Mae-Belle Rogers is an independent, quirky young woman running a used auto parts shop in a small Ohio town. Her life takes a surprising turn when she is asked to be a stand-in for her nephew on a trip to meet the star player of the new basketball team that has come to town. The trip, which was supposed to be quick, turns into an evening of discomfort and unease as she endures a tour of Elsu Benjamin’s mansion. But her quick visit affects Elsu in a way that even he has a hard time comprehending. Over the next week, Mae slowly realizes that they have developed feelings for each other. When she finds herself flung into a world of celebrity she never knew existed, she learns that Elsu is more than just a crush; he's also a protector and a friend.
|Publisher:||Intrigue Publishing LLC|
|Product dimensions:||5.00(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.80(d)|
About the Author
Liza Brown is a fan of the Cleveland Cavaliers and supports the team in any way she can both at games and from her living room couch. She lives in Massillon, Ohio.
Read an Excerpt
By Liza Brown
Intrigue Publishing, LLCCopyright © 2016 Intrigue Publishing, LLC
All rights reserved.
The clang of metal on metal, the hiss of air compressors, and the smell of oil and rubber were all around me as I sat in my office inside Grandpa's Chop Shop. Some people walk into bakeries and take a big whiff. Not me, I've always loved the smell of anything that had to do with automobiles.
I was 18 years old when my grandfather handed me the keys to the business. Needless to say, I was flabbergasted. What did I, a kid fresh out of high school know about running a business? I didn't know much, but I was able to turn it into one of the largest, most profitable used-parts and classic auto businesses in the state. We specialized in antique and classic car repair, restoration, sales and parts, but our money maker was the chop shop. I learned under the tutelage of my grandfather, father and older brother Max, how to tear a car apart and put it back together. To them, I was just one of the guys.
The bell above the front door rang letting me know we had a customer. A middle-aged man walked in and waved to me. "Mae! What's hangin'?" he yelled through the glass wall of my office.
I got up and stepped into the outer reception area. "Hey, Donald! Where've you been?"
"Ah, well, that's a story for another day. I'm here for a door."
"What kind are you looking for?" I stepped up to the computer that sat on top of the counter so that customers could see the screen with me.
"Well, I need a driver's side front door for a 98 Caravan."
I typed the details into the computer to be sure we had a few in stock. "Any particular color?"
"Now that's the sign of a good chop shop, options. I need red, if you've got it."
"Indeed I do," I took out a piece of paper and wrote some numbers down. "You know what to do, Joe and Bill are out in the warehouse, if you need help."
"Thanks, doll," said Donald as he walked away.
Regular customers knew that that piece of paper would take them to the right aisle and specific location for the part they needed. The warehouse was nothing if not organized. Every piece from every car we stripped was labeled, tagged with a bar code and inventoried into my computer's database. There was no way to screw something up when looking for a part. Some people say I take chop shopping too far, but most people are willing to pay a little extra for the convenience of not having to pull the pieces from the cars themselves.
Just as I was about to head back to my office, the door opened again. Two men, I was not familiar with, sauntered in. "Hello, can I help you?"
The older of the two eyed me from my head to where my body hid behind the counter. My hair was probably a bit greasy, since I'd spent most of the morning helping in the garage. It was pulled back into a messy ponytail and wrapped in a bandana. I was wearing a pair of coveralls, unzipped to my waist. A brown Grandpa's Chop Shop shirt hung loosely from my slightly-plus sized frame. On a good day I stood five foot five, so my coveralls were always rolled up showing off a pair of steel toes that were being held together with duct tape.
"Can I talk to the owner?" Asked the older man.
"That's me," I said with a smile.
"Hah, really?" he said, eyeing the man he was with. Both of the men were wearing plaid flannel shirts and loose fitting jeans. The older man was probably in his 50s and had a full head of salt and pepper hair, his belly hung over his belt. The younger man was about 30 years younger, and judging by their similar build and facial features, I assumed they were father and son. The son rocked back and forth on his feet as he sized me up.
"Yes, really. What can I do for you?" This was neither the first nor would it be the last time I'd been questioned about my owning the shop. First of all I am not a 'Grandpa' and second of all, I'm not male.
"Well, I hear you buy old cars," said the older man.
"We sure do. What do you have?"
"I have seven of them in my dad's steel building. They're antiques and I need them out." He handed me a sheet of paper with the year, make and model of the vehicles. "He died about a month ago, the city bought the land and is going to demolish the place. If those cars don't get out of there, they're going to go with the rubble."
"When do you need them out?" I asked, eyeing the impressive list.
"By next weekend." He reached across the counter and helped himself to a piece of paper and a pen. "Here's the address and my phone number. Give me a call and you can come look at them, tell me what you'd pay."
"Ok, I'll do that." The two curious men walked out of the shop quietly.
"That was bizarre," I said to myself, as I put the information on my office assistant's desk. I had been offered cars to buy before, but never seven at one time.
