‘Here is your seat, Sir.’
Sidonie Fitzgerald’s thoughts scattered when she heard the exchange above her head and she looked up and saw a man. She blinked. And blinked again. He was very tall and broad. Slim hips at her eye level. He was taking off an overcoat and folding it up to place in the overheard locker, revealing a lean muscular build under a fine silk shirt and jacket. Sidonie was vaguely aware of the way the air – hostess was hovering attentively.
The man said with a seductive foreign accent in English, ‘I’ve got it, thank you.’
The air – hostess looked comically deflated and turned away. The man was now taking off his suit jacket too and Sidonie realised she was staring, no better than the gaping air – hostess. Quickly she averted her head and looked out the window seeing nothing of the pewter grey Paris spring skies, and the flourescent – clad ground staff preparing the plane for take – off.
His image was burned onto her brain and it didn’t help when she felt him take the seat beside her and all the air around them seemed to be disappear. And it really didn’t help when his scent teased her nostrils; musky and masculine.
He was quite simply the most gorgeous man she’d ever seen in her life. Dark olive complexion, high cheekbones, strong jaw. Short dark brown hair. Firmly sculpted masculine mouth. He should have been pretty. But Sidonie’s impression was not of pretty. It was hard, uncompromising. Sexual. Heat. The last kind of person she’d have expected to sit in an economy seat beside her.
And then he spoke. ‘Excuse me.’
His voice was so deep that she felt it reverberate in the pit of her belly. Sidonie swallowed and told herself she was being ridiculous, he couldn’t possibly have been that gorgeous. She turned her head and her heart stopped. His face was inches away. He was…that…gorgeous. And more. He looked vaguely familiar, and she wondered if he was a famous male model. Or a french movie star?
Something funny was happening to Sidonie’s brain and body. They didn’t seem to be connected anymore. She felt a hysterical giggle rise up and had to stifle it. She didn’t giggle. What was wrong with her?
One dark brow moved upwards over the most startling pair of green eyes she’d ever seen. Golden. Like a lion. She had green eyes too, but they were more blue than green.
‘I think you’re sitting on my belt?’
It took a few seconds for the words to compute and when they did Sidonie jumped up as if scalded, hands flapping, ‘I’m so sorry…excuse me, just let me…it must be here somewhere…’
Sounding irritated, the man said, ‘Stay still and I’ll get it.’
Sidonie closed her eyes in mortification, her hands gripped the seat back in front of her and she hovered, contorted in the small space as the man coolly retrieved his belt and buckled it.
Sidonie sat back down and attended to her own belt. Feeling breathless and avoiding looking at him again she said, ‘I’m sorry I – ‘
He cut her off, ‘It’s fine, don’t worry about it.’
A flare of something hot lanced Sidonie’s belly. Did he have to sound so curt? And why was she suddenly so aware of the fact that her hair was scraped up into a messy bun, that she had no make – up on, that she was wearing jeans that were so worn there was a frayed hole at her knee, and an equally worn university sweatshirt. And glasses. If central casting had been looking for ‘messy grunge student type’ she would have been cast on the spot.
She was disgusted at herself for letting a man, albeit even a man as gorgeous as this one to make her feel so self – conscious. She forced herself to take a deep breath and looked resolutely forward. Out of the corner of her eye though, she was aware of big strong looking hands opening up something like an iPad. Her belly clenched.
The seconds stretched to minutes and she heard him sigh volubly when they still weren’t moving. His arm nearest her reached up to push something and she realised it must have been the call button when the same stewardess arrived with indecent haste, ‘Yes, sir?’
Sidonie heard the irritation in his voice. ‘Is there a reason why we’re not moving yet?’
She looked over and only saw his strong profile and jaw, and even though she couldn’t see it she could imagine the kind of expression he’d be using: imperious. She glanced at the woman and felt sorry for her because she looked embarrassed. ‘I’m not sure sir, I’ll check right away.’ She rushed away again.
Sidonie let out a faint snort of derision, even the stewardess was treating him as if he was some sort of overlord.
He looked at her then. ‘I’m sorry, did you say something?’
