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FAIR PLAY

oban, scotland, dock

Book two of The Fair Series
by Grace Grahme

1999

A girl could get used to this.

Janet Maxwell relaxed in the business lounge, waiting for her flight. Though at 25, she could hardly call herself a girl—she could vote, drink, and rent her own car without questions being asked about her age. One of the best things about being 25 was that her car insurance rates had finally been reduced.

“Excuse me, is this seat taken?” a man spoke with an English accent and Janet looked up from reviewing the drink list to find him in a fitted suit pointing at the seat next to her at the bar.

“It’s open, but I’ve spilled over onto it with all my things.” She said, gathering her Discman, earphones, and pashmina. The man smiled at Janet, a cleft in his chin deepening.

“Thank you for making room for me.”

Janet returned his smile and gave him a practiced once over. No wedding ring, check. Young, fit and attractive, check, check, check, and when he pulled back the bar stool, she caught a faint scent of cologne. He smelled good, check. Her smiled broadened.

“It’s no problem at all, the lounge is crowded.”

“It is,” he agreed, unbuttoning his suit coat and sliding in next to her. “What are you ordering?” he tilted his chin at the menu.

The bartender stepped up beside them at the same time.

“Glenlivet, neat.” Janet requested.

“Gin and tonic, Bombay if you have it.” The bartender nodded at the orders and turned away.

I’m Janet.” She said, holding out her hand.

“My pleasure, Janet. I’m Edmund. Where are you traveling today?” He shook her hand with a firm grip.

“Glasgow, yourself?”

“Home to Manchester. What brings you to Scotland?”

“Work. I’m relocating for a few months.”

“What type of work hauls you to Scotland all the way from Texas?”

“A corporate account. What brought you to Texas from Manchester?”

“Business development. I just wrapped up a tradeshow in Dallas. Tell me, did you develop a taste for Scotch whisky before or after learning you were relocating to Scotland.”

“Between the red hair and this opportunity, I had some studying to do.” She said in a low voice, leaning toward him. “I didn’t want to appear a complete novice.”

“Smart approach.”

“I find that in business, what happens away from the office can be more important than what happens in it so I want to be prepared.”

“Are you sure you aren’t in business development? You’re speaking my language.”

“I’m part of a small firm; every day is business development.”

“I see. Did you study anything besides the local drinking habits to prepare for your new role?”

Janet shifted in her seat, so she could face him. He had thick, chestnut colored hair and eyes that nearly matched, and the cleft in his chin was downright mesmerizing. “Rugby. On first glance it looks like a reason for hot guys to knock the good looks out of each other, but I guess it’s somewhat similar to our football—without the benefit of pads and helmets.”

Edmond let loose a laugh. “You enjoy the game more if you don’t know the rules. Goodness knows the refs often don’t.”

“Do you play?”

“I do. Recreationally these days, but in university I was on a right serious league. It was a side sport to see what injuries I could inflict and incur.”

“Why do men take such pleasure in beating each other up?”

“I think it’s a hangover from our Neanderthal ancestors and replaces the natural conflict we had back in the day. Sport is a way to release our aggression. It gives us a chance to compete with other men. Sometimes to win the game, impressing your mates, or even better, impressing the fairer sex.”

“I’m impressed. Perhaps beating up your teammates improves your odds with the ladies. You seem to have escaped undamaged from your matches.” She met his eyes, enjoying the flirtation with this beautiful and charming man.

She accepted her drink from the bartender and took a small sip. Whisky wasn’t her favorite, but she had learned to appreciate the nuances of the drink.

“I have my share of scars, I assure you. They’re just not visible in polite company.”

“I’d never thought about sports in those terms,” Janet said. “Our society is more critical of aggression so sport gives men an acceptable outlet for their baser emotions.”

“Right. I feel more energetic after a game, physically and mentally. At the same time, I’ve noticed I’m more relaxed during the week when I’ve had a game against the weeks when I haven’t.”

“I’ve read studies that show men use play conflict to get ahead social and intellectually. And what could be interpreted as anti-social behavior, is really a tool to bond with other men while securing their position in their social group.”

