“Yes, as in the asshole who runs this place.” Thomas looked to Constance. “We’re in a meeting.”
“Sorry, sir,” Constance said, not looking sorry at all.
She didn’t fool me. She’d told Thomas what kind of coffee to buy, and once she’d learned Jackson was in the building, she’d swiftly escorted him to my office to remind her boss that he had competition. I wasn’t sure whether to strangle her or laugh, but it was clear that she cared about Thomas, and it was nice to know she thought well enough of me to push him in my direction.
“Agent Maddox, we were just wrapping up, weren’t we?” I asked.
Thomas looked at me and then back to Jackson. “No. Agent Schultz can wait the fuck outside. Constance?”
One corner of her mouth turned up. “Yes, sir. Agent Schultz, if you’ll just follow me.”
Jackson kept his eyes on me while he followed Constance until they were both out of sight.
I narrowed my eyes at Thomas. “That was unnecessary.”
“Why didn’t you tell me he was visiting?” Thomas barked.
“Do you really think I knew?”
“The quicker you allow him in here, the quicker he’ll leave.”
“What?” Thomas snapped, pretending to stare at the various photographs and Post-its on my wall or the bookshelf or neither.
He lowered his chin to glower at me. “Get rid of him.” He kept his voice low.
In the recent past, I might have been intimidated, but Thomas Maddox didn’t scare me anymore. I wasn’t sure that he ever had.
“You made such a big deal of me being jealous last night. You know I left him and have zero interest, and look at you.”
He pointed at the door. “You think I’m jealous of Mr. Clean? You’re fucking joking, right?”
“We both know you’re too fucked up in there”—I pointed to my own head—“to worry about my ex-fiancé or about me in general.”
“You’re still in love with her!” I said too loud.
Every member of Squad Five present in the squad room leaned forward or back in their chairs to watch through the glass wall of my office. Thomas walked over and lowered the blinds for one section and then the other, and then he shut the door.
He frowned. “What does that have to do with anything? I can’t like you and still love her?”
“No, I just asked you on a date because I enjoy being shot down.”
“You asked me to dinner right before you had a meltdown. You’re not over her, Maddox.”
“There you go with the Maddox again.”
“You’re not over her,” I said, hating the sadness in my voice. “And I have goals.”
“Fine?” I asked, embarrassed about the tinge of panic in my voice.
“I’m not going to push it. If I get over Camille and you get over your…thing…we’ll reconvene.”
I stared at him in disbelief. “You weren’t just saying that to Constance. We were really having a meeting.”
“This isn’t something you can outline, Thomas. You can’t tell me how it’s going to go down, and we’re not going to reconvene about progress. That’s not how it works.”
“Maybe, but we’re the same, Liis. That’s why it didn’t work out with other people. I’m not going to let you run away, and you’re not going to put up with my shit. We can think about whether or not it’s efficient to be together until we retire, or we can just accept it now. The fact is, we plan things, we organize, we control.”
Thomas pointed to the wall. “Before you, I was a lonely workaholic, and even though you had someone, so were you. But you and I can make this work. It makes complete sense for us to be together. When you tell Mr. Ninja out there to kick rocks, let me know, and I’ll take you to dinner. Then, I’m going to kiss you again and not because I’m distraught.”
I swallowed. I tried to keep my voice from wavering as I said, “Good. It’s a little disconcerting to be kissed when you’re distraught over another woman.”
“Make sure that it doesn’t.”
“Yes, ma’am.” He opened the door, walked through, and closed it.
I fell into my chair, taking deep breaths to calm myself. What the hell just happened?
“HI,” JACKSON SAID FROM THE LOVE SEAT in the small waiting area down the hall. He stood, towering over me. “You look beautiful. California looks good on you.”
I tilted my head to the side, offering an appreciative grin. “It’s only been a few weeks.”
“Dad just got over a cold. Mom swore that if I brought you flowers, you’d change your mind.”
I pulled my mouth to the side. “Let’s take a walk.”
Jackson followed me to the elevator. I pushed the button for the first floor, and we rode in silence.
When the doors slid open again, the lobby was bustling with activity. First thing in the morning, agents were either coming in or leaving to conduct interviews, to go to the courthouse, or to do the hundreds of other tasks that fell in the spectrum of our duties. Visitors were getting checked in, and a small group of junior high children were beginning a tour.
We walked together toward the backside of the building, and I pushed open the double doors that led to the courtyard. Nestled between the two buildings was a beautiful sitting area with patio furniture, river rocks, patches of green fescue, and a monument for fallen agents. I’d always wanted to spend a few minutes there to gather my thoughts or just sit in the quiet, but between lunch dates with Val and fitness-room time with Thomas, I hadn’t really found a spare moment.
Jackson sat in one of the cushioned wicker love seats. I stood in front of him, fidgeting. We didn’t speak for nearly a minute, and then I finally took a breath.
“You would have told me not to come.” His voice was pitifully sad.
“But you came anyway,” I said, squinting from the bright morning sun.
When Jackson bent over and held his forehead in his hands, I was glad we were alone.
I took a step back, afraid for a second that he might cry.
“I haven’t been handling this well, Liisee. I haven’t been able to sleep or eat. I had a meltdown at work.”
His nickname for me made me cringe. It wasn’t his fault. I’d never told him that I hated it. Seeing him so vulnerable when he was usually in command of his emotions made me uncomfortable, and my guilt compiled it tenfold.
Jackson wasn’t a bad guy. But falling out of love with him had made everything he did grotesque to me, and the harder I’d tried to feel different, the more I couldn’t stand him.