Sidonie tried not to be affected by his overwhelming presence. She shrugged minutely. ‘I’m sure we’re just waiting in line to take our slot on the runway.’
He turned to face her more fully and Sidonie cursed herself. The last thing she needed was his undivided attention on her.
‘Oh really? And what if I have an important meeting to attend in London?’
Something hot flashed into Sidonie’s veins and she told herself it was anger at his insufferable arrogance. She crossed her arms in an unconsciously defensive move and said in a low voice. ‘Well in case it’s escaped your attention, there are approximately two hundred people on this plane and I’m sure more than one other person has a meeting to make and I don’t see them complaining.’
His eyes flashed and momentarily stopped her breath. They were so unusual and stark against his dark skin. He was like a specimen from some exotic planet.
‘There’s two hundred and ten actually, and I don’t doubt that there are many others who have important appointments lined up which makes my question even more relevant.’
Sidonie barely registered the fact that he knew how many were on board and bristled at the way his eyes had done a quick sweep up and down her body clearly deducing that she wasn’t on her way to an important meeting.
‘For your information,’ she said frigidly, ‘I have a connecting flight to Dublin from London and I’ll be very inconvenienced if we’re late but that’s just life, isn’t it?’
He leant back a little and looked at her, ‘I wondered where your accent was from, it’s intriguing.’
Sidonie wasn’t sure if that was a compliment or not so she clamped her mouth shut. Just then someone who looked like the pilot dressed in a uniform with a cap came alongside their seats and coughed slightly to get the man’s attention.
Releasing Sidonie from his compelling gaze, the man turned and the pilot bent down and said discreetly, ‘Mr Christakos, sorry about this delay, it’s beyond our control I’m afraid…they’ve got a backlog of planes waiting to take off. It shouldn’t be much longer but we can get your private jet ready if you’d prefer?’
Sidonie knew her eyes had gone wide as she took in this exchange. He said after a few moments, ‘No, I’ll stay Pierre. But thank you for thinking of it.’
The captain inclined his head deferentially and left again and Sidonie realised that her mouth was open. Abruptly she shut it and looked out the window before he could see her. In her line of vision was a similar plane standing nearby with the distinctive Christakos logo emblazoned on the side, along with a quote from a Greek philosopher. All of Alexio Christakos’s planes sported quotes.
Sidonie shook her head minutely, in disbelief. The man next to her who was now on his phone with that deep voice speaking in a language that sounded like Greek could not be the owner of Christakos Freight and Travel. That man was a legend. And he would certainly not be sitting beside her with his long legs constricted by the confines of economy class seating.
He’d been a case study in their business class in college before she’d had to leave: astonishingly successful while still disgustingly young. He’d made headlines when he’d cut himself off from his father’s inheritance to go his own way, never revealing to anyone his reasons for doing so.
He’d then grafted and worked his way up, starting up an online freight company that had blown all of the competition out of the water, and when he’d sold it after only two years, he’d made a fortune. It was that early success that had given him the finances to branch out into air travel and within the space of five years he’d been competing with and beating the best budget airlines in Europe. He had a reputation for treating customers like people and not like herded cattle which was the trademark of a lot of Christakos’s competition.
He was also one of the most eligible bachelors in Eruope, if not the world. Sidonie was not a gossip magazine aficionado, but after they’d studied his entrepreneurial methods in college, she’d had to listen to her fellow classmates wax lyrical about the man, drooling over copious pictures of him, for weeks. With a sinking feeling in her chest, she realised why he’d looked vaguely familiar. Even though she’d not shared in their collective drooling, she’d glanced at a couple of pictures, dismissing him as a pretty boy.
Now she knew: pretty he was not. He was all male. Virile and potent. She felt like squirming, and she wanted to change seats, suddenly acutely uncomfortable and not liking to analyse why that might be. She wasn’t used to someone having such an immediate physical effect on her.
The woman in the seat next to Alexio was starting to fidget. He had to curb the urge to put his hand on her thighs to stop her and curled that hand to a fist. She was clearly a nervy sort, from the way she’d reacted when she was sitting on his belt.
