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Chapter Two
Something Better

"We shall speak face to face."
~ 3 John 14 ~

Have you had dinner yet?" Matty asked as he showed Ethan into the house. Matty hadn't finished the question before a dog came barreling at them, and went straight for Ethan's pant leg where it began to snuffle loudly.

"I'm not hungry," Ethan said, shaking his foot to make the mutt go away. "It's nice to see you too, Buster." Ethan looked at Matty. "Is it me, or has that dog actually shrank since the last time I saw him?"

"It's a different dog." Matty tugged the beast by the collar, but it kept leaning and pulling hard to finish what it had started. "Buster passed away a few months ago. This is Tucker. He's still learning his manners, aren't you, boy?"

"He's just one big puppy-dog," a familiar voice said. Ethan looked over to see Beth smiling as she stepped into the foyer dressed in trim pink slacks and a bright yellow top. She hugged Ethan. "We've all missed you. Promise you'll never stay away this long again." Beth sighed as the dog escaped from Matty, and went back to Ethan's pant leg.

"He's not going to pee on me, is he?"

"When we adopted Tuck, he came to us potty-trained," Beth smiled. She called Peter over her shoulder, and asked the boy to take the dog away while it licked Ethan's shoes as though trying to taste them. Bodily lifting the mutt off the floor, Matty passed Tucker to the tall redheaded boy who had just stepped through the doorway behind Beth.

"Don't tell me that's Peter." Ethan would have hugged his nephew, but Peter's arms were full with a tail-wagging dog. Ethan shook his head in disbelief. "All I did was blink, and the boy shot up without warning. He's growing up too fast."

"Tell me about it." Beth smiled as her son took the dog away. "Pete turns thirteen in October, and then we'll have three teenagers on our hands. God help us."

"Make that two teenagers," Matty said, turning to Ethan. "Before the next semester starts, Ryan will be moving into off-campus housing so he can be closer to the community college. Beth isn't eager to see that happen."

Beth folded her arms. "We're close enough to the campus, as it is. There's no need for him to move out."

"Come on, Mom. You know I study better when the house is quiet." Ryan moved past Beth and greeted Ethan with a brotherly fist bump. "Mom will come around. She's just used to seeing me at the table."

"The house will be a different place without him," Beth admitted.

Though Ethan had lived at home himself, while attending community college, he'd fought hard to move closer to the campus. Matty had been insistent that Ethan stay until it was time for him to transfer to a four-year college. When Ethan had started UCLA in Southern California, it had been Ethan's first real taste of being on his own. He'd probably consumed more alcohol in that first month than he had in his entire teenaged life. Of course, he'd never told Matty about all the parties, or else his big brother would have flown to California and pulled him from school. From Matty's relaxed smile, Ethan figured Ryan wasn't the troublemaker-at-heart that Ethan had been at that age. Which was probably a good thing.

Ryan grinned. "Dad said that you'd show up tonight."

"I know, he told me." Ethan couldn't help but notice that Ryan was still calling their brother Dad. Hell would've had to froze over in a big way before Ethan would call Matty that. But then, Matty had been the only dad Ryan or Dylan had ever really known. "You're what-- eighteen now?" Ethan asked.

"Nineteen," Ryan smiled.

Ethan sighed. "I'm feeling like an old man, tonight." He started to follow Matty into the next room when he saw Dylan, the littlest of all his baby brothers. The kid stood with the easy slump of a young teenager, his hands in his pockets as though he hadn't a care in the world. As Ethan hugged Dylan, he wondered how much Dylan still struggled with his studies. "It feels like only yesterday when we were changing your diapers, and now look at you. If Ryan's nineteen, then you must be--"

"-- fifteen," Dylan said with a nod.

"How are things going in school?" Ethan asked.

Dylan shrugged. "Fine."

Choosing not to press for more, Ethan followed as Matty led the way through a hall, and into a kitchen with a dining area off to the left. All of it was open to a great room where a tall unused fireplace stood watch in the far corner. Waiting for everyone to reach them, Mr. and Mrs. Campbell sat comfortably on one of the two couches that faced a muted TV. Aiden Campbell clicked off the set as his wife, Shannon, stood up and gave Ethan a ready hug.

"Now all the Taylors are together again, as it should be," the elderly woman beamed. Shannon Campbell hadn't changed, she really hadn't. There may have been a few more lines around her mouth, but Ethan expected it came from smiling so much. The woman was always happy-- it was unnatural.

Ethan looked about. "Where's Cassie?"

"Your sister went to bed early." Aiden stood up with noticeably stiff joints, and Ethan could see age had finally caught up with the old man. "I believe Cassie said something about a headache." Aiden greeted Ethan with one of his typically strong handshakes, then Aiden crossed his arms and pinned Ethan with an all-knowing look. "So," Aiden paused for a moment to let the "so" sink in, "I've been hearing some pretty big things about you."

