"With a deft hand, Cheryl Norman creates an emotionally gripping and heartwarming tale in Restore My Heart, proving love isn't perfect but persistent and enduring and we never know those we think we know best." —Vicki Hinze
Restore My Heartby Cheryl Norman
Sally Clay desperately needs her auto restoration business to succeed. When her best customer commits suicide and his son brings her a car to appraise, Sally suspects shady dealings. After one of her employees is murdered, Sally realizes it's too late to back out of the investigation she's stumbled into, and apparently too late for her heart, as well.See more details below
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Sally Clay desperately needs her auto restoration business to succeed. When her best customer commits suicide and his son brings her a car to appraise, Sally suspects shady dealings. After one of her employees is murdered, Sally realizes it's too late to back out of the investigation she's stumbled into, and apparently too late for her heart, as well.
Read an ExcerptRestore My Heart
By Cheryl Norman Medallion Press, Inc. Copyright © 2007 Cheryl Norman
All right reserved.
Chapter One One Week Later
"There's a man here to see you."
Switching off the wire-brush wheel, Sally Clay balanced the generator housing on the work table, pushed her safety goggles to the top of her head, then grabbed a shop towel to wipe the black grit from her hands. Abandoning the towel, she pumped a generous dollop of waterless hand cleaner into her palm.
"All right, Roy. Send him back." God knows she could use a customer right now.
The steps from hard-soled shoes echoed against the barren concrete floor, then stopped. She leaned against the counter and turned toward her visitor. Her gaze traveled from the man's oxblood leather loafers and pinstriped trousers to his dark brown hair, pausing along the way to admire the solid chest and flat abs beneath his starched shirt. His piercing brown eyes deserved an encore stare so she stole a second look. Not bad.
"Excuse me. I'm here to see Sal Clay."
Nice voice, too. Definitely a man out of his element in her greasy garage. Picking up the shop towel again, she wiped the emollient from her fingers, then offered her hand. "I'm Sally Clay."
He hesitated at clasping it, probably gauging the risk it posed to his wardrobe, and she instantly regretted the grease beneath her nails.
"You're Sal Clay? The owner?" He wore a quizzical frown as he gripped her hand.
She should've been used to this reaction by now. "I bought Mustang Sally's from my Uncle Sal seven months ago."
This guy should never play poker; his change in expression was obvious. Clearly disappointed that Sal Clay was a Sally, he released her hand.
"What can I do for you, Mr.-"
"Desalvo. Joe Desalvo. I need help restoring a classic."
"Desalvo?" She quickly made the connection to one of Mustang Sally's regular customers. "You're Leo's son."
A shadow of sadness crossed his face. "That's right."
It had been only days since Leo Desalvo's funeral. "Please accept my condolences."
He nodded. "You knew my dad?"
"Sure did. We do restoration work for Bloom Desalvo Motors. I still can't believe he's gone."
"I know the feeling." When she saw the bleakness in Joe Desalvo's eyes, she could've kicked herself. But recovering quickly, he adopted a strictly business demeanor. "Dad's partner recommended you to me."
"Vic? Well, good." Vic Bloom had never darkened her door. She knew him only through Leo and Uncle Sal.
"Dad left me his classic-car collection, which I'm liquidating, except for a couple Mom said were his favorites. Do you know anything about a Kaiser Darrin?"
"Leo had a Darrin?" She didn't mask her surprise. "He didn't tell me. Wow."
"Then it's something special?"
"And valuable, if in original condition."
"It looks original, but I'm no authority. That's why I'm here. I need an expert opinion. Do you know anyone who can help me?"
She clenched her fists, backing against the counter. "How 'expert' do you need? Mustang Sally's is the best in Louisville."
"I meant no offense, ma'am."
Ma'am? Hell, she was only twenty-seven. He had to be in his mid-thirties. "You question my credentials?"
"With all due respect." He shrugged, then offered her an apologetic smile. "I've been away from Louisville for many years."
If only he hadn't smiled. Something peculiar clutched her windpipe, a cross between a squeeze and a flutter. Attraction?
