Read Sensual Stranger Online

Authors: Tina Donahue

Sensual Stranger (3 page)

“The usual reasons.”

Frustration fought with his amusement. She was really
something. What exactly, Zach wasn’t altogether certain. But he couldn’t deny
how much he enjoyed her verbal gymnastics. A low chuckle rumbled from him.
“Which are?”

Head lowered, she wiped her fingers on a clean part of the
rag. “I was at that farm supply store north of here, putting on a performance
in the lot.” She snuck a look at him, then examined her nails, rubbing them
with the cloth. “I wasn’t hurting anything. I wasn’t anywhere near the damn
store. I was just trying to make some cash until I can get back on the
circuit.”

Lowering the rag to the fender, she met his eyes. “The crowd
was building up really good and then a deputy appeared out of nowhere. He
wanted proof of insurance, which I didn’t have, and my permit to perform, which
I also didn’t have.”

She rolled her eyes. “Before I knew it, he was calling a
towing company and impounding my bike. When I couldn’t pay the fine, the judge
sentenced me to three days in jail and told me they’d keep my bike and driver’s
license until I could pay the fees and get insurance.”

Her nonchalance about the matter surprised Zach, along with
something else. “You couldn’t call your folks to have them bail you out?”

Her expression clouded immediately. She averted her gaze,
watching the few cars heading down the street. When she spoke, her voice
remained careful, her manner measured. “Every day my bike’s in impound, they
tack on more storage fees. What a racket, huh?” She shrugged. “I figure after a
month here, fixing these babies,” she rapped her knuckles against the Saturn,
“I’ll have enough to get my bike, some cheapo insurance and take off, just in
time for the start of the season.”

Sounded reasonable for someone who led such an
unconventional life and apparently did it all alone.

Why that disturbed Zach, he hadn’t a clue. She was a
stranger. As interesting as the last few minutes had been, it wasn’t his job to
help her.

So what was the story with her family? Was she on the outs
with her parents? And who the fuck was Lucky? An ex-boyfriend? Ex-husband?

“You need the help,” she said, cutting into his thoughts.

He regarded the cars in the bay and thought of those in the
lot requiring service. Work that kept him busy at night after his mechanics
left, sparing him from thinking too much, wondering what might have been if he
hadn’t lost Meg.

“Sorry,” he said, surprised at the catch in his voice,
emotion he forced down. “I can’t hire you.”

For seconds, she didn’t comment. And then she spoke softly,
without accusation. “Sure you can. But you won’t.”

He wanted to explain, to look away, but could not.

They held each other’s gaze. Their silence grew, allowing
other sounds to intrude. Carrie Underwood’s latest hit played on the radio. A
jet rumbled overhead on its journey west, possibly to Los Angeles or Hawaii.
Children’s voices, shrill with excitement, urged their parents to hurry down
the street.

“It’s okay,” Toni said at last, her smile resigned and sad,
“at least I gave it a shot.” She closed the Saturn’s hood and cleaned the
wrench as she approached him. After putting the tool back in its drawer, she
folded the rag, leaving it on top of the cabinet.

Each movement delivered more of her scent, causing Zach’s
heart to beat far too quickly. He noticed beads of perspiration on her throat
and a small mole on her left biceps, a solitary mark amidst all that pale skin.
Unable to stop himself, he asked, “Where will you go now?”

Toni lifted her narrow shoulders. “The next repair shop that
might need help.” She reached for her jacket.

Zach’s hand settled on her wrist, stopping her. The
silkiness of her skin jolted his senses. He drew in a deep breath to calm
himself. “You said you were flat broke. Does that mean you have no money at
all?”

With a directness that shouldn’t have surprised him, but
did, she met his eyes. In her expression, he detected no bullshit. It was as
though he had a window into her mind and heart, seeing how truly alone she was,
the fear she tried so hard to hide.

“If I did,” she said, “I wouldn’t be here.”

Not good enough. He wanted a real explanation. What in the
fuck could have happened in her life to have brought her to this point? “When
was the last time you ate?”

She tilted her head to one side and regarded him, clearly
not expecting his question. “At the shelter last night.”

“You’re staying there?”

“Not again. It’s hardly permanent housing. There are a lot
of mothers with little kids who need the facilities more than I do.”

