He slid her a sideways look, and she laughed at him. No one ever laughed at him, he realized. Well, except for Matt, and Matt didn’t look cute while doing it either.
“I’m serious,” Mallory said, still smiling. “You don’t think so?”
It was dirty, grimy, stuffy…and yeah. Peaceful. “I’m just surprised you think so.”
“You don’t think I can enjoy getting dirty once in awhile?” She bit her lower lip and laughed. “Okay, you know what I mean.”
“Yeah. Here—” She wasn’t able to put enough muscle into bending the line so he put his hands over hers and guided her. “Unravel another foot or so.”
“’kay.” She frowned, eyeing the space. “How long is that?”
“Like nine inches. I need twelve.” He paused. “Twelve inches would be great.”
He felt her gaze, and he did his best to look innocent, but she didn’t buy it. “What the hell would you do with twelve inches?” she wanted to know.
He waggled a brow. “Plenty.”
She shook her head. “Like you aren’t lethal enough with what you have,” she said, making him laugh.
They worked the brake line in companionable silence for a few moments, but Mallory didn’t do silence all that well. “What do you think about under here?” she asked. “Besides your…inches?”
He smiled, but the truth was, he usually tried like hell not to think at all. “Sometimes I think about my dad.”
“He was a Navy mechanic, too, right? He taught you all this stuff?”
Ty’s dad had been a mechanic in the Navy, but not Ty. Yet correcting the misconception now, telling her that he’d once been a SEAL medic, wasn’t something he wanted to get into. It was far easier to deny that part of himself rather than revisit it. “My dad didn’t want me to learn mechanics, actually. He wanted more for me. I think he hoped that if he kept me away from anything mechanical, I’d become a lawyer or something like that.”
“And when I was fourteen, he bought a Pontiac GTO.” He smiled at the memory. “A ’67. God, she was sweet.”
“She?” Mallory teased, turning her face to his. She was so close he reached out and stroked a rogue strand of hair from her temple, tucking it behind her ear.
“Yeah, she,” he said. “Cars are always a she. And do you want to hear this story or not?”
“Very much.” She nudged her shoulder to his. “Every single detail.”
“I took apart the engine.”
“Oh my God,” she said on a shocked laugh. “Was he mad?”
“It was a classic, and it was in mint condition. Mad doesn’t even begin to cover what he was.”
She stared at him, eyes wide. “Why did you do it?”
He shrugged. “I couldn’t help myself. I liked to take things apart and then put them back together again. Only I couldn’t. I had no idea what I was doing.” Ty could still remember the look on his father’s face: utter and complete shock at the empty engine compartment, horror that his baby had been breached and violated, and then sheer fury. “I can still feel the sweat trickling down the back of my spine,” he said, shaking his head. “I hadn’t meant to take it so far. I’d just kept undoing and undoing…”
“I was pretty sure he’d kick my ass.”
She gasped. “He beat you?”
“Nah, he never laid a hand on me.” Ty felt a smile curve his mouth. “Didn’t have to. He was one scary son of a bitch. He’d talk in this low, authoritative voice that dared you to defy him. No one ever did that I know of.”
She was grinning wide, and he shook his head at her. “What’s so funny?”
“You,” she said. “You’re so big and bad. It’s hard to imagine you scared of anything.” She touched his jaw, cupping it in her palm and lightly running her thumb over his skin.
He hadn’t shaved that morning, and he could hear the rasp of his stubble against the pad of her thumb. As she touched him, he watched the flecks in her eyes heat like gold.
“I like being under a car with you,” she said.
Working on cars was his escape. Beneath a hood or a chassis was familiar ground, no matter what part of the world he was in or where he lay his head at night. It was his constant. A buffer from the shit.
And Mallory was a single-woman destruction crew, outmaneuvering him, letting herself right into his safety zone, and then into his damn heart while she was at it. Because no matter what bullshit he fed himself, he liked being here with her, too.
“You ever going to tell me what you are scared of?” she asked.
He let out a short laugh. “Plenty,” he assured her.
Her eyes softened, and she slid her hand into the hair at the back of his neck, fisting lightly, bringing him a full-body shiver of pure pleasure.
