His first thought at
seeing her was damnnnnn.
Not that thinking was high on his agenda for a moment there; not while the warm flash of lust surged through him only to be promptly erased by common sense.
After all, this woman was an associate of Tony’s, and this was a business meeting, so Jim Rhodes smiled and tried to keep his mind on the business at hand, trying to look intelligent. Fortunately Tony did most of the talking--as usual--and that made it easy to enjoy a few sidelong glances.
Jodie, her name was. Jodie Zody of all things. Jim wondered if she ever got annoyed with that, and why her parents had stuck her with the rhyme scheme for life. He also wondered if her breasts were natural or augmented, because ohhhhbaby, they were spectacular, even in profile.
Jim also knew that Tony was watching his every move and smirking about it, so he put on his good Air Force Colonel face and kept his attention on the discussion. Easier said than done, but he managed, and at the conclusion, he offered to take Miss Zody and her father on a tour of some of the planes on the base. The way both of them jumped at the offer was gratifying to say the least.
He took Miss Zody’s business card and tucked it away, then helped to push her father’s wheelchair out to the front of the building, and chatted to him while his daughter brought the van from the parking lot.
When Jim returned to Tony’s office, Pepper was gone, and he could tell he was in for it.
“So, going to need a snorkel, Platypus?” Tony commented. “I’m guessing you’ll need one if you’re going diving in that cleavage.”
“Tony--” Jim knew he should be used to Stark’s ability to tease, but he still rose to the bait every damned time. “Man, that was crude even for you.”
“Hey, hey, I’m not the one with the bust lust here. And before you try and deny it, remember who you’re attempting to lie to.”
“Fine. She’s definitely . . . endowed. And yeah, she’s a looker; I’ll give you that. But--” Jim sighed, “She’s too young for me, Tony. I don’t rob cradles.”
It was unfortunately true; Jodie Zody couldn’t be much more than twenty-five at the most, and he’d sworn off dating anyone a decade younger than himself. Women that age were still too caught up in their own lives to know what they wanted in a relationship.
He’d learned that the hard way.
Tony didn’t look convinced. “She may be young, but she’s running the show with the company—or weren’t you listening?”
“I was listening,” Jim protested. And he had been. Mostly.
“Yeah, with your eyes. Trust me, pal, she’s the one with the art degree and the portfolios to back it up. On that tour? Miss double D Zody’s going to be asking you questions thick and fast, so you’d better be able to keep up.”
“Don’t call her that,” he protested automatically. Bad enough that the name fit; having Tony say was worse. Jim scowled because now it was hard not to think of her chest again. “And anyway, the tour won’t be for at least a week. I’m sure she’ll have forgotten all about the offer.”
“Don’t think so,” Tony shot back with a knowing smile. “And anyway, both of you are invited to the holiday party out at the children’s hospital in two days. With luck she’ll wear something slinky just for you, Platypus.”
Jim wasn’t sure what to say to that, because the imagery was damned tempting. He settled for a small smirk. “Right. Because she’s all about the flyboys.”
“Given the number of toy planes Zody & Sons puts out--” Tony replied, his tone serious for a moment, “I’m counting on it.”
The next time Jim saw Jodie Zody was at the party. He arrived a little late, delayed by traffic through downtown, so his mood was slightly sour. The party itself was in one of the large meeting rooms connected to the hospital, and the décor was holiday festive. Jim made it a point to dress in civvies; button-down shirt, sweater and slacks, and seeing the crowd he was glad he did.
There was holiday music, an impressive buffet, dining tables on one side and a dance floor on the other. One wall was glass, overlooking the ocean, and out in the far corner on the long balcony was Miss Zody, talking, apparently, to a tree.
This bore investigating, and Jim made his way out towards her, curious despite himself. He stepped out and caught the drift of her conversation with the light-festooned Ficus. “ . . . and after that, I decided it’s just not worth investing in plastics unless it’s for moldings and accessories. Die cast is more expensive, but in the long run, holds up better.”
She looked over her shoulder, saw him, and blushed. “Oh! Um, Colonel Rhodes . . .”
“Call me Jim. I’m just waiting to see what the tree has to say—please, don’t let me interrupt.”
Jodie gave a little sigh, and her hands twisted around themselves. Jim noticed she was in a pink sweater and matching skirt, and although the neckline was higher than he’d like, the fit of the angora sent tingles of interest through him.
“Sorry, it’s dumb, I know, I know. I just . . . I’m not comfortable with strangers, so I came out here and thought if practiced my conversation that I wouldn’t feel so nervous if people came up to me.” Jodie murmured, and brushed one of her long curls out of her eyes. She had blonde hair in corkscrew curls, and Jim knew that if he were to pull one curl down and let it go, the thing would bounce up again.
