September 10, 2000
Los Angeles International Airport
People were starting to stare. The woman with the short dark hair retrieved the antacid from her jacket pocket and popped another from the blister packet. Tossing it in her mouth, she frowned at her reflection, trying to determine if those were new lines on her face or just ripples in the dark glass exterior of the terminal. She looked at the cigarette in her hand as if it were some unfamiliar object, and then took a long drag. "I never smoked until I started working for you," she muttered as she exhaled.
He ignored the comment, unsatisfied with her explanation. "What gave you the idea it was okay to book a journalist into the seat next to me? On a fifteen hour flight?
" His voice had moved beyond booming into a full-throated yell.
She briefly imagined how satisfying it would be to blow smoke in his face and tell him to get fucked. Instead, she eyed him cynically as she flicked the ash. "Will you calm down? The way your eyes are popping, you look like you've got some sort of thyroid disorder. I told you. I thought you might find him entertaining. You said you admired his work. He is not interested in writing about you. He is a fiction writer, a Pulitzer Prize winning
fiction writer, I might add," she said.
"I don't care if he's won the fucking Alan Border medal! I...thought...I...was...clear. No press on the flight. I spent the last twenty-four hours with those fuckers up my ass." He snorted and took a hit off his own cigarette. "I don't give a fuck who he is. If there's one thing I've learned about this business, it's that you can't trust any of those knobs."
It was not the swearing that made him intimidating. He gave the most profane words the same emphasis as ordinary nouns, verbs and adjectives. In fact, he had more creative uses for the word fuck
than she had ever heard in her life. Nor was it size, for he was not especially large or tall, yet he seemed to tower over her. He raked one hand through his tousled chestnut curls and took another drag.
He had bought that seat with a particular companion in mind, but she had been so unnerved by the crush of press that materialized whenever they ventured out in public together that she had backed out on him. As if that were not disappointing and frustrating enough, now he was expected to sit and make nice for a whole day with one of the jackals? He turned abruptly and paced several feet away, as though he did not trust himself to stand too close.
She narrowed her eyes, observing him through the smoke. She shook her head slightly in amazement, while his back was safely turned. It always surprised him when people pegged him as a hot head. He actually thought he was controlling himself, even while punctuating his statements with wild hand gestures. Sometimes she wondered if he had even the slightest clue about how intimidating he could be; while at other times she was certain he knew.
He removed his sunglasses and rubbed his eyes. He was tired, so very tired, and all he wanted to do was get on that plane and go to sleep. He turned and walked slowly back toward her.
She nearly inhaled the butt of her cig when he turned around, recognizing the tightly pursed mouth and flinty-eyed look. He tapped a fresh smoke against the pack and pinned her down with his eyes. "Fix it," he said, in a much quieter voice that still managed to slice through the noise of the passing traffic. He lit it and turned away.
She recognized the dismissal from past performances. LAX was the usual circus, but they could have been anywhere; it was the same scene over and over. She thought about her mother and her boyfriend, always after her to quit this insane job and come home to New York. It had been exciting to work for him at first, and he could be unbelievably kind and generous. He was also maddeningly demanding and his moods entirely unpredictable. She dropped her finished cig on the pavement and ground it under her heel.
"I'll fix it, and then I am done. I can't do it anymore," she said, and turned toward the check-in desk. They had both been hinting at the split for weeks.
He turned and looked at her evenly. He nodded; his voice calm. "Just fix it."
The actor paced and smoked outside while she wrangled with the airline staff. The famous writer was brought off the plane. After a great deal of expert persuading, she produced the actor's credit card and bought the writer a ticket on the next flight of his choice.
"It's fixed," she said as she stuffed the card into the actor's shirt pocket, but would not look at him. He put his arm around her shoulder and held the door for her. "The least I can do is put you on a plane to New York," he said quietly.
She brushed the back of her hand quickly across her eyes. "Damn you to hell for being nice now," she said.
He smiled. "Call me when you get there, all right? I'll send you a letter if you want. A good one," He hugged her, winked and strode off toward the boarding gate.
"I'm sorry Miss, there are no more seats available." Mara stared in disbelief at the airline attendant.
"What do you mean, 'no more seats?'" she asked, anxiety rising in her voice. "I have tickets for opening ceremonies. I have friends waiting to meet me!" The two attendants behind the desk continued to talk to each other without meeting her worried gaze.
Mara needed this vacation badly. She had been looking desperately forward to this trip. It was a chance to reunite with far-flung friends and see a country she had wanted to visit for years. Not a patient person, she could not tolerate the thought of any delay.
One of the attendants disappeared through the passageway to the plane, while the other held up her ticket and underlined the printed directions with her French manicured nail. "Do you see where it says to arrive an hour before departure time?" she asked in a patronizing tone.
Mara was already kicking herself for being chronically late. She looked at the attendant's name badge. Brittany.
She wanted to scratch the snotty look from Brittany's face. "Go back to the ticketing desk and see if there are any seats still available on the next flight," said Brittany.
"But I don't want to go on the next flight!" Mara cried, her voice sounding petulant in her own ears. She reluctantly took the ticket and turned away, defeated. The terminal looked much longer now than it had when she raced up it minutes before.
She had almost left the boarding area when Brittany the unsympathetic attendant caught her. "Miss! You're in luck. There is a seat in first class. We will upgrade your seat from coach at no additional cost."
Mara made an about face to the check-in desk. "I don't understand," she said. "If there were no seats available two minutes ago, what has changed?"
"A man purchased two seats, but says he does not need the adjacent one." Brittany leaned over the desk conspiratorially. "Some of these people purchase two seats for privacy. He asked to say that he is tired and would prefer not to be disturbed."
