WHEN HEARTS COLLIDE
Rachel Bennett’s plan is simple, no distractions until she finds her dream job. What she didn’t plan for was a fender bender with a scowling, sexy man in an expensive suit. Craig Larsen has enough stress trying to save his dealership’s reputation, he definitely doesn’t need a sassy redhead who can’t drive turning everything upside down. One thing is certain, life was much more peaceful before they crashed into each other.
Fate has other plans for them, though. Soon they find themselves plotting a yard war against a grumpy neighbor, toilet-papering the trees of an old high school nemesis, and fighting over the last slice of pizza. Can two very different people plus one fender bender equal a chance at forever?
PREVIOUSLY PUBLISHED AS FENDER BENDER BLUES
I fell in love with this story so quickly. Rach and Craig are amazing characters and so easy to love. They are quite the opposite but as the story goes you realize, at the same time they do, how perfect they are for each other. And they are such good persons too! Smart, caring, loyal, and with a great sense of humor. Their chemistry is undeniable. Seriously, them together means fireworks. Their interactions are pure gold. They get through each other’s brains. Under the other’s skin. And of course, they carved themselves a space in each other’s heart. And a print to their soul. I was enjoying the story so much that I didn’t stop until I read The End. But when I got there, I was like: can I have more? Because the book is brilliant in every sense. It’s different and has you on the edge about what’s going to happen next. Funny and bittersweet. Overall, more sweet than bitter.
“You are not coming home without a job,” Rach muttered to herself and swung the dated sedan around in the townhome parking lot to face the street.
So she felt like crap and had a kink in her neck. Those were small discomforts in light of the task ahead—finding the perfect job, maybe even her dream job, if such a thing existed. She would prove to her parents and anyone else who had their doubts about her current circumstance that she, Rachel Marie Bennett, failed social worker, had a plan for her future.
Prince’s “Little Red Corvette” blared through the speakers from a playlist of her favorite songs as she rolled out of the parking lot at a crawl, reaching up to tilt the rearview mirror just so. She whipped open a tube of lip gloss to apply a generous swipe. Opportunities were endless when armed with a lucky tube of lip gloss.
The sudden blare of a car horn assaulted her ears and she slammed on the brakes. The crunch of metal split the air at the same time a jarring impact jolted her against the shoulder harness locked across her chest. Eyes squeezed shut, she flopped back into place and sucked in a quick breath.
“I’m fine. The car is fine. Everything is fine.”
She took a few deep breaths to calm her nerves, then opened her eyes.
“Lucky, my ass,” she huffed, and threw her car into park. She glared at the tainted lip gloss still clutched in a shaky hand and tossed it to the floor where it dropped between a candy wrapper and a fast food bag. She leaned forward to assess the damage through the windshield.
Her car sat in limbo halfway out of the parking lot with a shiny blue Camaro eating her driver’s side front fender. The sports car looked as if it had been driven off a dealership lot and straight into her car.
All signs pointed to her fault. She wiped clammy palms on her pants legs and summoned a brighter thought—at least she had full coverage. Her dad would gloat about it later. He’d been needling her to keep it instead of swapping for the cheaper liability-only coverage, all to save a few hundred bucks a year.
With a sigh, she pulled her insurance card from the center console, then pushed the car door open to face the music. When she shoved the door shut behind her, the unhealthy groan of protesting metal made her frown. A quizzical glance at the fender showed it bent in at the doorjamb. No wonder she’d had a hard time pushing it open. “Just perfect,” she muttered.
Any optimism she had for a lighthearted insurance card exchange went up in smoke when she met the eyes of the man staring at her from the other side of the sportscar. She took in his handsome face and sharp features, the neat, tawny hair trimmed close to his head, and endless broad shoulders tucked into an expensive dark gray business suit. He reeked of money and ego—and restrained anger. Not a good combination.
