Authors: Laura Langston
I repeat over and over again until I almost believe it.
“You finally got some color in your cheeks,” Ray says with a broad grin when I pull in a few minutes later. “That's all it takes to bring you back to life. A little pedal to the metal. How much did you push 'er?”
“Don't know.” I toss the keys in his direction. “I wasn't exactly looking at the speedometer.”
A broad grin cracks his face. “Now that's what I like to hear.”
A white blur peels around the corner and squeals to a stop within inches of Ray's back door. I jump back. When I realize what I'm looking at, my heart goes into overdrive. It's a shiny new Porsche Boxster. Top-of-the-line sexy. A whole lot of show but not much go. Not the kind of car I ever see at Ray's.
The driver door opens. A short muscular guy in jeans and white T-shirt jumps out. I stare at his upper arm. If I had a thunderbolt tat that big, maybe I'd wear T-shirts in the middle of winter too.
Ray takes another drag from his cigarette before grinding the butt under the toe of his work boot. “Your pay's in the envelope,” he says to me. He angles his head toward the desk in the corner. “I'll see you tomorrow.”
I head for the desk.
“Santiago!” Ray turns to the Porsche owner. “I thought you weren't getting here until next week.” Santiago answers, but I'm too busy counting my cash to catch what he says.
“What the hell?” I must have made a mistake. I count again.
No mistake. It's a measly hundred and thirty-one bucks. I was banking on four hundred. Hoping for five. I need gas money, spending money, and I wanted to give Mom a few hundred bucks toward my medical bills. “Uh, Ray, there's a mistake here.”
Ray and I have a sweet deal going. Since I'm not a licensed mechanic, Ray pays me under the table, sometimes in cash but sometimes in parts for my car. “I don't need any more parts, remember? The Acura's fixed.”
“How could I forget? You owe me up the wazoo for it.”
My heart knocks against my ribs. It's the third time this week he's brought up my debt.
He waves his hand dismissively through the air. “That's all I'm giving ya.”
Like hell. I close the distance between us. “I worked twenty-seven hours this week. That's worth two hundred and seventy bucks. And I sent three guys in. One wanted a complete rebuild on the front end. That has to be worth five hundred.”
That's the other deal Ray and I have. I refer people to his shop, and he kicks back a percentage of whatever they spend. And they spend big. Mostly because Ray will do whatever they want to improve the performance of their cars, whether it's legal or illegal. Safe or unsafe.
“What three guys? I didn't see nobody.”
Santiago is watching us, a tiny smile on his thin lips. He's older, at least thirty. He looks tough but he's not. When his gaze connects with mine, a shiver crawls down my spine. The guy's naÃ¯ve. And somehow Ray's conning him.
I hate knowing stuff about people. But I also hate being cheated. “Blair said he was coming in for a new front end.”
“He didn't show up. Nobody did.” Ray grabs my arm and steers me back toward the desk. “Listen, Shields, you're lucky I paid you anything at all. You owe me twenty thousand dollars in parts alone for the rebuild on the Acura. And then there's the bodywork I shopped out and paid for.”
I don't like where this conversation is going. “I know.”
“I'm not gonna carry you anymore.”
Sweat blooms on the palms of my hands. “What are you saying?”
“You aren't working enough hours to pay off your debt, what with going to school and all.” A muscle in his jaw twitches. “Either you come up with five grand by the end of next week or I take your car.”
My stomach bottoms out. “But it's my car. The title's in my name.” Off in the distance, someone laughs. Logan. I turn hot, then cold. “You can't take it away.”
Ray's beady squirrel eyes bore into me. “Sure, I can. I've got twenty grand worth of bills proving what you owe me. It won't be hard convincing a judge to sign it over.”
He can't be serious. “You wouldn't go to court. You hate lawyers and judges.” And anything else to do with the law.
Words jam the back of my throat. I'd rather cut off my right arm than give up my Acura, and he knows it. “I can't come up with five thousand dollars in a week. You know that.” Even if I could, there's no way I'd give it all to Ray. It wouldn't be fair to Mom. She's been working major overtime to pay down my medical bills. I'd have to give some of it to her.
“Either you bring me five grand in cash or you bring in ten grand worth of business.”
“Ten grand in a week?” Mentally I start adding up the costs of various jobs. “It's almost December. Guys aren't spending on cars. They're saving up for gifts and stuff.”
“That's your problem, not mine.”
“Come on, man! Be reasonable.”
“Oh, I am.” He smiles. “'Course, there is another way you can make money.”
Racing, he means. “I told you, I'm not racing again.” I promised Hannah I wouldn't. Right after she visited me in the hospital.
“Then you've got two choices. You either deliver five grand in cash or ten grand worth of business. By the end of next week. Or that car is mine.”
Ray is not getting my Acura. No way. I need to find him ten thousand dollars' worth of business. Starting tonight.
And that means I'm going to a party.
There's a great road on the way to Drew's place. Guys hang around all night just waiting for an opportunity to race. I go fifteen minutes out of my way to avoid it.
You can't stop
, my badass side taunts when I turn onto Drew's street.
Not when your car's on the line.
Yes, I can
, my mind argues.
I'll find ten
grand in business. Starting with Blair.
lose my Acura. I pull in behind a gray Taurus and kill the engine. My gaze drifts over my black leather seats, my new stereo system with navigation and dvd screens, my custom gauges. You'd think I'd want to get rid of my car after what happened. Not true.
I stare out across the carbon fiber hood. Losing it won't bring Logan back. Although half the time it's like he's back anyway. I swear I feel his eyes on me as I get out of the car and follow the sound of the music.
