Authors: Marie Force
Love at First Flight
THE BOSS HAD PICKED A HELL OF A TIME TO
A bead of sweat rolled down Michael's
back. As Baltimore City State's Attorney Tom Houlihan pelted him with a
rapid-fire series of pre-trial questions over the phone, the departure time for
Michael's flight to Florida crept closer. He needed an exit strategy, and he
needed it now.
Travelers swarmed through the gate area
while Michael struggled to stay focused on the call despite the chaos around
him. Tugging on his burgundy silk tie, he released the top button of his shirt
and watched a line form to board the flight.
“And Rachelle?” Tom asked.
“I saw her last night,” Michael said. “She's
antsy, but hanging in there.” He flipped through some other notes on his
laptop, hoping to anticipate Tom's next question.
“Well, she's a teenager stuck in
protective custody. You've got daughters, so you can probably imagine.”
An exotic scent filled Michael's senses,
drawing his attention away from the call. He glanced at the seat next to him
where a young woman with silky dark hair and an olive-toned complexion watched
with dismay as a gate attendant slipped a “Delayed” sign over the flight
“Michael?” Tom said.
Michael tore his eyes off the woman. “I'm
sorry. What did you say?”
“I asked if there was anything else you
needed from me.”
“We should be set until jury selection.
I'll want your input then. George prepped the last of the witnesses today.
We've covered all the bases, so try not to worry.”
“Yeah, right,” Tom said with a wry
“I'll check in first thing on Monday.”
“Enjoy the party. Hopefully, it's the
only time you'll be engaged.”
Michael laughed, relieved that Tom
seemed satisfied—for now. “That's the goal. I appreciate the time off. Have a
good weekend.” He ended the call and caught the tail end of the gate
attendant's announcement. “What did she say?” he asked the woman next to him.
She glanced over with a distressed
expression on her stunning face. “Ninety-minute delay.”
A jolt of desire surprised Michael. He
was on his way to visit his fiancee and to attend their engagement party, so
what was with the unexpected reaction to a pretty stranger? Pretty wasn't the
right word. Strikingly beautiful was more like it. Since they now had ninety
minutes to kill, he decided to indulge the curiosity. “Where're you heading in
He noticed her eyes were fixed on the
gate attendant who slid the updated departure time into a slot on the board.
“My boyfriend's working there for a
year. How about you?” She glanced over at him with soft brown eyes that drew
him right in.
He couldn't remember the last time
anything other than the upcoming trial had captured his attention so
completely. “Amelia Island. My fiancee lives there with her parents.”
“So you're doing the long-distance
thing, too, huh?”
“Yeah, and it sucks. How long have you
been doing it?”
“Almost seven months,” she said with a
sigh. “Five more to go.”
“Six months down and eight to go for us.
We're getting married in April.”
“Well, at least we both know it won't
last forever. I don't know how people do it indefinitely. That would make me
even crazier than I am now.”
“What do you do?” she asked. “I'm a
prosecutor for the Baltimore City state's attorney.”
Her eyes widened. “Wow, that's so cool.”
“More like overwhelming—especially
lately. What about you?”
“Nothing quite so exciting. I'm a hair
“That sounds like more fun than putting
people in jail.”
Her smile engaged her entire face, and
his heart skipped an erratic beat.
“It is until someone hates their
haircut, but fortunately that doesn't happen to me very often.”
“What do you do when it does?”
“If they're truly upset, we offer them a
freebie next time, but usually they come back telling us they got all kinds of
compliments on their new look.”
Hoping to keep her talking, he ran his
hand through his mop of wavy brown hair. “I could use your services right about
“You should stop by the salon sometime.”
“Where do you work?”
“Panache in the Inner Harbor.”
“I wish I had time for a haircut. I'm
going to trial in just over a week.”
“Can you tell me about it?” She turned
in her chair and pulled her legs up under her.
“It's the Benedetti brothers,” he
confided in a low tone, thrilled to have her full attention.