Releasing her wrist, Zach pulled the jacket from her reach,
moving it to the adjacent counter.

Toni’s gaze darted from it to him. “You’re hiring me after
all?”

He cupped her elbow in his palm, his fingers curling over
her smooth, hot skin, his thumb stroking it, the movement seemingly independent
of his brain and good sense. “I’m buying you breakfast.” It was the least he
could do. “Come on.”

Chapter Three

 

Toni swallowed at the slow, sensuous brush of his thumb on her
skin, his firm caress and restrained strength. Desire slithered through her,
along with an intolerable impulse to edge close.

She stopped herself before she did. She needed a job, not
him to touch her, no matter how pleasant. She required work, not just
breakfast, despite how hungry she was. Had he heard her growling belly?
Probably.

Gently, his fingers tightened on her elbow. “Come on,” he
repeated, his voice brooking no argument, his manner all business, taking
control.

The gentleness within his directive, his obvious concern,
defeated the refusal bubbling up in Toni. She’d been tired and hungry in the
past, though nothing like now. Sitting down and eating would be heaven. Having
someone take care of her, making her feel wanted and safe, if only for a little
while, was more than she could resist.

“My saddlebag,” she said, holding back as he tried to lead
her from the garage.

Zach looked over, his gaze touching hers, before he glanced
at the black leather bag.

“It’s all I have,” she admitted. “Along with my helmet and
jacket.”

His expression revealed more dismay than surprise. He turned
his head to a young man striding into the garage.

Probably early twenties, the guy had brown hair, cut in a
longish crew, the ends sticking straight up with the aid of industrial-strength
gel. A dagger-shaped silver earring decorated his left lobe, a small ring
curled over his right nostril. Battered jeans and a navy tee hung on his lean,
youthful frame that hadn’t yet filled out with the man he would someday be.

“Mornin’,” he said.

Zach nodded.

The guy’s gaze slid to her—or rather all over her—then to
Zach’s hand cupping her elbow. His attention perked up at the scene.

Zach interrupted it, his voice all business. “Put the lady’s
jacket, helmet and saddlebag in my office.”

“No, I’m taking the bag,” Toni said.

The young man’s faded blue eyes darted back and forth
between them, settling on her breasts, remaining there.

“Fine,” Zach said to her, then spoke to the guy. “Robbie.”

“Ah, sure.” He gave her a quick, questioning smile. Grabbing
her stuff, he headed for the office, glancing back at them as he did.

“Is he one of your mechanics?” Toni asked, her voice lowered
so Robbie couldn’t hear.

Zach nodded.

Toni wanted to ask if Robbie was good at his job, but
didn’t. It wouldn’t change Zach’s mind about her working here. Besides, she
didn’t want to push someone else out to give herself a chance, no matter her
desperation.

With his hand still on her arm, Zach bent over and grabbed
the carrying handles of her saddlebag, hauling it up.

“I’ll take it,” Toni said, wiggling her fingers.

Easily, Zach held it out of her reach, his head tilting
right and left as he studied its bulging contours. “It’s much heavier than I
thought it would be. What do you have in here?”

Her life. “Stuff that belongs to me.”

He looked at her, seeming to expect more of an answer.

Toni held his gaze. “I can carry it.”

“Not while I’m here.” He guided her toward the street.

Her belly fluttered at the curious mixture of dominance and
kindness he displayed that seemed an intrinsic part of him. Was this how he was
in bed with a woman he wanted? Demanding, yet giving? Dangerous, yet safe?
Playing all sorts of decadent carnal games, like turning her over his knee and
punishing her because she hadn’t responded quickly enough to his passion? Then
mounting her, his stiff cock plunging into her damp channel with a sweet fury
that brought her exquisite relief? And afterward, did he caress her gently, his
tender kisses delivering her to sleep?

Heat flooded Toni’s throat, her face, having nothing to do
with the sun bearing down. She ran her tongue over her lips, moistening them as
her mind drifted helplessly to an image of her kneeling in front of Zach,
obedient to his command, unbuttoning his jeans, lowering the zipper, the metal rasp
so real in her thoughts a shiver of pleasure pulsed through her.

