A gargantuan green and polished silver sign shot light through her windshield spot blinding her as she rounded the curve in the road. The car’s tires slid in loose gravel, forcing a rabbit from the tall grasses.
Her reflexes bypassed mental signals and she jerked the wheel, but her beautiful blue rental car veered to the right nosing straight for the ditch. Bile rose to her throat. She forced the brake pedal hard to the floorboard, closed her eyes, and prayed for a miracle.
“What do I do? What do I do?”
Rocks shot up against the underside of the car. She pulled the wheel hard to the left forcing the vehicle from the edge of the ditch and into the middle of the street, aiming for a fire engine red pickup.
Her heart thumped hard, like when she had sprinted an entire 5K disparate to time slowing. She accepted the fact her rental would hit the enormous truck. Her gut muscles clenched and the aroma of toast infiltrated her nostrils.
Oh god, she had just read an article regarding the increase of mid-thirties women having strokes and the scent of baked goods was the first sign.
Her survival instinct took hold. She pumped the brakes and somehow caught a glimpse of the truck’s driver. His hands gripped the steering wheel and the truck swerved but not enough. Metal crunched metal and the car jolted to a stop. Her body jerked forward, slamming all her weight against the force of the seatbelt. Air flew from her lungs in a painful whoosh. She took a few deep breaths until the pressure in her chest eased. Stillness and quietness as if the world stood motionless, surrounded her.
The squeal of a door opening drew her attention. She had the dim thought she should try to get out of the car; instead she leaned the side of her head on the steering wheel and with trembling hands punched the button to increase cool airflow. She stared out the window at a street sign she’d somehow managed to avoid ramming. Cyan, Indiana, population 20,888. Established 1817.
She had arrived.
A tall, brawny guy jumped from the truck’s cab with both hands up in the air giving her a what the hell signal. “What are you doing?”
He came closer. His dark gray tee, emblazoned with Hank’s Hardware, was snug across his jacked chest and the tiny graphic of a man wielding a hammer also pointed an accusatory finger at her. The real man motioned from her to the sharp black tracks on the street, and ending where her bumper snuggled his fender.
Her focus immediately returned to his six-foot form. She loosened her death grip on the steering wheel and tasted blood inside her mouth as she blew out a harsh breath.
His quick menacing stride carried him around the car until he assumed a solid stance inches from her door. Undistinguishable color of eyes, due to their current narrowed shape defined his attitude—not happy. He rolled his hand, indicating she should lower the window. A large half-moon scar on his chin went from white to pink.
Instead of talking through an open window she should get out and face him. She took a deep breath and swiped the back of her hand across her forehead.
He motioned again, then scrubbed his fingers through the streaks of blonde in his brown hair. As an educator she’d encountered all types of students and personalities and this guy gave the impression anger didn’t motivate him, rather distress did. Maybe he thought she had been hurt, at least that was what she told herself especially considering she couldn’t relax her shoulders. Just call me the statue of calamity.
She shut down the engine, leaving the key in the ignition. The handle on the door slid beneath her slick palm. She wiped her hands on her jeans and knuckled the button to lower the window and humid August heat filtered in springing her hair into tight curls. Hot before the accident, her temp level elevated to extremely uncomfortable. Thankfully the toast scent had disappeared.
He braced his forearms on the car’s roof and ducked his head. As his gaze ran over her, volts of electricity streaked through her bloodstream. Nervous jitters multiplied tenfold under this guy’s piercing blue, heavenly-azure-blue, stare.
She released the seatbelt. Face him.
He lowered his arms and took a step away from the door.
Get out. Apologize. She wrenched the door lever and the heavy door sprung open as if operated by an unknown force. Crap! What next, Jacey Hewson? Head tucked, she slid out of the car. “Are you okay? No injuries?”
He shook his head. “Okay on my end and you?”
“I’m okay.” She swiped her palms on her jeans. Scents of grass, wheat and the cooked wood scent of river birch infiltrated her nostrils; soon she would start sneezing. She glanced into his face. His expression remained stern, but to her surprise a spark lit his gorgeous eyes. “I guess all wheel drive doesn’t include all wheel stopping?”
He didn’t laugh.
She eased the door shut. “Sorry about,” she waved to his truck, “I’ll accept responsibility for any damage.”
