A sexy, small town, second chance romance.
Thanks to a drawn-up-while-drinking-moonshine partnership agreement, Madison Allain has to spend thirty days back on the bayou before she can sell her part of the family business.
And if the heat and humidity and freaking alligators of Louisiana aren’t enough to agitate the cool and in-control California girl, then Owen Landry, the equally hot guy who stole her heart twelve years ago, will surely do the trick.
Owen just has to remember three simple-ish rules: Do not fight with her. Do not fight over her. Do not kiss her. He can do this. He’s charming and friendly for a living after all. But this is Maddie. The only woman to ever shake up this laid-back bayou boy.
Besides, she’s not staying. No way. These people and this town make her crazy and she doesn’t want to be crazy. She definitely does not want to own a swamp boat tour company. She just wants to paint. In her quiet, beautiful, alligators-not-allowed, air-conditioned art studio.
As for that hot bayou boy? Well, he’s…amazing. But he belongs here in the South. And she definitely doesn’t. Even if her heart stays behind when she leaves.
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Owen reached around Maddie and grabbed the door handle, but just as he started to pull, she slapped her palm against it.
“Hang on,” she said.
He looked at her. They were standing really close now. His chest was millimeters from her shoulder. Her expensive perfume didn’t smell like peaches, but that didn’t mean he didn’t want to lean in and put his nose against her neck and sniff.
“You okay?” he asked her.
“They’re all in there, huh?”
“Very likely. At least a lot of ’em.” He didn’t know where else they’d be since they weren’t down on the docks or out on the airboats.
They’d done a few tours that morning, but had closed up early so Sawyer and Josh could help move furniture in and out of the room where Maddie would be staying at Cora’s. If they hadn’t, Leo would have tried to do it and would have thrown his back out. Or pretended to, anyway. He would have been bitching and moaning and hoping that Cora would feel bad and make him cornbread and beans. It was amazing the things Leo would do for Cora’s cornbread.
Owen had chosen to stay out of that, volunteering to do some extra repairs and clean-up on the boats instead. He didn’t need to be anywhere near Maddie’s bed, whether she was near it and whether it was temporary and in her grandmother’s guest room, or not.
Maddie took a deep breath. “This is going to be a big deal, isn’t it?”
“You being home?” he asked.
She shot him a glance. “Me being in Autre.”
So she wasn’t going to refer to Autre as “home?” He frowned. “That’s what I said.”
“No, you said home.”
“This is your home.”
She turned to face him more squarely. “I haven’t lived here in twelve years.”
“So? Home is home. Your roots are here.” His heart was thundering now and he felt tension squeezing the back of his neck.
She stepped back, putting more space between them. Which was probably for the best.
“My past is here,” she said. “But I only lived here for sixteen years.”
“Your family is from here.”
“Not my whole family.”
Owen shoved his hand through his hair. “You lived here longer than you’ve lived in California.”
She lifted a shoulder as if this topic were no big deal. “For now. But if you consider that I don’t remember much of my life here before age three or four, it’s almost even.”
“It’s not almost even,” he said, aware he was gritting his teeth.
She frowned, clearly noting his teeth. “Are you really going to make me say this?”
“That you don’t feel like you’re from here?” he asked.
“That I don’t want to be here. That if Tommy hadn’t died and left his share to me, I wouldn’t be here now.”
Owen took a deep breath and worked on being laid-back. He never had to work at that. Apparently Madison could still wind him up. Of course, in the past, he’d had the outlet of hot sex. Whether he was feeling possessive or they were making up after an argument, the sex had been the perfect release. Now they were on opposite sides—she didn’t want to be here and wanted to get rid of Boys of the Bayou. He needed her to not only keep Boys of the Bayou, but within twenty minutes of her being in town, he had a gut-deep need to make her want to be here. Yeah, he wanted her to like being here. To miss them. To find things here that were better than California. He didn’t just want her to agree to keep the business going. He wanted her to want to be a real part of it.
This business and his family were the center of his life. They were everything that mattered to him. And if Maddie didn’t love them and want them, that was going to eat at him.
Damn. This was getting complicated. Already.
And if he didn’t have hot sex as the way to blow off steam, he was afraid of how this might all end.
He took a breath. “Yeah, okay, yes, they’re very excited to see you. They’ve been moving furniture in and out of the extra bedroom at Cora’s, cooking up a storm, and generally worrying and planning for your visit,” he finally said.
Maddie dropped her chin to her chest and blew out a breath. “Okay, then.”
He couldn’t resist. He reached out and put a hand on her arm. He squeezed. Her head came up quickly and she met his gaze.
“It’s going to be okay,” he felt compelled to say. Because he was always compelled to comfort her and make her happy.
“A month is a long time.”
“Depends on how you look at it.”
“I look at it as thirty days surrounded by people who I haven’t known in a decade, who are slightly off their rockers, and who are now going to be doing everything they can to convince me not to sell my portion of the company they all love.”