Edmund gave her an appraising look as if trying to sort through what she just said. “You make me sound like a chimpanzee.”

“I work in corporate training,” she explained. “I need to understand how both women and men learn and work in order to effectively convey the information I’m providing.”

“And how do you manage that with men?” He asked.

“By joining their game.”

“Their game?”

“Verbal sparring or teasing usually. It’s the business-acceptable version of play fighting. Men show respect and approval by teasing, and sometimes they even use insults. Women don’t recognize what the men are to conveying with these actions and that can lead to hurt feelings and missed opportunities.”

“And how did you get so good at all of this?” Edmund asked.

“I learned a lot from my boss, she’s a master. But it helps that I had three brothers.”

“I’m one of three boys myself.”

“Any sisters?” Janet asked.

“One.”

“And how does she fit in with three brothers?”

“She’s tougher than all of us, I think.”

“Likely self-defense,” Janet said.

“How did you deal with three brothers?”

“I had a sister as an ally. And by playing the game as well as they did.” She said, tilting her glass toward him. “Cheers?”

“Cheers. And to playing the game.”

“So, which field do you provide business development for?” Janet asked.

“I’m with a defense contractor.”

“Like tanks and guns?”

“More like aircraft and high end computer programming.”

“I don’t have any experience with defense, but my firm focuses on tech companies and higher education clients mostly in the Austin area.”

“Nice spread of clients, new money and old money. But you said you’re going to Glasgow for work—how did that happen if you’re based in Austin?”

“It’s a bit of a stretch. An opportunity came up with this firm; they have an office in Austin, but their headquarters are in Scotland.” Janet said.

“And you’re going from someplace that has two seasons, summer and December, and you’re going to a place that has two seasons, winter and June, willingly?”

Janet’s laughter was loud in the quiet buzz of the lounge. “I always say that the weatherman takes between May and September off in Texas as the weather doesn’t change.”

Edmund laughed as the trill of a phone sounded.

“Excuse me, I need to get this,” he said as he pulled a Nokia cell phone from his jacket pocket. Edmund walked toward a back corner of the lounge, speaking into his phone.

He filled out his suit well she thought as she glanced around the lounge. It was filled with business-type travelers and a few folks dressed more casually. She was in the latter category, wearing a pair of low slung, baggy tan pants, a close-fitting, green turtleneck, and loafers. No way was she spending eight hours on a plane without being comfortable. She felt sorry for the folks in business wear, like that guy reading a book. His suit was so starched she could practically hear it crinkle when he turned the page. As if he felt himself being watched, the man looked up, meeting her gaze. He had brilliant blue eyes that she could see from across the room.

Rather than be embarrassed at being caught watching him, Janet gave Mr. Beautiful Eyes a friendly smile. The man gave her a recognized once over before returning to his book, his sculpted lips took a downward turn. Janet chuckled, feeling dissed and dismissed by him. Can’t charm them all. His disapproval stung though, surely she didn’t look that out of place? Compared to his crisp suit, she looked downright sloppy. Not that she cared in the least, she was fashionably casual and was going to be much more comfortable than Mr. Stuffed Shirt during her flight. She turned to her drink, noting Edmund was coming back to the bar. He didn’t seem to mind her casual appearance as he smiled at her. Janet had the urge to touch the cleft in his chin.

“That should be the last bit of business before my flight,” he said as he slid back into his seat.

“Are you boarding soon?”

“Yes, flight 1023. I need to finish this drink and be on my way.”

“That’s my flight, too.” Janet said.

“What’s your seat?”

“11B, my boss sprang for business class.”

“10C, we’ll be close. I look forward to having somebody to chat with on the flight. They can get boring.”

“Do you travel international often?”

“More than I’d like, but it does have some benefits.” He glanced at her again with a smile.

“I’m going to the restroom before boarding. Looks like I’ll be seeing you soon?”

“I wouldn’t miss it,” Edmund said, standing at the same time she did. She noted with amusement that Mr. Stuffed Shirt watched her as she passed him. Maybe he didn’t find her so distasteful after all.

