Unplanned love a love in.., p.2

Unplanned Love: A Love In Spring novel, page 2

 

Unplanned Love: A Love In Spring novel
 



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  No. No, no, no, no. Please, no!

  Fine, no problem. She’d call AAA, and they’d send a tow truck and take her to Spring Harbor. No big deal. It shouldn’t be too far anyway, and that was what insurance was for, right?

  She reached for her phone in the cup holder and held it up. She tapped the screen, but nothing happened. She tapped again, a little more forcefully, and pressed the on switch, but the screen remained black.

  “You stupid phone,” she screamed, slamming it against the seat. “You were working just fine this morning, and now you’re leaving me?”

  She slammed her fist on the console and winced at the pain that shot up from her hand.

  “Stupid car, stupid phone, stupid country roads!”

  She took a deep breath, held it in while she counted to five, then let it all out on a half whoosh, half groan. Eventually, she collapsed against the wheel and let out an annoyed grunt. Okay, this had to be the lowest this day could get. Now it could only get better, right?

  “Okay, Charli. You can do this. You’re an efficient businesswoman who’s used to dealing with last-minute glitches,” she said out loud, staring at her reflection in the rearview mirror. “You just need to stop panicking and start thinking. You can pull this off.”

  She gave a fake smile, trying to look more in control than she actually felt—the same look she’d practiced and used more than once with clients when something went wrong during an event.

  I can do this. I can so do this.

  “Okay, so. We just need a plan of action now.” Talking out loud to herself as if there were a twin Charli sitting next to her was a technique she’d learned would help her get over the panic and find a solution faster. Little did it matter that people might think she was crazy. “I should probably pop the hood and check if something’s wrong.” She rolled her eyes. “Yeah, as if you’d be able to tell the carburetor from the radiator. Okay, think. Think.” She pressed both index fingers to her temples and squeezed her eyes shut. A moment later, there was a knock on the driver’s side window, and she shrieked like the protagonist of a horror movie.

  “You okay there?” A man with a scruffy face and a navy-blue ball cap stared at her with a frown from outside the car. Visions from that episode of Criminal Minds she’d watched with Donnie just the other week flashed in front of her eyes, and she saw her lifeless body lying in a ditch by the side of this godforsaken country road, while coyote and bears feasted on her tender flesh. Her right hand grabbed her purse from the passenger seat, and she pulled out her handgun and pointed it at the man standing outside the car. His face came a little closer to the window as he squinted inside.

  “Step back or I’ll shoot you!”

  He jumped back, holding up his hands in front of him. “Whoa there, lady! Chill out. I only wanted to help.”

  “Yeah, well, I’ve already called for help. The cops are on the way,” she said with a confidence she didn’t feel. He wouldn’t be able to tell she was lying, would he? Nor could he tell that the .38 caliber in her shaky hands was, in fact, a toy gun. She’d agreed to keep a handgun in her purse upon Donnie’s insistence, just so he’d stop annoying her. She’d been raised in Texas, and her father had taught her and her brothers how to shoot when they turned sixteen, claiming they’d never know when it might come handy, but she’d never really been comfortable around weapons.

  Right now, stuck in her broken-down car in Nowhere, Oregon, she wished her gun was real, though. Could this be the end?

  The stranger took another step backward and shook his head. “No need to get defensive. I only wanted to help, but if you’re sure you’re okay—”

  “I am. Go away.” She waved the gun in front of her and thought she heard him mutter something that sounded like ‘crazy woman’, but with the rain pelting against the roof of the car it was hard to make out the exact words. She watched as he climbed into a red and silver pick-up, and as he finally drove away, something akin to dread squeezed her gut. What if he hadn’t been a serial killer but just an honest-to-God, old-fashioned gentleman who really only wanted to help a damsel in distress? What if she’d just sent away the only Good Samaritan who could’ve helped her reach that stupid town her friend now called home, and nobody else showed up? Would Ellie get worried and send out a search party? And how long would it take them to find her? Would they know which way to go looking for her? Or would she have to spend the night locked in the car, fending off wolves and bears? A trickle of perspiration trailed slowly down her spine, and a sudden chill shook her to the bones.

