When we last left off, Lark Blackwood, dominant, CEO, and billionaire, had swept sweet, shy Sebastian Stone off for a dinner date on the last day of one job and the day before another. Nothing but romance and passion awaits, right?
Before I can think of a reasonable response, though, Carter pulls into some parking structure. Huh? We haven’t been in the car five full minutes. I peer out the window, recognizing Chinatown.
“Are we going for Chinese food?” I ask Lark in surprise. It wasn’t something I ever thought she’d be into, but I’m pleased to think she might be willing to go to one of the funky old-school restaurants here with me, someplace comfortable and casual, share Kung Pao Chicken on a couple of those tacky, plastic, oriental-print plates. Feed each other with chopsticks. Sip terrible tea from Chinese cups. We could even stroll by the river after, I think. It would be exquisite.
“No,” Lark says.
“Oh. Then the oyster bar-”
“It’s a surprise,” she repeats as Carter steers the silver Mercedes around and over to a reserved parking place next to an elevator. “Come along,” she adds, holding out her hand to me.
Okay, this is weird, but… I put my hand in hers.
Carter pushes buttons, and takes us up in the industrial elevator to the top of the structure.
The doors part, and good gravy, we’re at the rooftop.
And parked in front of us is a very large, very expensive, very high-tech helicopter. Sleek and black, it looks like something out of a futuristic thriller.
Giving me a particularly cat-that-ate-the-entire-aviary smile, Lark informs me, “I thought we would go to Seattle for dinner. I’ve made a reservation for us at Kanlis.”
Shit, really? First a kidnapping from work, and now a helicopter and one of the most expensive, exclusive restaurants in the country?!
My stomach drops. A helicopter? Flying there in a helicopter?
A dozen reasons why I can’t possibly go to dinner in Seattle via helicopter with her jangle in my brain, but the one that comes out of my stupid mouth is probably the most mundane. “I’m… not really dressed for someplace like that,” I point out. Restaurants like that won’t let you in the front door in jeans, sneakers, and a decided lack of tie or sport coat.
“That won’t be a problem,” Lark says calmly. Carter has moved to open the helicopter doors for us.
“Are you flying this?!” I gasp, my stomach sinking further.
She smiles again, clearly enjoying having the upper hand with her surprises. “I could,” she says. “I am also a licensed pilot,” Lark informs me, “but tonight, I will let Carter concentrate on the routines of transportation. Let’s get in.”
One delicate eyebrow arches, and her lips purse in a mullish way.
“I’ve never been in a helicopter before,” I tell her, buying time. It looks incredibly dangerous.
“Then it’s high time you experienced it,” she returns smoothly. “It’s a Eurocopter EC135, much more maneuverable and fast than some of the Airbus models, although we keep one of those for the business. This one is all mine. Designed by Hermes, even. Had it for three years, now. I fly it back and forth to LA, San Francisco, or Seattle when I need to, or to local building sites. It saves hours of time, and often I can land directly next to my hotels when I stay downtown.”
“That’s… affluent of you.”
“It’s not just about that, though. It gives me incredible freedom to go wherever I want, whenever I want, quickly.”
“Oh. Um. How long have you had your license?” I ask, my fingers clenching nervously.
“Several years. The Federal Aviation Association requires a minimum of 50 hours of designated helicopter flight time, plus additional safety training, with a licensed instructor. Carter used to fly professionally for several years in the military as well.”
“Oh. And you… fly planes, too?” I remember this pertinent information from our first coffee date together.
“Yes, I also have a private airplane pilot’s license. Each kind of flying has its own challenges. That’s why I love it.” She sounds so excited, so enthusiastic. She gives me that bright, artless smile that takes my breath away. “Go on, Sebastian, get in.” She nods again at the empty seat.
“Sebastian…? What is the matter?” Lark asks me, looking impatient as I hesitate.
“It’s just… I mean… how safe is it?”
Her eyebrow arches. “You are now concerned about safety?”
“You’re not afraid of riding a motorcycle, are you, Sebastian?”
“That’s different,” I falter, unsure of how to explain the ways that it feels different.
“No, it isn’t,” she counters. “Often air travel is the safest method of transportation. It’s two hundred thousand times safer than driving, statistically speaking, and you’re over two hundred times more likely to die on a motorcycle than in an aviation incident.”
“I guess it’s that… on my bike, I know I’m the one driving it, and….”
“Ahhh,” Lark murmurs. “So. This is about trust again. You don’t trust me. You don’t believe I’ll take care of you.”
“No!” I protest, panic lighting my stomach. I fight the urge to cover my face with my hands. “Lark, I don’t want to argue,” I whisper to her, chagrined.
“Then don’t.” She gives me a steady look, but that vulnerability seems to hover around her perfect mouth. “I wanted to share something special with you, Sebastian. Take you on an adventure. I cancelled a dinner and two business meetings for this.”
