Jeremy shifted in his seat, leaning toward the plane window as he typed out an email on his phone. Soon the flight attendant would give the obligatory “Phones on airplane mode” speech and he’d be without any electronic lifeline for a good twenty to thirty minutes.
“Would you like a beverage?” the flight attendant asked.
“No, thank you.” He’d rather not be up and down the whole flight. Even better, he’d like to get some sleep. Three hours already clocked flying from Texas to Los Angeles and now another fifteen at least. If flying weren’t exhausting enough, he had to land in Sydney and deal with Benjamin McIntyre the Third for almost three whole months.
“Hey, Jeremy.” Ben smiled down at him.
Jeremy stared up into blue eyes more intense than any Caribbean sea. “You— You’re on this flight?” Brilliant. Six years of university, two degrees, eight years with a multimillion-dollar company, and a simple, surprise greeting from Ben made him stammer.
“I am.” Ben ran a hand over his blond hair, obnoxiously perfect for being travel worn, and slid into the seat next to him. “Addie too, but she’s running late. I told her to fly here on the jet with me.”
“Addie?” He was intentionally skipping over the jet comment, not because he envied getting an invite, but because Ben acted like it was normal to have a jet at one’s disposal.
He should’ve known Ben would be joining him since McIntyre Corp was flying them out first class.
“Addie Cooper. Our Project Manager.”
. I wasn’t aware she went by Addie.”
Ben moved about in his seat, adjusting it to fit his long legs. “She doesn’t. I mean, not usually. I just…you know.”
He did know. Ben had the habit of shortening everyone’s name in his inner circle. Jeremy once had a nickname too, but that was then. This was now.
“Anyway, I was going to mention the other night that we were on the same flight out of LAX, but you looked so pleased at the prospect of not having to see me again until Australia, I didn’t want to ruin the rest of your night.”
Jeremy bit back the reply on the tip of his tongue. Ben’s snarky reaction, born from injured pride, was not a new development. Jeremy’s defense was cutting and deliberate remarks; Ben’s was sarcasm and humor.
It was what they did. Or rather, what they’d done before. At first it was to relieve work tension, then later when either of them was frustrated for reasons they wouldn’t discuss.
If they were already starting this now, three months of it would bring on insanity. Jeremy exhaled slowly. He could be a little
bit nicer. “You’re overstating things. It wouldn’t have ruined my night to know we were flying together.”
Ben turned his head with a jerk and pinned Jeremy with those beautiful eyes. He hated those eyes. He hated them because he still felt the breath-stealing impact of them down to his bones.
“It wouldn’t?” Ben’s expression relaxed ten-fold, making his eyes soften at the edges.
Jeremy silently cursed himself. He should’ve kept being a prick. He’d been cold the other night out of reflex. Protection. Survival.
Otherwise, he’d never survive this Sydney deal working with Ben. Not with their history. This project, unlike the Mercure
in Florida, was sure to be a disaster.
“Sir.” Jeremy waved down the attendant. “I will have that drink now. Sauvignon Blanc if you have it.”
“Wow.” Ben moved around some more, shifting his ass in the seat until he was seemingly comfortable. One could only hope. “My company is that bad, huh? Hitting the booze already?”
“It’s not that bad
.” Yet. “I’m actually looking forward to this. The project, I mean. I do have…let’s call them reservations. Obviously. But I’m still happy to be chosen for the job.”
Ben reached across Jeremy and slid the blind all the way up. “It’ll be fine. Has to be. I don’t have the luxury of doubts or reservations.”
In public anyway. Ben only let his insecurities and doubts show around the people closest to him, and Jeremy wasn’t in that number. Not anymore.
“So you carry the nerves for both of us, okay?” Ben patted Jeremy’s arm and then jerked his hand away, like he’d caught what he was doing.
Ben’s tactile nature was a trait Jeremy had never forgotten. The McIntyres were a demonstrative bunch as a whole, lots of back slaps and shoulder grabs, but Ben even more so. He hugged people and patted them. Normally the physicality meant nothing, but between him and Ben, it was different.
Jeremy leaned a little closer to the window until his drink arrived.
“I’ll have one too,” Ben told the attendant. “What is it again? Sauvignon? Sure, why not? It’s going to be a long flight.”
Jeremy couldn’t agree more.
Nothing in the lead-up calls and web meetings with Ben and Mack could’ve prepared him for the dinner party the other night. He’d caught Ben staring at him in the middle of all those people, looking like two years hadn’t passed. His designer suit tailored to show off his square shoulders, pants cut to fit slim hips and waist, but with room for what Jeremy knew was a killer ass. Something inside his chest had fallen through the floor at the sight of Ben.
