Wild Junction, Colorado. A small town about two hours from Denver and home to the Starry Night Diner. Population of two thousand. It was nestled into the Rocky Mountains, protected from the outside world. Three bars, one high school, one middle school, two elementary schools, and two grocery stores (neither of which were chains but rather, family owned). There was only one apartment complex (called the Dump), a single building with one bedroom units since most people lived in houses with property in Wild Junction. The town square had the only bank, the town hall, a giant clock tower (because some towns still had those), and a few small stores run by locals. One of the grocery stores was also on the square but only people who lived in town used it.
Like Riley, who today needed to get something to eat for her apartment.
“Shit, did it have to be snowing today?” Riley groaned softly to herself. “Should’ve grabbed all this yesterday, before the snowstorm hit.”
She trudged slowly down the sidewalk, taking a moment to look around and notice that no one was out and about like a normal day in Wild Junction. The storm was a bad one, which was why Riley was out in it to grab some food before it really shut down the town. January in Wild Junction was a winter hell of snowstorm after snowstorm banging into the town. Normally, snow didn’t stop those in Wild Junction from getting anything done but when it was bad enough, people tended to stay home and wait it out so no one got hurt. This storm was bad enough and that had Riley off work for three days but also without any food to hold on for two or three days. She normally ate at Starry Night Diner, where she worked as a waitress but no work meant no free food.
Riley finally made it to the door and pushed inside, sighing happily at the heat blasting inside. She knew it would be open still since the owners, the Carter family, lived in an apartment above the store. Thank God.
She swung to her name, smiling at the man who called her.
“Joey!” She laughed, walking over to him and giving him a quick hug. Joey was the official owner of the Joey’s Grocery and he was kind gentlemen in his fifties. Riley knew he grew up in Texas and moved to Wild junction with his wife nearly twenty years ago. His brown hair was graying and his brown eyes always twinkled in that fatherly way when he saw her. He never had children so he took all the younger adults under his wing and helped them out. He and his wife also adopted three kids, who were now adults and wanted to take over the store when Joey retired. He actually got Riley her job at Starry Nigh Diner when she first landed in the town, he was just a really nice guy.
“What are you doing out in this storm, girl?” He pointed at her, a stern look on his face. “You know this will be the worst one in the last decade!”
Riley sighed and nodded. She motioned to the food section of the store and began walking that way.
“If I don’t get something to eat for my apartment, I’m going to spend the next three days starving!” She whined but it ended with a chuckle. Joey knew exactly why she was here since she was always bad at making sure to have food before the snowstorms hit.
“What a pity!” Joey laughed. “Get as much as you want and we’ll figure out how to get you home without freezing to death. Maybe I’ll call Sheriff, how’s that? Or I can drive you!”
She was loading up her cart, shaking her head at Joey’s offer of a ride.
“You don’t need to go out there in this weather! I’ll only grab what I can carry” She hollered back at him from the back of the store. And please, she thought, no calls to Sheriff Johnson. The last thing she needed was the town sheriff coming to get her in the snow. After two years in Wild Junction, she was considered a local for some reason and Joey treated her as such. That included him and Sheriff teaming up in their good dad/bad dad routine. Not good cop/bad cop, no no. Sheriff and Joey were the town dads for anyone they damn well pleased to be.
She grabbed ramen packages, those ninety nine cent things with the seasoning package. She wasn’t a fan of the noodle cups. She also loaded up on bread and sandwich fixings. Simple, she had to keep it simple. Easy and fast to make since her cooking skills were nearly nonexistent. She also barely had the money for the food she needed. The diner paid as well at it could but the apartment was expensive in the winter thanks to costs of utilities. This was all she could afford and she knew it. So, she had to keep it not only simple but also very cheap.
She ignored the door bell chime as someone opened it and walked in. She was focused on the prize of getting home and eating over the next three days. She couldn’t, however, ignore the loud conversation Joey was now having.
“Troy Walker! Is that you, boy?” Joey’s tone was like he had never been happier to see someone.
“Yeah! Just moved back into town, how have you been? How’s business?” The other guy’s voice had her mildly interested. Young, deep but not bone vibrating deep. Had an air of trouble and fun to it that Riley knew to avoid. She didn’t do trouble, avoided it at all costs really after her last run in with trouble.
When she was done finding all the easiest things to make, she made her way back to Joey and this Troy Walker at the front counter. Looking out the front windows, she groaned at the snow coming down even harder. She was going to have to walk through a foot of snow to get home, since she knew she couldn’t stay here at the store. Fantastic.
“Business is good! Here’s one of my regulars now,” Joey motioned to her and she stepped by the incredibly tall man in her way, who didn’t bother to move for her. “This is miss Riley Stern! She moved in a couple years ago and works over at the diner. Riley, this is Troy Walker, grew up here and recently moved back.”
