Thursday, December 18, 2014

Dirigibles are Forever by Tina Christopher [Blog Tour]

Working as an Aether Traffic Controller saved Holly Acklin after the death of her husband, but now she wants more--including a night of uninhibited passion with Jack Smith, whose very presence has kept her body tingling for months.

Special Agent Jack Smith kept his identity a secret when he came to the London Royal Port Authority with one assignment, one he cannot fail. It holds him back from following his attraction to Holly. But on the eve he must complete the mission, Holly asks for one night with no rules or boundaries, and his control snaps.

When London experiences an unexpectedly white Christmas, all dirigible traffic is grounded, leaving Holly and Jack free to act upon their stormy passions. Holly finds her determination to stay emotion-free crumbling, unaware Jack is experiencing the same need. Each lover wishes for more, but fears it can’t be. Instead they focus their desires in mind-blowing passion.

But when Holly discovers that Jack isn’t who he claimed to be, everything is thrown into turmoil. Can she trust the man she thought she knew?

Chapter One
Holly Acklin stormed into her supervisor’s office without knocking. “Mr. Tannenbaum, I’ve had enough. I must resign from my position as Aether traffic controller, effective immediately.”
Nicholas Tannenbaum, chief Aether traffic controller for the London Royal Port Authority, the largest and busiest dirigible port in England, looked up from his mountain of paperwork and stroked his long white beard. The sparkle in his eyes dimmed. “Indeed? Mrs. Acklin, I’m very sorry to hear that. What has brought on this rather abrupt decision?”
Holly straightened her back and lifted her chin. “Once again I have been scheduled to work the Christmas Eve shift. Tomorrow night will make it the third year in a row.” She had looked forward to spending the evening with friends at the Royal Port Authority Christmas Dance, had anticipated the socializing and admiring of the annual clockwork-creatures exhibition. For the first time since David’s death three years ago, she had wanted to do more than remember.
Tannenbaum’s bushy brows shot up. “Let me just see what we can do.” He pulled a pile of papers out of the mountain, narrowly avoiding an avalanche. “Hm…yes…” He ran his finger down a spreadsheet. “I see. You have the final overnight shift before we close down for Christmas. Out of all our senior members of staff, you are the only one without family close by.” His washed-out blue eyes studied her. “You never spoke up before. I didn’t imagine being scheduled for the holiday would push you to resign.” He curled the tip of his beard around a finger. “Unfortunately, I’m unavailable to work that night. Otherwise I would of course take the shift myself.”
Holly’s anger flared. For as long as she’d worked for the Royal Port Authority, she had not seen Tannenbaum work Christmas Eve. Or attend the dance. No one knew where he disappeared to.
A good chief spread the shift work evenly among the team. Instead, Holly had to work every occasion colleagues enjoyed family time.
Turned out she was no longer willing to accept this imbalance. Instead, she would use it to address her restlessness, her thirst for life after three years of grieving. She enjoyed her work at the Port Authority station, and it had given her the stability and routines she needed after losing David. But enough was enough.
She exhaled. “Mr. Tannenbaum, I do not care who will work the shift. Just be aware that it won’t be me.”
He nodded and gave a big sigh. “I understand. Smith is also working this Christmas, and it’s his first time. He is without family as well and told me he was willing and able to work Christmas. I had hoped he would have you and your experience beside him.” Tannenbaum shrugged. “Not a lot we can do about that if you’re certain you must leave.”
“Smith?” Holly swallowed. “Do you mean Jack Smith? From the Cardiff office?” Images of the man who had arrived four months ago flashed through her mind. The tall, rugged figure. The black hair and azure eyes that captured her every time he looked at her. The edge of danger surrounding him.
Since Her Majesty Queen Victoria had passed the Equal Rights Act shortly after she took the throne, men had needed to adjust to changes in their lives. Even now, nearly five decades after the law passed, Holly still found some men staring at her with a frown when they realized they were required to follow her orders. As if she couldn’t do the same work as good if not better as her male colleagues.
But Jack Smith had never responded in that manner. From the first time they’d been introduced, he’d been friendly, chatty, and just a pleasure to be around, accepting her position while sharing his experiences from the Cardiff station.
And his smile. His features were too roughly hewn to be called handsome, but his warm smile melted many things, including women’s knees. More than once Holly had needed to pinch herself to remember where she was.
She had clung to the idea of him as a new member of staff, as someone who required her assistance. Otherwise her thoughts tended to take very different and rather inappropriate paths.
Paths that involved tingles across her body and moisture between her thighs. And copious use of her personal manipulator.
Completely inappropriate.
