Chapter Four – DAKOTA
Dakota slumped in the saddle of his Harley Road King and stared at the red taillights of the brand new Toyota 4Runner in front of him. He wished he had the ability to make the vehicle explode with the power of his mind. Or at the very least make it get the fuck out of the way. He didn’t want anyone to get hurt; he just wanted to ride fast up a twisty mountain road. Was that too much to ask?
With all the stress in his life right now, a nice long motorcycle ride was just what he needed. The aspens blazed gold against a clear blue sky, and the road up to Rocky Mountain National Park should have been light on tourists on an October Sunday afternoon.
Should have been. Wasn’t.
Judging by the way this idiot in front of him was puttering seven miles an hour below the speed limit up the twisting mountain roads, there was at least one tourist left.
He couldn’t see the person behind the wheel, but he was going to assume it was a little old lady. Grandma didn’t even have the damn sense to pull over and let Dakota pass.
Maybe she wasn’t a tourist. The SUV had temporary Colorado tags. He bet she was a new transplant. She’d probably read one too many ‘10 Best Places to Retire’ article in the AARP magazine, moved out west, and got herself an SUV for carting the grandchildren around during the winter.
Dakota gritted his teeth and took a few deep breaths, trying to enjoy the feel of the bike between his legs and the road rolling out beneath him, no matter how slowly it might be rolling.
About a half mile ahead, after the next curve, the road straightened out and widened into two lanes; he would pass her there. He may be upset, angry, and confused, but he wasn’t suicidal. Besides, he was headed all the way up to Trail Ridge Road today, trying to get one last ride in before it closed for the season. Fifteen minutes extra wasn’t going to kill him.
As Grandma came into the hard curve to the right, she swung wide, crossing the yellow line.
Dakota slowed the bike to put more space between them and held his breath until she completed the turn safely. Okay, now he had to see what Grandma looked like. She was a menace. Jesus Christ, if anyone had been coming down the mountain…he didn’t even complete the thought.
The road widened, and Dakota shifted gears to pull up next to Granny and give her a death glare. Not that she’d be able to see it through the helmet, but she’d feel it. Deep in her soul.
He swung around the left side of the bright red SUV, turned his head, and the world slipped into slow motion.
Granny was a smoking-hot giant of a man with his hands clenched so tightly on the wheel, Dakota could see the whites of his knuckles through the window.
Not-Granny turned and looked at Dakota, his dark, gorgeous eyes wide. The guy filled the SUV, his head almost brushing the roof. His biceps were the size of Dakota’s thighs. Holy shit. Maybe Dakota should offer to give him the driving lessons he so obviously needed.
Dakota swung around in front of the 4Runner and gave the guy a last look in his rearview. Good luck with the driving, he thought. Try not to kill anyone.
As he pulled away, there was a pop Dakota could hear through his helmet, and the guy’s eyes opened even wider. Dakota had a quick second to marvel at how dark his eyelashes were before the SUV slewed sideways off the road.
Screeching to a halt, Dakota turned his bike across the road to block any oncoming traffic and watched helplessly as the guy yanked the steering wheel in completely the wrong direction to control the skid.
The SUV slid on the dirt, spun around, and ended up with its rear end sticking into the road and its front end facing a drop-off. The only thing keeping it from plunging down the short but steep bank to the river was a lone pine tree wedged against the grill. The rear driver’s side tire was shredded; the sidewall completely blown out.
Dakota parked the bike safely and ran over to the SUV. “Are you okay?” he asked, hoping the guy could hear him over the heavy metal screaming from the speakers. Dakota was a little afraid to touch the 4Runner.
The guy said something and with shaking hands pushed his long dark hair back from his pale face.
“I can’t hear you,” Dakota said knowing that the guy couldn’t hear him either. He mimed rolling down the window.
Tall, dark, and incompetent did as he was told, and the music blaring from the speakers almost blew Dakota’s hair back. “Shut the music off!”
