Big 4 Trucking #1
Candy learned long ago not to trust the guys that come into her bar. When Trent, co-owner of Big 4 Trucking and an all around good guy walks in, he can’t help but get caught in her eyes. Not knowing the kind of guys she deals with on a daily basis, he’s completely taken aback when a hand on her arm earns him a black eye from the blond beauty.
Feeling regret for giving him the black eye, Candy agrees to go out with him. Breakfast turns into date after date, and a great time on the road with her favorite trucker has them growing closer by the minute.
Until they’re both tested by mystery and deceit. Before you know it, secrets become part of the puzzle that rock their world. And when someone tries to kill Trent, all bets are off.
Release Date: October 18, 2016
Genre: Contemporary Romance
~ A WHITE SATIN ROMANCE ~
Candy Stuart’s pulse raced and her face turned red-hot. She was beyond angry and ready to explode. As a partner in the Scenic Bar and Grill—a waitress, too—today she was having the same problem she always did, and the problem’s name was Willy.
She was spitting mad. She’d warned him over and over again, but now there would be no more asking, begging, or shouting at the man. Now he would learn the hard way not to grab her ass. She pulled back her fisted hand and punched the insufferable oaf right in the eye. It began swelling almost immediately, but she didn’t stop there. She kicked him in the shin and watched him sway on his feet, leaving Willy not just holding his eye but his leg, as well. If her calculations were right, he would hit the floor at any moment.
She showed the jerk her doubled-up fist. “I told you that if you grabbed my ass one more time, I was going to kill you,” she spat out. “Well, it’s time to keep my word, because I’m going to continue punching you until I’ve laid you out flat on the floor. Now, are you going to keep your hands to yourself?” Lord, he was getting on her last nerve. The man was old enough to know better, for heaven’s sake’s. At that moment, she finally noticed he had held up his hands in defense.
“Listen, Candy, it was just a joke,” he stuttered out. He tried to cover up his fear with a half-hearted chuckle, but she wasn’t buying it. She glared at him. It was obvious to her that he was worried she’d hit him again. Candy didn’t care, because she sure as hell would love to prove him right. Truth was that she was sick and tired of being manhandled.
She stepped closer, her anger at a fever pitch as she screamed, “I’ve had enough of your crap! This time I’m going to break your nose!” Candy pulled back her fist to do exactly what she promised.
Willy held his hands up to try and protect his face. “Please, Candy—you wouldn’t hit me again, would you?” he begged. It was then that Candy realized he was actually scared to death.
“Damn right I would, if you don’t apologize,” she yelled.
Willy swallowed hard. “Okay, you win—I apologize.”
“And . . . ?” she prodded.
“And I will keep my hands to myself.” With that promise, he held his hand up to signal an oath just like a Boy Scout.
With a quick nod of her head, Candy turned and saw that everyone in the bar had gathered around the two of them. She put her hands on her hips and drummed her fingertips against them while she spoke to the crowd at large: “What are you all doing? This is a personal matter, and it isn’t any of your business, now is it?” She glared at the faces belonging to men she served nearly every weekend. Right now, they looked shocked and maybe even a little worried they just might be next. The bar went quiet, no one said a word—especially after what they’d just witnessed—so they all made their way back to their seats.
No one wanted to tangle with Candy. She was tough, but she had to be. It wasn’t her fault she looked good in her snug jeans. Still, was that a reason to manhandle her, verbally abuse her, or grab her ass?
She made her way across the crowded room to the bar, and Jack the bartender met her on the other side.
“C’mon, Candy—you know guys like a good-looking woman, and you, my dear, fit the bill.” He leaned in close to her before continuing, “You know there isn’t a guy in this place who doesn’t check out your backside every time you walk by.” Jack shrugged. “That’s just something you’ll have to learn to live with.”
Candy stared into his big, brown eyes. “Doesn’t give them the right to touch me when and wherever they like.”
“Of course not,” he agreed. “Why do you let Willy get to you, anyway? Calm down, and remember your uncle said that if another table gets broken in this place, you’re paying for it.”
She took a deep breath before asking in an irritated tone, “Did I break anything?”
“You didn’t break anything but Willy’s pride. He’s probably going to have some pretty big bruises come tomorrow,” Jack said as he looked over at her with a smile that bordered on laughter.
