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A Perfect Love
By Lenora Worth
Steeple HillCopyright © 2005 Lenora Worth
All right reserved.
This wasn't the best place in the world to have a breakdown, either in one's car or one's life.
Summer Maxwell was having both, however.
Wanting to say words her grandmother wouldn't appreciate, Summer kicked the front right tire of her late-model sportscar, then let out a frustrated groan as she looked up and down the lonely Texas back road. A sign a few feet from her car stated Athens, 9 Miles.
So close, yet still so far away. "I just had to drive all the way home from New York, didn't I?" she shouted to the hot, humid wind. "And I just had to do it in this pitiful excuse for an automobile."
Summer eyed the faded red of the twenty-year-old Jaguar, wondering why she'd never bothered to buy a new car. Maybe because this one had belonged to her father at one time, and maybe because that was a connection she wasn't ready to give up, even if it wasn't always pleasant.
James Maxwell had given his only daughter the car when she'd graduated from high school, his silky, charming words making the deal all the more sweet since he'd missed the graduation ceremony. "Daddy wants you to have this one, honey. I'm getting me a brand-new Porsche. And your mama, she doesn't want this one. Guess that means I'll be buying her a Cadillac soon."
"Yeah, you sure did buy Mama a new set of wheels," Summer muttered as the gloaming of another hot Texas day brought a cool wisp of breeze floating over her. And James Maxwell hadn't even bothered to wish his daughter well as she headed off to college with her cousins, April and Autumn. No, her father hadn't bothered with much at all regarding his daughter. Maybe because he'd wanted a son so badly, to carry on the glory days of his rodeo career.
"Sorry, Daddy," Summer said now and wondered why she always felt it necessary to apologize for everything.
Her parents were globe-trotters, too tied up in each other and her father's rodeo and oil-industry endorsements to worry about their rebellious daughter. So they'd dumped her on her mother's parents for most of her life, while they enjoyed the good life that came with being oiland cattle-rich Maxwells.
"I'm almost there, Memaw," Summer said as she lifted the hot hood of the car, then backed away as a damp mist of smoke poured over her. "Must be the radiator again."
Wishing she hadn't been so stubborn about not flying, or about not taking her cousin Autumn's sensible sedan, Summer looked up and down the long road. She could call her grandfather on her cell, get him to come and pick her up. That is, if her cell would even work in these isolated piney woods.
"Or I could walk," she reasoned. "Maybe physical activity would keep me from having that breakdown I so richly deserve."
Grabbing her aged baseball-glove-leather tote bag from the passenger's seat of the convertible, Summer tried her cell. Low power and even lower battery. No surprise there.
"Okay, I guess I get to walk nine miles along this bug-infested highway. Nice, Summer, real nice."
She was about to put up the worn black top of the car and lock it, when she heard a truck rumbling along the highway.
"Oh, great. Let's hope you are a kind soul," she said into the wind. "I have always relied upon the kindness of strangers", she quoted from Tennessee Williams.
And let's pray you aren't some psycho out on the loose. Not that she couldn't handle herself. She was armed with pepper spray and a whole arsenal of self-defense courses. She'd learned all about how to protect herself, working as a counselor to battered women at a New York City YWCA for the past five years.
She'd also learned all about the dark, evil side of life working there, too. Which was why she was now stranded on this road. Everyone she knew in New York, including her cousins and her immediate supervisor, had agreed it was time for Summer to take a vacation.
Burned out. Stressed out. Angry. Bitter. Those were the words they'd used to describe her.
And that didn't even begin to touch the surface.
Summer took a long breath, tried to imagine a peaceful scene somewhere in the tired recesses of her mind, while she waited for the old truck to pull up beside her. But somehow, she didn't believe deep breathing would get her through this acute, aching depression.
And neither would God, she decided. Then she looked up and saw her rescuer.
He was young, probably only a few years older than Summer's twenty-seven years. He was pretty in a rugged, rough-cut way. He had vivid gray-blue eyes that flashed like heat lightning. And he had crisp, curly light-brown hair that seemed to be rebelling against the humidity.
Warning flares went off in Summer's weary mind like fireworks on the Fourth of July.
Putting the rickety old truck into Park, he said, "Need some help?"
Summer decided that was an under-statement, but she hid that behind what she hoped was a serene smile. "Kinda looks that way, doesn't it?"
"Want me to look under the hood?"
"No need," she said, ignoring the homesick delight his Texas drawl caused along her skin. "It's the radiator. Probably finally busted for good."
He got out and walked to the raised hood anyway. Since he was a man, Summer figured he didn't trust her word on car maintenance. Had to see it for himself. Probably thought just because she was a blonde, that she didn't have any brain cells. Never mind that she had been a double major in college. No need for this handsome interloper to know that just yet.
He turned and wiped his hands down the sides of his worn jeans. "Yep, looks like you're right. It's too hot to even touch right now."
Summer noted his solid build and laid-back swagger. "I told you so," she said with a hint of sarcasm to hide the hint of interest she had in him.
He ignored the sarcasm, his gaze filled with his own interest. "Where you headed?"
"Athens." She didn't feel the need to give him any more information.
"I live there," he said. Then he extended his hand. "Mack Riley."
"Summer Maxwell," she said, taking his hand and enjoying the strength of his touch a little too much.
He pulled his hand away with a quick tug, making her wonder if he'd felt that little bit of awareness, too. "Summer?"
"Yes," she said, thinking she saw recognition in his beautiful eyes.
"Pretty name." He hesitated, then said,
"And just who are you visiting in Athens?"
"My grandparents," she replied, mystified by his suddenly odd behavior. "I wanted to surprise them."
"Oh, I reckon they'll be surprised, all right," he said as he shut the car's hood.
"Who are your grandparents? I might know them."
"Jesse and Martha Creswell," Summer said, thinking he probably did know them. Everybody knew just about everybody else in the small town of Athens, Texas.
He stepped back, gave her a look that shouted confusion and surprise. "Well, how 'bout that."
"You know them?" she asked, echoing her thoughts.
Excerpted from A Perfect Love by Lenora Worth Copyright © 2005 by Lenora Worth. Excerpted by permission.
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