But if I’m leaving anyway? The idea came out of nowhere. If I’m never going to see him again, I can fulfill a fantasy. No one will ever know.
Holly realized she’d stood silently for some time. Tannenbaum looked at her with raised eyebrows.
She blushed. “I’m sorry?”
“I said it will be difficult, but I will try to find someone to assist Mr. Smith. If I’m unsuccessful, he will just have to handle it on his own with your being so set on leaving right away.” A mischievous sparkle appeared in his eyes, as if he knew something she didn’t.
Holly cleared her throat, her thoughts spinning. The afternoon shift ended at seven. Once their colleagues had departed for the evening, she and Smith would be alone. Alone but for the Port Authority’s automatons.
“Maybe…maybe I spoke too hastily. It would be rather unkind of me to leave you on such short notice, especially as Mr. Smith hasn’t worked the busy Christmas Eve before.” She had no idea if she could go through with it, but this would be her last opportunity to do something she had fantasized about for months.
The delight in Tannenbaum’s eyes deepened and a smile spread across his lips. “Really? Mrs. Acklin, that would be wonderful and very generous of you.”
Holly clasped her hands before her. “Christmas Eve will be my last day of work.”
His smile dropped. “Still? That’s a shame, but I will not stand in your way.” He rose and held out his hand. “I hope you’ll find what you are searching for.”
Holly shook his hand. “Thank you, Mr. Tannenbaum.”
Tannenbaum sat back down. “No, thank you, Mrs. Acklin.”
Holly turned and walked out of the office but came to a standstill halfway down the corridor. Her heart raced. What on earth had she just done? Was she insane to give up her steady position?
No. As much as you enjoy your work, this is not what you want to do for the rest of your life. She took a deep breath and exhaled, trying to calm herself and formulate a plan. Holly needed a new direction, and her somewhat impulsive decision to resign had brought the necessary change upon her.
She would adjust, she always did. More important was the radical thought that had made her agree to work tomorrow night. All sorts of opportunities had now opened up. Opportunities to follow through on the heat burning inside her, the heat reflected in Smith’s eyes. He was too much of a gentleman to take it any further, so it fell to her to show him what she desired.
She flipped a curl of her undisciplined hair behind her ear. This could go either very, very right or horribly wrong. She started to walk again. But if it went wrong, she’d only have to suffer in his company for a few hours, and then they’d never cross paths again.
Holly pushed her hands inside her jacket pockets. Paper crinkled in one. Bother. She’d forgotten to give Mr. Tannenbaum the message from his wife. Holly turned around and strode back to Tannenbaum’s office, her rubber-soled boots thumping on the wooden floor. She knocked briskly and stepped inside. “Mr. Tannenbaum, I forgot I had a message from your wife.”
His bushy brows shot up. “What is it?”
“She asked me to tell you to come home early tonight so you’re prepared for tomorrow evening.”
A loving smile spread across his lips. “Ah, the missus worries too much. But it’s sweet of her to call.” He lifted the Aetherphon receiver on his desk. “I’d better call her back and reassure her.”
“You have big plans for Christmas Eve?” She couldn’t resist asking.
The loving smile turned wicked. “Not really. As I said, she worries too much. She should be aware that after all these years I know what I’m doing. Thank you, Mrs. Acklin.”
That tells me nothing. But Holly had no choice but to nod and turn around. Tannenbaum was a master at saying plenty of words without actually saying anything. She grumbled a little on her way to the tower, but Smith and their shift together tomorrow evening dominated her mind.
Luckily, once she got to her Long Range Visualization Terminal, or LRVT, in the tower, the Aether was busy enough to keep her thoughts focused and occupied. It always amazed her how many goods were delivered this close to Christmas. As someone who started to plan her Christmas list in September, it made no sense to her, but obviously there were enough people who waited to the last minute.
It had snowed steadily for the last two days and continued to do so. Snow interfered with the Aether connections and made the links between the controllers and vessels unreliable. She was uncertain how much more the station would be able to cope with.
She pushed her worries aside, and if the image of Mr. Jack Smith flitted through her mind with alarming regularity, she ignored it. Mostly.
Just because she wanted a night of pleasure didn’t mean she was emotionally involved.
* * * *
The next day Holly rushed into the London Royal Port Authority, struggling not to grin like an idiot. She had to stomp the snow off her boots and shake it off her hat, but even the atrocious weather couldn’t dampen her mood. She had no idea what the night would bring, but she would enjoy her last shift as an Aether traffic controller.
Come what may.
She walked into the staff room and bumped into her friend Penelope, who’d just finished work. Penny was a petite blonde with pale skin and a smattering of freckles across her nose. Her hazel eyes usually sparkled with mischief, and she always had a funny tale to share.