Brittany shuffled some cards, stamped them, and then handed Mara a boarding pass. "Have a wonderful time," Brittany smiled.
thought Mara as she dashed to the plane, mulling the attendant's words over. Who would buy two first class seats all the way to Australia when he only needed one? He must be rich. No matter, I can play statue the whole flight if that's what he wants. Bless him for giving up my seat!
As she entered the cabin, she realized that the rich were indeed, very different. An on board attendant, a young woman with long, dark hair and equally long legs, indicated the front row seat by the window and took her bag to stow. Mara looked around but there was no sign of her benefactor. First class had rows of paired seats extending along both sides of the plane, the same as on coach. Only these seats were huge by comparison, leather, reclined, and had footrests. She had to turn sideways but she could walk between the seats, there was so much room. She did it a few times just to prove it to herself. Who knew airplanes could look like this? It was more like some ritzy hotel suite.
"Can I get you anything?" long legs asked, startling Mara out of her investigation.
"Where is the man who let me have this seat? I want to thank him," Mara replied.
The attendant looked somewhat apprehensively toward the rear of the cabin. "He should be along any second. The captain says that we will be departing on time," she said. "But Miss, I should warn you," she said, lowering her voice.
"I know, he's tired and does not want to be disturbed," said Mara.
The attendant blinked. "Tired," she repeated and blinked again. "Quite. Best to leave him alone," she half-whispered. The color seemed to have drained from her face. She glanced nervously toward the back of the cabin again and then scurried away.
Mara realized too late that she had failed to retrieve her book or her CD player. She tried to identify where the attendant had stashed her bag, but this was unlike any plane she had ever seen. The captain came over the speaker and asked everyone to please take their seats in preparation for departure. He was chattering on about the weather in Sydney just as Mara spotted an older couple stuffing a bag into an overhead compartment. The hatch clicked shut and she realized the compartment blended seamlessly into the wall. She quickly unbuckled her belt and stood, feeling along the panel for a lever, but could not locate it.
"Here, let me," said a deep masculine voice behind her. He reached over her head just as she turned around. She smacked into his chest face first. She had an idea of soft blue flannel and a cotton t-shirt covering a broad chest as she lost her balance and began to fall backward. He caught her by her upper arm with a firm grip, holding on until he was certain she was steady on her feet.
Mara was mortified. What a way to start a daylong flight. She looked up into his face and her embarrassment turned to paralysis. She blinked. "Thank you," she managed.
He recognized the look on her face. Once upon a time he had walked the earth as a normal mortal but now most women he met looked at him like he were some kind of god. The novelty had worn off and he found himself wondering all of the time if he would ever be able to pass unnoticed again.
"Which one is yours?" he asked, looking into the compartment. The red canvas Minnie Mouse duffle bag stood out among the fine leather garment and travel bags. "Wait, I bet I can guess." He pulled it out. "This one?" he quirked a brow, and smiled as he handed it to her.
"Yes, thank you," she said.
He settled into his seat. She realized she was staring and looked away just in time. She fumbled in her bag for her things. As she sat up, she remembered her manners. "I can't thank you enough for letting me have this seat," she said to his kneecap, not trusting herself to look him in the face. She could see out the corner of her eye that he was medium tall and filled out his jeans nicely.
"It just happened to be available," he said neutrally.
She had been staring at her book, not comprehending a single word, through take off and some time into the flight. She kept hoping for an indication that he was asleep so she could look him over without being caught. His seat, however, remained frustratingly upright and she could see him turning the pages of his book. So far, she had only been brave enough to find that he was wearing short, soft-looking leather boots.
Untroubled by such qualms, he had been trying to get her attention for several minutes. He stood up and removed his carry on from the overhead, trying to get a better look, but her head was down. After a few minutes, he bent to rummage in his bag. He turned back toward her, flashing a killer smile, hoping to catch her looking. She remained maddeningly engrossed in her book. Finally, he reached across and nudged her arm.
She decided it must have been an accident. He did it again, harder, and her elbow slid off the armrest. She pitched sideways, looking up at him in surprise. Her breath caught in her chest. Those aqua eyes, crinkling at the corners with amusement, that beautiful mouth, smiling at her so sweetly, this man next to her, it could not possibly be him. She saw him open his mouth and move his lips, but no sound came out. She frowned; briefly confused, then ripped off her headphones and fought to regain composure.
"Don't be a freak," she chided herself.
"I'm sorry, what?" he asked.
"I did not say anything," she replied as the blood drained from her head and into her feet.
"Yes you did. You said 'don't be a freak'," he said, quirking a brow, "and all I said was 'G'day love. What are you listening to?' I don't think that qualifies me as a freak."
"Oh my God!" she said, clapping her hand to her mouth. "I am so sorry!"
"I think if you are going to call me names I should at least have the pleasure of doing something bad first," he said, eyes dancing mischievously.
"I was thinking out loud," she said, clearly flustered. She jabbed herself in the chest with a finger. "I was telling myself not to be a freak," she tried to explain, and turned an even deeper shade of crimson.
Sometimes there is an upside to the circus,
he thought. She was cute, in a scrubbed up way. Her coppery bangs fell into her amber eyes, framed with thick red-gold lashes. He liked the freckles across her nose and her easy smile.
He tapped the player lying on her lap. "What... are... you...listening...to?" he asked with exaggerated slowness.
"U2," she said a little breathlessly.
"You like them?" he asked. She bobbed her head yes. "Ever see them live?" he asked.
"Oh yes," she said. "Six times. I think this is their best record in a decade," she enthused.
"What is your name, darlin'?" he asked. "I think you know mine so I am at a disadvantage."
She somehow remembered her name. "It's Mara."
"Mara," he repeated it, "Mara," rolling it around on his tongue. She thought it had never sounded so good. "So, Mara, first trip to Oz?"
