HOT UNDER PRESSURE
Harlequin Blaze
August 2009
ISBN 0373794894

available at

Amazon or Barnes & Noble

Boutique owner Ashley Larsen hates flying. Especially when there's a sugar-fueled little hellion on board. But then David McLean (sexy!) sits next to her, and suddenly Ashley finds herself hoping the delay will last forever—and that David won't notice her comfy pink bunny slippers (sadly, the opposite of sexy).

David does notice Ashley, and when the flight is delayed overnight, they can't get to the airport hotel fast enough. Off with the slippers and in with the zing! Fortunately, America is filled with cities—L.A., New York, Miami—and nothing says "smoking-hot passion" like an intercontinental affair!

coming soon

I got the idea for Hot Under Pressure while sitting in an airplane for four hours on the tarmac at La Guardia. Everyone has their flight from hell story, and as the passengers bonded in this strange sort of clueless camaraderie, I thought, "Wow. This could make a great meet." Later, the NY Post listed the NYC airports as top three out of the top five in the country to "make a connection." Nothing like spotting a new trend in travel.


 
   

Chapter One

Ashley Larsen climbed over the family of three, mumbling “excuse me,” but honestly, in the wide-bodied jet, there was no elegant way to get to her seat with her dignity intact -- especially since darling little Junior kept poking her in the rear and laughing maniacally. All the while Mom tried to pretend that nothing was amiss.

Little booger.

With a tight smile plastered on her face, Ashley climbed over the skanky-handed hellion, and then plopped into her seat with a relieved sigh. She hated the 777, with the five seats in the center aisle. What designer thought that was a good idea? Especially on a day like today, when the direct route to her seat was blocked by the sweet little old lady who wanted to stuff the three foot antique lamp into the overhead compartment. Patiently, the flight attendant was explaining how honestly, truly, cross her heart, the baggage handlers would treat the fragile piece with care. Stubbornly, the little old lady wasn’t buying it for a minute, and Ashley wished her all the luck in the world. These days, the airlines were worse than the IRS.

Unfortunately, Ashley’s life was now in the airlines hands. Boarding was nothing compared to the real death-defying feat – preparing for take-off. After a slow count to three hundred -- twice, she pulled the plastic bag from her carryon and then pushed the suitcase back under the seat in front of her. Furiously she kicked off her travel shoes with some previously unleashed aggression, and then donned the fluffy pink bunny slippers. If she was going to die in the air, she wanted to be with at least one thing close to her heart.

Ashley hated flying. Her sister Valerie called it her Erica Jong moment, but it wasn’t sex that Ashley was afraid of, only moving through the skies at super-sonic speeds, a gazillion feet off the ground. Physics had never been her best subject, and besides, she knew there was something seriously wrong with the concept. However, she hated the idea of being a slave to her fears, so, as a survival mechanism she had created her flying ritual. Every month, when she took off from O’Hare airport on her latest buying trip, she meticulously followed the same pattern to maintain sanity. Whatever worked.

Soon everyone was seated, the antique lamp was shuttled off below, and the flight attendant droned the standard disclaimers about pulling away from the gate in ten minutes. Just as Ashley had properly prepared herself for take off, another passenger made his way down the aisle, claiming the one remaining empty seat in the airplane. The one between Ashley and Mr. and Mrs. American Family, who were futilely trying to keep Junior amused. Now, they decided to resume their parental responsibility,. Couldn’t they have done it earlier, when he was playing pin-the-sippy-cup on Ashley’s butt? No.

Pointedly, Ashley stared across the aisle and out toward the window, because she wasn’t normally a rude person, but air travel brought out one hundred and one demons in her, none of them Emily Post-like. Valerie said that the buying trips, searching out the best and boldest fashions, were good for her. That the only way to conquer a fear was to tackle it head-one. Valerie could be a total pain, and one day Ashley was going to stop listening to her sister’s advice. But not today. Today she needed the ritual.

A hard thigh brushed against hers, and she jumped.

“Sorry.” The voice was deep, husky, and appropriately apologetic. Okay, there was another reasonable, sane human being on this flight. Ashley turned and the polite smile froze.

Hello, hot man.

