Read Sandra's Classics - The Bad Boys of Romance - Boxed Set Online
Authors: Sandra Marton
It wasn’t even her fault that she’d missed this connecting flight, either.
Just as soon as she got this mechanic to agree to watch her luggage, she’d find out about renting a car or
The man was out of sight, behind the plane. She dropped her suitcase for the last time and sat down on it wearily.
Her eyes flickered idly over the plane while she waited for him to reappear.
It was blue and white and she couldn’t help but think it looked a little like one of the wind-up toys you saw kids playing with in Central Park.
She almost expected it to have a rubber band instead of a propeller, but it had a propeller, all right, although it was in a funny place, not in the plane’s nose but on top of it, and facing backwards.
There was no accounting for tastes.
It was a weird-looking little plane; even more weird was the thought that anyone would be willing to fly inside something so strange and insubstantial. Not that she would tell that to the mechanic or the owner or whoever they guy was who was coining around the plane, of course. The last thing she wanted to do was to insult the man.
She got to her feet and smiled brightly. ‘Hi there. Nice day, isn’t it?’
He straightened up and looked over at her. She couldn’t see his face; he was wearing one of those Western hats and huge sunglasses, but she’d caught his attention. He wiped his hands on his overalls and watched her.
‘Look, I wonder if I might ask a
favor of you,’ she said, walking slowly towards him. ‘I was supposed to catch a four o’clock flight here. On a Wind River plane?’ Why on earth had her voice drifted upwards like that; she sounded like a nervous kid. She cleared her throat and started over. ‘‘The thing is, I missed my flight and I broke the wheels on my suitcase and if you’d just let me leave it here, I’d be very grateful. I’ll get a porter to pick it up.’
The man shook his head.
‘No?’ she said. ‘You mean, I can’t do that?’
‘Sorry,’ he said.
‘I’ll only be gone a few minutes. Look, it’s important to
Jessica blinked and tilted her head. There had been something familiar about his voice, something she’d heard before. But then, everybody sounded the same in this place.
They all drawled
No, she thought staring at him. No
He was unzipping his greasy overalls; underneath, he wore a
denim jacket and jeans.
Hi,’ he said pleasantly, pulling off his sunglasses. ‘What a nice surprise.’
Jessica closed her eyes. After a second, she opened them again. The man from the plane was still there, smiling at her. In fact, he was moving towards her.
‘I had no idea you were—‘.
‘I'll just bet you didn’t,’ Jessica said quickly. ‘Don’t bother coming any closer. What did you do, follow me?’
His smile broadened. ‘You seem to have followed me. I was here first, in case you hadn’t noticed.’
‘Never mind all that,’ she answered, brushing aside the logic of his remark. ‘I’m going into the terminal. Don’t you get any ideas.’
‘You can’t,’ he called, as she hurried towards the door. ‘It’s locked, Miss Howard.’
She stopped half-way there and took a deep breath. Of course it was locked. Well, she thought grimly, then she’d walk across the airfield. There were people off in the distance. She’d have to pick her way among the planes taxiing back and forth, but it was better than staying here. Anything was better than
‘How did you know my name?’ she demanded. ‘Did you ask the flight attendant? She shouldn’t give out personal information
The man came up behind her and reached for her suitcase.
‘She didn’t,’ he said, while they silently grappled for possession of the handle. He won easily, taking the heavy case away from her as if it were empty. ‘Actually, I only just figured out that you must be Jessie Howard.’
‘Jessica,’ she said immediately.
‘Jessica,’ he repeated politely. He started towards the little blue and white plane and she had no choice but to hurry after him.
‘Wait a second,’ she gasped, her heels clicking loudly on the asphalt. ‘What are you doing with my luggage?’
It was such a senseless question; she could see what he was doing with it. He was tossing it into the toy plane.
‘You can’t do
‘Take it easy, okay? You haven’t missed your connecting flight to Eagle Lake.’
‘I haven’t?’ He shook his head and she looked all around her. ‘But I must have. I don’t see a Wind River
Her words whispered into silence as she
stared at the little blue and white plane.
How had she missed it? she wondered dumbly. There, neatly printed beneath its identification numbers, were the words
WIND RIVER CHARTERS.
‘No,’ she murmured, backing slowly away from the toy plane, ‘no, it can’t be.’
‘I’m afraid it is,’ he said quietly, and his lips twitched in what she figured was a suppressed grin. ‘And that’s not even the worst of it.’
This time, he chuckled aloud. ‘You’re a fast one, Jess,’ he said, ‘Yup, that’s right. I’m your pilot.’
The first thought that came into her head was that there was a hidden television camera nearby.
Perhaps she was the subject of one of those
horrid reality shows that depend on the embarrassment of people caught unawares in set-up situations.
But it was a desperate thought and she discarded it as soon as it surfaced.
A practical joke, then.
But she knew no one who went in for such grim
humor; besides, you needed an audience for a practical joke, didn’t you?
And, even in the panic of the moment, she knew that not even
this range- riding Romeo standing in front of her would go to all this trouble just to be alone with her.
