Authors: Susan Lyons
She’s On Top
Hot in Here
Men On Fire
Published by Kensington Publishing Corp.
Thanks to the usual suspects, my lovely and talented critique group: Nazima Alli, Michelle Hancock, and Elizabeth Allan. And as well, to my agent, Emily Sylvan Kim, my editors, Audrey LaFehr and Hilary Sares, and all the people at Kensington who do such a great job with the Aphrodisia line. Special thanks to Martin Biro for making my life so much easier.
I’ll be eternally grateful to Doug for flying me business class when we visited Australia. Not only did it save me from turning into a pretzel, it gave me the idea for this book.
I’m thrilled to be writing another series for Kensington, and have had great fun playing with the “planes” segment of my sexy “planes, trains, automobiles, and a cruise ship” series. I call the series Wild Ride because, for each of the four Fallon sisters, the journey to love truly is a wild ride. The next book—the “trains” one,
—is a bit of a wild ride for me, too. It will be released under the pen name Susan Fox in April 2010, and will be in Kensington’s Brava line.
Readers are, of course, the reason we authors do what we do. Thanks to all of you for reading romance. I invite you to visit my web site at www.susanlyons.ca, e-mail me at [email protected], or write c/o PO Box 73523, Downtown Postal Outlet, 1014 Robson Street, Vancouver, BC, Canada V6E 4L9.
f someone had asked me a week ago, I’d have said I wouldn’t be caught dead buying bridal magazines. However, the resident expert—my newly married secretary at the University of Sydney—told me it was impossible to plan a wedding without them.
had managed my own registry wedding without the assistance of any fancy magazines, but then again, look how well that had worked out. A three-month blip of married life to mar my otherwise pristine thirty-two years of singledom.
Ironic that now it was up to me, Theresa Fallon, with a little help from my sisters, Kat and Jenna, to plan the perfect wedding. On two weeks’ notice.
No, not mine. My genius IQ didn’t prevent me from making mistakes, but I tried my best to never repeat one, so I’d pretty much sworn off men.
It was my baby sister, Merilee, back in Vancouver, B.C., who’d be bridal-marching down the aisle, a march she’d been dreaming of since, at age five, she’d repeatedly propelled Bride Barbie into the arms of tuxedo-clad Ken.
Merilee was marrying Matt, her soul mate since grade two. You’d have thought fifteen years of love and dreams would have resulted in something more organized than a spur-of-the-moment wedding. However, Merilee’d had a rough time of it health-wise this year, then Matt found a last-minute deal on a Mexican Riviera cruise, and the result was that in thirteen days my kid sister was going to have the wedding she’d always dreamed of.
Except that she, who was frantically catching up the university work she’d missed due to illness, didn’t have time to make wedding arrangements.
Merilee needed help, and I loved Merilee. So did our middle sisters, Kat and Jenna, of course, but as always, I was the organizer. The truth was, I liked being in charge. In fact, I preferred doing things myself, so they’d get done right. Snotty? Given my awe-inspiring IQ, my parents’ expectations, and the responsibilities that had been foisted upon me at an early age, could I have turned out any other way?
Ergo, I, who
didn’t relate to the white-lace-and-promises concept, was now on the hunt for a couple of those frilly magazines to supplement the gigantic bible on wedding planning I’d purchased at the uni bookstore. After clearing Sydney airport security late Sunday afternoon, I made for the Newslink store.
A display of hardcover books near the entrance caught my attention. The under-construction pyramid featured
, the new release from one of Australia’s popular novelists, Damien Black. A female sales clerk was plastering “Autographed Copy” stickers on covers that were a touch garish—eerie flames in yellow and red blazing on a black background—but definitely eye-catching.
As a sociologist specializing in the study of Indigenous Australians, I knew Black’s name. He was part Aboriginal and wrote paranormal mystery thrillers featuring a police officer who was an Aboriginal Australian.
Though I rarely read fiction, I’d picked up one of the novels. It had been surprisingly entertaining, moderately accurate when it came to the facts, and even, here and there, insightful. But only here and there. Mostly, his work was crassly commercial. The man should devote his writing talents to something serious.
I certainly didn’t plan to read another of his books. “Waste of time. Glib and superficial.”
“Pardon?” The sales clerk turned to me.
“Sorry.” One of the hazards of spending so much time on my own; I had a bad habit of voicing my thoughts. “I didn’t mean to say that out loud.”
The clerk grinned. “No worries. Lots of readers disagree with you, though. He sure sells well. Me, I can’t put the books down. He’s kept me up all night, more than once.” She winked. “Wish he’d do it in person, though. He was just in signing these books and I gotta say, the man’s seriously hot.”
“I’m sure ‘hot’ is an important criterion for making one’s reading choices,” I said dryly.
