|On the Run
Author: thenifoundfivedollars PM
I thought I liked Jeremy Rhider. And then he kissed me, shoved a briefcase in my hands, and jumped out my second story window. Now I'm under the watch of Agent Ryan Sumner, FBI. And he's about as thrilled with our arrangement as yours truly. Complete.Rated: Fiction T - English - Romance/Adventure - Chapters: 22 - Words: 72,512 - Reviews: 612 - Favs: 476 - Follows: 464 - Updated: 01-24-13 - Published: 02-04-12 - Status: Complete - id: 2994498
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
As it so often happens in Texas, it rained the day before and the following afternoon it was a sweltering one hundred and three degrees. I ran my hand over the back of my neck and expunged a layer of sweat. Rubbing my damp palm on the material of my shorts, I shot Ryan a look from the corner of my eye to make sure he hadn't seen the unattractive gesture.
He looked amused, and if it were possible to be any hotter my face would have flushed. Fortunately it wasn't possible so I settled for a frown.
"Hot?" Ryan asked, a muscle near the base of his jaw twitching. And to think I'd once found the gesture of satisfaction endearing.
"It's over a hundred degrees. I'm not going to apologize for being Sweaty Betty."
"What?" He looked momentarily perplexed and then shook his head, revealing the emotionless expression he usually wore. "I seem to remember someone begging to tag along to the police station this morning."
It had been during our breakfast in the hotel lobby when Ryan mentioned he'd need to leave me in the room for a bit while he met with the local police chief. He was going to go over some information about the local Mafia ring and I'd jumped at the chance to join. I had gone over the phone lists, after all, and proven myself to be at least somewhat helpful.
"And then," Ryan continued and I could see another hint of a smile threatening to break, "wasn't it you who begged that we walk instead of taking the truck?"
"I needed some fresh air," I pouted. "Besides, I was on my best behavior today. I think I deserve ice cream."
But Sumner didn't seem to have heard me. His eyes widened a fraction, his frame tensed, and just as I opened my mouth to question the sudden shift he grabbed me by the shoulders and none-too-gently shoved me into a small side street wedged between two brick buildings.
Ryan pressed my back against the solid wall as my gaze shifted frantically between the anxious agent and the empty alleyway.
My mouth opened once again and Ryan shot me a curt glare, effectively silencing me. Frowning, I rested against the brick wall, blowing nonexistent bangs out of my eyes. I'd grown them back out over a year ago, but old habits die hard.
With nothing else to look at, I found myself studying Ryan up close. I'd spent so much time over the past few weeks seeing nothing but him; however, in the heat of the day, half his face shadowed with his serious, in-control features I was acutely aware of how truly spectacularly good looking he was.
It didn't help that he was just inches away. One step and my body would be flush against his. It would be so easy to just close the distance, to give in to the heat and the desire, if only he were more open to the idea. I wasn't bad looking, but Ryan acted as though another bout of light making out and he'd keel over.
I was relatively certain that was not the case.
After a long stretch of silence, I whispered, "Can I talk now?"
He looked upset but relaxed a fraction.
Chewing my lip, I decided to press my luck. "What was it?"
"A man," he replied. "He was watching you."
My scalp prickled, an uneasy feeling rolled in my stomach. It was eerie, the thought of someone out stalking me. And I realized the anger in Ryan's eyes wasn't at me. It was directed towards himself. In some warped rationale he'd found a way to blame himself.
"I didn't see anyone," I whispered in response, but before I could assure him that it wasn't his fault – that I was the one who'd once again begged to be taken into danger – a man's voice called out in greeting. It was a simple 'hello', the inflection implying a cautious question. My spine straightened and I grabbed a hold of one of Ryan's arms and squeezed his bicep. He looked unaffected, jerking around towards the man taking wary steps in our direction. As he stepped out of the shadows I peered around Ryan's broad shoulders. My breath quickened before stopping altogether.
And then I burst into laughter.
I stopped laughing and released Sumner's arm. Another hesitant step forward, and the man revealed himself from the shadows, though Ryan's posture remained rigid. The newcomer's gaze darted from Ryan to me and back again. Instead of saying anything, he stuffed his hands into the pockets of his khaki shorts and looked uncomfortable. Fortunately this time I controlled the urge to laugh.
