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Lucky 13

To add experience to her Civil Engineer degree Carolyn Creighton takes a summer job as a flagger on a road construction crew in northern Minnesota. The crew consists of two women and twelve men. The thirteenth man is the granite-hard boss, Luke Stanford. Luke runs a tight ship, and to achieve their heavy work-load in a short time, his policy is absolute decorum between the men and women on the crew. Carolyn is forced to agree with Luke's policy, and tries to treat all the men as equals. Except, it is difficult to achieve this decorum when Luke begins to fall in love with Carolyn.

A Hard Shell Word Factory Release


Jillian Dagg

Born in Walton-on-Thames, Surrey, England, Jillian Dagg grew up reading. If she wasn't in one of the two libraries in her town, she was in the local bookstore. When she moved with her family to Canada she found something new to read. Romance novels. She became an avid reader of romances and read them by the dozen. But she also wrote her own stories. She doesn't know if any of her teachers ever knew that she was busily scrawling the end at the bottom of her latest story when the bell rang and signified it was time for the hero and heroine to ride off into the sunset. Now a multi-published romance author many of her hero and heroines are in books that have been read around the world. Jillian is a charter member of Romance Writers of America and an active member of The Writers' Union of Canada. She lives in Ontario with her husband and three crazy stray cats.

Reviews

"A beautiful story, Lucky 13 is bound to entrance the reader with a quick read full of love and laughter. Blue Ribbon Review! 5 Stars!"

Brenda Ramsbacher -- Just Views Reviews


"Lucky 13 is a delightful story, depicting the problems among employees on a job such as this, with a minority of women in a group of men. Conflicts arise, but are well taken care of by a knowledgeable and caring boss."

Writers Club Romance Group

"A traditional romance--neatly telling the story without a lot of overt heat in the bedroom--but making the reader aware that the heat is lurking, ready to jump out at any time. This is a lot of book in a small package."

Karen Whittaker -- Romance Communications
Excerpt

Chapter 1

The searing July Minnesota sun boiled the fresh tar to a pungent aroma. Hot rays parched dry the rutted sandy gravel sloping down into the ditches. The only hint of coolness was in the dark green shadows of the bordering pine forest. During their breaks Carolyn Creighton and Loretta Garner sat as close to the trees as they could get without disturbing a hoard of mosquitoes.

"Creighton. Garner. Back to work," Luke Stanford bellowed.

Cally swigged the last of her ice-cold pop, tossed the empty can in the plastic bag serving as a trash bin, picked up her hard hat, and rose to her feet. She nudged Loretta's shoulder. "Better do as he says."

Loretta pitched her can in the bag with Cally's. "Only because we want to keep our jobs not because we jump when he hollers," she complained, brushing down her jeans as she stood.

"Well, he is the boss," Cally said, tucking her golden hair beneath the bright orange hard hat. "Even if he doesn't give the impression he's the most pleasant man on this earth at times."

"He's never given me the impression that he's pleasant ever," Loretta groaned, putting on her own hard hat leaving an attractive array of jet-black curls displayed to emphasize her big brown eyes. "I suppose he figures he's better than all of us minions."

"Oh, I don't think that's the case," Cally argued, mainly to give her boss the benefit of the doubt. "He just wants to make sure we know who is boss."

"Creighton. Garner." Luke repeated his earlier command. "We need to move a rig. Can't do that with traffic coming through now can we?"

Loretta sighed loudly. "See you later," she drawled to Cally and strolled, almost insolently, past the approving male glances of the rest of the construction crew.

Cally rolled her wide green eyes at the undulating action Loretta put on for the men, knowing she could never wiggle her own blue-jeaned behind in the same tantalizing manner. And it wasn't because she didn't have a shapely behind to wiggle. She was actually slimmer, with a litheness Loretta didn't possess. Cally just knew she would never be able to summon up the nerve to walk by the men that way. However, she knew Loretta's action was meant to agitate Luke Stanford.

