Read Sensual Stranger Online

Authors: Tina Donahue

Sensual Stranger (5 page)

Zach hadn’t a clue as to what that might be. It sure as hell
wasn’t what was happening to him at this moment. Even though his mind kept
saying “get a grip”, every cell in his body remained at attention for her.
“Where you from?” he blurted suddenly, needing to know. “Originally?” he
thought to add.

A long moment passed before she lowered her menu to the
table. “Why?” She forced the sudden caution off her face, replacing it with a
lazy smile. “You worried I don’t have a social security number? That I’m not
authorized to work in this country?”

Zach nearly smiled at her tenacity in wanting a job. But
only for a month, he reminded himself—four short weeks so she could get her
bike out of prison and zoom away never to be seen again. “Just curious, that’s

Her gaze slid to the right of him, her expression hiding
whatever she thought. “I’m from a lot of places.”

Zach waited for her to add details, even though he figured
she would not. He regarded the ends of her hair skimming her throat, the hollow
between her breasts, her erect nipples pushing against her stretchy cotton
tank, the hard buds reacting to the blast of chilled air pouring from the vent
above them.

“I want that,” she said.

At the longing in her voice, Zach followed her gaze to a
nearby table, seeing a young man and woman with two preschool children. Their
blond good looks and innocent smiles made them a Norman Rockwell portrait of
the perfect family from the fifties.

At Toni’s quiet sigh, Zach turned back to her.

Her expression and voice remained distracted as she said, “I
haven’t had whipped cream on waffles in a long time.”

Again, he regarded the couple, noticing the woman’s plate
heaped with a mound of the sweet treat.

“I’d also like what the guy’s eating,” Toni said. “That
omelet looks really good.”

Zach gentled his voice. “Get whatever you want.”

Toni looked at him.

His heart made a weird twist at the yearning he saw in her
eyes, followed by her flare of desire, so naked and wanting it rendered him
helpless to glance away. She wore the look of a woman who’d deny him nothing,
who’d willingly explore their needs wherever he demanded.

Intense warmth settled in Zach’s chest and throat. His scalp

Toni crossed her legs, her foot brushing his calf, remaining
there. Zach didn’t move his leg. Their eyes remained locked. Silence embraced
them, feeling somehow right, while the rest of the restaurant hummed with
activity and sound. Johnny Cash sang
Ring of Fire,
the air conditioner’s
fan whooshed out cold air, utensils clacked against plates, people gabbed and

“So, you two decided yet?” Em asked, intruding upon them,
delivering the pitcher he’d asked for.

Zach poured a glass of the ice water, pushing it toward
Toni. “Ladies first.”

Her cheeks pinked up.

“So, what do you want?” Em asked.

Toni lowered her gaze to the menu, her expression saying she
suddenly recalled it. Head lifted to Em, she blurted, “A job. I’ll waitress or
wash dishes or clean the place. Your choice.”

Clearly surprised, Em looked at Zach.

“Do you own this place too?” Toni asked him, dismay in her

Em laughed. “No, hon. I own it with my husband, Hector. He’s
the cook.”

“I can help him,” Toni said.

Zach countered, “I thought you were a mechanic, at least
when you’re not being a daredevil.”

“A what?” Em asked.

“I’m a mechanic and a motorcycle performance artist, when
I’m employed,” Toni retorted, then turned back to Em. “I’m not saying I can
cook, but I can follow a recipe. It’s not rocket science, right?”

Em rested her hand on her ample hip. The lines above her
nose got seriously nasty with her frown. “To Hector, it is. He’s very proud of
what he does.”

“I won’t screw it up, I swear,” Toni said. “All I want is a
chance to earn some money.” She craned her head. “Is that Hector?” She pointed
across the room to the rectangular window that revealed the guts of the
kitchen. Hector, swarthy and sweating, alternately cooked and directed the
younger man at his side. “Maybe we can talk.”

“I don’t think so, hon.” Em didn’t move, which effectively
blocked Toni from leaving her seat. “Like Zach said, you’re a mechanic. Better
stick with what you know.”

“Even if it means I’ll starve? Look, it’s only for a month,”
she added quickly, “until I can make enough to get my bike out of impound.”

“Outta where?” Em asked.

