Thomas thought about my words and shifted in his seat. “She won’t tell them. She promised she wouldn’t.”
“So, she’s lying to all of them?”
“He knows we were seeing each other. He thinks we were keeping it a secret from him because of the way he felt about Camille. He still doesn’t know about the Bureau.”
“Do you trust her not to tell him?”
“Yes,” he said without hesitation. “I asked her to keep quiet about the fact that we were dating. For months, no one knew but her roommate and a few of her coworkers.”
“It’s true, isn’t it? You didn’t want your brother to know you had stolen her,” I said, smug.
His face twisted, disgusted at my lack of finesse. “In part. I also didn’t want Dad poking her for information. She would have had to lie. It would have just made things more difficult than they already were.”
“I know. It was stupid. I acted on a temporary feeling, and it turned into something more. I put everyone in a bad position. I was a selfish dick. But I did…I do…love her. Trust me, I’m getting payback.”
“She’s going to be at the wedding, isn’t she?”
“Yeah,” he said, twisting his napkin.
“They’re still together. They live together.”
“Oh,” I said, surprised. “And that has nothing to do with why you want me to go?”
“Polanski wants you to go.”
“Not because I’m trying to make Camille jealous, if that’s what you’re getting at. They love each other. She’s in my past.”
“Is she?” I asked before I could stop myself. I braced for his reply.
He looked at me for a long time. “Why?”
I swallowed. That is the real question, isn’t it? Why do I want to know? I cleared my throat, chuckling nervously. “I don’t know why. I just want to know.”
He breathed a laugh and looked down. “You can love someone without wanting to be with them. Just like you can want to be with someone before you love them.”
He looked up at me, a spark in his eye.
From my peripheral, I saw that Sawyer was standing next to our table, waiting with Tessa, who had a tray in her hand.
Thomas didn’t look away from me, and I couldn’t look away from him.
I blinked a few times and looked up. “Oh. Yes, sorry.” I stood to let him by, and then I returned to my seat, trying not to shrink under Thomas’s unfaltering stare.
Tessa placed the appetizers on the table along with three small plates. She filled Thomas’s half-empty glass, the dark merlot splashing inside, but I put my hand over mine before she could pour.
Sawyer lifted his glass to his lips, and an awkward silence hung over the table while the rest of the restaurant hummed with a steady chatter, broken up only by intermittent laughter.
“Did you tell her about Camille?” Sawyer asked.
The hairs on the back of my neck stood on end, and my mouth suddenly felt parched. I gulped the last of the red liquid in my glass.
Thomas bared his teeth and squinted his eyes, looking regretful. “Did you tell Tessa about that rash?”
Sawyer nearly choked on his wine. Tessa tried to think of something to say but failed, and after a few bounces, she retreated to the kitchen.
“Why? Why are you such an asshole?” Sawyer said.
Thomas chuckled, and I fought a smile but lost, giggling into my water glass.
Sawyer began to laugh, too, and he shook his head before slathering his slice of pita with hummus. “Well played, Maddox. Well played.”
Thomas looked up at me from under his brow. “How are you getting home, Liis?”
He nodded once. “I didn’t want to assume, but I’m glad you agree.”
I tried not to look at the sliver of beautifully tanned skin between Thomas’s belt and the bottom hem of his white T-shirt. He was hanging the painting, one of the first things I’d purchased after training. It was a canvas print, wrapped around wood, and it was too heavy to be wall decor.
“It’s creepy as hell,” Thomas said, stepping off my dining room chair onto the carpet.
“Who are they?” Thomas asked, referring to the two sisters on the painting.
They were resting outside at night. One sister was looking on, quietly enjoying whatever mischief was happening before them. The other was looking back at Thomas and me, sullen and bored.
I crossed my arms and smiled, happy that they were finally in their place. “He’s brilliant. You should see the rest of his work. They’re tame in comparison.”
His expression told me he didn’t approve of this new piece of information.
Thomas took in a breath, shook his head, and sighed. “Whatever frosts your cookies. I guess I’ll, uh…head out.”
“Thanks for taking me home. Thanks for the anchor. Thanks for hanging the girls.”
Thomas picked up the chair and returned it to the table, but he gripped the top, leaning over a bit. “Speaking of things that aren’t real…I’ve been trying to think of a way to talk to you about certain aspects of the trip.”
He stood up and walked toward me, leaning down just inches from my face, slightly turning his head.
I pulled away. “What are you doing?”
He backed off, satisfied. “Seeing what you would do. I was right to bring this up now. If I don’t show affection, they’ll know something is up. You can’t pull away from me like that.”
“Yes…but I’ve let you kiss me before.”
“When you were drunk,” Thomas said with a smirk. He walked to the middle of the room and sat on my couch like he owned the place. “That doesn’t count.”
I followed him, watched him for a moment, and then sat on his right, leaving not even air between us. I nuzzled my cheek against his chest and slid my hand across his rigid abdomen before digging my fingers into his left side, just enough so that my arm stayed in place.
My entire body relaxed, and I crossed my right leg over my left, letting my calf overlap his knee so that every part of me was at least a little bit draped over him. I cuddled up against him with a smile because Thomas Maddox—the astute, always-in-control Special Agent—was as still as a statue, his heart thundering in his chest.
“I’m not the one who needs practice,” I said with a grin. I closed my eyes.
I felt his muscles ease, and he wrapped his arms around my shoulders, letting his chin rest on top of my head. He let all the air escape from his lungs, and it seemed like a long time before he took another breath.