"Tommy," I said in way of greeting and instantly felt both sets of eyes on me. Meeting Tommy's gaze, I quipped my lips in a quick smile. "What're you doing in Austin?"
"My sister starts classes here in the fall." He blinked, and cast a chary look Sumner's way. I couldn't see his expression from our current position, but I could picture perfectly the glare I'd been on the receiving end of. And judging by how Tommy continued to shrink away, I had a hunch that the man behind me was searing him with a pretty nasty glower. "We were at the bookstore and I thought it was you, but…"
Tommy's brow furrowed. "Jamie said you took a summer internship in Oklahoma City."
That was news to me, but I guess my friends needed an excuse as to why I'd never make it to anything. Ever. Or maybe that was something the FBI had crafted to explain my absence… Hm. I wondered if I could put it on a resume. At least then this summer wouldn't be a complete loss.
"I'm just on vacation." I tried for a smile though I probably came off looking insane. "With my…" I was going to say 'boyfriend', but the word got lodged in my throat. I was lying anyway for goodness sakes, but apparently I was too uncomfortable to fib about that. Not with Ryan standing just inches behind me probably sensing the direction of my thoughts. "With Ryan."
"A friend from Oklahoma?"
I'm positive Ryan was fighting the urge to slap his own forehead in the silent seconds that followed. Well, I'd never claimed 'thinking on my feet' a strong suit.
"Ryan," I began, turning slightly so I could see him, "this is Tommy. My friend Jamie's boyfriend." Stepping to my side, but still hovering close, Ryan nodded.
"The one who lives on campus?" He addressed me, correctly referring to my friend Jamie who worked as a Residential Advisor, but his eyes never left the blond.
"Well I'm sorry to… er, interrupt."
Oh God. He thought we were… in an alleyway on vacation…
"It's not a problem. It was great seeing you." I plastered my biggest, fakest smile. "And tell your sister I said 'hi'."
Just add this to the 'Most Awkward Conversation I've Ever Had, Ever' list. Which, for me, was quite lengthy. The FBI wouldn't be recruiting me after this case was over, that much was sure.
Acutely aware of Ryan glaring at him, Tommy bowed out.
He'd given another hesitant glance before spinning on his heel, leaving us once again secluded between the looming brick structures and entirely aware of how close we were standing.
Hoping to alleviate the cloud of tension, I whirled around and feigned annoyance.
"You are so paranoid!"
I poked his chest and Ryan frowned at the offending digit. Only my grin fell the instant I looked at him. Really looked at him. All six-feet-plus of muscle and snarls, one hand clutching an exposed gun.
"He was a friend, Ryan!" My voice came out shrill, echoing the panic radiating from my insides. "You… your…"
"I didn't know that," he shrugged, decidedly unapologetic as he tucked the pistol in the holster of his jeans, "not at the time."
"You could have shot Tommy…" He could have killed Jamie's boyfriend while he was out shopping for his sister's uni books and it would have been all my fault.
"No. I could have shot Rhider or one of his buddies." Dark brows narrowed over green eyes, an irritated frown encompassed Ryan's sharp features. "You think they're walking around looking for you unarmed? You thought I was going to protect you with my bare hands?"
To be honest, I hadn't thought much about it period. Instead of admitting this, I shifted my jaw and met his gaze, unflinching. But before I could object, Ryan continued,
"They won't hesitate to shoot you Tori. Or me, to get to you."
"Let's go back." I was starting to feel guilty, the weight of how my rash, silly urges put not only myself but Ryan and innocent bystanders in jeopardy. I couldn't stomach the thought of Ryan getting hurt. And he could lose everything, just because I'd whined about needing a little fresh air. His career, his reputation and his life. A sinking feeling nestled inside my gut, and it dragged my heart along with it. "I promise I won't beg you to take me back out." Because I understood he wasn't being cruel, he was being safe.
"No. We wait."
I arched a questioning brow and Ryan heaved a long, dramatic sigh. Apparently he was back to being annoyed at having to answer me.
"I don't want to draw too much attention." He motioned the opening where tourists and locals alike walked by, totes and shopping bags full, ice cream in hand, laughing and talking. We were hidden in our position, but it was unlikely that no one had witnessed Tommy's hasty departure.
