I was wearing a two-piece bathing suit—halfway between sporty and a bikini.
“Should I be insulted?” I asked, swimming to the opposite side of the pool and pulling myself up onto the ledge.
“No,” Michael replied. “But you are.”
He was right, of course. In the dim light of the moon, I wondered how he could even see my face, let alone read an emotion I was trying to hide.
“You like it here.” Michael lowered himself into the pool, and for the first time, I registered the fact that his chest was bare. “You like Agent Locke. You like all of her little lessons. And you like the idea of helping out with real cases even more.”
I didn’t say anything. Clearly, Michael was capable of having this conversation all by himself.
“What? You aren’t even going to try to profile me?” Michael flicked water at my knees. “Where’s the girl from the diner?” he asked me. “Tit for tat.”
“You don’t want to be profiled,” I told him. “You don’t want people to know you.” I paused. “You don’t want me to know you.”
He was silent for one second, two, three—and then, “Truth.”
“Yeah,” I said wryly. “I speak the truth.”
“No,” Michael replied. “Truth. Isn’t that what you wanted me to say last night, instead of dare?”
“I don’t know,” I told him, grinning. “I wouldn’t trade the memory of your ballet man-dance for anything.”
Michael pushed off from the ledge and started treading water. “I also excel at synchronized swimming.” I laughed, and he made his way over to my ledge. “I mean it, Cassie. Truth.” He paused, two feet away from me. “You ask. I’ll tell you. Anything.”
I waited for the catch, but there wasn’t one.
“Fine,” I said, considering my questions carefully. “Why don’t you want to be profiled? What is it you’re so afraid that people are going to find out?”
“I got into a fight once,” Michael said, sounding oddly at ease. “Right before I came here. Put the other guy in the hospital. I just kept hitting him, over and over again, even once he was down. I don’t lose it often, but when I do, it’s bad. I take after the old man in that. We Townsends don’t do anything halfway.” Michael paused. He’d answered my second question, but not my first. “Maybe I don’t want to be profiled because I don’t want to know what you’d see. What little box I fit in. Who I really am.”
“There’s nothing wrong with you,” I said.
He gave me a lazy smile. “That’s a matter of some debate.”
I’d been planning on asking about his father, but now I couldn’t bring myself to ask if the old man had ever lost it with him. “Your family’s wealthy?”
“As sin,” Michael replied. “My past is a long string of boarding schools, excess, and the finest fill-in-the-blank that money can buy.”
“Does your family know you’re here?”
Michael pushed off the side and started treading water again. I couldn’t make out the expression on his face, but I didn’t need to see him to know that his trademark smirk held more than a hint of self-loathing. “A better question might be if they care.”
Three questions. Three honest answers. Just because he’d offered to show me his scars didn’t mean I had to tear them open. “You and Lia?” I asked, changing the subject.
“Yes,” Michael replied, catching me off guard, because I hadn’t considered it a yes-or-no question. “On again, off again. Never for very long, and it was never a good call—for either of us.”
If I didn’t want to know the answer, I shouldn’t have asked. I stood up and cannonballed back into the pool, sending a small tsunami of water Michael’s way. The moment I came back up, he flicked water at my face.
“You know, of course,” he said solemnly, “that this means war.”
One second, there was a good three feet of space between us, and the next, we were wrestling, each trying to outdunk and outsplash the other, neither of us fully aware of just how close together our bodies were.
I got a mouthful of water. I sputtered. Michael dunked me, and I came up gasping for air—and saw Dean standing on the patio. He was standing perfectly, horribly still.
Michael dunked me again before he realized I’d stopped fighting. He turned around and saw Dean.
“You got a problem, Redding?” Michael asked.
“No,” Dean replied. “No problem.”
I gave Michael a sharp look and trusted that he’d be able to read me well enough for it to be effective, even in the dark.
Michael got the message. “Care to join us?” he asked Dean, overly politely.
“No,” Dean replied, just as politely. “Thank you.” He paused, and the silence swelled around us. “You two have a good night.”
As Dean disappeared back into the house, I couldn’t help feeling that I’d taken something from him—the place he came to think, the moment we’d shared the night he’d shown me the black lights.
“Truth or dare.” Michael’s voice cut into my thoughts.
“Your turn,” Michael told me. “Truth or dare?”
Michael reached out to push my wet hair out of my face. “If Lia had dared you to kiss me, would you have done it?”
“Lia wouldn’t have dared me to kiss you.”
“But if she had?”
I could feel heat rising in my cheeks. “It was just a game, Michael.”
Michael leaned forward and brushed his lips against mine. Then he pulled back and studied my face. Whatever he saw there, he liked.
“Thank you,” he said. “That’s all I needed to know.”
— — —
I didn’t sleep much that night. I just kept thinking about Michael and Dean, the subtle barbs that passed between the two of them, the feel of each one’s lips. By the time the sun came up the next morning, I wanted to kill someone. Preferably Michael—but Lia was a close second.
“We’re out of ice cream,” I said murderously.
“True,” Lia replied. She’d swapped the silk pajamas for boxer shorts and a ratty T, and there wasn’t so much as a hint of remorse on her face.
“I blame you,” I said.
“Also true.” Lia studied my face. “And unless I’m mistaken, you’re not just blaming me for the ice cream. And that makes me terribly curious, Cassie. Care to share?”