It was a natural thing to say, practically ingrained, and I didn’t mean anything by it, but Thomas’s eyes popped open, and his disappointment was hard to miss.
“It’s Thomas. Just Thomas.” He turned his shoulders to face me head-on. “I have to admit, I thought this would be easier for you. I know it will be distracting to be in Chicago again, but are you sure you can do this? It’s important.”
I bit my lip. For the first time, I truly worried that I would slip and not only put the whole operation at risk, but also put Thomas in danger of being at odds with his family for lying. But if I voiced my concerns, the Bureau would send another female agent to play the part, likely one out of the Chicago office.
I took his hand in mine, tenderly rubbing my thumb against his skin. He looked down at our hands and then back at me.
Thomas nodded, but I could tell he was uncertain.
“When we set down, not even you will be able to tell the difference.”
“HEY, DICKHEAD!” ONE OF THE TWINS SAID, walking across baggage claim toward Thomas with open arms. He had just a dusting of hair on his head, and the skin around his honey-brown eyes wrinkled when he smiled.
“Taylor!” Thomas set down our luggage and tightly wrapped his arms around his brother.
They were the same height, and both towered over me.
At first glance, a passerby might mistake them for friends, but even under his peacoat, Taylor was just as ripped. The only difference was that Thomas had thicker muscles, making it obvious that he was the older brother. Other things tipped off that they were related. Taylor’s skin tone was just a shade lighter, geography being the likely culprit.
When Taylor hugged Thomas, I noticed that they also had identical strong large hands. Being around all five of them at the same time would be incredibly daunting.
Thomas patted his brother’s back, almost too hard. I was glad he didn’t greet me that way, but his brother wasn’t fazed. They let go, and Taylor hit Thomas’s arm, again hard enough that it was audible.
Thomas shook his head, and then they both turned to stare at me with matching grins.
There was a reverence in his voice when he spoke, and he regarded me in the same way he’d held Camille on the pier in the picture. I felt precious to him, and I had to push on my toes to keep from leaning forward.
Just a few weeks before, Thomas had said my name as if it were a swear word. Now, when he formed his mouth around it, I melted.
Taylor gave me a bear hug, lifting me off the ground. When he set me down, he smirked. “Sorry about keeping you up the other night. I had a rough week.”
His face turned red, and I inwardly celebrated at being able to make a Maddox brother blush.
The feeling of victory vanished, and guilt jarred me into silence. That didn’t last long when I remembered the yelping and wall-banging. “So, you slept with—” I almost slipped and said Agent Davies. “I’m sorry. It’s none of my business.”
Taylor took a long deep breath and blew it out. “I wasn’t going to bring this up until later, but I was really messed up over it and really drunk. Falyn and I worked it out, and she’ll be in St. Thomas, so I’d appreciate it if…you know…”
Taylor looked so deeply ashamed. It was hard to judge him.
I shrugged. “I never saw you. Anything I reported would be speculation anyway.” Damn it, Liis. Stop sounding like an agent.
Taylor lifted my tote and slipped it over his shoulder. “Thanks.”
Taylor leaned down to give me better access. I pulled out my sweater, and Thomas helped me slip it on.
Taylor began walking, and Thomas reached back for my hand. I took his hand, and we followed his brother to the exit.
“I drove around for half an hour before I found a parking spot in the main lot,” Taylor said. “It’s spring break, so everyone is traveling, I guess.”
“When did you get into town? What are you driving?” Thomas asked.
Suddenly, I didn’t feel so bad. Thomas sounded more like FBI than I did.
“I’ve been here since yesterday.”
The moment Taylor stepped foot in the street, he pulled a box of cigarettes from his pocket and flipped one in his mouth. He dug into the pack again and pulled out a lighter. He lit the end and puffed until the paper and tobacco glowed orange.
He blew out a puff of smoke. “Have you been to Chicago before, Liis?”
“Yes,” I said, my voice rising an octave as if it were a question.
“Huh. Millions of people in San Diego, and Thomas bags a girl from Illinois.”
“Sorry,” Taylor said, turning to look at me.
He had Thomas’s same charming expression, one that would make the average girl swoon, and I was beginning to realize it was just a Maddox trait.
Taylor shook his head. “She had to work. She’s meeting me in St. Thomas, and then we’ll fly back together.”
“Did Trav pick you up from the airport? Or did Trent?” Thomas asked.
Taylor laughed. “I’m used to it. He’s always been like this.”
He walked ahead, but Thomas’s eyes softened, and he brought my hand up to his mouth for a tender tiny kiss.
Taylor nodded. “Shepley did. Travis is with Shepley all day, so I drove Trav’s car to come get you. He doesn’t know we’re in town. He thinks he’ll see us all in St. Thomas tomorrow, like the girls.”
“Are all the girls in St. Thomas?” I asked.
Thomas gave me a look. He knew exactly what I was asking.
“Not all the girls. Just Abby and her bridesmaids.” We walked into the main lot, and Taylor pointed straight ahead. “I’m all the way down by the fence.”
After hiking a hundred yards or so in the cold wind, Taylor pulled a set of keys from his pocket and pressed a button. A silver Toyota Camry chirped a few cars ahead.
“Am I the only one who thinks it’s strange that Travis has a car now?” Thomas said, staring at the vehicle.
A gold chain was looped around the rearview mirror and then separated into several strands. The ends were looped through small holes in white poker chips. They looked personalized with black-and-white striped borders and red writing in the middle.
Taylor shook his head, pushing another button to open the trunk. “You should see him driving it. He looks like a pussy.”
Thomas laughed and then helped Taylor load our luggage. Thomas came around and opened the passenger door for me, but I shook my head.
“It’s okay. Sit in the front with your brother.” I opened the back door. “I’ll sit back here.”
Thomas leaned down to kiss my cheek, but then he noticed I was gawking into the backseat. He stared as well.