Over the weekend we got a crazy amount of snow for our area. It was gone two days later, but still. For Northern New Mexico, snow is a big deal, and when there’s a lot of it, the roads can get pretty dicey. Why do I bring this up? Well, it reminded me of the opening chapter of one of my Romance projects that will be out later this year, TORINO DREAMS.
I thought you all might like an excerpt…
TORINO DREAMS: CHAPTER ONE
1: An Offer
Snow in the desert could only lead to one thing, sliding down a sheet of black ice, right at another car. Kate tried everything to get her truck to turn, spin, jump up onto the sidewalk, anything to keep it from hitting the Beamer at the bottom of the hill. Knuckles white as the snow blowing through town, she yanked against the steering wheel in one more desperate attempt to avoid crashing. It lurched wildly to the left and for a split second Kate thought she had done it. Until she realized she had just spun herself in a circle and was still heading straight for the other car. Kate closed her eyes and groaned right before the sound of metal on metal tore through the air.
Pain blossomed across her forehead. The rebound of her head from the steering wheel to the back of the seat hurt almost as bad. Blood ran down her cheek, but her hand refused to move and wipe it away. Her entire body was numb and useless. The most she could do was roll her eyes open, blinking slowly until her vision cleared enough to actually see something. White. That was all Kate could see. It was snowing harder every minute. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath before forcing her fingers to unbuckle the seatbelt. Getting the door to move seemed ten times harder than usual, but she shoved it open and stumbled out of her truck.
The other driver was out of his car already, staring at the crumpled rear end of his BMW 740Li in disbelief. A string of furious words burst out of his mouth at the sight of it. Kate cringed when she saw the bumper dangling off one side, the crushed corner of the trunk, flat tire, and misshapen wheel well. It was such a nice car, too. A top safety pick, even. The driver noticed Kate, finally, and turned his glare on her. Snow had already covered his stylishly cut black hair almost completely. Kate was surprised the heat of his anger hadn’t melted the icy flecks by now.
“Are…are you okay?” Kate asked him shakily.
“What were you doing? Didn’t you see me sitting here?” he demanded, his basso voice loud in the snowy silence. It was the kind of sound that burrowed under your skin and warmed you up no matter the temperature, but his blatant accusation annoyed Kate instantly.
“I slid on the ice! I couldn’t do anything to stop. I tried hitting my brakes, but it didn’t do any good.” What a prick! Kate thought. It wasn’t like she tried to hit him on purpose.
He stared at her like she was a total idiot. “You hit your brakes? Don’t you know anything about driving in snow?”
Was he kidding? “It snows here maybe twice a year and it never sticks and freezes like this. So, no, I don’t know what to do when my truck starts sliding down a hill! I live in the desert. I’m not supposed to have to know how to drive in snow.”
Yelling at him made Kate’s head hurt worse, but she wasn’t about let that jerk treat her like she was stupid. He looked like he was about to say something infuriating again. Kate’s body tensed, expecting another nasty comment from Mr. I Know How to Drive in Snow and You Don’t. The angry tension filling him seemed to soften, very slightly, as he stared at her. Instead of yelling again, he just huffed in irritation and yanked his phone out of his pocket. Kate’s eyes flew wide.
“What are you doing?”
“What do you think I’m doing? I’m calling the police to report this,” he said. His fingers started dialing and Kate panicked. Lunging for his hand nearly pitched her into the snow when she tripped over a piece of the wreckage, but Kate grabbed his hand and stopped him from making the call. He ripped his hands away from her, glaring once again. “What is wrong with you?”
“Please don’t call the cops,” Kate begged him.
Keeping his finger perched to complete the call, his expression changed so slightly it was almost imperceptible. Kate couldn’t tell if he was curious or just a little bit scared. Her breath froze in her chest. Either one would work for her at that point. Whatever it was, it was keeping him from dialing. Too bad it didn’t last.
“I’m calling,” he finally said.
“Please, you can’t call.” Kate was desperate, begging a complete stranger for help. One she had just hit. “I only have two points left on my license. If they give me a ticket I might lose it.” There were other reasons she didn’t want the police involved, but Kate was not about to bring those up.
He smirked. “That’s your problem, not mine.” His finger moved to complete the call.
“I’ll fix your car!” Kate blurted out without thinking.
It was enough to make him pause. The way he scoffed at her offer made Kate want to smack him. “You? You are going to fix my car?”
“Yes. Please, just don’t call the police.”
He laughed outright, and not hitting him got even harder. “Why would I let you fix my car when I could just file a claim and have an actual professional fix my car?”
“I am a professional!” Kate snapped at him. Was he always so irritating?
“A professional what?” he asked, ignoring her attitude completely.
Oh, that was it. Kate’s freezing hands balled into fists. “A professional mechanic,” she said through her teeth.