“It’s a long story,” Zach said.

Toni’s head swung to him.

He inhaled deeply of her lavender scent. Arousal hit him
hard and fast, along with a rush of tenderness at the desperation he saw in her
eyes. How far had she walked today before reaching Indulgence? Who’d given her
a ride when she’d hitched? Hadn’t she worried about hooking up with a stranger
who could possibly be a psychopath? Hadn’t she cared? Or were such concerns
only for young women who had families to care about them and money to protect
them from harm?

“Please,” Toni said to Em. “I’ll do whatever odd jobs you
have around here. I’ll—”

Zach cut in. “A month, no more than that.”

“Work hard— What?” she asked, interrupting herself.

He pushed his paper napkin and utensils to the right and
back to the left. “I’ll give you a month at my place. Standard wage.”

Toni’s eyes rounded in surprise. A smile blossomed across
her face.

Her joy was so luminous, so breathtakingly happy, Zach
barely caught himself from returning her smile.

“How standard for the wage?” she asked, all sassy now. “Same
as the guys?”

He cocked a brow.

She grinned. “Better than the guys?”

“If he’s wise,” Em said with a chuckle.

Zach’s gaze jerked to her, then returned to Toni.

She searched his face. “You’re sure?”

Hell no, he was not, but he was a man of his word. He’d help
her for a month, then see her on her way. Out of his life. Out of his thoughts.
He’d give her a kiss goodbye for luck.

He’d pull her into himself so hard, she’d lose all of her
breath and whatever resistance she might have had. He’d capture her mouth,
plunging his tongue inside, his kiss uncivilized, impatient for more. He’d tunnel
his hand beneath her stretchy tank top to free her breast from the confines of
her bra, holding her flesh in his palm, testing its precious weight, feeling
the emptiness and coldness once she was gone.

Which she would be in a month. Going back to wherever she’d
come from. Maybe a place she’d escaped. Women weren’t alone like she was,
without friends or family to help, unless some SOB was involved.

A man she might have loved.

A pang of jealousy hit him. Surprising. Intense.

“Zach?” Toni said, her gaze questioning.

He took her glass of water, finishing half of it. Wiping his
mouth with the back of his hand, he said, “Yeah, I’m sure.”

Chapter Four


Twenty minutes before quitting time, Toni finished rotating
and balancing the tires on a Ford Ranger. Its owner, a forty-something guy with
receding red hair, watched her from just outside the bay doors.

Feeling frisky, Toni gave him two thumbs up.

His face flushed, matching the color of the freckles on his
scalp. Lowering his can of Coke, he called out, “You’re done?”

She flicked the rack’s switch to lower his pickup to the
floor. “Will be in a sec. Soon as I settle the paperwork.”

He exchanged a glance with the guys standing next to him,
who’d also been watching her. As one, they clapped in wild applause, with the
youngest offering a celebratory whistle.

Grinning, Toni draped her right arm across her torso and
bowed from the waist, playing into their teasing, liking the camaraderie. It
reminded her of the good times she’d had with Lucky and Belle.

Several days ago, she’d spent the last of her money to call
them, not to say anything about her arrest and the impound, but to lie,
assuring them she was all right.

And she was for the time being. With the money she’d make
from this gig, she’d be able to send a bit to them. She’d get her bike out of
impound, some cheapo insurance. And after that, she’d have to be on her way.

A month, no more than that,
Zach had said.

The applause died down and so did her smile.

Her first day here was almost gone, passing with surprising
speed, reminding her of a life she hadn’t experienced in too long, one of
stability, knowing what the next day would bring. Throughout the morning and
afternoon, she’d been able to relax even though the locals had stopped by to
observe the female mechanic, a curiosity apparently unheard of in Indulgence.

Many of the younger guys had grinned openly as if she were
slithering up and down a pole in an X-rated nightclub rather than wearing a
baggy pair of dark blue overalls—the same as Robbie and Angel, the other mechanic.

Through it all, Toni had felt Zach watching her. When she’d
glanced at his office, he hadn’t averted his gaze or moved away from the window
to return to his desk. He’d regarded her with the same intensity she
experienced and had trouble ignoring.

