Big love abroad, p.1
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       Big Love Abroad, p.1

         Part #11 of Big Girls Do It series by Jasinda Wilder
 
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Big Love Abroad


  Contents

  TITLE

  COPYRIGHT

  CHAPTER 1

  CHAPTER 2

  CHAPTER 3

  CHAPTER 4

  CHAPTER 5

  CHAPTER 6

  CHAPTER 7

  CHAPTER 8

  CHAPTER 9

  CHAPTER 10

  EPILOGUE

  ALSO BY

  Big Love Abroad

  By

  Jasinda Wilder

  Copyright (c) 2015 by Jasinda Wilder

  BIG LOVE ABROAD

  All rights reserved. This book or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the author except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.

  This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author's imagination or are used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.

  Cover art by CreateSpace. Cover art copyright (c) 2014 by CreateSpace.

  CHAPTER 1

  I clutched the armrests of my seat and stared out the window at the wet tarmac below. I had my headphones on, Bjork playing loud enough to drown out everything including the announcements from the flight crew and the sound of the jet engines revving up. My breathing was erratic, and I was sweating; they hadn't even finished boarding the plane yet and I was in the middle of a full-blown panic attack. My long black hair was escaping from my normally tight ponytail, the sweat causing it to frizz at the side of my face and stick to my forehead. I hated flying. Hated it.

  Several years ago I'd been on a flight that had gone through such violent turbulence that more than half the passengers had been vomiting by the time we'd made an emergency landing to get out of the storm. I've never forgotten the helpless horror of passengers calling out in distress and the nauseating drops in altitude. The gusts of wind had tossed the airplane to and fro like a toy and I remember wondering if we'd make it to safety. That was the last time I'd ever flown.

  Despite vowing to never fly again, I didn't have any choice this time. I had to take this flight. I'd been accepted at the University of Oxford where I would be studying English literature. I'd recently received my BA in literature from the University of Michigan, and now I had a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to study Jane Austen and the Bronte sisters in the country of their birth. My thesis focused primarily on Jane Eyre and Pride and Prejudice, and how those two works influenced the birth of the modern-day romance genre. I had the whole thesis roughed out, and had already exchanged emails with a few professors over the summer, planning the first steps in solidifying my approach. I was beyond excited to be moving to England, but first I had to survive this flight.

  I became aware that someone was getting ready to settle into the seat next to me. I smelled him first, citrus overtones of some faint cologne, a touch of male sweat, and a whiff of copper, like blood, oddly. I turned my head and pulled my Beats by Dre headphones off to hang around my neck.

  My heart stopped and my mouth went dry.

  Well, hello Mr. Chunk o' Hunk...

  He was standing in the aisle, facing me as he shoved his carry-on into the overhead compartment. His faded The Kooks T-shirt was riding high enough to reveal delectable washboard abs with just a hint of happy trail hair leading down to the Promised Land. I let my gaze slide upward to take in his toned arms flexing as they worked his bag into the compartment, and then his face...oh lordy-lord, he was beautiful. Clean, classically beautiful lines, a strong jaw but not too square or caveman-ish, striking cheekbones and piercing, vivid blue eyes that were somewhere between cornflower and periwinkle, and were completely mesmerizing as they flicked down to me.

  He caught me staring and I flushed red, turning away to stare out the window again. A few minutes later the plane pushed away from the gate and we began to taxi to the runway. I glanced his way and saw that he had slid into his seat, a pair of iPhone earbuds trailing down his chest, one still stuck into his left ear. He pulled the other bud out and tapped his phone, silencing the faint, tinny music that could be heard from the dangling earbud. Out of the corner of my eye I snuck a peek at his face and was mortified to realize he was smirking at me.

  Smirking. SMIRKING.

  Bastard.

  It was a damned sexy smirk, too.

  I twisted in my seat to face him, my Latin temper flaring at his smug expression. Of course, my temper might have been fueled by my fear and the panic attack I was attempting to bring under control.

  "I don't bite, you know," Mr. Smirky said, with a damnably sexy British accent lacing his words.

  "I do."