Again, the bell above the door rang and a young man in his mid-twenties entered. He was tall, very slender and had bleached blond hair. A pair of snug jeans hugged his thin legs, rolled up to reveal his ankles. A pair of brown leather loafers covered bare feet. His shirt was a pressed button-down with a pattern of leaves across it, a long sleeved teal-colored sweater was tied around his neck. He was nothing like what I usually saw in the shop. "Hello," I said.
"Hi," he cocked his head to the side. "You look familiar."
"You know what? So do you," I said. We stared at each other for a while before our collective light bulb turned on.
"Stark State!" We both laughed together. We had taken a few classes together at the local community college several years ago.
"You ... are ... Mae," he said.
"Oh boy, you're going to make me try to remember your name, aren't you?" I grinned. "I'm horrible with names. Plus that was a really weird time in my life."
"That's ok, it was what? Five years ago? I'm Aaron. We sat together in that stupid computer class my parents forced me to take."
"I definitely remember you! Don't forget that awful statistics class! But seriously, that computer class was all I needed to create the system I came up with for the shop. It's paid for itself a few times over. And now that I own this place I needed to make sure we had a better system in place."
"Wow! So you're the owner? That's cool! Well, I've never been a book learner. I'm more of a hands-on kind of guy."
"You were into art if I remember right," I said.
"Still am," he said as he pulled a leather-bound album from the satchel he wore around his neck. "This is what I've been doing for the last four years or so."
He slid the book to me across the counter. I opened the book and found picture after picture of metal sculptures. Large pieces and small pieces, painted pieces and raw metal pieces. Some formed into animals. He seemed to have a theme of exotic birds and African wildlife running through his catalog. Other pieces were in abstract forms that I'm sure would be better appreciated in person. "These are awesome, Aaron!" I said. "You did all of these?"
"Yep," he smiled proudly.
"I am extremely impressed! I had no idea back in the day what you would become."
"Yeah, I promised my parents I'd try the college thing and if it really was as bad as I predicted, they'd help me with my art. So they've really been helpful. My uncle lets me use part of his garage to use as my workshop."
"I am jealous!" I said. "I don't have a creative bone in my body."
"Don't sell yourself short! You own this place! That's pretty awesome right there."
I blushed at his compliment. "Well, what brings you in here, Aaron?"
"I've started gaining quite a bit of a following with these and my original source for parts has been depleted. I was told you might have what I'm looking for."
"We sell our parts," I said as I pointed him toward the warehouse.
"Yeah, but what about parts you can't sell?"
"You want our scraps?" I asked.
"I'd buy them from you. What do you do with scraps, anyway?"
"I send them to be recycled. But I can show you what we have."
"That would be wonderful, Mae!"
"Well, let me take you out back then." I stepped out from behind the counter and guided him from the customer area to the mechanic's garage, which was part of the main building and office along with the warehouse. "This is where we dismantle cars. We do rebuilds and restorations on the other side of that wall," I said loudly over the noises of the power tools. We walked past the four work stations where my 8 mechanics were busy on cars.
"We have two buildings out back. One is supposed to be our show room. Right now it looks like a bunch of cars thrown into a big room. It needs a little TLC. There's also a garage we use for powder coating, painting and other body work." I pointed in the general direction of the different buildings that couldn't be seen from where we were.
"If a car is stripped to nothing by the mechanics, the 'carcass' gets put out in the yard. Once we amass enough carcasses, we load them up and they're taken to be recycled." I pointed out the open double-wide bay door into the yard outside. "Right now we've got about six out there, we usually haul away when we've got twenty or so. We're currently saving up to get a car crusher. But that won't be for a year or so. If it has a large yellow X on it, it's a carcass. You're more than welcome to check any of them."
I turned and guided him to a metal bin. "If the mechanic has smaller, unusable parts, they get put in here." The bin was open on one side so the mechanics could just walk the pieces in and not have to hurl them over a high wall. When it was time for the scraps to be hauled away, a truck would come and lift the bin so everything stayed in the container.
Aaron's eyes got huge as if he'd just laid eyes on a pile of gold. "This is exactly what I'm looking for!" He stepped carefully to the edge of the container and bent down to pick up a mangled hubcap. "I'm sorry, can I?" he stopped and looked at me.
"Sure, take whatever you need, the mechanics usually have some shopping carts back here. I'm sure I can find an extra."
"I'd love it!" Aaron turned to the pile of scraps like a kid at Christmas.
I walked away from him and over to the one bay where two of my mechanics were busily dismantling an 89 Honda Accord. "Steve, do you guys have any extra carts?"
Steve, my oldest mechanic, looked at me through his safety glasses. "There's one over there," he pointed to the wall of tools behind him. He eyed Aaron who was still bent over the scrap bin. "What's with Peter Pan?"
"Shut up! His name is Aaron, he's an artist and he's very nice. I went to school with him at Stark State. He's looking for scrap car pieces to make sculptures. He's quite talented."
"Not one part of that statement surprises me," he smiled. "How much is he paying?"
"I'm not sure. I'll see what he takes. I told him he could look at the carcasses, too."
"Whatever floats his loafers," Steve said with a smile. I smacked him on the shoulder and walked away.
