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The woman had a death grip on his thigh. The pain was almost unbearable but her hands touching him felt so damn good.
No longer satisfied with looking at her out of the corner of his eye, Stone Westmoreland slowly glanced over to stare at the woman, studying every single element about her. She was strapped in her seat as if the plane would crash unless she grabbed hold of something. Her eyes were shut tight and her breathing was irregular and it reminded him of the breathing pattern of a woman who'd just experienced the most satisfying orgasm. Just thinking about her touch aroused him .
He leaned back in his seat as the plane leveled off in the sky and closed his own eyes. With back-to-back book deadlines, it had been a long time since he'd been with a woman and a mere touch from her had sent his libido into overdrive.
He opened his eyes and took a shaky breath, hoping the month he would spend at his cousin's ranch in Montana, getting his thoughts together for a new book, would do him some good. At thirty-three, he and Durango were only a few months apart in age and had always been close. Then there was his uncle Corey who lived not far from Durango on a ranch high up in the mountains. Corey Westmoreland was his father's youngest brother who, at fifty-four, had retired as a park ranger after over thirty years of service.
Stone had fond memories of the summers he and his one sister, four brothers and six male cousins had shared visiting Uncle Corey. They had gained a great appreciation for the outdoors, as well as for wildlife. Their uncle always took his job as a park ranger seriously and his love for the wilderness had been contagious.
The one thing that stood out in Stone's mind about his uncle was that he never planned to marry. In fact, other than the women in the family, no other woman's foot had ever touched the soil of Corey's mountain. His uncle always said it was because he was so ornery and set in his ways that marriage wasn't for him. He much preferred living the life of a bachelor.
Stone's thoughts shifted to his brothers. This time last year all of them had been happy-go-lucky, enjoying every single minute of playing the field. Then the next thing you know, Dare, the eldest, got married and less than six months later, last month to be exact, his brother Thorn was marching down the aisle. Everyone in the family began ribbing Stone, saying since he was the third Westmoreland brother he would probably be next.
And he had been quick to tell them that hell would freeze over first.
He enjoyed being a bachelor too much to fall for any type of marriage trap. And although he would be the first to admit that the women his brothers had married were the best and more than worthy of their undying love and affection, he had decided a long time ago, just like Uncle Corey, that marriage wasn't for him. Not that he considered himself ornery or set in his ways; he just did not want to be responsible for anyone other than himself. He enjoyed the freedom to come and go whenever he pleased, and being a national, award-winning, bestselling author of action-thriller novels afforded him that luxury. He traveled all over the world to do research, and whenever he did date it was on his time and no one else's. For him women were a necessity, but only at certain times, and usually it wasn't difficult to find one who agreed to an affair on his terms.
To be completely honest, Stone had no issues with the concept of marriage, he just wasn't ready to take the plunge himself. He'd made a decision long ago to remain single after watching a good friend, who was also a best-selling author, become hopelessly in love and besotted with a woman. After getting married, Mark had decided that writing was not a priority in his life anymore. His focus had switched. He much preferred spending time with his wife instead of sitting at a computer all day. It was as if Mark had become Samson who'd gotten a hair cut. Once married, he had been zapped of his identity.
The thought that he could lose his desire to write over something called love totally unnerved Stone. Since publishing his first book at twenty-three, writing had become his life and he didn't intend for that to change.
Doing so would mean losing control and the idea of losing that type of control on his life was something he couldn't handle.
Stone decided to check out the woman sitting beside him once more. Even with her eyes closed, he immediately liked what he saw. Shoulder-length dark brown hair and skin the color of dark coffee. She had a nice set of full lips and her nose was just the right fit for her face. She had long lashes and her cheeks were high. If she was wearing makeup, it was not very much. She was a natural beauty.
He glanced down at her hand, the one gripping his thigh. She was not wearing an engagement or wedding ring, which was good; and she had boarded the plane in Atlanta, which meant she either lived in the area or had come through the city to catch this connecting flight. Since they were on the same plane, unless she had another connecting flight, she was also bound for Montana.
His body tensed when he felt her grip tighten on his thigh. He inhaled deeply. If her hand moved even less than an inch, she would be clutching the most intimate part of him and he doubted she wanted to do that. Chances were she assumed her hand was gripping the armrest, so he decided he'd better let her know what was going on before he embarrassed them both.
He noticed that the sun, shining through the airplane window, hit her features at such an angle that they glowed. Even her hair appeared thick and luxurious and fanned her face in a way that made her look even more attractive.
Leaning over quietly, so as not to startle her, he breathed in her scent before getting a single word out of his mouth. It was a fragrance that turned him on even more than he already was. The aroma seemed entrenched into her skin and he was tempted to take his tongue and lick a portion of her bare neck to see if perhaps he could sample a taste of it.
Stone shook his head. Since when had he developed a fetish for a woman's skin? He enjoyed the art of kissing, like most men, but wanting to taste, nibble and devour a woman all over had never been something that interested him.
He pushed the thought to the back of his mind, deciding it was too dangerous to even go there; he leaned closer and whispered softly in her ear, "The plane has leveled off so you can let go of me now."
She snapped open her eyes and quickly turned her head to meet his gaze. A part of him suddenly wished she hadn't done that. He found himself staring into the most beautiful set of brown eyes he had ever seen. They were perfect for the rest of her features and something in their dark depths made his body almost jerk in the seat.
She was simply gorgeous, although in truth there wasn't anything simple about it. She literally took his breath away. And, speaking of breath, he watched as she drew in a long, shaky one before glancing down at her left hand. She immediately snatched it off his thigh.
