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"There is absolutely nothing wrong with this car," Michelle Coleman intoned, attitude edging her voice as she eyed the man before her. "You keep trying to find something wrong and for the umpteenth time, there's nothing wrong with your car."
Her well-dressed client rolled his eyes, pursing his lips as if his face hurt, the muscles contorting in response. "Mitch, I drive this car every day. I should know when it doesn't feel right," the man responded, calling her by the nickname she'd gone by since she'd been a child.
"Look, Doc, I do the maintenance on this car regularly. At least once a week I've got my head stuck under the hood because you're sure something's wrong and every time I tell you there is absolutely nothing wrong with your damn car."
Dr. Marcus Shepherd bristled, exasperation fueling his words. "Just check it for me, Mitch. Please," he implored.
Michelle swiped her hands on a dirty rag hanging from the rear pocket of her coveralls. She shook her head, strands of jet-black hair falling from the tight bun she'd twisted at the nape of her neck. Annoyance painted lines across her very pretty face. The three old men watching in amusement from the other side of the room couldn't miss the beauty that peeked from behind the grease and grime she wore like bad makeup.
She heaved a deep sigh before finally speaking. "Uncle Simon, bill Dr. Shepherd for two hours of my time while I check his engine, please," Michelle said, turning her attention to the elderly man who stood patiently behind the desk waiting to see how the exchange was going to play out.
Behind her, Dr. Shepherd nodded eagerly. "Thanks, Mitch, I really appreciate this," the man said softly. "Do you really think it's going to take two hours?"
Michelle shook her head from side to side. "No. I doubt that it'll take me all of two minutes to find absolutely nothing wrong with your car, but since you want to waste my time you might as well pay me for it," she said, moving in the direction of the garage bays.
Dr. Shepherd watched her, his gaze falling on the sway of her full hips as she glided toward the exit. Color suddenly rose to his cheeks as he twisted his fingers together nervously. "Maybe when you're done, Mitch, you and I can go get something to eat or maybe we can catch a movie and then do some dinner?"
Michelle paused and did an about-face. She studied the man who stood eagerly in wait of an answer and then she laughed, her head shaking from side to side. "Uncle Simon, bill the doctor for three hours. It's going to take me at least an hour to get over that stupid question." Her head still waved like a loose ball bearing against her neck, as she turned to face the man, her hands clutching her ample hips. "Doc, I know you've fallen down and bumped your big head now. Is that why you keep bringing this car in here, hoping I'll go out with you?"
The doctor shrugged, his shoulders pushing up toward the ceiling. "A man can hope, can't he?"
Michelle rolled her eyes and moved back through the large doors that led from the office into the work area. She was still waving her head from side to side at the man's audacity, chuckling loudly as she disappeared from sight.
Dr. Shepherd heaved a deep sigh, turning his attention back to the other men, who stood staring at him from the corner. Simon Coleman grinned as he extended his hand, the other mechanic pressing a ten-dollar bill into his palm. Every few weeks Michelle's uncle made the same bet about one of the clients making a play for Michelle and getting shut down fast and hard. His bets had paid off handsomely, ten-dollar bills lining his pockets like gold. If there was any one thing the old man was certain of, it was that his niece could shut a man down faster and harder than any other woman he'd ever known.
Mark Stallion ran his hand across the handlebars of his brand-new Gold Wing, the touring motorcycle a combination of power, luxury and extreme sporting capability. His brother John stood with him, both admiring the classic lines of the Honda vehicle. John had to admit that the dark-blue metallic vehicle with its gleaming chrome accessories was truly a specimen of perfection, if you liked that sort of thing. Mark called it his private jet on two wheels, one of the many expensive big-boy toys he'd acquired over the past few years.
"You're looking good, boy!" John exclaimed, admiring Mark's black leather jacket and pants.
"I'm feeling good," Mark answered, tightening the strap on his helmet. "As soon as I get the bike tuned up I'm out of here.
