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Authors: Carla Cassidy

Lost in His Arms

BOOK: Lost in His Arms
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He awoke with a woman in his arms.

Even with his eyes closed, Talbot felt the warm, feminine body curled against him, and his nose was filled with the heady scent of sweet strawberries. As he drew in a breath, he suddenly remembered. The crash…Elizabeth…the forest. His eyes snapped open and he saw that at some point in the night, their bodies had not only sought the soft, leaf-covered ground but each other's.

Her face was turned toward his, and he took the opportunity to study her with the glow of morning dawn seeping through the trees. He could easily understand why his brother had been so enthralled with her. She was lovely, with sinfully thick lashes and an inviting mouth that urged a man to plunder its depths. His finger itched to caress her cheek, touch her full bottom lip….

He wanted her. For years, he'd wanted her—and in that desire had been his shame.

Elizabeth McCarthy was—and would always be—his brother's woman.

Dear Reader,

The year is off to a wonderful start in Silhouette Romance, and we've got some of our best stories yet for you right here.

Our tremendously successful ROYALLY WED series continues with
The Blacksheep Prince's Bride
by Martha Shields. Our intrepid heroine—a lady-in-waiting for Princess Isabel—will do anything to help rescue the king. Even marry the single dad turned prince! And Judy Christenberry returns to Romance with
Newborn Daddy.
Poor Ryan didn't know what he was missing, until he looked through the nursery window….

Also this month, Teresa Southwick concludes her much-loved series about the Marchetti family in
The Last Marchetti Bachelor.
And popular author Elizabeth August gives us
Slade's Secret Son.
Lisa hadn't planned to tell Slade about their child. But with her life in danger, there's only one man to turn to….

Carla Cassidy's tale of love and adventure is
Lost in His Arms,
while new-to-the-Romance-line Vivienne Wallington proves she's anything but a beginning writer in this powerful story of a man
Claiming His Bride.

Be sure to come back next month for Valerie Parv's ROYALLY WED title as well as new stories by Sandra Steffen and Myrna Mackenzie. And Patricia Thayer will begin a brand-new series, THE TEXAS BROTHERHOOD.

Happy reading!

Mary-Theresa Hussey

Senior Editor

Lost in His Arms
CARLA CASSIDY

Books by Carla Cassidy

Silhouette Romance

Patchwork Family
#818

Whatever Alex Wants…
#856

Fire and Spice
#884

Homespun Hearts
#905

Golden Girl
#924

Something New
#942

Pixie Dust
#958

The Littlest Matchmaker
#978

The Marriage Scheme
#996

Anything for Danny
#1048

*
Deputy Daddy
#1141

*
Mom in the Making
#1147

*
An Impromptu Proposal
#1152

*
Daddy on the Run
#1158

Pregnant with His Child…
#1259

Will You Give My Mommy a Baby?
#1315

‡
Wife for a Week
#1400

The Princess's White Knight
#1415

Waiting for the Wedding
#1426

Just One Kiss
#1496

Lost in His Arms
#1514

Silhouette Shadows

Swamp Secrets
#4

Heart of the Beast
#11

Silent Screams
#25

Mystery Child
#61

Silhouette Intimate Moments

One of the Good Guys
#531

Try To Remember
#560

Fugitive Father
#604

Behind Closed Doors
#778

†
Reluctant Wife
#850

†
Reluctant Dad
#856

‡
Her Counterfeit Husband
#885

‡
Code Name: Cowboy
#902

‡
Rodeo Dad
#934

In a Heartbeat
#1005

‡
Imminent Danger
#1018

Strangers When We Married
#1046

Silhouette Desire

A Fleeting Moment
#784

Under the Boardwalk
#882

Silhouette Books

Shadows
1993

“Devil and the Deep Blue Sea”

The Loop

Getting it Right: Jessica

Silhouette Yours Truly

Pop Goes the Question

CARLA CASSIDY

is an award-winning author who has written over thirty-five books for Silhouette. In 1995, she won Best Silhouette Romance from
Romantic Times Magazine
for
Anything for Danny
. In 1998, she also won a Career Achievement Award for Best Innovative Series from
Romantic Times Magazine.

