She smiled back, instantly relieved by his attitude. “That’s what I like to hear. Some flight crews need thirty minutes to prep.”
Stephan gave the Captain a meaningful look. “Well, that ain’t us, right Captain?” he prompted him. Some pilots took forever to prep, too.
Captain Peter nodded, smiling. “Like he said, we’re on our A game today, so send ‘em on down.”
It was a slight gamble. If we were unlucky enough to have any mechanical problems, we would have a plane full of passengers for the delay. But we were hoping for lucky today. It was that or a write-up.
“I’ll start the pre-board beverage service for you and have Jake man the door so you can take inventory in the galley. The caterers have come and gone by now. Hopefully they left us everything we need,” Stephan delved into the liquor cart as he spoke, pulling out glasses.
“Wanna take out a tray of mimosas?” I asked him. “They’re usually a hit in the morning, especially on this flight, and it saves time, since we have twenty-one up here.”
He nodded absently, digging around. He could never find anything in the galley, and I didn’t know why he even tried anymore.
I opened a drawer full of cold bottles of water, pointing. “Just put those out for them. I’ll do the rest of the mimosa prep while you do that.”
I was already popping the cork on the champagne as he strode back into the cabin.
It was going to be a hectic morning. It just had that feeling to it. I liked that, though. Staying busy was never a bad thing, as far as I was concerned.
I had a tray of mimosas waiting when he came back a few minutes later. He headed immediately back out.
I had accounted for all of the drinks we needed. I began to count the meals, and prepare the menus. I handed Stephan the menus to hand out and he handed me a list of drink orders. No glasses remained on the tray.
“I should be good after you hand out those menus,” I told him. “Do I need to take out another tray of mimosas?”
“Nope, you made the perfect amount. And you have a surprise in 2D, Buttercup.” He grinned at me as he swept back out into the cabin.
I was only half listening, making drinks as quickly as possible. Pre-board service could be tricky when we were this pressed for time.
I strode out with the first round of drink orders. I was delivering the orders back to front, because that was how Stephan had written it down. It must have been the order they’d boarded in. The gate agents sometimes liked to mix it up, though only god knew why.
I unloaded the drinks quickly. There were some loud, boisterous New Yorkers up front today. I just smiled at them. A few men almost shouted at each other as they argued about some sports team. I counted five of them together that may be a possible problem, or may just need a firm shushing if they kept it up.
They got suddenly quiet as they noticed me.
“Hey, sugar. You’re a sight for sore eyes,” the loudest one said to me finally, after they’d all stared at me rudely while I set down their drinks. I looked up and smiled at him pleasantly. Neutrally. He was maybe in his late forties, with dark hair and swarthy skin. He looked like a New Yorker down to his toes.
“Good morning,” I murmured, heading back into the galley for the next round.
I only had a few more drinks to make after that. The waters and mimosas had been enough for most of them.
I handed out the next small round, collecting already empty glasses on my tray as I passed back in. I started from the front again, collecting jackets, and making sure no one needed anything.
I froze, my cool composure slipping for a heartbeat when I saw the man occupying 2D. I was surprised that I hadn’t noticed him sooner. It seemed as though my body should have sensed his very presence by the way it instantly reacted.
I recovered more quickly to the sight of him this time than I had the last time he’d been in that seat. I hoped that meant I was getting used to him.
He can’t continue to affect me this way every time I see him, I told myself. I knew it was just wishful thinking.
“May I get you anything else, Mr. Cavendish?” I inquired cooly. He already had one of the bottles of water that Stephan had handed out. Water seemed to be the only thing he drank. “May I hang your jacket?”
His face was tense, but he was silent as he stood and removed his suit jacket. The seat beside him was the only vacant one in first class, and I guessed that he had purchased it to gain some semblance of privacy.
I remembered from overhearing him speaking to our CEO on the charter flight where I had met him that he didn’t often fly commercial. Why on earth would he? He had a private jet. Why was he suddenly flying with us so often? I guessed it was most likely because he was looking into backing us financially in some way.
As he straightened in the aisle, he was suddenly only inches from me.
I took a deep breath, inhaling the scent of him. He smelled so wonderful, with just a hint of spicy cologne over his own natural scent.
“Why didn’t you tell me you were taking this flight?” I murmured the question to him as I took his jacket, my voice pitched low.
“It was a last minute decision. I didn’t know until this morning that I had urgent business in Las Vegas that needed attention today,” he murmured back, his voice soft, but his face still hard and tense.
I searched his face briefly, but had to quickly move on. There was just no time right then for figuring out what Mr. Beautiful was up to.
I barely got the glasses collected and the galley secured in time for the safety demonstration. I pointedly avoided looking at James and got through it with my usual composure.
