Girl On A Plane – Chapter One

The following excerpt is from Chapter One of Girl on a Plane by Cassandra O'Leary, Copyright 2016. Reproduced with permission from the publisher, Avon Maze/HarperCollins UK.

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CHAPTER ONE

Mermaid Airlines Flight 180, Melbourne to London

Showtime! Sinead Kennealy sucked in a deep breath and squared her shoulders. Time to get it over and done with. The molly-coddled first class passengers wouldn’t entertain themselves, apparently.

She sensed her colleagues Yuki and Deanna on either side of her usual position, centre front of the cabin. Yuki flicked her shiny black ponytail over her shoulder and flipped on the PA system. The airline’s theme song, a hackneyed rendition of the “Macarena”, blared from the plane’s speakers.

Hey! Mermaid Airlines.

Sinead’s heart sank like a stone dropped in a bucket of water even as she plastered on the airline’s trademark happy smile. Her jaw ached with the enforced perkiness, all day long. It was only breakfast time and she had a crick in her neck. A few more hours and they’d land in Dubai. She might have time for a massage at the hotel spa.

She shimmied forward in a practised and synchronised routine. The move she hated. The booby shake. A couple of mature men eagerly watched her from their premium seats with an over-excited gleam in their eyes.

One of the men mumbled, “Shake it, baby!”

Heat crawled up her throat to her cheeks and she wanted to slink away to the bathroom. Surely she couldn’t die from embarrassment. But it was a close call.

How much more of this job could she take? As an eager twenty-one-year-old recruit with Mermaid Airlines (The funnest airline in the world! so the tag-line went) she’d been bouncing off the walls with glee. The travel! The glamour! The most exciting job ever. Five years on, either her patience had run out or her expectations had grown.

Shimmy, shimmy, shake!

She kicked her leg. Shook her hips. A grown woman. Fluent in French, German and English, plus a sprinkling of Gaelic. A first-aid expert. Calm in an emergency. She had some mad skills these days. She’d even talked down an over-zealous pilot keen to initiate her into the Mile High Club. But look at her shaking her money-maker. Was it too much to ask for something more challenging?

Shimmy, shimmy, kick!

While she was ranting, why didn’t her male colleagues ever have to shake their tails to keep the high-flying passengers happy? Fecking Damian smirked at her over the passengers’ heads, from the rear of the cabin. Skiving off again. She gave him the evil eye, a slight pinch of her eyebrows the passengers wouldn’t notice. But he sure noticed, and scurried away like a little mouse back to the galley where he was meant to be preparing breakfast. She’d deal with him later.

Shimmy, kick!

She bowed. Enthusiastic applause from the whole cabin drowned out the roaring engines as the music died. She grabbed the microphone from Yuki.

"Thanks ladies and gentlemen. Welcome to Mermaid Airlines flight 180 from Melbourne to London via Dubai. We will be serving breakfast shortly. In the meantime, please watch this short safety video."

Mirroring the gestures in the safety video, she pointed out the nearest exits. Her arms went off on their own merry way, demonstrating on auto-pilot. A yawn rose up in her throat. So tired. She could have shut her eyes and slept where she stood. But her lips stretched upwards, and she nodded at the passengers in front of her.

A mixed bunch today. Business people mostly. One younger man in dark glasses who might have been a football player. Yuki would know, she was always up to speed on celebrities. Older Aussie gentleman in 5K, already showing signs of downing too many beers in the airport bar. And it was only eight o’clock in the morning. The heckler. She’d keep her eye on him.

She held up the airline’s safety card and waved in the direction of the oxygen masks.

A couple of other passengers stood out. Young professional-looking mother in 16G, dressed all in black, travelling alone with her baby. Was she wearing a Chanel suit? A different world, these rich people lived in. Who wore Chanel when they travelled? Let alone when they’d likely be covered in baby vomit in no time at all?

No matter, the bub was bound to annoy the first and business travellers. She’d help out by holding the baby when Mummy needed to go to the bathroom. He looked a sweet little thing. The random baby cuddles were a definite perk of the job.

She glanced towards Deanna. Her friend was well into robot mode, her dark eyes bright and blank.