Cally preferred not to agitate him. His glare hurrying her on, she returned to her position along the highway. She was linked with radio control to Loretta. Each woman held a sign to turn alternatively from red Stop to yellow Slow to keep one lane of traffic flowing smoothly while the crew worked the heavy construction machinery in the other lane.

Loretta's instructions came over the radio and Cally switched her sign to Stop. A queue of vehicles accumulated behind the sign, sunshine glimmering on the long line of windshields gradually making them disappear into the heat haze on a distorted silver wave.

Traffic from Loretta's end rumbled past. Driving on the unsurfaced road was like bumping over a grating. People quivered inside their vehicles like jelly as they passed her, glaring at her impatiently. Cally ignored the glares. They had to take their frustration out on something after all. She kept her expression as bland as possible with, what she hoped was, a trace of a polite smile on her lips. But she did sympathize with their plight. Especially the people in cars without air-conditioning.

She could do with a dose of air-conditioned air herself right now, she thought, easing her legs apart and adjusting her fingers around the sign post to make herself more comfortable. Perspiration had moistened her white T-shirt beneath a long-sleeved blue shirt. And even though her jeans were washed and faded to the softest denim she still felt as if she were wearing a suit of armor. Her hard hat, thick wool socks, and steel-toed work boots didn't help either, generating even more heat. At least, if she were a man she could strip to the waist and her gaze covertly moved to the first male in her sight range: Luke Stanford.

White hard hat rakishly tipped on his crisp black hair, sweat gleaming on muscled shoulders and back, he bent over a plan spread out on the flat bed of a truck. His jeans clung snugly to his thighs and calves, the cuffs tucked into dusty work boots. When he glanced up there were a number of sun-squint grooves creasing the skin from his straight, arrogant nose down to his narrow lips and square jaw.

Handsome in a granite-hard, entirely masculine way, Luke Stanford certainly played his role of Boss to perfection. Unless he yelled, "Creighton get back to work," or "Creighton take the first truck out to the site," he had never spoken to Cally. During her four-week sojourn on the crew he had remained elusive and basically unapproachable, his maleness and standoffish attitude confirming Cally's opinion that all facets of engineering and construction would probably remain solely a man's domain until the end of time. With a few exceptions like herself. She was out here gaining experience before she began her job with her brother, Kevin's construction company in the fall.

Cally observed Luke straighten and flex his shoulders. He rolled the plan, tossed it aside on the truck, wiped sweat from his forehead with the back of his arm, and reached for a blue check shirt hanging from the truck door handle. He shrugged into the shirt leaving the buttons open.

Cally lowered her gaze. She didn't want to be caught staring at Luke. Although it was difficult to tell if he knew whether she might be looking at him or not with his eyes covered by dark glasses.

Screeching brakes and the crunch of huge tires made her look in the same direction once again. Shouts erupted from the men as they all ran toward the commotion. Loretta instructed Cally to stop the traffic her end. Cally did so immediately and stood on tiptoe to try and peer over the heads of the men but she couldn't see much because everyone was crowded around a lopsided yellow grader someone had driven into the dusty ditch.

"What's going on?" she asked Loretta over the radio.

"Dunno," Loretta said. "Stanford barked, stop all traffic both ends. Naturally, he didn't stick around long enough for me to ask. It appears someone is hurt."

Cally gazed in horror as Rick Martin, an engineering student working for the summer, was helped up the slope by Karl and Luke. She saw Rick touch his temple and she noticed he was bleeding.

"What's happened?" she called to Don Tulson who was the man standing closest to her.

Don pushed back his hat. "The grader lost its brakes. Rick threw himself out of the way, tripped, and hit his head on a rock."

Don, tall and bony with dark hair and beard, turned away after imparting this piece of information. Cally had never found Don particularly communicative anyway. He was Karl Persak's pal, but he didn't share Karl's jovial outlook on life. Yet Don's appearance of muscular deficiency was deceiving. He was strong. Cally often saw him swing heavy road making equipment around as if it were only the weight of a feather.

She noticed Karl climb into the driver's seat of his truck. Loretta, to Cally's surprise, jumped in the other side. It seemed Patrick Brown was holding her flag. Luke then helped Rick in beside Loretta. Luke spoke a few words, slammed the door, and Karl drove off.