Troy Walker looked down at her and she finally looked at him. She held her breathe at the sight and close proximity of him. He was gorgeous.
He had to be a foot taller then her five foot two and was exotic but not in the traditional sense of that word. He had a refined face with clear, high cheekbones and haunting silver, practically mercury colored eyes. There was trouble in those eyes as well. He was pale with light gray with darker streaks of gray for hair that was at odds with his obvious youth. He wasn’t wearing a jacket, only a black thermal turtleneck that was a bit, showing off well defined pecs and his narrow waist. Even his pants were black and she realized that he looked like he stepped out from a black and white movie except for a pink tint on his cheeks from the cold outside.
“Nice to meet you, Riley, “ he grinned down at her, raising one eyebrow and checking her out. She blushed furiously and turned back to Joey, who looked about to laugh. She didn’t bother mumbling a reply.
Damn old man was playing match maker and having a great old time with himself. She glared at him and pointed to her things.
“Can we get these rung up so I can get out here before the snow blocks me in?”
Troy was suddenly gone with his own cart. She hear him just tossing stuff in, she must have reminded him that there was a snowstorm outside and people needed to get home. Joey rang her up quickly and she quickly grabbed her bags, and forcing herself out of the store as Troy walked back to the counter. She had eight blocks to cover and couldn’t waste time, too bad it was going to be a very slow walk through this.
“Wait! Riley!” She turned, only a few feet out the door to see Troy trotting to her. “Joey said you need a ride home, doesn’t want you walking in this. Can’t say I blame him, so want to a ride home?” He was grinning, holding nearly three times the amount of groceries she had. He jerked his head and she turned to what he was motioning to. A huge black SUV. She wasn’t good with vehicles so she didn’t recognize the make and model. She also didn’t care. “You can ride in that, throw your bags in the back.”
Wait, she didn’t agree to the ride.
“I can walk, it’s not that far.” She laughed nervously.
“Get in. My brothers would kill me if I left a pretty girl stranded in a snowstorm.” He threw his bags into the back and then walked back to her. He took her bags before she even had a chance to fight back. “Hop in, let’s move!” He laughed, placing her bags in their own spot.
She sighed and shook her head. Small towns, where everyone knew nearly everyone and hospitality was rule one. She didn’t like getting help from people like this but she didn’t have her own car since everything was normally an easy walk from her apartment.
Troy was holding the passenger door open for her and she stomped over to him and jumped in. He must have left the heat on, since it was wonderfully warm inside. She watched him get around the SUV and jump in on the driver’s side.
“So, where are we headed, miss Riley Stern?” He smiled over to her, leaning back in his seat.
“The apartment building down Third.” She mumbled, leaning on the door. She looked back the store and saw Joey waving them off. At least if she was murdered, he knew who she was last seen with.
“You were going to walk all the way over there in this weather?” Troy sputtered and laughed, shaking his head. “You are wild, Riley Stern. That’s pretty stupid in this kind of weather.”
She snapped her head back to him and glared. Stupid? Starving was stupid, not walking.
“I needed to get food for next few days so I didn’t starve,” she explained with a disgusted sigh. “I’m not stupid, I just didn’t think it would come down this fast.”
They were moving now and she wrapped her arms around her chest. Troy had music playing quietly and she knew the song, Get Stoned by Hinder. She hated that song since it reminded her of her last run in with a guy who meant trouble. She glared out the window, hating every second of the damn song.
“Well, I hope you got enough…” he mumbled back to her, taking a quick look to the few bags she had in the back seat.
“Yeah, that’s all I need.” She mumbled back, staring out the window.
They were quiet for a few minutes as they moved slowly through the storm. She didn’t stop glaring at the snowstorm raging outside.
“You always like this?” He finally asked, eyes on the road.
“Like what?” she snapped.
“Closed off and a little bitchy?”
She turned back to him, and gaped. He just called her bitchy? She was the nicest waitress at the diner. She had plenty of friends. Well, she had two friends and a few people she was friendly with.
“I am not bitchy!” she said, insulted by the idea. “Tired, hungry, and annoyed, sure, but I am not bitchy.”
He chuckled at her and she felt her temper rise. Finally, he just burst out laughing and she narrowed her eyes at him.
“I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have made that assumption. This just must be a bad day for a pretty girl like yourself.” He said the words between laughing and she ground her teeth. “Also, we’re here.”
“Damn right, it’s a bad day. I’m missing three days of work, I had no food, and I walked eight blocks in the snow.” she snapped as she threw off her seat belt. “I don’t need some guy up in my fucking business because he happened to offer me a ride. Plus, we both know Joey gave you a guilt trip over giving me a ride. He’s good at that shit, does it to Sheriff all the time.”
