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PILOTING A TWIN-ENGINE Cessna Citation CJ2+ out of Long
Beach Airport in California, Max Taylor was prepared for a lot of things. Bad weather, low visibility, turbulence. He'd dealt with the wind shear off a low-flying commercial airliner. Equipment failure. Hell, even the odd seagull going splat on the windshield or getting sucked up into an engine.
But not this. Not a scene straight out of a bad porn movie. Nothing in his wildest dreams -- or darkest night-mares -- could have prepared him for a seventy-year-old passenger bursting into his cockpit. Naked. Completely, shockingly naked. "Wha -- "
"Mr. Taylor, induct me into the mile-high club!" the gray-haired woman exclaimed, her arms wide, emphasizing the, uh, length of her bustline.
Max's first thought was to dive back below five thousand feet so they wouldn't be a mile up. His second was to think that all her millions hadn't managed to make Mrs. Rudolph Coltrane look as young from the neck down as it had managed to deal with her tightly Botoxed face. And his third was to realize that he was being attacked in his own plane. By a woman old enough to be his grandmother.
"Mrs. Coltrane, what do you think you're doing?" he asked, somehow managing to keep his voice steady, his hands on the controls and his gaze straight ahead. Not that it was going to do much good -- he'd already gotten an eyeful.
Still in shock, Max suspected he was going to have nightmares tonight. Nightmares about the unattractiveness of breast implants going south, and sags that couldn't be lifted by a crane, much less the best plastic surgeon in L.A.
"I was going to wait until we were higher up, but I can't," the womansaid. "I've waited too long as it is. I know you're used to a slightly younger woman..."
Decades. "...but we're alone now and I'm willing and a man with your...appetites probably can't go for long without giving in to his carnal urges."
Currently, Max's only urge was to jump out of the plane.
"I've paid good money for this trip, and I fully expect you to be my in-flight entertainment."
"That's what the DVD player is for," he whispered, shaking his head in bewilderment.
This couldn't be happening. Not along with all the other weird crap he'd been experiencing lately. A constant stream of women had been driving him nuts for weeks, almost sending him into hiding. He seemed to be the latest fad among the "ladies who lunch" of southern California.
Max had always enjoyed relationships with his fair share of females. Probably the next guy's fair share, too. He certainly wasn't going to apologize for liking women.
And he did. Oh, he really did. He liked how they smelled and how they looked. Liked the tender bit of skin at the nape of a lovely neck and the feel of soft hair against his bare chest. Liked tangled sheets, steamy nights and slow, deep kisses.
Careful not to get snagged in any commitment nets -- not after his one disastrous experience with marriage and the major screw-up he'd made of his life following his divorce -- he only got involved with women who were looking for the same things he was. Intelligent conversation, a few nice meals and, occasionally, scream-like-a-banshee sex. No strings.
Which meant, he supposed, that the strange abundance of propositions coming his way the past few weeks should have been a good thing.
Because Max had become much more careful and circumspect about his sex life in recent years. Besides, he had always been the pursuer, not the pursued. He liked flirtation and seduction. A shared glance and the not-completely-innocent brush of a hand against a soft female arm. Charming his way into the good graces of even the most cool and unattainable ice queen gave him a great deal of satisfaction, whether sex was involved or not.
Lately, though, he'd been like a lame zebra being stalked by a pride of hungry lionesses.
He was being felt up by women in line at the bank, and having notes and drinks delivered to him in restaurants. One brunette with about ten carats of diamonds glittering from her fingers had been sitting on the hood of his Porsche last week. He'd been so concerned about possible dents in his car that at first the woman's lack of panties beneath her short dress hadn't registered. Once it did, his only reaction had been annoyance that he was also going to have to get the car washed.
"It's gotta be the cologne," he muttered, wondering if he was the subject of a secret scientific experiment. Maybe Calvin Klein was slipping some kind of animal secretion into his aftershave. Something that made Max give off irresistible pheromones that turned women into sex-starved vixens.
Or sex-starved bovines.
"Return to your seat," he said from between clenched teeth. He didn't look around, focusing instead on the blue sky spread in a brilliant panorama outside the windshield. Not on the age-spotted lady in the doorway spread in an Eve-old invitation. "Get dressed and sit down or I'll return to the airport."
"You can't mean to tell me you're refusing." The spoiled, rich socialite wasn't used to being told no. And as the owner of a young private charter company that was still struggling under last year's expansion from a four-jet fleet to a six-jet one, he wasn't used to saying it -- not when it came to business.
Max had worked his ass off in the past three years, determined to get himself out of the quagmire his life had become after he'd left the Air Force. After a brief, year-long bout of drunkenness during his divorce, he'd pulled his shit together and had launched his small, regional airline. It was something he'd dreamed of doing since his teenage years when he first learned to fly over the African desert, taught by one of his grandfather's cronies.
Since then, his airline had become one of the fastest-growing private carriers in Orange County. Especially with customers like Mrs. Rudolph Coltrane, who freely shelled out major dollars to grab a ride to Vail or down to Cancún.