He smiled at her. “It’s not dumb. It shows a lot of foresight to plan in advance for something you’re not comfortable with. In my line of work, that kind of initiative could save your life.”
“Really? Making conversation is that important in the Air Force?” she asked with a slightly astonished face. For a moment Jim was taken in by her naiveté, but then she grinned and he knew that Jodie had just pulled his leg.
He grinned back. “Utterly. I’ve been working on my Small Talk Ranger’s ribbon for some time now. If I didn’t have a black belt in Elevator Chat, I could have died, trapped in a Macy’s for three hours. With nuns.”
“Wowww,” Jodie smirked, “So you’re not just a pretty face, huh?”
“Nope,” he agreed, vastly amused by her willingness to play along. “Anyway, what was all that about die cast?”
As he found them something to drink, Jodie proceeded to tell him more about the process of forcing molten steel into molded casings than he ever needed to know. But she was so damned animated about it, and clearly comfortable talking to him that Jim just nodded and asked a question here and there.
When she finally realized she was dominating the conversation, she gave a cute little squeak, “ . . . Annnnd I’m don’t need to say anymore,” and took a quick gulp of her wine. Jim flashed a grin at her, but the sudden twinkle of a ring on her left hand made him stop suddenly.
Jodie caught his glance and shook her head. “No. We broke up six months ago, and he wouldn’t take the ring back, but since I didn’t want anyone hitting on me here, I wore it as sort of . . . camouflage.”
“Oh,” The surge of relief in him was pretty strong, but Jim ignored the implications. “I guess that’s smart.”
“I’m thinking of selling it and donating the money to a worthy cause,” Jodie sighed. “Maybe then Dennis will get the hint.”
“Sometimes that’s what it takes,” Jim told her, adding, “I’m sorry.”
“I’m not,” Jodie shook her head again. “Believe me, this is better for both of us in the long run.”
Someone came up to them, and they both looked over; Tony Stark stood there, smiling. “Hey, you two should be dancing before all the good music is used up. Have Jim give you a whirl,” he told Jodie. “The man’s genuine insanity on the dance floor.”
“Tony,” Jim protested automatically. It was hard enough to be taken seriously whenever Tony got in the first word, usually because it was outrageous, unpredictable and more often than not, untrue. In this case, especially, but Jodie’s face lit up.
“I’d love to dance,” she told him softly, and that changed everything.
Jim shot a glance at Tony, who managed to look gleeful and innocent, an expression Jim was all too familiar with. As he took Jody’s hand and passed by, he could swear he heard the head of Stark Industries murmur under his breath, “My work here is done.”
Fortunately it was a slow number, and Jim felt more comfortable with that. Not that he was a bad dancer, but his days of gyrating were limited, and a nice gentle foxtrot was more conducive to conversation. He laid a hand on Jodie’s waist and took her hand, smiling as they both gently began to move in time to the light strains of ‘I’ll be Home for Christmas.’
“I’m so glad it’s you,” Jodie murmured. Surprised, Jim looked at her. She was about three inches shorter than he was; not petite, but a lovely size. His questioning look made her shrug and grin. “At least I know you. It makes it nicer when you know who you’re dancing with.”
“You have a point,” he agreed, and smiled. Her reaction to this was to blush; Jim Rhodes was surprised that she did, and his ego fluttered a bit. They danced on for the rest of the song, getting to know each other’s moves, and by the time the band swung into ‘Winter Wonderland,’ Jodie had relaxed enough to ask Jim, shyly, about his career.
He told her the highlights, downplaying the struggles and low points, but her gaze was sharp enough to pick up what he was leaving out, and the soft squeeze of her hand reassured him. A tap on his shoulder startled Jim; he looked over to see Tony there, smiling. “Cutting in.”
Watching Jodie and Tony sail across the dance floor was irritating, but Jim argued with himself that it was only force of habit for Tony, and they’d both be back after the song was over. He found an empty table and watched them. Her, mostly, because Jodie in motion was very, very nice. Jim let himself take in her figure and his pulse jumped a bit at the evaluation, reminding him that it had been a long damned time since he’d gotten interested in a woman.
For a brief moment he let himself fantasize, picturing sweet Miss Zody naked and breathless against his sheets, and the imagery sent his already accelerated pulse into a thudding beat. With deliberation, Jim bit the inside of his cheek and turned his thoughts to the pain, making it put his focus back on the here and now. He’d learned the trick on the job, to help fight panic, and using it for this was . . . interesting.
He needed to get laid. Soon. And not have it be a young blonde who talked to trees and hung on his every word, because that would be too, too dangerous.
