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Temporarily Yours: Shillings Agency #1
This marine's the perfect hoax…if she doesn’t fall for him first.
Stats whiz Kayla Moriarity knows her way around numbers and algorithms. Men, on the other hand, are unsolvable equations. Now Kayla’s en route to her sister’s wedding—alone and without the fictional boyfriend she invented for her family. Fortunately, her plane comes complete with complimentary cocktails and a ridiculously hot ex-marine in the seat beside her. And that’s all it takes for Kayla’s inhibitions to go sailing out the airlock...
Cooper Shillings has soft spot for people in trouble, but he certainly wasn’t expecting to land in it himself—and definitely not while getting naughty mid-air with a sexy southern belle. When he hears Kayla’s predicament, however, he offers his services as a stand-in boyfriend. After all, he’s heading overseas soon...and how could he refuse a little no-strings wickedness?
It’s the perfect plan. And all Kayla has to do is ensure her family falls for the ultimate bluff, without falling for it—and Cooper—in the process...
Series Reading Order:
Falling for the Groomsman (loosely tied to series)
Stealing his Heart
Seducing the Princess
Read the first two chapters for free:
Cooper eyed the crowded airport with all of the excitement of a prisoner looking at his solitary confinement cell. Festive red, green, and white shades of the holiday season surrounded him, and every single boarding area looked identical to the next. Then again, didn’t they always? Crying kids, harrowed mothers, fathers on their phones, and kids playing with their Christmas toys filled almost every single chair.
Weren’t people supposed to stop dressing like it was Christmas after the twenty-sixth? Or maybe it was his inescapable Scrooge-iness making him feel that way. He hadn’t been merry on Christmas, and he hadn’t been happy on New Year’s, either.
He hadn’t been happy in a long damn time.
He rubbed his eyes and scanned the seating area. There was one empty chair left, next to a gorgeous brown haired woman in a red turtleneck sweater, matching heels, and a black knee-length skirt. With a face and legs like those, she was probably saving the seat for her husband—some lucky bastard who probably didn’t appreciate her as he should.
She looked up at him, as if she sensed his scrutiny, but quickly looked back down at her iPhone. The contact was brief, but even so, he saw the flare of appreciation in those bright blue eyes as she dropped her head.
She liked what she saw—missing husband or no.
He approached her, his focus locked on her the whole time. He stopped when he got close enough to speak without calling across the room, opened his mouth, and then—
“Hey, Mister. You’re on my coat.”
Just as Cooper turned to apologize to the child speaking, the kid slammed a candy cane into Cooper’s stomach—pointy end first. Another kid pulled the jacket out from under Cooper’s feet, and he stumbled backward. He hit the floor so hard his breath whooshed out of him in a painful wheeze. His face was turned toward the gate, where the attendant gaped at him, and a red heel rested on the floor beside his head.
Damn it, he recognized those heels.
“Are you okay?” the woman asked. Though her question was one expressing concern, he couldn’t help but hear the amusement in there, too. “Do you need help getting up?”
Turning his head, he followed the line of her knockout legs, all the way up until he could see her angelic face, framed by the most touchable brown hair he’d ever seen. He would not look any lower. If not for the way she held her knees together, he would be getting arrested for being a peeping tom, for Christ’s sake.
He was literally in between her legs, his head halfway under her chair.
Still seated, she bent over him awkwardly, looking down at him with a wrinkled brow and shining blue eyes. Though he had been fantasizing about her legs, he hadn’t exactly wanted to get close to them in this way.
Cursing under his breath, he scooted down and away from her on his back, feeling a bit like an overturned turtle, then rolled to his feet as gracefully as he could manage under the circumstances. Smoothing his jacket over his arms, he ducked his head to hide his hot cheeks. “No, I’m fine. Thank you.”
As he straightened the collar of his jacket, he eyed the fair-skinned beauty. The concern was gone, and she was doing a poor job of hiding a smile behind her hand. Hell, he even saw a dimple.
She pointed to his stomach. The candy cane that the child had speared him with hung from his brand new cashmere sweater—with the help of a coating of saliva and sugar.
“I’m so sorry!” the horrified mother said, grabbing her son and pushing him behind her body for protection, as if she was worried Cooper might attack. “I think he’s been watching too many superhero movies.”
“Are you saying I look like a villain?” he asked with a smile on his face, trying to set the woman at ease. When the mother opened her mouth to reply, he shook his head and patted her arm. “No harm done. Really.” With two fingers, Cooper removed the sticky weapon from his sweater and handed it over. “Don’t worry about it.”
