I’m in a ditch with the front end of my truck wrapped around a pine tree when I see her in my rearview mirror. Construction lights on the highway light her up from behind, like some rock star. The curve of her calves is perfect, pretty little ankles and strappy sandals. I’m such a goddamned sucker for sandals.
Her dress is made of something thin. The wind kicks up, lifting her skirt and showing me her bare thighs. She tries to catch it with her hand, but she can’t stop the breeze, and she gives me the full Marilyn Monroe.
This is not what I need right now.
I force the door open with my shoulder and slide out. My neck hurts like a motherfucker, and the engine is pouring smoke. This was not the plan. I head up the dirt embankment. I can’t take my eyes off of her. The construction lights do me a favor and magnify the line of her breasts on the ground in shadow. I rub my stubble and then crack my neck.
Marilyn. She had nothing on this one. Christ.
The dress, it’s this peach color. Those shoulders are smooth and soft. That sexy blonde hair comes down in waves just past her nipples.
She’s driving a white 2016 BMW X5. Top-of-the-line engine, pain-in-the-ass security system. You can’t steal that one unless you’ve got the key. Believe me. I know.
I was driving a perfectly good Dodge 3500 Cummins turbo diesel Hemi V8. I hotwired it not an hour ago from the back lot of a Walmart fifty miles away, outside Knoxville. I was doing just fine until she came along.
Not what I need. At fucking all.
I walk up the embankment. Behind me, the pickup starts honking all by itself. The BMW, on the other hand, is just a little banged up on the bumper. Unbelievable. German engineering and further proof of the point that life’s a total bitch. That’s why you’ve got to steal what you want.
Now I’m close to her. About ten feet away.
A little bow accentuates her waist. One of her straps is a little bit twisted. Pouty lips. Oh shit. Are those freckles?
“You stopped too fast!” she says, marching right up to me like I don’t outweigh her by a hundred and seventy pounds and I don’t tower over her by at least a foot. Totally fucking fearless. “Haven’t you ever heard of pulsing your brake lights?” She points at me. “Sir?”
Sexy and angry?
For. Fuck’s. Sake.
The last time I did a stint in prison, I had to take a mandatory anger management class because of an incident in the lunch line when a racist SOB started rolling with the slurs, so I turned around, slammed him with a left hook, and knocked three of his teeth into his canned beans. Fucking righteous, I’ll tell you what, but not exactly what the New Jersey Department of Corrections had in mind.
So in that stupid class, they taught us something called “meditative breathing.” I count back from eight on the exhale.
It’s not fucking working.
She’s turning me on and she’s pissing me off all at once. Kryptonite in sandals.
I point to the truck. “Are you kidding me? That’s my fault?” It starts hissing even louder. I take a step closer and let my voice get low and mean. “My money’s on you texting. You’ve got the look. Probably talking to some girlfriend of yours about the latest shade of nail polish.”
Her mouth drops open. That tongue. That mouth.
“And yeah, I’m fine,” I say, gripping my neck. “Thanks for asking.”
She looks me up and down like she’s checking for protruding broken bones. Then she puts her hands on her hips—actually puts her hands on her damned hips—and stomps her foot—actually stomps her damned foot. She says all matter of fact, “I can see you’re fine. But the crash wasn’t my fault. I had no chance of avoiding you. At all.”
Jesus Christ, what’s that smell? Peaches?
Nope. She’s got no power over me. If I don’t look straight at her and stay downwind.
“Want me to draw you a diagram? You rear-ended me.” I smack my fist into my palm. “It’s not fucking complicated.”
“There’s no need to be rude!” she says. She steps back, but I’ve got her cornered against the fender of the Beemer. She crosses her arms. I’m pretty sure I don’t audibly groan when her forearms push on her tits from underneath. Fuck, I don’t know. Maybe I do. She sets her teeth and glares. “Okay? It doesn’t do any good to yell at me, sir.”
Actually, I’ve got a feeling it probably would do her some good to get yelled at. She looks like she’s never been properly reamed in her life, and right now I’m just angry enough to be the first one to do it.
Her eyes widen, and her jaw slips forward, snagging her top lip and pulling it in. Her nostrils flare. Then she sucks air through her teeth and stares at me, like she’s thinking of a whole lot of awful things she’d like to say but is too well bred to say them.
I’d like to hear her say them. I’d like to hear that mouth get real dirty.
“I was going to say we should call a tow truck, mister. Do you have a problem with that? Do you want to stand around and argue about it for a while?” She’s pointing at me again. Her finger is about two inches from my chest.
Pretty little hands, and a row of gold bracelets running up her arm. Around her neck, she’s got a tiny gold necklace sitting just perfectly in that deep hollow of her collarbone. I want my tongue there. Right there.
Damn it. I want to push her. I want to piss her off. I want to go a little too fucking far.