It was intensely irritating to him that he was aware of her at all. That he’d done a minor double – take to hear her challenge him. He chafed to be in such close confines with another person after years of the luxury of private air travel but if he wasn’t so damned conscientious…and controlling…his mouth quirked to himself to think of the insult that had been hurled his way more than once.
His assistant was informing him of his schedule in London but Alexio caught sight of a sliver of pale knee peeping out of torn jeans beside him and stifled a snort. Could she be any messier? He’d taken in impressions after exchanging those few words – light coloured hair, a slim body, pale face, glasses. Voluminous sweatshirt that hid any trace of femininity. And, a surprisingly husky voice with that intriguing accent.
Alexio did not take notice of women who did not dress like women. He had high standards after being brought up by one of the world’s foremost models. His mother had always been impeccably turned out. He frowned, to be thinking of her again.
Realizing the novel fact that he was not actually taking in a word his assistant was saying, Alexio terminated the conversation abruptly. The woman went still beside him and something tensed inside him. He could be on his way to his private jet right now but he’d refused. Again, not like him. But something had stopped him. Something in his gut.
He glanced over to see that the woman had a capacious grey bag on her lap and she was pulling things out of the seat pocket in front of her to put them in, haphazardly. Another strike against her. Alexio was a neat freak. She’d pushed her black – framed glasses on her head and his eye was drawn to her hair.
It was actually strawberry blonde. An intriguing colour. It looked to be wavy and unruly if let loose and he found himself wondering how long it was when it wasn’t confined in that high bun, with wisps curling against her neck and face.
Something tightened inside him, down low. Her face too, was not as unremarakable as he’d first thought. Heart – shaped and pale. He could see a faint smattering of freckles across her small straight nose and it shocked him slightly. It had been so long since he’d seen a face without make – up. It felt curiously intimate.
Her hands were small and quick. Deft. Short, practical nails. And just like that, Alexio felt a punch of desire bloom in his gut. It was hot and immediate, as he imagined how small and pale those hands would look on his body, caressing him, touching him, stroking him. The images were so incendiary that Alexio’s breath stopped for a moment. The girl seemed to have restored her belongings to her bag and then almost as an afterthought she took her glasses off her head and put them in too.
She must be aware of his scrutiny, he could see a flood of red stain her cheeks. And that stunned him anew. When was the last time he saw a woman blush?
Alexio leant back slightly, noting that her mouth in profile looked full, and soft. Kissable.
‘Going somewhere?’ he asked, slightly perturbed that his voice sounded so rough.
The women took a breath, making her sweatshirt rise and fall, drawing his eye to the flesh it concealed. He had a sudden hunger to see her. And wondered about her breasts. That desire increased, shocking him slightly with its force. He’d just left a woman in his hotel suite, what was wrong with him?
She looked at him and Alexio’s eyes met hers. He sucked in a breath. Without the black framed glasses…they were stunning. Almond shaped. Aquamarine. Like the sea around the islands in Greece. Sparkling green one second and blue the next. Long dark lashes were a contrast against her pale colouring, her eyebrows the same strawberry blonde tone as her hair.
She looked resolute, hands gripping her bag, that soft mouth tight now, eyes avoiding his. ‘I’ll move seats.’
Alexio frowned, everything in his body rejecting the notion with a force he didn’t like to acknowledge. ‘Why on earth do you want to move?’
This was another novel experience – a woman trying to get away from him! Alexio settled back further in his seat. The woman opened her mouth again and he saw small even white teeth. Her two front teeth had a slight gap in the middle. He had the uncanny feeling he could just sit here and stare at her for hours.
Now she was blushing in earnest.
‘Well you’re obviously…you know…’ she looked at him now, slightly agonised.
He quirked a brow, ‘What am I?’
Her cheeks went even brighter red and Alexio had to curb the desire to reach out and touch them to see if they felt as hot as they looked.
She huffed now, impatiently, ‘Well you’re obviously you, and you have things to do, people to talk to. You need space.’
Something cold settled into Alexio’s belly and his eyes narrowed. Of course. She’d heard that exchange with the pilot and would have deduced who he was. Still…in his experience, once people knew who he was, they didn’t try to get away, the opposite in fact.
‘I have all the space I need. You don’t need to go anywhere. I’ll feel insulted if you move.’