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Managed:a VIP novel

By:Kristen Callihan

Chapter One


Sophie



You know those people who Lady Luck always seems to be kissing on the  cheek? The one who gets a promotion just for showing up to work? Who  wins that awesome raffle prize? The person who finds a hundred-dollar  bill on the ground? Yeah, that's not me. And it's probably not most of  us. Lady Luck is a selective bitch.

But today? Lady Luck has finally turned her gaze upon me. And I want to  bow down in gratitude. Because today, I've been upgraded to first class  for my flight to London. Maybe it's due to overbooking, and who knows  why they picked me, but they did. First fucking class, baby. I'm so  giddy, I practically dance to my seat.

And, oh, what a beautiful seat it is, all plush cream leather and burled  wood paneling-though I'm guessing it's fake wood for safety reasons.  Not that it matters. It's a little self-contained pod, complete with a  cubby for my bag and shoes, a bar, an actual reading lamp, and a  widescreen TV.

I sink into the seat with a sigh. It's a window seat, sectioned off from  my neighbor by a frosted glass panel I can lower with the touch of a  button. Or the two seats can become one cozy cabin by closing the glossy  panel that sections off the aisle. It reminds me of an old-fashioned  luxury train compartment.

I'm one of the first people on board, so I give in to temptation and  rifle through all the goodies they've left me: mints, fuzzy socks, sleep  mask, and-ooh-a little bag of skin care products. Next I play around  with my seat, raising and lowering my privacy screen-that is until it  makes an ominous-sounding click. The screen freezes an inch above the  divider and refuses to rise again.

Cringing, I snatch my hand away and busy myself with removing my shoes  and flipping through the first class menu. It's long, and everything  looks delicious. Oh man, how am I supposed to go back to the  cattle-roundup, meat-or-chicken-in-a-tin hell that is economy class  after this?

I'm debating whether to get a preflight champagne cocktail or glass of  white wine when I hear the man's voice. It's deep, crisply British, and  very annoyed.

"What is that woman doing in my seat?"

My neck tenses, but I don't look up. I'm assuming he means me. His voice  is coming from somewhere over my head, and there are only male  passengers in here aside from me.

And he is wrong, wrong, wrong. I'm in my seat. I checked twice, pinched  myself, checked again, and then finally sat down. I know I'm where I'm  supposed to be-just not how I got away with it. Hey, I was as surprised  as anyone when I went to the ticket counter, only to be informed I was  in first class. No way am I going back to coach now.

My fingers grip the menu as I make a pretense of flipping through it.  I'm really eavesdropping at this point. The flight attendant's response  is too low to hear, but his isn't.

"I expressly purchased two seats on this flight. Two. For the simple purpose that I would not be seated next to anyone else."

Well, that's … decadent? Whacked? I struggle not to make a face. Who does  that? Is it really so awful to sit next to someone? Has this guy seen  economy? We can count each other's nose hairs back there. Here, my chair  is so wide, I'm a good foot away from his stupid seat.

"I'm so sorry, sir," the flight attendant answers in a near purr, which  is weird. She should be annoyed. Maybe it's all part of the  kiss-the-first-class-passengers'-asses-because-they-paid-a-shit-ton-to-be-here  program. "The flight is overbooked, and all seats are spoken for."

"Which is why I purchased two seats," he snaps.

She murmurs something soothing again. I can't hear because two men  walking past me to get to their seats are talking about stock options.  They pass, and I hear Mr. Snooty again.

"This is unacceptable."

A movement to my right, and I nearly jump. I see the red suit coat of  the flight attendant as she bends close, her arm at the man's screen  button. Heat invades my cheeks, even as she starts to explain, "There's a  screen for privacy … "

She stops because the screen isn't rising.

I burrow my nose in the menu.

"It doesn't bloody work?" This from Snooty.

The rest goes just about as well as you'd expect. He rants, she placates, I hide between page one and two of the menu.

"Perhaps I can persuade someone to exchange seats?" the helpful flight attendant offers.

Yes, please. Fob him off on someone else.

"What difference does it make?" Snooty snaps. "The point was to have an empty seat next to mine."

