A Proper Cuppa Tea — Chapter One

I’m pleased to introduce my newest book, available July 15th from Bella Books. For those attending the GCLS con in Las Vegas, I’ll have advanced copies on hand. Here’s an excerpt to get you in the mood. 🙂

CHAPTER ONE

“Hundred bucks says her tits aren’t real.”

From a quiet corner of the British Airways lounge, Lark Latimer glared in the direction of the paunchy, middle-aged businessman who’d uttered his sexist slur loud enough for several others to overhear. It was a singular brand of catcall, the sort hurled by a loser who knew when a woman was out of his league.

She too had noticed the woman in black. Her breasts appeared perfectly natural, raised to form a gentle cleavage by what probably was an ordinary push-up bra. What stood out to Lark was the way she walked in murderous three-inch stilettos. The rhythmic tap of her steel-tipped heels on the marble floor was like a techno-soundtrack to her sensual glide. Hip…shoulder…hip…shoulder. Chest high, chin out. And an unflappable steely gaze.

The brash man’s two companions added wolf whistles and a shouted invitation to join them, their flattery dripping with contempt. To call it adolescent was an insult to teenagers.

“G and T, please. Sapphire if you have it,” the woman said to the bartender, her melodic British accent adding charm to an already alluring persona. She took her drink to a bar table by the window, beyond which a Boeing 747 loomed like a beluga whale.

Unfortunately, Lark noted, the woman’s snub of the businessmen did nothing to dampen their lewd behavior. A pack of dickheads performing for one another. The loud one squeezed his crotch and grumbled to his companions, “Think she’d like to use my stir-stick?”

“You’re sick, Fred.”

And repulsive too, Lark thought. She’d scrupulously watched the three over the past hour as they grew louder and more vulgar with each trip to the self-service beer cooler. Making matters worse was the near certainty that Fred and his pals, like the forty-odd others scattered in various alcoves and work carrels throughout the lounge, were on Lark’s late-night flight to London.

Fred continued to sneer, as if personally wounded by the woman’s indifference. “Go over there, Jimbo. Check out them tits.”

The younger man he prodded had baby-smooth cheeks already splotchy from alcohol. Jimbo, as he was called, hardly seemed the sort to approach a strange woman, let alone inquire as to the authenticity of her breasts. He kicked at the third man. “You do it, Vic. You’re better at this than I am.”

With a sleazy chuckle, Vic replied, “Just tell her you’re TSA and you need to check her for liquids.”

Lark cleared her throat and gave them a scolding look. Deplorable, all three of them.

Fred shot her a contemptuous glance as he drew a crisp Ben Franklin from his wallet and crumpled it to make sure it wasn’t stuck to another. “Go on, Jimbo. A hundred bucks just for asking her. That’ll get you a blowjob in Soho.”

Sitting with her back to the room, the elegant woman nursed her cocktail and scrolled through her phone, oblivious to their loathsome scheme. It occurred to Lark to hurry over and strike up a conversation—safety in numbers—but before she could collect her belongings, Jimbo rose to make his move.

The two who stayed behind chortled, gleefully anticipating her impending humiliation. Jimbo perched on the adjacent stool at her table, red-faced and grinning, furtively glancing back to his buddies as he plied her with fatuous chitchat. His words were inaudible from across the room, but there was no mistaking the moment he let fly his ill-advised inquiry—it was answered by the sudden dousing of his lap with her cocktail. The stain spread quickly on his tan slacks, even down his leg. To the casual observer, he’d pissed himself.

“London passenger Latimer, please see the agent.”

Lark had been waiting for word on an upgrade to business class but she hesitated now to leave the lounge in case Jimbo lost his temper. Her dilemma was solved when the woman picked up her shoulder bag and relocated to another section without fanfare, leaving the men to guffaw at their buddy’s sullied state.

“I’m Dr. Latimer,” she said at the desk.

“I’m so sorry. I was unable to accommodate your upgrade request. But I snagged you a seat in the first row of World Traveler, and I’ll bump you up to the second boarding group as a courtesy.”

World Traveler was British Airways-speak for economy class. Tiny seats that reclined an inch or two at best. At least in the first row she wouldn’t have to deal with someone leaning back into her lap. “I don’t suppose there’s anything open in first class?”

