New York Times bestselling author Lexi Blake is back with an all-new heartwarming, small-town contemporary romance series set against the spicy southern backdrop of Louisiana's Butterfly Bayou.
Life in Dallas took a tragic turn for nurse practitioner Lila Daley. In need of a fresh start, she retreats to Papillon, Louisiana, a tiny town on the bayou. Sure she's greeted by a gator, finds herself in the middle of golf cart wars, and unwittingly adopts a scruffy dog, but Lila remains undaunted. She's focused on running the town's medical clinic, but fitting into the quirky community is harder than she imagined.
As a single dad, Sheriff Armie LaVigne embraces routine. But there is nothing routine about the town's newest resident. Lila is a gorgeous fish out of water and he’s ready to catch her. In fact, in no time at all, Armie knows Lila is the woman for him and he plans to win her heart. But when the past threatens their happiness, Armie will have to decide if he has the courage to trust Lila enough to find a true happily ever after.
About the Author
Lexi Blake is the New York Times bestselling author of over seventy titles. She lives in North Texas with her family and two of the most adorable rescue dogs ever. She’s a big city girl who married a small town boy and loves visiting his hometown. Except when the bears show up on the porch.
Read an Excerpt
Papillon Bayou, Louisiana
Eight months later
“I don’t understand why you can’t stay with us. We’ve got plenty of room.” Lisa Daley’s voice came over the car speakers loud and clear, as though reminding Lila that her sister wasn’t far away anymore.
Not far at all now. The sign that let her know she was entering Papillon Parish rushed by, or rather she rushed by it. Papillon Parish was on the sign, but her sister often referred to the place as Butterfly Bayou. A quaint name for a quaint place. It had been a long drive from Dallas, and everything she owned was in the back of her crossover. She did not need this argument with her sister. She needed to get to the new house, find the bottle of wine she’d packed, and settle in for the night. Unpacking could wait. “You’re still newlyweds, Lis. I’m not going to be the third wheel.”
“You wouldn’t be,” Lisa replied. “You would be like the eighth wheel or something. Remy’s family is always around. Well, when Zep’s not in jail, that is.” There was a soft gasp over the line. “That came out wrong. Zep’s not on drugs or anything. He’s just really obnoxious, and the police around here know how to deal with his smart mouth.”
Lisa wasn’t a Daley anymore. It was odd to think of her little sister as a Guidry. Most of her life had been spent trying desperately to keep the four of them together, and now they were all off on their own.
“It sounds like you’ve got enough family around you.” She loved her sister, but she couldn’t handle her rowdy in-laws right now.
Was she making a mistake? She’d left a perfectly good fast-track job in a cosmopolitan city in exchange for a tiny clinic in the sticks.
Of course, she couldn’t actually walk into that gleaming, high-tech hospital without seeing her friend on the ground bleeding out.
“I love my in-laws, but I miss my sister,” Lisa said.
The road went a little watery in front of her and she had to take a deep breath. Ever since that day she’d broken down, it had been a fight to stay in control, to get back the Lila she’d been before.
The Lila who hadn’t been happy? The one who ticked off the days like they were a checklist she needed to get through? The one who’d nearly married a man she didn’t love because he “made sense”?
Her inner voice had also gotten obnoxiously loud since that terrible day.
“I need some space. I’m sorry. I’m here. I want to spend time with you and be close to you, but I need my space, too.” She’d also gotten way more honest. Maybe it had been the seventy-two-hour psych hold they’d put her on or the months and months of therapy.
There was a pause over the line. “Okay. I’m backing off, but you’re coming for Sunday supper. Delphine makes the best gumbo.”
She wasn’t really into spicy foods. She kind of stuck to salads and the occasional steak, but she was new here and that meant giving the place a chance. Even if she got heartburn.
She slammed on the brakes because there was something in her way. Something big and creepy and alive.
“There’s an alligator in the road.” A massive reptile blocked the path. She had to stare at it for a moment because it was completely surreal. Were the doors locked? She looked and made sure and then wondered how she thought the alligator would open the door in the first place.
“Is he missing the tip of his tail?” Lisa asked as though they were talking about something perfectly normal. If baby sis was worried that her precious sibling was about to be mauled, it didn’t sound like it.
Sure enough, the primeval-looking thing in the middle of the road had a tail that ended in a stump. Not that his tail wasn’t still long and terrifying-looking. “Yes.”
