Book 2 in the New York Saints series
Publication date: 30 December 2014
WILL A LOVE OF THE GAME
Sara Charles is trying not to strike out. With her dad out of commission, Charles Air has only one helicopter left-and only one Sara to fly charters. With the family business in jeopardy, Sara needs all the clients she can get and the newest one is New York Saints team surgeon, Lucas Angelo. When an unexpected flirtation escalates into a night of pure blind passion, Sara realizes she may have just blown the game. To stay in play, she vows to avoid Lucas and keep her mind on her business and only her business. But there’s a catch: she needs him–in more ways than one.
LEAD TO A FIELD OF DREAMS?
Lucas thought he had his head in the game until his night with Sara throws him off balance. Spring training is upon him, and his schedule is madness but he can’t forget her. So he makes an offer she can’t refuse. Be his personal pilot and earn the money she needs to save Charles Air. She intends to keep him at arm’s length–especially when she discovers just how different their worlds are. Little does Sara know that, for Lucas, the only thing more important than business is pleasure. He only plays to win. And he intends to hit it out of the park…
It was like having a tiger in the back of the helicopter.
The knowledge of something big and dangerous and ruthless riding behind her. Something that could squish you like a bug and not blink a big golden eye.
Of course, the man behind her had blue eyes, not golden ones. Very blue.
So maybe a tiger wasn’t the right metaphor. Maybe—
“Got another chopper coming in about five, Sara. You getting airborne sometime soon?”
The crisp tones of Ronnie, running control today, broke her train of thought. Just as well She shook her head. Because you, Sara Charles, are being an idiot. There was no room for distraction when she was flying.
“Any second now,” she replied. She twisted in her seat to look at her passenger. “We’re ready to go, sir.” She called all her passengers sir or ma’am, unless instructed otherwise. Most did—or the regulars, at least. Not this one, though. He seemed to accept “sir” as though it were his due. Which was weird because, unless she was way off the mark, he wasn’t ex-military. And he wasn’t English royalty slumming it in New York. No, his accent was firmly American. Not that he’d spoken more than about six sentences to her in the three trips she’d flown for him so far.
Short sentences. Things like “Good morning.” And “Thank you.” His voice was deep. Cool. Controlled. His silence should have been annoying but instead it was somehow compelling. Made her want to hear more.
“I’ll have us in the air in just a minute,” she added, just in case he might break his streak and say something rash like “Great.”
He didn’t look up. He rarely looked up. He just nodded and kept his eyes on the screen of the slim silver laptop open on his lap. Focused. Intense.
His powers of concentration were clearly excellent. Even with the headsets on, it was loud in the helo, but he didn’t let anything distract him. She had to admit that there’d been the odd idle moment when she’d let herself wonder what it might be like to have all his attention focused on her. What it might be like to hold his focus and be the thing he didn’t want to be distracted from.
But that was about as likely to happen as her sprouting wings and being able to fly without a helo, so she tried to ignore the thoughts when they arose.
She did wonder where he’d learned to shut the world out, though. Maybe it came with being a doctor. She knew that much about him. He was a doctor. Dr. Lucas Angelo.
That was the name on the bookings. She didn’t know much more than that. She refused to Google a man she barely knew and wasn’t likely to. That would just be sad.
Sadder than comparing him to jungle cats?
Suppressing a sigh, she turned back to face the controls. Time to forget about tigers and get this bird in the air.
For the first few minutes, the joy of the flight took her mind away from the puzzle of the man she was flying. The city had turned on a perfect winter day. Fine. Sunny. Just enough breeze to make things interesting. Good light. Good visibility. The helo hummed under her hand, seemingly as pleased as she was to be in the air.
Away from all the problems down there on the ground. Nothing to think about but the sky and her destination for a few hours, at least.
She cut a path around the city, feeling the familiar rush as the gleaming buildings and the swath of the park slipped beneath her. Best view of Manhattan for sure. Best view in the world maybe.
Of course, Dr. Mystery back there was ignoring it as usual.
She frowned and straightened the helo now that she had her heading. She didn’t know how he could just sit there and not even look up, let alone out the window. Focus or no focus there was nothing a laptop could possibly hold that could compete with the view from up here.
Hell, most of the time the passengers were paying her for exactly that view—sightseeing flights made up a good chunk of the charter business. She loved listening to the excited voices of the tourists as they took in her city. Of course, a few of them turned green and spent the flight barfing, but those were the exception.
No barfing from her current passenger, of course.
No, he wouldn’t do anything that might risk ruining his perfectly cut suit.
Three times she’d flown him and every time, no matter where she was taking him, it had been a suit.
Deep charcoal for the time she’d taken him to the hospital in New Jersey.