She was also a genius with the Babbage AetherComp. Penny worked in accounting and shipping, keeping track of the thousands of crates of cargo that went through the London Royal Port Authority on a regular basis.
And there was no machine in the Empire she couldn’t operate.
“Holly, oh no. You’re missing the dance again? I had so hoped this year we could share some punch and admire the clockwork-creatures exhibition together.”
Holly shrugged and smiled. “For the last time.” She unbuttoned her coat, shook off the last little bit of wet snow, and hung it in the narrow wooden closet. “Tonight is my final shift.”
Penny sank onto the bench between their lockers. “Your last shift? What happened?”
Holly straightened the cuffs of her blouse and the lapels of her deep-blue jacket, which matched her skirts, only now realizing they complemented Jack’s eyes. She swallowed and pulled herself back to the here and now.
The tower could be chilly, especially with this weather, so she kept the jacket on and sat beside Penny. “I realized, after storming into Mr. Tannenbaum’s office— screeching like a faulty pressure valve, I might add—that as much as I love my work here, I am ready for more.”
Penny took her hand. “I never had the pleasure of meeting David, but it was obvious when you first started how deeply you missed him.”
Holly tightened her grip around her friend’s hand. “I did. I still do sometimes, but I can’t let that keep me frozen in place. I love London, but I miss seeing the world.” She laughed. “Even if it was limited to the greenery in exotic locations.”
Penny nodded and with her usual no-nonsense approach cut through Holly’s explanation. “You miss the adventure, the relying on your wits to get you through situations, and engaging with people less conservative than your circle here in London.”
Holly gaped at her friend. “How did you know?”
Penny smiled. “Sweetie, you’ve been restless for some time now. And you have started to tell more tales from your exploits with David. I believe you mentioned the story of how it was only your clever instincts and quick thinking that saved you from some unsavory people in that village in the Amazon three times in the last two weeks. So what will you do?”
Holly sighed. “That’s the problem. I don’t know. I have an acquaintance who might need an extra dirigible pilot in Brazil, but I don’t really trust him, and I had hoped to stay a little closer to London.” She shrugged. “The universe will look after me. I plan to take Faith for a spin across the country, starting with Bath. Something will cross my path, I’m certain.”
Just the idea of taking Faith, her beloved dirigible, for a trip and leaving the rut of her everyday life behind made Holly’s heart beat faster. The Faith was her safe haven, the one place she didn’t share with anyone.
It would be good to get away.
Penny changed her shoes so she had better protection against the snowy mush outside and then rose. “I will miss you, Holly, immensely, but I hope you find what you seek.” She put her hands on her hips. “And don’t you dare forget to Aethergram me from every location. Heck, even a flockwork message will do. But stay in contact. You’re not getting away so easily.” She hugged Holly. “Merry Christmas.”
Holly smiled and ignored her blurry vision. She had to leave if she ever wanted to find the intangible something missing from her life. She returned the hug. “Merry Christmas, Penelope. Have no doubt I will let you know how things are progressing.”
She would miss her bubbly friend. No matter what, Holly would find a way to look Penny up on a regular basis.
Penny sniffed a little and then stood straighter. “All the best.” She left, rubbing her eyes.
Holly slipped out of her winter boots and into her rubber-soled work boots. No one in the tower or anywhere on the premises was allowed leather-soled shoes of any kind for fear of sparks. Even all the automatons had rubber coatings.
She checked her narrow wristwatch and realized she still had a couple of minutes. Holly rubbed her slightly moist palms on her skirts, straightened the cuffs of her white blouse again, and lifted her chin.
You will seduce Jack Smith tonight. She would step out of the protective bubble she’d only recently realized she’d surrounded herself with after David’s death. Today would be the first day of a new Holly. Or rather the return of the old Holly who’d disappeared after finding her husband’s dead body in their tent during a botanist expedition to the Amazon.
She didn’t want to hide any longer.
She wanted to live again.
And one passionate night of sex would set her on her new path.
Holly exhaled and closed her locker with a slam. The lock snicked shut. She took her bag holding her supper and flask of tea.
Tonight’s the night.
The silly smile quirked her lips again, but now she let it as she strode through the corridors and up the four flights of stairs to the tower’s round observation deck with a 360-degree view of the city. The heavy snow outside the window concerned her.
But there wasn’t a lot she could do about the weather. Not quite ready to notice Smith, she focused on her surroundings.
Mrs. Tannenbaum loved Christmas and decorated every room in the tower. The observation deck warranted a small Christmas tree, and Holly enjoyed the scent of pine filling the room. She took a deep breath. The cinnamon sticks and spiced biscuits hanging on the tree and the pomanders dotted along the windowsills filled the room with Christmas cheer.
