After attending a friend’s wedding in New York, James Thompson is eager to go home, even though no one will be waiting for him at the gate. He has no expectations for his trip back to Charleston other than long lines, security, and bad airplane food. But when an annoying—albeit hot—stranger cuts him in line, James is determined not to be a pushover for once.
For Mika “It’s Mee-kuh, not Micah” Bailey, today’s just another day of boring work travel. That is, until his flight gets delayed, and some irritating (but handsome) guy keeps hogging all the good power outlets. Which means war. In the middle of an airport. In New York. What could go wrong?
Eventually, they declare a truce, and as they get to know each other, their attraction overwhelms them both. Terrified of what he’s feeling, Mika suggests a no-strings hookup, but serial-monogamist James wants more. If they don’t fight for what’s right in front of them, their romance might be canceled before it ever takes off.
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“How was the wedding?”
James surveyed the open suitcase on the bed, running through a mental catalog of the possessions he’d brought with him and comparing it to what he saw.
From a phone on the polished nightstand came the sound of his sister’s voice, but James was too absorbed in thought to pay it much mind. In his hand, he held a departure checklist he’d scribbled on the hotel’s stationery as soon as he’d arrived.
Pack up all his clothes? Check. Make sure he had his socks? Double check. Return his tux to the rental place on the way to the airport? Soon to be a check. He glanced at where it was hanging in the room’s small closet.
Looks like everything’s set, but I should do one final sweep of the room to be—
He startled and glanced at his phone, half expecting to see an astral version of his sister’s face glaring at him. “Sorry, Mel. What was that?”
“I asked about the wedding.” Melissa’s irritation was palpable, even through a speaker. He could picture her, clear as a photograph: sitting cross-legged on her bed in her dorm room with a pile of textbooks around her. Her wavy blond hair—the same as James’s, only longer—would slide over her freckled shoulders as she shook her head at him. “Why’d you call me if you were going to ignore me?”
“Wasn’t trying to, lil sis. I was going over my—”
“Lemme guess. You made a checklist.”
“Why am I not surprised?”
James smiled to himself as he looked around the room. “I don’t want to forget anything. There’s nothing wrong with being thorough.” As he walked around the bed, he paused by a window and threw the curtain open, revealing an impressive view of Manhattan. The black of the asphalt was punctuated by yellow cabs and silver skyscrapers, all packed beneath an overcast sky. “I’m a long way from Charleston. It’s not like I can come back if I lose something.”
“If you forget something, buy a replacement.”
“I get that as a little sister you’re contractually obligated to be annoying, but please feel free to take some time off.” James released the curtain, and the white gauzy material swished back into place.
“Just stating the obvious, bro.”
“Right, because I’m drowning in money from all those student loans I took out.” He walked back over to his suitcase and felt in the front pockets for his charger. “I hear you never have to pay those back, so you spend ’em without remorse. Want me to buy you a pony?”
Melissa laughed. “No one made you go to grad school, brainiac. You could have called it quits after four years like a normal person, but no.”
“Forgive me for having goals.”
“I’m still waiting to hear about the wedding, by the way. How was it? You meet any guys?”
“It was fun, and yeah, I met plenty of guys. None of whom were available, of course. It reminded me of a nineties sitcom. Remember back when women would moan that all the good ones are taken or gay? From where I’m sitting, they’re all straight or only interested in hooking up.”
“So, hook up.” Melissa paused, and James could almost hear her shrugging. “There’s no law against it.”
“I’d rather not talk about casual sex with a family member, thank you very much.” Satisfied that he had everything, James zipped up his laptop bag and then did the same for his suitcase. Two seconds later, he unzipped the former, positive that he’d forgotten the power cord despite having checked it twice already.
“Don’t be such a prude. Seriously, it’d do you some good to let loose every now and then. Especially after David—”
“I don’t want to talk about David.” If James’s voice cracked as he said the name, he chose to ignore it. “There’s nothing to talk about.”
