He was going to hit that pickup truck.
As the vehicle in front of him screeched to a halt, Eric
flung his cell toward the passenger seat, clenched the
and jammed the BMWâ€™s brake to the floor.
A bone-jarring thud reverberated through his body,
by the crunch of compressing metal and the explosive
tinkle of shattering glass.
This was so not the way heâ€™d envisioned his arrival in
Before his car even stopped shuddering, the driver-side
of the truck flew open. Shapely legs clad in snug denim
out. In one smooth, lithe motion, a slender woman slid
the cab, the coastal Oregon wind tossing her mane of
Nice . . . except for her stormy expression and taut
Better forget her appearance and focus on an apology.
She paused to give the back of her pickup a cursory
then marched to his door and glared at him through the
fists jammed on her hips.
This was not going to be pretty.
Bracing himself, he pushed his door open and stood.
â€śSorry about that.â€ť He tipped his head toward her truck.
She slammed her arms across her chest, leaned sideways,
and homed in on the phone resting on his front passenger
â€śIn case you didnâ€™t know, itâ€™s illegal to use a cell
Of course he knew that. Heâ€™d know it even if he wasnâ€™t an
attorney. The controversial law had received a serious
But he was almost at his destination, and Hope Harbor
exactly Portland. The only real traXc here was at
Charleyâ€™s was open and if there was a run on his fish
However . . . it wasnâ€™t yet noon and he wasnâ€™t anywhere
the wharf-side stand.
â€śIâ€™m aware of the law. But making a quick call on a quiet
backstreet should have been safe.â€ť
â€śLook, I said I was sorry. My insurance will cover any
Her eyes narrowed. â€śMoney doesnâ€™t fix every problem.â€ť
Sheesh. Talk about attitude with a capital A.
â€śIt will fix your truck.â€ť He surveyed the muddy vehicle.
â€śNot that it will be easy to tell what damage I caused
what might already be under the dirt.â€ť If she could be
so could he.
She bristled, and tiny pieces of . . . something . . .
out of her hair. Squinting, he shaded his eyes against
morning sun high in the sky on this early July day. Was
. . . sawdust?
â€śIt rains a lot here, okay? I have better uses for my
washing a vehicle that will be muddy again tomorrow. And
that itâ€™s any of your business, but I prefer to spend my
on more important things than a hunk of metal.â€ť
â€śObviously.â€ť He gave the truck another dubious once-over.
With that pithy retort, she stalked back to the front of
He trailed after her. â€śWhy did you stop so suddenly,
â€śA dog ran in front of me.â€ť
â€śI didnâ€™t see a dog.â€ť
â€śYou didnâ€™t see me brake, either. If youâ€™d kept a few car
lengths between usâ€”and been paying more attention to the
roadâ€”you could have stopped in time.â€ť She bent to inspect
her truck again. â€śLucky for me, this babyâ€™s sturdy. I
any serious damage.â€ť She shifted her attention to his
wheels, however, are going to need some work.â€ť
For the first time, he gave the BMW his full attention.
front fender was crinkled, the broken glass from the
glinting on the pavement.
Wasnâ€™t it enough that his career was in shambles and his
future in limbo without adding a smashed-up car to his
He wiped a hand down his face. Some homecoming this was
turning out to be.
â€śThereâ€™s a body shop in Bandon.â€ť
At least the womanâ€™s tone was a shade less hostile now.
â€śYeah. I know. Marvâ€™s.â€ť
â€śSo . . . you want me to call the police, file an
The chief can get here fast. I passed her a few blocks
And have Lexie read him the riot act, maybe even cite him
for using his cell while driving?
Not a chance.
â€śWhy donâ€™t we just exchange contact information?â€ť
â€śI donâ€™t need yours. I wonâ€™t be calling my insurance
But ahâ€™ll give you mine.â€ť She rummaged through her
the faint hint of a southern accent lingering in the air.
I had some business cards with me . . . but this will
pulled out a dog-eared receipt and scribbled on the back
the stub of a pencil.
Eric skimmed the slip after she handed it over. No name.
