Love on a Country Road

Ella waved her alleged smartphone above her head through the sunroof of her Honda Civic, lifting her foot off the gas. Fields of green leafy plants waved back at her. They almost seemed to snicker at her—Atlanta girl lost in the country. When the bossy woman directed her off the interstate, it seemed like she was trying to help. The faster Ella could get to the beach on St. Simons Island, the better. But as she turned from one two-lane road to another, the signal lost strength.

The car rolled to a stop at the intersection in the middle of Nowhere, Georgia. She pulled the phone back in the car, but there was still no GPS signal. She collapsed over the steering wheel, blasting the horn.

“Whoa.” A deep voice slipped through the open roof.

Fantastic, now she was hearing voices. Ella lifted her head, out of the corner of her eye, something moved. A man reclined against the side of a flatbed truck full of vegetables. How had she missed him? His jeans hugged his legs, while the muscles of his upper body pushed against his green John Deere t-shirt. Mercy me, they sure do know how to grow them out here.

Pushing off the truck, he ambled over to her window with the most adorable lopsided grin. Her stomach fluttered as he got closer. She gazed at him, her breath becoming heavy. His blue eyes were like the sky on a clear spring day, and his tan skin was kissed by the sun.

A sharp tap to the window shocked her back to the present.

He wrinkled his brow, peering in at her.

Heat scrambled up her neck, burning her cheeks. She was such a fool, ogling at a perfect stranger, but he was like a fine piece of sculpture.

Dropping her fingers on the window button, she tried for a nonchalant smile as the glass separating them lowered.

“Good afternoon, ma’am.”

“Hiee.” Her fingers fluttered beside her face. She cut them a look. What was wrong with her?

“Don’t think you’re looking to buy any collards, so I’m guessing you’re lost.”

She nodded.

“GPS send you off the highway.”

“How’d you know?”

“Happens at least twice a week.” He spun his ball cap around backward, bent over, resting his folded arms in the open window. “Where you headed?”

“St. Simons Island. Girls weekend at the beach. Can’t wait to lounge all day beside the ocean. And I love to get lunch at Boulevard Café and blackened grouper from Crab Daddy’s.”

“You got it all planned.” He grinned.

“Yep.”  Maybe if she kept to one-word answers, she wouldn’t babble on like a dreamy-eyed teenager. She twisted the knob for the air conditioner, dousing them in cold air.

He blinked as the gust from the vent, slapped into his impossibly long dark lashes. For Heaven’s sake, she was doing it again. She grasped the knob, twisting it. “S-sorry.”

“No problem, feels good. After sittin’ out here all mornin’ with nothin’ but a prayer for a breeze.” He met her gaze, letting it linger.

Her heart pounded. This was ridiculous. He was just a hot farmer. She couldn’t be falling for him, but there was such kindness in his eyes. Looking away seemed impossible.

A horn sounded from a passing pickup truck, and he held up his hand, waving. “Uncle Bruce. He’ll be headed into town for his lunch at the store.” He nodded. “Speaking of which, that’s the way you need to head.”

“Right.” She looked after the truck, disappearing into a cloud of dust.

“After you go through the caution light, be lookin’ out for the little country store. Can’t miss it there’s an old RC Cola sign right ’fore you get there.” He patted the inside of the door. “Now, if I was you, I’d stop and get a glass of sweet tea. Mrs. Belt makes the best.”

She wrinkled her nose. “Maybe I will.”

“Hope you do.” He tapped his chin, studying her like he was trying to make his mind up about something.

She bit down on the corner of the smile that was apparently out of her control and lowered her eyes, but instead of calming her, she caught sight of his muscular arm, and her breath caught. Covering her mouth with her fingers, she directed her eyes back to his.

He shrugged. “Might want to sit a spell. Try some of her Blue Ribbon Winning Pimento Cheese. Delicious.” He rolled his lips together, and her pulse sprinted.

“Hmm. Sounds wonderful.” Of course everything he said in that southern drawl sounded wonderful.

“The next left will take you to I-16, but don’t worry if you get mixed up.”

“Why’s that?”

“Cause a right will bring you back here.” Chuckling, he pressed his hands against the door and rocked back onto his heels.

“Guess I can’t go wrong.” She arched a brow.

He looked back wide-eyed. “Y-yes ma’am.

Finally, he was the one fumbling.

“Thanks for the directions.”

“Have fun at the beach.” He hooked his thumbs in his pockets. “Don’t be a stranger.” He grinned, walking backward.  Was he just being polite or was that an invitation?

Ella’s fingers pulled the button raising the window and turned onto the road. “Lord, sure wish you’d give me some direction cause this seems completely crazy.” She blinked as tingles ran up her arms. Might have to get lost again. Maybe she’d bump into … goodness, gracious, she didn’t know his name.

She passed beneath the blinking yellow light. There was the R.C. Cola sign. Maybe the sweet-tea lady would know his name. She pulled into the parking lot. Shaking her head, she stepped from the car. What was she going to do? Look him up on Instagram, like some kind of stalker. Although … not the worst idea.

As she opened the door to the little country store, a bell jangled overhead.

“Hi there, honey. I’m Mrs. Belt,” A petite woman with dark hair and twinkling blue eyes slid a glass of iced-tea across the counter. “Been expectin’ you.”

“Really?”

“Bruce said Elijah was chattin’ with some lost girl in a little red car.” Mrs. Belt looked down the counter, and a man nodded.

“Right. Of course.” Ella gulped the syrupy iced tea. So his name was Elijah, like the prophet. Was this a sign?

“You in a hurry? Honey.”

Ella slid onto a stool. “Not really. Elijah said I should try the pimento cheese.”

Mrs. Belt placed a paper bag on the counter. “Now, I made two pimento cheese sandwiches and two cups of tea to go.” She smiled, her eyes dancing with mischief. “Think you could take it back to my boy? Provide him a little company for his lunch.”

Ella nodded, reaching for the bag. She’d asked God for direction, and since the messenger was sending her back to the man of her dreams with a picnic, she wasn’t about to argue.

“Y’all enjoy, ya’ hear.”

“Y-yes ma’am.” Ella staggered to her car. Was she really going to do this? She turned right at the next road. Guess so.

As she steered off the road and parked, she took a deep breath.

Elijah opened her door. “Sure was hopin’ Mama would talk you into coming back.”

She snickered. “Didn’t take much convincing.” Standing, she held out her hand. “I’m Ella by the way.”