“Uh-huh. You two still pretending to be friends?”
“We are friends, Mel.”
“Yeah, the sort of friends who only speak when he needs something.”
James contemplated snatching up his phone and ending the call, but if he did, she’d count it as a victory. “We’re still figuring out where we stand with each other.”
“Good luck with that.” Mercifully, Melissa switched back to their earlier subject. “So, the wedding went smoothly and all that? You didn’t blank on your speech or get drunk and confess your love for the groom?”
“Nope. I wasn’t all that nervous, if you can believe that. I opened with a joke and told some embarrassing college stories. The best man gold standard.”
“Nothing went wrong at all? That, like, never happens.”
“Well, no. There were a few problems. Yesterday morning, when we were all getting ready to drive to the church, the priest’s car wouldn’t start. But I had jumper cables in my rental car, so it was fine. Oh, and the maid of honor forgot the something blue, so I had to give up my tie. Shame, too. It matched my eyes.”
He glanced up and caught his reflection in the mirror above the dresser. His dark-blue eyes were bloodshot from staying up too late after the ceremony, which made them eerily bright. He needed to get a haircut when he got back home too, or else he was really going to look like his sister.
“The bride was superstitious, huh?”
“Oh yeah. They followed all the old traditions. No seeing each other before the wedding. No knives on their gift registry. And Fred carried her over every threshold they crossed for like six hours after the ceremony. It got tricky as the champagne started flowing.”
Melissa laughed. “I would pay money to see Fred carrying Nevaeh around in her big, poofy dress. Was she stressed?”
“Yup.” James sat on the bed and fumbled for his shoes, which had gotten kicked under the edge. “Mostly thanks to the maid of honor. Nevaeh had to pick her sister for the job, and it was clear Sis wasn’t the most organized.”
“Well, if I’m best maid or whatever at your wedding, I promise I’ll put some effort into it.”
Pain flashed through James. If I ever get married, that is.
Shaking off the mood swing, he pulled on his shoes. “I wish we’d been able to do some sightseeing, but there were so many last-minute details to take care of. At least I’ll have Sunday to unpack before class on Monday.”
“Yes, of course. Because if you don’t unpack right when you get home, the world will end.”
Since he couldn’t glare at her, James shot a sour look at his phone. “I have to get going.”
“Your plane isn’t leaving until three.”
“Yeah, but I have to check out of the hotel by eleven, and I want to get there with plenty of time to spare.”
“Three hours’ worth of time to spare?”
He shrugged on instinct. “This is New York City. I’m sure the airports are jammed twenty-four seven.”
“Bro, you’re flying out from MacArthur Airport. It’s tiny. People go to there to avoid the crowds at JFK. You could do some sightseeing right now. You have time to squeeze in a trip to Central Park at least.”
“I suppose that’s true.” James debated with himself in his head. “Then again, you never know—”
“What could happen.” Melissa sighed. “I’ve heard that one before.”
“Well, it’s true.”
“James, you’re my brother, and I love you, but sometimes you act like you’re eighty-four instead of twenty-four. You’re missing out. You should take some risks. Be five minutes late to something instead of an hour early. It’d do you some good.”
She was right, but James wasn’t in the mood to admit it. He was exhausted, and he still had a long day ahead of him. Right now, he wanted to get on a plane and get back home.
So you can eat dinner by yourself in your empty apartment? By all means, rush back to Charleston, when you could be exploring an exciting new city instead.
Shoving that thought side, he zipped up his suitcase and wheeled it over to the door. “I have to leave now, Mel.”
Perhaps she sensed something in his tone, because she let the segue go without comment. “How are you getting to the airport? Are you taking a cab?”
“Nah, I’d have to take the Long Island Expressway, and it’s a nightmare pretty much all the time. I’m gonna hop on a train to Ronkonkoma and then ride the shuttle from there.”
