Publish Date: March 2015
She didn’t know she needed rescuing…
Eve Read doesn’t need help from anyone. She’s searching for her missing brother and doesn’t want any distractions. Yet sharing her burden with mysterious leather-clad biker Marshall Sullivan is a relief, and soon Eve can’t resist the sparks igniting between them!
Meteorologist Marshall spends his life on the road, but there’s something about Eve that makes him want to stay put…
Has Eve finally found what she’s been searching for all along?
Copyright © 2014 by Nikki Logan. Permission to reproduce text granted by Harlequin Books S.A.
Her Knight in the Outback
It was moments like this that Evelyn Read hated. Life-defining moments. Moments when her fears and prejudices reared up before her eyes and confronted her—just like a King Brown snake surprised while basking on the hot Australian highway.
She squinted at the distant biker limping carefully towards her out of the shimmering heat mirage and curled her fingers more tightly around the steering wheel.
A moment like this one might have taken her brother. Maybe Trav stopped for the wrong stranger; maybe that was where he went when he disappeared all those months ago. Her instincts screamed that she should press down on her accelerator until the man—the danger—was an hour behind her. But a moment like this might have saved her brother, too. If a stranger had only been kind enough or brave enough to stop for him. Then maybe Travis would be back with them right now. Safe. Loved.
Instead of alone, scared…or worse.
The fear of never knowing what happened to him tightened her gut the way it always did when she thought too long about this crazy thing she was doing.
The biker limped closer.
Should she listen to her basest instincts and flee, or respond to twenty-four years of social conditioning and help a fellow human being in trouble? There was probably some kind of outback code to be observed, too, but she’d heard too many stories from too many grieving people to be particularly bothered by niceties.
Eve’s eyes flicked to the distant motorbike listing on the side of the long, empty road. And then, closer, to the scruffy man now nearing the restored 1956 Bedford bus that was getting her around Australia.
She glanced at her door’s lock to make sure it was secure.
The man limped to a halt next to the bus’s bi-fold doors and looked at her expectantly over his full beard. A dagger tattoo poked out from under his dark T-shirt and impenetrable sunglasses hid his eyes—and his intent—from her.
No. This was her home. She’d never open her front door to a total stranger. Especially not hours from the nearest other people.
She signalled him around to the driver’s window instead.
He didn’t look too impressed, but he limped his way around to her side and she slid the antique window open and forced her voice to be light.
Sociopaths make a decision on whether you’re predator or prey in the first few seconds, she remembered from one of the endless missing person fact sheets she’d read. She was not about to have ‘prey’ stamped on her forehead.
‘Morning,’ she breezed, as if this wasn’t potentially a very big deal indeed. ‘Looks like you’re having a bad day.’
‘Emu,’ he grunted and she got a glimpse of straight teeth and healthy gums.
Stupidly, that reassured her. As if evil wouldn’t floss. She twisted around for evidence of a big damaged bird flailing in the scrub after hitting his motorbike. To validate his claim. ‘Was it okay?’
‘Yeah, I’m fine, thanks.’
That brought her eyes back to his glasses. ‘I can see that. But emus don’t always come off the best after a road impact.’
As if she’d know…
‘Going that fast, it practically went over the top of me as it ran with its flock. It’s probably twenty miles from here now, trying to work out how and when it got black paint on its claws.’
He held up his scratched helmet, which had clearly taken an impact. More evidence. She just nodded, not wanting to give an inch more than necessary. He’d probably already summed her up as a bleeding heart over the emu.
One for the prey column.
‘Where are you headed?’ he asked.
Her radar flashed again at his interest. ‘West.’
Duh, since the Bedford was pointing straight at the sun heading for the horizon and there was nothing else out this way but west.
‘Can I catch a lift to the closest town?’
Was that tetchiness in his voice because she kept foiling him or because hers was the first vehicle to come along in hours and she was stonewalling him on a ride?
She glanced at his crippled bike.
‘That’ll have to stay until I can get back here with a truck,’ he said, following her glance.
There was something in the sag of his shoulders and the way he spared his injured leg that reassured her even as the beard and tattoo and leather did not. He’d clearly come off his bike hard. Maybe he was more injured than she could see?
But the stark reality was that her converted bus only had the one seat up front—hers. ‘That’s my home back there,’ she started.
‘So, I don’t know you.’
