Sandra's Classics - The Bad Boys of Romance - Boxed Set (2 page)

BOOK: Sandra's Classics - The Bad Boys of Romance - Boxed Set
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With a suddenness that sent her stomach into orbit, the plane
dipped, then lurched from side to side.

‘Oh, God,’ she moaned, clutching desperately at the sink. The plane bounced again, and she fumbled with the door.

All she could think of was getting back to the fragile security of her seat and her seatbelt.

‘Excuse me,’ she murmured, trying to pass a woman blocking the aisle. ‘Excuse me,’ she repeated, a bit more loudly. ‘I have to get back to my seat.’

The woman turned and smiled brightly. Jessica
recognized the face of the flight attendant.

‘Sorry, Miss Howard, but we’ve started serving our final snack. I’m afraid you’ll have to go round the other way,’ she added, gesturing to the serving cart complete
ly blocking the aisle. ‘Just up the other side and across in front of the bulkhead.’

The plane dipped and the floor seemed to sway under Jessica’s feet. ‘Yes, all right,’ she said in a whisper. ‘That’s fine.’

Carefully, she maneuvered her way to the far aisle. How could they serve anything when the plane was bouncing like this? How could her fellow passengers be so unconcerned? People were dozing and reading and drinking coffee and talking to each other as if they weren’t travelling in this ... this flying eggshell.

Ohhh...’ The empty word was torn from her throat as she stumbled sideways. Something had hit the plane, she was sure of it, or they had hit something. A wall, maybe, or another plane, or...

‘Are you OK, ma’am? Did you hurt yourself?’

A pair of strong arms closed around her. For the span of a heartbeat, Jessica leaned into their security and strength.

‘What happened?’ she whispered. ‘Have we hit something?’

The arms tightened around her and the man chuckled softly. ‘It sure felt that way, didn’t it? But it was just an air pocket.’

That soft
drawl. That clean, outdoorsy scent.

The cowboy was holding her in his arms.

Jessica pulled away from him.

Thank you for your help,’ she said stiffly. ‘I’m sorry I disturbed you.’

‘No problem I wasn’t doing much of anything, anyway.’

There it was again, that damned smile, as if he knew something that she didn't.

‘‘If you’ll just let me by

‘It’s a long way back to your seat. And it’s gotten bumpy. Why don’t you settle down next to me for a while?’ His smile broadened as his eyes raked over her. ‘I’d be glad to have some company.

‘I’m not interested,’ Jessica said in a chilled voice. ‘I thought I made that clear hours ago.’

'To be honest, the thing you really made clear was that flying scares the daylights out of you.’

‘It doesn’t,’ she said quickly, feeling the rush of
color to her cheeks. His eyes narrowed and she thought of the way she’d clutched at him only seconds before. ‘I ... I just don’t particularly like flying in this kind of weather,’ she added defensively.

‘The weather’s fine,’ he said pleasantly. ‘It’s the air turbulence.
These mountains kick up thermals this time of year.’

The plane seemed to dip into a trough


‘Look, I really don’t need a lesson in physics.’

‘It’s just simple aerodynamics and meteorology.’

‘All I need is to get back to my seat. If you’d just step aside

The stranger nodded. ‘If that’s what you want. But you’re going to have to go back the way you came
. That serving cart’s moved while we were talking and it’s blocking the way.’

Jessica shot a desperate look across the cabin. He was right. The flight attendant had moved the cart
. . She would have to go back the way she’d come, down that endless aisle and across the next, and then all the way up again...

The floor tilted suddenly, and the man’s arm slid around her waist.

‘Lots of people are afraid of flying,’ he said quietly. ‘It’s nothing to be ashamed of. Why don’t you sit down for a minute?'

Really, I'm…’ The plane dipped again and her legs turned to rubber. ‘Well, maybe I’ll sit down for a second,’ she said carefully, as she let him guide her into the seat beside him.
I guess it’s more sensible to stay put,’ she said in a low voice. ‘I mean, what’s the point of going back to my own seat now?’

The man leaned across her, his lean fingers fumbling for her seat belt. ‘Absolutely,’ he said solemnly.

She swallowed as the plane rolled heavily. ‘After all,’ she said in a thready whisper, ‘we’ll be landing soon.’

He nodded his head as the belt snapped shut. ‘Right,’ he said.

