Includes previously publishing novellas - Getting off the Ground, Infinity Pools, & On the List
Author: L.A. Witt
Excerpt (Getting off the Ground):
This is just what I need.
White sand beaches. Palm trees. Two weeks, give or take a day, in paradise with gorgeous, available men wearing more suntan lotion than clothing.
I put down the travel brochure and glared at the motionless aircraft just beyond the window. Not that I could see it very well; its white fuselage was nearly camouflaged behind the snow that tumbled out of the gray sky and spun and swirled in the heavy wind.
A freak snowstorm when I was trying to get the hell out of here. Yeah, that was what I needed.
The other passengers milled around the gate, waiting with knitted eyebrows and folded arms. Anytime one of the staff members went near the microphone to make an announcement or call for a specific passenger, everyone stiffened and craned their necks, waiting for updates. Worried phone calls were made, tense breaths were taken and released, and the floor vibrated with the faint percussion of pacing feet.
A narrow aisle divided my row of stiff, faux leather chairs from a facing row. The woman sitting across from me between two bored-looking kids leaned forward.
“Do you think our flight will be delayed again?” she asked.
I glanced out the window once more. I hadn’t seen anything take off in at least two hours, and it didn’t look like that was changing any time soon. Nodding, I faced her again. “Yeah, they’ll probably delay it again.”
She pursed her lips. “Well, hopefully we won’t be stuck here too much longer.” She sat back, staring out the same window and folding her hands in her lap.
“Guess we’ll see,” I muttered.
A few seats over from her, a good-looking guy with sandy blond hair and five o’clock shadow looked up from his laptop. He glanced at her, then me, and a vague look of amusement tried to curl the corner of his mouth before he turned his attention back to the screen.
I wondered how the hell he was so relaxed when everyone else walked the fine line between concern and panic. Unlike those of us who wouldn’t truly be on vacation until we landed in Honolulu, he was dressed like his vacation had already begun. He didn’t look at all like someone stranded in Seattle during a surprise blizzard.
It wasn’t just the sandals, khaki shorts, and tasteful blue Hawaiian shirt with the top button undone, either. His feet were propped up on his suitcase and crossed at the ankles, the computer balanced on his knees, and he didn’t look like he gave a shit or even noticed what was going on all around him. He’d been there for the last hour or two, and he’d barely batted an eye when the first delay was announced. Nor the second. When the snow came down harder, he’d looked, but no reaction registered on his face.
At first I wondered if he’d had a few drinks or maybe thrown back a Valium like my mother always did when she flew, but that theory went out the window when I watched his hands for a moment. Judging by the way his fingers moved on the keyboard, he was playing a game. It was easy to tell, even from here: the same keystrokes, over and over, and sometimes his brow furrowed and lips tightened as those keystrokes quickened. Then he’d exhale, shake his head, and punch in some other command before resuming the repetitive motions.
He was way too alert to be drugged but appeared, aside from momentary displays of frustration with his game, completely relaxed and unperturbed. He must have been one of those people who didn’t get pissed off in traffic jams, either. One of those aggravatingly relaxed ones who just turned up the radio, tapped the beat into the steering wheel with his thumbs, all the while reminding himself over and over, “I’ll get there eventually, no sense getting stressed over it.” I, meanwhile, would be three cars back, white-knuckling the wheel and praying for sweet death if it meant not sitting there for another two minutes. Once our plane finally boarded and took off, this guy would probably be sound asleep for the entire flight while I drummed my fingers on a shared armrest and tried in vain to get comfortable.
His eyes flicked up and met mine, and I quickly shifted my gaze away, my cheeks burning as I wondered just how long I’d been absently staring at him.
It wasn’t only his relaxed state that had drawn my attention. He was definitely easy on the eyes. The loose sleeves of his Hawaiian shirt were just short enough to hint at his well-toned biceps, and his sculpted forearms, tanned and lightly dusted with dark blond hair, didn’t belong to someone who spent all his time fucking off and playing video games. His legs were similarly toned and bronzed. Chiseled jaw, prominent cheekbones, and—
And I was staring again.
