Mathematician Della Clark just met the most gorgeous man on a plane. According to her calculations, the odds of meeting Mr. Perfectly Hot are approximately 1 in 285,000. Gabe Ross is an unexpected variable. Handsome, smart and unusually interested? Yes, Della has definitely improved her odds
Except that Gabe Ross isn't his real name. He works for the Department of Homeland Security, and Della is a parta very distracting oneof an investigation into a critical security breach. Gabe tells himself that their affair is vital for the investigation. That he can remain objective. But mostly, he lies to himself to hide the fact that he may be falling for the right woman at the wrong time.
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As soon as Delia Clark settled into her first-class seat, flying back to New York City after a month of consulting on a project in San Diego, she pulled out her tablet to check for progress on her online dating accounts. Yes, accountsplural.
Statistically speaking, she needed to cast a broad net. Fellow mathematicians had posited that the chances of finding a perfect partner, depending on the variables and location, were about one in two-hundred and eighty-five thousand. Della was pretty sure she hadn't met that many people in her thirty-three years, and true to the math, very few were at all suitable for her. Well, at this point, the sum was actually zero.
On top of that, census numbers showed that there were far more unattached females than available males in the world, and the older a woman got, the more unlikely sheDella, for instancewould be able to find a man her age, thirty-three, or older. It wasn't impossible, of course, just nearly so.
Unless you compromised, but Della didn't want to compromise on love. Or sex. With a few mediocre sexual relationships in her past, she had yet to discover the sex that other women crowed about, the blow-your-mind sort. The kind of sex that made women fall in love with the wrong mannot that she wanted to do that.
Or maybe she did, if only for a while.
People crowded into the plane, but she was oblivious as she studied a few of the suitors' profiles.
Jamie Reynolds was cute, she thought, pursing her lips and tilting her head to the side as she considered his picture. With attractive, masculine features and a good smile, she clicked onto his bio, feeling hopeful. Her hopes were quickly dashed. Among his interests were guns, hunting, and domination. He'd included some extra profile pictures that showed off his very nice body, but it was decked out in leather, with a picture of him carrying a whip and handcuffs slung off a belt at his waist.
Garrison had recently moved to New York from Germany, and he was curator of a small international museum. He was in his fifties, but appeared distinguished and intelligent, with no affection for weapons of any kind, that she could tell. Then she saw the note: Need someone who will love and take care of four young children. He wanted a nanny, not a life partner.
Unfortunately, she had to ditch the next three, as well. Too young, too political and one ex-con.
Oh well, at least she was getting more responses since she let her stylist put the strawberry highlights in her blond hair, and she'd started wearing some lip color and mascara. But she wasn't attracting the right kind of guy. Did they think she was desperate because she was a single, mid-thirties mathematician? That she would take any offer that came along?
Well, she had standards. But perhaps she had cast her net a bit too widelymaybe she needed to revise her profile so that it would attract a slightly more refined range of potential mates.
As the flight attendants instructed that all wireless tech be shut down, she closed her tablet with a sigh. Looking up, she watched a handsome guy walking down the aisle to find his seat.
Nice. Why couldn't someone like him show up on her dating profiles?
Tall, he had to duck slightly as he made his way down the center, a shock of ginger-brown hair falling across his high forehead in a way that made her want to push it back. He reached up to open an overhead compartment and showed off his flat stomach, accentuated by the way his maroon, short-sleeved shirt was tucked into a pair of rugged khakis.
The front of the khakis didn't escape her notice, either. Strong thighs, slim, straight hips and well, suffice to say he hader, wasthe whole package.
Then, he was right in front of her as he settled his computer case into the overhead compartment above her. He turned, slid into the aisle seat next to her and smiled. She was looking into caramel-coloredor were they more café au lait?eyes that were only inches from hers.
It took her about thirty seconds to realize that his gorgeous lips were moving; talking to her.
Hi, looks like I'm your company for this flight.
Good thing she'd learned to read lips when she was a kid. One of her best friends had been deaf, and Della had never lost the skill.
"Yes," she responded vaguely, still trying to decide on the right adjective for his eye color.
He held his hand out, and she placed hers in his. As his smooth, warm grip closed around hers, she sucked in a breath.
Oh heck, had she said that out loud?
He nodded. "Nice to meet you."
"You, too," she replied, removing her hand as soon as he loosened his.
