Maine–a few hours before takeoff to California.
“Are you crazy? Hop on a plane to marry a man you’ve never met? Who does that?” Shannon fumed.
Callie Lawson drew in a deep breath, ready to form a reply to her best friend, yet she couldn’t justify or deny anything. Perhaps she was crazy. After the last year and a half, she needed something new in her life. Maybe marriage to a stranger was just the thing.
Two months ago, her mother, Joyce Ingram Lawson, died of brain cancer, leaving her bereft of anything, except a substantial hole in her heart. Callie devoted her whole existence to her mother’s care and needs, forgetting her career, most of her friends, and anything else someone of twenty-seven should be enjoying…especially romance and dating.
Except a month before her mother passed away, she met…him. She encountered a man online through a pen pal service. He was a single business man/rancher in California, whom hadn’t found love the conventional way and thought to take his chances online. They’d been sending daily emails, growing and cultivating a long distance romance through letters. Crazy probably didn’t cover it, yet Alex Williams captured her heart through words, offering her something new…stability and possible marriage.
“Are you listening, Cal?”
Shannon’s question brought her through to the present. “Yes.” She nodded her head, folding a sweater with care before placing it in her suitcase. “I heard you, Shannon, but I’m not changing my mind. I’ll be safe, I promise.”
Her friend scoffed. “Safe, schmafe! You don’t know anything about him. Hell, you don’t even know what he looks like. He could be some sleazeball pervert with missing teeth, ready to cart you off to some remote wilderness and kill you. Not to mention you’re flying across country without a network of—of—anyone or me to help you.”
Callie knew Shannon almost said family before correcting herself. Simple fact: she had no one. Her father and grandmother had died in a car accident five years ago and her mother, well, that chapter had closed and it was time to begin anew. She also knew Shannon meant well, having known her since they were six, but she couldn’t make this better. She’d recently wed and she was in the process of jump-starting her law office.
“Does he know about your money?” Shannon asked. “Maybe he’s after your inheritance.”
Callie sighed. “I didn’t send him my portfolio. He and I agreed to keep our financial business separate until we fully know one another. Besides, our mutual friendship is based purely on a deeper connection rather than money or looks.”
Callie had a lot of money of her own, more than one person needed. Her father had been an investment banker and her mother had left her a sizeable sum at her death. Between that and some investments she’d made herself—she had ample funds to see her through the next few years or longer.
Shannon pointed an excited finger. “That’s it! He’s poorer than dirt! I knew something was wrong with him!”
She couldn’t debate with Shannon; she was an attorney after all. “I’m not changing my mind. Let it go, please. I’ll call you after I land in California, okay?”
Her best friend begrudgingly agreed and took her to the airport. Through a few tears, they promised to keep in touch, though Shannon still tried to make one last stand against the ludicrousness, but Callie refused to cave. She knew what she wanted and his name was Alex.
Callie made her way through airport security, flipping into her phone. She slipped her shoes back on, bypassing another text message from Shannon, raving about necessary safety. She’d answer her later. What held her interest was the email waiting and she couldn’t open it fast enough…
What a long journey this has been for us both these last three months. I don’t know where to begin. After several business meetings this morning and resolving a few problems around the ranch, the only thing I can think of is you. I’m thrilled that I’ll finally be able to see you. What have you done to me?
Is it too sappy to tell you how I’ve reread all your letters until I’ve memorized each word?
I’d better stop or I’ll drive myself insane. I’ll be at the hotel restaurant at seven, see you then.
Thinking of you,
P.S. I bought you a horse. Her name is Diamond and I hope you’ll like her.
Wait? What? He bought me a horse?
She stopped abruptly, slamming into a Goth guy complete with a lip piercing. “Oh, I’m sorry.”
He smiled. “No problem, ma’am.”
Ma’am? Had she reached ‘old lady’ status without knowing it? Who said ma’am anymore? Granted, she was wearing her favorite tailored black pantsuit and black heels, while her blonde hair was drawn up into a sophisticated chignon. Her only thought was to look put together, just in case Alex took a wild hair and surprised her at the airport. Not that he would, but he had mentioned taking an overnight visit to see a client in a previous email.
Callie sidestepped the younger man, her thoughts returning to Alex’s latest gift. She couldn’t even walk and chew gum or read an email without a danger to herself or others. How could she ride a horse? Before she hit the reply button, she heard her name called over the airport intercom.
“Passenger Callie Lawson, Callie Lawson, please proceed to gate 114 ticket counter.”
