My Aunt Sue once told me I was fated to meet the love of my life on a plane. And as I sit in my first class window seat, I can’t help but scan the cabin a little.
“Really, Ingrid? Really?” I mutter beneath my breath. I don’t believe in voodoo prophecies. Besides, it’s a ludicrous prediction. First, I hate crowded spaces and flying. In fact, today will only be the third time I have set foot on a plane. Second, fate isn’t real. Third, neither is love at first sight, so who can blame me for rolling my eyes at Aunt Sue’s outlandish idea?
I re-glue my eyes to my laptop screen and continue to type. My shoulders are increasingly tense as I try to write something coherent; it will be a freaking miracle if I finish the last chapter of the rough draft of my master’s thesis in the next three hours. If I don’t have it to Professor Jones by then, he won’t let me graduate.
“May I offer you a beverage? Perhaps a glass of wine or a cocktail?” the stewardess asks.
I glance up for half a second. “Do you have chardonnay?” I continue to type. There’s not a second to lose.
“Of course. I’ll be right back.”
Oh crap. I forgot to text my brother. I shoot off a message to Dyllon, telling him I’m on the airplane and am looking forward to seeing him when I land in San Francisco. He seems to be doing much better lately. I’ve lost sleep over that boy more times than I can count. Last time I saw him, he was suicidal.
After I turn my phone off and stuff it back in my purse, I look over some of the handwritten notes in my Norse mythology notebook and continue to draft up the last chapter. God, oh, God, I’m screwed. I’ll never finish on time; and if I do, it’ll be a garbage heap.
The stewardess brings me my drink, and I set it on the tray table beside my laptop.
“Is there anything else I can get for you?” she asks.
“Maybe a blanket? And a pillow?” My light jacket and skimpy short shorts are definitely not enough to keep me warm in this chilly cabin. I wasn’t thinking when I dressed for this trip. I had too many loose ends to tie up last minute, and thinking about how I’d dress was not on my agenda. Moving sucks.
The stewardess opens the bin above me and pulls out a navy blue blanket and a small white pillow.
“Anything else?” she says, handing them to me. I shake my head and pull the blanket over my thighs. I try for a semblance of neck support with the pillow, but grad school has permanently warped my spine, so I settle for relative comfort.
I consider asking for additional items, just because I paid for it and I don’t know if I’ll ever get to fly business class again. This ticket might mean mac and cheese for a month, but it was the only one they had left, and I need to be in San Francisco today so I don’t miss Dyllon’s graduation. Totally worth it to see my older brother up there being handed his diploma, but being out five hundred bucks stinks.
Taking a moment to sip my wine, I watch as the steady stream of travelers goes by—some lower level business men, a few athletes, a couple of nuns, and a handful of vacationers. This looks like the last bunch they’re boarding. Once everyone has taken their seats, the captain makes an announcement over the speakers.
“Good morning, folks,” he says.
“We’re…uh…just…uh…waiting for one more passenger before we close the cabin doors, and then we’ll be on our merry way. Thank you for your patience.”
The seat right next to me and the one straight across the aisle are still vacant. God I hope this last passenger sits in the one across the walkway or in one of the other probably vacant seats out of eyeshot. I don’t have time for idle chit-chat.
I set my glass back down and continue to read through my notes. The three main gods of Norse mythology… Odin, Thor, and Frigg…
The sky rumbles with a low thunder, muffled by the walls of the plane.
Just then, footsteps approach. A second later, the scent of the best cologne I have ever had the pleasure of smelling drifts into my nostrils. Out of the corner of my eye I start to see the silhouette of a large man, so I quickly look down. Please don’t sit next to me. Please don’t sit next to me.
“I believe this is my seat,” says the man.
Oh… Oh my! The hair on the back of my neck stands up at the sound of his deep, penetrating voice. And his accent? It’s either German or…Scandinavian? A shiver of unprecedented delight goes up my spine.
My first thought when I finally look up is that this god-of-a-man resembles a real-life incarnation of some six-foot plus Northern deity. His presence radiates power and strength. His eyes are a vivid, almost—no—holy shit, they are a neon blue, and they sit beneath stern eyebrows, brooding with sharp intelligence.
