“Yeah, well, my stretch Hummer is in the shop.”

Brent glanced over, caught off guard by Hayden’s uncharacteristically self-deprecating tone. Her worried gaze was fixed on something in the bus windshield. He followed her line of sight and saw at least twenty preteens, faces pressed against the glass, watching them intently. One of the girls waved at her and she returned the gesture with a shaky smile.

“Are you gonna fix it, Miss Hayden?”

Her throat worked as she looked toward Brent for an answer. That look impacted him like a blow to the chin. She needed him. It was right there in her expression. Fix it, Brent. That look called to the provider inside him, twice as amplified around Hayden. He needed a moment to rein it back in. Before she glimpsed the vulnerability and ripped him to shreds over it. He was saved by the kids yelling once more through the glass.

“We’re going to be too late to milk the cows!”

“Tell that cop to show us his gun!”

Apparently the surprises weren’t over. “Did he just say ‘milk the cows’?”

She nodded without meeting his eyes. “We’re taking them up to Meadowstar Farm for the day. They have cows there. Moving on.”

Everything clicked into place then. Clear Air Initiative. Even Brent had heard about the popular charity on the local news. He’d had no idea Hayden was involved in any way, but based on the company logo on her shirt and the kids’ obvious comfort with her, she’d committed herself to the cause. How long had she been shuttling these kids upstate without him having a single clue? Brent had too many questions, so he started with the most pressing. “Do you milk the cows?”

“Yes.” Her face softened slightly. “Once. My hands were too cold. Bessie was udderly pissed.”

Hiding his smile, Brent crouched down to remove tools and a spare quart of antifreeze from his box. Dammit, the need to kiss her wouldn’t go away. It was difficult to ignore when they were taking shots at each other. Now? When she stood there in her pristine white Converse, hitting him with more goofy wordplay? It was damn near impossible. And it reminded him of his all-too-brief time in her bed. Focus. “All right, Miss Hayden. It looks like you’ve got an antifreeze leak coming from one of your hose clamps.”


She cast another concerned look at the hovering students, several of them giving her a thumbs-up in encouragement. They looked at her as if she were invincible, Brent thought, but she clearly didn’t see it. At the moment, she appeared too focused on this failure, which was totally out of her control. Suddenly, it became imperative to him that she see what those kids saw.

Brent jerked his chin at her. “All right, woman. Get over here.”


“Get under the hood. You’re going to make this repair so you can go milk Bessie on time.”

“Me? Are you crazy?” Brent gave her a level look and she held up a hand. “Forget I asked.”

He took Hayden’s arm and pulled her in front of him. The words stuck in his throat for a moment, she felt so perfect backed against his chest, her scent teasing his senses. “Stand on the front bumper,” he instructed gruffly. “I’ll talk you through it.”

With a deep breath, she took the wrench, white rag, and utility knife he offered, then boosted herself up onto the bumper. Unable to resist the opportunity to touch her, he braced her legs with his body to keep her steady. “If this is a ploy to ogle my butt, learn to pick your moments.”

“Not to worry. I’m too focused on your legs.”

She sighed heavily. “Okay, Flo, what am I looking for?”

Knowing she couldn’t see him, Brent grinned at the nickname. “See that clamp with steam coming out around it? Use the wrench to loosen it. Then pull out the leaky hose using the rag. Don’t touch it directly or you’ll burn your fingers.” While she worked, Brent pointed toward Hayden and gave the kids a thumbs-up, shaking his head in disbelief as though he couldn’t believe what a great job she was doing. They high-fived in response.

“Done. I can see the leak.”

“Good. Now…this is really important. Grip the hose tight. And stroke it.”

“You realize I’m holding a heavy metal object, right?”

He swallowed his laugh. “Use the knife to cut off the damaged part of the hose. Once you’ve done that, reattach the newly cut end. Make sure the clamp is tight.”

She had to bend at an angle to get close enough to cut the hose. Brent bit back a groan when her pert ass went up in the air, inches from his face. Her black shorts rode high enough that he could see that ripe area of skin just beneath her tush. If they weren’t in plain view of the highway and thirty-odd children, he would have raked his teeth over that smooth flesh, then ripped the damn short

s off to get a better look. “Duchess, I feel it’s only fair to inform you, I’m now looking at your butt.”

“Enjoy it while it lasts.”

“Planning on it.”

“You know what I meant,” she snapped. “Enjoy looking now because you won’t be seeing it again in the near future.”

“I heard you. I choose to interpret it differently.”

“I’m finished.”

“Already? I’ve barely even touched you yet.”

Her body straightened on a disgusted groan. Brent, for what seemed like the hundredth time this week, whispered a heartfelt good-bye to Hayden’s ass. “Think you can you manage to help me down without groping me?”

“Can I or will I?”


“Fine. Down you go.” He pulled her off the bumper, but couldn’t resist hooking an arm beneath her knees and cradling her against his chest for a moment. She started to protest but the loud cheering from the bus cut her off. He didn’t take his eyes off her as her expression slowly transitioned from annoyance to astonishment. “Miss Hayden saves the day,” Brent observed casually, setting her on her feet. He could feel her watching him as he quickly poured in the quart of antifreeze to replace what had leaked out, then closed the hood and signaled the driver to start the engine. When it roared to life, the excited cheers only increased.