She couldn’t help but smile at her old friend. They’d been close ever since high school. “Still . . . I really did want to punch Willy in the mouth—at least once,” she admitted.
Jack started laughing and, before Candy knew it, she was laughing, too. He walked away from her to get a couple of beers, and she stared off into space. She was thinking back to the reason why she’d become so tough. It all started five years earlier when her parents died in a plane crash. The memory of her sweet mom and dad choked her up. Mama was a stay-at-home parent who was always there for Candy and her sisters. Dad was a banker who was great with money and loved his four daughters. She missed them terribly.
After the accident, Candy was left to support her three younger sisters. Being a waitress in a bar, they survived on her tips. Luckily, their parents had put money away for their daughters’ education in a safety deposit box at their bank. All of it had been in cash and sealed in separate envelopes, and together it made a tidy sum. Included in the box was a letter explaining what it was to be used for: tuition. Candy swore she wouldn’t touch her sisters’ futures. It didn’t matter how much they had to struggle—they wouldn’t lay a hand on that money until the time came. So, she’d put it all into separate savings accounts in their names, and there it stayed. The house was free and clear as the mortgage had been paid off, and with Candy’s tips they just made it. She hadn’t even been part owner of the bar at the time. It was such a struggle without her folks.
Candy remembered what it was like back then. She worked six days a week to keep food on the table. She was tired and short on both money and patience. So, when a handsome young man strolled into the bar one day and showed an interest in her, she’d let down her guard. That was her first mistake. The memory was still fresh in her mind. Every time he came into the bar he’d danced with her, held her in his arms, and whispered sweet words of love in her ear. He even bought her gifts. Candy’s thoughts took her back to the way he’d made her feel. She’d been young, dumb, and just plain lonely, and that’s why she couldn’t help but think it was love.
It didn’t take long before her sweet dream man turned into a nightmare. He demanded all sorts of things from her. Jealousy ruled his emotions, and it tortured Candy. In the beginning, his touch had been soft and gentle. He turned cold and callous, and the simple word ‘no’ sent him into a rage. Candy took a tight hold of the edge of the bar. Truthfully, the memory shook her to the core. Those feelings made her want to scream. She couldn’t believe how she had let him treat her. Even after everything he’d done to her, she still cared for the man. Damn, she actually thought he’d wanted to be part of her family. “What was I thinking?” she muttered. She’d even gone so far as to blame herself for all of his craziness. Her stomach lurched at the thought of all the heartache she’d suffered.
A moment later, she played through what happened next. Her so-called ‘dream man’ came into the bar one night, and Candy had immediately taken him out the back door so that she could tell him about her sisters. She was going to ask him to become a part of her family. He would know then that she truly did care for him. It would solve all their problems. She wanted a happily ever after, but it wasn’t what she got. The news only threw him into a rage. He kept shouting something about her coming on to other men, but she didn’t understand what he was talking about. It was as though he had lost his mind. He wouldn’t hear a word she said in her defense.
The handsome man who once looked at her with deep blue eyes and a smile that could light up a room turned into an animal. He roared like a lion as he beat her. The blows came quickly to her face even though she tried desperately to protect it; Candy knew he wanted to take away her beauty. Lord help her, there had been no stopping him. She took punches not only to her face but to her stomach and chest, as well. When he had finally been pulled off her, she was unconscious. That was her last memory of him. She shook her head at all the pain—the heartache—that had been caused just because he’d been convinced she was seeing other men. The opportunity to be a part of her family and her life had meant nothing to him. She understood then that the soft-spoken man with a gentle touch definitely had something wrong with his mind. His sick jealousy had pushed him over the edge of sanity, and she’d never seen it coming.
No charges were ever brought against him because Candy wouldn’t press the assault. All she wanted was for him to be out of her life. The Port Austin, police encouraged him to leave town, and before she was even out of the hospital, he’d left Michigan. She shook her head again as she tried to block out the image of the rage on his face and the brutality of that night. She knew full well she wouldn’t ever let anyone get that close to her again, even crazy old Willy. Since then, she had put love out of the picture. Candy would raise her little sisters and make a life for herself. She knew that giving her heart to another man wasn’t going to happen again—not after what she’d gone through.
