20 Jul A Brush With a Billionaire Sneak Peek!
As Brent glanced at the display, a stream of curses tumbled out of his mouth. This was the last thing he needed. The check engine light gleamed, its orange glow mocking him for not taking the car into the shop last month for its regular inspection. Usually, he was a stickler for those things, but he had just finished filming a movie and his most recent breakup, Tricia, had been blowing up his phone since the breakup. It was only natural that a small thing like car maintenance had slipped his mind.
And the timing was impeccable, of course. The last major city was approximately ten miles back, and nothing but sagebrush passed by his window now. Dusty, dirty, yellow and brown sagebrush. Why had he thought going to a cabin in the middle of nowhere would help him relax? Oh, right, it had been Julia’s idea.
Julia had been his agent for years, so he knew better than to argue with her when she told him he needed to get away and take some time to regroup. It hadn’t really been his fault he lost it with the most recent director. The script had been terrible, and Brent was tired of roles that held no substance. But, he should have rented a cabin in the mountains or the penthouse of some nice hotel on the beach. With his money, he could have afforded either and been closer to humanity. But no, Julia had insisted a cabin out in the middle of nowhere would be preferable.
“Come on, baby,” he urged the Porsche, hoping they had a good enough relationship she would get him to the next town. The size didn’t even matter as long as it had a working phone. His cell phone had lost reception after the last big town. A mechanic wouldn’t hurt either.
“Stella, if you get me to the next town, I promise I’ll take you to the best shop when we return.” Brent had named her Stella after the girl he had been dating at the time – a high maintenance ex-girlfriend. The girl, a penthouse owning, designer wearing, Tiffany’s lover hadn’t lasted, but the car had, until now.
His hands glided over the grey leather covered steering wheel, sending positive energy and good thoughts to Stella. Perhaps his touch would spur her to limp another two miles to… what was the name on the last sign? Soda Spurs? An odd name for a town, but in Podunk Texas, he expected no less.
But, it was not to be. With a final stutter and a plume of blue smoke, Stella died on the side of Farm Market Road 1276. He glared at the asinine GPS that had recommended this shortcut in the first place and sighed. He should have stayed on the major highway. The city traffic was terrible, but at least a city would have guaranteed a tow truck and a mechanic in case of the unexpected. Now, he was stranded in the middle of nowhere with a hot, two-mile walk ahead of him.
As he popped the hood—hoping she had simply overheated and would work when she cooled down—more smoke billowed out from underneath. Brent was no mechanic, but smoke was never a good thing and probably meant a major fix. He checked the phone one more time in hopes the gods would show him pity, but it had no bars. Useless! It landed on the passenger seat as he swung open the car door.
The oppressive heat sent beads of sweat trickling down his back. Brent hated being sweaty unless he was at the gym. Even then, he always kept a towel close by. Salty stings in his eye while lifting heavy weights was not only annoying but dangerous.
He wiped a hand across his face before waving the smoke away and peering under the hood. A series of black and silver tubish things stared back at him, looking like a puzzle in a foreign language. He was not a car guy. Brent liked fancy cars – driving them, owning them, showing off in them, but he didn’t care how they worked—that was why he paid other people. It was one of the many benefits of having money.
With a raised hand to shield his eyes, he scanned the road. Nothing but brown—unmoving, silent brown. A dirt plume at least would have meant a car was coming, but no dirt stirred along the road. He slammed the hood down.
With a heavy sigh, Brent snatched his worthless iphone from the passenger seat, and jammed it back in his pocket. What good was having the latest technology if there were still parts of the state that had terrible service? Perhaps he needed to see about buying a few cell towers. There was a chance there would be cell reception in Soda Spurs though he doubted it.
Brent glanced into the backseat of the car to see if he needed to grab anything else, but there was nothing worth stealing there except his travel bag and it really only held his clothes and toiletries.
A final thought urged him to grab the lukewarm bottle of water from the cup holder. His mouth turned down in disgust at the thought of swigging the warm liquid, but it was all he had.
After locking Stella, he flashed her one more longing glance and began the trek. The dust from the road soon covered his expensive black loafers, turning them an ashy color. He would have to purchase new ones when he returned to civilization.
Sweat pasted his short dark hair to his head, and beads ran in little rivulets down his back and sides. Stains developed under his arms, and the heat rolled his shoulders forward. He would be sore tomorrow, but he pushed on.
Relief flooded him as the first signs of life appeared. Small run-down houses dotted the side of the road. The faded paint on them crackled and curled, and the boarded windows kept their secrets locked inside. His gold Rolex told him he had been walking for eighteen minutes though it felt much longer.
Another few minutes yielded a green sign welcoming him to Soda Spurs, TX. Population 5003. 5003? He sighed, certain that many people lived in a city block alone in Houston, but the houses looked a little newer, not expensive, but more cared for, which ignited a small sliver of hope. Newer paint and open windows allowed the light breeze to flow in and rustle the curtains.
He approached a blue house with white trim where a lone figure rocked in a chair on the porch. The gray of her hair suggested an elderly age, but her hands nimbly moved the needles she worked as the chair tilted forward and back. It emitted an odd creaking sound in the silence of the street.
