Read Love for Beginners: An Under the Hood Novella Online

Authors: Sally Clements

Tags: #Romance, #Single Authors, #playboy, #Short Stories, #Series, #fling, #cindi madsen, #small town romance, #Marina Adair, #Contemporary, #sweet romance, #boss, #opposites attract, #julia london, #mechanic, #Catherine Bybee, #Single Author, #novella, #reformed, #Literature & Fiction

Love for Beginners: An Under the Hood Novella (5 page)

BOOK: Love for Beginners: An Under the Hood Novella
6.23Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

Betty’s eyebrow rose. An impressive trick he’d often wished to master.

If she’d been talking to the old Heath she’d have had a point, but experience had taught him a lesson he’d never forget. “Maybe once upon a time, I would have been,” he admitted grudgingly. “No longer. I know there’s no way to be lovers without emotions getting involved. And I know there’s no damn way I’d hurt her.”

Maybe he’d always known it, but putting voice to his thoughts set his convictions in stone. If they were going to go ahead with these getting-used-to-a-man’s-touch lessons, she better understand the ground rules going in. He’d been the cause of a woman’s tears before.
Never again

Heath glanced back at Betty.

Her watchful eyes had softened, maybe recognizing the honesty of his response. “She means a lot to me,” she said softly. “And she looks like she’s bulletproof…”

“But she’s got a marshmallow center. Yeah, I get that.” He rubbed his hands on a rag hanging from the pocket of his overalls. “Believe me, I won’t hurt her.” He could have explained his life wouldn’t be worth living if he did—his sister would have his hide for sure, but the truth was a lot more profound. Mel was safe. There was no way in hell he’d break another woman’s heart.

Though she might just break his.

Chapter Five

It had been a hell of a week. Mel had done everything possible to avoid Heath since that day in the garage. Of course, there were legitimate reasons for working at home on paperwork, and at a push, it was reasonable that she’d volunteer for all of the jobs outside the office, too. She’d been so distracted she hadn’t even cared when the realtor had told her the latest interested party hadn’t gotten mortgage approval and they’d have to keep looking for a buyer. Betty’d tried to question her about what exactly was going on between her and Heath, but Mel had managed to fudge her answers and brush it off.

She hadn’t been totally honest in the moments before she kissed him in the garage. She’d said she only wanted to learn how to fake it, but there had been more than logic driving her. There had been curiosity. It wasn’t his fault, but things had changed when she kissed him. Instead of the usual shudder, she’d felt as though she wanted more, as though she wanted to feel him kissing her back.

When she was young and stupid, she’d rebelled against her mother’s advice to choose with her head, not her heart, and after her first disastrous sexual experience, had suffered the heartbreaking pain of rejection when he moved on to the next girl. After that, she vowed to do things differently. To guard herself.

She’d chosen men to date who she thought would be reliable and honest—with her head, not any other part of her anatomy. Men who didn’t make her feel breathless and aroused, fearful of losing control and risking her heart.

And now, she and Heath were sneaking off to the cabin for the weekend. Two whole days alone with a man she had no hope of resisting. Mel groaned as she flung her closet door open wide.

She felt so damn confused. Other women had sex-only relationships. Affairs with men they knew weren’t long-term prospects. Mom had always warned her against believing that was possible, but could she be wrong?

She was in the kitchen drinking coffee when the phone rang.

“Hey,” Alice said. “When are you leaving?”

Guilt tore at Mel’s gut. She’d asked Mark for the keys to the cabin—something she’d done before when she wanted to escape for the weekend—but hadn’t told either of them that Heath would be joining her.

“As soon as I’ve pulled my boots on,” Mel said.

“Um,” Alice’s voice sounded nervous. “I wanted to talk to you about Heath.”

Mel swallowed.
. She felt guilty already. “Uh-huh?”

“Listen, tell me to shut up if it’s none of my business, but Betty mentioned something about you and Heath and… Well, I’m not sure you and he would be good together. He’s had a lot of partners, and you…” She cleared her throat.

“I haven’t.” There was no reason why Alice’s words should make Mel’s stomach dive. “There’s nothing going on between me and Heath. He’s a nice guy, but he doesn’t do anything for me.”

A memory of that kiss flashed through Mel’s memory.
I practically jumped him
. Her lips tingled hot with the remembered warmth of his. She’d tried to deny it, but the feelings weren’t easy to shake off. Despite her protestations to the contrary, something about Heath affected her deeply. He did something for her, but if she said anything, Alice would never let up.

“I need to call in and see my mother.” Mel flicked the flashlight on, played the beam of light up the wall and then turned it off again. She rooted in the drawer for extra batteries. You could never be too careful.

