“What the hell?” Sydney Wagner muttered as she fought to maintain control of her Saturn. It felt like the engine had dropped out. Sydney struggled to straighten out the car, pressing the brakes and fighting the pull towards the centerline. She managed to steer off to the side of the road. The car slowed to a stop. Sydney leaned over the steering wheel, and her breath came out in a whoosh. She took a moment to pause from the event, and allow the feeling of security, but only for a moment.
“Dammit!” This was going to delay her. She looked down at her cell-phone and wondered who to call for help. As if on command, it rang.
“Syd! Sweetie! How’s my girl? Wanted to call you and see how the road-trip is going.” She’d recognize Lance Lott’s voice anywhere. It seemed ironic that her friend, Lance, would call. He was the one person who couldn’t help her, being a thousand miles away in Vegas.
“Lance, my car blew up! Hold on a sec. I gotta look outside and see what the hell happened.” Sydney heels clicked on the asphalt as she proceeded to assess the damage.
“Are you okay!? What happened?”
“Looks like I blew a tire. Crap! I’m not sure I can change this thing.”
“Sure you can. Get the book out and change that tire!”
“This coming from a man who has pictures hung by professionals.”
“Syd, that’s not fair! That was a very heavy frame and expensive painting. I didn’t want to damage anything.”
“Like a fingernail.”
“Okay, I was feeling sorry for you; now I’m having serious regrets.”
“I’m sorry.” She leaned back in the car and popped the glove compartment, searching for the owner’s manual. “I’m a little stressed at the moment.”
“I know, sweetie. I’ll make everything better when I see you. Okay?”
“All right. I’ll see if I can get this thing fixed. See you in Kansas City.” She pressed her fingers to the bridge of her nose wondering how to handle this complication.
“Bye, honey.” His voice echoed as Sydney snapped the phone shut and put it in her pocket.
Fumbling through the pages, Sydney reached the section on changing a tire. She started to psych herself up. She could do this. It’s only a tire. A tire attached to a car. In that moment, Sydney was relieved she drove a smaller economy car and not the SUV’s common to the Dakotas.
She decided to take County Road 81 south from Fargo to avoid possible traffic on I-29. Now, that same choice meant she would have to change this tire alone. There wasn’t a service station within sixty miles, and the sun wasn’t expected up for another half hour. At least spring had arrived. It wasn’t uncommon to get snow in April. Well, Sydney could only blame herself. She wanted an early start this morning. Now, she would be late for the Passionate Prose Writing Convention in Kansas City.
Realizing there was little choice, she grabbed her jacket and gloves. She pulled the jack from the trunk and settled down by the rear tire and began loosening the nuts on the cover. She was getting a rhythm down by the time a pair of headlights blinded her. A truck pulled up behind the Saturn. Sydney tried to stay focused on the cover and not seem panicked. As a door slammed, she glanced up to see a pair of muscled legs striding towards her.
“Need some help?” His voice was velvet-edged and strong.
“No. I could stand to have you turn your brights off, though.” Her lips thinned in frustration. She probably shouldn’t provoke this stranger, but it was hard to keep quiet when she felt defensive.
Sydney loosened the cap and took it off. She started unscrewing the bolts within the rim, but was perplexed about how to continue. She dropped the owner’s manual on the ground behind her and was hesitant to turn and grab it.
“Damn this tire,” she muttered and heard a chuckle behind her.
She turned to appraise him. Sydney surveyed his chiseled features and decided she was in trouble. “I hope you’re enjoying this,” she said with as reasonable a voice as she could manage.
“I do find it slightly entertaining.” He leaned back on her car and put his hands in his pockets.
She was irked by his calm, relaxed manner. “Well, there’s no reason I should have all the fun. Still willing to help?” He was striking, making it hard to concentrate on what she was doing. He also looked like he could probably get the job done faster, without the heels and skirt. An image of him in her ensemble flashed through her mind and made her giggle.
“You were doing pretty well. I find it helpful if you jack up the car,” he demonstrated, “loosen all the nuts, and then pull the tire off.” He demonstrated. The tire came off straight away.
Good-looking know-it-all. He was at least six feet tall with dark blonde hair, cut in military fashion, short in the back and only slightly longer on top. It was tousled, as if he constantly ran his fingers through it. His eyes were steel gray, compelling and magnetic. He was lean, yet his presence was commanding.
“I do know how to change a tire. I’m just not dressed for it.” She gestured in a sweeping motion with her hands.
“I’m sure you can, and we don’t have changing rooms down here.” He followed her hands as she motioned down her body. She found his gaze penetrating her defenses. He got up and walked behind her.
“What are you doing?” Sydney spun to face him.
“Spare tire.” He held the tire, mocking her. His broad shoulders strained against his shirt, sending a shiver of pleasure through her; she could watch his magnificent beauty for hours.
“Since I’m getting a pretty good view of your undercarriage, don’t you think I should know your name?” He said, crouching beside her car. His arms moved with speed and agility. Sydney was momentarily distracted, imagining those strong arms encircling her, she missed what he asked.
“My what?” She self-consciously smoothed her skirt.
“Not that. My under what?”
“I thought you said…”
“Underwear?” A faint light twinkled in his charcoal eyes as the corners of his mouth turned up.
“NO! That’s not what I thought. I was thinking to view my ‘undercarriage’ you would have to be under something” She placed her hands on her hips.
Sydney’s eyes filled with a curious, deep longing, but she remained quiet. She wanted to be upset, but found it difficult, imagining him beneath her. Sydney should be wary, but something inside her said this man wasn’t dangerous. Truthfully, he could have taken advantage of her. Somehow, that wasn’t as abhorrent as it should be. She obviously had been too long without a man, at least a year since her last sexual encounter. Maybe that was why she was turned on by his attentions.
“I am not," she denied.
“Yes, you are. Now, what is your name?”
“Yes, unless you want to show me your underwear.” His eyes twinkled.
“I don’t think so," she managed to say with a straight face. “My name is Sydney. Sydney Wagner.”
“Peter Kane.” His task completed, he wiped his hands down his thighs, got up and reached out to her.
Sydney felt her skin pulse and her heart beat faster when he clasped her hand in his. The roughness of it gave her a sense of protection.
“Will you give me your number?” Peter asked with a handsome smile.
“No.” She pulled her hand away. She’d give him one thing; he was tenacious, like a dog that wants to keep chasing the ball even though he’s tired.
“Why do you want it?”
“To call you, ask you out, start dating, or maybe I’ll just call and hang up. I do that sometimes.” He winked at her.
“I’m not going to be home for awhile," she responded matter-of-factly.
“Oh?” He made his way back to the trunk, putting what was left of her tire inside and closing it.
“At least a week. I’m on my way to a convention.”
“I thought maybe you were setting up your ‘I’m washing my hair' story.”
“No. Although, it does take awhile.” Sydney timidly fingered a loose tendril that fell across her cheek.
“I’m sure it does.” His eyes ran the length of her. “If you ever need help, I run a shampoo service when I’m not changing tires.”
“I’ll keep that in mind.” She was strangely flattered by his interest.
“Please do. You know, there’s a little café in the next town south of here. You want to have breakfast while they take off this donut and put on a tire?”
“That sounds nice.” Sydney wasn’t tempted often, but she felt tempted now.
“I would be honored," he spoke and the dimples in his cheeks deepened.
The man had no right being this beautiful. I bet he knows it, too. She had no intention of letting him know it. Tilting her head defiantly, she shot back. “Don’t be. I’m hungry.”
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