Sunday, April 15, 2018

Everyone needs their own armrest avenger on a long flight

I'm flying to San Francisco today to see friends before heading up to the LA Times Festival of Books later in the week. I'm on my first Virgin American flight and loving it--I have an exit row all to myself and I've just found out that my main cabin select ticket includes free alcohol, meals, and snacks.

My very real socked interloper
on this flight to SFO.
So here I am, buzzing along through edits on Camp H.O.W.L. 3, when suddenly I see a socked foot worm its way onto my armrest. Gross? Definitely. But also hilarious, because the same damn thing happens in the opening scene of Under a Blue Moon, which is Camp H.O.W.L. 2. So in honor of this blatant violation of the rules of polite society, I'm going to give you half of the first chapter of the next book, which is due out in mid-June.

In it you'll meet Drew, an armrest avenger who saves Nick from the same fate I'm experiencing. Alas, my conscience won't allow me to take the measures he did, so I'm just going to order another rum and orange juice and pretend it's not there.

Under a Blue Moon
A Camp H.O.W.L. novel

Traveling never brought out the best in Nick. He was self-aware enough to realize that, and he could even pinpoint what about travel was a stressor. If he had a patient who complained of anxiety, headaches, and poorly bottled-up rage while traveling, he would help them come up with coping mechanisms for the psychological stress and figure out how to best mitigate the physical symptoms.

But like almost all psychologists, he was a bad patient. He didn’t do his homework or follow the steps he’d prescribe for anyone else in his situation. Hence his sour mood and the blinding headache he had at the moment.

Really, though, he’d checked when March’s full moon was, and it had been at the beginning of the month. He hadn’t realized there was another one at the end and that it coincided with the day he was flying to Indiana. Astronomers called them blue moons, but he called them a pain in the ass.

Nick took a deep, grounding breath and tried to ignore the scents it brought with it. Someone three rows back had brought a burrito on the plane. Nick was pretty sure that was on the psychological checklist for sociopaths. Lack of remorse or shame? Check. Pathological egocentricity?

Check. Brings strong-smelling foods into enclosed spaces? Double check.

Planes were always difficult because of the sheer number of people who were on and off of them in a day. His sister swore by essential oils— she’d dab herself with peppermint or something else bitingly astringent before getting on a plane, overwhelming her senses with an unpleasant but at least controlled scent. His Alpha always flew with earplugs and noise-canceling headphones. He claimed that with a light-proof eye mask, it was possible to sleep on a plane and wake up at your destination, skipping the hours of discomfort in between.

Nick called bullshit on the last part. There was absolutely no way a werewolf could sleep on a plane. Maybe if he was flying with no one on the plane but his Pack. Maybe. But sitting in a vulnerable position among a bunch of strangers? And worse, human strangers who boarded a plane with their AXE Body Spray, flowery fabric softener, and pungent burritos? Granted, they couldn’t know how those strong scents assaulted a supernatural nose, but surely even humans thought that stuff stank.

His seat shook as the person behind him moved around, and a  second later a socked foot emerged between the seats and propped itself on Nick’s armrest. Nick gritted his teeth and fought the urge to whirl around and bare shifted fangs at the person. At least the foot didn’t smell, but still. Common decency.

He was never flying with an airline that didn’t give you seat assignments again, no matter how outrageous the baggage fees were on other carriers. He normally boarded shortly before the flight attendants closed the doors, but on this airline he’d been assigned a boarding position, and if he hadn’t boarded early, he’d have been stuck in an even worse spot than he was in now. At least the seat next to him was empty.

He’d taken the window because it was the farthest he could get from the other passengers, and thankfully the person who’d sat in his aisle had left a seat between them. With any luck it would stay empty.

Nick leaned back in his seat and closed his eyes, but that only magnified his other senses. He could hear the baggage handlers tossing suitcases into the cargo hold underneath them and the low hum of the pilots running through their preflight checks. A kid a few rows back needed a diaper change, and someone else was watching one of those annoying BuzzFeed videos without headphones.

His flight from Denver to St. Louis had left so early that his fellow passengers had been blissfully quiet. Most had slept. He’d stuffed his earbuds in and listened to Morrissey wail about toxic relationships and the failings of the human condition to while away the two and a half hours.