“That’s Otis. He’s a sweetheart,” Lisa said breezily. “Don’t worry about him. He’s sunning himself, that’s all. Are you on the highway? Because as long as you haven’t hit the stretch by the water, you should be able to go around him. Now, if you are real close to town, you have to be careful because that ground around the pavement is tricky and you could get stuck. Normally that’s not a problem because it’s not like Herve has anything else to do, but this is his monthly hunting trip and his son is in charge of the shop. I saw him with his girlfriend earlier and he’s useless while he’s under Lorraine’s spell. Unless she says it’s okay, nothing’s getting done in that shop today. It’s fine. Just get out and shoo Otis off.”
Get out of her safe vehicle and shoo off what had to be a five-hundred-pound reptile who probably ate the last person who did that? She glanced around and thanked god there wasn’t a ton of water on either side of the road.
“I can get around him, but I need to concentrate on the road.” She was almost there, and then she would see what her savings had bought her. Lisa had described the small house on the outskirts of town as a fixer-upper, but the price had been right, and it wasn’t like she was afraid of hard work.
“All right. I’m waiting at your new place and I’m super excited you’re here. Love you.”
The line went dead before she could reply.
Okay. She could drive around this Otis thing and then she would move on. Nothing to worry about. She was from Dallas. She’d dealt with many, many way scarier things than an animal with a pea-sized brain.
Still, when she’d managed to maneuver around the gator, she hit the gas hard as though the damn thing was going to follow her. She was doing at least seventy-five by the time she blew past the billboard advertising that a shopper could get both bait and Bibles at Fuzzy’s Faithful Bait Depot.
That was when she heard the sirens, saw the red and blue lights come on behind her. For the briefest of moments, she went cold, her whole soul going back to that night.
But she wasn’t in Texas. She was in Louisiana and it was daytime, and she was safe because she’d gotten away from the alligator. That brief moment of fear was replaced with annoyance because that was a cop behind her and he wasn’t going around her in an attempt to go and save someone who needed saving. Nope. He pulled in right behind her and flashed his lights.
What was the speed limit? It had been seventy earlier. He was pulling her over for going five miles over the limit?
With a long sigh, she maneuvered to the side of the road and put the car in park. Surely she could talk her way out of this. Small-town cops liked to ticket out-of-towners, and her car still had Texas plates. She would explain that she was a new resident and he could go back to his donut eating and preying on tourists.
She glanced in her side mirror. He was taking his time. Probably thought he could intimidate her. Well, he was in for a surprise. She’d worked with cops all her life. She could absolutely handle some paunchy small-town deputy who likely had taken the job because there wasn’t anything better to do.
The door to his SUV opened and then she was staring for a different reason.
A large man with intensely broad shoulders stepped out of the vehicle. He reached back in and brought out a hat that he settled on ridiculously dark hair that had more curl to it than she’d ever seen on a cop. DPD tended to keep it high and tight, but this man might be able to pull his back in a ponytail. No. That wasn’t the word. A queue. Despite the long hair, there was absolutely nothing feminine about the man walking her way. Swaggering.
He was probably six foot four, and if there was an ounce of paunch on that man, she couldn’t see it.
He was the man from Lisa’s wedding, the one who had slid her that sensual smile.
She shook her head and forced herself to focus. He wasn’t her type. She liked academic types. Nice men who were nonthreatening.
Boring. That’s the word you’re looking for. Boring and easily controlled so you can pretend that they can’t hurt you. How’d that work out for us?
A hard tap on her driver’s-side window brought her out of her inner monologue and she lowered the window. He wore mirrored aviators that covered his eyes. His jawline was sharp as a razor and there was a hint of sexy scruff coming in across his face.
Lord, the man was hot.
“License and registration, please.” His tone, however, was cold as ice.
It was the chill in his voice that allowed her to find her footing again. The man in front of her probably had twenty women dangling on his string, and a wife and kids at home, too. No man that hot didn’t. She could handle him. “Would you like to explain why you’ve pulled me over, Officer?”
He stepped back and for a moment she could have sworn he was surprised, but then she was sure almost no one would question this man’s authority. He recovered quickly, his hands going to those lean hips of his. “You were speeding. The speed limit on this part of the highway is forty-five. I clocked you going thirty miles over the speed limit. License and registration.”
“The speed limit went from seventy to forty-five? Are you kidding me?”
His lips curled up in a slightly crooked, wholly devastating smile. “That’s what speed limits do, ma’am. They go up. They go down. You look familiar. Have you been through town before?”
