My big brother looked happier and more complete than he ever had. Ande was good for him. I just couldn't believe, out of us all, Jake was the one to find a woman. Always figured it would be me since I was more of a ladies' man than either of my brothers. I'd dated a few girls here and there, but nothing seemed to stick. And Nate, well, I figured hell would freeze over first. My middle brother was too damn shy to talk to a woman, let alone make moves on one. He got tongue-tied trying to pay a female cashier for gas.
But, as long as one of us was married safely and set to continue the family line, that's all that mattered. I knew that was important to Dad, even though he rarely said anything about it these days. Back when we were kids, he would say things about when we were grown and had sons of our own. I guessed he had kind of lost hope over the years. Gramma always used to say one day the Quick family would be a big one again, with the three of us to grow up and have kids. I didn't think she counted on the female population wanting nothing to do us. She might have been a little prejudiced in our favor, since she helped Dad raise us after Mom left when I was just little. She always told us to find good women to help us raise families and work the land. I thought she would approve of Ande even if she and Jake did meet in a slightly unusual way. When Jake hired Ande to rescue us from our own cooking and a mountain of dirty, smelly clothes, he had no idea he would fall head over heels for her and her kids.
I, on the other hand, figured it out right away. When he told us she looked like our dog, Shep's sister, but then I saw how gorgeous she was, I knew he wanted her for himself. It took him long enough to get his act together, but once he did, nothing could hold them back. I suspected he might have had something to do with the Sheriff turning up one day to inform Ande she was a widow, though. The abusive ex she'd been hiding from refused to sign for a divorce. Jake had connections with folks he served with who could make all kinds of shit happen. It made sense he would do something about that for her even if he hadn't fallen in love.
I watched Ande and Jake drive away while I held her boy, Ian, up so he could see them longer. He loved the cans he'd helped me tie to the back bumper of Jake's truck, and giggled with every rattle.
"Well, li'l man, you ready to head home?" He nodded around a big, jaw-cracking yawn. We found Nate and Dad and Janna, the baby, to let them know we were leaving. Nate agreed he would bring Janna home. That poor kid looked even more tired than Ian, but she was fighting it for all she was worth.
Alarm raced through me as I noted Dad looked like somebody had punched him in the gut. I couldn't recall ever seeing shadows under his eyes like that, not even when Gramma died. "Everything okay, Dad?" Not like he'd tell me if anything was wrong, especially not today. All week, he'd been doing things to try to make the day even more special for Ande, so he wouldn't say anything to make it less perfect, even though she and Jake were safely headed for the honeymoon. It made me happy to see how much Dad loved Ande, and her kids too, but I worried about him.
He shook his head. "Yeah, everything's good. Just ran into an old friend I never expected to show up here again. I'll, uh, see you back at the house." He sounded distracted as he tossed a wave over his shoulder and walked away. I wondered if it had anything to do with the woman I saw him talking to earlier. I glanced around, but didn't see her anywhere.
Not sure whether to share my concerns with Nate or not, I got Ian into my truck. It could wait until evening, at least, I decided, and backed out of my space in the makeshift parking lot, then stopped to shift gears. The truck jolted and metal screeched. Ian screamed at the top of his lungs. "Shhh, it's okay, Ian." I looked around, checking my mirrors, then freed Ian from his seat and jumped out.
A woman stared at my bumper, hands over her mouth and her high heels sinking into the ground. "Oh, God, I'm so sorry!"
I looked, not all that concerned. "It's okay, just a scratch. Not like this old girl will notice a new one." I patted my truck's solid fender, then glanced at her car and did a double take. "Yours, on the other hand, might." A brilliant blue BMW sat there with the front of its hood nosed under the truck bumper. Just from that, I could tell, the damage was going to be significant. Her car might be totaled, but my truck would drive away just fine. "I guess we exchange insurance information?" I'd never had a wreck before, and had no clue how to proceed. I did know I wanted to get her name because she looked like something that walked out of my wet dreams and came to life. How could I convince her to let me buy her dinner?
