Angie Franklin wiped oil from her hands before she closed the hood of the black Jaguar convertible. She glanced at her disheveled reflection on the hood’s shiny waxed surface and fixed the scarf securing her hair. Whoever owned this car was rich, showy, and definitely not a local. She glanced at the bottom of the license plate and saw the two-digit number for Fulton County. This person was fresh from Atlanta.
The door to the auto body shop swung open and in walked the owner and manager Mr. Stokes. “How’s the oil change coming on the Jag?”
“All done.” She lifted the keys from the wooden peg board on the wall. “I’ll drive it around front for the owner.”
“He’s not here. He’s at the Kleghorn Hotel. You’ll need to take the car to him.”
The request was a bit unusual. She checked the front of her work jumpsuit and steel-toed boots to make sure she didn’t have any oil or brake fluid on them. “Who’s the fancy guy I’m delivering this car to?”
Angie snapped her head up so fast she almost gave herself whiplash. “Did you say Max Kelly?”
“Yeah, Harper High’s star quarterback. He’s in the big leagues now. Not football, but he grew his father’s medical supply company into a billion dollar business.”
Her mind flashed back a decade ago to when she first entered Harper High as a gawky fourteen year-old freshman with braids and braces. Her brother Detrick, a junior, high-fived her in the hall on the way to first period class. He walked beside his classmate, a tall guy with perfectly tousled brown hair and a pair of sky blue eyes that had the power to stop someone in place.
At least, it’s what Angie’s younger high school self experienced when she first saw Max. He ignored her and kept walking down the hall, chatting with her brother about varsity jackets and a pep rally.
Angie blinked and returned to the present, surprised she remembered so much detail from so long ago. A pang of sadness spread in her chest.
“Better get going. He sounded like he was in a hurry on the phone.” Her manager left the garage.
She settled into the leather seat of the Jag, adjusting it to get closer to the steering wheel. Only one more day at this temp job before the full-time mechanic returned from sick leave. She had to keep doing well so she could get a good recommendation for the next gig, whenever that would be. She needed the new job soon, though, like yesterday.
Her cellphone in her jumpsuit pocket beeped. It reminded her to pick up her seven year-old son Raymond an hour early from school to go to his dentist appointment. The sooner she delivered Max’s car, the sooner she could get a handle on her own busy day.
* * *
Angie pulled the Jag into the parking lot of the Kleghorn Hotel. Good thing her brother taught her how to drive a stick shift before he left to join the Army a couple years ago. Otherwise, she would’ve dinged the fender on a pole on the way in. After buying Raymond a new pair of shoes to replace those he outgrew, she could not afford to have damages coming out of her paycheck.
A short man in a suit flagged her down from the hotel’s double doors. He ran out from under the awning. “What took you so long?”
Who was this person, and why was he in such a hurry? “I think you have the wrong person. I’m delivering this car to Max Kelly.”
“I can see that.” He whipped out his wallet and shoved a bill into Angie’s hand. “I’m his attorney.”
“Good, the car’s here.” A deeper male voice caused Angie to turn her head. Another man, much taller, with broad, athletic shoulders, strode out from the hotel dressed in a navy business suit and Italian loafers. “About time it arrived. This business deal’s not going to happen if I’m not there.” He sported a pair of Ray-Bans with black lenses. He reached the car, pulled the sunglasses down over his nose and peered at her over the rims. “Do I know you?”
She froze with her hands gripping the ergonomically-designed steering wheel. There he was, Max Kelly in the flesh. Same piercing blue eyes. Same oblivious attitude. “No, but you knew my brother Detrick Franklin. He used to call you a friend.”
Recognition made a light dawn in those eyes. “Angela?”
“It’s Angie these days.” She got out of the car. She forgot how tall he was in high school. Maybe he even grew a little since then. She was five seven. He stood eight inches taller than her.
“You changed the oil in my car?”
“Yes, I did.” If she had a dollar for every time a guy’s eyes bugged out of his head when they learned she was a mechanic, she’d have enough to pay for Raymond’s first two years of college. “You’re going to need new brake pads soon.”
“Max, you’re going to be late.” His attorney tapped his fitness watch to bring up the time.
