With blood-stained hands and a guilty conscience, Raylyn Beechum sets off for parts unknown, on the run from a crime she had to commit in order to save herself. When her car breaks down in the parking lot of a fire station in a small town, her plan is simple: get the car fixed and hit the road as fast as possible. Then Mr. Tall-Dark-and-Yummy saunters over with his bare chest and uniform pants, water dripping off his pecs, and all Raylyn can think is hot damn!
Oliver Gonzalez has always had a hero complex, and a damsel in distress is right up his alley. All of his protective instincts come out when he sees the blood on Raylyn’s hands and the scared look in her eyes. He might not know her story, but he knows he wants to take care of her. Getting her to trust him is easier than he’d thought possible, but he wants more than trust for him to keep her safe. He wants her to trust him with her heart.
The hands gripping the steering wheel didn’t look like mine. The skin on the knuckles was bruised and broken. Dried blood was embedded in my cuticles. I’d washed my hands, but apparently not well enough. I’d burned the clothes I’d been wearing, along with the knife I’d used. Some might say that made me guilty, and maybe it did, but I’d learned long ago that the police were of no help. Not where I came from. No matter how many times the scene replayed in my mind, I couldn’t stifle the sobs welling in my throat. I’d taken a life, killed a man. No, not a man. A monster.
My heart crashed against my ribs, and my fingers curled tighter around the steering wheel. For years I’d suffered, but I’d had no idea just how far the madness went. If I’d had a clue as to what the man was capable of, I’d have acted sooner. Maybe so many lives wouldn’t have been lost, if I’d found my courage before now. The world should thank me, but I was certain if anyone knew what I’d done, the police would arrest me, and I’d spend the rest of my life in jail. Life wasn’t fair sometimes.
I blew out a breath and tried to redirect my thoughts. Puppies. Bunnies. Fields of flowers. Anything pleasant that could wash away the bad memories. I was starting over, creating a new life. Thanks to Miguel back home, I had everything I needed. I’d planned my escape weeks ago, but it just hadn’t happened quite the way I’d pictured. My new life was going to be fantastic and full of all the things I never had before. I was going to get a job, have a nice place to live, and I was going to get a boyfriend. Not necessarily in that order. I’d covered my tracks pretty well and felt I was safe, as long as I didn’t use my real name.
My car was almost out of gas as I entered a small North Carolina town a little after six in the morning. I’d been on the road for a few hours, and my best bet would be to keep driving until I couldn’t stay awake anymore. I crept through the quiet streets of a town that reminded me of Mayberry, and as I neared a fire station on the corner, my car began to shimmy and sputter. I’d barely pulled into the parking lot before my car coasted to a stop, the engine completely silent. I banged my hands on the steering wheel and uttered a slew of curses. The gas gage mocked me as the needle rested on E.
My gaze lifted and my jaw dropped a little. The fire truck was pulled part of the way out of the bay, and shirtless, sexy hunks were washing it. That was one sure way to make me forget my problems for a little while. One of them stopped to stare, removing his sunglasses and propping them on top of his head. His dusky skin glistened with sweat in the summer heat and I felt my cheeks flush.
Mr. Sexy made his way over to me and my heart raced for a new reason. It wasn’t like I hadn’t been around hot guys before. Just not this hot. He tapped on my window and I rolled it down. He bent and placed his folded arms on the windowsill. His blue gaze was warm as it scanned me. It was several minutes before he said anything.
“Want to pop your hood?” he asked.
“I ran out of gas. If you can tell me where the closest gas station is, I can go fill up a can and I’ll get out of your way.”
His lips twitched with amusement. “Sweetheart, this car isn’t going anywhere, even if you put gas in it. That wasn’t just an ‘I’m out of gas’ rattle. It was a death rattle.”
His gaze focused on my hands and I wanted to hide them. I swallowed hard, wondering what kind of questions he would ask, or if he’d only call the police. My hands tightened on the wheel again and I wished I could throw the car into reverse and get the hell out of town. I didn’t need trouble, and this guy could turn my world upside down, and not in a good way.
“Why don’t you come inside and we’ll get those hands cleaned up a bit?”
“I don’t want any trouble.” I couldn’t hide the tremor in my voice. Had I made my escape only to be turned in by a good Samaritan now?
He stood and opened the car door, reaching in to gently take my hand. I slid out of the car and tipped my head back to look up at him. He towered over me, making me feel small and helpless, which I hated. I was anything but helpless. He studied my hands before leading me into the fire station. One of the guys looked our way and Mr. Sexy motioned for him to follow us. Inside, I shivered at the air conditioning as he led me down a long hall to a large, open room with sofas and a kitchen area.
“Have a seat,” he said, pulling out a barstool.
I eased onto the stool, my feet dangling above the floor.
“My name’s Oliver Gonzalez, and this,” he said, motioning to the other guy, “is Jared Waylon. I’m a fireman and he’s a paramedic. Will you let him check out your hands?”
I nodded hesitantly.
Jared grasped my hands and studied them a moment before looking into my eyes. I could see the questions there, but I wasn’t saying a damn word. After a moment, he began cleaning my hands, which stung like a bitch. He even scrubbed around my nails until my hands were blood-free. He doctored my knuckles and bandaged the worst of it.
“I’m not going to ask how you got these, but if you’re in trouble, I wish you’d tell one of us.”
Mr. Sexy—no, Oliver—placed his hand on my shoulder. “Easy. No one here is going to hurt you. We want to help.”
“We’re going to call a tow for your car,” Jared said. “One of the firemen here has family who own a garage. They’ll give you a good deal. Then we can discuss your options for a place to stay.”
“I don’t have much money.” I hated admitting my lack of funds. “Maybe they’d let me do some work for the repairs and a place to stay?”
Oliver squeezed my shoulder. “Let’s get your car taken care of first. Anything you need out of it?”
“My purse and the bag in the backseat.”
“I’ll get them,” Jared offered. “I’ll have Kaycee call the garage and get a tow truck sent.”
“Kaycee?” I asked.
“Our admin,” Oliver said. “She’s also married to one of the guys on my team.”
“Why are you helping me?”
Kindness shone in Oliver’s eyes as he gazed into mine. “Because I think you need a friend right now. Maybe, when you feel like you can trust me, you’ll tell me about the blood on your hands and what the hell happened to you. Until then, just tell me one thing. Do we need to hide you from the police?”
Charity West is a young adult/new adult romance author who has always had her head in the clouds. She had her first crush when she was four, and it lasted for six years. Then she quickly fell head over heels for another boy, until she had to move away and leave him behind. Jumping from one boy to another, she finally found a keeper when she was twenty, and she’s been married to him ever since.
By the time Charity was twelve, she was sneaking her mother’s Harlequin romances and reading them in secret when she was supposed to be asleep. Teased throughout middle school and high school for the bodice ripper covers on the books she openly read in class, she knew that one day she wanted to write her own happily-ever-afters.