Authors: H. M. Ward
Tags: #Romance, #Anthologies, #New Adult & College, #Romantic Comedy, #Romantic Suspense, #Collections & Anthologies, #Mystery & Suspense, #Suspense
his book is
a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
Copyright © 2015 by H.M. Ward
All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any printed or electronic form.
LAREE BAILEY PRESS
First Edition: August 2015
to be sick.” I try to swallow but my heart is in the way. It’s stuck in my throat, and has been there since we took off.
“You’re not going to be sick.”
The pitch of my voice rises as I ramble, "Are you sure this is safe? The plane is too little. I mean, look at it. I can reach the tip of the wing from here.” I can’t, not really, but it’s so tiny. “It can’t possibly be safe to have so many people shoved in a shoebox with wings. We're sitting on the floor for crying out loud! What if we’re too heavy? I saw that guy looking at us before he took some of the gas off the plane. What if we crash?"
The plane shudders and I tense before leaning into Philip a little bit more. He's sitting behind me with his legs on either side of mine, his arms wrapped around my waist. I feel him chuckle, before dropping a kiss on my head.
My stomach is close to jumping out of my mouth. Where are the puke baggies?
"Relax, Gina. The plane won't break. Trust me. Even if it did, we're already wearing parachutes. We couldn't be safer."
Philip's fingers gently push my ponytail to the side, and he nuzzles my neck. He's doing his best to reassure me, but it's not working.
"Uh, no. You all have parachutes strapped to your backs. I don't. I only have a harness, remember? No parachute for Gina! Gina just gets this neon pink jumpsuit. I look like a radioactive sausage and everyone knows what happens to those!"
In contrast, Philip looks like a freaking model. His sleek black jumpsuit clings to his toned form and accentuates just how fit he really is. Bright red rolls lining his arms serve as handles for other skydivers to grab onto when they do free fall group formations. The thought makes my stomach roll. I rest the back of my head on his hard chest and close my eyes.
I swallow hard and peel my eyes open. "Why did I agree to do this?"
"Because you love the rush just as much as I do? Because your schoolwork is wearing you down?"
"Oh yeah, right, school."
That's the lame excuse I gave him to explain the funk I've been in since my last meeting with Pete. I still can't force myself to tell him the truth.
The past month has gone by so fast. I’ve spent most of my time studying and going to wild parties at the swing club. It’s been amazing.
As an added bonus--or complication--Philip and his group of skydiving buddies started hanging out at Ricky's club. It's become their turf. I try to keep my distance, but I like him--a lot--and resisting him is becoming harder and harder.
Philip is a gentleman, never pushing for more than stolen kisses and gentle touches, but I can tell he wants more. Part of me wants that, too. It's flattering to be with someone who wants me and only me, someone whose eyes never wander. But a bigger part of me is still hesitant.
It’s becoming increasingly difficult to find excuses for why I can't invite him up to my apartment or why I can't go back to his place. The truth is I need to come clean with him about my future engagement to Pete before I can go to bed with him.
Philip is a good man with honest values. He deserves a devoted girlfriend, someone available to one day share his name. A relationship with me would reduce him to be the illicit lover of another man's wife. My fate is fixed while his is fluid.
Philip should be the center of a woman's universe--not her side dish.
I hate holding back the truth from him, but Constance is already angry with me. My new 40's pinup look doesn't jive with the wholesome, good girl image I used to have, and it's pissing her off. If she discovered I told someone outside our families about her little blackmailing scheme, I'm pretty sure she'd skin me and throw my hide on her boardroom floor.
Then there's Pete.
My failure to rein in her son has her seething even more.
My heart clenches at the thought of him. The tabloids claim he's been whoring it up again, spending insane amounts of money on extravagant parties, and getting into fights at every turn. I’m worried about him. I search each photo of him and have yet to see life in his eyes. It’s like the vampire whores sucked it away, along with other things. But I know it’s more than that.
Part of me suspects that I might be the reason for his behavior; like he's trying to prove me wrong.
"Hey, look at me." Philip cups my chin with his hand and turns my head towards him, breaking me out of my daydreams. “It’s normal to be nervous your first time jumping. I promise that it’s safe. In fact, skydiving is safer than riding in a car. Believe me, I’ve done hundreds of jumps already. Just relax, okay?”
I nod, pretending once more that the cause of my mood is something other than concern for my future husband.
Zeke, one of Philip's skydiving buddies and one of my least favorite people, sits across from us and is quick to pick up on my fragile state. "Don't worry, babe. Fatal accidents only happen every 200 jumps or so, and we haven't had one in, let me think... 199 jumps." He shrugs his shoulders and clucks his cheek. "Aw, shit! Sorry, babe. I guess your time is up. Sucks to be you. Speaking of sucking, how about a quickie before you go?" He starts to unzip his jumpsuit in front of everyone.
“Doucheface.” I glare at him.
"Back off, Zeke." Philip kicks his friend in the shins.
"What the fuck, man? Whatever happened to 'sharing is caring?' Oh, that reminds me, dude, don't forget that we have a meeting later." Zeke looks me up and down with creepy slithering eyes. "You gonna bring this pretty piece of ass with you?"
Philip tightens his hold around my waist, pulling me close to him. I can feel the tension rolling off of him. "I said to back the fuck off, Zeke."