She pictured her thumbs hooked into his jeans’ denim and
soft cotton briefs, pulling the garments down quickly, the movement confirming
her lust and exposing the dark tangle of hair on his groin, his thick, meaty
rod and plump balls. They’d smell of him and raw male lust.

Her lids fluttered at the thought of cradling his testicles
in her palm, holding them gently as she licked his length, tasting the firm,
salty skin, dipping the tip of her tongue into the tiny slit in the head.

“Toni.”

With her name, the images fled. She squinted at the sun,
then stared at him, marveling at his beautiful eyes and masculine features,
wondering what it would be like to run her fingertips down his bristly cheeks
and tunnel her hands through his silky hair. She watched the breeze playing
with the locks dangling over his forehead. “What?”

As he studied her, his expression changed. He seemed
uncertain suddenly, as though he’d lost his train of thought. Clearing his
throat, apparently remembering what he’d meant to say, he asked, “What do you
like to eat? There’s a diner to the right with the usual breakfast fare or a
pancake house to the left.”

With each choice he’d offered, the tips of his fingers
tightened gently on her elbow.

All too conscious of his touch, Toni tried to distract
herself. She glanced up and down the street at the wooden buildings painted in
bright primary colors…firecracker reds, vivid blues, buttercup yellows made the
area cheery and welcoming. Most of the architecture sported an Old West look
with flat fronts and fancy gold lettering on the windows.

Her lids finally slid down at the warmth of Zach’s hand and
the wind’s brief caress. On the heated, dry air, Toni caught something she
hadn’t before…the exquisite aroma of bacon and cinnamon. Inhaling deeply, she
just about purred, “Do you smell that? Where’s it coming from?”

“The diner.”

“Oh, there. Please.”

Zach’s voice rumbled with pleasure. “Good choice.”

Forcing her eyes to open, Toni saw his smile. Not wanting to
stare too obviously, she glanced past him at the hard blue sky. There wasn’t a
cloud in sight to mar its perfection, only a group of black birds winging their
way toward the mountains.

Hand on her arm, Zach led her up the street to the diner,
his stride slow.

Because of his leg? Toni glanced at it.

He asked, “How long have you been here?”

“I don’t know.” She looked up. “Where’s here?”

He chuckled.

Her heart made a funny leap at having made him laugh and the
sexy crinkles at the corners of his eyes.

He explained, “You’re in Arizona.”

“Yeah, I know that. I meant, where’s here?” With her free
hand, she pointed down. “This town, city, whatever. I didn’t see any signs
coming in.” She’d been too busy searching for a garage and stopped when she found
his. “What’s it called?”

“Indulgence.”

“Get out.”

Grinning, he inclined his head toward the other side of the
street.

Toni looked, reading the storefront windows she hadn’t
noticed. There was Indulgence Gifts, Indulgence Ice Cream Parlor, Indulgence Western
Wear.

“There has to be a story behind that name,” she said.

He pulled his gaze from her and regarded the sidewalk ahead.
“A few years back the city council consulted with a marketing firm about ways
to bring in more tourist dollars. The firm concluded that a good start would be
changing the name from Keanyville.” His smile returned as he shook his head.
“They said Indulgence sounded like a town in an old Clint Eastwood movie and
people would flock here.”

Toni’s gaze swept the cars on the streets. It wasn’t exactly
rush hour in New York, but she noticed the parking spaces filling up and what
seemed to be tourists glancing in the shop windows. “Sounds like a plan.” She
looked over. “So nothing wild goes on here?”

Zach paused at a street corner. A dark blue Chrysler Sebring
moved past the stop sign slower than a sloth. The elderly driver had a face
mapped with wrinkles that deepened as she squinted at Toni. Clearly not liking
what she saw, she settled her displeased frown on Zach.

With an easy smile, he dipped his head in greeting.

The woman kept glancing over her shoulder at them as her
vehicle rolled across the street.

Zach led Toni to the other side. Curiosity rang in his
voice. “Define wild.”

Toni swung her head to him. He kept his gaze straight ahead,
leading her up the block.

Define wild,
he’d said.

Her thoughts turned inward to the men she’d known, all of
them out for a good time—gambling, boozing, fucking—each unconcerned with the
future. As far as Toni was concerned, that made them more stupid than anything,
afraid to grow up.

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