My hands trembled slightly as I prepared my galley for the first class, pre-board service. My whole body hummed nervously as I pulled a chilled bottle of champagne from the large drawer of ice at the bottom of my liquor cart. I felt more than heard my best friend, Stephan, sweep into the curtained galley behind me.
“Showtime, Bee,” he said briskly.
I felt him tucking errant blond hairs back into my sleek chignon. In spite of his fussing, I knew it was smooth. Since we were departing from our hometown of Las Vegas, we had taken a shuttle from our airline’s headquarters directly to the plane. This meant that we got to bypass security completely. No metal detectors meant bobby pins. And bobby pins meant that my smooth, pale blond hair would behave itself perfectly.
But Stephan liked to fuss over me. He was by far the most affectionate person I knew. And certainly the only one I would permit to touch me, even in a casual manner.
He had earned those rights with me over many years of being my best friend. Best friend and so much more. Constant companion, confidante, partner, former roommate, and currently, my neighbor. He was also my inflight buddy-bid partner. We were completely inseparable.
There were times when it felt like he was more of an extension of me than an actual separate person. We were that close. Yes, we were codependent, there was no question, but we’d been partners for too many years to operate any other way.
There was no question that he was the most important person in my life. When I heard the word family, I thought of only one person, and that person was Stephan.
“We already have five seated in first class. Where’s my manifest?” he asked
I handed it to him without a word. I’d had the passenger list tucked into my leather menu sleeve. I had already glanced at it. It was the reason that my hands weren’t quite steady. There was no other reason for me to be so nervous. I was preparing for a nearly empty redeye flight, with only a minimal service. The only challenge on this flight was normally to stay awake.
“You’ve got to get a look at 2D,” Stephan was saying with an exaggerated, dreamy sigh. His statement, and that dreamy sigh, were both very un-Stephan like, but I knew well the reason for the change in him. That reason had elicited some very uncharacteristic responses from me, as well.
“Yes, that’s Mr. Cavendish,” I said in a steady voice.
Big, elegant hands smoothed over the shoulders of my fitted, charcoal-gray suit vest. “You sound like you know him.” There was a question in his voice.
“Mmm hmm.” I tried my best for casual. “He was on that charter flight I had to work without you last week. He was meeting with the CEO. Mr. Cavendish is that bigwig hotel owner.”
Stephan snapped his fingers behind me. I finally turned to look at him, raising a brow.
The clear blue eyes that met my own could have belonged to my brother, if I’d had one. In fact, you could say that about the two of us in general. Our golden blond hair was nearly the same shade, though his had a wavy texture. His was brushed back artfully and hung just past his ears. We were both tall and lean, though he had me beat by several inches. Even my heels didn’t make up the difference. Also, our features had a similar, nordic cast. Yes, we could have easily passed for siblings. And I certainly thought of him as a brother. I had for close to a decade now.
“I’ve heard of him! That dude is a billionaire! Melissa will go into heat when she finds out. We’re gonna see her backing, ass first, into first class, as soon as she realizes who we’ve got up here!”
I tried to smother a laugh at the visual he’d painted. And, sadly, he probably wasn’t all that far off the mark.
Melissa was one of the three flight attendants working in the main cabin of the 757. We had just started our new schedule with a new main cabin crew. Stephan and I always worked together in first class, we bid it that way, but our main cabin crew changed every few months. Our current bid was scheduled to last three months, and we were just getting to know our other flying mates. We were all getting along fine, so far.
Melissa was the loudest personality of the bunch, and so, for better or worse, we were learning all about her first. She was one of those girls who had become a flight attendant to meet men. Or more specifically, to meet rich men. She was new to the airline, so she was stuck working in coach. Or, as she said, slumming it. She coveted my position of first class flight attendant, or even Stephan’s position of Lead flight attendant.
Stephan and I had started at our small company four years ago, in the very first flight attendant class, and so had years of seniority over her. Melissa had started as an inflight maybe six months ago, which meant she wouldn’t even be able to apply for a first class position for another six months. And after that she wouldn’t be able to hold a line in first class for another six months.
Instead, she would be on call, with a totally chaotic schedule that wouldn’t allow for any planned destinations. And when she did get a steady line, it would be the worst line available, with short overnight trips in hotels right by the airport. From what I’d gathered from the fortune-hunters I’d worked with over the years, none of those things were conducive to planning assignations with rich men.
Melissa had been beyond lucky to get on our line for the next three months. It was a coveted line, with regular weekly overnights in New York. We would stay in our best crew hotel, which was less than two blocks from Central Park. It was a senior line, and we’d all been surprised to get such a junior member on our crew. But she still complained, often pointing out that she was just made for first class. Her constant complaints were already starting to wear on the crew.
