Gabriel Antonov is a mechanic who can fix anything but his insomnia. The only time he can rest is when he's with Leigh Nelson. She is everything he wants, and he’s willing to tell one small lie to turn their friendship into something more. With her, his life is finally going in the right direction.
Leigh’s life is going in the wrong direction. Her cruel ex shattered her trust, her job stinks, and her father is losing his hearing. When she realizes Gabe wants to be more than friends, it’s hard to resist this strong, quiet man who wants to give her all of the happiness she’s lost.
Soon, Gabe’s small lie causes big damage. Leigh leaves, and no one knows where she went. She's afraid she is going deaf, like her father, and she doesn’t want to be with anyone she can’t trust. Gabe knows the only way he can get a second chance at happiness is to run as fast as he can to find her.
But another man is looking for Leigh, and he's getting closer.
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AUTHOR’S NOTE: This edition of Run to Her is a second-chance romance with a happily-ever-after, surprising discoveries, interfering friends, and a mechanic who used to be a linguist in the Army. He can speak a bunch of languages, but he can’t figure out how to speak to the incredible woman beside him. She'll listen, though. Even when she can't hear a word.
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“We haven’t had sex in six weeks.” Robert knotted his fist around the Corvette’s gearshift and shoved the transmission into third. “Six friggin’ weeks.”
“But didn’t we—wait, no. We didn’t.” Leigh couldn’t remember the last time they’d slept together. Had it really been six weeks?
That was too long.
“Hold on. Let me check something.” She grabbed her cell phone and opened the calendar. Tasks she had to tackle for work were written in red. Things she needed to do for her father were written in green. All of that red and green made April and May look like Christmas. She searched for any personal entries highlighted in blue but didn’t find anything until she scrolled all the way back to April tenth. “You’re right. We haven’t been on a date since your birthday.”
“Sex on birthdays and holidays isn’t enough.” Robert revved the engine. “I’m not waiting until July fourth for another climax.”
She was still waiting for the orgasm she should’ve gotten in April, but she’d dozed off before Robert could reciprocate that night, which was just plain sad. Sleep had become more important than sex. She longed for soft pillows instead of hard penises.
“We’ve been working too much,” she admitted, ready to reveal the ugly truth. “I don’t like my job anymore and—”
“Work sucks. Nearly every day, I deal with petulant clients who don’t know what’s good for them.” He attempted to pass a slow truck, saw the oncoming traffic, and jerked back into the right lane. “I tolerate the bullshit because the pay is great, but I’m damned tired of the status quo. I need to shake things up. So do you. We’ve been acting like a couple of old farts who can barely stay awake past dinner.”
Ouch. “I’m barely twenty-four, which is hardly an old fart.”
“Leigh, we just finished an early dinner at the diner. You had the special and I had Salisbury steak, for Pete’s sake. That’s exactly what an old married couple would do.” He yanked the Corvette into the left lane and sped past the sluggish truck.
“You and me, we need a change. I think we should break up and stop seeing each other for a while.”
Oh. No wonder he was driving like a maniac. The sooner he got her home, the sooner this uncomfortable conversation could end.
“We work hard, but we don’t play hard,” Robert explained. “We’ve gotten stale. That’s not good for either of us. I don’t want to lose my edge. I need to take some risks. So do you, Leigh. If you never gamble, you won’t win. Life gets boring when you play it safe.”
Funny how things changed. A week ago, he’d called her at work just to say she was his favorite person. And now she bored him.
To be honest, she was beginning to bore herself. Her daily routine hadn’t changed in months. Wake up. Run with her training partner. Shower. Commute into Philadelphia. Work for ten hours, commute home, and work some more. She was as fun as dental floss.
He eased off the gas and glanced at her. “You’re too quiet. Say something.”
“I know this sort of thing isn’t easy to talk about, and I’m glad you told me how you feel. I’ve been feeling the same way, and I’m ready to make some changes in my life. Breaking up is the right thing to do.”
“We’ve made some great memories over the past year.” He pulled into an empty parking spot close to her condominium but kept the engine running. “Every weekend I spent with you felt like a vacation. And whenever we took a real vacation, like our trip to Australia, it was incredible. I couldn’t have done that without you.”
