Quinn Barnett watched the blue sedan that had just passed her come to a stop on the shoulder of the road a hundred yards or so ahead.
She slowed her stride, due in part to healthy suspicion of anyone who'd offer a ride to a stranger, especially one who hadn't been hitchhiking to begin with. It was a tempting thought though. She was sick to death of this rain and not really sure how much farther it was to town. When the passenger door was pushed open in silent invitation, she made up her mind and broke into a jog. As she drew closer, a woman's voice from within the car demanded, "Get over here, damn it!"
One hand on the open passenger door, she peered inside, trying to decide if getting out of the rain would be worth biting her tongue against the heated retort that sprang to mind. For a moment she was too distracted by the length of thigh exposed by the short denim skirt to wonder what the woman was doing, awkwardly straddling the front seats to reach into the back of the car. When she saw her lifting a furry shape from the back seat, she realized the Get over here, damn it had not been directed at her after all and that the woman may have pulled over for some other reason than to offer her a ride.
"Sorry," she said, preparing to back away from the car. "I thought you-"
The woman started at the sound of Quinn's voice, smacking her head against the dome light inside of the car and uttering a brief expletive before she turned and looked at Quinn.
Quinn knew she was staring, but she couldn't help it. The woman's eyes were amazing. A little wide with surprise, they seemed to fill up her face. And the color-the color reminded her of the raw honey old Mr. Coleman used to give her for helping him with his hives. For a moment she was transported out of the cold New Hampshire rain and back to a hot Texas afternoon, licking the sweet stuff from her fingers and feeling sure there wasn't anything better in life.
"Sorry," said the driver, rubbing the back of her head, and Quinn wondered what she was apologizing for. "I thought you were-I mean I was just trying to...uh..." Sinking back onto her knees in the front seat, she pushed her hair away from her face. "Did you need a ride?"
"I thought that's why you stopped," admitted Quinn, "but it looks like you were just having trouble with your-" She glanced into the back seat where a familiar furry face stared back at her. "Well, I'll be damned. I wondered where you'd disappeared to."
"Here, let me just get this out of the way."
When the driver, still kneeling, grabbed at a knapsack on the passenger side floorboard and pitched it unceremoniously into the back seat, she realized she was going to get a ride after all. The tattered remains of a map and a crumpled Almond Joy wrapper followed it before she was able to get in, ducking when she realized there wasn't enough room for both her head and her hat.
"Mind if I set this in the back here?" she asked, not waiting for a response before she dropped the hat onto the back seat which the dog had already abandoned in favor of her lap.
"Hey, you." She scratched his ears vigorously. "Bailed on me last night, the little traitor," she commented. "Must've known what was coming."
"What was coming?"
"All this damn rain. I was camping last night," she explained. "Woke up around four this morning to this big ass clap of thunder about thirty seconds before the sky opened up. And PJ here-" She grabbed the dog's muzzle playfully "-was nowhere to be found. I spent the rest of the night in my truck and this morning the damn thing wouldn't start. I was beginning to think I'd drown before I got back to town."
She realized she was staring again only because the other woman was staring back, with the sort of indefinable directness that always triggered a little ping on her radar. In her experience, straight women rarely maintained eye contact with another woman in quite that way. Not that she was in the market this trip, but a little harmless recreational flirting might be just what she needed to take her mind off the leaden weight that had taken up residence in her gut of late.
"Thanks for the ride, by the way. Name's Quinn." She was holding out her hand before she noticed how much dog fur was clinging to it. "Sorry," she muttered, wiping her hand on her jeans. Smooth, Barnett. Real smooth.
The undisguised amusement on the driver's face might have added insult to injury if not for the way it sparkled in those honey-colored eyes. "Why don't you tell me your name so I at least know who's laughing at me," she suggested as they pulled back onto the highway.
Quinn waited until her silence drew the driver's glance her way. "Sorry, I thought you were going to say something else. Maybe, oh, I don't know. I wasn't laughing at you. Whatever gave you that idea?"
The woman's lips curved, but all she said was, "Where are you headed?"
"Just up to Turtle Cove. However close you can get me is good enough."
"I can do better than close. That's where I'm going."
Maybe her luck was going to turn after all. "So what brings you up this way?" "
Oh, just some personal business." Libby's tone was dismissive, suggesting nothing interesting to be talked about there, but then her expression turned guarded. "How did you know I don't live here?"
"Just a wild guess," she said, trying to toss it off with a shrug, but the woman's expression remained suspicious enough to almost make her laugh. "You're driving a car with New York plates. You don't get in a stranger's car without noticing a few things."
"I'm from New York. I wouldn't get in a stranger's car."
"But you'd let one into yours." The contradiction left her grinning.
"Well, he wasn't going anywhere," said Libby, glancing briefly at the dog, "so it only made sense to let you in."
She looked at the dog zonked out in her lap, doubtful of how much protection the little guy really provided. It didn't seem to be in her best interest to point out the flaws in Libby's security system, however, so she decided to bypass that subject and move on to another. "New York, huh? City or state?"
"And what do you have going on in New York City that makes it worth staying there?"
"Not a fan of the Big Apple, I take it?" said Libby with an indulgent smile. "Well, I'm in advertising, so it kind of makes sense for me."
"Oh yeah? Anything I might be familiar with?" she asked, mainly because it seemed safer than admitting she thought "commercial" was a synonym for "mute button."
"Probably not. We don't handle a lot of national accounts." It almost had the sound of an apology. "We did design a print ad for Gionelli Timepieces last year."
Quinn shook her head. Libby named a brand of work boots. "Owned a pair once, but can't say I ever saw an ad for them."
Libby was silent for a moment before glancing over at her with a vaguely speculative look. "Salem's Brew?"
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