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Ladies and gentleman, this is your captain speaking.
Lynn Madison strained to hear the distorted announcement despite the shitty airplane speakers and the baby who’d been screaming since they’d taken off over an hour ago. She didn’t blame the munchkin. She would bawl too if she didn?t get that the gray clouds causing the turbulence, which bounced their regional jet across the sky, weren’t as ominous as they appeared.
We’ve been in a holding pattern, circling New York for the past fifteen minutes. Air traffic control just radioed. They’re closing the airport until this cell blows over. No one’s allowed in or out. We’ll be diverting to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania but the delay shouldn’t cost us more than an hour.
Groans of disappointment and frustration drowned out the sporadic whispers of concern proliferated by less-seasoned fliers. Lynn jumped straight to rearranging her tight schedule in her mind as the pilot droned on.
We’ll grab some fuel then wait for an update. If the situation changes, we’ll let you know. We should be on the ground in about twenty minutes. Thank you for your patience. Be sure to keep your seat belt fastened; the air will be bumpy during our descent. Flight attendants, please prepare for landing.
Before the beady-eyed flight attendant could scold Lynn about stowing her netbook, she clicked to her browser window then hopped on the Tempt the Cougar blog she shared with a circle of friends. Her college roommate Rachel had introduced her to the group of erotic romance enthusiasts after Lynn had bitched about her bland sex life. The ladies had recommended several novels that had her eyebrows climbing and her fantasies growing spicier by the minute.
They’d quickly become very close, welcoming her into the fold and encouraging her to follow their lead in prowling for a younger man to seduce. She had to admit, the stories she?d heard since hanging around them had inspired some wicked fantasies.
Lynn envied the women who?d found love along with their wild adventures. But their proactive attitude in snatching the reins of their lives had resonated with her more than their steamy affairs. Enough to spur her to some serious introspection on what she wanted to do with the rest of her time on earth.
She’d set up a get-together with the members who lived in the tristate region while she killed time during her layover. She hadn’t wanted to wait until next year’s RomantiCon to meet them in person.
Thank God she’d splurged on the in-flight Wi-Fi.
LynnLuvs2Travel: Only have a few seconds, ladies. Flight is being diverted due to weather. Looks like I might have to bail on dinner. Was so looking forward to it! Sorry L Expecting an update when we land. Fingers crossed I don’t miss my connection to Europe!!!
Lynn sighed as she snapped the lid closed then tucked the netbook into her seatback pocket. Figured this would happen on the first day of her new life. The monumental changes she?d implemented had almost seemed too easy so far. Like blowing out the single candle that had topped the cake Rachel had baked for Lynn?s fortieth birthday.
In the instant before she’d snuffed the flame, she’d wished her destiny were her own. No more wasted years, working on someone else’s clock. Figuring out what she’d rather do, since retiring early would mean living in a cardboard box for twenty years or so until her investments kicked in, had taken a bit longer. But not much.
Three months later, she’d quit her job as a sourcing agent for a high-end retailer. Instant lightness had pervaded her soul when she turned in her resignation, reaffirming her decision.
After a dozen years of dreadful stays in spartan hotels, eating meat-and-potato meals or hauling ass through sketchy parts of foreign cities?all on the recommendation of her male counterparts’she knew better than most that a series of travel guides aimed at professional women going solo constituted an undiscovered niche in the market. It wasn’t that the guys had deliberately sabotaged her, but her priorities ran more to a clean room, a spa and healthy meals than the number of strip clubs in a half-mile radius or a smoky bar with nonstop sports playing on a bazillion flat screen TVs.
Preoccupied with reliving the whirlwind of the past couple weeks, she was surprised at the squeak of the wheels meeting the runway.
As soon as she peered through the fogged plastic porthole to the tarmac, she abandoned hope. No fewer than a dozen jets kept their stranded plane company. Even if the sun shone bright at JFK in the next half-hour, the snafu had induced a logistics nightmare.
Sure enough, the pilot emerged from the cockpit to address the cabin face-to-face. I’m sorry, folks, but things look worse than we originally thought. Traffic is being rerouted along the entire East Coast. We’re going to let you head into the terminal until we receive a better estimate on our revised departure time.
