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Turbulence, p.11

Turbulence, page 11

 

Turbulence
 


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  “True,” she agreed. “But there’s something else…. Something more specific. Your plane?”

  He appeared taken aback by her insight. “What makes you say that?”

  “I work with men,” she said simply. “I know how they hide their feelings behind smiles and teasing banter.”

  “You’re incredible.” He shook his head as if in disbelief. “No one’s ever—”

  “No one’s ever what?” she prompted.

  “Looked past the surface.”

  “They won’t if you don’t let them,” she said softly.

  “It’s easier that way.”

  “How?”

  “They won’t expect more than I’m willing to give,” he said simply.

  She sensed that he was not only explaining himself, but warning her in the process. His plane was his life, just as her job was hers. But Dana had recently recognized that she wanted a special place with a special person outside of her career. Micky had not reached that point yet.

  “So what are you worried about?” she asked, focusing on the immediate.

  He stared across the yard with unseeing eyes. “Let me count the ways.” Suddenly, as if he’d opened the floodgates, his frustration poured out.

  “First, I feel like I let Sam down by not getting back like I’d promised. Second, I’m responsible for a group of people, mostly kids, that I didn’t bargain for in any way, shape or form. It was supposed to be a quick flight. In and out, fly them to Alice and be back by noon at the latest. Instead it’s turned into a two-day or longer affair.

  “Third, I parked my million-dollar plane, my entire business future, in a hangar that isn’t exactly hurricane-proof. And fourth—”

  She held up her hands. “Wait a minute. Let’s tackle things one by one. Have you ever broken a promise to Sam before?”

  “No.”

  “Then he’ll know you’d have returned if it was possible. He’ll understand that.” She moved on to his second point. “You’re worried because you’re responsible for six extra people. I’m sorry, but in case you haven’t noticed, you’re not the only able-bodied adult on this pleasure trip. I’m just as accountable for what happens to them as you are.

  “And even if I weren’t, I don’t understand why taking six people under your wing for a few days is so awful. When you flew in the military, you were responsible for millions of dollars of equipment, not to mention the troops you carried. If you could do that, then why are a handful of people a problem for you now?”

  “Because these are kids.”

  Dana hadn’t suspected he felt this way and at first she was at a loss. For heaven’s sake, she was a firefighter, not a psychologist. In a way, though, she could empathize. Firefighters, herself included, hated accidents involving kids. Somehow, the carnage always seemed worse when a defenseless child was involved.

  Although she would have preferred taking their conversation to a safer place, if she didn’t make the most of this opportunity, she’d lose it. The storm within Micky raged as fiercely as the one outside, so she pushed her personal concerns into the background, prayed that nothing would come sailing through the window, and focused on choosing the right words.

  “People are still people, regardless of their age. As for being kids, didn’t you befriend Sam through your flight program? What was it called?” She snapped her fingers, trying to remember.

  “The Young Eagles.”

  “See? You have to be a responsible person to do something like that. How many pilots would put up with endless questions from an eleven-year-old, much less allow him to be underfoot day after day?”

  “I never said I wasn’t responsible. I just don’t want the responsibility of looking after five people. For God’s sake, Dana, one has a concussion, one a broken collarbone, and another had ripped something in his knee. Those are a little more serious than a sprained wrist or a cut.”

  Now he was making sense. It wasn’t the boys he was afraid of, but their injuries.

  “Are you angry because we had to land here?”

  “I’d hoped to get to Beeville,” he reminded her. “We would all have been better off. Those guys belong in a hospital or a clinic with doctors and nurses and X rays. None of them, not even Eddie, should be in an isolated cabin without electricity or phone service!”

  She glanced around the room and saw only shadows of familiar objects. “I don’t deny that, but we’re not sitting as bad as you might think. In fact, I’d say we’re pretty comfortable. I know it’s been an imposition for six uninvited people to invade your privacy, but we couldn’t go on.”

  She paused. “Or did you feel pressured to land when I said that Clay needed to be on the ground?”

  “Darlin’,” he drawled with a lazy smile. “You didn’t make me do anything I wasn’t willing to do. Keeping everyone safe was my prime concern and it still is. How is Clay, by the way?”

  “A headache, some nausea, but his pupils are reacting to light more normally and I haven’t seen any signs of internal bleeding. All in all, he’s in good shape. So are the others. Their conditions shouldn’t get any worse.” She hoped.

  Another question popped in her head. “But again,” she asked, “if you flew troops, didn’t you fly with a wounded soldier or two?”

  “There was always a doctor on board. And even then, we lost a few.”

  His grim tone suggested that those few had hit him hard. A lot of baggage rested behind Micky Flynn’s closed doors. “And you felt responsible.”

  “Not always, but in one case—”

  He paused, and Dana caught herself before she reached out and hugged him. She wasn’t sure if he’d accept her comfort when haunted by his memories.

  “What happened?” she asked.

  “I was flying some soldiers who were supposedly in stable condition to the air base in Germany. There was a storm, so I went around it, like any good pilot would. It added about an extra hour to our flight, but I wasn’t worried. What could go wrong?”

