This is a rewrite of the rewrite. It contains the entire first chapter, making it obnoxiously long. I’ll do better. I promise.
Murder of the Prodigal Father – Opening Chapter
There are probably a million things that could send a commuter airplane hurtling to the earth from 18,500 vertical feet. At the moment, I was consumed with only one.
A thin ribbon of her auburn hair lit to a campfire ember across the aisle and one seat up from me. I recalled her smile as we boarded. A little steamier than kind. Slightly more seductive than friendly.
The nineteen-passenger, twin-turboprop Fairchild Swearingen Metroliner bounced against an unexpected cross stream of air.
My sweating hands gripped the armrests, imprinting every nick and design flaw into permanent memory.
My desperate imagination clung to my tawny-haired dream, the exotic temptress, and took a ride on the meditative drone of air travel into fantasy, chasing her gleeful, naked form through a mountain meadow. Wild and free, her flowing mane beckoned my desire with a copper promise. Her skin’s texture as rich as cream skimmed from the top of those thick glass, half-gallon jugs Gram used to pull from the front porch on a cool Montana morning. Wild-eyed Jane and I tumbled to the flowering grass, giggling with sexual hysteria, blood rushing toward the promised rumpus.
Gravity left us, shattering the trance and forcing my eyes open.
Breathe in. One, two, three, four. Breathe out. One, two—
The airframe shuddered.
My heart pounded out a rhythm that darkened the edges of the world.
Maintain sanity without sexual fantasy.
“I used to be afraid of flying,” my sixteen-year-old seatmate interrupted. His mother couldn’t make the trip. The flight attendant asked if I would assume a guardian role.
The boy’s undersized arms tucked the complimentary pillow into the hollow of his neck. He leaned against the portal.
A vast and eternal blue expanse taunted me over the kid’s youthful dependence and a trembling aircraft wing. My paranoia envisioned a rapid transition between our teensy plane and ground zero. Details of the Metro’s build history and the current model’s numerous drag-reducing airframe modifications raced around the inside bowl of my skull.
“Sitting next to an airplane fixer makes me feel much better,” the boy assured himself with closed eyes.
I released my death hold and patted his leg. “Four-bladed props driven by TPE331-10 engines,” I told him. Turning away from the bright blue promise of death, I mumbled, “Solid. Secure. Capable of handling violent turbulence,” I recited from the sales brochure. My head rolled against the headrest, attempting to mimic the young man’s tranquility. As soon as my eyes blinked shut, a mental View-Master flashed images of my panicked efforts to prevent a crash landing.
Schwick. Connor charges cockpit. Schwick. Connor forces emergency exit door. Schwick. Debris soars through the tiny passenger cabin knocking the unsuspecting off their feet. Schwick. Unbelted travelers launch over seat backs and slide forward on the downward-canted aisle.
I opened my eyes to end the show.
Enlistment as an Air Force Aerospace Maintenance Crew Chief had only intensified aversion to air travel. The duty title sounded ridiculous now. Staying awake prompted ruminations on mechanics dropping panel screws. Dozing invoked specters popping rivets loose and shooting them into nearby cloud banks. Every turbulent bump and drift nudged me closer to the spray of disassembled components over an Eastern Montana wheat field.
I counted off the horrifying possibilities to avoid a panic attack. I squeezed the arm rests until the steel trim cut painful lines into my palms. I clamped my eyes tight against thoughts of airframe failure. My father’s life flashed before my eyes.
The 19-passenger, pressurized, twin-turboprop airliner I now held with a death grip shivered a tumultuous vibration that rattled dishes, magazines and computers from their upright trays and into the laps of surprised travelers.
My gaze darted for the calm confidence of the fantasy girl, Jane.