A medium gray for a hop to Staten Island.
Navy with the faintest of pinstripes to JFK.
She’d liked that one. The navy and the deep-blue tie he’d worn with it had made his eyes even bluer. She’d decided he should always wear blue.
Until he’d walked into the terminal this afternoon wearing a tuxedo. Most guys looked better in a tuxedo, of course, but very few of them actually looked like they were born to wear one. It was unfair. Stark black and white shouldn’t turn a man into a god. But damn, the man’s tailor was genius.
She’d taken one look at him, forced herself to tear her eyes away, and beaten a path for her A-Star, leaving the checking-in of tuxedo-clad perfection and his immaculate luggage to the terminal staff. It was one thing to admit that the man was intriguing, in an annoying sort of way, and too handsome for his own good; it was quite another to hyperventilate at the sight of him. Particularly while she was standing there in her pilot’s uniform of sensible black pants, sensible black shoes, and sensible blue shirt. With headset hair.
She’d talked sternly to herself as she’d done the preflight checks. One did not get crushes on clients. Because the sort of client who could afford regular chartered helo services had money and power with a capital Money and Power. They did not notice pilots with headset hair. They noticed supermodels. Therefore there would be no inconvenient hormonal responses allowed. Besides, she needed money, not man-candy.
And Dr. Lucas Angelo had hired her three times. Almost a regular. Which she desperately needed. Eyes on the prize, not the scenery.
It had been a good speech. She’d almost convinced herself. Then he’d climbed into the back of the helo and she’d started thinking about tigers.
Though now, as they sped through the air, heading for the Hamptons and whatever no doubt ridiculously expensive event he was attending, she was thinking that tiger wasn’t the right metaphor for the sensation. No, the way his silent presence seemed to fill the cabin, impossible to ignore, was more like riding the edge of a storm, feeling the weight of the air and the tingle of electricity. Knowing that if you were foolish and let the storm tumble over you it would sweep you up and control whatever happened from there.
Not going to happen.
She was a damned good pilot. She knew how to avoid a storm.
Even when she wasn’t sure she wanted to.
Lucas studied the patient films on the laptop screen in front of him and tried to ignore the steady thwap thwap thwap racket of the helicopter around him. Even with headphones he was far too aware of the engine noise. Of the fact he was God only knew how high in the air in a high-tech tin can.
Focus on the problem.
In front of him the X-ray showed the fractured clavicle clearly. It would heal fine once he got to work on it. It was a simple surgery and one he didn’t perform that often these days, but this particular clavicle belonged to a promising male figure skater and his parents were willing to pay for the best to ensure that promise could still be fulfilled.
He couldn’t blame them.
The surgery wasn’t complicated enough to distract him, though, and he keyed up the next file. The helicopter dipped a little, and his fingers clutched the edge of the laptop a little too hard.
Freaking helicopters. Supposedly Leonardo da Vinci had come up with the design for the first one. Crazy bastard. Lucas didn’t care how much of a genius the guy was supposed to have been. No one sane would think that a helicopter was a good idea.
He made himself loosen his grip. He wasn’t fond of planes in general, though he ruthlessly suppressed the illogical nerves they brought to life in his stomach because not flying wasn’t an option in his life. It was harder in a helicopter, though. Too small. Nowhere to hide from the empty air surrounding him.
He understood flight theory and aerodynamics. He knew how helicopters—and planes—stayed airborne. He’d made it his business to know, but that still didn’t ease the fear.
His first time in a helicopter had been an emergency airlift to a hospital, a race to repair his shoulder. He’d been in pain and shock and reeling from the aftermath of the explosion that had put him there, spitting ash and bile as the nurse and doctor in the chopper had tried to sedate him.
All the while feeling like the ground was dropping away from beneath him and he was never going to find his footing again.
Turned out that instinct had been right.
The surgeon had done a brilliant job on his shoulder. It was fully functional. But there’d been no chance that it would stand up to the demands of a career pitching pro ball.
And just like that his dream had been over. All because a bunch of deluded young idiots had decided that they’d had a grudge against the government and that blowing up a college baseball game was a good way to protest. And because he and Alex and Mal hadn’t been able to follow their coach’s instructions to get the hell off the field and to safety. No, instead they’d stayed and tried to help some of the people trapped in the crumpled wreckage of the stands. He still didn’t remember what he’d done that had torn up his shoulder, but he had.
Leaving him with a shattered dream and a new path to find. He’d found it in medicine, but it had taken some time. And it had left him with an unshakable fear of flying.
His brain knew that the explosion and helicopters weren’t the same thing, but his body didn’t. Every time he stepped into an aircraft, his mouth turned to a desert and his stomach to water.