“I am going to Kanlis for dinner. I want you to join me. I don’t think I could make things more clear,” she tells me.
Wow. She wants to have dinner with me. She planned a special surprise. All for me.
Her eyes search mine. “Can’t you face your irrational fears just once? For me? Instead of saying no to everything life has to offer, Sebastian,” she says, even softer, “why not try saying yes for once, with trust that it will be worth it?” The blue of her eyes is incandescent.
Nervously, I lick my lips, and look at the ‘copter warily. Can I think of it like the Ducati, maybe?
Hoo boy. Ugh. Okay.
Against my own better judgement and sense of crushing fear, I approach the helicopter like one would a wild animal, frightened and suspicious.
“Flight plan is cleared, madam,” Carter says, startling me. I’m so used to her being silent. “And Tucker completed the checks and confirmed them with me via text five minutes ago.”
“Good. Sebastian? Get in.”
What other choice do I have? I scramble into the sleek, giant machine, and it swallows me up. Lark slides in gracefully next to me, and, to my disbelief, leans to fasten my safety harnesses snug and tight
“There,” she whispers, with a new kind of contentment glowing in her eyes, “you aren’t going anywhere but where I take you.”
It’s a metaphor, I know, for something much, much more than a kidnapping and helicopter trip up to Seattle for dinner. I swallow my nerves as she puts headphones on over my unruly hair, smoothing down my curls, and giving me a wide, wolfish grin before securing her own seat belts.
Carter, meanwhile, is flipping switches and pushing buttons, and I hear a disembodied voice from “the tower” rattling off numbers and information that make no sense to me as the contraption starts to spin. The vibrations reignite the terror in my heart.
With a dip and a gentle lurch, the helicopter lifts into the air.
Next to me, Lark takes my clammy hand.
“Still scared?” she asks me, and her voice comes through the headphones. Inwardly, I wince, knowing Carter and probably even whoever it is at the tower can hear us.
“No,” I force myself to say, watching the lights of Portland swirl below. My stomach seems to swirl along with it. I close my eyes, turn my head. Oh, god, what if I throw up? Panic gnaws my innards.
Let me out, let me out, let me out! My brain screams–like my dream this morning, I realize fuzzily–as I feel the contraption sway some more.
“Liar,” she laughs at me, squeezing my hand in hers.
Fuuuuuuuck…. This feels nothing like riding a motorbike! It’s not even like flying in a regular plane, which I don’t exactly love, either, but this is so… flimsy, fragile. It feels like we could drop out of the sky at any second.
A vision of us plummeting into the side of a building or getting tangled in power lines fills my head, and I hear my own shaky breath, and squeeze my eyes closed tighter.
One of her fingers traces over the back of my hand.
Another finger, sliding along my hammering pulse. Oh, she can feel that I’m scared out of my mind, that I was fronting about my bravery, and I hear her soft laugh again as my pulse slams against her fingertips.
“Don’t worry, baby,” she says. “You’re safe with me.” Because of the headphones, her voice seems to echo all over the inside of my head.
The monster contraption dips some more, and I hunch down further in my seat.
“Bash…? Hey… baby, open your eyes,” Lark whispers.
“Sebastian.” Her voice is firm, not taking no for an answer.
Panting, I force myself to open my eyes.
“Look,” she whispers. “Look out the window.”
To our left, the sun is setting in a dozen shades of opaline splendor, and it’s like we’re sailing into it ourselves.
“There’s the Pacific Ocean out there,” Lark points. Rays of golden-red light catch her hair, her face, and it seems like she’s sporting a golden halo above her coppery hair.
Maybe it’s a sign?
I force myself to breathe, to push the fears down, and concentrate on the scenery.
The sun casts its golden light over everything, sparkling, pure. Pink clouds chase each other in a sky that as blue and deep as Lark’s eyes.
“Ohhhh,” I exhale, enchanted. How peaceful up here, above it all.
“This is breathtaking!” I admit.
“I think so too,” Lark agrees, still smiling in that whole, wide, open All-American Girl way I’m not used to seeing. “And this is all ours, baby,” Lark says softly, and her fingers curl through mine.
I feel my mouth drop open at the unexpected touch.
With that soft, low laugh, she leans over and kisses me.
Ahhhh… the sensation in my stomach at that is even more turbulent than a helicopter takeoff, I think, dizzy, as her tongue strokes mine, teasing and coaxing me. Her hand slides into my hair, fisting tight, holding me, as she claims my mouth again. It’s a sensuous, sensual assault.
“I wonder,” she murmurs, “if you’ve ever been kissed at 20,000 feet before.”
My whole body is on fire at this point. Oh, god, how erotic! “No,” I breathe, although she had to have known the answer to that herself.
“Good. Another first,” she smiles, and then, eyes hooding, her mouth is on mine again.