I'm looking forward to being on the road for a while." He shifted the bike's weight off its kickstand and onto its wheels.
John nodded, understanding his sibling's need to be away. The two had been manning the reins of Stallion Enterprises since forever, the large corporation boasting success with its shipping company, many real estate investments and assorted entertainment ventures. All of the Stallion men, brothers Matthew, Mark, Luke and John were committed heart and soul to the family business, rarely taking time out for some much needed rest and relaxation.
Where John's conservative disposition rarely allowed him any time to play, he greatly admired his brother's fortitude and free spirit. Mark hardly ever succumbed to tradition or directives. Of the Stallion siblings, Mark was the brother with a penchant for fast cars and even faster women, rarely slowing down, as if he were afraid he might miss something in his young life. With over two million miles of paved road across the United States, Mark was intent on satisfying his wanderlust every which way he could and his annual jaunt to the Carolina coast for the black bike festival was only one of those ways.
"Just be careful, and stay in touch," John said, his arms crossing over his chest.
Mark nodded. "How can I forget? You stay on my back about that."
"Just you remember that, too," John said, smiling from ear to ear.
Mark shook his head, a wide grin filling his face. "Look at you! You're gushing!" The man shuddered, pretending to shake his body vehemently. "You're grinning like you're still on your honeymoon, John. Don't get too close to me. That mindset might be contagious."
"You could stand to catch some of this. This is good for the soul."
Mark rolled his eyes, swinging his leg over to straddle his bike. "I don't want any part of that mess. There are too many beautiful women out here in need of attention. I've still got my work cut out for me and I do plan to work hard this weekend."
John chuckled. "I'm sure some woman will slow you down soon enough. I use to say the same thing, remember? Then I met Marah. When that bug bites, it bites hard."
"Sounds like something I need to get an inoculation for," Mark said, laughing. He checked his equipment one last time and then started the engine.
John took a step back out of his way. "Stay in touch. Let us know where we can find you," he said, brotherly concern wafting into his tone. "And keep yourself safe. You're one of my best friends."
"You already have two of them," Mark said, referring to their two brothers.
John smiled. "Three's a charm."
Mark smiled back. "Always has been in my book as well." He gave his brother a quick wink as he adjusted his helmet one last time. "I love you, bro!"
"I love you, too. Have some fun!" John chimed.
As Mark gunned the bike's engine and headed out the driveway of the family estate, John waved his hand after him. Mark waved back. Without a second notion, Mark headed east, a warm May breeze pushing against his back.
The old man had called her twice now, seemingly oblivious to the fact that Michelle was purposely ignoring him.
"Mitch! What are you doing?" Simon questioned for the umpteenth time that day.
The young woman rolled her eyes, still refusing to respond. Michelle couldn't help but think that her entire life resembled the undercarriage of the sports car she was staring up at. The mechanics of the vehicle were pristine, everything maneuvering so smoothly that she almost questioned why she was lying on her back beneath the aluminum frame and Fiberglas body examining the nuts and bolts of it. The owner whining that he was so sure something had to be wrong was the only reason she was now wasting her time.
Most things in Michelle's life were going as smoothly, but it hadn't always been that way. Years had passed since Michelle's life had been a profusion of everything going wrong that could. So much so that she now found herself spending far too much time worrying about what might go awry if she weren't careful, wasting energy that she could have been using elsewhere. Clearly though, her most pressing problem at the moment was her uncle's annoying drone. The man's voice intruded on her thoughts as he kicked lightly at her steel-toed work boots.
"Hey, girl! You all right under there?"
"I'm busy, Uncle Simon. What's the matter?"
"The doctor wants to know if you found anything yet."
Michelle rolled herself from beneath the car, her eyes pressed into thin slits as she stared up toward the patriarch. "Uncle Simon, do me a favor and tell the good doctor I said if he doesn't stop being a royal pain in my
Her uncle raised an index finger in her direction, shaking it vigorously as he stalled the harsh words about to spill past her lips. "Watch your mouth, young lady."
