Note from Becky: This is a romance novel. It gets steamy but it starts out with the setup for the hot action. If you’re here to rub one out (and who could blame you?) then skip to Chapter Two.
“I need this job,” Karen pleaded.
Across the desk sat Mr. Groesbeck, leaning back in his chair with his beefy hands crossed and interlocked at the fingers, resting atop his enormous paunch. He was a portly man nearly twice her age and just like every interviewer that she had met with since coming to this bleak little town. Of all places in the world, the worst that she could imagine was Nephi, Utah.
“Please,” she pleaded. “If I don’t get a job here, I have nowhere else to go.”
That was a lie. There were two more interviews lined up that day but they were far and her feet ached.
“You dress very pretty for a girl who needs a job,” the old man sighed. “Very pretty even for a girl who worked in…what is it?”
“Interior decorating,” she said.
He lazily tongued something from his teeth, looking skeptically at her resume, again.
Clothes were the one thing that she had brought from California and managed to keep throughout the drama of her boyfriend’s catastrophe.
Today, it was a sleeveless green floral jacquard belted swing dress. And it was pretty. Very conservative and business appropriate, but pretty. The color complimented her shoulder-length rusty red hair, that was done up in a French braid (which she had done, herself). It showed off her slender arms and her trim tummy. Her eyes were a complex hazel and soft. Her lips were soft and plump and that had always gotten her places in life. But for some reason, these qualities were a detriment out here.
As she sat with her legs crossed, they were skinny and pretty from the knees down, bare all the way to a pair of black clarita heels by Alexandre Birman. Not that she expected him to notice, but her shoes, alone, could fetch enough on eBay to pay for her flight back to Los Angeles from Salt Lake City. Well, if she flew coach and booked a couple months in advance. But she wouldn’t last long without a little savings. Okay, a lot of savings.
“The job pays minimum wage,” he said. “I think that you could do better. Sharp, pretty thing like-”
“Please don’t,” Karen interrupted him. “I’m tired of not being hired because I am ‘too pretty’.”
His eyebrows arched. He had not expected anything so blunt, apparently. But she had nothing to lose.
“Look,” she said, “I sold everything that I had in Los Angeles to come out here and help my fiancé build up his father’s business.”
“The factory,” he said. It wasn’t a question. He knew her story, already. It was a really small town.
“I had no way of knowing,” she said.
What she had no way of knowing was that “the factory” was actually a front for a meth lab and webcam house where emaciated and skinny little drug addicts whored themselves to strangers on the internet. The front that Thomas had chosen was perfect: his father’s ailing tractor factory needed funds and he needed a wife and so he had come to the Big City in true Seven Brides for Seven Brothers style to find a woman who was tired of fast-paced city life. Karen was not proud to admit that she was that girl.
A girl who read in the news what Thomas was really up to, just like everyone else in this sleepy town and only too late.
“We all make mistakes,” the man said.
That was the nicest thing anyone had said to her all day.
“But you’ll only save up some money and head back to California,” he said.
She nodded, that was the plan and there was no use denying it.
“Fortunately, I only need some temporary help,” he said.
She lit up.
“This time of year is busy for us,” he said. “Harvest is when things break down that were neglected all summer. By Christmas, this business is dead. I need someone who can keep books, make appointments, whip my boys into shape and keep the office looking presentable.”
She looked around. The office stank like a locker room. There were stacks of things everywhere that she looked: newspapers, fileboxes, weights for lifting, soda cans for drinking, manuals for neglecting and dusty, broken computers and moldy lumps of workclothes, coats, old rugs and who-knows-what else.
“Like I said,” he continued. “It needs work. Alright, this is what I am prepared to offer you.”
Karen scooted to the edge of her seat.
“I won’t pay you hourly wages. I will pay you a percentage of the office take in nine weeks. I am prepared to offer twelve percent. Don’t haggle. That’s my first and last offer.”
Karen frowned. “What will I live on if I take that offer?”
“You can move into the manager’s apartment upstairs,” he said. “You will need to. There are only late hours from now on. We take half-days on the Sabbath. Other than that, we work in shifts around the clock and you will need to be on-hand.”
“What about food?” Karen asked. “Basic living expenses?”
“You are welcome to eat at my table,” he said, stirring uncomfortably. “And we keep the apartment stocked with food so that it functions as a break room during the day.
