(Book #2 in the Changing Plans series)
Author: L. A. Witt
Publisher: Amber Quill Press
Format(s): eBook, paperback
A gentle nudge roused me from a sound sleep.
I blinked a few times, trying to orient myself. My surroundings came into focus, and the moments before I’d fallen asleep came back to me. Getting on the plane. Taking a seat in the spacious business class area instead of the confines of coach. Sitting beside…
My heart skipped.
I turned to him, and he glanced up from putting his laptop in its case.
“Hated to wake you up,” he said. “But we’re getting ready to land.”
“Already?” Derek laughed and stood to put the case in the overhead bin. “You’ve been out for hours.”
I looked at my watch. Holy Christ, I’d slept away most of the six and a half hour flight. “Damn.” I tilted my head to work out some stiffness while I tried like hell to ignore the vague tightness in my gut, that first niggling worry that I was making a huge mistake by being here.
So this was real. I was doing this. I’d cancelled my reservations in Oahu. After we got off this plane, we were getting on another one to Maui. To spend two weeks together. At his place.
Two weeks with Derek. The fellow passenger I’d met yesterday after a snowstorm stranded us in the terminal. The man with whom I’d spent last night in a passionate, insatiable embrace. The man with whom I’d be spending the vacation that would have been my honeymoon if my fiancé hadn’t—
I rubbed my eyes. What the hell was I thinking?
My mind wandered back to last night. Just the memory of his kiss, never mind the sex that had kept us awake half the night, was enough to remind me why I’d thought this was a good idea. It didn’t make it a good idea, but I could sure remember what I’d been thinking. More sex like that? Hell yeah. But…crap, Elliott, this could be a total disaster.
He took his seat again and glanced at me as he reached for his seatbelt. “You all right?”
“Yeah.” I looked at him and forced a smile. “Still waking up.” And wondering what the hell I’m doing.
He cocked his head slightly. “You sure?”
He put his hand over mine on my armrest. “If you’re having second thoughts about this, it’s not too late to change your mind.”
Something deep down relaxed. That was one thing that had swung the pendulum in his favor from the get-go: no matter what he wanted, he was willing to back down and back off if I showed the slightest hesitation. Last night, when I got cold feet in the heat of the moment, he’d given me a few minutes and some breathing room. Didn’t push me at all, and in fact let me make the first move to get things started again.
“I’d rather go to sleep frustrated,” he’d said, “than try to sleep knowing I’d pushed you into something you weren’t ready for.” If I was going to have some reckless rebound fun, I could do worse than committing myself to two weeks with someone like him.
I turned my hand over and slid my fingers between his. “I have second thoughts about everything.”
He offered a cautious smile. “Okay, but do you still want to go with me? You can always—”
“I do want to go.” That was no lie. I didn’t doubt for a second that I wanted to. He didn’t need to know about my internal debate over whether “want to” outweighed “shouldn’t.”
“Well, if you decide you’re not sure about staying at my place,” he said, “it won’t hurt my feelings if you want to get a hotel room.”
“You trying to kick me out before we even get there?”
Derek chuckled. “Not a chance.” His humor faded. “I just don’t want you thinking you’re obligated to stay with me.”
“If I do stay with you, does that mean you’re obligated to sleep with me?”
He trailed his fingers along the inside of my wrist. “Trust me,” he said, almost whispering, “obligation is a moot point where that is concerned.”
We exchanged grins.
As the plane descended, I yawned, partly to pop my ears and partly because, in spite of a few hours of sleep, I was still tired as hell.
“Man, now I’ll be all fucked up for sleep,” I said.
“You’ll be fine. I’ll make sure you’re tired enough tonight.”
I laughed. “I’m sure you will.”
“Trust me.” He winked.
I shivered. I had no doubt he’d keep his word. “What time is it, anyway? Local time, I mean.”
Derek looked at his watch. “Almost four-thirty in the afternoon.”
Four-thirty? Seriously? It felt like…like…not four-thirty. One flight across the ocean, and suddenly my internal clock was blinking 12:00.
“So how long does the jet lag usually take to wear off?”
“Not long. A day or so, tops. Going home, though?” He grimaced. “That’ll knock you on your ass.”
“Yeah. Hell if I know why. Just be glad you’re not crossing the Date Line. That time change is murder.”
“Can’t say I’ve ever traveled that far.”
He smiled. “You should. Jet lag aside, there’s a lot to see on that side of the world. I go to Australia every other year to go diving.”
“Worth the jet lag?”
“And then some.”
“Well, let’s see how I handle a floating U.S. state before I start living dangerously and heading off to other countries, shall we?”
He laughed and squeezed my hand. “Trust me, you’ll love it.”
“I’ll take your word for it.” I grinned. “Especially since I fully expect you to put your money where your mouth is and make sure I enjoy it.”