This was Penny from Plymouth UK, according to her name tag. She clacked away on her keyboard. “I could issue a new ticket for an additional…thirty-eight hundred. That’s US dollars.”

Ouch! “That’s what I get for missing my flight. Lesson learned. Thanks for the bulkhead.”

“We always do our best to accommodate Silver Executive customers. We just received word from the crew. They’ll begin boarding at any moment.”

Jimbo waddled by toward the restroom holding his wet pants out from his crotch.

“Penny, I hate to make trouble but I probably should give you a heads-up about a certain situation. Three men in the back room by the bar—I assume they’re on this flight too—they’ve been drinking for a couple of hours at least. They’ve gotten out of hand, harassing a woman because she wouldn’t talk to them.” She jerked her thumb toward the men’s room. “That guy who just walked by said something nasty to her and she dumped her drink on him.”

“Oh, dear. I know exactly the men you’re talking about. They’re regulars on this route.” Penny crinkled her nose and lowered her voice to a whisper. “Our beverage manager says they drink all the Harvey’s Ale. Did you happen to notice who the woman was?”

“Really pretty. Kind of tall, reddish-brown hair down to here.” She drew an imaginary line at her shoulder to indicate the length. “She got up and moved away from them. I think she’s sitting just around the corner now. Black jumpsuit…spiked heels.”

“Oh right…Miss Hughes. I checked her in.”

Miss Hughes. Lark jotted that down in her mental black book. “Just to be on the safe side, you might want to have a look at the seating chart and make sure she’s not sitting next to one of those sleazebags on the plane. That could be trouble.”

Penny waved her off. “She’s in our first-class cabin. Once aboard, they won’t even see her again until they get to London.”

Of course, first class. That should have been obvious. There was little about Miss Hughes that said business traveler. “That’s good. Let’s hope she taught them a lesson.”

“I’ll inform our club manager and get word to Jeremy on board to cut them off. Thank you for letting us know.”

A nice feature of the British Airways lounge at Boston’s Logan Airport was its priority boarding and departure gate with a private Jetway, saving club members the trouble of returning to the concourse to line up with the mob. An agent had already propped open the door in preparation for the call to first class. Boarding pass in hand, Lark located the object of her concern and took a seat a few feet away in the opposite row.

From this new vantage point, she had an unfettered view. Miss Hughes was about her age—late twenties, early thirties—with blue-green eyes so bright they popped against her golden peach complexion. Her sculpted nails were painted light coral, the same shade as her lipstick, and a dazzling sapphire ring decorated her left hand. The epitome of chic.

More remarkable than her features was her expression. Where Lark had expected to see aloofness or irritation after being so brazenly harassed, there was surprising vulnerability. Her vacant gaze and furrowed brow suggested faraway, sorrowful thoughts. That she might be anguished made Lark even more furious at the men who’d so boorishly pestered her.

The announcement for first class passengers to board created a stir throughout the lounge as travelers gathered their luggage and moved closer to the gate in anticipation. Moments after Miss Hughes proceeded down the Jetway, angry voices erupted around the corner in the reception area. One of those voices was unmistakably Fred’s, the Dickhead in Chief who’d bribed Jimbo to act on his insult. “Christ Almighty! You can’t even tell a woman she’s pretty without her yelling sexual assault.”

Penny’s manager had wasted no time in confronting the men over her complaint. Lark anxiously heeded the call for Group Two, hoping to be well gone before they realized she was the one who’d reported them.

A flight attendant greeted her as she stepped aboard. “Welcome to British Airways. I’m Jeremy.” After checking her boarding pass, he leaned in and added, “Penny says I’m to look after you, luv. You’ll let me know if there’s anything you need?”

“Of course, thank you.” Walking past, she craned her neck for one last peek at Miss Hughes, but a gauzy blue curtain had been drawn to obscure the view of the forward cabin. For an obscene number of frequent flyer miles, Lark could have wrangled first class. She was too stingy for her own good.