Sinead scanned the rest of her passengers, letting her gaze slide over the business people who all looked much the same. Except…

Well, hello there.

Shockingly handsome young man with a perfectly sculpted face, full, kissable lips, sparkling blue eyes and dark blonde hair in 3A. Her belly fluttered and flipped. She was experiencing mild turbulence. Because of him? Her gaze tracked down his long, lean form, from broad shoulders to slim hips under a sharply cut suit. The man knew how to wear a suit.

And the man stared directly at her with intent—anyone would think he wanted to pounce on her and eat her alive. Yowza. Her stomach performed its own little dance and flipped over in the most peculiar way. As if she was falling.

Her hands formed into fists at her side and she sucked in a soothing deep breath. She was all hot then cold, goosebumps pebbling down her arms. The last thing she needed was another man who wanted to own her. But not all muscular and fit men were like Padraig. She’d left her mad ex-boyfriend years and thousands of miles away. Why couldn’t he stay there, out of sight, out of mind?

Don’t engage the crazy. Calm blue ocean. The image of a tropical Thai beach popped into her mind and calm washed over her like gentle waves against the shore.

She was still staring at Mr Hot Stuff in 3A. Rubbing her arms, she hastily looked away.

It was nearly time for the coffee and tea service, not the time for the distraction of a handsome man with a James Bond-ish air about him. Who looked like he would be able to handle himself… and a woman too.

What would it feel like, to let him handle her? Oh, Lord. She had a sneaking suspicion it would feel mighty fine. Heat crept up her throat and surged across her cheeks. The last thing she needed was a blush lighting up her face like an emergency beacon.

She lowered her arms and finished up the safety demo. And stood there staring for a few seconds too long. She’d better catch up to Yuki and get the beverage cart stocked. Time to crack on.

***

Gabriel cocked his head to one side and stared as her skin changed from pale porcelain to hot pink. The platinum blonde flight attendant was having some kind of reaction to him. Damned if he could tell whether it was good or bad. He gripped the iPad tighter in one hand where it balanced on his lap, as her red glossy mouth popped open and she inhaled deeply.

He’d first noticed her at the boarding gate, walking away from him towards the large wall of windows overlooking the runway. Her body had been framed in silhouette—the outline of long, slim legs and a shapely backside in her tight skirt drew his gaze and fired his imagination.

She seemed so confident and in control, a woman to be reckoned with. It had been a while since he met a sexy woman who wasn’t a complete pushover. Someone to spar with. He let the idea percolate as she headed off towards the staff area, behind the curtain at the front of the plane. The sway of her hips as she walked down the aisle was definitely some of the best inflight entertainment he’d seen in a long time.

He stopped gawking and let his gaze drop to his iPad and the designs for his company’s new travel blog. Something was off with the style but he couldn’t put his finger on it. The main Global Village website was doing fantastic business, especially since his deal with the major airlines flying through the Asian region.

But the demands from the board and shareholders were taking a toll. He rubbed his right temple with his forefinger, tiny circles, round and round. There was pressure to expand the business too quickly, pressure to push into new markets, and the constant pressure to make more money.

He’d commissioned a cutting-edge digital advertising agency to develop the new Asia blog. But they weren’t getting it right. What the hell was going on? He’d have to step in. Talk to the designers, get them to start from scratch. As if he didn’t have enough on his to-do list.

It was so hard to let go.

After starting a business fresh out of university and building it into a global brand, it wasn’t so easy to hand over the reins. Now the business was expanding from his home city of Melbourne to London. He should have stepped back and allowed the new Europe and Asia-Pacific regional managers to do their jobs. Instead he was on a flight to London to supervise the set-up phase for the new office.

He wasn’t sure he should have left his Mum, even if it was only two weeks. He’d promised to always be there for her. The guilt and stress threatened to devour him if he let it take over. He pushed it down till his gut ached. He needed a break. Some downtime to decompress.

It had been so long since he went on a proper holiday. Gabriel pictured the top of the range surfboard stashed somewhere in his Mum’s house. He’d love to take off surfing and drop-out for a while. Not likely in sunny London in February. He could try to take a weekend trip to Spain or down the coast back home. Surfing was the only personal time he seemed to get these days.