“What are you going to do with all that extra time when you get to the airport? Hang out at the bar? Strike up a conversation with a comely stranger?”
“Why would I want to meet someone at an airport? Chances are, they live in a different state than me. And since when do you care so much about my love life?”
“I . . . want some nieces and nephews.”
“Yeah, right. Has Mom been asking you when you’re going to settle down again? I bet you think if I meet someone and give her a couple of grandkids, she’ll get off your back.” It occurred to James that he knew exactly how to get Melissa off the phone. “You know, you’re starting to sound an awful lot like Mom.”
As predicted, Melissa squawked and hung up on him.
James chuckled to himself. He’d pay for that later, but it was worth it. He was about to tuck his phone into his back pocket along with the boarding pass he’d printed this morning in the hotel lobby, but the screen flashed to life. Melissa had texted him.
With a sigh, he tapped on the notification.
Have a safe flight, you big jerk. Think about what I said, and try to have some fun. You’re in New York! The Big Apple! Anything could happen. At least, for the next few hours. Love you.
Smiling, he pocketed his phone. He’d write her back when he got to the airport. God knew he’d have plenty of time to kill.
Loath as he was to admit it, Melissa had a point. He really should book it to Times Square or at least the Empire State Building. How many chances was he going to get to see New York? But instead, he was going to sit in an airport for two hours, rather than risk being late.
His eyes settled on the window. Noise from outside seemed to beat against the glass. Beyond that thin pane, a whole city’s worth of possibility was waiting.
But would James be able to enjoy a trip around the city, or would he spend the whole time worrying about being late? When he looked at Times Square, would he see lights and billboards? Or would he see traffic, lines, and irritable security guards waiting to make him miss his plane?
You know, said his sister’s voice in the back of his head, if you missed your flight, it wouldn’t be the end of the world. You could come home on Sunday instead. See some of the city.
He discarded the idea before the words had finished ringing in his skull. Try as his meddlesome sister might, she couldn’t make him something that he wasn’t. He was the guy who showed up early so others could be late. Hell, he’d once apologized to someone who’d bumped into him.
His own voice sounded in his head this time. Is this who you want to be? A worrisome little pushover?
Hefting his laptop bag onto his shoulder, he wheeled his suitcase out of the room, cast one final look around to make sure he hadn’t forgotten anything, and hurried off to wait.
* * * * * * *
Mika slid into a cab an hour and a half before his plane was due to leave and threw his bag onto the seat next to him. “MacArthur Airport.”
The cab driver squinted at him in the greasy rearview mirror. “Gonna have to take the expressway to get there.”
“Do whatever you gotta do. I’m in no rush.”
They pulled away from the curb and joined the ant-like lines of cars crawling between rows of skyscrapers. Mika didn’t look up. Seemed like every other month his job was shipping him off to New York to attend this conference or that training. The shiny buildings and bridges had stopped impressing him long ago.
“So, you in town for business or pleasure?” the driver asked.
Mika had pushed his sunglasses onto his head, but at that, he swiped them onto the bridge of his nose. Hopefully that would let the driver know small talk wasn’t necessary.
Of course, the driver’s brown eyes found his bright-hazel ones in the rearview mirror with unnerving accuracy, even through the sunglasses. “When’s your plane leave?”
Why do I always get stuck with chatty cabbies?
Mika yawned, tilting his head back until his dark hair fell away from his face. “Three.”
“And you’re only leaving now? You realize there’s gonna be traffic, right? It’s probably gonna start pouring any second too.”
“Yeah, but don’t worry about it. It’ll be fine.” If I miss my flight, I’ll hop on the next one. Big deal. So long as I’m back by Monday, no one at the office will care.
Although his mother might skin him. He’d been living on his own ever since he’d turned eighteen, and yet she always seemed to know when he’d done something irresponsible. He dug his phone out of his jeans and glanced at it. Sure enough, he had a text.
Did you make it to the airport okay?
