Stephan and Javier fell soundly asleep in the back row of the plane, but I got up to help the main cabin crew with drinks since I was in uniform, the flight was nearly full, and the people were downright cranky with the delay. As though a sleep wand had been waved over the passengers, they all seemed to fall asleep right after they got their drinks. I was prying empty cups out of the hands of sleeping passengers when I caught the flight attendant I’d been helping studying me with a strange intensity.
I’d never met her before, but she’d seemed friendly enough when she realized that I was going to help her with their service, no strings attached.
She was a very small, very nondescript woman in her early twenties. She was hispanic and had long black hair and eyes so dark they looked black.
We were back in the galley, just the two of us, when she seemed to get up the nerve to ask the question that was obviously on her mind.
“You’re that flight attendant who’s dating James Cavendish, aren’t you?” she asked. Her tone wasn’t hostile, merely curious. In fact it was a little too curious for a complete stranger, something in her voice suggesting that she knew something about him, or even about me. I shouldn’t have been so surprised by it, but it was the first time I had experienced that sort of strange interaction with a co-worker.
I sighed. “Yes, I’m dating him,” I finally said.
She didn’t smile, just gave me that fascinated stare. It was unnerving. “It must not be serious. I’m right, aren’t I? You wouldn’t still be working here if he were serious about you.”
I felt myself getting instantly defensive about my job. “I like my job. What’s wrong with working here?”
She gave me a stare that was way too direct for a stranger talking about my personal life. “Come on.
He must make more money than this just brushing his teeth in the morning. I’m just saying that if he wanted to live with you or marry you or whatever, it would be beyond pointless for you to be spending all of your time making peanuts while he makes billions. If he was serious, he would let you quit.”
I felt myself flush, but tried to maintain my composure. “For your information, we are living together, and I haven’t quit because I like my job. So what if he makes more money than me? I still have to work.
I’m not going to sit around all day and wait for him.” I realized even as I made the argument that that would never be the case, whether I had this job or not.
I didn’t need to worry about waiting around for him all the time because I just wouldn’t do it. And he knew me well enough to know not to expect it from me, either. What would I do if I could do anything I wanted? I wondered, kind of stunned that I was even letting myself think that way.
I remembered that I was in the middle of a conversation with an obnoxious woman who seemed to think she knew something about my life. “And why on earth do you assume that you know anything at all about either of us?”
She had the nerve to give me a conspiratorial smile as she reached into her flight bag. She handed me a rolled up magazine. “I’ve been keeping up with all of the drama,” she said, as though it were an accomplishment.
I cringed as I saw the cover of the gossip mag she’d handed me. It was a picture of me wearing a transparent white slip and standing in my driveway, looking stunned and confused. You could just make out the outline of my nipples in the thin slip. At least it wasn’t obvious that I hadn’t been wearing panties.
James was behind me in the shot, obviously striding towards me, but giving the man taking the shots a positively murderous look. He looked absolutely gorgeous wearing only his boxers, even his hair perfectly disheveled. My own hair looked like it had just been through a wind-tunnel.
When I was done working through my own feelings about the horrible pictures getting out, my mind went to James. He must know about it by now. He probably had people who brought it to his attention. If I was this upset, I knew he would be livid.
“He’s so hot. Do you have any idea how hot he is?” the strange flight attendant was asking me. I really needed to remember her name.
I gave her a very direct stare with lots of eye contact. “As a matter of fact, I know exactly how hot he is. Trust me when I say that you don’t have any idea just how hot he is.”
She made a motion as though she were swooning. “That is awesome,” she said with a sigh, and I realized for the first time that, though she didn’t have any manners at all, she meant no harm. In fact, she didn’t seem to have a malicious bone in her body as she stared at James on the cover of the magazine.
“Good for you, girl. He’s a total dreamboat.”
I threw her a bone, feeling tired but suddenly a little delirious about the fact that I might see James in just a few short hours, depending on if he was at work by the time we got there. “There’s a chance he might be picking me up from the airport. If he is, it will probably be right by the crew van pickup, so you might get a glance at him.”
She grinned at me as though I had just done her a huge favor. “That’s so awesome. He can’t possibly be that beautiful in person, though, so I’ll brace myself for disappointment.”
I had to smile back. “Actually, he’s even more gorgeous. Sometimes I call him Mr. Beautiful.”
She giggled. “You’re very pretty and all, but he can have any woman on the planet. No offense, but how did you manage to land him?”
I gave her my little shrug, strangely no longer offended by her candor. “I really have no idea.”
