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On the Road to Love

On the Road to Love

Chapter One

She should have just driven herself-in her own pickup, listening to her own favorite rock station, by herself. Instead, she was stuck with him.

Chastity Goodhope pushed back against the car seat. The spring poking her in the back unerringly seemed to find just the most tender places to pierce. She grunted uncomfortably and shifted, grimacing over at Chance Meyers. He seemed unaware of her discomfort as he sang along with the twangy country music blaring from the tinny car speakers. His off key singing combined with the weeping steel guitar reverberating off the closed windows assaulted her mind.

Only the thought that a headache might come on unexpectedly which might cause her to drive erratically and perhaps instigate a major, multi-vehicle crash with twisted, torn metal strewn along the highway prevented her from telling Chance to just go home when he stopped to pick her up that morning. Using her vivid imagination, Chastity elaborated a bit on her horror nightmare. As a smile stretched across her lips, she imagined Chance at the bottom of all that twisted wreckage.

Yet, every black cloud had its silver lining. As long as he sang, she wouldn't have to make idle conversation. If her ears could hold out for the next three hundred miles, there was a chance she'd survive this excursion. And, it wasn't Chance's fault that Chastity really would have rather preferred having his brother, Luke, drive her. She shouldn't take her disappointment out on him. Yet, he was conveniently there. And, his glib, teasing manner made him an easy target.

Grabbing her jacket from the seat, she wadded it into a makeshift pillow and stuck it between her head and the window. Sleep. Maybe she could just sleep for the next few hours and avoid the fact that she was with him at all. She closed her eyes, ignoring Chance's singing and letting the drone of the tires singing on the pavement lull her into sleep.

It was so close. She felt herself dozing off, allowing the blessed shield of unconsciousness to protect her from thinking about the reason for this trip and from thinking about her traveling companion.

Then, it happened. It was a slight shift at first, but it brought Chastity fully awake.

"What was that?" Chastity yelled, reaching for the volume control of the radio. She turned it down completely, resisting the temptation to pull the radio from the dashboard, roll down the window and toss it in the ditch.

"What was what?" Chance replied, breaking off his song. He reached over and turned the volume up just a bit.

"It felt like the car-and I use that word in the broadest sense-bucked."

"I didn't feel anything. Must have just hit a bump in the road. County boys really need to get out here and look at this road. Could use some work," Chance sighed. "That's what our hard-earned tax money is supposed to be used for, you know."

"Lot you know of that. Seems to me you let Luke do the hard work on that farm of yours. Never see you breaking much of a sweat over it," Chastity commented, plumping up her jacket and resting back against the window.

"Luke's a hard worker, no doubt about that. I keep telling that brother of mine to take it easy now and again, but he don't seem to get the message."

Luke. The farm always took top priority with Luke. Chastity respected him for that, though she really wished his duty to care for a milk-bound cow took less of a priority than taking her to Rapid City to the eye specialist. She just knew that Luke's heart was torn was between duty and friendship. Of course, he'd rather be driving her to the doctor's and spending a rare day away from the farm than injecting medicine into a cow and massaging her udders.

At least, she hoped that was the case.

Through narrowed eyes, she watched Chance twist the volume of radio back up. Suddenly, the beat up old car was filled with strains of k.d. lang crooning about full moons full of love-accompanied by Chance's baying. Chastity sighed and buried her head farther into her jacket.

She prayed there were many full nights illuminated with full, golden moons of love in the future for her and Luke. She'd been content with their weekly meetings. Every Sunday night, sure as the calendar, he'd come over for dinner.. It had been their ritual for three years. Swaying lazily on the old bench swing bathed in the flaxen rays of the smiling moon, they'd speak of life on the farm, ways to make their places better. With the quiet sounds of the settling animals providing a sound track, they'd talk of improving crop yields, no-till fields versus traditional tilling, bettering calf and lamb mortality.

And patiently, Chastity waited. She waited for Luke to broach the subject of perhaps bettering their farms through a merger-and she didn't mean swapping chores. She'd listened to Luke's dreams since they were children, riding the rickety old school bus fifteen miles in to school in Crawford.