The other flight attendant pushed the drinks cart down the aisle and stopped beside his seat. She was pretty with her black glossy hair and even blacker eyes. Wide eyes. She looked younger than the other hostess. Yuki, he read on her name tag. He’d have a bit of fun with her, cheer himself up. He liked to flirt, hopefully she’d be into it too.

“Coffee or tea this morning?” Yuki asked.

“Let’s see. Is the coffee likely to be any good? On a scale from one to ten—one being sludge scraped off the bottom of the Yarra River to ten being nectar of the gods—how would you rate it, Yuki?”

She blinked, pausing for a second. “Ah, I believe the coffee is good, Sir. Would you like a cup?”

He raised his eyebrow. She was no fun. “You didn’t answer my question. If you give it a six or higher I’ll try it.”

“Right. I’d give it a six or seven.” Yuki poured the cup of coffee and set it on a small plastic tray, ready to pass across to him. He waved it away.

The tall blonde approached behind Yuki to help with the drinks service. His eyes instantly snapped to hers and then his gaze moved lower, to the name tag pinned above her perfectly round, high breasts. Wicked thoughts flitted through his mind, which she could obviously read in his expression. A pinched crease formed between her eyebrows, then her tongue darted out and licked across her soft-looking lower lip. Half-annoyed, half-interested?

Sinead. He noted her name in his memory bank. She had a musical Irish lilt in her accent when she’d made the announcement over the PA. Very sexy.

“Can I be of assistance?” Sinead’s voice was a little husky. Very sexy indeed.

Yuki nodded to Sinead and stepped past her, continuing to serve the next passenger.

“I was asking Yuki whether the coffee was any good. What do you think, Sinead?”

“Well, it’s hardly Jamaican Blue Mountain, but it’ll do in a pinch.” She winked at him, actually winked.

He liked this woman. His mouth tugged up at the corners. Too long. It’d been too long since he’d met a woman he wanted to banter with.

“You know all about Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee, do you?”

The condescending comment was out of his mouth before he could stop it. Scorn dripping off his tongue seemed to be his default setting when talking to women lately. Too much time spent with his Mum, nurses, doctors, all women telling him things he didn’t want to know. He had to snap out of it. Charm came easily when he tried. He hadn’t always been a grumpy bastard.

Her lips twitched and she leaned a little lower over his seat. “As it happens, I do. Blue Mountain coffee beans come from a tightly controlled region in Jamaica and are considered the best in the world by many critics. We don’t currently stock it on board, but I can recommend a few excellent cafés in London serving it, for when you arrive.”

“Really? Do tell.”

“There is Tomtom in Belgravia of course, but my personal favourite is Nude Espresso in Soho Square.”

“Nude Espresso?” Gabriel raised his eyebrows. Was she flirting with him? Things were looking up.

“Yes. Nude.” Sinead’s cheeky half smile answered the question.

Hello, Irish fling. Definite interest there.

He chuckled, stretching out his legs. “Hmm, I’ll keep it in mind. But right now I’ll take a pot of tea.”

“Of course you will. Sir.” Sinead muttered the last word, reaching for the tea on her cart. The frown crossing her face was a kick in the guts, before she beamed like a little ray of sunshine.

He should’ve known better. In her mind, he was nothing but another rich arsehole, and she was used to serving them without a second glance. Unless he could show her he was different.

He wanted to be different. He didn’t want to be a man who would ruin a woman’s day. He’d like to make Sinead smile. Now wasn’t that a surprise?

***

Three hours later, Sinead slumped down in her jump seat next to the galley at the rear of the first-class cabin. She gazed out the window on her much needed break, feet aching, with her head up in the clouds. Which pretty much summed up her life at the moment. So much of her life was spent in the clouds. Fifty per cent. It was a strange realisation and she still wasn’t fully comfortable with it, even after five years of flying almost every day. Floating, gliding through the air.

Although she understood the basic mechanics of how a plane worked and concepts like wind resistance, it was somehow magical to travel through the sky in a metal box. So far above the earth and removed from everyday reality, as tiny people went about their lives below. She was somehow apart from them, removed. Sometimes it felt like she was on a different planet from most people.

