Sweet Susie Sweet(The Tough Ladies Book 2)By: Katie Graykowski
* * *
Susie Sweet never missed a morning run—even when her foot ached from the broken bone she’d gotten at the Cozumel Ironman. Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night nor—she touched her frizzy ponytail—early morning humidity would stay her twelve-mile run. She was just like the post office, only she didn’t have anything to deliver and she ran seven days a week. And now that she thought about it, she’d never run in the snow, mainly because Austin didn’t really have any. But she had run in the rain—although not too often, because it didn’t rain much here either. Once, she had run in a tornado, but it was only an F0 and she hadn’t seen the funnel cloud touch down. She’d thought it was just windy until she’d gotten home and turned on the news.
She loved running. It was her passion. It was better than a ganache-covered fudge brownie sundae. Hooray, running! As long as she kept repeating that over and over, she told herself, then her foot wouldn’t hurt.
The truth was, she didn’t love running, but she did love donuts and fried chicken and ice cream. If she didn’t run, people would start confusing her butt with a billboard. On the plus side, she could always rent out advertising space on her backside.
It might be nice to have something to fall back on when she retired from teaching eighth-grade science. It would be ass-vertising. She would make a fortune selling bum-per stickers. That was an idea she could get behind. It was an industry rear-ing to go. She would get in on the bottom floor.
She loved puns almost as much as her eighth graders loved them.
Up ahead, tail lights flashed on the side of the road. She looked around. There was no one for miles. That was one of the reasons she loved running down this two-lane road—usually, she had it all to herself. Having watched one too many horror movies, she was hesitant to stop and help a stranger at—she checked her Apple Watch—4:24 a.m., but if she were broken down somewhere, she hoped someone would stop and help her.
She was sure that whoever was in the car was harmless. It was too early for any self-respecting serial killer to be out. The only people who were up at this time of the day were ranchers, unlucky delivery drivers who’d pulled the early shift, and drunk frat boys who’d wandered off campus.
And triathletes who didn’t have time to train during the day.
Unless … the serial killer was an early bird. After all, the early bird kills the worm.
If she weren’t on the downhill stretch of her twelve miles, she could probably outrun him if he came after her with an ax. Did serial killers still use axes? It didn’t seem like a very efficient way to kill, and it would be overly messy. In any case, if he tried to murder her, she would scratch his face, getting his DNA under her fingernails, and then run away. Adrenaline was an amazing chemical. It had allowed her to run on her broken foot for five miles before she had noticed that it was hurting.
Still, she couldn’t leave a possible non-serial-killer stranded on the side of the road. There was no cell reception here, even from that company that promised ninety-nine percent coverage in the US. Apparently, the one percent was right here.
At least she got to be in the one percent of something.
As she got closer, she could hear the radio. The driver had the window rolled down and Pink was belting out “Beautiful Trauma.” It was too dark to see the car’s make and model, but it looked new and expensive. Not wanting to scare the possible serial killer, she banged on the trunk.
“Hey!” The driver sounded startled.
“Is everything okay?” Carefully she approached the window but tried to stay far enough away that she was out of ax-swinging range.
“Thank God. You’re the first person I’ve seen in hours.” The voice was male and vaguely familiar. “I have a flat tire and I can’t get ahold of roadside assistance.”
He opened the door and the dome light came on.
She looked down into the caramel-colored eyes of Dane Bennett, Hollywood’s favorite rom-com leading man.
She was about to ask, “Come here often?” but then she thought better of it. He was probably used to women throwing themselves at him and making silly jokes. It was better to just keep things professional. “Can I help in some way?”
“I hope so. My cell doesn’t have a signal and the GPS says the closest highway intersection is seven miles away.” He sounded stressed out.
“Is your car missing the spare?” She walked back to the trunk.
