Mending a Malone by Laylah Roberts

1

Clementine St. Clary had never had the best luck.

She figured it had started from the day she was born, when her mother named her Clementine Cordelia. It was a mouthful. And learning to spell it at kindergarten had been a real bitch.

Yep, her bad luck had started from day one and only gotten worse. But this really took the cake.

Because only she would step out on the road while a truck barreled its way toward her.

Stuck. She was stuck.

She was going to die. Her life raced through her mind. And it wasn’t pretty. In fact, it was downright pathetic.

Suddenly, something crashed into her. Forcing her up through the air.

This was it.

This was where her bones smashed, her organs burst, and her face became roadkill.

Closed casket for her.

But she didn’t end up smashing against the ground. At the last moment, she was turned, and she slammed into something else.

Something that was still hard but smelled so damn good. Something woodsy. Something sexy. Something very male.

Clem had the most bizarre urge to bury her face into her rescuer and lick him. She bet he would taste delicious.

A horn blasted as the truck barreled past, the tires flicking up small pebbles at them.

“Fucking bastard!” her sexy, good-smelling rescuer yelled. Then he groaned, sounding pained.

She hoped he wasn’t hurt. He’d just taken the brunt of their fall. And she was still lying on top of him. Plus, she wasn’t exactly a lightweight. She might be short, but she had curves.

Maybe you should get off him then.

Hmm. That was probably something she should do. Except he smelled so damn good, and she couldn’t remember the last time a man held her.

Even if he was only touching her because he’d just tackled her. And now he was probably winded and couldn’t get up.

“Are you okay?” he asked.

Oh, she was just fine. Although she’d be even better if he’d just tighten his arms around her.

A cuddle. That was all she wanted. Was that really too much to ask for? After all, she’d nearly become roadkill.

A girl deserved a good cuddle after a near-death experience.

“Ma’am? Are you all right?”

Ma’am?

Even in that soft drawl of his, it was highly insulting to be called ma’am.

“I’m only thirty. I’m not a spinster yet.”

Although in her mother’s eyes . . .

“Sorry?”

“That’s all right, you’re forgiven.” How could she not forgive someone who smelled so good?

“I didn’t . . . wait, did you just sniff me?”

What? Who? Me?

Never.

Except, well, she might have.

Clem let out a yelp as he rolled her onto her side then sat up. Getting onto his knees, he turned to her. “You sniffed me!”

“No, I didn’t. I was just sniffing, and you happened to be in the line of smell.”

“The line of smell? That’s not a thing.”

“Sure it is. I can smell things from a certain distance away, you were within the perimeter of my smelling ability. That’s all. I certainly did not sniff you.”

She totally had.

But Clem was an excellent liar. She’d had lots of practice lying to her mother over the years.

“You’re lying.”

“Hey! You’re really insulting. I’m not a liar or a sniffer.” She slowly sat up. To her surprise, he reached out to support her.

“Easy,” he warned. “You could be hurt. We should get you to the hospital.”

“Aw, that’s so sweet but unnecessary. I’m fine.”

“It’s not sweet,” he said gruffly. “You might have internal injuries.”

“So might you.”

“Or head injuries,” he added. “Or have you always gone around sniffing people?”

Her mouth opened and shut several times as she attempted to come up with a reply.

Nothing. She had nothing.

Huh, this might be the first time she’d ever been speechless.

She glared up at him. She couldn’t make out his features since the lighting here wasn’t the best. She knew she should have gone to Haven, rather than coming into Freestown.

“Are you sure you’re okay?” he asked in a gentler voice. “That was quite a fall.”

“You took the brunt of it,” she said, even though her body was feeling a bit achy and bruised. Her left arm was throbbing slightly, but it didn’t feel too bad. “Maybe I should take you to the hospital.”

“I’m fine.” He stood and held out a hand to her.

She slipped her hand into his. Ooh, it was warm. His grip was firm, but not too hard. And he was strong enough to lift her with one arm.

“Impressive.”

“Excuse me?” he asked.

“Your tackle,” she replied hastily. “The way you just swept me up, then managed to take most of the impact as we fell, that was really impressive. Do you play football?”

“No, I have a lot of brothers though.”

