He’d thrown his own clothes on, had his leather jacket on, and had done a quick sweep of the tiny flat while she was getting dressed in the minuscule bathroom. He’d never thought he was claustrophobic before last night, that bathroom was a tight white windowless box. The rest of the flat wasn’t much better. The living room, slash kitchen, slash dining area, slash laundry, slash everything room, had one two-seater sofa, a wall mounted television, café style table with two chairs, and the smallest kitchenette he’d ever seen with a washing machine in the corner. Standing in the middle of the room he could almost touch the opposing walls with his arms outstretched.
The place wasn’t just small, it was empty too. There weren’t any pictures, knickknacks or those useless things that women liked to leave around the place. It didn’t look lived in. The fridge and cupboards were equally bare. Two of each type of plate and cutlery to match, two cups, two glasses and that was it. They obviously never entertained or cooked.
He’d given up when the bathroom door opened. She was wearing a pair of thick industrial style work pants and matching button up shirt with a logo above the pocket. Although they were men’s clothes they had been altered for her size and shape and they didn’t make her look like a boy. The pockets on the shirt were perfectly placed to accentuate her breasts and the pants were tight around the hips making her backside look like his hands could cup it. Even in beige canvas, she still managed to drive him crazy.
She dropped her eyes from him as he drank her in. Her steel capped boots were waiting where she’d kicked them off when she’d come in yesterday. She didn’t say anything as she sat on the sofa and pulled them on.
He just watched her, mainly because his mouth was dry and she still hadn’t answered his earlier question. If he opened his mouth, she’d fight with him and probably tell him to go to hell. He wasn’t about to destroy the illusion that he still had a chance with her. He clamped his jaw tight and followed her as she opened the front door and walked out and down the steps into the crisp morning air.
“Thanks for looking after me,” she mumbled as if she was saying goodbye.
“Put this on,” he ignored her words and handed her a black full-face motorbike helmet. He wasn’t going to part with her here, even if it did force an argument.
“Why?” she looked at the thing in her hands as if it was a foreign object.
“Well, we aren’t robbing a convenience store,” he said as he pushed on his own helmet, “You said you are late for work, so I’m driving you.”
“You can’t,” she stuttered as he took the helmet from her hands and pushed it over her head himself, then secured the straps under her chin.
“I can, and I will,” he turned to the large motorbike that was parked in the small paved courtyard area in front of the flat, “I haven’t forgiven you yet for ditching me yesterday. You owe me for last night too, but we will discuss that tonight.”
“Tonight?” she lifted her helmet clad head to him.
“I’m cooking, you’re eating,” he mounted the motorbike and started the engine.
“But,” her voice was muffled in the roar of the engine but that didn’t matter, he wasn’t interested in her arguments.
He turned and with very little effort, swung her onto the motorbike behind him. It was his new toy, and was big, black and powerful. He’d purposely purchased the limited-edition model when he found out that Jen was a diesel mechanic, even though he’d only met her once at that point in time. As soon as he’d seen this bike, heard the raw power the diesel engine had, he knew he had to own it and show it to her. He couldn’t see her face, but he hoped that she was impressed.
He reeved the throttle and, using the other hand pulled her arms around his waist. He accelerated onto the road and she was forced to tighten her grip on him or fall off the back of the motorbike. He decided that even if she didn’t like the bike, he liked the feel of her pressed against him, and that alone had made this a good buy.
“How?” she spluttered as he turned off the engine, pushed the bike onto the stand and helped her off, “How did you know where I work?”
“Google and,” he pointed at the logo on her shirt as he pulled the helmet off his own head.
He swung his leg over the bike but stayed seated as it gave him a better angle to undo the clasp under her chin. Once it popped, she moved away, bent over and pulled the helmet off while giving him a good view of her cute little buttocks.
“Woah,” a voice from behind her exclaimed, “Is that a Ducati Diavel? It’s one hot piece of machinery.”
“Yeah, she is one hot piece of machinery,” Drew breathed out as his eyes were fixed on Jen rather than the motorbike. Then she straightened up and the look of fear on her face sobered him up, as he finished his sentence, “It’s the Diesel.”
“Aren’t they limited edition?” the guy who was facing him was short but taller than Jen. He didn’t look dangerous, but her face was telling a different story, “Weren’t there only six hundred ever made?”
“Six Hundred and sixty-six, to be precise,” he said to the stocky man with the short brown hair. He had a strong desire to punch this man just because of the way Jen was looking at him, but instead he kept his voice calm. “This is number four hundred and nineteen.”
“Woah,” the man sounded suitably impressed, “How’s it run? Is there a problem? Do you need a service?”
