Dark clouds masked the hot July sun. A whining rattle descended upon Vanessa Gallagher. Picking wild violets on her walk home from work, she looked up to see a rusted white car break over the horizon. It wove toward her at breakneck speed on the wrong side of the rural Ohio road. The driver’s scraggly white beard thrust forward as his head leaned back, swilling a beer.
Vanessa dove for the ditch. Gravel sprayed her from the edge of the road as her father’s car whizzed past. The beer can whipped from his window and bounced across the pavement. Fear rose in her chest as clouds crashed above her. Clyde Gallagher hit the bars but saved getting drunk for fights with her mother. Ominous dread clutched Vanessa. She leapt from the ditch and broke into a run.
A piercing clap of thunder startled her. She tripped and fell to her knees on the rough asphalt. Jumping to her feet, she dashed toward home, ignoring the trickle of blood pooling in her shoes.
With an approaching rumble, a big blue beast of a pickup roared toward her. Her heart skipped a
beat when she recognized the handsome driver.
She kept running until the truck slowed to a stop. Out of breath, she paused beside the enormous tires. Waist-high, raised white letters read Mud Luggers. Chad James leaned his head out the window.
“Need a ride?”
Her stomach flipped and her heart thudded.
“Yes!” she blurted, in a hurry to see her mama.
Yet she cringed at this gorgeous hunk driving up to that shack with the peeling paint and rotting steps. Everyone in Crystal Falls knew where she lived, but he didn’t need the close-up view.