“Such as?” she asked.
You, he nearly said.
And it would be God’s truth.
“I’m afraid of not living,” he said. He rolled out from beneath the Shelby, then crouched beside Mallory’s creeper, putting his hands on her ankles to yank her out, too.
Sitting up, she pushed her hair back and met his gaze. “Don’t worry, Ty. I know.”
“You know what?”
“That this isn’t your real life, that you’re just killing time with me until—”
He put his finger over her lips. “Mal—”
“No, it’s okay,” she said around his finger, wrapping her hand around his wrist. “You’re not the small-town type. I know it.”
And yet here he was. Free to go, but still here.
“Are we done working on the car?” she asked.
“Yeah.” Her legs seemed endless in those jeans and fuck-me heels. “We’re done working on the car.”
“So I can teach you something about my work now?”
He took in her small but sexy smile and felt himself go hard. “What did you have in mind?”
“Ever play doctor?”
There is nothing better than a good friend, except maybe a good friend with chocolate.
The next morning, Mallory woke to a disgruntled meow. It was Sweet Pea, letting the world know it was past time for breakfast.
When Mallory ignored this, the cat batted her on the forehead with a paw.
“Shh,” Mallory said.
Mallory stretched, her body sore. She hadn’t been to the gym since her membership had expired a year ago, which left only one thing to attribute the soreness to.
Ty, and his own special brand of workout.
She sighed blissfully and rolled over. She hadn’t gotten home until late. Or early, depending on how you looked at it. She’d have liked to stay at Ty’s all night but that would have been too much.
Not for her. For him.
She’d promised him that this was a simple fling. No use in telling him she’d broken that promise. Besides, she was pretty sure he was more than just physically attracted to her as well, but she wasn’t sure if he knew it.
She loved being with him. That was the bottom line. The only line. There were no preconceived notions on how she should behave. It was freeing, exhilarating.
And also unsettling. She was in the big girls’ sandbox when she played with Ty, and she was going to get hurt. There was nothing she could do about that so she showered. When she went to the closet for her white athletic shoes, she sniffed, then wrinkled her nose. “Oh no, you didn’t,” she said to Sweet Pea.
Sweet Pea was in the middle of the bed, daintily washing her face. She had no comment.
“You poo’d in my shoe?”
Sweet Pea gave her a look that said “see if you come home that late again” and continued with her grooming.
“Two words,” Mallory told the cat. “Glue. Factory.”
Sweet Pea didn’t look worried, and with good reason. It was an empty threat, and they both knew it. Mallory cleaned up the mess, thankful Sweet Pea hadn’t used her bad girl shoes. She flashed to Ty tossing her onto his bed in the shoes and nothing else…Yeah. She was going to bronze those suckers.
She grabbed her phone off her nightstand and headed out her front door to get to work.
Joe was in her driveway, head under her opened hood. “Hey,” he said. “Who did your alternator?”
“No one. What are you doing? You said you were busy.”
“And now I’m not. I picked up a new alternator for you this morning, but someone beat me to it.”
“What?” She stepped off the front porch and took a peek at the thing he was pointing out, the one shiny, clean part in the whole car.
“See?” Joe said. “Brand new alternator. Maybe it was Garrison.”
“Why would you think that?”
“Because he helped this guy…Ryan, I think…get a job at the welding shop. And Ryan told me you’re seeing Garrison.”
Ty had gotten Ryan a job. Everything in her softened at the thought of Ty caring that much, and she wondered if it was too soon to go back over there. She’d wear her heels again. And maybe a trench coat and nothing else…
“Hello,” Joe said, irritated.
“Are you seeing Garrison or not? Would he have done this for you?”
Mallory flashed back to finding Ty in her driveway in the middle of the night. She’d never questioned what he’d been doing here, figuring it had been about sex. She hadn’t minded that; she’d wanted him, too, but she got a little warm fuzzy that it hadn’t been about just sex.
She had no explanation for last night, which had been all her own doing. She’d have to tell Amy that she was right: bad girl shoes were awesome. Amy loved to be right.