Monday, May 29, 2017

Week #22: Beyond the Storm by Mary Manners

Recreational Therapist Ava Kennedy is in charge of Valentine’s Day festivities for shut-in patients at Honeysuckle Cove Children’s Hospital. When a winter storm threatens to derail planned events and steal the children’s joy, Ava calls on longtime friend and firefighter Nick Jones for rescue. The two have been close, platonic friends since kindergarten, but Ava soon finds her heart whirling like the drifting snowflakes outside her office window.

Nick Jones is skilled at extinguishing fires, so he doesn’t count on kindling a flame with lifelong friend Ava Kennedy. But he’s got a sweet spot for kids and women…especially when one particular woman—Ava—possesses a soft heart and laughter that draws like an electron magnet. Despite Nick’s valiant efforts to resist, he finds himself caught up in the attraction.

Will these friends’ new feelings weather the shifting tempest…or is this simply a passing storm?


1st Chapter:

Ava Kennedy paced Honeysuckle Cove Children’s Hospital’s fifth floor break room as she watched Channel 12 News run down the week’s forecast. Snow and more snow was on its way.
She grimaced. Not now…please.
“The weather’s not looking good, is it?” Tami crossed the room and slipped a dollar into a drink machine nestled in the corner. The petite pediatric nurse often recharged her energy with an afternoon caffeinated soda.
“No. Not at all.” Ava frowned as she used a remote to lower the TV’s volume. “And the worst of it looks like it’s going to hit on Saturday—same day the Valentine’s party is scheduled for the kids.”
“Ouch. That smarts.” Tami snagged her drink from the dispenser, snatched her lunch box from the community fridge, and slipped into a plastic chair at a round table near the window. “All the work you’ve done…the months of planning…it’s all in jeopardy.”
“It’s not my work I’m concerned about.” Ava sank into a seat across from Tami and glanced through an expanse of window glass to study the sky. The temperature that morning had felt mild and even now the heavens appeared a peaceful, angelic blue without so much as the slightest hint of clouds. Perhaps the meteorologist had miscalculated his snow forecast and the storm would skirt right past Honeysuckle Cove. She sighed as she sent up a silent prayer and returned her gaze to Tami. “It’s the kids I’m worried about. They’ll be crushed if the party has to be cancelled. Mr. Aster has already phoned me half-a-dozen times to remind me that he refuses to drive in heavy rain—let alone through a raging snowstorm.”
Mr. Aster was a hugely successful sixty-something local business owner with ageless energy and widely-acknowledged eccentricities. He also proved one of the most generous benefactors of Honeysuckle Cove Children’s Hospital. He’d lost a granddaughter in a snowboarding accident several years ago, and had recently helped to fund a state-of-the-art physical therapy wing in her memory. He had backed Ava’s suggestion of a holiday party for the shut-in kids on one condition—he and his wife wanted to play the lead roles of Mr. and Mrs. Cupid, complete with matching red velvet, heart-shaped sacks of toys filled with gifts for the children.
The costumes had been specially hand-crafted and the Asters had brought them by to show off to Ava. The matching set now hung in the small closet in her office, waiting to be worn. Posters had been plastered along the hospital corridors and on elevator doors, and the entire hospital staff had talked up the party with the kids who were undergoing long-term treatments. Those children would call the therapy wing home during the holiday. Even the local newspapers and TV stations had done their part to spread the word. Ava couldn’t let the kids and their families down.
“Yes, I’ve heard about Mr. Aster’s odd driving quirks.” Tami scooped hummus onto a cracker and took a nibble. “He’s a bit of a nervous Nellie since he and his wife got T-boned by that snow plow during last winter’s ice storm.”
“Luckily, no one was seriously injured. I can’t say I blame him for being a bit over-cautious. Even so…” Ava pouted. “I suppose it’s a moot point since Mrs. Aster has the flu. She couldn’t come near the children anyway. During his last phone call, Mr. Aster finally admitted they wouldn’t make the event. He told me to find someone to take both their places. But I’m not left with much time. When it rains, it pours.”
