“Take the next left,” Cody commanded, pointing for emphasis, his tone making it clear just how much the ten year-old relished calling the shots.
CeCe raised a hand from the steering wheel long enough to salute her son. “Roger that.” She slowed, hugging the narrow shoulder of the county road to allow a hay-laden pickup truck to pass before carefully swinging the Durango wide to make the turn onto Tompkins Road. “What’s next, boss?”
Cody eyed his phone. “Stay on Tompkins for half a mile, then take a left onto Snowberry Lane. Then our destination will be on the right.”
“Wonderful,” CeCe said, the simple word not even close to expressing the depth of her relief. After 415 miles, she could survive one more. She sat a little straighter as the oppressive weight of anxiety began to lift from her aching shoulders. Another few minutes and they’d finally be home—well, to their new home anyway.
The two day trip from Boise to Huckleberry Ridge, Idaho, had been quite the slog for someone who’d never pulled a trailer in her life. CeCe had given away a number of belongings she didn’t want to, just so the remaining things would fit in a 12 foot cargo trailer. Anything larger would have required her to drive a U-Haul truck and tow the SUV behind—a terrifying and totally unacceptable prospect.
Even the 12 footer made the steering and braking sluggish and slow to respond, and CeCe had spent the whole journey white-knuckled, expecting a blown tire, engine trouble—something—to go wrong at any moment. Thank goodness most of the trip had been freeway miles, with the most traumatic part maneuvering through gas stations.
Cody’s sulking hadn’t made the trip any less painful, serving only to reinforce CeCe’s knowledge that she wasn’t a good mother. A good mother wouldn’t spring a surprise move on her son, uprooting him from the only home he’d ever known with a made up explanation and only ten days’ notice. A good mother would know how to soothe his frustration and resentment, how to make her only child happy. Sometimes it felt as though CeCe’s life had become one big pile of parental guilt.
But things were going to be better in Huckleberry Ridge. At least, that’s what she kept telling herself.
The moment Penny caught sight of the flashing red and blue lights in her review mirror she started to laugh. By the time she’d pulled to the side of the road and the officer climbed out of his squad car, her whole body was humming with the hilarity of it all. How could this be happening? It was downright crazy. Stressful situations always triggered her impulse to laugh, but this time her amusement seemed fully warranted. She’d just driven 400 miles across the state of Idaho without a hitch, only to be pulled over one ridiculous mile from her destination. What were the odds?
Not that there was anything especially amusing about the prospect of a ticket, but it still felt wonderful to laugh. There had been so few opportunities lately. Penny watched the officer approach in her side mirror. Fairly tall, nearly all in black, on the youngish side. Of course, now that she’d passed thirty, the concept of young had become a bit more muddled.
She drew in a shuddery breath, wondering what she’d done wrong. She was confident she hadn’t been speeding through the little town. Well, semi-confident anyway. Maybe Gus had discovered her note and been upset enough to report her to the police on trumped-up charges. The ridiculous notion sent her into a new round of laughter. She pressed her lips hard. Okay, okay. No need to come across as a complete loony bin.
Her fingers trembled ever so slightly as she turned down the volume on her 80s rock playlist. The officer had nearly reached her door so she lowered her window, the sudden rush of cold air making her shiver. The November sunshine was downright deceptive up here in the north. Something sure smelled good, though. Like greasy French fries.
“Hey, officer,” Penny greeted. “How are you? I’m sorry if …” Her words faltered as she met with a pair of icy blue eyes set in a very attractive face. Holy cannoli! If she had to be pulled over, at least she’d hit the jackpot. Too bad she’d sworn men off. Her gaze instinctively shifted to the name lapel above the pocket of his dark jacket—Joshua Wickham. She gave a small gasp. “Oh. My goodness. Are you … the Josh Wickham?”
He angled his back to the sun and stooped to peer in at her with a wary expression. A questioning smile played on his lips revealing a sliver of white teeth against a dark five o’clock shadow. “Hello there, ma’am. Sorry, but I don’t believe we’ve met.”
Penny touched her nose and giggled. “No, we haven’t. But I recognize your name. I’m here to visit my best friend, CeCe Bixby, and she rents from your brother.” She hesitated. “At least, I’m guessing Shane might be your brother. She told me he has two. I can’t remember the other one’s name. But … yeah, pretty sure one was Josh.”
His smile widened as she rambled. “Ah,” he said. “Yeah, I’m that Josh, and you must be CeCe’s friend from Boise.”
Penny felt all her apprehension drain away. She clapped her hands. “Yes, yes that’s me. Penny Barron. I’m here to help her out for a bit, you know, after the accident.”
“Gotcha.” He rested a hand on the door frame of her Subaru and Penny tried not to stare. Hands always did it to her for some weird reason. Guys’ hands at least. He hitched his chin toward the passenger seat. “And who’s your little friend there?”
Penny forced her gaze from his hand, reaching over to caress the silky head of her King Charles spaniel, who took in the scene with calm, trusting eyes. “This is my bud, Barlow. He rides shotgun for me.” She nibbled her bottom lip, wondering if the reference might be inappropriate for the situation. “Only figuratively speaking, of course,” she added. “I don’t really let him handle guns.”