Her posture hadn’t changed. The promising gleam of the auburn-haired lifeline sparked vitality into the obnoxious hum of certain death. Delusions of carnal adventures danced the lurid seduction of a succubus. The same temptress my father hunted to his death. Thrown out of the house for chasing dames before I could drive, Dixon Pierce’s pursuit of alcohol and unfettered sex with the abandon of a fox in a rabbit run bounced him from broad to bimbo to an early grave. Dead at fifty-six. I blinked Jane out of my mind.
Maintain sanity without sexual fantasy. The mantra had kept its promise from the tarmac at Kadena Air Base, Okinawa through airports in Osaka, Anchorage and Billings, Montana. Big planes. Lots of distraction.
Where were those distractions now?
I settled for rumination on the eight hundred and seventy-five airplane parts I could point to by name that might catastrophically fail and send us hurtling twenty-thousand feet into the winter-hardened tundra.
“Sorry for the turbulence,” the Pilot’s voice declared from a metal can in the ceiling. “Flight attendant Nancy, please strap in.”
Great! This Flight Attendant has my wife’s name.
Another rumbling shudder with a sideways slide.
A baby wailed from somewhere in the back. My teen titan seatmate Grayson slept on.
“Hang in there, folks,” the Captain reassured us with tin-panny glee. “We’ll be on the ground in a jiffy.”
“Nice choice of words,” I grumbled.
The twin-jet plummeted a hundred feet.
I braced for impact. The mental View-Master flashed scenes of two small children at my funeral.
Schwick. Quentin Roger and Penelope Jane, crestfallen between two fresh graves chiseled out of the frozen Montana dirt. Schwick. Matching headstones with identical epithets for Daddy and Granddaddy, final episode. Schwick. Mother, sitting in the background, a secretive smile mocking my refusal to share my children’s time with her. Schwick. Wife Nanci, eyes dry with disappointment, one of Mother’s knitted shawls wrapping her shoulders. Sorry, kids. Closed casket. Daddy couldn’t be separated from the parts of the plane. Or the other people. Okay, Mommy. Can we get ice cream after?
The airplane bucked, twisting with the wind before slamming against an updraft. This raucous tactic popped my eyelids wide.
A squarely built young cowboy crouched in the narrow aisle next to me, clutching his Stetson with the determination of a rodeo circuit rider ready to float this metal bronc into the dirt. About twenty-five with a strong chin. Too much size for maximum height in the sixty-nine inch interior. One of the threesome that boarded along with my dreamy accomplice, Jane.
This is how I will die. Stuck in a pipe dream about the woman he boarded the plane with while he abandons reality and tears the cabin into an exploded schematic perspective.
I swallowed my stomach and compacted my bowels to force the necessary blood into my face. Make-believe sex was a bad idea, anyway. That was my father’s game. I’d vowed before leaving my wife and children behind, no more fantasizing about old girlfriends, missed liaisons or charming flight attendants. That was the thing that would bring this plane down—my unbridled escapist immorality. What others labeled karma and my bride, Nansi, called my “sin nature.” Words spit at me a hundred had carved out a superstition.
In today’s episode of my untimely death, a panicked aerophobic with the strength to wrestle a full-grown bull to the ground but no capacity for free-fall turbulence found himself trapped in the tiny cabin of a commuter plane while I daydreamed of an illicit sexual encounter with his mysterious travel partner.
A mistake with terminal consequences.
Jane remained unperturbed in the seat just up from us, spellbound by a magazine article.
The husky wrangler had assumed a combat stance. His barrel chest swelled and collapsed with the rhythm of a street monkey’s accordion.
I scanned the cabin for help.
Flight attendant Nancy faced rearward, surveilling our rabid cowhand, concern twisting her pleasant features into the hardened lines of a prison warden. She reached for her seatbelt latch.
Cowboy crouched lower.
Nancy called out, “Sir? I’ll need you to get back into your seat.”
Cowboy’s head jerked about with the urgency of a hungry bird, peering through the cabin portals on either side.
Flight attendant Nancy stood. The airplane bounced against a decent-halting airstream, shoving her backwards. She struggled to regain footing.