“More like when it flurries, it blizzards.” Tami giggled briefly at her own joke, until she realized from Ava’s daggered stare that she missed the humor in it. “I’m sorry, Ava.”
“Me, too. It’s too late to change our plans. And even if we could switch the event date, it would defeat the purpose of the party. It’s for the kids. On Valentine’s Day. While they’re shut in here. Away from family and friends.”
“Right. Well, that’s crummy.” Tami frowned. “You know I’d be more than happy to help with the festivities, but I drew the proverbial short straw this holiday so I’m pulling a double shift at the nurse’s station that day.”
“Oh, you’re sure to have your hands full doing that, especially with the storm bearing down.”
“Yes, but I’m settling in with double duty for a great cause.” She winked conspiratorially. “Fiona has a hot date. I think Isaac is going to pop The Big Question.”
Ava wasn’t surprised by this tidbit of news. Fiona, a pediatric nurse and Isaac, a fifth year resident had been dating for more than two years and proved the picture of love. Most of the hospital staff had been wagering on when the nuptials might occur.
“That’s exciting.” Ava was happy for them, yet she couldn’t help but feel a little pinprick of envy. Though she’d weathered her fair share of frogs, she had yet to find her prince charming. She feared she never would. “I hope their plans aren’t derailed by the storm.”
“Oh, I don’t think Old Man Winter himself could keep Isaac from sliding that engagement ring on Fiona’s finger. He’s been hinting about it for weeks now. She’s the one who’s been dragging her feet. She thinks he should finish his residency first.”
“Well, if they can manage to carry on through the storm then so can I.” Ava nodded with stiff determination. “Yes, it’s time to be proactive. I’m going to launch a backup plan.”
“Well, you are the planner extraordinaire so if anyone can pull it off, you can.” Tami’s laughter danced along the window glass. “But from the looks of that mess—” She motioned to the TV, where a snow-ridden 5-day forecast was plastered across the monitor “—you’re going to need to pull out every trick.”
“Right. So it’s imperative that I draft someone who has use of a four-wheel vehicle and exhibits mad driving skills in the snow.” Ava pulled a steno notepad and pen from her pocket. She flipped open the pad, quickly scrawled a few notes, and then paused to tap her chin with the pen as she considered further possibilities. “He’ll have to help me pick up toy donations the morning of the party—or possibly the evening before if the storm hits early. It would be a bonus if he’d also roll up his sleeves to help with last-minute decorations and lead a few of the activities. Mr. and Mrs. Aster had planned to spend the entire day here and I was really counting on their help.”
“That’s a tall order.” Tami polished off the last cracker and snapped shut the lid of the hummus. “Paul Bunyan sort of tall.”
“Perhaps…but not impossible.”
“Of course it’s not. Nothing’s impossible. But what about Cupid and his heart-shaped sack of toys? Will this Jack of all trades be able to take Mr. Aster’s place? And will you take Mrs. Aster’s place?”
“I can certainly fill in as far as Mrs. Aster goes, but Mr. Cupid…hmm, that’s the most important part.” Ava frowned thoughtfully. “Well, whoever agrees to help will just have to be a good sport when it comes to wearing the costume and handing out gifts. The kids have their hearts totally set on the visit, and I’m not going to let them down.”
“Speaking of Cupid, is that hunky firefighter friend of yours going to bring you lunch again today?”
“Hunky…firefighter?” Ava wracked her brain until a light finally dawned. “Oh, you mean Nick?”
“Yes…Mr. Tall, Dark and Blue-eyed. Emphasis on the blue eyes…and the hunky.” Tami popped the tab on her soda, drew a sip, and then fanned herself with dramatics worthy of an Oscar. “Yes, definitely hunky. He’s oh-so-easy on the eyes.”
“I hadn’t noticed.”
Tami choked on the soda. “Are you blind?” She sputtered and reached for a napkin to swipe dribble from her mouth.
“Of course I’m not blind. Nick and I are just friends, that’s all.” Ava chuckled. “Since grade school, when he shared his lunch with me on the playground one afternoon.”
