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Coming In From the Cold

By:Sarina Bowen

Coming In From the Cold
Sarina Bowen

       Gravity #1


Willow needed to keep the old truck on the road and out of the snowy ditch for just one more mile.

At six o'clock on a December evening, the sky over Vermont had been dark  for two hours already. She had the heater cranking on the highest  setting, but still the windshield was icing over, the heavy snow  plastering itself to the top of her field of vision. Willow hunched in  her seat for a better view of the road. Creeping along at fifteen miles  per hour, she'd be home in five minutes.

She hadn't meant to drive in blizzard conditions. She'd done her storm  preparation-filling the old claw-foot bathtub with water, preparing  herself for the inevitable loss of electricity. She put blocks of ice in  her freezer and set the candles out on the kitchen table, with a box of  matches at the ready.

She'd almost gotten everything right.

And then, heading into the barn to tuck the chickens in for the night,  she'd opened their feed bin to find it empty. If she were snowed in for  two days, as the Weather Channel predicted, she would have nothing to  feed them.

"Damn it!" Willow had said, startling several of her Buff Orpington hens  into a nervous flutter. Only the most stalwart remained at her feet,  still hoping she would produce a pocketful of raisins.

Instead, she had turned on her heel, latching the barn door behind her.  Just because Willow had never intended to become a chicken farmer didn't  mean she wanted to kill off her stock. She and The Girls had a  deal-clean feed for organic eggs. She meant to keep her end of the  bargain.

The old truck had started right up, and she drove down her lengthy  driveway and turned left, away from civilization, toward the country  feed store. But snow had accumulated frighteningly fast since her  outbound trip just a half hour before. Gripping the wheel, Willow saw  another vehicle spotlit ahead-a green Jeep moving even more slowly than  she was. Willow stepped on her brakes. But instead of stopping, she felt  the sickening sensation of several tons of metal skidding to the right.

Time slowed to a crawl as the truck slid in an awkward direction toward  both the Jeep and the ditch. The Jeep's taillights grew brighter as they  approached, and Willow held her breath. At the last second, the Jeep  seemed to leap to the left, causing Willow a moment of confusion over  which of them-the Jeep or the truck-had moved so quickly. Was she still  on the road?

The cab tilted abruptly to the right, and Willow felt a scream catch in  her throat. But then the truck stopped suddenly, heaving her torso  against the seatbelt. The force pressed a gasp from her lungs, and she  bounced backward against the seat.

And then all was still.

With her heart banging away in her chest, Willow took stock. The cab  listed to the right. Her wheels must have landed in the drainage culvert  beside her road. At the sudden stop, Willow's feet had slipped off the  pedals, and now the truck shuddered and died in place.

Immediately, the windshield began to fill with a white blanket of snow.

She took a deep breath. You're okay. You're fine. Thank goodness she'd been going so slowly when she lost control.

A tap on her door made Willow jump. Someone was standing outside. She  grasped the window crank-the sort that dated her truck to the premodern  era-and rolled down her window. A man's face-rugged, with a chiseled  chin-looked back at her. He gave her an anxious frown. "Are you okay?"

"Yes?" she replied, still stunned.

"Well, now we're both stuck," he said. "I veered across the road to get  out of your way, and I'm over a stump." Even in the dark she could see  his handsome jaw flex with irritation.

"It's my fault that you hit a stump on the other side of the road?"  Willow knew she ought to focus on the problem at hand. But the handsome  stranger in front of her was every bit as distracting as their fender  bender. She couldn't help but admire his sleek white jacket, of the sort  of technical fabric sold at the fancy ski shops in town. He had a  silver wool hat pulled down over his head, but brown curls escaped from  the bottom of it, framing his eyes. He reminded her of a snow god. A  slightly ornery one.

He threw up his hands. "I don't know," he huffed. "Never mind." He  walked away from her. The snow was falling so fast that the blizzard  swallowed him up before he'd taken five steps. He was a big man, she  noticed-tall, with long legs and a tight backside.

Nice work, Willow. She had just run the most attractive guy in the county off the road.

