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Looking For Trouble
Looking For Trouble
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Erin gives an overview of the book:

When Noah McDermott, owner of McDermott Construction, walks out into the bright morning sunshine, the last thing he expects is to get run over by a careless woman in a yellow Mercedes.  His anger quickly fades into curiosity when the driver turns out to have endless legs and bottomless brown eyes. Avery Price, daughter of a publishing millionaire, should have followed her instinct and kept driving instead of stopping at a dot on the map.  But Trouble, Wyoming is growing on her and she needs a job – fast.  So what is she thinking by accepting a job from the man she knocked over with her back bumper? As the two of them work together, the sparks fly.  Surely they can be professional and keep from acting on their impulses.   Sometimes Noah gets the feeling Avery isn’t who she says she is.  Is she just a girl looking for a change or is there more going on than she’s...
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When Noah McDermott, owner of McDermott Construction, walks out into the bright morning sunshine, the last thing he expects is to get run over by a careless woman in a yellow Mercedes.  His anger quickly fades into curiosity when the driver turns out to have endless legs and bottomless brown eyes.

Avery Price, daughter of a publishing millionaire, should have followed her instinct and kept driving instead of stopping at a dot on the map.  But Trouble, Wyoming is growing on her and she needs a job – fast.  So what is she thinking by accepting a job from the man she knocked over with her back bumper?

As the two of them work together, the sparks fly.  Surely they can be professional and keep from acting on their impulses.   Sometimes Noah gets the feeling Avery isn’t who she says she is.  Is she just a girl looking for a change or is there more going on than she’s telling him?

Avery quickly adapts to her new life in the middle of nowhere.  She has a job for the first time in her life and a boss who turns her on more than her ex-fiancé ever did. But did she make the right choice by leaving home or is she falling deeper into trouble?  

Read an excerpt »

One

 

 

 

 

The man with a dark-brown Stetson pulled low over his eyes flashed in Avery Price’s rearview mirror a split second before her back bumper knocked him down.  Her Christian Lacroix wedge-sandals depressed on the brake pedal before her tires could roll over him and snap his bones like fragile twigs.  Her cell phone, which had been pressed to her ear for ten minutes while her brother peppered her with questions, slipped out of her hand and clattered to the wood-grained middle console.  Moisture seeped out of the corners of her tightly closed eyes and her hands wrapped themselves around the fine Italian leather-stitched steering wheel.

The few seconds it took for brain to register the presence of a human being walking behind her parked car had been too long for her to take action.  Her Mercedes came to an abrupt stop after coming in contact with the man and prompted a surprised gasp from her.  A few seconds stretched into an eternity while she inhaled deep breaths and kept her eyes closed.  When she opened them, the dented, metal door of her motel room came into view along with the early morning sunshine. 

Okay, you barely nudged him.  Chances are he’s just sore and pissed off.  Now would be a good time to get out and check on him.

Her internal lecture was pathetic at best and warranted no other action from her hands other than to pick up her discarded cell phone.  Her trembling fingers wrapped around the device and brought it up to her ear.

As soon as her ear touched the phone she heard, “Avery, what the hell is going on?”  Her brother’s unusually demanding voice vibrated through the phone and added to her already jittery nerves.  As good as his intentions were, she couldn’t deal with his “You need to start making some decisions” speech.

“Avery if you don’t start talking in two seconds, I’m going to send the Wyoming state police after you.”

“Oh, good gravy will you calm down?” The man who’d been forced to the ground by her car had yet to pull himself to a vertical position   “I gotta go.  I just hit somebody.”

“What?  See, this is what I’m talking – ”

Her thumb hit the ‘end’ button on her phone, effectively cutting off another one of her brother’s annoying but painfully predictable rants.

Her brain fired away commands for her legs to move, to do anything, with no success.  After several seconds, a thump came from the back end of the car as though the man on the ground was taking his retribution for being plowed over.  The sound prompted a squeak from her and her hand to fumble for the door handle. 

As far as mornings went, this one ranked down in the shitty category.  First she’d slept through the alarm clock’s weak beep-beeping, then the fleabag motel couldn’t provide her with a decent cup of coffee.  Far be it for her to wish for a double shot latte with no whip.  All the shoebox-sized lobby offered was the bottom scrapings of hours old brew and stale English muffins.  Not exactly an appealing spread.

Now, in her haste to find something edible and caffeine to rev up her system, she bowled over a man who had the bad sense to stand behind a car that had its reverse lights on.

She threw the car in Park and exited on shaky legs.  The early morning sun was still weak enough that the temperature hovered in the tolerable range. 

As she rounded the back of the car, trying to swallow her irritation at this turn of events, the man on the ground had pushed himself not-so-gracefully to his feet.  He swayed, as some drunk people did when they couldn’t walk a straight line, and placed a hand on her car.  The fierce protectiveness she had for her German engineered vehicle almost had her demand he remove his hand from her sunflower-yellow custom paint.  The fact that she’d hit him, and would probably have to grovel to keep him from suing the pants off her, stopped the words from flying out off her mouth.

A deep, gravelly groan flowed out of the man, now minus his cowboy hat.  Burnt-sienna-colored hair, mixed with sun-kissed shades of caramel, smashed down in untidy disarray to the man’s skull.  The cowboy hat, which now lay about six feet from where he’d hit the ground, had flattened the edges of his hair to a greasy, slicked down look.  Avery considered herself an expert on personal hygiene and keeping one’s appearance to the utmost perfection.  She’d be willing to bet all the money in her trust fund that this man hadn’t seen a shower in at least twenty-four hours; or his wrinkled, un-tucked chambray shirt and faded jeans a washer and dryer.  For all she knew he could be some bum who skulked around motels, looking for a place to rest his head.

Nevertheless, that didn’t change the fact that her car had come in contact with a human being and she needed to make sure he was okay.

His mile-wide back was to her then he bent over and placed both his hands on his knees, dropping his head down as though he couldn’t catch his breath.

Geez, was he really hurt?

“Are -- are you okay?” she stammered while taking a tentative step toward him.

He straightened much faster than she expected considering he’d been swaying like a drunk a second ago.  When he turned, a pair of eyes that were grayer than blue – and definitely not pleased, hit her.  Thick, brown brows slammed down over his eyes, which flashed with anger. 

“You hit me, lady.  What do you think?”  The accusing words came out of a full mouth that was surrounded with dark growth of beard stubble.  It wasn’t a full beard, more like he hadn’t made the time to shave, because he didn’t care that his unkempt, wrinkled appearance was less-than-appealing.  Or, maybe, he simply didn’t own a razor because he was homeless.

“I know that fancy, expensive car of yours has mirrors, so why the hell weren’t you paying attention?”

Her sympathy at having knocked down an unsuspecting pedestrian fizzled and gave way to impatience.  It’s not like she hadn’t looked.  She had.  Her one, quick glance had shown a man just standing there, like he had all the time in the world.  She’d simultaneously lifted her foot off the brake and had already been backing out of the parking space.  She’d scarcely rolled two inches before she tagged him and set him on his ass.  And who the heck had just stood behind a car anyway?

Her fingernails bit into the inside of her palm.  “I had my brake lights on because I was backing out of my space.  Didn’t you see them?”

He snatched his cowboy hat from the uneven gravel and fitted it back onto his head.  “I was walking and not paying any attention to you.  You’re supposed to look before you back out.”

“I did, and it looked like you were just standing right behind me.  I couldn't stop in time.”

“You’re fault not mine.”  His words were short and clipped, evidence that anger, not pain, was the dominant emotion radiating off him.