Holly exhaled and finally met the gaze of the other person in the room.
Smith stood at his station, a steaming cup of coffee sitting on his desk in reach of his hand. He smiled.
Her smile wobbled a little. Her heart raced and her hands trembled. Jack Smith wasn’t handsome. He was too husky and carried too dark an edge. But he captured her attention. He wore a simple but well-made black suit. A suit that followed his lines and drew attention to his massive body, broad shoulders, narrow hips, and strong legs. And every inch in between.
His hands were double the size of hers, but moved with a delicacy and elegance she would have thought impossible.
Smith followed the newer fashions and wore his raven-black hair short and his face clean shaven. Her late husband, David, had favored a heavy beard. Smith’s rugged face had high cheekbones and a strong chin that were clearly visible, inviting her hands to explore the rough contours.
But it was his eyes above all else that seized her imagination. A deep azure blue—the color of the water in a hidden cove she had found during one of their expeditions—and surrounded by fine lines that showed he laughed and enjoyed the outdoors. Every time he looked at her Holly found herself captivated. Never before had she responded so strongly to a man’s eyes, but something in Jack Smith’s drew her in, made her want to find out his thoughts and feelings.
His fantasies.
And the reason why, despite the burning heat in his captivating eyes, Smith had never taken a step over the line of “just colleagues.”
“Mrs. Acklin, a pleasure as always.” He bowed to her, and she nodded.
“Mr. Smith.” Holly set down her bag. She pulled out her Dewar tea flask and a sturdy clay mug and poured herself a cup. The light scent of bergamot stroked across her senses, calming her. When she raised her head, Smith leaned back in his chair and studied her with a small smile on his lips.
“So it’s the two of us looking after the Royal Port Authority tonight. From what I understand, you have worked this shift before?” he inquired.
Holly barely contained the unladylike snort that threatened. “I have indeed. It is one of the reasons tonight will be my last shift.”
He jumped up, nearly spilling hot coffee all over himself. “Your last shift? Surely you jest. You love your work here.”
She shrugged and sank into her chair, secretly pleased by his response. “It is time for a change. I’m headed for Bath in a few days.” Holly turned her back on him and powered up the Long Range Visualization Terminal before her. “What has the traffic been like?”
Smith sat again slowly and accepted her change of subject, but with a frown. “From what I have seen so far, the sky is bedlam. And the bad weather isn’t helping.”
Holly nodded as she waited for her LRVT to clear. Soon dozens and dozens of blinking dots appeared. “The weather observation station has predicted heavy snowfall. They are trying to get their goods in before conditions get too bad and while we still have staff. Every dirigible landing after shift’s end won’t be unloaded until Boxing Day.”
Holly shrugged out of her jacket. Jack Smith’s presence was enough to raise her body temperature. She picked up the eartubes and put them on, before lifting the speaking tube and calling up the Talbot Three, the dirigible at the front of the queue. As much as she wanted to bathe in Jack’s presence, until they’d worked through the dirigibles waiting to land, they wouldn’t have a moment to themselves. “Talbot Three, please come in. Talbot Three, please come in. This is Tower One.”
“Tower One, thi…s Talbot…here.”
The message crackled in her eartubes. As she’d feared, the snow affected the Aether. This would make things more difficult. Smith also contacted one of the dirigibles in orbit. A shiver ran down her spine when he talked to whatever vessel he’d connected to. She had to drag her attention back to the Talbot Three, otherwise she would have drowned in his smooth baritone.
If he was ever on the other end of the speaking tube when she landed the Faith, she’d be in big trouble.


Tina Christopher spent her early years flitting across the Channel between Germany and England. After touring the world extensively—from hanging out with elephants in South Africa to hiking through the wilderness in Alaska—she finally laid down roots in Toronto. Although Canada’s winters may be frigid, Tina’s characters are anything but!
Like most writers, Tina often hears voices in her head, but it took the encouragement of an editor friend to have her actually put fingers to keyboard. While those first stories will never see the light of day, she’s subsequently honed her craft and learned to build not just worlds, but entire galaxies. History has always been an area of interest for her, and she’s enjoys few things more than imagining what could happen when history and future meet.
When not imagining far-away worlds and scorching-hot encounters, Tina can be found on her sofa working through her never-ending TBR pile or venturing into the real world—whether to a nearby cafĂ© or a passport-required destination. She’s a member of the Romance Writers of America Toronto chapter and looks forward to where her characters take her next!

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