Authors: Diane Leyne
But she never got a chance to speak. John sat down, took her hand, and said those fateful words. “I’m so sorry, Nelly. You are a wonderful woman. Exactly the type of woman my mother would love to see me with. I’ve tried so hard, but we just don’t have any chemistry. And my ex, Chad, is back in town, and we’ve decided to give it another try. And if my mom doesn’t like it, that’s her problem.”
He got up and came over to her side of the table, leaned down, and kissed her cheek. “You’re a wonderful woman. I know someday you’ll find the right man, but it isn’t me. I’m sorry if this breaks your heart, but better now than six months from now.”
And then he left after patting her on the shoulder.
She ended up drinking both glasses of wine, skipping the salad, and going straight to the caramel cheesecake. She’d gotten the desired result, but not the way she expected. She brooded all through the first piece of cheesecake, but was feeling better by the end of the second. Although the second glass of wine had probably also helped. In the end, she decided good for John. He had to follow his heart, and she wished him and Chad well.
But what was she going to tell her mother? It was Sunday brunch with the girls that helped her figure that out, too. Thanksgiving was only a few days away. Why did she have to tell her mother anything? Until she came home without John. Her mom would be disappointed, but she also wouldn’t have time to set her up with the son of one of her many friends. This could work.
Nelly turned off the main highway. She was almost home and getting anxious to see her family. Just twenty minutes and she’d be home. And then it happened. It was almost like something snapped, and suddenly she lost control. The car started turning and skidding. She had to fight the wheel to get it back going straight, but it was obvious there was something seriously wrong. It was like all the brake and steering fluid had drained out and she had to fight to control the car. With the rain, she had a hard time controlling the skid, but with three brothers and a father crazy about fast cars, she knew a thing or two about driving. A few tense moments later, she had the car more or less under control, and she carefully started braking using the emergency brake, before she hit some deeper water and hydroplaned. The car started turning sideways and she fought the wheel again. Luckily she had slowed down by this time, and when the car slid off the row into a giant maple, she wasn’t going very fast. It all seemed to be happening in slow motion.
As she saw the tree approaching, she braced herself. The car was from the eighties, so there were no air bags, but she did have her shoulder belt securely fastened. There was a sickening sound of metal scraping against the tree, but luckily it was the passenger side that hit. She’d braced herself, but she still hit the steering wheel. She gingerly felt her ribs. They all seemed to be in one piece, although she’d probably be pretty sore in the morning and have good bruise.
She gave a silent prayer of thanks that she was on a quiet side road when the accident happened. She shuddered. Five minutes earlier and she’d have been on a busy highway and she probably wouldn’t be getting out of her car to check out the situation.
She walked around the car as far as she could. The driver’s side and front of the car looked fine, but the passenger side looked caved in. She squatted down and had a closer look. It looked like the frame had buckled. No way was she going anywhere, even if the car was driveable.
She grabbed her cell phone out of her purse and, of course, it was dead. She had meant to charge it, but, like usual, forgot. Usually she noticed when it was down to about fifteen percent and could squeeze out a call before it died, but this time it wouldn’t even turn on.
Great, just great. She was so close to home, yet too far. It was further than she really wanted to walk in this weather, and the sun was going down, so the temperature was going to drop. On the other hand, the road wasn’t well travelled, and she wasn’t sure how long it would be until someone came by. Even her family wouldn’t be worried much before midnight, because she didn’t give them a firm arrival time.
Just then, she saw headlights. May be she was going to get lucky. Or, she thought, with my luck, it could be an axe murderer or rapist looking for a victim rather than a Good Samaritan who could lend her their cell phone to call the auto club.
She watched the vehicle get closer. It was a white pickup with the logo “O’Dell’s Garage” across the side. The man who got out caught her attention immediately. It was the green-eyed guy from the service station. He really was tall. With the angle of the sun, she couldn’t see his features well, but his hair was dark, and as he got closer, she could see how the muscles in his shoulders filled out the jacket he wore with the O’Dell name and logo and a pair of faded jeans that rode low on his slim hips. Oh, my, she thought, if this were a porno, he’d throw her on the hood of her car and have his way with her. And she just might let him, she thought, as he got closer and she got a good look at his face. Except for the rain, of course. In her sudden fantasy, it was summer, and instead of a work jacket, he was wearing a tight white T-shirt. Or, maybe he wasn’t wearing a shirt at all, she fantasized, and he was all hot and sweaty as he worked on her car and then came over to work on her. Oh my. Where did that come from?
She looked at him closer. He wasn’t conventionally handsome. His features were too strong for that, and he looked very serious, even grim. And she could see that his dark hair was shot with gray, but his eyes were just as green as she remembered. But he had a male magnetism that called out to her, and she could feel her stomach flutter with lust.
She must have been lost in her daydream, because she heard him say, “Miss, Miss. Are you okay?” and realized that she had missed the first part of what he said. She would have to keep better control of herself. Today was the day for disappointing her mother and seeing her brothers and sisters and their ever-expanding families, not for lusting over a hot stranger.
“Sorry. I was thinking about my car. I’m going to have to call for a tow. It isn’t driveable. Luckily I have good brakes.”
“And good reactions. You could have been seriously hurt. But I have to say, even from a distance, I could see you struggle with control of the car and do everything right. I’m impressed.”
“Because I’m female?”
“Because 99 percent of people, male or female, would have panicked and made things worse. That was a good piece of driving.” He grinned down at her. She looked up and smiled. He looked years younger when he smiled. It drove away the grimness and made him look younger. In fact, she realized he probably was only a couple of years older than her.
“I’ve got a car-mad dad, and two of my three brothers and one of my two sisters all love cars. You end up learning some stuff even if you don’t mean to.”