I twisted against my restraint, hunting for the older gent our unnerved buckaroo climbed on board with at the Billings Airport.
The solidly built rancher caught my eye.
“Say, son,” he charmed me with a voice as weathered as a cedar fence post. “Didn’t you say you’re from around here?”
I half-smiled and tossed a nod at the broncobuster fixing to straddle this metal stallion to its last corral.
The older man grinned. “I’m Walt Morrison.”
His boarding companion’s perfume drifted downstream, bearing a load of guilt.
“That’s my boy, Ransom. He don’t cotton to air travel. Higher than 16 hands and he gets skittish.”
I jacked my thumb to emphasize Ransom’s current state of agitation. “Doesn’t fly much does he?”
“No, sir. Pitched a fit over this trip. Near had to hogtie and chuck him in the cargo hold.” His rough-hewn laughter exposed a decided ignorance of his son’s terror at dying in a plane crash. The familiar nature of it rankled.
Ransom’s leg trembled. His eyes locked front and center, assessing the aircrew’s cabin door.
“Seems a little uncomfortable.” I let my volume rise to the occasion and kept one eye on high alert.
“Never could sit still, that boy. I quit that hope years back.”
“You think maybe he could handle this better?”
“Don’t seem so.” That was as much thought on the matter as he could spare. “Kind of like the folks that built our town,” he went on, “Ransom just don’t back out on a thing.”
I raised my eyebrows to telegraph that this might be a thing better worked out after we landed.
The old man frowned. “Been that way since he was knee high.”
Hope fluttered inside my chest.
“Broke his arm trying to bronco a calf at roundup,” he said, finishing the thought with a chuckle. “Twice.”
Hope scattered like a flock of crows. Similarity to my own father’s lack of attention clenched my jaw.
“Nice story.” I returned attention to Ransom.
The overgrown cowboy rotated his Stetson. Each revolution slowed to a crawl when he came to the brim’s front-most edge. The move of a bronc rider contemplating the coming eight seconds, resolving uncertainty before settling into the ride.
My peripheral vision caught movement.
Nancy the flight attendant had found her sea legs and staggered with determination toward Ransom’s predicament.
Cowboy placed that hat with a firm tug on the brim. His shoulders angled forward as he loaded for the charge at the aircrew cabin.
Nancy faltered, white-knuckle grip on the seatback meant to steady her advance. Inline with a man twice her size with half her sanity, left no room for escape. Her brow quivered with the energy to hold back visible signs of fear. This wasn’t a scenario taught in airline disaster training. Although, after today they might start.
I sucked a pound of air, rejecting dependence on outside intervention. A slap on the cowboy’s thigh with the back of my hand signed the contract.
He glanced down.
“Can I help you, buddy?” I asked with a salesman’s grin. “You seem a mite unsettled.”
“I’m fine,” he replied, retraining his eyes on the cockpit door.
“Yeah.” I snagged the newspaper out of my seatback and unfolded it with a snap. “I get jittery every little bump myself. And I work on these tubs for a living.”
“Airplanes?” Trance broken. A card well played.
An internal pressure valve released a half-pound of air. “As a matter of fact.” I tipped my head to offer a Pierce-guided missile of friendly confidence. A trait bequeathed by my charming father. “Heavies, mostly.” My body relaxed into the selling. “The fat ones. Nothing at all like this streamlined beauty. The birds I work are more likely to drop with the aerodynamics of a rock.” I paused.
“But they don’t?”
“Miracle of science. Marvel of man.” I gave the paper another assertive snap as I returned my attention to it. “We’ll be fine.”
Now you wait for his buy in. My father’s voice checking off bartering points in my head. Don’t waver. Don’t let your fear of losing the sale switch their skepticism back on. Trust your gut, son. They’ll buy. Nice words when you’re dealing in foreign cars on nationalist soil. It took a bit more intestinal fortitude to bet against a run for the cockpit and airborne chaos that might spread our little transport across the Eastern Montana tundra.