“She didn’t have one.” Nick strode into the room as he spoke the words. His rich, deep voice held a hint of playfulness. “Because her mom was in the hospital and her dad forgot to pack it. She looked so forlorn huddled there in the shade beneath the corkscrew slide that my heart melted into a big, sloppy puddle.”
“Oh, be still my heart.” Tami splayed a hand to her chest and pretended to swoon as she flopped against the chair back. “That is just the sweetest thing I’ve ever heard.”
“It was sweet.” Maggie remembered the way Nick had scrambled beneath the slide to join her. Mulch clung to both of them, and even now the sweet, musky scent of woodchips and damp earth conjured warm memories of that day. For a few moments, he’d simply gazed at her. Then, as if he completely understood without her voicing a single word, he drew a sandwich from its plastic wrapper, divided it, and handed her the larger half. Maggie imagined she’d never tasted anything quite so delicious. “I was crying.”
“Huge crocodile tears.” Nick nodded as a he pressed a finger to Ava’s left cheek. “Like a waterfall.”
He stroked her cheek to mime falling tears and the gentle touch wove flickers of heat up Ava’s spine. She gasped softly and stilled in the seat, suddenly unable to move even the smallest muscle as her pulse hummed.
“Wow.” Tami watched with wide, dewy eyes. “I forgot my lunch once and all I got was…nothing.”
“Dad had a lot on his mind.” Ava’s breath returned as Nick broke contact. The room felt suddenly warm, as if maintenance had adjusted the break room’s thermostat. And due to budget constraints, that never happened, so it had to be some sort of internal combustion. She tugged the collar of her turtleneck and wished she’d opted that morning for a cotton blouse instead. “He didn’t mean to leave my lunchbox sitting on the counter.”
“Of course he didn’t.” Nick snagged two bottled waters from the drink machine and handed one to her.
“He was distracted.” Ava scooted over to make room while he folded himself into a chair beside her. “Because he was called to a—”
“Rescue.” Nick finished as he set a brown paper sack on the table and shifted closer to her. “Yes, that’s how the story goes. Cat stranded in a tree, of all things.”
“It was a kitten,” Ava added, breathing in the familiar, subtle scent of Nick’s aftershave as he leaned toward her. “A very cute kitten that belonged to our neighbor down the street.”
“Princess Cuddles.” Nick grinned and the dimple at the center of his chin deepened, adding a playful and slightly mischievous depth to his face. “She was a princess, all right. That cat had the whole block wrapped around her little front paw, didn’t she Av?”
Ava barely heard the question as she drank in Nick’s features while Tami’s earlier assessment of him swam through her head. Midnight-black hair framed deep blue eyes while his smile warmed like the soft breeze of a summer day. Stonewashed jeans and a flannel shirt layered over a snug navy T-shirt accentuated broad shoulders that tapered to a lean waist and long, muscular legs. Tami’s appraisal proved spot on. Nick was certainly handsome, no doubt about that. But Ava had never really considered his looks in the amorous sense of the word. After all, they were merely good friends…nothing more. It had been that way forever and nothing would bring about change…right?
“That’s right,” Ava said, not quite sure whether the words were meant as a response to Nick’s comment or as an answer to her internal question.
Nick lifted one hand to form a cup with his palm. “She was a tiny ball of fur that fit right here.”
Ava was astounded that he remembered such vague details. Even she had forgotten the part about the kitten’s diminutive size at the time of its rescue. But Nick had taken a particular liking to the helpless animal, and had even run to the grocery store for kitten food when their neighbor, Mrs. Steinweiler, took ill and couldn’t make the trip.
“Mrs. Steinweiler was beside herself, thinking the poor little thing was going to meet with a horrible demise.” Ava did remember that part…the manner in which the elderly widow had leaned on her cane to painstakingly pace the length of sidewalk in front of her house while she made feeble attempts to call for help.
“Yep. Your dad had no choice but to grab his extension ladder and rush to the rescue.” Nick’s soft laughter proved infectious. “So I paid forward the good deed by rescuing his daughter from hunger pangs with half a ham and cheese on wheat and a pair of chocolate chip cookies.”
