Sylvie Martine was prepared to take Washington D.C. by storm, but she put that dream on hold when her beloved hometown of Papillon, Louisiana, needed her most. Now Sylvie's the mayor of the tiny town on the bayou that holds her heart. But for Sylvie, this can only be a pit stop on the way to bigger and better things. The last thing she needs is an old love to resurface and threaten her goals.
Rene Darois’s whole life has been about serving his family—no matter how much it hurts. He’s used to sacrificing for his large extended family and the company his grandfather created. But he can’t believe the latest demand: he needs to find a wife and quick or he could lose it all. It would be a horrible situation. But he has just the solution: his high school sweetheart. Sylvie is everything he wants in a wife—smart, funny, and caring—and he planned to woo her anyway.
Now he just has to convince Sylvie that their love is worth it all, or he and the bayou will lose her forever.
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Sylvie Martine sat in the small conference room and reflected on her life choices. It was barely noon, but it had already been a long day.
"He had no right to do what he did," Leonard Denmore said, anger in his tone. "That was my friend he evicted. And with no cause."
Justin Hardy's eyes narrowed. "I had plenty of cause. Let's talk about your friend trashing my property. Have you even read the lease you signed?"
"I signed that for your daddy, who would never, ever have forcibly evicted a good friend," Leonard retorted.
They continued on, but the world had sort of faded into the background because she had bigger problems, and they all had to do with the upcoming wedding of her best friend's brother. Seraphina Jefferys was one of her two best friends in the world. Her younger brother, Zep, was getting married in less than two months, and Sylvie didn't have a dress or a date. How many weddings had she been to since she graduated from college? Seven. She'd been to seven weddings. She'd been a bridesmaid four times. She hadn't even come close to putting on a wedding dress, hadn't gotten a hint of an engagement ring. And Zep Guidry . . . Papillon's player, never-kiss-the-same-girl-twice . . . was getting married.
Sylvie was facing down thirty. All her friends were married and having babies and building their families and she . . . she was stuck.
"You still have to do things right," Leonard insisted. "There are protocols for eviction. I should have been able to hire an attorney."
"Like you have money for an attorney," Justin replied with a huff. "You can barely pay your rent. You're lucky I'm not trying to evict you."
People were starting to notice. If she'd stayed in DC, she would be just one more ambitious woman trying to make her way in the world. No one would question her single status. In fact, they would consider her young to think about settling down. Here in Papillon, she was practically an old maid.
Which shouldn't matter. But it did.
Sometimes she wondered if she should run. Pack a bag, catch a plane, and disappear. Her momma would worry, but she could send her a postcard every now and then, letting her know she was all right and sane.
"How am I supposed to present a raccoon with an eviction notice? It can't read," Justin replied. "I would love to see you get that raccoon a lawyer. That would go over great with the judge. Although, who knows, maybe you people have raccoon court. It wouldn't shock me."
Sane was important. Sane would be nice. Sane was hard to find here in Papillon. Somewhere outside this little bayou town, there was a whole world where mayors were respected figures who were far more likely to deal with the press than to be forced to handle a conflict between a landlord and a tenant over a raccoon.
Come home, they'd said. Take over the mayor's office. It'll be easy, they'd all told her. It's mostly ceremonial.
No one had talked to the citizens of Papillon about that, and it wasn't like any of them would Google the word mayor and learn what a mayor's actual duties were. They kind of treated her like a queen on a throne dispensing justice. But without any power at all. No crown for Sylvie.
Just endless meetings with citizens who all thought their problem needed to be solved immediately, but with absolutely no logical solutions at hand.
She'd taken to having this biweekly meeting where citizens could bring concerns to the mayor's office. They only had city council meetings every six weeks, so she'd thought it would be great to have listening meetings with the citizenry. She'd envisioned herself truly communicating with the citizens and coming up with innovative plans to help out her hometown. At the time she'd been ready to show them all what she could bring to the table by having big conversations.
Nope. It was mostly complaints. She'd once listened to an entire group of protesters upset over Dixie's Café changing their pancake recipe.
She'd gone to Tulane for this.
"Leonard, you have to see that you can't keep a raccoon as a pet," she began.
Leonard was eighty-three and stubborn as the day was long. He'd also lost his wife of fifty-two years six months before. Sylvie felt a deep well of compassion for the man.
"Brian is not a pet," Leonard corrected. "He's a friend."
"He's a potential source of rabies." Justin owned the fourplex where Leonard lived. He also lived in one of the units. He'd recently inherited the property from his father and moved to Papillon to take over running the business. His father had been in the community for years, but Justin had rarely visited and didn't seem to be fitting in. "I'm honestly not sure it doesn't have rabies now. It threw grapes at me. And they were half eaten. I was perfectly in my rights to have it removed."
