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Playboy Pilot by Penelope Ward, Vi Keeland (1)

 

 

CHRIS HEMSWORTH.

I flipped the page of the American Airlines Worldwide Destinations catalog through the section on Australia. The pages were filled with colorful pictures—kangaroos, turquoise water, that big white building that looked like a bunch of sails blowing in the wind. Pretty. But not what I was really interested in.

Liam Hemsworth. Australian accents. Oh my God. Two of them.

The next page had a worldwide map. I followed the dotted route line, my finger tracing Miami to Sydney. Crap. That’s a long ass plane ride.

Sighing, I moved on. The next page—London.

Robert Pattinson.

Theo James.

More sexy accents, with less than a third of the flying time. I dog-eared the corner of the page and kept flipping.

Italy. George Clooney. Who cares if he’s practically the same age as my father? The man was like a good bottle of Cabernet—better with age and meant to be savored in your mouth. Another dog-eared corner.

The bartender interrupted my destination shopping and pointed to my half empty martini glass. “Can I get you another Appletini?”

“Not yet. Thanks.”

He nodded and headed to the other end of the packed bar. I was already on my second drink and had no idea how many hours I was going to be stuck in this airport lounge. It was probably a good idea that I pick where I’d be spending the next ten days before the alcohol kicked in too much.

Santorini. Hmmm. The pictures looked beautiful. Stark white buildings with bright royal blue doors and shutters. Yet…I really had no idea where I wanted to go. Nothing was jumping out at me; not even a tropical island was calling my name.

Blowing out a deep breath as I realized I was just about at the end of the thick vacation catalog, I lifted my drink to my mouth and mumbled to myself, “Where in the world should I go?”

I wasn’t expecting an actual answer.

“My place isn’t far.” A deep, baritone voice said from next to me. Not realizing anyone had taken the bar stool on my right, I startled, tipping my martini glass and spilling what was left of my drink all over my brand new top.

“Shit!” I stood, quickly grabbing for a napkin from the bar and started to blot at my brand new blouse. “This is a Roland Mouret.”

“Sorry about that. Didn’t mean to scare you.”

“Well then don’t sneak up on people.”

“Relax. I’ll pay for it to be dry-cleaned. Alright?”

“It’s going to stain.”

“Then I’ll buy you a new one, sweetheart. It’s just a shirt.”

My head snapped up. “Did you hear me say it was Roland Mouret? It was eight hundred dollars.

“For that? It’s a T-shirt.”

“It’s designer.”

“It’s still a damn T-shirt. Don’t get me wrong. You fill it out pretty nicely. But you got ripped off. Ever hear of the Gap?”

“Are you joking?” I asked before finally giving up on my blotting and looking up at the man who had some nerve.

Shit.

He had some nerve alright.

Some tall, dark and handsome nerve. Gorgeous, actually.

I walked away for a moment to grab my bearings and went in search of more napkins. There wasn’t another one in sight. When I returned to my spot, Mr. Beautiful called to the bartender, “Hey, Louie. Can I get a glass of club soda and some paper towels down here?”

“Sure thing, Trip.”

Trip?

“Your name is Trip?”

“Sometimes.”

“I’m in a freaking airport bar with a guy named Trip?” I couldn’t help but chuckle.

“And you are?”

What the heck, I would never see this man again. I glanced down at the travel catalog I’d been sifting through when my eyes landed on the cover. “I’m…” I hesitated, then lied. “Sydney.”

“Sydney…” he hissed out, skeptically.

“That’s right.”

Swallowing, I had to look away for a moment. Even with my gaze pointed away from him, I could feel the weight of his big hazel eyes on me. The heavy scent of his musky cologne was all-consuming. His tall, overbearing presence in my periphery made it difficult to focus my attention elsewhere.

The bartender returned and handed him a glass and a handful of napkins.

Trip lifted his brow at me. “You want to get the stain out?”

I nodded, my skin prickling as he leaned in. Within a few seconds, everything went from hot to cold as a shock of wetness hit me, seeping through the material of my shirt as he poured the soda water slowly and directly onto my chest.

“Ah! What the…what the hell are you doing?” I spewed, looking down at the wet spot on my designer shirt.

“You want to lift the stain out, don’t you? The carbonated water will do it. It just needs to soak for a while.”

“The stain isn’t that big. You just poured water all over the front of my shirt!”

“There was no easy way to avoid that.”

“You could have not done it!”

“That wouldn’t have been any fun.”

I looked down at myself. My nipples were peeking through the wet fabric. “You can see right through my shirt now!”

“I’m painfully aware of that.” He sucked a breath in, his eyes glued to my chest. “Christ, are you not wearing a bra?”

“Actually, I’m not.”

He finally looked up. “Might I ask, why you’re at an airport with no bra on?”

Clearing my throat, I said, “I wanted to be comfortable on the flight. Plus…I’m…perky. I don’t really need to wear one in general. Well, at least, I didn’t until you poured seltzer all over me! I wasn’t expecting a strange man to assault me with water.”

His eyeballs descended upon my chest again. “Perky…huh?”

“Could you not stare at me like that?” I crossed my arms over my chest.

