The clubhouse looks a lot better than it did on that fateful day from getting peppered by bullets; my men have been working hard on it. Sitting at the bar in the kitchen, I observe Jace as he pours me a drink. He’s not necessarily a bad vice president - he’s just fickle sometimes. I don’t trust him with deals, but I do trust him to take a bullet for me or any of our brothers – he’s done it before.
“What happened?” He slides the slick glass of bourbon to my hand then throws a blue drying towel over his shoulder. He does the bartender gig well.
I whirl the contents of the glass around. “Things are complicated, Jace.” I don’t want to talk about it. If I talk about it, it will only bother me.
Jace looks at me with his blue eyes. His blond hair is getting longer, which makes him look older than he really is. “Well, I have something that will take your mind off it.”
The gulp goes down nice and smooth; the feeling of the burn is something I’ve sorely missed. “What’s that?” I ask with intrigue.
“A deal.” He wipes an empty glass with the towel and places it in the oak cupboard.
“What kind of deal?” I roll my eyes; I should slap myself. The last time I asked that question, it got me in such a predicament.
“1.3 million dollars, Mike.” I look up from my glass after wanting to drown myself in it.
Taking a long drink, I clink the glass on the counter then lean over the bar. “What kind of fucked up job gets us 1.3 million dollars?” I ask.
“Marcus –” he starts, but I abruptly cut him off.
“No! We do not deal with him.” Moving from the stool, I stroll to the couch to admire my new sixty-four-inch television. It’s amazing what an extra two inches can do.
“Come on,” Jace pleads. “It’s the perfect plan! We go through with this deal, lure him out, there must be a way we can do that. Then, when he doesn’t expect it, we can catch Marcus. Hand him over to the Detective, get away from that girl, and enjoy the 1.3 million dollars.” He’s standing in front of me, blocking my appreciation of my new flat screen.
I glare at him. “How would we be able to keep the money if we turn him in? His men won’t let us get away with that.” I can’t believe I’m considering this.
“We would have to figure that out, but we would turn him in after we get the money.” He shrugs like it’s a no-brainer. I take a deep breath. I want nothing more than to rid myself of my current situation, but I’m not sure this is the best way to go about it. We would have to figure out how to lure him out without getting caught. We need a mole. He doesn’t trust easily, though.
“There’s no way we can get a mole in time,” I counter.
Jace inhales deeply. “Well, we will need bait,” he tells me.
I look into Jace’s eyes to get what he’s trying to say. What could Marcus want enough to come out of the shadows?
It clicks; he sees it in my eyes: Elena.
"Well, we obviously won’t actually hand her over – if we need to, we’ll get her back!” Jace says, reading my thoughts; he says it too excitedly for my liking, but he has a point...
No! No, no, no. I can’t believe I’m letting myself think this. I am a crazy ass lunatic, but it’s not like I would let him harm her...I’d get her out of there in plenty of time...
No, absolutely not.
I run my hands through my hair. “It’s just an idea. Think about it. I know how much you want this thing to end,” Jace irks.
Do I though? Do I want it to end? If I put her in between me and Marcus, there is no way she’ll ever want anything to do with me again, though, perhaps that would be a good thing. She would hate me, that would make things a hell of a lot easier for her.
What if the deal with Marcus falls through, and something happens where I can’t get to her? Should I risk that?
Although, if it all goes as we would plan, and we get Marcus off the streets for good, then the threat of Elena’s life won’t be in the air. Her dad nor I will have to worry about her safety. It’s not like Detective Cobra has any better ideas...
“Hey.” I jump, completely forgetting that Jace is still in the room. When did he sit next to me? “You gotta talk to me, man. If you don’t want to do this, then we can figure something else out, but you gotta talk to me.” His blue eyes are wide with intent.
“What is the deal exactly? What does he want to pay us for?” I am praying that he just wants drugs or something. 1.3 million dollars, though - For drugs? Guns? No, it’s got to be something else. Something big.
He buys and sells women; does he want me to transport someone? Capture someone? I wouldn’t do that. I won’t. I don’t do that shit. It’s disgusting.