Just a phone numberâ€”with a local area code. â€śI take it
live around here?â€ť
â€śYeah.â€ť She retreated a step and tucked her fingers in
front pockets. â€śYou want to see if your car is drivable
He examined the BMW again. It wasnâ€™t listing, and the
was holding air. â€śI think the damage is mostly cosmetic.
have far to go. Iâ€™ll be fine.â€ť
â€śSuit yourself.â€ť She strode back to the cab of her truck,
at the door to skewer him with one final scowl. â€śAnd do
yourself a favor. Ditch the cell while youâ€™re driving.â€ť
Without waiting for a response, she swung up behind the
wheel, started the engine, and drove o, spewing noxious
in her wake.
Eric turned away from the billow of reeking exhaust,
the slip of paper with her number in the pocket of his
and sighed. After psyching himself up during the five-
from Portland to share the bad news with his father, heâ€™d
as ready as possible for that conversation when he drove
the Welcome to Hope Harbor sign. Had even tried to call
dad seconds before the fender bender to alert him of his
Softening the surprise of this unexpected visit with a
minutesâ€™ warning had seemed like the considerate thing to
But since his dad hadnâ€™t answered, and since the accident
had totally unpsyched him, why not take a walk on the
past the soaring sea stacks, before he headed home? The
air and sea breeze had always given him a lift . . .
his mind . . . calmed him . . . when he needed it most.
And he could use some calm about now.
Trudging back to the driver-side door, he tried to look
bright side. His life might be a wreck, but the car was
and no one had been hurt.
There was one other plus too.
This day couldnâ€™t get any worse.
BJ Stevens flicked on her left-turn signal, swung onto
Cooperâ€™s street, and tuned out the rumble in her stomach.
Fixing a stuck door hadnâ€™t been on her lunchtime agendaâ€”
what could you do when a kindly eighty-eight-year-old
called to say she couldnâ€™t get out of her bathroom?
As she pulled into the driveway of Eleanorâ€™s Cape Codâ€“
house, BJ scrutinized the modest structure. The paint was
on the shutters. The stepping-stones winding toward the
front door were rippling. The edge of one of the wooden
leading to the small front porch showed signs of rot.
This house needed help.
A lot of it.
But so did the houses owned by many of the older Hope
Harbor residents. Upkeep had simply become too much for
them. Yet none wanted to leave the place theyâ€™d called
for most of their lives.
Understandableâ€”as she well knew.
A pang echoed in her heart . . . followed by a surge of
Gripping the wheel with one hand, she jerked the
into park with the other. This was not the time to dwell
past . . . or on regrets. She needed to rescue Eleanor
bathroom and fix that recalcitrant door.
After grabbing her toolbox, she followed the uneven
to the porch and felt around under the wicker planter of
geraniums until her fingers encountered the key Eleanor
promised would be there. Ten seconds later, she cracked
door and peeked in, scanning the shadows in case
was crouched on the other side, waiting for a chance to
No sign of the cantankerous cat.
She slipped inside and moved toward the hall bath. â€śIâ€™m
Eleanor.â€ť Her raised voice bounced o the walls. â€śIâ€™ll
out of there in a minute.â€ť
â€śOh, bless you, sweet child!â€ť Relief infused the older
mu_ed words. â€śIâ€™m sorry to bother you during the
â€śDonâ€™t worry about it. I was on my lunch hour.â€ť BJ set
her toolbox on the carpet beside the gold-and-black-
feline whoâ€™d taken up sentry duty outside the bathroom
â€śHi, Methuselah.â€ť She stroked his soft fur, earning her a
meow. â€śHow long has the door been giving you trouble,
â€śSix or eight weeks, I imagine. Itâ€™s been getting worseâ€”
I never thought it would trap me inside. A firm tug has
done the trick if it gets stubborn.â€ť
BJ tested the door.
â€śLet me give it a push. Can you back away from the door?â€ť
â€śYes. Iâ€™m tucking myself into the corner now . . . all
BJ positioned her shoulder against the wood and shoved.
The door shimmied but didnâ€™t release its hold on the
She tried again, putting more muscle into the eort. This
it gave way.
Instantly Methuselah wove around her legs and disappeared
into the bathroom.
Once the door swung open, she turned her attention to
The older womanâ€™s trademark neat chignon had loosened,
releasing wisps of soft white hair. Her cheeks were
there was a bruise forming on the back of the hand she
to smooth down the wayward tendrils.
â€śHow long were you stuck in here?â€ť BJ edged back to let
Eleanor escape the confined space, Methuselah meowing at
â€śAbout an hour. I tugged on the door, rested a bit,
on it some more. Thank goodness I had my phone with me.