“They were very good cookies.” Ava still tasted the delicious, bittersweet flavor of dark chocolate, warmed from the sun, which had melted on her tongue.
“Homemade—my mom’s secret recipe.” Nick smacked his lips as he began to pull lunch items from the brown bag he’d set on the table. A pair of turkey sandwiches, barbecue flavored chips, a couple of dill pickle spears. “To this day, they’re my favorites, and I just happen to have a few packed in here, still warm from the oven.”
Ava never ceased to be amazed by the way he managed to fit a buffet of sorts into the sacks. These weekly lunches had become a tradition for them. Ever since that day in kindergarten, Nick had managed to make Wednesdays their share-a-lunch days. All through elementary school, into middle and high school, and even later on, when jobs had taken them their separate ways, Nick had never missed a Wednesday lunch with her. There were times Ava had been in meetings and she’d exit to find Nick had left her lunch with the receptionist. If he happened to get called to an emergency, the lunch would find its way to Ava via his mom or a co-worker. The calendar could be set by the arrival of Wednesday lunches.
As Ava studied today’s sandwich selection—one of her favorites—she found it impossible to resist the rich aroma of chocolate that caused her belly to grumble. She slipped a cookie from its foil wrapper and took a nibble. There was nothing wrong with having a little dessert before the meal—especially when Loretta Jones’s cookies were the dessert. The taste conjured affectionate memories.
“You told your mom what happened,” Ava voiced a conclusion to the missing lunch anecdote. “And she fretted so much that she made a lunch for me and sent it to school every day after that—at least until my mom came home from the hospital.”
Ava smiled at the thought. She loved Nick’s mom as her own. And since both her parents had passed—her mom during high school and her dad just last year—she considered Loretta her family.
“Yep. Mom loves you, Ava.” Nick leaned close and used the pad of his thumb to brush a crumb from her lips. His breath tickled her cheek. “There, got it. You look beautiful even with a smudge on your face, Av.”
Ava’s breath caught at the tender look in Nick’s eyes. Her belly did a weird little tumble at the shortened version of her name that only he used.
Time out…reality check.
Ava shifted in her seat. What was going on here? This was Nick, after all, and it was just another share-a-lunch Wednesday. They’d eat their sandwiches, exchange tidbits about their week, and afterward part ways to go on about their business. Nothing was different…
Or was it?
Nick handed her a bag of chips with a smile that raised the temperature of the room a few more degrees. Ava pushed up the sleeves of her turtleneck and tugged at the collar again. She thought she might melt. It was entirely possible.
Tami grinned and rolled her eyes as she gathered the wrapper from her crackers. Chair legs scraped over tile when she stood. She drew her gaze from Nick to slice Ava a sly, knowing look.
“Um…unless I’m seriously mistaken, Ava, you just found the answer to your snowstorm dilemma.” She leaned into the table, a grin of pure mischief on her face. “And from the looks of things, he comes with an added bonus.”
Ava felt a flush of heat bloom across her cheeks. “A bonus?” She prayed that Nick was oblivious to the tremor in her voice.
“Uh huh.” Tami’s smile widened as she offered a saucy wink. “I’m talking Valentine magic. Lucky you.”
Air rushed out of the room, leaving the vacuum of a black hole in its wake. Ava felt Nick’s gaze zero in on her, and her pulse danced an odd little tango that had fingers of heat stroking her belly.
“You’re delusional,” was all Ava could think to say. She drew a deep breath and nibbled her sandwich, though her hunger had suddenly fled.
            I’m delusional?” Tami chortled. “I think you’re just a bit confused, Ava, but you’ll figure things out soon enough. See you later, Nick. Happy Valentine’s Day.”
As Ava watched Tami go, she imagined her universe spinning out of control, sweeping her into a tumult. She fought against the current.
She didn’t have time for this confusing turn of events. After all, she had a list full of much more important things to tackle—like making sure the Valentine’s Day bash went off without a hitch.