  “But something did.”

  “Yeah. I found out when I landed that one of them didn’t make it. Even with a doctor on board, that hour’s delay cost a good man his life.”

  “You don’t know that. What was wrong?”

  He shrugged. “Something about his aorta. I didn’t ask for details. Why bother? Dead was dead. The reasons didn’t matter.”

  “But they did, didn’t they?”

  “Yeah. I asked the doc why he didn’t tell me the guy was going sour. I could have done something differently. Changed my course. Something.”

  “And what did he answer?”

  “It was his job to keep the guys alive and mine to fly the plane. He was afraid I’d try something heroic and risk everyone else to save one soldier who might not make it anyway.”

  “There you go,” she said. “His death wasn’t your fault.”

  “Dave was my friend,” he said simply. “He was counting on me.”

  And in Micky’s eyes, he’d failed him.

  “You were part of a group effort,” she insisted. “You did your part by flying the plane, like the physician said. Although medicine has come a long way, there are still some conditions that an entire team of specialists can’t fix.”

  “Don’t you think I know that?” he asked impatiently. “After a while, I started to think of the men as just cargo. They weren’t any different than a pallet of ammunition or a tank. I stopped talking to them before the flight, but I could hear them discussing their families, what they would do when they got home, that sort of thing.”

  And his defense mechanism didn’t work, she thought to herself.

  “I realized that regardless of how I classified them, they were guys with hopes and dreams and families. I didn’t care if I brought back empty ammo crates, but I hated the thought of hauling even one man back in a pine box.”

  Dana rubbed his back reassuringly and wondered if this explained why he seemed to want the same freedom in his personal life that he found in the air.
>
  “So you started your own charter service, where you could make your own rules.”

  “That’s part of the reason, yes.”

  Curiosity about the other part nibbled at her, but she sensed that he wasn’t willing to completely share his secrets. As for his charter service, it was a logical career move and clearly what he needed, but for a man who supposedly didn’t want responsibility, he did a fine job at hoisting it on his shoulders when the chips were down.

  Building a business from scratch wasn’t easy and probably cost more money than she could imagine, which made his second concern understandable. And yet, she doubted that he would leave something so important as his livelihood to chance. Micky might take risks, but she’d bet her newest pair of boots that he only chose those that gave him the best odds of success.

  “As for your plane,” she began, “protecting your investment is important. One can’t take it too lightly.”

  “Damn straight I can’t.”

  “Your hangar looked new, or is it?”

  “Put it up myself last summer,” he said proudly.

  “I see. If you’re worried about your plane’s safety, then are you afraid you didn’t do a good job?”

  He stared at her, clearly affronted. “Of course not. You won’t find anyone who could do better.”

  She shrugged. “Or do you think you might have scrimped on materials? Used a poor quality that wouldn’t hold up in a fierce storm?”

  “I used the best that was available. I flew extra charters to pay for every bolt and every panel, too.”

  “Really?”

  A knowing light suddenly gleamed in his eyes. “I know what you’re doing.”

  “What?” she asked innocently.

  “Just come out and say it. I’m worrying for nothing.”

  “I wouldn’t say for nothing. As you said, anyone who doesn’t worry while they’re waiting out a hurricane is a fool. I simply think that those issues aren’t making you nervous or worried, because deep down you know they aren’t real issues.”

  “You’re right. They aren’t.” He paused.

  “Well?” she demanded.

  “Do you really want to know?”

  “I wouldn’t be asking if I didn’t,” she pointed out.

  “It’s you.”

  Of all the things he could have said, she hadn’t expected to hear that. “Me?”

  “Yeah, you.” He stepped close enough for her to feel his breath brush across her cheekbones as he spoke directly in her ear. “You certainly know how to frustrate a fellow.”

  “What are you talking about? I haven’t done anything,” she protested. “Considering how we started off on the wrong foot, we’ve gotten along remarkably well.”

  “That’s the problem,” he growled. “We’ve gotten along too well. Now, when I’d like to take things one step further, I can’t get to first base because we have five blasted chaperones!”

  He drew back, and his eyes blazed with a fiery passion in the flashlight’s glow. She’d always dreamed of seeing such passion directed toward her and never had, even in Alex’s eyes. Now it was both disconcerting and thrilling, flattering and frightening.

  Eddie appeared out of the shadows. “Are you guys okay? You didn’t come back and we thought maybe something had happened.”

  What rotten timing! There were things she would like to say and to explain, but they’d have to wait.

  Perhaps a delay was for the best. She needed to pull her thoughts together and decide what, if anything, she should do with this information.

  “We’re fine,” Dana answered, still feeling a little shell-shocked by his revelation. It was one thing to imagine a man’s interest and another to hear it stated so baldly.

  Deep in her thoughts, she didn’t notice Micky had left her in the shadows until he spoke from the kitchen. “Are you coming, Red?”

  She started forward, wondering how she’d manage the next few hours being trapped in the same room with Micky. He might not want chaperones, but it was probably a good thing they had them.

