4 Stars Goodreads Reader Review
"A very cute book; had you going what is going to happen next and OMG, no she didn't do that. The trucker was a delish. Love it."
Widow Veronica Torres needs something desperately—invisibility. Escaping the clutches of her conniving brother-in-law and traveling incognito in the RV she traded for online sets her on a collision course with her new destiny, and a barreling fiery-red 18-wheeler.
Trucker Mike Masterson steams at the close call. First, he nearly sideswipes her. Now, she ends up at the same rest stop with mechanical trouble. Maybe, she deserves to sweat it out in the June heat since she has the attention span the size of a pea. But, the child in her company deserves better. What else can Mike do besides cart them to his garage for repairs?
Will their burgeoning relationship ignite more fireworks than the upcoming Fourth of July celebration? Or will the sparks of six nights and seven days of summertime sizzle—fizzle to an end?
Cutie and the Cowboy Trucker
Veronica Torres looked at the anonymous e-mail she'd received, printed out, and erased from her hard drive over a week ago. She had more than another week until the dreaded joint mediation that would determine the action necessary to dig the family-owned construction company out of its leadership debacle. She'd outlined what she believed was the underlying issue in the private hour-long preliminary session with the mediator a couple of weeks ago. As far as she was concerned, ousting Juan as chairman was the answer to all of their problems. His hands were always somewhere they did not belong. This time he had stuck his paws in the pot one time too many.
Ramon had made allowances for his older brother's mismanagement right up to the end. Well, her husband was dead now. And she wasn't taking that crap. She was just a number cruncher, and not even for the family business. But, now that her suspicions had been confirmed, she would let no one jeopardize the futures of her children. Summertime was in full swing, which meant she had no problem getting a temporary leave of absence from her job as a senior accountant for a prominent Realtor corporation.
Veronica took another look at the warning e-mail. It had alarmed her to the extent she'd concocted a plan to prevent Juan's aggravating behavior. How dare he brag to someone that he had her in his back pocket? She wouldn't be bullied into an ill-conceived relationship for the sake of saving the company. He was a lunatic to think she would keep her mouth shut and bail him out at his whim. And to try to use her own son against her was the last straw.
The front door alert sounded.
Veronica rushed to fold and slip the paper into the pocket of her jeans just as her mother-in-law's heavy Spanish accent announced her presence. "I'm in Sam's room."
What a mistake it has been to build a house in his family's compound, she thought. It worked out okay during Ramon's startling illness, but now, the constant visits were a nuisance.
"You're not ready?"
"You all go on without me, Maria." Veronica was bailing on the weekly Wednesday outing. "Sam's not feeling too well. I don't want to leave him with a sitter tonight." She propped herself up on the side of his bed. Just as Veronica knew she would, Maria crossed the room to feel the sleeping child's brow.
"He doesn't have a fever."
A little perturbed at the diagnosis, Veronica answered, "No, he doesn't. It's his stomach."
The sentiment expressed was genuine. Veronica had no doubt about that.
The tone sounded again. "We're going to be late for the dinner reservations."
"Our niño is sick." Her mother-in-law's comment provided their location.
Seconds later, her brother-in-law's sturdy frame filled the doorway. She might have considered his dark features handsome except she had knowledge of his ruthless alter ego. He had butted heads with Ramon on numerous occasions. Their differences of opinion always stemmed from Juan's arrogant business practices, risk-taking management style, and his intolerance of the employees.
Veronica had also had the misfortune of being on the receiving end of his first and last attempt at manhandling her. The episode occurred when he dropped in, out of the blue, several months after Ramon's death with the intent of consoling her. He hadn't taken too kindly to her refusal of his attention and had subdued her in a tight hold to keep her from moving away. She had had no other alternative but to ram her knee into his crotch. She won her freedom with that move, and along with that, his contempt. However, from time to time, his narcissism surmounted his good sense.