Okay, so he had her on that one.  Technically it was her fault, regardless of what he’d been doing.  She was adult enough to admit when she made a boo-boo.  As a consolation for hitting, no nudging him, she tried to be nice and not let her annoyance at having a wrench thrown in her morning plans show.  Despite her put-on cheery attitude, she sensed some serious hostility.  Maybe she’d messed up his one and only wrinkled shirt. 

She stared back at him and tried to dodge the daggers his stony eyes threw her way.  “You’re clearly not injured.  So, I guess I’ll be on my way.”  She bounced from once three-inch platform to the next before pivoting and reaching for the car door handle.

“Now wait a minute.”

She paused with her hand on the door and tossed him a look over her shoulder.  The cowboy hat shielded his hostile gaze and only lent a view of a straight nose and wide mouth.  Her blood went from a low simmer to a mild boil at not being able to make her exit.

“You can’t just flee the scene of an accident.  How do you know I’m not injured?”  The words had lost their heat and rolled off the man’s tongue with a deliberate slowness.

Other than his disreputable clothing and stubble-covered jaw, there was nothing to suggest he was anything other than normal.  No blood sprayed from an open head wound, no bruises or scrapes decorated his masculine face.  He had swayed and stumbled at first, giving her the impression of maybe a mild head injury.  Since replacing his hat, he’d only leaned one hip against the bumper of her car and regarded her beneath his hooded gaze.

So, he was going to be like that, was he?

She crossed her arms over her chest.  “Geez, you’re not going to call the cops are you?  I barely nudged you.  You seem perfectly fine.”

Don’t antagonize him, Avery.  He could easily file a report against you.  Something about the way he said the words suggested he was trying to be more annoying than threatening.

He slid one hand under his hat, lifting it crookedly to one side.  “I don’t know.  My head’s a bit tingly, and I feel a little lightheaded.  You might need to take me to a hospital for some medical attention.  Or better yet,” he continued while rubbing a hand along his rough jaw line.  “I know the sheriff pretty well.  We can get him down here and straighten this whole thing out.  I’d call him myself but,” He dug his hand in his back pocket and produced a small black device.  “You crushed my cell phone.”

Okay, the cell phone was a good indicator that he probably wasn’t homeless.  Although his attire suggested someone who’d just crawled out of a cardboard box, he was evidently one of those people who just didn’t give a damn what he looked like.  His nice little speech was also his way of threatening to have her ass thrown in jail if she didn’t do…whatever it was he wanted her to do.

Her back teeth ground to enamel dust at having been backed into a corner by a man who clearly didn’t have classy bone in his body.

He nudged his hat lower on his head.  “I think the sheriff is on duty today and wouldn’t mind coming down here –”

“All right,” she said through gritted teeth.  “You can stop your little threatening speech.  I get it.  Just tell me what you want, so I can get on with my day.”

He held his hands up in front of him.  “I don’t want to put you out.  I can tell you’re in a hurry.”

Oh, for Pete’s sake bring on the violins.  She forced a smile that most likely came off as condescending.  “It’s no put out at all. Is there somewhere I can take you?”

The grin that crept up his face resembled the one the big, bad wolf used to lure the three piggies.  Unfortunately she was at his mercy until he decided to let the whole fake injury thing drop.  “I’m so glad you offered.  I need a ride to my car.”

She tightened her hands around her keys.  “That’s it?  All you want is a ride?”

“Oh, I want a lot more than that.”

She crossed her arms then let them drop.  Maybe she should have stayed in bed and watched the rabbit-ear-adorned television at the motel.  “All you’re going to get out of me is a ride to your car.” 

A lone passing car filled the silence between them.  “All right.”

Without giving him a chance to make more threats, she jerked open the car door with all the force her slender arm would allow and plopped herself down in the driver’s seat.  She had the car started, and was rolling backward by the time he yanked the door open and sat himself next to her.

“Are you trying to run me over again?” he asked after folding himself in the seat until his knees bumped up against the glove compartment.  Her little roadster was not designed to hold men the size of the Jolly Green Giant.

“I can’t help it if you don’t move fast enough.”  She jerked the wheel and maneuvered her car around a pothole.

His narrow hips shifted until he’d slid lower as though he were settling down for a nice Sunday drive.  “I think you were trying to ditch me.”  The leather beneath his backside squeaked when he moved again. 

“Can you sit still?  You’re going to scratch the leather.”

“Can you not shout?  My head feels like it’s going to crack in two.”

Avery eased the car to a red light.  “You haven’t heard loud yet.  Get one scratch on my car, and you’ll know the meaning of loud.”

One corner of his mouth turned up and created shallow lines in his stubble-covered cheek.  “Poor princess.  Daddy might have to buy you a new one.”

She tucked a strand of hair behind her ear and decided to let the “daddy” comment roll off her back.  “Somebody woke up on the wrong side of the bed this morning.”

His response was an unattractive grunt.  The light turned green and she tapped her manicured index finger against the gearshift.  “Would you like to tell me where to go, or should I drop you off wherever I please?”  Like here?

“Go straight and make a left turn at the fourth light down,” he replied without so much as moving a muscle.

She wound her hand tighter around the steering wheel to keep from kicking Mr. Surly out on his wrinkled ass.  With practiced patience, she eased off the brake pedal and set off down the street.  The inarticulate man next to her didn’t so much as utter a grunt.  Instead he remained slouched low in the seat with his hat pulled down so it covered half his face.  Only his deep, even breathing indicated he was still alive. 

Over the years, she’d worked to develop an iron-clad backbone so she rarely let herself become intimidated by situations or people.  The man who sucked all the breathing space out of the car, with his massive shoulders and long legs, sent her nerves tingling in a way they hadn’t in a long time.  Was it intimidation?  Or maybe just plain old annoyance at having no choice but to succumb to his wishes?  Avery didn’t know nor was she comfortable with the feeling.  She couldn’t say it was his looks because so far all she’d seen was half his face and hair that hadn’t seen a comb in days.  Perhaps it was just the sheer size of the man.  Even though he sat perfectly still, there was edginess to him but also an air of confidence as though he knew how he looked and damn the world if they didn’t like it.

The characteristics defied everything she knew about men.  A heavy breath left her lungs.

“You sigh a lot.”

Another light turned red, allowing a man hunched over like a question mark to cross the street.  “This is not what I had planned with my morning.”

“Pardon me if you running me over threw a kink in your plans.”

The glare she threw at him went unacknowledged.  “Did I ask for your pardon?  And I didn’t run you over.  You look perfectly fine to me.”

“I thought I saw you checking me out.”  The grin in his voice was unmistakable although Avery didn’t see the humor nor did she appreciate it.  Whatever.  Let him make his wise cracks.  In a few blessed minutes she’d be free of him.

After the old man shuffled his way across the street, the light turned green and she made her way toward where she was supposed to turn.

Her phone vibrated in the middle console where she’d dropped it in haste before.  She kept her hands on the steering wheel, having no desire to listen to her brother with the stranger who’d kissed the back end of her car listening to every word.

She made the left turn as instructed.  The deep, timbered voice next to her spoke after she passed a Hay and Feed store.  “Go down about half a mile then turn right on Beach Street.”

 “What were you doing at Dick’s Motel if your car is way down here?”  She’d already come to the conclusion that he wasn’t homeless; homeless people don’t have cell phones and wear brand new Timberland boots.  He was just an ornery man who didn’t iron his clothes and woke up two miles from his car.

For a moment he sat as still as he’d been since entering the car and didn’t answer.  “What people usually do at motels.”

O-kay.  That could be everything from doing drugs to cheating on a significant other.  For whatever reason, the former didn’t seem likely.  As for the latter, well, what did she know?  Maybe the woman he was with had kicked him out and refused to take him anywhere, leaving him stranded without transportation.  Then, she’d gone and knocked him down, destroying his cell phone in the process.  For all she knew, he could have a wife at home who was pacing herself sick at this very moment.  And Avery could be an accomplice to his sordid love triangle.  What a perfect way to start the day.