Thanks for joining in the fun with this sneak peek at Beyond the Storm (Honeysuckle Cove #2). Please leave a comment to be entered into the drawing for a free copy. The winner will be announced on Monday, June 5. Good luck!


Monday, May 22, 2017

Week #21: Flirting with Danger by Wendy Davy

As a repossession specialist, Gavin Sykes has the means to legally and morally do what he does best–take things that aren't his. He thrives on repossessing high-end merchandise, hoping to atone for his shadowy past. But, even with all his experience, he never could have anticipated the future that awaits him.

When Sabrina Grady is hired to expedite the repossession process, she finally has the means to fulfill a promise she made long ago. New to the trade, what she lacks in experience she more than makes up for with courage, determination, and sheer willpower. While she expects Gavin to be a fierce competitor, she never could have anticipated his unwavering resolve or his intense desire to protect her.

Caught in a game of cat-and-mouse, Gavin and Sabrina must choose between seeking the thrill of the chase and seeking each other

1st Chapter:

Clearwater, Florida
             Gavin Sykes stilled as the low, steady hum of twin jet engines vibrated the air. He set down his wrench and stepped away from the Skyhawk. He swiped grease from his palms and allowed a slow smile to spread across his face.
            "Well, isn’t that something? Your plan might actually work." Rusty smoothed fingers along his graying moustache, a hint of admiration in his eyes.
            "Of course it will." Gavin had been meticulous in his efforts and had left nothing to chance. He strode across the airplane hangar to join Rusty in the massive, open doorway. A slight breeze disrupted the summer’s humid air, cooling his damp forehead as he scanned the cloudless sky. He caught a glint of silver as the Cessna Citation approached the landing strip. Gavin appreciated the pilot’s skilled hand as the sleek jet sliced through the air, steady and unwavering in its descent.
            "Could be cutting it close landing here," Rusty commented.
            "The Citation has plenty of space to land. It’s the taking off that could be dicey." Gavin hadn’t flown such a luxurious plane yet, but had enough experience piloting various aircraft to know the challenges of maneuvering a private jet around a small airstrip. He’d taken that, among many other factors into consideration before making arrangements.
            "I’m surprised you convinced him to land here at all."
             With Gavin’s long list of contacts, finding the plane’s location had been almost too easy. He’d actually been disappointed the hunt had ended with a few phone calls—until he’d decided he would take things a step further, see if he could get the plane to come to him. And, he had. A sense of satisfaction coursed through his veins. "Given enough incentive, people will agree to just about anything."
            Rusty tucked hands into his pockets and rocked back on his heels. "How much money did you offer this guy for a chance to fly his plane, anyway?"
            "Didn’t specify. All I told him was that I could take care of his overdue payments."
            " That may be true, but I don’t think he understood exactly how you plan to eradicate his debt."
            "That’s what I’m counting on."  Gavin had been careful to remain as honest as possible. He did want to fly the plane. In fact, he’d spent the better part of a week daydreaming about it. Although he enjoyed flying his single engine Skyhawk, the sensible four-seater couldn’t compare to a luxurious ten million dollar jet.
             "You have the repossession orders close by?" Rusty cast a glance over his shoulder toward the makeshift office tucked in the hangar’s corner.
            "I know exactly where the papers are." The desk might look a mess, but he kept everything in a specific place. "I called the authorities earlier. They’re fully informed of what’s happening. Even if Malcolm Foster calls 911, they won’t interfere."
            "Maybe the police should be here just in case."
             "I don’t anticipate any real threat."
             "Exactly how do you think Foster will react when you announce you’re repossessing his jet instead of taking it for a joy ride over the Everglades?"
            "I’m not worried."  Even if the young, self-made millionaire put up a fight, Gavin had been in enough brawls; he could hold his own. The jet engine’s roar prevented further conversation as the plane landed and taxied toward the hangar. The thrill Gavin had been seeking hit him full on; the adrenaline rush, the satisfaction of righting a wrong. Perhaps if he repossessed enough expensive machines he could atone for the damage he’d done in his rebellious youth. Then again, nothing could change the past.
            Gavin absently ran calloused fingers over the tattooed flames imprinted on his right shoulder—what had been an act of defiance had turned into a permanent reminder of the path he’d once chosen. He shivered in spite of the heat. Thank You, Father for saving me from what could’ve been.
            Rusty gave one of his knowing glances.
