GOD, I’M TIRED. Tired? Ha! Try exhausted. Two double shifts in three days will do that to a girl. Not that I had a choice. After the third employee came down with a stomach virus, the only ones left were Oz and me, and somebody had to cook, serve, mop up. Oz’s Diner has never closed, not even during Hurricane Matthew. So, my retired Marine boss was not about to shutter his doors for a measly bug. Oorah!
To be honest, I see the whole thing as a blessing. After my no-good snake of a boyfriend cleaned out my savings four months ago, I’m flat broke. The $12,000 I’d spent two years squirreling away so I could return to college gone along with the son of a bitch. That money, along with my scholarship, would have covered my school expenses. But now? I don’t have a chance in hell of finishing my nursing degree. A traitorous tear rolls down my cheek, but before it gets too far, I angrily bat it away. No time for a pity party. Too much to deal with, thank you very much.
A tree branch smacks the front window hard enough to make me jump. Lightning flashes across the sky, while thunder rumbles not far behind. The rare midnight storm is keeping folks home tonight. Just as well. It’s giving me a chance to clean the counters, mop the floor, restock supplies. Some might see me as a lowly waitress, but I take pride in my work. I’d better since I’ll be doing it for the rest of my life.
Behind me, the clock whirls softly. A glance tells me I have five more minutes before I can head home and fall into bed. After I shower and get the gunk out of my hair, that is. What is it about diners and grease? Even with my long hair tucked into a bun, oil sinks right into every strand.
After one more glance at the time, I head for the door to flip the sign to CLOSE. But before I get there, a huge, hulk of a man snatches it open and steps inside. Sodden, black-as-sin hair drips down to shoulders the size of a bull. And his eyes, Jaysus, they’re fucking electric blue. It’s like he brought the storm inside with him.
“Got any coffee?” His deep voice strums right through me, striking sparks in places that should know better.
Shit. Get it together, Rain. It’s a customer. “Yeah. It’ll take a minute, though. Gotta brew a fresh pot.” I’d dumped the dregs of burnt java down the sink ten minutes ago.
I rush back to the space behind the counter. That’s where the brewer is, along with the Glock Oz keeps there. Not only do I know how it works, but I’m not afraid to fire it. Oz made sure of that when he trained every employee on the use of the firearm. I busy myself pouring coffee and water into the brewer while keeping my eye on the stranger. If he makes a threatening move, the gun’s a hand-length away.
Dragging his left foot, he limps toward the counter, wincing with every step.
Oh, my gosh, he’s hurt. “You okay?” Silly question. Of course, he’s not.
“Got sideswiped by a car. Ended up in a ditch.”
Damn. That’s rough. “You need to see a doctor. There’s a clinic up the street. It’s open 24/7.”
He shakes his head, and beads of water rain across the linoleum, joining the streaks of mud from his shoes. Darn it. I’d just mopped that floor.
“No. I’ll be fine. Can’t say the same for my bike. Got banged up. Any motorcycle shops around here?”
“Not really. We have Ernie’s, though. Mechanic. Opens at seven.”
“It’ll have to wait ‘til morning then.” Taking a seat at a stool, he sweeps his wet hair from his face, and I almost go down for the count. Chiseled jaw, high cheekbones. Dark, winged brows. Gorgeous does not begin to describe him. “I need a place to crash for the night. Any suggestions?”
Finding it hard to breathe, I offer, “Normally, there would be, but our two B&Bs are booked up with a wedding party.” Reason I know is the Pelican Bay website lists vacancies. As of this afternoon, there were none. “And our hotel went belly up several years ago. Sorry.”
His gaze darts toward the booths that now sit empty. “Can I stay here? I got cash. I’ll pay.”
“Sorry.” Oz would skin me alive if I let a stranger bunk overnight in the place. By way of an apology, I pour his coffee and move the sugar dispenser and creamer closer to him. “You hungry?”
“I could use a sandwich. Nothing fancy. Ham and cheese will do.”
“Coming right up.” That’s the least I can do. I toast the bread, slather on the mayo, pile it high with extra ham and cheese, toss a whole mess of chips on the side. He points to them when I serve his food. “Those things will kill you. Too much salt.”
“Yeah,” I say with a smile. “But they taste really good.” He’s perched on the stool as if he’s afraid to breathe, which tells me he’s in a whole lot of pain. “Would you like some ibuprofen? It should help.”
He nods. “Thanks.”
I grab a couple from the bottle I always carry in my purse, lay them on a napkin, and slide it toward him along with a glass of water. He wastes no time tossing them back. I leave him alone to wolf down his food while I mop the mud he tracked in.
Noticing, he says, “Sorry. Didn’t mean to—”
“Don’t worry. It’s part of the job.” I gesture to his empty plate. “Another sandwich?”
“No. But I’d like a slice of that pie.” He points to the glass-encased dessert proudly displayed on the counter.
“Blueberry peach.” Oz’s specialty. “It’s really good.”
“Got any vanilla ice cream?” His lips quirk up into a smile that could make all the angels in heaven weep.
If he’s this gorgeous soaking wet and hurting, what would he look like cleaned up? Not that I’ll ever know. “Of course. What would pie be without it?”
He takes his time savoring the dessert, chewing every bite as if it were manna from heaven. Once done, he sets down the fork and swipes the paper napkin across a mouth made for sinning. “That was really good.”
I nod. “Thanks.” The hands on the clock behind me whir forward, a reminder that it’s way past closing time.
He briefly glances at it before turning his gaze back to me. “I better go. If I could have the check.”
I shouldn’t ask. It’s none of my business. But I can’t let it be. “Go where?” As far as I can tell, he’s got nowhere to go.
