Page 36 of Bayou Hero

In an effort to lighten the mood, she said, “Your nieces are cute.”

That earned her more of a smile, lacking the sardonic curl. “They’re angels when they want to be.”

“How often is that?”

“Not as often as it should be. They hate to upset their mother, but sometimes the opportunity to be bad is just too good to pass up.”

“Hell, I’m thirty, and I still occasionally find myself in those situations. My theory is you have to be bad once in a while to appreciate the good.”

He gave her a sidelong look. “What does Special Agent/Admiral’s Daughter Kingsley do to appreciate the good?”

The fact that no answer popped instantly into her mind made her mouth quirk. Obviously, she was never really bad, or she wouldn’t have to think to find a response. She shrugged. “Once a month, my friends and I go out and put the loud, tipsy, flingy tourists to shame.” Except that her last fling had been so long ago, she couldn’t have remembered it even if she hadn’t been tipsy at the time, though she did have this vague recollection of fumbling in the dark to step into indecently high heels, having to balance herself against a hotel room door and spending the time it took her to escape the hotel trying to remember if her car was nearby or at home.

Now, it was mostly her responsibility to get all her friends back home again when the evening was over.

“Wow,” he said, unimpressed. “You’re going to hell for that.”

She laughed. “Okay, so I’m not wild, wicked or reckless.”

“Being wild, wicked and reckless is overrated anyway.”

“Spoken from experience?”

* * *

Landry had had a lot of experiences, including some he’d rather never think about again. Thanks to those experiences, he’d also missed out on others that he was pretty sure would surprise Alia. “You think I’m wild, wicked or reckless because I tend bar on Bourbon Street?”

“No. Because you look like every woman’s fantasy of the quintessential bad boy.”

Did every woman include her? he wondered, because he had to admit, he wouldn’t mind being her fantasy, at least for a while. “Sorry to disappoint you, but I’m not wild or wicked or reckless. I didn’t have much choice about being responsible, not if I wanted to stay off the streets.” Miss Viola had helped him financially in the beginning and would have continued to do so much longer, but he’d wanted independence. He’d wanted to prove to himself and to Jeremiah, even if the old man never actually knew, that he could take care of himself, that he didn’t need anybody.

At the end of the block, they turned right, heading toward the Mississippi River a few streets ahead. There were fewer people, less traffic, more homes than businesses and no signs of life besides the television blaring from an open window and a cat picking its way along the top of an eight-foot-high cinder-block wall, tail curled over its back, unmindful of the rain. A sideways look showed Alia keeping a wary gaze on it until they passed the property.

“Don’t like cats?” He kept his grin from fully forming but couldn’t stop the amusement audible in his voice.

“Don’t trust them.” Her own tone was suspicious. “They always seem to be plotting something.”

“Our neighbors had one when Mary Ellen and I were kids.” Its name was Ginger, and he hadn’t thought about it in at least fifteen years. “It used to come through the bars of the wrought iron fence and use the flower beds as a litter box. It drove the gardener crazy.”

Mention of the gardener made him think of Constance Marks. He was ashamed to admit that he hadn’t spared any thought for the others who had died along with the admiral. He’d never met Jeremiah’s housekeeper and had run into Constance only a time or two on visits to Miss Viola’s. She’d been pleasant, friendly and happy with her work...and she’d died because of Jeremiah. As if he hadn’t ruined enough lives already.

Alia must have gotten distracted by the same thing because her next question was on that subject. “I can’t remember if I’ve asked... Did you know Constance Marks?”

Delaying, he made a show of checking his watch. “I was wondering how long it would be until you got back to the case.”

“No, you weren’t.” When he merely lifted one brow in question, she scowled. Would she be flattered if he told her she looked cute when she did that: forehead wrinkled, mouth thinned, eyelashes glistening with raindrops? Probably not. He suspected she wanted to be perceived as tough and capable and kick-ass. Hell, as far as he’d seen, she was tough and capable and kick-ass.

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