I’ll show her who her daddy is.
When daddy’s little girl comes into my repair shop begging for help, I agree.
I don’t want her money.
I want her.
The pretty little girl will pay off her debts… but she’ll have to get her hands a little dirty.
A standalone novel in the Hard n’ Dirty series
I pull out my compact mirror and purse my lips, checking my makeup. Hair is in place, too-short dress wrinkle-free, just enough cleavage showing.
Eyes ready to go all puppy dog when the time is right.
I’ve spent two sleepless nights perusing the web, trying to find a classic car repair shop that could do what I need them to. This place, thank God only a short drive from my home in Manhattan, fits the bill. Reviewers say it’s excellent, and they turn out top-quality work. The only bad reviews mention the repair shop owner and the shop itself. They say he’s grumpy and irritable, and other reviews say the shop needs a good, thorough clean. So I’ve prepared myself: bottle of instant hand sanitizer in my purse, check. Black dress that won’t show any stains if I come into contact with anything in the shop, check. Perfect smile in place so I can charm the grumpy owner, check.
My hands are sweaty, my stomach in knots. I’ve never done anything like this in my life. Hell, I hardly even know how to park. I’m used to valets and escorts and rarely have to do something so… normal… as driving to a repair shop and parking my car. Yeah, maybe I’ve been a little sheltered.
It isn’t the newness of the experience that makes me nervous, but how desperate I am for them to say yes, they’ll help me.
I inhale deeply. Stand up tall. Exude confidence and aplomb, my mom told me. Appearances are everything. As soon as I could walk on two legs, she began teaching me how to walk with my shoulders pulled back, my spine straightened, like we were in some sort of marching band. I learned, though. How to walk with dignity, dress with pride, and present myself as Tanya Hayes, Daughter of Raymond and Sasha Hayes. Heiress to the Hayes Family Automotives Legacy.
I was kept out of the public eye as a child, hidden from the publicity and attention my father and mother received . The little princess. So fortunately, when I go about my business, people rarely know who I am. I’m not easily recognizable.
I’m hoping that’s the case today. Hell, everything’s sort of banking on it.
I grit my teeth as I walk on these killer heels to my destination. I see the shop from a distance, and recognize it immediately from the pictures I saw online. Gleaming chrome accents the window frames, enormous picture windows displaying a beautiful car in candy-apple red. It’s all a little like I’ve stepped back in time, to a simpler place, like if I push open the doors to that shop I’ll be able to sit on a stool and order a drink from an old-fashioned soda fountain.
The cars are all lined up, and these are not the little beaters and rusty, ancient things I saw at some other shops. These are the real deals. Mint condition. Exclusive. Gorgeous.
I have no idea what most of the names for the cars are. I don’t care what the names are. All I care about is finding someone who can help me.
I push open the door and enter, forgetting my plan on being all put-together and professional. I can’t help but wrinkle up my nose when the pungent scent of oil and grease fills my senses. It’s pretty from the outside, but the reviews were right. The inside of this place needs some serious attention.
It’s vacant in here, and I look around for some sort of bell or something I can ring to get someone’s attention, but there’s nothing. Against one wall is a glass display of books that catches my attention. Curious, I walk over and look at the titles. They’re vintage covers featuring classic cars, but half of them look like pin-up posters with half-naked women gracing the cover. Interesting.
Another display case to the left houses miniature replicas of classic cars. I have to admit, they’re beautiful. Canary yellow, robin’s egg blue, and cherry red, black and silver with gleaming windshields. And the attention to detail astounds me. They’re not behind the glass like the books, so I reach out and run a finger along one edge. As soon as my finger glides along the edge of a pretty black racecar, a door jangles open and I nearly jump out of my skin. I feel like a kid caught red-handed with her hand in the cookie jar. Something tells me I’m not supposed to touch these little cars. I swivel around and put my hands behind my back like I’m totally innocent. I’m not expecting what I see.
