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Turbulence, p.13

Turbulence, page 13

 

Turbulence
 


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“If I do, I’ll let you know.” He lay down, then stretched out on the pallet.

  Dana studied the spot he’d left her; it seemed terribly small. At her hesitation, he patted the empty space. “Coming, Red?”

  She plopped down and lay as straight as a board. It took her several minutes to realize that all she needed was a handful of flowers to clutch to her chest. After telling herself to stop acting like a Victorian virgin, she released a sigh and relaxed.

  The lamp, which had been no brighter than a night-light for the last minute or two, suddenly flickered, then went out.

  “Good night, Dana.”

  His whisper startled her and she jumped.

  “Easy, now,” he said, although she could hear the smile in his voice. “It’s been a long, tiring day. Nothing will happen…unless you want it to.”

  Therein lay the problem. She did want something to happen.

  He murmured in her ear. “Sleep tight.”

  SAM LAY ON HIS SLEEPING BAG next to Luke, both arms under his head. The gym was quiet, except for the sound of snoring. He smiled in the darkness. Even Mrs. Radjewski snored. Who would have guessed the nice old lady who played the organ in church and passed out butterscotch candies rumbled like a chain saw?

  He stared into the rafters, wishing he could see the stars. It always made him feel better to look outside his window and know that the same stars shining on him shone on Micky.

  His mind filled with a lot of questions, but no answers. Not even Chief Kannon had been able to tell him anything about Micky, and Chief Kannon knew everything.

  He wondered if Micky was getting ready for bed, wherever he was. Sam really didn’t want to go to sleep, until he realized that when he woke up, it would be a different day and Micky would surely come back.

  Sam couldn’t wait. He knew that Maggie May would need a lot of what Micky called TLC. She always did when they came back from a flight.

  Thirsty, he rolled over and took a swig from the bottle of water he’d gotten earlier. It was hot, but it was wet and his throat was dry. He was tempted to pour it over his head, but he’d soak his sleeping bag and that wouldn’t be good.

  Instead he pulled off his T-shirt, wiped his face with it, then balled it up and stuck it in his pillowcase before he settled down again. Much better, he thought as he yawned.

  Smart-aleck Susan had tried to tell him that Micky might have crashed, but Sam wouldn’t listen to her. What did a dumb girl know anyway?

  Besides, Micky had promised. They’d all be surprised when he walked in, as big as you please, chewing on the cigar that he sometimes carried but never smoked.

  Satisfied with the picture in his mind, Sam closed his eyes and drifted off to sleep with a smile on his face.

  DANA COULDN’T SLEEP. Her inability to shut down had nothing to do with the unmistakable chink of pennies coming from Eddie’s corner or the fact that it was hot and stuffy in the small room. She’d closed her eyes and tried to relax, but her mind refused to slow down, thanks to the man lying beside her.

  Working together had turned out far better than she’d originally feared. They’d settled into the roles and responsibilities quite nicely, even if he thought that Texans had an edge over everyone else. All she knew was that with the wind howling around them and the rain pounding above them, she appreciated the sense of security and safety Micky exuded. She might be well-trained to handle a variety of emergency situations, but his presence and Texas know-how were a reassuring lifeline. She hated to think about what might have happened in the ditch with the snake if he hadn’t been there.

  Her mind flashed back to the incident. She had stood there in the cold water, gripped with icy fear. An image of the snake’s fangs buried in her thigh sent a shiver rippling down her spine.

  His voice rasped in her ear. “Are you cold?”

  “Nooooo.” She cleared her throat to clear the quiver in her voice. “Just thinking about the cottonmouth.”

  “Don’t.”

  “I’ll try not to.” She paused. “How long do you think the storm will last?”

  “Quite a while. If you’re going to be up all night, checking on Clay, Josh and Will, then you’d better get some shut-eye while you can.”

  Wanting to obey, she focused on the sound of Eddie’s and Pete’s whispering and the clink of pennies as they sorted through their booty. Surely the combination would lull her to sleep.

