Willa knew the tire hadn’t gone flat by accident. She would bet her pension that the spare had been punctured on purpose too.
Swearing, she opened the trunk’s lid and tossed in the bag of peanut butter, tampons and laundry detergent, wondering what other things her stepdaughter had left a mark upon.
She slammed the trunk closed. For a moment she stood with both hands on the back of the VW and tried, for the ninety-millionth time, to understand why things with Alicia had turned so ugly. The truth was Willa understood. She’d accepted it was as it was. Nothing would change Alicia’s single-mindedness. After a time, it no longer seemed to matter. It made no sense to care. Frankly, she was used to it now. A person could get used to all kinds of things.
But there were times she wished her stepdaughter’s ire and misguided sense of vengeance didn’t have to include the car.
Willa shook off the snow in her hair. There was a positive thing that came with living in Los Alamos again. Alicia and her hostility would be safely contained to the campus of the University of New Mexico, two hours away in Albuquerque.
The impatient SUV driver honked again. Willa held up a hand. “I’m going, I’m going. Just give me one second.” She turned away from the trunk and the SUV was gone. In its place was a Subaru. The bearded, boyish smirk peering out the rolled-down window was handsome and full of mischief, like Bruce Willis in his Moonlighting days.
“So this is where you had to rush off to. Of all the supermarkets in Los Alamos, is this a coincidence or what?” he said.
“This is the only supermarket in Los Alamos. And I don’t believe in coincidence.”
“Neither do I. You know there are laws against stalking, Queenie?”
A thrill bounced around Willa’s brain. Then it shot lower. A lot lower.
There was that one instance three months after Miles had died, but that night with the Interpol guy hadn’t been about desire for either one of them, and since that occasion guys had registered a big fat zero on her lust-o-meter. Being human and alive, she had urges that she took care of herself, but the men she’d met, the dates she’d gone on, nothing had ever happened, nothing had registered.
This guy was one big gasping breath of fresh, lusty air.
Her mother would be so mortified. Her sister on the other hand…
Willa pushed aside irritation and guilt and felt her mouth curve into a smirk like his. “Yeah, where’s a cop when you need one?”
“Want to see my badge?”
“Are you trying to turn this into an I’ll-show-you-mine-if-you-show-me-yours thing?” She put her hands on her hips.
“Now do I look like the kind of idiot who’d do that?” His chin settled on the back of the hand he had resting on the window ledge.
“Hm. I don’t know. Idiots come in all shapes and sizes. Just look at me standing out here in the cold.”
“I am looking at you.”
“And what big eyes you have.”
“Are you insinuating I’m a wolf and this is some kind of fairy tale?”
Willa shook her head. “There’re a couple of other things I don’t believe in besides coincidence; fairy tales and happy endings.”
“Come on. Everyone loves a happy ending. Think of When Harry Met Sally, Bringing Up Baby, Gone With the Wind. ”
“Gone With the Wind does not have a happy ending. Rhett leaves Scarlett.”
“All right, but they had the cute meeting. So did we. Now you’re standing in the snow with rosy cheeks. How romantic is that?”
“It’d be better if you were the one out here freezing.”
“You have me on that too. So how should I finish? How cheesy and trite should I get? How far do you want to take this little romantic comedy I think we’ve started?”
Willa sighed. Yes, it was a bit romantic, a little funny, and it felt wonderful, but she had more important things to tend to than effervescent chemistry. This cute little comedy was already over. “I have to clean out my gutters, shampoo my hair, and have a root canal.”
“What a coincidence. So do I.”
“No, seriously,” she moved her hand through the falling snow, “I’m passing through town and I have to be someplace by two. I don’t have time to fool around.”
He lifted his chin and sat up. “Fool around? Wait a minute. I wasn’t making a sleazy suggestion.”
His left eyebrow arched. “Is it the beard? Does it really make me look like the seedy type who’d suggest we get a room at some cheap motel for an hour?”
The rush of heat nearly made her knees buckle and Willa actually considered the idea of a cheap motel. An hour, yes, an hour with those electric hands and that warm body on top of me, pushing me up against the wall, pushing inside me instead of a ghost or a faded memory or my own hands.
Then she remembered why she’d said yes to Oscar about the job.
Cold dread edged out the warmth that had begun to spread though her body. The fantasy of a dirty sixty minutes of carnal pleasure dissolved like the snowflakes falling on her coat.
She gave Uncle John a little smile. “Rather than telling you what I really think of your hairstyle and that ridiculous grin you’re wearing, this is where we do a simple fade to black.” Willa took a couple of steps backwards and opened the driver’s side. “You have a nice life.”
“Wait a minute. This is not how romantic comedies end.”
“Then maybe we should consider this a bittersweet love story of what might have been.”
John watched her climb into her car. “Yeah. An hour wouldn’t have been enough for me either,” he muttered to himself as she shut the door.