“It runs fine,” Drew’s jaw was tight as he forced a smile on his face, Jen was trying to edge away unnoticed. He couldn’t let that happen. If this guy was a danger to her then he to stay close to her and have this jerk know that messing with her meant messing with him, “It’s serviced by Ducati in the city but thanks for that. I’m not here for my bike, I’m just dropping off my girlfriend.”
“Girlfriend?” Jen looked horrified. He didn’t care. He was going to win her over gradually to the idea, over dinner and after a couple of romantic dates, but now he just needed her to be safe.
“Jen?” Phil turned to look at her with surprise all over his face, “Jen’s your girlfriend?”
“Yeah, it was my fault that she’s running late so I gave her a ride,” Drew smiled at her hoping that she understood why he was doing this, “It’s nice to finally meet someone she works with. I was starting to wonder if she really worked here.”
“He’s not my boyfriend,” she stuttered the words, but there was more than confusion on her face. Her eyes were wide with fear and that made him very angry, “Stop it, Pretty Boy.”
“Oh, honey, you know it drive me crazy when you use my bedroom name out in public,” he smirked because his teeth were clenched and he was a fighting the need to throw her back on the bike and get her out of here, “By the way, I’m Drew.”
“Phil,” he shook Drew’s outstretched hand with a hard clench, “Come in and meet the guys, they won’t believe me unless they meet you.”
“No,” Jen shook her head and pushed the helmet at him, “He has to go. You’ve got to go.”
“I’d love to,” Drew spoke through his teeth as he dropped a kiss onto her forehead while she stood there stunned. “Don’t worry honey, I’ll be good.”
What had this guy done to her? He had to know. There was something else too. He’d seen the flash of something vaguely sinister in Phil’s eyes when he’d offered to introduce him. As soon as he’d seen that, he couldn’t leave. There was something wrong with her workplace and he wasn’t going to drive off and leave her here with a shark like Phil.
He followed Phil into Trenton Diesel Truck Stop. He wasn’t sure what he was walking into, but he was ninety percent sure it wouldn’t involve cake and coffee. If he was about to be lynched, they would be surprised. He was good in a fight. He’d been raised in a tough neighborhood and knew how to handle himself. He’d get them both out of there if it came down to that.
“Hey guys,” Phil’s voice echoed over the music in the large corrugated iron shed that was her workplace, “Come meet Jen’s ‘boyfriend’.”
“Not my,” she tried again, then she must have caught the tone Phil had used because she stopped.
Phil was showing his colours. He’d dropped the friendly tone and it was clear that Phil didn’t believe that he was Jen’s boyfriend. He’d said the word using a sing-song voice meant to ridicule. Drew did a quick assessment of the men who were coming towards him and decided that there was no-one here who would offer too much of a challenge, as long as they didn’t use any of the large tools littered around.
“Don’t,” Drew whispered in her ear as he shook his head and took her hand. It was clear she was about to try to convince them that he wasn’t who he claimed to be. If she did that then this wasn’t going to end well for either of them.
She must have understood because she clamped her mouth shut. He knew she was scared, and he knew that this wasn’t the first time she’d been afraid of these men. That made him angry, but he was also mindful that this was her place of work. If he beat five colours of snot out of them without clear provocation, then she’d be angry with him. He had to handle this right.
The first thing he did was link his fingers with hers. He slid his palm against hers and held it gently. He did this to reassure her and to force himself to control his temper. By holding her hand, he couldn’t lose his cool because that would result in him squishing her fingers. It was a good gauge.
“Boyfriend?” the large man in the centre of the group was eyeing Drew sceptically. He was morbidly obese, balding, and even at this distance Drew could smell him. “Yeah, right. Where did she find you? Are you a stripper she’s paid?”
Drew didn’t respond to that. Knowing that they’d guessed his profession wouldn’t help his cause. He didn’t consider what he did as stripping, either.
“She’s got no money,” someone else called out, “She’s skint, so if she promised you cash you might as well go home now.”
“She called him ‘Pretty Boy’,” Phil added with a loud chortle, “And he rides a Ducati Diavel Diesel. It’s got a number and everything.”
“Well, that’s interesting, what do you owe her? Did she catch you out? What did you do, that was so bad, that she’s making you do this?”
“Blackmail?” said the tall, lanky guy who was looking at Jen like she was something tasty. “That’s more like it. She’s got dirt on him. I bet it’s a good secret too. For him to do this for her, it must be juicy.”
“Juicy?” Mr Body Odour laughed, “That’s the only juice he’s going to get from the ice-queen. She’s as dry as the Sahara.”
