Madison stood on the tarmac in the early September sun, waiting as her luggage was loaded from the limo into the plane. It was time to climb the metal grid stairs to the opened door of the plane, but she wasn’t at all sure she could do this. Small planes scared the hell out of her. And even though this was a large corporate commuter, it was still small compared to the other planes she’d flown.
She took a deep breath and sighed as she realized that now, there was no one here to push her–no governess, no headmaster, no Dean of Women, and most of all, no father. It was still hard to believe that she had buried him just last week.
Yes, she could run out. She could get back in the limo and direct the driver to take her anywhere . . . anywhere in the world. But if she ran out, then what? She would only be running out on herself. Of all the challenges she’d had in her life, why was this one turning out to be the hardest?
Was it because she was leaving the security of New York and everything that was familiar to her or was it because she was about to enter the corporate world on a level she didn’t understand? No, it was because of the conflict. She was going into a legal war zone, a place where her father had flourished, where he had out-maneuvered and outflanked the best of them, after all, it had been his field of expertise. But it was going to be her demise, she just knew it. She did not have what it took to fill his shoes. She hated conflict and always had. She was always the one to acquiesce, the one who gave in at the slightest hint of trouble, even when she knew beyond a doubt that she was right. She even hated to see others argue or fight. In the dorm, she was the one who resolved the conflicts before they escalated out of control.
As she stood there watching the last of her cases being loaded, she caught her windswept hair in her hands, pulling at the strands that stuck to her glossy lips. I should have braided it, she thought. It would have been much more practical for traveling.
Madison looked over at the stairs again. Damn him for dying and leaving this mess! Her glance drifted to the top of the stairs where she saw the man whose time she owned for the next four months, the man her father had hired to fly his private plane, the man who had been paid an exorbitant amount of money to be available to fly her father anywhere he suddenly had a whim to go. Well, where her father was going now, he certainly didn’t need wings. If anything, he probably needed a front end loader.
The man on the top step waved to her and she timidly waved back. So this was Kent. Kent Markham, the man with a one year guaranteed contract, a contract that she now owned and was obligated to pay. So now, she owned a pilot. Wonderful. Last week, she owned a Papasan chair, two computers, a trunk full of text books and a vintage Karman Ghia. This week, she owned two large companies, six hotels, a department store, a manor house on Long Island, a partially completed resort in North Carolina, a Mercedes limo and a pilot. Not bad for a second-year graduate student.
She shielded her eyes from the sun and looked back up at the man. The hunky man her roommates would have said. He was gorgeous; tall, tanned with wavy silver and chestnut colored hair, a broad chest with wide shoulders, and a firmly chiseled jaw under sensuous, full lips. Okay, if you were going to own a man, this would be the kind to have. She couldn’t see his eyes though. They were hidden behind dark, aviator-styled sunglasses. But she could see his teeth when he smiled–perfect, white and gleaming. Devastating, that’s what he was, devastating. And he was probably just the type who knew it, too.
“We’re cleared to go whenever you’re ready Miss Grantham,” he called down to her.
Well, it was time to either get on the plane or bolt. After a moment’s hesitation, she suddenly decided she wanted to know the color of Kent Markham’s eyes. So she slowly walked across the asphalt and up the shallow, metal-grid steps, mindful not to scuff the heels of her linen-wrapped pumps as she held tightly to the wobbly handrail.
There she was, Kent thought to himself, the erstwhile brainiac who now owned a small dynasty. What he knew about Madison Grantham could be stuffed into a thimble, but what he’d heard about her would fill a tanker. At 5′ 10″, she was her daddy’s illegitimate daughter, dropped off on his doorstep as an infant. He’d taken her in, given her his name, and kept her very well hidden until she went off to college. A Vassar girl with a capital V, for vapor. But my, she did look mighty fine, in an elegant, sexy, sophisticated way, but she still managed to seem demure enough to make a man wonder. And he was wondering. Where the hell did she get those fantastic green eyes and that silky, shiny blonde hair? And those breasts straining against the jacket of her designer suit, a man couldn’t look at her without noticing those puppies.
