The pilot’s calm voice did little to ease Aggie Scott’s rising fear. Wind buffeted the plane. Rain slashed at the window. The passengers’ voices became agitated. Aggie’s heart pounded. She closed her eyes and took slow, deep breaths.
How foolish to think she’d grown out of her fear of flying. Why hadn’t she driven? Stupid. Stupid.
The plane pitched and the wings rocked. A death grip on the armrests, Aggie said a silent prayer.
The plane dipped and shuddered, rattling the luggage stuffed in the overhead compartment. Panic clawed its way up Aggie’s throat. She clenched her teeth, suppressing a scream.
The voices faded. Silence. Then she was in another plane, smaller, the interior dark, the engine loud. She looked out the window, seeing nothing but flashes of light. Thunder boomed. The plane shuddered. Voices cut through the noise. Voices fraught with emotion, but so clear it was if they were inside her head.
“Iris, it’s just a storm.”
“It’s okay, baby. Close your eyes and stay in your seat.”
“Iris, listen to Mommy. You’re okay. Hold onto Fred. Don’t let go.”
“Don’t be scared, Fred.”
The plane lifted and dropped so suddenly, Aggie’s already white knuckled hold on the armrest tightened. Aggie gasped, startled. She opened her eyes to a large, bright cabin filled with people. Up front, a baby wailed. Across the aisle a woman sobbed. In the seat behind her, someone was throwing up. A child cried.
Maybe it was Iris.
Aggie had the oddest feeling. She didn’t know anyone named Iris, but still she sensed a familiarity, a connection. The kid was scared half to death. Don’t think about dying. If Iris was capable of handling the situation, Aggie should get a grip and tough it out.
“Are you all right?”
The deep male voice penetrated her thoughts. Her heart pounding, Aggie looked at the man seated beside her. About her age, with dark hair and brown eyes, he appeared perfectly calm.
“I don’t know,” Aggie said. She was so damn scared she wanted to scream and never stop. “Aren’t you frightened?”
“I’ve been in worse,” he said, his voice matter-of-fact. “At least no one is shooting at us.”
“You’re a soldier?”
“I was. I’ve been a civilian for a whole month now.”
Lightning flashed, illuminating the windows. A loud bang came right on its heels. Aggie screamed, her voice blending in with the shouts and shrieks of fellow passengers.
“Don’t worry. It’s okay.”
Aggie now knew the definition of terror. “It doesn’t feel okay.”
“The plane is designed to handle a lightning strike,” he said, his voice as calm as the pilot’s.
Her heart raced. “We were hit by lightning?” Fearing another flash, Aggie glanced at the window.
“No, the plane wasn’t struck. We’re safe.” He held out his hand. “Hold my hand and we’ll be fine.”
Aggie unclenched her hand, releasing the armrest. She grabbed his hand as if it were a lifeline. His fingers were long, his hand calloused. The man was a stranger, but right now she needed his strength and confidence.
His hand was warm. Hers was ice cold.
The plane pitched violently. Aggie closed her eyes and squeezed the stranger’s hand.
“Hold on tight,” he said. “You’re okay.”
Aggie sucked in a breath. She’d heard those words before.
An image flashed. The storm had passed. The trees were big and the ground wet. The wolf had yellow eyes, but she wasn’t scared.
Hold onto me.
She grabbed onto the wolf’s fur and began to walk.
“I’m Tyr. What’s your name?”
Aggie lurched out of the dream, back to the reality of the pitching plane. She glanced around, catching bits and pieces of the surrounding passengers’ conversations.
“I’m Tyr Thunder.”
She looked at her seatmate. “Tyr, like the Norse god?”
“You know your mythology.”
The plane dipped and Aggie tightened her grip. If she had to hold onto someone it might as well be a guy named after a god. “I dated a guy who was into the Vikings,” she said.
Her seatmate laughed.
“I’m Aggie Scott. Glad to meet you, Tyr.”
“Why are you going to Reno, Aggie?”
Her heart rate eased a bit. “My best friend, Bethany, is getting married. I’m the maid of honor. How about you?”
“I’m going home. I live in the mountains across the state line in California. Do you live in Phoenix?”
“I do. Do you like the desert?”
“I enjoyed seeing the cactus and the red rock country. I prefer the high country.”
