Thomas shoved his hands into his pockets as he stood at the hostess’s podium.
“Thomas Maddox,” the young woman said, a sparkle in her eye. “It’s been a long time.”
“Right this way.” Kasie smiled, taking three menus and leading us to a corner booth.
Sawyer sat first near the wall, and I sat in the chair next to him, leaving Thomas to sit across from us. Both men looked happy with the arrangement at first, but Thomas’s eyebrows pulled together when Sawyer scooted his chair a bit closer to mine.
I suspiciously eyed him. “I thought this was your favorite restaurant?”
“She said you haven’t been in here in a long time.”
“Didn’t you used to bring your girl here?” Sawyer asked.
Thomas lowered his chin and glowered at Sawyer, but when Thomas’s eyes met mine, his features softened. He looked down, situating his silverware and napkin. “The last time I came here was with her.”
Sawyer looked up at her with a familiar gleam in his eye. “Someone’s got a date after work. I’m jealous.”
“I knew it was something.” Sawyer’s eyes lingered on her a big longer before he looked down at the menu.
Thomas rolled his eyes, ordered a bottle of wine without looking at the list, and then she was gone again.
“So,” Sawyer said, turning his entire body toward me, “did you figure out the painting?”
“No,” I said with a quiet laugh, shaking my head. “I don’t know why it’s so heavy. It’s still propped against the wall where I want to hang it.”
“So weird there’s not a stud anywhere along that wall,” Sawyer said, desperately trying not to seem nervous.
Thomas shifted in his seat. “I have anchors. How heavy is it?”
“Too heavy for the drywall, but I think an anchor would work,” I said.
Thomas shrugged, looking far more comfortable with the situation than Sawyer or me. “I’ll bring one down later.”
From my peripheral, I saw the smallest movement in Sawyer’s jaw. Thomas had just secured time alone with me later. I wasn’t sure if other women enjoyed being in this position, but I was borderline miserable.
Tessa returned with a bottle and three glasses.
As she poured, Sawyer winked at her. “Thanks, sweetheart.”
“You’re welcome, Sawyer.” She could barely contain her glee as she teetered on the heels of her feet. “Uh, have you decided on an appetizer?”
“The roasted stuffed marrow,” Thomas said, making a point not to take his eyes off of me.
The intensity of his stare made me squirm, but I didn’t look away. On the outside at least, I wanted to seem impervious.
“I’ll just have the hummus,” Sawyer said, looking disgusted at Thomas’s choice.
Tessa turned on her heels, and Sawyer watched her walk all the way back to the kitchen.
“Excuse me,” Sawyer said, motioning that he needed out of the booth.
“Oh.” I scooted over and stood, letting him get out.
He walked by me with a smile and then toward what I assumed was the restroom, past the gray walls and modern rustic wall art.
Thomas smiled as I returned to my seat. The air conditioner kicked on, and I pulled my blazer tighter around me.
“Would you like my jacket?” Thomas said, offering his blazer. It perfectly matched the walls. He also wore jeans and laced brown leather Timberland boots.
I shook my head. “I’m not that cold.”
“You just don’t want to be wearing my jacket when Sawyer comes out of the restroom. But he won’t notice because he’ll be chatting it up with Tessa.”
“Then, why are you here with him?” His tone wasn’t accusatory. In fact, it was so unlike his usual demanding loud voice that his words nearly blended into the hum of the AC.
“I’m not sitting across from him. At the moment, I’m here with you.”
The corners of his mouth turned up. He seemed to like that, and I inwardly cursed myself for the way that made me feel.
“I like this place,” I said, glancing around. “It sort of reminds me of you.”
“I used to love this place,” Thomas said.
“But not anymore. Because of her?”
“My last memory of this place is also my last memory of her. I don’t count the airport.”
“Yes. I thought we were going to talk about your ex, not mine.”
“Did she leave you for your brother?” I asked, ignoring him.
His Adam’s apple bobbed as he swallowed, and he glanced toward the restrooms, looking for Sawyer. As predicted, Sawyer was standing at the end of the counter near the drink station, making Tessa giggle.
“Yeah,” Thomas said. He puffed, like something had knocked the breath out of him. “But she wasn’t mine to begin with. Camille has always belonged to Trent.”
I shook my head and furrowed my brow. “Why do that to yourself?”
“It’s hard to explain. Trent has loved her since we were kids. I knew it.”
His confession surprised me. From what I knew of his childhood and his feelings toward his brothers, it was hard to imagine Thomas pulling something so heartless.
“But you pursued her anyway. I just don’t understand why.”
His shoulders moved up just a tiny bit. “I love her, too.”
Present tense. A tinge of jealousy twinged in my chest.
“I didn’t mean to,” Thomas said. “I used to go home quite a bit, mostly to see her. She works at the local bar. One night, I went straight to The Red and sat down in front of her station, and then it just hit me. She wasn’t a little girl in pigtails anymore. She was all grown-up and smiling at me.
“Trent talked about Camille all the time, but in a way—to me, at least—I never thought he’d go for it. For the longest time, I thought he’d never settle down. Then, he started seeing this other girl…Mackenzie. That’s when I decided he was past his crush on Camille. But pretty quickly after that, there was an accident, and Mackenzie died.”
Thomas acknowledged my shock with a nod and continued, “Trent wasn’t the same after that. He drank a lot, slept with whomever, and left school. One weekend, I came home to check on him and Dad, and then I went to the bar. She was there.” He winced. “I tried not to.”
“I reasoned that he didn’t deserve her. It’s the second most selfish thing I’ve ever done, and both of them were to my brothers.”
“I work a lot. She’s there. He’s there. It was bound to happen once Trent decided to chase her. I couldn’t really protest. He loved her first.”
The sad look in his eyes made my chest ache. “Does she know what you do?”
I arched an eyebrow. “You told her who you work for but not your family?”