Read an Excerpt
A Shillings Agency Novel
By Diane Alberts, Shannon Godwin
Entangled Publishing, LLCCopyright © 2014 Diane Alberts
All rights reserved.
Cooper eyed the crowded airport with all of the excitement of a prisoner looking at his solitary confinement cell. Festive red, green, and white shades of the holiday season surrounded him, and every single boarding area looked identical to the next. Then again, didn't they always? Crying kids, harrowed mothers, fathers on their phones, and kids playing with their Christmas toys filled almost every single chair.
Weren't people supposed to stop dressing like it was Christmas after the twenty-sixth? Or maybe it was his inescapable Scrooge-iness making him feel that way. He hadn't been merry on Christmas, and he hadn't been happy on New Year's, either.
He hadn't been happy in a long damn time.
He rubbed his eyes and scanned the seating area. There was one empty chair left, next to a gorgeous brown haired woman in a red turtleneck sweater, matching heels, and a black knee-length skirt. With a face and legs like those, she was probably saving the seat for her husband — some lucky bastard who probably didn't appreciate her as he should.
She looked up at him, as if she sensed his scrutiny, but quickly looked back down at her iPhone. The contact was brief, but even so, he saw the flare of appreciation in those bright blue eyes as she dropped her head.
She liked what she saw — missing husband or no.
He approached her, his focus locked on her the whole time. He stopped when he got close enough to speak without calling across the room, opened his mouth, and then —
"Hey, Mister. You're on my coat."
Just as Cooper turned to apologize to the child speaking, the kid slammed a candy cane into Cooper's stomach — pointy end first. Another kid pulled the jacket out from under Cooper's feet, and he stumbled backward. He hit the floor so hard his breath whooshed out of him in a painful wheeze. His face was turned toward the gate, where the attendant gaped at him, and a red heel rested on the floor beside his head.
Damn it, he recognized those heels.
"Are you okay?" the woman asked. Though her question was one expressing concern, he couldn't help but hear the amusement in there, too. "Do you need help getting up?"
Turning his head, he followed the line of her knockout legs, all the way up until he could see her angelic face, framed by the most touchable brown hair he'd ever seen. He would not look any lower. If not for the way she held her knees together, he would be getting arrested for being a peeping tom, for Christ's sake.
He was literally in between her legs, his head halfway under her chair.
Still seated, she bent over him awkwardly, looking down at him with a wrinkled brow and shining blue eyes. Though he had been fantasizing about her legs, he hadn't exactly wanted to get close to them in this way.
Cursing under his breath, he scooted down and away from her on his back, feeling a bit like an overturned turtle, then rolled to his feet as gracefully as he could manage under the circumstances. Smoothing his jacket over his arms, he ducked his head to hide his hot cheeks. "No, I'm fine. Thank you."
As he straightened the collar of his jacket, he eyed the fair-skinned beauty. The concern was gone, and she was doing a poor job of hiding a smile behind her hand. Hell, he even saw a dimple.
She pointed to his stomach. The candy cane that the child had speared him with hung from his brand new cashmere sweater — with the help of a coating of saliva and sugar.
"I'm so sorry!" the horrified mother said, grabbing her son and pushing him behind her body for protection, as if she was worried Cooper might attack. "I think he's been watching too many superhero movies."
"Are you saying I look like a villain?" he asked with a smile on his face, trying to set the woman at ease. When the mother opened her mouth to reply, he shook his head and patted her arm. "No harm done. Really." With two fingers, Cooper removed the sticky weapon from his sweater and handed it over. "Don't worry about it."
The mother smiled with gratitude and took the gooey mess without flinching. "Thank you for being so understanding."
Once he turned his back to her, he let the smile fade away. Eyeing his sticky fingers in disgust, he looked for the nearest water fountain. He didn't want to wander too far and risk the chance of missing takeoff. He already knew there wouldn't be another open flight to North Carolina with an available seat until tomorrow night at ten, and he needed to be on this one.
Sure, he didn't have to leave this early. He could've easily pushed his departure back a few days. He didn't have to report for his new job until next week. But he needed to escape his father's incessant pressure. He didn't approve of Cooper going back overseas. He felt Cooper should stay continental and work for him at the company he had formed specifically for military dropouts.
Dropouts like Cooper.
Yeah. Thanks, but no thanks.
"Would you like a Wet One?" a musical voice asked, tickling over his senses and ripping him from his thoughts. Without even looking, he knew who had spoken. It was the woman in the turtleneck whom he'd practically landed on ... or under, rather.
"A wet what?" He turned slowly, his brow raised. She was holding what looked like a baby wipe in her right hand and a container in her left. He couldn't help but notice she didn't wear a wedding ring. So there was no husband? Smiling, he reached out and took the offered wipe. "Oh. Sure. Thank you. Is that seat taken?"
