‘I need a new car,’ Danika declared as she strode into her best friend’s living room. ‘Will you help me look for one?’
Taylor Burke arched her brows before snorting. ‘Good afternoon to you too, sunshine. Don’t tell me you forgot your manners in London?’
Danika bit her lip, tucking a strand of black hair behind her ear. ‘Sorry hun. My thoughts were… elsewhere.’
Her best friend giggled. ‘Like in Grayson Marshall’s pants you mean?’
Heat rose in her cheeks. ‘Yeah I guess that man is pretty dang hot.’ She bit her lip, trying to contain the excitement threating to burst from her chest. Even as a teenager she had been the cool, calm, and collected girl in their group. After taking a deep breath, she continued. ‘We chatted lots last night. Oh, and he asked me out. We’re having dinner tonight.’
A squeal erupted from Taylor’s slack trap. ‘Danika Henderson! How was that not the first thing you said when you walked in this room. Stop holding out on me girll!’
Pulling her finger from her throbbing ear, Danika huffed. ‘Geez, Tay! I only just met the guy. I’ll be sure to tell you if he knows how to put those fine lips and large hands to good use, but in the meantime, I don’t see the point in getting my hopes up.’
‘I see your heart is as jaded as ever. If your mind wasn’t preoccupied with all things Grayson, what has had you distracted?’
Danika sighed. ‘Everything. Moving home, starting my new job next week, seeing how much this town has changed. What’s the deal with Malik claiming he owns this town?’
Taylor eyes pinched at the bridge of her nose. ‘Oh that.’
A pounding heart pushed hot blood through Danika’s veins. ‘What has that jerk been up to in my absence?’
‘Nothing good. You didn’t hear this from me, but you remember those petty crimes he used to commit in high school?’
‘Yeah, those crimes aren’t so petty these days and he has most of the local police force either in his pocket or running scared.’
Sucking in a breath, Danika sank onto the armchair opposite Taylor’s. ‘Not good. I guess I’m going to have to work out a plan to put him back in his place. First things first, I need a car.’
Taylor scanned the room before returning her gaze to Danika. ‘I’m happy to help, but I know jack about cars. Maybe you should ask Alison.’
Danika’s eyebrows shot off her face. ‘Alison Crane? That lesbian from the public school? Why on Earth would I ask her?’
After shaking her head, Taylor shrugged. ‘Pfft, I heard she’s actually bi. Anyway, Alison isn’t so bad and those lines between us and them have faded over the years.’
Danika frowned. ‘Ugh, what has happened to this town? It feels like… you know that bit in Planet of the Apes when the astronauts get home and realise who’s put themselves in charge? Humour me a moment, would you? Putting aside the fact I dislike Alison, why would I ask her for help buying a car?’
‘Because she is the best mechanic in town.’
A smile began to tug at Danika’s lips. ‘Better than Malik?’
‘Well dah!’ Taylor scoffed. ‘She dedicates herself to one job if you catch my meaning.’
‘Curious. I might have to give her a call.’ She glanced at her gold watch. Three O’clock. Should give me time to get some advice out of her before closing. Danika plucked her phone from her Gucci handbag and Googled the workshop’s number.
After four rings, a deep, masculine voice answered: ‘Guinness Auto, Malik speaking.’
That voice! Danika faltered, her throat turning as dry as the Nullarbor desert. ‘Um hi. Can I speak to Alison?’
He chuckled. ‘Is that you, Shortcake? Sounds like you spent the night screaming. What was his name again? Grayson? Good for you.’
‘Stop calling me Shortcake!’ Her face reddened with a mix of embarrassment and rage.
Taylor quirked her lips, clearly eavesdropping on Danika’s conversation.
‘Put Alison on the phone,’ she demanded.
‘No. Not without my please.’
‘Please,’ she pleaded through gritted teeth.
‘Hmm. Maybe. What do you want with her anyway? Is this a business matter because she is on the clock right now and—’
‘Of course it’s a bloody car issue. Why else would I ring your damn workplace?’
‘Okay, okay. Chill Princess. No need to get those strawberry panties in a knot. If this is about cars, I’m sure I can help you.’
‘I don’t want your help. Please can I speak to Alison?’
‘Why not me?’ His tone turned deadly.
‘Because Alison is a better mechanic than you.’
‘I doubt that. Sounds like you’ve been talking to the wrong people. Alison is busy right now, so you’re stuck with me. Tell me what the issue is.’
She exhaled through pursed lips. ‘Fine. I’m looking to buy a new car and I need advice.’
‘What’s your budget?’
‘Please! Don’t insult me, Malik!’ she sneered. ‘You know money’s no problem for me.’
‘Apologies, Your Highness,’ he mocked. ‘If you’ll spare no expense, I can hook you up with something.’
Danika laughed. ‘Hell no! When I say I want a hot car, I don’t mean something off the back of a truck. I just want to know what’s good and reliable, environmentally friendly, and attractive.’
‘Now who’s being offensive? I happen to use plenty of legit means to procure vehicles, thank you very much!’
‘Even if I could trust you, which I don’t, I’m not looking for something second-hand.’
‘Even if money’s no object, I would think rich folk like you were savvy enough with your pennies to avoid wastin’ ’em. Brand new cars depreciate something shocking the moment you drive ’em away from the yard. I can get you as good as new with minimal mileage for better value.’
‘How do I know if it’s legal?’
‘I’ll give you service records and all the proper papers.’
‘Fine.’ Danika exhaled audibly. ‘But I’m still booking it in for an inspection with Alison before committing to buy.’
‘Be my guest. Swing by the shop tomorrow and I’ll have a few options for you.’
Hanging up, she glared at Taylor’s wide-eyed, gaping face. ‘What?’ Danika snapped.
‘Did you just agree to buy a car from Malik?’
‘Shut up Tay! And don’t look at me like that.’ The stare continued, so Danika sighed. ‘He was very persistent and… convincing, okay?’ She chided herself for giving in to Malik’s charms. No! Not charms. He is so not charming. I meant his powers of persuasion. Springing to her feet, she crossed the room. ‘I need to prepare for my date… with Grayson. Come help me pick a dress.’