It was like having a tiger in the back of the helicopter.
The knowledge of something big and dangerous and ruthless riding behind her. Something that could squish you like a bug and not blink a big golden eye.
Of course, the man behind her had blue eyes, not golden ones. Very blue.
So maybe a tiger wasn’t the right metaphor. Maybe—
“Got another chopper coming in about five, Sara. You getting airborne sometime soon?” The crisp tones of Ronnie, running control today, broke her train of thought. Just as well. She shook her head. Because you, Sara Charles, are being an idiot. There was no room for distraction when she was flying.
“Any second now,” she replied. She twisted in her seat to look at her passenger. “We’re ready to go, sir.” She called all her passengers sir or ma’am, unless instructed otherwise. Most did—or the regulars, at least. Not this one, though. He seemed to accept sir as though it was his due. Which was weird because, unless she was way off the mark, he wasn’t ex-military. And he wasn’t English royalty slumming it in New York. No, his accent was firmly American. Not that he’d spoken more than about six sentences to her in the three trips she’d flown for him so far.
Short sentences. Things like “Good morning.” And “Thank you.” His voice was deep. Cool. Controlled. His silence should have been annoying but instead it was somehow compelling. Made her want to hear more.
“I’ll have us in the air in just a minute,” she added, just in case he might break his streak and say something rash like Great.
He didn’t look up. He rarely looked up. He just nodded and kept his eyes on the screen of the slim silver laptop open on his lap. Focused. Intense.
His powers of concentration were clearly excellent. Even with the headsets on, it was loud in the helo, but he didn’t let anything distract him. She had to admit that there’d been the odd idle moment when she’d let herself wonder what it might be like to have all his attention focused on her. What it might be like to hold his focus and be the thing he didn’t want to be distracted from.
But that was about as likely to happen as her sprouting wings and being able to fly without a helo, so she tried to ignore the thoughts when they arose.
She did wonder where he’d learned to shut the world out, though. Maybe it came with being a doctor. She knew that much about him. He was a doctor. Dr. Lucas Angelo.
That was the name on the bookings. She didn’t know much more than that. She refused to Google a man she barely knew and wasn’t likely to. That would just be sad.
Sadder than comparing him to jungle cats?
Suppressing a sigh, she turned back to face the controls. Time to forget about tigers and get this bird in the air.
For the first few minutes, the joy of the flight took her mind away from the puzzle of the man she was flying. The city had turned on a perfect winter day. Warm. Sunny. Just enough breeze to make things interesting. Good light. Good visibility. The helo hummed under her hand, seemingly as pleased as she was to be in the air.
Away from all the problems down there on the ground. Nothing to think about but the sky and her destination for a few hours, at least.
She cut a path around the city, feeling the familiar rush as the gleaming buildings and the swath of the park slipped beneath her. Best view of Manhattan for sure. Best view in the world maybe.
Of course, Dr. Mystery back there was ignoring it as usual.
She frowned and straightened the helo now that she had her heading. She didn’t know how he could just sit there and not even look up, let alone out the window. Focus or no focus there was nothing a laptop could possibly hold that could compete with the view from up here.
Hell, most of the time the passengers were paying her for exactly that view—sightseeing flights making up a good chunk of the charter business. She loved listening to the excited voices of the tourists as they took in her city. Of course, a few of them turned green and spent the flight barfing, but those were the exception.
No barfing from her current passenger, of course.
No, he wouldn’t do anything that might risk ruining his perfectly cut suit.
Three times she’d flown him and every time, no matter where she was taking him, it had been a suit.
Deep charcoal for the time she’d taken him to the hospital in New Jersey.
A medium gray for a hop to Staten Island.
Navy with the faintest of pinstripes to JFK.
She’d liked that one. The navy and the deep-blue tie he wore with it had made his eyes even bluer. She’d decided he should always wear blue.
Until he’d walked into the terminal this afternoon wearing a tuxedo. Most guys looked better in a tuxedo, of course, but very few of them actually looked like they were born to wear one. It was unfair. Stark black and white shouldn’t turn a man into a god. But damn, the man’s tailor was genius.
She’d taken one look at him, forced herself to tear her eyes away, and beaten a path for her A-Star, leaving the checking-in of tuxedo-clad perfection and his immaculate luggage to the terminal staff. It was one thing to admit that the man was intriguing, in an annoying sort of way, and too handsome for his own good; it was quite another to hyperventilate at the sight of him. Particularly while she was standing there in her pilot’s uniform of sensible black pants, sensible black shoes, and sensible blue shirt. With headset hair.
