Book 2: Mechanics and Mayhem Trilogy
THE WOMAN HE hated to love stepped inside the garage bay. Jude Kendrick’s stomach soured as he stared through the office window, his focus on Paige’s toned, tanned body. Her short white shorts should be illegal, and her tank top revealed too much of her cleavage and curves. When she turned and waved to Ross, his mechanic, Jude immediately pictured his own hand on her ass. He’d love to make those white shorts dirty, make it so she wouldn’t think about any other guy but him. Too bad Paige Daniels was dating one of his best friends.
Swallowing his jealousy and anger, he tore his gaze away from her and pretended to work on payroll. He had to forget about Paige. She was off limits. Paige was Sully’s girl and lusting after his buddy’s woman made him a bad friend and a total asshole. He didn’t even know why he loved her—if that was the emotion making him want to vomit every time he was near her, or smash his head against the cinder block wall, or kiss her until he couldn’t breathe. Whatever the emotion, he was finished with it and needed to push her from his mind. She wasn’t his type anyway. She wore too much makeup and jewelry, was too smiley, too chipper, too soft and girly. And the pale pink highlights in her thick blond hair were ridiculously juvenile. Yet he’d love to see her naked, riding him, tossing back that hair as she came on his dick.
A rap at the window had him flinching. He swore and swiveled the chair. Paige grinned then disappeared around the corner. Seconds later, she stood in the doorway of the office. “Hey,” she greeted him as she glanced around the room. Two of the walls were mostly windows. Since the office was located at the center of the garage, this made it easy for him, or whoever was working the desk, to keep an eye on the shop.
He went back to pretending to work. “Do you need something?”
His jealousy sharpened and he wanted to hate both her and Sully. Damn it, he wanted her to need him. “For what?”
“Can you turn down the volume? I don’t like competing with the TV.” After he muted the television, she smiled and thanked him. “Sully was going to take a look at my alternator. My dad thinks it’s going.”
“He’s not here.”
“Ross said the same.” Her dark blond brows furrowed. “Sully told me to come by at one. Did he say when he’d be back?”
“Nope, and I don’t know where he went.” Which was the truth. During the past month, Sully, who normally brought in his lunch, had been going out regularly and at odd times. Some days, he’d leave at ten in the morning. On others, he would head out mid-afternoon, or, like today, he’d leave at lunchtime. He was never gone for more than an hour and always completed his work, so Jude couldn’t complain. It didn’t mean he wasn’t curious. Especially now that he knew Sully hadn’t been meeting up with Paige, since she was standing in front of him. “You might want to come back another time,” he suggested, anxious for her to take her tempting scent and curves out of there.
She let out a breath and looked to her strappy sandals. Even her toenails, which she’d polished purple, were annoyingly cute. “School starts in less than three weeks, but I’ll have to start getting my classroom together before then. I need to make sure my car is reliable. Do you think Ross or Vlad could take a look at it for me?”
“They both have their schedules for the day.”
“What about you?” she asked.
He shook his head. “Sorry, I can’t.”
“Oh, that’s right. You’re the secretary, not a mechanic.”
Had Sully told her that? “I’m actually a certified mechanic and also part owner of this place.”
“Then you could look at my alternator.”
“I could, but I won’t.” He glanced at the papers on his desk. “I’m busy.”
“No, you don’t trust clingy women, or people who walk around with constant smiles on their faces.”
He looked at her then and didn’t bother trying to shake the guilt. The night he’d told her all that had been a bad one, and she hadn’t deserved his shitty words. His anger had been directed elsewhere. “I already apologized for saying that.”
“I know, but I don’t think you meant it.”
“The apology or what I said about you?”
“Both,” she said, her blue gaze daring him to challenge her. She shrugged. “But, whatever. Would you tell Sully I was here?”
“Sure. What do you mean by whatever?”
“Just…whatever. It doesn’t matter. You don’t like me. And I don’t care why.”
“If you don’t care, then why bring up what I said?”
As she walked toward the desk, it took everything inside him to keep his eyes on hers and not her legs. “You don’t think I’m good enough for Sully, correct?”