She sighed miserably. Ready to apologize, she stepped forward and lifted her hands. “I am so—”
“I hope you have insurance,” he interrupted with a growl, and she dropped her hands. A muscle twitched in his well-defined jaw, still looking very GQ despite the grimace he wore. His linebacker body was planted in a rigid stance, as if he were holding back a few swear words.
Offended by his jerkiness—she hated growly guys, they were right up there with shitty jobs—Rach cocked her head and taunted, “It would really suck if I didn’t.”
Exasperated, he strode around his wrecked beauty and she took a step backward. She bumped into the side of her car, and with nowhere to go, plastered on a tight smile. Since he hadn’t reacted well to sarcasm, she decided to cop the funny stuff and held out the insurance card without another word. The man yanked it from her fingers and she bit her tongue.
Peering at it as if he doubted its authenticity, she fought the urge to tap her foot. Finally, he looked up at her with reproachful, cornflower blue eyes. “You weren’t even looking. You could have hurt someone.”
True . . . But she didn’t need this. She’d be hearing the same lecture from her mom later. Rach glared back at him. “Thank you, Mr. Driver Safety Educator. Now give me your insurance information and we’ll be on our way. Unless you want to call the cops.”
God, I hoped not! She cringed. A ticket on top of an insurance claim would be a disaster. Especially without a job.
She breathed a sigh of relief when he shook his head.
“Forget it,” he said through gritted teeth. “This is private property—your car’s mostly in your parking lot.”
He seemed upset by the fact no one would be hauling her away in cuffs. Rach glanced at his mangled bumper and supposed it was understandable. The car had been immaculate before . . . well, before she’d pulled out in front of him. She felt awful. This was the lip gloss’s fault. Apparently, she’d overestimated its worth.
She decided to try the apology again, but he interrupted her with, “I’ll be calling this in today.”
He handed her a card from his wallet.
Rach rolled her eyes and swallowed the apology. She stuffed the card into her purse without a glance, deep down where it joined the crumpled papers, ATM receipts, and junk mail. Turning her back on his pissy attitude, she yanked her car door open and pretended not to hear the sad noise it made.
“Great. Nice to meet you. You’re very charming. Have a wonderful day,” Rach articulated and wrenched the door shut behind her.
He stood glaring at her with his hands in his pants pockets, as if considering a reply. After a moment, he shook his head and stalked around his car to the driver’s side. She gave him a simmering stare before backing up. As the vehicles disengaged, a loud screech of bending metal broke the quiet of the morning, sending birds fluttering in surprise from the surrounding trees. There was a tug as her car dragged his bumper along with it, sounding a high-pitched scraping noise across the pavement.
Horrified and unsure of what to do, she floored the accelerator. The car shot out of the parking lot sideways and jumped the curb. A look in the rearview mirror showed the man standing in front of his car holding the front clip in his arms. He wasn’t smiling.
To keep the depression at bay, Rach did the only thing fathomable in her situation—she hit the Buster Burger drive-thru for fast-food therapy. She ignored the curious stares of fellow drive-thru motorists who were no doubt wondering if the other person’s vehicle had fared better than hers. There’s no need to worry so much, everything is fine, she told herself as she took the bag and cappuccino from the kid at the drive-thru window, but the knot in her stomach would not go away. She had just wrecked her car. Her insurance would most certainly skyrocket after this event.
“It’s okay. Really. The rest of the day will be better,” she muttered, pulling the breakfast burrito from the bag. The pick-me-up speech did little for her nerves, though, and she needed to stay optimistic while dropping off résumés.
Rach’s last job hadn’t been horrible, but she wasn’t interested in being a file clerk for the rest of her life. After three months of working in a basement with no windows and only filing cabinets for company, Rach had given her notice. For an entire week she’d lazed around her apartment, slept until her eyes hurt, and watched sitcom reruns. A much needed vacation—that’s what she’d told herself the downtime had been. Now, it was time to get back to reality.
