April 5, 2016
Cover art: Reese Dante
Genre: Contemporary romance
States of Love line
The first and only thing I’ve learned about moose was that there was no right way to hit one.
“Holy shit!” I shouted as the animal leaped out from the forest when I rounded a sharp turn of the road. I hit the brakes, but my worthless pile of crap car skidded into the animal, clipped it, and spun out hard.
I didn’t see the car coming from the opposite direction until I hit it, successfully ending my junker’s ballerina spins. My seat belt caught me before I went through the windshield, snapping me back against the seat. That hurt. My entire body vibrated with adrenaline as everything came to an abrupt stop.
Steam hissed from under the hood of my car.
Shakily, I turned in time to watch the huge, ugly beast trot across the street and up into a tiny, ancient cemetery that hugged the corner.
Son of a….
“Hope you name a baby after me!”
I fought with the seat belt before I threw open the driver’s side door and stumbled from the car. That’s when I saw the stupid bumper sticker on the car I’d hit.
Brake for moose—It could save your life!
The driver of the other car opened his door and slowly climbed out.
Good news: me, the moose, and the stranger had all lived.
Bad news: our cars were fucked.
“Hey,” I said, my voice trembling a little. “Are you all right? It—the moose—it just jumped in front of me!”
The other man reached up to remove his worn, frayed cap and scratched his forehead as he studied the damage to his rear end. He was tall. And big—like a mountain. He had a rough country-boy sort of look. His dark hair could benefit from a comb, though, and he desperately needed a shave. The ratty cargo pants and faded flannel shirt over a black T-shirt didn’t help turn him around much.
He hadn’t spoken.
I tried again. “So, you okay?”
The stranger nodded and put his cap back on. “Moose do that.”
“What? Purposefully try to fuck shit up?”
He stared at me. “Insurance?”
Fuck. Me. Sideways.
If this impromptu road trip of mine could get any worse, I might as well just lie down on the side of the road and give up. But this is my sort of tragic luck.
I’m Gideon Joy, the most unlucky man this side of the Rockies.
I realize that’s pretty melodramatic. The fact that I had air in my lungs and clothes on my back already put me in a better spot than some. But standing on the side of the road, screwed seven ways to Sunday because of a moose with no manners, I was really feeling the twenty-five years of life’s jokes weighing on my shoulders.
Nothing ever worked out.
Nowhere was ever home.
No one wanted to love a guy with luck so bad, it was laughable.
And now this dude wanted my insurance information, and fuck if I had money for that. The state of my car should have said how well I was doing lately. I had no plans to stay in New Hampshire. Just driving through, thank you. I had only stopped long enough to piss at a rest station and buy vending machine food, because that was the kind of budget I rolled with.
I had squirreled away enough cash to get me from Los Angeles to Portland, Maine, with hopefully something left over to get me back. I was sightseeing, I guess. Road-trip therapy was more likely. I don’t know…. It was a rather unplanned excursion.
I ran a hand through my hair and then pushed up my glasses. “I don’t have insurance.”
Please don’t beat the shit out of me for totaling our cars.
The stranger didn’t respond, instead only looked at his car and rubbed his bristled jaw.
“Do you?” I asked.
Still no answer.
“Hey,” I prodded.
He turned. “Doesn’t cover noninsured motorists.”
“Great,” I stated.
I could… well, not get in my car and drive away, because my piece of shit wasn’t likely moving anytime soon. But I could run. He didn’t know my name. I wasn’t from here. I could just turn around and hitchhike home. Let the dude worry about repairing his own car.
Except… that was probably the lowest, cruelest action imaginable. I didn’t have much to my name but my pride, and I clung to it like a raft adrift in a vast ocean. I couldn’t walk away.
I glanced up to see him staring at me. “I’m sorry. I—I’ll get this fixed. I don’t know how, because I have no money, but I won’t leave you all jacked-up like this.”
“Good intentions won’t pay for a repair.”
God, don’t be a dick.
“Hey, I’m trying to do the right thing,” I retorted. “Cut me some slack, will you?”
“I didn’t wreck your car.”
I relaxed my balled-up hands and took a really, really deep breath. “Guy—”
He motioned to himself. “Silas.”
Wow. Silas? Who the fuck named their kid Silas these days?
He stared at me.
“Silas,” I corrected. “Give me a minute to figure this out.”
As if a minute would make me less fucked than I was thirty seconds ago.
I put my hands on my hips and turned away.
It was quiet.
I hadn’t actually gotten out of my car since becoming lost in the countryside, away from the freeways and rest stops. But sure enough, up here in northern New Hampshire, in the middle of the road in late afternoon—silence. There was a brisk breeze blowing through the spring leaves, and they rustled like Mother Nature’s wind chime.
It was kind of nice. Mostly weird.
I mean, where were the people? The cars? The sounds of human civilization? There were more animal crossing signs than traffic lights.
I turned back to Silas. “Where the hell am I, anyway?”
He raised an eyebrow. “In between Lancaster and Dalton.”
“Are there any cities nearby?”
Silas didn’t smile, but I got the distinct impression that the question amused him nonetheless. “Not much in Coos County.”