Her desire to attempt a conversation with a man who’d strong-armed her into driving him across town was minimal.  She kept her gaze on the street in front of her and both hands on the wheel.  Under normal circumstances, Avery was pretty chatty person.  She didn’t like uncomfortable silences that stretched into eons of nothingness.  The silence made her fidgety and feel like worms crawled underneath her skin.  Oh, but the cowboy loved it.  Not once had he said anything to give the impression he was a pleasant person.  His answers were clipped and to the point as though he couldn’t be bothered with trivial things like speaking to another person.

Fine, she could be just as silent and still as he. 

“It’s on the left hand side of the street at the very end,” he muttered after she’d made a right turn onto Beach Street.

Almost there.  All she had to do was get him out of the car and her debt would be paid.

A metal sign that said, “Dave’s Watering Hole,” sat crooked on top of a masonry building as though someone had just tossed it up there and hadn’t bothered to make it sit straight.  There were no windows, no landscaping or anything that was minimally appealing about the place.  The building sat away from the street in the middle of a cracked, weed-adorned parking lot.  This definitely wasn’t an establishment that screamed fine family dining, though Avery was pretty sure anything with the word “hole” in it wasn’t suitable for little children.  Given the behavior and the dozen words she’d exchanged with the man next to her, she hadn’t expected something with gold-plated front doors.

The undercarriage of her car scraped the pebbly ground when she drove into the parking lot.  A handful of late model trucks and a newer SUV sat in the parking lot without any sort of rhyme or reason.  Apparently the owners didn’t feel designated parking spaces were necessary.

“Just stop right here.”  The man straightened in the seat and reached for the door handle.

When the car purred to a stop, he opened the door and unfolded his long limbs from the low-slung vehicle.

“I appreciate –”

   She didn’t give him a chance to finish his gratitude.  Instead she leaned across the front seat, yanked the door out of his grasp and slammed it shut.

Executing an abrupt U-turn, she left him in the dust of her Mercedes and hauled ass away from Dave’s Watering Hole as fast as she could.  Seeing the opened-mouthed expression on his masculine face brought a sardonic little smile to her lips.

*****

Well, son of a bitch.  Noah McDermott withdrew car keys out of his pocket and hit the unlock button.

The Mercedes princess was all spit-fire and sass.

The curved backend of her car sprayed all sorts of dirt and gravel in the wake of her swift retreat.  Maybe her highness was late for her manicure.

Or maybe she just wanted to get away from your grumpy ass.

It certainly wouldn’t be the first time.  Mary-Ellen hadn’t wasted any time kicking him out of the hotel this morning after she’d had her way with him.  Not that he’d been heartbroken.  He hadn’t been woken up expecting find a hot meal in his lap and a ball game on the television.  Instead Mary-Ellen had emerged from the shower and told him he needed to be on his way.  She didn’t have to tell him twice.  He’d quickly thrown on last night’s wrinkled, stale cigarette-shrouded clothes and let himself out the door.  Just before closing the door he thought he’d heard Mary-Ellen asking him to call her. Yeah, that wouldn’t be happening.   She was the type of woman who sat around in bars, like she had last night, and waited for a man to pay her any sort of attention.

The argument he’d gotten into with his father had propelled Noah into the dingy and disreputable interior of Dave’s.  Once there he’d immediately spotted Mary-Ellen in her too tight jeans and dark, overly processed hair.  Initially he hadn’t been looking for a woman; only the comfort of a pool table and a long neck bottle of beer. By his third game, Mary-Ellen had wormed her way into his game and a beer in his hand.  She‘d spent the remainder of the time slipping her hands in his back pockets and rubbing her double Ds against his arm.  He’d been just drunk and pissed off enough to allow her to drive the two of them to Dick’s Motel and promptly handcuff him to the wooden headboard.  

Hours later he’d woken up with a bitch of a headache and blurry memories of sexual positions he’d been introduced to.

The interior of his car was musty and cool, having not yet been affected by the heat of midday.  He tossed his hat on the passenger seat and slid himself with deliberate slowness so as not to prompt the pounding in his head to worsen.  After dropping his eyelids closed and inhaling several deep breaths, he started the car.  A morning meeting with one of his subcontractors prevented him from returning home longer than to take a shower.  With the condition is head was in, he’d love nothing more than to wash off the previous night and dump himself into bed.

As he exited the parking lot and headed toward the outside of town where he lived, Noah’s thoughts returned to the Mercedes princess. 

Someone like her didn’t enter the town of Trouble very often.  Her slicked back dark hair and perfectly pressed clothes screamed wealth. Or course her car was also a dead giveaway.  He didn’t need to see the little roadster to know she’d grown up with privileges most people in this town only dreamed about.

Having a hundred thousand dollar car knock him on the ground had upgraded the pounding in his head to freight train status.  He hadn’t noticed anyone sitting in the car when he’d stepped out of the motel room.  His mood was already dangerously close to black and being caught off guard by a woman who wasn’t even apologetic had pissed him off big time.  Never mind the fact that she was a delectable little thing who smelled like vanilla and peaches.  Instead of rushing to his aid she’d acted affronted like it’d been his fault she’d plowed him down.  The woman had guts, he’d give her that.

Guts and looks that would send most men drooling at her feet.  Not him.  His mind had been too foggy and his limbs too achy to notice anything beyond the fact that she was a knockout who had bags of money.

 A small smile turned up the corners of his mouth.  Sparing with her over who’d been at fault had been enough to erase the previous evening from his mind.  For that much he was willing to forgive her affront of hitting him. 

Okay, so he really hadn’t been hurt beyond his bruised ego.  His head had already been pounding.  The only thing he suffered from was lack of sleep and a broken cell phone.  Just to lay it on extra thick, he’d antagonized her into giving him a ride.  He’d never had any plans to call law enforcement into the picture.  But there hadn’t been harm in making her think he would.  The steam coming out of her feminine little ears had been satisfaction enough.  And being in the car with her had given him the chance to poke at her a little more.  So far the morning had been more entertaining than he’d anticipated.

Fifteen minutes later, he entered into his driveway and had just stepped out of the car when he realized he pocket was empty.

His wallet had fallen out in the princess’s car.

One

 

 

 

 

The man with a dark-brown Stetson pulled low over his eyes flashed in Avery Price’s rearview mirror a split second before her back bumper knocked him down.  Her Christian Lacroix wedge-sandals depressed on the brake pedal before her tires could roll over him and snap his bones like fragile twigs.  Her cell phone, which had been pressed to her ear for ten minutes while her brother peppered her with questions, slipped out of her hand and clattered to the wood-grained middle console.  Moisture seeped out of the corners of her tightly closed eyes and her hands wrapped themselves around the fine Italian leather-stitched steering wheel.

The few seconds it took for brain to register the presence of a human being walking behind her parked car had been too long for her to take action.  Her Mercedes came to an abrupt stop after coming in contact with the man and prompted a surprised gasp from her.  A few seconds stretched into an eternity while she inhaled deep breaths and kept her eyes closed.  When she opened them, the dented, metal door of her motel room came into view along with the early morning sunshine. 

Okay, you barely nudged him.  Chances are he’s just sore and pissed off.  Now would be a good time to get out and check on him.

Her internal lecture was pathetic at best and warranted no other action from her hands other than to pick up her discarded cell phone.  Her trembling fingers wrapped around the device and brought it up to her ear.

As soon as her ear touched the phone she heard, “Avery, what the hell is going on?”  Her brother’s unusually demanding voice vibrated through the phone and added to her already jittery nerves.  As good as his intentions were, she couldn’t deal with his “You need to start making some decisions” speech.

