Excuse me, ma’am, I’m about to toss my cookies. Could you get me something into which I could toss them?
Sir, I’d rather not ruin my Kate Spade bag by puking in it. Could you help me out? You’re too kind.
Even as I contemplate the politest way to ask one of the flight attendants for a barf bag, I mentally kick myself. I should’ve gotten a ginger ale before boarding my flight, not a caramel macchiato made mostly of whipped cream. I think my reasoning was that if I treated this event like any other and got a ridiculous coffee concoction like I always do, then this whole flying thing wouldn’t be a big deal.
Too bad I’d been so majorly wrong.
Sitting ramrod straight in my coach seat, I take a shaky breath, fists clenched, trying not to puke from sheer anxiety, that stupid macchiato dancing in my stomach like a manic Riverdancer. Oh God, I really, really, don’t want to throw up in my brand-new purse, but the barf bag that would normally be tucked into the pocket of the seat in front of me has been pilfered by my five-year-old neighbor. It and two others like it are covered with crayon scribbles courtesy of the the small child sitting in the middle seat next to me. It would probably be rude to puke on her or even inside one of her artistic masterpieces, but I’m not making any promises at this point.
The last time I flew, I was eight years old. It was a disaster. I was sick before the plane took off, and then while in the air—on a four-hour flight, no less—I couldn’t stop crying. I was convinced we were going to crash. The worst feeling was that I couldn’t get off the flight; I just had to wait until we were safely on the ground. By then, my parents were so exhausted that they promised they’d never, ever make me fly again.
Now I’m twenty-six, and my anxiety about flying hasn’t changed one bit.
Probably because flying is still the last thing human beings are supposed to be doing. People tell me you have a much higher risk of dying in a car crash, but if I drive, at least I’m the one at the wheel. On a plane? I just have to sit and hope for the best, something I obviously suck at.
I cover my mouth to stifle a hysterical laugh. The woman sitting in the window seat gives me a strange look and pulls her young daughter onto her lap.
I motion to the female flight attendant, who walks over to me with an eyebrow raised. “May I have a glass of water?” I croak.
The woman gives me a thin-lipped smile. “I’m sorry, but you’ll have to wait until we’re in the air.”
“Please, just some water. I’m feeling nauseous.”
The flight attendant looks like she’d rather do anything else, but she sighs and goes to get me that glass of water. She brings it back, and it’s lukewarm and smelling of disinfectant. I thank her before downing the glass. It helps my throat, but not much else.
As the flight attendants prepare for take off, I try to get my mind off the whole flying thing by reading Bella, a fashion magazine that will be featuring my clothing line. I own a boutique in Los Angeles, Talina, which has been getting great press, and I have a big shoot tomorrow. Bella’s editor in chief, Rebecca Harris, loves my stuff and this shoot with Bella is a huge deal. Normally I’d be taking in every ad between its glossy cover, with an eye for business and making notes on my next line. But now, it’s all colors and words that I can’t seem to read.
As the plane taxis down the runway, then begins to go faster down the track, I give up on reading. I grip the armrests until my fingers ache and I chant in my head, Don’t puke, don’t puke, don’t puke.
“Are you okay?” the woman next to me asks. At some point, she’d returned the little girl to her seat and they’re holding hands.
“I’m fine.” Why didn’t I bring something to calm me down? I’m an idiot. If I weren’t gripping the armrests for dear life, I’d slap my forehead in frustration.
I realize my breathing is coming in gasps. Am I going to have a full-on meltdown here? I bite my tongue, and luckily, the plane is making enough noise that no one but the woman next to me seems to notice my distress. Although I have a feeling she thinks I’m just a weirdo who doesn’t know how to inhale and exhale like a normal human.
When we’re finally in the air, my heart pounds and my breathing evens out a little bit. I’m still anxious and jumpy, but I can at least close my eyes for a second and pretend I’m on the ground. The blessed, beautiful ground.
The woman next to me talks to someone in the aisle behind us. I keep my eyes closed but then feel a touch on my arm.
“Sorry, were you sleeping?” the woman asks. When I shake my head, she says, “If you don’t mind, could you switch seats with my husband? They told us we had to wait until we were in the air, otherwise I would’ve asked earlier.” She smiles at me hopefully.
