Eight Years Earlier
Forty-five minutes after we left my apartment and a state away, we pulled up on the tarmac at Teterboro Airport. A jet awaited our arrival. I looked at Daniel and then out the back window of the car. I didn’t know much about planes, but this looked at least as big as the commercial one I’d taken from Dallas to New York, maybe bigger.
“That yours?” I asked, sounding unimpressed when I wasn’t. It had nothing to do with the plane. Obviously, Daniel had put some thought into this day together, and that was what had my attention.
“It is. Suitable transportation for a princess, don’t you think?”
“You tell me.”
He laughed and climbed out of the car, coming around the back to collect me.
We climbed the stairs, instantly greeted by two flight attendants, a pilot, and two co-pilots, all with pleasant smiles on their faces. The female pilot had a firm handshake, her demeanor all business with Daniel as she assured him we were ready to go.
Once we were settled in our seats, one of the cabin stewards served us each a glass of champagne and politely asked us to fasten our seatbelts.
“Cheers,” I said, clinking glasses with Daniel and taking a sip of the bubbly. “Is it too soon to ask where we might be going?”
“You can ask all you want, but you won’t get an answer.” He tossed back some of his champagne. “From anyone ,” he emphasized, as if he knew I’d already been plotting a trip to the galley as a fishing expedition.
“How long will it take to get there?” I asked, my curiosity amping up.
“As long as it takes.” He nodded at my glass, still practically full of bubbles. I drank most of it in one swallow and then realized my tolerance for alcohol had probably significantly diminished over the last few months. I rarely drank anything other than water or milk. Anything else was a luxury I simply couldn’t afford. “A frown already? We haven’t even gotten off the ground yet.”
I smiled. I couldn’t help it. This man was paying attention to my every move. “I’d better lay off. I don’t drink much anymore,” I offered, shaking my near empty glass. He nodded and took it from me, the flight attendant appearing right on cue to remove the stemware from the table.
The plane started to crawl, and I looked out the small window. The car that had ferried us here was long gone. When we reached the runway, the jet paused, taking a deep breath before shooting out of the starting blocks.
“Ready to go?” Daniel asked, and I nodded enthusiastically, beaming at him.
He winked at me, and my heart took off along with the plane as we rocketed down the runway and into the air.
Five hours later we made our descent, landing somewhere that had mountains and blue ocean, homes and buildings and cars nestled in between.
I started to stand, but Daniel stopped me with his hand. “We’re not there yet.”
“We’ve been gone over five hours. I guess you meant it when you said you wanted to spend the day with me.”
“Is it so bad that you’re counting the minutes?” he asked, totally deflecting what I really wanted to know…where in the world we were going.
“No,” I answered, pursing my lips. The time had flown by. We’d talked and teased each other, even played gin rummy until he got tired of losing.
“Mr. Elliott, we should be back in the air in about half an hour,” a steward informed us.
Someone from ground personnel delivered a bag. I watched the exchange with interest, but the bag was nondescript, so I had no clue what it might hold.
“I have to give you points for creativity.” Daniel’s eyes twinkled at this. “At least in the air there’s a very slim chance I’ll try to ditch you. Although I think we should at least deplane while we’re wherever we are before we head back.”
His smile broadened. “How are you so sure I wasn’t going to ditch you ?” he challenged, and I crossed my arms.
“There’s not a chance in hell of that happening.” I didn’t think either of us really wanted to go anywhere.
The flight attendant approached with a tray, a silver domed plate sitting atop it. He placed it in front of me and lifted the lid. Pancakes, bacon, and a glass bottle of syrup.
I looked at him incredulously, and his cheeks stained pink.
“You mentioned you wanted pancakes the other day.”
I’d said it in passing, but he was listening. My heart did a flip-flop before I dove right in, pouring syrup all over the stack, letting it soak into the pancakes. I looked at him in disbelief, shoving a bite into my mouth. “I take it they’re to your liking?”
I chewed, letting the food melt on my palate before swallowing. “Taste,” I insisted, cutting off a large bite and holding it up to his mouth.
He accepted and nodded his approval. “Excellent.”
“I’ve had pancakes for dinner, but I don’t think I’ve ever had them for lunch,” I mused, tearing off a piece of bacon with my teeth. “Oh my God. That’s the best bacon that’s ever graced my lips.” I held the strip in front of his mouth, and he took a bite.