Cowboy stuck his open hand in front of me. “Ransom,” he said. “Name’s Ransom Morrison.”
His rugged grip calmed my own nerves. If we crashed, he’d probably be the one to carry the lot of us to safety.
“Pleasure,” I responded. “Connor Pierce.” I decided against embroidering with my family’s local celebrity.
“I do appreciate your reassurance.” Ransom eased back into his seat. He clicked the belt latch and closed his eyes.
A laugh banged on my throat but I denied entry. “Not a problem.” My lips tightened against the urge to add, “Come on inside. We’ll get this deal done.”
Captain Cheerful piped in over the impulse. “Seems we’ve cleared the rough spot, folks,” his voice peppered the passenger cabin with tinny glee. “About fifteen minutes to landing. It’s a balmy fourteen degrees above the zero mark in Miles City, Montana this morning. Don’t forget your sunscreen.”
My teenaged seat companion stretched from his catnap. “Dang, that guy’s noisy,” he said around a yawn. “Can’t hardly catch a wink.”
It roused a chuckle from the restless center of my gut. “Guess he doesn’t know you’re a light sleeper, kid.”
My breathing returned to normal. The airframe lost its vinegar. Ideas of sexual adventure scattered, leaving a deep longing to clasp my wife’s tender hand, hug my children, settle into an ordinary life. Tears welled at the dream. I’d been an idiot to leave them behind. A selfish jerk.
Flight attendant Nancy passed my seat smelling of Jasmine, triggering a memory from my teens, a former lover virtually forgotten.
Nancy crossed an arm over my body and laid her opposing palm on my shoulder. She bent forward, pushing her feverish chest against my burning cheek. The smooth warmth of her skin caressed my day-old beard. “Good work, mister Pierce,” she whispered while squeezing a scrap of paper into the folds of my sweaty fingers. “The crew would like to thank you.”
My arousal soared with my heartbeat and glued my tongue to the roof of my mouth.
Nancy shimmied up the aisle. Her sensual hips passed the subdued auburn hair of the dream girl I’d sworn off. The redhead turned and winked. The type of wink that sets fires.
Liquid guilt flooded my ear canals. The tiny scrap of sexual invitation concealed in my fist bisected my soul.
The turbo-prop’s inexhaustable hum labored in the background. Its unwavering drudgery promised to quell my double-dealing thoughts.
In less than an hour, we’d touchdown at Frank Wiley Field. I’d be forced into a stand-off with my faultfinding mother and choleric sister after twelve years of hiding.
Flight attendant Nancy’s perfume lingered like a thunderhead cloudbank on a hot summer day. Her movements up and down the aisle animated the stormy threat.
I hid my shame in the leaves of The Miles City Star found stuffed behind the airplane survival pamphlet. Yesterday’s headliner recounted the story of a man shot in a bar fight. Over a woman.
Immediately, I thought of Dixon. Maybe this was his story. Murder over a dalliance with another man’s wife. The killer walked home and climbed into bed with the dead man’s wife. Arrested before breakfast by Sheriff Ox Crandall, he claimed no recollection of the shooting. He’d only been drinking with a friend and must have come home to the wrong house.
Dissociative or Delusional?
It reminded me of my own detached exploits with the other woman. Women like Walt Morrison’s wife. Women like—
Fabric touched my arm, rousing a snort of compressed cabin air. My chest swelled with humiliation. Spirited Flight Attendant Nancy had caught me reconsidering her offer. The resulting flush of heat prowled beneath the shrubbery of freshly grown beard hair.
I glanced up to find Walt standing in the aisle with his hand out.
“Wanted to thank you for helping the boy,” he said in that rugged Western resonance.
My embarrassment switched gears. I accepted his grip, too quickly.
