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This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales or persons is entirely coincidental.
“You do know how to fix it, right?” There’s a hopeful look on Sylvia’s face, but I can virtually guarantee that her hopes are about to be dashed.
Kevin stares down at her right rear tire, which is most definitely flat. “I’m clueless,” he says.
That’s true in so many ways, but I keep that opinion to myself.
“Then I’ll call road service.” Sylvia sighs in resignation, reaching into her Louis Vuitton bag.
“We don’t have time for that,” I say, having allowed Kevin his chance to play the hero. “I can change a tire.”
Sylvia turns and looks at me in surprise. She and Kevin are both attorneys, while I’m just their receptionist. A fact they remind me of frequently, and in countless different ways. Frankly, I’m amazed I was even invited on this ‘teambuilding’ trip. Though they’re generally friendly to me, it’s always been clear in their attitudes that I can’t possibly be as bright as they are. That may or may not be true, but it doesn’t take a genius to change a flat.
I set the BMW’s parking brake, dig out the spare and the toolkit stored with it, then find a couple of suitably sized rocks to chock the left front wheel. Getting down on my knees, I peer under the car and find the lifting point, then position the jack and carefully hand crank it up into position. I only let it take a little of the car’s weight at this point because I don’t want the wheel to spin when I go to break the lugs free. It’s only now that I realize there’s no lug wrench in the kit. Maybe I’m really not all that bright.
“Any idea where it is?” I ask Sylvia.
“My ex was the last one to change a tire,” she says. “He was pissed and in a hurry, as always, and he probably left it on the shoulder of the road.”
I sigh, defeated. “Then I guess you’d better call road service after all.”
She pulls out her phone, but then, as if on cue, a Jeep slows down and pulls in behind us. I note to myself that while the paint on the old CJ is faded and there are numerous small dents and patches of rust, it’s got beefy tires and it purrs like a kitten. The angle of the sun makes it hard to see our prospective rescuer through the windshield, but that issue resolves itself when he steps out.
“You folks need some help?” he asks in a deep, rich baritone.
I’m not a big believer in love at first sight, but lust at first sight? Well, I may have experienced that a time or two, but never to this degree. I do believe that if he took my hand right now and asked me to make love with him in the tiny backseat of his Jeep, right here alongside the road, I might just oblige him. And I’m not that kind of girl.
With a will, I pull myself back into the moment and realize I’ve been staring. I hope my tongue hasn’t been hanging out too, but I needn’t have worried. His attention is on Sylvia of course. She’s by far the youngest attorney in the firm (just a year older than me) and drop dead gorgeous. With her amazing curves, long blond hair and model-perfect face, it’s no wonder that she’s one of our best legal negotiators. No man ever wants to tell her no.
Me? I’m kind of plain next to her.
Kevin makes at least an attempt to act like he’s relevant here. “We sure do,” he says in his nasally tenor. “We’ve got a flat tire.” He nods down toward it as if the guy wouldn’t have noticed.
The contrast between the two men is striking. The Jeep’s driver is tall, fit, and the way he moves simply oozes strength and competence. He’s dressed in faded blue jeans, boots, and a subdued flannel wool shirt with the sleeves rolled up. His cleanshaven, chiseled face pegs him at maybe half a decade older than my twenty-six years, and while he isn’t quite movie star handsome, his shoulder-length blond hair, ice-blue eyes and high cheekbones have me envisioning him standing on the prow of a Viking ship, broadsword and shield in hand.
Kevin, on the other hand, is a good four or five inches shorter, and thin to the point of being gaunt. The prototypical soy boy. Like Sylvia and me, he’s wearing a light green T-shirt with the company logo on it, but he’s got it combined with a pair of electric-blue jogger pants. Needless to say, they clash in a big way. His earnest attempt at a mustache is thin to the point of being embarrassing, and the barbed wire tattoo around his bicep would look a whole lot meaner if he had even as much muscle as I do.
The stranger walks over and looks at the indicated wheel. Then he scratches his head as he turns back to Kevin. “It’s only flat on the bottom,” he says with a straight face.
