Crane’s bellow of disbelief was drowned out by a piercing shriek and a wall-shaking clatter that seemed to come from heaven. Or so Marcella imagined.
Jean Luc scowled at the ceiling where the scuffling continued, mingled with muffled whispers and stifled giggling. “Excuse me, Miss McGovern. We’ve been troubled with squirrels in the attic.”
Sheriff White almost choked on his own laughter. “Squirrels? Ain’t never heard them called that before.”
Jean Luc clapped on his hat and stalked out. Marcella heard the ring of his boots and spurs as he took the stairs two at a time. And then the authoritative clang of them as he arrived on the floor above. The low rumble of his voice silenced all else from that quarter.
“Ain’t nothin’ like a will-readin’ to get folks riled up,” Sheriff White said. “How are you holding up, Miss McGovern? You must be shook clear to the roots with all this. It ain’t everyday a little gal like you gets handed an unlikely set o’parents, a herd of Texas longhorns, and a hog farm all at once.”
“A hog farm, Sheriff?” Mr. Peeper said. ”I hardly think that’s the appropriate phrase to use. Despite her parentage, Miss McGovern has been raised in a genteel—”
“Please, Mr. Peeper, could I leave you gentlemen to your discussion for a moment? I need—”
“Of course, Marcella, dear, after all this you must need a breath of fresh air. Allow me to accompany you to the shade of the porch.”
“No, thank you, I can take myself where I need to go.” In truth, she’d never felt stronger. For all her years, she’d dreamed of a mother who would wrap her in her arms and kiss away her hurts. Of a father who would shower her with gifts and beg her forgiveness for leaving her so alone while he was off fighting wars and righting wrongs. But she had never dreamed this dream. The daughter of a Texas cattle baron and his light o’life. She could almost feel their blood coursing through her veins. And it was driving her to a decision she would never dare on her own.
“You did say, Mr. Peeper, that this was my house?”
“Then I should be the one to see to the squirrels in my attic.” She smiled at the way Mr. Peeper’s mouth popped open and no words came out. She was glad she’d shocked him. Sheriff White had plenty to say, most of it “no, you’d best not” and other such that she had no intention of listening to. They followed her to the stairs but she ignored them.
She did not knock at the closed door at the top of the stair. It was her house. No door should be closed to her. She grasped the latch and pushed the door open. “Mr. Desloge, I must insist you—”
Four women in various stages of shock, befuddlement, and undress stared at her. Jean Luc Desloge, his back to the door, slowly turned, a look of pure chagrin on his face. He took a deep breath and shrugged. Caught again, the devil in his eyes seemed to say. And no hope for it.
“Miss McGovern, may I present Miss Sophie’s ladies.” He stepped aside so she could see them all. “From left to right, Mary Lynn McQueen, June Bug, Glory B, and Polly. Ladies, Miss Marcella McGovern, the new owner of Miss Sophie’s Baths and Gentlemen’s Parlors.”