- Beautiful Redemption
I looked at my half-empty glass. I hadn’t even realized I’d been drinking it. “Yes, please.”
She filled my glass and then returned to the other passengers.
Thomas and I ate our meals in silence, but it was clear what we thought of our microwaved grilled chicken with a teaspoon of sweet chili sauce and limp mixed vegetables. The pretzel roll was the best part of the meal.
The man sitting in the aisle seat in front of us kept his feet propped on the wall in front of him and talked to his neighbor about his burgeoning evangelical career. The silver-haired man behind us talked to the woman next to him about his first novel, and after asking some basic questions, she revealed that she was thinking of writing one, too.
Before I was finished with my warm chocolate chip cookie, the pilot came over the PA system to announce that he would begin the descent soon, and our flight would land in Chicago ten minutes earlier than expected. Once he finished his announcement, a symphony of seat belts unclicking and bodies shifting could be heard, and the pilgrimages to the restrooms began.
Thomas closed his eyes again. I tried not to stare. Since we’d met, I had done nothing but deny my feelings for him while I fought ferociously for my independence. But I was free only when he touched me. Outside of our intimate moments, I would be held captive by thoughts of his hands.
Even if it was just for appearances, I hoped that pretending would satisfy my curiosity. If Thomas seeing Camille changed anything, at least remembering the best memories of the weekend would be a better alternative to mourning our fake relationship when we got home.
“Liis,” Thomas said, his eyes still shut.
“The moment we land, we’re undercover.” He looked at me. “It’s important that any connections with Mick or Benny have no clue that we’re federal agents.”
“You’re free to talk about anything from your life, except for your time at the Bureau. That will be interchanged by your undercover career as a replacement professor in cultural studies at the University of California, San Diego. We have all the records in place there.”
“I’ve packed my university credentials.”
“Good.” He closed his eyes again, settling into his seat. “You’ve researched the school, I assume?”
“Yes, and your family and a few others who you might have mentioned if we were in an actual relationship—Shepley, America, Camille, the twins; your dad, Jim; his brother, Jack; Jack’s wife, Deana; and your mom.”
His lips curved up. “Diane. You can say her name.”
It was a natural thing to say, practically ingrained, and I didn’t mean anything by it, but Thomas’s eyes popped open, and his disappointment was hard to miss.
“It’s Thomas. Just Thomas.” He turned his shoulders to face me head-on. “I have to admit, I thought this would be easier for you. I know it will be distracting to be in Chicago again, but are you sure you can do this? It’s important.”
I bit my lip. For the first time, I truly worried that I would slip and not only put the whole operation at risk, but also put Thomas in danger of being at odds with his family for lying. But if I voiced my concerns, the Bureau would send another female agent to play the part, likely one out of the Chicago office.
I took his hand in mine, tenderly rubbing my thumb against his skin. He looked down at our hands and then back at me.
“Do you trust me?” I asked.
Thomas nodded, but I could tell he was uncertain.
“When we set down, not even you will be able to tell the difference.”
“HEY, DICKHEAD!” ONE OF THE TWINS SAID, walking across baggage claim toward Thomas with open arms. He had just a dusting of hair on his head, and the skin around his honey-brown eyes wrinkled when he smiled.
“Taylor!” Thomas set down our luggage and tightly wrapped his arms around his brother.
They were the same height, and both towered over me.
At first glance, a passerby might mistake them for friends, but even under his peacoat, Taylor was just as ripped. The only difference was that Thomas had thicker muscles, making it obvious that he was the older brother. Other things tipped off that they were related. Taylor’s skin tone was just a shade lighter, geography being the likely culprit.
When Taylor hugged Thomas, I noticed that they also had identical strong large hands. Being around all five of them at the same time would be incredibly daunting.
Thomas patted his brother’s back, almost too hard. I was glad he didn’t greet me that way, but his brother wasn’t fazed. They let go, and Taylor hit Thomas’s arm, again hard enough that it was audible.
“Damn, Tommy! You’re a fuckin’ diesel!” Taylor made a show of squeezing Thomas’s bicep.
Thomas shook his head, and then they both turned to stare at me with matching grins.
“This,” Thomas said, beaming, “is Liis Lindy.”
There was a reverence in his voice when he spoke, and he regarded me in the same way he’d held Camille on the pier in the picture. I felt precious to him, and I had to push on my toes to keep from leaning forward.
Just a few weeks before, Thomas had said my name as if it were a swear word. Now, when he formed his mouth around it, I melted.
Taylor gave me a bear hug, lifting me off the ground. When he set me down, he smirked. “Sorry about keeping you up the other night. I had a rough week.”
“At work?” I asked.
His face turned red, and I inwardly celebrated at being able to make a Maddox brother blush.
Thomas smirked. “He got dumped.”
The feeling of victory vanished, and guilt jarred me into silence. That didn’t last long when I remembered the yelping and wall-banging. “So, you slept with—” I almost slipped and said Agent Davies. “I’m sorry. It’s none of my business.”
Thomas couldn’t hide his relief.
Taylor took a long deep breath and blew it out. “I wasn’t going to bring this up until later, but I was really messed up over it and really drunk. Falyn and I worked it out, and she’ll be in St. Thomas, so I’d appreciate it if…you know…”
“Falyn is your girlfriend?” I asked.
Taylor looked so deeply ashamed. It was hard to judge him.
I shrugged. “I never saw you. Anything I reported would be speculation anyway.” Damn it, Liis. Stop sounding like an agent.