Mary Jane fingered the twenties in her pocket. Her knee was protesting the day’s standing, so it was time to ice up and get off her feet. Damn it all, she was a mess, and tomorrow wouldn’t be any easier. She had oysters to bring in, plus two more beds to harvest over the course of the next few days.
Pulling that many oysters would have been a sight easier if she had a full crew, but she’d lost two hands this week. Both had cleared out their things and gone. The speed of those departures had roused her suspicions, but they hadn’t taken anything, and she’d heard no rumors about local enforcement, boyfriends, or unexpected Powerball winnings. Maybe those exits masked a sudden, inexplicable urge to see the world. Maybe not everyone was like Mary Jane. She wanted nothing more than to take her boat out and be left the hell alone, which was clearly the minority opinion.
Being alone on the bayou was the best thing that had ever happened to her. She liked the solitude, liked how there was no one to get between her and the wheel and the water. Guiding the Bayou Sweetie where she needed the boat to go was second nature, and her crew was like an extension of herself as they worked to pull in the oysters. She paid the bills and she had the connection with the bayou that she craved. Out on the water, natural law ruled, not people, and that suited her. Hell, she knew she was shy. Painfully so. Others accused her of being cold and standoffish, but she froze up around too many pairs of curious eyes and probably always would.
Problem was, no way one woman could pull in oysters fast enough. Even with Riley sticking around to help, Mary Jane needed more help. Crew was hard to find at the height of the season, though, and it looked like her luck had run dry tonight. Unless new deckhands materialized out of the woodwork, she and Riley Jones would work their asses off alone tomorrow.
So she wasn’t in the mood for any male crap when a man detached himself from the shadows. He wasn’t blocking her path, not yet, but clearly he wanted a few words. Her eyes narrowed. This close to the town’s main drag, she wasn’t worried about someone not keeping his hands to himself. Plus, she was no prize. She was dressed for work and fresh off two days pulling oysters. She was too tired and too damned dirty for dating and flirting.
She kept her head down and tried to move around the man. “Dock’s built for two, asshole.”
The rich chuckle from the shadows was plenty of warning. One big hand came towards her, wrapping carefully around her forearm. She recognized the sun-bronzed skin with the map of knife scars. That hand was large and capable—and strangely gentle. Hell. Didn’t it figure she’d run into one of the Breaux brothers here? Of course, the face that belonged to the hand was even better, and as the man slipped out of the darkness, stepping closer to her, she got a full-on look at all that male glory.
Six-plus feet of broad-shouldered Cajun manhood blocked her path. The shoulder-length hair tied back so carelessly made him look like he’d recently rolled out of bed. From the stories she’d heard, that bed would have been smoking hot, too. This man was sensually confident and infinitely knowing. Those laughing, dark eyes promised les bon temps and more between the sheets.
If she’d been in the market, which she wasn’t. Plus, he was far, far out of her league.
“You need something from me, Landry Breaux?”
He laughed again at that. Landry always did see the humor in things. She liked that about him, liked listening to him laugh as he moved about the deck of his boat. His brother, well, that one, despite the superficial similarity to Landry, was all grim and serious. Like he’d seen and done shit he couldn’t quite shake. He’d be trouble in a whole different way.
“That’s one hell of a greetin’, and you have no idea, sha.”
Her traitorous hormones leapt, telegraphing a feminine response she immediately squashed. Just because these boys were pretty didn’t mean she’d roll over for them like every other woman of their acquaintance. Ignoring his words, she peered around him into the darkness.
“You bring your sidekick?” she asked. Landry never went anywhere without his twin, Dre.
“I’m here.” The slow, dark rasp of Dre’s voice slid out of the shadows over Landry’s shoulder. Yeah. She liked that, too. Hell, she must like playing with fire. Whenever she saw the pair of brothers, she couldn’t stop the sensual fantasies unfolding in her head. Fortunately, though, she was practical. All look and don’t touch, because no way she could afford to take on one Breaux, let alone two.
And it wasn’t as if the pair of them was interested in her anyhow.
