Quench your thirst for romance

Eva Siedler

Las Vegas Layover

Chapter One

Clara Howe was going on a guilt trip. Literally.

She broke out in a cold sweat as the cab approached Douglas International Airport--having sworn never to poke so much as a big toe inside one of those giant metal deathtraps more commonly known as airplanes. But the party really started when she had to tango with TSA before the sun had risen over Charlotte, North Carolina. The bozo with the plastic gloves even dared to utter the two words that struck fear in the stoutest heart: cavity search.

Who would have known airport security would get their panties in a wad about a little thing like human remains?

After years of fighting, Clara's Aunt Betty had passed away three weeks before. Betty loved to travel, and she'd managed to see most of the places she'd dreamed about. However, in her will, she'd all but ordered Clara to spread her ashes in the one place she'd always meant to see but never had: Las Vegas. A written lesson in the fine art of guilt trips from the master herself.

After a near miss with the plastic gloves and two harrowing hours of bumpy air, Clara arrived at the gate for her connection in St. Louis only a little worse for wear, praise Xanax. By the time she'd boarded the second claustrophobe's nightmare, she figured she could make it to Vegas without an encore performance from the salad she'd scarfed for lunch. Until she glanced out the puny plastic window that didn't look strong enough to stop a determined fly.

Had stress turned her into William Shatner in that old episode of The Twilight Zone? She blinked a few times, then looked again. No, she wasn't crazy. There really was a guy standing on a ladder, leaning over the wing of the plane. But he sure as shit didn't look like a gremlin.

With his back to her, she couldn't tell much about him. He seemed to be of medium build, possibly even a little on the skinny side. Short, dark brown, almost black hair in need of a trim. A brown Carhartt coat loosely fit his shoulders, but his shorts were what really drew her attention.

March had brought the promise of spring to the South, but winter clung to the Midwest with icy claws. She couldn't believe he was working out in the biting wind with his legs exposed. And mercy, those shorts hugged him just right. Bent over the wing as he was, his tight, round butt was the first--and last--thing she paid much attention to.

Clara wasn't generally an ogler. Growing up along the Atlantic coast, she'd gone to the beach often enough that she could politely ignore the sight of a nicely built man. This guy was different. Her heart hammered in her throat and her thoughts ran buck wild.

When she managed to tear her attention away from his NFL-worthy backside, her eyes flowed down to the most muscular calved she'd ever seen. Once, when Aunt Betty was stuck in the hospital, they watched a documentary on TLC about men's calf implants. It sounded bizarre at the time--who gave a hoot about a guy's calves--but Clara understood the appeal now. She had the sudden urge to nibble on those beefy muscles like she would a turkey leg at the county fair.  

She sighed. It couldn't have been that long since she'd been on a decent date. Only . . . crap. Had it really been almost two years?

The realization punched her square in the chest. Her life had been on hold for that long and she hadn't even noticed. Scrunching her forehead, she tried to remember the last time she'd focused on what she wanted. She couldn't think of a single instance since she'd returned home after college.

Maybe she'd fine some calves to nibble in Vegas.

She almost laughed out loud. Responsible, practical Clara Howe didn't do things like nibble calves. She'd get through this god-awful trip, go to that job interview on Monday, and get on with her life if it killed her.

Shaking her head, she glanced back out the window and couldn't catch a breath to save her soul. This time her respiratory acrobatics had nothing to do with Mr. Fix-It's fine behind and everything to do with the shiny patch he'd left on the wing.

Was that fool actually trying to hold this oversized lawn dart together with duct tape?

Cue panic attack.

Clara doubled over in her seat, dragging in great gasps of stale air, choking on the commercial cleaners and the stench of humanity. She probably could have gotten a hold of herself, though, if one thought hadn't led to another.

She could die today in true roman-candle fashion and there wasn't a soul left in the world to mourn her. How pathetic was that? Her gut roiled. The reality of being so completely alone suddenly seemed much worse that a fiery death.

Someone settled into the seat next to her, but she didn't look up. Judging by the spicy waft of air tickling her nostrils, it was a man. Then the cabin door slammed shut. Her heart kicked up another notch as the engines roared to life and the plane eased away from the jetway.

Shit. She sure hoped that was some strong duct tape.

Lord only knew how long she stayed like that, her face plastered against her kneecaps. At least her seatmate politely pretended he didn't see her. Maybe her luck was starting to look up.

No sooner had the thought crossed her mind than a deep voice demanded, "You're not gonna hurl on me, are you, lady?"