Janet took her time in the luxurious private bathroom; it was stocked with plush towels, toiletries, and even had a shower. This was her last chance to be alone for the next eight hours– although the flight was shaping up to be more fun after meeting Edmund. He was an admirable playground for sharpening her flirting skills. After all, she was meeting Robert this weekend, once she was settled in her new flat.

She admired the gold bracelet Robert gave her. She was going to have to keep her fling with him on the down low out of respect to her boss. Though Kathryn had an office romance during her last project and it hadn’t interfered with her work . She shook her head, knowing the tiny stab of resentment wasn’t fair. Kathryn had done her best to steer clear of Ian’s demand for a relationship, but that hadn’t worked out, and now they were well on their way to happily ever after. The fact that Kathryn had still warned Janet to be careful about a romance with Robert stuck in her craw. She didn’t want to marry him; they were just going to have awesome sex.

Still, she couldn’t wait to see Kathryn when they landed. Her boss had only been gone a week, but they had a lot of ground to cover with Ian’s surprise visit and proposal.

The lightheartedness that Ian brought out in Kathryn was a welcome change, as her boss was way too serious. Kathryn would say that Janet could use a bit more discipline in her attitude. Janet had a brain for business, but once that office door closed, she played as hard as she worked. Kathryn just worked all the damn time. At least she did until Ian had gotten in her heart—and her pants.

She giggled as she crossed the terminal to her gate. Regardless, she promised to keep her fling with Robert discreet. Kathryn had trouble imagining Janet could date somebody sexually without being in a steady relationship. Monogamy was fine for some folks, but Janet didn’t want to be tied down. With so many attractive men to play with, settling wasn’t a word in her vocabulary— whether it meant to relax her expectations with men or to stay committed to just one man.

Juggling her bag as she stood in line for boarding, she dropped her water bottle. She reached for it as it rolled and it was stopped with a quick move from a pair of polished wingtips. Snatching the bottle, she straightened, coming face-to- chest, with Mr. Stuffed Shirt. She hadn’t realized he was so tall as she tilted her head up.

“Nice footwork. Thanks, for the save,” she said, giving him her tried and true, friendliest smile.

“Your welcome,” the man said in a curt British accent, his eyes barely meeting hers before he moved to the agent at the gate.

Janet watched as he went into the jetway. Did she have something stuck in her teeth? Maybe he had a thing against red heads or he was gay. She puzzled over his lack of interest as she tucked her water bottle in her carryon. It couldn’t be anything to do with her; her attractiveness with the opposite sex wasn’t in dispute. She handed her ticket to the agent and went down the jetway to the airplane.

She could see Mr. Stuffed Shirt entering the plane, while she was only halfway down the tunnel. He was over 6’ and that was a custom-tailored suit. Between his height and slender build, no off the rack suit would look that good on him. And his eyes were even more gorgeous up close.

Janet shook her head. She wasn’t going to be bothered by the fact that one hot guy wasn’t falling for her charms. She had an even hotter guy waiting for her in Scotland. The reminder of Robert settled her ire and she thought about the coming weekend with him at his house outside Glasgow. He refused to call it a manor, but she was pretty sure it was. Maybe she could persuade him to stay closer to home this weekend. All the hill walking he liked to do was exhausting, and while it was pretty—she was a town girl at heart. . There would be lots of time for him to show her Scotland over the next few months. Spending the weekend in bed or close to a bed sounded just find to her.

She found her seat. Edmund was already sitting down; he was across the aisle and one row in front of her. He gave her a friendly smile.

A window seat, would have been nice, but as there wasn’t much to see for eighty percent of the flight, she had chosen an aisle instead which would allow her to get up and stretch her legs. She could use the restroom without bothering her seat mate.

The seat next to hers was still empty so far, and Janet slid in to clear the aisle and set about making herself at home. She pulled out a bag from her carryon, which had everything she was likely to need and she hoisted the larger bag into the overhead. She settled into her seat and picked up the menu, checking out the drink and meal options.