Don't go there, Sally. First of all, a successful and handsome guy like Joe Desalvo had to be married, although he wore no ring. Secondly, she couldn't give in to a handsome face or a sexy smile. It wasn't as if she could attract a man like Joe. She'd learned that lesson long ago.
She forced herself to ignore her body's reaction. "I've been restoring automobiles for ten years, Mr. Desalvo, and I've been working on them since I was big enough to hold a torque wrench-"
"Joe." He widened the smile. "Call me Joe."
She finger-combed her short hair from her forehead, knocking off her goggles in the process. Moving closer, he caught the goggles before they fell to the concrete.
"Thanks," she murmured, bordering on breathless from his nearness. What were they talking about? Oh, right. Her qualifications. "Just for the record, Joe, I'm certified to-"
"Enough." Frowning, he handed her the goggles, then retreated a step. "I know you're qualified or Vic wouldn't have sent me here. Forgive my skepticism, but you weren't what I was expecting."
"You mean because I'm a woman?"
"Vic led me to believe Sal Clay was a guy his age."
"Uncle Sal is."
"So you'll forgive me?"
"You're forgiven for your skepticism, but never for your sexism."
"Innocent as charged, ma'am-"
"Sally." She grinned. "If you call me ma'am one more time, I'm applying for social security."
"Okay, Sally." His smile returned. "Old Sal turning out to be an attractive young woman is a pleasant surprise. That doesn't make me a sexist."
"Fair enough. And thank you for the compliment." Of course, he hadn't meant his words of flattery, but she enjoyed them just the same.
"When can I bring over the Darrin?"
"As soon as you can. Frankly, I'm drooling to get my hands on it." Or was it Joe Desalvo making her drool? Maybe she was eager to get her hands on him as well. Settle down, Sally. She couldn't afford to let a handsome face oust her good sense. "Does it run?"
"Not well. The engine kind of jumps so I'm guessing a tune-up. You can tell me what else it needs."
"Is it tagged?"
"Yes, but I won't drive it. I'll trailer it. Will tomorrow be convenient?"
"Tomorrow will be fine. Just pull around back and we'll bring it in the garage. Meanwhile, I'll dig up the book value and statistics for a 1954 Darrin."
He stepped back, turned as if to leave, then hesitated. "How'd you know it was a fifty-four?"
"Kaiser only made the Darrin one year."
His eyes widened. "Impressive. I guess you do know your classics."
She nodded, but didn't offer to walk him out. Her bad leg throbbed from standing. "We'll see you tomorrow, Joe."
"I look forward to it."
Not as much as I do. She frowned at his back, feeling less attractive than ever in her wardrobe of grimy overalls and the fragrance of Eau de Engine Cleaner.
Strains of Dead Man's Curve blasted from the reproduction Wurlitzer crammed between the door and the cigarette machines at the Universal Joint. Located in an old frame storefront on the restored town square of Jeffersontown, the Universal Joint catered to the car buffs and nostalgia seekers in Louisville's east end.
Greeted by the odor of cigarette smoke and old wood, Sally wrinkled her nose as she made her way to the bar. Her gaze searched the room before zeroing in on her favorite bartender-Uncle Sal.
He smiled, waving her over. "You're late!"
"I've been doing battle with the transmission on a Pontiac Tempest." She slid onto the vinyl covered bar stool.
He filled a pilsner glass from the tap. "A sixty-two? With the rear transaxle?"
"You got it. That was after I rebuilt the generator." She sighed, reaching for the beer. "Thanks."
"You work too hard."
"Look who's talking. You're supposed to be retired, Uncle Sal, not tending bar every night in this dive."
He grinned. "This? This ain't work. This is fun."
"Mustang Sally's would be fun if I could just break even."
He frowned. "You still losing customers?"
"Let's face it. The new competition is cleaning my clock. It's almost like Dan Alsop timed the opening of his business for when you retired."
"Dan Alsop? He still taking away your customers?"
Except Joe Desalvo. "Well, I do have a new job coming in tomorrow. A real classic."
"That's great, honey. What is it?"
She swallowed the cold beer, then took another sip. "Leo Desalvo's Kaiser Darrin."
