Strangers in the Night Bonus Scene 2

STRANGERS IN THE NIGHT
Bonus Scene 2

In the published version of the book, Chapter Nine finds the hero and heroine traveling across Pennsylvania after they’ve bought a used car. Originally, the scene below, which shows them buying the car, was included.  Unfortunately, there wasn’t room for it, so the most important parts were moved to the conversation in the car, as readers who’ve read the book may recognize.  You may also notice they were still in Ohio at this point in the story in this version, while the final version has them arriving in Pennsylvania a few chapters earlier.

 

CHAPTER 9 BONUS

 

“This one comes with a number of nice features,” Darren Dwight of Darren Dwight Discount Motors told them.  A man who spoke with his hands and frequently appeared on the verge of taking flight, he launched into an exaggerated list of the used car’s virtues, including operational windshield wipers and roll-down windows.

As far as Ross was concerned, the only special feature the ancient hatchback needed was an engine than ran.  It wasn’t much to look at, an odd orange-brown color that was only partly paint and mostly rust.  If he remembered right, this model was made in the mid-seventies and only for a brief period.  Even then it had been considered one ugly car.

Even if he cared about what the man had to say, it would have been damn near impossible to concentrate on one word with Allie’s hand curled into his.  Damn but she had soft hands.  They were as soft as the rest as her, and he remembered the rest of her well enough.

She fidgeted next to him.  He knew she wasn’t paying attention to Darren Dwight either.  She scanned the lot with apparent boredom.  He wasn’t fooled.  She was looking for any viable escape.  He’d give her one thing.  She didn’t give up.

He tried not to have some grudging respect for that.  It wasn’t working.

As soon as the salesman wrapped up his speech, Ross gave Allie’s hand a squeeze.  He felt the tension in her arm, knew she wanted to snatch it away, and gripped tighter.  “What do you think, honey?”

“I think we’ll be lucky if this thing makes it halfway down the block.”

The wattage in Darren Dwight’s broad grin dimmed slightly.  “Now don’t let her body fool you.  She might not be much to look at, I will admit, but she’ll get you where you want to go.”

Ross worked up his best smile.  “Oh, I know.  I can tell a winner when I see one.”  Darren Dwight’s Discount Motors opened at nine.  He’d been there at seven, checking under the engine of every car on the lot.  The hatchback might be ugly, but its engine was more solid than all the prettier cars in the same price range.  “Don’t mind the missus.  She’s just a little mad at me that we got stranded out here on vacation.”  He did his best to look sheepish and squeezed her hand.  Hard.

She frowned at Darren Dwight.  “One thousand miles from home and all I got was a brokedown RV and this lousy T-shirt.”

“Right now we just want to get home as fast as possible.  We’ll take the car.”

The sparkle returned to the salesman’s grin.  “I’ll go draw up the paperwork.”

Ross waited until the man was out of earshot before muttering to Allie.  “I thought I told you to play the loving wife, dear.”

She tugged at the T-shirt he’d bought her that morning, hot pink with OHIO! arranged in big, swirly letters in sequins.  “Any husband who drags his wife a thousand miles from home, gets her stranded in Ohio and then buys her this can expect her to act this way.”

He gestured at his own lime green shirt.  “We’re supposed to be tourists.”

“And suckers?  You aren’t really going to give him money for this wreck, are you?  He was practically drooling at the thought of unloading it on a dope like you.”

“That’s exactly what I want him to think.  Anybody comes around asking questions later, he won’t think twice about a couple of dimwitted tourists.”

She pulled out of his grasp and slowly circled the car.  He controlled the urge to go after her.  “Why are you throwing your money away on a car anyway?  We could always take the bus.”

“Right,” he scoffed.  “Because getting you around other people is a great idea.  Besides, you really want to put a busload of people in danger?  The way you were talking last night, I thought you didn’t want other people to get hurt around you.  Or was that just concern for me?”

