Page 44 of Bayou Hero

A half dozen whistles and appreciative calls greeted Alia as she made her way between tables in O’Shea’s. She acknowledged them with a wave before claiming a table near a set of open French doors. Landry wondered about her choice when he glanced at the tall shutters that protected the glass from weather and saw what looked like a half dozen bullet holes in the much-painted wood.

But hell, why would he pay attention to bullet holes when he had Alia to look at?

* * *

The waitress, a college student who lived on Divinity Street, made Alia stand and turn so she could get a good look at the dress before switching her attention to Landry, in cargo shorts and snug-fitting T-shirt that said Welcome to New Orleans. Now Go Home. “Okay, guys, either one of you is way overdressed or the other is seriously underdressed,” she commented in a drawl. “You need to coordinate your wardrobes better next time you go out.”

Alia didn’t correct her mistaken impression that they were on a date. She did spend a moment, though, thinking about a next time. She’d seen Landry dressed up and thought they’d make a damn good-looking couple. He’d seen her dressed down and didn’t seem to mind. They’d still be damn good-looking. Besides, it was the couple part that made her heart go pitter-patter.

It had been a long time since that happened.

“Rum and Coke for you, Alia?” Tish asked, waiting for her nod before turning to Landry. “What about you, sweetie?”

He looked amused by the endearment and the motherly way she said it when she was at least eight or ten years younger than him. “Just a Coke.”

As Tish left the table, Alia gazed out the door at the market they’d passed on the corner. Just the fact that the neighborhood had a market to provide its residents access to fresh and affordable food was a huge improvement, but the shutters bolted across the front, all the way from one brick wall to another, were a sign that not everything was changed. Like every part of every city, there were still problems.

Alia just might be facing a problem of her own. She shouldn’t be here with Landry—should have kept walking back there in the Quarter, shouldn’t have asked him to have a drink and damn sure shouldn’t have brought him here, into her neighborhood. If he weren’t a murder victim’s son, if she weren’t assigned to the case, no one would think twice about their sharing a purely social evening out. But he was a victim’s son, and she was assigned to the case. Their spending time together could be construed as unprofessional—she was fairly certain her boss would think so—and Alia never did anything that even hinted at unprofessional.

Maybe she should. Maybe, just once, she could do what she wanted instead of what she should. The world wouldn’t stop turning. Chaos wouldn’t descend. What was the worst that could happen?

She could get a slap on the wrist at work, maybe more.

She could get her heart broken.

But she could have a hell of a good time in the process.

Landry sprawled in his chair, his long legs stretched out under the table. “So what’s the story? You were new to town and didn’t know the history of the area when you bought your house?”

She angled her own chair toward him, sliding back a few inches, giving herself room to cross her legs without bumping her knee on the tabletop with every breath. She didn’t miss the shift of his eyes to her legs or the smoky look that glazed his eyes for an instant. “Oh, I knew. Jimmy told me, and the real estate agent stressed repeatedly that the neighborhood had had its share of trouble.”

She smiled a thanks to Tish when the girl brought their drinks and took a cooling sip before waving at a couple across the bar. “That’s Sam and his wife, Shawntae. He’s an FBI agent, and they live down the block. The house over there belongs to Jamie, the man behind the bar and owner of O’Shea’s, and his wife, Karen. They just moved their women’s shelter out of the house and into an apartment building down the street. Their son, Reid, helps out both here and at the shelter, and his wife teaches in Serenity’s very own private school.

“The couple sitting on the top step at Jamie’s are Nicholas, a lawyer who does pro bono work for families, and his wife, Lainie, who used to be an FBI agent but now volunteers around here herself. Remy Sinclair, the special agent in charge of the local FBI office, and his wife are raising their family on Divinity, and Smith Kendricks, the US Attorney for the Eastern District of Louisiana, and his wife, Jolie, an investigative reporter, live four doors down from me. Smith’s and Remy’s best bud, Michael, is an NOPD detective who moved into the house at the very end of the block a couple years ago, and his wife also teaches at the local school.”