“Got it, Rob.” Max pushed his shades higher on the bridge of his nose. “Think you could step aside and let me get into my car, Angie?”
She saw her own annoyed reflection in the mirrored surface of the lenses. She moved to the left to clear a path for him. He lowered his head. His lips curled. What was he looking at with so much disgust? She followed his gaze to the driver’s seat and saw an oil smudge on the expensive leather.
“Oh, no.” She peered down over one shoulder to discover oil on the seat of her jumpsuit. She must have bumped into a bottle of it on the table back at the shop.
“Don’t you know to put a paper mat on the seat and floorboard before you get in the car?” Rob huffed. “I’ll ask the hotel for towels.” He marched inside the Kleghorn.
Angie felt something crinkly in her left hand. She realized she still held the tip he gave her. She opened her hand to discover a hundred dollar bill. “I’m really sorry.” She offered it to Max.
He turned right around. “It’s going to cost a lot more than a hundred bucks to clean my car interior. I’ll call the shop later.” He walked into the hotel, leaving her standing in the parking lot alone with a dirty Jaguar and a crumpled Benjamin.
* * *
Two hours later, Max drove away from his business meeting at Sweet Emma’s Diner with a full belly and empty hands. “Steve and Charley wasted my time, Rob. I thought they were going to sell me the land they own so I can build the hospital. All they wanted was to tell me old stories about my dad.”
Rob checked the stock market on his phone before the closing day bell. “They’re old school. They remember doing business with your father and want to share it with you. Think of it as an icebreaker.”
“I don’t need to break the ice. I need to get a hospital up and running.” Max tapped the brakes as the car came to a stoplight. He kept his foot on the brakes as he rose to adjust the bunched towels on his seat.
“Like it or not, those guys aren’t in any rush. Although, there is something you can do to make a better impression on them.”
The light turned green. Max drove down the quiet road past the Main Street shops he used to hang out in at as a kid. “What was wrong with my first impression?”
“Nothing, if you’re doing business in Atlanta. Harper’s a small town. Those men said they were born in towns tinier than this.”
“What’s your point?” He got impatient as he had to slow down behind a white Buick. Did everyone decide to drive fifteen miles under the speed limit after he grew up and left this town?
“Steve and Charley have old-fashioned values. Wives, kids. You need to reflect those values if you want your name on the land deed.”
“You want me to tell them I value marriage and family at the next dinner meeting?”
“Show, don’t tell.” Rob put his phone in his jacket pocket. “They said to bring a guest. Take a woman and introduce her as your fiancée.”
“Talk about a little white lie.”
“They’ll be open to negotiations if they see you have aspirations to be a family man like them and your father.”
Max kept his hand on the gear shift. He turned twenty-eight at the beginning of this month, and had no intentions of settling down anytime soon. “That couldn’t be farther from the truth.”
His attorney sighed. “Do you want them to sell you the land or not?”
“It’s a crazy idea.” Max drove into the parking lot of the Kleghorn. “Who would I ask to be my pretend fiancée, anyway?”
“Call Bella and ask if she’ll do you a favor.”
Max frowned as he put the car in park. “We broke up over a year ago.” Last he heard, she was skiing in the Alps and living in an artist commune with a Nordic boy toy. “Maybe I can hire an actress.”
“It has to be someone you know. It’ll make things more believable.”
“I can’t think of a woman who could pass as my fiancée.”
Rob tapped his chin. “What about your high school classmate, the one who brought your car from the shop?”
“Angela-I mean, Angie? We barely knew each other. She was my friend’s little sister.”
Rob shrugged. “You two have history, then. She’s a local, too.”
And kind of cute in a mechanic’s jumpsuit. The scarf she used to tie over her hair made Max think of a modern-day Rosie the Riveter. He shook his head in attempt to come to his senses. “Come on, Rob, this is a ridiculous idea.”
His attorney got out the car. “I’m leaving for Atlanta in the morning. Let me know if you want me to talk to her.”
“No.” Max tugged at the towels on the driver’s seat again. This was the craziest stunt he ever pulled. “I’ll do it myself tomorrow.”