The clouds today were different than usual, darker. Or was it a reflection of her strange mood? No, she’d flown in all sorts of conditions and knew a lot about weather these days. The clouds were dense and gathering quickly.

The plane lurched and bumped, and she grabbed hold of the armrests. Her stomach rolled over. Not a good sign. She was right about the clouds being different. Probably the tail of the storm system the captain mentioned during the pre-flight briefing. She needed an update on the weather conditions. As the lead cabin crew member on the flight, she had to understand what was happening to brief the others. She pushed herself upright and swayed into the partition.

On her way to the cockpit, the plane tipped sharply to the right, causing gasps and murmurs from the passengers. Sinead stumbled and tripped forward, grabbing hold of the nearest thing.  A strong, muscular shoulder. Oh, no.  The coffee man. She watched his blue eyes blink and open wide, his lips tugging up into a half smile. A surge and drop in an air current rattled the cabin, tray tables shaking. She pitched forward, pulse thumping loud in her ears, until she clutched the headrest beside his face.

Her boobs were lodged right in front of his head. Looking down, she saw his eyes widen and he took in the view straight down her now gaping neckline, between the girls.

She squeaked like a frightened mouse. Between the weather and the man, she was all off-balance and her heart was aflutter.

Somehow she had to move. But she was captured by his ruffled beachy blonde hair with the goldy highlights. Those baby blue eyes had her hooked, searing hot this close, only inches away.

She inhaled a full whiff of him. His scent shot straight from her nose to wrap around her good-feels receptors. Delicious, citrus and spice and all things nice, like some kind of tropical island spliced with man. Her blood was flowing too fast, or something. But it wouldn’t pump properly, having turned sticky in her veins, full of throbbing heat.

Danger. Pheromone alert.

It had to be him. Him being Mr Tall, Dark Blonde and Handsome, or Mr Anderson, as stated on the passenger list. So, she found out his name. It didn’t man she was interested in him. She had a split-second to admire him and breathe him in again before… A sharp drop in altitude. It took her down with it. Toppling over, her stomach connected with his armrest.

Oooof.

Oh, Lord. She toppled right on top of him. Her face was dangerously close to his groin. It was the closest she’d been to that area of a man’s anatomy for quite some time.  What must he be thinking? She must look like a complete idiot. He sucked in a deep breath.

Robbed of breath, possibly a few brain cells too, she tightened her grip on his seat and hauled herself upright. She rubbed at the sore spot on her stomach, which would probably become a nasty bruise.

His eyes followed the movement of her hand. “I wouldn’t refuse a lap dance, but are you okay?”

Such a crude comment.  She had thought he was a better class of man than most, at least, good for a bit of flirting and ogling. But maybe not. The airline overlords expected them to put up with the odd comment or “joke”, but it did tick her off. Men.

“I’m fine, thank you.” She clenched her teeth and pushed back, out of his orbit.

Standing tall, she shrugged her shoulders and tugged at her shirt, making sure the girls were tucked in, then knotted the silk scarf come loose around her throat. Pulled herself together. Somehow, she’d forgotten where she was going. Cockpit. Right. She nodded, but her legs stayed put.

He nodded too and raised his eyebrows, crinkling his forehead in apparent concern. He ruffled a hand through his cropped hair and mussed it appealingly. What would it feel like, to run her own hands through his hair? To smooth her hand across his brow, then muss the man properly.  What was wrong with her today? Had she bumped her head on the way down?

There was just something about him. An unwelcome pang of something – regret or desire, she wasn’t entirely sure – shot through her belly. A certain something likely to lead her into temptation and end in trouble.

Her heart ker-thumped out of rhythm and the air huffed from her lungs. Straightening her skirt, she hurried down the aisle to get away from him, swaying and bumping along with the turbulence. .

Sinead entered the cockpit and nodded at the co-pilot she didn’t know well. He tipped his chin at her, but directed his attention back to the radar image. She hung back, hearing the tense tone of Captain Arrowsmith’s voice. “Acknowledged. We’ll await further instructions.”

