Megan Forester stared out the smudged window as the small plane touched down and then taxied along the short runway toward Gate Five, all the while wondering why anyone would want to live in such a godforsaken dustbowl. The view below for miles before reaching the city just south of the Texas Panhandle had been nothing but flat dry land, row after row of massive white wind turbines, and cotton fields.
It had been years since Megan had returned to her hometown. Her family had moved away when she was in middle school, and until today, she'd had little reason to return.
Tomorrow was the wedding day of her cousin Maureen, and for some reason Megan still couldn't fathom, she had been asked to be one of the six bridesmaids. She and her cousin, born three months apart and both an only child, had been inseparable when they were growing up, but hadn't kept in touch much at all over the last several years, with the exception of Facebook.
The instant the plane came to a halt outside the small airport, almost everyone aboard jumped up from their seats, and doors began popping up as the hurried, impatient passengers grabbed their carry-on bags and other belongings from the bins overhead. Megan, in no particular hurry, remained in her seat near the back of the plane to wait for the door of the plane to finally open and the crowd already filling the narrow aisle could begin making their way toward the exit.
She was in no rush to get off the plane and begin the weekend, a weekend where she would be surrounded by people she didn't know, people she didn't remember. She would be the outsider. She cursed her dear cousin under her breath.
Did Maureen really need that sixth bridesmaid? What? Five just wasn't enough? Or did her cousin just feel some weird family obligation to include her? Why didn't she just say no? Oh yeah, she remembered. That family obligation thing, according to her mother.
"Of course you tell her yes. She's your cousin. The two of you used to play dolls together, for heaven's sake. You should be pleased that she wants to include you in her wedding. You really should make an effort to be closer to family, Megan. You're such a loner," her mother had said.
Right. Just like her mother had made an effort. So where was her mother now? Why wasn't she on this plane, why wasn't she attending her niece's wedding?
Megan immediately chastised herself. She knew she wasn't being fair. Her mom had every intention of making the trip with her, of attending the wedding. She had looked forward to seeing her sister she'd not seen in quite some time. But then Megan's dad had become ill, and her mom had cancelled her plans in order to stay home and nurse him back to health. Megan now wished she, too, had come up with a reason — an excuse — to cancel.
When the other passengers finally began making their way toward the exit, she stepped out into the aisle, reaching up to retrieve her own bag from storage, having to stand on her tiptoes in order to do so, one of the many curses of being only 5'2". Normally she wore high-heeled shoes to compensate for her height — or lack of — but this day she had chosen to wear flat sandals with her sundress, aware of the amount of walking she'd have to do through the Miami airport, and then the Dallas airport, where she'd had to change planes in both cities.
"Here, let me get that for you."
She turned to see who the deep voice and the long arm reaching for the only bag left in the compartment belonged to.
The gentleman was gorgeous. If only he had been sitting in the seat next to her, instead of the bald guy who'd made himself comfortable during the hour flight from Dallas by spreading his arms and legs, leaving her feeling cramped and somewhat violated. At least that man had slept quietly, and she'd been spared the dreaded task of making idle conversation with someone she neither knew nor cared to know anything about.
She wouldn't have minded an hour of idle chit chat with the attractive man reaching for her bag. And the perfect hint of a sweet spice she caught when she turned toward him would have been much less overwhelming than the heavy musk of the bald gentleman.
"Thank you," she said, flashing him a smile, her mother's constant prompt ringing in her ears. You should smile more, Megan. Show those teeth. After all, they cost enough.
Thanks, Mom, she'd always think to herself, for never failing to remind me that before spending hours and hours and hours in a dentist's chair, and tons of money, I had ugly, crooked teeth.
"You're welcome," the gorgeous man said as he handed her bag to her.
After taking possession of her bag, she made her way down the narrow aisle, stopping at the exit door to grab her garment bag from the hanging rack, the bag that contained her bridesmaid's dress, as well as her dress for the rehearsal dinner later in the evening.
As soon as she stepped off the plane onto the ramp, she turned to her left, just in time to see the gorgeous man speeding past her, his arm loose around the waist of a tall, beautiful blond.
Whatever. He probably would have been boring anyway.
She continued down the ramp and into the airport, stopping long enough to spot a sign pointing the direction of the restrooms. Once inside the ladies' room, she took care of business, checked herself in the mirror, put her lips together to fill in where her lipstick seemed to be missing, fluffed her hair, and then headed back out, quickly locating the escalator leading downstairs to baggage claim, car rental, and outside.
She wasn't expecting anyone to meet her at the airport when she arrived, had planned to rent a car if one was available, or take a cab if not, not wanting to inconvenience anyone, or to be at anyone else's mercy. She preferred the freedom to come and go during the weekend as she chose. She was both surprised and confused when she stepped off the escalator and immediately noticed a very tall, slender, good-looking guy about her age holding a sign in front of his chest. He was dressed in long, classic style khaki shorts, orange University of Texas tee-shirt, and dark brown leather flip flops exhibiting the signature Abercrombie and Fitch logo. His hair, just touching over his ears and turned up slightly at the nape of his neck, was dark, almost black. His eyebrows were bushy, his face scruffy. His sign read Megan Forester. His body was facing the escalator, but he was looking in the direction of baggage claim. She approached him tentatively.
"I'm Megan Forester."
"Megan!" he exclaimed as he turned to see her.
"Um...do I know you? Have we met before?"
"Aw, Megan! You don't remember me? After all we meant to each other?" His dark eyes teased. "I'm hurt. Deeply crushed," he said, holding the sign in one hand at his side, touching his heart with the other.
Megan studied him for a moment. The smile was familiar, as were the dimples, but she couldn't quite place him, though she knew she should.
"Maybe this will jog your memory." He leaned down, planted a firm, quick kiss on her lips. "Kissing cousins. Behind the barn. Ring any bells?"
"Oh, my God! Little Bradley Bosley?"
Except little Bradley wasn't so little anymore.
"You've grown!" she said, staring up at him in amazement.
"And you haven't," he teased, looking down at her.
"I didn't even recognize you!"
"I haven't changed that much, have I?"
"Um...yes. What are you doing here, Bradley? I wasn't expecting anyone to meet me."
"Mom sent me to fetch you."
"To fetch me?"
"Her words, not mine." He smiled, exhibiting his own perfect teeth, as well as his deep dimples. "And it's Brad. No one calls me Bradley anymore. Except Mom and Dad. Oh, here, let me have those." He reached for her bags. "Do we need to head to baggage claim?"
"No, this is it."
"Wow. You travel light for a girl," he teased.
"So, how was your flight?" he asked as he led her outside.
"Well, those are usually the best kind."
As they stood just outside the airport, waiting for traffic to pass before heading out to the large, open parking lot, she removed the lightweight sweater she had worn to fend off the cold she always felt inside airports and the planes themselves.
"It is hot out here," she said, looking up at the bright, cloudless sky.
"Yep." He turned to face her as she draped the sweater over her arm. "Damn, you look good."
"You sound surprised."
"No, not at all...well, maybe a little. You used to have freckles..." He rubbed his finger across the bridge of his nose. "And pigtails. And..." he pointed to his own teeth.
"I was twelve years old!" she said in defense, rather surprised at how much he seemed to remember about her. The pigtails and crooked teeth were gone, but the freckles were still there, hidden under a layer of foundation.
Halfway through the parking lot, he stopped, opened the back of a brand new Tahoe SUV, set both her bags inside.
"Is this yours?" she asked.
"That it is."
"Glad you approve, Megan Forester. I aim to please. Always," he said as he opened the passenger door for her, then bent down and kissed her again.
"Welcome home, cuz. Good to see you again."