Up close, despite the sourpuss expression, he looked…fine. His back straightened and he worked his jaws as if trying to get a cramp out. Like most men, his gaze slid across her breasts and unlike most men she had dated, his focus centered on her face. He shook his head.
“My first collision.” She cleared her throat and managed a slight grin.
He glanced at the dent in his fender. Obviously humor could not diffuse any situation. Men love their monster trucks.
“My vehicle slipped on the gravel. You look,” hot kept banging against her mouth, instead she went with, “ill. Do you want to sit in the air-conditioning?” She touched his forearm, altruistically to find out if he had been injured, in reality she wanted to feel his sun-kissed skin. There couldn’t be any fat on the man at all. Pure solid muscles popped out from under the short sleeves of the tee and material bunched at his narrow waist. He wore jeans like a prince sported formal garments and buff colored work boots provided the foundation. Too bad this meet-cute involved a damaged vehicle.
“Damn,” he muttered and his cheeks flooded with color, nearly the tint of his truck. He didn’t appear angry anymore, rather…confused.
“Please let me take care of the damage. Here, I’ll get you my insurance card. You can contact them, Mr.?”
Crazy, pretty and one of the most tempting women he had ever seen had literally slammed into Big Red. Each time she apologized Griff’s gut jumped like he had taken a hit to his solar plexus. “Griff. No injury. Are you okay?”
“Yes, fine. A sunray reflected off the sign.” She pointed her thumb toward the glittering billboard. “Over there, the welcome from hell.”
The outspoken girl had spunk. Upon closer examination she had a round face, like a neighbor he had admired on several occasions. A narrow beam of afternoon sunlight showed traces of blonde and brown highlights through her auburn shoulder-length hair. She leaned into the car’s open window, lifting one foot off the ground and giving him a fine view of her nice round butt.
She withdrew a brown leather bag, the size of his tool satchel, and placed it on the hood. As she dug through the contents, his gazed over her, she wore a six-inch wide black belt over a long creamy blouse that showcased a small waist. The shirt’s low neck revealed tantalizing breasts, perfectly proportioned to her ample hips.
For the first time, he noted her fingers shaking as she removed a small silver case from her satchel. She bit her lip and dropped the case in her bag.
The good guy in him begged to soothe her. He shoved his hands into his pockets to prevent grabbing her into a comforting embrace.
Her shoulders slumped, and she chewed her lip.
Make her feel better. Ask her to go for coffee or a drink. His workday started at seven AM and ended around ten that night. He didn’t have time for dating, even if this scatter-brained lady made his heart race. This instant attraction for a woman was a new thing for him—he didn’t like it.
She held out a small white card, simple in design with a collection of furniture and lack of color, totally unlike the vibrant woman holding it between her dainty fingers. He took the rectangle. Their fingers brushed and a charge sparked between them. She snatched her hand back, telling him she’d felt it too. To regain his common sense, he evaluated the paper. “New to You Antiques?”
“My store. Right now the current address is my apartment. I’m working toward getting an actual storefront. The phone number won’t change, it’s a cell number.” She walked toward his truck. “Do you want to call the police and get a whatchamacallit?”
He adored her nervous chatter. Under the pressure of his fingers, the card bent in the middle. His mind urged him to give the paper back. “No, it’s okay.”
“Hum. You have a dent and my car has a nice bit of red on the bumper.” She scrubbed her hair from her face; the vibrant hue would kill him.
“Yeah, no real harm done.” Other than she made him hard as a piece of maple wood. Forget the schedule and offer her a coffee. He sighed. His nature wouldn’t allow him to forget his responsibilities. “I need to meet a client. If you’re okay,” he shoved the card into the rear pocket of his jeans, “I’ll go.”
The short word had a long drawn out ending, giving him insight into her temperament. A bead of sweat dripped along her neck into the valley leading to a place he wanted to visit. He opened her car door. Without making eye contact with him, she climbed behind the steering wheel. She shoved her satchel onto the passenger seat and strapped on her seatbelt. Her fingers tightened on the wheel and a whisper of a breath blew a curl from her pink cheek.
Say something other than nice rack or pretty hair. Torn between engaging in further conversation and making his scheduled appointment he hesitated.
She started the engine and stared at him expectantly.