“Layla,” I greet her dryly, avoiding looking at her.
The flight attendant with blond hair and a perfect body comes to me. “Yes, Mr. Ives, what can I do for you?” she chimes.
You could do a lot. It would probably involve the bathroom, your mouth, and pleasure… for me.
I give her my best smile. “Whiskey neat.” Because it’s five o’clock somewhere.
“And for you Mrs. Ives?” The attendant smiles.
Layla lets a chortle escape, and I can only shake my head at this bad start.
“This man wishes he had a wife like me. We’re not married. He’s my boss.” Layla grins. “The same, please, but just bring me the small little bottle.”
“This is going to be a long flight, isn’t it,” I say aloud.
Layla nudges my arm with hers. “It could be worse; I could be your wife.” She throws on a fake closed-mouth smile.
No, worse would be combusting together in an activity—that I am quite exceptional at.
I make a mental note to send a reminder to my dick that Layla and me disliking each other is the best policy.
Angling my body, I turn to her and move into her space. It causes her breath to catch and her shoulders to stiffen. But I get my kicks out of making her squirm. Hell, we probably both get off on making each other squirm.
“Listen, sunshine, Chicago to New Orleans is a solid two-hour flight, after which we need to nail this client. You’re so quick to remind me that on paper I am your boss, although I’m positive you call me that because it turns you on like crazy. So, boss, it is. Then fine, this is how this trip is going to go. I’m your boss, and you are my direct report, so you will listen, agree, and this will be a smooth forty-eight hours.” My voice is firm, and I recognize a hint of sweltering that only appears when I may be slightly turned-on.
Her eyes change, but I can’t pinpoint how. Is that annoyance? Fear? Heat? Is she aroused?
“I’m not your sunshine,” she snipes, because this woman is a little spitfire full of attitude when I’m around.
But how I do enjoy having her as a sparring partner. I roll my eyes sidelong to her. “No, you are the rain on my sunny day.”
“Here you both are.” The blond attendant hands us our whiskeys.
Layla opens her little bottle and downs it in one go.
“Whoa, easy there, princess,” I comment, but then I pause. “Still hate take-offs and landings?”
She looks at me, surprised that I remember, but then she must register that her brother is my business partner. Noah is like a Canadian bear in winter when it comes to Layla—he’s protective—and she can do no wrong in his book. When their parents died in an accident when she was younger, he paid for her college and took over a sort of guardian role. They’re close. Close enough that she is a topic at lunch more than I’d wish. He shares information about her that I do not particularly care to know, such as how she hates flying and has no boyfriend.
Layla has an odd look on her face, which must be from downing the gold-colored liquid and hitting her throat in one go. “Yeah, something like that,” she comments.
Letting out a deep exhale, trying to relax, I turn my cell to airplane mode and place it in my pocket as the plane gets ready for take-off.
Not sure where this streak of being a gentleman is coming from, but I look forward. “Just tell me again how the hell you met Radnor before.” I’m trying to keep her distracted. How kind of me.
“You were there, remember? You and Noah were having a drink with him at a bar, and by chance, I was at the same bar with a friend,” she recalls.
“Oh yeah, your date.” That comes out as expressionless as I can.
“He wasn’t my date. Clive is gay. We worked on a project together. Why am I even explaining this to you?” she wonders aloud, almost frustrated with herself.
A short laugh escapes me.
“Anyhow, Noah noticed me at the bar, and it was pure coincidence. Introduced me to Radnor, and Radnor remembered my work for a few other clients. But you know all of this. You were there. Just probably had your tail between your legs since I was wearing a dress, and we know how you get when that happens.” She’s feisty when she mentions that.
I roll my eyes, but I’m amused.
Ignoring her quip, I ask, “And how have you ended up on a plane next to me?”
“Flash forward a few months and Noah called me to say he needed my help. Seems like Trey is giving you two a shot, as long as I do the design work. But again, you know this. Just like you know that I am only doing this for Noah. Trust me, a trip with you was not part of the deal.”
