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Authors: Elizabeth Noble

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Gone Away

BOOK: Gone Away
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Gone Away

By Elizabeth Noble

 

Circles: Book Four

 

Mason Arquette isn’t one for mincing words. In fact, he often rubs people the wrong way—with the exception of Riece Burrell. Riece came with his own set of social issues, but he saw right through Mason’s tough exterior, and they made a perfect couple. Or so Mason thought… until Riece abruptly ended their relationship without much explanation.

Years later, Mason and Riece are thrown back together. As a US Forestry Service photographer, Riece is sent on assignment to the Black Hills, where Mason works. When Mason is tasked with guiding Riece around the territory, old feelings are quickly rekindled.

But nothing is ever easy. Just as Mason and Riece begin to work things out, they’re targeted by people with motives so vile and twisted they defy imagination. In a desperate race for their lives, they must depend on one another and take a big step out of their personal comfort zones to find their way back to safety—and back to love.

Acknowledgments

I’d like to thank my friends and amazing beta readers Terry, Ann, Lisa, and Anne for their help and support. TL Bland created another spectacular cover that is perfect for the story. Many thanks to Dreamspinner Press editors Andi, Rose, and Susan for their skills and patience during the editing process. They catch so many little details and always set things right. Thank you Elizabeth North and all of the Dreamspinner Press staff, who are, as always, a joy to work with.

Author’s Note

Gone away is a foxhunting term. A fox has “gone away” when he has left the covert and is on the run.

Every Life is A Circle

Chapter 1

 

 

MASON ARQUETTE
would always be the one who got away.

Not that Riece Burrell ever gave Mason, or the fact he’d gotten away, any thought. He definitely wasn’t giving it any consideration as he disembarked the airplane and made his way to the baggage area. After grabbing his first suitcase to roll out on the conveyor belt, he set it between his feet and waited on the second one. His camera bag and a laptop case were slung over his shoulders, which made juggling the larger suitcases awkward.

He absolutely never gave a moment’s consideration to Mason’s broad smile, cocky attitude, and self-assuredness. The term
mountain man
was something Riece often associated with Mason, though when he’d last seen Mason, he’d had no beard. Mason, with his agile body, muscular arms, and quick wit, had alternately amazed and frustrated Riece during their few years together.

Riece could have done with some of Mason’s muscles right now. These bags were damn heavy and hauling them around was difficult.

After stumbling more than walking to the area where there would—hopefully—be cabs or shuttles waiting, Riece stopped and looked around. He’d been focused first on getting the correct flight, ensuring that it was an acceptable time of day—for departing as well as arriving. Then he’d had to complete the task of seat assignment, something that required care. All those choices conspired against Riece, and he’d completely forgotten about transportation from the airport to his destination.

The irony of the situation was, Riece was supposed to be good with details. He’d landed his current position as a photographer for the U.S. National Park Service because of his attention to detail.

A point he didn’t miss was that little bit about Mason Arquette being his guide and escort in the wilderness of the Black Hills. Apparently the universe wanted to be damn sure Riece never forgot Mason.

Billings Logan International Airport was huge, and the view looked like something from a postcard. Riece had spent considerable time researching the airports he could fly into and the airlines that would take him there. Some people might simply pick the closest airport, but not Riece. Sure, the airport in Rapid City was closer, but Riece liked the amenities offered in Billings slightly more. The website for his chosen airline was much more user-friendly, and the flights to Billings offered more choices of arrival times. He also reasoned the trip from Billings to Custer would afford him the opportunity to see more of the area without the pressure of observing it as part of his new job. At times simply being a tourist elevated him professionally as a photographer, and Riece thought this might be such a time.

Which brought him back to the little detail of how to get to Custer. Surely, there were others traveling in the direction of Custer, South Dakota. Except many of those people had probably rented vehicles and would drive, or maybe had people picking them up.

Riece didn’t drive. If the need arose, he
could
drive he supposed. He had the knowledge, but he’d never gotten his license and never put that know-how into practice. He stopped near the exit and looked around. There were kiosks and desks for rental cars, shuttles to places in and near Billings. Men and women stood around holding up signs with names hand printed on them. Others were handing out coupons for transportation services, restaurants, and dry cleaning establishments.

There was too much information swirling around him for Riece to process rationally, so he didn’t try. He stood in the middle of that section of the airport and stared at the floor. Long ago he’d learned that if he could filter out some of the noise and sights coming at him from all directions, he could make decisions and think clearly. He rooted around in his camera bag until he found his phone and earbuds. Put those in, play some music to block out the world, and he’d be able to sort out this problem.

A cab. He needed a cab. Taking a deep breath, Riece did some fast calculations and figured what the fare from Billings, Montana, to Jewel Cave National Monument would be. It would be expensive, but his other choice was to call his new boss and tell her he’d be late because he needed a ride. Then ask her to send that ride.

Not embarrassing in the least.

“You didn’t take into account the fact you’d have to get from the airport to your motel, did you? And I bet you forgot you could turn on your phone after you left the plane and didn’t see my text.”

Riece’s heart skipped a beat. He bit his lip and held his breath for a second. He continued to stare at the floor before remembering to look up and glance around the airport, focusing on nothing in particular. “Hi.”

Mason laughed. “Hi, yourself.” He always seemed to think Riece was funny, even when he wasn’t trying to be. “Riece, look at me,” Mason reminded him gently.

Riece complied. He was met with startling blue eyes—unusual considering Mason’s First Nations heritage—coal-black hair, and the same smile he remembered. Most people considered Mason’s cocky attitude abrasive and his self-assured temperament overbearing. He was often referred to as a jackass, or something similar. To Riece those qualities of Mason’s had at one time been a safe port in life’s storm.

