Vibrant Heart: Book 1 in the Great Plains Romance Series, page 1
Sneak Peek: A Heart's Promise
The Great Plains Romance Series
About the Author
by Corrissa James
Copyright (c) 2014 Corrissa James
All rights reserved.
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Melanie Olson swore under her breath and pulled the rented Ford Fusion onto the shoulder of the barely paved country road. She was already running late thanks to a delayed flight. Now a flat tire?
She got out of the car, her high heels sinking into the soft Nebraska dirt along the shoulder, and found the culprit: the rear passenger-side wheel. Looking at it more closely, she saw a nail as thick as her thumb stuck in the tire.
“Just great,” she muttered. Glancing around, she noted the storm clouds moving in quickly from the west. The road, however, was deserted. “Naturally.” She opened the trunk to dig out the spare. “All dressed up and actually in a position to use my feminine wiles for once in my life and not a single taker. Typical!”
She was only a few miles from her parents’ house—no, check that, her father’s house. She thought about calling for some help but tossed that idea aside. It was already time for the ceremony to start, and she couldn’t interrupt the nuptials just because she wasn’t dressed to change a tire. Knowing her luck, her dad would send Raymond out to help her. Her frown deepened. Being stranded and helpless was not the impression she planned for him.
She pulled out her weekend bag and set it on the ground next to the car, followed by her laptop and the wedding gift: a large crystal punchbowl. She smiled as she pulled back the flooring of the truck to reveal the spare tire and jack kit. The punchbowl was certainly beautiful, but its significance wouldn’t be lost on her father. A shattered punchbowl had been the final straw, causing her mother to leave him.
Melanie focused on loosening the lug nuts. She was not a tiny girl by any stretch of the imagination. She looked most men in the eye and had enough meat on her that they didn’t mistake her for some starving waif. But she wasn’t a body builder, and she was beginning to think whoever attached the tire was. No matter how much she strained, the lug nut wouldn’t budge. She redoubled her efforts, anxious to get the tire changed before the storm broke. She wouldn’t have even bothered to come back for her father’s wedding except she knew Raymond would be there, and she wanted to flaunt her new position as executive editor at GPP Press. Getting her hair cut and highlighted as well as finding the pale lavender dress that accentuated her curves in all the right ways would make it all the easier to remind him of what he had given up—and she couldn’t wait to rub his nose in it.
The lug nut still wouldn’t budge. This would not do at all. Calling her dad for help because she had a flat tire would be humiliating enough. Telling him she wasn’t strong enough to remove the flat? Icing on the cake. Dammit! She was not going to let this stupid tire ruin her plans. She grabbed the bar and pressed against it with all her weight. The lug nut finally gave way, releasing against the pressure and sending her sprawling to the ground.
Her knees and palms were scraped and raw, her pale dress streaked with dirt, but Melanie didn’t care. She had gotten the first lug nut loosened. It would all be downhill from here.
Then she felt the first raindrops, fat drops that plopped heavily into the dirt around her. Everything was still sitting out next to the rental car, and she scrambled to get her laptop and luggage stuffed into the backseat.
By the time she returned to fixing the tire, the rain was coming down so hard that her dress was plastered to her body and her dark hair clung to her face and neck. She tried to loosen the second lug nut, but her wet hands couldn’t get any traction. The nut wouldn’t budge.
“Are you freaking kidding me?” she screamed. So much for showing off to Raymond. She probably looked like a drowned rat. If she even made it to the ceremony in time—which was looking doubtful at this point—and Raymond was still there, he’d be heaving a sigh of relief instead of kicking himself for letting her get away. Of course, she probably wasn’t going to see him anyway because she was stuck on the side of the road in an early afternoon thunderstorm.
“This is why I hate coming back here!” she yelled over the rain. “This. Right here!”
“Hey, darlin’, you need some help?”
Melanie spun around to find a man standing in front of a classic Chevy pickup parked several yards back, its dim lights shining on her trunk. The man’s broad shoulders—the kind that said he wasn’t afraid of hard work—were hunched up under his cowboy hat. His denim shirt was wet enough that Mel could see the muscles working under it, and she had to admit, she definitely approved. But it was when she looked up into his face that her heartbeat went all erratic. His rich green eyes seemed to sparkle, even though the sun was hidden behind thick rain clouds, and the corners of his mouth curled up slightly in a perpetual smile. She fought the urge to run her hand along his jawline and trace the outline of his bottom lip with her thumb.
“Help?” Melanie cleared her throat. She chastised herself for getting all woozy over this cowboy, which was clearly not on the schedule. Suddenly furious that help hadn’t shown up ten minutes earlier, she snapped, “No, I actually like standing here in the rain, darlin’.”
