Kiss an Angel(9)

By: Susan Elizabeth Phillips

“Just throw it in the back.” Alex tossed his suitcase over the side of the truck but didn’t offer to do the same with hers, just as he hadn’t offered to carry it from the plane.

She set her jaw. If he thought she was going to beg him for help, he could think again. Her arms screamed in protest as she struggled to hoist the cumbersome bag over the side. She felt his eyes on her, and although she suspected that she’d eventually be grateful her father’s housekeeper had managed to stuff so much into one carry-on bag, at that moment she would have given anything for Louis Vuitton’s smallest tote.

She grabbed the handle in one hand and the hook at the bottom in the other. With a mighty effort, she heaved.

“Need help?” he inquired with phony innocence.

“No . . . thank . . . you.” The words came out more as grunts than civilized speech.

“Are you sure?”

She had hoisted it to shoulder level, and she didn’t have enough breath left to reply. Just a few more inches. She wobbled on her high heels. A few more—

With a squawk of dismay, she and the bag fell backward. She yelped as she hit the pavement, then yelped again out of pure rage. As she stared straight up into the sun, she realized the bag had cushioned her fall, which was the only reason she hadn’t hurt herself. She also realized she had sprawled into an ungainly position, with her short skirt stretched tight across her upper thighs, her knees pressed together, and her feet splayed.

A pair of scuffed brown cowboy boots appeared in her peripheral vision. As her eyes slid up along denim-clad thighs and over a broad chest to a pair of amber eyes glinting with amusement, she mustered her dignity. Bringing her ankles together, she propped herself up on her elbows. “I meant to do that.”

His chuckle had an old, rusty sound, as if it hadn’t been used in a long time. “You don’t say.”

“Yes, I do.” With as much dignity as possible, she pushed herself the rest of the way into a sitting position. “This is what your childish behavior has led to, and I hope you’re sorry.”

He gave a bark of laughter. “You need a keeper, angel face, not a husband.”

“Will you stop calling me that!”

“Be grateful that’s all I’m calling you.” He snagged the strap of her bag with three fingers of one hand and tossed it over the top as if it weighed no more than her pride. Then he hauled her to her feet, unlocked the door of the cab, and pushed her into the sweltering interior.

She didn’t trust herself to speak until they had left the airport far behind and were traveling on a two-lane highway that seemed to be heading inland instead of toward Hilton Head, as she’d hoped.

Flat stretches of palmetto and scrub stretched on both sides of the road, and the blast of warm air coming through the truck’s open windows whipped feathery strands of hair against her cheeks. Keeping her voice determinedly pleasant, she finally broke the silence. “Would you mind turning on the air-conditioning? I’m getting blown to bits.”

“It hasn’t worked for years.”

Maybe she was getting numb, because his announcement didn’t surprise her. More miles ticked by, and signs of civilization grew increasingly sparse. Once again, she asked the question he’d refused to answer when they’d gotten off the plane. “Will you please tell me where we’re going?”

“It’ll probably be easier on your nervous system if you wait to see for yourself.”

“I’m not taking that as a hopeful sign.”

“Let’s put it this way. The place doesn’t have a cocktail lounge.”

The jeans, the boots, the pickup with Florida plates. Maybe he was a rancher! She knew that there were all kinds of wealthy cattle ranchers in Florida. Maybe they were taking a roundabout way south. Please, God, let him be a rancher. And let it be like a Dallas rerun. A beautiful house, tacky clothes, Sue Ellen and JR. cavorting around the swimming pool.

“Are you a rancher?”

“Do I look like a rancher?”

“Right now you sound like a psychiatrist. You answered a question with a question.”

“I wouldn’t know anything about that. I never visited one.”

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