Drew's curtains are open. People are dancing in the living room. I'm halfway up the stairs before I spot Hannah. She's dancing with Cole, laughing up at him. My heart hammers against my rib cage. Cole Murray. The poster boy for perfect.
Aisha flings open the front door and grabs my arm. “Tom! âBout time you got here.”
Cole glances my way. When our eyes connect, he smirks. Cole considers me a waste of air space. Underneath Cole's superiority, I pick up another feeling: his yearning for Hannah. He likes her as much as I do.
But only one of us can have her. Only one of us deserves her.
I drop my gaze and let Aisha pull me into the house. The overpowering smell of smoke and booze hits my nose. Good thing Drew's parents aren't back from Mexico until Saturday. It'll take days to clear the air.
“Wanna dance?” Aisha slurs. She's all over me, like hot wax on a car. Hannah hasn't noticed. She's still focused on Cole.
“In a minute.” I survey the crush of bodies, looking for Blair. I need to talk to him about his front end. Convince him Ray's the guy to do the job.
“Oh, come on!” Aisha tugs on my arm, and my stomach flips. Her perfume smells like rancid cookies.
I ease out of her grip. “Have you seen Blair?”
She pouts and gestures beyond the archway to the dining room. I spot a bunch of guys grouped around an oval table, doing shooters. “He's back there with Drew and the rest of them.”
“I'll catch you later.” Careful not to go anywhere near Hannah and Cole, I weave through the dancing bodies toward the dining room.
“Shields!” Drew bellows when he catches sight of me. He's holding a bottle of tequila in one hand, a shot glass in the other. He's surrounded by half a dozen guys, including Blair and Lucas. Lucas was supposed to bring his Civic into the shop for transmission work. Good. I can hit them both up at once.
“Where were you? I expected you hours ago.”
Of course he did. I used to be the first to arrive and the last to leave. “I was at the shop working on an engine.” I direct my words to Blair, but he and Lucas are laughing hysterically about an episode of
and aren't paying attention.
Drew shoves a glass at me. “Here.” He gestures to the lime wedges and saucer of salt on the table. They're surrounded by beer, vodka, mix and chips. “Get set up,” he adds. “We're celebrating.”
“Yeah? Thanksgiving was last week. What's the occasion?”
I'm stalling. Don't get me wrong, I like tequila. A lot. It's a great way to kill pain. I glance over my shoulder, glimpse the back of Cole's head. It helps me shut out what everybody else is feeling too. I need that. Sometimes a lot. But drinking tequila makes me stupid. My gaze settles on Hannah. And she hates it.
“I've done my admissions applications,” Drew says when I turn around. “Three suckers all filled out.” He belches. The stench of beer and tequila makes me reel backward.
“Only three?” Geoff skips the salt and goes straight for the tequila. “My old man made me do five. Plus apply for a pile of scholarships.” He downs his shot.
I don't want to talk about college admissions and sats and scholarships. It reminds me of Mom and the mess we're in. The mess I created.
“Here, man.” Drew rubs lime on a shot glass, dips it in salt, tops it with tequila. “Drink up.” He presses the glass into my hand.
“I'd rather have a beer.” I can nurse a beer all night, drive home without worrying.
Blair snaps to attention. “I'll take your tequila then.” He plucks the glass from my hand.
I grab a Bud and pop the tab but don't drink it. “I thought you were coming in to get your front end done?”
“Change of plans.” Blair flips a chunk of his too-long red hair out of his eyes. “There's this guy my brother knows. With a tricked-out Lancer. He has an awesome mechanic up in Everett who does all sorts of neat crapâ”
“Like Ray,” I interrupt.
“Exactly.” He grins, completely misses my point. “I'm thinking about getting him to do my front end.”
“You'd drive forty miles to get your front end done?” Of course he would. I drove almost two hundred miles once just for a special set of rims.
“I might take my trannie to him too,” Lucas adds.
My breath catches. No way. A trannie job's worth a few thousand to me. He has to bring it to Ray. “Don't be crazy. Ray's
when it comes to trannie work. He'll do whatever you want. You know that.”
“Yeah, but apparently the mechanic in Everett is something else.” Lucas shakes his head. “That Lancer can really go.”
“My Acura really goes too. Ray's done a crapload of work on it.”
“How would we know?” Lucas laughs. “You haven't raced it in a year.”
Blair pours another shot. “That's because Shields thinks he's jinxed.”
I suck back some beer. Not jinxed. Just not stupid anymore.
“Quit being a wuss,” Lucas says. “Come out and show us what you can do.”
. I hate that word.
Drew scowls. “Leave him alone.”
Drew's the only guy I know without a car. He borrows his dad's pickup sometimes, but mostly he's without wheels. That's why he holds so many parties. If he didn't, he'd be a total loser.
“There's a race tomorrow night,” Blair says. “The Lancer'll be there. I'll text you the details.”
I'm about to remind him that I'm not racing anymore when I feel that tiny prickle at the back of my neck again. Like someone is watching me. I glance over my shoulder and see short blond hair and Logan's St. Christopher medallion.
Hannah. She's thinking of Logan.
I can tell by the twist of pain on her face. For once, I'm not. I'm thinking only of her. How it felt when she touched my sore leg in the hospital. How it made me feel things I have no right to feel.
“Whatdaya say, Shields?” Blair presses.
I open my mouth to answer, but Aisha interrupts. “There you are!” She plants a wet, sloppy kiss on my cheek. “Come on. I love this song.” She plucks the beer from my hand, slams it on the table beside a bag of ripple chips and presses against me. “Let's dance.”
A flush fills my cheeks. Hannah's eyes widen. Cole's eyes are trained on Aisha's breasts, which are practically spilling out of her tank top.