“I’ll wait out the storm out there, maybe under that tree.” He points to the crepe myrtle that presides over the parking lot.
“Are you insane? That’s the worst place to be in a storm. One lightning strike will kill you.”
“Well, I can’t have that.” A corner of his lips kicks up. “Any suggestions?”
“Yeah.” I take a deep breath. God, I can’t believe what I’m about to say. “You can come home with me.”
He laughs, a rich, throaty sound I could listen to forever. “And you think I’m insane? You don’t know me.”
“Well, that can be easily remedied.” I stick out my hand. “Hi, I’m Rain Truitt.”
His brow arches as he shakes. “Rain?”
Not the first time I’ve had that reaction to my name. “Yeah, it was pouring the day I was born. My momma took that as a good sign.” I don’t share my middle name ‘Forest’. Hard enough to deal with the Rain part.
“Good a reason as any. I’m Dave. Dave Wilkinson.” He retrieves his ID from the pocket of his leather jacket and hands it to me.
I stare at his driver’s license which tells me he’s from wayyy out of town. “You’re from California? What are you doing on the East Coast?”
He shrugs. “I wanted to see America, feel the beat of its heart.”
“And you thought you’d find it in Pelican Bay?” The town I grew up in doesn’t have much going for it. Our beach is small. The one hotel we have was abandoned by its owner. And there are only a few places to eat—Oz’s diner, a sub joint, and a pizza place.
“It’s a beautiful town, very picturesque.”
I prop my fist on my hip. “You could tell all that in the middle of a hellacious storm after a car sideswiped you?”
“No, I could tell all that from the photos on the internet and the brochure I picked up on the road.”
“Well, Mayor Stanley will be glad to know our website and advertising was money well spent since they brought you to our town.” I toss the dirty dishes in the dishwasher I emptied an hour ago. Can’t run another cycle tonight, so they’ll have to wait until morning to get clean. “I just need to cash out, and then we can be on our way.” After I add up the ticket, I slide it in front of him. “That will be $12.46.”
He digs out his wallet from his jacket, retrieves a hundred-dollar bill, and places it on top of the check.
“Don’t you have anything smaller?” I’d dropped all the twenties in the safe that only Oz can open. “I only have a couple of tens and some fives and ones in the till.”
“That’s okay. Keep the change.”
“You’re giving me an $87 tip?”
“Dave, I appreciate the thought. But it’s too much.”
“Not to me. You served me hot food and coffee, plus service with a smile. Gave me some pain meds. And now you’re taking me home.”
I stiffen. Maybe he got the wrong idea. “I’m offering you a place to bunk down for the night. That’s all.”
“And I’m grateful for it. Isn’t a room worth $87 ‘round these parts?”
“I’m offering you a couch, not a room.”
“Which will be out of the rain. So that will be more than enough. Thank you.” He gingerly slides off the stool.
But I don’t miss the flinch at the end. “Ready?”
“I don’t suppose you have a tarp I could borrow? I would like to cover my motorcycle to protect it from the storm.”
“Yeah, I do. My boss keeps one in the back. One of his fishing ones.”
Following me, he half-walks, half-drags his bum leg to the back. It doesn’t take long to find the tarp and hand it to him. Oz will be here bright and early, and he’ll notice that the covering is missing. So I toss off a quick note explaining where it’s gone.
By the time I’ve locked up, Dave’s already maneuvered his motorcycle to the tree and thrown the drop cloth over it. How he managed it, I have no idea. The punishing rain almost blinds me as I run to my car, but I’m grateful for the cooler temperature the storm has brought. The early June heat has been pretty brutal.
Turning the ignition key, I hope for the best. My Accord has been making odd noises, and it’s way overdue for service. But with my current lack of funds, I can’t afford to have it looked at. When the car roars to life, I smile in gratitude. “Thank you, God.”
Dave slings open the back door and tosses a duffel bag on the seat before climbing into the front, pulling in his leg with a grunt. Drenched does not begin to describe him.
Apology is written all over his face. “Sorry. I’m making a mess of your car.”
“Don’t worry about it.” I tap the dashboard. “Myrtle won’t mind.”
His eyebrows scrunch in confusion. “You named your car Myrtle?”
“Yeah. She’s sweet-smelling and beautiful.” I point to the air freshener in the shape of a seashell I hitched on the air vent. “Just like the crepe myrtle tree you parked your bike under.”
I hitch my chin toward the back seat. “Hope your things aren’t ruined.”
“They’ll stay dry. The duffel is waterproof.”
I catch a glimpse of his bag in the rear view mirror. The thing looks like it’s made from expensive leather, but it’s probably just the rain making it gleam. It’s certainly fancier than anything I’ve ever seen. And masculine just like him. Even soaking wet and bedraggled, he’s 100% prime male beef. And big. His shoulders take up the back of his seat and half the space between us.
A stranger danger warning flashes in my head. Too damn late. How foolish was I to invite him home for the night? He could do anything to me, and I wouldn’t be able to stop him. I should have added a description of Dave and my intention to take him home for the night to the note I left on Oz’s desk. It wouldn’t save me, but at least when my body’s found, he’d have a clue as who to look for. I sneak a peek at Dave who’s staring out into the night while rubbing his leg. God, Rain. The man’s in pain, and you’re worried he’ll kill you? I could easily outrun him. But what if he’s faking it? No, he’s not. He could have done something to me in the diner. But he didn’t. My gut tells me he’s okay.
“Ready?” I ask, putting the car into gear.
“As I’ll ever be,” he says in that deep, dark voice that makes my toes curl.
God, if he can do that with only his voice, I can only imagine what the rest of him would do to me. I don’t have to imagine it. I’d be down for the count.Return to If Tomorrow Ever Comes