Page 69 of Bayou Hero

Landry looked at her over his shoulder while he unlocked the door. “Is that possible—being sent to a ship?”

“You think crimes don’t occur on board ships?” She shrugged, a lazy sensual movement that came totally naturally to her. Granted, he found pretty much everything about her sensual. “Sailors and marines are people like everyone else. They commit crimes and are the victims of them. Of course, for a shipboard crime, you have the advantage of a limited suspect pool.”

He opened the door and stepped back to let her enter first. As she looked around, he tried to imagine the apartment through her eyes. It was a little over seven hundred square feet, two-thirds of it devoted to living room, dining room and kitchen, the remaining third a bedroom and bathroom. The floors were wood, the windows facing the courtyard were floor-to-ceiling and two paddle fans swirled the warm air.

“How long have you lived here?” she asked as she took the plastic bag from him.

“Ten years? Twelve? I don’t remember.”

She nodded knowingly. “Nice job of decorating.”

“What do you mean? I haven’t—” Breaking off, he laughed. “Be happy it has furniture. I wouldn’t have bothered with more than a mattress on the floor if Miss Viola and Mary Ellen hadn’t nagged so much.”

She set her beer on the coffee table, then began unpacking the food bag. She pulled out the small containers of side dishes, held up a bag of Evie Murphy’s lemon cookies with a grin, then removed the sandwiches. She’d hadn’t bothered with the quarter or half-sized sandwiches, a meal all in themselves, but had gone for the full ones, each about the size of a dinner plate, loaded with meats, cheeses and that incredible olive salad. They’d been toasted so that everything was warm and melty and the edges were crispy, and they reminded him how long it had been since lunch.

He got plates, silverware and a long wicked-sharp knife, plus a pop for himself, then joined her on the couch. “You said your day had its moments,” he reminded her as he cut a wedge from the sandwich she’d handed him. “What were the good moments?”

She had already taken a bite of her sandwich and now edged a chunk of olive from her lip into her mouth. After chewing slowly with her usual look of food-orgasm, she shrugged again. “It’s kind of hard to tell the good ones from the bad. I met with my boss, and that was kind of tough but good, and I met with Jimmy and Murphy, and that was kind of tough, too, but also good.”

Landry talked with his boss every day, but he imagined meeting with the special agent in charge of a whole field office was different in a lot of ways. His boss, Maxine, held a lot less power over his life than Alia’s boss did over hers. The worst Maxine could do was fire him, and he could have a new job by closing time. Alia didn’t have a job. She had a career.

He wondered when her career would take her from New Orleans. Wondered how lonely he would be when she was gone.

They’d met under damnable circumstances. By rights, they should never have crossed paths, never have talked beyond the first or second interview. He shouldn’t know anything about her, shouldn’t feel anything for her.

But he did.

She scooped portions of each side dish onto her plate, heaped more olive salad onto the next bite of her sandwich, then casually said, “I asked my boss to remove me from this investigation.”

Landry was swallowing a drink of pop when her words sank in, and he choked, grabbing for a napkin, coughing to clear his throat. “You what?” A croak was all he could manage.

Her look was level, steady. “You heard me.”

“Why?”

She pinched off a piece of sandwich and took a delicate bite. “I told you last night there was another option.”

I like you, too, he’d told her. So what do we do about it? Wait until the case is solved?

She’d asked to be taken off a major case because of her feelings for him.

He didn’t know how to react. This couldn’t be a good career move. Major cases put major marks in the advancement column. He imagined solving the murder of an active-duty admiral, to say nothing of the other six victims, would be a giant gold star for everyone involved. And she’d walked away from it. For him.

No one had ever made that kind of sacrifice for him. He didn’t know if he deserved it.

But damn, she’d walked away from all that for him. He was...flattered. Humbled.

She was watching him, her gaze still steady and level, but he saw just a flicker of vulnerability. She’d made a big sacrifice to give this thing between them a chance and was wondering now if she’d misread the situation, if she’d derailed her career for nothing.

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