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By Daire St. Denis, Liz Pelletier, Candace Havens
Entangled Publishing, LLCCopyright © 2014 Daire St. Denis
All rights reserved.
That good-for-nothing cheat!
Sass Hogan reeled between the cars of the packed parking lot of the Snake Pit Saloon, her head buzzing with a swarm of angry bees, stabs of heat stinging her chest. All she'd wanted was a beer and a game of pool, was that too much to ask? It was Saturday night after all, and sort of her birthday — not that she'd told anyone.
But, the minute she'd walked into the saloon, what did she find? Not a surprise party, oh no. She'd been slapped in the face by Carlos, her supposed boyfriend, dancing with Tori Double-D-Cup-Hunter, his hands on her ass, his tongue sucked halfway down her throat.
Oh God. She needed some toilet paper to wipe that barfy image from her brain. Stumbling, she leaned against the nearest car, using her sleeve to swipe the tears from her cheeks. How could this be happening ... again?
Her knees gave out, and she slid down to sit on the bumper, her head hanging between her knees. She'd trusted Carlos. He was her friend. They worked together. They'd collaborated on cars together. The other stuff — the make-out sessions and wild sex — had all come later. How could he betray her?
Sass pressed the heels of her hands into her eye sockets. Had she missed something? Were there signs that she'd been oblivious to? Rubbing slow circles against her eyes, she recalled one time in particular when she'd caught him texting at the shop and he said he wasn't. She shuddered. Had he been sexting Tori?
No! Just when she was starting to care, starting to trust, she was kicked in the gut by some lying, cheating scumbag-of-a-man-whore. Again.
What was that saying? The one about fool me once, shame on me. Fool me twice, shame on you? No, wait. That wasn't right. It was, fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.
So, what was that supposed to mean? That this was her fault? That she attracted cheating men?
No way in hell!
She pushed herself to her feet and kicked the tire of the car.
Nothing. No relief.
With a grunt, she body-checked the side, but it barely rocked on its axles. With a frustrated sniff, she wiped her eyes with the back of her arm until her blurry vision regained some clarity.
What the ...?
The car she'd been sitting on — a beautifully rebuilt '67 Mustang Fastback — came into focus. Out of all the cars in the lot, what were the chances that she'd stumble blindly into Carlos's Mustang, the one she'd helped him restore at her father's auto-body shop? She slid her hand along the glossy paint, vaguely aware of the sound of her breath, ragged and harsh. A strange sense of déjà vu settled over her as she circled the Mustang, like she'd been here before, not just emotionally, but really here, standing in the dark parking lot, touching this car, on the precipice of something that was as of yet unnamed.
Sass shook her head, the bees still swarming chaotically between her ears.
You know you want to. He deserves it.
She rubbed her palms over her eyes and tried to take a deep breath. She had to get out of there before she did something she'd regret. Like a pinball bouncing between cars, Sass lurched toward the back of the lot. Once she located the Corvette, she collapsed against the hood, hanging her head and doing her best to calm down.
She needed something. Something to make the pain stop.
Her hands shook as she fit the key into the lock and turned.
She fully intended to get into the car and drive off. She really, really did. But then she saw the tire iron. It sat in the cargo space behind her driver seat, sparkling like a magic wand, calling her name.
Sa-ass. Pick me up. Come on, Sass. You know you want to.
She reached for it, dragging the iron slowly and carefully out of the car. She held it up, testing its weight like it was a baseball bat and she was a ball player intent on hitting a home run. Sass looked around. Her vision cleared. The bees still hummed, but not so much with anger as with anticipation.
There was no one around.
Slowly, Sass edged back to the car three rows over. What she was about to do was wrong. Some part of her knew that. But there was another part — one she'd only met a few times, one that was even now clawing at her innards to get out — that insisted what she was about to do would feel right. Oh, so right.
No one saw you in the bar. The tire iron vibrated in her fierce grip. No one knows about you and Carlos anyway. Come on. Do it for all the women who've been cheated on.
With one more glance around the parking lot, Sass raised the iron above her head, took a deep breath, and swung it for all she was worth.
The windshield cracked under the force of her blow.
Oh God! The flame licks tattooed on the small of her back came to life, radiating heat and sparks to her extremities until the iron felt weightless in her grasp. The driver's side window and door caved with no effort.
Sass strode to the front of the car, glanced around and then, while the Carrie Underwood song, "Before He Cheats," ran on repeat through her brain, she swung like she held a Louisville Slugger, taking out both headlights ... pop, pop! They burst in delightful mini-explosions.