After trudging longingly through business class, she located her seat on the aisle in the center section, quite a good location if one had to fly in coach. The biggest downside was the view forward, where she’d have to watch with envy as business travelers dined on a gourmet meal before folding their seats flat to sleep. If only she’d made her earlier flight…

She lifted her small, wheeled suitcase to the overhead bin and stooped over to see if there was room for her backpack beneath the seat. A pair of feet came to a stop only inches from her head.

“It was you.”

“I beg your pardon?” She rose to find Vic looming over her, his beer breath fouling the air. Apparently his seat was in the back row of business class, barely three feet in front of hers.

“You had to go and tattle like some femi-nazi social warrior bitch. I hope you’re satisfied—you got Fred and Jimbo kicked off the plane.”

“Hunh…how about that? I am satisfied. Thanks for letting me know.”

“You cow…I bet you’re a lousy fuck.”

“Not what your wife says,” she replied, preening with a brush of her nails against her lapel. His befuddled expression was priceless.

Jeremy appeared suddenly and wedged all hundred-thirty pounds of himself in front of Vic. “Is there a problem here? Because I can sort it with one call to security.”

Vic’s eyes smoldered with drunken fury but he smartly bit his tongue.

“That’s what I thought.” Over his shoulder, he said to Lark, “Where’s your bag, luv? I have another seat for you.”

*****************************************

Channing waved off the flight attendant’s offer of champagne, a fine Grand Siècle. Bubbly was for celebrating, and she was having none of that today. “Gin and tonic, please.” She’d try not to dump this one in some wanker’s lap.

Most of her first-class companions were tucked into private compartments along the window. Her suite was paired with another in the center row, these designed for couples traveling together. As if she needed another vicious reminder of her wretched life. Seated alone in the open space, she felt exposed.

How bloody fitting that she’d completely forgotten to cancel Payton’s reservation. Now she could stare at the empty seat for the next seven hours. One last twist of the knife.

Asserting matter over mind, she forced her shoulders to relax against the cushy leather. Her suite was replete with a workstation she didn’t need, a state-of-the-art entertainment system she didn’t want, and a set of plush knit pajamas with the ostentatious First stitched onto the chest. Payton Crane would have appreciated such pampering.

“To expedite the boarding process, please step into your row to allow others to proceed.”

Squeezing her eyes tightly shut, she stifled a groan. A hundred years of commercial aviation and people still didn’t know how to board an aeroplane. How hard could it be to find a seat and sit your arse in it?

The interminable delay to takeoff compounded her misery. Getting out of Boston was the necessary first step to putting her life back together. How many women through the ages had thought their affair with the married boss would be the one in a million to end happily?

“This is you, darling—five-F.” A male flight attendant abruptly appeared in the opposite aisle, gesturing toward what would have been Payton’s seat.

The young woman who followed him stopped short, her eyes wide with surprise. “Are you serious?”

“Didn’t I promise to take care of you, luv?”

In the muted cabin light, Channing first thought her a teenager. The most obvious clues were the backpack on her shoulder and short honey-colored hair that looked, to put it bluntly, unattended. A pretentious coed setting off on a gap-year tour through Europe’s youth hostels on Mummy and Daddy’s dime.

Except instead of shredded denim, she wore neat ankle trousers with a cropped jacket, and gray textured flats. Office casual. Once she sat beneath the reading light, the faint lines of her smile were more apparent, putting her closer to Channing’s age. So not a coed.

“Jeremy, this is incredible. Thank you.” She went to work right away manipulating her footrest and entertainment screen. “I was planning to sleep all the way to London but now I’ll have to stay awake so I can appreciate the perks.”

“Enjoy it, darling. I’ll speak with Muriel so she knows to treat you like a princess.”

Absolutely not. Channing couldn’t abide a chirpy seatmate fidgeting all night with her seat controls. She waved her fingers to catch the flight attendant’s eye. “I beg your pardon…Jeremy, is it? I do believe there’s been a slight mistake. I don’t mean to be inhospitable but I actually purchased both of these seats, you see. I assumed that meant I’d have the space to myself.” Her voice withered slightly under the woman’s incredulous glare.

“Oh dear, my paperwork shows it as open, Miss…” He ran his finger down a folded list. “There you are, Miss Hughes. Did you inform the ticketing agent of your intention to purchase a two-seat ticket for single travel?”