“Excuse me, ma’am.” Brent poured out the charm his mother had taught him to use at a young age. He didn’t have to use it as much now as people flocked to him because of his money, but he could still whip it out when necessary. “Can you tell me where I might find a phone or mechanic?”
She frowned at him, wrinkles crisscrossing her face, though the beauty underneath was still visible. In her youth, she must have broken hearts left and right. Her hands slowed as her eyes narrowed. Perhaps his charm had lost its touch, or else maybe his ragged appearance was causing her concern.
“I don’t mean to scare you, ma’am. My car broke down about two miles back, and I had to walk. Is there anyone in this town who can help me? A mechanic or a tow place or something.”
The stare continued another long minute before his answer seemed to satisfy her, and she leaned back in her rocker, needles clicking again. “Sam’s auto shop is up the way. Turn left at the gnarled tree.” Her leathery hand pointed to the right. “Norma’s is on the way. She’ll give you a bite to eat if you stop in. Tell her Fanny sent you.”
Her head dropped back to whatever she was making in her lap, and the rocker began its rhythmic motion again. Brent raised his hand in a thank you, wishing he had a cowboy hat to tip her direction. He hadn’t worn one in ages, not since leaving the small town he grew up in, but an image of his mother flustered and blushing as a man tipped his hat at her flashed into his mind. The cowboy hat held a mysterious power over some Texas women, and it would come in handy now.
Brent continued his trek, sighing in relief when a white building on the left caught his eye. It was more like a house than a business as only the small sign spelling Norma’s in faded red letters above the door told him this was the restaurant. Three cars filled spaces around the house. A glance around revealed no gnarled tree so he turned into Norma’s, hoping for better directions.
The cooler air smacked him as the door opened, sending a shiver racing along his spine. Two red booths and matching tables with red chairs filled most of the real estate in the room, which appeared to have once served as a dining room and living room.
The appearance outside had been deceptive as the inside was larger than he expected. Four stools, also upholstered in red fabric, sat in front of a large wooden bar. Rows of clear glasses lined several shelves behind the bar, and a drink dispenser that advertised Mr. Pibb and Mellow Yellow took up part of one wall. A cash register, the only newer contraption in the place, sat on the edge of the counter. At the far end of the room, a jukebox belted out an old country tune. Brent felt like he had traveled back in time.
All eyes in the place turned to him as the floor creaked beneath his feet, announcing his arrival. The room was not crowded. A man sat at the bar and a younger couple filled one booth. His eyes scanned the place, searching for the owner.
An older woman with short brown hair stepped out of the doorway he assumed led to the kitchen. A white towel was slung over her shoulder, and an apron, stained with many colors, hung on her waist.
“Can I help you?” she asked, wiping her hands on the apron.
“Yes ma’am. My car broke down a few miles outside town. I’m hoping you have a phone I can use as I can’t get reception either.” He pasted his best smile across his face—the one that got him any woman he wanted back home.
“Ain’t got no phone, no use for one. Everyone here knows to come by if they need me.” The woman shook her head once before turning back toward the kitchen.
“Wait.” He stepped forward, his hand held out to her, though not too high. No sense in broadcasting his sweat stains. “I met Fanny, and she told me to find Norma. She also mentioned maybe Sam’s shop could help get my car fixed.”
Three pairs of eyes shifted from Brent back to the woman as if watching a slow-motion tennis match on TV.
A small grin tugged at Norma’s lips as she turned back. “Well, if Fanny sent you, you must be all right. Why don’t you sit, and I’ll get you something to eat?”
He had eaten in the last town at a nice restaurant with servers who wore black pants and white shirts and handed him a proper menu. The single sheet of paper kind attached to a hard background and filled with elegant writing. He doubted Norma’s even had a menu or if it did, it would be one of those laminated atrocities that would make a sticky, suction sound as you pried it open.
The steak and salad at the restaurant had filled him up, but his stomach rumbled at the idea of food. Perhaps a dessert and a cold drink would hit the spot. Snagging an empty barstool, he collapsed in it. “Do you have pie and iced tea, unsweetened?”
A tittering of laughter circled the room. “Do we have pie?” Norma asked placing her hands on her meaty hips. “Honey, we have apple pie, cherry pie, blueberry pie, pumpkin pie, and mincemeat pie.” She ticked the names off on her fingers. “Norma is known for her pie. Though considering Soda Spurs was founded on an apple orchard, people say my apple pie is the best.”
“You tell him, Norma,” the man in the far corner shouted, lifting his fork in the air in salute.
“I’ll have a slice of apple then.” Brent had never liked fruit pies, but there was no way he would pick something else and risk offending the woman.
She disappeared into the kitchen and returned with a large slice of apple pie on a white china plate. Tiny wisps of steam rose from the combination of cold whip cream against the warm crust, and the aroma of apples and cinnamon reached his nose before she even set the plate in front of him. Based on the smell, he feared the taste would be overpowering. A small silver fork appeared next to the plate, and then Norma stepped back, crossed her arms, and waited.