“Are you finished?” Drew he was furious but forced his voice to sound bored, “I can see why you didn’t want me to meet them. You work with a bunch of jerks.”
“Drew?” his name dropped from her mouth.
Surprised, he turned to her and smiled a genuine grin in the middle of this disaster. It was the first time she’d spoken his name, she’d screamed it out at the height of passion, but at all other times she’d called him ‘Pretty Boy’. Having her using his name so causally meant something more than he could have anticipated. The effect was immediate. He couldn’t believe how, with one word, she’d managed give him hope. His indignant fury melted away. He still had the urge to protect her but now he didn’t care his own pride, just her.
“There’s no way our Jen would be dating a guy who looks like him,” a young man with bad skin was saying to Mr Body Odour, “Hey, did he just call us jerks?”
“Yeah, I did,” Drew dragged his eyes off her, took a deep breath and levelled a cold glare at them and finally fixing it on their ringleader Mr Body Odour, “I don’t care if you believe it or not, nor do I care if you have a problem with me. But I won’t have you talking shit about my girlfriend. I’m warning you, from now on, you insult her and you’ve insulted me. Understand?”
“What’s going on here?” a loud voice from the mezzanine floor called out, “Is there a national, frigging, holiday that I don’t know about? Am I paying you to have a group bonding, frigging, session? Get back to work before I sack your lazy butts!”
At the far side of the shed was a second floor elevated above the workshop. It was not much more than a box with windows cut in it suspended against the wall. It must have held the administration for the business. Out of the far window a man was leaning out, his bloated, red face and fat arms waving at them.
The men didn’t argue, they dispersed so quickly that it left Drew with no doubt that he was the boss around here. Mr Body Odour wasn’t the one who was in charge, that was interesting. The group vanished leaving Drew standing there still holding Jen’s hand.
“You two,” Mr Red Face pointed a finger at Drew and Jen, “Yes, the lovebirds, get up here now.”
Jen swore under her breath but pulled Drew towards the stairs. He ignored the muttered comments and laughs as he followed her through the vehicles and the workstations. Jen looked less scared more worried. Her mouth was drawn in a straight line and she was clearly trying hard to think of some excuse for what had just happened.
“Ian,” she started as soon as they entered Mr Red Face’s office, “This isn’t what it seems.”
Ian was sitting behind what must have been a desk, but it was covered in so many files, paperwork and dockets that the tabletop was hidden. He indicated that they should sit in the two chairs that were on the other side to him as he ignored Jen. He then introduced himself as Ian Campbell, the owner of this business, to Drew as he stood to shake his hand.
“Are you two dating?” Ian threw the question out there without any further preamble.
“Yes,” Drew answered immediately.
“No,” Jen said at the same time.
“Yes,” Drew said again, as he turned and narrowed his eyes at her.
“No,” Jen emphasised as she glared at him.
“Hey,” Ian interrupted with a bark, “This is my office, not frigging kindergarten!”
“Sorry,” Jen sent one final glare at Drew then turned to her boss, “Don’t fire me. This wasn’t my fault. Please Ian, I need this job.”
“He can’t fire you,” Drew was shocked, “Why would he fire you? Our relationship isn’t grounds for dismissal. He can’t do that.”
“Yeah, I can,” Ian growled. “If my workshop isn’t being productive because all my frigging workers are up-in-arms over one little girl, then yes, I will fire her.”
“Ian, I’m innocent,” Jen continued, “How am I going to pay back the money I owe you if I’ve not got a job. Please Ian, I can’t lose my job.”
“You owe him money?” Drew eyes flicked between the two.
“I’m aware of that Jen,” Ian sighed then turned his attention on Drew, “But that wasn’t the what I was asking.”
“Look Ian,” Jen tried again, “He’s a friend.”
“A friend you sleep with,” Drew wasn’t going to back down now even if it meant her losing her job. He didn’t want her working here anyway, “Although, isn’t that the definition of ‘dating’?”
“We aren’t sleeping,” she started to say but then stopped when she saw his eyebrow raised, “Alright, we may have slept together but that doesn’t mean that we are dating.”
“Frigging-hell, too much information,” Ian grimaced, “I still remember you in pigtails. Let’s just skip to the next question. Are you serious about her, son?”
“Yes, sir,” Drew answered adding the ‘sir’ automatically because the last person who called him ‘son’ was his high school headmaster.
“No, you’re not,” Jen interrupted, her eyes wide, “Ian, leave him out of this. I need this job.”