I cleared my throat and turned to riffle through my carry-on bag. I didn’t actually need anything out of it, but it gave me something to focus on besides Mr. Calm, Collected, and Fucking Hot.
“Attention passengers waiting for flight two-zero-five bound for Honolulu International Airport,” the flight attendant’s voice crackled over the loudspeaker, giving me something else to think about. “Due to snow conditions here at Sea-Tac, this flight will be delayed another two hours.” A collective groan rippled through the crowd and drowned out her sincerest apologies for the inconvenience. The guy in the Hawaiian shirt pursed his lips and muttered something under his breath, but otherwise didn’t react.
I looked at my watch. It was ten past noon. As of now, our flight wouldn’t be leaving until at least three, and that assumed the weather cleared up. If it got to be four or five in the evening, the sun—wherever the fuck it was—would be going down. Even if the snow stopped coming down, the temperature wouldn’t be rising, and that meant only one thing: ice.
Glancing around the terminal, I made note of several other gates that were crowded with impatient-looking souls. It wasn’t a terribly busy travel day and it was off-peak season, so it wasn’t wall-to-wall people like it would have been in June or around Thanksgiving. Still, there were a hell of a lot of people stranded like myself and the mother who fretted and fidgeted across from me. A lot of people who weren’t going anywhere anytime soon.
I pulled my laptop out of its case and powered it up.
I’d promised myself this wouldn’t be another vacation full of neurotic pre-planning or doing things just to be on the safe side. This would be as close to reckless as Elliott Chandler was capable of being.
Still, this was an extenuating circumstance, and I convinced myself that even my devil-may-care partner—ex-partner—wouldn’t have argued.
When my computer finished starting up, I paused to look at the desktop background I’d put up last night. It was a screenshot of my to-do list on this trip.
1. Cancel a reservation at the last minute.
3. Some random guy I haven’t met yet.
5. Sex on the beach.
I chuckled to myself. Only I would make a to-do list for a damned vacation, especially one that may as well have just said, stop planning and go get laid, dumbshit. And only I would consider cancelling a reservation at the last minute to be wild and reckless. Knowing me, it wouldn’t turn out to be anything riskier than canceling a dinner reservation and eating someplace else at the last second. Yeah, I was extreme.
Oh, well. The very fact that I was still taking this trip was unusual by my standards, especially since I was going alone. I wasn’t supposed to be going alone, but why let both expensive honeymoon tickets go to waste?
After logging into the airport’s obscenely overpriced wireless network, I did a quick search of nearby hotels. There was no sense paying for a shuttle and going home for the night; if the weather was bad enough to cancel my flight, then I didn’t relish the idea of being driven in it, either. My house was an hour away in decent weather. It would easily be three hours or more in this shit, with the added risk of a wreck because of ice or low visibility. No, thanks.
A hotel was clearly the more prudent option, and a few clicks later, I had a reservation for tonight. A larger and more expensive room than I’d wanted, but it was all that was available, so I took it. While my computer shut down, I pulled out my cell phone. There were a few missed calls, which didn’t surprise me. That was exactly why my phone had been on silent since last night anyhow.
They could wait a minute. I dialed the hotel.
A female voice picked up on the other end. “Front desk, how may I help you?”
“I just made a reservation online for tonight,” I said. “I’d like to confirm that it came through. Last name is Chandler.”
“One moment, please.” Keys clicked in the background. Then, “Elliott Chandler?”
“I have you down for a non-smoking room with two queen beds for one night. Is that correct?”
“Yes, that’s correct.”
“Excellent,” she said. “Looks like you got one of the last available rooms for tonight.”
I forced a laugh even though my mind reeled with what if I’d waited another ten minutes to make the call? “Guess I booked it just in time.”
“Yes, you did,” she said. “We’ll see you this evening, Mr. Chandler.”
With that out of the way, I scrolled through my missed calls. My mom again. My sister Cassie. I wasn’t sure if it should have surprised me or not that Ben, my ex as of much too recently, had called twice. Maybe it should have, maybe it shouldn’t have, but it damn sure did. The only thing I wanted to hear from him right now was, “I’ll be moved out by the time you get back.” That much could be contained in a voice mail, and he hadn’t left one.
