Mick rushed into the hangar with her cell phone glued to her ear. Droplets of sweat were forming on her forehead, and larger beads had already begun to collect and slide down the nape of her neck and along her spine. Her carry-on was slung over her shoulder and she was struggling with her unruly, overstuffed suitcase. She scanned the emptiness, trying to adjust her eyes to the dim interior, blinking a few times to get her bearings. She’d flown in and out of this place enough to know her chances of finding a pilot to help her were very slim. There were only two small private companies that flew out of the hangar and only one ticket window was occupied.
She rushed to the counter and continued her conversation while the man behind the counter looked at her with one nonchalant eyebrow raised. His look turned to one of concern as he heard Mick speak into the phone, and was able to make out a frantic, garbled wail on the other end of the line.
“I’ll be there as soon as I can get a flight, okay, Mom? Mom! Try to stay calm,” Mick spoke in soothing tones in an attempt to subdue the increasing panic in her mother’s voice. “Everything will be fine. I’m at the airport now.”
“I don’t know what to do, Michelle, he’s not breathing! I’m going to take him to the hospital right now!” She could hear her mother sobbing, and the sound of strangled coughing in the background. Mick winced and the man at the counter’s brow furrowed in response to Mick’s end of the conversation.
“Okay, Mom, I’ll be there as soon as possible. Frankie is going to be just fine, Mom. Just a few more hours, I’ll call you as soon as I land.” Mick flipped the cell phone shut. Thank goodness she had service that worked in Venezuela. She quickly addressed the man behind the counter.
“I need a flight to Miami as soon as possible. It’s a family emergency. Can you please help me?” she looked at him with a crease between her eyebrows that illustrated the stress she was feeling. She focused, pulled out her wallet and searched for her credit card. He noted her name. Michelle Martin. Then he noted the small rivulets of sweat that were making their way down her cleavage. He didn’t make any attempt to avert his eyes. She cleared her throat and tapped on the counter to get his attention. “Hey, can you help me?” she said insistently, “I need to get to Miami.”
She watched as he slowly lifted his eyes from her chest and looked at her bright blue eyes.
“I can take you; I was heading in that direction later today anyhow. Hey, is everything all right? I couldn’t help but overhear your end of the conversation.” The pilot leaned in toward her with a concerned look on his face. Mick looked at his caramel eyes and thought to herself that under almost any other circumstances he’d be worth chatting up and getting to know. Mick’s import business brought her to South America several times a year, and she was almost always able to fit in a few days of RandR each time she flew down. Having a pilot in her pocket would definitely be a good thing. Especially a sexy one like him. Nothing wrong with mixing business with a little pleasure. But she didn’t have time to think about that now.
“It’s my mother; she’s frantic. It’s Frankie … he’s not breathing and she’s panicking. I need to be there to help her. Please, I need to go as soon as possible.” She knew that what she’d just said was probably incomprehensible to the pilot, but she didn’t care.
Jack Cooper sensed that this woman really needed to get home now. The desperation in her voice registered and he sprung into action, grabbing the flight plan and sprinting around the counter. He took Mick by the arm and guided her to a chair. “Wait here, let me get this paperwork in order, and we’ll leave as soon as I get back. Give me your passport and I’ll get you cleared. It’ll just take a few minutes; everything will be okay.” He looked at her with a comforting smile and then strode off purposefully, quickly covering the few yards to the hangar office.
Mick settled down and allowed herself to relax a little now that she knew she’d be on her way to help her mother, and that someone else was assuming the details to get her there. Thank God for the pilot! Calm and commanding, he had taken away the stress of how she would get home, and she was grateful. He was a godsend, and it was a stroke of luck that he was even available to fly her.
What was supposed to have been a two-week business trip with a little pleasure on the side had turned into a disaster as Mick rushed to drop everything to go home to her frantic mother. Her business deal had not been finalized, and there had been no time for pleasure but neither of those goals was a priority now; she just needed to make sure her mother was all right. At least now she was on her way.
A few minutes later, the pilot returned and grabbed Mick’s bags. “Let’s go,” he ordered, and took her arm to direct her to the plane. She felt the slightest electric spark at his touch, and allowed her mind to wander to her next venture in South America. She’d definitely look up this flyboy. As they got out onto the tarmac, he turned to look at Mick. “Hey, I hope you get there in time, for Frankie’s sake. It sounds like he’s not doing too well. Is it your father, your brother? Did your mother call an ambulance?”
Mick looked at the pilot with a confused look on her face as if what he’d just said hadn’t registered at all. She smiled as she realized that he thought Frankie was a human being. “Mister Frankie is a dog. My mother’s prized toy poodle and companion. Mister Frankie has a bad habit of eating things that are not digestible. Rubber balls, loose change, shoe laces; you name it—Frankie will try to eat it. I’m sure he’s gotten into something he shouldn’t have. She’s taking him to the vet.”
Cooper stopped dead in his tracks. He dropped her bags down onto the tarmac. “Your mother’s what?! Lady, are you kidding me? A dog? We’re running around like crazy for a dog?”
Mick looked at Cooper squarely, “Look, mister ahh…” She realized she didn’t even know his name.
“Cooper. Jack Cooper,” he said with irritation, locking eyes with her again and challenging her with a small step forward and his fists on his hips. “What is it with you rich people? You think the rest of the world has nothing better to do than to bow at your beck and call!”
