The plane roars to life and I nearly jump out of my skin. Casting a glance over my shoulder, I confirm that Liam didn’t notice, and is concentrating on punching something into his phone. He might not be attentive to me right now but he already started asking me questions.
He’ll ask more and I have to be ready. Thumbing through the file, I find a page with my new family history. My mother died in a car accident four years ago and my father was a drunk who left us when I was a kid. I have no siblings. A wave of nausea overcomes me and I shut the file, and still facing the window, I lie back against the seat, squeezing my eyes shut. I’d adored my mother. I’d worshiped my older brother. And my father would never have left me by choice. I had a family that was more than a typed piece of paper in a file. Now I have nothing but a fake name and a fake life.
We level off at cruising altitude, the soft hum of the engines lulling me into deep thought, and I can feel my mind trying to go places I don’t want to go. Flashes of the tattoo on my handler’s wrist keep interrupting my plans to keep Liam’s questions at bay the rest of the flight.
The tattoo shifts to flames and I am suddenly floating in a cloud of thick smoke, trying to escape, but I can’t see to get out of it. I can’t scream. I try to scream. They are screaming. Oh God. Oh God. I have to get to them. A sudden bright light pierces the fog and I jerk to a sitting position and grab my throat, gasping for air, feeling the rasp of smoke burn through my lungs.
“Easy, sweetheart. You’re okay.”
I barely register the voice. I can’t focus. My hands go to my face. “Where am I?”
Strong hands touch me, turn me, and I blink a pair of piercing blue eyes into focus.
Memories rush over me. “Liam?”
“Yes. Liam. That must have been one hell of a nightmare.”
Nightmare? I fell asleep? “No, I…” Images flash in my mind, and I squeeze my eyes shut, trying to block out my fear, the smoke, and gut-wrenching screams. My fingers curl around what I realize is Liam’s shirt, and on some level I know that I’m clinging to a man I barely know, but he is all I have. Somehow he is all that is keeping me from melting down.
“Amy,” Liam whispers, stroking a hand down my hair. I tell myself it’s inappropriate for him to touch me like this. It’s also exactly what I need, and somehow so is he. I tell myself it’s simply that he’s at the right place at this very wrong time in my life, but it does nothing to discourage my reaction to his touch, to the warmth radiating from where my palms rest on his chest and up my arms. Without a conscious decision, I lean closer to him and my lashes lift, my eyes meeting his, and the connection shoots adrenaline through me. I am no longer in the hell of my head. I am right here with this man and he leaves no room for anything else.
“Is she okay?”
I jerk back at the sound of the flight attendant’s voice and Liam’s hands fall away from me, leaving me oddly cold. “Excuse me? Am I okay?” I ask, wondering what the heck I did that would merit that question.
“She doesn’t like it when I talk sports,” Liam jokes, obviously trying to spare me a more personal explanation of…what? What the heck did I do?
“Too much basketball makes me crazy,” I add, trying to snatch up the breadcrumbs Liam has tossed my way, but I fear I sound too strained to sound more than baffled.
“It’s not basketball season,” she points out, looking less than pleased.
“Since when does that stop a basketball fan from killing us with basketball talk?” I ask, and that earns me a deadpan look, which has me quickly shifting gears, trying to make blind amends. “I’m fine. Sorry if I caused some kind of trouble.”
She frowns and glowers accusingly at Liam, and all signs of her early admiration of his overwhelmingly hotness from earlier are gone. “She doesn’t seem fine.” Her gaze shifts to me.
“You shouted. It scared the heck out of us.”
Shouted? Oh, good grief. Way to not bring attention to yourself, Amy. “I took a decongestant,” I say, trying to be truly convincing this time. “They make me sleepy and give me nightmares.”
Her lips purse, but her expression quickly softens. “Well, that makes sense. Yes. I can see how that might happen to someone sensitive to medications, but boy oh boy they must have worked you over. We’ve only been in the air fifteen minutes and you were awake when we took off. You were knocked out hard and fast.”
Which isn’t like me. Not on a normal day. Certainly not on a day I feel threatened. “I’m really sorry I scared you,” I offer, attempting a smile that I’m pretty sure never makes it to my lips. “I promise to stay awake the rest of the flight.”
“You don’t have to promise that,” she says, and grins. “But maybe warn us before you go to sleep. We’ll have dinner served in five minutes.” She rushes away and Liam doesn’t give me time to savor her departure.
“Decongestants?” Liam asks softly, drawing my gaze back to his.
“My ears pop when I fly.” The lie comes easily. I’m back to the me I hate. “And unless you want to confess to drugging me, that’s my story and I’m sticking with it.”
He studies me a bit too carefully for my own good, and something in his eyes has me warm all over and wishing he’d touch me again. “What are you afraid of, Amy?”
You, I want to say. You scare me because you make me want to trust you. I laugh, and it sounds strained even to my own ears. “Godzilla,” I say, confessing the fictional monster I’d feared in childhood, until life had shown me real monsters existed.