Candy was brought back to reality when Georgie and Tina—the other two waitresses—came to the bar and took up her pose. All three were head to head, chattering away about what Candy had just done to Willy, when the bar door opened and two large, good-looking guys strutted in. Georgie and Tina both gave Candy a nudge, so she gave the men a half-hearted glance.
She lifted her tray filled with drinks and told the gals, “I’ve got no time for that stuff. You know I only have three things on my mind: my sisters, this bar, and money.”
She was already over the Willy thing, so with a shrug she hollered the remainder of her drink order to Jack: “I also need one Black Russian, two Millers, and a Heineken.” She watched him grab hold of the Vodka bottle in one hand, the Kahlua bottle in the other, and pour them both at the same time while he listened to the other girls’ orders.
“You aren’t dead, are you?” Tina shouted back as Candy walked away.
She just shook her head at her friend. Tina had worked in a bar most of her life, and even though she was a little rough around the edges, Candy liked her that way. She couldn’t help but give the guys who’d walked in more than one look, though. They really were hot; there was no denying that. One more glance in their direction made her take a deep breath. She observed them as they sat down at a table with a window view of the lake. As luck would have it, the table was Candy’s. She headed for the booth, trying to keep her composure. Both men wore black jackets with patches that read in bold, red lettering: ‘Big 4 Trucking’. Apart from that, they sported white T-shirts and blue jeans. These men weren’t good for her sensibilities. She would have to keep her cool, but Lord, her heart was pounding in her chest.
Candy crossed the room to their table. “What can I get you guys?” She stood, pen in hand, looking at her order pad, waiting.
The broad man with a head full of curly brown hair spoke first. “Four Bud Lights and four of your jumbo steak burgers with the works—we have friends coming.”
“You got it,” Candy said without hesitation.
As she headed back to the bar with their order, she watched two more gentlemen enter and join the truckers’ table. She was close enough to hear the youngest of the guys say, “Wait until you see the girl who just took our order.”
“Yeah, I have to agree with the kid: she’s a heart-breaker, all right,” the big man with brown hair announced to the others.
“I’ll be the judge of that,” teased one of the men who’d just come in. Yet, once Candy was back at their table with their drink order, she acted as though she hadn’t heard a thing. She found herself staring at the man sitting at the end of the booth. He wasn’t good looking like the other men. No, he was smoking hot! She didn’t know his name or even if he was paying, but wow—he took her breath away. Suddenly, his eyes got her full attention. They were the deepest of greens, or were they gray? They seemed to change as she stared. Oh hell, now her knees had gone weak. She felt as though she’d been gawking for what seemed like a long time, but it had actually only been a few moments.
She covered up her fascination with the breathtaking guy and turned to the curly-headed man who gave her twenty-five bucks for the beers. She nodded with a smile, saying, “I’ll get your change.”
As she reached into her apron, though, the man stopped her. “No, the change is for you.”
“Well, thank you. I’ll be back shortly with your food order,” she informed them.
She turned quickly so she wouldn’t have to look at the man who was making her heart race. It wasn’t easy to force her eyes away, because he had a rugged look about him. His face was a little scruffy—just enough to make her want to touch it. Oh God, she was thinking of kissing his ever-so-soft-looking lips. Hell, she didn’t even want to think about those bulging muscles under his T-shirt. She kept telling herself that this was not the time to get involved with any man. Although . . . she couldn’t help herself. She glanced back at the attractive devil, because wow, he simply took her breath away. She turned from him once more. This guy wasn’t going to get to her; she had to put him out of her mind.
Almost a half hour had gone by when Candy headed for the truckers’ table with their burgers. There was a smile on her face as she placed a plate in front of each of them and asked, “You’re all set on the burgers, but can I get you another round?”
They all dove into their food—all except for the handsome man who was smiling at her. She didn’t know why, but the next words just spilled out of her mouth:
“What’s your name?” She couldn’t believe she’d actually asked the man such a blunt question. When he looked into her eyes, her heart began racing all over again. Before she could think of how to cover up her stupid question, he answered her.
“My name is Trent, and yes, we’ll take another round…but only if you answer a few questions that have all of us curious.” Candy couldn’t believe how the sound of his deep, sexy voice gave her goose bumps.
She grinned. “Sure, ask away.”
“I’m Benet, and my question is how many days a week do you work?” The big man’s eyes sparkled with kindness, and his hair was so curly that she wanted to mess it up just a bit.
