Emma didn’t know how long she stood in the doorway, still holding the remote, but it must have been more than a minute.
“Problems?” Oliver asked as he strolled toward her.
“The repairman was in my room watching porn.” She was shocked by the other man’s audacity.
Oliver followed her into the room. “Let me see the remote,” he said, and took it from her. He pushed the power button; instantly the television returned to the scene she’d witnessed when she walked into the room.
“Change the channel,” she insisted, whirling around so she wouldn’t have to look at the entwined figures. This was so embarrassing. All she could hear were moans and groans.
Oliver made several attempts but the pornography channel was the only one that seemed to be working. Every other channel remained a snowy blur.
“Ah,” Oliver said after a moment. “I get it.”
“You get what?”
“You asked to watch the news, right?”
“Right,” she concurred.
“Juan thought you wanted to watch the nudes.”
“Oh, for heaven’s sake.” Half-laughing, Emma felt the heat radiate from her cheeks.
“I’m two doors down if you need anything.” He tossed the remote onto the rumpled bed, where she’d been working earlier.
“I won’t,” Emma rushed to assure him. But when she closed the door she remembered that she still couldn’t watch television.
Sighing, she sat cross-legged on the bed. Might as well work, she decided. Emma reached for a pad of paper and a pen, one of a dozen she kept in a special compartment in her briefcase.
She wrote down the date, then chewed on the end of her pen while she mentally reviewed the conversation with Earleen. She needed an introduction to her first article.
Life is a journey, she began, and as with any journey, a traveler will come upon unexpected twists and turns. Sometimes a person will follow the same path for so long that change seems imperceptible. Conversely, another will travel the shortest of distances and discover a completely new landscape. In a single lifetime, it is possible to live both experiences, as Earleen Williams discovered.
When Emma finally glanced up, she was surprised to see that it was pitch-black outside, the darkness punctuated by the lights in the motel parking lot. There was a knock on her door.
“Who is it?” she asked.
“Who do you think?” Oliver called from the other side.
Emma opened the door.
“My television works if you want to trade rooms.”
The idea was tempting.
“I’m going back to my poker game.”
“All right,” Emma said gratefully. “Thanks.”
“Can Oscar stay with you?”
“Good.” They exchanged room keys and he turned away. Then, as if he’d just thought of something, he turned back.
“What?” Emma asked.
“Nothing,” he said. Without another word he kissed her.
At first Emma felt too stunned to react, but once she’d collected her wits, she was furious. He was trying to shock her, and she refused to give him a reaction. “What was that for?” she asked.
Oliver stopped, shrugged, smiled. “Can’t say. All of a sudden, I had this urge to kiss you.”
“Next time curb it.”
He shrugged again. “Don’t know if I can.”
Just the way the edges of his mouth turned up annoyed her. “Come on, admit it,” he said. “You liked it.”
Emma examined her feelings. If he wanted honesty, then she’d give it to him. “As kisses go, I guess I’d call it fair.”
His grin slowly faded. “I don’t think so.”
Before she could take a single step back, he pulled her into his arms again and brought his mouth to hers.
Ample opportunity came and went for Emma to object. Her mind shouted at her to put an end to it right that minute but…she simply couldn’t.
His mouth moved over hers with practiced ease. Emma parted her lips and moaned involuntarily. On second thought, maybe it was Oliver who moaned.
They were still fully caught up in the kiss when Emma heard someone clear his throat. Even then, she didn’t make an effort to break away.
“Oliver,” a man’s voice said.
“Yeah, Oliver. We playin’ cards or not?”
Oliver lifted his mouth from hers and slowly opened his eyes, as if she were the one providing the answers.
“He’s playing cards,” Emma answered for him. She barely recognized her own voice. It didn’t matter. Oliver got the message.
“Emma! Open up.” The words were accompanied by a loud knock on the motel room door.
The harsh sound of Oliver’s voice woke her abruptly, and she bolted upright. Taking a moment to orient herself she realized Oliver had awakened her in the middle of a dream about him. She blamed Oscar for this. The terrier slept at the foot of her bed, a constant reminder of his master. Her face instantly went red as she tossed aside her covers and hurried to the door.
“What do you want?” she demanded without unlatching the chain. She’d slept in her shirt and her legs were bare.
“The weather’s clear. We’re leaving in fifteen minutes.”
“Fifteen minutes? I don’t know if I can—”
“Hurry up. I’ll be waiting at the plane.”
“Okay, okay. I’ll be as fast as I can.” Already she was fumbling about, looking for what she needed.
As soon as she heard him leave, she tore around the room, dressing as quickly as she could. Twenty-five minutes later she was strapped in the plane’s passenger seat with headphones on. They sat at the end of the runway, awaiting clearance. Oscar was asleep in his dog bed in the cargo hold, oblivious to the tension up front.