So, resolute to wait, I turned towards Sumner.
It only took three, maybe four seconds to realize we were back in the same position we'd been in before Tommy had arrived and unloaded a truckfull of awkward on our afternoon. Only this time, without Sumner's panicky alertness to a potential foe, his eyes met mine and darkened. He too noticed our proximity, the heat, the way my back arched towards him of its own accord.
And his lips crashed into mine, slamming me back against the cool brick wall. My hands caught the fabric of his shirt, twisting the material as I kissed him back with fever and desire and no trace of uncertainty. In turn he kissed me like he didn't regret our earlier kisses, like this wouldn't be our last. I forgot about the heat of the day and gave into another heat altogether.
My leg hooked around his hip as Ryan's arms and the brick wall leveled my weight. His arm hosting me up was firm and solid, and beyond that I didn't think of anything else.
When he pulled away, his breath matched mine in short, desperate pants. I could feel the color drain from my face the instant I glanced upwards and caught sight of Ryan's frown. He didn't look angry, exactly, but there was definitely a hint of irritation. Maybe even some disappointment. At me or at him, I was unsure, but it stung just the same.
"Let's go," he said, grabbing my arm in a way that held no ounce of affection. Perhaps to an outsider we'd look like good friends but I could feel the firm grip as he tugged me along, down the street and into the hotel. I knew before we entered the room that we weren't running back to the crisp, made hotel bed. And try as I might to lighten the mood, he remained cold, distant.
I took a shower and dressed in a pair of shorts and a tank top, not bothering to dry my hair since I was now on hotel-arrest, and when I entered the room Ryan was tipping the deliveryman for our dinner. He hadn't asked me what I wanted to eat, but there on the table was the pasta I'd mentioned liking when we'd ordered it a few nights ago.
I stared at my hands, twisting in front of me, then the floor, the food and finally Ryan. Sensing my gaze, he turned slightly towards me and sighed.
"Go ahead and eat; I have a lot of work to catch up on."
'Callous' and 'detached' were no longer words I associated with Ryan, but as I dropped into the chair and kept my watering gaze fixed resolutely on the pasta, it felt like we'd taken four steps back to the day we'd met. And I hated it.
As much as I'd hoped sleeping things off would return some the Ryan I'd come to know, the following morning I awoke to him leaning over his laptop.
"Good morning," I mumbled, stifling a yawn and turning on my pillow to face the brooding agent. A crease had formed between his brows as he frowned down at whatever information was currently on the screen. He didn't nod in greeting, didn't give any sign that he'd even heard me.
And when I glanced at the alarm clock I realized that this was the first morning in a month that I hadn't awoken to an amused Sumner handing over a steaming cup of coffee. The revelation was like a kick to my already bruised insides.
I tossed my legs over the side of the bed and disappeared into the bathroom, fighting the childish urge to slam the door. It felt all too familiar to fighting with a boyfriend, but Ryan and I's situation was so much more important, so much more fragile, and far more obscure than any relationship I'd had in the past.
Dipping my fingers into my liquid foundation, I applied a pair of dots below the dark circles beneath my eyes – the anticipated effects of tossing and turning the night before – and brushed my fingers over the bags in a feeble attempt to erase the evidence that Ryan's change in mood was getting to me. That, I frowned at my reflection, or to look presentable for my day with Ryan. If he wasn't going to go back to abandoning me all day in the hotel, of course.
Sighing, I finished applying my makeup – light, since I probably wouldn't be going out – but stopped, mascara brush hovering inches from blinking lashes, when I heard a door shut.
As expected, the main room of the hotel was empty. Frowning, I shook my head. Ryan hadn't left me. He'd probably just gone to get breakfast. Yes. That had to be it. He'd return in a few minutes and I'd have my coffee and my friend back, and I could forget all about how badly I'd overreacted about the entire ordeal.
Until I heard his voice in the hall.
Swallowing thickly, I glanced around the room and inhaled a deep, guilty sigh before pressing my ear against the door to eavesdrop.
"I don't care," Ryan snapped, his voice deep and harsh. It sent delicious shivers down my spine because I was a freak, pulled towards guys that came with a little edge. And the anger in Ryan's voice exuded danger. "I know this case better than anyone."
