“It’s been over three weeks,” she said, her thoughts as deep as they could be while floating in wine. She held the corkscrew like a weapon between her fingers, but then she crossed her legs like a lady.
“He’s just so…I don’t want to say he’s in love. It’s a little premature for that. But he’s so…in love.”
“I like him,” I said after a little thought. “A lot.” There was no point in lying to Val.
“What is that like? To actually like Thomas Maddox? I’ve hated him for so long that it’s so foreign. To me, he’s not really human.”
“I meant that he does have a human side, and I like that I’m the only one he allows to see it. It’s sort of our secret—something he keeps just for me.”
She swirled the wine around in her glass and then tipped it back against her mouth, swallowing the last bit. “Oh, be careful. That sounds dangerously like you’re in it to win it, sunshine.”
“You’re right. I take it back.”
“Well, on that depressing note, the wine is gone, so I am gone.”
“But you enjoyed it.” She winked. “See you in the morning.”
“You want me to walk you?”
“I’m on the next block,” she said, her drunken look of disapproval not at all intimidating.
“What is that like?” I asked. “Living in the same building as Sawyer?”
“I used to like it.” She picked up the empty bottle and carried it to the kitchen counter. “But that didn’t last long. Now, I just ignore him.”
“Why does everyone detest him so much?”
I frowned. “Why does it have to be such a secret? Why can’t you just tell me?”
“Trust me when I say that being told he’s a bastard doesn’t help. You have to experience it for yourself.”
“I don’t know what to think about him,” I said, standing. “I think he hates me.”
“Marks and Maddox have a bromance. It’s gross.” She walked with an astonishing amount of balance for being a bottle and a half in.
“All right. Good night, geese with an L.” She showed herself out, and I heard the elevator ding.
Already in drinking-wine-at-home clothes, I fell onto my mattress, facedown on top of my yellow-and-gray comforter.
My ears perked up when a knocking noise broke the silence. At first, I thought it was someone down the hall, but then it was louder.
“Val,” I called, annoyed that I had to stand again. I walked across the kitchen and living room to open the door. “You should have just stayed—” My voice pinched off when I recognized Jackson standing in the doorway, looking desperate and drunk.
“Jesus Christ, Jackson. What are you doing here?”
“I went to the Top Gun bar like you said. Got drunk. There are some hot, hot”—he squinted his eyes—“women in this town.” His face fell. “It made me miss you even more,” he whined, trudging past me into the living room.
My entire body tensed. He wasn’t part of my new life, and it made me nearly frantic to have Jackson standing in my new Jackson-free condo. “You can’t be here,” I began.
“I don’t want to do those things without you,” he slurred. “I want to experience San Diego with you. Maybe if…if I transferred here, too—”
“Jackson, you’re drunk. You barely listen to me when you’re sober. Let’s call you a cab.”
I walked toward my phone, but Jackson got to it before I could, and he tossed it across the room. It skidded across the floor and slammed against the baseboard.
“What the hell is wrong with you?” I yelled before quickly covering my mouth.
I scurried over to retrieve my phone from the floor. It was lying on its face next to the baseboard it had collided with. I inspected it to make sure it wasn’t damaged. Miraculously, it wasn’t cracked or even dinged.
“I’m sorry!” Jackson yelled back, leaning forward and holding up his hands. “Don’t call a cab, Liisee.”
He intermittently swayed from side to side to keep his balance. I couldn’t remember ever seeing him so intoxicated.
“I’ll just sleep here with you.”
“No,” I said, my tone firm. “You’re not staying here.”
“Liis,” he said, walking toward me, his round eyes half closed and glossed over. He wasn’t even looking at me but past me, weaving back and forth. He took my shoulders in his hands and leaned in, his lips puckered and his eyes closed.
I dodged, and we both tumbled to the floor.
“Damn it, Jackson!” I scrambled up, and I watched him struggle to get his bearings.
Reaching up and rocking to sit up, he looked like a turtle on its shell. I groaned.
He climbed to his knees and began to blubber.
“Oh no. Oh, please. Please stop,” I said, holding out my hands.
I helped him up and then began to dial the number for a cab. Jackson swatted my phone from my hands, and again, it crashed to the floor.
I let go of his arm, letting him fall—hard. “That’s it! I’ve tried to be nice. Get out!”
“You can’t just kick me out of your life, Liis! I love you!” He slowly climbed to stand.
I covered my eyes. “You are going to be so embarrassed tomorrow.”
“No, I’m not!” He grabbed my shoulders and shook me. “What’s it going to take for you to hear me? I can’t just let you go! You’re the love of my life!”
“You’re not giving me a choice,” I said, grabbing hold of his fingers and bending them backward.
He cried out, more from shock than pain. That move might have worked on any other drunken idiot but not FBI SWAT. Even drunk, Jackson quickly maneuvered from my grasp and was grabbing at me again.
The door blew open, the knob banging into the wall. One minute, I was in Jackson’s grasp, and the next, Jackson was in someone else’s.
“What the fuck are you doing?” Thomas said, holding Jackson’s back against the wall with a murderous glare. He had two fistfuls of Jackson’s shirt.
Jackson heaved Thomas away and swung, but Thomas ducked and then pushed Jackson right back against the wall, holding him there by using his forearm like a bar across his throat.
“Don’t. Fucking. Move,” Thomas said, his voice low and menacing.
“Jackson, do as he says,” I warned.
“What are you doing here?” Jackson asked. He looked to me. “Does he live here? Are you living together?”
Thomas glanced over his shoulder at me. “I’m going to take him down and put him in a cab. What hotel is he at?”
Jackson’s eyes were closed, and he was breathing deep, his knees sagging beneath him.
“Jackson?” I said loudly, poking at his shoulder. “Where are you staying?” When he didn’t answer, my shoulders fell. “We can’t put him in a cab while he’s passed out.”