This is one of my first romance rejects and I still have a soft spot for it. I think Meredith deserves a novel.
Meredith examined her chipped fingernail polish and considered what to do about it. Deciding she was too busy for a manicure, she made a mental note to buy polish remover. She liked having her nails a pretty color under the grime.
As she returned to her project, an older model Mercedes pulled into the driveway of the garage and died with a backfire. A tall, slender man got out. Wiping her hands on the shop towel in the back pocket of her coveralls, she greeted him.
“Can I help you?”
“I sure hope so. I’m traveling and my car is missing and backfiring. It started about twenty miles out and I just made it to town. I asked at the café for a reliable garage and they sent me here. Are you the mechanic?”
Meredith knew what was coming next. “Yes, I am, but even though I’m a woman, I assure you I know my way around cars and I’m sure I can fix yours.”
The man smiled. “You misunderstand. I prefer female mechanics, when I can find one.”
Meredith was taken aback. “You deliberately take your car to women mechanics?”
“Yep. I’m not a car guy, never have been. I discovered a long time ago that women who understand cars are much nicer about mechanical issues. Men don’t trust a guy who doesn’t know cars. They think something’s wrong with me. But women are used to being thought dumb when it comes to automotive things, so they explain problems very simply. And I’ve found them to be more honest as well.”
Meredith had never heard of a man who preferred to deal with a woman when it came to his car repairs. She stared at him for a moment. He didn’t seem to be unbalanced. In fact, he appeared very nice. And she liked the way his eyes looked into hers. Straight and purposeful.
“Ok, let’s take a look. Go ahead and pull your car into this bay here and leave it running so I can listen to it.”
The man returned to his car and as soon as the engine turned over, Meredith was sure what the problem was. She motioned him into the vacant bay and asked him to pop the hood after he put it in “park.”
She leaned over the engine to be sure of her diagnosis.
“When was the car last serviced? And who did it?”
“I had a tune up just yesterday. Annie, my regular mechanic, did it. She and her husband are friends of mine so she knew the car had to be in good shape for this trip. I hate having to find a mechanic when I’m on the road, for the reasons I already mentioned.”
“Well, I’m afraid Annie put in the wrong size spark plugs. Your engine is fried. And your road trip is over until you get another engine or a rental car.”
“That’s not possible! Even I know enough not to make that mistake. Annie would never do that to me.”
“I want a second opinion. Do you have another mechanic here?”
“Larry’s is the shop down the street. You may prefer a male diagnosis on this one. And since the engine is already ruined, driving it to the next block won’t make it any worse.”
The man got back in his car and drove it, belching and backfiring, down the next street.
Meredith shrugged and returned to the carburetor of the MG she was working on. The British were good at a lot of things, but designing a fuel system was not one of them.
An hour later, Meredith heard the car return. The carburetor was almost ready to install in the MG.
He parked in the same bay and walked over to the shop bench.
“Larry agrees with you.”
“I’m not surprised. I’m right.”
“I don’t know what to do. I can’t believe Annie would make such a mistake… Can I sit and think for a minute?”
“My name is Leland Spencer. Call me Spence.”
“Nice to meet you, Meredith. Well, it would be under different circumstances. By the way, are you related to Larry at the other shop? He got very defensive when I said I wanted a second opinion.”
“No, but he is my mentor. He’s helped me a lot over the years. He used to send me his overflow business. Now I have enough to keep busy. His is more of an all around shop and I specialize in foreign cars.”
“This business must be tough for a woman.”
“It’s not too bad. This is a small town though, so everyone knows that I know what I’m doing. It would be rough if I were starting out as a stranger somewhere.”
“How did you get interested in cars?”
“I’ve always been a “car chick,” as long as I can remember. You know how some people can hear a song lyric and tell you the writer, performer, label, and year released? I’ve always been able to do that with cars. I know who made what model, in what year, the specs and how each year is different. I think I got it from my grandfather. No one else in my family is interested in cars.”
“Even your dad?”
“No. My dad is the reason I knew what the problem with your car was as soon as I heard it. He did the same thing with the spark plugs when I was a kid. We barely made it home from a camping trip and the engine was ruined. He quit doing his own tune ups then.”
Spence grinned at her. “And I bet you started doing them for him.”
Meredith smiled back. “It wasn’t too long before I took over.” She had never talked to a man like this before. He didn’t seem at all threatened by her knowledge. And the way his eyes crinkled when he smiled was very distracting. She made herself focus on the carburetor on the bench in front of her.
“Well, I guess I better call Annie and see what she has to say.” Spence dialed his cell phone as he walked over to the car. He spoke in a low tone for several minutes, then disconnected and walked back to Meredith.
“Annie agreed with your assessment. And she’s heartbroken. She delegated my tune up yesterday to a new employee. A man. He sabotaged several other customers too. She’s going to have an awful fight with her insurance company over this.”
“Oh no, I’m so sorry. That’s one reason I haven’t hired any help yet. I’m just not sure I can trust a man to take directions from me.”
“What are my options?”
“The same as earlier. A new engine. It will take me at least a week to get and install one. Larry may be able to do it a little faster, if he’s not backed up. Or you can call the wrecking yard and see how much they’ll give you for the car. Some of the parts will be usable. Or there’s a rental car agency across town.”
“I love that old car, so I guess I’ll go with a new engine. And a rental to finish this road trip. I’ll plan to be back in a week.”
“Leave me your cell number so I can call you if I run into any other problems.”
Spence wrote on the back of a business card and handed it to her. She glanced at the card before stapling it to the work order.
“You’re in the beauty supply business?”
He grinned. “Ironic, isn’t it? My mom did hair when I was a kid. Just like you know all about car models and specs, I can tell the difference between honey blonde, gold blonde, and sandy blonde. I know all about skin, hair, and nail care products so I started my own company recently and I’m visiting salons that carry my merchandise. Making personal contacts.”
She smiled back. “Right before you got here, I chipped my polish. I’m too busy for a manicure, but it looks awful. I was just going to take all the polish off.”
“Can I see?”
Meredith extended her hand and he held it while examining her nails. She felt a shiver run up her spine as he ran his thumb and forefinger over each of her fingers.
“I’ll have to spend the night in town. Can I take you to dinner? You can tell me about cars and I’ll give you some hints to help your polish last longer.”
Meredith laughed aloud. “I’m very tough on my nails. I’d like to know how to keep grease out from under them.”
“And I want to learn how to change my own oil. Maybe we can come to an agreement to teach each other some of those things we need to know.”
“Perhaps we can…”