She checked her watch; she still had forty-five minutes before boarding. God, she hoped there wasn’t a problem with her ticket or flight. Well, her reply to Alex would have to wait and she made her way through the terminal.
Her gate area was packed as she arrived, smiling at the helpful attendant behind the counter. “I’m Callie Lawson.”
“Hello, Ms. Lawson. We’ve been informed of an upgrade to your ticket from coach to Elite class. I’ll just need to see your photo ID to confirm the change.”
Callie frowned. “May I ask who did that?” She handed over her driver’s license.
The attendant looked down. “Hmm, looks like the upgrade came from Alex Williams,” she said.
She couldn’t help but smile. Even from nearly five thousand miles away, he could make her smile, surprising her in the most thoughtful of ways. She could very well afford her own first class ticket. Apparently, Alex thought otherwise.
The attendant gave her back her photo ID as well as her new boarding pass. “We’ll begin boarding in twenty minutes, Ms. Lawson. Have a nice flight.”
That gave her plenty of time to return Alex’s email and thank him for his gifts. What the heck would she do with a horse? How did one word that?
She found an empty chair next to a sprawled out woman taking up two seats. Her eyes scanned around, locking eyes with…the most handsome man who happened to be staring straight at her.
Callie swallowed hard under his penetrating gaze, trying not to focus on the fact he made her tremble. Every part of her body raced. Her heart, her blood, her breath, and her long forgotten female desire. He had the most amazing russet brown hair and his eyes—gold and completely focused on her. He wore a black shirt with a trendy black leather jacket and dark jeans. She shouldn’t care, but something about how this man shouldered massive amounts of heat through his stare, burned her hot, and made her blush.
She tore her eyes away, looking down at her forgotten phone, and told herself not to look up again. He was a stranger—likely never to see him again. She typed out her message…
I’ve finally reached the airport with two thoughts in mind. First, you’re entirely to giving and second, I’m not sure I deserve it. Thank you for the upgraded ticket—that was very thoughtful and a delightful surprise. Of course, it wasn’t necessary, but a pleasure to receive. As for the horse, I can’t say what I think about that. I’ve never ridden a horse in my life, but I’m sure you’ll teach me?
I hope you know how much I’ve treasured these last three months with you online. I really feel a deep connection with you…one that I won’t ever forget. After the loss of my mother and the years of nothingness, I’m beyond grateful that our friendship has expanded into real understanding with deep affection. I look forward to seeing you for the first time. I’ve barely slept because I’m so nervous, but please know…you’re my favorite reason to lose sleep.
I understand your feeling. My excitement is over the top too!
She hit send, hoping her awkward desperation hadn’t come through her words. Partly from the unknown facing her, and the other, from her instant hot response to the golden-eyed stranger. Her email attempted to settle her jittery nerves with the hope to remind herself of Alex’s kindness and obvious affection for her.
She looked up, daring to glance toward golden eyes’ direction to find him bent over his phone, oblivious to her or anyone else. Just as well, she mused. She had a bigger chance waiting for her and the call to board her flight prompted her into action.
The first class cabin claimed every elegance and comfort imaginable from wide leather seats to an offer of champagne before takeoff. Callie was just about to shut her phone down as it buzzed with an incoming email…
My dearest Callie,
If you look deep enough within me, you’ll know that I’m not the same inside. God, sweetness, to know you’ll be standing in front of me in a matter of hours shakes my world. I know we agreed not to see each other before now, and one reason being our mutual desire to base our relationship beyond material or physical aspects. Yet I have to say, I’m sorry I agreed. I’m a little unnerved and worried that someone will find you as incredible as I do or that you’ll find me lacking in some way after we meet. Even if that happens, just know I’ll always admire you. You’re an amazing woman. I mean that. I pray I’ll be given the chance to be your strength from this moment forward.
Take care and have a safe flight, sweetness.
You hold my next breath,
P.S. Don’t worry about how to ride…I’ll show you everything.
She smiled, wanting to respond, yet she nearly dropped her phone as she peered up into golden eyes. Her smile faded, and her mind emptied of rational thought, including Alex.
“Hi,” he said in a rich, deep voice with a hint of a smile curving his lips as he sat next to her.
As he eyed her with that incredible gaze, Callie’s mouth popped dry. He was even better looking up close. His overlong, russet hair brushed the collar of his black leather jacket, housing a wide expanse of muscle and he smelled divine. His scent was close to something dark, manly, and powerfully exotic, spiking her breathing into an undue speed with every inhale.
