|Publisher:||Intrigue Publishing LLC|
|Product dimensions:||5.00(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.60(d)|
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He looked menacing, the man in the massive earth mover shouting down at the laborer sent to fetch him. Savanna Cavendish was glad their words were swallowed by the noise of all the equipment. She glanced at Carol Ashby, her traveling companion, whose eyes were locked on the figure aloft in the machine.
The messenger pointed toward Savanna's stalled Lincoln, barely out of the roadway, and the angry-looking man squinted in her direction. He glared up and down the endless conga line of traffic mincing its way through the single-lane highway construction area. Shaking his head and scowling, he relented and climbed down from the machine.
Savanna shivered, ridiculous in the ninety-seven-degree Texas morning. She looked at Carol, then back at the angry worker the stocky foreman had assured her would repair her car. The worker's long black hair was tied in a ponytail. That, his size, and the Fu Manchu mustache made him appear sinister as long, determined strides brought him closer. The sleeves of his work shirt were lopped off at the shoulders exposing biceps the size of small boulders that rolled and rippled beneath his sun-parched skin as he buttoned his shirt and jammed its tail into his khaki work pants.
The beefy Mexican foreman shifted and Savanna put a staying hand on his arm. His sleeve was hot to the touch, but he was the one who had summoned the angry man from his machine. She wanted him to stay close.
The foreman addressed the approaching man conversationally in staccato Spanish. Savanna understood only a word here and there. The worker's name was Pedro. Savanna attempted a placating smile.
The foreman wrenched his arm from her grasp, she had been gouging him with her fingernails and walked to her car. He reached inside and popped the hood.
Trailing the foreman, Pedro planted himself in front of the car, pressed one grimy hand to the clear-coat finish and slid his fingers under the hood in search of the safety catch. Savanna didn't realize she'd gasped until he shot her a look.
His eyes startled her, not because of the venom she had expected to see, but the spectacular color she had not. The man's eyes were an iridescent, moss green. He clenched his jaw, and his amazing eyes narrowed against the glare off the windshield as he released the safety latch. He flung the hood up and ducked inside, tapped and tightened and thumped, then pulled two wires, touched them together, bent to examine something else, raised his head and growled unfamiliar words at the foreman, who nodded and turned to Savanna.
"You need an alternator."
The car was less than a year old. How could it possibly need a major part?
She saw no point in asking an explanation from these men, particularly with the August heat shimmering up from the engine.
Savanna addressed the mechanic. "Where can I buy an alternator?"
The foreman intercepted the question. "Ma'am, Pedro speaks Spanish."
She glanced at Carol, then did a double take. Her friend's usual sophistication seemed to have wilted, along with her hairdo. In its stead stood what appeared to be a besotted teenager, mouth agape, focused on the frowning mechanic. The look was ludicrous on the face of a woman thirty-two-years-old and in the throes of her second divorce. Obviously, Savanna couldn't depend on help from that quarter. Carol didn't speak Spanish, anyway.
Savanna turned her attention back to the foreman. "Does he have the training to know the car needs an alternator?"
"Where do I find an alternator?"
"A dealership or a parts store. Any shade-tree mechanic can get you one."
"How do I get there? More to the point, how do I get my car there?"
The mechanic mumbled something, his words delivered in a husky baritone. The foreman answered him looking puzzled, then shifted his gaze to Savanna. He seemed uncomfortable about what the mechanic had said.
"What?" she asked.
"Pedro will take you to get the alternator and he will put it in for you."
She turned the beginning of a dutiful smile toward the volunteer before the foreman added, "But he says you must pay."
Her smile withered and her eyes narrowed as she regarded the mechanic. "Certainly, I'll pay; whatever's fair. But I don't intend to let him rob me just because I'm stranded."
Pedro stared at her. She returned the look, defying him to intimidate her, and was surprised to find his peculiar eyes playful, shimmering with mischief, before his grim attitude regained control.
What a phony. Big and strong, pretending to be belligerent. As CEO of a small company, Savanna managed difficult people for a living. This fellow was out of his league.
She raised her chin and arched her eyebrows. Without breaking eye contact with Pedro, she addressed the foreman in a calmer tone. "How much does he intend to charge?"
Before the foreman could relay her question, the mechanic spoke, his dulcet tone jeering as he and she continued their visual skirmish. He might not speak English, but he seemed to understand it well enough.
The foreman gave an apologetic little laugh. "He says he will give that careful consideration."
Pedro spoke again, words riffling from his mouth as his eyes broke the visual lock to travel down Savanna's form.
"He says you must ride with him in his pickup truck to town to buy the alternator."
Was he daring her? Was he trying to intimidate her by flexing his physical superiority? Well, what might work with a more timid woman was lost on Savanna.
