Book 4: Mechanics and Mayhem Trilogy
The Garage, Tallahassee, Florida
Thursday, 1:02 p.m. Daylight Saving Time
SHE WAS KILLING him. Torturing him. Making him so damned hot and miserable, he didn’t know what the hell to do with himself.
Ross Webber raised the car lift until the Buick’s rear, driver’s side tire reached eye level. While he loosened lug nuts, he watched Heidi O’Neil, the woman who had invaded his home, heart and head, as she dealt with customers at the repair shop’s register. From his vantage point, he had a nice view of her ass encased in a pair of black leggings. Every time she wore them, he searched for panty lines. Since he could never find any, she must wear a thong or nothing at all. He didn’t care either way. He was interested in kissing his way down her spine, then peeling those leggings over her tight ass. God, he wanted to bend her over that counter and spread her legs. In that position, he could easily sit between her thighs and taste her sex. Grip her hips and encourage her to ride his tongue.
She glanced in his direction and he quickly averted his gaze and focused on the lug nuts. “Ross,” she called. “Can you come here for a second?”
If he ever had the opportunity to touch her, he’d come in a millisecond. Four weeks ago, Heidi had moved in with him. He’d needed help while recovering from surgery and she’d needed a place to stay. The day he had made her the offer, he’d made a deal with the devil because he was in Hell. Living and working with Heidi gave him little room to breathe, to take a step back and rein in his self-control. If he wasn’t careful, and didn’t get his shit together, he was going to lose it. Say something he would regret and alienate the only woman he’d ever loved.
When he reached the register, her perfume—which reminded him of the beach—mingled with the smell of car oil that always hung in the air. She motioned to the thirty-something man standing at the counter. “You’re working on his SUV.”
“I meant to ask earlier,” the customer began, “can you also look at the brake pads and rotors?”
Ross nodded. “Brake inspection is part of our full-service oil change package.”
After the man thanked him, instead of returning to the waiting area, he remained at the counter. Ross did, too. Not liking the way the guy eyed Heidi with obvious interest, he went to the far side of the counter and pretended to look over what was on the schedule for the rest of the day.
“It’s great seeing you again,” the man said. “What’s it been, fifteen years?”
“That sounds about right. Wasn’t it at one of your fraternity parties?”
“Reggae Fest,” he said with a grin. “If I recall, you and Jane got buzzed off hairy buffalo.”
“Oh, geez, that’s right.” She winced. “Gross. Don’t remind me. That was an ugly night.”
“I know. I think I was hung over for three days. My biggest regret about that night wasn’t drinking too much, it was not making it clear I liked you. A week later you ended up with a boyfriend and I was out of luck. Am I still?”
Jealousy momentarily made Ross’s vision double. Before he reached across the counter and gripped the man by the throat, he headed for his work station. He had no right to want to choke the guy or knock a few perfect teeth from his mouth. If Heidi wanted to go on a date, he wouldn’t stop her. They were friends, coworkers and roommates. Nothing more.
He wanted more. Giving in to his wants wasn’t going to happen, though. The side effects from his brain injury and surgery were worsening. His doctors had explained that mood changes and functional problems were to be expected, along with cognitive impairment. The severity of these issues varied from case to case, and doctors believed medication and counseling could help him lead a somewhat normal life. He didn’t want to be somewhat normal. He wanted to be his old self, introduce that guy to Heidi. She was fun, had a great sense of humor, and could be impulsive and adventurous. He’d been that way. Now…he didn’t know how to describe himself.
He glanced over to Heidi again. Jealousy coiled deep in his stomach. If the guy talking to her didn’t walk, that coil was going to spring. He clenched his jaw and tamped down the urge to stake his claim on Heidi. He focused on her neck, where the blunt edge of her wavy black hair rested against her creamy skin. Saw himself behind her naked body, buried deep inside her, kissing her shoulder, her neck.
“You should take break.” Vlad, his coworker, came alongside him. “It have been hours,” he said in a thick, Russian accent.
“I don’t need a break.”
“Then you should leave building until man at counter is gone.”
Ross stopped what he’d been doing and faced Vlad. “Why? Besides, he can’t go anywhere until I finish working on his car.”
“I will do it.”
“Vlad, I don’t know what your deal is, but back off and let me do my job.”
“I do not make deal. I make observation.”
Ross never used to be bothered by the man, and had actually liked listening to him philosophize about life and whatnot. Vlad had a funny way of explaining and putting things into perspective, plus it drove the other guys nuts, which was always a pleasure to watch. But he wasn’t in the mood for a nosy Russian who couldn’t mind his own business.
“Go observe someone else. Jude’s nervous about the wedding. If you want to mess with someone’s head, work on his.”
“You do not mean this. Jude is good friend.”
Guilt temporarily moved jealousy out of the way. Jude and every man he worked with weren’t just his good friends, they were his brothers. He’d known Cash and Sully since freshman year of high school. Twenty years ago, he had met and, alongside Cash and Sully, served in the Army with Jude. Since leaving the military, they’d all stuck together. Cash and Jude had opened The Garage—an auto repair/towing/vehicle repossession business—and had hired Sully and Ross to work for them. Vlad had come along a few years ago and had made a great addition, even if the Russian could be…different.
