Junior technician Ensie Thalanquin is the odd girl out in the Aerial squad. Building flying machines should be an exciting life, but years of being alternately teased and ignored by her fellow Petronauts have turned it into a grind.
Cooper Carper is a hard-working machinist whose boss has made him his personal whipping boy.
Love was the last thing they were looking for when they went to work. But sometimes love pops up in the most unlikely places…
Can they keep a relationship afloat despite the differences in their backgrounds, the meddling of their superiors, and the pressure of a dangerous flight test a few short weeks away?
I’m an author, actor and dad living outside Washington, DC with my wife, baby girl, and a brawling pair of cats.
My current projects are the humorous fantasy series “Mechanized Wizardry” and a related series of medium/short length pieces called “Petronaut Tales.” The Petronaut Tales are set in the same fantasy world, but give me license to play with new characters and genres, including romance.
With “Aloft,” I was inspired to write a romance about characters who weren’t especially beautiful, and who spent most of the lives feeling overlooked and out of place. Meeting each other is what lifts them up to do great things, even through adversity and danger.
Why not write about a passion-fest between two supermodels? Because most of the world’s passion-fests are between ordinary folks. I wanted to explore the reactions of two characters who didn’t ever imagine themselves capable of feeling a love that strong, let alone inspiring it in someone else. And I wanted to show how love can make people stronger, which was easier to do with characters starting from a lower-status place.
Sample from Book:
Ensie smoothed out the dog-eared corner of the blueprints for the dozenth time. She shifted her weight on the bench, feeling the warmth of the sun on the back of her neck. She was too poor to own a watch, but she resisted the temptation to duck out into the hallway again and check the sepia-faced clock mounted on the wall. It had been 10:20 on the spot when she’d checked it moments ago. That meant that, by now, twenty-five minutes at most had passed since she’d left Mister Upforth and the rest of his team. And Upforth had said Cooper—or was it Carper?—would meet her in fifteen minutes. But the drafting room might be hard to find, for a civilian who’d never seen the Aerial compound before. And there had been an awful lot of wood left in that cart for just one person to move quickly. Even someone so tall, with those big arms and broad shoulders…
“You need to get a hold of yourself,” she said aloud, pressing her palm against the desk. She closed her eyes.
You’re an Aerial technician. Your ‘naut wants a consultation from a civilian firm. You’ve been trusted with getting information vital to the success of your project. This is Business with a capital B. Not some kind of private—
—and don’t you dare even finish that thought, because seriously: this is Business.
She scratched the space between her too-thick eyebrows as she looked at the door.
And even if it wasn’t Business, the morose thought crept through her defenses, it’s not as if anything’s going to happen. Any friendly vibes you’re getting are because he’s good at his job. Do you really think that there’s anything about you that would inspire unprofessional thoughts in a civilian guy like him? When he’s meeting all the other wisecracking Aerial girls and the Parade squad knockouts on the same day? Count yourself lucky you’re getting to talk to him at all. You’re just—
The door inched open. Ensie leapt to her feet behind the desk. There he was.
“There you are,” she said, rubbing her hands against her hips.
“So sorry,” he mumbled, turning sideways to come through the narrow door. He sounded a little out of breath. “I… I thought I heard you say ‘third building on the right,’ but I must have misheard. That’s actually the, uh, fuel center, I learned, where you guys are doing some crazy things with petrolatum…”
“Oh, gosh, you went to the refinery?”
“Yeah, through a back door. Got a little turned around with the fumes. But then someone—I forgot his name—pointed me here…”
“Spheres, I led you to the refinery without a mask! I am so sorry. I don’t know why I… I meant to say ‘first building on your—’”
“You did. I’m sure you did. I just heard it wrong—”
“No, no, I’m sure I said… I don’t know what I said!”
“Listen, with these ears, all bets are off. It’s a miracle I’m here at all.”
They stood facing each other with their hands flat against their hips. The sunlight illuminated the lower halves of their bodies.
“I’m Ensie,” she said, for no reason.
Why, oh why, oh why do I speak?