"Yes," she said excitedly. "I have been planning it for months. I am meeting old friends. They moved to Sydney for their jobs. They said I should get these," Mara said, as she extracted In a Sunburned Country
by Bill Bryson and A Town Like Alice
by Neville Shute.
He peered at her bag with interest. "You have a library in there?" he asked.
"It's a long flight," she said.
He nodded. "I always take a sack of books with me," he said.
"Where all are you going?" he asked.
"I don't know! Just places we can drive to easy. I've got tickets for some of the events," she said, referring to the Olympic Games that would begin two days after they arrived. He played the magnanimous travel agent, offering her sightseeing tips. The more questions she asked, the more it seemed to please him, since he gave her long, detailed answers, veering off onto other subjects as it suited him.
He reached for the Shute paperback in her lap, his fingers grazing her thigh. There were dog-eared pages where she had underlined favorite passages.
"Have you ever read it?" she asked.
He frowned, thumbing through the book. "I might have. They made this into a mini-series for television," he recalled.
"Yes and a film long before that. I have not seen them. I like the way I imagined Joe Harman, and I don't want to alter that image," she said.
He looked at her intently. "How did you see him?" he asked.
"Oh," she waved her hand and tried to compose a look of nonchalance. "You know. No-nonsense but good hearted, what you'd call the real deal or true blue, right?"
One brow arched slightly. "Yeah. But what's he look like?" he pressed.
She made the mistake of looking into his eyes. They had the most unusual habit of shifting from green to blue and back again. She was quickly mesmerized. "Like you," she said, airily.
As soon as it left her mouth, she wished she could take it back. She had read the book just after seeing the summer blockbuster that he starred in and had imagined him as the brave, steadfast and deeply romantic hero throughout. Gooseflesh rose on her arms as the idea took hold that he could read her thoughts. She sought an escape and the words of the attendants came back to her.
"I am sorry for disturbing you. They told me you wanted to sleep," she demurred.
He frowned in mild annoyance. "Do I seem bothered?" She thought it a rhetorical question. "Well, do I?" he asked with increased agitation, as she remained mute.
"You are starting to," she said.
He sighed and sat back, laying his head wearily against the seat. He was
tired, fuck it. He had already alienated one woman today. A woman he liked, who had done a fine job for him and how had he repaid her? By behaving like a total dick. He wondered ruefully if he was going to drive off everyone he encountered today.
"I don't want to sleep. What I want is a smoke. You are a useful distraction," he said, rubbing his eyes.
She felt stupid for believing he might have enjoyed talking to her. Her feelings of foolishness compounded as tears pricked her eyes. She picked up her book for cover and silently berated herself. What does his opinion matter? I do not know him from Adam. Just because he had a hit movie, does that mean he has the right to assign value to my conversation skills? Just because he dates the most beautiful women in the world, does that mean I am boring by comparison? Just because he is drop dead gorgeous does that give him the right to be surly and boorish?
"Have you ever tried that gum?" she asked coolly, turning a page.
He reached in the pocket of his flannel shirt and held the Nicorette packet aloft, then tucked it back away. He turned toward her, leaning across his seat, and reached for her hand. She startled so hard, she dropped the book. He massaged her palm in the sensitive area below her thumb.
"I did not mean it like that. You would distract me, no matter where I was or what I was doing," he said, his face inches away from hers.
She chuckled softly at his audacity. "Liar," she said, and shoved gently at his shoulder, bravely returning the flirtation.
He winced. "Along with lack of sleep and nicotine withdrawal, I am also in a bit of pain."
"What's wrong?" she asked with concern.
"Old war wound," he smiled thinly. "I have to get it worked on day after tomorrow. Want to see? It looks really weird." He yanked the neck of his t-shirt half aside and rolled his shoulder until he hit the position where the pain made him want to vomit. "Right there, see that?" he gasped. "It's supposed to go in right there but you can see it popping out?"
"Good Lord! Don't do that!" she exclaimed, feeling nearly as sick. "That looks like more than 'a bit' of pain!"
He sat back, breathing hard. His face was pale and tiny beads of perspiration formed on his brow. "When I first noticed it, I could take a shot of Jack and pop it back in myself. Now I've gone and torn it good, you know? Yeah, you're right, more like massive levels of pain now," he said and swallowed hard.
"I need a beer," he said and stood up. He looked down at her expectantly. "You coming?" he asked.
"Where?" she asked, bewildered.
"To the bar," he said.
Mara trailed after him. "There's a bar?" she asked in disbelief.
They exited the seating area and entered a lounge with furniture that coordinated better than that in her home.
"What would you like?" he asked.
"Just water," said Mara.
"Let us have a water and a VB," he told the bartender.
"I am sorry but we don't have any VB," said the bartender.
The actor looked around the plane as if he was unsure of his surroundings. "This is a Qantas flight, is it not?"
"Yes, Sir," said the bartender.
"Isn't Qantas an Australian owned airline?" asked the actor, voice rising.
"Yes, it is Sir. Would you like a Foster's?" The actor did not blink. The bartender ran through the list of beers in double quick time.
A Cooper's Stout in his hand a minute later, the actor placed his hand familiarly on the small of Mara's back and guided her over to a group of soft chairs in muted gold and sage green, clustered about a small table.
"How did you do it then? Your shoulder?" she asked.
He seemed to relish reenacting, with sound effects, exactly how he had incurred not only this injury, but several others as well. After he had made her laugh several times, he paused, looking at her over the top of his bottle.
"So you liked it then? The book about the bloke who looks like me?" he asked.
"I loved it. It was recommended as a good cultural reference." She smiled shyly. "I am afraid I turn everything into research. I guess that is my idea of fun."