So she’d realized this visit was intended to talk her out of selling. He should have known she’d figure that out quickly.
“Okay, that could be a long thirty days,” he agreed.
She wet her lips, seeming to hesitate for a moment. Then she said, “I’m going to need a friend. Someone on my side.”
That kicked him in the gut. Just as she’d intended. He dropped his hand from her arm. “What do you mean? Everyone here loves you.”
She lifted a shoulder at that, as if she wasn’t completely convinced. Owen tucked his hands into his front pockets to keep from reaching for her.
“I need someone to help them understand that I need to sell,” she said.
He wasn’t sure how much Sawyer had told her, but he had to be honest here. “We can’t afford to buy you out.”
“I know. I have a buyer.”
“Yeah. I heard.”
She chewed on her bottom lip, studying Owen’s face. “He’s a great fit. He wants this. He’s excited about the company. And he’s got money. A lot of it. Enough to invest and really do some big things. Expand. Advertise. Whatever Boys of the Bayou needs.”
“And you want me to convince my family that we should let a stranger come in here and be a partner?” he asked. “You have to know that’s not going to happen.”
“Please,” she said, her eyes pleading. “It’s a good idea. For everyone. I don’t want the company, he does. And you guys could use a partner who’s truly involved. And has cash.”
“We should go in.” He couldn’t handle this on his own. Because he was torn between wanting her to keep it, wanting her to feel connected here, and wanting her to be happy and get what she wanted.
This was definitely going to be a long thirty days.
Owen felt his temper spiking and he reached past her to grab the door again. “Let’s talk in thirty days. If you don’t love it here, and you don’t want to have a piece of everything here, and you don’t understand that this is about family more than it’s about money, then yeah, I’ll convince Sawyer to let you sell. I won’t want you owning even a sliver.”
She again flattened her palm against the door. “I don’t want you to be upset.”
“Then don’t sell the business.” And please go back to California, because I can’t even breathe normally when you’re here.
“That’s not fair,” she said, looking sad.
“Why are you so set on getting rid of it?” he asked crossly. He meant everything he’d said to her. If she didn’t feel her roots here, connected to this business and all the people, then he didn’t want her to have it. But the idea that she might not feel those things tore him up.
She wet her lips and then seemed to make a decision, because she lifted her chin. “I don’t like getting those monthly checks from here. It’s a monthly reminder of this whole…life. I have no idea why he left it to me and not to you guys, but not only do I not feel a connection to the business, I’m happy in California and really just want to be left alone.”
See, this was going to be hell. He’d thought the torture would be keeping his hands to himself. He hadn’t anticipated this. She didn’t want to be here. She was unhappy about being forced to come back. That made Owen want to help her get the hell away from here. Maddie being unhappy was unacceptable. Especially if it had anything to do with him. Which it did. Boys of the Bayou was his business. The only thing he was good at. The thing he was most proud of. He loved his life here. He didn’t want it to change. Someone else owning thirty-five percent of Boys of the Bayou would definitely mean change.
Thank God he wasn’t dealing with this alone. Left alone with this decision, he’d probably look into her eyes for one second too long and totally cave, letting her do whatever she wanted with the company he’d loved and helped build.
“We need to talk to Sawyer.” Without letting her respond, he jerked the door open. She was just going to have to get over her trepidation about facing the family. The sooner, the better.
Inside it was, well, normal. Which meant it was a full of people all talking at once, arguing, laughing, giving each other shit, and eating and drinking. It also meant it was kind of loud.
Maddie hung back, so Owen stepped through the door and called, “Hey, y’all.”
Ellie glanced over. “Get in here and hang that up,” she said, pointing at the WELCOME HOME banner that was drooping to the floor on one end. “Swear to God these men can’t even use Scotch tape right.”
She didn’t, however, react to seeing Maddie. Surprised, Owen looked over his shoulder to find that Maddie had stepped to the side, out of sight. She better not run. He would definitely chase her down. Throwing her over his shoulder was far too tempting.
“That’s because real men use duct tape,” Mitch, another cousin, told her.
“You can’t hang a welcome home banner up with duct tape,” Cora told him.
“Why? Guarantee it wouldn’t by lyin’ on the floor right now,” Mitch said.
“Because it doesn’t look nice then,” Cora said.
“Well, if you’re tryin’ to make this place look nice, you’re gonna need a few more banners to cover stuff up. Big ones,” Mitch said.
The other guys, including Owen’s grandpa, two uncles, and a few stray guys who were just always around, all laughed.
Ellie slapped Mitch on the back of the head.
Owen sighed and lifted his fingers to his mouth to blow out a sharp whistle.
Blessedly, everyone stopped what they were doing and pivoted to face him.
He turned around, reached around the corner, grabbed the front of Maddie’s belt and pulled her through the door. “Look what I found.”
Everyone stared. Not saying a word. For three whole seconds. Which was truly a miracle.
Then Cora cried, “Oh. My. God!”
And the whole place went wild.