"He was defending his home," Leonard insisted.
"It's my property. I own it. His home should be in the woods," Justin shot back.
She'd thought she'd get to hear about real problems-things like how the parish still hadn't fully recovered from the last hurricane, and shouldn't city hall do something about that? Nope. She got to hear about raccoons and how Otis was scaring the tourists. Otis was the town's most famous alligator. Her town had a pet alligator. Should it be so surprising that Leonard wanted his raccoon friend treated fairly?
She'd been home too long.
"But I don't want him gone." Leonard sat back with a lost look on his face. "Did you already kill him?"
Sylvie sighed because if there was one thing she'd learned from being the mayor of Papillon, it was that no matter how silly the problem seemed, it meant something to someone. Wasn't that what her mother had tried to teach her? Her mother ran the local beauty salon, and it was a universally acknowledged truth that half a beautician's job was to listen.
Leonard was lonely. He didn't have family around him. It wasn't the mayor's job to take care of him, but it was Sylvie's. She was more than a mayor. She was human, and that meant taking care of someone in need.
That was one lesson she hadn't learned from Tulane. Papillon had taught her that.
"I didn't kill it." Justin was frowning as though realizing the situation was more serious than he'd thought before. "I called animal services."
Well, that told her one thing. "Zep Guidry wouldn't put down an animal unless it was extremely sick or dangerous. We can call him and have a talk about how he's going to deal with the . . . with your friend."
If she'd done one right thing since taking this job, it was to put her best friend's brother to work. A few months before, she'd taken the advice of Deputy Roxie King and allowed a new department to be formed with Zep at the head. It had cut down on the sheriff's department having to deal with animal calls. Zep had proven to be an excellent public servant, and the folks around town trusted him.
Leonard's eyes suddenly had some fire back in them. "Yeah, Zep's always been a good fellow. He wouldn't up and murder an innocent animal. Not like this guy." He stood. "I'll go down and talk to him about getting Brian somewhere safe." He frowned Justin's way. "Since his own home ain't safe for him anymore."
Leonard strode out of the room.
Justin turned to Sylvie, a look of complete shock on his face. "What was I supposed to do? I asked him to get rid of the raccoon five times. It's not sanitary. And it's nocturnal. The other neighbors were complaining about the noises it made at night. I didn't rush in and pull it from his arms like I was taking someone's baby."
"His wife died before you took over the complex. He's lonely and he's stubborn. I'll call down and let Zep know he's got a visitor on the way," Sylvie explained. "I might also encourage him to find a more suitable companion for Leonard. Is there anything in his rental agreement about not allowing pets?"
Justin sat back and sighed. "Dogs and cats are fine as long as the tenant can put down a pet deposit. I'm not running a charity. Those units are my source of income, and even then I have to send half of it to my ex. I'm sorry. I didn't mean to upset the guy, but he was pretty unreasonable."
"Your father was a friend of his. I think Leonard's watching everyone around him getting older and feeling it himself." And didn't she understand how that felt. "If you have more trouble with him, give me a call. My mom was friends with his wife. She might know a better way to deal with him."
"But I've got a contract," Justin insisted. "I don't understand why I should go through a bunch of hoops for one old man."
"Because at the end of the day this isn't a big city where you won't have to face him or all the people who know him. If you wanted that, you should have stayed in Lafayette and hired a property manager. He's not merely your tenant. He's your neighbor, and that means you can't simply be the boss. Your father wasn't."
"Yeah, well, I'm rapidly learning my dad was a lot more patient than I gave him credit for." Justin stood and gathered his paperwork. He'd come prepared for a fight, while Leonard had shown up with a mug of coffee and a Bible. "It's weird. I thought I'd come down here, look around, and then sell the place. I ended up staying for a week, going through my dad's things, and now it's been six months and I'm living my father's life. With raccoons. I might not be cut out for this."
She didn't like the idea of him selling. Most of the property in Papillon was owned by the people who lived there. The landlords tended to be local. Even the only apartment complex in the parish was run by the Darois family.
She glanced up, and as though merely thinking the name could conjure the man, there was Rene Darois, walking by the windows of the conference room. He wore a suit, but then he usually did. All the other men in town were fairly casual, but not Rene. He had to own twenty of those suckers, and every single one was a whole mood.
It wasn't that he wore the suit-it was the way he wore it. Like it was some kind of suit of sexy armor he donned each morning before he went out to walk among his people like the kindly king he'd become.
