"Aww, damn it!"
Elizabeth Runnels pulled over onto the grassy shoulder and put her car into park before reaching for the map on the passenger seat. She also grabbed the step-by-step instructions Susan had emailed her and began to compare them with the route marked with a highlighter.
"I should be on Route 16. I know I took the Route 16 exit off the interstate, but did I miss a turn somewhere?"
A glance out her windshield didn’t reveal any sort of signpost. Not in front, not in back, and not for the last ten or so miles. Here it was, nearly six-thirty on a Friday evening, and she was in the middle of nowhere on a two-lane blacktop. And not a frigging car anywhere in sight that she could flag down and ask for directions. At least it wouldn’t be dark for another couple of hours, which was to her advantage. It might take her that long to get to the Flying B ranch.
Growling a little in anger, Beth reached for her cell phone. It showed one bar of signal strength. "So much for west Texas," she muttered to herself, and hit five on the speed dial, praying the phone would work. Miraculously, the call went through.
"Susan! Oh, thank goodness! I’m lost as a goose! Help me?"
Susan’s familiar giggle answered her. "Girl, I knew it! I swear, you’d get lost in your own bathroom. Where are you?"
"Hell, if I knew, would I be calling you?" Beth snapped, and immediately regretted it. "Sorry, girlfriend. I think I’m getting a headache from trying to follow this stupid map."
"Are you on Route 16?"
"I think I am. At least I took that cutoff like your instructions say."
"Did you go under the overpass?"
"Did you go through a dinky town called Myler?"
Beth thought back. "I went through some little town, but I didn’t catch the name."
Susan giggled again. "That was Myler. Right outside of town you came to an intersection. That was where you were supposed to take a right onto 16."
"Yeah. There was a gas station at the corner. I took a right."
There was a pause. "There’s no gas station at the intersection."
"Yeah, there was," Beth insisted. She could even see the white stucco building in her mind’s eye.
"No, Bethie." came Susan’s patience-thinned reply. "Oh, geeze. I think you took a right on FM 144. There’s an old Sunoco gas station there. Good grief, Beth! You’ve done it again!"
"Aww, shit!" Beth tossed the printout and map back into the passenger seat. Putting the car into gear, she prepared to turn around and go back the way she’d come.
"How far did you go?" Susan asked.
"I don’t know. Fifteen miles? I kept looking for the mailbox and the entrance like you told me to, but I never saw it. That’s why I called."
"Go back until you reach the gas station again," her best friend instructed. "I’m sending Billy to meet you."
Billy. He was Wyatt’s younger brother, but older than Susan, making him the middle child. Beth had never met Billy Byrd. In fact, for the longest time, she never knew Wyatt and Susan had another sibling until Susan mentioned him one day.
"How will I know when I see him?" Beth asked.
"He drives a beat up old red truck," Susan said. "Even you can’t miss it. I swear, Beth. Look for an old red truck with the Flying B logo on the doors."
"All right. See you in a bit." Beth hung up, tossed the phone on top of the map, and gripped the steering wheel with both hands.
Some things never changed, and being jinxed was her biggest bone of contention. It was as if Murphy had written his famous Law with Elizabeth Runnels in mind. If something could break, get lost, or in some way end up in a way it was never originally intended to be, at some point Beth had to have had a hand in it.
Even when she was growing up, the kids at school called her Bad Luck Beth. The moniker had stuck, just like her never-ending string of happenstances.
"How could I have missed that intersection?" she kept repeating to herself. She had tried to follow Susan’s instructions to the letter, and thought she had done herself proud. But, no, it was not meant to be.
Fortunately, the road she was on was a straight shot back into town. She finally passed a road sign identifying it as Farm to Market Road 144, just as Susan guessed. As Beth neared the small community, she could see the yellow blinking traffic signal where she’d originally taken the wrong turn. The old gas station came into view, and sitting in front of it was a faded red truck. As Susan promised, the B with wings brand was on the doors. Beth pulled up beside it.
Her jaw dropped open to see the hunky dark-haired man drop out of the cab and make his way over to her window. His jeans were faded and well-worn, but they hugged his legs and butt. A huge, oval belt buckle rode on top of his zipper. He had on a stained white t-shirt underneath an unbuttoned, short-sleeved gingham shirt, and his scuffed boots were covered in dried mud.
Once he reached the driver’s side, he pushed up the brim on his straw hat and gave her a polite smile. "Beth?"
She remembered to close her mouth before she nodded. "Yeah. And you’re—"
"Billy." He stuck out a hand to shake hers. Large, warm fingers curled around hers, and he pumped it once. "Nice to meet you finally. I’ve heard a ton of things about you."
Beth smiled back into light-brown eyes with long, dark lashes. Oh, why were boys so blessed?
"Yeah, well, I hope we can still be cordial in spite of what you’ve heard." She tried to make a joke out of it, then wondered if she’d bombed instead. Probably did, knowing her.
The brown eyes did a quick once-over of her and the car’s interior. "How you doing for gas?"
She quickly checked and noticed the little red light on her dashboard. "Oh, crap, I’m low." Once again, she’d flunked Basic Driving 101. No telling how much farther she could have gotten before the car ran out and truly deserted her in the middle of nowhere. "Where’s the nearest station where I can fill up?"
"Sorry, but all the stations close up around five," Billy apologized. "Fortunately, we have a tank at the ranch where you can fill up."
"Is it far? I don’t know how much farther I can go."
"Tell you what. Follow me over to feed store. You can park there, and I’ll take you to the house. You can come back and get your car tomorrow. How’s that sound?"
"Good! Sounds perfect. Thanks!" She flashed him her best smile, which Billy returned. Beth remained frozen behind the wheel as she watched the most perfect ass she’d ever seen get back into the old red truck and pull out onto the road.
Shaking her head, she gripped the steering wheel even harder and followed right behind.