He hesitated; bottle poised at his lips, and then quickly tipped the last swallow. "Research," he repeated, uneasily. He stood and went for another beer. "Are you an actress?" he asked on return.
"Good heavens, no! I am not brave enough for that. But I am always developing a story, that's why I said 'research.'" she said.
His head snapped up. "Who do you work for?" he demanded suspiciously.
"Joshua Tree High School?" she asked, absurdly fearing that it might be the wrong answer. It was as if his sudden ill temper reached across and grabbed her by her Old Navy tie-dyed t-shirt.
He relaxed slightly. "What do you do?" he asked.
She frowned in consternation, but answered, "I teach civics and U.S. history."
His brows shot up. "You do not look like any teacher I ever had," he said, eyeing her fit form.
"Oh really? And what did your teachers look like?" she asked, relieved that the tension seemed to have passed.
"Oh, you know," he smiled. "White hair, granny panties," he giggled.
"You saw their panties?" she asked.
"No," he shrugged. His brows drew together at a memory. "There was this one young bird though, what was her name? She taught drama. I had a crush on her. Pretty red hair, like you," he said and playfully tugged at a lock of Mara's hair.
He rubbed his bristled chin. "So what exactly did you mean about 'developing stories'?"
"Oh! That! It's nothing," she felt tongue tied again. His look told her that was not a satisfactory answer. "It is really kind of embarrassing. I call it a hobby, but that is not quite true. I can't seem to help myself. It makes me all tied up in knots when I don't write," she confessed.
He snorted. "You make it sound like a sickness." He shook his head slightly at the irony. "You got this seat because I did not want to sit next to a writer. I don't trust them, you know? They either want me to read something they've written, or they go off and write absolute lies about me." He looked at her apprehensively. "You don't have a screenplay in that bag, do you?"
"That has to be the strangest accusation I've ever heard. No, I do not have a screenplay. I have a story in progress, but I have no intention of showing it to you," she said, feeling affronted.
He eyed her speculatively. "So what kind of stories do you write?"
She wished desperately for a change of topic. "Fiction."
His brow arched higher. "What sort of fictional stories?"
She sighed. "Stories about people's lives and the things they go through, okay?" she said in a rush.
He nodded. "Fair enough."
She breathed a sigh of relief, thinking he had dropped it.
"Have you ever been published?" he asked and wondered briefly why he was encouraging her.
"No. I never think it is good enough," she said, wondering why he was torturing her like this.
"I need the response and the reaction of an audience," he said. "You should have somebody who reads it - like an editor, maybe?"
"Well," she hedged. "It took me forever to join, but I do belong to a writer's group. We share our work with each other."
"What does your group think?" he asked, slightly pursing his mouth.
"Some of them like it," she admitted, lifting her chin a little. "Some of them are too full of themselves," she said.
He smiled. "I get that from performing with the band - the give and take with the audience. I used to love to hang out with audiences after the gigs too, to get their reaction. You know? We'd go have a beer at the bar and listen to see if anyone said we sucked or if something was working that night, but...that does not seem possible now," he said, staring thoughtfully at his bottle.
"I'm sorry that changed. I can see you miss it," she said.
He recovered quickly. "Yeah, well, I mean, it sounds ridiculous for me to complain. I'm not, you know? I've worked my whole life for this," his weary tone did not match his words.
"Hey! Do you want to hear what we sound like?" he asked, brightening. He did not wait for a response, but went back toward the sleeping cabin. He returned, grinning, and handed her a CD.
She looked it over. Demo Copy
it said on the front. "Thanks," she said.
He took it from her, popped it into his player, and handed that over. He looked at her expectantly.
"What? Oh! You want me to listen to it right now?" she asked.
"It is a fifteen hour flight," he said with a touch of exasperation.
She put the headphones on. He pushed play and turned up the volume. She had to force a smile for the first couple of tracks. He kept pushing the stop button to tell her the background of each song. The rest of the tracks were a more pleasant surprise. He watched her through the entire album, smiling when she did, small lines forming between his brows when she did not. She found the scrutiny exhausting and was greatly relieved when the attendant appeared. By the time they had placed their dinner orders, the last song had finished.
"Why are you traveling all alone?" he asked, watching the long-legged attendant walk away.
"I am not alone, I am meeting friends, remember?" she asked.
"You are alone now," he pointed out.
"So are you," she countered.
"I usually travel with a mate or two but I sent them on home last week," he said. He had been hoping for some private time with the actress he was dating, but that had not worked out.
"I'm solo for the first time in a dozen years," she said. She held up her hand, displaying the white mark on her finger, distinct in her California tan. "Divorced," she made a sour face and shrugged.
"I'm sorry," he said, sounding sincere. "To tell you the truth, I got stood up." She looked at him incredulously and he nodded and sighed. "Got any rug rats?" he asked kindly.
"Yes, a boy and a girl. I left them with my parents," she said. "It feels weird to do anything without them really."
He seemed genuinely interested, and made her retrieve the photo album she had brought to show her friends. He was still looking through it when a male attendant appeared to tell them dinner was served. Mara stood and followed him to another small lounge with booths. They both declined the wine. He asked for another beer and she said she was good with water. She felt dizzy enough without any wine. The food was infinitely better than anything she had ever eaten on a plane, but she had no appetite for it. She pushed it around on her plate.
"They have a vegetarian choice," he suggested.
"No, this is fine," she said.
"You're not eating it," he pointed out.
"I am not very hungry," she said and laid her napkin across her plate.
Mara had not begun to date again. She said she was protecting the children when friends or family asked, but in truth, she was protecting herself. She felt awkward and out of practice at interacting with an attractive man, unless he was a colleague. It did not make matters any easier that this one fit her ideal of rugged masculinity, or that he loved to talk as much as any of her girlfriends.
