***This excerpt is from an advance uncorrected copy proof***
Copyright © 2018 Samantha Young
Sky Harbor Airport, Arizona
Food. Food and coffee. I knew those should be my priority. The grumbles in my belly were making that perfectly clear. And considering the purpose for my visit to Phoenix, it was no wonder I was marching through the terminal after having my bag searched in security, feeling like I might claw someone’s face off if I didn’t get a shot of caffeine in my system.
Even though I was hangry, my priority was to get upgraded to first class on my flight home to Boston. I could be hangry all I wanted in an airport. But as I was someone who suffered from mild claustrophobia, sitting in coach—with my luck stuck beside someone who would take their shoes and socks off during the flight—would be a million times worse than being hangry. I couldn’t chance it. A pair of strange, hot, sweaty, smelly bare feet next to me for four and a half hours? No, that was a hell my current state of mind couldn’t deal with. I shuddered as I marched toward the desk at my gate.
Seeing a small group of people crowded under a television screen, I faltered, wondering what had drawn them to the news. I slowed at the images of huge plumes of smoke billowing out of a tremendously large mountain, my curiosity drawing me to a halt.
Within a few seconds the news told me that an unpronounceable volcano in Iceland had erupted, creating this humungous ash cloud that was causing disruption in Europe. Flights there had been grounded and consequently travel chaos ensued.
The thought of being stuck in an airport for an indeterminate number of hours—days even—made me shudder in sympathy for my poor fellow human beings.
I couldn’t imagine dealing with that on top of the week I’d just had. I liked to think I was someone who was usually cool and collected, but lately my emotions were so close to the surface I was almost afraid of them. I asked the universe to forgive me my self-absorption, thankful that I was not someone who wasn’t going to make it home today, and continued on my path to the gate desk. There was no one in line, and the man behind it began to smile in welcome as I approached.
“Hi, I was wondering—Oof!” I winced as a laptop bag attached to a big guy whacked against my right shoulder, knocking me back on my heels. The big guy didn’t even realize he’d hit me as he strode right past me and cut in before me.
“I’d like tae upgrade tae first class, please,” he said in a deep, loud, rumbling, very attractive accent that did nothing to soothe my annoyance with him for cutting in front of me.
“Of course, sir,” the gate agent answered, in such a flirtatious tone I was sure that if I’d been tall enough to see over the big guy’s shoulder I would see the agent batting his lashes at him. “Okay, flight DL180 to Boston. You’re in luck, Mr. Scott. We have one seat left in first class.”
Oh, hell no!
“What?” I shoved my way up next to Rude Guy, not even looking at him.
The gate agent, sensing my tone, immediately narrowed his eyes on me and thinned his lips.
“I was coming here to ask for an upgrade on this flight and he”—I gestured to my right—“cut in front of me. You saw him do it.”
“Miss, I’m going to ask you to calm down and wait your turn. Although we have a very full flight today, I can put you on our list and if a first-class seat opens up, we will let you know.”
Yeah, because the way my week was going, that was likely.
“I was first,” I insisted, my skin flushing as my blood had turned so hot with anger at the unfairness. “He whacked me with his laptop bag pushing past me to cut in line.”
“Can we just ignore this tiny, angry person and upgrade me now?” the deep, accented voice said somewhere above my head to my right.
His condescension finally drew my gaze to him.
And everything suddenly made sense.
A modern-day Viking towered over me, my attention drawing his from the gate agent. His eyes were the most beautiful I’d ever seen. A piercing ice blue against the rugged tan of his skin, the irises like pale blue glass bright against the sun streaming in through the airport windows. His hair was dark blond, short at the sides and longer on top. And even though he was not my type, I could admit his features were entirely masculine and attractive with his short, dark blond beard. It wasn’t so much a beard as a thick growth of stubble. He had a beautiful mouth, a thinner top lip but a full, sensual lower lip that gave him a broody, boyish pout at odds with his ruggedness. Gorgeous as his mouth may be, it was currently curled upward at one corner in displeasure.
And did I mention he was built?
The offensive laptop bag was slung over a set of shoulders so broad they would have made a football coach weep with joy. I was guessing he was just a little over six feet, but his build made him look taller. I was only five foot three but I was wearing four-inch stilettos, and yet I felt like Tinkerbell next to this guy.
