Ignited by passion, p.3
Ignited by Passion, page 3
“You can’t be left alone one minute before you’re checking out a woman, Stone. Even one who has ‘city girl’ written all over her.”
Stone switched his attention from Madison to the man who had suddenly appeared by his side: his cousin Durango. “I sat by her on the plane from Atlanta. She’s nice.”
Durango chuckled as a wide grin covered his face. “All women are nice.”
Stone shook his head. Everyone in the family knew that, like his brother Storm, Durango was a ladies’ man, a player of the first degree and, like Stone and their uncle Corey, Durango had no intention of ever settling down. And speaking of Corey….
“When was the last time you saw Uncle Corey?” Stone decided to cut to the chase and ask. He knew that Durango kept up with their uncle’s comings and goings. If there was some woman on Corey’s mountain, Durango would know about it.
The grin suddenly disappeared from Durango’s face; not a good sign as far as Stone was concerned. “Funny you should ask,” Durango said frowning. “I haven’t seen him for a week and I know for a fact he has a woman up there on his mountain.”
That wasn’t what Stone wanted to hear. “Are you sure?”
“Yes, I’m sure. I saw her myself when they were passing through. She’s a nice-looking woman, probably in her late forties and talks with one of those northern accents. They’ve been up on that mountain for almost a week now and Corey won’t answer the phone or return my calls. It makes me wonder what’s going on up there and how this woman got such special privileges. I couldn’t believe he broke his long-standing rule about a woman on his mountain.”
Stone leaned back against the railing. His mind was reeling and he needed to make sure he had heard everything Durango was telling him correctly. “You’re saying that Corey actually has a woman on his mountain?”
“Yes, and she’s not a long-lost relative, either, because I asked. Besides, it was obvious she wasn’t related by the way they were acting. He couldn’t wait to leave my place to head into the mountains and it doesn’t appear he’s bringing her down anytime soon.”
Stone rubbed a hand down his face. “And you’re sure you don’t know who she is?”
Durango’s frown deepened. “No, I don’t know who she is, Stone, other than the fact he was calling her Abby. But you better believe that this Abby woman has hooked him in good, and I mean real good.”
When the crowd standing directly behind Durango shifted, Stone noticed that Madison had finished her call and had walked up. From the expression on her face it was obvious that she had pretty much overheard most of what Durango had said.
Durango noticed that Stone’s gaze was fixed on some thing behind him and turned around. He smiled when he looked into the face of the woman Stone had been checking out earlier. He grinned. No wonder his cousin was taken with the woman, she was definitely a looker. Too bad Stone had met her first, because she was definitely some one who would have interested him.
He started to speak and introduce himself, since it seemed Stone had suddenly lost his voice. But something made him pause. Durango had dealt with enough women to know when they weren’t happy about something and it was obvious this woman was angry, royally pissed off. And her words stopped him dead in his tracks.
“I believe the woman the two of you are discussing is my mother.”
It wasn’t hard to tell the two men were related, Madison thought, glancing up at them. Both were tall, extremely handsome and well built. Then there were the similarities in their facial features that also proved a family connection. They possessed the same close-cropped curly black hair, chestnut coloring, dark intense eyes and generous, well-defined mouths.
And both of them could wear a pair of jeans and a chambray shirt like nobody’s business.
Madison inwardly admitted that, had she met the other man before Stone, she probably would have felt the same attraction to him, the same pull. However, she thought there was a gentleness and tenderness in Stone’s eyes that she didn’t easily see in the other man’s.
She could tell her statement took the other man by surprise but when she glanced over at Stone, it was obvious that what she’d said hadn’t surprised him, which meant he had known or at least suspected the identity of her mother’s abductor all along.
She lifted a brow and leveled a pointed gaze at Stone. She had trusted him enough to discuss her mother with him openly, because she had needed someone to talk to, and talking to him had calmed her fears of flying and had also helped her to think through her mother’s situation. If Stone had suspected the people she had been talking about were his uncle and her mother, why hadn’t he said something?
Stone read the questions in Madison’s eyes. “I didn’t know, Madison, or at least I wasn’t a hundred percent certain,” he said in a low and calm voice. “And although I thought there was a possibility the man was my uncle Corey, I didn’t want to upset you any more than you al ready were by adding my speculations.”
Madison released a deep sigh. His reason for not telling her did make sense. “All right,” she said softly. “So, what do we do now?”
Durango lifted a confused brow and looked at Stone and then back at Madison. “Why should we do anything? When they’re ready they’ll come back down the mountain.”
Stone stifled a grin at the angry look Madison gave Durango. His cousin, the player, didn’t have a snowball’s chance in hell of winning this particular woman over. He doubted Madison got upset about anything or with anyone too often, but he could tell Durango was making her break her record. Durango had a rather rough way of dealing with women. He wasn’t used to the soft and gentle approach. Yet the way women were still drawn to him defied logic.
“This is my cousin, Durango Westmoreland, Madison,” Stone decided to say when silence, annoyance and irritation settled between Durango and Madison.
