He pivoted around, pinning her with a steely glare, though his voice remained eerily calm. “I’m giving you ten seconds to leave before I call the sheriff and have you cited for trespassing.”
“Of all the—”
Jessica scowled at him, unable to think of anything foul enough to say in retort. The manners Lorna had instilled in her wouldn’t permit that kind of language anyway or condone the childish urge to spit in his face. With one last fulminating look, she spun away from him and stepped into the blistering sunlight. She retraced her path to the road, the intense heat pressing down on her with every step. Only fury gave strength to her legs as she waded through tall grass and prickly weeds. She mumbled under her breath. “This isn’t real. I’m going to wake up any second now and find that this has all been a terrible dream.”
The barbed wire fence loomed ahead, and her outrage intensified. She felt the man watching her; the flesh between her shoulder blades tingled beneath his fixed stare. She scrambled through the fence on shaky limbs. Her skirt caught on the barbs, baring her naked legs and the lace trim of her underwear. Humiliated, she struggled to free herself. She thought she heard a mocking laugh. The bully! With one last, exasperated tug, the fabric came loose with a loud rip. Thrown off balance, Jessica landed smack on her backside in an inelegant heap. There was no questioning her hearing. He was laughing at her. Glancing up, she saw him standing at the top of the hill, arms folded across his chest, teeth flashing white.
“I’m going to make him pay for this,” she fumed, pushing herself upright. No one had ever laughed at her before. She wasn’t going to be some carnival sideshow for this man! Her eyes swam with furious tears. Several hairpins had come loose from her chignon, and thick strands of hair fell across her face. She could barely see the ground as she maneuvered through the next field. When she finally reached the wooden fence, it took most of her dwindling energy to climb over. Overwrought with turbulent emotions, she stared dazedly at Preston’s car. What was she going to do now?
Back to square one. She had to find a telephone, had to get out of this unbearable heat. Across the road, several fields distant, she thought she saw a house. Please, God, don’t let it be a mirage. As she prepared to cross the road, she suddenly felt nauseated. Overcome, she crumpled to her knees on the dirt embankment, bending her body forward and taking deep breaths while praying that she wouldn’t be sick, that she wouldn’t add further humiliation to her growing dilemma.
Her prayers switched to curses as she added that insufferable man to her list of wrongdoers. First Preston. Then Amber. Lorna, for being typically blind to anything concerning her daughter in an emotional way.
Gradually, the nausea began to lessen. She slowly raised her head, only to see a pair of brown hiking boots on the black pavement before her. With excruciating effort, she dragged her gaze up long denim-clad legs to sun-browned hands braced on lean hips. She focused obstinately on the dull gold facing of the man’s wristwatch, seeing the second hand slowly creep around the dial once before he finally spoke.
“What’s the matter now? Lose your car keys?”
“I’ll stay here until you drive away.”
She blew a wisp of hair away from her mouth. “Then you’ll be standing there a long time,” she reasoned. “That car isn’t driving anywhere soon.”
“Looks fine to me,” he countered. She watched as he walked slowly around the car, his low whistle pulling her eyes to his cynical expression. “Looks more than fine. Tell me, how does it feel driving a car that costs more than the average middle-class family earns in five years? Probably didn’t put a dent in your daddy’s wallet, did it.”
She staggered clumsily to her feet. “My stepfather didn’t buy this car. It belongs to—” She pursed her lips and glowered. “It’s none of your business. I’ve had enough of your bullying. Since you’re so eager to see me leave, point me in the direction of the nearest telephone so I can call for a tow.”
He scrutinized her for a long moment. Then he opened the driver’s door and leaned inside. “Do you always leave the keys in the car? Not too bright.”
“Why?” she snapped. “Is some cow going to come along and take it for a joy ride?”
He muttered something under his breath that sounded like ‘stubborn little brat’ as he lowered himself into the leather driver’s seat and turned the key. There was a metallic clicking sound. Then nothing. His eyes met hers through the tinted windshield. She didn’t say I Told You So, but her expression implied the words. Shaking his head, he released the hood lever and unfolded himself from the car. Mouth carved in an implacable line, he propped up the hood and examined the engine. Several moments passed as he poked and prodded. Finally, he stood back, exhaling harshly. “You people have to buy the most expensive car on the market just to show everyone how important you think you are. The mechanics on this are insane.”
She came forward and peered over his shoulder. The engine looked confusing to her too. Her mouth pursed with derision. “Too complicated for you, hmm? And I thought men knew everything about cars.”
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