It was meant to be a one-night stand. One wicked night with an irresistibly sexy passenger. That’s all Air Marshal Gage Michaels can afford–his career comes before everything else. Too bad the snowpocalpyse of the century has different plans for him and Abby Winters. Before the night’s over, they find themselves snowed in at the most luxurious hotel in the city.
Abby’s scouting job of a NYC penthouse should be quick, simple, and definitely shouldn’t include a sexy-as-hell man messing up the 3000-count sheets that will be featured in her company’s next blockbuster hit. Not when she’s up for a promotion that could skyrocket her entire career in the film industry. Still, she can’t refuse what the weather gods so obviously want her to have. She’ll give in, just this once.
Leaving is tougher than either of them could have imagined. But they’re two people who have nothing in common, living on opposite coasts. There’s no way they can ever be together. Right?
“Please keep your tray tables in the upright and locked position. We’re expecting a bit of turbulence during the first hour of the flight.”
This was it. Abby Winters was going to die. She could hear Samuel L. Jackson’s voice in the back of her mind yelling, “This motherfucking plane is going to take a nosedive into the motherfucking tarmac.” Though really, threat of turbulence or not, the same thought occurred every takeoff and landing. But this time was different; she could feel it. The plane rolled out of the gate in an uneven fashion—maybe a flat tire?—and there was way too much rattling going on underneath her to pass a safety check. The plane was falling apart, she knew it, and they were going to crash to a fiery death during landing because all the screws fell off during the red-eye flight. Yes, she was definitely going to die.
Abby jammed her thumb into the button on the side of her seat, and the light above her head illuminated red. She needed the flight attendant. Now. If she was going to die, she at least wanted to knock back the complementary first-class champagne and go out with a buzz.
A blond flight attendant poked her head through the curtain of the drink station, looking less than pleased that she was being summoned minutes before takeoff, presumably right before she and the other flight attendants would begin their What to do in case we all crash and die spiel. Really, let’s face it—if the plane went down, there would be no need for the damn flotation devices seeing as the most water they were traveling over was in A-list celebrities’ pools.
“Can I help you, ma’am?” The flight attendant flashed a smile that seemed a little too rehearsed, much like the look Abby gave her slimy coworker Jeremy every time he popped into her office unannounced.
“I need a drink.” She swallowed past the thick lump in her throat, even thirstier now that she’d said it aloud. Hopefully they had a bottle of Dom, because really, why not go with the good stuff for the inevitable last meal?
“I’m sorry, sweetie, but you’ll have to wait until we get up in the air and past the turbulence.”
Abby worked to keep her features impassive, even if she really wanted to scowl at the woman. She knew she didn’t get preferential treatment in terms of getting a drink minutes before takeoff, but damn it, what was the point of being in first class if it didn’t have any perks—like getting wasted before imminent death?
The attendant smiled sweetly and ignored Abby’s glare, instead going into her spiel about the emergency exit to the nearly empty cabin. There were a whopping two people in first class, herself included. When the flight attendant got to the part about the proper way to fasten a seat belt, she gave her own belt a reassuring tug. Abby had that on lockdown the second she’d plopped down, the buckle digging into her hips. If this plane did go down, fat chance of her falling out of the seat during a crash. Her ex-boyfriend, Rick, had called her the Organization Task Master, along with fun-sucker and vanilla—hence the “ex”—but being a free spirit hadn’t gotten her on the fast track to success in her job. Meticulous attention to detail had. Like the fact that the aircraft was listing ever so slightly toward the right, which put her frantic mind into overdrive at the thought of a flat tire.
Just as the flight attendant disappeared through the curtain, another came from the coach cabin. “Sir, we’re about to take off. Please pick any seat you’d like, quickly.”
“Thanks,” came a deep, rich voice that caressed her skin like expensive cashmere.
She couldn’t see him, because of the whole squinting-waiting-for-imminent-death thing, but she didn’t even want to put a face to that sexy voice. It would probably be a disappointment. Much like when she googled her favorite Disney character with the sexy baritone voice—utterly disenchanting. She’d never think of Aladdin in the same way again.
Please don’t sit next to me. Please don’t sit next to me.
Last thing she needed was Mr. Sexy Voice to witness her in-flight freak out.
“Mind if I sit here?” By the volume of the question, she could tell he was still in the back row of first class—her row.