But in his profession, flying was inevitable. People were hardly going to wait while their crack orthopedic surgeon took the bus across the state or across the country.
So he sucked it up and flew when he needed to. But he didn’t like it and he never would.
He took a deeper breath, schooling himself to be calm, and tried to send his attention back into the next patient file.
Which would be easier if he were back in his office in Manhattan rather than flying to the Hamptons to attend a party he had no desire to attend.
Socializing was another necessary evil of his career. Hospital fund-raisers, charity golf games, and all the hoopla that came with being a member of the oh-so-wealthy, oh-so-philanthropic, oh-so-full-of-expectations Angelos.
But this party wasn’t one his family was roping him into. No, this one was due to the latest piece of insanity to enter his life.
The New York Saints.
He still wasn’t sure how his best friend, Alex Winters, had convinced him–and their other friend Malachi Coulter–to join forces to bail out the baseball team they’d all supported since childhood.
There’d been bourbon involved but also a good dose of crazy.
He didn’t do crazy.
But he did do baseball. And for once, he hadn’t been able to resist a bad idea. Owning a baseball team. He’d imagined it as a kid, as his parents made him attend cotillions and play golf and learn to sail and tried to discourage his love of baseball.
It hadn’t worked. It was an incurable disease.
His presence in this helicopter was firm proof of that. As was the fact that he was now officially part owner of a Major League Baseball team. Even if it was the worst team in the MLB.
“We’re about twenty minutes out, sir.” The voice of his pilot buzzed in his headphones. He liked her voice. It sounded confident and relaxed and had a pleasant female thrum to it that was a small distraction from his discomfort.
He flicked his gaze up from the laptop but saw only the back of her head. The ends of her medium-brown hair curled out in wisps under the cap she wore; the set of her shoulders in the very plain blue shirt was relaxed, but he couldn’t see much more than that.
He hadn’t seen much more than that in three trips so far. She was always seated in the pilot’s seat when he boarded the chopper, already wearing a cap and her headphones or whatever you called the radio-mike thing that let them communicate during the flight.
He did know that she had pretty eyes. Blue. Not bright blue like his. More ocean-y. A hint of gray and green lending depth. Sea-blue eyes and a cute smile, though he’d only seen that once.
The main thing he knew about her—other than the fact her name was Sara Charles, as attested to by the neat name badge on her uniform—was that she seemed to be a very good pilot. She got him where he was going in one piece, with no flashy maneuvers to shatter his hard-won calm, and she didn’t bother him with chitchat.
Which was why he’d hired her again after the first time he’d booked her when his regular guy couldn’t fit him in. And why he’d booked her again for this trip.
He was glad she’d taken the job. Though any sensible person would, given he was paying quite a nice bonus to have her hang around and wait to fly him home again after the fund-raiser. With Sara Charles, for some reason, even though being in a helicopter still sucked, it wasn’t quite as bad as usual. Still, he’d be happy when they were both safely back on Manhattan soil at the end of the night.
He intended that the end of the night would come sooner rather than later. He had surgeries lined up in the morning and roughly four hundred other things to juggle around in his schedule ahead of the Saints decamping to Florida for spring training in a little over two weeks.
Alex and Mal had decided that he, as an orthopedic surgeon, was the one most qualified to keep an eye on things in Florida. Most qualified and also the one with less Saints business already on his plate. Mal was busy trying to bring Deacon Field—the Saints’ home stadium—out of the security Stone Age, and Alex was wheeling and dealing with finances and TV deals and the money stuff. Which left Lucas to deal with the team, the potential new players, and getting everyone ready for the coming season. The Saints’ first season since they’d taken over.
Of course, that was mostly the job of the coaching team and the trainers and the scouts, but he was going to be boss man on the ground as much as possible. Which meant the weeks between now and the beginning of the season in April were going to be a nightmare as he tried to split his time between New York and Florida. And that was before he even thought about all the air time that was going to involve.
He didn’t want to think about that.
So he wouldn’t. Instead he’d finish reviewing the files he’d brought with him so that he was ready for tomorrow’s procedures, and then they’d arrive at their destination and he’d do his duty at the damned party and get the hell back to New York.
Sara led the way across the airfield to the small building that served as the terminal. Dr. Angelo—she didn’t really feel like she could call him Lucas—had thanked her politely when he’d climbed out of the chopper, taken a moment to straighten his impeccable bow tie, slung his black leather laptop bag over his shoulder, and then asked, “Which way?”
That had been the sum total of their conversation. The afternoon light had turned golden, the weather warm for this time of year despite warnings of possible storms later on. He looked not quite real as he walked smoothly across the grass, the gilded light playing on his hair and face.