Tattoos I didn’t take the time to study peeked out from under the rolled-up sleeve of his henley shirt. A shirt that showed off the kind of muscle a guy didn’t achieve without copious visits to the gym.
A fine male specimen, indeed.
I rolled my eyes and shot the agent a knowing, annoyed look. “Really?” It was clear to me motorcycle-gang-member-Viking-dude was getting preferential treatment here.
“Miss, please don’t make me call security.”
My lips parted in shock. “Melodramatic much?”
“You.” The belligerent rumble in the Viking’s voice made me bristle.
I looked up at him.
He sneered. “Take a walk, wee yin.”
Being deliberately obtuse, I retorted, “I don’t understand Scandinavian.”
“Do I care?”
He muttered something unintelligible and turned to the agent. “We done?”
The guy gave him a flirty smile and handed him his ticket and passport. “You’re upgraded, Mr. Scott.”
“Wait, what—?” But the Viking had already taken back his passport and ticket and was striding away.
His long legs covered more ground than mine, but I was motivated and I could run in my stilettos. So I did. With my carry-on bumping along on its wheels behind me.
“Wait a second!” I grabbed the man’s arm and he swung around so fast I tottered.
Quickly, I regained balance and shrugged my suit jacket back into place as I grimaced. “You should do the right thing here and give me that seat.” I didn’t know why I was being so persistent. Maybe because I’d always been frustrated when I saw someone else endure an injustice. Or maybe I was just sick of being pushed around this week.
His expression was incredulous. “Are you kidding me with this?” I didn’t even try not to take offense. Everything about this guy offended me.
“You”—I gestured to him, saying the word slowly so his tiny brain could compute—“Stole. My. Seat.”
“You”—he pointed down at me—“Are. A. Nutjob.”
Appalled, I gasped. “One, that is not true. I am hangry. There is a difference. And two, that word is completely politically incorrect.”
He stared off into the distance above my head for a moment, seeming to gather himself. Or maybe just his patience. I think it was the latter because when he finally looked down at me with those startling eyes, he sighed. “Look, you would be almost funny if it weren’t for the fact that you’re completely unbalanced. And I’m not in the mood after having tae fly from Glasgow tae London and London tae Phoenix and Phoenix tae Boston instead of London tae Boston because my PA is a useless prat who clearly hasn’t heard of international direct flights. So do us both a favor before I say or do something I’ll regret . . . and walk. Away.”
“You don’t regret calling me a nutjob?”
His answer was to walk away.
I slumped in defeat, watching him stride off with the first-class ticket that should have been mine.
Deciding food and coffee could wait until I’d freshened up in the restroom—and by freshen up I meant pull myself together—I wandered off to find the closest one. Staring out of the airport window at Camelback Mountain, I wished to be as far from Phoenix as possible as quickly as possible. That was really the root of my frustration, and a little mortification began to set in as I made my way into the ladies’ restroom. I’d just taken my emotional turmoil out on a Scottish stranger. Sure, the guy was terminally rude, but I’d turned it into a “situation.” Normally I would have responded by calmly asking the agent when the next flight to Boston was and if there was a first-class seat available on that flight.
But I was just so desperate to go home.
After using the facilities, I washed up and stared long and hard into the mirror. I longed to splash cold water on my face, but that would mean ruining the makeup I’d painstakingly applied that morning.
Checking myself over, I teased my fingers through the waves I’d put in my long blond hair with my straightening iron. Once I was happy with it, I turned my perusal on my outfit. The red suit was one of the nicest I owned. A double-breasted peplum jacket and a matching knee-length pencil skirt. Since the jacket looked best closed, I was only wearing a light, silk ivory camisole underneath it. I didn’t even know why I’d packed the suit, but I’d been wearing black for the last few days and the red felt like an act of defiance. Or a cry for help. Or maybe more likely an act of denial.
Although I had a well-paid job within an exclusive interior design company as one of their designers, it was expensive to live in Boston. The diamond tennis bracelet on my wrist was a gift on my eighteenth birthday from an ex-boyfriend. For a while I’d stopped wearing it, but exuding an image of success to my absurdly wealthy and successful clients was important, so when I started my job I’d dug the bracelet out of storage, had it cleaned up, and it had sat on my wrist ever since.
Lately, just looking at it cut me to the quick.
Flinching, I tore my gaze from where it winked in the light on my wrist, to my right wrist, where my Gucci watch sat. It was a bonus from my boss, Stella, after my first year on the job.