The mother smiled with gratitude and took the gooey mess without flinching. “Thank you for being so understanding.”
Once he turned his back to her, he let the smile fade away. Eyeing his sticky fingers in disgust, he looked for the nearest water fountain. He didn’t want to wander too far and risk the chance of missing takeoff. He already knew there wouldn’t be another open flight to North Carolina with an available seat until tomorrow night at ten, and he needed to be on this one.
Sure, he didn’t have to leave this early. He could’ve easily pushed his departure back a few days. He didn’t have to report for his new job until next week. But he needed to escape his father’s incessant pressure. He didn’t approve of Cooper going back overseas. He felt Cooper should stay continental and work for him at the company he had formed specifically for military dropouts.
Dropouts like Cooper.
Yeah. Thanks, but no thanks.
“Would you like a Wet One?” a musical voice asked, tickling over his senses and ripping him from his thoughts. Without even looking, he knew who had spoken. It was the woman in the turtleneck whom he’d practically landed on…or under, rather.
“A wet what?” He turned slowly, his brow raised. She was holding what looked like a baby wipe in her right hand and a container in her left. He couldn’t help but notice she didn’t wear a wedding ring. So there was no husband? Smiling, he reached out and took the offered wipe. “Oh. Sure. Thank you. Is that seat taken?”
“No, you can have it.” She gazed up at him, sending his heart rate through the roof, and then looked away. There was something about her that made him forget about everything that had been hanging over his head the past year. And, man, he needed that right now. Scooting her long legs out of the way, she smiled and motioned him to sit. “That kid came out of nowhere, huh?”
“Like a ninja warrior,” he agreed, getting comfortable on the chair. He quirked his lips at the amusement in her eyes. “Thanks for letting me know I still had the weapon stuck on my shirt.”
She laughed. Damn, but she had an adorable laugh. “You’re welcome.”
“I was so worried about being late and missing this flight, I hadn’t even figured getting attacked into the equation.” He cleaned off his sweater with the wipe and dropped the Wet One into the trashcan next to him. If she carried those things around in her purse, one of these rug rats running around might be hers. “Thanks for the wipe, by the way. You carry them around for your children?”
“Oh, God, no. I don’t even have a husband, let alone kids. If I were going to have kids, I would be married for at least two years beforehand. By then, people pass the mark where one in twelve marriages fail. I personally think they fall apart around then because that’s when the attraction wears off, and the couple looks for that draw elsewhere. Bringing kids into the equation before that whole mess is foolish.” She smoothed her curly brown hair and flushed, then hastily tucked a wayward strand behind her ear. “Not that you asked about my beliefs in the institute of marriage. I’m sorry. I know I’m babbling.”
“Believe it or not, that was my next question,” he said, grinning. “Tell me, how do you feel about the four-year mark? Is that a catastrophe, too?”
“Don’t even get me started on what happens at four years…if you even make it that far. Most of the time, they—” She broke off and gave a strangled laugh. “I’m sorry. You’re clearly just asking these questions to be nice, or to humor me or whatever, and I’m answering in way too much detail. Like, way, way too much detail. I’m just nervous. Really, really nervous.” She paused and cocked her head. “And now I’m repeating myself a good quarter of this conversation, too. Lovely. Just lovely.”
He studied her with new curiosity. What she thought embarrassing, he found refreshing. Where did she find her statistics from, anyway? How the hell did she know that one in twelve marriages fail at the two-year mark?
Time to find out.
“Let me guess. Divorce lawyer? Marriage counselor?”
She scoffed. “Worse. I’m an actuary—quite possibly the most boring job to ever exist.”
“You don’t look boring to me,” he said, his voice husky. He blinked. Wait, why did his voice change? What the fuck? “Quite the opposite.”
She shot him a surprised look. “Are you flirting with me?”
Did she actually ask him if he was flirting with her? Fascinating. “And if I am?”
“Well, uh.” Her cheeks flushed red and she fidgeted with her skirt. “Thanks, I guess? It’s a welcome distraction, if nothing else.”
Wow. That almost hurt. He bit the inside of his cheek to stop himself from smiling. She was just…so refreshingly different. “That’s all? I must be losing my touch.”
She tucked another loose curl behind her ear, as if trying to hide nervousness. “I wouldn’t know, having just met you. Plus, I’m hardly an expert, being an actuary.”