Ian interrupted, tugging on my shirt. "Sam, truck broke?"
"It's okay, buddy, just a fender bender. No big deal."
The woman stared at me, all wide-eyed like I'd just kicked her puppy. "No big deal? Are you kidding me?"
I shrugged. "I'm sure your insurance will cover it, right?"
"My insurance? You backed into me!" Her pale face started to pink up, making her even more breathtaking.
"Lady, I wasn't even moving. I had stopped to change gears. You came right up under me." I truly didn't mean that the way it sounded.
"Oh, my God! Don't even start! Men are all alike! What's your name?"
I grinned. "Sam Quick, at your service, ma'am. Who the hell are you?"
I frowned at him before Grandmother's admonishments about wrinkles popped into my head. "Marynne Jacobs. You speak like that in front of your child?" The scolding words came out before I could stop them, even though I knew it wasn't my place. The man could do and say whatever he wanted in front of his child. None of my business. I bit my lip to keep from saying more.
The arrogant Sam Quick looked at the little boy, then grinned. "Oh, he ain't mine. I'm just borrowing him for a while. He's the perfect wing man. Right, Ian?"
The little boy gave an adorable smile back, and I swallowed the urge to fawn over him. He really was too cute. "Right, Sam." He offered a high five, which Sam returned enthusiastically.
Sam's face sobered. "Marynne Jacobs, why are you here? I know everyone here, and I think I would remember if I knew you." His dark gaze flashed as he looked me up and down.
That look clearly said he appreciated what he saw, and I wrestled with the impulse to tug self-consciously at my clothing. How dare he? I wanted to flounce off and leave, but his truck remained stubbornly sitting on my car. I had a feeling this interaction foreshadowed my entire ordeal here. "Not that it's any of your business, but I'm supposed to meet the preacher, Kyle Gerike, here. Do you know where I can find him?" Maybe I would get lucky and Sam Quick could direct me where to go and I could get this insanity started.
He tilted his head at me for a second, then stepped up onto the bumper of his truck. I barely kept my hands by my sides, terrified for the little boy because the ancient truck looked like it would fall apart with the slightest stressor. Not to mention, it looked impossibly high to stand without a hand hold. Mr. Arrogant looked all around, then stepped back down with the child safe and sound in his big arms. No, I shouldn't have noticed his arms, but they were kind of hard to miss.
He gave me a wary look. "Something wrong? Other than the obvious?"
"I can't believe you just jumped up there with him in your arms. Weren't you afraid your truck would, I don't know, fall off my car, or something?" I bit my lip, reminding myself once more that it wasn't my place to tell him what to do.
He chuckled. "I'm touched you care. But no, I wasn't worried. See, my truck is still solidly on the ground. Your car isn't holding it up, or anything like that, and couldn't if it tried. It's perfectly safe."
I huffed. "Well, what about the preacher? Did you see him?"
"Nope, but I can tell you he's already left. His truck is gone."
My will deflated suddenly. "Dammit. How am I supposed to find him now?" Sitting down for a good cry suddenly seemed like the perfect way to pass the rest of the day.
"You talk that way in front of kids?" His sardonic grin grated on my nerves. "He'll be back in town eventually, probably at the church."
"But I don't know where that is. I couldn't even find this place with GPS. I had to follow the directions the woman at the store gave me." I barely kept my voice from reaching a helpless wail. What was I supposed to do now? Ugh! This entire thing was off to a horrible beginning. "I'll never get through this! Getting started a week late is already messing everything up." I'd have stomped my foot if I'd been able to get even one of my heels loose from the dirty cow pasture I'd ended up in.
Sam Quick appeared slightly sympathetic for a moment, then seemed to think better of it. "Well, I'd say call someone, but there's no cell reception out here. Good luck!" He turned away and started back to the front of his truck. Evidently, he thought he was just going to drive off and leave my car, and me, sitting.