She realized talking with Tyr had alleviated her fear to the point where her death grip on his hand had settled into a firm squeeze. “You’re a tourist?”
“I was visiting distant relatives north of Phoenix in rural Yavapai County. So what do you do for a living?”
“My mother and I own a hair salon called Clips.” Aggie glanced out the window. “The rain has stopped.”
“We must be moving away form the storm,” Tyr said.
The ride was still a little bumpy, but Aggie wasn’t quite ready to let go of Tyr’s hand. “Now that you’re out of the service, what are you going to do?”
“I’ve looked into a couple of jobs,” he said. “I thought about college.”
“I went for a while. I wanted to be a wildlife biologist, specializing in wolves.”
He squeezed her hand. “Why wolves?”
“I don’t know.” She pulled on the chain around her neck, showing him the wolf head pendant she treasured. “I’ve always been fascinated by them. Whenever my mother took me to the zoo, I wanted to see the wolves. I didn’t care about the elephants or the lions.”
“Why didn’t you pursue your goal?”
“My mother got cancer. I dropped out of college in my freshman year to manage my mother’s salon. After she was through the worst of it, I went to cosmetology school.”
“Is your mother okay?
“She’s been cancer free for over two years.”
The pilot interrupted their conversation, informing the passengers the arrival in Reno was on schedule. “We’ll be landing soon,” Tyr said.
Reluctantly, Aggie released Tyr’s hand. “Thanks for helping me through this.”
“How long are you going to be in Reno, Tyr?”
“Just tonight. I’m driving home tomorrow. Any chance you’d have time for dinner?”
“The wedding rehearsal is tonight, followed by a dinner. How about breakfast?”
“Sure. I’ll give you my number and you can call me in the morning.”
Aggie pulled her phone out of her purse and entered his number. She appreciated that he’d given the control over to her and hadn’t insisted on her cell number. He’d been kind, but Tyr was still a stranger.
Inside the terminal, Aggie thanked him again. “I’ll call you in the morning.”
“My truck is in long term parking. Can I give you a lift?”
“Thanks, but my friend Bethany, is picking me up.”
He smiled and Aggie was awestruck. Consumed by fear, she hadn’t noticed how good looking he was. His brown eyes were definitely his best feature. Tyr was fit and lean, his shoulders broad and his hips narrow.
She’d have loved to see him without a shirt, but that wasn’t going to happen over breakfast. She had to touch him one more time. She extended her hand. “Thanks again for helping me keep it together.”
Their hands touched and Aggie sensed a deep connection to this man. His hand was big and tanned and looked powerful. Maybe they’d known one another in another life. Or perhaps in her terror, she’d needed him more than she’d needed anyone in a long time. He’d been wonderful, understanding and reassuring.
As she looked into his eyes, an image flashed, there and gone in a split second. His eyes had changed from soft brown to tawny bright, from human to feral. Gasping, she released his hand. The flight had really shaken her up.
Tyr’s gaze narrowed. “Have a good time tonight,” he said.
Aggie watched him walk away, duffel bag in hand, his stride long and easy and his back straight. Tyr exuded confidence and control.
* * *
Running was like breathing for Tyr. An early riser, he had driven to a local nature trail and set off. The quiet, wooded trail was like a balm to his soul after the hours in the air conditioned hotel and the casino cacophony that battered the ears. But at the end of the night, he’d had a few extra dollars in his pocket.
By the time he finished the run and returned to his truck, his skin was slick with sweat. He dried off with his T-shirt, slipped on a fresh shirt and checked his phone for messages.
His mother had called, most likely wondering why he’d changed his plans and chosen to stay overnight in Reno. Pure impulse, his decision was all about Aggie.
On the drive back to his hotel he wondered if Aggie would call. The attraction had been immediate, but she’d barely noticed him because of her fear of flying. Agitated from the moment she’d buckled up, Aggie had fidgeted and performed breathing exercises.
By the time they caught the edge of a storm, Aggie was close to hyperventilating. Tyr had to intervene. He’d engaged her in conversation to calm her, but the more he talked to her the more he wanted to know her.
Something amazing had happened when he’d held her hand. Despite the fact she was human, her scent had stimulated his wolven senses. He wanted to see her again. Although he’d sensed a special connection, they hadn’t parted well.
She’d backed off, perhaps regretting her decision to meet him for breakfast.
