Read an Excerpt
Under the Hood Boxed Set
By Sally Clements
Entangled Publishing, LLCCopyright © 2014 Sally Clements
All rights reserved.
Some things you do for others and some things just for yourself.
Alice Starr smoothed down her pink silk teddy before slipping into her jeans. She loved the smooth slide of silk across her body. The sensuous fabric made her feel beautiful, even when her uniform was smeared with grease.
No one had to know.
When she'd left the family business three months ago to start a new venture, they'd tried hard to talk her out of it. "Running a garage is hard work," her father had warned, with decades of experience on his side. And her brothers had told her she didn't have anything to prove.
But when the opportunity to buy into an equal partnership with two of her best friends had come up, she would have been crazy not to go for it. There was no garage out there that provided the service Under the Hood had to offer. Starting fresh in a new town, far away from New York had its attractions, too. Here, no one knew her history. Her friends back home were supportive, but she was sick to death of being pitied, of the unsettled feeling that filled her chest every time she got together with friends and hoped she wouldn't bump into Joel and his new squeeze.
She pulled on a thin, black jersey sweater, then stepped into her navy overalls. Thick socks and steel-toed boots next, and she was ready to face the day. She snagged the keys to her pickup off the table and pushed open the door. There was a full day of repairs ahead and she needed to get on the road. The sky was bright with early morning sun, but a chill lingered in the spring air, so she strode quickly around the side of the building to the parking lot, half-wondering, full-on hoping that the racing green MG would be there. She'd barely had a chance to look it over when she pulled in late last night, and with exhaustion and the need for a late dinner hastening her steps, had only stroked a hand over its hood, which gleamed in the moonlight.
It must belong to Mark Jameson.
Mrs. White, the widow in 1B, told her all about him the other day. She had leaned close and whispered, "Mark is a lovely young man," as if he had ears like a bat and might somehow hear. "He's a blond too, but not as light as you, dear. The Jamesons are one of Meadowsweet's oldest families, and Mark is the ..." She counted off on her fingers. "... third child. I reckon he must be about thirty now." She crossed her arms atop her generous bosom and smiled as though imparting valuable information. "He's a definite catch."
A mental image of a fat haddock hanging from a line had instantly flashed through Alice's mind, and she'd smothered her smile with a cough.
Why on earth she thought I'd be interested ...
Rounding the corner, Alice stopped dead. The MG sat exactly where it had been last night. A man was bent over, peering into the engine beneath the raised hood. It was rare to find a British classic in her little piece of Virginia. Rarer still to find a man wearing a sharp suit and dark, shiny, what must be Italian, shoes.
This must be the haddock. Slowly, Alice walked closer. "Hi."
"What —" He jerked, banging his head on the hood, then straightened, showcasing an awesome pair of broad shoulders. His dark blond hair was businessman short, his white shirt accessorized with a red tie.
Hazel eyes gazed into hers, and Alice's heart raced.
He grinned and rubbed the top of his head. "I didn't hear you."
His deep tenor set a flurry of tingles racing up her spine. She flushed with warmth, despite the weather. He was as far from a fish as you could get. And in that suit? Maybe he was a shark. Alice stepped forward and peered into the engine. "Car trouble?"
He hesitated, and then his gaze dropped to the image on her breast. "Are you ..."
He was only checking out Under The Hood's logo, but her body responded to his gaze as if he'd reached out and stroked her.
She swallowed. "A mechanic, yes. Your lucky day." And mine.
"I'm Mark Jameson. You must have just moved in?"
"Yes. I'm Alice," she murmured. "I live in 3B."
"Just below me, then. This really is my lucky day." His smile hinted at a double meaning. His gaze travelled down her body, making her acutely aware of every inch of the silk hidden beneath her overalls. She imagined his hands gliding along her teddy, blazing the same trail.
She turned abruptly and braced herself on the frame of the car, forcing herself to look at the engine. She had to find a way to control her reaction to this man. He stepped closer and placed his hand near hers.
"I'm pretty sure it's the battery. If you have jumper cables, I'd be grateful."
Jumper cables? Alice's body was sparking with so much electricity that if their fingers touched the engine would start without them. She rubbed her hands on her overall-clad thighs. "No problem." She smiled, reached into her pocket for her keys, and strode to her pickup. Okay, so Mrs. White had called it. Her new neighbor was not only totally gorgeous, but he needed her help. And who could resist a hero in distress?
* * *
So this was his mysterious new neighbor.
3B had been empty for a while. When he'd made it back last night after a few days away finalizing the pre-nup for a new client in New York, Mark had noticed the light on from the street outside and the battered pickup next to his parking space.
