could the temperature gauge be in the red?
With a hard
smack on the steering wheel, Natalie pulled off to the side of
Academy Boulevard and turned off the engine of her car. She was on
the way to her second day at a new job in a new city, and didn’t
need this problem on top of everything else. She only had twenty
minutes to get to Pueblo. She wasn’t going to make it.
What to do
now? Times like this served to remind her that Dad was no longer
only a phone call away. Losing him to cancer two months ago had set
off an avalanche of change, ending in her impulsive decision to
relocate to Colorado from Tennessee. The job offer from her former
boss last month had seemed like pennies from heaven. Now, she
wondered if she’d gotten a wooden nickel instead.
had no one but herself to lean on. Natalie sat up straight and gave
herself a pep talk. “You can do this. Be strong and think it all
a car repair place just down the block from her new apartment?
That’s where she’d go. With a brisk nod to herself, she turned the
heat on full blast to keep the radiator from exploding on the drive
there and cranked down the window for air before heading back the
way she’d come.
music blasted through the doorway of the repair shop and her heart
picked up the beat, feet moving in an automatic two-step to the
No one was
there, so she peered into the garage before ringing the bell for
help. Before long, a tall man in a greasy, gray coverall came in
from the garage, ball cap flipped backward. His name patch
identified him as “Jake”. At five foot ten in heels, she was no
pixie, but the man dwarfed her.
under the desk, turning the music down to pleasant background noise
and her heart started beating in its own rhythm again, if a bit
faster than normal.
low voice skittered up her spine. “We didn’t have any appointments
due, so I cranked it up. Keeps work interesting.” He leaned on his
elbows and favored her with an intent look. “What can I do for you?”
entranced by his ice blue eyes. His face was unremarkable and
smudged with grease, but it clear from the intelligence in his gaze
that he wasn’t Cooter from Hazzard County.
“My car is
overheating.” She waved a hand behind her to indicate the blue sedan
outside. “Do I need an appointment?”
He opened a
calendar, taking a quick glance at the entries. “I can fit you in,
but it’ll be a couple of hours. Do you want to wait?”
“No. I live
just up the street. I can walk home.”
pulled out a work order. “Let me get some information and a key.”
his questions and then took a peek at her watch. Ten minutes late
for work. Way to make a good impression on her new co-workers. She
heaved a sigh, her breath blowing the work order off the counter.
it up and flashed her a look full of concern. “Don’t worry. We’ll
take good care of your car.”
not just the car. It’s everything. I guess I’m indulging in a bit of
a pity party.”
“I like a
good party.” He smiled. “Do you want to talk about it?”
touched her and, without a thought, all the frustration from the
past two weeks tumbled out.
ticked things off on her fingers. “I’m new in town and don’t know a
soul. Two, my car seems to be broken. Three, I’m still trying to
find my way around, find out the places to go for shopping, for
entertainment…you know.” She dug through her purse for the spare key
she always carried and held it out to him. “I sound pathetic. Don’t
“Maybe I can
help.” Jake took the key, his fingertips brushing her palm in an
accidental caress. “What do you like to do?”
She gave a
shrug and said, “Go to the theater, I guess. Eat out. Country
right there. You’re in Colorado, lots of places to dance here. In
the Springs, you have Cowboys; in Denver, I’d recommend the Grizzly
Rose.” He scribbled on a piece of paper and handed it to her.
to Cowboys from here. Tonight is ladies’ night. You can try it for
fun. Folks down there are friendly.” His words were a clear
challenge. “You’ll dance all night.”
the urge to fidget under his unswerving look. “Well…” She stared at
her feet, poking at the stained linoleum with the toe of her sandal.
“I’d better go. Thanks for squeezing me in. And for listening.”
out the door, feeling his gaze between her shoulder blades.
“Coward,” she hissed to herself and swiped the warmth of her tears
from her cheeks. She dialed her boss’s number on the walk home to
explain the situation, relieved when her boss gave her permission
to do what work she could do from home.
afternoon, she walked back to the shop to pick up her car. She was
disappointed to find that Jake wasn’t the one behind the counter.
She’d decided to take the chance, go dancing and celebrate her fresh
start. Now she couldn’t share that with him. She’d hoped to find
out if he would be there.
At half past
eight, she shower her ID at the door of Cowboys Dance Hall and
Saloon. She grinned at the tiny purple bull stamped on her hand,
thinking it was an interesting testament to the first day of the
rest of her life. She ordered a beer from the front bar and sat at a
small, vacant table near the back.
right about one thing—folks were friendly, and she had no lack of
dance partners. Her feet rarely left the dance floor and her cheeks
ached from smiling.
leaned on the table with her back to the dance floor. She mopped her
forehead with a napkin, when a hand touched the small of her back.
She turned and fell into a ice blue pool.
dance taken?” Jake grinned at her as the first notes of a waltz
cleaned up nice. Her smile widened and she held out a hand. “Yes.”
She laughed at his downcast expression. “By you.”
He grasped her hand and led her to the floor. A quick spin and she
was in his arms. And, for the first time, Colorado felt a little