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We napped for hours, far longer than I was usually able to sleep for my usual pre-redeye nap. I worked on his nude briefly before getting ready for the flight. “I can only hope that this one will get done anywhere near as fast as the first. I usually don’t work this quickly. It can take me weeks to finish a piece.”

He helped me dress for work, buttoning my blouse and straightening my tie. He fondled and kissed and made me wish we had ten more minutes by the time I needed to leave.

“Don’t you have to catch a flight?” I asked him archly as he walked me out.

“Why, yes. I’m leaving now, Love,” he said, kissing me shamelessly in the driveway while Stephan waited in his car. “I don’t exactly need to pack. Remember, I live in New York most of the time.”

I hadn’t remembered, and the thought saddened me. This thing we were doing, where he invaded my house and lavished attention on me, would end soon. Even if we didn’t end everything right away, it would soon be dwindling down to a one day a week affair, I was certain.

He seemed to notice something on my face. His eyes pinned me. I tried harder to make my face expressionless.

“Don’t worry, Love. I have obligations there, but I will certainly make an effort to be here more. This hotel is one of my larger properties. It makes perfect sense for me to divide some of my time here.”

I gave myself a little shake. He wanted me to depend on him for some perverse reason, and I had started to give in to him a little. I determined to make a better effort at keeping my head on straight.

“I’ll see you soon,” I told him, walking away.

It was going to be a particularly dead night at work. I studied our paperwork briefly and saw that the flight was only booked to 60 out of 175, with only 3 passengers in the first class cabin. I usually hated flights like that, with too much time and not enough to do, but tonight I was relieved.

Perhaps I would get some time with James. And some time with Stephan, to talk about James.

We met up with our pilots on the crew bus. Damien and Murphy both embraced me.

I hugged them stiffly back. I genuinely liked the two pilots, but I was loathe to let the other pilots on the crew bus get the idea that I was receptive to any kind of touching. In my experience, pilots were always looking for an excuse to touch. I preferred to be seen as untouchable, particularly at work.

“You look amazing, Bianca,” Damien said, smiling as he pulled back from his spontaneous hug. “Beautiful as always. I can’t tell you how happy we were when we found out that you were our layover crew.”

Damien was very good-looking, with shiny black hair and friendly brown eyes that had charmed many a flight attendant right out of their clothes. He was at least six one, and I could feel the hard play of muscles on his arms and torso when he embraced me. To top it all off, he had a strong Australian accent that acted as slutty girl Kryptonite.

I smiled back. “Yeah, when Stephan told me you were our New York pilots, I knew it was going to be a fun month,” I told him.

I was always friendly with him, but I also felt the need to be a little reserved. He had hit on me when we first met, but when I declined, he’d been nothing but platonic. However, I still got the feeling sometimes that he was just waiting until I changed my mind. Even if I had been interested in dating, which I emphatically wasn’t, I wouldn’t have dated him. He was a shameless womanizer, had in fact slept with some of my friends, and no part of me wanted him as anything but a friend.

Murphy, the first officer, was a heavy-set blond man with rosy cheeks and a constant stream of jokes that had had me rolling many a time. His endearing face wore a perpetual grin. I couldn’t ever even recall a time when his happy face wasn’t smiling at least a little.

“Damien made a deal to be born the anti-christ just to be on your route, Bianca. HIs poor mother wasn’t too happy about it, either,” Murphy told me by way of a greeting.

The entire bus laughed. He just had that infectiously happy nature, always bringing everyone in on the joke.

Melissa was the happiest I’d ever seen her when she met our new pilots. Perhaps her romance with the married Captain Peter had grown stale already. I’d be shocked if she and Damien weren’t sharing a room by the end of the layover.

I sent a glance Stephan’s way, and he beamed at me. “What happy times, Bee. My girl is finally falling for a great guy, our crew is practically a dream team, and I’ve got a date tomorrow.”

Stephan was a staunch optimist. Despite everything bad that had happened to him, he was always finding the silver lining. He never failed to make me want to be a better person. A person more like him. I couldn’t be, but I always tried not to bring down his happy moments with my own doubts and fears, so I just beamed back at him.

“It’s bound to be a great month,” I agreed.

We had a crew briefing when we got on the plane, leaning against the plush first class seats. It was a jovial affair, the seven of us joking and laughing and making plans for the next evening.

It was easy enough for everyone to decide on Melvin’s bar, since it was on the corner by the hotel, and Stephan suggested it. Melvin had arranged for us to get a crew discount, as we did in many bars, so drinks would be cheap, and of course, there was the karaoke.

“Oh, Bianca, say you’ll sing for me,” Damien teased.

I just smiled.

“She can’t come tomorrow. She has plans,” Stephan said, frowning a little as he looked at Damien. “Let’s hope she’ll come next week.”