  Her tour of duty in Turning Point was supposed to be a mental vacation to clear her head, a time-out to finally relegate her relationship with Alex to the past so that she could look ahead and discover where she fit in her suddenly enlarged family. Although she liked the Barclays and knew that it wasn’t their fault that she and Lauren had been switched in their bassinets and raised by other people, sometimes Dana just wanted to wave a wand and make the nightmare disappear. To make her family just as boringly normal as everyone else’s, instead of fodder for the evening news.

  No, instead of coming to terms with the events of the past year, Micky Flynn had blown into her life and given her something else to think about. One more issue to contemplate. One more decision to make.

  Should she live for the moment or approach her next move with the same caution as her squad on a fire call?

  When Micky accompanied her into the game room, he acted as jovial and as carefree as he had before he’d bared his soul. “Monopoly, anyone?” he asked.

  As Dana watched him crowd around the table with the boys, teasing and joking, she realized that she was thinking when she should be feeling. Right now, Micky made her feel special.

  Wasn’t that what she wanted?

  CHAPTER SEVEN

  “DO YOU WANT TO JOIN US?” Micky asked her as he divvied up the colored money. “You can be the thimble or the shoe.”

  She might have known those tokens would be the last ones claimed by testosterone-laden players. “I suppose the ship and the car are taken.”

  “First to go,” he agreed. “If you snooze, you lose. So are you in or out?”

  “Out.” She enjoyed her spot in the beanbag chair too much to give it up. “Maybe I’ll catch round two.”

  He shrugged. “Suit yourself. After this we’re playing poker. Aren’t we, guys?”

  Each boy bobbed his head with excitement.

  “No money, though,” Dana warned.

  Micky appeared horrified. “We can’t play without the proper incentive.”

  “No money,” she insisted. “You’ll have a lot of explaining to do if you finish this trip with all of the boys’ cash in your pocket.”

  “Who said I was going to win? We might have some dandy poker players in this bunch.”

  “Isn’t there a law about minors gambling in this state?”

  “We’re not gambling. We’re learning. It’ll only be penny ante and I’ll provide the pennies.” He pointed to a bookshelf in the corner where a glass gallon jug rested in the shadows. “I have plenty.”

  The jug was full of coins. “I’d say so. Your granddad’s winnings?”

  “Absolutely. His and everyone else’s, too.” He grinned at her surprise. “They always pooled their pennies in that jug to use on their next poker night, which is what we’re going to do, aren’t we, boys?”

  At their collective nods and enthusiastic smiles, he met Dana’s gaze. “See? No problem.”

  Eddie pushed up his glasses. “Wow. Do you know how much money’s in there?”

  “No.” Micky doled out the Monopoly money under the glow of the single camping lantern that he’d set on a pedestal for maximum effect. “But if you’re bored later, I’ll let you count it.”

  The game began with the roll of the dice, leaving Dana to entertain herself. She didn’t mind. It was nice being an observer rather than a participant for a change, blending into the woodwork.

  She hadn’t expected the safe room to resemble a den more than a storm cellar. Although Micky had said that his grandfather had set it up as his poker room, she’d expected to see supplies stacked against gray cement walls and a card table surrounded by a few metal folding chairs.

  Instead the room had wainscoted walls and striped wall-paper, offset by oak trim. A brown plaid sofa and recliner occupied the corner opposite the bookshelf, and a round oak table, complete with matching chairs and a green lamp hanging over it, took center stage. The furniture appeared
well-worn, which suggested that the room had been used often, either by choice or necessity. Perhaps both.

  The large picture on the far wall couldn’t have been more appropriate. Card-playing, cigar-smoking dogs were sitting around a table with mugs of foamy beer at their elbows. She smiled, finding it easy to imagine a group of crusty old Texas ranchers dealing cards and chewing on their stogies while intently studying the hands they’d been dealt.

  All in all, it was the Taj Mahal of storm shelters.

  “Do we just have the one lamp?” she asked.

  “There’s another for anyone who takes a trip down the hall. Like I said earlier, we have enough replacement batteries to last about twenty-four hours. But don’t worry. We’ll ration ’em. When this one peters out, we’ll call it a night. Can’t do much else then but sleep, right?”

  His intense glance, however, said the opposite. The heat in his gaze reminded her of exactly what activities could be successfully conducted under cover of darkness. Her entire body seemed to burst into flames, although the temperature in the room hadn’t changed.

  Micky’s eye contact lingered like a soft caress, reminding her of the kiss he’d given her and in which she’d willingly participated. In her mind, she was transported back to that time and place to relive the moment. Wearing clothes that carried Micky’s scent only heightened the memory and made it as powerful as the actual experience.

  If just remembering the incident made her knees weak, then it was only a matter of time before…

  “We have a couple of hours until that happens, though,” Micky added.

  Dana started, then realized he was referring to the lamp’s battery wearing out.

  “Maybe the storm will have passed by then,” Dana said. And they could pack everyone in the plane and head to Beeville.

  He cocked his head to listen. Although the fury was muted by the thick walls enclosing them, if anything, the storm had increased rather than diminished.

  “Not a chance. We’re still in the build-up phase. Then we’ll get the backlash, which is more of the same.”

 
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