Authors: Cheryl Norman
This book is in memory of Mom and Dad.
Dad taught me to love cars from the time
I was walking and talking; Mom allowed
me to be a tomboy. I miss you both.
Published 2007 by Medallion Press, Inc.
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is a registered tradmark of Medallion Press, Inc.
If you purchased this book without a cover, you should be aware that this book is stolen property. It was reported as “unsold and destroyed” to the publisher, and neither the author nor the publisher has received any payment from this “stripped book.”
Copyright © 2007 by Cheryl Norman
Cover Illustration by James Tampa
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without written permission of the publisher, except where permitted by law.
Names, characters, places, and incidents are the products of the author’s imagination or are used fictionally. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Typeset in Adobe Caslon Pro
Printed in the United States of America
10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
Wilson Pickett (1941-2006), who immortalized “Mustang Sally” in song.
Mazzoni’s in Louisville, Kentucky, for introducing me to rolled oysters.
For critiquing my manuscript in its various stages:
Sue Swift, Monette Michaels, Jennifer Skully, Janet Shirah, Judy Peters, and Susan Sweet. For help in specific areas of writing: Vicki Hinze, Deb Dixon, and Elizabeth Sinclair.
For research help, I thank the following:
Members of the Kaiser-Frazer Owners Club International (in particular Norman Clark, Art Griffin, and Mike and Beth Devlin); Jo Frye; Linda Weixler, R.N.; Dolores J. Wilson, Wilson’s Body Shop; Liz Curtis Higgs, writer/motivation speaker; Faye Thielen, Client Associate with Merrill Lynch; Leslie Frye, Tae Kwon Do student; Moni Draper, attorney; and the Kentucky Romance Writers and Louisville Romance Writers chapters of RWA
For providing me inspiration and/or chocolate:
Tami Sandlin, Sally Clay Smith, Kris Anderson, and Rachel R. Stone.
Most of all, thanks to the world’s best husband, who brainstorms plots with me and cheerfully tolerates the peculiar habits of a writer/wife. I couldn’t have written this book without him!
Light from the computer screen spilled over the darkened office, glowing through a spreadsheet’s grids. A mosquito buzzed the monitor. Where had it come from? The insects rarely swarmed in April, at least not in Kentucky. Batting away the mosquito, Leo Desalvo released his pent-up breath in a loud groan. He lowered his head and dug his thumbs into his temples to massage a growing headache.
Condensation slid down the can of his forgotten soda, forming a wet circle on his month-at-a-glance calendar. Earlier, to stretch his tired muscles, he’d made the short trip to the customer waiting area, where the vending machines offered the room’s only light. The dealership’s new commercial carpet silenced his footsteps. Thinking the cold caffeine of a Coke would ease his fatigue, he’d taken one long drink before returning to his office. But there was no cure for what plagued him tonight.
His gaze returned to the monitor. Scowling, he reread the entries, entries that shouldn’t be, in a hidden file that shouldn’t exist. The data confirmed his worst fears.
Rage at the betrayal engulfed him. He studied the accounting record again, searching for a mistake. An explanation. But the same damning numbers glared back at him, and dread settled over his slumping shoulders. As much as he hated it, he knew what had to be done. All his life, he’d tried to do the right thing. He wouldn’t stop now.
stop now, even if it cost him everything.
“You’re here late.”
Recognizing the voice behind him, Leo stifled a gasp. The odor of the intruder’s stale cigarette smoke should have alerted him, but everyone was supposed to be gone. Besides, the entire building reeked of stale cigarette smoke, in both the office and the shop. Still, he should’ve stayed more alert. He’d waited for everyone to leave, then relaxed his guard.
He tried to keep the anger and suspicion from his voice. “I had a few things to finish.”
Clicking the mouse, Leo closed the screen, exited the program, then removed the USB drive without turning to face his unwelcome guest. “Nothing I can’t handle.”
The mosquito punctured the flesh beneath his collar. He swatted at it. What the hell? Not a mosquito, he realized, but a needle. He grabbed for the hypodermic, but his hand thudded uselessly onto the desk. Terror gripped him as numbness claimed his body.
A second hypodermic pierced his arm, then emptied into his vein. As a detached observer, he stared at his arm. He’d underestimated his enemy. His head grew heavy. His vision blurred. Air froze inside his lungs.
With considerable effort, he focused on the framed photos displayed on his desk. His precious children. His daughters. His son. If only he could see Joe one more time. It’d been so long. Now what would his family think? Wanting to protect them, Leo had spared them his recent troubles. Would they ever uncover the truth? Darkness narrowed his vision to the largest frame, the portrait of the woman he loved, the woman he would always love.
The woman he’d never see again.
One Week Later
“There’s a man here to see you.”
Switching off the wire-brush wheel, Sally Clay balanced the generator housing on the work table, pushed her safety goggles to the top of her head, then grabbed a shop towel to wipe the black grit from her hands. Abandoning the towel, she pumped a generous dollop of waterless hand cleaner into her palm.
“All right, Roy. Send him back.” God knows she could use a customer right now.