As for the black suede Jimmy Choos on my feet, with their sexy stiletto and cute ankle strap, they were one of many I was in credit card debt over. If I lived anywhere but Boston, I would have been able to afford as many Choos as I wanted on my six-figure salary. But my salary went into my hefty monthly rent bill.
It was a cute, six-hundred-square-foot apartment, but it was in Beacon Hill. Mount Vernon Street to be exact, a mere few minutes’ walk from Boston Common. It also cost me just over four thousand dollars a month in rent. That didn’t include the rest of my bills. I had enough to put some savings away after the tax man took his cut too, but I couldn’t afford to indulge in the Choos I wanted.
So, yes, I’d reached the age of thirty with some credit card debt to my name.
But I guessed that made me like most of my fellow countrymen and -women, right? I stared at my immaculate reflection, ignoring the voice in my head that said some of those folks had credit card debt because of medical bills, or because they needed to feed their kids that week.
Not so they could live in a ridiculously overpriced area of Boston (no matter how much I loved it there) or wear designer shoes so their clients felt like they were dealing with someone who understood their wants better.
I bypassed the thought, not needing to mentally berate myself any more than I had since arriving back in Phoenix. I was perfectly happy with my life before I came home.
Perfectly happy with my perfect apartment, and my perfect hair, and my perfect shoes!
Perfect was good.
I straightened my jacket and grabbed hold of the handle of my carry-on.
Perfect was control.
Staring at the pretty picture I made in the mirror, I felt myself relax. If that gate agent had been into women, I so would have gotten that first-class seat.
“But forget it,” I whispered. It was done.
I was going to go back out there and get a much-needed delicious Mediterranean-style salad and sandwich from one of my favorite food stops in Phoenix, Olive & Ivy. Feeling better at the thought, I relaxed.
Once I stopped being hangry, it would all be fine.
Apparently, the universe didn’t hate me, because there was a seat free at Olive & Ivy. It was popular, so it didn’t surprise me that there was only one stool left at one of the counters around the small restaurant. The young twentysomething woman sitting next to the open chair looked up as I approached, her dark gaze skimming down my body and back up again. A flirtatious welcome smile lit up her face. Huh. I had hoped her obvious interest meant she would hold the seat for me while I ordered food. I rounded her, feeling her follow the movement. I was just about to ask her to keep the seat for me when the thump of a laptop bag on top of the counter at the open seat caused me to flinch.
“This seat is taken.”
I squeezed my eyes closed at the familiar voice.
I whirled around and stared up at the source of irritation that had recently entered my life. “Yes, it is. By me!”
The Scot’s stare was calm, stolidly so, annoyingly so. “Have you bought food yet? Because I have. As a paying customer, I think I take precedence over a tiny, entitled fruitcake with a stick up her arse.”
I glowered up at the ceiling aka The Universe. “This is not happening.”
“Aye, ’cause you’re not a fruitcake, talking tae yourself.”
My glare transferred to him. “Again with the totally un-PC language.”
“Babe, look at me.” He curled his lip. “I am un-PC.”
“Don’t ‘babe’ me. That is incredibly overfamiliar of you.”
He bent his head toward me, those icy blue eyes momentarily freezing me to the spot. “And I am not having another altercation with you in public. Now bloody shoo.”
He just shooed me?
The Scot pulled the stool out forcefully, so I had to move back or be clobbered by it. He assessed my surprised expression and his countenance, to my confusion, transformed from merely irritated to total disdain. “I realize you’re probably used tae men falling at your feet, so I’ll let you have your two seconds of shocked horror. But if you’re not gone in five seconds, I’m going tae embarrass the shit out of you.”
“You curse a lot,” was the only thing I could think to say under the onslaught of such distaste for me.
His face clouded over. “Five. Four. Three—”
I made a sound of disgust, cutting him off, and was about to walk away when the twentysomething woman next to us placed a hand on my arm to stop me. “I’m just finishing up, if you’d like my seat.”
I gave her a sweet smile. “You’re so kind, but”—my voice grew louder—“I’d rather sew my eyes shut with cocktail sticks than sit next to an ill-educated dickhole who defies the rumor that Scottish people are the nicest people in the world.” I finished it with a triumphant spin that made my hair flip dramatically, and I would have continued to feel like the “last-epic-word” victor if I hadn’t heard a ragged, too-attractive chuckle, which I knew had originated from the Scotsman.