He moved a bit like a tiger, she thought. Lithe and powerful. Graceful for a tall guy. She was five six and he easily had half a foot on her. She wondered if he’d played a sport of some sort before he’d become a doctor. She’d spent a lot of time around guys who kept themselves in good shape in the army, but even among them it was the ones who’d been great athletes who, in her experience, moved like the man walking besides her. Totally in control of every inch of his well-honed body.
The one she wished didn’t make her skin spark with awareness every time she saw him. The one that made her desperately need a little more control over her own body.
Thankfully the walk to the terminal building was a short one. Dr. Angelo held the door for her–of course he was the kind of guy who would hold a door for her–and she walked into the terminal, looking around to see who was on the desk.
She spotted Ellen Jacek, who ran the airfield with her husband, before Ellen spotted them. But not much before. Ellen’s dark eyes widened and a smile of appreciation bloomed on her face as she took in Dr. Angelo. Which was gratifying in a way. It meant it wasn’t just Sara who was dumb enough to react to the sight of him.
But like her, Ellen was a professional, and her smile smoothed into something more welcoming as she came toward them.
“Sara, honey. How are you? How’s your dad?”
Sara returned her brief hard hug. “I’m good. And Dad’s doing better. Hoping to get back in the air in a few more months.” She remembered why she was there. “Ellen Jacek, this is Dr. Angelo. I think there should be a car waiting for him?”
“Oh sure, Dean delivered it a while back. It’s parked out front.” Ellen turned her attention to Lucas. “Nice ride. I’ve got the keys over at the desk.” She headed in that direction and Lucas strode after her, leaving Sara to follow behind. She did so, listening to Ellen chatter and Lucas give short answers until Ellen reached the desk, leaned over it, and grabbed a set of keys before passing them to Lucas.
“It’s the red one out front,” she said.
“Red?” Lucas queried.
“Dean said to say he was sorry but there was an issue with the car you requested. So he gave you this one instead.” Ellen grinned at Lucas. “If you don’t like it, you’re welcome to borrow my truck and I’ll take the Mercedes for a spin.”
Lucas tilted his head at her. Sara couldn’t quite see his expression from where she was standing but Ellen’s cheeks flushed slightly and she smiled, so presumably it was amused not angry.
“I’m sure it will be fine,” he said, dropping the keys into his jacket pocket. He turned back to Sara. “I’ll call you when I’m leaving the party. It should be around ten.”
“That’s fine, I’ll be here.”
He nodded just as his phone started to ring. He fished it out of his jacket pocket and glanced at the screen before taking the call. While he spoke, Sara watched him, getting in a few more seconds of tuxedoed-glory-appreciation time. There was much to appreciate. But sadly appreciation was all there was going to be, so she forced at least part of her attention onto making a plan for the hours ahead. Hopefully Ellen would lend her the truck so she could at least drive to the beach and get in a walk on the sand and pretend she was wealthy enough to own one of the gorgeous houses lining the shore.
After that there was paperwork stuffed in her flight bag that needed her attention. More correspondence with her dad’s insurance company in dense legalese that she had to interpret and decide how to respond to. That painful task would earn her a few hours vegging out with her eReader and takeout in the tiny upstairs pilots’ lounge while she waited for the good doctor to be done with whatever beautiful-people gathering it was that he was attending.
Not actually that much different from what she’d have been doing on a Friday night after a long week anyway, when she thought about it. Which was just sad. She couldn’t, off the top of her head, think of the last time she’d been out. With her dad out of action, there’d just been too much work picking up the slack to want to do more than stay in and catch up on sleep when she got some downtime. Do the good and sensible thing.
Tired pilots made mistakes. And Charles Air really couldn’t afford another mistake. She’d flown exhausted and riding on adrenaline in the service but she didn’t have to now. She wouldn’t. Even when there were a thousand and one things calling for her attention, she tried to make sure she didn’t wear herself out. Sleep and rest were more important than bars and restaurants and the dating merry-go-round right now. Even if her therapist had made a few pointed comments about rebuilding her social life in their last session. Her best friend, Viv, had started to nag, too.
Lucas hung up his phone at last and Sara dragged her thoughts back to the present and him. Her client.
Her paying client. She was here to make his life easier, not obsess about her own. Was there anything she’d forgotten to tell him about the arrangements for the flight back? Nothing sprang to mind. Which meant it was time to stop admiring him in his tuxedo and let him disappear. But she allowed herself one last quick once-over and her eyes snagged on the laptop bag ruining the line of his jacket as it hung from his very broad shoulder. “You’re welcome to leave your laptop bag here with me,” she said. “Save you dragging it around.”
“We have some secure lockboxes,” Ellen added. “It’ll be safe.”