He laughed. He hadn’t had this much fun talking to a stranger in…well, ever. “Is there a rule that actuaries are bad judges of character?”
“No.” She raised her brows. “We’re quite excellent.”
He gave her a once-over. “Hm. I’ll have to reserve my judgment. Until I know a bit more about you anyway.”
“Reserve away.” She gave him another look, this one lingering a little longer. “I have to ask, do you know what an actuary is? I’ve never heard someone claim it’s interesting in any way, shape, or form.”
He pursed his lips. “I know it involves a hell of a lot of odd knowledge about percentages and random stats. And that I’m sitting next to one right now.”
She grinned. “Close enough.”
He ran his hand through his hair and she watched. When she licked her lips, he saw her pupils flare inside those baby blues. A responding heat flushed through him, making him want to scoot closer. “So…why are you nervous? Afraid a kid will attack you next?” He held a hand to his heart. “I swear to protect you from the ruffians at all costs.”
She shook her head. Pointing out the window at their plane, she said, “I’m not worried about kids, but I am frightened of that deathtrap people continue to erroneously call an airplane. Airborne coffin is a more accurate description, if you ask me.”
He eyed the plane before turning his attention back to her. “You’re scared of flying?”
“Terrified.” She closed her eyes and flopped back against the seat, growing paler before his eyes. “Horrified. Certain I’m going to die.”
“Then why are you doing it?”
She peeked at him, her pretty mouth puckered up as if she waited for a kiss. Or maybe he’d imagined that last part. “You want the truth?”
“And nothing but the truth.”
She chuckled. “I have to go to my sister’s wedding, where I have to pretend I’m happy and perfectly okay with my fictional boyfriend’s absence.” She clamped a hand over her mouth and closed her eyes. “I didn’t mean to add that last detail in. Ignore it.”
He raised a brow. “Not a chance, sweetheart. Fictional, huh? I find that hard to believe.”
“You’d be surprised,” she muttered through her hand. Sighing, she dropped her hand and picked up her expensive looking purse. She held onto the straps so tightly he could make out the details of every single one of her knuckles. “I need to shut up now. I’m sorry. Again.”
She really was nervous as hell about the flight. Cooper didn’t think he’d ever seen anyone quite so jittery, and he’d seen a hell of a lot. “Don’t apologize. You can tell me anything you want. And the best part is you’ll never see me again, so you don’t have to worry about facing me after. But tell me…why would someone as beautiful as you have to make up a boyfriend? You should have at least six at home waiting for you.”
Real smooth there, Cooper.
“Yeah, well, I don’t.” She flushed an even deeper red and looked down at her lap. He got a brief glance of her nibbling on her deliciously pink lip before she ducked her head. “And I’m okay with that. I don’t place much stock in the whole aspect of ‘love saving all.’ I’m not exactly the relationship type. I think they’re largely a waste of time.”
He hadn’t been expecting to hear that from her. Most of the women he spent time with were of the loose variety, and they had the same beliefs as him when it came to relationships—as in they were a waste of time. But she hardly came across as that type of girl. She didn’t seem the type to love ‘em and leave ‘em, so to speak. She was an enigma he longed to figure out. “Because of the dreaded two year mark?”
She shrugged. “Yeah. That and so much more.”
He found himself wanting to argue with her. Why? He wasn’t big on love and relationships, either. He hadn’t found “the one” yet, and he was starting to think she didn’t exist. And he was leaving the country, so he didn’t have room in his life for a woman who would worry about him.
“Sometimes, it’s possible, despite the odds. Just look at me, for example.”
She looked up at him in surprise. Hell, he was surprised he was debating statistics and the probability of love with her, too.
“Statistically speaking,” he continued, “the odds of being stabbed in the stomach with a candy cane are one in three point six million…yet here I am with a ruined sweater.”
“You made that statistic up,” she said, her eyes shining.
“I did,” he admitted. “But I’m pretty sure I’m close to accurate on my figures.”
“That’s true,” she agreed, her lips turning up at the corners. “I certainly haven’t heard of that happening to anyone before.”
He nodded and nudged her with his shoulder. “See? Statistics aren’t everything. I’m Cooper Shillings, by the way.”
“Kayla. Kayla Moriarity.” She held her hand out, and he shook it, his fingers gently brushing her wrist. She uncrossed her legs and re-crossed them, and then pulled away. “Nice to meet you, Cooper.”
Damn. The sound of her saying his name was pure magic.
