43 ~ Ryan

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Strung out from lack of sleep, Ryan sat behind his desk tackling the mound of forms he needed to complete. He did his best work when details of the mission were fresh in his mind, and the freshness was quickly expiring. Felix chose to sit at a vacant desk in the corner as she documented the last three years of her life. Ryan had put her in touch with a good attorney, and they arranged for surveillance on her parent's home, but other than that, she hadn't spoken to him. He was still trying to interpret the tone of her voice when she said, I need some space so I can think straight.

On the other side of Ryan's desk, Fulton slouched in a chair, continuing his idle threats to take Felix to the station after she made her statement. The prick.

"Prints don't lie," Fulton said for the second time. "Any other suspect and we'd have her arrested, booked, and setting her bail hearing."

"That's not necessarily true," Ryan countered. "If it was your wife, for instance."

Fulton grunted, but Ryan didn't look up from his paperwork. He knew Calloway was working her magic in the lab. She found fingerprints linking Andy and Shane to the same two murders Felix was implicated in, and confirmed the prints on Jenny's purse were planted based on their decreased depth and width. Ryan had a feeling Felix would get along with Calloway. They both had brains like computers.

Glancing over at Felix, he caught her slouched over her papers, her forehead resting on her arm as she stared down at her phone. She looked like she could use a solid eight hours of undisturbed sleep. Ignoring Fulton, Ryan pushed up from his chair and made his way across the room to Harris, who sat elbow-deep in paperwork like everyone else, except Fulton.

"Let me take Felix to my place, Harris," Ryan said. "She and I could both use dinner and a nap."

Harris sighed as he glanced up. "You know I can't authorize that."

"Like hell you can't. Felix followed the feds' instructions, helping us apprehend four perps. And we found evidence in Donovan's house leading us to a residence in New Orleans. We couldn't have done that without her help."

Rather than drop his gaze, Harris stared at Ryan without flinching. It was a look Ryan recognized growing up with an older brother. "You look like shit, Clark. Why don't you go home and get some sleep. I'll keep an eye on Miss Taylor."

"I'm not leaving without her." Ryan let the stare-off continue no longer than five seconds. He knew his hardass stance wouldn't do jack for Harris. "How would it be if she and I picked up dinner nearby and stretched our legs? Does that suit you better?"

Being the impatient man he was, Harris relented. "Fine. Where are you going?"

"Probably Mazziano's."

"Probably? I need to know if that's where you're going or not."

"Yes. I'm taking her to Mazziano's."

As Ryan turned to leave, he curbed the desire to roll his eyes. He was already on Harris' shit list, and he still needed to get the okay on making his apartment a safe house for Felix. When he walked up to her, she was staring at a picture of two black dachshunds posing on the screen of her phone.

"Are you hungry, Felix? I thought I'd take you to Mazziano's. They have excellent penne with Italian sausage." He offered a tentative smile, hoping his levity would be well received. To his great relief, she smiled back.

"As long as we can talk about Italian sausage and not my history of homicide."

"Absolutely."

Mazziano's was busy for a Tuesday night, but Ryan knew the maitre d, and they were seated at a private table next to the window. "My family and I often come to Mazziano's on special occasions," he explained as he held out a chair for Felix. "My high school graduation party was held here."

Felix graced him with a full megawatt smile, which lit up her eyes like the perfect summer sky. It was a nice change from the stormy violet that took over a few hours ago. "I love this place. They make a delicious chicken parmesan."

"I love their chicken parmesan." Ryan couldn't stifle his grin as he picked up his menu, and for a minute he imagined them on a date. "So, have you called your parents? Our surveillance team is trained to blend in, but it might be good to give them a heads-up. That is, if you're ready for that. I know these past few days have been rough for you."

As soon as he saw violet cloud her eyes, Ryan cursed himself.

"No, I haven't, but I need to. I need to come clean about a few things. They already suspect I have a secret life. My dad thinks I'm mixed up with the mafia."

Felix snorted, as if she discounted her dad's opinion, while Ryan held his face impassive, glancing at his menu. Did she know nothing about the man she worked for? Was she choosing to keep herself in the dark? Ryan sure as hell wasn't taking Felix further down the rabbit hole during dinner. She would never keep it down.

"I thought we weren't going to talk about this." He reached across the table and squeezed her hand. "Tell me what you want to be when you grow up. Why did you decide to attend MIT?"

Ryan watched her eyes reignite, and she stopped hiding behind her glass of water. "I want to be a computer engineer. Mainly in production, like with animated movies or shorts. I dabble in graphic design, but I want to do more than art. I built a personal website in college. It's been sitting in the ether for the past two years doing nothing."

"It sounds like you've chosen an interesting field. You definitely have an eye for art. It's written all over you." Ryan made a point to admire the shell-shaped design on her right shoulder. It was one of his favorites. Felix had taken the term beauty is skin deep to a whole new level. "How is your burn? Is it still sensitive?"

"I haven't really noticed it. I think the ice and burn cream helped. It's my ass that stings like hell."

Ryan ground his teeth as a sudden rush of anger swept him. "If I ever get my hands on the bastard who did that to you..."

"You'll have to get in line behind me." Felix raised her eyebrows and he nodded. She definitely had first dibs.

The waiter came and went, bringing their food and refilling their water glasses. Eating replaced conversation long enough for Ryan to devour his lasagna and for Felix to polish off her chicken parmesan. Ryan stalled them over their empty plates, recounting his high school football hijinks, like the time he and a buddy threw smoke bombs into the locker room showers. Although he wanted to do anything but take Felix back to the federal building, Ryan finally paid the check, and they left the restaurant hand in hand. He enjoyed holding Felix's hand. It was warm and supple. Not the hand of a killer.

As they walked leisurely down the street, Ryan caught Felix sneaking glances at him. "Is there something on your mind, Felix?"

"Yes. You are. I keep revisiting last night's goodbye scene in my head and how we had to be so quiet and how I'm not wired anymore."

She offered him a shy smile, but her eyes told a different story, and he felt himself getting hard. Damn, he was horny for her, too.

"I'm not sure what we can do about that," he said. "But I'm open to suggestions?"

Felix pulled her cellphone out of her pocket and swiped the front. "The library will be open another thirty-five minutes." She glanced up, her face illuminated by the screen. "The bathrooms lock from the inside."


PLAYLIST SONG: I Can't Help Myself by Andrew Ripp

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