“Avery if you don’t start talking in two seconds, I’m going to send the Wyoming state police after you.”

“Oh, good gravy will you calm down?” The man who’d been forced to the ground by her car had yet to pull himself to a vertical position   “I gotta go.  I just hit somebody.”

“What?  See, this is what I’m talking – ”

Her thumb hit the ‘end’ button on her phone, effectively cutting off another one of her brother’s annoying but painfully predictable rants.

Her brain fired away commands for her legs to move, to do anything, with no success.  After several seconds, a thump came from the back end of the car as though the man on the ground was taking his retribution for being plowed over.  The sound prompted a squeak from her and her hand to fumble for the door handle. 

As far as mornings went, this one ranked down in the shitty category.  First she’d slept through the alarm clock’s weak beep-beeping, then the fleabag motel couldn’t provide her with a decent cup of coffee.  Far be it for her to wish for a double shot latte with no whip.  All the shoebox-sized lobby offered was the bottom scrapings of hours old brew and stale English muffins.  Not exactly an appealing spread.

Now, in her haste to find something edible and caffeine to rev up her system, she bowled over a man who had the bad sense to stand behind a car that had its reverse lights on.

She threw the car in Park and exited on shaky legs.  The early morning sun was still weak enough that the temperature hovered in the tolerable range. 

As she rounded the back of the car, trying to swallow her irritation at this turn of events, the man on the ground had pushed himself not-so-gracefully to his feet.  He swayed, as some drunk people did when they couldn’t walk a straight line, and placed a hand on her car.  The fierce protectiveness she had for her German engineered vehicle almost had her demand he remove his hand from her sunflower-yellow custom paint.  The fact that she’d hit him, and would probably have to grovel to keep him from suing the pants off her, stopped the words from flying out off her mouth.

A deep, gravelly groan flowed out of the man, now minus his cowboy hat.  Burnt-sienna-colored hair, mixed with sun-kissed shades of caramel, smashed down in untidy disarray to the man’s skull.  The cowboy hat, which now lay about six feet from where he’d hit the ground, had flattened the edges of his hair to a greasy, slicked down look.  Avery considered herself an expert on personal hygiene and keeping one’s appearance to the utmost perfection.  She’d be willing to bet all the money in her trust fund that this man hadn’t seen a shower in at least twenty-four hours; or his wrinkled, un-tucked chambray shirt and faded jeans a washer and dryer.  For all she knew he could be some bum who skulked around motels, looking for a place to rest his head.

Nevertheless, that didn’t change the fact that her car had come in contact with a human being and she needed to make sure he was okay.

His mile-wide back was to her then he bent over and placed both his hands on his knees, dropping his head down as though he couldn’t catch his breath.

Geez, was he really hurt?

“Are -- are you okay?” she stammered while taking a tentative step toward him.

He straightened much faster than she expected considering he’d been swaying like a drunk a second ago.  When he turned, a pair of eyes that were grayer than blue – and definitely not pleased, hit her.  Thick, brown brows slammed down over his eyes, which flashed with anger. 

“You hit me, lady.  What do you think?”  The accusing words came out of a full mouth that was surrounded with dark growth of beard stubble.  It wasn’t a full beard, more like he hadn’t made the time to shave, because he didn’t care that his unkempt, wrinkled appearance was less-than-appealing.  Or, maybe, he simply didn’t own a razor because he was homeless.

“I know that fancy, expensive car of yours has mirrors, so why the hell weren’t you paying attention?”

Her sympathy at having knocked down an unsuspecting pedestrian fizzled and gave way to impatience.  It’s not like she hadn’t looked.  She had.  Her one, quick glance had shown a man just standing there, like he had all the time in the world.  She’d simultaneously lifted her foot off the brake and had already been backing out of the parking space.  She’d scarcely rolled two inches before she tagged him and set him on his ass.  And who the heck had just stood behind a car anyway?

Her fingernails bit into the inside of her palm.  “I had my brake lights on because I was backing out of my space.  Didn’t you see them?”

He snatched his cowboy hat from the uneven gravel and fitted it back onto his head.  “I was walking and not paying any attention to you.  You’re supposed to look before you back out.”

“I did, and it looked like you were just standing right behind me.  I couldn't stop in time.”

“You’re fault not mine.”  His words were short and clipped, evidence that anger, not pain, was the dominant emotion radiating off him.

Okay, so he had her on that one.  Technically it was her fault, regardless of what he’d been doing.  She was adult enough to admit when she made a boo-boo.  As a consolation for hitting, no nudging him, she tried to be nice and not let her annoyance at having a wrench thrown in her morning plans show.  Despite her put-on cheery attitude, she sensed some serious hostility.  Maybe she’d messed up his one and only wrinkled shirt. 

She stared back at him and tried to dodge the daggers his stony eyes threw her way.  “You’re clearly not injured.  So, I guess I’ll be on my way.”  She bounced from once three-inch platform to the next before pivoting and reaching for the car door handle.

“Now wait a minute.”

She paused with her hand on the door and tossed him a look over her shoulder.  The cowboy hat shielded his hostile gaze and only lent a view of a straight nose and wide mouth.  Her blood went from a low simmer to a mild boil at not being able to make her exit.

“You can’t just flee the scene of an accident.  How do you know I’m not injured?”  The words had lost their heat and rolled off the man’s tongue with a deliberate slowness.

Other than his disreputable clothing and stubble-covered jaw, there was nothing to suggest he was anything other than normal.  No blood sprayed from an open head wound, no bruises or scrapes decorated his masculine face.  He had swayed and stumbled at first, giving her the impression of maybe a mild head injury.  Since replacing his hat, he’d only leaned one hip against the bumper of her car and regarded her beneath his hooded gaze.

So, he was going to be like that, was he?

She crossed her arms over her chest.  “Geez, you’re not going to call the cops are you?  I barely nudged you.  You seem perfectly fine.”

Don’t antagonize him, Avery.  He could easily file a report against you.  Something about the way he said the words suggested he was trying to be more annoying than threatening.

He slid one hand under his hat, lifting it crookedly to one side.  “I don’t know.  My head’s a bit tingly, and I feel a little lightheaded.  You might need to take me to a hospital for some medical attention.  Or better yet,” he continued while rubbing a hand along his rough jaw line.  “I know the sheriff pretty well.  We can get him down here and straighten this whole thing out.  I’d call him myself but,” He dug his hand in his back pocket and produced a small black device.  “You crushed my cell phone.”

Okay, the cell phone was a good indicator that he probably wasn’t homeless.  Although his attire suggested someone who’d just crawled out of a cardboard box, he was evidently one of those people who just didn’t give a damn what he looked like.  His nice little speech was also his way of threatening to have her ass thrown in jail if she didn’t do…whatever it was he wanted her to do.

Her back teeth ground to enamel dust at having been backed into a corner by a man who clearly didn’t have classy bone in his body.

He nudged his hat lower on his head.  “I think the sheriff is on duty today and wouldn’t mind coming down here –”

“All right,” she said through gritted teeth.  “You can stop your little threatening speech.  I get it.  Just tell me what you want, so I can get on with my day.”

He held his hands up in front of him.  “I don’t want to put you out.  I can tell you’re in a hurry.”

Oh, for Pete’s sake bring on the violins.  She forced a smile that most likely came off as condescending.  “It’s no put out at all. Is there somewhere I can take you?”

The grin that crept up his face resembled the one the big, bad wolf used to lure the three piggies.  Unfortunately she was at his mercy until he decided to let the whole fake injury thing drop.  “I’m so glad you offered.  I need a ride to my car.”

