Beauty and the Bayou
Boys of the Bayou Book 3
copyright 2019 Erin Nicholas
“Nailed. Pounded. Drilled.”
Sawyer Landry stopped with his hand on the doorknob to his office and turned at the sound of a male voice. He didn’t see anyone and it sounded like the voice was coming from around the corner of the building.
“Don’t forget hammered and banged.”
He also didn’t recognize that female voice. It wasn’t Kennedy, Maddie, or Tori. There weren’t many other females who’d be down here at this time of day. Sawyer scowled and headed around to the dock. Who the hell was here at seven in the morning? Was someone here early for their boat tour? Or were there some teenagers making out down here on the dock where they didn’t think they’d be caught?
“Of course, there are also terms like pole and shaft and good old tool if you want to go with nouns versus verbs,” the guy said.
The woman laughed. “Why are there so many sexual terms that are also construction terms?”
“Well, building is hot and dirty.”
Sawyer’s scowl deepened. He didn’t see anyone on the benches outside their main building where the tourists gathered to wait for their airboat and swamp boat tours, but the voices were coming from over here for sure.
“Come on, you have to stretch,” the guy said a moment later.
“I’m trying. It’s too long.”
“Use your other hand.”
“I can’t. I need that one right there.”
“How bad do you want it?” the guy asked her.
“Bad,” she said. “But I might need to get someone else to do it.”
“Hey, there’s only so much I can do from here.”
Sawyer stepped around the last row of benches and saw…not what he’d been expecting to see.
A woman was lying on her stomach, hanging off the edge of the dock, reaching under the boards with one hand, while gripping the railing with the other to keep from pitching over the edge.
She was dressed in dark green hip waders—tall rubber boots that covered not just the feet and lower leg but went all the way up to the hips—and a bright orange life jacket. There was also a bright yellow hard hat beside her on the dock.
“A little more,” the man’s voice said. From underneath the dock.
Sawyer had no idea what was going on.
He was, however, aware that this was the first time he’d stopped to admire a woman’s ass in about nine months. The space between the top of the woman’s boots and the lower edge of the life jacket framed the magnificent curve of a denim-covered ass that stopped him in his tracks. Literally.
Not a bad way to start a Monday morning.
But fine ass or not, there was a stranger lying on his dock, dangling over the edge, doing…he had no idea what. He didn’t know what to think of her outfit and the hard hat, either. Was she here to go fly fishing? Boating? Build something? She seemed dressed for all three. Her conversation about pounding and nailing came back to him, and Sawyer was proud of the fact that his gaze only lingered on her ass for another millisecond.
“What the hell is going on?”
“Eeep!” The woman gave a startled little scream and jerked.
The motion started her body sliding forward, headfirst off the edge of the dock, her hand slipping on the railing where she was holding on. Or trying to.
Sawyer instinctively took a huge step forward and grabbed for the first thing he could get a hold of—the back waistband of her shorts.
He pulled her up, sliding her until she was completely on the dock. There was a moment where they both just paused. Then suddenly she rolled to her side and pushed up onto her knees. The move, with his hand still tucked in the back of her shorts, brought Sawyer down onto one knee. The perfect level for her to throw her arms around his neck. Apparently.
She squeezed him tightly as she gushed in his ear, “Oh my God, thank you!”
Sawyer simply couldn’t move. He hadn’t been expecting anything about her reaction. Hell, he hadn’t been expecting anything about her. He found himself frozen with her pressed against him, gripping his neck tightly. And his fingers against the bare skin of her lower back below her life jacket. Her silky, warm bare skin.
“Juliet!” the male voice called from down below them. “Are you all right? What the hell happened?”
The woman pulled back and looked up at Sawyer for a moment. Then she blew out a breath and gave him a half smile. “Thank you for saving me.” She unwound her arms from around his neck and started to sit back on her heels.
But his hand was still tucked into the back of her shorts and that kept her pressed against him. Surprise and awareness flickered in her huge, brown eyes and Sawyer realized he hadn’t been hugged by a woman other than his mother and grandmother in months. It had a lot to do with the fact that he bit the heads off of most of the women—okay, most of the people—around him on a regular basis.
Suddenly he pulled his hand from the shorts and sat back. The woman did the same, taking a deep breath.
Was her heart pounding because she’d nearly pitched over the edge of the dock and gone headfirst into the mud below? Or was it because being pressed up against him had done something to her libido like it had his?
Did it matter?
He didn’t even know who the hell she was, and she was trespassing.
“You shouldn’t just go around hugging strange men.” He pushed to his feet.
