He stared at me, speechless.
I rolled my eyes and pulled on his hand. “C’mon, let’s get back to the party.”
He pulled away from me. “I am, Liis. I am heartbroken. What happened is fucking sad.”
“Great! Let’s go!” I said, my words dripping with false excitement and sarcasm.
I shouldered past him, but he grabbed my wrist and pulled me against him. He held my hand near his cheek and then turned to kiss my palm, closing his eyes.
“It’s sad because it’s over,” he said against my hand, his breath warm on my skin. He turned and looked down into my eyes. “It’s sad because I made a choice that has changed my relationship with my brother forever. I hurt her and Trenton and myself. The worst part is that I thought it was justified, but now, I’m afraid it was all for nothing.”
“What do you mean?” I asked, eyeing him warily.
“I loved Camille—but not like this, not like you.”
I glanced around. “Stop it, Thomas. No one can hear you.”
“Can you?” he asked. When I didn’t respond, he let go of my hand. “What? What can I say to convince you?”
“Keep telling me how sad you are to lose Camille. I’m sure that will eventually work.”
“You’ve only heard me say that it’s sad. You ignored the part about it being over.”
“It’s not over,” I said, laughing once. “It’s never going to be over. You said it yourself. You’ll always love her.”
He pointed to the other side of the room. “What you saw over there? That was good-bye. She’s marrying my brother.”
“I also saw you in pain about both.”
“Yes! It’s painful! What do you want from me, Liis?”
“I want you not to love her anymore!”
The music was in between songs, and everyone turned toward the corner where Thomas and I stood. Camille and Trenton were talking to another couple, and Camille looked just as humiliated as I was. She tucked her hair behind her ear, and then Trenton guided her to the cake table.
Thomas glanced behind us and then pulled my hand down, shaking his head. “It’s okay. Don’t worry about them.”
“I don’t act this way. This isn’t like me.”
He puffed out a breath of relief. “I can relate. We tend to have that effect on each other.”
Not only was I not myself around Thomas, but he also made me feel things I couldn’t control. Anger boiled inside of me. If he knew me at all, he would understand that erratic feelings weren’t acceptable.
Being with Jackson, I could control my feelings. Yelling at him during a party would never have crossed my mind. He would have been shocked to see me lashing out.
When it came to Thomas, I was all over the place. My head was pulling me in one direction, and Thomas and my heart were pulling me in another. Unpredictable outcomes scared the hell out of me. It was time to bridle my emotions. Nothing was more frightening than being manipulated by my own heart.
When the crowd turned away, I forced a smile, lifting my chin to meet Thomas’s eyes.
Thomas’s eyebrows pulled in. “What is that? What’s the sudden smile about?”
I walked past him. “Told you that you wouldn’t be able to tell the difference.”
Thomas followed me back to the party. He stood behind me and then wrapped his arms around my middle, resting his cheek in the crook of my neck.
When I didn’t respond, he touched his lips to my ear. “The lines are beginning to blur, Liis. Was that just for show?”
“I’m working. Aren’t you?” A lump formed in my throat. It was the best lie I’d ever told.
“Wow,” he said before releasing me and then walking away.
Thomas stood between Jim and another man. I couldn’t be certain, but the man had to be Thomas’s uncle. He looked nearly identical to Jim. Clearly, Maddox DNA was dominant, like their family…and their men.
Someone turned down the music and then switched off the lights. It was pitch-dark, and I was standing alone.
The door opened, and after a few seconds of quiet, a man said from the doorway, “Uh…”
The lights flipped on to reveal Travis and who must have been Shepley standing at the door, squinting as their eyes adjusted to the light. Taylor and his twin threw penis confetti into Travis’s face, and everyone cheered.
I studied Travis as he greeted everyone. A lot of shoulder-patting, man hugs, and rough head-rubbing commenced while they all clapped and hooted.
A still scantily clad and shiny Trenton popped and locked, bumped and grinded to the music. Thomas and Jim shook their heads at the sight.
Camille was standing in front of the crowd surrounding Trenton, encouraging him and laughing uncontrollably. Irrational anger came over me. Ten minutes before, she had been draped over Thomas, lamenting over their breakup. I didn’t like her. I couldn’t imagine why not one but two Maddox men did.
When the song was over, Trenton walked over to Camille and lifted her in his arms, twirling her around in the air. When he lowered her to her feet, she crossed her arms at the back of Trenton’s neck and kissed him.
Another song boomed through the speakers, and the few other women present pulled their men onto the modest dance floor. Some of the men joined them, mostly just being silly.
Thomas remained sandwiched between his father and uncle, glancing at me only once in a while. He was angry with me, and he had every right to be. I was giving myself whiplash. I couldn’t imagine how he must be feeling.
There I stood, glaring at Camille every time she drew attention to herself, and I hadn’t treated Thomas much better. He wasn’t just playing a part. He’d expressed interest in me before we had left for the assignment. If anything, I was worse than Camille. At least she didn’t jerk around his heart, knowing she was already dealing with broken pieces.
The responsible thing to do would be to keep it professional. One day, I was going to have to choose between Thomas and the Bureau, and I would choose the job. But every time we were alone, every time he touched me, and what I’d felt when I saw him with Camille, I knew that my feelings had become too complex to ignore.
Val had told me to be straight with Thomas, but he wouldn’t accept it. My cheeks flushed. I was a strong and intelligent woman. I had broken down the problem, determined the solution, made a decision, and communicated that decision.
I sighed. Then, I’d yelled at him in front of nearly all of his friends and family. He’d looked at me as if I were crazy.
He’d told me the picture was gone, but taking a picture off a table wouldn’t change feelings. Jim had said Camille was in Thomas’s past, and that was true. But I couldn’t reconcile that Thomas missed her or that he still loved her.
What I really needed was Thomas’s closure, and that solution was reliant on him. Closure wasn’t an unreasonable request, but it might be an impossible one. It wasn’t up to me. It was up to Thomas.
For the first time in my adult life, I had allowed myself to be involved in a situation that I couldn’t control or handle, and my stomach felt sick.
I glanced over at Thomas, and once again, I caught him looking at me. I finally walked over to him, and his shoulders relaxed.