READ EXCERPT - For Pete's Sake
FOR PETE'S SAKE by Linda Windsor
Piper Cove Chronicles Book 2
by: Linda Windsor
My buddy Alex Butler, or rather Alex Turner claims our yutzi senior class play brought our little group of friends together. It wasn’t Mame, although there is a lot of truth about us in that Bosom Buddies song. Only real friends will love you warts and all and tell you the truth, even when it hurts. But I kind of see us as The Four Musketeers, rather than Mame’s Depression-spawned ditzy rich woman, her floozy friend, and company. All for one and one for all.
Nope. We four happened on the infamous Night of the Flat Tire. My bud Jan Kudrow and I were on our way home from an away football game in Cambridge in the incredible, hand-me-down 1967 Chevy Camaro that Pop and I restored, when we turned onto Three Creek Road and there it was—Alex’s metallic red Corvette with a V-8 that purred like a tiger kitten in idle and roared in gear like Mama cat. And there she was, the President of Decatur High’s Senior class, pinned by a spare tire like a turtle on its back, arms and legs flailing.
It wasn’t until Jan and I managed to compose ourselves from laughing and got out of the car that we realized the problem—or one of them. Our president smelled like a brewery and had been wrestling for some time with that tire. Frankly, I was impressed that she managed to jack the car up and take the flat one off without injury. As we helped Alex up, Firestone black streaking her white designer jeans and turquoise sweater, the most god-awful sound came from the other side of the car, where Sue Ann Quillen—now Wiltbank—retched miserably into the ditch. Trust me, Miss Worcester County, was no beauty queen that night. Oh, the dumb things we do when we’re young and a prayer short of saved.
Anyway, these wayward Cinderellas were in big trouble. Grounded by her parents, who were at a shindig in Ocean City, Alex had to be home before they arrived at midnight. So, while Jan helped Sue Ann get herself together, I changed the tire. Piece of cake. And boy, was it sweet. These girls wouldn’t have given Jan and me the time of day before that night. But they owed us now. I drove them to the Butler place before the clock struck midnight with Jan following. Alex said she owed me big time and I never let her forget it. That night, Jan and I were surprised to find both Alex and Sue Ann were okay and I think they were just as surprised about us. Face it--rich, poor, or in between, we were all in the same boat of life, and we’ve been bailing each other out of swamping storms and dangerous dips ever since.
Oh, and as for Alex owing me, she really didn’t. My greatest dream had come true. To sit behind the wheel of a new Corvette and drive that little darling down the back roads to Piper Cove. What a ride. What a car!
What a car! A 2007 Atomic Orange Metallic Corvette swept past Ellen Brittingham’s motorcycle as though in flight. It was the four-wheeled American eagle of the road, in a class all its own. Her pulse, already thrumming as she rode in the saddle of her new Harley Davidson, shot into an even higher gear. Ellen had been watching its approach in the rearview mirrors as she rode past green pastures that morphed into woods or into a crossroads occupied by a food and gas mini-market. It was just a dot of orange moving up through a herd of beach-bound cars and SUVs.
Revving up the speed of her Hog, she flipped on her blinker and swerved onto the passing lane in the sport car’s wake. Talk about the perfect end to a perfect week.
The Lower Shore Ladybugs, a women's biker group, had planned a rendezvous in St. Michaels on the Tred Avon River. Just perfect to shake down her new bike—her first new bike. The gang, made up of women from all walks of life had a blast taking day trips from St. Michaels to the farthest reaches of the Delmarva Peninsula. It never ceased to amaze Ellen how much the Eastern Shore’s quaint bay and riverside towns, as well as their contrasting oceanfront resorts, had to offer; and how much locals—including her—took them for granted.
And Sheba, the name Ellen dubbed the new bike because it made her feel like a queen, had done her proud. She’d roared like a lioness or purred like a cub all the way. Not once had Ellen had to break out the tool kit she kept in the left saddle bag. But then, for what she’d paid for the Harley, she hadn’t expected to.
Watching the sleek Corvette swoop around an SUV as if it was standing still, Ellen accelerated to close the distance between them and get a better look. She’d read in one of her mechanics magazines that the GM ‘Vette had a new color and she liked it. With that metallic finish, it looked good to Ellen—from the front in her rearview mirror, the side as it passed her, and the back as she now followed it. She’d go at least as far as Route 90 with the kid and then head for Piper Cove and home.
