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SMART and SEXY
By JILL SHALVIS
BRAVA BOOKSCopyright © 2007 Jill Shalvis
All right reserved.
Chapter OneNoah Fisher needed a double-diamond ski slope, a hot skibunny babe, and a beer, and not necessarily in that order.
Mammoth Mountain, here he came.
He studied the gauges in front of him, then stroked the dash of his favorite Piper. "Don't worry, baby. The weather's going to hold for us."
He put on his headset, then took a moment to lean back and draw in a deep breath. His first flight in six months. Man, he was ready to get into the sky, heading for that desperately needed R&R.
R&R, and hopefully that ski bunny ...
With that in mind, he okayed his takeoff and began to taxi down the runway, the scent of the burrito Maddie had left for him on the copilot's seat making his mouth water. Within five minutes, he was ten thousand feet and counting as he headed toward his utter freedom.
God, he loved, loved, being up here. Here there were no distractions, no memories, nothing but a spattering of cotton-ball clouds and azure sky as far as he could see.
Just what the doctor had ordered.
He checked the instruments and then the horizon. Ah, yeah, conditions were good. The Piper was doing her thing, as always. She was a classic, though not necessarily a beauty, which meant that most of their customers wouldn't have given her a second look.
She flew like a dream. He could fix her up real pretty, he knew, and then everyone would be clamoring for her, but he didn't feel the need to share her.
As he leveled out, he grabbed a stowed-away chocolate bar to munch on before the burrito. He'd always eaten his dessert first, because hell, once upon a time, he hadn't known when and where his next meal would come from. Chewing, he began to picture the weekend ahead: the slopes, the wind in his face, powdery snow up to his knees as he plowed straight down the mountain, his hair blown back by his own speed....
Then he pictured the sexy ski bunnies waiting in the warm lodge afterward, and one of those rare but genuine smiles tugged at his mouth.
Yeah, a sexy ski bunny-or two-was key to this whole event. She'd be an expert in erotic massage, of course, and ready, willing, and able to do ... well, pretty much whatever came to mind.
And plenty did.
At the thought, he actually smiled again.
Yes sirree, his muscles were getting quite the workout today, after six long months of neglect. Thanks to his crash, it'd been a long time since he'd fantasized about women, or even craved sex at all-
A rustle sounded from behind Noah, startling the shit out of him, but before he could react, something jammed into his shoulder, something that unbelievably felt an awful lot like a-
"Keep flying," said a ragged voice. "Just keep flying."
Holy shit. Noah craned his neck. The soft, fuzzy blanket he kept on the backseat was on the floor now. She'd been hiding beneath it, and yeah, the person behind him was most definitely a she. Once upon a time, he'd been considered an expert on the species, and despite her gruff, uneven tones, her voice shimmered with nerves.
Unbelievably, he'd just been hijacked by a nervous woman with a gun. He tried to get a good look at her, but the gun shifted to his jaw, shoving his head forward before he could take in more than a big, bulky sweater with a hood down low over her face-
"Don't turn around," she demanded. "Just keep us in the air."
He could. He'd been a pilot ever since the day he'd been old enough, flying on a daily basis, either for a job or on a whim, into a storm or with one on his ass, without much thought.
He was giving it plenty of thought now. "Hell, no." His fingers tightened on the yoke. Goddamnit. "What the fuck is this?"
"You're flying me to Mammoth Mountain."
"Hell, no, I'm not."
"Yes, you are. You have no choice." Then she let out a disparaging, desperate sound and softened her voice. "Look, just get us there, okay? Get us there and everything will be all right."
Yeah, except that she didn't sound as if she believed that line of crap, and he sure as hell didn't believe it either. Worse, he suddenly had a nasty flashback to another of his flights that had gone bad, six months ago. Only in that one, there'd been no gun, just a hell of a storm in Baja Mexico, where he'd hit a surprise thunderstorm, one with a vicious kick. That time he'd ended up on a side of a mountain in a fiery crash, holding his passenger as she died in his arms....
So really, in comparison, this flight, with a measly gun at his back, should be a piece of cake. Just a day in the life.
Knowing it, he swiped a forearm over his forehead and concentrated on breathing. Maybe she was all talk, no show. Maybe she didn't really know how to use the weapon. Maybe he could talk her out of the insanity that had become his life today. "How did you get in here?"
The gun remained against his shoulder, but not as hard, as if maybe she didn't want to hurt him. "No questions, or I'll-"
She didn't answer.
Yeah, all talk, no show, he decided, and reached over to switch his radio on, then went very still at the feel of the muzzle just beneath his jaw now.
"Don't," she said, sounding more desperate, if that was even possible. "Don't tell anyone I'm here."
Hell if he'd suffer this quietly, and he braced himself for action, but then she added a low, softly uttered, "Please."