  This, my dear Charlotte, may very well be the end.

  Chapter 3

  When Kean Cavanagh had gotten into his truck on a chilly, rainy, early February morning, one week before his brother’s wedding, he’d planned to enjoy a quiet ride on the scenic route along the coast that would take him to Gold Beach, enjoy a coffee with his buddy who owned the wholesaler shop where Kean shopped for his construction company, and then drive back in time for lunch with his friend Scott at Spring Delights, Kean’s mother’s bakery and café.

  But he’d learned that life had a way of messing up even the best thought-out plans, so when he’d noticed the silver car stranded on the side of the road, he hadn’t been able to drive by and stick to his schedule. No, he’d had to stop and offer assistance—assistance that wasn’t needed, apparently.

  Five minutes later, as he drove away from the crazy woman with the gun, he couldn’t shake the sense of guilt burning in his stomach. His parents had been adamant he and his two younger brothers knew how to behave, to help people in need, and to always treat ladies right. Hard to do that with a Glock aimed at your face, though.

  He hated thinking that the woman, who’d looked totally out of place on top of obviously being stranded, could still be there waiting for someone to help, while he’d driven away. She said she’d called the police, but as he’d taken a step back, away from the car and the gun, he’d been pretty sure she was lying, judging by the distressed expression she’d had on her face when he knocked on her window.

  The thought gnawed at him all the way to Gold Beach, but he focused on the slippery road and pushed it back. He’d offered help and she’d nearly shot him. Since she turned away his help, she was no longer his problem.

  Guillermo had Kean’s order already by the door when he stopped in front of the shop, and he helped him load it onto the truck and cover it with the silver-gray tarp.

  “You have time for a coffee? My wife made a plum cake, since she knew you’d be coming today.”

  Kean grinned. “You know, if she weren’t your wife and I wouldn’t risk losing my best supplier, I’d ask her to marry me.”

  Guillermo chuckled, shaking his head at the old joke Kean liked to make whenever Guillermo’s wife prepared some treats especially for him. Sonja was nearly as old as Kean’s own mother, and she liked to spoil him as if he were her son. She and her husband had three daughters, and she used to tell him she would’ve loved him as a son-in-law. A few months back she’d eventually managed to make him go to dinner with their youngest daughter, Claudia. She was a nice girl, funny even, but she wasn’t interested in him and he hadn’t felt a spark either. After that night, Sonja stopped trying to turn him into a member of her family, and had resigned herself to baking cakes for him whenever she knew he’d be in town. Having the sweet tooth that he did, he never said no.

  They had a cup of freshly brewed coffee in Guillermo’s back office and a slice of cake, and when Kean mentioned his encounter with the crazy woman in the Beetle, Guillermo cried with laughter.

  When Kean finally left the shop, thanking him for the coffee and the cake, Guillermo told him to make sure he took another way into town, just in case the crazy woman with the gun was still there, waiting to ambush him.

  Kean laughed, but he couldn’t shake the ugly feeling he’d pushed back when he reached Guillermo’s store. As he drove back in the direction of Spring, he wished someone had rescued the crazy woman, so he wouldn’t have to sto
p and risk his life again, just because he was an old-fashioned gentleman who couldn’t help coming to the rescue of a lady in trouble.

  As he approached the silver VW Beetle, a groan escaped his lips when he noticed the woman was still inside the car. If she’d really called the cops like she claimed she had, Adam’s patrol car would be parked next to hers right now or she would be in Spring already. Even though his brother no longer worked as a city cop in Seattle, he still took his job as a deputy sheriff very seriously, and would have no doubt jumped into his Spring Harbor Sheriff car and come to the rescue. Why the woman had lied was beyond him.

  He slowed down and, this time, he parked right behind the Beetle, thinking he’d be closer in case he needed to run for cover—if the crazy woman decided to shoot him. He got out of his truck and cautiously approached the car, glad the rain had finally let up and he didn’t have to get soaked. As he stood by the driver’s side, he peeked inside. The woman was hugging the steering wheel, her long dark hair covering her face, so he wasn’t quite sure whether she was asleep, crying, or even dead. Well, at least she wasn’t holding a gun in her hand this time. He raised his fist and knocked on the window, ready to duck.