Maybe he realized that Kate was about to add to his reason to call the police by punching him in the face, because he tamped down his obvious disbelief and mellowed his tone considerably when he spoke. “Even if that’s true, I don’t know you or have any reason to trust you. Why would I risk you taking off without fixing my car rather than just getting it fixed through your insurance?”
“Uh… it’d have to be your insurance. I don’t have any at the moment,” Kate said. Embarrassment settled on her shoulders like a diesel engine.
“Of course,” he said derisively. “I guess the about to lose your license excuse should have prepared me for that. But it doesn’t matter. I’ll just go through my insurance then. I’m still going to want this on a police report.”
“I’ll fix it for free,” Kate said. Her stomach dropped out at the very idea of it, but she had to say it. “If you make a claim on your insurance you’ll have to pay a deductible, and you’ll have to go to court, too, because I’ll definitely fight it if the cops try to give me a ticket. I can’t afford to pay a reckless driving citation right now.”
He lowered his phone, but he didn’t look like he was planning on giving in. “How are you going to fix my car for free if you can’t afford to pay a ticket? Do you have any idea how much parts cost for a BMW?”
“Of course I do. The 7 series is an expensive line to work on. Your Beamer isn’t the first one I’ve ever fixed up.” Not that Kate got the chance to work on luxury cars very often any more, but she definitely remembered back when she did. That used to be the only kind of cars she worked on. “I have some friends that owe me some favors. I’ll get the parts and do the work myself. It will be like this never happened when I finish. I promise.”
“And what am I supposed to do for a car while you’re fixing this one? Are you going to get me a rental?” He just used Kate’s lack of funds as a reason she couldn’t afford to fix his car. He knew good and well she couldn’t pay for a rental for him while she got his car fixed. It might take her a couple of weeks to round everything up. Kate swallowed every last bit of bitter pride and made him an offer.
“I’ll loan you my car until I get yours fixed.”
His face screwed up in disgust. “I am not driving around your beat up old truck. That thing looks like it’s about to fall apart if I so much as look at it.”
Kate glanced back at her twenty year old Dodge pickup. It was one of those massive, solid trucks that could survive anything. In fact, under the snow, you couldn’t even tell it was just in a wreck. There were a few new scratches on the bumper, and it may be a little more lopsided than it was before, but otherwise it looked great. To her, at least. It was rusted and dented and the paint had seen better days. That guy definitely would never drive her monster. But that wasn’t what she meant, anyway.
“No,” Kate said, “I’ll lend you my other car. This is my work truck. I have a Ford Torino GT fastback at home. You can borrow that.”
His eyes lit up at the offer. Kate suddenly felt like she was going to throw up.
“You have a Torino? Is it restored? What year is it?” he asked.
“It’s a ’70, and yes it’s fully restored. It’s gorgeous.” Misery puddled around her. She couldn’t believe she was even offering her baby to him. If anything were to happen to it… she had to force those kinds of thoughts out of her head before her lunch ended up painting the snow.
“Still,” he said, “it’s a safer bet just going through my insurance.”
His phone came back up. Kate flinched at the sight, but what good was arguing really going to do? This guy was standing in the quickly piling snow in a great looking jacket and an even better looking suit. Kate didn’t know much about clothes, but his looked expensive. He didn’t care about her problems. She closed her eyes and sulked as the falling snow slowly soaked through her sweatshirt.
Kate missed the first part of his phone conversation, but her eyes popped back open when he said, “Yeah, I’m going to need my car towed…No you don’t need to contact the police. I just need it towed to my mechanic’s… Yes, thank you.”
He slipped the phone back into his pocket and folded his arms over his chest. Kate’s words tumbled out in a rush. “You’re going to let me fix it?”
“I’ll undoubtedly regret it,” he said with a hint of a smile, “but I’m willing to let you try. I can always file a claim with my insurance later if I need to.”
He said it like he was doing it for her benefit, just to be nice, but she saw the excitement in his eyes when she had offered up her prized possession to him. This wasn’t about being Kate’s knight in shining armor. It was all about the car. Kate’s knees threatened to buckle at the idea of anyone else touching her Torino, but she couldn’t stomach the other option, either. She pasted on a wilted smile.
“How long is this going to take, anyway?” he asked.
“It’ll just depend on how fast I can get the parts. The actual work won’t take that long. Hopefully I can get you taken care of in a couple of weeks,” Kate said, praying he didn’t change his mind because of the length of time.
He just nodded his head and checked his watch. “AAA should be here in ten minutes.”
The mention of time jogged Kate’s memory of why she was rushing to get home in the first place. She pulled her phone out of her pocket and checked the time. 3:05. He would be getting home any minute. Anxious energy wriggled through her body, making her fingers begin to tap on the phone.
“Ten minutes?” Kate asked. Can’t they get here any sooner? We’re right in the middle of town.
“Do you need to be somewhere?”
“I just need to get home soon.” Kate should have been home already.