She glanced down as his hand accidentally brushed against hers. His fingers were calloused and hardened, but his touch was strangely gentle. Unaccountably, she felt the color rise to her cheeks.

‘You’re fine now,’ he said quietly. ‘And there’s nothing to worry about.’

Suddenly, it seemed pointless to lie anymore. ‘I wish I could be sure of that.’

‘You can be. I told you, this is fairly normal turbulence. And this airline has a fine safety record.’

'Really?’ She laughed nervously. ‘I wish I’d known all that a couple of hours ago.’

‘You would have, if you’d been willing to listen to me. I knew you were terrified—that’s why I offered to sit with you.’

She glanced at him, prepared for the condescending smile she’d seen on his face before. And he was smiling— even his hazel eyes were smiling—but suddenly Jessica realized there wasn’t anything condescending about it. He was trying to reassure her and tell her she’d make it.

A feeling of shame washed over her.

I guess I owe you an apology,’ she said in a small voice. ‘I didn’t think my fear showed.’

‘It didn’t, not unless you know the signs. But I’ve seen white-knuckled flyers before. And for someone like me, someone who loves flying, it’s hard not to offer a hand.’

‘I feel awful. I thought you—well, I thought you were

The man grinned crookedly. ‘Yeah, I know what you thought. And you weren’t entirely wrong, you know. I’ve got to admit, the possibility of soothing the frazzled nerves of a pretty woman had its appeal.’

His answer was so blunt that she had no choice but to return his smile.

There were worse things than sitting here talking to somebody as good-looking as this, she thought. And she had to admit that he’d taken her mind off flying. It had been foolish to have given him the brush-off before.

The flight would have been much pleasanter with him as a seatmate.

He seemed like a nice enough man even if she couldn’t picture him in a three- piece suit, or even walking along a city street.

‘Do you fly this route often?’ she asked.

He shook his head. ‘Nope.’

‘You don’t? But I thought

‘I simply fly a lot. After a while, you can tell what’s normal about a flight from what’s dangerous. I could tell you thought
that the plane was going to fall apart, so

‘I didn’t’ she said defensively, and then she managed a tight smile. 'Okay, maybe I did.’

'It won't. This is a good, strong aircraft.'

'I know it isn't logical but the thing is, part of me just can’t believe that an object as heavy as a plane can fly. Sometimes I’m half convinced planes fly only because all the passengers believe they can. '

'I get it,' he said. 'Kind of like
Wendy and Peter Pan. If enough people stopped believing…'

'Exactly.' She laughed. ' Of course I know that isn't true, but—'

'But the idea is there, no matter how much you tell yourself   it's wacky.'

Jessica smiled. She could feel the tight knot of fear
that had been inside her unraveling. It was comfortable back in this section of the cabin. The seats around them were all vacant; the window shade was pulled down, lending a pleasantly shadowed atmosphere to the area where they sat.

She could almost
start to re--

The seat felt as if a giant hand had tilted it under her.
At the same instant, the lights dipped. Without conscious thought, Jessica clutched at the stranger’s arm.

‘What’s happening?’ she said sharply, ‘What was that?’

‘It’s just more turbulence,’ he said quickly. ‘That’s all it is.’

The plane bounced sharply and Jessica’s fingers tightened on his arm. ‘It’s more than that,’ she said. ‘The lights

‘They’ll come back on in a second or two. Take it easy.’

‘Something’s wrong, I know it,’ she insisted, turning towards him. ‘There is, isn’t there?’

‘Just think about something else,’
the cowboy said softly. ‘Think about Cheyenne. Have you been there before?’ She shook her head. ‘It’s a nice town,’ he said, covering her hand with his. ‘Do you like mountains? There are some beautiful ones outside the city.'

The plane shuddered. So did she.

‘Are you on vacation?’ he said.

She shook her head again.
She knew he was trying to distract her but it wasn't working.

'No,' she whispered, her eyes locked to his. 

‘Business, then. So am I. I

The plane seemed to drop violently.
Her teeth began to chatter.

'It's—it's wind shear,' she said hoarsely. 'I've read about it. That plane that went down in Dallas…'

‘We're not going down,' he said, but there was a look on his face that said he wasn't as calm about what was happening as he wanted her to think.

Think about something else,’ he
said. 'Talk to me. Tell me about yourself. Your job…'

‘I can’t,’ she whispered. ‘I can’t, I
can’t think about anything but—'

'Yes,' he said gruffly, 'you can.'