“Yes, I am,” Drew turned to her, “And why do you need this job? Did you even hear what those guys out there said? I don’t want you working somewhere that you’re not respected. I will support you and help you get another job. And if you owe him money, I can help with that too.”
“Slow down, son,” Ian put one hand up to signal him to stop.
“I’m not a charity case,” Jen started.
“I didn’t say that,” he muttered under his breath, “And that’s not why I’m offering.”
“Hey, lovebirds,” Ian barked bringing their attention back to him, “My frigging office, remember?”
“Sorry,” Jen mumbled, “Ian, you know why I need this job. You know what this place means to me. I can’t leave.”
“Jen,” Ian took a deep breath, “This is a business not a frigging shrine. That doesn’t mean that your father wasn’t my best friend or that I don’t respect his memory. But I have a business to run. And because of that, I was going to fire you today.”
“But,” Jen interrupted.
“Jen,” Ian growled, “I said ‘was’, note that I used the past-tense.”
“You’re not firing me?” she slumped in the chair.
“Not today,” Ian sighed, “But no promises for tomorrow. Let’s see how it goes.”
“Why were you going to fire her?” Drew hadn’t been in paid employment for a long time, but this didn’t seem right.
“Little Sammy, Big Sam’s son, was all hyped up to ask her out,” Ian shook his head as he breathed out, “When Jen said no to him, as she has to all the single guys, there’d be one hell of a hullaballoo. Little Sammy thinks he’s frigging hot shit.”
“He is shit,” Jen muttered, “He looks like shit, smells like shit, acts like.”
“Jen,” Ian growled interrupting her a Fatherly tone.
“But you can’t fire her because some idiot has a crush on her?” Drew’s stared at the man in the high-back chair.
“Yeah, I frigging can,” Ian repeated, “As I said before, if it is disruptive to the workplace and she’s ostracised because of it, then yes, that’s what I’ll do. It was hard enough to get any of them to work with her in the first place, being a woman in a male-dominated industry, but once she started to look all womanly, it became down-right impossible. It’s been a frigging circus around here for the past couple of years and I’ve had enough of it.”
“But you’re not firing her? Right?” Drew questioned.
“That depends,” Ian looked at them both, “On how convincing you two lovebirds are.”
“What?” Jen stuttered confused.
“You’re a big guy,” Ian looked Drew up and down, “They’re all talk because they’ve never seen her with a man and didn’t believe it was going to happen. Once they believe you’re serious about each other, then they won’t give you any stick. And they won’t go sniffing around your woman either.”
“You want us to date?” Drew asked.
“I want my workshop busy, and my workers working,” Ian scoffed, “I’m not getting what I want currently. If you two dating doesn’t bring me what I want, then Jen will be looking for a frigging new job.”
“Sorry?” Jen sat back in her chair, “Are you saying that I have to date him or lose my job?”
“Something like that,” Ian shrugged, “It’s pretty simple Jen. Either the frigging drama is gone, or you are.”
“But what about the money I owe you?” Jen spluttered.
“I told you both, when I gave Jack that money for his treatment, that I didn’t care about the repayments. I didn’t want you to put your life on-hold to pay me back and I’m not going to let it jeopardise my business either,” Ian grimaced, “Jack wouldn’t want this.”
“How much does she owe you?” Drew was reaching into his coat pocket.
“That’s none of your business,” Jen snapped but Drew was focused on Ian.
“Don’t go there, son,” Ian pointed a fat finger at him, “You’ve got your hands full with this one as she is. If she owes you money, then your relationship’s dead in the frigging water. Trust me on this one, she’s a frigging stubborn critter and she not going to be easy to win over without a bundle of debt hanging between you.”
“I am not stubborn,” Jen growled to Ian then turned to Drew, “And this has nothing to do with you.”
“We’ll talk about it later,” Drew said to Jen who was still glaring at him.
“Yeah, frigging good luck with that,” Ian scoffed as he rolled his eyes. Then he lifted his eyes to Drew and spoke to him, “Lunch time is twelve-noon, she never brings food so pick her up something with salami in it, she’ll like that. She drinks her coffee long and black, and I’m not making any frigging comparisons around that one. The shop closes at four, but she does the cleaning as part of her debt repayments and doesn’t leave until close on six. You need to get here at four and wait for her. I’ve never liked her working alone out here at night.”
“Yes, sir,” Drew smiled a broad grin as Jen’s mouth fell open.
“Oh, and Jen,” Ian turned to her with a scowl on his face, “Get back to work, this isn’t a Disney frigging holiday camp. That Volvo is due to go out today and there’ll be hell to pay if it isn’t ready.”