She scrambled to stand as well and took a big step back. “Oh, wow, you’re totally right. I just…reacted. Sorry about that.”
For a second, Sawyer lost track of what they’d been talking about.
This woman had more than a gorgeous ass. She was stunningly beautiful from the front, too. Even in a bright orange life jacket.
She also smelled like lilacs.
He realized that he’d gotten a huge whiff of her scent when she’d been in his arms. It had to have only been a few seconds, and he’d been a lot more focused on the skin against his fingers. But yeah, she smelled like lilacs.
That didn’t seem to fit now that he took her all in. She had long dark hair streaked with red and gold, skin that was a warm beige, and the biggest brown eyes he’d ever seen. She also had curves. Really, really nice curves. Even in her goofy outfit, it was impossible to miss the generous breasts, flared hips, and gorgeous ass. Okay, he couldn’t see that ass now, but he remembered it. Well.
The hip waders didn’t fit her. She was short and the tall boots were loose on her, causing a gap at the top that gave him more than a glimpse of the smooth, fawn-colored skin of her thighs.
Cinnamon. If she smelled like cinnamon, that would fit. No, cardamom. And yes, he knew what cardamom smelled like. His grandmother and her best friend cooked and baked constantly, for family and for a living. This girl definitely should have smelled spicy rather than flowery.
And that might have been the stupidest thing he’d ever thought in his life.
But she was checking him out, too. Her eyes ran over him from head to toe. There was six feet and four inches of him to go over, and it took her a little longer than it had taken him to scan her five-foot-five or so. Or maybe she was just taking her time.
He let her. He was a stranger. They were alone. In a new-to-her place. She should be sizing him up.
Or maybe he just liked her eyes on him.
He noted that she didn’t study the scar that ran from the corner of his mouth, up over his cheek, to his hairline. She didn’t avoid looking at it, either. She’d taken it in like she’d looked over his shoulders and hair and boots. Like it was just a detail to catalog.
He hadn’t even thought of being with a woman since the accident that had caused that scar, and he was shocked by the urge to flirt—or step close and catch this woman’s mouth in a kiss—that shot through him now. Hell, did he even remember how to flirt?
Finally, after the silent perusal had stretched a little beyond two people just meeting for the first time and nothing more, he pushed all of those thoughts away and propped his hands on his hips. “I was talking about you,” he told her.
Yeah, he wasn’t upset about the way she threw herself into his arms after he’d saved her. He could use a little more appreciation for the things he did to keep people safe around here, as a matter of fact. Sawyer shook his head. That was a whole other, ongoing issue that had nothing to do with this here and now.
“Getting up close and personal with a guy who just walks up on you suddenly when no one else is around could be damned dangerous.” As he spelled it out for her, he realized just what a great point that really was. He frowned. “Seriously, you shouldn’t be down here alone. What the hell are you doing? What if you’d fallen off the dock and no one was here?”
She glanced at the railing. “I knew I should have tied myself to the post.”
Sawyer blinked at her. “What?”
“I thought about tying a rope around my waist and around that post.” She pointed to the upright that supported the corner of the roof that extended over the dock on this side to provide shade. “That way if I slipped, that would have kept me from going over.”
“Or it could have ended up wrapped around your neck with you still hanging over the edge,” Sawyer said with a scowl. “Or it could have slipped down and ended up around your ankle and you could have gone over the side and then swung back and whacked yourself against the dock underneath.” He could see those scenarios plain as day in his mind and his scowl deepened. It took him a second to focus on her again and realize that she’d gone a little pale. “Hey, you okay?” he asked. Was she going to pass out? Shit, what would he do then? He supposed he’d carry her over to Ellie’s, his grandmother’s place. Everyone would be there having breakfast.
He stepped forward. He needed to keep her from crumpling to the floor and whacking her head that way first, he supposed.
She took a step back.
Sawyer frowned and stepped forward again.
She held up a hand to stop him. “What are you doing?”
“Making sure I’m close enough to catch you if you faint.”
She swallowed. “I’m not going to faint. I don’t think,” she added.
Sawyer sighed. “I really need to you not to faint.”
Her eyes widened. “You need me not to faint?”
He nodded. “I really don’t want to explain you and”—he looked around—“this. And if I have to carry you, unconscious, into my grandma’s bar, I’m going to have to explain. And I don’t even know who you are or what you’re doing here.”
“Well, if you don’t want me to get woozy, you have to stop talking about how I could have strangled myself or given myself a serious concussion.”
“But you could have,” he said simply. It was a fact.
She nodded. “Yeah.”