Behind me is a guy wiping his hands on a dirty rag. He stands behind the desk, but he’s so tall and broad I can see him clearly. He’s got dark brown, longish hair slicked back, and a thick, dark beard. He’s wearing a short-sleeved black t-shirt that stretches tight against his chest, revealing muscled arms completely covered in tattoos. I don’t want to stare, so I only look quickly. There are skulls and flowers, the flowers being the only color in a sea of black. His eyes pierce me in place with a stern but curious look, and an instant throb pulses low in my belly.
My pulse quickens. He’s got an immediate vibe of danger. My breath catches.
He’s not my type. He’s so not my type.
Then why do I feel all nervous and lightheaded? Why are my palms sweaty? My heart tip-taps a crazy beat.
“Hi,” I say as cheerfully as I can, swallowing hard. “I’m looking for the owner of this shop.” This has to be one of the guys who works for him. This man doesn’t look like the crotchety owner described in those reviews online. The owner has to be old and gray and grumpy.
The man finishes wiping his hands and places the rag on the top. “Alright,” he says. His voice is deep and growly like he gargles with whiskey and cigarettes, but his eyes twinkle a little. “When I fetch him, who do I say’s askin’ for him?”
“I—please tell him—Felicia is here,” I stammer, totally unprepared for this. My voice sounds weirdly high-pitched and squeaky because I’m a terrible liar, but he can’t know my real name. He cocks a brow at me that’s more than curious. There’s an undercurrent of correction in it that makes my throat tighten. He knows. God, I’m awful at lying.
“Got it,” he says, his eyes shuttering. I must’ve imagined a spark of friendliness there. His jaw clenches and his lip thin as he pushes the rag on the counter and goes into the shop. I gasp for a breath I didn’t even know I was holding. The door jangles with a bell and shuts behind him with an ominous click.
The minutes tick by. Where the hell is he? I glance nervously at my phone, but it doesn’t give me any answers. Did I make a mistake coming here? God. I straighten out my skirt and look longingly at the line-up of the replicas. I want to touch them again.
Seconds turn into minutes. Easily ten minutes later, the door to the shop opens, and the same guy walks in. I look at him quizzically. Where’s the owner? I’m growing impatient now. I have things to do, and this is a waste of my time. He walks over to me and extends his hand. What the hell? I stare and finally take his hand. It’s rough, large, and warm. I swallow hard.
“Nice to meet you, Felicia,” he says, though his voice is rough and tight. He’s anything but pleased to meet me, and that gets my hackles up. Has he already judged me?
“What brings you here?” he asks.
“I was hoping to meet the owner,” I say through tight lips. “I need to speak to him regarding a very important matter. Crucial, really, and extremely time-sensitive.”
He releases my hand to cross his arms on his chest, making his biceps bulge. I swear to God the skull tattoo is glaring right at me, like some sort of omen. Is that why he has it? I blink and try to keep calm.
“Name’s Levi DeRocco,” he says, his voice rough like sandpaper. “I’m the shop owner. Now I’m going to ask you one final time, what brings you here?” I quake at the tone of his voice, my errand making me nervous as hell. One final time?
God I should’ve known he was the owner. Then why did the reviews online mention years of experience?
“I… I need some work done on a car,” I stammer. “It’s…very important I get this work done, discreetly and promptly.”
He quirks a brow, frowning.
“Discreetly?” he barks out.
I jump, then nod dumbly.
I squirm uncomfortably under his glare. I’m not used to being scrutinized like this, and I want to leave. It was a mistake giving him a fake name. He saw right through me.
“Your car?” he asks.
Shit. I need to get this over with and get the hell out of here. “No, actually,” I say. “My…father’s.” I’m stammering like a bumbling teenager. “I was out with my…boyfriend, um, ex-boyfriend,” I amend, because I so dumped his ass, “and we had a bit of an accident. The car is in a garage and needs to be towed.
