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Happy Marti Gras, everyone! In honor of this day of wild parties and gastric torture, I am going to share a chapter out on one of my back list books, Equal Partners. This book takes place about this time of your, and the chapter in question takes place on Marti Gras. Alas, no special discount to buy the book, if you haven't already read it. That's up to my publisher, not me. But it's still a fun read and does sport a small discount on Amazon.com right now!
Cissy found Lleu staring intently out the window, growling under his breath. She’d just come from the back porch, with the chicken in hand, to find her mate acting like a territorial dog. Apparently, he didn’t like seeing the drunken Courir de Mardi Gras working its way down the rural road she lived on to beg permission to chase the chicken. She laughed out loud, trying to figure out who looked sillier, the elf lord growling like a dog at passing cars or the mob of drunks dressed in psychedelic medieval costumes stuffed in horse trailers.
“Calm down, cher!” she admonished. “The Courir de Mardi Gras has been trying to catch this old chicken of mine for years. And every year, they leave covered in mud with nothing to show for their efforts but a pound of sausage out of my freezer.” He flashed her an annoyed glare then returned to his staring, though he did stop growling. Cissy moved to the window and watched beside him for the Capitaine on his horse to ride up to the front porch to beg entry for his troupe of revelers.
“Now, remember, you don’t get to chase the Mardi Gras,” Cissy said. “The Capitaine will come up and ask permission for his troupe to come onto the property. When we agree, he will raise his flag, and the mob will spill out of the trailers. They will run around acting like fools. You don’t beat on them if they try to steal me away, okay? They won’t take me far. They are just going to try to get me to drop the chicken. It’s all in good fun.
“Once they have a good run about the place, I will toss the bird into the air, and they will try to catch her. They never do, though. They manage to catch everyone else’s bird, but never mine. You will then tease them about being bested by a brainless chicken—nicely—then offer them the sausage as a consolation prize. Okay?” Cissy waited for his agreement then elbowed him. “Okay?” she repeated sternly. Lleu rolled his eyes at her.
“Fine,” he relented. “I won’t chase the stupid apes.” Cissy elbowed him with a frown. He glanced down at her, a slight smirk dancing at the corners of his mouth. “We had similar traditions in my first life, only at the winter solstice. I wandered drunkenly from house to house begging for vegetables as a lad myself. I’ll keep my wolf in check while they are here,” he reassured.
“You know,” Lleu said casually a moment later, “they might actually have had a chance at catching that stringy old bird if you hadn’t had me hose down the pasture.”
Cissy giggled. Mardi Gras was her favorite time of year. They didn’t celebrate Fat Tuesday the same way in the rural parishes as they did in New Orleans. In the Big Easy, revelers would beg the Mardi Gras, usually a dignitary riding a float in the parade, for favors. Here in the country, the Mardi Gras were the drunken revelers, and they went from farm to farm begging contributions for the communal gumbo. The prize of all prizes was a live chicken. The more chickens the Courir de Mardi Gras, or the Mardi Gras runners, brought back, the more successful the coming year was said to be.
In the four days since she’d accidentally life-mated herself to the fierce shifter lord, Cissy had managed to come to terms with it. But she was Creole, not just Southern. They didn’t let bygones be bygones. She wanted Donnella’s head on a platter for duping her. Lleu—her mate—was the best person for the job. She had to find a way to convince him she accepted that they were bound so he would continue his hunt for the murderess.
“Here they come,” she said, shunting aside her internal deliberations. “Wait for the Capitaine to hail us. Then we will go out to meet him.” Just as she finished speaking, a giant of a man dressed in a violently orange set of coveralls with fuchsia and purple fringe sewn along every hem turned into her driveway riding an equally huge roan horse.
“What is that song they are butchering?” Lleu asked, disgust warring with amusement in his tone.
