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Hard As Steele

By:Georgette St. Clair



Chapter One


May 30, 2013

“Don’t panic, don’t panic, don’t panic…okay, time to panic.”

Roxanne Weldon was fighting to keep all four tires on the snow-slick road, but it was a losing battle. She’d slowed down to a snail’s pace, but even so, her car’s tires had suddenly stopped listening to her steering wheel, and now she was headed towards the steep embankment at the edge of the road.

Damned Montana weather. It had been in the sixties yesterday, and now...a freak snow storm at the end of May. Wasn’t that just her luck? She pressed her foot down on the brakes with all her might, but her car kept sliding.

She frantically tried to remember what she was supposed to do when brakes fail. Steer into the skid? Pump her foot on the brakes? By the time she started pumping, the car had gone off the edge of the road and started rolling.

Then everything was a blur, and the car rolled over and over, finally settling on its roof with a thud. Everything went blank for a moment, and then came back into focus.

Roxanne’s head throbbed with pain, and she felt dizzy and sick. She was hanging upside down in her seatbelt, trapped like a fly in a spider web. Blindly, she felt around for the door. Her hands were shaking. She could already feel the cold seeping into the car. Her windows must have shattered. She was still dressed for the funeral she’d attended, wearing a long wool gray and black plaid skirt with tights and boots, and a black turtleneck. It wasn’t enough to keep her warm. When she’d gotten in her car, she’d taken off her puffy coat and tossed it in the back seat somewhere. It wasn’t helping her now.

She was in the middle of nowhere, and the world outside of the car had gone white as the snowstorm picked up in intensity. What were the odds anyone would come by and find her? For that matter, how would any passing cars see her? She had gone down an embankment. She was probably invisible to anybody driving by, assuming there was even anyone driving on this remote road in the middle of a blizzard.

Now she was truly starting to panic.

She flailed around, feeling for her purse, which contained her cell phone, but she couldn’t find it. Her cell phone wouldn’t get any reception out here anyway, she realized. There were no cell phone towers for many miles in any direction. She stopped flailing.

Her best friend Katherine had insisted that Roxanne call her when she’d arrived home. Roxanne wasn’t due home for another two hours – 6 p.m. How long would it take Katherine to start to worry? If Katherine called the police, what would they do? When would they start searching for Roxanne? Probably not until the next morning. By then, hypothermia would have set in, and…

She weakly fumbled for the seatbelt buckle. Her fingers were going numb. If she could get out, maybe she could get to the roadside and signal for help. The buckle wouldn’t budge, though.

“Are you all right?” a deep voice rumbled somewhere close to her right ear. She started. With the howling of the wind, she hadn’t heard anyone approach.

“Help me.” Her voice came out faint and weak.

“Don’t worry, ma’am. I got you.” Suddenly, she felt the car shift. How was the car moving? Could a tow truck have gotten there already?

Then she heard a sound like the tearing of metal. The Jaws of Life? A whoosh of cold air made her gasp. The door was gone now.

Then she felt someone tearing at her seatbelt, and she sagged into strong, muscular arms. She was pulled out of the car, and lifted up. A man was cradling her in his arms, holding her like a baby, and striding through the snow.

Sudden fear shot through her. There was absolutely no way somebody was carrying her that easily. She packed close to two hundred pounds on her five foot six figure. There was only one logical explanation – she was hallucinating. She was still in the car, and her head injury was clearly worse than she thought.

“This is a very vivid hallucination,” she said. Her head still throbbed, and the sting of the wind on her exposed skin was painful. The warmth of the man’s body felt good, though. She’d never hallucinated before; she was surprised that the physical sensations felt so real. She could even smell him; his cologne had earthy notes of cedar.

“What’s that you said?” The man shifted her in his arms, opened the door of a pickup truck and slid her inside.

Her vision started to clear. The warmth of the truck’s heater made her skin tingle.

He climbed in the driver’s side. He had a handful of snow. “Can you hold this against that bump on your head?” he asked her. “I need to drive so I can get you some help.”

