As I approached Mr. Cavendish again, he looked up intently from his phone, and my heartbeat went into overdrive as our gazes met again. “Can I take your jacket, Mr. Cavendish?” I asked him, my voice still strangely breathless. “I could try to get that champagne out, or just hang it up, if you like.”
He stood, having to step into the aisle to do so completely. He was suddenly so close to me that I gasped. I was mortified at my reaction to him. I prided myself on my professionalism. And my reaction to his close proximity was most definitely not professional.
I was tall, nearly five foot ten barefoot, and easily six one now in my work shoes. But the top of my head still only came up to his nose. He was at least Stephan’s height, maybe an inch taller. I always felt a little awkward around shorter men, but this height, this extremely tall man, had the opposite effect. He made me feel feminine and small. I enjoyed the feeling, but was extremely unnerved by it.
He shrugged out of his finely tailored suit jacket, handing it to me. He remained in a fine white dress shirt with a pale blue tie. I saw that, although he was lean and elegant, he was also surprisingly muscular. The sight of that hard play of muscles under his shirt made my mouth go dry.
“Just hang it, please, Bianca,” he told me softly.
“Yes, Sir,” I murmured in a voice I scarcely recognized.
I finished my usual pre-board service in a bit of a daze, barely locking down all of the carts in my galley before it was time to step again in front of Mr. Cavendish for the safety demonstration.
He watched me intently, his gaze never leaving my face. I didn’t understand his interest. Never once had his gaze left my face. I sensed that he was interested in me. But in what way? I had no idea. Usually when men hit on me, their eyes were all over my body, not unswervingly glued to my eyes.
My demonstration was unusually graceless. I even fumbled with the seat buckle in my nervousness. I took my seat for takeoff with a sense of relief. I needed a moment of peace to gather my composure. But it wasn’t meant to be. My jump seat faced Mr. Cavendish almost perfectly. I had to make a conscious effort not to meet his eyes during the long taxi and then takeoff.
Stephan clutched my hand warmly as we took off. We both loved the feeling of takeoff. It represented good things for both of us. New places. New adventures. Leaving bad things behind us. I sent him a quick, affectionate smile before I looked out the window in the door to my right, avoiding looking at Mr. Cavendish for as long as I could.
Finally, I stole a furtive glance at him, and was baffled by the change I saw in him. He was still as a statue now, his eyes positively glacial. I followed his gaze to where my hand lay linked with Stephan’s on the small space between our jump seats. It occurred to me that it must look as though we were a couple. Stephan and I often appeared that way, even encouraged it at times. All but our close friends and Stephan’s lovers thought we were an item. But it made me uncomfortable that Mr. Cavendish might make that assumption. Even so, it couldn’t account for his suddenly hostile demeanor. I barely knew the man.
We quickly reached ten thousand feet. At the double ding that indicated our altitude, I got up and quickly started preparing a hot towel service while Stephan made his usual announcements. He leaned in close against my back, nearly embracing me as he spoke in my ear. “Mind if I go help the main cabin?” he asked me. “They have a full house.”
I sent him a puzzled glance. “I’ll do it after the hot towels. It’s my turn, remember?”
It was our usual routine to help out in back when the first class cabin was light and the main cabin was at capacity. We certainly didn’t need two people to serve five passengers that were all probably about to pass out. But he had helped in coach last time, so we both knew it was my turn to help in back.
He just kissed the top of my head, shaking his. “I need to talk to Jake about that incident report from last week, and he’s got the front cart, so we can chat while we work. Good luck up here.” And with that, he disappeared. I sighed, exasperated. For once, I actually wanted to work back there. It would give me a little break from Mr. Beautiful up front. But I certainly wasn’t going to put up a fuss about it, so I would just have to deal.
Mr. Cavendish barely glanced at me now as I handed out hot towels, then collected them. Why did that bother me so much? I didn’t want to delve too deeply into the thought.
I took drink orders, and served the first round of drinks quickly. The couple on the last row of first class seemed to be heavy drinkers, but the others just had water and looked close to falling asleep. I’d be surprised if most of them weren’t asleep before I’d even finished my short service.
I took a cart out, offering cheese, crackers, and an olive basil dip. It took me less than five minutes to serve the entire cabin. Mr. Cavendish took a small plate of cheese with water, and the couple in back took some, but the other two declined and were sleeping before I was even back in the galley.
As I collected the plates, I was surprised to find that even the couple who’d been drinking cocktails had fallen asleep. I had read them all wrong. They were the ‘drink a few and fall asleep couple’. I had thought for sure they were just getting started.
Mr. Cavendish was suddenly the only passenger awake in my cabin. It felt strangely as though we were alone. The curtain was closed securely on main cabin, and the lights were dimmed to near darkness throughout the entire plane.