“Do you tackle them a lot?”

“Yes.”

Right.

“Well, I’m grateful you’re so good at tackling.”

He just grunted. She didn’t know what that meant.

“I couldn’t move. It was like I was stuck there, seeing that truck barreling toward me. They were going to run me over. I could have died. Boom! Flat as a pancake. They wouldn’t even be able to make me pretty enough for an open casket.” Trembles rocked her body at how close she’d come to dying.

She wasn’t ready for that yet.

“Whoa, whoa,” he whispered, drawing her close to his chest and holding her there. “Hey, darlin’. You’re all right. You’re not hurt. You’re safe. I got to you in time.”

He’d gotten to her in time.

He’d saved her.

Wait. That meant she owed him. A surge of adrenaline pushed away the panic and fear. There was no point in being afraid, anyway. She’d learned that it never helped. Plus, the danger was over. She was safe.

Because of this heavenly-smelling guy with the mad tackling skills.

Yeah, she owed him.

“I’m in your debt.” She should probably pull away now that she was feeling better. Instead, she snuggled in closer, unable to help herself. She had a purpose. Her life had a meaning now. He’d saved her so she could do something for him.

Got it, universe.

Maybe this was the reason for her bad luck. Or this was the moment that would turn it around.

“You’re not in my debt,” he told her.

“Yes, I am. A life for a life.”

“What? That’s not a thing.”

“It totally is,” she insisted. “You saved my life, now I have to save yours.”

“That’s really not necessary. You aren’t in my debt.”

“I am. The only problem will be how I’m going to save your life. I think I’m going to have to stick close to you.”

Oh, what a hardship.

“That’s really, really not necessary,” he insisted, attempting to step back.

If she didn’t have such a great self-esteem then she might be hurt by the fact that he didn’t seem to want to touch her.

Actually, wait, her self-esteem was in the toilet. And she was kind of hurt. But maybe he was more hurt than he was letting on. Men were silly creatures who didn’t want to admit when they were hurting. Except when they got man flu.

She took a step toward him. Was this love at first sight? Was she having some sort of immediate reaction to him? Because she felt the loss of his touch like a stabbing in her . . . foot.

Wait, that didn’t sound right.

She should be feeling that sort of thing in her heart or gut.

Not her foot. She glanced down at her feet.

“Oh, no, I lost my boot!”

“Your boot?”

“Uh-huh. I just bought the darn things too. My feet are tiny, and they didn’t have anything I liked in the adult side of the shop. So, I ended up having to buy them from the children’s section, but the sales assistant swore that they will still be hard-wearing. Oh, there it is.” She started limping her way out to the middle of the road.

“Whoa, where are you going?” He grabbed her left arm, stopping her.

She froze. He couldn’t feel it, could he? But no, his hand was too low, and he probably wouldn’t feel it through her clothes.

A slight tingle ran through her body. Although it could have been a shiver because it was damn cold and she’d left her coat in the truck.

“I’m going to get my boot. See? It’s lying in the road. I’m lucky that stupid driver didn’t run over it. What a jerk, I’d swear he was almost intentionally trying to run me down, but then why would he do that?”

“Stay here,” he grumbled at her.

“Why? Do you miss me already?”

“What?”

“What?” she repeated, thankful for the fact that it was dark. Because she was sure she’d just gone bright red. She could be such a dork sometimes.

“Listen. Just stay on the sidewalk. I’ll get your boot.”

“Okay, thank you! That’s very gentlemanly of you.”

When he turned and walked away, her gaze dropped to his ass. Sure, she couldn’t see much, but she was certain it had to be a grade-a beefcake ass.

Listen to her, getting her cowgirl on. Soon, she’d sound like a local.

She wrapped her arms around herself as the wind picked up. Her teeth chattered. Then he returned with her boot in his hand.

“Thank you so much. That was so kind.”

“Figured it was safer if I got it. Less chance I’d have to tackle you again.”

“What? You didn’t like tackling me?” she asked.

Whoa. Am I flirting? She hadn’t realized that she knew how to flirt.

“Not particularly.”

Ouch. That hurt. Then she noticed him stretching out an arm. “Oh no, you are hurt. Maybe I can help you. I can massage it. Or I should check to make sure you didn’t break the skin. Yeah, whip off your shirt.”

