2014 Finalist - Carolyn Readers Choice Award
Winners Announced in May. Fingers Crossed!
Here is the first chapter for your reading pleasure. If you enjoy Mountain Hero, it can be found at Amazon and Audible.com.
Michelle Starr searched for a spot to pull over along the snow-covered mountain road, as her car sputtered. Large wet flakes drifted downward at a leisurely pace, quickly cleared from her windshield by the swishing of her wipers.
Dangerous weather lay behind the outwardly calm and picturesque countryside. For days now, the weathermen had warned about an upcoming winter storm. But had she listened? Nooo! She smacked her forehead with her palm. Idiot!
As her car made a final, loud popping noise, she managed to limp it off to the side before the engine stalled completely. Now what would she do? She’d made a foolish mistake not waiting until morning to finish her trek up the Rocky Mountains to the cabin she’d rented for the week.
Michelle sniffled and wiped at a tear. Since breaking up with Bill only a few weeks before their wedding, she hadn’t been thinking too clearly.
How could he?
She was unable to banish the images from her brain of finding the cheating bastard with her best friend’s lips locked around his dick. That slut!
Caught up in humiliation and anger, she’d made reservations and headed out the following day. She’d hoped to get there before the worst of the storm arrived. Her car had just been serviced and the repairman promised she was good to go for another twenty-five thousand miles. Michelle glowered at the snow covering her windshield in a light blanket. She wanted a damn refund.
Her hands curled around the steering wheel as she furiously blinked away tears. She just wanted to get to her mountain retreat and lick her wounds for a little while, although she had to admit that breaking it off hadn’t upset her as much as it should have.
She’d been having doubts about their relationship for some time. But finding him with her ex-best friend, well, that stung.
Digging her cell phone from her purse, Michelle flipped it open. No cell service. Not even a little. She tossed the cell phone back in her purse with a groan. In a rush to get out of town before that rotten son of a bitch or cocksucking tramp could come begging for her forgiveness. Not interested in their apologies.
She hadn’t even told her family she was leaving. She’d planned to call her brother later tonight when she arrived. It was possible they wouldn’t even realize she was gone until tomorrow. When they did, it’d take Zack less than five minutes to track her down. He owned a small security firm, providing protection at high profile functions around the state, and political events. He was damn good at it. Michelle smiled wryly. The last time she’d seen Zack, he was storming out of her house to give Bill the ass kicking he so richly deserved.
The inside of the car grew colder, and a shiver rolled through her. A thickening layer of snow covered her windows and blocked out the afternoon light. She picked up her hip-length brown suede jacket from the seat next to her and put it on, along with the matching gloves, giving her outerwear a frown. Not exactly lost-on-a-mountain, snow-storm-ready clothing.
She opened the car door, bracing herself against the cold blast of wind, and stepped outside. Hunching her shoulders and stomping her feet, she wrapped her arms around her upper body in an attempt to stay warm. Michelle scanned the road in both directions, looking for any signs of life. But saw only the white covered landscape . . . beautiful and potentially deadly. Snow quickly wet her face and she blinked droplets from her lashes. What should she do? Stay in her car or go find help?
Stay in the car. Her sensible side pleaded.
Go for help. The scared-shitless part of her demanded.
Listening to her sensible side, she crawled back into the car. It was because of her emotional and sometimes reckless nature that she found herself in this predicament. Zack always told her to think first before reacting. And she tried. She really did. But her emotions always seemed to overpower her logic.
Her bottom lip quivered and tears gathered at her lashes. She rapidly blinked them away. Feeling sorry for herself wasn’t going to get her out of this mess.
Chilled to the bone, she tried to start the car again. The engine wouldn’t even turn over now, the sound of clicking indicating she was truly screwed. She knelt on the seat to reach the duffle bag she’d tossed in the back, digging for more layers of warmth.