I nodded. “Sure. Sounds good,” I said. I couldn’t ditch Stephan two weeks in a row, so I didn’t have to consider it long to know I’d be there.

Damien made a mock begging gesture. “Too cruel, Bianca! We haven’t seen you in months, and you ditch us?”

“Have mercy on the man, Bianca! You’re going to turn him into a cutter if you ignore him much more!” Murphy joked.

I saw Melissa giving me none-too-friendly looks behind their backs. The only thing she hated more than someone else getting the man was someone else getting the attention, I had observed.

“We need to prep for boarding or the gate agent is gonna kill us,” I said, trying to shift the attention away from myself. It was effective, since we really had been chatting for too long, neglecting our work.

I was prepping my galley as Murphy and Damien took turns poking their heads out of the cockpit to joke with me.

“I’ll take a gin and tonic,” Damien said in his attractive accent.

I just laughed, and he ducked back in.

Murphy poked his head out. “I’ll take a vodka martini, shaken, not stirred,” Murphy joked, butchering his own version of an Australian accent.

“James Bond was British, not Australian, or whatever accent that is you’re trying to do,” I told him.

He looked shocked and wounded.

I was giggling in spite of myself as I checked my carts.

He gave me a mock stern look. “Okay, I didn’t want to have to do this, Bianca, but you leave me no choice. Here’s my final offer. I’ll perform Tina Turner’s ‘Private Dancer’ for you at Karaoke, if you come. Take it or leave it. Well, okay, you twisted my arm. To sweeten the pot, I’ll take my shirt off and do my Chris Farley Chippendales dance to the beat. Final offer,” he warned, then ducked back in without waiting for an answer.

I was laughing too hard to give him one. I’d seen that performance before. It was as funny as it sounded. I’d even heard tales that it had gone viral.

Damien showed up again. “Okay, picture this. Murphy is Chris Farley and I will play the Patrick Swayze part, and in a thong. And we’ll make it a duo. Final offer, Bianca.”

I still just shook my head, laughing as he ducked back into the flight deck.

“Would it be possible to get a drink of water when you’re done flirting with those pilots?” a frosty voice asked from behind me.

I turned, my laughter dying, as I took in a furious James.


Mr. Personality

I reached into one of my carts, handing James a cold bottle without speaking.

He took it, watching me with narrowed eyes. Cold Mr. Cavendish was back in full force.

What had I done now? I wanted to touch him. I wanted to ask him why he was angry, but I didn’t. I just watched him without speaking until he turned and strode to his seat.

I hadn’t even known we were boarding. Normally Stephan both made an announcement, for those of us in the galleys, and then came and told me personally.

Of course, with Damien and Murphy in the cockpit, things ran a little bit differently. He didn’t have to pull pilot duty for me, so he hadn’t had to come up to the flight deck.

Damien poked his smiling head out again, then came out completely, standing a little too close to me, his voice pitched low. “Who was that asshole?” he asked.

I just grimaced. I wasn’t about to talk about it. I was already distracted enough.

“Could we get a couple of waters, as well? I’ll try not to be a dick about it, though, like Mr. Personality there,” he said with a smile.

I gave him a slight smile back, though I had to stifle the urge to tell him that it was Mr. Beautiful, thank you very much. I handed him two bottles.

“You guys need anything else?” I asked politely.

He dipped his head. “Thank you, beautiful. We’re good to go.” He disappeared back into the cockpit.

I shook my head. He’s in an odd mood today. It was poor timing, to say the least. James would take exception to even harmless flirting, I was quickly learning.

I headed into the cabin briskly, to tend to my three passengers.

I stopped at James first. He was in his usual seat, looking tense, his features hard as he sat and twisted his unopened bottle of water.

“Can I get you anything, Mr. Cavendish? May I take your jacket?”

He stood, crowding me back a step when he moved into the aisle. He moved closer, and I stood my ground that time. His chest brushed mine as he shrugged out of his pin-striped suit jacket.

I saw the Burberry label clearly as I folded the garment carefully against me.

“He calls you beautiful. How much of your beauty has he seen, Bianca?” he asked, his quiet voice intense.

I gave him a perplexed, unhappy look. “I have no idea what you’re talking about, but now is not the time to do so. I’m working, Mr. Cavendish.”

His jaw clenched. “Whatever you were doing up there with those pilots looked more like play than work to me.”

His anger didn’t make me want to cower, as I might have expected. It made me want to fight.

“Don’t be ridiculous. I was working, and they were being friendly. You don’t get to control me outside of what we do in the bedroom, James.” My voice was quiet, but furious. “And you especially don’t have any control over anything to do with my work.”

He shut his eyes tightly, then opened them again, looking a little more controlled than he had just an instant before.

“I hate that. You can’t have any idea how much I hate that,” he said quietly, moving back into his seat. He leaned his head back, closing his eyes.