Authors: Lisa A. Olech
Tags: #Romance, #Contemporary, #spicy, #model
Jagger hopped out of the van and gave the shop a look over. He needed a new drive belt for the lawn tractor at the estate, and he’d been told this was the place to find it. The nondescript brown building looked like it had been there since the first settlers. But when he pushed through the door, the bell ringing overhead brought a welcome sense of coming home. The place was great. It felt just like his dad’s hardware store back in Australia.
Overhead fluorescents cast a dull and dusty light over bins and shelves filled with all sorts of bits and fittings. New parts sat shiny in their cartons under shrink wrap. Old parts tumbled rusted and oily in cardboard boxes. No sense of order, but Jagger knew if you had the patience you could find everything you needed here, and most likely some things you didn’t know you needed. His dad used to call it organized chaos. He could put his hand on exactly what his customers wanted, most times before they’d even finished explaining what they were looking for. He’d been amazing to watch, his da.
The smell of old dust, dirty oil, and rubber tires filled his senses as he poked around. He could spend all day here.
Past a display of fuses and windshield wipers he heard a man cussing a blue streak. “I don’t need any of your damn explanations,
, just get me your boss.”
“I told you,
he isn’t here.”
“I don’t believe this shit!” The man looked over his shoulder at Jagger.
Speak of the devil
. It was the guy. Zee’s jerk. And he was being a flamin’ arse, again. “I ordered that part three weeks ago, and he said he’d have it by today.”
“I don’t know what to tell you. All I know is it’s not on the inventory list.” The girl typed furiously into a dusty, out-of-date computer that sat in the middle of a cluttered counter. “I have no way of knowing if it’s here if it hasn’t been checked in. Steve will be back on Monday—”
“Monday! I’ve got a client waiting! This is bullshit!”
“I’m sorry, but—”
“Sorry doesn’t cut it, sweetheart!” He turned back to Jagger. “Do you believe this?”
The girl looked at Jagger with frightened eyes. She looked ready to burst into tears. “I think maybe you should give the lass a break. It’s not her fault.”
“Oh no? Talk about useless. It’s probably sitting right under her nose, and she wouldn’t know it unless it bit her.” He glared back at the girl. “What’s the matter, ‘do you want fries with that’ too tough for you to remember?”
The heat of anger crept up the back of Jagger’s neck. He glared at him. “Hey! Maybe you should come back on Monday and bitch Steve out instead!”
“Oh, you can count on it!” He slammed his fist on the counter. “And you—” He pointed a finger at the girl’s face. “I wouldn’t count on having a job on Tuesday!”
The guy pushed past Jagger and stormed out the store. The bells over the door chimed happily before the slam. The girl looked at Jagger with wide shining eyes.
He shook his head. “Rumor has it he only has one ball,” Jagger held up his hand and wiggled his pinkie, “and a tiny, wee dick.”
The girl made a sound somewhere between a sob and a snort and slapped a hand over her mouth, but not before Jagger saw a mouth full of braces. She couldn’t have been more than seventeen. Pale blonde hair fell out of a red ruffled thing at the back of her head and hung about her face. She had pretty blue eyes.
“What’s your name?”
She sniffed. “Stacy.”
“Hi, Stacy, I’m Jagger.” He shook her hand. “Don’t worry about that guy. I’ll talk to Steve if you want and tell him it wasn’t your fault.”
“I’m not worried. Steve’s my uncle.” She wiped at her nose with a tissue she pulled from under the counter. “I’m filling in for my aunt. They just had a baby last week.”
“That’s nice of you.”
Stacy shrugged. “I want to go to London for our senior trip, and I need to save half the money myself.”
“I hear ya. I’m saving to get over to France.”
Jagger looked around. “You know, I used to work in a place just like this. My da’s hardware store in King’s Cross.”
“Near Sydney. Australia.”
“I couldn’t tell if you were Australian or English.”
“Oh, you should never say that. ’Specially to an Aussie.”
“Sorry. I’m screwing up all over the place today.”
“Not with me. You’re doing fine.” Jagger watched as she rearranged a display of pocket flashlights and tiny screwdrivers. “I used to work my dad’s store every day after school, every weekend, every school vacation. Hated it. But now, I miss it something awful. I must be daft.”
“Maybe you just miss your dad.”