He fished around in the glove compartment and pulled out a clean, folded white handkerchief. Then he wrapped the snow in the cloth and handed it to her. She pressed it against the bump on her forehead, wincing slightly. The cold felt good, and the throbbing started to recede.

“It’s a good sign that you’ve got a goose egg like that,” he told her. “If there was no bump, I’d be worried about internal bleeding.”

“Oh,” she said faintly. “Thank you.” He might be imaginary, but that was no reason to forget her manners.

He leaned across her and fastened her seatbelt for her, and then headed carefully into the blinding snowstorm.

The blurriness in her vision was gone. She turned to get a good look at him, and blinked hard.

He was stunning. Too good looking to be real. He had a strong jaw, broad cheekbones, and thick dark hair. His eyes were grayish blue and he had a piercing gaze that seemed to stare right into her soul. He was wearing a wool jacket, but it failed to hide his muscular build and a broad chest.

“Am I dying?” she asked him. “It doesn’t feel that bad.” She lightly touched her forehead and winced. “Except for the head injury.”

“Of course you’re not dying. You’ll be just fine.” His eyes were on the road ahead.

“Well, you’re a hallucination. Of course you’d say that. Maybe you’re an angel, trying to cheer me up as I’m dying. Not that I mind,” she added. This is one good looking angel, she thought to herself. Thanks, Supreme Being! I really appreciate it.

He seemed amused. “Why do you think I’m a hallucination?”

“There’s no way you could have carried me like that. I weigh like one ninety something, and you carried me like I was a feather pillow. Clearly I’m hallucinating. I must still be back in the car, freezing to death,” she said.

He gave her an odd look, and then turned back to concentrating on the road. “I work out,” he said. “I lift weights. Not that, uh, I’m comparing carrying you to lifting weights.”

There was a CB radio in the truck. As they drove, he grabbed the microphone and radioed someone whose handle was Red Dog, to let him know he’d be late. Her rescuer’s CB handle was apparently Mutton Jeff. So her imaginary man had a sense of humor.

Unfortunately, the news he got from Red Dog was not good. The storm apparently was even worse up ahead.

Dream-dude put the CB microphone back in its cradle with a frown. He shook his head regretfully. “With that bump on your head, I really want to take you to a hospital, but we’d be driving straight into the heart of the blizzard, and I can barely see where I’m going as it is. Some friends of mine own a cabin we can hole up in until this clears up. It’s a few miles off this road. Hopefully we’ll make it there.”

“That sounds perfect,” she said. Who was she to argue with a hallucination, especially such a pleasant one? There was nothing she could do to wake herself up, as far as she could tell, so she might as well just go along for the ride and see where it took her.

Fortunately, his truck clearly had some excellent snow tires, unlike her poor crushed Honda. Then again, it was going to be June in a day; why the heck should she have had snow tires on her car? She’d taken them off a month earlier. Freaking Montana.

With the wipers at full speed, they crawled along the road and then turned off to the left, going down a narrow rural road. Snow gusts blew past them as he inched and bumped along. She was warm and comfortable though, and the pain from her head was mostly gone.

Finally they reached their destination. He slowed to a stop, and in between gusts of wind-driven snow, she could see a small log cabin. “Stay here, I’ll carry you,” he said to her.

He walked around to her side of the pickup truck and pulled the passenger door open, scooping her up quickly and cradling her in his strong arms. Again, he carried her effortlessly. She was pretty sure that she was well enough to walk now, but she didn’t mind him carrying her. He smelled good, and he felt even better.

The inside of the cabin was cold and dark. She could make out one room that apparently served as kitchen, living room, and probably bedroom as well. There was a pot-bellied stove and a fireplace with wood stacked up next to it. There was also a door that likely led to a bathroom.

He slammed the door behind him and set her down on a sofa which faced a flagstone fireplace, and got her some more snow to hold against the bump on her head. He crouched down next to her and checked her pupils with a small pen light.

“Your pupils are even and reacting normally to light,” he said. “That’s a good sign. Just rest up while I build a fire.”

She was starting to shiver again, in the chill air. He grabbed a flannel blanket that had been draped across the back of the couch and spread it over her.

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