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Second Chance Layover

By Sandra Bunino and Lila Shaw

Copyright 2013 Sandra Bunino and Lila Shaw

Smashwords Edition


Thank you for downloading this free ebook. Although this is a free book, it remains the copyrighted property of the authors, and may not be reproduced, copied and distributed for commercial or non-commercial purposes. If you enjoyed this book, please encourage your friends to download their own copy at Smashwords.com, where they can also discover other works by these authors. Thank you for your support.

This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either the products of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, organizations, persons, living or dead, or any other element is entirely coincidental.

SECOND CHANCE LAYOVER


Charli ~


An army of disgruntled passengers had settled in for a long wait in the gate’s packed waiting area. Without an empty seat in sight, I wrinkled my nose at bodies sitting and even lying on the worn carpeting. Didn’t they know about all the germs embedded in the carpet fibers? Gross.

At an unoccupied pillar, I converted my hot pink hard-sided carryon into makeshift chair. I fished my iPad out of my purse and refreshed the airline website.

Delayed.

The word blinked in red on my screen. Over the hum of activity, I heard a newscast from one of the overhead television monitors. A severe snowstorm had left its immobilizing effect from Canada and into the Midwest. I blew a long breath through pursed lips, imagining my mother’s rant: Abby and Erin arrived before the storm, because they had nonstop flights. Sure, because Abby and Erin married into money and didn’t work, not to mention worry about spending extra on nonstop flights. I scrimped to afford my midtown apartment, the exorbitant rent worth every penny.

I rubbed my left temple, laid my phone on my thigh, and scrolled to “Mommie Dearest” in my contacts. The reference always made me laugh, especially since it bugged my mother so much. Eileen Tierney’s parenting style was nothing like Joan Crawford’s, however she bore an uncanny resemblance to Faye Dunaway. Abby and Erin inherited her classic good looks and natural grace. The ‘perfect gene’ skipped me, the middle sister. I favored my father’s side of the family—good Irish potato growing stock with wide hips and the ability to drink most men under the table.

Phone to my ear, I pinched the bridge of my nose. “Hey Mom. I’m stuck at O’Hare on a layover...yes, the storm...I know...I had to work. Listen, I need to cut this short because I’m trying to save my phone battery. I’ll call when I know what time I’m due in. Love you.” I rapidly tapped the ‘End’ button. Did I imagine the ringing in my ears? I’d bet a million dollars my sisters and father were getting an earful of Eileen’s shrill voice. Duncan would be taking his sweet time in arriving as usual. I was always late; but my brother was always later, even though he never seemed to get reamed like I did. I guessed because he was my parents’ only hope of carrying on the Tierney name, not that enough Irish Tierneys didn't already walk the Earth.

I snapped open my suitcase and pulled out my laptop from a padded interior pocket before making a second call. After powering up, I switched back to my phone and scrolled to “Master of My Universe” in my contacts. With a chuckle, I hit the ‘Send’ button.

Henry picked up on the first ring. “I thought you were on vacation?”

I snorted. “Vacation is planting my ass in the sand with an umbrella drink. I’m going to the Tierney family ski condo, also known as hell. Let’s just say I'm on an anti-vacation.”

“Okay then, I thought you were on your anti-vacation.” His voice was flat, but I'd bet the store his mouth wore a hint of a smile.

“I’m stuck in another type of hell: O’Hare Airport. But good news, I have my laptop. Give me an assignment.”

Papers shuffled in the background, probably the ‘fluff piece’ pile on the corner of his desk. “Ah, I got something here. I was going to give it to Tiffany, but it’s perfect for your situation. There’s this website called Meet-And-Go dot com where you can meet random strangers at the same place such as airports, bars, museums, parks, whatever. Go on and see if you can hook up with someone at the airport.”

My eyes widened. “Hook up with someone at the airport? What? Are you pimping me out now, Henry?” I grinned picturing old Henry turning a deep shade of red.

“Not ‘hook up’ as in ‘hook up’. Go find a friend, Charli, then write about it. I’ll run the story as a human-interest piece. We need some fluff pieces next week. There’s always a lull between Christmas and New Years.”

“When am I going to get something with real meat?” I had paid my dues in research and editing. I was ready, but convincing everyone else was the challenge.

“Let’s see what you do with this, and we’ll talk after the New Year. Merry Christmas, Charli.” Click.

I typed the website into the address bar and hit ‘Enter.’ The shining point of this assignment? Stealing from Tiffany, the Queen of Fluff. She would have loved the assignment, loved yet another chance to flaunt her stuff.

I opened an account on Meet-And-Go.com and added enough personal information to give me access to the next screen. The long list of members’ claiming to be at O’Hare and looking to meet others amazed me. So many people on the site. Interesting.

The challenge lay in finding the one least likely to be a serial killer. Oh yes, players abounded on Meet-And-Go, pictures and all. Pass. I hated when people tried too hard. I scrolled down and scanned the list. Someone’s hometown of Upstate New York caught my eye, and I clicked on the profile for BroadwayBoundJD. Kind of skimpy. I guessed he shared my hesitancy about sharing personal information with strangers. I clicked on the message option and typed.

****

Cal~


Chicago O’Hare … it looked the same yet different from the last time I passed through. The bookstore had changed and so too had the fast food restaurants. The latest trendy franchises able to afford the exorbitant airport rental rates turned over with alarming frequency.

New faces were the same in their harried expressions as they moved from point A to point B, towing screaming kids on leashes or pushing them in strollers. Old-timers ambled arm and arm as if enjoying the sights and scenery of the Boardwalk at sunset. No doubt they had arrived at least two hours before their scheduled departure time from the cozy suburbs of Chicago. Crisp businessmen and women deftly side-stepped and dodged all of them with an efficiency borne from too many hours in airports.

