Hot and Bothered
Right. If they're so different, why do his feelings for her seem so damn familiar?
And how, after all this time, can she still make Ben so hot and bothered?
Julie was never supposed to return to Jupiter Point. It's only by staying away that she's ensured her safety. But she owes a huge debt to the wealthy and demanding Reinhard family, who took her in as a child. What the Reinhards want, they get, so here she is, dodging a handsomer-than-ever Ben Knight. Her former sweetheart has turned into a hunky pilot who aims that sexy smile at everyone except her—until he learns the truth about why she left in the first place.
If the past can't keep Ben and Julie apart, a deadly threat in the present might. As for that idyllic future they always dreamed about? It might take some Jupiter Point magic to put this star-crossed couple on the road to happy ever after.
Release date: February 13, 2018
Print pages: 306
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Hot and Bothered
Most days, nothing distracted Ben Knight when he was at the controls of a plane. He did his best thinking when airborne, thousands of feet above all the crap. Up here, he felt at peace with himself, and with the world in general. He often flew with a big grin on his face. His passengers, mostly honeymooners, loved him for that.
But today it was a struggle to keep that smile on his face. Actually, it had been for the past few weeks—since Julie deGaia had returned to Jupiter Point. Since she’d had the nerve to come back. Skipping into town the way she’d skipped out—without a word.
Just thinking about her made his hands tighten on the yoke of the Cessna 206, and the plane dipped. He and Julie hadn’t even spoken yet, and he was already all hot and bothered.
Luckily, the honeymooning couple currently buckled into the passenger seats didn’t notice. They were supposed to be enjoying the spectacular scenery of Jupiter Point from five thousand feet above ground. Instead, they had their tongues down each other’s throats.
Get a grip, Knight.
He was over Julie, after all. He shouldn’t be so bothered that she was back. And he had a job to do. He was supposed to be showing these honeymooners a good time—though they were obviously doing just fine on their own.
“If you look out the window to your right, you’ll see the observatory. We have the West Coast’s most powerful infrared telescope right here in Jupiter Point; we’re pretty proud of that.” Ben adjusted the attitude of the 206, revealing the panorama of green hills, the highest peak topped with the sprawling observatory. “As you probably know, Jupiter Point is famous for its stargazing. You can see a lot with the naked eye, but it’s also worth taking a trip to the observatory.”
The bride, Susie, pulled away from their kiss and peered out the Plexiglas window. “Oh, I see the telescope sticking out! I bet they saw us kissing, Chuck.”
“Then let’s give them a show,” Chuck said, tugging her back toward him.
Oh boy, Ben wasn’t sure he could handle another make-out session. “Not to worry, that telescope is focused on outer space, not us,” he said. “Stars, planets, celestial objects. That sort of thing. So, what would you two most like to see on this trip? Wildlife, dolphins, scenic views…we have a little bit of everything here.”
“Just give us your best tour,” said the groom—Chuck—gruffly. He was probably fifteen years older than Susie, and to Ben, he seemed like kind of a jerk. A wealthy one. “We’re paying you good money for this flight.”
“That you are,” Ben agreed amicably. “How about we take a spin over some of the offshore islands? You can get some great shots for your honeymoon album. Hang on tight, I think I spotted a pod of dolphins.”
He straightened the wings and trimmed the plane for level flight.
“Where? I want to see!” Susie pressed her face up against the window, her attention now completely on the scenery.
Chuck gave Ben a nasty look.
He whistled to himself, ignoring his irritated passenger. He was still the captain of this ship, no matter how wealthy his passengers were. And besides, Chuck would thank him later, when the thrill of a dolphin sighting translated into hot honeymoon sex.
“There they are, to the right of Sand Island. There are several sets of binoculars back there, feel free to use them.”
Both of them picked a pair of binoculars and aimed them out the right Plexiglas window. “What a pretty island!” Susie exclaimed. “I see a beach. Can you swim there?”
Ben didn’t answer right away. He was thinking of the last time he’d swum on Sand Island—with Julie deGaia, when he was eighteen and she was seventeen. And how she’d looked in her simple black racer-back one-piece. She was a strong swimmer; every summer he’d known her, she’d worked as a lifeguard. She didn’t go for bikinis, but it didn’t matter to Ben. To him, she’d been the sexiest thing on the planet in her plain old Speedo.
And now she was back in Jupiter Point. Sneaking into his thoughts at random moments, completely uninvited and definitely unwelcome.
Distracting him. Damn it.
“Hello?” Susie was saying.
He jolted back to the moment, the drone of the engine, the vibrations of the little craft…the poor deluded honeymooners, who thought their love would last forever.