That chuckle made me falter visibly.
He couldn’t even let me storm off in style.
I grabbed a sandwich from a refrigerator instead and ate it even though it tasted of nothing, while sitting at a gate that wasn’t mine and staring out at the mountains. Using the time to cool down, as memories of the week pricked me and helped to put everything in perspective, I grew calm enough that I felt confident in striding back out there to grab a coffee from one of the barista carts. There was a line already forming at the closest one and I hurried a little to make it before it got too long.
At the sight of the imposing figure of the Bastard Scot marching toward the cart from the other side, I picked up my feet and almost ran toward the spot. I skittered into place behind a man in a suit, accidentally hitting his carry-on with mine. He threw me an annoyed look over his shoulder and I gave him a quick smile of apology before bestowing a “you can suck it” grin on the Scot as he pulled up to the line after me.
“You snooze, you lose,” I said over my shoulder, not caring how infantile I sounded.
“You’re four years old, you know that?”
“I finally beat you in line—that’s what I know.”
I scowled at the insult, which was even worse than “fruitcake.” “Dickwad.”
“You seem tae be obsessed with my dick.”
I spun around. “Excuse me?”
“Those are insults.”
“With a very specific focus.”
To my horror, my eyes flew to his crotch with a mind of their own. Oh dear God! My face blazed with color and I quickly lowered my gaze down the length of his dark blue jeans to the loosely laced black leather biker boots on his feet.
You know what they say—shut up! Who cares what they say?
“It’s really hurtful tae be objectified in this way.”
Sure that my cheeks were tomato red, my eyes shot to his smug face.
“Look, as fun as it is wiping the floor with you in these verbal battles, I really need a coffee.” And without further ado the Bastard Scot got out of line and walked to the front of it.
Uh, hell no!
I followed, my carry-on bumping on its wheels with my fury.
“My flight is about tae board,” I heard him say to the woman who was next in line to be served. “Would you mind if I cut in front?” He was almost charming to her.
And she definitely thought so. “Of course.” She practically swooned. “Where are you from? I love your accent.”
“Scotland,” he answered curtly, and stepped in front of her without saying thank you. This guy had no manners. But I did.
“Hey.” I smiled at her. “I’m on the same flight as him. Would you mind?”
The Scot turned slightly at the sound of my voice.
She eyed him in disappointment. “Are you two together?”
He appeared nauseated by the thought. “I’ve never seen her before in my life.”
The woman raised one very unimpressed eyebrow at me. “Nice try. Back of the line.”
I’d never actually wanted to claw someone’s face before, but I would definitely make an exception for the Bastard Scot.
“Your people would be ashamed,” I said to his back.
To my disbelief, his shoulders started to shake. Was he laughing? I looked at the metal espresso machine and saw in its shiny reflection a distorted image of him grinning, teeth and all.
Ugh, he was so abrasive!
Spinning around, feeling sweaty, flustered, and so far from perfect it wasn’t funny, I ignored the glares from the people in line and made my way back to the very end, which was now five people longer than it had been.
Two minutes later the Bastard Scot sauntered by me, shot me a wicked self-satisfied smile, and saluted me with his cup of coffee.
“Go to hell!” I shouted after him.
The guy in front of me gave me a wary look and stepped so close to the woman in front of him they were practically touching.
“He’s an asshole,” I tried to explain.
But the stranger’s look told me he thought I was the asshole. And the truth was, the Scot was making me into an asshole. Or my bad mood was. I didn’t know. Christ, I needed to get home, and as unfair as it was to blame an entire country for one man, I never wanted to speak to another Scottish person ever again.
Visiting Scotland was so off my bucket list.
Suddenly something in the loudspeaker announcement caught my attention. “Wait, what?” I stilled, listening.
“ . . . Flight DL180 to Boston has been canceled. Please see the gate for alternative flight arrangements.”
Abandoning my quest for coffee (again!), I hurried down the terminal toward my gate in time to hear the gate agent from earlier explaining to the small crowd that had already gathered the reason why our flight had been canceled. Apparently, the volcano eruption and consequent ash cloud that had grounded flights in Europe had had a domino effect on domestic flights in the U.S. “The crew for this flight has been delayed because of the canceled flights in Europe. We’re currently understaffed because so many of our crew members have been grounded in Europe on international flights. This means we unfortunately do not have a crew or a plane available for the scheduled flight to Boston. Please form an orderly line so we can make other arrangements for you.”
