“No. No. No. Not now.” I’m yelling at a dying car but, of course, it’s not helping. After a series of sputters, shudders, and coughs, my eleven-year-old car, which has been a loyal friend, dies.
Steering to the side of the road is good in theory, but without the engine running, there’s no power steering. My arm muscles scream in protest while I put every ounce of strength I have into coasting this baby onto the shoulder of the road. When I finally stop rolling, I put on the emergency brake, turn on my flashers, unhook my seat belt, and hop out.
A truck zips past and the driver honks at me, causing me to just about jump out of my skin. I think about flipping him off, but I don’t. Technically, the ass end of my car is off the road. You can call it barely, but in this case, barely counts. It’s not like I’m blocking a lane. I pop the hood and raise it, not sure what I’m looking at or for, but I stare at the steam rising into the air for a minute.
My options are few. There’s not much in the way of businesses on this highway full of speeding drivers, all with somewhere they need to be.
Sweat breaks and runs between my boobs, soaking the band of my bra and reminding me it’s July and Chicago is in the middle of a heatwave. I pull out my cell and stare at it as if the name and phone number of someone who will help me will magically appear. It’s five o’clock on a Friday, and the few people I know don’t own a car or are on the highway headed home from work.
Work. Crap. My stomach clenches. Tonight is one of the busiest nights of the weekend for the steak house where I work. Not only am I going to leave them shorthanded, but I’ll also miss out on my wages plus some desperately needed tips.
The deep rumble of a motorcycle drowns out my thoughts. The man stops, kills the engine, and uses one of the big black boots he’s wearing to drop the kickstand. He slings a leg over the tank, gets off, and removes his helmet. His hand shoves long stringy hair off his face as he stalks toward me.
I read romance books and the bikers are macho, sexy as hell, and they save the damsel in distress. This guy sends the wrong kind of chills up my spine. The wife-beater he’s wearing was probably white at one time, and his jeans could use a thorough washing.
“Looks like you need a little help.” His eyes slide over my face, stopping at my boobs. “Those long legs will wrap around my. . .”
My eyebrows shoot toward my hairline.
“They’ll fit around my bike just fine.”
He must not understand the meaning of personal space because he just keeps coming toward me. I step back, only to find myself between him and my dead car. The smell of alcohol and unwashed body parts reaches me before he does. “I appreciate you stopping, but a friend is coming to pick me up. Thanks anyway.”
He ignores my subtle dismissal and steps closer. “Bullshit. No need for you to wait. I’ll take you anywhere you want to go. Maybe we’ll stop for a drink on the way.”
“No really. My boyfriend will be here in a few minutes.”
Biker Guy sways, looking unsteady on his feet. I’m thinking I can outrun him, but where will I go? Cars are flying down the highway, and nobody is paying attention to us.
His eyes narrow. “He ain’t much of a boyfriend letting you drive that broken-down piece of shit.”
“It has sentimental value.” I can’t vouch for the first five years of her existence, but she’s been a good ride for the past six.
I tap the nine on my phone to call for help but pause when a shiny silver Corvette pulls over and stops. The door opens and a man steps out. He’s wearing slacks and a white shirt. “There he is,” I say with a grin plastered on my face.
I scoot around Biker Guy and run to the good Samaritan walking toward us. I don’t give him a chance to speak. I wrap my arms around him and give him a big hug.
“Honey.” I look up into his face, talking loudly enough to get over the low din of the highway. “I’m glad you finally got here.”
Amusement flits across the guy’s face, and his mouth curves into a half-smile. All my words vanish. Heat shoots up my face, and I release him as if my hair is on fire. My fingers itch, and I clasp them together to keep them from unbuttoning his shirt and checking for a giant red S on his undershirt. Okay, I know he’s not Clark Kent but holy shit.
Probably in his early thirties, the man has a tall frame with broad shoulders, black hair, and eyes the color of the Caribbean Sea. The tailored shirt he’s wearing fits like a glove. He steps back, tilts his head, and looks down at me. At this point, he knows I’m staring.
His gaze sweeps the scene in front of him, no doubt trying to understand the situation he’s gotten himself into. His arm slides around my waist and tugs me closer. I have to tilt my head back to look up at him, and that doesn’t happen often. “I got here as fast as I could. Let’s take a look at your car.”
I nod my response as another run of sweat slides down my chest. I issue a silent prayer that I don’t smell like Biker Guy after standing out here in the sun. ’Vette Guy’s arm guides me over to my car. He nods and smiles at Biker Guy.
“Thanks for stopping to help my girl. Looks like no one else was willing to take the time. I appreciate it.”
“You’re her man and you drive a fucking ’Vette, while your woman drives a piece of shit?”