The group of New Yorkers made a few raunchy comments about me loudly enough that I heard it as I passed them while I was doing a seat belt check. I ignored them easily. It was nothing unusual. In fact, it was par for the course on this particular flight.
It was Saturday morning, and there was usually a group of old school New York men on this flight. They were heading to Vegas, had just paid for an upgrade to first class, and were getting their party started. They were obnoxious and rude, but also a common feature on JFK flights.
I paused briefly by James. His fists were clenched, his hard face tilted toward the small window. He looked very out of sorts.
“Can I help you with anything, Mr. Cavendish?” I asked him quietly. I couldn’t begin to imagine what had him so agitated.
He shook his head slightly. He quickly contradicted himself. “Tell Stephan I want to speak to him as soon as he’s available,” he said shortly.
“Okaaay,” I said, confused, and moved on.
“What was that all about?” I asked Stephan, as we buckled into our jump seats. He and James had had a brief but intense looking exchange right before Stephan came to sit beside me.
He just shook his head, looking out the window.
I elbowed him in the ribs.
“Ow,” he said, shooting me a surprised look. “What’s gotten into you?”
My eyes widened with incredulity. “Me? What about you? How did Mr. Beautiful over there get you in his corner so fast? You’re supposed to help me avoid guys like that. Instead, you’ve been helping him. And now you’re close-mouthed about talks you’re having with him.”
He sighed. “It was about that rowdy crowd in rows five and six. They’ve been keeping up a non-stop dialogue about you, and it’s not sitting well with James. I need to have a word with them once we reach ten thousand feet.”
He smirked suddenly. “Or else I think Mr. Beautiful might start throwing punches.”
I rolled my eyes, shooting an exasperated look at James, who was directly in my view. He still had his gaze trained on the window, but his eyes were glassed over, his fists clenched hard. He looked even more agitated now.
“It’s just the usual good ol’ boy Vegas crowd,” I told Stephan. “Same type of crowd we get almost every week. The’ve been easy to ignore so far. Don’t get them unnecessarily riled up.”
Now it was Stephan’s turn to look exasperated. “I don’t think you heard the worst of what they’ve been saying. James told me, and it wasn’t pretty. They are being particularly raunchy and using a lot of profanity loudly enough for the rest of the cabin to be disturbed. I need to address it. Better to nip it in the bud. And look at James. He is seriously agitated. Better to piss off a few jerks than to have an all out brawl on our hands.”
I did look at James. I studied him closely. His agitation seemed to be growing by the second.
His eyes snapped wide suddenly, his gaze shooting to us, his hands going to his seat belt as though he were preparing to get up.
“Ah, shit,” Stephan muttered, trepidation in his voice.
James seemed to get himself under control, carefully letting go of his seat belt and unclenching his hands. He closed his eyes, his lips moving.
“He’s counting to ten,” I said stupidly. “Can you hear what they’re saying that’s getting him all riled up? I can’t hear a thing.”
“I can hear their voices, but I can’t make out what they’re saying at all,” Stephan said, watching James carefully.
Stephan was painfully tense. I knew he hated fighting more than just about anything else in the world. I had also seen him fight several times, though it had been years since he’d had to. He was exceptionally good at it. Whatever happened, he would be able to handle himself, I knew. But he would hate it. He abhorred violence of any kind.
James opened his eyes suddenly, looking more furious than I’d ever seen him. Apparently counting to ten hadn’t worked. His hands shot again to his seat belt and I watched in horror as he shot from his seat, striding to the troublemakers with violence in every quick step.
“Fuck,” Stephan cursed. “Stay here. Please,” he pleaded, going after James in a flash.
There was a very tense exchange. James was leaning down close to speak to the man who had addressed me earlier, and I couldn’t see his face or hear what he was saying.
Stephan was pointing at one of the other men and his voice was raised, though I couldn’t make out the words over the plane engine and the distance. I was surprised that Stephan didn’t even look at James, making no attempt whatsoever to make him return to his seat.
Shit, I thought. That probably meant his own temper was flaring up as well. It really would be a brawl if Stephan started throwing punches.
I saw the man who Stephan was clearly reaming out raise his hands, as though in surrender. That didn’t seem to appease Stephan, though, who just turned to the man who James had taken special exception to. I assumed he was still talking to the man, though I couldn’t hear him.
He was speaking quietly, while Stephan was just getting louder.
“I mean it. One more word out of any of you, and we are diverting this plane and there will be law enforcement waiting for you at the gate.” With that, Stephan stormed back to the seat beside me. He still hadn’t bothered to make James take his seat.
A few tense moments later, James straightened, walking stiffly back to his seat. He didn’t look at me, just sat, buckled up, and closed his eyes.