Page 70 of Bayou Hero

Slowly he set his sandwich down, wiped his hands, then slid across the cushion separating them. He took the bit of sandwich from her hands, used the same napkin to wipe them, then for a long moment, he just looked at her. Whatever she saw in his face must have reassured her because the vulnerability faded and was replaced with something smoky and warm and dark.

He touched her face, brushing a long strand of hair back, tucking it behind her ear, then let his fingertips brush her skin. So soft, flawless, stretched across high cheekbones, warm enough to sear his fingers. He recalled the first time they’d talked, wondering if she’d dressed to downplay her looks. He hadn’t realized then that clothing was just a wrapper, that nothing could downplay the delicate lines of her face, the shape of her eyes, the arch of her brows, the stubborn line of her jaw, the kissable shape of her mouth.

Most of her hair was in a braid, but some of it loosely framed her face. It was as silken and sleek as he’d expected, wrapping around his fingers before effortlessly sliding free again. Reaching behind her, he pulled the band loose, then combed his fingers through as it fell loose.

Alia lifted both hands to his face, cupped her palms to it and kissed him. Damn, but he liked a woman who took what she wanted.

Her hands were hot, her touch sure. There was no hesitancy, no tentativeness. Her mouth covered his, and her tongue slid inside, bringing with it the taste of beer and food and something medicinal like a breath mint. Bringing with it hunger and need and a sort of unsteadiness in his gut that he remembered all too well. The first time he’d had sex with a girl, the first time he’d had sex with a woman who meant more than usual to him, and now the first time with Alia. Big moments in his life.

Too soon, she ended the kiss and put a little space between them, not much, nothing either of them couldn’t close by leaning forward an inch or two. “Now we have another option,” she said quietly.

“Keep our distance until the case is over or forget the case and have wild, hot, crazy sex every chance we get? In the real world, which of those is an option?”

She smiled, sweet and sly and a little devilish. “I was hoping you’d think that. want to finish dinner or show me your bedroom?”

Landry picked up her left hand, keeping her from getting up if that had been her intention.” My bedroom isn’t bad. It has an air conditioner and a massive old bed that Miss Viola gave me when she found me sleeping on the mattress on the floor. It even has some stuff—some decor—hanging on the wall.” He gave the word decor a twist, making fun of her earlier remark and his own lack of ability and interest in making the place look nicer. “However—”

She faked a pout. “I hate that word. It usually means I won’t get my way.”

He stroked her palm, making her shiver once, then twice before she curled her fingers over his. “However,” he repeated, “I have to be back at work in fifteen minutes. That’s not even enough time to finish one kiss.”

“The last kiss didn’t take fifteen minutes.”

“That’s because you were doing the kissing. I need more than that. I like kissing, and I’m really going to like kissing you.”

Her pout deepened. “I work all day. You work all night. I don’t see time in our schedules for kisses lasting more than fifteen minutes, to say nothing of anything else, until Saturday.” After a moment, she sighed acceptingly. “What time do you get off?”

“Three a.m.”

“I have to get up at five if I’m going to run before work.” Drawing a set of keys from her tiny purse, she peeled off a house key and gently squeezed it into his hand. “I’ll leave some lights on for you. Don’t do anything foolish like wander around the house or use the bathroom before you let me know you’re there. I sleep with a weapon.”

“So I’ve heard.” He didn’t look at the key, but the shape of it was practically burning into his palm. He’d never had a key to anyone else’s house before, not even his parents’. Camilla had been willing to trust him with it by the time he started middle school, but not Jeremiah. The housekeeper was always there during the day, and in the evening, Jeremiah assumed, Camilla always was. It had been her, Landry’s and Mary Ellen’s secret that sometimes when their father left town, their mother went out on it.

Alia trusted him with her key. Trusted him to come into her home in the middle of the night, when she very well might be asleep. Trusted him. That was a damn good feeling.

They polished off their dinner, and he turned down an offer of a cookie. He liked sweets but not the way she did. Even his nieces the sugar demons didn’t like them the way she did. She could indulge her sweets craving in the cookies.

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