Chapter One of Lucky Save

chapter1teaser

So, here is chapter one of Lucky Save for your reading pleasure! Keep in mind, it hasn’t gone through a final check from my editor yet, so any mistakes are all mine.

I hope you enjoy it! The book is only a few weeks away, but hopefully this will tide you over until it’s released. 🙂
Happy Saturday, all!

—————–

CHAPTER ONE

LUCKY SAVE

 

“Come on. Please, please, start.”

She turned the key again, but the engine only stuttered and whined.

“Son of a bitch.”

Penn slammed her fist down on the steering wheel of her yellow Beetle. Swallowing the bitter bile rising in her throat, she peered out of the windshield at the empty blacktop that stretched on for miles.

Stranded. In the middle of the Nevada desert on Highway 50.

“No wonder it’s called the loneliest highway in America,” she muttered. She hadn’t seen another car yet, and she’d been here for at least a half an hour.

Grabbing her ancient cell phone from the passenger seat, she checked again for a signal.

NO SERVICE.

“Shit.” Not that she was really surprised out here in the middle of nowhere. Disgusted, she shoved the useless phone back into the pocket of her denim skirt.

This was bad. She was still hundreds of miles from Las Vegas.

This trip was supposed to be an escape from the shit storm she’d been through lately. All she wanted was to have a nice relaxing drive from Washington to Las Vegas. Then she could kick back, relax, and spend quality time with her best friend. She’d been planning this vacation with Holly for two months.

She needed this vacation.

Instead, here she was-stuck. It was a total representation of her life lately. Trying to move forward, but spinning her wheels and getting absolutely nowhere.

The heat was merciless as the afternoon sun beat down on her little Beetle. Keeping both doors open and the windows rolled down wasn’t making much of a difference. All she could do was drape a t-shirt over the seat to keep her legs from burning.

Though it was stifling inside the car, being outside wasn’t an option, either. She’d burn in a matter of minutes with her fair skin.

God. This was so, so bad.

Peeking into her cooler, she did a quick inventory. Two bottles of water, one sandwich, two chocolate bars, and a bag of chips. Of course, the one time she’d forgone getting snacks and drinks at a station, this happens.

She’d been so careful to plan and prepare for this trip. Gas stations were few and far between out here, so she’d put an extra canister of gas in her trunk just in case. She’d even had her car checked out before leaving Washington, and it had been purring right along without a hitch.

Until, of course, it hitched.

Blinking back tears, she took a deep breath. She needed to stay calm and rational-hell, she was known for being calm and rational. But it didn’t take a genius to see this situation was dangerous, and getting worse by the minute.

She glanced into her rearview mirror, praying to see another car, a truck, or any sign of life. But just like all the times she’d checked before, the road stayed empty.

If someone didn’t show up soon, she was completely screwed.

#

West turned right into the tiny Nevada service station and pulled the truck alongside a fuel pump. It was a long way to the next station on Highway 50, and he didn’t want to chance running out of gas in the middle of the desert.

At the pump opposite his, a beat-up blue van sat idle. Whispers from that direction caught his attention.

A middle-aged couple stared at him from the front seat. The blonde female nudged the driver, a big guy who squinted at him through the windshield.

“I’m sorry for bothering you, but are you West Keller?” the female called, hanging out of the open window.

“Yeah, that’s me.” How in the hell had he gotten recognized out here in the middle of fucking nowhere? If this place wasn’t close to the ends of the earth, nothing was.

“I knew it!” The woman climbed from the van and sauntered over to his truck. “I told my boyfriend it was you. You can’t miss all those tattoos. Billy, come down here!” she hollered over to the van.

West winced. Her voice could shatter every windshield within twenty feet.

She stared up at him, her hands on her hips. “Boy, you’re tall. And built. Wow. So, what is the goaltender for the Las Vegas Kingsnakes doing all the way out here, anyway?”

“Just driving back to the city from vacation.”

Billy stepped down from the van. “Stop bothering the guy, Kara. Jesus Christ. He’s going to get soaked from you drooling all over him.”

West chuckled. “It’s fine. No bother.”

“We’re big Kingsnakes fans.” Billy hooked a thumb toward Kara. “This one didn’t like hockey much at first, but she got into it after we went to a few home games.”

“Can I get a picture with you?” Kara asked. “My friend Lydia is going to totally freak. She’s so in love with you. She has your jersey and everything.”

“Just a minute.” He put the nozzle back in the holder and screwed on the gas cap.

Billy snorted. “Yeah, sure, Lydia is in love with him. Don’t act like you don’t have his jersey, too.”

Kara elbowed Billy in the ribs. “Oh my god. Shut up.”

West brushed his hands off on his jeans. “As long as someone has my jersey, it’s all good.”

“You guys came so close last season,” Billy told him. “That was a brutal loss. You’ll come back stronger in the fall, though. I know it.”

“Yeah, well, that’s the plan.”