They’d taken that epic trip months ago, when their relationship was shiny and new. But work and worry had crowded her calendar with problems she needed to solve. Now that she was single again, she’d have more time to check on her parents. And if she suddenly needed to change her phone number again, she wouldn’t have to offer an explanation to Robert.
“…relieved you understand.”
She’d missed most of what he’d just said, but she got the general idea. He was grateful their breakup was so polite and painless. Kind of like a quick visit to a good dentist.
Robert gestured to the trendy pub across the street. “A few days ago, I bought myself a drink and ran into Darlene. Apparently, she found someone who has that book you’ve been looking for. She said you’re going to pick it up on Friday.”
Yep. Darlene lived a few condos down the hall from Leigh and seemed to know how to find anything, even an antique book. “It’s for my father. He’ll love it.”
“Tell me again, when is your father’s appointment with the new doctor?”
“In two weeks. Dad’s dizziness is getting worse. I’m hoping the specialist can figure out why.” She was beginning to wonder if anyone would be able to pinpoint the cause of her father’s symptoms.
“I hope he feels better soon. And thanks for being my girlfriend for the past year. I’ve had a nice time.” Robert smiled but didn’t offer a goodbye kiss or one last hug. Not even a pat on the thigh.
This dry goodbye is exactly what happened when people played it safe. There was no drama. No messy heartache or angry shouting matches. No one cried. Not even a sniffle.
Grateful for the quick getaway, she grabbed her purse and got out of the car.
“Leigh, wait.” Robert leaned toward her. “If you decide to get that book, be careful. You don’t know who you’re supposed to meet. All Darlene gave you was some address in the middle of nowhere.”
“I’ve already checked it out. I’ll be at a restaurant, and I’m supposed to meet the guy who owns the place. There will be plenty of people around. And didn’t you tell me to take more risks a few minutes ago?”
“Yeah, well, don’t do anything you don’t want to do.”
“Don’t worry. I’m always careful.” She closed the door and watched Robert drive away.
Saying goodbye was surprisingly easy. They’d parted so quickly, she didn’t have the chance to say she was moving away from Philly. It was probably better this way. Clearly, Robert wouldn’t miss her.
But her training partner would.
He always showed up at the crack of dawn to run with her in the park. In a few days, she’d have to tell him she was leaving. He’d probably wonder why she’d waited until the last minute to tell him.
The truth was simple. The less she said, the more she could hide.
And she’d gotten awfully good at hiding in plain sight.
Leigh parked her car in the parking lot, frowned at the roadside diner, and double-checked the map on her phone. Yep, this was the place.
Didn’t feel right.
The Crab Trap didn’t belong on Lake Wallenpaupack Road. There wasn’t a drop of saltwater—or crabs—nearby. Just massive hills and thick forests, but the distant slopes of the Pocono Mountains looked greener than the Atlantic Ocean, and just as vast.
The dinner hour was well under way, yet the gravel parking lot contained only a few cars and one motorcycle. More people should be here. It was Friday, after all. Date night.
This was the best kind of date. All she had to do was walk into the diner, grab the book she’d promised to get for her father, and go home. She couldn’t wait to flop into her own bed, alone. There’d be no awkward conversation, no disappointing sex, and no half-hearted promises to call in a few days.
Loving the single life, she checked to see how much cash she had in her wallet and then entered the restaurant.
Whoever owned the place liked to fish. Woven tackle baskets decorated the walls. Various types of fishing poles stood in every corner of the room. Fishing nets draped from the ceiling’s rafters, but the place managed to look quaint and inviting. Every table had cheerful red napkins, polished silverware, and a lit candle. A pleasant summer breeze wafted in through the open windows. Mouth-watering scents of sautéed vegetables and fresh seafood made her hollow stomach beg for a taste.
A waitress offered a welcoming smile. “Hi there. Would you like to be seated?”
“No, thank you. I’m here to speak with the owner. A friend of mine set up the meeting.” Leigh glanced at the clock on the wall, which read half past five. “I’m very early. We’re supposed to meet at six.”
