Jake (California Dreamy) - By Rian Kelley

Chapter One

The road was dusty and potted and sure enough the bald tires on her Jeep Patriot weren’t up to the challenge. Ivy heard the pop before the steering wheel jerked in her hands and pulled the car left, into on-coming traffic—if there was any. But her luck was running in negative numbers lately. She was on a desolate stretch of state road, between islands of civilization, with a cell phone that had a weak battery.

She pumped the brakes and wrestled with the steering wheel. As the car slowed, the wind through the open windows calmed enough that she could hear the crunch of gravel under her tires. She coasted to a stop on the shoulder, then pried her fingers loose and flipped on the emergency flashers.

She had no spare. She’d loaned it to her neighbor, who was in thicker dire straits than Ivy.

But she had a can of Repair! that promised to re-inflate tires and keep them going fifty-plus miles; she had flares, a marker and cardboard she could rip off a box in the back and make into a distress sign if the ‘miracle in a can’ didn’t work.

This was not her first emergency; just the latest in what seemed like a lifetime of living

on the edge, waiting for the next round to begin.

She pulled her purse into her lap and rummaged through it for her cell phone, a Blackberry more than four years old and dropped so many times the red veneer had chipped off around the edges.

Cell phones were a luxury. As were movie rentals and pedicures, her morning frappuccinos and shoes priced over forty dollars. She’d given up a lot over the past nineteen months. She had no regrets about it. Not even now.

Although tires were not an excess, two repairs in a single month was more than her budget could sustain. She’d had to choose between those and a tune up. A fifty-fifty gamble she’d just lost.

She pressed her thumb to the ball on her phone and the screen lit up. Then faded. Before it went black, Ivy noted the red x over the tower icon and the complete absence of reception bars. Even if her phone was capable of a full charge, it would be of no use to her here.

She climbed out of the car and into a dry wind that plastered her cotton skirt to her bottom and legs. Long, supple legs. She’d given up her membership to a fancy gym and purchased a pair of running shoes. That was one of her better decisions. She felt stronger than ever, had shed the eight pounds she hadn’t been able to chisel away before hitting the pavement, and her mind was a lot clearer, too. She loved a landslide win. The thought of it made her smile, which instantly covered her teeth in grit.

The desert. August. Sand and wind and plenty of both. Ivy had trouble remembering that. She made this drive twice a month, without fail, but the sharp air and the unrelenting sun, which dried everything to tinder, was always on the outside. It was three hundred and thirty miles from San Diego to Las Vegas and Ivy did it in one long stretch, fueling up before departure, loading up on water and fresh fruit. She did the same for the trip back. There was nothing worth pausing over out here. Not a lick of green in the landscape. No scent of salt in the wind.

Ivy loved San Diego, even if living there meant a five hundred square foot studio apartment and street parking. All she had to do was throw open her windows and inhale. She was less than a block from the Bay and just a short sprint from the boardwalk and the beach. When she wasn’t working late or already outside running, she perched in one of the windows and watched the sun slip through its palette of colors before disappearing into the sea. Nothing beat that.

She walked around the car, stood at the hood and noted its unnatural leaning. The wind pulled her hair into long streamers, the sun catching the red highlights. She was dark where her sister was light. Ivy had taken her coloring from her father, who was born in Mexicali. She’d gotten her bone structure from him, too, with broad cheeks and full lips and a straight nose that flared slightly. Of course, she had only her mother’s word on that—Ivy’s father left long before she’d developed any meaningful memories of him.

She took