His trousers were an off-the-shelf-khaki, his shirt, a nicely mussed crisp white, which, on most men would scream copier repairman, but here… it was like newsprint veiling a diamond. Yes, sometimes clothes made the man, but sometimes, the man made the clothes.

After logging thousands of air miles, she’d traveled next to perfumed matrons decked in crystal-encrusted fleece, overly-large seat huggers, squeegee business-men who thought she looked lonely, and yes, a veritable cornucopia of families from hell, but never, never, had she actually sat next to a man with a nice smile, wonderfully wicked hazel eyes, and a lovely, lovely body that begged to be unwrapped.

Ashley swallowed.

“Not a problem,” she said, and then promptly looked the other way.

Come on, Ashley. Flirt a little. Pep up your game. Give him the goofy smile. Guys like that.

It was Valerie’s voice. The first time in three years that Ashley had felt heat between her legs and she was listening to an imaginary lecture from her younger sister. Not anymore, no way, no how.

“I didn’t think I was going to make it,” said hot-man, continuing to converse with her.

Ashley was torn between wanting to converse with hot-man and sinking farther down into her seat, and hiding her bunny slippers, but alas, it was impossible in the sardine-like conditions. “And you made it,” she said, giving him the goofy smile until she realized what she was doing and promptly stopped.

“Yeah, after running the 440 through Terminal 2. I nearly took out a newspaper vending machine in the process, but the next flight to L.A. isn’t until tomorrow at six, and I just want to get this over with. You ever feel like that?”

“Always.”

He smiled, then immediately frowned, the wicked hazel eyes glancing politely toward the aisle.

Married. Must be. Or attached.

Subtly – unconsciously -- Ashley’s eyes drifted, which she hated, to his left hand. She wasn’t on the make, she wasn’t interested, she didn’t need a man. She wasn’t even thinking about being on the make, no matter how much Valerie nagged her. But that didn’t explain the little heart-thud when she noticed there was no ring.

You’re a wimp, Ashley.

As she contemplated her own human needfulness, the stewardess pulled out the life vest, to demonstrate the life-saving effects of the floatation device. Ashley imagined the floatation device bobbling alone in the ocean, her hands aching with cold from the water of the Great Lakes, her face dimming to a pale blue, her lungs weakening ever so slightly. Her hand locked onto the armrest because she knew that Lake Michigan had an ambient temperature of fifty-nine degrees Fahrenheit in April, which didn’t sound too bad, but she’d seen that damn Titanic movie. She didn’t want to live it.

“First flight?” asked hot-man, the nice smile returning, which did have the unexpected effect of calming her fears -- somewhat.

“No, sadly, I became a platinum passenger last year. I’m merely a coward at heart.”

“I’m sorry,” he said, the hazel eyes flickering more towards green -- a warm, earthy green that did more to distract her than a muscle relaxant ever could, and reminded her that she hadn’t had sex in a long time.

“Don’t be. It’s a family trait. Yellow-bellied, lily-livered Larsens, that’s us.”

He smiled again, and she felt the tell-tale heart-thud again. Quickly she unlocked her gaze from the captivating green of his eyes, and drifted to where Junior was most likely planning his latest nihilistic techniques.

Ask his name.

No.

It’s only a name, a polite introduction. Not an invitation to the mile high club.

I don’t care. Shut up, Valerie.

I’m not even here.

I know. I swear when I get back on land, I’m going to see a therapist. It’s the only answer.

Don’t be a wimp, Ashley.

I’m very self-aware. I’m a wimp.

Why do I even try?

Because you’re sadistic, and you revel in my pain. It makes you feel superior.

I’m not even here.

“Don’t talk to me,” muttered Ashley, wondering if hearing her sister’s nagging meant that she was a woman on the verge of a nervous breakdown. The wind was certainly blowing in that direction.

“I’m sorry?” asked hot-guy.

“Oh, not you. I hear voices.”

His brows rose – charmingly, of course. He really had a great smile. It wasn’t a full-bodied smile, just a quick rise on the right side of his mouth where his mouth smashed headlong into a tiny dimple. “Part of the phobia?”

“No, my psychotic sister. Do you have a psychotic sister?” she asked, firmly believing that everyone should have a psychotic sister.

“No.”

