Welcome to TANTALIZING THURSDAYS!!!
Today, I give you Chapter One of Racy Nights 5 - TAMING HER RACY WAYS.
Marisol Santiago needed a new car. That much was obvious as the damn piece of shit she was driving home from Luke’s Bar began to cough and sputter once again. Her only saving grace this time was that she spotted lights still on at the Racy Auto Repair, about five hundred yards ahead. If she could make it there, at least she’d have someplace to leave the hunk of junk for the night. She only hoped the man she saw walking around inside the office wasn’t Rafe Rodriguez.
Her heart sank as she inched closer. It was Rafe. She’d know that body anywhere. Rafael Rodriguez was her best friend Ria’s oldest brother and the guy she’d dated for all of four months when she was fourteen and he was a senior in high school. Their parents had gone ballistic when they’d found out, and Marisol had been grounded for six months. But that wasn’t the worst of it. She’d never gotten over Rafe. Even now, eighteen years later, her pulse still did that weird jumpy thing whenever she saw him. And in a town the size of Racy, it was almost impossible not to see him all the time.
The car was about to die. She was certain of it. And she didn’t want to be stranded at night again. There were plenty of people she could call for a ride, but she was tired of this nonsense. It was time to do something definitive about it. She’d have to take her chances with Rafe tonight because the car was not going to make it home this time.
Marisol eased the vehicle onto the garage’s lot and pulled up to the door of the nearest of the three bays. She put the car in park and turned off the ignition. At least it was off the street this time. Last time this had happened, she’d had to leave it on a city street overnight and she’d been issued a ticket for parking it illegally. Leela Williams, one of her other best friends and the Clerk of Courts, had teased her about it for a month. Marisol had fumed about the citation for twice that long.
Rafe glanced out the window, and recognition dawned on his face along with a scowl. She sighed and opened the door, stumbling in her new boots as she stepped onto the pavement. Great. Now he’d assume she was drunk on top of everything else he must be thinking right now. What a perfect end to this evening.
Rafe came outside just as Marisol recovered her balance and shut the car door. “Car trouble again?”
She nodded. Her voice always seemed to catch in her throat whenever he was this close. In eighteen years the man hadn’t changed, at least not in her eyes. Oh sure, perhaps there were tiny lines around his mouth and next to his eyes now, but he still had a head full of soft, thick, dark hair, and his eyes were still as black as coal and as expressive as they’d always been.
He still lifted weights, and his jeans and button-down shirt couldn’t hide the muscles bulging underneath them. He was the yummiest man she’d ever seen, and no one had ever measured up to him.
“What’s wrong with it this time?” he asked.
She shrugged. “Same old, same old.” A better question would have been what wasn’t wrong with it? Marisol was too frustrated to be embarrassed by Rafe’s question.
“Were you at Luke’s tonight?”
“Yes.” Was that disapproval in his eyes? She winced inwardly. Maybe she should tell him the latest gossip about one of Racy’s detectives? Then perhaps he’d stop judging her for going out on a Friday night with her friends. Rafe lived like a hermit, but did that mean he had to disapprove of people who didn’t?
“You could have asked Luke to tow it here.”
“It wasn’t misbehaving until I got to this street. I was on my way home.” She lived a mere mile from here on Oak Street. “I didn’t think I could make it this time and I didn’t want another ticket.” There was no point in pretending Rafe hadn’t heard about that incident.
“You shouldn’t drive when you’ve been drinking.”
“Rafe, I’m not drunk. The boots are new, and I tripped, that’s all.” Why did she feel the need to explain herself to him? She should have just parked the damn thing on the street and then asked Leela to fix her ticket. She probably would have said no, but it wouldn’t have hurt to try.
“Well, I was just about to close up and Bobby has gone home.” Bobby Gibbons was one of the mechanics Rafe and his father employed. Rafe used to help his father with the car repairs and still did occasionally, but these days he took care of paperwork more often than he did brake jobs or changed oil. “But we can take a look at it in the morning. Do you have to work tomorrow?”
“No. I’m off until Monday.” Marisol was a court reporter and sometimes the cases got held over until Saturdays, but lately things had been slow so her hours had been more traditional.
Rafe glanced at his watch. “Kind of an early night for you, no?”
What? Did he watch what time she went home when she was with her friends? “The atmosphere in the bar got a bit too mushy for my taste so I left.”
“Why? What happened?”
“I’ll tell you if you stop looking at me that way.”
“Like you’re convinced I’ve been out getting hammered and then decided to drive home.”
Rafe had the grace to look guilty. “I’m sorry. I guess I did jump to conclusions.” He eyed her boots. “Those are some serious heels. No wonder you stumbled.”
“If you’d pave the lot, it would be easier to walk on it.”
His grin sent her mind racing to all sorts of erotic places it had no business going, especially not with him standing this close. She suddenly became aware of his cologne, faint and musky. “It’s not that bad, Marisol. I think it’s just that women weren’t made to walk in boots like that.”