“They are singing the Mardi Gras chant. It translates roughly as ‘Capitaine, Capitaine, raise your flag, we want to run, to catch the chicken.’ Every town has its own chant, though all of them say about the same thing.” Cissy chuckled at Lleu’s fake annoyance. She had discovered that the stoic warlord actually had a well-developed sense of humor, which he tried very hard to hide. She could tell through their deepening mate bond, though, that he was secretly enjoying the spectacle. He’d been growling earlier to tease her.
“Hail, the homestead!” shouted the drunken rider. He managed to startle his horse and nearly fell off when it jumped. Hysterical giggles filled the air from the small army of spectators who’d been following the Mardi Gras as it snaked its way up and down country roads. Shaking his head, an actual grin on his face, Lleu pushed the old, wooden screen door open and stepped onto the porch.
“Well met, Capitaine. Peace be to you and your troupe,” he answered the rider in a formal tone that reminded Cissy that he’d lived in a time when hailing a home had been more than a quaint custom. His kind had once done it to assure those within that they meant no harm. The horse startled again, and this time the rider dropped the flag. The intoxicated man stared down at it for a moment.
“Merde,” he spat, and a new round of giggles filled the air. He stopped glaring at the hapless flag and shot a disgruntled glare at the followers in their horse-drawn buggies and hay-stacked flatbed trailers pulled by trucks. He turned and started to glare at Lleu. “And who are you?” he asked belligerently.
“Remy Giroux, be nice!” Cissy cut in, pushing past Lleu. “This is my new husband, Lleu.”
Her announcement was met with startled silence for a moment. Slowly, a happy grin spread over Remy’s face.
“Is that right, baby girl?” he asked gleefully. Remy dismounted his horse like a sack of potatoes falling. He managed not to get trampled by his dancing mount, scooped up the dropped flag, then unsteadily got to his feet. “I am Remy Giroux,” he introduced himself to her mate as formally as his drunken state allowed. Lleu bowed respectfully, visibly struggling to tamp down his amusement.
“I am Lleu Llaw Gaffys,” he responded, his deep voice resonating through the unnaturally still morning air.
“Clay—Clayton Jeffries?” Remy repeated, making the same pronunciation error Cissy had when she first met the shifter lord. The old man turned and addressed the expectant crowd waiting at the road. “Cissy Trahan has taken a husband!” he bellowed. “Join me in welcoming into our community Clayton Jeffries!” He stopped suddenly then turned back, confusion on his face. “When did you all meet, anyway? I ain’t seen you around town with a beau.”
Cissy laughed. How typical of the retired parish pastor to skip right past the obvious question and go for the gossip. And it was a good thing, too—Louisiana didn’t recognize common-law marriages, and marriage license requirements sometimes caused problems for people who wanted quiet, secret weddings. Nor had she been out of town long enough to have slipped off for a secret wedding.
“Lleu is a bounty hunter. He works with my friend, Aubry, from time to time,” she said casually, hoping her mate would go along with the story. “We met when he was hunting a serial killer who’d gone there to try and hide.” That wasn’t really a lie, she mused, merely a misrepresentation of facts.
“Cissy Trahan married to a law man?” Remy bellowed in disbelief. “If I didn’t see him standing right here in front of me I’d never believe it! Ha-ha-ha!”
“Remy Giroux, you take that back!” Cissy demanded, genuinely offended. Her grandpapa’s younger brother had been a bank robber. But other than him, the entire Trahan clan had been squeaky clean.
“Ah, baby girl,” Remy said, looking sheepish and casting furtive glances toward Lleu. “I was jess funning. You not going to hold that against an old man, are you?” Cissy followed the old man’s worried half glances and found Lleu had lost all signs of being amiable. She had a feeling she was seeing the warlord side of her teasing, attentive mate. It wasn’t hard to figure out why Remy had changed his tune so quickly.
“Perhaps it is time to let those poor fools out to have their fun, yeah?” Lleu commented quietly, his displeasure with the unintended insult mostly hidden. Remy grasped the escape gladly.
