“I know what it feels like to have you wrapped up in my arms,” he said. “I trust that.”
He closed the door behind him, and after several moments, I finally let out the breath I hadn’t known I was holding.
“LET ME CARRY THAT,” Thomas said, sliding my leather tote off my shoulder and onto his.
“Liis, girlfriends like this stuff. You need to get your head on straight. Stop being an agent, and start playing the part.”
I nodded, unhappily conceding. We had just arrived at San Diego International Airport. I was glad we could breeze through the business-class line. On the final Saturday of spring break, the airport was particularly crowded. Dodging the human traffic on the way to our gate was making an already tense Thomas even more anxious.
“I’m not looking forward to doing this again in the morning or again on Monday morning,” Thomas grumbled.
Noticing women taking second and third glances at Thomas made it hard not to stare at him myself. He was wearing a somewhat tight gray T-shirt with a navy sport coat and jeans, his brown leather belt matching his Timberlands. When I got close enough, I could smell his cologne and found myself breathing deeper.
He hid his eyes behind a pair of aviator sunglasses and kept a forced smile despite being loaded down with our luggage and the knowledge that he would see his family—and Camille—soon.
We sat in the terminal, and Thomas situated our bags around him. He’d only brought a carry-on. The rest was my medium-sized roller luggage, a roller carry-on, and a leather tote.
“What do you have in this thing?” he asked, slowly lowering the leather tote to the floor.
“We’ll be in Illinois for one night, and then we’re off to the Virgin Islands. I can make it for that long with a sweater unless the bachelor party is outside.”
“I’m not sure you’re going to the bachelor party.”
“Trent is proposing to Camille at the bachelor party, right?”
“Seems that way,” he said, his voice suddenly quiet.
“If she can go, I can go.”
Thomas stared at me. “I mean that she might be working the party.”
“I doubt other females will be there.”
“I’m okay with that,” I said. “Look, I’m not leaving you to witness that alone. I’m not even in love with Jackson, and I can’t imagine how awkward I would feel being present while he proposed.”
“How did the next morning go? You never said.”
“He was gone. I called his mom, and she said that he got home okay. We haven’t spoken.”
Thomas laughed once. “Showed up at your place, begging. What a vagina full of sand.”
“Focus. We won’t have time to drop me off. We’ll have to go straight there, and I’m not waiting in the car. Just tell your brothers we go everywhere together. Tell them that I’m an overbearing, jealous girlfriend. Honestly, I don’t care. But if you wanted background decoration, you should have brought Constance.”
Thomas smiled. “I wouldn’t have brought Constance. She’s very nearly engaged to the S.A.C.’s son.”
“Another boat you missed while pouting over Camille.”
“Yes, because beautiful, smart, and blonde is so icky,” I deadpanned.
“Not all men are into sweet and loyal.”
He looked down at me, amused. “My type seems to be feisty women who are emotionally unavailable.”
I glared at him. “I’m not the one who is in love with someone else.”
“You’re married to the Bureau, Liis. Everyone knows it.”
“Exactly what I’ve been trying to tell you. Relationships are a waste of time for people like us.”
“You think being in a relationship with me would be a waste of time?”
“I know it would. I wouldn’t even come second. I would be third.”
At first, Thomas seemed too insulted to argue, but then he leaned into my ear. “Some days, you make me wish I’d never told you about Camille.”
“You didn’t tell me about her, remember? It was Val.”
“You need to get over it.”
I touched my chest. “I need to get over it?”
I gritted my teeth, afraid of what would come out of my mouth next. “You miss her. How am I supposed to feel about that? You still have a picture of her in your living room.”
Thomas’s face fell. “Liis, c’mon. We can’t do this now.”
“Can’t do what? Fight over an ex-girlfriend? Because a real couple wouldn’t do that.” I crossed my arms and sat back against the seat.
Thomas looked down, laughing once. “I can’t argue with that.”
We waited at the gate until the desk agent called business class for boarding. Thomas loaded up with our carry-ons and my tote, refusing to let me help. We slowly stepped forward in line, listening to the machine beep each time the ticket agent scanned a boarding pass.
Once we were through, Thomas followed me down the jetway, and then we were stopped again near the door of the plane.
I noticed the females staring—this time, the flight attendants—looking past me to Thomas. He seemed unaware. Maybe he was just used to it at this point in his life. At the office, it was easy to pretend he wasn’t beautiful, but out in the real world, the reactions of others reminded me of how I’d felt the first time I saw him.
We settled in our seats, buckling in. I finally felt relaxed, but Thomas was on edge.
I put my hand on his. “I’m sorry.”
“It’s not you,” he said.
His words stung. Although unintentional, they had a deeper meaning. He was about to watch the woman he loved agree to marry someone else. And he was right. The woman he loved wasn’t me.
“Try not to think about her,” I said. “Maybe we can step out before it happens. Get some air.”
He looked at me as if I should have known better. “You think I’m stressed about Trenton’s proposal?”
“Well…” I began but didn’t quite know how to finish.
“You should know the picture is gone,” he said matter-of-factly.
I looked at him for the longest time, a twinge forming in my chest.
Holding back now would make me gratuitously stubborn. He had put her away. I had no excuse.
I reached over and laced my fingers in his, and he brought my hand up to his mouth. He closed his eyes and then kissed my palm. Such a simple gesture was so intimate, like tugging at someone’s clothes during a hug or the tiniest touch on the back of the neck. When he did things like that, it was easy to forget he’d ever thought of someone else.