Sawyer cocked an eyebrow. He wasn’t used to people agreeing with him when he did his worst-case-scenario thing. Mostly people rolled their eyes. Sometimes they argued with him. Sometimes they tried to reassure him. The only thing he wanted and liked, however, was when people said, “You’re right. I’ll be careful.” That was all he wanted in life. Well, and for people to actually be careful.
The bayou wasn’t a place to fuck around. There were a lot of things that could be dangerous here. From the insects, snakes, and animals to the sun, weather, and the bayou itself. Drowning was a possibility out here just like it was around any body of water. His brother, sister, and cousins had all grown up down here. They should know what they were doing. They should know what precautions to take and what to do if something happened. But he’d lost a friend who’d known the bayou like the back of his hand, and Sawyer had since become obsessed with keeping everyone else safe.
He knew others used the word obsessed. He owned it. He didn’t care what they thought. As long as everyone stayed safe, they could think he was an asshole or a kook.
That included this woman.
“So how do I get down there?” she asked, moving toward the railing and looking over.
“Down there? Under the dock?” he asked. “You don’t. You keep your sweet ass right up here.”
She glanced at him quickly. Probably because of the “sweet ass” comment. Oh, well, she could think he was a sexist pig or that he was hitting on her. Again, he didn’t care. As long as she really did keep her sweet ass up here.
“I dropped my phone down there,” she said after a second.
“Too bad.” He shrugged.
She frowned. “Too bad? I can’t just leave my phone down there.”
“Well, there’s no way to get it.”
“I can’t climb down there somehow?” she asked, looking around. “I could climb down the bank there.” She pointed to the rise behind the muddy, grassy bank.
“No, you can’t.”
“You might slip and fall in.”
She swallowed hard but said, “I have hip waders and a life jacket on.”
He looked her up and down, this time not trying to hide it. She’d practically invited him to. “Why do you have hip waders and a life jacket on? And a hard hat?”
“Because I thought I might need to wade into the water or walk through mud.”
“You don’t know how to swim?”
“Isn’t it always safer to have a life jacket on around water?”
Sawyer opened his mouth. Then snapped it shut. Having a life jacket on around water was, of course, safer than not having one on. That was just common sense.
He supposed he was used to a lack of common sense around here.
He and his brother, Josh, and cousin, Owen, owned and operated one of the most popular tourist attractions outside of New Orleans. Boys of the Bayou Swamp Boat and Fishing Tours offered airboat tours as well as fishing and hunting expeditions. They took hundreds of strangers out on the bayou every week. The majority of those people had never been to the bayou before and had very little practical knowledge of things like alligators and snakes, and many had a surprising lack of knowledge of boat and water safety. At least in Sawyer’s estimation. Added to that, the fact that many of the groups were bachelor and bachelorette parties, fraternity and sorority groups, spring break revelers, and other similar gatherings, who had decided to step out of New Orleans for a little more unique experience, there was also a general party air—and often blood alcohol levels above “totally sober”—that contributed to people not taking his safety talks as seriously as they should.
His family and other people in Autre, Louisiana didn’t take things as seriously as Sawyer would like, either. They’d grown up here and thought they knew everything. But familiarity led to complacency and a feeling of invincibility that could be damned dangerous.
That’s what had happened to Tommy.
A shaft of pain went through him, as it often did when he thought of Tommy, his business partner and best friend. He and Tommy Allain had been inseparable since they’d been born. Their grandfathers and fathers had been best friends, too. They hadn’t really had a choice but to like one another, but it had worked out that they’d had everything in common and disagreed on nothing that a bottle of whiskey and some fishing couldn’t fix.
Most days, he still couldn’t believe Tommy was gone. It had been nine months but it hadn’t gotten less painful. The only thing that felt better was the gash on his face and even that still twinged sometimes.
So yeah, Sawyer overreacted when it came to safety.
He didn’t give a fuck how everyone else felt about that.
“And the hard hat?” he asked when he couldn’t come up with anything else to say about her life jacket.
She lifted her chin. “I think head protection is incredibly important at all times.”
Okay, that was a weird answer. Who thought about head protection “at all times”?
But damned if he didn’t like it.
He was the last guy to fault someone for being prepared. Even overly prepared.
He realized that he really liked that this gorgeous creature was also cautious.
Was he developing a little fetish for protective wear? Well, that was fucking weird. But he supposed there were worse things.
“So why can’t I go down there with all of this on?” she asked, waving her hand down her body to indicate everything she was wearing.
“There are cotton mouths down there.” It was true. He’d burned one nest, but there was a good chance there were more. One thing they were never short on down here was critters.
Her brown eyes widened. “Those are snakes, right?”
“Yep. Nasty ones. Very poisonous.”
