“How’s Abs?” Jen asked, as she settled herself onto a stool and gratefully
accepted the drink Jethro offered to her.
“She’s okay,” he replied, “McGee’s gonna stay with her tonight. I think she’ll probably come up with a good ending for his book.”
Jen smiled softly, and watched her drink as she swirled it round the glass for a moment, before raising her eyes back to him. “Did you read the book?”
“Your character has a love interest. An – ”
“I know.” At her frown, he added, “Ducky mentioned it.”
“Ah… I really don’t see how McGee expected us to believe the characters aren’t based on us, the similarities are rather obvious.”
“So you make an appearance too?”
She nodded. “I do… Director Jeannie Shipford, former partner of LJ Tibbs. Working partners,” she clarified, “There was nothing in what he’d written so far to indicate they share our history.” Her eyes held his for a moment before she couldn’t deal with the intensity of her feelings, and returned them to her drink. “Jeannie is jealous of Lieutenant Colonel Lamb though, so, perhaps our secret isn’t as secret as we thought.”
She took a small sip of her drink as she waited nervously for him to respond.
“The book’s fiction, Jen,” he said eventually.
Her chest tightened as he ignored the implications of her statement. If she was honest, she had known he would. But she had allowed herself to hope this would go differently.
She nodded slowly. “I know,” she whispered, before taking another drink.
“And it’s people thinking otherwise that started this – ”
Her head shot up to fix him with a glare. “I know that too,” she ground out through clenched teeth.
He frowned at her reaction, and she could tell from the look in his eyes that he had realised there was more to what she was saying. She ducked her head away, and pretended her attention was once more on her drink.
He was silent a moment longer, and then came the question, “Why are you here, Jen?”
She had asked herself that several times since she pulled up outside his house, but wasn’t sure the answer she reluctantly admitted to herself, was one that she was ready to admit to him. Despite it having inspired her to come all the way here.
“I just wanted to check in, and make sure Abby’s okay.”
“You could have used a phone for that.”
She nodded. “True.”
“So why are you really here?”
She briefly wondered if pretending she hadn’t heard his question would work, but concluded it wasn’t likely. She sighed, quietly, resigning herself to the fact that she had come here, so she only had herself to blame for the current situation.
She flicked her eyes up to gauge his response as she said, “I didn’t like what I read.”
His gaze held hers but he didn’t speak. She was able to maintain their eye contact for a few seconds before she admitted to herself that she had made a mistake in coming, and looked away, placing her glass on the side, and rising from her seat.
“I should go,” she said quietly.
“It was you that said there’d be no outside of work, Jen,” he pointed out as her foot landed on the first step.
She stopped and turned to face him, nodding once. “I know… I was attempting to exert my authority, and convince myself that I was capable of working with you again without melting into a puddle every time you smile.”
“You never melted into a puddle over me,” he smirked, though it lacked some of his usual lustre.
“What you see and what I feel are not always the same thing, Jethro.”
“Does that apply to right now as well?”
“I hope so,” she replied, sadly, as she turned back to the stairs and resumed her path to exit.
“You hope so?” he called after her.
She nodded again but this time she didn’t stop. “Yes… I shouldn’t be here…”
“Jen!” he implored her to stop.
She did pause, reluctantly, and she slowly faced him once more.
“Director Shipford doesn’t need to be jealous of Colonel Lamb. It doesn’t last,” he stated evenly.
Her heart skipped a beat, she suddenly had to swallow hard, but she kept her eyes fixed on his, and her outward appearance neutral.
And then he smiled. And she managed about a second before she felt her own lips twitch, and she had to look away as a blush started to creep up her neck.
“You’re not as good at that as you’d like to think,” he told her with a soft smugness.
“No,” she agreed quietly, still not facing him.
“Are you still leaving?”
He sounded even more smug this time, and she summoned some of the strength she called on when she needed to avoid succumbing to his charm. She stood up straight, and turned her entire body this time, resting her hands on the rail as she said, with matching smugness, “Are you asking me to stay?”
“I’m asking if you’re staying,” he retorted.
