Janie couldn’t believe she had to wait for a tow. Not today of all days. She was supposed to be at an audition. A once in a lifetime opportunity. A tryout for the lead role in a revival of Sweet Charity. And it wasn’t a cattle call. She was asked for by name.
But they wouldn’t accept excuses. And they wouldn’t give her a second chance. She blew it. Well, her car blew it to be exact.
“Piece of shit!” she exclaimed as she kicked the front tire with her five inch stiletto, scuffing the patent leather finish and hurting her toe in the process.
She didn’t normally drive in heels, but she decided to change into her audition outfit in the stalled car just in case the tow truck arrived with enough time for her to make it to the theatre.
But that wasn’t going to happen. Looking at her phone, she saw that she was scheduled to perform in five minutes and the theatre was over twenty minutes away. She let out a blood curdling scream of frustration and rage and began to rail on her car in earnest. No sense worrying about her carefully applied makeup or perfectly coifed hair anymore.
And no need for her to be careful of her pristinely manicured nails. The polish was already chipped and two of her nails were broken from pounding her fists against the driver’s side door.
Classic car my ass, she thought. Who even gives a crap about a Plymouth Barracuda? In piss yellow no less. Why the hell didn’t I sell it when I had the chance?
“Stupid. Stupid. Stupid. Stupid. Stupid piece of shit!” she screamed once again as she vented her frustration against the now heavily dented door. A door that was not holding up well under the assault it was receiving from the myriad of kicks and punches she rained down upon it. If she ever forgave the car enough to want to drive it again, she would probably have to take it to the body shop.
She supposed this was all her fault. She didn’t have to hang on to this car, the pride and joy of her ex, Mitch, who kept it “cherry” as he liked to boast. She inherited it from him right before she dumped his ass. Right before he was sent to prison for grand larceny. Yeah. A real winner.
Although maybe “inherited” wasn’t quite the right word. He owed it to her.
For sleeping with her best friend. For letting her support them both bartending seven nights a week for three years while he slept in, ate the food that she bought and smoked the cigarettes and drank the beer that she had paid for out of her earnings. She didn’t even like beer and she’d never smoke. Not if she ever wanted to succeed as a dancer. These were his vices. And she paid for them.
She felt like a total ass for putting up with his crap for so long. And finally she had enough. Two years too late, but at least she wasn’t involved with him when he got carted off to jail. That was his new girlfriend’s problem. Her ex-best friend, Alicia. Serves her right. Karma is one seriously big and totally ugly bitch.
When she said goodbye, by unceremoniously dumping his clothes and shoes into a trash bag and leaving them outside the apartment they shared, she decided the car was rightfully hers. She had paid for fuel, parts and service for the Plymouth ‘Cuda for practically their entire five year relationship. His claim of ownership was flimsy at best.
So when he came begging at the door, more for the car than for her forgiveness, she reminded him of his debt to her. And she reminded him of the secret she was keeping that would not only keep him out of jail, but would keep him safe. Borrowing money from loan sharks was bad enough. But stealing from them? Yeah, Mitch was an idiot. A lucky idiot. At least until he got caught for breaking into his parents’ house and robbing their safe. His father never tolerated idiots.
But she should have sold this damn car. Even without proper title she knew people who would buy it. If it just didn’t feel so good to be riding around, flaunting the fact that his beloved vehicle was now hers, she would have. Serves her right for being smug.
Panting heavily, sweat coursing down her face, surely leaving tracks in the heavy layer of foundation she used when she was performing, she let out a banshee’s wail and landed one final kick to the door. A kick that snapped the heel right off her boot, surprising her so much that even with her great sense of balance and her cat-like ability to land on her feet, she felt herself falling.
She expected pavement. She was waiting for the hard jolt her body would take as it connected with the road. It never came.
Instead she felt herself cradled in a pair of arms. Correction. A pair of heavily muscled arms. Felt her back come to rest against what seemed like a wall, but what she could only assume was the solid wall of muscle that was the chest of whomever caught her before she gave herself a pretty bad case of road rash, if not worse.
“Hey there,” this mound of muscle said right next to her ear. She startled, still trying to process the fact that she was, at the moment, safe and should now begin to worry about just how someone managed to creep up on her without her hearing their approach. And even more, worry about whether she was safe enfolded in some stranger’s arms.
As she struggled to right herself, she felt his powerful arms release her and felt his callused hands trail down her bare arms and move to grip her waist as he helped steady her.
She turned to see who this savior was that kept her from becoming a victim of her own anger and was met with a more than pleasant surprise.
“Hey yourself,” she said after a quick assessment of the man standing before her with a humorous glint in his eyes.
Make those stunning hazel eyes that were offset by his caramel skin tone and the inky black hair that escaped the baseball cap perched on his head to hang just above those eyes. Eyes that were set in an incredibly handsome, chiseled face with high cheekbones, a strong jaw and nose and a set of full, pouting lips.
Eyes that were so distracting that for just one brief moment she forgot her anger at missing her audition.
She blinked, breaking the connection that held her captive. “So… Juan,” she began, after reading the name stitched onto the shirt across his left pec. A shirt that fit snugly against the straining muscles beneath. “I take it you’re here to pick me up?”