He nodded. “That would be helpful, thank you.” He held out the bag and Sara took it, ignoring the tiny flare of heat that rippled through her when her fingers brushed his. Holding his laptop was as close as she was ever going to get to Lucas Angelo. And as she watched through the glass terminal doors while he climbed into a red convertible and then sped off into the distance, she tried very hard to ignore the part of her that really, really wished she was speeding off with him.
Intent on working the party, Lucas didn’t notice the rain.
The hum of conversation and the music playing through the sound system was loud enough to drown the world outside. Besides, he was focused on doing what he had come to do. Hunting for potential season ticket holders and corporate sponsors. Winning people over. Making them want to throw cash at the Saints.
Cash they needed. He and Alex and Mal had all put their share in, but they couldn’t keep throwing their personal funds into the team. Well, Alex probably could, given he was richer than God, and Lucas was not without his own resources. But that didn’t matter. The team needed to become self-sustaining. Had to function as a Major League Baseball team. Otherwise they, too, would eventually have to cut their losses. And at that point the chances of the Saints surviving without leaving New York were about a million to one.
Baseball teams were expensive to run. They were even more expensive when you were trying to recruit new talent and replace some of the existing team who’d decided to ply their trade elsewhere after the change in owners. They’d lost their second and third best pitchers and several other players. Pitchers were expensive. All players were expensive.
So they needed supporters. The Saints couldn’t compete against the deep, deep pockets of the top teams, but every little bit helped and Lucas would do his best to add to the coffers tonight. So he shook hands and made small talk and smiled at women in expensive dresses and even more expensive jewelry and shut everything else out of his mind for the time he had allocated to this task.
He did, however, notice when the lights flickered and the room went still for a moment. Then laughter broke out as the bulbs steadied and everyone clinked glasses, shrugged, and moved on. Which was the sensible reaction when you were down for the weekend and had no pressing need to be back in the city first thing in the morning.
A storm didn’t matter in those circumstances.
It did matter if you were planning to fly back to the city in a helicopter.
He excused himself from the conversation he’d been having with a couple who knew his mother and had spent the last ten minutes grilling him about her various charities. Stepping out of the main room, he pulled out his phone.
The signal was low—another casualty of the weather perhaps—but he had enough to open the weather app and find out what exactly the weather was doing. As he viewed the less-than-good figures on current rainfall and wind speed, the lights flickered again.
He didn’t need to read the warnings on the app to know that wasn’t good.
Just his freaking luck.
It was only nine o’clock, earlier than he’d planned on leaving, but making it back to Manhattan and his morning surgeries was more important than another half an hour of schmoozing. He just didn’t have any room in his schedule right now. If he didn’t make it back to the city, then some of his surgeries would be bumped. And for what he did, time was of the essence, particularly when it came to athletes. A delay in surgery could mean the difference between merely a good recovery and being able to compete again.
Delays meant him failing.
He didn’t fail.
So. First order of the business was to get back to the airfield, get Sara to fire up that infernal helicopter–his stomach swooped a little at the thought of flying through a storm of all things–and hopefully they could get back to the city.
There, a plan. Everything was just fine.
Mind made up, he went to find his host, say his good-byes, and make a getaway.
“Not going to happen,” Sara said bluntly. She’d been waiting for him at the tiny terminal, had even come out to the car with an umbrella for him when he’d pulled up outside the main doors. She looked cute slightly damp, the moisture making the ends of her hair curl even more, her eyes taking on some of the storm in the odd glow coming from the lights outside the terminal. He’d been taken for a second by the sight of her, braced against the wind that lifted her hair, but that was only until he’d asked her how long it would be before they could get in the air and she’d looked first apologetic and then determined as she delivered the bad news. Cute apparently came packaged with uncompromising.
Lucas blinked. “Excuse me?”
“I’m sorry, Dr. Angelo,” Sara said. “And we will, of course, refund you the return flight.” Her expression turned vaguely regretful as she said this before it went back to being resolute. “But I can’t fly you back tonight.”
“The weather isn’t that bad, is it?” he asked hopefully. As if in answer, thunder rumbled overhead. A few seconds later the terminal—which was only half lit—brightened considerably as a flash of lightning followed on its heels.
“Trust me, you do not want to be in a helicopter that’s struck by lightning,” Sara said.
He tried to ignore the mental image that conjured up. “Couldn’t we get ahead of the storm?”
Thunder rumbled again, and she started a little. Then jerked her head toward the window and the rain pouring from the sky. “The storm’s already here,” she said. “So no.”
“I have to be back in the city in the morning,” Lucas said.
Her determined expression didn’t alter. “I’m sorry but I can’t fly you. Not until the weather clears.”