She wished she didn't remember what it felt like to kiss that man. All these years later and she could still feel the warmth of his touch, the way he'd explored her lips like he wanted to remember how she tasted forever.
"I'm trying but I feel like I'm failing," Justin was complaining. "I'm trying to be professional."
"Have you thought about getting to know your tenants? It's a small town. Things work differently here. I know it feels odd, but if you give it some time, I think you'll like it." She knew Leonard was frustrating, but Justin obviously wasn't used to dealing with people, which would make it hard for him to be a good landlord.
"My dad did." Justin seemed to deflate. "I want to . . . I don't know . . . make him proud. We weren't close. I feel that now."
"Take care of his tenants." Her heart softened a bit because it was obvious he wanted to try. "I think you'll find it's a good way to feel the connection. Working here in city hall helps me feel close to my father. And like I said, give me a call if you have trouble with him again."
She stood because it looked like she'd listened to her last citizen for the day, and she had a long afternoon of going over budget reports ahead of her, and then she had dinner with her two besties where she would hear about their babies. She didn't even have a dog.
She'd thought she would have a baby by now. And a husband and a house that wasn't falling apart around her.
She hadn't even dated in the last year. She was so far from where she thought she'd be now.
Rene had stopped, smiling at the man he was talking to. His lips had kicked up in that smile that got her heart racing.
She was not going there again. Nope. He'd turned her down, and he'd honestly been right to do it. They'd been far too young, and now she knew he wasn't the right guy for her. He lived in a different world. He dated models and beauty queens, and she dated intellectuals. Well, she did when she dated.
"So you're the mayor?"
She'd practically forgotten Justin was still standing there. "Yes. That's what they tell me."
"You're pretty young for a mayor."
She got that a lot. "Well, like I've mentioned, this is a small town and Mayor Malloy had been in office for almost thirty years. When he passed, they weren't sure who to replace him with. I have a master's degree in political science and I worked in DC for a few years, so I got recruited."
"Well, I'm glad you did. I'll be honest, I was feeling pretty down. You're good at your job, Madam Mayor." He gave her a smile.
"Thank you. If you'll excuse me, Mr. Hardy, I have another meeting to get to." Lunch in her office suddenly didn't seem like a bad idea.
"Hey, I was wondering if you would like to grab some coffee sometime, and maybe we can talk some more."
"I have a 'breakfast with the mayor' event coming up next week. I would love to see you there." Maybe she could introduce the man around.
"But I was hoping-" Justin was cut off when the door came open and Gertrude Cormier stood in the doorway.
Gertie had been working in city hall for twenty-five years. She'd been the mayor's secretary for many of those years, and Sylvie had inherited her. She'd been a godsend since Gertie knew everything about everyone. Nothing got past the lady, and her eyes were immediately on Justin Hardy. "Pardon me, Mr. Hardy. I need the mayor for her next meeting. Madam Mayor, the sheriff is waiting."
Justin immediately stepped back. "Of course. Thank you for your time. I'll think about what you said."
When the door closed behind him, Sylvie looked at her assistant. "I didn't know Armie was on the schedule today."
Gertie shrugged a shoulder. She was dressed in a business suit that might have come from the eighties, but she made those power shoulders work for her. "He's not. You do know that man was hitting on you."
He was? "No. I was helping him with a pardon. That's all."
Gertie's eyes widened. "Are you kidding? He was asking you on a date, but I think you were distracted. How is Leonard? Losing Brian is going to be hard on him."
"You know Brian's a raccoon, right?" Had she misread his intentions? Not that she would have gone out with the man, but she usually was better at picking up on social cues. Or maybe she only thought she was good at them.
"Of course, but Leonard's been lonely since Pearl passed," Gertie acknowledged. "I think he also liked how Brian threw things at Hardy. It amused Leonard. He is not impressed with the new kid's management skills, if you know what I mean. I told Zep to find a dog for him. That old man needs some companionship."
Sometimes she swore Gertie could read her mind. "I was going to do the same thing."
"Well, I caught Leonard in the hall. He wasn't sure where Zep's office was." Gertie held her ever-present clipboard close. "I set him on the path and let Zep know he's coming."
"Thanks." Sylvie didn't mean to stare, but Rene was still in the hallway—he was kind of a work of art, and she got sucked in every time. He was talking to the city engineer, likely about some project he was going to fund, or maybe he was going over plans for poker night.
"Madam Mayor, should I get you a tissue?"
She shook her head, coming out of the trance she seemed to go into whenever her brother's best friend walked into her line of sight.
"Why?" She forced herself back to the present.
"To wipe the drool away, girl." Gertie was shaking her head. "Maybe there's a reason you don't know when a man is interested in you."