Chastity glanced over at Chance as he pounded out an earthquaking beat on the steering wheel, trying to keep the beat of a rousing Hank Williams, Jr. Song. He never joined in those conversations on the bus nor did he come over to the farm with Luke very often. Back then, he'd always stuck his nose in a book reading about knights fighting dragons and other nonsense, while the bus slowly made its rounds picking up and delivering students.

It amazed her that twins could look and act so differently. Where Luke was short and stout, Chance towered at about six feet and four inches. Where Luke had dark, wavy hair, Chance's long, brown hair hung straight down around his face, except for the ponytail he favored wearing at the nape of his neck. Luke's face was soft and pleasant, his cheeks bronzed and lined from hours in the sun. Chance's face was harder and longer with sculpted, rosy cheeks and a chin punctuated with the tiniest of clefts. The only lines on Chance's face came not from the sun, but from the perpetual grin he wore.

Physically, there was but one thing they shared-intense, deep brown eyes. They were warm enough to brighten a cold day, deep enough to hold all the mysteries of the world. Yet, while every emotion replayed itself in Chance's eyes, Luke always seemed able to mask his emotions.

Luke was solid and sensible and serious. Chance was…well, a flake. It seemed he took nothing seriously. Everything became a joke. The only thing important to Chance were his ridiculous sculptures-bits of iron and copper welded together to form dragons and dinosaurs and jack-in-the boxes, among other ludicrous designs.

Begrudgingly, Chastity admitted to herself that Chance was the kind of man it might be fun to date-only if she hadn't grown up knowing him her entire life. She'd even carried a torch for him before she calculatedly decided to put that away with her childhood toys. It was part of the growing up she'd had to accomplish in a hurry.

Luke was the kind of man with whom a girl could safely place her future. Chance may be a great date-and thankfully she had no basis of proof for that-but Luke would make a great husband.

And, finally, Luke had begun broaching the subject of marriage. Sure, it was in the broadest of sense of the word, generalities at best. But, it was the first she'd really heard him consider it. She'd been careful to encourage the idea without throwing herself in his lap and screaming, "it's about time."

If patience was a virtue, Chastity was nearly ready for sainthood. Luke wasn't her only choice as a husband. There were still plenty of young farmers around Crawford who'd suggested in mergers of their own sort-from one night to a lifetime. But, Luke offered the safest choice.

Chastity released a tiny sigh of satisfaction that her endurance was finally paying off. Oh the heck with it. A big sigh was deserved. She inhaled deeply, ready to emit a long, hearty sigh, when her breathe caught. She bolted up in the seat, ignoring the stab from the broken spring.

"I smell something hot. Smells like burning oil. Pull this beast over," she demanded, grabbing Chance's arm.

"I don't smell anything," he grinned over at her. "It's all in your mind. Just because isn't the newest model out of the showroom doesn't mean that it won't do the job. Relax, Chazz. You're just so shook up over your eye problem that you see problems everywhere. Get it? Great pun. You 'see' problems everywhere…."

Chastity glared at him through her sunglasses. "I get the pun, Chance," she replied evenly. "I don't find it amusing, but then sitting on top of a gas bomb about to ignite isn't really amusing either. Pull this death trap over."

"Now, Chazz…," Chance began. Whatever he was going to say was lost forever as the car bucked, jumped and jolted.

"Chance Meyers, pull this damn thing over right now. Can't you see that smoke coming out from under the hood?" Chastity slapped the radio off.

Without responding, Chance braked the car and slowly pulled onto the narrow shoulder of the road. He let the car idle for a moment before turning off the ignition. Chastity jumped out of the car, pulling her jacket on as she went. She ran to the hood, located the latch and pulled the hood open. Thick, grayish black smoke poured from the engine compartment, swirling around her. Hot, rancid oil covered everything.

As the air cleared, a small flume of smoke continued to waft up from a torn hole in an exhaust hose running from the top of the engine down into the mysterious dark maze below.

"Damn, damn and dirty, dog breath, double damn!" Chastity muttered, as Chance came to stand by her. She glared at him before realizing the look was lost behind her dark glasses. Disregarding the brightness of the day, Chastity pulled her sunglasses off her face so Chance could receive the full effect of the glare. It galled her that he seemed to ignore it. He simply stood there, hands buried deep in his jeans pocket, looking at the engine.

