Jamie hadn’t seen Chris in two months. Two months, four days and if she thought hard enough, she could probably figure out the hours and minutes as well.
Pathetic. Completely and utterly pathetic.
Not that she’d thought about him exclusively. No, she’d worked her ass off to forget about the way his body had pressed hers against the floor of the downed plane in Africa.
The way he’d left her standing in the middle of a dirt road in Kisangani when he’d told her, I can’t compete with a ghost, Jamie…
And still, the way he looked— and the way he looked at her just now… he was the one seeing ghosts on this day.
It had been all she could do not to crawl into the hospital bed with him and hug him.
Soft. She was soft and stupid. It was more than obvious Chris couldn’t wait for her to leave the room.
He’d looked good – tired, heavily bruised but good. Alive.
“Agent Michaels.” Captain St. James came up behind her, his drawl more pronounced than Chris’s was. Chris’s CO was handsome, but he wasn’t happy.
“Obviously, I’m going to need to speak with Waldron again,” she said.
“Interrogate him, you mean.”
“I’m sorry about the loss of your teammate, but the FBI lost a man on that mission as well. I’d think you’d want to learn all you can about what happened out there.”
St. James’s face went hard. “I know all I need to know. But you will not question him anymore today – nor will you do so without me there.”
“I wouldn’t dream of it, Captain.”
He nodded curtly in agreement and walked down the hall, away from Chris’s room and her, his bearing stiff. She would’ve bet that, before this, it was as easy as Chris’s own gait had been and she understood.
She hadn’t known Josiah, but it didn’t matter – he was one of her own as well. The leave no man behind creed didn’t just apply to the military.
Her stomach lurched, the way it had for the past few days, ever since she’d learned of the failed mission. It had taken three days before she’d been able to ascertain that there were survivors on the Joint Task Force, a day longer to find out that Chris had been one of the lucky ones.
She hated the way Chris’s getting hurt affected her, brought her back to that terrible place she’d been last year when she’d been shot and Mike had been killed, when she’d lost her partner and the man who was supposed to be the love her life all in the same second.
When she met Chris, she’d been in mourning for what felt like forever. Her body ached in strange places it never had before, as if Mike’s death opened up a void inside of her that she’d never even known existed.
Chris had immediately responded to her needs — saw her as a female rather than a straight and narrow FBI Agent and she liked it. It wasn’t disrespectful — no, he got it, knew what her job entailed and how she’d worked her ass off to get where she was.
He knew it so well he was able to help her leave her work and her worries behind, if only for a short time.
“We’re just men and women underneath it all,” he’d told her that night as they lay, naked bodies inside the crashed Cessna waiting for the rain to subside. A life or death experience, followed by intense sex and no, she couldn’t blame the danger. The attraction had been electric from the second she’d met him.
The attraction was still there, underneath the tension and the thinly veiled hatred at the job she needed to perform.
That wouldn’t be a problem. Practicality was her strong suit—she had always been incredibly logical, while her older sister, Sophie, was the impulsive one.
In Jamie’s profession, her traits had never been a liability, nor had they been in her relationship with Mike. But lately, she felt caged in by herself—there were limits to be stretched, and she wasn’t sure if it was Sophie’s inﬂuence or Chris Waldron’s, but something inside of her had changed.
Now she just needed to ﬁgure out if that change was for the better.
God, this past year of her life had been the longest ever—the hardest probably since her parents had been killed. First she’d lost Mike, and then Sophie hadn’t come back home after Jamie had gone to Africa to rescue her—two types of loss, but the sting was equally painful.
Jamie had risked her own life and career to save her sister, only to have Sophie tell her she didn’t need or want any help.
Sophie was out there somewhere—alive. And Jamie was never sure if the FBI would ever fully trust her again thanks to the role she’d played in outing the group of government mercenaries who’d stolen her sister from her.
For now, Jamie had been reinstated. But there was always an on-edge feeling following her, a disturbance to her own privacy, which she’d always treasured.
Chris had been there when she’d searched for Sophie in Africa—she’d been forced to tell him that she and her sister had been part of the witness protection program for a long time—since they were both little. But the hows and whys she’d kept to herself, and he’d never pressed.
She didn’t like that someone she was investigating knew that part of her past, knew parts of her she hadn’t even known existed. And still, she’d known she could trust him with that information.
He’d been right to walk away from her. She hadn’t been ready for him. Now she was and he was lying in a hospital bed, expression remote, and she couldn’t get a read on him.
She stared at the closed door again and then pushed it open ﬁrmly, without knocking. When she thought about Chris, she just wanted with an immediacy that both frightened and fascinated her.
He was gone—bed vacated. The sheets were rumpled and there was the subtle scent of cyprus left behind. She’d loved the way he smelled and now she resisted the stupidest urge to sniff his pillow.
