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The panty hose were killing him. Cutting his gut clean in two. Whoever invented the torturous things should be strangled outright. No mercy shown.
Sheer, black, tight. They clung like second skin to the most exquisitely shaped pair of legs he'd ever seen. Narrow ankles, smooth rounded calves, supple knees and firm thighs.
She crossed her legs and the panty hose murmured a soft whisper. Swish.
And what about that dark seam running up the back? Simply sin-sational!
Lord have mercy on an Alaskan man's soul. He'd never witnessed such sights in his hometown of Bear Creek. For a second there Quinn Scofield thought he would have to ask the flight attendant for an oxygen mask.
Boldly he peered over the top of his Wilderness Guide Monthly at the blond, sleek-haired, Charlize Theron lookalike. She sat in first-class seat 1B, one diagonal row up from his position in 2C. She and her dynamite hosiery, presumably on their way to JFK, had boarded the plane during the layover at O'Hare, but not once had she glanced behind her. Instead, she had been studiously typing into her laptop computer for the past thirty minutes.
This one was too cool for school and she knew it.
Polished, classy, undeniably an urbanite, she was definitely not the kind of woman he was searching for. But man, did she ever rev his engines. Without the slightest provocation, he could easily imagine those fine, gorgeous limbs wrapped around his midsection or slung over his shoulders in the throes of serious sex.
"Real hottie, isn't she?" his seatmate, a paunchy, middle-aged businessman who'd had one too many whiskey sours, slurred, and nodded at the woman.
"She's very attractive, yes," Quinn agreed, but kept his voice low so she wouldn't overhear.
Unfortunately the other man's volume control had been affected by his alcohol intake. He leaned close in a confidential manner, nudged Quinn in the ribs and winked boldly. "I'd do her in a New York minute. Know what I mean?"
Slowly Charlize turned and pinned them both with an icy glare. Quick, like a little boy chastised, the businessman looked away. But Quinn didn't flinch. He'd been dying for a glimpse of those eyes, and he wasn't going to let his seatmate's bad manners deprive him of the thrill.
Their gazes met.
And he wasn't disappointed. Her eyes were as compelling as the rest of her. Sharp, slightly almond-shaped, the color of dark chocolate.
His heart did a triple axel, then dropped, ker-plunk, into his stomach. He'd always had a weakness for brown-eyed blondes. Quinn smiled, giving her his best George-Clooney-on-the-make imitation.
Charlize didn't return the favor.
"Hi," he greeted her boldly. "How you doin'?"
For a minute there he thought she might speak.
Her lips parted. Her eyes widened. A hint of a smile hovered.
Come on, sweetheart, give it up.
His hopes lodged in his throat. Suddenly his imagination transported him back to the fifth grade. He remembered sneaking off during recess to play spin the bottle with his classmates in the basement of Seward Middle School with the singular hope of kissing Mindy Lou Johnson.
But then Charlize cruelly shattered his dreams. Without a word, she flicked her gaze away, as if he was of no more significance than a pesky fly, and went back to her laptop.
Snubbed! Okay, that's what he got for daring to speak to the Queen of Cool.
Quinn tried to focus on his magazine, but he couldn't concentrate. Eventually, his gaze found its way back to those legs. Eighteen months without the comforts of female companionship was a far stretch to go.
That's how long it had been since his ex-girlfriend Heather had turned down his marriage proposal. She'd told him that no matter how much she might love him, she could never be more than a fair weather Alaskan. The winters were just too harsh.
Heather begged him to move to Cleveland, but Quinn figured he must not have loved her as much as he thought. He had not yet met the woman who could convince him to leave his home. Alaska was in his blood, his heart, his soul. But man alive, sometimes those long, dark winter nights got really lonely.
Some of his friends had told him he was too stubborn, letting his love of Alaska overrule his heart. They said if he didn't learn to compromise, he'd never find true love. But others had congratulated him on sticking to his guns. He was an Alaskan man, and only a woman willing to become an Alaskan wife could make him happy.
At thirty-two Quinn was ready for a family of his own, but he knew it would take a very special lady to make her home in Bear Creek. Elegant thing like Charlize Theron there, with her fancy panty hose and her hundred-dollar haircut, would be crushed by the regal brutality of the Alaskan landscape. Nope, pretty she might be, but he needed someone tough and strong and resilient. Someone like his younger sister, Meggie. Or at least how Meggie used to be before she married Jesse Drummond and moved off to Seattle to fulfill her dream of becoming a city girl. Trouble was, in Bear Creek, men outnumbered women ten to one.
In the meantime he wasn't opposed to studying Charlize for sheer enjoyment. He tried to imagine her in Alaska and had to smile. No Broadway theater. No champagne-and-black-tie charity events for cultural enrichment. In Bear Creek if you wanted to raise money for, say, the volunteer fire department, you threw a salmon bake, got a keg of beer, slapped some hard-driving music on your CD player and let it go at that.
From where he sat, Quinn could only see her profile and those elegant hands tapping away at the keyboard. Her nose was perfectly shaped. Exquisite, in fact. Not too big, not too small. Not too sharp, not too soft.