That is, she assumed it was a kid who’d barreled by her. Probably a college grad in his new graduation present. Or even a high-school grad. Some families could swing that kind of gift. Not that she begrudged them or the fact that hers couldn’t. No ‘Vette in the world could give her the pleasure that she’d experienced helping her dad rebuild his classic 1967 Camaro. There were a lot of things in life that mattered more than money. Family. Faith.
Of course, money helped. And thankfully, her career as a landscape architect was lucrative enough to satisfy her meager needs and some of her wants.
With a grin as wide as her handlebar, she leaned into the wind and accelerated past before her exit loomed too close. Sheba came to life beneath her, growling and clawing the road as if eager to show this four-wheeled eagle what its two-wheeled counterpart could do. But Ellen kept her engine semi-leashed. Safety first. She just wanted a look-see, not a blooming drag race.
As Sheba shot up beside the ‘Vette, Ellen savored its sleek lines and made out a profile through the tinted windows. To her surprise, it was a mature, square-jawed one with a dimpled chin…that turned toward her.
Shades of 007, he was checking her out! Sheba wobbled, betraying Ellen’s shock. A teeth-grating smile locked on her lips by embarrassment, she did what she’d been taught to do since childhood. She nodded a neighborly hello and gave Sheba the gas. It wasn’t flirting, she told herself, but just in case the guy thought she was, the best thing to do was to exit, blushing from bone to the leather of her vest. And if he’d been checking out Sheba…well, he could check out her dust.
* * * *
“Go on, little Sheba,” Adrian Sinclair chided, reading the custom tags on the back of the pearl-glow black and red Harley streaking ahead of him. “You might think you can run, but you can’t outrun me,” he murmured behind the wheel of his ‘Vette.
Although he had no intention of actually catching the female biker. The preconceived image of badly-colored and coiffed hair, tattoos, cigarette-breath, and a voice that could grate old cheese hardly appealed to him. Passing the chrome-bedecked Harley Davidson served him just fine. It was a matter of power vs power, nothing else. And the five-hundred and five horses under his hood were as anxious to break out as his own frustrated spirit.
At least they could.
“In one mile, turn right onto Route 90 East to Ocean Pines,” his OnStar lady told him in a pleasant, yet indifferent voice.
One mile in which to show Sheba she’d bitten off more than she could chew. He gunned the engine and shifted gears. That was definitely do-able. He might even make it to the closing for his new property a few minutes early.
In a matter of seconds, Adrian caught up with the bike. Once again, he couldn’t help but admire the way the lady moved as one with the bike, dipping and swaying in those tight jeans as if she was glued to the seat. Sheba and her rider definitely showed a poetry in motion that a man behind a steering wheel couldn’t.
Adrian wondered who the second helmet strapped on the back of the bike belonged to. A husband or boyfriend? Not likely, he decided. It matched Sheba’s accessories. Would a rough-riding Harley man name his bike Sheba?
“In one half mile, turn right onto Route 90 East to Ocean Pines.”
Adrian grimaced, shifted, accelerated, and shot past the lady on the bike. She looked over, just as he expected. But instead of consternation on her mouth—he couldn’t see her face behind her goggles—he saw a smile. Not flirtatious, but one that complemented a gracious, gloved salute of admiration.
Classy lady. A twinge of guilt pinged him for stereotyping her. He had little use for people who did that sort of thing. He subscribed that it was who they were, not what they were. But there it was.
“Turn right onto Route 90 to Ocean Pines.”
“Alright then,” Adrian replied in annoyance.
Down-shifting and slowing down, he entered the curve of the exit. A glance in the rearview mirror showed the Harley lady right behind him. Not riding his bumper, but keeping a practical distance.
Although he had no interest beyond curiosity, Adrian couldn’t help but wonder who and what Sheba was. Gracious, he knew. Adventurous. She had to be to ride a Harley. Slender, almost boyish in shape, the key word being almost. The wind plastering her tank top and inflating her vest revealed modest curves in the right places.
Not at all like Selena. The tall, blonde and curvaceous software marketing rep of Alphanet Security Corporation was more like the bike. An exotic tigress, built for comfort and speed, with an ambition that left other women in the dust. Maybe that was why she and Adrian had clicked. They were two of a kind. Neither would settle for anything less than winning.