“Heath’s going off to visit a friend for the weekend, so Mark and I are heading up to Chesapeake for the day. We can call in and check on her tomorrow night on our way back. I made some jam—I’ll bring her a jar.”

Mel placed the batteries she was clutching down on the countertop, hand resting on them for a moment as emotion welled up. “That would be really great.”

“Hey, anytime. I wanted to anyway.” Alice’s casual tone couldn’t hide the intent behind her words. She’d pretend it was nothing, but the fact that she’d call in and check on Mel’s mother—shouldering a responsibility that wasn’t hers—warmed Mel’s heart.

Friends like Mel and Betty were worth their weight in gold. She felt sort of bad, keeping them in the dark. “I haven’t been out in the wilderness for such a long time,” she said. “In a few months the weather will turn again, and I’ll have missed my chance. A long hike through the mountains, some fishing in the river, and fresh-caught fish for dinner cooked over a campfire—I couldn’t resist.”

Alice laughed. “You don’t have to cook on a campfire. The last time we were there we brought up a couple of new cylinders of gas. Or if you want to be really rustic and have the time, you can fire up the wood-burning stove.”

“That’s great. Thank Mark for letting me steal his haven.”

“Will do. See you Monday.” With that, Alice hung up.

It took longer than Mel’d expected to gather all of the things that she might need for a weekend in the mountains, but eventually she was ready to go. She called Heath, arranged a time for him to pick her up, then set off on foot to her mother’s house. The leafy street was mostly deserted, and the air was clean and crisp. The distant mountains were painted swallow blue, and not for the first time, her heart filled with joy at living so close to nature. The pace in Meadowsweet was slow, like the meandering river that flowed near the Jamesons’ cabin—but she wouldn’t have it any other way.

Mel breathed in deeply as her arms swung out, tips of her fingers combing the breeze. Hopefully Mom would have woken up in a good mood this morning, feeling some relief from the black well she’d been drowning in recently. All Mel’s life, her mother had been plagued with depression. Medication helped, but on occasion she was overwhelmed. When the company employing her as a secretary went out of business, Marcia had buried her head in the sand and missed the mortgage payments. Mel did her best, but she’d plowed her savings into Under the Hood, and business wasn’t generating enough money to cover the extra financial burden of her mother’s mortgage on top of paying off the garage earlier than they had originally intended.

Lost in thought, Mel covered the mile between their homes. With luck, her house would sell quickly. She’d economize by moving back home for a while, then hopefully find something cheap to rent. She pressed her lips together and rang the doorbell. They’d survive. They always had without anyone’s help, and they always would.

“Hey.” Marcia pulled the front door open. She was dressed, which was a good sign. So often these days she didn’t bother with that until after lunchtime. She clutched a cup of steaming red liquid. Mel breathed in—raspberry leaf, by the smell of it. “You’re up early. Come on in.”

Mel followed her mother through the cluttered house to the kitchen. The back door was open. “Do you want a cup?” Marcia held up her tea.

“I just had coffee.”

In the back garden, an open newspaper was spread out on the long wooden bench. Marcia settled herself back into the hollow she’d excavated in the worn foam cushion, and Mel sat down opposite. “It was too good a day to sit inside,” Marcia explained. “I thought I’d have breakfast out here.”

Mel nodded. There was a lightness to her mother today, and she felt some of the tension that had been locked tight inside release and float away in the sunshine.

“I’m going away for the weekend. Up to the Jamesons’ cabin.”

Marcia smiled. “I’m glad. How’s work?”

“Better.” Mel forced her smile not to waver. “Alice’s brother has come to work at the garage for a while. He’s standing in for her while her leg heals.”

“Is he married?” Marcia asked.

“He’s single, and he’s a good worker. We’ve caught up with the backlog of work with his help.”

Marcia’s eyes searched Mel’s face, and obviously didn’t like what they saw. “You’re not sweet on him, are you? You know you’ve got to be careful around men. Don’t go falling for one…” Her expression was one of a woman who’d mistakenly sucked slices of lemon instead of sweet slices of orange. “Men are dangerous.”

It was a familiar rant. One Mel had heard many times growing up. How you had to steer clear of men, had to protect yourself. One she’d never called her mother on, but now couldn’t just ignore. For years she’d hidden the hurt deep inside, not wanting to burden her fragile mother with her own pain. Now, she wanted and needed to know more.

She had no evidence of the sort of man her father had been except her mother’s fear and distrust. If she’d felt love for him, surely she wouldn’t warn her daughter about having anything to do with men? The familiar ache started in Mel’s heart, and tendrils of pain spiked to her stomach. It had been hard, growing up without a father. What sort of a man could abandon a woman pregnant with his child?