I scanned my gate area. More people had arrived and filled in the seats near me. My laptop whirred in silent labor warming my thighs. Time to give the old girl a rest.

Attention. This is a flight announcement for Eastaway flight 4500 leaving gate A-56. Our airplane has just taken off from New York. Estimated time of arrival is three hours. Please check the monitor for future announcements as we may have a gate change due to weather.

Three hours? My groan formed a chorus with others’ seated near me. I checked my watch. Three o’clock. Assuming the plane arrived at six, and allowing another half hour to clear out the arriving passengers and their messes, I’d be in my assigned seat by six-thirty. If we needed de-icing or O’Hare takeoffs were backed up, I might spend another hour inching toward the head of the runway. Wheels up at seven thirty and a three-hour flight to LaGuardia would put me in at ten thirty. Half hour to get my bag and catch a cab. Another half hour to Will’s house. During the day, I’d allow at least an hour. The half hour savings provided little consolation for the three-hour delay.

I rubbed a hand over my brow pondering my options. I had a long time to mull over my choices. A distraction from my thoughts would be welcome. Maybe a book or magazine and a coffee. Perhaps a movie? I had time for an entire movie on a rented DVD player.

I could also erase my memories over a drink or two or three. No. That wouldn’t work. I had tried it already. The only thing alcohol overdosing did was make me stupid, and then sick. Stupid could strand me at the airport even longer. With my back already sore from the L.A. to Chicago leg, my muscles twitching from inactivity, I dismissed imbibing altogether.

I scanned the area, drinking in the faces of my fellow travelers. An elderly man sat across from me chatting on his cell phone in a voice stripped of all discretion. Two seats over, a teen slumped down in his seat, ear buds firmly in place and his eyes shut. At least I think they were shut. Hard to tell with a canopy of bangs covering most of his face. The only sign of life from the boy was the rhythmic jiggling of a leg. If I cocked an ear in his direction, the faint rumbling bass of his music wormed its way into my brain. Next to him, a bottle blonde, middle-aged woman, probably the boy’s mother, flipped the pages of a celebrity gossip magazine. Her nails flashed by with each turn of the page—zebra print with red tips. Good God. As if the magazine weren’t bad enough.

An old unwelcome wave of anxiety washed over me. I hated those magazines—predatory, vicious, and unforgiving.

No. I wouldn’t think about her. My brain had grooves worn from too many “what if” and “if only” musings. Those types of thoughts did no good, and it was past time to let them go. I would let them go, and making a new home far away from the festering malaise was step one.

A white card near my foot caught my eye. I’d seen them around, stuck in the nooks and crannies of the airport vying for the nanosecond attention spans of bypassers.

Meet-And-Go.com…the great place and way for busy travelers to meet.

I rolled my eyes and flipped over the card. Say goodbye to airport boredom!

Well, there was that.

A smart code on the corner tempted me to scan it with my phone, to bring up the website…just for shits and giggles. No big whoop. Curiosity. I doubted I would find many women other than barflies, cougars and hookers…mostly hookers. The men were probably the same pervs skulking about the restrooms. No, thank you. I only played on one team and had never been interested in sampling the other.

My phone chimed as it scanned the code and pulled up the website. No harm in setting up an anonymous account just to see how many people participated.

A few keystrokes and BroadwayBoundJD in O’Hare was born. Let the ladies figure that handle out. The smarter ones might guess my occupation as an entertainment lawyer heading for New York City. The larger truth was I had deserted Hollywood for New York’s publishing community, film rights specifically. The much more personal truth was I was fleeing ghosts. I’d never believed in hauntings before. I believed in them now, the ones whose faint sobbing gasps in the still moments between sleeping and waking filled me with crushing guilt. The ones with sad, weary faces who pointed accusing fingers.

I shook off my melancholy. I’d entertained those self-destructive thoughts long enough. They had far overstayed their welcome, and my therapist had warned that dwelling on them did me no good. Like I couldn’t have figured that out on my own versus paying $240 an hour to be given common sense platitudes.

Cal ~


With the press of a keystroke, I alerted the other bored and lonely travelers of O’Hare that BBJD was in the building. My location within the airport, I left blank. No point making myself a bluelight special before vetting out the clientele. Clingy, needy women were not my thing; neither was a quick, anonymous fuck in an airport. God knew I'd never been that desperate to get off.

Instantly, a list of screen names popped up—Anonymous, BabsAtLarge, Chartier, DaveS, FlyMeBaby, LonelyInIL, Sam, Sheila, WetNWild, and on and on. At least twenty screen names, ranging from the provocative to the mundane, filled my smart phone’s window. I scrolled through them and clicked on Chartier who had classified herself as a 25-35 female. Best to stick with my own age range, I supposed. She also claimed to be from the same part of the country as myself. We would have at least one thing to talk about…if I contacted her.

Maybe later.

A familiar antsiness took over and propelled me to my feet.

I walked the full length of my terminal. Twice. The adjoining terminal received an equally thorough tour until bored, I returned to my assigned gate. The faces hadn’t changed much during my absence.

My smart phone alerted me to a message. Meet-And-Go.com filled the sender window, “Someone wants to meet you” occupied the subject line. I clicked open the notification expecting my someone to be WetNWild or LonelyInIL Instead Chartier pleasantly surprised me by making contact. The link provided took me back to the website and into my inbox.

“Hi. I’m here in O’Hare and my flight is delayed. Isn’t everyone’s? Never done this before so am not familiar with any Meet-And-Go.com etiquette. Saw your listing and noticed we’re both from the same part of NY. Message back if you want to chat over coffee.”

Hmm. Was it karma that the one other person whose link I clicked was the one who happened to contact me? I was due some good karma for a change.

I switched over to my tablet. If we corresponded more in writing, a larger keyboard would work much better.

