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Quinn O'Neill shifted in reverse as he checked his rear and side view mirrors at ACO Hardware. He lifted his foot from the brake and inched backward from the parking spot, his mind filled with the numerous repairs needed to return his home to what it must have looked like ninety years ago when it was new. Too bad repairing himself wasn't as easy, but money wouldn't fix him.
Quinn's thoughts were interrupted by a thud, and a crunch of metal jarred his SUV. He slammed on the brake and jammed the gear into Park, then bolted outside eyeing a car embedded in his back quarter panel, the shiny black paint gouged and buckled against the woman's dark red sedan.
She glared at him from the driver's window, her eyes narrowed as determination set in her jaw. She pushed open her car door with a dramatic sweep, stepped out and slammed it. "Look what you've done." Her arm swung toward the damage. Shattered glass from the taillight dotted the asphalt, and her trunk lid had sprung loose from the lock.
Trying to monitor his frustration, he shook his head. "It wasn't my fault. I checked my mirrors." He peered back at her. "More than once." Yet in the back of his mind, he knew he'd been distracted by his thoughts. Could he have been careless?
She bustled closer. "Do you think I don't check my mirrors?"
"I have no idea, but" Seeing tears collecting in her eyes, he felt less inclined to argue. "Are you okay?" He skimmed her frame, noticing beyond her distraught expression how attractive she was.
Her eyes snapped from him to her sedan. "I'm fine, but I can't be without a car, and if I report the accident, my insurance rates will go up. I can't afford" Words rushed from her like air from a pricked balloon. Once she recovered, she waved her hand in the air. "Never mind. It's not your problem." She paled and pressed her hand to her heart, her fingernails painted the color of a ripe peach.
He eyed her hand. No wedding band, and probably a one-car family. Ice slid through his veins. He didn't allow himself to make mistakes. Not when it came to driving. He pulled out his wallet for his insurance information. "We should call the police."
Panic struck her face. "Police? For what? They don't care about fender-denters."
Despite her alarmed expression, he chuckled. "You mean fender-benders."
She evaded his eyes. "Whatever."
"I suppose. The police have enough to do. Neither of us is injured."
She gave a decisive nod and strode closer to her damaged sedan. When she tried to force down the trunk lid, it resisted.
"Let me help." He moved past her and forced it downward, but it refused to catch. He eyed his quarter panel damage. It fared better than her sedan. "I might have something in my car to tie it down."
When he lifted his trunk lid, a horn tooted. He gave the guy a shrug as he pointed to the damage. The man made an obscene gesture before he backed up and moved off. Quinn shook his head. What happened to kindness and compassion?
After scouring inside his trunk for a piece of rope, anything to secure the lid, he found nothing. Discouraged, he straightened. "You didn't happen to purchase something in the hardware store we could use, did you? String? Twine?
She shook her head. "No. Only O-rings, gaskets, washers, pipe joint compound and a wrench."
Plumbing supplies. His brow tugged upward, his curiosity spiked. What did she know about O-rings?
She leaned into her trunk and came up shaking her head. Moisture hinted in her eyes. "I'll run inside and buy"
His chest constricted. "Let me." As he opened his wallet to pull out some bills, a blue strand beneath his backseat caught his eye. He reached in and drew out a bungee cord. He held it up. "No need. This will work."
Though she'd accepted his help, the woman remained cautious and hadn't given him the hint of a grin even though she'd made him chuckle. Still he'd spotted her smile lines traveling from her full cheeks to her well-shaped lips, the same color as her fingernails. He'd love to see her smile and to ask about the plumbing supplies. Instead, he focused on the situation, winding the cord around the bumper and through the inside workings of the trunk until he secured the lid. "I'll follow you to a body shop."
"A body shop?" She closed her eyes, the strain evident on her face. "I have no idea where one is." She shook her head. "I'll I'll drive home and call a friend." She glanced at her watch. "Lexie should be home."
Quinn's jaw slacked, hearing the uncommon name. "Lexie Fox?"
