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SUPERB and SEXY
By JILL SHALVIS BRAVA BOOKS
Copyright © 2008 Jill Shalvis
All right reserved.
The man pulled up in a rumbling, bad boy Camaro like he owned his world, and Maddie had good reason to know he did.
Brody West owned his world all right, and completely rocked hers.
What the hell was he doing here?
It'd been a long time since she'd seen him. Six weeks, two and a half days, and waaaaay too many minutes. Not that she was counting.
But to be honest, that she hadn't seen him was all her own doing. She'd left town to recover.
To make a Plan with a capital P.
Hence staying in the mountains where no one could bother her-including Brody.
With him, no contact was good contact since they clashed at every turn, bickered when they weren't clashing, and in general, brought out the worst in each other. She hadn't even thought about him while she'd been gone, sitting here on the porch of the log-style cabin that she'd rented for its rustic, isolated beauty, emphasis on isolated.
Okay, so she'd thought about him. She just hadn't wanted to think about him. Probably, she was just overreacting. Honestly, maybe it wasn't even him in the car.
And yet, she knew better. Her body knew better. The simple act of hearing the engine rev had made the hair on the nape of her neck rise insudden, unexpected awareness.
Yeah, it was him because she felt ...
God, she felt so much, but thunderstruck led the pack, though an undeniable excitement came in close second.
He was here, forty-five miles off the beaten path from his home in the Burbank Hills to the Angeles Crest Forest.
But why? Why wasn't he holed up in his office, or on one of his planes he loved more than anything, working himself into an early grave as he liked to do?
She knew that he, along with his partners Shayne and Noah, wanted her back at work, seemed desperate for her to be back. Shayne had told her yesterday on the phone that Sky High had gone through four temp concierges in the time she'd been gone on leave, all of whom Brody had chased off with his sunny nature.
Translation: he'd been brooding and edgy and terrifying.
Yeah. Sounded like him.
But the brooding and edgy thing had never bothered her much. Maybe because she'd always been drawn to the bad boys. The reason for that was simple. Bad boys wanted the same things she did-no strings attached.
She didn't do strings.
Outside, Brody turned off the Camaro, and silence filled the air.
A heavy, weighted, questioning silence.
And suddenly, Maddie's chest felt too tight. Damn it. She let out a long, calming breath, which of course, didn't work. It never worked. Neither did just sitting at the window staring down at him, but God, she was tired, and still recovering. Yeah, that's what this asinine weakness in her knees was-recovery. Because it sure as hell wasn't for him.
They didn't even like each other ...
And yet she leaned over so she could see out the window again, past the tall twin pines trying to block her view of the nearly six feet, four inches of rough and tumble, sexy as hell male as he unfolded his long legs from the muscle car.
Her pulse took another unfortunate leap. The last time she'd seen him, he'd been in his pilot's uniform, and even though it was ridiculous and juvenile and wrong, it had turned her on. The thought of seeing him out of it? Even more so.
Yeah, she had a problem. She'd been shamelessly, secretly crushing on him all damn year. But that was her own humiliating secret, and one she'd take to the grave. And here was another-that fateful last day at work six weeks ago now, when she'd been just a little ticked off that she couldn't get him to notice her as a woman, she'd dressed solely to gain his attention-miniskirt, snug cami, teetering heels, the whole shebang. She'd been gratified when it'd worked, when he'd executed a comical double take at her and then spilled coffee down the front of his shirt.
Mission accomplished. He'd most definitely noticed her as a woman.
The excitement level had been so high she couldn't stand it. And then she'd smart-mouthed a psychopath and gotten herself shot, and her life had been put on pause.
Fast-forward to now.
Shutting the driver's door of the Camaro, he stared at the cabin. He wore a T-shirt, cargoes, and scuffed boots, all in black, emphasizing that world-class bod she'd spent many, many days drooling over while pretending to work.
Unlike her, the man was genetically incapable of pretending anything. Nope, he rarely bothered to hide his thoughts, especially as they pertained to her, thoughts that had at one time or another run the gamut from baffled to that one time she'd done the unthinkable and pressed him back against a wall and kissed him.
And for that one blissful moment, he hadn't been vexed or grumpy. He'd been stunned and aroused and all sleepy-eyed and sexy with it.
Not now, though.
Now he stood there, tall and sure, a frown on his face, his dark hair falling carelessly across his brow, and at just past his collar, longer than one would expect a pilot's hair to be. She knew that it wasn't that way because he cared about being in style, but because he simply forgot to get it cut. Sometimes she thought he'd forget his own head if it wasn't attached.