"I should have known better than to chance letting you drive me to Rapid City. I swear, Chance, if I don't make that appointment and end up blind for it, it's on your head," Chastity fumed. Chance laughed. He actually had the nerve to laugh. "You know, I don't think the possibility that I'm going blind is very funny. Or do you find it hilarious that we're stuck out here in the middle of nowhere?"

"Great pun, Chazz. I got it. 'Take a chance' with me. Good one," he chuckled, playfully slugging her in the arm. "See, I can appreciate a good pun when I hear it."

"I didn't mean it as a pun. Now, are you going to do something about this? Tell me, please God, that you have a spare hose in the trunk." Chastity kicked gravel at him.


"No, as in you're not going to do anything about this? Or no, as in you don't have a hose?"

"Nope, don't have a spare. Can't believe that blew up that way. Heck, I just had a new exhaust hose put on there maybe four…no, five years ago. Can't imagine what went wrong with it. Must be one of those factory defects."

"Defects? Defects? I'll tell you what's defective around here. You. That's who." Chastity slapped her sunglasses back on her face. The throbbing this time came from behind her eyes, incessant and demanding. Her hands flew to her temples, forcing her fingers to apply pressure. No relief. It was getting harder and harder to find relief. She crouched close to the ground, willing the nausea that accompanied the pain away.

Arms stronger than she'd ever imagined closed around her shoulders. Chance lifted her up and half-carried her to her car door. Gently, he eased her inside.

"Deep breathes, Chazz. Take a few deep breaths. Don't worry about the car. I'll get her fixed in half a second. We're not going to miss your appointment. I promise." Chance looked down at her. He'd never seen anyone go from red-faced angry one instant to ghostly white in the next. It startled him to see the kind of pain she was experiencing.

When Luke asked him to take Chastity instead of him, it was like a gift. He had wanted an excuse to go to Rapid City for months. When Luke said it was an eye doctor appointment, Chance jumped at the opportunity.

It couldn't be anything too serious. Chastity always imagined more to a situation than was actually there. Making mountains out of molehills, that's how her mother always described it. He wished for a second her mother was here now. She'd know what to do. She'd always been there for him and Luke when they were growing up motherless.

"Is there anything I can get you?" he asked, brushing her auburn hair back from her forehead. Her usual rosy cheeks were ashen. She was so tiny and still. He reached out and raised her sunglasses. Pain was as evident in her crystal blue eyes as it was in lines furrowed between her two delicately arched eyebrows.

"Water," she whispered hoarsely, never pausing in the circular rubbing of her temples. "I have medicine. In my bag. You…you'll have to get it for me."

Chance reached across her and grabbed the huge leather bag. He set it on top of the car and unzipped it. Why anyone would pack so much stuff with them in a bag was beyond him. He pawed through the contents. It was understandable to see the wallet, the wad of tissues, even the hairbrush. But, what would a woman need with three paperbacks, a screwdriver and six packs of gum. He'd never even seen her chew gum.

Finally, he located a plastic bag with Simpson's Drug Store's logo on it. Her medication must be in there. He pulled the bag from her purse and opened it. His mouth dropped open at the sight of a brand new box of condoms.

No wonder she'd made it very obvious that she was disappointed that Chance came to pick her up instead of Luke. Damn. He'd always suspected there was something more than friendship between them, but he'd never seen any evidence of it. Here was proof positive. Maybe Chastity had planned on making this an overnight trip, though Luke said it was just over to Rapid City and straight back.

Chance stuffed the box back into the bag and resumed his search.

Luke was a fool. Why would any red-blooded man choose to baby-sit a sick cow when he could be driving off to a rendezvous with a beauty like Chastity? Heck, the vet said it would just take some medicine and balm to cure the cow. Chance had even offered to do the job, but Luke insisted he needed to supervise.

Finally, at the bottom of her purse, Chance found a medicine bottle from the drug store.

"How many do you take?" he asked, popping off the top.

"Two. When it's this bad, I need two."

He shook two tablets out into his palm, pulled Chastity's fingers from her head and dropped the them into her hand. He tossed the purse back on the seat and grabbed a bottle of water. As she popped the tablet into her mouth and drank long from the bottle, Chance studied her.

