I’ve made it down the stairs when Alex, one of the bodyguards employed by Mac, stops me at the front door. His large but comforting hand encircles my upper-arm. “You okay? I heard shouting. Has he hurt you?” His words are rushed and quiet.
I shake my head ‘no’ and smile thoughtfully at him. “What are you going to do anyway? Lose your job?”
Letting go of my arm, he shifts on his feet. “I can’t stand by and let it happen again.”
“You never let it happen in the first place. You weren’t on shift, and it’s not your job to protect me from Mac. It’s your job to protect him when he’s here. Anyway, I was handling it before you came along.” He looks hurt, so I soften my snippy tone a little. “He’s going on tour in a few days; we can all breathe a sigh of relief then.”
His jaw tightens and flexes. “I know, but…” He folds his arms across his chest, more as a hug than a defensive gesture, and stares down at me. “It doesn’t mean I don’t worry, Liz.”
“I know.” And I do. Alex is a close friend, well, as much as his job allows.
He glances towards the security camera shifting in our direction and steps back away from me. “Where are you going, Ms. Ryder?” This time he speaks louder.
He nods. “Do you need an escort?”
“No. But thanks.”
“Are you sure?” His eyes narrow to slits.
“Absolutely.” A huge, triumphant smile spreads across my face. Before he can argue, I pull the door open and step outside, shouting over my shoulder, “Thanks anyway.”
The fresh air hits me and I let the light breeze graze my face for a few seconds before I head to my car.
The drive to the mod shop will only take an hour or so, but it’ll give me a chance to think and get my game face on.
The cruel man I live with now isn’t the one I thought I loved. He hasn’t been so for quite some time. I thought I could make him see that what he is now isn’t who he used to be. I shake my head to myself. Who was I to think I was more powerful than the hold his addictions have over him?
I’d grieve for a lost love, but the tears won’t fall—there’re none left. That’s when I recognise my decision’s already been made. My heart’s already left Mac, and I need to follow it and get as far away from him as I can. I just don’t know when or how. For the rest of the drive, I let the music flowing from the radio drown out my thoughts.
When I pull up outside Ignition, the first thing that strikes me is how well presented it is. The building’s large, rendered in brilliant white. It has the usual shutter door for moving cars in and out, but the right-hand corner’s glass from floor to roof. It’s not what I expected and not what I usually find when I come out to these places. It gives a very good impression. If a guy can spend so much time to make the outside look this impressive, he must be good at his job. That’s the girl in me coming out, even knowing full well the outside of a building has no relevance whatsoever to how good the work is that’s undertaken inside.
I steal a glance at myself in the rear-view mirror to ensure my makeup hasn’t slid down my face, and run my fingers through my hair. I lift my bag from the passenger seat, open it up, and take out the rough bio I scribbled down about the owner.
Being a woman in a male dominated environment is difficult sometimes. I’ve had to work hard to gain the reputation I have in my field. I am acknowledged for, as the blokes would put it, ‘knowing my shit,’ when it comes to cars. That doesn’t stop the interviewees from either trying to take me down a peg or two, or trying to hit on me. The thought makes me ponder what I’m going to face today. In all honesty, I’m not up to dealing with either.
I prop the folder on my steering wheel and check over my notes again. The owner’s name is Noah Hamilton and he’s twenty-eight years old. In the relatively short time the shop’s been open, he’s already earned an unrivalled reputation, and is recognised as one of the best mechanics in the country. Although his workshop is located right in the heart of England for some reason he specialises in American muscle cars. Even though it’s generally known he’s good with any type of car.
With the wonders of the Internet, I’ve discovered he’s an adopted child. He has an older sister, who’s a biological child, and his parents appear to be fairly well off. He joined the armed forces at the age of sixteen and got out a couple of years ago, which coincides with when he set up the business.
Not a lot to go on, really. Unusually, he doesn’t appear to be a member of any social networking sites, and the business has no online presence, at all. In fact, I wonder how he gets clients.
Glancing at the clock, I note I’ve still got fifteen minutes to kill before my appointment. I hate being late, but I also make sure I’m never early. Needing a break from reality, I decide to pull out my e-reader and catch up on the latest sexy romance I’ve downloaded. It’s a great way to ease the pre-interview nerves fluttering in my stomach. I’m in the depths of a particularly erotic chapter when the deep whine of a motorbike getting closer draws my attention. It pulls up a few spaces away from me.