I heard a few people complain about the late notice because “surely they knew there was no crew or plane before this.” I also heard a lot of people make arrangements to stay at the airport hotel and get the next flight out to Boston whenever it became available. As more and more decided to do that, the antsier I became.
There was no way I could stay in Phoenix another night.
Two days had been long enough.
I needed to get home. ASAP. Or I was going to lose myself in gigantic, uncontrollable sobs.
My fingers were shaking by the time I handed my ID and ticket over to the gate agent. He recognized me from earlier because his lips pinched together.
“Is there an alternative route to Boston? A flight to another airport that has a flight to Boston?”
He relaxed at my tone and offered me a sympathetic smile, seeming to hear the tremble in my voice. “There is a flight out of Chicago tomorrow morning that will get you to Boston before noon. And a flight to Chicago is leaving from here in an hour.” He checked his computer and threw me a wry smile. “There are first-class seats available on both flights.”
Relief made me slump against the counter. I didn’t even care how much it was going to cost. I just handed over my credit card. “Thank you.”
Then I stared up at the ceiling again. Thank you, Universe.
I stared at my ticket, at my seat number. And then I stared at my seat.
And proceeded to glare at the person sitting in the seat next to mine in first class.
“You have got to be kidding me.” Screw you, Universe. You and I are done.
The Bastard Scot looked up from his newspaper and gave a slight shake of his head. “Please tell me you are not sitting next tae me on a three-and-a-half-hour flight?”
“I’m just as unhappy about it,” I said, opening the overhead bin. Lifting the carry-on that weighed a ton (seriously, it was a miracle I got it shut), I stumbled a little, losing my grip, and it whacked the Scot on the head. At the sound of his grunt, I smiled. “Sorry! That was a happy accident.”
“Here, let me help you.” A guy around my age in a tailored business suit stepped forward to assist but was brusquely brushed aside by the Scot as he stood up, dwarfing us both.
“I’ve got it.” He grabbed the carry-on out of my hand. “Safer I do it or I’ll land in Chicago with a concussion.”
“Well, that would be a shame.” I skirted past him so I could slide into my seat while he dealt with my luggage.
I’d already removed my e-reader from my carry-on for the plane ride and had it booting up before the Bastard Scot got back in the seat beside me. And even though there was a double arm divider between us with little cup holders in them, he still managed to make me feel overwhelmed by his size.
My plan had been to sink right into a good book and get on with my life like I wasn’t sitting next to an uncivilized, too-attractive-for-his-own-good guy who definitely had to have some Viking blood in his genetic history. I was going to ignore him because I was certain he’d say something rude about the weight of my luggage. However, I didn’t get the chance to slight him because he did it to me first. He pulled out the table from the side of his seat and propped a laptop open on it. And he acted like I didn’t even exist.
“Mr. Scott.” The flight attendant who had greeted me when I entered the plane appeared above us with a tray of drinks in his hand. “Can I offer you a preflight drink? Champagne?”
“Water.” Mr. Scott—the Bastard Scot—responded in what seemed to be his typical abrupt fashion.
The flight attendant handed him a glass of water and then smiled at me. “Miss Breevort?”
“Champagne, please,” I responded instantly, throwing my neighbor a filthy look for being discourteous. “Thank you.” Again, I don’t know why, but I’d expected commentary from the Bastard Scot as I reached in front of his face for the glass of bubbly. But there was nothing.
My toes twitched with irritation, the way my fingers gripped tight to the glass with annoyance as I sipped the champagne. I side-eyed Mr. Scott as he sipped his water with one hand and tapped the mouse pad on his laptop with the other.
I should have been glad he was ignoring me, but for some reason that felt as insulting as his behavior in the airport.
I didn’t want to admit it, but his indifference bothered me. I’d spent the last few days being ignored by people in my hometown of Arcadia. And I mean treated as if I was invisible.
As much as I told myself I didn’t care, it stung.
And now here I was being treated to the same by a complete stranger who had obviously made a snap judgment about me. That shouldn’t have irritated me, but I was tired, I’d had a tough week, and it did royally annoy the crap out of me.
I glared out of the corner of my eye at him, my gaze drifting to the laptop screen his eyes were glued to. A wave of surprise moved through me. He clicked between tabs—spreadsheets with figures, complicated drawings that looked like technical specs, dense documents, e-mails. All of which suggested the Bastard Scot was more business guy than motorcycle gang member.
