William Ingram stared at the drink held loosely between his thumb and middle finger while he contemplated whether it was going to be his only drink today or if it was the first of many. The decision, he decided, was a no-brainer. It would be the first of many or at least the first of as many as he could afford. In the last six months, he’d gone from mildly successful to virtually broke. The boarding pass in his jacket pocket and the drink in front of him represented the majority of the funds he had left to his name. The few art supplies he hadn’t sold at rock-bottom prices to fund his return home had been checked as luggage which, an airline employee by the name of Brandy had assured him would be transferred to the new plane as soon it arrived to take him and the rest of the passengers aboard their aborted flight on to their destination. Just his luck to have finally admitted defeat only to have his flight from New York make an emergency landing in Philadelphia. It seemed the universe wasn’t done with him yet. The airline had booked as many of the stranded passengers onto existing flights as possible, starting with the ones who were making a connection in Dallas. He wished he were one of them but the truth was, once he got to Texas, he was there to stay. He’d ventured out into the world, had followed his dream until it had turned into a nightmare. When things had gone to shit he’d raged and fought back, convinced the police would eventually find the people responsible and return his property to him. After several months with no break in the case, his confidence had eroded until he’d lost hope and slid down the slippery slope into despair. His girlfriend/agent had stolen more than his livelihood, she’d stolen his will to create, leaving him one option—cut his losses and return home to Willowbrook, Texas. What he’d do once he got there was anyone’s guess. Maybe he could get a job painting houses. It was honest work and required the one thing he still had—an able body. He’d never been one to do much physical labor, avoiding it at all cost, but in New York, he’d seen the necessity of keeping in shape and had been a regular at the local gym until he’d had to cancel his membership due to lack of funds. He’d never painted a structure, before but he knew how to hold a paintbrush. It wasn’t like anyone would be asking his opinion on the color or anything else. He’d be hired muscle to get the mindless job done. He gave himself two, maybe three weeks before the mind-numbing physical exertion pushed him to the edge of his sanity. Great. Just fucking great. He took a healthy sip, closing his eyes as the cheap bourbon ate away at the lining of his throat and nibbled at the ragged edges of his mood. A knee to his hip almost knocked him off his seat and caused the liquor in his glass to slosh over the side onto the back of his hand. Grabbing the bar with the other hand, he groaned at the waste of alcohol he’d been counting on. “Shit! Watch what you’re doing!” “Sorry.” The feminine voice slid through him like a sip of fifty-year-old whiskey, setting fire to parts of him that had suffered Jessica’s betrayal perhaps more than any other. It was good to know the physical damage wasn’t permanent even if he had no intention of taking any part of himself out for a test run. Determined not to engage, he brought his hand to his lips and sucked the drink from his skin. The bartender hustled over with a rag, drawing Will’s attention upward. His gaze locked on the reflection in the mirror behind the bar and he damn near bit his hand as he recognized the woman sitting next to him. He didn’t know her name but he’d seen her before. More importantly, he’d seen her type before. Beautiful, sexy, and high-maintenance. Everything from her clothes to her hairstyle to the perfect application of makeup on her clear complexion screamed rich girl. She’d been on his flight—in first-class while he’d been lucky to be in the cheap seats. If not for the cute flight attendant who’d taken pity on him and offered to let him change seats, free of charge, to an open bulkhead seat he never would have seen this woman. She’d come breezing in at the last minute like she owned the plane and taken her seat next to the aisle in the last row. Just feet from where he sat trying not to notice anything about her. Of course, he’d noticed everything, from the color of her hair—auburn—to the shape of her body—a perfect hourglass—to the slight sheen of perspiration on her forehead as she shoved her Louis Vuitton carry-on into the overhead bin. He’d looked her over as a man then and liked what he saw, but now, with only her face visible in the mirror, his artist’s eye took over. She wore makeup but it was artfully applied so at first glance it appeared she wore none at all. Strategically placed streaks of—whatever-the-hell-they-called-it—highlighted already distinct cheekbones. Some sort of dark magic applied to her eyelids showcased the most beautiful blue eyes he’d ever seen. Shades of blue paint swirled through his mind as his brain automatically tried to replicate the color in his preferred medium—oils. Coupling what he already knew about her body with what he now knew about her face, he knew he had to paint her. Only he didn’t paint anymore. The sharpness of the realization had