Brazilian. I cursed the word. Not the Brazilian people, of course, but the waxing procedure some sadistic a-hole invented. And I cursed Amy for introducing me to the concept and talking me into undergoing the Machiavellian procedure. My tender vittles hurt.

I shifted uncomfortably in the truck seat as I drove towards home.

For that matter, my everything hurt.   I’d had the incredibly un-brilliant idea that if I doubled up on workouts for the past few days I’d work off an inch or two before my appointment to be measured by Jenna McAllister today. 

Insecurities had gotten the better of me and I’d woken up, an hour earlier than usual, and hit the gym.  The mistake had been that instead of my regular yoga routine and half an hour on the treadmill, I’d opted for weight training.  By the time my morning class ended a couple of hours later, my whole body ached.  Then the fiasco at the spa had happened.

It had been such a stupid plan, and not just because you can’t lose weight that fast, or because I had no idea if it had worked—I didn’t know what my measurements had been to start out with.  It had been ridiculous because I measured what I measured, and it didn’t matter.  I’d just been so caught up in nerves at the idea of standing in front of petite Jenna in nothing but my underwear with my everything hanging out. 

But my fears had put to rest when I showed up at Jenna’s house and found her in yoga pants, a baggy University of Tennessee sweatshirt that had seen better days, with her hair hastily pulled into a scrunchy on the top of her head.  She’d ushered me into her home office which had probably been a sunroom at one time, but was now packed with sewing machines, sewing mannequins, and scraps of fabric coating every flat surface. 

Rather than the awkward happening I’d expected, it hadn’t been much different than trying on clothes at the mall with Amy.  Except for the relative stranger touching my half-naked body.  But even that hadn’t felt as weird as I thought it would. Her warm smile and chattiness while she wrapped a measuring tape around various parts of my body and wrote down numbers, made me oddly comfortable.  Well, as comfortable as I could be with a burning crotch and screaming muscles. 

It had actually been the most pleasant part of this crap day.  I was tired and cranky and still had a couple of hours of studying to do before I could sink chin deep into a hot bath with epsom salt and lavender oil.  But at least the worst part of the day was over.

Suddenly the the truck jerked and a loud, rhythmic thwack, thwack, thwack, sounded. 

Of, course.  I just had to think the day couldn’t get worse.  Idiot.

I maneuvered the aging Bronco over to the side of the road and hopped out and went around to the other side of the truck to see exactly what I expected.  The right rear tire was flat as a pancake.  I knelt beside the tire and ran my hand over it finding a nail.  It wasn’t great, but it wasn’t the end of the world, either.  It wouldn’t be too expensive to fix.

Sighing I opened up the back end, shoved over the groceries I’d just bought, and pulled out the tools I’d need.  I set out the safety reflective triangles, then got to work changing the tire.  Once I was done I loaded the flat tire in the back, first shifting the groceries to the backseat, then I let the jack down,and watched as the truck slowly started listing to the side again.  Hell and damnation! The spare tire was flat.

I stomped back to the front of the truck and grabbed my phone to call roadside assistance, but the screen was blank.  Of course I’d forgotten to charge it.  Because why should anything at all go my way.

I grabbed my backpack off the seat and slammed the door, just hard enough to make me feel a little better. I went around to the back, standing off the road and staring at the stupid flat tire while contemplating whether or not to try to carry groceries with me as I walked home to get Dex.  I’d just decided it was cold enough not to worry about milk spoiling when a small SUV whooshed by, stopped several yards ahead, then backed up.

Oh, good, maybe I could use their cell and call Dex to come get me.  I started towards car but stopped short when the driver’s door opened and Alden Courtland stepped out.  How, I mean, really, how in the actual fuck was this guy here at this very moment?  It’s like I casually passed him by on campus all year, and suddenly in the past few days he’s every fucking place I turn.

“Having trouble with your truck?” He asked, joining me next to the truck. 

“Nah, I just like standing on the side of the road in the cold and snow,” I growled, because of course soft, icy flakes had started drifting out of the sky.

“Wow, cranky much?” He asked, his grin never faltering.

I shrugged.  “Sorry, having one of those days.  To answer your question, yes, I’m having trouble.  I’ve got a flat and my phone is dead so I can’t call roadside assistance, and I have groceries in the back.” 

“No need to call a service truck, I’ll change your tire.  Is the spare in the back?”