She drew back, her eyes widening. "Do you know her?"
"She and Ethan are members of my church."
Her eyes glazed as if unable to comprehend what he'd said. "Really?"
She gazed at him without a response, her face taut.
He rubbed his hands together, sensing he had to do something to relieve her stress. "I'm here. There's a body shop a few blocks from here on Main Street. Randy will give you a free estimate."
Her eyes narrowed. "Why are you doing this?"
Something about her tugged at his heart as he managed to grin. "I'm a nice guy."
Her suspect expression melted. "I guess you are."
Quinn had to look away to stop his pulse from racing. "It's on my way home." He eyed his SUV's damage, his heart sinking. "I'll follow you to keep an eye on your trunk. If it pops up, pull over."
Her shoulders lifted in a sigh. "Thanks." She rotated her wrist and looked at her watch. "I'll be late getting home. I should call my son."
A son. Blurred memories raced through his mind.
She delved into her handbag, pulled out a cell phone and pressed a couple of buttons.
Though he stepped back, her voice reached him.
"Bran. This is Mom." She pressed her lips together as she listened. "You want to what?" The corners of her mouth pulled down. "Okay, but be home by eight. No later and no excuses."
Quinn's lungs constricted as the boy's baritone voice murmured from her cell phone so like his son's.
"No. I'm running a little late. I didn't want you to worry." She paused as if ready to disconnect. Instead she pulled the phone back to her ear. "Did you take your pills?" She nodded.
"Good. Now remember. Eight o'clock. And no excuses, Brandon." She clicked off and slipped the phone into her handbag.
Quinn waited, a multitude of questions rattling in his headquestions about her son, about the medication and about her and the hint of tears.
She looked into the distance and said nothing.
Silence pressed against his ears. He'd lived with silence and had accepted it as a way of life, but this was different. He wanted to know her.
"Why do problems always come in a row?" Her voice caught him off guard, and when he looked at her, her eyes said far more than her words.
"I don't know." His guilt-riddled thoughts intensified as he reviewed checking his mirrors. Since the tragic accident, he'd become overly cautious. But had he been today? "Problems multiply." His certainly had.
As if the wind had been knocked out of her, she nodded. "My son is bugging me about his learner's permit. He's completing his classes, and every day he asks and whines about why I'm not enthusiastic. Once he starts driving, my insurance will " Her brows furrowed.
He suspected she'd picked up on his distraction. He struggled to dig himself from the deep crevice. "Teens can be persistent."
His feeble response hung in the air as he diverted the conversation by giving her directions to the body shop. In the driver's seat, he pulled forward to give her room to back out while the sound of grating metal assaulted his ears.
She maneuvered the sedan into the lane and drove ahead, her trunk lid bouncing with each bump in the road.
When they reached Main Street, she followed his instructions and turned left. Quinn eyed her short brown hair glinting in the sunlight through the rear window. He had to admit she was attractive with skin like cream, not one blemish, and intense hazel eyes. He liked her independence. She didn't jump at his offer to help. She'd considered it first, eyeing him with suspicion. She'd been smart to question his motives and probably questioned why a stranger would offer to help.
She'd given evidence of being a single mom. The burden of decisions about her son's driving, the cost of insurance and even a trip to the hardware seemed to rest on her shoulders. He tried to picture her doing her own plumbing. Her feminine frame looked sturdy enough to handle a wrench, but her manicured nails and slender arms didn't fit any plumber he'd seen. Then again, not wearing a wedding band didn't negate being married. But why not call a plumber? That's what he did.
Quinn's thoughts snapped back to the situation at hand. He concentrated so much on her trunk lid he'd forgotten the damage to his own vehicle. He needed an estimate, too. The who-was-at-fault issue dug deep in his mind, but seeing her financial concern and the difficulty of being without a car, he wondered if he should take the blame. It was an accident.
Without warning, the word cut to his heart. Accidents should never happen. Everyone knew that. They were excuses for carelessness and for.