Carla believes the only thing better than curling up with a good book to read is sitting down at the computer with a good story to write. She's looking forward to writing many more books and bringing hours of pleasure to readers.

Chapter One

T
albot McCarthy was not a happy camper.

Seated in his single-engine Cessna, ready for takeoff, he glanced quickly at the woman in the seat next to him. Her tawny hair shone with rich highlights as the last of the day's sun danced in through the windows.

It had been almost a year since he'd seen her, but time hadn't dulled the intense blue of her eyes or softened the determined thrust of her chin.

Elizabeth McCarthy.

His brother's ex-wife.

Before they'd left her apartment, she'd changed from her feminine, tailored dress into a pair of jeans, a T-shirt and a windbreaker to ward off the coolness of the early-autumn evening.

The jeans clung to her long slender legs, and the pale tangerine-colored T-shirt reflected the color of peaches onto her cheeks. He tried not to notice the thrust of her breasts against the cotton fabric.

She looked totally relaxed and self-possessed as they awaited takeoff. Then he spied her hands. They were clasped together in her lap, connected so tightly that her knuckles and fingers had turned white.

“You don't like to fly?” he asked, guessing at the cause of her obvious distress.

“Not particularly,” she replied, her voice breathy with tension. “If I must fly, I prefer big commercial planes, not planes no bigger than my bathroom.”

“Don't worry, I'm an excellent pilot,” he said.

“Yeah, and the
Titanic
was unsinkable.”

At that moment the tower gave him the okay for takeoff. He turned onto the runway and taxied to a high enough speed to begin his ascent.

He didn't speak to her again until they had reached their cruising altitude. “You can relax now. It should be smooth sailing from here to Branson.”

Her hands unclasped and she drew a deep breath, audible above the drone of the engine. “Do you fly often?”

“Fairly regularly,” he replied. “As CEO of McCarthy Industries, there's always a meeting to attend or some troubleshooting to be done at one of our branch offices. I got tired of depending on airline
schedules, and I like the independence of flying my own plane.”

He could tell she was only half listening to him and knew her thoughts would be for her nine-year-old son, Andrew, and her ex-husband. “I wish I could tell you what Richard was thinking when he pulled this latest stunt.”

A small smile curved one corner of her generous mouth, and Talbot tightened his grip on the controls, trying to ignore how the gesture softened her features and made her more beautiful than he'd have thought possible.

“You and I have never had much luck at second-guessing Richard and his stunts.”

“That's an understatement,” he agreed. He focused his attention away from her and frowned. He had no idea what his younger brother was up to this time. All he knew was that Richard had picked up his son from school that afternoon, without checking with Elizabeth, on a weekend that wasn't his usual visitation time.

When she'd gotten home from work, Elizabeth had found a note on her kitchen table that indicated Richard wanted her to go to Twin Oaks, Missouri, a small town just outside Branson, where Richard and Talbot had spent their childhood.

Elizabeth had called Talbot to see if he knew what was going on. Talbot insisted he fly from his home in Morning View, Kansas, to Kansas City. He'd
picked up Elizabeth at her apartment and they were now on their way to Twin Oaks.

Talbot suspected that, as usual, they were victims of his impetuous brother and one of his spontaneous thoughtless stunts.

Next to him, Elizabeth shifted position, and he caught a whiff of her perfume. Subtle yet sexy. She'd worn that scent for as long as he could remember. In fact, she'd been wearing it the very first night he'd met her, when she and Richard had come to Talbot to tell him she was pregnant and they were getting married.

Richard had looked scared to death, but Elizabeth's blue eyes had radiated strength and purpose, and to Talbot's shame, he had felt a flicker of envy that his younger brother had found such a beautiful, strong young woman to claim as his own.

He'd been appalled by that momentary stab of jealousy, and had consciously attempted to hold himself distant from her in the years of her marriage to Richard. In fact, he'd often been cold and brusque with her.

