Caught between revenge and redemption...
With her family shamed and her faith shaken, Riley Drake carries a heavy burden. She returns to Bayou La Foudre Parish to clear her brother's name, but her mission proves difficult and dangerous. The locals are convinced he's guilty of the tragic bombing that left the town in mourning, and she finds her only ally is Jake Ayers. Frustrated and fascinated by the parish's brooding sheriff, Riley hopes she's found someone to trust with her burden...and her heart.
Sheriff Jake Ayers wants peace and healing in his parish, but Riley's presence stirs tempers into a frenzy. Most of the townsfolk want her dead. Emotions run deep in the bayou, and Jake's are no exception. Keeping a level head and an indifferent heart is going to be as difficult as keeping Riley alive.
Bayou La Foudre, Louisiana
I used to think of the bayou as a place of peace until that night on the black water; when the air heated so fast and so furious that the wet steamed right off me. The dark night lit up with a bloom of raging red and orange. The night the thunder stole my brother.
I thought about Randy and what he did on that terrible day almost a month ago as I lay in the canoe. It bobbed lazily underneath the low hanging branches of the cypress tree rocking me in my dark thoughts. Moored to the floating dock, I wasn’t going anywhere, so I leaned back in the bottom of the craft. I turned my face to the moon hanging low in the purple sky and listened to the cicadas and frogs along the bank. Their night song, low and steady, hummed its way along the misty water of the bayou. A plaintive cry of a loon tore through my raw nerves and sent me into another fit of sniffles and tears. My new faith, barely months old, shuddered within me.
I don’t know how to do this, Lord. I don’t know if I can.
Footfalls on the wood planks made me catch my breath. I wondered who found me so fast.
“You promised you wouldn’t come back here.” The unmistakable voice, thick with the drawl of a man born and raised on the bayou, floated to me on the warm night air.
I lifted my head and peered over the lip of the canoe at the man standing on the dock.
Jake Ayers. His dark eyes captured mine, held them for a second, and then looked away. The anguish rolled off of him in dark waves, chilling me despite the summer night.
Bayou La Foudre was his home and my brother, a disturbed young man, had blown up a chemical plant in Jake’s parish, killing twelve people and dying in the blast himself.
My breath caught when I saw the sorrow etched under Jake’s eyes. So much heartache there.
Trying for humor, I sat up in the canoe and hugged my knees. “Is that any way to greet a friend?”
“Nous ne sommes pas amis.” He hooked his thumbs through the gun belt at his waist and shrugged. The dark brown Sheriff’s uniform outlined his tall stature against the lights from the dock. He kept his gaze on the dark water. “We’re not friends, Riley.” He pronounced it rah-ley, like he didn’t realize my name had no ‘a’ in it.
I smiled sadly. This place felt so foreign. Louisiana and I would never be friends.
I turned my head, wanting to see what he was looking at.
Tiny lights flickered and bobbed over the surface of the swamp; lightning bugs.
I turned back to him and tried a strained grin. “What are we, then?”
I honestly need to know.
Jake didn’t answer. Instead, he reached down and grabbed a length of the tow rope. He pulled my canoe towards the dock, and I let him, watching his face in the bright light of the harvest moon. Once he tied the boat in place, he extended his hand and wriggled his fingers. “Come on.”
I tilted my head, looking at him from an angle, but didn’t stand up. I didn’t reach out to him. “I’m not leaving. Not till I get what I came for.”
Jake’s face didn’t change expression. He reached out a little further. “Your hand, Riley.”
Reluctant to leave the safe cradle of the water and trees, I sighed and let Jake help me off the boat and onto the dock. The narrow path made us stand much closer than we would have otherwise. Being so near him made me remember what it was like to have his strong arms wrapped around me, and I blinked back more tears. That he didn’t even consider us friends stung more than I cared to admit.
“You helped me once, Jake.” My voice cracked, and I bit my lip. I wished I could get a grip, but being back here in this place wrenched me wide open. “Can’t you do that again?”
“Getting you out of town is helping you, Riley. You just don’t realize that yet.”
