Muscle Car Man by Deirdre O'Dare www.amberquill.com/AmberAllure/MuscleCarMan.html
Jeff Castle has changed lanes from the high tech world to that of the classic muscle cars and their fans when he inherits his uncle’s glorified junk yard. His new life is complicated when help is hard to find. An impulse leads him to pick up a hiker on a remote road, and the man turns out to be just the kind of muscle Jeff needs in every way.
Released from prison after three hellish years, Mike needs help. All he can offer is his willingness to work and his background in repairing and racing stock cars. He gives this freely to Jeff and soon finds he wants to give more. Will his benefactor be willing to accept the love of an ex-con who still has a blot on his name? Mike is scared to ask but nature takes matters out of his hands. Together they begin racing toward an amazing future.
During the next two weeks, Jeff relaxed into an easy working relationship with Mike. He all but forgot the other man was a convict. Mike proved to be one of the best workers Jeff had ever employed. No sooner did a customer enter the office than Mike picked up on what the person wanted and was off finding it, searching the warehouse area or out in the lot taking it off a vehicle if necessary. Occasionally Jeff sent him on a run with the slider or the older regular tow truck, too. Mike seemed reluctant only to handle the money or deal directly with customers, so Jeff respected his unspoken wishes.
But Jeff still found Mike awfully taciturn and wondered, at times, if the lean man was really antisocial or simply shy. He'd shaved, gotten a hair cut and cleaned up pretty well. Even though he did get greasy and dirty crawling under cars and delving into the engine compartments, he started work each day in clean, though somewhat ragged, clothes. There was a lot about the guy to like. If he'd shown any inclination to open up, Jeff would have tried to cultivate a closer friendship, but it seemed Mike preferred to keep the world at arm's length.
Well, I can't even imagine what it must have been like to be in prison. He never said for how long but even a year would be too much. And the tales I've heard about brutal assaults, both sexual and plain old bullying are enough to curl my toes. I suppose it's bound to leave a mark on a person. But I wish he'd be a little less standoffish. Given time, I think I'd consider making him a partner in the business and maybe even socializing some.
The blistering heat of early summer in the Arizona desert eased off slightly as the humidity began to climb for the rainy season. In some ways, this was even worse. Now the evaporative "swamp coolers" only stirred the muggy air. Since air conditioning was too expensive to use in the big old Quonset hut that served as the office and warehouse space for Castle Classic Cars, all Jeff could do was sweat and endure.
July third saw clouds piling up over the distant mountains, but it didn't help much. Jeff expected a slow day and at eleven he almost hung out the closed sign. Instead he decided to work on the computerized inventory system he was trying to fine-tune to keep track of everything he had in the warehouse and yard. He thanked his high-tech background. It gave him a leg up on understanding and working with up-to-date automation tools. For several hours he lost himself in the work.
A crack of lightning striking and simultaneous thunder jolted him back to the present. "Holy shit, that was close!" Thank the gods I have a good surge suppressor and battery backup for my system.
The sharp ozone scent, coupled with the unique odors of desert rain, wet creosote and other aromatic plants, wafted through the building drawn in by the cooler.
His next thought came quickly. Where's Mike? The last he'd noticed, his lanky assistant had the hood off the Mustang and his head stuck deep into the working parts of the old car's innards. Rising from his computer desk, Jeff headed toward the back door into the yard.
Yes, there was Mike, trying to wrestle a tarp into place on the Mustang in the face of the rising wind. The first few hard-driven raindrops splattered to the ground, kicking up puffs of dust when they hit.
"Hang on. I'll give you a hand," Jeff yelled. Against the wind, he wasn't sure if Mike heard him or not, but he headed that way at a jog. Another sizzling bolt of lightning dazzled his vision. He thought it struck either a vehicle in the back of the lot or the six-foot chain link fence. Without a doubt it was too close for comfort. He put a little more speed to his feet. The rain started falling harder and heavier, big solid drops just short of turning to hail stones. They stung when they hit.
Between them, they got the tarp stretched across the front of the Mustang and tied down with bungee cords. By then there was no question about trying to get back to the office. Mike's trailer was right there. They tumbled through the door, dripping wet and feeling battered by the rain, now mixed with some hail.
Without giving it much thought, Jeff dragged his sodden T-shirt over his head. He could almost wring it out, and water dripped from his jeans to the floor. Mike was equally wet. He, too, shed his shirt, a faded chambray work shirt with the sleeves cut off. His darkly tanned arms gleamed like burnished mahogany with a mixture of sweat and rain. His near-black hair was plastered to his skull, and strands separated to reveal the jagged scar above his right ear, normally well hidden.
Jeff sucked in a sharp breath. Man, the guy is beautiful in a harsh warrior's way. Bet there's a story behind such a scar… He found himself wanting to reach out and trace a fingertip along the line and ask, "What happened? How did you get this?" Before he had time to censor his actions, he did just that.
Mike froze, his breath hitching as he went dead still. He shut his eyes for a moment as both hands clenched into fists and then relaxed, going suddenly limp.
"Broken bottle used as a knife. It was aimed at my throat but I ducked and twisted."
"Is it sensitive? I didn't mean to startle you. I guess I just didn't think."
Taking a step back, Mike shook his head. "No, it's almost dead, no feeling in it at all. I was just surprised. Forgot it would show with my hair all plastered down." He tossed his shirt over the edge of the sink. "Want to put your shirt over here to drip?"
Jeff handed it over, suddenly very conscious of his half-nude state, of both of them being bare to the waist. How would it feel to have Mike's body pressed to his? Mike's chest was less tanned than his arms, but still far darker than Jeff's. Cursed with a redhead's pale skin, Jeff burned and burned again before he ever tanned. He'd finally given up; figuring melanoma was too big a price to pay for a sexy brown look. So he still looked like the desk jockey he had been, except for his neck and forearms, which were usually more red than tan.
For a dozen breaths they simply stood and looked at each other. Jeff took the first step and then Mike responded in kind. A moment later they were face to face, chest to chest, and wrapping arms around one another's wet bodies. Blistering heat sizzled through Jeff at the contact. He expected to see steam rise, it felt that hot. He was a little bit huskier, but they were of a height that put their faces level, so neither had to reach or tilt his head to bring their mouths together.
The kiss was urgent, desperate, as if they were both starved for it. Lips twisted and clung as tongues danced in a furious duel. Finally they both pulled back to catch their breaths.
"I thought… I wondered, but I was scared to ask…"
"I didn't figure a guy like you would be interested in a guy like me…thought you must have a lady at home."
Their gasped-out words revealed how parallel their thoughts had been running, how they'd both been afraid to make the first move. Now it had been made, completely unplanned. A dizzy relief swept over Jeff as he realized he didn't have to wonder any longer.
As if from a distance he registered the rain still fell, pelting down in true desert storm fashion, a flash flood in the making, but here they were safe and starting to dry off. The yard sat on a ridge, well out of harm's way. No worries.
"We ought to shuck our wet jeans, too," Jeff said. "Not that we're gonna catch cold or anything, but they don't feel too great."
When Mike laughed, Jeff realized it was the first time he'd heard the other man give more than a muted chuckle. Looking at Jeff, Mike suddenly grinned. "Are you tryin' to get me nekkid here?"
"Down to the tighty-whiteys anyway."
“Don’t have any on.”