Snow blew into her car, so Willow cranked the window closed again. Then  she pressed down on the clutch and brake, turning the truck's key.                       




Willow pumped the gas pedal a couple of times and tried the key again. And again. But the engine wouldn't even turn over.

"Oh no," Willow said aloud. "Oh no, oh no, oh no." She needed to call  roadside assistance. Digging a hand into her purse for her phone, she  turned it on. Willow already knew what it would say, but she looked  anyway.


She stared. "Come on."

No signal.

It was just so typical of her recent troubles. Calling for help was like  so many other things in her life-an escape hatch that worked for people  who weren't Willow. Other girls might have family to fall back on or  catch a break financially, but she had to go and fall hard for a man so  inappropriate, so uninterested in her continued happiness that he'd  sealed off the exits. Her money was sunk into their old farmhouse; her  credit was maxed out by his plans. And he had gone to California with  another woman. There Willow sat, in a fifteen-year-old truck that  wouldn't start, chicken feed in the back.

She couldn't even call 9-1-1. He'd taken that away, too. It had been his dream to move out to the middle of nowhere together.

And then he'd split, leaving her holding the feed bucket.

Damned Vermont. Damned snow. Damned truck. Damned cheating ex-boyfriend who'd fled to California. Damn. Damn. Damn.

* * *

Back in his Jeep, Dane Hollister smacked the steering wheel. Then he  pulled the stick into reverse and tried again. But the wheels spun  without catching. Whatever was holding him off the ground must be  something quite large, because the Jeep had good clearance, four-wheel  drive and sturdy snow tires. Only very bad luck could put him in a  snowbank.

But Dane was used to being unlucky.

Calm down, he ordered himself.

He had snapped at that girl. It was true that he'd still be driving  toward the town of Hamilton if she hadn't come along. But the blizzard  wasn't her fault.

Dane rested his hands in his lap and analyzed the last few minutes. He'd  seen the truck coming too fast. He'd turned the wheel a little too  hard, and the new snow had slicked against the salted road, causing the  Jeep to spin.

He probed the incident like the ski team doctor fingering tendons for an  injury. But in this case, it could have happened to anyone. He had not  experienced any unusual muscle reflexes. The incident was just a fluke.

It had not been caused by a symptom.

Dane blew out a breath, and then focused his thoughts on the real  problem at hand. He was stuck about eight miles from the crappy little  room he rented on Main Street. There was more than a foot of snow on the  ground, and the forecast was for much more.

And he needed to apologize to the pretty girl in the ugly black truck.

He put his gloves on. Leaving the engine running, he got out. Christ.  The snow was coming down fast and furious. His own headlights did little  to illuminate the road, but he knew where she was-kitty-corner to him.  He pointed himself in a diagonal line away from his headlights and found  her. Again he knocked on her window. The cab was dark and he couldn't  see inside.

"Hello?" he called.

There was no answer.

"Are you okay?" he asked again. There was only silence. Had she  vanished? It was even a little creepy. But there was really only one  thing in the world that Dane Hollister was afraid of, and it wasn't  standing there on the road.

He grasped the handle and opened the truck's door, and there she was again. Only now there were tears drying on her face.

Nice, Dane. Good work, asshole.

The girl wiped her face quickly with her hand, embarrassed.

"Hey!" he said, in a voice that was much warmer than before. "Christ, I'm sorry. Didn't mean to flip out on you. Can I help?"

She tried to pull herself together, clearing her throat. "The truck won't start."

"Do you want me to give it a try?"

She looked up at him then, one eyebrow raised cynically. "Because I might have forgotten how to do it myself?"

He laughed. "Right. I get it. But I don't know what else to offer."

She slid across the seat, swinging her legs over the gearbox. "Go ahead. And if she starts, I won't even hold it against you."

He swung into the cab and closed the door. Then he tried to start the  engine. Since the seat was set for her petite frame, his knees were  jammed up against the steering column. Not that it mattered. When he  turned the key, there was only silence. "She won't even turn over? Not  once?"