* * *
Cara sat upright as they drove into a heliport, or whatever the name was for a field with a great big white helicopter with red Mastrangelo livery on it, and an enormous hangar right behind it.
Her stomach turned over at the sight of it. ‘Please tell me we are not travelling in that thing?’
‘It’s either an eight-hour round trip to the vineyard by car, or we can do it in a quarter of the time in this beauty.’
‘I vote for the car.’
‘Sorry, cucciola mia, but I vote for the chopper. An hour there, an hour back.’
‘It’s a split vote.’
‘It’s my time and money.’
‘Do I have to come? Can’t I just wait here?’
‘Yes, you do have to come.’ For the first time she detected an edge to his voice. ‘I’m not arguing with you again. I assure you, the ride will be perfectly safe and comfortable.’ To prove his non-arguing point, he opened his door and got out.
She stuck her tongue out at his retreating form, watching as he joined a trio of men standing by the helicopter, all wearing black overalls. She guessed they were the flight crew.
The interior of the helicopter settled her nerves a touch. It was much less tinny than she had thought a helicopter would be. If anything, it was rather plush. She climbed aboard and sat down on a reclining white leather seat. Pepe showed her where all the big-boy-with-too-much-money gadgets were located on the seat, including a foldaway laptop.
‘Aren’t you sitting with me?’ she asked, perturbed when he went to climb back out.
He grinned. ‘One of us has to fly the thing.’
Before she could react, he’d jumped out and slid the door closed. In less than a minute he had opened the door at the front and made himself at home with the controls.
‘Very funny, Mastrangelo,’ she said, speaking over the low partition dividing them. If she wanted she could lean over and prod him. Which she was seriously considering doing if he didn’t stop buggering about...
‘Where’s the pilot?’ she asked, desperation suddenly lacing her voice.
He didn’t look back, simply continued doing whatever he was doing with the range of knobs and buttons and thingies before him. ‘Ladies and gentlemen, this is your captain speaking,’ he said, amusement lacing his deep voice. ‘For your own safety, Air Mastrangelo asks that you keep your seat belt fastened at all times and refrain from smoking for the duration of the flight.’
‘You are having a laugh.’
He put some headphones on then turned his head back to look at her. ‘Put your belt on, Cara—I promise you are in safe hands.’
‘What about the men you were talking to? Aren’t they going to fly it?’
‘They were the maintenance crew.’
It was only when he turned the engine on that she truly believed Pepe was going to pilot it.
‘Please,’ she shouted over the noise of the propellers—who would have known it would be so loud?—‘tell me you’re only joking.’
‘Belt on.’ He started speaking into the mouthpiece of the headphone, talking in fluent French, his whole demeanour altering, adopting a serious hue.
‘You can really fly this thing?’ she asked when he’d stopped speaking and was doing stuff on the dashboard—was it even called a dashboard?
‘I really can.’
‘You’re really qualified?’
‘I really am. Have you got your seat belt on?’
‘Then we are good to go.’
And just like that, they were airborne.
And just like that, Cara’s stomach lurched. She actually felt her half-eaten croissant and decaf coffee move inside her.
Slowly, the helicopter rose. At least it seemed slow, their ascent high above the heliport gradual.
Nothing was rushed. Everything in the cockpit was calm. And, as she watched him concentrate, watched him fly the beast they were in, her fears and nerves began to subside.
She’d ridden on planes many times, was used to the smoothness and almost hypnotic hum of the engines. This was different on so many levels.
There were so many things she wanted to ask him, not least of which was how did playboy extraordinaire Pepe Mastrangelo have the discipline to get his pilot’s licence? His intelligence was not in doubt, but this was a man with the attention span of a goldfish—at least with women. She might know next to nothing about flying a helicopter but she knew for certain there was a lot more involved than learning to drive a car.
Surely it was something he would be proud to tell people? Never mind all the double dates they’d shared with Luca and Grace; they’d spent practically a whole weekend together, discussed all the vineyards he owned with his brother, discussed all the travelling he did between those vineyards as his brother liked to base himself on the family estate in Sicily, and not once had he mentioned flying his own helicopter. He hadn’t even hinted at it.