“I’m sorry. I wasn’t expecting...”

“To see me practically naked? You don’t say…”

He laughed guiltily. “What am I supposed to say? Look, I came here for a bite to eat and got way more than I bargained for. You have fantastic tits. You’re right. They are perky…just like their feisty owner.”

He suddenly took off his leather jacket and wrapped it around me. “Cover yourself with this.” It was heavy and felt like a warm hug coated in his sandalwood scent. If this felt good, I could only imagine what his actual body would feel like wrapped around me. I shook my head at the thought.

Looking down while I zipped it up, I noticed a small pair of metal wings pinned onto the chest. “What’s this pin? Were you a good little boy on your flight or something?”

He smirked. “Something like that.”

When I cracked a smile, he reached his large hand out. “Let’s start over. Hi, I’m Carter.”

Carter.

Huh.

He sort of looked like a Carter.

I took his hand and felt shivers roll through me when he squeezed mine with a powerful grip. Narrowing my eyes, I said, “Carter…I thought your name was Trip.”

“No. You assumed my name was Trip because that was what Louie called me. Trip’s a nickname.”

“Where does it come from?”

“Long story.”

“How do they know you here anyway? Do you travel a lot on business?”

“You could say that.”

“You’re a little dodgy, you know that?”

“And you’re fucking adorable. What’s your name?”

“I told you my name.”

“Oh, that’s right. Sydney…and your last name’s Opera-House. Sydney Opera-House.” He laughed, lifting the magazine and pointing to the actual Sydney Opera House on the cover. “Why did you lie to me, Perky?”

I shrugged. “I don’t know. I don’t like giving my real name out to strangers.”

“That’s not it. You’re not shy. You don’t even wear a fucking bra in public, for God’s sake. And it took you almost a full minute to cover your tits after you knew I could see them. You’re not reserved, and you’re certainly not being cautious.”

“So, then why do you think I lied about my name?”

“I think it gave you a thrill to pretend you were someone else. You figured you’re never gonna see me again, so why not? Am I right?”

“You think you have me pegged as a careless thrill-seeker? You’ve known me for what…ten minutes?”

“It takes one to know one.”

“Oh really?”

“Yes. It’s how I live my life…always looking for the next thrill, never in one place.” After a moment of silence, he squinted his eyes with an examining look. “You don’t know where you’re going.”

“How do you know that?”

“When I first walked up behind you, you were talking to yourself, wondering where you should go. Remember?”

“Oh. That’s right. Yes. I’m taking myself on a trip…Trip.”

“What are you leaning toward?”

“I still have no idea.”

He startled me when he put his hand on my shoulder. “What are you running away from, Kendall?”

My heart beat faster. I moved backwards, away from him a bit.

“How did you know my name?”

He reached into his back pocket and waved a passport. “You really need to be more careful traveling alone. You walk away for one second, someone could slip something in your drink or take your belongings.”

“That’s mine? How did you get that?”

“When you walked away to look for a napkin, it fell out of your purse. I picked it up, took a peek at your name. Kendall Sparks. I like it. You’re lucky you can trust me.”

“I’m not so sure about that,” I huffed, snatching the passport.

We stood there for a bit just staring at each other. His mouth curved into a smile, and for the first time I noticed the dimple on his chin.

“I saw her standing there,” he said.

“What?”

“The Beatles song. I Saw Her Standing There.”

“What about it?” I asked.

“I have this theory. If you think about almost any given moment in life, there’s a Beatles song that can describe it.”

“So, that’s the song of the hour?”

“Exactly. I saw you standing there. I walked over, and apparently I disrupted your decision-making. So, let me buy you another drink. We can figure out together where you’re gonna go. We can work it out.”

When he laughed, I repeated his last words in my head.

We can work it out.

God, he’s a little nutty.

I shook my head in disbelief. “We Can Work It Out. Another Beatles song.”

“Very good. You’re too young to know The Beatles so well.”

“My mother listened to them. What’s your excuse?”

“I just appreciate good music, even if it was before my time.” He looked down at his watch. “Speaking of time, I don’t have all that much of it. How about that drink?”

When he smiled again, I couldn’t help feeling like my resolve was melting. There wasn’t any harm in one more drink, especially since I hadn’t decided where I was going yet.

“Sure. Why not?”

Carter led me to one of the tables then left to put in an order at the bar.

“I hope you don’t mind. I ordered a few appetizers for us.”

“Thanks. That’s fine.”

“So, what’s the nature of this voyage, Kendall?”

“I have some important things to think about. I need to get away from real life for a while to do that.”

“Hopefully, it’s all good stuff? You seem really on edge. That’s why I assumed you were running away from something.”

“Just an important decision that I have to make.”

“Anything I can help with?”

Not unless you want to impregnate me.

If he only knew.

“No. It’s a problem I have to figure out on my own.”

“Seriously, though, how bad can it be? You’re healthy, vibrant…beautiful, and you seem to have money. I’m sure it will all work out for you.”

“You think you have me all figured out, huh?”

“You’re young. Whatever it is…you have plenty of time to solve the issue.”

Don’t I wish that were the truth.

“How young do you think I am?”

