Torrential rain pounded against the windshield. Cade Logan gently applied the brakes and slowed to a crawl.
Heavy weather made him twitchy as a rodeo bull.
At least is isn’t snow.
His neck tightened as a black memory snaked its way into his brain. He took a couple of deep breaths, like he’d been taught, and focused on the swipe of the wipers. Bright headlights came into view on a stopped car facing the opposite direction.
Hell of a place to break down.
He pulled over onto the gravel shoulder directly across from the small car. A hot bowl of New England clam chowder and a nice glass of Ryo Chardonnay waited for him at home, but he couldn’t leave someone stranded on a night like this.
He flipped up the collar of his leather jacket, loped across the pavement, and knocked on the steamy window. “Hey, there. Need help?”
The window rolled down and a familiar face peered up at him.
“Cade? Is that you? Thank God. My cell phone died and I thought I’d be here all night.”
Molly O’Reilly, the St. Helena Sentinel’s only full-time reporter, closed her eyes, let out a breath of air, then gave him a smile that lit up her entire face. He knew her smile. He passed the front window of the newspaper every day on his way to the post office. When she was at her desk, clicking away at her computer, she always looked up and waved as he passed.
“What’s the problem?”
“I think it’s the starter. The engine doesn’t turn over.”
“Why don’t you wait in my truck while I give it a try. If it doesn't work, I'll take you home.”
She glanced toward his pick-up. “But it looks like you’re headed in the opposite direction.”
“Town isn't far. My clam chowder will still be in the can when I get home.”
She opened the door, handed him her keys and sprinted across the highway.
Cade folded his tall frame into the little car, yanked the seat back a couple of notches, and turned the key. A whirring sound came from under the hood. Molly was right. It was the starter. This old Chevy wasn’t going anywhere.
He took out his phone and called for a tow, directing them to take it to the parking lot next to Matt’s Vintage Cars and Landscaping Service. Molly had a kid to support. The least he could do was put in a new starter for her. Matt wouldn’t care and they had one in stock.
Locking up, he dashed back to his truck and took a couple of red cones out of the back. He put one in front, and one in back of her car, to warn drivers foolish enough to be out in this weather there was an obstruction at the side of the road. The squall wasn’t as fierce when he climbed back into the cab next to Molly, but it felt good to be in a warm, dry place.
“Was it the starter?”
“Sure was. How did you get so much engine savvy?” He pulled onto the road and made a quick U-turn.
“My dad. He owned a garage in Boston—not as nice as the one you work in—but it made enough to feed his brood and we all helped out during the summer.”
“Good to know. I’ll tell Matt if he ever gets swamped, I know exactly who to call.”
She laughed, brushing strands of wet hair off her face. He liked her laugh. It was deep and bold and sexy as hell…just like the rest of her. Too bad he’d sworn off relationships.
The black memory tightened his shoulders. Shrugging it off, he handed Molly his cell phone. “I’ll bet you have calls to make.”
She groaned. “The first one is to my babysitter. She probably thinks I’ve fallen off the face of the earth. The second is to the tow service.”
“Call your sitter. I’ve already taken care of the tow. I’ll fix your starter tomorrow after work and you can walk over to the shop and get it when you’re ready. Do you need a loaner?”
Her tone changed. “Cade, I can’t let you do that. I can pay for a repair.”
“I know, but it’s no trouble. Besides, Matt likes to help out pretty gals in distress.” Last spring his boss had met Victoria, supermodel Tori L., and bailed her out of a jam. Now they were living together and picking out honeymoon sites.
He figured Molly had an independent streak and he could see her weighing her options in the dim interior.
“Tell you what,” she said. “If you’ll let me pay for the part and help with the repair, I'll do it.”
They drove the rest of the way in silence as rain pelted the windshield. Molly directed him to a one-story Victorian cottage on a quiet side street. The yard was overgrown with bushes and a narrow path led to the front porch where a light was on. A pink girl’s bike with training wheels lay on its side on the sidewalk in front of the house.
“Would you like to come in? I’ve got coffee and tea or brandy if you’d like something stronger.”