“Damn,” she breathed. “I didn’t look up snakes.” She squinted up at him. “Can they bite through rubber boots like these?”
He eyed her footwear. No, they probably couldn’t. But he didn’t like the idea of her tromping around where those fuckers might be. “What if you slip and fall on one and it bites your arm?” he asked.
Her arms were bare. She was clearly wearing a tank under the life jacket. There was a lot of exposed skin.
Smooth, silky, tan skin…
“Ugh.” She looked like she was going to be sick. “Yeah, okay, I’m not going down there.”
A really strange, surprisingly strong surge of satisfaction went through him. Someone was listening to him. Someone was believing him when he said something wasn’t safe. Damn, that felt good. He didn’t have to argue, or get firm, or glare. She just said, “Yeah, okay.”
He could get used to that.
“Who was the guy on the phone?” Why did he care? Did it matter? Not even a little.
He just liked her. Yeah, the brown eyes and curves were part of it. Of course they were. But he also liked her because she was wearing a hard hat. And listening to him. That second thing for sure. But the hard hat was something. It was overkill. Who needed a hard hat on when walking around on a dock? Even if you were leaning over the edge of it? But overkill with safety was okay with him.
God help him if she ever put safety goggles on.
“Brandon.” Then she lunged for the railing as if just remembering about her phone and the guy on it. “Brandon! Oh my God, he’s probably so worried.”
Sawyer leaned to look over the edge, too. Her phone was upright, lodged in the mud, the screen now dark. “You’ll have to call him back on my phone or something.”
“I don’t know his number!” she exclaimed.
“I just tap on his name and it dials.”
“You don’t know your boyfriend’s number?” He was absolutely fishing for information with that question.
She looked up at him with an eyebrow arched.
Ah, she knew he was fishing.
He didn’t care.
“He’s my client, actually,” she said when he just met her gaze and waited. “And my friend.”
“I’m an attorney,” she told him. “I helped him with a couple of things. Now he’s helping me.”
“Helping you what?” Suddenly Sawyer remembered that he had no idea what she was doing here. On his dock. Before business hours. Acting startled that he’d shown up. “What are you doing here anyway?”
“I was showing Brandon the dock. The underside of it, actually, when you snuck up on me and scared me and made me drop my phone.”
Oh, he was on to her already. Even if she hadn’t told him she was an attorney, he was used to people turning arguments around on him and saw right through it. His sister was great at it. And she’d learned from his grandmother. Ellie Landry was good at a lot of things—guilt trips for one—but admitting she was wrong was not one of them.
“Why did Brandon need to see the underside of my dock?”
“Because he—” She paused and frowned. “Wait, your dock?”
“Yes. My dock,” he said. “So not only did I save your pretty neck from going over the edge and possibly ending up paralyzed, but you’re also trespassing, and I haven’t called the cops. You owe me twice.”
“Paralyzed?” she repeated.
He nodded. “If you’d gone headfirst, you could have suffered a serious spinal injury. Your hard hat, which you weren’t even wearing, might not have protected you. Just the right angle and—”
“Okay,” she broke in. “Okay. You’re right.”
Yep, he really liked those last two words she’d said. The chances of her becoming paralyzed were probably slim, but it was a possibility.
“Why did Brandon need to see under the dock?” Sawyer repeated. He was very familiar with Kennedy redirecting conversations she didn’t want to have.
“Just to confirm the design and materials. I’ve looked most of it up, but he’s done construction before—not docks, but he’s done a couple of decks and other stuff. Decks and docks are very similar in construction.”
Well, yeah. Okay. But… Sawyer stared at her. What the hell was she talking about? “Design and materials for what?”
Instead of answering, she dropped to her knees. “Hold my feet.” She got down on her stomach and scooted to the edge of the dock, ducking her head under the bottom rail.
Sawyer looked down at her. And blinked.
There was a long pause, then she looked back at him. “Hold. My. Feet,” she said again. Slowly. As if he was stupid.
Frankly, he was feeling kind of stupid. “What for?” he asked, definitely sounding stupid, too.
She looked over the edge of the dock. “If you hold my feet and lower me over the edge, then I won’t fall in the water or step on snakes or strangle myself or whack my head or paralyze myself. Then you can pull me back up.”
She thought she was going to hang from the dock with him holding her ankles and actually reach her phone? Even if that was possible, which it was not, he was a complete stranger. She was just going to trust him to hold her ankles and pull her back up?
“No way,” he said simply.
She looked back. “Why not?”
“That will never work.”
“You are really big.” She winced. “I mean you look really strong. I think you could do it.”