“Hi Chartier. Spotted your listing and also noticed the NY connection. Coffee sounds fine. I’m in terminal D. I saw a shop nearby but can meet you wherever is convenient for you.”

I clicked send and kicked back in my seat. One coffee wouldn’t hurt. I could drink it quickly if I needed to make a quick escape. I hadn’t mentioned the length of my layover or my destination. Easy escape excuse fodder. She might not even contact me back, might have only been dipping a toe.

***

Charli ~


I shifted to lean on my left butt cheek while waiting for BroadwayBoundJD’s response. Great, pins and needles attacked my foot. I needed to get up soon before both feet fell asleep. A beep sounded from my laptop and message alert blinked on the screen. I smiled, excited my stranger had replied so fast. I scanned his message and tapped out a response to seal the deal. This was kind of fun in a weird way.

“Hi Broadway, I’m in D too and I need a change of scenery. I passed a coffee shop around Gate 10 so I’ll meet you there. I’m dragging a carryon the color of Pepto. Doubt if you’ll miss me.”

Stretching my legs I tapped my high-heeled boot on the floor to wake up my extremity. I considered changing into the shearling lined Uggs tucked away in my carryon, but remembered Tiffany’s last report on the shoes men love and hate. According to Tiff, Uggs made the hate list along with Crocks as the unsexiest shoes ever. What’d they like? Pointy-heeled stilettos, of course. I stood and re-tested my sleepy foot. I pulled my phone from the inside pocket of my purse and poked the redial button. Henry picked up after the first ring.

“Hey. I have a hookup on Meet-And-Go dot com. His profile name is BroadwayBoundJD, so, on the off chance I end up in an airport dumpster, he’s your prime suspect.”

A chuckle erupted in my ear. “BroadwayBound doesn’t sound too sinister to me. What’s he going to do? Dance and sing you to death?”

I rolled my eyes. “Do you hear me laughing?”

“Go enjoy yourself, but more important, get me a good story.”

I slid my phone back into the pocket and stored my laptop in the carryon. After shaking out the last of the pins and needles from my semi-asleep foot, I flipped up the handle of my carryon and headed toward Gate 10.

People do this all the time, I told myself as the flashing neon coffee sign came into view. I took a deep breath and scanned the small space. A guy sitting by himself should have been easy to spot, however with all the stranded travelers, what if the shop was full of them? Why didn’t I get a description of this dude? I blew a frustrated breath upward, sending a stray lock of hair fluttering off my forehead.

My mother’s disappointed expression entered my head. I guessed I considered her to be the voice of reason. Who else did I have? As crazy as it seemed, I was the sanest one of my friends. Hussies filled the entertainment news industry. Most of my social circle wouldn’t think twice about a random hook up. In fact, after my story ran, a few would probably hop a cab to JFK for a quickie.

I must’ve looked like a royal loser as I stood near the entrance while people whizzed past me, focused on their own agendas. Everyone was so time-driven at airports. This was a stupid idea. I turned and started back to my gate. I couldn't pull off this kind of story. I should have left the fancy stuff to Tiffany and stuck with back office research and copyediting.

“Charli?”

I swung around, and my long hair hit me in the cheek. A man waved as he headed toward me. I was a bit nearsighted but refused to wear my glasses for anything but driving. I cocked my head squinting. Something familiar about his voice and gait struck me as he strode my way. I knew him, but from where? I focused on his features and searched his eyes for clues.

“Charli Tierney, I thought that was you.”

As though my body recognized him before my brain registered his identity, heat crept up my neck and into my cheeks. “Cal?”

***

Cal ~


It was Charli, but she hadn’t recognized me, not at first anyway. Had it been that long?

Wow! She had really changed, for the better, not that she was a woofer when we were kids, but a kid sister was mostly how I remembered her. She wasn’t a kid anymore. Had I not glimpsed her face first and recognized the way she leaned as she walked, like the job of dragging the world forward was her job alone, I never would have guessed. I would have noticed though.

Charli had definitely shed the little bit of baby fat I remembered. She had grown up. And out. And in. And out again. Like God had started with a roly-poly ball of clay before sculpting her into a masterpiece. My eyes traced the pleasing hourglass shape of her figure as I walked toward where she stood staring.

The hair was the same—caramel blonde and plenty of it—but gone were the braids from the days when she tried to sneak into Duncan’s and my Boys Only club. Gone was the color-coordinated scrunchy she wore to corral it in high school. In those days, whenever I got too close, she either skittered away—too cool for the likes of her older brother’s best friend—or she skewered me with a barb. Cal, Erkel called. He wants his high waters back. Do you wake up stupid or does it slowly overpower you as the day progresses?

I smiled at the memory flashes she evoked. Smiling prevented my tongue from hanging out. Duncan would fuck me over good if he caught me even licking my lips in Charli’s direction. If I had a three-way with his other two sisters, I doubted he'd bat an eyelash. Charli, however, always brought out his defcon level ten over-protectiveness.

Damn. Better stop staring at her breasts!

“I thought that was you!” I said. To my relief, she finally smiled and pulled me into a hug. Her breasts disappeared from sight, but I could feel them, and much worse, every warm, lithe inch of the body pressed against mine. Her hair tickled my cheek. Get a grip, man! She’s off limits even in your head.

“Oh my God, Cal. What a small world seeing you here, of all places. Are you headed home to L.A.?”

“Home yes, but in the other direction—to New York...eventually.” I released a loud sigh. “The weather’s keeping me here at O’Hare a bit longer than I’d like though. Are you heading back home too?”

She shook her head, her blonde hair skimmed her shoulders and shimmered in the light. “I’m heading to Aspen. The whole Tierney clan will be there if I can get myself out of O’Hare first.” A husky laugh chased her statement curling her mouth at its edges and crinkling the corners of her eyes.