The flight attendant went through the safety spiel, and Della and her neighbor settled back, belted in, secure in their individual space as they took off. Once at altitude, Della let out a sigh of relief and relaxed.
"Don't like takeoffs?" Gabe asked.
She managed a smile. "Not much. Or landings."
"They are the most dangerous parts of the flight, they say."
"Landings are more so, about twenty-six percent more accidents happen on final approach and landings, though the number of fatalities is the same as in accidents during takeoff and the initial climb. Overall, though, the number of fatalities is below one percent for all flights, so it's still the safest way to travel," Della rambled, and then bit her lip, stopping herself.
Yes. This would be the reason she almost never had sex.
But Gabe leaned in, looking interested. "You know a lot about safety statistics."
She shrugged, embarrassed. "I read a lot," she hedged, taking off her dark-rimmed glasses and putting them in her pocket. She only needed them for reading, anyway. Maybe this was a good time to do some light research in revising her dating profile. Start with losing the glasses.
"So what do you do, Della?"
Next, don't mention you are a genius mathematician.
"I teach. At Columbia."
His eyebrows lifted. "Impressive. What subject?"
"Math," she said quickly, and then pretended to drop something so she could bend down to reach for it, halting the conversation.
When she rose, he was looking at her closely, his eyes narrowed, studying her expression, as if he could see what she was thinking.
Oh, she hoped not.
"What do you do?" she asked brightly, changing the subject as she tried to regain her composure.
He was distracted from answering as the flight attendant approached with the drink cart, at which point Della also surreptitiously noted that Gabe was not wearing any rings.
The attendant also seemed to note that fact as she asked them what they wanted to drink. She made much more eye contact with Gabe than with Della, and when she handed Della her cola, she leaned over enough to give Gabeand anyone who was lookinga good view down her blouse.
Della had to force herself not to roll her eyes. Though she couldn't blame the guy if he did look; the attendant was practically shoving her breasts in his face.
Della slid her fingers up to the buttons on her blouse.
Maybe she should try unloosening a few. Learn from the experts, they always say.
Instead, she sipped her cola and observed Gabe's smile as the attendant engaged him in a few seconds of small talkincluding letting him know she was on a weekend layover once they got into New York.
Della stared out the window at the cloud layer, enjoying the view and pretending not to hear their conversation.
Suddenly, a warm hand closed around hers, and she nearly jumped out of her seat. Gabe's fingers squeezed hers slightly, stemming her startled response.
"Thanks, but my girl Della and I are on an anniversary trip. Three weeks this weekend since we met."
Gabe lifted her hand and kissed it, and Della simply let him, too surprised to do otherwise. The flight attendant looked like she wanted to gag.
"Well, then, enjoy your weekend." Her smile was forced as her eyes met Della's, with no small amount of disbelief.
As the attendant moved on, Della extricated her hand and whispered, "What did you say that for?"
Gabe shrugged. "She was being rude, and I wasn't interested. Thanks for helping out."
Della laughed. "She probably didn't believe we're together for a second."
She leveled him a disbelieving look. He was being completely serious. This incredibly hot man had no notion why a very sexy woman would not believe he was with her.
"Have you looked in a mirror lately?" she asked with a laugh.
He shook his head, staring back at her. "Have you?" he asked in the same tone.
Surprise choked off any reply.
"We should keep the ruse up, don't you think?" he asked with a wiggle of his eyebrows and a grin that Della was helpless to resist.
She was more than willing to play.
"Sure. Why not?"
He leaned in closer. "This is a delicate undercover project. You'll do whatever I need you to do," he teased mischievously.
Della almost giggled.
"Well, nothing that could put me on a no-fly list."
"That leaves a lot we could do," he said, and though she knew he was only flirting, having some fun, there was a look in his eye that threw her off. Like he was enjoying this as much as she was.
"Well, it's only been three weeks. And I've been out of town for most of that time. I'm not sure we've had sex yet," she said primly.
He chuckled and leaned in. "Oh, honey, we had sex the first night, and almost every night after. We can't keep our hands off each other. It's the most amazing sex of your life," he said, gloating.
Della's pulse raced at the thought. "You're pretty confident. And apparently I'm very easy."
He nodded. "See? We're like peanut butter and jelly."
