“You’re awfully demanding.”
“Yes, and as I recall, you like that. Now, Lilah.”
She sighed and opened her eyes, finding that they were very high off the ground. She’d had no idea how it would feel, but it looked as though there were nothing directly below her. All she could see was straight through the glass, which meant everything in front and around her. She gulped at the mix of vulnerability and excitement and studied her pilot.
His sunglasses were silver mirrored frames and gave nothing of his thoughts away. Though piloting a helicopter appeared to take all his limbs—both his hands and his feet were occupied—he was completely in control, aware of everything going on around them: the sky, the instruments, the ground, her. Her eyes were drawn time and time again to those hands, those long fingers moving precisely and surely, in perfect control, just like when they’d been in his bed and he’d handled her much in the same way he was handling instruments . . .
Turning his head, he met her gaze, the very corners of his mouth barely tilting up. “You okay?”
No. “Yes.” He was far too sexy. She needed a distraction for herself. “If you don’t have a home base anywhere,” she said, “where do you keep all your stuff?”
He went brows up. “Where did that question come from?”
“It was either that or ‘Are we there yet?’”
That got her an almost smile. “I don’t tend to keep much stuff.”
“Is that your favorite question, ‘why’?”
“Yes. Right after ‘Are the donuts two for one today?’”
He laughed. “The why is simple. My life hasn’t really been my own for years now. When and if that changes, I’ll figure out where ‘home base’ is.”
“But why isn’t your life your own?”
The chopper dipped and she gasped and grabbed the armrests on either side of her hips. “What was that?”
“A pocket of air.” Utterly unconcerned, he made an adjustment to the instruments. “I’ll take us up a bit higher for a smoother ride.”
Oh God. They were going even higher. Be Amelia Ear-hart , she told herself, but it didn’t work. Maybe because things hadn’t ended so well for Amelia. Choosing not to think on that too deeply, she pulled out her cell phone.
“You won’t have reception up here,” he said. “Nor would anyone be able to hear you.”
“I need to text everyone my good-byes.”
A big hand settled over hers. “In the seat behind you, grab my bag.”
When she’d done that, he reached over and pulled out his camera. He flicked off the lens cover and turned it on. Then he set it to auto mode.
The moron-proof button.
“Go for it,” he said.
She stared at him. “You want me to take your picture?”
“I want you to take pictures of whatever you want.”
The Canon was digital and obviously expensive. She brought it carefully up to her face and looked through the lens at the admittedly amazing view. “Is this a distraction technique?”
She laughed and let it work. After a few minutes, she turned the camera on him.
He was dressed in his usual cargo pants, the pockets filled with his essentials. Probably all sorts of tools, and a variety of weapons, and maybe the secrets of his world.
Last week, when she’d been at the loft and gotten him out of those pants, she’d seen the pile of things from his pockets on the dresser. Money, a credit card, his driver’s license, and a wicked-looking pocketknife was as far as she’d gotten before she’d realized he’d been watching her.
She’d braced for his annoyance at her snooping, but it turned out that her curiosity about him had amused him.
“Just ask,” he’d said in that low, easy voice of his. “Ask whatever you want to know.”
“And you’ll answer?”
He’d just smiled at her.
At the time, she’d blown out a breath and chickened out. Now she looked at his perfectly fitted cargo pants and wondered if one of today’s essentials included a condom.
She had three in her purse now. Her new emergency stash, in the same pocket as her gummy bears—also an emergency stash. Just ask . . . “Do you ever get lonely? Up here in the air?”
“Lonely for what?”
“I’m not always in the air,” he pointed out. “And anyway, there are cell phones. E-mail. Visiting . . .”
“But you don’t. Visit.”
“I haven’t made a habit of it, no.”
“So you’re saying that you’re a creature of habit? You stick with routine?”
That got a bark of laughter from him. “That’s new,” he murmured to himself, or so it seemed. “Creature of habit. Routine. Never been accused of either before.”
“What about women?”
He glanced over at her. “What about them?”
“Haven’t you ever wanted to change your life for a woman?”
A little shiver of disappointment went through her. “You’ve never been in love?”
“I’ve been in lust,” he said with a small, private smile. “More than once.”
She rolled her eyes as beside her he let out a breath. “The truthful answer is no,” he said quietly. “I’ve never been in love.”
They fell silent, and Lilah thought that was that.
“But you,” he finally said. “You, Lilah, scare the hell out of me.”
“Why?” she whispered.
He met her gaze and held it. “Because I could fall for you, Lilah. Hard and deep and never want to come back up.”
She could scarcely breathe. “What’s wrong with that?”
“We’d drown.” And with that, he went back to his quiet flying zone.
Brady found himself smiling in sheer pleasure at the gorgeous day sprawled out in front of them, hundreds of miles in every direction, a maze of mountains and valleys that included a national forest.
Not a town or a paved road was visible. There was something about the high-pitched whine and whistle of a chopper, coupled with that sweet aroma of burning jet fuel that was more intoxicating than anything he’d ever experienced.The wild northern Idaho wilderness was as untamed as it had been in the early 1800s when Lewis and Clark came through. He could see the crests of the ridges of the Bitter-roots and beyond. The countless lakes and rivers and a glacier-scoured basin more formidable and rockier than just about anywhere on earth caught his breath in a way he hadn’t expected.
If he ever wished to claim a home base, it would be here, the first place to make him feel wanted. He glanced over at his passenger.
And the most recent place to make him feel wanted . . .