She wasn’t falling for his charm. Maybe invoking her brother-in-law’s name would work some magic on him. “I’m Lila Daley. Remy Guidry is my brother-in-law.”
That smile went flat, his whole body going back into cop mode. “The last time someone came into town looking for Remy, I got shot. You planning on shooting up the town?”
She winced inwardly. She remembered Lisa saying something about an incident that had led to a police officer being shot in the line of duty. “Sorry about that. No. I’m taking over the clinic in town. I’m your friendly neighborhood nurse practitioner. Next time you get shot, I will totally sew you up.”
He stared at her and she wished she could see his eyes. “You’re taking over for Doc Hamet?”
How to explain? “Sort of. I’m going to run the clinic, but he kind of supervises.” A handful of states let nurse practitioners handle their own practices, but Louisiana wasn’t one of them. Neither was Texas. She would have an enormous amount of freedom, but it would be in conjunction with the doctor who had served the parish for over forty years.
She intended to learn a lot from him.
“So you’re his new nurse,” the cop said. “I didn’t know he’d fired the old one.”
“No. I’m a nurse practitioner. I’m like a general practitioner, but I can’t prescribe certain controlled substances. I can perform some surgeries. I spent over a decade working as a trauma RN before I finished getting my NP. I assure you I can handle the parish’s medical needs.”
“I don’t think you understand the parish, but I’m willing to help out. You have to be better than the doc we have now. You have to catch the man early or not at all, if you know what I mean.”
She gave him what she hoped was a friendly smile. “All right, then. Sorry about the misunderstanding. I’ll be on my way. I was hoping to get everything in the new house before it gets dark.”
“License and registration.”
She gritted her teeth and reached for her purse. “The only reason I sped up was to get away from that freaking alligator.” A thought occurred to her as she opened the Chanel wallet her brother had given her for Christmas. “Did you put that alligator out there as part of your speed trap?”
The sunglasses came off and she was staring into the bluest eyes she’d ever seen. Well, she’d seen them before, but not up close. They were even more devastating up close. “Did you accuse me of colluding with a reptile?”
His laughter seemed to fill her whole world. When that man lit up so did the sky around him. He doubled over, his laughter infectious. When he finally took a breath there was a chuckle in his words. “Oh, that is absolutely the best joke I’ve heard all day. Your sister never mentioned your sense of humor.”
Probably because Lisa didn’t think she had one. “Well, I’m known for my quick wit.”
He stared at her for a moment and she could feel the connection. It was like an invisible tether drawing her to him. She’d been right to run the first time she’d seen him. Something deep inside had told her she wasn’t capable of handling this man.
Didn’t want to handle a man like him, she mentally corrected.
Oh, you had it right the first time. That man wouldn’t let you be in charge all the time. He would challenge you.
Bully her was more like it. A man that gorgeous was used to getting his way.
But if it meant she would get out of this ticket, she could flirt a little.
He shook his head and sighed. “Unfortunately, you’re also known for your lead foot. License and registration.”
She bit back a growl because her first day in the new town wasn’t going the way she’d hoped, and the officer, while gorgeous, was an ass.
Same shit. Different town.
“There are no warrants. No BOLOs,” the voice over the radio said. “You know you have a computer in the vehicle. It’s connected to everything I have here at the station.”
His admin was one hundred percent right. He had a very high-tech system that he didn’t completely understand, and it was way easier to get Noelle on the radio and have her run it. Besides, he’d wanted a couple of minutes to consider the problem currently sitting in the tiny Audi crossover that was absolutely going to get stuck in the mud this spring.
Lila Daley. Damn, he’d forgotten how pretty she was. He glanced down at her driver’s license. It showed a serious woman. Lovely, but serious. In the photo he couldn’t see how long her hair was. It was pulled back and she looked a bit stark.
In real life her eyes were luminous, her lips a little too big for her face and all the sexier for it. Her hair was brown, but that was a stingy word to describe it. There was gold and hints of red threaded through all that warm silk. He wasn’t sure whyhe’d dated women who were technically more beautifulbut that woman did something for him. Not that he’d managed to talk to her before today. He’d tried to ask the woman to dance at Remy and Lisa’s wedding, but she’d proven elusive. She was stuck in his head even all these months later.
