Teri Campbell is on the run, on a bus ride to nowhere. An unscheduled stop on the wind-blown plains of Wyoming leaves her at M&J's Truck Stop... and in the arms of Mike Gallagher, the young trucker who appoints himself her protector, who understands her as no one else could.
But will her new life and her new-found love be enough when events take an unexpected turn? ...and can even Mike keep her safe from the past that threatens to reclaim her?
Truck Stop by Allie McCormack
2019 by Allie McCormack
Teri bounced up in her seat, straining against the seatbelt.
“Mike, look! Oh my gosh, those are buffalo!”
Mike grinned, enjoying her amazed delight. He leaned over to point to the hills rising to the east.
“They've got a huge herd. There's a ranch with corrals and all, and the pasture goes along back behind those hills. We can't take Belle in there, I shouldn't think, but there's a regular drive that you can take to see them closer, take pictures and stuff.”
“They're so big!” she breathed. She craned her head to see the last possible glimpse of them as they continued north.
“Huge,” Mike agreed, casually upshifting as they left the town behind and began to pick up speed. “They're fast, too, which most people don't realize. People get gored all the time. The buffalo look big and slow, and they don't move much; mostly they just stand there. So lots of folks don't understand that they're wild animals. If they feel threatened, they'll charge. They can jump like deer, too.”
Teri drew her gaze from the windows to look at him questioningly. “Now that's hard to believe. They're so top-heavy, kind of, in front.”
“Honestly,” he nodded. “They can hop a fence like you'd skip a rope, and just as fast.”
"I never knew that!" Teri settled herself in the big seat more comfortably, propping her feet on the dashboard.
They dropped off the hay in Worland, stopping in the small town just long enough for Teri to buy a camera and film. She scowled at Mike with mock ferocity as they pulled away from the small supermarket.
“If you'd told me I'd need a camera,” she complained, “I could have gotten one at the Wal-Mart in Riverton for half the price.”
“I didn't even think of it,” Mike confessed. “To be honest, I'd forgotten about the buffalo herd there in Thermopolis, and how picturesque this whole area is.”
She looked wistful. “There weren't any places along Wind River Canyon to pull the truck over, but it's just splendid.”
“You can hang out the windows taking pictures on the way back,” he told her, “and I'll hold onto your belt so you don't fall.”
He just grinned when Teri gave him a disgusted look, then delved into the paper bag for the sandwiches and chips they'd bought as well as the camera. With amusement he watched as Teri slouched down in her seat, the bag of chips balanced on her stomach as she propped her feet up on the dashboard.
“Comfortable?” he asked.
She took a big bite of her sandwich. “Um-hum.”
As the road began to curve coming into Thermopolis and they slowed, she sat up eagerly. In the valley to their left were the thermal pools and parks, and she could see a number of water slides.
“So how many pools are there?”
“Just two,” Mike replied. “And the bath house, which is free. There was some treaty with the Shoshone... I think it was the Shoshone, anyway, or the Arapaho, maybe both... that the hot mineral springs would always be free. The state runs the bath house, and then there are the two water parks, I guess you'd call them. The bigger one is what the kids like, it's got several slides and a high dive.”
“So we're going to the smaller one?” Teri guessed.
He laughed. “Yeah, how'd you know? There's two pools and two slides, one of each indoors and outdoors, and some hot tubs... and I do mean hot tubs! Each one is a different temperature, and the hottest one is about scalding. Even the swimming pools are warm, kinda like a bath that's cooled down some.”
Fifteen minutes later, Teri stood in front of the mirror in the ladies locker room, surveying herself uncertainly. She'd picked the blue maillot because it was the same color as her eyes... Marsha was always pressing her to buy clothes in this particular shade.
The suit fit her beautifully, perhaps too much so. It clung lovingly, not cut very low but enough to show off the swell of her breasts before showcasing her slender waist, the curve of her hips. The blue did indeed echo her eyes, she noted, and her short black hair was, as usual, tousled. She rather thought she looked... well... pretty. Maybe it was just the glow from being here with Mike, but she looked even... beautiful. Well, in a cute kind of way.
And the idea of walking out of here like this, into the pool area where Mike waited, absolutely scared her to death. There would be other people there too. She shivered. The last time she'd worn a swimming suit she'd been just ten... No! Teri caught herself up short, shoving away the distressing memory. This was here, and now, and it was Mike who waited for her. Mike. She felt the tension that had gripped her fade away. Golden-haired Mike, whom she loved. She glanced again in the mirror, then took a deep, steadying breath. Okay, she could do this.