“Four nights,” she replied with a smile.
“My name is Jimmy.” This one couldn’t seem to look her in the eye as he asked, “What nights do you work?” He was the one who appeared to be the youngest, and she noticed that his face was red with embarrassment.
At first, Candy wasn’t going to answer his question, but after seeing how hard it was for him to ask it, she took pity on him. She leaned across the table, patted his hand, and said, “I don’t usually tell people my schedule, although for you I’ll make an exception. Wednesday through Saturday.”
The next guy cleared his throat, and Candy straightened up to give him her full attention.
“I’m Bobby. What’s your name, red?” He winked at her.
The only reply he got out of her was, “It’s not red.” Immediately, she looked over at Trent, opting not to fully answer the other man’s question.
“You know, if you don’t answer his question, he’ll call you ‘red’ all night,” Trent warned.
When she turned back, Bobby was nodding his head, so she gave in. “All right. My name is Candy.”
“Like ‘eye candy’?” Bobby blurted out. She took one look at the wide-eyed expression on his face and assumed that he’d spoken aloud without thinking.
“She answered your question,” Trent snapped. “Don’t be an idiot about it!” He glanced up at Candy apologetically. “My question is . . . what time do you get off work?”
She stared at him for a moment, wondering how she should answer the question. She never told anyone her off-hours, even though she’d been asked many times. Now she found herself actually struggling with the idea of not telling him. Sanity won out. “I’m sorry; I don’t date people I meet at work. It’s my rule.”
“I didn’t ask for a date. I just wanted a little conversation,” he explained.
Candy side-stepped his statement and instead asked, “Another round, then?”
“Yeah, another round,” Trent confirmed with a devilish smile.
She turned to leave when he suddenly grabbed her arm. It wasn’t rough—it was surprisingly gentle. Still, the gesture sent her blood-boiling reaction into motion. She didn’t like to be grabbed—or even touched—period. She glared into his deep-gray eyes. “Let go of me.”
“You still owe me an answer,” he insisted. “And I don’t forget easily.” Humor danced in his eyes.
Candy didn’t find it funny, and she yanked her arm away. “You’ve gotten away with more than anyone else in this bar,” she informed him. “Don’t do it again, or you’ll regret it.”
~ * ~
Trent smiled at the rhythmic sway of Candy’s hips as she walked away. He even thought that he saw her strawberry-blonde hair shimmer beneath the dim bar lights. There sure was a lot about this girl that intrigued him. His smile widened at the thought of her whole, beautiful package, and he couldn’t get those piercing blue eyes out of his mind.
Benet brought him out of his thoughts. “I think you’re pushing your luck, Trent. She didn’t seem very happy with you.”
“Look, she’s no bigger than a minute—what can she do to me? Besides, all I did was take hold of her arm. You know I’d never hurt a woman,” Trent admonished him.
“You know that it’s tough working in a bar. You get hit on and grabbed a lot,” Bobby informed him.
“And how would you know that?” Trent asked sarcastically.
“For your information, I know quite a few waitresses, and believe me, every one of them complains about the treatment they receive from their male customers, especially in bars.”
“Can we steer ourselves away from the cute waitress for a few moments? Don’t you guys remember why we came here?” Benet reminded his partners.
Bobby nodded. “Yeah, we have to decide if Big 4 Trucking should buy a new truck.”
“Unless we buy used and let Jimmy fix it up,” Trent supplied.
Benet took a deep breath. “Look, I’m all for saving money, but if a truck is in the shop all the time, it’s not saving us money.”
“Yeah, like the Peterbilt is now,” Jimmy said, a serious tone tingeing his voice.
“Trent, you seem to want us to buy used,” Bobby said.
He sighed. “I’m worried about the money. We’re just starting to see a little extra. Gas cards are paid for, and we’re even caught up with all the bills at the truck yard. If we buy new, there goes the profit.” The other three men nodded in understanding.
“The question is,” Benet wondered aloud, “can we afford to work with only three trucks?”
Trent asked their mechanic the big question: “Jimmy, can we get a newer model truck with low miles that doesn’t need tons of work?”
Jimmy sat quietly for a few moments before saying, “I think we can, although it will take time to find a used truck in good shape. Most truckers work the hell out of their rigs. They are out there, though.”