The man pushed by her to the spare tire, turning his face away slightly, but Melanie still saw him laughing.
“Why don’t you go sit in my truck where it’s dry...darlin’.” Melanie could tell he added the “darlin’” as an afterthought.
He loosened the nuts holding the spare as if they melted under his touch, and Melanie wanted to throw the nuts on the ground and stomp on the small, traitorous chunks of metal that were so pliable under his touch. Of course, who could blame them?
“How do I know you aren’t some psycho who goes around stealing women from the side of the road?” Melanie snapped at him as he hefted the spare out of the trunk, the denim shirt pulling tightly against his arms and shoulders. He set the spare on the bumper, then turned to Melanie and smiled. Melanie leaned against the car for support as she drank in his strong jawline and emerald eyes. She half wished that he would steal her, take her into his truck, and let her press her body against his.
“Psychos don’t actually change the tires before stealing the women, now do they, darlin’?”
And just like that, the spell was broken. He jacked up the car while Melanie gritted her teeth.
“Please don’t call me that.”
He moved to the far side of the car while
“Now I never did get why women don’t like being called that.” He stood up to put the flat into the trunk.
Melanie just looked at him.
“‘Darlin’, I mean.” He closed the trunk and leaned against the back of the car.
Melanie snorted. “Because it’s belittling. And patronizing. And sexist,” she said, crossing her arms. “Not that I expect you to understand that.”
He took a step to walk past her, stopping just as they were shoulder to shoulder. “But a beautiful woman stranded in the rain on the side of the road? That’s just damn sexy.”
His husky laugh gave her goose bumps.
“I said sexist, not sexy!”
He was already climbing into his truck, watching her and laughing.
Melanie scampered into her car. She scowled into the rearview mirror, waiting for him to take off, but he just sat in his truck, waiting, which infuriated her even more. She rolled down her window and waved for him to go on by her. He didn’t move.
“Fine, jerk,” she mumbled under her breath as she rolled up the window. She put the car into gear and pulled onto the road, trying to ignore the hint of disappointment she felt because she wouldn’t get to press her body against his after all.
Jake Monroe hissed through his teeth when the woman tried to wave him on. The rental company’s sticker on the back bumper confirmed his suspicions. She wasn’t from around here, which was just fine with him because he was never going to get the image of her light purple dress clinging to her body out of his mind. He suspected that she’d planned such an effect, as the violet hues of the dress matched her violet eyes perfectly. And those damn eyes with their sparks of anger sent jolts through him that made it downright uncomfortable for him to be sitting here when what he wanted to do was kiss her anger away.
When she finally pulled out, he let go of the breath he’d been holding. It was a mistake. As he exhaled, he felt the desire surge through him. He pulled out onto the road and tried not to think about the driver of the car in front of him, but it did no good. All his thoughts led back to her. For a moment he debated flashing his brights at her, flagging her down and offering to take her for a drink until the storm clouds dissipated, letting her unwind and put her bad mood behind her. She’d order something sophisticated. A brandy perhaps. A few sips into it and she’d be relaxed enough to accept his offer of a shoulder massage—and even more if she were daring, and he suspected she was very daring.
“Dammit.” He scowled. Thank God he would never see her again. She would be too dangerous to have around, too dangerous by far. His mother was right, though. He did need a woman. Maybe not in the same sense that his mother argued, but a man had needs and his needs were quickly approaching their breaking point.
Not that he hadn’t had offers.
Working in small towns for a company with a strict no fraternization policy was perfectly fine for him—most of the time, anyway. But the places he worked seemed to all have one thing in common: their love for drama. He wanted no part of that. Drama was one of the reasons he’d left small towns in the first place. If he didn’t love his job so much, he would never have returned to one—although Bender had been quite the welcoming town. And mostly drama-free so far. Only a few more months before his escape. He vowed to double down on the work and shorten that to a few weeks.
When she turned west, Jake swore loudly. She could not seriously be heading to the wedding? Of course she was—the rental car and the bags he’d noticed in the backseat, he should have figured it out. He followed her onto the same road, grimacing when her car sped up to put some distance between them. Definitely not from around here or she’d know that such a little car was likely to lose traction on the wet country road. Imagining her sliding into the ditch and needing to be rescued put a dangerous smile on his lips. Shaken up by such an accident, she’d be putty in his hands.
“Good Lord, Jake, what are you thinking!”
His mother was already going to ring his neck for being so late. If he had to call and say he’d been delayed by a good old-fashioned romp in the hay...well, his mom loved him, but possibly not that much. He slowed the truck. If the woman with the violet eyes wanted distance, he’d give her all the distance she needed. He could take a hint.
His cell phone buzzed. “Yeah, yeah.”