"How about a nightcap?" he asked, smiling innocently, thinking that she could do with a little loosening up. "Do you have champagne?" he asked the attendant, who confirmed that they did indeed have two kinds of chilled champagne on board.
"No, thank you," said Mara.
"Brandy, then?" He plied.
"I don't drink," Mara said, smiling sweetly.
He took his bottle in one hand and her elbow in the other, guiding her back to the soft little chairs and away from a more boisterous knot of passengers that had converged on the bar. He gave her a bemused look. "And I suppose you don't smoke, either?"
"Nope," she replied.
He eyed her suspiciously and snorted. "You Yanks are such a boringly abstinent bunch," he said derisively as he tipped his bottle for a long swallow.
She regarded him through narrowed eyes. He was damned good looking and he clearly knew it too. Too cool and cock-sure by half, she thought. "Nope, don't drink, don't smoke," she said, shaking her head slowly and making a sober face. "But I like to fuck on airplanes."
He choked on the swallow he had just tipped, nearly spraying her. "Holysnappin'...!"
While he wiped his face and regained his composure, she scolded him. "You are far too intelligent to make that kind of sweeping generalization. I don't drink because I can't control it when I do," she said.
He considered her carefully. "Well, that's different then. Good on ya to know it." She had spunk and no longer seemed intimidated by him. He felt the alcohol percolating happily in his system as he looked her over again. "You're a cheeky one, all right." He saluted her with his bottle.
She suppressed a smile at the way his vernacular progressed with each beer and mile closer to his home. "So are you," she said and touched her water glass to his bottle.
The actor looked for a new topic of conversation and remembered his own book. "I am reading Hard Times
by Terkel," he said a trifle proudly. "Know it?"
"Of course," she said. "I did mention that I taught history, right?" she smiled.
"I'm only about half-way through," he said, "but really, I had no idea. About the Great Depression, I mean. Your country went from massive wealth to scraping just to feed the kids - overnight," he snapped his fingers.
She nodded. "That is partly because people who had to go through it, don't like to talk about it, like my grandparents. They were Dustbowl Okies, do you know what that is?" she asked.
He nodded. "Like the Grapes of Wrath," he said.
"That's right. It was a bad time, but they worked hard and they wanted to put it behind them, after the war, when they came out the other end," she said.
"I am doing research too, you see," he said and winked.
She did not see, but he was so cute it did not matter if he made sense. "Research for what?" she asked.
"A great fucking story," he sucked on his teeth and raised his brows. "A great fucking role, only it's not mine anymore. But I keep thinking about it, hoping it will come back to me, so I do the research. That's half the fun, you know," he said confidentially, leaning toward her. "I love to read about history." He slipped the tip of a finger under the hem of her sleeve, playing with it.
"Do you?" she asked, trying desperately to sound calm.
"Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it," he said.
She grinned indulgently. "That's clever."
He hesitated, not certain if she were mocking him. "It's not mine. I think it is Santayana," he said.
"Yes, it is. You do read a lot," she allowed and reached for his hand, gently laying it back on the arm of his chair. "I think the government, my government, finds this particular history lesson too threatening. They are not about to glorify the origins of the union movement by teaching the truth about the Depression," she said.
"What's the government got to do with it?" he asked.
"The schools are state and federally funded and so are their textbooks," she said.
He made a half-hearted attempt at playing devil's advocate. "That sounds like leftist twaddle. Is that what you fill those kids' heads with?" He giggled, unable to sustain it. "Americans don't want to know about it because it makes them uncomfortable to think it could happen again," he said, more seriously. "They prefer to stay safely wrapped in their illusions of security."
"I did not know you were an expert on the American psyche," she replied. This was safe ground, she thought, warming to the topic. She could hold her own on history and he seemed to have backed off the seduction.
They talked history and politics, working into how struggle and poverty affect character.
They agreed on some points, disagreed on others, but the give and take was acting as a powerful aphrodisiac on them both. He laid his hand casually on her knee and was encouraged when she did not move it.
Things really began to heat up as they worked their way into public good versus individual freedom. Now his hand was in her lap, idly rubbing the inner seam of her jeans with his thumb. She felt dangerously high in his presence, as if she had drunk that champagne, and feared she could not trust herself to react in a careful way. There had been a few others in the room with them earlier, but even the bartender seemed to have disappeared. She tried disengaging by picking up his hand and returning it to his own lap.
"Wow. Look," she nodded toward a window. "It's night. When did that happen? You must be exhausted what with the pain," she nodded at his shoulder, "and that schedule you keep."
"Do I look tired?" he asked. His eyes said he wanted to do things to her. Things she would enjoy very much if she would only let him.
"I'm not used to being challenged to marathon debates on transpacific trips," she quipped. "I will have to train first next time."
He had a good buzz going now and regarded her through heavy-lidded eyes. The conversation had stimulated him mentally and in other ways as well. He idly wondered how old she was and guessed close to his age. That suited him fine. In his experience, women over thirty were more sexually adventurous. He leaned across the seat and kissed her. He pulled back to check her reaction. She had a glazed look in her eyes, her cheeks were flushed, and her softly open mouth appeared to want more. So he did it again.
There was a faint buzzing in her ears and flashes of light in her peripheral vision as the plane seemed to tip onto its side.
"Excuse me," she said, rising unsteadily.
He sat back with his legs stretched out before him, and watched her depart, admiring the compact fit of her jeans.
When she returned and tried to cross his path, he pulled her down onto his lap and trapped her with one strong arm across her middle. He hooked his fingers around her shining copper curtain, exposing the back of her neck. The stubble on his chin rasped against her sensitive skin as he inhaled her clean, citrus scent.