Lynn’s heart raced in her chest. She had lived well within her means despite her hefty corporate paycheck. The nest egg she’d accumulated had supplied her a shot at pursuing her dream but, in this economy, she’d had a hell of a time securing outside investors to back a no-name upstart. If the delay caused her and several hundred other people to camp out and compete for the limited vacant spots on cramped international flights, her itinerary could be ruined.
Everything hinged on making it to her starting point as scheduled. Train passes, local guides, connections, sold-out hotels?
The idea of all the lost work, not to mention cash for the original reservations and the last-minute bookings, had tears stinging her eyes. Would her old job consider rehiring her if this venture flopped? Probably not.
She gathered her belongings then filed down the stairs onto the tarmac for the march into the dinky terminal. On top of everything else, they had to be stranded at a two-gate airport with rudimentary facilities and limited options for connections.
Note to self, Include a chapter on travelers insurance and the appropriate amount of time to leave between flights. Not that the six hours she’d allotted would help much in this situation. The insurance policy she’d selected would cover her flight arrangements if necessary but nothing could recoup the lost time. She’d have to drop chapters of her book.
As the herd of disgruntled passengers trundled up the ramp into the steel and glass building, which seemed out of place in the surrounding fields, they merged with the unfortunate occupants of the other impacted flights. A red-faced man doused in cheap cologne yelled into his Blackberry. He cut her off in his dash to hit up the airline representatives waiting inside. He rammed into her shoulder, knocking her oversized purse containing her netbook onto her elbow. The shifting weight threw her off balance on the slick surface.
Lynn skidded several feet toward the railing before a warm, muscled arm wrapped around her waist and a grumpy mumble washed over her earlobe. Asshole.
She flinched, attempting to shy away. What is wrong with people? I tripped.
One touch from an unknown man and she just about swallowed her tongue despite his rude treatment. Lame!
A carefree laugh replaced the foul temper she’d attempted to deflect. Sorry, gorgeous. Not you. I meant that asshole who shoved you. He’s lucky I don’t kick his inconsiderate ass.
Her imagination ran wild at his tone?confident, worldly, bold, gallant but not too stuffy. The midnight voice colored by subtle hints of a Mediterranean accent inspired a million dirty thoughts that had her squirming. The broad hand on her ribs flexed so close to her breast she sucked in a gasp, willing her nipples to stop hardening beneath her thin, silk blouse.
Damn, are you hurt? He spun her into the shelter of his arms, his palms bracing her shoulders.
So young! Heat blossomed in her cheeks. Here she was, lusting after a man at least a decade younger than her who probably thought himself a good Samaritan for helping his elder. As quick as she chastised herself, a naughty whisper invaded her embarrassment. The Cougar ladies had scored men like this. Those lucky bitches!
Hell, some of them had even managed to bag two virile studs.
Let me help you inside.
Did he think her deaf and dumb on top of clumsy after that giant space out?
I’m fine. Really. She shrugged from his hold, instantly regretting the loss of his touch. Her skin tingled where his fingers had rested. Thank you.
She picked up the pace to avoid an awkward silence as he shuffled along next to her through the crowd, but he somehow managed to dodge a harried mom pushing a double stroller, a gentleman wrestling with a cello and a couple holding hands to keep even with her.
In her peripheral vision, she admired the agile maneuvers of his lean but built body. His black duffle, peppered with logos, rode against a trim hip covered in the dark navy denim favored by recent trends. The lighter creases around his upper thighs led her straight to dangerous territory. She jerked her gaze upward but had to cant her head pretty far to glimpse his unruly brown waves beneath a red baseball cap with something embroidered on the front.
His scruffy jaw couldn’t obscure his sculpted cheekbones. The shadowed skin highlighted the contrast of his bright blue eyes. The impact of his stunning looks almost had her tripping again. It?d been fifteen years since she?d gotten her hands on prime beef like that.
Lynn Marie, how crass! Maybe the Cougars really were rubbing off on her.