She gasped. “Oh my God!”
Gang members Marco and Steven Benedetti
were accused of gunning down three teenaged boys in the city.
“My co-worker's cousin was one of the
kids they killed. Timmy Sargant.”
“We're going to get them.”
“I hope so,” she said softly. “I really
“Attention in the gate area. Announcing
the arrival of Flight 980 from Providence with continuing service to
Jacksonville. For those of you waiting for the Jacksonville flight, we'll begin
boarding as soon as the thunderstorms clear out of the Jacksonville area.”
“I wish I was going to Providence,” he
“I'm from there. My family lives in
“How'd you end up down here?”
“I went to Georgetown Law and met my
fiancee, so I ended up staying here. Then her parents moved to Florida, and
here we are living apart. How'd you meet your boyfriend?”
“We went to high school together. We've
been together ten years, since junior year.”
“So then you're... twenty-seven? You
look older than that.”
“You're not supposed to say that to a
woman,” she said, laughing at his sudden embarrassment.
“What I meant is that you look much too
sophisticated dressed all in black to be only twenty-seven. Is that better?”
“Nice save,” she said with a grin. “We
wear black in the salon—it's the uniform.”
“I'm Michael Maguire, by the way, and
Smiling, she reached out to shake his
hand, and an odd current traveled through him at the feel of her soft hand in
his. He had to remind himself that he was supposed to let go.
“Juliana Gregorio. Nice to meet you,
Michael Maguire, thirty-two.”
“So how come you aren't married to that
boyfriend of ten years yet?” he asked with a teasing grin, not sure why the
answer suddenly mattered so much to him.
“We just haven't gotten around to it, I
guess. I've been asking myself that question more often in the months since
Jeremy's been gone.”
“You'll get around to it.”
“We'll see.” She nibbled on her
thumbnail. “For some reason, I feel like there's a lot riding on this weekend.”
“Why do you suppose that is?”
“I don't know. Everything was going
along pretty well for months, but he's been kind of remote on the phone the
last few weeks. I can't figure out what's up.”
“I'm sure it'll be fine when you see
him. Paige's parents are having an engagement party for us this weekend, which
is the number one reason why I'd rather be heading north instead of south.”
“You're not excited about the party?”
“I'm dreading it. It's so stupid when
you consider all the same people will be at the wedding less than a year from
“It's a waste of time and money—two
things her parents have way too much of.”
Juliana smiled, and Michael found
himself riveted by her every expression. Her face flushed under the heat of his
scrutiny, and she looked away. He wondered if she thought he was one of those
weird strangers women were taught to fend off in self-defense classes. She'd
probably run for her life if he acted on the urge to lean in closer for a
better whiff of the earthy, spicy scent that was driving him mad.
Reminding himself he was a grown man and
not a hormonal teenager, he made an effort to keep the staring—and the
sniffing—to a minimum and the conversation light. By the time the gate
attendant announced their flight, he felt like he had known Juliana for years
rather than an hour. Since the plane wasn't full, they chose seats together.
Her cell phone rang just as she took it
out to turn it off. “Hi, Dona. I can't talk. I'm on the plane, and I have to
shut my phone off soon.”
While pretending not to hang on her
every word, Michael watched her stiffen with tension.
“You promised me! You said you'd handle
it!” Another pause. “I'll call Vincent.” She ended the call and dialed another
number. “Vin, you gotta help me out. Can you take dinner over and check on Ma
tonight? Dona totally bailed on me.” Pause. “Vincent,
I'm on an airplane
. You've got to do it.” She lowered her voice. “Please.”
Something about that softly uttered word
tugged at Michael's already over-involved heart, making him wish he could fix
all her problems.
What the hell is that
“Thanks, Vin. I really appreciate it.
I'll talk to you Sunday.” She shut the phone off, returned it to her purse, and
stared out the airplane window.
For a long moment, Michael debated
whether he should say anything. “Are you all right?” he finally asked.