Lucas scowled out at the storm. He had patients who needed surgery. So he needed to get home. “When is that likely to be?”
“Best-case scenario is somewhere close to first light. More likely to be midmorning, though, looking at the size of the storm.”
Sunrise. At this time of year, that was about seven thirty. So he wouldn’t be at the hospital until nine, depending on the traffic from the heliport. Two hours after his first surgery was scheduled to start. Meaning a screwed-up schedule and guaranteed chaos. And if the storm didn’t lift until midmorning, things would be even worse. He didn’t do chaos.
Crap. Though, as lightning flared across the sky again, he decided that he couldn’t argue with her about the fact that flying through an electrical storm wasn’t the smart solution to his problem. Which meant he needed another way.
Like the car waiting outside the terminal.
It was a long drive back to Manhattan, and it would be longer given the weather and the fact it was already getting late. He scrubbed a hand over his face and wished he’d had more coffee at the party.
He needed to be alert.
He turned to Sara, who was staring out at the sky, a mix of irritation and wariness in her frown.
“I need to get back. I’m going to drive.”
Her eyebrows lifted.
“My weather app doesn’t show the storm being so bad in that direction. So here’s my proposition. Keep me company so I stay awake. And keep my return fare, of course.”
She stared at him for a moment. “But my helo is here.”
“I’ll pay for a car to bring you back down here tomorrow morning, and you can fly back. You said it yourself, you can’t fly anywhere tonight. So what do you think?”
Thunder boomed suddenly and he thought he saw her flinch, though it was difficult to tell in the darkness. But as the sound rumbled on, her shoulders squared and she nodded. “Okay,” she said. “It’s a deal.”
This might have been the stupidest thing she’d ever done, Sara thought as she climbed into the Mercedes and sank into a leather seat that curved around her invitingly. The car was low and sleek, and Lucas was an uncomfortably large presence beside her. She would have felt better if they were in an SUV or something built for bad weather.
Who was she kidding? She would have felt better anywhere but in such a small space with Lucas Angelo. Because then she would have been able to maintain her denial about just how gorgeous the man was. Gorgeous enough to talk her into driving for hours through a storm.
Of course, the money didn’t hurt, either. If there was one thing she needed, it was cold hard cash. And after this evening’s debacle, no doubt Dr. Gorgeous would be finding a chopper pilot who was more willing to do his bidding and fly him into a hurricane if need be, so there went the likelihood that he’d become what she’d been hoping was her first new regular client since she’d taken the reins of Charles Air.
It was hard to get new clients when the first thing that came up in any Google search about your company was a chopper crash.
No, it hadn’t been her dad’s fault—even the NTSB investigation agreed on that point—and he’d had no passengers in the chopper at the time. But it was a crash all the same. It wasn’t a great first impression, and she’d fought for every booking since she’d come home to run things. But couple the crash with the fact that she was operating with only one helo and she was barely covering expenses. She needed clients like Lucas. Rich, frequent fliers who needed to get somewhere fast.
Only less pretty.
Because then she could keep her eyes firmly on the prize.
She drew in a breath. Mistake. Because the air inside of the car carried a hint of whatever it was that he wore as cologne or aftershave. It was faintly spicy, a touch smoky, and seemed purposely designed as Sara-bait.
The scent made her stomach warm. Made her want to lean in and breathe deeper. Which she so wasn’t going to do.
She was quite close enough already, with only a foot or so separating them.
Lucas was focused on driving as they wound their way back from the airfield to the main road. The car might be small but it was powerful, and he steered it with a skill that spoke of confidence and familiarity. The way pilots handled a helo they’d flown a thousand times before.
Maybe he had the same car?
She tried to remember if she’d ever seen his car, but no. He’d booked his first flight through their website, and he’d never been to the small airfield where they hangared the helicopters. She’d always picked him up from a heliport.
But if she had to guess, she’d put money on the fact that he did drive something like this. Something expensive and built for speed.
He’d want a car that would get him where he wanted to go fast.
He didn’t like being delayed, that was clear from his determination to get back to the city.
The rain seemed heavier when they cleared the town and Lucas bumped the windshield wipers to speed them up. Even so, the windshield ran with water, blurring the world outside.
“Are you sure you want to do this?” Sara asked. “It’s not too late to turn back. Ellen has a couple of rollaways upstairs at the terminal.” Dumb, Sara. If Lucas needed a bed for the night, he’d probably just pick up his phone and have any number of people who owned ridiculously expensive houses here willing to offer him a bed.
No doubt the females among them would be glad to share it with him.
“I mean, you could get some sleep and leave early. The storm might blow over sooner.” She had her doubts about that but hey, optimism never hurt anyone. That was what her therapist kept telling her.
