The Art of Getting Away
Sunday, August 16, Present
CARLOS DROVE THE winding two-lane highway through the Missouri Ozark Mountains to Table Rock Lake. Two weeks ago, when an acquaintance offered to rent him a cabin there, he’d jumped at the chance for an impromptu vacation.
Now, spending six days alone with his thoughts didn’t seem like such a great idea.
He’d considered canceling the reservation. But his anger, building over the last month, had finally boiled over and onto a complaining customer. Carlos's boss, his Uncle José, had smoothed things over with the client. Afterward, he’d suggested Carlos use the solitude of his getaway to cope with what had happened. What a load of crap.
Well, too late now. He’d either drink himself into a stupor from boredom or go crazy.
Two hours from his hometown of Clantonville, and he was thirty minutes from his destination. The cabin was supposed to be nice. Close to its own beach surrounded by trees with a view of the sunrise. Great for swimming. Lots of privacy.
His heart slammed into his throat as he hit the brakes around the next blind curve. The rear wheels of his truck broke loose, and he struggled to maintain control. He skidded to a stop two feet from an SUV sitting in the road.
He leaped out of the cab, shouting obscenities at the idiot who’d almost gotten him killed. The ability to speak escaped him when he saw a girl standing by the 4Runner. Tears ran down her face. Shit. Nothing got to him more than a crying female.
“I’m sorry!” The words tumbled out of her. “It died as I was driving. I can't push it out of the way, and I don’t know what to do. Are you okay? Are you hurt?”
In a slow sweep he took her in, from her head to her feet and back. Beautiful was the only word his brain could latch onto. With long shiny hair, she was slender and stood eight inches shorter than his six foot two. And young. In a simple tank top and cutoff jeans, her sculpted legs went on forever. His gaze got caught on her breasts for a moment before skimming to her unusual eyes. The color of turquoise, they were mostly blue with a hint of green. He mentally shook himself. Had she asked a question?
“Yeah, fine. Just rattled,” he answered. “I didn’t mean to yell at you. I'm sorry.” If only he could stop her tears. “Let’s get it out of the way. You get in. Don’t apply the brakes until it’s off the pavement.”
“I’m not stupid,” she said under her breath as she swiped at her cheeks. Louder, she added, “I can push, too. I don’t need to add my weight to it.”
“No, it’s not safe without someone steering. And you can’t weigh more than a sparrow. It’s okay, get in.” She huffed but did as he asked. “The handbrake is off, right?”
“Yes!” she said. Her feisty attitude cheered him up more than anything had since the funeral. With an extraordinary effort from his muscular frame, he got her old Toyota rolling. When he’d pushed it under the oak trees, Carlos quickly moved his Chevy behind it. Thank God that stretch of highway had a shoulder. They were scarce on these twisting roads.
He walked over, took her hand to help her out, and then held it. “I’m Carlos,” he said.
“My name’s Pandora,” she said in a husky voice. When he showed confusion, she added, “It’s from Greek mythology. You know, the woman who released troubles upon humanity? Mom said I looked mischievous when I was born. People call me Dora.”
Not sure mischievous fits. Sassy, maybe. “Nice to meet you. If you want, I’ll check it. Pop the hood?” Do you know what the trouble might be?” she asked as she bent into the interior. He couldn’t keep from noticing her perfect ass. When she straightened he glanced up too late. Busted.
“Do you know anything about engines?” she repeated.
“A bit.” It was an understatement. He’d been a professional mechanic for ten years, and a good one. “It’s not out of gas, is it?”
“It’s three-quarters full!” Again, that cheekiness. Damned if he didn’t break out in a smile.
“When’s the last time it was in for service?” he asked.
“I had it in for an oil change three weeks ago,” she answered. “And my boyfriend said the oil level was okay before I left St. Louis.”
Damn it. The mention of a boyfriend pissed him off. Under the hood, it took five seconds to see that the battery terminals were corroded. When he touched the positive cable, it wiggled.
“You have any coke?” he asked.
“What?” she screeched.
He raised an eyebrow. “The beverage.”
“Are you thirsty?” He shook his head in answer and accepted the cola she retrieved without comment. He poured a small amount on the battery. At his truck, he got his toothbrush from his duffel bag and a wrench out of the toolbox.
“I’ll need water, too, if you have it,” he said. She returned with a bottle and stood with him as he brushed until the corrosion was removed. The water washed away the debris.
After tightening the loose cable, he said, “Let’s see if that’ll get it to start.” The SUV fired immediately when she turned the key.
“You did it! You got it running,” she squealed, hopping out. “Thank you!”
Her delight brought him another honest-to-God smile. “You’re welcome. I doubt that’s the only problem, though. Have a good mechanic do a diagnostic test as soon as possible.”
“I guess I owe you one. Can I pay you?”
“Yes,” he said. “Repay me by having it repaired, okay? That way I won’t worry you’ll be stranded again and get hurt.” His concern transformed her features with wonder.
“I will.” She hesitated, looking over his handsome square jaw, black hair, and dark brown eyes. Then she surprised the hell out of him by putting a hand on his neck and tugging him close. The rich perfume of sandalwood reached him as velvet lips brushed his. “Thank you,” she whispered. Before he could move, she was gone...
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