She reached for the bottom of his shirt.

“What? No! I’m fine. I’m not hurt.” He took several steps back. She attempted to follow but winced as she stood on another sharp stone.

Shoot. She needed to put her other boot on. Standing on one foot, she tried to slip it on, but the darn thing was tricky, and balancing on one foot had never been her forte. Years of dance lessons and she still couldn’t manage to get one leg up on the barre while balancing on her other foot.

At least not without toppling over and taking everyone else with her. Boom. Like dominoes, down they all went.

She hopped around on one foot, until she found herself starting to fall backward.

“Fuck, girl,” her hero snapped as he grabbed her arms, steadying her. “You’re going to fall onto the road again.”

A car whizzed by, the headlights illuminating the area and his face.

Oh, wow. He was gorgeous.

Her mouth dropped open, surprise filling her.

“Are you all right? Hey, you doing okay?” He snapped his fingers in front of her face. “Did you hit your head? Are you having a delayed reaction?”

Get it together, Clem.

“I didn’t hit my head,” she whispered. “I, um, thanks for saving me. Again.”

Another grunt.

She sighed dreamily. He really was a hero. Her hero.

Suddenly, he crouched in front of her, leaving her swaying. What was he doing?

Then he snatched the boot from her hand. “Foot up. Hands on my shoulders.”

“Okay.”

He was commanding too. She liked that about a guy. Someone who could take control without being an asshole.

That was super sexy.

He slid the boot on her foot. She wondered how he did that so easily. Even her boot knew who was in charge.

That confidence and his take-charge attitude just did it for her. She’d never been this attracted to a man before. He stood and she nearly fell onto her butt. Again.

“Oh.”

Hands clasped her upper arms.

“Sorry,” she told him hastily. “I’m not usually this clumsy.”

“Hmm.”

What did that mean? It wasn’t a grunt. Was it better than a grunt?

“Put your foot down.”

“What?”

“Put your foot down.”

Oh. Glancing down, she saw that she was balancing on one foot.

That was embarrassing.

She lowered her foot. He immediately let her go. That was a shame. She liked the feel of him touching her.

“Are you sure you’re all right? Maybe we should call someone to come get you?”

“Who?” she asked. She couldn’t imagine calling her mother for help.

“Um, I don’t know. Don’t you have someone you could call to help?” he asked. His voice had softened. That was nice. She sighed happily.

“I could call my mother.”

“All right, what’s her number?” He pulled out a cell phone. The light wasn’t bright enough to give her a good view of his face again. That was too bad.

A shiver ran through her as a blast of wind hit them. He started removing his jacket. To her shock, he flung it out and around her shoulders.

Wow. This guy just blew her mind. In the last twenty minutes, he’d performed more chivalrous acts than she’d experienced from any other man her entire life.

“Hey, darlin’, you listenin’?”

“My name is Clementine, but just call me Clem.”

“Clem?”

“Yep.”

“Right, what’s your mother’s number?” he asked.

“Why?”

“So I can call her and get her to come help you?” he said patiently. “Does she know you’re out here?”

“Oh, no, she’d have a fit if she knew I was outside at night on my own.”

“Are you sniffing my jacket?” he asked.

“No, because that would be weird.”

“The number?”

She rattled her mother’s phone number off. “But it’s no use calling her. She lives in Boston.”

He let out a loud sigh. Then he rubbed at his temple. “Right.”

She recognized that tone of voice. It was one she’d heard a lot.

You’re being annoying, Clementine. You’re being weird, Clementine.

Pushing away those thoughts, she forced a smile onto her face.

“It’s okay, my truck is just over there.” She waved her hand in the direction of her truck. Well, where she hoped it was anyway. That was kind of the problem. She couldn’t exactly remember where she’d parked it.

“All right, I’ll walk you there.”

“You don’t have to.”

“I think I do. Unless you want me to take you to the emergency room to get checked?”

That would mean spending more time with her hero. But it also involved spending time with doctors. And Clem didn’t like doctors. Or hospitals. Or needles. Or blood.

“No, I’m fine. Unless you want me to drive you to the hospital?”