Jake gestured for me to walk in front of him.
I glanced back at the water and then up at the trees, but didn’t move. “There’s more, Jake. There’s more than what they’re telling us, I know it. The FBI is—”
“There isn’t more, Riley.” Jake’s voice sounded tight, as if he was holding back anger.
“You don’t know that.” My voice trembled, and I fought to quell the frustration rumbling up my spine. “All those people, Jake. They died and there has to be a reason. They can’t just have…” My voice broke, and I struggled to push back the sorrow that threatened to crush me.
“Randy did what he did and that’s all there is to it. We just weren’t…” He drew in a slow breath. “We were too late, that’s all.”
Three weeks ago, when I rushed into Jake’s parish frantic over my missing brother, he’d been there for me.
Jake took me all over town and beyond trying to find Randy.
Back when my brother was only missing and not a monster.
Jake’s parish was barely back on their feet after Katrina and didn’t deserve what my brother did to them. They didn’t deserve to fear dying again.
I nodded silently, and the two of us headed back up the dock to the soft grass of the bank where his squad car idled.
He walked over to the passenger side and opened the door. Standing there in the better light, his gaze flitted to the still healing burns on my arms. His brows furrowed with concern. “You’re doing all right?”
I shrugged as I slid into the seat, not answering because I didn’t want him to hear the truth in my voice.
He nodded and shut the door. “I thought so.”
Walking around the nose of the squad car, he slid into the seat and gave me an exasperated look. “How’d you get the canoe out of the locked boathouse?”
I shrugged. “I did research about home invasions for an article once.”
“What did you do, interview a cat burglar?”
“They don’t like that term.” I said, and tried to smile.
My job as a reporter put me in contact with people from all walks of life. That some of their “talents” rubbed off on me wasn’t surprising.
This wasn’t the first time Jake commented on my strange skill set.
As he pulled onto the road, I swayed with the rocking of the car on the uneven dirt road. “How did you find me?”
“Your older brother, Raymond, called the station. He thought you might be on your way.”
My family didn’t want me within twenty miles of this place. They probably hoped I’d get run out of town.
“No, how did you know I’d be here. In all of Bayou La Foudre, why’d you look here?”
“You liked this place when we came here together. You said you thought it would be a good place to hide and think.” He said it without looking away from the road; without looking at me, and I wondered if he remembered that he’d also kissed me that day.
“You really want me to leave?” My heart fell at the thought of Jake not wanting me around. I wished he would smile. I wished I could still see something warm in his gaze.
Jake faced me then, the pain of so much sorrow in so short a time etched across his features. “It’s not about what I want, Riley, it’s about this parish healing. It’s about moving on.”
“Moving on,” I repeated slowly.
Jake took one hand off the steering wheel and reached across the darkness to me. He took my chin in his hand, tilting my face towards him, the car coming to a slow stop on the dark road. “This isn’t fair. I know it, Riley, but the FBI just left and most of the reporters. Things are starting to get back on track. Having you here…” His gaze flitted from my eyes to my mouth and back again. He let go and gripped the steering wheel till it creaked under his palm. “You can’t stay.”
He was right, but despite that fact, I was staying. I thought about my plans, what I had to do…for Randy’s sake, for my parents’ sake; and a quiver of fear shook through me. I wondered how long before my actions pushed Jake away for good.
Q1. As a new Christian, Riley struggles with doubt over her faith. How are some ways the Bible can quell a crisis of faith?
Q2. Jake struggles with guilt over his brother's death. Is there something God can help you forgive yourself over? Have you let something stand in the way of growing in Him?
Q3. Riley often walks the line between her old and new life. Choosing on one occasion to break the law. Do you find it hard to resist things from your past? How might prayer help you to conquer this?
Q4. After a tragedy takes the lives of some of the town's residents, we see how people deal with grief in different ways. How might you comfort a friend going through the loss of a loved one?
Q5. Some of the characters in Bayou Blue believe that the end result justifies their means. Though their intentions are noble, they hurt others. How is this an example of not waiting on the Lord's timing?