- 1 -
It has been a year, two months, and seventeen days since I last saw him. Two years, ten months, and five days since he broke my heart—well, since I knew that he had broken my heart. Technically, he began breaking my heart the moment I met him, five years, eleven months, and one day ago. I’ve traveled across the country to get away from him, changed my phone number so he couldn’t keep calling, had one botched relationship after another, all in an effort to forget.
And now I’m 1,600 miles from home, waiting on another flight to head 500 miles further south, and he’s walking toward me in DFW airport.
Ian Sterling is oblivious to the fact that our lives are going to crash in… five, four, three, two…
I can’t move as he walks up to my gate and begins talking to the agent. I’ve seen the puddle-jumper we’re about to get on together. There is no escaping him.
Caving to the inevitable, I take him in. He is perfection, and I’m not the only one who thinks so. The ticket agent looks all aflutter as she gazes up at him and stutters. His thick hair is sticking up in every direction, just the way I like it. He looks sleepy and obscene; I want to slap him and wrap my arms and legs around him and breathe his air—me and every other woman who lays eyes on him. The guitar by his feet is like another appendage; I’ve rarely seen him without it.
Before I even know what I’m doing, I am on my feet and sprinting through carry-on bags and travelers’ feet. I have to get out of here. If he sees me, I can’t guarantee what will happen. I just don’t think I can risk it. My heart can’t take any more.
I avoid his general direction and am making progress when I get snagged on a zebra print suitcase with purple trim. The hem of my mini catches on the handle of the bag and one yank doesn’t do the trick. My skirt will not budge. Panic begins to overtake me; my hands are a shaky mess. I am just about to rip a hole in the material so I can keep moving when I hear him.
His raspy voice cuts through the chatter around us. I’ve missed that voice. “Sparrow?”
My whole body goes still. Except for the tremors in my hands and knees and guts. I grab my skirt again, and this time it miraculously comes loose. Traitor!
Ian is clutching the counter in front of him and for a moment, I think he’s going down.
“Sparrow?” He says again and gives his hair a nervous tug. His eyes swallow me up, and I know I have to sit before I’m the one that goes down.
I put on my calmest face and give a polite, but cold smile.
“Don’t get any ideas,” I say.
He nods and reaches out to touch my face.
I back up. If he touches me, it’s over. I pretend to not see the hurt in his eyes.
“Sit with me?” he asks.
I collapse in the first open seat. So much for getting away.
Ian sets his guitar in front of me and sits on the higher end: elbows on his knees, knees against mine, his eyes trying to read me. Those eyes have been the death of me many a time. I sink into them far too easily. He has the eyelashes that all women envy and I study them instead, remembering all the times I’ve teased him about being so pretty. He leans in even closer. I cannot burrow any further into my seat than I already have.
All of a sudden, he backs up and looks around. “Is your mom with you? I knew I should have shaved,” he mutters.
A surprised laugh pops out. “No, Charlie isn’t here. Settle.”
“Whew.” He rubs the stubble along his jaw and grins. “I can’t believe you’re here in front of me. You look good, Sparrow. So beautiful.”
He reaches over and gently pulls one of my curls, watching it boing back into place. He places a hand on each cheek, his eyes studying me until they stop on my lips. He always had a thing for my mouth. And my hair. He used to list what he loved about each of my body parts, going into such detail that my neck would get splotchy. And then he’d tease me about all the splotches, while kissing each one.
I have to stop my brain.
“I see this face every night when I close my eyes. All day long, I think I see you, everywhere I go…” His eyes cloud, and he drops his hands. “I’ve dreamed this so many times, I’m not even sure you’re real right now. Are you really here?”
A thick lump burns in my throat, making it harder and harder to swallow. I know all about seeing his face everywhere. And not sleeping. And how long it took me to even eat again after he tore my heart out and stomped on it with the black combat boots I bought him that hellish Christmas. Shoving the ache down, I take a deep breath and fix my face as a blank slate, void of all feeling. Except the hate I wish I could have for him.
In our stupor, I think we’ve missed a few of the boarding calls because the ticket agent looks pointedly in our direction as she loudly makes the FINAL CALL TO BOARD. All the other passengers are sitting and waiting on us when we get on the plane. I sense some hostility. I don’t want to make a Texan mad at me.
“Well, what do you know, our seats are next to each other,” he smirks.
“I’m sure it helps that we’re the last ones on,” I snap out of the side of my mouth. I sit down and yank the neckline of my shirt up higher when I see his eyes wandering.
He sits down and laughs. “Come on, baby, I have you for one hour. Let me look at you.” The way he says have you makes me feel feverish.
“Don’t call me that.”
“Let me see your ticket.” He grabs it before I can say no. “4B.” He holds his up so I can see 4A. “I couldn’t have planned this any better myself…”
I lean my head back on the seat and close my eyes. It’s not even two minutes before we’re rolling and taking off. Now I know why there is a general glare in our direction from the other passengers—we held up the flight.
The air is thick with sorrow and desire. I have always known the minute he is in a room. It didn’t matter if it was a room of a hundred people or across thousands, I could spot his inky black hair and swagger from a mile away. Being in such close proximity after so long apart is threatening to make me sick. Ian is watching me, his head leaning on the seat and his whole body shifted toward mine.
A flash of color catches my eye—no, surely those things aren’t still in circulation.
“Tell me you’re not still wearing the elephant socks.”
His grin takes over his entire face, stopping my heart in the process.