Are you ready for some more Take A Chance?
If you haven’t had a chance to read the prologue, you can catch up here.
Here is chapter one
Sixteen Years Later
Rene Buchanan gripped the steering wheel tightly through her wool gloves, not that it was helping any. She felt completely out of control in her new SUV.
What could she have been thinking, moving here? What was wrong with her? And why did she do it in the middle of the winter, no less?
Sure, this new job was a dream come true. She would have been nuts to turn it down, but that didn’t quell the fear she was feeling as the tires started to slip on the road.
She eased off the gas a bit and tapped the brakes. Nope, wrong thing to do, she realized when the rear end fishtailed to the right. Did the salesman lie to her about the traction control?
Barely crawling at this point, she pressed on the gas pedal a fraction and felt the vehicle slip. Braking wasn’t the thing to do either, she’d just learned, so she made a tiny wish and tried a bit more gas, hoping to get somewhere.
As luck would have it, her tires started to grab at something, finally moving her forward at a nice steady clip. She could handle this; it wasn’t that bad. Only three miles left to go to her new office. Piece of cake.
Since she felt a teeny more confident, she pressed the gas down and then wished she hadn’t when the rear end slid to the right again. Wrong choice this time. It seemed she always made the wrong choice. Nothing new there.
When she glanced down, she saw she was barely going twenty miles an hour. It was pretty embarrassing, if she was honest with herself, that she couldn’t go any faster than this without wanting to curl into a ball and cry.
It wasn’t even snowing out. The roads looked fairly clear to her, just some slush, yet she still couldn’t get this thing to drive as steadily as she was told it would when she bought it a month ago before the move.
She was slowly making her way up the hill and knew the turn was coming. Knowing she needed to accelerate now or she’d never make it, she gingerly tapped the gas. More spinning tires, but at the moment she was the little engine that could. Maybe it would have been better if she’d bought something with a little engine instead of this monster she had no control over.
Feeling positive that she was going to make it, she added more gas, then wished she hadn’t when a deer dashed in front of her. She slammed on the brakes, did a complete three-sixty, and ended up off the side of the road facing the wrong direction on the other side.
Great. Just great. Only her third day on the job and she was going to be late. What else could go wrong?
She sat there taking inventory of her body and realized other than her racing heart, everything was good. Of course it’s not like she was going fast enough to really do any damage to anything other than her pride.
Pulling her gloves off her fingers one by one, she fished her phone out of her purse to call her brother, Nick. He’d know what to do. He knew what to do about everything. Unlike her.
She’d bet he’d never slid off the road when he moved here. Nick probably drove twenty miles over the speed limit in a blizzard with one hand on the steering wheel, the other sipping a coffee, and had complete control at all times.
Stop being childish, she told herself…until she realized there was no reception on her phone. Double great. Now what?
She also knew there were houses set back in the woods, but she wasn’t sure how far away they were since she hadn’t paid much attention to those things while she commuted the last two days.
That was always her biggest problem. She never paid attention to the things around her that she should have. Now here she was stuck on the side of the road in the freezing cold with a vehicle she paid way too much money for that didn’t even want to stay on the pavement to begin with.
She was going to die out here in the cold.
She was going to starve.
No one would ever find her.
Well maybe not starve—she still had a plethora of snacks in her big tote she carried everywhere. And since the engine was running, it was toasty warm, so it wasn’t as dire as her overactive imagination was making it out to be.
Think, think, think. What should she do right now? She was never good in these situations. If directions weren’t in a book or a manual in front of her, she was clueless. She didn’t need people telling her that her whole life, either.
Doubters always doubt, she told herself, and that was the motto she used to get through college. All ten years of it while she kept getting degree after degree until she found her calling.
Laying her forehead against the steering wheel, she tried to do exactly what she did for years. Think. Instead, she started to panic.
When she heard a knock on her window she screamed and jumped, but the darn seatbelt only locked her back in place.
She pushed the beanie back on her forehead, except it fell down to her eyebrows again. Not enough that she couldn’t see a man in uniform tapping on the glass.
“Are you okay?” he asked, his voice loud through the window.
Thank God. She hit the button and rolled the window down, looking at her own reflection in his sunglasses. She looked a mess, but what else was new?
“Yeah. A deer ran in front of me and I lost control. I seem to be stuck.”
He looked around, and she followed his gaze. Now she was realizing she was just barely off the road, not really in a ditch and not really stuck. Hmm, maybe she should have at least tried to drive away. Why hadn’t that thought occurred to her?
“We’ll try to get you out of here. Shouldn’t be a problem in this vehicle,” he said.
She wished she could see his face. Or maybe not, because he sounded kind of condescending right now. He looked young, not more than a few years older than her. Too young to have a voice that deep. And big, too. She was pretty high up in her SUV and he wasn’t dwarfed by it at all.
“What are you doing?” she asked when he started to lean his head into her vehicle and look around. Did he think she was under the influence? It just went from bad to worse.
“Where are you heading right now?” he asked.
“Work. It’s only my third day and I’m going to be late,” she said, hoping he got the hint to help her get out of this situation. Instead he continued to look around and her pulse started to kick up again. Was he supposed to smell so good? Was she even supposed to notice? Probably not, and wise to keep it to herself.
“Not from around here, are you?” he asked, his lips starting to twitch.
Okay, she knew she was slow at times, but he was definitely making fun of her. “I just moved here from Virginia. I must confess I’m not used to these conditions. I thought buying this SUV would help, but I was all over the road. Must be icier than I thought.”