“Layla. Do I always bring out the best in you?” I’m not at all serious.
“Do I always get your bullshit holier-than-thou personality that women seem to drop to their knees for?”
“Ah, so you do want to drop to your knees for me?” I give her a wry smile, and I can’t tell if she’s irritated or enjoyed walking into that remark.
But this conversation is working, as we’ve already made it to the runway. As soon as the engine picks up, the look of fear on her face is apparent.
I hold my arm out. “Here, grab my arm or something.”
She doesn’t even question it or look at me; she just grabs my arm and holds on for dear life. Layla is petite, which means her strong hold on my firm and ripped arm still feels light.
She’s warm, and I can feel her pulse is beating as fast as the speed of the plane. For a second, I feel for her. She may be my Achilles heel, annoying the hell out of me, but she actually is a decent human being if you get in her good books, and we need her for this win.
As soon as we make it to the sky, she lets go. Like a switch, she voids whatever temporary armistice that was between us for a millisecond. She leans over to grab her tablet from her bag on the floor.
I can’t help smelling her macadamia-scented hair or the way her body bends and could so easily...
Shake it off, Josh. Whatever just flew through your head—shake it away.
Coming back to sitting, she angles her body toward me to show me the tablet. “I made some of these designs as possible marketing material.” She begins to swipe the screen.
And for the next two hours, we go over designs and what to expect for our dinner meeting. We keep it purely about business. Every idea I suggest, she debates. Every suggestion she has, I argue. Constant back and forth.
“Trust me. I play hard, then we close this tomorrow,” I inform her.
She huffs. “Listen, boss, trust me when I say he is going to drag this out. He’ll make us build a relationship with him to test us. I mean, test your agency as the best people to get the job done.”
The back and forth continues for several more minutes.
We finally agree to disagree.
Looking at my watch, I see we have a few minutes left in the air. Throwing on my headphones, I enjoy the sounds of a playlist of Motown. Layla grabs my phone from my hands and looks at the screen.
“Really?! No… really?” She is clearly surprised with my music selection.
“Pure happiness sounds, baby.” I grin, and I’m proud of my musical taste. If you can’t get in a good mood from a little Motown, then you were possibly born as a member of Satan’s family.
She laughs as she hands my phone back. “Well, this is a game-changer. Wasn’t expecting this.”
“I don’t disappoint, Layla.” There may be a cocky grin on my face.
For a moment, we look at each other, and there is an odd calm between us. That moment lingers until the overhead speakers go on.
The captain announces that we will be landing shortly, and I offer my arm again. Without words, she takes it. For some reason, I feel the need to move a little closer to her this time. You know, in case she needs full access to my arm.
I smile to myself, as I could have also sworn she was humming The Temptations, “Get Ready.”
After landing, we grab our bags from the overhead bin and head through the airport. Someone from the hotel is waiting for us when we arrive to take us to the Sweet Dove Hotel near the French Quarter.
The hotel is a traditional Creole-styled colonial building that dates back to another time. Painted blue on the outside, with white porches and shutters, inside, it’s all high ceilings, beautifully refurbished. Our two rooms are next to each other, and my guess is the woman of my contempt is on the other side of the wall looking at the exact same setup.
The room is filled with a four-poster bed, with high-thread-count sheets that would probably feel fantastic for my back to lie on as a woman rides me into oblivion.
Complimentary brandy waits on a small table in the corner near a desk and chaise lounge. There are French doors to the balcony outside, which overlooks a green garden that looks like a tropical forest. This room is ideal for a certain type of traveler.
Looking at the guest literature on the desk next to the complimentary box of peanut brittle, I scratch the back of my head. This trip would completely be Noah’s scene. He is a hopeless romantic. Me? I’m a little rough on that front. I haven’t had a relationship worth romantic trips in a few years.
The rose petals lying on the bed must be the hotel’s way of taunting me with these facts.
These romantic references? It matters. It matters because the whole point of why Trey Radnor is looking for a new marketing agency is he wants to capitalize on the fact that his hotel just won an award for the most romantic destination in Louisiana.