- Beautiful Redemption
My skin was slick, and my hair was pulled into a loose knot at the top of my head. The humidity reminded me of the island, and I needed to distract myself.
I pushed the door open and froze. The first thing in my line of sight was Thomas standing in front of the dartboard with a blonde, holding her in one arm as he tried to help her aim a dart with the other.
The moment we made eye contact, I turned on my heels and walked quickly to my car. Running was not conducive in wedges. Before I could even clear the front patio, someone rounded the corner, and I plowed into him, getting knocked off my footing.
Before I hit the ground, large hands swooped me up.
“What the hell is your hurry?” Marks said, releasing me once I’d found my balance.
“Sorry. I was just coming in here for a late dinner.”
“Oh,” he said with a knowing smile. “You saw Maddox in there.”
“I, uh…can find somewhere else to eat.”
“Liis?” Thomas called from the doorway.
“She doesn’t want to eat here since you’re here,” Marks yelled back, cupping my shoulder.
Everyone dining on the patio turned to look at me.
I pushed Marks’s hand away and lifted my chin. “Fuck off.”
I stomped toward my car.
Marks called after me, “You’ve been hanging out with Val too long!”
I didn’t turn around. Instead, I reached into my purse for my keys and pressed the keyless entry.
Before I could open the door, I felt hands on me again.
“Liis,” Thomas said, breathless from jogging across the parking lot.
I jerked my arm away and yanked the door open.
“She’s just a friend. She worked in Constance’s position for Polanski when he was the ASAC.”
I shook my head. “You don’t have to explain.”
He pushed his hands into his pocket. “Yeah, I do. You’re upset.”
“Not because I want to be.” I looked up at him. “I’ll figure it out. Until then, the avoidance thing is working for me.”
Thomas nodded once. “I’m sorry. Upsetting you is the last thing I want to do. You, um…you look gorgeous. Were you meeting someone?”
I made a face. “No, I’m not meeting someone. I’m not dating. I don’t date,” I snapped. “Not that I don’t expect you to,” I said, motioning to the restaurant.
I began to sit in the driver’s seat, but Thomas gently held my arm.
“We’re not dating,” he said. “I was just helping her with darts. Her boyfriend is in there.”
I glared at him, dubious. “Great. I have to go. I haven’t eaten.”
“Eat here,” he said. He offered a hopeful small smile. “I can teach you how to play, too.”
“I’d rather not be one of many. Thank you.”
“You’re not. You never have been.”
“No, just one of two.”
“Whether you believe it or not, Liis…you’ve been the only. There has never been anyone else but you.”
I sighed. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have brought it up. I’ll see you at work on Monday. We have an early meeting.”
“Yep,” he said, taking a step back.
I slid into the driver’s seat and then stabbed the ignition with the key. The Camry made a dainty growl, and then I backed up and pulled away, leaving Thomas alone in the parking lot.
The first lit drive-through sign I saw, I pulled in and waited in line. Once I received my non-Fuzzy burger and small fries, I drove the rest of the way home.
My sack crinkled as I shut my car door, and then I walked to the lobby doors, feeling abysmal that my brilliant plan for distraction couldn’t have been more of a failure.
“Hey!” Val called from across the street.
I looked over at her, and she waved.
“You’re a hot bitch! Come to Cutter’s with me!”
I lifted my sack.
“Dinner?” she yelled.
“Kind of!” I called back.
“Gross!” she yelled. “Liquor will be more satisfying!”
I sighed and then glanced each way before crossing the street. Val hugged me, and then her smile faded when she noticed my expression.
“I went to KC Barbeque. Thomas was there with a very tall and pretty blonde.”
Val pursed her lips. “You’re way better than her. Everyone knows she’s a total skank.”
“Do you know her?” I asked. “She is Polanski’s assistant.”
“Oh,” Val said. “No, Allie is super sweet, but we’re going to pretend she’s a skank.”
“Allie?” I whined, puffing out a breath like the wind had been knocked out of me. The name sounded exactly like the perfect girl who Thomas could fall in love with. “Kill me now.”
She hooked her arm around me. “I’m packing heat. I can if you want.”
I leaned my head onto her shoulder. “You’re a good friend.”
“I know,” Val said, guiding me to Cutter’s.
I FORCED A SMILE FOR AGENT TREVINO while stopped at check-in, and then I steered my Camry toward the parking garage. I was already in a foul mood from the weekend, and the fact that it was Monday wasn’t helping matters.
Thomas was right. I did hate driving on the freeway, and that annoyed me as well. I found a parking space and pushed the gear forward into park. Then, I grabbed my purse and brown leather messenger bag. Shoving the door open, I stepped out to see Agent Grove struggling to get out of his blue sedan.
“Morning,” I said.
He simply nodded, and we headed for the elevator bay. I pressed the button, trying not to tip him off that I was nervous to have him standing behind me.
He coughed into his hand, and I used that as an excuse to glance back.
My sleek ponytail whipped over my right shoulder as I did so. “Summer colds are the worst.”
“Allergies,” he grumbled, almost to himself.
The elevator opened, and I stepped on, followed by Grove. His pale-blue shirt and too-small tie made his expansive midsection look even more pronounced.
“How are the interviews going?” I asked.
Grove’s wiry mustache twitched. “It’s a little early to engage in chitchat, Agent Lindy.”