Stephan, on the other hand, looked like he was on the verge of murder. I could see the hard muscles straining on his naked back furiously.

“Just say you’ll hear me out, Bianca. If not now, then later. But promise me you won’t just shut me out completely. Promise me, and I’ll leave. If that’s what you want,” he gasped.

It wasn’t my first inclination to agree, but seeing Stephan being pushed to just this side of murder went a good way towards convincing me.

My voice was a quavery mess, but I finally managed to speak. “I’ll give you my word, just like you did, when you said we were exclusive.”

That seemed to send Stephan over the edge.

“Fucker,” he roared, punching James hard in the stomach again.

I cursed myself. I had only made things worse.

“We were. We are. I never lied to you. I tell you the truth about everything, even when it hurts, because I want you to trust me,” he told me, his voice labored and harsh from the blows.

His words made me so furious that I forgot that I was trying to defuse the situation. “You said you didn’t date. That was a lie, since I met your date for tonight.”

Stephan slammed James against the wall, cursing. “You Bastard. You swore to me that you wouldn’t hurt her. But I haven’t seen her this hurt since the last time her dad got his hands on her.”

That seemed to take all of the steam out of James. He stopped struggling even as Stephan tried to push him through the wall.

“Bianca, please, you can’t just leave me. Just agree to talk to me again, when you feel up to it. I’ll let you pick the time and place, but I can’t just let you go without a fight.”

“Fine, if you’ll answer one question for me first.”

“Anything.”

“First, agree not to come near me, so Stephan can let you go.”

His eyes held a desolation that I could see even from across the room. “If that’s what you want.”

Stephan let go of him abruptly, pacing across the room, his hands in his hair. He hated when he lost it, more than anything, and tonight he’d been pretty damn close. I felt a crushing guilt at the knowledge that it was all my fault. I vowed never to become involved with another man.

“You can come to my house monday afternoon, at five. We can speak then.”

It was hard not to feel anything when I looked into his seemingly sincere, pleading eyes.

“Sooner, please. Waiting until Monday will be pure torture.”

I shook my head, holding my ground firmly. “No. Monday. Now answer my question.”

He nodded. He shoved his hands in his pockets, looking absolutely devastating in his black tux with it’s crisp white shirt. His hair was messed up from the struggle but still somehow managed to just look artfully disheveled.

“Have you fucked Jules?” I asked.

He tensed up, and I knew the answer before he spoke.

“Yes. But it’s been a long time.”

I didn’t want the question to leave my mouth, but it did anyways. “When?”

“A year, at least. I’m not sure exactly how long.”

And he’s known her for years, I thought.

“Was it just the one time?” I asked.

He closed his eyes. “No. But it never meant anything, I swear.”

“So you’ve been sleeping with her for years, and you were going on a date with her after I left tonight, and it didn’t mean anything?”

“I know it sounds bad, but it’s not like that. I’ve known her since high school, and our families have ties that go far back. Her brother Parker is a close friend of mine. And she is only a friend to me. I swear it.”

“But you obviously fuck your friends.” My voice sounded dead, and I wished I could just shut up.

His eyes pleaded with me. “Not anymore. Anything I had with her means nothing. It never did.”

“And you’ve only known me for a week. What does that say about us?”

His jaw clenched. “Please don’t do that. It’s different. We’re different.”

I turned away from him, finally done with talking. I just wanted him to leave.

“Please go. I’ll talk to you on Monday. And please don’t be on any of my flights. If you are, I’ll go work in coach to get away from you.” My voice was getting steadier by the moment. I sincerely hoped that meant that all of my hysterics were finished.

He didn’t leave for a long time, but he didn’t speak either. I heard the door open and close, then the latch being secured.

Stephan picked me up, carrying me to the bed. He held me and cried.

I knew he was hurting, and all because of me. His violent outburst would trouble him, as well as thinking he’d vetted James well, only to learn that I’d wound up hurt. And my hurt would hurt him too.

We hugged each other, and I found that my crying was far from done.

Stephan and I were both surprisingly functional the next morning, which was odd, considering how little actual sleep we got. Odd, but good.

We couldn’t miss work from a layover unless we were close to death’s door. Missing the return flight home from a trip had cost many a flight attendant their job. So we trudged down to the hotel lobby five minutes early, quiet, but in working mode.

Everyone had to ask Stephan why he’d never made it back to the bar the night before. He had forgotten to even text anyone, which was unusual behavior for him. He was normally considerate to a fault.

He made the excuse that he’d passed out on his bed, drunk and exhausted. The excuse served, and the chat shifted away from the issue.