I've never heard Philip use such a menacing tone before, which makes the freaky vibe wafting off of his friend even worse. I cuddle into Philip's arms more, putting as much distance between me and Zeke as possible. He stands and turns toward the back of the plane, laughing under his breath.
"Don't listen to that asshole," Philip whispers into my ear. "His mother never loved him as a child."
I try to forget about Zeke, but the plane is small and his eyes lock on mine from the back of the plane. Thankfully, we've reached our desired altitude and everyone is distracted checking on each other’s equipment.
It's time. The butterflies in my stomach swarm and fly out my nose. I can’t breathe.
One skydiver opens the door of the plane and I shriek, even though I knew it would happen. Everyone looks at me.
I clamp my hand over my mouth and feel my face burning up. Classic Gina.
Over everybody's laughter, I hear Zeke's voice mutter, "Newb."
I don't want to be a human pancake who ends up in Pinelawn.
Phillip walks up to me and takes my hand, giving it a reassuring squeeze before checking our security devices. My instructor does the same with Phillip’s gear. When everything is triple checked, Philip cups my face in his hands, coaxing me to lift my gaze up to his.
“See you down on the ground. First time’s always the best, kind of like losing your virginity. I just wish I could be there with you when it happens. Maybe later you and I can have a shared first of our own? Celebrate, just the two of us?” His thumbs brush my cheekbones gently as he searches my eyes for an answer I can't give him. He doesn't push. Instead, he bends down and kisses me gently before heading toward the door to the plane.
Since I’m doing a tandem dive, my instructor and I are the last ones to jump out, which means I get to see everyone else jump out of the plane. Philip and his friends slowly make their way to the door, going over last second instructions on the formations they'll be doing during their free fall. One by one they step out and get sucked away in a rush of air.
I feel my instructor laughing behind me, but my heart isn’t laughing. It’s cowering somewhere inside my stomach, bracing against a lethal impact.
My teacher person tugs on the straps of our parachutes, securing my back tight against his front. We clumsily walk toward the door to the plane, where I look down.
Crap. I shouldn’t have done that. Thirteen thousand feet of frigid nothingness blows in my face. I lower my goggles and allow my instructor to guide me into the proper exit position: arms crossed, gloved hands gripping opposite shoulders, knees bent, feet dangling. The only thing keeping me in the plane is my harness fastened to his. He holds onto the door frame and, with a push and pull, we somersault into the air.
Everything spins rapidly and, for a fraction of a second, I see the underside of our airplane.
, turn and tumble wildly in the air. I don't know which way is up or down; everything is going by so fast. The rush of air in my ears is deafening. A scream tries to escape my throat but can't. Breathing is difficult in this wind, making screaming impossible.
After what seems like an eternity, I feel a tap on my shoulder. It's the signal. I lift my arms out to my sides, my elbows bent. We stabilize, and it no longer feels like we're falling. It's more like we're suspended in space, being pushed up by tremendous gusts of wind. The instructor gives me a thumbs up. Since we can’t hear each other over the wind, this is his way of asking if I’m ok. I respond by showing him a thumbs up, and we continue our fall.
My cheeks are flapping in the wind and I’m thankful I didn’t ask for the video of Gina’s freaky cheeky jam and tonsil exam.
My heart is still up in the plane, and I’m waiting for it to catch up with us. A part of me starts freaking out. We’re supposed to free fall for about a minute before the chute is supposed to open. It feels like five minutes, not one.
Has my instructor passed out?
Are the security devices not working?
Is our main chute broken?
Is our safety chute defective, too?
Oh, shit! I’m going to die! Why do I keep doing stupid stuff like this?
I’m jostled from a horizontal to a vertical position by a painless tug on every strap of my harness and then... silence and calm. The chute opens, the wind dies down, and it's easier to breathe. We’re gently floating.
Breathless, I stare down at the world below.
Oh, my GOD! I’m flying! I let out a high pitched squee and kick my feet back and forth.
My instructor navigates as we slowly descend under our canopy. Everything slows, and I can appreciate the view. Long Island is breathtaking, its thickets of green leaves contrasting against the pale sand and vast expanse of surrounding water. It's so peaceful up here.
Suddenly, the canopy dips and we end up on our side, spinning around in circles. We're gaining speed.
I’m about to grip onto my instructor’s arm--something we were specifically told not to do--when the canopy straightens itself again. We're back in a vertical position, floating peacefully once more. Instructor Man shoots another thumbs up sign from behind me and I burst out laughing.
Oh, my God! He did it on purpose!
The guy wiggles his thumbs up in front of my face again waiting for my reply. Giddy, I put up two thumbs and have them dancing around in front of us. The vibrations of his chest against my back tell me that he’s laughing at my reaction. I barely have time to catch my breath before he tilts us the other way. We go back into a tailspin, spinning wildly, longer and faster than the last time. I smile so broadly I think my cheeks will crack. The rush is amazing. It’s like I’m stuck in a never-ending squee.
After another couple of minutes, the buildings below slowly come into focus. A strange feeling of sadness takes over as I realize my short time in the air, my time away from all of my worries, is almost over.
The closer we get to the ground, I'm able to identify smaller shapes. I see cars in the parking lot, people walking from the landing field to the drop zone office carrying unpacked chutes in their arms, people enjoying drinks on the terrace outside.
Along the edge of the landing field, someone dressed in black clothing leans against a sporty black motorcycle. I'd recognize that silhouette anywhere.