A second later, she was in his arms and he was kissing her.

She struggled against him for a surprised, angry instant and then the warmth of his arms and the
feel of his mouth drove everything else from her mind.

Her head fell back against the seat as her lips parted beneath his. She was free of fear, free of everything but a kaleidoscopic wonder at what was happening...

‘Ladies and gentlemen
, sorry for the rough ride, but we know you’ll be glad to hear that it’s all smooth sailing ahead. We’ll be landing in Cheyenne in about fifteen minutes. Please make sure your seats are in an upright position and that all lap trays are folded.’

The captain’s impersonal voice hit her like a slap of cold water.

With a gasp, Jessica wrenched herself free of the stranger’s embrace. In one quick motion, she unlatched her seat belt and got to her feet.

‘You’re really some piece of work,’ she said in an angry hiss. ‘I had your number right the first time

For once, she noticed with grim pleasure, the man’s ready smile failed him. He rose to his feet, an expression of such confusion on his handsome face that she wanted to cheer.

It was scant comfort to think that he wasn't accustomed to having women walk away from him, but it was better than nothing.

‘Better luck in Cheyenne,’ she said coldly. ‘I’m sure your act will wow ’
em in cow country.’

‘Please, wait,’ he began, but she turned on her heel and marched up the aisle.

At least the plane was cooperating. It didn’t twist or dip or even tilt all the way back to her seat. She sat down just as the ‘No Smoking, Fasten Seat-belt’ sign flashed on.

They’d be landing in just a couple of minutes
. The cowboy wouldn’t have a chance to bother her again.

All she had to worry about now was her connecting flight on Wind River Airlines. And somehow, that seemed easier to deal with than what had just happened.


Jessica tapped her foot impatiently as she waited beside the empty luggage carrier belt at Cheyenne Airport.

The graffiti scrawled on a nearby post summed it up perfectly:
Next time
, it said,
before the flight, try to remember to travel light.

There was a real truth there, she thought. If she’d packed everything in a suitcase small enough to take on board with her, she wouldn’t be standing here, wasting precious time while her luggage made the trip from the belly of the 1011 to the terminal.

And she wouldn’t be doing her damnedest to avoid the man from the plane, either. She hadn’t seen him since they’d landed, but she had the definite feeling he was lurking somewhere. Well, she thought grimly, if he was and if he so much as said one word to her, just one word, she’d do what she should have done on the plane and slap his face silly.

The luggage belt lurched into life and the first suitcase from the New York flight appeared. And, thank goodness, there was hers, just behind it.

Jessica grunted as she heaved the battered bag from the moving belt. It had been with her since her last year of high school when the senior class had gone on a trip to Washington, DC, but it had never been quite this heavy before, stuffed as it was with clothes and her hair dryer and last-minute things she thought the models might need.

And there were cameras, of course, carefully wrapped inside layers of clothing. It was a good thing the suitcase had wheels, even though the wheels seemed to have a life and purpose of their own, because there wasn’t a trolley in

Jessica sighed and began to tug the unwieldy baggage after her.

She paused beside a security guard. ‘Could you tell me where to find Wind River Airlines?’

‘The man sh
rugged his shoulders. ‘No idea. ‘Try the Information Desk. ‘Through that door.’

Jessica nodded. ‘Thanks.’

The suitcase bounced along behind her. Every now and then it seemed to change direction and steer itself directly towards whatever obstacle was nearest. By the time she had gone through the door, her arm had begun to ache. She breathed a sigh of relief when she finally saw the Information Desk against the far wall.

Carefully, she navigated the suitcase through a small crowd, murmur
ing ‘excuse me’ and ‘sorry’ as she went, hoping the occasional bumps and thuds she heard weren’t the sounds of the little wheels running across anybody’s feet. She waited at the counter until the clerk turned towards her.

‘I’m looking for the Wind River gate.’

The woman’s smile was blinding. ‘Yes?’

‘I don’t know where it is,’ Jessica said

‘Oh, I see. Well, I’m afraid I don’t, either.’

The toothy smile was still radiant. Jessica ran her tongue over her lips.

‘Do you think you could find out, please? I have to make a flight there
She glanced at her watch and frowned.
in less than fifteen minutes. I don’t want to miss it.’