He took advantage of the fact that she was busy searching her truck for jumper cables to check her out without being noticed. Alice. The name suited her. Long, platinum-blond hair pulled up in a ponytail looked natural — her skin was Nordic pale too, and the eyes he'd caught a glimpse of were ice blue, like aquamarines. She barely came up to his shoulder, and even the ugly overalls weren't able to totally hide the hint of curves he'd noticed when checking out the image of a woman holding the spanner on her uniform.
Mark frowned. He really shouldn't be noticing his new neighbor that way. If she was a mechanic, she probably had men hitting on her all day. Besides, he wasn't in the market for a new relationship. Extricating people from ill-judged romantic follies all day had taught him to be cautious where attraction was concerned.
He pushed back his shirtsleeve and looked at his watch. Luckily, he'd left himself plenty of time to make the meeting at his client's office, and if a dead battery was all that was wrong with the MG, he'd be on his way quickly.
His gaze lingered on Alice for a long moment as she popped the hood and then grabbed red and black leads, attached one set to her battery terminals, and handed the others to him.
Her hand brushed his, and a jolt of electricity raced up his arm.
Mark stared. What on earth?
Alice looked pointedly at the engine as he stood still, fixed to the spot by the unexpected reaction to her touch.
Then her eyes softened. A small, sympathetic smile tilted the corners of her lips upward. She stepped close, and took the leads from his unresisting fingers. "This one goes here," she said, fastening the clip in place, "and this one goes here."
Mark nodded, still stunned. She thought he was so clueless about engines he didn't even know how to attach jumper cables.
"Now, I'll just start my truck and you'll soon be on your way." She walked to her pickup and swung inside.
Mark opened the car and slid into its polished interior. He should have said something. Should have confessed that there was absolutely nothing he didn't know about cars — he'd been taking engines apart his whole life. He'd inherited the MG from his grandfather and had it shipped over from England. Maintaining the little classic car took plenty of man-hours, and he was discerning about who he let tinker with the engine. His sisters called him a control freak where the car was concerned. And they were right.
He turned the key and the engine roared to life. Through his windshield he saw her give him the thumbs up, and before he'd climbed out, she had the cables off and stowed.
"Got to run — have a good day!" She hopped into the pickup and sped out of the lot.
Mark stood there, staring after her. She'd liked helping him. He'd seen warmth in her eyes as she took the cables from his fingers. His mouth curved into a smile.
Being rescued is fun.CHAPTER 2
"Got a couple of minutes?" Melody Swan asked the moment Alice pushed open the large glass doors of the showroom. "There's half an hour before opening, and we want to have a policy meeting."
"Sure," Alice said.
"Betty's in the office." Melody grinned and hoisted high a box of doughnuts. "Coffee's on, and I've brought breakfast."
Alice let her gaze skim Melody's slim frame. How was it fair that Melody treated herself to every edible treat going and didn't put on an inch? It had been the same in college.
"So, do you miss me?" she asked.
"The sofa's not the same without you," Melody teased. "How was your weekend — are you totally settled in yet?"
"Not only am I settled in, but this morning I met the catch."
Mel's chestnut eyes widened. "Seriously?"
Betty's voice came from behind them as they walked into the office. "What did I miss?" She balanced a tray of steaming coffee and three plates. "Action?"
"The haddock," Mel replied. "He's been spotted."
Alice pulled a black leather chair out from behind a desk and sat. "He drives an MGB GT. Absolutely beautiful car. I'd love to get my hands on it."
"And him?" Betty placed a cup before her and reached into the white box for a glazed donut. "Does he live up to the hype?"
Alice snagged a donut too, and bit off a chunk. "Well ..."
"Give!" Mel stuck her hands on her hips and fastened Alice with her "spill it" gaze. "We need details."
A remembered vision of the dimple that had creased his cheek flashed into Alice's mind, quickly followed by the memory of the answering blaze of heat that started in her belly and raced through her at the sight. "He's pretty good looking."
"And we know he's single," Betty teased. "Maybe there's more than a successful business in your future —"
"Guys, seriously. He's handsome and I gave him a jump start this morning. That's all there is to it. Now, what else is on the agenda?"
Betty pouted. "Can't I even make a crack about you giving him a jump start?" Her eyebrows rose, then wiggled suggestively.
"No." Alice sipped her coffee. "There's nothing more to report."
The others sat. Mel crossed her legs and opened the file on the desk before her. "So far, we've picked up a few customers, but we need to expand our reach if we're going to make this business a success."
"Maybe we could have a few male clients," Betty suggested. "After all, we're all single, and trying to meet someone in a new town is difficult."