“Let me get this straight,” he says, in a voice that’s almost like some kind of animalistic growl. If lions talked, they would sound like this. God, I was stupid. This guy definitely was the grumpy owner all the reviews talk about, and here I was thinking he maybe was friendly. “It’s your father’s car. Your boyfriend totaled it. And you’re in here…why?”
“To have it fixed before my father gets back,” I explain. It’s a lot to explain, and do I even need to? “Listen,” I say, my temper rising. “Can you just tell me already if you can fix it? I don’t want to get into a lot of explanations and stuff. If you can’t do the job, I need to find someone else.”
A corner of his lips tips up. “Someone else? What kinda car is it?”
My stomach clenches. I practically whisper, “It’s a 1967 Chevrolet Corvette Convertible.”
He swears. “An L88?”
I whimper. “Yes.”
“Honey,” he says with a patronizing smile, “the next mechanic that knows the ins and outs of a 67 Chevy Corvette is 300 miles from here and booked solid until January. That car’s worth a cool two mil. You know that?”
My heart sinks. Is he joking? But no. Reviews online say this shop is worth dealing with the owner, because he knows his shit and he’s literally the only one around here who does. I take in a deep breath and let it out again. “So you’ll do it?”
The smile leaves his eyes. “I didn’t say that.” He leans over the counter. “First, tell me what the damage is.”
With trembling hands, I take out my phone and pull up the pictures. He lets out a low whistle that tatters my already-frayed nerves. I want to cry. Instead, I stifle a whimper.
The rearview mirror is smashed, the windshield cracked right down the center, and the passenger door is bent beyond recognition. The bumper dangles crazily like a maniacal loose tooth.
He runs rough fingers over his beard and pulls, then his glacial stare swings back to me. “How the fuck did you do this to such a beautiful car?”
“I didn’t do it,” I snap. Didn’t he listen at all? “My stupid boyfriend— ex boyfriend did it.”
He shakes his head. “You were with him, you let him use the car, this is on you, babe.” I blink. He might be the one with the power here, and I’m definitely screwed, but is it cool to call a potential customer babe?
He carries on. “And where’s this ex now?” he asks. “Hope you dumped his ass. Jesus Christ, only dumb fuckin’ morons damage a beauty like that.”
I’m at my wit’s end. I don’t even like my ex anymore, but this guy’s swift, and very clearly crass judgment, sets me off. No one talks to me this way. Hell, even my tutors and nannies have treated me with respect. Who the hell is this guy?
In my world, a bit of temper often gets you your way, so I haven’t even tried to quell it. And I can’t always help my temper. It might be a stupid move I’ll regret, but it’s too late.
I slam my hand down on the counter. “I’m not here to talk about my boy — argh, ex-boyfriend! I want to know, can you fix this car, how long it will take, and what you’ll charge? Please.”
He places my phone down on the counter with slow, deliberate patience, his eyes on mine, and crosses those huge, scary arms over his muscled chest, fixing me with a stern glare that is completely unfamiliar to me. No one looks at Tanya Hayes that way. I swallow and take an involuntary step back from him.
He turns away from the desk and without a word, walks over to the shop door and flips a deadbolt into place.
Still without speaking, he goes to the front door and flips a second deadbolt.
Then he takes the Open sign and switches it around to show Closed.
Oh God. What’s he going to do? Is he going to hurt me? Who the hell is he? I reach for my cell phone and don’t know I’m going to do with it, but my hands are trembling so it clatters to the floor. I cringe, bend down to get it, but Levi gets it before I do. Our hands touch, and a zing of electricity skirts up my arm. I blink in surprise, and for a moment I wonder if he’s pocketing my phone so I can’t call for help before he abducts me or something, but he gives me the phone and I stagger backward.
Scowling, he stalks over to the leather loveseat that sits against one wall with a stack of magazines featuring classic cars on the coffee table in front, and crooks a finger at me. I blink. Without a word, he points to the seat next to him.
What choice do I have?
Groaning inwardly and shaking like a goddamned leaf, I go to him.