He'd hoped that attraction had died, but catching the scent of her familiar perfume, he was acutely aware of her presence next to him and of a tiny flame of heat that had ignited somewhere in the pit of his stomach.

Richard's woman, he reminded himself. And even though she and Richard had been divorced for a
year, she would never be anything other than Richard's woman.

“I should be beside myself with anger at Richard for this,” she said, interrupting his thoughts. “But I've always found it hard to sustain anger toward Richard for any length of time.”

This time Talbot felt a smile curving his lips. “Yeah, I know what you mean.” Despite Richard's immaturity and thoughtlessness, there was something endearing about him that made it difficult to get really angry with him. He was like a little boy who probably needed a spanking, but usually got away with nothing more than a sigh of exasperation from the adults around him.

Talbot's smile faded and he frowned thoughtfully. “But he hasn't been himself this past week.”

“What do you mean?”

Talbot felt her gaze on him, but didn't turn to look at her. He'd learned through the years that looking at her was dangerous. It often resulted in inappropriate thoughts.

“I don't know… He's been unusually quiet, and when he does talk, lately all he talks about is our childhood…the past.”

“Maybe he's doing some growing up, at twenty-seven. He's still working for you at McCarthy Industries, right?”

Talbot nodded. “He's a good personnel manager. He's good with people.”

Talbot wondered if perhaps Richard was regretting his divorce from Elizabeth, and if this trip to Twin Oaks might not be an attempt to forge a reconciliation.

Richard probably hadn't expected Elizabeth to call his older brother. But she had, to see if he knew what Richard was up to.

It had been Talbot's idea to fly her to Branson where they could rent a car and drive to the tiny town of Twin Oaks. She'd readily agreed, preferring an hour-long plane trip to a four-and-a-half-hour trip in a car.

He wondered if Richard did want reconciliation, would Elizabeth be willing to try the marriage again? Certainly Andrew would be pleased if such a thing happened. Although he seemed well-adjusted to the divorce, wasn't it every child's dream to see his parents together?

And certainly all Talbot had ever wanted was for his brother to be happy. He'd promised his father a long time ago that he'd do everything in his power to take care of Richard.

He started as a shrill alarm screamed through the cockpit.

“What's that?” Elizabeth gasped.

Talbot stared in horror at the gas gauge. Almost empty. But that was impossible; he'd refueled before he left Morning View “I don't know. It looks like we're losing fuel.”

“But we're still miles from Branson,” Elizabeth protested, an edge of hysteria in her voice.

“Look outside your window and see if there's a clearing where I can put down.”

“You're kidding, right?”

At that moment the engine of the plane coughed once, then stopped running.

The only sound was the rush of the wind buffeting the plane from side to side. “No, I'm not kidding,” he said softly.

“What's happening?”

“The engine has stopped.” Talbot worked to maintain control of the small aircraft. He picked up the microphone, but with only seconds to radio for help, he dropped it and kept his hands on the controls as the plane began to descend far too quickly.

“What do you mean, the engine has stopped?” Her voice rose slightly.

“I mean I'm no longer in control of this plane.”

“That's ridiculous!” she cried. “You're always in control of everything.”

At some other point in time, her comment would have warranted further discussion, but at the moment, he needed all his energy, all his focus, to keep the plane in the air. And it was a battle he was losing.

“We're going down,” he said.

“I'll never forgive you for this, Talbot McCarthy!” she exclaimed just before they hit the trees.

 

Elizabeth had always believed there's a moment before death when your life flashes before your eyes, and all the pleasures, all the regrets mingle together for one shining moment of profound truth.

She was wrong. What flashed through her head as the plane fell from the sky were two things—a deep mourning for her son and the embarrassment of knowing she'd put on her most ragged panties that morning.

The noise when they hit the trees was deafening. Metal screeched, glass shattered, and it took a moment for Elizabeth to realize she was adding to the cacophony by screaming at the top of her lungs.

She clung to her seat as the fuselage was smashed from side to side. Her stomach heaved, as if she was riding a roller coaster and had just gone down the biggest drop. Vaguely she was aware of Talbot adding a string of colorful oaths to the thunderous noise.

