“You know, I’ve never cooked with anyone before,” Emily said, bringing a bowl of freshly peeled mangoes to the kitchen island. “It seems like everyone I’ve ever been with found out I liked cooking and just left me to it.”
“I used to cook with my wife all the time,” Hunter said, taking a mango from the bowl and putting it on the cutting board. “Ellen had this huge collection of old cookbooks that she got from somewhere, a relative or maybe a bookstore.” He frowned at the mango. “I can’t quite remember. But she liked to try new things and it was good for me. Good for Robin too. She was the only eight-year-old in her class that would eat sushi.” He sighed. “Or six. She might have been six.”
“I’m glad you were open to trying this,” said Emily with a smile. “So many people hear fruit and beans in the same sentence and hit the brakes.”
“Well, I can’t remember if I’ve ever eaten black bean mango stir-fry but I like black beans and I like mango, so it was worth trying again if I have.” He cut the mango into cubes so precise that Emily could easily see the scientist in him showing through. She smiled and went to the sink to drain the beans that were ready on the stove.
It had been a week since she’d discovered that the neural bridge was never going to be a reality, and she still couldn’t shake the feeling that she was a failure. She was having a hard time concentrating on the new drug because all she could think about was what to do next with the neural bridge.
Thanks to her sister’s condition, she had collected a number of neurology contacts that she had been reaching out to over the last week, hoping that someone would have something that could help Hunter. She rinsed the beans once more and set them aside in the colander just as Hunter turned around with the bowl of mango.
“Here you go,” he said. “That’s the last of it, right?”
“Yeah. Bell peppers, mangos, onions and beans. Now, let’s see,” Emily said, picking up the magazine she’d set on the counter. “Okay, now we sauté the onions and bell peppers.” Hunter took the olive oil from the cabinet by the stove and turned on the burner.
“I’ll heat the oil, you go ahead and start the rice,” he said. Emily nodded and went to the pantry to find where he kept his rice. There were three glass containers on one of the shelves and she leaned back out and looked at Hunter.
“You have three kinds of rice?”
“I told you, I like cooking. It’s one of the only things I can still do without too many problems. Maybe sometime I’ll show you some of my recipes.” He poured the oil into the pan without bothering to measure it.
“Ones you’ve made yourself?” Emily picked the jasmine rice and took the jar to the island. Hunter nodded at her. “That’s impressive,” she said. Hunter turned to her and put his hands on her waist, pulling her to him. “Shouldn’t you be watching the oil?”
“It’s low heat,” he said with a devious-looking smile. Emily put her arms around his neck and returned the smile.
“What are you doing?”
“This.” He kissed her and pulled her close enough that they were pressed together, and as his tongue brushed against hers Emily wished she could melt into him. Instead she pulled away a little, gently tugging at his lower lip as she did. Hunter met her eyes and she smiled at him. “You’re so beautiful when your cheeks are red like that.”
“I’ve always blushed too easily,” Emily replied. “Everyone always knows what I’m thinking.” Hunter swayed with her.
“What are you thinking right now?”
“I think you can guess.” This time it was her turn to kiss him and Hunter didn’t waste any time. He met her enthusiasm with his own, reaching down to squeeze her bottom and pull her to him. It had been some time since Emily had been kissed quite so forcefully and she suddenly wanted to wrap her legs around him. She could feel his hardness against her and her body ached for him to be inside her. One of his hands moved slowly up her side beneath her shirt and he had barely had a chance to put his hand on her breast when Emily’s phone rang on the kitchen table.
“Leave it,” Hunter said into her ear, and Emily nodded. He slid his hand under her bra and brushed his thumb over her nipple. “Emily. I want to—” He was interrupted by the acrid smell of burning oil and let go of her. “Dammit!” Hunter turned back to the stove, which was now smoking, while Emily tried to catch her breath.
She had a feeling she knew what he had been about to say, and knew that her answer would be yes. She couldn’t remember the last time she had wanted someone as much as she wanted Hunter at that moment, and she took a step toward him to tell him to forget dinner when the smoke detector went off with a deafening shriek.
All thoughts of sex disappeared from her mind as she rushed to the patio door to open it and let the smoke out. Hunter fanned the pan with the magazine as Emily sighed. The alarm was like a knife through her head and she took the magazine from Hunter and continued to fan the smoke toward the open door while he went to disable the smoke alarm. As soon as it was silent again in the kitchen, Hunter shook his head.
“Sorry about that,” he said. He went to the stove and looked at the pan. “The oil is completely burned onto the bottom of the pan. I’m going to have to soak this before we can use it again.” He looked over at Emily. “We could always just forget dinner and pick up where we left off.” Emily was about to tell him that she was thinking the same thing, but she was interrupted by her phone ringing again. They both looked at it and she went to the table.
“Hold that thought.” The number on the screen was from Minnesota and Emily’s heart stopped for a moment. She only knew one person in Minnesota and she was the only person that could take her mind off Hunter. “Hello?”
