Managed (VIP #2)

by Kristen Callihan

Chapter One

Sophie

* * *

You know those people who Lady Luck always seems to be kissing on the cheek? The one who gets a promotion just for showing up to work? Who wins that awesome raffle prize? The person who finds a hundred-dollar bill on the ground? Yeah, that’s not me. And it’s probably not most of us. Lady Luck is a selective bitch.

But today? Lady Luck has finally turned her gaze upon me. And I want to bow down in gratitude. Because today, I’ve been upgraded to first class for my flight to London. Maybe it’s due to overbooking, and who knows why they picked me, but they did. First fucking class, baby. I’m so giddy, I practically dance to my seat.

And, oh, what a beautiful seat it is, all plush cream leather and burled wood paneling—though I’m guessing it’s fake wood for safety reasons. Not that it matters. It’s a little self-contained pod, complete with a cubby for my bag and shoes, a bar, an actual reading lamp, and a widescreen TV.

I sink into the seat with a sigh. It’s a window seat, sectioned off from my neighbor by a frosted glass panel I can lower with the touch of a button. Or the two seats can become one cozy cabin by closing the glossy panel that sections off the aisle. It reminds me of an old-fashioned luxury train compartment.

I’m one of the first people on board, so I give in to temptation and rifle through all the goodies they’ve left me: mints, fuzzy socks, sleep mask, and—ooh—a little bag of skin care products. Next I play around with my seat, raising and lowering my privacy screen—that is until it makes an ominous-sounding click. The screen freezes an inch above the divider and refuses to rise again.

Cringing, I snatch my hand away and busy myself with removing my shoes and flipping through the first class menu. It’s long, and everything looks delicious. Oh man, how am I supposed to go back to the cattle-roundup, meat-or-chicken-in-a-tin hell that is economy class after this?

I’m debating whether to get a preflight champagne cocktail or glass of white wine when I hear the man’s voice. It’s deep, crisply British, and very annoyed.

“What is that woman doing in my seat?”

My neck tenses, but I don’t look up. I’m assuming he means me. His voice is coming from somewhere over my head, and there are only male passengers in here aside from me.

And he is wrong, wrong, wrong. I’m in my seat. I checked twice, pinched myself, checked again, and then finally sat down. I know I’m where I’m supposed to be—just not how I got away with it. Hey, I was as surprised as anyone when I went to the ticket counter, only to be informed I was in first class. No way am I going back to coach now.

My fingers grip the menu as I make a pretense of flipping through it. I’m really eavesdropping at this point. The flight attendant’s response is too low to hear, but his isn’t.

“I expressly purchased two seats on this flight. Two. For the simple purpose that I would not be seated next to anyone else.”

Well, that’s…decadent? Whacked? I struggle not to make a face. Who does that? Is it really so awful to sit next to someone? Has this guy seen economy? We can count each other’s nose hairs back there. Here, my chair is so wide, I’m a good foot away from his stupid seat.

“I’m so sorry, sir,” the flight attendant answers in a near purr, which is weird. She should be annoyed. Maybe it’s all part of the kiss-the-first-class-passengers’-asses-because-they-paid-a-shit-ton-to-be-here program. “The flight is overbooked, and all seats are spoken for.”

“Which is why I purchased two seats,” he snaps.

She murmurs something soothing again. I can’t hear because two men walking past me to get to their seats are talking about stock options. They pass, and I hear Mr. Snooty again.

“This is unacceptable.”

A movement to my right, and I nearly jump. I see the red suit coat of the flight attendant as she bends close, her arm at the man’s screen button. Heat invades my cheeks, even as she starts to explain, “There’s a screen for privacy…”

She stops because the screen isn’t rising.

I burrow my nose in the menu.

“It doesn’t bloody work?” This from Snooty.

The rest goes just about as well as you’d expect. He rants, she placates, I hide between page one and two of the menu.

“Perhaps I can persuade someone to exchange seats?” the helpful flight attendant offers.

Yes, please. Fob him off on someone else.

“What difference does it make?” Snooty snaps. “The point was to have an empty seat next to mine.”

I’d love to suggest he wait for the next flight and save us all a headache, but that’s not in the cards. The standoff ends with the jerk plopping into his seat with an exasperated huff. He must be big, because I feel the whoosh of air as he does it.

The heat of his glare is tangible just before he turns away.

Fucker.

Slapping my menu down, I decide, Fuck it; I’m having some fun with this. What can they do? They’re loading the plane; my seat is secure.

I find a stick of gum in my purse and pop it in my mouth. A few chews and I have some superior gum-smacking going on. Only then do I turn his way.

And freeze mid-chew, momentarily stunned by the sight sitting next to me. Because, good God, no one has the right to be this hot and this much of a jerk. This guy is one-hundred-percent the most gorgeous man I’ve ever seen. And it’s strange because his features aren’t perfect or gentle. No, they’re bold and strong—a jaw sharp enough to cut steel, firm chin, high cheekbones, and a bold nose that’s almost too big but fits his face perfectly.

I’d expected a whey-faced, graying aristocrat, but he’s tanned, his coal back hair falling over his brow. Sculpted, pouty lips are compressed in irritation as he scowls down at the magazine in his hand.

But he just as clearly feels my stare—the fact that I’m gaping like a speared fish probably doesn’t help—and he turns to glare. I’m hit with the full force of all that masculine beauty.

His eyes are aqua blue. His thick, dark brows draw together, a storm brewing on his face. He’s about to blast me. The thought hits along with another: I’d better make this good.

“Jesus,” I blurt out, lifting my hand as if to shield my eyes. “It’s like looking into the sun.”

“What?” he snaps, those laser-bright eyes narrowing.