Flying is in Rhett O’Neil’s blood. And nothing makes this pilot fly higher than wrapping himself in his husband Kaden’s arms. He’s thrilled when his grandfather entrusts him with O’Neil Airways, the family’s charter airplane business. With a mix of humanitarian and corporate clients, Rhett plans a bright future where his success improves the world.
Elise, Rhett’s mother, begins offering advice to “help” her son through the transition into increased responsibility. As evidence surfaces that her words are escalating into devastating actions, the truth comes out about the death of Rhett’s sister Annabelle. Kaden has to race to protect his husband and himself from the consequences of the Secrets in the Air before it’s too late.
The wind assaulted Rhett O’Neil’s torso as he drove down Highway 495 on his motorcycle. He had every intention of heading straight home after landing his plane “Betsy,” but when he checked his phone, he found a message from his grandfather asking him to make a quick trip to the estate. What Pop wanted, he got. Rhett hoped they kept it short, because after a week away he would much prefer to make it home for dinner with his husband, who… Shit! I forgot to call Kaden. Before he could correct this grievous error, his phone rang through his Bluetooth helmet. He answered, “I love you.”
Kaden released a breath resonating with relief and exasperation. “Sure you do. I thought you’d be waiting for me after my shift. Isn’t that what we discussed forty-five minutes ago when you finished screwing around with Betsy?”
Rhett laughed. “Checking a faulty engine blade is far from screwing Betsy.”
“You made that unnecessarily dirty.” But Kaden laughed, too, so Rhett concluded it was very necessary.
When their laughs turned to chuckles, Rhett said, “I should have let you know Pop asked me to stop by for something quick. I’m not sure what, though.”
“Please don’t tell him about the engine blade, Rhett. I’d like to see you sometime before my next shift,” Kaden said. He worked as a nurse from seven a.m. to three p.m. at the drug rehab floor of the local hospital.
“Stop. We’re not going to talk all night. Believe me when I tell you, I’d rather be home without clothes on, eating the dinner you promised.”
Kaden quieted on the other end.
“You are making dinner, right?” Rhett clarified.
“Roast beef has been cooking in the crock pot all day. But, see, we’d have to eat it upstairs if you planned to be naked.” Kaden’s voice now held an element of concern.
“Why?” Rhett asked.
“I’ll tell you when you aren’t driving. Be careful on that death trap.”
Rhett never understood why his motorcycle was a death trap, but Betsy provided perfectly acceptable transportation. And then he heard a shriek in the background. “What is that?”
“Lassie,” he answered, concern turned to defeat.
“Doesn’t sound like a dog.”
“It’s a cat. We talked about this. We agreed a cat would be an acceptable pet for our lifestyle,” Kaden reminded him.
Flicking on the blinker, Rhett turned off the exit. He had said that, but he didn’t expect Kaden to go out and get a cat while he was away. “Why did you name it Lassie?”
“Her. And that was her name for the first six months of her life.”
“Fair enough. I’m here, and I won’t stay long. Then you can explain why we have to confine nudity to the bedroom like teenagers,” Rhett said as he leaned over and punched in the security code to open the gate to his grandfather’s estate.
“Tell him I’m making dinner. He’s very concerned about your nutritional intake.”
Rhett drove around the maze that led to the main house. “Yes, but he might invite himself over if I tell him what you’re making.”
“Not if you mention Lassie. I love you. Please call me before you sit on that bike.” Kaden hung up without leaving space for Rhett to protest.
He shook his head and removed his helmet as he dismounted the motorcycle. Rhett paused to stroke the sleek paint job on his red Kawasaki. He didn’t care what Kaden thought, Rhett relished the thrill of riding. Kaden had seen too many fatalities from motorcycle accidents during his ER rotation in nursing school to feel the same. So maybe he did understand, but the peace on the issue was hard-won. Rhett tucked his helmet into the compartment under the seat and strode up to the house. The door swung open and Rhett smiled at Martha, his grandfather’s long-time household manager. “Heard the muffler?” he asked, taking off his coat and handing it to her.
“Your grandfather did. He’s in his study. I left snacks in there for you two.”
Rhett kissed her cheek. “Thank you.” He made his way through the expansive rooms decorated with the best art money could buy. A modern painting stopped him in his tracks. The splash of color and uneven lines contrasted with everything else in house. Rhett dashed to the study, knocked once and opened the slightly ajar door. “Are you going insane, Pop?”
Donald Everett O’Neil sat up, raised his eyebrow and grinned. “Unfortunately, not yet.” He gestured Rhett into the study, which was covered by model planes and pictures of his grandfather posing with the greats of aviation. Rhett was included in quite a few of those, as well. Yet in every one, he stared admiringly at his grandfather, as opposed to the celebrity sharing the shot.
“Unfortunately?” Rhett asked.
“Yes, Everett, sanity can be so taxing in one’s old age. I believe dementia is a self-defense mechanism so we aren’t forced to watch history repeat itself again, while no one heeds our warning,” his grandfather said. “How’d the flight go?”
Rhett shrugged. “No real problems. I’m sure you checked the stats before asking, so you’re well aware.”