“You need me to live on-site in your breakroom?” she said.
“It’s got a big, comfy bed and a nice TV. Good refrigerator and a radiator that keeps warm. Last winter, we even installed a water heater. You have to flip a switch a few times to get it to turn on about a half hour before you take a bath, but at least it’s hot.”
She looked at him, dumbfounded.
“You’re right,” he said. “It’s not for you.”
“How much is a season’s take?” she asked.
“Well, that’s the problem,” he said. “Up until two years ago, the season’s profit was upward half a million.”
Her jaw fell slack. For a tractor repair shop?
“People round these parts aren’t very trusting of newcomers,” he said. “They like coming back to the people that they know. People with familiar names. People they go to Church with.”
She couldn’t help but notice that he looked her up and down, again, as he said the last part.
“I used to let my oldest son manage his brothers,” Mr. Groesbeck said, candidly. “He got the twelve percent. But this year I moved them all to salary because they let the work slip and cost me business. If you can keep them motivated and disciplined, you could make some serious money pretty quickly.”
“Why would you do that for me?” she asked.
After he thought a minute, himself, he said, “maybe I think everyone deserves a second chance at life.”
“And maybe no one else thinks that they can whip your boys into shape,” she said.
He bobbled his head without saying yes or no.
“I’ll take it!” she blurted out.
He pursed his lips for a moment and then shrugged. “Alright.”
He stood and offered her his beefy hand.
She stood and took it, eagerly.
Eyeing her once, more, he laughed and said: “God help you, sweetheart.”
Then he took her downstairs to meet the mechanics.
The work came to an immediate stop as two young men responded to their father’s whistle. Metallica music filled the air, blasting through bare speakers crudely bolted into the old wooden rafters far overhead. As Karen looked around, she could see that the expanded-steel staircase that led up to the office where they just were also led to another floor just above the office. This was apparently where the so-called ‘apartment’ was located. All-in-all, the shop was a solid three stories tall and the biggest small mechanics operation she had ever seen.
To see what they were working on, it was apparent why it needed to be so big. One of the brothers was shirtless and wearing only a soiled and sweaty baseball cap on his head as he sat inside the canopy of an enormous tractor that had wheels that stood from the floor up to the height of Karen’s chest.
“Turn that garbage off!” Mr. Groesbeck hollered.
The other brother was working under the hood of a 1967 Barracuda that was covered in primer. He wore a leather apron and a welding mask and sparks flew as he re-worked some piece of the frame in the opening where an engine should go. When he saw the pair of them, he stood up straight and opened his mask with a shocked look on his face.
The shirtless brother quickly climbed down, himself.
“Quit oggling,” Mr. Groesbeck barked. “This is your new boss. Get used to it.”
The brothers looked to each other, stunned.
The shirtless one was a god among men. He wore a Dickies jumpsuit, she could now see, that he had peeled down to his waist. Sweat and grease covered his Superman-grade abs and broad-shouldered chest muscles. He was clean-shaven both on his face and everywhere else that she could see. He offered her his hand.
“I’m Gunner,” he said.
That name couldn’t help but make her smile as she took his hand. His body didn’t hurt that smile, at all.
“What’s your name?” Gunner said, eagerly.
“Boss!” his father growled. “Or ‘sir’. Put your tongue back in your mouth. This other rascal is Seth.”
Seth wore a long-sleeve flannel shirt under the leather apron and he had the cuffs rolled back just far enough that Karen spied the edge of some black-and-grey tattoos. He was evidently the bad boy as Gunner’s flawless body had not a trace of ink on him. While Seth’s body was covered, it was apparent that he was slender and fit and he had a wide grin full of teeth and depp blue eyes. As he offered his hand, he pulled off his leather work gloves and Karen immediately saw that he wore a wedding band.
“Pleasure,” he said.
“Likewise,” Karen answered.
“That’s nice,” Mr. Groesbeck said, sarcastically. “Get that thing out of my shop. I’m telling you for the last time.”
Seth ignored his father and only smiled at Karen, who blushed. The other boy was just as fixated on her but not with the confidence and swagger of the tattooed bad boy.
“Do I get to tell Drew?” Seth asked.
“Who is Drew?” Karen said.
One look from Mr. Groesbeck confirmed that ‘Drew’ was the brother that they already discussed.
“Tell me I at least get to be there,” Seth laughed.