"Leo had a Darrin? He never said."
"Apparently he acquired it right before his-"
"Yeah." Sal nodded. "I sure miss the guy. He'd stop by here at least once a week."
She fingered the condensation on her glass. "I know. I miss him, too."
"In the old days, the three of us would meet up after work for a few beers."
"Three of you?"
Jennifer, one of the waitresses squeezed into short-short overalls and a clingy Universal Joint T-shirt, rattled off a drink order, interrupting their conversation.
"How's it going, Jennifer?"
"Same old same old, Sally." The blonde tapped bright pink fingernails against the Formica. "Has Sal gotten your sandwich yet?"
"If she didn't hang out at the Universal Joint, half the time she'd forget to eat dinner." Sal handed Jennifer her drink tray. "Bring her the usual."
"Grilled hot pepper cheese on Texas toast, right?" At Sally's nod, Jennifer hoisted the tray and left.
"What were you saying about the old days?" Sally prompted Sal back to their discussion.
"Me, Leo, and Vic Bloom. Speak of the devil." Sal nodded toward the door.
Vic Bloom, a man of considerable girth, loomed at the entrance. He squinted- although he always appeared to be squinting-then ambled toward a vacant booth against the wall. Sal caught Vic's attention and waved. Vic's thin mouth curled at one side. He nodded in their direction before plopping down onto the bench.
"Looks as if he's still waiting for Leo, doesn't he?" Sally shook her head. "He seems lost now."
"You're right. He's waiting for somebody or he'd be over here giving me a hard time."
Another waitress, dressed in the uniform of overall shorts and tight T-shirt, barked an order for drinks, then smiled at Sally. "How's it going?"
Sally struggled to remember the woman's name. Lynette? No, Monette. "Can't bellyache about much. How about you?"
"Not bad tonight, since Sal's tending bar."
"He always did make work fun. He was my boss for years, you know."
Monette elbowed her. "Ooh, baby. Get a load of the stud muffin making his way to Vic's booth."
Sally twisted on the bar stool for a better look. Her pulse accelerated. "The stud muffin is Joe Desalvo, Leo's son."
"Joey's here?" Sal handed the tray of drinks to Monette, then stared at the two men. "So that's who Vic was waiting for."
Monette slipped away to deliver drinks, then hurried over to Joe and Vic to take their orders. Along the way she smoothed her T-shirt against her ample breasts, then tugged at her shorts, exposing even more of her thighs.
Sally chuckled. "I see Monette's trolling."
"Monette's okay, Sally. At least she has a social life."
Sally choked on her beer, then coughed. "Social life?" She carefully placed the glass on the bar. "Is that a euphemism for sex life?"
"Euphemism? How you talk, young lady."
Sally grinned. It was just like Uncle Sal to fuss about the word euphemism instead of the word sex.
"Anyway, you could use a social life, honey."
"I get out every night."
"You come here." He swept his hand through the air, his wave encompassing the smoke-filled bar and grill. "You go work out. That ain't no social life. Maggie says she never sees you. When's the last time you called her, huh?"
Sally had seen too little of her cousin, and she missed her. They'd once been best friends. She should at least give Maggie a call.
Jennifer returned with another order for drinks, sparing Sally from answering her uncle. "Look out, Sally. Here comes Orel."
Sally groaned. "Just shoot me, okay?"
"Hey, the guy likes you. What can I say?"
"I look good to him only after a few beers."
Orel Baxter, a skinny mechanic with a teenager's case of acne and a head of flaming red hair pruned into a flat top, claimed the bar stool beside her. "Hi, Sally."
She tried for a smile. "Hey, Orel."
"Buy you a beer?"
"No, thanks. I have one." She looked past him at two former co-workers who approached the bar. "Hey, Mitch. Hey, Lamar. Come join us."
"Howdy, Miss Sally." Mitch answered. Lamar followed with an identical response.
The two African-Americans had been loyal employees at Mustang Sally's before Sal had sold it. When they'd moved on to jobs at a nearby franchised transmission shop, there were no hard feelings. Sally couldn't afford to keep them, nor could they afford the uncertainty of new management. Sally knew the job change wasn't personal. She adored both men, who had patiently taught her most of what she knew about transmissions. Mitch's sister, Laquita, gave Sally great haircuts at a discount.
