“Come on back.” She beckoned me with a wave, and the mismatched bangle bracelets on her wrists clinked together in an almost soothing melody. “I’m Audrey, in case you didn’t catch that announcement,” she said with a chuckle.
I followed her to a small room in the back of the salon, where a nail table was set up in a corner. “I heard.”
“Bess is a bit of a loudmouth,” she confessed as we took our seats out of earshot of the rest of the crew.
“Saves on an intercom system.”
“Sure does.” She smiled. “So, you must be the new girl.”
“Is that what they’re calling me?”
“New girl. Out-of-towner. Broke-down Audi at Wayne’s. To name a few,” she said with a grin.
“It’s Charlotte,” I told her.
“Well, Charlotte, it’s nice to meet you.” She placed a small dish with a self-explanatory decoration in the center that read Rings and Things.
I slipped off the two rings I wore on my right hand and placed them in the dish, then managed to stop myself from reaching for the ring that used to be on my left hand. The phantom weight that I still felt on that fourth finger was starting to fade, but if you looked closely you could see the outline of what used to be. Or, at least, what could have been.
“Do you have a color in mind?” Audrey asked, pulling me back to the present.
“Lincoln Park After Dark,” I said without hesitation.
“I like a girl that knows what she wants,” she said with a nod. “It’s my favorite too.” She held up her perfectly manicured hands. “Just touched mine up yesterday.”
“It’s a staple.”
“It really is.”
As we bonded over our love of OPI, I had to admit a little pang of jealousy raked through me. Audrey could paint her own nails. Lucky girl. Every time I tried to “touch up” my polish, it ended up looking like a drunk toddler had been holding the brush.
I dipped one hand into the bowl of warm, scented water that Audrey offered as she readied her supplies.
“What do you think of Shady Grove?” She picked up my other hand and began to remove the old polish. “Honestly?” she added with a pointed look.
“Well . . .” I hesitated. “It’s small.”
“But it’s quaint,” I said, trying to be polite.
“Maybe a little. Most of the people are really nice, though.”
“They can be.” She slipped my polish-free hand back into the water and picked up the other. “Who have you met? Besides Wayne,” she said with a chuckle. “He’s a trip, right?”
“He is, but he did agree to get my car fixed by Wednesday, so that’s good.”
“His Wednesday is usually Friday.” When a small sigh slipped from my lips, she added, “But maybe he’ll prove me wrong. Enough about him. Who else have you met?”
“Opal at the inn,” I said. “She’s sweet, and the room she gave me is very nice.”
“And Maggie at Wayne’s.”
“Nosy gossip,” Audrey said matter-of-factly. “Her nickname is Maggie the Mouth.”
“Good to know.” I laughed.
“Love her. We actually graduated together.”
“She seems awesome,” I told her. “And her brothers.”
Audrey gave me a sly grin. “Nice to look at, right?”
“They’re okay.” I shrugged, trying not to fan the fire that seemed to burn inside me when I thought about Luke. They were beyond nice to look at. It was the talking part that I wasn’t a fan of. “I haven’t had too much interaction with them. Duke seems nice enough, but I know a player when I see one.”
“You pegged him.” Audrey nodded, confirming my suspicions. “And Luke?”
“Most arrogant man I’ve ever met.”
What was even more frustrating than his arrogance was the fact that no matter how hard I tried, the moment I thought about him, my body heated with more than just anger. My heart rate picked up. My palms became sweaty. My mouth went from dry to wet in seconds as if ready to rip his pants off with my teeth and take care of him from my knees. And I didn’t even like the guy. Fucking infuriating was what it was.
“Really?” She began filing my nails. “I’m surprised. He’s usually pretty down-to-earth.”
“Not to me. So far, my interactions with him have included him telling me that I’m stuck-up and spoiled.” Heat rose in my chest as I thought about him. “He’s got some nerve, I’ll tell you that much. I saw him this morning at the garage, and he actually tried to negotiate with Wayne on my behalf. As if I couldn’t do it myself,” I scoffed.
“That’s terrible,” Audrey said. “I hate it when a good-looking man offers his help. What a bastard.”
“Right? I don’t need a man to take care of me.”
“Girl power.” Audrey held up a hand in solidarity. “I mean, what kind of asshole would try to help a woman out? Especially in a place that she’s never been to, and talking to a mechanic that he’s known since birth. One that he probably knows for sure would take advantage of someone that drives a super-expensive car.”
I finally realized what Audrey was doing when I noticed the smirk on her face.
“That Luke Wilder is no good, I tell you.” She shook her fist toward the ceiling to layer on the sarcasm.
“Shit,” I said, realizing that I might have overreacted a bit. “Maybe I was a little harsh on him today.”
“But he did refer to me as a New Yorker with a stick up my ass, so he’s not completely off the hook.”
“Well, he’s not perfect.” She laughed.
“Enough about that,” I said, needing to change the subject. If I thought about Luke any longer, I might actually get the urge to go and apologize to his sexy ass. In my defense, I’d spent the last twenty-eight years having men tell me what to do and how to do it. My reaction to Luke was merely a side effect of my current rebellion. “What’s an obviously trendy, fashionable chick like you doing here?”
“You know the human intercom out there?” she asked, and I nodded. “That’s my mom.”
“Hmm. I would have never guessed.”
“Yeah, we’re night and day, so I went to cosmetology school. Tried to make it in LA for a few months. Ran out of money, and now I’m back,” she said, apparently not too thrilled with how things had ended up. “It wasn’t exactly what I had planned for my life, but it is what it is. I’m just going to try and make the most of it.”
“For what it’s worth,” I said, watching as she finished trimming back my cuticles. “You give a kick-ass manicure.”
“Girl, I know.” She grinned. “When we’re finished here, I’m going to give you a blowout that will rock your world.”
“I can’t wait.”
Monday could kiss my ass. Especially this Monday.
Starting and finishing the day at Wayne’s wasn’t what I’d planned. First the hose on the truck was crap, and then I had to go back and get a new spark plug for the tractor we used to mow with. On top of that, I’d tried all day not to think about Charlotte. Which was impossible. Sexy little minx kept leaping to the forefront of my mind, giving me the same kind of hell she had that morning. It wasn’t my day, that was for damn sure.
When Duke suggested we grab a bucket of beers at the Drunk Skunk—Shady Grove’s local watering hole—I’d jumped at the chance to drown my frustrations. Now I was three beers in, and things were starting to look up.
“Here’s to giving Wayne way more money than he deserves,” Duke said, holding up his beer.
“Seriously.” I clinked my bottle against his. “Can we please just have a month where nothing mechanical breaks down?”
“Amen,” Duke agreed.