  * * *

  Charli had been stuck on that road for close to an hour, or maybe even longer, and not a single vehicle had passed by since she’d sent the Good Samaritan away. At the sound of a knock on the glass, she bolted up straight, and her hand automatically reached for the gun on the seat.

  “Don’t shoot me. I just want to help.”

  She looked outside and winced at the sight of the Good Samaritan, who maybe was just a stalker who’d come back to finish what he hadn’t been able to even start before.

  “How do I know you’re not some kind of crazy killer?” She shouted to be heard through the closed window, waving the gun in front of her.

  “Hey, I’m not the one with a gun here,” he said, quirking a dark eyebrow over amused chocolate-brown eyes. “And how do I know you’re not some kind of crazy killer?”

  Well, when he put it like that, he had a point. She lowered the gun but didn’t put it back in her purse—just in case.

  “Pop the hood open, so I can take a look and see if there’s something I can do.”

  She still wasn’t sure whether she could trust him, but he couldn’t really make things worse than they already were, could he? She did as he asked, and he disappeared around the front of her car for a couple of minutes. When he slammed the hood closed and stood at the side of the car shaking his head, she knew for sure she was in trouble.

  “I can’t tell what the problem is. It could be the engine. I think it needs to be towed,” he said, rubbing his hands together to clean off the grease. “I can give you a ride into town and we can have our mechanic come get it.”

  Her instincts went on high alert. Accepting rides from strangers was high on the list of reckless things people on Criminal Minds did just before ending up in chunks inside a plastic bag. Or with a slashed throat. Or buried somewhere in the woods where nobody would ever find them. She shivered.

  “Hey.” The stranger knocked on her window, jolting her from her morbid thoughts. “Are you going to spend all night in the car or do you want that ride? ’Cause I haven’t got all day, you know.”

  “Um… I… I think I’ll just wait here for the emergency service.” Her voice trembled just a little. She could only hope that Ellie would wonder why she hadn’t shown up yet and why she wasn’t answering her phone, and come looking for her. Her groom-to-be was a deputy sheriff after all, and he’d been a cop in Seattle before that. He had to know ways to trace her phone and come rescue her, right? That was what the Behavioral Analysis Unit on Criminal Minds did to save people, it couldn’t all just be TV fluff.

  In her haste to leave the city behind, Charli hadn’t bothered texting Ellie to let her know when she’d be arriving, though. She’d only told her she’d be there by evening. She’d gotten behind the wheel and only stopped for gas and a restroom break once. Now she wished she’d taken the necessary precautions. And that she’d bought a new phone after she’d thrown hers at Donnie.

  “You haven’t called the cops, have you?” The deep voice coming from outside the car brought her back to the present. There, she’d been busted and now she was the perfect prey. She had to keep up the lie, though, and try to make it sound like she was confident and didn’t feel as helpless as she actually did.

  “Of course I did. They’re on their way.” She kept her chin up in a defiant stance but he just shook his head.

  “This might be a small town but our cops are efficient. If you’d called, they’d have been here five minutes after your call. My brother works for the sheriff department, so I would know.”

  “Your brother’s a cop?” She tried and, judging by the way he lifted his eyebrow, failed to keep skepticism out of her voice. If he really was related to a cop he wouldn’t try to kill her, would he?

  “Yep. Want me to call him so he can vouch for me?”

  A light bulb went off in her head. If she could get hold of his phone, she could call Ellie, tell her where she was, and ask her to come rescue her.

  “Yeah, uh… why don’t you give me your phone and I’ll look him up in your contacts? That way I’ll know you’re not tricking me.”

  He rolled his eyes and let out an exasperated huff, but reached into the back pocket of his jeans anyway. She rolled down the window just enough so she could snatch the phone out of his hand, and while he was saying something about his brother being the first name on his list, she rolled up the window, frantically dialing Ellie’s number. Thank God for her elephant memory and OCD obsession about memorizing all the numbers in case she got stranded in the middle of nowhere and could only access a public phone. How fitting.

