Authors: Pamela Morsi
Runabout by Pamela Morsi
In Prattville (formerly called Dead Dog), Oklahoma, in 1916, Tulsa May Bruder has given up on love. Her first and only suitor
—Doctor Odysseus P. Foote, better known as Doc Odie— has jilted her at their very public engagement party. The whole town is talking and Tulsa May feels like the local wallflower. But then Luther Harlan Briggs, who has been like a brother to her for the last decade, tries to retrieve Tulsa's standing by pretending to court her, knowing that a new gentleman caller—especially one with his wild reputation—will replace
the old one in the town folks' gossip. Suddenly Tulsa May sees a face she's known forever in a whole new light
— and realizes that, as Luther says, "friendship can turn to romance in the blink of an eye."
}Jove Books published by the Berkley Publishing Grouop
}The April 23 Sunday edition of the
headlined the Russians' move toward Verdun. It carried an ink-drawn picture of industrialist Henry Ford, winner of the Nebraska primary for the Republican nomination for President with the quote, "I will run if the people call me." Half of the front page was devoted to speculation on President Wilson's anticipated ruling on the Mexico policy and the unsurprising report that Pancho Villa was still at large. But the real news in Prattville, Oklahoma, that Easter Sunday morning did not make the paper. The real news was that Tulsa May Bruder would be attending Sunday church services for the first time since being jilted by Odysseus P. Foote.
}"Luther! Luther!" The loud call was punctuated by pounding on the bedroom door. "Luther, wake up!"
}Luther Harlan Briggs moaned beneath a tangle of bedcovers before pulling the sheet off his face and glared at the closed door.
}"Damn it, Arthel. You'd better have one hell of a reason for waking me up at dawn on a Sunday morning."
}An unsympathetic chuckle could be heard through the door. "It's nearly noon, Romeo. Tulsa May's downstairs. She's got trouble with the Runabout."
}Luther moaned again and covered his head for almost a full minute before throwing back the bedclothes and sitting up. "I'm coming," he hollered at the door. "Just let me get my pants on."
}He had just managed to get one foot on the floor when a long slim arm slipped out from underneath the covers to wrap around his waist.
}"Don't leave yet," a sleepy, feminine voice murmured from somewhere within the tangle of sheets and blankets. Luther gently pushed away the small restraining hand at his waist.
}"Emma, you'd best get your sweet fanny out of my bed, it's nearly noon."
}The young lady made an inarticulate sound.
}"You know I can't understand you when you talk into the pillow." Luther stood in the center of the room, looking for his overalls. When he found them under the bed, he shook them out sharply.
}Emma pulled the covers off her head and watched him. Luther grinned back. Emma Dix was a fine figure of a woman with a tiny waist, narrow hips, and perky little bosoms though none of that was currently within his vision. What Luther saw was a tousle of dark aubum hair, so vivid it had clearly come from a bottle, and the remnants of last night's face paint smeared unattractively in the morning sunlight.
}"Now, Luther honey," she purred hopefully. "Don't you think your customers can wait?" She patted the empty place beside her on the bed.
}With a chuckle, Luther shook his head.
}"My customers expect prompt service, seven days a week," he told her.
}"Well, what about me?" She pouted as she raised herself up on one elbow and allowed the sheet to slip down to a daringly dangerous level.
}Luther's answer was low and sexy. "I've been servicing you promptly all night, Emma. And I'd certainly be willing to try seven days a week if you're up to it."
}She giggled as he pulled the brown duck overalls up, allowing them to hang loosely at his slim hips as he splashed water into the washbasin and began his morning ablutions. Emma watched him with pleasure.
}At twenty-six, Luther Briggs was a tall, strongly built, handsome man who on the coldest day of winter still carried the warmth of summer bronze on his flesh. His thick black hair had just the tiniest bit of wave in the front. He had a fine-featured face that was just short of downright pretty, a long masculine jawline that was saved from sternness by one impudent dimple, and the straightest, whitest teeth that ever smiled at a pretty girl. But his most remarkable feature was his eyes, vivid blue eyes.
}Clean and damp, Luther ran a comb through his hair with one hand as he assessed the whiskers on his jaw with another. He hated shaving. Fortunately, he'd inherited enough of his mother's Indian heritage that his beard was sparse. With a shrug he decided to wear his stubble this Sunday.
}"Do you want me to wait or go on home?" Behind him Emma pouted. She was a little bit spoiled and a little bit demanding. And very accustomed to men letting her have her way.
}Luther hooked one shoulder strap and left the other to dangle as he turned to grin down at her. "Emma sweet, don't you always do exactly what you please?"
}She sat up, carefully holding the sheet with more enticement than modesty. "Of course I do. I just want to know what
want me to do."
}Luther stuck a sockless foot into his right boot and gave her a wicked wink. "I'd like you warm and waiting and I'll be back in twenty minutes."
}Luther left the bedroom without a backward glance. His stomach growled loudly, but he didn't stop in the kitchen to see if there was anything to eat. Plunking his wide-brimmed straw hat on his head, he stepped out the door of their second-floor apartment. A wide slat-wood porch overlooked the yard and the Guthrie and River Road beyond. A huge blackjack oak nearly three feet across dominated the entire area. The full, heavy buds on the gnarly branches were near ready to burst with the new green of summer shade.