He knew who it was without answering it. It only rang twice. His mother’s signal. She hated cell phones, hated that people used them, and hated that Jake practically lived on his. She’d made him promise to turn it off before he arrived. The call was her final warning. It was too bad, really, because he would’ve liked to ask who the late-arriving guest was. The harder he tried not to think about her clinging dress and those electric eyes, the more prominent the vision became. Defiant, just like he imagined she would be. She wouldn’t be putty for anyone; she’d be demanding in her passion, giving just as much as she got.
Jake groaned. He would never be able to control his arousal around her if he didn’t get such thoughts out of his head.
Then again, why should he? Perhaps this was the perfect opportunity he’d been looking for. She was from out of town and didn’t have enough luggage to be staying long. If he played his cards right, he could have the pleasure of that passion, taking care of his own needs in the process, without ever having to see her again.
He turned into the lane leading to the farm and parked his truck near several other cars, lined up along the lane. He practically jogged up the lane to make sure he caught up with her, his plan for seducing her falling neatly into place in his mind.
Melanie glanced in her rearview mirror. Was he following her? Maybe he wanted something more from her. She remembered the subtle curl of his lips. They would certainly deliver a powerful kiss. She shook her head, dispelling that vision. He was probably coming for the wedding, although she hadn’t recognized him as someone her father knew. A friend of the bride, of course.
Melanie hadn’t met the bride yet. She tried to remember what her father had told her about his wife-to-be, but truth be told, she hadn’t been all that interested in hearing about her father’s love life when her own was so...nonexistent. The bride wasn’t originally from Nebraska, but she’d moved to Bender about a year ago. Melanie couldn’t remember from where—Minneapolis maybe? It was some big city, but that was all Melanie remembered because she’d been shocked that someone chose to leave the city to move to Bender, Nebraska.
Melanie saw Raymond’s beat-up old Ford truck, his “Ray’s Repairs” logo emblazoned across the tailgate, and smiled. She wasn’t really here for the wedding anyway. Maybe her luck was finally turning. She parked close to his truck, making it impossible for him to leave without asking her to move her car. Now she’d be sure to run into him.
She pulled down the visor to look at herself in the tiny mirror. Her reflection was downright horrifying. Mascara and eye shadow had pooled in murky rings below her eyes. She was afraid to look any further, assuming her entire ensemble was ruined.
She glanced at her watch. The ceremony was scheduled to start in the barn at any minute. She could sneak into the house, clean herself up, and probably make it to the ceremony before it ended. Grabbing her still-damp luggage from the backseat, she headed for the back door to the house.
“Need a hand, darlin’?”
She couldn’t stop the frustrated groan that escaped her lips. She wanted to turn around and educate this cowboy about his crassness but ignored him—partially to avoid his chiseled features, but mostly to hide her raccoon eyes—and stormed to the back door instead. She threw open the screen door and stepped forward. While holding it open, she twisted the handle on the main door.
The cowboy reached o
“Thanks,” she mumbled, just as someone opened the door from inside, nearly pulling her off balance. The cowboy grabbed her elbow to steady her, but Melanie jerked away, startled by the shock and warmth the contact spread throughout her arm.
A short blond woman stood in the doorway, her hands on her hips and a frown on her lips. “You think you can sneak in like this on today of all days?” The older woman shook her head and stepped aside, waving Melanie through the doorway.
Melanie fumbled with her suitcase, trying to push through the door as fast as she could so that the cowboy wouldn’t touch her again.
“Oh Lord,” the woman said to Melanie. “Honey, you’re a fright. Don’t just stand there, Jake. Be a gentleman and help her out.”
“No, really, it’s okay.” Melanie finally got both herself and her suitcase through the doorway and into the mud room just off the kitchen.
“Nonsense!” The older woman put her hand on Melanie’s arm. “Make ‘em work for it, hon. They’ll appreciate it later.” She winked, as if the two women were sharing a secret, then turned to Jake. “Now you get her settled in upstairs, then you and I are gonna be having some conversating, young man.”
“Yes, ma’am.” Jake grabbed Melanie’s suitcase and headed for the stairs at the far end of the kitchen.
“Don’t you worry, darlin’,” the woman said to Melanie. “You just get yourself cleaned up.”
At the top of the stairs, Jake stood waiting for her. She didn’t see her suitcase anywhere.
“I put it in the tub. Didn’t want to get mud everywhere.”
“Thank you.” Melanie turned into the bathroom and slammed the door behind her.
Finally alone again, she leaned against the sink and sighed heavily, forcing herself to relax. The flight, the drive, the flat tire, the cowboy Jake—she’d survived it all. Now to clean herself up, go find Raymond, and show him what a mistake he had made letting her go. From this point forward, this weekend would be nothing but sweet satisfaction.