Happy Campers

Vanessa Hart

 

Chapter One

Leslie Turner cringed at her sister’s wild driving. “Slow down, Kat.”

“I'm only going thirty.”

“The speed limit's fifteen for a reason.” Leslie stared through the motor home's windshield at the maze of narrow, steep winding roads in Lake Helen Campground. Tall pines and uncultivated shrubbery crowded both sides of the road except where numbered posts identified the campsites.

“Relax.”

Yeah, right. If they made it to their campsite, then Leslie would relax and appreciate the Georgia mountain scenery. She checked the campsite numbers against the campground map. “Not much farther. Turn here.”

Kat churned up gravel making the turn to their loop. “Which one is ours?”

Leslie pointed to the horseshoe-shaped clearing and exhaled a relieved breath. “Here it is. Lucky thirteen.”

As the words escaped Leslie’s mouth, a tree limb scraped the curbside of the vehicle. There weren't any curbs here, but Rob, Kat's husband, had called the passenger side “curbside” when he’d given them a brief orientation on motor home use. Kat jolted to a stop in and killed the motor. Groaning, she shoved open the driver's side door.

Leslie unbuckled her seatbelt and bolted from the motor home’s cab to survey the damage. A dark scratch zigzagged the length of the vehicle. Kat pointed to the culprit, a gnarled bush leaning into the roadway.

“How am I supposed to see a tree like that? It’s growing sideways, for crying out loud.” Turning back to the scratch, Kat stomped her foot. “Shit! Would you look at that? Rob’s going to kill me.”

“It’ll probably buff out,” a masculine voice assured them.

Leslie and Kat spun around to face an olive-skinned man in his early-to-mid thirties. His awesome blue eyes examined at the side of the motor home. He stuffed both hands into the pockets of his hiking shorts, which exposed tanned, muscled legs. Leslie fought the ridiculous impulse to finger-comb his rich brown hair.

Man, this guy was Superman to Josh Irvin’s Clark Kent. Stop that! She’d promised herself no more thoughts of Josh. She vowed to forget that heartbreaking creep. But she’d wager this guy broke hearts, too.

“You think?” Kat asked, as if reading Leslie’s thoughts.

Leslie blinked, struggling to form a coherent response. Then she remembered they were talking about buffing out the scratches on the motor home, not handsome heartbreaking hunks.

“It’s fiberglass. A little polish, some elbow grease, and this Rob person will be none the wiser.”

Then he smiled, his gaze settling on Leslie. Unsettling on Leslie, she decided. The sexy curve of his mouth softened the hard set of his jaw, the not-quite-straight nose—probably broken once in football—the defects that kept him from being perfectly handsome.

She looked away, but her traitorous gaze boomeranged back to his face. “Thanks for the advice.”

His smile widened, sucking the oxygen from her lungs. Damn him… Talk about eye candy. She could quickly forget her broken heart and Josh as long as she had this guy to look at. But, no. She would not make a fool of herself over another handsome face.

Turning away, she held out her hand to Kat. “The keys. I have to hook up the power.”

The gravel crunched beneath the man’s feet as he retreated. “I’m in twelve if you need any help.”

Kat pulled the keys from the ignition and handed them to Leslie. “Hmm. Do you need any help, sis?”

Leslie deliberately ignored the suggestive tone. “Yes. You can hook up the water hose.”

“Sure thing.” With her usual enthusiasm, Kat pulled the water hose from the motor home’s side bin, as if she actually knew what she was doing.

Leslie unlocked the tiny door marked Power, then unrolled the heavy black electrical cord from its storage cubby hole. “I don’t know how I let you talk me into this camping trip.”

“Will you lighten up? We haven’t had a girls-only getaway since Rob and I got married. This will give us a chance for quality time together.”

Yeah, right. An entire week of quality time, which meant Kat would have her nose buried in one of her romance novels that she’d stuffed in her tote bag, leaving Leslie too many lonely hours in the north Georgia woods to think.

“You were always the outdoors type. Where’s your sense of adventure?” Kat asked.

Leslie sighed. Her sister meant well. “You’re right. It’s been a tough year and I could use a retreat.”

She’d make the most of the week with Kat. After all, it had been a while since they’d enjoyed time just to themselves. But Leslie vowed she’d ignore the distraction of the hunk in the next campsite. She’d sworn off sex and men, with good reason.

* * * *

Gray Webster lowered himself into his lawn chair, then picked up the tackle box he'd been organizing before the arrival of his new neighbors. He wondered if they were going to be needing his help again.

He hoped so.

It wasn’t supposed to be like this. He wasn’t supposed to feel that sizzle of attraction toward a woman, particularly one he didn’t even know. He wasn’t supposed to be fantasizing about her, without knowing her name or even her marital status.