“Oh yeah! The famous Tierney family Christmas ski vacation. Duncan took me one year. God, you are a sight for sore eyes. I was so bored, you wouldn’t believe how bored ... well, never mind.” I bit back the words. No way would I mention Meet-And-Go or Chartier. I thumbed over my shoulder at the coffee shop. “You got time to sit and chat?”

The coffee shop. Uh-oh. What would I do if Chartier showed up? She probably wouldn’t, and I hadn’t told her what I looked like. I owed her a quick text at least. I’d tell her my flight got moved up or something. No harm, no foul and no bad karma to chase me into the skies.

Charli opened her mouth, shut it again and paused, a shadow passing over face. “Yes. I have plenty of time to chat, but if you don’t mind, I need to use the ladies room first.”

“Sure. I’ll get the drinks ordered. What should I order for you? My treat.”

A hint of color flushed her cheeks. “You don’t have to do that—”

“I know, but I want to. What can I get you? Something hot or something cold?” I winked at her. Why the hell did I wink at her? No flirting!

She licked her lips and said, “Nonfat latte then.”

I nodded. “One nonfat latte coming up. I’ll grab us a table if I can. Otherwise I’ll wait outside the door and we’ll find a couple of seats elsewhere.”

“Okay, be right back.” She spun and wove her way through the crowd toward the ladies room, no trace of a lean in her posture. The sway of her hips and the flashes of red on the soles of her high-heeled boots mesmerized me until she disappeared inside.

When my stupor wore off, I removed my cell phone and took my place at the end of the line. I tapped out a text to my mysterious Meet-And-Go assignation, making sure to invoke no embarrassing auto-correct gaffes:

“Can’t make it after all. Got an earlier flight. Sorry. BroadwayBoundJD.”

I hoped I didn’t come off too abrupt, but we didn’t know each other. I didn't owe her anything more than a courtesy text. I had no sooner hit send, when an incoming text chimed.

“Apologies but my plans changed, and I have to cancel. Safe travels to you. Chartier.

I chuckled under my breath, deleted her message and slipped my phone back in my pocket. Sorry Chartier. Charli trumped a stranger any day, week or year.

***

Charli ~


There were plenty of other lonely travelers at O’Hare to keep BroadwayBound occupied for a while. I was sure he was probably already scrolling through the list as I stood staring at my reflection in the mirror.

Holy crap, Cal Wheaton. How long since I'd last seen him? I closed my eyes and did the mental math. Ten years. He had changed so much, I barely recognized him. I had a crush on him when we were kids, even though I never let that fact on to him or Duncan.

Cal’s appearance had certainly changed over the past ten years. His chest and shoulders filled his button down shirt nicely, a hint of well formed biceps strained the fabric in all the right places. His year round, L.A. tan favored his dark features.

I examined my pale face in the glaring artificial light. I overslept and hadn’t enough time for my normal makeup ritual. I pinched my cheeks to bring some color to the surface. I’d seen Tiffany do the same before talking to Brock, the new hottie at the station. Pinching made me look like I had a weird rash. Great. I dug to the bottom of my purse for the emergency tube of cranberry tinted lip gloss and a stray Tic Tac. Thank goodness the breath mint gods were on my side. I found and popped a Tic Tac into my mouth. After giving my hair a good fluff, I headed back to the coffee shop.

I spotted him before he noticed my return. I used the couple of spare seconds to leisurely give him a good once over. His knee bounced under the booth table. His body wore a tense stress I didn’t recall him having. His eyes flicked from the menu to me, like he sensed me studying him.

Sadness peeked through the mask of his smile. His eyes still crinkled at the corners. Cal always smiled with his eyes, a look I’d never forget. He waved me over, and I rolled my ridiculously pink carryon to the table. 



“Pink, huh? I don’t remember you as much of a pink girl, but apparently that seems to be the vogue color these days,” he said, handing me a menu.



I snorted. “Got it on sale. I can always pick it out at baggage claim when I check it during longer trips, when I can’t be without my favorite hair products.” I glanced over the menu filled with usual fattening coffee shop fare. “What are you having?”



“I already ordered you a latte, but you wanna split a cinnamon bun?”



My tastebuds went into overdrive, flooding my mouth at the thought of gooey goodness smothered with icing. Unfortunately, I may as well attach the bun to my ass because that was where it would end up.

“Just the latte’s fine.” I smile and studied his face. “I can’t believe it’s been ten years.”



“I know. Seems like just yesterday your brother and I raced you to our clubhouse.” He chuckled.

“Yeah, you said if I beat you, you’d let me in. Do you remember what I used to ask?”

A grin passed over his lips, and he crossed his arms like I used to do. “Do I get a head start?”



I laughed. “You bastards never gave me one.”



His eyes met mine. “I was so stupid back then.”


A glint of wonder in his eyes made me lose my train of thought. I cleared my throat as the waitress stopped at the table to take our order. Cal rattled off our order, which gave my brain time enough to recover from its lusty hiccup. “I hear you’re a big time LA lawyer now. You must’ve traded your motorcycle for a shiny red convertible,” I said when the waitress left our table.

“You still remember that bucket of bolts?” His eyes widened, brows hiked up.

“Remember? How could I forget that summer you and Duncan got it running. I thought my father was going to kill Duncan for all of the grease stains on the driveway.”

The waitress brought the cinnamon bun wearing an extra few tablespoons of icing. She spent a little too much time refilling Cal’s coffee cup. The diversion gave me a chance to recall how I’d rush to the window every time the rusty motor chugged to a rest in front of my house, an almost daily occurrence. I used to fantasize about Cal swinging open the front door and taking my hand in his. He led me to the motorcycle where I straddled the seat and nuzzled my cheek against his back. I wrapped my arms around his waist. The heat from his body radiated through his thin t-shirt, touching me in places I had never been touched.