Quinn grappled with his frustration, Frustration meant defeat, and he was done with that. He clamped his jaw, his grip tight on the steering wheel as if the action could control his indecision.
A red light caught him unaware, and he jammed his foot on the brake, thanking the Lord he didn't hit the back of the woman's car again. The woman? He cringed. They hadn't even exchanged names or information. His preoccupation had gotten the best of him.
The light turned green, and he drove through the intersection. Ahead, he could see the B & B Collision sign. She saw it, too, since she hit her right signal. He slowed and stopped behind the sedan, waiting for traffic to clear.
Ava could see the man through her rearview mirror. His mouth was locked tight. He would be a prime example of why she'd hesitated to add fathers to the Mothers of Special Kids support group, but the women had voted to let them join anyway.
At the newly named Parents of Special Kids organization, she'd branded herself the inquisitor. She wanted to view all sides of an issue, and often she served as the devil's advocate. Not everyone liked that, she knew. And now that men were part of POSK, she'd realized she'd been wrong about most men's unwillingness to talk about their problems, but not incorrect about this man. She'd never met one so closed off.
Something in his introspective eyes had ignited her inquisitive nature, yet she didn't know him well enough to pry. Didn't know him at all, in fact. They hadn't introduced themselves, and she should have asked for insurance information. The accident was his fault she was certain. Or quite certain. She'd checked her mirrors.
Ava wondered if the man realized he didn't know her name. Maybe she could be as closed-mouthed as he was and remain a nameless woman. He apparently liked to be in control, but he'd met his match today. Ava Darnell wasn't easy to push around. She sighed, dismissing her ridiculous thoughts.
His knowing Lexie and Ethan had eased her mind, but she'd been distracted by his good looks. The streaks of gray contrasting with his wavy dark hair had raised an age question, but studying his features, she suspected he wasn't too far from her almost thirty-nine years. And he'd looked at her with those eyesgorgeous eyes, blue ones that seemed to search her soul. Or was he searching his own? She may never learn a thing about him. But two could play the silent game.
Traffic cleared and Ava veered into the parking lot with the SUV following behind her. A body shop made her miserable. She didn't have the money to deal with a damaged car. Making ends meet was enough of a challenge, especially with her steep mortgage. With the mention of her house payment, her thoughts flew to the financial mess Tom had left behind.
She gazed at the shop door and cringed. What did she know about cars and repairs? Yet seeing the nameless man slip from his SUV, her confidence lifted as he approached her. She spun around with false assurance and headed for the entrance.
Before she reached the door, he dashed ahead of her and held it open. She headed for the counter. So did he.
From the garage, the sound of a static-filled radio station was punctuated with clanks of metal and intermittent thuds. A man glanced in from the garage and held up his index finger, and in moments, he charged through the doorway, wiping his hands on a dirty rag. "Quinn, what are you doing here?"
Quinn. She gave a sidelong look at the man beside her. Irish name. He looked Irishthe dark Irish with the amazing blue eyes and raven hair. He reached forward and grasped the man's hand with a shake, and then nodded toward her. She wanted to give her own nod toward him. He'd caused the accident.
Quinn preceded to tell the story, chuckling as he called it a fender-denter, directing another nod her way.
Finally she gave her own nod. "He backed out of the parking spot into me." She put a little emphasis on the he and me, hoping the man Quinn had called Randy got the point.
Randy gave him a flickering grin before looking at her with an unsuccessful attempt to appear serious. "So you both need an estimate."
She pushed her way closer to the counter. "Yes, it's my trunk lid. It has a dent and now the lid won't lock."
He pulled out a form and grabbed a pencil. "Name?"
So much for being nameless. "Ava Darnell." As she spoke, she dug into her bag and pulled her driver's license from her wallet, then slid it on the counter.
He glanced at it. "Phone number?"
She eyed Quinn, but he was looking at her license. She wanted to cover it with her hand. "You won't need my number. We're going to wait."
"You're welcome to wait." He tilted his head, his pencil poised. "But I still need your phone number."