He stared hard at the little bike. “No thanks. I need to get home. I’ve got to feed Whip and get out of these wet clothes.”
“He’s a pet. Old feller from Texas, but he likes it fine in St. Helena.”
“Don’t want to keep you, then.”
She got out and held the door open. “I really appreciate the rescue, Cade. I’ll be over at five tomorrow to help with the repair.”
“I’ll see you then.”
He stayed out front until she was safely inside. Yearning for a real home sometimes made his throat dry, but only for a few seconds. He pulled his shoulders together, put his truck in gear, and headed back to the highway.
・ ・ ・
“Is Susie asleep?”
Maria put her arms in her yellow slicker and snapped the front. “She waited up until you called. I told her you must still be at work, but she sensed something was wrong and wouldn’t stay in bed.”
“Thank you for staying. I don’t know what I’d do without you.”
“No worries, Mrs. O’Reilly. You have a very good girl, even if she surprises me sometimes with what pops out of her mouth.”
“She does come up with the darndest things for a six-year-old. Her teacher says she has an overactive imagination.”
“Then she’ll be a good writer, like her mama.”
Maria waved good-bye and let herself out.
Molly hung up her wet jacket in the warm kitchen and tiptoed down the hall to check on Susie. The nightlight gave enough illumination to show her daughter curled up into a ball clutching a small brown bear. Molly pulled up the covers, leaned down and kissed Susie’s soft cheek. She stirred, but didn’t awaken.
Retreating to her own room, Molly shed her wet dress and heels and put on her warmest flannel pajamas. Her mother sent them for Christmas last year. They were white with green shamrocks. Slipping on a pair of fuzzy socks, she headed for the kitchen, put hot water on to heat, and took out some chamomile tea. She’d eat a slice of pound cake she’d bought at the Sweet and Savory Bistro with her tea. Not much of a dinner, but she wasn’t hungry after her ordeal.
The interview with the expert on Chinese art took longer than she expected. The man lived in an enormous house in the hills above St. Helena with rooms full of museum pieces. It was dark and raining when she finally left and when the clouds let loose a torrent, she’d pulled over to wait it out. Her wipers needed replacing—another thing on her to-do list. When it was safe to continue, the starter whirred, but never engaged. She was too far away from town to walk.
And then Cade came along.
Maybe she’d dream about him tonight, like she had at least a dozen times in the last few months.
She finished the last of her tea and put the cake dish in the sink. Her laptop open to her word processing program, she tried to come up with an interesting lead for her story on the Chinese art expert. It wouldn’t come.
Instead she sat back in her chair and relived the evening, from the moment Cade’s face came into view until he dropped her off at home.
She’d had a crush on Cade Logan since the day she first saw him, shirtless, jeans low on his hips, wrestling a radiator out of an old car parked in the back of the garage. She’d been there to interview Matt Simmons, who owned the classic car business and had just added landscaping to his services in the form of a flock of sheep he called his wooly weeders.
As Matt described his business, her mind wandered, her gaze fixed on the handsome guy bent over the hood of an old car, muscles bunching as he tugged, his shout of triumph as the radiator pulled loose and he lifted it onto a workbench behind him.
“And then I took a knife and plunged it into his midsection. He screamed and said ‘Is this a dagger I see before me.’ A quote from Macbeth I think.”
Matt’s grin broadened as he nodded toward Cade and asked her if she’d seen something she’d like to know more about in his shop.
She’d blushed, told him she’d call if she had any questions, and left as soon as she could, practically running back to the office.
Embarrassing moment number one.
The second one came a few months later when she gathered her courage and stepped out of the office as Cade passed by on his daily walk to the post office. She made an inane remark about the weather, and brazenly asked him if he’d like to go with her to get an iced latte from the Bistro after work. He’d kindly—and swiftly—turned her down, saying something about a project he had at home that couldn’t wait.
After the turn-down she’d limited their encounters to steamy ones in her imagination.
His offer to fix her starter surprised her, and letting her help was a real bonus. If friendship was all he she could get from Cade Logan, she’d take it.