“No problem. I’ll get him.” The waitress opened a door and poked her head into the kitchen. “Your appointment is here.”
The metallic clank of a spoon against the edge of a pot echoed into the restaurant, followed by a deep bark of laughter. A man walked out, carrying a heaping plate of fries that would clog the arteries of a lesser mortal.
Leigh’s stomach growled, willing to clog a few arteries for those fries. . .and that man. He was built like an Olympian and looked like—whoa, hold the phone. He looked like Gabriel Antonov, which couldn’t be possible. Gabe lived in Philadelphia, a few miles away from her apartment. There was no reason he’d be this far north of the city. He owned a busy auto repair shop that devoured most of his time. An internet search for ‘brawny mechanics’ would put his name at the top of the results page.
When she’d seen him a few mornings ago, he hadn’t mentioned that he might head into the mountains for the weekend.
Then again, he never chatted about his plans.
Neither did she.
She took advantage of her semi-hidden position by the cash register to gobble him up with her gaze. Faded blue jeans clung to his long legs like water, rippling with every flex of his muscular thighs. A gray T-shirt hugged a burly torso that could have graced the home page of a fitness website. Thick black whiskers darkened his sturdy jaw, which made him look ferocious in a hold-on-to-your-ovaries kind of way.
His dark eyes landed on her and he stopped next to her. “Hey, Leigh.”
“Hi.” She grinned, happy to see his gruff, familiar face. “What are you doing here?”
One side of his mouth tilted up. “Waiting for you.”
“But I’m supposed to meet the owner of this place.”
“You just did.”
Of course. She ran into Gabe everywhere, so why not here? He smelled like crispy fries and pine forests, two of her new favorite things. If she could fuse those scents into a cologne, she’d call it Spud Stud and sell the fragrance at Christmas. She’d make millions.
His square-jawed, Slavic features made him look like he was made of concrete and steel. Part of her wanted to sprint out the door, because she knew he carried a heavy secret. She had one, too. The weight of that burden had driven her into a psychologist’s office, where she’d bumped into Gabe. Literally. She’d collided face-first into his hard, broad chest. He’d taken one look at her, turned as gray as dishwater, and left.
She’d never mentioned the encounter and neither did he, but she wondered why she kept running into this man. Like now. “There must be a mistake. I’m here to pick up a book. My friend told me to come here.”
“You must be talking about Darlene, right? I saw her when she dropped off her car for an oil change, and she mentioned you’re looking for a vintage copy of The Twisted Claw. I’ve got one. You can have the book if you’re willing to make a trade.”
Darlene hadn’t mentioned a trade. She also hadn’t revealed that Gabe would be here, but she loved to surprise people.
Running into Gabe definitely qualified as a big surprise.
Leigh clasped her hands behind her back and shrugged. “I expected to buy the book, not barter for it. How much do you want?”
“Forget about the money. I just want to have dinner with you.” He plucked a menu off the counter.
Oh, no. Dinner was a bad idea. She avoided strong, silent types because she couldn’t figure them out. Gabriel Antonov was bigger and quieter than most men and he never joked, so she didn’t bother to ask if he was kidding. He meant business.
Like any good businessman, he made an offer she couldn’t refuse. She needed his book. There wasn’t time to search for another copy, darn it.
She smoothed her hair, which curled like cheap wrapping paper in this humidity, and reluctantly followed Gabe to an empty corner of the restaurant.
He placed his plate of fries on a table and pulled out a chair for her. “This spot has a good view of the mountains.”
Light glinted off a few gray strands woven into his short, black hair. Faint freckles dotted his broad nose like he’d been splattered with cocoa powder. Up this close, he didn’t look so intimidating. Less like a wolf and more like a Rottweiler.
She thanked him and sat. Sure enough, she could see the green peaks of the Poconos outside the window, but the pretty sight failed to distract her from Gabe’s plate of fries. They smelled like a special corner of heaven where fried food was good for you.
He sank into the chair next to hers and frowned. “Why on earth do you want an old Hardy Boys mystery?”
