Chapter One – You Want Me to Pump What?
by Jannine Gallant
Snow drifted from the leaden sky, huge flakes splattering against the windshield like squashed bugs. Terrific. This day just kept getting better and better.
It never snowed in Georgia. Well, almost never. The thought of balmy days lounging beneath a magnolia tree had been the main reason Candy Wright had deserted the slushy streets and frigid temperatures of Manhattan to spend the holidays with her old college roommate. That and the fact that she’d been forced to close The Wright Way, her advertising agency, for seven excruciatingly long days. When she’d suggested forgoing the traditional week off, her senior staff assured her morale would not be improved by such an action. If their incredulous expressions were any indication, the result would be a full-blown insurrection.
She glanced down at the glowing gas pump on the gage of her rental sedan and bit her lip. If she didn’t stop soon, she’d find herself stranded. Up ahead, the vague outlines of buildings appeared through the gloom. Thank heavens. It didn’t look like much of a town, just a wide spot in the road with a gas station. Maybe she could get a cup of coffee while they filled her tank. Both she and the car needed fuel for the drive ahead. She pulled up before the pumps and opened the car door. A gust of cold wind, damp with snow, slapped her in the face. Huddling into the soft folds of her cashmere sweater, she hurried across the oil-stained pavement, detoured around a big yellow tow truck parked smack in front of the building, and entered the convenience store attached to the open garage bay.
Bad coffee beat no coffee at all.
The swinging door slapped shut behind her. A dark haired, pimple-faced teen sat on a stool behind a counter cluttered with racks of candy bars and bags of chips. She headed for the coffee maker and poured dark liquid into a Styrofoam cup. Adding a packet of sugar, she carried it to the counter.
“Can I pay for this with my gas?”
The boy snapped his gum. “Sure, but the pump ain’t runnin’.”
Taking a deep breath, she held back a sharp retort and spoke in a level voice. “It will be as soon as someone pumps my gas.”
“Lady, we don’t pump the gas. You do.”
Every other gas station she'd stopped at in small towns provided old-fashioned full service. Why did this one have to be modernized? Maybe she could sweet talk him. “It’s snowing.”
She took another breath. The kid probably wasn’t a Mensa member. “Surely someone here can pump my gas. For a tip?”
He snorted. “Ain’t no one here but me and Mitch.”
It seemed obvious the boy wasn’t going to get off his butt. “Maybe this Mitch person can do it.”
Behind the teen, the door opened, and a man stepped through from the garage bay. He reminded Candy of the guy on those old Marlborough billboards, broad shoulders beneath a denim jacket and long legs encased in faded jeans. Little lines fanned out from eyes the color of a summer sky. His hard jaw, covered with a day’s growth of stubble, was set at a stubborn angle. Firm lips curved in the barest hint of a smile as he regarded her from beneath overlong sandy blond hair. She guessed he was in his early to mid thirties, maybe a couple years older than she was. A hottie to be sure, but as different from the men she occasionally dated as a no-tell motel was from the five star accommodations she favored.
“Did I hear my name?”
The boy grinned. “This lady, here, wants you to pump her gas.”
Candy watched his gaze skim over her, from the top of her mink brown hair pulled back and fastened with a gold clip, down the length of her moss green sweater to the short skirt beneath, ending with a study of her black leather boots with three inch spike heels. He rolled his eyes.
Angry heat crept up her neck. Turning on her heel, she spoke over her shoulder. “Forget it. I’ll do it myself.”
“Hey, don’t be in such a rush. I don’t mind pumping your gas.”
Pride urged her to march out the door, but the snow falling steadily convinced her otherwise. “I would appreciate it. I’m not dressed for a snowstorm.”
“You don’t say.”
Gritting her teeth, she watched him walk toward her car. Jeans had rarely looked so fine. But a superb ass didn’t make up for a sarcastic personality. She sipped the steaming coffee and made a face. The motor oil in the rack by the grimy window probably tasted better.
A few minutes later, the boy said, “Your tank is full. With the coffee, it comes to $52.50.”
She paid with a credit card and took a five dollar bill out of her wallet. After signing the receipt, she left the store, dropping the cup of coffee in the trash can by the door. Blinking against the falling snow, she approached the man scraping snow off the windshield of her rental car and held out a hand with the folded bill in it.
“Thanks, I appreciate the help.”
He stared down at her. “How about I give you a tip instead. This storm is supposed to get worse. Highway patrol is advising motorists to stay off the roads. There’s a motel about two blocks up the street. Get yourself a room for the night.”
Blood pounded behind her temples at his big strong man is smarter than the dumb little lady tone. When her male colleagues spoke to her that way, she wanted to… She closed her eyes for a moment and shoved the five back in her purse.
“I’m afraid I have a plane to catch.”
She opened the car door. “That’s right.”
His gaze drifted to her bare left hand. “Let me guess. You went home to your family for Christmas, and your boyfriend is chomping at the bit, waiting for your return. No man is worth risking your life. Change your flight.”
“If I were you, I wouldn’t quit my day job. Your fortune telling skills are pathetic.”
A wide grin stretched across his face, revealing even white teeth. There was something familiar about that smile… She shook her head. The man was a complete stranger. He probably looked like some bit actor she’d seen in a movie.
“Well, at least I won’t be the one scraping you off the pavement. My shift’s nearly over.”
She raised one brow. “I don’t understand.”
He jerked a thumb over his shoulder. “I drive the tow truck.”
It figured. “Thanks for the vote of confidence.” She slid onto the car seat and slammed the door. Pulling out of the gas station, she glanced into the rearview mirror. Mr. Hottie Mitch Whoever stood with his arms crossed over his chest, watching as she drove into the blinding snow.