Unfazed, ’Vette Guy nods. “True, but what she drives isn’t your concern, is it?” He lowers the hood on my car and turns to me. “I’ll have it towed to a garage.”
These two bulls are staring each other down, and male testosterone is getting thicker by the second. So, I kiss ’Vette Guy on the cheek. The disruptive tactic works and both men look at me like I’d just landed from Mars.
“Honey, we need to get going.” I look up at him with adoring eyes.
“Me too. I’ve got business to take care of.” Biker Guy climbs aboard his bike, and within seconds, it roars to life. He revs the engine and rides off, slinging dirt and gravel from under his tires. I swear the ground shakes under my feet.
“Thank you.” I wave my hand in front of my face to clear the air. Reluctantly, I remove myself from ’Vette Guy’s arm and take my cell out. “I appreciate you stopping. I’ll be okay now. You don’t have to wait with me.”
“Really? You’re dismissing me so quickly?” He flashes straight white teeth at me. “After all we’ve been through?”
“I’m afraid so.”
“Are you calling family?”
My spine automatically stiffens. “No,” I snap. “I truly am grateful you stopped since it could have gotten ugly, but I’m fine now. Okay?”
“No. It’s not okay. I’m not leaving you out here for easy-picking. Remember the asshole who just left? There’s more where he came from.” The timbre of Samaritan Guy’s voice tells me his mind is made up. “I’m happy to take you wherever you were headed.”
“I don’t know you. Granted, you smell better than he did, but you could be a serial killer for all I know. Thank you for stopping, but I can take care of myself.”
“Justin Locke. Pleased to meet you.” He blows out a huff of air as if I’ve offended him. Before I can react, my cell is in his hand. He snaps a picture of his license plate, takes a selfie, and texts himself. “Send those pictures to whoever you were going to call and tell them if you’re not in touch within the hour to call the cops.”
Damn. He’s good. And the battle of “should I stay or should I go” is off and running in my head.
“Not enough?” He pulls his wallet from his hip pocket, removes his driver’s license, and takes a shot of it too before handing my cell back to me. “Now, will you get in the car?”
A chuckle rolls from somewhere deep inside him, and one corner of his mouth kicks up into a grin. “You have no idea.”
My knees are suddenly weak. If circumstances were different, I wouldn’t mind taking an order or two from him. I have no doubt he gets what he wants.
“You’re as safe with me as I am with you.” He walks to his car and opens the passenger side door for me.
I grab my purse from my car and my uniform that’s hanging in the back. The furrow between his brows deepens when I close the door on my car, pat the roof, say goodbye, and join him.
“Did you just talk to an inanimate object?”
“I did. You have a problem with that?”
“Not even one.” He’s looking at me as if I’ve escaped a madhouse.
“That car and I have been through a lot together.” I have no idea why I’m defending my behavior. Yes, I do. He’s too pushy.
He catches my elbow, and I allow him to steady me as I lower all five foot eight inches of my body into his car. His is one of those automobiles that sit inches above the ground, causing my entrance to be less than graceful. How any woman wearing a dress can get in or out of this car without flashing the world is a mystery. One I won’t have to solve.
He closes the door, walks around, and slides in behind the steering wheel. A second later, the ’Vette rumbles to life, reminding me of a big cat purring. A huge, angry cat.
I extend my right hand. “Since we both could be in danger, we should probably know each other’s names. I’m Kenzie Stone.”
“As I said before, Justin Locke.” He rewards me with another of his half-smiles as his hand swallows mine. His grip is strong, and I have this urge not to give him his hand back. “Where to?” he asks again.
I consider having him drop me off at work, but instead, I give him the address of my apartment complex. I’m too anxious to carry around trays of food while I’m trying to figure out how I’m going to pay for a tow and repairs. He taps in the information with long thick fingers. He drives into traffic and quickly navigates to the fast lane.
“You’re welcome. My grandfather would spin in his grave if I ignored a woman stranded anywhere. Much less a beautiful woman.”
I ignore that last part. I know what I look like with my hair tied back and makeup at a minimum. It’s not beautiful. “He must have been a good man.”
We ride in the uncomfortable silence of two total strangers for a few minutes. I decide to ask questions. “What do you do for a living?”
“I’m the owner and CEO of a major systems design company.”
“So, you are off work for the weekend, and I shouldn’t feel too guilty about keeping you from being somewhere, right?”
“Close but not one hundred percent accurate. I’m also co-owner of an adults only club and tonight’s the grand opening.”
My brain stops at the words adults only. “Somehow, I don’t think you’re referring to a country club, are you?”
“No. It’s a place where people who live a certain lifestyle can be comfortable, and no one passes judgment.”
“A sex club?” The ride just got a lot more interesting.
“Exactly.” He glances at me. “Did I detect a note of curiosity in your question?”