Another month without any income rolling in would put a major dent in the savings she’d worked so hard for. If she didn’t find a job in the next three months, she would have to move in with her parents. A twenty-seven-year-old woman did not pack her bags to move into her parents’ basement. That would be a blow to her ego she would never overcome. I’m a college graduate, for Pete’s sake!
Rach finished off the breakfast burrito, disappointed the tortilla had been nuked a few seconds too long. She crumpled up the wrapper and stuffed it back inside the bag. It joined the discarded lip gloss on the floor. The inside of her car resembled her life—a complete catastrophe. People who’d known Rach her entire life wouldn’t recognize the mess that surrounded her. They weren’t alone because she didn’t understand it, either.
She parked the cappuccino in the cup holder and speed-dialed her best friend’s cell phone. When Leah answered, Rach told her, “I was just in a car accident.”
“Oh, my God! Are you okay?” Leah screeched into her ear. Something crashed to the floor in the background and Rach winced, sorry she hadn’t been more specific.
She put Leah on speakerphone. “Just a fender bender with Angry Hot Guy. I’m fine.”
“Oh. Okay. Angry Hot Guy, huh? So, what happened?” The buzzing of clippers resumed.
Leah owned her own hair salon. She had employees. Rach had played around with the possibility of going to beauty school so she could work for her best friend, but she didn’t trust herself with scissors and someone else’s hair. The one time she’d attempted to cut her own bangs she ended up with a hack job, which Leah managed to feather into a decent hairdo. Rach hadn’t played with hair since.
“I was applying lip gloss,” she stated simply.
“Ah, lip gloss.” Leah chuckled. “Dangerous stuff.”
“I know it. They should put warning labels on those things. Anyway, it was his fault.” Instantly, guilt ate at her for the lie—damn conscience, anyway—and she admitted, “That’s not true. I wasn’t looking”
“I’m sorry, sweetie,” Leah sympathized and Rach could hear the frown in her voice. “Listen, I want you to meet him now.”
“The Greek god?” Rach teased, amused at the nickname Leah had given her new crush. “What’s going on with that, anyway?”
She could imagine Leah shrugging on the other end. “We’ve been texting.”
Rach grinned and turned at the stop light. “Have you gone on a date with him yet?”
“No. We haven’t seen each other since he showed me the apartment last week. Just talking, you know. Anyway, tonight he’s showing his brother a house just a few blocks from your place, actually. I want you to go with me. I’m a little nervous since this is only the second time we’ve seen each other. But he’s the one, Rach.”
Rach rolled her eyes. “Okay, okay. You know I don’t believe in that crap. But I’m there. Text me the address.”
“You’re the best! I’ll see you after I get off of work. Guess he’s showing his brother the place about 5:30, so don’t be late, okay?” Rach almost hung up, but Leah said, “And you don’t believe in it now, but you will.”
Rach smiled. “Yeah, yeah, true love and all that mumbo jumbo. I’ll see you tonight. Love ya.”
Rach hung up and turned into the empty parking lot of the first business on her list and hit a pothole. She parked in front of the squat, light blue building with glass windows lining the front. She killed the engine and grabbed the briefcase full of freshly printed résumés off the passenger seat. After climbing out of the car, she smoothed her pants and adjusted her blouse, knowing she looked killer in the pants suit she’d only worn once before quitting her last job.
Two steps toward the entrance to Copy Masters, “We Master You Faster,” she stopped dead in her tracks. The front fender was beyond repair, smashed in at least five inches over the wheel-well with a silver emblem crimped into the metal. An ominous hissing came from under the hood, which she hadn’t noticed on the drive over.
“You’ve got to be kidding me.” She fished inside her purse for her car keys and used a key to jimmy the emblem loose. With a disgusted grunt she tossed the sad looking piece of metal inside her purse.
Taking a deep breath, she pasted on a smile.
“Here we go, Bennett. This one’s all yours.” She cheered herself on, and went inside.