Falling in love could be the very definition of a disaster.
Brooke Hall has a foul-mouth and a quick temper, and she prefers a man who isn’t afraid to get his hands dirty. In other words, everything an uptight book nerd like Dane Nichols isn’t. He likes his women soft, mild-mannered, and traditional. That doesn’t stop him from wanting her even though their verbal sparring is legendary in Tanner Creek. When an opportunity that will benefit both of their fledgling businesses comes along, they agree to join forces…albeit reluctantly.
It doesn’t take long for Dane to see past Brooke’s prickly exterior. Her intelligence and fierce loyalty to her friends and family makes him crave more than a hot, short affair despite the occasional sense of deja vu. He’s had more than his fair share of tumultuous relationship where both parties were too stubborn to be vulnerable and honest.
Dane’s smile is as quick as his wit, and Brooke can’t seem to resist him…in or out of bed. When he drops his guard and makes a play for her heart, Brooke has to let go of the fear that all he wants to do is change her into his ideal woman.
Copyright © 2015 Sofia Harper
Brooke Hall strode out of her mechanic shop into the balmy air, her dour mood lifting at the incredible weather. She indulged in a rare moment of pure contentment, only to see a Juan and Sons tow truck parked down the block. Juan and Sons were her chief competitors. Not even the promise of a perfect, Californian spring night could salvage her mood.
Her friend Naomi sighed beside her. “You’re not going to let this go, are you?”
Brooke gave her a long look. Naomi’s son was with his dad, so her friend had pampered herself by taking an hour to curl her hair, putting on makeup that complimented her dark skin, and had even pulled out high heels and a tight dress.
They were only headed to The Grog Monster, but it was karaoke night—a reoccurring event that had become insanely popular—and it had drawn in people from the other small towns surrounding Tanner Creek. She adored her friend and Naomi needed this night out.
Those reasons should have forced Brooke to forget this momentary irritation, walk to her car, drive to the outskirts of town and drink herself woozy at The Grog. But she’d spent most of her Friday updating her quarterly report for Hall’s Mechanic and Body Shop.
She hadn’t expected running a mechanic shop and towing business to be all bunnies and sunshine, but seeing her numbers slowly but surely creep to the red for three months had tightened her stomach. She had two more years before she would escape that five-year stretch during which most new businesses failed.
Her financial woes weren’t a surprise. Her father ran a very successful brokerage firm—in a sense she was heiress who had shucked it all to be a blue-collar entrepreneur. But there was a big difference in knowing what to expect and experiencing the reality of a small business owner. So, yeah, that knowledge didn’t stop her teeth from clenching while she worked in Quickbooks that afternoon and now as she stood outside the shop. And someone had called on her competitor to help with their car troubles.
“Five minutes,” Brooke said. “I swear. I just want to find out why Juan Junior’s here and then we’ll go.”
Naomi rolled her eyes, pulled her purse strap higher on her shoulder, and then motioned for Brooke to lead the way across the street. The lights from the other businesses were enough to keep her from tripping over anything in the street.
Once on the pavement, she put an extra sway in her hips. Juan Jr. was too busy getting comfortable against the grill of his tow truck and lighting up a cigarette to see her coming. She scared up a seductive smile.
He must have heard the clack of her heels, because his gaze fell on her hips and got stuck there before his attention made it to her face.
He cursed softly, straightening. “I’m not poaching.”
She kicked up the smile, stopping a foot in front of him, totally invading his personal space. It was the best way to get the truth out of him. As he was a self-proclaimed ladies’ man, she had to keep him off-kilter.
“Didn’t say you were,” she cooed. “I thought we were peers. I’m just curious.”
She leaned to the side to check the row of cars behind him. She recognized most of them since she’d fixed them at one time or another. Her gaze stopped on the most likely suspect—a Mercedes. She’d know that car if all she heard was its engine. The owner of the vehicle reminded her of everything Brooke had left behind when she’d settled into Tanner Creek: Men who believed a women’s role was only in the home, mothers who agreed, and sometimes their daughters, too. Brooke wasn’t that daughter anymore.
She had found and fought for the courage to be unconventional, because the truth was most women didn’t love the scent of engine oil. It was an acquired taste and so was she. It had taken a long time to make peace with that part of herself. No one would make her feel ashamed for it or apologetic for not being feminine enough.
But the owner of that dark blue Mercedes had—he continued to do it whenever they faced off. The bastard.
So, she kept the smile in place when she met Juan Junior’s gaze again. He was a cutie in his early twenties, and she could see why he had a harem of women panting over him. Bronzed skin, dark hair and eyes—eye candy. He just wasn’t her type with his womanizing ways and mild-mannered approach to dealing with her bluntness.
“So tell me.” She kept her voice sweet and warm. “Who called you? And don’t say you can’t for whatever reason. You’re not a lawyer, so there’s no attorney-client privilege.” To soften her harsh assessment, she brushed her hand down his arm.
He blew out a plume of smoke, interest lit in his gaze for a split second before he jolted as though he realized the obvious ploy had tripped him up. “No.”
She dropped her hand. “Fine.”
Her reputation for being prickly and blunt usually ruined her womanly-wiles routine, anyway. She felt more than heard Naomi finally catching up. Brooke said, “Don’t flirt with my friend. I’ll tell her about your ex.”
He took in Naomi and then shook his head. “You’ll give my customer shit. No.”
And that’s when she knew for sure who had called him. Juan Jr. cursed again, because he knew he’d been caught. More than once he’d gotten stuck in the crossfire.
She put up her hand to stop any other excuses he had prepared. “Where is he?”
Naomi grasped her elbow. “There’s nothing you can do. He can choose whoever he wants to fix his car.”
Brooke huffed. “Stop being reasonable.”
Juan Jr. ran a hand through his dark, silky locks. “I know you and you’re going to give him shit.”
“I—” She broke off her words because he came up the street.
If Brooke went by appearance alone, Dane was exactly her type. She exhaled slowly to get her heart rate back down. Looking at him longer than two seconds always did that to her—sweaty palms, racing heart, inability to think straight. He had caramel-toned skin, full lips, hazel eyes and cheekbones that put him squarely in the drool-worthy category.
He walked like he owned the sidewalk beneath his loafers. He perfected preppy, but had enough edge to let her know he was probably trouble on a woman’s common sense, especially if she ever let him into her bed.
He wore a light jacket to combat the cool night, but jacket was an understatement. What he had was a dark, lush gray coat. The zippers were horizontal on the right side of his chest. The collar was popped with the edge kissing his masculine jaw line. He’d pushed the sleeves up so the soft material rested on the middle of his muscled forearms. He’d paired it with a white dress shirt underneath and crisp looking denims. His style spoke of money but in whispers.
His phone demanded all his focus until he walked into the plume of smoke Juan Jr. blew in that direction. Dane scowled and then he saw her.
The second part of their ritual had begun—the first being seeing him and her heart doing somersaults. Dane’s inspection started at her heels. His slow intent perusal moved up to her hips. He licked his lips, and her heart skipped. Maybe he spent a second longer on her breasts than all the rest of her until finally he met her gaze.
She was never sure if it was loathing or lust that flashed in his eyes whenever he looked at her, and she’d never ask for clarification.
“Brooke,” he said, his voice low and smooth.
And now their ritual was complete. So if that moment of silence when he first looked at her, or vice versa, made her heart pound, the flat tone he used to say her name doused any lust or longing. He never greeted her, just uttered her name as though that said more than enough. For such an infuriating man, he was handsome. There was no justice in the world.
“What’s wrong with your car?” she asked without preamble.
Dane walked forward until he stood within reaching distance of her. His face was blank of any emotion, but his eyes…
Lust or loathing?
Didn’t matter if she wore a dress that plunged low or grease-stained coveralls, an inscrutable heat always simmered in his gaze when he looked at her.
“You’ll never know since I won’t let you touch my car.” His voice was modulated and deep.
She fought the shiver that wanted to slide down her spine. He was a dick who could be flirtatious, handsome, nice and a few other adjectives that made her stomach flip when she let herself think about him. Didn’t change the important fact that he was still a dick.
Then again, what could have been a simple miscommunication on both their parts had turned into a verbal battle, because they were both extremely stubborn.
Brooke turned to her friend. “And that’s why I don’t like him. Nope, not reasonable, but neither is taking one look at a woman and deciding she can’t fix a car.”
Dane scoffed. “That’s not why I decided you couldn’t fix my car, but it’s a moot point. You won’t touch mine. Harp, nag all you want.”
“Nag?” she whipped back at him.
His expression turned haughty. “Does that offend you?”
As mad as Brooke was, she still wanted to ruffle his appearance a bit to make him more human. It’s partly why she went out of her way to piss him off. The other part had everything to do with him saying misogynistic shit like harp and nag, because—of course—women never had legitimate complaints.
“Offend?” she asked. “No. Annoys me more than anything, because I expected better insults from you.”
His gaze lit from the fight, and that, too, could probably be a part of their ritual. He enjoyed their bickering as much as she did. Was that sick and twisted? Probably. She’d feel apologetic about it around the same time hell froze over.
He said without blinking, “Car trouble put me off my usual game.”
Naomi cleared her throat while squeezing the hell out of Brooke’s arm. Evidently, Brooke’s five minutes were up, and that time hadn’t been enough.
Brooke said, “I would wish you a good night but we both know I wouldn’t mean it.”
He laughed. It was low and smooth and did something to her that made her nipples bead against the dress. His wandering gaze went to her lips. “That’s what your mouth says.” He nodded to Naomi. “You look beautiful, as usual.”
Out the corner of her eye, Brooke saw Naomi boosting that smile of hers—the one that made men stop in their tracks. Her friend followed it up with, “And what do you know about cars, Dane?”
“Enough.” His tone actually sounded modest. “But I have a thing for classics.”
Despite herself, Brooke perked up.
Naomi said, “Really? Do you own any?”
“That’s what Juan is picking up. Just bought a junker, drove it home. Or almost, before it crapped out on me. I need someone to bring it home for me and see what can be done.”
Brooke found that biting her tongue wasn’t working. “Make? Model? Year?”
Dane’s brow lifted. “Are you interested?”
She chose to interpret his question without any innuendo. “Might be.”
Shit. Her answer didn’t sound like she avoided the innuendo at all. This was also part of their ritual. They had been doing this dance for a year and not much had changed.
Dane tilted his head in challenge. “Ready to take back what you said to me?”
And there was their point of contention, and why she’d never ask if it was lust or loathing she saw in his gaze. She didn’t have trouble admitting when she was wrong. Over a year ago, he’d driven his car into her shop—more like his Mercedes bucked and puttered, billowing smoke from under the hood—and she’d sat in the office, watching the whole thing play out from her window that looked out onto the main workspace. Curious, but busy with paperwork, she’d let her sometime assistant, Jake, handle that first meet. When Jake had clocked out for the day, she’d fixed Dane’s car.
Dane had checked in the next morning, and as usual, she’d worn a ball cap and coveralls. She hadn’t mistaken his surprise when he saw that her uniform hugged breasts. She definitely hadn’t misread his skeptical expression when she’d told him she’d fixed the problem within hours. And there’d been no confusion over the fact he’d used his oh-how-cute-you-little-woman voice when he praised her for fixing his Mercedes.
Some other woman might have been a great example for all womankind if given the opportunity to confront him over that exchange, but Brooke had ripped him a new asshole for being chauvinistic and condescending. In return, he had pretty much called her an overly sensitive shrew.
And therein was why the world had no justice. Despite his many faults, Dane was still a handsome bastard. With a smile or a quip delivered in a dry tone, he made her want to be the kind of woman who made excuses for chauvinism. Briefly, very, very briefly, because she’d been jerked around on that rodeo before and had the scars on her heart to prove it.
So, yeah, Dane was exactly her type, and she’d run long and hard from that for a damn good reason.
She steeled her spine and said, “I’m not taking back a word. I might even add a few if I’m feeling frisky.”
He shook his head in disappointment. “And that’s why you’re not touching my car.”
Naomi dropped her arm. “A classic car, though? I’ve been trying to come up with ideas to do a charity event. Something that’s my own pet project for the mayor. Something he’d go for. He shot down my community garden idea.”
“Why?” Brooke asked. Naomi hadn’t mentioned it before.
“Too expensive. Not enough people to volunteer or donate. Cars are something different. In this town there are plenty of people who have classics they’ve let turn into clunkers.”
Brooke frowned, trying to see the end goal. “I’ve seen more than my fair share when I’ve driven through town.”
“Exactly,” Naomi said with excitement. “I’m thinking of talking a few people into donating those cars. You fix them. We…I don’t know. Do a calendar with the cars looking spiffy, sell those calendars, and then auction off the vehicles.”
Of course Brooke was interested in an idea like that. She could write off the venture, maybe get some clients thrown her way. She chanced a glance at Dane, and he had the same this-could-work kind of expression.
The last thing she needed was to be stuck with him for any amount of time that didn’t include bickering. She just might forget why he was a jackass to begin with.
The click of a lighter made her blink back to attention. Heat crept up to her face. Dane had taken all her focus without even trying, and she’d practically forgotten Juan Jr. was there. Perhaps that proved her point she and Dane should limit their time with each other.
“We have to go,” she said.
“But—” Naomi started, but Brooke grabbed her arm.
She turned. “Juan Jr., good seeing you. Hope to never see you in Tanner Creek again.”
Juan Jr. snorted. “That’ll require you to be nice to everyone in town.”
“See you soon then?” she said on a laugh, her steps slow because Dane hadn’t spoken yet.
“And me?” Dane’s timbre finally slid down her spine and did wonderful things to her insides.
“You, Dane?” her voice came out husky. “A long walk. A short pier. Must I spell it out?”
He laughed as though he enjoyed their sparing like it was foreplay to some really, really hot and mind-blowing angry sex. She shivered and ignored the urge to prove her theory right. She was lucky she’d escaped disaster once again.