“You did not.” He’s gorgeous, has money, and is way out of my league. That doesn’t stop me from wondering how his hands would feel on my naked body after he handcuffed me.
“Sounded like it to me.” He needs to stop glancing over at me with that sexy half-grin. “How much do you know about BDSM?”
My jaw comes unhinged. Is he reading my mind? “I read.”
“In other words, nothing.” He changes lanes, accelerates, and speeds past a slower-moving car.
“I admit you’re right. My knowledge of the subject is limited to books.”
“You shouldn’t rely on romance novels for information. If you’re the least bit curious, it’s best to see it firsthand.”
My brain shifts into overload, and the blood in my veins heat at the thought of what he means by firsthand. I’ve read lots of books that were written around BDSM, mafia bosses, and men who dominate women in general. The stories serve as a constant reminder I don’t have time for a sex life. I’ve just about forgotten what having an orgasm feels like. Well, one that’s not self-induced.
“If that’s an invitation, no thanks. Between work and college, sex isn’t my top priority.”
“What are you studying that you can’t take time out for sex?”
“I’m going to be a paralegal when I grow up. If I stay the course, which I will, I’ll take the exam with the Association for Legal Professionals in January on my twenty-fifth birthday.”
“Good for you.” He reaches over and pats my knee. “If my first impression of you is right, you’ll succeed.”
“You snapped at me when I mentioned family. You’re not close?”
“I might be if I had any.”
“Living without family must be tough.” He glances at me when I don’t respond. “Do you have someone to help with your car?”
“I do.” I try to sound like I’m telling the truth.
“Really?” He guides the car to the outside lane, shoots down the ramp, and off the freeway. A couple of blocks later, he’s driving through the gate and stopping in front of my apartment building. “Who’s going to help?”
“Thank you so much. I’ll pay it forward.” I unbuckle, grab my stuff, and hop out, avoiding his question.
“It was my pleasure. Take care of yourself.”
I close the car door and hurry inside. I don’t understand the effect he had on me, but my heart hasn’t stopped racing since I gave him the fake kiss. I hate to see him drive away, out of my life forever. I stop, turn just inside the stairwell, and watch until his sports car is out of sight. I jog up the stairs, smiling. Not many women can say a superhero saved them.
I call work and explain my situation to the manager. He asks if I can work tomorrow, which is my day off, and I jump on that. It will help pay for using the bus system since the train doesn’t run this route. My stomach rolls into a knot. I didn’t consider how much my car repair is going to set me back. I’ll have to dip into what little savings I have. If that doesn’t cover the cost, the balance has to go on my credit card.
I spend a few minutes on Google trying to find a company to tow my car to a repair shop. I decide to wait until I get to work tomorrow. One of my coworkers will know who I need to contact. I fix a sandwich, slip on a pair of sleep shorts and a T-shirt, and spread my homework out across my bed.
My alarm jars me awake, I discover my laptop still on, and my head is resting on an open book. I haven’t accomplished nearly as much as I planned. Rolling out of bed, I save what little work I completed and go to the kitchen. The restaurant doesn’t serve breakfast, so I have a few hours to kill. I fix myself a cup of coffee and start my weekend routine of washing clothes and getting ready for the upcoming week.
It’s after lunch before I shower and dress in shorts and a tank top. I finally have time to work on my unfinished homework, so I grab my laptop, open my balcony door, and sit at the small round table in the corner. My view is of the parking lot, but I’m good with that for now. Someday I’ll have a job that pays enough for a larger apartment.
It’s hot again today, and the sun feels good on my skin. The urge to slip on my bathing suit and hit the pool is strong, but the need to finish this assignment is stronger. I stand to refill my cup and notice a beige Ford pulling into the parking lot. It’s exactly like mine. I walk to the iron railing and watch my car as it’s driven into an empty slot right in front of the entrance to the building.
I’m barefoot but that doesn’t stop me from racing through my living room, down the stairs, and outside. I arrive just in time to watch a second car pull away. I assume with the driver of my car. The pavement is hot beneath my feet, but I can’t turn back. I run the rest of the way, open the door, and get inside.
It takes a second before I realize I left my car on the side of the road with the key in the ignition. I start my poor old friend, and she hums to life. I turn off the engine and just sit here in the heat. My superhero had her towed and repaired.
Justin’s kindness overwhelms me. I don’t know how to react. How to feel. I’ve taken care of myself since I was six years old. People don’t do things for me unless there’s something in it for them. Tears fill my eyes and spill down my cheeks. I think back to the last time I cried. It was the day I accepted my mother was never coming to get me.
I spot a white envelope on the passenger seat. I pick it up and carefully open it. Inside is an embossed invitation to Club Satin to be used in seven months on my twenty-fifth birthday. The only instruction is to ask for Slider.
“Who is Slider?” I ask out loud.