Her body vibrated with pure adrenaline as she dragged the rough end of her weapon along the passenger side, making a deep gouge in the shiny blue paint all along the car's length to the rear fender, denting the chrome hubcaps as she went. Years of pent-up emotions surged through her as she shattered both taillights, the glass tinkling as it fell to the ground.
Leaning her frame on the iron, Sass panted heavily and surveyed the damage: the dented hubcaps, scratched doors, and gouged side panels. She swallowed hard and squeezed her eyes shut as some weird choking sensation threatened to take over. But with her eyes closed all she could see was Carlos and Tori, swaying to the music.
Would he take her home or go back to her place? Maybe they'd sneak off to the Greenwood Inn.
Out of nowhere, an image of a shirtless Dex Whelan, her first love — the rat! — popped into her head. The door to his room at the Greenwood Inn was open wide enough to reveal a redhead lounging on the bed inside, smoking a cigarette. Just the thought of Dex had the power to throw Sass into a vortex of hurt and shame and she held the sides of her head, swallowing the fire of his betrayal mingled with this latest one.
First Dex, now Carlos. With a shake of her head and a grunt of anger, Sass glanced around the empty parking lot. She climbed up on the hood and started to dance, a stomping, boot-grinding jig, making sure to dig the heels of her cowboy boots into the shiny paint and white stripes. Then she lifted the iron above her head and brought it down butt first, denting the roof of the vehicle again and again and again.
"Never —" Crash!
"Ever —" Smash!
* * *
What had she done? Sass Hogan sat in her car in the parking lot of Hogan's Restoration & Body Shop Sunday morning unable to move. She checked herself in the rearview mirror and tucked a stray piece of hair beneath her headband. She blinked her mascaraed lashes and rubbed her glossy lips together. She never wore makeup and now she had some of the black gunk in her eyes. That must have been why they were stinging. That and the fact she'd gotten very little sleep.
Oh God! What had she done?
It was wrong. It was so wrong.
No, not just wrong, criminal. She was a criminal and would end up in jail. Maybe they'd make her take some of those stupid anger-management classes ... not that it wasn't probably a good idea, because holy hell, she could still feel the anger bubbling inside of her, even after all she'd done to release it. It was like last night's escapade had only spun her tires and her anger was ready to blast out onto an open stretch of road. Seriously. She had to get a grip. What on earth had possessed her?
But Sass knew what had possessed her. She hadn't planned on going to the Pit, but she'd been working in the shop late and suddenly realized it was her birthday. Not that she wanted anyone to know. Sass hated them, always had. Still, considering what day it was left her restless. Edgy. And, one of the few things that relieved her when she was feeling tense these days was a little one-on-one time with Carlos.
So she went to the Pit because that's where Carlos went every Saturday night. Now she knew why. Maybe she'd always known why.
Sass tugged up her tank top and adjusted the microscopic skirt — all stuff her friend Libby had talked her into buying a few months ago. It was a far cry from what she normally wore to the shop, but it was the kind of outfit Tori would wear, apparently the kind of outfit Carlos liked on a woman.
Ah shit. Dressing like this had seemed like a good idea in the wee hours of the morning when she'd been unable to sleep and her plan had been to come into work and confess. Hoping what? If she batted her lashes and wore something revealing, Carlos would forgive her for destroying his prized possession? Stupid. Carlos cared way more about the car than he ever cared about her.
If only she could take it back, have a redo of the last twelve hours, and just break up with Carlos, cool and controlled-like.
She played the scenario over in her head, telling Carlos they were through, maybe telling him she was bored and that's why she was ending it. She wouldn't let on what she'd seen or how upset she was.
Except, she could still feel the weight of the iron in her hands as she stared out the window. Man, it'd felt good busting up Carlos's car. The way the tire iron moved? It was like it had a life of its own, kind of like that movie about the car that comes to life, that horror movie, what was it called? Christine? Yes, that was it. The tire iron was like Christine, possessed. Trying to get Sass to help destroy those around her. The afterglow still had a hold of her, and her fingers trembled with remembered satisfaction.
Sass shook her head, dislodging the vivid memory from her mind's eye. After a deep, trembling breath, she crawled out of the car and teetered to the door as best she could in the only pair of heels she owned. She saw with relief there were no other cars parked in the lot except for all the wrecks and "projects" Buck kept for a rainy day. Once inside, she started a pot of coffee to brew. Not that she needed any. Coffee would have her bouncing off the walls. Her legs were jumpy, and her normally steady hands shook. Holy Hannah! She was as twitchy as a jumping bean on crack.
The sound of the finely tuned engine of Carlos's Mustang rumbled, getting louder as it turned into the parking lot. Lurching over to the window, she watched as the battered car rattled through the gate. The windshield was so shattered she couldn't make out Carlos's face. She could guess what expression he'd be wearing and the thought sent a chill down her spine. With her gut twisted into a knot, she leaned against the wall behind the filing cabinet, taking deep breaths, exhaling as slowly as she could manage.