“You are so lucky. I always thought a brother would be cool. As long as he doesn’t nag.”

“Your sister nags?”

Ashley nodded. “Like a mother.”

“I’m sorry,” he said, apologizing again, and she noted how rare it was to hear a man apologize. Jacob had never apologized. Not once.

Right at that precise moment, Junior stabbed hot-man in the hand with a particularly lethal twisty straw, and he yelped, his hand diving toward the arm-rest, trapping hers in a death-grip of pain.

Ashley yelped, too, Junior laughed hysterically, and Mom politely looked in the opposite direction, as if all was right with her world. Muscle relaxants could do that to a person.

Her seatmate’s hand lifted from hers, and Ashley’s normal blood flow resumed. He looked at her, the hazel eyes no longer wicked -- now they showed true fear. About time he appreciated the seriousness of their situation. Four hours next to the toddling terror of the skies, who was now demanding macaroni and cheese, obviously oblivious to the plebian limitations of airplane food.

“He just broke out from the pen,” Ashley whispered confidentially. “Wanted in four states. I saw his mug on the post office wall.”

Hot-man leaned in close and she could feel the whisper of his breath.

Ah, yearning loins, aching to be filled. Thy name is lust.

Shut up, Valerie.

“Stabbed you, too?” he asked.

“Nope. Butt-fondling in the third degree.”

“Really?” He grinned. “A mastermind of crime with discriminating taste.”

He’s flirting with you, Ashley. That’s definitely flirting.

Shut up, Valerie.

“So, why’re you going to LA?” asked Ashley, flirting in return. “Vacation. Business. The fresh air?”

“Business,” he answered, kicking his feet toward the computer case in front of him. “I’m a business analyst. You?”

“Buying trip. Clothes.”

His eyes raked over her, noting the bunny slippers, and she felt the twinge again. The loins were definitely starting to yearn. “You like to shop that much?”

“I own some boutiques,” she spoke, the words stumbling out of her mouth like pebbles. She’d bought the stores as a post-divorce present to herself, but what had been an impulsive plan to reinvent her life, hadn’t quite blossomed as she’d hoped. As a kid, she loved to shop for clothes, loved to put together outfits that seemingly didn’t belong, but then somehow worked. Unfortunately owning four disjointed clothing boutiques required more than stylish élan. Ashley’s business sense hadn’t magically appeared as Valerie had believed, and a good eye for color and style couldn’t compete with designing ads and balancing the budget. In fact, in the past few months, usually when she was paying the bills, she thought about selling the stores, worried that she couldn’t cut it. It was when the rent got raised for the second time in as many years that she worried she was like some people on those television reality shows. Thinking they could sing, but when their mouth’s opened, the world’s worst sound emerged, and the home audience is sitting there wondering why the heck these types ever, ever had the wonky idea that they belonged in the limelight.

There were certain similarities.

Ashley’s smile fell, the plane moved slowly back from the gate, and she felt the familiar lurch in her stomach.

“Scared?”

“I’ll be fine,” Ashley replied, and she would. Business problems, personal problems, fashion problems, in the big scheme of things, they didn’t amount to much that couldn’t be overcome. In the end, Ashley was a survivor. When she was working on a new store window -- surrounded by encouraging mannequins draped in subtly fitted, beautifully crafted, casual couture -- the dream returned. She could do it. All she needed was to keep the faith.

She gave hot-man a weak smile, and he covered her hand, a grip that was supposed to be comforting.

If you’d only twitch the thumb, a tiny caress….

Shut up, Valerie.

He had large hands, warm hands, with long, long fingers that looked so full of yummy possibilities.

“Everything all right?”

“Peachy.” The engines started to roar.

Quickly she took out the air-sickness bag.

Just in case.

****

David McLean hadn’t been excited about a side-trip through Chicago to see his brother. Ex-brother. Chris had lost any claim to family bonding after he’d slept with David’s wife. Yeah, nothing like a little wife-sharing between brothers. Four years, and it still pissed him off.

Still, in the face of pink bunny slippers and shoved in close quarters with a young psycho in training, David felt something unfamiliar tug at his face. A grin. Yes, that was definitely a grin.

