HER PREGNANCY BOMBSHELL                                      Harlequin Romance June 2017

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Expecting her boss's baby!

Pilot Miranda Marlowe is too sick to fly her plane, and she must face the truth: she's pregnant! She knows well enough that her boss, Cleve Finch, is still grieving for his late wife, so to think, she heads to her sister's new inheritance, Villa Rosa. 

Despite the spiders and dust, the Mediterranean palazzo is as gorgeous as ever. Until Cleve turns up with a dramatic offer: a convenient marriage as soon as it can be arranged! It may be the sensible answer…but is it enough for Miranda?

 

 

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taste test...

‘MIRANDA…’

Andie Marlowe lifted her coat from the rack, took a breath, fixed her face into a neutral smile before turning to face Cleve Finch.

It had been nearly a year since his wife had been killed when the little six-seater she was flying was taken down by a bird strike but his grief was still unbearable to watch. He’d lost weight, his cheekbones were sharp enough to slice cheese and right now the pallor beneath his runner’s tan gave him a jaundiced look.

‘Cleve?’

‘You’re off this afternoon?’

 ‘I stood in for Kevin last weekend.’

‘I wasn’t questioning…’ He shook his head. ‘I just wondered if you could spare me a couple of hours.’

She did her best to ignore the totally inappropriate way her heart lifted at the suggestion he needed her. It was just a job.

‘The ironing can wait.’

‘Ironing? It’s Friday. Shouldn’t you be getting yourself ready for a hot date?’ He almost managed a smile.

She almost managed one back. ‘Men don’t date any more, they just want hook ups.’

‘Men are idiots,’ he said.

‘You’ll get no argument from me.’ She’d tried internet dating in the vain hope that it would take her mind off the only man with whom she’d ever wanted to get naked. It didn’t so she’d stopped. ‘My evening involves nothing more exciting than a darts match in the village pub but if anyone on the visiting team is under fifty I might get lucky.’ She glanced at the board with the flight schedule but couldn’t see any obvious gaps. ‘Has someone called in sick?’

‘No.’ He lifted a hand, curled his fingers back into his palm. ‘Imogen called.’

‘Immi?’ The sudden heart-pound obliterated the uncomfortable sensation of being out of control of her limbs whenever she was around Cleve, taking her back to another time when her twin had been the focus of her concern. Immi was fine now, happy, about to married… ‘Has something happened to Mum and Dad?’

‘No!’ He reached towards her and, for a moment, his hand hung in the air between them. ‘I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to alarm you. She called to let me know that the new Mayfly…’ He stopped as if the words were stuck in his throat.

Every instinct was to take his hand, hold it, give him her warmth, comfort, whatever he needed. Before the message reached her brain and she could do anything so stupid he was dragging his fingers through thick dark brown hair that had once been streaked by the sun but was now shot through with silver.

Cleve’s grief in the year since his wife’s death had been painful to witness. And he wasn’t the only one. Her father’s company, Marlowe Aviation, had built the aircraft she’d been flying when she died and both companies had wobbled in the aftermath.

The Air Accident Inquiry had absolved everyone from guilt; it was clear from all the evidence that she’d been brought down by a bird strike. The shocking revelation that she had been in the early stages of pregnancy — something Cleve had kept to himself until the Inquest — and the Coroner’s suggestion that, since Rachel was such an experienced pilot, nausea or fainting may have contributed to the accident, had made it a double tragedy.

When it was over her mother, fearful that he’d follow her grandfather into a early grave, had insisted her father take a complete break and at the moment they were crossing India by bus like a couple of old hippies.

Cleve, on the other hand, had not taken a day off since the funeral, insisting that his responsibility was to his staff and the company he’d built from nothing.

Andie suspected that deep down he was afraid that if he walked away, didn’t get straight back in the cockpit, he never would. And, once the insurance claim was settled, in the most selfless, most supportive of acts, he had ordered a replacement for the wrecked aircraft from Marlowe Aviation. The same model in which his wife had died.

Now her sister had called to tell him that it was ready to be collected.

 ‘I can pick it up,’ she said, quickly. ‘I’ll take the train, stay overnight and fly back tomorrow.’

‘No.’ He shook his head. ‘There are procedures. Engineering checks to sign off.’

‘I can handle all that.’

She had a degree in aircraft engineering and would have been in the design office right now if a good-looking flier, negotiating the purchase of one of her father’s aircraft, hadn’t promised her a job if she got her CPL. If he hadn’t sealed his promise with a kiss that had her flying without the needs for wings.

