I am not going to let them judge me.
I am not going to run into the bathroom and cry like a baby.
I am not going to cry.
I am not.
“Wow, I didn’t think he would ever leave,” Tanner said with a broad grin as he slid into the seat across from me. He signaled the other flight attendant and she immediately appeared at our table.
“Well, hello, Patricia,” Tanner said with a playful look. “How are you today?”
Patricia, who was the blond clone of the redhead, put her hands behind her back and gave him a picture-perfect smile. “I’m excellent today, Mr. Wright. How are you?”
“You certainly are,” he said, smiling up at her. “And I am fine, thank you for asking.”
“Can I bring you anything?” she asked.
“Yes. I would like a cup of black coffee and a honey bun.”
“Yes, sir,” she said. She smiled down at me. “And for you, Miss?”
I stared up at her with my mouth hanging open. She was gorgeous, but there was no pretense or condescension in her eyes. She was there but to serve at the master’s whim. Lucky her.
I finally said, “Um, that sounds fine. I’ll have the same.”
“Don’t forget to warm those buns, honey,” Tanner added with a wink. I saw her smile back at him and immediately suspected there was something more between them. I mean, he was a hot billionaire playboy and she looked like a Victoria’s Secret model moonlighting as a flight attendant. Who could blame either of them if they had mutually joined the mile-high club. I wondered how many times Tanner’s membership card to the club had been stamped.
“So, Miss Carlson,” he said with a sigh. “How was your weekend?” He leaned back in the seat and dug into his pants pocket. His fingers emerged wrapped around the red rubber ball.
“Um, it was fine, Mr. Wright. Thanks for asking.”
“Look, if we’re going to be working together you have to stop calling me Mr. Wright,” he said, making a goofy face. “That sort of title puts a lot of pressure on a guy. Call me Tanner.”
He made me smile, which made him smile.
“Okay, Tanner. Please call me Candice.”
As if on cue, both of us glanced over to find the other passengers staring at us, as if we were performers on a stage and they were the dumbfounded audience witnessing a show they never expected to see. Tanner gave them a hard look and their stares quickly went away.
The attendant delivered our coffee and honey buns. I closed the laptop and stowed it under the seat to make room.
The coffee was steaming hot. I had to let it cool before attempting a sip. How awful would that be, sitting across from a handsome billionaire full of himself and innuendo, then I burn my tongue on hot coffee.
No thank you, that’s one embarrassing moment I don’t need.
Tanner, on the other hand, seemed to have no fear at all of scalding his tongue. He picked up the coffee and blew a cooling breath into the cup, then took a cautious slurp.
“Wow, hot,” he said, smacking his lips. He set down the cup and picked up the honey bun with his free hand and bit off a huge chunk. He closed his eyes and moaned at the taste.
“Have the hot honey buns, people,” he said loudly.
I watched him for a moment. He was almost like a kid; a big, rich, obnoxious kid. He was hot as hell and manly to the max, but there was an innocence there, as well. Maybe he was like me. Maybe the public Tanner and the private Tanner were two very different people. I’d probably never find out, but it certainly was an intriguing prospect.
“So, Candice, let’s talk business,” he said, his tone and expression turning formal again. He sucked the icing from his fingers, then wiped his hand and lips on a napkin.
He said, “Give me your thoughts on the Anderson acquisition.”
“Yes, your thoughts.” He leaned in and peered at me from under his eyebrows. “You’ve read the acquisition documents, I assume.”
I nodded. “I have.”
“And you’re read the company prospectus?”
“And you have our in-house research on Anderson’s financials.”
“I do.” I had to smile at him or my face would crack.
He held up the rubber ball between us on the tips of his fingers and fixed his eyes on it, as if it were a crystal ball that foretold the future.
“So, what do you think? Are we getting a good deal? A fair deal? Are we raping and pillaging their village? Or are we being taken to the bank? What are your thoughts?”
I licked my lips nervously. I knew everyone was listening. Stan would have told me to tell Tanner what he wanted to hear. Juliette would have told me to refer the question to Stan. But I wasn’t being paid to be a yes-woman or to dodge important questions.