I thought about calling 911, but that seemed extreme.â€ť
paused in the hall to adjust her glasses and fuss with
gripping her walker with one hand. â€śI imagine I look a
â€śNo, but you do have a nasty bruise on your hand.â€ť BJ
touched the aging skin.
Eleanor flexed her fingers and studied the black-and-blue
splotch. â€śI lost my grip on the knob during one attempt
banged my hand against the vanity. No harm done, though.
old skin bruises if you breathe on it. Iâ€™ll be fine. Now
you suppose is wrong with that doorâ€”aside from humidity?â€ť
BJ gave the hardware on the doorframe a quick inspection.
â€śHumidity doesnâ€™t help, but some of the screws in the
also loose. That can cause a door to sag.â€ť She pulled out
and tried tightening a couple, but they were stripped.
Of course. A simple fix would be too easy.
She rooted among her tools, found a longer screw, and
the one closest to the center of the jamb, tightening
it dug into fresh wood.
â€śLetâ€™s see if this helps.â€ť She straightened up and tried
It opened . . . but under protest.
â€śThatâ€™s a big improvement.â€ť Eleanor patted her arm
â€śNot big enough. I donâ€™t want you getting stuck again.â€ť
Once more she dug around in her toolbox, withdrawing a
toothpicks and some wood glue.
â€śWhat are you doing now?â€ť Eleanor leaned closer to watch
while Methuselah nosed into the box.
â€śIâ€™m going to coat the toothpicks with glue and shove
into the screw holes. Once they dry, it will be like new
and I can reset the screws. That should fix the problemâ€”
if not, Iâ€™ll try shimming one or two of the hinge
â€śMy. You certainly know your stuff.â€ť
BJ grinned. â€śYouâ€™re easy to impress.â€ť
â€śNot at all. I just recognize talent. LAâ€™s loss was Hope
gain when you moved here last year.â€ť
â€śIt was a positive change for me too.â€ť BJ continued to
with quick eXciency as she spoke. If she finished fast,
still be able to swing by Charleyâ€™s and grab an order of
on her way back to the job site.
â€śYou know, thereâ€™s one thing I canâ€™t understand.â€ť
tone grew thoughtful.
â€śWhatâ€™s that?â€ť If the older woman wanted a lesson in
BJ was happy to oblige.
â€śWith all your talent and beautyâ€”plus your kind, caring
heartâ€”I canâ€™t believe some smart, handsome man hasnâ€™t
and won you by now.â€ť
BJâ€™s fingers spasmed on the glue bottle. A spurt of white
paste shot out, coating the toothpick and her fingers
dripping onto the tile floor . . . and Methuselah.
The cat yowled and sprang back.
â€śOh, mercy!â€ť Eleanorâ€™s hand flew to her chest. â€śI must
distracted you. Let me grab some paper towels.â€ť
While she trundled down the hall as fast as her arthritic
knees allowed, Methuselah in her wake, BJ stared at the
mess on her fingers.
Yeah, that about summed up the state of her LA romance.
But she had a new life now. One that was calm, fulfilling
blessedly romance-free. If she hadnâ€™t been on edge from
accident, she wouldnâ€™t have overreacted to Eleanorâ€™s
BJ secured the cap on the wood glue with more force than
necessary. She should have called the police and let them
the book at that guy in the BMW. Maybe a ticket would
taught him not to drive with his cell pasted to his ear,
more attention to conversation than the road.
Althoughâ€”in fairnessâ€”he had been contrite.
Not to mention good-looking.
Oh, for pityâ€™s sake!
She grabbed a wad of toilet paper as more glue leaked
her fingers onto the floor. Youâ€™d think sheâ€™d be immune
stereotypical charms of tall, dark, and handsome afterâ€”
No! She was not going to even think his name.
He wasnâ€™t worth it.
She wiped her fingers as best she could with the flimsy
and took a calming breath. That fender bender had really
a number on her peace of mind.
But it shouldnâ€™t have, BJ. Your truck emerged unscathed.
other guyâ€™s the one who has to deal with repair hassles.
not why youâ€™re tense.
â€śOh, shut up.â€ť She ripped o flecks of tissue that had
her fingers, trying to stifle the annoying little voice
in her head.
â€śDid you say something, dear?â€ť Eleanorâ€™s query wafted in
from the kitchen.
