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Chapter One




Douglas -

Every man had a type; both Martin and Douglas agreed on this. It was one of the few things they mutually acknowledged when discussing the fairer sex. It had taken a while to get Martin to talk about women--at least without his normal prissiness limiting the conversation--and Douglas was pleased to learn that his captain actually did have a libido somewhere under his freshly ironed shirt.

And during those quiet conversations, usually at the end of terminally boring flights, it was clear that the two pilots of MJN charter had similar preferences when it came to the ladies.

"Shorter than myself," Martin admitted. "I enjoy having her look up at me. Makes me feel more confident I suppose."

"Definitely," Douglas agreed. "Tall girls have their charms too, but there's nothing like a woman's upturned face to reinforce a sense of romantic spark. Certainly makes kissing fun."

"Yes," Martin concurred. "And . . . a nice bottom. Nothing too . . . small."

"Oh agreed," Douglas murmured happily. "A woman looks best with a worthy backside round and bouncy and firm. A double handful and then some."

Martin gave a small yet appreciative groan. "God yes. The beaches in Rio utterly kill my concentration."

"Why Martin you surprise me. I thought the only thing that shifted your rudder was aviation and all topics related to the same," Douglas smirked.

Martin shot him a sidelong glance, his blush evident as he shrugged. "Aviation is my life; however there are occasions when I'm given to a spot of girl-watching."

"Good for you. For divine derrière, Rio is definitely prime territory."

"Oh yes," Martin gulped a bit. "Yes in-deed."

"Mind you, they're not bad in Cozumel either," Douglass offered, smiling in memory. "And just as sweetly displayed."

"Maybe we shouldn't talk about this now," Martin sighed. "We're neither in Rio or Cozumel, and exceedingly nice as the mental imagery is, we do have a plane to get back on the ground."

"True, alas," came Douglas's answering sigh. "And we hadn't even gotten to the best bits yet."

"Yes well I think we can leave it at cheeky and call it a night," Martin replied. "I'd rather not have Caroline popping onto the flight deck while you wax romantic about what you prefer in décolletage."

"Or Arthur, who would assume we were discussing something you'd need to shellac with varnish to make a placemat."

"Good one," Martin chuckled. "All the more so for being true. Ah well, unless we have a fantastic turn of luck I doubt we'll be getting to either Rio or Cozumel anytime soon."

The discussion was tabled, and within the hour G-ERTI was snugly down and in her hangar at Fitton. Carolyn was in a distracted mood and clearly anxious to get home, herding Arthur out as quickly as possible, leaving Douglas and Martin behind with brisk orders to report back in two days time.

"Well, she's quite the chatterbox tonight," the first officer observed dryly. "Not that I mind, really."

"Nor I," Martin agreed, tucking his cap under his arm. "Have you seen anyone from the ground crew?"

Douglas gave an elegant shrug. "No, but if we want to make sure everything's locked up, I suppose I can help you look around."

It took about ten minutes; the night was chilly and a hint of rain hung in the air so neither man wanted to stay long. Finally Douglas spotted a shadowy someone in a green baggy boiler suit, back to them, sweeping out one of the baggage caravans. He called up to the man but got no reaction.

"Headphones," Martin pointed out, and lightly climbed up on the caravan, tapping one shoulder. "Yes, hello?"

The figure spun, rocking the caravan and jumping back. Douglas noted two things immediately. The first was that the person as in fact a woman, and the second was that the woman was extremely frightened. She yanked her ear buds out by the cord and took a deep, shaky breath. "Oh Jesus you gave me a fright! God! Sneaking up on a person like that!"

"I'm sorry, I'm sorry," Martin babbled, holding out his hands in a placating gesture. "I didn't mean to startle you Miss, but you did have your plugs in and didn't hear us calling to
you . . ."

"Oh, right," she admitted, looking from Martin to Douglas. "My own fault, yes. Sorry. It's just that it gets boring out here sometimes. Right, what can I do for you?"

"We just wanted needed someone to lock up after us," Douglas told her, holding out a hand to help her down from the caravan. It was a small hand, and warm, he noted. Martin scrambled down as well and the woman managed a smile at both of them.

"Fair enough. I don't think I've met you two yet. You're from MJN, right?"

"That's right; I'm First Officer Douglas Richardson, and this is Captain Martin Crieff," Douglas replied as he studied her, liking what he saw.

She was a petite thing, with skin the color of luscious caramel, large dark eyes and a full-lipped mouth. Her hair was in tiny gold-brown ringlets, a mane of heavy fluff to her shoulders, and when she smiled, her teeth were dazzling. "Charlotte Jane Sawyer; Call me Charlie. I'll be filling in for Mr. Havers for a while."

"Very pleased to meet you, Miss Sawyer," Martin managed without stuttering. Douglas could see that his fellow pilot was as captivated by the woman as he himself was. "What's happened to Dirk, er, Mr. Havers?"

"Not exactly sure, but it might have to do with being struck by a lorry," Charlie admitted. "He'll be all right or so I'm told, but not back up to the job for a couple of months."

"Good lord, that's unfortunate. I mean for Dirk, that is, not you working here. That's very fortunate. For us. For you, I mean. For all of us really. Well, except for Dirk of course," Martin blurted, true to form. "I mean it's lucky we're going to have you. Oh! Not have you, just that you'll be filling in."

"Yes," Charlie agreed, not the least fazed by the man's babbling. "Anyway, I'd be happy to lock up behind you tonight. Um, you didn't happen to see anyone else about, did you?"

"No, not at all. Why?"

"No special reason," Charlie replied, fishing for the keys that dangled at the loop on her hip. "All right gentlemen, lead on."