Cally felt slightly put out. How did Loretta rate going with Karl? Secretly thinking Karl was gorgeous, she wouldn't have minded helping Karl herself. He had a bonus of good looks. His eyes were like brown velvet, his skin tanned to gold like his hair. His jeans and shirts always strained over the well-developed muscles of his stocky build.

Luke's expression was thunderous when he looked at them all. "Back to work," he shouted. "Tulson take over from Brown and do Garner's job."

Beast, Cally thought. Didn't he care about an injured worker? But she didn't have time to worry whether he did or not. Horn honks sounded in rotation from the stream of traffic behind her sign. Muttering under her breath, Cally turned her sign to let them through, at the same time looking at the heavy yellow grader halfway down the sandy ditch.

Luke prowled around giving the grader careful, narrow-eyed scrutiny. Cally understood how he must feel. The road-making project was being run by his own company. Personal injury was his liability. Although she was sure he had insurance to cover such mishaps, the same as her brother did. Even so, his machinery, whether owned or leased, had to be in top working order. His anger was probably aimed at the situation of the accident, and he probably did care about what happened to Rick. For some reason she felt uncharitable about her earlier defamation of him. It seemed as if it had been unwarranted. There was an almost resigned slump to Luke's broad shoulders. She felt the desire to drop her sign and rush over to comfort him. It was a desire she couldn't understand at all. Why should she feel that way about a man she couldn't care less about, a man she'd never had any personal contact with? Instead of puzzling over her feelings any longer, she turned her concern to Rick, hoping he wasn't too badly hurt. She rather liked Rick. Probably because he was young and didn't have fixed ideas like some of the other men. He didn't mind women on the construction site for one.

She saw Luke moving toward her and her body stiffened.

He said, "Creighton. As Martin isn't here, would you dismount the signs tonight?"

"Sure," she said.

He handed her the keys to the truck. "Know how to drive?"

"Of course."

It took Cally half an hour to collect all the construction warning signs and markers and load them into the back of the truck. By the time she returned to Luke with the truck, he was alone, sitting on a boulder, the rest of the men gone.

"Where's Vince?" Cally asked, referring to the man she usually rode with.

Luke rose to his feet. "He's gone into Echo Bay to visit some friends this evening." The deep timbre of his voice contained a slight huskiness. "I told him I'd make sure you got back to the motel safely."

Cally realized for the first time in the month she had worked for Luke they were actually having face to face conversations. "And Loretta went with Karl," Cally remarked, wishing afterwards she hadn't spoken because she saw Luke's mouth narrow.

He raised an eyebrow. "Don't tell me you've got a crush on Karl as well, Creighton."

"Oh, no," she protested. She didn't think she had a crush, just appreciation of a nice looking man.

"Every woman falls for Karl at first sight, it's natural."

"I haven't fallen for Karl," she said.

"Good. I don't want any hanky panky on the construction crew. We have enough problems getting the job to bed, not to mention accidents like the one this afternoon."

"Do you think Rick will be okay?" Cally asked.

She found Luke overpowering at close range. His shoulders were wide enough to block out the sun.

Luke nodded. "I think he'll be fine. It was only a superficial wound. As long as he hasn't suffered concussion."

"Did he hit his head hard enough for that?"

"He didn't think so. Looked worse than it was I believe. But he was shaken up." He walked around the truck. "Let's get going."

Cally caught him up and handed him his keys. "You'll need these to get back to the motel."

His rough fingers brushed hers and to stop the thrill she experienced, she took off her hat. Her hair tumbled to her shoulders in a silky golden mass and she felt Luke's eyes upon her hair, then their gazes met. Luke, for once, wasn't wearing sunglasses and she saw close up, his eyes were a deep pewter color. Warmer than she would have expected.

