Angel’s mouth fell open. Her eyes darted to the floor, then the ceiling, anywhere but on the tall, broad-shouldered man who had just entered the room.
It was unmistakably him.
Even though her window had been rain-spattered, she knew those deep-set, piercing blue eyes. His black hair was effortlessly tousled, and his massive shoulders and narrow waist were on exquisite display in his work clothes. She swallowed hard, trying to fight down her anxiety over her car and now her nerves at being in the company of her gorgeous would-be rescuer.
“Hi again,” he said, his voice low and unhurried.
“Hi,” she answered stiffly.
He was staring at her from across the room, his gaze probing. It was not the usual kind of male I’m undressing you with my eyes look that always made her instantly wary. His gaze was intense yet somehow still distant, like he was studying her.
Behind him, the door swung open, and the black-haired bombshell returned, her eyes locked on Angel with open hostility.
Confusion, anxiety, and nerves were colliding within Angel, promising a reaction of full-blown panic.
He took a step closer. The intensity of his gaze penetrated her core defenses, leaving her feeling more vulnerable than ever. She squeezed her bag harder. “Listen, just tell it to me straight,” she blurted. “My car is shot, right?” Please, say it’s not.
“It’s salvageable, but it will take some work.” His deep voice carried a soothing tone that caressed her from across the room, but despite his best intentions, she was beyond soothing.
She pressed her lips in a tight, grim line to keep from cursing out loud. Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. She shook her head. Now what was she going to do? Tears stung her eyes, but she tensed her body against the rush of emotion. She didn’t want to lose it in front of the world’s most gorgeous man, and his smug plastic counter girl who looked like she couldn’t be more pleased by Angel’s distress.
He crossed the room and stood in front of her chair, too close for comfort. She had to crane her neck back to look up at him. He slowly squatted down in front of her, but didn’t speak. He continued to look her hard in the eyes. She fidgeted with her bag, her gaze darting around the room. God, he made her uncomfortable. He was too beautiful to look at, and all she really wanted to do was sprint away so she could cry in peace.
~ * ~
“I’m Ethan,” he said. He loved how she blushed every time her flitting gaze landed on him. She exuded innocence, but at the same time she carried herself with scrappy self-assurance. She was a world of dichotomies bound together in a simply beautiful package. The artist in him loved her wide mouth, her bright amber-brown eyes and dark brown hair. Her distress was apparent to him, despite how she tried like hell to hide it.
“Don’t worry about your car,” he said. “We can hook you up with a loaner while we fix it.” She had looked at him while he spoke but then cast her eyes to the side the instant after he glimpsed her heightened distress. He leaned closer and brushed a lock of fallen hair from her eyes. It was then he caught a whiff of her. He smiled. “You smell like fresh baked bread.”
“I work at a bakery,” she said in a quiet voice. Her lip trembled.
“Hey, Angel, look at me,” he said softly.
He waited for several moments. He knew she was gathering her strength so she didn’t cry. When she looked up at him, it was with clear, tear-free eyes. But it was all there—her fear and anxiety. Damn, he had to respect her courage.
“You really don’t have to worry,” he said. “We have solid loaners, and we’ll get your car back on the road in a couple days.”
She shook her head. “I can’t afford that,” she said, clearly straining to keep her voice level. He looked at her hands white-knuckling her bag.
“You can pay me when you have the money.”
He couldn’t believe what he had just said. He never did work without payment, but he felt some inexplicable need to protect her. He tensed his jaw as two strong desires battled for domination in his own mind—the fierce urge to protect her and the part of him that kept everyone at a safe distance. Damn it, he should just shrug her off and let Brooke sort out getting her a taxi and junking her car.
But then words poured unbidden from his lips. “It’s not a big deal.”
Helping this lost, little girl was a very big deal! He didn’t do intimacy. What the fuck was wrong with him?
She shook her head harder. “If it was a couple hundred dollars, maybe, but I assume you’re talking about thousands. I can’t do that.”
He could feel the emotion building within her. The dam was going to break, and it near killed him. He put a hand on her thigh. “Don’t worry, baby,” he said, his voice low. “It will be all right.”
~ * ~
Once more, Angel choked back her tears. Damn, how she wanted to believe him. He was so big and strong. She wanted nothing more than to slide into his arms and listen to him tell her everything was going to be all right. But she couldn’t. She was too afraid. Life had taught her that men could not be trusted. She shook her head. Then she straightened her back and steeled her shoulders. “What do I need to do to get rid of it? Do I need to pay for it to be towed to the dump?”
His hand left her thigh and swept another lock of hair from her eyes. “We can work something out.”
She shook her head again, trying not to cry. She wished he would just let her go and stop making promises that couldn’t possibly come true. “I have to leave right now. Just tell me what I need to do.”
He rocked back on his heels and canted his head as he looked at her for several moments longer. Then, at length, he stood. “We’ll take care of your car.” He walked to the counter and grabbed a set of keys. “There’s a blue hatchback out front. Tank’s full.”
She shook her head, still fighting back the tears. “A loaner is a substitute for a car being fixed. Mine isn’t going to be fixed. Now you’re just giving me a car.”
He shrugged. “Take it.”
She shook her head. “I have to go.” She zipped up her threadbare, navy hoodie against the rain and pulled open the door.
~ * ~
Ethan watched her head out in the storm, resisting the urge to somehow force her to take the car, or tell her to get into his. He would drive her anywhere she wanted to go, especially back to his place.
Nathan threw open the door and strode into the waiting room, wiping his oily hands off on a dirty rag. “What’s the deal with the car? Junk yard?”
Ethan continued to look outside, although she had passed from view. “No,” he said. “It’s a rebuild.”
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