Chapter 2

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Ch. 2

"Need a lift?"

I turned and saw an old blue pickup following behind me down the long dirt driveway as I walked home that afternoon from my grandparents.


My pulse quickened as I tried to think of something clever to say. "I don't get into cars with strangers," I answered, and gave myself a mental high-five. I was used to having smart remarks present themselves well after the moment had passed, so this sudden quick wit pleased me to no end.

"Well, I'm not a total stranger." His lips tilting up into a sluggish grin that revealed a tiny dimple in his right cheek. "You did offer me a drink this afternoon, remember? Thanks again for that, you came along just in the nick of time. It was awfully hot today."

Oh no... He was not going to charm me that easily!

"You never even introduced yourself," I shot back, trying to ignore the way his eyes danced as they watched me.

Jake raised his brows in surprise. I guess he wasn't used to having teenage girls resist his down-home, country-boy ways. "I'm sorry, ma'am," he confessed with just a hint of Texas twang. Not so much that it hit you in the face, but noticeable enough to make a girl weak in the knees. "Allow me to properly introduce myself. My name is Jake Grady, and I am very pleased to make your acquaintance." He tilted his cowboy hat slightly. "May I offer you a ride?"

And just like that, it was over. Hook, line and sinker. I never stood a chance.

I couldn't take my eyes off of him. Even after working all day in the hard Georgia sun, he still managed to look incredible. He embodied every single teen-age fantasy I'd ever had about impossibly hot, too-good-to-be-true, Texas cowboys. I took a deep breath before I climbed into the passenger seat of the truck and shut the door carefully behind me. I noticed Mags waving goodbye to us in the rear-view mirror, but pretended I didn't notice. I knew she would give me the third degree over what had transpired the next day, so I decided not to give her the satisfaction of acknowledging her sly smile.

Glancing around me, I was surprised at how clean the inside of his pickup was, not even one discarded fast food wrapper in sight. And the smell made me dizzy--in a good way--like a mixture of pheromones and Calvin Klein.

"You know," I began, struggling to ignore the building apprehension I felt at being this close to an impossibly attractive, older male. "I really don't need a ride. I just live next door."

Jake gave me an irresistible, crooked smile as he pulled out of the drive. "I know where you live, Addison," he said, slightly emphasizing my name, letting me know he had no intention of ever calling me Addy. "I'm in the mood for some ice cream. I was wondering if you'd be interested in helping the new guy in town find his way around?"

"Are you asking me out?" I questioned in disbelief. My eyes felt like they were going to pop right out of my head and land on the floor of his immaculately clean truck.

Jake laughed. "I guess I was wondering if you'd like to get some ice cream. I promise, you won't need to clarify when I ask you out."

Holy crap. Did he really just say that?

Looking straight ahead, I tried to play it cool and not act like a total spaz. Like getting asked out by a drop-dead gorgeous college guy happened to me every single day of the week. "Sure, I'll show you where to go for ice cream." I sneaked a peek at Jake just in time to catch him quietly chuckle.

Oh my God. He probably thinks I'm a such a child!

It wasn't like I didn't know how to talk to boys. I had tons of guy friends. I'd also started dating that year. Group dates, but dating nonetheless. And I had three different invites to prom. Believe me, I was no slouch when it came to talking to boys! But Jake was not at all like the other guys I knew. I'm not sure if it was his ceaseless self-confidence or the fact that he was a college man, but he had me slightly unnerved.

"Why are you off work so early anyway?" I asked, trying to find something to talk about. "It's not like Gramps to finish up at this hour. It's not even four!"

Jake removed his cowboy hat and placed it gently on the seat between us. "The tractor I was using took a turn for the worse," he explained gravely. "Your grandpa's working on it now. I offered to stay and help but he insisted I come back in the morning, since it's my first day and all." He cocked his head, presenting me with a slow lopsided grin and a nest of butterflies promptly moved into my stomach.

Taking a deep breath, I tried to ignore my nerves and began asking Jake questions about himself, even though I had already grilled Mags earlier in the day about every tiny detail she could recall. As it turned out, he was invited to stay with his aunt and uncle in Lakeside, Georgia, a small farming community nestled in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. That's where I lived. Jake's family went to church with mine, and they had somehow managed to convince my Grandpa Henry to hire him for a few months during his summer break.

Completely engrossed by his husky voice and the casual way in which he spoke, I hung on to every word that came out of Jake's mouth. He could have been singing the alphabet in pig Latin and I would have felt compelled to listen. I gave him directions through the small, tourist town, pointing out any landmark I thought might be of interest to him. The remaining drive to the ice cream shop was filled with witty banter and side-way smiles, and my confidence began to build.

Until we arrived at our destination.

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