- Beautiful Redemption
“Really? That wasn’t a knee-jerk reaction just then?”
“Yes…but I’ve let you kiss me before.”
“When you were drunk,” Thomas said with a smirk. He walked to the middle of the room and sat on my couch like he owned the place. “That doesn’t count.”
I followed him, watched him for a moment, and then sat on his right, leaving not even air between us. I nuzzled my cheek against his chest and slid my hand across his rigid abdomen before digging my fingers into his left side, just enough so that my arm stayed in place.
My entire body relaxed, and I crossed my right leg over my left, letting my calf overlap his knee so that every part of me was at least a little bit draped over him. I cuddled up against him with a smile because Thomas Maddox—the astute, always-in-control Special Agent—was as still as a statue, his heart thundering in his chest.
“I’m not the one who needs practice,” I said with a grin. I closed my eyes.
I felt his muscles ease, and he wrapped his arms around my shoulders, letting his chin rest on top of my head. He let all the air escape from his lungs, and it seemed like a long time before he took another breath.
We stayed that way, without anywhere to be, listening to the quietness of my condo and the noise from the street. Tires still sloshed against the wet asphalt, horns honked, doors from cars slammed. Once in a while, a person would shout, car brakes would whine, and a dog would bark.
Inside, sitting with Thomas—on the very couch we’d christened the night we met—felt like an alternate universe.
“This is nice,” he said finally.
“Nice?” I was mildly offended. I thought it felt amazing. No one had held me that way since Jackson in Chicago, and even then, it hadn’t felt like this.
I didn’t think that I would miss someone touching me, especially when I hadn’t appreciated Jackson’s affection before. But being without it for less than a month had made me feel lonely, and maybe even a little depressed. That was typical for anyone, I imagined, but I was sure that the sadness wouldn’t have come so strong and so soon had I not experienced Thomas’s hands on me during my first night in San Diego. I’d had to miss them every day after that.
“You know what I mean,” he said.
“No. Why don’t you tell me?”
His lips pressed against my hair, and he inhaled, deep and peaceful. “I don’t want to. I just want to enjoy it.”
I opened my eyes, alone and lying on my couch. I was still fully dressed, covered with the wool throw that had been folded on the chair.
I sat up, rubbed my eyes, and then paused. “Thomas?” I called. I felt ridiculous. It was worse than the morning after our one-night stand.
My watch read three a.m., and then I heard a bump upstairs. I looked up with a smile. It was nice knowing that he was so close. But then I heard something else, something that made my stomach turn.
A rhythm of bumping against a wall along with moans began to filter down to my condo, and I looked around, not knowing what to think. Did he leave here and go to Cutter’s? Meet a girl? Take her home?
But Thomas wouldn’t do that. I had been the only one since…maybe I’d gotten him out of his slump.
“Oh God!” a woman’s muffled cry repeated my thought aloud, filling my condo.
No. This has to stop.
I stood up and began to search for something long to bang against the ceiling. His embarrassment didn’t matter in the least. I didn’t even care if I was that neighbor—the spinster downstairs who didn’t like hearing music, loud laughter, or sex. I just needed that woman’s abnormally loud orgasm to stop.
I climbed onto the dining room chair, the same one Thomas had used earlier, with a broom in hand. Just before I started banging the handle against the ceiling, someone knocked on the door.
What in the hell?
I opened it, fully aware that either I looked absolutely insane or the person on the other side of the door would be the crazy one, and I would have to use the broom on some psycho.
Thomas was standing in the doorway with dark circles under his eyes, looking exhausted. “Can I stay here?”
“Why are you holding a broom?” he asked. “It’s after three in the morning. Are you cleaning?”
I narrowed my eyes. “Don’t you have company?”
He looked around, seeming confused by my question, and then shifted his weight from one leg to the other. “Yes.”
“Shouldn’t you be at your place then?”
“Uh…I’m not getting much sleep up there.”
I tried to slam the door, but he caught it and followed me inside.
“What is wrong with you?” he asked. Then, he pointed to the stray dining room chair. “What’s up with the chair?”
“I was going to climb up on it and use this!” I said, holding out the broom.
“For what?” His nose wrinkled.
“On the ceiling! To make it stop! To make her stop!”
Recognition lit his eyes, and he was instantly embarrassed. “You can hear that?”
I rolled my eyes. “Yes. The whole building can hear it.”
He rubbed the back of his neck. “I’m sorry, Liis.”
“Don’t apologize,” I seethed. “It’s not like we…it’s not real.”
“Please don’t apologize! It just makes me feel more pathetic!”
“Okay! I’m sorry! I mean…”
I sighed. “Just…go.”
“I…was going to ask if I could stay here tonight. But I guess if you can hear her—”
I tossed the broom at him, but he hopped over it.
“What the hell, Liis?”
“No, you can’t stay here! Go back upstairs to your one-night stand! Seems like you’ve become a pro.”
His eyes grew wide, and he held up his hands. “Oh! Whoa. No. That wasn’t…that’s not me. Up there. With her.”
“What?” I closed my eyes, completely confused.
“I’m not with her.”
I glared at him. “Obviously. You just met her.”
His hands were moving back and forth in a horizontal motion. “No. I’m not up there, fucking her.”