Oliver ignored her and spoke to the tower, again rattling off a list of letters and numbers.
That was when it hit her. In her rush Emma had forgotten to take her pill. The muscle relaxant was wrapped in a small plastic bag at the bottom of her purse.
Her first instinct was to interrupt Oliver and insist he taxi the plane back to the hangar. She needed to swallow the pill and then wait thirty to sixty minutes for it to take effect. One glance at the intense expression on his face and she could see that wasn’t the best plan. Just then, he pulled back on the throttle and the plane roared down the runway, gaining speed. Leaning against the seat, she closed her eyes and gritted her teeth. A few minutes later, the wheels left the runway and they were airborne. Okay, she’d survived.
Emma held her breath. Keeping her eyes closed, she tried to think happy thoughts. Unfortunately, her mind had other interests, drifting back to the scene in the doorway last night. In an effort to dispel the memory of their kiss, she opened her eyes. That, she immediately decided, wasn’t a good idea. All she could see in the darkness was a blur of lights far below. Far, far below. Dwelling on exactly how far was not conducive to her peace of mind.
About twenty minutes into the flight, the Cessna hit an air pocket and bounced. She gasped and bit down on her lip. She’d grabbed a cup of coffee in the motel office; it was boiling hot, but after adding cold water, she’d managed to drink it. Now, with the slight turbulence, her stomach revolted. Feeling light-headed, she closed her eyes once more and pressed her cheek against the passenger window. It felt nice and cool against her skin.
As if he sensed her discomfort, Oliver glanced in her direction and asked how she was doing.
“I…is there any way it would be possible to land?”
“Land?” he repeated into his mouthpiece. “We can’t land here.”
Emma refused to look at him. “I think I might be sick.”
Oliver chuckled. “Quit telling yourself that. You’re going to be fine.”
“Quit telling me how I feel. I’ve got nausea.”
“Take deep breaths.”
“I’m trying.” He made it sound as though she had a choice in the matter.
Oliver took one hand off the controls and stretched his arm behind her seat. He appeared to be searching for something. Sure enough, a couple of seconds later, he triumphantly gave her a plastic bag.
“A container for you to puke in,” he said without the slightest hesitation.
Emma supposed she should be grateful, but she wasn’t. “Thank you so much,” she muttered sarcastically.
His scowl told her he didn’t appreciate her sarcasm.
Her stomach settled down a few minutes later, and she slowly exhaled. “I think I’m going to be all right.”
He nodded. “I thought you would be.”
They exchanged no further conversation for the rest of the flight home.
Once they’d landed, Emma was out of the aircraft in record time, eager to be on her way. Unfortunately, her car was parked back at her apartment. Oliver offered to drop her off, and she accepted, but he certainly wasn’t in any hurry. She chafed with impatience as he tended lovingly to his plane, exchanged protracted greetings with various other men, then retrieved his truck. Finally they arrived at her apartment. As she politely thanked him for the ride, Oscar took her place in the passenger seat—well, his place, she assumed.
Emma watched them drive away, more determined than ever not to get inside a plane with him again. Somehow, she’d persuade Walt to listen to reason. With her mind made up, she headed into her apartment. After showering, washing her hair and changing clothes, Emma drove to the office.
It seemed that every eye in the newsroom was on her when she walked through the door. Judging by the looks cast in her direction, she could easily have been the page one story.
“How’d it go?” Phoebe asked the minute Emma entered The Dungeon. She hadn’t even sat down at her desk before Phoebe rolled her chair across the aisle. “I think it’s wildly romantic that you and Oliver Hamilton were stranded together like that.”
“It wasn’t.” Emma refused to elaborate. Bad enough that he’d kissed her without permission. “I didn’t even have a toothbrush with me. It wasn’t an experience I care to repeat.”
“But you were with Oliver.”
Emma sent her friend a glower that said she wasn’t impressed with the pilot.
“In case you haven’t noticed, Oliver’s pretty hot.”
“There’s more to a man than his looks.” Her father was an attractive man, too, but his character wasn’t any deeper than the average mud puddle. Emma suspected Oliver was like that. His glibness infuriated her. He took delight in making her uncomfortable, which she considered a juvenile trait—and one that seemed particularly typical of men.
Phoebe wouldn’t be thwarted. “I’ll bet he kissed you.”
Emma ignored the comment. She set her briefcase on her desk and removed her laptop. As soon as she could, she’d review what she’d written and go over her interview notes one final time.
Phoebe grinned knowingly. “He did, didn’t he?”
Her friend wasn’t going to stop tormenting her. Emma sighed. “Not that it’s any of your business, but yes.”