The tour took place on a Tuesday morning, sunny bright. The public relations office had given Jim the day to conduct the Zodys on their tour, and had even given him an airman to do the driving. It turned out that Odie Zody, or Ode, as he insisted on being called, had served in the Navy briefly in his younger days and came home from Vietnam to join his father in the family business of toymaking.
“I was the ‘Sons’ of the company, and it’s too much work to change it to ‘Daughter’ at this point, although Jodie is the one running the thing,” Ode admitted cheerfully. “Knows it inside and out growing up with it.”
“Is that a fact?” Jim murmured with interest. They were already at the C5 out on the tarmac, and the airman was helping to set up the older Zody’s wheelchair.
“Yep. I still get in what woodworking I can, but now it’s just a matter of parts and painting. We’re small and want to stay that way; Stark says that’s fine with him.”
“Well if Tony says so, he’s on the level,” Jim agreed in a slightly distracted tone. Jodie was in a baby blue v-neck sweater and jeans that clung to every curve; even the young airman was checking her out in surreptitious sidelong glances. She seemed oblivious of her own charm, Jim thought, and that merely added to it.
“That is one big transport,” she sighed, looking up at the plane and grinning. Jim nodded and fell into step beside her, his orientation well-rehearsed. They rolled Ode up the ramp in the back, marveled at the spacious interior (“Big enough for six Greyhound buses, two by two.”) and moved their way to the front.
Both of the Zodys asked questions, and Jim found himself working to answer them. Jodie was interested in specs and colors; Ode wanted explanations for design points. When they reached the cockpit, the space was small compared to the rest of the plane, and Ode shook his head. “Not going to fit—go take a look, Jodie; I’ll start heading back towards the ramp. Get some pictures!”
The last remark was a joke; both Zodys had been warned about photographs. Jodie smiled and climbed through the narrow door to the cockpit. Jim followed, aware of how close she was. Jodie dropped herself into the navigator’s seat on the right and looked out through the windshield. “Pretty high.”
“We’re about fifteen feet up, yeah. Not built for the drive through window,” Jim joked, pleased when Jodie giggled a bit.
“No, I guess not. I couldn’t imagine trying to get a In and Out shake from up here,” she agreed. “Although the drive-in could be fun.”
“You’re too young to know about drive-ins,” Jim countered, settling into the pilot’s seat and absently checking the dials.
Jodie gave him a challenging look. “I disagree. I saw the last two Star Wars movies at the drive-in, in fact. There’s a good one—the Starlite—just off highway two ten.”
“Is that so?”
“Sure is,” Jodie murmured, doing a quick sketch of the instrument panel. “Although my last date there was less than spectacular. Are the windows tinted?”
“Yes. Sorry to hear about the date,” Jim replied, not sorry at all. The thought of Jodie at a drive-in was far too intriguing, and he made a mental note to revisit it later, in privacy.
“Old history,” she admitted quietly. “What’s the proportional square space of the cabin here?”
“About eight by five by six, roughly,” Jim told her. “Limited room, especially for two full-grown men. Not as limited at the F15, but still, no place to stretch out.”
Jodie looked at him, bright-eyed. “Will we get to see an F15?” she asked, eagerly.
He enthusiasm warmed him. “Damn straight,” he promised, and she grinned back warmly.
“Oh Jim, that would be terrific. I’ve wanted to add an F15 to our lineup for a long time, but the stats available have always looked a little iffy to me. Even the ratios on the model kits have seemed off, especially on the wingspans. Not that I want to give any government secrets away,” Jodie added quickly, going a bit pink as she babbled. “I just . . . never mind.”
“You know as well as I do that some ratios are deliberately skewed for just that reason.” Jim comforted her, “and yes, I’ll make sure you get to climb into a cockpit before the day is over, all right?”
“I could kiss you for that!” she blurted, and then covered her face with her hands. “Oh God! That was, um, just a figure of speech,” came her agonized explanation.
Jim shook his head and smiled, glad that neither the airman nor her father had heard the remark. He hadn’t run across any woman, civilian or service, quite so enthusiastic about plane design, and it delighted him more than he wanted to admit.
So he busied himself with tapping a few of the dials in front of him, shifting his expression to mock-serious. “It had better be, Jodie; I’m not supposed to be compensated for this tour. I could be reprimanded for accepting any gratuities, you know.”
“Really?” she blinked, and then realized he was teasing her. Jodie scrunched up her face, but giggled just the same, clutching her notepad to her generous chest.
Jim Rhodes looked at her affectionately, and the tiniest realization fluttered in the back of his thoughts.
Damn you, Tony. I could be in trouble here.