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Turbulence, p.3

Turbulence, page 3

 

Turbulence
 


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  She nodded. “But on the ground, I’m the ranking member of this team, even if I’m not from Texas and haven’t lived through a hurricane before.”

  “You’re in charge of treating our victims, nothing more,” he countered. “If you can’t agree to my terms, then you can stay behind and I’ll manage without you.”

  “Fine,” she snapped. “When we’re in the air, you’re in charge, but I’m the one responsible for medical care, whether we’re in the air or on the ground. Are you happy now?”

  “Happy?” he drawled. “There’s only one thing that would make me happy right now, but it isn’t going to happen, so let’s go.” He grabbed a yellow slicker from the row of pegs near the entrance and started to open the door.

  When he crossed the threshold and warm humid air hit him along with a few droplets of rain, he realized that she hadn’t followed. He paused to turn and glower at her.

  “Are you coming or not, Red?”

  “Red?” she responded coolly as she dropped her case to tug on her own shin-length yellow slicker. “That’s not very original.”

  “I call it like I see it.”

  “The last person who called me that got a bloody nose. He learned not to repeat his mistake.”

  He chuckled. “Is that a threat?”

  She shrugged. “Take it for what it’s worth.”

  “If you say so.” He eyed the heavy chest she’d hoisted again. “You’re not bringing that along, are you?”

  “Unless you can carry medical supplies in your hip pocket, then yes, I am.”

  “Leave it,” he ordered.

  “Leave it?” she repeated, her voice rising. “Now, see here. We just decided that I was in charge of medical issues. I can’t treat these people without—”

  “I keep a fully stocked medical kit on the plane.”

  Her eyes narrowed. “How stocked? This isn’t a discount store first-aid kit, you know.”

  He bit back a pithy comment. Clearly a detailed explanation was in order. “Sometimes I flew our paramedic to the scene before the ambulance arrived, so to save time I kept his supplies on board. I’ve even used a few first-aid items from the box myself.”

  “Oh. Do you carry IV fluids and medications and—”

  “And more, all duly authorized by Dr. Holland, long before he suffered a heart attack and landed in a hospital in Houston.”

  “When?” she demanded. “For all I know, your kit hasn’t been updated in ages.”

  “Our paramedic checked everything before he moved to North Dakota two weeks ago.”

  “Are you sure nothing has become outdated?”

  “Positive.”

  “I still think I should take mine.”

  He raised one eyebrow. “Does your kit include the antidote to cottonmouth snake venom?”

  “No,” she said reluctantly.

  “I rest my case. Leave it. As the pilot, I say what goes on my plane and what doesn’t. I refuse to carry extra weight under these weather conditions.”

  “Okay,” she grudgingly acquiesced, “but heaven help you if I need something you don’t have.”

  He nodded. “So noted. Now, stow your gear so we can get moving. I’ll meet you outside.”

  MICKY PULLED THE BILL of his black baseball cap out of his waistband at the small of his back and jammed it on his head. After a quick swipe of the Harley’s seat to remove the moisture, he straddled his bike to wait for his unwanted passenger. He’d already resigned himself to bringing Dana along, but that didn’t mean he had to like it.

  He was used to being in control, having the final word in every aspect of his life from his plane to the women he dated. Wrangling with the opposite sex, other than his sister, just didn’t happen. He was more familiar with sweet, even-tempered gals who were more than ready to please and to accept his decisions as final. Dana Ivie clearly didn’t fit in that category. In fact, she was the most infuriating, hardheaded woman he’d ever met.

  Why couldn’t she see that he was only looking out for her—and his—safety? On this mission of man against the Texas elements he wanted a teammate he could count on without a second’s hesitation. Dana Ivie was a variable in a situation where variables weren’t wanted.

  While part of him groused that she hadn’t deferred to his superior judgment, another part of him felt oddly energized by the way she stood her ground. With reddish-brown hair that shimmered with life, he shouldn’t expect her to act otherwise.