  His smirk widened into a grin. "Well, I might need to get to know you a bit before we start biting each other. You know, exchange names at least." He stuck his hand out. "Ian Stirling."

  I shook his hand, noting with an uncomfortable amount of pleasure that his hand was huge and hard and strong, and his nails were well manicured. Dirty, bitten fingernails were a sign of mental laxity, to me. An unfair judgment, I suppose, but I just could not abide a man who chewed his nails to the quick, or cut them squared off and hacked to pieces, all greasy and dirty. Even worse were men who chewed their nails. Gnawed-on fingernails were simply unacceptable to me. I liked clean hands; not dainty or effeminate, just manly and clean.

  As I shook his hand, I saw the source of the coppery scent I'd noticed when he'd first arrived: his thumb was bleeding quite profusely from a gash along the pad. "You're bleeding," I pointed out, releasing his hand.

  He frowned at me, then glanced at his thumb. "Shit. I hadn't noticed. Not sure how that happened." He stuck his thumb in his mouth and sucked the blood off.

  I freaked. "That's so gross! Do you know how unsanitary your mouth is? Jesus. Here, give me your thumb." I grabbed his hand, at the same time reaching down into my purse. I always kept a small first aid kit in my bag. My friends at U of M made fun of me for it, but I liked being prepared for any and all eventualities. I'm a type A person, dominant, prepared, and bossy; or, as my best friend Alexa says, an anal-retentive bitch. That's fine. I own it.

  I pulled out my first aid kit, dabbed a dot of Neosporin on the cut, unwrapped a Band-Aid and fixed it to his thumb. "There. All better."

  He was smirking again. "Thanks." He said it with a wry tone to his voice, staring at the bandage as if he'd never seen one before.

  "What?" I asked. "Something wrong?"

  He shook his head. "Nothing."

  I crossed my arms under my breasts, which only served to push them up and nearly out of my top. I'm a very well-endowed girl, sporting the kind of 36DDD breasts that can only fit in Lane Bryant and Cacique bras. I mean, I'm sure there are other stores that sell bras I could fit in, but I like nice things, and the way I'm built, there's really only three stores worth shopping at: Torrid, Cacique, and Lane Bryant. The rest of me is fairly well-endowed as well and, for the most part, I own it and I rock it. I'm not afraid to show off what I've got, and I've got a lot to show off.

  The only time I feel even slightly insecure is when I'm around guys like the one who was sitting next to me. He was the kind of hot who could snag any woman he wanted with a crook of his finger. He could be on the cover of GQ. He could stand next to Ryan Gosling and not feel ugly. His hair was sandy blond with hints of red, intentionally messy, a bit long in the back, curling around his neck in the most adorable way. I wanted to tangle my fingers in the still-damp curls at the back of his neck.

  "Not nothing," I said. "I heard the tone in your voice." I quirked an eyebrow at him to let him know I was serious.

  I don't always do the eyebrow lift, but when I do, men obey me.

  Take that, Dos Equis hot o
ld guy.

  He chuckled and waggled his Band-Aid-wrapped thumb. "I've just not had a plaster on since I was a boy. It feels a bit odd, is all."

  I shrugged. "You were bleeding. There's nothing unmanly about putting on a Band-Aid."

  "It's a Hello Kitty Band-Aid." He delivered the coup de grace deadpan, with an admirably straight face.

  I managed to hold my serious expression for a few more moments. "So?"

  "It's pink." Still deadpan, not even a hint of a smile.

  "So?"

  "So I know real men wear pink, but this might be overdoing it just a tad, don't you think?" He finally grinned at me, and we laughed. "And, besides, Band-Aids, as you call them, generally aren't very manly. Like umbrellas and hand lotion."

  "So you're saying real men let themselves bleed everywhere, get needlessly wet in the rain, and tolerate chapped hands?"

  He nodded. "Absolutely."

  I laughed. "That's stupid."

  He shrugged. "It's what we're taught as men. You're supposed to just deal with whatever happens and be tough." He glanced at the Band-Aid again. "But thanks anyway. I do appreciate the gesture. You haven't told me your name, you know."

  "Nina Herrera."