Aw, crap. She drew in a deep breath and exhaled it through her mouth, ruffling her bangs along her forehead. This guy didn’t know he’d just earned himself front row tickets to Abby Winters: The Airline Chronicles.
She glanced over at his midsection—nice, tailored pants, and a crisp, white button-up. She’d like to tell him there were exactly four other rows to choose from, but her mother had given her the gift of proper manners. And maybe a mild generalized anxiety disorder. But really, what parent didn’t screw up their kids to some degree? Hence the fact that kids weren’t even a blip on her radar.
“I don’t mind.” She totally minded. Not that being huddled in the corner of a germ-infested seat was any indication. Nope.
He sat down, and his scent wafted over to her side of the seat—some fresh, woodsy cologne that must have been mixed with pheromones because her inclination to lean over and take a deep sniff was overpowering. It said I like camping and hot showers, both things she also really liked.
She caught herself leaning toward him, and shifted quickly back to her corner. Shit, what was in that cologne? Crack? She hadn’t even seen this man’s face yet—still didn’t want to, because she’d automatically copied and pasted Jensen Ackles’s handsome mug onto the guy, and this was just too good of a fantasy bubble to pop. If he didn’t live up to that, this cologne would be such a disappointment. Instead, she kept her eyes closed and focused on her breathing. That much she could control.
“Flight attendants, take your seats and prepare for takeoff,” the captain’s calm but authoritative voice boomed over the speakers.
Abby dug her fingers into her sweaty palms. Shit was about to get real in here. Amazing that, even though she traveled thirty weeks out of the year, the fear never subsided. Abby screwed her eyes shut and swiped her thumbs over her lucky four-leaf clover earrings. Silly superstition, but the earrings hadn’t failed her yet. Not when the person who’d gifted them to her was watching over her from heaven, making sure she made it to her destination. It was times like these that she really missed her father. He always had a way of calming her down. The serene Yin to her neurotic Yang.
Just as the plane rocketed off the tarmac, Abby mumbled a quick prayer to anyone who was listening upstairs and clenched the armrest with enough force to leave indents of her in-desperate-need-of-a-French-manicure nails in the aluminum.
This was the part she hated most, the hours spent in the air, where anything could happen and she was at the mercy of other people. And she hated putting her life in someone else’s hands. Hello, she’d seen that pilot movie with Denzel Washington where he flew drunk 90 percent of the time. That could be her pilot.
“Please don’t be drunk,” she whispered, more like a prayer than anything else.
“What?” the gruff voice next to her asked.
She shook her head. Man, it was true—you really could hear everything on these planes. “Sorry. I was just saying that I hope we have a good flight.” And by good, she meant arriving at her destination alive and in one piece.
“Supposed to be a rough one, but it’ll be all right.”
Maybe their definitions of “all right” were subjective. Because “all right” to her meant being unconscious for the whole thing—or intoxicated. Where was that damn champagne when she needed it?
If you looked up “control” in the dictionary, Abby’s picture was lined up with expert precision next to the definition. She oversaw all set designs and locations for her production company, people reported to her, she got shit done—and did it in four-inch heels with a smile. The fact that she was stuck in this POS plane that took away all her control made her want to curl up in a ball and let out a guttural scream. Okay, so Rick may have been spot-on with her need to be in charge. Maybe setting scheduled days to have sex, and making lists of acceptable positions, took it a tad bit too far, but she had a schedule to abide by, and she wanted to do it with maximum efficiency, all right?
They’d broken up over a month ago, and even though she was long past missing him, his parting words still stung. Was she really that boring? Or vanilla? Whatever. She didn’t have time to contemplate those things, she was too busy with work, work, with a heaping side of more work—all for the chance of a promotion to key set designer when Robert, the current occupant of that position, retired in four months. The only other competition was Jeremy—who would take any opportunity to step over someone with those black loafers to get what he wanted. And she’d be damned if his good-ol’-boy ass beat her out for the job.
The plane leveled out from its ascent. Woohoo! We didn’t crash into the tarmac! She took a calming breath through her nose and exhaled deeply out her mouth. First obstacle tackled, now if she could sleep through the rest of the flight, she’d be golden. She shifted in her seat, trying to get comfortable. Just as she found a position in which she might be comfortable enough to get some shut-eye, the plane rattled and took a nosedive toward the ground.
