KASEY KNEW he was in trouble the minute he saw the car.
It started out a day like any other at work. Camera crews were coming and going from the other side of Reggie’s garage, where the TV show Wrench Wars was being filmed, but here on the south side, Kasey and Tony worked in near silence, happy to stay out of the limelight. Deeper inside the garage, other mechanics argued and competed and wasted time. Kasey ignored them. He preferred to stay invisible. It was easier than trying to be friends, only to find he was the butt of their jokes.
Outside, the balmy summer weather had given way to blustering autumn, and the windows of the garage rattled in their frames with each new gust of wind. Kasey was glad he was inside.
“Ralston!” Kasey’s boss, Reggie, bellowed from the door. Reggie was one of those men who called everybody by their last name and rarely did it quietly. Everybody in the garage turned at the sound, first to look at Reggie, then to look at the person he was calling for: Kasey.
Kasey wilted under the weight of their attention, but replied, “Yeah, boss?”
“I need you,” Reggie said, lowering his voice to a normal speaking volume as he drew closer. “Got a customer outside who wants to talk to you.”
“Why me?” Reggie usually dealt with the customers. Kasey stayed in the back with Tony and did his work. He liked it that way.
“He wants someone who specializes in classic muscle cars. That means you. But he wants to make sure you know what you’re talking about. He’s not taking my word for it, and he’s not leaving his baby in any old dumb fuck’s hands. So get out there and convince him.”
Kasey hated talking to people. He hated trying to look them in the eyes. He especially hated the way they often made him feel small and stupid and weak. That was why he did his best to avoid the other mechanics and the Wrench Wars crew. But then he looked out the door and saw the car.
It was a 1970 Chevy Chevelle SS, if he wasn’t mistaken, and when it came to classic muscle cars, he rarely was. Whoever owned her had taken care of her, too. She was silver, with thick black stripes up her spoilered hood. In damn good shape, and probably worth upward of seventy-five grand. She was beautiful. Perfect. And she called to him in a way that made his skin tingly and his groin tight.
Kasey pulled on a lined, long-sleeve flannel shirt to guard against the wind, then glanced out the window to make sure the Wrench Wars team wasn’t nearby. No cameras in sight, so he pushed through the glass door into the parking lot.
He approached the Chevelle slowly, taking in her lines, anticipating the way her interior would look. When he finally peeked in the window, he wasn’t disappointed. Her seats weren’t faded and torn like so many old cars he saw. No. This one was as perfect inside as out. He itched to get in her, lean back in the seat, and let the car do her work.
“You the expert?” a man asked from across the car’s hood, shaking Kasey out of his reverie. It took all his willpower to take his eyes off the car and look at the owner. The man was taller than Kasey and well dressed, probably in his early thirties, with dark blond hair that seemed to ruffle just the right amount in the autumn breeze. He may as well have stepped straight out of a GQ ad, and Kasey fought the urge to run and hide. Reggie had told him to make the sale. Besides, the car was worth the awkwardness of this meeting.
“Guess I am,” he finally said.
“What’s your name?”
The man cocked his head sideways, looking skeptical. “How old are you?”
Kasey hunched his shoulders and shoved his hands into his jeans pockets. “Twenty-four. Why?”
“I guess I expected an expert on classic muscle cars to be older. But no matter.” He leaned across the hood and held out his hand. He wore a suit, and his hands were so clean, Kasey was afraid to touch him. “I’m Brandon Kenner.”
The man’s smile unnerved him, as did his seemingly easy friendliness. Dressed in a fancy suit, yet he wasn’t looking down his nose at Kasey. Not yet, anyway.
Kasey forced himself to shake the man’s hand. Meeting new people was always awkward, and he was glad he had a legitimate excuse to break eye contact. The car demanded his attention.
“She’s a beauty,” he said. “Four fifty-four?”
“You got it. LS6.” Brandon came around to the front of the car, reached into the grill to pop the hood, then lifted it to reveal the V-8 engine. It was as clean as the rest of the car.
Kasey whistled in appreciation. “Where’d you get her?”
“Bought her at a show in Phoenix. Had her a few years.” Brandon smiled at him. “I’m a bit of a collector.”
Damn. Kasey shook his head, wondering at how much money it would take to collect cars. Not just any cars, either, but cars like this one. Of course, his father had collected cars too, but his had been nothing more than rusty heaps in the weed-strewn backyard, many of them resting on cinder blocks. It was in their dark, musty interiors that Kasey’s perverse secret had been born. But most of his dad’s cars hadn’t even run, and none of them had been as cherry as this Chevy.
“She’s mint,” he said to Brandon. “So why you here? She giving you trouble?”
“Not trouble, exactly, but she’s making a noise I don’t quite like.” He slammed the hood and nodded toward the body of the car. “Hop in and I’ll show you.”
Kasey’s heart began to pound. From the outside, he could admire the Chevy with the simple appreciation of any car buff, but the inside would be different. Being inside cars like this one did something to him—something that wasn’t normal, by most people’s standards. Still, he couldn’t avoid it. Brandon was already behind the wheel, looking out the windshield at him expectantly, so he opened the passenger door and climbed inside. He concentrated on Brandon rather than the car. That seemed the simpler way. It helped when Brandon started the car. Engine noise wasn’t a turn-on, thank God. It was a diagnostic tool and nothing more.
“Sounds fine to me.”
“That’s ’cause we’re idling.” Brandon depressed the clutch and shifted into first. “Let’s take it around the block.”
Kasey swallowed hard and did his best to concentrate on his work. It was difficult, but once he closed his eyes and focused, it took only a moment for him to hear what troubled Brandon.
“There’s a bit of a knock, isn’t there?”
Brandon smiled at him, and Kasey knew he’d passed some kind of test. “Can you fix it?”
“Easy. Just timing. Don’t you have a timing light? You could do it yourself for free.”
Brandon shook his head. “I buy ’em, but I don’t know the first thing about fixing the things. When will it be done?”
“It’ll only take me a minute, once I get to it, but there’s a few cars ahead of you. Probably first thing tomorrow.”
They stopped at a red light, waiting to turn. They’d barely left the garage, and even though it was a short trip around the block, it was torture. Kasey rolled down his window and tried to concentrate on the cool breeze blowing by and the people walking down the street, but he couldn’t ignore the car. The slickness of the leather. The dark seductiveness of the dashboard. He shifted in his seat as they rounded the back of the block, hoping to hide his growing erection. It was ridiculous. It was a car, for fuck’s sake, but old cars like this always turned him on.
He sighed in relief when the ride ended. He pulled his shirt down over his groin and wiped a hint of sweat from his upper lip. He practically held his breath, anticipating his freedom as Brandon parked the Chevy.
“So,” Brandon said, turning to Kasey, “what time should I—” He stopped short, staring at Kasey, clearly amused, and Kasey had the distinct impression the man knew exactly what was going on in his passenger seat. “You okay?” he asked in a teasing voice.
Kasey’s cheeks burned. “Fine. We open at ten tomorrow. It’ll be ready then.”