Kevin doesn’t get that it’s a joke and starts to explain how he believes canlı bahis that’s still a problem, but Sylvia cuts him off. “I’ve had nothing but trouble with this car. It’s just another thing my ex dumped on me. I’m so glad to be done with him. When he-“
The rest of us will be glad when she’s done talking about him, but from the look on the tall stranger’s face, if he ever hears that kind of complaining again, it will be too soon. At a guess, he’s already heard too much of it at some point in his life.
“Well,” he says, interrupting Sylvia’s impromptu rant and looking at Kevin, “I see that you’ve got the tire changing process underway.”
“Uh…” Kevin looks like a deer in the headlights, knowing that it’s about to be revealed to a fellow male of the species that a woman was doing a job that probably even he feels he should have been doing himself.
I’m not planning on outing him, but he must know that Sylvia will if he tries to take credit. “Actually,” he says in a near mumble, looking over at me, “she did that.”
The stranger seems to notice me for the first time. His look of appraisal is frank and honest, and I feel my knees go weak. There’s something about this man that does things to me.
I nod, admitting to the feeble effort. “I feel kind of foolish though,” I say, surprising myself by talking in a reasonably normal tone. “I didn’t take inventory before I started, so I got the jack all set up before I realized that we don’t have a lug wrench.”
“Well,” he reassures me, “your efforts weren’t wasted. I think I’ve got just what you need.”
He goes back to his Jeep and fishes out an x-shaped lug wrench. Back at the worksite he finds the end that fits and begins to break the lugs loose.
“We really appreciate this,” I say.
“Not a problem. I used to be a Boy Scout, so we can call this my ‘Good deed for the day’.”
Kevin looks like he’d love to be anywhere else right now.
When my dreamboat has finished loosening the lugs, he reaches for the jack handle. “I can do that part,” I say, not feeling like he should be obligated to do the whole job.
He turns his head and smiles at me. I really like that smile. There’s nothing contrived about it, which is nice after all the fake, insincere ones I see in a law office.
“I’m certain you can,” he says in a way that somehow manages not to be condescending at all, “but since I’m here anyway, I might as well. Where are you folks heading?”
The question is aimed at me, but Sylvia jumps in. “Seven of us from work are climbing Mount Griffin today,” she says, quite obviously trying to draw our handsome stranger’s attention back to herself. She’s apparently at a loss as to how she’d managed to lose it in the first place.
“You’re starting kind of late for that, aren’t you?” he says, giving her a quick glance.
I nearly sigh out loud. Finally, someone who agrees with me.
During the planning meeting for this trip, and as the only person in the group who’d climbed Mount Griffin before, I’d suggested that we start the hike at first light. With the trailhead being a three-hour drive from the city, though, everyone had thought my idea was a bit extreme, so the six of us had met at the office at first light. Then we’d had to stop for breakfast, which, instead of the drive-thru variety I’d hoped for, had turned into a long, leisurely sit-down meal at a trendy (and expensive) place downtown.
Now, with this added delay, we’ll be starting up the trail four hours later than optimum. I’m sure that the car with our four other climbers is impatiently waiting for us at the trailhead.
“It’s only a twelve-mile round trip,” Sylvia says, a bit defensively. She’d been one of the biggest opponents of my hike-at-dawn suggestion.
“True,” he says, “but it’s not like walking on level ground. You don’t need technical climbing equipment or anything, but about two-thirds of the way up you’ll be picking your way across a boulder field for a half a mile. Then, when you get near the top, it’s steep enough that you’ll be using your hands occasionally. All that’s going to take you extra time. To top it off, the weather report for this evening looks pretty sketchy.”
“I saw that,” I say. “What’s worse, I’ve found that the late-summer storms up here often arrive earlier than predicted. The weather guys haven’t ever gotten that one figured out.”
“So true,” he says with a knowing nod. “Are you a local?” He’s now got the car up high enough that the wheel is off the ground, so he grabs the wrench and starts spinning off the loosened lugs.
His attention on me is exhilarating, but I somehow manage to retain my composure. “I live in San Jose now, but I grew up right here in Perry.”
And that was part of the reason I agreed to come on this little adventure. My childhood friends all moved away after high school, and since my parents retired and moved to Arizona a couple of years ago, I haven’t had a good reason to come and visit my old stomping bahis siteleri grounds.
“Then you’ve climbed Mount Griffin before?”
“Probably a dozen times. Mountaineering has been a passion of mine since I was a kid, and this was a good starter climb each season.”