A smile from him this time, almost a teasing one. She pushed her too-big hat up again and wished she didn’t look like a kid in oversized clothing, but no hat ever fit her head, and headbands and earmuffs just looked sillier than the big hats.
Next thing she knew, he was reaching his long arm across her. She fought back a giggle when “long arm of the law” popped into her head.
“It’d probably drive better if you put it in four-wheel drive. You’ve been driving this big, heavy rear-wheeled drive vehicle in slush, with an engine equally as big. If you don’t know how to handle it, it can get away from you.”
No crap, she wanted to say, but then caught on to something else he’d said. “Four-wheel drive? They told me it’s all-wheel drive. What’s the difference?”
Now he laughed. “The difference is staying on the road, or sitting here talking to me.”
She wrinkled her nose. Okay, he was cute when he smiled, but she really wished she could see more of his face…or maybe not. She was already self-conscious, so it was probably better she didn’t know what he was thinking, or couldn’t figure it out. Especially when he smelled nice and smiled so sweet. None of that went with the timbre of his voice, just confusing her more.
She gathered her wits and said, “So that button you just pointed out. That puts it in four-wheel drive and it would have prevented me from going off the road?”
Now she wanted to kick herself for not reading the manual when she bought the thing.
“Well now, that’s not a guarantee, but it might have helped. It really all comes down to the driver.”
She ground her teeth. “Thanks for the help. I’ll try to get out now.”
“Not so fast. I know you’ll get out just fine. Can I see your license and registration though?” he asked nicely. Not at all like an officer trying to throw his weight around.
So much for getting on her way. “Of course,” she said, remembering he was law enforcement. She looked closer now and realized he was one of the troopers in the area, not from the sheriff’s office.
She leaned over and pulled her wallet out of her purse, then handed her license to him while she reached in the glove compartment for her registration.
“Rene?” he said, some wonder in his voice.
“Yes. Rene Buchanan,” she said back.
He smiled again, then lifted his sunglasses off his face. That pulse that was beating rapidly when she spun off the road was nothing compared to the rate it was racing now.
She knew when she moved to Lake Placid there was a possibility of running into people she’d met when she was younger. She knew there was a chance she’d see him again. She didn’t expect it to be when she was looking her worst and in a helpless situation.
Of course, she shouldn’t be surprised. Every time she saw him as a kid, she was in some bad predicament. Why should it be different this time?
“Yep, that’s me. Wow, little Rene Buchanan. I didn’t know you moved here.”
The “little” comment made her purse her lips. “Last month. Well, I’m with my grandmother right now until I can find a place.”
She had no idea why she was explaining that to him. Years ago, she was always tongue-tied around him. Well, more like tongue-tied around everyone. Losing herself in her studies was so much easier than trying to be an adult.
But she was an adult now. One that was trying to change her life, and to do that, she needed to stop being the shy little dorky girl that felt more comfortable hiding.
In the last few years she’d focused on speaking more, and standing her ground. Thinking first, then explaining herself. No more running and no more hiding when she was nervous.
“I didn’t recognize you without your glasses,” he said.
She bit back the sigh. Figures he would remember that about her. Glasses too big and too thick for her face, always falling down. Part of this move was a transformation for herself. Both physically and mentally, maybe even emotionally, though she’d never admit that to anyone. Still, she wished she’d thought of getting contacts years ago since it ended up being such a big confidence booster.
“It’s me. Sorry to sound rude, but I really do have to get to work.”
He didn’t look like he was in any hurry, though. “Where are you working?”
Small towns. She should have known it wouldn’t be that easy. “Dr. Hamilton’s practice. I’m a physician assistant.”
“Get out,” he said.
Wonderful, he was probably just as shocked as everyone else that she chose this field to pursue.
“Nope. I graduated in May. When I came to visit for my brother Nick’s wedding in September, I met Dr. Hamilton and we talked. Next thing I knew, he was offering me a job the first of the year, and here I am.”
Cole waved his hand. “No, not that you’re doing that. I mean, yeah, I am kind of surprised, but you were always smart so I really shouldn’t be surprised. I said that because my sister, Celeste, is business partners with Max. You remember Celeste, right?”
“Of course I remember her. I saw her at Nick’s wedding. I didn’t know she was partners with Dr. Hamilton.”
Why didn’t she ask more questions? Of course, it probably had nothing to do with her job. Then it hit her: the new B&B that Dr. Hamilton opened a few months ago. One for patients to stay at and recover on a mini-vacation after procedures. Celeste owned a B&B, too, so it was making sense.
“Yep. I’m sure you’ll hear all about it soon then. Let’s get you back on the road and off to work. Max is a great guy. He’ll understand if you’re late. Tell him to give me a call to verify if need be, but I doubt it.”
She breathed a sigh of relief that he was going to let her go. And without a ticket, though honestly she didn’t know what she could be ticketed for. Maybe being an idiot for not knowing how to drive her vehicle. Was there a ticket for that?
He stepped back when she hit the button to roll up the window. Instead he reached his hand out and stopped her. “You need to put it in four-wheel drive,” he said, his lips twitching again.
Dang it all. “Sorry. Just press this button, right? I’ve got it,” she said.
The window closed all the way up, she pushed the button like he’d said and gently touched the gas. What do you know? The vehicle took off like it was on dry roads and away she went. She was even going twenty-five miles an hour now and in complete control.
When she looked at the rear-view mirror, she saw him swaggering back to the patrol car. He always did have a mighty fine walk.