“Hope it was worth the wait,” he said, tucking a strand of my hair behind my ear so it didn’t drag in the syrup.
“Thank you,” I said softly. I meant for everything. This had to be costing a fortune, and even if it was unusual for a first date, I liked it. We were forced to get to know one another better because there was nothing else to do. And the more I got to know this man, the more I liked.
“If I had known we were doing this, I’d have brought my pajamas,” I commented once we were back in the air.
“Would you like to change? We still have a bit of a journey ahead of us.”
“That would be nice, but what I’m wearing is all I brought.”
“I asked Muriella to select something for you. I thought she might know better what you would like,” he said almost shyly, and that threw me completely for a loop. Daniel was not shy. Quiet? Yes. Shy? No.
“That could be a frightening proposition,” I commented, widening my eyes as if I was terrified.
“I haven’t seen it, so we’ll both be surprised,” he said, already moving me down the center hallway to the bedrooms. “Everything you need should be in there.” He pointed at a built-in chest of drawers and then backed out, closing the door behind him.
Curious, I opened the top drawer. There were only two items in it—a T-shirt from the 1997 US Open and a pair of plaid pajama bottoms that appeared to be well worn. This woman and I were cut from the same cloth, and I sent her a silent thank you for knowing exactly what I would like.
When I returned to the main cabin, Daniel did a double take when he saw my attire. I swear he cursed Muriella’s name under his breath, but I was too far away to hear for certain. These items were personal to him. I knew that the instant I saw them, but as soon as I’d slipped them on, it felt right. I noticed, though, that he hadn’t changed out of his jeans and shirt.
“This is supposed to be a pajama party,” I said, playfully patting his cheek a couple of times.
“Princess, I don’t wear pajamas.” That sent a tremor through me that sparked a fever. “Now come with me. I want to show you my favorite spot.” He didn’t wait for a response, simply took my hand as if he had the right and led me through the plane.
The room was dim and had a dark chocolate sectional sofa with a giant ottoman in front of it and enough pillows to stock a Bed, Bath, and Beyond. The wall across from the sofa appeared to be a giant video screen. I flopped down on the sofa, making myself at home, and he walked over to a built-in control panel near the screen, bringing it to life.
“Super Mario Bros!” I said as the game credits started. Daniel tossed me a controller, which I caught with one hand, impressing him with my reflexes. “I’m Mario.”
“I don’t think so,” he said, sinking down next to me.
“Aren’t you trying to impress me?” I asked, turning my head toward him.
He looked me square in the eyes. “No. Just because I’ve let you have your way most of the time, doesn’t mean I always will,” he cautioned before returning to the game, setting it up in two-player mode.
“It doesn’t matter if I’m Mario or Luigi. I’m still going to kick your ass.”
“You think so?”
“I know so.” I clapped my hands and rubbed them together with glee. “I haven’t played this game in forever.”
“Neither have I.”
That familiar music started, and since he was Mario, he got to go first. I patiently awaited my turn, living up to all the boasting I was doing.
My excitement grew when we got to the third world, and I was up. Daniel was beyond impressed I knew the trick to rack up an infinite amount of lives; the surprised look on his face was priceless. I gave him a knowing smile, and he shook his head as if nothing I did could catch him unawares at this point.
“All right, I’ll bite,” he said. “How did you get so good?”
“Not too shabby for a girl , am I?” I couldn’t stop grinning. “How did you know I loved this game?”
“I asked you a question first,” he said, concentrating on the screen. “Shit.” He’d almost jumped into a green pipe with one of the things that popped up and spit fire. “You’re all right,” he conceded, capturing the flag to get to the next level.
“The only kids close to my age in the neighborhood where I grew up were the boys next door. If I couldn’t keep up, they wouldn’t let me play.”
“Bet that changed as you got older.”
I cut my eyes over to Daniel and missed a jump over a beetle, turning back into a little Luigi. “Damn.”
Daniel snickered. “If you’d been my daughter, I sure as hell wouldn’t have let you play with the boys next door.”
“My parents didn’t care.” I found a mushroom in the game and got big again. “Unless I interfered with their plans.”
“What plans?” Daniel’s tone turned serious.
I finished my level and tossed the controller on the sofa beside me. I studied him for a moment as he started his turn. Did I want to get into this with him? I pulled my knees to my chest and rested my chin on top.
