“Camping on a Tuesday night?”
Short Man stuck out his chin. “Sure, why not?”
Honey’s heart thumped hard, and she watched as Trevor lifted what looked like a big light of some kind out of the back of the truck. “What’s this?”
The tall man looked to his friend, then back at Trevor. “Nothing. It’s just to light up our campground, you know?”
“Yeah, I know.” Trevor tilted his head back. “I’m keeping it. And I’ll be taking your rifles, too.”
Honey felt her face heat with an embarrassment Trevor obviously didn’t share. He was keeping it? Taking their property? What was Trevor doing?
Short Man’s hands went up. “Come on!”
“Hand them over,” said Trevor, his voice hard, implacable.
Honey gripped her phone as both men reached into the cab. Seconds later, they were armed. Trevor wasn’t. Trevor stood, big, tall and resolute.
He was a crazy man!
Then slowly, resentfully, the men came forward and handed Trevor their rifles. As Trevor took them, Honey let out a breath.
But Trevor wasn’t even fazed by the whole thing. Easily holding both rifles in one hand, he strode forward and started searching the cab of their truck. Finally he straightened. “You can come by Fish and Game tomorrow and pick up the rifles, but I’m keeping the spotlight.”
Short Man hit the side of his truck. “You’re a real jerk. You know that?”
Trevor smiled for the first time. “Yeah, I get that a lot.”
Both men jumped into the truck, flipped a U-turn, flipped Trevor off, and, shouting abuse, took off.
Trevor came back to the truck, stowed the rifles behind the seat, then climbed in as if the confrontation hadn’t happened.
Honey stared straight ahead, not looking at him. “Are you crazy?” she asked between stiff lips.
“What?” He sounded surprised.
“Those men were armed.”
“I know.” Now he sounded confused. “I disarmed them.”
She finally looked at him. “They could have killed you!”
After staring at her for a moment, Trevor laughed, a genuinely amused sound. “Those two? Are you kidding?” Trevor turned the truck around and started driving. “They’re after a bit of illegal poaching, not a prison sentence.” Within a few yards, the driver’s side of the truck started bumping, and listing strangely.
Trevor stopped the truck.
“What?” asked Honey.
He sighed, then glanced at her. “Flat tire. We probably picked up a nail.”
Honey closed her eyes, put a hand to her forehead, and shook her head. “Why am I not surprised?”
Trevor laughed again.
She was amusing. He’d give her that. But even so, Trevor would fix the tire as quickly as possible so he could get Honey to his parents’ house and out of his hair.
He shut off the truck and put on the emergency brake. He could tell she’d been scared by the situation and felt bad, and a little embarrassed about the whole thing. His ex-wife hated confrontations, which weren’t a big deal to him, but she’d always gotten upset. Maybe all women did, excluding his sisters and mom.
Retrieving the jack and lug wrench from the back of his truck, he quickly loosened the lug nuts on the driver’s side tire, then slid the jack under the front axle.
Honey came around the truck. She wore open-toed sandals and her toenails were pale pink, like cotton candy.
was the word that popped into his mind. She was so girly and, he had to admit, he liked it.
“Can I help?” she asked.
He was amused again. Did she want to change the tire? “Uh, sure. Why don’t you empty the soda cup in the cab and bring it to me?”
She went around to the passenger’s side and he jacked up the truck until it was off the ground. She came back with the cup and held it out to him.
He removed the lug nuts and placed them inside. “Can you keep track of those for me?”
“Sure.” Honey looked into the cup. “Can I do anything else?”
Trevor hid a smile. “No. I’ve got it.” He pulled off the flat tire and inspected it. “Sure enough, it’s a nail. Big sucker, too.” He showed it to her, then went to lift the tire into the back of the truck. Honey quickly set the cup on a rock and tried to help, but was pretty useless, which amused him further. “Thanks,” he said.
She stepped back. “Anytime.” She tugged her white shirt down over her bared midriff, and he congratulated himself for not staring. “All that weightlifting is really paying off for me, don’t you think?” she asked.