She refused even to consider the possibility that this really was her connect
ing flight to Eagle Lake.
Her mind veered away from such an awful thought without any conscious effort at all. That meant it had to be a mistake.
Absolutely, a mistake.
After all, she’d seen the models and the cameraman and the others fly off in a regular plane, a real plane, just yesterday.
‘There’s been some sort of mix-up,’ she said calmly. ‘I’m with the Allen Agency.’ The cowboy nodded. ‘In New York,’ she added, and he nodded again. Was he completely dense? ‘I’m not going camping or hunting or fishing or wherever it is people go when they rent little things like your plane.
‘It’s not mine,’ he said politely, patting the fuselage. ‘I work for Wind River. I guess I’m working for your agency, too. And I know where you’re going
. I was in New York when a buddy of mine flew your people there yesterday afternoon.’
‘What do you mean, you work for the agency, too?’ she asked suspiciously.
‘I’m the guy who’s going to be your firm’s air taxi for the next week. The location you people picked is pretty isolated.’
‘What were you doing in New York?’
‘Look,’ he said, ‘we can talk about my bio once we’re in the air. Right now, I’d like to get moving.’
Jessica shook her head.
‘I’m not getting on that—that thing. ‘
‘You will,’ he said, ‘if you want to get to where you’re supposed to be.’
‘Answer the question. What were you doing in New York?’
The cowboy, the pilot, whatever he was, rolled his eyes.
‘You are one stubborn woman.’
‘I am one determined woman. Are you going to tell me why you were there or am I going to—to report you to my boss for—for incompetency?’
She hated what she’d said as soon as she’d said it, but the man was incredibly exasperating.
His eyes narrowed.
‘I was meeting with some people on business when I got a hurry-up call from Wind River. My pal was going to be your agency’s delivery boy until somebody in your office suddenly decided they wanted a guy who was knowledgeable about Eagle Lake.’
‘Yeah, familiar with its wildlife and plants and ... why are you looking at me like that?’
‘Which is it?’ she asked suspiciously. ‘Did they hire you to fly a plane or identify plants?’
His expression eased.
‘You don’t just want my bio, you want my CV.’
Okay. So he knew all about corporate lingo. That didn’t make him qualified to—to fly this toy.
‘I want an answer.’
‘We’re wasting time. I’m a qualified pilot. And I know you don’t like to fly.’
Her mouth opened and shut again.
There was no point in denying the truth of that, not when she’d made a fool of herself in front of him less than an hour ago.
She looked from him to the plane. What she had to make him understand was that he was trying to over-simplify things.
‘It’s not the flying,’ she said carefully. ‘You see, I don’t like your plane.’
His lips twitched again.
‘That just about breaks my heart.’
‘It’s not a real plane,’ she said, and winced. Had she really said something so dumb?
‘What you mean is, it’s not big.’
The understatement of the year
, she thought.
It is small, I agree. But it’s a good plane. It’ll get you where you have to go,’ he said reasonably. ‘To Eagle Lake.’ His jaw tightened. ‘Take it or leave it.’
Jessica’s chin rose.
‘Thank you for making my choice clear,’ she said coldly. ‘I’m leaving it. I’ll rent a car.’
‘You can do that.’
‘How kind of you to agree,’ she said, even more coldly.
‘Only one problem.’ His smile was pure male insolence. ‘
‘There aren’t any roads to the lake.’
That’s impossible! This place is in the Tetons, not the mountains of the moon.’
‘There aren’t any roads,’ he repeated patiently. ‘Some eccentric
billionaire built himself a house in the thirties and that’s the way he wanted it. The only way to get in and out is by air. How come you don’t know any of this? Don’t they tell you people what kind of assignments they’re sending you on?’
‘It was a last-minute thing,’ she said quickly. ‘I was busy on another job when this was set
up...’ Why was she explaining herself to this man? ‘Then—then,
what about a boat? If there’s a lake--’
You up for paddling a canoe up river and over three lakes?’
lady, you need to make a decision, fast. The sun’s going to dip behind the mountains before you know it, and weather’s coming in.’
‘I’m not sure
‘Fine,’ he said brusquely. ‘I’ll tell them you aren’t coming.’
My God, she thought, the man had no heart!
For a minute or two, she’d thought she had glimpsed the man who’d soothed her on the 1011, but now she
realized he had just been jollying her along, doing and saying whatever it took to get her to sit with him…
Or to get her
on that ridiculous plane.
And why wouldn’t he? He’d been hired to ferry in supplies and that's what she was.
On the plane from New York, she’d been a diversion.
Now, she was
something to be delivered.
But she was neither; she was a woman with a job to do. She squared her shoulders and stared past him at the plane.
It was the size of a shoebox. And it
had no steps or ramp.
She took a step forward and ignored the pounding of her heart.
‘How do I get into your sardine tin?’ she asked in a steady voice.
He grinned and held out his hand. ‘It’s easy.’
It hadn’t been easy, of course, she thought a short while later as she sat rigidly beside him in the cockpit of the little blue and white plane. He had tugged and pulled and hoisted her on
board in ways that were as ungraceful as they were immodest, but she was past caring.