“Apparently, we still live in the sixteenth century in Texas,” I started dryly, “because once I was old enough, my parents arranged a marriage for me.”
Daniel paused the game, his eyes fierce when he looked at me. “You’re married?”
I wrinkled my nose. “God, no. But if it were up to them, I would be.”
“That’s why you came to New York,” he surmised.
“No. I came to New York because I earned the internship with Hamerstein. It just happened to conveniently be far away from Dallas.” I stared at the floor as bitterness crept up on me.
“Why didn’t your betrothed come with you?” he gritted out, and I jerked my head toward him in surprise.
“I never let it get that far. Even if I hadn’t gotten the internship, I wouldn’t have.”
He relaxed a fraction at that. “Not the marrying kind?”
“I wanted to be an accountant. You’d think that my parents would have figured out by now that when I want something, I don’t stop until I get it.” When had they ever really taken the time to get to know me anyway? “Instead of being proud of me for the internship, my dad was pissed off.”
“Because you didn’t conform to the plan?”
“Yeah, I guess.” I threw up my hands. “Who knows? I was fool enough to date the guy they wanted me to marry.” I scrubbed my hand across my forehead. “I thought they wanted me with him because he’d be good to me. Because they wanted me to find happiness. What if I hadn’t figured out what a jackass he was?”
“Did he hurt you?” Daniel growled.
I shook my head. “No. No. Nothing like that.” I took in a deep breath and angled my body toward his. “Have you ever felt like a pawn in a game you didn’t know you were playing?”
His eyes softened. “All too well.”
“When I graduated from SMU a few months ago, I thought I was on my way. But being near the top of my class wasn’t enough for them.” I grabbed a pillow and shoved it between my legs and my chest. “Dad didn’t care if I got a degree. He just wanted me to marry Johnny Caldwell so he could get all of his daddy’s business.”
“And your mother didn’t try to stop it?”
I lifted my eyes toward the ceiling. “The only thing my mother worries about is how much gin is left in the bottle. And meddling in my father’s affairs.” I sighed and picked at a string on the corner of the pillow. “That’s not really fair. She cares about me the best she knows how.”
Daniel’s fist balled on his leg. “Where does this alliance stand?”
“It doesn’t. DeGraw Electrical Supply and Caldwell Construction will have to continue as before. I’m not marrying Johnny. I’m not going back to Dallas to be a puppet, despite that my daddy thinks I’ll crawl back on my knees,” I finished with a scowl.
“If he tries to force you—”
“He won’t even speak to me.” I set the pillow aside. “I don’t get it. He already does a ton of business with the Caldwells. Why does it matter if I marry into their family?”
“It cements the relationship.”
“I think Mr. Caldwell must have offered him a piece of the company or something. Which would be huge considering they’re one of the biggest contractors in the state.” It was the only thing that made sense, but I’d kept a distance from my father’s business.
Daniel’s jaw worked, pure venom in his voice when he spoke. “You’re worth more than that.”
We went back to the game and eventually saved the princess—well, he did, so I guess technically he won. But he didn’t gloat, declaring we were a pretty good team. After we high-fived, he slung his arm on the back of the couch, an invitation to come to him. I snuggled into his side, and he caressed my shoulder.
Sparks traveled through me, desire chasing after them. I looked up at him. His lids were heavy, eyes as dark as I’d ever seen them.
“I can’t stop thinking about that kiss,” he said, his voice deeper.
“You mean peck?” I sassed back, even as I scooted closer.
He traced back and forth along my lower lip. “It was more than that, and you know it.”
I shivered, sliding my hand up under his shirt and across his stomach. His muscles flexed, and my mouth turned up in triumph. I wasn’t the only one affected, no matter how minimal the contact.
“I do know,” I admitted, inching my face towards his.
“Let me see.”
I frowned. “See what?”
“How wet you are for me.”
My lips parted, a rush of air escaping. I wriggled, uncomfortable on a couple of levels. I wanted him, there was no denying that, but if we took even a baby step forward, there would be no coming back. His thumb pressed on my lip, his fist tilting my chin up so I couldn’t look away. “Do you think I would ever hurt you?”
My shoulders relaxed. “Not intentionally.”
A shadow crossed his face, but it disappeared as quickly as it came. Daniel kissed the pad of his thumb and pressed it to my lips. My skin burned in that spot, but it was a poor substitute for what I wanted. His mouth.