Just to see what happens.
I tip forward in my boots so that her finger meets my chest. She doesn’t recoil at all. She just pushes harder. The light from the road behind spills down over her shoulder.
I see the shadow of her sharp collarbone threading its way under those thin straps.
I take stock of this little spitfire nightmare. Look at that fucking waist. But come on, Vince. Man up. Focus, you asshole. “No cops,” I tell her. “Too much fucking paperwork.”
Surprisingly, because she looks a whole hell of a lot like the kind of girl that would call the cops if she thought there was a raccoon in the attic, she nods. “No cops. I agree.” She pulls her phone out of her bag. It’s got one of those rhinestone covers on it. It catches a beam from her headlight and shines disco ball sparkles all over her body. One of them shimmers over her left nipple.
“And I don’t want to go through insurance,” she adds, “if you don’t mind.”
“Fine.” Again, it makes exactly zero difference to me. Not like I have a Geico policy to show her either. Now the little glitter circles are shining on her face. Of course they are.
I think I might be fucked.
While she looks up a tow company, dragging her little index finger over the shattered screen of her phone, I get a chance to really study her as I cool my jets. She’s maybe 22, 23. Blonde, but that’s a dye job. I don’t believe in God, not really, but I’d like to thank Jesus right here and now that she’s not a brunette. If she were, I’d have no fucking chance at all.
From where I’m standing, I can see straight down into her cleavage. Those tits make me feel like I’m on the winning end of a high-speed chase.
Mint-green bra. Ironic, right, because mint green is supposed to be calming—jails are mint green inside, and I should know—but that bra is doing everything except lowering my blood pressure. I can see her skin through the lace edges. Her tan line crosses under them right where I’m staring. I’m supposed to be fuming, and now I’m thinking about one of those nipples in my mouth. I can actually feel myself start to salivate, thinking of how she’d feel between my teeth. Thinking texture and taste. Wondering about how her nipples change shape when they get hard.
I pat my pocket for my Lucky Strikes.
“Hello, we need a tow truck, please,” she says into the phone, looking straight up at me now. She slaps her free hand to her chest. She caught me looking.
I take a step back and pull out my lighter.
She wrinkles her nose as she watches me light up, looking at me like Gross!
But she refocuses on the call, putting her finger in her free ear for zero reason whatsoever. “Location? On the shoulder of Highway…” She twirls around.
Come the fuck on. That ass.
I stare into the flame of my lighter and take a long, long drag.
“I have no idea,” she says. Now she’s looking at me again and shifting the bottom of the phone back towards her cheek. “Do you know where we are? Or do you have a head injury? Stop staring at me.”
I exhale through my nose. “We’re on I-75.” I point at the sign I leveled when she ran me off the road. “Mile marker 43, Peaches.”
She makes a fist of her free hand. I see the tendons tight across her knuckles, and she makes this angry, sexy little gasp. “Right. I’m sure you did hear him.” She waves her hand in front of her face, making a big show of not wanting my smoke anywhere near her.
There’s a pause while the person on the other end is talking. She nods and looks from side to side as she listens. She does this cute little thing with her toes, sort of spreads them out on her sandals and plants them, and then comes up just about half an inch on her heels. Light pink toenail polish. Adorable feet. But then her eyes pop back to mine, and she presses the phone harder into her cheek. “Hang on, are you saying it’ll be tomorrow before you can help?”
I groan into the filter. This shitstorm is becoming epic.
But I play it cool. That’s another thing about being a con. Never show your hand, even if a pretty little thing like this is making your balls ache. “Give me a lift to the nearest motel. I’ll wait there.” I blow upwind intentionally. It goes right to her face.
After a dramatic cough, way too dramatic to be believable, including a totally unnecessary wheeze, she confirms what I said with the tow truck lady, repeating back to me everything she’s hearing in her ear. She’s staring up at me but with a listening stare, not really looking at me. Almost through me. My eyes have adjusted to the dark and headlights so that I can see her irises. They’re this honey brown. Amber, maybe. Gold.
I pull a little tobacco off my tongue. Goddamn it, Vince.
Finally, she hangs up. “There’s a motel about five miles from here. In Unicoi,” she reports back. “I’ll give you a ride. But no smoking in the car.”
I flick my cigarette to the ground. “Yes, ma’am.”
She scurries over and stubs it out with her sandal.
“Thanks, Smokey,” I growl at her.
She glares up at me. Fearless. Like a little Chihuahua coming up against a Rottweiler.
But this Rottweiler, he happens to be a huge fan of Chihuahuas. Especially this one.
“Give me a second,” I say. “Stay here.”
She crosses her arms. “Why?”
I think I actually growl when she pushes that cleavage towards me this time. I cover it with a cough.
“Because I don’t want you getting near the truck.”
