Braving the Heat(7)

By: Regan Black


“Have Mitch bring you over to the shop.”

She gaped at him. “You can’t be serious. At two in the morning?”

Something about her response had him changing his mind. “Good point.” His brother had a wife waiting at home. “I’ll bring over a loaner car for you.”

“At two in the morning?” she repeated, incredulous.

He rolled his shoulders and resisted the urge to shift under that intense blue gaze. “That’s when you need it, right?”

“Well, yeah, but—”

“Then I’ll be here. Unless you won’t have time to drop me back at my shop on your way home?”

She snorted. “No, I can do that.”

“Good. We’re all set.” He turned away before she could argue, and went to load her car onto the flatbed tow truck. Being near her put an odd pressure in his system, as if his heart was a half-beat too slow. He glanced back over his shoulder and caught her staring at him.

Couldn’t blame her; he barely recognized himself in his actions since she’d caught up with him. For his own peace of mind, he chalked up his uncharacteristic behavior to Mitch’s frustration on Kenzie’s behalf. According to his brother, she’d had a rough time of it since the PFD put her on administrative leave after a victim blamed her incompetence and weakness as a woman for his minor injuries.

She hadn’t looked the least bit weak to Stephen, and if Mitch vouched for her, she could handle the job. That must be why he was so determined to do more than the bare minimum of towing in her car for an evaluation and repair.

* * *

Kenzie worked the rest of the night with a little more spring in her step. Hope flashed bright and hot though her system at odd and unpredictable intervals. It was nice to feel a genuine smile on her lips. Maybe the recent circumstances hadn’t permanently smothered her courage and optimism, after all.

As she cashed out and split her tips with the rest of the staff, she realized she’d earned enough on this shift to cover an economy motel for the night and give Stephen some money for the tow and repair. Every penny left over would go to the lawyer fund.

“Grant’s looking for you,” Mitch said, as he walked into the break room. “And I have a text for you.” He held out his phone.

“For me?” Who would text Mitch to reach her?

“About your car,” he said.

Belatedly, she realized she’d been in such a hurry to get back to the club that she’d forgotten to give Stephen her cell phone number. The text message asked Mitch to tell her he was waiting outside. Kenzie replied with her cell phone number and let him know she needed only a few more minutes. She rolled up her apron and shoved it into her backpack, then headed for Grant’s office.

Rapping a knuckle on the open door, she stepped inside when Grant turned from his computer monitor. He smiled and waved her in, asking her to close the door. His constant energy belied the gray salting his hair. She suspected the creases bracketing his warm brown eyes were a result of laughter as much as the challenges he’d faced in his career as a cop and a nightclub owner. He reminded her of her dad, she realized with a prickle of nostalgia. Not in appearance—Grant had a barrel-chested, stocky build and her father had been tall and slim. The similarities were in the general demeanor of both men. Grant cared for his club and his employees with the fatherly affection and protectiveness she remembered her dad exhibiting every day of his life.

The chair squeaked as Grant leaned back. “Was it a good night?”

“Yes. Thanks again for giving me so many shifts.”

“I prefer employing people who are willing to work,” he said. “You know, you remind me of your dad in that way.”

“I didn’t realize you knew him.” She knew she was overtired and overstressed when tears stung behind her eyes. Fifteen years had passed since they’d buried him, and she usually didn’t feel melancholy anymore unless it was the anniversary of the warehouse fire or Christmas. Her mother had been determined her daughters would smile with hearts full of happy memories when they remembered their father. She insisted living well was the best way to affirm all the love and gifts he’d given them.

Grant nodded. “There are few circles in Philly tighter than those of us who worked the front lines.” His thick eyebrows drew into a frown over his assessing gaze. “I heard about your car trouble.”

The swift change of topic helped restore her composure. “Mitch called his brother for me. Stephen came out and towed it to his shop. He, ah, offered to loan me a car until mine is fixed.” She still wasn’t sure how she was going to cover the extra expenses.

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