An excerpt from
Dangerous Curves Ahead
Short Stories
Pat Ballard
May 2004
 

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An excerpt from the title story, "Dangerous Curves."

  
Damn! Damn! Damn! Sarah mentally screamed as she sat quickly on the ground, clutching the thumb she’d just smashed with the hammer.

“Are you okay, Mommy?” Aaron, her three-year-old son, hurried to her and slipped his small arms around her neck in an effort to comfort her.

“Mommy’s okay. I just hit my thumb with the hammer,” she tried to reassure him.

“I know. I heard it make a funny noise,” he said. “Let me see,” he added, reaching for her hand, great concern clouding his small face.

“No!” Sarah’s eyes were still closed from the excruciating pain radiating from her thumb up to her elbow. “I’m okay. I just need a minute for it to quit hurting.” She rocked back and forth with pain.

“Why did Daddy leave us? If he was here he could help you feel better.” The sadness in the little boy’s voice finished bringing the tears she’d been trying to hold back.

“He wanted to go somewhere else and live, but we’ll be okay without him,” she said weakly. How could she make her young son understand why his dad had left when she didn’t even know the reason herself?

“Is he coming back?” She could tell he was close to tears, and knew he was upset because she was hurt. Any time he sensed she was upset, he started asking questions about his father. Damn you, anyway, John Singley. She silently cursed her ex-husband for putting her in the position she was in.

“Mommy?” Now Aaron was leaning over and whispering in Sarah’s ear.


“Sweetheart, please just be quiet until Mommy’s thumb stops hurting, then we’ll talk more.”

“Mommy!” He was closer and more persistent.

“What, honey?” No matter how badly she was hurting, she could never be impatient with him.

“Who’s that man?” he asked in a low whisper.

Sarah’s eyes flew open as a bolt of fear shot through her. She found herself looking into the eyes of a stranger.

At what point he had ridden up on the big sorrel horse, Sarah had no idea, but by the amused look on his face he had seen her hammer her thumb and had heard the exchange between her and Aaron. So he knew there was no man around.

“May I help you?” she asked, almost forgetting the pain.

“It looks like you’re the one who needs help,” he responded, without moving.

Sarah had never heard a voice like his — and yet, it was somehow familiar. It was so deep, she imagined she saw his chest vibrate when he spoke. She wondered how it would affect her if he were talking softly into her ear.

Dumbfounded at her own thoughts, she hastened to be rid of this stranger. “I’m okay. I really don’t need any help. I don’t think anyone’s ever died of a smashed thumb.”

“From the way it sounded when you hit it, it may be more than smashed. I think I should look at it, just to make sure.” She watched in fascination as his tall frame unfolded from the saddle and stepped to the ground. He had to be at least six feet six inches tall, but handled his big frame with the grace and agility of a much smaller man.

He leaned over and said something to Aaron and the little boy went running toward their house.

Before she could ask what he’d said to Aaron, the man knelt beside her and took her hand in his. She was suddenly aware of her broken, unpolished fingernails. She’d been working outside all day, and looked as if she hadn’t had a bath in a month. She was also aware of his large tanned fingers as they gently inspected her thumb.

“Ouch!” The exclamation ripped from her without warning.

“I think it’s broken,” he said, and looked up at her. The most beautiful blue eyes she had ever gazed into captured, held, and mesmerized her. Black wavy hair and tanned skin gave his eyes a surreal glow.

“Sarah? Are you okay? You aren’t going to faint on me, are you? You don’t look like the fainting kind.”

Bringing herself back to reality, Sarah tried to smile. “No, I’m not going to faint. I’m okay. I’ll go inside and put some ice on my thumb and it’ll be fine.”

“No. We’ve got to get you to the doctor. That thumb may need to be in a cast.”

“NO!” Desperation caught at her throat. “I have too much to do around here before winter sets in! I can’t have my thumb in a cast. A cast will only slow me down. Now please go away. I don’t need you. I don’t need anybody! Just go away!”

The day had been too much. She’d had to mend a fence on the far side of the property, and that took all morning. Then she’d barely gotten finished with lunch and put Aaron down for his nap, and sat down to try to figure out how she would pay some bills, when a storm had blown in and half ripped the barn door off. That’s what she was trying to fix when she’d hammered her thumb.

