#InspirationalFriday with a bit of intrigue
Midnight on the Mississippi begins the new Secrets
of the South Mysteries from bestselling author Mary Ellis.
These complex crime dramas follow an investigator's quest to
make the world a better place...solving one case at a
New Orleans--Hunter Galen, a
stock and securities broker, suspects his business partner,
James Nowak, may be involved in embezzling their clients'
money, but he's reluctant to jeopardize their friendship
based on suspicion alone. After James turns up dead, Hunter
realizes his unwillingness to confront a problem may have
cost James his life.
Nicki Price, a newly minted PI,
intends to solve the stockbroker's murder, recover the
missing millions from the client accounts, and establish
herself in the career she adores. As she ferrets out fraud
and deception at Galen Investments, Hunter's fiancee, Ashley
Menard, rubs Nicki the wrong way. Nicki doesn't trust the
ostentatious woman with an agenda longer than the
Mississippi River. Ashley seems to be hiding something, but
is Nicki's growing attraction to Hunter--a suspected
murderer--her true reason for disliking Ashley?
they encounter sophisticated shell games, blackmail, and
murder, Nicki and Hunter's only option is to turn to God as
they search for answers, elude lethal danger, and perhaps
discover love along the way.
Yacht Queen Antoinette
Somewhere on Lake Pontchartrain
“What? I still can’t hear you, James!” Hunter Galen
shouted into the mouthpiece. “Call me back in a few minutes.
I’m going on deck. Maybe the signal will be stronger.”
Ending the call, he headed for the doorway of the grand
dining salon. Around him, the birthday party was in full
swing. He glanced across a room filled with smiling faces,
assured that the party had been a great idea. His mother,
still stunning at sixty years old, was dancing with the
senior partner of the law firm that had represented Galen
business interests for years. Was something going on between
them—more than just a slow waltz between old friends? Maybe,
but he wouldn’t worry about it tonight. His mother and
everyone else were enjoying themselves. In addition to
delicious catering and plentiful libations, two bands—zydeco
and swing—provided entertainment, with even a DJ between
sets to keep the younger generation happy.
From the corner of his eye, Hunter spotted his girlfriend,
soon-to-be fiancée, clinking champagne glasses with his
sister, Chloe, and his sister-in-law, Cora. Together the
three looked like a blonde, brunette, and flaming redhead
hair color advertisement. While he watched, Ashley Menard
glanced his way, her face lighting up with a Miss Louisiana
smile. That’s what she once had been—or, at least, first
runner-up. Tall and reed slim, Ashley’s cool composure
stemmed from the belief that everything she touched would
turn to gold. And it usually did. She lifted two fingers in
a wave before refocusing on her future sisters-in-law.
“Don’t even think of getting down on one knee until you
ask Daddy,” Ashley had warned him. Daddy. Twenty-six
years old and owner of a chain of hair salons, yet she still
referred to her father with a juvenile moniker. Well, this
still was the old South, after all.
When the vibration of his phone jarred his attention from
the party, he saw on the screen that it was James again.
Sighing, he headed up the stairs for better reception. On
the promenade deck above, Hunter sucked in a lungful of
humid air and leaned over the polished teak railing. “Hello,
James,” he spoke into the mouthpiece.
“Hunter, we have to talk. This is important. I know you’re
tied up right now, but I had drinks tonight with old man
Morrison at the bank. He wants to talk to us about the
credit advance I requested. He refuses to extend the
corporate credit line until we both come to his
office. That tight-fisted—”
His colorful description of their banker became garbled as
James’s voice rose with agitation.
Shaking his head, Hunter gazed out at the dark water of Lake
Pontchartrain. A nearly full moon reflected off of the
glassy surface. Although the breeze on his skin felt cool,
his anxiety level kicked up a notch. “Don’t blame Mr.
Morrison, James. Having us both present was my idea. You’re
getting us in pretty deep. Let’s sit down tomorrow and
crunch the numbers, but I think—”
Apparently James Nowak wasn’t interested in either crunching
numbers or the financial solvency of the firm. Hunter could
hear him shouting but fortunately couldn’t discern much of
what he said. The cell phone signal waxed and waned more
than the SV Queen Antoinette in choppy waters.