"No, you can have it." She gazed up at him, sending his heart rate through the roof, and then looked away. There was something about her that made him forget about everything that had been hanging over his head the past year. And, man, he needed that right now. Scooting her long legs out of the way, she smiled and motioned him to sit. "That kid came out of nowhere, huh?"
"Like a ninja warrior," he agreed, getting comfortable on the chair. He quirked his lips at the amusement in her eyes. "Thanks for letting me know I still had the weapon stuck on my shirt."
She laughed. Damn, but she had an adorable laugh. "You're welcome."
"I was so worried about being late and missing this flight, I hadn't even figured getting attacked into the equation." He cleaned off his sweater with the wipe and dropped the Wet One into the trashcan next to him. If she carried those things around in her purse, one of these rug rats running around might be hers. "Thanks for the wipe, by the way. You carry them around for your children?"
"Oh, God, no. I don't even have a husband, let alone kids. If I were going to have kids, I would be married for at least two years beforehand. By then, people pass the mark where one in twelve marriages fail. I personally think they fall apart around then because that's when the attraction wears off, and the couple looks for that draw elsewhere. Bringing kids into the equation before that whole mess is foolish." She smoothed her curly brown hair and flushed, then hastily tucked a wayward strand behind her ear. "Not that you asked about my beliefs in the institute of marriage. I'm sorry. I know I'm babbling."
"Believe it or not, that was my next question," he said, grinning. "Tell me, how do you feel about the four-year mark? Is that a catastrophe, too?"
"Don't even get me started on what happens at four years ... if you even make it that far. Most of the time, they —" She broke off and gave a strangled laugh. "I'm sorry. You're clearly just asking these questions to be nice, or to humor me or whatever, and I'm answering in way too much detail. Like, way, way too much detail. I'm just nervous. Really, really nervous." She paused and cocked her head. "And now I'm repeating myself a good quarter of this conversation, too. Lovely. Just lovely."
He studied her with new curiosity. What she thought embarrassing, he found refreshing. Where did she find her statistics from, anyway? How the hell did she know that one in twelve marriages fail at the two-year mark?
Time to find out.
"Let me guess. Divorce lawyer? Marriage counselor?"
She scoffed. "Worse. I'm an actuary — quite possibly the most boring job to ever exist."
"You don't look boring to me," he said, his voice husky. He blinked. Wait, why did his voice change? What the fuck? "Quite the opposite."
She shot him a surprised look. "Are you flirting with me?"
Did she actually ask him if he was flirting with her? Fascinating. "And if I am?"
"Well, uh." Her cheeks flushed red and she fidgeted with her skirt. "Thanks, I guess? It's a welcome distraction, if nothing else."
Wow. That almost hurt. He bit the inside of his cheek to stop himself from smiling. She was just ... so refreshingly different. "That's all? I must be losing my touch."
She tucked another loose curl behind her ear, as if trying to hide nervousness. "I wouldn't know, having just met you. Plus, I'm hardly an expert, being an actuary."
He laughed. He hadn't had this much fun talking to a stranger in ... well, ever. "Is there a rule that actuaries are bad judges of character?"
"No." She raised her brows. "We're quite excellent."
He gave her a once-over. "Hm. I'll have to reserve my judgment. Until I know a bit more about you anyway."
"Reserve away." She gave him another look, this one lingering a little longer. "I have to ask, do you know what an actuary is? I've never heard someone claim it's interesting in any way, shape, or form."
He pursed his lips. "I know it involves a hell of a lot of odd knowledge about percentages and random stats. And that I'm sitting next to one right now."
She grinned. "Close enough."
He ran his hand through his hair and she watched. When she licked her lips, he saw her pupils flare inside those baby blues. A responding heat flushed through him, making him want to scoot closer. "So ... why are you nervous? Afraid a kid will attack you next?" He held a hand to his heart. "I swear to protect you from the ruffians at all costs."
She shook her head. Pointing out the window at their plane, she said, "I'm not worried about kids, but I am frightened of that deathtrap people continue to erroneously call an airplane. Airborne coffin is a more accurate description, if you ask me."
He eyed the plane before turning his attention back to her. "You're scared of flying?"
"Terrified." She closed her eyes and flopped back against the seat, growing paler before his eyes. "Horrified. Certain I'm going to die."
"Then why are you doing it?"
She peeked at him, her pretty mouth puckered up as if she waited for a kiss. Or maybe he'd imagined that last part. "You want the truth?"
"And nothing but the truth."