"All good, I hope."

"Have you had dinner?" Beth asked.

"It takes a God-fearing man to wisely carry the responsibility you've got on your shoulders right now. I hope you know that."

"What responsibility are you talking about?"

"We've already eaten, but I can heat up some leftovers," Beth offered.

"The responsibility you owe to God, as well as to your family, to not let this completely ruin your life."

"My life?” Ethan looked to Matty, who was listening with a pained expression. "What have you been telling the Campbells about me?"

"Matt told us that you've sold your business."

"Yes, sir, I have." Ethan hoped a little show of deference would calm the man down a few notches. "The acquisition went well."

"From what Matt told us, that's an understatement."

"It hasn't ruined my life," Ethan shrugged with a smile. "At least, not yet, it hasn't." When Aiden didn't smile in return, Ethan wished he'd taken Beth up on those leftovers. His stomach was growling louder than Aiden.

"It's a lot of responsibility for one person," Aiden said evenly. "I've got my eye on you."

"I'll keep your eye in mind," Ethan smiled. The lack of confidence had smarted, but there wasn't much more that Ethan could do but to acknowledge it, and let it go. He certainly wasn't going to argue-- not on an empty stomach. When Beth once more offered dinner, Ethan didn't turn it down. And when Shannon asked him how his drive had gone, Ethan dug up as much enthusiasm as he could and tried to think of something interesting to say about those long dull hours. He couldn't think of much.

The guys settled around the dining table as Shannon helped Beth in the kitchen.

Ryan pulled out a chair next to Ethan. "The moment we heard your car-- I swear on a stack of Bibles-- Dad flat-out ran to the front door."

"That wasn't running." Matty sat down with a sigh. "I jogged. There was no running involved."

"Which is why Tucker was all wound up when you came in," Ryan added. The nineteen-year-old grinned at Ethan. "What's it feel like?"

"Excuse me?"

"All that money. What's it feel like?"

Ethan almost shrugged off the question, but it was kind of nice to have his little brother looking at him as though he'd just conquered the universe. "It's not bad. Not bad at all."

Ryan shook his head in admiring disbelief, and Ethan caught the uneasiness from Matty's direction.

"Who knows," Ethan grinned at Ryan, "maybe you'll follow in my footsteps one day."

"And drop out of college," Matty asked, "to go gold digging in some farfetched startup? Over my dead body. You--" Matty nodded to Ryan-- "are going to finish your education. This family has enough dropouts."

"Matty's probably right." Ethan smiled his thanks as Beth gave him a heavy plate of spaghetti. "It was hard on the big guy when I dropped out, so you boys go easy on him."

"I still wish you had stayed in school."

"I had to do, what I had to do," Ethan said, as he dug into the pasta and rich sauce. He noticed Matty's disappointment when he failed to say grace before eating, but what had Matty expected? Ethan wasn't into religion like his family was, and he never had been. It wasn't like he was the only one. Ryan, Dylan, and Peter may have been professing Christians, but Cassie was still going her own way. By the time Matty had found Christ, she and Ethan had been too old to change.

Time to focus on something else. "How's business?" Ethan asked between mouthfuls of reheated pasta and garlic bread.

"Mom and Dad are opening a store in Phoenix," Dylan spoke up. "While they've been slaving like crazy to get the new store on its feet, Pete and I have been working part-time at company headquarters. So far, we've made a ton of money off of them."

"Good for you."

"Headquarters," Matty said with a shake of his head. "That's Dylan's fancy name for the nursery in Las Cruces."

"It's the original store," Dylan said, "so that makes it our headquarters."

"How many have you got now?" Ethan asked Matty. "This last one must be what? Your third?"

"Our fourth. And it never gets easier."

"You wouldn't believe how hard they've been working," Ryan said, as he played with a pencil someone had left on the table. "Besides the one in Las Cruces, we've got a store in Albuquerque, one in Tucson, and the new one in Phoenix."

"Then business must be good." Ethan saw the smile playing around Matty's mouth, and had his answer. Business was very good. "Have you guys ever thought of starting a franchise?"

Matty groaned. "No, thanks-- we've got enough on our hands."

They probably did, so Ethan turned his attention to Ryan. "What's up with those whiskers? It looks as though you haven't shaved in days."

Dylan grinned. "He thinks a beard will make him look older."

"Honestly?" Ethan asked. "You look like a bum."

"I do not." Ryan rubbed his chin as if it would help to encourage more growth.

Dylan laughed. "The older you get, the crazier you become. You won't ever see me with a face full of hair."

Ryan jabbed Dylan in the side. "You have to say that. Your only choice is peach fuzz."