She tightened her hands around her keys.  “That’s it?  All you want is a ride?”

“Oh, I want a lot more than that.”

She crossed her arms then let them drop.  Maybe she should have stayed in bed and watched the rabbit-ear-adorned television at the motel.  “All you’re going to get out of me is a ride to your car.” 

A lone passing car filled the silence between them.  “All right.”

Without giving him a chance to make more threats, she jerked open the car door with all the force her slender arm would allow and plopped herself down in the driver’s seat.  She had the car started, and was rolling backward by the time he yanked the door open and sat himself next to her.

“Are you trying to run me over again?” he asked after folding himself in the seat until his knees bumped up against the glove compartment.  Her little roadster was not designed to hold men the size of the Jolly Green Giant.

“I can’t help it if you don’t move fast enough.”  She jerked the wheel and maneuvered her car around a pothole.

His narrow hips shifted until he’d slid lower as though he were settling down for a nice Sunday drive.  “I think you were trying to ditch me.”  The leather beneath his backside squeaked when he moved again. 

“Can you sit still?  You’re going to scratch the leather.”

“Can you not shout?  My head feels like it’s going to crack in two.”

Avery eased the car to a red light.  “You haven’t heard loud yet.  Get one scratch on my car, and you’ll know the meaning of loud.”

One corner of his mouth turned up and created shallow lines in his stubble-covered cheek.  “Poor princess.  Daddy might have to buy you a new one.”

She tucked a strand of hair behind her ear and decided to let the “daddy” comment roll off her back.  “Somebody woke up on the wrong side of the bed this morning.”

His response was an unattractive grunt.  The light turned green and she tapped her manicured index finger against the gearshift.  “Would you like to tell me where to go, or should I drop you off wherever I please?”  Like here?

“Go straight and make a left turn at the fourth light down,” he replied without so much as moving a muscle.

She wound her hand tighter around the steering wheel to keep from kicking Mr. Surly out on his wrinkled ass.  With practiced patience, she eased off the brake pedal and set off down the street.  The inarticulate man next to her didn’t so much as utter a grunt.  Instead he remained slouched low in the seat with his hat pulled down so it covered half his face.  Only his deep, even breathing indicated he was still alive. 

Over the years, she’d worked to develop an iron-clad backbone so she rarely let herself become intimidated by situations or people.  The man who sucked all the breathing space out of the car, with his massive shoulders and long legs, sent her nerves tingling in a way they hadn’t in a long time.  Was it intimidation?  Or maybe just plain old annoyance at having no choice but to succumb to his wishes?  Avery didn’t know nor was she comfortable with the feeling.  She couldn’t say it was his looks because so far all she’d seen was half his face and hair that hadn’t seen a comb in days.  Perhaps it was just the sheer size of the man.  Even though he sat perfectly still, there was edginess to him but also an air of confidence as though he knew how he looked and damn the world if they didn’t like it.

The characteristics defied everything she knew about men.  A heavy breath left her lungs.

“You sigh a lot.”

Another light turned red, allowing a man hunched over like a question mark to cross the street.  “This is not what I had planned with my morning.”

“Pardon me if you running me over threw a kink in your plans.”

The glare she threw at him went unacknowledged.  “Did I ask for your pardon?  And I didn’t run you over.  You look perfectly fine to me.”

“I thought I saw you checking me out.”  The grin in his voice was unmistakable although Avery didn’t see the humor nor did she appreciate it.  Whatever.  Let him make his wise cracks.  In a few blessed minutes she’d be free of him.

After the old man shuffled his way across the street, the light turned green and she made her way toward where she was supposed to turn.

Her phone vibrated in the middle console where she’d dropped it in haste before.  She kept her hands on the steering wheel, having no desire to listen to her brother with the stranger who’d kissed the back end of her car listening to every word.

She made the left turn as instructed.  The deep, timbered voice next to her spoke after she passed a Hay and Feed store.  “Go down about half a mile then turn right on Beach Street.”

 “What were you doing at Dick’s Motel if your car is way down here?”  She’d already come to the conclusion that he wasn’t homeless; homeless people don’t have cell phones and wear brand new Timberland boots.  He was just an ornery man who didn’t iron his clothes and woke up two miles from his car.

For a moment he sat as still as he’d been since entering the car and didn’t answer.  “What people usually do at motels.”

O-kay.  That could be everything from doing drugs to cheating on a significant other.  For whatever reason, the former didn’t seem likely.  As for the latter, well, what did she know?  Maybe the woman he was with had kicked him out and refused to take him anywhere, leaving him stranded without transportation.  Then, she’d gone and knocked him down, destroying his cell phone in the process.  For all she knew, he could have a wife at home who was pacing herself sick at this very moment.  And Avery could be an accomplice to his sordid love triangle.  What a perfect way to start the day.

Her desire to attempt a conversation with a man who’d strong-armed her into driving him across town was minimal.  She kept her gaze on the street in front of her and both hands on the wheel.  Under normal circumstances, Avery was pretty chatty person.  She didn’t like uncomfortable silences that stretched into eons of nothingness.  The silence made her fidgety and feel like worms crawled underneath her skin.  Oh, but the cowboy loved it.  Not once had he said anything to give the impression he was a pleasant person.  His answers were clipped and to the point as though he couldn’t be bothered with trivial things like speaking to another person.

Fine, she could be just as silent and still as he. 

“It’s on the left hand side of the street at the very end,” he muttered after she’d made a right turn onto Beach Street.

Almost there.  All she had to do was get him out of the car and her debt would be paid.

A metal sign that said, “Dave’s Watering Hole,” sat crooked on top of a masonry building as though someone had just tossed it up there and hadn’t bothered to make it sit straight.  There were no windows, no landscaping or anything that was minimally appealing about the place.  The building sat away from the street in the middle of a cracked, weed-adorned parking lot.  This definitely wasn’t an establishment that screamed fine family dining, though Avery was pretty sure anything with the word “hole” in it wasn’t suitable for little children.  Given the behavior and the dozen words she’d exchanged with the man next to her, she hadn’t expected something with gold-plated front doors.

The undercarriage of her car scraped the pebbly ground when she drove into the parking lot.  A handful of late model trucks and a newer SUV sat in the parking lot without any sort of rhyme or reason.  Apparently the owners didn’t feel designated parking spaces were necessary.

“Just stop right here.”  The man straightened in the seat and reached for the door handle.

When the car purred to a stop, he opened the door and unfolded his long limbs from the low-slung vehicle.

“I appreciate –”

   She didn’t give him a chance to finish his gratitude.  Instead she leaned across the front seat, yanked the door out of his grasp and slammed it shut.

Executing an abrupt U-turn, she left him in the dust of her Mercedes and hauled ass away from Dave’s Watering Hole as fast as she could.  Seeing the opened-mouthed expression on his masculine face brought a sardonic little smile to her lips.

*****

Well, son of a bitch.  Noah McDermott withdrew car keys out of his pocket and hit the unlock button.

The Mercedes princess was all spit-fire and sass.

The curved backend of her car sprayed all sorts of dirt and gravel in the wake of her swift retreat.  Maybe her highness was late for her manicure.

Or maybe she just wanted to get away from your grumpy ass.

It certainly wouldn’t be the first time.  Mary-Ellen hadn’t wasted any time kicking him out of the hotel this morning after she’d had her way with him.  Not that he’d been heartbroken.  He hadn’t been woken up expecting find a hot meal in his lap and a ball game on the television.  Instead Mary-Ellen had emerged from the shower and told him he needed to be on his way.  She didn’t have to tell him twice.  He’d quickly thrown on last night’s wrinkled, stale cigarette-shrouded clothes and let himself out the door.  Just before closing the door he thought he’d heard Mary-Ellen asking him to call her. Yeah, that wouldn’t be happening.   She was the type of woman who sat around in bars, like she had last night, and waited for a man to pay her any sort of attention.