He smiled at her. His teeth were a little small and his gums were a little long, so when he smiled he looked like a kid, with a child’s whole-hearted good humor. “That makes, what, the third time we’ve done introductions?”
“I’m sure, probably,” she laughed. She touched her fingertips to the desk and found herself leaning towards him. “My third time, at least. And somehow I’m still not sure what your name is! Carper? Cooper? Caper?”
“Cooper Carper, actually.”
She felt herself smiling like a porpoise. She ordered her lips to stand down. Business. “Nice to meet you, Mister Carper,” she said, very professionally.
“You too, technician.”
She tilted her head at him. ‘Technician?’ Who are you, Sir Tomas? “You can call me Ensie.”
“Well, then,” he said, pressing the door closed behind him with a click, “you can call me Cooper.”
“I’m on a project now for a concept craft called the Flicker,” she said, brushing the blueprints with her hands as she stared fixedly at the parchment. Cooper came over to the side of the desk to look. His hands floated in space for a moment as he considered resting a big palm on top of the desk to lean over the plans, as she was doing, which would have brought their heads very close together. But instead his hands interlocked behind his back in a sort of parade rest and he just bent his head to look down. Ensie tried not to watch him as she folded the dog-eared corner back into place for the thirteenth time.
She laid out the specifications for the grasshopper-like craft, discussing fuel projections, the airflow models they’d run, and the properties of the alloys they’d debated for the hollow, curved wings. Cooper’s head bobbed up and down, and he offered a succession of mmm’s and I see’s at appropriate times. As she heard herself talk, she fidgeted with the bottom edge of the desk and only allowed herself quick glances up at his face. It was hard to tell if he was following the run-down at all, which gave her a heavy feeling in her stomach.
Burn me. Maybe Mister Upforth had a good reason for wanting that woman Skye to be the one to talk to me…
“So,” he said at last, shifting his weight. She looked up at him. “What exactly do you need us for?”
“Just wanted to, uh, forge a partnership with Upforth’s for a consultation on our ranine apparatus. That’s all.”
Cooper nodded. His forehead was wrinkled with vigorous thought. Ensie folded her hands together and tried not to let her disappointment show. He had the look of someone at an absolute loss for the right thing to say. Please, please, don’t be stupid.
“Honestly?” Cooper said.
“Mmm-hmm?” she said, tucking one of her bangs back into her hairnet.
For a long moment, he just looked at the plans. Then he shook his head and gave a heavy sigh. His hands reappeared from behind his back and he leaned down so quickly their foreheads almost brushed.
“Mister Upforth’s going to kill me,” he said, “but I don’t think you need us at all. The ranine designs you already deploy don’t have any trouble getting a Bulwark Petronaut off the ground, do they? And a Bulwark ‘naut in full armor’s gotta be eighty percent of the weight of this Flicker; maybe even the same, if their suits are steel and this alloy of yours is as light as all that. And I can’t imagine your test pilots are bulked-up the way Bulwark grunts are. I mean, who flies your things?”
“Knighted ‘nauts and expert techs, mostly,” Ensie said, her eyes widening. There was a whole new energy to him.
“So, right! When I think of a burly man or woman in armor jumping through the air no problem, and then I envision someone on the svelte side—like you—piloting a Flicker that, all things being equal, is the same weight but with, you know, better airflow?”
“Hang on,” she said.
“Sure. Sorry. I know I don’t have the right terminology—”
“Did you say, uh.”
She pressed her lips together. Business! But there was no hope.
“Did you say I’m ‘on the svelte side?’”
Cooper’s looked down at her. His face went gray with horror.
“I hope that word means what I think it means,” he whispered.
She looked to the far wall. Cute? Petite? Is that what you meant? She longed to ask him that like a Parade squad nymph would say it, drifting towards him with an archly raised eyebrow and a lazy, kissable half-smile. But just playacting through the line in her head set a swarm of nervous giggles buzzing around in her throat, perilously close to her voice box, and it was all she could do to keep a lid on them.
“You’re.” Was that my voice? The word was a mortifying squeak.
