\Would he think it was the innocent curves of her face that made her such a prime target for a fucking?
Willow Burgess felt the handsome stranger’s sympathetic gaze on her back as she contemplated the string of rotten luck she’d been experiencing. The late afternoon sun not only burned her fair skin; it showcased her sister’s stripped car as if telling her to just give up and bend over.
Meg was going to kill her…if the Arizona heat didn’t kill her first.
In utter dismay she drew a strand of deep auburn hair from her eyes. Stripping a vehicle would be expected in the city, but on a desert highway? There wasn’t a soul around except for Denver, the handsome stranger who’d just taken her and her flat tire to the service station and back to her car, twenty miles each way.
Willow looked over her shoulder and noted the sympathy in his eyes. He was the clean-cut sort with a pretty face and short dark hair—probably on a business trip when he happened upon her jacking up her sister’s piece-of-crap convertible.
His long-sleeved shirt stretched across broad shoulders as he bent to inspect what was left of Meg’s car. Willow fished her phone out of her duffel bag, saw it had two bars, and dialed a number.
“This better be a cute little redhead with a load of cash.”
Willow blew out a frustrated breath and swiped the bangs off her glasses. “You know it’s me, Lane,” she said, picturing her ex-boyfriend’s blond, scruff-covered jaw and tough exterior. “I have your money, but I’m going to need more time.”
A low laugh. “I don’t think so, Will. We agreed. Ten a.m. or this classic Barracuda is mine.”
Willow heard the familiar growl of her car’s engine in the background. Lane couldn’t be more than an hour ahead of her, because she’d taken up hot pursuit the moment he’d stolen it from her sister’s driveway. Not to mention, the asshole was probably filling her 1974 Plymouth ‘Cuda’s original interior with cigarette smoke. “You can’t do that!”
“Hey, you fucked me first. All I want is a trade.”
“My car is worth a hell of a lot more than ten thousand dollars!”
“Because of all the work I put under the hood.”
Aware of her audience, Willow lowered her voice. “You took everything I own, Lane. Even my clothes.” Which were in a microwave box in the backseat…a box she needed desperately. When she turned around, it was to find Denver walking back toward her with a concerned frown. “I can get there; just give me until noon.”
“If you aren’t home by ten in the morning with my money, you can kiss your shit and your car good-bye.”
The call disconnected. As she stared at her phone and clenched her teeth, the man who’d rescued her once already wiped his forehead with a starched sleeve. “That sounded bad,” Denver said with a sympathetic cringe. “Anything I can do to help?”
Willow swallowed and shook her head. “Just a ride back to the gas station.”
“Sounds like you need to cover a whole lot more ground than that.”
When she looked up at him, his straight nose and clean shave once again caught her attention. He looked to be in his late twenties, was a bit taller than her ex, and probably Lane’s polar opposite. A “nice guy.” Were those still around? She zipped her phone back in the duffel bag that never left her side. The thick strap pulled on the sticky tendrils of hair that had fallen from her updo, which only added to her misery. “Look. I don’t have any money to pay you for your time and gas.”
He put his hands on narrow hips and looked around. There wasn’t a car in sight for miles. “It’s all good. I was headed to Vegas anyway.” A kind smile followed. “Wouldn’t mind the company. Really.”
Really? Something about his answer filled her with doubt. He was a complete stranger, and she had a feeling he’d just changed his schedule…for what?
Willow contemplated her situation. Sweat permeated her clothing. The tank top and knee-length peasant skirt she wore offered poor protection against the elements. Arid waves distorted the horizon, and her fair skin sizzled right along with it. Why couldn’t she have been napping in a pair of jeans when that sound of peeling tires woke her from her sister’s couch?
“All right,” she finally conceded and began to walk toward his fancy black pickup truck parked just yards away. “As long as you know I don’t hook for rides, mister, so if you’re looking for a good time, I’ll sing you some songs.”
As the miles rolled by, Willow studied the man behind the wheel more than she did the scenery. She and Denver had passed the time getting to know each other with plenty of easy banter and even a few laughs—a refreshing distraction from the reality that she was about to reenter the lion’s den.