I didn’t feel like talking to my mom, and I was not calling Ben anytime soon, but Cassie was always a welcome diversion.
“Hey, Ell,” she said when she answered. “How are you holding up?”
“God, I hope so,” she said, a hint of a laugh in her voice. “But, I’m serious, how are—wait, where are you?”
“The…airport?” she sputtered. “You’re not…I thought you were joking about going.”
“I was,” I said. “But then I decided it was a good idea, so here I am.”
“Wow.” She exhaled. “So, you’re actually taking a honeymoon by yourself?”
I laughed dryly. “I don’t think it qualifies as a honeymoon anymore now that I’m going by myself.”
Mr. Calm and Cool’s eyes flicked toward me for a split second. The woman across from me raised her eyebrows. I buried my gaze in my carry-on bag.
“So, what are you going to do?” she asked.
“Spend two weeks in Hawaii pretending I didn’t just get dumped, I guess,” I said. “We had all kinds of things planned, so—”
“Jesus, Ell,” she said. “Only you would plan every minute of your damned honeymoon.”
“I didn’t plan every minute of it.”
“Yes, you did.”
“Okay, fine, I did.” I laughed again, but didn’t put much effort into it. “Yes, the whole trip is planned down to the last minute, but at least it’s better than moping around the house.”
“True. I can’t argue with that.” She sighed. “Are you sure you’ll be okay? After what happened?”
“Not like I’m the first guy to get stood up at the altar.”
The squeak of movement on leather made me instinctively look up, and the mother across from me met my eyes. Her eyebrows were up, so I had no doubt she’d overheard me. I dropped my gaze again.
“You’re not the first,” Cassie said. “But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt. Shouldn’t you take some time to deal with it?”
“I am, Cass. That’s why I’m going. Maybe it’ll give him time to move his crap out of the house while I’m gone. I just, I need to be as far from him as I can get right now.”
A sharp breath preceded more movement in front of me. I glanced up as the woman and her kids collected their things. She shot me a disgusted look just before they moved to another row of seats.
I didn’t have the energy to get offended and didn’t bother rolling my eyes. I didn’t care. It had been less than twenty-four hours since the man who was supposed to love me decided to ditch me at our own wedding. Anyone who didn’t like two men getting married could shove their judgment right up their ass at this point.
“You still there?” Cassie asked.
“Yeah, sorry,” I said. “Just got…distracted.”
“That doesn’t surprise me right now.” She blew out a breath. “Well, have fun on your trip.”
“I will, assuming the plane ever gets off the ground.”
“Oh, shit, yeah,” she said. “They said on the news they’re canceling flights left and right. You still going to make it out of there tonight?”
She was quiet for a moment. “You sound way too okay with that. Are—oh, wait. You have a backup plan, don’t you?”
I laughed. “Of course I have a backup plan.”
“You would. Listen, I have to run, but try to have a good time, okay?”
“Put it on your to-do list or something.”
Chuckling, I hung up and slid my phone back into my pocket. As I sat back, I caught Mr. Calm and Cool’s eye. A ghost of a grin gave his lips the most mouthwatering shape and added a devilish sparkle to his eyes.
Those sparkling blue eyes darted toward the empty seats across from me, then to the place the woman and her kids had parked themselves, then back to me. The grin broadened.
“Was it something I said?” he asked.
I laughed again and shrugged. “More like something I said.”
He threw a dismissive gesture in her direction. “Fuck her.”
“I’d rather not, thanks,” I muttered.
He snickered and dropped his feet from on top of his suitcase to the floor. Laptop in one hand, leather case slung over his other shoulder, he toed his suitcase across the floor. He set everything else in one of the seats the woman and her kids had occupied. Before he took a seat himself, he extended his hand.
I shook his hand. “Elliott Chandler.”
He dropped into the chair opposite me and leaned back, crossing his feet at the ankles and lacing his fingers behind his head. As he’d been all along, the very picture of relaxed.