             Gavin didn’t feel like justifying his actions; past or present. He waited until the Citation rolled to a stop on the tarmac and the pilot cut the engines. "I know what you’re going to say, so don’t." He respected the man, would lay down his life for him, but some things were best left unsaid. If Rusty wondered why Gavin chose to live life on the edge, he’d have to keep guessing.
             "Is it that terrible that I want to see my son live long enough to give me grandchildren?"
            Gavin let out a sigh. "Rusty..."
            "When are you going to start calling me Dad again? It has been years."
            Gavin tensed. It had been well over a decade. But, he didn’t have time to think on it now; Malcolm Foster was about to emerge from the plane. "Did I ever tell you your timing stinks?"
             Rusty chuckled. "About every day."
             "Lot of good it does." Gavin grumbled, but in spite of his harsh tone, he enjoyed the bantering. Sparring with Rusty kept life entertaining. Gavin leaned a shoulder against the hangar’s concrete wall and crossed his ankles. The Citation’s fifty foot wingspan stretched nearly as wide as the runway. Crisp red, white and blue streaks decorated the silver fuselage, giving the plane a patriotic look. The jet in its entirety was a fine-tuned work of art. Gavin could hardly wait to slide into the cockpit.
            The cooling afternoon breeze stilled, and Rusty took a step back out of the sun’s hot rays. "You really do love this, don’t you?"
             He did. And, he was glad Rusty was there to be a part of it. The jet’s door opened. A staircase lowered. A man, short on stature but not lacking in style exited the plane. His suit and tie spoke of wealth and influence. His arrogant stride overcame his youthful appearance as he descended the stairs and stepped onto the sweltering tarmac.
            "Thought he’d be taller," Rusty observed.
            Gavin had imagined the same, but didn’t comment as a flash of movement within the plane caught his attention. A redhead with long, lean legs stepped out. She wore rhinestone dotted high heels and an eye-catching dress. Gavin took in the shapely figure, appreciating every curve.
            "Did you know about Foster’s…guest?" Rusty glanced toward Gavin.
            He hadn’t. She made her way down the stairs, adjusted designer sunglasses and tucked a hand into Foster’s awaiting arm. She giggled, and her flirtatious laughter sprinkled the air. Gavin didn’t know where she’d come from, but he did know Foster had left Miami without any guests on board.  "Must’ve stopped somewhere along the way and picked her up." Although she appeared harmless, her unexpected presence could cause some disruption—especially if he kept focusing on her instead of Foster. Gavin absently rubbed his tattoo, forcing a smile as they approached. A mixture of expensive cologne and flowery perfume surrounded him as the couple sauntered into the doorway.
            "Welcome to Clearwater."  Gavin shook Malcolm Foster’s extended hand and nodded toward the woman. "I’m Gavin Sykes."
            Rusty stepped forward and shook Foster’s hand next. "Glad you’ve arrived safely."
             "Just as planned." Foster looked around the hangar.
            Gavin lounged against the wall. "Quite a beauty you have there."
             The woman’s white-toothed smile widened and she tossed her wavy hair over her shoulder. She all but purred as she snuggled beside Foster. "Thank you."
             Gavin gave her a pointed look. "I meant the jet."
             Her smile faltered.
             "Please excuse my son. Sometimes he has a one track mind." Rusty took up the woman’s hand and held it between his palms.       "Have we met before? You look familiar."
             She shrugged. "I get that a lot."
            Rusty released her, and Foster draped an arm across her shoulder. "She’s an actress."
             "I’ll bet," Gavin muttered under his breath. In spite of her fair skin, no freckles sprinkled her nose or cheeks—odd for a redhead. Perhaps she’d had them surgically removed. She cast a narrow-eyed glance toward him, but kept her sunglasses in place. Gavin looked past her. The pilot had yet to exit the plane. He didn’t want to confiscate the aircraft until it was empty. He considered ways to delay. "I bet the temperature is near one-hundred degrees today. Would either of you care for a soda?"
             "Do you have diet?" The woman fiddled with fire-red fingernails. She stifled a yawn as if bored.
            "Sorry, sweetheart. We only drink the real stuff."
            She tilted her head and peeked over dark lenses. Her tight smile looked forced. "No thanks."
             Gavin dismissed her, but something niggled at his conscience and he returned his gaze. She removed her sunglasses. Sea-green eyes held not only defiance, but something he hadn’t expected—intelligence.
            "You know, it is rude to stare."
             "Just appreciating God’s handiwork." She was an incredibly attractive woman. But of course, she already knew that. "But, I prefer blondes."
             "How unlucky for them."
             Not the answer he expected. Gavin couldn’t help but smile. It wasn’t often a woman surprised him.
             "I found her first." Foster chimed in. "I’ve got dibs."