The six Breaux brothers had a fishing camp deep in the bayou some twenty miles upriver. The family largely kept to themselves, but there were plenty of stories about these two brothers. Landry Breaux liked to play, with his brother always a silent, watchful presence at his back. That man had broken more than his fair share of hearts, and she doubted he even knew it. No way she’d add hers to the number.
“You want something from me, Landry?” She repeated her question, tugging on her wrist for good measure, but Landry didn’t let go. Instead, his fingers rubbed against the sensitive skin of her inner wrist, and her pulse leaped happily.
He bent his head towards her. “We hear you need two more hands on that boat of yours.”
No way he’d stopped her for that. She calculated the odds of ducking left around Landry, but something about his body language warned he wasn’t letting her go that easily. He’d say whatever it was he wanted to say to her. “You have a boat of your own. Why would you care?”
He smiled slowly, and she couldn’t tear her gaze away from his. His eyes crinkled up at the edges as he thought over her question. “Well, now, sha, that’s the thing. Right now, we’re high and dry. The boat, she’s gettin’ herself some repairs, and here we are. Nothin’ to do and no money to make. You’re lookin’ for hands. We’re lookin’ for work.”
She blinked. Wow. Hadn’t seen that one coming.
She wasn’t sure she believed him. Landry Breaux had no reason to lie to her—and certainly not about this—but every instinct she had was screaming. The women in her family had always had good instincts. Foresight, her grandmother had said. A little gift from God to make up for the no-good parts of life, her mother had claimed. Call it a hunch or a bone-deep knowing, but Mary Jane was suddenly convinced there was more going on here than an honest desire to work.
Far, far more.
“You don’t need the money,” she countered and wanted to kick herself. Landry’s grin said he was one step ahead of her. His smile lit up his face with mischief. “Plenty of reasons to wan’ to get off the land and onto the bayou, sha. The money, that’s a good thing, too, but I need to get me back on the water.”
“And you want to come work for me?”
Her intuition shrieked again, but for once she couldn’t tell if her secret spidey senses were voting yay or nay. Every nerve she had was on high alert—and not simply because the Breaux brothers made the sexiest damn pair of men she’d ever laid eyes on.
“Temporarily,” Dre drawled from his spot in the shadows. All she could see of him was his bare feet as he waited patiently for his brother to wrap up his business.
“Same pay you gave the last pair of hands,” Landry coaxed and gifted her with another angelic smile. Yeah. That man was definitely up to something. Maybe he had a bad case of the boreds. Maybe the Breauxs’ boat really was in dry dock. Or maybe he had trouble riding his ass and he’d bring his mess onboard her boat. She wasn’t borrowing trouble, no matter how pretty the package.
“Someone told you wrong. I’m not hiring.” Certainly not this pair. She might as well cozy up to a stick of dynamite.
“I doubt that.” Dre finally moved, stalking right out of the shadows and making for her. Before she could so much as squeak, she was retreating. As soon as her back hit the dock piling, he had an arm braced beside her, and Landry moved up beside him, boxing her in, nice and neat. She stayed put, or she fell in. She had the strangest sensation of being stalked. These men moved like wolves. “You don’ wan’ us on your boat,” he continued.
“There is that,” she admitted.
“You know us,” Landry coaxed. “You need the help, and it’s not like we’re strangers.”
“That knowing might be part of the problem,” she said grimly.
Truth was, there weren’t too many women on the bayou who didn’t know Dre and Landry Breaux. Beautiful trouble, those two.
Landry winked. “So you know we’re honest as the day is long.”
Behind him, Dre’s face didn’t change, although the massive fist resting on the piling beside her head tightened fractionally. When she slid her glance sideways, his palm flattened out.
Hell. She needed to be back on her boat, where she was alone with the water beneath the night sky. She wouldn’t win a battle of wits with Landry. The man was silver-tongued. “Unless it involves Fish and Game,” she pointed out.
Sure enough, Landry’s beautiful smile got wider. “We don’ cheat when it matters, sha. You know that. Get us back out on the water, and we’ll all be happier.”