  He smiled at me, and if I hadn't been sitting down, my panties might have fallen off. "It's a pleasure to meet you, Nina Herrera. So. London?"

  I nodded. "I'm attending Oxford in the fall."

  "Ah. I had a few mates who attended there. Beautiful place." He unplugged the earbuds from the iPhone and tucked them into the hip pocket of his tight, faded blue jeans. "What are you going to study at jolly old Oxford, then?" He said the last part with an exaggerated Jeeves-the-butler accent.

  "Literature. Jane Austen and the Bronte sisters, specifically."

  Ian pulled a face. "Ugh. Not my cup of tea, personally. I could never get past the boredom of all the who-said-what rot. Nothing ever really happened, you know? If I've got to read boring old English nonsense, give me Milton or Lord Rochester any day."

  I clutched my chest as if wounded. "But that's the best part! The language is all so subtle. Every word has many layers of meaning; everything every person said held importance. The conversations were complex on many different levels--everything happened in those exchanges."

  He shrugged. "Well, to each his or her own, I guess."

  I clutched the armrests again as we began to roll down the runway. I could feel my chest tightening with pressure and anxiety as the jet picked up speed. I bit my lip so hard I tasted blood, but it was better than crumbling into hysterics, which was the only other option. As the roar of the engines increased as we began to take off, the sense of weightlessness sent my stomach roiling.

  "Afraid of flying?" I heard Ian ask.

  "Yes. Very," I said, the words clipped out.

  "Clearly." He said it with a chuckle. "If you wanted to hold my hand, all you had to do was ask."

  I glanced sharply at him. "What?"

  He gestured to my right hand which, instead of the armrest, was gripping his hand. My nails were digging into his flesh, dimpling the skin where each fingernail touched the back of his hand. I forced my hand open and let go, but Ian reached out and took my hand in his, this time threading our fingers together.

  "I'm not overly fond of flying either," he said.

  I stared at our joined hands; mine small against his, my tan fingers nestled against his fair-skinned ones. He didn't let go, just squeezed my hand gently, and then gestured with his chin at my headphones.

  "What are you listening to?" he asked.

  We were airborne now, but we were still rising steeply and the plane was beginning to bank to the east. My terror ratcheted up even higher as my view out the window angled away from the ground to show nothing but overcast gray sky.

  "Bjork," I answered, my voice barely audible.

  "I love Bjork," Ian said. "What's your favorite song?"

  "'Pagan Poetry'," I answered. "But I have to watch the video if I'm going to listen to that song."

  "God, that video is brilliant," Ian said, watching me intently, despite his casually conversational tone. "You would look sexy in that dress."

  I turned to glare at him. "You'd like seeing me in that dress, wouldn't you?" I snorted. "I'd be flopping all over the place. It wouldn't be good. I need some serious support for these puppies." I gestured at my chest.

  "I would like that, yes." His gaze traveled down to blatantly look at the "puppies" in question.

  "Eyes up here, tiger." I pointed at my face, but I said it with a grin, letting him know I wasn't offended by his perusal.

  Truth be told, I was all a-twitter inside. He'd perused me. Ogled me. And he was holding my hand and talking to me, maybe even flirting with me. And he'd checked out my rack, the way most men did, since it was on display. Even if I dressed conservatively--which I didn't very often--my breasts were hard to ignore. But the way he'd looked me over made it almost seem as if he liked all of me and not just my boobs.

  And Ian was still holding my hand, even after the jet had leveled out and my nerves had receded. I realized this could spell something beautiful...or something heartbreaking. Maybe both.

  CHAPTER 2

  My mama didn't raise no fool: I spent the next six hours flirting as hard as I could with Ian. I wasn't thinking about where it would go, or what would happen when the jet landed. It didn't have to go anywhere, as far as I was concerned. Ian was a hot, intelligent man who happened to be sitting next to me on a transatlantic flight. And I was absolutely going to take full advantage of that fact.

  And Ian seemed willing to flirt back just as hard. At least, I thought it was flirting. He leaned toward me when he spoke, nudged me with his shoulder when he laughed. His knee bumped mine more than once.