"You will need to pay for the part anyway. I will allow your friend to ride in a bulldozer while you are gone. The cab of that machine has air conditioning."
Carol flashed her a conspiratorial wink, took several steps closer and whispered, "I hope mine's half as good looking as yours."
Savanna turned on her companion. "These aren't dates, Carol."
"Don't you just wish? God, Pedro is magnificent."
Savanna hissed her annoyance. How could any self-respecting woman consider such a man attractive–all dirt and hair and sweat–disregarding his physique, of course.
She shifted from one foot to the other, aware that perspiration prickled from every one of her well-dressed pores. Linen was supposed to breathe, but her skirt and weskit blocked every whisper of air. A cool looking pale blue flowered print, it absorbed the heat and was becoming itchy.
Also there was the body slimmer. Although it might add to her svelte appearance in the air-conditioned comfort of her sister's home, here the additional garment only increased her body temperature. Sweat trickled through her hair and down the sides of her face as she stood considering her options. There didn't seem to be many. She studied the foreman, avoiding eye contact with the mechanic.
Usually, she didn't deal directly with men that were all muscle and scowl and raw masculinity. She headed a corporation, but her orders filtered down through a chain of command. The men at the top of the chain were domesticated, nothing like this virile specimen before her.
"All right, but I will pay him only what you say is fair."
The foreman glanced at the mechanic whose eyes had narrowed to slits, rendering them virtually unreadable, as Savanna, too, ventured a look. Pedro nodded once and reached for her, intending, she supposed, to steady her as they crossed the rough terrain. She stepped back to allow him to pass, holding herself out of his reach. She did yield one quick, evaluating look at this rock of a man.
His grease-stained hands, even his fingers were thick, as if they held strength to match his arms. He thrust one hand forward, indicating an ancient orange pickup thoroughly dusted by fallout from the roadwork. She hobbled over the uneven roadbed as he strode to the passenger side, opened the door, and waited.
Her long, fitted skirt wouldn't allow her to step up into the cab. She hiked it up a little and tried again. Not enough. She felt awkward maneuvering beneath the man's scrutiny. He seemed to be enjoying her situation and offered no help. She supposed he was waiting for her to ask. She had no intention of begging help from him. Clenching her teeth, she hitched the skirt up high on her thighs and climbed inside. She could feel his grin as she straightened her clothes, setting her eyes straight ahead.
From a spanking new luxury automobile to a cannibalized truck. She cringed as he slammed her door and walked to the driver's side. How the mighty had fallen. She gave the truck's cab a quick look. It was neat, dusty, but obviously well-cared-for and litter free.
Carol had been right when the Lincoln died. If they missed the baby shower entirely, Frances would assume they had snubbed her, probably wouldn't believe the car trouble. No use trying to convince her over the phone.
Pedro settled in the driver's seat and started the engine, which purred like the well-oiled machine it probably was. He poked one elbow out the open window, hooked his thumb on the steering wheel, threw the truck into gear and took off, bumping across the pasture. Savanna grabbed the armrest and the back of the seat to brace herself.
There was no air conditioning. Wind whipping her sweat-drenched body offered the only relief.
When the pasture became a gravel road, Savanna pulled a tissue from her purse and patted the wisps of dark curls around her hairline, trying to stop the trickling perspiration, still thinking of Frances. Surely sibling rivalry had an expiration date.
At thirty, two years Savanna's junior, Frances was married to Dutch Soltier, ten years her senior. Dutch was harmless enough, gregarious, well liked, and rich.
While Savanna retained her single status, Frances and Dutch produced two adorable imps in two years.
Savanna knew people speculated about her, sometimes portraying her as the handsome, too smart older sister, passed over during her most marriageable years. Older and jaded as she might appear to be, she believed in romantic love. She had turned down several offers of matrimony, and had stifled most opportunities at casual sex.
Envious of Rini and Rose, her sister's two little girls, Savanna even considered the promised delights of motherhood too great a sacrifice, unless a woman could be married to a man who made the sacrifice worthwhile.
So, she waited as her youthful body mellowed. She swam every day at home, jogged and walked regularly, fighting time and gravity toe-to-toe. Despite the exercise, she could feel her muscles softening, her ample breasts and shapely tush growing less pert almost daily.
The man beside her in the truck stirred. He looked behind them before shifting gears and swinging his vehicle from the gravel road onto the shoulder of a two-lane highway, then bumping into the traffic lane. She stiffened as his intense gaze swept over her before he faced forward again.
Carol had a point. He could possibly be nice looking, if one could disregard the dirt, all that hair, his attitude, the soiled work clothes, and the old muddy boots. He had luminous hair that shimmered blue-black in the sun, bronze skin, a high forehead, a straight nose, a broad mouth, and strong chin.
She caught the glimmer of a silver chain around his neck. Probably a St. Christopher medal, to ward off evil spirits or whatever his religion taught it might do.
