Excerpt from Christmas Knight
"Don't you have family you want to see for Christmas?" Tori asked. "I hope you won't have to work through the holiday—"
"No, I have no one I want to see, and yes, I do have to work. But it's my choice." Zach offered no more information. And by the chilly tone in his voice, he didn't intend to offer any more information.
"You mean, there's no family at all that you want to see during the holidays?" Tori pressed. "Not even a girlfriend?"
"Hell, no, none of that," Zach answered too vehemently. "I don't need the pretentious dinner, all the gift swapping, and dozens of brats running around the house." Zach decided not to mention his parents' deaths. He didn't need a pity party right now. He turned to Tori. "It's just not for me. I like the solitude of the road. I like everything about working during the holidays, except for the traffic."
Zach didn't say another word. He had too much to worry about, like his missing wallet. Yet, Tori's question haunted him. He fulfilled his quest to live life the way he wanted and it simply didn't include family.
Nor did he need a wife and children and interfering in-laws to make life miserable for him. He came and went as he pleased; no one to come home to every night, telling him what to do, and no one to share a bed with and hog all the covers. He especially didn't need having that special woman by his side during a large Christmas dinner with relatives surrounding him. Who would want any of those things?
Although Tori would have to allow Zach his own opinions about brats and in-laws, he could tell it bothered her. He waited for the next barrage of questions. Surely, it would come.
"So what are you hauling in the back of your truck anyway?" she asked.
"Nothing you have to be concerned about."
"I'm not concerned really, just nosy. So tell me."
"I can't. I'm not allowed."
"You mean it's a secret? You mean, like for the government? Why would the government hire a trucker at Christmastime? Were you hired as a cover? Tell me."
"Boy, do you have an imagination. It's nothing."
"Whatever you say." Tori wanted to push the issue, but felt herself grow too sleepy to continue. Her previous four-hour snooze proved to be not quite enough time for rest. In the relative quiet of the truck's cab, her eyelids grew heavy as she stared out the window at the scenery that whisked by. The temptation of sleep finally claimed her. She started to slump with her head leaned against the door, until Zach startled her.
"Whoa, not against that. You made me nervous last time when you fell asleep too close to that door. You never know if that thing will fly open. It's an old rig. Lie down here." He patted the seat toward the middle of the cab, by his side.
Too tired to argue that she'd be fine right where she was, her droopy body swayed toward him and she lay where he suggested. Spike whimpered for a moment before the little dog finally nestled down beside her.
As Zach stole a glance at Tori, a few locks of her long, deep auburn hair cascaded onto his thigh. He tried to ignore it and keep his attention on the road. But there were only a few cars on the highway that particular time of day, and the winter landscape was uninteresting compared to the peaceful scene at his side.
He reached one hand down to pet Spike, something he hadn't been able to do lately since Tori had hogged all the dog's affection. But when his hand came down, he found himself stroking Tori's hair instead.
She moved slightly, not in opposition to his touch, but to get closer to his warmth. She then lay still, very still, as if to welcome his tender strokes. Her hair certainly felt different from any he had felt before. So soft, so thick, so natural.
As the sun flashed into the cab, it cast a sheen on her tresses. It reminded him of when he'd travel across the country and witness a sea of wheat under a reddening sunset sky. Passing those fields, he'd always wanted to run through them, but never so much as he had wanted to run his fingers through this beautiful woman's hair.
She lay so still, breathing so lightly. He wondered if she were truly asleep or if she merely lay there, silently welcoming his touch. Could she have fallen asleep that fast?
He brought his hand from her hair for fear of waking and alarming her. After all, if she really were asleep and unknowingly allowed him to do this, wouldn't she fear what else he may have gotten away with while traveling? As he brought his hand back to the steering wheel, he heard a small sweet sigh escape her. It was then he feared she welcomed his touch as much as he would have welcomed hers.