The total opposite of his son’s mother. Carol had complimented Adrian’s ambitious nature with her artistic one and serene sense of who she was. And when Peter came along, she’d adapted to motherhood as if born to it, while Adrian had never quite been able to make his son the center of his priorities. Especially since Carol had sacrificed her life to give Peter his. The doctors had wanted to treat the cancer they’d diagnosed and terminate her pregnancy. .
Maybe if they had, things would have been different today. Adrian had been emotionally and spiritually torn. There would be other babies, but no other Carol. But the decision had been hers. His wife would not hear of doing anything that would endanger the life growing within her. And on her deathbed three years later, she’d made Adrian promise to make Peter his first and foremost priority.
The promise was easier made than kept. Of course Adrian allocated time for the boy and saw that his eleven-year-old was well provided for and cared for by a nanny after Carol’s death. Adrian’s fingers tightened on the wheel. Had it been eight years? Despite having gone on with his life, thinking about Carol still stirred a raw place in his heart that perhaps would never heal.
“Turn left at the Piper Cove Road exit.”
Adrian took the exit and stared ahead at a shoulder-less county road that cut through farmland where corn dried yellow in the late August sun contrasted with the green of pasture where black and white cattle grazed lazily. A farmer driving a tractor just ahead waved at him as Adrian cautiously eased the ‘Vette around him.
Selena had chosen well. This remote setting would be a refreshing change for all of them. After a long visit to Adrian’s family home in Cape Cod, it was painfully obvious to Adrian that he hardly knew his son.
“Spending two evenings a week over dinner isn’t exactly bonding,” his mother had told Adrian. “You need to spend more leisure time with the lad.” Thirty-eight years of marriage to one of Boston's oldest families hadn’t eradicated his Scottish mum’s accent. With sixteen of years of boarding school and college at her family alma maters in Edinburgh, a bit of it still lingered with Adrian as well. Adrian slowed again as he approached a large, rust-infested pickup loaded with debris from a construction site toddling at its own pace around a bend in the road ahead. Glancing in the rearview mirror, he spotted Sheba still trailing him. He downshifted to make the sharp bend, the view of the road ahead now blocked by thick cornfields. As he maneuvered the curve, the ‘Vette rumbled over something high enough to bang Adrian’s teeth together. It scraped the bottom of the car and dragged for a few feet before the vehicle shook it off.
A post of some kind…or a piece of a post. Must have fallen off the truck—
Ahead the road sharply S’d in the other direction. He shifted again and hit the brake to slow down. To his horror the pedal went straight to the floor.
The ‘Vette shot off the road like a bullet, cornstalks passing Adrian in a blur and whipping the deluxe Atomic Orange Metallic finish.
Adrian had no idea how far he’d gone before the raised rows and soft soil brought the car to a stop. Dust and field debris littered the windshield and expansive hood. Behind him, clouds of it rolled in his flattened wake.
Glancing at his watch, Adrian groaned. Two-forty-five. The closing was at three p.m. Of all the fine fixes he’d found himself in—and some had been stellar—this one was his fault. He’d been going entirely too fast on an unfamiliar road that would have broken a snake’s back.
“Continue on your current route,” the feminine voice, totally unruffled, advised over the Bose sound system.
Adrian struck the wheel with both hands, then promptly shut her up before she had him running over cows as well. Exhaling heavily, he slipped a cell phone from his waist, flipped it open, and punched in the realtor’s number.
The roar of an engine behind him drew his attention to the side mirrors.
Sheba. Adrian hit the store button and closed the phone, watching as the young woman struggled for a moment to find a spot in the field firm enough to support the big bike, then hastily dismounted the Harley, and kicked down the stand. She strode toward the care with long booted strides and pulled off her helmet.
Dark hair, long and subdued in a braid. An oval face. All business approach, knocking aside cornstalks like gnats. Tucking the helmet under her arm, she tapped on the window. The engine stalled as Adrian opened the car door.
“You okay in there?” she asked in an accent that took Adrian a moment to place. A surprising cross between Brooklyn and Southern.
“I’ve been in better spots.” He climbed out of the cockpit, no easy task for his six-foot-plus frame. “A blasted time for my brakes to go out. Late for an appointment,” he explained, straightening with a grunt.