I grabbed the cart and rolled it over to Aaron who had amassed a mound of what I assumed was a 'keep' pile. "Here you go, when you're done, bring it in and we can talk price," I said.
"Oh, I am so excited! You have no idea what this means to me!" I wouldn't have been surprised if he had started jumping in place.
I returned to my office. It was nearly 2 in the afternoon, the shop closed at 4 on Saturdays. I'd have tomorrow off to relax. I loved the place, but nothing beats a day away.
After about a half an hour, Aaron could be heard before he was seen, grunting and groaning as he pulled the over-full cart to the counter. "I think I'm done," he panted through the glass wall with a smile.
I walked out and looked at his collection. "Wow, you weren't kidding when you said you wanted supplies."
"I'll probably be back. I just don't know if much more than this will fit in my trunk," he looked at me nervously. "How much do you want for all this?"
"Well, I really like your work and I've been thinking, would you be willing to take it in trade? I have that empty patch of grass out there in front by the shop sign and I've been wanting to pretty it up a bit. I'll let you put out a sculpture with your name on it and I'll give you what you have in the cart today. I get a prettied up front yard, you get more supplies."
"You're kidding, right?"
"Nope," I smiled.
"Oh, that is just awesome. I know just the piece, too! Here." He reached into an outer pocket on his satchel. "The city is having a party next weekend to celebrate the beginning of the basketball season and the grand opening of Brothers Arena. I'm installing a piece at the grand entrance and I'm supposed to invite guests. Bring your mechanics, or whoever you want. That's my card and some flyers. Call me and let me know how many tickets you need."
I looked at the card and smiled. I'm not a crowd kind of person. My eight mechanics, the two warehouse guys, and my receptionist, Bonnie, who happened to have a wedding to attend that day, were about as 'crowded' as I got. The fact that a giant arena to hold the new professional basketball team and other miscellaneous activities had been built was already making me nervous.
Several years ago, the arena the Cavs used had a horrible fire and the team was out a home. They relocated to Cincinnati,, but northern Ohioans were lacking a team. After a lot of bidding, begging and proving, Massillon's wealthiest businessman had amassed enough money, commercial backing and capital from business partners to start a new NBA team in our fair city. From the time of the approval from the league until now, it had been about four years. This gave plenty of time for building the new Brothers Arena that was located where the old golf course had been. The thought of going to the new arena for anything made my skin crawl. The expected increase in revenue for the city had put all of the residents under pressure to make some major changes. Not wanting to hurt his feelings, I looked at Aaron and smiled. "That sounds fun, I'll have to check my calendar and get back to you."
Aaron and I spent the next half hour talking about the classes we took together, his art, cars and their parts, and then the conversation quickly morphed into other topics such as the promised changes to the city, and the pros and cons of the transition. I was really enjoying talking to him and hoped having him around while he did his installation would allow me more time to catch up. Just then, my cell phone rang. No one ever called me on my cell unless it was an emergency.
The display told me it was my sister-in-law. "Mae?" I heard Gina's voice with a rapid breath before I even had a chance to say hello.
"What is it, Gina?" I could tell immediately something was wrong.
"It's Brandon," she sniffled. "He's been hit by a car." Brandon is my nephew. Not having children yet myself, he and his brother, Mitchell, had been my favorite kids in the world. Brandon was 12 and Mitchell was 5, and I loved spoiling them rotten. "What do you mean hit by a car?!" I said with a gasp. Aaron covered his mouth in horror.
"He was outside with Mitchell playing basketball. The ball rolled into the road, Mitchell ran out to get it, but Brandon pushed him out of the way of traffic and he got hit by the car instead, oh Mae!"
"How is Brandon?" I asked nervously.
"He's conscious. I think he broke bones, who knows what else Mae. My baby," she began to cry full force.
I felt a tear run down my cheek. Aaron reached across the counter, grabbed a tissue from a nearby box, and handed it to me. "What do you need me to do, Gina? I can come right now and do whatever you need. Do you need a ride to the hospital?"
"No, Max is here, he's driving. They took Brandon by Air Bear to Akron."
"What the heck is Air Bear, Gina?"
"It's Akron Children's Hospital's helicopter. They call it Air Bear." She seemed to think this was something I would know.
"Why didn't you ride in the copter with him?" I asked.
"Your brother and I are both too shaken up right now to be driving alone."
"Yeah, that makes sense. Where's Mitchell?" I asked, trying to figure out what I could do.
"He's with my mom."
"Ok, try to calm down, Gina. I'll leave here and meet you in Akron."
"No, Mae ... I have something I need you to do and I don't know how to ask you," she said with a combination of nervousness and tears in her voice.
"Anything Gina, you know that."
"Do you know what today is?"
I wracked my brain. "No, what day is it?"
"Mae, this is the day Brandon is supposed to meet Elsu!"
Excerpted from Center Courtship by Liza Brown. Copyright © 2016 Intrigue Publishing, LLC. Excerpted by permission of Intrigue Publishing, LLC.
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