“I don’t know how,” the guy admitted. “It’s brand new. And I’m afraid to move.” His hand trembled on the steering wheel. Standing this close to him, and given how hard the guy’s hand clenched the steering wheel, Dakota could see that his biceps were huge. Everything about him was huge.
Dakota mentally smacked himself. Now was not the time to be checking this guy out, no matter how hot he was. Which was very. The guy was terrified. Considering how hard Dakota’s heart was pounding just from watching the skid, he wasn’t surprised.
“Is the car gonna fall?” the guy asked.
Dakota’s eyes flicked to the front of the 4Runner, gauging the strength of the tree, the slope of the ground, and the weight of the SUV. “I think you’re fine. Just back it up a bit,” Dakota yelled over the music. He tried to smile reassuringly. The guy didn’t look particularly reassured.
Putting his foot on the brake, the man gently pushed the gearshift into reverse. The SUV slipped a little on the loose gravel and dirt, slewing sideways from the pressure of the ruined tire, and the guy slammed the brake pedal. The 4Runner lurched back and forth, sliding even further sideways.
This guy really was a terrible driver. He looked so scared, Dakota wanted to comfort him. “Hey. Hey, guy,” Dakota said loudly. That fucking music was making him insane. “What’s your name? I can’t keep calling you guy in my head.”
“Okay, Bryce. Here’s what we’re gonna do.” Bryce looked like he was one second away from a freakout. Dakota held up his hands and spoke in low, quiet tones, treating Bryce like a skittish horse. “Put the car back in park.”
Bryce looked the at gearshift and frowned. “Oh. Sorry. I don’t drive a lot.”
“I kind of figured that. Okay. Now put the parking brake on.”
Bryce looked over between the seats, then back at Dakota.
“It’s a pedal on the floor.”
Bryce shook his head, his long brown hair sliding across his cheeks. An adorable blush replaced the pallor. “Right. Of course. I knew that.” Bryce’s leg shifted as he stomped down on the parking brake, his quad looked like it would burst out of the black brace that ran from just above his knee to mid-calf.
Dakota gingerly opened the door. The SUV didn’t so much as rock. So far, so good. “Hop on out.”
“You think it’s safe?”
“You’re fine. It’s fine.” Dakota held out a hand. “Come on.”
Bryce ignored Dakota’s outstretched hand and lifted his leg with both hands, wincing as he shifted sideway and lowered it to the ground.
“You okay?” Dakota asked trying to think what he would do if this giant started to fall. Maybe he could at least break his fall and keep his knee from getting hurt worse.
“Yeah. I’m good.” He pulled himself the rest of the way out of the SUV.
Dakota tilted his head up to meet the guy’s eyes as he brushed by him. He didn’t look okay, but Dakota would deal with that after he got the 4Runner taken care of.
“Great,” Dakota said and slid behind the wheel. “Now get out of the way.”
The first thing he did was shut off the radio. “What are you listening to? It’s awful,” he said out the window. “I think the car blew a tire in self-defense.” Throwing an arm over the seat, Dakota looked out the back window and skillfully maneuvered the car to a safe spot on the shoulder of the two-lane road.
He gave the blown tire a quick glance as he walked over to where Bryce rested against a low split-rail fence.
The big man held out his hand to shake. “Thanks, man. I owe you one. That was fucking terrifying.”
Dakota took his hand. It was strong, callused, and trembling. “Not as bad as the way you took that last turn,” Dakota said. “You could have gotten killed if someone had been coming the other way, you know. Or killed someone else.” The words spilled out of Dakota before he could stop them.
“I know. I’m so sorry. I don’t have a lot of experience driving,” Bryce admitted.
“At your age?” The guy had to be a few years older than Dakota, closer to thirty than twenty.
Bryce blushed again. It was adorable. Guys who looked like they could hold Dakota against the wall while they fucked him should not be able to look adorable.
