Page 22 of Bayou Hero

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After checking in with Jimmy, Alia left the Fulsom mansion for the last time with a deep sense of relief. The house she had admired yesterday was cold today, less welcoming, more intimidating. Miss Viola’s imprint was everywhere, which made the fact that she was dead more chilling.

The fact that she likely had been murdered...

“Don’t you fidget?”

She glanced at Landry. He was sprawled in the driver’s seat, his right wrist resting at the top of the steering wheel, with his left arm on the window frame, his fingers tapping a quiet rhythm to music only he heard.

“You prefer your passengers on the hyperactive side?”

“No. But you’re awfully still. And quiet.”

“Next time I can ask Detective DiBiase to accompany you. He’s never still or quiet.”

Half a block passed before he asked, “How long were you married?”

Alia stiffened, looked at him, out the window, then back at him. It wasn’t a deep secret. Pretty much everyone in her life knew, including a fair number of people she’d investigated. The NCIS and local law enforcement communities were close-knit, and word got around.

Still, heat warmed the skin at the base of her throat. “Three years.”

“And in that whole time, you didn’t try to kill him.”

“No.” In a softer voice, she added, “Though there were times...”

Landry smiled. It was a really good look on him. Good enough to make a woman spend extra time checking him out. She imagined on a warm evening, when relentless rain had put a dint in the Quarter’s usual nightlife, a woman looking for a good time knew she’d found it when she walked into his bar and he welcomed her with that smile.

Further conversation was delayed as he cut across traffic and pulled into the parking lot of what appeared to be another fabulous period mansion. Only the three dozen parking spaces and a discreet sign announcing its name and business gave it away as a funeral home. It was red brick, a bigger-than-life Southern beauty, bright flowers dancing in their beds, Spanish moss trailing from oaks, graceful paths leading from parking lot to doors to small breathtaking gardens.

“Welcome to DeVille and Sons,” Landry said drily.

“The Cadillac of funeral services.”

He cracked a tiny grin. “Yeah, Mary Ellen says they take their ‘end-of-life transition services’ very serious, so don’t repeat that inside.” He opened the door, slid out and frowned at her over the car roof. “Do you know anything about planning a funeral?”

Alia’s brows arched. “My parents are alive and well in San Diego, my maternal grandparents in Chicago and my paternal grandparents in Miami Beach. I’ve never even been to a funeral. In fact, I was thinking I could wait in the gardens—”

“Yeah, I don’t think so.” He came around the car, caught her arm and started toward the building.

Letting a man take her arm and guide her anywhere had been unheard of since she was a toddler and learned she’d rather fall on her diapered butt than have her father, or anyone else, holding her up. But her automatic impulse to shrug away from Landry’s grip didn’t manifest. Not until she’d felt the strength in his fingers, warm, not callused, not smooth, either. Not until she’d identified the tiny tremor that shot through her as something more purely feminine than she’d allowed herself to feel in a very long time.

Not until she’d reminded herself that he was a person of interest in the most important case in her career so far.

And by then, they’d reached the door and he let go anyway.

The air inside was cool enough to raise goose bumps all over her, making her wish for the jacket still sitting in her car’s front seat. Thick carpet underneath muffled their footsteps, and heavy perfume from the half dozen large flower arrangements obliterated the interesting scent that was Landry. Soft lights, soft colors, soothing music, leather furniture and upholstered pieces, a Gone with the Wind–worthy staircase, pricey artwork that she wasn’t entirely sure were reproductions...

“The Cadillac people do well,” she whispered as an elegantly dressed silver-haired man approached them from a hallway to the right. How had he known they were here? There’d been no ding from the door, no receptionist sitting politely awaiting customers.

A silent alarm, and probably surveillance cameras for good measure. It was like her office, only in much fancier quarters.

“Mr. Jackson, we’re so sorry about your loss. The admiral was a good man, a good friend to the navy as well as New Orleans.” The man held Landry’s hand exactly the proper length of time, released it just so. “And we just heard about Miss Viola. Such a tragedy.”