Hot Under Pressure

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Boutique owner Ashley Taylor hates flying. Especially when there's a sugar-fueled little hellion on board. But then David McLean (sexy!) sits next to her, and suddenly Ashley finds herself hoping the delay will last forever—and that David won't notice her comfy pink bunny slippers (sadly, the opposite of sexy).

David does notice Ashley, and when the flight is delayed overnight, they can't get to the airport hotel fast enough. Off with the slippers and in with the zing! Fortunately, America is filled with cities—L.A., New York, Miami—and nothing says "smoking-hot passion" like an intercontinental affair!

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Ashley Larsen climbed over the family of three, mumbling "excuse me," but honestly, in the wide-bodied jet, there was no elegant way to get to her seat with her dignity intact--especially since darling little Junior kept poking her in the rear and laughing maniacally. All the while Mom tried to pretend that nothing was amiss.

Little booger.

With a tight smile plastered on her face, Ashley climbed over the skanky-handed hellion, and then plopped into her seat with a relieved sigh. She hated the five seats in the center aisle. What designer thought that was a good idea? Especially on a day like today, when the direct route to her seat was blocked by the sweet little old lady who wanted to stuff the three-foot antique lamp into the overhead compartment. Patiently, the flight attendant was explaining how honestly, truly, cross her heart, the baggage handlers would treat the fragile piece with care. Stubbornly, the little old lady wasn''t buying it for a minute, and Ashley wished her all the luck in the world. Thank God that was over; now on to the real death-defying feat-- preparing for takeoff. After a slow count to three hundred-- twice--she pulled the plastic bag from her carry-on and then pushed the suitcase back under the seat in front of her. Furiously she kicked off her travel shoes with some previously unleashed aggression, and then donned fluffy pink bunny slippers. If she was going to die in the air, she wanted to be with at least one thing close to her heart.

Ashley hated flying. Her sister Valerie called it her Erica Jong moment, but it wasn''t sex that Ashley was afraid of, only moving through the skies at supersonic speeds, a gazillion feet off the ground. Physics had never been her best subject, and besides, she knew there was something seriously wrong with the concept. However, she hated the idea of being a slave to her fears, so, as a survival mechanism she had created her flying ritual. Every month, when she took off from O''Hare airport on her latest buying trip, she meticulously followed the same pattern to maintain sanity. Whatever worked.

Soon everyone was seated, the antique lamp was stored below and the flight attendant droned the standard disclaimers about pulling away from the gate in ten minutes. Just as Ashley had properly prepared herself for takeoff, another passenger made his way down the aisle, claiming the one remaining empty seat in the airplane. The one between Ashley and Mr. and Mrs. American Family, who were futilely trying to keep Junior amused. Now they decided to resume their parental responsibility. Couldn''t they have done it earlier, when he was playing pin-the-sippy-cup on Ashley''s butt? No.

Pointedly, Ashley stared out the window because she wasn''t normally a rude person, but air travel brought out one hundred and one demons in her, none of them Emily Post-like. Valerie said that the buying trips were good for her. That the only way to conquer a fear was to tackle it head-on. Valerie could be a total pain, and one day Ashley was going to stop listening to her sister''s advice. But not today. Today she needed the ritual.

A hard thigh brushed against hers, and she jumped.

"Sorry." The voice was deep, husky and appropriately apologetic. Okay, there was another reasonable, sane human being on this flight. Ashley turned and the polite smile froze.

Hello, hot man.

His trousers were an off-the-shelf-khaki, his shirt, a nicely mussed crisp white, which, on most men would scream copier repairman, but here... it was like newsprint veiling a diamond.

Yes, sometimes clothes made the man, but sometimes, the man made the clothes.

After logging thousands of air miles, she''d traveled next to perfumed matrons decked in crystal-encrusted fleece, overly large seat huggers, squeegee businessmen who thought she looked lonely and, yes, a veritable cornucopia of families from hell, but never, never, had she actually sat next to a man with a nice smile, wonderfully wicked hazel eyes and a lovely, lovely body that begged to be unwrapped.

Ashley swallowed.

"Not a problem," she said, and then promptly looked away.

Come on, Ashley. Flirt a little. Pep up your game. Give him the goofy smile. Guys like that.

It was Valerie''s voice. The first time in three years that Ashley had felt heat between her legs and she was listening to an imaginary lecture from her younger sister. Not anymore, no way, no how.

"I didn''t think I was going to make it," said hot man, continuing to converse with her.

Ashley was torn between wanting to converse with hot man and sinking farther down into her seat and hiding her bunny slippers, but alas, it was impossible in the sardine-like conditions. "And you made it," she said, giving him the goofy smile until she realized what she was doing and promptly stopped.

"After running the four-forty through Terminal two. The next flight to L.A. isn''t until tomorrow at six, and I just want to get this over with. You ever feel like that?"


He smiled, then immediately frowned, the wicked hazel eyes glancing politely to the aisle.

Married. Must be. Or attached.

Subtly--unconsciously--Ashley''s eyes drifted, which she hated, to his left hand. She wasn''t on the make, she wasn''t interested, she didn''t need a man. She wasn''t even thinking about being on the make, no matter how much Valerie nagged her.

