"What are you waitin' for, beautiful? Hop in."
Emma McGraw gaped through the open truck window at the rangy, square-jawed man leaning across the torn seat and contemplated her options. She shoved a lock of wet hair out of her eyes. Rain had been streaming down for the past two hours, its steady drumbeat a humbling reminder of just how far she'd fallen. Still, she didn't trust this guy. He was a total stranger, and his worn-out red truck looked like it was ready for the junk heap.
He shoved the gearshift into park and propped his arm on the steering wheel. "Look, honey--you're soaked to the skin. I'm offering you a chance to dry off and get out of this weather. That's it. I'm single, but I don't attack women to get my jollies. Don't need to."
"Because you're so handsome?" She wanted to snatch back the words the second they left her lips. Damn her for ditching her common sense.
His sexy mouth curved into a smile. "Exactly. Now ... get in the truck. A tornado warning's been issued for the area, and the storm's coming this way. I don't wanna be caught out in it. Do you?"
"A tornado warning?" She lifted her eyebrows.
He nodded. "I have a storm shelter at my place, only a couple of miles from here. It's one of those in-ground models, but I talked the guy into giving me a big one. I'm kinda claustrophobic and need room to move around."
"I don't know..."
"Suit yourself. If you get blown to hell and back, it ain't my fault." Thunder boomed, as if to drive home his point, and the rain became a deluge. He downshifted and prepared to pull away. "Good luck."
"Wait--" Panic seized her, and she grabbed the door handle. Water dripped into her eyes.
He aimed his gaze at the greenish-black clouds swirling along the western horizon. Lightning glittered against the gray. When he turned back, a wry smile rode his lips. "Get in, then. I wanna get to shelter before it's too late."
"Me, too." She yanked the heavy door open, threw her backpack on the dirty floorboard, and hauled herself onto the seat. The truck smelled like sweat and pipe smoke. The engine rumbled as he started off, and she wiped her hands on her wet jeans. Water from her hair dripped down her back. She ignored it and reached for the seat belt.
He glanced at her. "There's not one on that side. Sorry. It got stuck, and I had to cut it."
"Oh." She shrank back against the seat and wiped her face with her hands.
He pushed a button to raise her window, which surprised her. She didn't think the truck was that modern. "Name's Jed," he said. "What's yours?"
"Yeah? I have a cousin named Emma. She's pretty and blonde, just like you."
"Oh." In spite of herself, she blushed. "Well, thanks."
"How old are you?" he asked, narrowing his eyes.
She aimed a heated gaze his way. "It's not nice to ask a woman her age."
"You look young, that's all. I'm thirty-three."
"I'm older than I look." She pushed a strand of kinky, wet hair behind her ear. "Twenty-eight, if you must know. I'm recently divorced and looking for a new start, maybe somewhere on the coast, like Biloxi. My car broke down in Meridian, and I left it there 'cause I couldn't afford the repairs."
"How'd you get on the side of I-59?"
"I took the bus, which broke down, too. Guess you could say I'm bad luck."
"Uh-oh." He laughed. "This old truck's already on its last leg. That mean you'll be finishing her off?"
"It's possible." Emma stared out at the trees bending in the wind. The windshield wipers could barely keep up with the splashing rain.
He laughed again, the rumble from his chest no match for the growling thunder.
She bit her lip. "Why are you out in this weather?"
"I'm a deputy with the sheriff's department. Just ended my shift."
"Oh. Well ... you're not wearing a uniform." Her stomach lurched. He's a lawman? Dread filled her. Oh, God. I gave him my real name.