“Why thanks to her?” Melissa asked him, her voice sharp. “What is going on with you two? It almost sounds like you’re pimping your girlfriend out.”

Stephan looked at her, and his eyes were as cold as I’d ever seen them. I’d never been on the receiving end of that icy stare. Melissa took it better than I would have.

“Bianca is the most important person in the world to me,” Stephan told her coldly. “She’s my best friend and my only family. She is not, however, my girlfriend. And it’s thanks to her because James Cavendish is crazy about her. So crazy, in fact, that he rented that entire bar out for the night. All just so that he could get her number, and spend some time with her.”

Now it was Melissa’s turn to look stunned, but she recovered almost immediately. It turned into a catty glance at me.

She gave me an insulting once over. “I bet you misunderstood. Stephan just thinks you’re special because you’ve been BFF’s forever.” And with that heartwarming assessment, she stalked out of the galley.

Stephan and I shared a look that communicated what we were starting to think about the little red-headed gold-digger.

The mess that awaited us outside of the plane was dealt with more quickly than I would have thought possible.

They were holding the loud-mouthed men somewhere in the airport, questioning them extensively. Probably scaring the hell out of them, I thought. One police officer was waiting for us when we deplaned, and interviewed me briefly about what I’d seen and heard personally.

My part was short. And I got to hear Stephan’s account first hand, so I got a pretty clear picture of what had gone down.

It had started out as raunchy chatter by the men, though Stephan had heard about that second-hand from James. Comments about my body, things they’d like to do to me, graphic and disgusting, but nothing we’d call the police about, usually.

And then on takeoff, one of them had apparently gotten especially loud and graphic, talking about some drugs he had with him just for women like me, and that they should follow me through the airport and buy me a drink. And drug it. And then try to get me alone in their hotel room.

That encouraged the others to add in what they would do to me when I was drugged and unconscious, and there I got a clearer picture of why the police had been called.

I doubted the men would get arrested, unless the drugs they had mentioned really were in one of their suitcases. I thought it more likely they would lose a few hours of their precious vacation time and get the hell scared out of them by the police.

Stephan finished telling his version of the events shortly, and without any unnecessary embellishment.

The police officer nodded and wrote as he went on. Just as he finished up, I saw James approaching with another police officer. Neither of these officers had been there to meet the plane.

Just how many police were involved in this fiasco? I wondered, a little baffled.

I stiffened a little when I saw that Melissa was walking beside him, touching the back of his arm in an overly friendly way as she chattered away about God only knew what. I tried to ignore her.

James looked stoic and unreadable as the trio got closer to us. I noticed that he wore only his dress shirt, still with no tie or jacket.

“Did we leave his suit jacket on the plane?” I asked Stephan.

Stephan blinked. “Must have,” he said.

“I’ll go get it,” I told him, and turned briskly to do so.

The plane was deserted as I came back on, and I was relieved that another crew hadn’t yet taken it over.

I dug a pen and a piece of hotel stationary from my carryon, jotting down my name and number, and slipped the small piece of paper into James’s jacket.

I’d done a whole hell of a lot more already, so it seemed silly not to give the man my number.

CHAPTER ELEVEN

Mr. Spellcaster

Both officers were absent, but James, Stephan, and Melissa were still waiting when I reemerged from the jetway. James and Melissa were speaking, but James looked up when he saw me, giving me his full, intense regard.

Stephan was writing furiously. He was filling out an incident report, I was sure.

I handed James his jacket without a word.

“Do I need to fill out my own, or can I just add to yours and sign?” I asked Stephan, referring to his paperwork.

“We can share,” he told me without looking up. “I’m almost done. I got most of it down during the flight. I just left the end blank because I wasn’t sure those boneheads wouldn’t do something else that I’d need to add.”

“K,” I said, waiting in a sort of awkward silence. Even Melissa wasn’t chattering, and James just continued to stare at me without a word, as though he expected me to do something.

Finally, after watching me in silence for long, pregnant minutes, he spoke. “Can I talk to you for a minute? I need to go soon.”

I nodded, walking away from the others in silence. I half-expected Melissa to follow us, but she didn’t, just watching us with a strange look on her face.

“I have to work until this evening, but I want to see you. I’ll send a driver to pick you up at six. Give me your number and address.”

He had his phone out, waiting. I just looked at him for a moment. This wouldn’t do at all.

“I put my number in your suit pocket,” I began. “And I’ll drive to your place. What’s your address.”

He definitely looked like he wanted to argue, but I didn’t think he wanted to push his luck, so he gave me his address stiffly.

“I’ll try to get done with my work earlier, if you want,” he told me, as I GPS’d his address into my phone.

Not bad, I thought. Only twenty minutes from my house. That was downright convenient.

