Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters, settings, etc. are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. The author is in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of any media franchise. No copyright infringement is intended.
Wiping the icy rain out of her face, Rachel kicked the unyielding rubber tired of the broken down Corolla. A lighting bolt of pain lanced through her big toe and up one leg, tearing a string of curses from her mouth.
Don't kick a tire in fancy pumps. Lesson learned. Her whole foot throbbed, and she leaned against the wet car relieve the pressure on the self-inflicted injury. For what seemed like the twentieth time, she swept a glance up and down the dark road, hoping for some kind soul – preferably a woman – to come along and rescue her.
Thwarted by the chill of the rain and driving wind, Rachel got back into the car. The soaked fabric of her sequined jacket pressed her skin in a cold, clammy, embrace, and she sneezed. Hot-headed and capricious should be her two middle names. The least she could have done was pack a bag or taking something of substance besides her purse. She wiped the warm tears from her cheeks. She didn't even have decent shoes to walk in.
But what choice did she have? Rachel crossed her arms, trying unsuccessfully to warm herself. Looking around the inside of the car, she found nothing. Stephen had tossed this piece of crap car at her and acted like he had given her the moon. Rachel turned the key, hoping against hope, and heard only a dry click. He had given her the moon, all right. Too bad it was made of green frickin' cheese. She rubbed her upper arms again. If ‘bad boyfriend’ were a term in the dictionary, Stephen's picture would be the featured image. Verbal abuse and the constant reminders about how she was at least twenty pounds over her ideal weight were only the tip of the iceberg. If she'd had any family within a hundred mile radius, she would have been gone long ago.
Squeezing the useless steering wheel in her hands she suppressed a whiny mewl, ashamed at the real reason she upped and left. Rachel swallowed more tears, thinking about that time in the bathroom. The image of the tufted-eared lynx she’d seen in the mirror on a particularly stressful morning after had frightened her. She put her hand to her forehead, remembering how she had lied to Stephen, telling him she’d spilled a bottle of particularly noxious cleanser to cover the fact she was cleaning lynx pee off the bathroom floor.
The memory brought the tears in earnest, and she sobbed outright. What had become of her life? She knew about shifters, had seen them being talked about on those cable shows and on the Internet. Being a level headed person, she’d always dismissed the stories as crap people made up when they got drunk. But the lynx staring back at her in the bathroom mirror stopped her dismissal in its tracks.
But now, without the security of full humanity, she didn't trust herself around regular people anymore. When the whisker popped out of her face and the little ridge of fur tickled the nape of her neck during the last argument she and Stephen had, it was time to go. Given how things were going between them at the time, she might have shifted and ripped him to shreds. She had snatched up her purse and marched out.
It was a wonderfully dramatic exit, but after the curtain fell, she was worse off than when she'd started. She'd walked with only the clothes on her back, her purse, and the car. At least the apartment they shared was dry and warm.
Thoroughly miserable now, she sneezed again and wiped at her nose with a damp hand. She should get out of the car and keep a watch on the road. But it was after midnight on a Wednesday night in November. The back road she’d chosen was deserted and there was no one to call even if she had cell service. She might as well have 'serial killer bait' tattooed across her forehead.
Rubbing her hands together, Rachel glanced through the windshield and caught a glimpse of headlights a long way down the road. Cheered, she opened the car door and turned on her hazards so she would be seen. At least those still worked. It sounded like a truck and a big one if her ears were correct. The popping and hissing of the air brakes and gears grinding couldn't be mistaken for anything else.
Truck drivers were the angels of the road, right? Rachel took a deep breath and crossed her fingers. Except for the killer ones.
Bracing herself against the front fender of the car, Rachel hugged herself and shivered. The cold rain has soaked her curly hair, and the icy water ran down her back in slow trickles, which was a sensation as pleasant as nails on a chalkboard.
The growling sound of the truck's engine got softer as it approached. Rachel began waving her arms.