“I’m not sure. I’ll have to find out.” His eyes don’t leave mine.
“This is going to take a long time to plan. You get that? We need to go over every scenario to the ‘T.’ You understand? I mean it. If we have a prick of a feeling that her life is in danger, we get her out of there. Got it?” He gives me a knowing smirk, but then it disappears as fast as it came, followed by a stiff nod.
Fisting the wrench as I try to loosen a bolt from this 69 Mustang undercarriage, I’m glad Elena’s not going to school today. I don’t blame her; she went through a hell of a weekend. Her dad texted me, saying that he will stay home with her, so I have the day off. I told him that I’d be at the auto shop if he needs me for anything.
It’s been a few days since I’ve been under a car busting my knuckles on carburetors, pipes, and whatever else. Working on cars soothes me. I enjoy solving problems - cars have the easiest problems to solve. It’s basically the only other thing I can do that I know I can’t mess up.
My dad told me once that cars are like women; you must show them attention, fine-tune them, and occasionally you must open the hood and get your hands dirty. I had no idea what he meant when I was that young, but rest assured, I do now. It’s easier to have relationships with cars than with women. Cars can’t talk back, slap you, or break your heart – not that I have one.
I can’t have a heart; there’s no way. I am willing to dangle the only woman I’ve ever kind of cared about – besides my mother – into a tornado of flying debris that is Marcus, to catch the barbarian bastard...And for 1.3 million dollars.
“Ahg,” I grunt as my hand slips forward onto a tailpipe. My knuckles aren’t anywhere near healed from Saturday’s fight. Looking at my hand, I see grease and blood intermixing. With a sigh, I roll out from under the car to gather some paper towels and wipe the blending fluids away.
“Hey, Red,” Paul calls. “Someone’s here to see you.” What? I meet Paul’s gaze; he has a widespread grin on his face.
“Who?” I ask, not sure I really want to know.
“Get out to the lobby and find out.” Turning on his heel, he walks away.
I throw the colorful paper towel in the trash, walk through the door to the entrance, and stop in my tracks along with the organ in my chest. I rake over a woman. She’s standing there with those tight black pants on, which hug her curves deliciously, and a light blue, plain t-shirt perfectly clinging to her. The long golden locks are down, cascading over her shoulders, she’s holding a picnic basket in both of her hands while she’s laughing with Paul and Jace.
Shit, Paul, and Jace?
My feet rush me over there before either of those two say something stupid. “Hey, what are you doing here?” I shout out, surprised.
The girl turns to me as Humpty and Dumpty leave; her eyes pop out, and her jaw drops slightly as I stroll towards her– like the first time we met. It could be because I’m covered in grease, in overalls tied around my waist, with a dirty white wife-beater – every girl’s bad boy mechanic fantasy. “Hi...uhm...” she trails off.
“What? I have a boogy?” I tease while pretending to wipe my nose, leaving grease there, I’m sure. She lets out a nervous giggle. I adore that sound; her cheeks turn pink because I caught her. I caught her raking me over as I did with her mere moments ago.
She shakes her head, looks at me with a wide smile, and is about to speak until Jace cuts her off, “Hey boss, what do you want me to do with these?” I snap him a warning glare for calling me ‘boss’ in front of her. How can a “high schooler” be the boss of an auto shop– stupid Jace.
“You’re a manager?” She’s shocked.
Still giving Jace the death glare, he takes the hint, then walks away sheepishly– not without mouthing the word ‘oh.’ He probably doesn’t know this is Elena.
I look back at her. “Uh...it’s just a nickname. I’m really close with the boss man; Jace is just jealous.” While tucking my hands in my overall pockets, I shrug, hoping she’ll buy the bullshit.
“Oh,” she says while pushing her hair behind her ear.
“So, uh, what are you doing here?” I ask, glancing outside to see if her dad brought her... he did. I see him outside, leaning against his cop car.
After taking a moment, she searches for her words. “Well... I wanted to stop by to thank you for everything you did for me –”
Delicately, I rest a finger on her soft pink lips, careful not to mark her with grease, to stop her right there. “You already thanked me...” Her eyes widen. I shouldn’t have done that, pulling my finger away, I finish with, “It was nothing, really.”