The only things he never forgot were his damn planes or his business. Sky High Air was an exclusive, luxurious, sophisticated airline service. Pretty damned hilarious considering that the three guys who ran it had been troubled youths, to say it kindly. They'd started Sky High last year by the seat of their pants and their collective wits. They'd put their heads and bank accounts together, managing, barely, to eke enough money to get it going, then keep it going.
But a miracle had occurred. The LA rich and spoiled had discovered them, loved them and the services they provided, and all the buckets and buckets of antacids they'd consumed over the cost of the start-up were finally paying off.
Below, Brody stopped on the walk and looked up.
She held her breath. Hard to believe they made geeks in such outrageously magnificent male packages, but there it stood, looking for her.
His eyes were hidden behind mirrored aviator sunglasses, but she knew them to be a mesmerizing pewter gray that could turn to ice or flame given his mood, and they were filled with secrets she'd never managed to plumb.
They drove her crazy, those secrets. She'd always wanted to know their depths, wanted to know what made him tick, his likes, his dislikes ... and the yearning had driven her even more crazy.
Because she no longer had the luxury of dreaming about him. She had other things to dream about-things like life and death.
But he didn't know that as he headed for the door. Around his neck were the earphones for his iPod, which probably had Linkin Park blasting out at decibel levels uncharted. How the man hadn't gone deaf was beyond her, but that wasn't what she wondered as her gaze ran all over him like he was cotton candy. No, she wondered how she was going to keep her hands to herself if she had to talk to him one-on-one ...
Get a grip.
After all, his partners had stolen her heart from day one, too, and she didn't want to jump them. Shayne and Noah were bad boys as well, and when she'd gotten the job working for them, the rebel inside her had rejoiced to find a place where she belonged. She loved them both, loved them like the older brothers she never had.
But nothing about her feelings for the edgy, brooding Brody was brotherly.
Nowhere even close.
Very annoying, and hard to hide as well, though she'd managed. She always managed, no matter the task. Cool as a cucumber, that was Maddie, always.
She needed to find that cool now. Oh boy, how she needed to find that cool.
Not easy when that dark, silky hair of his called to her fingers, and then there was that lean, angular face she wanted to touch, or that tough, muscular body she wanted to lick from top to bottom.
Damn it, she'd told herself she was over her little schoolgirl crush, over whatever it was about him that melted her brain cells, not to mention her bones, leaving her a ridiculously vulnerable puddle of longing every time he so much as looked at her.
She was tougher than this.
But not with him.
That thought came out of nowhere, and she beat it back, along with the knowledge that he, unlike any other man she'd ever met, had somehow sneaked past her defenses, past her carefully erected brick walls, and saw the woman beneath.
He stopped walking. Stopped and tilted his dark head up to the second story window, and then seemed to look right into her eyes.
Unprepared for the reaction that barreled through her, she actually sat there, still, rooted to the spot for one long heartbeat.
"Who is that?"
Maddie jumped as her sister came into the room. Tiptoed, as if someone was still on her trail, in the jerky, self-conscious movement of someone used to being pushed around.
Goddamnit. "No one, Leena. It's okay."
Leena leaned over Maddie's shoulder, gnawing her lower lip between her teeth as she took in the man on the walk below. "My God," she murmured and shivered.
Yes, Maddie thought. My God. Brody induced that reaction from her, too.
"That's not no one."
True enough. She took another quick peek and felt a shiver herself, not of fear of that impressive size and height, but because she knew what that impressive size and height felt like full frontal and plastered up against her. "It's okay. He's my boss."
Leena let out a low breath as she stared at Brody. "You work for him?"
"And two others. Three pilots."
"You work for three men like that?"
No use telling her that not all men were manipulative jerks who ruled with their superior size or fist. That was something she'd have to learn on her own.
After all, Maddie had.
"You can't let him in," Leena said, a growing panic in her voice, a panic Maddie felt as her own.
Because Leena was right. She couldn't let him in. Couldn't because there was far too much at stake here.
No matter that she and Brody had unresolved issues, mostly hers. There were other more pressing issues, issues that had nothing to do with him.
Like those life and death issues ...
If she let him in, he'd take one look at her and know something was wrong because brooding and edgy as he might be, he had the intuition and instincts of a panther-sharp and unwavering.
In Brody's world, things were black and white. Right and wrong. When something was broken, he fixed it. If someone needed him, he moved heaven and earth to do whatever needed to be done, and he would do so for a perfect stranger.
Maddie was no stranger, perfect or otherwise.
Yeah, he'd want to help.
Only he couldn't.
No one could.
Staring down at Brody, her pulse raced with a horrible mixture of yearning and wariness. Him showing up was the worst thing that could have happened, for the both of them.
Not that he could know that or the fact that she was in over her head in a way she hadn't been since he'd hired her and unknowingly given her a much needed security that she valued above all else.