“There are six of you?” He grinned at her for a moment, and she saw that he had a lovely smile. Too bad he didn’t use it more.
“Yup, and they all have kids and should”—she checked her watch—“either be at my folks place or getting close. I’ve been dawdling, not wanting to arrive too early because my mom will be grilling me on why I came alone and didn’t bring my boyfriend. And when I try to explain that we broke up, she’ll accuse me of making him up to keep her off my back about getting married, and I’ll spend the next year dealing with my family fixing me up with every single man they know under the age of forty.” She paused to take a breath.
“Mom has eight and a half grandkids, but she still thinks that I, as the oldest girl, should have been married and popping out grandkids when I turned twenty-one. But I’m going to be thirty on the weekend and since I broke up with John, the pressure is going to start again and I…” She took a deep breath. “Sorry, you were very kind to stop and help me and I shouldn’t be bending your ear with my tale of woe. If you could just call for a tow I’d appreciate it.”
“It’s the night before Thanksgiving. Everyone’s probably heading home. Why don’t I give you a drive home and Friday I’ll have one of the guys come out and tow you back to the shop.”
“I can’t put you to that much trouble. Really. You are a perfect stranger. And I’m sure you have your own Thanksgiving celebration to get to.”
“Nope. All I have planned for the next few days is watching a lot of football and maybe knocking back a few cold ones.”
“Alone?” The word popped out before she could stop it. “Sorry, none of my business. My family always says I talk before I think.”
“No problem. My sisters and I gave our parents a two-week Caribbean cruise for their fortieth wedding anniversary, which was last week. We told Dad in advance, but we knew that Mom would love the gift and then spend the next few weeks fretting about what could go wrong or how the business would function with both of them away, never mind that they are both technically retired. So we all plotted together and had the big party on Saturday and drove Mom and Dad to the airport Sunday.”
She saw him smile briefly. Whatever it was, it was a happy thought. It lightened his face and his whole manner for a brief second.
“Can’t you spend Thanksgiving with one of your siblings?”
“The tradition is to spend it with Mom and Dad, but since everyone is scattered around the country except me, and they all flew in last week for the anniversary party, and the two sisters I wouldn’t choose to spend Thanksgiving with would sulk while the other would rub it in that she was my favourite, it seemed that the safest choice was to disappoint all three of them.”
“Wow, a man who understands women.”
“Yeah, they are pretty great. But they also make me crazy sometimes. So when a buddy offered me the use of his cabin up at Rush Lake, I jumped at the chance. I tossed a few things in a bag and here I am. Had been hoping to get in a little fishing, but I don’t think that’s going to happen. I just hope that he remembered to chop some firewood when he was there last time or it may be a chilly night.”
“Nice buddy. Okay, I’ll accept the drive to my folks’ house. We’re actually on Rush Lake, the west end, so it won’t be too far out of your way.” He looked confused at her abrupt change of topic, but only for a second. He was definitely used to being around women, and Nelly liked the affection in his tone when he talked about his folks and his sisters.
“Now let’s get out of the rain.”
“First I have to get my stuff. My purse and overnight bag are still in my car.”
“Give me the key and I’ll get them.”
He walked her to his truck and opened the door. She stood staring up at the seat. She couldn’t figure any graceful way to climb up into the truck, as there was no running board or step, and while that worked for his six plus feet, her five-foot-four height wasn’t getting in gracefully without help. She felt him move closer and his large hands close over her waist.
She tensed for a second, but then she realized she liked the feel of his warm hands on her waist as he lifted her. His face was near hers, and for a second, she thought he was going to kiss her. But then the shuttered look came back, and he closed her door and went around to the driver’s side.
He got her suitcase out of the backseat and her purse off the front and returned to the truck. He took her suitcase and put in it the small backseat of the truck beside his duffel.
“Do you think the car is okay here? Should I try to move it?” she asked to fill the silence.
He looked at the road and where she was on the shoulder.
“It’s not going anywhere. But I think it’s far enough off the road to not be a hazard.” He put the truck in gear and pulled onto the road.
Impulsively she suggested, “Why don’t you stay for dinner? Mom will have made enough to feed an army.”
“That’s really nice of you, but would they really want a stranger there? Would you want a stranger there? Would you?”
He looked at her intently, with that serious expression she was coming to recognize. She gave herself a mental shake. What was she thinking? She had only known this guy for twenty minutes. She must be projecting.
“Look. You helped me out. The folks would kill me if you didn’t come for dinner. And we have a wood fireplace in the family room, and I know for a fact that Daddy would have laid in a bunch of firewood. I’m sure he could spare you a cord or two, just in case your buddy didn’t leave you any.”
She could see that he was going to say no again until she got to the firewood part. He was proud, but he wasn’t stupid. That was good. A man with sisters knew when not to argue.
“There, that’s settled. Since you were heading to Rush Lake, you know where the turnoff is. When you get to the fork at the lake, go left and drive for a mile. It’ll be on the right. You can’t miss it. It’s a big Victorian with white gingerbread trim and a huge veranda all around the house.”
“I think I know the one you mean. I’ve driven by it with my buddy, but I always thought it was an Inn or something. It’s huge.”
“Yup. Wait until you meet the O’Malleys. We don’t do anything small, including Thanksgiving.”
Silently, he turned the key in the engine, and she sighed as the hot air began blowing through the vents. She held her hands up to the vent. Then she shook out her hair and tried to dry it. It was long and thick and dark and reached halfway down her back and was probably limp and stringy now. Then she unzipped her jacket, as she was starting to feel just a little warm. She could tell from the sideways look he gave her, he liked the way she looked. He didn’t leer or anything, but a woman could tell when a man liked what he was seeing.