He’d been wearing a newly minted wedding ring by the time she’d completed her degree and arrived at his office clutching her CPL, but Cleve had given her a congratulatory hug and kept his promise. His wife, no doubt able to spot her crush from 10,000 feet and used to fending off silly girls, had smiled sympathetically, confidant that with her in his bed he was oblivious to such distractions.

‘I just need you to fly me up there, Miranda. If it’s not convenient just say and I’ll take the train myself.’

‘I just thought…’ Obviously this was something he felt he had to do and she wasn’t about to let him go through it on his own. ‘When you do want to go?’

‘Now? Oscar Tango is free this afternoon. If the darts team can spare you.’

‘They’ll probably heave a collective sigh of relief,’ she said. ‘I was going home tomorrow anyway. Immi’s been nagging me about...’ Her sister had been nagging her about a fitting for her bridesmaid dress but she couldn’t bring herself to say the word. ‘We’ll take my Nymph.’

‘Whatever suits you.’ He held the door for her as she took out her phone and sent a quick text to her sister to let her know she’d be available for the fitting. ‘Is it pink?’ he asked, as they crossed to the control office to file a flight plan.

‘Pink?’

‘The dress.’

‘You read my text?’

‘I didn’t have to. I received an invitation to her wedding and I imagine she wants her sisters as bridesmaids. The rare sight of you in a dress is almost enough to tempt me to accept.’

She glanced up at him but the teasing smile that had made her teenage heart stand still was now rarer than a sighting of her in a skirt.

‘If it’s pink with frills there is no way I’m going to miss it,’ he added.

‘Please… Not even as a joke.’

‘I hope her fiancé has done his duty and lined up a best man to make your day memorable.’

‘Portia’s the oldest.’ The glamorous one that not only the spare men but those who were firmly attached would be lusting after. ‘She has first dibs on the best man.’ And if he was anything like the groom she was welcome. ‘Rosie and I will have to make do with the ushers.’

‘You’re not impressed with your future brother-in-law?’

‘I didn’t say that.’ Had she?

‘You pulled a face.’

She lifted her shoulders a fraction. ‘Marrying the boss’s daughter is such a cliché. As long as Immi’s happy that’s all that matters.’ Feeling a bit guilty that she hadn’t quite taken to her future brother-in-law she added, ‘Dad seems to like him.’

‘I congratulate him. Your father has very high standards.’

‘Er, yes…’ Talking about weddings with Cleve was too weird and relieved to have finally reached the control office she said, ‘Will you go and fuel her up for me while I deal with the paperwork?’

 His brows rose a fraction. ‘You never let anyone touch your Nymph. You even service herself yourself.’

‘I’m cheap,’ she said, rather than admit that he was the only person she’d allow to touch the aircraft her father had given her on her eighteenth birthday.

The day she’d got her PPL.

The day Cleve had kissed her.

‘Do not drip any fuel on the fuselage,’ she said, taking the keys to the security lock from her pocket.

She would have tossed them to him but he reached out, wrapping his long, cold fingers around her hand to keep her from turning away. His eyes locked onto hers and she stopped breathing.

‘I’m honoured.’

‘Make that suckered.’ she said, just so that he wouldn’t think she was going soft. ‘You’ll be using your card to pay for the fuel.’

She would have turned away but he held her hand for a moment longer until, with a nod, he took the keys and walked away, leaving her normally warm hand like ice.

 

‘Do you want to take the stick?’ she asked, out of courtesy rather than any expectation that he would say yes. He wasn’t a backseat flyer and had no hang ups about women pilots – he’d married one after all. The fact was, he hadn’t been flying much since the crash.

He complained that his time was fully occupied running the business these days, setting up the new office in Cyprus. And, when he was forced to leave his desk, the murmurs reaching her suggested that he was taking the co-pilot’s seat and letting his first officer have the stick.

That he had lost his nerve.

He shook his head, climbed aboard and closed his eyes as she taxied out to the runway. His attempt at humour on the subject of her bridesmaid dress had apparently drained him of conversation and any excitement about picking up the new aircraft would be inappropriate.

Forty silent minutes later she touched down and taxied to her personal parking space on the Marlowe Aviation airfield.

She didn’t wait for him to thank her. She signed off, climbed down and, before he could dismiss her, crossed to where the Chief Engineer, no doubt warned by the tower of their arrival, was waiting for them.

‘Hello, Jack.’

‘Andie…’ He took her hand, kissed her cheek, then looked up as Cleve joined them. ‘Cleve. Good to see you,’ he said, not quite quick enough to hide his shock at Cleve’s pallor. Any other time, any other man, he would have made a joke about “women pilots”, she would have rolled her eyes and they would have got on with it.