So he’d looked away.
“I don’t normally drink on flights,” Ben kept talking even when he got no response. “Might be good for a long one, though. A few glasses in, plus the movement of the plane, and it’s probably going to be lights out.”
Ben was starting to jabber, which meant he was nervous, either about the flight, the deal…or the two of them.
For safety’s sake, Jeremy chose to believe it was the deal. He hadn’t expected the familiar pull of Ben at that party, the thick thrum of attraction that had threaded through all their past interactions. He certainly hadn’t expected Ben to seek him out and be friendly.
They’d parted on very unfriendly terms. But that was two years ago. Twenty-four months. Two Christmases. Time went on, and if Ben could be polite and professional, so could he.
To a certain degree.
He watched Ben over the lip of his wine glass as the attendant brought another Sauvignon. Ben took a sip, the tip of his pink tongue darting across his full lips, eyes narrowed in focus as he pulled out his phone to text someone.
Fuck my life
. Jeremy faced front and took a long drink. What if he couldn’t manage polite with Ben? Polite led to friendly and the two of them could not
be friends. They’d been friends before, and Jeremy was the one to suffer because of it.
He was done with suffering. Never again would he let someone else’s acceptance or rejection of him be the measure of his worth. Not his parents, not a boyfriend, and definitely not Ben McIntyre. It was the definition of insanity to do so, because eventually, no matter how much he cared or how hard he held on, everyone chose rejection.
Jeremy took another long sip, lamenting the loss of his drawing pad packed away under the plane. Drawing would at least block out the current situation.
Ben stopped typing and slumped back into the seat, sliding his phone into the pocket of his jeans. He tapped his free hand against his thigh as he sipped at his drink.
“This is pretty good wine for airplane grape.” He nudged Jeremy when he got no response. “Don’t you think?”
When Ben got like this, there was no avoiding chitchat.
“It will do,” Jeremy said.
Ben waved him off. “That’s right. You’re a wine connoisseur.”
The small talk was
better than snide remarks, but not as good as silence.
“Trust me.” Ben held his hand up, fingers spread. “When we’re on our tenth hour of this flight, you’ll swear the wine is amazing. You might even stoop to a pink zinfandel, just for something to do.” He slapped that hand against his own thigh and rubbed.
Those hands were in constant motion unless Ben was in front of clients. One minute he would be all business, reserved movements, fully capable. The next he was a finger-drumming, hand-flapping expressionist.
There’d been an incident in a quiet Cuban restaurant in Florida. Ben, animated in telling a story, had flung his hand into a wine glass, sending it soaring into the next table. Ben had paid for the disgruntled and slightly inebriated guests’ dinner, but as soon as they left, he and Ben had laughed until they cried. Ben’s eyes had crinkled attractively as he swiped at his wet cheeks.
Jeremy smiled at the memory.
“What?” Ben’s blue eyes sparkled at him in the here and now. “What’s funny?”
Jeremy shook his head and looked out the plane window. “Nothing.”
“Oh, come on. You know I love a good laugh.”
“It was nothing.”
Luckily the topic was dropped with the arrival of Addison.
Ben grinned and stood up; arms out for a hug, his attention and smile were 100 percent sincere. Jeremy knew the difference there too. With board members, it was one kind of smile, one kind of engagement. For people he really liked, it was another.
“It’s about time, Addie. This plane will take off without you, you know? It’s not ours.”
She waved him off before settling herself across the aisle from them. “I told you I’d be here, and I’m here.”
Ben sat back down. “That was forty minutes ago.”
“Why aren’t we getting the family jet, anyway?”
“Mack is headed east and he gets dibs.”
“The golden goose ought to get friggin’ dibs,” she muttered, but Jeremy still caught it.
Around McIntyre Corp, it was a source of great debate whether Ben was the truly gifted one in the family, versus his father.
Anyone who saw Ben in action knew he was the one with the magic touch, not Mack. Smart, genuine, charming, and magnetic. The man had a way with people, and even he didn’t realize how spectacular he was at sales. He’d certainly won Jeremy over, in a totally different way.
A way that would never happen again.
“Hello, Jeremy.” Addison leaned forward to greet him before cutting her eyes at Ben.
“Nice to see you, Addison.”
“Why are you late?” Ben took the bag she held out toward him so she could shrug off her jacket.
“I had things to take care of this morning.” She took the bag back. “More than just rolling my pretty self out of bed and hopping on a jet.”
Jeremy leaned his head back. Thank you for saying it, Addison.