The woman was just nervous enough to be unthreatening. He liked her. Her hair was dark, nearly black, with soft brown eyes, a nose that was too big to be called pert, but it gave her a little something extra -- character. And she had a nice mouth, plump lips that were always held slightly parted, like a kid viewing the world for the first time, or a woman in the beginning throes of climax.

There was something stirring in his khakis -- trouble. Sex held the whip hand, and turned men into stupid dogs. Like, for instance, Chris. And Christine. When he first introduced his future wife to his brother, all three of them had laughed about their matching names. The day he had found them in bed together, the laughter had stopped.

He shot a furtive look at the bunny slippers.

“I’m David,” he said, carefully displacing thoughts of Chris and Christine.

“Ashley.”

“Are you from Chicago?”

“Born, bred, and will most likely die here as well.”

“Cubbies fan, aren’t you?” It was there in her eyes, that sort of lost hope, winning seasons long denied. Idealistic dreamers -- a rarely-seen species that was going to natural-select itself into extinction.

She winced. “I know, it’s pathetic, isn’t it? Are you from Chicago?”

“New York.”

“Ah, home of the Yankees.”

“What can I say? I live in New York. We always back the money team.”

“Sad to be bought so easily.”

He shrugged, and looked out the window. The plane had stopped moving toward the runway. They were returning to the gate.

Immediately Ashley noticed. “Something’s wrong, isn’t it?” Her finger jammed at the call button, just as the captain came on the speaker, his voice Prozac calm and soothing which only made her more nervous.

“Ladies and gentleman, we’ve had a slight mechanical issue. Nothing to worry about. I’m going to pull us back to the gate and have the mechanics check things out. We’ll have a short stop where you can disembark, if you choose. However, you will need your boarding pass to re-board.”

“We’re not flying?” she said, and he noticed the relief in her voice.

“We’re going to fly,” answered David, wanting to reassure her, but more importantly, he needed to get to LA. The sooner he left Chicago the better.

“I’m not taking off my slippers,” she answered. “They can’t do that to me.”

“It’s okay, I’m sure it won’t be long,” he told her, not his usual brutal honestly, but he suspected there was normally more color in her face, and if bunny slippers made her happy, who was he to take them away?

“What sort of mechanical problems do you think we’re stuck with? I was on a flight to Miami when they thought the landing gear was hosed, but it turned out fine. “

“Let me tell you about the time that I was flying to Houston. The engine blew…” Her eyes blew up four sizes, the pale color bleached to a ghostly hue, and he clamped down on his tongue. Hard. Okay, David, great going here. “Sorry. We landed fine. They have back-up engines, so if anything fails….” He realized he wasn’t helping, so wisely he decided to shut up.

Damn. He liked talking to her. Normally he pulled out his computer and worked through flights, but this afternoon had left him feeling -- unsettled. Two weeks ago he had told his ex-wife that he would be in Chicago for a meeting. He would finally see them. But then he’d arrived at O’Hare and the city of big shoulders closed in around him until he couldn’t think, couldn’t breath, couldn’t do anything but leave.

He shouldn’t have called them. Christine had said she was pregnant (oh, joy!), but in the end, David lied, leaving a message saying that his meeting had been cancelled and he wouldn’t be stopping in Chicago after all.

David didn’t like being a coward. He actually wasn’t – except for this.

The pregnancy had stung. Not that he wanted Christine back, but it irked him that she preferred his brother, that fidelity wasn’t part of her vocabulary, and that he, a man who evaluated million-dollar business opportunities on a daily basis, could do so poorly when picking out wife-material.

“I know of a little knockwurst place in Terminal One,” he blurted out, because he didn’t want to sit here sulking over the social implications of having a nephew birthed by his ex-wife. Bratwurst and sausage were so much more appealing. Then he glanced down at her feet. “Oops. Never mind.”

“Down by Gate B12, between the ATM and the security check?”

“Yeah, you know the place?”

“Heh. I eat there all the time.” Her mouth parted even more, drawing his eyes. Trouble stirred once more. “There are few things to get me out of my bunny slippers, but knockwurst and blown engines will do it. Let’s go before Junior scarf’s down another chocolate bar.”