  Yes, indeed. It would be interesting to discover if Dana Ivie’s copper-haired temperament spilled over into every aspect of her life or if it just flared when her professional skills were questioned. He could still see the greenish flecks in her deep-brown eyes flashing with fury, the twin spots of color high on her sculpted cheekbones, her feminine jaw squared and her lush mouth pressed into a hard line, and decided that anger didn’t disguise the fact she was a knockout even in her uniform. Her skin didn’t sport the freckles common to redheads, but instead glowed with a pink blush that resembled a Colorado peach.

  To add insult to injury, he was a sucker for long hair, and this woman had plenty of it. Her braid hung past her shoulders and it had taken very little imagination on his part to picture those fiery tresses unrestrained.

  He’d noticed her when he’d first arrived at the station and some of his friends had happily filled in the blanks. It had been nice to know that people with medical backgrounds were readily available for emergencies, but he’d pictured getting to know the elusive Dana Ivie in the school gym where people would wait out the storm, not having to depend on her in a life-threatening situation.

  Regardless of his objections, Mitch had told him to take her, so he would, but if she screwed up the outcome of their mission or jeopardized anyone or anything, then he would personally hang her out to dry.

  A raindrop hit him square in the eye and he cursed at the delay. This light drizzle could change to a downpour while he was sitting here like a bump on a log. Sure, he could fly in rain, but not a hurricane. If the weather worsened and he took the risk anyway, the odds of spotting the wrecked van would be slim to none. The sooner they got this show on the road, the better for everyone.

  The door opened and he heard Dana’s voice before he saw her. “I’m back,” she said, sounding as if she’d been running.

  “It’s about time,” he muttered, aware that he was acting as surly as Old Man Hollister on a good day. “Let’s go.”

  He grabbed the handlebars and braced himself for a center of gravity shift as his unwelcome passenger climbed behind him.

  It didn’t come. Wondering at the delay, he glanced over his shoulder and saw her eyeing his bike as if it were a rattler.

  “A motorcycle?”

  “I can maneuver through traffic faster on this than I can in my Explorer. So get the lead out and climb on.” He finished on an irritated note.

  “Where’s your Explorer?”

  From the hope in her voice, Micky suspected that she’d rather take a different mode of transportation. “At the hangar. This is your carriage for the moment, Cinderella.” He grinned at her discomfort. “Afraid you’ll melt?”

  She squared her shoulders. “Certainly not.”

  “Then get on.”

  Once again, she appeared hesitant, and he wondered if he’d found her Achilles’ heel. If she was scared to ride a motorbike, then it only cemented his belief that she would be more of a hindrance than a help on this little trip. He’d rather go it alone than have her fall apart at some crucial moment. His resolve to leave her behind strengthened.

  “If you don’t want to ride with me, you can either walk due west about two miles or go back inside and bum a ride with someone else. But be warned, I won’t wait for you. When my preflights are done, I’m outta here.”

  She frowned, but took a step closer. “What about a helmet?”

  He patted the black headgear strapped behind him on the seat. “Here you go.”

  She started to unhook the bungee cord straps holdin
g it in place. “Where’s yours?”

  “That is mine.”

  She froze. “I can’t take it from you.”

  “Then you don’t ride.” He shrugged nonchalantly.

  She nibbled on her bottom lip. “Doesn’t Texas have a helmet law?”

  “We do, but I only carry one. Which means, for this trip, it’s yours.” Her reluctance at taking his helmet surprised him. None of his riders had ever been concerned about his lack of headgear. Strangely enough, her attitude thawed the cold spot he’d created for her in his heart.

  “I also have medical insurance and have taken a motorcycle safety course, which gives me some leeway with the law,” he explained.

  “I wasn’t worried about a ticket,” she protested. “If we wreck, I’d rather not see your brains splattered across the highway.”

