THANKS TO YOU
Tripp had clocked out for the day. He was also far from the employee parking lot, but the shining sun had compelled a stroll around the perimeter. Although he didn’t have his communication headset on, he could alert another security guard if he required assistance.
He stopped. She was parked in the front lot far from the hotel, holding an ice cream and staring at a midnight-blue four by four crew-cab truck. Her long black hair fluttered in the light, warm breeze, and his Adam’s apple swelled. A fluffy beige coat hugged her slim body.
She couldn’t be a car thief since she held an ice cream cone.
“Do you need any help?” he called out, his usual question to anyone lurking around the parked vehicles.
She pivoted, presenting a beautiful round face, bright ebony eyes, plump lips painted a sexy shade of red, and full cheeks sweet enough to tempt any man to sample.
“I’m okay,” she said in a voice that was friendly, but a hint of professionalism lurked in her tone, possibly a habit from her job. “I’m hoping it’s a loose spark plug. If not, I’ll call roadside assistance.”
Before ambling up to her, Tripp memorized the license plate number. A Canadian. He set his hand on the vehicle, another part of his training—always leave his fingerprints behind…just in case. “Your ride died?”
“It won’t start.” She withdrew a cell phone from her coat. “I was going to use the manual to try to figure out the problem. You’re only allowed to use roadside assistance four times a year, and it—”
He couldn’t help his chuckle. “Let me guess. It takes a long time for it to arrive on the rez, huh?”
She flashed him perfect white teeth. “You live in the boonies, too?”
“Just down the highway. Which rez you from?”
“Rainy Lake First Nation.”
“Oh, that’s only about three hours from here. Just passing through to the Twin Cities?”
“Yes. It’s Black Friday tomorrow.” The formality vanished. Her speech was sweeter than her ice cream. “I guess I should use my roadside assistance. It is nearing the end of the year.”
A practical woman? Anyone else would’ve called for assistance right away, not debate whether they should use up one of their four free allotments.
“Excuse me.” She opened the truck door and grabbed a leather purse, and from the looks of it, it was expensive.
“I’m Tripp. Tripp Beargrease.” He extended his hand. Yes, as one of the supervisors for security, he was obliged to help, but he also sort of wanted to stick around.
“Paulina Natawance.” She held out her perfectly groomed hand.
When her palm met his, soothing warmth coated his flesh.
“Can you…?” She held up the ice cream.
“Sure.” He took the cone.
While she talked on the phone, her voice became clipped and no-nonsense. Yep, she was used to giving orders. So was he, but he’d always used a less formal approach with the men and women he oversaw for his shift.
“I see…” She pressed her plush lips together. “No, it’s highly understandable. It is a major holiday in the States today. Thank you.” She shut off the phone.
Her eyes didn’t flash annoyance or anything. She extended her hand. “Thanks for holding my ice cream.”
“Not a problem.” He returned the cone.
Their fingers brushed for a moment. And the heat on his skin was something he hadn’t experienced in a long time, not since Michelle had died.
“Good news?” he asked.
“They’ll be sending out someone to look over the vehicle. I’m in luck. Roadside assistance contracts with a garage in Cloquet. They said it’d be about fifteen minutes.”
“There’s no use waiting in the cold. Not that it’s cold.” For some crazy reason, trying to get the words from his mouth was a chore. They seemed to stick in his throat.
He put his fist to his mouth and coughed. “Err…care to wait inside? A coffee?” He motioned at the casino.
“Oh, I don’t want to interrupt your…” A tinge of pink coated her reddish-brown, smooth skin. “You’re working.”
“I’m finished for the day.”
“It’s a holiday. Your family’s probably waiting for you.”
Pain pinched the back of Tripp’s neck. He shrugged. “Nobody’s waiting.”
“Oh…” Sympathy reflected in Paulina’s almond-shaped, dark eyes. “Then sure.” She smiled, a smile bright enough to match the intensity of the sun. “A coffee sounds good. And thank you for offering to keep me company.”
“Anything to help a lady in distress.” This time the words rolled smoothly from Tripp’s mouth, as did his chuckle.
He fell in step beside her. They headed for the main entrance doors of the casino.