I grip the armrests again, and for some reason, the thought of getting up and standing in the aisle makes me dizzy. I can’t move. How can she ask me that? What if a hole opens up in the floor and I fall straight through it?
I shake my head again. “I can’t, sorry,” I say in a voice that’s embarrassingly curt. If I weren’t such a mess, I’d apologize, but I just look away when the woman is about to ask me a second time.
I hear her confer with her husband, who sounds irritated. I can’t blame him. I must seem like the biggest bitch alive.
“I can move,” a third voice says. “Me, too,” another male voice says. “There’s an empty seat in back.”
Before I know what’s happening, the woman and her little girl are inching out of the aisle (only good thing about being short is that I don’t have to get up to let her out) and then a man I’ve never seen before is standing over me.
“Wanna give me some room to get by?”
I start at the drawling voice. I look up to see a man who I can only describe as yummy. With dark hair and deep green eyes, he’s tall and muscular and has a jaw hewn from marble. He looks like a Greek statue, I realize. Hopefully not with all of the same proportions. Realizing I’m thinking about some strange guy’s dick, I stifle a laugh. Jesus, I’m hysterical, aren’t I?
“Uh,” I say helpfully.
The man frowns and squeezes between me and the seat in front of me, various body parts of his rubbing against various body parts of mine. Then before I know it he’s sitting beside me in the middle seat, crowding me with his hard, delicious body. I hear the woman and her daughter sit down behind us, but not without some muttering from her husband about shitty people being shitty.
I’m flabbergasted by what just happened, my mind still reeling, when the plane shakes slightly. Pulled back to reality, I barely stifle a moan of horror.
“What’s your name?” he asks me in a voice that’s just as dreamy as the rest of him.
I want to tell him we’re not at a networking event, but I’m already so embarrassed by my rudeness that I say, “Heather.”
“Ah. Not what I was expecting. From your behavior just now, ‘Brat’ seems more fitting.”
Eyes wide, I stare at him. Did he just—?
I focus my gaze on the seat in front of me.
Why did the hottest and yet most arrogant guy I’ve seen in ages have to sit next to me on the flight from hell? I almost shake my fist at the ceiling. What did I do to deserve this day?
“So, I’m just wondering. What kind of a woman says no to switching seats so a family can sit together?”
I glare at him even as his voice makes my body heat. I desperately tell myself it’s because my body is out of whack from my fear of flying and not because my propensity to be attracted to bad boys is rearing its ugly head again.
“Don’t get your feathers ruffled, Brat. I’m just wondering.”
“Don’t call me a brat.” I grind out the words. One second I’m drooling, the next I want to slap him.
He leans closer to me. “The moniker seems fitting for someone who obviously thinks way too highly of themselves. I’d say you need a good spanking, but something tells me you might enjoy it too much.”
I can’t speak. I inhale, but my heart’s pounding like I’ve run a marathon. I don’t know if I’m more turned on or pissed off. Actually, I think I’m both, but I won’t admit that to him.
“You, you…” I’m stuttering. I’ve been rendered an idiot. Could this day get any worse?
He laughs. “Like I said, don’t get your feathers ruffled. Even if they’re damn fine feathers.” He glances at my sliver of cleavage, his eyes heating.
My nipples, damn them, harden, and I know he sees it.
After slamming down the arm rest between us, I turn away, refusing to look at him anymore. But that doesn’t stop him from talking.
“You didn’t answer my question. What kind of a woman refuses to switch seats? Do you just hate people being together?”
I grind my teeth. “It’s none of your business.”
“Considering I’m the one who ended up switching seats, I think it is. Come on, I’m trying to understand how brats like you think.”
“Probably quite similar to how assholes think, so you should already know.”
He laughs, and the sound sends a shiver through me. “The brat has claws. I’m impressed.” He crowds me, and I realize with a start that he’s put the armrest up. His arm is touching my side. “Do you use those claws regularly? Because I find a little scratching always makes already enjoyable activities all the more enjoyable.”
I can’t help the images that come to mind: his hands skimming up my legs, touching me where I’m already hot and wet. His muscular back marked with scratch marks I put there.
I’m practically panting at this point. I studiously ignore him, though, and look out the window.
This time I can’t stifle my moan of fear when all I see are clouds.