"Since you suggested it," he said huskily in her ear, "a good root sounds like just the thing." She half turned and frowned slightly, trying to comprehend his meaning. "Root means fuck," he offered helpfully, then giggled.
He tugged at the small gold loop in her ear, then at her lobe, with his teeth. She shivered. He took this as invitation to reach around and fondle a breast. She squirmed on his lap, keenly aware of the large and very firm lump beneath her bottom. He pinched the nipple of the breast in his hand, almost painfully, rolling it between his thumb and finger. She moaned. Two other passengers entered the lounge and approached the bar behind them. He hastily deposited her back in her seat. The entire grope had lasted no more than twenty seconds. She stared at him, dumbfounded and incredibly aroused.
"I should slap you for that," she said, but ended up mirroring his naughty child grin. The lights dimmed and a flight attendant came around, handing out blankets and pillows.
"They want us to go to bed now," he whispered and giggled again. It was infectious.
"Stop it," she said, not meaning it at all. She rationalized that it was not really a tawdry quickie on a plane with a stranger; it would be therapy for her broken heart. "Do we really have to go back?" she asked.
"It will be easier," he said and stood, taking her by the hand. They returned to their seats, now made into single beds. Screens pulled out to provide privacy around the top and down one side. They were staggered so that only the side facing the wall was exposed.
Mara looked at the beds, then at him. He was watching her. She gestured at the screen.
"It doesn't come down far enough," she whispered.
"For what?" he asked ingenuously and she could not suppress a grin. He walked round and sat down on her bed, the furthest forward in the cabin. "Come here," he whispered from where he sat, leaning against the screen, in the shadows.
She cautiously sat down across his lap. He encircled her in his arms and pulled her against him. His strength surprised her, particularly given his injury. He cradled the back of her head in one hand and brushed her lips softly with his before settling in to the kiss. She could feel his heart thudding in his chest.
He kissed her deeper, softly darting his tongue in and out of her mouth. Soon they were suckling at each other in earnest. She had never felt such a kiss, the perfect kiss, and her mind began to spin. She felt she was drowning in him, and clung to the life he was feeding her, holding on tighter. After a long time, he began to reverse the process, becoming gradually gentler until he was just brushing his lips against hers.
Her mind swam back up from the depths as he wordlessly turned her around, opening his knees. She leaned back against his chest, cradled between his legs. She could feel the heat of him pressing against her back. He took hold of the hem of her t-shirt and rolled it up, over the top of her breasts, as he scooped them from her bra.
He peered over her shoulder. "Ah, beauty," he said softly, his breath tickling. He licked and sucked at her neck from her from ear to shoulder. She shivered, making gooseflesh rise along her arms and torso. She struggled to keep quiet but it was increasingly difficult not to moan in ecstasy.
He traced slow circles, his fingertips light as a whisper of silk on her breasts, avoiding the stiff peaks. "Please," she whimpered after some minutes. He gently rolled one nipple between his fingers, and then the other. He bent forward, over her, as she tipped her head back to receive his kiss. "Please," she panted against his mouth. His touch answered, rougher and more insistent.
She began to squirm against the bulge pressing into her bottom. She reached automatically between her legs, but his hand was there, pushing hers away. "Let me," he said.
It was both terrifying and thrilling knowing that anyone could walk around the thin partition and know instantly, even here in the dark, exactly what they were doing.
He undid the fly of her jeans and found his target at once, teasing around it until she thought she would scream. He listened closely, his touch guided by the tension in her body and her breathing. His hand moved lower and she held her breath, letting it out in an aching shudder as he impaled her on his fingers. He repeated the movements he had felt bring her to the edge again and again, driving her to a frenzy.
"Hold still," he growled, gently biting her lobe, as he concentrated on his goal. She stilled, obediently, as he pinned her against him with one arm while the other worked determinedly between her legs.
She turned her head, and sought to bury her face in the soft fabric covering his chest. "I want to feel you inside of me," she whispered.
"Later. Relax and let go," he whispered in response.
As though he willed it from her by his voice, the pleasure rose to an intolerable knot, then broke over her in waves. His hand slowed as she slumped weakly against him. Silent tears slipped down her cheeks. She felt embarrassed at the intensity of her reaction, but more than that, it had made her hungry to be with him completely. She sat up slowly, adjusting her shirt.
He reached out for her hands, stopping her. She looked at him, trying to ascertain his wish. The dim glow from the emergency lights along the floor revealed that he was gazing at her with a look of such intense longing that it made her chest ache.
She dropped to her knees beside the sleeper seat, shielded from the rest of the cabin by the screen on the far side. He sat up, swinging his legs off the seat, feet planted on either side of her. She undid the buttons on his fly and reached inside, looking to him for approval. He pursed his mouth slightly and a hint of wicked smile teased at the corners. He helped her tug his jeans and boxers low on his hips.
"Sweet Jesus," she whispered in awe as she grasped him. She slowly circled his tip with her tongue, drawing out a glistening arc. She pressed him to her breasts, drawing a slick trail around each. He reached for her and enveloped her breasts around his shaft. The sight was both lovely and obscene at once. She lowered her mouth, savoring the velvet heat on her lips.
The muscles in his legs tensed as he watched, liking the way she tipped her face back so that he could see himself in her mouth. She was trying to give him a good show and he appreciated it. He wrapped her hair around in his hands and gently tugged her mouth down against him, faster.
She relaxed her throat and allowed him to manipulate her. Soon he was thrusting his hips up off the seat, but she did not care. She wanted him to lose control.
"Just a little more choke, Sunshine," he muttered. She tightened her grip at the base of his shaft and let him do the work.
"Oh darlin', that is nice," he purred his approval.
He released his hold, not intending to come in her mouth. She grabbed hold of his wrists and forced his hands down on the back of her head.