“I imagine it would be. What other peaks have you climbed?”
“Well, I’ve done all the biggies on the west coast, and when I went to college in Colorado, I climbed thirty-four of the fifty-three fourteeners there.”
His eyebrows go up. “Sweet, but aren’t there supposed to be fifty-eight of them?”
“Yeah, by some calculations,” I say with a nod, now speaking a little more easily since we’re on a subject I have some passion for. “But I lean toward the popular theory that if there isn’t at least a three-hundred-foot elevation change in the saddle between neighboring peaks, you treat them as one.”
I find that while my blush is subsiding, the heat has just moved lower. My lord, I’m actually getting aroused by talking to him about technical minutiae of geography. Out of the corner of my eye, I can see obvious annoyance from Sylvia that I’m receiving the attention that had initially been focused on her. Oh well. I’m just being friendly with our rescuer.
He nods and smiles, then pulls the wheel off the car. I roll the spare to him and he trades me for the flat one. I quickly find that the full-sized wheel and tire won’t fit into the well that the little donut came out of, so I just sit it in the trunk and fit the packs around it.
“I lean toward that theory myself,” he says. “I’ve only climbed a few of Colorado’s fourteeners, but then again, I’ve never lived there. I am climbing Denali next June, though.”
I’m sure my eyes must be huge. “Oh wow, that’s cool. Denali is item number two on my bucket list.” I’m trying hard not to let my envy be too obvious in my voice, but I’m sure I’ve failed. Alaska’s highest peak is the only mountain in North America that rises above the twenty-thousand-foot mark. I’ve dreamed of climbing it ever since seeing a picture of it in my fifth-grade geography unit.
Unfortunately, Denali will have to stay on my bucket list for now. While it’s not as expensive an expedition as Mount Everest, it’s in that league. Not the kind of thing I can afford on a receptionist’s salary. And from the look of his battered old Jeep, this guy must have saved every penny to come up with that kind of scratch.
“I’ve been wanting to do it since I was ten years old,” he says. “It’s supposed to be a hell of a climb.”
“That’s what I’ve always heard.”
Our handsome rescuer has finished hand-tightening the lugs and now winds the car back down onto the ground. For the lack of a torque wrench, he finishes tightening the lugs by feel while I stuff the little jack and handle into the trunk next to the packs. I’m sure Sylvia will have the dealer put everything back where it belongs on Monday.
“What do we owe you for this?” Sylvia asks him.
He waves that off. “It was my pleasure.” His eyes make a quick, but noticeable flick toward me. “If I could make a suggestion, though, you should stop by Angie’s Diner tonight on the way home. She cooks the best homestyle food in the county, and she can always use the business.”
“We sure will,” Sylvia says, but I can virtually guarantee we won’t. “Homestyle” is doubtless a red flag to the other members of this party. Their loss. Angie Wood serves up much better nosh than anything that trendy place we ate at this morning could ever hope to crank out. My mouth had automatically watered when we’d driven by it a couple miles back.
Sylvia and I walk with him back to his Jeep. “We didn’t get your name,” I say as he replaces the lug wrench and sits down on the worn seat.
“I’m Jim,” he says.
“And I’m-” But Sylvia’s words are cut off by the hearty rumble of the Jeep as Jim fires it up.
“Maybe I’ll see you around here again some time,” he says to me. He has what I’d like to construe as a hopeful look on his face, but what I’d really like is for him to ask for my number. Alas, that doesn’t appear to be in the cards. Well duh. A guy like him is sure to already have a girlfriend.
I resist the urge to ask for his number anyway and do my best to put a casual look on my face. “Perhaps you will,” I say.
He checks behind him, then pulls out and heads back down the highway.
As we get back in the car, Sylvia’s fuming, and I’m sure she’s pissed as hell at me, but I’m probably even more unhappy than she is. Girlfriend or not, I should have at least slipped Jim my number. I’m such a coward.
When I spot them, gathered around the right rear of the Beemer, I don’t need to see the starboard list of the car to know they have a flat. They’ve got the trunk lid open and the donut spare lying next to the car, so I figure they’ve got things well in hand.
I’m not looking to stop and deal with people, but habitually bahis şirketleri I find myself slowing, just to make sure they’ve got everything under control. When I see the lost and helpless look on the guy’s face, I realize they don’t.
