Quick, name the top ten sounds you never want to hear while in your car—especially when said noise happens on the way to your best friend’s parents’ anniversary party.
Willing my car to cling to life for a few more feet, I pulled over to the curb. Cars, trucks, and SUVs rushed past, racing to get home for the weekend. The moment I made it to the side of the road, my car abandoned its will to live. The once purring engine took its final purr—well, more like a groan—then I was met with a deafening silence.
“Fuck.” Because, really, is there a better word?
I think not.
The car stuck behind me honked. My poor baby didn’t care if Impatient Guy had somewhere more important to go. She wasn’t going anywhere. I might not have known anything about cars, but even I could tell that much.
I checked over my shoulder at the busy lane next to me. I could have escaped via the driver’s side—if I didn’t mind risking my life and becoming roadkill.
Since neither was currently on my daily to-do list, I went with Plan B. I flipped on the hazard lights, stretched my leg over the gearshift, and tried to climb onto the passenger seat. Tall Victorian houses stood sandwiched together along the street. If they were human, they would have been snickering at me.
The hem of my short dress scooted up my thighs, and that sadly neglected part between my legs accidentally brushed against the gearshift. Naturally, it wasn’t too thrilled that this was the only action it would see. Which was a helluva lot more than it had seen for the past 460 days.
But who was counting?
Still awkwardly straddling the gearshift and doing my best not to dry-hump it, I performed a graceful face-plant onto the passenger side. My knee landed on the seat; my face almost smashed into the window. On the bright side the sidewalk was empty of pedestrians. No one had witnessed my moment of humiliation.
I shifted my body and opened the door. With my skirt still hiked up my thighs, I performed a complex move of climbing out while shimmying the hem back into place. The Russian judge would have given me a 2.5, mostly due to lack of technical skills…and well, grace. But at least this time I didn’t land on my face.
Why I climbed out of my car was anyone’s guess. To scowl at it, maybe. That was about the extent of my mechanical skills.
Since Erin—my best friend—and her husband were already at the party, I called AAA and pleaded for them to send someone. Preferably now.
Apparently, 5:00 p.m. on a Friday afternoon was NOT a good time to need AAA. The soonest they could send someone was in four hours.
The sun peeked from behind a cloud, reminding me there was indeed always a bright side. The party wasn’t far from here, and AAA would phone me when the cavalry was on the way.
Now, I just needed to get to the party.
In romance novels, this was the moment when the hero pulled over and offered to help the heroine. In thrillers, this was the moment when the serial killer pulled over and added another notch in his…well, whatever serial killers added a notch to.
A familiar black BMW pulled in front of my car and option B would have been favorable at this point. I inwardly groaned as Trent Salway exited his vehicle.
“Hey Kels, you need help?” Six-foot-plus of dark-haired male hotness in a black business suit walked up to me, and the ache between my legs let out a dreamy sigh. Clearly it hadn’t forgotten how I had been crushing on my best friend’s big brother for as long as I could remember—only for him to see me as nothing more than a little sister. More specifically, his best friend’s little sister.
Trent’s gaze dropped to my lips and the ache between my legs drifted into its own fantasy land. It’s not what you think, my brain pointed out, always the party pooper. Your lip gloss is probably smeared.
Unconsciously, I ran the tip of my tongue along my lower lip. Trent’s sexy green eyes darkened, and his Adam’s apple shot up then slid back down.
His passenger door opened, yanking me out of my lust-filled moment, and a pair of never-ending legs, with shiny red stilettos attached, stepped out. Then in slow motion—or at least it seemed that way in my head—the rest of the body appeared from the car. At the sight of her, my heart clambered out of my chest and crash-landed on the asphalt with a big splat.
Whoever this woman was, she was the opposite of me. Her black dress clung to her slim body and her auburn hair was swept up in an elegant bun. Her makeup was smoky and made her look like a Hollywood starlet. My ex-fiancé used to call me kitten sexy—a nice way of saying I was cute—but I was nothing compared to this woman.
I had to admit, though, as my heart climbed back into my chest, she was perfect for Trent. She was sophistication on a stick.
Sophistication-on-a-stick smiled her perfect red lips at me. “Hi.”
I wished I could say her voice was like claws being dragged down a chalkboard. I wished I could say she didn’t have an Australian accent that would cause every guy within a ten-mile radius to blow his load at the sound of it.
“Kels, this is Holly,” Trent said. “Holly, this is my sister’s best friend, Kelsey.”
Holly offered her manicured hand and I shook it. “It’s nice to meet you.” The voice was so sincere and friendly, it was hard not to instantly like her, even if she was dating the man whose lips I craved.
“It’s nice to meet you, too.” Was I supposed to say that Trent had told me so much about her? And maybe he would have if I hadn’t spent the last ten years avoiding him. Which, I should point out, wasn’t easy when his family was pretty much the only family I had left, other than my older brother Liam.
“So what’s the deal with your car?” Trent asked.
I shrugged. “No idea. She started making funny noises and died.”
“What kind of funny noises?” Holly said.
I described them as best as I could, not that it mattered if I was correct or not. It wasn’t as if she could tell me what was wrong with the car.
“Sounds like a broken fan belt.”
I stared at her. “How do you know that?”