“Get that piece-a-shit outta my shop!” his father bitched and then turned away.
Karen turned to follow the Big Boss but looked one last time before they reached the stairs and saw that both boys were, indeed, checking out her legs and ass as she followed their father.
“Hey!” she clapped her hands. “Work! Come on, boys!”
They laughed and returned to their places as Karen smiled and followed the Boss-man up to the third floor.
The ‘Apartment’ was oversold in the job pitch. The radiator clanged and whined but was warm in the waning temperature of the day. It was all one room but with a partial wall dividing the sleeping area from the eating area, which consisted of an old formica kitchen table with aluminum chairs and a plastic tablecloth. There was a utility sink covered in paint and stained with bleach that was next to the world’s noisiest rusty chickpea-colored two-door refrigerator.
When he opened the refrigerator, she half-expected to see it full of beer like she might have expected to find in some Tim-The-Tool-Man garage man-cave. Instead, it was stocked with old tupperware containers, clearly-labeled with a woman’s handwriting on masking tape labels. Fried chicken, roast beef, three kinds of “Jell-O pudding” (whatever that was), watermelon slices, etc. There were a wide array of condiments and a full shelf of Diet Coke.
“We drink Coke, in spite of it’s being controversial with the neighbors,” Mr. Groesbeck said.
There was an old footed bathtub tucked into the corner of the sleeping area. An outdoor garden hose faucet stuck out over the tub and next to it was a breaker-switch.
“Don’t flick it while you’re in the tub,” Mr. Groesbeck said as he saw her eyeballing the contraption. “I mean – the switch.”
She tight-lipped a grin and wondered if he had actually meant to make a dirty joke.
He cleared his throat uncomfortably and said: “Not too late to back out.”
She turned to him with a confident smile, “I feel at home, already!”
He laughed and nodded his head.
“I like you,” he said. “Don’t let my boys give you any shit. They talk like they’re gruff but they’re harmless.”
“When can you move in?”
“Right away,” she said.
Moving out of Tommy’s was a pretty simple affair: she picked up a luandry basket and dragged it to her Über. Then she picked everything that was hanging in the closet and dragged it also to the car in about four loads.
On her way out the door, she dropped off her key on the Kitchen table and didn’t even bother to close the front door. Fuck Tommy.
Standing in the office in a pair of Tommy Hilfiger jeans and white Adidas sneakers with an old, torn-up Van Halen T-shirt of Tommy’s, she looked things over. She had pulled her hair up in a ponytail and wrapped it up in a red neckerchief in a sort of pin-up fashion that had her feeling like Rosie the Riveter. Which was more for fashion than for practicality.
She was already moved into the Apartment and had a short nap. But that office called to her. She hadn’t even eaten since she was hired the day before. That place needed to be whipped into shape.
And she still hadn’t met Drew, which seemed strange.
She pulled on her rubber gloves and dug in.
Seth had been picked up by his wife during the night, she heard. Apparently he and his wife lived the furthest away. Gunner was still living at home at the ‘Big House’ on the property but about three miles up the road. He was working there while he saved up money to go on a mission for his Church or go to college, he hadn’t figured out which, yet. Drew apparently lived nearby but no one had heard from him in a while, which was apparently common. So, after a short nap, Gunner had returned to the shop to finish work on the current project by himself. He didn’t complain and legitimately seemed to enjoy the work.
Every time that Karen poked her head out the door to check in on him, he had waved to her and quickly turned off the music.
“Just checking on you!” she would call down.
“Okay! Great!” He would smile up at her. His stamina and good attitude were infectious. She liked working around him. It gave her positive and constructive energy. And God, but that boy did not ever like to have a shirt on.
“Keep it together, girl,” Karen chastised herself after Gunner had put his music back on and gone back to work.
It was past noon and Karen had organized the entire office. At least a dozen HEFTY bags of garbage had gone to the dumpster and she had had Gunner into the office so many times to weld piece of steel furniture back together that he had just left a TiG welder in the office for the next thing that she discovered.
About halfway through, Gunner had shown up in the office, wiping grease off of his hands as he leaned against the doorjamb. He nodded approvingly as he looked around. Then he reached into his pocket and pulled out a blue baseball cap with a big Y on it. It was not fitted, so it had a place in the back for her ponytail.
He put it on her, took a step back and approved of the look.
