"Christian Crisis Hotline. How may I help you?" For once, it was phone counselor Felicia Trahan who desperately needed to dial in. She'd come home to her apartment to find Jolie, her roommate and coworker, dead. And few clues to the killer's identity: There was a shady boyfriend. A rival at the crisis center. And disturbing phone calls from a distraught young woman who was becoming increasingly unhinged. So much so that the center's tough-guy pastor feared for Felicia's safety. Spencer Bertrand promised to protect her, even if he lost his heart in the process. Yet drawing out a killer hiding in the Louisiana bayou could be the only way to save them all.
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May 12, 2008
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Excerpt from Bayou Judgment by Robin Caroll
"You don't really want to hurt anyone. Please, let's talk about this." Felicia Trahan wrapped the phone cord around her finger and didn't uncoil it until the tip turned white.
Pastor Spencer Bertrand stood beside Felicia's desk, listening to her side of the conversation while he gazed over the crisis center. Every operator hunched over their desk, speaking in low tones. There'd been so many callers today, people with problems. He wanted to help them all, but knew it impossible, even given the slow pace of the day. He glanced at the clock on the wall--7:00 p.m.
Father God, please touch these people's hearts. Help them. Bless them.
He refocused on Felicia. A silver-handled cane leaned against the side of the desk. Already graduated to a cane--he had to admire her tenacity. A little under a year ago she'd had surgery to give her use of her left leg. Some people with cerebral palsy weren't so fortunate. Or wealthy enough to afford new procedures.
She glanced up, her startling blue eyes wide. Heat tickled the back of his neck. Although well-trained, the counselors sometimes had to pass a caller off to him. That Felicia had waved him over said a lot. She requested his assistance less than any other operator. If she wanted his help, the situation must be dire.
He didn't know if he could muster enough energy to play the part he'd projected himself to play. Fake. Phony. When it came right down to it, that's all he was.
"I understand. Listen, Pastor Spence is here now if you'd like to talk with him. He's a wonderful adviser in matters such as these." Felicia's soft voice could charm anyone. "Of course, I understand. But I think it would be bene--"
Her lips pressed together. She stared at him, holding up a finger. The intensity of her gaze made him uncomfortable. He sat on the edge of her desk, all too aware of the close proximity.
"Are you sure? Because he's really g--" She shook her head. "Okay. Can I at least get your name? If you call again, you can ask for me." She grabbed her pen, poising it over the call log. Some counselors doodled while talking, but not Felicia.
"Thanks, Winnie. I hope you'll call me back." She jerked the headset free and tossed it on the desk. "That was a live one, Spence."
He crossed his arms over his chest. "What's the deal?"
"Young woman, early twenties, I'd guess, got dumped by her fianc� several months ago because he'd found someone new."
"Common this time of year. More breakups during Mardi Gras than at Christmas."
"I know. But this woman has some serious hostility eating at her."
He straightened. "Such as?"
"She says she's entertaining thoughts of hurting the new girlfriend. Physically hurting her."
"Did she sound like someone just trying to get attention or mess with the center?" That happened quite often, people calling in with outlandish prank complaints. "No. She sounded serious." Felicia shivered. "And determined."
"Did she give you any details?"
"Just her name. Winnie." She stood, flexing her left hand, which had also recently been operated on.
"That she called us is a cry for help. Maybe she'll call back."
"I hope so." She smiled that barely there smile of hers.
His heart pounded before he could will it to behave. No matter how perfect she seemed, Felicia Trahan was now, and always would be, off limits to the likes of him.
The phone rang.
When she lifted the receiver, Spencer made fast tracks to his office. Just being in Felicia's presence made pinpricks jab his conscience.
Father God, please help me. You know what a sinner I am, and I'm just trying to followYour guidance. I can't be attracted to someone so sweet, so pure...not when I'm such a mess.
Spencer cradled his head in his hands, his elbows digging into the ratty wooden desk. His mug sat half empty, but the smell hovering over the coffeepot in the corner didn't entice him to get a fresh cup. He glanced at the notes on his desk calendar. Monday morning he'd have to visit Jon Garrison. A monthly visit he'd rather walk through fire to avoid. Hadn't he paid enough already?
Felicia stood in the break room, staring out the window of the Vermilion Parish Christian Crisis Center--VPCCC, for short.
Someone had spilled bright purple, emerald-green and fool's gold over Lagniappe, Louisiana.
Comedy/tragedy masks decorated every light post along the town square, mocking pedestrians. Purple-and-gold beads draped the moonlit storefronts and doorways, casting a sparkling array of color prisms into the shroud of darkness. "Welcome to Mardi Gras madness." Jolie Landry, Felicia's best friend and roommate, chuckled.
Felicia smiled. "Is the center always this bad during Mardi Gras season?" She'd only been working at the center for a few months, while Jolie had been with it since its inception a little more than a year ago.