Awards and Prizes:
🥉 Third Place in Mystery/Horror/Thriller in the Dragon’s Eye Awards (2023)
© All Rights Reserved. This book is copyrighted by Café Blush. Use of any part of this book without express permission from the author is prohibited.
Trevor had driven this route a handful of times and the roads between New Mexico and Mississippi were pretty familiar by now. Glad to be driving an empty eighteen-wheeler on this last leg of the trip back home, he blasted Rock ‘n’ Roll tunes to stay awake, maintaining his usual steady, moderate speed. If the weather stayed nice and traffic decent, he’d be back in Jackson in three days.
The evening sun shone across the gently rolling landscape. He eyed his mileage counter—as a government gig, he had a maximum amount of miles he was authorized to drive per day and a fairly decent daily per diem. That meant he didn’t have to drive hard into the night and the benefit of booking decent hotels versus hole-in-the-wall motels or sleeping in his truck.
Hazard lights flashed a brilliant yellow up ahead on the right-hand shoulder. The minivan who’d been viciously maintaining the same speed as him for the last five miles prevented from maneuvering into the left lane, so Trevor slowed down, hoping not to blast away the unsuspecting driver on the side of the road as his truck passed.
It wasn’t unusual to see the same folks multiple times on the road over a long haul, especially other semis and older couples on vacation in their sedans—people either unable to drive too fast or those not in a rush. But when he realized the stranded vehicle was the same dark blue 1980s MG MGB convertible, driven by the same striking redhead he’d seen yesterday, he couldn’t help but take note.
The previous day, she had the convertible top down, her slightly punked pixie cut blowing in the wind, as she rocked out to whatever music she’d been playing—not obnoxiously, just enjoying the music and ride. A car had been just ahead of her in the left lane, and much like the minivan today, had seemed determined to keep pace with his truck, making it impossible for her to pass. Trevor had thought about speeding up or slowing down so she could get around the jerk who could care less about holding up traffic, but he didn’t, at least not right away. Not that he was into perving women on the road, but something about this gal intrigued him. She was everything he considered sexy by sight alone—well, she had good taste in automobiles, too, so that said something.
Here though, the hood of her car was up while she stood on the passenger side of the vehicle. Her stance emanated frustration as she looked away from the road and across the landscape, her hands raking through her hair. Trevor could almost feel the tears welling up in her eyes, compelling him to continue braking as his truck approached. She needed help. He put his turn signal on, managing to ease off of the highway just ahead of the woman and her convertible.
Once in park, he looked back at her in his extra large side-view mirror and saw her watching him, nervously standing next to her car with her arms folded across her chest as she chewed on a nail. It’s too bad there’s so many creeps out there, Trevor thought with annoyance. A guy can’t just stop to help a lady without her being suspicious.
Jumping down from the cab, he met her three quarters of the way. “Having some car trouble?” He stopped a few safe feet away, hoping to relax her. It was apparent she’d been crying, though her puffy eyes were dry now.
“Yeah, I’m thinking it was the radiator, but I’m not really sure. It just quit steaming about a minute before you stopped.” She glanced back at her car, before regarding Trevor with hope.
“I can take a look. I have a bit of experience.” He gave her a rueful smile as she led the way.
Together, they peered at the engine as Trevor took in the scene, pretty sure it sounded like the radiator overheating, but not wanting to discount anything either. It was still pretty warm, but cool enough to touch, and he leaned in to check various things, wishing he’d opted for that haircut the other day when he’d thought about it. She watched him, and he felt self conscious, wanting to impress the woman. While he kept himself pretty decent, he usually didn’t care nearly as much as he did now.
Standing again, he maintained visuals on the engine, running his hand through his curls. “Yeah, definitely the radiator. See, it’s empty. Got any coolant?” he asked, turning his attention to her worried brown eyes.
“Uh, no. I just drank the last of my water a few miles back.” She shook her head, then laughed a little, throwing her hands up in lighthearted resignation.
Trevor smiled softly. “I always carry some in my truck. I’ll be right back.” He jogged to his truck, feeling her pretty eyes still on him. Was she wearing a ring? he wondered as he dug through his supplies, realizing just how little he’d been looking since his divorce a couple years ago. Finding the jug of coolant, he returned, deciding she probably wouldn’t be interested in him anyways.
Regardless, he took the opportunity to examine her more closely as he went about filling the empty reservoir. “Do you have far to go? You need to have this checked out as soon as possible. If there’s a leak, which there probably is, you won’t get far before it all leaks out again.”
Nope, no ring, he mused as the mid- to late-thirty-something rubbed her hands over her cheeks.
“Damn, I’m trying to get to Jackson. Mississippi that is, or a little north of there. You don’t think it’ll make it that far?”
“Nuh-uh,” he honestly answered. “You know there’s a Blush’s Truck Stop about a half hour ahead. They have an auto shop. I was planning on stopping there anyways and can follow you, just in case the coolant we just put in leaks out before then.” He was hopeful. Not only did he not want his encounter with her to end, but he seriously didn’t want her stranded on the highway as night approached.
She considered his offer, looking down the highway briefly, most likely trying to determine how far it was to the nearest town and if she could trust him. Finally, she nodded. “Alright, if you’re going that way anyways. And then I can buy you another bottle of coolant to replace the one you used for me.”
“Nah,” Trevor brushed off her offer. “You don’t have to do that. I just want to make sure you’re safe.”
She smiled at him this time, her reserves loosening. “Thanks. I appreciate it.” Then thinking for a moment, she extended her hand and added, “I’m Piper.”
“Trevor,” he returned her smile and shook her hand. “Nice to meet you. Well, the truck stop is hard to miss from the highway. Just take the exit when you see the big Blush’s sign. I’ll be right behind you, so long as you don’t go too fast,” he added in jest.
She laughed. “Well, Trevor, that’s not always my strong suit, but I’ll try to stick to the speed limit. Shall we?”
He couldn’t help the pep he suddenly found in his step as he returned to his truck and hopped into the driver’s seat. Not that he knew where this was going, but having Piper trust him enough to get her to the truck stop made him feel good. It was nice to be a hero for a change. Perhaps, he could even talk her into having a coffee or something with him once they got her car to the shop.