Tenderness peered from his warm brown eyes. “Walt Morrison,” he reminded me, that same aged cedar used to make his voice box wrapping me in cowboy comfort. “From up near Jordan way.”
“Connor,” I replied, tipping my chin, hoping the poor cabin lighting hid my girlish tint.
He waited a beat.
I withheld the charm inherited from my father to steer clear of the conflict my surname might ignite.
“Crazy story,” he said poking a thick finger into the space between my nose and the newspaper. “Friendship don’t stop stupid.”
I clenched the flight attendant’s phone number tighter. A flash memory of her body heat re-ignited my sexual appetite. Morality wrestled with it. My own Nansi jumped into the fray, crystal blue peepers contemplating my departure as I climbed into Garboski’s car for a ride to the airport. The easier option, since the children had grown comfortable with me leaving home to work on airplanes in faraway places. “TD Why?” Quentin, my oldest, had learned to ask with a giggle. Except this time, bouncing out of the driveway with G-man behind the wheel was more like heading to a strip joint. I felt it. G spoke it. Nansi authenticated it with a disapproving glare.
“Milestown got her start with a feud, matter of fact,” Walt said. “I was telling the wife, we was just married out to the coast. Near Seattle. Her people out there. Anyway, I was telling my wife about, oh hell, that darling woman up yonder is Karina O’Doyle, I mean Morrison, now.” Circus color fought for celebrity among the working class creases. “You might have seen we climbed aboard this crate together.”
His wife. Karina. A better name than Jane. A bigger problem for untempered passion. Just ask the men from the newspaper.
Karina twisted in her seat. “Hi, Connor.”
My eyebrows rose to the heights of intimidation. How do you keep secrets from a woman with catlike hearing? The glimpse of green irises sparked a flame. I acknowledged them with open curiosity.
Her gaze lingered a split second, before she returned to her Western Living magazine.
“This Carrol feller,” Walt was saying, his voice as soothing as the airplane engines, overcoming their intrusion with ease. “He wasn’t about to let those lucrative liquor sales float downstream over high falutin’ morality. When General Miles packs up the troops and his strong aversion to whiskey to end the winter-time drinking, Carrol loads up his whiskey and shuttles the kit and kaboodle of Milestown right along with him.” Walt’s animation invigorated the story.
Karina turned and beamed, bright, straight teeth underscoring the punch line.
I pondered the flight attentdant’s offer with my fingertips.
“Miles City cut its teeth on a whiskey brawl!” Walt popped the story with a finger flip. “And here we are a hundred and twenty years later!” The newlyweds burst into laughter, Walt’s loud and low, Karina’s sharper, with a severity I hadn’t anticipated.
The kid poked me. “Funny, ain’t he?”
I nodded. The old rancher’s storytelling skills simultaneously thrilled and riled me. Walt used some of the same tricks my father, Dixon Pierce, local celebrity car salesman, employed to enthrall and captivate.
“Walt’s the best storyteller ever,” Karina O’Doyle Morrision said, those jade colored irises challenging the chance disagreement. “I’m Irish! Grew up with the best of them.”
I smiled around the decision to dismiss fantastical adventures with her. Discovery of the meaning behind her flirtatious winks had lost its appeal. The weight of her was noticeable in its absence. The old cowboy deserved respect, not disregard. He personified the better part of Dixon Pierce—the part I loved and missed.
With a surreptitious tuck into the seatback pocket, I ended the dialogue turning in the tips of my fingers. The tiny scrap of temptation vanished into the sleeve, taking another pound of guilt with it.
The sixteen-passenger Fairchild circled Miles City, a predatory hawk and its telling shadow undulating across the snow-covered prairie. The image of our decent dipped into the Tongue River at Miles City’s western edge before splashing through the icy waves of the Yellowstone as we approached the airport.
While Walt and his new bride headed back to his hometown of Jordan, Montana, north of Miles City, a group of anarchists, men he’d gone to school with, threatened the government with contrived liens and propaganda. One of them sat in the same cell block with the shooter who’d started the whole conversation.