Our strange little talk was interrupted as the two other members of the main cabin crew came through the curtain. They were less pushy, but both of them gave me strange, probing looks, and I figured they’d heard or seen something about me.
I asked them politely if they needed any more help. When they declined, I ducked back into the cabin and found my seat beside Stephan. I lay my head back and tried my best to get a short nap in.
I awoke with a start as the plane touched down. I was so conditioned to stay awake on red-eyes that I was surprised I’d been able to sleep that long on a plane.
I sent James a text as we taxied in.
Bianca: We just landed.
He responded immediately.
James: There’s a car waiting at the curb for you.
That didn’t seem to need a response, so I put my phone away, deplaning as quickly as possibly. We were in the last row of the aircraft, though, and it was a frustratingly slow process.
We wound up walking with the crew through the airport. Stephan grabbed my small flight bag from me without a word, as was his wont.
The strange girl, who was named Marie, as I discovered when she reintroduced herself, made her way to my side as we walked. She chatted on and on about celebrity gossip.
She seemed to think that because I was in the tabloids, I would also like reading them, and be caught up on the latest drama. She seemed crestfallen when I disabused her of the notion. I really had no idea who she was talking about.
She had me half-distracted with her endless chatter as we stepped out of the sliding door and began to make our way to the pickup spot at the curb. But I wasn’t so distracted that I didn’t instantly see the tall figure step out of the limo parked just behind the crew van. Even if he hadn’t gotten out of the car, there was no way I could have missed Clark’s imposing figure waiting on the sidewalk for us. But James stepping out of the car with the warmest smile on his face made me instantly forget that there were even other people in the world, let alone that one was babbling at me.
Without even thinking about it, my steps quickened until I was nearly running to him.
He wasn’t indifferent to my enthusiasm. He began to walk briskly towards me, obviously determined to meet me at least halfway.
When we got within arm’s reach of each other he grabbed me to him in a bone-jarring embrace, his hold painful but oh so comforting to me. I had thrown my arms around his neck at the same moment he’d grabbed and I held on tightly as he lifted me, moving back towards his car, one hand cupping the back of my head firmly. I felt like I was five years old, my feet dangling inches from the ground. I nearly laughed.
“James, put me down,” I sputtered.
He just gripped me tighter, moving purposefully towards the car. “I can’t be in public like this, Bianca.
I feel too raw. God, I missed you. It felt like Christmas when I heard you were getting in ahead of schedule.”
I gripped his silky hair in my fists. “I missed you, too. It’s scary just how much. I don’t know how it happened so fast, but you feel like home to me, James.”
A hoarse, pained sound escaped his throat. “Yes,” he said, his voice rough with emotion. “This is home.”
James had me in the car and securely ensconced on his lap when Stephan and Javier finally joined us, both of them grinning widely. They had obviously found our over-enthusiastic reunion amusing.
“I have to warn you guys; that crew is going to tell the world about that little scene. That small sassy one, Marie, was even making noises about giving an interview to the press,” Stephan said, his voice more amused than worried.
I rolled my eyes. That little gossip-monger probably would, too. I tried to remember if I had told her anything I wouldn’t want shared, but mentally shrugged the whole thing off. There was nothing I could do about any of it now, and it was much more pleasant to bask in the presence of Mr. Beautiful than to worry about what-ifs.
James greeted the other men politely before he began to nuzzle into my hair. I felt him breathing me in, and my eyes closed in pleasure.
His arms were wrapped around me snugly, but suddenly they tightened to the point of pain and I felt him tense.
“I need to tell you something,” he whispered, his mouth at my ear. From the tension in his body and voice, I immediately knew that something was terribly wrong.
I stiffened, turning to study his face. His strange change of mood was troubling, to say the least. And his eyes were haunted, just the sight of them making my chest tighten in dread.
“What is it?”
“Sharon Karlsson was found dead in her home last night. She was murdered.” His voice was quiet, but the car went deathly silent at his news.
I just froze, staring at him as I processed his words. I had been trying to call her, to tell her about my father, but I had failed to get ahold of her.
Could I have prevented this? Was I to blame?
It wasn’t even a question to me who had killed her. It was just too big of a coincidence, and I had stared too fully into the murdering eyes of my father not to know that he was fully capable of killing again. It was only a wonder that he hadn’t killed again before this. Though, for all I knew, he had.
“How?” I finally asked.
He ran a hand over my hair, a gesture that I thought was to comfort himself as much as me. “She was shot in the head.”
I thought of the way my mother had died, a mock suicide where she’d ‘eaten the gun.’ “Like my mother?” I asked, my voice very small.
His eyes were impossibly tender, and infinitely worried, on my own. “Yes, like that.”