Damn. He sure as shit couldn’t lie to her no matter how old he got. Sliding his phone back into his pocket, he made a mental note to reply to her after he’d arrived.
The driver whistled and turned his focus to the road. “You shouldn’t cut it so close.”
Mika bit back a sarcastic comment about not needing another parent, thanks, and replied, “For real, don’t worry about it.”
“So long as you don’t get mad at me if you’re late.”
“Trust me, I won’t.” With that, Mika folded his arms behind his head and stared up at the dingy car roof, effectively ending the discussion.
Despite what he’d said, the driver seemed to do everything in his power to get Mika to the airport in record time. Mika paid the man, gave him a serious tip—because that was cool of him, even if Mika didn’t care—and sauntered into the airport with his duffel bag slung over his shoulder.
No matter where he traveled, there were certain things all airports had in common. They all smelled vaguely like cleaning supplies and diesel. They all had the same ugly carpet and beige tile that might’ve been white before a thousand feet had trodden it. And they all had a way of making you feel invisible and yet painfully aware of yourself.
Mika caught his reflection in a dozen of those mirrored security things before he so much as got to the ticketing area. His dark hair was messier than usual: his just-rolled-out-of-bed look was completely authentic, as were his rumpled clothes. He was wearing a nice black shirt and jeans, but they were the same ones he’d worn to a nine-hour advertising seminar the day before. Good thing he had nowhere to go but back home to Charleston.
He waltzed up to his airline’s ticketing counter without ado. After years of traveling, he’d learned when the slow times began for most airports. Right now, the 1 p.m. rush had lulled, which meant he got up to the counter within minutes. A quick glance down toward security yielded more good news: the lines were deserted.
The ticket lady smiled as he approached. “Good afternoon, sir. How can I help you?”
“I need my boarding pass, thanks.” He handed over his ID.
The woman glanced at it. “Thank you for flying with us, Micah.”
“It’s Mika. Mee-kuh. Not Micah.” One of these days, someone was going to get his name right the first time, and Mika was going to keel over and die of shock. Or marry the person.
The lady squinted at his ID as if the letters might have changed. “Are you sure? It looks like it’d be pronounced My-kuh.”
“Yes, I know how my own name is pronounced. Thank you for your concern.” Man, he was tired of hearing that. Odd-name problems. Maybe next she’d ask him if his mom was on drugs when she’d named him. Mika would never understand how people thought that was an acceptable thing to ask, and yet he heard it once a week.
Luckily for them both, the ticketing lady didn’t comment. She plugged his information into the computer, and her face fell a moment later. “Sir, this flight was set to leave at three.”
Mika pushed his sunglasses back onto his head and eyed the vacant security line. It had a single X-ray machine manned by an elderly security guard who looked like Father Time himself. Mika glanced back at the lady and raised an eyebrow. “Think I won’t make it?”
She sighed, hit a few keys on the touchscreen, and printed out a boarding pass. “Please note that the airline recommends passengers arrive two hours before boarding.”
“Yeah, I’ll bet they do.” So we have time to mill around your overpriced gift shops and eat your crappy food. I know the drill. Mika took his pass and his ID, shoving both into his back pocket. “Thanks.”
He left before she could say anything else, moseyed his way through security—he had to insist his name was Mee-kuh twice more—and was on the other side in five minutes flat. Once there, he followed the blue signs to gate three and found it with two whole minutes to spare.
Admittedly, had this been JFK, he would have been screwed, but there was a reason why Mika always picked this airport. MacArthur was so small, half the gates were spitting distance from the drop-off area.
It consisted of two wings on opposite ends of the building: departures and arrivals. They were identical, except the people who were departing looked crabby, whereas the new arrivals seemed excited, or happy to be home. Little shops were interspersed around the gates, along with rows of seats, big windows that gave views of the hangars outside, and a bar in the center of it all.
