Page 73 of Bayou Hero

Mr. Second-Time Right had never had a face in her future-gazing. She could have described him with three words: different from Jimmy. Another NCIS agent, she’d supposed, or maybe a sailor or Marine. Someone with a career of his own that meshed well with hers.

Not a bartender. Not in New Orleans. Not within five years of the divorce.

Not someone she’d give up a case for. Not someone she’d give up the job for. Not someone she would stay in New Orleans for.

A sigh that was both anticipation and nervousness, along with a little bit of fear, rustled through her.

She jogged downstairs, double-checked the locks front and back, clicked on the lamp next to her reading spot on the sofa, a light on the stair landing, a third in the upstairs hallway. Then she slid into bed, sure she wouldn’t sleep well.

Within five minutes, she was out. Never let it be said that Alia Kingsley missed food or sleep for anything other than a dire emergency.

It was hours later when she found herself just as suddenly awake. Drowsy and sleep-befuddled, she rolled onto her back as lightning flashed outside the window, illuminating the entire room. She figured her neighbors deserved curtains on her bedroom windows, even if the only goings-on were sleeping, but she loved nighttime storms, so the curtains were pale and sheer. In the middle of a storm, it was like turning on a couple three-hundred-watt bulbs.

It wasn’t just the storm that had awakened her, though. Down the hall, the third stair from the top creaked; a moment later a solid footfall sounded in the hall. A size-eleven sneaker, she suspected, and a little bubble of pleasure popped inside her.

She slid up until she was leaning against the headboard and brushed her fingers through her hair. A shadow fell across the floor in the hallway, then Landry stepped into the doorway, hands in the air. “Is it safe to come in?”

She raised her own hands. “Pistol’s on this nightstand. Taser’s on the other.” She glanced at his wet hair, at the T-shirt molded by moisture to his chest, then nodded toward the windows. “I take it we’re getting rain.”

He toed off his shoes before looking around.

“Bathroom’s next door down.”

He disappeared again. When he returned, the shoes were missing, no doubt, draining on the bathmat. His shirt was gone, too, probably hanging over the shower curtain rod, an image powerful enough to make her shiver. She’d missed those little telltale signs that said a man lived here—or, at least, got naked here once in a while.

Seconds ticked past as they stared at each other, their views brightly lit by each flash of lightning, then cast into shadows unreached by the light in the hallway. After a particularly loud clap of thunder that vibrated the floor beneath them, her breath caught in her throat, and heat surged through her.

She pushed back the sheet, swung her feet to the floor, then reached into the nightstand drawer, pulling out a handful of condoms. “I forgot to ask...”

With the barest of smiles touching his mouth, he shoved his hand into the pocket of his cargo shorts and drew out another half dozen. “Until I make up my mind whether I want to give fatherhood a shot, I stay prepared.”

A lump formed in her throat. It made her voice hoarse as, with hands folded primly in her lap, she asked, “You have any particular preference right now?”

Slowly he pushed away from the door frame and began walking to her. “It’s still up in the air. But someone I like very, very much told me I already knew what I needed to be a good father. It’s made me think.” He shrugged negligently. “Meeting the right person can make you rethink a lot of things.”

She didn’t waste more than an instant wondering if she would have to rethink the issue. It wasn’t as if she was going to toss the condoms into the trash, wasn’t something to decide right this moment.

Instead, she slowly stood, curled her fingers around the hem of her tank and peeled it off. It fell from her hands, brushing her leg on its way to the floor, then she did the same with her boxers, stepping out of them, shivering as the air-conditioning kicked on.

Or was it the intensity of his gaze that made her skin ripple with goose bumps?

“Damn,” he murmured, his gaze never leaving her even as his fingers undid his zipper, then worked the wet fabric over his hips, freeing his erection, drawing her gaze slowly downward. His skin was a few shades paler than hers, tawny gold, lightly dusted with hair across his chest. His shoulders were broad, his chest muscular, his belly flat and his hips narrow. Long, lean legs and a long, hard—

She swallowed greedily and said—once more with feeling—the same thing he had. “Damn.”