Chapter Two

His name was David McLean. His hair was a rich brown, cut conservative short, but it suited him, suited the all-American, man-most-likely-to-know-how-to-fix-a-car-engine allure. Yes, he’d never model like one of those designer-wearing, scruffy-jawed manboys that graced the fashion mags, but there was something about him that fascinated her. He was curious and intelligent, asking questions about everything, yet not so willing to talk about himself. Eventually she discovered why.

He was divorced and his jaw clenched like a vise when he’d said it, so it wasn’t one of those “parting as good friends” situations.

The restaurant was quiet and dark, the wait staff moving efficiently and effortless, and the large, overstuffed booths were conducive to divulging confidences to perfect strangers.

“It’s not easy, is it?” she admitted, thinking of her own divorce. Two weeks of wounded pride, several weeks of sorting out the finances and understanding what was whose, and five months of awkward questions and well-meaning advice from friends. But then Ashley woke up one cold December morning and she knew she would be okay. Not fine, not great, but she was going to live. It was while in that fragile state that Valerie convinced her that she should do something radical with her life, live out her dream and buy a chain of four small Chicago boutiques. Start fresh.

“Not going that well?” asked David, when she told him what she did.

“Why would you think that?”

“I don’t know. You don’t have the joy d’vivre that a lot of small business owners get when things are breezing along.”

“You see a lot of small business owners?”

“Oh, yeah. From Omaha to Oahu. Kalamazoo to Klondike. I’ve seen a lot.”

“Oh.”

“Owning your own business is a lot of work. I sit on the sidelines and tell people how much their business is worth, how much it’s not worth, what they are doing wrong, and recommend whether our investors should go all in or not. My job is the easy part. After I look over the operation, talk to a few customers and suppliers, I go plug some numbers into a spreadsheet, and then I’m on to the next business.”

“I used to be an insurance claims appraiser.”

His mouth quirked, amused, and she cut in.

“Don’t say it. I know. I have the insurance adjuster look.”

“Nah, not an insurance adjuster. Maybe bookstore owner or candy maker. Something more personal.”

“I think that’s a compliment.”

“It is. You’re too cute for the insurance business. So why fashion?”

Cute. He thinks you’re cute.

He’s from New York.

Who cares? Take a chance, Ash.

For a second she met his eyes – a little more bold than usual. “I want to prove something. I want to take a plant and nurture it, care for it, water it, and watch it bloom.”

He snapped his fingers. “Florist. I can definitely see that in you.”

She began to laugh because if he ever saw her plant shelf, he would be rolling on the floor, too. “No florist, sorry. I wanted to do something that I could master, something challenging. I was stuck, and I needed to prove that I could do something different.” It was nearly Valerie’s post-divorce speech verbatim, but Val had been right. Ashley had just neglected to tell her sister that last key point.

“And fashion is challenging?”

Ashley nodded. Men really had no idea. It had taken her two hours to decide on the yellow gypsy skirt, the perfect pale green cotton t-shirt, and a kaleidoscopic glass-bead necklace. The outfit had vague Easter Egg overtones, but worked nicely with her hair, and best of all – no wrinkles when traveling.

“Good luck.”

“Thanks.”

He sat back from the table, his eyes tracking to the bank of departure monitors nearby. “We better go back to the tarmac of terror.”

“You’re anxious to get out of here?” she asked, noticing the slight jaw-clench again. That, and the disappearing smile.

“No. It’s fine.”

Yeah, she’d seen that movie, too. Knew the ending. “Denial, much? Don’t worry. It’ll get better.”

His gaze met hers, and the warm green was analytical hazel once again. “Has yours?”

“Oh, yeah,” she lied. It hadn’t gotten worse, but it hadn’t gotten better. Instead she was stuck in this post-divorce limbo where she had no knowledge of how to proceed, and no inclination to leave the comfort of her own solitude.

“So when’s the last time you went out?”

“Not too long ago.”

“How long?” he probed, and she didn’t like the awareness in his eyes. It was that same probing look that her sister got before she would launch into a lecture. Ashley shifted in her seat.

“I don’t know,” she answered vaguely. The divorce had been three years and eight months ago, but she didn’t like the idea of dating again. It felt too wrong. She was a thirty-two year old woman, not a twenty-something college kid. She couldn’t go sit in a bar, she was afraid no one would pick her if she signed up for a matchmaking service, and most of the blind dates she’d had had been with total losers. People had good intentions, but their judgment left a lot to be desired.