Ensie swallowed and tried again. “You’re right that the aerodynamic profile of the Flicker sure beats an armored ‘naut,” she said, folding the corner of the blueprints back for the fourteenth time. “And weights are comparable. But the jumping action we’re thinking of is on a different scale.”
“Ah, okay. Higher elevations.”
“Yes, but more importantly, jumping’s the primary locomotion for the Flicker. A ‘naut can leap around from time to time, sure, but most of what they do is run. A totally different use of the coils and their, uh, built-in suspensions. Their legs.”
“Whereas the Flicker does nothing but jump,” Cooper said, rubbing the back of his neck.
“Jump, and glide, and jump, and glide. You see? That’s why we need to make sure the coil box we build can handle tons of impacts, and launch with tons of force; but not so much force that the pilot loses control. See? It’s tricky.”
“It’s tricky,” he agreed. Cooper raised his hands. “To be honest, though, I’d trust you Aerials more to make it work right than I’d trust us.”
“But, uh.” Was he really going to walk out of her life because he was too honest to land his company a contract? Keep him. Keep him here! a hungry voice blared out somewhere inside her.
“You must have done something this size before,” she said, hurriedly.
“Oh, sure. We’ve worked big carriage suspensions. A motorized dais that raised and lowered, too, and had a bunch of dancers leaping around on it for, uh, a play or something.”
“See? So Upforth’s could lend experience with scale, while we figure out the whole ‘aloft’ part.”
“Ensie. I just want to be sure we wouldn’t waste your time.”
Ensie took a deep breath through her nose. “It would take a lot of time,” she said slowly. She curled her hands into little fists, rubbing her thumbs against her fingers as she looked up at him. No giggling. No giggling!
“We’d have to meet, uh… quite a few times, probably.”
Cooper looked down at her. His hands unlocked from behind his back and floated to his sides. “Quite a few times?” he said, quietly.
“Oh, yeah. A big project like this could take hours and hours of collaboration.”
He nodded. One of his large fingers pointed to the desk. “Here?”
As he tapped the surface of the desk, Ensie thought of purposes for the wide flat surface that had never even crossed her mind before. She’d never wanted to get started on a collaboration so badly.
“Or your workshop,” she said. “You know. Whichever sounds more productive.”
“Either sounds good to me.”
“Great. Can I say—”
“I just want to—”
They both spoke up simultaneously, and leaned a little closer at the same time. It brought them many centimeters closer than either had meant independently. Ensie froze there. He was so close that her hairnet was almost brushing the center of his chest. She turned her face up to him and saw something very interesting in his eyes.
“You first,” she whispered.
Cooper took a long moment before speaking. “Can I just tell you that I’m looking forward to working with you?”
“Likewise…” Ensie shifted her hand so their fingertips on the desk were touching. “Cooper.”
He shifted his hand on top of hers. Warm pressure, skin-to-skin, flooded up her arm and into her chest. The contours of his rough palm were fascinating as she explored them through the fine hairs and delicate nerves of the back of her hand. Her vision went a little blurry as she dedicated all her brainpower to experiencing his touch against her skin.
A massive noise clattered through the hallway just outside. Ensie recoiled before she recognized the sound of the tool cart for what it was. Cooper started too, raising his hand up and away. He flushed the color of an overripe apple and he refused to meet her eyes as the tech outside pushed the noisy cart from one workroom to the next.
“I.” Ensie brushed the nonexistent dust off the blueprints again, trying to get her voice under control again. Cooper slowly put his hands behind his back.
“That, uh.” He cleared his throat. “I’m sorry. That was unprofessional of me, and I’m sorry.”
She looked up at him.
“I shouldn’t have… I mean, I didn’t mean anything by, by touching you.”
“Well, I… it’s not… There’s a time and a place, that’s all. Unprofessional,” he rambled, shaking his head.
Ensie felt the grain of the desk beneath her hand. “I made you think unprofessional thoughts,” she murmured.
Their eyes met.
“It’ll never happen again,” he said, something low coloring his voice.
Ensie raised one eyebrow in an unspoken ‘really?’ she would have been very proud of if she had been able to see herself.
Sunlight flooded the room as their lips pressed together.