The stranger’s long, thick, blond hair is pulled back into a man bun. His nose is straight and slightly pointy, and his short beard is full, yet trimmed to perfection, graced with undertones of red. His skin is sun-kissed, golden and smooth. He wears faded jeans and a gray T-shirt that I’m sure is an XXL, but on him is skin tight, across a full chest and broad, defined—DEFINED—shoulders.
Wow, oh… his shoulders.
He smiles at me, revealing teeth that are both straight and white, and I think that it’s absolutely ridiculous and utterly unjust how one person can have so many good genes.
But I’m attracted to more than his physical perfection. There’s something about him that calls for me, that awakens the carnal woman I’ve tried so hard to repress. With just a glance, my heart stirs and I want to surrender to him in every way, to let him consume me until our bodies are sealed together into a single, molten flame.
He studies me with an intense, focused gaze, and I let him. I don’t even flinch when his gaze travels down my body. Desire pools deep and dark inside me.
What the hell is going on? For a split second, Aunt Sue’s prediction pops into my head. “Fated to meet…” Ha! There’s no way on earth he’s going to be the love of my life. He’s far too good-looking for me, an average-looking grad student. I might be long-legged and young, twenty-four to be exact, but I consider my features—particularly my long ash blonde hair and dark brown eyes—dull. Plus those ten extra pounds I’ve been trying to lose since like…huh…forever persist in hiding the beautiful muscles I work so hard for.
The stewardess approaches the god of thunder, interrupting a moment that seemed to be timeless.
“Let me know if you need any help getting that up there.” She winks at him.
“I can manage.” He lifts his carry-on and slides it into the overhead compartment, closes it with a click, and sits down beside me. The contours of his six-pack become noticeable as he squeezes his huge—perfect—body into the tiny airplane seat. With iron will, I force my eyeballs back to my computer screen. I can’t—I won’t allow myself to be distracted. Three hours, Ingrid. Three hours.
“May I grab you a drink, sir?” the stewardess asks Mr. Norse God.
“A beer please,” he says.
“Right away.” She disappears into the kitchen galley.
He reaches out a hand toward me, and I try not to notice the bulging muscles that make up his forearms, or the raw maleness that has my entire body pulsing. “I’m William.”
Oh damn… I really don’t have time for this. But I shouldn’t be rude. “Ingrid.” I take his hand and heat jolts through my hand. Electric, surprising heat. It travels up my arm and settles in my bosom. For a moment, the entire world falls away and it’s just him and me.
What the…? I don’t at all believe in this kind of instant attraction or chemistry or whatever the hell it is. But I can’t deny the electrical current that courses through me. And this isn’t some imagined electrical current. There is an actual vibrational energy moving up my arm.
For a millisecond, he narrows his eyes before abruptly withdrawing his hand. Did he, too, feel what I felt? No, that would be ridiculous.
Another brute, masculine guy—this one with dark braided hair hanging down his back—approaches and takes the seat across the aisle. His eyes are golden, kind of like my brother’s, but brighter, bordering on yellow.
Huh. Before now my brother was the only one I’d seen with that freak-of-nature golden iris gene or whatever the hell it is. But I guess it’s just uncommon. Mr. Brute wears strange clothes—a brown tunic that reaches below his hips, a thick leather belt around his waist, and dark brown slacks. I can’t make out his nationality from his clothes. Besides, I thought the captain said we were only waiting for one passenger. Weird.
William leans away from me and whispers something to the other giant in a foreign tongue. Not a second later, the newcomer gives me a nasty, disapproving glare, and I find myself recoiling in my seat.
What in the…? Fine. If that’s how it’s going to be. I neutralize my expression, wiping that holy-hell-you’re-both-hot-as-sin look off my face, and turn my attention back to my notes. Ragnarok…The end of the world.
“We have closed the gates and are ready for taxi and take off,” the captain announces over the speakers.
Mr. Thor leans over and glances out the window, his cologne a constant and divinely torturous presence. I’m acting like a complete idiot, I realize. But it’s difficult to think straight around dude on the right.
His shoulder touches mine, and even though I’m supposed to be focusing on writing, (and I am, goddammit!) delicious heat pools in my belly.