“Planning a big bank heist?” I said before I could caution myself against engaging in another verbal battle with him.
His stunning gaze turned my way. Confusion mingled with aggravation radiated from those unusual eyes.
I pointed to his laptop in answer to his silent question.
He looked back at it and then at me. The confusion left his expression, abandoning the aggravation that seemed to grow into full-blown vexation. “Do you always put your nose where it doesn’t belong?”
“Well, if you don’t want anyone realizing you’re planning to rob a bank, you should probably hide the plans.”
“It’s my work,” he bit out.
“You’re a businessman?”
Somehow his reply was sarcastic without even saying a word. I took his silent retort for a yes.
“You don’t look it.”
“Aye, well, it doesn’t surprise me someone like you would judge people based on what they look like.” He sneered. “He’s covered in tattoos, doesn’t wear a suit, so of course he’s a criminal rather than a businessman, right?”
“You do realize you’re doing what you accused me of doing? You’re judging me based on what I look like. Come to think of it, you have been doing that since the first time we ran into each other at the airport. Also . . . if you can afford to fly first class, you can afford to buy a sense of humor. And I would get on that because you’re in serious need of one.”
“How am I judging you based on what you look like?”
“‘Someone like you,’ you said, right?” I cocked my head to the side as I studied his rugged—and right now harsh—countenance.
He gave me a taut nod.
“You don’t know me. You met me a few hours ago in an airport where admittedly people don’t always act like their normal selves because of high levels of stress, fatigue, and often fear of flying. So if you don’t know who I am as a person, the only logical conclusion I can draw is that you’re judging me based on what I look like and not on who I am.”
The Bastard Scot contemplated me a moment. “True,” he finally said. “To a certain extent. But you can often tell a lot about a person from the way he or she looks. It’s just whether or not you’re intuitive enough tae get it right. You saw tattoos and thought—what . . . motorcycle club?”
I tried not to blush, squirming uncomfortably that he’d guessed correctly.
“And you were wrong about me. But you are right, I dinnae know you, but I can tell by the time you spent on your hair and makeup, on the money you spent on your suit, on those designer shoes, the diamonds in your ears and around your wrist, that for whatever reason—and I dinnae know what those reasons are—you care what people think about your appearance. By the weight of the carry-on I just stuffed in the overheard bin I’d also say you overpack, which along with how you look, suggests you’re high maintenance. And I would be very, very surprised if I’d gotten that wrong about you.”
His tone more than the words caused a heat in my cheeks brought on by hurt feelings. “So you think you’re better than me because you don’t care about your appearance?”
“I didn’t say I dinnae care about my appearance. I care. I’m covered in tattoos that say I care. I just dinnae care what anyone else thinks about my appearance.”
“Well, maybe that’s how I feel. I like to look well presented. It’s got nothing to do with anyone else.”
His answering expression suggested he didn’t believe me and it bothered me that I cared. So I scoffed, “I don’t care what you think of me.”
“Of course you do. I’m probably the first straight man you’ve ever met who hasn’t fallen at your feet.” His eyes scanned my face first before moving down the length of my body in a way that made me involuntarily shiver.
That only made his words more provoking. They prodded an old hurt that had already been reawakened this week. I was determined to bury it where it belonged and did not need this stranger messing with my efforts. “You accuse me of being judgmental, but you are way more judgmental than me.”
He shrugged. “Didn’t say I wasn’t. I’m just usually right. And I’m right about you.”
The urge to prove him wrong was so strong and yet all that proved was that he was right. I cared too much what people thought. Despite his dismissal of me, of how much it opened old wounds, I decided the best thing I could do was just ignore him as previously planned.
I drank the rest of the champagne and put the empty glass in the cup holder beside me. The Bastard Scot turned back to his laptop like he hadn’t just insulted me. Again.
Truthfully, I’d never met a more impolite, ill-mannered, impertinent man in my life.
Trying to ignore his existence, I opened up my current book on my e-reader, my body humming with awareness of the large guy beside me and growing steadily more pissed off about it. I hated that I kept getting faint whiffs of cologne—a decidedly delicious musky, woodsy, spicy scent that suited the bastard way too much. After I’d read the same paragraph for the fifth time, relief flooded me when my phone started to buzz in my suit pocket.