Just then, a sliding door sounded on the other side of the room, and Ethan turned to see Peter stepping inside, and shutting a patio door behind him as he firmly held on to Tucker's dog leash. The boy talked to Aiden before coming over to the table and letting the mutt run free.

"Turning in?" Matty asked, putting an arm around his son.

Side by side, Ethan thought Peter looked a lot like Matty. Despite all the red hair and freckles that had come from Beth, the resemblance between father and son was striking. Matty hugged Peter, then Ethan watched as the boy left them to go to bed. Once more, Ethan marveled at the fact his nephew would turn thirteen that year. It didn't seem possible. Time had an odd way of going by without you feeling it, so that when you stopped to look around, and take inventory, you realized just how much had changed while you weren't paying attention.

For the next hour and a half, Ethan sat at the table and talked with his brothers, until first Ryan, and then Dylan got up to turn in for the night. It wasn't until Aiden had called his own goodnight, that Ethan realized the girls had already gone to bed. The great room now empty, Tucker came and flopped over at Matty's feet.

"Loyal dog," Ethan said, as he pushed back from the table. He was thinking about turning in, himself.

"For some reason, I think Tuck prefers Aiden's company to mine," Matty said with a smile.

"Then Tucker's not very bright." Ethan yawned. "It's getting late and I've had a long Monday. Which room is mine? Just point me in the right direction, and I'll take care of the rest."

"It's the first room on your left," Matty said, gesturing to the hallway just off the kitchen and great room. "You'll be sharing a bedroom with Ryan. I hope you won't mind."

Ethan gave an easy shrug. He was supposed to have a spare room with his name on it, but he didn't fight the arrangements. With all the Taylors under one roof, it made sense that he'd be sharing with someone else. He turned down Matty's offer to help bring his things in from the car, and set about getting ready for bed. Weary down to his bones, Ethan was eager for sleep. Though he was glad to see his family, he was as sure as ever that this would be a long visit. However short that visit turned out to be.

* * * *

It wasn't really any of Jo's business, but she found out from Jack that Mr. Campbell's daughter, Beth Taylor, and her family were visiting in Cielo Grande for what sounded like a vacation. Since they had arrived the day before yesterday, it explained Mr. Campbell's absence at the shop on Monday and Tuesday. She was glad to know he was all right, for the place wasn't the same without the old gentleman around to tell them what they were doing wrong.

When Mr. Campbell walked in that hot Wednesday morning and asked Jack what progress they had made, Jo smiled, and stayed put as she worked at one of the benches near the office. Mr. Campbell's voice carried well in that large hangar. It was impossible to know that he wasn't there.

Staying put at the bench, Jo kept busy while Jack and Mr. Campbell stepped into the office to talk over a problem they had with disassembling the Grumman F8F Bearcat's main landing gear. To her surprise, Jo noticed that even with the office door closed, she could hear part of the conversation going on inside, and it wasn't about any landing gear.

Yesterday had been the first full day of the Taylors' visit, and they had spent it at an amusement park where someone named Cassie had gotten sick after going on one of those rollercoaster rides where you screamed for dear life. Jo envied her. She wished she could've had the day off to get sick on a coaster ride, though she never really got sick-- she always had too much fun to remember to puke. Getting your stomach jammed in your throat until you could taste lunch was nearly a badge of honor on some of those rides. According to Mr. Campbell, Cassie had sworn off rollercoaster rides forever. Too bad, it was Cassie's loss.

Jo pretended she couldn't hear when Jack wondered if anyone had been unable to make it for the Taylor family reunion.

"Everyone came," Mr. Campbell said, "including Ethan. I can't tell you how good it is to see Beth and Matt again, and to catch up with our grandkids. Ryan couldn't make it last year because he had that internship in Boston, and of course Ethan hadn't been able to make it. That one always had something or other going on."

"So you've told me."

"It's still hard to believe," Mr. Campbell continued in an awed voice. "Ethan was never what you'd call a responsible person in the first place, and now? Only God knows how it's all affected him, or what he'll do now, simply because he can. That boy has worried Matt for as long as I've known Matt, and Matt has a good head on his shoulders, he doesn't scare easily."

Before Jo got too curious for her own good, she moved away to put the socket wrenches back where they belonged in the upright tool cabinet. She'd been getting along with her boss quite well, thank you very much, and she wanted to keep it that way. She didn't want to know why Mr. Campbell and someone named Matt were worried about someone named Ethan. It was none of Jo's business. As she sorted the wrenches into place, the men appeared from the office.

"I'll be praying," Jack said with a wave.

"Appreciate it," Mr. Campbell called over his shoulder, as he left the hangar.

Jo kept her head down. It was none of her business.

So far, her job at Campbell Aviation had proven to be a lucky break. The pay was insanely good, and to top it all off, this August she'd be able to go on working there when school started up. It was hands-down the best job she'd ever had.

