Disclaimer: I own nothing but the plot and any original characters therein. No copyright infringement intended.
The little red sports car honked as it passed me, just as every decent car on the road tended to do. I didn't bother looking down at my speedometer, there was no need; this old bucket of a truck was on its last legs and I knew it. I was damn lucky it had gotten me this far.
After a sympathetic pat to its dash, I leaned back in the seat to let the warm, early fall air wash over me from the open window. One good thing about traveling at such a lazy speed: it was easy to take in the sights and scents of this tiny Texas town. It was edging on toward dinner and I could literally smell the fried chicken and biscuits on the air as I passed the tidy little homes.
"Welcome to Bailey, TX, population 289," I muttered as I read the sign. "And I thought Forks was small…"
It looked just like many of the small towns I'd been through already in this slow trek away from my past; dusty asphalt road lined with small houses, many flying ol' glory proudly from white-washed front porches. Enormous trees that spoke of their age, bending over small dwellings protectively, branches gently swaying as they towered over patches of grass that struggled to resemble a lawn.
In one or two of these, I saw small children, their reedy arms and thin bodies twisting this way and that as they laughed and chased each other through the glittering droplets of sprinklers. This was Texas after all; still warm enough to merit getting wet. Nothing like the weather I'd come from. By this time of year in my home town, the rain would be constant and bordering on icy.
I shivered just thinking about it.
I wanted nothing to do with the cold ever again, if I could help it.
Slowing from my top speed of 45, I cruised into what looked to be the main part of town. The first establishment I passed was the requisite laundromat, followed by a sewing machine and vacuum repair shop. Pretty standard fare so far. Across the road was the local greasy spoon, with a smattering of dusty cars and old pickups diagonally parked in front. I knew, should I stop and go in, I'd find a group of old-timers huddled around cups of coffee, news papers, and plates of pie or cobbler. These places it seemed, were all the same, and I found that comforting in an odd sort of way.
To me it seemed there was nothing happening in this town - and all those like it - more exciting than the local high school teams making the finals. Or talk of the latest local war hero who'd given their life 'over there' and frankly, I liked it that way. In my twenty-one years of life, I'd had enough excitement for two or three lifetimes.
Sleepy towns were good.
Sleepy towns were just what I was after.
Just down from the diner was the local watering hole with all its various beer signs hanging in the windows, just waiting to blink to life as soon as the sun went down. Glancing across the street from that, I saw a good-sized parking lot dotted with mini-vans, station wagons and even the odd pickup here and there, and I knew I'd found what was probably the only grocery store in town. Sure enough, when I spotted the sign, it was a Piggly Wiggly. The name never failed to get a chuckle from me, because…why? Who the hell would name their establishment that? It'd be interesting to meet them, or at least I thought so, anyway.
I passed a few more businesses; a taxidermy, a dentist's office—Dr. Fang?! Really?—before finally hitting pay dirt. The local gas station/garage with the ever-present used car lot tacked on next door.
"Well, old girl, with any luck, this is where you get to retire," I muttered as I pulled in and parked. "Don't worry, Red, I'm sure there's a redneck around here who won't be able to resist your charms." As if in answer, the engine clunked and coughed and finally died.
At the horrid sound, a man who looked to be in his fifties walked out of the open garage door wiping his greasy hands on a red rag. His eyes squintrd as he took in the sight of the unfamiliar truck.
He looked pretty fit for a guy his age—a full head of neatly trimmed, sandy blond hair, minimal lines on his tanned face and a broad-shouldered physique that filled out his grease-stained blue cover-alls.
Hopping out of the truck, I walked to him and stuck my hand out for a shake. As he took it, I read his name from the patch on his left breast—Frank. His hand was warm and shake firm.
"Hi, I'm Bella."
Maintaining eye contact, he kept wiping his hands, working on the stubborn stuff around his neatly trimmed nails. "Howdy, Miss Bella, I'm Frank and this is my place. How can I help?"
I nodded toward the car lot next door. "Was wondering if you'd be interested in making a deal? My old truck runs, but her top speed is down to a blazing forty-five, maybe fifty-five … downhill."