Not that he wanted to rain on their parade. They were paying his bills, after all.
“Sorry, I was checking a gauge. Yes, the beach is swimmable,” he said. “Go ahead, take some photos. We have a good patch of air here.”
They started clicking away with their phones. He stayed quiet, letting them do their thing. God, he loved being up here. This was why he loved flying so much. While his hands and most of his brain dealt with the controls and gauges, the rest of his mind was free to wander wherever it chose.
And of course…it chose Julie.
He’d run into her for the first time since her return at the 7-Eleven, near the Slurpee machine. She looked the same, yet not the same. She’d always had a quiet kind of beauty, not the sort that jumped out at you. Her brown hair might seem ordinary at first, until you were lucky enough to touch it and discover how incredibly silky and fine it was. When they were together, he’d tried to define her eye color—kind of gray? Kind of blue? Kind of “lake water”? She’d laughed when he came up with that, but he stood by it.
Like the sappy kid that he’d been.
He and Julie hadn’t spoken to each other at the 7-Eleven. He’d been there with another woman, Lanie, who’d wanted to stop in for cigarettes. He hated smoking, and had already decided this would be their last date. But as soon as he spotted Julie, a wave of forgotten anger rushed over him, and he’d put his arm around Lanie.
Screw Julie. She’d left him without any word, any explanation. Twelve years of no explanation. He was pissed. He couldn’t even force his face to be nice to her.
Julie’s greeting froze in mid-smile. Then that smile slid away, melting like a snowman under a hot sun. She’d watched every moment of Lanie’s cigarette purchase. As if she was forcing herself to do so. Then a boy in glasses, with a wild black shock of hair, had tugged at her arm. She’d jerked to attention and finished getting the kid his Slurpee.
The look on her face as she’d turned away pissed him off even more. As if he’d done something wrong. As if he was the one who had disappeared from town without so much as a goodbye.
“Hey. Hey! Pilot!”
Chuck’s gruff voice pulled him back to attention.
“Sorry.” He pretended to fiddle with the comms controls. “I can hear you now. What’s going on?”
“Where’s the champagne in this tin can? We’re thirsty.”
“Right behind you, there’s a cooler.”
Grumbling, the man turned in his seat. He probably wasn’t used to getting things for himself. To him, this little plane was probably slumming it. No flight attendant, no white-glove service. Ben would love to tell him to shove it. But Knight and Day Flight Tours was a brand-new business, and both he and his brother Tobias had invested all their resources into it. He couldn’t afford to be blowing off wealthy and well-connected clients.
“Want me to pour some for you, too?” Susie leaned forward and tapped his shoulder.
“Ah no, that would be a serious FAA violation.”
“We won’t tell,” she teased. “Right, Chuck?”
“Wrong.” Chuck was messing around with the champagne bottle. “What is this, a screw-top?”
“Small plane,” said Ben easily. “Can’t have corks hitting something essential.”
Chuck unscrewed the top and poured two plastic flutes of champagne. The couple lifted their glasses, but when they tried to clink, a bumpy patch of air made them miss.
“Control your plane, pilot,” Chuck growled.
“Just a little turbulence. We’ll be out of it in a few. Carry on with that toast. Here’s to a happy life for you both!”
They tried again, and again missed.
The perfect metaphor for romance, if you asked Ben.
But Chuck apparently wasn’t used to glitches like this. “You’re doing it on purpose, pilot.”
Ben pulled back on the yoke to gain a little altitude, where they’d encounter fewer bumps. “Turbulence is part of flying. Kind of like marriage.”
“Excuse me?” Chuck gave up on the toast and downed his champagne.
“Turbulence in marriage. It’s a thing, or so I hear.”
“Not married, huh?” Susie leaned forward against the seat belt, her flute clutched in one hand. “Why not, a handsome guy like you? I bet the girls around here are crazy for you.”
“Yeah, but he’s probably smart enough to stay single.”
Susie made a face at her husband.
Okay then. So much for romance. Not that Ben believed in it anyway. It was a goddamn mind-altering drug, and he wanted nothing to do with it.
“So, no girlfriend either?” Susie was asking.
“Nope. Not right now.”
“Just haven’t met the right girl yet, huh?”
“Something like that,” he muttered. Of course, that wasn’t the problem at all. The problem was that he had met the right girl. He’d just never recovered from it.
He’d met Julie through Savannah Reinhard. During the summer after his sophomore year, Savannah had invited him to her house—more like a mansion—to play tennis. The Reinhards were the richest family in town, and Savannah was their only daughter. Ben had no idea how he’d caught her eye, but all of a sudden he was scrambling to return her wicked overhand serve on the private tennis court next to the Reinhards’ infinity pool.
