15 ~ Ryan

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Ryan couldn't believe how relaxed he felt as he reclined in the passenger seat of his Impala. His dad was the only other person who'd been behind the wheel since he bought the car three years ago, but there was something about Felix that gave him confidence. Maybe it was her confidence. She was in the middle of a personal crisis, her life had essentially turned on its ass, but she stood her ground, even when she talked to the criminals trying to control her. He suspected she didn't back down from many fights.

"Too bad it's dark outside. The Smoky Mountains are beautiful," Felix said as they followed the slopes of the Tennessee highway. "Have you ever been to Gatlinburg?"

"No, but I've been to Lookout Mountain with my family. On a clear day, you can see seven states."

"That's a great trivia fact. I'll log it away for future reference."

Ryan caught himself smiling as he closed his eyes. So what if he didn't know the year The Beatles broke up? Felix didn't seem to fault him for his lack of trivia knowledge, and she hadn't rubbed his nose in the fact that she beat him soundly.

"Ryan, can I ask you something personal?"

Felix dropped her loaded question as she spied him out of her peripherals, which had Ryan doing the same.

"You can ask and I'll decide how personal it is."

"You don't have to answer it, of course."

"Shoot."

"Have you ever been in a long term relationship?"

Fuck. Ryan glanced out the passenger window, pretending to notice something of significance in spite of the fact that he couldn't see shit. "How long is long term?"

"More than six months."

"No." He hadn't meant for the word to come out like a curse, but his abysmal relationship history didn't have any gray areas. Still, he felt compelled to explain. "I played semi-pro football right out of high school until I was old enough to join the police force. I worked a beat until a year-and-a-half ago when I became an FBI agent. Long term relationships haven't made it to my things-to-do list."

"Oh. How long do you plan to keep it off the list?"

Felix snuck another glance at him, and this time, he met it. Her eyes were just as blue in the dim dashboard light as they were in broad daylight.

"I just put it on the list, actually. Very recently."

Ryan reached for the radio dial, changing the channel from the oldies station they'd been stuck on to a station playing alternative rock. Felix smiled but didn't press him. She was definitely fishing for something. Was it because she had feelings for him? His instincts told him the answer was yes, which prompted him to continue the conversation.

"In fact, you should know I recently met this girl who has me contemplating the whole long-term relationship idea. She's the first girl I ever brought to my parent's house, and she looks fucking awesome in a purple bikini. Do you want to know who she is?"

Ryan grinned, daring her to ask for confirmation. If she was as clever as he thought she was, she wouldn't need it.

Felix smirked as she stared at the road. "I think I can infer from context."

The morning sun reflected off the Impala's hood as they pulled into town. Traffic was heavy due to the watermelon festival. Banners stretched across the main street asking everyone to enjoy the forty-second annual celebration of the noble summer fruit. Ryan directed Felix to a motel he had located online, which happened to be the only place with a vacancy. The catch was the king bed with a sleeper sofa, which meant he would be forfeiting a good night's sleep. As much as he fantasized about sharing a bed with Felix, he was fully prepared to keep the trip platonic. Of course, circumstances could change.

Because they had arrived in the morning, checking into the room was problematic, but thanks to his shiny badge, he managed an early check-in. He and Felix found a restaurant to grab some breakfast, and he placed a quick call to Harris, letting him know he had arrived undamaged. Harris agreed to pass the word on to Fulton. The less Ryan talked to that prick, Fulton, the better. From the beginning, Fulton had a beef with Ryan, but Ryan had yet to understand why. Maybe because Ryan reminded Fulton of his younger self, before he put on one hundred pounds and lost one hundred percent of his hair.

"Your phone hasn't made a sound in over six hours," Ryan said as he dumped ketchup on his omelet. He handed Felix the bottle and she tipped it over her scrambled eggs.

"That's because I turned my phone off when we got to the rest stop. I was tired of being called a puta."

Ryan choked his fork as he took out his anger on the omelet, and conversation moved to benign topics, like the ancient diner they had found themselves in and the sweltering heat. After a crappy meal, which was due in part to Ryan's sleep-deprived mood, they stopped at a market to pick up more supplies. Back at the motel, Ryan got Felix settled into their room and cranked the A/C. He was no stranger to summer humidity, but Alabama specialized in it.

"Okay, I shouldn't be longer than three hours," he said as he checked the locks on the windows and inspected the deadbolt. "That should give you time to catch up on sleep. I'd like you to turn your phone back on so we can keep in touch. And please don't leave the room."

"Yes sir, Agent Clark," she said with a cocky grin. "I won't let you down. Any other orders I should follow?"

Ryan could think of a number of things he'd like to order Felix to do, but it would probably earn him a slap in the face. "Just lay low and I'll see if I can get us a reservation at that steak house we passed on our way into town, the one with the big cow on the roof. It looked real high class."

"I don't know if I'm classy enough for a joint like that. Maybe you could pick up Chinese. Pork lo mein and fried wonton."

Ryan gave her a casual thumbs-up before closing the motel room door, but the grin he wore on the way to his car threatened to reach his ears. The more time he spent with Felix, the more he noticed her endearing qualities. How many women preferred Chinese takeout over a steak dinner? Was it wrong for him to speculate whether she enjoyed it after a satisfying round of sex? If so, theirs was a match made in heaven.


PLAYLIST SONG: Gold Dust Woman by Fleetwood Mac



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