She picked up the oversized beach towel she'd bought along with the suit and headed for the door to the pool room, resisting the urge to cocoon herself in its thick folds. Stepping through the doorway, she was assaulted by the sounds of people having a wonderful time, the air punctuated with splashes and shrieks.
Then she caught sight of Mike, standing to one side watching some toddlers splash their heels, and her breath left her in a whoosh. He was clad in swimming trunks as golden as his body, his blonde hair thick and shaggy. She remembered an old book she'd read long ago, about a merman striding from the sea in human form. She swallowed, hard. He was so beautiful. He was half turned towards her and she could see the matt of chest hair, tawny gold against his bronzed skin, arrowing down his abdomen to disappear beneath the trunks.
Just then he turned his head and caught sight of her. A glow came into those sea-green eyes, frankly admiring, as his lips pursed in a soundless whistle.
“Hey, kid.” He caught her hand, his grin frankly wicked as he surveyed her. “You clean up good.”
She threw her towel at him, then gave a startled yelp as he picked her up and calmly dropped her into the pool. She rose to the surface, sputtering and laughing. He tossed her towel onto a nearby chair and reached down a hand to help her out, and she eyed it assessingly.
“Don't even think about it,” he warned, and she pouted at him. “Oh all right.”
She put her hand in his, and let him draw her from the water. He tugged her hand, pulling her after him.
“Come on, let's go on the slide.”
She shrieked merrily as they went down, his arms firmly wrapped around her waist as he sat behind her. Then they were airborne for a breathless moment before splashing down in the shallow end of the pool. Teri came up sputtering and gasping for breath, and Mike laughed.
“Next time close your mouth before you hit the water,” he advised he heaved himself out of the pool.
She stuck her tongue out at him, and clambered out, disdaining his assistance. Hand in hand, they ran for the stairs to the slide again.
Half an hour later, breathless and waterlogged, Teri was ready for a respite. Glancing out the window, she noted that the outdoor swimming pool was vacant, undisturbed by occupants. Mike quirked an eyebrow at her suggestion.
“Okay, but I gotta warn you... that one smells a lot worse than this one.”
Teri wrinkled her nose as they approached the murky pool. “Ewwww, sulfur.”
Gingerly she dipped a toe into the water, and nearly fell in from surprise.
“Wow!” She looked around for a chair to put her towel, then dived cleanly into the water. “Oh, this is marvelous, Mike! It's so warm! It feels kind of silky, too. Even bath oil doesn't feel this soft!”
“They don't call them mineral springs for nothing,” he replied, sitting on the edge of the pool watching as she floated lazily.
“Look out there,” and he pointed beyond the water park. “Those are the cooling terraces. The water comes up from under the ground real hot, and cools on the terraces to just the right temperatures and then piped down into the pools and hot tubs. Past those there's a walkway out to the rainbow terraces, you can see how the minerals have hardened to form a kind of curtain draping down. It's pretty neat.”
“How late can we stay?” she asked, watching the sun begin to sink in the sky.
“The park's open til midnight,” he said with a shrug. “So as long as we want, really.”
Turning gracefully from her floating position, Teri swam to the edge of the pool where he sat and hitched herself up with one arm on the rim, half in and half out of the water.
“Oh, Mike, can we stay? Please?”
“We'd have to stay overnight... the road from here to Riverton is probably one of the most dangerous in the whole state after dark on a Friday night.”
She gave him a pert smile. “I can afford it. Can you?”
“Brat!” he told her, without heat.
He looked down into her pixie-like face, the blue eyes sparkling with excitement and the short black hair curling into ringlets. He chuckled deep in his chest at her joy, and leaned down impulsively to kiss her soft lips. No sooner had her taste, her scent filled his senses than he recalled himself and drew back, cursing silently. Bad enough that he'd taken advantage of her innocence once; to continue to do so would be unthinkable. For a long moment Teri stared back at him, blue eyes wide and fathomless, her full lips trembling.
He found his voice. “I'm sorry, kid. I didn't mean...”
“It's okay.” She turned away, her voice muffled, but not before he caught the glimmer of tears.
Sliding into the water, he went to her, turning her to face him. Feeling his heart clenching in his chest, he noted her downcast head, her arms crossed protectively in front of her.
“I know you didn't mean it,” she whispered. “What happened before was just... just propinquity. It's not like you really want me.”
“God, no, sweetheart, it's not that! It's...” he paused, watching at her with a troubled frown. His face softened and he cupped her cheek with one hand, stroking with his thumb.
“It's just that you're so young. I care about you, and I want what’s best for you. And I don't ever want you to look back and feel that I took advantage of you.”
Teri drew back from him a little, flushing.
“You could never take advantage of me, Mike.”
This page was created on 5/14/2019