“Emily, hi,” Dr. Karen Westbrook said. “I’m sorry to call you twice but it’s really important and I didn’t want to leave a message.
“It’s no problem,” Emily said. “I was just making dinner. Please tell me you’re calling to tell me you have something that can help my friend.” She wasn’t sure if Hunter would want her to call him her boyfriend – if that was even what he was – or that the brilliant Hunter Chambers was slowly drifting away so she’d told Karen that he was a friend. It wasn’t a lie, necessarily. He just happened to be the kind of friend that she wanted to throw her on the kitchen table and kiss every inch of her body.
“As a matter of fact, I am. I’ve been working on a new medication that works completely differently than the current generation of Alzheimer’s drugs. I just got the final approval to start clinical trials and I’ll be administering the first treatments tomorrow. One of the participants had to drop out at the last minute and I was wondering if your friend would want to take his place,” Karen said. “It would help me out and hopefully slow down his disease progression.”
“Thank you Karen, this is such good news. I’m certain he will,” Emily said. “Let me hand the phone to him.” Hunter looked at her curiously and Emily pressed mute. “My friend Karen works in research, and she’s got a spot in a clinical trial for a new Alzheimer’s treatment. She wants to know if you’d be willing to take it.”
“Yes,” Hunter said immediately. “Of course I do!”
“Talk to her, then,” Emily said, handing him the phone. “She can give you the details.” He unmuted her phone and put it to his ear.
“This is Hunter Chambers,” he said, then sighed. “Yes, that Hunter Chambers.” He listened to Karen while Emily started putting the cut fruit and vegetables into plastic storage containers. She moved slowly so she could eavesdrop as she did. “I’d love to participate, can you send me the details? I’d write them down but my handwriting is damn near illegible this late in the day. What time do you need me there?” Emily snapped the storage container with the mangoes in it closed. “I’ll be there. Thank you so much, Doctor.” He held the phone out to Emily, and she took it.
“I can’t thank you enough for this,” she said. “Hopefully your treatment works.”
“Me too. Dr. Chambers didn’t give me his information to send the details, can you send it to me?”
“Send it to my email,” Emily said. “You still have it, right?”
“Your personal one? Sure. It’s probably a good idea for me to send it to you anyway, if his memory problems have advanced to the point you described he might accidentally delete it or forget about it. He’s lucky he has you to look out for him.” Emily smiled at her friend’s words, then looked at Hunter. “Could you do me a favor and not use his real name?”
“Of course,” Karen said. “I can arrange for him to be given the treatment privately as well, and list him under a generic name. His identity will be fully protected. Will you be coming with him?”
“No, I’ve got work to do here. Take care of him for me, Karen.”
“Absolutely. Talk to you soon.” She hung up and Emily turned her attention to Hunter, who was looking down at the counter and gripping it with both hands.
“Are you all right?” She went over to him and put a hand on his shoulder. Hunter looked over at her and nodded, just as her phone vibrated to let her know she’d received an email. She opened her email app and saw a message from Karen with an attachment. “Here’s the information,” Emily said, opening the document. “They’re going to need you at the Perrineau Clinic tomorrow morning at 8:30. Karen said they could do the treatment privately, but you should still be there for the orientation. No one has to know that you’re there for the trial.”
“If I have to be there first thing in the morning, I’m going to have to leave right now,” Hunter said. He had a sort of dazed look on his face and Emily smiled at him. “I can’t believe it. This is all happening so quickly.”
“That’s a good thing,” Emily said. “Why don’t we forget dinner and go upstairs. I’ll find you some plane tickets and a hotel reservation while you pack. The first part of the trial is going to take five to seven days, so you’ll need a suitcase. I’ll help you stay on task.”
“Thanks,” Hunter said. He offered her a hand and Emily took it, then walked with him to the stairs. “I’m going to need a plane ticket, a hotel reservation, and uh, something else. Right?”
“Probably a rental car,” Emily said. “Which might be a bad idea, honestly. You shouldn’t be trying to navigate around an unfamiliar city. Public transportation might be just as bad, so the best thing might be to just use something like Uber.” They went up the stairs hand in hand, and Hunter nodded.
“You’re right. Would you mind driving me to the airport? It’ll probably be a lot faster than taking the train.”
“Of course,” Emily said. “Whatever I can do to help you, I will.”
“I know,” Hunter said, stopping in the middle of the stairs. Emily looked at him curiously and he took two steps down so they were face to face. “Thank you, Emily. You’ve given me hope.” She hugged him, then leaned forward and rested her forehead against his.
“No matter what happens, I’ll be here when you come back,” she said. Hunter took her hands in his and kissed them. “Let’s get you packed.” Hunter nodded and Emily pulled him up the stairs, hoping that it would work. They wouldn’t know right away but what he needed was time. The treatment could give him that. “Any preference on hotels and airlines?”
“I think I have a frequent flyer number for one of them,” Hunter said, frowning. “Not sure which one, though.”
“We’ll figure it out,” Emily said, hoping he understood that she meant more than just the numbers. “We’ll figure it all out.”