The argument he’d gotten into with his father had propelled Noah into the dingy and disreputable interior of Dave’s.  Once there he’d immediately spotted Mary-Ellen in her too tight jeans and dark, overly processed hair.  Initially he hadn’t been looking for a woman; only the comfort of a pool table and a long neck bottle of beer. By his third game, Mary-Ellen had wormed her way into his game and a beer in his hand.  She‘d spent the remainder of the time slipping her hands in his back pockets and rubbing her double Ds against his arm.  He’d been just drunk and pissed off enough to allow her to drive the two of them to Dick’s Motel and promptly handcuff him to the wooden headboard.  

Hours later he’d woken up with a bitch of a headache and blurry memories of sexual positions he’d been introduced to.

The interior of his car was musty and cool, having not yet been affected by the heat of midday.  He tossed his hat on the passenger seat and slid himself with deliberate slowness so as not to prompt the pounding in his head to worsen.  After dropping his eyelids closed and inhaling several deep breaths, he started the car.  A morning meeting with one of his subcontractors prevented him from returning home longer than to take a shower.  With the condition is head was in, he’d love nothing more than to wash off the previous night and dump himself into bed.

As he exited the parking lot and headed toward the outside of town where he lived, Noah’s thoughts returned to the Mercedes princess. 

Someone like her didn’t enter the town of Trouble very often.  Her slicked back dark hair and perfectly pressed clothes screamed wealth. Or course her car was also a dead giveaway.  He didn’t need to see the little roadster to know she’d grown up with privileges most people in this town only dreamed about.

Having a hundred thousand dollar car knock him on the ground had upgraded the pounding in his head to freight train status.  He hadn’t noticed anyone sitting in the car when he’d stepped out of the motel room.  His mood was already dangerously close to black and being caught off guard by a woman who wasn’t even apologetic had pissed him off big time.  Never mind the fact that she was a delectable little thing who smelled like vanilla and peaches.  Instead of rushing to his aid she’d acted affronted like it’d been his fault she’d plowed him down.  The woman had guts, he’d give her that.

Guts and looks that would send most men drooling at her feet.  Not him.  His mind had been too foggy and his limbs too achy to notice anything beyond the fact that she was a knockout who had bags of money.

 A small smile turned up the corners of his mouth.  Sparing with her over who’d been at fault had been enough to erase the previous evening from his mind.  For that much he was willing to forgive her affront of hitting him. 

Okay, so he really hadn’t been hurt beyond his bruised ego.  His head had already been pounding.  The only thing he suffered from was lack of sleep and a broken cell phone.  Just to lay it on extra thick, he’d antagonized her into giving him a ride.  He’d never had any plans to call law enforcement into the picture.  But there hadn’t been harm in making her think he would.  The steam coming out of her feminine little ears had been satisfaction enough.  And being in the car with her had given him the chance to poke at her a little more.  So far the morning had been more entertaining than he’d anticipated.

Fifteen minutes later, he entered into his driveway and had just stepped out of the car when he realized he pocket was empty.

His wallet had fallen out in the princess’s car.

One

 

 

 

 

The man with a dark-brown Stetson pulled low over his eyes flashed in Avery Price’s rearview mirror a split second before her back bumper knocked him down.  Her Christian Lacroix wedge-sandals depressed on the brake pedal before her tires could roll over him and snap his bones like fragile twigs.  Her cell phone, which had been pressed to her ear for ten minutes while her brother peppered her with questions, slipped out of her hand and clattered to the wood-grained middle console.  Moisture seeped out of the corners of her tightly closed eyes and her hands wrapped themselves around the fine Italian leather-stitched steering wheel.

The few seconds it took for brain to register the presence of a human being walking behind her parked car had been too long for her to take action.  Her Mercedes came to an abrupt stop after coming in contact with the man and prompted a surprised gasp from her.  A few seconds stretched into an eternity while she inhaled deep breaths and kept her eyes closed.  When she opened them, the dented, metal door of her motel room came into view along with the early morning sunshine. 

Okay, you barely nudged him.  Chances are he’s just sore and pissed off.  Now would be a good time to get out and check on him.

Her internal lecture was pathetic at best and warranted no other action from her hands other than to pick up her discarded cell phone.  Her trembling fingers wrapped around the device and brought it up to her ear.

As soon as her ear touched the phone she heard, “Avery, what the hell is going on?”  Her brother’s unusually demanding voice vibrated through the phone and added to her already jittery nerves.  As good as his intentions were, she couldn’t deal with his “You need to start making some decisions” speech.

“Avery if you don’t start talking in two seconds, I’m going to send the Wyoming state police after you.”

“Oh, good gravy will you calm down?” The man who’d been forced to the ground by her car had yet to pull himself to a vertical position   “I gotta go.  I just hit somebody.”

“What?  See, this is what I’m talking – ”

Her thumb hit the ‘end’ button on her phone, effectively cutting off another one of her brother’s annoying but painfully predictable rants.

Her brain fired away commands for her legs to move, to do anything, with no success.  After several seconds, a thump came from the back end of the car as though the man on the ground was taking his retribution for being plowed over.  The sound prompted a squeak from her and her hand to fumble for the door handle. 

As far as mornings went, this one ranked down in the shitty category.  First she’d slept through the alarm clock’s weak beep-beeping, then the fleabag motel couldn’t provide her with a decent cup of coffee.  Far be it for her to wish for a double shot latte with no whip.  All the shoebox-sized lobby offered was the bottom scrapings of hours old brew and stale English muffins.  Not exactly an appealing spread.

Now, in her haste to find something edible and caffeine to rev up her system, she bowled over a man who had the bad sense to stand behind a car that had its reverse lights on.

She threw the car in Park and exited on shaky legs.  The early morning sun was still weak enough that the temperature hovered in the tolerable range. 

As she rounded the back of the car, trying to swallow her irritation at this turn of events, the man on the ground had pushed himself not-so-gracefully to his feet.  He swayed, as some drunk people did when they couldn’t walk a straight line, and placed a hand on her car.  The fierce protectiveness she had for her German engineered vehicle almost had her demand he remove his hand from her sunflower-yellow custom paint.  The fact that she’d hit him, and would probably have to grovel to keep him from suing the pants off her, stopped the words from flying out off her mouth.

A deep, gravelly groan flowed out of the man, now minus his cowboy hat.  Burnt-sienna-colored hair, mixed with sun-kissed shades of caramel, smashed down in untidy disarray to the man’s skull.  The cowboy hat, which now lay about six feet from where he’d hit the ground, had flattened the edges of his hair to a greasy, slicked down look.  Avery considered herself an expert on personal hygiene and keeping one’s appearance to the utmost perfection.  She’d be willing to bet all the money in her trust fund that this man hadn’t seen a shower in at least twenty-four hours; or his wrinkled, un-tucked chambray shirt and faded jeans a washer and dryer.  For all she knew he could be some bum who skulked around motels, looking for a place to rest his head.

Nevertheless, that didn’t change the fact that her car had come in contact with a human being and she needed to make sure he was okay.

His mile-wide back was to her then he bent over and placed both his hands on his knees, dropping his head down as though he couldn’t catch his breath.

Geez, was he really hurt?

“Are -- are you okay?” she stammered while taking a tentative step toward him.

He straightened much faster than she expected considering he’d been swaying like a drunk a second ago.  When he turned, a pair of eyes that were grayer than blue – and definitely not pleased, hit her.  Thick, brown brows slammed down over his eyes, which flashed with anger. 

