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When one cancelled flight changes everything. Nothing in Lucy Granger’s travels has prepared her for the series of serendipitous events that lands her in the arms of the handsome and enigmatic Bastian Kyle. On their first night together, Lucy and Bastian are on the same page: she doesn’t have the time for a relationship, and he doesn’t have the heart. But when they keep finding their way back to each other in the most unexpected of ways, what began as a one-night stand starts to turn into the one thing that neither of them expected.
EXCERPTMinutes later, movement shuffled in Lucy’s peripheral vision as someone claimed the empty barstool beside her. She didn’t even bother to look up from her phone—it was only a matter of time until the only other open seat in the airport was scooped up—but she did grip her bag a little more firmly between her heels and do her best to make some space between her and her new neighbor. The room seemed to be getting smaller by the second. She drained the rest of her wine, set the empty glass down, and tapped the bar top to signal a refill, only bothering to look for the bartender out of the corner of her vision less she accidentally made eye contact with someone who took it for an invite to chat. The bartender saw and nodded in her general direction without divulging even the slightest bit of personality. This guy was clearly really not in it for the tips, and nothing was more depressing in a pub than a lackluster bartender—especially when you were drinking alone. Lucy checked her watch: thirty minutes to go. At this rate, she might even have time for a third glass before she meandered back to the gate. Of course, three glasses of wine on an empty stomach probably wasn’t that great of an idea. It wasn’t exactly like that Cliff bar she’d eaten earlier was going to be the best sponge to soak up the booze sloshing around in her belly. Then again, supplementing it with crappy airport bar food sounded like a quick way to indigestion, or worse, so she’d take her chances. The new occupant of the stool next to her leaned in close and mumbled something that sounded like “hermm, mmm, hmm” in her ear. A chatter, there was always a chatter. Lucy did her best to keep her face from locking up in the sour expression she was told she made when she was irritated. “Hermm, mmm, hmm,” the voice said again. Whoever was speaking to her was doing so too softly for her ears to pick up over Randy Travis crooning in her ear. It sounded like someone was humming into a beer bottle. She was tempted to ignore it. If she didn’t react, the Chatty Kathy would probably assume her music was too loud and give up. But then her manners kicked in. Rudeness was unbecoming, or so she’d been brought up to believe. She tapped the screen of her phone to pause the music, and as she did, out of the corner of her eye she saw the soft fuzz of a very familiar looking scallion green fleece. Her wine-tinged mind barely had time to form the thought, No, it couldn’t be, before she found herself staring directly into the sparkling baby blues of Mr. Gate C30. She blinked once, swallowed down her shock, and recovered. Of all the people in the airport, how had it managed to be this one who’d found the only other empty seat? “I’m sorry, what did you say?” Her voice came out sounding as smooth as silk, not like she was surprised at all. Gate C30 laughed in that aloof, good-natured way that men do, and raised his bottle of Heineken to her in mock salute and took a deep drink. Even sitting he towered over her, and she studied his profile while he wasn’t looking. She’d hit the nail on the head: he looked exactly like an old-fashioned country boy, but with all the trimmings of a 21st century man—right down to the oversized TAG Heuer watch on his thick, ropey wrist. Lucy caught a whiff of something that smelled an awful lot like Guess Homme Blue; a crisp, woodsy scent with a hint of black pepper. She feared that scent since she smelled when she’d been shopping for men’s fragrances with Henri. It didn’t have a seductive name for no reason, and a scent like that on a man like this could drop a woman to her knees. She held her breath to keep from inhaling and tried to focus on what the sexy gate guy was saying. Hopefully he was more than just a pretty face. “I said,” he stared forward, but leaned into her as he spoke, tipping his head conspiratorially toward hers, “here’s to another missed connection, courtesy of O’Hare International Airport.” His tone didn’t match his words, and the surreptitious, almost suggestive manner in which he confided this made Lucy’s pulse thump in her throat. She had to hold her breath to slow her heartbeat back down to a manageable level. It wasn’t like he’d just told her he was Superman or anything. Being grounded at the airport