“When I have you, it will be when I can take my time. But I need to make you come, Vivian.”
I pouted. “How am I supposed to resist that?”
He grinned. “You aren’t.”
I let out a harmless growl, and his smile only broadened. “I foresee this being a problem.”
He moved so he was slouched in one corner of the couch. “Come here.” He positioned me so I was seated between his legs, my back to his chest. “What’s the problem?” He nuzzled my cheek.
I leaned my temple against his. “Me not being able to say no to you.”
His lips found my hair. “That’s not a problem at all.”
“Not for you.”
A large palm cupped my breast, kneading. I thrust my chest out, already aching for more.
“What if I can’t say no to you?” he asked, his other hand joining in.
I gasped as he rolled my nipples in his fingers. The fabric of the shirt I was wearing only added to the stimulation.
“You’d better not.” The words came out throaty, seductive even.
“Your cunt wants my fingers inside of it. I won’t say no to that,” he breathed in my ear.
My hips arched of their own accord. Any doubt I’d had only a moment ago vanished. Need for him overruled everything else.
“Ask me for it,” he demanded.
My face flushed, a fine sheen of perspiration breaking out across my forehead. He’d worked lower, teasing my mound on the outside of my clothes. I gripped his rock-hard thighs, unable to stay still.
“For what?” I rasped, impressed I had the wits to tease him back. A riot was happening inside of me, all my cells at war over which way to go.
He pinched my nipple, and I squeaked. “Don’t play with me.”
Goosebumps broke out across my skin. “Isn’t that what you’re doing to me?”
His movement between my legs slowed to the point where it was almost nonexistent. I whimpered in protest.
“Ask me, Princess, or this stops.”
The command had me desperate to obey. “Put your fingers inside my cunt.”
“I didn’t hear a please.”
“Please,” I grated out, setting aside my pride.
“You could work on your tone, but it will do.” He threw my words back at me, but I couldn’t be mad.
His hand disappeared inside my pajama pants and skated over the cotton of my underwear. His middle finger ran up my slit, pressing the fabric between my swollen lips. He hissed as my hips bucked.
“You flatter me,” he said, teasing around my clit in a lazy circle. He was barely touching me. It was maddening.
“You’re soaked for me.”
The smug expression on his face both infuriated and excited me. His confidence was intoxicating. The man knew exactly what he was doing, my body one gigantic sensation, only for him.
“What happens if I do this?” he asked seductively in my ear, pinching the throbbing bundle of nerves.
My back arched, but he held me anchored against him with his other hand across my stomach. Electricity bolted from my core out to my limbs, the need for something more building.
“Hmm. I do believe I can make you come without ever touching that sweet flesh,” he murmured.
He pushed inside, panties and all. My grip on his thighs tightened. “Daniel.” It was a plea for mercy, for more. I needed him like I’d never needed in my life. It had been building from the second we met, one long-ass game of foreplay. No wonder I was almost there.
“I like how my name sounds coming out of your mouth.”
I lifted my hips, urging his finger to move. Easing my panties aside, he complied, and I rocked against him, each time burying his digit to the root. His other hand slid under the waistband of my pajamas, pressing against my clit.
My walls pulsed around his finger as he crooked it against my g-spot. He edged me closer to the brink.
“Turn your face so I can see you.”
I obeyed without thought, our eyes locking. With a pinch and a thrust, he sent me over. My legs stiffened, there was a pause before release overtook me. I trembled with the power of the orgasm.
When the fizz and sizzle subsided, I leaned up and pressed my lips against his cheek before collapsing against him. Daniel massaged my most intimate place for a few minutes before wrapping his arms around me.
“Vivian,” he started, and I tilted my face up to look at him. His expression was serious as he touched my cheek. “Don’t listen to anybody that tries to tear you down. You can do everything you want and more. The people that say otherwise don’t know what the fuck they’re talking about.”
I swallowed the knot in my throat. All my life there had only been one person on Team Vivian, and that was me. It felt like someone else had joined now, someone who would be strong when I needed a break. And I had to admit, I was firmly on Team Daniel, there to support him when he needed it whether he accepted it or not. I had a feeling that from that point on, there would be no more Team Vivian and Team Daniel. Team Vivian and Daniel was born somewhere in the skies high above the Earth.