“Yes, sir,” Jen stuttered as she stumbled out of the door.
“Thanks,” Drew said as he pushed himself out of the chair.
“Don’t thank me yet,” Ian had put on a pair of glasses and was thumbing through a pile of dockets, “This is a trail not a done-deal yet. I hope you care about her as much as I think you do, because she’s going to be devastated when I do fire her.”
“You’re still going to fire her?”
“Jen and Jack were a tight unit, they worked as a team,” Ian looked off into the distance, “Her father was with me when I started up here. He was the workshop manager and helped me build the business. He trained Jen and most of the boys down there. But she can’t keep living in his shadow, and neither can I. Heavy machinery diesel mechanic isn’t the job for a woman. That’s not frigging sexist, it’s just a fact. Don’t get me wrong, Jen’s good but it takes more than skill. She doesn’t have the strength for it and she’s too short. The boys resent it every time she asks for a hand to lift a flywheel and she knows it. The writing is on the frigging wall.”
“What can I do?”
“I don’t know,” Ian dropped his head, “Marry her, make babies, give her something other than her father’s line of work to think about.”
“Oh, well, um,” Drew stuttered.
“Failing that,” Ian laughed at Drew’s reaction, “If you have any contacts, you could find her another job she’d accept. Everyone I know won’t take on a woman for the very reasons I’m struggling with. I’ve tried to convince her to move to smaller vehicles but she’s her Father’s daughter, frigging stubborn as the day is long.”
“Yeah, I’m noticing that,” Drew paused at the door, “Thanks for the advice and the heads up. I’ll do what I can.”
Ian waved a pen at him but didn’t answer as he became engrossed with some piece of paper. Leaving Drew to let himself out. It wasn’t hard to find Jen. The Volvo was at the far end of the workshop. She had an oversized pair of overalls on that were smeared with grease and other stains and was up a short ladder leaning into the engine of the large truck. He watched her for a minute before he approached her.
“Hey,” he said in a soft voice, “Are you alright.”
“I’m fine, boyfriend,” she sneered in a voice that didn’t sound fine.
“Look I know you’re angry, but I won’t stand by when anyone talks to you like that,” he’d stepped in and had his feet at the base of the ladder.
“It was none of your business,” she hissed as she turned to face him. From where she was standing on the ladder, her face was at the same level as his.
“You are my business,” he said simply, “When I told you I wanted to see you, I didn’t mean through a pair of binoculars. I want to date you, not fake-date you. I want to be your boyfriend, lover and the person who supports you.”
“What?” her eyes went wide.
He didn’t wait for the argument. Instead he leaned in and kissed her. His lips just skimmed over hers as he softly kissed her, his hands on her waist. He pulled away but didn’t move from her. He watched her reaction. Her eyes were still wide as she blinked her surprise.
Drew steadied her and was about to release her and leave when she dropped her lips onto his. Being the same height meant that it wasn’t a reach. She simply leaned forward, connected her lips with his and, as she did, she brought her arms up around his neck. She leaned into him, her feet leaving the ladder, as she kissed him. His arms wrapped around her and supported her as he lowered her to the concrete floor without breaking the kiss. He wanted to deepen the kiss, release all his desire and latch onto her with long, deep caresses, but this wasn’t the place or the time. He pulled his lips from hers slowly and reluctantly, then he watched her face blush as she realised what she’d done.
“Later,” he whispered, his nose almost touching hers.
“No,” she tried to pull away as she flustered, “This is all for show, right?”
“Wrong,” he leaned in and this time held her still while he kissed her softly, “We will talk about this later. I’ll be back with lunch and don’t lift anything heavy while I’m gone.”
“What?” she frowned at him, “Why? What’s me lifting things got to do with this?”
“Because I’m not sure how successful we were in using those nine condoms,” he smiled at her look of shock, “And my plan, to get the morning after pill, was sidelined when you ran away.”
“You think that I’m,” she stopped and looked up at him, her crystal blue eyes wide.
“It’s a possibility,” he kissed her again then released her, “I’ll be back with lunch, can’t have you skipping meals. Be good.”
He walked through to the exit. There were no more comments or sniggers of laughter. He knew that they’d seen that and probably heard it too. His concerns about the condoms were real but he’d planned on talking to her about it tonight. However, he hadn’t realised how physical her job was. If she was pregnant, he didn’t want to risk her or the baby. It was clear that she hadn’t considered it, being so inexperienced, and she needed to know so she could be extra careful. And, the fact it rubbed their night of passion in the faces of those jerks, didn’t hurt either. He couldn’t help strut, just a little, as he headed for his motorbike.