Page 9 of Bayou Hero

They were approaching a set of fat-cushioned wicker chairs underneath the spreading branches of a live oak near the back corner of the lawn. A bit of breeze blew through there, redolent with the heavy scents of flowers and, fainter, from someone else’s yard, food cooking over charcoal. The aroma was enough to remind her that she’d skimped on breakfast and it was nowhere near time for lunch.

After Landry sat in one chair, she took the other. The wicker was the expensive kind that didn’t creak with every tiny movement. Crossing her legs, she allowed herself to wonder for a moment what it was like to own a place like this: luxurious, no expenses spared, decorated with antiques and high-end furnishings, wrapped in the long, sultry history of the old, sultry city.

Money doesn’t buy happiness, her mother always said, and Alia had always thought it could certainly help. But the Jacksons proved Mom right: they had money, and they weren’t happy.

“How long have you lived in New Orleans?”

Landry’s head was tilted back, hands folded over his belly, eyes little more than slits. “All my life.”

“Your family didn’t accompany the admiral to his assignments?”

“Camilla Jackson move away from here, even temporarily? Saint Louis Cathedral would crumble to dust first.” Then he did a lazy sort of shrug, so very careless and so very charming to a woman who was the charmable sort.

Thank God, Alia’s weakness for charming scoundrels had died somewhere about the middle of her marriage to Jimmy.

“When the old man got orders,” he went on, “he went, we stayed here, and he came home on weekends and on leave.”

Staying home took all the fun out of the life. She’d been born in the Philippines, started school in Hawaii and finished it in DC, with stops in California, South Carolina, Florida and Virginia. Dropping in at the Pentagon after school had been a regular practice. She’d gotten a gift from the Secretary of the Navy upon high school graduation and even attended a dinner at the White House. “So you missed out on the whole navy brat experience.”

“Jeremiah Jackson had no tolerance for bratty behavior.”

She would bet he hadn’t—not from his children, the sailors under his command or civilians like her who worked for his navy. “What happened between you two?”

She felt the instant he glanced at her. His eyes were still slitted, making it impossible to read their expression, and a small muscle twitched in his jaw. It didn’t bother her; people in general didn’t like being questioned, especially with suspicion. They tended to get annoyed or smug or tearful or angry, and she tended to stay on track. Stubbornness was one of her better traits, according to Jimmy.

But Landry could probably out-stubborn her. She knew he’d only answered her questions because she’d asked them here at his sister’s house. If she had shown up at the bar or his apartment, he would have shown her right back out. She couldn’t compel him to tell her anything important—couldn’t compel him to talk to her at all—and he knew it.

“I think your partner’s ready to go,” he said in a slow drawl accompanied by a gesture toward the house.

A quick look showed Jimmy standing in the doorway to the sunroom, watching them with his hands on his hips. “If you think of something you’re willing to share...” She rose, pulled a business card from her pocket and offered it to him. When he made no move to take it, she laid it on the arm of his chair, sliding one corner between the woven wicker. It fell through, landing crookedly on the lush grass. Neither of them picked it up. Instead, she cut across the lawn to the house and followed Jimmy inside, then out again through the front door.

* * *

Landry watched her until she was out of sight, then slumped lower in his seat and closed his eyes. After the time with her, he’d concluded she was deliberately downplaying her looks with the ugly clothes. In a predominantly male environment, maybe it worked for her, though he couldn’t help thinking she’d have better luck if she did the opposite. What man wouldn’t prefer to talk to her with a little style to the hair, an airy dress almost thin enough to see through, a little cleavage and sexy, strappy sandals to show off those long, lean legs? They’d tell her what she wanted to know—tell her everything they knew—just to keep her around a little longer.

He heard an engine starting out front, then pushed to his feet. Without picking up the business card, he headed for the house, glancing back only for an instant while climbing the steps. It tilted at an angle, caught between blades of lush green grass. He wouldn’t forget her name, and if he ever wanted to talk to her, he could look up the NCIS office number on the computer.