“That’s supposed tae be switched off,” he grumbled beside me.
I sniffed in derision as I pulled the cell out of my pocket. “The man who is trying so hard to prove he doesn’t care what other people think of him is a stickler for the rules? Shocking.”
Watching his lips pinch in annoyance gave me more pleasure than it should. Pleasure that transformed from smug to tender at the sight of the name on my phone screen. “Hey, sweetie,” I answered.
“I’m sorry I missed your call. Lunch hour, you know.” Harper’s voice made me instantly relax. My best friend’s voice on the other end of the line had kept me sane these past few days.
“I just called to tell you my flight got canceled. I’m on a flight to Chicago, but I’ll have to stay overnight at O’Hare. My flight home isn’t until tomorrow morning.”
“Some volcano in Iceland.”
“I thought that was just affecting European flights?”
“Huh. That sucks. You okay?”
Aware of the man sitting next to me, I turned slightly toward the window and lowered my voice. “I just want to get home.”
“I should have come with you.” Harper’s voice was filled with regret.
“No, sweetie. I had to do this alone. We both know that.”
“We both don’t know that. You are always there for me. You should have let me be there for you with this.”
Maybe I should have. But the truth was, I didn’t want the way I was treated back in Phoenix to affect Harper’s perception of me. She knew my side of the story, of course, but I was afraid that all those people would somehow convince her everything was my fault. And it wasn’t my fault. It was a ridiculous fear, because Harper loved me, but still it had snuck under my skin. “You didn’t have to be there for me to be there for me.”
Harper sighed. “Okay, babe. Just call or text me when you land in Chicago and let me know when your flight gets in at Logan tomorrow. I’ll see if I can cut out of work to come get you.”
“You don’t need to do that.”
“Well, I want to, so shut it.”
I laughed softly. “Okay. I’ll call you. Bye, sweetie.”
When I hung up, switching my phone off, I could have sworn I felt the Bastard Scot’s eyes on me. When I glanced over at him, however, he was frowning at his computer screen.
The announcement that we were getting ready for takeoff came over the PA and we were asked to stow away larger devices like laptops. I surreptitiously watched my obnoxious neighbor as he put away his laptop and settled back in his seat.
He closed his eyes, and I used the moment to study him. The sleeves of his henley were still rolled up, so I could see up close some of the tattoos on his left arm. In among smoke, dust, and what looked like debris from buildings was a modern-day soldier running with his rifle. Above him there was what looked like the foot of another figure, but the rest of it was hidden by his shirt. My wayward gaze moved upward to his interesting face. His lashes were a fair golden brown color, so I hadn’t realized how long they were until now. His full, pouty lower lip surrounded by that short beard drew my attention. Stubble was usually a turnoff for me, but I had to admit the pain in the ass suited his.
I wondered if it scratched or tickled when he kissed a woman.
The mere thought caused a tingle between my legs that shocked me.
Flushing at the thought, I wrenched my gaze off his face, intending to return to ignoring him and the physical response he’d elicited in me, when my eyes caught on his big hand curled around the arm divider.
Looking back at his face, I saw the wrinkle between his brow and the slight flare of his nostrils.
Was the badass Scotsman afraid of flying?
I was instantly reminded of Harper. She was terrified of flying. We’d gone on vacation with each other a few times to Europe, and every time I’d felt powerless to help her. She was a ball of nervous energy as soon as we boarded an airplane, pale and trembling until we were up in the air. Even then she’d stay tense in her seat, her whole body clenched with fear. On long flights, I’d walk her to the bathroom and stand outside the door for her, a constant reassurance. Still, I hated how scared she was. I’d even tried to convince her to vacation in the States in places we could drive to. But Harper never let fear control her. That was one of the things I admired most about her.
Reminded of my friend, I felt an unwanted and unwarranted sympathy flood me.
“Excuse me,” I called to the flight attendant as he was passing. I saw the Scot’s eyes fly open out of the corner of my own. “May I have another glass of champagne?”
“We’re getting ready to take off, Miss Breevort.”
“I’ll be super quick. Promise.”
He didn’t look happy about it, but returned quickly with a glass for me. I smiled my thanks and then turned to the Scot, whose eyes were closed again. “Drink up.” I held the glass out to him.
Those icy blues flew open. “What?”
I shoved the glass toward him. “It’ll help.”
He lifted his head, grimacing. “What are you talking about?”
