Bring Me Back

Chapter 1

Riley Coleman’s phone buzzed. She kept her hands folded in her lap and didn’t move.

“That terminal is sitting at the confluence of the turnpike, I80, and I99, right in the middle of central Pennsylvania. We’re perfectly positioned to be everywhere and go anywhere.” Her dad’s booming voice filled the corner office of Coleman Trucking and Repair, Inc., in Spruce Mountain, Maine.

Her phone stopped buzzing. Riley didn’t twitch.

“It should be our top performing shop. It should be number one in the country. We have state-of-the-art computer systems and mechanics from the top schools anywhere.” His face brightened like the red of her mother’s old countertops. “But it’s not. It’s the worst-performing diesel garage we own. The bottom in just about every measurable area.”

Their company had a trucking division and a repair division with a fleet of two hundred trucks and ten repair terminals scattered over the country. The location they were currently at was the original one.

Her dad stood up, tall, as always, with a slightly larger waistline than when Riley had last seen him at Christmastime. “It’s not just because you’re my daughter. It’s because you’ve made this shop, in Nowheretown, Maine, the best-performing shop in the country. The job in Pennsylvania is yours by rights.”

Riley rose as well. Only his old office desk, ponderous and glowering, stood between them. “I can do the job.” Her voice sounded capable and bold. A direct contrast to the timorous skittering of her heart.

“Bold as brass. That’s what you’ve always been.” Her dad smiled, a pleased I’m-proud-of-my-daughter smile. The kind she lived for.

She gave him a cool, confident smile in return. The smile she’d perfected over the years of demanding confrontations when her father insisted on and expected almost superhuman effort from her. But everything she’d worked for was almost within reach: make the shop in Pennsylvania successful, get the corner office, see her dad’s approval.

“I need you down in Brickley Springs in three weeks, tops.”

“I’ll be there,” she said, her confident tone covering her chaotic thoughts. Less than twenty-one days to wrap things up at the shop in Maine, move out of her apartment, and find somewhere to live. No problem, Dad.

He nodded, pacing behind his desk. His boots made a soft clomp on the tile floor. Outside the large windows, the late Maine spring was just turning the grass at the edge of the big truck parking area a happy shade of green. A direct contrast to the dark paneling and neutral colors of what used to be his office. Until ten years ago when he expanded his company and moved with his family to Pennsylvania.

Riley had grown up in Maine and had only left for college. She’d worked in the company all her life, working her way through college at the shop in Pennsylvania before coming back to Maine six years ago. She’d become the manager four years ago.

The same time Ben Baxter had been made shop foreman.

Riley’s control slipped, and she pulled both lips between her teeth before she forced the tension out of her body and smoothed the features of her face. She wasn’t going to think about Ben Baxter.

Except, if she wanted the shop in Pennsylvania to be successful, she didn’t have a choice. Not only would she have to think about him, she’d have to convince him to move to Brickley Springs.

~~~

Ben Baxter set the last injector carefully on the plyboard and sawhorse makeshift table. He pulled the blue rag out of the back of his pocket and started wiping his hands, looking around at the almost deserted shop.

“Hey, boss. I’m leaving.” Fred Tomlin, his gray hair sticking out from under his ball cap in wispy strands, stopped beside the gutted Peterbilt Ben had been working on.

“Thanks for staying and giving me a hand with that core.” Ben shoved the rag back in his pocket.

“You still have a meeting with the fancy lady?” Fred asked with a smirk.

Riley Coleman wasn’t hated around the shop. She was a fair manager and nice to look at, but with her business suits and perfectly shiny hair and nails, she would never be on their level. Which made her an outsider. Ben never bothered defending her. Not after what she’d done to him.

“Yep.” Ben wiped the last of his wrenches off and set it back neatly in the drawer with the rest of the set. “She should be here any minute.”

Fred paused in the act of raising his hat and rubbing his mostly bald head. “She’s coming here?” he asked incredulously, hooking a finger in the pocket of his jeans. Most shops had a uniform policy. Ben had done away with it first thing when he’d become foreman. That wasn’t the only change he made, but by the time the higher-ups realized what was going on, they couldn’t argue with his improved output numbers. Rileycouldn’t argue. This wasn’t their first meeting.

“Said she was.” Ben carefully wiped off his three-quarter-inch socket.

This was their first meeting, however, in the shop. Every other time he’d been called on the carpet, he’d had to stand like a bad little schoolboy hanging his head in front of the principal’s office. Never again. His sisters had graduated from high school and had several years of additional training under their belts. He could finally afford to take the risk he’d always wanted to take.

Fred’s eyes swept over him, taking in the grease on his t-shirt, arms, and face. It mixed with the blood he’d wiped there when his forearm had clipped a jagged piece of metal after cutting off a stubborn bolt.

“Ain’t you gonna clean up at all?”

“Nope.” He gave Fred a grin. “Won’t hurt the woman to see what a working man looks like.”

Fred returned his grin and shrugged before turning. “See ya tomorrow.”

“Flip the lights out for bays one and two before you go.”

Fred didn’t answer, just hit the switches on the way out the door.

Maybe he should have cleaned up, at least washed his hands and arms. But with his sisters raised, he had a hard time caring about impressing the snotty daughter of the owner of one of the biggest trucking and repair companies in the country.

Riley could come to him. He didn’t give a flip, because he was quitting.