“Jackson, I’m at work. You can’t do this here.”
He looked up at me. “I’m sorry. I just meant to ask you to lunch.”
I sighed and sat next to him. “I hate that you’re hurting. I wish I felt different, but I…just don’t. I gave it a year, like I promised.”
“It’s nothing you did. It’s not even something you didn’t do. We just don’t work.”
I put my hand on his back. “I’m sorry. I really, truly am. But what we had is over.”
“You don’t miss me at all?” he asked.
His body was so much larger than mine that he shaded me from the sun.
I remembered seeing him at training. The other female trainees had thought he was so attractive and sweet. And he was. After all their efforts to catch Jackson Schultz, I’d managed to catch him with no effort at all. He was attracted to confidence and brilliance, he’d said. And I had both.
Here he was, begging me to want him, when he could walk out of here and make a number of women swoon, women who would love him and appreciate his bad habits along with the traits that I’d fallen in love with.
After some hesitation, I decided the truth wasn’t pleasant, but it was necessary. I simply shook my head.
“Holy shit.” He laughed once without humor. “Did you move out here for someone? It’s not my business, I understand that, but I still gotta know.”
He nodded, satisfied. “Well, my plane doesn’t leave until Wednesday. I guess there are worse places to be stuck.”
“Can you change your flight?” I’d known before I asked that he wouldn’t.
Not only was Jackson terrible at letting go, he was also completely helpless at things like changing a plane ticket, making reservations, or scheduling appointments. I was sure his mother had taken care of his travel arrangements for him to even come here.
“The Top Gun bar is here. You’d really like it,” I said.
“I’ll walk you out. I’m really…I’m just sorry, Jackson.”
I guided him across the lawn and back into the main building. He didn’t say a single word as we walked across the lobby and to the entrance.
“I just…I have to say it once…before I leave. I love you.”
I kissed his cheek. “Thank you. I don’t deserve that, but thank you.”
He smirked. “I know you can handle that jerk-off upstairs, but if it gets old, you can always come home.”
“Good-bye, Liis.” Jackson kissed my forehead and turned, pushing through the door.
Trudging back into the elevator, I leaned against the back wall until the chime signaled that I was at my floor, and then I stepped out into the hallway, forcing one foot in front of the other.
“Liis?” Marks called as I passed his office. “Get in here.”
I stopped and turned around, surprised at the gratefulness I felt for the invitation. I slumped in his chair. “What?”
He raised an eyebrow, momentarily halting the continuous clicking on his keyboard. “I told you. You’re trouble.”
“Everybody can tell that he’s different. He’s practically happy when you’re around.”
“I’m missing why that makes me trouble.”
“Is your ex staying with you for a few days?”
I sat up. “Do you make a habit of asking questions that are none of your damn business?”
“Let me guess. You transferred here to get away from him? You told Tommy you were emotionally unavailable, and now, he’s chasing you because you turned him down. Only this isn’t a game to you. You really aren’t available.”
I rolled my eyes and sat back. “Let’s not pretend he doesn’t have issues of his own.”
“Exactly. So, why don’t you both make it easier on this department and knock it the hell off?”
“You have your own problems. Concentrate on those instead of mine.” I stood.
“I saw what it did to him…when Camille left the last time. It was even worse when he came back after Trent and Cami’s car accident. Cami chose Trent, but Tommy has never stopped loving her. I’m not trying to be a dick here, Liis, but he’s my friend. I might be in your business, but Tommy was different after he’d lost Cami—and not for the better. He’s just now showing signs of the man he used to be before she broke his heart.”
Marks craned his neck at me. “Is that all you got out of everything I just told you? This isn’t a pissing match, Liis. I’m not trying to take him from you. I’m trying to save him from you.”
As bitter as it tasted, I tried to swallow the shame. My struggle was clear because the anger in Marks’s eyes vanished.
“I can appreciate that you’re committed to the job and that you’re focused,” he said. “But if you can’t find a way to love the job and him, too…just don’t fuck him over while you’re trying to figure out if you’ve got a heart.”
The shame was quickly replaced by anger. “Eat shit, Marks,” I said before leaving his office.
I buzzed myself through the security door and marched to my office.
“Not now,” I said before slamming the door to my office to make a point.
Once again, I was in my chair with the back facing the glass wall. The blinds were closed from when Thomas had been in here before, but I still needed to feel the tall back between me and the squad room.
After a small knock on the door, it opened. By the lack of greeting and the sound of someone sitting in the club chair, I knew it could only be Val.
“Not today. I definitely need to spend my lunch hour in the fitness room.”
I spun around. “That’s it? No interrogation?”
“I don’t have to. I’ve been watching you all morning. First, you hide in here, and Maddox runs in after you. Then, your ex shows up, and Maddox is up here, yelling at everyone like he used to.” She waggled her eyebrows. “He’s got it bad.”
I looked away. “I just broke Jackson’s heart—again. What the hell was I thinking? I knew something had happened to Thomas. Hell, you told me on day one he’d been burned. Marks is right.”
“That I should stay away from Thomas. That I couldn’t commit to Jackson, and it’s likely that I can’t commit to anyone else.”
Val made a face. “You’re lying. He isn’t that much of a brazen dick.”
“He is when it comes to me. And to clarify, yes, I was paraphrasing.”
“Then, those are your fears talking. But if you like Maddox, Liis, don’t let a failed relationship govern your next one. Just because you didn’t love Jackson doesn’t mean you can’t love Maddox.”
“He still loves her,” I said, not trying to hide the wounded tone in my voice.