Forever and Always(Riverbend, Texas Heat 4)

By: Marla Monroe

Chapter One

Lana Peters rested her pounding head against the steering wheel once she had parked the car in the parking lot. She was hot, tired, and ready to go home. She didn’t want to spend the next five hours on her feet dishing burgers to flighty teenagers and grouchy parents with screaming kids. She opened her eyes and sighed. As much as she hated this job, it helped pay her bills. She still had another four months of payments before she was free and clear of her school loans. Then she could start to back off of the second job.

Despite having a decent job as an administrative assistant at the local high school, Lana had to work the part-time gig at the local fast-food joint to help pay off her student loans. Even though she kept telling herself that once she had the loan paid off she would quit her second job, the reality was that she needed a newer car, one she would be able to depend on during the upcoming winter months. The only way she would be able to afford that would be to continue working at the fast-food job.

“You coming in or sitting out in the car all night?”

Lana jumped then grinned. Leave it to Joseph to startle her.

“I’m coming. What are you doing out here? Taking a break?”

“Picking up trash. Not much going on right now. Better hurry in before you’re late.”

She nodded and locked up the car before heading toward the entrance in the back. With Joseph outside, the door would be propped open. She slipped in the back way and punched in before Rick caught her. He didn’t like for them to come in that way. He wanted to know when they showed up. She adjusted her name badge as she stepped up front to locate her duty schedule for the night.

“Hey, Lana. You’re drive-thru tonight. Dee is sick.” Rick tossed her the drive-thru keys and headset.

She grimaced. She hated working drive-thru. That meant she would close the window and not get home much before 1:00 a.m. Remember, more money to pay bills. Reminding herself didn’t do a lot of good when her head already hurt and her feet ached.

She got to work, and by the time midnight hit and she could lock up the window for good, Lana was near tears. Her headache had morphed into a full-blown neck and shoulder ache as well. Her back and legs were useless noodles that threatened to fold on her at any given minute. She quickly cleaned up the area and counted down her drawer. For once she was right on the money and wouldn’t be filling out any extra paperwork.

“You ready to walk out?” Joseph asked when she emerged from the bathroom a few minutes later.

“Yeah. I’ve already clocked out. Let’s go.”

She followed Joseph to her car and waved him off when she was safely locked inside. She jabbed the key into the ignition and turned, expecting it to crank right up. Instead, she got nothing. It didn’t even make a clicking sound.

“God, not tonight. Please!” She tried again with the same result.

By that time, the parking lot was empty except for Rick’s pickup truck parked by the back door. She really didn’t want to have to walk across the empty parking lot to bang on the back door and ask for his help. He would take it the wrong way. He had been trying to get her to go out with him for months. She’d thought she had managed to convince him that she wasn’t interested, but that might all change if she ended up asking him for help.

She looked up and down the street in front of her. It was essentially empty. Her apartment was only a little over a mile away. She could walk that in only few minutes, right? Nothing ever happened around Riverbend, Texas. She would be fine. Glancing one last time at Rick’s pickup, Lana made up her mind and climbed out of the car. She grabbed her backpack purse and locked up the car. It wasn’t as if there was anything worth stealing in it. Just habit, she guessed.

The first few minutes of walking proved to be the worst. She jerked at every sound in the night air. Her legs and feet seemed made of lead, taking a monumental effort to get them to move. Eventually, she calmed down enough that by the time she was halfway home, she wondered why she hadn’t saved gas and walked to and from work before.

A dark-colored car pulled up beside her and the window rolled down.

“Need a ride?”

Lana didn’t recognize the voice, so she didn’t turn to look into the car. “No, thanks. I’m almost home now.” She walked a little closer to the buildings on her right.

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