}Parked beneath the tree, a small, snappy, but definitely old-fashioned car popped ominously. Luther's eighteen-year-old brother, Arthel, who still looked too long-legged and too skinny for his frame, stood shaking his head as he talked with a plainly clothed, demure young woman with hair the color of the first carrots of spring. Luther leaned on the second-floor porch railing and grinned down at the two people he loved most in the world.
}"Tulsy Bruder!" His words rang out. "Have you been out racing that Runabout against Barney Oldfield before I've even had my breakfast?"
}The young woman grinned up at him, hands on her hips. "Any man who has not had breakfast by noon on Sunday morning deserves to go hungry. Now come down here and fix this cantankerous car of yours."
}Luther wagged a threatening finger at her. She responded by sticking out her tongue. With a shake of his head he took the stairs at the side of the porch two at a time.
}The second-floor porch jutted out over the lawn, providing a wide overhang. Luther used this area to work on bikes or cars, protected against bad weather. The cross pole on the far end of the building held a large wooden sign with white painted letters that read "Luther's Bicycle Shop and Auto-Mobile Garage." Today it creaked slightly in the spring breeze. Though the sign was rustic, the entire downstairs was a modern shop with all the latest equipment for the building and repairing of self-propelled transportation vehicles. Luther stepped to the door, which was never locked, and grabbed a screwdriver, an adjustable wrench, and a grease rag. If the Runabout couldn't be fixed with those tools, then it probably couldn't be fixed at all.
}As Luther took a step toward the Runabout it backfired loudly, making him curse under his breath. "Cut the spark, Arthel," he ordered. "I don't want to have to fix the whole firing mechanism."
}As his brother adjusted the knob on the wall panel, the Runabout gave a giant sigh that was almost pain and then shuddered into complete silence.
}The hush was deafening. Tulsa May gave an exasperated and infuriated sigh. "Why does this car always quit on me when I really need it?"
}"This piece of junk doesn't 'always quit on you when you really need it,' " Arthel said. "It just
quits on you."
}"Arthel!" Luther scolded. "How can you speak so ill of this wonderful machine? It may be a piece of junk, but officially it's still
piece of junk."
}"But I'm going to buy it from you," Tulsa May assured him hastily. "Just as soon as I get the money together."
}Luther shook his head with a smile. "I hope, Tulsy, that when you get your money together, you'll buy a better car than this one."
}"I like the Runabout," Tulsa May declared. "It's pretty."
}Luther stepped back as if surveying the vehicle for the first time. It had a narrow wheelbase and a high seat, there was no windshield, it still required a crank start, and the steering was on the right side. But aesthetically, Luther had to agree, the Buick Model G Runabout was a pretty car. The wine-colored body finish, red wheels and running gear, and the five brass lamps and shiny bulb horn were flashy enough to attract the nonmechanical, like Tulsa May, or the youthful, as he himself had been when he'd chosen the Runabout over bigger, better, finer autos.
}Luther shared a speculative glance with his brother. "You are absolutely right, Tulsy. And if all you want to do is look at it, I think the Runabout is nearly perfect." He hesitated momentarily and then his mouth curved into a devastatingly appealing grin. "But if you are thinking to go anywhere..."
}Tulsa May shrugged fatalistically and all three chuckled. Luther reached into the seat and removed the cushion. Beneath the fading red upholstery sat the worn and aging two-cylinder engine.
}"The carburetor is probably just full of dirt again. I don't think the Runabout is ready for the undertaker yet."
}Arthel shook his head. "I think you should shoot it and put it out of its misery."
}His joke was left unanswered as the creak and clomp of an approaching buggy drew their attention.
}Tulsa May's eyes widened in distress. "Here, Arthel, stand in front of me, maybe he won't see me."
}Luther looked down the lane. "Tulsy, it does no good to hide. Everybody in town knows this Runabout."
}"Why don't you let me hold him, Tulsa, and Luther can rearrange his face and vital organs," Arthel said.
}Luther gave his younger brother a warning look. "If he's determined to come here, I'll talk to him."
}And it seemed as if the man were determined. The buggy pulled up to the side, and the driver, dressed in a fancy new tweed coat, doffed his hat politely. "Morning, boys, missed you in church. It is Easter, you know."
}"Good morning, Doc Odie," Luther answered evenly. He adjusted his stance slightly as he looked up at the other man. His legs were spread slightly as if for balance and his arms were folded across his chest in a slightly aggressive manner. "If I don't go all year, I suspect God wouldn't be especially thrilled to see me showing up on one of his holidays."
}The man nodded dismissively. "Good morning, Tulsa May," he said, addressing his former fiancee for the first time.
}She nodded politely, but didn't reply.
}Odie Foote was a congenial but rather unattractive bachelor in his mid-thirties. His head seemed overly large for his body and rheumatic fever as a child had made him physically weak, with narrow shoulders and an almost concave chest. "Your Easter ensemble is perfectly charming, ma'am," he remarked, smiling at her straight-cut gown of copper-colored Gloria cloth and the wide-brimmed straw hat that was trimmed with a band and bow of the same material. "You do remember, however, that brown is not my favorite color."
}Tulsa May opened her mouth to answer, but Luther interrupted. "I believe that your preferences are no longer Miss Tulsy's concern." His words were low and tinged with threat.