Then, without another look, he went back to his work.
Eventually, she sat back in Mr. Groesbeck’s chair with the plastic cushion with poorly-duct-taped tears and took in her handywork. Not too shabby.
She asked Gunner if he knew where she could get some free furniture and he said that he knew that they had some back at the house that was not being used.
“Don’t you ever sleep, Gunn?” she asked him.
“I used to,” he smiled at her.
She nodded, not wanting to encourage his flirting.
“Hey,” he said, “I’ll call Ma and ask her to send some furniture from the attic with Drew and Seth when they come in.
“Oh, no!” she said. “That’s really not-”
But the conversation was happening before she could finish objecting.
“Ma wants to know what she can send?” Gunner said.
“Uhhh. Maybe a sofa or a loveseat or something? A place for clients to sit down when they come by to pay bills and such. And some curtains or blinds for the office windows if she can spare them.”
He relayed the message.
“How many windows?” he asked.
“As many as she can,” Karen said. “And thank you!” she shouted loud enough to hopefully be picked up on his phone.
Karen had managed to pull off the taped-up cushion on the swivel office chair and replace it with a cushion from one of the kitchen chairs, upstairs. Gunner also helped her to find a way to fix that cushion onto the frame of the steelcase chair. It was much better.
Seth came in for the night shift with a couple of teenage boys carrying a large sofa, a wingback chair and a treasure trove of wooden blinds and curtains that all came from an old trailer that he pulled behind his Ford F-250.
“Oh, God, that’s perfect!” Karen exclaimed. After she looked around she asked: “No Drew?”
Seth shook his head with a frown. He wore overalls and a beanie on his head. His shirt was a torn and tattered AC/DC long-sleeve Tee with his sleeves rolled nearly to his elbows, showing off his tats. Even though he had been getting things for her, he was still covered in grease. And yet, he smelled amazing. He must have put on cologne when he got to his truck.
That was sexy as hell.
“What’s his deal?” she said.
“He’s moping,” Seth answered.
“About me,” she stated flatly.
“About a lot of things,” then changing the subject, he said: “You have way more window dressings than you need in here.”
“Take the blinds upstairs, please,” she said. “I’m going to use those up there and just use curtains to dress things up, down here.
He nodded with crude satisfaction and they were done in a couple of hours.
Seth had paid each of the teen boys generously and sent them on their way.
“Do me another favor,” Karen whispered to Seth.
“What’s that?” he asked.
“Make that one go home and sleep,” she pointed her eyebrows at Gunner, toiling away on another project. “He’s been here for at least forty-eight hours, almost non-stop.”
Seth turned and laughed as he watched his little brother wearily try to keep his eyes open while he installed a new carburetor.
“He likes you,” Seth said. “He wants to impress you.”
“Oh, God, please don’t say that,” Karen winced.
“It’s true. That boy has a soft spot in his heart for a pretty girl.”
“I’ll talk to him,” Seth said.
“You owe me,” he smiled that legendary smile and turned to go. But then he stopped and reached into the pocket of his overalls.
“I found this in Ma’s attic with some of my old stuff. I thought it would make a nice – you know – welcome present.”
He presented her with a rubber gorilla with a gray-on-black body. He was wearing a red-t-shirt that read “Greasy Groes-beck”. The last name had been too long for one line. The red dye was wearing thin in parts and his dumbfounded look culminated in a hole in his open mouth that squeaked when his belly was squeezed.
She instinctively brought her fingers to her lips, “That’s adorable.”
“When I was a kid, my Dad was real passionate about the business. Folks around here have a lot of kids, being Mormons and all, and my Dad asked me to come up with something fun for clients’ kids that reminded them of us. You know, it’s just a thing.”
She smiled at him and sat back in the chair, propping her knee against the steelcase desk as she played with him.
“This was your idea?” she teased him with a grin.
“What’s his name?” She asked.
“Monk E. Grease,” he smiled.
She belly-laughed at that and it made him happy.
“Give this to your kids, Seth,” she said handing it back to him.
“My kids don’t play with anything that doesn’t run on batteries,” he lamented.
Karen shrugged and pulled Monk E. Grease back to her heart. She resisted the urge to joke that she liked toys that run on batteries, too. But she was trying to keep it professional with Seth – no matter how hard that became.
“Thanks,” she said.
He nodded with a cavalier smile. God, he was charming.