“Don’t do so on my account. I’m going home to take a two hour nap, and then I have some errands to run.” I ran a hand over my watch absently. “I need to replace this old thing before I get written up for wearing an eyesore. I just realized how bad it’s looking.”

I had forgotten who I was talking to, and flushed. I felt shabby enough in his presence. I certainly didn’t need to go broadcasting how poor I was to him.

His hand snaked out, grabbing my wrist to look at my watch. His fingers circled my wrist as he studied it. “You’re so delicate,” he murmured.

I barely heard him. My eyes were on his tan collarbone, still peaking out from his crisp shirt.

“I don’t know why it is, but the sight of even the smallest amount of your skin doesn’t seem appropriate to me in public. Your throat looks so naked.” I hadn’t meant to speak the thought out loud, and immediately blushed.

He looked up at me with just his eyes, not lifting his head, a wicked grin on his face. “You only think that because the things you want me to do to you aren’t appropriate in public.”

“I want to see your body,” I told him. I couldn’t seem to stop myself. I had been thinking about it almost constantly since I’d met him.

His smile dropped, and he straightened, taking a step closer to me. “You’re going to. Tonight. And I’m going to see and touch every inch of you.”

I took a step back, trying to shake away the strange spell he seemed to cast on me. Not here. Not now.

“I’ll see you tonight,” I told him, walking back to Stephan. Anything else we needed to say, we could discuss later, when we weren’t in public and I wasn’t still in uniform.

James took my dismissal in stride, nodding at the other flight attendants and then striding away toward the terminal.

I added a small paragraph of what I’d heard to Stephan’s report and signed. We headed to the bus stop.

Melissa was still trailing us, I noticed, but none of us spoke. She seemed sullen and strange, but I frankly didn’t want to know why and didn’t care.

We dropped our paperwork off at headquarters and Stephan drove us home.

We took turns driving to work. We were almost always able to carpool, and it saved us both money we could use for other things. Like watches, I thought, sighing. I really wasn’t in the mood for a trip to the mall.

“I need to run some errands after I take a nap,” I told Stephan as he backed out.

“K. I’ll come with. I could use a few things. Where are we going?”

“I need a watch.” I held my old watch out. The face was even cracked. How had I not noticed that sooner? Had it just happened? “And some groceries. And some paint, paper, and canvas.”

Painting was my favorite hobby, and I had a room full of paintings to prove it. I was dabbling with oils lately, but watercolors and acrylics had always been my strength, and were more affordable in general. I needed to stock up on almost all of my supplies.

“Perfect. I’ve been needing a frame for that mountain landscape you made me. It’s going in my living room. It’s my all time favorite.”

I smiled at him fondly. “You don’t have to do that. I won’t feel bad if you don’t hang it up. I paint things for you because I like to. You don’t have to decorate your entire house with my junk just to humor me.”

He sent me a bewildered look. “You think that’s why I’ve covered my entire home with your paintings? To humor you?”

I shrugged, feeling self-conscious. I hadn’t gone to art school, had no training whatsoever, so I always questioned if people were sincere when they complimented my work. Stephan deserved better than my doubting him, though.

“I love your paintings, Bianca. Every time I look at any of the ones I have displayed, I feel joy. They help make my house a happy, healthy place for me. I think of where we’ve come from, all that we’ve been through, and the astoundingly beautiful things you can create, and it never fails to amaze me. It makes me hopeful about the future.”

I flushed a bit, but smiled. “I painted that mountain landscape because it made me think of you. It was so strong, and stark, and beautiful. And every color I used in that painting, I got from studying you. I used the color of your hair and skin for the desert mountains, and your eyes were the sky. It’s very nearly an abstract portrait of you.”

He laughed, a carefree, joyous sound.

We’re in a good place, I thought. We’d overcome so much, and left so much of the bad stuff behind. Over the years, the lingering dark shadows of our pasts seemed to be fading from us, more and more.

“Well, now I love it even more,” he said. “You know how much I love pictures of myself.”

I laughed, because it was pretty much true. Both of our houses sported portraits of Stephan, some his idea. He liked to pose for me, and he was a great subject, waiting patiently for hours if I needed him to.

Our houses were only fifteen minutes from the airport, just off of the 215 west. It was an ideal airport location, with a new track of houses and a short commute.

Seeing my small house still made me smile. I’d opted to keep the all-desert landscape that my yard had sported when I purchased the house, figuring it was for the best to forgo the grass, since we lived in the desert and we were often out of town.

Stephan had stubbornly refused to stay content with rocks and cacti, planting a small row of flowers along his front steps and a compact square of grass in the front yard. So far he was winning the battle against the desert, his grass still green and his flowers blooming as we pulled up.


Tags: R.K. Lilley Up in the Air Erotic
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