But Ben laughed, clapping his hands. It was a deep, warm sound that dissolved into a chuckle as he sat back in the seat. He’d always been able to laugh at himself. Jeremy envied him that.
He finally settled down as the plane taxied down the runway, and Jeremy drank his Sauvignon in peace, even through take-off. It wasn’t until they were in the air at cruising altitude that Ben turned in his seat, elbow on the arm rest between them.
“I was thinking…”
“When we land, I’m going to give the folks at Graystone a call. Let them know we’re in Sydney.”
“You could e-mail the prospective client to let them know we’ve landed. It’d be easier.”
. No prospective to it.” Ben elbowed him. “And not because I shot them some halfhearted e-mail when we roll into the hotel. No. I will call them, let them know we’re in the country and we’d like to take them to dinner tonight, which is really tomorrow night. We can answer any other questions they may have.”
Dinner as soon as they got into town was a thinly veiled stroking of ego. Hobnobbing. McIntyre’s way of showing their client how they’d be treated throughout the deal and entire transaction. Once the papers were signed, the powers that be at Graystone would still get wined and dined. They’d get the McIntyre treatment indefinitely, if other deals of theirs kept rolling in.
“Fine. Call them, if that’s how you want to spend your evening after being on a plane all night.”
Okay, that just sounded odd.
Ben grinned and gave Jeremy’s arm a pat. “We. How we
will be spending our evening after being on a flight all night. Addison too. We all go; they meet the team all together, face-to-face, no Skype web chats or digital blah, blah, blah. Real people having real face-to-face conversations.”
Jeremy knew this wasn’t up for discussion. It was Ben giving him a directive in a roundabout way. He was, after all, the boss. They were
going to dinner tomorrow night.
“Sounds great.” He leaned back in his seat and closed his eyes, attempting to get comfortable. A prospective dinner with Ben brought back way too many memories. He knew they’d dine together sometime
within the next three months, but so soon?
There were too many remembered meals with another client, trying all the best restaurants in southern Florida, hanging back after dinner, just the two of them. One time they ordered port simply because Ben had never tried port and he believed you should try everything once.
Turned out neither of them were fans, but they got tipsy anyway.
Ben was also a believer in desserts, always ordering two, eating all of his and half of Jeremy’s. A smile threatened as he remembered a sugar-high Ben, bounding down the sidewalk, tripping on cracked concrete, and doing one of those stumbles that lasts half a block. He’d laughed about it their entire way home.
No. Not home. Just the swanky hotel where they’d camped out during the closing of that deal and the start of construction.
It would be the same here. Swanky digs and dinners out. It was far removed from real life, and too much like a dream life with a man who could
be a dream—
“Hey.” Ben gently nudged his shoulder. “You want to eat?”
He should. It was a long time until breakfast. “Yeah,” Jeremy muttered and eased his chair up. “And some water?”
“Yeah, I got you two. Airplane air is dehydrating.”
It wasn’t long before the attendant brought him two bottled waters and what was a very appetizing-looking salad with grilled chicken. First class did live differently.
Ben shifted in his seat, rolling up the sleeves of his button-down shirt to reveal tan forearms, sprinkled with freckles, and slender wrists.
Damn, he remembered exactly how Ben’s wrist felt in his hand. He’d only held it once, but the feeling was a permanent brand on his senses. He scowled at his salad, and they both ate quietly except for Ben’s occasional hum of approval.
Ben returned his empty plate to the attendant and lay back. He looked content now, a hand over his tummy, but a few hours from now he’d be starving again.
Jeremy didn’t want to give in to thoughts of the past. Long days spent working together, relaxing at night. Drives out to the development site, Ben’s horrible taste in music, the empty snack wrappers always littering the rental car, frequent stops for anything from a simple candy bar to roadside empanadas.
It was a paradox. Sometimes, being near Ben had made Jeremy feel incredibly light, even happy. Other times it’d been torture, wanting something he knew he shouldn’t.
Not because Ben was a man—Jeremy had only ever wanted men—but because Ben was the boss, and he didn’t know what he wanted.
Trying to ignore reality and float on the nice, low buzz of Sauvignon, Jeremy leaned his seat back. He reminded himself that there was nothing truly fond about his and Ben’s past. It was merely the highs of that deal, the thrill of potentially mixing business with pleasure, the allure of something new and exciting. The empanadas really weren’t that great, and things with Ben were even worse.
Jeremy turned away from Ben, facing the plane window. Soon they’d be in Sydney and life would be all about the job in front of them. Focusing on work would get him through this trip. Now what he needed was sleep.
A yawn escaped him. The past was the past, and that was exactly where it would stay…
Sam B. Morgan