast us off, Squirt.”

Sandy untied the line and pushed the boat away from the dock before stepping onboard.

“Let’s go fishing. Then we can collect some mudbugs when we’re done,” Cam suggested.

“That sounds great to me,” Sandy replied, wiggling in her seat.

Cam picked up her sunglasses to protect her eyes from the glare of the sun reflecting off the water as she steered them into a small channel that she knew would be a perfect spot to fish. She killed the motor and lowered an anchor into the water. “Bait ’em up, Squirt.”

As soon as the boat slowed to a halt, Sandy picked up a rod and opened a container of beef melt Cam had prepared earlier in the morning. She wrinkled her nose at the pungent smell. “If a catfish can’t smell this, they must be miles away from here.”

“Oh, they’ll smell it all right. Get that line in the water and let’s see how long it takes.”

Sandy cocked her head and looked at Cam. “You aren’t going to fish?”

“Yep, just letting you get the little ones out of the way first.”

Sandy chuckled and cast her line, and watched the bait disappear.

Cam kicked back in her seat, enjoying the intense concentration on her baby sister’s face as she waited for a bite. She loved all her sisters, but Sandy was special to her. She never could quite put her finger on why, but she knew Sandy took up a large portion of her heart.

“I’m getting a nibble, Cam,” she whispered loudly.

“Be ready to set the hook—oh hell yeah,” she finished when Sandy expertly hooked the fish and she could tell from the bow in her rod that it wasn’t a baby. “You got him now. Work him on in toward the boat and I’ll get the net ready.”


Purchase this book or download sample versions for your ebook reader.
(Pages 1-25 show above.)