Authors: Nicole Helm
For my Grandpa Taylor, whose Antique Airfield is the inspiration for Antiques in Flight. In pursuing your passion, you inspired me to pursue mine.
And for my Grandma Taylor, for always being exactly what I needed. I miss you every day.
Trevor Steele loosened the tie around his neck. It had been choking him all day. He sank into a blue-and-white-striped couch and stared at the fireplace mantel. An orderly row of family pictures smiled back. Mom, Dad, Shelby and him, years ago, frozen in time.
Half the people in those pictures were dead and buried, and Trevor was left with the aftermath.
He glanced at his eighteen-year-old sister, hovering near the door. The black dress and heels should have made her look older, but with her dark blonde hair pulled into a ponytail and no makeup on, she looked like a little girl playing dress up.
What was he supposed to do with a kid graduating from high school in two months? A kid he’d barely been around the past four years and barely talked to in between undercover assignments. A kid who had just lost her mother. A kid who had nothing left.
The choking feeling persisted, but there were no more articles of clothing to free from his neck.
“So…” His voice came out raspy. He’d been talking all day. Talking to people he’d known his whole life. Listening to Pilot’s Point residents wax poetic about his mother’s dedication to the town. Then people had gone on about his dad. The five years in between their deaths had disappeared, and it was as if he’d lost them both in the same day.
The pressure to be what Shelby needed and the town expected felt like a noose. He wished for the anonymity of pretending to be someone else, but his undercover days were suddenly, irrevocably, painfully over. Even if he stayed with the FBI, he now had to be Trevor Steele all the time, for Shelby.
“I’m going to go upstairs.” Her voice was little more than a whisper and she didn’t look at him. In fact, Trevor hadn’t seen her blue eyes angled toward him since he’d returned home from Seattle.
His mother had still been breathing when he’d arrived, but barely. He’d said his good-byes to a quickly failing body. Not to Mom. There had been no miracle hand squeeze. She’d merely faded away and the words
had haunted him ever since.
“Shelby.” Trevor stood, at a loss. He wanted to comfort her, to make the pain go away, but all that came out was a lame apology. “I’m so sorry. I thought we had more time.”
For the first time in a week, Shelby met his gaze. Identical blue eyes studied each other. “I think we all thought that. Even Mom.”
Trevor crossed to her, guilt eating away any lingering uncertainty. He pulled her into his arms. It wasn’t the first time he’d hugged her. The minute he’d walked into his mother’s room at the hospice center, he had hugged Shelby exactly like this. Holding on while their mother slipped away.
“I love you.” It wasn’t something he said often, but as they were the only two people each other had left in terms of family, it seemed the right moment to say it.
She didn’t respond, and he couldn’t blame her. For the past five months of their mom’s final battle with cancer, Trevor had been undercover. If Mom had pushed the envelope, he could have been pulled out, but Shelby was right. Even Mom thought she had more time.
“I love you too,” Shelby replied, her slim frame shaking as she cried into his shoulder.
When the doorbell rang interrupting the moment, Trevor had to fight the urge to yell at the unfortunate visitor. Why couldn’t the damn town let them alone with their grief?
Shelby pulled away, wiping her face with the back of her hand. “I’ll get it.”
But Trevor held her there, not ready to let the moment go without some reassurance. She looked so young despite the stress of the past six months. Her exhaustion was evident everywhere—the sagging shoulders, the black under her eyes. Yet she was taking the responsibility of parceling out flowers after the visitation, sending thank-you notes, answering the door.
Trevor worked up the courage to say the words he hoped she needed to hear. “It’s never going to be okay that Mom’s gone, but we’ll find a way to get through it.”
. A word that added weight to that noose.
She nodded and managed a wobbly smile as the doorbell rang again. “Welcome back to Pilot’s Point where everyone pokes into your business.” Her hand reached out to the doorknob, but she paused for a moment. “I’m so glad you’re home. I don’t know what I’d do without you here.”
She didn’t look at him, instead opened the door before he could formulate a response. His throat closed and it was hard to manage a breath. Shelby was under the impression he was staying inevitably. Trevor had taken a six-month leave of absence.
When Shelby opened the door, Trevor’s guilt melted into relief. Callie Baker stood on the threshold. She’d changed from the black dress she’d worn to the funeral into jeans and a fitted black T-shirt. In each hand was a brown bag.
For the first time since he’d returned home, his mouth moved into the ghost of an honest smile.
“Calloway.” Shelby scowled as she spat Callie’s full name.
“Shelby,” Callie returned. Callie’s hands tightened on the bags, but she didn’t snap at the use of her full name as Trevor expected. “I’m sorry about your mom.”
Shelby’s expression didn’t change. If she was surprised by Callie’s offered sympathy, it wasn’t surprise enough to be polite.
“Shelby, don’t be…” Trevor trailed off lamely. Under the circumstances, telling his sister not to be her usual bitchy self to Callie didn’t seem right. “Don’t be impolite.”
Callie looked at him over Shelby’s head, a smile tugging at the corner of her lips. She didn’t have to speak for him to know what she was thinking.
“The polite thing to do would be to not show up where you know you’re not wanted.”
Callie’s smile changed immediately from amused to the kind of sharp smile she usually flashed before offering a scathing comment. “I’m only half not wanted.”
In terms of Callie’s comebacks, it was tame, but Shelby turned on her heel and stomped past Trevor and up the stairs. At the sound of a door slamming above, Callie’s smirk died.