I'd love to suggest he wait for the next flight and save us all a  headache, but that's not in the cards. The standoff ends with the jerk  plopping into his seat with an exasperated huff. He must be big, because  I feel the whoosh of air as he does it.         

     



 

The heat of his glare is tangible just before he turns away.

Fucker.

Slapping my menu down, I decide, Fuck it; I'm having some fun with this.  What can they do? They're loading the plane; my seat is secure.

I find a stick of gum in my purse and pop it in my mouth. A few chews  and I have some superior gum-smacking going on. Only then do I turn his  way.

And freeze mid-chew, momentarily stunned by the sight sitting next to  me. Because, good God, no one has the right to be this hot and this much  of a jerk. This guy is one-hundred-percent the most gorgeous man I've  ever seen. And it's strange because his features aren't perfect or  gentle. No, they're bold and strong-a jaw sharp enough to cut steel,  firm chin, high cheekbones, and a bold nose that's almost too big but  fits his face perfectly.

I'd expected a whey-faced, graying aristocrat, but he's tanned, his coal  back hair falling over his brow. Sculpted, pouty lips are compressed in  irritation as he scowls down at the magazine in his hand.

But he just as clearly feels my stare-the fact that I'm gaping like a  speared fish probably doesn't help-and he turns to glare. I'm hit with  the full force of all that masculine beauty.

His eyes are aqua blue. His thick, dark brows draw together, a storm  brewing on his face. He's about to blast me. The thought hits along with  another: I'd better make this good.

"Jesus," I blurt out, lifting my hand as if to shield my eyes. "It's like looking into the sun."

"What?" he snaps, those laser-bright eyes narrowing.

Oh, this will be fun.

"Just stop, will you?" I squint at him. "You're too hot. It's too much  to take." This is true, though I'd never have the guts to say so in  normal circumstances.

"Are you quite well?" he intones, as if he thinks the opposite.

"No, you've nearly rendered me blind." I flap a hand. "Do you have an off switch? Maybe put it on low?"

His nostrils flare, his skin going a shade darker. "Lovely. I'm stuck next to a mad woman."

"Don't tell me you're unaware of the dazzling effect you have on the  world." I give him a look of wide-eyed wonder. At least I hope that's  what I'm doing.

He flinches when I grasp the divider between us and lean in a bit. Hell,  he smells good-like expensive cologne and fine wool. "You probably have  women dropping at your feet like flies."

"At least dropped flies are silent," he mutters, furiously flipping  through his magazine. "Madam, do me the favor of refraining from  speaking to me for the remainder of the flight."

"Are you a duke? You talk like a duke."

His head jerks as if he wants to look my way, but he manages to keep his  gaze forward, his lips compressed so tightly they're turning white at  the edges. A travesty.

"Oh, or maybe a prince. I know!" I snap my fingers. "Prince Charming!"

A blast of air escapes him, as if he's caught between a laugh and  outrage but really wants to go with outrage. Then he stills. And I feel a  moment's trepidation, because he's obviously realized I'm making fun of  him. I hadn't noticed how well-built this guy is until now.

He's probably over six feet, his legs long and strong, encased in charcoal slacks.

Jesus, he's wearing a sweater vest: dove gray and hugging his trim  torso. He should look like an utter dork in it, but no …  It only  highlights the strength in his arms, those muscles stretching the limits  of his white button-down shirt. Unfair.

His shoulders are so broad they make the massive first class seats look  small. But he's long and lean. I'm guessing the muscle definition under  those fine and proper clothes is drool-worthy too, damn it all.

I take it all in, including the way his big hands clench. Not that I  think he'll use his strength against me. His behavior screams pompous  prick, but he doesn't seem like a bully. He never truly raised his voice  with the flight attendant.

Even so, my heart beats harder as he slowly turns to face me. An evil smile twists his lush mouth.

Don't look at it. He'll suck you into a vortex of hot, and there will be no return.

"You found me out," he confides in a low voice that's warm butter over  toast. "Prince Charming, at your service. Do forgive me for being short  with you, madam, but I am on a mission of the utmost import." He leans  closer, his gaze darting around before returning to me. "I'm looking for  my bride, you see. Alas, you are not wearing a glass slipper, so you  cannot be her."

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