It was mixed doubles; her partner was her teacher, a tennis pro. Ben’s partner was Julie deGaia, who was a year younger. He’d seen Julie around town, and knew that she lived with the Reinhards. Julie’s mother was the Reinhard family’s private macrobiotic, vegan, gluten-free chef. Even though she was essentially a servant’s daughter, she and Savannah were best friends.
They were nothing alike. Savannah commanded everyone’s attention with her black hair and wild laughter. Whereas Ben wouldn’t have noticed the quieter Julie if they hadn’t been paired up on the tennis court.
Once they started playing, that changed. First, he took note of her pretty legs flashing past on her way to scoop up a shot he missed. Then they exchanged high-fives after a hard-won point. She smiled at him, and his heart jumped.
As they played, Julie managed to sneak in a few secret pointers. Things like, “Here, take my racket, it’s strung a little tighter,” and “Savannah really loves to win, just so you know,” or, “Your shoelace is coming untied. No bloodshed allowed on this court.”
By the end of the match, a lopsided victory for Savannah and her tennis-pro partner, all Ben wanted to do was find a way to talk to Julie some more. To be honest, Savannah scared him a little. She seemed to look right through him, or size him up in a way that made him uncomfortable. But Julie, with her sympathetic smile and funny comments, put him at ease.
When a servant delivered a tray of lemonade after the match, he sat next to Julie and asked her what she planned to do that summer.
“Ugh,” Savannah pouted. “She’s going to be a full-time lifeguard and I won’t have anyone to hang out with.”
She probably meant to suggest that Ben should hang out with her. But that wasn’t his conclusion.
“Stargazer Beach?” he asked Julie. “I like to go running there when the tide’s out.”
Their eyes met, and it felt like a zing of lightning flashed through him. Their connection was so complete, so thorough, so electric and undeniable, that not even Savannah could make it go away. She shifted her attention to her tennis pro and left Ben and Julie alone.
Ben had never asked a girl on a date before. He didn’t even know how to do it. At that point in his life, girls were just prettier friends to him. The whole “dating” part of life was foreign territory. So, he asked if she liked to swim, and told her they had a creek behind their house, and a tire swing that you could only use if there’d been enough rain recently.
Then it turned out she liked basketball, too. “I’m like a grasshopper, I can jump almost twice my own height,” she’d informed him.
So, a week later, she rode her bike three miles to Ben’s house for some basketball and a dip in the creek, and that was it. He was in love. They were in love.
Or so he’d thought. So everyone had thought.
“Pilot!” Chuck was barking at him. “Pay attention.”
Jesus, he’d never been this distracted during a flight. Get it together, Knight.
“My beautiful wife is about to throw up all over your no doubt highly leveraged plane, so do you think you could even things out a bit?”
“Hashtag SOS,” Susie gasped.
“Poor baby.” Chuck seized the moment and put his arm around her. “I’m here, honey-buns.”
Oh boy. More kissing on the horizon.
Enough with the distractions. Time to play tour guide again. “To your left, we’re now passing Stargazer Beach.”
How many times had he and Julie made out in the lifeguard shack after hours?
And now she was back and he couldn’t think straight.
“Up in the hills there, you can see the Seaview Inn, which is a great place for a sunset dinner.”
Like the time he and Julie had scraped enough spare change from his old Dodge truck to drive up the hill and sit on the terrace, sharing one order of crab cake appetizers. It was so good that they’d spent the next ten minutes thinking up crazy ways to finance more of their meal. Trade the Dodge for a main course? Pick bouquets from the inn’s garden and sell them to dinner guests? Let Julie sing for their supper with her pretty voice?
The elderly couple at the table next to them was so amused, they’d told the maître d’ to serve Ben and Julie whatever they wanted.
Nothing in life had ever been as fun as being Julie’s boyfriend. And it never would be, because his innocence had been completely destroyed.
And now she was back. And he was completely distracted.
“As you probably know, the reason we can see it so clearly is the unique topography of Jupiter Point. All those air currents that we’ve been bumping around on keep the air quality up. We have strict controls over the lumen levels to prevent light pollution. A little turbulence is a small price to pay, right?”
Glancing at the mirror that allowed him to see the interior, he saw the honeymooners were back in mash mode, kissing like fiends.
He fell silent, letting them have their moment. Maybe Chuck and Susie would make it, after all. Maybe there was a tiny part of him that still wanted to believe in love. Maybe Jupiter Point would work its honeymoon magic. It seemed to work on everyone.
Except him and Julie.
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