“What were they made to do in them, then?” Oh shit. She hadn’t meant for her comment to come out like that. Madre de Dios. She sounded like she was flirting. Maybe she shouldn’t have had that second margarita after all?
Rafe averted his gaze, but not before she noticed the brief flash of regret in his eyes. Heaven forbid he say anything to her that might be construed as seductive. He hadn’t paid any attention to her since they’d been forced to break up all those years ago. Eighteen years hadn’t changed that, at least. The realization always stung, but tonight it also filled her with despair.
She walked over to one of the lawn chairs set up in front of the office doors and took off her boots to rub her ankles. She’d have to wear them at home and get used to them a bit more before she wore them out again. “The things we suffer through for the sake of fashion.”
Rafe watched her for a moment, and then he took the chair next to hers. There was just enough light spilling out from the office for her to see his face in profile as he watched a car drive past. A sudden wave of nostalgia washed over her, and she glanced away. This wasn’t the time to take a trip down memory lane.
“Tell me what happened in the bar tonight.”
He’d find out soon enough anyway. It wasn’t like she was gossiping, was it? He had asked, after all. “Well, you know that new waitress Luke hired just before Christmas? Annalise? She’s been spending a lot of time with Chad Bristol and Dustin Alexander. Did you know that?” Chad was one of the two Racy detectives, along with Sean Brennan, and Dustin was the town vet. He owned the Racy Animal Clinic on Riverfront Drive.
Rafe glanced at her for a few seconds before rising from his chair. “I heard something about it. This sounds like a long story. Want a Coke?”
“Sure.” Rafe hadn’t offered her anything more than an extra scowl during all the time she’d spent here in the past six months with her car under constant repairs. He must be feeling magnanimous tonight.
He returned and handed the bottle to her. “The cap is already off. Be careful not to spill it on that nice top.”
She stared at him with her mouth open. Had he just complimented her clothing?
He took a long drink and then continued to watch the street, even though it was deserted. “So what about Annalise, Chad, and Dustin?”
“Oh, yeah. Well, they’ve grown pretty close, apparently. But Dustin’s ex-wife Susan showed up in town a while ago. Remember her? And tonight she came into the bar while he, Chad, and Annalise were there on a date. She’s been trying to talk to Dustin since she came back into town. Ria said that Luke had to call Sean one night when Susan was in the bar drunk as a skunk, pissed off that no one would tell her where Dustin was.”
Rafe laughed, and Marisol nearly dropped her Coke bottle. Maybe he was the one who was drunk tonight? He was acting so differently than what she’d expected that she wasn’t sure how to react. She hadn’t heard him laugh in a long time, and the sound washed over her like summer rain, fresh and clean.
“So anyway, tonight she came in again, only this time she wasn’t drunk. She was just bitchy. She told Dustin she wanted him back. Dustin told her he didn’t want her, and then she insulted him, Chad, and Annalise. That was bad enough, but when she called Racy a ‘hick town’ I thought everyone in the bar was going to kick her ass.”
“They should have. Never did understand what Dustin saw in her. What happened next?”
“Then Dustin and Chad told Annalise that they loved her and wanted her with them as their lover and their sub, and she told them she loved them, too, and wanted to be with them. Susan was humiliated and slunk away.”
Rafe gave Marisol a long searching look, and she wasn’t sure how to interpret it. For a few precious seconds he looked at her the way he had when they’d been dating, but then it was gone. She must have imagined it. “That must have been touching,” he finally said.
“It was. The whole bar clapped and cheered. Right before I left Luke gave free drinks to everyone.”
Rafe chuckled. “That sounds like something he would do. He always was sappy as hell.”
“You wouldn’t have thought so if you’d been there. It was epic.” It had also depressed the hell out of Marisol, which is why she’d left Leela and Bonnie Kowalski, her other good friend, and driven home.
Rafe turned his chair slightly to face her. “Epic? What does that mean, Marisol?”
“I don’t know. People just say it. You know, like when something is just huge or really meaningful.”
“I know what the words means. What I’m asking is why someone coming into a bar to make a fool of herself is considered ‘epic.’ Or, were you talking about Annalise, Chad, and Dustin publicly declaring their love?”
“I was talking about those three, not Susan. Although, watching her face as Dustin told her to get lost and that he loved Annalise was pretty hysterical.”
Rafe glanced at the empty road again. “I’m happy for them.”
He didn’t sound happy. He sounded as despondent as Marisol felt. A rumble of thunder split the silence, and the southwest wind carried the smell of rain. “It’s supposed to storm tonight. I need to get home.” She didn’t want to have this conversation with Rafe. There was no way she could tell him how lonely and pointless her life had suddenly felt when stacked up against the scene she’d witnessed tonight in the bar. She was genuinely happy for the three, but it also put her situation into harsh perspective. Would she ever find love like that, even with one man?