“Has it been longer than a year?”

“Maybe. But I’ve been busy,” she said, dodging the question.

He stayed silent for a second before nodding. “Understand that. I’m not one of those men who has to be married. I cook. I do my own laundry. There’s a whole group of guys who get together to watch the games in a bar. I’m independent. I like my independence.” It was the battle cry for the walking wounded. Ashley knew it well.

“Then it sounds like you’re in a good place.” She gave him the fake smile. The one that says ‘whatever you say is fine.’

“I think I am. You?”

“Oh, yeah.” Abruptly, she decided to stop the charade. Here was a comrade in arms. Someone who knew exactly how it felt. Why not tell the truth? She missed cooking for two. She missed waking up on a Sunday morning and not having to plan out the day. She missed being able to come home from work and laugh about her co-workers (not all of them, but there were a few who were laugh-worthy). Ashley and Jacob had been married for seven years, and it was never the world’s greatest marriage, but still… “Sometimes it is, but sometimes it’s not. Well, you know, there are things I miss.”

“Gawd, yes.”

“At night. It’s lonely.”

“Exactly.”

“I mean, I know I can call Valerie and she can come over…” He shot her a shocked look and then recovered quickly, but not before she noticed. Oh, man, he thought she was talking about sex, which she wasn’t, but now, okay, her mind was going there, she was thinking the sex –thoughts … No, don’t think about it, Ash. Quickly she fumbled back into the conversation. “I like watching horror movies at night and my sister is a total wimp. All we get are historical dramas. Television is something best done with another person.” Okay, Ashley, got over that one, didn’t you? Not too shabby.

David, however, still looked mildly shell-shocked. “Totally,” he answered in a tight voice.

“You like horror movies, too?” she asked, getting a little cocky and daring to tease.

“We should get back to the plane,” he answered, not taking the whole teasing-thing well. She knew that men got a lot more wired than women about sex, but he seemed more laid-back than that. Wrong, Ashley. Quickly she changed to a safer topic.

“Get back to Junior? You’re as sadistic as Valerie.”

“Maybe he’s asleep.”

****

They had no such luck once they got back on board. Junior was riding a sugar high, judging by the chocolate smeared across his face and the way he kept bouncing on his seat. But at least all weapons were out of his possession.

David watched as Ashley changed shoes again, noticing how nice her feet were. Smooth, compact, lots of well-turned curves. His cock stirred and he turned away. Turned on by a foot? Weak, very, very weak. It’d been a long time since he had spent several confined hours in the company of a single woman. After the divorce, he’d thrown himself into work, mainly because he liked it, he was good at it, and if he couldn’t have a family life, at least he could build up his retirement account. Today had been like a cold dunk in a deep ocean, the familiar patterns coming back to him, the jittery nerves coming back to him, and the hard-on coming back to him as well.

It was because there wasn’t anything they could do about it. That’s what this was. Economics. Supply and demand. Decrease the availability of supply, and boom, demand shoots out from every pore, zipping in his brain. Ergo, the hard-on.

If she hadn’t mentioned sex. Well, honestly, she hadn’t mentioned sex, she just mentioned the word ‘night’ and his imagination took off from there, wishing they weren’t at an airport, wondering if that skirt was as easy to slip off as it looked, and feeling her skin under his hands. Tawny skin, creamy skin, soft-touchable skin rubbing up against him….

David studiously avoided looking at her skin, his eyes moving upward, touching on her chest. Lots of well-turned curves there, too. After that, he turned away, met Junior’s knowing eyes and glared. Heading to an altitude of thirty-thousand feet, it wasn’t going to get any easier, so better to concentrate on other, less arousing things. Junior launched a Lego piece in his direction.

Like survival.

*****

Two hours later they were still at the gate. They were waiting on either a part, or a new plane, the pilots weren’t sure which would arrive first, but they had high (ludicrously delusional) hopes for getting away tonight. In the face of such facts, Ashley had long abandoned her fear of flying. It was obvious they weren’t going anywhere anytime soon.