In addition, the almost half dozen employees who worked alongside Jo were loaded with experience. Most of them were A&P mechanics-- one of them in particular, Paul Lancaster, had recently left a major airline to move on to warbird restoration. He was five years older than her, and newly divorced. He'd looked her way once or twice, but Jo didn't encourage him. She didn't want yet another relationship getting in the way of school, and especially not now that she was earning a more-than-fair paycheck. She was here to learn, not flirt with guys who were paying alimony and child support to five different ex-wives. Lancaster was cute, but he wasn't that cute.

For the most part, Jo liked and admired her five co-workers, for more than a few of them were former military. They varied in age from late thirties to early seventies, they all had stories to tell, and every single one of them loved their job. Though it didn't appear Mr. Campbell had ever spent time in the military, himself, it was clear he enjoyed being around those who had. He spent hours sitting around with the men, and talking with them when they probably should've been working. It never lasted more than an hour or so, and the times when it did, Jack would clear his throat and Mr. Campbell would cut the chatter short. From what Jo had seen, Mr. Campbell couldn't stay on his feet for long periods of time without sitting down and resting, making it difficult to work on anything except in short spurts. She felt for her boss; working like that had to stink. Whenever people stopped by the hangars to see their progress on the Bearcat, and the gorgeously super-cool P-51 Mustang in the next hangar, Mr. Campbell would shoot the breeze with them and give small tours around the shop. No one was beating down their doors to get in, but there was enough interest to make them feel that they were doing something worthwhile. After the Bearcat in the main hangar had been fully restored, Jo learned it would go to an air museum in Phoenix. She'd been to aviation museums before, but had never dreamed she'd be a part of something that would be displayed in one. Even though none of her tasks had been outright important, it was still an honor to be in that shop and to work with those craftsmen.

As the morning grew long, and the midday heat beat down on the metal hangar rooftops, Jo found herself spending her lunch break in the airport's terminal building with a cold can of Dr. Pepper pressed to her forehead. The vending machine had been well placed in the Pilot's Lounge, for it was hotter than the lowest depths of hell outside. Still, she'd seen worse, and it would only get more intense as the summer plunged forward full throttle. The swamp coolers in Campbell Aviation's hangars made work bearable during the hottest part of the day, but to really cool off, she had to find air conditioning. Real live cold air pumped into a room that wouldn't turn warm.

It was safe to say that Jo liked it here. So far, no one had recognized her as the woman who'd visited the airport after dark to sleep in Campbell Aviation's unlocked van. That had been a relief. The first few days on the job had made her skittish about being recognized, but now she was as content as she ever would be that no one had noticed her.

Blowing out a breath, Jo sat back with her soft drink, and soaked in the air conditioning. It felt good to be in her skin, right now. She no longer needed to find a place to sleep, and she no longer needed to sneak into the van. Eight days ago she'd moved into a tiny furnished apartment near the airport. Though the place wasn't anything to brag about, it was hers. It was the first time she'd ever had a place to herself. Jo's paycheck had made her truly independent, and while she preferred to save her money rather than go out to lunch every day like the others, she had money to save.

For once in her life, she had legs under her with both feet solid on the ground. She'd never been so independently strong before, and she liked the way it made her feel. It felt good to be her.

* * * *

Ethan kicked off the covers, yawned and blinked up at the ceiling above him. Where was he again? He pushed up, saw the empty single bed across from his and dropped his head back onto the pillow. The Campbell's house-- he was sharing a room with Ryan. Ethan scrubbed his face with both hands. He remembered now. Sometimes it took a while for his brain to kick into gear, especially when the day before had been spent wandering an amusement park with a motion sick younger sister. When Cassie had said she couldn't handle rollercoaster rides, she'd been serious. He just hadn't known how serious until yesterday, when she'd barfed all over the front of his shirt.

He'd had to toss his polo into the nearest trashcan and trade it for some dumb T-shirt with "I love Cielo Grande" on the front. He did not love Cielo Grande. How could he, when he'd just been covered in barf, and the heat was off-the-charts crazy? And no, he didn't think it was funny each time someone told him it would only get hotter.

The only good thing about yesterday was that it was finally over. Stretching out, Ethan absently wondered if he could stay in bed for the entire vacation. He sighed. There wasn't any way around it-- he had to get up.

With a groan, Ethan pushed off the mattress, stepped over yesterday's clothing, and trudged to the bathroom with a wide-mouthed yawn. He was used to walking non-stop, he lived in Fog City after all, but walking took on a whole new meaning when it was in one hundred and four degree heat. He had obsessed over finding that next patch of shade, staying hydrated-- it didn't matter with what, so long as it was cold-- and anyplace at all that had air conditioning. Whatever his family had in the works for today, Ethan planned to sit it out.

