Endless Trails(3)

By: Bonnie R. Paulson

A quick breeze came up and picked her long blonde curls from her shoulders and tossed them wildly around in the air. She moaned, reaching up carefully to tug her hair down tight. Why hadn’t she tied it back?

Hopefully, she hadn’t been seen. She peeked out past the silver outline of her bumper and winced at the sight of a slowing truck as it crept closer to the sedan on the side of the highway.

She couldn’t see the color or the exact make with the sun at its back. Ducking back behind the panel, she pressed her back against the hot metal. Looking up toward heaven, she murmured, “Please, please, please.” Although, why she even cared didn’t make sense since she’d never been given any favor from the rodeo upstairs.

From not too far off, a truck door closed followed by the crunch of cowboy boots on gravel. The pace was more languid, like that of a slow moving creek rather than a raging river like Buck. He moved in varying degrees of rage, never anything but mad, madder, or fuming.

Amy dug her fingers under a collection of scraggy rocks and gripped them tightly in her hand. If the man was there with ill intent, she’d make sure he ate a mouthful of rocks before she’d let him have her.

A shadow cast across her face, the abating heat more of an indication than the increased darkness over her closed her eyes. She slowly opened her eyes, first one and then the other.

He was a dark form over her but not intimidating like Buck would be. No, the new man had his hand extended downward and the flash of white teeth when he smiled. “Looks like you’re havin’ some trouble. Can I take a look?”

Taking his offer, she let him pull her to her feet, the comfort in his touch foreign. She was on guard as she stood, keeping herself between him and the car as he passed.

Pointing at the raised hood, he smiled. “I’m Ryland. I know a couple of things about cars. Do you have any idea what happened? What was it doing before you pulled over?”

Ryland, huh? He had a square shape to his face and brilliant blue eyes. His jeans fit well and Amy’s cheeks flushed when she caught herself tracing the rear of his pants down to the well-stacked jeans over his faded and worn brown boots. His button-up blue and white plaid shirt had been rolled at the sleeves to the elbows, revealing forearms that testified of hard work and time in the sun.

She didn’t close the doors or roll up the windows she’d left open to catch any stray breeze, but she did block his view of the car as he rounded the front of the hood and leaned over the dirty motor compartment.

He reached down, his arm disappearing into one of the many holes amongst the engine compartment. Ryland grunted and commented while he worked. “Wow, your oil plug feels like it’s missing. How far have you come?”

“I left Dillon a few hours ago.” She tucked her hands into her rear pockets and glanced over her shoulder. “My oil plug is missing? Is that bad?”

His chuckle wasn’t condescending but more like she’d genuinely made him laugh. “Yeah, that’s bad. If you’d lost it closer to Dillon, you would’ve broken down closer. Once that plug’s out, the oil drains pretty fast, especially on these highways and with the shaking the frame would be going through.” He looked at her over the long side of the hood. “You’re lucky you made it to the side.”

“It started smoking and then grinding.” She’d known something was wrong when she’d heard something metal clank against the undercarriage of the car. She’d pulled over one second before the engine had seized. Nothing was going to fix that motor. One more thing destroyed by Buck.

Because that’s the only reason her oil plug had fallen out. Her ex-boyfriend had most definitely messed with the engine. He’d probably wished she’d get in an accident that would be easier to track her.

She tried hiding her fear as it mounted in her gut. Sitting there, Amy was worse off than a herd of elk in a prairie on opening day. The guy sitting there seemed nice. Did she take a chance and trust him enough to ask for help? Or was he a part of some good ole boy club where men had each other’s backs and didn’t care about anything else?

He wiped his hands on a handkerchief he pulled from his back pocket and closed her hood. “No point in leaving that open. There’s nothing to be done.” Ryland winked as he retucked his bandanna in his pocket and approached her. He nodded at his truck. “Can I give you a lift? You’re probably heading back toward Dillon, right?”

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