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Healing Heather Sneak Peek:
“That’s your truck?” I almost dropped my ice cream. My hot caramel, double scoop, butter pecan with whipped cream and two cherries sundae, to be precise. All over the front of Brian’s blue and white striped button-down shirt.
After I had hung up on him, I couldn’t shake the image of the ice cream. The craving got too strong, and I had decided that spending my dinner calories on that outrageous sundae made perfect sense. A tiny voice in the back of my brain had whispered that I might be trying to run into someone—not naming any names, not pointing any fingers—accidentally on purpose. You’re not helping, I had whispered back to the voice, but hopped in Violet and hit the road rolling towards Bowdon anyway.
Johnson’s was an old-fashioned soda fountain, and entering it was like stepping back fifty years in an instant. The fresh-faced teenage girl behind the counter wore a pink and white striped apron, and an exaggerated pink bow held back her blonde ponytail. Her hand-drawn name tag read Lizzie, with a tiny pink heart dotting each ‘i.’
When I had placed my order, she grinned. “One Sergeant’s Special, coming right up!” She had cheerfully gotten busy, scooping and topping like someone who had built that particular confection on more than one occasion.
“The Sarge likes his with an extra cherry,” she held up the half-empty jar of maraschinos as evidence. “One or two for you?”
“Two, of course,” I peered over the counter as she worked. “And maybe just a little more whipped cream?”
As I emerged from the ice cream parlor with my enormous probably-better-than-sex sundae, the first thing I saw was a fully-restored classic pick up. Parked directly in front of Johnson’s, right next to Violet, it was a Dodge, 1951 or ’52, five-window. From the pristine condition of the Sea Mist Green paint to the spotless whitewall tires, I surmised that it still had the original straight-line 6-cylinder engine and three-speed transmission. Brian stepped wordlessly aside while I handed him my sundae and circled the truck, utterly transfixed. I may have been drooling just a little. Clicking the latch, I lifted the driver’s side bonnet—and gasped out loud.
“Yeah,” he nodded over my shoulder, “it’s a 392 Hemi. Just like yours.” He grinned and started spooning my sundae into his mouth. “I bought her about eight years ago, and it took me six years to bring her back to life. I figured she deserved the Hemi.”
He scooped another generous spoonful of my ice cream into his mouth and savored. “Dang, did Lizzie make this? Just gets better every time.” He handed me back the paper bowl and closed the truck bonnet. “Wanna go for a ride?”
Did I ever. Girl Code or Common Sense 101 be damned, there was no way I was turning down a ride in that beauty-on-the-outside, beast-on-the-inside truck. Without a word, I climbed into the cab on the passenger side. The interior had been meticulously restored, and the tan leather bench seat had been customized with intricate stitching.
He roared the engine to life, and my heart skipped a beat. In seconds, he had turned off the main highway, and we headed east an empty two-lane, windows rolled down and radio turned up.
“So, if I remember correctly, this is the part of the country song where I kick my shoes off and put my pretty bare feet on the dash.” I smiled sweetly and licked the caramel from my spoon, a little more suggestively than was strictly necessary. Something about the rolled-up sleeves and half-unbuttoned casual shirt he wore over a plain white tee spoke to me on an almost cellular level, triggering a sensual response I couldn’t really control. I took another bite, swirling my tongue through whipped cream with an exaggerated innocence.
“Followed by the verse where I kick you out of my truck for spilling ice cream all over the leather,” he looked meaningfully at the paper bowl and its rapidly melting contents. The molten caramel and the summer heat had conspired, almost liquefying the butter pecan.
“Sorry,” I said meekly, sitting up straighter and corralling my wayward thoughts. “I won’t spill, I promise. But you may have to help me finish this, it’s a double.”
“Now that’s an offer I can’t refuse.” He kept his left hand on the wheel, and while I held the bowl, tried unsuccessfully with his right to secure a spoonful. “I’m a lefty. Help me out here?”
I slid over a bit closer and held the sundae-loaded spoon to his lips. Without taking his eyes from the road, he took the bite with obvious relish. I repeated the process, then helped myself to a spoonful. Sharing the single spoon felt intimate and little romantic.
We drove in comfortable silence. Neither one of us mentioned our recent conversation, and it didn’t feel necessary to bring it up. The road wound through the silent forest, then suddenly opened up with hay fields and horse pasture on either side of the road. Three horses glanced up briefly, then resumed their leisurely grazing. A white farmhouse stood about a hundred yards from the road, flanked by a tidy barn and a stable. I imagined a young family: a father leading his young daughter on the back of a pony; a mother laughing and pushing a baby boy on a tree swing.
“Can I tell you something?” he asked suddenly, startling me from my reverie. “I just don’t want you to misunderstand.”
“Of course you can,” I replied, curious. “But don’t feel like you need to explain anything to me. I don’t want you to think I…” I trailed off, not knowing exactly how to finish my thought.
“Think you what? Judge me? Pity me?” He slowed the truck, pulling over on the shoulder, and turned to face me. “I don’t think you would do either. But let’s just set the record perfectly straight. Yeah, I had a relationship with Amanda. It was a lot of years, a lot of chaos, a lot of pain, and now it’s over. It’s been over for a long time.”
“Okay…” I exhaled. “She made me think you were still seeing each other pretty exclusively. I didn’t—I don’t—want to be in the middle of anything.”
“You aren’t. You couldn’t be. There’s nothing to be in the middle of.” His green eyes still showed pain, though. I reached over and took his hand, giving it a reassuring squeeze. The pain in his eyes gave way to something that looked like optimism. Or maybe hope. Either one was fine by me.
“Well then. That’s resolved. I’m sorry I was rude this afternoon, it was uncalled for.” I smiled an apology. “So, Sergeant SeaMist, is this a ’51 or a ’52?”