Don’s laugh turned to a cough, which he calmed with a few sips of water. “Don’t smoke.”
“You can stop, you know.”
“And you can get rid of the bike, but we all have our vices. I’m old. I deserve to keep mine until it kills me.” Don removed his reading glasses and sat back in his chair. “Which is sort of what I wanted to talk to you about.”
Rhett’s jaw dropped and his forehead moistened. “You’re… What’s wrong?”
Don waved him off. “Nothing’s wrong. Not that I know of, anyway. I am sixty-four, and don’t intend to live forever. Actually, I would love to die before asshole politicians run this country further into the ground. But not yet.”
“Pop,” Rhett started, raising his hand, “can you please get to the point?” He loved his grandfather, but he could not handle a rant about the government today.
“When did you get so impatient?”
“I have dinner and a husband at home waiting for me,” he answered.
“Your marriage is good then? You take care of each other?”
Rhett blinked, trying to follow the train of thought. His grandfather, while always supportive, never pried into his love life. “Yes.”
Don nodded. “I knew you would when you first brought him home.” The man’s voice had faded out again as he met Rhett’s eyes. “Your family is the most important ingredient of a happy life. I’m ensuring you have that before we continue this conversation. So, one more time, do you and Kaden have a strong relationship?”
“That’s what I thought.” Don slid a paper across the desk to Rhett. “What I’m discussing will not make your mother happy. You need to be prepared for that.”
“Yeah, well, she made her choices.” Like to move to California with her husband after they released the asshole from prison. Rhett, at fifteen, had refused to move with them, and Pop adopted him. One of the best days of Rhett’s life was when he took his grandfather’s last name, shedding the otherwise permanent tie to the man who donated his sperm to fertilize his mother’s egg.
Don sighed again. “I wish you’d make peace with her.”
“I have. Mom and I are fine as long as she doesn’t reference the donor. If I don’t have to hear about him, I can pretend she divorced him like she should have. Now, Pop, what isn’t going to make her happy?” Rhett tried to keep his exasperation at bay as he picked at the hummus and pita bread.
“I will get there.”
Thought you wanted to die before the politicians ruined the country? Rhett nodded instead of voicing his thoughts. He’d have to find a way to make the delay up to Kaden later.
“You’re doing a fantastic job with taking on a leadership role in the company. I can tell you love it.”
The corners of Rhett’s mouth lifted. “You knew I would. I’ve worked for you since I was twelve.”
“I knew you loved flying, but that isn’t the same as leading. You’ve gained respect by taking responsibility of all parts of the business,” Don continued.
“That’s how you make sure it’s done right,” Rhett repeated the words his grandfather had told him throughout his childhood.
Don nodded again, wearing a smile of his own. “Everett, there’s something that I haven’t shared with you yet. The company does more than provide flights to wealthy people. We also work with the FBI.”
Rhett snapped his gaze back to his grandfather’s. “You do what? Aren’t they the same people ruining your beloved country?”
“No, I refuse to do business with stupid people. The company assists the rescue division of the FBI, particularly human trafficking cases,” Don said.
“Human trafficking, like the sex trade?”
“Yes, to put it broadly, the FBI tracks cases of girls and young women who go missing. This unfortunately happens every day, but the government pays special attention when the missing girls are of a lower socio-economic class and when the disappearances occur in the same geographic area,” he explained. “They’ve currently zoomed in on several larger organizations. The missions are to apprehend the traffickers and rescue the girls.”
“Are you qualified to help with that?” Rhett asked.
“I’m qualified to fly a plane and keep my mouth shut. The FBI has grown to rely on me, but the truth is I’m not as young as I used to be. Is this something you would be willing to do occasionally?”
Though not sure exactly what he was agreeing to, Rhett nodded.
“Perfect. Now for the part that’ll make your mother unhappy. I’m retiring, and I would like to give you part of your inheritance early, which means in the next few weeks I’ll draw up the paperwork so you and I will share all the assets of the company, in addition to about twenty-five percent of the money I have set aside for you.”
“Thank you, but… why?” Rhett’s head spun at the thought. His grandfather had already provided him with a trust fund that he used to put himself through school and buy Betsy. He finally glanced down at the paper, which detailed the money he would receive and the legalities of the co-ownership.
“Because you’re responsible. I trust you and I’d like to keep the wealth, especially the business, in the family.” His grandfather handed him a signed check, then stood and embraced his grandson. “Be careful on the road.”
After thanking him again, Rhett sent a text to Kaden, ‘Sorry that took so long, but trust me, it was worth it.’
Liz Borino transcribes the world inside her head onto the page, and shares it with the people who are stuck in the “real world” to makes their lives a little more interesting. Because in her world, heroes fall and stand up again with the help of their partners and friends. Liz’s world is littered with formidable obstacles, which her heroes overcome with a fire of courage and passion. The beauty of love between two men is celebrated. Who wouldn’t want to live there?
When not with her heroes, Liz enjoys exploring cities, old abandoned buildings, working toward social justice, and editing for other authors. Liz published eleven books since 2012.