“Tell me about my father. Why did he leave?”

Marcia’s eyes widened. She stood up and smoothed down her dress with a shaking hand. “I don’t want to talk about it.” She picked up the cup from the table and walked inside.

Heath had read all about how the blue haze hanging over the mountains like a semitransparent veil was an atmospheric phenomenon, nothing more. It didn’t matter. His fingers itched to grab his camera from its case and start taking pictures.

Instead, he looked at Mel across the cabin of Alice’s battered old pickup.

Mel’s hair blew in the wind, like silken ribbons caught in an updraft. Dark glasses hid her eyes from view, but she was happy. Her lips were pursed, hollowing out her cheeks, and she whistled along with a country song on the radio. She’d been absent from the garage all week. He’d thought she must be avoiding him after that kiss, but today she seemed carefree. Maybe she’d just been busy.

“How long now?” They’d been driving through the mountains for an hour, each twist and turn opening up a new tempting vista. She’d even been persuaded to stop a couple of times, so he could snap a quick shot. It wasn’t nearly enough.

Mel pushed her sunglasses up atop her head, and glanced over. “It’s just around this bend.” She waved from the window. “The stream winds around the hills here, feeding into the river. Do you fish?”

Her gaze shot to his mouth, then back to his eyes. Her mouth widened into a smile. She shook her head gently from side to side. “All you want to do is take photographs, don’t you?” Her teasing tone was full of warmth. “Your body language is shouting at me. Your hands are clasped tight.”

He looked down. Yup, he’d linked his hands together and let them hang between his legs.

“That’s because you want to grab your camera, and you’re resisting.”

“Smart-ass.” She was pretty irresistible in this mood. Heck, she was pretty irresistible in any mood. “What else can you tell about my body language?” His gaze lingered on her lips.

“Um…well, I think…” A pink flush swept her cheeks. She pushed her hair back from her face with impatient fingers. “I think you’re hungry.”

He was. But not for food. There was no getting away from it; he was hungry for the taste of Mel’s lips. Maybe it was because the way she avoided his gaze hinted that there was no way they’d be messing around, this trip or any other. Although he didn’t think that he was so shallow that the thought of a challenge was enough to spark his libido to life. “I am.”

He forced himself to look out the window, seeking distraction by the wildlife. The pickup was stuffed with enough supplies they could camp out here for a month. Mel had been adamant that everything she’d brought was not just necessary, but vital. A crate of bottled water—she’d said that the large rain barrel by the back door couldn’t possibly be potable, that it would probably be okay boiled, but that they’d better bring water to be sure. She’d actually scoffed at his compact first aid kit, before flashing the large green kit that seemed to have everything Mercy Hospital would need—bar a saw for leg amputations.

No doubt there was one of those at the cabin.

“You’re smiling,” Mel said. “Private joke?”

He could tell her how he found it sort of endearing that she thought of every single detail and obsessed over it. That if it had been him, he would have tossed a crate of beers into the back together with a couple of cans of beans, filled up the tank with gas, and roughed it for the weekend.

Mel’s emerald eyes sparkled. Her skin glowed from being out in the sunshine, and for the first time he noticed a dusting of freckles across her nose.

“I’m just happy being out here with you.” And corny as it sounded, he meant it.

They hadn’t seen another car in miles. The pickup slowed, tires crunching on rough ground as it veered off the main road down a grassy track that led into the woods.

“This is it.”

A canopy of evergreens stretched overhead, like a leafy umbrella shading them from the sun. “You’re right; I never would have found this.”

Twin grooves of hard-packed dirt showed the route traveled for decades by others. Grass grew down the track’s center, not long enough to brush against the bottom of the pickup, but there was no way the Prius would have made it.

“The shack is up there.” She waved a hand to the left, where a rocky formation rose sharply.

Heath itched to hike straight on out to discover it.

She ran the steering wheel top to bottom through her hands in a casual caress that reminded him how those hands had felt on his body.

“The last time we were up here, we went out in the middle of the night to watch bats.”

Heath grinned. He’d brought his night-vision camera.

“We’re here.” Mel turned the wheel, circling in a wide arc. She cut the engine and it faded into silence. Before them was a plain wooden building, so washed-out and bleached by the sun it seemed to be part of the woodland nestled in a stand of pines. Rough planks formed steps to the deck. Grass and wildflowers choked the ground, grew up between the slats. It looked just as it must have a hundred years ago, when the cabin was first built.

Mel’s door swung open. “Welcome to Jamesons’ Cabin.”

BOOK: Love for Beginners: An Under the Hood Novella
6.23Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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