“You came to pick me up,” Riece said.

“Nah… I was just wandering through the airport and saw you. It was a complete spur-of-the-moment thing,” Mason said with such a straight face Riece almost believed him. Mason reached down and picked up both of Riece’s suitcases, tucking one under his arm and grasping the other by the handle.

“It’s six hours between here and Custer,” Riece said. “You were being nice. I won’t tell.”

Mason held his fist out. “Thanks,” he said. Riece made a fist and lightly bumped Mason’s. “Do you have a motel room?”

Riece nodded. “I do.” He flipped his wrist over and looked at his watch. “Check-in is in—” Sighing, he closed his eyes for a few seconds and took a deep breath. “—two hours.” Scratching the back of his head, he gave Mason a lopsided grin. “I apparently misjudged my travel time.”

“I guess you did.” Mason dipped his head at the exit. “I’m parked this way. How about you call and cancel your reservation from my Jeep. I know a place to stop for the night a few hours from here.”

Riece turned on his phone and held it, but didn’t call. “I should get to the motel so I’m ready to start work Monday.”

Mason glanced sideways at him as they walked. He heaved a sigh. “Riece, I just drove quite a few hours to pick you up. I’m sorta tired, and hungry.”

“You’re always hungry.” Riece stopped inside the parking garage entrance. “Which way?”

“Over there.”

“I’m hungry too. The food on the plane was… questionable,” Riece said.

Mason laughed. It was a hearty sound Riece realized he’d missed very much. “I bet,” Mason said.

“How many rooms?”

“Huh?” Mason asked.

“Where we’re stopping; how many rooms?” Riece asked. He wasn’t sure if he was hoping Mason’s answer would be one or two.

“In the whole place? I have no clue. Anyway, I have a buddy who drives a beer delivery truck, and he also works in the bar there. Best food for a hundred miles. It’s part of a small inn. I booked us there for a few nights. One room for you and one for me.” Mason stopped beside a Jeep. It was the off-road sort, with mud splattered over the burnt-orange exterior.

The vehicle chirped when Mason used a remote to unlock it. He stowed Riece’s luggage in the backseat. Riece walked slowly around the back of the Jeep, running his fingertips over the paint as he wandered to the far side.

“Sweet ride,” Riece said and opened the passenger door.

A small white box with gold embossed writing advertising some store Riece had never heard of sat on the seat. Written over it in thick, black letters and in Mason’s handwriting was the word
Riece
.

He silently picked up the box and held it carefully while he climbed into the seat, only setting it down long enough to snap on and adjust his seat belt. Mason took his place behind the steering wheel and started the Jeep, glancing at Riece as he put the vehicle in gear and guided them onto the road.

“A little welcome-to-South Dakota gift,” Mason explained.

Riece frowned and looked out the window. “But we’re in Montana.”

“Not for long, and we’ll be working in South Dakota.”

“We’ll be working in the Black Hills. That mountain range is approximately 125 miles long and 65 miles wide, covering not only western South Dakota, but also eastern Wyoming,” Riece said.

“You sound like a talking travel brochure.” Mason sighed and shook his head. “I live in South Dakota. The office we’ll work out of is in South Dakota. I’m guessing you’ll live in South Dakota too.”

“We’re not in South Dakota,” Riece reminded Mason.

“Stick four or five of those taffies in your mouth,” Mason grumbled. “You like saltwater taffy. I know a place that sells amazing saltwater taffy. I thought you’d like some. Can’t you simply, for once, say thank you, enjoy your gift, and not nitpick over pointless specifics?” He used the palms of his hands to steady the steering wheel, stretched his fingers, then wrapped them around the steering wheel again.

“I’m sorry. I haven’t seen you in years, and the first thing I do is hurt your feelings,” Riece said softly.

Mason reached over and took Riece’s hand, holding it gently without squeezing. The gesture was extremely intimate and one that had been common between them at one time. “No, you didn’t hurt my feelings. You frustrate the hell out of me sometimes—most of the time—but what you say is almost never hurtful. I know better.” He let go of Riece’s hand, nodding to the steering wheel. “Gotta drive.”

It was the truth too. Riece knew that for a fact. He knew his communication skills were lacking, and somehow Mason had some innate way of knowing and, more importantly, accepting those traits in Riece. Maybe it was no different than the way Riece saw through what most people thought of as Mason’s brusque-bordering-on-asshole outward personality to the real man underneath.

“Would you like some?” Riece unwrapped a flavor he knew Mason liked and offered it.

Mason held out his palm. “Sure. Call and cancel your motel reservation.”

Riece smiled and nodded. It only took a few minutes to complete the task, and he set his phone on his lap when he’d finished.

Mason motioned to the dashboard. “There’s a hookup, so why don’t you plug your phone in and play us some driving music. Or if you’d rather, I still have the CDs you made. Those are in the glove compartment.”

“You kept them? I didn’t think you liked my music.” Riece pulled out his phone, plugged it in, and chose a playlist.

“Yes, of course I kept them. We’ll be at my friend’s place in a few hours. So plenty of time for a nap if you’re tired,” Mason said. He pulled a threefold brochure from the visor and tossed it onto Riece’s lap. “That’s it. To answer your next five or six questions.”

Riece smiled and opened the pamphlet. Mason leaned back and rested his elbow on the door, grinning when Riece said, “It’s close to Devils Tower. I like the name, Big Rock Inn.”

“Devils Tower is a must-see,” Mason said. “You’ll like it, and since you’re now an official photographer of federal lands, maybe you can get some good shots. Tyler is a good guy, and the food there is great.” It took Riece a few seconds to sort out what Mason was saying since he sometimes tended to jump around when he talked.

BOOK: Gone Away
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