She laughed like a hyena in heat and I mentally did a happy dance. At least there was one not-so-perfect aspect about her. “When you have two brothers who are obsessed with cars, you learn a thing or two.”
If Holly’s interesting laugh bothered Trent, he didn’t show it. He was too busy nodding at what she had said, even though he wouldn’t know what it meant any more than I did. Cars had never been his passion. Not like with some guys. I suspected he only had a BMW because of the status associated with owning one. Which was kind of funny. The Trent I remembered couldn’t have cared less about status.
“Have you called for help yet?” he asked.
“Yep. They should be here in about four hours.” I glanced down the street, as if that would magically speed up the tow truck’s arrival.
“In that case, you can come with us. I’ll drive you back before they get here.” Without waiting for a response, he headed for his car. That was Trent for you. Once he made up his mind, end of discussion.
Holly flashed me another friendly smile, then followed him.
I looked back and forth between the two cars. I didn’t like the idea of abandoning my poor baby—but I didn’t have much choice.
“C’mon, Kels,” Trent said, his smooth, deep voice causing the ache between my legs to let out another dreamy sigh. “Erin will skin me alive and feed my carcass to a pack of wild dogs if we’re late.”
Even though my fate wouldn’t be quite as dramatic, I grabbed my purse from my car, locked the doors, and joined Trent and his…girlfriend? Erin hadn’t mentioned that he had a girlfriend, or maybe she didn’t know about her yet. Or she didn’t think I’d care either way, since I wasn’t supposed to be lusting after her brother.
As we drove toward Trent’s old home, Holly twisted around in her seat to talk to me. “How long have you two known each other?”
“Since we were kids,” I said. “Our families used to live near each other. I spent as much time at his house as he did at mine.”
“Kelsey’s brother, Liam, has been my best friend since fifth grade,” Trent explained. “You’ll meet him at the party.”
“Will your parents be there too?” she asked me.
The car accident that stole my parents from me and tore my life apart happened when I was eighteen, but even though I had long since moved on, a flash of pain in my heart stirred at her question. “No. They’re dead.”
Her face twisted into the pitying look I was more than familiar with. I missed it as much as I missed writing exams. “Oh, I’m sorry to hear that.”
“It’s okay. They died ten years ago.”
“What does your brother do?”
“He’s a Navy SEAL.”
Deep furrows formed across Holly’s forehead. She understood what most women chose to ignore when they fantasized about the heroes in romance novels—that my brother’s career was damn dangerous.
“He’s a hero,” Trent added and a small smile graced my lips at that truth. “He once saved my brother’s life when they were on a mission together.”
Holly’s gaze shot to Trent. “Your brother’s a SEAL, too?”
“Not anymore. He was injured and honorably discharged from the military. Now he works in Silicon Valley.”
“Will I get to meet him today?”
Trent shook his head and parallel parked on the street near his parents’ home, a two-story, light-blue Victorian house with white trim. “No, his wife’s pregnant and due any day now. They couldn’t get away because of that.”
Even though I already knew this, disappointment rolled through me. Unlike with Trent, I had never crushed on Curtis. His claim to fame was that he could make me laugh. Usually during dinner.
Usually to his mom’s chagrin.
As Holly and Trent walked toward the front door, I slowed down for a minute, working hard to get air into my lungs.
And it had nothing to do with them being together.
Okay, it might’ve had a smidgen to do with that.
Trent was introducing Holly to his parents when I stepped into the house. The place hadn’t changed much over the years, with its nautical-themed decorations and antiques. As always, his father’s arm was around his mother’s waist. I almost sighed out loud at seeing them this way. There was never any doubt how much he worshiped his wife—and vice versa. My parents used to be the same way.
“Mom, Dad,” Trent said, “This is Holly Whittaker. She’s an investment analyst at my firm.”
So not only was she gorgeous, she was smart. And let’s not forget super nice. Darn it. Why couldn’t she have at least been bitchy? Then it would’ve been easier to hate her.
“It’s nice to meet you,” Joanne said, smiling at Holly.
Trent’s father shook Holly’s hand as my best friend walked into the foyer, hand resting on her protruding stomach. Whereas I was tall, Erin was short, which made her look more pregnant than her current four months.
She grinned when she saw me and hugged me. “You’re late.”
“Sorry. My car broke down on the way.”
“And if I hadn’t done my civic duty and rescued her, she’d still be stranded.” The corner of Trent’s mouth jerked into a one-sided grin, his usual look when he was teasing me.
“Holly,” Joanne said, “have you met Trent’s sister yet?”
Holly shook her head while Erin eyed the woman like she was a curious science experiment that could go wrong at any second. She quickly glanced at me and I shrugged. Not that she knew how I felt about her brother. As much as she loved him, she had never considered him good boyfriend material—as his track record with girls clearly illustrated.
And there was also that incident back in college, when She-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named (AKA Michaela, Erin’s former classmate and close friend) dated him. Let’s just say it didn’t end well for all parties concerned. After that, Erin made it clear that none of her friends were allowed to date Trent. Ever.
After the introductions were over, Erin grabbed my hand. “C’mon,” she said, and dragged me into the living room where my brother would be waiting.
As soon as I spotted him near the couch, talking to Erin’s husband, my body put the brakes on and refused to keep moving.
© Stina Lindenblatt 2016