He shrugged it off with a smile, opening his mouth to change the subject, when a new voice called her name.
“Ryan?” She said in disbelief, her smile dimming as she glanced at Casey, who merely quirked his brows knowingly before walking away. She huffed exasperatedly at his back before moving forward to greet the brunette.
An hour and a quick huddle with her girls later, Brett trudged down the hallway once more to Casey’s quarters. He saw her coming this time and his smug grin made her narrow her eyes as she leaned against the foot of his bed. “It’s rude to gloat, Matthew Casey.”
“I was right.”
“Don’t start planning yet,” she grumbled. “Yes, he asked me out. To lunch. To celebrate Isaac’s homecoming and the other kids getting out of a corrupt situation. That’s it.”
“Not a chance.” He scoffed. “It’s a date.”
“Why are you so certain that he’s interested in me?”
“Why are you so in denial that you can’t see what’s right in front of you?” he countered, genuinely curious. If she couldn’t tell when a stranger was interested in her, then she was probably honestly oblivious to the way that he felt about her. Which meant that he was going to have to rethink his strategy a bit…
“Maybe I don’t want to see it,” she admitted with a shrug, surprising herself and him with her honesty. “It’s been kind of nice, not having to dive back into the dating pool with the other piranhas.” Her lips quirked in a rueful smile. “I’m kind of more of a guppy anyway.”
“Brett. Come on,” he admonished gently.
“No, I’m serious,” she laughed, but it was mostly at herself. “I really don’t want to go through all of the awkward firsts of dating again. You know what I mean; you went through it – well, kind of – with Naomi. Ryan seems like a nice guy, but I’m kind of at the point where I want to run a background check on him, just in case.”
Casey grimaced in understanding. Considering that his brief time with the journalist had ended with his apartment being torched, he could definitely understand her wariness about going out with what was, still, essentially a stranger.
At the same time… “You don’t know that you’re ready to get back out there until you actually go,” he said, meeting her gaze. “So, go on this lunch-not-a-date,” he grinned as she rolled her eyes at him. “And if you need a rescue, I’ll have my phone on me the entire time.”
It seriously sucked, urging her to go out with another guy, but doing so meant that she might be more receptive to going out with a friend – namely, him – rather than a stranger next time. He hoped. Besides, he had heard Foster urging her to go and essentially saying the same thing, so hopefully the same advice from two of her friends would convince her.
“It is kind of what you do,” she teased. “Fine. I’ll go, but you’re still buying the first-round tomorrow night, right?”
“Of course.” He nodded, pleased that she was more concerned about seeing him tomorrow night at Molly’s than her lunch date with the social worker.
“Good.” She said, a look in her eyes that he couldn’t quite decipher. “I’ll see you tomorrow night then.”
He watched her leave, aware suddenly that she had made some silent decision about him, but he had no idea what it was.
Casey was up to something; Brett was sure of it. She didn’t know what, exactly, only that it involved her. Specifically, her going out with Ryan despite her nagging reluctance. He didn’t usually push; he encouraged, coaxed, cajoled, advised and occasionally outright ordered, but for the most part he was content to let his friends learn from their own decisions and mistakes. Except with her, for this specific scenario.
He was right though – him and Foster both. She needed to go on this lunch date with Ryan and see where it went. She had been back in Chicago for nearly a year, and it was time to put herself back out into the world.
Groaning, she glanced at the clock and started hunting for her keys. No more procrastinating; if she was actually going to go through with this, then she needed to leave within the next few minutes.
Lunch went about how she expected – until he tried to kiss her. Exactly as Casey had predicted. Which she was not going to tell him later that night. At least Ryan had accepted her rejection easily enough and not lingered around.
Brett got into her car, letting out a muffled scream and hitting her head on the steering wheel. “God, maybe I am oblivious,” she mumbled, squeezing her eyes shut.
At least she had confirmed one thing: there was absolutely no sparks between her and Ryan. Spending time with him had felt a lot like being Kyle; there were just too many similarities and warning signs for her to ignore.
She was…comfortable around Ryan. He was steady, calm, collected, which was definitely desired traits in his line of work, she knew. But he was like that outside of work too – muted, controlled. Flat.
