Alone on Earth (Signal Bend Series Volume 4)(11)

By: Susan Fanetti

He leaned in a little closer. “We shall have to spend some time together, of course, to find the seed of

our chemistry.”

Shall. Did people in the twenty-first century actually say shall in casual conversation? Maybe it was a

British thing. She smiled at him and leaned away. “You know about Debra Winger and Richard Gere in An

Officer and a Gentleman?”

He cocked his head and crinkled at her some more. “Indeed. Quite the grand love story, that. What say

you and I aim even higher?”

“They hated each other. All that intensity on the screen was loathing, not love. Maybe we should try


His crinkles faltered for a second and then recovered. “Are you saying you loathe me, love? I can’t

believe I’ve done anything to deserve that.”

“You haven’t. I’m saying that I’m not interested in anything but the job. You’d have a better chance

getting me to loathe you than love you, especially with this shtick. So let’s just stick to pretend.”

He lifted his hand and tucked it underneath the scarf she had loosely looped around her neck, laying his

palm on her chest, his fingers lightly at her throat. It was an offensively intimate gesture. What he said made

it worse: “Ah, right. The grieving heart. But that was some time ago. It’s time you healed.”

Fed up with his little seduction game and now pissed the fuck off, Riley slapped his hand away. “Don’t

underestimate me, Tanner. Nothing about you is attractive to me. But I’m a good actor. So are you. We

don’t need to be in love to play lovers. We need to be good actors. So this whole thing you’ve got going on

here is a waste of your time.”

It had been her relationship with Devon that had taught Riley this important fact, among other things:

never try to throw somebody out of a fight—or, in this case, a disagreement. Trying to control somebody

else’s actions was too difficult, and invariably resulted in the other person getting the last word. If you

needed to be apart, you had to be the one to go. So she scooted out off the bench and went to the bar to

grab Pru and drag her to the bathroom, leaving Tanner sitting alone in the booth.

She snuck a peek on their way to the ladies’ and was gratified to see him looking confounded. Good.

What a douchebag.


While he wasn’t exactly chastened, Tanner did leave her alone during the rest of the layover. During the

flight, when he and Mark sat in the row in front of Riley and Pru, they both turned around a couple of

times to talk to the women, but only in a cordial way. So he was on much better behavior. Still, Riley put

her earbuds in and closed her eyes. She didn’t turn any music on, but the pretense was enough to give her

some alone time, and she made the most of it until the landed in…she couldn’t remember the name of the

town where the airport was. Not Signal Bend. But somewhere in Missouri.

The foursome walked unaccosted through the airport. Riley had girded herself for the usual gauntlet,

and she sensed Tanner do the same, but no one seemed to recognize them—or, if they did, no one seemed

to care. As they approached the baggage claim, Riley did notice a group of young women standing near a

gift shop, and it looked like they did, in fact, recognize them. But they kept their distance and only stared

and giggled amongst themselves. Strange. In the major cities, people gawked openly and were always bold

about asking for—or even demanding—autographs and photographs. But here they were left alone. Huh.

When they got to the baggage claim, they looked around but saw no one there to greet them. That was

unusual, but so was this whole trip, so Riley and Pru went to the carousel and collected their bags. Tanner

huffed and had Mark do the same.

Riley was deciding that maybe her impression of Tanner Stafford as an okay guy, overall, had been

excessively generous. At least today, he was behaving like a toad.

Not sure quite what to do, they stood in a little cluster around their bags, several feet away from the

baggage belt. Pru and Mark both had their phones out, trying to track down whatever transportation had

been arranged. Riley realized that she didn’t even know who or what was supposed to pick them up. She