Bedding the Secret Heiress(7)By: Emilie Rose
He kept his gaze leveled on hers, not giving an inch. An odd tension seeped into her midsection.
“I awoke hours before my alarm went off this morning and accomplished what I needed to do before I left for the airport. I’d rather sit up front where I can see.”
Disliking the invasion of her space and the breach in protocol, she grappled for patience and stretched her lips into a smile. “There are six windows in the back. Besides, on an overcast day there’s not a lot to see from thirty thousand feet. I’ll be flying above the cloud deck.”
“I’ll take my chances.”
She counted to three, trying to rein in her temper. “The seats in the cabin are larger, more comfortable and they recline. You could catch up on your missed sleep during the flight.”
Her knuckleheaded half brother had probably asked his spy to annoy her as much as possible, and judging by the gleam in Faulkner’s dark eyes and the stubborn set of his jaw he knew he was getting under her skin like a splinter.
“If you’d mentioned your preference for sitting up front earlier, we could have cleared it with the office and conserved fuel by taking a smaller plane rather than fly five empty seats.”
“That would have cost us speed and time.”
She couldn’t argue with facts. A smaller plane would have flown slower and lower than HAMC’s smallest jet. “Allowing passengers in the cockpit is against HAMC protocol.”
“Call your brother.”
“Half brother. I can’t. As you no doubt know, he’s tied up in a board meeting all morning, and his dragon lady won’t put calls through.”
“Then I guess you’re stuck with me in the copilot seat.”
But she would take this up with Trent when she returned home. Her father’s number one rule echoed in her head. The customer is always right—unless safety is involved. Resigned to Faulkner’s unwanted company, she conceded, “There’s a spare headset beneath your seat.”
Most pilots, including her, brought their own equipment, but Hightower Aviation always provided extras. She hated to admit it, but HAMC went first-class all the way by providing luxuries for its passengers and crew that Falcon Air couldn’t afford.
Gage removed the gear from the bag and plugged the headset into the appropriate jack as if he’d done this before, then sat back in his seat with his long-fingered hands relaxed on his thighs.
Muscular thighs, not desk jockey thighs.
She diverted her stray thoughts, assumed her strictest flight instructor persona and met his gaze. “If you have sunglasses, put them on. Don’t speak until I tell you I’ve finished with the control tower, and don’t touch anything that doesn’t belong to you. You may not need to concentrate during the flight, but I do if you want me to keep this baby in the air.”
The corners of his lips twitched, and she almost smiled back. “That would be preferable to the alternative.”
Of crashing. Like her father.
The swift stab of pain caught her off guard. She squelched her grief and focused on entering her flight plan data into the computer. It took twenty minutes to finish her preflight check, get clearance and put the plane in the air—twenty minutes during which Gage silently observed her every move like an eagle waiting to strike.
When she was in the cockpit she was all business all the time. Her father had taught her that was the only way young pilots lived to become old pilots. An airplane was the one place she knew she was good—damned good. But Gage made her second-guess her actions instead of doing them instinctively. Before him, no other passenger or pilot had ever disrupted her concentration.
She hated being conscious of each shift of his body in the leather seat, the rise and fall of his chest and the spicy tang of his cologne. And while she couldn’t hear him moving and breathing through her noise-canceling headphones, she could feel his presence in the close quarters of the cockpit.
His steady regard made her very aware of her scraped-back hair, lack of makeup and unpainted, short-clipped nails. He made her feel feminine. And lacking. Not a pleasant combination.
Once she reached cruising altitude, she glanced at him and straight into those dark eyes. Her stomach swooped as if she’d hit an air pocket and the plane had dropped. “You can talk now. If you must. Speak in a regular tone of voice. I’ll hear you loud and clear through the headphones.”
“Why flying?” he fired back without hesitation.
A familiar question. She shrugged. “I grew up around airports and never wanted to do anything else.”
“What did you do before joining Hightower Aviation?”