It should have been a routine flight.
Pittsburgh to Chicago was about as simple an itinerary as
Clear-Blue Airlines ever flew. In the LearJet 60, travel
time would be under an hour. The weather was perfect, the
sky like something out of a kid's Crayola artwork display.
Blue as a robin's egg, with a few puffy white clouds to set
the scene and not a drop of moisture in the air. Crisp, not
cold, it was about the most beautiful autumn day they'd had
The guys in the tower were cheerful, the Lear impeccably
maintained and a joy to handle. Amanda Bauer's mood was
good, especially since it was one of her favorite holidays.
She should have known something was going to screw it up.
"What do you mean Mrs. Rush canceled?" she asked,
frowning as she held the cell phone tightly to her ear.
Standing in the shadow of the jet on the tarmac, she edged
in beside the fold-down steps. She covered her other ear
with her hand to drown out the noises of nearby aircraft.
"Are you sure? She's been talking about this trip for
"Sorry, kiddo, you're going to have to do without your
senior sisters meeting this month," said Ginny Tate, the
backbone of Clear-Blue. The middle-aged woman did everything
from scheduling appointments, to bookkeeping, to ordering
parts, to maintaining the company Web site. Ginny was just
as good at arguing with airport honchos who wanted to obsess
over every flight plan as she was at making sure Uncle
Frank, who had founded the airline, took his cholesterol
medication every day.
In short, Ginny was the one who kept the business running so
all Amanda and Uncle Frank—now 60-40 partners in the
airline—had to do was fly.
Which was just fine with them.
"Mrs. Rush said one of her friends has the flu and she
doesn't want to go away in case she comes down with it,
"Oh, that bites," Amanda muttered, really regretting
the news. Because she had been looking forward to seeing the
group of zany older women again. Mrs. Rush, an elderly widow
and heir to a steel fortune, was one of her regular clients.
The wealthy woman and her "gal pals," who ranged in
age from fifty to eighty, took girls-weekend trips every
couple of months. They always requested Amanda as their
pilot, having almost adopted her into the group. She'd flown
them to Vegas for some gambling. To Reno for some gambling.
To the Caribbean for some gambling. With a few spa
destinations thrown in between.
Amanda had no idea what the group had planned for Halloween
in Chicago, but she was sure it would have been entertaining.
"She asked me to tell you she's sorry, and says if she
has to, she'll invent a trip in a few weeks so you two can
"You do realize she's not kidding."
"I know," said Ginny. "Money doesn't stand a
chance in her wallet, does it? The hundred-dollar bills have
springs attached—she puts them in and they start
trying to bounce right out."
Pretty accurate. Since losing her husband, the woman had
made it her mission to go through as much of his fortune as
possible. Mr. Rush hadn't lived long enough to enjoy the
full fruits of his labors, so in his memory, his widow was
going to pluck every plum and wring every bit of juice she
could out of the rest of her life. No regrets, that was her M.O.
Mrs. Rush was about as different from the people Amanda had
grown up with as a person could be. Her own family back in
Stubing, Ohio, epitomized the smalltown, hard-work,
They had never quite known what to make of her.
Amanda had started rebelling by first grade, when she'd led
a student revolt against lima beans in school lunches.
Things had only gone downhill from there. By the time she
hit seventh grade, her parents were looking into boarding
schools…which they couldn't possibly afford. And when
she graduated high school with a disciplinary record matched
only by a guy who'd ended up in prison, they'd pretty much
given up on her for good.
She couldn't say why she'd gone out of her way to find
trouble. Maybe it was because trouble was such a
bad word in her house. The forbidden path was always so much
more exciting than the straight-and-narrow one.
There was only one member of the Bauer clan who was at all
like her: Uncle Frank. His motto was Live 'til your fuel
tank is in the red and then keep on going. You can rest
during your long dirt nap when you finally slide off the
runway of life.
Live to the extreme, take chances, go places, don't wait for
anything you want, go out and find it or make it happen. And
never let anyone tie you down.
These were all lessons Amanda had taken to heart when
growing up, hearing tales of her wild uncle Frank, her
father's brother, of whom everyone else in the family had so
disapproved. They especially disliked that he seemed to have
his own personal parking space in front of the nearest
wedding chapel. He'd walked down the aisle four times.