She just wanted a shower and a soft bed to crawl into. She was so very tired.

“Here they are, Mister,” she heard Aaron say, as he handed her truck keys to the stranger.

“Aaron Kyle Singley! What do you think you’re doing?”

“I asked him to get the keys for me. I’m taking you to the doctor, so come on.”

Without warning, Sarah felt strong hands under her arms, hoisting her to a standing position.

Her knees were still weak from the pain. They started to buckle slightly, causing him to put an arm around her for support. Again she was aware of how big he was. Not just tall. He was thick. Standing beside him now and looking at him, she wondered how the poor horse had held up under his weight. But she’d always wondered that about Matt Dillon’s horse, too, when she used to watch Gunsmoke on TV.

He let go of her just long enough to loop his horse’s bridle over a nearby fence post before leading her to the beat-up old pickup truck and helping her inside. Then, picking Aaron up, he walked around to the driver’s side and got in, gently placing Aaron between them.

“Who are you? I shouldn’t be getting into this vehicle with a total stranger.” She was about to reach for the door handle when she felt his strong hand on her arm, detaining her.

“My name is Stewart Remington. I own the neighboring ranch to yours. I came over this afternoon to meet you, and had just ridden up when you hit your thumb.”

Sarah was slightly appeased. She’d heard that a newcomer to the area had bought the Thompsons’ ranch. As another wave of pain shot up her arm, she gave in and allowed him to drive her to the local hospital.

 

The next morning Sarah sat at her desk and looked unseeingly at the stack of bills waiting to be paid. Aaron was still asleep, and she knew she should take this time to do her paperwork, but she couldn’t get her mind off the tall stranger who had ridden into her life yesterday afternoon.

Her thumb hadn’t been broken, but the doctor told her not to use it for several days. Just another setback added to the string of bad luck she’d been having.

John had announced six months ago that he didn’t love her anymore because she’d gotten fat after the baby was born. She’d been crushed that he would say something so hurtful, and tried to reason with him that the weight would probably drop off once her hormones settled back down after having the baby. But the little doubt in the back of her mind had reminded her that her mother was a plus-size woman and so was her grandmother. She knew she’d probably inherited their tendency to be larger than the tall, thin models that were so popular.

But John hadn’t wanted to hear her reasoning. He wanted her to promise to lose the weight immediately or he would leave. When given an ultimatum and a time limit, Sarah’s stubborn streak kicked in, and she’d told John to go ahead and leave. She’d suspected he was having an affair, anyway, and that he was just using her weight as an excuse to leave. Those suspicions were confirmed when he was married a month after their divorce became final.

What hurt Sarah the most was the fact that John had never asked to see Aaron since the divorce. He hadn’t sent her any of the child support the court had ordered when they got the divorce, and she didn’t have the time or the money to take him back to court.

He knew if things got bad enough she could sell the ranch and have money to live on. He’d always wanted to sell it, but the ranch had been in her family for three generations, and Sarah couldn’t bear to part with it. Especially since it had been in her family for so long, and had meant so much to her ancestors. But now, not having John’s second income to help defray the cost of running the ranch, she might have to sell after all.

He knew my name! The thought hit her like a bolt of lightning. Stewart Remington had called her Sarah yesterday when he’d knelt to check her thumb. She was sure she hadn’t told him her name. Had he inquired from a neighbor? How did he know? A tiny thread of fear worked its way up Sarah’s spine.

When they’d returned from the doctor’s office and she and Aaron were inside for the night, Stewart had gone back out and finished repairing the broken barn door before he’d ridden away on his horse. At the time she’d felt grateful, and thought he was really going to be a good neighbor. But now she questioned his motives. Was he being a little too neighborly?

# # #

Also by Pat Ballard

Dangerous Love  |  The Best Man  |  Abigail's Revenge  |  A Worthy Heir  |  His Brother's Child  |  Nobody's Perfect  |  Wanted: One Groom | Dangerous Curves Ahead: Short Stories | 10 Steps to Loving Your Body (No Matter What Size You Are)  | Something to Think About
 (free PDF ebook)

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