I glanced around, alarmed to find the so-called parking lot empty except for his truck and my car now. "Wait! How am I supposed to get back to town?" I tried to run after him, but failed to pull my heels loose, and ended up hopping, barefoot. "God, can this day get any worse?"
He turned back to me with a grin. "Well, you could always just follow me to the house and use the phone there." He patted the little boy on the back as the child dropped his head onto his shoulder and popped his thumb into his mouth. I envied him that security and relaxation about now.
"Thank you, thank you, thank you!" I got back in my car and started it, waiting for him to put the boy in his truck and move it away. Could it really be that simple? He would just drive his truck off my car? No tow truck needed? I waited and muttered to myself. "The moment I see pavement again, I'm never leaving it. Ever." This whole nightmare could have been easily prevented, if only Grandmother hadn't been such a royal bitch. But then, I shouldn't expect her to be any different from usual just because I graduated college.
Finally, the truck moved forward with more screeching and scraping, which set my teeth on edge, like nails on a chalkboard. I followed closely, terrified to let him out of my sight. It would be just like him to run off and leave me. He turned for the dirt track that apparently served as the only road, and I tried to follow, but something went horribly wrong. My steering wheel refused to turn, no matter how hard I tried. The car kept going somewhat straight, and not in the direction I wanted. I panicked and blew the horn, terrified of being left out here alone.
Thankfully, Sam stopped his truck, climbed out after a moment, and walked back. "What's wrong?"
"It won't turn!" The wail came out this time, fully. "I tried!"
He grunted and dropped to the ground and looked all up in my car's private parts, then got back to his feet. "Looks like it took a harder jolt than I thought. Pretty sure you've trashed your power steering."
Oh God. "That sounds really bad. Please tell me it's not as bad as it sounds?" My eyes started to sting with the beginnings of tears. I'd managed to keep them at bay so far, but I was losing my control quickly.
"It's not all that bad." I started to breathe a sigh of relief. "Unless you value things like being able to make your car go where you want it to go." He chuckled at his terrible joke and I fought the urge to throw something BIG at him. "Come on, grab whatever you need from the car, shut it off, and I'll give you a ride back to the house. You can call from there and make whatever arrangements. I'll take you to town and help you find Kyle when you're done. I just have to get Ian home so he can rest. He's had a big day."
I bit back the snarky remark that wanted out so badly, and nodded. "Thank you." I hurried to gather my bag and phone, then popped the trunk for my luggage. "Will your truck be okay to carry my stuff too?"
He gave me a weird look, then shook his head. "Uh, as long as your stuff doesn't weigh more, or kick harder, than the bull that was in the back of this truck yesterday, I think we're good." He went around to the back of my car and lifted out my bag, then gestured toward the passenger side of the truck as if waiting for me to go first.
I did, then turned as a loud metallic rasping noise filled the air. He had the back of the truck open and was putting my bag in there, with all kinds of filth and dirt! "Oh, God, you're getting stuff all over my Grandmother's priceless Gucci Tian! It's irreplaceable! The print is retired!" I had no idea if it was or not, and didn't care. You still didn't put a Gucci bag in the back of a truck with a century's worth of cow dirt, and who knew what kind of other filth!
He looked at my bag, then back at me. "What? It's a bad picture of a peacock on the side of a satchel. I'm pretty sure it'll hose off just fine. If not, there's an old woman in town who can touch it up for you."
I just stared at him, aghast. Speechless. The man had officially rendered me speechless. I didn't even know what to think.
"If you want a ride, better climb on in." He went to the driver's side and left me to struggle into the passenger side on my own.
My skirt rode up to the tops of my thighs before I managed to get one foot into the truck, and then I was left with one foot too high up, and unable to move. I glared at him. "A little help here? I'm not exactly dressed for the country bumpkin tour."
He glanced at me and smirked. "Of all the…" His words trailed off as he got out and came around the truck and boosted me into the seat. "If, in the future, you ever get in a truck again, you might wanna look for this thing." He pointed to something below the door. "It's called a running board, but it's a handy-dandy step, too." He slammed the door on me before I could reply.