Page 29 of Bayou Hero

“The porch furniture is cleaner than the tables and chairs inside my house.”

Alia Kingsley stood six feet away. Her hair was neatly contained on the back of her head, leaving her neck bare to catch the occasional breeze, but that was the only concession she’d made to the heat. She wore pants and a jacket in a delicate shade of gray with a white shirt. Her shoes were gray, too, ugly, with a low heel. Even her jewelry was subdued: a sterling watch on her left wrist, a sterling disk with a white pearl on a chain around her neck.

“Yours would be spotless, too, if you had staff.”

She came a few steps closer, into the shade cast by a nearby tree. “We had staff a few times when I was growing up, thanks to my father’s job. My mother hated it. I wouldn’t mind a little part-time help myself.” She removed her sunglasses and dangled them by the earpieces. “We look like we shopped at the same store.”

He gave her another once-over, not noticing the clothes so much as the way they fit her. The shirt clung to her breasts, lying snug against her midriff, and the pants hugged her flat belly. The fabric flared with the curve of her hips before falling in a long, straight expanse over muscled thighs and lean calves to partially cover the ugly shoes. “Nah. They didn’t have anything in my store that would do you justice.”

But that was a lie. The shirt he was wearing would look damn good on her, especially if she had nothing else on. The stark white would enhance the olive shade of her skin, and with enough buttons left undone, the shirt would reveal the long line of her throat, the curve of her breasts, the hollow between them.

He drew a breath to clear the thoughts from his mind. All he needed now was to imagine her with her hair down, tumbling loose around her shoulders, and he’d have to put his jacket back on. It was too damn hot for that.

“What does your father do?”

She blinked, apparently needing a moment to remember that she’d mentioned her father’s job. “He’s retired now.”

“What did he do before he retired?”

She did a cute little thing with her mouth, kind of pursing it, before looking away, then finally back. “He was in the navy. He was a rear admiral.”

Landry couldn’t say why that surprised him, maybe because people tended to remark on things they shared in common with someone else. And there had to be restrictions on how many admirals the navy had at any given time. A person didn’t run into those admirals’ grown children every day.

But he hadn’t run into Alia. She was trying to find out who killed Jeremiah, whether Landry was the guilty party. Hardly the situation to say, Hey, your father’s an admiral? Guess what? So is mine.

“The same as Jeremiah?” he asked.

“Not entirely. My father retired a rear admiral, lower half—a one-star admiral. Your father was upper half with two stars.”

He smiled thinly. What were the odds that an admiral’s daughter would be considering another admiral’s son a possible murderer? “So you went through the whole navy brat experience.”

She shrugged. “Like you, my father didn’t tolerate brattiness, but I did get to do all the moving around. The upside is I can adapt to anything. The downside is I don’t have that roots-heart-and-home attachment anywhere.”

For years Landry had thought that kind of detachment sounded pretty damn appealing, but he never could have abandoned Mary Ellen completely or cut off contact with Miss Viola. He had to admit, he would miss New Orleans, too—the people, the music, the food, the life, the history, the strength, even the weather. And, yeah, that roots-heart-and-home thing.

“Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans?” Louis Armstrong had sung. Landry didn’t know personally because every time he’d gone away, he’d always come back a week or two later. More than that, he didn’t want to know. He didn’t have a whole lot in his life, thanks to Jeremiah.

And he wasn’t about to give up anything he did have.

She gestured to his throat. “Have I missed the new trend in neckwear?”

He looked down, from his perspective, seeing only bits of the “scarf” Mariela had wrapped around him, and smiled. “Apparently, my seven-year-old niece is no more knowledgeable about tying ties than I am.”

“May I?” After his nod, she caught the end of the tie, pulled it free and draped it around her own neck. “I only know how to do it when I’m wearing it. Mom has pretied Dad’s ties for him their whole marriage. I was her backup for emergencies when she was out of town.”

He watched as her thin fingers pulled fabric here, slid it through there, tugged it back over here. The black-silver-and-red-striped pattern went with her clothes as well as his own, and there was something about a woman in a tie pulled loose, loose...