The Kingsnakes had lost in overtime to Los Angeles during game seven of the Western Conference finals. It had been an incredibly difficult loss to stomach. He’d really thought they’d make it to the Cup finals, and he’d finally get a chance to lift that big silver trophy over his head.

Instead, they’d headed back to the locker room in stunned silence, their dreams going up in smoke and their season over.

Fuck, it still hurt.

He shook the disappointment from his mind and forced a smile. “Ready for that photo?”

“Heck, yes!” Kara cuddled into his side and placed her hand just above his ass. Her hand sank lower with each photo Billy snapped. Another second and she’d be squeezing the goods, boyfriend or not.

West gently extracted himself from her python-like grip. “I have to get back on the road. Make sure to come see some games next season, okay?”

Billy nodded. “Thanks, Keller.” Kara gave him a flirty wave and a wink.

He climbed into the cab, gave them a nod, and pulled back onto the empty highway.

It surprised the hell out of him to get noticed all the way out here, so far from the city limits. Still, that meant the Kingsnakes were expanding their fan base throughout the state, and that was good.

This summer, he’d really needed a break from Nevada. He loved the energy of Vegas, but he got recognized there every day. He’d retreated to a former teammate’s beach house in California, and ended up staying for the better part of a month.

From there, he’d headed up to British Columbia for a week to fish and enjoy some solitude. It had been just what he’d needed to clear his head.

Some days, like today, he just wanted to be anonymous. Not West Keller, professional athlete-just West Keller, guy on a road trip.

He punched down the accelerator and let his thoughts drift as he rolled down the highway. Out here on the open road, behind his sunglasses, that’s exactly who he was.

#

Unable to deny her growing thirst any longer, Penn uncapped one of the water bottles and took a long swallow. She glanced into her rearview mirror for what seemed like the millionth time in the past twenty minutes, and caught sight of a massive black truck barreling down the highway.

“Thank you, thank you, thank you,” she gasped, scrambling from the car. Charging to the side of the road, she hopped up and down, waving her arms. “Stop, please! Stop!”

The truck slowed and rolled to a stop twenty feet away, its Nevada license plate glinting in the sun. The driver backed the truck up in front of her Beetle and killed the engine.

Penn let out a huge, relieved sigh, grateful to finally see another human being. The feeling was immediately followed by a sharp pang of fear.

She had no choice but to accept help from a complete stranger. Taking a deep breath, she attempted to put the brakes on all the scary scenarios dancing through her overactive imagination.

The driver, a man, stepped from the jacked up truck and walked toward her. A gray t-shirt clung to his upper body like a second skin, emphasizing his lean, muscled stature. Snug blue jeans hugged him in all the right places. He pushed black sunglasses farther up the bridge of his nose.

“Well. Aren’t you in a hell of a spot.” His deep, rumbling voice sounded amused.

Her breath caught as she stared up at him, speechless. He towered over her, standing at least 6’5″. Larger than life didn’t seem an adequate way to describe this guy.

Colorful tattoos completely covered both of his arms, disappearing beneath the sleeves of his shirt. He tossed his too-long, light brown hair out of his eyes with a jerk of his head.

He looked dangerous.

Utterly, completely gorgeous, but dangerous.

Penn took a step back, putting space between them. It didn’t escape his notice, and one side of his mouth curled into a half-smile.

“What’s the problem, sweetheart?” He removed his sunglasses and gave her a slow, lingering once over. His deep gray eyes reminded her of the color of the sky just before a violent thunderstorm.

Heat crept into her cheeks as his gaze strayed to her legs. Why hadn’t she worn something less revealing for the drive into Vegas? She tugged on the short denim skirt.

“I’m not sure.” She nodded toward the Beetle. “It started sputtering, then it just shut off. You’re the first person to stop. Actually, you’re the first person I’ve even seen. I would have called the auto club, but my cell phone isn’t getting a signal out here. I guess that’s common in the middle of nowhere.”

God, she was babbling away like a teenager. If he would just stop staring at her, maybe she could gather her thoughts.

He kicked the tire with his white sneaker. “What year is this car?”

“Seventy-one. It’s a Super Beetle.”

“A classic.” He rubbed a hand over what appeared to be at least a month’s worth of beard. “Engine’s in the back, as I recall. You want to pop the hood for me?”

“Do you know anything about cars?”

He flashed a grin. “I might know a thing or two.”

I just bet you do.

She leaned inside and pulled the lever in the glove compartment, popping the hood.

“Let’s see what we got.” He lifted the metal hood with the corner of his t-shirt. “Well-maintained,” he said, looking down at the engine. “Start it up so I can hear what’s going on.”

Penn turned the key, leaning out of the car to watch as he stared down at the motor. He listened to the noise, watching the engine sputter and whine for a few moments before it quit. He leaned in and poked around, having her start it up a few more times before giving up.

“Sorry, kid. It’s nothing obvious, which means it’s probably an expensive fix. Anything on a vehicle this old is going to be an expensive fix.”

