As nice as making a new friend would be, I was hoping my time in Shady Grove was close to over.
• • •
I’d been in this little town all of an hour, and already it felt like hell. After my car had coasted into Shady Grove making an awful screeching noise, I’d parked it at the only gas station I saw, which was also an auto repair shop. Unfortunately, a sign posted on the door read Closed for Lunch.
“I’m sorry, what?” I said to the attendant behind the counter. I’d been so happy when I got back from my own lunch and found that the little repair shop had reopened. My relief was quickly dashed by the woman running the register.
“Wayne’s out today,” she said.
I assumed she was referring to the Wayne of Wayne’s Auto Repair, as the sign on the outside of the building stated.
“Could you call him?” I asked as politely as I could.
“Okay . . .” I waited for a better explanation, and when it wasn’t forthcoming, asked, “Why does that matter?”
She chuckled. “Wayne doesn’t work on Sunday.”
“I’ll pay him to work on Sunday.”
The one thing I had been sure to pack when I left New York was the black AmEx card my parents had given me. They might not be my favorite people at the moment, but I had no problem spending their money if I had to.
“Honey,” she said, leaning over to rest her forearms on the counter that separated us. Her graying blond hair was set in curls from what I assumed was a perm, and the realization of just how out of place I was started to set in. “Let me put it this way. Wayne doesn’t work on Sunday because he’s probably been drinking since Friday. He’d be useless today. And the Longhorns kick off in about fifteen minutes. There’s a better chance of that pretty little car of yours fixing itself than getting Wayne to come in today.”
“Maggie,” I said after glancing at her name tag. “Are there any other mechanics in this town that work on Sunday?”
“I’m sorry.” She shook her head and offered her sympathy with a half smile. “Wayne’s the only mechanic in town.”
“That’s just great.”
I rubbed my hands over my face, hoping that maybe this was all just a dream. When I opened my eyes and the fluorescent lighting and Maggie’s apathetic face greeted me, I knew my reality was much worse than I’d thought.
“What should I do?” I finally asked.
“There’s a little bed and breakfast—the Willow Inn—a few blocks that way.” She pointed out the window of the station. “Maybe get a hot shower,” she suggested. “Relax.”
I nodded, trying not to cry out of utter frustration. The last hour had been eventful, and not in a good way, and now it looked like I was spending the night in Shady Grove whether I liked it or not.
“Wayne comes in early, so as soon as you get up in the morning, you come on down. He’ll help you out.”
“Thanks,” I muttered, unable to muster up a smile. Not that she’d helped much, anyway.
I started to push through the door and set off for the B&B she’d recommended, and then glanced back in her direction.
“How far of a walk is it to the inn?” I looked down at my cute suede booties with their five-inch heels. “Should I call an Uber?”
“You know, like a driving service? Or maybe a cab?”
Maggie’s laugh came up from deep in her chest. When she recognized that I wasn’t amused, she paused and composed herself. “Oh, bless your heart. We don’t have anything like that here. Besides, it’s only a half mile down to the Willow,” she assured me.
I thanked her with a nod and saved the eye roll for when I was alone in the parking lot and gathering my belongings from my car. No Starbucks, no Uber, and not a mechanic in sight.
What kind of hell did I stumble into?
• • •
“Their names are Luke and Duke,” I told Valentina over the phone. After I’d checked in and gotten settled in my room, I’d wandered downstairs and found a comfy chair in a secluded spot of the living room. The sun was starting to set on this day, and tomorrow couldn’t come fast enough.
“Seriously?” she said with a chuckle. It was the same thought I’d had when I’d pieced it all together on my walk home. “Twins named Luke and Duke. That’s so country.”
“Isn’t it?” I laughed.
The finish line was in my sights, and the thought of being in this town for any longer than I had to was nauseating. Besides that, I had a new life to start living. When I’d packed up and started off on this adventure, I told myself it was a new beginning. But at the moment, it felt like I was in a purgatory of open cornfields and hot, arrogant assholes with muscles to the moon and back.
“Just breathe for me. You’ll be here in a couple of days, tops.”
“I know,” I said, feigning enthusiasm.
It’s not that I wasn’t excited about getting to Valentina’s—she was the only person who’d ever really understood exactly who I was. No, it was the fifteen hundred miles that stood between here and there that had me down.
I checked my reflection in the antique mirror hanging on the wall. The demands and expectations I’d endured had left a serious mark on me, and had apparently started me down the path of early aging. Twenty-eight was far too young to feel so beat down.
Nothing a little West Coast sunshine won’t clear up.
With my fresh start so close, I hated the idea of any more delays.
“It’s too bad one of them was such a jerk,” I added. “They’re not too bad to look at.”
I hadn’t been able to shake the image of Luke staring at me. As annoying as he was, he’d ignited a spark of attraction that I hadn’t felt in a very long time. It had to be a result of my last relationship, the one where I was underappreciated and often ignored. My libido had apparently taken Luke’s aggression as attention and decided to fire back up.
“You would find the only hot twins in the middle of nowhere.” She chuckled. “I can’t wait for you to get here. It’s been too long.”
“I saw you a week ago,” I said. “You know, right before I walked out on . . .” I searched for the right word, but there were so many that would finish the sentence. Everything. My parents. An entire guest list full of people. My guaranteed future of privilege.
“Don’t even say it,” Valentina said. “You’re moving on, remember? Moving forward.”
“Well, I’m not moving forward at the moment,” I reminded her. “Currently, I’m stuck.”
“Yeah, but you’re stuck in a town with hot twins, so quit complaining.”
“Yeah, yeah.” I rolled my eyes at the smirk I was sure she had on her face. “Fingers crossed my car is fixed tomorrow, and I can get back to moving on.”
“Fingers crossed,” she repeated before we said our good-byes.
I hung up my phone and placed it on the arm of the chair before picking up the magazine I’d started reading before Valentina called.
“Did I hear that you met the Wilders?”
Opal, the front desk clerk who’d checked me in, interrupted me right before I found out exactly what happened between the latest celebrity-couple split. I looked up from the pages and found her standing in the archway that separated the lobby from the living room.
“I did,” I said. “Wasn’t impressed.”
“They’re good people. You must have caught them on a bad day.”
“Maybe. I did like Molly. And Duke wasn’t terrible.”
“It’s a shame what they’ve been through.”
She turned to walk away, but I was intrigued.
“Wait . . . What have they been through?”
Opal stopped and turned back to face me, her eyes full of sadness. “Their momma ran out on them when they were just babies. And their daddy may as well have. He really tried, but the man just couldn’t put down the bottle.”
“Those boys had to grow up real fast. Taking care of Molly, running the family business. It was a lot to handle, but they’ve done the best they could.”