He started towards the tailgate, but I put a hand on his arm, halting him. 

“Dude, I’m a southern woman driving a truck as old as I am.  I know how to change a tire.  I already did, actually.  That’s the spare.” I pointed to the saggy tire.

He laughed.  “Seriously?”

I gave another shrug, but this time I grinned.  “I said I knew how to change a flat tire, not that I remembered to keep the spare aired. If you can just let me use your phone I can call a tow-truck to have this thing towed to the service station and my roommate, Dex, to come get me.”

“I thought Amy was your roommate.”

“She is, I have two.”

“Oh.” I could tell he wanted to ask if Dex was my boyfriend, but he kept quiet. He pulled his phone out of his back pocket and handed it to me.  Fumbling in my wallet, I found my insurance card and called the number.  It just took me a few minutes to arrange for the truck to be picked up.  It was going to be two hours before they can get to it, so the operator instructed me to put the key under the seat and leave the passenger side unlocked.

I hung up, but before I can dial Dex’s number Alden stopped me.

“Don’t worry about calling your roommate, I can take you home.”

“Oh, you don’t have to do that,” I protested.

“I know, but I want to.  It doesn’t make sense for you to sit in the cold while your roommate has to drop what he’s doing and come out here when I’m already out here with  you.  We can load your groceries in the back of my truck.”

That really did make sense. “Okay. Thanks.”

It takes us a few trips to get the groceries from my truck to his.  “You have a lot of groceries,” he says.

“We have three people in the house, and Dex can eat enough for three people on his own.  Be happy this wasn’t next week when I’ll also be shopping for my grandpa.  Those are some big grocery days.”

“You do your grandpa’s grocery shopping?” he asks as we get into his SUV and pull away. 

I give him directions to my house then answer his question.  “Yeah.  He lives in his hunting cabin up in the mountains and doesn’t like coming down too often.  I take him groceries and stuff every two weeks.  Luckily this wasn’t his week, or he’d be screwed.  I won’t drive up there when it’s snowing.”

“I don’t blame you.  I grew up in New York, so I’m no stranger to snow.  But the roads around here are nothing like in the city.  They are all so curvy and narrow.”

“Yep.  And the tiniest bit of ice makes them even more dangerous.  You have to be careful if you don’t know what you’re doing.”

“I’ll be okay. Danger doesn’t scare me, and I think I can handle myself on curves okay.”

His voice had dropped and octave and I was suddenly not so sure we were still talking about roads.  A little flustered I gulped in air, then let it out, when I saw my house in the distance.  “Turn right there,” I said, happy to end the conversation that seemed on the verge of starting.

As soon as he pulled the car to a full stop I hopped out.  “Thanks so much for the ride.  Give me just a minute and I’ll have Dex help me unload the groceries.”

I ran up to the house and stuck my head inside and yelled, “Dex, groceries.  Right now, I had a flat and had to get a ride home.”

By the time I’d made it back to the truck Alden had the tailgate open and was pulling bags out.  Dex came bounding up behind me and I made quick introductions. 

“Nice to meet you, dude,” Dex said as he grabbed two handfuls of grocery bags and went inside. 

I reached out to take the bags Alden had in his hands, but he ignored me and followed Dex inside. I glared after him, then doubled up on bags so I could get all of them, and went inside.  When I reached the kitchen the two guys were talking about video games.

“Yeah, I have the new one of that.  I can bring it over some time to play.  It’s pretty awesome.”

“Sounds cool,” Dex said.

I grunted and hefted my bags on the counter, pulling their attention my way.  “That’s all of the groceries.  Thanks for the ride, Alden.”

He grinned.  “You’re welcome.  I’d stay and see how far my welcome extends before you kick me out, but I’ve got somewhere to be soon.  I’ll see you at teh photo shoot.”

“Okay, see you then.”

He turns to Dex, “Layla has my number.  Get it and text me and we’ll hang.”

Dex nodded.  “See ya, bro.”

When I heard the front door shut I turned to Dex.  “Bro?  You sure chummied up to him quick.”

Dex’s face screwed up in confusion.  “Seems like a cool guy, what’s the issue?”

I let out a sigh.  “There isn’t one. I’m just cranky and I hurt in places I didn’t even want to know I had. Can you put the groceries away?  I need to go take a bath.”

Without waiting for his reply, I headed up stairs to a date with my tub and a bottle of lavender oil.  Studying could wait.

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