wasn’t exactly a secret, but the way he said it she almost hoped it had been. She smiled politely and hoped she wasn’t blushing. That one glass of chardonnay was working its magic on already. Now that he’d spoken, Lucy should have been relieved to be wrong about his voice. It wasn’t of the warm, melting, thick as honey variety she’d guessed at before. Instead, it was the deep, rumbling, resonant kind—like thunder rolling across the sky—which wasn’t any better. Worse, actually. It was even more irresistible, and affected by an accent which was not country twang but that rolled and licked the words as they fell of his tongue. It sounded more like Louisiana than Alabama, and a little more creole than cowboy. That voice, those eyes—it was like she was sitting right next to a storm. The south was prone to hurricanes. “Oh, right …” Lucy realized she’d been quiet too long and forced something out. There really wasn’t much more to do than to agree, but she wanted to keep the conversation going. The bartender delivered her fresh glass of wine, his eyes shifting suspiciously between the couple as if he’d seen this kind of thing more times than interested him anymore. Nothing seemed to be able to shake this guy’s superior level of boredom. Even so, it provided the perfect distraction to avoid looking directly at the rumbling thunderstorm of a man beside her, which was a small mercy. She took a slow, considering sip of the chilled chardonnay, both to shake off the tension crawling up the backs of her calves and to buy her time for her brain to reboot. “Is your flight delayed?” she asked, attempting to sound disinterested. “Isn’t yours?” he countered quickly, turning his face to give her the full blast of his baby blues. “We’re on the same flight, I thought, or we’re supposed to be anyway.” She feigned surprise and prayed she pulled it off. There was nothing worse than being ousted by a guy who knew you were into him. He’d already caught her staring once, and she hadn’t forgotten the cocky smirk he’d given her then. She didn’t want to give him the satisfaction of guessing she’d been secretly praying to be seated next to him onboard. “Oh, are we?” His lifted eyebrow gave away nothing as he turned to take another swig of beer. He either hadn’t caught her bluff or he wasn’t going to call her on it. Either way, Lucy celebrated her victory with another sip of wine. They both knew damn well that the other had been waiting at the same gate. This kind of banter was the first move in the kind of flirting game that she’d been playing since high school, though it was monumentally sexier now when the end stakes were so much higher than making out in the backseat of somebody’s mother’s car. Not that she’d be able to cash in on this prize, but it was always a nice feeling to know she was the one winning. She always won. It was her favorite flaw: the need to succeed. Some people called it “over-achieving,” but Lucy preferred to think to it as “driven.” The Creole-accented stranger strummed his fingers on the bar, swallowed, and counter-attacked. “So, why are you headed into Madison? I assume business …” He tipped his head toward hers again and dropped his voice even lower so that it was a sensuous, pulsing baritone. “Or do you just really like cheese?” Well, now, he was being a flirt. She’d never heard anyone make cheese sound so deliciously filthy. It was likely that she might never look at provolone the same way. Smiling, she raised her eyebrow back at him. She would not give in to the temptation to give a lascivious reply, no matter how many were currently floating through her mind. It might put her over the edge. Lady in the streets, she reminded herself. “Business. Client work. Nothing exciting.” He nodded understandingly, and peered at her out of the side of his eye, waiting for her to continue. He was going to make her work for it now. Touché. “So, what about you?” she asked. “Business … or cheese?” She stretched out the last word, hoping her version sounded as titillating as his had. “Work,” he muttered, his playfulness dulling momentarily. The corner of his lip lifted in a look Lucy recognized as contempt, but quickly passed. After another a sip, he wagged the bottle, tried again, and tapped the bar top for another round. “Travel a lot?” “Never enough until it becomes too much.” Now that was a sentiment she could agree with. Being on the go was all well and fine until you suddenly looked up one day and realized you’d spent the past six weeks hopscotching hotel rooms. So you ran home, only to lay awake in your own bed because it felt less like home than the Sheraton. Of course, seeing as how she’d been so quick to run away from anything that even resembled a home-like feeling, Lucy could only partially relate. Home was heartache. Home was disappointment. She’d gotten a good reminder of that five