When Mika approached gate three, he expected to see a line of people waiting to board—chumps who’d been there for two hours when they could have breezed right up like him—but it wasn’t there. Everyone was sitting in the columns of connected metal chairs with familiar bored looks on their faces.
Mika glanced at an electronic board marked Departures and groaned. Their flight had been delayed until four. “Damn. If I’d known that, I wouldn’t have rushed all the way here.”
Fuck me. Now what?
He loved getting to travel for his job—see the world, and all that—but airports had become one of his least-favorite places on Earth. Like the DMV or hospital waiting rooms. They had identical shitty shops and identical shitty souvenirs and identical shitty people who managed to make Mika’s bad attitude look downright pleasant.
It didn’t help that all the traveling gave him little time to spend with his family, and he didn’t want to think about his love life.
Don’t kid yourself. There’s nothing to think about.
Derailing that depressing train of thought, he pulled his phone out of his pocket. It was at fifteen percent. Damn. He should have charged it at the hotel, but he’d thought he was going to have to turn it off on the plane regardless. He had a wall charger in his bag, but of course, all the nearby outlets were being used by the very people he’d called chumps for arriving on time.
Karma’s a bitch.
Rotating in place, he scouted the area until he spotted a complimentary charging station one gate over. God bless technology. Naturally, all the cords were currently being used. Mika wandered over and hovered nearby, jiggling his leg.
No one so much as glanced at him, but standing to his left was a guy who looked about his age. Only he was blond, tan, and tall. Pretty much Mika’s opposite.
Mika briefly considered asking if he was waiting for a charger, but it wasn’t as if there was a line. Plus, Mika knew himself. He was just looking for an excuse to talk to the guy because he was hot, in a Colgate commercial sort of way. There were zero benefits to meeting people in airports. Mika had learned that a long time ago.
Besides, the walking toothpaste ad was staring off to the right, out the windows. He might not be waiting at all, and if he really wanted it, he’d pay attention.
When a woman got up and drifted away, Mika only hesitated for a second before he took her seat. He had his phone out and jacked in before anyone else had even looked up from their various devices. Except for the Colgate guy.
“Excuse me.” Colgate flashed a smile befitting the moniker Mika had assigned to him. “I’m so sorry, but I was waiting in line.”
Mika reached for his bag and pulled out a big pair of red noise-canceling headphones. “Oh, were you? I didn’t see a line. Sorry about that.” He meant it, though that was the extent of his contrition.
“It was a short line. I was the only person in it.” When Mika made no move to get up, the guy’s brilliant smile vanished beneath a full, bitable pout. It almost made Mika reconsider brushing him off. Almost.
“Whoops. Sorry again.” Mika placed the headphones around his neck and started digging through his pockets. “I don’t know what to tell you.” His hand closed around his MP3 player.
Colgate looked incredulous. “So . . . you’re not going to let me use the charger?”
“Sure I am.” Mika plugged in his headphones. “Soon as I’m finished. Won’t be more than thirty minutes.”
“But my phone’s nearly dead. I’ve been waiting here for hours, and my flight got delayed.”
Are we on the same flight? Mika discarded that question. It didn’t matter.
“Seriously? I got here a couple of minutes ago. Pro tip: only suckers show up hours in advance. Now you know for next time.” Mika slid his headphones onto his ears and cranked up the music. Colgate said something else, but Mika cupped a hand around his ears and shrugged. Sorry, bro. Can’t hear you.
The shocked look on Colgate’s face was something else. If he was that surprised by someone being rude to him, this must’ve been his first trip to New York. Eventually, he gave up and took a seat, though he glared at Mika nonstop. Mika gave him a cheerful wave before flicking his sunglasses back over his eyes.
A voice in his head nagged him. If you’re rude to every hot guy you see, you’re gonna be single forever. Mika leaned back in his seat and closed his eyes. Four more hours, and he’d be home. If he didn’t die of boredom.
Nothing good ever happened in airports.