I may know something about cars, but I don’t claim to know the first thing about motorbikes. The one I’m staring at can only be described as ‘sexy.’ It’s almost completely black, with the front suspension in a sort of bronze colour. If earth-shattering, mind-blowing sex had been morphed into a motorbike, in my mind, this would be the result.
I do know enough to know this isn’t a Harley. It’s a race bike disguised, not all that well, as road legal. I’m intrigued by it. I’ve never ridden a motorbike. Mac doesn’t have one, and none of our family or friends has ever owned one. At this moment, it seems like the pinnacle of stupidity. My face heats and I wonder if it’s the chapter I’m reading or the sight before me that causes the reaction.
The man lucky enough to have his legs wrapped around the bike has rugby player thighs. When his heavy, black boots hit the ground, thick muscles strain against his worn jeans. A black leather jacket and an all-black helmet complete the look. He tweaks the throttle before he kills the engine, kicks the stand, and gets off.
I can’t keep my eyes off his rear when he strides away towards the building, without a glance in my direction. He lifts off his helmet as he pushes through the glass doors. I catch a glimpse of him running a hand through his dark, unruly bed hair. It’s only a guess from this distance, but I can guarantee the man matches the orgasm on wheels he’s just dismounted. I suck in a shaky breath and glance over at the clock.
It’s 10:03, shit, I’m late.
I grasp the file and stuff it back into my bag. I rush out of the car, slam the door, and swear under my breath, all on the way towards the glass doors, which I assume must be the reception area. I bustle through them and am astonished at the beauty of the area in front of me. The whole room’s a glass box apart from the rear wall. The floor’s polished white stone. There are two red leather sofas arranged to face one another, between them a glass table with a few magazines arranged over it. I smile when I notice one’s actually ours. My boss at Nitrous would be pleased. At the back, central to the walls, is a beautiful, white reception desk, which has a graceful curved front with the mod shop logo inlaid in black. But what I love most about the room is the fact that you can see straight into the workshop.
Stepping up to the reception desk, I spot a sign which asks you to ring an extension if the desk is unattended. The person who works at this desk is either seriously inflicted with OCD or it’s never used. Taking another quick glance into the workshop it’s obvious the tidy ethic is carried throughout the building. I suppose if it’s on view all the time it needs to be. I pick up the phone and dial the extension numbers provided and hear the ringtone echo in the workshop.
A smooth, deep voice answers. “Ignition. Can I help you?”
“Hi, yes. I’m Elizabeth Ryder. I have an appointment with Mr. Hamilton at ten o’clock. I’m sorry, I seem to be running a fraction late.” My professional persona slides into place, hiding the embarrassment heating my face for arriving several minutes late.
“Hi, Ms. Ryder. I’m Noah. No worries, I only just got here myself. I’ll be right out.”
From the fact he’s just arrived, I assume he must be the man that rode the motorbike, and his voice is astounding. It’s like the baritone section of the heavens’ angel choir has taken up residence in his voice box. It’s calming, but at the same time stimulating. My body fires up. Heat pools between my thighs and my nether regions clench in anticipation. My breaths become surprisingly rapid, and thank God I can blame my erect nipples on the air conditioning.
What the hell is wrong with me?
That bloody book has left me wound up. Mentally I chastise myself. I shouldn’t have read it before an interview. It’s not like Mac and I are having sex at the moment. With his behaviour the way it is, it’s been months since I let him touch me like that. Why didn’t I notice sooner? My body should be numb, shouldn’t it? I shouldn’t be reacting this way. It’s got to be the book. It can’t be his voice.
Guilt tightens my stomach. Mac’s my home. Not anymore. The little bitch in me raises her head and digs the knife in my back a little further. At least it’s killing the fuzzy feeling taking over my vagina.
With my back to the workshop entrance, I pretend to be engrossed in the magazines on the glass table, when really I’m fighting to regain some control over my errant body. A latch clicks and someone enters the reception area. I turn in his direction as he starts to speak.
I imagined the man on the bike would be graced with a nice face, but that doesn’t even come close to describing what’s in front of me. Men like him should be illegal. He’s so attractive I find it difficult to look at him, and have to glance away. I know I’ve got tons of shit going on in my life at the moment, but I’m not dead.
