Ignited by passion, p.2

Ignited by Passion, page 2

 

Ignited by Passion
 



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  Stone thought that was pretty evident. “Can she take additional time off from her job like that?” he asked, curious with everything Madison was telling him.

  “Yes. My mother retired as a hospital administrator last year and owns a day-care center for the elderly. She has an excellent staff. Over the past couple of months she’s been spending less time at the office and doing a lot of charity work in the community. She’s really big into that.”

  Stone leaned back in his seat. “Do you have an idea where you plan to look? Montana is a huge place.”

  “I’ve made reservations at this dude ranch outside of Bozeman called the Silver Arrow. Have you ever heard of it?”

  Stone smiled. Yes, he had. In fact, the Silver Arrow Dude Ranch was only a short distance from Durango’s place. He was rather pleased that he and Madison would be in close proximity to each other. “I know exactly where it is. In fact, it’s not far from where I’ll be staying. The two of us will practically be neighbors.”

  She smiled like the thought of that pleased her. Or maybe it was wishful thinking on his part, Stone thought as his gaze centered on her lips.

  “I’ve made plans for a tour guide to take me up into the mountains after I’m settled,” she said, breaking into his thoughts.

  Stone lifted a brow. “Up into the mountains?”

  “Yes, that’s where the man has taken my mother.”

  He paused in the act of taking a bite of his muffin. “This man took your mother up into the mountains?” At her nod he then asked, “Why?”

  “Because that’s where he lives.”

  After chewing a morsel of the muffin, Stone inquired, “The guy actually lives in the mountains?” He took a swallow of coffee, thinking he’d always thought his uncle Corey was the only man brave enough to forgo civilization and live high up in the mountains. While he worked as a park ranger, Corey Westmoreland stayed in the lowlands, making the trip into the mountains on his days off.

  “Yes, according to the information I was able to find, he lives on this huge mountain,” Madison said, interrupting his thoughts. “The man is a retired park ranger. I don’t have his full name but I understand he’s well known in those parts and goes by Carl, Cole, Cord or something like that.”

  A portion of Stone’s coffee went down the wrong pipe and he began coughing to clear his throat.

  “Stone, are you all right?” Madison asked in concern.

  Stone looked at her, not sure if he was all right or not. The man she had just described sounded a lot like his uncle Corey.

  But a woman on Corey’s mountain?

  He cleared this throat thoroughly before asking his next question. He met her gaze, hoping he had not heard her correctly. “Are you saying that some guy who is a retired park ranger and who owns a ranch high up in the mountains is the person your mother ran off with?”

  After wiping her mouth with a napkin, Madison nodded her head. “Yes. Can you imagine anything so ridiculous?”

  No. In all honesty I can’t, if we’re talking about the same person. Stone thought about what she had told him. He then considered everything he knew about his uncle, especially how he felt about a woman ever setting foot on his beloved mountain.

  He then answered Madison as honestly as he knew how. “No, I can’t imagine anything so ridiculous.”

  She must have talked the man to death, Madison thought, glancing over at Stone a short while later. Conversation between them had dwindled off and he was leaning back in his seat, his head tipped back against the headrest, his eyes closed either in sleep or deep thought.

  She couldn’t help but take this opportunity to examine him.

  If a man could be described as beautiful, it would be him. He was more handsome than any man had a right to be. She could easily tell that he had broad shoulders and although he was sitting down there was no doubt in her mind that he probably had pretty lean hips. But what captivated her most about him were his dark almond-shaped eyes and she wished they weren’t closed so she could gaze into them some more.

  They were as dark as midnight and, when he had looked at her, it was as if he could see everything, right deep into her very soul. Then there was his neatly trimmed curly black hair that was cut low, his high cheekbones and his beautifully full lips that had almost melted her in her seat when he had smiled. And the healthy texture of his chest nut skin tempted her to touch it to see if it was really soft as cotton.

  For the first time, her mind was not focused on the fact that she was on a plane, but on the fact that she was sitting next to the most gorgeous man she had ever seen. Ordinarily, she would be the last person to notice a man after what Cedric had done to her a couple of years ago. Finding out the man you were about to marry was having an affair was painful to say the least. Since then she had decided that no man was worth the trouble. Some people were just meant to be alone.

  She settled back in her seat, frowning as she wondered if the reason her mother had taken off with a man was be cause she had been tired of living alone. Abby Winters had been widowed for over ten years, and Madison knew her father’s death had not been easy on her. She’d also known, even though her mother had refused to discuss it, that her parents had not had a happy marriage. All it had taken was a weekend spent in the home of a high school friend, whose parents were still very much in love, to notice things she didn’t see at home. Her father had never kissed her mother before leaving for work, nor had they exchanged funny-looking smiles across the dinner table when they thought no one was watching.

  Her parents had been highly educated people: Harvard graduates. Somehow over the years they had become absorbed in their individual careers. Although there was no doubt in her mind that they had loved her, it was clearly obvious that at some point they had stopped loving each other.

  It seemed they had pretty much accepted a loveless marriage. Even after her father’s death, her mother still didn’t date, although Madison knew several men had asked her out once or twice.