“I don’t need to go to the hospital.”

“If you’re sure. I don’t mind . . .” she trailed off, hoping he would tell her his name.

But he just grunted.

Right.

Maybe he had some mysterious thing where he didn’t like to tell people his name. Kind of like Batman.

Perhaps she should give him a name.

Like Sexy-man.

Hmm, no, that didn’t have a very good ring to it.

Sexy-butt.

Better. Definitely better. But she still needed to think about it.

Hero. Cowboy hero. Cowboy knight.

“Do you want to lead the way?” he asked.

“Yep!”

They just stared at each other for a moment, then it clicked what he was talking about. Right. Lead the way. She headed toward where she thought her truck would be. Huh. She couldn’t see it anywhere. And it was kind of hard to miss.

She grabbed her keys from her pocket and hit the door lock button, hoping a light would flash somewhere.

“What are you doing?” he asked.

“Trying to find my truck.”

He paused. “You don’t know where it is?” There was a note of incredulity in his voice.

“Of course, I know where it is. What kind of an idiot would I be if I didn’t know where I’d parked my truck?” She made a scoffing noise.

“Then where is it?”

“Somewhere in Freestown.”

“Right. That’s helpful.”

Irritation welled, but she smothered it. She owed this guy her life. It was a big debt to repay, and it wouldn’t look good if she deliberately kicked him in the back of the knee.

Nope. Hold those urges in, Clem.

“Look! There it is!” she said in excitement as lights lit up the dark night ahead of them. She moved quickly toward the truck, and he easily kept up with her. “See? I don’t know what you were worried about.”

“Right.”

“Um, so when will I see you again?”

“See me?” he asked.

“Yeah, I owe you a debt.”

“You know how you can repay it?”

“No, how?” Excitement filled her. Whatever it was, she was ready for it.

“Try to remember where your truck is parked.”

“That is excellent advice.”

“And if you’re crossing the road, look twice.”

“Yep.” She’d learned that one in kindergarten.

“Don’t freeze in the road if something is coming toward you.”

“Gee, you’re full of great advice,” she said sarcastically.

Don’t get mad. He’s trying to be helpful.

“And don’t walk around late at night alone. You never know who’s around.”

“Right. That’s it?” She tapped her foot against the footpath.

“Pretty sure that just touches the surface.”

She wasn’t sure what that meant so she shrugged it off. “But that stuff is all about me. What about you?”

“I don’t need anything.”

“Oh, but—”

“Good night.” He opened the cab door and waited.

“But if you do need something, maybe you should have a way to get in touch with me,” she suggested as she climbed in her truck. Darn it, why did she buy such a high truck? She managed to shove herself into the cab. The seat was pulled well forward.

“Whose truck is this?” he asked.

“Why?” she snapped. She was smarting over his refusal to take her life debt seriously.

Calm, Clem.

Be happy.

Happiness is a choice.

She smiled brightly at him. “It’s mine, of course.”

“Right.” He crossed his arms over his chest. “You can barely see over the dashboard.”

“Can too.”

Real mature, Clem.

And the fact was that she had a foam pillow on order to help raise her up a bit. Still, it was a bit rude of him to assume that this truck didn’t belong to her. The man who’d sold it to her had told her it was the best on the market. A perfect ranch truck.

And it was a bright cherry red.

Which was the real reason she’d bought it. But she had a feeling telling her hunky hero that wouldn’t help his opinion of the truck or her.

Hunky hero. Hmm, that had possibilities as a name.

“Drive straight home,” he ordered. “And be careful.”

It was so sweet of him to care.

“I will. I’ll see you soon,” she called out, shutting the door. He waved at her as she pulled away. That was nice.

Humming a happy tune, she changed gears. Crunch. Maybe she needed to get that looked at. It shouldn’t make that noise.

Then she realized she hadn’t given him her number. And she didn’t know his name. Oh, well, they’d meet up again. Their lives were linked now.

There couldn’t be too many hunky heroes living around these parts.

Plus, she had his jacket; he’d want that back.

This move to Texas was the start of a whole new life for her. A new beginning away from her family. Away from all those expectations. Away from the memories.

Clem was going to live life the way she wanted. And nothing would stand in her way.