Her cheekbonesQuinn could see just one, but he knew the other matchedwere as high and sculpted as any fashion model's. Her firm but feminine chin was an artist's dream. And that mouth! Full, but not overblown like those Hollywood actresses who had their lips shot full of collagen. Lips currently adorned with lipstick the same russet shade as an Alaskan summer sunset.
Oh, this one was a fascinating combination of fire and ice, all right. Her regal demeanor shouted "You're never gonna get it," but those panty hose and spike-heeled shoes gave totally conflicting messages. Deep down she was a sensual woman aching to shake off that repressed disposition.
She closed her laptop and settled it under her seat. Her pencil dropped to the floor, unnoticed.
Quinn, never one to let good sense hold him back from something he wanted, seized the opportunity. Leaning forward, he tapped her gently on the shoulder.
She jerked her head around and stabbed him with a hard, what-do-you-want-from-me-wilderness-boy expression. No doubt she was accustomed to strange men making passes at her, and she'd perfected that "hands off" look to quell even the most ardent admirer in his tracks. A necessary skill for a woman who dressed like that.
"You dropped your pencil." He pointed.
Her expression softened when she realized he wasn't hitting on hereven though he was working up to that. The corners of her lips edged upward and she silently mouthed, "Thank you."
Argh! Her simple thank-you struck like an arrow through the heart.
Yo, Mama, I think I'm in big-time lust.
When she leaned down to retrieve the pencil, she shifted her legs and her skirt rode up higher on her thigh. Quinn almost choked.
He spied the hint of something black and lacy. She straightened, pencil in hand, and reached to tug her skirt down.
But it was too late. He already knew her secret.
She turned her head, met his eyes again and sent him a Mona Lisa smile.
Those were no panty hose.
The audacious woman was wearing a garter and stockings!
Kay Freemont casually took a compact from her purse.
Okay, maybe it wasn't so casually. Maybe she wanted another peek at Paul Bunyon back there without turning around and giving him the satisfaction of knowing she was interested.
Not interested in a serious way, of course. She was trying to untangle herself from an unsatisfactory relationship, not get into a new one. She merely wanted to confirm that the broad-shouldered man clad in flannel and denim was indeed as ruggedly cute as she thought.
Kay might have worried her bottom lip with her teeth, so curious was she about this man, but many years of her mother's nagging stopped her. Mustn't smear one's lipstick. Freemonts had a certain image to maintain.
She feigned using the compact mirror to pat her un-mussed hair into place, but she angled it so she could see him. Secretly she'd always been sexually attracted to burly, outdoorsy men. Strong, physical men who played contact sports and repaired their own cars. Men who chopped wood and roasted raw meat over fire pits. Men who'd fight to the death to protect their women.
The fact that her boyfriend Lloyd was a slender, brainy, pacifistic vegetarian who didn't even own a car, much less know how to work on one, did not escape her. But just because she daydreamed about extremely manly men didn't mean she coveted a relationship with one. It was simply a sexual fantasy.
Besides some things were more important than sex. Companionship, for instance.
And Lloyd is such a great companion? He works eighty-hour weeks. And when was the last time he made love to you? Seven, eight weeks ago?
That wasn't fair. She couldn't lay blame solely at his feet. She was as busy as Lloyd.
And is it your fault that Lloyd has never satisfied you in bed?
Maybe it was her fault. Even though she spent a lot of time researching and writing how-to-improve-your-sex-life articles like "How to Achieve Multiple Orgasms" and "Tantric Sex, The New Revolution in Intimacy," for the hottest women's magazine in the country, Kay had yet to experience such lofty sensations herself.
Yes, she read and she read and she read. From classics like The Hite Report and The Story of O to the most up-to-date literature on the subject, she knew them all by heart. Kay understood the mechanics of sex, and she kept thinking that if she just gathered enough knowledge on the subject, one day she'd be able to scale her way to the stars.
Maybe she should see a counselor, instead.
Or maybe you should just have a wild, uninhibited fling. I bet Paul Bunyon's got what it takes to please a woman. Did you get a load of those hands? If it's true what they say about the size of a man's hands and the size ofhis
Kay tilted the mirror to the right to get a better look.
Paul Bunyon's upper arms were as big as her thighs. For some illogical reason, this thought made her shiver. He was so very large and seemed to be constructed of pure steel. He was tall and muscular and solid. She imagined he could toss her over his shoulder more easily than she could pick up a tea bag. He possessed hair the color of aged whiskey and sultry gray eyes that snapped with surprising intelligence.
His shirt was a comforting shade of blue, and he had the sleeves rolled up a quarter turn, giving her a peek of sexy forearms offset by a thick, leather-banded watch. Nice. Very nice. Just the right amount of hair. Kay had a weakness for sexy forearms.
She licked her lips, forgetting all about smearing her lipstick. A weighted feeling settled over her and made her blood flow hot and sluggish as the erotic sensation drifted down to wedge heavily between her legs. She wondered what would happen if she stood up and walked toward him. What would he do if she bent down to his ear and with a seductive whisper invited him to become a member of the mile-high club with her? Tingles dove down her spine.
If she pivoted on her heel and sashayed to the lavatory, would he follow?