The speaker crackled and a feminine voice announced, “Attention passengers, we are now boarding first class for Flight 342. First class only, please.”
“Oh, God.” Kayla took a deep breath and stood. “Oh, God. Oh, God. Here we g-go. Are you first class, too?”
He repressed a snort. First class his ass. “’Fraid not.”
“That’s too bad. I could have used some more distracting…or was it flirting?”
He grinned. “You’ll never know now.”
“One of life’s unanswered mysteries, I suppose.” She looked at him one last time, then hiked her purse onto her shoulder. “Hey, thanks for talking to me. It helped take my mind off things. If we somehow manage to walk away from this alive, I’ll say hello to you at baggage claim.”
He never travelled with more than a small carry-on suitcase—something else his overbearing father drilled into his head at a young age—but he’d go to the baggage claim anyway to check on her. Maybe he shouldn’t care so much how a stranger fared through a flight, and yet…he did. “You’ll be fine. I’ll see you later.”
Her expression showed her doubt at his words, but instead of arguing about it, she headed for the desk with nothing but a purse on her shoulder and a ticket on her hand. He watched her walk away, ignoring the sick feeling of inadequacy in his gut. He swallowed hard, wishing he’d shelled out the extra bucks for a first class seat.
The way she spouted out statistics and percentages combined with the elegant way she held herself showed him she was well-off and educated. She’d probably been born with a silver spoon in her mouth and a Tiffany rattle in her hand.
She wouldn’t know what to do with a wounded warrior, so it was probably for the best that he wasn’t going to have the chance to talk to her again. He was a failure who couldn’t be counted on to… Well, to do anything.
Only two other people followed her. That meant there had to be at least one seat open in first class. Maybe more. He tapped his fingers on his knee, cursing under his breath. She might be sitting all alone on the plane. There would be no one to babble at when she was nervous. No one to calm her nerves, or make her forget about her fears.
Worried. Scared. Alone.
Damn it. She’d awoken his deeply-repressed urge to protect anyone who needed help, and he couldn’t get the voice in the back of his head to shut the hell up. As she disappeared into the jet bridge, Cooper stood and stalked to the desk. “Excuse me, but is it too late to change my ticket to first class? If it’s available, I’d like the seat directly next to Ms. Moriarity, please.”
The woman at the desk scowled. “We’re boarding, sir. We don’t normally allow changes this close to the flight.”
Cooper smiled his most charming smile. “I understand ma’am, but my friend who just boarded is scared to death. I think the flight will go a lot more smoothly for her—and for the flight attendants—if I can sit next to her.” He shrugged. “You know how jumpy passengers can be.”
She looked at him for a moment and sighed. “Yes, unfortunately, I do.” After punching a few keys on her keyboard, her attention on the screen in front of her, she said, “I can make it happen, but it’ll be three hundred dollars more, sir.”
He pictured his almost empty bank account, but ignored the voice of common sense shouting at him to sit the hell back down. Pulling out his credit card, he slid it across the desk.
Kayla needed someone to distract her from her fears.
She needed him.
Kayla settled into in her window seat, pulled the tray down, and swiped a Wet One over it. She wasn’t a certified germaphobe or anything, but lots of disgusting things crossed airplane trays. From snotty hands to spilled food…and beyond. How many people had joined the mile high club on this very plane?
She shuddered just thinking about it.
Once she finished cleaning, she got her emergency flight stuff in order. The flight might only be a few hours long, but she’d be spending it with her eyes shut to the world. Sleeping mask? Check. Sleeping pills? Check. Now all she needed was one of those cocktails they offered in first class—she’d already ordered a vodka cranberry—and she’d be done for the night.
When she woke up, she’d be back in North Carolina with her parents, and the real fun could start.
Yeah. Not really.
Every time she saw them, they harped on her. Asked why she hadn’t settled down yet. She’d argue with them, telling them she was young and single and free. And they would proceed to ignore her explanations for her life choices. They did it every visit. It never varied.
But this visit wasn’t going to be the same old scenario.
Hence the fake boyfriend.
A gear kicked into place, or a door shut somewhere, and she jumped. Though Cooper had managed to keep her distracted in the boarding area, nothing could stop her from panicking now. Although the image of him getting gutted with a candy cane did bring a smile to her face. And, holy hell, the man was hot…even with a sticky sweater.
Those green eyes, paired with that light brown hair that had curled just right at the ends, had been a hell of a welcome distraction. And his lips…man, they’d been so sensual and full. It had made her wonder if he was a good kisser.
