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Hard to Break
By Bella Jewel
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2015 Bella Jewel
All rights reserved.
"Good morning, Dad," I say, heading into the kitchen the next morning.
My father is sitting on the couch still, his head bowed, a cup of joe in his hands. He looks up when I come in and I wince. Once, a long time ago, my dad was an exceptionally handsome man with his golden hair and bright blue eyes. He had a big frame and was all muscle. Now he's frail and weak, his hair is dull and his eyes ... they're empty.
"Morning, sugar," he rasps. "I'm, ah, sorry 'bout last night."
He says this every time that happens.
"No biggie," I say in my best chipper voice, pouring a coffee. "Are you coming into the garage today?"
He frowns. "I would, but my stomach ... it's not so good. Maybe tomorrow."
He says that every time, too.
I gather my keys and carry my coffee to the front door. As I pass him, my dad reaches out and curls his hand around my wrist. "I'm sorry, Quinnie ... I'll try to be better."
I look down into his empty blue eyes and I wish I could believe that, I really do. There's a pain etched deep in my chest, and it's one I live with on a daily basis. There is pain for the loss of my mom. There is pain because my dad is so broken. And there is a deep pain knowing that my family is no longer beautiful like it once was. I don't resent my dad for being this way, but I can't accept it either. I've tried to understand, but I guess since I've never had a love like theirs, it is beyond me.
I pat his shoulder and pull my wrist from his. "Okay, Dad. Later."
I rush out the front door and get into my old, restored, baby blue Mustang with white leather interior. It's the only thing I cherish in my life. It is important to me because when my dad was sober, and my mom was alive, we fixed this car up together. It's the only piece of the old him I have left, so I hang onto it with both hands, cherishing the memories it holds for me. My dad taught me everything I know about cars and how to restore them. I've never loved anything as much as I love being under the hood of a car. Strange, I know, but it takes me back to a place where happiness was like a bubble surrounding me.
It was hard growing up being a tomboy. I had the looks to be a girly girl, but I never used them. I loved being around the guys, and I loved being with my dad. During my high school years, I got a good deal of taunts thrown my way, because I was different from the rest. I still recall the memory when I told Dad I wanted to be a mechanic — the very thought makes me smile.
"You want to be what?" he asks, his eyes wide.
"I want to be a mechanic," I say proudly. "Like you, Daddy."
He blinks. "Baby, you're a girl."
I stare at him, shocked. "And?"
He shakes his head. "Shouldn't you want to, I don't know, wear dresses and paint your nails?"
"Not all girls do those things, Dad."
He laughs. "No ... but ... honey, I don't think it's the right profession for you. It's a world of males and ... well ... male things."
I straighten. "You don't think I can handle that, because I'm a girl? That isn't enough of an excuse, Daddy. I've been under those cars since I was big enough to do so, and you know it. Don't be like the rest of them, don't make me feel stupid for pursuing something that isn't necessarily feminine."
My dad's face softens. "Baby," he says gently. "I'm damned proud when I watch you under a car, I just want you to do what's right for you. If this is it, then Quinn, I'm over the moon. You know you've been my little sidekick since you were little. I'd love nothing more than to be able to expand your knowledge."
I beam and throw myself into his arms. "Are you saying I can work for you?"
He chuckles, squeezing me tightly. "After you talk to your mother about it."
I come back to the here and now, with a smile on my face. My dad never had a chance of stopping me. I was born to be under cars and once he convinced my mother of this, I never left the garage. With a smile, I back out and drive to work.
The garage my dad owns, and has owned since I was born, is only about twenty minutes away from home. There are five of us that work there. Jace, Lenny, Oscar, Matty and myself. These guys are the only reason I keep fighting as hard as I do, because there are so many times when giving up would be so much easier. They've been in my life for a solid five years now, and if it wasn't for them, I would have never been able to hold the garage together. During this time, I've managed to bond with them all. They've become the only family I know.
Jace is my closest friend out of the four guys. He's two years older than me and an amazing mechanic. He's got a skill under the hood that not many people have. He's also a playboy at heart. He has more women than underwear, but I have a friendship with him that is just that, friendship. There is, and never has been, anything sexual between us, even though he's handsome, he's funny and he makes me smile.
Lenny and Oscar are the oldest of the group. Lenny is fifty and Oscar is fifty-eight. Both are friends of my father's and so therefore, are like second and third fathers to me. They're loyal to him and they do amazing work. Lenny has serious talent when it comes to fixing the bodies on cars. He has a way of making them look better when they leave than when they came in. Oscar is an old-school mechanic, and people love him for that very reason. The garage just wouldn't be the same without them.
Matty is our newest member, and he's only twenty but is blossoming into a great mechanic with every passing day. He's training under us, so he also studies as well as puts in hours at the garage. He's good with his hands, but most importantly, he's got an eye for the smaller things. The things we often miss. He's smart as hell, and he's taken in every single thing he's learned in his time with us.