  “That makes two of us, but we won’t wreck.” Of course, he had no way of predicting such a thing, but he wasn’t going to look for trouble. “Put it on so we can go,” he said, using impatience to hide how deeply her concern had touched him. “I’d like to rescue those kids before the rain gets worse.”

  He revved the engine and turned his back, using both to signal the end to this going-nowhere conversation. A few seconds later, he felt her weight settle behind him and a tentative tug at the back of his rain slicker.

  He wondered if he should point out that his bike didn’t come with a sissy bar, but he figured she’d find out soon enough on her own. He simply spoke two words over his shoulder.

  “Hold on.”

  Without giving her an opportunity to argue, he took off. Her sudden screech and the way she wrapped both arms around his middle told him that she’d obeyed.

  Normally the heady feeling of flying on the ground assailed him as the powerful engine ate up the miles. Today, however, he hardly noticed the rumble or the dips and bumps in the road. The sensation of Dana pressed against his back overshadowed everything else.

  He mumbled a curse to himself. The intermittent rain and the bumper-to-bumper traffic of evacuees fleeing the coast wouldn’t make this trip a joyride, but having Dana plastered against him only added a huge measure of personal agony for him. It didn’t seem fair that a woman who was so irritating could make his body respond on such an elemental level.

  There was only so much misery a man could take and he had to suffer through two miles of it. To preserve his sanity and keep from embarrassing himself, he intended to make this trip in record time, even if it wouldn’t be the most pleasant ride he’d ever given a passenger.

  His mouth curled into a determined smile as he made a split second decision between hitting a stray dog or swerving through a puddle. Her gasp as the water sprayed them suggested that she was none too happy with his choice.

  If he was lucky, when they arrived at the Turning Point airstrip, she would be begging to stay behind.

  CHAPTER TWO

  DANA HUNG ON TIGHT as Flynn had instructed. At first, she’d done so out of self-preservation, but as they streaked through town on their wild ride, exhilaration and awe replaced any concerns about her safety. They careened down side streets and alleyways, dodged stray animals and cars, and hit every puddle in the process, but through it all, she realized that he remained in full control.

  She’d been certain that his hair-raising tactics had been designed to intimidate her, and she privately vowed not to let him gain the upper hand. Some of the guys at the fire station back home had taken her on a few motorcycle rides, but those had been sedate by comparison. She tried to remember the pointers they’d shared, such as lean in the direction of the turn and relax, and once she’d recovered from the initial bone-jarring and breathtaking shock of going from zero to sixty in two point five seconds, she did her best to implement them.

  After seeing the congested main street and thinking about his travel route, she decided that he’d simply been finding the fastest way to the airport. He probably hoped that a rough ride through the less scenic parts of town would work in his favor to scare her off this assignment.

  She grinned, remembering her surprise when Flynn straddled his motorcycle. She shouldn’t have been shocked by his method of transportation. Clearly his need for speed demanded fulfillment on terra firma as well as in the sky. Even if she hadn’t figured that out as soon as he spun out of the firehouse driveway, she would have realized it well before they reached the outskirts of town.

  He took more turns than a roller coaster at Six Flags and she swore that he found every dip and bump in Turning Point’s streets, but in spite of all that, she enjoyed the sensation of zooming down the road with the wind against her face.

  Granted, she still clung to Flynn, but she didn’t have the same white-knuckled hold she’d had when they’d started. In fact, after the last bump, when her butt had flown off the seat several inches and surprised her enough to gasp, she’d squeezed herself even more tightly against him. Considering how a mere glance from him weakened her knees, she should have opted for less contact and not more, but common sense had won out.

  It was heaven. It was hell. She’d known it would be both.

  Yet, what choice did she have? She didn’t trust him enough to come back for her if she flew into a ditch. Nor was asking him to slow down an option. She wouldn’t give him the satisfaction.

  She’d had a feeling that she’d be playing with fire if she snuggled against him on his Harley, which was why she’d hesitated when she’d first seen it. The sparks of awareness had already flown before Mitch’s briefing and again during their heated conversation. What really unsettled her, though, had been how, at one point during their exchange, an urge to kiss him and to feel his skin against hers had struck her like a lightning bolt.