“Yes!” She pulled out a thick sweater and extra socks. At least she’d taken time to pack right. Michelle shrugged out of her light jacket and pulled the sweater on over her blouse for extra protection against the cold, then put her jacket back on. She tugged the socks over the ones she already wore, then shoved her feet back into her tennis shoes. Hopefully they’d keep her feet warm enough.
Chilled to the bone, she tried one more time to start the car. Nothing. She heaved out a disgusted breath that fogged the air. Wrapping her arms around herself in a futile attempt to stay warm, she sat there for about half an hour, growing colder and colder by the minute. Time was fast running out. A sense of doom filled her, mixing with her fear until she was in a nearly panicked state. If she stayed here, would she freeze to death before someone found her? She remembered reading of such things in the news. But if she went for help, and there were no homes nearby, she would die for sure.
The sound of the whistling wind prompted her to make a decision. It’d be dark in a couple hours, if she was going to do it, she’d better go now. There were no nearby homes from the direction she’d come. So she’d follow the road past the curve she’d seen in front of her before her car pooped out, while there was still enough light left to guide her. Maybe there would be homes on the other side of the curve. If not, she’d turn back to the car and wait until morning. It’d be a long, miserable night, but she didn’t think she’d actually freeze to death if she stayed inside the vehicle. At least that was what she hoped. If she got lucky, maybe someone would come along and help her.
Michelle glanced at the sky and zipped her jacket up as far as it would go, and thought longingly about the scarf she’d forgotten on the table at home.
Here goes nothing. Opening the door, she again stepped into the wintry storm, which immediately took her breath away and chilled her to the bone.
Maybe this isn’t such a good idea after all.
She swallowed her fear and doubt and slowly trudged down the road. Her hair whipped around her face and she lost track of time. She concentrated on putting one foot in front of the other as the cold penetrated her clothing. Her light jeans were little protection against the frigid weather and her legs were a block of ice, shivers wracking her body.
The snow had let up, but the wind had grown even colder. And it seemed a very long time before she reached the curve, and the last few hundred yards took an eternity.
Finally, she rounded the bend and peered into the distance, then closed her eyes as despair washed over her. Nothing but miles of road loomed before her. A long, lonely stretch, offering her no assistance. A sob shook her and she bit her bottom lip to stop from giving in to tears. If she started crying, she wasn’t sure she’d be able to stop. They’d find her frozen body along the side of the road in the morning. She needed to get back to her car.
Michelle gripped her jacket tight under her chin to keep out the wind chill. She started to turn around to make the long walk back when she spotted something in the distance. A car? The object grew larger, moving toward her.
Her heart raced as she ran as fast as her cold legs would carry her toward the oncoming beam of fog lights, and what might be her only hope of rescue. When the car drew near she waved her arms in the air, barely noticing the tears on her numb cheeks.
The car slowed and a powerful relief flowed through her as the small, four-door sedan pulled to the side of the road.
Two men stepped from the vehicle, and a sense of unease penetrated through her relief. The driver wore a black leather jacket and a mean expression. A blue bandana was wrapped around the top of his bald head. The other man exiting the car wasn’t dressed for the cold weather at all, with a ragged jean-jacket and a backward baseball cap. His hair was also close-cropped, and she could see a jagged scar covering one side of his face.
Oh shit! She took a quick step back, her body tensing to run back to her car and lock the doors.
“Well, what do we have here,” the driver said, as he approached her. His hard eyes pinned her like a bug on a stick.
The other man walked around to her back, effectively caging her between them. His hand fisted into her hair.
Michelle bit back a whimper as terror filled her. She was in bad trouble.
Jason Taylor glanced down at the radio, searching for some rock music to help keep him awake as he headed home after a long shift at the Fire Station. Two house fires and a four-car pile-up had kept him hopping. Thankfully there’d been no serious injuries, this time. Not all nights ended as well.
When he looked back up he spotted a car sitting along the side of the road.
What the hell?