Flushing the toilet, Ethan went back to the bedroom and changed into a plain brown T-shirt and loose fitting jeans. He should've slept in, and let everyone else go do as they pleased. If he was on vacation, he should have slept in.

Ethan rounded into the kitchen as the family mutt hurried to sniff his feet. "Hey there, Buster." Ethan paused to crouch and scratch the dog's ears.

"That's Tucker, not Buster," said an ill-humored voice.

Ethan looked across the kitchen to where Aiden was watching TV in the great room.

"Good morning." Ethan straightened, and pushed the playful dog aside with his foot. "Where is everyone?"

Too interested in what was going on to answer, Aiden kept watching his program-- something about airplanes and World War II. Ethan had assumed Aiden wasn't going to respond at all, when the old buzzard finally spoke up. "Buster died four months ago."

"What of?"

Aiden grunted. "Old age."

Nice mood, Ethan thought as he tugged the iPhone from his hip pocket. He moved to the kitchen while checking his email and nearly stepped on Tucker, in the process. It did no good to remember that he was supposed to be on vacation, for checking that inbox was almost a compulsive thing. Seeing no emergencies, and that he was as swamped as ever, Ethan put the phone away to hunt for something to eat. "Where is everyone?" he asked again, for Aiden had never answered that question.

"Movie theatre," came the reply.

Ethan looked up from the open fridge. "Why didn't you go with them? It has to be better than watching TV."

Aiden muted the program, and fixed his eyes on Ethan. "I'm to tell you that lunch is in the fridge. You can find it yourself."

"Don't you mean breakfast?" Ethan pulled out his phone, saw the time and realized he'd slept the morning through. Oh well. He'd wanted to sleep in, anyway. He went back to searching the fridge as Aiden punched up the volume. "What's for lunch?" Ethan called.

"What?" Aiden muted the TV once more.

"I said, what's for lunch?"

Patience tugged at the nooks and crannies of Aiden's face as he took a moment before answering. "I think Shannon said something about turkey sandwiches."

"But I'm a vegetarian."

"That figures." Aiden waved him away as he turned back and watched the still-muted TV screen. "Eat what you want."

"There's some cold waffles in here." Ethan lifted out a platter covered with plastic wrap. "You want any of these?" When Aiden didn't reply, Ethan popped the waffles into the microwave, dug up a bottle of maple syrup, and some forks. When the microwave beeped, he took out the nuked waffles, and divided them onto two plates. Squeezing syrup onto both stacks until the bottle coughed, Ethan brought the meal into the great room. "Here you go," he said, and set a plate on Aiden's lap.

"How do you know I haven't already had lunch?"

"Have you?"


"Well then." Ethan sank onto the second couch and watched as Panzer tanks rolled through a black and white Europe in muted silence. "How about turning up the sound?" Ethan asked. He looked over, saw Aiden quietly praying over his food, and said nothing until Aiden had started in on the waffles. "Why didn't you go with everyone else to the movies?"

"Just felt like staying home," Aiden said, speaking around a mouthful of waffle. "Did you get enough sleep?"

Smiling, Ethan shoveled in another bite. "I was more tired than I'd thought."

"If you aren't careful," Aiden said, pointing a fork at him, "you're going to sleep your life away."

"I woke up, didn't I?"

Aiden took another bite of warm waffle. "Thanks for fixing lunch."

It sounded a little odd to hear Aiden Campbell thank him for anything, but Ethan said nothing, and kept eating. Though Cassie, Ryan, and Dylan liked to call him Grandpa, Ethan had never been able to bring himself to do the same. It was hard to love the guy, for Aiden never made it easy to love him, let alone like him. The first day Ethan had met Aiden had been proof enough of that: Aiden had sat at a restaurant table and publicly raked Matty over fiery coals for marrying Beth. That had been fifteen years ago, and the memory of it still haunted Ethan.

"Feel up to visiting the airport after lunch?" Aiden asked.

"Why? Is your workshop there, like the setup you had in Phoenix?"

Aiden grinned and nodded. "We've expanded to three hangars, and the air traffic is wide-open, or just about. Out here a man can fly in peace, the way God intended."

Ethan preferred to leave God out of it. "Do you miss your family?" Ethan asked. "Or did your son move with you?"

"Brian's still in Phoenix." Aiden took another bite of waffle, eating as he spoke. "Brian has his family practice to think of, and since Cathy's parents live near them, she wasn't eager to up and move. It's not easy to relocate when your wife, kids, and job are tied to one place. But we like it here. The skies are clear most days, and the heavens so blue, it can take your breath away."

Ethan made no comment about the clear skies Aiden liked so much, for yesterday, those skies had nearly baked Ethan alive. "What did Brian have to say when he found out you were leaving Phoenix?" Ethan asked. "He couldn't have been too happy. You're kind of off on your own out here, aren't you?"