“Pardon me, may I reach my seat?” In a deja vu moment, a crisp British voice interrupted her menu surfing. Mr. Stuffed Shirt watched her with impatience. He had changed, and was wearing a pair of camel trousers and a black sweater with a high v-neck.

Janet blinked, bemused by his change of clothes and it took her a moment to answer.

“Of course, sure, here, let me move my stuff,” she said, snatching her bag and wrap out of his seat. She stood as he passed her and damn if he didn’t smell even better than Edmund. Her nose was traitorous.

“Many thanks,” he said, his tone haughty rather than thankful.

“You changed.”

“Yes, the private dressing rooms in the lounge were full so I had to make do with the restroom here once I boarded.”

Janet felt her skin flush. Did he know she had taken her sweet time in the lounge restroom?

“Well, wise choice, your choice is more suited to the flight than your suit.” she stopped, annoyed that she was stumbling over her words.

“Quite,” the man agreed and pulled out his book.

Feeling dismissed with greater severity this time, Janet returned to the menu and avoided looking at her disagreeable, if gorgeous, seatmate.

“What are you drinking this time, Janet?” Edmund’s voice inquired.

Janet looked up, smiling at the welcome distraction. “I think I’m going for something lighter, this round. You?”

“I’m sticking with gin and tonic.”

“Any recommendations on the dinner menu?”

“I like the look of the pasta or rice entrees, something less protein heavy.”

“Sounds like a good idea.”

“I’ve made my share of poor dining choices on longer flights,” Edmund said. “My guidance is sound.”

The flight attendants made the rounds down the aisles, and prepared the cabin for takeoff. Janet looked at the small screen in the seat and wondered what movie they had lined up once they were in the air. She settled back, giving her seatbelt a tug. She wasn’t afraid of flying, but she followed the rules when she was in the air.

“Can you beat that score?” Edmund’s voice pulled her attention from the magazine she was reading. The plane was still climbing and the Fasten Seatbelt sign hadn’t been turned off. She looked up, as he held out his cell phone to her.

“Score?”

“Snake, the game. Have you played it?” Edmund asked, the monochromatic display of his Nokia showed a little line moving across the LCD screen.

“I’m not very good at video games,” Janet said.

“You said you could play the game as well as the guys,” he teased.

“I was speaking metaphorically,” Janet smiled, but took his phone. She spent a few moments figuring out the game and lost.

“Try again,” Edmund encouraged.

The second game was better and she found directing the snake to eat the little dots while avoiding it’s growing tail more engrossing than she thought.

“Dammit,” she exclaimed when she lost the next game.

“Let me see,” Edmund said, taking the phone back. “Pretty good for a beginner. Fancy a contest?”

“Doesn’t seem fair—as you just said, I’m a beginner. The deck is stacked against me.”

“You could be a quick study. And with three brothers you’re surely used to competition.”

“Competition is one thing, slaughter is another. Beginner against experienced player isn’t fair play.”

Edmund studied her, his brown eyes full of mischief. “How about whoever has the best improvement in score over their next three games wins. That might even tilt the odds in you favor as you’ll get better as you master the game where as I have to get better scores at a game I’ve been playing a while.”

“I might be getting hustled, but okay.”

“Brilliant,” Edmund passed her the phone. “Ladies first.”

“What are we playing for?”

“You want stakes? You are competitive.”

“I want it to be worth my while.”

“That’s a tough one. We can’t wager on who buys the drinks.”

“Money?”

“Seems crass.”

“How about truth,” Janet suggested.

“Truth?”

“Agreed. Take your first round.”

Edmund was right; she was competitive. She played, reaching her highest score yet and passed the phone to him, pulling out her notebook to record the score. It was a few minutes before Edmund completed his round. His score was double hers. She played again, and was excited to see her next score was higher than her first.

“I may have buggered myself with the scoring method,” he said as he handed the phone back to her after his next game. His score was higher, but not as much of an improvement as she had achieved.