But apparently unable to read her mind, he headed straight for the front door, his long-limbed stride filled with a casual ease that said even if he'd known about any potential danger, it wouldn't have stopped him.
God, she loved that about him.
Beside her, Leena made a sound of distress and wrung her hands together.
Maddie's reaction wasn't much different. Her heart took another hard knock against her ribs. She had no idea what it was about Brody's attitude that went straight to her gut-and several other good spots as well-but with that scowl on his face, he looked every inch the wild, bad boy rebel pilot that she knew him to be.
And from deep within her came a new emotion, one she hadn't thought still existed inside her.
It made absolutely no sense, no sense at all, and she quickly squashed it flat because that particular emotion, or anything close to it, had no place here, and she'd do well to remember it.
That was the hard part. Remembering it.
"Maddie," Leena whispered.
For all of their sakes, she had to get rid of him.
Brody knocked on the door of the cabin as if he was Avon calling, but in truth, he felt much more like the big, bad wolf standing outside Maddie's house of straw.
Or at least a big oaf.
He had no idea why, but around her, he felt clumsy and off kilter. Oh, wait. He knew exactly why. She was smart and amazing and hot and funny and hot, and so far out of his league he couldn't even see the league.
He knocked again, glancing at Maddie's Jeep in the driveway and the car next to it, wondering if she was alone, wondering why she was here, in the mountains, miles from the nearest high-end clothing store. Maddie was a sophisticated, elegant, big city lover who considered anything less than a four-star hotel roughing it.
She wasn't exactly roughing it, not in this big, beautiful rustic cabin, built with a rather staggering view of majestic mountains and valleys as far as the eye could see. The front yard was a homage to The Ponderosa era, with a wagon wheel on either side of the walkway and railroad ties lining the path, all of it rather beautiful really, in a very Wild West sort of way.
But this was definitely a distant world for Maddie. So what the hell was she doing out here, far from the work she loved, apparently unconcerned about earning money?
The thought was alien to him.
Give him the stability of work, and the money earned for that work, and he was good. Not worrying about the roof over his head or his next meal was pretty much all he required from life.
Flying was a close second to eating. Flying made him whole, flying made him happy. Flying was everything.
Maddie was an enigma because she didn't seem to need any one thing, or anyone, for that matter. Maybe that's what made her so good at her job. She was a freak of nature who could work a keyboard, a cell phone, and a scheduling board and run Sky High Air at the same time, all without seeming to care what anyone thought.
She was his employee. His responsibility, and she drove him batshit crazy. He'd told himself it was her persona. She looked like a punk rocker superhero. Her hair could be spiky platinum one day, straight jet black with magenta streaks the next. She had several visible body piercings, and wondering about the ones not visible had kept him up on more than one long night. She wore leather and silk with equal élan, and her exotic footwear alone had given him more fantasies than he cared to admit.
He wanted her more than he'd ever wanted a woman. Hell, more than he'd ever wanted a plane, and that was saying something.
She walked as if she'd been born the Queen of the Free World, which only further confused him because usually, he was drawn to sweet and easy. And, okay, maybe just a little bit naughty.
There was nothing sweet or easy about Maddie, and he doubted that she was only a little bit naughty. Everything about her, from her baby blues to the tip of her manicured toes, everything screamed look-but-don't-touch, and in her presence, he was always swamped with conflicting emotions-the urge to rumple her up and the need to put his hands in his pockets to keep them off her.
Yeah. She really got to him. It was the equal mix of quick wit and trouble in her eyes. It was the sharp humor she revealed in her smile, which was so damn contagious he often found himself smiling back with or without being in on the joke. It was how she cared so deeply about the people around her, people like Noah and Shayne, and also him. Especially when it was him.
Once he'd fallen off a ladder and landed on his ass, and she'd been the first one to get to him. She'd thrown herself at him, fear in her voice, and for that moment before she'd figured out he wasn't hurt, before she'd smacked him and yelled at him never to scare her like that again, he'd really enjoyed the feel of her curves hugging up all over him. Another time, he'd heard her on the phone telling a client about his piloting skills, bragging about how he was the best of the best, and he'd actually felt his chest puff up.
Yeah, he really liked it when she revealed how much she cared.
But this wasn't about him or how she seriously screwed with his head on a daily basis. This was about work. About Sky High Air.
He handled the majority of the flights himself. Noah specialized in personalized adventures, finding and fine-tuning them for their clients. Shayne, the people person of the group, brought in their rich clients. Together, they made the whole package, whether that meant flying a turbo prop or a jet on a moment's notice, taking a charter flight to Santa Barbara or a business group to Alaska, it got handled efficiently, discreetly, and luxuriously.
Excerpted from SUPERB and SEXY by JILL SHALVIS Copyright © 2008 by Jill Shalvis. Excerpted by permission.
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