She’d talked sternly to herself as she’d done the preflight checks. One did not get crushes on clients. Because the sort of client who could afford regular chartered helo services had money and power with a capital Money and Power. They did not notice pilots with headset hair. They noticed supermodels. Therefore there would be no inconvenient hormonal responses allowed. Besides, she needed money, not man-candy.
And Dr. Lucas Angelo had hired her three times. Almost a regular. Which she desperately needed. Eyes on the prize, not the scenery.
It had been a good speech. She’d almost convinced herself. Then he’d climbed into the back of the helo and she’d started thinking about tigers.
Though now, as they sped through the air, heading for the Hamptons and whatever no doubt ridiculously expensive event he was attending, she was thinking that tiger wasn’t the right metaphor for the sensation. No, the way his silent presence seemed to fill the cabin, impossible to ignore, was more like riding the edge of a storm, feeling the weight of the air and the tingle of electricity. Knowing that if you were foolish and let the storm tumble over you it would sweep you up and control whatever happened from there.
Not going to happen.
She was a damned good pilot. She knew how to avoid a storm.
Even when she wasn’t sure she wanted to.
Lucas studied the patient films on the laptop screen in front of him and tried to ignore the steady thwap thwap thwap racket of the helicopter around him. Even with headphones he was far too aware of the engine noise. Of the fact he was God only knew how high in the air in a high-tech tin can.
Focus on the problem.
In front of him the X-ray showed the fractured clavicle clearly. It would heal fine once he got to work on it. It was a simple surgery and one he didn’t perform that often these days, but this particular clavicle belonged to a promising male figure skater and his parents were willing to pay for the best to ensure that promise could still be fulfilled.
He couldn’t blame them.
The surgery wasn’t complicated enough to distract him, though, and he keyed up the next file. The helicopter dipped a little, and his fingers clutched the edge of the laptop a little too hard.
Freaking helicopters. Supposedly Leonardo da Vinci had come up with the design for the first one. Crazy bastard. Lucas didn’t care how much of a genius the guy was supposed to have been. No one sane would think that a helicopter was a good idea.
He made himself loosen his grip. He wasn’t fond of planes in general, though he ruthlessly suppressed the illogical nerves they brought to life in his stomach because not flying wasn’t an option in his life. It was harder in a helicopter, though. Too small. Nowhere to hide from the empty air surrounding him.
He understood flight theory and aerodynamics. He knew how helicopters—and planes—stayed airborne. He’d made it his business to know, but that still didn’t ease the fear.
His first time in a helicopter had been an emergency airlift to a hospital . . . a race to repair his shoulder. He’d been in pain and shock and reeling from the aftermath of the explosion that had put him there, spitting ash and bile as the nurse and doctor in the chopper had tried to sedate him.
All the while feeling like the ground was dropping away from beneath him and he was never going to find his footing again.
Turned out that instinct had been right.
The surgeon had done a brilliant job on his shoulder. It was fully functional. But there’d been no chance that it would stand up to the demands of a career pitching pro ball.
And just like that his dream had been over. All because a bunch of deluded young idiots had decided that they’d had a grudge against the government and that blowing up a college baseball game was a good way to protest. And because he and Alex and Mal hadn’t been able to follow their coach’s instructions to get the hell off the field and to safety. No, instead they’d stayed and tried to help some of the people trapped in the crumpled wreckage of the stands. He still didn’t remember what he’d done that had torn up his shoulder, but he had.
Leaving him with a shattered dream and a new path to find. He’d found it in medicine, but it had taken some time. And it had left him with an unshakable fear of flying.
His brain knew that the explosion and helicopters weren’t the same thing, but his body didn’t. Every time he stepped into an aircraft, his mouth turned to a desert and his stomach to water.
But in his profession, flying was inevitable. People were hardly going to wait while their crack orthopedic surgeon took the bus across the state or across the country.
So he sucked it up and flew when he needed to. But he didn’t like it and he never would.
He took a deeper breath, schooling himself to be calm, and tried to send his attention back into the next patient file.
Which would be easier if he were back in his office in Manhattan rather than flying down to the Hamptons to attend a party he had no desire to attend.
Socializing was another necessary evil of his career. Hospital fund-raisers, charity golf games, and all the hoopla that came with being a member of the oh-so-wealthy, oh-so-philanthropic, oh-so-full-of-expectations Angelos.
But this party wasn’t one his family was roping him into. No, this one was due to the latest piece of insanity to enter his life.
The New York Saints.