I arrive at the garage and pull my car into the reserved spot that's always been mine. I throw my booted feet out and then slide my body out at the same time slamming the door behind me. I'm always first to arrive and last to leave. But it's not just because I love this place. I help out with the cars, but I also have paperwork coming out of my ass on top of it. I don't mind, though. There's a certain peace this place brings me, and being here gives me stability. I'd be lost without it.
I walk towards the large, two-bay garage with Pixie Wheels written in bright blue across the top of the old, steel colored walls. My mom used to call me Pixie when I was little so Dad made sure to include it into the name when they started this business. I've never had the heart to change it. My parents had so many happy years in this place, and I think it's part of the reason I hang onto it so tightly. It's the only happy memories I have left.
I open the door that leads into the office from the workshop, and step inside. There are two offices in the front left-hand corner of the garage, one that has a reception desk and files, and another that has a computer and phone, as well as a crap load of tools and boxes stacked against the wall. The second is where I lock myself away to do most of my work. Matty rotates his time between the garage and reception, because we can't afford a receptionist right now. I had to install a phone in the workshop so we could take calls out there.
I drop my phone down onto the reception desk and flick on the lights. I open the door leading out to the garage and see we have four cars still needing to be pushed through before we can take on any more today. The locals around here know the business, know me and know my story, so they are loyal and always bring their cars in to us, even still, when you're so far behind, business has to be better than that to stay afloat.
I sit at the desk booting up the computer and hoping to get through some invoicing before the guys start in two hours. I have a lot to do and it's the only time we're quiet enough for me to be able to do anything without interruption. I manage to pore through fifty invoices before Lenny sticks his head in the door, his deep brown eyes softening when he sees me.
"Hey, Lenny." I smile, standing.
He studies me and his expression becomes grim. I know he can see that I'm exhausted, hell, I can see that I'm exhausted. I avoided looking in the mirror this morning because I knew that I'd see what resembled a run-over, beaten-up clown looking back at me. I don't have time for a reminder of what I already know.
Lenny steps through the door, his tall frame taking up most of it. Even in his fifties, Lenny is strong and fit. His hair is more pepper than salt still, giving him that rugged, older hot guy look. I bet the old ducks go nuts over him. That thought makes me scrunch my nose up. Nobody wants to think about old people going at it. Great way to start the morning.
"Rob give you trouble again last night?" he asks as I try to step around him.
I wave a hand. "Nope, I look like a clown because I was out raging all night."
He gives me a bitter expression. He doesn't like my humor. He's too caring. He doesn't understand that my humor is all I have left.
He reaches out and takes my shoulders in his big hands, looking down at me, his expression dark. "Quinnie, you're exhausted. You've got huge circles under your eyes. You look like shit. Don't lie to me, honey."
I frown, he can see right through me. "He got drunk, made a mess, it was fine."
Lenny shakes his head and his jaw goes tight. "Goin' to have a word with him again this afternoon."
"What's the point, Len?" I throw my hands up. "We've all tried and let's face it, he doesn't listen. He'll never listen."
"You're running yourself into the ground."
He's telling me nothing I don't already know.
"Don't worry, I'm made of steel."
"Lenny, I'll be fine," I say in a firm tone, stepping past him.
I enter the garage just as Jace, Oscar and Matty come in. They're always on time, each and every one of them. I'm grateful for that. Jace strides over, wearing his favorite pair of coveralls, which believe me, do not take away from his masculinity one tiny bit. He wraps an arm around my shoulder and plants a loud, smacking kiss to my forehead. "Mornin', sunshine, you look like crap."
I smile. "Thanks, and you look like farmer Joe."
He steps back, hooking his thumbs through his coveralls and grins. "You like?"
"Not even a little bit. Better not let your ladies see you in those, you'll go from hot to ... well ... not."
This is a lie. Women would probably throw themselves at his feet if they got a look at him in those coveralls with his long dark hair curling at his neckline and those bright blue eyes twinkling with mischief. Farmer Joe, eat your heart out.
"I always knew you thought I was hot."
His grin gets bigger. I roll my eyes.
"How you got that out of what I said is far, far beyond me."
"Morning, Quinnie," Oscar says, winking at me. With his salt-and-pepper hair, he's far more worn-out looking than Lenny, but he's got the sweetest green eyes. "You do look like shit."
"Come on, guys," I protest. "You're killing me here. Can one of you tell me my hair looks totally rad? Please? Hell, just lie to me and we'll be cool."
"You look like a sweet sugar pie," Matty says in his Texan drawl, which I absolutely adore.
"Now you nearly made that believable." I grin.
He chuckles. Matty has only been in Florida for the last four years, before that he was a Texan boy through and through. He's going to be handsome as all hell when he fills out from that young man to an older, more mature man. He's got sandy blond hair and hazel eyes. His face is handsome, yet sweet and there are a good lot of girls who want to get their hands on him.