“Hunter, this is no time for you—Get back here now
and—You’ve no idea who just walked in—”
“James! You keep breaking up. Let’s talk tomorrow. You know
I’m on a boat in the middle of Lake Pontchartrain at my
mother’s birthday party—”
The line went dead. Hunter probably would have tossed the
phone into the waves if his older brother hadn’t crept up
“Something wrong, little brother?” Ethan Galen spoke with
his smooth-as-cream accent. Funny how three siblings could
be raised together, yet only one, Ethan, could speak fluent
French that even a Parisian wouldn’t find fault with. Hunter
and Chloe must have spent too much time in front of the TV
instead of talking to Grandpère.
“No,” said Hunter. “Just business as usual in Galen-Nowak
Investments. If James keeps this up, we’ll have to sail the
Queen Antoinette to Costa Rica to hide from our creditors.”
He laughed with little humor.
Ethan offered a halfhearted grin. “If there’s any way I can
help, call my office in the morning. Right now Mother is
about to address her adoring fans. I didn’t think you’d want
to miss that.” He opened the vapor lock door leading back to
While Hunter had been arguing with his partner for the
one-millionth time, his family and friends—everyone in the
world he cared about—were waiting for him. “Go on down. I’ll
be right behind you.”
“Right. I’ll keep the party moving along.” Ethan studied his
brother for a moment and then ducked his head under the bulwark.
Staring at the fishing boats bobbing on the surface, Hunter
took stock of what a fortunate man he was. For the moment,
all family members were speaking to one another, he had a
gorgeous girlfriend, and he worked in a profession that
thrilled and challenged him every day. He was no ordinary
stockbroker. On behalf of his clients, he wheeled and dealed
in initial public offerings, emerging markets, real estate
investment trusts, aggressive sector funds, and volatile
stocks that would cause the average investor to faint dead
away. Fortunes were made and lost similar to a Vegas game of
Texas hold ’em. His clients weren’t senior citizens who
lived off income generated by their portfolios. Volatility,
even wild gyrations, came as no surprise to those who
trusted him and invested with his firm. Hunter loved the
game and always would. The buying and selling of securities
made his heart pound and his blood race through his veins.
With little alternative, he shook off his argument with
James and hurried back downstairs. There wasn’t a business
in the world that didn’t run into snags every now and then.
The two of them would hammer this out in the morning. Didn’t
In the main salon, Ethan had just finished his speech and
was introducing the birthday girl. Accepting the microphone
from him, Clotilde Galen looked beautiful in a peach-colored
suit and high heels. She would still be a dynamo at one
hundred, let alone a mere sixty. Hunter slipped into a seat
at Chloe and Aaron’s table.
His sister passed him a bottle of champagne and an empty
glass. “You missed the toast. Try to catch up.” She barely
glanced in his direction, her attention directed to the
Hunter filled his flute but left it alone. The heavy
fragrance of magnolia from the table arrangements was making
it hard to breathe.
“I can’t tell you what a lovely surprise this party is
tonight.” His mother’s lilting voice drifted over the guests
like a sentimental refrain. She spoke more musically than he
could sing. “Having my friends here, along with my beloved
family, my mother…” Clotilde’s voice cracked as everyone’s
attention shifted to Grandmère. Surrounded by Ethan,
Cora, their young son, and her best friend, Jeanette
Peteriere, the grand dame of the family smiled, the creases
deepening on her gentle face. When Grandmère’s
trembling fingers lifted her champagne glass in salute, the
crowd erupted with hoots and uproarious applause.
After a brief interval, Clotilde tapped the microphone with
one long fingernail. “I know not everyone could see from
where they sat, so I wanted to mention the thoughtful,
age-appropriate gifts I received from my darling children.”
More hoots, more applause. “From my little girl, Chloe, who
recently received her bachelor of arts degree at Tulane…”
Clotilde paused, knowing her audience wouldn’t pass up an
opportunity to make noise. She wasn’t disappointed.
Chloe stood, nodding and waving at her well-wishers while
her FBI agent fiancé, Aaron, grinned with pride.
Clotilde waited before continuing. “Chloe has given me a
year’s worth of classes entitled ‘Yoga for Senior Citizens’
at the community center downtown.”
She waved the embossed certificate in the air. “A full year.”
The crowd offered thunderous applause.
“And my son Ethan and his lovely Cora paid for my lifetime
membership in AARP.” She held aloft a second embossed
document. “My entire lifetime—can you imagine?”
Apparently, the guests could imagine because many began
pounding on the tabletops.