This is so not convenient.
Five hours of this will be completely unproductive agony. Perhaps I should ask the stewardess if I can switch seats with someone back in economy. I quickly scan my surroundings. She seems to have vanished at the moment, that lady.
I start to feel too warm with the blanket over my legs so I stash it under my seat just as William turns back toward me. I watch as his gaze slides over my bare thighs. Intense longing burns through my veins. Crap. I just know I’m flushing bright red and that this is bad, bad, bad, because I don’t want him to think I’m blushing because of him, which unfortunately for me, I am.
The aircraft pulls away from the gate with a slight tug, and my gaze locks with his. My breathing turns shallow as heat courses through my body.
What’s wrong with me? I have never felt this way toward any man. And I shouldn’t. Men who look like him are trouble and think they can get any girl to do whatever they want. Don’t they?
“Is San Francisco your final destination, Ingrid?” he asks with that sexy accent.
I nod, secretly loving the way he rolled the “r” in my name, but don’t divulge why my destination is San Francisco. I figure the less I tell him and the less he tells me, the less memorable he’ll be. Even though I already know it will be extremely difficult to un-remember him.
Suddenly, it’s somehow more—insufferably, to be exact—hot in here. I reach up to the airflow nozzle and turn it on high.
“Do you live in California, then?” he asks.
“I’m moving there.” Shit. I can’t seem to keep my mouth shut around him. “Today, in fact.” Ugh.
The flight attendant brings William his beer. “Laptops must be turned off and stowed for takeoff,” she says to me. Then she turns to William and reminds him to fasten his seat belt.
He grips the buckles and clicks them shut over his muscular, narrow hips. For a split second, my eyes linger on the ripped-jeans where a bit of perfect skin is peaking out. I tear my gaze away and glance at William’s discourteous comrade, wondering why the stewardess isn’t asking him if he wants a drink or even acknowledging his existence.
I suppose I can chat for a minute since I’m not managing to write so much as a decent sentence. “Where are you from?” I ask while I tuck my laptop under the seat in front of me.
He glances at his buddy again as if they have a secret agreement or something.
“You’ve probably never heard of the place I come from,” he says, eyeing me as if to read my reaction.
I do a mental eye roll and look him straight in the eyes. Challenge accepted. “Try me.”
He leans in. “You don’t want to know. Trust me.”
Right. “I’m going to guess you’re from one of the Northern European countries. One of the Scandinavian ones maybe? The land of the midnight sun, where trolls, Vikings, and the god of thunder originated.”
He nods, appearing slightly impressed. “Someone paid attention in school.”
“Flight attendants, please for takeoff,” the captain says over the speakers.
“Well, we Americans do have to learn about Europe. Our educational system—”
He scoffs and does a half sneer. “Most Americans are completely ignorant about the Scandinavian countries. And about history. All they see is what the media tells them to see, and all they care about is keeping up with celebrities.”
My back goes rigid. Most Americans? Wow. Doesn’t he realize he is in America, flying with an American airline, sitting amongst Americans?
I’m about to ask him if his mother forgot to teach him manners when he speaks again.
“Why are you moving?” he asks.
“For family, and to start my PhD at Berkeley in the fall.”
“Did you recently finish your master’s degree then?” he asks.
“I’ve completed all of my course requirements. But I won’t get the degree certification until I finish my thesis.”
His eyebrows crinkle. “Wouldn’t that have been due by the end of the last semester?”
“It was. My professor gave me an extension.” Problem is, if I don’t have my thesis completed by the time school starts in three weeks, I won’t get my master’s degree, which means Berkeley won’t let me start my PhD. If that happens I’ll have to wait an entire year to begin the program. So why am I chatting with this guy again?
“Nice professor.” He nods. “What was your major?”
Okay. Maybe I’ll keep talking for just a bit longer, even though I should be going over my notes. “Ancient Norse Mythology.”
A look of fascination brightens his beautiful face. “Interesting. Does that mean you’re bilingual?” he asks, his perfectly arched eyebrows rising.
“I speak a fair amount of Icelandic.”