  Instead her exhaustion vanished. She wanted to toss and turn, but knew she’d disturb Micky. Rolling onto her left side, she twisted her hair in order to let air cool her overheated neck.

  “Micky?” she asked. “Are you still awake?”

  He paused. “Barely.”

  “I can’t sleep.”

  “Somehow, I guessed,” he said wryly.

  “What do we do?”

  “We could play another hand of cards by flashlight, but since Eddie has the money, it would have to be strip poker.”

  She smiled, realizing that his flirtatious comments were all part of his game, and his charm. No wonder Jolene and other women honed in on him like a hummingbird to sugar when he walked into a room.

  “In your dreams,” she countered without heat.

  “Don’t remind me.”

  Perhaps he wasn’t drifting off as easily as she’d thought he was. “Seriously, though, I can’t just lie here. I’m too wound up.”

  “I suppose you want to gab for a while.”

  A fate worse than death for most men. But their options were limited, and the one thing Dana would like to do required a far more private setting. “Yeah. Do you mind?”

  “Oh, I mind a lot of things,” he drawled, “but talking isn’t one of them.”

  CHAPTER EIGHT

  MICKY KNEW EXACTLY what he’d like to do to pass the time, but making sweet love to Dana was out of the question. For the moment, anyway.

  He allowed himself a wry smile. If anyone had ever told him that one day he’d be lying next to a beautiful woman in the dead of night and chitchatting like a girl at a slumber party instead of engaging in more hot-and-heavy activities, he would have hauled him to the nearest psychiatric ward.

  “What should we talk about?” As late as it was, Dana sounded perky.

  “Why a pretty girl like you ended up as an EMT firefighter instead of a nurse or a doctor.”

  She chuckled. “Promise you won’t laugh?”

  “I promise.”

  “I loved being first at everything I did. And when firemen visited the school during Fire Prevention Week, I realized that these guys had jobs where they were the first ones on the scene. So I wanted to be a firefighter, too.”

  He pictured a small girl with fiery red pigtails who clawed her way to the front of the line, and he chuckled. “You’re kidding, right.”

  “I’m not,” she insisted.

  “But it couldn’t have been easy. There aren’t a lot of women in the fire service.”

  “I didn’t breeze right in,” she admitted. “But my parents always told me that I could be whatever I wanted to be, so I refused to let anything stand in my way. It took a lot of hard work to get where I am, but I have loved every step of the way.”

  She suddenly seemed more like him than he’d thought—focused on her career, driven to succeed. “With firefighting as your first love, there wasn’t room for a second, was there?”

  “Actually, there was,” she confessed. “Alex was an old friend long before he became my captain. With our similar interests, goals and ambitions, we drifted together, but it didn’t work. Something was missing, so we parted on amicable terms and stayed friends. He recently married my twin sister.”

  “Keeping him in the family?”

  “He didn’t know Lauren was my sister when he met her. In fact, I didn’t know she was my sister, or that I had one at all.”

  He paused. “Come again?”

  Although Eddie and Pete were tented under a blanket to dim the glow of their flashlight, there was still enough light for Micky to see Dana’s s
mile. “My life story is rather bizarre. Are you sure you want to hear it?”

  “We aren’t going anywhere,” he reminded her.

  “True. Anyway, thirty-two years ago, a first-year surgical resident was moonlighting in Courage Bay’s E.R. He’d drunk too much at a party and botched an emergency delivery of a baby to a couple named Conway.

  “Because they were both attorneys, he was afraid he’d be sued, so he sneaked the dead baby into the maternity ward and swapped it for another. In the process of finding a newborn who closely matched the Conway baby, he switched several of us around in our bassinets. Lauren and I were twins born to Cleveland and Gloria Barclay, but she went to the Conways and I went to the Ivies. The real Ivie baby went to the Barclays and died of respiratory failure before leaving the hospital.”

  “You should have passed out a program,” he said, trying to keep it all straight. “Talk about confusing.”