  Of course, she didn’t plan to act on that urge. How would he respect her skills as a firefighter and an EMT if she reacted like a love-struck female? Her goal was to gain his respect, not inflate his Texas-size ego.

  And then he had to go and act heroic by giving her his helmet. Underneath his overbearing, gruff, I’m-in-charge-of-this-operation manner, clearly beat a chivalrous heart.

  As a woman who prided herself on being one of the guys in a male-dominated world, gallantry was the one thing that could turn her into mush.

  As they left town, he took a more direct route, which warranted fewer twists and turns. She tried to stare at the scenery and caught sight of a few cattle, but the wide-open spaces only intensified the effects of the wind and rain and she buried her face in his back for the protection he afforded. In spite of her resolve to keep an emotional distance, she couldn’t help but notice his clean, outdoorsy scent with an underlying trace of engine oil. It was a fragrance combination she would never forget because it fit Flynn perfectly.

  Nor could she ignore the broad shoulders that shielded her from the worst of the wind and drizzle—shoulders that felt warm and solid beneath his rain slicker and sent electricity skittering all the way down to her booted toes.

  Their wild ride had done more than deliver them from point A to point B in less time than she’d imagined. It had made her more aware of him as a healthy, virile male, and her awareness was growing in proportion to the strength of the hurricane headed their way. And if she didn’t raise her guard, there would come a moment when she couldn’t ignore the attraction brewing between them, either.

  Meanwhile, she’d privately enjoy this unexpected and delightful experience. Once this little journey ended, she’d set the walls back in place and he would never know just how much his simple touch affected her. Part of her reason for coming to Turning Point was to help her discover where she fit in this new life she’d found herself in. Falling into lust with a guy who was the complete opposite of steady, dependable men like Alex and her two fathers wasn’t in the overall plan.

  What struck her as most ironic, however, was being attracted to a man who clearly didn’t think she was capable of doing her job. For years, she’d focused on her profession to the exclusion of all else, and in the end, what had it ne
tted her? Men still tended to dismiss her skills until she proved herself.

  Well, Micky Flynn was in for a surprise. Regardless of the fire flaring between them on occasion, she was a firefighter and knew how to douse those unwanted sparks. She also intended to show that she was well able to perform her job, no matter when or where it took her, including his precious state of Texas.

  He slowed for a turn and Dana peeked around him as he entered the airport grounds. A small building stood straight ahead, and to its right, a large, steel-fabricated structure that sported a sign with discreet black letters.

  Flynn Charter Service.

  He didn’t just own a plane as a hobby, she thought as she cataloged one more piece of information about him. Flying was his business.

  After carefully navigating through an open gate in the chain-link fence, he throttled the engine to cross the last few yards, then rolled through the open hangar doors to a halt inside.

  The deafening noise of the engine echoing through the building suddenly stopped, and she blurted out the first thought in her head as she hopped off the back end.

  “That was great! Can we do it again?”

  His jaw dropped as he faced her. “Are you serious?”

  “Of course. That was fantastic! Better than any of the rides at an amusement park. Did you think I wouldn’t like it?” she added on a breezy note, knowing from his poleaxed expression that he had.

  A slow smile spread across his face and at the same time she saw respect appear in his eyes. In that instant, she knew that they’d reached a truce.

  “Yeah,” he drawled. “We’ll do it again.”

  MICKY WALKED HIS HARLEY to the corner of the hangar where he parked it for safekeeping, hardly able to believe what had just happened. Damn if Dana’s eyes hadn’t sparkled with excitement. Not only that, but her face had turned a pretty shade of pink, and her wide smile couldn’t have appeared more genuine. The picture she’d presented as she’d hopped off his bike had been totally unexpected. He’d thought he would have to pry her off her seat with a crowbar, and instead, she’d been ready and eager for round two.

 
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