Stealing Taffy (Bigler, North Carolina #3) - Susan Donovan

Chapter 1

Of course she noticed him. Tanyalee Marie Newberry might have been fresh out of rehab, but she wasn’t dead.

And anyway, admiring a grade A specimen of man at an airport had nothing to do with relationship addiction, per se, which, according to the therapists at Sedona Sunset, was her primary issue. That was in addition to her tendency to overshop, of course, and her occasional brush with kleptomania, all issues that no longer plagued her, thankyoubabyJesus.

So admire away she did.

The man in question sat facing Tanyalee, four aisles down in the boarding area, texting on his smartphone. At first glance he seemed like any other businessman passing through Chicago O’Hare. Upon closer inspection, however, she could tell there was something more going on. He looked too dangerous to be wearing those shiny leather loafers. She could tell by the way his body sprawled in the chair that he was a biiiig man, but without an ounce of chub on him. With the thick, black (and slightly too long) hair and swarthy complexion, he might very well have been a Greek tycoon. Or an Italian prince. Or maybe an Olympic gold medalist in one of the more manly events, such as wrestling or martial arts.

It could happen.

She tilted her head and pretended to stretch, in case he glanced up and mistakenly believed she was staring at him, which would be ridiculous, since Tanyalee didn’t stare at men. That would be improper, and also unnecessary, since men did plenty of staring without her encouragement. No, this was nothing more than some harmless people-watching.

So Tanyalee let her watchful gaze roam all over his person. He wore a nicely tailored summer-weight suit, slightly rumpled. He’d probably been traveling a lot. He was clearly well into his thirties, which made him a little too old for her since Tanyalee wasn’t even quite thirty herself, but then again, she was admiring, not flirting or looking for husband, for heaven’s sake, so it wasn’t as if she needed to see his birth certificate!

Lord-ee, when did it get so damn hot in here?

She looked away and fanned herself. Then she faked a yawn and let her gaze wander his way again.

That’s when the man’s attention shot up from his phone and his darkly intense gaze stabbed right into her. Tanyalee froze, her mouth still gaping from her pretend yawn, her hand still hovering in mid-fan. He didn’t look away. He didn’t flinch. He didn’t blink. There was power in those eyes, grabbing her, asking a dozen questions to which he already knew the answers. His stare sliced right through the airport commotion and stripped her bare. Analyzed her. Pinned her down and spread her out like a beetle in a bug collection. The corner of his lip twitched.

Oh! It took Tanyalee a moment to recover her composure, but she snapped her lips closed, folded her hands in her lap, and turned away, offended.

Well, I never! She decided the big man in the rumpled suit had a lot of nerve, looking at her like that, like she was a piece of meat, or some wanton little … some sort of common …

Oh, sweet Jesus, now her panties were damp and it would be three hours before her flight landed in Raleigh-Durham, followed by a four-hour bus ride home to Bigler. She needed to regroup.

Tanyalee caught her own reflection in the tinted-glass wall of windows. Admittedly, she did look the teensiest bit shell-shocked, but her chignon was in place, her makeup had stayed perfect, and her creamy off-white linen trousers and soft peach cotton-blend twinset remained the picture of understated casual elegance.

She sighed with relief. After all the shit she’d been through in the last year, she thanked the Lord that some things hadn’t changed.

* * *

Dante Cabrera tossed his carry-on into the overhead compartment, silently cursing. He didn’t expect the DEA to pay for a first-class ticket, but were they joking? How did the travel office expect him to squeeze into a center seat of a cheapo flight like this one? There was still an outside chance he could flash his badge, smile at the flight attendant, and get an upgrade. God knew the ploy hadn’t worked at the gate, where he’d had to make his pitch to a straight male employee, which never got him anywhere. In the meantime, he would have to suck it up.

“Excuse me, ma’am.” Dante mustered all the politeness he had. “This would be my seat.”

The older woman took one look at his size