He still wasn’t sure how his best friend, Alex Winters, had convinced him—and their other friend Malachi Coulter—to join forces to bail out the baseball team they’d all supported since childhood.
There’d been bourbon involved but also a good dose of crazy.
He didn’t do crazy.
But he did do baseball. And for once, he hadn’t been able to resist a bad idea. Owning a baseball team. He’d imagined it as a kid, as his parents made him attend cotillion and play golf and learn to sail and tried to discourage his love of baseball.
It hadn’t worked. It was an incurable disease.
His presence in this helicopter was firm proof of that. As was the fact that he was now officially part owner of a Major League Baseball team. Even if it was the worst team in the MLB.
“We’re about twenty minutes out, sir.” The voice of his pilot buzzed in his headphones. He liked her voice. It sounded confident and relaxed and had a pleasant female thrum to it that was a small distraction from his discomfort.
He flicked his gaze up from the laptop but saw only the back of her head. The ends of her medium-brown hair curled out in wisps under the cap she wore; the set of her shoulders in the very plain blue shirt was relaxed, but he couldn’t see much more than that.
He hadn’t seen much more than that in three trips so far. She was always seated in the pilot’s seat when he boarded the chopper, already wearing a cap and her headphones or whatever you called the radio-mike thing that let them communicate during the flight.
He did know that she had pretty eyes. Blue. Not bright blue like his. More ocean-y. A hint of gray and green lending depth. Sea-blue eyes and a cute smile, though he’d only seen that once.
The main thing he knew about her—other than the fact her name was Sara Charles, as attested to by the neat name badge on her uniform—was that she seemed to be a very good pilot. She got him where he was going in one piece, with no flashy maneuvers to shatter his hard-won calm, and she didn’t bother him with chitchat.
Which was why he’d hired her again after the first time he’d booked her when his regular guy couldn’t fit him in. And why he’d booked her again for this trip.
He was glad she’d taken the job. Though any sensible person would, given he was paying quite a nice bonus to have her hang around and wait to fly him home again after the fund-raiser. With Sara Charles, for some reason, even though being in a helicopter still sucked, it wasn’t quite as bad as usual. Still, he’d be happy when they were both safely back on Manhattan soil at the end of the night.
He intended that the end of the night would come sooner rather than later. He had surgeries lined up in the morning and roughly four hundred other things to juggle around in his schedule ahead of the Saints decamping to Florida for spring training in a little over two weeks.
Alex and Mal had decided that he, as an orthopedic surgeon, was the one most qualified to keep an eye on things in Florida. Most qualified and also the one with less Saints business already on his plate. Mal was busy trying to bring Deacon Field—the Saints’ home stadium—out of the security stone age, and Alex was wheeling and dealing with the finances and TV deals and the money stuff. Which left Lucas to deal with the team, the potential new players, and getting everyone ready for the coming season. The Saints’ first season since they’d taken over.
Of course, that was mostly the job of the coaching team and the trainers and the scouts, but he was going to be boss man on the ground as much as possible. Which meant the weeks between now and the beginning of the season in April were going to be a nightmare as he tried to split his time between New York and Florida. And that was before he even thought about all the air time that was going to involve.
He didn’t want to think about that.
So he wouldn’t. Instead he’d finish reviewing the files he’d brought with him so that he was ready for tomorrow’s procedures, and then they’d arrive at their destination and he’d do his duty at the damned party and get the hell back to New York.
Sara led the way across the airfield to the small building that served as the terminal. Dr. Angelo—she didn’t really feel like she could call him Lucas—had thanked her politely when he’d climbed out of the chopper, taken a moment to straighten his impeccable bow tie, slung his black leather laptop bag over his shoulder, and then asked, “Which way?”
That had been the sum total of their conversation. The afternoon light had turned golden, the weather warm for this time of year despite warnings of possible storms later on. He looked not quite real as he walked smoothly across the grass, the gilded light playing on his hair and face.
He moved a bit like a tiger, she thought. Lithe and powerful. Graceful for a tall guy. She was five six and he easily had half a foot on her. She wondered if he’d played a sport of some sort before he’d become a doctor. She’d spent a lot of time around guys who kept themselves in good shape in the army, but even among them it was the ones who’d been great athletes who, in her experience, moved like the man walking besides her. Totally in control of every inch of his well-honed body.
The one she wished didn’t make her skin spark with awareness every time she saw him. The one that made her desperately need a little more control over her own body.