Could Trevor help it if she offered an invitation? He looked down at her body. Slim, feminine, and mouth-watering, but not a bulging muscle in sight. “You lift weights?” he asked doubtfully.
She grinned. “Sure do. About five times a year or so.”
Trevor laughed. Again.
“I’m glad you find me so amusing,” she teased reproachfully as she followed him around the back of the truck.
“Sorry, I can’t seem to help it.” Using the lug wrench, he retrieved the spare from under the truck and carried it to the side of the car.
“You’re really strong. I’d have just rolled it.”
The sincere tone, had Trevor huffing out a surprised laugh, flattered and embarrassed at the same time. He brushed self-consciously at the knees of his dusty jeans, quickly realized it was pointless, and sank down on the ground.
Honey squatted beside him and watched as he put the spare in place on the lugs, then she handed him lug nuts one after another. Their fingers touched each time and, at the slight sizzle running up his arm, Trevor stopped fighting it and admitted he was attracted to her. Something that hadn’t happened in a long time. He tried not to look at her. Just because he was attracted, it didn’t mean he had to do anything about it.
“You just tighten them with your fingers?” she asked.
It took him a moment to realize she was referring to the lug nuts. “That’s just the first step,” his voice was gruff as he explained. “After I get them all on, I’ll crisscross tighten them with the wrench, both off and on the ground.”
“Oh.” Honey nodded. “My dad teaches me to change tires every other year or so, but I can never ever remember all the steps.” She watched his every move. It was quiet, just birds and insects and her breathing. He fumbled a lug nut.
“Do you need me to do that for you?” she teased.
He picked up the lug nut, blew the dirt off it and wiped it on his shirt. “No.” He glanced at her smiling face, not sure if she were flirting or not. He didn’t have the experience to know anymore, but decided he wouldn’t mind if she were, which surprised him. He tightened the lugs.
“Is that hard to do?”
“Can I try?”
Honey laughed, the sound tinkling in the air.
Tinkling? Cripes, he had it bad. He lowered the car, tightened the lug nuts again, and put the jack away.
They climbed into the cab of the truck. “So does this happen to you a lot?” asked Honey. “Being a game warden must be hard on your car.”
Trevor shot her a look. “It’s a truck.” He shrugged. “A few times a year, I guess.”
“Yeah, being a realtor has its own set of hazards, you know? I once broke my heel outside a house I was showing and had to wear the tennis shoes I had in my car. It was either that or go barefoot,” she teased.
Trevor fought a smile. “That must have been tough.”
“Oh, it was. The shoes were red and didn’t match my outfit at all.” She waved a hand. “It totally blew the deal.”
She smiled. “Speaking of real estate, any possibility we can set up a time to discuss the property my boss wants to purchase? Maybe tonight we’ll have a chance?”
“You’ll have to talk to my dad about that.”
She gave a feminine half-shrug, a nod and a smile. “Okay.”
“So where are you from?” asked Trevor.
“Napa. I love it there. It’s pretty here, too. Do you like Redding?”
“Sure. I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else.”
“I like your place,” said Honey. “I’m in a small house in the middle of town, but it suits me. It’s close to my office and central to anywhere I need to show.”
“You like your job?”
“I love it.” She smiled. “The hours can be long. It actually feels like I’m running a dating service sometimes, you know? Trying to match the right house to the right family. It’s great.”
She sounded like a hard worker. Not like his ex-wife.
“Your house matches you,” she said.
His brows rose. “You think?”
“Sure. It’s big, quiet, and intimidating. Especially in the dark when you’re trying to break into the place.”
Trevor laughed, not sure how to take the last part. “You don’t seem very intimidated.”
Honey waved a hand. “Nervous chatter. Sorry. My fiancé is always telling me I talk too much when I’m trying to impress.”
Trevor drew in a breath as intense disappointment swamped him. “You’re engaged?” his voice was level.
“Yes,” she said, then sighed. “At least I think I still am. Christian isn’t taking my calls again.”
Just like that the fun went out of the conversation. Which was ridiculous, because it was just as well. He reminded himself of his plan to avoid her, and forced himself to remember his ex-wife. She’d been pretty and charming, too.
