11:24 a.m., Tuesday
Flight 1545 from Houston to Nashville
Nikki Boyd grabbed the armrest of the aisle seat as the plane hit another air pocket and the fasten seat belt light flickered on above row 29 on the Airbus. Her stomach lurched at the sensation, rattling her nerves like it had throughout the past hour of the flight.
"Ladies and gentlemen, the captain has just turned on the seat belt sign again. We need all passengers to return to their seats immediately and ensure that your seat belt is on."
Nikki frowned, not amused with the flight attendant's singsong voice making it sound as if they were on a ride at an amusement park instead of thirty thousand feet above the ground, flying on the edges of a storm. She tugged on the end of her seat belt, then glanced out the window, where rain slashed against the pane and streaks of lightning flashed in the distance. Flying on a commercial airline across the country should be a piece of cake compared to her day job, where risking her life had become routine. If one could ever call risking one's life routine.
Shooting up another prayer that they'd make it to Nashville safely, she let go of the armrest and slid out the photo of Tyler Grant tucked away in the pocket of the e-reader in her lap. She willed herself to relax. If she were honest, the constant turbulence over the past hour wasn't the only thing that had her stomach tied up in knots. Even more nerve-wracking than the bumpy flight was the fact that Tyler would be waiting for her once they touched down.
The plane dipped again, rattling her tray table. The twentysomething brunette sitting in the middle seat beside her snapped shut the book she'd had her nose buried in most of the trip and gripped both armrests. "I thought reading would distract me, but even that's not helping anymore."
"You okay?" Nikki asked as the other woman grabbed a couple pills from her purse and washed them down with a half-empty bottle of water.
"I will be once we land." She shoved the bottle back into the seat pocket. "The next time I have to make this trip, though, I'm going to drive."
"Hopefully we'll be through this turbulence soon," Nikki said, catching a flicker of fear in the woman's brown eyes. "But I'm sure we'll be fine. I've always heard flying is safer than driving."
"Maybe, but a lot can go wrong at thirty thousand feet." She clutched the book between her fingers until her knuckles turned white. "Sorry. It's just that I was nervous about this trip before I stepped on the plane. Add a turbulent flight and I feel like my heart's about to burst out of my chest."
Nikki nodded, wondering how the man sitting next to the window with the military haircut had managed to sleep through the entire nerve-wracking flight without noticing the light display across the darkening skyline outside his window. She flicked the edge of Tyler's photo with the edge of her fingernail, completely understanding the woman's unease. She wasn't the only one trying to get her nerves in check.
"Boyfriend? Husband?" the woman said, then shot her an apologetic look. "I know it's none of my business, but he's gorgeous."
Nikki chuckled at the description, but as far as she was concerned, the woman was right. She'd taken the photo of him three months ago, right before Tyler had left for Liberia. As former military, he still wore his hair short. Add to that a five-o'clock shadow and those familiar brown eyes that could always see straight through her, and yeah...he was definitely gorgeous.
"He's..." Nikki paused, trying to find a logical response to the question. "Honestly, I'm not sure what to call him. It's a long story, actually. And a bit complicated."
Nikki slipped the photo back into the e-reader. She never talked about her personal life with strangers. Or her job and certainly not her relationships. And talking about Tyler was definitely personal. Three months ago, he'd left for Liberia to work with the State Department in an effort to help improve regional stability. That and to figure out how to deal with life as a single dad and widower. But before he left, he'd asked her to wait for him. Something she was still half certain she'd dreamed up. Because not very long ago she would have laughed at the idea of falling in love with her best friend's husband. Then somehow over the past few months, everything had changed.