Jesus, he felt like such a fool. Who the hell was she? She'd been careful to stay just behind him, just out of range of his peripheral. He could smell her, though, some complicated mixture of exotic flowers and woman, which under very different circumstances he'd find sexy as hell.
But not today, the day that was quickly turning into a living nightmare. He couldn't believe this was happening. Not when he was getting back on the horse. Wasn't that what Shayne and Brody had told him to do, get back on the horse.
And he had.
Hence the ski/fuck-his-brains-out weekend.
What the hell was in Mammoth that was worth hijacking someone? And why was she so desperate to get there? Instinct had him checking the gauges, looking for a place to land.
"No." The gun was an emphasis, back to pressing hard between his shoulder blades. "We're going to Mammoth. Just like you planned."
"I didn't plan for this."
"You have a passenger now, that's all. Everything else is the same." Yeah, he had a passenger. A shaking, unnerved, freaked-out desperate one.
Give him a thunderstorm in Cabo any day over this....
"There's no need to panic, or do anything rash," she said, and he wondered if she was talking to him-or herself.
"Yeah, well, if you're insisting on coming along, then sit." He jerked his chin toward the copilot seat next to him, because he wanted to see her, wanted to know exactly what he was up against.
"I'm fine right where I am."
Hell if he'd have her at his back with a gun jammed against him for the next hour. "Sit. Down."
As if for emphasis, they hit a pocket of air, and the plane dipped. With a gasp, the woman fell backward into the seat behind him.
Noah smiled grimly. He wasn't stupid, and he hadn't been born yesterday. Actually, he hadn't even been born in this country at all, but in England. He'd ended up here, orphaned as a teen, where he'd proceeded to beg, borrow, and steal his way to his dream.
A life of flying.
And she was not going to take that life away from him.
"You did that on purpose." Her voice was tight and angry. "Don't do anything like that again."
He hadn't done it in the first place, but he could have, and would if he got the chance and could manage it without getting his head accidentally shot off, because he really hated it when that happened. "Who the hell are you?"
"What's in Mammoth?"
Great. A stubborn female. Who happened to have a gun.
Never a good combination.
He glanced back and wasn't happy to see her standing again, directly behind him so that he still couldn't get a good look at her.
"Don't." Once again she shoved the gun into his back, a situation of which he was quickly tiring. Right before his crash, adrenaline had pumped through him, but it was nothing compared to what flowed through his veins now.
Then he'd been scared, to the bone.
Now he was pissed. To the bone. His radio crackled, and then Shayne's voice filled the cabin. As a team called Sky High Air, they had a fleet of three jets, three Cessnas, two Beechcraft, a Moody, a Piper, and a Cirrus, and access to others via a leasing network, and had just constructed a building to house them all instead of working out of a very expensive leased wing at LAX. It gave them their own hub, a fixed operating base for their picky, finicky clientele, complete with maintenance and concierge services.
Not bad for three punks who'd once been nothing more than sorry-ass teenage delinquents.
"Noah?" Shayne asked via radio. "You there?"
"I have to answer that," he told his hijacker. "Or he'll know something's wrong." Without waiting for her response, he pushed the button on the radio. "Here."
"Just checking in on your inaugural flight."
He was doing fine. Great.
If he forgot about the gun digging into him.
"You okay?" Shayne asked.
Noah hated that his friend even had to ask, but could admit, at least to himself, that the past six months had been just rough enough that Shayne felt he had to. "I'm ..." He pushed back at the gun. "Hanging in."
His kidnapper remained silent, tense.
"Brody's flying Mrs. Sinclair to Aspen," Shayne said. "At least so she says, but she's had us ready-up four times this past week, only to correct at the last minute. I don't see today being any different."
The idiosyncrasies of the rich and famous didn't bother him any, as long as they paid for it, but just the words "Mrs. Sinclair" made the butterflies in his stomach tap-dance.
Mr. Sinclair had been a forty-year-old trust-fund baby who'd built huge resort complexes in every party town along the West Coast while showing off his much younger trophy wife, Bailey Sinclair, an ex-model, a woman who screamed sophistication and elegance.
Not to mention her muy caliente factor.
But her husband had bitten the big one three months ago in a mysterious hunting accident, and they hadn't seen much of the missus since then. She was probably off spending her husband's billions of dollars, and ... and hell.
Bailey Sinclair was intelligent, and sexy, stubborn as hell-three of Noah's favorite qualities in a woman. She had strawberry blond, wild flyaway hair that framed her face in a way that seemed as if maybe she'd just gotten out of bed and wasn't averse to going back. Her baby blues were deep enough to drown a man, and her mouth ...
Christ, he'd had entire day-long fantasies about her mouth. Truth was, she was his living secret crush.
It was pathetic, really. Getting weak-kneed over another man's wife.
Even if that man was dead.
But he was a little busy today, so it was probably time to get over Bailey Sinclair.
Cold turkey, pal.