“Earth to Charli.”

A flash of metal from the fork he waved in front of my eyes returned me to the present.

“Want a taste?” He raised his eyebrows, forcing my brain down a more grown up trail of impure thoughts.

Charli ~


Heat traveled up my neck and settled into my cheeks. I tried to hide the flush of my cheeks by resting my elbows on the table and cradling the coffee cup in front of my face “Oh, no thanks. You know what they say. A moment on the lips a lifetime on the hips.” Crap. That just went down as one of the most stupid things I’d ever said to a man. My cheeks must’ve been a bright shade of Santa Claus red.

Cal chewed the first bite, and his eyes widened. “Mmm, so good. Here, try. One piece won’t hurt.”

He used his fork to slice a triangle of the warm bun, which he dunked into the gooey icing before offering it to me. I leaned over the table and inhaled the sugar and spice aroma. I opened and slid my lips over the fork, taking the warm morsel into my mouth. Oh, he was right. So good. I closed my eyes and groaned. When I reopened them he was staring at my mouth.

Like a shot of tequila, the influx of sugar made me brave. It helped I was about to board a flight in a few hours and might never see him again for another ten years, if ever. “You know, I had such a puppy dog crush on you back in the day.”

He chuckled. “I thought you hated me. You used to tease me like crazy.”

“Yeah, I remember. You gave it right back though. But when I got to high school you and Duncan looked out for me.”

“Duncan looked out for you; I was just there for backup.” He chuckled and began tackling the second half of the bun. He pointed with his fork. “Want to know something I never told you?”

“Okay.”

“During my senior year I was going out with–”

“Loose Lucy!” I squealed, remembering the girl I wanted to kick in the shins every time she walked by me in the hall.

Cal snorted. “Oh yeah, that’s what you used to call her.”

I rolled my eyes. “That’s what everyone used to call her.”

He nodded knowingly. “I guess there was something to that. Anyway, she broke up with me right before the senior formal and I didn’t have a date. I asked Duncan if I could take you.”

I opened my mouth. “You did? What did he say?”

“He said if I did, he’d kick my ass. So I didn’t.”

“Wow. I had no idea.” I wondered what would’ve happened if we had gone to the formal together. I glanced up into eyes that seemed to be thinking the same thing. I cleared my throat. “You did a nice job on the cinnamon bun. So what should we do now to kill time?”

He pushed away his plate and took his smart phone from his pocket. “Want to play a game?”

“A game?” I laughed. He suddenly reminded me of the Cal from ten years ago.

“Yeah. I heard of this new geo tracking app.” He put his phone in the middle of the table and swiped his finger over the on button. I glanced down and spied the Meet-And-Go.com site on the screen. No way.

“Were you on Meet-And-Go dot com too? So was I, in fact I was–” My eyes flicked to his. “Wait. You’re not BroadwayBound, are you?”

He let out a hearty chuckle and slapped a palm against the table. “I don’t believe it. This must be the weirdest thing to ever happen to me. Nice to meet you, Chartier.”

My jaw dropped even further. I slowly shook her head, my eyes pinched shut. When I opened them again, we locked gazes and our laughter slowly tapered off. To whatever deity or mystical force responsible for throwing this man in my path again, I offered a silent but heartfelt ‘thank you’. To Cal, I simply said, “I guess we were destined to meet here one way or another.”

He continued to stare at me, his smile growing wider and deeper, blooming over his face until his eyes sparkled and threw off tiny creases in the corners. The sadness I had thought I had seen before evaporated.

I couldn’t help but grin back and warmed in places other than my cheeks. I pointed to his phone. “Okay, show me what you got.”

***

Cal ~


I checked the coordinates Charli texted me again. My phone’s GPS app put me in the general area where she should be. The only clue she had given me besides the coordinates was “Have a sip of water.” I spun in a circle scanning the area. A pair of men’s and women’s lavatories on the right with two water fountains between them offered the most likely hiding places given her clue. But where was my mischievous treasure?

I picked my way through the human currents running perpendicular to the direction I needed to travel. Advance. Pause. Step back. Pause. Step left. Advance, just like that old video game, Frogger.

Finally I reached the water fountains. Those had to be the water sips she meant and not that I needed to invade the ladies room or that she was hiding in the men’s room.

An old memory of Charli wormed its way into the present. I was fifteen. Back then, her brother Duncan’s room offered the best hangout on bad weather days when no adult would chauffeur us anywhere. Duncan had a better stereo, a better dirty magazine collection, better everything. He also had a pesky little sister who liked to hide and spy. Duncan had three sisters, but only one gave me grief, the same one deviling me with GPS coordinates not leading me to her, my living, urban geocache.

While that Charli might have hidden in the men’s room, visions of a very grown up Charli huddled in the handicapped stall, perched on the toilet seat encroached into ridiculous territory. On the other hand, no one I knew but Charli had the guts to do something so crazy. No doubt she was snickering, pressing a hand against her mouth to keep as silent as possible. Perhaps I only needed to listen for her to give herself away.

I tiptoed into the men’s room and scanned the stalls. None of the doors were closed all the way, but I pushed them open one by one. All empty. Reversing my tracks and ignoring the puzzled faces of the men watching me from the urinals, I headed to the water fountain.

The anemic water pressure made taking a sip of water a risky business. As I ducked my head to the water, I spied a tiny post-it note tucked between the edge of the fountain and the wall.

Good Job! Read any good books lately?

A rush of adrenaline made my insides tingle and put a smile on my face. Behind me, and opposite the lavatories, sat a bookstore. Of course. She was probably watching me right now.

Not yet, Charli.

Rising, I made a big show of glancing all around and scratching my head before ambling down the concourse. I melted into the crowd until out of the line of vision for anyone inside the bookstore. A nearby vending machine offered the perfect blind from which to wait and spy.

