Jump to the first story
Have yourself a merry little Christmas…
The song blared through hidden speakers in the overheated airport lobby. Arms crossed, Reece leaned against a post and waited patiently while the customer in front of him questioned the rental car agent about the best route to Denver. Five years ago, he would have wanted to strangle the guy for holding up the line. The Marines had taught him the value of patience—and that there were far more efficient ways than strangulation to take out an obstacle in his path. Eventually the man moved away, and he stepped forward.
The agent’s eyes widened as her gaze moved from his face downward. The diamond stud in her nose sparkled beneath fluorescent lights, and fingers with black painted nails fluttered. “Do you have a reservation, sir?”“No, I don’t.” He softened the blunt statement with a smile. “I’d like to rent a car, preferably something with four wheel drive.”
“Sorry, but we don’t have any left. Everyone upgraded when the snow started.” She tapped buttons on her computer and nodded. “Yep, the last vehicle on the lot that isn’t reserved is a midsized sedan. Will that work?”
Her voice, raised to be heard over the endless loop of cheery holiday music, echoed in the sudden silence before A Holly Jolly Christmas erupted from the sound system. Behind him, people grumbled and swore as half the line stampeded toward the other rental agency desks.
“I’ll take it.”
She started tapping buttons again. “Good choice. I’m pretty sure the competition is sold out by now, too.”
To his left, a thud shook the floor. He glanced over his shoulder and met Lacey Chandler’s wide eyed gaze. The color drained from her face, and she plopped down on top of the oversized suitcase.
“How am I supposed to get to Denver, then?”
The agent slapped a rental agreement on the counter and pointed. “Sign here. I’ll need to see your driver’s license and a credit card. ” Her brows drew together as she looked up and frowned at Lacey. “You should have made a reservation.”
Her mouth opened, then closed, and her lips tightened. Reece admired her restraint. A moment later, the fight drained out of her, and her shoulders slumped. Compassion filled him.
“I’ll give you a ride if you like.”
Lacey regarded him with a mixture of suspicion and hope. She chewed her lip. “I wouldn’t want to inconvenience you.”
“We’re both going in the same direction, and I’ll enjoy the company.” He handed over his credit card then turned to face her. “I know taking a ride from a stranger is incredibly stupid, but I swear I mean you no harm. You have my word.”
Troubled blue eyes regarded him for a long moment before she finally nodded. “I believe you."
Relief surged through him. For some reason it was important he earn this woman’s trust. “Hold tight. I’m almost finished.” He glanced at the agent. “Aren’t I?”
She handed back his license and credit card. “A couple more details. Do you want full insurance?”
Sleet rattled against the sliding glass doors leading out of the airport terminal. “Sure, give me the insurance. Oh, and for the record, I’ll be dropping the car off in Denver.”
With an ill-concealed eye roll, she tapped on the computer again then pushed over a key. “Normally we like to keep our cars local, but since you’re a hero and all…”
Taking the key, he scooped up the paperwork. “I’m no hero. The real heroes are the men and women still over there—and the ones who’ll never come home.”
Turning sharply, he hefted his duffle bag. When he bent to grab Lacey’s suitcase handle, his palm closed over slender fingers. Their gazes locked.
“I can get it.” Her voice was soft, almost breathless.
“Call me old fashioned, but my mother didn’t raise me to let a woman carry a heavy bag.”
“It has wheels.”
He pulled it from her grip. “The principle still holds. Humor me.”
Smiling, she slung the strap of her carry-on bag over her shoulder. “A man should always listen to his momma. I’m not going to stand in your way.”
“I like you this way better.”
Her brow shot up. “Huh?”
“Feisty beats defeated every time.”
She skipped a step to catch up with him, then tugged the hood of her jacket over her shining blonde hair as they stepped through the sliding doors into a gust of wind laced with snow. “I’m not usually such a baby, but the day started out bad and only got worse. I’ve been playing catch-up since the moment my alarm went off.”
Glancing at the number on the rental form, he located the slot holding a boring, tan sedan. With a shrug, he popped open the trunk. “Sounds a lot more exciting than my day. Let’s hear all the details.” After dropping his duffle bag into the trunk, he eyed her oversized suitcase and then loaded it onto the back seat.
She slid into the passenger side and turned to face him as he shut the door. Cold air filled the car, and a gust of wind rocked it. The storm was growing worse. He wished again for a four wheel drive and thought of the Humvees he’d driven when he wasn’t flying over the mountains of Afghanistan. Nothing rocked those babies but a roadside bomb. Dragging his thoughts back to the present before misery could grab him by the throat, he smiled at Lacey. She was both sweet and sexy, a contradiction that made him wish he hadn’t promised to be a complete gentleman.
Turning on the engine, he adjusted the seat and mirrors and cranked up the heat. “Why did your day start out so bad?”
“A last minute client demanded my attention. I had to change my flight to a later one to accommodate him. We all know how well that turned out.”
He frowned. “A client needed his accountant on Christmas Eve?”
Those big, blue eyes blinked at him, and color crept into her cheeks. “I’m not an accountant.”
“But you said—”
“No, you assumed when I mentioned numbers.” She straightened in the seat and lifted her chin. “I’m a personal shopper and a math whiz.”
Warmth filled him, and it wasn’t from the still cool air blasting from the heat vents. He tried not to laugh as he pulled out of the parking lot but couldn’t hold back a chuckle. “Will you hit me if I tell you that you look more like a personal shopper than an accountant?”
Her smile took on an edge. “I might.”
“You know what?”
“I’m almost afraid to ask.”
“I’m glad our plane got rerouted. I’m thrilled they ran out of rental cars. Something tells me the next couple of hours are going to be the highlight of my week.”
The conclusion to Going Home will post tomorrow. You can find all my books on my website, Amazon, and Barnes & Noble. Thanks for stopping by!