Juan peered at her, first, in his usual aloof manner. She didn't have long to wait before his look, and greeting, turned lusty. "Ronnie, you sexy thing. Beautiful as usual."
The slime all over those words coated her skin. Veronica shuddered. "Juan, how many times must I tell you? Nicknames are for children."
He marched into the room as if he owned the place. She prepared to fend off his amorous attacks. Just as she'd expected, Juan made it his business to stamp over and attempt a kiss. Maria saved the day.
His mouth eased into a sneer. "Let's go."
Veronica permitted Maria's soft touch against her cheek as she started out of the room. "Have a great time." She stayed well away from Juan, who hovered in the doorway, his look of discontent aimed her way. At last, he vacated the premises.
Veronica sprinted to the front of her house after hearing the tone when they exited. She was at the glass entryway in time to see several vehicles idling on her lane. She pressed into the shadows of the foyer to watch. Maria and Juan were in plain sight, along with the rest of the family entourage. Juan remained on the outside after everyone else climbed into the cars. He appeared fixated on her house until someone called his name. His departure set the stage for her escape. It was now or never.
His unwanted advances had pushed her over the edge.
Veronica didn't have a minute to lose as she raced around to make sure she had collected the bare necessities for her departure. Angst pushed her faster. She dashed to the car, where she slung things in total disregard to the fragile items. A turn and burn back inside, and then she took the utmost care with the bundle she lovingly laid on the backseat. Her son slumbered on.
Veronica was behind the wheel in no time flat.
She eased the car out of the garage without turning on the headlights. Instead of taking the driveway, she swerved to the back of the lot to use the contractor's entrance. It had been chained and locked since the completion of the house a few years ago. She opened her car door, without the interior light illuminating. She hopped out at the gate, leaving the motor running. Veronica had to combat the shakes that threatened to be her downfall. It was especially hard to complete the task of unlocking the padlock in total darkness.
Ultimately, success was hers tonight.
She ran back to the car, drove it through to the other side of the gate, and darted back to relock the entrance so no one would be the wiser. Her heart pounded in her chest. The night was so quiet, she heard the blood rushing through her veins. Veronica stole a look in the rearview mirror and noticed the compound's yellow lights minimizing into the background. She wrapped her sweaty palms around the steering wheel in a death grip, indicating the tenseness of the situation. She sucked in a rush of air when the front end slammed hard into the embankment that signaled the end of the narrow cow trail through the pasture. This jerked her forward against the locked seat belt, causing instant pain and a concerned look at the backseat.
She maneuvered quickly, and the vehicle swerved before skidding sideways. She exhibited skill at the wheel by throwing the car into low gear in order to make the transition from dirt to asphalt. It worked. The ominous dark road lay ahead.
The rear end whipped side to side to gain traction as the motor gunned when she stomped the accelerator, careening the car down the deserted road. It traveled quite a distance through the still night before bluish light, at last, hit the black pavement. She imagined the glowing red orbs in back decreasing in size into the inky night, and breathed a slight sigh.
That was one mountainous challenge accomplished.
But Veronica couldn't relax. It was just too soon. A thin perspiration wet her underarms even though cool air circulated in the interior of her car. Her jaw hurt from clamping her teeth so tightly during the escape. Taut muscles caused pain unlike any she'd felt before.
She took another backward look, this time a long one to ensure there was no tail. So far, so good. They had the highway all to themselves.
Although risky, her next destination was the bus depot. She swung into the lot determined to make the stop quick, fast, and in a hurry. The first obstacle to that plan was her unresponsive sleeping child. Finally, left with no alternative, she managed to wrangle his thin, rangy body into her arms. Off she scurried into the Louisiana midnight air, wasting no time fretting over the strange looks received from stragglers as she bore down on the depot entrance.
