The Silent Road
Marriage, parenting, and making ends meet is a long road to haul─and I've screwed it all up.
My ex thinks I'm a deadbeat. My daughter has lost all faith in me. As a long-haul truck driver, I haven't been there for either of them. Now that I’ve been caught driving my rig without a license it proves them right.
Since I'm on probation, I've been forced to take a co-driver on the road with me and prove to him that I can safely pass my commercial license, even though I've been doing this for a decade.
This is my last shot to continue with my company and prove myself to my broken family. I’ve missed a lot but I’m going to make it up to my daughter. I’m not going to blow it. Not this time. I’m going to get the money my daughter needs. There’s a financial bonus in my future if I can talk Jake, my co-driver and probationary instructor, into hustling his laidback, rule-following ass into finishing the job early.
As Jake and I travel together, the long drive and miles ahead of us bring us closer than I'm comfortable with─or am I?
Suddenly, I'm feeling things I never thought possible with another man. Could Jake be the "ride or die" I've been yearning for my entire life?
Is the road less traveled the one I've always needed?
Am I scared?
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Excerpt from The Silent Road
“LOOK ON THE bright side,” Troy said. “You still get to drive.”
What I needed wasn’t short of angelic intervention. But matters were in my own hands, and my decision was made. A canvas go bag sitting at my feet. I squared my shoulders and summoned as much gumption as a scolded puppy, but I had to ask.
“Troy, is there a bonus to this job?”
My boss wiped his face and rubbed his eyes. “Tell you what, if the two of you can do a turnaround before Steve gets back, I’ll give you forty-eight cents a mile bonus.”
Partners sucked. But to beat a single driver, you needed two. Still, shouldn’t be too hard since Steve only had eight hours on me—us. “Thank you, Troy. For everything.”
“Yeah, yeah. He’s out there waiting for you.” He waved me off. “Get used to Jake. I’m thinking of implementing mandatory two-man teams.”
I jerked upright fast as if a harness pulled me back. Partnering with Jake full time was not in the plan. I was barely going to get through it this once.
“What’s the matter, Dan?” Troy chuckled. “Can’t handle a guy who likes it every way?”
His words set my feet in motion. I snatched my duffle bag and left my boss’s office. For all I knew, Troy was doing this on purpose. How could I blame him? One lousy paper stood in between me and the road. How I loved the pavement, the journey. That’s why my marriage broke down. The road beckoned, and she was a tempting mistress.
But what waited for me, idling in the parking lot, gleamed red-hot and didn’t look a day older than when it hit the lot twenty years ago. The Peterbilt 379 semitruck was a true Optimus Prime. I’d seen older trucks, but someone could tell me this beauty stepped off a show room yesterday and I’d believe them. I made a long, low whistle as I moseyed over to her. Maybe this wouldn’t be so bad.
I settled my baseball cap over my thick black curls and pulled the passenger-side door open.
The bluest eyes on a growling white canine face stared at me.
“Whoa . . .” I held my hands up. “I don’t want no trouble.”
The dog couldn’t have weighed more than thirty-five pounds. But I’d never dealt with pets growing up. There was no room for them in the cabin.
“If no trouble’s what you want, try not walking into somebody’s house easy as you please.”
I turned to see Jake standing next to me. That smile of his showed off pearly-white teeth behind plump lips. His perfect Germanic features caught me off guard. A flashback I never wanted to remember filled every centimeter of my mind.
The side of Jake’s face pressed up against the back gate of a truck lift. His eyes half-lidded in ecstasy as he pushed his ass out toward another guy who zealously dicked him from behind.
I couldn’t help it. I stared at him then, just like now. Cold spikes shivered down my spine while hot rolling waves rose. Opposite intensities collided together, roiling my stomach. “Call off your hound.”
“She’s not a hound. She’s a Korean Jindo, and her name is Mimi.” He nodded to the dog. “Mimi, this is Dan. Dan, Mimi.”
“That thing is going with us?”
“If you don’t want to ride with us, don’t.” Jake sidled past me and went around the engine.
God dammit, Troy. “I don’t like dogs.” I squinted at Mimi. For Christ’s sake, Mimi was what we called my own granny. No grandmother ever wanted the moniker of a mutt.
The dog’s white face intensified those blue eyes staring down at me in judgment. She looked like a pure-white husky. The smallest husky I’d ever seen. Not something from overseas.
Gears shifted, air brakes let loose in a whoosh of power, and the whole rig shuddered to life. Oh shit! He was starting without me. I swung my bag into the cab and hauled myself on the first step, blocked by a dog but holding the open door for balance.
The Korean mutt pulled back her lip and growled like a Rottweiler three times her size.
“Mimi, let him in.” Jake glanced at me. “Nice of you to join us.”
The dog scooted aside and went back into the cab but not without one last groan of displeasure. With the seat free, I hopped in and shut the door dampening the engine noise and the screech of escaping air brakes.
“First, before we continue, I have rules.” Jake flipped levers as the truck remained stationary during the pre-journey check.
“How old is this thing?”
Jake scowled and tightened his lips.
My gut twisted, and dread washed over me in a sweat down my back.
“It belonged to my grandfather. Before he died, he gave it to me.” His levity faded into a perfect smile that dried my mouth and squeezed my chest. “I guess you could say it’s been grandfathered.”
Ha, ha, ha. Wiseass. There were rigs still in operation pushing the legal-size limits that had been grandfathered or exempt, but this beauty was still within current legal requirements.
“We play it safe with Tabasco.”
“Grandpa named her.”
I wasn’t all that sentimental and never named any of the rigs I drove. “Tabby for short?” I chuckled.
“Don’t call her that.” He pointed a finger at me. “Unless you wanna jinx your shift.”
That got a snort out of me. Superstitious much?
“We drive the legal limit. How long was your break?”
He eyed me. “Bullshit.”
This guy was really starting to piss me off. “I’m fine.”
“Troy says you stopped driving at 10 a.m. today. That makes it . . .”
“I’ll be clear by the time you quit.”
“As I said, we do things different.”
Who was this we?
Behind Jake’s seat, Mimi stepped up to a plush, oblong dog bed with her name embroidered in blue. That cool gaze held disinterest common among murderers. “Is your dog going to kill me in the middle of the night?”
Jake coughed. He held a fist over his mouth, not concealing his grin very well. “If you break our rules, then yes.”
Guess screwing other men in parking lots wasn’t against the rules. “Do these rules prohibit us from making driving bonuses?”
“No. But that’s not the goal.”
“What is the goal if not money?”
Jake sat there with his hands on the wheel and his foot on the brake. “To get to our destination without incident. We will get a good night’s rest. We don’t push for bonuses. After four hours, we take a break.”
I went to open my mouth, but Jake cut me off with a chilling glare that could rival his mutt’s.
“She is the reason.” He jabbed a thumb to said mutt. “She needs exercise and potty breaks.”
“Fucking great,” I huffed. Pets were a hindrance.
“But, catching up to a single driver won’t be that hard.”
He knew about Steve. Good. “Then why aren’t we moving?”
“Because it’s not the point.”
“Oh, I get it. You think you need to instruct me on driving. Well, let me tell you something. I’ve been driving since I could see over the dashboard. I don’t need a safety review. I don’t need to learn how to shift gears. I know how to drive, so let’s go.”
“Says the man without a license.”
Fuck you. But I sighed and said nothing.
All his focus weighed upon me sharp as the burden of Atlas. “We aren’t moving until you agree to our terms.”
“I chose already. Just get going.”