Abby let out a scream, arms flailing to latch onto anything to keep her steady. She clamped onto something hard to her right and closed her eyes so tight that stars sparked behind her lids. This was it. Her lucky earrings had failed her, and she was going to die on this motherfucking plane.
And then, just as quickly as it happened, the plane leveled out and the pilot came on the speakers. “Sorry about that.” The captain gave a nervous chuckle “It’s going to be a bumpy ride. Please stay in your seats until further notice.”
She still had her eyes closed, clinging on to…what was she holding? It was warm, unlike the cool metal of the armrest that dug into her thigh. Oh no. She pried one lid open and immediately regretted the decision.
Turned out that the “armrest” was an actual arm. A forearm really. A really, really nice, muscular forearm from what she could tell, covered by the crisp cotton of a man’s dress shirt and locked in the vice grip of her fingers.
Her gaze wandered up, breaking the Jensen Ackles spell. The very nice arm was part of a genetic-lottery-winning package, with a facial structure that should be cast as the lead in her company’s next film, and a pair of honey-colored eyes that pierced straight to her core. Crap. This was even better than anything her imagination had conjured up.
Heat flooded her cheeks, and she wished she had a parachute so she could kamikaze straight out of this plane instead of face the fact that she’d just grabbed this guy and screamed. She released her grip on him and smoothed invisible wrinkles out of her skirt. “I’m so sorry. I…really hate flying.” That was by far the lamest sentence to ever come out of her mouth, beating out, Yeah, I came; that was good for me, too.
Oh God. She still had five hours left with this guy. If she were in the studio right now, a laugh track would be sounding in the background. Maybe she should ask the flight attendant to move her to a different seat. Because as embarrassing as that would be for a few minutes, that beat stewing for multiple hours.
After a moment of awkward silence, she looked up to see him smiling at her. One dimple popped out, and holy moly, if this guy wasn’t at least a model, someone needed to notify a talent agency, stat.
“I don’t mind a pretty girl on my arm,” he said and winked down at her.
An honest to God wink.
On a scale of one to cheesy, this ranked a solid Gouda. And yet her lower half was whispering something more along the lines of yes, please, can a pretty girl touch more than just your arm?
Um, whoa, that didn’t need to cross her mind. That thought had come from so far out of left field, she now had third-degree whiplash. If a guy pulled that line on her at a bar, she’d roll her eyes and tell Mr. Gouda to take a hike.
The smile reached all the way to the crease in his eyes. For a moment, she was transfixed by this stranger and the way he was able to command her attention with just one look. Heck, not even Jensen Ackles was capable of that when she’d met him the first day on set, and she sported mad lady boner for the guy. She continued holding this stranger’s gaze, and she suddenly forgot why this type of pickup line never worked, because it was sure as hell working on her right now.
Damn, he’d barely said two sentences to her in total, and she was totally drooling over this tantalizing package of pheromone cologne, gravelly voice, and bedroom eyes all tied up nicely with a tag labelled, Give me some of this. The guy was good.
And that was why she needed to reel it in. She shook her head, breaking this ridiculous stare-off that shouldn’t be happening with a complete stranger. Instead, she handled it the only tried and true way she knew: with sarcasm.
She set her mouth in a wry smirk, making sure to raise her brows, too, and said, “That line work on most women?” She knew the type. She dealt with them every day on set. So she shouldn’t even bat an eye with Mr. Gouda.
His smile widened. “I don’t know. First time someone’s ever grabbed onto me during a flight.”
Right. Because only crazy people manhandled strangers. She inwardly groaned at how awkward she’d become in the last few minutes. Good riddance poised control, hello awkward-teen self. Slap on some braces and a boom box, and the transformation would be complete.
Since when do you, Abby Winters, get flustered?
She shifted in her seat at this. The thought unnerved her. Because the answer was never. She never got flustered, not in board meetings when she had conflicting views with the producer, or even when she had to talk to the CEO of Yellow Raft. Where was the quick wit, the snarky retort? Left on the tarmac of LAX, presumably. Between the flight anxiety and the damn crack pheromones, her defenses had been stripped. And she did not like this one bit.
“What’s your name?” His voice had a slight southern drawl, one that made her stomach clench.