"What're we pulling in today?" Lenny asks, coming up behind me and resting his hands on my shoulders.
"We need to move what's already in here and then bring in as many more as we can get through before closing."
"I'm on it," Oscar says, disappearing into the office to collect the booking information schedule.
"I'll do the little sedan," I say, nodding to a red sedan that's without its tires in the corner. "Tell me what it needs."
"The alternator has shit itself," Lenny informs me. "Got all the parts ordered in and ready to go. Also got some new tires for it."
"Cool," I say. "Well, let's do this."
I disappear into the office to get my things and then head into the female bathroom to put on an old pair of faded jeans and a long-sleeved button-up shirt that's seen better days. I quickly change, rolling up the sleeves on the shirt and lifting my black hair into a high ponytail.
Then I dare to look in the mirror.
I don't like what I see.
They're all right. I look awful. My eyes, which are usually dark brown, are bloodshot and there are some serious dark rings under them. My hair, black as the night, is limp and gross. I look drawn out and tired. I splash my face with some water and slap my cheeks a few times to give them color before heading back out to get started on the day.
I slide right on over to the car that will occupy my morning and get it raised up so I can slip underneath it. I get down to work and listen to the guys chatting casually as I do. The radio is playing through some speakers that are mounted on the walls, and every now and then one of the guys will laugh loudly, which always brings a smile to my face. They're a dream to work with.
I finish the red car in about two hours and move on to replacing a few batteries and doing a few general services on some others that come in. Then I get to work helping Lenny fix the body of a car that has been in a serious accident. It's not easy when there's so much damage, but I do love replacing old parts with the new. It seems to give the cars a fresh vibe that most people are happy to drive away with.
"Yo, Quinn!" Jace calls just after lunch, when I'm head deep in the engine of an old Ford that sounds like it's about to fall to pieces.
"Yeah?" I call.
"Call for you."
Why must people be so needy?
I push up to my feet and walk into the reception area, lifting the phone. "Hello?" I say in my best chipper voice.
"Hello, Quinn, my name is Wesley. I'm calling about my car."
I sit down, crossing my legs. "Sure Wesley, what's the problem?"
"Well, Betty seems to be smoking quite a bit."
I blink. Betty?
"Right." I fight back a giggle. "And has Betty been doing this a lot?"
"No," he says. "Well ... she's quite old. I've had her since I was just a teen, so it's been a long time."
Sounds like Betty is trying to blow herself up. I wouldn't blame her.
"Has, ah, Betty been regularly serviced?"
He snorts. "Of course, she's my pride and joy."
"Okay, listen, Wesley, it sounds like I might need to take a look at her. Smoke from the engine is never a good thing. Don't worry, we'll lead her away from the edge."
Wesley is silent. "Do you think she's on her way out and is trying to tell me something?"
"I think so, Wesley. But we'll see what we can do."
"I'll bring her right down!"
He hangs up the phone before I can even say good-bye. I shake my head with a smirk on my face when the bell above the door rings, indicating someone has just entered the office. I turn and my mouth drops clean open as I take in who just walked into my garage. I must be seeing things, because there is no way in hell I am actually seeing who I am seeing. It can't be right. I blink a few times, I'm pretty sure I even rub my eyes. No way. It can't be.
Tazen freaking Watts.
He's only a world-famous custom car builder. Everyone in Florida, the States and probably the entire world knows who Tazen Watts is. He has been building cars since before he was eighteen and is now well-known for his television show Hot Fury, where he is filmed building some truly amazing cars. Some of the best racers in the world have cars from him. He's ... epic. He's not only built cars for racing, he's also built customs for millionaires, celebrities and even for charity auctions. I've seen him on television, watched him, swooned over him like every other hot-blooded female in the world.
He was my idol when I was younger, I spent hours watching his show. He inspired me to keep following my dreams, even when I wasn't sure this was the right place for me. Seeing the way he created such beauty, made me determined to one day build another car for myself.
And he's in my garage.
Wait, why is he in my garage?
"Morning there, little angel," he purrs, letting his eyes travel over my body.
I shudder. He just checked me out. Oh my lord, Tazen Watts just checked me out.
I changed into my coveralls earlier, when the job got a little more greasy, so I have them down, tied around my waist so he is getting a full view of my tank top–covered breasts and nothing more. I don't like bras when I'm working. My breasts don't agree with me on this poor choice, but they don't get a say in the matter.
"Ah," I say in a weak voice, and I know my eyes are wide and shocked. "C-c-c-can I help you?"
Great, just pretend you don't know him. It's better that way.
There's a good chance I'm going to pass out.
Excerpted from Hard to Break by Bella Jewel. Copyright © 2015 Bella Jewel. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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