Again, he made her laugh. Unsure what to say, she resorted to reaching into her bag for a deck of cards she always carried with her.
"Play cards?" she asked.
"How about poker? Maybe we could make it interesting, if you're a girl who likes to gamble."
"No gambling for me," she said with a shake of her head.
"Addiction?" he asked, very seriously.
"No, I'm just really good." She glanced at him from under her lashes, hoping he bought it. "I always win."
One brow raised. "Lots of college poker parties?"
"Something like that."
The truth was that she won because she couldn't help but count the cards and mentally calculate odds. It had almost gotten her into hot water at a casino once.
"Well, now you've made me curious. No stakes, but let's see if you're as good as you say you are."
She smiled, taking out the cards and shuffling them quite expertly, which drew another impressed glance from her sexy neighbor.
"Don't say I didn't warn you."
He was toast.
Della took the majority of the hands over the course of the flight, but she admired how Gabe didn't give up. She also liked that he wasn't a sore loser. In fact, he seemed to have a lot of fun with her, unlike other men she'd played cards with. They never liked a woman winning all the time.
If there had been stakes, she would have cleaned him out.
Gabe managed to win a few hands. He was a clever player, and though he wasn't counting cards, he was a shrewd observer and had a great poker face.
He won the last hand as the captain announced their imminent arrival, his grin wide.
"Too bad I didn't bet a kiss on that last hand."
"I, um, er," she mumbled as she almost dropped the cards while putting them back in the box.
He caught them, sliding his hand over hers as he did so.
She held her breath as they started their descent. Gabe didn't release her hand, but squeezed it reassuringly.
If she was going to die in an airplane, this was definitely the way to go.
Except that she hoped that maybe would he want to see her after they landed? Should she perhaps suggest dinner? Or maybe just a drink? Would he think she was asking for more?
It took so much time to work up her nerve that she didn't even realize they were already speeding down the runway, then rolling to the gate.
She swallowedthis was the time. Now or never.
What was the worst he could say? No? He was definitely flirting with her, so there was a chance, right?
But as she released her held breath, he freed her hand, standing quickly as people jockeyed for position to leave the plane. He stepped back, gesturing for her to exit in front of him.
Della was overly aware of his big body behind her, crowding her slightly as she reached up and grabbed her bag, his front bumping up against her back, especially when he reached forward to get his own bag, leaning over her. Ask him. Now.
Then they were moving forward, out of the plane, up the jet bridge, pushed along by the momentum of the people around them, all hurrying to exit.
She turned, and Gabe was looking at his watch, frowning, his expression suddenly distant.
"Della, it was great to meet you. Thanks for the company and the cards," he said quickly, obviously distracted. "Sorry, I have to run." He offered a smile before he turned in the opposite direction, walking off.
She waved, though he wasn't looking anymore.
Della blinked, her cheeks burning as she started walking away, disappointed and embarrassed. In a flash, she was back in the hallway of her junior high, younger than the other kids in her class, with a crush on a cute boy who laughed when she waved and said hi and then kept on walking. Then, like now, it felt like everyone had seen her make a fool of herselfthat they were all looking at herthough that wasn't so, of course.
Back in school, the boys liked to flirt with her so she would help them with their math, but when it came to parties and dances, she was never included. She knew why, but at least when she helped them with their studies, they talked to her. Her parents had warned her constantly to keep to herself, that people would always want to use her for something. That she couldn't be gullible and trusting. That she was meant for more important things than boys and parties.
Their advice had been true often enough. Gabe had only been looking for some amusement on the flight, nothing more. She shouldn't have made more of it, knowing better.
Swallowing her letdown, she refocused her thoughts on work as she rode into the city, alone. As usual.
Gabriel Rossat least, that was the name he was using for the momentmade it to his hotel still thinking about the woman on the plane. His lips kicked up into a smile as he thought about her, but he killed it. This was work. She was work.
Still, he was human. And male. Sitting so closely on the plane, he'd had more than one fantasy about how easy it would be to pick her up and do any number of arousing things to her, she was so petite. If he released her strawberry-blond hair from its sharply pulled back ponytail, how would it frame her heart-shaped face? How would she like to be kissed? How would she taste?
He'd love to find out what else made her blush. Watching her tightly rounded rear end as she walked ahead of him on the jet bridge had driven him crazy. He'd been close to asking her to dinner. Maybe for more than dinner.