Lucas glanced in her direction. “We’ll be fine.” He flashed a grin that was almost as brilliant as the lightning flickering above them. “Trust me, I’m a doctor.”
She laughed, startled. A joke? From silent but gorgeous? He’d already spoken more words to her today than in the entire time she’d known him—and now he was cracking jokes? “You did not just say that.”
“Hey, it’s a classic line. And it worked.”
“Worked?” she echoed.
“It made you laugh,” he said with another blinding smile.
He wanted to make her laugh? Why? Was he flirting with her? Dr. Gorgeous?
Surely not. She was headset hair and engine grease. He was designer tuxedos, fancy Hamptons parties, and chartered helicopter flights. It was very clear she was Not His Kind.
Damn it. She squelched the depressing thought and tried to keep herself focused on reality.
“After all,” Lucas said, “you’re meant to be keeping me awake. You can’t do that staring out the windshield.”
“I don’t want to distract you.” There was another flash of lightning as she spoke, and the rain intensified. The sound of it competed with the rumble of the car’s engine, the beat making her neck tense.
“You won’t distract me.”
He sounded confident. At least one of them was. She really didn’t like being out in storms.
She tried to think of the plus side of getting back to the city. Sleeping in her own bed. Being able to get home and get Dougal back from her neighbor early. He didn’t like storms, either. Which made for interesting times when a ninety-pound dog tried to crawl into her lap at the first rumble of thunder. Lightning flashed again, even brighter, and she ran out of ideas. Maybe Lucas Angelo wasn’t going to be distracted, but she was starting to crave a little distraction herself. So. Talking. To the gorgeous doctor. The relatively complete stranger gorgeous doctor.
She flailed for a suitable topic of conversation. Small talk wasn’t her thing. “So,” she managed eventually. “What kind of doctor are you, Dr. Angelo?”
“It’s Lucas,” he said. “And I’m an orthopedic surgeon.”
A surgeon. Of course he was. And orthopedics. Most of her knowledge of medicine came from TV and her first-aid training. But she knew that one from her dad. A smashed-up leg had meant they’d gotten some quality time with the orthopedics department. “That’s bones, right?”
“Bones and muscles,” Lucas said, steering the car around a bend in the road. “I specialize in sports medicine, mostly.”
Sports. Something else she knew little about. Her dad was a football fan. Her brother had been too. But Sara had never had much time for games involving teams and balls. Her teen obsession had been flying. That hadn’t changed. “Sounds, um, glamorous,” she managed.
Lucas laughed. “People are all the same on the operating table. But yes, I meet some interesting ones.”
“Is that why you have to get back to Manhattan? For a patient?” That would be a semi-reasonable excuse for undertaking this reckless trek through the elements.
“Yes. I have a shoulder to fix.”
“That doesn’t sound like an emergency.”
“The kid’s a figure skater. A pairs skater. His shoulder is important to him.” His tone sharpened a little.
“I understand,” she said. She didn’t, not really. Could a few hours really make a difference? Enough to risk driving through this weather for?
Lucas didn’t reply. Damn. Had she upset him? Dissed his specialty?
Way to go. She really had no chance of keeping him as a client. She couldn’t even manage to talk to the man without insulting him.
After all, it wasn’t like she could ask him about the operation or anything. She wasn’t fond of blood and guts, and surgery was all about that.
“I’m sure he’s in good hands,” she managed eventually.
“He is,” Lucas agreed.
O-kay. Well, he didn’t suffer from a lack of confidence, that was for sure. But she couldn’t fault him for that. She figured you needed to be confident in your skills to pick up a piece of razor-sharp metal and slice into someone and believe that you could put them back together again better than when you started. Just like she was confident that she could take someone up into the air in several tons of metal and bring them back down again in one piece. Some things you needed to know you were good at.
Pity that she was all too aware of the things she wasn’t good at tonight. Things like major storms and ridiculously hot men and small talk.
She wriggled a little against the leather seat.
“Are you cold?” he asked. He stretched his right hand toward the screen on the dashboard. It looked more complex than the instrument panels in the A-Star. And a lot more high-tech.
But he apparently was more than familiar with it, pressing the touch screen without really looking.
“No,” she said. “I’m fine.” The seats were heated and the car itself was warm enough, though she could feel the cold air outside from the chill emanating off the window. Far better to be inside the car than out, even factoring in the disconcerting company.
“Good,” he said. “But let me know if you are.” He nodded toward the dash and the display. “The temperature is dropping out there.”
“Odd to get a thunderstorm in winter,” Sara said. “Crazy weather.”
“According to science, crazy weather is going to be the new normal,” Lucas said seriously.