With two weeks to go before his wedding, he probably had last-minute jitters. Every bridegroom suffered those, didn’t they? At thirty-four, he knew his own mind and was ready to settle down. And Myra Brewer was one special lady. Even his mother had thought so.

He shook off thoughts of his mother, swallowing the knot of sorrow lodged in his throat. She was gone now, and he had grieved long enough. Or did one ever stop grieving? Forcing his thoughts elsewhere, he watched the activity in campsite thirteen.

The woman worried about Rob, presumably the absent owner of the mini-motor home, had long, wavy auburn hair and a beautiful face. She carried herself with an air of confidence and glamour. He quickly dismissed her, drawn instead to her delightful companion. The same auburn-color hair, in a shorter style, framed a face made lovelier by its lack of makeup.

Gray had always been a sucker for the sporty look, the natural beauty. Myra had that look, with her scrubbed, fair skin, mossy green eyes and thick mane of blunt-cut blond hair. Otherwise, he might be a goner now for the spunky lady next door. But he had Myra. In two short weeks they would be man and wife. And bless her, this camping trip had been her idea.

“Enjoy one last getaway, sugar, before you sell that camper. Have yourself a week to fish, hike, whatever those man-things are you like to do.” She had grinned before kissing him. “Most of all, miss me like crazy.”

He had solemnly sworn to do so. And he did miss her. Why else would he be watching two women struggle with a water hook-up? His hands stilled over his fishing tackle as he took in their battle with a thread-less water faucet. Unable to ignore their problem, he rose from his chair, then sauntered over to site thirteen.

“Okay, Les, turn it on,” Long Hair instructed.

Short Hair turned the faucet handle. The white hose broke loose, dumping water to soak her once-white canvas shoes. She struggled to reach the faucet through the deluge, deflecting a spray of water up her arms. Drenched, she danced around in the red mud, defeating the faucet. Turning off the water, she spun and stumbled over the hose. Her feet shot out from under her, landing her hard on her backside into the slick mud.

“Hell fire shit!” From her, the obscenity sounded more like a nursery rhyme.

He suppressed a grin. “Do you ladies have a water thief?”

Short Hair glared at him. “Of course not! Why would anyone steal our water?”

He chuckled in spite of the fury in her eyes.

“Well, I’m glad we could entertain you, Mister…”

“Gray Webster. Let me give you a hand.”

Short Hair slipped her wet hand into his. He tugged her to her feet, trying to ignore his awareness of her touch. How ridiculous to feel a zing from a muddy woman’s dripping hand. He especially tried to keep from staring at the way her wet shirt clung to two firm, perfect tits. Oh, boy. Her cone-shaped, dusky nipples threatened to poke through the fabric.

Long Hair stepped forward, hand outstretched. “Nice to meet you, Gray Webster. I’m Kathleen Hupp, and this disagreeable person is my sister, Leslie Turner.”

Wiping her dampened hands across the very attractive rear of her soaked jeans, Leslie brushed at the wet layer of mud. “Nice to meet you, Mr. Webster.”

“Gray.”

“Gray.” Her glare returned, this time directed at her sister. “And I am not disagreeable.”

The woman named Kathleen shrugged, a hint of laughter dancing in her eyes. “If you say so.”

He gestured toward the faucet. “A water thief is an adapter for threadless faucets. You may have one in one of the storage bins.”

“Okay, Kat. Find us a water thief among Rob’s gizmos.”

As Kathleen—or “Kat” as Leslie called her—busied herself unpacking the storage compartments in search of a water thief, Gray kneeled beside the discarded water hose. “You also need to spray the faucet and hose connections with a bleach solution to sanitize them.”

“Rob didn’t tell us about that.”

From inside one of the compartments Kat’s muffled voice answered, “I seriously doubt Rob concerns himself with sanitation when he’s on a fishing trip.”

Leslie flashed him a smile and shrugged. “Rob’s her husband. We’re borrowing his camper and we’re not used to it.”

He started to ask if it was Rob’s rig they weren’t used to or camping in general. However, his mouth refused to work while the rest of him focused on the adorable dimple at the right corner of her mouth.

“Eureka!” Kat held up a threaded brass fitting.

“No, that’s your in-line water pressure regulator. You’ll need that, too.”

The dimple disappeared. Leslie rubbed at her temples, painting them with two mud stripes. “Rob didn’t tell us about a water pressure regulator.”

“It protects the plumbing inside your coach from high water pressure. You attach it between the faucet and the water hose, unless the faucet isn’t threaded. Then you need the water thief.”

Leslie shook her head. “I’m afraid Rob’s orientation didn’t cover everything we need to know.”