This flight was barely an hour in the air, so with any luck he’d make it to Indianapolis before his migraine made his head explode. 

“Sorry, just sliding by,” a voice said, and a moment later someone dropped into the seat next to him. He heard a hiss and a squeal from the row behind them, and when he cracked open an eye, he was gratified to see a laptop bag sitting on top of the armrest-stealing foot.

The bag lifted and the socked foot disappeared abruptly amid angry muttering from the girl it belonged to. Nick wondered if offering the man a high five would be considered rude.

“Sorry,” the man mouthed when Nick turned to him. “That was probably rude, but oh my God, who does that?”

The man gestured toward the armrest, and Nick half fell in love in that moment. He’d done it on purpose! And he was gorgeous, Nick realized as he took in the man’s strong jaw and broad shoulders. His cheeks were flushed like he’d had to run to catch the flight, and holy hell, between that and the bedhead, the effect went straight to Nick’s groin.

“Sociopaths,” Nick mouthed back. “Same people who bring Chipotle on the plane.”

The guy laughed, revealing a set of perfect teeth and the beginnings of laugh lines crinkling around his eyes.

“I’m Drew.”

He leaned in but didn’t offer Nick his hand, which was a mercy. It was a basic Were instinct to avoid carrying a stranger’s scent, but humans didn’t know that was the reason he always recoiled from what they saw as a friendly handshake.

Not that Nick’s wolf would mind carrying Drew’s scent. It was intoxicating. Warm and soft but not overwhelming. Natural, without the harsh chemical tang most deodorants and soaps carried. So few humans opted for unscented products. It was a shame, because a person’s natural pheromones were almost always more alluring than whatever artificial fragrance they cloaked them with.


Drew settled back into his own seat, leaving the armrest between them clear. The drumbeat of Nick’s incessant migraine quieted a notch, buffered from the rest of the plane by the oasis of Drew’s delicious scent.

Drew buckled his belt and grinned at him. “Are you a plane talker or a plane ignorer? Because I can do either.”

Nick laughed. “Usually an ignorer, but I can make an exception for an armrest avenger.”

Drew glanced down at the empty armrest. “I shouldn’t have done that.”

“You most definitely should have, and I’m glad you did.”

“No, I could have caused a Lisfranc fracture if it hit in the right spot. I treated one last week caused by something lighter than my laptop.”

Drew looked distraught, like maybe he was going to check on the intruding foot, and a wave of possessiveness washed over Nick. He didn’t want Drew chatting anyone else up on the plane, even if it was just to make sure the owner of the socked foot was okay.

Nick leaned out of the cocoon of Drew’s scent and took a breath, trying to subtly search for the smell of pain that would accompany a broken bone. Someone in the row behind them had opened a bag of
Twizzlers, but that was the extent of the olfactory feedback. Definitely not injured.

“She’s fine.”

Drew blinked at him, and Nick backpedaled. Shit. What the hell was he doing? How was he going to teach wolflings how to manage themselves in public if he was stupid enough to scent the air in front of a human? God, the moon was really messing with him today. His nana had always said blue moons brought good relationship luck, but he wasn’t feeling particularly lucky—or relatable—today.

“Uh, like, broken bones hurt, right? And she didn’t cry out or anything, so I’m just assuming....”

Drew flicked a gaze back to the armrest, leaning in toward Nick again. “And how do you know it’s a she?”

Because he’d been able to smell it on the foot. He’d picked up the sweet, cloying scent of hormonal birth control.

“Uh, the sock was pink?”

It had been gray, but he was praying Drew hadn’t noticed that.

Drew gave him a sharp look but shrugged and eased back into his seat. “No harm no foul, then. I’d hate to break my Hippocratic Oath the day before starting a new job. It would suck to make it through six years of junkies and hypochondriacs with a clean record and then fuck up right before starting my own practice.”

The tension building in Nick’s shoulders eased. Occam’s razor never failed. People wanted to believe the easiest explanation, even if it contradicted what they’d seen with their own eyes. “So doctor, eh? I
figured, since you called it a Lisfranc fracture instead of just saying you could have broken the top bone on her foot.”

“There isn’t just one bone on the top of the foot.”

“Of course there isn’t. Like a quarter of the human body’s bones are in the feet.”