Unlike him, Lilah wasn’t smiling in sheer pleasure. They’d hit some turbulence and she was gripping the arms of the seat like she was expecting to go down any second and the armrests would save her. He’d asked her several times if she was okay, and he started to ask again. “Lilah? Are you—”
“Don’t,” she said through her teeth. “Don’t ask me if I’m okay because I don’t know. And we need to land soon, or I swear I’ll stick you with the three kittens that were found at the river yesterday.”
He landed soon.
She handled that with only a quietly repeated mantra that went something like “We’re okay, we’re okay.” He was both proud and amused by her attempt at bravery. She was still sitting there, muscles clenched tight, eyes closed, when he opened her seat belt for her. “Good news,” he said. “We’re in one piece.”
She cracked open an eye, took a peek, and then a deep breath. “We made it.”
He felt his heart squeeze even as he laughed. “Lilah. Lilah, look at me.”
She turned her head and met his gaze, face still pale.
He shoved his sunglasses to the top of his head so she could get a good look at him. “Two things. One, if there’d been even a sliver of a doubt about this thing being anything less than one hundred percent air-worthy, I’d never have brought you with me.”
She stared at him, then nodded, even giving him a small, trusting smile. “You’re right. I knew that. What’s the second thing?”
He paused. “There’s a problem with one of the gauges.”
“Oh God. Okay.” She nodded. “We’ll just rent a car and drive home.”
Leaning close, he ran a thumb over her pale cheek. “We can fly without it. I just don’t want to. I’ll get a replacement from this airport’s maintenance department and have it fixed in no time.”
“In no time,” she repeated, clearly realizing that that meant she was indeed still taking the chopper back. “That’s . . . great.”
Because she was still shaking like a leaf, he leaned in and kissed her softly. “Come on, Amelia. You look like you need your feet firmly on the ground. Let’s go eat.”
She nodded but didn’t move.
“Want me to fly us to the restaurant?”
“Ha. And no.” She rose, wobbled, and pointed at him. “Not a word.”
He was good at not saying a word and, with an arm slung around her shoulders, led them across the tarmac and inside the airport.
The maintenance department informed them that they were backed up and needed an hour to locate the part Brady needed. Instead of waiting, Brady got them a cab and they headed to town. At an outdoor café, they ate fresh salmon and drank beer delivered in a metal bucket, all while being serenaded by a trio of birds sitting on a branch of a tree. Afterward they window-shopped as the sun set, walking down the main drag past a few galleries and artsy shops with the other tourists. Actually, Lilah shopped, and Brady just watched her. It was quickly becoming a favorite pastime.
“None of this interests you,” she said after a block.
“Not much of a shopper,” he admitted.
“Me neither. It’s hard to be a shopper when you’re perpetually broke—Oh,” she exclaimed with a gasp, and stopped in front of a shop called the Pharmacy. Only it was unlike any pharmacy Brady had ever been in. Instead of medicine and various sundries, there was lace and silk. It was a lingerie shop, and there was tons of it, all displayed and surrounded by . . . fluff. That was the only word he could think of. There were boas and feathers, lotions and soaps. Lilah was standing there taking it all in when his cell phone rang. It was work. “I’m sorry. I need to take this,” he told her.
“No worries,” she murmured, still enthralled by the window display. “Take your time.”
Brady stepped a few feet away to talk. “Miller.”
“Got a job,” came the familiar voice of Tony, his boss. “How soon can you be in Somalia?” he boomed.
Tony always boomed. Probably because he’d lost fifty percent of his hearing in the Gulf War, not that he’d ever admit the handicap.
Brady’s gaze tracked to Lilah, still nose up to the glass. “Not anytime soon.”
“What does that mean? You said you needed a couple of weeks and it’s been a couple of weeks.”
“It means I’m skipping this one,” Brady said. “Assign someone else.”
“But you’ve never skipped a job.”
No. No, he hadn’t. He’d never had a reason to. And he didn’t now, except . . .
Lilah was looking at a silk teddy set. Spaghetti-strapped cami and a tiny thong, both in a pale blue that would make her gorgeous skin shimmer. She turned her head, found him watching her, and blushed gorgeously.
He didn’t want to go.
“What the hell’s up?” Tony asked loudly enough that Brady winced and pulled the phone from his ear. “You said you needed personal leave,” Tony said. “Nothing special, you said.”
“Yes. And I’m taking a full month off.” That had been his promise to Dell and Adam, and he’d honor it. “I let the office know.”
“Yeah, you said you were in Idaho. What the fuck’s in Idaho?”
Brady let out a breath. “It’s personal—”
“Ah, Christ. You’re not going off the deep end and buying a ranch out in the middle of nowhere to raise cattle, are you? You belong in the air, man.”
“Two more weeks,” Brady said through his teeth. “I’ll be back in two weeks.”
“But not now?”
“No. Not now.”
“It’s a woman. No, what am I saying, not even a woman keeps you grounded. It’s two women, right?”
Brady shut his phone and slid it in his pocket, giving Lilah a knowing shake of his head. “You can stop pretending not to eavesdrop now.”
“You turned down a job.”
“I just postponed it, that’s all.”
Well, wasn’t that just the million-dollar question. His cell phone rang again. The Boise airport maintenance department. When he was done with that call, he shut his phone and rubbed a hand over his jaw. “I’ve got good news and bad news.”
“Good news first,” she decided, not looking sure she wanted either.
“Yeah, there isn’t really good news.”
Her eyes narrowed. “Then why did you ask?”
“Because normal people always want the bad news first.”
“Just tell me!”
“The part I need for the Bell 47 won’t be in until the morning.”