All that mattered was keeping her stomach and her nerves under control while he buckled her in—her fingers were too numb with fear—and hoping her teeth wouldn’t chatter while he turned on the engine and adjusted a million controls and dials
. Finally, he put on his headset and spoke to the control tower.
said, ‘Here we go, Jessie,’ and she was too terrified even to remind him her name was Jessica.
She closed her eyes as soon as they taxied towards the runway. They paused for only a little while. She heard him say something to her and suddenly they were rushing down the runway, gaining speed, moving faster and faster and then she knew by the thump of wheels being retracted into the fuselage that they’d left the ground and were in the air.
‘We’re up, Jessie. Why don’t you open your eyes and take a look?’
‘Soon,’ she said carefully, not wanting to explain that it would take her a while to work up the courage. She could feel the faint sensation of motion, but it wasn’t the bone-jarring ride she’d feared. The engine wasn’t as loud as she’d anticipated, either, although she could hear it, thank goodness. She swallowed hard. ‘How high are we?’
‘High enough for the view to be terrific.’
She swallowed again. Then with cautious slowness, she raised her eyelids and stared straight ahead.
‘Hi, there,’ he said cheerfully. ‘How’re you doing?’
Jessica turned her head slowly and looked at him. ‘Do you have a name?’ she asked finally.
‘Chad,’ he said, extending a hand to her, ‘Chad O’Bryan.’
‘Please, please, put your hand back on the wheel.’
‘It’s a control yoke. And it’s OK
Mr. O’Bryan. It makes me nervous to see you let go of it.’
‘Considering how well we know each other, Jessie, I think you ought to call me by my first name.’
She glanced at him again, a quick blush rising to her cheeks, but he was looking straight ahead with no discernible expression on his face. She thought of their sudden, passionate embrace in the 1011 and the way his hands had touched her when he’d helped her board a few minutes ago and her blush deepened.
‘How much longer until we get there,
Mr. O’Bryan?’ She put a deliberate emphasis on the name, pleased to see that his mouth hardened as she said it.
‘Not very long, Miss Howard. Just sit back and relax.’ He shifted his weight and a smile flickered across his mouth. ‘If you can, that is.’
She decided there was no point in answering. In a few minutes, they’d touch down at the Lodge—she wouldn’t dwell on the landing just yet—and she’d be among her own friends.
Well, not friends. Fellow workers. Well, no, not that either. The models were nice girls, but they lived a life all their own, never seeming to eat or drink or go out at night for fear of gaining a pound or a wrinkle.
And the director was a nice guy but he and the light man seemed to have something going between them...
Jessica sighed. That left Hans, the pho
tographer, and he’d been cold as ice since the time he’d returned the stills she’d asked him to look at. It had taken her weeks to work up the courage.
‘Your photos could use better processing,’ he’d sniffed.
‘Yes, but are they any good?’
‘Not bad,’ he’d said, turning on his heel and walking off.'
The way he’d said it had told her nothing. No matter; she was still a long way from landing a job as a photographer or even an assistant. But she could learn a lot about taking pictures just by watching the pros who shot photos for Allen Associates.
Not that she was really interested in fashion photography; she’d always wanted to do portraits and human interest stuff, but the
lighting and techniques were the same.
‘The Tetons,’ Chad said. ‘Just below us.
‘Take a look. ‘They’re really something to see.’
She swallowed and turned towards the window, waiting for the first cold clutch of fear to grasp her.
Until now, she’d carefully avoided looking anywhere but straight ahead at the sky and clouds. Keeping her thoughts on everything but the fact that she was hanging up here above the earth in this toy.
They were flying over a rolling landscape of rounded brown and green mountains. They looked almost close enough to touch under the soft light of the late afternoon sun.
She could almost feel the power and isolation of the slopes below.
And they were travelling slowly enough so that there was time to enjoy the play of light and shadow. It occurred to her that the scene below would make a spectacular
Cautiously, Jessica raised her eyes and looked
out the windscreen. Was the sky always this blue? There was a depth to the color she’d never noticed. And the clouds ... They were like surrealistic wisps of froth stretched across a sapphire sea.
‘Pretty, isn’t it?’
She nodded. ‘Yes, yes, it is,’ she said, a touch of surprise in her voice. ‘This is different from the way things look in a real plane.’
Chad grinned. ‘This is a real plane, Jessica. More real, in a way, than those commercial jobs. This is what flying is all about.
‘Look,’ she said suddenly, leaning towards him, ‘I never knew birds flew this high!’
‘That’s a pair of golden eagles. This is migration time, and this is one of their routes.’ He watched as she moved her head carefully to the side and then he grinned. ‘You can get out of your seat and look at them from the window, if you like.’
‘Stand, you mean?’ She shook her head. ‘No, thanks. This thing is barely big enough to sit in.’
‘It’s big enough to hold that piece of furniture you were dragging around. What have you got in that thing? Scrap iron?’
It was impossible not to return his smile. ‘Cloth
es,’ she said. She laughed at his arched eyebrows. ‘Well, equipment, too.’