"It wasn't Brian's decision to make. It was ours." Aiden forked in more food and turned back to watch the TV. With the sound still muted, he couldn't be getting much out of the program.

Glancing about the great room, Ethan began to feel a bit trapped. While he hadn't wanted to go with the others, now that he was stuck with you-know-who, Ethan felt the need to get away. Even if it meant going with Aiden, it had to be better than this.

Ethan frowned. "Do you really want to show me the airport?"

"We don't have to go, but I always had the impression you liked what I did for a living." Aiden shrugged. "Maybe I was wrong. Either way, you're free to spend your time with us however you want. But don't stay here, just to keep me company."

Ethan looked out the window where heat pushed off the sidewalk in heavy waves. He would go. There probably wasn't much else to do around here, and Aiden had been right. The airplanes he worked on were sort of cool, and they weren't anything that you'd normally see in the skies. When those warbirds were in pieces though, there wasn't much to look at. Though there wouldn't be much to do but wander around the hangars, it had to be better than this.

Man, could Aiden talk. Until now, Ethan had forgotten just how much Aiden liked to hear the sound of his own voice. It was a little tedious, standing there in the office, listening to Aiden go on and on about the scattered photos on the walls of the finished warbirds they had restored. Aiden had stories to tell about each one, stats, a rundown of their role in history, etc., etc. Ethan had been on one of these tours before, only back in Phoenix where the walls hadn't been as large or as numerous. Although Ethan was already familiar with many of the aircraft, he bit his tongue and let Aiden rattle on to his heart's content.

"Over here," Aiden pointed to a vivid color photograph, "is Blue Yonder, a radial engine Stearman painted in classic blue and yellow. Back in the day, these biplanes were used as military trainers-- they're a very forgiving aircraft to fly."

Ethan nodded. He'd heard it all before.

As they moved into the wide-open space of the main hangar, Aiden motioned to the industrial looking racks lining one side of the wall, the workbenches, the heavy equipment that had Ethan milling closer for a better look. He'd never been one to get grease under his nails, but he kind of admired those who did. Kind of. They were problem solvers, methodical in their approach, and unendingly annoying when they couldn't make you understand what was to them so blindingly obvious. Anyone who owned or operated a CNC machine was a solver of problems, potentially a know-it-all, and therefore an annoyance waiting to happen. Which pretty much summed up Aiden.

Ethan followed his docent, his all-knowing museum guide to the disassembled airplane that sat off to one side of the hangar. Most of the crew were working there, and Ethan moved around them to see what they were doing. Aiden introduced him to a few of the guys, then explained what was going on. It didn't help very much, for Ethan got an earful of aviation jargon that he had no inclination of googling. Since Aiden wasn't really paying attention to him anyway, Ethan took a few steps back and wondered if the tour was almost over.

What time was it, anyway? Ethan tugged the smartphone from his pocket when he noticed someone watching him from one of the workbenches.

A woman.

She ducked her head, leaving him to wonder if he had only imagined an interest. He checked the time, slipped the phone back into his pocket and looked over to where Aiden was busy with the others. Drumming his fingers on the metal tool cabinet beside him, Ethan turned his face back to the workbench. And there she was.

Looking straight at him.

Her mouth tugged into a tiny smile, but Ethan caught it, and smiled back. It was hard not to, for she moved a little and got a better look at him. She wasn't in-your-face-pretty, but the frankness in her eyes caught him off guard. He looked her over, and she bowed her head and went back to work.

He waited a beat, and her eyes edged up, and met his with a colliding spark that made Ethan's heart bump a little faster.

Who was she? Should he go over and say hi? He deepened his smile, and she bit her bottom lip as though seeing something truly wonderful. Wow. He wasn't seeing things-- that was interest.

But who was she? He wanted to ask Aiden, but with all the shop-talk going on, Ethan couldn't get his attention without making them all turn and stare. Ethan tried again, with no luck at all, and she shook her head in amusement. Or maybe it was disdain, and she was only teasing him to see if he would take the bait. If she was the bait, then Ethan didn't think he'd mind one bit if she reeled him in for a closer look. She wore baggy coveralls that did nothing for her figure, but what little he saw, he liked.

"I see you've met Jo." Aiden spoke over Ethan's shoulder. "She's the latest addition to our crew."

"Is she? I knew I hadn't seen her before. I would've remembered." Ethan tossed a look at Aiden. "She's single, right? Tell me she's not seeing someone."

Aiden sighed-- whatever that meant-- and headed for the hangar doors.

"Hey!" Ethan started after him before realizing that he'd just blinked, or the equivalent to it, and turned back to see if those hypnotizing bright blue eyes were still smiling. They weren't. She had gone back to work. Ethan waited, he wanted to know if she would take a peek to see if he was still looking. She had to know he was watching. A few moments longer, and Ethan knew the trance had been broken. Maybe she had changed her mind-- he didn't know-- he only knew she was now ignoring him completely.

