Page 45 of Bayou Hero

“And though DiBiase didn’t stick around, you did.”

She nodded. “Jimmy’s really not a home owner kind of guy. He doesn’t like doing maintenance or yard work or not being able to pick up and move on a whim. Buying the house when we got married was his idea, not mine, but it turned out to be a much better fit to me than him. This is the first time in my life that I’ve lived in the same state, let alone the same house, longer than three years.”

That acknowledgment gave her pause. Frequent moves were a staple of an NCIS career, same as the navy. Some agents would stay at a command as long as possible to avoid pulling their kids out of school too many times or because their spouses’ careers weren’t easy to pick up and start over in new locations, but she’d never thought she would be one of them. She’d already been here longer than she’d expected, with no clue when orders might come down.

Later rather than sooner sounded good at the moment.

“Anyway,” she said with a shrug, “my point is that things have changed around here. Serenity’s not perfect, but people are doing their best to get it a little closer. There’s a lot of good folks living here.”

“I’ll take your word for it.” He took a long, lazy drink of pop before adding, “But I bet you sleep with your gun nearby.”

“I keep my gun nearby no matter where I am. There are criminals everywhere, even in Paradise.” After a pause, she clarified. “Which, for the record, is located on the coast of Hawaii. Any coast. Year-round.”

“One of those places you lived less than three years?”

“Two years, eleven months, three weeks. I fell in love with surfing, SPAM and a boy called Kanani. I was in third grade when we moved, and I thought my heart would never heal, though I was never quite sure what I missed most—Kanani, the surfing or the food.”

“I’d lay my money on the food,” Landry said drily.

Thinking of the number of times the ocean had sent her and her board tumbling and of the dark-eyed little boy who’d held her hand during recess through all of second grade and part of third, she sighed. “You’re probably right. I blame my mom. Food is an important part of Vietnamese culture which she definitely passed on to me. She loves to cook, and I love to give her feedback.”

“What’s your favorite dish?”

“Che ba ba,” she said without hesitation. “It’s a dessert. Sweet potato, taro, tapioca. Incredible.”

“I’ve had it. Mama Tranh makes it.”

Alia had made a mental note of Mama’s Table, a restaurant in the Quarter run by Mama’s daughter, Huong. A glance at her watch showed it was too late to visit tonight, but she was free for lunch tomorrow. Maybe Landry was, too. “What’s your favorite dish?”

“Anything with lemongrass.”

Alia was convinced that one of her mother’s reasons for disliking Jimmy had been his dislike of her native food. Lien Hieu Kingsley loved fixing dishes that reminded her of home and was accustomed to similar passion in everyone who ate them. She would love a man who already had shared that passion.

If they ever met. If they ever had reason to meet. It was way too soon to make a guess about that.

“How did you discover Vietnamese food? I can’t imagine you picked it up from your parents.”

“I went out with Huong a few times before I introduced her to her husband. One day I met her at the restaurant, and her grandmother insisted on feeding me, and...”

He shrugged as if there was no need to go on, and for Alia, there wasn’t.

“So Huong’s married now.” Sure, Alia always tuned in to food matters, but she’d heard the important part of the nonfood conversation, as well.

“With two kids. They’re the light of Mama Tranh’s life.”

Of course. “You plan on having kids someday?”

Landry’s gaze was directed past her, thoughtful but unfocused. It took him a while to offer another shrug. “I don’t know. Fifteen, ten, even five years ago, the answer was absolutely not. The older I get, though... What about you?”

“I tell Mom if she wants grandbabies, she’d better adopt them. I’m not exactly warm and fuzzy with helpless little bald creatures.”

He laughed. “I hear it’s different when it’s your own bald creature.”

“That’s what Mom says. Seriously, I’ve never held a baby, fixed a bottle or changed a diaper. My friends laugh hysterically at the idea of me with a miniature human. They would leave their kids with their dog before they’d trust me with them.”

“Aw, I used to babysit my nieces all the time when they were both in diapers. It’s easy.”