"She's already on board and locked up in her stateroom," Shayne said. "And if the rumors are true-"
"That she's selling everything off ... then she's probably going for one last hurrah. Said she was taking a sleeping pill and just to wake her after arrival."
Noah could picture the sleek honey of a plane on the tarmac. It didn't take much for his imagination to go farther and see the gorgeous, lush stateroom on board, the huge king-sized bed covered in the best of the best silk, and Bailey sprawled on it, her hair streaming across a pillow, her long, willowy body barely wrapped in satin and lace-
No satin, no lace.
Nothing but Bailey. Yeah, that might help him get over himself real quick.
If he lived through this, that was.
"Be careful," Shayne said.
"I will be, Mom. Thanks."
"Better than old lady," Noah said, checking the horizon, ignoring his "passenger" while Shayne huffed out a low laugh.
"Smart-ass," he muttered, and clicked off.
Yeah, that was him: Noah Fisher, smart-ass. Among other things. And actually, he'd heard them all: selfish bastard, good-for-nothing lout, cocky SOB....
That most of them were completely one-hundred-percent true didn't keep him up at night. Nope, he saved that for the nightmares, of which he now had a new one.
He glanced at his altimeter and airspeed indicator. Everything looked okay. Everything was okay, because he'd checked and double-checked over the static-system vents and Pitot tube for foreign bodies, like the bird that had fucked him just before his crash. All was clear right now. Good to know. He would not be crashing tonight.
"Thanks," said the woman at his back, "for not giving me away."
He did some more ignoring, and the silence filled the cockpit. Reaching out beside him, he lifted the brown bag from which came the most heavenly scent on earth-his burrito. Bless you, Maddie, he said silently to Sky High's concierge. She always stocked him with his favorite fast food. "Hungry?" he asked his hijacker. He hadn't had a real mother, but he still knew how to mock politeness.
"Suit yourself." He opened the bag and stuffed a bite into his mouth. His taste buds exploded with pleasure, and to be as annoying as possible, he moaned with it. "You have no idea what you're missing."
"Looks like I'm missing a boatload of calories." She sounded tense enough to shatter. "Can't you fly faster?"
"How much longer?"
"As long as it takes." Taking another bite-if he was going to die, it wouldn't be hungry-he checked the instruments, the horizon.
Still no weather between here and there, and he supposed he should be thankful for small favors. "So ... what's your story?"
She didn't respond. Shocker.
"You rob a bank?" he tried.
Nothing but the disquieting sensation of the gun against his skin.
The silence seemed to thicken, and his gut clenched. Great, she'd killed someone. "Oh, I know," he said conversationally. "Your rich husband has a ski bunny at your Mammoth cabin, and you're going after them."
She choked out a laugh utterly without mirth. "Can you fly without talking?"
He opened his mouth to give a smart-ass reply to that, but the gun at his back pressed into him and shut him up. Yeah, okay, maybe he could fly without talking.
Chapter TwoNot wanting him to smell the fear and panic swirling around her like a cloak of fog, Bailey Sinclair focused in on the one consolation she had-
He actually believed she held a gun on him.
Good God, she was hijacking the tall, dark, and attitude-ridden Noah Fisher with her fatty Bic pen, and if the enigmatic, rough-edged pilot even caught a sniff of her false bravado, it'd be over. He would wrestle her to the seat or toss her out the window, as she deserved.
At least it'd be over.
No. No destructive thoughts. She had to see this through, had to, or she was going to end up in the same situation as her rat fink bastard husband.
Which was six feet under.
For the umpteenth time, she wished Alan weren't already dead, so she could kill him herself.
But someone had beaten her to that game, hadn't they. And now her own life hung in the balance.
Hope you're rotting in hell, Alan.
God. With her free hand, she hugged herself. She'd had bad days before, she reminded herself. Unfortunately, this one was shaping up to be the king of all bad days.
Bad months ...
Actually, she could write the entire year off to a string of rotten luck piled on top of rotten decisions piled on top of the fact that Fate seemed to have it in for her.
She needed a break, just one.
And then suddenly the plane dipped again, and she nearly lost her sweaty grip on her Bic pen. "What are you doing?" she cried, flying backward and hitting the seat behind her.
Noah didn't answer, which pretty much did her in. Nerves already scraped raw, she desperately needed some answers, and he was going to give them to her, damn it. Scrambling back up, she tightened her hold on the pen and jammed it hard into the muscle of his shoulder. "Answer me!"
Rolling his shoulder, he pushed back at her.
Damn it, didn't he realize? She had a gun.
Okay, she didn't, really, but he thought she did! Why wasn't he cowering? Begging for mercy?
She wanted to do both. She wanted to drop to the floor and roll into a ball and do something distinctly juvenile, like burst into tears.
Instead she locked her knees and thrust up her chin, reminding herself she was in charge at the moment. "Tell me what's happening."
Excerpted from SMART and SEXY by JILL SHALVIS Copyright © 2007 by Jill Shalvis. Excerpted by permission.
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