  That’s what made Abby Winters’ actions now so baffling and unacceptable. What was it about the man that had captured her mother’s interest enough to do something as outrageous as going off with him to his mountain? As she had told Stone, her mother was the most rational person she knew, so it had to be some sort of midlife crisis. There was no other explanation for it.

  And what would she say to her mother when she saw her? That was a question for which she had no answer. The only thing she knew for certain was that she was deter mined to talk some sense into her. Fifty-year-old women just did not run off with men they didn’t know.

  Madison shook her head. She was twenty-five and she would never take up with some man she didn’t know, even someone as good looking as Stone. She quickly glanced over at him and had to admit that taking off with him was definitely a tempting thought.

  A very tempting thought.

  She pushed the thought aside, thinking that one Winters woman acting impulsive and irrational was enough.

  What if the man Madison Winters had described was really Uncle Corey?

  With his eyes closed, that question continued to plague Stone’s mind. At the moment he was pretending to be asleep, not wanting Madison to see his inner turmoil. Since the plane was at an altitude where he could use a mobile phone, he considered calling Durango to find out if Corey had abducted the woman. Durango, who was also a park ranger, had moved to Montana to attend college and joined the profession that their uncle had loved so much.

  Durango had lived with Corey until he had saved up enough to purchase his own land. But calling Durango was not an option, not with Madison sitting next to him. Although she would try not to eavesdrop, there was no way she would not overhear his every word. He had no choice but to wait until the plane landed to question Durango. He hoped like hell that he was wrong and there was another retired park ranger who lived high in the mountains and whose name began with the letter C.

  Stone breathed in slowly. Madison’s scent was getting to him again.
If he were completely honest he would admit that his blood had begun stirring the moment she had sat next to him on the flight. He had tried ignoring her by concentrating on the activities outside the plane window as the airline crew prepared for takeoff, and had pretty much dismissed her from his mind until she had touched him.

  Aroused him was a much better word.

  He sighed deeply. This would definitely be one flight he would not forget in a long time. He couldn’t help but open his eyes and glance over at her. Her eyes were closed, her lips were parted and she was breathing at an even pace. Unlike before, she was now resting peacefully and had somehow taken her mind off her fear of flying, and a part of him felt good about that. He didn’t want to dwell on the protective instincts he was developing for her. Perhaps he felt this way because she reminded him of his baby sister, Delaney.

  A lazy smile touched his lips. As the only girl constantly surrounded by five older brothers and six older male cousins, Delaney had been overprotected most of her life. But after graduating from medical school she had pulled a fast one on everyone and had sneaked away to a secluded cabin in the North Carolina mountains for rest and relaxation, only to discover the mountain retreat was al ready occupied. A visiting desert sheikh, who’d had the same idea about rest and relaxation, had been ensconced in the cabin when she’d arrived. During the course of their “vacation,” the two fell in love and now his baby sister was a princess living in the Middle East.

  Delaney was presently in the States with her family to finish her residency at a hospital in Kentucky. He enjoyed seeing his one-year-old nephew Ari and had to admit that his sister’s husband, Sheikh Jamal Ari Yasir, had grown on him and his brothers, and now he was as welcome a sight as Delaney. Stone knew Jamal loved his sister immensely.

  He looked around the plane, wishing there was some way he could walk around and stretch his stiff muscles, but knew that would mean waking Madison to reach the aisle, and he didn’t want to do that for fear she would start talking again about the man who could be his uncle. Until he got some answers from Durango, the last thing he wanted to do was come across as if he were deceiving her.

  He glanced over at her once more and admired her beauty. To his way of thinking, Madison Winters was a woman no man in his right mind would want to deceive.

  Chapter 2

  The landing was smooth and as the plane taxied up to the terminal, Madison breathed a sigh of relief to be back on the ground. She unbuckled her seat belt and watched as the other passengers wasted little time getting out of their seats and gathering their belongings from the overhead compartments. Some people were moving quickly to catch connecting flights, while others appeared eager to be reunited with the loved ones waiting for them.

  “Do you need help getting anything?”

  She turned and met Stone’s gaze. His voice was low, deep and seductive, and reminded her of the husky baritone of the singer Barry White. The rhythm of her heart in creased.

  “No, I can manage, but thanks for asking. If you don’t mind, I’ll wait until the plane empties before getting off. If you need to get by I can move out of your way.”

  “No, I’m in no hurry, either. I doubt my cousin is here to pick me up since he’s never on time.” He smiled. “But then he just might surprise me this time.”

  His smile did funny things to her insides, Madison thought, glancing around to see how many people were left to get off the plane. The best thing to do would be to get as far away from Stone Westmoreland as soon as she could. The man messed with her ability to think straight and, for the moment, finding her mother needed her full concentration.

  “Do you have transportation to the Silver Arrow ranch?”

  Again she met his gaze. “Yes. I was told they would be sending someone for me.”

  Stone nodded. “Too bad. I was going to offer you a ride. I’m sure Durango wouldn’t mind dropping you off since it’s on the way.”

  Madison lifted a brow. “Durango?”

