- Beautiful Redemption
He chuckled, touching his thumb to my chin. “What now?”
“I’m not sure. Something’s not right. You’re too okay about this.”
“Talk to Val. Ask her if I’m lying.”
“She doesn’t work like that.”
“Yes, she does. Ask her.” I opened my mouth to speak, but he pressed my lips closed with his thumb. “Ask her.”
I leaned away. “Fine. Have a good day, sir.”
“Don’t call me sir. I want you out of the habit before we go to the ceremony.”
“Agent Maddox,” I said before walking quickly from his office.
“I don’t like that either,” he called after me.
A wide grin spread across my face. I looked over at Constance as I passed, and she was smiling, too.
VAL HELD THE WINE GLASS TO HER LIPS. Her legs were stretched out across my couch in her charcoal-gray lounge pants, and she had on a light-blue T-shirt that read, WELL, THE PATRIARCH ISN’T GOING TO FUCK ITSELF.
“It’s been over three weeks,” she said, her thoughts as deep as they could be while floating in wine. She held the corkscrew like a weapon between her fingers, but then she crossed her legs like a lady.
“What’s your point?” I asked.
“He’s just so…I don’t want to say he’s in love. It’s a little premature for that. But he’s so…in love.”
“What about you?” she asked.
“I like him,” I said after a little thought. “A lot.” There was no point in lying to Val.
“What is that like? To actually like Thomas Maddox? I’ve hated him for so long that it’s so foreign. To me, he’s not really human.”
“Maybe that’s what I like.”
“I meant that he does have a human side, and I like that I’m the only one he allows to see it. It’s sort of our secret—something he keeps just for me.”
She swirled the wine around in her glass and then tipped it back against her mouth, swallowing the last bit. “Oh, be careful. That sounds dangerously like you’re in it to win it, sunshine.”
“You’re right. I take it back.”
“Well, on that depressing note, the wine is gone, so I am gone.”
“I feel used.”
“But you enjoyed it.” She winked. “See you in the morning.”
“You want me to walk you?”
“I’m on the next block,” she said, her drunken look of disapproval not at all intimidating.
“What is that like?” I asked. “Living in the same building as Sawyer?”
“I used to like it.” She picked up the empty bottle and carried it to the kitchen counter. “But that didn’t last long. Now, I just ignore him.”
“Why does everyone detest him so much?”
“You’ll learn,” she said.
I frowned. “Why does it have to be such a secret? Why can’t you just tell me?”
“Trust me when I say that being told he’s a bastard doesn’t help. You have to experience it for yourself.”
I shrugged. “And Marks? Doesn’t he live there, too?”
“He lives downtown.”
“I don’t know what to think about him,” I said, standing. “I think he hates me.”
“Marks and Maddox have a bromance. It’s gross.” She walked with an astonishing amount of balance for being a bottle and a half in.
I laughed. “I’m going to bed.”
“All right. Good night, geese with an L.” She showed herself out, and I heard the elevator ding.
Already in drinking-wine-at-home clothes, I fell onto my mattress, facedown on top of my yellow-and-gray comforter.
My ears perked up when a knocking noise broke the silence. At first, I thought it was someone down the hall, but then it was louder.
“Val,” I called, annoyed that I had to stand again. I walked across the kitchen and living room to open the door. “You should have just stayed—” My voice pinched off when I recognized Jackson standing in the doorway, looking desperate and drunk.
“Jesus Christ, Jackson. What are you doing here?”
“I went to the Top Gun bar like you said. Got drunk. There are some hot, hot”—he squinted his eyes—“women in this town.” His face fell. “It made me miss you even more,” he whined, trudging past me into the living room.
My entire body tensed. He wasn’t part of my new life, and it made me nearly frantic to have Jackson standing in my new Jackson-free condo. “You can’t be here,” I began.
“I don’t want to do those things without you,” he slurred. “I want to experience San Diego with you. Maybe if…if I transferred here, too—”
“Jackson, you’re drunk. You barely listen to me when you’re sober. Let’s call you a cab.”
I walked toward my phone, but Jackson got to it before I could, and he tossed it across the room. It skidded across the floor and slammed against the baseboard.
“What the hell is wrong with you?” I yelled before quickly covering my mouth.
I scurried over to retrieve my phone from the floor. It was lying on its face next to the baseboard it had collided with. I inspected it to make sure it wasn’t damaged. Miraculously, it wasn’t cracked or even dinged.
“I’m sorry!” Jackson yelled back, leaning forward and holding up his hands. “Don’t call a cab, Liisee.”
He intermittently swayed from side to side to keep his balance. I couldn’t remember ever seeing him so intoxicated.
“I’ll just sleep here with you.”
“No,” I said, my tone firm. “You’re not staying here.”
“Liis,” he said, walking toward me, his round eyes half closed and glossed over. He wasn’t even looking at me but past me, weaving back and forth. He took my shoulders in his hands and leaned in, his lips puckered and his eyes closed.
I dodged, and we both tumbled to the floor.
“Damn it, Jackson!” I scrambled up, and I watched him struggle to get his bearings.
Reaching up and rocking to sit up, he looked like a turtle on its shell. I groaned.