Without warning, the fuselage veered sharply, then flipped on its side. Something hit Elizabeth on the side of her head, and blackness descended. Her last conscious thought was that death was surprisingly anticlimactic.

 

“Elizabeth?”

A male voice penetrated the black fog and disrupted her peaceful sense of nothingness. The voice came again, irritating her with its sense of urgency.

“Elizabeth!” This time she recognized the voice. Talbot. How on earth had Talbot McCarthy managed to gain entry to heaven?

Her next thought was even more disturbing. What if she hadn't made it to heaven? What if her afterlife consisted of sharing space in hell with Talbot?

A protest formed on her lips and her eyes snapped open. A new vision of hell greeted her. The darkness was pierced by a strange flickering illumination. Tangled metal…acrid smoke…a tree branch jutting through what had once been the front window.

The plane. A sharp stab of pain pierced the right side of her head as she oriented herself to where she was and what had just happened.

They'd crashed. She jerked her head to the side to look at Talbot. In the flashing light, she saw his gaze on her.

“Thank God,” he said. “For a minute there, I thought you were dead. Are you all right?”

She winced and reached up to touch the side of her head, where a goose egg had risen and was incredibly tender to the pressure of her fingertips. “I think so, although for a minute, I thought I was dead, too. What about you?”

“I'm okay. But something is burning. We need to get out of here as quickly as possible.” He unbuckled himself. “We'll have to go out your door. Mine won't open.”

Elizabeth unfastened her seat belt and stood, un
steady on her feet as her head reeled with a sick pain. She managed to push her door open, then turned back to Talbot, who still sat in his seat.

“Are you coming?” she asked, worried now that she saw flames flaring in what was left of the plane behind them.

“My left leg seems to be trapped,” he said between clenched teeth as he used his hands to tug on his leg.

Elizabeth watched him working to free himself. As the flames grew hotter, illuminating the cabin, she saw dots of perspiration above his upper lip. He cursed and yanked, half falling from his seat as the leg finally came free.

“Go!” he shouted, and pushed her toward the door.

She hesitated and stared out the opening at what was left of the plane. The wings had been torn away, leaving only the small fuselage, which was now wedged between two towering trees and suspended about eight feet from the ground.

“We're caught in the trees,” she said.

“How far to the ground?” he asked, urgency apparent in his voice.

“I don't know for sure. About eight or nine feet—” Before the words had completely left her mouth, he shoved her from behind. She screamed and flailed her arms for an instant, as if by some miracle she might take flight.

She hit the ground and her knees buckled, throwing her facedown into the ground. Before she could lift her head, she heard Talbot hit the earth nearby. His landing was punctuated by a loud groan.

A moment later, he was towering over her. He grabbed her by the arm and yanked her to her feet. “We've got to get away from the plane,” he said. “I don't know if it will explode or not, but we can't take the chance.”

He took a step, then crumpled against her.

“You're hurt.”

“I'm all right—it's just my leg. It got wrenched or something.” He tried to take another step, then cursed soundly as he nearly fell. “We've got to get some distance. You're going to have to help me.”

She positioned herself beneath his arm, allowing him to lean heavily on her shoulder. Step by step, they inched away from the plane, deeper into the dense forest that surrounded them.

Trees were everywhere, as were mangled parts of the plane, and as they walked away from the smoldering crash site, Elizabeth marveled at the fact that they had escaped with their lives. A few inches to the left or the right, they would have hit a tree trunk head-on, and neither of them would have survived.

“Okay, we should be far enough away now,” he said when they'd moved about a hundred feet from the wreck. He eased himself to the ground, and Elizabeth sat down next to him.

Both of them stared at the burning aircraft. Flames licked hesitantly as if unwilling to fully commit to consuming the plane.

“How long before it explodes?” she asked.

“I don't know. I don't even know for sure that it will. There wasn't any fuel left, so it might not. Pray it does.”

She looked at him in surprise. “Why?”

BOOK: Lost in His Arms
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