Sawyer felt something happening that hadn’t happened in a while. At least not on a regular basis. He felt the urge to laugh.
“What if your boots slip off?” he asked. “I’ll be up here holding empty boots and you’ll be down there with the snakes. Hopefully not paralyzed.”
“Dammit,” she muttered. She sat up and started to push one boot down.
It took Sawyer a second to stop her. She was baring more of that smooth tan skin after all. He didn’t dwell on the fact that women came down here in shorts every single day, and he hadn’t felt distracted like this in a long time.
Still, he wasn’t going to hold her by her bare ankles off the edge of the dock, either.
“Even if I could pull you back up”—she was petite. He was sure he could pull her back up if she was hanging off the edge of the dock—“you still wouldn’t be able to reach that far down. The phone’s gone, darlin’. Let it go.”
She stopped with the boot, looked back down at the mud below, and sighed. She put her forehead on her bent knee. “Of course it is,” she muttered.
“Tell me about Brandon’s need for design and materials for my dock.”
She tipped her head back, staring up at the exposed wooden beams overhead. “We’re going to rebuild the dock.” Then she frowned at him. “And how is this your dock?”
He moved closer so he could look down at her directly. “I own it.”
“No. Wait.” She glanced over his left shoulder at the sign that hung on the side of the building. “The Landrys own Boys of the Bayou, right? Well, and Bennett. And Maddie is kind of like a Landry. Am I on the wrong dock?”
Sawyer felt trepidation trickle down his spine. She knew his partners’ names.
Hot on the heels of the suspicion, however, was resignation. Mixed with frustration. What had they done?
He owned thirty-five percent of the Boys of the Bayou. What the fuck was this woman doing here, knowing all four of his partners, without him having a clue about what was going on?
“I’m Sawyer Landry,” he said, his tone firm and don’t-fuck-with-me. “Josh is my brother. Owen is my cousin. Maddie is a family friend. Bennett is our newest partner.”
Juliet’s brown eyes grew rounder. “You’re Sawyer Landry?”
“Yes.” The majority partner, thank you very much. The other four each owned about half the amount he did. Bennett and Maddie each had seventeen and a half percent, while Josh and Owen each owned fifteen.
“Wait, you’re…working here. You’re around?” Juliet asked, breaking into Sawyer’s thoughts.
“Clearly,” he said. Then he frowned. “Why wouldn’t I be around?”
“Well, I read the brochure and everything online, but I guess I assumed you were older and retired or something? I mean…why weren’t you at the meeting? And why are you acting like you know nothing about me being here?”
Sawyer lifted a brow. “Because I don’t know anything about you being here.”
“They didn’t tell you about me?”
“I think I would have remembered mention of a gorgeous brunette comin’ down here to give me a hard time,” Sawyer told her.
She looked startled by the “gorgeous” bit—which was ridiculous because this woman’s gorgeousness was like the bayou being muddy…it just was. But she quickly recovered.
“So why weren’t you at the meeting?”
“The meeting in New Orleans last week where we set this all up.”
His four partners—two of whom were blood relation and one of whom he liked better than almost all of his blood relation put together—had met with this woman last week and hadn’t told him? What the fuck was going on?
“Why don’t you tell me what you think y’all set up?” Sawyer asked. “And we’ll go from there.”
“I don’t think we set it up. We did set it up,” she said firmly as she got to her feet. “I’m Juliet Dawson.”
Sawyer just looked at her.
“Dawson,” she repeated. “I’m Chase Dawson’s sister.”
Okay, there was a tiny niggle at the back of Sawyer’s mind with that name.
“Chase Dawson. The dumbass who did that.”
Juliet pointed down the dock to the end that had been busted up when a bunch of stupid frat boys had taken an airboat out for a spin—uninvited and untrained—and realized too late that airboats don’t have brakes. Thanks to Owen and Maddie, they’d jumped off the boat at the last minute before the boat had crashed into the dock, but the boat had been totaled and the dock smashed to pieces.
Sawyer frowned at her. “You’re the kid’s sister?”’ he asked, disbelief rocking through him. Then anger. “The kid who could have killed his friends? Who could have killed my friends? And himself?” Sawyer took a step forward. “The kid who decided that because I’d thrown him and his drunk buddies off one of my tours, that they could come down here and steal a boat?” He took another step. “And drive it down the bayou? Then take out one of my docks and set me back on the tours that my partners and I need to making a fucking living?”
He was definitely shouting by the end of his tirade, and he realized he was now towering over her.
To Juliet’s credit, she didn’t shrink away. In fact, she stood straighter and faced him squarely. She nodded. “Yeah. That’s him. The dumbass.”