If he sat next to her on this flight, she might not even care that they were thousands and thousands of feet up in the air with nothing to save them when their deathtrap crashed to the earth below. Maybe she’d even discover if those lips were as kissable as they looked.
Okay. Enough of that line of thought. She didn’t even know the guy. It was probably a good thing he wasn’t sitting next to her. If he was, she wouldn’t be able to pass out through the flight until safely back on the ground again.
Because if she slept, she might snore. Or worse…drool all over his shoulder.
That would be an unforgiveable offense.
The flight attendant walked up to her with the double vodka cranberry she’d requested the second she’d boarded the plane, and Kayla was grateful that being in first class meant the drinks were mixed for her. Her hands were shaking so badly there was no way she could have done it herself.
“Thank you.” With jerky movements, she lifted the glass to her lips and gulped down three big swallows. “I needed this.”
Come on liquid courage.
If the flight attendant was shocked by Kayla’s desperate display, she didn’t show it. “Can I get you anything else, or would you like some peace and quiet now?”
Kayla eyed the passengers in front of her. Hopefully they wouldn’t be too noisy. “Quiet is good. I plan on passing out shortly so I’m not alive as we crash down to our fiery deaths,” Kayla blurted, her heart racing and her mouth drying out while her hands inexplicably got all sweaty. Trembling, she set her cocktail into the drink holder next to her seat. “I’m scared of flying. Really scared.”
The flight attendant blinked at her. “Don’t worry. We have one of the best pilots flying us today. You don’t have a thing to worry about.”
“Does he drink? Or do drugs?”
She laughed. “No. They’re pretty strict about that stuff nowadays.”
“I hope you’re right.”
The flight attendant smiled one more time, then backed off. “I’m going to check on the others now.”
Kayla bit her lip and watched the attendant leave. The woman probably thought she was one brick short of a house. Well, she could think what she wanted as long as she kept the drinks coming. Kayla put the sleeping pills on the travel table, thankful she didn’t have to worry about driving once she landed. After her self-medication, she’d be in no shape to operate heavy machinery.
Or to talk about anything, really…which was why she would be taking a shuttle to the hotel. Once there, she would spend a peaceful night alone, catching as much sleep as she could before the insanity of the wedding preparations consumed her.
She muttered, “I’m going to toss back this drink. Then off to sleep I go.”
Soft laughter sounded beside her, and she stiffened. “You’re adorable when you talk to yourself. You know that? But you don’t have to anymore. You’ve got me.”
“Cooper?” She blinked up at him, trying to put two and two together. “You’re in first class, too? But you said you weren’t.”
“I thought wrong. My, uh, travel agent told me I had to fly coach, but when I saw first class wasn’t booked, I switched.” He rubbed the back of his neck and shuffled his feet. “Your purse is in my seat.”
“Oh.” Swallowing hard, she moved it over so he could sit next to her. Snatching up the sleeping pills, she tossed them in her purse before he noticed—no way would she be taking them now—and threw the dirty wipe in with them. “Sorry about that. I forgot I’d have company.”
“It sure looks like you planned for company,” he said, with a pointed look at the nearly-clear-it-was-so-strong drink next to her. God, his eyes were so freaking green she couldn’t help but wonder if they were contacts. No one had eyes that color naturally. “Drinking to get rid of the nerves?”
She lifted the glass and tried to sip demurely, but she was pretty sure it sounded like a loud slurp instead. “It won’t get rid of them, but it will make them a little more bearable. I apologize in advance for any drunken rambling I’m about to make. Though it probably won’t sound much different from my nervous babbling.”
God, she needed to stop sounding like a fool.
If they’d met under any other circumstances, she would have remained cool and collected the whole time. Flirted with all of the ease and confidence she could muster.
Instead, he got this.
Luckily, he didn’t seem to mind the half-wit state she was currently stuck in. Grinning, he shoved his bag in the overhead. As he reached up, his sweater lifted, showing off his taut abdomen peppered with the same color light brown hair that was on his head. Only this time, the hair led down below his beltline to his…
Never mind where it led, thank you very much. She curled her hands into fists at the ridiculous urge to touch the thin strip of skin.
“If you’re going to have a party, the least I can do is join you.” He looked over his shoulder at the attendant who hovered in the corner. “Excuse me? Could I please have what she’s having?”
“Of course,” she said, the appreciation for the fine male specimen in front of her clear in the attendant’s enraptured expression. This was not lost on Kayla. Miraculously enough, Cooper didn’t seem to notice, though. “I’ll be right back with that.”
