Excerpt: Ice

Excerpt: Ice

Book 1: Alaska Heat

Cort swung the Cessna toward the runway, then swore as Kaylie ran right in front of the plane, waving her arms and shouting. He slammed on the brakes, grimacing at the protest from the plane, but he’d been going slowly enough to allow for the sharp stop. He threw open his door. “What the hell—”

“Something happened to Sara!” Kaylie’s face was ashen as she lunged for him and tried to pull herself into the Cessna.

Cort caught her arms as she tried to scramble over him into the passenger seat. Her body was shaking violently beneath his hands, and he instinctively pulled her against him. “Kaylie. Calm down.” He was used to passengers panicking on him, but something about the way she was reacting sent a chill down his spine. “What happened?”

She shook her head, her eyes hidden behind those damn sunglasses. “I don’t know, but we have to go—”

“Kaylie!” He sharpened his voice, and it penetrated her panic enough to get her to stop trying to climb onto his lap. It had been a long time since he’d felt a woman with curves like hers crawling over his body, and he was responding in a way that made him wish he’d gotten airborne before she’d been able to stop him.

Kaylie Fletcher was a woman he couldn’t afford to notice.

If she weren’t so damn terrified, he’d dump her right out of the plane and get the hell out of there.

But there was no way he would turn his back on that level of fear. Not even from her. “What happened?” he repeated. He kept his voice calm, even as his pulse elevated in response to her apparent terror.

“This!” She punched a couple buttons on her phone and held it out for him.

He frowned as he took her phone, then he heard Sara’s frantic voice and his adrenaline kicked in as he listened to the message. “Shit!”

“What happened? Can you tell?”

“No.” He tossed her the phone and grabbed his headset. He made a quick call to see if any planes were close enough to Sara and Jackson’s cabin to swing by for a look. When Kaylie heard what he was asking, she slid off him and ran across the tarmac to get her bags.

No one was flying in or out of the area near Jackson’s place, since the weather was going south fast in that vicinity. Cort realized that if he wanted to know what was going on at the cabin, he was going to have to go himself. His only chance to beat the storm was to take the shortcut through Devil’s Pass, but Devil’s Pass was not an option for Cort. Ever.

He’d have to take the long route, but the weather front was approaching too quickly to make that a sane choice. The control tower gave Cort a no-go on taking off in that direction. He assessed the sky again, thought about Sara’s message, and told them he was going anyway.

He hopped out of the Cessna and strode across the tarmac to where Kaylie was rifling through her bags. “I’m going out there to check it out.”

“I’m going with you.” She pulled out a pair of microfiber pants lined with something thick.

Damn. Those were serious all-weather pants. Not what he would have expected from the woman in jeweled shoes. “No,” he said. “I don’t like the weather. I’ll go alone for a quick look.”

“Three minutes ago, you were willing to fly me.” She kicked off her shoes, her peach-colored toenails looking so endangered on the harsh tarmac. Dammit, Kaylie didn’t belong out here.

She never would.

She yanked the outdoor pants on over her cotton ones, then sat her cute little ass right down on the tarmac and tugged on a pair of thick socks.

He narrowed his eyes as he watched her transform from a piece of decoration into something hardcore. Who the hell was this woman? “The weather has changed.”

Kaylie tugged a pair of thermal waterproof boots out of her bag and shoved her feet into them. Then she threw on a layer of fleece over that damned cotton sweater he liked, pulled a parka out of her bag, and stood up. “So have I.”

He surveyed her carefully. Her clothes were brand new, but they were appropriate. She wore her outdoor gear with as much comfort as she’d worn her little blue shoes and her low-cut sweater. Damn if that didn’t just make him get even more of a hard-on for her. Sexy and Lower 48 was one thing, but the fact she could also carry off outdoor gear as if it were made for her skin? Hot damn.

Maybe he wouldn’t be so quick to send her packing. Maybe a long, slow night of Alaskan loving would go a long way toward getting her and what she represented finally cleansed from his system. Her cheeks were flushed, her sunglasses were on the ground, and she had fantastically dark eyes that were focused and determined.

And scared shitless.

He stared into those brown eyes for a long moment, unable to look away from the plea in them. Kaylie didn’t turn away either, holding his gaze. Something deep in his gut reacted to the terror haunting her face and the way she clutched the parka to her chest so desperately.

“Sara’s my best friend.” Kaylie’s voice cracked, revealing a commitment and loyalty he ran across very seldom when dealing with people.

His respect for Kaylie Fletcher bounced up a couple notches and he knew he had no choice. He grabbed her bags off the tarmac. “Let’s go.”

“Oh, God, thank you.” She touched his arm, and awareness sparked at the contact. Her eyes widened, as if she had also felt it. Then she pulled her hand back and turned away to retrieve her blue shoes.

She shoved them into her handbag and fell in beside him, jogging to keep up as he strode back to the Cessna. He didn’t wait for her, almost hoping that she wouldn’t follow.

She did.

No surprise. He had a feeling Kaylie Fletcher always did whatever the hell she felt like doing. And she looked damn good doing it, too.