“Comforting.” She placed one hand on the back of her neck and sighed. Thank god she had a shiny new credit card to pay for the repairs. Hopefully she’d soon have a shiny new job to go along with it.

He slammed the hood and placed his foot on the bumper. “What’s your name, sweetheart?”

“Penn Foster. Damsel in distress and all that.”

He frowned. “Penn? What kind of name is that?”

“It’s short for Penelope, which I’m not that fond of. And you are?”

“West Keller.” He stared down at her, like he was waiting for some kind of reaction. What kind of reaction, she didn’t know.

She crossed her arms. “Hmm. And you’re questioning my name…West?”

He hesitated a moment, then grinned. “Fair enough. West is my mom’s maiden name.”

“Well, anyway, I appreciate you stopping to help, Mr. Keller.”

“Just call me West.”

Her stomach flipped and fluttered under his intense gaze. She wasn’t sure anyone had ever looked at her quite so intently before. Plus, he was so attractive, it almost bordered on ridiculous. He was, as her friend Holly would say, smokin’ hot.

He slid his sunglasses back on. “Here’s the deal, Penn Foster, damsel in distress. You’re about ninety miles away from the nearest town, which is where I’m staying tonight. You can grab a ride with me and get a hotel room for yourself. My buddy, Adam, works for a garage in Vegas. I’ll get him to transport your car there. I’ll try and get you the best price I can. Deal?”

He obviously liked taking charge. While she appreciated the help, she hated feeling like she had zero say in the matter.

“Does your cell phone have a signal?” she asked. “If it does, I can call the auto club and get them to come pick me up.”

He pulled an iPhone from his pocket and held it out to her. Just as she suspected-no signal.

Penn rubbed her temples. This day couldn’t possibly get any worse. “Can’t your friend tow my car to the closest town and have them fix it there?”

“It’s a classic car, doll. You’ll need to get parts in the city.”

“I’m on my way to Vegas for a vacation anyway, but I’ll have to find a way to get there.”

“I’m heading into Vegas tomorrow morning,” he told her. “I can give you a ride. Problem solved.”

“No, problem not solved, Mr. Keller.” She put her hands on her hips and stared up at him. “I don’t know you. You could be a highway serial killer for all I know, chopping women up and leaving their body parts scattered throughout the desert.”

He laughed, the sound rich and deep. “I promise you I’m not, but you’re just going to have to trust me, aren’t you? Because you’re out of options at the moment, darlin’. This heat is miserable, and no doubt you could use some air conditioning. Any longer out here and you’re going to turn to ash. We both will.”

She tugged on her skirt again. It didn’t help he kept openly ogling her legs while he went on about trust. He was probably used to women happily doing anything he wanted.

West gestured at the empty highway. “If you don’t mind burning alive out here, I guess you could take your chances with the next person who passes by, whenever that is. Maybe it will be a trucker looking for some company. Or a car full of guys on their way to Vegas for a little fun.”

He cocked his head. “Then again, there’s the off-chance no one will come by for hours. Or if someone does, they might not stop. Not many Good Samaritans these days, you know?”

“Ugh, I get it, okay?” She peered down the long, empty stretch of road again, sweat trickling down her temple.

He was right, getting back inside her Beetle and baking away in the afternoon sun wasn’t an option. And if she stood outside any longer, she’d be burnt to a crisp.

Pulling her phone from the pocket of her skirt, she snapped a photo of his license plate, then turned and snapped another one of his face.

“While I appreciate your help, Mr. Keller, you need to know that if you try anything funny, I will kick you in the nuts and scream my face off. Then I will send these photos to the Nevada police. Understand?”

He peered down at her. “How will you do that? I thought you said your phone didn’t have a signal.”

She tipped her head back and groaned. “Son of a bitch.” This guy didn’t miss a beat.

“Relax, little pixie. I know you’re nervous, but I’m not going to hurt you. That’s not my deal.”

It better not be, because she had pepper spray hidden in her purse and wouldn’t hesitate to use it and slam him in the jewels if he made one wrong, creeptastic move.

“Let’s get your stuff, okay?”

She shoved her phone back in the pocket of her skirt and walked back to the car. “Alright.”

“This is all you have?” He looked down at her tiny suitcase and duffel bag.

“Besides my cooler and my purse, yes. I’m only going to be in Vegas for a week. Not much else fits in this trunk, anyway.”

“Most women I know can’t go on a trip without three of these, at least.” He lifted the suitcase from the trunk.

She grabbed the duffel bag. “Then I guess I’m not most women.”

“You’re probably right about that.”

Penn glanced over at him, expecting to see a teasing expression on his face, but he didn’t look like he was joking. Slamming the trunk lid closed, he nodded toward his truck. “Ready?”

She hoisted the duffel bag over her shoulder and shrugged. “As I’ll ever be, I guess. Let’s go.”

Copyright 2015 Jennifer Lazaris

 

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