“And when Durango gives himself time to think logically, I’m sure he’ll understand your concern for your mother’s well-being. And although Durango and I both know that our uncle Corey would never do anything to harm your mother, we can certainly understand your desire to see for yourself that she’s fine.”
Stone watched a slow smile touched Durango’s lips. From childhood they had always been able to read between the lines of each other’s words. Stone was letting Durango know, in a subtle way, that he wanted him on his best behavior and to clean up his act.
“I apologize if what I said upset you, Madison,” Durango said, offering her his hand in a firm handshake. “I wasn’t aware that you thought your mother was in harm’s way. If that’s the case, we’ll certainly do whatever needs to be done to arrest your fears. And let me be the first to welcome you to Montana.”
Stone rolled his eyes. No one, he thought, could go from being a pain in the ass to irresistibly charming in a blink of an eye like Durango. Stone watched the warmth return to Madison’s eyes and she smiled. Although that smile wasn’t directed at him, a riot of emotions clamored through him nonetheless.
“Now that we have all that settled,” he decided to speak up and say, “how about the three of us going somewhere to talk? Durango, you mentioned that you had met Madison’s mother when Uncle Corey made a stop at your place.”
A smile was plastered on Durango’s face when he said, “Yes, and I even talked to he for a few minutes while Corey was loading up on supplies. I could tell she was a real classy, well-bred lady.”
Madison nodded. She appreciated his comments although her mother’s actions were showing another side of her. “Stone is right. I’d like to get to the Silver Arrow and unpack and freshen up, but as soon as I can, I’d like to meet with you and ask you a few more questions.”
Durango quickly glanced over at Stone and Stone deciphered the message in his eyes. There were some things Madison was probably better off not knowing about her mother and their uncle.
Stone nodded and Durango caught his drift and returned his attention to Madison and said, “Sure, that will be fine
“I don’t want to put you to any trouble, Mr. Westmoreland.”
Durango grinned again. “Just call me Durango and there’s no trouble. The Silver Arrow is on the way to my ranch and is nicely situated between Bozeman and Yellow stone, and only a stone’s throw away from the Wyoming line.”
Madison nodded. “Thanks, I’ll be glad to take you up on your offer. The man who answered the phone at the Silver Arrow said the guy who usually picks up his guests was ill and he was trying to find a replacement.”
Durango reached out to take the luggage out of her hand. “Then consider it done.”
Madison sat in the vehicle’s back seat. Although she hated being in Montana, she couldn’t overlook the beauty of this beautiful June day, as well as the vast country surrounding her. It was magnificent and left her utterly speechless. The Rocky Mountains were all around and the meadows were drenched with wildflowers: Red Indian Paintbrush and an assortment of other flowering plants. She had always heard about the beauty of being under a Montana sky and now she was experiencing it firsthand.
They were traveling down a two-lane stretch of highway; she knew they were a stone’s throw away from Yellowstone National Park and hoped that she could tour the park before returning to Boston.
At the airport, after Stone and Durango had helped with her luggage, they had walked out to where Durango’s SUV was parked in a “no parking zone” with its caution lights flashing. She smiled when she saw he was driving a nice, sleek, shiny black Dodge Durango.
Stone leaned over and whispered in her ear that Durango owned a Dodge Durango because he was conceited enough to think Dodge had named the vehicle after him. Durango, she knew, had heard Stone’s comment and had merely laughed it off, and she could immediately feel the closeness between the two men.
“So how long do you think you’re going to stay in Montana after meeting with your mother, Madison?” Stone asked, glancing at her over his shoulder. It was easy to see how captivated she was with the beauty of the land surrounding them. Earlier, she had said that she would probably only be in Montana long enough to talk to her mother, but he knew that Montana had a way of growing on you. And he had to admit that there was something about Madison that was growing on him. It was obvious that she had some real concerns about her mother and more than any thing he wanted to help her resolve them.
He watched as she switched her gaze from the scenery to him. “I know what I said earlier, but now I’m not sure. I had planned to leave as soon as I had talked to my mother but I might decide to hang around awhile. This place is beautiful,” she said, taking a quick glance out of the window again.
She turned back to him to add, “Since school is out for the summer I can enjoy myself. I seldom take vacations during the summer months. Usually I give private music lessons, so this is a really nice break, although I wish it was a planned trip rather than an unplanned one.”
Stone really didn’t care about the reason she was in Montana, he was just glad that she was. He hoped things worked out between her and her mother but it seemed that Madison had never heard of anyone acting out of character. He had a feeling that, in the world she was used to, things went according to plan and as expected.
He smiled inwardly. In that case, his family would take some getting used to if she ever met them. His father had two brothers. Of the three siblings, their uncle Corey was the only single one. Never having been married and the youngest of the three, he had been a surrogate father to his eleven nephews and one niece.
Corey had left Atlanta to attend Montana State University and fell in love with the land. Once he had a job as a park ranger with Yellowstone National Park, he made the state his permanent home. By the time he retired a year ago, he had been president of the Association of National Park Rangers for the past five years and had accumulated a vast amount of land.