He put his other hand to his forehead in a mock salute. “On it.”
A few minutes later, the plane touched down. Once we’d taxied to the gate, shuffled off the plane with everyone else, and started down the concourse toward baggage claim, Derek pulled out his cell phone and speed-dialed someone.
“Kanani, aloha, it’s Derek, I’m—no, they didn’t kick me off the plane, you fucker.” He furrowed his brow, listening to the person on the other end. “We’re heading to baggage claim right now. You mind picking us up in the usual place?” Another pause. This time he rolled his eyes and chuckled. “You’re an idiot. We’ll see you in twenty.”
“Our limousine awaits?” I asked after he’d hung up.
“Yeah. Kanani’s the pilot, and since I let him use my Jeep on Maui whenever I’m out of town, he drives my ass around whenever we’re on Oahu.”
“Nice guy. Does he charge you to fly?”
Derek snickered. “Trust me, his company is price enough.” He paused. “Okay, seriously, he’s usually carting passengers back and forth, and lets me hitch a ride for free. If he has to make a special trip for me, I spot him for gas.”
“Is he making a special trip for us?” I asked.
He nodded. “No one else is flying out today.”
“Are you sure I don’t owe you for—”
“Don’t worry about it.” He made a dismissive gesture. “I’ve got this one.”
He just grinned, and we kept walking. It struck me that he didn’t bat an eye at paying for fuel. Something told me a tank of gas for a plane, even a small one, would make my wallet bleed. Then again, maybe it was cheaper than buying a ticket, so it might have been the lesser of two evils.
Once we’d picked up our suitcases at baggage claim, we went outside to wait for Kanani.
Neither the heat nor the humidity were as oppressive as I’d expected. My skin was instantly damp and the air was hot to say the least, but a light wind kept it all bearable. It was a damned good thing I’d remembered my sunglasses, too. Even the pavement was blinding.
While we waited, I stole a few glances at Derek. In the shade of a wind-rustled palm tree, he finally looked at home in his sandals, Hawaiian shirt, and khaki shorts. Amidst snowbound passengers in Seattle, he’d stood out, but here, his attire blended him in, as did his tan, sun-bleached sandy blond hair, and dark, wraparound sunglasses. That, and as he had since the moment I’d first laid eyes on him, he was completely calm and cool. One thumb was hooked in the pocket of his shorts while the other hand held the strap on his laptop case, which was slung over his shoulder. He rested his weight on one foot, and there wasn’t a hint of tension anywhere in his posture.
Something in the distance caught his eye, and he straightened. “There’s our ride.”
A battered white pickup pulled up to the curb and stopped. The driver left the engine idling and came around to greet us.
“Aloha, my friend.” He embraced Derek, then looked at me. To Derek, he said, “You brought home another souvenir?”
“Another souvenir?” I raised an eyebrow. “You make a habit of this?”
“Yeah, something like that,” Derek muttered. He gestured at the two of us. “Kanani, this is Elliott. Elliott, Kanani.”
“Nice to meet you.” I shook Kanani’s hand.
“Same.” He gestured at Derek. “Can you believe this guy? I keep asking him to bring me home a pretty girl, but he never does.”
“Hey, I try.” Derek put up his hands. “Not my fault they run like hell when I show your picture.”
Kanani huffed. “They probably don’t believe a handsome man like me hangs around a creature like you, so they all think you’re scamming them.”
“I’ll have you know I’m a magnet for attractive men.” Derek nodded toward me. “Exhibit A, ladies and gentlemen of the jury.”
Kanani looked at me again, then shrugged. “Opposites attract.”
“Whatever. Let’s face it, Kan,” Derek said. “Even a born salesman like me can’t find a girl who’s desperate and gullible enough to want you, even if it includes a trip to Hawaii.”
“You want to swim to Maui?”
Derek shrugged. “Probably safer that way.”
“Hey, I’m the best pilot on this island.”
“Yep, best pilot on the ground.”
“Oh, fuck you, Windsor.”
“I’d love to, but—”
“God, shut up.” Kanani started toward the driver’s side of the truck.
“You know you want me.”
Just before he got in the truck, Kanani threw over his shoulder, “You’re a sick, sick fucker.”
Derek looked at me, offering an apologetic shrug. “I never said I hung around with gentlemen.”
“Birds of a feather, right?”
He shot me a playful glare. “Touché.”
“When you lovebirds are done,” Kanani called out the window, “how about putting all this crap in the truck so we can get out of here?”
“Service with a smile.” Derek hoisted his suitcase into the back of the truck. “That’s why I love you, Kan.”
We loaded everything into the bed, then got into the cab with Derek in the middle and me riding shotgun.
“So, we taking the limo or the fly this time?” Derek asked as we pulled away from the curb.
“Damn it, asshole, it’s not a fly,” Kanani said.
“I assume it does fly, though?” I asked.