“I’ve changed my mind.  I would be more than happy to see you take a bullet.”

“For you?”

“Or otherwise.”

She thought she was being so casual, moving to the far side of the car away from him, casting sidelong glances toward the street.  Her body language gave her away.

She was going to bolt.

He tensed, ready to go after her if she made her move.

Then she went stiff.  She quickly put her back to the street and ducked her head.  Anyone who wasn’t looking closely would think she was examining their future mode of transportation.  But even when she started back around the car toward him, she never turned her head to the side to look at the car.  She kept it down.

He still managed to catch a glimpse of her face, enough to see her expression.  He knew the emotion he saw there well enough by now.

It was fear.

He looked toward the street, just as a police cruiser slowly made its way past the lot.  It was the only car on the road.  There was no one else in sight.

He watched it until it disappeared from view.  As though sensing it was gone, the tension went out of Allie.

She made it back to his side.  That was a telltale sign right there.  She’d chosen him over being spotted by the police.  He was the safe choice.  Who was this woman?

“What was that?”

She blinked up at him.  He could see some residual panic in her eyes.  More than that, she was shaking slightly.  The sight raised some protective instinct he didn’t want to examine.  “What was what?”

“You didn’t want that cop to see you.”

“You don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“The hell I don’t.  You were about to make a break for it.  Instead you came back to me.  I may not know anything about you, but I know you wouldn’t do that if the devil himself was on your tail.”

“So I don’t trust the cops.  A lot of people don’t.”

“Hell, lady.  You don’t trust anybody.”

A dark grin touched her lips.  “And you said you don’t know anything about me.”

He didn’t return the expression.  “That cop had you scared to death.  I want to know why.  You really that desperate not to testify?”

“You can keep asking the same questions, Ross.  It’s not going to get you an answer.”

“You’ll have to eventually.”

“Really?  What are you going to do, Ross?  Try to kiss the answers out of me?”

As soon as she said them, he could tell she regretted the words.  She clamped her mouth shut, her lips forming one thin, angry line, and pointedly looked away.

He wasn’t about to let her get off that easily.  He stepped right up to her, stopping only when their bodies were mere inches apart, forcing her to look up at him.  He saw the flare of alarm flash across her face.  It only deepened when she got a good look at his expression.

“Let’s get one thing straight.  What happened last night had nothing to do with this, and I think you know it.  I don’t operate that way.  It happened because I wanted it to, and it was only a matter of time anyway.  I think we both know that.  So don’t be playing the victim and trying to hide behind hurt feelings to make yourself feel better about not telling me a damned thing.  That’s all you, lady.  You want to be mad at someone, be mad at yourself.”

She swallowed hard.  “You’re right, Ross.  I am mad at myself, for a lot of things.  It’s too late to change any of that now, no matter how many questions you throw at me.”

The anger immediately went out of him.  He shook his head, barely able to control his frustration.  “Damn it, Allie.  When are you going to let me help you?”

A trace of sadness touched her eyes.  “When are you going to stop trying to save me?”

He couldn’t have explained the feeling that squeezed his chest when she said that.  A knot formed in his throat from the way she looked up at him.  He knew that look, bitterness tinged with defeat.  He used to see it in his reflection every day.  Sometimes he still did.

He managed to find his voice.  “I’m not sure I can.”

Behind them, they both heard Darren Dwight start to make his way back to them.

Allie turned away from him.  He stared at her profile.  He’d told her she was too thin, and she was, but it seemed more pronounced now.  Standing there, gazing off at nothing, she seemed oddly vulnerable.  In spite of everything she’d said and done, he’d never seen her that way.  She was too much of a fighter.  But looking at her now, he could believe it.  He barely heard her answer.

“You have to.  There’s nothing here left to save.”

 

Copyright © 2008 by Kerry Connor. All Rights Reserved.
Permission to reproduce text granted by Harlequin Books S.A.