"You started it," Ethan mumbled. He hurried after Aiden, and got a sidelong look at her as they left the hangar. From the limp way her short-sleeved coveralls hung from her body, there couldn't have been much to her. And her face-- that face-- it was as exotic as anything he'd ever seen. She had an almost European look about her, but then, Ethan decided he'd never seen anyone like her before. European or not. "Hey," Ethan jogged to catch up to Aiden in the boiling heat, "what do you know about her? She isn't married, is she?"

Aiden shot him a glance as they entered the next hangar. "Keep your distance from Jo Mack."

Ethan laughed. "Why?"

"Never mind why. Just leave her alone." With that, Aiden motioned to the P-51 Mustang sitting in the hangar, and launched into his spiel about the plane's history, its specs. He went on and on as though Ethan was paying attention and actually cared.

"Why?" Ethan asked again. "Why do you want me to keep my distance from what's-her-name?"


"Yeah, Jo."

With a sigh, Aiden folded his arms and gave a good impression of an overprotective father. "Let's just say that if I had any single unattached daughters left, you'd be the last one I'd want her to get involved with."

"Now there's a surprise." Ethan's ego had already taken a hit, and now this. Ethan resumed his walk around the Mustang, aware that Aiden was watching him. "Serves me right for asking."

"Doesn't it bother you?" Aiden asked.

Ethan shrugged. "Doesn't what bother me?"

"The fact that I wouldn't trust you with one of my own daughters, let alone someone else's?"

"Why should I care?" Ethan shoved his hands into the pockets of his jeans, something he always did when he was on edge. "You didn't trust Matty with Beth. I know you didn't. If you wouldn't trust my brother, then why should I think you'd treat me any differently?"

"Your brother is a good man."

Ethan smiled. "That's rich, coming from you."

"A lot of water has gone under that bridge, son. Whatever bad opinion I had of your brother, he's long ago proved me wrong. I only wonder, with a brother like Matt, how long it's going to take you to do the same-- to either prove me wrong, or to get your life in order."

"Hey, you don't know me. You don't know how I've lived my life."

"I know enough," Aiden said with a nod, "enough to keep you in my prayers."

"What could you possibly know?" Ethan felt like laughing. He'd pretty well kept his personal life from his family, so Aiden couldn't have been told much. His family simply didn't know, and really, it wasn't any of their business who he slept with, or who he was seeing. Not that he had much time to mess up his life, for he had been way too busy selling his startup to earn the disapproving look Aiden was giving him right now. Ethan nodded to the P-51. "You were saying? About the plane?"

It came as a relief when Aiden resumed his tour and said nothing more about the lack of order in his life. Ethan cursed under his breath. If he'd only kept his big mouth shut, Aiden would've been less likely to rock the boat.

It surprised Ethan to learn though, that he had a boat to rock. That he actually cared what Aiden thought of him.

More than a little annoyed, Ethan looked over the admittedly handsome Mustang and let his mind stray back to the woman who had smiled at him. Who was she? She couldn't have been married, or else Aiden would've been quick to point it out. Jo Mack. What an odd name. It had an abrupt ring to it, as though its owner was in constant motion and couldn't be bothered with more syllables.

"She's a looker, isn't she?" said a familiar voice.

Ethan looked about, trying to peg where he'd heard that voice before when Jack Casey ambled out of the shadows.

"She's called Here Comes Trouble, but I don't think it does her justice, do you?" Jack took in the P-51 Mustang like it was a long-lost lover. "It took an obsession like you wouldn't believe to put her back together, but there she is."

Ethan smiled, and offered his hand. "We've met before, in Phoenix."

"That had to be over ten years ago," Jack said, shaking Ethan's hand. He smiled at Aiden. "I'm surprised he still remembers me."

"How could I forget?" Ethan shook his head at the memory. "You were the one who tried to get me into that two-seater Stearman. You've got a picture of it in the office."

"Blue Yonder," Jack nodded. "Good biplane."

"So, you're still working for this crazy outfit?" Ethan grinned.

"You know it. Though Aiden's the crazy one for keeping me on." Jack slid his hands into the oversized pockets of his work pants. "Wouldn't trade this job for anything. After a while, it gets in your blood and you can't imagine working any place else."

Ethan smiled.

"I hear congratulations are in order," Jack said, shooting Aiden a broad smile before turning back to Ethan. "Aiden says you've become a big-shot in Silicon Valley."

"Not hardly." Ethan shook his head. "Seriously-- I'm not that big, anywhere."

"And he's humble." Jack smiled at Aiden. "So far, so good, eh?"

"We'll see," Aiden grunted. He started to talk to Jack about the work going on in the main hangar, so Ethan stood back to admire the P-51.