“Did you know Doc Ham is replacing himself with a nurse?” He started the paperwork on the ticket. The microwave in the break room back at the station was on the fritz, hence today’s speed trap. The damn thing either didn’t work at all or heated anything put into it to volcanic-lava levels of heat. As he was forced to eat most of his meals in the break room, that microwave was critical, and it wasn’t like the damn government was going to gift them with a new one.
He needed to get to Guidry’s more often. Guidry’s Bar and Grill was the gossip hub of the parish. He might have been ready for Nurse Practitioner Lila Daley if he’d been up on the gossip. There wasn’t much to his department. It was him and his two deputies, Roxie and Major, and one junior officer, a young man named Vince. There were two other officers-in-training who would come on in a few weeks. For now, they took turns working night shifts, and he’d gotten to where he spent all his time either at the station house or holed up at home with his daughter. How long had it been since he went out and had some fun? Once a month playing poker at his friend Rene’s was about all he’d kept up with after the accident, and only because for the first few months, his friends had shown up on his doorstep and insisted on coming in.
He was ready to start living again.
Maybe he should make it special. He’d been thinking about that woman for months, and now she was here like he’d managed to call her forth through pure willpower.
He probably shouldn’t give her a ticket.
“A nurse practitioner,” Noelle replied over the line. “I’m a little worried about how that’s going to go. She’s from Dallas. She’s Lisa Guidry’s sister, but I’ve met her and she’s not like Lisa. She’s very city. You know how people feel about that around here.”
He’d spent years in New Orleans as a police officer before he’d come home and run for office. There was something special about Papillon. It could soften up the hardest soul. And if she needed someone to translate Cajun crazy to English, he was her guy. “What’s the difference between a nurse and what Lila is? Is there a reason Mabel isn’t taking over if we’re going to lose the doc totally?”
He’d been the sheriff for years now, and the only medical professional in the parish was a three-hundred-year-old doctor with a Scotch problem and his slightly younger but way more feisty nurse.
Noelle sighed and he could practically see her eyes rolling. Sometimes he had to remind himself that he was barely forty and not the ravaged-by-time old man she seemed to think he was. “It means she’s every bit as good as a doctor, but she didn’t go to medical school. It means she’s very likely practiced for at least a decade, and she was a nurse. She knows more about dealing with the people than the doctor does. Definitely more than any male doc.”
Noelle had a problem with the patriarchy. “So she’s smart.”
“Yes, but none of that will matter around here,” Noelle replied. “Is there a particular reason you’re asking?” She sighed over the line again, a long-suffering sound. “Tell me you didn’t pull her over. Do you understand that if you run her off, we won’t have anyone? I’ll have to go all the way into New Orleans to get a damn pap smear.”
He would do almost anything to not have to hear about Noelle’s pap smear. She wielded her feminine physical issues like a mighty sword. “She was going thirty miles over the speed limit.”
“Nice. I’ve been eyeing a new coffeemaker after we replace the microwave.” There was enthusiasm in her voice now. “Forget what I said. My pap is only once a year, but I need coffee every day. Go get her.”
He glanced up and he could see that Lila’s car was packed to the brim. Still, it wasn’t much for a woman who was moving in. Did she have a truck coming? Was Remy planning on helping her move in? “Do you know anything else about her?”
A pause came over the line. “Seriously? You go two years without a single date and you’re attracted to the city girl? I like it. This is going to be a ton of fun.”
She was being crazily optimistic. “So you’re saying you don’t hate the idea of me asking someone out?”
“You do not have to ask me,” she said softly.
But he did. “I don’t want to complicate your life.”
“Dad, getting you out of the house every now and then would make my life easier, and if you could find someone who could take this crappy part-time job, I would be even happier. I could be a freeloader. How awesome would that be?”
His daughter was a pistol. She was also a teenage girl who had lost her mother and been forced to change her whole lifestyle in the course of one terrible afternoon. “You’re not freeloading, child. LaVignes work.”
She made a gagging sound. “Yeah, that’s what I hear. I guess I’m not getting that coffeemaker, huh?”
The ticket printed out and he glanced down to double check the information. “Why not?”
“Because you’re not going to give her the ticket, right?”
He kind of had to now. There wasn’t a way to take that back now that it had printed out. “I’ll see you in a couple of hours, sweetheart. You start looking for that coffeemaker.”
The microwave could wait. He had a very hard time denying his daughter anything. He knew he should limit her caffeine, but every time he tried to be the blustery, hard-nosed father he should be, he remembered she was in a wheelchair and caved in immediately.
