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Title A PRIDE OF BROTHERS: AIDEN
Author Peggy Jaeger
Genre Romantic Suspense
Publisher The Wild Rose Press, Crimson Line
Lexi Buckley wants answers about her younger sister's death. The police have labeled it a suicide, but Lexi doesn't believe it. Stymied in her investigation, she doesn't know where to turn next. After a chance encounter with a private investigator, she thinks her prayers have been answered.
Aiden Keane has never been an answer to a prayer before, but he agrees to help Lexi. A quirky combo of brains and beauty, the pixie blonde makes him feel things no professional ever should for a client.
When their investigation puts Lexi's life in jeopardy, her safety becomes his number one priority. The hard part is not falling for her.
“Did you know roughly a third of all people have some form of aviophobia?”
His eyes crinkled in the corners as his smiled broadened. “Are you part of the minority or the majority of fliers?”
Lexi blinked, surprised he knew the meaning of the word. “I’m not afraid to fly.”
“Me, either. I’m Aiden.” He offered his hand.
After a quick glance down at it, she extended her own. Telling herself again self-immolation wasn’t real, she was, nonetheless, thrilled when she didn’t burst into flames from the warmth seeping from his hand into hers. Like slipping into a bubbling hot spring, her entire body was engulfed in a delicious liquid heat.
She swallowed, then said, “Lex.”
His head tilted to one side, and his eyebrows slammed together. “You don’t look like a super villain.”
Charmed despite her nerves, she shook her head. “Short for Alexis. And no, my surname isn’t Luther.”
“Ah, well that explains it. Alexis is much prettier than Lex.”
Heat rushed to her cheeks. “Most people call me Lexi,” she said before she could stop herself.
Aiden nodded. “Pretty, too.”
Their gazes dropped to their still joined hands. With another of those tantalizing grins, Aiden released his hold but not before giving hers a tiny squeeze.
The plane was filling fast, most of the seats now occupied, a few stragglers still in the central aisle, the flight crew ushering them along.
“Is New York your final destination?” Aiden asked. “Or are you connecting?”
“Final,” she said, surprising herself. She never divulged information to strangers. Nerves beat within her again, and before she could stop the words from spewing, she said, “Did you know one point six three million people reside in Manhattan alone?”
“Well, I’m one of them, and I can’t wait to get home.”
When he sighed, something in Lexi responded to his wistfulness. “Have you been away long?”
Before she could ask why, the overhead announcements started. Because knowledge was the key to everything, Lexi gave all her attention to the flight attendants as they went through the safety precautions, even though she had them memorized.
Trying to be covert, she snaked her hand under the seat when told the cushion could be used as a floatation device during a water landing, just to make sure it was there and at the ready. She pulled the inflight instruction card from the pouch in front of her and took special notice of where the other exit doors were situated.
“You’ve flown before, right?” Aiden asked when the crew finished.
“Many times.” She turned and found the ghost of a grin tripping across his mouth.
“Do you always listen so intently to the safety speech?”
“Of course. Don’t you?”
He shook his head. “The narrative never changes. I could repeat it in my sleep.”
She could too, but it didn’t prevent her from actively listening to it each time.
A flight attendant who’d been walking down the aisle assuring the overhead compartments were closed, stopped at their row.
“Hi.” Her smile broadened when she lit on Aiden. “You two are seated next to the emergency exit door, and I want to make sure you know what to do in the event we need to access it.”
She prattled on with the expectations, then asked, “Are you comfortable assuming that responsibility?”
Lexi said yes immediately.
“Thank you, and enjoy your flight.” The last part was directed at her seatmate before the attendant turned to the couple across the aisle and started her spiel again.
Aiden’s smile stayed in place when he turned back to her. With an eyebrow raised and the corners of his eyes narrowed, he said, “I get the feeling you requested this seat.”
“Should I be worried?”
It took her a moment to see past the humor lacing his words to the steely caution in his eyes.
“No, no. God, no. It’s not that.”
The other eyebrow joined its mate. “Then…?”
Lexi swallowed and felt like she’d been pulled into the principal’s office to explain an adolescent prank.
“Research shows the safest place to be in the event of”—she lowered her voice and shifted closer so her words wouldn’t carry—“an inflight emergency, is sitting by this door. I can stay calm in an emergency, so I figure I’d rather leave my chances of surviving up to me than to a total stranger who might crack under pressure.”
He stared at her a few beats, and she’d give the last chocolate candy she had in her secret stash in her office to know what he was thinking.
He leaned in closer, as she had to him. Her gaze dropped to his mouth when he asked, “Do you always like to be in control?”
For the first time in her adult life, Lexi couldn’t speak. All the statistics she had running rampant in her brain about the psychological impacts of OCD and control issues stayed locked inside her. Her mouth fell open, but nothing came out. When Aiden’s gaze flicked down to her parted lips, lingered for a moment, then dragged back up in time for her to catch his pupils dilate, she slammed her mouth shut and took a deep breath.
The thought he was flirting drifted into her mind and was quickly shooed away. Men didn’t flirt with Alexis Buckley. The question came because he assumed she had some nefarious reason for wanting the emergency seat. In this day and age, who could blame him? Crazies came in all shapes and forms. And genders.
Lexi took another breath and then called forth her most professional voice, the one she used with recalcitrant students, annoying professors, and anyone who needed a firm hand.
“I’ve found,” she said, happy her voice was controlled and modulated, just the way she liked it, “it’s easier, and best, to rely on myself when situations arise that call for some kind of definitive action. If that’s what you mean by being in control, then, yes.”
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