Janet finished her last round and while she improved her score again, it was not as dramatic as the second round. Edmund’s last round took the longest and his score was significantly higher on his last round. Janet figured out the math and she had won, but not by as big a margin as she had expected. She announced the score and Edmund shook his head.

“Care to check my math?” She asked.

“No, I trust you. What’s my question?”

“Tell me an embarrassing story from your work.” Edmund thought for a few moments and she saw him go pink. “That story! That’s the story I want.”

“Err, no, I don’t think so.”

“No, I want to hear the story that made you blush just thinking about it.”

“It’s not polite,”

“The best stories aren’t.”

“It’s sexual,” he said, his voice lowering.

Janet let out a peal of laughter. “At work? Oh you’ve got to tell. Remember, I grew up with three brothers. I don’t shock easily.”

“I can’t believe you’re making me tell this story.”

“Oh, you better not be exaggerating.” Janet leaned into the aisle as Edmund tilted back toward her. She heard Mr. Stuffed Shirt sigh.

“My mates and I like to pull practical jokes on each other at the office. They got a hold of my laptop while I was at lunch before a big meeting with my boss. They changed the background on my display to a very inappropriate picture of a lady with her, let’s call them charms, on display.” Janet watch as Edmund grew pinker. “I was late getting back to the office and ran into the meeting, plugging the laptop into the projector. The picture come up on the big screen, which was bad enough, but every time I tried to click away and get something else on the screen, my laptop made a loud moan because the buggers had turned my volume to max. I had to yank the cord out of the projector and close the laptop. I could see my mates through the conference room window. And they were literally holding each other up they were laughing that hard. I said something about my laptop having a virus and excused myself. Luckily, my boss has a sense of humor and no ill came from it. I had to call IT to fix the bloody thing as the bastard who’d rigged my laptop was conveniently away from the office for the rest of the day.”

“That was a great story. Winning is always good, but that made it so worthwhile.” Janet clapped her hands.

“Now, you’ve got to give me a chance for revenge. Shall we have another go?”

“Okay, losers first.” Janet chuckled, thinking of Edmund’s story as he played. Her company was tiny, they only had five employees, and there were no hijinks in the office. Kathryn was so serious most of the time. It would be nice to be a part of a bigger group and have that camaraderie. As they continued to grow, tshe would work to make sure they developed a more playful atmosphere.

“Finished, your turn,” he said. Edmund won that round and she waited for him to ask his question with a combination of dread and excitement.

“Tell me an embarrassing dating story.” He asked.

“Okay, I have choices for you. Do you want the best friend story or the mistaken identity story?”

“You have two for me to choose from?” he chuckled. “I guess the best friend story.”

“To set the stage, this was while I was in college so a few years ago, okay? I’d been eyeing this really cute guy in my communications class and we were going on a date. We met at a popular watering hole off campus.”

“Watering hole?”

“A bar or pub, kinda, dodgy but popular, does that make sense? So, we’re having a good time, I’m tipsy and we’re trying to outdo each other with bad dating stories. I tell him about a lousy one-night stand and how everything seemed promising till I get back to the guy’s apartment. I was a little concerned by the lack of cleanliness, but the guy talked a good enough game that I was willing to overlook the housekeeping. Turns out the only thing his mouth was good for was talking. It was bad enough that I left while he was asleep. Which was easy enough as he fell asleep immediately.”

Mr. Stuffed Shirt cleared his throat and shifted in his seat, turning his back towards her.

“Is that the embarrassing story?” Edmund asked.

“No, that’s the setup. A while later, I happen to meet my current date’s best friend. Who is the bad one night stand.”

“Did he recognize you?”

“The red hair makes it hard to forget me.”

“That’s bonkers. What happened next?”

“The bad one-night stand tells my date to make sure to leave me a good tip like I’m an escort.”

“No, he did not.”

“He did. I told him he must be used to paying for it since he was only focused on himself.”

“So what then?”

“I ended up seeing the cute guy from class for a few weeks. He was a much better time than his best friend.” She winked and leaned back to her seat as the flight attendants passed out the meals.