Hurried steps now had her in front of a bank of lockers. The going wasn't easy, but she managed to fit the key into one of the higher lockers without losing her grip on her son. She yanked, and two soft-sided satchels tumbled out of their hiding place and hit the floor at her feet. Sheer determination raised both by the straps and on up over her other shoulder. Saddled down, yet feeling understandably successful, she hustled back to her car, tossed everything into the trunk. She nestled her baby comfortably on the backseat with the utmost care.
With hurdle number two mastered, she was off again, driving like a bat out of hell to her next stop.
The number of upsetting scenarios jumbling Veronica's brain helped tick down the hours to her destination. She circled under the pink vapor lights in the parking lot of the all-night supermarket to find her contacts. The clandestine meeting symbolized the freedom she sought.
She had finalized the prearranged encounter online. Recognizing her contacts was easy. Trusting them at their word about the transaction she was about to embark upon was the difficult part. The gigantic motor home stood out like a rose surrounded by thickets. As she pulled abreast, the door swung open and a middle-aged couple stepped out. They advanced on the driver's side of Veronica's Jaguar, sporting pleased looks of admiration.
"The picture didn't do it justice, Mrs. Torres," the woman crooned. "I love this car."
Veronica exited to circle with them as they inspected every inch of her luxury sedan. "I'm glad, Mrs. Spearman." They wound up with their noses pressed against the window glass. She offered an explanation at their quizzical glances while allowing them access to the interior, the trunk, and the hood. "My son's had a long night."
Veronica led them over to the RV. It was her turn to tromp around the recreational vehicle that would soon be hers. She rounded the back and came to a dead halt. Well, she would have preferred a clean back end to such a suggestive slogan displayed across the window. However, that was an "oh well" moment. Her examination continued as she boarded to find the lush interior to her liking. She could live like that for a while.
"Will you start it up?"
Mr. Spearman jumped to hand her the keys.
Sitting and adjusting the seat, Veronica checked for advice first. "Is there anything I should know prior to doing this?"
"It's no different than starting your car," he reassured.
She turned the key.
"Listen to that," Mr. Spearman said.
Veronica listened for any malfunctioning sounds. "What?" She didn't hear a thing that set off any alarm bells in her head.
"It purrs like a kitten."
"Oh." She switched the engine off. "That's a good thing." She took the initiative and exited, leading them back to her vehicle.
"Please tell me we have a deal," Mrs. Spearman pleaded. She looked at Veronica's ride with greedy eyes, as though it were a big hunk of chocolate cake.
"I'm in agreement to make the trade if you are." Actually, Veronica had to contain her excitement for fear they'd change their minds.
"I'll get the title," Mr. Spearman volunteered.
Veronica did likewise. She also disturbed her slumbering child, who was able to walk under his own power into the giant supercenter, where the twenty-four-hour notary conducted the business exchange. All went smoothly as far as Veronica was concerned. The happy couple took one last look around the inside of the RV to remove any forgotten items.
The turnover wasn't complete until Veronica got a crash course on handling the RV by taking several turns around the parking lot. Mr. Spearman was gracious enough to give her instructions and tips for the road. She watched her vehicle cruise away, flabbergasted she'd had the nerve to even consider finding a swap on an Internet trading site.
* * * *
Wouldn't you know it, she thought, exasperated with the constant thumping noise coming from the roof. A quick look over her head revealed the sunroof bubble annoyingly dancing out of its fitting. Oh well. She could do nothing about it now, traveling sixty-five miles per hour along the Florida peninsula in the middle of nowhere. Her surreptitious venture peeled back the layers of her life like an onion and exposed a gigantic fault. Life had passed her by long enough since Ramon's death. Living a little was what she'd been doing. Thanks to the pain in her rear called Juan, it was now time to live a lot.
She gazed lovingly at her primary reason for kicking her existence up a notch.
The alarming blasts of quad-toned air horns brought her attention back to the road and her position straddling the center line. Her panicked response was to jerk the wheel of the unfamiliar RV, causing an overcorrection. The behemoth swerved recklessly across the double lanes, dragging the air out of her lungs with a squeal.