She took one last look at him and he was staring at her wide eyed. She slammed the door and opened the back, grabbing her bags with one hand. She slammed that door closed as well, just to make her point.
Gorgeous guy calling her bitchy. And stupid, let’s not forget that one. Forcing her to ride home with him because Joey was trying to play match maker. Assholes, all of them. She stomped to the side walk, the SUV not moving.
Then she missed the curb and slipped on some ice, falling down hard. She watched her groceries fall in a mess and bit back tears. This day was shitty, and she hated everything. She heard a car door open and close. She didn’t watch but she knew Troy Walker was on his way to her as she tried to stand.
“Are you okay, Riley?” She heard the laughter in his voice and glared at her groceries as she tried to grab them all.
“I’m fucking fine,” she snapped, holding back tears of pain. Her ass hurt and she knew she would have a wicked bruise on her left hip from hitting the curb with it.
He helped her grab her bags and she sighed. She eyed him, still holding back the tears of having a shitty day. She wouldn’t let them fall in front of him.
“Let me help you get these inside,” he seemed concerned now and she nodded, holding only half her bags now.
He followed her to her front door, which was up three flights of stairs and every single step hurt. At her door, she only looked at him until he finally put her bags down.
“I’ll take them from here, thank you,” she mumbled, unlocking her door. “Have a safe ride home, Troy Walker.”
“Stay warm during the storm, Riley Stern,” he whispered in her ear with a chuckle as she fought to unlock her door. She turned to him but he was already heading down the stairs. She got the door open and pushed inside.
Grabbing her bags before she closed the door back up, she realized she’d made a mistake when she left for groceries.
She left the heat off and now her apartment was below freezing. She shivered violently and ran to her kitchen and tossed the bags down to get the heat turned on. It would take about an hour for the heat to really get effective. She would need to survive until then.
She threw her groceries in their respective homes, ramen into the pantry, bread into her bread boxes (she had several, she liked bread), meats and cheeses in to the fridge. She then looked over her sparse little apartment and let the tears fall.
Shitty day back at her shitty apartment. One bedroom, small kitchen, no real dining room and a small living room, all sparsely furnished since she lost everything before she moved to Wild Junction two years ago. Everything gone thanks to her last run in with a boy and trouble.
She was content with her existence since it was hers but that didn’t make it any better on days like this one. Now all she had was an old beat up couch she bought from a guy living here in the apartment complex, a used twenty-one inch television from the same guy, and a coffee table she ate on. Her bedroom was better but not by much. She’d been able to shell out for a queen sized mattress and used bed frame with a head board that had these wonderful cubicles that she could put stuff in. It also had drawers on the bottom of both sides so she didn’t need to get a dresser. It was the only piece of furniture in the bedroom but it was comfortable and useful.
She made a quick bowl of ramen, hoping it could warm her up while she waited for the heat to really get moving. She flipped her television on and thanked God when cable wasn’t down yet from the storm. She ate and watched Master Chef, which always made her hungry and jealous but she loved Gordon Ramsey. He was wonderful and she refused to think otherwise.
As the heat finally started to work, she sighed happily and shed off her coat and other winter gear. She checked at all her fingers and toes for any signs of hypothermia, since it was finally warm enough to get rid of the layers. She dropped her dishes in the sink and decided to wash them later. Much later.
“Three fucking days stuck in here,” she sighed out loud to herself. She considered what to do with herself and finally grabbed her sketch book.
Riley was a decent artist and if her life had gone as planned, she would be done with art school by now. But she never went to art school. Hell, she snarled internally, she barely graduated high school thanks to her dad. That asshole decided he wanted to up and disappear when she was sixteen, leaving her without any parents and she got dumped into foster care. She’d done her best but art school was out of the picture thanks to him and everything else.
Then she met trouble and moved to Montana to stay with him. Best idea ever. Trouble didn’t get a name, he didn’t deserve one in her mind. He was fucking ass and it took her three tries to leave him.
She sketched furiously, thinking about her wasted life. Now she was in Colorado and just trying to get by. Wild junction was nice, best place she lived in since her childhood but at twenty-three, she wanted more then this and didn’t know how to obtain it. She didn’t want to leave but she didn’t know how to go forward either. She was stuck and she was mildly content with that most of the time.
When she looked down and saw what she sketched, she groaned. She tended to sketch on auto pilot, whatever her hand wanted to do and she found herself looking at Troy Walker. He was hot, the sexiest man she’d ever seen and he had trouble written all over him. And then she thought about that sexy whisper he gave her when he left and she shivered. She tossed the sketchbook down and considered him for a moment.
She didn’t like him, he was bad news for her but… that didn’t mean she couldn’t fantasize. That was fair game, she smiled to herself, heading to her bedroom to get some “sleep”. It would take her mind off her mediocre life for a moment and she wouldn’t even need to buy him dinner.