Tom, as he’d asked her to call him when they first met, sat perfectly straight with his back to her, his spine rigid as he worked the controls and hung on for air traffic control. He was one of the good guys, always so professional. Not to mention a fine-looking older man. A silver fox. He spoke to her as an intelligent person, not a serving wench as some pilots did.

The disembodied voice of an air traffic controller crackled through the radio. “Flight 180, you are being diverted. You are go to Singapore. Repeat, you are go to Singapore.”

“Acknowledged. Repeat course correction.”

The rest of the conversation was a muffled blur against the backdrop of her mind. The storm was developing fast and air traffic control was clearing the airspace. Not a good sign. Everything was reminding her of the worst day of her travel career, a flight to the Philippines that went awry. Her breathing sped up and she wiped her palms against the wool fabric of her skirt.

Tom swivelled around, a frown creasing his forehead. His usual warm expression missing. “Okay, Sinead. We have a confirmed tropical storm and it’s getting stronger, possibly a typhoon developing. We’ll need to de-plane. Please inform the cabin crew and then I’ll make an announcement to the passengers.”

She nodded. “Yes, Captain. Tom, I mean.”

Her heart raced ahead and her mind played out worst-case scenarios as she stepped out of the cockpit.

Stay calm. She slowed her pace, walking on wobbly legs down the aisle back to her colleagues.  She passed Mr Coffee with barely a glance, concentrating on the job at hand.

Minutes later, she’d assembled her crew mates in the galley for a briefing. They stood in a circle as she relayed the captain’s message, the bare facts. Yuki’s mouth popped open and Deanna leaned against a trolley, arms crossed tight across her chest.  They were no doubt worried, but trying to remain professional. The rest of the crew looked at their feet or stared at her and nodded, silent as the grave. No. Not a grave, definitely not a grave. Silent as some other silent but lovely thing, like rainbows or butterflies. Sinead was working hard to think happy thoughts, anything other than a terrifying typhoon blowing a plane full of passengers off course.

Her crew were all okay. None of them were panicking. They’d remember their training and help the passengers however they could.

Damian was the odd man out. Pouting, his poufy black hair bouncing as he shook his head. He looked put out. Sinead knew he coveted her senior crew member position, which made him unmanageable at times.

Damian wasn’t a happy camper, but she wouldn’t waste any more time on him. He muttered something under his breath and then kept quiet.

She had a whole cabin of passengers to calm, to reassure, to make comfortable. Even when she was feeling less than calm and comfortable herself. She’d developed a sixth sense when it came to emotions, honed by years of anticipating and meeting other people’s needs. It didn’t make the work any easier. It was emotionally as well as physically exhausting and that was without the added stress of a tropical storm.

Half the time she was a flight attendant zombie, an honorary member of the walking dead. A new wave of tiredness washed over her and she rolled her shoulders and stretched her neck. Then she snapped out of it. She stood tall and got going again, showing the other crew members she was on top of things. Leading by example.

A loud but calm voice burst through the PA. “Ladies and gentleman, this is Captain Arrowsmith speaking. Apologies for the unexpected turbulence. We have been asked to divert course and make an unscheduled stop in Singapore due to an approaching tropical storm front. We’ll make our descent in approximately three hours. At this stage we only expect a short delay but we will be required to disembark. Please remain seated and fasten your seat belts. I’ll provide another update shortly. Thank you for your attention.”

The crew took off in all directions, no messing about, they were back to work. She grabbed Yuki’s arm before her friend disappeared. She worried about her. A mother hen instinct, or a desire to help her settle in as a newer crew member with only six months in the air. Yuki had never experienced a tropical storm while flying.

Sinead spoke quietly in Yuki’s ear. “Are you all right?”

Yuki nodded, then her lips stretched in a tight grin. It didn’t reach her eyes. She pressed her lips together and shook her head in disagreement with herself. “I don’t know. What are we going to do if the storm hits mid-flight? Do you think we’ll make it into Singapore in time?”

“Of course we will. The captain’s got it all under control. We need to make sure we do our jobs and stay calm. All right?”  Sinead hoped her voice conveyed all the confidence she herself was trying to muster.

The plane dipped and Sinead ignored the nausea rolling through her own stomach as she held on to Yuki’s arm. She closed her eyes for a second. Lord, she’d kill to be on holiday. Thailand. Warm and exotic. Relaxing without a care in the world, drink in hand, stretched out on a sun lounge by the pool. Three weeks to go, and counting.

