Niki Daniels is hurt when a taxi hits her from behind. Little does she know, the customer is none other than her new client, Austin Cole. He's a Christian praise singer, and she's just been named his manager.
Austin demands that everyone working with him are Christian, so Niki makes a point to hide the fact that God abandoned her years ago, and she's turned away from Him.
Austin used to be a neurosurgeon, but gave it up when his wife was killed. He is now a rancher in a tiny town south of Midland, Texas, where he lives with his young daughter. His goal is to change lives and turn souls toward God with his music.
Since Niki is his client and patient, he negotiates bringing her to his home, questioning her lack of faith and secret past.
He leaned down to her ear as he pushed her toward the door. "Mr. Glick. Remember him?"
"Yes, I do." She inched her head toward the side, pointing behind her. "Wait. I want the flowers you brought me." He stopped, but didn't go back to the flowers. She tilted her head backward, watching him stare down at her from above.
"Are you sure?" he asked.
"Yes, I'm sure. I loved those flowers. No one else sent me any and I appreciate it." She was being sincere, hoping she didn't sound condescending.
"Yes, ma'am." He walked back to the bed and got the vase filled with beautiful flowers, and placed it in her lap. She held onto the huge clear glass vase, leaned closer, and smelled the flowers. As much as she wanted to stay detached from Austin, the thought that he gave her flowers was almost more than she could handle. It had been so long since someone had done something nice for her.
She felt the tears behind her eyes, but tried to hold them back, thinking of something to keep her from crying. But nothing came to mind. As a professional, she couldn't show her emotions, however, keeping things from Austin would be tough. He seemed to know how to get under her skin, to make her show her inner self. She had to put up the walls and turn the tables on him so she wouldn't reveal herself to him except in a professional manner.
They took a taxi to the airport, and then he helped her into the small eight-seat plane.
"Are you sure this will make it?" she asked. Something suddenly hit her as odd. "Where's my car?"
"It's back at your apartment." He handed her the keys to her place. "This plane will make it. You're allowed to sleep. I promise no one will say a word if you snore."
"I don't snore."
"Don't worry about it." He helped her into a seat, knelt in front of her, and buckled the seatbelt for her.
"I can do that."
"But not in your car when driving to work." He looked up at her face. He seemed so caring, Niki had to stop her heart from racing and slow her breathing. "I do this for Sarah, too," he said. "She loves flying."
Niki felt her mouth fall open as she stared at the handsome man. "She's three. How much does she fly?"
He stood up. "A lot. Dallas loves taking the kids up to have lunch in different cities, and flies 'em back to Texas. It drives me nuts."
"I bet. Don't you worry?"
"Yes, ma'am. All the time." He sat beside her and nodded toward the pilot while buckling his own seatbelt. "We're ready when you are."
"Thank you, sir." The man closed the curtain separating the cabin from the rest of the plane and backed away from the terminal.
The plane taxied to the runway and Niki held onto the armrests, her fists turning white. She closed her eyes and lowered her head as far as the neck brace allowed.
"Are you scared?" Austin asked her, making her open her eyes.
"Very. I'm not good at flying."
His hand covered hers. "You'll be fine." He removed her hand from the armrest with a chuckle and surrounded it with his warm fingers. "Relax and pray, Niki."
"I can't pray. I'm not religious, remember?"
He leaned closer to her ear, his Stetson touching the top of her head. "Do you know how to pray?"
"No. God hates me, remember?"
"He doesn't hate you. I wish you'd tell me why you think that's true."
"I can't. Let it go."
She closed her eyes, hearing his voice praying for safety and forgiveness in her ear. But her mind was thinking about her life and how she'd hidden herself away. She was certain this plane ride was the end of the line and she'd never realize her dreams.
Niki glanced toward Austin when he said Amen. "Is that it? That was a short prayer."
"Yes, ma'am. Just a little message thanking God for watching out for us. I really wish you'd talk to me and let someone help you. Life would be so much better for you if you did."
She bit her lips and looked out the window. The engines geared up and Niki closed her eyes. She was terrified, but when Austin's arm rested on her shoulders, she felt more relaxed.
"You're going to be fine," he said into her ear. "Don't worry so much."
She clenched her fists. "I hate this."
"I know. Just relax and leave it in someone else's hands. Have faith, God will get us through this."
That was easy for him to say. God loved him.
The plane headed down the runway and lifted off the ground. Austin pulled her head to his chest, while tears of fear filled her eyes. The scent of his aftershave filled her senses, reminding her he was a client and she couldn't get involved. But he was also a man and protecting her in the shadow of death.
The plane climbed into the air, and as soon as they leveled off, Austin unbuckled his seatbelt and stood up. He walked away while tears trickled down Niki's cheeks. Clouds sat right outside the window, but they couldn't hold the plane in the air. A sudden air pocket jolted the plane. She wasn't ready to die, slamming her eyes shut while holding onto the armrests even more. With her nails dug into the fabric, she held her breath, waiting for the roller coaster to subside.
"Drink this," Austin said.
Niki opened her eyes to a bottle of water held in front of her.
"Take it," he said. "It'll help your ears adjust to the pressure difference."
"I can't move my hands."
He sat beside her, took her hand in his, and looked into her face. "Think of this like a car ride, going up and down hills. Relax a little. I promise it'll be fine."
"I wish I could."
"If you can't, I have a med kit in the back and can give you a sedative. Do you want that?"
"No, I don't want drugs. I want to get off the plane." She removed the seat belt and stood up.
"You can't get off the plane." He forced her to her seat. "We're in the air already."
"Oh, yeah. That would hurt a lot. Sorry about that." She covered her face with her hands, feeling the nausea start in her stomach.
He buckled her back into her seat and walked away, returning in a moment.
She felt something cold on her skin and by the time she turned her head, she saw the needle enter her arm, screaming out in pain. "What's that?"
He sat beside her again. "Just something to take the edge off. How do you handle traveling with tours if you don't fly?"
"When we fly, we use bigger planes that have the power to stay in the air. I usually make the tour cities closer together, and encourage them to use a tour bus. That way, I can drive behind the bus and I'm in control." She paused in thought. "When I get to Texas, I need to rent a car."
"You don't need a car. I have transportation."
"No, I need a car and I'm paying for it. That's not a negotiable point. I have to feel like I'm not a prisoner or beholden to anyone."
He sat back and smiled. "I understand that. I feel that way when I'm in the city and have to use a taxi. I'll have a car rental ready for you."
"Good." She nodded toward her purse, at her feet. "My credit card's in there if you can reach it for me. I'm too scared."
"We don't have to do that right now."
"Get it when you need it." Niki closed her eyes. "I'm really tired."
"That's the plan."
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