Thankfully the walk to the terminal building was a short one. Dr. Angelo held the door for her—of course he was the kind of guy who would hold a door for her—and she walked into the terminal, looking around to see who was on the desk.
She spotted Ellen Jacek, who ran the airfield with her husband, before Ellen spotted them. But not much before. Ellen’s dark eyes widened and a smile of appreciation bloomed on her face as she took in Dr. Angelo. Which was gratifying in a way. It meant it wasn’t just Sara who was dumb enough to react to the sight of him.
But like her, Ellen was a professional, and her smile smoothed into something more welcoming as she came toward them.
“Sara, honey. How are you? How’s your dad?”
Sara returned her brief hard hug. “I’m good. And Dad’s doing better. Hoping to get back in the air in a few more months.” She remembered why she was there. “Ellen Jacek, this is Dr. Angelo. I think there should be a car waiting for him?”
“Oh sure, Dean delivered it a while back. It’s parked out front.” Ellen turned her attention to Lucas. “Nice ride. I’ve got the keys over at the desk.” She headed in that direction and Lucas strode after her, leaving Sara to follow behind. She did so, listening to Ellen chatter and Lucas give short answers until Ellen reached the desk, leaned over it, and grabbed a set of keys before passing them to Lucas.
“It’s the red one out front,” she said.
“Red?” Lucas queried.
“Dean said to tell you he was sorry but there was an issue with the car you requested. So he gave you this one instead.” Ellen grinned at Lucas. “If you don’t like it, you’re welcome to borrow my truck and I’ll take the Mercedes for a spin.”
Lucas tilted his head at her. Sara couldn’t quite see his expression from where she was standing but Ellen’s cheeks flushed slightly and she smiled, so presumably it was amused not angry.
“I’m sure it will be fine,” he said, dropping the keys into his jacket pocket. He turned back to Sara.
“I’ll call you when I’m leaving the party. It should be around ten.”
“That’s fine, I’ll be here.”
He nodded just as his phone started to ring. He fished it out of his jacket pocket and glanced at the screen before taking the call. While he spoke, Sara watched him, getting in a few more seconds of tuxedoed-glory-appreciation time. There was much to appreciate. But sadly appreciation was all there was going to be, so she forced at least part of her attention onto making a plan for the hours ahead. Hopefully Ellen would lend her the truck so she could at least drive to the beach and get in a walk on the sand and pretend she was wealthy enough to own one of the gorgeous houses lining the shore.
After that there was paperwork stuffed in her flight bag that needed her attention. More correspondence with her dad’s insurance company in dense legalese that she had to interpret and decide how to respond to. That painful task would earn her a few hours vegging out with her eReader and takeout in the tiny upstairs pilots’ lounge while she waited for the good doctor to be done with whatever beautiful-people gathering it was that he was attending.
Not actually that much different from what she’d have been doing on a Friday night after a long week anyway, when she thought about it. Which was just sad. She couldn’t, off the top of her head, think of the last time she’d been out. With her dad out of action, there’d just been too much work picking up the slack to want to do more than stay in and catch up on sleep when she got some downtime. Do the good and sensible thing.
Tired pilots made mistakes. And Charles Air really couldn’t afford another mistake. She’d flown exhausted and riding on adrenaline in the service but she didn’t have to now. She wouldn’t. Even when there were a thousand and one things calling for her attention, she tried to make sure she didn’t wear herself out. Sleep and rest were more important than bars and restaurants and the dating merry-go-round right now. Even if her therapist had made a few pointed comments about rebuilding her social life in their last session. Her best friend, Viv, had started to nag, too.
Lucas hung up his phone at last and Sara dragged her thoughts back to the present and him. Her client.
Her paying client. She was here to make his life easier, not obsess about her own. Was there anything she’d forgotten to tell him about the arrangements for the flight back? Nothing sprang to mind. Which meant it was time to stop admiring him in his tuxedo and let him disappear. But she allowed herself one last quick once-over and her eyes snagged on the laptop bag ruining the line of his jacket as it hung from his very broad shoulder. “You’re welcome to leave your laptop bag here with me,” she said. “Save you dragging it around.”
“We have some secure lockboxes,” Ellen added. “It’ll be safe.”
He nodded. “That would be helpful, thank you.” He held out the bag and Sara took it, ignoring the tiny flare of heat that rippled through her when her fingers brushed his. Holding his laptop was as close as she was ever going to get to Lucas Angelo. And as she watched through the glass terminal doors while he climbed into a red convertible and then sped off into the distance, she tried very hard to ignore the part of her that really, really wished she was speeding off with him.