Chelsea's heart finally slowed and she expected to collapse into her bed after the adrenaline rush. “You'll feel tired."
He smiled, but it didn't reach his eyes. Tension etched lines around his mouth. “I know. I still get adrenaline rushes at fire scenes."
Silence ensued until a dog barked. Ten years and not-so-easily forgotten heartache created a gulf between them.
He studied her and she couldn't hold his gaze under the scrutiny. Instead she saw Brad standing by the ambulance. The porch light stopped at his feet, but she expected he had questions in his eyes.
Despite not wanted to leave, she cleared her throat and said, “I better go."
She didn't want to. A part of her longed to curl up in his arms for the night. To return to the safe haven his bed had been when she'd been too wide-eyed and idealistic to realize that she couldn't help everyone. Back when she'd been young and in love.
A sigh escaped her. Before she'd developed her thick skin. Or at least the façade she'd created for herself to keep the world at bay. He'd see right through it and she almost wanted him to, wanted someone to tell her she didn't have to be strong all the time.
Jake nodded, but he frowned. “You'll sleep the sleep of the innocent tonight."
She always had after a CPR call. He'd know that because she'd collapsed in his bed more than once. His memory surprised her. His speaking of it even more so. Did he look fondly on those days?
Lest her question creep out of her mouth, she pressed her lips together and walked away. She could feel his gaze on her.
She probably should go see Stone, get her itch scratched.
“Problem?" Brad asked when she climbed in the rig. He'd obviously wanted to keep his distance from Jake. They had history, too.
“Just a little strung out. He was too young to die."
He started the rig. “You talk to Jake?"He gave her a questioning look.
A shrug moved her shoulders. “Sure." She gazed out the window hoping he'd end the conversation. She didn't want to talk about Jake. Maybe she never would be.
Jake watched Chelsea walk away with “Wait" on his lips. Stubborn pride or just plain foolishness held the word inside of him.
She used to turn to him. He'd always known she would.
What had he done by leaving? What had he left behind?
Before this moment he hadn't thought about what his leaving had done to Chelsea.
His heart hurt with every beat. He sighed. What would he have to do to build that bridge again?
Shaking his head, he leaned his weight on the porch railing. His legs threatened to give out.
When he'd left, he'd only been thinking of self-preservation. He had needed to protect himself from the town and its accusations. He'd even felt the need to protect himself from Chelsea.
His stupidity smacked him in the face as she pulled away in the ambulance, never looking back at him.
Brad crawled under his latest project and wished for a lift. When he finished this car, his body shop would have enough money to buy one.
He cursed as he angled his bulky frame underneath the almost complete sports car. He'd already fixed the mess made by the owner when he met a telephone pole at a high rate of speed. Backwards.
Brad noticed oil leaking and decided he might as well fix that, too. He'd propped the car on jack stands and now he attempted to slide underneath without the aid of his creeper. He wrapped his knuckles on the undercarriage again.
He heard a door open then saw his girlfriend's unlaced sneakers traverse the length of the car. She rented the lone cottage that stood at one end of the James property. Chelsea didn't know who he dated and he wanted to keep it that way.
Melissa's face appeared next to the front wheel. “Do you realize that it's four in the morning?"
He grinned at her. She looked beautiful even with bed head. “I can tell time."
“Then why are you here?"
She rolled her eyes as he hooked his light on part of the underbody.
“I couldn't sleep. I'm dog-tired, but once I get this job done -"
“I know. You can buy that lift. If you'd swallow your pride and ask Chelsea for a loan ..."
“I'd have it by now. We've been through this."
She sighed. “I admire your desire to make it without James money. I really do, but no one will think less of you if you borrow some."
A frown twisted his face. “You just don't understand."
He looked around at the oil pan. He tightened the screw and decided that might have been the problem. He unhooked his light and slid out from under the car.
She stood with her hands on her hips, hair askew and no make up on her face. God, she was beautiful.
“Then explain it to me."
He stood and looked down at her. Her coal-black eyes gazed back at him. “I've been handed a lot of things in my life."
He jacked up the car then removed the jack stands, then eased the car to its tires.
He stood again and she rubbed a spot on his back. “I got a brand-new pony car for high school graduation."
“You went drinking and trashed it. I've heard this."
He stopped to take in the pleasure of her touch. “So my Dad took the insurance money and bought a new one. I never even had to pay the insurance on it." He ran a dirty hand through his hair then draped his arm around her shoulders. “What I'm saying is that it had no value to me."
She nodded as they strolled to the other side of the car. “And this shop is something that is completely yours."
He smiled down at her. Maybe she did understand. Letting her go, he took the jack stand out and lowered that side of the car. Dragging the jacks, he tucked them underneath his workbench.
Melissa stood at the back bumper, her arms crossed. “What about the fact that your shop is located in a barn on property where you live rent-free?"