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Have you met Bertha?


Have you met Berta? It's a powder blue VW van Lily inherited from her grandmother. I got the inspiration from a business motivational speaker I follow who bought a rose farm and an antique blue VW van. She'd post pictures of the van in front of the barn with all of these flowers, and my inspiration for Lily's dream was born.


Lily's grandmother gifted her the farm with strict instructions to follow her dreams of opening a flower shop. Lily moves into the farm and opens the store but something's still missing. She has visions of the van being her brand, customers will associate the van with her flower shop. But it's just not reliable, and she doesn't have the money to fix it right now. And the worst part? Her mechanic is seriously grumpy. But he has an interesting protective side.


***

My heart stuttered when I saw heat rising from Berta’s hood. “No, no, no.”


I slowly eased up off the gas, not sure what to do. I couldn’t exactly search online for answers while I was driving on a major highway. I didn’t want to be on the side of the road again with tractor trailers flying by. It wasn’t safe.


I was most likely out of Jake’s tow zone. I gripped the steering wheel tighter as I carefully changed lanes until I was in the far right one, hoping for an off-ramp.


“Come on. Come on.” I chewed on my lower lip as the smoke continued to rise from the hood.


What was I going to do? I didn’t want to pull over. I wasn’t sure how long I’d need to wait for a tow truck. Could I make it to an off-ramp? Was it a good idea to keep driving with the engine overheating? It didn’t sound like the best idea, but then, pulling to the side of the road on a highway wasn’t a great option either.


I wished I’d taken Jake up on his offer to do more maintenance on the vehicle.


I sighed as I tried to ease the tension in my neck and shoulders. I wished I had Bluetooth in the van so I could call and ask someone for advice. As it was, I was too nervous to take my hands off the wheel to dial my phone.


Finally, a sign indicated there was an off-ramp coming up. I eased off the highway as soon as I saw the exit lane. The smoke was heavier than when I’d first noticed it. I wished I could have made it to a lit parking lot, but I wasn’t sure it was a good idea to keep driving.


Pulling over to the shoulder on the side of the ramp, I grabbed my phone, wondering who I should call. Jake’s card sat on the console, beckoning me. I rested my head on the seat back. Jake would be pissed I was in this situation again. Would he even come?


No, he’d told me to call if I needed anything, and he had a tow service. It was quicker than calling a different service and waiting five hours for someone to show up. If they did at all. I’d been in that situation before.


I drew in a deep breath and dialed the number Jake scrawled on the back of the card. It was after-hours, so his cell was my best bet.


Jake answered, and everything in my body froze.


“Jake.” My voice cracked.


“Lily? Are you okay? Where are you?”


“I was on 95 when smoke started coming from the hood.”


I heard a rustling noise over the line.


“I wasn’t sure what to do.” I continually scanned the area for anything suspicious. Other than the occasional vehicle on the off-ramp, it was quiet.


I heard a door open and close. “You on the highway?”


“I pulled off to the exit ramp.” I relayed the number so he could find me.


He grunted. “Are you safe?”


I looked around. “It’s getting dark, but there hasn’t been much traffic on the ramp since I stopped.”


“Listen, I’m on my way, and, Lily, please call me if you need me.”


Tingles erupted over my skin when he’d said my name.


“Even if it’s just to have someone to talk to.”


“I can do that.” His voice settled my nerves.


“I’ll be there as soon as I can.” The rumble of his engine met my ear.


“Thank you, Jake.” I wanted to tell him to hurry, but I knew he already was. I was unbelievably grateful for his steadying, take-control voice in my ear.


“Call me back for any reason.” His voice was insistent.


“I will.” I turned off the van’s lights so that people would think it was an abandoned vehicle and wouldn’t stop.


He clicked off, and I relaxed slightly, knowing Jake was on his way. I wanted to close my eyes and sleep for a year, but I should be aware of my surroundings. A woman alone in a broken-down vehicle wasn’t a good situation.


I kept my fingers on my phone in case I needed to call Jake or the police quickly, but thankfully, no one stopped.


It was probably only forty-five minutes, even though it felt like hours, when Jake’s tow truck rumbled past me, pulled off onto the shoulder, and backed up.


The door opened, and I expected Jake to hitch the van to his truck, but he stalked toward my door, so I rolled down the window.