“Right, right, the Courir de Mardi Gras! Right!” he stammered then cleared his throat. “I beg permission for my troupe to come onto your land and beg a prize for the communal meal!” Lleu nodded his head in an odd sideways gesture that looked like it belonged to the Dark Age warlord he’d once been.
Remy tried in vain to calm his horse down and failed. Lleu, seeming to have forgiven the old man somewhat, shook his head in bemusement and stepped off the porch to hold the skittish beast’s halter while its rider mounted. By the time Remy was remounted, Lleu was actually chuckling a bit, the runners, still stuffed in their horse trailers, were howling with laughter and drunken impatience, and Cissy was out of breath and giggling. She was sure she’d seen a few flashes from cameras, too.
Finally, after a fresh swig on the bottle of bourbon he’d tucked into a saddle bag, Remy turned and theatrically waved the ceremonial flag in the air. With a loud roar of approval, dozens of drunken, garishly dressed people spilled out of the trailers. Old men, young men, and even a few bold women came mad-dashing across the yard. Within seconds, every corner of the property was crawling with gigging folks acting like fools.
Lleu apparently forgot his promise not to chase any of the Mardi Gras, because she saw him a few minutes later running down one young man. She started to hiss at him to stop when she noticed that they were both laughing too hard to run properly—and the runner was wearing one of her sexiest bras on his head!
“Give that back!” Lleu yelled with a sloppy lunge. “You can’t expect a man to spend his honeymoon with nothing to strip off his wife, can you?”
Cissy forgot everything in a blinding flash of embarrassment. She didn’t realize at first why everyone, including Lleu and the kid he’d been chasing, stopped running around aimlessly. They turned to her almost at once.
“Get the chicken!” a nameless voice shouted, closely followed by a drunken cheer. Cissy looked down to see her prize chicken pecking the ground in front of her.
“Run! Fly away!” Cissy squealed, trying to flush off the bird she’d accidentally dropped. I can’t believe I dropped the bird! she thought hysterically, blocking a rather determined runner from getting around her. In the mêlée, the bird finally decided to escape, though it didn’t go very far. As Cissy stood looking on in embarrassed horror, her mate joined the mad scramble and actually managed to catch the bird.
“I got the bird!” he shouted triumphantly.
“Ah, that’s no fair!”
“It’s our bird!”
“You want the bird. I want my wife’s lingerie back. Who’s willing to trade?” he shouted over the catcalls.
“Lleu! Don’t you be trading my chicken for that muddy scrap of lace! I’d never wear it again, not after it’s been on Jacques’s nappy head!” Cissy yelled. He looked over at her, pretending to be hurt.
“It’s the principle of the thing, m’bandraoi. What kind of a protector would I be if I let them carry off a trophy like that?”
“You’d be the kind who gets to sleep in his wife’s bed, not on the couch!” she retorted, much to the amusement of the onlookers. “They are supposed to catch the chicken, not haggle my underwear for it. All they’ve earned is some sausage.”
“I’ll trade you your underthings for that sausage,” said Jacques, “but I also want a kiss.”
“I’m not rewarding you with a kiss!” Cissy spat, giggling too much for her retort to have any real venom.
“Ah! But I am bribing you with your underwear!” he replied. “I get the sausage and a kiss on the cheek, or I wear my fancy new bonnet all day!”
“Fine,” she laughed. “Come get your kiss, then.”
“What about my kiss?” Lleu asked after the trade was done and the Capitaine was herding his now muddy, tired drunks back toward the road.
“You don’t deserve a reward. You tried to give away my chicken!”
“True,” he said, acting like he was thinking it over. Cissy could see a bit of mischief in his eyes, though, and started backing slowly toward the door. He grinned evilly. “I guess I should be giving you the kiss, then, to atone.” With that, he jumped the porch rail and snagged her up before she could make good her escape.Cissy found herself being swept back into a Hollywood-style kiss, the kind women always dreamed about. She vaguely realized they were being cheered as he picked her up, still kissing her, and carried her into the house.