He hung his head and smirked, then nodded. "Say no more." He tucked the rag into his back pocket and gestured toward the lot while walking. "Now, don't go expectin' to leave here with a BMW," he said ruefully while tossing a white, straight-toothed grin over his shoulder.
'Damn, the man must have good genes…'
"Unless, of course, you got some stacks of cash in that old rust bucket." He raised a brow and I chuckled as I caught up to him.
"Nope, no fat stacks hidden in the truck, or the bank, sorry to say."
He nodded as though he'd figured as much, and he probably had after getting a look at my worn jeans, sneakers and faded AC/DC t-shirt.
Tucking some strands of my chin length bob behind my ear, I raised my head. I might not be rich, but I'd paid my own way all this time. I'd usually stop long enough to work here and there when my cash reserves ran low, and I was pretty damn proud of that.
I did have a five thousand dollar nest egg stashed in the truck. It was hidden in the old tool well under the floor mat, just behind the driver's seat, but I wasn't about to tell him that, handsome smile or no.
Once in the car lot, he turned and waved a hand. "Feel free to look around. When ya find somethin', ring this bell over here and either I'll come out to help ya, or my nephew, Jason, will." He eyed me a moment. "He's a good kid, 'bout your age. I trust him and he'll treat ya fair."
I nodded. "Sounds good, thanks."
He grinned and walked off while drawling, "Good luck, Miss Bella."
"Yeah, thanks," I muttered as my eyes skimmed the rows of vehicles. There were some beauties, including two pristine looking BMWs, one silver, one white. I knew they were out of my range, so I kept looking, heading instinctively toward the trucks. I'd been driving one so long that getting into a car felt wrong—not to mention riding in one took me back to times I'd rather forget. So, a truck it would be.
I passed a few newer models, giving each a cursory once over before moving down the line. And then I saw it—a 77 Chevy, slightly lifted, white with two thick red racing stripes painted over the hood and the matching camper shell. It gleamed in the sunlight, seeming to challenge me to buy it as I caressed a glossy fender. It was perfect, and I hadn't even looked inside or heard it run.
Can a truck be sexy?
This one sure as hell was.
A low chuckle startled my semi-erotic inspection of the truck, and I turned to see a man standing there, backlit by the sun. All I could see of him was a solid form—firm shoulders clad in a tight t-shirt, a tapered waist and powerful legs hugged by snug jeans, and grease-spattered work boots.
"That's my baby you're pettin'," he drawled in a voice that shouldn't be legal. "I take it you're in the market for a truck?"
Hoping like hell his face was ugly as sin—'cause I really didn't want to get all hung up on a man again—I stepped forward and held out a hand. "Bella Swan, and yeah, I am," I answered with a chuckle.
My heart sank, then took off like a shot when I got a look at his strangely familiar face. Neatly styled light-brown hair with just enough length to sweep over his brow and curl slightly at his nape, eyes as green as the alfalfa fields I'd passed on this trip, and a crooked, dimpled smile displaying straight, white teeth.
He was one of the finest examples of the male species I'd ever seen and that included they-who-shall-not-be-named.
All right, so I'd been reading too much Harry Potter.
My nights were long and boring. Sue me.
His hand was warm and—dare I say—comforting as we shook, and his smile only widened when, in my star-struck stupor, I failed to let go.
Clearing my throat as my brain reengaged, I finally dropped his hand.
"I'm Jason. My Uncle told me you were out here, and I've finished for the day, so I thought I'd come see if you need any help."
I bristled a bit. "Because I'm a poor little female who can't possibly find her way around a car lot, right?"
His grin widened as his brows climbed. "No…" he drawled. "That ain't it at all." He held up a bundle of keys and jangled it. "They're all locked, so if you wanna see inside or hear them run…"
"Oh," I said, now feeling like a supreme jackass. "Sorry."
"No worries," he said, pocketing the keys. As he did so, my eyes were inadvertently drawn to the front of his jeans and I just had to wonder if he had another wad of keys further down, or if that particular bulge was of a more enticing nature.
'God, I hope he didn't catch me looking…'
My eyes darted up to his, and the amusement in their green depths was unmistakable.
'Yep, Bella, definitely caught looking…damn it.'