He gripped the ticket and flipped off the radio even as Noelle was saying something about needing a female under the age of eighty to talk about her cramps and bloating with. Yep. He didn’t need to know that.
This was the right path. She was the only woman in two years who’d sparked his interest, and she couldn’t possibly be that bad. After all, she was Lisa Guidry’s sister, and that woman was a sweetheart.
Not that he didn’t like some sass. A lot of sass. All right, he kind of liked them bitchy, and he definitely liked them funny and smart, and the woman who’d accused him of using Otis to aid in his speed trap was definitely amusing.
It wasn’t his fault Otis tended to freak out the tourists and they tried to speed away and didn’t notice that the speed limit had gone down. Way down.
It wasn’t really his fault Otis liked that stretch of highway and that it had been a perfect place to change the speed limit.
“You took your time,” Lila said, those bee-stung lips frowning his way. “Did you find out about my criminal past?”
He gave her his best smile, the one he used at election time. He’d been told his vote-for-me smile worked on young and old, people of all political inclinations. “You’re perfectly clean, Miss Daley. Can I call you Lila?”
A single brow rose over her pretty eyes. “Why would you do that, Officer?”
Damn, he hadn’t even introduced himself. He was out of practice. “It’s Sheriff. I’m the sheriff of Papillon Parish. Name’s Armand LaVigne, but my friends all call me Armie.”
“Can I have my ticket, Sheriff?”
Yeah, they should get through the bad part first. He tipped his hat her way and handed her the ticket. “Here you go. I’m sure you won’t have any more trouble now that you know about the safety zone. Got to watch out for the kiddos.”
“Safety zone? Seriously?” She huffed and tossed the ticket in her passenger seat.
“So you have a truck coming?” Small talk was good. At least he thought it was.
“Why would I have a truck coming? Are you going to try to ticket that, too?”
His small-talk game needed some work. “Because you’re moving. Given that you’re taking a job here, I would assume you’re moving.”
“Your powers of observation are incredible, Sheriff. And no. There’s no truck coming. You’re going to have to find someone else to upgrade your break room.”
“You don’t have furniture coming?”
“I bought a place and it came furnished,” Lila explained in her matter-of-fact way. “I didn’t really have a lot back in Dallas. I don’t need a ton of stuff. I mostly work. All my home needs is a bed and a kitchen and a shower.”
“You bought a place?” He sought his memory for any idea about a home that had been for sale. He prayed it wasn’t the one he was thinking of. “Tell me you didn’t buy that piece of crap Bill Roberts’s kids have been trying to foist off on the unknowing public for the last six months.”
She frowned again, but it was a curious sort of expression. “I bought a three bedroom on Hall Street just outside of town. I didn’t have time to come down and look at it, but Remy told me the foundation was solid.”
The foundation might be solid, but there were other issues. “Remy let you buy that place?”
Her shoulders straightened and he had the idea that if she hadn’t been sitting in her car, she might have gotten in his space, squaring off with him like a prizefighter.
Yeah, that did something for him, too.
“Remy doesn’t make decisions for me. He’s my brother-in-law, not my keeper. That house was the only one on the market. It will be fine. The price was right so I’m setting down roots. If there’s something wrong with the place, I assure you I can handle it. I learned how to fix things at a very young age.”
He hoped she was familiar with plumbing. And electrical systems. And how to deal with hoarding. But that was a problem for another day. “That’s good to know, but if you have any trouble, you can call me. In fact, I was thinking since you’re new in town, you might need someone to show you around.”
That brow was back up. “I have a sister.”
“Yeah, but sometimes it’s nice to see the town from the view of someone who’s lived here all his life.” Most of his life, but he wasn’t going to point that out. “I know all the nice places.” All two of them. “I was thinking after a long day of travel, you might want to get a bite to eat.”
“You’re asking me on a date?”
He couldn’t be screwing it up too much. “We can definitely call it that.”
“After giving me a ticket.”
She would have to concentrate on that. “I wanted you to understand that there’s no pressure on you. So, pick you up at seven? We can go to Guidry’s.” Maybe she wouldn’t want to hang out at her sister’s family bar. “Or Lucille’s. They’re open for dinner tonight. Best shrimp and grits you’ve ever had. I promise.”
“You should back up now.”
He took a step back and she gunned the engine, taking off down the highway.
“That’s a no, then?” Armie shouted after the car.
She was probably speeding again, but he wasn’t going to press his luck.