I imagined my father’s dead body resting in a casket at Grave’s Funeral Home a few hundred yards from the jail on Main Street. An imaginary headline, Dixon Pierce’s Potential Snuffed Out by Bad Choices, haunted me. Logic folded its hand against lust. If Kasparov hadn’t beaten the Deep Blue Supercomputer last week, I’d have no hope left.
The airplane cut a few hundred feet of altitude as it banked north.
Hundreds of raucous sorties inside the belly of a C-130 gathered in my gut to hoorah zero gravity. I clutched the barf bag and peered over my seatmate at the increasing size of objects on the ground.
“Wow,” said the kid. “That was cool.”
“It’s okay to stop talking near the end of a flight, ace.”
He scowled at me, but obliged.
The pilot turned us another three-sixty plus degrees, dropping atltitude at 500 feet per minute to accommodate the shorter runway of Frank Wiley Field.
My stomach rolled with the angle of the plane. I locked a stare onto Eastern Montana’s pinto-colored welcome mat. Winter here came in shades of gray, charcoal gray and variations on dormant buff.
The plane leveled, whipping past the tundra at a hundred miles per hour. Tires bounced and chirped. Deceleration roared its protest.
My heart roared with it. The pressure against my hipbone reminded me that Renée would be late. Walt and Ransom would escort their new matriarch into the wild frontier, while I was left standing beside my luggage, longing to hug my children and kiss my wife. A fitting return to a home I no longer knew.
Stepping from the hatch, Montana’s Winter of ’96 gift-wrapped me with eternal pessimism. I tightened my coat collar and bunched my shoulders, doing my best to block the kid from the frigid welcome.
We teetered down the aircraft’s makeshift stairway. An envelope of frozen air thrust the group of us toward the airport door.
Eleven in the morning and already the small breeze forced my eyelids into slits. Perspiration from the close quarters on the airbus transformed into a frozen glove against my skin. I’d hidden behind the glass bank of windows at the air terminal in Billings and a train of luggage carts during boarding. Contemplating the cityscape while approaching Miles City had kept my attention off of the pilot’s weather report on approach.
I cursed my unpreparedness and tramped toward the tiny air terminal in traditional Montana form, anticipating its cozy warmth. At least the cold bucked up my emotional well for a first meeting with Renée after twelve years. No need to start blubbering over lost time.
“Nine degrees, for the love of Pete!” Walt the rancher was spouting as I stepped inside. He stamped his feet and squeezed his quavering bride across her petite shoulders.
I smiled, wondering how long he could detain her in this frigid state.
We crowded into the terminal like cattle piling out of a loading chute. The crew made quick work of our baggage, rolling it off the tarmac and around our huddle toward the center of the small building.
The kid waved as his impatient aunty drug him back into the cold.
I grabbed my suitcase and duffel from the cart, turned to scan the waiting area for Renée, and ran into the worst mistake of my life.
“Surprise!” And her arms were around my neck.
I dropped the luggage.
At 5-foot-5, she stood a head shorter. I bent at the waist and hoisted her, a move that had always stimulated acute desire when we dated. It did so now.
Her body heat penetrated multiple layers of clothing. She brushed her lips against my neck.
Instinctively, I leaned in. Dark brown curls crushed into the skin of my face. She smelled of the same succulent jasmine. My heart pumped wickedly out of control. Frightened by the sudden intimacy, I pushed away, gripping her waist, which forced her arms free from my neck.
“A surprise is right.” I grinned to hide my panic, searching beyond her for potential witnesses to my crime. I’d made it a point not to let her intrude on my memory as I packed, avoiding this segment of my Montana history.
Now her hands rested on my shoulders, her Mediterranean smile nearly touched my lips, and her compactly alluring body tugged like a magnet at my loins. She’d grown more delectable since I’d stranded her.