"So ... see anything you like?" he said with a wicked grin and I struggled against the urge to stomp on his toe or kick him. He must have sensed it because he raised both hands and said with a quiet laugh, "The trucks, Miss Bella, you see one you like?"
I turned and walked back to the Chevy, muttering under my breath, "Damn pretty, green-eyed boys…"
He followed sedately, thumbs hooked in his pockets. "You say somethin'? If ya did, I didn't catch it."
"Nothing. It was nothing," I said as I stopped by the driver's door of the truck. "This one. Will you unlock it for me?"
He heaved a breath and said, "I reckon I will, but it's not exactly for sale." He pointed to the window that didn't have a sales sticker like all the rest. "Like I said, It's my baby, and I haven't decided yet."
I couldn't keep the disappointment out of my voice. "Oh, that's okay then, I'll just…"
He lightly touched my arm. "Nah, I'll show it to ya. I got a new bike, and I really don't need two vehicles. Frank swears I should keep it, though. He hates bikes, and wasn't too pleased when I got one. Calls 'em death machines. I've just been hangin' on to the truck for sentimental reasons … and to appease the old man."
I smiled as I thought of Charlie and how he reacted when he first saw me on a bike. "I get it. My dad hates them too."
His brows rose as he unlocked the truck and stepped back, then waved me forward. "You ride?"
"I did, for a bit," I said as I pulled the door of the truck wide open. The inside was just as clean as the outside. It looked brand new and had obviously been lovingly restored at some recent point. The upholstery was pristine, with black leather dash and seats, tastefully trimmed in either chrome or red. The carpet was black too. "It's a beautiful truck," I said and he nodded.
"She was nothing but a body and frame when I found her, but she was nice and straight, easy to work with; good bones, ya know? I put everything I had into her. Took me a couple of years, and got me through a tough time."
I glanced at the wistful look on his face and shook my head while closing the door. "I agree with Frank, you should keep it. It obviously means a lot to you, and unless you're strapped for cash, you shouldn't even think of getting rid of it."
He smirked. "Some salesman I am, huh?"
I laughed and stepped back as he locked up the truck. "What else ya got? Keep in mind now, that rust-bucket parked in front of your garage is my current ride, so you've some idea of my budget."
His brows shot up as he glanced at my beast before saying in a teasing tone, "I've got a smokin' hot scooter we can fix you up with. I'll even throw in a helmet and a can a' spray paint."
"Ha, ha," I said before getting a load of his apologetic smile. My shoulders slumped and I nodded. "I suppose I'm being a bit ambitious, huh?"
He pursed those tempting lips and nodded. "Yeah, a bit, especially when you consider that growing puddle of oil under your truck. She's 'bout done for, I hate to say. Probably good for scrap at this point, since the engine was knockin' pretty bad when ya got here." He must've seen my sad look, because he was quick to add, "But you could always have it rebuilt, ya know."
"Yeah, but that's a pretty penny too."
"True, but cheaper than another truck."
"I'll think about it."
With a quiet sigh, I began walking around to see what else they had in my price range. By the time I'd looked at the last one, I was pretty depressed. There were a couple I could afford if I spent every cent I had, including my stash, but that would leave me with nothing for traveling; no safety net. Glancing at him from beside the last one, I smiled sheepishly. "You don't know of anyone hiring around here, do you?"
He thought for a moment before looking back at me. "The diner? Maybe? Not sure, you'd have to go in and talk to Barb. She's the owner. Town's pretty small, so jobs are scarce, but the diner'd be your best bet."
"And a place to stay...?"
"The hotel's right next to the diner," he said as we ambled back toward my hemorrhaging truck.
When we got there, I unlocked the door and tossed my bag on the seat.
"So, you thinking on staying in town for a bit, then?" he asked.
"I don't have much choice. I either buy another vehicle, or get this beast fixed, and right now, I don't have the funds for either." He grinned and opened his mouth and I cut him off with a mock glare while fighting back a smile, "And no, I don't wanna see the scooter. I'm not that desperate."
He laughed and nodded. "All right, then, Miss Bella." He stuck out his hand. "Welcome to Bailey, Texas. Don't blink, ya might miss it."
I took his warm hand again and looked into his eyes, still feeling that nagging sense that I knew him from somewhere. "You know, you never told me your last name."
