The Forgotten Daughter - Page 79

When she finally stopped, her heart was beating fast. Not because of the exercise, but because of her location. She stepped over the iron rails and into the row of trees that separated the train tracks from the highway. Scooter’s station sat on the other side of the road.

The ditch was steep. One misstep could easily twist an ankle. A grin stopped as it was being formed. Scooter wouldn’t come to her rescue. Not this time.

Choosing her steps carefully, she made her way down the ditch and up the other side. The gas station was built close to the road on the other side, and she could clearly see the Closed sign hanging on the door. It was late, already past closing time.

A clap of thunder had her glancing skyward. How had she not noticed those dark clouds? Storm clouds. Having been at his station many times, she knew the back door was rarely locked.

She ran across the road and made it inside Scooter’s station before the rain hit.

* * *

Rain was the last thing he needed. No, Scooter thought as he wiped the water off his face with one hand, the bolts of lightning striking the ground all around his bike were the last thing he needed.

The storm rolled in fast. There hadn’t been a drop of rain when he’d left the Plantation. He could have stayed. He’d been invited to the evening meal, but Clyde had told him all he needed to know. Francine Wilks’s last man had been found hiding under one of the piers. Josie was safe. Spending the evening with her family was something he didn’t need right now.

He’d known she’d be mad at him for telling her father the truth. His timing could have been better, when it came to asking her to marry him. Then again, it had been a pipe dream anyway. In the midst of all the craziness, he’d lost sight of his station in life. He’d come a long way since his father’s death and would continue to work hard until his dying day. He had a lot more than many others, a home with food on the table and heat when needed, reliable transportation and enough money that he didn’t worry when falling asleep every night. All that was enough for some. Enough for him in many ways. Just not for Josie.

His common sense had gotten away from him, that was what had happened when he’d asked her to marry him. Of course she’d said no. No woman would want to live in a dingy room above a gas station. And even if the three bedrooms at his mother’s house hadn’t already been taken, Josie was used to living in much finer conditions than he could offer.

A dip in the road, full of water from the rain cascading down, caught him off guard, and he wrenched on the handlebars, struggling to keep the bike upright. After a couple of moments when the back tire fishtailed, the cycle straightened out and he pulled the bill of his hat down a bit farther, wishing he had his goggles. At least he was almost home.

Less than half a mile later, he pulled into his gas station. While rounding the building to park the bike under the lean-to built for that purpose, the side door caught his eye. It wasn’t shut. The latch didn’t always catch, but he’d purposefully checked that it had closed before he’d left.

He parked the bike in its normal spot. The rain was so loud he doubted whoever was inside could hear him approaching. It could just be a traveler who’d taken refuge from the rain, but then there would have been a vehicle parked nearby.

Scooter entered via the open door and crossed through the mechanic’s bay—where the main light switches were located near the door that led into the other room of the station.

He pulled his hat off and dropped it on the workbench that lined the wall as he strolled forward. Once at the door, he threw it open and pulled on the long cord for the lights at the same time.

Overhead, the bulbs flickered as the light grew stronger and right before him, standing next to the desk he used to write up orders and pay bills, Josie slapped her hands over her mouth, muffling a squeal as she stumbled backward.

Expecting anyone but her, Scooter stopped dead in his tracks. It wasn’t until a smile—one that made his heart flip—overcame her startled expression that his mind clicked into gear. “What are you doing here?”

Her coy little shrug and the way she tugged at the hem of her white blouse didn’t help the way his body was reacting to seeing her. The britches hugging her hips teased him, too. They always had. The fact she never dressed like her sisters may have been part of the reason he’d forgotten the big differences between the two of them. Dressed as she was, he could almost believe Josie wouldn’t mind living above his station—at least until he could build her a proper house, which he would do. Or would have done if she’d have said yes to his proposal.

Fighting the urge to step forward, he growled, “A man can only take so much, Josie. Don’t push me too far.”