Chapter 1: Charles

A woman’s voice ordering Lagavulin—neat—pulled Charles’ attention away from the email on his phone. The long-awaited news that the Food and Drug Administration had approved his company’s surgical products should have been able to hold his attention, but her sexy voice took his mind right off of work.

Not many women ordered single-malt scotch, especially at airport bar prices. He glanced across the two empty stools between them and spotted the battered, metal-reinforced rolling bag behind her. It was the sign of a veteran traveler like himself.

She was dressed in a pencil skirt and off-white blouse with her business suit coat hung over the back of her bar chair. Her formerly neat blonde hair was still pinned in a bun by a couple of wooden sticks, but a few stray strands hung down next to her face. She gave a perfunctory smile to the bartender as he placed a wide-mouthed glass of amber liquid on a square napkin in front of her.

“That’ll be sixteen,” the muscular guy said while trying to make eye contact with her.

She tossed a twenty at him and waved her fingers in a clear dismissal without ever meeting his eyes. Seeing that pleased Charles more than it should have. The bartender walked away with a sour expression on his face despite the generous tip.

After tucking a tangle of hair behind her ear, she picked up the glass and bowed her head for a moment as if in prayer. Then she opened her eyes and swirled the glass to watch the scotch’s legs walk up the sides. To complete the ritual, she nosed the glass and drew a deep breath.

Air slowly filled her lungs, which drew his attention to the blouse falling open at her neck. Her outfit was all business, but the hint of delicate white lace framing the curve of her breast told a different story.

Charles felt the heat rise as he imagined kissing from the hollow of her neck to the shadow between those two soft mounds. He toyed with the fantasy for a moment while she sipped. The low hum she made as she swirled the glass again could have been a sound effect from his daydream.

“Why are you staring at me?” she murmured as she continued to stare straight ahead.

He chuckled and looked down. Busted. Then he turned to meet her eyes staring back at him through the mirror behind the bar. “Sorry. I don’t normally stare. Didn’t mean to intrude.”

“Humor me, I’m curious.” She took another sip. “Why?”

The amused sparkle in her blue eyes held a touch of sadness. There must be a reason she was spending twenty bucks for a dram when forty more would buy her the whole bottle at any liquor store. He noted her manicure as she rubbed a fingertip around the edge of the glass. The red finish on her short nails glittered under the bright halogen lights that pinned the bartop.

“You puzzled me, that’s all.”

“Puzzled?”

She looked down to dip a fingertip in the honey-colored liquor. Raising a drop, she extended her pink tongue to draw it into her mouth. Faded crimson lipstick lingered on her lips, but had thinned out enough not to stain her fingertip. She stared at him through the mirror again when it emerged with a wet pop.

Those lips! Charles had to shift on his stool to release the tension caused by his stiffening cock. The flutter in his stomach had nothing to do with being caught watching. He could no longer look away. A smile lifted one corner of her mouth as he stared.

“My grandmother, Ginny, enjoyed a tipple of Lagavulin now and then. You’re only the second woman I’ve seen drink it.”

“She had good taste.” The woman smiled reflectively. “So did my father.”

When she broke eye contact and looked back at the glass, it was like turning off a heat lamp. He had to feel warm again.

“Charles,” he said as he shifted one stool closer to her. She gave him a shy grin before scooting closer as well.

“Chloe. Nice to meet you.”

Knees touching, Charles studied her face. Only a touch of mascara and dark eyeshadow remained of her business mask, but her cheeks glowed pink like she’d just applied blush. When she exhaled, Charles could almost taste the smoky-sweet scent of scotch on her breath.

“Tell me about him?” Charles prompted. He wasn’t especially interested in her father, but there was no way he was catching his flight home to Dallas without knowing more about this captivating woman. An instant attraction burned in a way he couldn’t explain.

“He was a good man. He taught me all the important things I know.” Her eyes moved from his eyes to his lips and back. “Then he died.”

Sadness shadowed her and he suddenly knew why. “Recently?”

“Yeah.” She looked down at her glass and pinched her lips. “Dad lived here. I fly through Atlanta all the time for work and always thought, next time I’ll stop and visit him. I got caught up in my life and, before I knew it, he was gone. That was three months ago. Now when I fly through here I always raise a glass to his memory… and my regret.”

“I’m sorry,” he said, unsure of what else he could say. Her words rang his heart like a bell. Charles had the same kind of regret over missed opportunities with his grandfather.

She sighed and propped up her smile again. “Me, too. We were always close, so I don’t regret that. And I called him all the time. I just wish I could’ve seen him once more. He had a certain scent. Like…” She looked up as her eyes glistened. “A smokey forest in the rain. I never thought I’d miss something so abstract.”

“I miss my grandmother for that same reason. She always smelled like baking bread and spices.”

“Exactly,” Chloe declared and took another deep breath of the scotch. “This was his favorite drink. It’s as close as I can get to him now.” Her eyes stayed closed as she let out another low hum.

Their knees bumped again and Charles moved a little to give her space. She surprised him by extending a bare toe to tickle along his calf. The heels she’d worn had fallen between her stool and the brass footrest along the bar. Her pedicure was as nice as her manicure, he noted, with red polish gracing each nail. He moved his leg closer on impulse and her foot slipped down his leg to rest on his leather oxford.

Charles could feel the heat from her foot through the leather. It was a test of his will to keep from pulling her into his lap and claiming her soft mouth to kiss away that sad smile. She opened her eyes again and leaned towards him. Her eyes kept flickering between his lips and eyes, inviting him without words.

“Fuck it,” he murmured to himself and kissed her.

She kept her mouth closed at first, but the sweet taste of scotch and her heat made his heart race. When she put a hand on his chest, he expected her to push him away. Instead, she clutched his loose tie to hold him close. Opening her lips at last, her tongue darted out to run along his lower lip. He ran a hand up her cheek and into her hair, cupping the back of her head to pull her closer.

Moments passed as their passion rose. They were nearly alone in the bar, but he suddenly wished he had a layover. Feasting on her wouldn’t be enough to satisfy the hunger that consumed him now. He wanted to possess her. Claim her body. Hold her still while he brought them both over the edge together. When the moment ebbed, they were panting, foreheads pressed together as they clung to one another.

“Attention passengers of Delta flight 812, non-stop to Dallas, Texas. Your flight has been delayed again due to weather conditions in Texas. Please check with your gate attendant for options.”

“Crap, there goes my flight,” she whispered.

“Mine, too,” Charles answered. They opened their eyes at the same time and Charles noted longing mixed with apprehension.

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