The three of them walked out to the car park under the dim lights, chatting quietly, and Douglas noted how Charlie looked around carefully even as she waved goodbye to them as they passed through the gate. He made a note of it as he thanked her and drove off, mulling over all the possible reasons why she seemed so nervous.


Martin -

He hadn't meant to startle her, but the problem with ear buds was pretty apparent, and certainly it wasn't his fault if she couldn't hear them approaching. Martin still felt terrible for frightening the woman—Charlotte. Charlie, that was. Still, no harm done.

She was quite pretty. Quite, quite pretty, in an exotic way, what with her café au lait skin, and that voluptuous mouth. Given what he and Douglas had been discussing earlier that evening it was hard not to think of Charlie Sawyer as a fortuitous gift. The usual workers at Fitton Air Field were a mixed lot, but blokes, all of them, so a woman and a pretty one at that was a nice surprise indeed.

Martin wondered if she'd taken the job because she liked planes. He hoped so, but knew that given his luck it was more likely because the hours were good for her, or because it was an easy second job. After parking his van, he made his way through the house and up the stairs to his attic, wondering what Charlie's first job might be.

After hanging up his uniform and wolfing down a bowl of dry cereal, Martin checked his messages and took down the particulars for two removal jobs, then curled up on his futon, wondering if by spectacular miraculous one-in-a-million chance Charlie might like to go to Duxford with him. It made for a nice fantasy, and he dropped off to sleep, smiling to himself.

The jobs weren't too difficult; the first one involved shifting a collection of ornate umbrella stands from one end of town to the other, and the little old woman who sent them off tipped very nicely. Martin wondered why on earth anyone would collect umbrella stands, but then again, the ways of little old ladies were often mysterious. At the other end, the curio shop was more than happy to receive them and Martin found a sandwich shop around the corner that did a nice lunch for cheap, so he was already ahead.

The second job was a bit more strenuous, since it involved lifting excess office furniture. Martin managed the chairs and file cabinets easily enough, but the desks took some tricky maneuvering with the dolly. The last thing he wanted to do was strain his back, so Martin worked slowly, secretly glad to be alone for a while and doing something that didn't require constant alertness or mental calculations. Flying was wonderful; nothing better in the world really, but taking a break from it did help his sanity. He loaded van and checked the address, then drove off, feeling pleased with himself.

The delivery took him into town, and he managed to unload the furniture quickly, already planning out what to do with the extra time. He needed to do laundry of course, and press his shirts; there were a few meagre groceries to buy and he needed a haircut . . . . Martin looked up the street to where he'd driven past a dingy salon and debated checking their prices. He strolled over, hoping a simple trim wasn't too dear, and peeked in the window.

Someone peeked back. Startled, Martin jerked back and nearly tripped on the sidewalk. Seconds later Charlie Sawyer popped out the door of the salon, smiling at him. "Martin, isn't it? Are you all right?" She wore a garish pinafore with 'Hip Clips' printed on it, and had a hairdryer in one hand.

"Yes it is, I'm fine. Sorry, I didn't expect to see you," he admitted, grinning delightedly at running across Charlie again. "I guess turnabout is fair play, right?"

She laughed. "So they say. I'm guessing you need a trim?"

Ruefully Martin ran a hand through his curls, feeling incredibly self-conscious about being sweaty and shaggy. "Rather, I suppose," he murmured uncertainly.

"Come on in then; no charge," Charlie told him with cheer. "I've got half an hour until my next appointment anyway."

"Oh," Martin murmured, and followed her in, "Thank you."

The little shop was nearly empty except for a tall elderly man in a dashiki who was sweeping up clippings and humming. He looked up at Martin and arched an eyebrow.

"I know three housewives and a city councilman who would kill for your curls, love," the man purred to him. "Not sure about the ginger part though."

"Oh you hush, Edwin," Charlie chided him. "Captain Crieff here has lovely hair. What would you like, just a trim or something more?" she added to Martin as she flicked a bib around him.

"Just enough of a trim to get it out of my eyes, please," he gulped. "So you work here too?"

"No fooling you," Charlie teased lightly. "Yes I do, just to make ends meet you understand. Not an easy economy we live in."

Martin tried to say something but the feel of Charlie's fingers running through his hair lightly massaging his scalp made coherent thought difficult. "Um, yes, I agreeee—" It was embarrassing; he very nearly moaned at the amazing sensation.

"Lovely texture you've got," Charlie told him. "So, tell me; what do you like about flying?"

The most perfect question ever. Martin drew in a breath and the next twenty minutes floated away in a charming conversation full of give and take as he expounded in rich and full detail exactly what he loved about planes, aviation, flying and aeronautics in general. Charlie listened, asked intelligent questions in all the right places and seemed to know a lot more about the subject than he would have expected of a newly hired groundsman.

When she whipped the drape off of him and handed him a mirror, Martin blushed, pleased with his reflection. The cut looked both smart and professional, which given his general features was a vast improvement, he felt.

"That's, that's wonderful," he murmured, fishing for his wallet.

Charlie laid a hand on his forearm, shaking her head. "No charge," she repeated. "You're my good deed for the day."

"Yes, but I'm not a charity case," Martin wanted to protest.

Charlie gave a soft laugh. "Course not. Tell you what; you can do me a tea at the canteen next time and we'll be even. Oh, there's my three o'clock. I'll see you at Fitton then, Martin. You look nice!"

He headed out, feeling a warmth in the pit of his stomach as he strode to the van, and even the ticket for the expired parking meter didn't bother him as much as it might have. Martin climbed into the van and glanced at his reflection in the rear view mirror, grinning.

"Tea it shall be, Charlie Sawyer; you can bet on that," he murmured, and drove off.



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