  The hours passed quickly, which surprised me. It was a smooth flight, no turbulence at all, a nice change from the last time I'd flown. Ian and I took turns picking movies, watching them together on the seat-back screens.

  I learned that Ian was an only child, that he was a self-proclaimed computer geek, and that he took a month-long vacation every year, and usually spent it with his mom. How cute was that? He went on holiday with his mum.

  I, in turn, shared stories of growing up with two older sisters and parents who expected me to follow their footsteps into the world of medicine. Both of my parents were doctors, my mother a pediatric surgeon, my father a cardiologist. I didn't bother hiding my emotions as I relayed my father's very vocal disapproval of my choice in educational pursuit.

  Ian frowned. "What's wrong with a literature degree?"

  "It's not marketable," I said. I lowered my voice to mimic my father. "'Nina, Nina. What are you going to do with a degree in reading?'"

  "There's lots of things you can do with a lit degree--" Ian started.

  I cut him off. "You don't have to convince me," I told him. "I'm moving to England to get my Master's in Regency lit, after all. My father just doesn't get it."

  "Well, I can relate. My dad doesn't quite understand what it is I do either. I think he's under the impression that I play video games all day, or something." He made a face, and his voice took on a thick London accent. "'Quit fuckin' around with them computers and get a real job, would ya?'"

  "What's your father do for a living?"

  "Drives a taxi," Ian answered. "I mean, it's a good job, but it's not for me. He was born and raised in London, and he's driven a taxi his whole life. My grandfather was a taxi driver too, matter of fact. Sort of a family business, I suppose, but I had other ideas, and he's never really gotten over that."

  "So you grew up in London, too?"

  He shook his head. "No, actually. My mum and dad divorced when I was twelve, and Mum moved back to Perth. I went with her. When I turned eighteen I decided to live with Dad for a bit, and then I ended up staying in London."

  "So you've just been in the States on business, then?"

  Ian's expression darkened. "Not quite." He sighed. "I'm actually moving back to London fo
r the second time. I've been living in Chicago with Mum."

  I frowned. "Okay, so I'm totally confused. You said your mom lives in Perth. And if you lived in Chicago, why are you flying out of Detroit?"

  He laughed. "It's complicated."

  "I've got time."

  Ian deliberated for a moment. "Right, so it's like this: a little over a year ago, Mum moved to Chicago for work, and I ended up moving with her, as I can work from pretty much anywhere. Eventually I decided to return to London. For...personal reasons."

  I didn't miss the tension in his voice and in the lines around his eyes. "Personal reasons, meaning you had your heart broken, am I right?"

  Ian lifted an eyebrow. "Very astute, Nina."

  "What happened?"

  Ian flagged down a passing flight attendant. "Two glasses of red wine, please." He waited until the woman returned with the wine, then handed me one and sipped from his. "I was about to say that it's complicated, but it's not, really. I met a woman while I was in Michigan on business. It started out innocently enough. Nothing serious, you know, just...good fun and mutual appreciation of and respect for each other." He paused. "I'm trying to be polite here, but I'm sure you know what I mean. We had a good thing going, Jamie and I. I thought so, at least. The problem was, she was still in love with someone else, and she wasn't ever really happy with me, and we both knew it after a while. I think she was afraid of hurting me, so things lasted longer than they should have. We broke up, and now I'm going back to London."

  I frowned. "You're skipping something."

  "You're relentless, aren't you?" Ian shook his head. "Why would you want to know this?"

  "Curiosity, I guess? I don't know."

  "Let's just say I was...shocked, by Jamie's timing, is all. She moved on faster than I'd thought she would have. But then, to be fair, I don't think she was ever really over him. I think she was using me as an attempt to--I don't know--stay away from something she thought she shouldn't have, I suppose. I think she was finally able to allow herself to give in."

  "Was this recent?"

  He shrugged. "Not terribly. I'm not clinging to my heartbreak or anything, if that's what you want to know." He sipped his wine and smiled at me, clearing his throat in an obvious signal of a change in subject. I didn't quite buy his too-casual attitude about the whole thing, but I didn't say anything. "So, Nina. What about you? Leaving a man behind?"

 
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