"Huh," he said before gallantly bowing over my hand. "Jason Wesley Whitlock, at your service, Ma'am." He looked up through lush lashes as his warm lips skimmed my knuckles, and my knees damn near gave out, especially as those soft lips curved into a barely-there smile.
It was then my heart really took off. I had finally placed his face. Yeah, the hair was darker, and there was the pesky detail of him being human, but put some longer, fairer hair on him and I was pretty damn sure I was looking at Jasper Hale-Cullen. Or whatever the hell he might be going by these days. The old-world gallantry had finally clued me in.
With a shaking hand, I reached up and touched his cheek before moving it down to rest against his neck, right over an unmistakably strong pulse. His brow furrowed. "Everything all right?" he asked. "You look like you've seen a ghost."
"I…I've gotta go," I said as I grabbed my bag from the truck and locked it before turning toward the diner. "It okay if I leave my truck here for a bit?" I asked as I started power-walking away from him.
"Yeah," he hedged, sounding baffled. "Sure. I know where to find ya."
"All right then," I said with a wave over my shoulder. "I'll stop by tomorrow to make better arrangements."
I didn't chance a look back, but I was pretty sure he was watching me. When I got far enough, I pulled out my phone, scrolled the contacts, and barked into the phone, "Speak to me Peter, and it better be good."
"Well…I'll be damned if the Dodgers aren't going to the World Series this year. Can you believe it?! 'Cause I didn't see that comin' AT ALL."
I leaned against the side of the diner and whisper-shouted, "Cut the shit, Pete. I think you know what I'm talking about!"
"Uh," he said as only Peter can, "You … look … lovely in shorter hair?" he squeaked, making me wish he was within choking distance, not that it would do me any good—damn vampire.
I slumped a bit. "You can't tell me your spidey-sense hasn't picked up anything."
He huffed. "Honest to god, sugar, for once, I don't have a clue what the hell you're talkin' about. Now, why don't you tell Uncle Petey all about it, so I can kiss it and make it better."
My ire rose at his simpering tone. "Oh, I got something you can kiss, all right…"
I could now hear him slurping something through a straw. It wasn't until he finally reached the bottom of whatever it was that he drawled, "I'm detecting a distinct air of hostility, and quite frankly, it's hurting my feelings. I may not seem so, but I'm very sensitive." At this point, I could picture him blinking away nonexistent tears. Damn drama queen… "Char! Char, baby, would you look up the number to that therapist? You know the one who gave me his card when I had that mini-breakdown in the candy aisle at Walmart? Yeah, sugar, that's the one…"
My fist clenched, because Peter Whitlock was just so monumentally full of shit. He was the King of Bullshit, and he knew it. And he was fucking with me—at a time like this…
"All right!" I snapped, then breathed a bit to calm down. "All right, fine. I just rolled into Podink, Texas and ran into a Cullen doppelgänger, except his hair is darker, and he's got a pulse. How's that grab ya?"
"I wouldn't shit you, Pete. You're my favorite turd."
"Oh, now see…? That right there was pretty good, sugar. It's progress, at least."
"Okay, okay, sliding into my serious panties now. Although, they do have super heroes on 'em, so I guess they're not entirely serious…"
"Peter…" I growled.
He sighed. "Where'd you say you are again?"
"I didn't, really, but it's Bailey, Texas."
"Bailey, Bailey, Bailey…hmmm, can't say I've ever heard of it. How do I get there?"
My jaw tightened and I wished I was talking to the brainy half of the operation. Or at least the half that didn't insist on being a horse's ass.
"That device you're speaking into? Well, when we hang up, you type Bailey, Texas in the search engine, get directions, and follow them."
"Then how do I find ya?"
"The population's under three hundred, Pete, I'm sure you're up to the challenge."
"All right sugar, just put yourself on ice for a couple'a days until Char and I get there. Then we'll see what's shakin'. Sound good?"
"Not like I'm going anywhere, so yeah, and Pete? You're an ass, but I love you anyway."
He chuckled. "Love you too, Sugar."
This is me, trying to get back into the Twilight groove. Reviews would help!
Light and love, ~Spudz