Marisol pulled her cell out of her bag but stopped in the act of calling Leela as Rafe stood up and spoke to her. “I’ll give you a ride.”
“What?” Had she heard him right?
He picked up his lawn chair and folded it. “Let me get these chairs inside and lock up, and then I’ll give you a ride home. The storm sounds like it’s close, and on The Weather Channel earlier they said it’s going to be a bad one.”
As if on cue, lightning split the sky and the next rumble of thunder did sound closer than the previous one. For a brief second hope had built, but then Marisol realized he was simply being polite. He didn’t want her waiting for a ride in the middle of a severe thunderstorm. By the time Rafe had locked up and she was climbing into the front seat of his truck, the wind had really picked up.
Fat drops of rain splashed his windshield as he pulled into her driveway, and the thunder and lightning crashed right overhead. Marisol was about to open the passenger door when the unmistakable wail of storm sirens reached her ears. “Holy shit,” she muttered.
Rafe put the truck in park and turned off the ignition, and then they both ran to her front door, where she almost fumbled her house keys because her fingers were trembling. Tornado warnings were nothing new in Racy in early May, but Marisol hated the damn things and was never calm during one of them. She opened the door just as the wind came rushing at them. They stepped inside and she slammed the door shut.
Without bothering to turn on the lights, she grabbed Rafe’s hand and led him to the basement stairs. Her heart hammered in her ears, but all she could she think about was that if she fell down the steps in these boots she wouldn’t have to worry about the tornado. She’d break her damn neck.
The storm crashed and rumbled outside. Marisol had candles down there, but she didn’t want to try and find them right now. They huddled in the darkness of what she called her “storm closet,” on a pile of old blankets that she kept in it for just such occasions. Inside, there was barely large enough for her, let alone Rafe, so they had no choice but to cuddle up together.
The scent of his cologne mixed with familiar smells from the garage filled her head. She was aware of his breathing, as fast and shallow as her own, and also of the hardness of his muscled left arm and thigh pressed up against her right side. When he put his arm around her and drew her close, she bit back a moan.
She hadn’t been this physically close to him in eighteen years, and even the sound of the storm and the still-wailing sirens couldn’t dim her arousal. Fat tears spilled over her lids, and she blinked them away. She had to push aside those feelings for now, but it was difficult to do so after everything that had happened tonight.
For eighteen years she had missed him, and for eighteen years she had watched him from afar, too ashamed and humiliated to say anything or give him so much as a hint that she hadn’t wanted things to end between them. She understood now of course why they’d had to end things when they were teens, but then she’d waited all through high school and her two years at the College of Court Reporting in Hobart for him to tell her that he still wanted to be with her, but he never had. All their vows of love when they were so young had meant nothing to him, but Marisol had never stopped loving him.
Leela and Bonnie had hounded her for five years to say something to him, but pride kept her from doing so. Finally they backed off, and Marisol had dated off and on, but no one ever measured up to Rafe. He was the gold standard, and every other man fell short.
Even when they’d broken up and he’d called her a little schoolgirl, she knew he hadn’t meant it. He’d had to say that to save face. His parents had put as much pressure on him as Marisol’s had put on her. He’d said that because they were standing there, on the river walk, and Marisol was crying. Rafe was trying very hard not to, and Marisol knew that if he hadn’t said something to cause her to turn away, he’d have cried as well. That would have made his humiliation too much to bear, and she understood that. She’d forgiven him for calling her that within seconds. Did he know that? Did he even still remember that terrible afternoon?
“You okay?” he whispered.
She swallowed hard at the sound of that voice, soft and sultry. If only they were in bed right now, snuggled up after making love instead of hiding from a tornado. But that would never happen.
“Scared shitless.” That was the truth at least, but she was afraid of more than just the storm. “You?”
“Pretty much the same.”
She was stunned. Rafe was a true Hispanic male all the way. He kept up a stoic, alpha, rough-and-tough exterior. He never showed emotion, and he never admitted fears or insecurities. For him to say that either meant he was way more comfortable around her than she’d assumed, or they were both going to die and somehow he knew it.
“It doesn’t seem to be letting up. I can still hear the tornado sirens.” She tried to bring up the Internet on her phone so they could see the radar, but the page wouldn’t load. “Shit. Do you think a cell tower was hit or something?”
“Either that or the signals are just jammed.”
“That’s not good.”
He gave her shoulder a squeeze, and Marisol’s breath caught in her throat as she tried again to hold back a moan. It came out as a sigh. “It’ll be okay, Marisol.”
It might, and then again it might not. But even after the storm passed, nothing between them would have changed. Her life would still go on without him in it, and he’d return to giving her no more than a passing nod whenever he saw her on the street.
**You can purchase TAMING HER RACY WAYS
and the entire Racy Nights series by clicking HERE**
and the entire Racy Nights series by clicking HERE**