They’d all been through so much together. And now, he and Sully were also part owners of The Garage, enabling them to put repoing behind them and expand their business.
“You’re right,” Ross said. “I didn’t mean that. Jude doesn’t need you in his head. I don’t, either.”
“Well, I do not wish to clean blood off concrete floor. It would be pain in ass.”
“Blood off concrete…what are you talking about?”
Vlad leaned closer. “I once knew a man who collected eyeball of men he killed.”
“Get the fuck out of here.”
The Russian’s eyes flashed with fire. “Do you call Vlad a liar?”
“No, man. It’s just a saying. Why would you even know someone like that?” Ross asked, not believing the Russian.
“Ross should wax own bees and listen to me carefully. This man, he was strange. He kept eyeballs in jars as reminder of basic, human emotion. He say to me once, ‘Vlad, in one eye I see fear. In another, hatred and so forth. I respect every emotion felt toward me right before I take a life. But, I wonder what they see in my own eyeball as they are dying?’ I remember asking the man what he thought they saw. He say, ‘You tell me. What do you see?’”
Apparently, Vlad wasn’t just a philosopher, but also a fiction writer. The Russian was full of it. “Let me guess…because he was going to kill you.”
“Да.” Vlad nodded. “I knew it the moment we began talking because it was clear as clean window. In his eyes, I saw blood-thirst. They glittered with it and cruel savagery. I saw same look in your eyes when you walked away from counter.”
“That’s a bunch of BS. Your story and what you thought you saw.”
The Russian shrugged a shoulder. “Let us agree to dispute. That is fine. But I know what I see,” he said, pointing toward his eyes. “What I observe. And that is you have attachment to Heidi.”
Unfamiliar panic welled in his chest. No one could know. While living with her was slowly killing him, it was the type of torture he could endure. If she knew how he truly felt about her, she would move. Her signature scent would no longer fill his small home. He would miss seeing her in the morning when she looked cute, sexy and sleepy with her bedhead, little jammies and tired eyes. He’d miss the way she sat next to him on the couch. Sometimes she’d maneuver so that their arms and legs would touch, other times she would lie on one end and rest her feet and calves across his lap. The best, though, was when she would use his thighs as a pillow. She couldn’t leave, not when she was the only bright point in his life. Without her, her smiles, her endless chatter…her very presence, he was certain the darkness within him would take total control and he’d completely lose himself.
“Your observation is incorrect.”
“Ross can deny, but I know truth. Jude and Sully, they worry about weddings and fiancées. Cash have concern over wife and new baby. They cannot see the change in you.” Vlad’s grin was arrogant. “I see it. You have great attraction to Heidi. She is good match for you.”
He wondered if he should just confide in the Russian. He’d been keeping his emotions to himself and could use someone to talk to about what had been happening to him. Vlad was right, the other guys were busy. Although Sully would always make time for him, Ross didn’t want to tell him about Heidi. Jane—who was Sully’s fiancée—and Heidi were best friends. Sully was also very protective of Heidi, so Ross was unsure how his friend would feel about him hooking up with her. Especially with how he’d been acting lately. The only one he was nice to was Heidi. He wasn’t mean and didn’t exactly avoid his buddies, but he also didn’t go out of his way to be friendly. He needed to change that. For now, he needed to vent.
Ross looked toward the waiting area. “The guy who was at the counter…he asked out Heidi and I instantly saw myself taking him by the throat. That’s not me. I don’t get jealous like that.”
“Perhaps it is because there is only one Heidi. Love will alter a man. Vlad know this well.”
Ross understood. The moment Vlad met his wife, Lucy Jean, the Russian had changed, but in a good way.
If he were to let Heidi know how much she’d come to mean to him, and she gave them a chance, could a good change happen for him, too? Not a fucking chance. Unlike him, Vlad hadn’t been knocked upside the head with a tire iron a couple of times. He hadn’t survived brain surgery and a coma. The Russian had simply fallen in love.
And love couldn’t erase the damage to his brain.
“I’m not in love with Heidi,” he lied. “I admit, I’m attracted to her and we’ve become good friends. It’s hard not to be protective of her.”
“Protection is one thing. Wishing to rip out man’s throat is called jealousy.”
Ross glanced toward Heidi again. She was on the business phone, while the man whose car he was supposed to be working on checked his watch. “Look, I have to finish what I’m doing. I don’t want to talk about this anymore.”
“I understand. It is easier to be depressed man-baby than have courage to admit truths. Go. Work on car.”
Before Vlad had come along, Ross had been the biggest guy out of all of them. By height and weight. Vlad would always have him by height. After Ross’s time in the hospital, coupled with his lack of an appetite ever since, he’d shed around forty pounds. So, he and Vlad were probably equal in that regard. As much as he’d like to knock the smug look off his friend’s face and retaliate for his bullshit man-baby insult, he wouldn’t. Not because he worried Vlad would knock his nose out of place, but because he wasn’t a man-baby. He was a bitter, frustrated, highly aroused man who wanted to get all caveman and claim his woman.