  “Tell me about it. Anyway, about a year ago, the doctor suspected that someone might expose his secret and ruin his career, so he tried to kill Lauren by setting a fire. That’s how Alex met her. He was on duty and rescued her.”

  “Pretty heavy stuff.”

  “As you can imagine, it’s been difficult adjusting to the idea that my life, including my parents’, has been a lie. And then to have Alex fall in love with someone who looked exactly like me…it was tough because Lauren is everything I’m not. She’s more, oh, I don’t know, fragile, I guess. I’m not proud of the way I handled myself at the time, but eventually I adjusted to having two sets of parents and a twin, not to mention another sister and two nephews. Talk about the ultimate in blended families. At times, it’s still rather unsettling.”

  “Look at the bright side. Your holidays aren’t boring.”

  “They’re not,” she agreed. “We definitely have interesting get-togethers.”

  Her emphasis on “interesting” didn’t pass by unnoticed. “How do you feel about Alex being with your sister?”

  She didn’t answer for a long minute. “I’m happy for him because he deserves to have someone special. I’m sad for me, though, because like I said, he was my best friend. My confidant. My sounding board. I lost that. I’m being selfish, aren’t I?”

  “Maybe, but it’s understandable. Is that why you volunteered for this trip to Turning Point? To get away?”

  “I thought a change of scenery would be good. Help me screw my head on straight so I could move on and figure out exactly where I belong. When the boxes that form your life suddenly turn upside down and everything inside jumbles together, it takes a while to sort the pieces.”

  Which was why he’d kept his “boxes” to a minimum, Micky thought, with flying as his sole interest and concern.

  “Tell me about your family,” she prompted. “I hope yours is less unusual than mine.”

  “It is. I grew up on a ranch around Amarillo,” he said as he rolled onto his back to ease the cramp in his neck. “After Dad died from complications of multiple sclerosis, Mom didn’t want to move. She still runs the place and has a few hired hands who do the heavy work.”

  “I’m sorry about your father.”

  He shrugged. “It was for the best.”

  “How long did you two fly together?”

  “A few years. As I said, it was a fast way to cover a lot of ground when we checked the herd. I learned the basics from him, but after the doctors diagnosed his disease, he sold the plane. I was thirteen.”

  “But by then, I’ll bet you were hooked.”

  “Totally,” he agreed. “Dad loved to hear my stories, and he always asked about my flights. I took him up whenever I had a chance. Dad had a blast.” He paused to remember his father’s smile, the light in his eyes after they’d landed, and his struggle to voice his thanks.

  “What about you?” she asked softly.

  “I loved those rides, too,” he answered simply. “It was like old times, only our positions were reversed. We made it a regular Sunday afternoon outing until close to the end, even though it became harder and harder for me to see how much he’d deteriorated during the week. I don’t know how my mom handled it.”

  She placed her hand on his. “It’s never easy to watch a loved one fade away.”

  “No, it isn’t. Although I knew I’d made him happy for a little while, I went home angry over the waste of a good man.” If his frustration hadn’t eased during the flight back to Turning Point, then a hard, fast ride on his motorcycle helped.

  “And your sister?”

  “She lives in Houston and is in hotel management.”

  “And this was your grandparents’ place?”

  “Yeah. I loved coming here. Grandpa was a character.” He smiled, remembering the feisty old man. “You would have liked him. He worked for a company that extinguished oil-well fires. The stories he could tell….”

  “So risk-taking runs in your family.”

  “The Flynns live life large,” he corrected. “You never know when your number will be called, which is why I fly instead of fork hay and watch steers gain weight.”

  “Your mother doesn’t want you to take over for her?”

  “She knows my heart isn’t in it. The only thing she truly wants is grandchildren. Courtney’s engaged, so she’s closer to making Mom happy than I am.”

  “Surely someday?”

  “Not for a while. Years, maybe. Flying is my business and my life. There isn’t room for anything else.”

  “You aren’t on the job 24/7, are you?”

