N.J. and I were “stable-mates” at Samhain Publishing before they closed their doors, so I already knew she was a great writer. Which was why I was thrilled when I saw her “Roadside Assistance” appear in my Outlook inbox! Then she had me with these three words: Big and hard and tattooed. Yup, I’m that shallow. I fell in love with Vincent before he even opened his mouth. Maybe you will too… 🙂 ~DD
Excerpt from N.J. Walters’s “Roadside Assistance” in Blue Collar
When a woman’s car breaks down, she gets a little “roadside assistance” from her ex
“No. No. No.” Esme Jenson stared in her review mirror at the tow truck that had just pulled in behind her. She couldn’t be this unlucky.
But even though the evening was closing in and dark clouds threatened rain, there was no mistaking the lean form of Vincent Durango as he stepped down from the driver’s side.
Big and hard and tattooed. She was intimately acquainted with her rescuer. Had dated him during high school. Even back then he’d seemed older, more mature than any other boy she’d known. They’d both gone their separate ways after graduation, her to college and him into the army. For the first year, they’d tried to make it work, but their lives had taken different paths.
Now their paths were about to converge once again. He’d gotten out of the service, settled back in their hometown, and opened his own garage specializing in custom body work and restoration. From what she’d heard, he had clients from all over the country.
He’d always been good with his hands.
He strode up to the side of her car and knocked on the window.
She forced herself to roll it down.
He propped one arm on the hood and leaned down. “Hey, Esme.”
She was practically hyperventilating and all he had said was, “Hey, Esme.” She forced herself to look at him, hoping to see some gray in his hair or some lines around his eyes. Anything to detract from his rugged good looks. No such luck. His hair was still as inky black as ever. The few fine lines fanning out from the corners of his eyes only made him more appealing.
He was still watching her, waiting for her to speak.
She cleared her throat. “Hey, Vincent.”
“Heard you were back in town.”
The smile he gave her made her want to squirm in her seat. Even wearing jeans that had seen better days and a plain black T-shirt, the man was lethal to her senses.
She wasn’t surprised he knew she was back. That’s the way it worked in a small town. Her mother had told a few friends, who told a few friends. It had probably taken less than a day for the entire town of Sorrow Creek to know she was home to stay.
He nodded toward the hood of her car. “Trouble?”
“Yes. I was about to call a tow truck.” Her misfortune or fortune—she wasn’t quite sure which it was yet—was having him pull in behind her seconds after she’d broken down.
“Now you don’t have to. Open the hood, and let me have a quick look before we lose the light.”
She did as instructed, taking the extra time to get a grip on herself. Just because she’d compared every man she’d ever dated to Vincent—only to have them come up lacking—didn’t mean she was ready to get romantically involved with him or anyone else again. For all she knew, he might be married with three children.
Depressed by the thought, she opened her car door and joined him. “How does it look?”
“Nothing obvious. And in another few minutes, it’ll be too dark to see. I’ll have to tow it back to the garage and have a look.”
“You don’t have to do that. I’ll call Jimbo.” Jimbo Devane had run the local service station since she was a kid.
“Why?” He closed the hood and studied her. “I’m here with the truck.” He reached out and ran his thumb along the edge of her jaw.
Chills raced down her body, and her shiver wasn’t because it was cold. If anything, it was unseasonably warm for May.
She was being silly. She and Vincent had to come face to face sooner or later. Better to get this encounter over with and put it behind her. Especially since she was home to stay. “Okay. Thanks.” She turned and headed back to get her purse before she did something stupid, like tackle him to the ground and kiss him senseless.
Vincent hovered next to her open door while she collected her purse.
On the way back to his truck, she was very conscious of him walking beside him. He opened the door and held it for her. She was wearing a dress, which made things a little awkward, but she managed to climb up and get settled inside.
He shut the door and went around to the driver’s side.
He didn’t take long to get the tow truck maneuvered into place and her car hooked up. She watched him like a woman watches a chocolate cake on the third day of a diet. She wanted to eat him up.
Time hadn’t changed him much, except to maybe make him even more attractive.
He filled the cab with his sheer masculine presence when he rejoined her and began the short drive to his garage. “I’m sorry about your dad,” he told her.
“Thank you.” The loss was the main reason she’d come home. Her father had passed suddenly, leaving her mother to run the small grocery store her family had owned for generations. Her mother hadn’t asked her to come back, but Esme was tired of big-city living, of sixty-hour work weeks for a corporation that didn’t care. She missed the sense of community Sorrow Creek offered.
She’d only been back for a day, but she already knew she’d made the right decision. Her mother was happy to have her home. And Esme was glad to be there.
“So how have you been?” God, the conversation was stilted. She and Vincent had been able to talk about anything and everything. They’d spent hours sharing their hopes and dreams with one another. And they’d reached them too. Or at least some of them.
“I’m good. I like being my own boss.”
He flashed a sexy grin that made her panties damp.
“You never were much good at taking orders.” Which was why him joining the army had surprised her so much.
He chuckled. “I learned, but I still don’t like it any better than I ever did.” He put on his signal light and turned a corner. “Here we are.” He pulled into the well-lit parking lot. The building was big with three garage doors and a smaller door which led to an office.
“Durango’s” was written in big, bold red letters on a sign atop the building.
“Give me a second to get the garage door open, and I’ll move your car inside.”
“You can leave it until tomorrow.” It was already past eight. “I’m sure your family is waiting at home.”
“No family. Just me.” He motioned to the far side of the building, the area with the office. “Besides, I live upstairs.”
“You live here? At the garage?” Maybe he wasn’t doing as well as she’d heard. She ignored her overwhelming sense of relief at discovering no Mrs. Durango waited at home.
“Yeah, I converted the area over the office and storage area into a two-bedroom apartment. Since I was here most of the time anyway, it made sense. Be right back.”
The next few minutes were spent getting her car inside one of the garage bays. When the task was done, he parked the truck in the lot outside.
She hopped out before he could come around to her door to help her.
Vincent led the way inside and closed the garage door behind them.
“Let’s have a look.” But he wasn’t looking at her car. He was staring at her.
She was wearing a dress that buttoned up the front, tucked in at her waist and flared out slightly before ending just above her knees. The design was fun and flirty and something she could never have worn to work at her old job, but she’d bought it on sale because she loved how it made her feel.
“You look real good, Esme.” His voice was low and rough.
Heat crept up her cheeks, and she knew she was blushing. “Thanks.” She felt more like a teenager than a woman staring thirty in the eye. “You look good, too.” That was the biggest understatement of the year. He’d filled out in the shoulders and chest since she’d known him. He’d been a teenager then. Now he was all man.
The silence that settled over them was charged. Neither of them could take their gazes off of the other.
“I was giving you a few days to settle in.”
“Were you?” She tilted her head to one side. “And then what were you doing?”
Was that really her flirting so blatantly? She’d barely had a date in the past couple of years. Just hadn’t been interested and spending all her time and energy on her career. She’d begun to wonder if something was wrong with her. Obviously, she’d just needed the right man to get her engines revving.
He came toward her, his stride fluid and loose. She instinctively took a step back and came up against the cinderblock wall. Vincent kept coming. He placed his hands on either side of her head and leaned down. She got lost in his deep-set green eyes.
“I intended to do this.” Then he kissed her.