More Than Words
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She looked surprised for a brief second and then laughed, shaking her head. After a moment, she sighed. “I don’t know.”
“Just you and me, Jessie. Like old times.”
“We’re not kids anymore, though, Callen. Things aren’t as … simple.”
“We can make them simple. Because this has to be temporary. We live on different sides of the world.”
“As friends, then? Is that what you’re proposing?”
I shrugged, wanting to say no, but knowing I’d been honest when I told her I’d take what I could get. Anything. I wanted more moments—more days—like this one. When I didn’t feel empty. Detached. I felt desperate for anything Jessie would willingly give me. If she insisted I keep my hands and lips to myself, I’d do it. I hoped she wouldn’t, but I’d respect it if she did. “Like I said, whatever we’re both comfortable with. We can take things as they come. You lead the way. If it stops being enjoyable for one or both of us, we end it, whether two weeks is up or not.”
She looked so torn, and I held my breath. “And will you have other … friends while you’re here?”
I shook my head. “No. Just you.”
She studied me for a long moment, and I forced myself not to twitch, not to say anything as she considered her decision. “Okay. When and if I have free time from work. And only while we’re here.”
My face broke into a smile. “Only while we’re here.”
The shower water rained down on me and I turned, letting the water pressure massage my shoulders. My body was still sore from all the walking Callen and I had done earlier that day. Callen. Oh God, had I made a huge mistake by agreeing to spend time with him while he was here in France? Two weeks. Just two weeks, but why did I have the feeling they were going to alter my life in some way I couldn’t even imagine right now?
He’d told me he was willing to take whatever I was comfortable with. But was I strong enough to spend even a couple of weeks with Callen—under any circumstances—without falling for him? And if I wasn’t, would I regret it? If I decided not to give him the two weeks, would I come to regret that?
I was pitifully inexperienced when it came to men. I’d dated a bit, but no one seriously and no one long-term. I’d been a focused student, and the knowledge that I’d be moving to France after graduation kept me from getting too involved with anyone. At least that’s what I’d told myself. And then I’d been busy trying to get my life in order when I’d moved to Paris. But I also had to admit that I was probably more hesitant than most when it came to relationships. From my experience, love resulted in tears and loneliness, heartbreak and despair. So yes, I was a twenty-four-year-old virgin who’d never shared my entire body or my entire heart.
Initially, I’d been insulted by Callen’s proposal, but maybe the arrangement he had described was actually perfect for both of us. No promises, so no regrets. Just because we weren’t going to have a relationship didn’t have to mean I couldn’t enjoy the pleasure of kissing him. Did it?
And kissing him was pleasurable. At the recent memory of his lips on mine, his taste, a shiver ran down my spine.
The pipes squeaked as I turned the water off, stepping out of the tile shower and grabbing a fluffy towel. I wrapped my hair and then stood in front of the sink, brushing my teeth. I needed to get to bed so I could be fresh for the morning. Callen consumed my mind, but my main focus needed to be my job. Which wasn’t difficult because I was filled with excitement to get started, to get my hands on more of those writings and immerse myself in the words and descriptions of a time long ago, to step into the mind of a girl on her way to serve a saint in the midst of war.
I heard my phone ding with a text and stepped out of the bathroom to grab it.
Frankie: How’s the château, cabbage?
Me: The château is gorgeous. So is Callen Hayes,
who’s here as well.
The phone remained silent for a good couple of minutes. I dropped my towel, pulling on underwear and my nightgown. My phone rang, and I chuckled softly, knowing it was Frankie without even looking at it.
“Um … what the fudge?”
I laughed. “I know. It’s crazy. Unbelievable. But yeah, he’s here on vacation. I ran into him last night in the bar.”
“Are you kidding me? Why didn’t you call me? This is … I don’t know. Wait, are you sure he’s not stalking you or something?”
“No. God, I’m surprised he didn’t think I’m the one stalking him. No, it’s just a crazy coincidence.”
“It’s fate, Jess.”
I smiled as I sat down on the edge of the bed. Coincidence. Fate. Were they one and the same? “I don’t know, but … Frankie, he wants me to spend the next two weeks with him.”
“What do you mean spend the next two weeks with him?”
“I mean, I’m working obviously, but when I’m not, he wants to … hang out, I guess. And we kissed.”
There was a beat of silence. “And after the two weeks?”
“Say goodbye, I suppose. No promises. I agreed, sort of, but … maybe you should talk me out of this, Frankie.”
There was another pause before she said, “I’m not going to, Jess. It might hurt to spend time with him and then go your separate ways, but, I don’t know … I have this feeling …” She paused again, and when she continued, there was an excited tone to her voice. “Fate seems to have her own plans with the two of you, and who am I to mess with fate?”
I let out a huff of breath that was half laugh, half sigh. “The friend who’s going to have to stock a lot of wine at our apartment when I come home?”
Frankie laughed. “You can count on me, cabbage.”
“I know I can, Frankie. I miss you.”
“I miss you, too.”
We chatted for a few minutes longer and then said our goodbyes, me promising to keep her updated on everything unfolding in the Loire Valley.
Even though I wasn’t entirely surprised Frankie had encouraged me to take a chance with Callen, somehow I felt better with her support. I would just do what felt comfortable. If agreeing to spend time with Callen meant another day like today, I would gladly take a bit of sadness when he left. It had been one of the best days I’d had in a long time. The picture of his joyful face below me as he’d lain in that field flashed in my mind’s eye, and I felt my lips curve into a smile. He wasn’t asking for anything permanent. He wasn’t asking for anything I hadn’t given before—casual. No promises, no regrets. Perhaps he’d go back to his playboy lifestyle, but that wouldn’t be any of my business. I wasn’t like my mother, and I never would be. Whatever you’re comfortable with. This was on my terms. I was in charge here. Two weeks. Two weeks and that would be it. Callen Hayes and I would part ways once again, and I’d survive just as I had the first time, because this time I’d have the peace of a goodbye.
* * *
I stepped off the elevator and followed the directions I’d been given to a set of back stairs that led to the bottom floor of the château. Excitement drummed through my veins, and I took the stairs quickly, stepping into a dimly lit hallway and noticing immediately the one room that had light pouring from under the door. The low hum of voices met my ears, and I knocked softly before entering.
Dr. Moreau turned from the large conference room table where he was standing and smiled in welcome. “Ah, Jessica, come in. Good morning. How was your trip?”
“Très bien.” I smiled and took his outstretched hand, squeezing lightly. There were two other men standing on the other side of the table, one older and one who looked to be in his late twenties.
“Jessica Creswell is the translator I was telling you about. Jessica, this is Dr. Irwin Roskow. He’s leading the team of scientists testing the documents in order to date them and verify authenticity. He’ll mainly be at the lab they’ve set up near the dig site.” The older gentleman smiled politely and reached across the table to shake my hand.