Sheba lowered her sunglasses, taking him in from tip to toe and back with a curious gaze, not quite green, but not brown either. Hazel was the color. Warm, full of depth…and direct. “Wow, there’s almost as much of you as there is car,” she observed with a chuckle.
Actually it was a snort…a dainty one that embarrassed her because she hastily covered her mouth and nose. Color crept to her tanned face, darkening it even more.
“I could say there’s more bike than there is woman in your case.”
Wrong thing to say. The friendly gaze sharpened. “I can handle my ride.” Unlike some people went unsaid, but Adrian got the message loud and clear.
“I lost my brakes on the curve.” She had him repeating himself.
“Yeah, I saw you hit and drag that chunk of four by four.” She winced as though she’d felt the impact. When she looked at him again, the warmth was back, along with a hint of amusement, as though she sensed his embarrassment. “I figured right then the brake line was gone.”
Made sense. Not that Adrian was mechanical. He paid someone to keep his vehicles in prime shape. “I’d better cancel that appointment and call OnStar to send help.” He flipped open his cell phone.
“Where are you headed?”
“A real estate settlement at my new river property only a few miles away. At the least, I’ll be late.”
“Where?” Sheba asked. “I live on the river nearby.”
Disconcerted, Adrian glanced at the Corvette. “The address is programmed into the navigation system. The land belonged to the Addisons.”
“Hey, that’s right up the creek from me. Ellen Brittingham, your friendly neighborhood landscape artist and next door neighbor,” she said, extending her hand.
Like everything else about Sheba, it was firm, self-assured. Landscape artist. That accounted for the crinkling tan lines around her expressive eyes. Brackets made by laughter in the sun.
“Adrian MacAlister Sinclair, security consultant at your service, Ellen Brittingham.” He had no idea why he sounded so formal. But then, conversing with a tall, lean, Harley-riding, girl-next-door-pretty woman in a dusty cornfield was surreal in itself.
“Sheesh. You sound like a spy. Of course, you’ve got the car…American model, that is.”
She gave the Corvette a look of longing that would make a man jealous. At the least it would make his throat go dry. Suddenly those delightful eyes shifted back to him. One naturally sculpted eyebrow arched at him in challenge.
“You up for the ride of your life?”
Adrian dismissed his first thought before he made a fool of himself. There was no double entendre in her remark. She meant what she said and she meant the shiny black and red motorcycle awaiting her like a loyal steed.
“I’ll deliver you to your appointment on time and while you’re signing your future away to a mortgage company—“ She hesitated, shooting another glance at the car. “—I’ll call our local towing company for you.”
“I shall be forever grateful,” he said, falling in behind her as she turned and headed for the Harley as though his answer was a foregone conclusion.
“You bet you will.” She took off the spare helmet and handed it over to him. “And I intend to collect.”
Once again Adrian mentally staggered. “Oh?” He admired the lady for her style, but she was definitely not his type. Far from it. Yet there was a deep primitive part of him that had begun to growl from the moment the game of road tag started.
“I expect a neighborly ride in that ‘Vette sometime.” She climbed on the bike and looked over her shoulder. “And if you let me drive it, even if it’s just for a few miles, I’ll owe you forever.”
Idiot. Adrian donned the helmet and got on the Harley behind Ellen’s lean, lithe form. The woman wasn’t hot for him. She was hot for his car.
Ellen fired up the engine and revved it. As she engineered a wide, unwieldy turn with one long, denim-clad leg extended inside as a precaution, Adrian looked for a place to hold on. A handle or something.
He was accustomed to driving some of the world’s finest sports cars, but motorcycles had never caught his fancy.
“You better hold on,” Ellen called over her shoulder. Her white-spread of a smile added, tightly.
Adrian complied, shoving aside disconcerted thought and reaction for the sake of safety. There wasn’t a lot to the cycle nymph. He could nearly circle her waist twice with his arms. But seated in the low, leather saddle of the giant Harley, she was as much a part of the roaring beast as its chrome-adorned chassis. The brain to its brawn.
As the Harley shot forward, bouncing across and clawing into the horizontal mounds of dirt that had eventually stopped his Corvette, Adrian held on for dear life…tightly.