It wasn’t his alarm that woke Hunter in the morning, it was the smell of bacon frying. It took him a moment to remember that he wasn’t alone in the house, and he sat up in bed and rubbed his eyes, then felt for his glasses on the nightstand and put them on. With a yawn, he slid out of bed and grabbed a t-shirt from the side of the hamper where he’d hung it before bed. He followed the aromas and sounds of breakfast to the kitchen, where he was stopped in his tracks when he saw Emily.
She had her back to him, and he was surprised by the colorful tattoo that covered the entirety of her shoulders that was visible. It looked like it was a riot of flowers and it made him wonder what the rest of it was. Her hair was in a ponytail that bounced on the back of her neck as she moved to the music only she could hear from her headphones, and even though she was wearing a pair of Robin’s flannel pajama pants she looked nice.
Emily turned to the island to tip the bacon onto two plates and jumped when she saw Hunter standing in the doorway staring at her. She put the pan back on the stove, pulled the earphones out of her ears and set them on the counter. Hunter held his hands up.
“Sorry, sorry,” he said. “I just can’t seem to stop startling you.”
“It’s your house,” she said. “Besides, I should have expected it. I just woke up with a song stuck in my head. Thank you for the phone charger, by the way.”
“You can keep it if you want. I just got a new phone, so I’ve got one for almost every outlet at this point.” He nodded at the two plates. In addition to the bacon, there were scrambled eggs and what looked like homemade hash browns. “This looks amazing. Did you make the potatoes?”
“Yeah,” Emily said. “They were going to be home fries but I changed my mind at the last minute. Your cheese grater is soaking in the sink, by the way.”
“I have a cheese grater?” This was news to Hunter, and he wasn’t sure if he hadn’t known about it or just didn’t remember. Emily nodded and picked up the plates, then took them to the kitchen table and set them across from each other. She took a bowl of fruit out of the refrigerator and set it in the middle of the table. “I can’t remember the last time someone made me breakfast,” Hunter said. “I don’t really know what to say.”
“You don’t have to say anything,” Emily said. “I like cooking.” She poured two cups of coffee and brought them to the table. “Have a seat. I don’t know about you, but I’m starving.” Hunter sat down and smiled as she sat across from him and picked up her fork. “Did you sleep all right?”
“Much better than I expected,” Emily replied. “I thought I was going to be up all night, but I guess I was worn out from everything that happened.” She watched Hunter take a bite of his hash browns anxiously.
“They’re great,” he said with a smile. Emily seemed to relax and took a bite of her own food. “I’m glad you cut up the fruit, too. I keep buying it and then forgetting about it until it basically turns to mush in my crisper. My housekeeper probably hates me.”
“I love fruit,” Emily said. “It’s so expensive, though.” She reached for the bowl just as Hunter did, and their fingers touched as they both went for the same piece of cantaloupe. A shiver went down his back, though not an unpleasant one, and their eyes met. He didn’t think he’d ever noticed that her eyes were hazel, either that or he hadn’t really been looking. Emily turned bright red and pulled her hand back, much to Hunter’s dismay. He would have liked to take her hand, even if it was just for a few seconds. “Sorry,” she said. They fell into a clumsy silence as they ate their breakfast and Hunter tried to think of something to say.
“So,” he said, taking the cantaloupe, “what’s the plan for today?”
“I’ve got to go see if my place has been cleared for me to go inside and assess the damage. If it’s still off-limits I need to go get some clothes, which means I at least have to figure out a way to get my wallet.” She sighed heavily. “I also have to make a trip to St. Cecilia’s,” she said, then smiled at him in what he hoped he wasn’t misinterpreting as a mischievous way. “Then tonight I have a date with a very handsome scientist.”
“A date, you say? I’ll try not to get in the way,” Hunter said with a half-smile. Emily smirked and took a sip of her coffee. “By the way, I’ve been wondering. Why do you live in a townhouse with college students on the other side of you?”
“I live by myself,” Emily said, looking down at her plate. “There’s no reason for me to spend money on a big place.” Hunter got the feeling that she wasn’t being completely honest but even though he was sitting in his kitchen in his pajamas with Emily, he didn’t feel like he had the right to push. “I may be in the market for a new place, though.”
“You can stay here as long as you like,” he said, picking up a forkful of eggs. “Especially if I’m going to get meals like this once in a while.”
“I’m glad you like it,” she said, smiling up at him. “I looked up the restaurant yesterday and it’s really nice. Even if my house wasn’t currently smoldering, I was going to have to buy a dress. I thought you had to have reservations for Cerise.”
“You do if your former wife’s brother isn’t the owner.” This made Emily almost choke on the mouthful of eggs she was eating. She swallowed hard and laughed out loud. “I didn’t get this far in life without using connections every now and then. Plus, I wanted to impress you.”
“You did?” Emily looked surprised, but she was smiling. “Now I feel even sillier sitting here in your daughter’s pajamas.” Hunter was about to tell her that she looked beautiful but she went on before he could. “How old is she?”
“She just turned 25, about a month or so ago,” Hunter said. “It was a new memory loss milestone for me, I forgot my own daughter’s birthday.”
“That’s not so bad,” Emily said encouragingly. “Normal people forget birthdays all the time. I still can’t remember if my father’s birthday is June 8th or 18th.”
“You can’t be serious.”
“No, it’s true! I have to put an alert in my phone to remind me to text him.” She finished her breakfast and wiped her mouth. “I’m going to go up and get dressed,” Emily said. “When you get finished, leave your plate in the sink and I’ll wash them.”
“I’m done,” Hunter said, finishing the last of his hash browns. “You don’t have to wash my dishes, the housekeeper will be coming later and she actually gets offended when there’s nothing for her to do.”