“But I wanted to do something nice for you. You’ve done so much for me,” she whispers. Her hands bring up the small weaved picnic basket. “It isn’t much, but I want you to have it."
I take the basket from her to open it. I pull out a gallon-size zip-loc bag full of chocolate chip cookies. I give her a small smile; cars don’t do this. Cars don’t give you gifts that produce a warm fuzzy feeling in your chest from a ‘thank you’ gesture.
“Those are homemade - there are homemade blueberry muffins in there too – and your favorite,” she beams. Looking at my little personal Suzy Home Baker, I give her a smirk when I see a container of whip cream and a canister of strawberries. Not being able to contain myself, a chuckle escapes me; she is so cute. So pure.
“What? You did say it was your favorite, didn’t you?” She seems a little worried.
“Yeah, yeah, I did. It’s nothing. I appreciate this – thank you.” A cough behind me steals the sincerity of my words. Turning around, I glare at Jace; if he doesn’t get the fuck out of here...
“If you don’t like it, that’s okay. I know it’s cheesy.” The apples of her cheeks are getting flushed from embarrassment probably.
I touch her arm. “Really, this is very sweet – thank you,” I tell her.
Her eyes fall to her feet. “But you don’t seem to like it.”
“I do, it’s just...uhm.” I don’t know if I should tell her, but I do anyway, making sure I enunciate every word. If I don’t tell her, she won’t let it go. “When I said that it was my favorite, it is...just not in the way you thought.” I eye her carefully.
“In what way, then?” There’s that curiosity again - the innocence. It isn’t supposed to turn me on, but it does.
I lower my head to meet her eyes and, in a low voice, say while holding her gaze, “I meant...sexually.”
It takes her a minute, but when her eyes widen, cheeks flush, and mouth gapes, I see that it clicks.
“O-oh,” she stutters. “I feel so stupid now.” She covers her face. I hate it when she covers her face.
I remove her hands gently to look at her. “Don’t ever feel stupid; you didn’t know. I really do appreciate this. I love it – thank you, Elena,” I hope she can hear my real appreciation. No one has ever done this sort of thing for me before.
“Really?” she grins.
“Yes, really. Scouts honor.” I hold out my hand for the universal sign of being a scout – I think it’s a scout sign anyway...
She laughs and calls me out. “That’s not the sign for a scout.” Time for me to blush.
A snicker escapes. “Yeah, I was never a scout, but I really do like this,” I confess.
“Okay.” Smiling from ear to ear, she looks so happy, such a contrast from the last time I saw her.
“Okay.” I smirk at her. Every atom within me is begging, scratching, fighting to pick her up, to kiss her, perhaps haul her away to my office...
Elena takes a breath and says, “Okay...well, I’ll see you around then?” Is tucking her hair behind her ear a nervous habit? She does it around me a lot.
“Yeah, you will." I wink at her, and she blushes, but steps closer to me. The organ in my chest begins to speed up. She stretches up on her toes to lean into me. Resting the palms of her hands on my chest, she gently places a silky-smooth kiss on my greasy, sweaty cheek, close to the corner of my mouth.
Cars don’t do this either. It catches me by surprise. Now I’m in shock. My tongue is tied as she gives me a smile that nearly takes my breath away, then walks out the door towards her dad. I watch as they leave the parking lot; my stomach twists in knots.
“Who was that?” Paul asks from behind. Turning around, I see Jace is next to him.
“Elena,” I say flatly, both of their jaws drop.
“That.” Paul points to the empty lot. “Is Elena? Shit, you’re in trouble.” Thanks, Paul.
“Wow,” Jace chimes. “And you can’t tap that?” I nearly punch him, but Paul stops me.
I don’t have anything to say other than, “Shut the fuck up, Jace.”
They chuckle to themselves as I walk off to my office with my basket of goodies. After slamming the door and placing the basket on my desk with care as if it’s a bomb about to explode, I suddenly take in the realization of just how much trouble I’m in. Of course, being the kind of masochist I am, I know exactly what I’m going to do about it.