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"What the hell does that mean!" Trace Jones exploded, slamming his fist against the steering wheel. He slowed the car to a stop and stared at the sign. If he had his way, RR68 would be another addition to his collection of street signs he'd stolen as a juvenile.
Since he'd entered the state of Missouri earlier in day, he'd noticed billboards along the highway boasting the state's motto–Show Me State. Yeah, right. Show what? Unpaved roads, illiterate convenience store clerks who gave out wrong directions, and friggin' tornadoes. How come AAA didn't put that in their Trip Tiks?
He peered out the windshield, searching for a place to wait out the storm. It was almost 7:00 P.M., and the wall of dark clouds stretching from one end of the horizon to the other cast a black shadow over the earth. The oppressive mid-August humidity hung heavy in the air. Gusts of wind rocked the black Trans Am, threatening to shove it off the deserted country road, and the car's wipers were no match for the torrential downpour.
He snatched up the piece of paper resting on his thigh and glanced at it, thinking it resembled the crude treasure map he'd drawn as a seven-year-old. Hell, he'd even put an X to mark his destination. With a heartfelt curse, he crumpled the directions, unrolled the window and sent them sailing into the raging tempest.
For the next several seconds he gaped out the windshield at nothing but moving corn on the side of the road. He'd driven through some of the worst neighborhoods in the L.A. metro area and managed to make it out alive. He ought to be able to find his way out of America's bread basket.
Shifting gears, he stomped on the accelerator. There had to be a town somewhere in this godforsaken, hillbilly hideout. Taking his eyes off the road, Trace fumbled with the radio to locate a weather forecast.
When he looked up, it was too late.
Yellow. Yellow and big–the only two things that registered in his mind as the car barreled towards the blocked intersection.
* * * *
"Oh, my God!" Em Payton jumped down from the old picker sheller, almost tripping in her haste. If she'd paid attention to the road instead of fretting over unpaid taxes and this year's corn crop, she might have been able to do more than clutch the wheel and pray like the dickens the sports car would miss the back end of the picker.
Much to her surprise, the driver did an admirable job fish-tailing around the old piece of farm machinery. If the car's tires hadn't slid on the slick pavement, it might have been able to stop before plowing into the old oak by the side of the road. Her prayers had been answered, but at the expense of one crazy driver.
Heart beating faster than Grandma Ellison's pacemaker, she struggled against the vicious wind and tugged her baseball cap lower to shield her face from the stinging rain. Wet corn silage from the undercarriage of the machine littered the road, making her footing precarious at best as she hurried toward the wrecked automobile.
California plates. A city slicker. Tension coiled in the pit of her stomach. Her parents had been run off the road by a drunk tourist from Los Angeles. Resentment and anger toward the person in the car filled her. It made no sense, but then neither had the death of her parents.
No doubt the driver would hire some fancy lawyer and file a lawsuit against her. Just what she needed–more financial stress. Unable to see through the dark tinted glass of the window, she reached for the door handle with a trembling hand.
Please don't be dead.
Using all of her measly ninety-eight pounds, Em yanked on the door. Darn! It was locked. She pulled again. This time the door flew open, knocking her off balance and sending her sailing into the bushes next to the tree.
"Oomph!" Her bottom hit the ground hard. She sat dazed, shielded from the pouring rain by the canopy of branches and leaves over her head. Pushing aside a clump of foliage, she watched the driver half slide, half fall out of the car. The man managed to get to his feet, then turned and looked out toward the road.
"Holy shi…IjustgotrunoverbyaTonkaToy," he slurred.
Great. A drunk city slicker
Em struggled to stand, but her feet slipped in the mud. One headlight still worked on the car, providing some illumination, but it was too dark to see what injuries the driver suffered. She suspected the guy had whacked his noggin, and doubted he even knew she was there.
"No street signs? No highway?" He rubbed his temples as a loud, rumbling groan escaped his mouth.
"Hey, mister, are you all right?" Em shouted into the wind. She found her footing and crawled out from under the bushes. He stood a good foot taller than her own five feet two inches, and she had to crane her neck to look him in the eye.
He pointed an accusing finger. "Were you driving that…that…tank?"
"Tank? For your information, that tank is a very expensive machine used to pick and shell corn!"
"Then what were you doing parked in the middle of the road with it?" His voice had dropped to a threatening growl.
"Parked? I was moving. If you hadn't been driving so fast–"
"Forty-five miles per hour is not fast!"
Copyright © 2003 by Amy Leigh