In this age of cellphones, the temptation is strong to just drive on by, but I’d like to think I was brought up better than that. I check the mirrors, then pull over and park behind them. With the way I look now, they probably won’t even recognize me.
When I get out, it takes all of ten seconds to determine that the guy is clueless about cars. Another ten seconds convince me that the knockout blonde’s demeanor and attitude are way too much like Jess’s for comfort.
The brunette, on the other hand, doesn’t really catch my eye at first, but from the moment she opens her mouth, I’m smitten. Her figure is athletic, not voluptuous like I’ve become accustomed to, and she seems naturally quiet, not bubbly like… well…
She’s quite pretty, even without makeup, but not in a way that jumps out at you. She’s also tall, maybe only four or five inches shorter than my six feet two. But it’s her smile that gets me. It lights up her whole face and warms my heart. It’s an all-American, girl-next-door sort of smile, and at least half its effect is felt below my waist as I feel myself start to stiffen.
I chide Mister Happy for his highly premature enthusiasm. What does he expect me to do? Drag her into the back seat of the Jeep and make his day in front of her friends? I get the impression that she’s not that kind of girl, and I’m certainly not that kind of guy.
The tire change is something I could do in my sleep, but I really appreciate the way the brunette jumps in and helps. The others are just standing there looking like they’ve never seen a lug wrench before.
It’s with pleasure that I find that the brunette shares my passion for mountaineering, though I should have guessed by her choice of hiking pants and boots that she knows what she’s doing outdoors. The very thought of leaving the house without makeup, much less hiking up a mountain trail, would have been unfathomable to my Jess.
Talking with this girl feels totally natural, right from the start. After everything that’s gone on in my life over the last year or so, a simple, honest conversation like this is almost heaven. I find myself wishing that the tire change could take all morning.
Alas, and largely because of her help, the job is quickly done and it’s time for all of us to be on our way. When we exchange names, I just use my middle one, out of recent habit. Her name is Kathy. A bit old-fashioned, but it fits her.
Part of me really wants to ask for her number, but I’ve sworn I wouldn’t encumber my life with another relationship anytime soon. Still, as I drive away, I find myself watching her in the mirror as she walks back to the car. God she’s cute. I mentally kick myself for not asking.
“Hey,” Kevin exclaims incredulously as we pull into a spot in the trailhead’s parking lot, “they didn’t wait for us.”
“Apparently not,” I murmur. My recent revelations about Mr. Franklin D. Stanfield, Esq. make his actions less surprising to me. It looks like if all seven of us are going to hike as a group, our threesome is just going to have to catch up.
Then I belatedly realize that our compatriot’s impatience has created another issue. “My pack was in Mr. Stanfield’s car,” I groan. I get out and walk over to the boss’s Range Rover. Sure enough, it’s locked in the hatch.
“Why is it in there?” Sylvia asks.
“Uh…” The truth is that when Frank finally showed up and we had decided who was going to ride with whom, he had snagged my pack himself, obviously thinking that since it was in his car, I would ride with him.
“Well, it was just a mix-up on which car I was going to ride in,” I say vaguely. I’m thankful that my explanation is evidently sufficient for her.
“Hey, don’t sweat it,” Kevin says. “We’ll share our lunches with you.”
“I appreciate that,” I say, “but my raingear, first aid kit, and emergency shelter are in there too.”
Kevin’s carefully manscaped eyebrows scrunch. “Wow, do you really need all that stuff on a day hike?”
“Not usually, but when you do need it, you really need it.”
“Oh, you’ll be fine,” he assures me confidently. “And if it rains, I’ve got extra gear you can borrow.” He shows us a dull, camo-print poncho.
“I appreciate that, but I won’t have my polyester hiking shirt,” I say. Trying to be a team player, I’d worn the company T-shirt this morning, but the idea of not being able to change out of it, if necessary, unnerves me a bit.
“What’s wrong with the one you’re wearing?” Sylvia asks, “other than its butt-ugly color?” She’s not wrong about the muted shade of green that Frank picked for these shirts.
“It’s the material.” They just give me puzzled looks. I belatedly remember who my fellow hikers are.
“When cotton shirts like these get wet,” I explain, “they stay wet, and you can lose a ton of body heat that way. Synthetics, on the other hand, wick moisture away from your skin and dry quickly.”
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