“That I do.” He pulled a slip of paper out of his pocket. “I could tell you some tales, but I should be trying to find a drive belt.”
“I can help with that. Do you have a part number?”
Jagger handed her the paper. “I think it’s that one there.” He pointed.
Stacy tapped a few keys on the keyboard in front of her and nodded. “It says we have two in stock.” She came around the counter and led him to the back wall. Two minutes later they were back at the counter and she was ringing up his purchase.
“Thanks, I’d never have found that so fast.” Jagger pulled a few bills out of his wallet.
“That’s why I get paid the big bucks.” Her smile quickly turned into a close-lipped smirk.
“So, how soon ’til you get rid of your tin?”
“Your braces. I had to wear mine for two years.”
“You had braces?”
“Yep, lost my retainer four times.” He winked. “Okay, I threw it away twice on purpose.”
Stacy laughed. “Four weeks and two days. I’m crossing them off on the calendar.”
“I’ll have to swing around back and catch a look. You’re gonna be a stunner. Beautiful eyes and a killer smile. Poor blokes in London won’t know what hit them.” Jagger took his change, and pocketed the receipt. “Thanks again.” He raised his hand and wiggled his pinkie. “Remember, don’t let the wankers get you down.”
Zee’d been tempted a dozen times to call and beg off the evening’s festivities with Leah, but she could use some girl time and perhaps when she explained everything, Leah would be able to shed some light on these crazy feelings she was having for Jagger.
Leah knew what she’d been through with Ed. She knew all her secrets. Well, most of them, anyway. If anyone could help her figure things out, it would be Leah.
She arrived at seven on the dot.
“Here’s to the most fantastic artists at the Stoddard School of Art.” Leah’s earrings twinkled in their curve as she tucked her dark hair behind an ear. Both of them wore fuzzy pajama bottoms and cushy socks. Leah’s tank top said HOT emblazoned across her chest in silver sparkles. Zee’s tee-shirt was black, three sizes too big, and hung to her knees.
She smirked but raised her glass and touched its rim to Leah’s. She took a large swallow and tucked her legs underneath her. “Thanks again for picking up my stuff.”
“Not a problem. So, are you going to tell me what happened yesterday?”
Zee shifted and faced Leah. “I don’t know. Was it a full moon? Class was insane, I still haven’t heard about the fellowship, my mother and my ex are conspiring behind my back, I burned my hand…”
“Wait. Ed and your mom? That can’t be good.”
“He thinks I should marry him.”
Leah choked on her wine. “What?”
“Yesterday?” Leah croaked, then coughed.
“No, not yesterday. Before.”
“The minute I broke up with him. I told him I didn’t think we were good for each other and we needed to go our separate ways, and he asked me to marry him.”
“Why didn’t you tell me?”
“I’m sorry, I should have. But it was so ridiculous. And now, it’s like he’s obsessed with getting me back. He calls all the time, shows up at the school, here. He thinks I love him and I’m too dumb to realize it.”
Leah frowned at her. “Did you ever?”
“I thought I did. Can I help it if I wanted what you and Ted have? You guys are so in love. You’re perfect together. I wanted that, too.” Zee stared into her wine.
“But Ted’s a pussy cat compared to Prince Charmless.”
“I thought he cared about me, but now I know it’s just a power trip with him.”
“Leah popped a chocolate into her mouth. “He’s so creepy. I’ll be glad when he’s gone for good.”
Zee sighed. “You’re right. I know you are. But in my defense, he
gentle and warm in the beginning.”
Leah struggled to talk with her mouth full of chocolate. “So’s a bikini wax…until ripppppppp.”
Struggling to swallow, Zee laughed. “You almost made me shoot wine out my nose!”
“You’re welcome.” Leah sat back and licked her fingers. “Let’s talk about Jagger.”
Zee choked again. “That’s another thing.” She shook her head.
“Oh. There’s a thing, now? Something else you’ve neglected to tell your best friend?”
“No. It’s nothing.” Zee refilled their glasses, gathered up their crumpled napkins and stood. Leah’s hand on her arm stopped her from heading to the kitchen.
“Quit stalling. Spill it.”
Zee sat back down. “This may be a bit difficult to explain.” She neatened the chocolates on the plate. Their rich brown color reminded her of Jagger’s eyes. How could she explain something she didn’t understand herself?