Back in high school, she’d been all about lists—apparently, her need for organization started at a young age. She’d ranked her top places to travel. Perfect jobs. Even one for all the attributes required in a future spouse. Accent definitely wasn’t on the list, but maybe she needed to reassess that one.
“Gage.” He stuck out his hand and she took it, her small hand engulfed in his large, callused one. She didn’t fail to notice the lack of wedding ring, and the fact that his nails were nicely trimmed. Or the fact that she was still holding his hand a few beats past socially acceptable. Whoops.
She retracted her hand and fumbled with her seat belt. “Er—um, thank you.” Okay, seriously, what was getting into her? If she could form coherent sentences around A-list celebrities, talking to a random complete stranger shouldn’t be that hard to do. This must be the flight anxiety. Yes, definitely flight anxiety. This was all because of the damn plane, not because she was sitting next to a guy with bedroom eyes and a chin that could cut glass.
She stole a glance his way. The prickles running down her spine could definitely be due to the sheer size of the guy. Even seated, it was evident he easily cleared six feet and could probably bench a Honda. Yes, that had to be it. In fact, it’d be smart to just stop looking at him altogether. And, if anything, Abby still had her wits, even if her brain was momentarily scrambled from takeoff.
She cleared her throat and looked down at his large hand cupped over his thigh. Those callused hands would pluck pleasure straight from her core if they molded against her breasts. On cue, her nipples hardened against the silk fabric of her shirt. Well, shit, apparently her body was not on board with this whole ignoring him thing.
Working eighty-hour weeks did zilch for her sex drive, but this man had amped it up to eleven within minutes.
“Well it’s nice to meet you, Abby. Glad my arm could be of service to you today.” He smirked and, oh, did she want to slap the smugness right off his face.
“I don’t do that often.” She paused and cringed. “Okay, maybe I should page the flight attendant so we can drink away this awkwardness.”
He waved off her offer. “I don’t drink on planes, but thanks.”
What the hell was wrong with this dude? Intoxicated was the only state she wanted to be in when stuck in a metal contraption at thirty-six thousand feet.
“Business or pleasure?” The word pleasure in that deep, gravelly voice practically made her toes curl.
Abby choked on her spit, and heat climbed up her cheeks until the skin beneath her eyes was burning. Was he a mind reader? If her thoughts were that transparent, she needed to schedule time on her calendar to work on that. “Excuse me?”
His lips twitched in amusement. “Are you traveling for business or pleasure?”
Oh. It was a polite question. Of course, he’d been nothing but gentlemanly. She was the one who had all these very unwanted pervy thoughts.
Okay, maybe they weren’t necessarily unwanted, but definitely not timely. She needed to focus on the penthouse she’d be visiting in five hours. Yep, okay brain, go ahead and power down this unscheduled turned-on-ness and pick up the hint that this guy was just being polite. He was probably trying to make small talk in order to avoid being stabbed with an airline utensil by the crazy woman who screamed in his ear and grabbed the shit out of his arm. God, it sounded insane when she put it that way.
“Business. Going to check out a penthouse for the night, and then I get to relive plane purgatory all over again.” Lord help her.
“Wow. Penthouse. What type of business are you in, the mafia?” He raised his brows and swiped his thumb across his jaw.
She laughed, and their gazes met again. He rubbed his lips together, the edges around his mouth fading to a faint pink, and she couldn’t help but run her tongue over her bottom lip in response. They looked soft. Really soft. Kissably soft. Since turbulence had let up a bit, she couldn’t even blame the drumroll in her stomach on that. She could have sworn she saw a flicker of desire in his eyes, but chalked it up to being part of the whole dark, handsome, bend-me-over-the-seat-tray package.
Okay, it was time for her brain to shut off—or in her case, maybe reboot, because there was zero chance an airline hookup was going to happen. She’d already put her crazy on full display. Plus, airplanes carried MRSA, for crying out loud. Totally not sexy.
“Close. I work for a production studio. I’m a set scout. What about you?”
“I work in security. Private sector.” He flinched after he’d said the second part. Maybe he wasn’t supposed to tell her that? It was cryptic, nonetheless.
She didn’t even know what “private sector” meant exactly. She’d heard it in crime shows on television, but that was always for hitmen, top-secret government agencies, and rent-a-cops. But just one look at him, and he was decidedly too seasoned to be a mall cop. FBI? CIA? Whatever he was, he’d fill out a uniform nicely.