‘Jack.’ Cleve’s brief acknowledgement did not encourage small talk.

‘Right, well, we’re all ready for you.’ He cleared his throat. ‘Andie, you’ll be interested in seeing the updates we’ve incorporated into the latest model of the Mayfly.’

It was a plea not to leave him alone with Cleve but with the tension was coming off him in waves, she wasn’t going anywhere.

‘I can’t wait,’ she said, touching her hand to his elbow, a gentle prompt forward and felt the shock of that small contact jolt through him. She caught her breath as the responding flood of heat surged back along her arm, momentarily swamping her body.

She held her breath, somehow kept her smile in place as he pulled away from her.

‘The new tail design is largely down to Andie,’ Jack explained to Cleve as they walked towards the hangar. ‘The sooner she gets tired of life at altitude and gets back to the design office the better.’

‘Miranda was born to fly,’ Cleve said before she could answer.

‘No doubt, but my time will come. Some lucky man will catch her eye and she won’t want to be up and down all over the place once she starts a family.’

Desperate to cover the awkward silence that followed Jack’s epic foot in the mouth moment, she crossed to the Mayfly, gleaming white but for the new tail which bore the stylised red, gold and black goldfinch that identified the growing Goldfinch Air Services fleet.

‘She’s a beauty, Jack.’

She turned to Cleve for his reaction but he looked hollow and she thought, not for the first time, that this very public support of Marlowe Aviation and the aircraft her father built, had been a mistake.

‘Why don’t we go and deal with the paperwork first,’ she suggested. ‘If Immi’s in a good mood she might make us—’

‘Let’s get this over with,’ Cleve said, cutting her off before she could suggest a bracing cup of tea. But she was the one making all the right noises, asking all the questions as Jack ran through the new design details.

His relief when a loudspeaker message summoned him to take a ‘phone call was palpable.

‘I’m sorry but I have to take this,’ he said, handing her the clipboard. ‘We’ve just about finished the externals. Why don’t you take her out, try a few circuits? Get a feel for her.’

‘Thanks, Jack,’ she said, when Cleve did not reply. ‘We’ll see you later.’

‘I’ll be in the office…’

She gave him a reassuring nod when he hesitated, then turned back to Cleve.

He was staring at the aircraft, his face set as hard and grey as concrete. Her hand hovered near his elbow but she was afraid that if she touched him again he would shatter.

As if he sensed her uncertainty, he said, ‘Go and find your sister, sort out your dress. I’ve got this.’

‘I don’t think so.’ He turned on her but before he could speak she said, ‘You’re not fit to fly a kite right now.’

They seemed to stand there for hours, staring one another down and then, as if a veil had been lifted to reveal all the pain, all the grief he was suffering, his face seemed to dissolve.

Before she could think, reach for him, he’d turned and stumbled from the hangar.

The airfield was bounded on one side by a steeply wooded hill and in the few moments it had taken her to gather herself he had reached the boundary.

‘Stop!’

She grabbed his arm and he swung around. For a moment she thought he was going to fling her aside but instead he pulled her to him and his voice no more than a scrape against his vocal chords, said, ‘Help me, Andie…’

He hadn’t called her that since the days when he’d teased her, encouraged her, kissed her in the shadowy corners of her father’s aircraft hangar and her stupid teenage heart had dreamed that one day they would fly to the stars.

 He was shaking, falling apart and she reached out, slid her arms around his chest, holding him close, holding him together until he was still.

‘I’m sorry—’

She lifted a hand to his cheek and realised that it was wet with tears.

‘I can’t—’

‘Hush…’ She touched her lips to his to stop the words, closing her eyes as he responded not with the sweet, hot kisses that even now filled her dreams, but with something darker, more desperate, demanding. With a raw need that drilled down through the protective shell that she’d built around her heart that she answered with all the deep buried longing that she’d subsumed into flying.

She felt a shiver go through him.

‘Andie…’

There was such desperation in that one word and she slid her hands down to take his, hold them.

‘You’re cold,’ she said and, taking his hand, she led the way along the edge of the runway to the gate that led to her parents’ house. She unlocked the door and led him up the stairs and there, in the room filled with her old books, toys, dreams, she undressed him, undressed herself and then with her mouth, her hands, her body — giving him all the love hoarded inside her — she warmed him.

 

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From the book HER PREGNANCY BOMBSHELL by Liz Fielding

Copyright © 2017 by Liz Fielding