"What's happening, Mama?" the little voice beside her asked.
"Hold on, Sam!"
The words wrung from her lungs sounded a warning, yet her soft voice held his fright at bay. The barreling 18-wheeler, with its oversized sizzling-red sleeper, whizzed by as if her tires were gummed to the highway. The close call struck more fear into Veronica than the lifelike, fang-bared, coiled snake illustrated on the back wall of the cab.
"Ooooh." Her body shuddered.
The bulky truck minimized as it gradually disappeared to a gleaming red speck on the horizon. Her zigzagging motor home snaked along for a few more feet, propelled this way and that by the lag of its rear end. It took all she had not to shut her eyes, for she hated snakes with a passion. Real or illustrated, it didn't matter.
Sam chuckled in delighted excitement. "Do it again, Mama!"
She regained control, took a relieved breath, and promised silently to maintain her watch on the road. "One thrill ride is enough for the day, Sammy." A rest stop sign appeared as if to underscore her point. Five hours with her new mode of transportation and she was still getting a feel of its handling. "It's time for a break. What do you say?"
Her four-year-old looked at her with beaming eyes and exclaimed, "I say do it again!"
Her laugh escaped as she heard her husband's gregarious tone clip through the lips of her baby. "Oh, you," she teased with a tap to his knee.
Veronica turned her attention to the task at hand in order to avoid a repeat of the frightening episode. She was exhausted, since their escapade had started in the wee hours of the murky morning. They were nomads, now, traveling at a pace dictated by the feel of the moment. Any reasons to rush had been eliminated with the acquisition of the RV. She traveled incognito, satisfied Juan would be none the wiser about their whereabouts. Other travelers were missiles as they flew by at ground level, leaving them coughing at the residual fumes.
She slowed at the upcoming exit in order to make a safe departure from the interstate while maneuvering a hairpin curve. It was the beginning of many as they wound their way to the top of the treed hill. She meandered into the parking area, following the route for trucks and RVs, to choose a spot adjacent to the welcome station, but in close proximity to the picnic area. The last thing she craved was unwanted attention. However, she felt it important to be near the grassy area for Sam and Bingo's comfort.
Veronica pulled into a spot at the curb, shut down, and secured her rolling home from misadventure .
"Well, what do you think?"
Veronica inspected their surroundings through the front windshield with a critical eye, finding it hilarious the way Sam imitated her actions. She twisted in her seat to scan out the side window, seeing nothing out of the ordinary. The side mirrors and rear camera showed no suspicious happenings. She swiveled her captain's chair forward.
"Time to stretch our legs."
"And Bingo's, too?"
"And Bingo's, too," she agreed.
The Yorkie gave a long, lazy stretch with her rear end tooted in the air, when Sam released her from her safety cage. After removing herself from behind the wheel, Veronica did likewise—all except the toot—and it felt grand. Not to be left out, Sam raised his spindly arms toward the ceiling, dropped them to the floor, and shook his rump from side to side.
"Show-off," his mother laughed. "Come on."
They left the captivity of the plush RV, where she immediately locked up and checked every entrance before leading them out into the sunny afternoon, across the parking lot to the pooch potty. Bingo needed no persuasion to do her business as she sniffed around for just the right spot. Veronica canvassed the numerous trucks and cars on the premises, taking note how most clustered close to the shortest distance to the facilities. A sparse few fanned out along the outer extremities, apparently preferring solitude to socializing.
Sights, sounds, and smells awakened her senses to the newness of life in spite of her efforts to cling to the days of her tragic loss. There was a buzz in the air signaling all sorts of activities going on around them. Every now and then, children's laughter split the air, and Sam perked up in anticipation. She labeled his interest for what it was—a desire for kiddie company.
"I'm hungry," he announced, turning to her with an expectant look on his face.
