VERY unedited excerpt from a hetero contemporary romance I abandoned years ago.
After a while, the white lines on the highway tended to blur together. That was always Craig’s signal that it was nearly time to pull off the road for his mandatory eight-hour break. He’d been driving for ten hours since his last stop, and that meant he didn’t have much choice about stopping again.
But he was only forty miles from home, and it seemed stupid to stop when he was so close. Not that he had anyone waiting for him when he came off the road. All he had was a little one-bedroom apartment over an old woman’s garage. His landlady never cared if he was there or not, as long as the rent was paid on time. Craig didn’t spend much time there anyway. It was just a place for him to sleep on weekends. He only took weekends off because his boss made him. The road was what mattered to him.
Sometimes not having anyone waiting for him at home depressed him. But it hadn’t seemed worth it to look for anyone, not since he’d lost his wife five years earlier. She’d only been twenty-five, four years younger than he was, and they’d been together since she was sixteen. He didn’t think he’d ever love anyone else as much as he had Meg. At least being on the road gave him time to think about her. There were times he even imagined she was sitting in the passenger seat, just like she’d said she wanted to do when he’d first brought up learning to drive big rigs.
Ahead of him, a grey SUV swerved as if about to change lanes, then swerved the other way. “Great,” Craig muttered. “Drunk driver at five in the afternoon. Some people just can’t wait to get the party started.”
The other vehicle swerved a few more times and nearly sideswiped a small black hatchback traveling in the far right lane. The car veered to the right to avoid the SUV and, as Craig watched from the cab of his rig, skidded through the breakdown lane and into the ditch alongside the road. The SUV kept going as if the driver hadn’t noticed anything.
Craig steered into the breakdown lane and brought his rig to a stop. The driver of the car probably wasn’t hurt, but he wanted to make sure. He shifted into parking gear and picked up his CB mic. “Break for any state trooper near northbound mile marker seventy-eight. Gray SUV just ran a car off the road. Checking now to find out if the driver’s all right.”
“State police here,” a male voice came back. “Who are you?”
“I’m in a Jacksonian rig,” Craig replied. “Getting out now to check on the driver. I didn’t catch a license plate on that SUV, but they’ve been driving erratically for a couple miles now.”
“We’ll take care of it. If the driver you’re checking on is injured, don’t move him.”
“Wasn’t planning on it. Out.” Craig hooked the mic back to the radio. The trooper must have thought he was an idiot. Of course he knew enough not to move an injured person until help arrived.
He climbed down from the truck cab and hurried into the ditch. The car was tilted nearly halfway onto its side. The driver was stirring, probably trying to get out. They wouldn’t have much luck, given how the car had ended up. Gravity would keep the driver’s side door closed, and the passenger side door was against the ground.
He went closer and saw that the driver was a woman. Younger than him, and looking pretty terrified. Craig carefully made his way up to the car. A slight smell of gas filled the air, as if the car had sprung a leak somewhere along the line.
The driver rolled down the window. “Can you help me get out?”
Her voice reminded Craig of Meg. He steeled himself against the pain the memory was sure to bring and forced a smile. “I can try,” he said. “Are you hurt?”
She shook her head. “I don’t think so. Had the wind knocked out of me when I landed, but I think I’m okay now. I just can’t get the door open, and I smell gas. You don’t think it’s going to catch fire, do you?”
“I think you’re going to be fine.” He took hold of the door handle and pulled. The door resisted opening. He pulled harder, and the door opened. “I’ll hold it. You get out.”
The driver scrambled out of the car, and Craig let the door slam shut. The woman looked at him with teary green eyes. Her red hair was tied back in a wavy ponytail, and the scrubs she wore were slightly wrinkled. “Thank you,” she said.