Unfortunately, he'd also walked down the aisle of a divorce
courtroom just as often.
He might not be lucky in love, but he was as loyal an uncle
as had ever been born. Amanda had shown up on his Chicago
doorstep three days after her high school graduation and
never looked back. Nor had her parents ever hinted they
wanted her to.
He'd welcomed her, adjusted his playboy lifestyle for
her—though he needn't have. Her father might hate his
brother's wild ways, but Amanda didn't give a damn who he
From day one, he had assumed a somewhat-parental role and
harassed her into going to college. He'd made sure she went
home for obligatory visits to see the folks. But he'd also
shown her the world. Opened her eyes so wide, she hadn't
wanted to close them even to sleep in those early days.
He'd given her the sky…and he'd given her wings to
explore it by teaching her to fly. Eventually, he'd taken
her in as a partner in his small regional charter airline
and together they'd tripled its size and quadrupled its
Their success had come at a cost, of course. Neither of them
had much of a social life. Even ladies' man Uncle Frank had
been pretty much all-work-and-no-play since they'd expanded
their territory up and down the east coast two years ago.
As for Amanda, aside from having a vivid fantasy life, when
she wasn't in flight, she was as boring as a single
twenty-nine-year-old could be. Evidence of that was her
disappointment at not getting to spend a day with a group of
old ladies who bitched about everything from their lazy kids
to the hair growing out of their husbands' ears. Well,
except Mrs. Rush, who sharply reminded her friends to be
thankful for their husbands' ear hair while they still had
husbandly ear hair to be thankful for.
"Well, so much for a fun Halloween," she said with a
"Honey, if sitting in a plane listening to a bunch of
rich old ladies kvetch about their latest collagen
injections is the only thing you've got to look forward
"I know, I know." It did sound pathetic. And one of
these days, she really needed to do something about that.
Get working on a real social life again, rather than
throwing herself into her job fourteen hours a day, and
spending the other ten thinking about all the things she
would do if she had the time.
Picturing those things, even.
She closed her eyes, willing that thought away. Her fantasy
life might be a rich and vivid one. But it was definitely
not suitable for work hours.
Problem was, ever since she'd realized just how dangerous
she was to men's hearts, she really hadn't felt like going
after their bodies.
Her last relationship had ended badly. Very badly. And she
still hadn't quite gotten over the regret of it.
"What a shame. Mrs. Rush would have loved your costume."
"Oh, God, don't remind me," Amanda said with a groan.
It was for the benefit of the ladies that she'd worn it.
Mrs. Rush had ordered her to let loose on this one holiday trip.
Gulping, Amanda glanced around, hoping nobody was close
enough to see her getup. She needed to dart up into the
plane and change because while the old-fashioned outfit
would have made her passengers cackle with glee, she didn't
particularly want to be seen by any of the workers or
baggage handlers on the tarmac. Not to mention the fact
that, even though the weather was great, it was
October and she was freezing her butt off.
The Clear-Blue uniform she usually wore was tailored and
businesslike, no-nonsense. Navy blue pants, crisp white
blouse, meant to inspire confidence and get the customer to
forget their pilot was only in her late twenties. Most
customers liked that. However, the older women in the
senior-gal group always harassed Amanda about her fashion
sense. They insisted she would be one hot tamale if she'd
lose the man-clothes and get girly.
She glanced down at herself again and had to smile. You
couldn't get much more girly than this ancient stewardess
costume, complete with white patent-leather go-go boots and
hot pants that clung to her butt and skimmed the tops of her
She looked like she'd stepped out of a 1972 commercial for
As costumes went, it wasn't bad, if she did say so herself.
Shopping for vintage clothes on e-bay, she'd truly lucked
out. The psychedelic blouse was a bit tight, even though she
wasn't especially blessed in the boob department, and she
couldn't button the polyester vest that went over it. But
the satiny short-shorts fit perfectly, and the boots were so
kick-ass she knew she would have to wear them again without
"Now, before you go worrying that your day is a total
wash," Ginny said, sounding businesslike again, "I
wanted to let you know that the trip was not in vain. I've
got you a paying passenger back to Chicago who'll make it
worth your while."