“Yes, it does. Quite nicely. But this one”—Kanani elbowed Derek—“is obsessed with size.”
“I am not!” Derek glared at him. “I just prefer flying into the airport in something they’ll direct in for landing instead of trying to swat.”
“Well, tough shit,” Kanani said. “I don’t have any other passengers to pick up on Maui, and you two are the only ones crossing today. So unless we pick up some hitchhikers, we’re taking the little one.”
“Great,” Derek muttered.
“The fly” turned out to be a tiny red four-seater. Derek and I had both packed pretty light, and we still had to work at it to get all of our luggage to fit. I wasn’t so sure about these little planes, but this was our ride, and presumably it was safe, so it would have to do. That, and the price was right. I certainly couldn’t complain.
“Why don’t you sit up front?” Derek nodded toward the co-pilot’s seat. “More legroom, and a way better view.”
I didn’t know if I wanted a better view of all the land and water that would soon be that far below us, but what the hell?
Before I got in, I looked up at the plane and chewed the inside of my cheek. The thought of getting into it with Kanani and Derek was odd. I felt like I was getting into a car with a couple of strangers. That wasn’t far from the truth, I reminded myself. I knew at least half a dozen ways to make Derek’s breath catch and I knew exactly how to make him come, but beyond that? I didn’t know a damned thing about the guy.
He put a hand on my arm. “You all right?”
“Yeah, yeah.” I nodded at the plane. “Just trying to decide if I should get in or find a flyswatter.”
“Hey!” Kanani yelled from the other side. “I heard that.”
Derek laughed and clapped my shoulder. We exchanged grins, then boarded the plane.
“Not exactly business class,” I said, adopting the snobbiest tone I could muster.
“Oh, I know,” Derek groaned. “And the flight attendant’s a dick.”
“Keep it up, both of you,” Kanani said. “I swear to God I’ll make you swim.”
“You’ve been threatening to make me swim for years,” Derek said. “You’re full of shit. Now fly.”
Kanani muttered a string of something I didn’t understand. Hawaiian curses, maybe. I couldn’t tell. Then he fired up the engines, radioed the control tower, and started toward the runway.
“Derek and gentlemen,” he said. “Thank you for choosing Kanani Airlines. Please keep all hands, feet, and small animals inside the plane at all times, and if you see any aircraft tape attached to anything, please leave it alone.”
“Oops,” Derek said from the backseat.
Kanani glanced over his shoulder. “Man, you destroying my plane already? We’re not even in the air yet.”
“Shut up and fly.”
Kanani flipped him off, then started down the runway.
“Hey, Kan,” Derek said. “You ever replace that engine?”
“Which engine?” The plane picked up speed, careening down the runway.
“The one that caught on fire.”
“Oh.” More speed. “Shit. Forgot all about that.”
A second later, the ground dropped out from under us.
It wasn’t their banter that made me close my eyes and take a deep breath. It was the finality. I was doing this. There was no turning back. Oahu was behind me. Next stop, Maui.
“Doing okay over there?” Kanani asked.
I opened my eyes. “Yeah, I’m good.”
“Not getting airsick or anything, are you?” Derek asked.
“No, I’m not getting airsick.”
“If you do,” Kanani said, gesturing over his shoulder, “puke on him.”
Derek smacked the pilot’s arm, and all three of us laughed.
With my eyes open, I understood why Derek had insisted on me sitting up front: the view was unbelievable.
My computer’s screen resolution and the printers that had produced all the books and brochures I had didn’t even begin to do justice to the vivid deep blue laced with pale green. In the shallower water, even from up here, the reefs were visible, thick gray and brown meandering and coiling along the lighter colored sand. The opaque gray-green waters of Puget Sound would never look the same.
After we’d flown for a while, Kanani turned to me. “Want to drive?”
I stared at him. “Pardon?”
“Go on.” He gestured at the control stick in front of me. “Give it a try.”
“I’ve never flown a plane.”
“Flying’s easy.” He pointed back at Derek. “Even this idiot can fly.”
He nodded. “Hard part’s landing. All you gotta do up here is hold the control stick.”
“Go on,” Derek said. “He can take control in about two seconds if anything happens.”
I looked over my shoulder. “If anything happens? Such as?”
“Like if a train’s about to hit us.” Kanani leaned forward, scanning the horizon. “No trains out here today. All clear.”
“Very funny.” I laughed in spite of myself. “Okay, sure, I’ll give it a try.” I hesitated, but then put my hands on the control stick.
After flipping a couple of switches, Kanani released his own and folded his arms across his chest. “It’s all yours. Don’t scratch my plane.”
Jesus. Forty-eight hours ago, I was still in shock from my fiancé bailing on our wedding. Twenty-four hours ago, I was snowbound and stranded, wondering if I’d ever make it to Oahu. This morning, I was in bed with Derek.