“What’s wrong with your boat?” She didn’t bother hiding the suspicion in her voice. These boys were trouble. There was no way they’d set so much as a toe on her deck until she had the truth from them.
“Blew an engine.” Mr. I’m-the-silent-brother volunteered the words reluctantly. Almost as if he’d hoped his brother’s charm would be enough. Too bad for him she was immune to charm. God, she hoped that was the truth. Dre lowered his head, and she had the strangest sensation he was smelling her. And liking what he scented.
“Really.” She shoved at Dre’s chest, but he didn’t budge. She didn’t know why the bayou’s bad boys would be hunting her, but her instincts screamed Danger, Will Robinson.
“Sure, sha.” Gold-brown eyes twinkled at her again, the endearing little creases at the corner of Landry’s eyes tugging upwards. This was a man who lived to laugh. To tease. He wasn’t her type, and they both knew it. “We go out with you, we pull in those oysters of yours, we get the cash to fix things.”
“Problem is,” she said sweetly, “you all possess one too many attributes to be a member of my crew. I only ship with women.”
Her gaze dropped, and his attributes stood to attention. That was his problem, though, and not hers. Although from the looks of the erection tenting his jeans, Landry Breaux would live up to every inch of his impressive reputation. Too bad for him that only reinforced her resolve not to allow him on her boat.
He shrugged, a lazy roll of his shoulders that pulled the white cotton T-shirt deliciously tight. She admired that, too, while she waited for him to answer because, damn it, she wasn’t dead. She was a woman who was far too close to a Cajun stud.
“Not much I can do about that, sha. Can tell you, though, that I know the meanin’ of the word no. I’m not comin’ after you as soon as we’re out there on the bayou. You let us on your boat, we’re never gonna hurt you. You got our word on that.”
She tilted her head up to glare at Dre. “You letting him make all the decisions around here?”
“Absolutely.” Dre’s fingers slipped closer. Another inch and he’d be tracing the curve of her jaw with that errant finger. She was crazy, standing here, negotiating with this pair.
The laughter vanished from Landry’s eyes. “We’re a package deal. We go everywhere together. Do everythin’ together.”
Her reaction to his bold statement hit her low and hard, a sensual heat blazing to life in her belly. A package deal. Two Cajun bad boys sharing a bed and a woman. What kind of man announced his sexual preferences like that, as if he was answering cream or sugar?
She wanted to tell them both to go to hell. Unfortunately, she was supposed to be sailing tomorrow. She’d scored an unexpected contract to harvest a private oyster bed way out on the edge of the bayou. The money was damned good, but it was a hell of a job to take on with only Riley to help. There was far too much lifting and pulling to be done. The Breaux brothers could make her work that much easier. It was simple math.
Hell. She was going to cave on this one. Her head thunked against the piling as she admitted that truth to herself, and Dre frowned.
“Can you take orders?” she demanded.
That sensual light was back in Landry’s eyes. “Hell yeah, sha. You jus’ tell me what you wan’.”
“You speak for him, too?” She jerked her thumb at Dre. “If so, I’m telling you both, back the hell up. Stop caging me in here.”
“You don’ got to worry about me.” Dre’s smoky rasp had her thinking—again—about hot bayou nights and tumbled sheets. When he uncoiled, shoving away from the piling and stepping back from her, he seemed even bigger than Landry.
He exchanged a quick look with his brother. Yeah. Definitely up to no good, or just plain after something. She spared a moment of regret that she wasn’t that something.
Dre crossed his arms over his chest and stared at her.
“We’d never hurt you, sha. You tell me you understand that, yeah?”
“You’re doing it again. Demanding.”
He took a step towards her, and she fought the urge to run. There was nowhere she could go until this pair moved out of the way. They had her cornered, in more ways than one. “You wan’ me to ask?”
“Okay.” The words were out of her mouth, no taking them back. “You want to sign on, you’re on. We leave at dawn.”
“Laissez les bons temps roulez,” Landry drawled.