Sally grinned. "Grab a seat and tell me in twenty-five words or less everything I need to know about the flexible drive shaft on a Pontiac Tempest."
"A sixty-two?" asked Lamar.
"Rear transaxle?" asked Mitch.
Orel swiveled on the bar stool. "Stick or automatic?"
Grinning, she reached for her fanny pack. "Bartender? Three drafts for these guys."
Joe pulled his gaze from the waitress' uniform, no easy task considering the woman's appreciable attributes. Vic Bloom had picked this place to meet. Having seen the hired help, Joe could guess why. The decor and atmosphere with its hot rod theme and classic car memorabilia were right up Vic's alley, too. Strains of Hey, Little Cobra drifted from the jukebox.
"Make mine a cup of coffee," Joe said. "Black."
"Sure I can't get anything else for you, sugar?"
"Not right now, thanks."
As she moved away, Vic winked. "Monette has the hots for you, Joey."
"I think she's just being friendly."
"Wish she'd give me some of that sugar." Vic wiggled his eyebrows and grinned.
"Down, boy. You have Barbara waiting at home."
The older man shook his head. "Not tonight. She's taking a class at Shelby campus. She's on another one of her self-improvement kicks."
"Can't fault her for that."
Vic grunted in response, stuffing a cigarette between his lips. Joe dropped the subject of Vic's wife. His gaze swept the room, then boomeranged to the bar, where female grease monkey Sally Clay appeared to be holding court. Her baggy overalls in stark contrast to the costumes the waitresses wore, she moved her hands in animated discussion. Several men, including the bartender, leaned toward her, joining her in laughter at whatever she said.
Although his first impression of the woman had been that of a plain Jane, something about her had invited a second look. Flecks of paint and streaks of grease hid an interesting face. Cocoa-brown eyes with thick, curly lashes devoid of that gunk most women painted on, impressed him until he'd discovered those plump lips. Luscious, kissable lips, not that he'd be doing any of that with her. But she had a mouth like that movie star, Angelina something or other. Her short hair, so different from the hairstyles of the power-suited women in his office, had been flattened against her head by a pair of smudged safety goggles.
Tonight she'd cleaned up and ditched the goggles, showcasing a head of thick brown hair. Although he'd come here to talk to Vic about his mother's half of the business, Joe tuned out the man, straining to hear the banter at the bar. Though certainly not his type in the romantic sense, Sally Clay piqued his curiosity.
A commotion at the jukebox halted conversation in the room, including Vic's.
"It's nine o'clock," one of the waitresses yelled.
"So?" Joe looked to Vic for an explanation.
"Time for the song." With a half-smile, Vic rubbed out his cigarette butt in the ashtray.
One of the waitresses cranked up the volume on the jukebox and the crowd at the bar began to sing along to a song about a GTO. Sally led the group, obviously familiar with all the lyrics. Judging by the singing scattered throughout the room, there were a lot of regulars at the Universal Joint. Even Vic joined in, his voice off-key.
After the sing-along, the volume on the jukebox returned to normal. Joe asked, "Did Dad come here often?"
"Your dad loved this place, Joey, but he rarely stayed late enough to sing the song. He'd have a cold one, talk cars with a few of the guys, then hurry home to Lucinda."
Joe nodded toward the bar. "Guys and Sally. Right?"
"Sally's just one of the guys." Vic waved a dismissive hand.
Joe's gaze returned to the bar. "I wouldn't say that."
The brunette waitress he'd called Monette returned with their order and smiled at Joe. "Sure you don't want something to eat?"
She patted Vic on the shoulder. "I'll be back to check on you."
"You do that, honey," Vic answered around a mouthful of fries.
"So what's the story on Sally Clay?"
Vic swallowed. "She's a qualified-enough mechanic, if that's what you mean. Her daddy raised her to be one. She was working in the pits by the time she was a teenager."
Excerpted from Restore My Heart by Cheryl Norman Copyright © 2007 by Cheryl Norman. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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