Page 65 of Bayou Hero

“Have you been intimate with him?”

The question startled a laugh from her. “Aw, Mom, you sound so proper when you put it that way. No, we haven’t had sex.”

“Intimacy isn’t just about sex, LiLi.”

Alia thought about the story he’d told her that afternoon—trusted her with—and her throat grew thick. “I know.”

“What are you going to do? Ignore your feelings and do your job? Avoid him as much as you can?”

“I was thinking...” Mouth pursed, she drew a deep breath, then expelled it. “I might request to be removed from the case.”

That earned another silence from her mother. Alia wasn’t a quitter. When she accepted a responsibility, she saw it through. Impossible projects, difficult classes, ugly turns in relationships...she’d learned from her father, whose farming family had been on a first-name basis with hardship, and from her mother, whose family had faced life-threatening adversity in their homeland and made a new home in a new country. Every effort deserved her best.

“He’s that important to you,” Lien said.

“I—I...yes.”

“Will this adversely affect your career?”

“I don’t know.” It was an important case; Jeremiah Jackson aside, the sheer number of victims made it important. Any solve made an agent look good. This one would carry extra weight.

“But you’re willing to put your feelings for this man ahead of your career.” Her tone was cautious. Was she disappointed in Alia? Did she think her only child was letting down people who counted on her—her coworkers, her victims, her parents, herself? All for a chance at an affair that might not amount to anything.

Or could turn out to be everything.

Alia’s answer was practically a whisper. “Yes?” That little question at the end had nothing to do with her certainty, just her very personal, very vulnerable admission, and her mom knew it.

Lien let out a heavy breath. “I’ve been waiting a long time for you to meet someone who is important enough to take precedence over your job. Someone who wasn’t Jimmy DiBiase. It’s about time. How does Landry feel about children?”

“You’re still going to have to adopt your grandbabies.” Relief washed over Alia, easing muscles she hadn’t realized were tight. Telling her mom, who would tell her father, was the hard part. Talking to her boss tomorrow would be a breeze in comparison.

Of course her boss could refuse. She could remind Alia that everyone was putting something on hold for this case. She could insist that Alia’s love life could wait. She could even, as she was good at doing, issue an ultimatum: stay with the case, keep her distance from Landry and be the consummate professional she was trained to be, or else.

But those were worries Alia wasn’t dealing with until they happened.

“Tell me something about him,” her mom requested.

“Ask me something.” When it came to new boyfriends, Alia and Lien were more like best girlfriends than daughter and mother, discussing eye color or dimples or hotness factor rather than anything important.

So her mother’s question surprised her. “Does he have a good heart?”

Alia smiled slowly. “He loves his sister and adores his nieces. He treated his elderly cousin with great affection and respect. He helps old friends with nightmares of their own, and he’s got more friends, and better ones, than I do.”

“Sounds good, LiLi. How does he treat you?”

Letting her feet plop to the floor, Alia slouched down on her spine until she could prop her heels on the railing. “Sometimes he makes me laugh, and sometimes I make him laugh. He took me to meet the old lady who runs his favorite Vietnamese restaurant.”

Mom’s voice perked up. “Does he speak Vietnamese?”

“Not even enough to order. He points at the pictures like I used to do.”

“Yes, but you were seven.” Then Lien relented. “At least he knows good food. That other one acted like we were trying to poison him.”

That other one wasn’t the worst of the ways Lien had referred to Jimmy. Some of them had been very colorful, thanks to Alia’s Grandpa Kingsley and her Ông oi Hieu.

“We like the same music, and we like to talk, but we don’t have to.” That was a good thing, one she and Jimmy had never achieved. If they weren’t talking, they’d been having sex or arguing.

She wondered wistfully when she would have sex with Landry.

“He must have issues, with his mother, father and cousin all murdered in such a short time.”

This wasn’t the time to admit that he despised his father and was a virtual stranger to his mother—though for very good reasons. Her mom wouldn’t understand his parents’ behavior any more than she did.

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