“Don’t be silly,” Emily said, leaning down to pick up his plate. He realized that she was closer to him than she’d ever been before, and he put a hand on hers. She looked up at him, surprised, and her lips parted slightly, making him want more than anything to kiss her. Hunter was relieved when she didn’t back away, and he was reaching up to pull her closer when his front door opened.
“Dr. Chambers?” A woman’s voice called out in the living room and Hunter dropped his hand. Emily straightened and looked back to see who was there. An older woman with a long braid of white hair came through the kitchen door. “I’m sorry to show up unannounced, but I had a cancellation and thought I’d get an early start.”
“Not a problem,” Hunter said, thinking to himself that it was a huge problem. “Patricia, I’d like you to meet Dr. Ashton. She’s going to be staying in the guest room here for a little while, so if you wouldn’t mind going through there when you come that would be great.”
“Of course not,” Patricia said with a smile, taking an apron from the peg on the back of the pantry door. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Doctor. Please feel free to leave any clothes you want me to wash in the hamper.”
“Sure,” Emily said as Patricia took the plates out of her hands. “Thank you.”
“You’re very welcome. I come three times a week. If there’s anything you need in particular, anything you need from the store, just leave me a note.” She went to the sink and Emily looked at Hunter, then pointed at the stairs.
“I’m just going to go get dressed. I’ve got to get home and try to get my wallet.”
“Wait,” Hunter said, getting up from the table so quickly that his coffee nearly tipped over. He followed Emily to the stairs. “Where do you live? Do you want a ride?”
“Roscoe Village,” she said. “It’s no big deal, though, I live right off the Brown Line.”
“I’d really like to take you home,” Hunter said. “Please? I’d consider it a personal favor.” Emily paused at the top of the stairs and raised an eyebrow at him.
“You really want to drive me across town so I won’t ride the trains?”
“I want to drive you across town to save you the forty minutes it’ll take for you to get to the fire station and get your wallet.” Hunter looked at her, hoping that what was left of his charm would convince her. “You know, I need to go up to Apogee and pick up some files. It would be on my way.” Emily started walking again and shook her head.
“Fine,” she said. “You just don’t give up, do you?”
“It’s one of my remaining talents,” Hunter said. “You said your day was packed, I’m just trying to save you some time. Wouldn’t want you to be late for dinner.” She smirked at him, then reached up and tapped his nose.
“Go put on pants,” she said, opening the door to the guest room. “I’m going to make a fashion statement by wearing last night’s clothes. The kind I usually make the night after I leave someone’s house in the morning.”
“You technically are leaving a guy’s house in the morning,” Hunter said as she closed the door. He smiled and went down to his room, feeling like he’d won something.
Even though he was just taking her across town he wanted to look nice, so he picked out a pair of dark jeans and a thin sweater. He really didn’t need to go to the lab but spending a little extra time with Emily was worth the lie. Now that he knew what it was like to be around her outside work, he wanted to be with her as much as possible.
He waited for her by the door with his keys in hand, and when she came down the stairs his heart sped up. She looked lighter than the night before and he tried to figure out why that was. Emily smiled up at him, and he realized that without the heels she usually wore to work she was several inches shorter than he was used to seeing her.
“I hope you don’t mind that I’m leaving my backpack here,” she said. “I don’t need any of the stuff in it and it’s heavy.”
“Of course not,” Hunter said, leading her out to his car. “It’ll be safe here. What about your computer?” Emily patted the slim case that was on her hip.
“I do need this. It’s got a full inventory of my house for insurance purposes, and some of my research. I bring it anytime I might have to sit in a waiting room.” She got into the passenger seat and buckled her seatbelt. “I know I was being a pain in the ass about you giving me a ride, but thanks. I’m not used to accepting help from anyone.”
“Don’t consider it help, then,” Hunter said, starting the car. “Consider it a personal favor for an old scientist who’s falling apart at the seams.”
“You said the favor part already. And you’re not old,” Emily said with a smile. “You can’t possibly be more than forty-five.”
“First of all, I’m flattered,” Hunter said as he backed out of the driveway. “Second, how old exactly do you think I was when Robin was born?”
“Twenty? People have kids when they’re still in college,” Emily said, taking out her phone. Hunter couldn’t help laughing.
“Next month I’m going to be fifty-four.” He shook his head. “Twenty. You’re going to have to give me directions to where I’m going. My GPS finally died for good last week and I haven’t had a chance to get another.”
“I’m sorry for your loss,” Emily said. “Let me put it in my phone. I don’t know the streets out here as well as I do the ones around Addison.” She pulled up her mapping app and went about finding directions while Hunter drove, grateful for the fact that he was still sharpest in the morning.
Once he’d dropped Emily off with the promise of seeing her back at his house before their date, he decided he might as well go to Apogee and check his messages. They always managed to get away from him over the weekend. On the way, his phone rang and he answered it on the Bluetooth.
“Dr. Chambers,” a familiar voice said. “I’m sorry to call you on the weekend but you wanted me to call you as soon as we knew anything about the combination medication.”
“Yes, of course,” he said, sitting forward. “When can I pick it up?”
“I’m going to be flying out this evening, but I’ll be up at the hospital for another couple of hours. If you can make it over here, I’ll be happy to give you some of the samples we use for the clinical trials. Off the books, of course.” The man on the other end sounded distracted and Hunter gripped the steering wheel tighter.
“I’ll be there.” He hung up the phone by pressing the button on his steering wheel, then headed for the nearest electronics store. Someone with his memory problems was only going to get in trouble driving around Chicago without a GPS, and he wasn’t going to risk missing his date with Emily. He just hoped he’d have good news to give her when he saw her again.