“H-hello,” she stammered. The tightness in her chest constricted her ability to utter a coherent word. She looked away, stowing her phone and dragged in a deep breath full of his scent. More dark richness careened her through a fast pump of desire. She’d never had such a powerful reaction to a stranger. So intense and mind numbing, she was sweating.
He extended a hand to her, his smile deepening. “I’m Thomas, born a hopeless romantic and a technology geek who loves moonlit walks and bungee jumping. Nice to meet you.”
Her hand slid into his. Zings of pleasure shot up her arm, making her tingle. “I’m Callie…” she trailed off, staring like an insignificant idiot with nothing clever to say.
Thomas stared too, his expression bemused as his thumb swirled over the back of her hand. “Have I startled you?” he asked, and then rushed to say, “Sorry, I didn’t mean to sound like a dating ad. I meet a steady diet of people in my travels. I find it helps to cut through the ice quick if I give a small account of myself.”
He was smooth with his words. Thomas looked sun kissed by the gods, full on lush with a hard lean body of the crisp GQ variety. “No, that’s fine,” she said. “It’s nice to meet you.” His hand slid away, leaving her chilled.
He nodded blinking once, his overlong lashes feathering soft against his face. “Are you on your way to California for business or pleasure?” He settled back in his seat, securing his seat belt.
“More like an adventure,” she murmured, shifting in her seat to gain a measure of comfort. Her heart pounded against her ribs, shattering her usual cool façade.
Thomas raised a curious brow. “Hmm, sounds mysterious. So you like to gamble. What’s the prize, may I ask?”
Callie lifted her chin under his intense gaze. “I’m…meeting my fiancé. You?”
He grinned, sexy and bold. “I’m headed home.”
The silence thickened between them, leaving a deprived awkwardness in its wake. Luckily, the plane began its departure, transporting their lull to thirty thousand feet—nonstop to LAX.
At the lurch of the plane, Callie popped awake groggy and disoriented, realizing sometime between the arrival of golden eyes and take off, she’d fallen asleep with her head resting on Thomas’s shoulder. Embarrassment heated up her cheeks. Sure, no doubt, he smelled good and his body heat radiated a special kind of warmth through her, but really? How had this happened? She shifted, shooting an awkward glance up to his face, finding him watching her with a soft smile.
She flushed. “Sorry about that. I’ve…never…” she trailed off, tucking a few escaped blonde tendrils behind her ear. What could she say? Since meeting him, she’d been tongue tied.
He chuckled, flashing a daring, wicked smile. “You’ll receive no complaints from me. If I can make myself useful as a pillow for a beautiful woman, then I’m at your service.” He reached for her hand, linking his fingers through hers. “Please don’t make yourself uneasy.”
“What do you do, Thomas?”
His golden eyes twinkled in the afternoon sun coming through the plane’s windows. “As of late, marketing and advertising, but not in a good way. It’s hard to find that one special person whom understands my vision. I’m hoping my luck is about to change.” He caressed her hand before smoothing a soft kiss over her knuckles.
It was subtle, yet enough to tear down her meager defenses. Alex whispered through her mind, reminding her of her long awaited meeting. “Please, I…can’t be more than a travel companion, but even that has limitations,” she said. So sure, she sounded weak, but in all fairness, he made her forget everything.
She wasn’t weak. She’d been her mother’s strength through the death of her father, grandmother. Then she buried her mother. Callie could handle anything, resisting even her best friend’s protestations on visiting a man she’d never met. Perhaps marry him. Yet, as soon as she glimpsed Thomas with his golden eyes, her awareness of her femininity soared.
His hand slid away, leaving her empty.
“I’m sorry. I must seem like an idiot. You mentioned a fiancé and I’m making you uncomfortable,” he said by way of an apology. “But, I have to say, he’s a lucky man.”
Callie was grateful the flight attendant chose that moment to offer refreshments, interrupting the uneasy moment. They ate fresh fruit with cream in companionable silence, keeping their comments light in respect to the weather or favorite books. Finally, they drifted into more silence, each taking out their phones, trying desperately to ignore each other until the plane made its descent into Los Angeles.
For Callie, it had been the longest flight of her life because she really enjoyed it and that made her feel guilty. Doubts seeped in, questioning her sanity.