Sure enough, within a few seconds Charli emerged from the bookstore and cut her way through the crowd to the water fountains. She paused, took a drink, and then darted into the ladies restroom. Time to go. I hightailed it to the bookstore, praying the whole time she wouldn’t pop back out and bust me. I hid between some shelving units near the front. A few relocated paperbacks and I had created the perfect spyhole out into the concourse.

My cell phone chimed with an incoming text. Shit! Should have silenced the damn thing. Aha!

“Dude. I’m going gray waiting for you 2 find me.”

I dashed off a taunt of: “I’m hot on your trail.

“Right. If you don’t find me in 10, you forfeit.”

I had to stifle my laugh when she emerged from the ladies room, and after a quick glance right and left, trotted into the bookstore. My heart pounded as I waited for her to draw even with my hiding spot.

The clicking of heels and the purr of a roller bag gave her away.

With expert timing, I lunged out, grabbed her hand, and tugged her into my secluded nook.

“And this is how you find a moving cache!” I said laughing.

She giggled and charged me, her fists thumping against my chest with what I knew to be mock fury. “Damn. I thought I had you!”

I caught her wrists and pulled her against me, both of us still laughing. Her soft body fit perfectly against mine, warm and pliant. Our racing hearts, pressed together through the fabric of our clothing, seemed to synchronize to a common rhythm. I’d never wanted to kiss a woman so desperately in my life, especially if she kept looking at me like that.

She would soon be jetting west while I headed east, and who knew how long it would be before the next time we saw each other. After all, it had been over ten years since the last time. Destiny might have thrown her in my path, but karma wasn’t done collecting my debts. Charli hadn’t asked me about Renata yet.

The drifting voice of a woman urging her husband to hurry, coupled with her announcement of the time, broke the moment. My time in O’Hare had trickled down to minutes. I hadn’t even noticed the passing time thanks to the woman in my arms. With searing regret, I released her.

“Um, I have to go catch my plane,” I said quietly.

Cal ~


Charli, looking almost as flustered as I felt, checked her watch. “Oh my goodness! Me too!”

What’s your gate? I’m at H-10 in Terminal 3.” In our geocaching fun, we had somehow meandered to Terminal 5 where all the international flights arrived and departed. Typical Charli to go exotic on me.

Charli tapped on her phone bringing up a digital image of her boarding barcode. She always was a smarty-pants. I still hadn’t developed enough trust to abandon paper boarding passes.

“I’m flying out of gate K-11, also in Terminal 3. I guess we better get a move on.” She tacked on a smile full of beautiful white teeth surrounded by a pair of lush red lips.

A primitive urge rose up and began stirring my hormone pot. I would be having some vivid dreams tonight. But now was not the time. I motioned for her to precede me out of the bookstore’s narrow aisle and out into the concourse. My eyes drifted to the pert ass swaying with every step she took in her heels. With a pang of regret, I abandoned the view and moved to walk beside her.

We chatted about the weather and how long before we thought our flights would de-ice. We took bets on the number of times we would have to be de-iced before taking off. When the unspoken regret of parting ways began to weigh heavy, Charli piped in with a change of subject: “So how’s Renata doing? Is everything okay with her.”

Had she read my mind and plucked out the one topic I dreaded discussing but couldn't avoid?

“I mean, I emailed her several times but never heard back from her. All my calls went to her voicemail and she never returned them. I finally gave up.”

“How long ago was this?”

Charli shot me sidelong glance, full of tentative delicacy, like she wanted to ask so much more but tiptoed through a landmine field. I wondered how much she already knew.

“About a year ago. I finally gave up. Duncan said you guys hadn’t been in touch in awhile either so he had no idea.”

I steered her to the side and out of the flow of human traffic. “Listen. There's no right way to tell you this other than to just state it flat out. Renata’s dead, Charli.” How I managed to convey the news and keep a hitch out of my voice, I had no idea.

Charli’s hand flew to her chest. “What! Oh my God! When did this happen?”

I gave up the last breath holding my secrets in check. “She started dying about a year and a half ago.”

Started dying?” She gasped and covered her mouth with her hand. “Was it cancer?”

“Of a sort. You knew she tried to make a career in Hollywood, right?” I hoped Charli knew at least some of the preamble, because the less I had to rehash, the better.

“She mentioned wanting to be an actress, many times, of course she did. What happened?”

I scraped my hand over my face. “She moved to L.A., had some minor success at first, but it wasn’t enough. She sank into a depression and turned to... self-medication—”

“What? Like drugs?”

Drugs, sex, cutting. I tried to get her to get some help, but the people she hung out with ... they kept dragging her back down.”

“Oh, how awful. I wish I’d known,” Charli said softly. “How did she die?”

“A drug overdose, a lethal mixture.” I left out that Renata had been doing porn for her drugs. I found all that out later. The filmmakers kept her stoned, cultivated her habit. It would be a mercy to Charli and to Renata’s memory to keep that part of her life locked away. Charli also didn’t need the details of how my little sister danced on the boundary between life and death for nearly two weeks before I made the difficult decision to remove her from life support and watch her die. “I’m just so sick of Hollywood, of the entertainment industry, of film and television, of the leeches who prey off on girls like my sister.”

Charli pulled me into an embrace. “I’m so sorry, Cal. That’s why you decided to move back to New York?”

I nodded.

***

Charli ~


Died? Overdose? The news hit me like a ton of bricks. I couldn't believe Renata got caught up in such a horrific downward spiral. She was a couple of years younger than me, but we became pretty close in high school.

“I wished I had done a better job at staying in touch with her. Maybe I could’ve helped in some way,” I said quietly.

“I doubt you could’ve done anything.”

“Damn. Too many girls who fall into that trap; it’s easy to get caught up in the glamour.”

