The engine of the private jet blew hot air onto the side of my face as I climbed the steps leading to the cabin. A nervous lump caught in my throat. I’d never been in anything so luxurious and had no idea what the following two weeks would bring. But it’d be the closest thing to a vacation I’d had in years, even if there would be work to do. I straightened my spine and found my confidence. No one wanted a nervous crew member, especially one who was also in charge of all things medical.
At the top of the small stairs, a clean-cut middle-aged male flight attendant greeted me with a tight smile. “Welcome aboard. All the way to the back, please.” He made an arrow with his hand and directed the way. “We’ll be taking off as soon as Mr. Phillips joins us.”
The man moved back to his small makeshift kitchen, and after I muttered a quiet, “Thanks,” I advanced down the center aisle.
As I passed Mrs. Phillips, I remembered rule number one—Never call her ‘ma’am’. With her hands perfectly folded in her lap, she offered a blink and a nod as hello. Her travel attire—a crisp white shirt and light yellow pants—was probably as casual as I would ever see her. When she’d interviewed me for the job, she had worn a beautiful floral dress that reminded me of something a movie star would wear on a talk show. I didn’t understand how everything on her stayed so wrinkle-free.
In the row behind her were what I assumed to be her children and their friends. None of them looked up or acknowledged me as I passed. Right. I was the hired help. Class barrier officially noted.
Past the halfway point, with a little wall on both sides, the seats were smaller and the leg room less forgiving. Two women I didn’t recognize were busy with their own whispered conversation and sat to the left in the first row. Rosa—the Phillips’ cook—whom I did know, sat to the right with her knitting bag plopped in the seat next to her. She glanced at me then returned to her yarn. Behind Rosa was a young man with dark curly hair, asleep and occupying both the seats, his white pants and a navy-blue polo matched my own uniform.
The only free seat was across from the guy sleeping and next to the third member of the private crew. He read by the window and didn’t look up as I slid in and sat down. I’d expected a bit of a cold shoulder from the Phillips family but hadn’t imagined that it would extend to my co-workers. Seriously? Not even a hello, people? I slipped my backpack under the seat in front of me and fought the urge to speak. There seemed to be some un-written rule against doing so. I pressed my lips together, since they were dying to move. I was far from the silent type.
Commotion at the front of the plane grabbed my attention as Mr. Phillips came aboard. He barked into his phone, clearly not pleased with whomever was on the other end, and threw his computer bag into the large leather seat opposite his wife.
“I don’t give a rat’s ass about Carl Baker. Get it done!” Mr. Phillips ended his call, threw the phone to meet the bag and loosened his light blue tie. “Imbeciles!” He looked to his wife, and whatever expression she sent back to him softened his stress and made him smile. Then he leaned down, kissed her on the cheek and said, “Just need to talk to Kate, and we can get on our way.” He tugged off his suit jacket, added it to his pile of belongings in the seat and walked toward the back of the plane.
Leaning against the small wall of separation, Mr. Phillips said hello to Rosa then turned his attention to the woman with the short blonde hair in front of me.
“Kate, Carl Baker is opposing the top floor atrium. Can you make it stop? Please? Without ruining our vacation.” His eyes shifted to me. “You must be Emilia.” He reached over the back of Kate’s seat to shake my hand. “Todd Phillips.”
Finally! Someone who speaks!
“Nice to meet you, sir. You can call me Emmie.”
“Wouldn’t dream of it.” He took his hand back. “Nick?”
The guy next to me finally looked up from what he was reading. “Captain.” He nodded hello.
“You all set with the specs?”
“And sleeping beauty over there.” Mr. Phillips thumbed in the direction of the guy conked out next to me.
“He’ll be fine. Knowing Robbie, he’s probably already dreaming up ways to modify the engines.”
I glanced over to Robbie. His mouth was open, and the position of his head gave him a triple chin. He officially entered the permanent friend zone. I could never find him sexy after seeing him like that—not that I was looking.
“Right. See you in Nice.” Mr. Phillips proceeded back to his seat, sank into it and began a hushed conversation with his wife.
The flight attendant closed the cabin door, and we taxied to the runway. With ten hours of flight time ahead of us, I needed some sort of ice breaker. And with Robbie asleep, that left me with Nick.