“I never said that.”
She rested her cute little ass on the edge of his desk. “Then what did I do wrong?”
“You didn’t do anything wrong.” Needing to put space between them, he took a manila folder from the desk and stood. “Look,” he began, keeping his back to her when he reached the file cabinet. “I don’t dislike you. I don’t feel anything at all. You called me Rude Jude, and you’re right. I am rude and pretty much hate the world. So, don’t be offended if I’m not wanting to be your frickin’ bestie.”
Low laughter floated across the room. “Frickin’ bestie. I’m surprised you even know that term. Honestly, I’m surprised you have any friends at all.”
With the way he’d been acting lately, he was, too. Paige had him wound tight. She was all he could think about and it was pissing him the hell off.
He faced her. “I insulted you, you insulted me. We’re even and I don’t think we need to keep talking. If you want to wait for Sully, there are benches out front.”
Instead of leaving, she studied his hair and face, then met his gaze. Her eyes held curiosity and maybe disappointment. Which made him angrier. God, he was a mess. He was crazy about this woman, yet was doing everything possible to drive her away. He wanted to be near her, but just being in the same room with her made him sick inside. Men had an unspoken code: you didn’t lust after your buddy’s girl. And by fantasizing about her and imagining her looking at him the way she looked at Sully, he was breaking that rule.
“I’m not waiting on Sully.” She slid off the desk. “I’ll take my car to the place my dad uses. You know, the day I first saw you…” Her mouth curved into a small, shy grin. “I thought you were so good looking.”
Unfamiliar warmth spread in his chest. Paige thought he was good looking. Except…if she was hitting on him, then he definitely didn’t want her. He didn’t share and would never date his buddy’s girl.
“But,” she continued, “then you opened your mouth and all those handsome features just melted away.”
He deserved that. His own stubbornness and stupidity had lost him any chance with her. “If I’d been nice, would Sully still have stood a chance?” he asked, masking his hurt and self-loathing.
“Absolutely. Life is already hard enough. I don’t plan to spend it tiptoeing around moody, cynical people. I need fun. I need to be with someone who makes me laugh. Sully does that for me.” She glanced at his mouth. “I’m not sure I’ve ever seen you smile.”
At one time, he’d been like Sully—carefree and always out for a good time. A series of unfortunate incidents had beaten the fun out of him, and had left him a cranky old man. He no longer enjoyed life, and sometimes wondered what was the point of it all. He worked, ate, drank, slept and occasionally had sex. Every week, month and year, it was the same boring existence.
Until Paige had stepped inside his garage. She’d been the punch of color that his black and gray world had needed. Although he had recognized this, and had been immediately drawn to her, the instant attraction had also put him on edge, and had him flashing back to another time and place. Had him thinking about the past and how he’d almost died because of a woman he’d loved. Not ready for agony to visit him again, he’d been a jerk to Paige. Now he wondered about the alternative outcome. If he’d taken a risk, tried to be like the old Jude, to be nice and smile at Paige, then maybe his current existence would be different. Instead of throwing insults at each other, he’d close the window blinds and coax her out of those little white shorts. Since he had been a dick to her, he would never know if they could’ve had a shot at anything.
Stop thinking about her and kick her out of the office.
He sat back at his desk. “I’m smiling on the inside,” he finally said, glancing to his watch. “Not to live up to the Rude Jude name, but I need to get back to work.”
“That’s fine. I’ll just drive over to the competition and see if…”
When she trailed off and grew silent, he looked to her, then to what she watched on the TV. At least a half-dozen fire trucks lined the corner of an intersection where a building was engulfed in flames. The breaking news caption below the scene read, Fire destroys iconic restaurant.
“Oh, my God,” she said on a gasp, then dug a trembling hand into her purse.
“Paige?” Alarmed, he walked over and rested his hand on her shoulder, but she kept digging and moving items in the bag. “Are you okay?”
She looked up at him, tears sliding down her cheeks. “That’s my family’s place,” she said, her voice cracking, her eyes wild with fear. “Oh, God. I have to call them. I have to get over there. No one should be there at this hour, but what if Dad was dealing with deliveries? What if—? Damn it, where are my keys?”