  “Regulations limit me to eight hours of flying time a day, but I spend about fourteen hours hanging around airports. If I’m not in the air, I’m waiting for shipments to come in or I’m drumming up business. Some nights, I just sleep on a cot in my office. Not many women would put up with an absentee husband.”

  “Speaking from experience?” she asked lightly.

  “Yeah. I was engaged. Once.” He fell silent as he thought about the woman he’d almost married. The ensuing silence suggested that Dana was waiting for him to continue, so he did.

  “I met Jillian when I was stationed at McConnell AFB. She was happy to say yes when I proposed, but when I told her about starting my own charter business, she hated the idea. She insisted that I stop flying and work in her father’s hardware store, or else sign on with a major airline. She thought a jumbo jet was safer than a single-engine, although she pushed hard for me to join her dad in his business.”

  “But you didn’t want to do that, either.”

  He shook his head. “Selling tools didn’t appeal to me any more than starting at the bottom and clawing my way up through the ranks of an airline. So we parted company.

  “It was a good thing we did,” he added thoughtfully. “This isn’t a nine-to-five job and probably won’t ever be. When your signature is on the bottom line and your bank account shows red, you’ll do whatever it takes. I’m not at the point where I can afford to be choosey and turn away customers. Which is why I don’t tangle up my personal life. I’m not a hermit or a monk by any stretch of the imagination, but I don’t want the responsibility for making anyone, other than my customers and Maggie May, happy.”

  His relationships were like his favorite bomber jacket, warm and comfortably loose. While he was involved, his partner could count on him for a sympathetic ear and a good time, but he never committed himself to anything further than the weekend ahead. His business was his mistress, and she was both fickle and hard to please.

  To be honest, he didn’t know if he’d change his priorities even when staying in the black came easy. He’d seen what happened to his fellow pilot friends who’d let themselves be lassoed by a female. They ended up losing their edge, flying milk runs or working a nine-to-five job that sucked the life right out of a man. Not a happy prospect, in his opinion.

  “I see.”

  Micky suspected that she did.

  “Maggie May. Was she someone special?”

  “I’d say so. Maggie and May were my two grandmothers.


  “You must think a great deal of them,” Dana said.

  “I do. I did. They’re both gone now.”

  She paused, as if mulling over the things he’d told her. “I didn’t realize that flying was so demanding.”

  “It definitely requires enough of my attention that I don’t have a lot left to give anyone else.”

  “Perhaps, but a relationship isn’t one person being responsible for another. It’s a partnership between two people. Don’t you get lonely?”

  He grinned. “Me? Lonely?”

  “Oh, I know you have your pick of women, but don’t you want someone you can talk to? Pour out your troubles to? Someone who’ll be there longer than a few nights or a weekend?”

  “You mean like a dog?” He teased, although he guessed the direction she was heading.

  “No,” she huffed. “I wasn’t talking about four-legged friends. They can’t talk back.”

  He grew quiet. “Yeah, it would be nice, but on the whole, I’m satisfied with things the way they are.”

  Yet, lying close to Dana, he wondered just how deep his satisfaction went. On occasion, he did wonder if something was missing in his life, but it didn’t take long for him to fill the void with either another job or a date. His life had become a routine of one more flight and a parade of short-term female companions.

  A few loud snickers drifted toward him from across the room, followed by an equally loud “Shh” and “Wow, would you look at this?”

  “I wonder what those two are doing?” Suspicion laced her voice as she turned her head in their direction.

  The rustling of pages gave him a clue and he grinned. “I think they’ve found Courtney’s catalogs.”

  “Victoria’s Secret?”

  “My Flying and Plane & Pilot magazines wouldn’t tickle a teenage boy’s funny bone.”

  “We should confiscate them.” She started to move, but he grabbed her arm.

  “We’re not their camp counselors,” he reminded her. “I’m sure there isn’t anything in those catalogs that they haven’t seen on television or at the beach. It isn’t like they’re drooling over Playboy.”

 
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