“I’ve lived in cities most of my life,” he explained. “I don’t get a lot of opportunities to practice. Plus, I was t-boned by some moron running a red light when I first got my license. I stopped driving for a long time after that. It still makes me nervous.”
“Well, you picked a hell of a road to practice on.”
Bryce looked stricken. “Oh, God. I should have stayed at the hotel. I just needed to think, you know?”
Dakota gave a laugh and pointed his finger at his motorcycle. “Yeah, I know. That was my goal, too. Driving is a great way to clear your mind.”
“I’m so sorry.” Bryce stared at his shiny new SUV. “Should we call a tow truck?”
“Just to change a flat?” Dakota asked.
“What if that’s not all that’s wrong with it?”
Dakota shrugged. “Sure. Call Triple A or whatever.” He looked pointedly at the high canyon walls surrounding them on either side of the road. “Do you have cell service?”
Bryce checked his phone. “Damn it.”
Dakota considered the options. The easiest thing to do would be for him to change the damn tire himself. It would mess up his plans, but, for some reason, he wasn’t in a hurry to leave this guy. “Do you know where the spare is on this thing?”
Bryce raised one eyebrow and gave him a sheepish half-smile.
Dakota couldn’t help but return the smile. “You’re right, stupid question.”
Bryce might be a menace to society on the road, but he was sexy as hell. He looked like he’d stepped out of a porn video. That may possibly have had something to do with the reason Dakota wanted to linger.
Dakota didn’t normally go for beards, but Bryce’s neat brown beard only emphasized the strength of his jaw and the plushness of his mouth. He wondered if it would take both hands for him to reach around Bryce’s biceps.
Okay, enough lusting, get to work. “Do you have the user’s manual?”
“That I know. It’s in the glove compartment.”
Bryce watched quietly as Dakota located the spare and the tools he needed to change the tire. He whistled when he saw the shredded remains of his tire. “That’s a pretty serious flat. What causes something like that?”
Bending down to fit the crossbar into the bumper, Dakota caught a whiff of the guy’s cologne. He smelled as good as he looked.
“Defective tire. You are damn lucky that didn’t happen somewhere else on this road.” He stood up, shaking his head. “I keep flashing back to you taking that last turn too wide. If it had blown then, fuck, I don’t want to think about it.”
“Me neither. Trust me.” Bryce put his hand to his chest. “I feel like I’m going to have a heart attack.”
Dakota snorted a laugh and finished lowering the spare from underneath the SUV.
Bryce frowned. “What? You think my near-death experience is amusing?”
“No. It’s just that, well, the heart is a muscle, right? If your heart is half as ripped as the rest of yours are, it’s going to beat forever.”
Bryce smiled, his eyes flicking down quickly to check out Dakota. If Dakota hadn’t been watching for it, he would have missed it. He couldn’t be sure, but he was getting some gay or at least appreciative vibes from this guy. He’d felt Bryce’s eyes on his back the whole time he was getting the spare out.
It couldn’t hurt to flirt a little, just in case. It’s not like they were going to date, but flirting was fun. Dakota took in the size of Bryce’s muscles again and remembered the knee brace. If he’d misjudged badly, he could always outrun the guy. But Bryce probably wouldn’t beat up the guy who saved his life, right?
Dakota slid the tire out from underneath the 4Runner and rolled it to the side. Feeling bold, he gave Bryce a much more blatant head-to-toe gaze.
Very, very nice. Long dark hair down to his shoulders, trim beard, and dark eyes framed with those amazing eyelashes. His body was something Dakota had only seen in movies. It made Dakota want to touch him, to find out what all the power would feel like under his hand. At six feet tall, Dakota wasn’t a short guy, but he felt it next to Bryce.
“No, you look pretty damn healthy all over,” he said with a raise of his eyebrows and a smirk. “I don’t think you’re in any danger of a heart attack today.”