“You hit me, lady.  What do you think?”  The accusing words came out of a full mouth that was surrounded with dark growth of beard stubble.  It wasn’t a full beard, more like he hadn’t made the time to shave, because he didn’t care that his unkempt, wrinkled appearance was less-than-appealing.  Or, maybe, he simply didn’t own a razor because he was homeless.

“I know that fancy, expensive car of yours has mirrors, so why the hell weren’t you paying attention?”

Her sympathy at having knocked down an unsuspecting pedestrian fizzled and gave way to impatience.  It’s not like she hadn’t looked.  She had.  Her one, quick glance had shown a man just standing there, like he had all the time in the world.  She’d simultaneously lifted her foot off the brake and had already been backing out of the parking space.  She’d scarcely rolled two inches before she tagged him and set him on his ass.  And who the heck had just stood behind a car anyway?

Her fingernails bit into the inside of her palm.  “I had my brake lights on because I was backing out of my space.  Didn’t you see them?”

He snatched his cowboy hat from the uneven gravel and fitted it back onto his head.  “I was walking and not paying any attention to you.  You’re supposed to look before you back out.”

“I did, and it looked like you were just standing right behind me.  I couldn't stop in time.”

“You’re fault not mine.”  His words were short and clipped, evidence that anger, not pain, was the dominant emotion radiating off him.

Okay, so he had her on that one.  Technically it was her fault, regardless of what he’d been doing.  She was adult enough to admit when she made a boo-boo.  As a consolation for hitting, no nudging him, she tried to be nice and not let her annoyance at having a wrench thrown in her morning plans show.  Despite her put-on cheery attitude, she sensed some serious hostility.  Maybe she’d messed up his one and only wrinkled shirt. 

She stared back at him and tried to dodge the daggers his stony eyes threw her way.  “You’re clearly not injured.  So, I guess I’ll be on my way.”  She bounced from once three-inch platform to the next before pivoting and reaching for the car door handle.

“Now wait a minute.”

She paused with her hand on the door and tossed him a look over her shoulder.  The cowboy hat shielded his hostile gaze and only lent a view of a straight nose and wide mouth.  Her blood went from a low simmer to a mild boil at not being able to make her exit.

“You can’t just flee the scene of an accident.  How do you know I’m not injured?”  The words had lost their heat and rolled off the man’s tongue with a deliberate slowness.

Other than his disreputable clothing and stubble-covered jaw, there was nothing to suggest he was anything other than normal.  No blood sprayed from an open head wound, no bruises or scrapes decorated his masculine face.  He had swayed and stumbled at first, giving her the impression of maybe a mild head injury.  Since replacing his hat, he’d only leaned one hip against the bumper of her car and regarded her beneath his hooded gaze.

So, he was going to be like that, was he?

She crossed her arms over her chest.  “Geez, you’re not going to call the cops are you?  I barely nudged you.  You seem perfectly fine.”

Don’t antagonize him, Avery.  He could easily file a report against you.  Something about the way he said the words suggested he was trying to be more annoying than threatening.

He slid one hand under his hat, lifting it crookedly to one side.  “I don’t know.  My head’s a bit tingly, and I feel a little lightheaded.  You might need to take me to a hospital for some medical attention.  Or better yet,” he continued while rubbing a hand along his rough jaw line.  “I know the sheriff pretty well.  We can get him down here and straighten this whole thing out.  I’d call him myself but,” He dug his hand in his back pocket and produced a small black device.  “You crushed my cell phone.”

Okay, the cell phone was a good indicator that he probably wasn’t homeless.  Although his attire suggested someone who’d just crawled out of a cardboard box, he was evidently one of those people who just didn’t give a damn what he looked like.  His nice little speech was also his way of threatening to have her ass thrown in jail if she didn’t do…whatever it was he wanted her to do.

Her back teeth ground to enamel dust at having been backed into a corner by a man who clearly didn’t have classy bone in his body.

He nudged his hat lower on his head.  “I think the sheriff is on duty today and wouldn’t mind coming down here –”

“All right,” she said through gritted teeth.  “You can stop your little threatening speech.  I get it.  Just tell me what you want, so I can get on with my day.”

He held his hands up in front of him.  “I don’t want to put you out.  I can tell you’re in a hurry.”

Oh, for Pete’s sake bring on the violins.  She forced a smile that most likely came off as condescending.  “It’s no put out at all. Is there somewhere I can take you?”

The grin that crept up his face resembled the one the big, bad wolf used to lure the three piggies.  Unfortunately she was at his mercy until he decided to let the whole fake injury thing drop.  “I’m so glad you offered.  I need a ride to my car.”

She tightened her hands around her keys.  “That’s it?  All you want is a ride?”

“Oh, I want a lot more than that.”

She crossed her arms then let them drop.  Maybe she should have stayed in bed and watched the rabbit-ear-adorned television at the motel.  “All you’re going to get out of me is a ride to your car.” 

A lone passing car filled the silence between them.  “All right.”

Without giving him a chance to make more threats, she jerked open the car door with all the force her slender arm would allow and plopped herself down in the driver’s seat.  She had the car started, and was rolling backward by the time he yanked the door open and sat himself next to her.

“Are you trying to run me over again?” he asked after folding himself in the seat until his knees bumped up against the glove compartment.  Her little roadster was not designed to hold men the size of the Jolly Green Giant.

“I can’t help it if you don’t move fast enough.”  She jerked the wheel and maneuvered her car around a pothole.

His narrow hips shifted until he’d slid lower as though he were settling down for a nice Sunday drive.  “I think you were trying to ditch me.”  The leather beneath his backside squeaked when he moved again. 

“Can you sit still?  You’re going to scratch the leather.”

“Can you not shout?  My head feels like it’s going to crack in two.”

Avery eased the car to a red light.  “You haven’t heard loud yet.  Get one scratch on my car, and you’ll know the meaning of loud.”

One corner of his mouth turned up and created shallow lines in his stubble-covered cheek.  “Poor princess.  Daddy might have to buy you a new one.”

She tucked a strand of hair behind her ear and decided to let the “daddy” comment roll off her back.  “Somebody woke up on the wrong side of the bed this morning.”

His response was an unattractive grunt.  The light turned green and she tapped her manicured index finger against the gearshift.  “Would you like to tell me where to go, or should I drop you off wherever I please?”  Like here?

“Go straight and make a left turn at the fourth light down,” he replied without so much as moving a muscle.

She wound her hand tighter around the steering wheel to keep from kicking Mr. Surly out on his wrinkled ass.  With practiced patience, she eased off the brake pedal and set off down the street.  The inarticulate man next to her didn’t so much as utter a grunt.  Instead he remained slouched low in the seat with his hat pulled down so it covered half his face.  Only his deep, even breathing indicated he was still alive. 

Over the years, she’d worked to develop an iron-clad backbone so she rarely let herself become intimidated by situations or people.  The man who sucked all the breathing space out of the car, with his massive shoulders and long legs, sent her nerves tingling in a way they hadn’t in a long time.  Was it intimidation?  Or maybe just plain old annoyance at having no choice but to succumb to his wishes?  Avery didn’t know nor was she comfortable with the feeling.  She couldn’t say it was his looks because so far all she’d seen was half his face and hair that hadn’t seen a comb in days.  Perhaps it was just the sheer size of the man.  Even though he sat perfectly still, there was edginess to him but also an air of confidence as though he knew how he looked and damn the world if they didn’t like it.

The characteristics defied everything she knew about men.  A heavy breath left her lungs.

“You sigh a lot.”

Another light turned red, allowing a man hunched over like a question mark to cross the street.  “This is not what I had planned with my morning.”

“Pardon me if you running me over threw a kink in your plans.”

The glare she threw at him went unacknowledged.  “Did I ask for your pardon?  And I didn’t run you over.  You look perfectly fine to me.”