Besides, the fact that Honey was engaged just made avoiding her a whole lot easier. He turned onto the main road again.
“Is it very far to your parents’ house?” she asked.
“We’ll be there before you know it.” Hopefully he could rid himself of the irrational sense of loss he was feeling just as quickly.
Dylan, Isaac, and Seth reeled in their lines. “Anything?” asked Dylan.
Dylan watched as Seth fell to his knees at the edge of the Sacramento River, tugged a bit, then towed in the last of his line by hand. “It’s just some weeds.” He sounded disgusted. Carefully he pulled the weeds off the big hook, then flung the greenery back into the water.
“Let’s try again,” said Isaac.
Dylan lifted up his pole. “Okay, ready?”
“Just a minute.” Seth pushed up his glasses, then tried to untangle the last bit of fishing line.
Dylan waited impatiently for a moment, then set his pole down, knelt on the ground, and helped untangle it. “Do you want me to put a larger treble hook on?”
Seth nodded. “Sure.”
Dylan got into his dad’s tackle box, pushed aside a bar of soap, and snagged the last weighted-treble-hook he’d filched from his cousin. He attached it to Seth’s line.
A car approached on the road above and the three of them froze. They were mostly hidden by the trees lining the river, but if anyone were specifically looking...
“The warden?” Seth whispered.
Dylan shook his head and everyone let out a breath as the car kept going. Snagging fish by any body part other than the mouth was illegal and they knew it. But they were proving a point. The warden couldn’t push them around anymore.
Dylan looked at his two friends, both nervous, Seth’s thin face serious, and Isaac’s freckled one slightly scared. Dylan tried to think of something to say that would relax everyone. “Too bad we don’t have some explosives, huh? Or one of those fish shocking machines.”
Isaac nodded slowly, and finally smiled. “That would be seriously cool. The fish would practically jump out of the water.”
Dylan stood. “My cousin might be able to get us some explosives if I ask him.”
“Seriously?” asked Seth.
Dylan doubted it. His older cousin avoided him whenever possible, more interested in girls now than fishing. That was the only reason Dylan could swipe his hooks without retribution. But Dylan nodded anyway. “Totally. Are you ready?”
The three of them took turns throwing out their lines as far as they could, then reeled and jerked the lines back toward shore.
A minute later, Seth yelled. “I got something!”
“Awesome!” said Dylan. Finally, they were going to have some fun! “Keep the line tight.”
Isaac jumped from one foot to the other. “Don’t let it get away!”
Dylan and Isaac both reeled their lines in quickly, set the poles down, and watched as Seth pulled the fish toward shore, his pole arced wildly as he jerked the fish up onto the dirt where it flipped on the ground, gasping for air.
One large hook was partially imbedded in the fish’s side. “It’s big!” said Dylan. “I bet it’s eighteen inches at least!”
They watched it flip for a while, the silvery color turning brown in the dirt and Dylan felt sort of guilty. They didn’t have a way to get it home, especially with that big gash in its side. The wound would be a dead giveaway they’d been snagging if the warden caught them with the salmon. So it would just die, wasted.
Seth squatted down for a better view. “Maybe we should throw it back in the water?”
Dylan was glad Seth brought up the idea first. “Okay, if you want.” Dylan retrieved the needle-nose pliers out of his dad’s tackle box. His dad’s best lure stuck to the pliers and fell to the ground. Dylan would get it in a minute.
He gripped the dirty, thrashing fish, clenched the hook with the pliers, and pulled it out of the fish’s side. The fish jerked and Dylan jabbed himself with the hook.“Ow.” He looked at the tiny gash.
“You okay?” asked Isaac.
“Fine.” Dylan wiped the swell of blood on his jeans.
Seth looked up the hill again, got out his inhaler, and sucked medicine into his lungs. When he let out his breath, he asked, “Do you think the game warden is around anywhere? We’re not gonna get arrested or anything, right?”
“Who knows?” There was a tremor in Isaac’s voice. “But maybe we should get out of here, just in case.”
Dylan scowled up at his friend. “Are you two serious? How are we supposed to have fun if you’re so scared of being caught all the time? Screw the warden.”