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“The local go-to construction guy, Luke Esprit,” Lola said. “Don’t tell me you’ve never seen him around.”

“I wouldn’t forget that face,” she replied.

“What face?” Lola asked, and they laughed out loud.

He had grabbed a handbasket, grinning when he heard the women who weren’t trying to hide their conversation. What they thought of him was not a new thing; he was a simple guy who loved construction, and the side benefit of the work was his physique.

But love had eluded him, and he hated the dating cycle—meet the girl, go out on dates, try to take it to the next level, have unmet expectations, accept failure, and move on.

Finally, at his age, he didn’t need to prove anything by notches in his belt. He still put himself out there, going on blind dates and to get-togethers held on his behalf. It was a frequent refrainLuke, come by for dinner tomorrow night. A friend from college is stopping by and you two would be perfect together.

They never were perfect together, however, and although it was a disappointment to the women and the hosts that love hadn’t arisen from any of the meetings, Luke enjoyed socializing and didn’t regret making the effort.

So that Saturday, Luke was at Maggie Angel’s Bayou Cottage to help his friend build that barn. Maggie, Justin, his brother Dave, and her friend Katrina Blanchard were taking a break, chatting on the dock, when the sound of an outboard motor getting closer got their attention. “Who is that?” Luke asked.

“It looks like Val Amotte’s boat,” Justin said. “No one else with a boat that fancy would come to our dock.”

It was Val Amotte, Maggie’s Aunt Elizabeth’s husband, driving his expensive vintage boat. But there was a young woman wearing a bikini standing up at the bow of the boat like a figurehead, and about as imposing.

“Who’s the blond?” Maggie asked, shielding her eyes with her hand.

“Thenakedblond,” Katrina said. “She’s wearing a thong.”

“Justin, pull your tongue back in your mouth,” Maggie said, shaking her head.

“It’s my cousin, Bridget,” Justin said, laughing.

“I don’t care if it’s Mother Teresa, get out of here,” Maggie hissed.

“Yeah, it’s time to get back to work,” Dave said swiftly, standing up and holding his hand out for Justin, who quickly kissed Maggie before escaping.

“Can I stick around?” Luke asked, watching Bridget.

“Come on, buddy,” Justin answered, laughing.

They made it off the dock before Val could pull alongside it, waving to the women.

“Ahoy there! I thought I’d come by and see if Justin could use my help.” Val had single-handedly restored a historic mansion in the village and was eager to help Justin with the barn. “You know my niece, Bridget Benoit.”

They chorused, “Hello, Bridget.”

She jumped off the bow onto the dock, not an inch of flesh jiggling. Katrina and Maggie looked at each other out of the corners of their eyes, envy growing exponentially.

“Here you go, Bridget,” Val said, handing her a bag and a folding beach chair.

It appeared she was staying on the dock when Val left with his tool belt and a big canvas bag of tools and headed to the construction site.

“I hope you don’t mind the intrusion,” she said after they introduced themselves. “I’m home on leave for a few weeks and I’m visiting Uncle Val just to get out of the city and the heat.”

“On leave from the military?” Maggie asked, suddenly interested. “Why don’t I know this?”

Just as she was about to ask Bridget to cover up, she took a beach towel out of her bag and wrapped it around her hips, to Maggie’s relief.

“Yep. I’m deploying at the end of the month to Afghanistan.”

“Where do you live?” Katrina asked.

“I’m stationed at Camp Pendleton in California, but my folks are in New Orleans. It’s been miserable this past week, wet and hot and a million tourists pissing on the sidewalks and throwing their trash around. I couldn’t take it any longer so my uncle said I could stay with him until I leave for my tour.”

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