“I don’t just want you, Liis. I need you. That doesn’t go away.”

He pinched the sides of my shirt and touched his forehead to mine. He smelled so good, musky and clean. Just the tiny touch of his fingers on my clothes made me want to melt into him.

“You want me to say that I’m over her? I’m over her,” he said, his voice growing more desperate with every word.

I shook my head, glancing down the dark street. “I don’t just want you to say it. I want it to be true.”

“Liis.” He waited until I looked up at him. “Please believe me. I did love someone before, but I have never loved anyone the way I love you.”

I sank into him, letting him wrap his arms around me. I allowed myself to let go, to give control to whatever forces had brought us to that place. I had two choices. I could walk away from Thomas and somehow tolerate the heartache I felt every day from being without him. Or I could take a huge risk on just faith with no predictions, calculations, or certainty.

Thomas loved me. He needed me. Maybe I wasn’t the first woman he’d loved, and maybe the kind of love a Maddox man felt lasted forever, but I needed him, too. I wasn’t the first, but I would be the last. That didn’t make me the second prize. It made me his forever.

A loud popping noise echoed from across the dim street. The brick behind me splintered into a hundred pieces in every direction.

I turned and looked up, seeing a small cloud of dust floating in the air above my left shoulder and a hole in the brick.

“What the hell?” Thomas asked. His eyes took in every window above us and then settled on the empty road between us and our building.

Grove strode across the street with his arm outstretched in front of him, holding a Bureau-issued pistol in his trembling hand. Thomas angled himself in a protective stance, covering my body with his.

He glowered at our assailant. “Put your sidearm on the ground, Grove, and I won’t fucking kill you.”

Grove halted, only twenty yards and a parallel-parked car between us. “I saw you sprinting out of your building to catch Agent Lindy—in your bare feet. I doubt you thought to grab your gun. Did you tuck it into your shorts before you left?”

For a greasy-looking, pudgy, short man, he was awfully condescending.

Grove’s mustache twitched, and he smiled, revealing a mouthful of teeth well on their way to rotting. It was true. Evil ate people from the inside out.

“It was me,” Thomas said, slowly bending his elbows to hold up his hands. “I brought her here because I was suspicious of your intel.”

Two men walked around the corner and froze.

“Oh, shit!” one of them said before they spun around and ran back the way they’d come.

I slowly reached into my purse, using Thomas’s body to hide my movement.

Grove’s gun went off, and Thomas jerked. He looked down and held his hand to his lower right abdomen.

He grunted, but refused to move out of the way. “You’re not walking away from this,” Thomas said, his voice strained. “Those guys are calling the police right now. But you can flip, Grove. Give us the information you have on Yakuza.”

Grove’s eyes glossed over. “I’m dead anyway. Stupid bitch,” he said, aiming his gun again.

I raised my hand between Thomas’s arm and his torso, and fired my gun. Grove fell to his knees, a red circle darkening the front pocket of his white button-down. He fell onto his side, and then Thomas turned, grunting.

“How bad is it?” I asked, scrambling to pull up his shirt.

Blood was pouring from his wound, pushing out thick crimson with every beat of his heart.

“Fuck,” Thomas said through his teeth.

I slid my gun into the back of my jeans while Thomas removed his T-shirt. He wadded it up and pressed it against his wound.

“You should lie down. It’ll slow the bleeding,” I said, dialing 911 on my cell phone.

The same two men from before peeked around the corner, and once they saw it was safe, they came out. “Are you okay, man?” one of them asked. “We called the cops. They’re on their way.”

I hung up the phone. “They got the call. They’re coming.”

As if on cue, sirens wailed from just a few short blocks away.

I smiled at Thomas. “You’re going to be all right, okay?”

“Hell yes,” he said, his voice strained. “I finally got you back. One bullet isn’t going to fuck that up.”

“Here,” the other guy said, taking off his shirt. “You might go into shock, dude.”

Thomas took a step, reaching for the shirt, and from the corner of my eye, I saw Grove raise his gun, pointing it directly at me.

“Shit!” one of the guys yelled.

Before I had time to react, Thomas leaped in front of me, shielding me with his body. We were facing each other when the pop went off, and Thomas jerked again.

“He’s down again! I think he’s dead!” one of the men said, pointing to Grove.

I looked around Thomas to see the two guys cautiously approach Grove, and then one kicked his gun away.

Thomas fell to his knees, a shocked look on his face, and then he dropped to his side. His head hit the sidewalk with a loud knock.

“Thomas?” I shrieked. “Thomas!” Tears blurred my vision as they welled up in my eyes.

My hands checked him over. He had a bullet wound on his lower back, three inches from his spine. Blood oozed up through the hole and spilled out onto the sidewalk.

Thomas whispered something, and I bent down to hear him.

I pulled him back to look at his front. He had matching gunshot wounds, one on each side of his lower abdomen. One was on his right side from the first time Grove had shot him, and another was on the opposite side.

Pain blazed from my midsection, and I looked down. A red stain had spread on my shirt. The bullet had gone straight through Thomas and into me. Yanking at my shirt, I pulled it up to reveal blood oozing steadily from a small hole on my right lower chest, just beneath my ribs.

My blurry vision hadn’t been from tears but from blood loss. I slumped next to Thomas, still keeping pressure on his wound with one hand and on mine with the other.

The sirens seemed farther away instead of closer. The neighborhood began to spin, and I collapsed onto my stomach.

“Liis,” he said, turning onto his back to face me. His skin was pale and sweaty. “Stay with me, baby. They’re coming.”

The cold sidewalk felt good against my cheek. A heaviness came over me, an exhaustion unlike anything I’d ever felt before.

“I love you,” I whispered with my last remaining strength.

A tear fell from the corner of my eye, crossed the bridge of my nose, and then dripped to our concrete bed, mixing with the red mess beneath us.

Thomas let go of the T-shirt, and with a weak hand, he reached for me, his eyes glossing over. “I love you.”

I couldn’t move, but I could feel his fingers touching mine, and they intertwined.

“Hang on,” he said. He frowned. “Liis?”

I wanted to talk, to blink, to do anything to calm his fears, but nothing moved. I could see the panic in his eyes as life slipped away from me, but I was helpless.