Her fiancé cheated on her…in paradise. Broken hearted and confused, Emma flies home to Fort Worth, Texas not sure what life without him will entail.
Ryan is being discharged from the Navy to join a gastroenterology private practice in Fort Worth. New city, new life. The last thing on his mind is falling in love. Until a forlorn lady sniffles in the seat beside him on the flight.
A storm, an emergency landing and an out of control ex-fiancé thrusts Ryan and Em into a dilemma. Each must make some tough choices, but will those involve each other?
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“Stop! I’ve changed my mind,” I wanted to shriek. I hated this part more than anything.
Instead, I shuffled with fifty other passengers, each overloaded with carry-ons, toward the tunneled ramp which led to our plane. The first embarking of an eight-hour puddle hop—Honolulu to San Diego to Phoenix to Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex. The only route back home available on a moment’s notice.
I probably looked a fright after an hour of non-stop crying. The airline clerk took my boarding pass with a sympathetic lip-tuck once she saw my swollen, red eyes and runny nose. So much for my romantic three-day weekend in Hawaii. Fate, or maybe God, dictated otherwise.
“Thanks.” The word squeaked from my throat. I blinked back more tears from working their way up from my heart. Sideswipes of life came fast and furious without warning. And this had been a doozy.
“Excuse me. Pardon me.” I huffed out the sentences in between residual sniffles. Inching down the aisle, my designer carry-on bag thrust in front of my abdomen, I snail-paced after the other travelers. Shuffle. Stop. Shuffle. Stop, as each ahead of me found their designated too-narrow-for-most-human-bodies place in economy class. Ah. At last, row fourteen.
A quick glance at the ticket confirmed my assigned seat. The man behind me rammed his briefcase into my left kidney. He grumbled. “Sorry.”
I nodded in reply as I pivoted to toss my carry-on in the bin above my head before scooting sideways to my tackily-upholstered, cushioned cocoon, complete with safety belt, drop-down tray and ear phones. I leaned back as far as possible in my upright position and detached myself from the chaos stirred by the rest of passengers in Group B. A two minute lull ensued as the din level diminished to one couple two aisles up and over whispering in soft tones and the flight attendants clamoring in the tiny onboard kitchen.
But, as soon as I had steadied my breath, the remaining on-boarding mob invaded the brief tranquility. The aisle-tango continued in front of me until each found places for their belongings, and then their rear-ends in the narrow seats. I scrunched further into number 14E—a window seat in a row of only two—glad to not be participating in the oncoming melee of humanity. I craned to check who my assigned traveling companion might be, praying it wouldn’t be someone hugely overweight, with bad breath, or a strong body odor.
A thirty-something man, with a soft smile and tired eyes, plopped into 14D. He gave me a slight nod and leaned his back into the cushion with a deep, closed-eye puff of his cheeks. He wore casual, buckskin colored shorts and a hunter green and off-white striped collared knit shirt, displaying the proverbial little embroidered alligator. A left hand, sporting a simple gold band, gripped the armrest between us. Married, clean-cut, wants quiet. Okay, I can deal with that.
Just as I mouthed a thanks to God, an eardrum-stabbing wail occurred two rows back. “Why can’t Daddy sit with meeeee?”
The man huffed and twisted toward the sound. “Because the airlines said Daddy’s seat is here. You stay with Mommy.”
The child’s whining persisted as people jabbed and jostled through the claustrophobic cabin. It would be a full flight. My temples began to pulse.
One baritone voice pierced the din. “I’ll trade with you.”
I turned to see sandy hair, a chiseled jaw, and piercing blue eyes on the face of a military man. He held his boarding pass in one hand and a khaki duffle bag in the other. It matched his uniform. The Naval emblem on his brass belt buckle glimmered in the late afternoon light as it streamed through the airplane’s portal. Well, this was Hawaii. A bunch of the men onboard wore Navy fatigues. He was being transferred like the rest of them, no doubt.
“Really?” The father lost half of the worry lines on his forehead. “Thanks.”
The sailor hoisted his duffle and a briefcase into the compartment above us and shrugged. “No problem. A seat is a seat.” His eyes dropped to scan me. I pulled my skirt over my knees and shifted my gaze to the tarmac beyond the double-paned oval window.
From the outer edge of my vision, I saw the two exchange positions. In mid-movement, they shook hands. The Navy man smiled. “You should be with your family, man. It’s only right.”
He sat down, adjusted his position to dig the seat belt out from the cushion, and then leaned into my space to click it. The insignia on his left collar resembled a gold tree with a green stone in it. On the right, perched a silver maple leaf. Even though my father was in the Naval Reserves most of my early childhood, I never mastered deciphering rank and emblems. I did remember those two meant he was an officer of some sort and, by the khakis he wore, he’d been out to sea.
I shot him a semi-warm grin. “That was nice of you to do that, um, Lieutenant, is it?
“Actually, it’s Doctor.”
My mouth formed a small “O.”
He whispered in my direction. “And it was a purely selfish act. Why would I want to sit next to his kid while she blubbered the whole trip?”
My mouth readied to spill my thoughts about his brash remark, until I saw his wink. Instead, I inched my lips to the right in a fake chuckle. “Very funny.”
“I had you. Admit it.” Those crystal blue pools twinkled with mirth. He extended his hand. “Name’s Ryan MacKenzie. Lieutenant in the Navy, for another 48 hours or so.”
I kept mine in my lap and nodded. “Emma West. My friends call me Em.”
“M? For mystery woman?” The sides of his mouth curled upward. His attention briefly focused on my left hand. It was bare, though it had yet to feel that way to me.