Sawyer blinked at her again. Not because of those brown eyes—though they went beautifully with her full lips, which were impossible to ignore now that he was nearly on top of her—but because she looked truly sorry. She wasn’t sticking up for her brother. She was acknowledging what had happened. And she wasn’t scared of Sawyer.
He was a big guy, with a deep, loud voice. He was intimidating when he got pissed. He knew that. He didn’t get pissed that often, but— Okay, that wasn’t entirely true. Over the past nine months, he got pissed off on a daily basis. Not to mention worried. But he’d been a nice guy before that. Laid-back, even.
“Why are you here?” he asked her, propping his hands on his hips.
He wasn’t trying to make her nervous, exactly. But if he could get some answers, and get her off his dock, he’d be happy. Or at least not as pissed off.
Why did he have the sense that he needed to get her off of his dock? And then far, far away? He wasn’t sure. There was just something about her that made him think this is going to complicate my life.
There was no specific reason for that feeling. Except that his four partners had been conspiring behind his back, and just looking at this woman made him forget what he’d been about to say.
“To make up for what Chase did.”
He blinked at Juliet. Again. Fuck. Then he looked down at her feet. “Not sure why you need hip waders to write a check.”
“No, I’m—” She blew out a breath and stepped forward as she reached out. “Let’s just stop this.”
Her tiny hands encircled his wrists and pulled his hands from his hips. It was likely the surprise at her moving into his personal space—something not many people had done in the past few months, for fear of getting bitten probably—or the shock at her touching him that enabled her to move him. He was clearly much stronger than her. But his arms dropped easily to his sides as he stared down at her.
“There. Much better.” She tipped her head to look up at him, and not stepping back. “You don’t need to be all angry and defensive.”
Sawyer felt both of his brows arch. “Excuse me?”
“I’m not your enemy and I’m not here to fight with you.”
Her breasts brushed his stomach as she took a deep breath, and Sawyer felt his body tighten. What had she just said? Something about fighting with him? He honestly had no idea suddenly. He took a big step back. But his hands stayed at his sides.
“I’m also not here to write a check,” Juliet told him. “Chase and I are going to rebuild the dock for you.”
That also made no sense, but Sawyer wasn’t sure if it was because of what she’d said or because of her breasts.
“You are going to rebuild the dock?” he repeated. Was that what she’d said?
The lilacs and brown eyes and breasts…what the hell was going on? He needed to get his shit together.
“I am. With my brother.”
“As in, with your own two hands?”
Sawyer’s eyes flickered to the hard hat on the dock behind her. “Are you in construction?” What were the chances that the guy who had trashed his dock actually knew something about construction? Not very damned likely. That just wasn’t how Sawyer’s luck had been working lately.
“No,” Juliet confirmed.
Yeah, he’d figured. He sighed. “Then why would you rebuild the dock?”
“Because when you mess something up, you should be the one to try to fix it,” she said. “Chase needs to do this.”
All right, Sawyer could respect that. He agreed with making reparation for the things you did wrong. But he really wanted this dock to be, well, functional. Solid. Usable. “Why would I let you rebuild my dock when you and your brother have no clue how to actually do that?”
“Because you need your dock rebuilt,” she said. “And you shouldn’t have to use your time and money to do it.”
“Yeah, well, that’s all true.”
“So, we’re going to pay for the materials and take care of everything.”
“No offense, Ms. Dawson,” Sawyer said in a tone that he knew conveyed clearly that he didn’t really care if she was offended. “But I’d really like to have a professional rebuild my dock. I’m all for you payin’ for it to assuage your guilt though.”
She frowned. “Chase won’t learn anything from that.”
“It’s not my job to teach Chase things.”
“No, but it’s my job,” she said. “My little brother will not turn into an entitled asshole, Mr. Landry. He will be getting his hands dirty, developing some blisters, sweating through his favorite designer T-shirt to rebuild the dock that he helped demolish. He doesn’t get to steal your boat, endanger everyone around him, and destroy your property without any repercussions.”
Damn, this woman was beautiful. Even more so when she was agreeing with him about avoiding snake bites and concussions. But she was downright gorgeous when she was riled up and impassioned about something. And it was clear she was impassioned about this.
It also happened to be something he agreed with.
“I appreciate everything you’re saying, Ms. Dawson,” Sawyer said, wondering how he’d gone from having his hand tucked in her shorts to Mr. and Ms. He really did appreciate what she was saying. He supported the general idea. Just not when it came to his dock. “But I can’t let a spoiled frat boy rebuild the dock I need to have fully functional and completely sound for my business.”