He took the purse from her and easily found them and her phone. “You’re sure it’s the same place? They didn’t give a street name.”
“I was conceived there, so, yeah, I’m positive.” She wiped her eyes and drew in a ragged breath, only to burst into tears again. “I’ve gotta go,” she said on a sob.
He gripped her arm, stopping her from making it to the door. “You’re upset. You can’t drive.”
She tried freeing herself. “I have to go.”
“I get it. But I’ll take you. Leave your car here. Someone will get it back to your house.”
“You’re not. Don’t be so damned stubborn.” He released her to grab his keys. “My truck is in the back.”
After he told Ross and Vlad he and Paige were leaving, and to let Sully know what had happened, he and Paige made their way to the truck. He held open the passenger door as she settled into the seat. All the while, he scanned the lot for Sully, hoping his buddy would show before they left. Paige would need consoling, a shoulder to cry on and arms around her. He could give her what she needed, but that wasn’t his place.
He stalled as long as he could, then started the truck and headed toward where Paige had told him Birdie’s Bar and Grille was located. While he drove, she spent her time blowing her nose and making phone calls.
“Mom? Oh, thank God.” She pressed her head against the headrest. “I couldn’t reach Dad and…right. I forgot he had doctors’ appointments today.”
As she talked to her mom, his mind kept circling back to Sully. He’d caught the worry on Vlad and Ross’s faces when he’d told them where he was taking Paige. But Jude wasn’t concerned about Sully. He’d known the guy for nearly two decades, and Sully wasn’t the jealous type. Besides, there was no reason to be jealous. He was simply helping his friend’s girlfriend. No one needed to know he was in love with Paige, or that he wanted to perform violence whenever he saw Paige and Sully together.
“We’re almost to Birdie’s,” Paige said to her mom. “Okay, I’ll see you in a few.” She slipped the phone into her purse. “You have no idea how relieved I am.”
“I’m glad your parents weren’t there. Did they say if anyone else might be?”
“Dad said the manager was scheduled for two-thirty. We only serve dinner, so the bar doesn’t open until four. Thankfully. If this had happened when the place was packed…” She shivered. “I don’t want to think about it.”
Ahead, thick dark smoke billowed into the sky, which had become hazy. Jude turned the corner and slowed the truck. The street mirrored a war zone. Emergency vehicles surrounded the burning building. News vans and reporters kept their distance as firefighters aimed hoses at the flames. He backed up the truck, then parked away from the commotion.
“Let’s wait for your parents,” he suggested. Paige might be relieved now, but he worried how she’d react once she was closer to the fire. It sounded as if the bar had been in her family for at least a generation, and the loss of the establishment could be financially and emotionally devastating.
She opened the truck door. “I’m fine.”
“You might not get the chance to talk to whoever is in charge,” he said, meeting her on the sidewalk.
“I don’t care.”
He took her hand and stopped her. “I do. How many memories were in that building?”
Fresh tears filled her eyes. “I can’t count that high.” She looked away and wiped her wet cheek. “I just thought about all the memorabilia, photographs…the tree.”
“Tree? In a bar?”
She nodded. “My grandpa carved his and my grandma’s name in a tree when they were kids. Thirty-some years later, when he found out the tree had died and was going to be taken down, he took the chunk that had the heart and their names.” Her chin quivered. “Now it’s kindling.”
While she covered her face with her hands and cried, he glanced around to see if anyone was watching. Would it be a bad thing to comfort her? Would Sully understand if he happened to show and see him holding Paige? Would she even want his arms around her?
Hating how small, vulnerable and sad she looked, he stopped thinking and reacted. He pulled her into his arms and held her close. She pressed her face against his chest and her body into his. As she mourned her family’s loss, he kissed the top of her head and rubbed her back. Her hair smelled like a strawberry daiquiri, and her body fit against his perfectly.
He was starting to hate Sully, almost as much as he hated himself for having the thought. Sully wouldn’t stick around or commit to Paige. The man had never had an interest in anything that resembled a relationship.
Paige is his girl.
But for how long?