hours?” Cilla repeated in astonishment.
sorry ma’am,” the phone operator responded, “but
you’re out in the middle of nowhere and the only tow companies
we’ve got in the area are on calls. The first one who finishes
will be out to take care of you.”
was dipping below the horizon. When Cilla looked out to either side,
she saw only mesquite, sagebrush, the occasional tumbleweed. It
had been wonderfully open and free when she’d been driving.
Now, it was fast becoming merely empty and intimidating. She wasn’t
a woman who was daunted by much, but the last thing she wanted to
do was sit by the side of the road for two hours while it turned
Did you want me to put you on the call sheet?”
Cilla thought, plus the time for the driver to change her tire.
she changed it herself.
all, how hard could it be? She’d seen people change tires
before, in the movies, anyway. Her owner’s manual probably
had directions. As she told her father regularly, she was capable
of far more than anyone gave her credit for. Why be a girl and wait
for a tow truck driver to come bail her out? Self-sufficiency, that
was the ticket.
mind,” Cilla said firmly. “I’ll take care of it.”
minutes later, she stood cursing as she tried to get the lug nuts
on the wheel to turn. The owner’s manual made it sound simple:
take off the lug nuts, jack up the car, pull off the old tire, put
on the new and be on your way.
just didn’t warn you that the lug nuts had been tightened
by the Incredible Hulk.
her weight on the tire iron for what seemed like the hundredth time,
Cilla gritted her teeth and shoved. It did exactly nothing, and
stilettos weren’t exactly the right footwear for stomping.
She could feel the bruises forming on her palms. Maybe it was time
to reconsider the tow truck, she thought as yet another car whisked
by, stirring up dust. Bad enough she’d broken a fingernail
loosening the wing nut that held the jack in place in the trunk,
not to mention the fact that she’d yet to figure out just
exactly where the jack was supposed to go when the time came to
raise the car.
part, of course, wasn’t particularly important just then.
If she couldn’t get the lug nuts off, her experiment in tire
changing was going to come to a screeching halt.
with her thoughts, she heard the chirp of tires on pavement. Cilla
whipped her head around toward the front of her convertible and
froze. The car that had just passed her was on the shoulder about
a quarter mile ahead, and swiftly backing up in her direction.
began to thud. Maybe--probably--it was a good Samaritan. Maybe it
was some nice guy who’d be eager to help. She’d grown
up in L.A., though, and was all too aware that there were other
types of people who stopped for lone women broken down at the side
of the road, especially out in the desert.
up the tire iron and got back into the car. It never hurt to be
lights glowed red as the car stopped a few feet in front of her.
White, late model, American made. Didn’t signify much of anything.
Psychos could still drive Ferraris and Hummers, and perfectly decent
people drove rolling junk heaps. The door of the car opened and
she swallowed. Be prepared for anything, she told herself. The driver
could be capable, clueless but well intentioned, or up to no good.
thought in a moment of stupefied surprise, he could just be the
most beautiful man she’d ever seen. Lean and lanky in jeans,
he walked toward her in the wash of headlights, a sheaf of dark
hair falling over his forehead. His face was all intriguing angles.
His mouth looked soft and eminently kissable. If she’d met
him in a cocktail bar, she’d have thought she’d died
and gone to heaven.
wasn’t in a cocktail bar.
a hand on her roof and bent down to look at her. “Need some
he packed a punch. A five o’clock shadow blued his jaw deliciously.
His brows drew sharp lines above his dark grey eyes. Who knew Samaritans
were so gorgeous?
