The scenery on Highway 2 was travel magazine
worthy. Guy had seen enough of the world to know heaven when he saw it, and Western Washington with its lush trees,
sparkling waters and mountains was, indeed, heaven. Not a bad detour if you had
to take one.
Guy roared through Monroe, then Sultan and
Skyway, racing past forests and rivers, pastures, and barns. The snow was
really starting to come down. He’d have to stop and chain up once he reached
Three miles past Gold Bar his steering lost
power, turning the car from a smooth driving, purring tiger to a rhino. He
checked the dash and saw his alternator light was on. What was this? He pulled
over, got out and opened the hood and looked under it to discover that his
serpentine belt had broken. No notice, sudden as a heart attack.
Except for that squeal. He’d heard it earlier,
too, but hadn’t paid attention.
He had no choice but to pay attention now. Guy
may not have been an expert on cars but he did know that without that belt, he
was going nowhere.
Frowning, he pulled his cell phone out of his
North Face jacket. He hoped he wouldn’t have to wait long for his towing
service to get to him. Who knew where they could tow him. Would he find a
garage anywhere that would have a belt for an Italian sports car?
No cell reception. Oh, yeah, it just got better
“Great,” he muttered. He’d just had this baby
tuned up a couple months back. He shouldn’t be stuck here in the middle of
nowhere. Why had he paid extra at the foreign car dealership for all those
maintenance checks if they weren’t going to check and maintain everything?
There was nothing for it. He’d have to walk back
to town and find a phone.
He slammed the hood shut, pulled his boots out
of the trunk and put them on, still frowning. He liked snow, he was fit enough
to walk ten miles if he had to. He just didn’t want to. He wanted to reach his
destination. Thanks to whatever Gremlins had hopped in his engine along the way
that probably wasn’t happening today.
He was just starting his trudge to town when an
older model Honda Civic passed him and then stopped. It backed up and the
passenger side window slid down. “Looks like you’ve got car troubles. Would you
like a lift?” offered the driver.
Hadn’t this woman’s dad ever told her never to
pick up strangers? If she was his sister he’d sure rip her a new one for
stopping to let some man in her car, even in a blizzard. She had green eyes,
curly hair the color of honey and plump, little kiss-me lips. Any crazy would
climb right in and do who knew what to her.
Guy wasn’t crazy, but he was pissed, and in no
mood to make polite conversation.
“That’s okay, I’m fine,” he said, and
continued to trudge on.
Freezing his ass off. Okay, maybe he was crazy.
Except, pissed as he was, he’d generate more
than enough steam to keep warm.
She sure was cute though.
She coasted along beside him, backwards. “Not
that you don’t look fit enough to walk, but it’s a ways in either direction.
Cell phone reception can be spotty.”
He’d already discovered that.
“Maybe you’re afraid of girls?” she teased.
Not this girl. She had a smile like a magnet.
Did he really want to walk back to Gold Bar?
He got in. “Thanks. I appreciate the lift.”
“Where are you headed?”
“Idaho. Christmas with the
“Oh, my. You took the long way.”
“I had to stop in Arlington and pick up something
for my mom.”
She nodded and smiled, obviously impressed by
what a good son he was. Was this woman always so trusting?
He felt compelled to ask, “You don’t always go
around picking up strangers, do you?”
“Oh, no.” She smiled. Man, those lips.
“That’s good. Cause you never know what kind of
crazies are out there.”
“You didn’t look like one.”
“Ted Bundy probably didn’t either. Ever hear of
him?” Okay, that sounded creepy.
Her smile faltered momentarily.
“I promise I’m not a serial killer,” he said in
an effort to uncreep himself.
The smile returned full force. “I didn’t think
so. I’m a good judge of character.”
“Yeah?” Suddenly he was feeling a little less
“Oh, yes,” she said with a nod that made the
He was a sucker for curly hair. You hardly ever
saw women with real curly hair anymore. Why was that?
“And what makes you such a good judge of
character?” he teased. She smelled like peppermint. He wondered if this little
cutie was taken. Hard to tell since she was wearing gloves. There had to be a
ring on that left hand. She looked about thirty, and by their thirties hotties
like this one were never single. Or if they were they came with baggage.
“I deal with a lot of people. You get so you
“Yeah? What do you do?” Coffee shop waitress,
perhaps? Judging by the car she was driving, nothing that paid much.
“I run a non-profit.”
Oh, no. One of those. A person out to help
others … using someone else’s money, of course. The memory of his unpleasant
encounter with Olivia Berg arrived on the scene, irritating as jock itch. He
could feel his jaw tightening.
This woman isn’t Olivia
Berg. Don’t take your irritation out on her. “What’s the name of your organization?”
he asked, the very image of diplomatic courtesy.
“Christmas from the Heart.”
“Christmas from…?” Oh, no. This wasn’t
happening. This was some sick dream.
“Have you heard of it?”
“Uh, yeah.” The last thing he wanted was to be
captive in a car with this woman. “Hey, any place you can drop me where there’s
a phone will be great.” In fact, let me
get out of this car right here, right now.
“I can do better than that. We’re not far from Pine River where I live,” she
said. “We’ve got a garage there and Morris Bentley is an excellent mechanic.
They can tow your car and have it fixed in no time.”
The sooner the better.
“My name’s Olivia Berg. My friends call me
He would not qualify for friendship once she
learned who he was. As far as this woman was concerned he was the devil
She gave him an encouraging glance. And your name is?
Oh, boy. He could feel the sweat sneaking out of
his pores. He’d been perfectly justified in cutting loose her little charity.
He had no cause to feel guilty. None. But there she was smiling at him like
they were on the road to friendship. Little Olivia Berg, the great judge of
character. And here he was, feeling like Scrooge in front of a firing squad.
With no blindfold.
Even though he had nothing to be ashamed of he
couldn’t seem to spit out his name. Lie.
Joe. Good, old everyman Joe.
Her expression asked, “Joe What?”
Joe…Joe… Why was this woman so pushy?
A truck rolled past, sending up a rooster tail
of snow. “Ford,” he added. “Joe Ford.”
“Nice to meet you, Joe.”
She wouldn’t be saying that if she knew who he was.