“I understand that,” she said quickly. “I take safety very seriously. Brandon is one of the best, and I’ve done a ton of research and I’ve got some guys lined up from here to help and—”
“You’ve got guys from here lined up to help?”
“Yes. A Mitch and Leo? I emailed a Kennedy about it and she said she’d find some local guys who could help.”
“Okay, that’s it,” Sawyer said. He needed to yell at someone but even he, who really wasn’t picky about who he yelled at these days, knew that he couldn’t yell at Juliet. She was here with good intentions. Crazy intentions but good. Seriously, though, how the hell did this little woman, who thought she could video chat with someone to figure out “design and materials,” think she was going to rebuild a functional boat dock? That was ridiculous. “Let’s go.” He turned on his heel and started in the direction of his grandmother’s bar.
The main culprits would be there. Owen and Josh, Maddie and Tori, and freaking Kennedy, who had lined up their cousin Mitch—who could actually be helpful—and their grandfather Leo who, while seeming much younger than his seventy years, was a troublemaker and would spend his time telling stories, most of which would be tall tales, drinking sweet tea, and flirting with Juliet rather than actually building anything.
“Wait, go?” Juliet called after him. “Where are we going?”
He turned back. “Well, at least you’re asking questions before going off with some strange guy.”
She gave him a look. “You had just saved me,” she said. “The adrenaline was rushing and I just reacted. I don’t go around spontaneously hugging strange men.”
“I’m not complainin’,” he told her. Having her up against him had been the best part of his day. The day hadn’t been going on for very long, but he knew that wasn’t going to change. “But I’m glad you’re acting at least slightly skeptical.”
“So, are you going to tell me where we’re going?”
“We’re going to get my partners and my employee”—oh yeah, he was going to remind his baby sister that she worked for him—“to admit that this was all just a big joke they’re pulling on me.”
He nodded. “Yeah, sorry.”
“No.” She shook her head. “This is binding. The lawyer did the mediation paperwork and everything. We committed money and two weeks’ time and labor to this.”
“That’s how long Chase has until he has to report to school.”
Sawyer sighed. It would be great if any of this made sense. “School?”
“He starts med school in two weeks. So, we’re here until then. We’ll get as much done as possible and then pay for someone to finish it. Maybe Mitch and Leo,” she said, perking up.
“No. Mitch and Leo are not going to be finishing it,” Sawyer said. Even if he thought Leo could get off his barstool before ten a.m. and not take an afternoon fishing break every day, he needed Leo and Mitch both driving the buses for Boys of the Bayou. They did the hotel pickups and drop-offs in New Orleans for all of the tourists that came down for their tours.
But two weeks was enough time to rebuild a dock. If you knew what you were doing.
“Juliet,” Sawyer said. Saying her name gave him a little jolt. It wasn’t a bad jolt. It almost felt like excitement. But it was weird. “I’m sorry that your brother is on the road to becoming an entitled asshole, but that’s not really my problem. A functioning, safe, and solid dock for my business is.”
“You don’t think that the entitled assholes in the world are kind of all of our problem?” she asked dryly.
He’d give her that. “Still, I can’t even keep myself from being an asshole, so I don’t think I can be worrying about preventing someone else from becoming one.”
“You’re an asshole?”
“You can’t tell?”
She tipped her head, studying him. “I mean, I saw a glimmer here and there, but no, not really.”
Yeah, well, she should stick around.
Except she should not stick around.
“You kept me from falling off the dock.”
“I would have done that for anyone,” he said. She didn’t need to think that he had a soft spot for her. He didn’t. Of course not. That would be ridiculous.
But she laughed lightly—and he felt that jolt again, stronger this time.
“The fact that you would save anyone from falling doesn’t make you an asshole, Sawyer.”
Damn, her saying his name was also jolt-inducing.
He cleared his throat. “Maybe you’re not a great judge of asshole-ness. Maybe your brother is fine.”
“He is fine,” she said. “But it’s a tenuous situation.”
Again, Sawyer had the urge to laugh. He shook his head. “How so?”
“My two older brothers are assholes. The guys he’s been living with and hanging out with in his fraternity are definitely assholes. Without some good influences, Chase could easily be won over to their side.”
Sawyer was startled to hear a small chuckle actually emerge from his chest. “So what? You’re tryin’ to save your little brother’s soul in two weeks’ time?”
“Something like that. But—” she added, looking just a hint shy for a moment.
“But?” he prompted.
“I need a little help.”
Sawyer didn’t want to know more about all of this. He had plenty of people to help already. Still he said, “What kind of help?” He was a Landry. He couldn’t resist getting involved in other people’s business. It was a genetic flaw for sure.