Ted Bundy had been good looking and charming, too, she reminded
herself, but she still brought the window down an inch. “No
thanks. I’ve got a tow truck coming,” she said, holding
up her cell phone.
kind of looked like you were trying to change it yourself when I
drove by. Are you sure you don’t need a hand?”
think of a thing or two to do with hands like his, but not in her
current situation. “It’s nice of you to offer but I’m
sure you’re on your way somewhere.” And if conditions
were different, I’d be happy to jump you.
got time,” he said easily.
hesitated. Unless she got this stranger, or a tow truck driver,
to change the tire, she clearly wasn’t going anywhere. Part
of her was ready to open the door and take him up on his offer?how
many Ted Bundys could there be? The other part of her, the part
that had lived in the city for too long, perhaps, wasn’t about
to take a chance. “I appreciate the thought,” she began,
“but I’d really prefer to stay in here and wait for
the tow truck driver.” No matter how gorgeous you are.
of looking offended, he nodded. “You know what? You’re
being smart. That’s exactly what I’d tell my kid sisters
to do in your spot. But what’s not smart is for you to be
sitting on the side of the road out here in nowhere land.”
He gave her a thoughtful look. “How much do you weigh?”
mind. You look pretty small. How about if you stay put and I’ll
jack up the car with you in it?”
blinked. “Isn’t that dangerous?”
of his mouth curved up in a smile. “Not unless you plan to
start bouncing around.”
you sure? I can wait for the tow truck driver, or even do it myself.”
broadened. “I’m sure you could, but I bet I can do it
quicker. I worked at a garage when I was in high school. And the
quicker you say ‘yes,’ the quicker it’ll be done.”
He paused, watching her. “The price is right,” he wheedled.
“I’ll have you on the road in fifteen minutes.”
gave up. “Okay, fine.”
call,” he said approvingly. “Okay, let’s get to
it. Make sure it’s in gear and put on the emergency brake.
Then don’t move until I tell you.”
walked to the back of the car, Cilla leaned over and adjusted her
side mirror to watch him. If he looked good from the front, he looked
even better from the back. Not to mention the fact that he sounded
like a genuinely decent guy. She felt the car shift as he pulled
the tire out of her trunk. And then he was walking forward to knock
at her window.
did you do with the tire iron?”
looked down and realized she was still holding it. She raised her
and a down-to-his-toes belly laugh rolled out of him. “I see
you’re prepared. So much for worrying about a helpless woman
at the side of the road.”
should be careful about laughing at a person holding a lethal weapon,”
she said with dignity, her cheeks burning.
straight,” he agreed. “Never mind, I’ll get mine.”
of course, treated her to a direct view of him from behind. He rummaged
in his trunk for a moment, bending down, she was pleased to see,
before getting the crowbar. There was nothing quite like a fine-looking
ass on a man, Cilla mused, small and tight and marble hard.
at her car, it took him approximately five seconds and one try on
each to break loose the lug nuts. It was because she’d loosened
them for him, she told herself, trying not to be impressed. The
car lurched as he raised the jack, and then the old wheel was off
and the spare put on so efficiently it seemed like only a minute
or two had passed before the car was back down. There was something
immensely sexy about a capable man. Her system buzzed pleasantly.
than she would have wanted, he was back by her window. “The
jack is back in its bracket and I put the old tire in the well but
you should get it fixed right away. This is bad country to be driving
around in without a spare.”
course.” Cilla hesitated, wanting to be more forthcoming and
knowing it wasn’t smart. “You’ve been unbelievably
nice. How can I thank you?”
“Don’t worry about it. I’m happy I was here to
help.” His eyes locked on hers and the seconds stretched out.
“So, anyway, you’re all set,” he said finally,
as though he really wanted to say something else. “You okay
to drive? Do you want me to follow you for a while?”
she said helplessly. Offering money seemed tacky. What she really
wanted was to see him again, but she knew nothing about him, not
who he was, not where he was going. You’ve done well so
far, she told herself. Don’t screw up.
he were reading her thoughts, he smiled faintly. “The way
I look at it, what goes around comes around. It’s your turn
next. Keep an eye out and when you get a chance to do something
good for someone, do it.” He looked in her lap. “And
you might want to put the tire iron back in your trunk after I leave.”
her a wave and walked back to his car. The last thing she saw was
the red of his tail lights fading slowly into the gathering darkness.