He scratched his chin. “Twenty-two?”

“I’m about to turn twenty-five.”

That’s the exact problem. Twenty-fucking-five.

“Okay. Well, you look a little younger.”

“And how old are you? Given your musical taste, I’d guess around fifty-three…but from your looks, I’d put you at twenty-eight.”

“Close enough. Twenty-nine.”

A waiter brought our appetizers over to the table. Carter had ordered a medley of fried mozzarella sticks, Buffalo wings, and egg rolls.

My stomach growled. “It’s a good thing I’m not on a diet.”

“Yeah. They don’t really have much else that’s any good here. Everything fried tastes good.”

I noticed that he hadn’t ordered a beverage. “You’re not drinking?”

“I can’t.”

“Why not?”

“If you tell me what your dilemma is, I’ll tell you why I can’t drink.”

Grabbing a fried cheese stick, I changed the subject. “There’s no time to get into it. Right now, I really just need to make a decision about where I’m going. What about you? Where are you headed?”

“Hang on.” He ignored my question, instead pulling out his phone and began to scroll.

“What are you doing?”

“This is a full list of international flights that are departing in the next three hours.” He pointed the screen in my direction.

I took the phone. “Okay…Madrid. Iberia Airlines, 8:55.”

“You don’t want to go to Spain.”

“Why?”

“It’s July. Super hot there. You’ll sweat your ass off. And you can’t take off your shirt, because you’re not wearing a bra.”

Feeling flush, I looked back down at the list. “Okay…um…what about Mexico? American Airlines, 10:20.”

“No.”

“No?”

“The new norovirus that’s going around.”

“The what?”

“Jesus, woman. Don’t you watch the news?”

“No. It’s too depressing.”

“Just trust me. You want to avoid the food there right now.”

“Alright. What about Amsterdam? KLM, 9:45.”

“I don’t think that’s a good choice for you. Prostitution is legal there. You walk around the city with no bra, you could get mistaken for something you’re not.”

My eyes widened. “You think I could be mistaken for a whore?”

“The whores are pretty classy there, actually.”

“And how would you know?”

“Whoa…I don’t pay for sex, if that’s what you’re getting at.” He let out a throaty laugh. “I have the opposite problem, actually.”

“Wait. Women pay you for sex?” I covered my mouth. “Oh my God. You’re a male prostitute! Or an escort? Is that what you’re doing hanging around in airport lounges?”

He bent his head back in laughter. “No.”

“So, women just throw themselves at you. That’s what you’re saying.”

“I’m saying that…sometimes it’s fun to be the chaser. And I haven’t had to do that for a very long time, nor have I really found anyone worth chasing. So basically, the last thing I would need to do is pay for sex.”

That didn’t surprise me. I couldn’t even conjure up a comeback. This man was gorgeous and charismatic. Cocky as hell. Women loved that.

When he grabbed the phone back from me, the quick touch of his hand felt really good. Too good.

“Ever been to Brazil, Kendall?”

“No.”

“It’s really nice there this time of year. It’s winter. But it’s still warm enough to enjoy.” He slammed the phone in front of me “Rio. International Airlines. 10:05.”

“What else is there to do there?”

“The beaches are beautiful. There are also a ton of clubs and bars in Copacabana and Ipanema. It’s fun as hell.”

“Is it safe for a single woman traveling alone?”

“You need to use the same common sense you would any place you go. Maybe buy a bra.”

Carter suddenly flipped his phone back around to look at the time. “Shit. I have to go. I’m late for work,” he said as he got up from his seat, throwing a wad of cash on the table.

He hadn’t given me a chance to ask him what he did for a living, or where he was going. I really still knew nothing about this man, but a gnawing feeling of disappointment inside of me proved that I really wanted to know more.

“Um…okay. Well, thanks for the appetizers.”

After a long pause, he said, “Let fate decide. But for the record, my vote is for Rio. Take care of yourself, Kendall.”

As he started to walk away, I realized I was still wearing his leather jacket. I called after him, “Wait! Your jacket!”

“Keep it. It’ll keep your tits warm.”

That was oddly endearing. “Alright.” I laughed slightly and lifted my hand. “Goodbye, I guess.”

“Hello, Goodbye.”

“What?”

“Beatles song.” He winked.

“Oh.” I rolled my eyes. “I should’ve known.”

He smiled, and I realized it was probably the last time I would ever see that dimple on his chin for as long as I lived. As he walked away, I admired his ass, which I hadn’t really gotten a good look at until that moment. He suddenly stopped and turned around. “Kendall…”

“Yeah?”

“If you don’t choose Brazil, have a nice life.”

Before I could respond, he turned back around and kept going at a faster pace.

An unwelcome feeling of loneliness washed over me. I watched him until he turned a corner and was out of sight.

That was an odd comment, though.

If I don’t choose Brazil…have a nice life?

Was I stupid for listening to this stranger’s advice? Time wasn’t exactly on my side. I had to pick something. So…Rio de Janeiro? And if I ended up dead, I’d blame it on Rio.

Wasn’t that a movie?

Blame it on Rio?

I started to sweat in his jacket. God, I was still so hot and bothered.

Blame it on Carter.

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