With Jimmy’s confirmation, Trent asked Bobby, “With our current work load, can three trucks hold us afloat?”
“Yeah, but I want you to understand that with the jobs we have lined up, we’ll have to run the hell out of them, and we’ll have no truck to spare,” the other man warned.
Trent turned to Jimmy again. “Can the trucks we own now manage it?”
“Look, Trent, they’re in good shape now. Except…you have to remember that they’re used trucks and shit happens. Although, if you decide to go with used, I’ll do my best to keep them all running. Oh, and I’d want one day between runs to go over each vehicle. That is, if you want them safe on the road.”
“Do we all agree to wait and buy a good used truck?” Benet placed his hand in the middle of the table and the other men stacked theirs on top. It was their way of showing complete agreement, and Trent was happy with the way things had turned out.
At that moment, he looked up and watched as Candy came back to set four beers on their table. She looked up at him. “That’ll be another ten bucks.”
Trent threw a twenty-dollar bill on the table, and she reached into the pockets of the apron hanging around her hips. She pulled out some change and handed him ten dollars.
“Keep it,” he told her. “All I want to know is when you get off work.” Candy set his ten dollars down on the table and walked away.
Trent sat there for a moment in shock. First off, no woman had ever turned him down, and this one wasn’t going to be the first. Second, he liked the look of this waitress and legitimately wanted to get to know her. There was just something about her—he felt an attraction between them. He had to find out what that was all about. The idea of her not being interested made him determined to see her again. Like always, he made up his mind to handle this like he handled everything: headfirst. That meant chasing after Candy, money in hand.
Before she knew it, he was standing behind her waiting for her to finish serving another customer, and when she turned she almost ran into him.
“Oh, I’m sorry. Did I forget something?” She seemed a little confused.
“Yes, your tip,” he said, handing her the ten dollars.
She immediately pushed the money away. “You have your beers: I’m not for sale.”
“What the hell are you talking about?” Trent didn’t understand what her problem was. Heaven help him, he just wanted to get to know her. Was that so bad? Damn, he never knew a waitress that didn’t like a little teasing. He found that he was becoming more frustrated by the minute.
“You said I’d get the tip if I told you what time I get off. I don’t have to tell you anything, all I have to do is bring you drinks,” Candy explained. “So please keep your money, and I’ll get you another waitress.”
Trent went back to his table without another word. He made it obvious to his partners that he was still fuming over his confrontation with Candy. They let the whole thing drop and changed the subject.
Fifteen minutes went by and Georgie appeared at their table. “What can I get you fellas? Do you want another round?”
Trent jumped out of his seat. He needed to prove a point to Candy, and he headed for the bar to do just that.
As he made his way across the floor, he mumbled to himself under his breath. What the hell was he doing? He never chased after girls. He calmed himself a little because he knew in his heart that this wasn’t just some waitress. There was something about her that had him tied up in knots, and he didn’t even know her.
~ * ~
Candy was standing at the bar waiting for an order when Trent came up behind her a second time. He grabbed hold of her arm again, and she spun around. In that instant, she was sure she saw unmistakable anger in his steely gray eyes.
“I thought this was all settled,” he said. “You sure get pissed and stay that way, don’t you?”
“I told you, don’t touch me,” she warned him.
“I’m not touching you; I’m just getting your attention!”
“Let go!” she insisted.
“Look, I think we got off on the wrong foot.”
At this point, Candy really wished she could control her anger. For the love of God, she was attracted to this guy, but he still had a hold of her arm. She didn’t let anyone get away with that sort of nonsense. So she kicked him in the shin, and when he grabbed his leg and looked up at her in surprise, damn it, she automatically let loose a punch that landed on his eye.
Candy stepped back as Trent held his eye and the bartender threw him a towel. She instantly felt bad about the whole thing, so she stood back and watched as he tried to figure out which injury needed attention first. His partners hurried over to him—but not to help. They laughed at the big truck driver who’d just gotten beat up by a girl.
She wished she hadn’t kicked him or thrown a punch. Hell, she hadn’t meant to do that kind of damage. There was blood all over the front of Trent’s white T-shirt, for heaven’s sake. She felt just awful about it—she had to get out of there. Facing him wasn’t an option right then, especially after what had just happened. So she shouted, “I’m out of here, Jack!” and off she went, slamming the door behind her as she left.