"Seriously? A sudden passenger from Pittsburgh, on a
Saturday?" she asked. This wasn't exactly a hotbed
destination like Orlando or Hartsfield International. Mrs.
Rush was the only customer they picked up regularly in this
part of Pennsylvania and most business types didn't charter
flights on weekends.
"Yes. When Mrs. Rush called to cancel, she told me a
local businessman needed a last-minute ride to Chicago. She
put him in touch with us, hoping you could help him. I told
him you were there and would have no problem bringing him
back with you."
Perfect. A paying gig, and she could make it home in time to
attend her best friend Jazz's annual Halloween party.
Then she reconsidered. Honestly, it was far more likely she
would end up staying home, devouring a bag of Dots and
Tootsie Rolls while watching old horror films on AMC.
Because Jazz—Jocelyn Wilkes, their lead mechanic at
Clear-Blue and the closest friend Amanda had ever
had—was a wild one whose parties always got crashed
and sometimes got raided. Amanda just wasn't in the mood for
a big, wild house party with a ton of strangers.
Being honest, she'd much prefer a small, wild bedroom
one—with only two guests. It was just too bad for her
that, lately, the only guest in her bedroom had come with
batteries and a scarily illustrated instruction manual
written in Korean.
"Manda? Everything okay?"
"Absolutely," she said, shaking the crazy thoughts
out of her head. "Glad I get to earn my keep today."
Ginny laughed softly into the phone. "You earn your keep
every day, kiddo. I don't know what Frank would do without
"The feeling is most definitely mutual."
She meant that. Amanda hated to even think of what her life
might be like if she hadn't escaped the small, closed-in,
claustrophobic world she'd lived in with the family who had
so disapproved of her and tried so hard to change her.
She had about as much in common with her cold, repressed
parents and her completely subservient sister as she did
with…well, with the swinging 1970s flower-power
stewardess who'd probably once worn this uniform. When she'd
stood in line to get doused in the gene pool, she'd gotten
far more of her uncle Frank's reckless, free-wheeling,
never-can-stand-to-be-tied-down genes than her parents'
staid, conservative ones.
She had several exes who would testify to that. One still
drunk-dialed her occasionally just to remind her she'd
broken his heart. Yeah. Thanks. Good to know.
Even that, though, was better than thinking about the last
guy she'd gotten involved with. He'd fallen in love. She'd
fallen in "this is better than sleeping alone." Upon
figuring that out, he'd tried to make her feel
something more by staging a bogus overdose. She'd been
terrified, stricken with guilt—and then, when he'd
admitted what he'd done and why, absolutely furious
rather than sympathetic.
Making things worse, he'd had the nerve to paint her as the
bad guy. Her ears still rang with his accusations about just
what a cold, heartless bitch she was.
Better cold and heartless than a lying, manipulative
psycho. But it was also better to stay alone than to
risk getting tangled up with another one.
So her Korean vibrator it was.
Some people were meant for commitment, family, all that
stuff. Some, like her uncle Frank, weren't. Amanda was just
like him; everybody said so. Including Uncle Frank.
"You'd better go. Your passenger should be there soon."
"Yeah. I definitely need to change my clothes before
some groovy, foxy guy asks me if I want to go get high and
make love not war at the peace rally," Amanda replied.
"Please don't on my account."
That hadn't come from Ginny.
Amanda froze, the phone against her face. It took a second
to process, but her brain finally caught up with her ears
and she realized she had indeed heard a strange voice.
It had been male. Deep, husky. And close.
"I gotta go," she muttered into the phone, sliding
it closed before Ginny could respond.
Then she shifted her eyes, spying a pair of men's shoes not
two feet from where she stood in the shadow of the Lear.
Inside those shoes was a man wearing dark gray pants.
Wearing them nicely, she had to acknowledge when she lifted
her gaze and saw the long legs, the lean hips, the flat stomach.
Damn, he was well-made. Her throat tightened, her mouth
going dry. She forced herself to swallow and kept on looking.
White dress shirt, unbuttoned at the strong throat. Thick
arms flexing against the fabric that confined them. Broad
shoulders, one of which was draped with a slung-over suit
jacket that hung loosely from his masculine fingers.