Yuki’s face crumpled in concern. “I’ll be okay, Sinead. Let me know if you need me to help with anything.”

She’d lighten the mood with talk of shopping which always worked a charm with Yuki. “Don’t worry. Before long we’ll be in Singapore. We might even have some time for shopping in Orchard Road, spending all our cash in those gorgeous shopping malls.”

Yuki’s expression brightened. “Oh! How could I forget? Daniel’s in Singapore. He could meet us. I wonder if we’ll have to stay over? I could invite Daniel to our hotel.”

Sinead’s tired brain ached at the idea, but she nodded. “Sure, why not?” She’d covered her hesitation pretty well. Yuki’s boyfriend was a medical student who still lived with his parents in a crowded high-rise apartment. So reunions always happened in Yuki’s hotel room, adjoining Sinead’s room with paper-thin walls. The close quarters never seemed to worry the pair of them, but the wall-banging, making-up-for-lost-time loving got on her nerves. It cost her precious sleep and only brought home the reality of her own lack of sexy times. She clanged plates and cups together, focussed on stacking trays and tidying up, to make sure things didn’t go flying in the turbulence. It was a thankless task, but it had to be done. All the while, Yuki prattled on. “He’s so handsome, I miss him so much…” Blah, blah, blah.

Then Yuki stared up at her from her crouched position by the cart, her huge brown eyes bright with mischief. “Speaking of handsome men, what did you think of coffee-guy in 3A? Gabriel Anderson. I recognised him. He’s an Aussie CEO, some kind of website genius, according to the BRW Young Rich List. Gorgeous, loaded and single. You should go for it.”

Sinead rolled her eyes. Yuki’s addiction to reading up on eligible bachelors was legendary. Yuki had memorised Business Review Weekly magazine’s annual list of the richest Australian business people under the age of forty. Some girls wanted to marry a rock star, but Yuki was set on snagging an up-and-coming businessman.

Sinead ignored her friend’s odd hobby of virtual stalking and organised containers of sugar. “Sure, I pick-up arrogant rich men all the time. I collect them. Have my wicked way with them, then stuff them and hang them as trophies on my wall.”

Yuki stood with her hands on her hips. “Make jokes all you want. You might want to try taking one home once in a while. You’re only getting older. Tick, tock.” She tapped the designer watch strapped on her wrist.

Sinead dropped a handful of spoons on the cart with a clatter. “Oh. My. God. What did you say?  I’m only twenty-six.” She playfully pushed Yuki on the shoulder.

Yuki shoved her right back. “And you’re hot, in your prime. Get out there and have some fun. You might regret it later if you don’t.”

Sinead sighed as Yuki walked away, then gripped the wall as the floor vibrated underfoot. Her friend may have a point. At no stage during the last few years did Sinead think she’d be a twenty-six-year-old flight attendant flitting across the globe, but locking herself into a series of cells, alone each night. Celibate as a nun. She might as well wear a habit instead of her uniform and call herself Sister Sinead.

How depressing. She pulled her shoulders back and marched herself back into the cabin and got to work.

***

Somehow, the crew got through the next three hours of increasing turbulence, pitching and rolling. Sinead had handed out nearly the whole stock of sick bags, and that distinctive smell was getting to her. Passengers were whinging and she’d caught a coffee pot that had nearly bonked Yuki on the head in the galley.

Sinead was walking down the aisle handing out hot towels when a hand shot out and grabbed her hip. She froze. Goosebumps raced down her arms. Not the good kind of goosebump. The creepy kind. She stepped back a pace so the man’s hand dropped away.

“Darlin’, how about you get a bloke an extra blanket and come keep me warm?” It was the heckler, making his presence known again. His speech was slurred. They’d cut off the booze earlier but he’d only gotten stroppy. He’d yelled at poor Deanna until her eyes went watery, close to tears.

She took a closer look at him. Bald shiny head, red-rimmed eyes and even redder nose. His suit was shiny at the knees and elbows. He was the type of passenger she hated, who used a first-class ticket as a pass to act entitled and obnoxious.