I wasn’t in the mood to talk, so I stayed silent and remote for all of the crew chatter, only coming to life when it was time to work. The familiar routine helped, and I was grateful for a very busy morning, free of James.

I noticed the Agents were on the flight, one in first class, one in coach, as usual.

We had a full house. Every seat on the plane was occupied. So it was three hours into the flight before I asked the agent, James Cook, quietly, “Do you work for James Cavendish?”

He looked a little startled, but put his poker face back on almost instantly. “I’m not at liberty to say, Ms. Karlsson.”

I just nodded. I thought I had my answer.

Captain Damien surprised me by being oddly sensitive to my mood. He dropped his usual flirtatiously friendly routine, and took the time to step into my galley briefly, touching my arm, his eyes serious and sad.

“I won’t ask what’s made you so sad, but I just want you to know that I’m your friend. If you ever need anything, even if it’s just a sympathetic ear, please don’t hesitate to call me. I actually do sympathetic very well, if you can believe it.” He smiled gently as he finished speaking. He was so earnest, and seemed so sincere, that I found myself oddly touched.

I smiled back. “I can believe that, actually. I’ll keep that in mind, Damien. Thank you.”

My small contact with Melissa as she made a trip to the cockpit was the polar opposite of that. She eyed my bare wrist with a catty smile.

“Trouble in paradise?” she asked. She continued without waiting for an answer. I never would have given her one, so it was just as well. “You still have to wear a watch, you know. You can get written up for going without.”

Stephan spoke, surprising us both. He had approached without a sound.

“I doubt that would be as serious of a writeup as you ditching the other flight attendants in coach to go into the flight deck to sexually harass the pilots. Again,” he finished blandly.

She gave him a look that was positively murderous, but didn’t say a word. She stormed back to the main cabin.

Aside from his words to Melissa, Stephan was both quiet and affectionate that morning. I got reassuring pats and hugs that actually did reassure me.

I might be stupid when it came to romantic relationships, but maybe it was fair, since I had Stephan.

Who needed more than that? Who deserved more? Not me.

We never got much downtime during full morning flights. It was hours before we got a spare moment to relax and scarf down some food in the galley. We ate our usual rejected greek yogurt, leaning against the beverage carts as we took quick bites, our shoulders touching.

“I’m going to research James online. I should have from the start. I guess I just wanted to get to know him as a person, and not his image. But now I see that what I don’t know could hurt me,” I told Stephan quietly, after I had finished eating.

I had an old computer, and I used it when I needed to, but I wasn’t the type to spend much time online. I didn’t really care about the news. When I had spare time, I almost always preferred to paint or spend time with Stephan and our other friends. I avoided Facebook and anything similar like the plague. I was sure James probably had a Facebook page, though I’d never thought of it before.

I wondered dejectedly what his relationship status would say. I shook the thought off. A simple name search would probably tell me plenty.

Stephan nodded, sliding his finished food tray into the trash cart. He held a hand out for mine, discarding it as well.

“That sounds like a good idea, considering. I should have researched him better, but I didn’t. I just trusted him. I saw the way he looked at you, and I knew that he cared. I thought it was enough. And I didn’t want to interfere with the one guy you’ve ever been interested in. Want me to be with you when you look?”

I shook my head. “No, I’ll be fine.”

He straightened, moving close to rub my shoulders comfortingly. “I’m sorry I got so violent last night. I almost lost it.”

I patted his hand. “Don’t, Stephan. It was my fault, for bringing my mess to your doorstop. You were just being protective.”

“James keeps texting me. I had eight texts when I checked my phone before the flight. He’s asking to speak to me. Should I? Or would you prefer that I not?”

I shrugged. “It’s up to you. Deal with him however you need to.”

“I do believe that he has strong feelings for you. There’s no doubt in my mind that he cares about you.”

I held up a hand. “I don’t want to talk about that. It doesn’t matter to me what he feels if I can’t live with what he does.”

“He never threw a punch last night, never even tried, but he’s apologizing to me.”

I turned to meet his eyes, letting him see my resolve. “Drop it.”

He leaned into me, kissing the top of my head. “Of course, Buttercup. I’ll drop it.”

CHAPTER THIRTY-FIVE

Mr. Celebrity

It seemed like it took an eternity to make it to my house. And when I did, I passed out for an unprecedented six hour stretch.

I had turned my phone off first thing that morning, and I left it off. I had told James that I would speak to him on monday, but that hadn’t kept him from calling and texting me, over and over again.

Just thinking about reading those texts made my stomach churn, so my phone had stayed off.

When I awoke, I ate some eggs and sat down at my computer with no small amount of dread.

My computer was an old, refurbished piece of junk, but it served it’s purpose. I typed the name James Cavendish into the search engine with trembling fingers.


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