by Regina Riley
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Lying back in the warm grass, she turned her eyes to the sky and watched another dirigible pass overhead. The airship’s shadow inched across the field until it touched her, moved over her, then swallowed her whole. Her skirt fluttered and her blouse ballooned with each gust.
Most folks preferred watching from the safety of the unloading docks, but she wasn’t satisfied unless she could feel the air pressure change as the ships passed by. She closed her eyes and breathed deep the steam and oil and exhaust, memories flooding her senses.
A handsome stranger …
Perfect love …
Absolute danger …
“Grandma!” a little boy shouted.
Startled, she turned her head in the grass and watched as a toddler ran across the edge of the airfield. The chunky little boy stumbled and tumbled past the line of onlookers and straight into the arms of a woman not much older than her. Grandma, she thought. How odd that sounds. No one called her that. She wasn’t gifted with children of her own, grand or otherwise, but that was okay. They found they didn’t need kids once they had each other.
They had perfect love, and faced absolute danger to win it.
Just over head, a man asked, “Ma’am? Are you all right?”
For a moment she thought it was his voice, her beloved, but she opened her eyes to find the shadow of a man—far too large to be her darling—towering over her. How long had he been standing there? She hadn’t even realized she closed her eyes again.
“Do you need a hand?” he asked, his voice bearing a slight accent she thought she recognized but couldn’t quite place.
“No, thank you,” she said. She sat up and brushed the loose grass from her blouse, trying her best to act her age, which she never quite felt no matter how many years passed. When she dared look at him again, she found he had crouched to her level, and the sight of him hitched her breath in her throat.
He was devilishly handsome; dark haired and scruffy, with brown eyes that had a sense of danger about them. And she knew danger when she saw it, having lived in its shadow for so very, very long. He dressed in an outdated fashion, an old western style that would have been quite fitting in her own youth. Atop this he was armed, sporting about his hips a pair of the largest pepperbox guns she had ever seen. Or were they Colt revolvers? It was hard to tell from this angle. She leaned in for a closer look, her curiosity getting the best of her as usual.
“Can I help you with something?” he asked.
She snapped her gaze his waist to his face. From his wide smile, she knew she had been caught staring at his guns. What he must think of her! An old woman staring at a younger man’s pistols! “I was just watching the ships pass.”
“I can’t fault you for that.” The stranger turned his face to the sky and whistled. “Where I come from this kind of thing would be quite a surprise to most folks.” He chuckled a moment then added, almost under his breath, “Then again, a lot of things in my time are still quite the surprise to me.”
“Do they not have airships where you live?”
“Yes ma’am. Just not quite so many. Or so fast. Or so big.”
“I know what you mean. I used to travel on one, but nothing like these leviathans.”
“Yes. In my youth. The Widow was a cargo ship. A very small cargo ship. Small but homey.” She smiled wistfully with the memory, until she realized she was embarrassing herself. When she caught a glimpse of his equally wistful smile, it forced her into a blush. “I guess I sound silly talking about a vehicle like it was home.”
“Not at all. I know the feeling. I travel by train, you see, and it’s more than just home for me. It’s becoming my whole life.”
“Then you do understand.”
“Yes, ma’am. I reckon I do.”
They shared a moment of silence; she thinking about all the times—the good and the bad—she spent aboard the Merry Widow, and the stranger thinking … well who knew what handsome young men thought these days.
He interrupted their moment of reflection by removing something from his jacket and looking at it, as if checking a pocket watch. “I hate to leave such a pretty lady all alone out here on such a nice day, but my friends are waiting for me. I’m afraid I have to move-a-get-on or they might just leave me behind. Will you be all right?”
She doubted anyone would willingly leave somebody like him behind. “It’s fine, young man. You’ll be pleased to know I’m not here alone. My husband has gone to fetch our picnic basket. He should be back any moment now. You should hang about if you can. I’m sure he would love to meet you.”
“I appreciate that, but I really must be goin’.” He stored the item again, stood and tipped his hat to her. “G’day to you, ma’am.” The stranger turned, as if to leave, but didn’t. Facing her again, he asked, “Have you seen anything unusual today? Anything …” He paused to draw a deep breath as he rubbed at the back of his neck. “This is going to sound all kinds of strange but bear with me here. Have you seen anything that seems like it just doesn’t belong?”
All kinds of strange? Even with his odd looking weapons, the young man had no idea what strange was, much less all kinds of it. She could teach him a thing or two about strange. After all, she was madly in love with the strangest thing to ever walk the face of the earth. And had been for years.
Smiling wide she lied to him. “No, sir. I can’t say I have.”
He eyed her for just a second, a sly smile playing over his lips. “I thought as much. Thanks again.” The stranger tipped his hat to her and walked off with the long strides of a determined man.
She watched him weaved through the crowd, folks moving almost instinctively out of his way. In moments he disappeared into the exhibition hall and was gone.
“Are you hungry yet?” another man asked.
This time she recognized the speaker as she recognized the sound of her own breath, her own heartbeat, her own soul. He was already seated beside her on the grass, with the basket open, spreading their lunch between them. He wouldn’t eat now, of course. Couldn’t eat now. Not the way he took food. Certainly not in public! But he would nibble and sip, just to feel real. She wouldn’t deny him a single chance to feel as real as he made her feel loved.
“Who was that man?” he asked.
“I’m not sure,” she said. “But if I didn’t know better, I would’ve thought he was looking for you.”
He stopped cold and stared at her in horror. “Do you think-”
“No silly,” she said, and giggled. “I just meant he was looking for trouble.” She looked out across the field again and sighed. “He’ll find it to. That much is sure.”
Her husband caressed her shoulder. She shuddered under his touch. Over forty years had passed between them and she still trembled when he laid hands on her. He took her by the chin and turned her to face him again, holding her gaze with his copper eyes.
“He should look for love,” he said. “It’s much more rewarding.”
“Everyone should look for love,” she whispered. “But not everyone will find it.”
“Not everyone can, because not everyone is blessed with an angel.”
His lips fluttered over hers before he captured her mouth into a sweet, hot kiss.
Angel on the Airfield post created for SteamPink event by Regina Riley, author of Pistons and Pistols (aka Tonia Brown, author of Railroad!)
© 2011. All rights reserved.
by Regina Riley
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by Regina Riley
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