Alice licked the glaze off her fingers. In her father's garage she'd never experienced the sort of discrimination her friends had, but she knew it existed. Women had to prove themselves equal in every aspect of their lives. But when something went wrong with their cars they had to put up with being patronized — talked down to just because they didn't know the inner workings of an engine.
"We agreed we'd focus on attracting female customers. We'll have to find another way," Mel said, sliding a brochure out of the file. "Here's the final proof from the printer. I think we should target businesses that cater to women, leave some flyers around in places where women are likely to pick them up."
"Like the hairdressers," Alice suggested.
Mel nodded. "And I've been talking to an old friend who runs a local chapter of the National Association of Professional Women. They meet once a week and she's asked us to give a presentation tomorrow night."
"Pretty short notice," Betty murmured.
"Yes. But perfectly do-able. I'd like us all to go. Alice can talk about the workshop and the facilities we have in-house. Betty can discuss the car maintenance classes we'll be running. I'll explain how Under the Hood is different from every other garage and why we want their business."
Under the Hood had clients already. And once word spread, they would have many more. Women could be completely comfortable bringing their cars in for repair. There wouldn't be a man on the forecourt, mocking them for their unfamiliarity with a car's mysterious inner workings. In order for the business model to work perfectly they had one rule, and one rule only. Don't encourage male clients.
So, much as Alice's fingers itched to touch Mark's engine, it wouldn't be happening during business hours.
* * *
Mark sat across the desk from his twelve o'clock. His client's mascara was running, her nose was red, and she was sobbing quietly. He pushed the box of tissues across the polished mahogany surface until it was within reach.
She blew her nose loudly. Dabbed at her eyes. Then left the sodden tissues on the corner of his desk. "I'm sorry, Mr. Jameson. It's just ..."
"I understand completely, Melissa." He'd noticed that using his clients' married name when they were weepy usually had the effect of restarting the flood of tears, so he routinely addressed them by their first names. "Call me Mark," he added, pitching his voice low. "The end of a marriage is always painful."
Melissa waved the papers she'd been clutching when she arrived in the air. "I just don't understand how he could do this to me!" she wailed. "We've been together for twenty years, and now he says ..." She swallowed.
"He says he wants to move on."
Melissa raised teary eyes to his. "I won't have anywhere to live. And I gave up work when we had the children, so I don't know how I'm going to manage."
Mark pressed the intercom on his desk. "Can you bring us in some tea?" He waited for his secretary's okay, then depressed the button again to cut off the call.
"He wants to move on," he said again. "But you have an airtight case here, Melissa. You've been faithful, and over the years he's been able to advance his career because you have provided a safe and secure home for his children. There's no way you will lose your home. He'll provide money for your children, and I'll make sure to get you a generous alimony settlement. If he wants out, it's going to cost him."
When the meeting was over, Mark pushed back from the desk and ran a hand through his hair. Despite the calm surface that he portrayed to his clients, dealing with such strong emotions always wrung him out. Being a divorce lawyer was difficult. Seeing the devastation that a ruined marriage cast in its wake, the wrangling about asset division and money, left a bitter taste in his mouth.
Early in his career, he'd taken the case of a wife discarded for a younger version. Her rich husband had employed one of the top divorce lawyers in the country, a man renowned for his ruthless pursuit of his client's interests. When, despite this, Mark had managed to secure a good settlement, the word was out. The majority of his referrals were friends of that original client. Unfortunately, it seemed that the marriages of the country club set were destined for failure.
These women confided everything to him. Leaned heavily on him, and depended on him to fight in their corner. Everywhere he went, people expected him to be the strong one, the knight in shining armor. Mark sighed and stood up. It had been so refreshing this morning to have someone help him for a change. Alice. Capable and gorgeous, a pretty winning combination.
He pushed out his elbows, rolled his shoulders in an attempt to dissipate the lingering tension from this morning's meeting, then ran a hand across the back of his neck, rubbing the tight muscles there. No luck. He was wound as tight as new fishing line on a spool.
A glance at his watch confirmed he had time to spare before his late lunch meeting. He grabbed his jacket from the back of the chair and strode out to the reception area. His secretary, Janice, looked up from her computer.
"I'm going out for half an hour."
Janice nodded. "I'll handle everything." Her eyes telegraphed sympathy. "Mrs. Aldridge was in a bit of a state."
"Yeah." Having a client in tears in his office was a common occurrence, and his elderly secretary knew he needed to decompress after such a session.
Mark loosened his tie as he sauntered toward the park down the road from his office. It was a beautiful day, with clear blue skies, and the earlier chill had vanished. Summer was coming, and this year he would take time off and head to the coast for a few days. There was such a thing as too much work.
Excerpted from Under the Hood Boxed Set by Sally Clements. Copyright © 2014 Sally Clements. Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
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