Even though pale as the skiffs of snow still hiding in the recesses of the furrows in the surrounding fields, he found her beautiful. Her long, curly auburn hair haloed her face. The sprinkling of freckles, the only color he noted in her face, caressed her small, pert nose and teased the contours of her round, full cheeks. Even her normally red, full lips were pale and dry.

"Thank you," she mumbled, handing him the bottle and resuming the rhythmic massaging of her temples.

"I think you need to lie down. I'll clean out the back seat."

Not waiting for an answer, though normally she would have spit bullets at him for suggested she might have a weakness, Chance reached across her and grabbed the car keys. Her lack of fire worried him more than anything. This was not the Chastity he knew.

After popping open the trunk, Chance pulled his tool box out. It took several trips between the back seat and the trunk to move his carefully wrapped treasures. That accomplished, he helped her from the front seat to the back. He pulled a blanket and a pillow from the trunk. As he carefully lifted her head and pushed the pillow under it and tossed the blanket over her, he could see that she was already falling asleep. She was short enough that she barely had to curl up to rest comfortably on the back seat.

He watched her for a long moment. Despite the fact that they hadn't really intimately talked to each other in a while, that old emotion tugged at his heart. He loved her as much now as he did the day she hesitantly walked onto the bus more than twenty years before, that very first day of school. She was a little thing then, but filled with pride and courage. The years hadn't changed that.

Though his feelings for her alternated between an unrequited crush and a brotherly love during those intervening years, they still filled him with wonder. So much emotion for such a tiny thing.

Chance tore his eyes from the sleeping woman and let them sweep across the broad, flat prairie. Even the small bits of snow left on this early November morning wouldn't last long. Indian summer would see to that. They'd all enjoy a brief respite before the worst of winter would keep them housebound for days on end. In a way, he looked forward to those days. Except for helping Luke with the chores, he'd be able to spend long hours either sketching designs in his room or pounding and welding metal into the realization of those designs.

Chastity's groan as she rolled over broke into his consciousness. He was sure the engine had cooled enough by now to see to repairs. He walked around the car and opened the tool box, pulling from it a roll of silver, duct tape.

Whistling merrily, he walked back to the engine. He ripped a length of the tape from the roll and carefully taped the gaping hole in the hose.

"Duct tape-handy in any situation," he chuckled softly to himself, tossing the roll in the air and catching it before he slammed the hood shut. He replaced the tape in his tool box and stowed the box in the trunk. He slammed the trunk shut and climbed back into the car. Glancing over his shoulder, he saw Chastity's face contorted in pain even as she slept.

He said a quick silent prayer to the gods of engines and turned the key. The motor roared into life. The engine offered a ragged, off-beat cadence, but it remained running. So far, so good. As he looked over his shoulder one more time before shifting the car into gear, Chastity mumbled in her sleep. It was soft and nearly incoherent, but he managed to make out the work "Luke."

An unfamiliar anger toward his brother surged through him. Damn fool. Deciding a stupid cow was more important than helping Chastity one of the few times she'd ever asked for help was inconceivable. It was insane. He'd have a few choice words to share with his brother once he got home.

Relief flooded him as he pulled off the shoulder onto the road and quickly picked up speed. He should never have doubted that good old Betsy, as he fondly called his car, wouldn't come through when he needed her. Suddenly, the importance of this trip doubled.

As the car bumped to a sudden stop, Chastity flew from the seat onto the floor. A few earthy curses from the front seat reached her ears as she pushed herself back on the seat. She sat up, running her hand through her hair to brush it away from her face. She straightened her sunglasses and looked out the window.

Blinking away her blurred vision, Chastity looked around. They were parked at a rest stop surrounded by tall, dark pine trees.

"Where are we?" she mumbled hoarsely. Her throat was as dry as a drought-parched field.

"Just outside Rapid City," Chance answered, turning around to look at her. "Thought maybe you'd like to stop and get yourself together before we head into town. Didn't think you were ever going to wake up."

Chastity looked at her watch. Calculating quickly, she realized she'd been asleep for about four hours.

"I can't believe we made it this far. But, I'm still late for my appointment. Damn. Wonder if they'll still see me."