The steps from hard-soled shoes echoed against the barren concrete floor, then stopped. She leaned against the counter and turned toward her visitor. Her gaze traveled from the man’s oxblood leather loafers and pinstriped trousers to his dark brown hair, pausing along the way to admire the solid chest and flat abs beneath his starched shirt. His piercing brown eyes deserved an encore stare so she stole a second look. Not bad.
“Excuse me. I’m here to see Sal Clay.”
Nice voice, too. Definitely a man out of his element in her greasy garage. Picking up the shop towel again, she wiped the emollient from her fingers, then offered her hand. “I’m Sally Clay.”
He hesitated at clasping it, probably gauging the risk it posed to his wardrobe, and she instantly regretted the grease beneath her nails.
“You’re Sal Clay? The owner?” He wore a quizzical frown as he gripped her hand.
She should’ve been used to this reaction by now. “I bought Mustang Sally’s from my Uncle Sal seven months ago.”
This guy should never play poker; his change in expression was obvious. Clearly disappointed that Sal Clay was a Sally, he released her hand.
“What can I do for you, Mr.—”
“Desalvo. Joe Desalvo. I need help restoring a classic.”
“Desalvo?” She quickly made the connection to one of Mustang Sally’s regular customers. “You’re Leo’s son.”
A shadow of sadness crossed his face. “That’s right.”
It had been only days since Leo Desalvo’s funeral. “Please accept my condolences.”
He nodded. “You knew my dad?”
“Sure did. We do restoration work for Bloom Desalvo Motors. I still can’t believe he’s gone.”
“I know the feeling.” When she saw the bleakness in Joe Desalvo’s eyes, she could’ve kicked herself. But recovering quickly, he adopted a strictly business demeanor. “Dad’s partner recommended you to me.”
“Vic? Well, good.” Vic Bloom had never darkened her door. She knew him only through Leo and Uncle Sal.
“Dad left me his classic-car collection, which I’m liquidating, except for a couple Mom said were his favorites. Do you know anything about a Kaiser Darrin?”
“Leo had a Darrin?” She didn’t mask her surprise. “He didn’t tell me. Wow.”
“Then it’s something special?”
“And valuable, if in original condition.”
“It looks original, but I’m no authority. That’s why I’m here. I need an expert opinion. Do you know anyone who can help me?”
She clenched her fists, backing against the counter. “How ‘expert’ do you need? Mustang Sally’s is the best in Louisville.”
“I meant no offense, ma’am.”
Hell, she was only twenty-seven. He had to be in his mid-thirties. “You question my credentials?”
“With all due respect.” He shrugged, then offered her an apologetic smile. “I’ve been away from Louisville for many years.”
If only he hadn’t smiled. Something peculiar clutched her windpipe, a cross between a squeeze and a flutter. Attraction?
Don’t go there, Sally
. First of all, a successful and handsome guy like Joe Desalvo had to be married, although he wore no ring. Secondly, she couldn’t give in to a handsome face or a sexy smile. It wasn’t as if she could attract a man like Joe. She’d learned that lesson long ago.
She forced herself to ignore her body’s reaction. “I’ve been restoring automobiles for ten years, Mr. Desalvo, and I’ve been working on them since I was big enough to hold a torque wrench—”
“Joe.” He widened the smile. “Call me Joe.”
She finger-combed her short hair from her forehead, knocking off her goggles in the process. Moving closer, he caught the goggles before they fell to the concrete.
“Thanks,” she murmured, bordering on breathless from his nearness. What were they talking about? Oh, right. Her qualifications. “Just for the record, Joe, I’m certified to—”
“Enough.” Frowning, he handed her the goggles, then retreated a step. “I know you’re qualified or Vic wouldn’t have sent me here. Forgive my skepticism, but you weren’t what I was expecting.”
“You mean because I’m a woman?”
“Vic led me to believe Sal Clay was a guy his age.”
“Uncle Sal is.”
“So you’ll forgive me?”
“You’re forgiven for your skepticism, but never for your sexism.”
“Innocent as charged, ma’am—”
“Sally.” She grinned. “If you call me ma’am one more time, I’m applying for social security.”
His smile returned. “Old Sal turning out to be an attractive young woman is a pleasant surprise. That doesn’t make me a sexist.”
“Fair enough. And thank you for the compliment.” Of course, he hadn’t meant his words of flattery, but she enjoyed them just the same.
“When can I bring over the Darrin?”
“As soon as you can. Frankly, I’m drooling to get my hands on it.” Or was it Joe Desalvo making her drool? Maybe she was eager to get her hands on
Settle down, Sally
. She couldn’t afford to let a handsome face oust her good sense. “Does it run?”
“Not well. The engine kind of jumps so I’m guessing a tune-up. You can tell me what else it needs.”
“Is it tagged?”
“Yes, but I won’t drive it. I’ll trailer it. Will tomorrow be convenient?”
“Tomorrow will be fine. Just pull around back and we’ll bring it in the garage. Meanwhile, I’ll dig up the book value and statistics for a 1954 Darrin.”