him reaching for the glass the bartender had so kindly refilled at no cost. Forcing his gaze from the mirror, Will drained the drink in one gulp. Placing the glass on the bar, he contemplated his next move. He couldn’t paint her, but there was something else he could do to her and he wanted to do the something else even more than he wanted to commit her likeness to canvas. Just because he’d sworn off relationships didn’t register in his thinking. It was a one-time deal. Nothing more. They were two passengers on a one-way trip to Hell. Well, that was his story, but they were passengers on the same cursed flight. What would a little fuck between strangers hurt? The barkeep arrived with the woman’s order and Will signaled for a refill of his own. He’d expected to see something pink with an umbrella or maybe a cutesy martini glass rimmed with sugar and swirled with chocolate sauce. Instead, her drink looked suspiciously like his. No nonsense. No ice. Just two fingers of amber liquid—probably the good stuff. She surprised him by knocking the contents back in one gulp. She didn’t even gasp for air afterward, confirming his suspicions about the quality of the whiskey. It was either good whiskey or there was more to her than he thought. He couldn’t wait to find out. He turned to face her. “Hi,” he said. “Looks like we’re going to be here for a while. Know someplace we can go to kill some time?” ** “That’s the worst pickup line I’ve ever heard.” And MacKenzie had heard plenty. However, none had tempted her the way this one from the Hot Guy she’d spied earlier in the boarding area at JFK. Tall, dark, and handsome despite his grim countenance. And despite her recent vow to abstain from anything with a Y chromosome his voice ignited something inside her she’d almost hoped was dead for good. Men were trouble. It was a lesson well-learned from her latest failed relationship. Men thought with their little head more often than not and it tended to lead them astray. Like the guy on the barstool next to her. Yes, after determining she wasn’t going anywhere anytime soon, she’d made a quick stop at the ladies room then gone in search of him. He’d been easy to find. Their gate was at the far end of the terminal and he’d stopped at the first bar he’d run across. She couldn’t blame him. She needed a drink in the worst way possible, as clearly did he. Travel could tempt a person to drink, especially when things went array, as they had today. She didn’t know anything about how planes worked but she figured if the pilot decided he needed to set the thing down as quickly as possible then whatever had gone wrong had to have been major. The way she saw it, she was lucky to be alive, even if her life was a shit-storm. If today’s events didn’t call for a couple of fingers of Macallan and a good fuck to celebrate surviving a near-death experience then nothing did. She’d save the recriminations for later—like when she got to Texas and started her new job. From what she’d heard of the small town where she’d be living, she’d have plenty of time to visit past regrets and beat herself up over her poor decisions in regard to men. It didn’t appear there was anything else to do there. Her savings were dwindling fast. Thankfully, her new employer had sprung for the plane ticket—first-class—much to her surprise, leaving the remains of her nest-egg untouched. She’d need most of it to get settled. She had no idea what a place rented for in off-the-grid Texas but she assumed it was considerably less than what it would have cost her to rent a place of her own in Manhattan. After her boyfriend/boss had gone missing she’d had no choice but to move out of his modern high-rise and into a friend’s closet. It hadn’t actually been a closet but Bethany had been using it as one and probably was again since MacKenzie had cleared out. She’d calculated and recalculated her financial situation enough times the grim figures were etched on her brain. Pocket change was short but she still had room on her American Express card. With a bit of luck, she’d be able to pay it down once she was receiving regular paychecks again. The guy sitting next to her didn’t need to know her hard luck story. Today was about celebrating life and maybe just a little about celebrating her new life, and that was on her. Today she wasn’t the loser who’d been duped and dumped. Today she was a strong woman with a future. A woman who saw what she wanted and went after it. And she wanted—him. She dug the well-worn card from her wallet and waved it at the bartender. He hustled over. Making a sweeping motion with her hand to indicate hot guy’s drink and hers, she said, “Closeout our tab, please.” Hot Guy’s head jerked up. “I can pay my own way.” “I’m sure you can, but allow me.” Before he could argue further she thrust her card at the bartender who snatched it out of her hand like it was platinum instead of green plastic, smirked at Hot Guy then took off to process the sale. “No, really,” Hot Guy protested. MacKenzie held her hand up to stop him. Fantasy was about all she had left and she’d be damned if he was going to ruin this one. “I’ve got it.” She slid off the stool, deliberately letting her breasts brush his arm. The bartender returned with the charge slip which she signed and slid back to him. Grabbing