"Well, we passed through a time zone, you know, so we gained an hour. Sure hope there's no law against transporting a good-lookin' woman across time zones for optical purposes," Chance laughed. She didn't join in his laughter. "Anyway, you still have a little time to spare."

"Lord, can't you ever take anything seriously, Chance? And knock off the cracks about how I look. If I look as bad as I feel, then I must resemble hell warmed over." She shook her head to try to remove the remaining cobwebs from the corners of her brain. The headache still pounded, but instead of a full orchestra percussion section it had dwindled to a small bongo. "I can't believe this pile of rust made it this far, or this fast."

"Don't you go knockin' Betsy here. She's a real trouper. Came through just when she needed to. Told you we'd make it. Now, go freshen up, and we'll head into Rapid. I don't know about you, but after this long in a car I need to stretch my legs and see a man about a horse."

"You know, I never did understand that expression. What does going to the bathroom have to do with seeing a man about a horse? That's just such a stupid male statement." Chastity stretched and opened the car door.

"Have no idea. But, I can tell you this much, I'm not going in there to take a bath…but if I don't move quick I just might need one." Chance jumped out of the car and jogged to the small, squat, brick building.

Slowly, testing the steadiness of her legs, Chastity pulled herself out of the car. The sun shone brightly, even through the safety of her sunglasses. She breathed in deeply, allowing the chilled air to revitalize her strength. She looked around at the serenity of the spot. They were the only ones there. Though the Black Hills was the state's biggest tourist attraction, it was between summer's crowds and winter's skiers.

As she walked slowly to the building, she listened to the occasional cawing of the blackbirds mixed with the sound of the light wind winding through the pines. They really did whisper. She wondered if she listened closely enough if the whispers would tell her of her destiny.

No, there was no mysticism at work here, she decided. She would make her own fate. A few miles south was the doctor who'd help her. When she became Luke's bride, she'd come to him as a whole, seeing, healthy woman-or she'd wouldn't be his bride at all.

The cold water in the ladies' room worked wonders to revive and refresh her. She splashed it freely over her face, glad that she'd decided against wearing any make-up.

Chance was waiting for her when she'd walked out of the building. She walked briskly to the car and, after pulling the pillow from the back seat for protection from the broken spring, settled into the front beside him.

"All ready?" he asked, fingers poised on the car key.

"I've never been more ready," she replied, buckling her seat belt. "Let's get this over with. I want to make it home as soon as I can."

"Great." Chance turned the key. The starter droned on and on. Chastity watched as Chance pumped the gas pedal. The engine refused to catch spark and start.

"Damn it, Chance. Don't pump it. You'll flood the engine."

Chance released the key. Silence engulfed them once again. "Chazz, will you kindly shut up. This is my car. I know how to start it."

"Don't be so damn male stubborn, Chance. All I'm saying is that if you keep pumping it like that, you're never going to get it started. And, if I miss my appointment, I'll never forgive you. Never, ever, ever in a million years." Why did he have to be so bull-headed. If Luke were here, he would listen to her advice. Of course, if Luke were here, she might not mind being stuck in the middle of nowhere all alone-whether she missed her appointment or not. Still, it was kind of nice to spend a little time with Chance. They hadn't had many chances lately to be together. She'd missed him.

"Chazz, I know you're disappointed that Luke couldn't bring you." Gee, he was more perceptive than she thought. "And, I know just how important this appointment is. But, you've been on my ass, wailing away at me, ever since I picked you up at the ungodly hour of five. It's just beginning to annoy me a bit. So, here's your choice-either shut your trap and let me get Betsy started or hike your pretty little butt out to the highway and hitch into Rapid."

"You wouldn't dare make me walk. You wouldn't dare."

Chance reached out and grabbed her elbow. He pulled her close to him. The intoxicating aroma of his spicy cologne combined with the woodsy smell of the forest assailed her consciousness. His fingers on her arm burned deeply-sending waves of warmth through each of her extremities. A tingling sensation crept into the corners of her awareness. It's source deep within her core surprised her. She stared in shock into his dazzling, smiling face.

"I thought you learned in second grade never to dare me, Chazz." He released his grip. She fell away from him. "Now, get out of my car."

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