But that didn''t explain the little heart-thud when she noticed there was no ring.

You''re a wimp, Ashley.

As she contemplated her own human needfulness, the stewardess pulled out the life vest to demonstrate the life-saving effects of the floatation device. Ashley imagined the floatation device bobbling alone in the ocean, her hands aching with cold from the water of the Great Lakes, her face dimming to a pale blue, her lungs weakening ever so slightly. Her hand locked onto the armrest because she knew that Lake Michigan had an ambient temperature of fifty-nine degrees Fahrenheit in April, which didn''t sound too bad, but she''d seen that damn Titanic movie. She didn''t want to live it.

"First flight?" asked hot man, the nice smile returning, which did have the unexpected effect of calming her fears... somewhat.

"No, sadly, I became a platinum passenger last year. I''m merely a coward at heart."

"I''m sorry," he said, the hazel eyes flickering more toward green--a warm, earthy green that did more to distract her than a muscle relaxant ever could, and reminded her that she hadn''t had sex in a long time.

"Don''t be. It''s a family trait. Yellow-bellied, lily-livered Larsens, that''s us."

He smiled again, and she felt the tell-tale heart-thud again. She unlocked her gaze from the captivating green of his eyes, and drifted to where Junior was most likely planning his latest nihilistic techniques.

Ask his name.


It''s only a name, a polite introduction. Not an invitation to the mile-high club.

I don''t care. Shut up, Valerie.

I''m not even here.

I know. I swear when I get back on land, I''m going to see a therapist. It''s the only answer.

Don''t be a wimp, Ashley.

I''m very self-aware. I''m a wimp.

Why do I even try?

Because you''re sadistic, and you revel in my pain. It makes you feel superior.

I''m not even here.

"Don''t talk to me," muttered Ashley, wondering if hearing her sister''s nagging meant that she was a woman on the verge of a nervous breakdown. The wind was certainly blowing in that direction.

"I''m sorry?" asked hot-guy.

"Oh, not you. I hear voices."

His brows rose--charmingly, of course. He really had a great smile. It wasn''t a full-bodied smile, just a quick rise on the right side of his mouth where his mouth smashed headlong into a tiny dimple. "Part of the phobia?"

"No, my psychotic sister. Do you have a psychotic sister?" she asked, firmly believing that everyone should have a psychotic sister.


"You are so lucky. I always thought a brother would be cool. As long as he doesn''t nag."

"Your sister nags?"

Ashley nodded. "Like a mother."

"I''m sorry," he said, apologizing again, and she noted how rare it was to hear a man apologize. Jacob had never apologized. Not once.

Right at that precise moment, Junior stabbed hot man in the hand with a particularly lethal twisty straw, and he yelped, his hand diving toward the armrest, trapping hers in a death grip of pain.

Ashley yelped, too, Junior laughed hysterically and Mom politely looked in the opposite direction, as if all were right with her world. Muscle relaxants could do that to a person.

Hot man''s hand lifted from hers, and Ashley''s normal blood flow resumed. He looked at her, the hazel eyes no longer

wicked--now they showed true fear. About time he appreciated the seriousness of their situation. Four hours next to the toddling terror of the skies, who was now demanding macaroni and cheese, obviously oblivious to the plebian limitations of airplane food.

"He just broke out from the pen," Ashley whispered confidentially. "Wanted in four states. I saw his mug on the post office wall."

Hot man leaned in close and she could feel the whisper of his breath.

Ah, yearning loins, aching to be filled. Thy name is lust.

Shut up, Valerie.

"Stabbed you, too?" he asked.

"Nope. Butt-fondling in the third degree."
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Additional Information

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Published on
Aug 1, 2009
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Fiction / Romance / Contemporary
Fiction / Romance / General
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Editorial Reviews

"Helen has weaved a delicately balanced story of intrigue, secrets and passion, which practically melts the pages." -Bare Naked Words

"The love story between Talon and Jade continues in Obsession. An apt title to be sure, because everyone is obsessed. Dear Ms. Helen Hardt, I toss many profanities your way for making me wait. Though I give you my deepest gratitude for building the anticipation of what I’m sure will be an epic culmination to an amazing series. " -Heroes and Heartbreakers

"Talon and Jade's chemistry sizzles and the love scenes will melt your heart and your Kindle." -The Book Sirens

"I am loving this series so freaking much… The story line is one that will have you completely engrossed…" -Wicked Babes Blog

"Helen left my head spinning and my mind racing a mile a minute. I need to know what the secrets are... " -The Book Fairy Reviews


Jade Roberts is in love with Talon Steel but no longer welcome in his home. While she resolves to move on, she still longs for the passion she and Talon shared…and when her boss asks her to dig up information on the Steels, she’s only too happy to comply. Talon and his brothers are hiding something, and Jade is determined to find out what it is.

The moment Talon saw Jade he wanted her, ached for her, craved her…and now his desire has become his obsession. He knows she deserves better than his broken soul, but he can’t stay away from her, and he finally confesses his love. If he and Jade are to have a future, he knows he must make peace with the dark shadows and horrors of his past.

But as Talon begins his journey of healing, Jade uncovers some startling secrets…

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