As the attendant hurried off to make his drink, Cooper sat beside Kayla, dragged a hand through his hair and turned those bright green eyes her way. When he looked at her like that, all concerned and warm, her insides went all gooey and hot. She wondered if he knew the effect he had on her.
Not if she could help it. She lifted her chin and clenched her teeth together, flashing him a smile. She would not lose herself in him like some foolish besotted schoolgirl. “So…?”
“So…?” He smiled back, those lips she was so obsessed with parting to show his perfect white teeth. The man was flawless everywhere. So not fair. “Are you topping this drink off with some sleeping pills? I saw you had something out earlier.”
Crap. She hadn’t moved fast enough. “Uh, no. They were vitamins.”
He cocked a brow. “Vitamins? On a plane?”
“Yeah. Haven’t you heard of them before?” she teased, tugging on a piece of hair and looking at him through her lashes. “They’re good for you—unlike the vodka I’m about to down. I figured I’d balance out the bad effects of the alcohol on my liver with something good. Life is all about ratios, after all.”
The attendant brought him his drink but he didn’t tear his eyes from Kayla. Having his full attention made her tremble. She looked out the window, needing a respite from…well, him.
The attendant set the drink down—along with a refill for Kayla, bless her heart—and cleared her throat. “Here you go. If you need anything else, just press the call button.”
“Could you bring us a blanket? Besides that, we should be fine,” Cooper said. After the attendant left, he shifted closer to Kayla until his leg pressed against hers. Then, with his voice low and his gaze locked on her mouth, he said, “You looked cold.”
The shudder? Yeah. That hadn’t been from the cold. But let him think it was. “Yeah, a little.”
“I’ll do my best to distract you from the flight,” he promised, taking a sip of his drink. “You know that, right?”
She furrowed her brow. “Why do you want to? You don’t even know me. What’s in it for you?”
“Does there have to be something in it for me?”
“There usually is.” She met his eyes. They looked as kind and open as they had earlier. Was it all an act or what? “Most of the time, anyway. What’s your play?”
He shrugged. “I like you. I like talking to you. That’s about it.”
“And now you want to sit with me and make me happy?” She crossed her arms. “It sounds like you’re trying to fill the role of my make-believe boyfriend for the next couple of hours.”
“Yeah, maybe something like that.” He reached for the vodka cranberry and his woodsy scent teased her senses. “I find you intriguing and I enjoy your company. Isn’t that enough of a reason to try to help you? To talk to you?”
“I guess.” She watched him closely, taking in all his perfection with the eye of a cynic. Guys that looked like him usually weren’t the selfless type. That might be stereotyping a bit, sure, but it was true. “And yet, not really.”
His gaze fell to her lips. She could practically feel his mouth on hers already, kissing her until she forgot all about her fears. This was bad. Really bad. He might be here out of the kindness of his heart, but her body was far too drawn to him.
How long had it been since she wanted a man? Months? Years?
As if he could read her thoughts, he leaned closer. “I still don’t see how someone like you would have to make up a boyfriend. How is that possible?”
“I told you.” Her pulse increased. “I haven’t met anyone worth the trouble of a relationship yet. I’m picky when it comes to men.”
“Hm. Maybe you’re looking in the wrong places.” He reached out and touched her hand, his fingers light on her skin. She knew she should pull away, but instead her gaze clashed with his and she didn’t move. “Have you ever thought of that?”
Oh, so he was playing that game, was he? All right, she could flirt with him too. Maybe it would even take her mind off of her flying fears. He’d certainly helped in the terminal before the flight boarded. She looked up at him through her lashes, leaning in just right. “Or maybe the man for me has been hanging around in airports all this time.”
The corners of his mouth tilted up. “Perhaps.”
She tapped her fingers on her thigh, inwardly rejoicing at his reaction to her. “So, you’re all mine tonight?”
“All yours,” he repeated, smiling wolfishly at her. “However you’d like me.”
The attendant came back, carrying a plastic package with a blanket in it. Cooper accepted it, thanking her quietly, and Kayla just watched him.
Why did his words sound so naughty? Maybe he’d meant them that way. Or maybe she just wanted him to have meant them that way. The words were innocent enough, yet desire spiraled in her stomach. There was something about Cooper…
She liked him.
Picking up her almost empty glass, she held it out for a toast. “To vodka and not dying?”