“I thought I saw you checking me out.”  The grin in his voice was unmistakable although Avery didn’t see the humor nor did she appreciate it.  Whatever.  Let him make his wise cracks.  In a few blessed minutes she’d be free of him.

After the old man shuffled his way across the street, the light turned green and she made her way toward where she was supposed to turn.

Her phone vibrated in the middle console where she’d dropped it in haste before.  She kept her hands on the steering wheel, having no desire to listen to her brother with the stranger who’d kissed the back end of her car listening to every word.

She made the left turn as instructed.  The deep, timbered voice next to her spoke after she passed a Hay and Feed store.  “Go down about half a mile then turn right on Beach Street.”

 “What were you doing at Dick’s Motel if your car is way down here?”  She’d already come to the conclusion that he wasn’t homeless; homeless people don’t have cell phones and wear brand new Timberland boots.  He was just an ornery man who didn’t iron his clothes and woke up two miles from his car.

For a moment he sat as still as he’d been since entering the car and didn’t answer.  “What people usually do at motels.”

O-kay.  That could be everything from doing drugs to cheating on a significant other.  For whatever reason, the former didn’t seem likely.  As for the latter, well, what did she know?  Maybe the woman he was with had kicked him out and refused to take him anywhere, leaving him stranded without transportation.  Then, she’d gone and knocked him down, destroying his cell phone in the process.  For all she knew, he could have a wife at home who was pacing herself sick at this very moment.  And Avery could be an accomplice to his sordid love triangle.  What a perfect way to start the day.

Her desire to attempt a conversation with a man who’d strong-armed her into driving him across town was minimal.  She kept her gaze on the street in front of her and both hands on the wheel.  Under normal circumstances, Avery was pretty chatty person.  She didn’t like uncomfortable silences that stretched into eons of nothingness.  The silence made her fidgety and feel like worms crawled underneath her skin.  Oh, but the cowboy loved it.  Not once had he said anything to give the impression he was a pleasant person.  His answers were clipped and to the point as though he couldn’t be bothered with trivial things like speaking to another person.

Fine, she could be just as silent and still as he. 

“It’s on the left hand side of the street at the very end,” he muttered after she’d made a right turn onto Beach Street.

Almost there.  All she had to do was get him out of the car and her debt would be paid.

A metal sign that said, “Dave’s Watering Hole,” sat crooked on top of a masonry building as though someone had just tossed it up there and hadn’t bothered to make it sit straight.  There were no windows, no landscaping or anything that was minimally appealing about the place.  The building sat away from the street in the middle of a cracked, weed-adorned parking lot.  This definitely wasn’t an establishment that screamed fine family dining, though Avery was pretty sure anything with the word “hole” in it wasn’t suitable for little children.  Given the behavior and the dozen words she’d exchanged with the man next to her, she hadn’t expected something with gold-plated front doors.

The undercarriage of her car scraped the pebbly ground when she drove into the parking lot.  A handful of late model trucks and a newer SUV sat in the parking lot without any sort of rhyme or reason.  Apparently the owners didn’t feel designated parking spaces were necessary.

“Just stop right here.”  The man straightened in the seat and reached for the door handle.

When the car purred to a stop, he opened the door and unfolded his long limbs from the low-slung vehicle.

“I appreciate –”

   She didn’t give him a chance to finish his gratitude.  Instead she leaned across the front seat, yanked the door out of his grasp and slammed it shut.

Executing an abrupt U-turn, she left him in the dust of her Mercedes and hauled ass away from Dave’s Watering Hole as fast as she could.  Seeing the opened-mouthed expression on his masculine face brought a sardonic little smile to her lips.

*****

Well, son of a bitch.  Noah McDermott withdrew car keys out of his pocket and hit the unlock button.

The Mercedes princess was all spit-fire and sass.

The curved backend of her car sprayed all sorts of dirt and gravel in the wake of her swift retreat.  Maybe her highness was late for her manicure.

Or maybe she just wanted to get away from your grumpy ass.

It certainly wouldn’t be the first time.  Mary-Ellen hadn’t wasted any time kicking him out of the hotel this morning after she’d had her way with him.  Not that he’d been heartbroken.  He hadn’t been woken up expecting find a hot meal in his lap and a ball game on the television.  Instead Mary-Ellen had emerged from the shower and told him he needed to be on his way.  She didn’t have to tell him twice.  He’d quickly thrown on last night’s wrinkled, stale cigarette-shrouded clothes and let himself out the door.  Just before closing the door he thought he’d heard Mary-Ellen asking him to call her. Yeah, that wouldn’t be happening.   She was the type of woman who sat around in bars, like she had last night, and waited for a man to pay her any sort of attention.

The argument he’d gotten into with his father had propelled Noah into the dingy and disreputable interior of Dave’s.  Once there he’d immediately spotted Mary-Ellen in her too tight jeans and dark, overly processed hair.  Initially he hadn’t been looking for a woman; only the comfort of a pool table and a long neck bottle of beer. By his third game, Mary-Ellen had wormed her way into his game and a beer in his hand.  She‘d spent the remainder of the time slipping her hands in his back pockets and rubbing her double Ds against his arm.  He’d been just drunk and pissed off enough to allow her to drive the two of them to Dick’s Motel and promptly handcuff him to the wooden headboard.  

Hours later he’d woken up with a bitch of a headache and blurry memories of sexual positions he’d been introduced to.

The interior of his car was musty and cool, having not yet been affected by the heat of midday.  He tossed his hat on the passenger seat and slid himself with deliberate slowness so as not to prompt the pounding in his head to worsen.  After dropping his eyelids closed and inhaling several deep breaths, he started the car.  A morning meeting with one of his subcontractors prevented him from returning home longer than to take a shower.  With the condition is head was in, he’d love nothing more than to wash off the previous night and dump himself into bed.

As he exited the parking lot and headed toward the outside of town where he lived, Noah’s thoughts returned to the Mercedes princess. 

Someone like her didn’t enter the town of Trouble very often.  Her slicked back dark hair and perfectly pressed clothes screamed wealth. Or course her car was also a dead giveaway.  He didn’t need to see the little roadster to know she’d grown up with privileges most people in this town only dreamed about.

Having a hundred thousand dollar car knock him on the ground had upgraded the pounding in his head to freight train status.  He hadn’t noticed anyone sitting in the car when he’d stepped out of the motel room.  His mood was already dangerously close to black and being caught off guard by a woman who wasn’t even apologetic had pissed him off big time.  Never mind the fact that she was a delectable little thing who smelled like vanilla and peaches.  Instead of rushing to his aid she’d acted affronted like it’d been his fault she’d plowed him down.  The woman had guts, he’d give her that.

Guts and looks that would send most men drooling at her feet.  Not him.  His mind had been too foggy and his limbs too achy to notice anything beyond the fact that she was a knockout who had bags of money.

 A small smile turned up the corners of his mouth.  Sparing with her over who’d been at fault had been enough to erase the previous evening from his mind.  For that much he was willing to forgive her affront of hitting him. 

Okay, so he really hadn’t been hurt beyond his bruised ego.  His head had already been pounding.  The only thing he suffered from was lack of sleep and a broken cell phone.  Just to lay it on extra thick, he’d antagonized her into giving him a ride.  He’d never had any plans to call law enforcement into the picture.  But there hadn’t been harm in making her think he would.  The steam coming out of her feminine little ears had been satisfaction enough.  And being in the car with her had given him the chance to poke at her a little more.  So far the morning had been more entertaining than he’d anticipated.

Fifteen minutes later, he entered into his driveway and had just stepped out of the car when he realized he pocket was empty.

His wallet had fallen out in the princess’s car.

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