“So, what’s taking you to Hawaii?” I asked. “Business or pleasure?”
“Actually, I’m heading home,” he said. “I was in Denver on business, stopped into Seattle for a few days to visit family, and now I’m on my way home.”
“You live in Hawaii?”
He nodded. “Maui, actually.”
Damn. Wrong island. “Must be nice.”
He shrugged. “Oh, the novelty wears off after a while, but I do love it.” He threw a smirk toward the windows. “I certainly don’t miss the snow.”
“I could do without it myself,” I grumbled.
“Ah, come on now, it doesn’t snow here that much.” He paused. “Or, is this just a stopover for you?”
“No, no, I live here,” I said. “And I do like it. Aside from the”—I gestured at the window—“humidity.”
Derek laughed. “Just wait until you get to Hawaii. That, my friend, is humidity.”
“So I’ve heard.”
“Never been there?”
I shook my head. “Haven’t done a lot of traveling, I’m afraid.” I leaned back and slung one arm across the back of the chair beside me, trying to look a hell of a lot more relaxed than I felt. Though I had to admit, Derek’s calm-amidst-the-storm demeanor was contagious. People like that usually just served to remind me how wound up I was. Derek may as well have been kneading my shoulders and whispering in my ear right then.
I wish, I thought as I stole another glance at his arms.
I cleared my throat. “Any recommendations for a clueless tourist?”
He smiled. “I thought I heard you saying you’d planned every minute of your trip.” He paused, then quickly added, “Not that I was trying to eavesdrop. You know how it is…” He gestured around the crowd of passengers.
“Don’t worry about it,” I said. “Bound to overhear a conversation or two in here. And to answer your question, I did have it all planned, but I was also planning to have someone with me. Since that plan’s changed, why not throw the rest out the window with it?”
He gave a slow nod. “Point taken. Which island are you visiting?”
“Oahu. Staying in Honolulu”
“Hmm. Can’t say I’m familiar enough with Oahu to help you much. Now, Maui and Molokai? I know those two like the back of my hand.”
Just my luck. “Sounds like I picked the wrong island, then.”
“Oh, I don’t know about that.” His eyes met mine, and my heart skipped. The water surrounding Hawaii only aspired to be that blue. “There’s still plenty to do on Oahu. I just wouldn’t be much of a tour guide.” He brought his hands down, letting one rest on the handle of his suitcase while he leaned the other elbow on the chair’s armrest. “Are you the type who likes the more touristy places, or the out of the way things only the locals know about?”
I chewed my lip. Which type was I? Before today, I was the type who planned everything to the last minute, never strayed off the beaten path, and took every recommended precaution. Plus a few extra precautions for good measure. I followed guidebooks like they were brain surgery manuals.
Yesterday, my perfectly planned world was yanked out from under my feet. Every plan I’d made from this point forward was screwed. This morning, when I’d left for the airport, the guidebook remained beside my bed. Whether it was for spite, or because I just didn’t give a fuck anymore, I’d left it behind. All I had was a brochure with the number and address of my hotel.
“Quite honestly,” I said finally, “I don’t know what type of tourist I am.”
Derek tilted his head and regarded me silently. He absently traced his lower lip with the tip of his thumb. My own fingertips tingled, reminding me I wasn’t touching him. As if I’d forgotten.
“Well,” he said, his voice quiet but reaching me with ease in spite of the voices and movement all around us, “I do have some friends on Oahu. I could give you their contact information. They know a lot of the places no one tells the tourists about.”
“They wouldn’t mind a tourist joining them?”
He laughed and shook his head. “Hardly. Some of the places are just restaurants, secluded beaches, the good hiking trails. Things like that. Some are”—he glanced at the mother who’d herded her children away from me, then looked at me and lowered his voice a little more—“friendlier than others, if you know what I mean.”
My heart sped up. “Are there places like that on all the islands?”
“There are.” Derek held my gaze. “Some more than others.”
“More places than others?” I asked. “Or friendlier than others?”
I gulped. I really was going to the wrong island.