Casey stood in the darkened cocktail lounge behind a pillar, his hands thrust in his pockets, wondering whether to carry on or go back to the surveillance room that Sarah had set up in the basement of the Grand Saville. That immature geek misfit Bartowski had been right about one thing: Casey was scared, and standing here wasn't helping any, especially since watching Ilsa down her martini was stirring up feelings he hadn't allowed himself to feel for almost four years now.
I'm probably going to regret this, Casey thought as he finally moved out from the protection of the pillar and approached the bench where Ilsa was seated to stand in front of her.
He spread his hands to the sides, struggling to think of what to say. All that came out was, "Ilsa," but the nakedly vulnerable look on his face must have spoken volumes to her. She put her empty glass down on a side table and gestured for him to sit beside her, and when he did, tucked her hand into his between them so that the other people in the bar wouldn't be able to see.
"Oh, my Sugar Bear, how I missed you," she said in a low voice that caused his heartbeat to speed up just a bit.
There was something a little strange going on, though. Ilsa had spoken in a very intimate manner but her body language was meant to broadcast to any casual observer that she was just having a quiet conversation with an acquaintance in a public bar. Casey followed her lead and kept his head erect and his expression neutral as he responded, "Ilsa, I thought I wasn't going to make it for a while after that explosion. How I missed your touch, your eyes, your lips on mine."
He tightened his fingers around hers and she just as eagerly moved her hand so their fingers interlaced. By mutual agreement, only their two hands and their voices would be used to say what they both felt needed to be said. Their bodies would have to wait for a while longer.
"I still think of the way you used to hold me, strong and sure, your heat and passion. The memory of our time together kept me alive when I couldn't even remember my own name, the thought of your hands on me and your voice, your lovely face," Ilsa whispered, her calm expression belying the intensity of her words.
"You're not really going to marry that man, are you?" Casey asked. The second the words were out of his mouth, he regretted having said them. Sure enough, Ilsa's tone hardened a bit.
"I must. I have promised. And he is a very powerful man. He could make my life extremely unpleasant if I did not marry him now."
"You must or you want to?"
Casey stopped breathing after he had choked out the question and waited for an answer. Ilsa paused, her eyes on their clasped hands between them. She raised her head again to look at his face. He drew his breath in sharply when he saw the sadness and regret that had completely wiped away the pleasant but unemotional mask she had started their conversation with. After a second, the revealing expression was gone, but it was enough for Casey to know that she had been affected by their meeting just as much as he had, and for the first time since he had seen her that afternoon, he allowed himself to hope that she wasn't really lost to him again.
"I must," she replied, and it took all of Casey's self-restraint to maintain his distance and keep up their little pretense.
"But I'm not married yet," Ilsa continued. She relaxed her face into an inviting smile that Casey returned. He gripped her hand even more tightly, his smile broadening as his eyes lit up and fixed on the beautiful face that he remembered looking at him hungrily from the pillow beside him in Grozny.
"I hear the rooms here are nice," Casey said, still smiling as he relaxed his grip on Ilsa's hand and stood, turning back to face her.
Ilsa stood as well, still maintaining the correct distance between them, and replied, "They're very nice. Perhaps you would like to come up and see mine."
"I'd like that very much," Casey breathed as he moved aside and gestured with his hand for Ilsa to lead the way. And as they approached the elevators, Casey was glad to note that he was no longer scared of what he was feeling for this woman who had opened his heart up once again with her tender smile and her dark, mysterious eyes.