By the time Tyr entered his hotel room Aggie still hadn’t called. He showered, then visited the coffee house on the main floor of the hotel. Steaming cup in hand, Tyr returned to his room and watched television. He tossed his empty coffee cup in the trash, then packed his bag.
Tyr considered waiting another hour, but decided it was time to leave. He trusted his instincts and his sense of smell. No female had ever touched him the way Aggie had, but relationships were a two-way street. Maybe she wasn’t into him.
Just as he reached for the door latch his phone rang. His heart rate jumped at the sight of Aggie’s number on the screen. Was she calling to tell him she couldn’t make their date? Or maybe, just maybe, she wanted to see him again. He answered.
“Good morning, Tyr. Sorry I’m calling so late in the morning. I slept later than expected. I bet you’ve already eaten.”
“Actually, I haven’t.”
“You must be hungry?”
His heart thumped fast in his chest. “Famished. Where would you like to meet?”
“How about the coffee shop in my hotel?”
She gave him the name of her hotel. She was just a couple of blocks away.
They agreed to meet in twenty minutes. Smiling, Tyr dropped his bag on the floor and checked the time.
Excited to see Aggie, Tyr arrived at the coffee shop early. To his surprise, Aggie arrived five minutes before the agreed time. She looked amazing in a yellow sundress that showed off her Arizona tan and her shapely legs. Yesterday, she’d worn her hair up, but today her brown hair was loose, falling well past her shoulders.
“Good morning, Tyr.”
She smiled and her blue eyes sparkled, giving Tyr hope that she was really pleased to see him.
“Thanks. I can’t believe I slept for nine hours. I think it was that harrowing plane ride.”
They chose a table and a waitress hustled right over for their orders. The coffee was hot and fresh.
“When’s the wedding?” Tyr asked.
“Three o’clock. The bride and groom have an evening flight. They’re going to Japan for their honeymoon. Bethany has wanted to visit Japan since high school. I’m glad she’s finally getting to go.”
Aggie told him about the last night’s rehearsal, then stopped. “Sorry. Too much information about people you don’t know.”
“I don’t mind. I like looking at you.”
Her cheeks reddened. “Let me return the compliment. You look good, too. What did you do last night?”
“Gambled a bit. Won a little. Watched a game. Nothing special. When are you flying back to Phoenix?”
“Tomorrow morning. I have to admit I’m not looking forward to getting on another plane. I’m glad you were my seatmate. Holding your hand helped more than you’ll ever know.”
“Let’s hope for a smooth flight.”
“Yes, let’s do. I know my fear is unfounded. Even as a kid I was afraid. When I was seven my mother surprised me with a trip to California. I’d never been on a plane. I really wanted to see the ocean, but as soon as my mother buckled me into the seat I started shaking and crying uncontrollably. She took me off the plane and we drove to California. That was the last time I was on a plane until yesterday. Even though I know flying is safe, I guess deep down I’m still that terrified seven-year-old.”
“I was in training with a guy, six foot two and two hundred pounds of solid muscle. He was terrified of heights, planes and helicopters. Seems he’d witnessed a crash when he was five. Don’t beat yourself up about it.”
“If you’re trying to make me feel better, it’s working.”
“We all have fears.”
She brushed her fingertip along his arm. “What are you afraid of?”
“That you won’t join me for a drink after the wedding.”
“I thought you were heading for home today.”
“If you’ll join me for one drink, I’ll stay for another night.”
She smiled, her face lighting up. “That’s an expensive drink.”
“I like you, Aggie.” Like was a mild description of how attracted he was to her. She’d caught his eye before they’d boarded the plane. Discovering she was his seatmate was like winning the lottery. Just breathing her scent was a sensual pleasure. “I’d like to spend more time with you.”
“Why don’t you come to the wedding?”
“I’m travelling light, just casual stuff to wear. How about after your maid-of-honor duties are done? Unless you have other commitments? If you do, I understand.”
The waitress delivered their omelets, breaking the flow of conversation. Tyr dug into his eggs and waited for Aggie to respond to his invitation. He wanted to see her again, but he didn’t want her to feel like she owed him because he’d helped her get through the flight.
“Would eleven o’clock be too late for that drink?”
Pleased she wanted to see him again, Tyr smiled. “Eleven would be fine.”