Stranded With The Boss(5)

By: Elizabeth Lane

 He was clearly accustomed to taking charge. Tessa saw no reason to argue with him when his suggestion made sense. And, anyway, she was still relieved he hadn’t kicked up more of a fuss about allowing the twins on his plane. She released the levers that fastened the seats to the strollers then stepped onto the float to boost herself into the cockpit.

 “Careful.” He reached out a hand to steady her, his fingers strong and cool. Tessa clasped them for balance as she swung upward, feeling the electric contact between them. By the time he let go, her pulse was fluttering. Between her pregnancy and caring for the twins, she’d almost forgotten what a man’s touch felt like.

 Had the compelling stranger been thinking of seduction when he’d offered her a lift? If so, she could thank her twins for dousing that idea. She wasn’t looking for a hot one-night stand. If and when she let a man back into her life, it would be someone kind and responsible, someone who wanted to make a life-long commitment and who’d be a good father to her little girls.

 Inside, the plane smelled like a new car. The seats were butter-soft beige leather, the wood-grained instrument panel a polished array of dials and gauges. Whoever her rescuer was, he wasn’t poor.

 Looking down from the doorway, she waited as he lifted Maddie in her car seat and carried her toward the plane. The twins were old enough to recognize a strange situation and react. Maddie broke into an ear-splitting howl. Her sister followed suit.

 “Good God! Here, take her!” He thrust the screaming baby upward into Tessa’s outstretched hands. Setting the car seat safely down, she turned to take a frantic Missy from the man’s arms. The pained look on his lordly face left no need for words.

 Tessa busied herself with buckling the twins securely into the two rear seats of the plane. They were still howling, their little cherub faces splotched with tear stains. Tessa wiped their runny noses, kissed them and murmured a few vain words of comfort. When she looked out the open door, the plane’s owner was wrestling with the stroller frame. Scowling, he glared up at her. “How the devil do you fold this thing?” he demanded.

 “There’s a release button on the handle. Try pushing it,” Tessa said.

 He tried again and managed to make it work. After stowing the stroller and closing the door, he walked around to the other side and took his place in the pilot’s seat.

 “You’re flying the plane?” she asked, surprised.

 He glanced back at her, one dark eyebrow quirked upward. “Do you have a problem with that?”

 Tessa shook her head.

 “Then sit down and buckle up.” He indicated the seat next to him. “We’re about to take off.”

 Willing herself to ignore the twins’ cries, Tessa slid into the front passenger seat and clicked the belt buckle.

 In profile, her pilot looked even more familiar than before. Who was he? This was getting ridiculous. Once they were in the air she would have to ask him.

 “Here.” He handed her a set of headphones with an attached mike. “Put these on. They’ll cut down on the engine noise and let us talk without having to shout.”

 Tessa took the headphones. Before slipping them on, she glanced back at her daughters. They were still crying but she could tell they were winding down. They’d been awake long enough to be exhausted. With luck they’d soon fall asleep.

 Her mysterious pilot had put on his own headphones. He checked the gauges and then switched on the power. The propeller spun to life with a roar of smooth-running power. Tessa glanced back at the twins. They were wide-eyed but didn’t seem upset by the noise. Maybe it was like riding in a car, which usually tended to settle them down.

 Humming like a high-end European sports car, the plane taxied past the hangars and out onto the runway. Tessa’s pulse skittered. She held her breath as he opened the throttle and pulled back on the wheel. The sleek craft rocketed down the runway, left the ground and soared into the air.

 As it climbed, wind battering the fuselage, doubts assailed her mind. What if she’d made a foolish mistake, trusting her life and the lives of her precious children to this arrogant stranger? What if he meant them harm, or lacked the competence to get them safely to Anchorage? She should have held out for a charter flight. Surely they would have been able to find something to accommodate her if she’d given them enough time.

 As the plane leveled off from its steep climb, she began to breathe again. The man at the controls appeared to be a skilled pilot. His hands moved with a sureness born of experience. His expression radiated calm confidence. She still wasn’t certain he was safe, but at least he was competent.

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