Yep. That was absolutely the insult his hardened lips said it was. But she was not letting a stranger back there. Into her world.
‘It’s only an hour to the border.’ He sighed. ‘I’ll stand on your steps until Eucla.’
Right next to her. Where he could do anything and she couldn’t do a thing to avoid it.
‘An hour by motorbike, maybe. We take things a little more easy in this old girl. It’ll take at least twice that.’
‘Fine. I’ll stand for two hours then.’
Or she could just leave him here and send help back. But the image of Trav, lost and in need of help while someone drove off and left him injured and alone, flitted through her mind.
If someone had just been brave…
‘I don’t know you,’ she wavered.
‘Look, I get it. A woman travelling alone, big scary biker. You’re smart to be cautious but the reality is help might not be able to get to me today so if you leave me here I could be here all night. Freezing my ass off.’
She fumbled for her phone.
His shaggy head shook slightly. ‘If we had signal don’t you think I’d have used it?’
Sure enough, her phone had diminished to SOS only. And as bad as that motorbike looked, it wasn’t exactly an emergency.
‘Just until we get signal, then?’ he pressed, clearly annoyed at having to beg. ‘Come on, please?’
How far could that be? They were mostly through the desert now, coming out on the western side of Australia. Where towns and people and telecommunications surely had to exist.
‘Have you got some ID?’
He blinked at her and then reached back into his jeans for his wallet.
‘No. Not a licence. That could be fake. Got any photos of you?’
He moved slowly, burdened by his incredulity, but pulled his phone out and flicked through a few screens. Then he pressed it up against Eve’s window glass.
A serious face looked back at her. Well groomed and in a business shirt. Pretty respectable, really. Almost cute.
‘That’s not you.’
‘Yeah, it is.’
She peered at him again. ‘No, it’s not.’
It might have been a stock photo off the Internet for all she knew. The sort of search result she used to get when she googled ‘corporate guy’ for some design job.
‘Oh, for pity’s sake…’
He flicked through a few more and found another one, this time more bearded. But nothing like the hairy beast in front of her. Her hesitation obviously spoke volumes so he pushed his sunglasses up onto his head, simultaneously revealing grey eyes and slightly taming his rusty blond hair.
Huh. Okay, maybe it was him.
A breathed bad word clearly tangled in the long hairs of his moustache but he complied—eventually—and slapped that against the window too.
She held up her phone and took a photo of him through the glass, with his licence in the shot.
‘What’s that for?’
‘I just need a lift. That’s it. I have no interest in you beyond that.’
‘Easy for you to say.’
Her thumbs got busy texting it to both her closest friend and her father in Melbourne. Just to cover bases. Hard to know if the photo would make them more or less confident in this dusty odyssey she was on, but she had to send it to someone.
The grey eyes she could now see rolled. ‘We have no signal.’
‘The moment we do it will go.’
She hit send and let the phone slip back down into its little spot on her dash console.
‘You have some pretty serious trust issues, lady, you know that?’
‘And this is potentially the oldest con in the book. Broken down vehicle on remote outback road.’ She glanced at his helmet and the marks that could be emu claws. ‘I’ll admit your story has some pretty convincing details—’
‘Because it’s the truth.’
‘—but I’m travelling alone and I’m not going to take any chances. And I’m not letting you in here with me, sorry.’ The cab was just too small and risky. ‘You’ll have to ride in the back.’
‘What about all the biker germs I’m going to get all over your stuff?’ he grumbled.
‘You want a lift or not?’
Those steady eyes glared out at her. ‘Yeah. I do.’
And then, as though he couldn’t help himself, he grudgingly rattled off a thank you.
Okay, so it had to be safer to let him loose in the back than have him squished here in the front with her. Her mind whizzed through all the things he might get up to back there but none of them struck her as bad as what he could do up front if he wasn’t really who he said he was.
Or even if he was.
Biker boy and his helmet limped back towards the belongings piled on the side of the road next to his disabled bike. Leather jacket, pair of satchels, a box of mystery equipment.
She ground the gears starting the Bedford back up but rolled up behind him and, as soon as his arms were otherwise occupied with his own stuff, she unlocked the bus and mouthed through the glass of her window. ‘Back doors.’
Sullivan limped to the back of the Bedford, lurched it as he climbed in and then slammed himself in there with all her worldly possessions.
‘Come on, old chook,’ she murmured to the decades-old bus. ‘Let’s push it a bit, eh?’