A male snort told me someone had overheard.
The clerk glanced over my shoulder. Her eyes widened and color flooded her cheeks. “Oops! Sorry.” She ducked her head and concentrated on stickering books.
I turned and saw a man who definitely qualified as hot. His clothes were as simple as you could get—worn jeans, a navy tee—but they showcased a tall, well-muscled frame. His face and arms were tanned dark, and he obviously didn’t believe in haircuts. Though I wasn’t a fan of long hair, the shiny black waves hanging almost to his shoulders did suit him. He had a strong-featured face with a hint of the exotic, and bright gray eyes that were currently regarding me with a sparkle of humor.
I felt an odd kind of physical awareness. Of him as a man. And me as a woman. Which definitely wasn’t the usual way I reacted to a guy. There was something familiar about him, yet I was sure I’d never met him. I’d have remembered that bizarre sense of awareness.
“Not buying a book then?” he asked teasingly, with an Aussie twang.
Embarrassed by my reaction to him, I averted my eyes and muttered, “No.”
As I turned to walk away, I heard him say, “Each to his—or her—own.”
Why did I feel as if I was running away? I brushed the thought—and the man—out of my mind as I collected a bottle of water, then found the magazine section.
How surreal to be browsing bridal magazines. “Let me count the reasons I hate this stuff.” Whoops, I was muttering out loud again. I continued my rant inside my head.
It’s a giant industry that manipulates brides into thinking the most expensive wedding is going to make for the happiest marriage. Don’t people know that—
“Excuse me? Are you buying that one?” A female voice broke into my thoughts and I realized a perky young redhead was gazing at me inquiringly.
“What?” I glanced down at the magazine in my hand, featuring the ubiquitous bride clad in frothy white. “I haven’t decided.”
“It’s the last copy. So, if you’re not getting it, I’d like to. It’s my favorite.”
“Then take it.” I handed it over. “They’re all the same to me.”
“Oh, no, they’re not!” Her tone suggested I’d said something sacrilegious. “This one’s for the
bride, and that’s me.”
She pointed to another on the shelf, using her left hand and flashing a small diamond. “That’s for the modern bride, the one beside it is more traditional, and oh, that one has the dreamiest things, but they’re way too expensive, though some of their ideas can be replicated on a cheaper scale.” She grabbed a copy.
As she gushed enthusiastically, I studied the covers, thinking they all looked the same. Merilee had always left bridal magazines scattered around the house, but which had she favored?
The redhead had chosen three. “I’m getting married in April, so we’ve less than a year to get everything organized. It’s so much fun. How about you?”
“Me? Oh, it’s not me who’s getting married, it’s my youngest sister.”
“Oh.” She glanced at my ringless left hand. “That must be hard. But I’m sure it’ll happen for you too, quicker than you’d ever guess.”
“God, I hope not.” The words burst out, and when her smooth brow creased, I said, “I like being single. Seems to me, we each find the path in life that’s right for us. I’ve found mine.”
She was still frowning a little as she raised her left hand and wiggled her fingers, making the diamond dance. “And I’ve found mine. Maybe you’re right, but it’s hard to imagine someone choosing to live alone. For the rest of their life.”
It did sound rather like a life-in-solitary-confinement sentence, the way she said it. For a moment I remembered the way I’d felt with Jeffrey. Life had been brighter, richer. Happier. At our simple registry ceremony, I’d been euphoric. I might not be a white-lace kind of woman, but the promises I’d made had meant a lot to me. A future, a partnership, a sharing of life, love, work…
Oh yes, Jeffrey had definitely wanted
to share, but he hadn’t returned the favor. No, he’d lied to me from the start, then betrayed me. The pitiful truth was, I wasn’t the kind of woman who inspired a man’s love and loyalty.
“Some of us just do better on our own,” I said to the girl. “But I hope you’re very happy.”
“Your sister, too.”
After she’d gone, I chose the modern and traditional magazines she’d showed me. Might as well have both extremes—and see if I noticed the slightest bit of difference.
After paying, I squeezed the magazines into my carry-on. In addition to my laptop and the wedding planning book, it held undergrad exams to grade. Thanks to Merilee’s late-breaking news, I was leaving the uni a week before the end of the semester.
When I entered the departure gate, business class was loading. I joined the line, since, as a frequent flyer, I’d had the luck to have been upgraded. On the ten-hour flight to Honolulu—the first leg of my trip to Vancouver—the perks of business class would make a huge difference. Decent food, a couple of glasses of nice wine, space to work, a seat I could actually sleep in.
Now, if only I got a seatmate who put on his or her headphones and left me alone.
The plane had two business-class sections: one on the upper deck, which was more private, and one on the main deck. I was in the main one, assigned to a window seat in one of the side banks of two seats.
