“Ever been there?”
“Twice. Probably the most romantic city in the world.”
“I have a week’s leave. I want to spend it with you. And only you. I want us to get as far away from crime scenes and clandestine ops as is humanly possible. I just want us to be… normal. Just for a week, Knox. And see what happens. Together.”
Knox seemed overwhelmed by all of this. She said, breathlessly, “Puller, we really don’t even know each other.”
“I know enough.”
“You know nothing. You only know what I told you. And as you quite rightly pointed out, I’m a liar.”
She gripped his arm. “I can’t tell you how flattered I am.”
Puller took a step back, his whole body seemed to deflate, and he looked at his feet. “Flattered? Isn’t that what women say when their answer is no?”
She used her finger to lift his chin so he was looking at her. “Like I said before, you’re a ramrod-straight kind of guy. Honorable to a fault. And my life is…none of that.”
“But only the professional side. And only out of necessity.”
“I’m not sure there’re any distinct lines there, Puller. Not for me. Not anymore.”
“I don’t believe that.”
“Whether you do or not is immaterial. A fact is a fact.”
Puller looked down at the plane tickets.
She said, “I hope they’re refundable.”
He grinned for a second but there was nothing behind it.
“But you might have need of them one day.”
He quickly glanced at her. “Why?”
She reached up on her tiptoes and kissed him. “Because you just never know, do you?”
“So where do you go now?” he asked dully.
“Where they tell me to. Just like you.”
“Can you answer something for me?”
“Why were you crying that day back in Charlotte? Was it because we were talking about your dad?”
She looked down at her bare feet, her toes pushing against the wet grass. “No. Like I said, I had gotten over him a long time ago.”
“So what, then?”
She let out a quick breath. “It was because I knew I was going to have to keep lying to you. That I was going to keep on using you.”
“So before it didn’t matter to me. Suddenly it did and it hit me like a train that morning.”
She grazed his cheek with her hand. “I think you know what changed.”
He remained silent.
“I am human, Puller. Despite what you might have thought. I do…care.” She touched his cheek. He clutched her hand, holding on tightly for a few seconds before letting it go.
She said, “Rain check? A big one?”
He nodded. “Yeah, okay”
She ran her gaze up and down him and shivered slightly. “And can I tell you once more how damn fine you look in uniform?” On that, she turned and walked off, swinging her shoes in one hand. She looked back once, smiled a smile that shook him to his knees, and then got into her car and drove off.
Puller watched her go until she was out of sight.
He looked down once more at the plane tickets.
He had never done anything this spur-of-the-moment in his personal life. His whole existence had been rigid, structured, thought out. Whimsy was not part of his wiring. But today all had been based on spontaneity, something he no longer thought he had. He took risks all the time in his professional life. He had taken none in his personal one.
But Knox was right about many things she had said. They really didn’t know each other that well. And maybe her life was very different from his. And maybe it was all irreconcilable.
But he didn’t regret what’d he done. For at that moment in his life it had been the thing he wanted above all other things.
She had been the person he had wanted above all others. He had never felt that way about anyone before. He wanted her so badly it was actually painful to bear.
He put the plane tickets away in his jacket and headed to his car.
He had gotten his brother back.
And he had lost the woman he believed he could love.
It should have been a wash.
But life didn’t work that way, did it?
He took off his hat and climbed into his car.
He sat there staring in the direction of Big Muddy, his thoughts mirroring the murky depths of the river.
Knox had her national security troubleshooting to pursue.
Puller had his criminals to catch.
Maybe one day their paths would cross again.
He put the car in gear.
Until then, John Puller would just keep doing what he did best.