“It was right after she spoke to me for the last time. I was crying in the hallway, just outside the bedroom door. I wanted to get it all out, so the boys wouldn’t see me. I heard Mom ask Dad to quit his job at the station, and she made him promise that he’d never let us follow in his footsteps. She had always been proud of him, of his job, but she knew her death would be hard on us, and she didn’t want Dad in a line of work that could make us orphans. Dad loved the job, but he promised. He knew Mom was right. Our family couldn’t take another loss.”
He rubbed his thumb on his lips. “We came too close with Trenton and Travis. Along with Abby, they almost died in that fire.”
“No. But if something had happened to them, he wouldn’t have survived it.”
I touched his knee. “You’re good at being a federal agent, Thomas.”
He sighed. “They won’t see it that way. I spent the rest of my childhood trying to be a grown-up. I lost a lot of sleep trying to think of something else to be. I couldn’t let my dad break his promise to her. He loved her too much. I couldn’t do that to him.”
I reached for his hand and held it in mine. His story was so much worse than I’d thought. I couldn’t imagine how much guilt he carried around with him every day, loving the job he wasn’t supposed to have.
“When I decided to apply for the Bureau, it was the hardest, most exciting thing I’d ever done. I’ve tried to tell them so many times, but I just can’t.”
“You don’t have to tell him. If you truly believe he won’t understand, then don’t. It’s your secret to keep.”
“Now, it’s going to be Travis’s secret to keep.”
“I wish”—I put my other hand on top of his—“you could see this the way I do. You’re protecting him the only way you can.”
“I potty-trained Travis. I bathed him every night. My dad loved us, but he was lost in his grief. For a while after he got his new job, he used to drink until he passed out. He’s made up for it. He apologizes all the time for taking the easy way out. But I raised Trav. I bandaged his scrapes. I got in so many fights over him and fought next to him. I can’t let him go to prison.” His voice broke.
I shook my head. “You’re not. The director agreed to recruit him. He’s home free.”
“Do you understand what I’m dealing with here? Trav will have to lie to our family and his wife, like I’ve done. But I chose this, and I know how hard it is, Liis. Travis doesn’t get a choice. Not only will Dad be disappointed, but Travis will also be undercover. Only the director and our team will know. He is going to have to lie to everyone he knows because I knew his connection to Benny could get me this promotion. I’m his fucking brother. What kind of person does that to his own brother?”
Thomas’s self-loathing was difficult to watch, especially knowing there was no reprieve.
“You didn’t do this just for a promotion. You might tell yourself that, but I don’t buy it.” I squeezed his hand. His misery was so heavy that even I could feel it. “And you didn’t force him to engage in illegal activity. You’re just trying to spare him the consequences of his actions.”
“He’s a kid,” Thomas said, his voice faltering. “He’s just getting ready to turn twenty-one, for Christ’s sake. He’s a fucking kid, and I bailed on him. I left for California and didn’t look back, and now, he’s in some serious shit.”
“Thomas, listen to me. You’ve got to get this straight in your head. If you don’t believe in the reasons for Travis’s recruitment, he sure as hell isn’t going to.”
He cupped my hands in both of his. Then, he brought my fingers to his mouth and kissed them. My entire body leaned toward him a fraction of an inch as if by a gravitational pull I couldn’t control. As I watched his lips warm my skin, I felt jealous of my own hands.
Never had I wanted to defy my own rules so ardently that my conscience was at war in my own head. Not even half of these conflicting emotions had existed the night I decided to leave Jackson. The effect Thomas had on me was wonderful and maddening and terrifying.
“I remember the guy I met my first night here, the one without the pressure of running a field office or making the tough decision to protect his brother. No matter what you tell yourself, you’re a good person, Thomas.”
He looked over at me and pulled his hand away from mine, indignant. “I’m no fucking saint. If I told you the story about Camille, you wouldn’t be looking at me like that.”
He shook his head. “It’s worse than you think.”
I reached for him but missed. I didn’t want him to leave. I had an entire day and nothing to unpack. Now that Thomas was in my living room, he seemed to fill up the empty space. I was afraid it would feel lonely when he left.
“We can do this, you know,” I said. “Travis will be free. He can stay home with his new wife, and he’ll have a good job. It’ll all work out.”
“It’d better. God owes me one, more than one.”
He wasn’t in my living room. He was miles away from me.
“We just have to stay focused,” I said. “This has to be the best damn thing either of us has ever pulled off.”
He nodded, considering my words.
“And what about Camille?” I asked. “Do you have that handled?”
Thomas walked toward the door, putting his hand on the knob. “Another time. I think we’ve had enough truth for one day.”
When the door slammed, my shoulders flew up to my ears, and I closed my eyes. After the few decorations Sawyer had nailed to the walls the night before stopped rattling, I sat back against the couch cushions in a huff. Thomas was supposed to make it easier to hate him, and after what he’d shared with me, it was impossible.
I wondered who at the Bureau knew about his personal conflicts—with his brother and the Vegas case, and keeping his career from his family—maybe Marks, likely the S.A.C., and definitely the director.
Thomas had made me his partner on this. For whatever reason, he trusted me, and just as inexplicably, that made me want to work that much harder to wrap up this case.
Val had said before that Thomas had a loyal circle and to be careful what I said. Now, I was part of that circle, and I was curious if it was because he needed to use my talents like he did Sawyer’s or if it was just that he needed me.
I covered my face, thinking about his lips on my skin, and I knew that I was hoping for both.
She gritted her teeth, sitting stiffly in my office.
“You’re not getting three million dollars of taxpayer money for some half-cocked scheme.”
“It’s not a half-cocked scheme, Lindy. It’s right there in the file. If we wire three million to that account, we’ll have Vick’s trust.”
“You know how much a middleman’s trust is worth to me?”
“Three million?” Davies said, her big eyes only half hopeful.
“No. Stop wasting my time.” I continued typing on my laptop, checking my schedule.