The seats in business class were different than the basic ones in economy. Rather than being linked together with shiftable armrests between, these were independent chairs. Kind of like those recline-in-front-of-the-TV loungers, except lodged inside a hard-shelled cocoon frame.
When I arrived at my row, a black-haired man was in the aisle seat, bending to stow a bag under the seat in front, and I couldn’t get past him. Behind me, people were making impatient sounds, so I said, “Excuse me? Could I slide by so I don’t hold others up?”
“Sorry.” He straightened with a quick smile, a disarming one that crinkled gray eyes and flashed white teeth in a dark face framed with too-long hair. The man from the bookstore.
“You!” Definitely not the seatmate I’d have chosen even if he was, as my secretary would have said, eye candy.
His smile quirked into a grin I had trouble reading. “If it isn’t the discerning reader.” He rose and moved into the aisle to let me go past.
I’m not clumsy by nature, yet I managed to trip over his feet. Big, brown, well-shaped feet in leather sandals.
When I stumbled, his right hand caught my shoulder and held it. “Easy now.”
Easy? With the heat of his hand burning through my cardigan? My breath caught and I couldn’t move. Something—a kind of energy—came off him. My body felt it like a tingly caress all over, though the only thing he gripped was my shoulder. There was a scent too, reminding me of field trips in the Outback: sunshine on eucalyptus—or gum trees as they’re called in Australia. And there was a gleam in his eyes that, if I’d been a more attractive woman, I’d have read as sexual interest. But hot, self-assured guys like him never gave plain, studious women like me a second glance.
I managed to unfreeze my muscles and plunked down in my seat, carry-on and purse on my lap.
“Put your bag up?” he asked, gesturing toward the overhead bin.
“No, thanks, I’ll keep it with me.”
An elderly woman in the aisle quickly said, “You can put our bag up, if you don’t mind.”
“I can do it, Delia,” the silver-haired man behind her said.
“Course you can, Trev. I just want to make this young man show off his muscles.” She gave my seatmate a wink.
He flashed her that dazzling smile and hefted the bag easily. When he hoisted it into the bin, his body stretched in a powerful, graceful motion. Muscles flexed in his arms and, as the left sleeve of his T-shirt rode up, I saw the edge of a tattoo—a dragon?—that appeared to curl around his bicep.
The shirt molded strong shoulders, hard pectorals. It was pulling free from his unbelted jeans. My gaze tracked down the line of his fly to register that the jeans, too, molded something quite appealing.
A shiver of sexual awareness rippled through me, making me squirm. Damn. Rarely did I notice a man in a sexual way. But then, not many men were worth noticing in that way.
He said, “There ya go,” to the woman.
Before he could catch me gaping, I busied myself with extracting a couple of student exams from my bag. From the corner of my eye, I noticed the older couple—a fit, attractive pair—taking the seats across the aisle in the middle section.
My seatmate sat down and his physical presence almost overwhelmed me. My uni colleagues were intellectuals like me, and rarely was I with someone like the man beside me. He pretty much exuded sexuality. Thank heavens for the spacious, independent seats. If I’d been crammed next to him in economy, arms and thighs touching each time we shifted position, I’d have ended up a mass of quivering hormones.
Sexual awareness was a rare feeling for me. I’d always, since I was a little kid, been all about intellect, not about the physical aspects of life—and that’s exactly the way the opposite sex had viewed me. I was in demand as a tutor, but not as a date. Then I’d met Jeffrey. He’d chosen me from among the other young profs and grad students. He was only my second lover, and with him I’d learned to enjoy my body. To enjoy sex.
I’d thought he was different. That he’d seen me, Theresa the woman, not just my brain. But I’d been wrong.
Easier, and safer, to do without men. The one time I’d decided to experiment again, with an anthropology prof I’d met at a conference in Melbourne, the sex had sucked. Intellectual compatibility hadn’t translated into the physical equivalent. Thank heavens I had a low sex drive or I’d sure be frustrated with only my own hand and a vibrator to keep me satisfied.
I wondered what the man beside me was like as a lover. My guess was, either stunningly skilful or entirely self-centered. Not that I’d ever find out. He definitely wasn’t my type, and I’d have bet that went double for him, about me.
Feeling warm, either from the stuffiness of the plane or the effect of my seatmate, I began to wriggle out of my cardigan.
“Help you with your cardie?”
“No, I’m f—” Before I could say “fine,” his hand was there again, on my shoulder, easing the navy cashmere down over the sleeveless top I wore beneath it. The top was rust-colored and brought out the auburn in my short brown hair. Plain I might be, but I wasn’t entirely without vanity. I strove for a look that was comfortable, practical, and passably attractive. No point trying for a glamour that could never be mine; I’d only have looked pathetic.