It was a shame that an attractive man should be denied the opportunities to rise above his lowly situation. Her thoughts flitted here and there. Intelligence could lift people above ordinary circumstances. She herself contributed regularly to college scholarships, helping where she could.
Athletic skills sometimes provided steps up for others.
But the language barrier and this man's obvious Mexican heritage probably would be hard to overcome anywhere in the Southwest.
He looked athletic. Of course, size and muscularity were not always a guarantee of athletic prowess. He might be poorly coordinated or woefully ignorant.
Also, it had been Savanna's observation that sometimes a handsome man's sex drive distracted him from loftier pursuits. A healthy libido could subvert a man's greater ambitions.
Startled by his sudden movement, she stiffened. He put his arm on the back of the seat and gave her a battle-weary grimace, bent his arm behind the seat and produced a canteen. Dented, rusted around the bottom, it looked like a relic from some world war. Liquid sloshed as he shook it, removed the lid and offered it to her. She tried not to let her revulsion show as she refused, but knew from the look on his face, she had failed.
As he threw back his head and guzzled a dozen long gulps, his Adam's apple skimmed up and down his exposed throat. He lowered the flask, screwed the top on and tossed it behind the seat again, all without another glance at her.
She was suddenly terribly thirsty, She hoped she'd never be thirsty enough to drink out of a container like that one.
She checked her watch, then turned her gaze to the passing landscape. Neither her thirst nor her companion's situation were primary concerns. She had one immediate problem right now, actually more of an inconvenience. Her car was dead, and they were supposed to have been at Frances' home twenty minutes ago.
She glanced at Pedro. Oddly, the man's demeanor reassured her that he could handle the most immediate glitch. She felt a grudging respect for his self-assurance.
Savanna tried to push back the dark cloud of gloom that crept through her as they drove. She hadn't many real problems. Someone was embezzling money from her business, but she had a man investigating that. And Darryl, of course, if the handsome vice president so persistently wooing her could be considered a problem.
Busy with other customers, both clerks glanced at Savanna and nodded to Pedro as he escorted her into The Parts Place.
The air-conditioned store provided instant relief. One waiting customer cast them a disapproving look and Savanna tensed. Surely the man didn't think she was with Pedro. The stranger regarded her high-dollar tennis bracelet. It seemed to heighten his annoyance.
She returned the man's stare, running an emotional spectrum from annoyed to irate. What business was it of his if she were with Pedro or not? People could be so arrogant, assuming their approval or disapproval had any bearing on one's personal behavior. She wished she were more like Pedro. He didn't seem to notice or mind the stranger's displeasure.
Still she found the stranger's objection galling, like nettle in one's socks, a nuisance, not doing any actual injury, but irksome and hard to ignore.
Pursing her mouth, she stepped close beside Pedro at the counter, and swelled to her full five-foot-seven, as if she were proud to be in his company, then settled a haughty glare on the stranger.
Pedro frowned down at her over his shoulder. She flashed him her best plastic smile, displaying all the insincerity she dared to keep him in his place while hoping no one else would notice. He squinted, as if he were reading her inner conflict. She diverted her eyes, hiding them from his, which had become aquamarine. Pedro's insolent gaze delved too deeply.
Keep him in his place? Insolent? Was she thinking it insolent for such a lowly person to regard her majesty with so little reverence, refusing her proper homage? She grimaced, more annoyed with herself than anyone else.
Several minutes passed. Savanna breathed deeply, inhaling the blended smells of the man standing so close beside her. His clothes carried the scent of sunshine and fresh air, of sweat from physical labor mixed with the honest smells of earth and fuel. The aroma wafting from his body was unlike the way Darryl smelled coming off the tennis court. The only sweetness in this man's scent came from his breath, which smelled of cloves. Casually, she took a step back to check his hip pocket. The outline of a can was worn there, so distinct that she couldn't tell if a tin of the smokeless tobacco inhabited the spot at the moment, or not.
Her gaze drifted back to the stoic man beside her who stared straight ahead. My, he was a tall one, straight and strong, without emotions, built and behaving rather like an automaton. She liked thinking of him as a robot and bit her lips, sucking back a smile. If he were a robot, she'd like a look at the schematics.
Finally, a clerk turned his attention to them, grinning at Pedro who rattled off Spanish words. The clerk's cheerful expression dissolved to dismay. He answered slowly, also in Spanish, as if he were contemplating something, and shook his head, then pivoted and walked through the swinging batwing doors to the darkened bowels of the building.
Clever to hire bilingual help, Savanna thought. More and more construction workers were Mexican, many probably in this country illegally. She wondered if her robot was legal?
Excerpted from "Do You Love Me?"
Copyright © 2018 Sharon Ervin.
Excerpted by permission of Intrigue Publishing, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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