He glances conspicuously at my thighs again, his hungry gaze remaining there for several tense seconds before he raises those dazzling blues to meet mine. His intense stare strips me bare, and it’s as if he can see to the deepest part of my being.
My heart rate doubles…triples in speed. All I can think about is undoing my seatbelt, climbing onto his lap, and wrapping my arms around his thick neck. Er… I shut my eyes for half a second to compose myself. “Do you live in the US?” I ask.
“I do,” he replies. “I finished my master’s degree at UC Berkeley last year. Now I’m working.”
Huh. I would have guessed he was a little older, early thirties maybe. The soft creases around his eyes betray more wisdom than what I would associate with a twenty-something. “What was your field of study?”
“Political science,” he says.
Really? He doesn’t exactly look the part, but I suppose politicians can be sex on legs. You’d think he’d have more tact when it came to speaking about Americans. Unless he plans to be a politician for one of America’s enemy countries. That would explain a lot about his hoity-toity “most Americans” comment. “So…do you want to become a politician?”
He nods. “You can say that.”
Okay, judging from his vague reply, obviously he doesn’t want me to pry into his private life. Which is fine. I don’t want him to know too much about me either. The last thing I need is another man who is just going to break my heart.
The airplane takes off and my stomach fills with flutters.
“Who’s your friend?” I ask, eyeing Mr. Dark Norse God number two.
William squints, and I think there’s a flash of shock in his gorgeous eyes, but it vanishes with the flicker of his dark, thick eyelashes. “What do you mean?”
“Your…friend?” I gesture toward him. “The guy you talk to…?” Why do I get the feeling I’m not supposed to ask about him?
William leans over to his “friend” and whispers something in that sexy foreign language. From what I can make out, it sounds similar to Icelandic, although I don’t understand what he’s saying.
The unfriendly friend dude glares at me, blatant resentment darting from his yellow eyes. I don’t know what happened, but suddenly the atmosphere has turned extremely hostile, making the hairs at the back of my neck stand up again under less pleasant circumstances. Did I say something wrong? I’m not hot anymore. An icy chill is running down my spine.
“It is now safe to use electronics,” the captain announces.
William finally turns his attention back to me. “He’s no one you should concern yourself with, Ingrid.”
At first I think he’s joking, but when there’s not a single shred of humor in his expression, his glare cold and harsh, I erase the smile from my face. Seriously? I scoff.
“What?” he asks.
He must have noticed my yeah-like-I-believe-that-load-of-crap look.
I pull my laptop out, fold down the all-too small tray table, and set up my work. “Nothing. I just really need to get back to my writing.” I try to return to studying mode, but how can I when William is still looking at me, staring, causing my heart to race? “What?” I snap.
“You tell me,” he says.
Is he dense? “Okay, I’ll tell you. You’re from one of the Scandinavian countries, but you refuse to tell me which one. Fine. But I’m also obviously not supposed to talk about or even notice your massive unpleasant friend sitting just over there. Oh, and you are sort of a politician? I can’t get a straight answer out of you and your friend makes me uncomfortable. That’s what.”
He chuckles a little, appearing amused at my frustration. This only feeds my irritation… and the desire I have been trying to resist since the second I laid eyes on him.
“You’re assuming I’m from one of the Scandinavian countries.” He nurses his beer for a moment, as if he has all the time in the world. “I didn’t say I was.”
I open my mouth to refute that, but then I realize he didn’t actually tell me where he was from. He said I hadn’t heard of the place he was from.
He looks at me so innocently I almost feel bad for what I just said. But no. I’m not in the mood for vague replies and infantile games.
“Listen,” I say, feeling rather exasperated. “I’ve had a really stressful week, packing up my apartment among other things, and right now I just need to finish my thesis. So do you mind if we don’t talk?” I realize I’m overreacting—like a lot—but now that I’m actually leaving Florida, the state I grew up in, and the state where Aunt Sue and my mother are buried, it’s finally sinking in how much I’ll miss it.
“If that’s what you wish,” he says.
“Thank you.” I gulp my wine and turn my attention back to my laptop for the hundredth time in less than an hour. Even though I’m up in the clouds, I’m keeping my focus right here on solid, dependable things, not on men with Norse god complexes.