The Bayou Bachelors #3
by Geri Krotow
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Pub Date: 1/8/2019
Not even the wildest Bayou Bachelor of all can resist the right woman.
Jeb DeVillier has a lot of explaining to do. True, he did steal millions from the sailboat business he ran with his partner, Brandon, and disappear to South America. But Jeb has a good reason—Brandon’s sister, Jena Boudreaux. A decade ago, she broke his heart when she chose career over their relationship. Still, when he learns she’s being held for ransom by drug dealers, he doesn’t hesitate. He’ll save her life, no matter what the danger.
When Jena called Jeb out of the blue, it was to ask him to give her last words to her family. She knew the risks when she took one final mission for the CIA. Suddenly, Jeb’s riding to the rescue like her own personal Cajun knight. Yet now that they’re both safe in New Orleans, he refuses to give her a second chance.
That’s not good enough for Jena. Because when you find someone crazy enough to risk everything for you, the only sane thing to do is to hang on tight . . .
Rain battered the condo roof, and for the fifth time in as many minutes Jeb DeVillier reread the contracts from the many accounting firms eager for his CPA experience. He wondered which job he’d pick to start his life over. All four positions were out of state, far away from his native New Orleans, which had been his comfort zone for too long.
Away from Jena Boudreaux.
Usually the rain soothed him and gave him the peace he needed to think, but since he’d come back from Paraguay nothing had filled the crater in his soul.
Her face had been cut from lip to cheekbone.
No matter how many times he went over what happened last month—especially the part where he stole his best friend’s money to save that same best friend’s sister from certain death—he hadn’t been able to justify his actions to himself. At the very least he should have told Brandon he was taking the company coffers to Asunción, Paraguay, to save Jena.
She could have died. Should have, statistically.
He’d saved Jena by getting the ransom to the Paraguayan drug cartel in time, gaining a lifetime’s worth of stress in the process. His first trip to South America had been a matter of life or death. There’d been no time to think, no chance to second-guess. He’d received the alarming text from Jena and acted on instinct.
The image of her motionless figure, bloody and battered, flashed into his mind for the millionth time. Unlike any other memory in his life, this one didn’t fade. It grew stronger, the utter despair it elicited strangling out any flicker of hope left in his battered heart.
And he’d realized that he could no longer see Jena as a fuck buddy, and in fact, that he had never seen her like that. It’d been sheer stupidity to agree to her proposal in the first place. They’d reconnected last year at Christmas, after barely having seen one another in seven years. Like a fool, he’d convinced himself that the years and space had allowed him to see their shattered adolescent and college relationship for what it was: growing pains with a childhood friend and first love, nothing more. But their red-hot chemistry was still there, and it’d been too tempting to turn down no-strings sex with Jena. He’d gone along with her offer, anything to be able to be with her. Even risking his relationship with her older brother, Brandon Boudreaux, his lifelong best friend. They’d kept their sex-only relationship secret, and it worked. Until it didn’t.
After seeing Jena at her physical bottom at the hands of her kidnappers in Paraguay—a haunted ghost of herself—the bubble he’d been living in exploded. While he’d happily engaged in their very private, indeed clandestine, relationship, he’d also fallen for what she’d told her family: that she was in the Navy Reserves and got called to active duty as often as she did because she was doing refugee work in various spots around the globe.
And it made sense, on the surface. Jena had her degree in social work, and she’d said the Navy had assigned her as a general unrestricted line officer, which gave her the ability to serve wherever she was needed, whenever. Jena excelled at channeling her compassionate tendencies in the most beneficial way—he’d witnessed it firsthand when she’d helped the teen daughter of his work colleague early last year.
He grunted. That was when he’d had work colleagues. The destruction his split-second decision had wrought on the boating company he and Brandon had built from the ground up was immeasurable. The fifteen million dollars of absconded funds were easily counted, a solid figure to wrap his head around. And as rough as stealing the money was, it had bought Jena her life back. But the damage between him and Brandon—irreparable. Brandon had been his best friend, his chosen brother, much as the Boudreauxes had been his chosen family since the day Brandon brought him home after school to play Atari.
The only commonality he’d shared with the Boudreaux children was school. Jeb’s family struggled economically. His father left when he was still in kindergarten, and his mother struggled with alcoholism until he was almost in middle school. Jeb had felt responsible for his siblings, but also craved the attention and security he thought the Boudreaux children had. He’d met Brandon Boudreaux in gym class at the local private Catholic school where Jeb was enrolled as a charity case. Their bond had been immediate, as had his friendship with Brandon’s younger sister Jena. He couldn’t remember his life without her.
How had the girl he’d known, the woman he’d thought he’d loved on and off over the last two decades, been an undercover CIA agent and he’d never had a fucking clue?
The not-knowing about her work wasn’t what painfully stuck in his craw, though. He hated to admit the truth of it, even to himself in the small apartment he might very well lose in a matter of days. What crushed him was that Jena had never needed him, had only used him for booty calls. And he’d been too blinded by his attraction to see through it. To be fair, he’d used her for the same things, but deep down he believed that Jena needed him, what only he could offer her.
He’d been a fool.
Jena never stopped calling him her best friend. When they were kids, when they dated in high school, and then, later, college, she never stopped saying that he was the only one who really “got” her.
After seeing what kind of horrible human beings she’d fought and fortunately won against, he had to face facts. The young kids they’d been—and, yes, even the more recent fuck buddies—had been based on his assumption that Jena needed him. That he was a requisite part of her life. And he’d thought it would be that way forever. That Jena knew he was the one she’d always be able to turn to, no matter what. While that part was true, what wasn’t was his fatal assumption: that Jena wanted to turn to him all the time.
Because Jena Boudreaux was a self-made woman who required help from no one, least of all her grade-school friend who happened to know her body better than anyone else.
He slammed his laptop shut, stood, and stretched. Hadn’t he had enough counseling about his alcoholic mother to know that he was a classic caretaker, that his codependency had spilled over onto Jena for too long? He’d destroyed his best friend’s business, their relationship, and his own livelihood, all because of a single text from Jena.
Not the text asking him to tell her family she loved them, to let the FBI know what was going on. No, that hadn’t been the biggest revelation. It was the short, three-word text that came two hours later, when he’d thought it was too late, that he’d never reach her in time.
I love you.
Geri Krotow is the award winning author of more than thirteen contemporary and romantic suspense novels (with a couple of WWII subplots thrown in!). While still unpublished Geri received the Daphne du Maurier Award for Romantic Suspense in Category Romance Fiction. Her 2007 Harlequin Everlasting debut A Rendezvous to Remember earned several awards, including the Yellow Rose of Texas Award for Excellence.
Prior to writing, Geri served for nine years as a Naval Intelligence Officer. Geri served as the Aviation/Anti-Submarine Warfare Intelligence officer for a P-3C squadron during which time she deployed to South America, Europe, and Greenland. She was the first female Intel officer on the East Coast to earn Naval Aviation Observer Wings. Geri also did a tour in the war on drugs, working with several different government and law enforcement agencies. Geri is grateful to be settled in south central Pennsylvania with her husband.
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