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Novel: Savage Nature - Chapter 12

Pauline nodded. “As a rule that’s true, although most of us return when we’r older. There’s something about this place that calls us back. Saria comes from one of the seven oldest families in the area. They almost never leave the swamp even if they work away from it. Remy, her oldest brother, works as a detective in New Orleans. All of her brothers served in the military and most work on the river, but they always come home.” She looked at him directly, imparting the knowledge as a warning. “She has five brothers.” “Big families around here,” he commented, showing confidence. “Is it unusual for the children to come back to the swamp after they go to school?” Drake asked as he followed her, committing the layout of the large house to memory. “I think most young people think there’s something better for them. Certainly they want more,” Pauline said. “Life in the swamp can be hard. They all get educations and move away, like I said.” “With the exception of families like Saria’s?” He kept his voice casually interested. Pauline frowned a little as she thought about it. “The seven families that live closest together seem to always come home,” she admitted. “As far back as I can remember, they’ve done that—gone away to school and come back. The children take over their parents’ businesses and lifestyle right here in the swamp. My sister, Iris, married into the Mercier family, and her children, Armande and Charisse, both went to college and returned. I never had children so my nephew and niece are very special to me—as is Saria. Charisse is extremely talented.” Her voice tinged with pride. “She and her brother own the perfume shop in New Orleans together, but Charisse actually makes the perfume and sends it all over the world. The shop has become a tremendous success because of her talent. Still, they live in the Mercier family home rather than town.”
“Instead of living in New Orleans itself?” Pauline nodded. “Remy, Saria’s brother, is a detective with the police force and he always stays in their family home. I was so surprised by them. Charisse in particular used to say she couldn’t wait to get out of here to a city. The families are very close, but as I said, it’s a difficult way of life.” “I can imagine,” Drake said, infusing admiration in his voice. He had grown up in the rain forest and understood the need to stay in the wild. The Louisiana swamp was as wild as the local leopards could find. “Seven families? Are you part of one of those families?” She wasn’t leopard. He would have known. At her age, her leopard would have emerged already, but it was a way to keep her talking. Pauline opened the door to the dining room with its gleaming floors and polished table. “Oh, no, but I’ve certainly known them all for years. They’re very tight-knit. They participate in the get-togethers, but as a rule they stay to themselves. They’re pretty isolated.” That made sense. Leopards, animal or shifter, as a rule were elusive and very secretive. Seven families would make this a large lair for such a small area. “Which seven families?” Curiosity edged his voice, a deliberate attempt to lure her into talking more. “Names are so intriguing here.”“Let’s see. Boudreaux of course. Lanoux, Jeanmard, Mercier, Mouton, Tregre, and the Pinet family. I think they all date back to the first settlers here.” Drake took the punch in his gand breathed his way through it without showing a reaction. Tregre? He knew that name. He knew a woman from his own lair who had married a man with that last name. She’d come home a widow, with her son, Joshua. The same Joshua who was now employed on the Bannaconni ranch as a bodyguard to Jake’s wife, Emma. Joshua had never said a word to any of them about a connection to a family in the Louisiana area. Did he even know his father was from the Louisiana swamps? Joshua was part of the team Jake would send to back him up. Could he be trusted if he had to bring justice to his own kin? Why had Elaina come home? He remembered her well. She’d gone to school in the States, married, and then a few years later, Joshua had been about four or five, had returned to the Borneo rain forest and her family. No one had mentioned Joshua’s father. Elaina had never remarried. The web was becoming more tangled with each passing moment. Drake climbed the stairs to his room after bidding the innkeeper goodnight and assuring her he wouldn’t need to eat until early morning. The first thing he did was contact Jake Bannaconni on his satellite phone. “We’ve definitely got a situation here, Jake,” Drake greeted. “I have no idea how large it is yet, but there’s a shifter lair here.” There was a small silence as Jake Bannaconni digested the information. “You safe?” “For the moment. I expect a visit tonight. They know I’m here and they know I’m leopard. They aren’t going to want me sniffing around their territory, and if it comes out why I’m here, I’m certain none of them are going to be welcoming.” “Have you figured out who wrote the letter to me?” Jake asked. “Not yet, but the way it was worded, so carefully, yet implying they knew of shifters, it has to be someone in one of seven families. I’ve met my guide and the innkeeper, but they don’t seem to have a clue about the shifters, although I can’t really tell with either of them for certain. Your great-grandfather had to have known. He leased them his lands.”
“Jake Fenton was a man who played his cards close to his chest,” Jake said. “He was careful what he said to me, but he left me the properties and my guess was, he expected me to protect those people.” “Not if one of them has turned killer, Jake,” Drake cautioned. “What did you know of Jake Fenton? Who was he?” “He was my mother’s grandfather. I asked him straight out once if he could shift and he said no. He admitted his family had deliberately tried to find women carrying the shifter genetics in order to produce a child who could shift. They were looking for a child who could find oil.” “Like you.” “Like me, but they didn’t know what they had. My great-grandfather suspected I was a shifter,” Jake said, “but I didn’t ever admit it to him. He was the one who suggested I go to Borneo and seek out my people to learn about them.” “Did he ever suggest you come to Louisiana? Or reference this area in a conversation about shifters?” Drake prompted. There was a small silence as Jake pulled up the memories of his talks with his great-grandfather. They had been few and far between and Jake had been young and very guarded. “I don’t recall that he ever mentioned shifters in conjunction with Louisiana. He knew there was oil there. He bought the lumber companies out, not for the lumber, but for the oil,” Jake explained. “I haven’t spent a lot of time exploring there. In all honesty it wasn’t on my list for another two years. I continued the leases. Fenton seemed to be friends with seven or eight families there and has given them the use of the land for hunting, fishing and trapping.” “Can you get me the names of the families?” Drake asked. “I can compare the names on the leases with the families I suspect are shifters. I’ll bet my last dollar each family leasing the land from your great-grandfather is shifter. There seems to be a very real lair here. Sooner or later their leader will have to come out into the open. First he’ll send his soldiers. Once he identifies himself, I can find out where this lair comes from.” “I don’t like the sound of that, Drake.” “I’ve handled worse. What do you know of Joshua’s family?” There was a small silence. He’d managed to shock the unshockable Jake Bannaconni. “You vouched for him. That was good enough for me.” There was caution in his voice. “His last name is Tregre, one of the family names I suspect is on the lease. His mother brought him home to her family in the rain forest, so he may not even know them, but it’s worrisome.” “Do you want me to question him?” “No. I’ve known Joshua most of his life. He wouldn’t betray us. His loyalty isn’t in question, but then it might not be best for him to come here. I wouldn’t want to put him in a position of choosing family  over his team.”