He tossed the bags in the back, hesitating only a split second before he palmed Kaylie’s waist and hoisted her up. Her hips were curvy and soft beneath his hands, reminding him of how her V-neck sweater had dipped low between her breasts. His thumb slipped beneath the bottom edge of her sweater and caught bare flesh. Hot and smooth.

Kaylie shot a startled look at him. The tension between them jacked up, and her gaze flickered to his mouth. Heat spiked straight to his groin.

She pulled out of his grasp, and he released her. She climbed over his seat and settled on the passenger side. She tried to do the buckle, but it slipped out of her hand.

“I’ll do that.” Cort climbed in next to her and took over the buckles. Her hands were icy beneath his, and they were trembling violently.

He realized then how truly terrified she was. No wonder she’d said no to the flight. Her fear ran deep, so deep that only the terror for her best friend could overcome it.

He cupped her hands, steadying them in his grasp. “It’s going to be fine,” he said quietly, using his best client voice. He caught a whiff of her tantalizing scent, and he was assaulted by a sudden urge to press his face into the curve of her neck and inhale. Instead, he cracked a casual smile. “I’m the best there is. Just sit back and enjoy the ride.”

She shot him a look of disbelief. “Enjoy it? Are you serious?”

“Hell, yeah.” Damn. He couldn’t help noticing how close she was to him. That luscious mouth of hers was only inches away, her breasts rising as she tried to catch her breath. Her hands caught in his grasp. Trapped.

“Let’s just go.” She pulled her hands free of his, shoving her small fists into her jacket pockets. Her breath was too shallow, and she had little lines of tension around the corners of her mouth.

Right. Business. Flying. Cort pulled himself together and finished strapping her in, giving the harness an extra tug to make sure it was secure. The back of his hand brushed against her breast, and she stiffened.

“Accident.” But he wasn’t complaining, and neither did she.

He stifled a small smile, shaking his head at his reaction to her. He needed to ditch her as soon as possible. If he didn’t, he’d regret it later.

Once Kaylie was snugged down, he took a moment to study her as a client and not as a woman who was making his blood boil. She was a passenger on the edge, and he needed to deal with that before getting airborne. “You okay with flying?”

She nodded, but her face was pale. “I’m worried about Sara.”

Hah. She looked like she was going to pass out with the demons from hell on her tail. There was a hell of a lot more going on besides Kaylie’s concern for her friend.

“Kaylie.” He caught her chin and forced her to look at him, using the voice he used when he had a panicking passenger on his hands. Shit, her skin was soft. He’d bet a tank of fuel that her mouth tasted incredible.

Her gaze settled on his, and she didn’t look away, searching his face desperately for reassurance, for comfort, for help.

He realized she had grizzly bear eyes, dark and bottomless. Beautiful and captivating, with a heavy dose of stay-the-hell-away. “If there’s something I need to know before I get us at two thousand feet in bad weather, you better tell me.”

She grabbed his wrist, but she didn’t try to pull his hand away from her face. She held on tightly, like she was afraid he’d release her. Her fingers were pale and slender around his arm, but her grip was strong enough to make him smile.

She lifted her chin, and he saw her summon her composure. “I’m not going to freak out on you. Let’s go.”

He hesitated a moment longer, brushing his thumb over the corner of her mouth. So damned delicate. Flawless. There’d been no years of exposure to harsh weather for Kaylie Fletcher, despite how comfortable she seemed in her gear. She was a groundie, for sure. Someone who lived with two feet on the ground and storm windows keeping out the cold.

Not his kind of woman.

Not anymore.

“Cort.” His name was a desperate whisper on her lips, and it struck a spot inside him that made him shudder.

He forced himself to release her. “Then let’s do it.” He strapped himself in and headed out toward the runway, not that he needed more than a couple hundred feet to take off with an unloaded plane on a runway that was actually paved. Dirt takeoffs between mountains were what he was used to. This was a cakewalk.

“Cort?”

“Yeah?” He checked with the control tower for clearance to take off and got the affirmative. He didn’t bother to tell them he’d be circling back toward Jackson’s.

“Do you think Sara—” Her voice broke again, and she didn’t finish.

He glanced over at Kaylie and saw she was hugging herself. Her feet were up on the dash, as if she was trying to curl into a protective ball. “I’m sure she’s fine,” he lied.

“Really?” She turned her gaze onto him, and he saw her need for honesty. She didn’t want empty reassurance. She wanted the truth, even if it was ugly.

He respected that need and gave her what she wanted. “I don’t take off into weather like I think we’re going to hit unless I believe someone’s life is at risk, and I’m the only one who can do anything about it.”

Her face drained of what little color it had, and for a second he regretted being so blunt.

Then she nodded and fisted the straps of the harness, her face hardening with determination. “Okay, then.”

He grinned at the ferocity on her face. Yeah, like he’d thought. The woman with jewels on her shoes had some grizzly bear in her.

Get too close to a grizzly and you were dead meat. Those females would rip your damn heart out and have it for breakfast.

Cort rubbed his thumb over the scar on the back of his left hand. He’d gotten it the last time he’d let a grizzly get too close. He’d learned his lesson, and it was time to remember it. Kaylie Fletcher could be nothing but a client.

A favor for a friend.

Nothing more.

It was his own damned problem that he couldn’t stop thinking about how good she’d feel beneath him.

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