It really was a good-looking plane. These birds had a cool factor that Ethan had to acknowledge, but he just couldn't imagine spending his life the way Aiden and Jack had, looking back, instead of leaning forward. This was all about the past, but what about tomorrow? What would come next? Answering that question was one of the many reasons Ethan loved doing what he did. The startups he worked on today could forever impact what happened to everyone else tomorrow. Even if it was in an indirect way, he was a part of that forward motion. He wasn't stuck in the past like Aiden.

An hour later, when the tour of the airport had been finished, Aiden led the way to the car.

"I miss working here every day, the way I used to," Aiden said, as Ethan opened the passenger door and let out a wave of heat that blasted Ethan's face. "At a certain age, you get to a point where you have to recognize your limitations, and accept the changes God has made to your life."

Ethan's nod was passive. He had no idea what Aiden meant, and he wasn't about to ask questions-- not after their heart-to-heart in the hangar. Aiden squinted against the bright sun, and slipped on his aviator sunglasses. Ethan was more than ready to leave, but he wasn't about to climb into that furnace on wheels until Aiden had at least started the engine and turned on the air conditioner.

"Change doesn't have to be a bad thing. Sometimes it can lead to something better."

Ethan nodded again, and wondered if they could stop somewhere for frozen yogurt. He wasn't a strict vegan, and he was in the mood for something cold and sweet. In that order.

"God has a way of getting a man's attention through change. Maybe it'll be that way for you."

"What?" Ethan looked up from checking the time on his phone.

Shaking his head, Aiden climbed behind the wheel without repeating whatever it was he had said, and started the engine. The moment the air conditioner was on, Ethan slid onto the hot leather seat and shut the door. Man. Ethan swore he could've boiled an egg on the hood. If he had an egg.

Instead of asking to stop by the nearest fro yo shop, Ethan let Aiden drive home without prolonging their outing a moment longer. Though Aiden tried to make small talk on the way home, Ethan didn't join in.

His thoughts were elsewhere.

* * * *

What had she been thinking? Jo wasn't sure, only that when she'd set eyes on the cute guy in the brown T-shirt and frayed blue jeans, all thought of work had slammed to a stop.

And now he was probably thinking things she didn't want him to think.

She wasn't interested. Period. End of story. He could aim that devastating smile at someone else. She had asked for it though, and that was what really had her fuming. How thoughtless could she be? Men took time, time she didn't have. She'd landed her dream job, she couldn't afford to lose herself over some impossibly cute guy with short messy hair and a direct gaze.

And now she knew his name.

Jo hadn't known who he was until Paul had asked her what she'd thought of Ethan Taylor. Wonderful. She'd just flirted with one of Mr. Campbell's family. Though she had shrugged the question off, Jo had a feeling Paul had seen them grinning at each other.

No matter. What was done was done. She couldn't take it back.

Not that she deep down really wanted to.

It's only that Ethan had known he was so good-looking. She could tell by the way he'd smiled at her-- all slow and confident and sure of himself. It annoyed her that she'd played into his ego by being the first to show interest.

She also couldn't help remembering what Mr. Campbell had said about Ethan, that Ethan wasn't the responsible type. Or maybe Mr. Campbell had said he couldn't be trusted. Jo couldn't remember the exact wording, but it all boiled down to the same thing. He wasn't someone Jo wanted to know better.

Taken in that light, he hadn't been all that great-looking, after all. Ethan had the generic good looks you'd find in a cologne ad, meaning if you'd seen one, you'd seen them all.

He had smiled though. He hadn't aimed that smile at anyone behind her, or beside her. She had checked. She had also turned her back to him, and let him walk from the hangar without showing further interest. She was pretty sure he'd gotten the message.

She wasn't interested.

With a sigh, Jo wondered why she always fell for the sloppy, motherless types? Not that Ethan didn't have a mom somewhere, but that wasn't the point. Jo was sick of picking up after full-sized-men-children who wanted sex as well as free housekeeping. Jo had been there, had done that, and had sworn them off completely.

When Paul mentioned Ethan's name to one of the guys, Jo found a reason to work nearby to see what more she could learn about Ethan Taylor. When she realized they were talking about Ethan's pricey watch, she wanted to groan. So the guy liked a good timepiece. It was probably the one thing he splurged on, for the expiration date had come and gone on his shirt and jeans. Knowing men, he'd probably pulled that shirt from the laundry hamper. Her ex, Jonah, had been known to do that, usually when Jo wanted to go someplace special. As the men discussed Ethan's taste in Swiss jewelry, Jack told them to get back to work.

It was just as well.

She needed to get her mind off of trouble, and focus on her job. In the future, she dearly wished Mr. Campbell would leave his relatives at home.

They were too disturbing.

"Turn away thine eyes from me, for they have overcome me..."
~ Song of Solomon 6:5 ~

end of chapter
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