“There’s a girl here for you,” Kennedy said. She was frowning, but it looked more concerned than annoyed. That was unusual. To say the least. Sawyer, Owen, and Josh had been annoying Kennedy for about twenty-four years now. He wasn’t even sure what it would take to make her concerned about any of them.
“A girl?” he asked.
“Yeah.” Kennedy looked a little pained. “She was booked on the next airboat tour with Owen but she came rushing in, giving me some story about how she’d just been trying to get here no matter what and she’d booked the tour because our bus picks up at the hotels.” Kennedy rolled her eyes. “Apparently Uber seems sketchy to her, and the idea of taking a taxi by herself seemed unsafe and she didn’t have another way to get down here.”
“A girl booked one of our tours just so she could get a ride down here?” Josh asked.
Their grandpa, Leo, and their cousin, Mitch, drove the buses that went around to the hotels in New Orleans to pick up tourists and bring them to Autre for the tours. They also directed them to Ellie’s bar across the street for a pre or post tour cocktail. They both also delighted in using the time to play good old, downhome, Cajun music over the stereo system and to tell the tourists all kinds of crazy facts about living in Louisiana. Like that there is a five-hundred-dollar fine if you have a pizza delivered to someone without them knowing about it and all about the haunted Manchac Swamp Bridge.
“I guess,” Kennedy said. “And now she’s insisting she needs to talk to you. She’s been sitting on the dock waiting for you. Doesn’t want the tour with Owen.” She was clearly put out by this girl.
“I even went in and introduced myself,” Owen said. “She said no thanks.”
Josh had to laugh at the look of disbelief on Owen’s face over that fact. “Really? She’d rather wait for me than get on a boat with you? I gotta meet this girl.” Josh suddenly felt a little better about things. Tori hadn’t shown up, but some girl had booked a tour just so she could get to Autre. For him. And she’d been unimpressed by Owen. Yeah, he definitely wanted to meet her.
“Hold on there,” Sawyer said. “We’re…concerned.”
Okay, Owen thought this was funny and Kennedy was probably torn between amused and worried. But very little amused Sawyer these days, so he was obviously firmly in the concerned camp.
“A girl choosing me over Owen isn’t cause for concern,” Josh said. “I mean, come on.”
“Not that. She seems a little…off,” Kennedy said.
“Off?” Josh asked.
“We’re thinking she’s either a stalker or she’s pregnant with your baby,” Owen told him.
Josh froze. “What?”
“She’s very…jittery,” Kennedy said. “She won’t tell us what she wants to talk to you about. And even when I told her she could be waiting for three hours in the hot sun, she said fine.”
“Three hours?” Josh asked. “Where the hell did you think I was taking that last tour?” Their tours lasted about ninety minutes, maybe a little more if the gators were out and being show-offs, or if they happened to get the boat stuck in some of the lower grassy areas.
“I just told her that to try to get her to leave,” Kennedy said. She frowned at Josh. “She said she wasn’t going anywhere until she talked to you.”
“And you think she’s pregnant?” Josh asked. “Does she look pregnant?” That seemed like something that should be pretty obvious. Though he hadn’t had sex with anyone in over a year, so there was no way it was his no matter how pregnant this woman looked.
“She doesn’t,” Kennedy said. “But it could be early.”
“It’s not mine.”
“How can you be so sure?” Owen asked.
“Because I haven’t—” Okay, his brother and cousin knew that he’d been less…promiscuous over the past several months, but since he worked in New Orleans a couple of nights a week, they didn’t know for sure that he hadn’t had sex at all. They were already wondering what the hell was going on. If they knew he’d been celibate for almost a year, they’d take him to the doctor.
Or, if he gave them Tori’s name, they’d load the truck up and take him to Iowa.
Either way, they’d realize that this was a big deal. Was he ready for them to all know that Tori was a big deal?
And why was he using present tense when thinking about her? She was a big deal? Shouldn’t he be thinking in terms of she had been a big deal? It was over. She hadn’t shown up last night.
“I’m just sure,” he finally said. “If she’s pregnant, it’s not mine.”
“Then she really might want to kill you,” Kennedy said. “I gotta say, that was my first guess anyway. You made her fall in love and then never called her again or something.”
Josh frowned at his sister. “First, your faith in me is overwhelming.”
She shrugged, clearly not caring that she might have wounded him a little.
“Second, does she seem homicidal?”
He couldn’t say that he’d never pissed a woman off to the point that she might come looking for a confrontation, but he didn’t think he’d ever made anyone murderous.
“Not really,” Kennedy said. “She’s just sitting there with Gus. She didn’t want anything to drink. She isn’t even on her phone. She’s just sitting there on the dock, watching the water.”
“She’s sitting there with Gus?” Josh asked. Gus was the river otter that lived under the far Boys of the Bayou dock. He’d shown up one morning and after about a week of watching him, the guys had decided he’d either gotten lost or was orphaned. The boats coming and going kept a lot of other animals out of the immediate area and the guys let Gus stay because, well, he was cute and he entertained the tourists. He rarely got up on the dock though and he didn’t sit with people. The guys would toss him food and he didn’t run from them, but he also didn’t get too close.
Kennedy shrugged. “He climbed up on the dock and waddled over to her. He’s just sitting there by her feet.”
Wow. That was different. “What did she do?”
“She didn’t freak out or anything,” Kennedy said. “She did talk to him a little. And she kept the other people from touching him or getting too close.”
“She seems…contemplative,” Sawyer said. The oldest of the business owners, he was often the voice of reason, the calm one who naturally took charge. Quit fucking around was his favorite phrase and he said it at least once a day to Josh and Owen. Sometimes both at the same time. He was also the only one of them who would use a word like contemplative. “Not angry. Maybe a little nervous.”
“Nervous?” Josh repeated. Now he was even more curious. “So you’re all out here to protect me?”
“I got a picture of her,” Owen said, holding out his phone. “We just wanted to make sure you knew her and to give you a heads-up. Just in case.”
Josh stepped closer to Owen’s phone. And his heart kicked so hard against his ribs that he felt a little light-headed.
Tori was here.
He immediately started up the ramp to the building.
Grab it now!