  She threw a surreptitious glance outside. The man stood with his arms crossed over his chest, a very broad chest now that she took a better look, and a scowl mixed with incredulity on his face.

  When a familiar, “Hey,” came over the line, she felt like crying with relief.

  “Ellie, it’s me. Charli,” she added, realizing her friend might not recognize her, considering her voice sounded a little desperate.

  “Charli?” Ellie sounded more surprised than she should. “Why are you calling me from Kean’s phone?”

  Wait, what?

  “You know this guy?” She couldn’t keep the bewilderment from her tone.

  Ellie chuckled. “He’s Adam’s brother.”

  Oh. My. God. Somebody shoot her now!

  She rolled down the window and stared up at him. “Are you really Adam’s brother?” It was silly, but for all she knew he could’ve stolen this Kean guy’s phone and pretended he was Ellie’s soon-to-be brother-in-law just to get Charli to lower her guard. Maybe he’d even murdered him and stolen his phone afterward.

  Ooh-kay, maybe you should cut down on crime shows for a while, and watch Hallmark Channel instead.

  “You know Adam?” He tilted his head to the side, staring at her as if trying to put a name to the face.

  “Don’t answer my question with another question!” She didn’t bother hiding her annoyance as she all but growled, “What’s his girlfriend’s name?”

  His eyebrows shot up to the sky, but when she glowered at him, he just shrugged. “Ellie. Or actually, Elise, but she goes by Ellie. And she’s his fiancée.”

  Charli let out the breath she’d been holding and put the phone back to her ear. “Listen, it’s a long story but the short version is I’m stranded, and this guy—”

  “Kean,” Ellie reminded her with a smile in her tone.

  “Yes, Kean, offered me a lift into town, but I didn’t know if I could trust him and—”

  “I’ll vouch for him.” Ellie didn’t hesitate, and let out a chuckle. “He’ll bring you here all in one piece, I promise.”

  Oh, thank God! The words were like music to her ears. She just wanted to get to Ellie’s house, kick off her high-heeled boots that were killing her
, and take a long, hot shower to wash away this painfully disastrous day.

  She told Ellie she’d see her soon, and hung up. Afraid to look at Kean, she handed the phone back while keeping her eyes on the steering wheel.

  “Are you ever going to get out of that car now that you know I’m not a psycho killer?” He knocked on her window and she looked up. “’Cause, believe it or not, I’ve got things to do and I’m already running late.”

  His tone was calm but bordering on frustrated, and Charli felt like a schoolgirl being reprimanded by the teacher. Sure, he had the right to be annoyed because of her stupid behavior, but he could try and be just a bit sympathetic, after all. If he were a woman stranded on a solitary road, would he have jumped into the first car that stopped? These days you could barely trust your spouse, let alone a stranger who popped out of nowhere. She should be grateful for his help, of course, but his patronizing attitude annoyed her quite a lot.

  Even so, she nodded and rolled up the window before getting out. When she stood next to him, she felt a little intimidated by his height. With her being five foot eight she couldn’t be considered petite, especially not today when she was wearing four-inch heels. But she felt tiny next to him. He had to be over six feet tall, and the fabric of his gray sweatshirt strained across his chest beneath a burgundy down jacket.

  “So, how do you know Adam?” His inquisitive chocolate-brown eyes held a hint of amusement but she could see a bit of curiosity, too. He probably thought she was some old flame of his brother’s who’d come to stop the wedding for whatever reason.

  And no more rom-coms for you, either.

  “I don’t know him. I know Ellie. She was my roommate and best friend. Still is, actually. My best friend, I mean.”

  “Wait, so you’re Charli?”

  His smile was cute, if she had to be honest with herself. And not at all killer-like, but then again you never knew until they stabbed you, right?

  “The one and only.” She shrugged and looked away as heat crept up her neck. Gee, of all the people she could act like a weirdo with, it had to be a member of her best friend’s family. No doubt he thought she was crazy, paranoid, or possibly both—and he’d probably tell everyone as soon as they reached civilization.

 

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