Caramel brown eyes glinted with seduction or humor, I wasn’t sure which. “Renée couldn’t break free.” She trailed slender fingers down my cheek. “So I thought I’d help out an old friend.”
“I appreciate it.” I took a sweeping glance behind me as I stooped and snagged the duffel.
Karina O’Doyle Morrison squinted her disapproval at me.
I nodded toward her. “I’m surprised you knew I was coming in today.”
Jasia deftly lifted the carry-on from my shoulder. “Still charming the ladies, I see.”
She grimaced and bobbed her chin.
“Just a fellow passenger making sure I’m behaving myself.”
She started to simper, but decided to frown. “I’m sorry to hear about Dixon. I know you didn’t like him much.” She began striding for the door. “Still.”
I fell behind a step, my gaze on the ground. “Thanks.” My breath came in tiny gasps. I was here to do right by my family, and to discover what killed my father. Exploring smoldering passions with Jasia wouldn’t get either of those things done. I turned my thoughts to Nansi packing school gear and whisking the kids to the car.
Jasia slowed and we exited the terminal side by side. An ice-blue sky stretched tight and thin to the edges of the earth. Winter nipped my ears and nostrils, strengthening my resolve.
She touched my sleeve. “We went well together.”
“That was a long time ago, Jasia.”
“It’s a memory.” She pointed her chin toward a grouping of four vehicles. “Over there.” A shimmering silver sports coupe sat between a dented, red Chevy four-wheel drive and a grimy tan Buick sedan. “It’s a memory I like.”
Once I’d married Nansi, whenever Jasia surfaced I chased those recollections like a herd over a buffalo jump. “I like it too,” I said, letting the drone of the twin-prop’s take-off smother my words. When it passed, I added, “Still, it’s a long time ago.”
Jasia unlocked the trunk of her petite BMW M3. “This all right?”
The duffel bag and suitcase fit snugly into the lushly upholstered trunk. “It’ll do.” Pushing the lid shut, I glanced toward the Miles City sprawl.
Frank Wiley Field sat on a plateau that dropped two hundred feet to the Yellowstone River. On the opposite bank, the promise of springtime floodwaters provided a natural reminder of the Yellowstone’s superiority. Homes crouched together for protection just beyond the bridge.
A gust of chill wind dipped under my coat collar. I hunched my shoulders, trotted to the door and squeezed into the passenger seat.
Jasia bumped my elbow climbing in on the driver’s side.
“Miles looks bigger.”
“Listen, I need to make one quick stop. Check on a job.”
“Am I wrong?”
“Things don’t grow very fast in this climate. Folks leave, others arrive. I’d say it’s the same.”
“You sound disappointed.” Maybe the town’s isolation under such a big sky made it appear smaller. Didn’t matter. I dropped it, focusing on adjusting the form-fitting bucket seat. “Beats airplane seats.”
She grinned. “It’s a business expense. Prosperity attracts clientele.”
Her teeth glistened. “Catering. I’ve been doing it about eight years now.”
My gaze lingered. Full lips, shiny and inviting. The natural curve of her clearly defined by the seatbelt strap. Desire surged downward from my chest.
“You okay with a stop, then?” she asked.
A stop. A chance to touch you again. Turning quickly, I considered the flatness of the plateau’s grade.
“I’ve got to make a stop. For business.”
“Sure. No problem.” My heart raced on. “They picked a good place for the airport.”
“A good place for what?”
“Hey, airplanes are my life. I’m just admiring their foresight. Their vision.”
She laughed with a silken huff. “Where else would they put an airport in this town?”
I’d forgotten that gentle snort. It stimulated and unnerved me at once. “Well it’s too bad you can’t see the brilliance behind a well-constructed airport.”
“You’ve been gone too long, Connor Pierce,” she said.
“That’s probably true.”
She rested her hand on my thigh.
It felt warm and comfortable. For about five seconds.