Raw Deal

By: Cherrie Lynn

Chapter One

Savannah Dugas didn’t think she’d ever seen a bald eagle in the wild before. It was somehow fitting that one glided above right now, stark black against an impossibly blue sky. She could distinguish the magnificent creature’s white head from the darkness of its body, from the majestic span of its wings. Tommy had loved eagles. He’d had a huge tattoo of one on his back, fierce and proud, wings spread so wide that the tips reached each of his shoulders.

She would never see that tattoo again.

As Savannah dropped her gaze from the eagle soaring above to Tommy’s bronze casket, a wash of dizziness overcame her and she thought for a second that she might faint or throw up. It was no wonder; she’d barely eaten for three days, but it took all her effort to clamp her jaw closed and fight the nausea welling in her throat. Strong, she thought, I have to be the strong one. Her mother’s clawlike fingers dug hard into her right arm, and Rowan leaned heavily on her left. Savannah knew that if she crumbled the other women would crumble too. Regina Dugas had lost a son. Rowan Dugas had lost her college sweetheart, husband, love of her life.

And I’ve lost my brother.

The minister rambled on. And on. And on. From dust you came, to dust you must return. Sniffles and soft cries surrounded her. Savannah couldn’t look away from the bright spray of flowers surrounding Tommy’s casket. As she stared, the colors blurred and bled together. He wouldn’t have liked them, she thought. He wouldn’t have liked this small, private, press-free memorial service at the family tomb. Tommy had been larger than life—maybe so large that life couldn’t hold on to him, and she was certain he would’ve rather had a jazz funeral or a keg party for his send-off. But oh no, that would’ve been too far beneath the Dugas family’s dignity.

Her big brother. Gone forever.

Tuning everyone out again, she glanced back up to watch the eagle. Maybe it was Tommy peeking in on his own memorial service. Usually, she wasn’t given to such sentiment, but it was a nice thought. I know you’re probably disappointed, she thought to him, closing her eyes. Sorry. I tried. Maybe everyone would think she was searching the heavens for answers, but she was only wishing she could fly away too.

A tug on her left arm brought her back down to earth in a hurry. Where Regina believed in maintaining dignity in all situations, Rowan was currently beyond all reason, sobbing inconsolably, swaying into Savannah’s side. She kept her face buried in a wad of pristine white tissues, muffling the anguished sounds tearing from her throat. People’s heads were turning in their direction, faces tear-streaked and sympathetic.

Savannah put an arm around Rowan’s quivering shoulders and pulled her closer, murmuring soft, soothing nonsense. God, which was worse? Her own grief or witnessing that of someone whose entire world had fallen apart?

When Rowan lurched forward, near retching, Savannah steered her away from the crypt before she could throw up, or worse, fling herself on top of Tommy’s casket and create a spectacle. She felt eyes on their backs as she helped her sister-in-law away from the service and down a small hill to a stone bench well removed from Tommy’s perfumed mourners. Her feet practically purred in relief as she sat. Bathed in the warm sunlight and surrounded by the crypts and mausoleums typical of New Orleans cemeteries, Savannah couldn’t say she felt any better, but at least she could breathe again.

“Thanks,” Rowan said when she could catch a breath. “I couldn’t take another minute of that.”

“Me either.” Savannah swiped away a few tendrils of Rowan’s blond hair that had become stuck in her relentless tears, then glanced upward. The eagle was still there, circling. “Look up there.”

Sniffling, Rowan obeyed, sucking in a small quivering breath. “Oh, wow.”

“I know. It’s been up there almost the whole time.”

“I was with Tommy when he got his tattoo,” Rowan said softly, watching the bird glide lazily on the breeze and dabbing at her eyes with the tissue. “Every session. He was so proud of it. I always griped at him about all of the eagle stuff we had in the house, always wanted him to move it all to his man cave. Damn eagles in every room of the house.” She chuckled sadly. “I know I’ll never get rid of them now, though. What the hell am I going to do, Savvy?”