Kent had known her father fairly well. They’d made many runs together and her father didn’t seem like the kind of guy who had a prayer of latching onto anything this classy. Her mother must have been a showgirl or a stripper or maybe even a stacked waitress, she sure didn’t get her looks, or her fantastic figure from him. Jake Grantham had been grizzled, brutish and surly, but sometimes after a few belts great fun.
He put out his hand to assist Madison into the plane and was surprised at its soft coolness.
“How do you do, Mr. Markham?” she politely drawled, and then he remembered that she had been raised in mostly southern boarding schools.
I do fine and I’d like to do you, was on the tip of his tongue, but he wisely, refrained. “I’m good. Ready to get on board and set our sights for sunny North Carolina?”
“No, not really. But I guess I have little choice in the matter,” she said resignedly. “Would you do me a favor?”
“Would you remove your sunglasses for a minute, please?”
His eyebrows went up under the top of the frames, but he resolutely lifted the sunglasses up onto his head using a very tanned, very large hand that was speckled with light curling hairs.
She looked into his eyes and smiled, “I was betting on blue. I didn’t know silver was an option.”
“A throwback to my Welsh grandfather. They called him Quick Silver. Not in a derogatory way,” he added, “being quick to get the job done, didn’t have the meaning that it has now.”
“What does it mean now?” she asked innocently, and he wasn’t sure if she was putting on an dumb act or if she really was that naive about a man’s proclivity for premature timing with a woman.
“Nothing,”he mumbled, “nothing important. Here, let me show you around your plane.”
He bored her with some of the more technical aspects of the plane, its top speed and altitude, fuel capacities and such, as he showed her first the cockpit, then the cabin.
“If it’s all the same to you, Mr. Markham,” she interrupted, “the plane’s all yours. I’ll just be a quiet, unassuming passenger. The less I know about the miracle of how we’re suspended in the air, the better.”
“You have flown before, right?” he asked, suddenly wondering how he was going to manage flying the plane and taking care of a nervous first-time passenger.
“Oh, I’ve flown all right, but not in anything like this. Although this is very nice . . .” she didn’t want to insult the plane he had just been praising to Kingdom come. “It’s just that I like jumbo liners better. I feel more secure knowing the pilot has the responsibility of two hundred lives instead of just one.”
“Two,” he corrected.
“Yes, right. Two.”
“Well, let me assure you that I have flown those planes and been responsible for over two hundred lives, other than my own,” he emphasized, “and I do it now with the same seriousness and commitment as I did then. And given my druthers of having something major go wrong, I’d much rather be in this one than in one of those.”
“Really?” she said with a widening smile and he could tell he had allayed some of her fears.
“Really,” he smiled and unable to resist, he winked. “Gotta go turn the hand crank and get this baby warmed up. I’ll see you in North Carolina in about two hours, give or take. If you need anything, just come up front. Unlike commercial jet liners, I allow visitors in the cockpit, especially if they own it.”
He left to go up front and she settled into an oversized leather chair that was part of a small grouping by one of the five round windows. Within a minute, she heard the sound of the engine being started, then she felt the vibration in the metal body as the Beechcraft backed out of its space and began moving toward the taxi way.
She heard Kent’s deep voice booming through the cabin, instructing her to belt up. Then, before she knew what was happening, they were tearing down the runway. And, before she had a chance to get terrified, they were up in the air. Well, that was one nice thing about smaller planes she thought, it didn’t take as long to get up enough speed to lift into the air. And when it did lift, your stomach didn’t lurch quite so much.
Now that they were in the air, she relaxed and kicked off her shoes. She tucked her feet up underneath her, leaned her head back against the headrest, and just let her thoughts float. Within a few minutes, she was back with her father, sitting beside his bed in the hospital, listening to his last minute instructions.