             Dibs? Either Gavin was getting older, or the younger generation was getting younger. Malcolm Foster could not have just said that. The woman rolled her eyes, and in spite of himself, Gavin began to like her.
            Better get back on track, he did have a plane to repossess. Gavin pivoted and headed toward the office. The sectioned off area held a desk, two chairs, a futon and file cabinets. The furniture didn’t match, but he didn’t care. The place was functional. He grabbed three sodas from a small fridge and returned to the group. He handed a can to Rusty and one to Foster as the two conversed. He popped the lid on his drink and took a sip.
             The woman stepped toward the Skyhawk and peered at the open engine compartment. He’d been replacing parts for the past two weeks and tools lay scattered about. She lifted a screwdriver, inspected it and shook her head. Gavin was proud of his plane, even if it was in pieces. He ambled toward her, prepared to defend his pride and joy.
             "It’s small, but it does the job."
             "Uh huh." She gave him a sidelong glance. "If size doesn’t matter, why do you want to fly Malcolm’s plane? Or, can’t you get yours in the air?"
             "My plane flies fine." He patted the bright yellow fuselage. "It just needs some TLC now and then."
             Her brows rose. She glanced over his six-foot-two inch frame as if he wouldn’t know tenderness if it hit him square in the face. "Well, good luck with that." She turned and lifted her voice. "Malcolm, darling. I’m melting in this heat. I’m going back to the plane." She took a step away.
            Gavin wasn’t finished with her yet. He did have a gentler side, even if he didn’t show it very often. "I didn’t catch your name."
             She pivoted. "You didn’t ask."
             "I’m asking now."
             "Does it matter?" A slight smile lifted her lips as she gestured toward Foster. "He’s already called dibs, remember?" She sashayed away, hips gliding side to side as if she’d spent hours practicing. She stopped long enough to give Foster a peck on the cheek. "Catch you later."
            Gavin’s irritation spiraled. If he had to toss out the redhead and the pilot before commandeering the plane, so be it. He might even enjoy it. But first, he had to inform Foster that Summit International Bank had contracted him to take possession of the jet, and then fly it to New York where it would be placed up for auction. His commission would be in the mail within days. Then maybe he could finish the Skyhawk’s repairs. With that thought in mind, he approached Foster. "I’m afraid I have some bad news for you." He clapped the man on his shoulder, not feeling one bit sorry for the jet-setter. "When I take the Citation for a ride, you’re not coming with me."
             Foster’s smile faded. "What do you mean?"
             "Remember those letters and phone calls you’ve been receiving from Summit International?"
             The young man loosened his tie. "How do you know about that?"
            "That plane"—Gavin pointed toward the jet—"is no longer yours."
             Foster paled. "Y-you can’t take my property." He edged toward the tarmac.
            Gavin straightened to his full height and stepped between Foster and the doorway. "Rusty. Mind grabbing the orders for me? They’re on the right side of the desk next to the paperclips."
            Rusty stepped away, rifled around. "There’s an unopened envelope from the bank."
             Gavin had forgotten about the correspondence he’d received last week, and had yet to open it. "Not that one. Look under it." He kept his gaze on Foster. The little guy might be armed. Yeah, it was a stretch, but he’d been surprised before. The scar on his left bicep served as a reminder every time he began to feel secure.
             "Got it." Rusty returned and handed over the papers. Foster glanced at the signatures, and then promptly ripped apart the contract. "There. Now you don’t have any right to take my jet."
             Really? Gavin grasped Foster’s arm. "You didn’t actually think that was the only copy, did you?‛"
            A flush spread across the man’s face. "I suppose telling you the check’s in the mail won’t change your mind?"
            "It’s gone way beyond that now. Before you decided to destroy my property"—Gavin glanced at the papers strewn on the concrete floor and tightened his grip on Foster’s arm— "I might’ve been generous enough to allow you to collect your personal belongings from the plane. As it stands everything inside is now fair game." He thought of the woman and imagined the look on her pretty face when she learned her rich boyfriend was broke—that alone would be worth all his efforts.
            "How am I supposed to get home?"
             "You can catch a commercial flight."
              "C-commercial?" Foster’s pale skin turned ashen.
             "Yep. Maybe if you’re nice they’ll give you a pack of peanuts." Gavin shouldn’t be enjoying this so much, but he was. People who thought themselves above others plucked his nerves.