  Stone smiled. “Yes, my cousin Durango. He’s a park ranger at Yellowstone National Park.”

  Stone watched her eyes grow wide. “A park ranger? Then there’s a chance he might know the man my mother took off with,” she said excitedly.

  Durango might know him better than you think, Stone wanted to say but didn’t. Although the man she had described sounded a lot like Corey, it was still hard for Stone to believe that his uncle had actually taken a woman to his mountain. Stone never knew the full story why Corey had written off any kind of permanent relationship with a woman, he only knew that he had. “Yes, there is that possibility,” Stone finally said.

  “Then, if you don’t mind, I’d like to ask him about it.”

  “No, I don’t mind.” Stone only hoped that he would get the chance to speak to Durango first.

  “The way is clear to go now.”

  Madison’s words recaptured his attention. He watched as she stood and eased out into the aisle. Opening the over head compartment, she pulled out an overnight bag, a brand he recognized immediately as being Louis Vuitton. He smiled, remembering that he had given his sister Delaney a Louis Vuitton purse as a graduation present when she had earned her medical degree. He had been amazed at how much the item had cost, but when he had seen how happy the gift had made Delaney, the amount he’d spent had been well worth it.

  Delaney had once explained that you could tell just how polished and classy a woman was by the purse she carried. If that was the case, Madison Winters was one hell of a polished and classy woman because she was sporting a Louis Vuitton purse, as well. He stood up and followed her into the aisle.

  Madison looked ahead and thought the aisle of the plane seemed a hundred miles long. When they had to stop abruptly for the line of people moving slowly ahead of them, Stone automatically placed his hands at her waist to keep her from losing her balance.

  She turned and gazed over her shoulder at him. “Thanks, Stone.”

  “My pleasure.”

  She smiled thinking it wasn’t his pleasure alone. She felt his hard, solid chest pressed against her back and, when he placed his hands on her waist, she was acutely aware of the strength in his touch. He was a tall man. She wasn’t conscious of just how tall until he stood up. He towered over her and when she tilted her head back to thank him, he met her gaze. The look in his eyes nearly took her breath away.

  Although he wasn’t wearing a wedding ring, there was no way a man who looked this good could be unattached, she thought. A probing query entered her mind. He’d said his cousin Durango would be picking him up. Would there be a special lady waiting for him, as well? In her opinion, Stone Westmoreland had a magnetic, compelling charm that made him an irresistible force to reckon with.

  When they left the plane, the two of them walked side by side through the ramp corridor toward the arrival area. “So, how long do you plan to stay in Montana?” Stone asked.

  Madison could tell he had shortened his stride to stay level with her. She glanced over at him, met his gaze and tried to ignore the way her breasts tingled against the fabric of her blouse. “I’ll stay until I find my mother and talk to her. I’m hoping it won’t take long. According to Mr. Jamison, who owns the Silver Arrow, the cabin where my mother is staying is not far, but since it’s located in the mountains getting there will be difficult. He’s arranging for someone to take me by car as far as possible, then the rest will be done on horseback.”

  Stone lifted a brow and scrutinized her with an odd stare. “You ride?”

  Madison’s lips curved into a smile. “Yes. Growing up I took riding lessons. I’m sure climbing up a mountain will be far more challenging than just prancing a mare around a riding track, but I think I’ll be able to manage.”

  Stone wasn’t so sure. She seemed too refined and delicate to sit on a horse for a trip into the rugged mountains.

  “That’s something I don’t understand.”

  Her words interrupted his thoughts. “What?”

  “How my mother got up the
mountain. I don’t think she’s ever ridden a horse. My dad tried getting her to take riding lessons when I took mine but she refused.”

  Stone nodded. “They probably rode double. Although it might be strenuous, it’s possible on a good, strong horse,” he said. He could just imagine Madison sitting behind him on horseback. He took a deep, calming breath as he thought about her arms wrapped around him when she hung on to him, and the feel of her breasts pressed against his back while her scent filled his nostrils.

  He winced. He had to stop thinking about her like this. He was in Montana to research a book, not to get involved in a serious affair or a nonserious one for that matter. However, he had to admit that the thought of it, especially with Madison as a partner, was a damn good one.

  Together they walked to the area where they needed to claim their luggage. Stone scanned the crowd for Durango and wasn’t surprised when he didn’t see him. He assisted Madison in pulling her luggage off the conveyor belt be fore getting his bags.

  “Thanks for making my flight enjoyable. Because of you I was able to take my mind off my fear of flying.”

  He decided not to say that, on the same note, thanks to her, he was reminded just how long it had been since he’d had a woman. “Do you see the person who’s supposed to be picking you up?” he asked glancing around.

  “No. Maybe I should call. Will you excuse me while I use that courtesy phone over there?”

  “Sure.”

  Stone watched her walk to the phone. In a tailored pant suit that fit her body to perfection, she looked totally out of place in Bozeman, Montana. All the other women were wearing jeans and shirts, and she was dressed like she was attending a high priority business meeting somewhere. He appreciated the sway of her hips when she walked and how her hair brushed against her shoulders with every step she took.

 

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