Awareness flashed in her eyes and total embarrassment appeared on her face. "Oh, oh, I'm so sorry. I didn't mean to touch you. I thought my hand was on the armrest. II didn't mean to act so improperly."
When Stone saw the degree of distress on her face he decided to assure her that he would survive. The last thing he wanted was for her to come unglued and get all flustered on him. And he really liked her accent. It was totally different from his Southern drawl and had the unmistakable inflection of a northeasterner. She was definitely someone from one of those New England States.
"Hey, no harm's done," he tried to say casually. "My name is Stone Westmoreland," he said, introducing himself and presenting his hand to her.
She still looked embarrassed when she took it and said, "And I'm Madison Winters."
He smiled. "Nice meeting you, Madison. Is this your first flight?"
She shook her head when he released her hand. "Nice meeting you, too, and no, this isn't my first flight, but I have a definite fear of flying. I try using other means of transportation whenever I can, but in this particular situation time is of the essence."
He nodded. "And where are you from?" he couldn't help but ask, her accent affecting him just as much as her touch had. Just listening to how she pronounced her words was a total turn-on.
"I'm from Boston. I was born and raised there."
He nodded again. "I'm from the Atlanta area,'' he decided to say when moments passed and she hadn't taken the liberty to ask. Whether it was from shyness or disinterest, he wasn't sure. But as far as he was concerned it didn't matter if she wasn't interested in him. He was definitely interested in her.
"I love visiting Atlanta," she said moments later. "I took my class on a field trip there once."
He raised a brow. "Your class?"
She smiled and his stomach flipped. "Yes, I'm a teacher. I teach music to sixth graders."
Stone smiled, surprised. He would never have figured her to be the artsy type. He remembered taking band when he was about eleven and learning to play the clarinet. His band teacher had looked nothing like her. "Must be interesting."
Her smile widened. "It is and I enjoy what I do."
He chuckled. "Yes, in this day and time it's good when a person can enjoy their work."
She stared at him for a second then asked, "And what type of work do you do?"
He hesitated before answering. As a bestselling author he used a pseudonym to ensure his privacy, but for some reason he felt comfortable being truthful with her. "I'm a fiction writer."
A smile tilted her lips. "Oh, how wonderful. Sorry, but I don't recall ever reading any of your books. What exactly do you write about?"
Stone chuckled. "I write action-thriller novels under the pseudonym of Rock Mason."
She blinked and then gasped. "You're Rock Mason? The Rock Mason?"
He smiled, glad that she had at least heard of Rock Mason. "Yes."
"Oh, my gosh! My mother has read every single book you've written. She is an avid fan of yours."
His smile widened. "What about you? Have you read any of my books?"
She gazed at him with regret. "No, I usually don't have time to read for pleasure, but from what I understand you're a gifted author."
"A few of my girlfriends are in book clubs and they select your books to read and discuss whenever they hit the bookstores. You have quite a following in Boston. Have you ever visited there?"
"Yes, I did a book signing in Boston a couple of years ago and thought it was a beautiful city."
Madison beamed. "It is. I love Boston and can't imagine myself living anywhere else. I even attended Boston University because I didn't want to leave home."
At that moment they were interrupted as the flight attendant stopped to serve them drinks and a snack.
"So are you headed for Montana on business?" Stone asked. He remembered her saying something earlier about needing to get there rather quickly. He watched as she took a bite of her muffin and immediately felt his libido register the single crumb that clung to the side of her mouth. If that wasn't bad enough, she took a long sip of coffee and closed her eyes. Seconds later, as if the coffee was the best she'd ever tasted, she reopened her eyes. He saw the play of emotions across her face as she thought about his question.
"No, my visit to Montana is strictly personal." Then she studied him for a moment as if making a decision about something and said, "I'm going to Montana to find my mother."
Stone lifted a brow. "Oh? Is she missing?"
Madison leaned back against her seat, seemingly frustrated. "Yes. She and a couple of other women from Boston flew to Montana two weeks ago to tour Yellowstone National Park." She looked down and studied her coffee before adding in a low voice, "All the other women returned except my mother."
He heard the deep concern in her voice. "Have you heard from her?"
She nodded her head. "Yes. She left a message on my answering machine letting me know that she had decided to extend her vacation another two weeks."
A part of Madison wondered why she was disclosing such information to Stone, a virtual stranger. The only reason she could come up with was that she needed to talk to someone and Stone Westmoreland seemed like a nice enough guy to listen. Besides, she needed an unbiased ear.
"She left a message that she's extending her vacation yet you're going to Montana to look for her anyway?"
Stone's question, and the way he had asked it, let her know he didn't understand. "Yes, because there's a man involved."
He nodded slowly. "Oh, I see."
Frankly, he really didn't see at all and evidently his expression revealed as much because she then said, "You might not think there's reason for concern, Mr. Westmoreland, but"
"Stone. Please call me Stone."
She smiled. "All right." Then she started explaining herself again. "There is good reason for my concern, Stone. My mother hasn't done anything like this before."
He nodded again. "So you think that perhaps there has been some sort of foul play?"
She shook her head, denying that possibility. "No, I think it has something to do with her going through some sort of midlife crisis. She turned fifty a couple of months ago, and until that time she was completely normal."
Stone took a sip of his coffee. He remembered what happened when his mother turned fifty. She decided that she wanted to go back to school and start working outside of the home. His father almost had a fit because he was one of those traditional men who believed a woman's work was in the home raising kids. But his mother had made up her mind about what she wanted to do and nothing was going to stop her. Since his baby sister, Delaney, had gone off to college and there weren't any kids left at home to raise, his father had finally given in.