Leah nudged her with an elbow. “Try me.”
“Well… At first, I was really annoyed by the whole class getting dolled up for him.” Zee refused to say the word jealous even though she knew it was the green ugly truth. “I mean, yes, he’s attractive. I’ll admit that.”
“Come on. The man’s chiseled from a block of 100% pure sex.”
“Do you think of nothing else?”
“Try not to.” Leah tipped one shoulder and gave Zee a sassy pose. “Admit it, he’s stunning.”
Leah snorted at her.
“Fine, yes, he’s…” Zee ran through the list in her mind.
Stunning, gorgeous, spectacular, magnificent…
Leah snorted again. “Let’s not forget his really nice junk. Bare junk. Do you think he waxes? Talk about ouch.”
“I have no idea.”
“I asked Ted if he’d ever consider going bare and he looked at me like I’d asked him to shoot the dog. I told him it makes everything down there look bigger. He wasn’t buying it. But God, it’s so freakin’ hot.”
Zee’s thighs twitched. Damn right it was hot. She wondered how Jagger would feel…down under. She pictured him. Her. Touching him.
Oh dear God!
Zee felt herself go damp. She took a gulp of wine.
“Could we get back to my original point before we get side tracked by his-his…”
“Lucky charms?” Leah’s eyebrows did their little dance. “I’m sorry, you were saying?”
“Well, maybe it was the moon, but something weird happened to me.”
Zee chewed at her lip. “I started to draw full figure, and then Jagger turned his head and his face was so… so beautiful. The light hit him just perfect. He practically glowed. When I started drawing his face, it was like I stepped into a dream or something. It was so strange. It felt like I was actually touching him.”
“Well, that explains the drawing. It was divinely inspired.” Zee shook her head and looked at her hands. Leah continued, “Your work is always good, but that head shot was a-maze-zing. It’s one of the best pieces I’ve seen you do.”
Leah drew in a quick gasp. “I knew it! Jagger is your
“He is not!” Zee snatched the discarded napkins and stood up.
“I don’t want Jagger to be my muse, or anything else for that matter.”
Zee checked her pants for smoke.
Leah picked up another chocolate and nibbled at it. “That’s too bad. I think Jagger might have other ideas.” She licked her fingers and gave Zee a side glance.
“What are you talking about?”
“Me? Nothing. Just talking.”
Zee sat back down with her hands full of spent napkins. “Tell me.”
“Jagger and I had a little chat after class yesterday. Correction, after he chased me down in the parking lot to ask me about
“Yep.” She gave Zee a smug smirk. “He wanted to know if you were sick. Said he saw you leave and wanted to make sure you were okay.” Leah sat back with her wine. “And, I might add, this was right after Jessica and Emily practically drooled all over him. They cornered him as I was leaving. I got to the truck, pushed everything into the back and before I could get behind the wheel, Jagger was jogging up to talk to me. Bet Jessica is still fuming. She’s got the serious hots for Jonesie. But seems he only has eyes for you.”
“You don’t know that.” Zee’s stomach did a little skip.
“I know when a man is interested.” Leah licked her fingers. “He’s interested.” She gave Zee a knowing look. “And it doesn’t take a crystal ball to see you’re interested, too.
Monday morning arrived and Zee was back in class. She’d tried all weekend to put her feelings for Jagger into neat little compartments. So maybe Leah was right and Jagger was interested. And, okay, if she was being honest, so was she. But, while the thought of Jagger and her getting together might be appealing on one level, the practical side of Zee knew it was a match doomed from the beginning. He’d be her rebound guy, and that never worked. And he was probably used to women who weren’t fumbling train wrecks in bed.
Besides, she’d received an email first thing this morning telling her that the Meade Fellowship review committee would be visiting her the first week of June. It gave her some breathing room, but now was not the time to lose her focus. There were only a few more weeks of Jagger’s session, and Zee needed to keep her mind on her work regardless of how interested she might be.
Thankfully, she wasn’t the only one to regain their senses. Things around her seemed back to normal this morning. Madeline’s perfume was at an acceptable level. No one was wearing miniskirts or stilettos. Jessica, however, looked a bit hung over.
Zee was busy setting her palette, but couldn’t find her brush roll. She’d packed it. It must still be in the car. She checked her watch and said to Leah, “I’ll be right back.”