Authors: Christa Maurice
Also by Christa Maurice
Drawn to the Rhythm Series
Satellite of Love
Heaven Beside You
Twenty Flight Rock
Let Me Be the One
Keep Coming Back to Love
Writing as Charlotte McClain
Arden FD Series
Three Alarm Tenant
Struck By Lightning
Spark of Desire
Weaver’s Circle Series
Secrets Everybody Knows
One Ring to Rule
SATELLITE OF LOVE
Drawn to the Rhythm, Book One
By CHRISTA MAURICE
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.
To my own loyal band: Trisha, Roxanna and Jacki
Maureen dropped her head to the steering wheel in front of Tony’s Garage. She was not going to make that blind date, and depending on the repair bill, might be happy about that. One of these days she had to tell her friend Linda no when she came up with another man. So far they had all been wasted evenings.
She really needed to try to meet some decent men on her own. So far the strategy of school all day and sitting home all night planning for school the next day wasn’t working so great for the social calendar.
At least the screaming brakes gave her a good excuse to cancel. The sign said closed, but when she pushed the door, it opened. The bay to the right was empty, but further back, in the bays behind the building, she could hear clanking and a radio playing. Tony must be working late.
“Hello?” Maureen peered through the short hallway from the obsessively clean waiting area to the back repair bays. The far door stood nearly closed so she could only see a sliver of the room. A tire, a black fender with a piece of masking tape on it, a work light, a black hood propped open. “Tony? Are you back there? It’s Maureen Donnelly.”
Feet shuffled and the radio’s volume lowered. What if it wasn’t Tony? Maybe one of his assistants had stayed late. Rusty or…the high school kid…Eric, that was his name. Did Tony trust his high school work-study assistant enough to leave him alone in the garage after hours? “I’m having some trouble with my brakes. They’re making a lot of noise. You probably heard them when I pulled in.”
What if it wasn’t either one of them? What if it was some total stranger? What if it was somebody dangerous? She fumbled in her purse for her cell phone then stopped.
What was she going to do? Call 911 so they could listen to her screams for help without being able to do anything because they didn’t know where she was? Tomorrow’s headline could read:
Second Grade Teacher Slain In Garage, Too Stupid To Know Responders Couldn’t Track Her Cellphone Signal
. She should have gotten one of those apps that broadcast her every move. Then she could have just posted to Facebook.
Being murdered. Call Police. Tony’s Garage
The door to the back bays opened and a bulky silhouette that didn’t really fit Tony, Rusty, or Eric filled it.
She took a step back toward the outside door. “Hi, sorry I bothered you. I can come back in the morning.”
Teacher’s Body Found Rolled In Rug Behind Convenience Store, Cell Phone Still In Her Hand
“It’s okay.” The man walked through the dark hall and into the waiting area. His broad, friendly face seemed familiar. He wore his long brown hair in a ponytail and had a smudge of grease on his cheek. “I heard you pull in. You want me to take a look?”
“No.” She bumped into the door. “I mean, you don’t have to. I’ll just leave it for Tony in the morning.” The mechanic didn’t look at all threatening, but adrenalin interfered with rational thought.
Memorial Service For Murdered Teacher Tuesday, Local Garages Offering Free Brake Checks. Says Tony D’Amato, owner of the garage where her car was found Friday, “If she’d just gotten that squeaking noise checked when she first heard it, all of this could have been avoided.”
“They sounded pretty bad. You might have worn down to the rotors. Let me take a look.” He crossed the room.
Honestly, he looked about as threatening as the Easter Bunny. If the Easter Bunny had amazing shoulders. “It’s okay.” Before she announced that someone was picking her up, she stopped herself. The neighborhood wasn’t the greatest and calling for a ride meant standing around in it, increasing her chances for ending up in that rug. Better the devil she had just met than the one who might be lurking in the dark. “Who are you?”
He had been reaching out, hopefully to grab the door because his hands were filthy, but pulled back when she asked. “I’m— I’m Michael, Tony’s brother.”
“Michael. No wonder you look familiar. Sorry. I wasn’t sure.” Too much caffeine and too many murder mysteries. She needed to lay off both for a while.
“That’s okay.” Michael pursed his lips. Nice lips they were too. Full, red, very kissable for the Easter-Bunny-slash-killer. “You want me to take a look at those brakes now?”
