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~ * ~
Chelsea Parks kept running all the way down the jet bridge, relieved to see the air hostess waving her into her connection, rather than locking her out.
Heart racing as she entered the galley, she breathlessly asked the woman to stow her bridesmaid dress in the little closet at the front. The jury was still out on whether her checked bag would make it to California, but she would be covered—literally—for Amber’s wedding.
Turning to find her seat, which was in First Class thanks to Amber being a travel agent and a generous friend, Chelsea caught sight of the man who would be seated next to her.
You’ve got to be kidding me.
She glanced with mild panic around the very full plane, all the way to the back of coach. That tight connection in Denver began to look highly suspicious.
Okay, it wasn’t like she hadn’t been mentally girding her loins to see Gavin Fairfield again. She had just thought it would be at the beach house, where she would have space to avoid him after a very brief, very civilized, very fake, Nice to see you again.
Not that she was still mad. It had been six years. She was so over it.
“Your sister is hilarious,” she said as she came even with him.
He looked up from his tablet and—damn. Those eyes. They were like antique glass, translucent blue-green, sometimes fiery, sometimes cool. At this moment the color nearly disappeared into a halo as his pupils expanded in surprise.
“Chelsea.” His mouth formed her name in a way that was familiar and fascinating. Don’t look at his mouth.
But those lips.
The top one was thin, barely there, yet shaped with such exaggerated peaks and valleys she kind of tripped into the hint of the smile he projected. Then the bottom one, so full and sensual, reminding her of the times she’d kissed and nibbled and—
Oh hell, this was going to be a long week. And it wasn’t even a full one. Four days. But this flight was going to be less that four hours and it would be interminable.
“Can I get in?” she said, pretending the reason she was blushing and sweating was that run from across the concourse. “I think everyone’s waiting for me.”
“Yeah, of course.” He unbent, rising to his oh, so dominating height of six foot something. He’d filled out since university. His chest was wide, his shoulders powerful, his gray-blue shirt tight enough to accentuate all of him to perfection.
He held out his hand for her courier bag.
“I’ll put it under,” she said, ducking to the middle seat and catching a whiff of his familiar man products, taking her back to necking in his room that one semester she’d scrimped and saved and worked so hard to make happen.
Gavin settled back into his seat and did what guys his size did on planes: splayed his knee into her space.
Chelsea shrank in on herself, trying not to touch him as she belted herself in. Trying to pretend this was totally fine. They’d been kids. And he’d always been a player. She had known that going in. Becoming notch number one-hundred-and-whatever on his bedpost had been her choice. At no time should she have supposed she was special.
Even though she had kind of hoped and wished and convinced herself she was at least a little bit special.
Taking her romance novel out of her bag, she set the book in her lap and used her foot to push her bag under the seat in front of her.
“A paper book?” he asked.
She glanced at him, vaguely bemused that he wasn’t taking issue with her reading material so much as her medium. “I’m on computers a lot. I like to unplug.”
“Oh. Not just one of your charming, old-fashioned ways then.”
Yeah, she was old-fashioned. For instance, when she slept with a guy, she kind of expected him to only sleep with her. Without a word, she opened her book to the bookmark, shifting it to another page as she did.
“I got your card. Thank you,” he added.
Something in his voice made her throat ache. She moved the bookmark back to the spot it had been in and closed the novel on her finger. “How is your mom?”
He hitched a shoulder, eyes averting from hers as the rest of his expression fought to stay neutral. “You’ll see. It’s killing her and Amber that Dad won’t be there to give her away.”
Chelsea wanted to pat his leg and say something bland like, At least she has you, because she felt the loss of Mr. Fairfield very deeply and might cry if she opened up too much. She couldn’t do her surrogate father or any of his family the disservice of glossing over her feelings though.
“Whenever I think of your dad, I remember the time at soccer when the new coach thought I was his daughter and your dad just went with it. Pretended for a whole season I was his. I always thought I’d ask him to walk me down the aisle.”
That was supposed to come out light and self-deprecating, but to her horror, she started to choke up.
“He was always there for me,” she added fast. “Whatever I needed. I miss his dumb jokes.”
“Yeah.” Gavin’s laugh was strangled. His hand twitched and she realized she was staring at his fist on his thigh, knuckles white and stark against his tan. “Your mom was sick,” he said as a sudden recollection, glancing at her. “That’s why you didn’t make the service.”
“Yeah. Chemo.” Her voice went husky, but she kept her brave smile in place with superhuman effort. “She’s doing okay. Still run down, but her prognosis is good.”
They both needed a minute to collect themselves. She cleared her throat and opened her book, but could feel him looking at her.
The plane was taxiing, making a turn. Maybe he was just looking out the window, watching Denver go by.
She couldn’t concentrate on the words before her, too preoccupied with thinking maybe Amber had done her a favor, seating her next to Gavin for this final leg of the trip.
They’d made a kind of peace, she decided. Set the tone that the past was the past and they could be adults and have a conversation and, really, had nothing much to say to one another anymore.
~ * ~
Cruel Summer is about seventy pages long and is available in Kindle and ePub format. If you'd like a PDF copy, just email me off my contact page here.
Now I'm starting my conference prep in earnest this week so I might not be very active on social media until I get back. I have scheduled another #SampleSunday for next week, though, so please keep checking back and please let me know what you think of Cruel Summer!
Enjoy your weekend!