“Don’t say things like that to a pilot,” she said, only half joking. “I like nice calm weather.”
“You should become a pilot somewhere with a more temperate climate then,” Lucas said. “Find an island somewhere warm.”
“Tempting,” she said, trying not to picture Lucas in swim trunks lying on a tropical beach. “But I’m a New York kind of gal. I like the city. Staten is as island as I get.”
“Me, too,” Lucas said. “Though there are times when a tropical island seems appealing,” he added cryptically. He shifted down a gear to take a corner and another bolt of lightning cracked across the sky, giving Sara a better glimpse of the world outside. The trees lining the road were bending furiously in the wind. She shivered.
They drove on a little longer in silence, the road becoming all either of them focused on.
“So how did you become a helicopter pilot?” Lucas asked when they were safely back on a stretch of straight road and the rain had eased up.
“My dad’s a pilot. He used to take me up with him from when I was tiny,” Sara replied with a shrug. “I can’t remember ever not wanting to learn how to fly.”
For a moment she thought she saw him shiver but dismissed it. Overly confident gorgeous doctors didn’t do human things like shiver, after all.
“You never wanted to fly a plane?”
“Nah. Helicopters are more fun. Planes feel very…closed in. In a helo you’re closer to the sky.”
Another flash of lightning and the drumming on the roof bumped up a notch or two in volume. Right now the sky was a little too close for comfort.
“I guess,” Lucas said. He didn’t sound excited by the idea, either. “And is the Charles in Charles Air you or your dad?”
“Dad,” Sara said. She bit down on the desire to say more. About how it was meant to be her dad and her brother. Here in the dark little bubble of warmth of the car, it would be easy to relax and tell him all her troubles. About the exhaustion of trying to single-handedly run a business that needed at least two more people to function properly. Or dealing with a parent who wasn’t taking being out of action very well. Every time she saw her dad, even though he never said anything, Sara was sure he was regretting the fact that she was the one here to pick up the pieces instead of James. After all, sons were meant to be the heirs to the family business, weren’t they?
But James was dead and had been for six years now and there was nothing that either Sara or her father could do about that.
And tempting as it was to talk to Lucas as they drove through the darkness, she didn’t think crying on his shoulder was going to help keep his business. She bit her lip for a moment, pushing the bad stuff away again. She was aiming for Born and bred a pilot, not Can’t cut it. “Though really, it was my granddad. He flew a Sioux in Korea. That’s why Dad wanted to be a pilot.”
“Something in the blood, then.”
“Have you always worked for your dad?”
She shook her head. “No, I did a tour in the army. I—watch out!”
Lucas swore and braked heavily. The car skidded but he steered into it like a pro and they came to a halt about a foot clear of the massive tree that lay across the road, blocking both lanes. Sara’s seat belt snapped her back against the seat.
“Fuck,” Lucas said. Sara could only agree with him, but she didn’t trust herself to speak just yet. She was too busy convincing herself that she was still in one piece.
He twisted toward her. “Are you okay?”
The sound of her heart beating was roaring in her ears but she wasn’t hurt. They hadn’t hit the tree. All was good. “Y-yes,” she managed.
His eyes narrowed. “Are you sure?” He snapped his own belt free and leaned toward her.
She held him off with a hand. “I’m fine. But you need to move this car before someone else comes up behind us.”
“Shit. Yes. You’re right.” He straightened and pulled his seat belt back into place. He backed the car up and then swung it into a U-turn. “We need a safe place to stop. I can’t see what’s on the shoulder in all this rain.”
Sara couldn’t, either. The entire outdoors seemed to have turned into water sheeting from the sky. “I’m pretty sure I saw a motel sign a couple of miles back.”
She waved back at the tree. “Well, we’re not getting past that. And while I’m sure this car has a fancy GPS that could get us onto some side roads, I’m guessing that there are only going to be more trees down. Same thing if we try to get back to Ellen’s.”
“I know, you have to get back to the city. But it’s not worth dying for, is it? Let’s go to the motel and hope they have some rooms. You can get a few hours’ sleep and try again when it’s light. The emergency crews might have cleared this by then.”
She watched him think about it, his dark brows twisted in a scowl as he gazed out the windshield, and silently kissed her last hope of keeping his business good-bye. The tree was hardly her fault, but this night was turning into the kind of disaster that was guaranteed to make him wish he’d never heard of Charles Air. Or her. If he argued with her, she would politely ask him to take her back to the motel; then he could do whatever the hell he wanted. “I know this sounds like the start of every bad horror movie ever made, but the motel is our best option.”
His hands tightened on the wheel—her attempt at humor didn’t seem to have lightened the mood—but then he gave a single nod. “You’re right. This is too dangerous. We’ll try the motel.