Of course, he'd always thought he'd be living this life after he finished a career as an Air Force pilot. That hadn't exactly gone as planned. Don't go there, he silently reminded himself. "Look, I'm willing to fly you wherever you want to go," he said, trying to sound reasonable. "As long as it's within the safety parameters of the aircraft. And sex in the cockpit is not."
He didn't go into the whole "I'd rather poke my liver out with a burning pogo stick than have sex with you" bit. Hopefully the woman cared enough for her own skin to sit down.
Okay, apparently she didn't.
"I know you have autopilot," she added. "Everyone knows about this airline and your new planes."
Yeah, they did. Word had spread about Taylor Made until they could barely keep up with demand. So the idea of merging with a large outfit trying to break into the lucrative southern California market had seemed perfect when he'd been approached by a New York executive a few months ago.
The merger was progressing nicely and would be wrapped up later in the year. Determined to make it happen, Max was working double time to keep the business lucrative. He could take a vacation after he had a partner.
Mrs. Coltrane put her hand on his shoulder. "Now, set the autopilot and turn around."
Pleasing the customer was a top priority in his business, and he didn't want to alienate someone with as powerful a reputation as Mrs. Coltrane. But despite the special extras and level of excellence he advertised in his promotional material, flying the twin of the "I've fallen and I can't get up" lady to the heights of passion was not in his job description.
"You've got to the count of five, then I radio the tower and we make an immediate landing," he said, trying to shrug off her hand.
"Don't be coy. I know all about you."
He stiffened, having no idea what she meant. "One."
"Surely you can at least do me the courtesy of a quickie." The woman's indignance would have been laughable if Max's laughter hadn't been sucked out of him like spit through a dentist's tube. "Two."
"But I thought..."
He reached for the radio handset. "Three."
"Well," the woman said with a phlegmy harrumph, "if I don't have a thing or two to say to Grace Wellington."
The word four died on Max's lips as he focused on the name his passenger had uttered. Grace Wellington. What on earth a woman he'd gone out with a few years ago could have to do with Grandma getting naked in his Cessna, he had no idea. But he'd very much like to find out. Especially because he couldn't help wondering if all the other strange experiences he'd been having with women were also connected to Grace, whom he'd dated briefly after the death of her scandalous politician husband.
"What about Grace?" he couldn't help asking.
"She's a liar, that's what I think," Mrs. Coltrane said, her tone nasal.
He didn't have to look over his shoulder -- and wouldn't have for the single winning lottery ticket in the biggest Powerball jackpot in history -- to see the woman's chin jutting up and out, and her nostrils flaring with patrician arrogance. He was familiar with the expression, having seen it on the faces of a lot of his rich, female clients.
Of course, most of them were clothed when they got all haughty and pretentious. Wrinkly nudity probably ruined the effect -- not that he wanted to find out. "I never was certain whether the stories she wrote about you were true -- that any man could be as sexually potent and addictive. Now I'm quite sure they're not." The woman grunted. "Some sexual fiend you are -- a naked woman standing a foot away and you couldn't even manage a quick game of hide-the-joystick."
He didn't know whether to be relieved that she'd given up her seduction attempt, or offended that she thought him incapable of, uh, playing her game. But since the only place he wanted to hide his joystick was behind his own zipper, maybe her interpretation wasn't such a bad thing.
Then the rest of her words sunk in. Sex fiend? "What stories? What, exactly, are you talking about?"
She was silent for a moment. If he had had a whole lot more nerve, he would have turned around to see if she was wearing a guilty expression at spilling some kind of secret. He wasn't that brave, however, so he settled for prompting her. "Mrs. Coltrane?"
"You'll know soon enough, I suppose." Her voice sounded farther away, meaning she was back in the passenger cabin, hopefully getting dressed. "The book comes out this fall. And there's talk of a story in the Star or the Globe or something."
"Grace's autobiography. Huh! As if that woman is interesting enough to need a whole book. If not for the scandals, it would be nothing more than a page."
An autobiography. Grace Wellington -- spoiled social-ite turned scandalous widow after her bribe-taking politician husband had eaten the muzzle of a gun -- had written her memoirs. And included him. Damn.
Almost afraid to hear the answer, he asked, "What exactly did Grace have to say about me in this book?"
The woman snorted an inelegant laugh. He realized she'd returned to the cockpit and was right behind him. When she moved her arm within view, he saw the sleeve of her designer blouse and breathed a deep sigh of relief.
"There's a whole chapter devoted to you, my boy, and it's been making the rounds. The lurid details are enough to make even the most risqué piece of erotica look tame."
His stomach rolled over. It hadn't done that in a cockpit since the first time he'd sat in an F-15 during his Air Force days...the early ones, before an unplanned pregnancy and a fucked-up marriage had derailed his plans to complete the pilot training program. "I can't believe this."
He didn't want to believe it, but Mrs. Coltrane seemed sure of herself. Grace had written a bunch of raunchy stuff about him and circulated it among her highbrow friends. Which explained why he'd become the flavor of the month among the Beverly Hills set.