One of the things that she had loved about being with Antonio was the spike of adrenaline she had felt in his presence, the banked intensity and charged energy that he had radiated when he looked at her. It had made her feel wanted, cherished, feminine.
She had seen the same intensity in Casey’s eyes, felt that same awareness shiver along her skin both before and she had left, although she only caught flashes of it now when he wasn’t avoiding her (no matter what he claimed).
They had both hesitated during that moment in the bunkroom the year before, caught on a precipice and not willing to leap for different reasons. The moment had been lost, as if it had never happened, and then Kyle had proposed, and she had used the excuse to run away, escape into the easy simple familiarity of Fowlerton.
Now she was back, had been back for months, and still felt those same sparks along her skin whenever she was near Casey. Who was still up to something. And whom to she now owed an unnamed favor to, since he had been 100% right about Ryan.
“Ugh. Why are men so complicated?” she groaned, starting her car and driving home to change and head to the expo to support Cruz. Everything else, including one specific infuriatingly intriguing firefighter, could wait.
Casey walked into Molly’s later that night, immediately spotting Brett’s bright blonde head at a table next to the one occupied by Cruz, Ritter, Gallo, and Mouch. He was pleased to see that she was paying attention to them and that there was no one at the table with her; specifically, no tall lanky brunette social workers named Ryan.
Catching the movement out of the corner of her eye, Brett turned to see Casey smiling at her, his eyes alight with laughter and mischief.
“Don’t start,” she admonished, knowing instantly what he was going to say.
“I wasn’t going to say a word,” he lied solemnly, holding his hands up. “And next round is still on me. What’s your pleasure?”
“Ooh,” she hummed, surprised that he was going to keep his promise despite his winning their bet. “In that case, I will take a glass of the good rosé that Stella keeps behind the bar.”
“Coming right up.” He nodded, disappearing. He was back in a flash, setting the generously full glass in front of her and holding his beer bottle up in a toast.
“What are we celebrating?” She frowned.
“More of a thank you. I used your trick with the big sister on a golfer today. Worked like a charm.”
She beamed at him. “Glad it worked out,” she said, as they clinked and sipped.
“So, how did your not-date go with the not-boyfriend?”
“It’s still rude to gloat, Matthew Casey,” she admonished, but couldn’t help shaking her head in amusement. “Yes, it was a date. You were right.”
He cocked his head, his smile fading as he studied her. “Why do you sound so disappointed? He sounded like a nice guy.”
She sighed, fiddling with her glass. “He is,” she admitted ruefully. “Too nice, actually.” She hesitated, glancing up at him. “I just feel so jaded right now. I didn’t want to drag him down with my emotional baggage. Maybe that’s selfish – “
Casey gently reached out to grab her hand, giving her a comforting squeeze. “Don’t beat yourself up,” he said firmly. “That’s not being selfish, that’s protecting yourself.”
She sighed, yielding to the warm reassurance in his voice. Thanks, Casey.”
They smiled warmly at each other for a moment.
“Sylvie. What the hell?” They blinked at each other and turned to see Ryan approaching their table, anger in every line of his body. “You lied to me!” he accused.
Startled, Brett glanced at Casey as she tugged automatically at her hand, trying to subtly draw it away. He tightened his grip, not letting go as he glared at the lanky social worker. “You need to back the hell off and watch your tone, now,” he warned, his voice a low rumble.
Ryan ignored him. “You said you that you just got out of a relationship! What the hell is this?”
Casey had heard enough. “What this is, is none of your business,” he snapped. “She already told you that she’s not interested. Her reasons why are irrelevant. Now get the hell out of here before I ask my buddy here to run a check on you and dig a bit more into exactly how many times you have continued harassing a woman after she said no.”
He nodded to Jay Halstead, who had come up silently behind Ryan. The detective returned the silent nod, his hard gaze never leaving the lanky brunette, who had paled slightly. “Casey. Sylvie.” He said casually. “You all good over here?”
“Detective.” Casey returned smoothly. “Yeah, we’re all good. Our friend Ryan Pace the social worker here was just leaving.”