Mick held her ground and propped her own hands on her hips. One eyebrow arched upward in challenge as she took in a deep cleansing breath. She wasn’t the least bit intimidated by his movement toward her. In fact, even in the heat of the moment she felt a little flushed at the split-second image in her mind of the pilot continuing to move forward, his chest pressed to hers. She blinked her eyes tightly shut to remove the image of the two of them from her mind. She had to snap out of this fantasy and take control of the situation if she wanted to get home.
“Mister Cooper, please! I don’t have time to explain to you, nor do I feel the inclination, but the short story is that this dog—for reasons that are too long and much too personal to explain to a stranger—is my mother’s life right now and I need to get home to help her. It’s not for the damned dog, it’s for her that I’m running around like this,” Mick said as she swiped at the ever-present sweat on her brow. “Now, I paid you, and either you’re flying me or you’re not, and if you’re not, you are now wasting my time. So, decide what you are doing. You got it?” Mick didn’t feel obliged to explain herself or her motives to this stranger, her only concern was her mother and the idea that Mister Frankie might die. Her mother couldn’t take another loss so soon after the death of Mick’s father.
And although the thought of rushing home for her mother’s dog was more than a little irritating to Mick too, she recognized that since the death of her father Mister Frankie had become a huge part of her mother’s daily life. It wasn’t the dog that Mick was trying to get home to; she couldn’t care less for the cute little mutt. But her mother was so fragile after Mick’s dad had passed away, especially since Mick hadn’t been there; she’d been halfway around the world and had just gone through the loss of her fiancé. There was a certain amount of guilt in the way Mick was feeling now, not from her mother, but from herself. So the idea of her mother going through the loss of her prized toy poodle alone was enough to make Mick want to be home. Her mother doted on the dog, much to Mick’s dismayed skepticism.
And when Mick’s father’s ill-timed heart attack during her tour of duty in Afghanistan had led to his premature demise, Mister Frankie had kept her mother from wallowing in her grief, instead giving her a reason to get out of bed every morning and giving her the unconditional love that only a beloved pet can. That damned dog had gotten her mother through one of the most difficult times of her life, and Mick owed it to her mother, as ludicrous as it seemed, to be there for her, just in case.
Meanwhile, Jack Cooper stood stock still, looked at her for a long moment, then shook his head and muttered something under his breath about spoiled rich people. He jerked up her bags from the tarmac and threw them into the single engine plane, helping her up into the co-pilot’s seat. “I don’t like the idea that I’m running around like this for a spoiled rich girl’s dog,” he growled at her.
Mick didn’t bother to answer him. She hesitated for a split second, surveying the interior of the tiny plane, and wondered if this was a good idea. I’ve got no choice, she thought to herself, I’ve got to get home to Mom. She would normally never get on a single engine plane, but if she went back to the hangar to wait, she could be waiting for a few days.
There was no verbal communication from Cooper as he reached across Mick’s body to belt her into the seat, but she was acutely aware of the broadness of his chest as he adjusted the strap across her lap. Talk about body language. She darted a glance at his collarbone, tanned against the white shirt he was wearing, the muscles in his neck taut and trailing off underneath his collar. The electric spark grew a little stronger, tingling along her spine and into her stomach. Even in her worry about her mother, she couldn’t help but feel an unmistakable animal attraction for this man. He exuded sexual energy, and her instinct yelled that he was a player. Too bad I have to rush home, she thought. After all, I don’t have to like him to get him into bed. In fact, a hook-up with him would have been just perfect. No entanglements, no expectations, just good clean fun. Exactly what she would have had in mind after her business deal was finalized. Not this trip, though. Mick shook herself back to reality.
* * * *
Cooper was equally aware of the rise of Mick’s chest as she breathed against his arm. The hairs on his neck stood up. He let his gaze wander down again to the space between her ample breasts, moist with sweat and appealing to him as his mind wandered to a lazy afternoon in bed. He saw his head between her breasts, lapping at her cleavage, her back arching toward his greedy tongue, her body sensuously twisting to get her nipples within range of his teeth and lips, her hands entwined in his hair. His body began to respond to the split-second fantasy, tingling in response to the video clip playing in his brain, and causing an involuntary rise in his pants.
He yanked the seat belt strap tightly, causing Mick to look him directly in the eyes. He knew that it was time to back off, and although he defiantly returned her glare for a second more, he didn’t return the challenge with any words. He moved to sit down in the pilot’s seat and started flipping switches and pushing buttons with irritated jabs. He put on a headset and adjusted it until it was just right. Thank God I won’t have to talk to her ever again, he thought with relief. A dog, for Christ’s sake! Sometimes Cooper wondered about the lives of spoiled rich people and how they seemed to think the world revolved around them. He settled into his pre-flight routine, and concentrated on getting the plane into the air.
“We’re taking off now, Miss Martin.” Cooper said tersely to the air in Mick’s direction. He didn’t look at her as the plane started to roll forward.
“You can call me Mick,” she said equally as tersely.
She seemed perfectly content not to have to chat with him, and he was irritated at her for her smugness. But she had paid for the flight, and he really didn’t want to hear her explain why it was so important to get home to her mother anyhow. He settled in for the next couple of hours, determined to keep silent the whole way, and glad that he wouldn’t have to see her ever again.
And it all went fine. Cooper was able to ignore Mick over the loud whirring of the propeller and engine, deep in the rhythm of piloting the plane—until all hell broke loose.
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