The bells over the front door tinkled. "Hello?"
Sass frowned. Carlos normally used the side entrance.
"Is anyone here?"
Emerging from behind the cabinet, Sass stared in confusion at the man at the door of the shop. He was enormous and blond and seemed vaguely familiar.
"The door was open and ..." He smiled apologetically, revealing a dimple in his right cheek.
Sass stared, craning her neck to see if Carlos was standing behind the dude. Maybe he was still outside. Damn! She didn't need some stranger witnessing the scene that was going to take place in a matter of seconds. "Sorry, we're closed," she blurted without thinking it all the way through.
"Oh?" The giant scratched the back of his neck.
The movement emphasized some serious biceps muscles. Sass swallowed with difficulty and wrenched her gaze back to his face.
"A guy I met at the bar last night told me to come in today. He said he works here."
Was that why Blondie seemed familiar? Had she seen him at the bar?
"Who?" Sass asked, her voice sounding higher than normal. "Who did you talk to?"
Sass's knees buckled at the mention of Carlo's last name. She didn't get a chance to respond before the guy pointed at the sign on the door.
"It says you're open Sundays."
Nibbling on the side of her thumb, Sass said, "Yeah. Usually. But the boss, Buck Hogan, he's out of town and ..." She didn't get a chance to finish because at that moment Carlos walked in through the side entrance.
Sucking in a quick breath, Sass bolstered herself for what she had to do. It'd be best if she just got it out as quickly as possible, regardless of the jolly blond giant. She inhaled deeply and was about to spew the torrential confession she'd been planning all night ... but the words didn't come. Something was wrong.
Carlos walked toward her with his usual swagger. He took in Sass's appearance and his eyes opened wide before a slow smile spread across his face.
What the ...? He was acting like there was nothing wrong. As if his car wasn't sitting outside smashed to bits. Where was the anger? Where was the temper tantrum? What the hell was going on?
"I didn't think you'd be here today," Carlos said as his gaze swept appreciatively over her one more time.
"I-I had to come in because, ah ..." She chewed on her lip as she glanced at the Goliath standing in the entrance. For the first time she noticed his flushed cheeks and the way his hands continued to open and close by his sides as if trying to contain some unnamed emotion.
It was then that Carlos noticed the guy standing there, too. "Yo, Jordie. I have to tell you, man, she looks even worse in the light of day."
The giant closed his eyes and rubbed his temples. "Yeah. I know. Want to come out and take a closer look?"
Sass frowned. She was missing something here. Something crucial. As Carlos followed Blondie out the front door, Sass scurried to the window, almost tripping as her ankle twisted in her silly shoes. What she saw out the window made her mouth drop and she groaned as if she'd just had a tooth pulled — without anesthetic.
There were two '67 Mustang Fastbacks sitting outside. One that was destroyed, by her hand, and one that was parked, pristine as all get-out, like some evil being sent to mock her.
No! It wasn't possible!
The cars were the same make, same year, had the same dual striping down the hood. What were the chances? They were even both blue, although now that they sat side by side, she could see that one of them was Arcadian blue and the other Brittany blue. How could she have made that mistake?
Oh, God. Oh, God. Oh, God.
She'd smashed the wrong car!CHAPTER 2
Sass used every expletive in her arsenal and even made up a few as she paced across the concrete floor, wearing the little plastic heel caps down to the metal pegs. Stupid shoes.
What was she going to do? What the hell was she going to do?
Returning to the window, she stared out at her handiwork as she chewed her thumb raw. She could see the two men talking as they surveyed the damage. Moments later, Carlos broke away and walked toward the shop but Sass was glued to the window, unable to tear her eyes away from the biggest mistake of her life.
With a hand to her stomach, willing herself not to get sick, she barely registered Carlos's presence as he grabbed a clipboard from the wall, pulled a work order from the filing cabinet, and sidled up behind her. Clasping her shoulder he leaned his hips into her. Softly he whispered in her ear, "You look good, cielito."
She shrugged off his cheating hands. He always did this, tried to sneak in little touches when no one was looking. They'd agreed to keep their relationship a secret because they worked together and because of her father, Buck. But now his covert touches made her want to punch him. In the face.
He tilted his head. "What's wrong?"
She opened her mouth to confess but instead, the words, "We're done," came out in the very same cool, collected voice she'd imagined minutes ago.
"Qué?" Carlos grabbed her shoulder.
Excerpted from Mustang Sassy by Daire St. Denis, Liz Pelletier, Candace Havens. Copyright © 2014 Daire St. Denis. Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
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