She gritted her teeth then called up her nice-as-pie expression. “Of course. Wait a moment.”

A grinding noise and a dip in the plane to match had her stumbling down the aisle again. Little bubbles of nervousness rose to the surface of her mind, then popped and disappeared.

He was standing by the bar at the rear of the cabin, watching her again. Mr Anderson. Her mind blanked. Blue, blue eyes stared back at her. Blue as a summer sky over a tropical island. His gaze was as warm and decadent. Yuki was right, he was gorgeous. She could feel his eyes on her as she swayed on down the aisle to the storage cupboards near the restrooms.

Next thing she knew, the heckler was there. Banging against the closed restroom door a few paces away from where she stood with an armful of blankets. He rattled the lock until she feared it would snap.

She stepped away from the cupboard and turned to see what he was doing. “Excuse me, do you need some assistance?”

But it was too late. With a loud crack, the heckler pulled the restroom door clear off its hinges. He staggered back, the door in his two-handed grip, then he fell on his arse. The door clonked him on the head, good and hard.

Her hand flew to her mouth, it was hard not to laugh, but she held it back. She pressed her lips together tightly and popped her armful of blankets on the floor before offering a helping hand.

“Oh, sir, are you alright?” She bent forward and tried to drag the door off him. The door didn’t budge. It was heavier than it looked, and kind of wedged between the walls of the small space. The heckler grunted, legs flailing about. It served him right. She wished she could leave him there, but that wouldn’t do.

Then he was there. Mr Blonde CEO, Too Hot To Handle, Anderson. He wrenched the door off the prone man, as if it weighed nothing at all, and leaned it against the wall beside her. Then he dusted off his hands and managed to still look perfect in his swanky suit. All in a day’s work, apparently. There was grumbling from the man on the floor as he sat up, but she was staring at the helpful passenger.

“You okay?” Mr Anderson’s forehead crinkled attractively.

She blinked, wondering if it was appropriate to thank him for being handsome. “Ah, yes, thank you.”

“Good.” He nodded once and sauntered back to his seat.

An odd one, Mr CEO To The Rescue. Surprisingly helpful, if a little un-talkative. With an arse she’d like to sink her teeth into. Oh, Lord. He was definitely a distraction she didn’t need.

The heckler had got up on his feet, stumbling towards the restroom further down in Economy. At least he was out of her hair for a while.

She faced the gaping hole of a doorway, the restroom on display. What was she going to do? People would still need to use the facilities, and she couldn’t see how she’d re-attach the door mid-flight. She didn’t exactly carry Superglue or an electric drill around. All she had handy was a pack of Hollywood tape. While it might keep her boobs in place in a low-cut dress, it probably wouldn’t do the trick on a six foot door.

Out of the corner of her eye she spied Damian, standing back down the aisle, pretending to tidy up with a garbage bag in hand. He’d no doubt been watching the shenanigans, but had avoided helping her. Time for him to do some actual work.

Her quick hand signal meant get over here now, lazy bones. He raised his perfectly groomed eyebrows in that insolent way of his. But he strolled over to her, taking his sweet time.

“Here, Damian. I need a big strong man. But you’ll have to do. Hold this door for me.” She shoved it towards him and he caught it awkwardly, stumbling back a step.

His head snapped from side to side, looking at her, then the door. “But, what? How long for?”

“Until the flight’s on the ground, I expect. Hold it in place when someone needs the loo. Good man.”

Before he could close his gaping mouth or refuse, she’d left him to it. One more problem dealt with. She almost tripped over the blankets by her feet, so she grabbed them and headed towards the heckler’s seat. She left him a couple of blankets to head off further complaints.

On her way to catch up with Yuki, who was checking the luggage was secure in the overhead compartments, Sinead heard a tiny wail like a trapped kitten. Then she spotted him. Poor little man. The baby boy with his lone Mummy. She was standing and jiggling him in the aisle, bub draped over her shoulder. The wails grew louder, and his face was red and blotchy. The mother caught Sinead’s eye as she was about to pass her.

“Here, take little Jack.” The woman shoved the baby at Sinead, none too gently. “I need the bathroom.”