Normal person, normal person, normal person. Just get me to a place where I can get out of the rain and make a telephone call.
Her last thought made her lower her arms in slow realization. And call whom, exactly? She had moved out to this countrified place with Stephen, in heady live-together bliss. No friends – except his, no family for another five hundred miles at least. Whom did she plan to call? Even if she called her sister, waking her up in her northern New Jersey mansion, there was no place she could even get money wired until the morning.
By this time the truck had stopped, and the driver lowered his window.
"Looks like you need some help!" He shouted loud enough to be heard over the steady patter of the rain and the throbbing growl of the engine.
Rachel bit at her lip and nodded. The man seemed innocuous enough, with his neat, dark beard and friendly face. She took a deep breath and raised her voice.
"My car broke down." Maybe he could fix it, and she could continue her trip.
"Let me take a look." He raised the window up and a second later, he had hopped down from the truck and crossed the wet road, a flashlight gripped in one hand. He was a big guy: broad shouldered with a husky build; like maybe he played football in college.
Rachel relaxed her tense, hunched shoulders. Most serial killers were skinny and mean-looking. In the dim road light, she could see his blue eyes seemed kind above his dark beard, which made her relax even more.
Good vibes. She uncrossed her fingers.
Rachel shifted from pinched foot to throbbing foot, hoping that her short skirt and high heels left over from her aborted dinner date didn't make her look like a prostitute. Relief flowed over her when he didn't give her a second glance before he poked his head under the raised hood.
"My name's Bryant, by the way." His voice echoed off the raised hood as the flashlight beam danced around. "Bryant Ross." A slight southern accent, Georgia, like her cousins, elongated the "Y" into something flat and sweet, like a hot pancake with syrup and butter. Her stomach growled at the thought. The last time she'd had something to eat was lunchtime, and that had been only a tuna fish sandwich.
"I'm Rachel Gibbs." One painful step took her to the driver's side tire where she stared at the incomprehensible maze of wires, hoses, and dirty, block-like things of the engine. It all looked the same to her. Perhaps Bryant had some truck-driver magic that would get her to the next city.
The look on his face told her a different story. "What happened when the car stopped?" he asked.
Rachel thought back. "Well, I was driving. And the engine started making this knocking, weird sound and then it just stopped. It won't start again." She didn't know the first thing about engines.
His expression became even more serious and he shook his head.
Rachel winced. This wasn't going to be good news.
"I hate to tell you this, but you're out of oil. Your engine seized up."
Seized was not a good word when it came to engines, that much she knew. "Can't you just put some oil in it?"
Even before he shook his head, she knew it was a no-go.
"Sorry, Rachel." His voice was mild. "You're going to have to get it towed."
A lump formed in her throat and she swallowed hard to keep the tears at bay. The rain had stopped, thank goodness, but she was still cold, soaking wet, and car-less.
"Okay," she choked out, her voice thick with frustration and tears. "I appreciate you stopping." Her sigh was shaky and hopeless.
Bryant shut the hood with a bang and studied her for a moment. "Is there somewhere I can take you?" He glanced up at the night sky and rubbed his beard. "Rain's let up now, but that's not saying it's gonna stay that way." He pulled a cell phone out of his pocket and touched the screen. "I don't have any service on my phone."
Rachel shook her head once, flinging water from her curls. The itching started at the back of her neck and she fought the urge to crane her head back and let the change take over. At least then she wouldn’t be so uncomfortable.
She opened her mouth, praying that words and not a yowl would come out. "I..." There was nothing she could say. She had nothing but a nagging thought in the back of her mind at how stupid she was.
To disguise her despair, she opened the car door, grabbed her purse and slammed the door. "Can you give me a ride to a telephone?" She gave what she thought was a nonchalant shrug. “If it’s not too much trouble.”
Bryant stared at for a moment.
Can he read minds? Does he know I have no options?
"No problem," he said. "Get in the truck."