He was working quietly on his laptop, looking alert and nowhere close to sleep. Would he work straight through the night? I wondered. I couldn’t imagine him getting to New York and taking a nap. He likely worked around the clock. Our flight time was four hours and forty-three minutes, and it was now the middle of the night. Something urgent must be keeping him up if he couldn’t even take a small nap on the flight.
I approached him, leaning down to speak to him quietly, conscious of the other sleeping passengers, though they were all at the back of first class, and he was nearly at the front. “Can I get you anything else, Sir?”
For the first time since we’d taken off, he gave me his full attention. “May I ask you something, Bianca?” he asked me in a carefully bland tone.
I raised my brows in question. “Yes, Sir. What can I help you with?”
He sighed, indicating the empty seat next to his. “Can you sit for a minute to talk?”
I glanced around nervously, not knowing what to make of his request. It seemed unprofessional to sit down next to him, but he had asked, and he was the only one likely to see me do it.
“Sit, Bianca. Everyone else is beyond caring.” I loved the way he said my name. Loved it and was disconcerted by it. It was nothing I could put my finger on, but something about his tone made it sound almost intimate.
I took a deep breath and finally just sat down beside him. I angled toward him slightly, my hands in my lap, tugging my skirt down and smoothing the dark gray material nervously.
“Are you and Stephan together?” he asked frankly, when I finally looked up at him. I just blinked for a moment, stunned. I hadn’t expected his interest, let alone this kind of bluntness. I guessed that men so busy they couldn’t even take a nap on a plane weren’t the type to beat around the bush.
“No, Sir,” I answered, before I could really think it through. “We’re best friends, but it’s platonic.” Why am I telling him this? I asked myself, even as the words left my mouth.
I watched with an avid fascination as one of his elegant hands reached towards mine, long fingers circling my left wrist lightly. I looked back at his face, and he was smiling now. My chest was rising and falling so heavily that I caught the motion at the edge of my vision. My chest was ample, too much so, making me look disproportionate to my own critical eye. And suddenly, I was all too conscious of my heavy breasts, rising and falling conspicuously. My nipples were tightening up in a pleasurable way as my breath caught.
As though he read my mind, his gaze traveled down to my chest for the first time that I’d noticed. Some men only looked at or spoke to my chest, and up until now he’d done the opposite of that, which I had found refreshing.
He reached a hand to the thin, mock men’s tie that lay between my breasts, running a light finger along it. He made a deep humming noise in his throat, then pulled his hand quickly back.
He cleared his throat softly. “Are you seeing anyone?” he asked, finally looking back into my eyes.
I bit my lip and shook my head. His gaze went to my mouth at the motion. He watched me with a singleminded focus that I couldn’t seem to look away from.
“Good,” he said. Is this really happening? I thought, dazed. “I assume you’re taking a nap when you get to your hotel. What time will you be waking up?”
Lord, he was direct. Unusually so. It seemed to be swaying me from my normal ways. I was used to gently turning men down before they could directly ask me out. The tactic had always served me well. It saved me awkwardness, and saved their pride. I couldn’t seem to use it on Mr. Cavendish, though. When he asked me a question, I felt almost compelled to answer it truthfully.
“I usually sleep for about four hours, so I can still get to sleep at night. We have an early flight to Las Vegas on Saturday morning. If I slept any longer than that, I’d be up all night.”
He did quick calculations in his head, then asked. “So noon?”
I nodded, wondering why I wasn’t yet explaining that I wouldn’t go out with him. Or do any of the things that he obviously had on his mind…
“I’ll send a car to pick you up for lunch,” he told me. So he wasn’t going to ask me out. He was apparently going to order me out. Why was I having such a hard time getting the words out to tell him no? “You and I need to talk,” he continued. “I have a proposition for you.”
The word proposition, which to my ear had a seedy ring to it, finally brought me back to myself. I shook my head finally, galvanized back into my normal behavior. “No, Mr. Cavendish. I’m flattered that you’re…interested in me in some way. But I’ll have to politely decline. I don’t date.”
He blinked at me, clearly taken aback. He was silent for a moment before he tried another tact. “I don’t date, either, actually. That was not exactly what I had in mind.”
This is good, I told myself around my bruised ego. Of course he wouldn’t want to date you. He probably only dated useless socialites who had never had to work a day in their lives. I wanted him to continue with his explanation now, sure it would kill every ounce of the unwilling interest I felt for him.
“Then what did you have in mind?” I asked him, my voice colder now.
His gaze was hot suddenly, his finger running again along my thin tie. I had to check the impulse to look down and make sure my hardening nipples weren’t outlined through my shirt and vest. “I think you and I are very compatible. In fact, I’m sure of it. Come to lunch with me today and I’ll show you. If you still aren’t interested, I will, of course, leave you alone. But I promise I can make you interested. I’ll treat you very well, Bianca. I’m a very generous man-”