Yum. Uniforms. Ever since she’d binge-watched Blue Bloods, she’d had this silly fantasy of a cop busting out his handcuffs on her. Completely the opposite of what she’d normally want. But a man who risked his life for the safety of others did all the things to the space between her thighs. It almost erased the mortification of grabbing onto him from her mind.
In fact, now she wondered why he’d sat next to her in the first place. “Wait. Does that mean you’re profiling me?”
“Pretty young brunettes afraid of flying don’t typically fit a security risk profile. Should I be worried?”
A little thrill shot through her. He’d said she was pretty. Okay, maybe it was only implied. But still, she’d take it. She sure as heck didn’t need a man’s approval, but damned if it didn’t feel good to hear it every once in a while.
She knew what some of the production crew said behind her back. The terms “uptight” and “colder than a witch’s tit” may have been thrown around a few times. Those snide comments in the break room cut deeper than she cared to admit—not that she let her coworkers know it. So, hell yeah, it was a breath of fresh air to be talking to someone who didn’t know her planner addiction cost her more than her grocery budget for the month. Two words: washi tape.
In fact, she could be anyone she wanted to be, and he would be none the wiser. That thought kicked her heart rate up a few notches. Chances were at a steady zero percent that she’d ever see this guy again, so why not take a risk and loosen up for a few hours?
She sank back in her seat, trying to come up with a good response, one that said I’m not trying too hard, but I’m witty.
Ugh, this was ridiculous. Analyzing every frickin’ move was what got her this whole Sahara Desert sex life in the first place. Stop overthinking and get your big girl panties on. She’d never met a man in uniform in person, besides the Beverly Hills cop that issued her a speeding ticket, and flight phobia be damned, she was going to muster up the courage to flirt with him, because when the opportunity arose to hit on a man who served his country, you took it. “Shouldn’t be so quick to judge. Looks can be deceiving, you know.”
Admittedly, in terms of retorts, this was a little on the lame side, but not awful enough to elicit an eye roll. And it was much better than the caveman talk going through her head at the moment—must get closer to delicious hot man.
He took a long perusal, starting at her eyes and slowly working his way down to her hips. “Yes, they can be.”
He cleared his throat and reluctantly tore his gaze from her body, clearly conflicted. With what, she didn’t know. “I’m off duty right now, and so is any profiling.”
“Good to know. Because I can do some real damage with a nail file. Don’t even start me on the dangers of tweezers.” Much better. Finally, she was back to her witty self. All it took was the thought of him in a cop uniform, ripping off her shirt, buttons from her blouse flying, to give her the extra push.
His brows rose. “You’re just asking for trouble, aren’t you?” The playfulness in his tone said he was kidding, but the heat in his gaze hinted that he might perform a strip search for fun.
If she said yes, would he whip out some secretly stashed handcuffs? There would be absolutely no objection on her end.
“Yeah—” The plane rocketed through a bad bout of turbulence, and Abby’s arms went flying again. She went to clamp down on the armrest and missed by a good six inches, and instead grabbed the inside of Gage’s leg. And her fingers brushed against something that was definitely not his leg.
Abby quickly pulled her hand away, scooting as far against the window as possible. She pressed herself up against the cold plastic, the noise of the plane as it rocketed through the turbulence now deafening. She couldn’t even look at him after what she just did. Sweet baby Jesus, she just touched his dick. Could that even be classified as a dick, or maybe a Maglite? She should definitely not be thinking about his cock.
Think about work.
Yes, work. The reason she was on this plane in the first place. She needed to focus on the penthouse. With the extra-fluffy white duvet she’d asked to be put on the master bed. A bed that deserved the presence of the anaconda this guy was smuggling in his pants. One look at Gage and she knew he’d laugh her off the face of the planet if he saw her perfectly scheduled sex life—she couldn’t be the only person that did that, right? In fact, right now, she couldn’t even remember why she made that list in the first place, because she’d be willing to bend a few rules just this once for a chance with this sexy stranger.
Gage cleared his throat and crossed an ankle over his knee, scooting farther away from her, his body language completely closed off now. How did she know? Because she was still staring at his crotch like a bona fide creeper.
“Maybe I underestimated you. It’s not too late to do a frisk.” His lips quirked into a conspiratorial smile.
