Chapter Four

“LOOK WHO IT IS,” Anthony said, setting a pair of napkins in front of two empty stools.

“Thanks for the warning the other night,” I said. “You could have told me I was leaving with my boss.”

Val puffed out a laugh. “You let her walk out of here with him? Not even a hint? That’s just cruel.”

Anthony pulled his mouth to the side. “He wasn’t your boss…yet. Besides, I knew nothing was going to happen.”

I narrowed my eyes. “But you knew he was going to be, and you lost that bet.”

Anthony was stunned. “Maddox? Oh no, honey, you must have hallucinated.”

“Don’t look so shocked,” I said. “It’s rude.”

“It’s not that…it’s just…” Anthony looked to Val. “I’ve just seen him shoot so many women down. It was enough of a surprise that he asked you to leave with him.”

Val shook her head and chuckled. “I told you. He’s sworn off women.”

“Well, Saint Thomas has broken his vow,” I said.

Anthony pointed his finger, swirling tiny invisible circles in the air. “You must have voodoo in your hoohoo.”

Val cackled.

“Maybe I do!” I said, feigning insult.

Anthony seemed remorseful in a don’t-shoot-me sort of way. “You’re right. I should have given you a heads-up. First round is on me. Friends?”

“That’s a start,” I said, sitting.

“Oh,” Anthony said, looking to Val, “she’s feisty.”

“Just wait until Maddox finds out you knew she was an agent.”

Anthony held his hand to his chest, looking genuinely concerned. “Christ on the cross, you’re not going to tell him, are you?”

“I just might,” I said, chewing on my thumbnail. “You’d better have my back from now on.”

“Swear,” Anthony said, holding up three fingers.

“Quit that shit. You were never a Boy Scout,” Val said.

“Hey,” a male voice said before bending down to kiss Val’s cheek and sitting in the empty stool next to her.

“Hey, Marks. You know Lindy.”

Marks leaned forward, took one look at me, and then leaned back. “Yep.”

Val made a face. “What’s that about?” He was focused on the large television screen above us, and when he didn’t answer, she backhanded his arm. “Joel! What’s with the douchebaggery?”

“What the…why are you hitting me?” he said, rubbing his arm. “I just choose to keep my distance from trouble.”

I rolled my eyes and looked to Anthony.

“The usual?” Anthony asked.

I nodded.

“You already have a usual?” Val said. “How often do you come here?”

I sighed. “This is just my third time.”

“In as many days,” Anthony added. He set a Manhattan on the napkin in front of me. “Are you going to speak to me this time?”

“You’re lucky I’m speaking to you now,” I said.

Anthony nodded, conceding, and then looked to Val. “If she’d ordered only one drink, I still would have remembered. Whose bar do you think this is?”

Val cocked an eyebrow. “This is not your bar, Anthony.”

“It’s my bar,” he said, sitting a short tumbler in front of her. “Do you see anyone else running this shit?” He motioned all around him. “Okay.”

Val chuckled, and Anthony took Marks’s order. I was used to more pleasantries, more courtesy. I liked the sharp wit and jagged edges of their banter—no hurt feelings, no seriousness. After a day at the office, it was refreshing.

The door chimed, and a quick glance turned into a long stare while Maddox made his way to the stool next to Marks. Maddox’s eyes caught mine for a fraction of a second, and then he greeted his friend. Before Maddox could settle into his seat and loosen his tie, Anthony had already set a beer bottle on the counter in front of him.

“Relax,” Val whispered. “He won’t stay long. Maybe one drink.”

“I’m glad I never tried undercover work. I’m beginning to think my thoughts and feelings are surrounded by glass walls and subtitled just in case I’m not obvious enough.”

Val helped me to carry on a semi-normal conversation, but then Maddox ordered another drink.

Val’s face compressed. “That’s not like him.”

I tried to remember if he’d had more than one drink the first time we met.

“Hell,” I whispered, “I should probably head home anyway.”

I gestured to Anthony for my check, and Marks leaned forward.

“You leaving?” he asked.

I simply nodded.

He seemed miffed by my silence. “You don’t talk now?”

“Just trying to help you stay out of trouble.” I signed the small strip of paper for Anthony, leaving behind a tip that covered all three nights, and then I slipped the strap of my purse over my arm.

The night air begged me to take a stroll in a different direction than my condo, but I rounded the corner and crossed the street, climbing the stoop of my building. Once inside, my heels clicked against the tile floor until I stopped in front of the elevator bay.

The entrance door opened and closed, and then Maddox slowed to a stop when he saw me.

“Going up?” he asked.

I stared at him with a blank expression, and he looked around as if he were lost, or maybe he couldn’t believe he’d said something so stupid. We were on the ground floor.

The doors slid open with a cheerful chime, and I stepped inside. Maddox followed. I pressed the buttons for the fifth and sixth floors, unable to forget that Maddox lived directly above me.

“Thank you,” he said.

I thought I caught his attempt to soften his gruff I’m-the-boss voice.

While the elevator climbed five floors, the tension swirled around my supervisor and me, increasing just like the illuminated numbers above the door.

Finally, as my floor came into view, I stepped out and let out the breath I’d been holding. I turned to nod to Maddox, and just before the doors slid closed, he stepped out.

As soon as his feet hit the fifth-floor carpet, he seemed to regret it.

“Isn’t your place—”

“The next floor up. Yes,” he said. He looked over at my door and swallowed.