She chuckled. "I have to go to my sister's wedding, where I have to pretend I'm happy and perfectly okay with my fictional boyfriend's absence." She clamped a hand over her mouth and closed her eyes. "I didn't mean to add that last detail in. Ignore it."
He raised a brow. "Not a chance, sweetheart. Fictional, huh? I find that hard to believe."
"You'd be surprised," she muttered through her hand. Sighing, she dropped her hand and picked up her expensive looking purse. She held onto the straps so tightly he could make out the details of every single one of her knuckles. "I need to shut up now. I'm sorry. Again."
She really was nervous as hell about the flight. Cooper didn't think he'd ever seen anyone quite so jittery, and he'd seen a hell of a lot. "Don't apologize. You can tell me anything you want. And the best part is you'll never see me again, so you don't have to worry about facing me after. But tell me ... why would someone as beautiful as you have to make up a boyfriend? You should have at least six at home waiting for you."
Real smooth there, Cooper.
"Yeah, well, I don't." She flushed an even deeper red and looked down at her lap. He got a brief glance of her nibbling on her deliciously pink lip before she ducked her head. "And I'm okay with that. I don't place much stock in the whole aspect of 'love saving all.' I'm not exactly the relationship type. I think they're largely a waste of time."
He hadn't been expecting to hear that from her. Most of the women he spent time with were of the loose variety, and they had the same beliefs as him when it came to relationships — as in they were a waste of time. But she hardly came across as that type of girl. She didn't seem the type to love 'em and leave 'em, so to speak. She was an enigma he longed to figure out. "Because of the dreaded two year mark?"
She shrugged. "Yeah. That and so much more."
He found himself wanting to argue with her. Why? He wasn't big on love and relationships, either. He hadn't found "the one" yet, and he was starting to think she didn't exist. And he was leaving the country, so he didn't have room in his life for a woman who would worry about him.
But still ...
"Sometimes, it's possible, despite the odds. Just look at me, for example."
She looked up at him in surprise. Hell, he was surprised he was debating statistics and the probability of love with her, too.
"Statistically speaking," he continued, "the odds of being stabbed in the stomach with a candy cane are one in three point six million ... yet here I am with a ruined sweater."
"You made that statistic up," she said, her eyes shining.
"I did," he admitted. "But I'm pretty sure I'm close to accurate on my figures."
"That's true," she agreed, her lips turning up at the corners. "I certainly haven't heard of that happening to anyone before."
He nodded and nudged her with his shoulder. "See? Statistics aren't everything. I'm Cooper Shillings, by the way."
"Kayla. Kayla Moriarity." She held her hand out, and he shook it, his fingers gently brushing her wrist. She uncrossed her legs and re-crossed them, and then pulled away. "Nice to meet you, Cooper."
Damn. The sound of her saying his name was pure magic.
The speaker crackled and a feminine voice announced, "Attention passengers, we are now boarding first class for Flight 342. First class only, please."
"Oh, God." Kayla took a deep breath and stood. "Oh, God. Oh, God. Here we g-go. Are you first class, too?" He repressed a snort. First class his ass. "'Fraid not."
"That's too bad. I could have used some more distracting ... or was it flirting?" He grinned. "You'll never know now."
"One of life's unanswered mysteries, I suppose." She looked at him one last time, then hiked her purse onto her shoulder. "Hey, thanks for talking to me. It helped take my mind off things. If we somehow manage to walk away from this alive, I'll say hello to you at baggage claim."
He never travelled with more than a small carry-on suitcase — something else his overbearing father drilled into his head at a young age — but he'd go to the baggage claim anyway to check on her. Maybe he shouldn't care so much how a stranger fared through a flight, and yet ... he did. "You'll be fine. I'll see you later."
Her expression showed her doubt at his words, but instead of arguing about it, she headed for the desk with nothing but a purse on her shoulder and a ticket on her hand. He watched her walk away, ignoring the sick feeling of inadequacy in his gut. He swallowed hard, wishing he'd shelled out the extra bucks for a first class seat.
The way she spouted out statistics and percentages combined with the elegant way she held herself showed him she was well-off and educated. She'd probably been born with a silver spoon in her mouth and a Tiffany rattle in her hand.
She wouldn't know what to do with a wounded warrior, so it was probably for the best that he wasn't going to have the chance to talk to her again. He was a failure who couldn't be counted on to ... Well, to do anything.
Only two other people followed her. That meant there had to be at least one seat open in first class. Maybe more. He tapped his fingers on his knee, cursing under his breath. She might be sitting all alone on the plane. There would be no one to babble at when she was nervous. No one to calm her nerves, or make her forget about her fears.
Worried. Scared. Alone.
Excerpted from Temporarily Yours by Diane Alberts, Shannon Godwin. Copyright © 2014 Diane Alberts. Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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