Pulling her gloves from her back pocket she stuffed them into the crown of the hat and climbed into the truck. As he adjusted himself in his seat, she watched him. First he wedged his white hard hat between the seats, then he raked his rich black hair with his fingers until it sprang to wavy life. She saw the stretch of denim against his thighs, and the pull of muscle beneath his shirt as he leaned forward to turn the key in the ignition, and she had to clench her fists to stop herself from reaching to touch him. Karl might be good looking superficially but Luke had enough overall animal magnetism to make Cally's heart beat faster than normal.

Cally had no idea why she should feel this way. She didn't know Luke Stanford. This was the first time she had been with him intimately. Intimately? Was this an intimate encounter? Of course not. She was merely driving back to the motel with Luke because Rick had been injured and she'd had to stay to do the signs. Events had been different today, that's all.

Yet, although the truck's engine was revving, Luke wasn't driving. He was gazing at her, giving her features a thorough inspection as if noticing for the first time, the loose swing of her gold hair, the matching eyebrows arching above eyes of the deepest green, like the mystery of the ocean. Her nose had a slight upturn that joined her mouth in an ever-present, semi-smile -- a look giving the impression she was in a continuous state of happiness -- which was probably close to the truth. Cally couldn't recall ever really being unhappy in her life.

Beginning to feel awkward under his examination, Cally dropped her glance. Noting her action, Luke reached for the ignition once more as if forgetting he had already started the engine.

"So how's the job going?" he asked as they began moving.

"Oh, fine," she responded, commanding her voice not to shake. She didn't know what was happening to her. She didn't like the feeling. She felt trapped in the cab of the truck with this man. Sunlight skittered off the tops of the trees and flickered a white-hot glare upon the windshield. The cab was vibrantly warm. Cally had to squint to see Luke clearly.

"I hope you're not finding the work too hard or the days too hot. If so, say so."

"I'm finding it just fine," Cally said firmly after hearing a faint derision in Luke's voice. A few years back, when she had made her decision to go to college to study Civil Engineering, she had put up with a great deal of unfavorable reaction from her family. The only person who hadn't been truly against her was her older sister, Esther, whom she currently lived with. To prove to everyone they were wrong, Cally was determined to make a success of the journey toward her new career. Her brother, Kevin, realizing Cally was now serious, had been kind enough to offer her a job to get her started and give her some experience. Cally had thought working on a highway construction site would be another mark of experience.

"You sound very positive," Luke said, reaching in his chest pocket for his sunglasses, which he put on.

"I am positive. This is what I want."

"To work as a flagger, or the Civil Engineering Degree?"

He must have read her application form. It gave Cally another strange sensation to think of him reading all the details she had written about herself when she applied for this summer job. "The degree, of course," she said, her fingers playing nervously with the rim of her hard hat. She fiddled with one of her softened, worn, leather gloves. "I have the degree now. I also have a job to start in September. But I enjoy the flagging. It's a new experience."

"Good. I used to quite enjoy it. I've worked all my summers out on the highway since I was a teenager."

Cally was quite surprised he had served a similar apprenticeship. "Was it long ago?" she couldn't help asking.

"When I was a teen?"

She smiled. "Well, yes, I suppose."

"Eight years since I turned twenty-one," Luke said with a slight amused raise of his brows. "I'm a good deal older than you."

"No, you're not. I'm twenty-six," Cally said. "I didn't go to college right away. I wasn't sure what I wanted to do. I worked a lot of part time clerical jobs before I began studying."

"But why Civil Engineering?" Luke rested his arm on the edge of the open window. He hadn't bothered with the air-conditioning.

"I wanted something different. And then all the men in my family are engineers."

"And the women?"

"My sister is a department store fashion consultant. My mother looks after home and family. She had no alternative with five children."

"You make it sound as if she was in some kind of trap."

Cally shook her head. "No. Not at all. My mother raised us wonderfully. It's what she wanted."

"Her choice?" He smiled.

Cally nodded, feeling the impact of his smile. It gave her the same tremulous sensation as before. He really was good looking when he smiled. The hard gravelly look he wore on his features most of the time certainly didn't display the thrust of his personality. "And this is my choice."

"I hope this career is a success then," he said.