He glared at me. “Glamour? Shit, Charli. Watching Renata destroy herself and waste away to nothing was not my idea of glamour.”

“That’s not what I meant. Look, I’m in the entertainment business, too. I know what goes on—how young girls are forced to starve and quickly drop weight to get a job on camera. I know it too well. I’ve been told if I have any chance in getting on camera for our magazine’s cable TV channel I’d need to lose twenty pounds. I tried too. Unsuccessfully, obviously.” I snorted and rubbed my hips.

His eyes softened. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to snap at you. Renata's death is still really raw for me. She was perfect the way she was, and,” he cupped my cheek, “you are too.” His husky voice dug through me and my eyes flicked to his.

Attention. Flight 1097 to Aspen will board in ten minutes.

Charli ~


“That’s my flight,” I whispered.

Cal's touch left my face, and he took a step back. His Adam’s Apple bobbed as he swallowed hard. Had he been about to kiss me? “Good to see you, Charli.” He leaned over and pulled me into a one-armed hug, and kissed the top of my head. Like he would do to a little sister. “I’ll give you a call after the holidays.”

I hesitated. I wanted to link my hands around his neck and give him a kiss he’d never forget, like one of those dramatic breathless kisses the leading lady gave her hero in the movies. I certainly wasn’t looking leading ladylike standing awkwardly staring up at him with nothing to do but nod in acknowledgement. He winked and left me to board my flight. A shiver zipped up my spine as I watched him walk away.

The chatter of the people standing too close jarred me back to reality. My few hours in Cal’s and my private world had come to an end. Time to grudgingly shuffle onto an overcrowded airplane to spend the holidays in overcrowded condo with my family. I walked to the cattle line waiting to board.

***

Cal ~


A collective groan sounded throughout the terminal nearly drowning out the rest of the announcement. No flights would be taking off that night. The runways had been closed due to a losing battle with snow and ice accumulation.

Great.

I sprinted to the nearest ticket agent, and after a solid fifteen minute wait, got my tickets for a flight out the next day.

My mind shifted to the lone bright spot: Charli Tierney. I pulled out my phone and dialed her number. The call went directly to voice mail. I smiled at her goofy message and wondered if our game had used up the battery life of her phone. Worried that she’d be left stranded without her phone, I quickly scanned the gates as I dodged frustrated travelers.

Aspen. Bingo!

I craned my neck over the crowd of people hoping I hadn’t missed her. I smiled when I spotted a familiar blonde dragging an obnoxious pink carry-on and moving away from an agent's counter. She stared at her phone, oblivious to my approach.

“Hey, that thing works better if you turn it on.”

***

Charli ~


I whipped my head around, relieved to hear his voice. “Cal.” I glanced back at my phone and blew out a deep breath. “I’m just delaying the inevitable. You know, the call to Mommie Dearest. Somehow this will all be my fault.”

“She can’t possibly blame the Nor’easter on you.”

“Not the storm, but she’ll say I should’ve left earlier. She’ll bring up how my brother and sisters found ways to get to Aspen on time.”

“Is Duncan there yet?”

“He wasn’t when I called a few hours ago, but he probably is by now. Why?”

“Give me his number,” he said with a smirk.

I narrowed my eyes but gave him the number. Shit, I’d do anything if it’d save me from the wrath of my mother.

He waggled his eyebrows, and I giggled. He put his finger to my mouth and shushed me.

“Hey Duncan, my old friend. You know who this is?...Yes…Hey man, how’ve you been?...Well, funny thing just happened. Guess who I bumped into at O’Hare?...Uh, huh…yup.” He laughed and nodded his head. “Listen, they closed the airport and no more flights are leaving today. Charli’s phone died, and she’s with a ticket agent trying to get a flight out tomorrow morning. She feels horrible about being so late. Can you let your mother know? Yeah, thanks. I’m moving back to New York, so let’s get together after the holidays…Yes, of course, man…I’ll take care of Charli. She’ll call tomorrow. Okay … talk to you later.”

Cal winked and tapped his phone.

I breathed a sigh of relief. “I owe you my life.”

“I’ll settle for you having dinner with me, but first let’s get a place to spend the night. There's a hotel in the next terminal. We'll check in and get dinner, stay ahead of or avoid the crowds.”

“Yeah, right. The hotel is probably booked by now. I was about to lay claim on those chairs against the wall before they’re taken. Come on, there’s enough room for both of us.” I took his hand and turned toward a group of unoccupied chairs, but he wouldn’t move. My hand slipped from his.

“No need to do that. The firm I work for has a deal with the hotel chain. I reserved two rooms on the chance we weren’t getting out of here tonight.”

I cocked my head and smiled. “Really?”

He laughed. “I always prepare for contingencies. And I never joke about a hot shower and warm bed. Let’s go,” he said holding out his hand.

I slipped my hand into his and looked away as my grin broadened. So this is what it felt like having someone look after you. I liked the feeling. I liked it a lot.

Charli ~


Cal's firm must have clout because we used the priority check in and whizzed right past the line of tired travelers. I peeked over at Cal as I checked in, admiring not only how deliciously he filled out his jeans, but also how sweet he was with the older woman behind the counter as he checked in. Our eyes met and he winked at me. I waited until he finished, and we walked to the elevator together.

“All set?” he asked.

“Yup. I’m in 312.” The elevator doors opened and we stepped in.

“I’m in 535. How about we get settled into our rooms and meet back down here in fifteen minutes for dinner. Are you hungry?” He gave me a look that made me think of anything but food. I stared back at him. The door opened and a couple with a crying baby walked in between us.

I stepped out of the elevator and mumbled something about meeting him downstairs in a few. Walking to my room, I glanced back to the sinful look in his eyes. I didn’t have too much experience in the ‘I want to rip your clothes off’ stare, at least directed at me. But I’d have bet a million he had just sent one in my direction. The butterflies doing flips in my stomach urged me to let him and do the same to him. I dragged my carryon through the door, turned on the light and sat on the bed.