The aviator sunglasses Denver wore mirrored the lowering sun and covered a set of serious eyebrows. He was more than handsome in a charismatic sales-rep kind of way. Who knew selling corporate security systems could keep a guy’s thoughts so occupied? It sounded pretty boring to Willow, but he explained the challenges of day-to-day travel and how his “hunter” role required an aggressive approach to sales in order to make the big commissions.
Aggressive her ass. Willow knew aggressive, and Denver Hayes was a Boy Scout compared to Lane. Her ex was a bona fide bad boy with lots of muscle and tattoo-covered skin to prove it. His ink had fascinated her at first…until she realized what that dragon symbol between his shoulder blades really stood for.
Okay, his high-ranking position in a—ahem—”club” sort of fascinated her too. But Bedlam Rising was more a secret brotherhood than a club, which her four-month stint as Lane’s live-in girlfriend proved. He and his brethren showed her just how much she didn’t belong in that life with their late-night binges, secret meetings, suspicious outings, and sexual advances.
Not that she’d ever cave to those. Lane had been her first lover, and though he’d tried countless times to convince her, she simply refused to be “shared” with multiple men. Especially
at the same time! But when Lane was drinking, he tended to become more aggressive in his tactics. It would have been only a matter of time before her clever escapes quit working. Looking at Denver Hayes, she could tell the man would never do something so degrading.
“I’m starting to get a complex, Red,” Denver said with a ghost of a smile.
“You’ve been staring at me for the last ten miles. What’s going on in that pretty head of yours?”
Willow felt the blush crawl up her neck. She transferred her attention to the thousands of Joshua trees dotting the arid land outside her window. “I was thinking how long it’s been since I’ve run into a nice guy.”
His smile grew. Small laugh lines added charm to his sexy mouth. “What makes you think I’m a nice guy?”
She smiled back. “Come on. I can see your Kenny G collection from here.” She pointed at the stack of CDs on his dash.
Denver laughed out loud. “It’s relaxing. Puts me in a good place.” Then his gaze moved over her real slow. “And you look like a sweet girl who found a nice piece of shit to screw up her life.”
The reminder stung. Was she that transparent? “You sound like my sister.”
“Yes, and she’s every bit as subtle when she rubs it in.”
They shared a moment of silence before he settled into a position to analyze her appearance. “Those big, nerdy glasses you wear don’t work.”
She self-consciously pushed the large black frames up her nose. “What do you mean?”
“If anything, they make you look even more sexy. Especially with the bangs.”
Oh yes. Now he was openly flirting with her. Apparently, he’d grown just as comfortable in her company. Willow adjusted the air vents to point directly at her heated face.
“And I’ll bet that hair reaches the middle of your back when it’s down.”
It did. Thick and straight as a string. Willow found herself wondering if Denver was a hair puller during sex like Lane was. The heat moved to her thighs, and she shifted uncomfortably in her seat. “It’s too long,” she said with her nose to the glass. “Been meaning to get it cut off.” But Lane never wanted her to.
“Do I detect a hint of insecurity in you, Willow?”
Oh yeah. She’d never been very comfortable in her own skin, which was why she was positive Lane had only noticed her for her car. Since then, though, she’d found her voice and a whole lot of courage…at least enough to leave Lane.
“You’re so quick to dismiss a compliment,” Denver continued when she didn’t answer. “There’s no need for that. You’re a beautiful woman, Willow. About the prettiest thing I’ve seen on the roadside in a long time.”
She resisted the urge to swallow, a nervous habit she’d dropped months ago. “Thanks. Guess it’s better than roadkill, huh?”
He sent her a droll look. “Now, you know that’s not what I meant.”
When his gaze locked with hers a little too long, her insides began to warm. He smiled again, a crooked, cocky thing that actually made her relax.
“So when you bit off more than you could chew,” Denver continued with his analysis, “your piece-of-shit boyfriend pushed you to try things you weren’t comfortable with.”