“Camille? She was the one who got away, Liis. He’ll probably always love her.”
A sick feeling came over me, and I curled my shoulders inward, feeling actual physical pain seeping all the way into my bones.
We haven’t known each other for that long. Why do I have such strong feelings for him?
I couldn’t ask that though. It made me too vulnerable, made me feel too weak.
I spoke aloud the only question I could, “Do you think he can love two people?”
I shook my head, touching my fingers to my lips.
Val had no sympathy in her eyes. “You’re really kind of bringing this on yourself. Be with him or not. But Marks is right. Don’t fuck with Maddox’s emotions. I realize you told him once that you’re emotionally unavailable, but you’re behaving differently.”
“Because I like him. I think I more than like him. But I don’t want to.”
“Then, be straight with him, and don’t give him mixed signals.”
“It’s hard not to when that’s all I’ve got going on here,” I said, motioning to the space between my head and heart.
She shook her head. “I understand that, but you’re going to have to make a decision and stick with it, or you’ll just look like a bitch.”
I sighed. “I don’t have time for this. I have a job to do.”
“Then, get your shit straight, and do it.” Val stood up and left my office without another word.
I sat at my desk, my hands folded, as I glared down at them. She was right. Marks was right. Jackson was right. Not only was I in no position to experiment with my commitment phobia, but also, Thomas was definitely not the guy to try it with.
I stood and made my way to Constance’s desk. Unsure if I was breathless or just nervous, I asked to see Special Agent Maddox.
“He’s in his office,” Constance said without checking her earpiece. “Go right in.”
“Hey,” Thomas said, standing and smiling the moment he recognized who was barging in.
Thomas’s guard instantly flew up, and I hated myself for it.
“Did you change your mind about Jackson?” he asked.
“No! No…I’m…not sure I feel any different about relationships than I did when I left Chicago, and I don’t think it’s fair to you to try.”
“Unless you can look me in the eye right now and tell me you didn’t like it when I kissed you this morning, I’m not buying it.”
“I…you…” That wasn’t the response I’d expected. “You’ve had your heart broken. I just broke someone’s heart.”
He walked around his desk and toward me. I took several slow small steps backward until my backside was touching the massive conference table.
Thomas leaned in, just inches from my face.
I recoiled. “We have an assignment next week, sir. We should probably focus on a game plan.”
He closed his eyes and inhaled through his nose. “Please stop calling me sir.”
“Why does it bother you so much now?”
“It doesn’t bother me.” He shook his head, scanning over my face with such longing I couldn’t move. “Our assignment is to pose as a couple.”
His minty breath was warm on my cheek. The need to turn and feel his mouth on mine was so urgent that my chest ached.
“Since when did you start calling me sir again?”
I looked up at him. “Since now. The attraction is obvious, but—”
“That’s an understatement. Do you have any idea how hard it is for me to see you walking around the office in a skirt, knowing you never wear panties?”
I puffed out a breath. “There is something between us. I’m aware. We slept together less than twenty minutes after we’d met, for Christ’s sake. But I’m trying to do you a favor. Do you hear me? I want this to be very clear. I like you…a lot. I admit it. But I suck at relationships. More importantly, I don’t want you to get hurt again. And…neither do your friends.”
“I’m also trying to spare us the squad-room theatrics that we both know will come if this doesn’t work out.”
“Temperamental,” I clarified. “And I can’t follow through. We were doomed from the start.”
“You stayed with Jackson for how many years after you had known you didn’t want to marry him?”
Thomas watched me for a moment, analyzing me. I hated that feeling. The power and control that came with being on the other side was much more preferable.
“You’re scared,” he said. His words were gentle, understanding.
“Aren’t you?” I asked, looking up, straight into his beautiful hazel eyes.
He bent down and kissed the corner of my mouth, lingering there for a while, savoring it. “What are you scared of?” he whispered, cupping my elbows.
He nodded, his eyes closed, his nose tracing my jaw.
“In a few days, you’re going to see Camille, and you’ll be heartbroken. I won’t like it, and neither will the office.”
“You think I’m going to get hurt and start being an angry asshole again?”
“You’re wrong. I’m not going to lie. It won’t be fun. I’m not going to enjoy it. But…I don’t know. Things don’t seem as hopeless as they did before.” He intertwined his fingers with mine and squeezed. He looked so relieved, so happy to be saying these things out loud. He didn’t seem to be nervous or afraid at all. “And you’re right. We need to focus and finish this assignment to ensure that Trav gets out of trouble. By then, maybe you can let go of this ridiculous notion that you can’t be successful at both your career and a relationship, and once we’ve both got a clear conscience, you can decide if we’re going on that date or not.”
He chuckled, touching his thumb to my chin. “What now?”
“I’m not sure. Something’s not right. You’re too okay about this.”
“Talk to Val. Ask her if I’m lying.”
“Yes, she does. Ask her.” I opened my mouth to speak, but he pressed my lips closed with his thumb. “Ask her.”
“Don’t call me sir. I want you out of the habit before we go to the ceremony.”
“Agent Maddox,” I said before walking quickly from his office.
“I don’t like that either,” he called after me.
A wide grin spread across my face. I looked over at Constance as I passed, and she was smiling, too.
VAL HELD THE WINE GLASS TO HER LIPS. Her legs were stretched out across my couch in her charcoal-gray lounge pants, and she had on a light-blue T-shirt that read, WELL, THE PATRIARCH ISN’T GOING TO FUCK ITSELF.