Drew raised a brow. “Let me guess. You’re a podiatrist?”

Nick choked out a laugh. God, he couldn’t imagine a Were in a job like that. Surrounded by smelly feet all day? No. “Psychologist, but my anatomy professor was particularly obsessed with feet.”

“That sounds more like something that would have come up in your clinicals,” Drew said, and Nick bobbed his thigh out to touch Drew’s as they laughed. The touch was electric, and Nick’s stomach dipped like the bottom had dropped out of the world.

A moment later it happened again, but he’d shaken himself out of his flirting haze enough to realize it was the plane, not some erotic connection between the two of them.

The PA crackled on. “Sorry folks, we’re in for a rough ride. Flight attendants, please take your seats. The weather pattern we were keeping an eye on has shifted. We were trying to stay to the north of it, but it’s on the move. We’re doing everything we can in the cockpit to get out in front of this storm, but it looks like we’re stuck with her for the moment.”

There was a beat of silence before a flight attendant picked up.

“We will do our best to resume drink service as soon as the captain gives us the all clear, but it’s a short flight to Indy and we may not be able to. We do apologize for the inconvenience.”

The plane dipped and jolted again, and several people screamed.

“The captain has turned on the seat belt sign, so please make sure your belt is securely fastened. At this time we ask that you return all loose items to their spot under the seat in front of you.”

Nick opened the shade on his window, exposing violently hued clouds and rain streaking across the surface of the glass. Lightning forked across the sky, and the plane seemed to vibrate with the almost
instantaneous thunder.

Drew’s breath fanned across his cheek as he leaned over Nick to get a better view. “Damn.”

The plane jolted again, and someone a few rows behind them started crying. Nick’s ears popped, which must mean they were descending.

“Folks, air traffic control is closing the Indianapolis airport due to hail and some movement in the clouds over there. We’re being diverted to Chicago. We’re about two hundred miles out from O’Hare, so we’re going to start preparations for landing. We should have you on the ground in twenty to thirty minutes.”

Thunder rocked the plane again, and there was a long beat of silence before the flight attendants started moving carefully around the front of the cabin.

“We do apologize for the inconvenience, but we’re told this is our safest option, so it’s the one we’re going to take. Once we’re on the ground in Chicago, agents will meet the plane to help get you to your final destination. If Indianapolis is your final destination, there will be more information about when that airport will be open to air traffic again once we land.”

Drew grimaced and moved back out of Nick’s space, and Nick slid the shade shut, blocking out the storm. “Headed to Indianapolis or just passing through?” he asked.

“Final destination, unfortunately. I was supposed to be picked up at the airport by my new boss.”

“Me too.” Nick tapped his fingers on his thighs, restless. “So this ‘movement in the clouds’ thing the pilot was talking about—that was a veiled reference to tornadoes, right?”

“Not so veiled, but yeah. I take it you’re not from the Midwest?” Drew seemed wholly unconcerned, which itself was a bit concerning. Were tornadoes that common here? How could he be stuck on a tin can in weather like this and not be worried? “No. You are?”

“I’ve lived in St. Louis most of my life. Left for college and my residency but ended up back there.” A soft smile curved across Drew’s lips. “My family, we’re close. And that’s where they are, so it’s where I stayed. But to answer your question, this weather isn’t anything to be too concerned about. I’m sure we’ll be fine.”

God, what had he gotten himself into? He’d only done a cursory amount of research on Southern Indiana. It got less snow than Denver but had the same wild swings in temperature. He’d read it was humid in the summer, which would be interesting. The brochures had all promised air- conditioned cabins, and he hadn’t read much further than that.

“Sounds like we might be stuck in Chicago for a bit.”

As long as Drew was stuck with him, Nick could think of worse things. He didn’t technically have to be at Camp H.O.W.L. until the staff meeting on Sunday night, which gave him all of tomorrow afternoon to figure out how to get to camp from Chicago.

“I bet we won’t get out of O’Hare till Sunday. There are probably delays all over if the weather’s this bad.” Drew raised an eyebrow suggestively and Nick’s pulse jumped at the blatant invitation.

Yeah, he could work with this.

Under a Blue Moon
Bru Baker

Best Blogger TipsBest Blogger Tips