Michelle sighed with exasperation, pausing a quick moment to contain her attitude. "Tell Dr. Shepherd that I will be right in," she said finally.
"And there's a man here to see you about his motorcycle. Him and the doctor seem to know each other. He said his brother recommended you."
"Who's his brother?"
The older man shrugged. "That was the one thing he didn't say."
She nodded. "Fine. But he's my last customer today. I want to work on my own ride today if I get the chance," she said, eyeing the classic 1969 Shelby GT500 that sat in the corner of the shop, the floor around it littered with parts and pieces.
Simon tossed her a toothy grin. "Do me a favor, girl. Make that fool ask you out again. I've got another ten bucks riding on it," he said, winking in Michelle's direction.
The young woman scowled. "One day, old man, you're going to lose."
"Not the way you be treatin' these young fellows around here I won't," Simon responded. "A man don't stand a chance with you."
"I just haven't found the right man yet, Uncle," she said, grinning as she rolled herself back beneath the car. "Just not yet," she finished, her voice echoing from beneath the vehicle.
Simon grinned. "Well, then you better hurry up on in here. This boy with the bike actually looks like he can walk and chew gum at the same time. You might get you a real prize if you play your cards right."
Michelle laughed heartily, the wealth of it ringing into the office behind her uncle. "If that's a recommendation, Uncle Simon, I'll pass," she said, both of them chuckling warmly.
Marcus Shepherd was extolling the virtues of Coleman and Son's star mechanic as Simon made his way back into the room.
"I swear there is no one better," the man was saying. Mark Stallion eyed him with reservation.
Mark looked down to the watch on his wrist. "Well, my brother Luke highly recommended him," he said. "Figured now was as good a time as any to see what the man can do."
The doctor grinned. "You've never met Mitch, have you?"
The men holding up space in the room all laughed, but before the physician could respond, Simon closed the heavy metal door harshly behind him.
"Mitch be right here," he said, breathing heavily, as if he'd just run a mile-long race. "Doc, you ready to write that check now?"
"We figure out what's wrong with my car?" the man questioned, an eyebrow raising hopefully.
"Like I've told you time and time again, nothing," a deep alto voice responded from the entranceway to the work area. "Not one blessed thing."
Like the others, Mark turned in the direction of the doorway and the beguiling tone that drew their attention.
The female before him cut a quick eye in his direction, catching his gaze and holding it ever so briefly before moving to stand behind the office counter. Mark's gaze followed her, taking in the silhouette that defined her femininity beneath the clothing that did nothing to flatter her very female figure. His eyes widened curiously, his interest piqued as she scolded the doctor, one of his brother John's many fraternity brothers.
"Don't bring that car back in here, Doc. And I mean it. I swear if I see you or that vehicle again in the next three months, I'm pulling the engine and you won't be riding in it ever again. You got me?"
Marcus chuckled. "Yes, ma'am!"
Michelle handed the man an invoice, holding her hand out patiently as he wrote her a check for her services. When their transaction was complete, the good doctor waved goodbyes, and she turned her attention to the man who'd been eyeing her curiously, looking him up and down.
The brother was one good-looking specimen of manhood, Michelle thought, admiring Mark's rugged good looks. The leather attire added to his bad-boy appeal, the ensemble complementing his mahogany complexion, full lips and shoulder-length dreadlocks. But good-looking men in Dallas were a dime a dozen, she mused, barely allowing herself to pause to admire the line of his chiseled features and haunting eyes. "How can I help you?" Michelle asked, her gaze meeting his evenly.
"You're Mitch?" he asked, surprise in his tone.
Michelle dropped a hand to her hip, shifting her weight. "You have a problem with that?"
Mark shrugged, a sly smile pulling at the line of his full lips. "No. Not at all. I just wasn't expecting a girl."
"You didn't get a girl," Michelle snapped, annoyance creeping into her voice. "I'm a grown woman and don't you forget it. So what can we do for you, Mr