Sinead grabbed for him, tucking him into the crook of her neck, one hand under his tiny onesie-clad bottom. “Sure, happy to help.” It was part of her job, doing whatever was needed to help the first-class passengers. Anyway, she quite liked getting to cuddle the babies.

Baby Jack’s cries grew piercing as the plane dipped. She clutched the little one close, his face nuzzled into her neck. The soft and sweet smell of baby actually soothed her, while she tried to sooth him. Her belly lurched and her ears popped painfully with the sudden change in air pressure. Horrible to an adult, aware of the situation, let alone a tiny child. On cue, he let out an earth-shattering wail.

Sinead shooshed and spoke softly. “It’s all right, little man. Your Mummy will be back in no time.”

She kissed the top of baby Jack’s head, downy hair tickling her nose. She giggled and patted him on the back in a slow rhythm. Raising her head, her gaze connected with a certain gorgeous CEO a few metres away. Watching her. Again. Eyes alight but darker now, if such a thing were possible. His face was flushed, a touch of pink across his cheeks. She could’ve sworn he was interested in her.

Something warmed deep inside her belly. She found she didn’t mind his attention at all. It was nice to be appreciated. Her lips stretched upwards and she blinked.

He clenched his jaw so a muscle twitched near his ear, then shifted his gaze away.

Okay then. Not so interested. It didn’t matter. What would she do with a man like him? A series of naughty images flicked through her mind before she woke up to herself, with a tap on her shoulder.

Baby Jack’s mother was back and Sinead handed him over. “He’s a treasure.”

The elegant woman’s formerly tense expression softened. She actually grinned. “Thanks so much, I think so.”

Sinead joined Yuki in making sure passengers’ hand luggage was safely stowed. Then the captain’s announcement grabbed everyone’s attention.

“Ladies and gentlemen, we’re about to begin our descent into Singapore. We anticipate turbulence as we pass through some cloud. Please fasten your seatbelts and ensure you follow the directions of the crew. Thanks for your understanding. Cabin crew, prepare for landing.”

Sinead and the rest of the crew went about the routine tasks, preparing for landing. All the safety checks were double and triple checked for good measure.

The flight took a turn for the worse as they hit a heavy cloud bank. Battling for footing as the cabin trembled and shook with the gale-force winds, she and the crew got everyone ready for landing. Sinead did her job and did it well. A model of calm in a crisis. On the outside at least. When the passengers could see her. Inside was more panicky mayhem.

The descent into Singapore was an adventure in itself, but one she wouldn’t want to repeat in a hurry. The plane was pummelled by horizontal rain and buffeting winds as they plunged through the clouds. It was dark as nightfall although only early afternoon. The passengers were all on edge, even the crew. It reminded her a little too much of a flight to the Philippines, when one engine had failed…

No, no, no. Don’t think about it. A freak incident. It will never happen again.

She sat beside Yuki as they entered Singapore airspace. Her friend grabbed Sinead’s hand atop the armrest and dug her fingernails into Sinead’s skin, leaving little half-moon shaped indentations. The pain provided welcome distraction from the images running through her head.

Yuki murmured, “I’m going to see Daniel again. It will all be okay.”

Sinead shuddered, cold creeping across her skin, then pressed back into her seat and closed her eyes.

If the worst were to happen, she had no one special to say her final goodbyes to. How pathetic. Her family back home in Dublin popped into her mind. They’d all but disowned her years ago, but still it hurt her heart to think of them. Sometimes she missed them. Her little sister anyway. Bridie was a good egg in a bad batch. She’d better call Bridie once she got onto terra firma.

As the plane began its final descent, Sinead crossed her fingers and prepared herself for touchdown. The engines screamed through her head along with the mantra: I will make it through this.

With a thud, the wheels connected with the tarmac. A jolt, and they were on solid ground again. Only it didn’t feel so solid, the way the plane skidded down the wet runway. They finally came to a complete stop and the passengers burst into spontaneous applause, followed by sighs and deep breaths. Their collective relief was palpable.

Sinead breathed deeply and resisted the urge to drop her head between her knees. She was alive and her whole life was ahead of her.

Why did it suddenly seem such a lonely prospect?

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