She uncrosses her arms. “Your truck isn’t going to blow up. Promise.” She gets on her tiptoes and looks down the embankment. “Not even totaled.”
“And you’d know?”
She looks at her sandals and wiggles her toes. The angry face turns into something a little flirtier. “Possibly. It’s possible I have some experience with this sort of thing.” She comes up on her heels and then goes back down again.
God, what a cutie. I head the thirty feet back to the truck, turning my face from her before I smile too. All that spunk and heat. Shit yes.
I smell oil, and the engine clicks as I open the door. Pulling my duffel from the cab, I kill the dome light. With a T-shirt from my bag, I rub down everything I have touched for prints, including the door handle and the underside of the turn signal—because how many dipshits have been caught because of that rookie mistake?—and then I head back to her with my bag over my arm.
All the way up the embankment, I stare at those honey eyes. She’s just gorgeous. Just the naughty side of sweet. Just the feisty side of nice.
She’s smiling down at me just a little. Still got her arms crossed with one shoulder higher than the other, wrapping her arm around her front side in this sweet way. Just kills me.
She jingles her keys. “Ready?”
I’m about to say, Yeah, but are you ready for me? when the ground shakes, there’s a flash of light, and all hell breaks loose behind me.
I’m on top of her in the dirt. The last five seconds took five minutes. As the wave of heat hit the back of my neck and my triceps, I sprang for her through the air, wrapped my arms around her little body to cover her as we landed with a hard thud on the dirt. The gasp of her lungs as my body knocked the wind out of her, the smell of burning fuel. Like a slow-motion sequence from Backdraft.
Now there’s another explosion. I pull her closer and shield her face with my shoulder. I turn to look. The flames are shooting up high with black smoke pouring from the engine. The fire’s spread into the cab and is eating up the seats already. One of the tires blows out, and her body tenses with the explosion. I grasp her tighter, instinctively. But I’m not going to lie. I’m pretty sure I could stay right here forever.
I feel her cheek on mine. I feel her breathing in my ear. I pull my face away.
We’re face to face in the dirt. Her eyes are just inches from mine.
“Are you okay?” I say. I lean closer, and without even knowing what I’m doing, I find I’m sliding my nose right against the soft skin of hers. There’s goddamned clear and present danger everywhere, and what am I doing?
“I’m okay,” she says. “Are you…giving me Eskimo kisses?”
Jesus Christ. “Just checking for injuries.”
I feel her smile against my stubble. “With your nose?”
I nod. “Fuck, you smell good.”
She’s tiny under me. Her little hands are fisting my shirt in panic. Slowly she releases them and flattens her palms on my pecs.
My forearm is under her neck, making a perfect little pillow
“I guess I should cancel that tow,” she says. In the distance, there are the sounds of fire engines. I’ll bet somebody driving past gave them a call.
“Thank you for, you know…” She trails off. I inhale deeply, pretending to sniffle. Yeah, she definitely smells like peaches.
I fucking love peaches.
“Thank me for what?” I ask.
It looks like it takes her a second to come back to earth. I fucking get it. I once did some uncut coke that made me feel like this.
“…For covering me? Is that the right way to say it?”
I nod into her cheek. “I think that’s about right.”
“I’m Lucy…” she says, breathless and almost smiling. Then she winces. “But I go by…” She looks up at the stars. I feel her little fingers press into my chest. “Helen. I go by Helen.”
Alright, so I might not be the smartest guy on the planet, but I do know when someone’s trying to use a fake name. Usually, the people I’m around actually get it right on the first try. I roll off her and offer her a hand to help her up. She takes it, and her palm damn near vanishes in mine. “Helen, huh?” I say.
“Right. Helen.” She gives me a slow, sexy blink-and-smile. Killer. A sweet little killer right here, lying through her teeth.
That is what I’m talking about.
She dusts the dirt off of her dress. There’s a patch of it on her arm and I wipe that off for her. Her skin is silky and soft under my fingers. Like maybe she uses baby oil after she showers. Jesus.
“I’m Vince,” I say, but whoa, holy fuck. I’m no better than she is. Vince is actually my name. This girl is turning me into an idiot. She’s fucking up my whole M.O. “I’m gonna call you Lucy if you don’t mind…Helen.”
She grits her teeth. Smiling but freaked out “Really, it would be better if you went with Helen,” she says, and starts fiddling with her necklace, zipping the charm side to side and then running the fine chain along her lip before letting it fall back to her throat. She goes to the driver’s side of the Beemer and gets in.
I get in the passenger’s side. I notice a suitcase in the backseat. I’m putting it together. All by herself. No insurance. No cops. Doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out what’s going on here. I slam my door shut. “Sure. Helen.”
The strap of her dress falls down her shoulder as she buckles up. She fires up the engine and then turns to me and smiles.
Yeah. She doesn’t know it yet, but Peaches here, she’s got everything I need.