The woman nodded. ‘Of course,’ she said pleasantly pulling a book towards her. ‘Just give me a minute— here it is. Just follow those green signs for
WestAir. You won’t have any problem finding it.’

‘But it’s Wind
River  ...

‘You want the
WestAir gate, miss. The green signs.’

‘Ah. I see.’ Jessica smiled her thanks and stepped away from the counter, dragging the suitcase along after her.

Well, at least things were looking up. She’d heard of WestAir—it was a large airline that flew in the western United States. Either the receptionist back at Allen Associates had got the name wrong or Wind River shared facilities with WestAir. Not that it mattered. All that mattered was getting there on time.

Automatically, she began walking faster, glancing every now and then at the green
WestAir signs. The suitcase behind her wobbled dangerously and headed towards the wall.

essica swallowed a muttered obscenity and dragged it into line. She had passed through another doorway; a long corridor loomed ahead of her. She quickened her pace, tugging sharply at the suitcase as it changed direction once more. There was a faint dragging sensation against her hand and then the suitcase ground to stop. She almost stumbled at the intensity with which it seemed to work itself into the floor. Jessica brushed a lock of hair out of her eyes and knelt down.

‘Damn!’ she said softly. Two of the wheels lay behind the suitcase, belly up like little dead
. She touched her finger to them and then scooped them into the palm of her hand.

ow what, she thought, rising to her feet and looking up and down the corridor. There wasn’t a trolley in sight. In fact, there was no one in sight. The corridor was lined with flight gates, but all the waiting areas around them were dark.

But the little green signs for
WestAir still pointed the way. Jessica took a deep breath and grasped the leather handle of the suitcase with both hands, groaning as she hoisted it up from the floor.

‘Come on, Jessie, you can do it,’ she muttered under her breath.

She’d survived two weeks of aerobic workouts, hadn’t she? And a month of early-morning jogging through Central Park. And a trial membership at that health club…

If sh
e’d only stuck with one of those things long enough to make it count. Each time, she’d wanted to work off a couple of pounds, not grow muscles. And she needed muscles right now, she knew. The handle was digging into her palm—actually it felt as if it were gouging a hole in the tender flesh. But that wasn’t as bad as the pain shooting up her arms and shoulders and back and, dammit, she needed a porter.

‘Hey ... Excuse me. Sir?’

Jessica tottered towards a man carrying a mop and pail. He was stoop-shouldered and sparse white hair lay across his shiny scalp, but he was the most beautiful sight she’d seen all day. He put down his pail as she approached.

‘Is there a porter around?’ The man shook his head. ‘Well, is there a way for me to call for one?’

‘Nope. That suitcase of yours broken?’

Jessica nodded. ‘Yes,’ she said, ‘yes, it is

The old man shrugged. ‘Don’t make things the way they used to,’ he said, bending towards the pail. Jessica held out her hand.

‘Wait, please. Can you just tell me how far it is to the Wind River gate?’ He looked blank and she almost rolled her eyes in frustration. ’WestAir,’ she said. ‘How far is it to WestAir, then?’

Gotta say what you mean,’ he said laconically. ‘WestAir’s just down the hall a piece. Not far.’

‘Not far,’ she repeated, staring at the endless corridor ahead. With a sigh, she lifted the suitcase again. ‘Thanks.’

So much for Western hospitality, she thought, marching onward. Or was it Southern hospitality? No matter. Whichever it was, it wasn’t anything to boast about. New Yorkers were supposed to be cold and impersonal, but at least at Kennedy Airport they had trolleys and luggage carts and people!

This place was the wide open West, all right. Miles and miles of airport and not a soul in sight. And the ones who were certainly weren’t very helpful. Oh, they sounded friendly enough, but that was just because there was a kind of softness to their speech, like that man on the plane.

Jessica’s shoulders stiffened.

That had been some welcome to the West, hadn’t it? Imagine
that cowboy thinking he could take advantage of her! Was she supposed to have fallen into his arms and welcomed his advances?

She blushed hotly, remembering the way she’d melted into his arms after the first shock of surprise. Well, of course she’d melted. She’d been scared half to death. He’d been relying on that, hadn’t he? A clear image of him flashed through her mind. The broad shoulders, the rakish smile, the firm

Why would a man like that have to rely on anything but his own good looks? Not that she liked the type, she thought hastily, wincing as the suitcase bounced against her leg. Behind that ‘aw, shucks, ma’am’ exterior lurked the instincts of a tom-cat, which explained why he’d zeroed in on her fright. It made her an easy target. But he’d seemed so sensitive, so carin

Jessie snorted.

