Fred Munson likes his job as a traffic cop. He’s good at it. It’s his personal life that could use some improvement. With no friends, and being too shy to talk to anyone while out of uniform, when Fred is forced to use some of his vacation time, he has nothing to fill his days. At least not until he comes home to find his driveway blocked by a stranger with car troubles.
A month after losing his father, Zen Zeppelin Cave has also lost his place in the world. The only thing holding him together is focusing on a charity junk car race to raise money for cancer research. And he's crossing that finish line even if he ends up replacing every part of the car along the way.
Zen had planned on completing the race on his own, but a spur-of-the-moment decision changes that when he invites the adorable, blushing police officer whose driveway he’s blocking to tag along. Going with a stranger on a road trip is completely out of Fred’s comfort zone, so when he accepts the invitation, no one is more surprised than himself.
Together, Zen and Fred head south. But will the old junk car hold together long enough to reach their destination? And will crossing the finish line mean the end of the road for a budding romance, or will they find there’s more to their journey?
Fred watched the man, Zen Zeppelin Cave, while trying not to be too obvious about it. He’d been too upset in Nortown to look at him properly. His eyes were dark, his beard almost black -- or maybe beard was the wrong term for it; it was more like a week’s worth of stubble -- and his hair was hidden underneath a black cap with a burning skull on it.
His jeans were black and worn, his T-shirt, black with a black car on it -- the text White Trash Millionaire printed underneath it. The black motorcycle boots he wore looked far too warm for the weather. He was an inch or so taller than Fred, average build, and Fred would say about his age so somewhere between thirty-five and forty.
“I can give you a lift to get coolant, or, I have some at home you can use for now.” He pointed at the road leading into the woods, his heart beating hard. He waited for Zen to sneer or say something unpleasant, but he didn’t.
Instead, he squinted at Fred and looked down the road. “How far is it to your place?”
“Not far. It’s just down the road to the turn, about the same distance past it, and you’re in my yard.” It wasn’t far. It would take about six minutes to walk, at a leisurely pace. The forest blocked the view of his house from the freeway, and Fred pulled in a deep breath, smelling the calming scent of the forest, listening to the twitter of the birds instead of his thudding heart.
“Sweet! I could do with a walk.” Zen pushed the rag he’d been holding into his back pocket and began walking.
Fred forgot how to breathe. What had he done? Invited a stranger to come to his home? He never brought anyone home. His home was his safe place. The place where no one judged him.
“Ah ... eh ...” He nodded and hurried to catch up. He was sweating underneath his uniform, and while he wanted nothing more than to get out of it at this point, he’d have an even harder time dealing with Zen if he did.
If he took off his uniform, he’d be nothing more than a blushing geek who stuttered and faltered on every other word. He’d have no authority at all.
“Have you lived here long?”
Fred opened his mouth, shut it, nodded, and shook his head. “Four years.”
“Yeah? Do you like it here? In Whiteport, I mean?”
Fred blew out a breath. “Technically, we’re not in Whiteport.”
“No? Shit, I don’t know where I’m going today. I’m taking wrong turns left and right.” He shook his head. “So where are we?”
“Waterside Cross. If you follow the freeway for another fifteen minutes, you’ll reach Whiteport.”
“So ... Which is the best way to Minwall? Follow the freeway?”
Fred nodded. “You can do that. The country road is much nicer, but if you’re in a hurry, go with the freeway.”
“Do you want to come with me to Minwall?”
Fred blinked, trying to understand exactly what Zen was asking. “We have coolant in Waterside Cross, and if we didn’t, Whiteport is much closer than Minwall.”
Zen laughed, low at first then louder. Fred’s cheeks burned, and he tried to hide it, but he realized he’d already been rosy from the heat so what did a little extra matter?
“Nah, I mean, would you like to be my navigator?”
Go with a stranger to Minwall? And not in the line of duty. What would they do in Minwall? Fred didn’t look forward to three weeks alone in his house, but he didn’t know Zen, and while Fred had learned long ago not to judge people by how they dressed, Zen didn’t come across as the gentlest of people, and Fred -- as his mother often put it -- didn’t do well with honest people. Fred would call them bullies. But what did he know?
“I-I ... don’t know.”
Zen tilted his head to avoid getting the sun in his eyes as he looked at Fred. The laughter had died out and what remained, was a soft-looking smile that had Fred’s heart speeding for a totally different reason.
He looked away. Finding himself attracted to someone like Zen wasn’t something he wanted to put himself through.
“You can think about it while we fix the coolant. As a cop, I bet you know all the best roads.”
He did, but he should stay away from Zen. For his own sake. “What are you gonna do in Minwall?”
Zen grinned. “I’m gonna walk into Oakland Keep before six P.M. tomorrow and I’m gonna have a beer at the bar.”