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.
‘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
‘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.
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
‘I just need you to fly me up there,
Miranda. If it’s not convenient just say and I’ll take the train
‘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.
‘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
‘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
‘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
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.
‘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
Forty silent minutes later she touched
down and taxied to her personal parking space on the Marlowe Aviation
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.
‘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
‘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
‘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
‘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
‘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
‘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
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
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.
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.
She lifted a hand to his cheek and
realised that it was wet with tears.
‘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.
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.
Like it? Buy it!
The Book Depository
From the book
HER PREGNANCY BOMBSHELL by Liz Fielding
Copyright © 2017
by Liz Fielding