Praying she’d be able to keep her eyes open for the drive home, Brie Gentileschi started her Volvo’s engine, checked the mirrors for any traffic in the teacher’s lot and backed up slowly. Oh my God! Another car was barreling down at her from the left. Her heart pounding, Brie put her foot on the brake so she could switch the gear to drive. Oh, God, she didn’t stop moving…
A loud crash.
A jarring bump.
The impact threw Brie back, then inertia thrust her forward into the steering wheel. Her head spun. When she recovered, she realized what happened.
Releasing the seatbelt, she exited the car. A coworker leapt out of the oncoming vehicle that had halted a few feet away and rushed over. “I’m so sorry, Brie. I was in a hurry because my kid’s sick. Are you hurt?”
“I’m, um, no I’m not hurt, Betsy. It’s my fault anyway. I thought I put my foot on the brake, to go back into where I was parked, but I must have kept it on reverse. Are you hurt?”
“No. I stopped short but I’m okay. What do you want me to do?”
“Nothing. The near accident wasn’t your fault. Go pick up your son.”
Betsy angled her head to the side. “I don’t recognize the car you hit. I’ve never seen it here before.” The staff was small at Elizabeth Cady Stanton Elementary School. “Whose is it?”
A deep voice came from behind. “It’s mine.”
Brie glanced over her shoulder.
Betsy said, “Dante?”
He crossed to them. “Are either of you hurt?”
Shaking her head, Betsy shot a glance at Brie.
“I’m fine. But your car…” Brie looked at the white vehicle more closely. “The whole back end is smashed in.”
“What happened?” Dante’s voice was calm, but concerned.
Betsy explained about her part in the accident.
“Go then. You can get around Brie’s Volvo.”
After Betsy left, he said, “Gabriella, don’t worry about the car.”
“Are you kidding? This is going to cost a bundle. It’s a classic, isn’t it? I hope the back end can be fixed. I’ll pay for the repairs.”
“My sisters and I own a collision shop. One of them will come tow it, and we’ll do the work.”
She stared at the crumpled back end. “I’ve never seen this one in the parking lot.”
He hesitated. “First time I’ve driven it to school. My Chevy wouldn’t start this morning, so I took this one.”
“And I crash into the trunk.” She felt tears in her eyes but willed them back. She’d spent sixteen months building up her confidence and inner strength, and she wasn’t going to be fragile ever again. Especially for something like this.
Reaching out, he touched her arm. “You okay?”
“Definitely. I’m so sorry, Dante. I’m exhausted. I didn’t sleep well and barely made it through the day. I should have called an Uber to get home.”
Leaning back on his heels, he jammed his hands into his pockets. “Back-to-school this year has to be hard for you.”
“It shouldn’t be. So, how do you want to handle the car?”
“I’ll phone Tris right now. She’ll have somebody out here in no time. I hope your car is okay. Why don’t you try to pull it away and see?”
She peered down at her hands. They were shaking.
“Want me to I do it?”
“No. Call your sister.” She went to her car, opened the door and slid inside. He’d turned his back to her so she breathed in deeply for a few moments to calm herself, then started the engine, made sure the car was in drive, and moved forward into the space it had occupied.
When she approached him, he was still on the phone. “Yeah, I know, honey. Just send somebody. It isn’t drivable.”
“I’m so sorry,” Brie reiterated when he clicked off. “As I said, I’ll pay for everything.”
“Not necessary. Like I said, my sisters and I…”
“Stop it, Dante.” Her words were sharp so she softened her tone. “I have lots of money and I insist.”
His dark chocolate eyes twinkled, a bright spot in the dismal situation. “Yeah, somebody told me about the princess stuff.”
“So I’ll take care of the cost.”
“I have another idea. You can pay me back by having coffee with me every day in school for the rest of the week.”
She was about to object, but she remembered what he told Lexy last spring when she came to talk to Brie’s students about her books….
I replaced him, you know.
Eddie Smith? The man who’d kidnapped her.
That’s right, he taught physical education.
I’m afraid nobody here likes me.
I’m so sorry.
That’s okay. I’ll win them over.
Ashamed that she hadn’t done anything last spring about the shunning, she said, “I’ll have coffee with you if that’s what you want, but I’m paying for repairs, too.”
“That’s something we can discuss when we meet tomorrow.”
She hoped agreeing to spend time with Dante Federico wasn’t a mistake. In all honesty, she’d avoided him because he caused her to flash back to when she was kidnapped. The last thing she needed was to make the nightmares return.