“It’s for my father. He read the series when he was a kid. A few weeks ago, we decided to hunt down the first twenty books in numerical order, without using the internet or social media. We have to rely on word of mouth, handwritten notes, and phone calls. Dad insists that’s the way every mystery was solved in the series, so we have to play by the same rules. He’s finding all of the odd-numbered books and I’m searching for the even ones.” She’d hoped her father would be feeling better by the time they’d found book ten, but he’d gotten worse. Some days, their book quest was the only thing that distracted him from his baffling illness. Leigh took a deep breath and forced a smile. “The Twisted Claw is book eighteen. Two more to go.”
“Do you need help finding the rest?”
“Not yet. If I get stuck, I’ll let you know.” She was already waist-deep in desperation, but she’d find whatever her father needed to feel better. Books. Vitamins. Doctors. Whatever it took.
Gabe rested his forearm on the table’s edge and studied her as though he hadn’t seen her in ages. “You spent the past few days in Scranton, right? You were helping some firm prepare for an audit.”
Surprise rushed through her, hot and tingly. She’d casually mentioned her business trip a few days ago but hadn’t expected him to remember. “I finished going through my client’s reports an hour ago and decided to head home, which is why I got here early.”
This was her last business trip. In a few days, she’d leave her tedious auditing job and start over in a small-town accounting firm where she’d have the chance to do more meaningful work. She hadn’t told Gabe yet because she didn’t want to make it a big deal. She was only moving fifty miles away, not five hundred miles away.
Gabe popped a fry into his mouth and chewed for a moment. “Did you run every morning while you were gone?”
His mouth flattened. “Alone?”
“I had to go alone. I couldn’t find anyone who wanted to exercise at five-thirty in the morning, but that’s okay. The solitude was nice. I carried pepper spray in case I ran into trouble.”
“That’s not good enough. You should’ve run with someone big enough to make some bum think twice about going after you.”
The only person who fit that description was Gabe, who’d been jogging with her for the past two and a half months. All because he overheard some offhand remark she’d made at Darlene’s St. Patrick’s Day party. Ever since he’d discovered she ran in the park, he joined her every morning. Running beside him felt like she had her very own Secret Service agent, one who never made small talk and scowled at anyone who got too close.
She liked training with him but felt guilty about dragging him out of bed so early. Some mornings, he looked like he needed eight more hours of sleep. “You don’t have to worry about me, Gabe. I’ve been running in Philly for the past year, and I’ve never had a problem. If you ever want to sleep in, you—”
“Stop. Don’t waste your breath. You’re stuck with me every time you run in Fairmount Park.” He punctuated the statement with a brusque wave of his big hand. “Nothing will change my mind.”
No big surprise. Strong, silent types weren’t easily swayed, but Gabe’s willingness to sacrifice sleep in order to train with her was a bit stunning. Almost as stunning as finding him here. With the book she needed, no less.
Not used to such good fortune, she took a sip of ice water and scanned the room. The tables were beginning to fill.
“How’d you end up with The Crab Trap?”
“I know the chef. He owns half of this place, I own the rest.” He tilted a look toward the window. “I grew up nearby. This part of Pennsylvania feels like home. Whenever I get the chance, I spend time here. The lake is full of bass, walleye, perch, and trout. Perfect for fishing. Well, almost perfect. I can’t catch a trout. They operate on their schedules, not mine.”
She laughed. “Trout have schedules?”
“They eat, they swim, and they hide from me. Doesn’t matter. I’ll catch one, eventually. Until then, being on the water is good for the soul.” He handed her the menu. “Your soul needs food.”
“How can you tell?”
“You keep eyeing my fries.” He nudged the plate toward her. “Have some.”
“Thanks. I’m starving.” She bit into one. The thin strip of potato was crispy on the outside, tender on the inside, and salted to perfection. “Wow, that’s good. I might eat every single fry and the plate.”
“Order dinner, instead. In this place, the food always tastes better than the plates.” His solemn mouth widened into a warm grin.
Uh, oh. If Gabriel Antonov kept smiling at her like that, she’d be in more trouble than any trout in the lake.