Instead she was thigh-locked with David, who had very nice thighs, too. Hard. His arms were fab as well. Thirty minutes ago, he’d pushed up his sleeves, and her gaze kept stalling out on the biceps, which were bigger than most, an odd incongruity for khakis and a button-down, and she wondered why. He wasn’t bulky enough to be a weight-lifter, but his arms were too big for a swimmer or a runner, definitely too big for a tiny airplane seat. They kept brushing against hers, casually, which didn’t explain the electric shock to her system.

Not that he was making it any easier. Conversation had ceased about half an hour ago when she caught him staring at her chest, and they both looked politely away.

Damn.

She crossed her legs, uncrossed her legs, and had a harebrained urge to ask him to join her in the bathroom. She’d pulled out Vogue and Harpers and Lucky, but even the lure of the sloe-eyed models in their daring designs hadn’t dimmed the awareness that simmered in the air.

The bright spot in the tension was Junior, which said a lot about her feelings of desperation. Junior wrote on David’s hand with a pen, and David laughed, sounding more relieved than amused. Junior ran up and down the aisle, and Ashley counted the laps, rather than fixate on the discreetly covered ridge in David’s khaki slacks.

Do not go there.

Go there, Ashley.

Oh, yeah, good of you to talk. You can’t have sex on a plane, Valerie.

People do.

Not me.

There was a momentary pause in her thoughts, because right now, given readily available options, she could so have sex on this plane.

Another thirty minutes passed, and the flight attendants were passing out drinks. Yes, alcohol, the world’s most potent aphrodisiac. When the flight attendant stopped at their row, David shook his head, Ashley shook her head, and Junior’s mother and father opted for double vodka tonics.

Outside the window, the lights of the airport started to dim. If she lowered her hand one inch, just one tiny inch, she would be touching his thigh. If she were careful, it would look like an accident.

Junior spilled a glass of orange juice on those khakis that she was not looking at, and David shot sideways, and there was a momentary barrage of touches. His hand, her breast. Her hand, his thigh. She jumped back, arching toward the aisle, and he moved away, hugging the far armrest. Junior’s mother apologized, and Ashley’s nipples were powered by a thousand jet-engines, ready for take-off.

It was shortly after her breasts had recovered from the shock that the captain came on the speaker and announced that moment they had all been expecting.

“Ladies and gentleman, we tried. But there’s bad weather in New York, and we couldn’t get the plane that we were hoping for, and they can’t get the part here until the morning, so I’m sorry to say, we won’t be going anywhere. If any of you need hotel accommodations at the airport, there’s a flight attendant waiting to give you the details.”

A hotel. Suddenly the word took on new connotations and images. A hotel implied a bed, privacy, something much more comfortable than a 1x1 bathroom designed by Boeing. A hotel implied sex.

The cabin lights went on, and people around them began to move, moaning, complaining, and in general, were not in their happy place. However, Ashley’s happy place was getting happier by the second. She didn’t want to look at him, didn’t want to assume, most of all, she didn’t want to act as if she didn’t know what she was doing. After all, she was mature, she was an adult, and after eight hours of sitting thigh to thigh with this man, she was primed to explode with only a touch.

He turned, a slight inclination of his head, and she met his eyes. It was ESP of the most carnal kind. She licked her lips, his gaze tracked her tongue, and she knew that he knew.

He leaned down, his mouth near her ear. “You should know that right now, I’m a very happy man.” Ashley felt the touch in her ear, down to the soles of her feet, and every single inch in between, especially the happy place. She tried to smile, but that involved mind-body cooperation, and right now there was none. Slowly, she regained the capability to speak and she managed to smile, although she wasn’t sure how it looked.

“Happy is good,” she told him.

She was going to have sex with David. She was going to peel off his shirt, feel the muscles of his bare chest crushing her breasts. She would rip off his briefs, since she instinctively knew he wore briefs, tight, white briefs, with his sex jutting out from the band, and then finally, finally, he would push up inside her, filling her …

She felt her muscles contract once, contract twice, contract again.

Her mouth tightened and her eyes locked with David. His normally placid hazel gaze glinted lust-dark.

Ashley nodded once. “I think we need to go. Now.” He grabbed the carryons and then they both took off running through the airport, Ashley’s bunny slippers cooperating nicely.

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