“Is it a fear of flying or just of taking off?”
Instead of answering, he shot me another baleful look. “I don’t drink champagne.”
“You’ll drink this. It isn’t whiskey, but it might take the edge off.”
When he ignored me, I sighed. “Jesus, I don’t think you’re any less of an alpha pain in the ass because you’re afraid of flying.”
At that he snatched the glass out of my hand and threw back the entire lot. Wiping droplets off his lips, he glowered at me. “It’s just the takeoff and landing.”
The words were bitten out, and I had to quell a smile. “I’m not surprised. A plane isn’t exactly a longboat.”
His lips twitched. “Scot. Not Scandinavian.”
“If you’re telling me you don’t have an ounce of Scandinavian blood, I don’t believe you.”
The flight attendant appeared to take the empty glass, but my seatmate didn’t even seem to notice as he was too busy staring at me like I was suddenly a puzzle. “Swedish.”
“My great-great-grandfather was Swedish.”
“I knew it. And here you were getting prickly because I called you Scandinavian. Technically I was kind of right.”
“You’re also more than kind of annoying.”
“Well, you should be comfortable around annoying. You’re the king of it. Although I’m beginning to wonder if this ‘mean guy’ thing you’ve got going on has more to do with you being afraid of flying than you actually being a mean guy.”
He narrowed his eyes. “Mean guy?”
“Uh, yeah. You’ve been mean to me from the moment we met.”
“I beg tae differ. You got in my face the moment we met. How else was I supposed tae respond?”
“You practically knocked me off my feet barging past me to get to the gate check-in desk.”
“I didn’t see ye.”
“You’re five foot nothing. Seriously.”
“I’m five foot three. Five foot seven in my heels.”
His gaze drifted down my body again, lingering on my legs. “You dinnae look it.”
I frowned. “Are you suggesting I have short legs?”
“No, your height suggests that.”
“I have surprisingly long legs for a short person.”
“You can turn anything into an argument. That’s quite a talent.”
“You are distracting me from my point. Which is that you were clearly acting out because of your fear of flying, the same way I perhaps have not been myself due to exhaustion.”
If I wasn’t mistaken, I thought I saw a hint of curiosity in his expression. “Exhaustion?”
I shrugged. “It’s been a trying week.”
“Separated from your boyfriend?”
Huh? “What boyfriend?”
“The ‘sweetie’ on the other end of the phone.”
I smiled. “That was Harper. She’s my best friend.”
“I’m surprised someone as annoying as you has a best friend.”
“Everyone else loves me. If you weren’t currently acting out, you might like me too.”
“Look, I’m not acting out because I’m afraid. I didn’t see you earlier in the airport, didn’t know I’d clipped you with my laptop bag, but maybe if you hadn’t come at me like a wee harpy, I might have apologized.”
“I doubt it. You have no manners. I mean, what was your excuse for embarrassing me at Olive & Ivy? For being rude at the barista cart? Huh?”
He grinned suddenly, a sexy flash of his teeth that sent a fizz of pleasure shooting low across my belly. My physical response to his smile stunned me. “I did that because it was fun. You make it too easy tae wind you up.”
I sniffed in an attempt to squash my absurd physical attraction to him, but even to me it came off sounding haughtier than I’d intended. “You are a very twisted, belligerent individual.”
“And you might want tae consider having that huge stick rammed up your tight wee arse surgically removed.”
“I’m sorry, I think you’ve mistaken me for someone who actually gives a damn what you think.”
He scoffed. “Babe, like I said, I dinnae even know you and I know you care too much what other people think.”
Infuriated that he kept pushing that particular button but refusing to let him see how much he was getting to me, I started calmly patting at my jacket pockets and then rifled through the magazines in the seat pocket in front of me.
“What are you doing?”
I turned to find him scowling at me. “Looking for some paper and a pen.”
He raised an eyebrow in question.
“I thought I’d take some notes on your sage advice . . . and then you should take the paper and shove it up your ass.”
“Do you want tae shut up and let me get through this?”
My smile was admittedly supercilious. “You almost are.”
He frowned and then glanced around, only then realizing that we were in the air. We hadn’t leveled out yet, but the plane had juddered up into takeoff minutes ago. The Viking/Scot had risen his voice to be heard over the engines, but he’d been so focused on me, he hadn’t been paying attention.
He turned back to me, seeming uncharacteristically taken aback.