"Umph!" he grunted, trying not to shout. His rock hard thighs lifted him out of the seat and into her throat as he tensed and came. She swallowed what seemed an enormous quantity, until she began to think he would never stop. She finally had to release him, gasping for air. He twitched and a final spurt landed wetly on her breast.
He was watching her intently, slack mouthed and breathing hard. He hooked one finger beneath her chin and tipped her face up. He wiped the silvery fluid from her breast and nudged his fingertip against her swollen lips. She opened her mouth and took his finger inside, sucking it clean. He withdrew his finger and chuckled as she flashed a wide, proud grin, her white teeth gleaming from the dark like some erotic Chesire cat curled up at his feet. He rewarded her with a pat on the head.
He put himself away and she adjusted her clothing more modestly. She climbed back up into the seat and he cradled her against him, occasionally kissing the top of her head. He dozed lightly for some time but she could not sleep. It was in the small hours of the morning, when he nuzzled her ear and asked hopefully, "Why don't you turn around here and tell Santa what you'd like for Christmas?"
"What do you mean?" she whispered.
"What do you mean, what do I mean? You said you wanted me inside you. Did you change your mind?" he asked, sounding a little impatient. She could feel him stirring against her hip.
"I can't do that, not in here. I have a hard time believing no one heard us before," she hissed.
"If you've got any other ideas, I am all ears," he whispered back.
"Me? You seem to be the expert," she accused.
"Did you think I'd actually done this on a plane before?" he asked. She shrugged silently. His mouth quirked. "I have spent a lot of time on planes," he semi-admitted, settling back with a sigh. She ran her hand up under his t-shirt, fingers playing lightly in the soft hairs there. Neither spoke for a long time, each beginning to feel longing and regret.
"I want to stretch you out on a bed and make love to you all night." He kissed the top of her head again, brows drawn together pensively. "Are you meeting your friends right away?" he asked.
"Yes. They will be there to pick me up," Mara answered. She had not expected anything to happen, and once it had, she certainly had not expected it to extend beyond the plane.
"Where are you staying? Do you know the room number?" he asked.
"At their home." She angled her face up, straining to see his. "Look...I don't want anything from you. Don't you have somewhere else you need to be?" she asked.
"Hey!" he said a little sharply, "You and I will get on better if you stop worrying about things for me. I just want the opportunity to do it right, that's all. Then I'll be on my way, okay? If you don't want to then just say so."
"I would love that, of course," she answered sheepishly.
"Besides," he added, "if anyone spots us I'll just say..." he ran his tongue over his lower lip, thinking. "You're my physiotherapist?" he suggested and giggled at the sound of it. Mara laughed silently and shoved at his knee.
"No? Don't like that? How about my assistant? I just fired the last one," he said, his smile fading.
"Really?" she asked.
He shrugged the one good shoulder. "No, not really. She fired me," he said.
"Was she any good?" she asked.
"Yes," he said.
"Can you get her back?" she asked.
"I don't think so. Never mind about that. Here's the deal: you are the one taking a risk. On discovery, your life would be disrupted a lot more than mine," he said and clenched his fist, thinking of the press hysteria over his latest relationship and the chilling effect that had seen him return home alone.
He shook his head in frustration, still wondering how it could have all changed so radically with one movie. "You would not believe the shit that goes on. I don't believe the shit that goes on. Everyone has lost their fucking minds. I don't want to put you through that. Don't worry. I'll be discreet."
Mara frowned dubiously; glad that he could not see her face. She suspected that discretion was one of his few inadequacies.
"Right," he said, as though that had settled it. "But we've still got five hours before this plane lands. Come on, to the dunnie then."
"What?" she asked, slightly alarmed.
"You heard me, come on." He pushed her up and off him. He stood quickly and nudged her into the aisle. He had his hands on her hips, guiding her out of the sleeping cabin, and toward the first-class bathrooms. He paused in the narrow corridor, briefly stymied.
"Mens," he decided out loud and steered her that direction.
"No! Are you crazy? I am not going into the men's bathroom!" she protested.
"Think about it. Women pee a lot more at night than men do, except for old men. If some woman walks in and I am banging you in the ladies' loo, she might scream. And then we are going to be in deep shit. On the other hand, if some old fella walks into the men's bathroom and catches us at it, he might want a turn, but I think I can keep him off of you," he laughed.
"Oh great, yes, that's very reassuring," she complained as he shoved her toward the men's room door. He reached around, pushed it open, and her in ahead of him. The door clicked closed. They were both nervous and giggling, trying to undress each other quickly. There was nothing discreet about it. He wrestled out of his jeans and underwear and kicked them across the floor. She could see he was semi-erect again. He helped tug her jeans off, then her bra and panties.
He gave a cursory look at the counter. "Looks clean enough," he decided without consultation. She gasped with surprise when he lifted her up. The counter was very cold beneath her bottom.
"But what if...?" she started to ask, breathless at his renewed enthusiasm.
"Too fucking bad, they can use the other. Besides, they're all asleep." He squatted down on his haunches in front of her, pulling her knees wide apart. "Don't think about it," he ordered. She almost toppled over onto him. He pressed against her knees, pushing her back onto the counter. "Try to lean back a little," he suggested.
"Right," she panted, and fumbling behind, grasped the faucet as an anchor.
She was briefly embarrassed at being so exposed. It was about the least flattering position she could imagine, but she soon stopped caring. She could look straight down and see what he was doing to her with that amazing, broad tongue. All day she had watched it dancing around while he talked and all day she had thought about what he could do with a tongue like that. She was not disappointed. He worked on her until she was once again soaking wet and shaking with need.
"Please?" she asked, seeking his attention. He looked up from his task, eyes crinkling at the corners, and chuckled against her. The vibration tickled and she squirmed against him.