“Well, if you decide to stick around I’d like to show you the sights. I spent a lot of time here as a kid while visiting my uncle Corey and know my way around pretty well.”
A smile touched the corners of Madison’s mouth. “Thanks. I might take you up on that.” She then asked quietly, “Just what type of person is your uncle Corey? I know Durango said he was harmless and trustworthy, but I’m trying to come to grips with what there is about him that made my mother act so unlike herself.”
Stone glanced over at Durango and saw the smile that tilted his cousin’s lips; he was grateful that Durango, for once, had the decency to keep quiet. The rumor that Uncle Corey could make even the First Lady stop being a lady was something Madison didn’t need to know. Chances were, if she asked anyone working at the Silver Arrow about Corey they would gladly enlighten her since his reputation was legendary.
Stone didn’t really know what he could tell her; her mother being on his uncle’s mountain didn’t make much sense to him, either. He couldn’t wait to get Durango alone to get the full story.
“I guess there are times when things happen that defy logic, Madison, and it appears this is the case with your mother and Uncle Corey. Just like your mother’s actions are unusual, his actions are unusual, too. For as long as I’ve known him, which has been for all of my thirty-three years, he’s been pretty much of a loner; preferring not to marry and spending most of his time when he wasn’t at Yellow stone up on his mountain. And he’s always had a rule about taking women up there.”
Madison lifted a brow. “And what rule is that?”
Stone smiled. “That it would never happen. Other than female family members, there has never been a woman on his mountain. There must have been something about your mother to make him change his way of thinking about that.”
A thought crossed Stone’s mind. “Is there a chance that my uncle and your mother knew each other before?”
Madison frowned. That thought had crossed her mind but she didn’t see how that could be. “I guess anything is possible. That would certainly explain things somewhat if it were true. But I don’t see how that could be possible unless your uncle had visited Boston. My parents dated all through high school and college, and married right after graduation. I was born two years later.” She decided not to mention the unhappy marriage her parents had shared even though they had tried to pretend otherwise.
“Then there could be another reason for their madness,” Stone said softly, reclaiming her attention, casting a side ways glance.
She looked at him, squinting against the sun that shone through the vehicle window. “And what reason is that?”
Stone watched as Madison immediately parted her lips to refute such a thing was possible, then she closed them tight. She had to know that such a thing was possible be cause the two of them had experienced that same attraction on the plane, so to deny such a thing existed would be dishonest.
Moments later she said, “I’m sure that’s possible but can it be that powerful to make a levelheaded person become impulsive and irrational?”
Stone chuckled. “Trust me, Madison, I’ve seen it happen.” One day he would prove his point by telling her about his two brothers who’d recently married. He didn’t count his sister’s marriage as anything unusual, since Delaney had always looked at things through rose-colored eyes, which was the main reason he and his brothers had been so overprotective of her during her dating years.
But his brothers Dare and Thorn had been dead set against marrying anytime soon, if ever. He clearly under stood why Dare had wed since Shelly had been Dare’s true love. When she had returned to town after having been gone ten years, and with a son Dare hadn’t known existed, it had been understandable that the two would get back together and make a home for their child. But a sense of obligation had nothing to do with Dare’s marriage to Shelly. His brother loved Shelly, plain and simple.
Now there hadn’t been anything plain and simple about Thorn’s marriage to Tara. Thorn was the last Westmoreland
“Well, I can’t imagine anything like that happening with my mother,” Madison said defiantly, recapturing Stone’s attention. “Does your uncle have a phone up on his mountain?”
Stone nodded his head. “Yes.”
“Then I need the number. I want to call my mother and let her know I’m on my way up there.”
Durango, who had been quiet all this time, ended his silence with a chuckle. “You might have a problem reaching them,” he said, not taking his eyes off the road.
“Why?” Madison asked curiously. “Are the phone lines down or something?”
“No, but I’ve tried calling Uncle Corey for the past several days to remind him that Stone was coming for a visit and he’s not answering his phone.”
Madison arched a dark brow. “He’s not answering his phone? But—but what if something has happened to them and they can’t get to the phone. What if—”
“They don’t want to be disturbed, Madison?” Stone suggested. He saw her eyes shift from the back of Durango’s head over to him. He could tell from her expression that his comment had conjured up numerous possibilities in her mind, but there was no hope for it. At some point she needed to accept that her mother had decided to extend her vacation by two weeks because she had wanted to, and not because she had been forced to. As far as Stone was concerned, the same held true with Madison’s mother being on that mountain. It didn’t seem that his uncle had forced the woman, so chances were she was just where she wanted to be. Sooner or later Madison would have to realize that.
She didn’t answer his question. Instead she turned back to the car window and looked out at the scenery again. Stone inhaled deeply and turned back around in his seat. At least he had her thinking and for the moment perhaps that was the best thing.
by Brenda Jackson / Literature & Fiction / Romance have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes