If Ian Coghlan didn’t get his greasy hands off her motorcycle in the next three seconds, she was going to kill him. Every oversized knuckle on his work roughened appendages housed enough dirt and grime to keep an entire legion of soap-wielding, oil spill experts busy for hours.
He tightened the cover back onto the battery and moved on to check the clutch and brake cables.
Another dark line of grease smeared across the chrome handlebars. The song he hummed under his breath increased in volume as he squeezed the clutch and brake in turn. The bike was less than a month old. No way all this stuff needed a work up.
But there he went. Touching everything. More grease.
Peyton’s fingers itched with the desire to shove him out of the way and wipe her baby down with a clean shop towel, ride to the nearest car wash, and give her a bath. Four years, two months, six days, and seven hours to get her gorgeous pearl white and rosy pink cruiser. Sure, it was girly…and she liked it that way.
The only thing between her and a month long ride across the U.S. was Mr. Bumble Fingers. So what if he was edible with a side of fuck-me-now. And had tattoo sleeves on both arms. And twin lumps under his shirt that left her imagination running wild with fantasies of hauling him around the garage by nipple rings. What else might he have pierced? She shivered and cleared her throat.
There was something about him…a magnetism or charm that called to her and told her uterus to prepare for a sperm invasion. On what planet was it fair for her to be stuck in a garage with this man? This big, strong, muscular…adept…athletic…tanned…all that hair in his eyes, she should brush it away…his mouth was made for kissing…
A sharp mental shake snapped her out of the reverie. Currently, he was an obstacle to be overcome, and if there was one thing she excelled at, it was slamming right through things in her way. Or climbing over them.
Not that engaging in some naked mountaineering with a certain motorcycle mechanic was odious.
Just ill timed.
She tapped her riding boot on the cement floor and crossed her arms. Ian kept humming under his breath, something vaguely familiar. Some country song. What was that line in the chorus again? She found herself humming with him and choked when he glanced her way and smirked.
He craned his neck to study her before going back to fiddling with something on the foot brake. What could he possibly be doing? She wandered nearer and tried to make sense of his movements. The closer she got, the more the scent of his cologne or body wash filled her nose. Icy, clean, a hint of rain water and pine. A little sharp, but oh so good.
“Just a few more things to check, then you’ll be all set.” He looked at her from under his brows—a cocky half-grin pulled his right cheek up and revealed a deep dimple. Dark-green eyes twinkled with mischief. Then, to top it off, he winked.
Flustered and out of sorts, she backed away and crossed the room to one of the oversized tool boxes, prickles of heat stinging her cheeks. Viewing him as an obstacle was something she understood and could deal with. Flirting was a whole other snarl that sent her ovaries from a low steady idle to a revving red-line.
“You okay, Ms. Reynolds?”
The scuff of his work boot on the floor sent her into def-con nine alert. Every muscle tensed up, shit, even her butt cheeks clamped up tight enough to crush a can. Oh, God, if he came over to her, she’d really make a fool of herself.
“I’m fine. Just fine. Thanks. Uh, I have to check my email.” Score one for Peyton. She’d spoken to the sexy man across the way and hadn’t even stuttered. They’d spoken before today, but this was the first time they’d been alone together. Without a buffer provided by other people, all of his attention settled on her, and damned if she knew what to do about it. If she had any balls at all, she’d march on over to him and flirt back.
The way he handled the various wrenches and screwdrivers rose to the front of her mind as she fished around in her pocket for her phone. Large, capable hands, thick fingers, but he juggled screws, nuts, and bolts with the delicacy of a surgeon. Despite the grease and grime, a part of her—several parts, actually—were curious about how he’d handle himself in bed. What he’d do with those strong digits and a willing partner.
Although, as a woman well past size four, she didn’t have any illusions about her chances with a man like Ian. Younger, sexy as hell, and reputed to get around with women in their twenties who’d escaped their sororities on a conjugal pass, flashing their pierced belly buttons and flouncing around with their chin hugging breasts attempting escape from demi-cup bras. Not that she didn’t exercise and watch what she ate. She’d realized her body type wasn’t the kind to let go of weight easily or shrink below a certain size and embraced it.
Self-acceptance was a delightful thing. Even if it took men seven years her junior and with enough sex appeal to send an entire beach of bikini bunnies into spontaneous, multiple orgasms off the dating shelf. The scenario was easy to imagine. Ian would stroll out in board shorts and a T-shirt. He’d drop the shirt. The sunlight would glint off his nipple rings sending cosmic energy powered by the sun’s rays and combined with his man-sex pheromones, and cum-drenched swim suit bottoms would explode from their tight, supple little bodies.
She’d never categorized herself as the cougar type anyway.
After a thorough self-chastisement for staring, she turned on her heel and leaned her hips into the nearby work bench. Scattered bits of mechanical items and tools littered the table top. All she wanted was to be free of this town for awhile. Her ex-husband’s public shenanigans had embarrassed and shamed her to the point she dreaded leaving the house. After a messy divorce, she’d lived alone for less than six months before moving in with her mother to take care of her.
And now she was finally free.
Guilt engulfed her and turned into the voices of the few relatives she had left. They’d all done a great job telling her what a rotten child she was for voicing the opinion that it was past time to place her mother, Edith, in a nursing home. Easy for them to throw stones and accusations about Peyton’s motives from four states away. With hundreds of miles to separate them from the reality of her mother’s downward spiral into Alzheimer’s disease. Even whipping out bank statements and check books as evidence of each expenditure was dismissed. They said she wanted her mother’s house. Her money. Antiques. The car.
All of which, she most decidedly did not. Her own car was much nicer than her mother’s, and she’d held off selling the ancient sedan until finances forced her to. Getting rid of her own vehicle didn’t make sense. She needed transportation for work, and the Toyota far outstripped her mother’s twenty-year-old gas guzzler on every front. As far as antiques went…she hated old furniture. It smelled funny. Like body odor and death and bad memories.
She’d even sold her home when she moved in with her mother to make as few changes as possible to Edith’s routine. All the documentation she read supported keeping an Alzheimer’s patient in a familiar environment until home care was no longer a viable option. No matter what she did, they claimed she possessed an ulterior motive. That her mother wasn’t deteriorating mentally at the rate she described.
Almost one month ago to the day, Edith fell out of her bed at the nursing home and broke her hip.
She’d gone to the hospital to be treated, contracted a virus, and died a week later. No one knew how hard it had been for Peyton to wrestle the guilt she felt. Shutting out the voices of her relatives, she concentrated on the mantras her counselor had given her to help deal with the anger, frustration, grief, and self-pity trying to engulf her.
At thirty-eight years old and childless, and no family in town, her life had revolved completely around work and being a care provider. The only measure of enjoyment she’d found came in the form of infrequent rides on her ten-year-old Yamaha.
Her knuckles turned white where they gripped the phone, and she released a deep breath she hadn’t realized she’d been holding. A trip. Time away from the house, the job, the routine. Solitude and open roads to explore with no one to answer to. Her e-reader and laptop were packed and ready to keep her company while she assessed her situation and figured out what to do next with her life.
She knew people must think she was some kind of jerk. Knew how it looked to them from the outside. Her mom in the ground for a month and Peyton riding a new motorcycle everywhere she went. But if she didn’t do something soon, her head would burst. Not taking care of herself for so long left her on the edge of a nervous breakdown. Mental health issues plagued care providers who didn’t take time away to reset their own lives. She’d never taken more than two hours away unless she was at work. Not once.
The time for worrying about what other people thought was long gone. She’d done that enough for two lifetimes. Now was the time for her to start living her life the way she wanted.
Ian crouched near the rear tire, bent over, and examined the tread. The move put his ass in the air, and man oh man did he fill out those jeans. She gulped, glad he hadn’t caught her ogling him, and moved her attention to a safer location. A large frown line bisected his forehead as he used his thumbs to pick at the rubber. The bright colors in his tattoos rippled and moved as his muscles flexed under the skin.
Damn, who knew a forearm could be so . . . enticing? Muscles, skin, and tendons rippled around and her mouth watered. Was she turning into a cannibal? Maybe this was the beginning of menopause, and she was developing a case of pica. Pretty soon she’d have an undeniable urge to stuff rocks and bits of glue picked off craft projects in her mouth.
A furious desire to trace the ink lines with her fingertips and tongue took root and refused to be banished. The designs had snippets of words interspersed with tribal art, Celtic knot work, leaves, vines, and even animals. The tats sat on him well. Maybe it was his aura, the masculinity he exuded, all self-confidence and quiet watchfulness.
She needed to stop staring before he caught her drooling. Even if she wanted to peel his shirt up and inspect his torso for more ink. Man, the first time she’d seen him five years ago when she’d first come in the dealership looking at the bikes, she’d almost knocked over an entire row of brand new, gleaming, thirty thousand dollar machines. Walked in, saw him, and bashed right into a black cruiser. The levels of her bad-assery knew no bounds.
She’d just signed the final papers on her divorce and needed something…anything to distract herself. And didn’t she find a distraction. Every time since the first one that she’d come into the show room to drool, she’d search him out and try not to get caught gawking. She’d tell herself she was there to look at bikes, but like a teenager with their first real crush, she hoped for a glimpse of him. An undeniable pull sucked her in again and again. Excuses to visit the dealership in hopes of glimpsing him obsessed her. The behavior was damned embarrassing. But she couldn’t stay away.
Every now and then they spoke, and those days buoyed her through some of her worst nights caring for her mother. She replayed their conversations over and over on an endless loop in her head. Memorized each tilt of his head, blink, smile, and laugh.
Yeah, she had it bad.
She tapped hard on her phone’s screen and tried to bring up the calendar app. The screen blacked out.
What the hell? The battery had a full charge. She’d made sure to plug it in the night before. She pressed the power button and got no response. Holding the button down to reboot the phone, she waited for the screen image that indicated it was powering down.
And waited. Waited some more. Nothing. All that time filling in her itinerary, each task assigned a time frame based on careful consideration, mapping of her route, and the amount of miles she’d cover each day. Gas fill ups, lunch stops, even scenic detours. The final check in on her bike was supposed to take less than an hour. It probably wasn’t necessary, but the dealership insisted on it after she’d stopped in to buy new chaps and let her plans slip. She’d scheduled an hour and a half for this venture to account for contingencies.
Wasted. She just knew it. The damn phone was almost new, and it was deader than dead. One more to add to the drawer full at home. Her ability to destroy electronics would have been comical if it wasn’t so expensive. Even her e-reader and laptop were new, and now she wondered if she had hundreds of dollars worth of unusable junk packed.
“Fucking stupid phone.” Aggravated, horny, and possibly a cannibal. Wasn’t that the perfect combination?
“What’s the matter?”
Shoving the offending electronic into her pocket, she poked at some of the parts on the bench. “It’s dead.”
The clink of a wrench hitting the cement and the scuff of his boot sounded. “You need to make a call?”
“No.” The hunky mechanic had run right through her time frame. Her almost new phone was now only useful as a paper weight or a shiny hockey puck. Damn and double damn. What else could go wrong? Maybe Aunt Flo would decide to give her a nice spontaneous visit and turn on a gushing faucet in her vagina. “Are you about done yet? You’ve totally messed up my schedule.”
Ooohh that wasn’t nice. But maybe he was doing all this on purpose. Yeah right…. Maybe she was just a creepy wanna-be cougar. He’d probably rather stab himself with a screwdriver than drop trow and bump uglies with her.
“Sometimes…” She met his gaze and her lady parts got all ramped up and she swiped at her chin in case she was frothing at the mouth. He scratched at his chin and curled his upper lip in. “Schedules need messing.”
Oh that cocky, self-assured vibe tickled across her skin and set her on edge. She should walk over to him, saunter up, and smack him right in the ass. Or tug his shirt up and bite his nipples, yank on his hoops and scratch her nails across his back. Walk her fingers down to the button on his jeans…
She shifted her weight from one foot to the other, her clit swollen and throbbing. Talk about hard up. Letting her fantasies run around in her head this way would only lead to trouble. At least she had her rabbit.
Unless that bastard had bit the dust too. Thank God for internet shopping and two day delivery.
Those green eyes and corded arms would be front and center in many of her personal time ventures for some time to come. Okay, had been. Why lie about it. She wanted to be a complete and totally dirty slut for him. And she was…in her fantasies.
Speaking of green eyes . . . The weight of his stare caused prickles across her neck. She peeked and froze. Ian crooked that half smile at her again, showing off his white teeth and dimple. Her breath caught, and she picked up some of the parts on the work bench, pretending to be interested in the greasy metal hunks. He probably smiled like that all the time. At everyone. Nothing special about it.
Except when she dared to sneak a look again, the half smile spread into a full-blown grin. He wiped his hands on an orange shop towel and swept a look at her from head to foot with appreciation on his face.
O-kay. He’d never given her the old up-and-down before.
Uncomfortable with the arousal spinning her head in a circle, she cast about for something to do. Anything would work. This…she didn’t know how to deal with. Imaginary-Ian was easy to deal with, Real-Live-Sex-On-A-Stick-Ian was something else altogether.
Plus, she couldn’t entirely trust her hormones. She could be pre-menopausal. Or about to start her period. Or rabid…there were entirely too many thoughts involving biting him playing catch in her head.
She said a prayer to the monks who invented wine that she wouldn’t accidentally eat him.
The door to the showroom hung open on the left-hand side of the bay. And that would be her escape route beckoning. Safety from embarrassing herself. If he kept looking at her that way, she was liable to drool all over her chin. God, she’d have a wet spot on her jeans from her crotch to her upper thighs.
“I’m going to, uh, look at some gloves.” There. She’d done it again. Spoken to him without spitting, biting her tongue, or forgetting how to speak entirely. Doing good. Going great. Three more steps to the door and she’d be out of range. No more sharing space with the overwhelming presence that was Ian Coghlan.
And then everything went to hell.
Her foot slid out from under her, and she crashed to the floor, landing on her back. The cement floor’s cold and unyielding surface bit into the back of her skull and left elbow. Pain arced from one injured place to the other in a loop. Spots of white light pulsated across her vision in a slow strobe.
The monks must have let her prayer go to voicemail. The bastards.