Home > The Love Connection

The Love Connection
Author: Denise Williams

 


Chapter One


   Ollie

 

“Flight 682, direct service from Orlando, has arrived at Gate C7.”

   I normally tuned out the constant stream of announcements from the disembodied voices over the PA system—flights arriving, flights delayed, gates changed, personal items left at security, but this announcement caught my attention. Pre-Flight Paws was right across from Gate C7. If the airport was a small town, which it often felt like, that gate was our neighbor.

   Jess walked from the back, calling over her shoulder, “Pepper is an escape artist—be careful when washing him!” After two years of continued popularity and an incredible response from travelers to the idea of having their animals groomed during layovers, we had a staff. Jess let the door swing closed behind her and joined me behind the counter. “You’re staring again.” My best friend and business partner’s voice interrupted me from what wasn’t staring but simply observing the passenger exiting the jet bridge.

   The tall, broad-shouldered, sharp-jawed mystery passenger.

   “I am not staring.”

   “You didn’t even look away when you answered me.” She bumped her hip with mine, nudging me toward the counter.

   I didn’t know his real name, but around 11:15 a.m. every Tuesday, I watched an Adonis in a dark tailored suit leave the jet bridge, check his phone, look around, and then walk out of my neighborhood to some unknown destination. The only thing that could have possibly made him sexier was if he was holding a book. I was always a sucker for a fellow reader.

   Jess tsk-tsk-tsked and nudged me out of the way to access the computer. “It’s sad, really.”

   Mr. Tuesday looked serious all the time, and today a crease formed between his brows as he paused, leaning against a wall, and stared at his phone. “What’s sad?”

   Her fingers clicked across the keyboard. “That your Diet Coke break is going to be the highlight of your day.”

   I sipped my straw, keeping an eye on him. “It’s iced coffee.”

   “You remember that commercial from the nineties where the women ogled the shirtless construction worker drinking a Diet Coke at the same time every day?”

   I finally dragged my gaze from Mr. Tuesday. “That sounds . . . problematic. What are you talking about?”

   Jess rolled her eyes. “So young.” She pulled her phone from her back pocket and searched YouTube. She was only ten years older than me, but apparently that meant I’d missed an entire world of advertising-related pop-culture references. “Hold on.”

   “Speaking of Diet Coke, how did Pepper end up covered in it and in need of a bath?” I’d returned from the restroom to find his owner, breathless and handing over her little terrier, wet and unhappy, though calorie-free.

   Jessica held up her phone to me proudly, showing a video of a shirtless man in a hard hat being ogled by women with big hair and bigger glasses. “Apparently, he wriggled away from her and had a run-in with an open bottle someone was drinking. Pepper. Not this actor. I don’t know about his wriggling habits.”

   I glanced back at C7, unwilling to miss more of my Mr. Tuesday moments, even for a Pepper story. “This is not a Diet Coke break,” I said, acknowledging in my own head that it was; I just had smaller hair than those women. “It’s . . . curiosity.”

   Jess laughed, the lively sound filling the small check-in area. When some policy changes made it possible to move our mobile grooming business into the terminal, we’d sunk all our savings, all our connections, all our favors, and all our time into getting it off the ground. Time I had, the rest of it was short, but I loved this space, especially with my best friend’s voice bouncing off the walls. “Curiosity about what he looks like without the suit on?”

   I grinned and watched Tuesday stash his phone, look around, and then head toward the other end of the terminal. “No, just . . . who he is. Where he’s going.”

   Jess walked toward the back with a knowing smirk. “Diet Coke break,” she called over her shoulder, letting the door swing behind her.

   With Mr. Tuesday off to his flight, I returned to the computer, where I’d been reviewing our finances. Jessica was the groomer. I was the adorer of pets, and while I could help with the basics, the business side of things was my contribution. After a moment of looking at the screen and skimming through the numbers one more time, I glanced back up at the spot on the wall where Mr. Tuesday had been leaning. Him suitless would probably not be so bad. A suitless guy in an airport was fun. A suitless guy in an airport didn’t date you for three years, convince you a long-distance relationship was better than you moving to DC for your dream job, and then lead a double life for a year.

   I shook off the memory because that betrayal had changed me into someone who was scared to get into anything romantic—but also into the river-rafting, skydiving, business-starting, fearless woman I was. Some risks were worth it to prove to myself I wasn’t a timid person anymore. People risks . . . well, I had book boyfriends for that. I glanced at the novel tucked into my purse under the counter, eager to get back to it later.

   Back to the hustle. I scrolled through the accounting software, double-checking my work, the proposal to expand in another window.

   The muted sound of Pepper’s sharp, high-pitched bark came through the usually effective soundproofing door. “Hey, Ollie, Jess is in the middle of it with that chihuahua. Can you help me with—” Jeremiah pushed through the swinging door, his hands covered in suds.

   It never occurred to me that we’d have so many regular customers in an airport, and I turned immediately, knowing how squirrelly Pepper could be when motivated. “Sure, just close the—”

   A young couple holding an animal carrier walked into the shop, but before they could say anything, Pepper, covered in soapy water, made a run for it, leaving a trail of suds across our floor and out into the terminal, trailing his lead behind him like a snake.

   Damn it! “I’ll get him.” I pushed from behind the counter, giving our new clients the best possible impression, and sprinted after Pepper. “Jeremiah, please help them!” I cursed the devious little animal I used to find adorable and ran after him through the crowded walkway, calling after him. “Pepper!” I dodged a family staring blankly at the arrivals and departures board, ignoring my instinct to help them. “Pepper! Come!”

   Ahead of me, the dog bobbed and weaved and I swear the little jerk slowed down until I got close, probably laughing manically in his head. I’d planned to land in DC as a power player in a corner office for high-level campaigns. As I slid on one of Pepper’s wet paw prints and hurtled to the ground, banging my forearms on the tile, I questioned the life choices that had brought me to this point.

   Scrambling to my feet, I searched the area and followed his wet trail. “Pepper!”

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