“Sure. Thanks. I know it’s after hours, but they started to sound really bad.” She held out her keys. “I guess you’ll need to put it up on the lift or something.”
Michael nodded, ripped some paper off the roll inside the door to protect the interior of her precious ten-year-old clunker and crossed the lot to her car. She wouldn’t mind having that body in her driver’s seat. The way he filled out his coverall was a sight. Broad shoulders, narrow waist, nice tight butt. Very nice.
She turned away from the window before he caught her staring. Good thing she wasn’t going on that date in this frame of mind. From murdered and rolled in a rug to sweaty sex on the hood of a car in ten seconds flat, and all she’d needed was his name.
Her phone was still in her hand so she located the latest bachelor on her list of calls as she walked through the hallway to watch Michael pull her car in. Tony didn’t like customers in the bay. He claimed it was dangerous. The only danger she could imagine was brain damage from the stench of oil, gasoline and exhaust. Brain damage be damned, she wasn’t going to pass on the chance to ogle.
“Hi—” Crud, what was this bachelor’s name? “It’s Maureen. I wanted to let you know I can’t make it tonight.”
“Sorry to hear that.” He didn’t sound sorry. Maybe Linda’s sales pitch hadn’t been that good.
“My brakes are making a horrible noise. I’m sure you can hear it.” Michael had just pulled through the door and the squeals echoed beautifully on the cinderblock walls.
“That sounds pretty bad. Um... I guess you’ll need a ride.”
“No.” That was it. No more of Linda’s blind dates. “I’ll be fine.”
“Okay. I guess I’ll talk to you.”
Not if I recognize your number before I answer the phone
. “Yeah. Okay. ’Bye.” She closed her phone. At this very moment she could be at home watching TV in sweats, grading math tests and deciding to bring the car to Tony tomorrow. She’d washed her hair, shaved her legs, put on makeup and dressed up for whatshisname. The sexy dark blue jersey dress she’d selected needed somebody who’d appreciate her effort. Hands on hips to hold her coat open, she sauntered behind the car. Michael was operating the lift, but he gave her a once over when she passed.
“Well?” she asked.
“They aren’t supposed to sound like that. I’ll have to pull the tire off to see how bad it is, but it’s not going to be good. Does Tony do all the maintenance on your car?”
“Most of it. He told me to go to the quick lube places for my oil changes.” Lube, hehe. She really needed to mix with adults more often.
“Has your transmission fluid been clear?” Michael walked to the front driver’s side tire, so she followed him.
“I guess so. The guy at the lube place said I needed to have it flushed next time I go in. Why?”
“Felt to me like your transmission was slipping.” He popped the hubcap off and used a loud tool to loosen the lug nuts.
When she flinched away from the noise, she bumped into the car he’d been working on. It was black except for the trunk, which was orange. Just sitting there, hood up and orange trunk lid, it seemed to say, “Hey, baby, wanna ride?” She sidled toward the front. On the fender a strip of masking tape said
Satellite of Love
. “Is this your car?”
Michael looked over his shoulder, yanking the tire off as if it weighed less than a duvet. “Yeah. That’s my baby.”
“Satellite of Love?”
“My sister-in-law’s idea of a joke. It’s a ’72 Plymouth Satellite.”
As if that meant something to her. As far as she could tell, it was a car that might or might not run. She leaned on the Satellite’s fender. Her car always looked so helpless up on the lift. More so now that it was missing a tire.
“You headed someplace tonight?” Michael asked.
“Naw, if I’d really wanted to be there I could have continued to ignore that squealing.” She grinned, but he didn’t turn around to see it. Another wasted effort. “So what are you doing here?”
“I’m visiting my brother and his family.” Michael glanced over his shoulder frowning, clearly absorbed with the car thing in his hand. Men and their obsession with inanimate objects. “This is bad.”
“What’s bad?” She stepped forward.
“This piece?” He held up a dirty, holey piece of who knew what in his large, strong-looking hand. “This is the shoe. This is what stops your car and it works best when it isn’t full of holes.”
Her grimace, such an attractive expression, he did see. Of course. “Is it expensive?”
Why did he sound like money was no object to him? “Yes, is it going to cost a lot to fix?”
“It’s not cheap, but it’s a lot less expensive than plowing into a wall or another car.” He shrugged. “Tony’s pretty busy tomorrow, but if he can’t get to it, I’m sure we can do it Sunday so you can have it back for Monday.”