The familiar war continued within her, as the reasons why she shouldn’t stay fought for dominance with the reasons why she should.
“I shouldn’t,” she said, softly.
“But?” he asked, smiling.
“I never should have told you what effect your smile has on me. You’re going to use that against me forever, aren’t you?”
He simply widened his smile.
She rolled her eyes, and began to slowly descend the stairs again; the reasons to turn and run screaming at her with every step, but steadfastly ignored.
He had taken a couple of steps towards her by the time she reached the ground and, suddenly face to face with him, nerves released butterflies into her stomach, temporarily distracting her from ignoring her doubts.
“How long since it ended?” she asked him abruptly.
“Two weeks,” he replied immediately.
“You never said anything.”
“Do I ever?”
She cocked her head and smiled slightly to indicate she conceded that point. “And… Are you - … Was it – ”
“I ended it,” he interrupted her inarticulate stumbling as he took a step closer. “And I am okay with that.”
Her anxiety was increasing as the space between them decreased and she barely managed a nod of acknowledgement.
“Sometimes, things happen that highlight how short life is, and make us take stock of where we are, and… who we’re with.”
She lowered her eyes in reverence, knowing he was referring to the deaths of Paula Cassidy’s team two weeks before.
His hand on her chin seconds later returned her eyes to his.
“So, why are you really here, Jen?” he asked quietly.
“I think you know,” she replied, her voice only just a whisper.
“Apparently what I see, and what you feel aren’t always the same,” he retorted, cracking a small smile.
Again, his smile was infectious, and she couldn’t help but return one of her own. “Well, right now, I’m not doing so well with that… I’m here because when I took stock, I realised only one of my many regrets could perhaps be easily rectified. But I needed to know how serious your relationship with Colonel Mann was.”
“And now you know?”
“Well, I have what I came for… I can leave now,” she smirked.
“Do you want to leave?” he asked.
“Do you want me to stay?” she countered.
“I think we should talk about rectifying our regrets,” he told her, as he slid his hand round her neck, his fingers gently playing with the ends of her hair.
“We’ve never been good at talking,” she whispered, trembling with his touch and resting her own hand on his chest.
“That’s because we used to skip talking,” he whispered back, his words barely passed his lips when his mouth met hers in a kiss that was at the same time both familiar and new.
She kissed him back full force, her lips and tongue exploring his, reacquainting herself with the taste of him, with the feeling of being in his arms, the sensation of melting into his touch.
Her head flashed back to Paris as his other hand joined the first in her hair, holding her head closer as he deepened his own exploration. She moaned, both at the memory and the arousal coursing through her veins, and she felt him smile against her lips.
True to form, she smiled too, and, with the spell of their passionate reunion broken, their kisses became slow and tender, scaling down into brief touches, before their lips parted and eyes and smiles met instead.
“That’s not talking,” she whispered.
“No,” he agreed, with a smirk. “But we’ve got plenty of time for both.”
She smiled back and rested her forehead against his. “This is going to get complicated,” she told him.
“Our relationship’s always been complicated, Jen.”
She nodded her agreement. “But it’s never really done so well in that situation.”
“We’re here, aren’t we?”
“Why haven’t you said anything these last two weeks?”
He gave a small shrug. “I wasn’t sure how you felt… And I didn’t want you to think I was on the rebound.”
“Are you?” she asked tentatively.
He shook his head. “Not from Holli. Because I never really got over you, Jen,” he whispered.
“Right,” she muttered disbelievingly.
His expression was deadly serious. “What you see, and what I feel, are not always the same thing.”
She let out a short laugh and shook her head. “We should work on that too.”
“We will,” he assured her, pulling her close again for another kiss. This one was more gentle and languid, and he pulled back just as it might morph into something more. “Because our lives,” he told her, “will most definitely not be imitating art.”
She nodded. “No, it’s more like it’s imitating our lives eight years ago.”
“Except this time, we’ll talk,” he grinned, even as his lips drew closer to hers once more. “Er… Later,” he added, devouring her smile with another kiss.