Too quickly, she was becoming wanting of his touch, the
sound of his rich baritone, the pleasure of seeing him smile because of
something she’d said. At this rate, leaving here, never seeing him again, would
be damn difficult, but necessary. He’d given her four weeks. Better than she’d
hoped for.

Grabbing the clipboard, she finished filling out the
paperwork and headed for his office, her biker boots making sharp taps against
the concrete floor.

The moment she went inside, Zach’s eyes flicked from the
customer he’d been speaking with to her. Enjoying the cool embrace of the
air-conditioning, Toni lifted the clipboard to show him why she was here, then
offered it to him.

“Just a sec,” Zach said to the middle-aged woman who’d
pulled up in a silver Cadillac. “Is this the Miller work order?” he asked Toni.

She opened her mouth to respond. Nothing came out as Zach
took the clipboard, his fingers touching hers, covering hers, delivering a
shock of sensation. The same as this morning when he’d given her the bottle of

Her legs went watery and her mouth went dry. She nodded.

“Thanks.” He took the paperwork and laid it on his desk.

Back in the garage, Toni barely noticed the oppressive heat
or the Faith Hill song playing on the radio. As she put away the tools, her
hands shook slightly. Partly because of her reaction to Zach, partly because it
was the end of the day with the night looming.

Turning, she flinched at Robbie and Angel standing so close,
no doubt wanting to get to the cabinet. “Sorry,” she said. Her head swung to
the garage doors. The customers and gawkers had moved on while she’d been deep
in lust and worry. “Didn’t mean to get in your way,” she added to the guys,
offering a smile.

Angel spoke first. “You’re not.” As skinny as Robbie was,
Angel was as hefty. In addition to a shaved head, he sported a tattoo of a
dream catcher on his thick neck and one of a cross on his meaty wrist.
“We…Robbie and me,” he added in his soft, lilting voice, “were just wondering
what you were planning on doing tonight.”

Good question. Thank god she’d had such an enormous
breakfast and lunch, courtesy of Zach, with him ordering pizza for the entire
crew. An event she suspected didn’t happen often given the guys’ surprised
expressions. At least she wouldn’t be hungry tonight. As to where she planned
to stay…

“For fun,” Robbie explained.

Fun cost money she didn’t have. Even one beer was out of the
question, the same as hanging out with these guys. They were both as sweet as
could be, but she couldn’t expect them to pay for anything, nor could she ask
to crash at either of their places, no matter her situation. She didn’t want
Zach thinking she might be sleeping with either of his employees for a bed.

With a negligent shrug, she put on her tough-girl act, one
she’d perfected over the years, declining what she knew was a coming
invitation. “I think I’m just going to crash. Been a busy day, you know?”

Angel backed off immediately. “Oh sure. I hear you.”

Robbie asked, “Where you staying?”

Another good question. Mind racing, Toni lied, “This place
at the edge of town. Nothing fancy.”

“An apartment?” Robbie pressed. “The Phoenix complex on
Cottonwood Avenue or the—”

“You guys done for the day?” Zach interrupted.

Robbie and Angel glanced past her. Toni looked over.

A few feet away, Zach regarded the younger men, his
expression territorial, befitting a male in his prime.

Robbie and Angel didn’t appear to notice the subtle change
in Zach from boss to man. Toni did. The air between them seemed to crackle with
promise. Her entire body hummed with desire as his gaze settled on her.

“Just getting ready to clock out,” Robbie said.

Angel leaned closer to her, speaking in a lowered tone. “We
can all do something tomorrow.”

He and Robbie made quick work of cleaning up and changing
from their overalls into their street clothes.

Raising her hand in farewell to them, Toni lingered by the
tool cabinet, taking her time putting things away.

At last the garage was empty except for her and Zach. Toni’s
heart beat out of control. Taking a full breath became increasingly difficult.
She felt awkward suddenly, not knowing what to say or to do.

Toni knew what she wanted—Zach to touch her, to fuck her
hard and long—suspecting he wanted it too. Even so, she needed to be certain
not to cross an invisible line between employee and boss, risking her job,
which meant letting him make the first move.

He joined her by the cabinet, leaning against it, stretching
out his left leg.

Their arms were only a few inches apart. She smelled a hint
of coffee on his breath and imagined the heat of his skin. Pleasant sensations
rolled through her.

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