He frowned and studied Kate for a moment. A snowflake landed on his nose and melted immediately, forcing him to wipe the bead of water away with his gloved hand. “Why do you need to get home?”
“I just do.” It was bad enough she had to give him her Torino. He was not getting anything else from her. The less personal information he knew about Kate, the better. He shrugged and looked away.
The deepening snow around Kate’s feet had soaked through her tennis shoes. Her toes were hovering on the verge of pain from the cold and going completely numb. Kate’s fingers, at least, were tucked inside her sweatshirt, safe from the icy wind and snow. She was freezing, but she did her best not to shiver. Despite the snow dusting his hair, the other driver looked perfectly comfortable leaning against his Beamer as he waited. Next to him, Kate probably looked like a drowned rat in her beat up work jeans and sweatshirt, with no coat, no gloves, not even a beanie to keep her ears from freezing off. Kate shrank in on herself a little more in a rare bout of self-consciousness. Usually, she couldn’t care less what she looked like to other people, but for some reason, it was different in that moment.
Grease-covered hands, ratty jeans with a rag sticking out of her back pocket, that was how she felt comfortable. If her baggy sweatshirts and old baseball caps kept customers from staring at her, all the better. Who was this guy to make her feel like she wasn’t good enough to be standing with him in the middle of a freak blizzard? Even if he was rather attractive, and from the look of his shoulders, well built, that didn’t make him better. He glanced over at Kate just as a stream of melted snow slid down her cheek. She brushed her sweater-covered hand across her face to avoid his gaze and stared at it in surprise when it came away covered in blood. She had completely forgotten that she’d cut her head bashing it into the steering wheel. Great, this was my favorite sweatshirt, Kate thought.
“Are you okay?” he asked, suddenly right next to Kate.
She shoved her hand down and looked up at him. “Yeah, fine. Don’t worry about it.”
“You’re bleeding. Do you need to go to the hospital?” he asked. Actual concern colored his voice. It was almost as surprising as him reaching up and touching Kate’s face.
Heat rushed through her face and she turned away. Her hair fell over her cheek. She was happy to leave it there. “I’m fine,” Kate repeated.
“That cut looks pretty deep.”
Kate stepped away from him. “I’ve had worse.”
His curious expression made Kate bite her tongue. No personal stuff, she reminded herself. I just want to fix this guy’s car and forget this day ever happened, Kate thought. The dull flash of yellow lights approaching rescued her from having to say anything else. Kate pointed down the road, and said, “Looks like AAA’s here.”
He looked behind him and nodded approvingly. “That was fast. Looks like you’ll get home soon, after all.”
“Great.” Let’s get the Beamer loaded up and get out of the snow, Kate thought. Her fingers tapped anxiously against her folded arms as she watched the tow truck attempt to position itself.
“I’m Sam Dalton, by the way,” he said.
He reached out for her hand and she shook it quickly, tucking her cold fingers back under her arm right after. For a moment he looked like he was going to say something else, but the tow truck driver called him over. He walked away and Kate climbed back into her truck ready to lead the way. She counted the minutes it took to load Sam’s Beamer onto the truck’s bed. Seventeen. Both of her feet and every one of her fingers were tapping anxiously by the time the driver waved for her to pull ahead and show him where to go. Kate wanted to speed away, but given what just happened, and the thickening snow, she forced herself to drive slowly. When she finally pulled up to her house, she dashed out of her truck and ran for her front door.
The bundled up ball of laughter that was throwing snowballs in the front yard saw her before she could get to him. He turned to greet her with a grin. Kate scooped him into her arms and hugged him fiercely. “I’m so sorry I was late getting home, Lincoln. What are you doing outside? Why didn’t you use your key and go inside to get warm after you got of the school bus?”
“I was having fun out here,” Lincoln’s happy little voice answered.
“Lincoln, you can’t be out here alone. You know that.”
Worry wrinkled his little face as he considered that. “Sorry, Kate.”
“It’s okay, buddy. Just remember for next time. Go inside as soon as you get home.”
He nodded. All traces of his childish glee disappeared when he pulled back and saw the gash on the side of Kate’s head. She couldn’t stop his eyes from traveling down to the tow truck that pulled up behind her. The Beamer was already being unloaded and Sam was walking up the drive to them. Lincoln took it all in and looked back at Kate with all the seriousness a five-year-old could muster. “Another accident, Kate?”
“I know, buddy, I know. Go inside and get warmed up. I’ll be in in a minute, okay?”
He nodded and let himself into the house, forgetting to take his boots off, as usual. Kate couldn’t get herself to be upset with him, though. Not today. She stood back up feeling much better than she did a minute earlier, now that she knew Lincoln was safely inside. Kate turned around to find Sam standing right behind her.
“That your son?” he asked, motioning toward the door Lincoln just went through.
He looked like he’s expecting more, but he wasn’t going to get it. Kate didn’t discuss Lincoln with anyone.