The snow had stopped for the moment, but eight more inches were expected before morning. By the amount of snow covering the car, he figured it’d been sitting there for at least half an hour. He left his truck running and rushed over to the vehicle, wiping the snow from the driver’s side to peer inside. A purse lay on the front seat.
He studied the ground around the car and saw a set of small footprints heading down the road. Jason ran back to his truck and climbed inside, spinning the truck tires as he pulled back onto the road. This was a light trafficked area during snowstorms, most folks having the sense to remain inside. There wasn’t a house to be found for at least twenty miles in either direction.
When he rounded the curve, tension stiffened his spine. Along the side of the road, two men had a woman trapped between them. Anger tightened his jaw. Their large frames towered over her in an intimidating manner. Even from this distance he could see she didn’t want to be there. He pulled the truck off the road near them. She was slim, about five-five with long wet hair that reached to the middle of her back. She was shivering and looked like she’d been in the storm for a while.
All three heads turned his way. For a moment, his entire focus shifted to the sight of tears staining the smooth complexion of a very frightened and beautiful woman. The fear shining from her eyes hit him like a punch to the gut and a strong surge of protectiveness filled him. His eyes narrowed as his gaze slid back to the men restraining her.
A leather-jacketed asshole gripped her wrist, while an ugly piece-of-shit with a scar across his cheek held a handful of her hair.
Bastards. He wanted to break their necks for touching her.
With nothing in the truck to use as a weapon, he swung his door open and stepped to the ground. Not wanting to do anything that would get her hurt, he kept his manner easy and unthreatening, needing to get close enough to protect her before any shit hit the fan. And he could tell by the meanness in the men’s eyes that shit was definitely going to hit the fan. And soon.
Jason approached slowly, making an attempt to appear non-threatening. He came to a stop only an arms’ length away. “Trouble?”
The woman tried to wrench from their grip. “Please help me,” she pleaded, white puffs forming when her warm breath hit the cold air. Her soft, musical voice touched a part of him that hadn’t been touched in a very long time.
Whoa! Focus, dumb ass.
Scar-face jerked her hair. “Shut up, bitch,” he snarled.
The woman gave a pained gasp. Tears glistened in her eyes, though she bravely blinked them away. She looked delicate, and her soft shuddering breaths enflamed every one of his protective instincts.
Jason clenched his hands at his side, and the urge to do a little damage to the guy rose swiftly inside him. Barely managing to force down his anger and uncurl his fingers, he needed to play it smart if he was going to get her out of this unharmed. Although he didn’t see a weapon on either of them, he couldn’t be sure of that.
As Leather-jacketed guy released her wrist and shifted his body toward him, Jason went into fight mode. His body tensed, his mind methodically working through his method of attack. First, he had to free the woman so she could get to his truck. Then he was going to take these bastards down—one by one.
“This doesn’t concern you,” Scar-face said with a sneer. “Get back in your truck and drive away.”
Jason remained in a relaxed stance, reaching up to thoughtfully rub his jaw. “I’m afraid I can’t do that.” He gave the woman a quick comforting smile, then dropped his hand to his side. Straightening to his full height, he returned his attention to the assholes. His eyes narrowed. “Not without the girl.”
Tension thickened the air as the wind kicked up and the snow began falling again, whipping around them like a white cyclone. There was a long moment where nobody moved, barely breathed.
Then everything exploded into motion. Leather-jacketed guy leapt toward him.
Jason was prepared for the attack. When the man swung his arm toward him, Jason charged, like the ex-football linebacker he was, and tossed the guy over his shoulder in one smooth move. The punk landed hard behind him. The woman, proving she was no dainty flower, turned her head and bit the arm of the prick still gripping her hair.
“Fuck!” Using her long hair, Scar-face tossed her to the ground. Jason’s fury escalated at the sound of her pained cry, and he landed a sharp blow to the man’s face and sent him reeling.
“Get into the truck, sweetheart,” Jason yelled, turning to block Scar-face who was now on his feet and rushing toward him.