the extended handle on her carryon, she made eye contact with Hot Guy. “You coming? Or not?” It was all she could do not to look over her shoulder to see if he followed her. Once she’d made it out to the crowded concourse he caught up to her. “Where are we going?” “Someplace private.” He said nothing, just matched his stride to hers and used his broad shoulders to clear a path for her. If she hadn’t been as nervous a cat in a room full of rocking chairs she would have admired the little bit of chivalry from a man who didn’t have a clue where they were headed. Now, if she could only remember where the article she’d read in the magazine she’d found in the seat-back pocket had said the micro suites were located. She hadn’t paid much attention since she’d never in a million years envisioned being in a situation where she’d actually use one. She’d been impressed at the number of airports where the mini-hotels had been installed and wondered if they’d been chosen because they had the highest number of stranded passengers or if there was another reason they’d been chosen. What did it matter? She was horny and they had one here—somewhere. She scanned the directional signs posted overhead for a hint then finally, there it was! On the wall, sandwiched between the ladies room and an automated candy dispenser was a giant illuminated advertisement for the fancy no-tell motel. Noting the location, she made a quick assessment of their whereabouts then pointed. “That way. It isn’t far now.” She hoped. A right turn sent them down another wide concourse lined with stores selling souvenirs and survival gear for weary travelers. Nestled in their midst was an oasis of calm. MacKenzie stopped. The check-in desk reminded her of a mid-range hotel chain with its faux wood counter and cheap artwork. “Whoa. Wait a minute.” She whipped her head around to glare at Hot Guy. “What? You’ve changed your mind?” His head swiveled from side-to-side. “No. I haven’t changed my mind but I was thinking of something a little less expensive—like a janitor’s closet or something.” “I’m going to pretend you didn’t just say that and get us a room. Will an hour be enough?” “Sure.” “Wait here. I’ll be right back.” The disinterested employee behind the counter walked her through the check-in process with all the enthusiasm of a turnip. Under other circumstances, she’d be annoyed but none of it mattered in this instance. She held the key up for Hot Guy to see then, heart pounding, she strode past the desk to the short hall dragging her carry-on behind. She waved the keycard in front of the electronic lock mechanism and clasp the handle. “Allow me.” Hot Guy’s body pressed up against her’s from behind. A long arm reached around her to push and hold the door open for her. It wasn’t much, another one of those chivalrous acts she’d grown unaccustomed to in New York but it did unexpected things to her insides. “Thank—thank you,” she said as she stumbled over the threshold, the sight of his hand, purely masculine, with long fingers and strong knuckles making her clumsy and for the first time since she’d decided to take him up on his offer, nervous. What the hell am I doing? She didn’t know this guy from Adam. He could be a serial killer or…or…something. But damn, he smelled good—like the Catskills on a warm summer day. If he were a tree she’d hug the shit out of him. The door swooshed shut, the sound of a deadbolt sliding into place sounding like the final nail in her coffin. Whirling around, she gasped at the sight of him leaning against the door, his hands behind his back and his ankles crossed. His eyes were ablaze with a heat she’d only read about in romance novels as he slowly undressed her with his gaze. When his eyes met hers, the tiniest movement of his lips told her how much he liked what he’d seen. Turnabout was fair play. Releasing the handle of her luggage, she kicked off her shoes and returned the favor. Her first impression of him back at JFK was that he was a man who took care of himself, and at closer inspection, she knew she’d been right. She’d bet the available balance on her last credit card there was a sculpted body beneath his expensively cut suitcoat and tailored dress shirt. His tight-fitting jeans, worn nearly white in all the right places, left little to the imagination. Her gaze skimmed all the way down to the Italian leather loafers on his feet before sliding up again to caress what promised to be a very generous package barely contained behind a button fly. Whoever he was, he had style. In fact, he reminded her of a guy she’d seen on the cover of a magazine once. She’d gotten herself off to the cover and after the magazine had gone missing, to the memory of it, more times than she dared recall. Finished with her perusal, she dragged her eyes back up to his. “Thanks for getting us a room, but you don’t have to do this.” And he’s too fucking nice. She didn’t want nice. She wanted wild monkey sex. The kind where words weren’t necessary. Where both parties took what they wanted without regard to the needs of the other. There was only one thing she wanted to know. “Do you have protection?” “I do.” The timbre of his voice nearly melted her panties off. MacKenzie dipped her chin once to acknowledge his answer then reached for the top button on her blouse.