His response was simply one raised eyebrow.
She rolled her eyes. Sighed. “You’re my ride.”
This time he grinned, revealing a mouth filled with perfectly straight, perfectly white teeth.
“Oh for fuck’s sake,” she said. “Are you done yet? I’m having a crap day, this piece of junk decided to quit on me, I missed out on a chance at possibly the best gig I could ever have hoped for, I broke a heel and I am quite sure I look like something a cat threw up.”
“It’s not that bad,” he said.
“Not that bad? Are you seriously telling me….” Her tirade instantly cut off when he placed his finger against her lips. An intimate gesture that silenced her more surely than anything else could possibly have done.
“I meant that you don’t look that bad.”
“Oh,” Janie responded. She could feel the heat rising into her face. Hopefully her foundation – what little of it remained – would hide the blush that resulted from his compliment.
“Let’s start over,” she said after a moment’s pause to regroup. She needed to get things back on track. The entire exchange left her feeling off-balance, which was not where she liked to be. “Thank you, Juan, you’re a lifesaver. First you save me from falling and now, hopefully, you’ll be able to either get my car started or give the both of us a lift back to your shop, so I can eventually get home and get out of these clothes.”
Ugh. She did not just say that.
Thankfully Juan decided to ignore that last bit when he responded, “Well, let me just get a look under the hood. Keys, please?”
“They’re still in the ignition.”
Juan grasped the handle of the door and gave it a tug. The door remained firmly shut.
Huh. She had done some damage after all. She smiled.
He gave it another pull. She could see his muscles straining with the effort. This time she could hear a groan, the squeal of metal on metal, and the door opened. Though she wasn’t sure it would close again. And she was pretty sure she wouldn’t be able to open it on her own.
Juan leaned in to pop the hood and to turn the key in the ignition to check if the car was running. It wasn’t. And she took that moment to check out the view.
Nice, she thought. Very nice. A small smile formed on her lips as she wondered just how tight those muscles were. Lost in the daydream, she almost didn’t notice as her hand moved of its own accord as if to touch him.
Almost. Fortunately she caught herself. Before it was too late.
She shook herself out of her reverie and snatched her hand back from its traitorous journey to the part of Juan’s body that she had absolutely no reason to grope. Well, there was a reason. She wouldn’t mind knowing just how rock hard every muscle in his body was. But there was no explanation she could give him for touching him there.
Oops, sorry, my hand just happened to fall on your ass, didn’t exactly sound believable.
Only moments had passed, but by the time he stood up and turned around to move to the front of her car, she had regained her sanity and pulled herself together. Though she could see that it was going to be tough for her to keep it.
Struggling with the door had taken more of an effort than it had appeared from her vantage point. Juan’s face and the small triangle of bare chest his shirt exposed, were now coated with a sheen of sweat. Glistening against his light-brown skin. It was mouth-watering.
Literally. She was practically drooling. No. She was drooling. What the hell was wrong with her?
She wanted to lick her lips to remove the pools of moisture that had formed in each corner, but that would reveal to him just what she thought of him. Just how delectable he looked.
She turned slightly and quickly swiped the back of her hand across her mouth before the drool could escape. What she succeeded in doing was smearing her lipstick, most probably across her cheek.
She needed a mirror. Probably a hairbrush. And definitely a stack of tissues and a bottle of water so she could wash her face. Her bag was in the car. And she was sure she had some water left in the bottle she’d been drinking from while she waited for the tow.
Juan had closed the door. Great. Really smart. She glared at his retreating back. If opening the door had caused someone as built as he was to sweat, there was no way she’d get that door open.
She limped over to the car on her unevenly-heeled boots and leaned in through the open window to reach into the passenger’s seat to grab what she needed. It was a bit of a stretch. But she could just reach it if she lifted herself up a little, balanced herself on the doorframe and shimmied herself forward.
She froze. Duh. She was clearly operating on zero brain cells. “It must be the heat,” she mumbled to herself. It would have been a hell of a lot easier to just walk around the car and open the passenger’s side door. “And I’m thinking he’s the one that’s not smart. Idiot,” she berated herself.
She got what she needed and backed herself out of the window to turn and find Juan mere inches from her body.
“Jesus!” she exclaimed.
“Nope, it’s just me, Juan,” he said with a grin. Prompting another eye roll from her.
“You are incredibly stealthy, you know that? What are you doing here? And why did you shut the door?” she asked.
“I’m not stealthy. Really,” he added when she gave him a skeptical look. “When I first drove up, I don’t think you would have heard me if I honked my horn. Besides, it was fun to watch you. You looked so cute going to town on that door. Though I have to say it was painful to see such a beauty get the crap beat out of her.”
Janie smirked. Guys and their cars, she thought. “And now?” she asked him.
“And now, I didn’t want to interrupt. I hoped that by shutting the door you’d eventually reach in for something. You did. Sooner than I thought, so I’m glad I didn’t miss it,” he said.
“Miss what exactly?” Janie asked warily.
“You’re not the only one that should be allowed to admire the view. And by the way, I really love that short little skirt,” he said with a deep, throaty chuckle.