The guy tackled him and they fell to the ground. This man was big, but Jason was bigger. He used his superior strength to keep them in a roll until he was on top, then sat up and straddled the thug’s waist, raining heavy blows to his face, one after another.
Then Leather-jacket guy wrapped his arm around Jason’s neck and wrenched him off Scar-face. But the guy didn’t get up.
He struggled with Leather-jacket guy, whose meaty arm was cutting off his airflow. He brought his elbow back and jabbed the bastard hard in the stomach, managing to loosen his grip enough to breathe. Preparing to make his next move and break the hold, Jason heard the man curse and released his hold on Jason’s neck.
Jason spun around. He couldn’t help grinning when he saw the beautiful little thing he was determined to rescue hanging onto the piece of shit’s back. Her hands covered his face, digging her fingers into the punk’s eyes.
All Jason’s humor vanished when the man reached around and grabbed her shoulder and flung her to the ground, then bent over and rubbed at his eyes.
“Goddamn, bitch! I’m going to kill you for that,” Leather-jacketed guy threatened in a pain-filled snarl.
Like hell! Jason sprang forward and scooped the stunned woman off the ground and into his arms, noting in the same instant that Scar-face was no longer lying on the ground. He glanced over and saw him standing next to the open passenger car door, reaching inside to retrieve something.
The man pulled out a pistol. Jason pivoted toward the truck, but the other man blocked his path. Scratches covered both cheeks where the woman had raked her nails across his face. He had murder in his eyes.
The woman trembled, her arms wrapped tightly around his neck. She was light as a feather and felt fragile in his arms. Every muscle in his body tightened, as determination clenched his jaw. It was up to him to save her. But if he didn’t get them out of there in the next five seconds, they were both dead.
With no other options, he turned and bolted into the woods only a short sprint behind him. The pop-popping of the asshole’s gun split the air as he took a shot at them. Jason ducked behind a tree, his fury mounting at the sound of bullets impacting the hardwood. The woman buried her face into his neck, her panicked breaths warm on his skin.
He scanned the wooded area for a place to hide her, while he went back to deal with the thugs who’d attacked them. The wind was picking up and howling through the trees, the snow now falling with a punishing force.
The gunfire stopped and one of the men shouted, “Get the truck and let’s get the hell out of here.”
“I want that bitch,” the other snarled.
“Later, man. Let’s go!”
The sound of vehicles pulling away indicated they’d stolen his brand-new, Ford F-150 truck that he’d saved up over a year to purchase. Son of a bitch!
Eyeing some shelter for the woman, he made his way over to a small area between a cluster of trees that looked as if it could protect her from the wind and snow, at least a little.
“I need you to stay here, while I check things out.” Jason knelt and placed her on the driest spot he could find. She clung to him, her arms tightening. He knew she was terrified, possibly in shock, but he needed to try and save their ride. If they were caught out in the monster storm heading their way, they were in deep shit.
“Honey,” he said, tugging her arms from around his neck. “I have to go.” As he pulled her away from him and met her frightened gaze, his gut twisted. He didn’t want to leave her, but he had no choice. There was a good chance he’d be able to fix her car, and he needed to secure it before those pricks disabled it completely. “I’ll be back for you, I promise.”
She took a shuddering breath, but she nodded and pulled her knees to her chest. He briefly cupped her cheek. “Atta girl.”
He stood and raced back out of the woods. Keeping to the tree line, he ran in the direction of her car. As he rounded the curve, he saw his truck alongside the disabled vehicle and Scar-face standing next to both. Jason slowed and hugged the trees as he made his way closer. His stomach sank when the son of a bitch walked around the car and shot out all four tires, and all the windows, reaching through the shattered passenger window to retrieve what looked like a purse and duffle bag from the front seat, before climbing back into Jason’s truck and taking off.
By now, the snowstorm was raging. The wind cut through him like a sharp blade, all the way to the bone. Goddamn it! They were in some serious trouble.