She wasn’t about to screw up her job… which was exactly what she was doing by being in Chris’s room right now.
There was water running in the bathroom. Of course—he wouldn’t simply leave the hospital. She turned to leave quietly, when Chris’s voice rose up from behind her.
“How’s PJ?” he asked. She froze, her hand already on the doorknob, surprised by the intimacy of the question.
She turned to him—he looked more like his old self now, six feet six inches of cocky arrogance, complete with crazy eyes and a wide smile. Half Cajun, part gypsy and who knew what else combined to make him the most down-to-earth man she’d ever met in her life and also the most mystical.
Water ran down his body—all lean, tan muscle on display—and he stood there, dripping on the ﬂoor without bothering to reach for a towel.
“My sister’s name is Sophie. And I wouldn’t know. She hasn’t gotten back in touch.”
“I’m sure she’s worried about you too.”
“Yeah, I’ve been hearing that one my entire life. Everyone seems to forget I’m more than capable of taking care of myself.” Coming back in here alone had been a mistake, and so she turned and left the room, closing the door like a shield between them. And still, she had to hold on to the wall for a moment to get herself back under control.
She’d been deep in thought, hadn’t realized Chris had opened the door and was standing watching her, leaning on the door frame for dear life. He was in pain—physical, emotional, it probably didn’t matter. Right now he was suffering in every way possible.
“Would you have come here to see me if you weren’t assigned this case?” he asked.
Tell him no. He walked away from you. “I don’t know.” The words tumbled out before she could stop them.
He smiled then—a small one but it still tugged the corners of his mouth. “So you’re going to run away from me again?”
“I wasn’t the one who ran last time.”
“I might have been the one who took the walk, but you were the one running from our relationship. Make no mistake about that, Jamie,” he told her before he went back inside the room and shut the door behind him.
The power went out a second later.
Her ﬁrst instinct was to look for an escape route, because that’s what she’d been trained to do. But Chris’s door opened again.
“Stay away from the stairwell.” His voice was calm even as he tugged her arm gently to pull her back into his room.
She conceded, let him shut the door behind them once she was inside.
“What’s going on?”
“Thanks for that update. The hospital has to have a generator.” As she spoke, the lights ﬂickered back on and then off again, and then they came on dim, like they were running at less than half power. “Well, that’s something, at least.”
“Yeah, something,” Chris said as the ﬂoor beneath their feet began to shake and the window cracked from mortar ﬁre.
* * * * *
The base, which really consisted of a couple of administrative buildings, a bunker for troops and this two-story hospital clinic, was getting rocked.
Chris had suspected it wouldn’t take much for that to happen and this live ﬁre experience was making his already pounding head not very happy.
Over the loudspeakers, a general announcement blared. “Patients, please remain in your rooms and stay away from windows if at all possible.”
“Let’s get into the bathroom to wait this thing out—no windows in there,” he said, just as the window close to his bed shook and then shattered, glass spraying everywhere.
And then Jamie was yanking him into the safety of the smaller room. He went off balance for a second, grabbed for the wall and nearly fell onto her. He was more fucked up from the pain meds than the actual pain and he hated that.
Seconds later the lights went out again.
“It’s okay, I’ve got you,” she was telling him as she eased him down to the ﬂoor. And as much as he liked hearing that, helplessness was something he did not do, at least not well. He jerked his body from hers, painfully aware that all he’d wanted earlier was for her to touch him and he blamed his irrationality on the past days’ events. On grief and stress and pain.
She pulled away and for a moment they sat in the dark, listening to the rumblings just outside the door, before she spoke again. “Look, about before… I was just—”
“Doing your job. I know the drill, Jamie.” He rubbed his forehead as the ﬂoor continued to shake, the vibrations going straight through his skull more effectively than a jackhammer. He wanted to close his eyes, to try to block it all out, but that wouldn’t happen. The second his eyes closed, he’d see the entire scene of what had transpired twenty-four hours before. “Fuck, I don’t want to be here.”
“I’m really sorry.” Her hand settled on his knee and he let it stay there.
“You were sorry the last time we were together in Africa too.”
She shifted in the dark so she was closer. “I’m sorry about what happened to you and your team. About what happened in Africa. God, I was so worried when I heard about this…”
“I’ve been worried about you too. I guess neither of us acted that way earlier.” No blame to his voice, not now, when she was seated close to him.
“Answering all my questions is for your own good, Chris. If I can dismiss this investigation as quickly as possible, you can get back to work.”
Back to work. That seemed like a long way down the list, after mourning Mark and the failed mission. “I’ve told you everything I know. It was mass confusion. Always is, no matter how hard you try to control the situation.”
“But you’re trained to see above the confusion.”
“You can’t see shit when you’re in it.” He shook his head. “I’m human, Jamie, even though my ability to snipe might make it seem otherwise.”