His eyes have the most captivating irises I’ve ever seen. Framed by dark, thick lashes most women would kill for, they appear to be an unusual light hazel colour. But I swear as I take swift glances at them, they darken down to antique bronze. I was right about the dark bed hair. It’s short around the back and sides, but has a floppier, longer top, ruffled in a way that’s just begging for fingers to be run through it. Images of lazy Sundays and crumpled sheets flash through my mind.
His jaw’s strong and covered in scruff. His full lips are smirking slightly, a fine lip ring set to one side. He must be around six foot something, as he towers over my tiny five three height. Broad, strong shoulders and a wide chest taper towards his waist, and the outline of his abs is visible through the black slim-fit long-sleeved T-shirt hugging his torso.
He’s oozing sensuality and self-assurance from his pores, and he’s looking at me like he’s expecting an answer. He was talking when I turned around, wasn’t he?
Shit. What did he say?
He gazes down at me with what looks like heated eyes, but he’s chuckling to himself so it could just be a spark of humour. I’m instantly embarrassed and my cheeks flame. I have no idea what he said and he knows it. Thankfully he takes pity on me.
“I said, ‘hi, Ms. Ryder. I’m Noah. Do you want to come through to my office, or would you rather take the interview out of here?’” A playful grin replaces the smirk.
There’s no mistaking the mischievous twinkle in his eyes. I can almost guarantee he’s just added in the last part. With a face like his, I’m sure he’s no stranger to a woman’s inability to function around him, and the reasons why. It’s also obvious he’s not lacking in confidence.
“Hi, Noah, I’m pleased to meet you. Call me Liz. And yes, let’s get out of here.”
He arches one dark eyebrow at me.
Oh my god, I did not just say that.
“I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean that how it sounded, it just slipped out. That’s so unprofessional. I’m so sorry, I meant let’s get out of here…to your office,” I ramble on awkwardly.
I drop my gaze to the floor. The heat inside me is at fever pitch. I’m pretty sure I’m going to spontaneously combust at any second. Noah takes a step into my personal space. His boots an inch from touching my own, and I can smell his musky aftershave mixed with fabric softener, and a hint of engine oil. Strong fingers touch under my chin and gently nudge my face upwards. I chance a glance at his eyes up-close but they only make my breath hitch. They’re a raging inferno.
“I’ll give you that as a slip-up for now.” His face is so close, his breath caresses my lips. “But I’ll tell you now, so you know, we will be taking this elsewhere.”
My body reacts like it’s been set alight by a torch flame. My temperature increases tenfold, my breaths come faster, shallower, and the fuzzy feeling taking over down below has returned with a vengeance.
Lucifer springs to mind.
This man is dangerous. I step away from him, checking the floor for a puddle as I go. I don’t know what it is about him. Maybe it’s his voice, possibly his hotter-than-hell looks, or perhaps it’s the way he insinuated he wants me? He has made me forget who I am, made me disregard any thoughts of Mac. Totally ignore my life outside this moment. And we have barely said a few words to each other.
This is ridiculous.
I’ve lost my mind; it’s the only explanation. I’m a grown woman for Christ’s sake. I don’t fall for moves like that. I’m coming to the end of a disastrous relationship. I’ve not had sex in months, which sadly I’ve only just realised. It’s just a confidence boost to be flirted with. That must be it. My stupid body may have other ideas, but my mind knows there’s not a hope in Hades of taking this anywhere but his office.
An uncertain smile and what can only be described as a confused look takes over his features. It’s out of place on such a confident man. But it diffuses just as quickly as it came, replaced again by the signature smirk.
“Come on, Lizzie. I’ll take you through to my office so we can do the interview, and then I’ll show you around the workshop if you’d like.”
Lizzie? He puts his hand on my lower back to guide me through the workshop to his office. The contact sends fireworks through my body. Sparks spread like tree branches from the point where his hand rests, diffusing any thoughts of questioning him about my name. As if my life is not a big enough mess, I realise I’m in trouble when it comes to Noah Hamilton. He’s a distraction I don’t need, and I know I’m going to have to fight with my own body, tooth and nail, to behave.
What I really struggle to comprehend is why I don’t find his strong approach threatening, especially with Mac’s behaviour being the way it is. But I don’t.
If any other man had approached me in the same manner, I would’ve been appalled. Maybe they would’ve gotten a slap across the face. I certainly would have given them a mouthful. So why not him?
It’s that bloody book. I shrug the episode off and put on my big girl knickers and professional face as I enter Noah’s office.