Worth the Risk (St. James #3)(3)

by Jamie Beck

Nothing else could explain why she’d risk her safety to go trade words with the crazy man playing white knight in a thunderstorm. Then again, recent weeks of meditation—her last-ditch effort to cope with the demands of parenting—were teaching her to experience everything openly and without judgment. To be present. Mindful. And right now, curious.

She jumped down from the cab and began her approach. That’s when she saw Connecticut plates on the front of his car. A tourist. Hopefully not a rapist or murderer, too. To her knowledge, murderers didn’t usually draw attention to themselves with reflective roadside emergency gear. Then again, she’d never known any violent criminals.

Whether habit or nerves took over, she didn’t know, but one of those two caused her to smooth her wet hair. Like that would help.

Resolved, more or less, she trotted to the passenger side of his car and motioned for him to roll down his window. He donned a pleasant expression but remained seated, making no attempt to approach her or the passenger door. She guessed he froze in place to keep her from getting jumpy.

When she stepped close enough to peer through the open window, she noticed the spotless interior. No wadded-up wrappers or napkins, no stray sippy cups, no scuff marks on the seats. Either this guy was a neat freak or he didn’t have kids. “I don’t mean to be rude, but what are you doing?”

“Making sure you don’t end up as roadkill.” He grinned. A heart-stopping, full grin surrounding stark white teeth contrasted against his olive-toned complexion.

Growing up in this rural, tiny town of eight hundred residents, she hadn’t seen men who looked like him except in magazines. Around here, clean-shaven was a bonus, let alone this guy’s level of H-O-T. She’d been right to think him deadly, just wrong about the why of it.

“Oh.” Her heart began pumping as hard as it might during a hike up Mount Equinox. “Thanks, but I’m sure the tow truck will be here soon. I told you, not many cars pass this way on Tuesday afternoons. You really don’t need to stay. I’m fine.”

She swiped her palm across her face to wipe away the water. Darn rain. Surely she had mascara streaks down her cheeks.

“I’m fine, too.” His gaze strayed to the raindrops coming in through the open window. Tilting his head, he said, “You’re welcome to take a seat if you’d rather continue your interrogation someplace dry.”

Gabby stepped back and shook her head. “No, thanks.”

He rolled his eyes. “Do I look like some kind of murderer?”

“Frankly, I’ve got no idea. I’ve never met a murderer.” His wide-eyed reaction spurred her to tease him. “But Ted Bundy was good-looking, so for all I know, you’re a serial killer.”

Instead of arguing, his devilish smile emerged, which set free a thousand butterflies in her stomach. A magical, brightening sensation she hadn’t felt in years and now wished she could capture in a box to take home to experience again and again and again.

His smile expanded. “You think I’m good-looking?”

As if he didn’t already know. Every woman on the planet would consider him handsome . . . and sexy. She could only imagine how fine his dark, curly hair would look when it dried. Fistfuls of it, she knew that much. Broad shoulders—very broad—and a square jaw. Amber-colored eyes set deeply beneath dark, heavy brows, although those eyes looked quite melancholy for someone wearing that smile.

She crossed her arms and chuckled. “That’s all you heard?”

“I’ve got a talent for homing in on the most important point.” Then his playful expression swiftly shifted, as if he’d scolded himself for flirting. Perhaps he had a girlfriend, or a wife. It would be a stretch to think that a guy his age—who was also beautiful and considerate—would still be single.

“Go on back to your car and get out of the rain before you get sick.” He jerked his chin toward her truck. “Don’t worry, I’m not a stalker. As soon as the tow truck comes, I’ll grab my stuff and go. Gotta eat.”

If she’d had good sense, she’d have nodded and scooted back to her car. Naturally, she didn’t. He might be a million miles out of her league, but for now they were stuck together. She couldn’t force herself to walk away while those butterfly wings still tickled.

“I see you’re from out of town. Do you like French food, because there’s plenty of it around here, or are you hungry for a burger and fries?” She wiped more rain from her face in a futile attempt at poise.

“Burger.”

Of course. He didn’t look like the type who’d order duck and wine at lunch. He had too much testosterone, too much swagger. Even though he was sitting still, she could feel the masculinity rippling off his body like heat radiating off asphalt. Just staring at him warmed her from the inside out.

This kind of rock-my-world chemical reaction should’ve made her wary. Last time it had struck, she’d gotten Luc out of the deal, along with a side dish of heartbreak. She loved her son to pieces, but didn’t need to risk another life-altering consequence merely to satisfy a healthy dose of lust. The mere thought of Noah, the cocky local cop who’d knocked her up and left her hanging, shot heated shame straight to her cheeks.

“If you’re heading toward Manchester Center, you’ll pass by Bob’s Diner on Route 11,” she said. “Or you could go a little farther to a tavern called The Perfect Wife.”

“Diner’s fine, thanks.”

A heartbeat passed before she realized there was nothing more to say. She should return to the car, not stand in the rain ogling a man she didn’t know. The blasted man was a stranger. A very attractive stranger who, sadly, hadn’t once asked for her name.

The fact that thought even crossed her mind proved how pathetic her personal life had become. Honestly, didn’t she have any self-respect? He hadn’t said or done a single thing since the Ted Bundy conversation to suggest he found her the least bit appealing. “Thanks for looking out for me. Enjoy our little corner of the world while you’re here.”

His eyes clouded over with something that looked a lot like regret—an emotion she knew well thanks to teenage rebellion and other mistakes. “Thanks.”

She waved good-bye and then jogged back to her truck. For the next ten minutes she pretended to read her People magazine. Knowing he continued to watch over her swept a prickling sensation over her scalp.