            The Citation’s jet engines started and cut off Foster’s reply. Gavin released Foster’s arm and strode toward the tarmac. The Citation’s stairway had been set back into place, the doors closed. Inside the cockpit, a flash of red hair caught his attention. Then, the wheels began to move.
             "What does she think she’s doing?" Gavin stilled, dumbfounded.
            The woman gave a salute as she rolled past.
             "Uh…Gavin." Rusty appeared beside him. "Now I remember where I’ve seen her before."
             He ground his teeth. "Where?"
             "I taught her how to fly."
             "You what?" Gavin’s shout echoed throughout the hangar.
             "What was her name? Oh, yes. Sabrina Grady. She has a natural talent for flying. Decisive. Fearless."
             "And you’re just now remembering this?"
             "Well, it was a couple of years ago. And, back then she was blonde."
             Foster chuckled and then doubled over with laughter. Gavin wasn’t amused. "You said she was an actress."
             "It’s true." Foster caught his breath. "She acted like she was my pilot."
             "She flew you here?"
             "Uh huh." He got choked up again. "Looks like we were both blindsided today."
            "Rusty." Gavin growled.
            "I’ll call a cab."
             Gavin raked fingers through his hair and then fisted his hands as the Citation taxied along the airstrip preparing for takeoff. Rusty had an unmatched reputation as a stellar instructor. Even so, with the limited runway space, the woman had better know what she was doing or she’d be crashing into the field in about thirty seconds. Gavin held his breath. Sure enough, after gaining adequate speed she lifted the plane off with less than fifty yards to spare. Once at a high enough altitude she banked right, flying toward the Gulf of Mexico. Gavin stared into the sky long moments after the jet’s sounds faded. Sabrina Grady had just stolen the plane he’d intended to repossess. But, why?
            He ground his teeth and swiped an arm across his damp forehead as he strode toward Foster. "Where is she going?" He grabbed the man by his collar.
            "I don’t know." All lingering traces of his smile blanked from his expression. "I never met her before today."
             Gavin tugged Foster closer. "You said she was your pilot."
             "My management company sends different pilots depending upon who’s available at the time. She was available today."
             "She seemed awfully cozy with you, for just having met her. She called you darling."
             "What can I say? I have a way with the ladies."
             "Then why did she take your plane?"
            Foster disengaged himself from Gavin’s grip. "Why don’t you ask her?" He turned and wasted no time scrambling toward the parking lot.
             "You can be sure I will." Gavin grumbled as he stalked toward his desk. "I’d call the police if I didn’t want to handcuff her myself."
             Rusty ambled close. "Maybe we should open the mail from the bank? Do you mind?"
             "Knock yourself out." Gavin absently waved a hand as he plopped onto his chair. "Where does she think she’s going to hide an airplane anyway?"
             Rusty didn’t answer as he tore open the letter and scanned the words. "Ah...this explains a lot."
             Gavin’s patience thinned. "What are you talking about?" He picked up an ink pen and tapped it on the desk.
            "Summit International is expediting the repossession process. They’ve hired another specialist."
            He stood so fast his chair tumbled over. "They what?"
             Rusty tossed the letter on the desk. "Read for yourself."
            The first paragraph explained it all. "You mean to tell me I’m competing with this redhead for my commissions?"
             "I’m not telling you." Rusty tapped the paper. "Summit International is telling you."
             Gavin suppressed a curse, smashed the letter into a tight ball and tossed it toward a miniature basketball hoop positioned over the trash can. The paper hit the rim, bounced off and landed on the floor. Great.
             "Besides," Rusty continued, "she’s not really a redhead. She’s a blonde."
            Gavin righted his chair. "Is that supposed to make a difference?"
             "You mean other than the fact you told her you prefer blondes?"
             He cringed. Yeah. He had admitted that.
             "Of course, you could be a gentleman. Let her get away—"
             "You’re kidding, right?" Gavin crossed his arms.
             "Guess that’s out of the question." Rusty shrugged. "So what are you going to do?"
             "I’m going to find Sabrina Grady and have a little chat with her." He paced from one end of the office to the other, anticipation growing with each step. "After I’m done, she’ll think twice before crossing me again."
             "I wouldn’t count on it." Rusty smoothed fingers along his moustache. "From what I remember about her, and from what I’ve seen here today, I believe you may have just met your match."
             "Yeah, well. We’ll just have to see about that."


Thanks for stopping by for this sneak peek of Flirting with Danger. Please leave a comment to be entered into the drawing for a free copy. The winner will be announced on Monday, May 29. Good luck!