â€śJust . . . uh . . . talking to myself.â€ť
â€śYouâ€™re too young for that. Iâ€™ll be back in a jiy. Iâ€™m
to clean up Methuselah, who isnâ€™t inclined to cooperate.â€ť
Hooking a piece of wayward hair behind her ear, BJ
back against the doorframe and faced the truth. Much as
might want to blame her agitated state on the accident,
little voice in her head was right. The BMW ownerâ€”and her
visceral reaction to himâ€”was the culprit. Like it or not,
instant her gaze had connected with those brown eyes, a
of electricity had sizzled through her.
The very kind of ill-advised attraction that could lead a
woman astray if she followed her heart instead of
listening to her brain.
And she wasnâ€™t making that mistake again.
Still . . . it hadnâ€™t been fair to jump all over the guy
she was annoyed at herself. He had apologized. Oered to
restitution. His eyes had held sincere remorse . . . plus
other emotion, now that she thought about it. Melancholy,
perhaps? Dejection? Despondency? Hard to pinpoint. But
had been a sadness in them that seemed unrelated to the
As if his day had gone down the tubes long before their
unpleasant encounter . . . and he hadnâ€™t needed any more
She blew out a breath.
Now she could add a heaping serving of guilt to whatever
she had time to scarf down for lunch.
â€śHere you go. Let me know if you need more.â€ť Eleanor
pushed the walker down the hall and thrust a handful of
towels at her while Methuselah kept a wary distance.
â€śThis should do it.â€ť She used half of the towels to wipe
globs of glue of the tile, then dampened the rest and
up the residue.
â€śDo you want me to get rid of those?â€ť Eleanor held out
â€śThanks.â€ť She passed them over. â€śIâ€™ll fill the last
holes while you do that.â€ť
BJ finished up as fast as she could, packed away her
and waited for Eleanor near the front door.
When the older woman reappeared, a foil-wrapped bundle
rested on the tray of her walker. â€śThank you again for
to my rescue.â€ť
â€śNo problem. And Iâ€™ll be back tomorrow or the next day,
after the glue is dry, to reset those screws. Could you
bathroom door open until I finish the job?â€ť
â€śCertainly. I only close it out of habit. It isnâ€™t as if
anyone here to disturb me, other than Methuselahâ€”and at
age, he spends most of the day sleeping in the sun.â€ť Her
drooped for a moment, then brightened again as she picked
the plate and held it out. â€śA little thank-you treat.â€ť
â€śThatâ€™s not necessary, Eleanor.â€ť
â€śI disagree. Besides, I like to bakeâ€”and I know youâ€™re
to my fudge cake. Have it for dessert after lunch.â€ť
At this point, with the clock ticking, it might be lunchâ€”
that she needed to share that with Eleanor.
â€śIâ€™ll do thatâ€”and enjoy every bite.â€ť BJ took the oering.
â€śIâ€™ll call before I swing by to finish the job.â€ť
â€śNo need. Iâ€™m always here. You wonâ€™t be interrupting
The older womanâ€™s tone was upbeat, as usual, yet a faint
thread of loneliness wound through her words.
Most people would miss that subtle undercurrent.
Not BJ, though. She was tuned in to such nuances these
daysâ€”which did not help restore her peace of mind.
â€śIs everything all right, dear?â€ť
â€śYes.â€ť She switched gears and hefted the plate. â€śIâ€™m
forward to this.â€ť
â€śEnjoy, sweet child. And donâ€™t work too hard.â€ť
She let that pass as she left the house. Working too hard
part of her DNA . . . but if she couldnâ€™t dial back her
ethic, at least the work she did in Hope Harborâ€”on and o
the clockâ€”was worthwhile and satisfying.
And it might become even more so if the plan she was
came to fruition.
After carefully stowing the cake on the seat beside her,
glanced back toward Eleanorâ€™s planter-filled porch. With
wave, the older woman picked up a watering can and began
tending her abundant container garden.
BJ put the truck in reverse and checked the clock on the
dash. No time for a swing by Charleyâ€™s. But her appetite
disappeared anyway, thanks to the unsettling conversation
Eleanor about romance . . . and a disturbing encounter
Which was dumb.
She was not in the market for a relationship, especially
someone of the tall, dark, and handsome variety.
Maybe somedayâ€”some very distant day, far down the roadâ€”
sheâ€™d entertain the notion of love again.
But for now, her quiet, simple, peacefulâ€”uncomplicatedâ€”
life suited her just fine.
And she had no intention of changing it.