Home > Up Close and Dangerous(8)

Up Close and Dangerous(8)
Author: Linda Howard

Logan would tease her about overpacking, but she’d have the last laugh if he happened to need anything from her cache. She even had a small roll of duct tape in case her tent sprang a leak, which had also happened on that last, miserable trip. She liked rafting, and when she was in the raft being wet and cold was part of the fun, but when she wasn’t actually in the raft she wanted all the comforts of home. Okay, so she was being a girly-girl, but she was sure Peaches would also prefer the aloe body wipes over the joys of washing with a bucket of river water and a bar of soap.

She’d been looking forward to this trip so much that she couldn’t bear the idea of a delay, even if being on time meant she had to endure the company of Captain Justice. She wanted to snort in derision every time she heard the name. Captain Justice, for God’s sake. It sounded like the title character of a comic book.

He’d hefted her three bags into the luggage compartment without even a grunt, but though his expression looked set in stone she’d known what he was thinking; that she’d packed her entire closet. If he’d been human he’d have at least looked a little incredulous, or asked her if she had rocks in there; Bret would have grunted and acted as if the suitcases weighed even more than they did, made a joke out of it. Not Mr. Stone-face, though; she’d never seen him so much as smile.

When he helped her into the plane, the firm grip of his hand had been so unexpected she’d almost faltered. Bret didn’t help her, she realized; for all his easygoing camaraderie, he was very careful not to encroach on her personal boundaries, which admittedly had expanded a lot since she’d married Jim. She simply didn’t trust most people now, which made her stiff and unapproachable. Captain Justice either hadn’t noticed her “do not touch” signs, or he simply didn’t care. His grip was strong, his hands harder and rougher than those of the business executives and stockbrokers with whom she usually associated. The shock of being touched, the heat of his hand, actually made her heart lurch.

She was so dismayed she barely registered his order to move to the other seat. As soon as she’d belted herself into the seat he’d indicated, she dug out her book and pretended to be absorbed in it, but mentally she was kicking herself.

How pitiful was she that she would respond so easily to the simple touch of a man’s hand? Not just any man, either, but one who clearly disliked her. Okay, so her love life was currently nonexistent; it would remain that way as long as she had to deal with Jim’s children, because she refused to give them either ammunition or a target. Yes, there were times when she felt incredibly horny, but she hoped she had enough pride not to ever reveal that to someone like Justice, to allow him to think she had such a low opinion of herself that any man would do.

The hell of it was, physically, he was an attractive man—not handsome, not a pretty boy at all because his face was too rugged for that, but definitely…attractive. There was something compelling about gray eyes, and his were a lighter shade than usual, with just a faint hint of blue. The expression in those eyes was usually cold and remote, as if he had no feelings at all.

He and Bret were evidently good friends, though she couldn’t imagine him in any sort of real friendship with anyone. When Bret talked about him, though, he sounded as if he really liked and respected Justice. “A pilot’s pilot” was how Bret had once described him. “Completely cool. I swear, there’s not a nerve in his body. He could hold a KC-10 steady in a hurricane, and not break a sweat.”

Bailey had been curious enough, later, to go online and find out exactly what a KC-10 was.

It was easy, now, to imagine him in the cockpit of the huge supertanker, holding it steady while plane after plane swooped up behind him to be refueled. She hadn’t read exactly how that worked, but she didn’t think it could be easy, not at hundreds of miles an hour, being buffeted by high winds.

She surfaced from her thoughts to realize she’d stopped staring at her book and was instead staring at his hands, so sure and steady on the controls. Mortified, she snapped her gaze down again. Thank God she had on sunglasses, so he couldn’t tell she’d been staring at him—though he probably wondered how she could read through the dark lenses. She couldn’t, but he didn’t need to know that.

She felt self-conscious and uncomfortable, which wasn’t like her at all. She needed to relax and get her mind on other things. If she pulled off her sunglasses she would actually be able to read, and the book was a good one, but when she reached up to remove the glasses she didn’t get them all the way off before shoving them back in place again. They were a good shield, and she felt as if she needed one.

Okay, reading was out. A nap, maybe?

It was too early in the day, barely midmorning. She could pretend to nap, the way she’d been pretending to read, but that wouldn’t redirect her thoughts.

If she’d brought her laptop she could have played some games, but she’d left it at home. She wouldn’t have Internet access for the next two weeks, so after its battery died the computer would have been useless weight she’d have to lug around, unless she’d also wanted to carry spare batteries, which she hadn’t, not when she was already taking so much stuff. Their guide was supposed to have vehicles that took their camping gear and personal items from site to site, but there were three rafts, each with six people, so that meant the gear and paraphernalia of eighteen people had to be carted around. She hoped the guide had some damn big vehicles.

The prospect of the next two weeks filled her with excitement. Some of the rafting would be fun, some would be exciting, some of it downright dangerous, but for two weeks she wouldn’t have to watch every word she said, and she wouldn’t be surrounded by people who either openly despised her or looked askance at her. She would be able to relax, to laugh and have fun, to be herself. For two weeks, she was free.

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