“I’m not familiar with the particulars. All I know is—”

“See, I show that five-F was originally ticketed to a Passenger Crane. Your intended companion perhaps? Except Mr. Crane failed to check in so his seat was returned to inventory. Those are the particulars I have.”

“Those are the particulars I have,” she snipped, mocking him under her breath. Then with gritted teeth, she added, “I don’t suppose you have another suite available…perhaps one by the window with a bit more privacy.”

“I’m so very sorry. It’s a full flight. But Miss Latimer’s previous seat is available in our economy section if you’re interested. Just hit that little button and Muriel will be happy to assist you with the move.”

As he disappeared behind them, Channing noted with displeasure that her face was warm, thus probably red. Humiliation always announced itself. Not only had she been condescendingly upbraided for what she considered a perfectly reasonable request, she now was left sitting in the company of someone who likely thought her a misanthrope. Not that she wasn’t.

“Well…that was awkward,” Miss Latimer said passively, her lips tightening in a barely discernible smile. She ran her hands along the armrests and wiggled her outstretched toes, the playful rejoinder of a bratty child who’d just tattled on her sister.

Channing was in no mood for such impishness…though she’d probably not get away with chucking another drink. “My apologies. I’ve had quite the miserable day and had deemed myself not fit for human company. I assure you it was nothing personal.”

“No offense taken.” Checking herself in a compact mirror, the woman tamed her disheveled hair with her fingertips, sweeping the curls into an orderly bob. Like any good haircut, it had the instant effect of raising her refinement level a notch. “If it makes you feel better, I’ve been on kind of a lousy streak too.”

“Please, I wouldn’t want to be the sort of person who’d feel better because someone else was miserable as well.”

“Like I said, no worries. Considering I’ve stacked a seven- hour flight on top of a fourteen-hour workday, I’m pretty sure I’ll be lights out right after dinner.”

Lovely. So on top of feeling like utter shite for what she’d already faced today, she could add embarrassing herself with a temper tantrum.

Muriel returned with her cocktail. Annoyingly pert in her trademark ascot and garrison cap, she squatted beside Channing to speak softly, “Did you happen to notice who’s on our flight? It’s Terrence Goff.”

Recognizing the name, Channing followed her eyes several rows ahead where the chiseled television star, a rugged Hollywood hero-type whom the gossip rags linked to starlets half his age, was hanging his blazer in a small closet next to his seat. Payton’s secretary gushed like a schoolgirl over his popular series, a firehouse drama filmed on location in Boston. Channing was utterly unimpressed.

“I only point him out because he asked if you were someone special.”

Oh, for the love of — “What did you tell him?”

“That all of our first class passengers are special, of course.” From Muriel’s coy smile, she relished her role as potential matchmaker. “I’d be quite pleased to make an introduction if you like.”

“I would not like, actually.” She’d rather be doused in petrol and set ablaze. She twirled the stone of her sapphire ring downward so it looked like a wedding band and positioned her hand so it was prominently displayed. “If he should ask again, would you please just inform him that I’m no one he should know?”

No sooner had Muriel walked away than Goff caught her eye and flashed a blinding smile. To her horror, he strutted the few steps toward her seat, teeming with self-assuredness.

“Oh, bloody hell,” she muttered, swiveling abruptly toward the seatmate she’d just abused in hopes of dissuading him with the appearance of being engaged in conversation. A pointless exercise, she realized, as his spicy cologne announced his arrival.

The woman, Miss Latimer, reached casually across the dividing console and took her hand. “Sweetheart, did you remember to stop the newspaper?”

“I…” Seconds ticked by before she grasped that she’d been thrown a lifeline. “Yes…yes, I called them this morning.”

As the actor’s footsteps made a hasty retreat, Latimer held her gaze. And her hand as well. By her devilish smirk, she was exceedingly pleased with herself. “That should keep him out of your hair.”

Stunned to silence, Channing drew her hand back ever so slowly, as though she’d been petting a dog she was worried might bite. Or maybe she was the dog, too fearful to trust a simple gesture of kindness.

**********************************

Order it now from Bella Books. (Release date July 15, 2018)

One Response to “A Proper Cuppa Tea — Chapter One”

  1. This is great! Can’t wait to read the full book!

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