He stepped out of the truck and faced her. “It’s cold out here. I hate to think about you walking around out here. Not to mention there’s been talk of a bear around here.”
At “bear” she perked up and looked around. That was when he saw the line of her neck, from the tip of her chin to the v of her shirt. Against the setting sun, she was beautiful. She was beautiful to begin with, but this wild backdrop, she was amazing.
“She didn’t tell me a bear has been around.”
“My aunt I was supposed to pick up two hours ago.”
“Can I just give you a ride up to her place? My name’s Stud Marlowe.”
She raised an eyebrow. “Stud?”
“Well, Steve. But no one calls me Steve.”
Her eyebrow was still raised, but she stuck out her hand and said, “Judy Reynolds.”
He led her back to the truck and shooed Boomer into the backseat. “And this idiot is Boomer. Sorry about all the dog hair.”
She shivered and said, “I don’t mind.”
Stud looked all through the truck for a blanket or something, but he didn’t have anything else.
He held out his cup of coffee to her. “Coffee?” She looked at askance, then he said, “I just picked it up in town.”
She looked at him with skeptical eyebrows for a moment, then took it, wrapping her hands around the paper cup as if the heat would save her life. “Thank you.”
For the first time, something in his heart shimmered. He could understand the giving his life to one woman. It shouldn’t be this easy. It shouldn’t be this obvious. But just looking at her so scared and cold and vulnerable cut him to the quick.
He shook his head quickly. What kind of stupidness was this? What was this nonsense he was spouting. She was just another woman.
“Will your aunt be able to take you back down to the Jimmy?”
She nodded. “I’ll have to drive her terrible Cadillac, but yes, she will.”
“Terrible Cadillac? She’s not… Helena Sinclair is she?”
“Ah, you know her. How nice for you.”
“How is it you got charged with taking her?”
“My best friend’s daughter is getting married this weekend. Helena won’t drive herself, so I have to do it.”
“Ah.” Helena was a domineering woman who would have moved the mountain if she thought it would have benefited her regardless of cost. What she was doing driving a Cadillac up in the mountains was beyond him. At least buy an Escalade and have the four wheel drive. That enormous pearl boat was just another thing all together.
He drove up the mountain, trying not to look over at her, trying not to do anything that would be considered scary or threatening. He would do anything for this woman and he just didn’t know how to handle it, how to explore those feelings.
“Your aunt is going to her wedding?”
“I lost my mom when I was young and my aunt raised me. I’ve always been close with Dovie and her family, and by extension, so has Helena.”
He grinned. “How is she going to handle your truck breaking down?”
“Oh, she’s going to lose her mind. She hates Roscoe.”
“Roscoe? You named your truck Roscoe?”
“Well, sure. What else would I name that truck?”
He laughed. “You’re right. So what do you do, Judy?”
“I write financial software. It’s funny. If I call myself JR Reynolds, it’s a lot easier. I call myself Judy, I get second guessed all the damn time.”
“Guys kinda suck?”
“Sometimes. You seem okay so far.”
He laughed again. For almost being damned by faint praise, he’d take it. “You good at it?”
“Damn straight I’m good at it. Shame I have to hide behind my initials though. What do you do, Stud?”
He didn’t particularly like the way she said his name. Although, he couldn’t really blame her either.
“I have some cattle up here. Last of my dad’s herd. Once they’re gone, I’m going to sell it.”
“What’ll you do then?”
“I always thought about opening a brewery and making beer.”
“Why didn’t you?”
“Woulda killed my dad if I sold the ranch while he was still alive.”
She looked over at him with a kind, worried expression. “And now?”
He shrugged. “It just feels like that ship has sailed.”
“Nonsense. You could still do it. Shame you’d have to sell the ranch. Beautiful land.”
He looked over to her. She was looking out the window, up the canyons that lined the road. She loved it up here. Everything about it called to her. Until she looked forward out the windshield and yelled, “Look out!”
In front of the truck was a big brown animal. Whatever it was would have totaled the truck, so he pulled hard on the steering wheel, just missing the beast, but running them off the road.
A squeal of tires, sky and ground flashed through the windshield and Judy’s scream pierced his ear. Then darkness.