Her eyes widened, and she choked on her own spit. Real smooth. “Excuse me?”
A booming laugh that vibrated straight through her ribs sounded from Gage. He said, “I’m kidding.” He lifted a brow as his gaze followed Abby’s down to where she’d been honed in like the Eye of Sauron. “So you’re heading to New York City?” he asked.
Did someone say head? That must be why she had the sudden urge to complete this whole man-in-uniform fantasy and drop to her knees to find out what this guy was packing in his pressed pants. Maybe he’d even read her the Miranda rights as she went to town on him. Okay, she was officially sick and maybe should stop watching cop shows.
She needed to slam the brakes on that thought process. Since when did she ever want to give head? Uh, since she laid eyes—and hands—on this Gandy-size bulge that she was still staring at. “Yes.”
She inwardly groaned at how awkward she’d just made this whole situation with this complete gentleman. He was being polite, taking the crazy woman’s mind off the flight, and here she was, lusting after him like some high schooler with a freaking crush on her teacher.
Seriously, were the five hours of air travel hell over yet? Then she could get off this godforsaken plane and forget about this guy who scrambled her brainwaves. But all she could seem to think about were those rough hands ripping off her panties, working their way all over her body. No guy had ever teased this type of response out of her before, piercing through her immaculate armor…and she wasn’t about to start letting one now, especially not this guy, who was clearly not interested.
Plus, it was the running office joke that people in relationships, in any capacity, got soft. Miranda, the old set scout, got married, had kids, and where was her career? In the same place she dumped the contents of those cloth diapers she touted on Facebook. No thank you. With two major scouting trips in the next month, and the chance at a promotion in the near future, avoiding any kind of distraction was vital.
The pilot came over the speaker system, giving Abby a short reprieve from her thoughts. “We’re through most of the turbulence, so sit back and enjoy the ride. Our featured film will be starting shortly.”
A movie. Now that was something she could do without making an ass of herself. She crossed and uncrossed her legs, her pencil skirt riding up her thighs. The need pulsing between her legs amped up several notches.
Hello, sex drive, I hear you loud and clear, but I’m putting you in park. She swallowed hard, suddenly parched. God, where was that flight attendant? She was so thirsty. For a tall drink of Gandy-dick.
She really needed to stop thinking.
Hell, her body was burning up. And even the luxurious seat was no match for her uncomfortable wardrobe. Why had she stupidly chosen to wear this tight of a skirt on a five-hour flight? It looked cute in the mirror this morning. Now she wasn’t so sure she was actually a closet masochist.
Gage’s gaze flickered to her legs and then quickly diverted to the empty seat in front of him. The way he’d regarded the bare sliver of skin on her thigh cranked her internal temperature to a steady simmer. She’d probably imagined it, because his smile disappeared and he moved even farther away from her.
Abby busied herself with pulling her tablet out of her carry-on stowed under the seat in front of her, and powered it up. She had research to do. Her boss, Rob, had sent her another movie based in a penthouse, wanting her to research it and pick out elements that would be essential for her set for the filming of the billionaire romantic comedy, Blurred Lines.
She’d never seen the movie that Rob sent her, but heard from her best friend Amanda that it was heavy into the kinky stuff. Great. Gage would probably think she was off-the-charts bat-shit crazy watching this on a plane, but hell, she’d already grabbed his dick. There wasn’t much else she could do to embarrass herself further. Plus, this movie wasn’t going to study itself. She just needed to smoothly transition this stare down into a productive few hours.
She pointed to her tablet. “I’m going to watch a movie now.” Yeah, that came out real smooth.
“You enjoy that.” His previously friendly tone had turned imperceptibly formal, the same tone a flight attendant used when addressing passengers. He gave a curt nod and a small smile. Abby pressed her thighs together and pushed her tongue against her the back of her teeth. Gah, those dimples were her kryptonite. That, paired with that face, those biceps, the fresh shower smell, and the prospect of handcuffs, well, her panties were soaked and she hadn’t even started the movie.
Jennifer Blackwood is a USA Today bestselling author of contemporary romance. She lives in Oregon with her husband, son, and poorly behaved black lab puppy. When not chasing after her toddler, you can find her binging on episodes of Gilmore Girls and Supernatural, and locking herself in her office to write.