I may be breathing hard against his lapels, and my hand may cover his throbbing manhood, heat pouring off it like a glowing fireplace poker, but emotionally, I feel like the San Andreas fault just cracked open between us.
Divided by my mother.
The chopper dips suddenly and I roll into Declan, my seat belt harness tangling with the arm that’s under his kilt, the pull of my kinetic readjustment making him yelp.
He takes the opportunity to reach under the tartan and clench my hand, which is not going anywhere.
“Shannon,” he says in a voice of warning. I can’t tell whether he’s turned on or in pain.
“My mother shouldn’t be calling the FAA, and certainly shouldn’t sic the bloodhounds on you—”
“Reporting a lie to a federal agency is a bit more than that!”
Our first Christmas as husband and wife is going to really suck if Declan’s in federal prison. The man has a point. Mom shouldn’t have done that.
I take a deep breath through my nose, and as I’m about to speak, the air becomes a swirling mess, our descent imminent. My veil goes in my mouth, a piece hitting the back of my throat, and I gag, so overcome I let go of Declan’s joystick.
The helicopter rights itself. It’s almost like I was flying the damn bird when I was holding him.
“Don’t ever do that again,” he says coldly.
“Do what?” I know he means grab his, um, central processing unit, but...
“Grab me like that when you don’t intend to do anything about it.”
“Can’t do anything about it here!” I insist.
He stares me down. “Remember our second date?”
“You want me to stab you with an EpiPen?”
He flinches, clears his throat, and clarifies. “Third date.”
I scan my memory. Sex in a limo. Something extra in the helicopter. Ah. Yes.
That clears up my earlier confusion. He’s aroused.
All four chambers of my heart feel like they’re full of concrete.
“I’m sorry.” My hand goes to his knee. “I’ll make it up to you later.” One of the most endearing qualities in Declan is his bluntness. He has no emotional attachment to how others perceive his words. For some people, that would be a source of distress, but for Declan it’s how he functions. When he wants an emotional attachment, he seeks it out. Cultivates it. Makes it a part of his soul.
The rest of the world, though?
I don’t want to be meh to him. I stroke the soft inner thigh, the skin responding to my fingers, heavy muscles tensing.
“I’m really sorry,” I whisper.
“Shannon,” he says, his voice low and suggestive. “You don’t have to apologize for groping me. Ever.”
As he starts to say more, the pilot cuts in. Sprinkled in between unintelligible words I hear enough. The FAA has been called off. Mom’s report has been verified to be untrue.
I pat his leg, feeling him swell underneath.
As we land, I realize this adventure has only just begun.
We are at a private airport I’ve never seen before. The sky is that glorious shade of blue that seems to deepen as you look up, with a smattering of clouds that draw the eye to them. It’s a perfect, idyllic July day in Massachusetts.
A great day for an outdoor wedding.
Declan and the helicopter pilot, whose name I never caught, exchange a few words in Russian before I rib my soon-to-be husband and whisper, “Would you please speak in English?”
He just stares at me with that intimidatingly blank face.
“That doesn’t work, you know,” I tell him with a pointed sneer. Or, at least, I try to sneer. I’m not so good at the sneering thing. That’s more Jessica Coffin’s area of expertise.
He doesn’t twitch a muscle. For whatever reason, he doesn’t want me to know what he and the pilot are talking about. Fine. Fine!
But this alpha-male dominant crap—you know, the stuff I fell in love with him for—is getting on my nerves.
“Declan, please,” I concede.
The exasperated hiss that comes out of me makes my body flush with fury. “It’s our wedding day. I am supposed to be kissing you at the altar right now while the minister pronounces us husband and wife. Instead, I listened to you and went along with this crazy scheme to run off to Las Vegas and leave everyone—everyone!—behind.”
Side note: I know that’s not true. The decision to ditch my mother was mutual. But right now, I have zero leverage, and he’s giving me that granite look like he’s an Easter Island statue, so I have to find some kind of vulnerability in him.
I’m saving sex for the nuclear option.
His lips purse, jaw grinding, as he finally opens his mouth and says, “No one forced you into the helicopter.”
The words feel like knife blades against my heart, scraping lightly rather than plunging straight in. He’s right. His eyes fill with a kind of measured kindness, as if he understands I’m falling apart in stages.
I am. The Russian thing isn’t helping.
“Why won’t you tell me what you’re talking about with the pilot?”
“Because it’s a surprise.”
“Not a surprise that involves swallowing, I hope?”
His sharp intake of air makes me realize what I’ve, um, hinted at.
“I meant swallowing a ring,” I clarify, clearing my throat.
Emotion finally flickers in his face.
He can play this immutable look game for as long as he wants. Two years ago, it worked. I’ve lived with this man for nearly a year. I know him intimately now. He knows me thoroughly (though, perhaps, not as intimately as his mother’s engagement ring knows me, but let’s not go there...).