A short pause and I cursed beneath my breath. I'd only be able to overhear bits and pieces of this conversation, since apparently Sumner was on the phone.
"Six months Cholette." Ah. He was talking to Agent Bill Cholette. His partner, the older, kinder gentleman that had been at the police station the evening I'd first met Ryan. At the time, I'd prayed Cholette would be assigned to watch over me instead of Ryan; he'd seemed much more capable of smiling. "And we both know I could better serve the Agency elsewhere."
I blinked. Once. Twice. And then backpedaled on shaking limbs until my calves hit a bed, forcing my knees to bend and my backside to sink onto the mattress.
When Ryan reentered the room, he looked at me and though a frown marred his lips concern filled his eyes.
"Fine," I snapped, watching as Sumner gently closed the door behind him. "Go."
He regarded me with a wary expression, not saying anything as though he had nothing to articulate.
And because I wasn't going to cry over Ryan leaving me, I channeled my anger. "I don't need you anyway. I can stay locked in a hotel room by myself."
That single word was what I wanted to hear. Sweltering anger gave way to relief, but my features didn't relax, my posture didn't let up. And Ryan's next words confirmed my greatest fear,
"They're going to assign another agent to you."
I wanted to scream. I wanted to cry. I didn't want another agent. I wanted Ryan. But obviously he wanted to be elsewhere.
Because I had no where else to go, I raised my chin and met his gaze square on. He froze for a moment, looking sad and lost and pathetic as though his leaving would be harder on him, and then with a quick shake of his head moved towards the door.
Before closing it all the way, he stared out into the hallway and hesitated. One of his fists gripped the jamb of the door.
"Be sure to do the locks behind me."
And then with the gentle click of the door, he was gone.
He'd never wanted a drink so badly in his life. Staring at the hotel's bar, the talking, laughing, carefree travelers congregating there, his fists compressed into a pair of tight balls. Ryan's eyes lowered from the bar to his hands, not surprised to find the strain of his frustration in the whitening of his knuckles.
It was another forty-five minutes before his replacement would get here and he wasn't going to leave Tori unguarded. But he couldn't wait with her, alone, in the room. She was mad at him – and with good reason – but he could also read the hurt and confusion beneath that, and it stung all the more. If he talked to her, he'd only convince himself to stay. Because there was nothing in the world he wanted more.
"Drink sir?" the bartender asked.
"It's early," Ryan replied, giving a small, fake smile that didn't reach his eyes. "And I don't drink on the job."
Although this, Tori, wasn't his job anymore.
Which was a good thing. He turned from the bar and looked out onto the hotel lobby. Through the glass doors he watched the valets handing off keys in the midst of another bright, summer day. His head wasn't in this anymore. And he trusted Johnny more than anyone. They went through basic together, joined the force at the same time, had been best friends ever since. Johnny was as good an agent as him and a better man.
True, Tori started as a job. A job he wasn't particularly thrilled to have been given, but she'd become more than that. So much more. Perhaps if he had met her on the street, he would have looked twice and maybe… No. He didn't date. Not since Charlotte. But maybe he and Tori, she was different.
Turning his back on the lobby, Ryan glanced back towards the bar and contemplated a drink. Nothing strong, just a beer; something to take the edge off.
But he was too conditioned to his principles to accept the bartender's ever-tempting offer of alcohol. Instead, he was left with his own thoughts.
For someone that prided himself in his abilities and his penchant for safety, Agent Ryan Sumner had been rather lenient with Tori's wellbeing. It was partly because he liked making her happy and partly because he genuinely enjoyed being with her. A dangerous combination.
And with striking clarity he understood that he was doing the right thing. As much as he wanted Tori, he wanted her safe more. He couldn't kiss her in public and forget where he was. It wasn't fair to her and it wasn't fair to the Agency. Her best bet to staying alive was to remain under the protection of an Agent who hadn't lost his senses. At this point, he was convinced he had.
All's well that ends well. Or something like that. Just keep in mind that it's physically impossible for me to write anything but a happy ending.
Thanks for the tremendous response to the last couple of chapters! I'm flattered and giddy and all kinds of excited about the next one. Hope you are too.
… and thenifoundfivedollars