Trying not to picture Nikki lying dead in a gutter, Melanie yanked clothes from hangers and stuffed them into her suitcase in a big tangled ball. She hoped Gabe owned an iron. Did rock stars press their own clothes? She had no idea. She didn’t know much about him yet, other than they were insanely hot for each other even when hundreds of miles separated them. She thought about changing out of her work clothes—a simple gray pencil skirt and fitted white blouse—and poking her contact lenses into her eyes, but another glance at the clock had her scrambling for her travel-sized toiletries and make-up kit before rushing for the front door.
Hopping from one foot to the other, she slipped into her pumps and called to Nikki, “Don’t do anything stupid, Nikki. Please, for me, just stay home this weekend.”
Nikki didn’t answer, and Melanie didn’t have time to check on her. She was likely just sulking.
“I love you!” Still no response. “Have a good time, Melanie,” she answered for the silent Nikki. “Don’t worry about me. I’ll behave.”
Maybe if she said it aloud, her wish would come true.
Torn between elation at seeing Gabe and guilt for deserting her needy best friend, Melanie squared her shoulders and left the apartment. She was not going to allow Nikki to dictate her life. Not with the promise of nirvana waiting for her in the Big Easy.
Melanie left her sedan in long-term parking and made surprisingly good time in the airport. As luck would have it, the rear section of the plane was called first to board and she hurried to take her place in line. Things were definitely going her way. She took it as a sign that she’d made the right decision. She was going to have a great time this weekend, and Nikki was going to be just fine at home. By herself. Melanie was worrying over nothing. At least that’s what she tried to tell herself. Nikki could be a pain in the ass, but Melanie loved her. Perhaps their relationship was a tad unhealthy, but something about Nikki’s dependence appealed to Melanie in a way she didn’t understand. Maybe it had something to do with being an only child and never having to look out for anyone but herself. Melanie liked looking after Nikki most of the time. And she worried about her all of the time.
On the plane, Melanie stuffed her small suitcase in the overhead bin and sat in the window seat, instantly squashed by the broad man who sat in the seat to her left. Squirming for an inch of space, Melanie fastened her seat belt, huddled close to the window, and waited for the rest of the plane to board. Her stomach twisted with a mixture of nerves, excitement, and hunger. She hadn’t eaten since lunch. She hoped Gabe was up for a meal, because she doubted the airline would part with so much as a peanut on this short flight.
Had she actually sighed aloud thinking about him, or had it been a mental sigh?
No matter, she couldn’t wait to see him again. Only a few more hours and she could lose herself in his arms.
The man beside her gave her a long, hard look, most likely because she was grinning like a simpleton who’d been swimming in a vat of vodka.
“Business trip?” he asked.
“Purely for pleasure,” she said. “You?”
“Business. Trying to break in to the UFC. There’s an amateur night in New Orleans this weekend.”
That would explain his broad shoulders and nicked knuckles. He wasn’t a bad-looking man; she just preferred hers a bit on the tall and lean side. Or had ever since she’d laid eyes on Gabe.
“Sounds painful,” she said.
“Nah, it’s fun.”
Getting repeatedly kicked and punched did not sound like fun to Melanie. But perhaps he meant delivering the kicks and punches was fun. Her brow furrowed. Nope. Hurting people for sport didn’t sound like fun either.
The huge man pushed up the long sleeve of his T-shirt, and her gaze landed on the barbed-wire tattoo that circled his forearm. On cue, her heart rate kicked up. She’d made great strides in her tattoo phobia when Gabe had allowed her to examine his up close—and what a pleasurable experience that had been—but apparently she wasn’t completely over her fears. She felt silly for panicking every time she saw certain tattoos, but the fear was still there. She wondered if it always would be. Some people were scared of clowns or spiders or enclosed spaces. She was terrified of certain tattoos. Those rough bikers who had scared the life out of her as a teen had really done a number on her psyche. She just had to avoid tattoos with barbed wire or roses or skulls—so like half of the tattoos in existence—and she could remain perfectly calm.
“Well, good luck with your fight,” she said, turning her attention pointedly out the window to stare at the back of the plane wing. If she didn’t look at the man’s arm, she could sit next to him all the way to New Orleans without having a panic attack. She hoped. She didn’t want to send the entire country to high alert because she freaked the fuck out on a domestic flight. She’d just stare out at the wing and make sure the engine stayed fully functional the entire flight. It would keep her attention off Mr. UFC’s tattoo. Maybe.