Thankfully, Thomas made their goodbyes easy, only helping her with her luggage and securing a taxi with a polite farewell. In a moment of panic, Callie ached to ask for his number, missing his presence already, yet she stamped down the emotion with a fine twist of inner self-control. She allowed the serendipity of their meeting to roll into a fine memory, focusing on the next chapter of her exciting undertaking.
Her phone buzzed in the taxi with an incoming email…
I hope you’ve landed safely, sweetness. How was your flight? Please let me know.
I’ve secured a private dining room overlooking the ocean for our first meeting. My only expectation is that you will enjoy it, Callie. After years of waiting for ‘the’ perfect woman, I feel I’ve found her, but no pressure. If we’ve only found a deep friendship, I’ll be satisfied.
Thinking of you,
She groaned inwardly, feeling a complete moron after her semi flirtation with golden eyes the last few hours. She hit the reply button…
I’ve safely landed and I’m looking forward to our date. My flight was pleasant, thank you. Never worry about our meeting. I’m sure it will be wonderful.
Could her message be any frigid? However, she tossed out her displeasure and self-lambast, arriving at her ocean side hotel. Her room was beautiful, pristine with a bouquet of red roses waiting from Alex. He was making every effort to impress, pampering her with sweet luxury. She didn’t need it; she was half in love with him already, though thoughts of Thomas filtered through her psyche, making her an utter fool. Soon, Alex would be with her and everything would be fine—she would forget all about the demigod with his smooth words and amazing eyes.
She showered, dressing in her finest black dress, which showed off her shapely legs and trim body. Her blonde hair hung in soft waves passed her shoulders, gauzy and shiny, while adding a delicate layer of makeup without over doing it. A few deep breaths later, she was ready, yet nervousness ate at her.
The hotel host showed Callie through to the private dining room, complete with more red roses, champagne and a perfect romantic view of the ocean. She trailed a delicate finger over the intimately laid table, offering an elegant display of china and crystal until she reached the balcony. The view was breathtaking. A glorious sunset powered by the romantic setting.
Yet, then…his scent came to her on the warm breeze. The yummy essence was as familiar as the man owning it. Dark, rich, and tempting, he was completely mouth watering.
“Turn around, sweetness,” he whispered.
Callie shook her head, closing her eyes as tears threatened to consume her. “No.”
His hand slid around her waist, pulling her up against cords of solid muscle, “Forgive me,” he breathed against her ear. “I couldn’t wait to see you.” He turned her in his arms, cupping her cheek. “Look at me, Callie.”
“I can’t.” Somehow mortified, yet flying at the same time. A familiar ache settled in her stomach, making her want all the things pent up inside.
“After months of the sweetest friendship with the most amazing woman, I flew to Maine just so I could sit next to you on the plane.”
Her eyes slid open, she gasped softly. “Thomas…”
He shook his head. “Alexander Thomas Williams.”
A tear slid down her face as she found herself reflected in his eyes. “You don’t know how much I…wanted it to be you. Why didn’t you tell me?”
Alex leaned closer, his warm breath teasing against her lips. “I planned to, but I couldn’t. The very idea you were flying thousands of miles to be mine kept me silent. I wanted to…surprise you.”
A hiccupped laugh escaped her. “You certainly did.”
His breath hitched, squeezing her closer. “Do that again.”
Callie frowned. “What?”
Her lips curved upwards and he inhaled sharply. “I was…so attracted to you. I thought I had no right to feel that way…like I was two-faced…wanting you…wanting Alex.”
“You may have me forever…if you like. I’m yours.”
A sexy, daring gleam lit her eyes. “Only if you kiss me to seal the deal.”
“It would be my pleasure,” Alex whispered, his golden eyes darkening with desire.
He took her lips, swirling through her mouth with intense feeling, longing, and every past emotion so long denied. He tasted strong, fierce with a warm, heady sensation too wonderful for words. Her heart banged against her ribs, her blood rushed through her veins as every stroke of his tongue gave another promise of more to come. Callie’s hands traveled north, sinking into the russet-brown strands of his hair, urging him, giving him chase as each powerful stroke exploded through their lips.
He inched back, his breath heaving against her lips. “Marry me, Callie Lawson.”
There was no question, no debate, or argument. “Yes.”
All Callie’s adult life had been spent shouldering pain, caressing tears, or burying a loved one—even waiting for pure love held a delay. Yet, even as her strength ebbed, Alex was there. He was her strength—just as he promised. He was there with his words, his presence, and his lasting assurance to be her husband. As his lips blazed another trail against her mouth, she knew she was exactly where she was meant to be.
Story is also available on Wattpad