No, I couldn’t do that. I laughed and headed to the bathroom with the toothbrush and paste the front desk gave me. The thought that entered my head was something Tiffany would do, not boring, predictable Charli. I turned on the water and unwrapped the bar of facial soap. Lathering the soap in my hands I thought of how my fingers would feel as they raked through his hair and ran down his back to his delectable ass. I washed and rinsed my face and stared at myself in the mirror. “What the hell,” I said to the reflection as I finished patting my face dry with a hand towel. I gave my teeth a quick brush and added an extra dab of toothpaste to the back of my tongue before finding my phone.

Booty calls. I’d never made one. I turned on my phone and decided a booty text was much safer. I selected his number and after much thought, tapped out:

I’m not hungry for food.

I groaned after I hit send. What if I’d read his signals all wrong? What if I had just made a world-class fool of myself? The good news was I could slip out of the hotel undetected tomorrow morning and hide out in the terminal until my flight. I wouldn't have to see him again, even if we lived in the same city. New York City's hugeness almost guaranteed it.

***

Cal ~


Stupid key card took five swipes before the gremlin-infested contraption finally conceded defeat. Whatever happened to good old-fashioned skeleton keys? Electronic hotel keys and I had always had a love-hate relationship. Good thing the room justified the hassle.

I hoped Charli liked hers. If I’d had bigger balls, I’d have only mentioned a single room. Charli was nobody’s kid sister anymore. She had grown up independent and beautiful, and so sexy and desirable I ached thinking about her.

Back in the terminal, I had wanted to kiss her so badly, but what did she want? She took the offer of the second room without a second’s hesitation. Had I only imagined what I wanted to see in her eyes?

My phone chimed with an incoming text, probably the airline with an update for tomorrow’s departure. I pulled my phone out of my pocket, read the message and frowned.

Charlie had texted me, but what the hell did her message mean? She was standing me up for dinner? Did she get a better offer? From who? Shit!

I read her message again.

Wait a second. There was a Grand Canyon-sized difference between “I’m not hungry” and “I’m not hungry for food” depending on a man’s perspective. Those last two words offered much more room for interpretation.

“Oh Charli, baby... do you mean what I think you mean?”

My dick piped up and assured me she did.

“Down boy!” I muttered. Only one way to find out. My fingers flew across the keys typing, Lots of different kinds of hunger.”

No. That sounded like I wanted to debate. I clicked and held down the erase key until all the letters so artlessly splattered on my screen disappeared into cyber-nothingness.

How about a drink then?” I typed. We had agreed to meet in fifteen minutes. If she wasn’t hungry, maybe she simply meant she wanted a drink. I could test the waters, make sure we were on the same page without seeming like a complete jerk if we weren’t.

My dick twitched with irritation. If the dumb beast could talk it would have whined at my chicken shit obtuseness.

I erased the text, smiled and typed, “I think we should explore this hunger of yours,” and hit send.

Cal ~


I shoved my room card into my pocket and headed to the elevator, the first step to making my way to the third floor, to room 312, to Charli’s room. I slapped my palm against the elevator button. What was taking the stupid thing so long?

What would she be wearing when she opened her door? Would she invite me in or would I have to finesse my way inside? Would she want to talk first, to get in the mood and shed any nerves, or would she expect me to pounce? A man could hope.... God did I hope.

An image of Charli stretched out naked on the crisp white sheets curled sensuously through my thoughts before slithering down my spine to tease my more primitive brain. The image expanded and took on the scent of coffee and lust. My mouth watered at the taste of her skin, her lips, her nipples, pink and taut with her arousal, her pussy wet and ready for me. Echoes of ecstasy joined the daydream.

I slammed the elevator button three more times. “Come on, come on.”

Maybe she’d have a sheet pulled up over her breasts. Maybe she’d lie on her bed, every inch of her delectable body exposed, and crook her finger at me. I’d take my time walking to her, fucking her with my eyes and fighting every instinct to leap on her and pound her into the mattress. Anticipation fizzed through my veins. Was the same hurricane of want overwhelming her?

The elevator dinged and the doors opened. Only a single occupant stood in the car, a lock of hair twirling between her fingers the only hint of nerves that couldn’t possibly be as jangled as mine.

Charli opened her mouth to speak. No words came out.

I charged into the elevator. I didn’t think. I didn’t weigh risk and reward or ponder consequences. I didn’t ask. I didn’t hesitate. I took.

I didn’t offer her the possibility of protesting, of saying “no”. She was in my arms before my brain even registered that I’d slammed her against the back wall of the elevator and was kissing the living daylights out of her.

And when the first coherent thoughts clawed their way through the red haze of lust and desire, I realized she held me as tightly as I held her. Her fingers gripped my hair and held my mouth against hers. She hitched a leg up around my hip. My hands cupped her luscious ass and lifted her up. Both legs wrapped around my waist. Adrenalin flooded my system and powered my muscles because she felt no heavier than a cat, a lithe languorous cat purring in my arms.

I plundered her mouth with my lips and tongue. God, she took everything I gave and returned it in multiples.

Between kisses, she squeezed out, “I didn’t—”

“I want you,” I said, my voice hoarse with need.

“Oh, thank God,” she said smiling. With both of her palms pressed against my cheeks, her forehead against mine, tiny puffs of air from her laughter caressed my mouth.

I kissed her again, taking my time, savoring her mouth, her scent, the smooth delicacy of her skin. All the tools in my seduction arsenal I wielded with deliberate intent. She molded her warm body to mine and moaned. More! my body urged in response. “I’m hungry for you,” I said half growling. I spun her around and out of the elevator.


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