All that bouncing in the plane must have scrambled her brain.

She paused and let the suitcase drop to the floor.

It couldn’t be much further now.

For one thing, she was going to run out of corridor, soon. The end of it was just ahead. But there were still
WestAir signs on the wall every now and then. In fact, she noticed with a surge of hope, wasn’t that one coming up larger than the others? Yes, yes it was, and it pointed to the left. With a sudden resurgence of energy. Jessica lifted the suitcase and started to walk quickly towards the green sign.

‘Thank goodness,’ she whispered.

There it was, in small print down at the bottom of the sign. Wind River Charters. Charters? She’d flown a charter flight once, to Ohio, to visit her parents. It had been a regular 727 and they’d served lunch and drinks and she’d survived, which was really all that counted.

Her footsteps slowed.

The green sign had said all the right things, but she was in the wrong place. She had to be. There was a waiting area, all right, with chairs and tables, but the place was dark and empty. The flight gate was closed; it, too, was deserted. But there was nowhere else to go. The corridor ended here.

There was nothing but an exit door
. Jessica’s breath caught in her throat. Had she missed her plane? That had to be the answer.

he was late—five minutes late. The plane wouldn’t have waited for her.

What now? She could picture the models, pho
tographer, light man, make-up man and the Macello Fur people all standing around at Eagle Lake, waiting for her, waiting while a seven figure account went down the tubes because she hadn’t been able to find a trolley when she needed one...

‘Wind River? Are you the passenger for Wind River?’ Jessica jumped at the sound of a human voice. ‘Yes, I am,’ she said, smiling hesitantly at the man who’d pushed open the flight gate door.

He wiped his hands on his overalls and nodded. ‘They said you might be looking for the right gate.’ He jerked his thumb over his shoulder. ‘It’s just outside, ma’am. Through here.’

‘Well,’ Jessica said brightly, trying not to groan as she lifted her suitcase again, ‘that’s good to hear. I’d about given up
It was nice of them to hold the plane for me. I’m sorry I’m late,

Her explanation tapered off into silence as the man edged into the
corridor and let the door swing shut behind her. She blinked in the sudden daylight; she’d expected to find herself on the boarding ramp leading to the plane, not on the airfield.

In fact, there was no plane. Well, she thought, looking around her in confusion, that wasn’t entirely true. There
planes, lots of them, but they were all little ones, the kind that had always made her think of Charles Lindbergh or Amelia Earhart.

. She turned back to the door and tried to open it, but it seemed to have locked automatically.

She sighed and dropped her suitcase to the ground.

So, she thought unhappily. She
really had missed her connecting flight after all.

Either they’d taxied away only a few minutes ago or the mechanic had a bad sense of

Not that it mattered

to Eagle Lake Lodge was vital.

. There had to be a bus or train or a car she could rent. But she couldn’t face the thought of dragging that damned suitcase another inch. If she could just leave it here and arrange to have a porter pick it

A flicker of movement alongside one of the
small planes caught her eye. Jessica peered across the field. Was there...? Yes, there was someone there, a man, doing something or other to the plane, cleaning it or fixing it.

She lifted the suitcase and hurried towards him. Maybe she could leave the thing with him for a few minutes. Of course, if he was half as helpful as the mechanic or the maintenance man, he wouldn’t let her, but there was a chance. Maybe if she offered him a

The man’s back was to her. Jessica cleared her throat and took a deep breath.

‘Hello,’ she called, as loudly as she could, but there was no answer. It occurred to her that she could hardly expect one; the field was alive with the noise of large planes landing and taking off.

Her suitcase felt as if it weighed a ton, and her feet hurt. Her stiletto heeled boots had looked terrific when she bought them but they weren’t really made for walking endless miles of airport corridors.

Well, the worst was over.

She’d arrive late at the Lodge, but she’d get there before they began shooting tomorrow. It was true, she was a day late to begin with, but that wasn’t her fault. She was replacing Marla Anderson, who had got sick an hour before the agency had flown everybody out of New York yesterday morning.

BOOK: Sandra's Classics - The Bad Boys of Romance - Boxed Set
9.3Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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