Ian turned around to find Charlie Eppes waving at him from across the room. He grinned as he leaned up against the nearest cubicle and waited for him to catch up. “Hello, Professor.”
“Don told me you’d still be here. I’m glad I caught you before you left Los Angeles.”
He nodded. “The Bureau’s going to make me jump through some hoops, thanks to the shooting.”
“Even though it was in the line of duty?”
“Oh yeah. You know how it is.” He shrugged. “Looks like you’re stuck with me for a few more days.”
“That’s good!” Charlie paused to run his fingers through his curls. “Uh, I mean, it’s not good that you have to do paperwork or evaluations or stuff, but I’m glad you’re going to be around.”
Ian straightened up, allowing his eyes to rake over the pup. Damn, that blush was adorable. “Thank you.”
“I, uh—I was hoping you’d let me take you out for lunch. You know, if you have time today.”
He raised his eyebrows, intrigued. Usually it took more effort to coax his prey into approaching.
Charlie misread his expression. Or maybe he read it all too well. “I mean, I’m not, uh—oh God. You’re not worried that I’m coming onto you, are you? I’m not. I just want to say thanks for, um—”
“Lunch sounds great, Professor. Give me about fifteen minutes?”
“Sure.” Charlie smiled, probably relieved to be put out of his babbling misery. “I’ll hang out right here.”
Charlie chose a diner in Westwood not far from the FBI offices—well, sort of a diner. Having lived in New Jersey for a time, he understood that a true diner had to be open 24-7 and must include specific menu items. This was an 8 AM to 8 PM sort of place, closed on Sundays, so it didn’t really qualify. But it was a decent spot, with good classic sandwiches and even better specialty ones, not to mention amazing onion rings.
Besides, he had heard that Edgerton was a kill-your-own venison kind of guy. Charlie didn’t know what to do with that information when it came to picking a restaurant, but he figured a diner was always safe.
Edgerton didn’t complain about his choice. “I like this place.” He slid into his seat with a cat like grace Charlie wished he could emulate. “Their service is, ah, ruthlessly efficient.”
Charlie grinned. It was often busy and the staff did tend to hustle you. He once calculated the average time they would wait before offering to take your plate away—even if it was half full. It was 11 minutes and 9.34 seconds. “I don’t think they’ll kick us out if we linger. Not if we’re determined.”
“We’ll find out.” He turned to his menu.
So Edgerton was confident they’d find things to talk about. Charlie had been a bit nervous about that, afraid that he would bore the sniper. No, the agent. He had been wrong before—this man was more than a sniper who loved his work.
Charlie glanced at his own menu but then set it aside. His heart was set on the Western Melt. He looked up to find Edgerton regarding him with an intrigued but wary look in his eyes. He decided not to take offense at that wariness—even Don exhibited that in public places. Maybe all FBI types did: they were trained to be hyper-aware of their surroundings.
“Are you okay, Professor, after your ordeal?”
“Oh I’m fine.” Charlie managed another smile. “I should be asking you that. Although you don’t seem too upset over what happened.”
“I’m not grieving for that rogue sniper, if that’s what you mean.”
“So you’re used to killing?”
Edgerton narrowed his eyes at him.
Charlie felt his face heat up. “I’m sorry. I’m not saying that’s wrong. I’m—look, when I realized that you had, uh, taken that guy out—”
“I was grateful. And relieved. And—and almost ecstatic. I’m glad he’s dead.”
Those dark eyes relaxed a bit; Charlie could almost see a smile in them now. “At the risk of sounding too much like a hardened assassin, Professor, it was my pleasure.”
“Thank you. I was, uh—well, I was wrong about guns. A little wrong.” He used his forefinger and thumb to show just how little.
Edgerton gave him a wry smile. “So you believe in them now?”
“Let’s say I understand their value in certain situations. Speaking of which, I got Don to take me to the firing range. That was in the middle of the case, back before you—well, you know.”
“You did, huh?” Edgerton looked impressed. “How’d it go?”
“Pretty well.” He told him about that one good shot.
“Excellent. Now you just need practice.”
Charlie faltered. He could feel his cheeks grow hot again. How did this guy keep having that effect on him? “Ah, actually, I think I got the whole gun thing out of my system. I respect your skills, Agent Edgerton, and I’m grateful for them, but—”
“Ian, I’m glad you can do what you do. But I think I’ll stick to, you know, ‘figuring the angles.’”
The agent grinned. “Understood. Besides, that mathematical voodoo of yours turned out to be pretty valuable.”
Charlie felt his jaw drop. “Voodoo?”
Ian winked. “I’m not complaining about it, believe me. But apart from that voodoo, what else do you like to do? What kind of hobbies are you into? Preferably something that doesn’t involve math.”
“Ian, everything involves—”
But Ian held his hand up. “Right. I’m sure, in some cosmic sense, everything can be reduced to numbers. But you must have some hobby that people without an advanced knowledge of Calculus can enjoy.”
“Um, I love to hike.”
That won him an approving look. “Me too.”
It didn’t seem likely that someone as, well, badass as Ian Edgerton would want to hang out with him, but Charlie decided to press his luck. “If you can find time before you leave—maybe this weekend?—would you like to go on a short hike somewhere?”
“Sounds good.” Ian leaned forward. “But I want to give you fair warning. I have an ulterior motive.”
Charlie stared at him. Somewhere in the back of his brain, he realized that a waiter or waitress should have come for their order by now—especially in a place famed for its efficiency. But they had been left unmolested. Was Ian doing something to scare them off?
No, that was crazy. Charlie was just stalling now. “Um, what kind of ulterior motive?”
“I like you, Professor.”
“Oh. I like you too—oh! You mean . . . oh.”
Ian smiled again. For the first time Charlie understood what people meant by a ‘wolfish grin.’
“Listen, Professor, if you tell me you’re straight as an arrow or that you’re already spoken for or otherwise uninterested, that’s fine. Okay?”
“I’ll settle for a friendship and I’ll never bring it up again.” Ian gave him a look. “But if you don’t make your, uh, disinterest clear now—well, I reserve the right to view you as legitimate prey.”
Charlie took a deep breath, trying to stop his head from spinning. “I, um—I’m pretty straight, actually. I mean, I’m not disinterested, exactly, but there’s this girl. We’re not dating or anything—in fact, I don’t even know if she’s interested, but . . .” he trailed off. “I think I am straight. Mostly—”
But Ian just laughed as he raised his hand to hail a waitress. “Legitimate prey. Definitely. Still want to go hiking?”
“Yes. Why not?” Charlie stiffened his shoulders. He felt a sudden determination to prove that he wasn’t someone to laugh at, and that he wasn't afraid of that predatory look. “But don’t think I’m easy prey.”
“Oh, I’ll plan this hunt carefully, Professor. Don’t worry.”