Cally caught disapproval in his voice. "You sound as if you feel I haven't made a particularly good choice." She tried to hide the fact her emotions concerning Luke were undulating in mountainous swoops from sheer mesmerism to scorn.

"I don't like women on the crew, just because they tend to get involved with the men and vice versa. In some ways though, having women present, lessens the edge that can develop between men. Anyway, what I think doesn't relate to the reality. We have to hire women if they apply."

"At least you're honest," she said with a coolness in her voice. His attitude was as she had expected. His actions over the past four weeks had proved it. She didn't know why the reality disappointed her so.

Luke looked at her. "Yeah, I'm honest. That's the only way to be Creighton."

"I agree with you there," she said softly.

Luke drove the truck into the parking lot of the Tall Pines Motor Hotel. Tall Pines was beginning to feel like home now. The strip of doors to the motel units accessed by a wood boardwalk, and the restaurant and small store built in the style of a mountain chalet with peaked roofs. Behind the motel was Echo Lake, with picnic facilities and a swimming beach.

When Luke stopped the truck Cally opened the door and hopped down from her seat. She saluted thank you to Luke, the same way she would salute Vince or any other man who drove her. There was no reason why Luke should be treated differently, even if he was the boss. That Cally felt different after the short drive was another matter. She was oddly elated as her heavy boots clomped along the walkway and she dug into her shirt pocket for her room key.

She shared the unit with Loretta but she was surprised to find Loretta already there resting on her bed.

"I thought you would still be at the hospital," Cally said, pulling the gold hopsack drapes across the window. The interior of the motel didn't quite match the charm of the exterior. Like any motel room, the furniture was mismatched and cheap. But there were two armchairs and a table by the window, where she could write letters or read. Loretta never seemed to do either. TV was her entertainment and she ran up a huge bill of pay-to-view movies. Cally often fell asleep to Arnie or Sly's voice. "How's Rick?"

Loretta heaved herself up on her elbow and brushed aside heavy black curly bangs. "He's okay. He was checked at the hospital, no stitches, and when we came back he went into the restaurant for a beer. So I figure he's cured."

"Great." With relief Cally stripped off her heavy clothes. She left them in a pool on the floor and slipped an oversize white T-shirt over her head. "Who was driving the grader that went out of control?"

"Karl. He was pretty shaken up, but he was pleased Rick wasn't seriously hurt. He said he'd buy Rick his beer for the rest of the summer."

"That's nice of him," Cally remarked. "Although he shouldn't blame himself. It was purely an accident." "Exactly what I told Karl, but he feels it could have been worse and he's been spared as well as Rick. Karl was pretty jumpy about it."

"Understandable," Cally told her. "It's frightening."

"It sure was. We were all shaking in the truck. Rick was the one who told us to calm down. Anyway, it turned out okay. So who drove you back?" Loretta asked.

"Stanford."

"Did he speak?" Loretta looked interested.

"Of course he spoke. He's quite nice, almost human." She grinned. "But we're right. He doesn't approve of women on the crew but he doesn't have any choice."

"That was obvious from the start. I'm not surprised. He's a big macho man. Not that I don't like macho men." Loretta grinned.

"You wouldn't watch all those action movies if you didn't," Cally retorted.

"I wouldn't be on a construction gang if I didn't," Loretta said. "I like my men to be men not wimps."

"Well, Luke is certainly no wimp," Cally said firmly.

"Did he make a pass?"

"No way. He's the boss."

"That doesn't make any difference." Loretta picked up her clock, stared at the time, and scampered from the bed. "Go have your shower, Cally. Karl wants us to sit with the guys for dinner tonight. He thinks we should all be one big happy family." "Did he invite me as well?"

"Yes, he did. That's what he means. One big happy family."

"Well, I suppose I have to then, don't I?"

"Yes. You have to. We've been here for ages and we hardly know the guys. Cally, we're surrounded by men. We should make the most of the opportunity. I'm beginning to bore out."

"But I don't feel we should fool around. It's not good business practice."

"We can at least be friends with them," Loretta said. "Cally, don't be a prude. Surely you feel attracted to one or two of the men."