One Night Standards

By: Cathy Yardley


IN THE CROWDED AIRPORT car-rental area, Sophie Jones did the only thing she could think of to get out of the jam she was in.

“I have to get to San Antonio!” she yelled.“Miss, could you please get down from the counter?”

Sophie Jones ignored the car-rental clerk’s plea, holding up a sign that said SAN ANTONIO and shouting as best she could over the din of disgruntled passengers. “I know somebody out there is headed to San Antonio. I’ll pay for gas. I’ll pay the rental fee. But I have to get to San Antonio by tomorrow morning. Anyone? Anyone?”

“I can’t let you stand up here!” The clerk tugged at the hem of Sophie’s skirt.

Sophie scanned the crowd. They were split into two groups: those who had gotten keys to the last of the rental vehicles, and those who, like her, were stranded here in Oklahoma, thanks to the airplane radar error that had grounded all flights in the Southwest. She noticed other people starting to write their own signs, and yelling for their own rides.

The clerk gave a more insistent tug. “I’ll call security if I have to.”

Sophie sighed, clambering down from the counter. “You have to have rented a car to somebody going to San Antonio,” Sophie said, putting on a smile and trying to take the desperate tone out of her voice. “Couldn’t you just point out the person going there, so I can plead my case?”

The clerk, a harried-looking woman in her forties, frowned. “I’ve rented out more cars this afternoon than I have in two months,” she said. “You can’t expect me to remember something like that.”

But there was something in the woman’s voice, and her expression, that suggested that she did remember. Sophie felt a little surge of hope. “I’m in a terrible jam here, you have no idea. It would mean a lot to me,” Sophie wheedled, now increasing the desperation, hoping to play on the woman’s sense of decency. And it wasn’t as if she were lying. She had possibly the most important meeting of her career, maybe of her life, the next morning in San Antonio.

Beg, borrow or steal, she was getting a ride to San Antonio no matter what.

The woman’s eyes narrowed. Then she quickly looked over her shoulders. “It means a lot to you, huh?” Her voice was low, and Sophie had to strain to hear her. “How much is ‘a lot’?”

Sophie paused, taken aback. Then she reached into her purse, pulling out a fifty-dollar bill and putting it on the counter.

The woman quickly took the money, tucking it away in a pocket. “See that tall guy, standing in line to get his car?”

Sophie looked over at the chaotic group of people waiting for the few remaining rentals. “Which one?”

The woman smiled. “The gorgeous one. You can’t miss him.”

Sophie suddenly realized who the woman was talking about. Easily six foot two, with slightly wavy blond hair, he had the kind of masculine beauty that reminded her of Johnny Depp or Brad Pitt. “Holy cow,” Sophie whispered.

“He’s going to San Antonio,” the clerk said, with a little smile. “Him, I wouldn’t forget.”

“I can see why,” Sophie agreed. “Okay. Thanks.”

“Don’t mention it,” the clerk said, and Sophie knew it wasn’t a mere pleasantry—the woman didn’t want anyone to know she’d been bribed.

Sophie nodded, then took a deep breath. Gathering her luggage and presentation material, she awkwardly made her way to where the gorgeous guy was waiting patiently in line.

“I understand you’re going to San Antonio,” she said, without preamble. “I need to get there. I was hoping you’d be kind enough to let me share a ride with you.”

The man’s blue-gray eyes widened in surprise. “How did you know where I was going?” His voice had a Southern drawl, sweet and smooth, like aural caramel.

“Does it matter?” Sophie evaded. “That’s where you’re headed, right?”

He looked flustered. “Well, yes.”

“Then what difference does it make if you bring one more person with you?” Sophie asked reasonably, smiling with encouragement.

“Ordinarily, I’d love to help out,” he said. “But I’m getting crammed into a compact car as it is, and I’ve got a lot of luggage. And I’ll be honest with you. I’m coming off of a six-city sales trip, and I’m really in no mood for company.”

Sophie gritted her teeth. She’d been traveling a lot, too, trying to get her family’s fledgling company off the ground. It wasn’t as if she were looking for a new best friend. In fact, the last thing she wanted was to make small talk with a stranger while driving six to ten hours. She kept the pleasant smile fixed on her face.