His mouth was drawn into a tight line, his face filled with concern. “You okay?”

I let out a breath. “I am now.”


Something flashed in Jake’s eyes, but I couldn’t determine what it was. “Why don’t you get in the cab of my truck? It’s warmer.”


“Of course.” I grabbed my purse and the one extra flower arrangement I still had and opened the door. Jake helped me hop down and used the flashlight on his phone to lead the way to the passenger side of his vehicle.


He gave me a boost into the passenger seat of the tow truck, which was considerably taller than any vehicle I’d been inside before. “I’ll just be a minute.”


He shut the door and moved to attach my van. Berta looked small and forlorn behind the large tow truck. Was I making a mistake in continuing to use her when she wasn’t reliable? She needed more work than I could afford.


It was time for me to be realistic. I’d seen a used van at a lot the other day. It would be fine for what I needed. Jake climbed easily into the driver’s side and slammed the heavy door shut. “You good?”


I swallowed over the lump in my throat before hiding my face as I fastened the seat belt. “Yeah.”


Jake shot me one more concerned look before doing the same, then he checked the rearview mirrors and pulled slowly onto the ramp. “What happened exactly?”


“As soon as I noticed the smoke, I pulled into the slow lane, hoping for an exit ramp to get off. I didn’t want to stop on the highway. I was far from town and wasn’t sure how long it would take a tow truck to get to me.”


“Normally, I’d say that was smart, but driving on an overheated engine causes irreparable damage.”


I shivered at his word choice. “Maybe it’s for the best.”


Jake glanced over at me before turning his attention to the road. “What are you talking about?”


Feeling resigned, I sagged farther into the seat. “I think it’s time for me to replace Berta. You can tow her to my farm.”


When he remained silent, I continued. “I’ll go to the used car lot tomorrow. There’s a van there that could work.” It was a little more than I wanted to pay, but the salesman said vans were popular, and it wouldn’t be there long.


Jake gave me a noncommittal grunt.


I turned in my seat to face him. “What does that mean?”


“Are you sure that’s what you want?” He said each word carefully before turning his head to look at me.


I ripped my gaze from his. “I just said it was, didn’t I? I thought you’d be pleased. You said restoring Berta is a waste of everyone’s time.”


Jake was quiet for so long that I wasn’t sure he was going to respond to my outburst. Finally, he said quietly, “That’s not exactly what I said, and besides, I changed my mind.”


I shifted in my seat so that my knee was folded on the seat and I was facing him. “I’m sorry, you did what now?”


A muscle ticked in his jaw. “I said I changed my mind.”


I leaned closer, wishing I could see his eyes and figure out what he was thinking. Was he messing with me? “You had a change of heart?”


I didn’t think that was possible.


“Yes.” Just that one simple word.


It was like pulling teeth to get information out of this man. He was infuriating. “So, first, you think restoring her is a waste. Then you say it’s not.”


I didn’t know what to believe or why he was saying what he was saying.


“I want to help.”


“You want to help me?” I asked, letting disbelief fill my tone. My impression of him was that I was an inconvenience to him, something he needed to take care of so he could get back to more important work. I irritated him.


“That’s right. My partner, Ryan, and I talked about your situation.” He swallowed, and I was mesmerized by the slow up-and-down movement of his Adam’s apple.


I wasn’t sure how I felt about that.


“We want to help you. We’d like to restore Berta.”


The warmth I’d felt at his earlier declaration quickly chilled with the use of the word we. “Why would you be interested in doing that when I said I couldn’t afford a complete restoration?”


A few nights ago, I lay in bed daydreaming about getting the money to cover the repairs.


“If the garage restores Berta, it’s good for both of us.”


“How does that work?” I couldn’t imagine how restoring Berta would be good for him, especially if I couldn’t pay for the work.


“We’re helping you out. It looks good for us.”


My eyes narrowed on him, and I wished more than anything he wasn’t driving so I could see his expression. “You want to fix Berta to help yourself?”


Jake sighed, shaking his head. “I’m not explaining this right. I’m not good with this stuff.”


“You’re not good with people? Women? Talking to potential clients?” The stress of the smoke, being stranded on the shoulder, it was too much.


“All of the above. I should have let Ryan handle this.”


“Why didn’t you?” I asked, crossing my arms over my chest.


“Because you called me. You trusted me to help you.”



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