Stephan gave my shoulder a reassuring squeeze before heading into the flight deck to have a briefing with the pilots. This was the main reason that Stephan took the position of lead while I took the first class galley position. I hated dealing with pilots. Stephan handled them beautifully, often playing my boyfriend when they acted even slightly interested in me on a personal level. Half of the people we worked with thought we were an item. Stephan wasn’t out openly. It was a personal choice he’d made a long time ago, and one I understood completely. He’d had a rough time of it when he came out to his parents about being gay, and just felt safer keeping his preferences to himself.
I popped the cork off of the champagne bottle quickly and quietly, filling five glasses with practiced ease. I took slow, deep breaths to manage my nerves. I was used to managing a certain amount of anxiety. I tended to be an anxious person, though I hid it well. I just wasn’t used to this type of nervous tension, or this much of it. And the cause of it today was, well, out of character for me, to say the least.
I swept from the galley with a burst of forced confidence. If I could keep a full drink tray steady at thirty-five thousand feet, in three and a half inch heels and turbulence on a regular basis, I could certainly serve a few drinks on steady ground.
I was doing just fine, my tray-laden arm steady, my feet sure, right up until I looked up from the ground and into the vibrant turquoise eyes of Mr. Cavendish.
As seemed to be his habit in our very brief acquaintance, he was watching me intently. His lean, elegant figure was lounging in the cream leather seat with a casual boredom that his eyes lacked. Was it his intent stare that unnerved me so badly? Probably. That intent gaze seemed to hold me strangely captivated. It could also have something to do with the fact that he was hands-down the most attractive person I’d ever seen. And I saw a lot. I’d served all types. From soaps stars, to movie stars, to all types of models. Hell, even Stephan was undoubtedly model material. But this man was quite simply the most stunning person I’d laid eyes on in my twenty-three years.
It was not one feature in particular that made him stand out so starkly, though all of his seemed flawless. Perhaps it was his deep golden complexion, combined with his sandy brown hair, which hung straight, just hitting the collar of his crisp white dress shirt. It was that light brown color that sat somewhere between blonde and brown, choosing neither, but somehow hit a shade that was lovelier than both. And his deep tan belonged on a surfer, or at least someone with dark hair and eyes. But his eyes weren’t dark. They were a bright turquoise and stood out starkly with his unusual coloring. And they were so damn piercing…I felt as though he knew things about me with just a look, things he couldn’t possibly know.
As I stared at him, frozen in place, he smiled at me, his expression almost affectionate. His mouth looked so soft, pretty even, framing his straight white teeth. Even his nose was perfect, straight and appealing. He was just so stunningly good-looking. The thought struck me, not for the first time, how unfair it was for one man to be that devastatingly handsome and also a billionaire still in his twenties. Anyone born so privileged was surely an awful person. He’d probably never suffered a day in his life. He’d probably had everything handed to him so easily that he was already arrogant and dissolute, bored with things that the rest of us strived for. There was no outward sign of that, but how could I see past his stunning outward appearance when I was so easily distracted by the beauty of it?
I quickly snapped myself out of that line of thought. I was being unfair, I knew. I knew nothing about this man and I certainly couldn’t judge his character poorly based on what I’d observed so far. I hadn’t realized how bitter my attitude had become towards those born to privilege. My own upbringing had been stark and brutal, and I had personally experienced a profound level of poverty, but I couldn’t let that be an excuse to pass harsh judgement on someone who had been nothing but polite to me. I had to keep telling myself that, but being hopelessly attracted to him wasn’t helping. That unwilling attraction made me instinctively want to lash out.
I swallowed, trying to wet my suddenly dry throat. “Hello again, Mr. Cavendish.” I tried to nod at him politely, but as I did so, my drink tray wobbled precariously.
Mr. Cavendish moved unbelievably fast, half-standing to steady my tray over the seat between us. I watched in abject horror as a splash of champagne made it onto the sleeve of his dark gray suit jacket. That suit undoubtedly cost more than I made in a month.
“I’m so sorry, Mr. Cavendish.” My voice was breathless and soft, which further flustered me.
He ran his free hand restlessly through his straight, sandy hair. The silky strands seemed to stay artfully out of his face. It was supermodel hair. Damn him.
“Don’t be sorry, Bianca,” he admonished me in a velvety deep voice. Even his voice was unfair. I reeled at the knowledge that he’d remembered my name.
He steadied my arm gallantly, and eventually released my tray when I told him I had it under control.
He turned down my offer of a glass of champagne. I belatedly recalled that he didn’t touch any kind of alcohol.
“Just some water, when you get a chance,” he told me with a warm smile.
I finished my champagne pre-board service. I still had only five passengers, so it took me no time at all.
I set my tray on the counter in the galley and went back through to collect jackets and take orders for the inflight service.