“Especially to the not dying part.” He clanked his cup against hers. “You know, I have a very effective way to make you forget your fear that I would love to show you—if you’re willing to trust me, that is.”
She swayed closer. “Oh? And what would that be?”
He shifted in his seat, closing the distance between them until his lips were a breath away from her cheek. He tucked her hair behind her ear, and she shivered at the light touch. “Distraction. I’m going to make you forget all about how high we are in the sky. By the time we land, you’ll be sad to see the flight end because you’ll have to say goodbye to me.”
Such confidence…but damn if she didn’t think he was right.
“Oh, really?” Swallowing hard, she said, “How do you propose to do something as impossible as that? You did hear the part about me being super picky, right?”
“Oh, I heard you all right.” He settled back into his seat. “As far as how I plan to distract you? Well, that, my dear, is for me to know and you to find out. But first, we drink.”
She chugged back her drink, her heart racing the whole time. Only, instead of fear of flying being the guilty culprit, it was the man sitting next to her. Damn, he was good. They both set down their empty glasses, and she shuddered. “God, that’s strong. I should’ve asked for more juice.”
His lips twitched, and he trailed a finger down her jawline. “Know what chases a strong drink better than the cranberry juice?”
The contact of his hand on her face sent shivers of lust through her blood, making her feel weak and dizzy. Or maybe it was the strong cocktail she just drank as if it were water instead of almost straight booze. Or perhaps it was because she had no idea what he’d do next—and liked that about him.
Oh, the hell with it. She pressed her face into his palm, relishing the touch instead of ending it. “No. What chases a strong drink better than cranberry juice?”
Before she could so much as blink, his lips were on hers, and the harsh taste of vodka was replaced with his mouth. Those lips she’d been fantasizing about closed over hers, taking the breath right out of her. She gasped at his unexpected move, and he took full advantage of her surprise.
When his tongue swept inside and touched hers, she moaned. Actually moaned.
She should have been shoving him off, but instead she pulled him closer. Dear God, the man knew what he was doing. It had been a long time since she’d been kissed…or anything else, for that matter. And he was fabulous.
Groaning, he tilted his head so he could have better access to her mouth, held her face still with his hand, and proceeded to ravish her. There couldn’t possibly be another word for what he did. No doubt. No hesitation. He assumed he was welcome to seduce her…a stranger he’d met moments ago in an airport.
And, damn it, she wanted more than a kiss. She wanted it all, God help her.
She’d never been so turned on by something so simple before. She clenched her thighs together, desire dampening her panties. She rubbed against the seat and slid her tongue into his mouth, flicking it against his. Pulling back slightly, he took a deep breath and rubbed a thumb down her lip. “You taste even better than I thought you would.”
Then he reached across her. His knuckles brushed against her lap as he tightened her seatbelt strap, perilously close to where she ached for him to touch. Teasing her, scandalizing her, before settling in his own seat as if nothing had happened.
What. The. Hell?
The flight attendant approached them, a pleasant expression on her face. Kayla searched for any signs of awareness that her two passengers just had their tongues in one another’s mouths, but saw nothing. “I’ll collect your drinks, and you’ll need to put your trays up. We’re about to take off.”
“Of course.” His voice even, he handed off his empty glass with a steady hand and then grabbed Kayla’s as well. “Once we’re in the air, we’d like another round—but a quarter of the strength.”
She headed off. When he turned to Kayla and looked at her with the unmistakable intention to reenact the make-out session from a few moments ago, she blurted out the first thing that came to mind. “Are you trying to get me drunk so you can kiss me again?”
“Perhaps.” His lips quirked up a little bit. “Though, a more accurate description of what I’m trying to accomplish would be to get you drunk enough to forget about the flight, but not so drunk that I’m stuck cleaning vomit off my shoes. It’s a thin line I’m walking here.”
“You might have to clean it up anyway,” she muttered, looking out the window. Clinging to the armrests as if they would possibly save her in a crash, she closed her eyes. “Oh, God, we’re moving. Aren’t they supposed to do that stupid drill about floating aircraft seats and escaping out the emergency door to die in the ocean before we take off?”
“She’s about to start. See? Besides, we’re just getting in line on the tarmac.”
The attendant started her spiel about what to do in case of a crash, and it took all of Kayla’s control not to laugh hysterically. As if they stood a chance if they crashed.
The aircraft turned onto the runway, and she grabbed the armrest tighter. “Oh. God.”
The flight attendant stopped talking and went to sit down. She looked so calm. How could she be so freaking calm at a time like this?