He got out and followed her to the back of the car. “No idea. My assistant always handles the car stuff. Don’t you need a jack or something too? Would that be in the trunk?” He didn’t sound pompous or entitled to being served; he just sounded like he had no idea what was involved in changing a tire. “I tried to google how to change a tire, but I don’t have service.”
“Well, let’s see if we can figure it out.” She could more than figure it out. Growing up on a ranch, she’d changed many a tire and tinkered with many an engine.
“Really? Are you sure? Maybe we should just wait for AAA or the rental car company to send someone. Maybe my agent will send out a search party.” He made that sound like the most sensible plan ever.
“Were you able to contact anyone?” She knelt down and felt around under the car, looking for the spare.
There was silence while he thought about it. “Now I see the flaw in my plan.”
“Yeah, AAA doesn’t do telepathy yet. Maybe next year.” She turned on her watch’s flashlight app and shone the light around the undercarriage. There was nothing but undercarriage. She rolled back on her knees.
He turned his hundred-watt smile on her. If memory served, it was currently selling toothpaste and boxer shorts. He bent down and held out his hand. “I’m Dane, by the way.”
“I’m Susie.” She returned the smile and shook his hand.
He held her hand just a tad too long. “Nice to meet you.”
“Nice to meet you too.” She glanced down at their linked hands. Should she pull her hand away? “The spare’s not under the car. Let’s pop the trunk.”
He seemed to notice he was still holding her hand and let go.
He walked back to the driver’s-side door. “Any ideas where the trunk lever would be?”
“What kind of car is this?” She was merely curious. It wasn’t like she had the location of every car’s trunk-popping lever memorized. She hopped to her feet.
“It’s a Tesla Model X. Hold up, the key fob fell between the seats.” He knelt down and felt under the seat, giving her a nice view of the butt that sold boxer shorts. “Got it.”
Thank God for the dome light. It would have been a real shame to miss seeing his famous butt up close and in person.
She went back to the trunk and waited for it to open.
He followed her back and clicked the fob. The hood popped open.
“Sorry, that’s the frunk.” He hit another button and the trunk slowly lifted.
“I guess a frunk is a front trunk?” The only frunk she’d ever seen or heard of was on a VW Beetle. “You know what they always say: two trunks are better than one.”
Dane grinned. “I don’t believe you. No one but you has ever said that.”
“Have you ever read A Tale of Two Trunks? ‘It was the best of trunks, it was the worst of trunks.’ You know what else they say: double the trunks, double the fun. Hey, what do you get when you cross an elephant and a Tesla X?”
He shook his head, still grinning. “I can’t believe I’m going to ask this, what?”
“Triple the trunk space.” It was her turn to shake her head. “Not my best work, I’ll admit.” She launched the flashlight app again and shone the light around the trunk. She pulled up the carpeting, but there was only a little plastic box underneath. She felt around in the trunk. “I don’t get it. You don’t have a spare tire.” She picked up the box. “Maybe it’s a Tony Stark spare?”
“You think Iron Man might be in there ready to change tires?” He grinned like he was having fun despite the circumstances.
“No, you know, a Tony Stark spare—like you push a button and the box turns into a tire.” She pushed the button on the top of the box.
Dane stepped back like he thought it might be a bomb.
The top of the box popped open.
She shone her watch light on it. “It’s a bottle of tire sealant and a small air compressor.” She shone her light on his shredded tire. “Yeah, I don’t think that’s going to work. Why would this car not have a spare? I’m sure this car was expensive. You would think Elon Musk could have forked over the hundred bucks for a spare.”
Dane shoved his hands in his pockets. “I can ask him next time I see him. His house is next to mine in the Caicos. He’s a pretty nice guy.” He didn’t sound arrogant about it—just matter-of-fact.
“At the next neighborhood barbecue, you should definitely ask him why he was too cheap to put a spare in this car.” She tossed the tire repair kit into the trunk and closed it. “I don’t suppose you’d let me take your rental car apart and see how it works?” She threw him her biggest smile in case that helped him make the decision.