Aussie Rules

By: Jill Shalvis

Chapter 1




If you asked Melanie Anderson, nothing was sexier than flying. Not an eighty-five mile-per-hour ride in a Ferrari, not any chick flick out there, nothing, not even men. Not that she had anything against the penis-carrying gender, but flying was where it was at for Mel, and had been since the tender age of four, when she’d constructed wings out of cardboard and jumped out of a tree on a dare. Unfortunately, that first time the ground got in her way, breaking her fall.

And her ankle.

Her second try had come at age eight, when she’d leapt off her granny’s second-story deck into a pile of fallen leaves. No broken ankle this time, but she did receive a nice contusion to the back of the head.

By age twelve, a time when most girls discovered boys and their toys, Mel had discovered airplanes, and had taken a job sweeping for tips at a local airport just to be near them. Maybe because her own home never seemed happy, maybe because she didn’t have much else to look forward to, but the magic of flying was all she ever dreamed about.

She wanted to be a pilot. And not just any pilot, but a kick-ass pilot who could fly anywhere, anytime, and look cool while doing it.

Now she was twenty-six and she’d pulled it all off. She ran her own charter service: Anderson Air. That Anderson Air consisted of a single Cessna 172 and a not-exactly-air-worthy Hawker was another matter altogether. Having fueled her dreams from cardboard wings to titanium steel made her proud as hell of herself. Now, if only she could pay her bills, things would be just about perfect, but money, like man-made orgasms, remained in short supply.

“Mel! Mel, sweetie, the oven is kaput again!”

Mel sighed as she walked through the lobby of North Beach Airport, a small, privately owned, fixed-base operation. The cozy, sparsely decorated place was dotted with worn leather couches and low, beat-up coffee tables and potted palm trees—low maintenance to the extreme. A couple of the walls were glass, looking out onto the tarmac and the two large hangars, one of which housed the maintenance department and the other the overnight tie-down department. Beyond that lay a string of fourteen smaller hangars, all rentals. And beyond that, Santa Barbara and the Pacific Ocean, where Mel could routinely find her line guys and aircraft mechanic riding the waves on their surfboards instead of doing their job.

The far wall held a huge map of the world, dotted with different colored pushpins designating the places where she and everyone else had flown to on various chartered flights. Red pins dominated. Mel was red, of course, and just looking at the map made her smile with pride.

Just past the map, the wall jutted out, opening up into the Sunshine Café, an ambitious name for five round tables and a small bar/nook, behind which was a stove, oven, microwave, and refrigerator, all crammed into six hundred square feet and painted a bright sunshine yellow. On the walls hung photos, all of planes, and all gorgeously shot from the ground’s viewpoint.

Charlene Stone stood in the middle of the kitchen nook, bottle-dyed maroon hair piled on top of her head, her black lip gloss a perfect match to her black fingernails. She’d turned forty this year and wore a T-shirt that read TWENTY WAS GOOD BUT FORTY IS BETTER, and a pair of short shorts that rivaled Daisy Duke’s. As the eighties had been Char’s favorite decade to date, she had Poison blaring from a boom box on the counter while staring into the oven. “I can’t get my muffins going,” she said in her Alabama drawl.

“I thought I was your muffin, baby.”

This from Charlene’s husband, Al, the photographer who’d taken the pictures on the walls, who despite being forty himself had never outgrown his horny twenties. Medium height, built like the boxer he’d once been, he waggled a brow and grinned.

They’d been married forever, had in fact raised two kids while they’d still been kids themselves, but they had empty-nest syndrome now, and were currently revisiting their honeymoon days—meaning they talked about sex often, had sex often, and talked about it some more.

“People come here for my muffins,” Charlene said, and smacked Al’s chest.

“I love your muffins.”

“You’re just kissing up now.”

This brought out a big, hopeful grin. “No, but I’d like to.” He shifted close, put his hands on Char’s hips. “Kiss up, and then down…”

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