“I’m here.” He grabbed her hand and pulled it into his lap, right above his knee. Instead of pulling away, she held on tight. As if he could keep her safe or something. “I’ll keep you safe.”
And he’d read her mind again. “Oh really?” She opened her eyes so she could glower at him. “Are you really Superman in disguise? You’re going to catch the plane as it plummets to the earth?”
He snapped the fingers of his free hand. “Yep. You figured out my secret. Underneath my sweater, I’m hiding spandex and a cape.”
“That’s kind of hot.” She pictured him in the Superman outfit, tight fabric hugging every muscle. “Okay, really hot.”
He snorted and squeezed her hand. “Talk to me. I’ll distract you as we climb.”
She let out a half-groan, half-laugh and looked out the window. Though they were only taxiing down the runway, they might as well have been going three hundred miles an hour from what she could see. “I heard once that almost all plane crashes occur on takeoff or landing, but they rarely occur in mid-flight.”
“Actually, only fourteen percent of accidents occur during takeoff. Fifty-seven percent happen while up in the air,” he said. “It’s a myth that takeoff is the most dangerous part. I know that for a fact.”
“What?” She shot him a surprised look. “Don’t tell me. Are you an actuary, too?”
He shook his head. “Nope. I’m an ex-Marine, currently on my way to my new job.”
“Oh.” She relaxed a little bit. “Okay. That makes me feel a little safer. I’ve always had a thing for a man in uniform.”
“Good.” He stroked his thumb over her knuckles. “I’ve always had a thing for pretty little actuaries.”
Her heart skipped a beat even though it was so clearly a pickup line. But he’d called her pretty. Her inner schoolgirl was totally squee-ing all over the place right now. “Have you ever met an actuary before me?”
“Nope.” He grinned. “But I don’t need to.”
“Is that so?”
“Mmhm. I now know I always had a thing for them. Especially ones who wear skirts and taste like heaven.” He leaned closer and brushed a soft kiss against her lips again. She barely had time to react before he pulled back, making a sound deep in his throat that was more erotic than she could ever explain. “Yep. Definitely heaven.”
The urge to fan her cheeks was strong. She needed to cool it right now. This man was way too good.
As they started to gain altitude, she clung to his hand and scrambled for something to talk about besides kissing. “Oh, God. Distraction. Distraction is good. You said ex, right? So, you’re out of the Marines? Were you in for four years? Did you know thirty-nine percent of new recruits quit after the initial four years?”
“No, I didn’t.” He laughed. “Buy, yep, I got out after four years. Now I’ll be working for a private sector security company that’s going back to Afghanistan into enemy territory next week. I start Monday.”
“It’s sending you overseas?”
Oh, great. So her mysterious benefactor would be gone from the country after this weekend. For some reason that didn’t sit well. “Well, I wish you good luck. Where do you live when you’re not rescuing women in airports?”
“I’m from Maine.” He kissed the back of her hand. “But the company I work for is in North Carolina, so I guess I’ll be spending most of my free time there. How about you?”
“I’m the opposite. I grew up near Charlotte but I live in Maine.” Shivering, she shifted closer to him. She knew he was only touching and kissing her to make her forget about the flight, but if he kept that up, she’d be climbing in his lap before it was over. “I live in Cape Elizabeth, to be exact.”
He turned her hand over and nibbled on her wrist. “My parents live there, too.”
“Mm,” she murmured, not really listening.
He flicked his tongue over her palm this time, his gaze on her the whole time. She watched, mesmerized, as he nibbled at the spot he just licked. Even though she should pull away—she didn’t.
“You taste delicious.”
“You look delicious,” she blurted, and then wished she hadn’t. “I mean, uh…never mind.”
Apparently, he didn’t find her ridiculous at all. He smiled at her and moved his lips to her wrist. Pressing another soft kiss there, he looked up at her through his eyelashes—incredibly thick, long eyelashes that could make a woman weep with jealousy. “Here come our drinks.”
“Wh-what?” She blinked and shook her head to clear the hazy fog of desire. “What did you say?”
He raised a brow. “I said our drinks are coming.”
“It’s been long enough for that? That’s not possible.” She turned towards the window. There was dark sky and…clouds. Freaking clouds. Not a city light to be seen. “But that’s not possible.”
“I assure you, it’s quite possible.”
Her jaw dropped. “How did I miss ten minutes like that?”
With a smug grin, he shrugged. “Distraction.”
Oh, God, he was really, really good.