Suave and diplomatic, Ethan half stood and waved like a
visiting royal monarch, while his wife beamed with pleasure.
The corners of Clotilde’s lips turned up into a smile as she
waited again for everyone to settle down again. “As much as
I love my gifts, the best of all is having my children here
tonight. Thank you, Ethan, Hunter, and Chloe, for inviting
everyone to this lovely boat for my celebration. This was
the best birthday surprise I ever received.” Clotilde’s
voice cracked slightly on the last word, even as her
luminous green eyes filled with tears.
Kenneth Douglas, the family’s attorney and friend, offered
her a steadying arm as she stepped from the podium.
“Wait, Mom. Stay up there,” called Hunter. He scrambled to
his feet. “I haven’t given you my gift yet.”
Clotilde looked eager for the spotlight to shine elsewhere,
but she nevertheless moved back to the dais.
“Happy birthday.” He held out a brightly wrapped box.
Accepting the gift from her son, she quickly stripped off
the paper. “Fixodent adhesive,” she murmured. “Looks like
the large, family-sized box. Thank you, dear.” Clotilde
lifted it high so all could see. “I’ll keep this in a safe
place until it’s necessary. Fortunately, my teeth are all
still mine.” Again she tried to leave, but her younger son
wouldn’t allow it.“Look inside the box, Mama,” he said,
relishing the moment. Clotilde hated the endearment “Mama”
and flashed him the look that said, You’re in big
trouble, young man. But like a good sport she ripped
open the box. The crowd leaned forward in their chairs, with
several in the last row standing so they could see.
Instead of the plastic tube everyone expected, Clotilde
extracted a sheet of thick vellum festooned with fancy
calligraphy, stamps, seals, and assorted vestiges of
officialdom. She unrolled and scanned the document, reading
aloud a word here and there.
The party guests waited. Her family waited. Even Mr. Douglas
peered curiously over her shoulder.
Then her face blanched as her hand fluttered to her throat.
Finally, she stopped reading and stared at her son. “What is
this, Hunter? What is this paper talking about?” As the
fingers holding the document started to shake, the audience
“The yacht Queen Antoinette, what you referred to as a
‘boat’ a few moments ago, is your new sailing ship. Don’t
call her a boat anymore or you’ll make her mad.” Hunter
waved a hand around the elegantly appointed main cabin,
where forty guests had just finished dining. “She’s yours,
Mama. Happy birthday. The captain and crew will be a phone
call away whenever you wish to sail. They can charter her
out to help defray operating expenses while you’re abroad.”
Hunter glanced at his siblings and grinned. “Oh, by the way,
Ethan and Chloe went in with me on the gift. And the missing
tube of Fixodent is in my jacket pocket for whenever you
The crowd erupted into bedlam and rushed toward the podium,
surrounding Clotilde with noisy congratulations and best
wishes. Hunter overhead several aunts already asking to use
the vessel for upcoming showers and parties. Despite her
heels, his mother was soon lost in a sea of people. Hunter
exchanged glances with Ethan, who lifted a snifter of
bourbon in salute. Cora was trying to fight her way up
toward the birthday girl. Snuggled against Aaron’s shoulder,
Chloe grinned as the two of them whispered secrets the way
engaged couples often did.
Hunter scanned the guests for Ashley but couldn’t find her.
Usually her height in heels made it impossible for her to
hide, but she definitely was not in the room. He was about
to search for her in the galley when his cell phone
vibrated. In exasperation, he sprinted up the stairs to the
upper deck for better reception.
Once he had answered, his business partner again pleaded,
cajoled, shouted, and cursed in a staccato of fractured
phrases. But no matter where Hunter went on the ship, the
signal was too weak to decipher anything coherent. “Wait
until tomorrow, buddy. We’ll sort this out,” shouted Hunter
into the phone. “Take it easy. Nothing can’t wait until
In response he heard only the irritating sound of static.
But one thing came through loud and clear, unlike their
earlier attempt at conversation. James was begging. If not
begging, then desperate—for what, Hunter had no clue. He
stomped toward the ship’s stern, where a row of fiberglass
tenders waited to ferry late arrivals or early departures.
Fortunately, a few crewmembers lounged nearby.
“Take me back to the marina as fast as you can.” He stepped
down into the nearest boat and handed the crewman a
hundred-dollar bill. With a roar of a powerful outboard
motor, they took off without another word.
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Secrets of the South Mysteries
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