“Hi, I’m Emmie.” I smiled and extended my hand.
He looked up at me with olive-green eyes, but they didn’t sparkle. They seared. “I got that.”
He was not only unimpressed, but he sounded annoyed. And that was a real shame because with his attention fully on me, I realized how gorgeous he was. Not cute… This guy was properly handsome. He had one of those noses that was strong but not too big and cheekbones women would murder for. He was also tan and had natural highlights in his dark blond hair. He was serious eye candy. Yum.
Despite all signals to stop talking, I pushed on. It was unfortunately my way. “So you’re Nick? What do you do on the boat?” My tone was entirely too cheerful, and his frown only confirmed that he didn’t like it.
“I’m not really interested in small talk.” He turned back to his book.
Before I could help myself, I let out a dramatic scoff. Hottie crewmate was a dick. No, an asshole. My two weeks had just gotten a lot less fun.
“Oh my God,” he said and rolled his eyes.
I looked over to him, confused. I was just trying to be nice.
“Look… Don’t get your knickers in a twist that I don’t want to talk to you. I came here to work, not chit-chat with a nursing student.”
Ouch. Conceited in all the wrong ways, and he knew more about me than I did about him. The number two rule of no fraternizing among crew was going to be a piece of cake.
That didn’t mean I was going to let him have the last word. I let out my inner bitch in a hushed voice while throwing him my own disgusted look. “One, my knickers are not in a twist. Don’t flatter yourself. And two, I was simply trying to get to know a co-worker—which, in retrospect, was an obvious mistake.”
“Whatever.” He shook his head.
I sat, stunned for a long moment before I dug my E-reader out of my bag. I’d promised myself a two-week break from my studies while I worked for the Phillips, and the zombie romance I’d started the night before was just the escape I needed. Plus, it kept me from telling Nick to go to hell. That probably wouldn’t be wise. He and Robbie had obviously worked with the Phillips before, and I was the lowest-ranking employee. Damn it.
The flight attendant came by about an hour after take-off and offered us dinner. “Two vegetarian plates, yes?” He slid our meals onto our trays.
I continued to ignore Nick out of spite. Not eating meat wasn’t going to impress me or let me make the same mistake of trying to talk to him.
The smell of food must have aroused Robbie, who woke up and stretched. He smacked his tongue on the top of his mouth and rubbed his eyes.
“Dinner, sir?” the attendant asked.
“Yeah. That’d be great.”
Robbie turned to me and stretched out his hand. “I’m Robbie. You must be Emilia.”
“Emmie. Nice to meet you.” Please let this one be a talker.
Robbie unrolled his silverware and placed the linen napkin on his lap. “So, you’re a nursing student?”
“Yeah. Seems like you all know about me, but other than Rosa, I don’t know anything about the rest of you.”
“Mrs. Phillips— you know never to call her ‘ma’am,’ right?” He narrowed an eye.
I nodded. Rosa’s granddaughter, a fellow nursing student who had gotten me the job, had made that very clear.
Robbie continued, “She told us about you.” He gave me a warm smile. Phew.
The flight attendant was back with Robbie’s dinner and handed us all extra bottles of water. Nick kept to himself, which was fine by me. I had a new friend in Robbie.
“It’s my first time as a crew member, so I’m not sure what everybody else does.”
Robbie swallowed. “Mr. Phillips is the captain, and Nick is the first mate. I’m the engineer, so I handle all the technical parts of the yacht. Rosa cooks and takes care of the Phillips’ room. I assume you know what you do.”
“Clean, serve and make dry martinis.” I winked.
“Easiest five G’s you’ll ever make.”
When we’d finished our meals, Nick leaned against the side of the plane and closed his eyes. Robbie did the same, and I fluctuated in and out of consciousness. I knew I needed to get some shut-eye, the next day would be busy, but the curiosity of what lay ahead got the best of me.
My new colleagues entered my thoughts. Robbie would be easy to get along with, but if Nick was going to be cold for two weeks, it would be annoying—especially since we would be on a boat, in the Mediterranean, with no escape. It’s not like I would be able to talk to my employers. With boredom as my only companion, I eventually followed the lead of the rest of the passengers and drifted off.