“Giving him a good influence,” she said. She shrugged. “I know it sounds pathetic and you probably think my brother is a spoiled, rich kid who…” She sighed. “He is a spoiled, rich kid. But he’s got potential. And I think that some hard work and being around guys who do actual hands-on work for a living could be good for him.”
“You don’t know anything about us.” But Sawyer couldn’t deny that her words stirred him. They did all work hard and they were all good guys—well, not him, but the other guys—who could be a good influence on a spoiled kid who’d had a pretty cushy life.
“I know that your family has owned this business for three generations. I know that you guys not only own it but actually do the work. And I know I only met Owen and Josh and Bennett and Maddie for a little bit last week, but I could tell that they really care about each other. I just thought they seemed like guys that could be good influences on Chase.”
Sawyer snorted at that. Josh and Owen as a good influence on someone? Right. They were both happier and stayed home more since Tori and Maddie were in their lives, but nothing could take all of the mischief out of a Landry boy. “My most common phrase to those two? Quit fucking around.”
She tipped her head. “But is that on them…or is that more about you?”
Sawyer lifted a brow. She thought she’d already figured him out, huh? “How about a little of both?”
She smiled, and fuck if it didn’t hit him in the gut. “But they’re hardworking guys, who run a family business in their hometown and who were willing to give my brother a chance to do the right thing. They’re about as opposite from the guys my brother hangs out with as you can get. I think it would be good for Chase to be around them. And if they’re also laid-back and like to have some fun, that’s great, too, actually. I want him to see that you can have fun without it involving platinum credit cards and yachts.”
Yeah, well, there sure as hell weren’t a lot of yachts on these waters.
She pressed her lips together, then added, “I’d love for him to see what it looks like when someone truly has your back. What real family and friends look like. From what I’ve read and seen, I think that could happen here.”
Sawyer opened his mouth to reply, but he wasn’t sure with what. She couldn’t have said anything better to get on his good side. Well, other than, “You’re right” and “I’ll do anything you say.” Those were both pretty good, too.
“How could you tell that after being around them for only an hour?” he finally asked.
Juliet shrugged. “How they talked to each other maybe? How they just were. Maddie and Bennett, too. They gave each other a hard time and didn’t hesitate to disagree, but it was clear they were a united front when it came to what was best for the business. I admire that. And I read all about the business, the history with your grandfather and his best friend starting things up, and you and Tommy taking it over and then bringing the other guys on. It’s clear there are deep roots here.”
She’d done her homework. She’d noticed the bond between Josh, Owen, and Maddie. She respected the history here, and she wanted her brother to be influenced by Josh and Owen and even Bennett—who was a good guy even if he hadn’t been raised on the bayou. Bennett had a similar respect and affection for the way they’d built and maintained the family business and kept it in their hometown, for better or worse. Josh and Owen, even Maddie and Kennedy, drove Sawyer crazy. But they did work hard. They also played and laughed and loved hard. He loved them to his bones. He knew they loved him, too, and had his back. Hell, they’d been putting up with his grumpy, grieving ass for months now.
If Juliet Dawson wanted her little brother to spend time with his little brother and cousin in an effort to make him a better guy, Sawyer couldn’t really find fault with that.
Dammit. He was intrigued by this woman. He hadn’t been intrigued by anyone or anything in a very, very long time. Maybe intrigued was a strong word for it, but she was…not irritating. And even that was something.
“Come on. I’ll buy you breakfast and we can see what my brilliant partners thought was going to happen here.”
“Just remember, I do have the hard hat.” She bent to pick it up and plopped it on her head.
She looked adorable in it.
Fuck. Adorable? He hadn’t even thought that word in months. Even about the cute kids that came for swamp boat tours. Of which there were many. But Josh and Owen kept most of those groups on their tour boats lately. Sawyer, who had once been the best one with the kids, was too fucking grumpy to deal with kids and their tendencies to bounce in their seats, stand up on the boat when they weren’t supposed to, and reach out for things they shouldn’t. He’d snapped at a few, made two cry, and Owen had taken him off kid tour duty.
It was for the best. He liked the little ones—elementary school ages—but his scar would probably scare them.
But Juliet was a little adorable and didn’t seem a bit scared of him. She also seemed like she’d stay in her seat if she was out on a boat tour. He wouldn’t have to snap at her even once.
Sawyer nodded. “The hat’s a point in your favor, I’ll admit.”
“Oh, and safety goggles.”
She did have safety goggles?
He sighed. Dammit. He might be screwed here.
Screwed. There was another building term that could also be sexual.