“Could you help me look, Gray?”

“Kat.” Leslie spoke to her sister as if she were addressing a naughty child. “We don’t want to impose on the man.”

“I’m a veteran at this. Always happy to get new campers started.”

Emptying the outside compartments of plastic storage bins didn’t take long. He located the water thief as well as other items they needed for hooking up.

“This is a volt meter. You need to plug this in to one of your coach outlets to monitor your power.” He laid the device in Leslie’s outstretched hand.

“How do we monitor our power?”

He met her serious gaze and forgot her question. Thick dark lashes fringed her brown eyes. He thought of chocolate drops. “I—I beg your pardon?”

“You said to monitor our power. What do we do with this volt meter thingie?”

He launched into a brief explanation of electricity and voltage requirements of the motor home, showing her how to gauge if the voltage dropped below adequate levels.

“Rob didn’t say anything about that,” Kat said.

He had a feeling there were a good many things Rob had neglected in his briefing. “Maybe he thought it more information than you needed for no longer than you’d be camping.”

“A week?” Kat shrieked.

“You’re staying all week?” He struggled to keep himself from beating a path back to his camper and locking himself in.

Both women nodded.

“Me, too. And I’m just next door if you have any more questions.” Gray shuddered at the prospect.

After overseeing the water connection, Gray returned to his own campsite. The two women might have been easy on the eyes, but they were clueless with the motor home. He had a feeling it was going to be a long week.

* * * *

“I think that’s everything.” Leslie pushed her short, damp tendrils away from her sweaty forehead. “I thought it was supposed to be cooler in the mountains.”

“It is. Think how hot we’d be if we had stayed in Atlanta.”

She murmured agreement, while thinking about the cool air-conditioned condo she’d left behind. “I’ll cook tonight, since you drove. Okay?”

“Sure.” Kat dusted her hands. “So? What do you think?”

Leslie smoothed a plastic table cloth over the picnic table, then secured the edges with metal clips. “About what?”

“About the hunk next door.”

She cringed. “Jeez. Why don’t you get out your cheerleader’s megaphone?”

“He can’t hear us. He’s playing some kind of old people’s music.”

Old people’s music? Leslie strained to hear the low melody drifting over from his boom box. Vaguely familiar … she searched her memory, trying to recognize the song. Brass sounds blended with a snappy piano run.

I’ve Got Rhythm.”

“You’d better go on the pill, too, as back-up.”

“What? Oh, for heaven’s sake, Kat. Is sex all you think about?”

Kat snapped open a lawn chair then plopped down. “You’re the one bringing up birth control.”

“No, silly. I’ve Got Rhythm is the name of the song. It’s Gershwin.”

“If you say so. I still think with a good-looking specimen like Gray Webster next door it’s a good idea to be prepared. Are you on the pill?”

She perched on the picnic table bench. “You of all people know why I’ve sworn off sex and men, Kat.”

Kat raised an eyebrow. “Even a Pierce Brosnan look-alike? Hell-o. Do you have a pulse?”

“Give it a rest.”

“Not bloody likely!” Kat launched into her Mae West impersonation. “As long as Rob’s willing, I’m ready.”

Leslie exhaled an exasperated breath. “The matchmaking, Kat. Give the matchmaking a rest.”

“Oh.” Kat flipped open the paperback. “I might as well read.”

As if she’d had any other plans. Leslie had to concede that readers like her sister kept her in a job. She had just made her deadline for her third book and looked forward to a vacation before starting her next project. Unfortunately, she had let Kat derail her original vacation plans. As for the book Leslie had a contract to write, well, that was another disappointment. For the first time in her life, she faced a writer’s block of titanic proportion.

Of course, Kat had blamed stress for the writer’s block, touting an escape to nature in Rob’s motor home as a cure-all. Kat blamed everything on stress, and always had a suggested escape. A twinge of envy nibbled at Leslie. Although she loved her sister dearly, she had always seemed to miss out on the happiness Kat freely gave and grabbed. At twenty-eight, Kat was settled with the man of her dreams. Already thirty, Leslie had too many failed relationships to her credit. She wasn’t about to risk another, certainly not with the stranger in site twelve.

She pushed herself up from the narrow bench, then stretched. Her skin and scalp itched with dried perspiration from exertion and the warm spring weather. Dried mud spotted her hands and arms.

“I need to take a shower before dinner.”

She doubted Kat heard her as she stepped inside the stuffy motor home. After opening windows for cross ventilation, Leslie stripped out of her mud-caked jeans and sweaty T-shirt, stepped into the cramped bathroom, then pulled the vinyl shower curtain around her, transforming the room into a shower.

She turned on the water.

And screamed.

 

 

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