"No," he whispered. "Not yet." He slipped his fingers inside, pumping them in and out, and watching her face.
"When?" she panted, impatient.
"After I make you scream," he said and flicked his tongue against her overly sensitive nub. She jumped and moaned. He waited until her eyes locked onto his and then did it again. A few repeats of this and he was satisfied he had trained her to watch. He bent to his task in earnest. She leaned forward slightly and ran her hands through his thick, slightly damp curls. Her little belly and thighs began to jump uncontrollably. She had nearly lost consciousness by the time she clamped her knees around his ears, pinning him to her. As if from a long way away, she heard herself scream. Shaking and trembling, she allowed him to help her down off the ledge, easing her to the floor.
"Please, baby," she pleaded, clinging to him, not trusting her legs.
He closed his mouth over hers. "Please baby what?" he asked between kisses.
He knew this was not likely to go beyond one really great fuck, even still, the intensity of his desire surprised him. His head had told him repeatedly to just stop. He was so tired of meaningless sex and he did not want to hurt her. He was never any good, however, at staying rational once he found a woman who could engage his lust and his brain at once. She was also very vulnerable, recently wounded, and that clinched the deal. He simply could not resist.
She moaned into his mouth, "Please, now, I need you now!"
"Need me to what?" he asked, and lathed his tongue along her neck.
"Fuck me!" she cried.
He spun her around and Mara braced against the basin for what was coming. He took hold of himself and stroked forwards along her wetness, then all the way back up the cleft of her rear.
He panted into her ear, "I am going to slip my bolt in you now, darlin'."
He eased into her, holding very still and letting her adjust before slowly withdrawing. She gripped the basin for support. He repeated the same torturously slow movement several times, until he knew she was ready, and then he drove into her roughly on the next thrust. She squealed and smacked her palms down on the counter. He bent to her ear, still planted deep inside. "You like that, love?" he purred before withdrawing.
"Yes!" she gasped before he rammed her again. She moaned louder with each successive thrust. He had to squat slightly while she braced on her elbows, trying to absorb the shock. His muscled thighs hugged the backs of her legs. His breath came fast as he assumed a steady, relentless pace. She thought her legs would give out. She had never felt so thoroughly fucked in her life. His fingers dug into her hips, pulling her back against him. Mara raised her eyes to the wide mirror. A light sheen of sweat covered his broad, muscled torso and arms. She thought he was raw male sexuality in its purest form.
His eyes locked on hers in the reflection. "Come for me," he commanded. She did, instantly, her walls milking him. As he felt her climax, he tensed, and thrust deep once more.
"Jeezusfuckingchrist!" he bellowed, his voice echoing off the walls in the bathroom.
Their movements slowed as their bodies calmed and their heads began to clear. He placed tiny, tender kisses along her back and shoulders. It took him a long time to soften but he finally slipped from her.
"Is that really a shower?" she asked incredulously, noticing the entire bathroom for the first time.
"I believe it is," he said, handing her a towel.
He started humming as he pulled his shirt back on. "Don't drink, don't smoke, what do you do?" He wiggled his brows at her and grinned. "Goody-two, goody-two, goody-goody-two shoes. Subtle innuendos follow. There must be something inside." He was singing the old Adam Ant song.
He looked in the mirror and ran his hands through his hair. Her jaw dropped open.
"No one's gonna tell me
What's wrong or what's right
Or tell me who to eat with, sleep with
Or that I've won the big fight, big fight."
He was getting into it now, holding a pretend mic and wiggling his hips. He spun round to face her. Any pain he had been feeling before was gone, at least for the moment. She doubled over in laughter. He tossed his head side to side and sang loudly,
"Goody-two, goody-two, goody-goody-two shoes.
Don't drink don't smoke - what do you do?
You don't drink; don't smoke - what do you do?
Subtle innuendos follow
Must be something inside."
She gasped for air and tried to clap a hand across his mouth. "Shush! You're going to wake them all!"
He bit her hand gently and taking it in his, began to twirl her around the bathroom. He continued to sing in full voice.
"Look out or they'll tell you
You're a 'Superstar'
Two weeks and you're an all time legend.
I think the games have gone much too far."
She giggled uncontrollably as he spun her toward him and gathered her in his arms. She looked up into his sweetly mischievous smile as the giddy happiness continued to wash over her. He held her close against him as his eyes traveled over her face, committing it to his memory. He kissed her. When he pulled back, his eyes were glistening. It occurred to her suddenly she would likely never feel his arms around her again. The smile vanished from her face and her knees felt weak from the loss. He blinked rapidly and nodded slightly, as if to some internal reckoning.
"Here's the deal," he said, signaling an important listening point coming up. He touched the tip of her nose with his fingertip to make certain he had her attention.
"I will go first," he said, pointing at himself. "You," he said, poking the same finger gently into her, "will wait two tics before coming out. Okie dokie?"
She nodded her agreement as he released her. She gathered her clothes and turning, caught herself in the mirror. Her face flushed, hair tousled, mouth bruised, she knew she looked a sight. What was more, they both smelled strongly of sex.
"Anyone who looks at me will know I've been thoroughly thrusselled," she murmured to her reflection.
"What?" he blinked, turning back from the door.
"Uh, nothing. Good plan," she said and gave him a thumbs-up. She clutched her clothes in front of her as he exited.
Dawn's early light was showing through the windows as the actor made his exit. The passengers seated in the rows nearest could not help overhearing part of what had happened. The surprise of those sounds on an airplane at dawn, coupled with their recognition of his face, caused them to gawk as he passed. He glowered at them and growled, "Pull your heads in!"
When Mara returned to her seat a few minutes later, no one dared so much as glance her way.
Copyright 2000/2005 by Tamara