She grabbed his hand for the march through the grass to the Vacationer. "I could use a sandwich, too."
"Nooo," he whined. "I'm really hungry."
She got the drift. "Spaghetti?"
"Spaghetti!" His enthusiasm rang in the open air.
Veronica approached the door and immediately remembered the rattletrap sounds from earlier. She decided to steal a look at the situation.
But first, she kneeled in front of her son for an eye-to-eye chat. "Sammy, Mama's got to check the roof." She stepped into the RV for something to hold his and Bingo's attention for a while, and came out with a big red ball. Strapping the dog leash around his wrist, she instructed, "I want you and Bingo to stay right here and play. Can you do that for me?"
"Where are you going?"
She recognized the tremor in his voice. "I'll never leave you alone, Sam." A humongous substantiating hug brought a smile to his face. Veronica kissed him until his giggles chimed on the wind, signifying his acceptance of what she'd said. "Stay where I can see you. Okay?"
Veronica monitored the scene, checking to see if they'd garnered any unwarranted interest, before climbing up the side ladder to the roof. Looking down on him from the top rung, she reminded Sam, "Stay put." His acknowledgment sent her on her hands and knees along the hot metal roof, to the troublesome area.
The lid moved easily at the touch of her hand. Screws hung in their holes, giving her the idea of tightening them with her fingers. That worked only so well, not well enough to make a tight seal. Only one thing to do. She maneuvered her way back to the ladder, peered over the edge, and almost had a heart attack.
"Sam!" She screamed his name, and he looked straight at her, then to the man sitting at the picnic table. She looked at the man, too. Veronica scrambled to grab the ladder for a fast descent. A couple of erratic steps nearly cost her dearly as she slammed hard against the side of the motor home when the ladder moved.
She readjusted her grip. "Get over here, Samuel!" she demanded between spastic heaves.
If she thought things couldn't get any worse, she had another think coming.
A metallic noise captured her attention while she was suspended midway between heaven and Earth. Her eyes widened as she pinpointed the problem. It was the fasteners at the top of the ladder. They popped loose with a scraping sound—one at a time—while she watched.
The feeling of floating washed over Veronica as she steeled herself for impact. At the same time, she thought of her baby boy below, witnessing the scene. Several seconds passed without any pain inflicted on her body, causing her eyes to open. She still clung to the ladder although in a horizontal position, staring up at the deep blue sky, hands glued in place, rear end sagging, and her sandaled toes hooked backward over the rungs.
She scoped out the distance left to tumble to the hard ground, finding a wonderful sight to behold. The bottom of the ladder had stayed anchored even as the metal above bent perpendicular to the RV. Veronica let go and thudded the two feet or so to the grass. She craned her neck as her concern returned to Sam, who, by that time, stood next to her with tears in his eyes. Bingo showed appreciation for the unrehearsed stunt by showering her with kisses.
Veronica laughed nervously.
"Okay, okay, Bingo."
What caught the breath in her throat as she attempted to regroup were the man-size reptile-skin boots poised behind Sam and planted widely on either side of his little sandals.
Veronica noticed the cocoa-brown hands clamped on Sam's shoulders. They bore the pinkish spotted discoloration of healed burn scars. That in itself was an insignificant matter. The sight of his grip arrested any relief she felt at overcoming her close call. Struggling to free herself from her caged position, she scraped to her feet, grinding grass stains into the knees of her jeans, desperate to come to the rescue.
"Take your hands off my son!" She attacked, reaching to snatch Sam away from his clutch.
His top lip curled under the full, neatly trimmed salt-and-pepper mustache he sported.
She backed up a few steps, never wavering under his gaze shielded by mirrored shades and a soft-looking crushable Stetson. Her own disheveled reflection in his lenses broadcast alarm, but not the uncertainty swirling in the center of her abdomen. Her butterscotch complexion deepened as she stared him down. Or better yet, up and down, for even at her five-nine height, he was still head and shoulders taller.