A furtive glance around revealed everyone in the room watching him. Nothing like tasting something with an audience hanging on your every move. He hoped it either would be fantastic or that he’d be able to maintain a poker face if it didn’t, for he believed they would throw him out if he showed any dislike for the pie. It was almost as if a stranger’s acceptance among this group hung on his or her reaction to the pie.
The fork slid through the dessert, and he raised it to his mouth. As the small portion hit his tongue, a burst of flavors exploded in his mouth. It was the best apple pie he had ever had, and his eyes widened in surprise. Cheers and clapping ensued as his lips turned up and he nodded before taking another bite. His reaction seemed to have appeased Norma as she then filled a cup with cold iced tea for him. Brent took a few long gulps before placing the cup back down. His throat felt as arid as the Sahara, but the cool liquid did its job.
“So, Fanny mentioned Sam’s. Is it much farther?” he asked between bites. He would regret finishing this pie the next time he hit the gym, but for now he didn’t care.
“Nah, it’s jest a little ways up past the gnarled tree,” the man to his right said. His denim overalls stretched across his large frame and a plain white t-shirt with visible sweat stains poked out. Day old stubble covered his face, and his hair was brown but thinning on top.
“Does it have a street name?”
“I reckon, but no one round here uses it, so I can’t rightly say I remember what it is.” He picked up a toothpick and chewed on it.
“Don’t mind Paul here.” Norma shot a look at the stout man. “This is the outskirts of Soda Spurs. The main town has street names. Sam’s is about a block up. If you get to Willow Street, you’ve gone too far.”
“Thanks.” He downed another gulp of tea and pushed the cleaned plate toward her. “How much do I owe you?”
Her hand flicked in dismissal. “First one’s on the house. I can’t have you passing out from hunger and dehydration. Marnie and Ernest would have my hide.”
Another laugh erupted, and Brent forced a smile though he did not understand what she meant. However, he knew from experience that small towns held many inside jokes.
“Well, thank you again.” His legs buckled as he stood and he had to grip the counter to remain standing. They were still a little rubbery from the long walk. The reprieve had been nice. When all the feeling came back into them, he raised his hand in a wave and headed out the door.
Scorching heat beat down on him again as he stepped out of the air-conditioned diner. He should have asked for a bottle of water, but it had sounded like this Sam’s place wasn’t much farther. Perhaps, he would have water.
As the gnarled tree came into view, Brent could see why they used it as a marker. It was grey and twisted as if cursed with some ancient magic, and nothing was around it. There was no street sign marker, so if it had a name, it was keeping it secret.
Down this street were a few houses, painted in tans and beiges. They almost blended into the background. Up ahead, the small converted shop appeared among the neighborhood houses. He couldn’t imagine the shop could hold more than one car at a time, but it probably didn’t need to. He hadn’t heard or seen a car driving in this town.
S A M‘ S was stenciled across the front door. As he pushed open the door, a bell jingled above his head announcing his arrival.
No one manned the cluttered counter, so he stepped into the large opening that led to the shop to the left. An old green Ford truck filled the space, and at the front of the truck, he spied two denim legs.
“Hello?” he asked. “I’m looking for Sam.”
The legs rolled out from under the car until the full person was exposed. His heart stalled in his chest. Sam was not the greasy male mechanic he expected, but a petite brunette, though she was sporting a grease smear across her cheek. Her dark blue jumpsuit was large and hung on her body, hiding the curves he imagined lay underneath.
“I’m Sam. What can I do for you?” She wiped her hand on a red towel she pulled from her pocket as she met his gaze. Her blue eyes reminded him of the sky when no clouds filled it.
“But … you’re a woman.” The shocked words spilled out of his mouth before he could stop them.
Her eyebrow inched up her forehead as her arms crossed. “Yeah, I’m a woman. You got a problem with that?”
He did, on so many levels. A woman could not possibly fix his Porsche, but he’d already ruffled her feathers. If nothing else, perhaps she would order whatever part he needed, and recommend a real mechanic.
Brent swallowed his pride and issued a lackluster apology. “No, I’m sorry. It’s … I was expecting a man.” Her sky-blue eyes continued to glare at him, waiting for a better explanation. “My car broke down outside of town, and I was hoping you could fix it or order a part or something.”
Her gaze traveled the length of his body as if sizing him up. “What kind of car?”
A snort escaped her mouth. “Figures.”
Irritation flared within him. “I beg your pardon?”
“Figures you would drive such an uppity car. I could tell by the way you’re dressed.”
He bit his tongue to keep the reply he wanted to spew back at her in check. A few hasty generalizations on her outfit and the fact that she lived in this small town flooded his mind, but he needed her help. With great effort, he swallowed the vinegar and opted to pour out honey instead.
“You got me. I live in Houston, but I was hoping to get away from the noise and relax. Can you help me?” He flashed his best puppy dog eyes at her, hoping they would work as well on her as they had on other women.
“Fine. I’ll look at your snobby car. Follow me.”
With a quick spin, she led the way through a back door where a faded blue Chevy truck waited.