“I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said anything. I wouldn’t have come over, but I do owe you.” She held up the two bags in her hand. “Vodka or tequila? Take your pick.”
“You take the tequila, I’ll take the vodka, and we’ll work from there.” All he could think was thank God she was here. Not just because of the alcohol, but because Callie was someone who would understand exactly what he needed right now.
“Fair enough.” She stood in the doorway, not making a move to come in. They studied each other, silently assessing the changes over the past two years.
She was tall, lean and gorgeous as ever. The T-shirt she wore showed off the muscled arms she got from tinkering with antique airplanes. He’d never thought muscles on a woman were particularly sexy, but Callie had a way of making everything just that.
Her straight black hair was pulled into a long ponytail and brown eyes studied him from behind thick black lashes. She didn’t wear makeup and rarely had in all the years he’d known her.
She had a little kewpie doll mouth that looked out of place on an otherwise angular face. Trevor knew that mouth could curse as creatively as any man he’d ever worked with, snap off the most sarcastic comebacks he’d ever heard, and kiss really, really well.
That’s what happened the last time he’d seen Callie. She’d kissed him senseless before he’d pushed her away. He still kind of regretted that, but the kiss had stemmed from grief after her grandfather’s funeral. So he’d pushed her away before she’d done any damage.
He hadn’t seen her since, but they’d exchanged emails and texts when he wasn’t undercover, as they always had since he’d left Pilot’s Point. Over the course of the past two years, neither had acknowledged their one and only foray into more than friendship. Judging by her demeanor, that wasn’t about to change now.
Callie hadn’t stepped inside the Steele’s brick ranch house in years. Little had changed, even if the man who stood in front of her had.
He’d been tall since freshman year when he’d shot up almost four inches over summer, but all that teenage gawkiness was now filled in with lean, hard muscles, evident even under the layers of his suit. His dark hair was buzzed short, and those vivid blue eyes remained the focal point of his chiseled face. It was the kind of face that got a lot of female attention. Even though they’d always been
friends, it was no hardship looking at Trevor.
“The tequila is genius,” he offered. Only then did Callie realize she was still hovering in front of the door, and they were studying each other in similar appraisal.
“We went through the vodka in about an hour after your…” He trailed off like he couldn’t get the words out.
Two years and she struggled with it herself, not that she would show it. “After Gramps’s funeral.” Callie moved into the living room. “Funerals seem to be the only way we see each other anymore, Mr. Hot Shot FBI Agent.”
He smiled a little, but it didn’t last long and his mouth released into that tired, contemplative look people got after dealing with death. “Yeah, well, that’s about to change.”
“You’re not staying permanently.” Not a question, a statement. Callie knew as well as anyone Trevor had spent his adolescence waiting to escape Pilot’s Point for the big world out there, just as much as Callie had always scoffed at the outside world in favor of home.
Trevor shrugged, unscrewed the top of the vodka and took a long swig right from the bottle. He winced as he swallowed the giant gulp. “For the foreseeable future. Six months leave of absence.”
“I guess you can’t leave Shelby here alone.”
“She’s going to UNI in the fall, but we’ve got to get through graduation and the summer first.” His mouth was a grim line. “I figure six months gets me to September. Once she’s settled in to college life, I go back.” He gestured toward the couch, taking another big swig. “Make yourself comfortable.”
Callie looked at the room. Trevor used to try and help her with her homework on that exact coffee table. Mrs. Steele always bringing them snacks and checking on their progress while Shelby complained she couldn’t watch her cartoons. Callie always trying to convince Trevor they should do anything besides homework.
The Steeles were valedictorians, pillars of society, and Callie—aside from the last two years—had been the wild child of Pilot’s Point. Taking a seat on the blue-striped couch was like stepping back in time, erasing all the changes she’d worked hard to make.
Because that old inadequacy surrounded her, some of the old defenses cropped up. “I’ve been on the straight and narrow for two years now. Your sister sure knows how to hold a grudge.”
“Yeah, you wouldn’t know anything about that. Would you?” He grinned and took a seat next to her.
Callie shrugged, but a smile tugged at the corners of her mouth. She’d always felt a little less in the shadow of Trevor’s seemingly perfect life, but he’d
never made her feel that way. Even when he was teasing her. Shelby was the one who made her feel like the loser from the wrong side of the tracks. “My grudges are fair though.”
“Uh huh.” Trevor took another long pull from his bottle, studied hers. “I’m not drinking alone, am I?”
Callie looked at the unopened bottle in her hand. She hadn’t touched a drop of alcohol in two years. Two years of cleaning up her act in her best effort to keep Antiques in Flight afloat. What good had it done?
Thinking of her own problems, Callie unscrewed the top. Maybe a good drunk would be just what she needed. The liquid burned its way down, a reminder of too many nights spent at the end of a bottle. What was one more? Besides, Trevor had offered her the same comfort two years ago. Her turn.
“Shelby thinks I’m staying. Permanently.” He stared at the bottle in his hands, blinked.
“Then she doesn’t know you very well.” Of course, Callie knew Trevor well enough to know that added to the pain of losing his mother, he was now laying a heavy dose of guilt on himself.
“Why would she know me, Callie? We’re eleven years apart and before last week I’d barely been home for four years. Why should I expect her to have any idea that me staying here is equal to a prison sentence?”