After the rush of getting through security and taking two strides to every one of Alessandro’s as they raced across the airport to their departure gate, making their flight just as the attendants were closing boarding doors Carol settled into her seat to reflect on the morning’s events. She was no saint, but the unusual aggressiveness she’d shown in reaction to Alessandro’s kiss made her stomach ache slightly. After being lovingly teased for years by friends concerning her ‘old-fashioned’ manners with the opposite sex…it was definitely disconcerting to find that this near stranger could elicit such wanton behavior from her.
Alessandro shifted in the seat next to her, clearly uncomfortable. His wide, mobile mouth was pinched tightly shut. His hand on the armrest closest to Carol was clenched against the unyielding surface until his knuckles whitened. The plane moved into position and began to taxi up the runway. A light sweat broke out over his face as Carol watched, and Alessandro swallowed convulsively. Carol reached out, placing her much smaller hand over his. She lightly stroked it.
“Alessandro, do you…have difficulty with flying?”
His eyes snapped to hers, wide and panicked looking. He released the armrest, turning his over to grasp hers. His grip on her hand was tight enough to make her wince. Swallowing again he nodded.
“Si, piccolina…I…it is not…forgive me Carol…I have never flown well.”
There was a pause as Carol filled in the blanks he had left.
“It’s fine to be afraid sometimes, Alessandro. I’m scared of snakes. Everyone’s scared of something. It doesn’t make us anything but human.”
Alessandro jerked. His gaze focused in on her sharply. He gave a soft huff of laughter that broke off when the plane shuddered once as it left the ground.
“Ah, si, human. Well, it certainly couldn’t make me less human, now could it piccolina?”
There was something in the way he said the word that struck Carol as odd. She searched his face for clues as to what meant. A faint flush lay across his high cheekbones. His mouth still looked pinched but his hands were no longer gripping the armrests of his seat. Instead one now gripped her hand while the other clenched his thigh just above the knee. Carol answered his question.
“No Alessandro, it couldn’t. Not in my eyes at any rate.”
The white lines of stress around his mouth eased at that. He angled his body more fully toward her. The wild riot of gold and green in his eyes grew calmer. The hold on her hand gentled, shifted, and he was lifting it up to his mouth.
“Thank you, piccolina.”
Then he kissed the back of her hand, just below her wrist. Carol’s breath caught in chest, frozen there for a long moment. The lopsided smile she was coming to think of as uniquely Alessandro’s crept across his wide mouth. He leaned forward, reaching with the hand that he had been clenching on his thigh. Placing two fingers under her chin he pushed upward, closing her mouth.
“You are tempting, piccolina, far too tempting. You will make me forget myself, si?”
Carol blinked at him. Then she reached above her head, pushed the call button for the flight attendant and twisted the nozzle of the little air vent above her head. It was gonna be a long, hot flight to Italy.
As the plane touched down in Italy, Carol woke to find some tiny fiend with a jackhammer had taken up residence in her head. Her cotton clothes, which had seemed so practical back in Houston, were limp and wrinkled.
Looking in her carry-on for a mirror to check her appearance she discovered that the one thing she hadn’t packed was, of course, a compact with a mirror in it. Carol cringed.
Stalking through the airport toward customs after deplaning would have felt marvelously dramatic if her head hadn’t been pounding. Carol winced and put a hand to her forehead for a moment. The fingers she pulled away from her face bore suspicious traces of mascara and eye shadow. She kept her pace, grimly determined to show Alessandro the back of her head until her discomfort eased enough to stop being visible on her face, and she reached some place that had a flipping mirror so she could make sure she didn’t look completely like a reject from a clown circus.
Alessandro had been, after that initial show of vulnerability on the flight, terse and uncommunicative. At one point she’d just given up trying to interact with him at all, resorting to having the flight attendant bring her extra drinks.
In the end, she’d downed three vodka and grapefruit combinations, turned her back on him, and fallen asleep with her head resting on the window. Halfway down the concourse a large hand wrapped around her upper arm for the second time in less than two days. While it had felt helpful and sort of sexy the first time, this time it made Carol see red. She whirled around, pinning Alessandro with a fulminating glare.
“I suggest you take your damned hand off my arm Signore Feliano. I believe the Italian authorities look with disfavor upon manhandling women in public…particularly the ones you have no rightful claim to, si?”
Alessandro flinched, rearing back with a look of perplexed hurt washing across his features. It was quickly replaced by one of determination, his thick black brows lowering and his head tilting to an almost pugnacious angle.
“Si, piccolina, they would not look upon this with favor. But before you scream and race off to find the first police man you can find, would you allow me to apologize for my behavior?”
A wash of fierce anger swept over Carol. She gaped up at Alessandro, temporarily at a loss for words. All sound seemed to suspend for a moment, and then it crashed down upon her with the force of a tsunami.
Gritting her teeth, Carol attempted a gracious smile. She was pretty sure it came out more like a snarl. It felt twisty and mean on her face. Well, really, that was about all the big dumb gorgeous man deserved. How dare he apologize while she was still hung over?
“Come, piccolina, please forgive me. I do not behave well when I must fly. I should have ensured the seats we were given did not adjoin. That way you would have been spared my ill humor.”
Carol ground her teeth some more, even as something in her center melted.
Alessandro didn’t even have the decency to look rumpled or smell bad. He had a thick growth of stubble dusting his jaw, his eyes were heavy lidded, and his lips looked slightly swollen. Here she was, doing her best Quasimodo impersonation, and the damn man had the effrontery to look like sex on legs.
Sighing and rolling her eyes, Carol grunted out an acceptance of his apology. Not her most gracious moment, but the best she could do. She still wanted to trip him or stick her tongue out…something satisfyingly childish would be good. She settled for stamping her foot, and then was mortified by how stupidly girly that must have looked.
Alessandro eased his hold on her arm, sliding his hand down it until he reached her fingers. Lacing their fingers together, he gave her hand a gentle squeeze. A shot of heat raced up Carol’s arm, and down her spine, loosening every joint it passed. She stumbled. Alessandro steadied her without comment. Carol opened her mouth to say something, anything that would make it plausible to pull her hand away.
Alessandro shook her hand lightly before releasing it.
“Piccolina, the gentleman would like your passport now.”