months ago when she found herself in the middle of a grief-stricken shit show of relatives and estate attorneys. Catching the first flight out after her grandmother’s funeral had been a matter of survival. Still, usually nothing felt as good as freedom, until you reached that point when you forgot how to land. If home was where the heart was, then Lucy was starting to feel like she might as well move in with the Grinch up on Mount Crumpit, her heart two sizes too small. She raised her glass, echoing his mock salute. “To frequent flier miles.” He lifted his beer bottle, letting the ghost of a small smile slink through the wetness of his lips. “To airport bars.” For a split second, Lucy allowed herself to wonder how he had managed to make his way to the only other open seat in Concourse C. Did he follow me, or was it something a little more serendipitous? The thoughts slid out of her mind almost as quickly as they had crept in. It was unlikely she’d ever see him again anyway, not once they eventually landed in Madison and parted ways, so it wasn’t worth worrying about. Nobody ever met their soul mate in an airport bar … not that she was looking. “Sooo,” she said, stretching the word as she tried to think up what to say next. She let go of her bag, swung her legs around the barstool, and crossed them pointedly in his direction, leaving her triangle-tipped shoe to hang between them like a dare. She arced her ankle backward to show off the slim curve of her foot, and was pleased when she saw him glance down. “My guess is Louisiana.” He raised his eyebrow and the corner of his lip simultaneously so that his features carved a question mark in the profile of his body against the bar counter. She dropped off momentarily, letting her thoughts wander to the places she knew from her childhood when her family had driven over state lines to visit relatives. This guy was too polished for the bayou, but too spirited for somewhere so industrial as Lake Charles, and too worldly to stick out all the college traffic of Baton Rouge, home to Louisiana State University. But he definitely still had that front porch swing feel, with a little bit of a devilish streak. “New Orleans,” she decided. “Not French Quarter. Garden District. Willow trees. Where the undersides of porches are still painted blue to ward off evil spirits, but not far from a sweet nightlife and great food. Am I right?” “Mmmm.” His question mark reshaped into a pleasantly surprised comma. He made a small acknowledging gesture—a slight sideways nod—to show she’d guessed correctly, and swiveled on his barstool to face her. Giving her a calculating look, he ran a long-fingered hand through his thick dark hair and touched the index finger of his free hand to a dimple in his chin that she hadn’t noticed before. The face of his watch winked at her in the fluorescent lights above them. “Nicely done, Colorado.” He said it easily, with no hint of indecision or doubt, and Lucy couldn’t help but to take a sharp intake of breath. How the hell did he guess that? There wasn’t anything about her that screamed Colorado. It wasn’t like she’d pulled up in a dirt-caked Subaru wearing Birkenstocks and a Mile High City T-shirt, even if that was a rude stereotype. Then, she noticed her driver’s license, which was now laying face up on the bar top. The bartender must have rechecked her ID when she wasn’t looking. Black script scrawled Colorado big enough for any passerby to read. She gave him an accusatory glare. “You cheated.” “Didn’t you?” “I did no such thing.” Putting his hand on his knee so that his elbow bent, Gate C30 angled his body into a little right angle of fleece, denim, and tanned skin. His body language taunted her, daring her to prove it. He took a final sip of beer and ogled her suggestively when he returned the empty bottle to the counter. “Oh?” Lucy regarded at him in a way that expressly said, “Bring it on,” and meant it. She wasn’t sure exactly at what point she’d become so bold, so brazen, but she liked it. Perhaps it was the third glass of wine she’d chugged down before she’d even realized she’d ordered it. Or, maybe it was the fact that she was trapped in a random airport, sitting next to a gorgeous stranger that she’d never see again and who seemed to like to push her buttons. But, whatever it was, something about this Southern, baby-blue-eyed voodoo charmer made the muscles low in her stomach clench. “I’m too good to need to cheat.” The corners of his lips boomeranged into a grin, and a gentle laugh rumbled out of his throat. “I just bet you are.” She laid two twenties on the bar, plucked up her license, and slid off the barstool, now sort of wishing she’d sexier shoes after all. “You have no idea,” she purred in his ear as she walked out of the bar without a backward glance.
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